Archive | December, 2019

What weighting should we give ‘Truth’?

31 Dec

Educational law requires that every school/academy promotes the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of all pupils.  In the spiritual component, faith schools and academies will ensure that the children learn about their distinctive religions.  Non-denominational schools/academies will, teach the pupils about faiths generally and encourage tolerance of all religions and none.   Good institutions, through the cross-curriculum strategy, ensure that children have access to social and cultural development as they do with moral education.

However, there is one aspect of the moral strand that vexes many. That is about telling the truth.  From an early age, responsible parents and institutions encourage children to speak the truth, even if that means getting themselves into trouble.  That is as it should be, especially in an age when we have a surfeit of fake news spouted on the internet by social media and leaders of some countries.

At election time, as we have seen recently, politicians seeking people’s votes blast out whatever it takes to get them first past the post and into parliament.  At their best, they are economical with the truth – withholding information that could be unpalatable to the electorate.

In good schools/academies, teachers warn pupils about not believing all they read and everything they are told, to be wary of people who are attractive, articulate and offering them gifts, in short, to be critical of what they see and hear.   In 2018, the Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills run by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy and the National Literacy Trust, reported that only 2% of children and young people could judge correctly whether a news story was real or fake.  Over 50% of teachers did not feel that the national curriculum was developing the literacy skills of pupils critical enough to judge whether something was true or false.

According to Ann Mroz, Editor of The Times Educational Supplement, there is “lots of examination of prepositions but less of propositions; plenty of nouns but sadly not enough nous”.

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The in-tray of the Secretary of State for Education

31 Dec

The new government that we have in the UK is likely to be the one we will have for the next five years.  It will be a time of significant change as we exit the European Union (EU).  The education team of Ministers, however, which could be reshuffled in February 2020 is comprised of the following members.

  • Mr Gavin Williamson – Secretary of State for Education
  • Mr Nick Gibb – Minister of State for School Standards
  • Mr Chris Skidmore – Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation
  • Ms Kemi Badenoch – Minister of State for Children and Families (currently on maternity leave)
  • Ms Michelle Donelan – Minister for Children and Families (providing maternity cover for Ms Badenoch)
  • Lord Agnew – Minister for the School System

Our politicians and civil servants will be so busy recreating the machinery to propel us into a go-it-alone future, that many fear other services, with the National Health Services being an exception, could be forgotten.   It is apposite, consequently, to remind ourselves of the educational promises of the prime minister, following his Boris bounce on 12 December 2019.

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Ofsted 2019: How will governance be inspected?

31 Dec

I        Preamble

In March 2019, The Key, the governors’ organisation, interviewed Matthew Purves, the Deputy Director for Schools Inspection. In response to a question, Mr Purves said that governance would now be part of the overall judgement on leadership and management.   There would not be a separate judgement or grade for the quality of the work that governors do.

He acknowledged, in broad terms, that pupils’ standards of achievement had risen over the last score of years.  However, he admitted that the inspectors had been too focused on data rather than the quality of education, which was at the heart of the new framework.  In future, there would be “a single conversation about teaching quality and outcomes”.  To ensure that this was appropriately covered, he explained, inspectors would be asking the following questions.

  • What is it that the school/academy wants children to learn?
  • How does that translate into classroom practice?
  • How is that curriculum passed on through teaching?
  • How do teaching, learning and the quality of education impact on the standards children achieve?’

Ofsted will examine how well those “responsible for governance” deal with the following matters.

  • Understanding their role and how well they carry it out.
  • The school’s/academy’s vision, ethos, and strategic direction.
  • The management of resources.
  • The oversight of finance and ensuring that money, including the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG), is well spent.
  • How well governors hold the executive leaders (the headteacher or CEO, for example) to account for educational performance, the performance management of staff and the quality of education and training.
  • How well governors fulfil their statutory duties (like the ones placed on school/academy by the Equality Act 2010, the Prevent Strategy and Keeping Children Safe in Education).
  • The way governors promote the welfare of learners and ensure that the education the school/academy provides positively impacts on all pupils.

A full description of the judgement is on pages 11 to 12 of the inspection framework and page 66 to 67 of the inspection handbook.

The structure of education in England is messy, because of which there are multiple accountabilities.  In schools and standalone academies, people in charge of governance are governors.  In Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), the responsibility for governance could lie with the trustees or the governors of the academies for which the trust board is responsible – or both.  Ofsted is keen to ensure that inspectors hold the right people to account.

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Dealing with conflicts on the governing board

31 Dec

It irks me when I hear someone say that there is considerable merit when people row with one another.  My prickles rise further when they add that conflicts are good for the soul.  They aren’t.  They frequently create win-lose situations.  At its worst, the outcome of a conflict involving two or more ends up with blood on the carpet. I have observed on several occasions how destructive conflicts have been during and in between meetings of the governing board.   Conflicts occur for a host of reason.

