How free should free speech be?

31 Dec

In the run-up to the Christmas of 2017, a flaming row broke out at Oxford University when 58 academics criticised a professor for arguing that Britain’s imperial history was not entirely shameful.    Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University, was slated by his colleagues and students after writing an article in The Times calling for a more nuanced appraisal of colonial times.

Oxford University defended the professor, denounced by students and the academics as “bigoted” because he wrote that if people believe in “strident anti-colonialist” it could lead to a feeling of guilt that makes the public “vulnerable to wilful manipulation”.

Common Ground, a race rights group based in Oxford, described the article as “racist” and accused Professor Biggar of “whitewashing” the British Empire. A letter on the group’s website said: “We stand in solidarity” with those who have criticised Professor Biggar following his article headlined “Our colonial history and guilt over empire”. The academic “implies that colonised societies had no political order prior to colonisation, invoking a racist, hackneyed and fictional trope about the nature of pre-colonial societies”.

Professor Biggar’s column was prompted by criticism of an article by Bruce Gilley, a political scientist at Portland State University, who argued that it was time to question the orthodox view that western colonialism “has a bad name”. Professor Biggar concluded: “Bruce Gilley’s case for colonialism calls for us British to moderate our post-imperial guilt.”

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National funding formula: Transition Arrangements

31 Dec

National funding formula: Transition Arrangements

The National Funding Formula (NFF) kicks in on 1 April 2017 following two stages of consultation.  The government published the formula and the transition arrangements to be implemented from 2018-19. For the full exemplification of what is to come see here.

I           Summary

The National Funding Formula will comprise the following.

(i)         Per pupil costs, i.e. basic per pupil funding together with growth and mobility

(ii)        Additional needs, based on

  • Deprivation
  • looked-after children
  • English as an additional language
  • low prior attainment

(iii)       premises, which offers a lump sum for each school/academy, split sites, sparsity, the private finance initiative and exceptional circumstances

(iv)       area costs to take account of the cost of living in London and other conurbations

Basic per-pupil funding is the largest factor in the formula will account for almost 73% of the total schools’ block.

A school’s/academy’s per-pupil funding for 2018-19 will have minimum sums of £3,300 for every primary pupil and £4,600 for every secondary pupil. In 2019-20, this will rise to £3,500 for a primary pupil and £4,800 for a secondary one.

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Green Paper on mental health provision in schools and academies

31 Dec

I        Proposals

On 4 December 2017, the government published a Green Paper and an open consultation around “transforming children and young people’s mental health provision”.[1] Jointly issued by the Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening and Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt, the Green Paper sets out plans which could have implications for how schools deal with mental ill-health amongst children and young people. The Paper proposes that every school/academy appoint an individual as a “designated lead in mental health”, with a national training programme fully in place by 2025. This individual will take the lead to help young people with mental health issues, provide support and advice to them and staff, and teach students about the warning signs associated with poor mental health.

The mental health lead will also have the power to make referrals to “specialist services” for the victims of mental ill-health.

The proposals recommend that each school mental health lead be linked to wider support teams, forming a bridge between the school/academy/college and the NHS which will mean that every school/academic and college will find it much easier to contact and work with mental health services.

As part of the initiative, the government wants to carry out further research around

  • the impact of the internet, particularly social media, on mental health;
  • how families can provide support to those suffering with mental health issues; and
  • how mental health problems can be avoided in the future.

Further work will also be carried out to see how mental health for 16-25 year olds can be improved.

In the Executive Summary, the government trumpeted what it had already achieved.  It mentioned the following.

“We have:

(i)         legislated for parity of esteem between physical and mental health;

(ii)        promised to ensure that an additional 70,000 children and young people per year will obtain support from mental health services by 2020/21;

(iii)       improved services for eating disorders, with an additional £30 million of investment, established 70 new or enhanced Community Eating Disorder Teams, and set the first-ever waiting times for eating disorders and psychosis;

(iv)       funded eight areas to test different crisis approaches for children and young people’s mental health and tested New Care Models for Mental Health; and

(v)        published cross-agency Local Transformation Plans for children and young people’s mental health for every area of the country.”

