Archive | August, 2016

Parental Involvement: Key to Children’s Success

29 Aug

I           Exemplars of good parents

Most parents are keen for their children to succeed in life. Two pairs of parents I have been privileged to know are exemplary.  One is from Sri Lanka and the other from the Philippines. Both pairs arrived in London as refugees – their impossible circumstances causing them to leave their countries.

The father of children in one family has two part-time jobs – one in Tescos and the other in a BP garage.   The mother looks after the home and holds down a part-time job.   They have two daughters.   Father works all hours of the day and night.  When I last saw him it was at the BP garage from whether I sometimes buy my newspaper.  It was early in the morning and he had just completed his night shift at Tescos.

I asked him how he was.  He was beaming from one end of his face to the other.   His older daughter had just secure an upper second class honours degree in Bio-Chemistry from the University of Kent and was on the cusp of embarking on a Masters degree.   He proudly showed me on his I-phone pictures of her shaking hands with the Vice Chancellor at the awards ceremony.   The younger daughter was waiting for her GCSE results.  She sat for papers in 11 subjects and was expected to do very well.   He has told his daughters: “I am unable to study for you or help you in your academic work, but what I will do is support you in every other way.”  Both, the parents and the girls have heeded their father’s exhortations and flourished.

The father in the second pair works as a carer for someone with Parkinson’s disease.  His wife does part-time domestic work too.   They have three children – all girls. The eldest has just completed three successful years (out of five) to qualify as a doctor. She begins her practice – training in a hospital – in September 2016.  The middle daughter completed her A Levels, in which she achieved top grades and began her university studies to qualify as a solicitor.   The third, is 10 years old and doing well at school.

The parents have not bemoaned their fates. They have not blamed society for the adversity they have encountered.  They have not claimed social benefit but worked hard.  Most important of all, they have cared and been ambitious for their children – supporting and encouraging them in every way.   They are outstanding models for all of us. Continue reading

Towards good governance: mind the pitfalls

28 Aug

I           Preamble

Ministers and civil servants of the Department for Education (DfE) exhort schools to populate our governing bodies with governors who are knowledgeable and have discrete skills in areas such as human resources, estate management, finance and the law, among other things.  Where governors have gaps in knowledge, they are encouraged to read and train to discharge their responsibilities well.   The National Governors’ Association (NGA) has produced an excellent skills audit for governing bodies to identify and plug the gaps in knowledge and skills.

However, like a football team comprising talented players, a governing body may well have members who are both, knowledgeable and skilled, in all the identified areas, yet fail to function like a well-oil machine.  Why?

When I was a teacher and planned residential trips for groups of pupils, I organised games for them at the end of an arduous day’s work.  One game I played was to ask children to walk from point A to point B blindfolded.   Between the two points, I would place obstacles and invited each child to remember where these were placed by taking a good look before putting on the blindfold.  The children took it in turns to do so.  The one that succeeded did not touch any obstacle.

Often, when the “chosen one” began the journey, her/his peers shouted out instructions about the direction in which the child should move and the obstacles s/he was to avoid.      It was a great challenge which the youngsters enjoyed enormously. Sometimes, before the blindfolded child began the journey, I would mischievously take away all the obstacles. It was great fun to hear peers shouting “Left!”, “Right!” and “Straight”, “Avoid this!” and “Beware of that!” when there were no obstacles on the way and to see the surprised face of the “chosen one” at the end of the journey when the blindfold was removed.

The lesson that I learnt (and hoped the children did too) was that when embarking on a journey it is as important to know what to do as what not to do, to get from point A to point B.   For governors to be classed as “Outstanding” by Ofsted and others, it is no different.

So, what can governors do and avoid doing to succeed by minding the pitfalls and gaps?   There are (in broad terms) two groups and one individual comprising the (governing) body, per se.   The first group comprises the patricians – i.e. the Chair and Headteacher; the second group is made up of the plebeians – the rest of the members; and finally, we have the clerk, the servant of the governing body.  Each category has issues which can act as hazards.   Continue reading

Justine Greening takes over the education reins from Nicky Morgan

28 Aug

In the summer of 2016, Brexit led to the political demise of Ms Nicky Morgan, the ex-Education Secretary, and the appointment of Ms Justine Greening.

