Archive | April, 2015

Adding Values

13 Apr

Ever since the Education Reform Act received the Royal Assent back in 1988, much energy has been expended in improving the outcomes in education.   This is displayed in a market-driven model.   League tables are the order the day. They are determined on the basis of test and examination results.   Annually and with boring regularity, The Sunday Times informs it readers about the 50 to 100 best state primary and secondary schools.  It carries out a similar exercise with private schools.  These are judged on the basis of – surprise, surprise – test and examination results.

Governors are exhorted to secure value for money in the provision of services. The litmus test is where a school features in the league tables.  If the annual expenditure is steep and the test/exam results poor – heaven help the governing body because Ofsted will come down on the school like a ton of bricks. At an increasing number of schools, governing bodies carry out benchmarking exercises on the purchase of goods and services.   The aim is to achieve more for less, to buy the maximum number of high-quality goods at the cheapest rates.

So, within the education system, everything that can be measured is being measured.  However, the most valuable things in life cannot be measured, cost nothing and are priceless.   The air we breathe is free; love is free; freedom is free.

It may surprise some that a similar situation exists in education.   How can you measure the ethos of a school?  How do you calibrate the satisfaction and feelings of safety that pupils experience in a school?   How can we assess the happiness that pupils and staff experience when work is well done?  What yardstick can we use to determine the depth of positive influence that a teacher may have over a pupil who was once disaffected but is now highly motivated? Continue reading

Campaign to improve young people’s mental health develops steam

13 Apr

(1)       Campaign of The Times

Children’s health and well-being have become national issues.   Schools are finding it increasingly difficult to promote them as they have to countenance a rise in the incidence of mental ill-health among their pupils.   In fact, mental ill-health has become such a big issue that The Times has been running a campaign Time to Mind to draw its readers’ attention to the inadequacy of provision and prompt the government to take action to do something about redressing the balance for our young folk.  It appears that provision for children’s mental health is being seriously denied.  The NHS allocates only 6% of its budget to mental health overall and 0.6% to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

An investigation by The Times revealed that vulnerable children with mental health problems are being forced to wait for up to three-and-a-half years for assessments and almost two years for treatment. Continue reading

Should governors be paid and if so, what and for what?

13 Apr

The responsibilities and workload of school governors have grown unbelievably in the last few years.  No chair of governors worth her/his salt works for fewer than five hours a week.   Most chairs average at least 10 hours weekly.   A survey by the National Governors’ Association (NGA) revealed that 65% worked for 17 hours a week and 23% for over 36 hours.  With the rank and file of the rest, it is not unusual for at least two to three hours a week to be spent on school governance.

Consequently, we need to address four issues.

(i)         Should governors be paid?  If so, do we restrict payment to the chairs of governing bodies or extend it to all the members?

(ii)        If governors are to be paid, for what should they be paid?  Should it be for the work that they do and their expenses or should it be simply for the work they do or expenses?

(iii)       If governors are to be paid, should it be by way of “salaries” or a “stipends”?

(iv)       From where will the finance come, if governors are to be paid? Continue reading

Honing the effectiveness of the Chair of Governors

13 Apr

I           Introduction

All governors are equal but there is a case to be made for stating that some governors are more equal than others – in particular, two – the chair and unless s/he has decided not to be a governor, the headteacher.  How well they perform, more often than not, determines how well the rest of the governors do.  To round the effectiveness circle, the clerk to the governors, who is not a governor, must operate with efficiency and aplomb if the governing body is to succeed.   This article focuses on the role of the chair and the knowledge, skills and commitment required of her/him to shape an excellent governing body. Continue reading

Schools being left in Assessment limbo

13 Apr

In September 2014, the government scrapped the use of levels, which teachers had previously used to assess the progress and achievements of pupils at Key Stage 1 and 2.  The government did so for good reason i.e. to lessen the workload of teachers.  However, parents still expect to know how well their children are doing and the education watchdog, Ofsted, requires schools to demonstrate that the quality of teaching and learning and the educational provision is impacting positively on our young folk.  So, it is now left to schools to determine what assessment system to use when judging pupils’ progress and standards.

The government began a consultation in the Autumn Term 2014 to establish tools to replace levels with something better.  It tested out the views of the professionals on introducing performance descriptors.  See also page 30 of Governors’ Agenda Issue 60.

The consultation closed in December 2014 and the government published the outcome of it.  While there was general agreement that something must replace levels, there were criticisms about the use of the performance descriptors which the government wished to introduce.  Continue reading

The Pupil Premium Grant (PPG): Questions for Governors to Ask

13 Apr

In the 60th issue of Governors’ Agenda (see pages 27 to 29) we set out what the Premium was about, how much schools entitled to the grant will receive and the manner in which Ofsted judges whether the pupils (and taxpayers) are securing value for money.

