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Keeping children safe: basis for happiness and success

18 Aug

Creating the right environment for learning facilitates learning.   If children are to succeed at school, they must have excellent teachers.  But that is not enough.   They must want to learn.  Establishing the right conditions for this desire means that they should be happy.   Keeping them safe is one of the prerequisites of happiness.

Consequently, the Department for Education (DfE) has taken pains to develop advice in Keeping Children Safe in Education, which is 76 pages long.   Ofsted, too, places enormous store on the arrangements the school/academy makes to safeguard young learners.   Should a school/academy fail to safeguard them sufficiently well, it is immediately put into special measures.

All adults working and volunteering at a school/academy – including governors and trustees – must now have Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks.  However, two groups of people associated with children are exempt from these checks.  These are children’s parents and carers and their peers studying at their schools/academies or neighbouring schools/academies.

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The Prevent Strategy: Nagging Dilemmas

18 Apr

Schools have been bombarded with advice on how to deal with preventing the growth of terrorism as part of their Safeguarding duties. This advice has come on the heels of the publication of the Prevent Strategy in 2011.  

However, the strategy has been subject to criticism from several quarters, not least from moderate Muslim leaders.

Dal Babu, chief superintendent of the Metropolitan Police before his retirement in 2013, is on record as stating that many Muslims see the scheme as spying and many involved in promoting it do not understand the communities the strategy is meant to serve.  Having acknowledged that it started off as “a good idea”, Dal Babu remarked that it had become less and less trusted.

Some have criticised Prevent as being counter-productive and promoting unfair discrimination against the rank-and-file of Muslims – and others observed that there was no clear way of measuring how effective it was.

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Unpacking the dilemmas of promoting British Values

1 Jan

Are we losing our way in promoting British values?  Take two recent test cases.

I        A tale of two incidents

(a)        In early November 2016, British Gymnastics suspended Louis Smith, the UK Olympian, after he appeared in an online video in October 2016 with his friend and former gymnast, Luke Carson.  The video shows him pretending to pray to Allah while laughing.   British Gymnastics issued a statement: “Louis Smith admitted his behaviour was in breach of the Standards of Conduct.  The panel upheld the allegation and, taking into account a previous breach of the Standards of Conduct heard in June this year (where it also was made clear to Louis the consequences of any further breach), the panel determine a cumulative penalty was appropriate and order a two-month period of suspension……”

Twenty-seven-year-old Smith accepted offers to learn more about the Muslim faith after admitting he had been “ignorant to people’s religion”.

(b)        Later in November 2016, a row broke out over free speech following a government ban on 32-year-old Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing journalist, after an invitation extended to him by sixth former pupils at his former secondary school, i.e. Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury, Kent.  Yiannopoulos is the editor of the far-right news website, Breitbart.   The Department for Education’s Counter Extremism Unit cancelled the arrangement over safety concerns and the “threat of demonstrations at the school”.

Yiannopoulos, labelled by Claire Fox, Director of the Institute of Ideas, a “notorious troll and Donald Trump supporter”, is a colourful character, to say the least, who has described feminism as a cancer, called Islam the real culprit of race culture and said women who are offended online should just “log off”.

However, the decision to cancel the journalist’s talk caused a major row over free speech.  More than 200 – 220 to be precise – sixth form students had signed up for the event – with parental permission.

Yiannopoulos wrote: “My old high school has been bullied into cancelling my talk …. by the ‘counter-extremism’ unit at the UK Department of Education.  Who even knew the DoE (sic) had a counter-extremism unit?  And that it wasn’t set up to combat terrorism but rather to punish gays with the wrong opinions.  Perhaps if I’d called the speech ‘Muslims are awesome’ they’d have left us alone. Disgusted.”

A Simon Langton student encapsulated the feelings and thoughts of many of his peers when he said, despite disagreeing with Yiannopoulos’s opinions, he felt the decision to ban his talk was “wrong”. He observed: “I feel the old adage applies: ‘I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’”

The school, which expelled Yiannopoulos when he was a student, stated that objections to his talk had come almost “entirely from people with no direct connection to Langton”.

“The staff and students of the school were overwhelmingly in favour,” said Dr Matthew Baxter, the Headteacher.  “While disappointed that both, the pastoral care and intellectual preparation we offer to our students, have been called into question, we, at Langton, remain committed to the principle of free speech and open debate, and will resist, where possible, all forms of censorship.”

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Call to raise the profile of and provision for mental health in schools and academies

1 Jan

For the well-being of a nation to be promoted, children’s mental health must be safeguarded.  They are our future.   We commit a heinous crime by neglecting children’s welfare and happiness.   However, children’s mental health is taking a backseat in the provision we make for them within our schools/academies and the wider society.  The focus, at times, is exclusively on a narrow curriculum dominated by English and Mathematics and, when in their teens, the English Baccalaureate.

In the 61st issue of Governors’ Agenda, (see here) we focused on the promotion of children’s mental health.  It is now time to revisit this important matter, especially as there have been developments.

Emily Frith of the Education Policy Institute published in November 2016 Children and Young People’s Mental Health: Time to Deliver.  The report calls for a “high profile, national government programme to ensure a stronger focus on mental health and wellbeing within schools”. The recommendations in the report – set out in three sections – are as follows.

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Safeguarding threatened in privatised system

1 Jan

I        Ofsted inspection focus

When Ofsted inspects a school/academy, the inspectors tend to focus on three issues – pupil progress (and achievement), the impact on children’s progress and achievement of measures taken to assist those on free school meals (FSM) with the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG) and Safeguarding. We tend to view pupil progress in narrow terms – i.e. the distance covered by youngsters in English and mathematics – instead of their overall development.  Many inspectors, sadly, do the same.

However, it is always useful for governors and school staff to draw inspectors’ attention to the ground made by shy pupils who become confident, ill-behaved children who become polite, civil and helpful to others, youngsters who constantly need help and guidance who become independent learners, self-centred young people who learn to collaborate and work co-operatively and, of course, the strides made by classes of children in all the other subjects such as science, geography, history, modern languages, design/technology, art and music, among other disciplines.

While the focus must not be constrained to any one group of pupils, the government, rightly, wants to ensure that the resources it is forking out for pupils entitled to FSMs through the PPG is used well. Inspectors expend much energy ensuring that this duty is discharged properly.

However, it is impossible for children – whatever their economic condition – to make progress if they do not feel safe and are happy.   Consequently, Safeguarding is the third issue which inspectors view under the microscope.

Where it is in peril, Local Authorities (LAs) have a responsibility for taking measures to redress the balance.   However, in an environment where LAs have lost considerable powers and resources, safeguarding Safeguarding has become increasing difficult and daunting.  The problems are being exacerbated by the “privatising” of education through an increasing number of schools (now well over 5,000) having become academies.  At least this is the view of the former Chief Inspector, Michael Tomlinson, who, until recently, was Birmingham’s Education Commissioner.

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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