Ms Greening, representing Putney in London, was elected to Parliament in 2005.  Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4, listed her as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom.  Born in 1969, Ms Greening was appointed Economic Secretary to the Treasury in May 2010, becoming Secretary of State for Transport in October 2011.   In September 2012, she took charge of International Development and continued in the post before being appointed Education Secretary on 14 July 2016 by Prime Minister Theresa May.

In June 2016, Ms Greening announced on Twitter that she was in a “happy same-sex relationship”. She campaigned strongly to remain in Europe, though she acknowledged that that sometimes the country was better off outside it.   Continue reading

Implementation of the National Funding Formula postponed

28 Aug

I           Secretary of State’s Announcement

On the 21 July 2016, Ms Justine Greening, the new Secretary of State for Education, submitted a written statement to Parliament explaining that the National Funding Formula (NFF) which was due to take effect in the next financial year would be postponed to 2018/19.

Readers will recall that on 7 March 2016, the Department for Education (DfE) issued the first of its two stage consultation process on the national funding formula on the basis of which it sought views on

  1. the principles that underpin the formula and
  2. the pupil characteristics and school factors it should include in the formula.

Continue reading

Boost staff morale to control expenditure in schools/academies

28 Aug

I        Staff: Human Resources v Resourceful Humans

With the financial noose tightening around the necks of schools/academies, governing bodies have to keep a close check on expenditure and find innovative ways of raising funds.   Staff costs consume the lion’s share of a school budget – anything from 80% to 85%, though one school, with which I worked a few years ago, bucked the trend by spending 102% of its budget share on staff salaries.  The governors leaned heavily on parents – through voluntary contributions – and charities to make up the shortfall in the overspend.

Spending 80% of the budget on staff is unsurprising given that staff members are the most valuable resources of a school.   For governors to keep a firm rein on this area of spending, they don’t have to operate curmudgeonly.  However, they should ensure that the ambience at the school invigorates and motivates staff.   There are sufficient pressures on teachers, in particular, to make this exercise challenging.  They are subject to myriad demands coming from disparate sources.  The mix is toxic: government wishes, parental expectations, Ofsted inspections, changes to the curriculum and assessment, league tables – to name just a few.   The over-emphasis on data has led some taking their eyes of the ball – i.e. the children, for whom the overwhelming number of teachers became teachers in the first place.

The pressures have taken the stuffing out of many, so that, come the holidays, they collapse in a heap.  However, in term time, teachers who are the victims of the hot house environments of their schools, fall ill over varying periods of time, causing their governing bodies concern as they have to find extra monies to cover for their absences.

Education data consultants, SchoolDash, analysed teacher absences for the academic year 2014/15 using the workforce census data published by the Department for Education (DfE).  They discovered that in primary schools/academies rated “Inadequate” by Ofsted, teacher absences averaged 9.97 days compared to 6.26 days for those working in “Outstanding” schools/academies.   In secondary schools/academies rated “Inadequate” the average teacher absences was 8.94 days compared to 5.72 days for the outstanding ones.

The good news is that for teachers taking sick leave, the average number of days lost was 7.6 – down from 7.9 the previous year.

Primary teachers were more likely to go off sick in the West Midlands (55%) and least likely in the north-east (48%).  At secondary level, almost two-third of teachers in the south-west (65%) took time off last year, compared to 56% in the north-east.  However, teachers in the north-east were more likely to be absent because of sickness for longer periods of time.  The lowest average number of days off by region was achieved by London’s primary teachers, i.e. 6.03 days and the capital’s secondary teachers – 5.97%.

The schools suffer in other ways, even if they have the financial wherewithal to hire supply teachers, in that the stand-ins are not that good, consequently, not welcomed by the pupils whom they have to teach.

If schools/academies are to flourish, they need to promote staff happiness. This does not mean that the atmosphere should be one described by Tennyson in his poem on the Lotos-Eaters where “slumber is more sweet than toil” and brother mariners are exhorted to rest and wander no more.

Even if our schools/academies are not haemorrhaging teachers out of the profession, ignoring their welfare is detrimental to the quality of education we are keen to promote.   Several of our school leaders, who themselves are under considerable pressures, pass these pressures onto their staff contributing to the low morale and driving them to sick beds and doctors’ surgeries.  Headteachers want the best for their schools.  However, the methods deployed are sometimes counterproductive and the outcome is plummeting staff morale leading to absences which puts pressure on school budgets.  Continue reading

Amanda Spielman, appointed Chief Inspector-Designate

28 Aug

I           Changing of the Guard at Ofsted: Sir Michael Wilshaw to retire

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) of Schools, appointed almost five years ago by Michael Gove (remember how he described Sir Michael as “My hero”?), former Education Secretary and Lord Chancellor, is due to retire on 31 December 2016. While it is tempting to disparage Sir Michael, because he is not the easiest of people with whom to share a pint in a pub, he has done much to improve the quality of education in England.

