Autonomy vs Accountability

18 Apr

For as long as I can remember, education has been vexed with the twin rivalries of autonomy and accountability. They appear to be in constant strife with each other.   There was a time when the nation accepted that educationists, especially teachers, knew best, and left them to get on with the job of educating our children – i.e. to be autonomous.   However, there were problems.

I           The downside of autonomy

All was not well in “the secret garden”.  This unease was given body during an epic moment when the late Prime Minister Jim Callaghan, in 1976, spoke at Ruskin College, Oxford.  He referred to “legitimate public concern about trendy teaching methods, to “unease felt by parents and others about the new informal methods of teaching, which seem to produce excellent results when they are in well-qualified hands but are much more dubious when they are not”.    In other words, Callaghan wished to introduce a measure of accountability.

His speech sparked off the Great Debate.  Parents were to be given more information and rights.  Ultimately the national curriculum for England and Wales was imposed on schools and central government began to assume considerable educational powers and control on what was taught, including the pedagogy deployed, and how the impact was to measured.

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Ofsted Inspections: All Change in September 2019

18 Apr

(1)       Ofsted’s Deputy Director heralds changes to inspections

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has signalled a radical change to how school/academy inspections are to be carried out from 1 September 2019. Consultations on the draft inspection handbook, which began on January 16, 2019, closed on 5 April 2019.

Writing in the March/April 2019 of Governing Matters, the National Governors’ Association (NGA) magazine, Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s deputy director of schools, gave schools/academies a pat on the back when he stated: “England’s schools have made real improvements over the past two decades, thanks to the hard work of teachers, leaders, governors/trustees and many others.  The accountability system has played its part in the improvement.”  He added, however, that this accountability had become a slave (my word) to performance data, spawning a school improvement industry around scores and outcomes.  Schools and academies have expended too much time on performance data “rather than focus on what is really going on in the classrooms”.

You can sense that the pendulum is now set to swing in the opposite direction from outcomes to processes.  Matthew Purves empathises with teachers because of the excessive workload they have been under obsessing with data as they “generate, upload and analyse” outcomes endlessly. This focus, he avers, has been “a barrier to further improvement”.   Attending to pupil scores has drawn attention away from the substance of education – i.e. “what is taught, how it is taught and the impact”.   This remark is a bit puzzling.  It is precisely because schools and academies have been focusing on impact that they have placed so much store on data.

I will return to Matthew Purves at the end of the article.  Meanwhile, there is merit in outlining what will be different in inspections.

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Campaign for better education funding gathering momentum

18 Apr

Over the spring term 2019, barring Brexit and the NHS, everything – including education – took a back seat in government business.   However, several bodies used strenuous efforts to get government to keep education in focus – especially the funding of it.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) calculated that total school/academy spending per pupil fell by 8% between 2009/10 to 2017/18.   This included a 55% cut in the allocation made to local authorities to help them discharge their educational responsibilities and another 20% cut to sixth-form funding.  Funding per pupil to primary and secondary schools/academies fell by 4% since 2015.

The six school/academy-based unions claimed that schools and academies face a shortfall of £5.4 billion despite the extra funding that the Chancellor made available for an increase in teachers’ pay and (for the first time) a pupil premium grant for young people from the ages of 16 to 19.

“School budgets are at absolute breaking point,” warned the general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) Paul Whiteman. “School leaders have made all the obvious savings. Now, class sizes are rising and the range of subjects schools can offer is shrinking as they desperately try to balance the books.”

The general secretary of the Association of Schools and College Leaders (ASCL), Geoff Barton, added: “Schools across the country have had to make severe cuts and there are more on the way as reserves are drained and deficits increase.

“The reality of budget cuts is that schools have to operate with reduced staffing and this impacts on educational provision, such as less additional support for children and fewer curriculum choices. Schools are in the invidious position of having to decide on the least-worst option of where to make cuts or they will become insolvent.”

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DfE signals its intent to tackle teacher shortages

18 Apr

I        Some hard facts

Schools and academies are suffering budget reductions in real terms causing trustees, governors and headteachers to consider staff reductions.  These difficulties are being exacerbated by teacher shortages.

Recent recruitment and retention statistics showed that the teaching profession was a profession in crisis. In 2017, nearly 35,000 teachers left the profession for reasons other than retirement, with four in 10 teachers quitting within their first year of qualification.

