Archive | April, 2013

Our lowest attainers; how can we support them?

17 Apr

(1)       The Wood and the Trees

If the overarching objective of a business is to generate profit, that of a school is to ensure that young people are well educated and take their places confidently in adult society.   In 1997, the late Professor Ted Wragg of Exeter University proposed in A Cubic Curriculum a multi-dimension view of what it is to be “well educated” founded on four propositions.

(a)        First, education must incorporate a vision of the future.  If it doesn’t, we will be ill-serving the children in our care.   To cater for this, we have to take account of what will be affecting their lives, but not be wholly bound by it.   For instance, if they are living in the mountains, children need to learn the art of climbing and managing the heights. This does not mean that they may not at some time move down to the plains.

(b)        Second, they have to meet the increasing demands of citizens living in a shrinking world which continues to expand in population – currently standing at 7 billion people.  Employers require higher qualifications in a constantly changing environment.

(c)        Third, because of the increasing complexity in which we live, children need to be taught how to learn so that they can adapt to new developments.  How they learn is at least as important as what is learnt.

(d)        Finally, the curriculum has to be viewed as multi-faceted and not one-dimensional.   Yes, it has to incorporate subject matter but needs to go beyond that and include skills, attitudes, values, behaviour and beliefs.

Within their classrooms, good teachers teach the subjects – e.g. English and mathematics – in cross-curricular themes (such as developing young people’s thinking skills and imaginations, among other things) using a pedagogy that stimulates rather than stultifies the young – deploying a range of methods – such as telling, team-working, practising and imitating.

That’s the wood of which we may be losing sight because we have been obsessing with the trees – i.e. the stubborn fact that 25% of our youngsters leave schools without the basic proficiency – i.e. level 2 or GCSE at grade C – in English and mathematics.   In Sweden it is 14%, in Canada – 12% and in the USA – 11%.   Altogether, 4% of young people leave school without a single GCSE at even Grade G.

The challenge for us is to keep the overarching objectives for education (the wood) in mind while not neglecting the basics (i.e. the trees) that includes helping children develop a good command of literacy and numeracy.  If children are unable to read, write, add up and subtract, their lives are blighted. They will not be able to benefit from Ted Wragg’s vision and fail to live fulfilled and happy lives.

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Ofsted’s chief fires and then takes aim at governors

17 Apr

During the first three months of the calendar year 2013, Ofsted’s chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has added to the chilly winter winds making the climate for school governors very inclement.

In a speech on 20 February 2013, he averred that a contributory factor for 6,000 schools rated less than good was poor leadership, of which governors were very much a part.  He compared the worst governors to jurors who were incapable of understanding their responsibilities in a court case – people (possibly) like the first lot of jurors who had to pass judgement on Vicky Pryce, the former wife of the ex-Energy Secretary of State, Chris Hulme.  Those jurors were dismissed for seeking answers from the judge on the most banal questions.

On 27 February 2013, Wilshaw launched an online, at-a-glance report card for each school (School Data Dashboard), to have access to the end of key stage attainment data of the pupils of the school, which includes information on how they compare with schools across the country.  The unspoken words appeared to be “Governors, you may run, but you cannot hide.”

In an article in the Times Educational Supplement (TES) on 22 March 2013, he explained why he was turning the screws on the 300,000+ governors.  “In an era of ever-greater accountability, autonomy and complexity of school organisation, the role played by the governing body is crucial in determining institutional success.” The expectation is (despite resistance from the teacher unions) that governors spend more time understanding what makes for good pupil progress, i.e. the quality of learning and teaching.

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Carving up the responsibility cake for members of the Governing Body

17 Apr

As Ofsted raises the stakes on governors causing them to take a deeper interest in discharging the main function of schools, i.e. providing a stimulating curriculum that lifts standards, there is a danger that they could fall foul of their most senior managers, i.e. the headteachers, for meddling in matters in which they should have no business. It must be said at this point that the overwhelming majority of governors and managers in the country’s schools have a splendid working relationship and wish to keep it that way.

Governors also recognise that they carry out their functions in a voluntary capacity.  Most have day jobs that bring home the bacon and keep them out of mischief.   Not only don’t they wish to meddle with management issues but they simply don’t have the time to do so.

Occasionally, however, we do come across “rogue” governors who are keen to embark on ego trips and cause their headteachers’ grief.