The first reason is a primeval one.  Our prehistoric ancestors responded with a fight-or-flight mindset, when confronted by danger.   If they fought, it was to win and for the enemy to lose.  If they lost, they either took flight or suffered fatalities.   It was a case of survival of the fittest.

Second, no one likes to lose and certainly not in front of spectators.  In the animal kingdom, the loser slinks away.  In human exchanges, often, there is nowhere to go but “to slink away”.   The loser feels trapped; the blood drains from the face and the conflicting encounter is followed by sleepless nights.

Conflicts are part of the human condition.  So, expect clashes at meetings of the governing board on contentious issues.   But they can be used to good effect.   Just as a kite soars high when it is confronts a gutsy wind, so also can great decisions be made by the governing board when members disagree with one another.

Conflicts can have positive outcomes, provided that there are certain ground rules.   However, if not managed carefully, they can cause ruination and chaos.

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Relationships and Sex Education: Implementation date draws closer

31 Dec

I        Introduction

The government has legislated that as from September 2020, all children in primary schools and academies will engage in relationships education. This will be expanded at secondary level to relationships and sex education (RSE).  Pupils will learn about how to keep safe online and taking care of their mental health.  In primary schools and academies, pupils will continue to learn (scientifically) about how, as they physically grow, their bodies morph when moving through puberty.

For primary schools and academies, the guidance about sex education is vague.   It stipulates only that pupils should be “taught lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) content at a timely point”. There is no indication of what is “timely”. However, schools and academies must ensure that LGBT content is “fully integrated into their programmes of study”, not “delivered as a standalone unit or lesson”. Teaching about sexual orientation must be inclusive and respectful and must give pupils “an equal opportunity to explore the features of stable and healthy same-sex relationships”.

Meanwhile, parents will continue to have the right to request that their children be withdrawn from those lessons up to the age of 15.  Headteachers will have the power and responsibility to grant such requests.

After the age of 15, pupils will decide for themselves whether to attend RSE classes. The government guidance states that headteachers are expected to talk to the parents of pupils below the age of 15 (who make the withdrawal requests), discuss the benefits of receiving this important part of the educational provision and “any detrimental effects that withdrawal may have on their children”.

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Framework for ethical leadership in education

31 Dec

Working educationally without a moral compass is tantamount to spinning away into space bereft of a steering wheel and without a clue about the destination.   It is, consequently, welcome that the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has developed a blueprint for the ethical leadership of schools, academies and colleges. ASCL took a year to do so.

Governors together with their headteachers are very much part of schools’ and academies’ leadership team.   Accordingly, there is merit in taking time out to read, digest and act on the framework, which sets out the characteristics of effective leaders.

I        The Framework

(1)     SELFLESSNESS

School, academy and college leaders should act solely in the interests of children and young people.

(2)     INTEGRITY

School, academy and college leaders must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. Before acting and taking decisions, they declare and resolve openly any perceived conflict of interests and relationships.

(3)     OBJECTIVITY

School, academy and college leaders must act and take decisions impartially and fairly using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias. Leaders should be dispassionate exercising judgement and analysis for the children and young people.

(4)     ACCOUNTABILITY

School, academy and college leaders are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

(5)     HONESTY

School, academy and college leaders should be truthful.

(6)     LEADERSHIP

School, academy and college leaders should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour whenever it occurs. Leaders include both, those who are paid to lead in schools, academies and colleges and those who volunteer to govern them.

II      Essential characteristics of good leaders

Schools, academies and colleges serve children and young people and help them grow into fulfilled and valued citizens. As role models for the young, how we behave as leaders is as important as what we do.

Leaders should show leadership through the following personal characteristics or values.

(a)     TRUST

Leaders are trustworthy and reliable. We hold trust on behalf of children and should be beyond reproach. We are honest about our motivations.

(b)     WISDOM

Leaders use experience, knowledge and insight. We demonstrate moderation and self-awareness. We act calmly and rationally. We serve our schools, academies and colleges with propriety and good sense.

(c)      KINDNESS

Leaders demonstrate respect, generosity of spirit, understanding and good temper. We give difficult messages humanely when conflict is unavoidable.

(d)     JUSTICE

Leaders are fair and work for the good of children. We seek to enable all young people to lead useful, happy and fulfilling lives.

(e)      SERVICE

Leaders are conscientious and dutiful. We demonstrate humility and self-control, supporting the structures, conventions and rules which safeguard quality. Our actions protect high-quality education.

(f)      COURAGE

Leaders work courageously in the best interests of children and young people. We protect their safety and their right to a broad, effective and creative education. We hold one another to account courageously.