In the second chapter of the Green Paper added: “We have made our commitment clear through significant investment in services for children and young people, including:

  1. legislating for parity of esteem between physical and mental health in 2012;
  2. investing record levels in mental health services, totalling £11.6 billion in 2016/17;
  3. making an additional £1.4 billion available for children’s and young people’s mental health between 2015/16 – 2019/20 to enable an additional 70,000 children per year to be seen by children’s and young people’s mental health services by 2020/21; and
  4. committing to recruit 1,700 more therapists and supervisors, and train 3,400 existing staff to deliver evidence based treatments.”

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On-line Safeguarding

31 Dec

I        Preamble

Safeguarding arrangements in every school/academy have to be strong, robust and stand up to scrutiny.  Ofsted inspectors put considerable store on them when they visit.  Should the arrangements fail to pass muster, the school/academy is placed in special measures.

Safeguarding covers a raft of issues – child protection against physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect – taking prime importance.  Altogether, safeguarding pupils in a school/academy is profoundly important.

The Metropolitan Police (MP), like all the other 42 police forces in the country, is struggling to come to grips with the growing menace of the sexual harassment of children online.  Jon Severs, commissioning editor of The Times Educational Supplement, was given access to two of the MP’s teams – the Predatory Offenders Unit and the Sexual Exploitation Team – to show how serious the problem was.   His accounts were published in the TES on 13 October 2017.

The victims of online abuse are getting younger. Some are only eight years old.   However, sexual abuse is not new.  It has been around for centuries.   Most abuse takes place within families.   What has happened is that it has grown exponentially through the world-wide web, applications and social media.

Adults in families would not have had experience of this when they were children.  They are more familiar with “stranger danger” – protecting their children in the way they were protected two or three decades earlier with their parents telling them to take care when they were outside in parks and on the roads.

Today, children are vulnerable in schools/academies from fellow peers.  The government has just published guidance on how they how best to deal with peer-on-peer sexual harassment and violence.

Children are also vulnerable in their bedrooms, where they should be safe.  When youngsters go online, they open their doors to the world of predators.  Some of the latter are young people too – under the age of 18.   These youngsters are oblivious to the dangers and have little information and understanding of them.

The police state that the problem is not technology but human behaviour.   Technology, like water or fire, is a bad master but can be a good servant.

A school’s job is not to combat and take on the evils of society, but outside children’s homes, teachers have the biggest impact on young people.   In my experience, parents are their children’s prime influencers till children reach the age of seven.  From seven to 13, teachers exert stronger influence in their lives.  From 13 to 18, it is fellow pupils and both, teachers and parents, are often perceived by the young people as “inferior”.

Media reports are peppered with stories of girls being sexually abused.  However, boys are also victims.  The misuse of technology has created an abhorrent trend and technology is here to stay. We cannot put it back into Pandora’s box.  Accordingly, we must educate our children to use it well – not to abuse it or be victims of those who do so.  The next section focuses on one such boy, Breck, who had his short life terminated by another youth who sexually exploited him.  His full story is recounted in the Times Education Supplement but reports on his sad saga are on the BBC and The Guardian websites

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Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), launches her first Annual Report on state of education and children’s care in England

31 Dec

Amanda Spielman, HMCI, who took up her post on 1 January 2017, issued her first annual report on 13 December 2017.  As always, it was a bitter-sweet experience, where some of the findings were uplifting and some depressing.

I        The Positives

On the positive side, Spielman remarked that the life chances of the vast majority of young people in 2017 were the best they had ever been.

(i)         94% of early years providers were now rated good or outstanding.

(ii)        90% of primary schools and 79% of secondary ones were good or outstanding.

(iii)       80% of further education and skills providers were good or outstanding.

(iv)       83% of children’s homes were now good and outstanding.