Generally, at the first meeting of an academic year, the governing body reviews the terms of reference of its committees, appoints members to them and delegates responsibilities to individual members – nominating governors to oversee discrete areas of school life such as Special Needs, Equal Opportunities and Health and Safety.

The Department for Education published in 2012 a very helpful decision planner for governors, from which every governing body can derive considerable benefit.   The planner is set out at four levels: responsibilities that the full governing body may assume, duties that can be delegated to committees, tasks to be carried out by individual governors and aspects of school life for which the headteacher takes charge.

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Teachers’ Pay All change from September 2013

17 Apr

The Government accepted all the recommendations in the 21st report of the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB). The STRB proposed radical changes to how teachers are paid from 1 September 2013.  Increases in teachers’ salaries will be based on how well – or otherwise – they do in their performance reviews and will not be automatic for those on the main scale except for those that are the subject of capability procedures, which is the current practice.

On 21 February 2012, the Secretary of State for Education asked the STRB to review current provision for teachers’ pay with a view to raising the status of the profession and contributing to improving the standard of teaching in our schools. The STRB’s 21st report was in response to that remit.

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Teacher unions prepare for battle

17 Apr

At their conferences in April 2013, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in Liverpool and the National of Union Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) in Bournemouth reaffirmed their commitment to strike action on pay, pensions and conditions of service – in particular, the new performance management arrangements that will kick in on 1 September 2013.

The NUT was the more radical of the two unions.  The delegates unanimously passed a resolution of no-confidence in the Secretary of State Michael Gove.  Further, a significant segment of the members called for a boycott of Ofsted inspections urging members not to co-operate with inspectors when they arrived in their schools.

The unions are unlikely to win much support from Jo Public at a time when everybody has to share in the financial pain caused by the collapse of the economy in 2008.   Protesting against the new performance management arrangements and salaries based on their outcomes is also going to win little sympathy because such a system already exists in industry and within the senior leadership teams of schools.

Calling for a boycott against Ofsted flies in the face of accountability.  Government, local authorities and professionals are doing their utmost to improve the quality of education, raise the standards of all our young people and increase their chances of surviving in an increasing difficult and hostile environment.   Boycotting Ofsted inspections doesn’t help.  Besides, operating in this manner is not consonant with the good behaviour teachers are keen to promote among the pupils they teach.  Such modelling will undermine this objective.  Young people are likely (quite rightly) to accuse them of espousing the adage:  “Do as I say rather than do as I do.”

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Health and Safety: A Health Warning

17 Apr

In the third week of March 2013, health and safety experts banned triangular flapjacks at a school after a boy was hit in the eye by one of the offending snacks during a food fight.  However, they permitted square and rectangular flapjacks because “they were less dangerous”.  The mind boggles.  If anything, a triangular flapjack has three edges and three points against a rectangular or square one that has four of each so that the latter has a 33.3% greater chance of causing damage.

At any rate, should not a school outlaw food fights rather than ban food altogether.  Where is our moral compass?

In another case, Shaun Halfpenny, a former headteacher, found himself at the receiving end of a health and safety uproar at Cummersdale Primary School in Carlisle shortly before his retirement in 2005.

It began in 2004, when some pupils discovered horse chestnuts while on a school trip but were unsure about how to play conkers.   He offered to show them how provided that they wore goggles for health and safety purposes.   Many pupils produced goggles, though Halfpenny insisted that this advice/instruction was given as a joke.  A visitor to the school thought this was hilarious and offered to do a story for the local rag, the Carlisle Times and Star. Halfpenny had a good relationship with the paper, so did not demur.

However, following the publication of the story, Radio 4 called and asked if Halfpenny had seen The Sun which had a piece about pupils being asked to wear goggles before playing with conkers. Soon seven TV crews were parked outside the front playground and news reporters from other countries including New Zealand and Thailand.  What started as a joke to take the “mickey” out of health and safety issues, backfired and ended as a global news story that did not do Cummersdale Primary School any good.   However, it did give something to Halfpenny to reflect on during the first few years of retirement.

Gove presses ahead with some aspects of GCSE reforms

17 Apr

The government intends to proceed with its timetable for new GCSEs and A levels to be introduced from 1 September 2015, a year after the new national curriculum is taught in maintained schools.  Ofqual, the examination regulator, described the timetable as “challenging”.  The NUT argued (rather dramatically) that it “could lead to a collapse of the system”.  Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), called for the introduction of the GCSEs to be delayed to September 2016, with the new A levels postponed for first teaching in 2018.

