Archive | April, 2015

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

How well are we doing educationally as a nation?

13 Apr

When we read articles in the press about the standards of children in schools, it is difficult to believe that several countries look to this nation as a shining example of educational practice. Yet it is true. In particular, England’s educational practice, especially the curriculum, qualifications and pedagogy, is the envy of most countries the world over.

I recall years ago, working as a sub-editor for The Statesman, an English daily in Calcutta, India, when a journalist with the most putrid English one could find East of Suez, boasted to fellow hacks that he was “Oxford-returned”.  I asked him what he meant by “Oxford-returned”.  He replied that he had been to Oxford.  I decided not to pursue the matter, knowing full well that, with his poor English, he most likely went on a visit to the town and its university to take a boat ride on The Thames rather than for purposes of study – a case of the cat going to see the Queen and frightening the little mouse under the chair.

The point I am trying to get across is that Oxford and Cambridge – like the education school, FE and HE systems – are highly valued in countries like India.   Parents, in the East and Far East, sacrifice much to get their progenies to study here.   Continue reading

What do the major parties have to offer schools?

13 Apr

Election fever is gripping the nation and no party appears to be sure of winning the next general election.  The time has come, consequently, to review briefly the educational policies of the three major political parties so as to enable all those in the thick of delivering the service have the opportunity reflect on who would be best for education.  Continue reading