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Reflections on teacher supply and teaching quality

12 Aug

A school or academy is only as good as the quality of teaching that is experienced by the pupils.   Research has borne that out.   To achieve good quality teaching, schools and academies need first to have teachers and second good teaching.  However, teacher shortages continue to bug the body politic.

Government has recognised that there is a shortage of good teachers and the problem is not going away any time soon.   The fact that the former Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, published in January 2019 The recruitment and retention strategy is an implicit acknowledgement that the problem exists.  It is unlikely to be resolved speedily for a host of reasons.  However, there are a few measures schools and academies can take to make teaching more pleasurable for the pupils so that they will want to attend as well as their teachers and support staff.  This could attract more young people into pedagogy.

Meanwhile, what are the contributory factors to teacher shortages?

(1)        First, inordinate pressures are placed on teachers to make pupils perform consistently well.   These pressures stem from national and international competition.   Schools and academies are constantly compared to one another and to institutions.

(2)        Second, the inspection regimen has (until now) focused narrowly on pupils’ test and examination results, albeit, Amanda Spielman, HMCI, is moving from concentrating on results to the quality of education.    She wants institutions to consider the “hows”, “whys” and “whens” of what they teach rather than endlessly chasing and analysing data that take the soul out of education and leave teachers burnt out.

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Timpson Review on Pupil Exclusions: Government determined to curb off-rolling

12 Aug

I           Exclusion Vignette

A few years ago, a group of inspectors on their way to a school which was to be brought under the watchdog’s microscope were grounded a few hundred yards from their destination because their car had broken down.   Three young lads who saw them offered to help.  They fished out the jack, raised the car on it, opened the bonnet, fiddled with the engine and in little time resolved the problem and set the engine running.

The inspectors were grateful, overjoyed and effusive in their thanks.   They asked these young men who they were and what they had been planning to do.

“We are pupils at ……. School. We were heading back to our homes.”

“Why?” asked the inspectors, “especially as it is a working day.”

“Oh,” said the second boy, “we were told to go home by the headteacher because we have been described as disruptive and informed that inspectors would be visiting the school.”

I am not sure what the outcome of that inspection was as it happened some time ago.  However, it is not unknown for schools and academies to engage in such dubious practices today, even though a school/academy will be given under 24 hours’ notice of an inspection.    What is sad is not only that in some cases excluded pupils miss out on learning, but also that they have considerable potential to learn based on the talents they have (as seen from this incident), if only  schools and academies press the right buttons.

II          The Timpson Review

On 7 May 2019, Edward Timpson, former children’s minister, published his review on the exclusions of pupils.  It made 30 recommendations all of which were accepted by the Government.

Timpson’s review included good and bad news. The good news was that 85% of mainstream schools/academies had not expelled any pupils in the academic year 2016/17. The bad news was that in each of 0.2% institutions that had expelled pupils more than 10 pupils had been excluded in that academic year.  Vulnerable pupils were more likely to be excluded. Altogether, 78% of permanent exclusions were of children who had special needs or classified as being eligible for free school meals.

Fewer Bangladeshi and Indian pupils were excluded than White British, Black Caribbean and mixed White and Caribbean ones.

In October 2017, former Prime Minister, Theresa May appointed Edward Timpson to carry out a review on the exclusions of pupils in schools and academies in response to the Race Disparity Audit. Edward Timpson was asked  to lead the review in March 2018.  He set out to explore how schools use exclusion.

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Managing critical incidents: tragedies, threats and disasters

12 Aug

(1)     Preparing for the unexpected

Schools/academies are centres of learning.  However, threats, disasters and tragedies sometimes disrupt the conditions for learning.   Governors, headteachers and staff must deal with mishaps and calamities expeditiously and effectively as and when they arise.  This is possible only if there are critical incident plans in place.   Better still, governors, headteachers and staff should be familiar with the contents of these plans and take swift and appropriate action in line with them as and when needs must.

What does one do if the school/academy is on fire? How will the authorities act if pupils on a school trip are involved in a car, plane, train or boat crash?  What if a pupil suffering from epilepsy has a fit but the school is not aware of her condition or does not know what to do in such an eventuality?   Preparation for these unusual events are crucial for the smooth running of the institution.

The Department for Education (DfE) has provided useful guidance for schools/academies on what to do to plan for such emergencies. A plan must be generic and provide for responding appropriate to the following incidents.

  • Serious injury to a pupil or member of staff as a consequence (for instance) of a transport accident
  • Serious injuries to pupils who are on a school trip on road, sea or air
  • Significant damage to school property (e.g. fire)
  • Criminal activity (e.g. bomb threat)
  • Severe weather resulting, for instance, in flooding
  • Public health incidents such as a flu pandemic
  • The effects of a disaster in the local community – such as the Grenfell Tower inferno that happened in the summer of 2019.