The government plans to introduce a new grading structure for the reformed GCSEs in English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, History, Geography, Computer Sciences and other Sciences from September 2015. News grades for the other subjects will follopw a year later.  Exam boards are hoping that the changes will include a new A** grade for the exceptionally bright or pupils having the opportunity of gaining an A* with merit.  Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, is clear that the bar for the C grade should be raised.

Gove also wants (despite opposition) to abandon the two-tier system of examinations in some subjects like Mathematics and to introduce only external assessments.  However, he has abandoned plans to franchise English, Mathematics and the Science to single exam boards, despite 82% of respondents (during the consultation) being in favour, stating that that was “a bridge too far”.   In the meantime, Gove has decided to scrap plans to introduce the English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC).

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The Pupil Premium: maximising its benefits

17 Apr

The national average for pupils on free schools meals (FSM) is 14%.   The attainment gap between these children and the rest is 27.4%.  The government is keen to bridge this chasm. Consequently, it has created a pot of resources, called the Pupil Premium, which schools must deploy for the benefit of those on FSM.  In their calculations, schools can include all children who at some stage during the last six years of their careers were entitled to FSM.

In the last academic year, every child entitled to FSM attracted £623. This year, the sum has gone up £900.   The raison d’être for this is for the nation to assist children from disadvantaged backgrounds surmount the economic and social obstacles they encounter.  Material deprivation can be a major impediment in these children’s paths resulting in ill-health, family stress, low levels of parental education and parental involvement in children’s education.    The socially disadvantaged parents have low levels of cultural and social capital and tend to have low aspirations for their children as well.

In 2013/14, the Pupil Premium funding amounts of £1.875 billion.   The indicator used for disadvantage is that a pupil (according to the January 2013 Pupil Level Annual School Census, i.e. PLASC data) would have been on FSM in the last six years. In addition, every disadvantaged pupil in a non-mainstream setting, who is publicly funded – as also a looked-after child – attracts £900 on the same criterion.  The school at which a child of parents who are in the Army, Navy or Air Force will also receive £300.

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Special Educational Needs: Changes in the Assessment and Provision in the Offing

17 Apr

From 1 September 2014, there will be a sea change to the manner in which we provide for pupils with special educational needs (SEN). One section of the Children and Families Bill currently being debated in Parliament is devoted to this initiative.   The legislation is likely to be enacted in early 2014 with its full implementation in the following academic year.   The Bill heralds a new approach to assessing and supporting young people from birth to the age of 25 (instead of the current 19) who have Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND).

The government intends to simplify the current arrangements for assessing SEND pupils, and wishes to promote better working arrangements among the agencies  and between the education service and parents, increase parental choice and improve outcomes for our young people. The proposed arrangements are being piloted in 31 local authorities among 20 pathfinders.

The Bill takes forward the reform programme set out in the Green Paper, Support and Aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability.   Provision within the planned legislation

(1)        replaces old statements with new birth-to-25 education, health and care plans;

(2)        offers families personal budgets; and

(3)        aims to improve cooperation among all the services that support children and families, especially requiring local and health authorities to work together.

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Academies are not what the government has cracked them up to be

17 Apr

Children have only one chance in school.   We cannot afford to allow schools to fail. Gove knows it and, consequently, is in a hurry.  He is also in a hurry – like his other colleagues – because he wants to demonstrate to the electorate – by 2015 – when the Conservatives will fight the next elections – that he has improved the educational system in this green and pleasant land, making it the best or one of the best in the world – by stamping his imprimatur on it with a philosophy underpinned by robust legislation.   I have no quibble with that.

What concerns me is the method that he and his ministerial colleagues are using to get to his goal.   Focusing on England for this purpose, it is worth observing that we have one of the most diverse school systems in the world.  At one level, we have two types of schools – maintained and independent.   At another level, the number of different kinds of schools we have makes the mind boggle.

In the maintained sector, there is a range of schools which would confuse and turn off any prospective Martian colonists wishing to settle in England.  We have community, foundation, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and free schools, academies, sixth form colleagues, City Technology Colleges (CTCs) and University Technology Colleges (UTCs).   Continue reading