Sir Michael came with an impressive pedigree.  The son of a postman, he became Headteacher of St Bonaventure’s (Boys’) Catholic School at the age of 39.  He was knighted, while Headteacher of that school, in 2000.   In 2003, he was appointed Executive Principal of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney – which was in a very socially deprived area. Students severely underachieved. During his tenure, he raised standards.  Many youngsters did very well, moving on to prestigious universities, including Oxbridge, to pursue their studies.

When Christine Gilbert’s tenure ended in December 2011, Sir Michael was appointed Ofsted’s supremo, a position he took up in January 2012.  During his time as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), he got rid of 40% of school inspectors, ended outsourcing inspection to contractors – bringing the arrangements in-house by recruiting a whole cadre of headteachers and other school leaders – and replaced the “Satisfactory” grade for schools with “Requires Improvement”.

He kept his focus on the central purpose of his work – i.e. the pupils.  “As important as the reorganisation of Ofsted was,” he said, “being Chief Inspector was not and has never been a purely bureaucratic position. We are charged with holding schools to account and improving the lives of our youngest citizens, especially the poorest.  And to get things done, it is sometimes necessary to challenge, to take risks”  In other words, he was making the point that to cook a tasty omelette, he had to crack a number of eggs and some eggheads.

In the process of establishing his fierce independence, he alienated ministers and civil servants, especially when he made the point that he was not answerable to them but to Parliament.   Not so long ago, he fell ill and had to have a heart operation from which he has recovered.   He deserves a healthy, happy and long retirement when he hands over the reins of office on 31 December 2016.

II          Nicky Morgan appoints Amanda Spielman

One of the last acts of former Education Secretary of State, Ms Nicky Morgan, was (on 7 July 2016) to appoint Amanda Spielman, to follow Sir Michael.   This was despite the House of Commons Education Select Committee overwhelmingly rejecting her (Mrs Spielman) as it was left “unconvinced” by her suitability. The members of the Committee questioned whether she was the right person for the top Ofsted job.

Fifty-five-year-old Mrs Spielman is currently chair of the exams regulator, Ofqual.   She saw off a strong field of candidates including the chief executive of the Ormiston Academies Trust, Toby Salt, and the general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, Russell Hobby.  Continue reading

Developing children’s financial nous

28 Aug

The love of money is the root of much evil, but money, per se, makes the world go round.   Maslow would, in all probability, have placed money at the base of his triangle of human motivation – an essential for meeting physiological needs, which includes food, water, warmth and rest.  The best things in life may be free – such as the air we breathe, the songs of birds that we hear and the happiness emanating from the good life.  However, to appreciate these, human beings need food, water and creature comforts, which are not available unless humans have enough money.

It is sad, therefore, that in the United Kingdom, we have accumulated a national debt of £1.5 trillion – a debt that we will be expecting our children, grandchildren and future generations to pay back to the world.  And this debt can increase.

Schools/academies are suspect for not devoting sufficient time to teaching pupils/students how to manage money. Why else would so many, in a straw poll of 2,500 students between the ages of 11 and 16 carried out by The Times Educational Supplement (TES), list financial themes among the 100 things they would like to do before they finish their schooling such as “Learn what to do if you are in debt”, “Learn how to save money” and “Learn about taxes, mortgages and rent”.   In short, they are keen to learn how to survive (if not flourish) in the world of austerity that they will face. Continue reading

Child obesity: a weighty problem

28 Aug

I           The growth of obesity

I promise you that I am not a ‘fattist’! Some of my best friends and colleagues are fat.  However, we need to confront a situation which is not doing us any good.

Discriminating against people because of their race or gender is unfair.   People don’t have the option of being male or female, black, white or any of the shades in between.  However, we do have the choice in deciding what and how much we eat.

Would you say that we discriminate unfairly against smokers by banning them from smoking indoors?  No.  If they want to harm themselves, so be it.  The problem is they harm others – even when they smoke on our thoroughfares, polluting the air we breathe when taking a walk.   I resent having to share a bus-stop, for instance, with a “chimney” as the smoke damages my health.

