Archive | April, 2016

The “how” is at least as important as the “what” and the “why” of good governance

9 Apr

I           The “What” and the “Why”

The advice streaming out of the Department for Education (DfE) to governors is all about ensuring that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to discharge their functions.  The government obsesses so much about these aspects that it is planning to legislate for schools and academies to do away with parental representation on their governing bodies. And where the governing body wishes to have parental representation, it will be required to ensure that the parents are knowledgeable and skilled in school governance.  (See 3.29 to 3.35 of the White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere.)

However, let us address a simple question first.  Will having knowledgeable and skilled governors on boards be enough for the governing body to operate effectively and make the right, positive impact on the quality of education, teaching and learning and pupil progress and achievement?  I don’t think so.

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The Education and Adoption Act and the Rise of the Regional School Commissioners

9 Apr

I        The contents

On Tuesday, 23 February 2016 the Education and Adoption Bill 2015 completed its passage through Parliament. The Act

  • empowers the Secretary of State to convert every school judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted into a sponsored academy;
  • enables the Secretary of State to intervene in maintained schools considered to be underperforming, and constrains local authorities from doing so in some circumstances;
  • expands the legal definition of the ‘eligible for intervention’ category to include ‘coasting’ schools, and allows the Secretary of State to intervene through a range of measures including requiring the school to become a sponsored academy; and
  • enables intervention in academies on the basis that they are ‘coasting’.

When the Act was journeying through Parliament as a Bill, the definition of “coasting” was applied only to maintained schools but this was altered by the government following pressure from the House of Lords.

The details of how the Act’s provisions will be implemented will be set out in a new version of the Schools Causing Concern guidance. The DfE consulted on the drafts of both, this guidance and the proposed ‘coasting’ definition, in late 2015. The outcome is expected to be published in the near future.

In addition, the Act

  • gives power to the Secretary of State to issue directions, with time limits, to school governing bodies and local authorities to speed up academy conversions;
  • places a new duty on schools and local authorities in specified cases to take all reasonable steps to progress the conversion;
  • requires schools and local authorities in specified cases to work with identified sponsors towards ‘making academy arrangements’ with those sponsors;
  • removes the requirements for a consultation to be held where a school ‘eligible for intervention’ is being converted to a sponsored academy.

Government amendments tabled in the Lords and carried into law will require a new sponsor to communicate his/her plans for a school to parents.

Speaking in the Commons on 23 February 2016, Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that, although not precluding those who choose to consult on a planned academy conversion, the law would end the current “rigid approach that allowed vested interests to prevent sponsors from taking decisive action and to delay the process of transformation”.

The government is planning to use its powers of intervention through the eight Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs). The initiative was taken as a practical response to establishing an intermediate cadre of “civil servants” between Whitehall and the growing number of academies.

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Government Unveils it National Strategy for Education in Education Excellence for All

9 Apr

I        Content

We would be daft to deny Nicky Morgan’s assertions that “education has the power to transform lives” and her desire to secure higher standards with a view to securing our children’s future.   In her Foreword to the White Paper, she is correct to write that one in three children leaving primary school in 2010 did not attain the norm in both, English and mathematics, albeit she alleges that they did not know how to “read, write and add up properly” – which is not true.   She also mentioned that we have been falling behind in the international league tables, which is all too true.

The vision of the Department of Education, which she leads, is commendatory.  It focuses on our young people and aims to

(i)         secure their safety and promote the country’s youth’s well-being;

(ii)        ensure that there is educational excellence everywhere;

(iii)       prepare young people for adult life.

It would be foolhardy to deny the principles underpinning the White Paper, which are that

(i)         children and young people come first;

(ii)        all those involved in education must have high expectations for all our children;

(iii)       the government must promote a central policy focusing on outcomes, not on methods;

(iv)       the government creates “supported autonomy”; and

(v)        ministers and civil servants are responsive to need and autonomy.

Autonomy is not licence; rather, it is the sibling of accountability.   For too long, schools have been subjected to and hamstrung by fetters and diktat of both, central and local government.   Schools must be given space to breathe.  Just as parents need to give their children wings to fly, government has to give schools the freedom to scale the heights.  The White Paper quotes Joel Klein, American lawyer and former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, which serves more than 1.1 million pupils in 1,600 schools:  “You can mandate adequacy but you cannot mandate greatness; it has to be unleashed.”

The White Paper exhorts us to have high expectations for our children and build capacity and capability to grow their young people and future generations.

It goes on to set out seven levers for achieving these goals.

(i)         A sufficient supply of great teachers everywhere.

(ii)        Great leaders in our schools.

(iii)       A school-led system where every school is an academy with local authorities having a different role to play from the one that they current do.   In particular, LAs will

  1. ensure every child has a school place;
  2. ensure the needs of vulnerable pupils are met; and
  3. act as champions for all parents and families.

(iv)       The prevention of underperformance and available help for schools to go from good to great; school-led improvement, with scaffolding and support where it’s needed.

(v)        High expectations of those working in and benefiting from our education system and a world-leading curriculum for all.

(vi)       An education system that is fair and ambitious for every child and is accountable to its users.

(vii)      The availability of the right resources in the right hands and the allocation of finance where it can do the most good.

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Changes to Key Stage 2 Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) from 2016

9 Apr

I        The arrangements

From 2016, pupils at the end of Key Stage (KS) 2 will continue to sit externally-set and marked tests in mathematics, reading, and grammar, punctuation and spelling. These will be used for school performance measures from 2016 onwards. A sample of pupils will sit tests in science as well, to give a picture of national performance in this subject.