In the March/April 2015 issue of Governing Matters, produced by the National Governors’ Association, John Dunford, the National Pupils’ Premium Champion, praises governors for the manner in which they ensure that their schools are using the resource well quoting the three reports that Ofsted has written on the subject.   In HMCI’s annual report in 2013/14, Sir Michael Wilshaw wrote: “Governing Bodies offer heads challenge as well as support. They are increasingly aware of their responsibility to evaluate how the Pupil Premium funding is used and monitor the school’s performance management process.”

However, there is more to be done.  Many governors know little about the amount of funding that their schools are receiving by way of the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG), less about how it is being used and hardly anything about whether it is being used well.   Besides, there is no single method for using it well, but rather several methods depending on the schools’ contexts.  Continue reading

Special Needs Pupils in Mainstream Schools

13 Apr

The damage youngsters suffer in the name of inclusion

Two Cambridge University professors, John McBeath and Maurice Galton, visited 20 mainstream state schools that teach more than 2,000 pupils to observe and assess how well children with statements of Special Educational Needs [now re-named Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs)] were doing.  Their findings were damning.  Continue reading

Pupil numbers continue to swell

13 Apr

On 2 March 2015, pupils transferring from primary to secondary state schools in September 2015 were offered places at the schools of their choice. Where there was a shortage, they were offered places at the nearest schools to where they live provided that there were vacancies.  The parents of pupils who were not offered places of their choice have a right to appeal to independent panels and many are exercising this right.

Those children eligible to begin school in September 2015 will know of their fate on 16 April 2015 and offered reception places.  The Local Government Association (LGA) has projected that nationally, we will need an additional 450,000 school places in the next five years and 900,000 in the next decade.   The government recognises this and has set aside £7.35 billion for the purpose of building new schools and expanding existing ones.

There are four main reasons for the increase in pupil numbers.

(1)        A rise in birth-rates.

(2)        An influx of refugee and asylum seekers from the troubled areas of the world.

(3)        The opening of the European Union (EU) borders.

(4)        Demographic shifts and population movements caused by a change of housing benefits. Continue reading

Can and should schools scale back the radicalisation of youth?

13 Apr

It appears that the Prevent Strategy of the government is failing to halt a minority of young people of Muslim persuasion from joining the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  In 2014, The Sunday Times received an anonymous complaint that 16 schools and academies in Birmingham – two that were faith and 14 which were secular institutions – were being taken over by Islamic radicals. This came to be known as the Trojan Horse affair.

Many, including the Muslim Council, denounced the letter as a fake.  Birmingham City Council, in the name of community cohesion, did little to nothing despite having hundreds of warnings, engaging in a culture of denial and appeasement.

Michael Gove, the then Secretary of State for Education, commissioned an investigation by Peter Clarke, the former Anti-Terrorist Chief. Clarke found the allegations had substance and legs.  There was evidence that Islamist extremists – some who were governors of the schools and academies – had infiltrated a number of Birmingham schools. The governors had appointed “sympathetic” headteachers, senior staff members and “like-minded” people to key positions, removing headteachers who were not “compliant” with their particular agenda.

Almost at the same time, Birmingham City Council also commissioned Ian Kershaw, a former headteacher, to investigate and write a report on the subject.

The reports of both, Clarke and Kershaw, were explosive. While neither found evidence of “direct radicalisation” both described bullying and intimidation, nepotism, bans on music, sex and citizenship education, extremist speakers given platforms at the institutions and the segregation of girls and boys.  These schools and academies had adopted the views held by Islamic terrorists of the persuasion of Jihadi John, i.e. Mohammed Emwazi, a British citizen, who beheaded a number of captives in the Islamic State – displaying videos of his acts of horror on the internet.  This is extremely worrying because the messages injected into pupils and students are seductive and flying in the face of the government’s Prevent Strategy.   Continue reading

Expert’s take on improving Ofsted’s practice

13 Apr

In our 60th issue of Governors’ Agenda (pages 17 – 20, Quo Vadis, Ofsted), published on-line in January 2015, we mentioned that Birmingham’s former Chief Education Officer and the ex-Commissioner for Education in London, Sir Tim Brighouse, said that the time had come to “give greater respect and trust to schools by shifting the balance of inspection to a rigorous self-evaluation which could be “externally scrutinised and validated”.

Almost at the same time, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) announced that he was bringing inspectors in-house and abandoning the practice of outsourcing to contractors with a view to standardising the judgements of inspectors and making them more consistent. In fact, Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director for schools, acknowledged that some inspectors had relied on a “narrow range of data” and were “guilty of using the published data as a safety net for not making fully rounded professional judgements”.

Tristam Hunt, the shadow education secretary, speaking to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) at it spring 2015 conference, said that the watchdog Ofsted was starting to “choke” the “joy, wonder and beauty” out of schooling, which could end up under an “avalanche of bureaucracy”.

Over the last Easter holidays, we learnt from The Times Educational Supplement (see the issue of 3 April 2015) that Sir Mike Tomlinson, HMCI from 2000 to 2002, added his concerns to the other siren voices.  He warned that today’s inspection system was inconsistent and too dependent on data.  Continue reading