(g)     OPTIMISM

Leaders are positive and encouraging. Despite difficulties and pressures, we are developing excellent education to change the world for the better.

Government nudges schools and academies to give more prominence to character education

31 Dec

On 5 November 2019, the government published a new set of benchmarks for schools and academies to rate how well they are doing to promote character education.  The guidance urges governors and headteachers develop, promote and assess pupils’ character within their normal curriculum.  They are also asked to encourage pupils to volunteer.   This mirrors the benchmarks that the former Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, set out for careers education Gatsby Foundation.  However, character education (unlike careers) is not statutory.

Ian Bauckham, chief executive of the Tenax School Trust, led an advisory group, which included representatives from other schools and academies, the unions and the voluntary sector, in the spring and summer of 2019 to create the benchmarks.

In the halcyon days, we would have described character education as the key component of the hidden curriculum, which is now being given a more prominent thrust.   In developing character education, a school/academy needs to reflect on six overarching aspects, which are as follows.

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Supporting children in care and all young people to handle social media

31 Dec

Parents and teachers face several challenging when bringing up young people.  Two groups of young people stand out.  The first is children in care.  The second relates to young people who are in danger of being addicted to social media.

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Is a generation of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities being short-changed?

31 Dec

A report by the Education Select Committee heavily criticised the government’s approach to the provision it makes for children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND). Members of the committee agreed with the government’s approach for the SEND reforms of 2014. However, the committee criticised the implementation of these reforms claiming that they were hampered by “poor administration and a challenging funding environment” leading to a “bureaucratic nightmare” for parents.

The Select Committee made a series of recommendations to improve the central administration of SEND provision. These include the following.

  • The health and education government departments should collaborate more to develop “mutually beneficial options for cost and burden-sharing” and prevent opportunities to “pass the buck”.
  • The government should increase the power of the local authorities (LAs) and the social care ombudsman to examine school and academy provision.
  • Provision should be made to bring together special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) in local areas to share best practice, knowledge and training.
  • The Department for Education (DfE) policy should change to allow LAs to open special schools.
  • A system should be set up for parents and schools/academies to report LAs that are acting unlawfully to the DfE.

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The Why, When, How and What of Governor Visits

31 Dec

I        Introduction

The governing board has four overarching functions, i.e.

  • develop the School’s/Academy’s strategy;
  • promote accountability, i.e. hold the headteacher and staff to account in promoting educational excellence as well as hold themselves to account on the same subject where the parents, general public and the government are concerned;
  • act as the school’s/academy’s critical friend; and
  • secure the school’s/academy’s finances by living within the institution’s means, ensuring that money is spent where it should be spent and securing good value for money.

The rule of thumb is that the governors keep a step removed from the headteacher and staff and not involve themselves in the detail of running the school/academy. This makes good sense as it means that governance and management do not get in the way of each other.  Besides, many governors have day jobs – especially those that have not retired – and will not have the time to fiddle with the day-to-day workings of the institution.

So how do governors know that the headteacher and staff are doing what they should be doing so that they can discharge their function as critical friends – i.e. the third function (see above) while maintaining a respectful distance?   Governors do their work on a voluntary basis and have lives – of work, rest and play – outside the institutions they govern.  It consequently makes sense that they maintain oversight rather than engage in day-to-day decision-making. While many hands make light work, too many cooks often spoil the broth.

II      The Why

Governing the school/academy well is predicated on the information governors garner.  Information is gleaned from three sources – third-, second- and first-hand.   Members of the public – especially parents and carers – and Ofsted (when they audit the quality of education during their inspections) provide third-hand information. The headteacher and staff generally provide second-hand information at meetings of the governing board.   And first-hand information, which is critical to validate and triangulate details of the school’s/academy’s workings, is gathered from visits to the institution.

All sources of data are necessary before governors can judge how well their schools/academies are doing, including but not exclusively during visits to the institution.  A health warning, here.  Much credence can be given to the picture that a governor gleans from visits, but, second- and third-hand information should not be neglected.   Remember, the pictures that the school/academy generates for governors during visits are snapshots of the education it is offering the children.   They are incomplete.   However, visiting the school/academy is necessary and should be followed with written reports to the headteacher and governing board.  In this manner, the board develops a composite photograph of the school/academy over time.

III      The When

What should be the frequency of visits?  There is nothing laid down about how often a governor should visit the school/academy.  However, it seems to me that visiting the school/academy during the working time at least two or three times annually – for half-a-day a time – is a good rule of thumb.  Also, new governors should arrange school/academy visits as soon after they take up their positions on the board as possible.

Ensure that visits are conducted at “sensible” times of the year.  Avoid times such as the Standard Assessment Tests week and the two months of the examination period during the summer.