It’s not hard to see why.  Horror stories continue to proliferate of dedicated teachers suffering burnout and leaving the profession.  Here are some facts.

(1)        20% of teachers feel tense about their jobs most or all the time compared with 13% of those in similar professions.

(2)        41% of teachers are dissatisfied with the amount of leisure time they have compared with 32% of those in similar professions.

(3)        23% of full-time teachers would like to reduce their working hours even if it meant taking a pay cut, compared with 17% of those in similar professions.

(4)        The pay of average teachers fell by 12% since 2010 in real terms.

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Is the exclusion of pupils adding to knife crime?

18 Apr

I        The school/academy dilemma

Children’s welfare is of paramount importance to schools and academies.   Happiness and safety are the twin conditions required to promote their growth mentally, physically, morally and spiritually – enabling them to develop and flourish during the compulsory stage of their education. They keep them grounded for the rest of their lives.   Were a school/academy to be wanting by Ofsted in its safeguarding arrangements it is peremptorily placed in special measures.  This does not negate the requirement that a school/academy is expected to demonstrate that its pupils are achieving.

Regarding the last requirement, schools and academies are caught between a rock and a hard place. It is imperative that governors, headteachers and staff give children every opportunity to succeed – but at what cost?   In a number of egregious cases schools/academies are “off-rolling” the “problematic children to twinkle in the firmament of academic achievement”.  Funding difficulties heighten the dilemma for them, making it that much more daunting to educate problematic children in the same classrooms as the better-behaved ones, disrupting their education too.

The evidence is stark: in the Autumn Term of Year 11, several “turned off” youngsters are excluded – often permanently – so that they will not bring their schools/academies shame by doing badly in their GCSEs.

And when that happens, there are drug gangs out there ready to capitalise on these “turned off” youngsters who feel education’s “discarded” outsiders, causing their lives to spiral downwards.   To defend themselves and/or prove they are macho (most of them are boys), they resort to knife crime.

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Government to open register for home-educated youngsters

18 Apr

Education Secretary Damian Hinds is planning to create a register for home-educated children of compulsory school age.   He said that this was to “identify and intervene” where the standards of home education were either not good enough or non-existent or if they were receiving solely a religious education.

Nearly 60,000 children in England were being home educated at any one time in 2018.  However, the precise figure remains unknown because parents do not currently have to register home-educated children.  New data produced by Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, on 4 February 2019 showed that many pupils who were being home-educated were off-rolled.

She hinted that this was happening in a “small number” of schools and academies.  The 11 councils that were scrutinised showed that there was a 48% rise in the number of children disappearing from schools/academies to be educated at home between 2015/16 and 2017/18.  A few schools and academies “off-rolled” pupils who were disruptive, threatening them with exclusions because they could spoil their institutions’ positions in the test and examination league tables.  More children were moving out of academies than schools to be home-educated, but schools were catching up.

Longfield is now calling for a compulsory register of “off the grid” children, stronger measures to tackle off-rolling, more support for families who home-educate and decisive action against unregistered schools.

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Is children’s welfare being undermined by the twin obsessions of academic success and social media?

18 Apr

I        Children’s Well-Being

There was a time not so long ago when young people, particularly boys of an ethnic group, hated to be told that they had mental health problems.  School leaders and teachers fuelled this loathing when they (the youngsters) behaved badly with remarks such as: “You are crazy and mad!”

The pendulum has now swung the other way.  It is now quite “cool” for a young person to aver that s/he has mental difficulties.  And it is not just the “snowflake” generation.

This apocryphal story epitomises this splendidly.  One man, in a conversation with his friend, said: “My health is being ruined because of worry.”

“What are you worrying about?” asked his friend.

“I am worrying about my health!” came the riposte.

Notwithstanding, research reveals that mental ill-health is on the rise.   People (especially in the West) live longer than ever and cures have been found for an increasing number of maladies.  But the Cinderella of the Health Service is mental health. It is, therefore, unsurprising that children’s suicide rates are up 67% since 2010.  A quarter of those referred for help were denied treatment. Despite the need, according to the Care Quality Commission, 23% of child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) were rated “inadequate” or “required improvement”.

Of all the causes of young people’s mental ill-health two stand out.

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