(v)        More local authorities’ children’s services were on a path to improvement. Ofsted had inspected 146 out of 152 local authorities nationally and judged that 34% were good or outstanding, compared with 26% at the time of its previous social care annual report.   Even within those authorities that require improvement to be consistently good, there were many areas of good practice.

(vi)       There had been an overall trend of improvement across social care providers.  The proportion of good and outstanding children’s homes had increased from 79% to 83% since Ofsted last reported on them in 2016.   Across all the many types of providers inspected, only secure training centres had declined in the quality of their provision.

II       The Negatives

However, everything in the education garden is not rosy.  Over 500 primary and about 200 secondary schools/academies are currently judged as requiring improvement or in special measures over their last two inspections.   Of those inspected in 2017, 130 schools/academies had been underperforming for up to ten years.

The schools/academies shared similar features.

(i)         Unstable leadership, high staff turnover and difficulty in recruiting good staff members were blighting the educational provision for the children.

(ii)        During past inspections and monitoring exercises, inspectors had frequently reported seeing positive signs of renewal, especially after new leaders had been appointed.   This improvement, however, had not been sustained.

(iii)       Tragically, many had high numbers of pupils from deprived areas, above average proportions of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and White British pupils from low-income backgrounds.  These vulnerable children deserved the best and were been served the worst that education could offer in the country.  She exhorted policy-makers, professional and Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education) of which she is the chief to direct their support to improve the outcomes for all pupils, but especially the most vulnerable who were getting a raw deal.

(iv)       Where schools/academies were failing their pupils, weak governance was a common feature.   The elements of weak governance included the following.


  • were not challenging effectively or holding leaders to account, for instance, by being too accepting of what they were told;
  • did not understand school performance or quality sufficiently well;
  • were not holding leaders to account for the use of additional funding such as the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG);
  • were failing to act swiftly enough to challenge or support;
  • were not checking the quality and impact of external support; and
  • lacked skills and understanding to carry out their role effectively.

In the weaker MATs, she identified the following trustee/governance failings.

  • Trustees and governors were unclear and/or had not published schemes of delegation which outlined the roles and accountabilities of each level of governance – e.g. what precisely were the functions of the trustees, and what were those of the governing board and those of the committees;
  • Trust boards did not have an accurate picture of pupils’ progress in their academies.
  • Trustees and governors were overly dependent on academy leaders and a minority of members to interpret data.
  • They did not have clear strategies for the spending of additional funding such as the PPG and evaluating the impact of additional funding

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How do 15-year-old pupils in England compare to other top performers across the world?

31 Dec

I        Overview

In mid-November 2017, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released data on its “three yearly Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)”. PISA consists of standardised tests in reading, writing and mathematics taken by students from different countries at the age of 15. The data is then used to compare the young people. Data is matched with how young people fared in examinations taken in their home countries.

John Jerrim and Nikki Shure of University College London Institute of Education produced an excellent analysis of how our English pupils performed, some of the key points of which are summarised below.

Altogether, 75 countries participated in PISA 2015, including all members of the OECD and the four countries within the United Kingdom. For the first time, China (previously limited to Shanghai) included four provinces – Beijing, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Shanghai. In England, PISA 2015 was conducted in November and December 2015, with a sample of 5,194 pupils in England from across 206 schools. The majority of England’s participating pupils were born between September 1999 and August 2000, meaning they came to the end of primary school during 2010, and were the last cohort to take the GCSE examinations before they were reformed.

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Keeping a check on pupil progress and achievements

31 Dec

A key responsibility of governors is to oversee the strides pupils make in their learning.  However, this is not possible without their knowing precisely what the assessment system is being used and understanding how pupils’ progress and achievement are measured.   This is much more easily done at the end of the key stages but daunting, in the in-between years.

In the halcyon day, the key data source for governing boards was the infamous (or famous) RAISEonline – issued by the Office for Standard in Education (Ofsted). The Department for Education (DfE) launched a new replacement service called Analyse School Performance (ASP) from 1 September 2017, used mainly at Key Stages 1 and 2.   So how are pupils assessed at the different Key Stages?

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