Some governing boards have done well to arrange visits weeks over the academic year.   During a visit week, governors do a “blitz” popping into the school/academy – of course, with the agreement of the board, the headteacher and staff.   However, it is important for both, staff and governors, to acknowledge that these visits are not Ofsted inspections.  Rather, the governors are at the institution to see and celebrate good practice as well as to highlight concerns with a view – not to denigrate – but make things better.

IV       The How

For a governor visit to be effective it is important that it is conducted as professionally as possible. All governors – including the headteacher and the staff representatives on the board – should create and adopt a policy on governor visits so that they are clear about the purposes and the way these visits are conducted.

So that governors do not get into the way of one another, it is helpful for the board to allocate discrete responsibilities among the members for oversight of the different areas of the curriculum and/or year groups. Accordingly, there could be a governor with responsibility for English, another for Personal, Social, Sex and Health Education, a third for the Performing Arts and so on.

To start with, all stakeholders must agree that governors govern and the headteacher manages.  This means that while the headteacher is a servant of the governing board – especially during meetings of the board and its committees – governors do not have any powers to exercise when carrying out a school/academy visit during a normal working day. Rather, the headteacher is primus inter pares. Visiting governors must demur to her/him.

It is courteous and necessary for a governor to request the headteacher’s permission to visit the school/academy and give her/him enough notice. Once the date and time has been arranged, the governor could schedule appointments with the relevant staff members – such as the year group leader and/or the English coordinator.   Both, the governor and the staff member, would do well to acknowledge each other’s workload and accommodate rather than place obstacles in the way of the visit.  During the initial conversation, the governor must clarify the purpose of the visit and what s/he will be seeking from it.

The governor would have already had prior information of how the school/academy was doing in the area which will come under scrutiny.   For instance, if it is to oversee work in mathematics, the governor would have had access to the mathematics policy, the progress and achievements of pupils and the targets that the school/academy hopes to hit by the end of the current academic year.   No governor should go into a school/academy visit blind.

From the second and third-hand information that is available, the governor could begin to frame questions that are sent to the school leader/s in advance of and signal what s/he would like to see during the visit.  Strong links must be made to the School’s/Academy’s Development Plan.

Questions could also arise during the visit and may be directed at the appropriate staff members during or at the end of the visit.   Here is a sample.

  • How is the school/academy currently performing?
  • Are some parts more effective than others and if so why?
  • Are some groups of pupils doing better than others and if so why?
  • How does the school’s/academy’s current achievements compare with those previously?
  • How does the school’s/academy’s performance compare with that of other institutions?

For visits to be successful it is important for a governor to know not just what to do but also what to avoid doing.

  • No governor should comment on the quality of teaching. That is the role of headteacher, senior members of the management team and Ofsted inspectors.
  • Avoid interfering with the day-to-day running of the school/academy. If a governor spots mal-practice, it is imperative that s/he reports that back to the headteacher.

Following a visit, leave a written record of the impressions left.  (See Appendix.)  Stress the positive and highlight anything negative you observe by way of questions.  Just as children learn much by adults asking them questions and making them discover the answers for themselves, so also do we adults – and that includes the headteacher and staff of the institution.

At the end of the written report give an opportunity to the staff member – say the co-ordinator of the curriculum area which you observed – to comment on the visit.   Remember, the visit is a dialogue between the governor and the school/academy, not a monologue.

V      The What

The Key, a governors’ organisation, describes monitoring visits as occasions when governors

  • see how a specific aspect of the school/academy works in practice and
  • check progress is being made towards the school’s/academy’s strategic objectives.

There are at least two kinds of visits.

The first is a ‘learning walk’ where a governor is or several goernors are taken around the school/academy with the appropriate staff members to soak up the atmosphere and activities of the pupils and staff. During such a walk it is common for governors to talk to pupils and/or staff members to find out what is going on – i.e. what is being taught and what is learnt.

The second type of visit is when a governor dips into the lessons of teachers.  If the focus is on history – it will be history lessons – and so on.   This is generally followed by a meeting with the coordinator for the subject where the governor feeds back on her/his impressions and seeks to learn more about how the subject is being developed and the progress that the pupils are making.

Such a visit provides the opportunity

  • to validate the information that the headteacher and staff members are providing governors at meetings of the board and its committees;
  • learn about educational initiatives;
  • understand how policies are working in practice;
  • learn about what the pupils’ experiences are at the school/academy directly from the pupils; and
  • ensure that all staff members are singing from the same song-sheet on the School’s/Academy’s Development Plan.

 

Appendix

Governor’s Visit

 

 

Name of Governor

 

 

Focus of visit Date of visit
Class visited

 

 

Brief notes of visit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Positive Comments

 

1.

 

 

2.

 

 

3.

 

 

Three questions arising from the visit

 

1.

 

 

2.

 

 

3.

 

 

Teacher’s observations of visit