In the same way, people who are overweight or morbidly obese disadvantage others in myriad ways.   For instance, consider the space they consume in trains, tubes, buses and, yes, even in aeroplanes.   When an obese person is hospitalised, special wheelchairs have to be rolled out to accommodate their bulk.   They need larger than usual beds. They also pose a huge expense to the National Health Service (NHS) because of weight-related illnesses.    Continue reading

Pupil Exclusion: Legal Requirements and Good Practice

28 Aug

I           Introduction

The most daunting and challenging aspect of school governance after that of appointing a headteacher, is dealing with the aftermath of a pupil exclusion by the headteacher.  Governors are exhorted to develop policies where all pupils may thrive.  An implicit requirement is the promotion of inclusion. Youngsters should feel part and parcel of the school community, where they are safe and happy.  Yet, it is open to the headteacher to exclude a pupil that does not fall into line with the school’s behaviour policy.   Theoretically, the concept is anathema to the running of an outstanding school.  In fact, Ofsted inspectors raise quizzical eyebrows whenever they make judgements on schools if pupils are ‘turfed’ out routinely.

Yet, there are some pupils, for a multitude of reasons who make it impossible not only for them to thrive but also their peers.  They are disruptive, aggressive, inattentive and, altogether, unwelcome to the school community.   How often have I heard it said that such-and-such a pupil is like a virus or bacterium to the school-body politic and has no place in education.   Yet, we have a legal (if not moral) responsibility to educate all our children – if the parents of a child so choose to have them educated at school (and not otherwise with home-tutoring).

So how can governors deal with this burning issue without getting themselves burnt? At the outset, the governing body has to establish a pupil behaviour policy.  In an academy or a multi-academy trust (MAT), the trust, per se, will determine who is responsible for constructing such a policy.

A good policy will set out the school’s/academy’s expectations of pupils.  It will describe strategies for promoting good behaviour – especially opportunities for children to learn how to live in amity with one another and adults – and the rewards they may expect.

The policy will describe the measures the school will take to bring them to heel where, despite the best efforts of the staff, pupils misbehave.  It will be a hierarchy of sanctions.  In extremis, pupils could be excluded for fixed-term periods, and after that, permanently.

Statutory guidance from the Department for Education states that permanent exclusion should be used as a last resort, when all other methods for promoting the child’s good behaviour fails. It must be lawful, reasonable and fair. The policy should explicitly state the kinds of behaviour which will result in permanent exclusion, such as peddling drugs – in or outside the school – and bringing a weapon to school.

A school may not discriminate on the basis of protected characteristics such as disability, race and/or gender.  It must give particular attention to vulnerable pupils treating them fairly.    It also states that only the headteacher may exclude, unless, of course, s/he is unwell or the post vacant, in which case, the deputy headteacher or acting headteacher is empowered to exclude.  Continue reading

Will Brexit be good for education?

28 Aug

The media has been teeming with speculation about the effect of Brexit on the economy. (The vote in favour of exit from the EU was narrow, 51.9% to 48.1%.)  Much less has been written about the impact that it is likely to have on education, an issue worth exploring.  Newly-installed Prime Minister Theresa May, who has taken up the reigns of leadership, spends considerable time ascertaining the views of advisers and ministers and more time after reflecting on the information garnered before acting.   While Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, is trying to hustle May into triggering the Brexit process by invoking Section 50, she is holding back and considering what must be done by way of preparation.

(1)       Impact on Schools

(a)        Pupils

Our schools have had to cope with an influx of pupils, several from the Eastern European countries. While there is a headwind to ensure that those children from EU countries currently in the UK remain in the UK, Brexit will put a stop to more joining them, unless there are good reasons to do otherwise – i.e. their parents are employed to work in those professions where we are short of expertise.   However, if both, the EU and Britain, don’t find a way of creating win-win situations, our industry will lose out.  The welcome of the children of other European countries could lose out.   Further, the children of parents from other European countries currently in the country, many of whom have been powering our economy, will be forced to leave.

The loss of such pupils could leave our schools/academies culturally bereft, especially as the curriculum – overt and covert – has benefited from having them as part of our education system.

About 5,000 children from EU countries are studying in our independent boarding schools.  Brexit is likely to increase restrictions and add to the complexity of travel arrangements, making their parents reconsider whether they want their children to be educated in these institutions.  If the responses of the parents are negative, the independent schools could well be in financial straits. Continue reading