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Leonardo da Vinci

12 Aug

I           The Polymath

On 2 May 1519, a little over 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest polymaths that ever lived, died (possibly) of a stroke, according to Francis I of France, who was a close friend.  He was 67 years old.   The sixteenth century biographer of Renaissance artists, Vasari, said Leonardo was filled with repentance in his death throes, saying that he “had offended against God and men by failing to practice his art as he should have done”.  He sent for a priest to confess and receive the Holy Sacrament.

A score of years later, Francis I was reported by the sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini as saying: “There had never been another man born in the world who knew as much as Leonardo, not so much about painting, sculpture and architecture, as that he was a great philosopher.

It is salutary to reflect on the life of this great man five centuries later at a time when we encourage our children to specialise.  The argument advanced is that specialisation assists them in building focused careers.  They will thrive (at least as long as there is a demand for that specialism), if not flourish.  However, the clarion call to do so leads them to learn more and more about less and less so that they end up knowing everything about nothing.  This is not to say they become generalists – learning less and less about more than more – because then they will end up knowing nothing about everything.

The point is that education should be about encouraging young people to follow their interests, grow in the directions which help them lead whole and fulfilled lives and develop a sense of balance.   The more talented ones could strive to emulate Leonardo da Vinci.

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Autonomy vs Accountability

18 Apr

For as long as I can remember, education has been vexed with the twin rivalries of autonomy and accountability. They appear to be in constant strife with each other.   There was a time when the nation accepted that educationists, especially teachers, knew best, and left them to get on with the job of educating our children – i.e. to be autonomous.   However, there were problems.

I           The downside of autonomy

All was not well in “the secret garden”.  This unease was given body during an epic moment when the late Prime Minister Jim Callaghan, in 1976, spoke at Ruskin College, Oxford.  He referred to “legitimate public concern about trendy teaching methods, to “unease felt by parents and others about the new informal methods of teaching, which seem to produce excellent results when they are in well-qualified hands but are much more dubious when they are not”.    In other words, Callaghan wished to introduce a measure of accountability.

His speech sparked off the Great Debate.  Parents were to be given more information and rights.  Ultimately the national curriculum for England and Wales was imposed on schools and central government began to assume considerable educational powers and control on what was taught, including the pedagogy deployed, and how the impact was to measured.

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Ofsted Inspections: All Change in September 2019

18 Apr

(1)       Ofsted’s Deputy Director heralds changes to inspections

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has signalled a radical change to how school/academy inspections are to be carried out from 1 September 2019. Consultations on the draft inspection handbook, which began on January 16, 2019, closed on 5 April 2019.

Writing in the March/April 2019 of Governing Matters, the National Governors’ Association (NGA) magazine, Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s deputy director of schools, gave schools/academies a pat on the back when he stated: “England’s schools have made real improvements over the past two decades, thanks to the hard work of teachers, leaders, governors/trustees and many others.  The accountability system has played its part in the improvement.”  He added, however, that this accountability had become a slave (my word) to performance data, spawning a school improvement industry around scores and outcomes.  Schools and academies have expended too much time on performance data “rather than focus on what is really going on in the classrooms”.

You can sense that the pendulum is now set to swing in the opposite direction from outcomes to processes.  Matthew Purves empathises with teachers because of the excessive workload they have been under obsessing with data as they “generate, upload and analyse” outcomes endlessly. This focus, he avers, has been “a barrier to further improvement”.   Attending to pupil scores has drawn attention away from the substance of education – i.e. “what is taught, how it is taught and the impact”.   This remark is a bit puzzling.  It is precisely because schools and academies have been focusing on impact that they have placed so much store on data.

I will return to Matthew Purves at the end of the article.  Meanwhile, there is merit in outlining what will be different in inspections.

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Campaign for better education funding gathering momentum

18 Apr

Over the spring term 2019, barring Brexit and the NHS, everything – including education – took a back seat in government business.   However, several bodies used strenuous efforts to get government to keep education in focus – especially the funding of it.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) calculated that total school/academy spending per pupil fell by 8% between 2009/10 to 2017/18.   This included a 55% cut in the allocation made to local authorities to help them discharge their educational responsibilities and another 20% cut to sixth-form funding.  Funding per pupil to primary and secondary schools/academies fell by 4% since 2015.

The six school/academy-based unions claimed that schools and academies face a shortfall of £5.4 billion despite the extra funding that the Chancellor made available for an increase in teachers’ pay and (for the first time) a pupil premium grant for young people from the ages of 16 to 19.

“School budgets are at absolute breaking point,” warned the general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) Paul Whiteman. “School leaders have made all the obvious savings. Now, class sizes are rising and the range of subjects schools can offer is shrinking as they desperately try to balance the books.”

The general secretary of the Association of Schools and College Leaders (ASCL), Geoff Barton, added: “Schools across the country have had to make severe cuts and there are more on the way as reserves are drained and deficits increase.

“The reality of budget cuts is that schools have to operate with reduced staffing and this impacts on educational provision, such as less additional support for children and fewer curriculum choices. Schools are in the invidious position of having to decide on the least-worst option of where to make cuts or they will become insolvent.”

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