Teacher assessment in maths, reading, writing and science will continue. Tests and assessments will reflect the 2014 National Curriculum and will be reported as scaled scores.

The 2016 assessment and reporting arrangements (ARA), published by the Standards and Testing Agency (STA), explains that the new KS2 National Curriculum tests (SATs) will consist of

  1. English reading: with associated resources of reading and answer booklets;
  2. English grammar, punctuation and spelling paper 1: short-answer questions;
  3. English grammar, punctuation and spelling paper 2: spelling;
  4. Maths paper 1: arithmetic;
  5. Maths paper 2: reasoning; and
  6. Maths paper 3: reasoning.

The ARA document states that the KS2 tests will be administered in the week beginning 9 May 2016. Table 3.3 on page 8 of the ARA document shows the scheduled days when tests must be taken. It explains that these dates may change.

The STA’s guidance about KS1 and KS2 test dates in 2016 explains that the KS2 science sampling tests will take place in the weeks commencing 6 and 17 June 2016.

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Uncertainty Continues to Dog Secondary Examination Reforms

9 Apr

In under a term, schools/academies will be expected to introduce new curricular arrangements in 20 subjects for GCSEs and A and AS levels – a tsunami of educational reforms.   At the time of writing, Ofqual (the Office of Qualifications) has still to approve two-thirds of them – i.e. 104 out of 156 new specifications – in nine subjects at the AS and A Levels and 15 subjects for the GCSE examinations.   The GCSEs include the English Baccalaureate qualifications in the sciences, languages, geography and history.

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The “Governance” of Multi-Academy Trusts

9 Apr

I        Preamble

A Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) is a group of semi-independent schools – formally called academies, which have clubbed together.  The trust is accountable to the Department for Education.   There are now about 5,000 academies in the country.  Altogether, 48% of these are in some kind of group arrangement.  Local authority maintained federated schools are not unlike MATs.

With government determine to convert every single school into an academy, it is, perhaps, apposite for us to give some thought and time to reviewing how a MAT should govern.

A MAT is a single legal structure that is responsible for several academies within it.  A board of trustees/directors governs the MAT.  However, more often than not, it delegates considerable powers to local academy committees/governing bodies.  An academy trust has articles of association, the legal governing document that sets out the composition and procedures for the academy trust.   However, this must not be confused with the scheme of delegation that every MAT should have to clarify the roles and responsibilities of

(i)         the trust body;

(ii)        the body that has oversight of an academy;

(iii)       the chief executive; and

(iv)       the headteacher of each academy.

With the local authorities in a kind of financial free-fall, schools have had to find other ways of operating in collaboration with one another.   They do it mainly through MATs or federations to

  • pool and deploy resources more efficiently;
  • share professional expertise and learn from one another;
  • offer career opportunities for talented and/or ambitious staff members;
  • improve the quality of education for the pupils; and,
  • ultimately improve pupil progress and achievement

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Teacher-Workload Challenge: Review Groups’ Report to Government

9 Apr

On 31 March 2016, the three workload review groups commissioned by Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, released their reports.  Their findings and recommendations, which were accepted in full by Mrs Morgan, were as follows.

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Researchers propose mechanisms for turning around a failing school/academy

9 Apr

I        The Global Educational and Skills Forum

The Global and Education and Skills Forum (GESF) held in Dubai on 12-13 March 2016, will be memorable for many reasons – not least for Hanan Al Hroub’s winning the Global Teacher Prize of $1 million awarded by Sunny Varkey Foundation.

Mrs Hanan Al Hroub, who was born in Bethlehem, grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp.   She has dedicated her life to teaching following an incident in which her children were left deeply traumatised by a shooting incident they witnessed on their way from school.  Hanan is committed to a “no violence” approach which is set out in a book she wrote, We Play and Learn.  She fosters trusting, respectful, honest and affectionate relationships with her students, emphasising the importance of literacy.  She has generously shared her philosophy and approach at teacher training sessions and in conferences organised by the Ministry.

The GESF this year will also be remembered for another reason.  Dr Alex Hill, Associate Professor at the Kingston Business School, Kingston University, shared his research findings on academies in relation to how to turn around a failing school.   The issue continues to be of growing importance.

While many aver that converting a school “going down the pits” into a successful one is “Mission Impossible”, the internet is awash with articles capturing the experiences of many who have been engaged in this exercise.  Accordingly, Professor Alex Hill, in collaboration with academics from Cambridge University, was commissioned by the government to find the secret of successful transformations.

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Character Education: Is it the Holy Grail to Academic Success?

9 Apr

I           Resilience

One of the recent preoccupations of Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has been “character education”.   This is unsurprising, given that Michael Gove, current Justice Secretary and her predecessor, made both, the curriculum and examinations and tests more rigorous causing young people to stress out.  Accordingly, she has been investing time and resources in seeing how children could be made more resilient.

Children in the United Kingdom grow up in a cosseted environment.   Surfaces on which they play must be safe; they are not permitted to go out into the streets to ride their bikes or kick balls in case they are kidnapped and abused by paedophiles or run over by cars.   So outside play is replaced with inside tablets; and I am not talking about pills.   A March 2016 poll revealed that 6-to-11-year-old children spent less time outside than the daily hour allowed to prisoners.

And if they do not know how to look after themselves, children are not developing the character tools they need – such as resilience or buoyancy – to negotiate the hidden dangers on the road of life or to survive failures on the road to success.   They have truly become the “snowflake” generation.  This is why Mrs Morgan is keen to foster resilience and character education.

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