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How free should free speech be?

31 Dec

In the run-up to the Christmas of 2017, a flaming row broke out at Oxford University when 58 academics criticised a professor for arguing that Britain’s imperial history was not entirely shameful.    Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University, was slated by his colleagues and students after writing an article in The Times calling for a more nuanced appraisal of colonial times.

Oxford University defended the professor, denounced by students and the academics as “bigoted” because he wrote that if people believe in “strident anti-colonialist” it could lead to a feeling of guilt that makes the public “vulnerable to wilful manipulation”.

Common Ground, a race rights group based in Oxford, described the article as “racist” and accused Professor Biggar of “whitewashing” the British Empire. A letter on the group’s website said: “We stand in solidarity” with those who have criticised Professor Biggar following his article headlined “Our colonial history and guilt over empire”. The academic “implies that colonised societies had no political order prior to colonisation, invoking a racist, hackneyed and fictional trope about the nature of pre-colonial societies”.

Professor Biggar’s column was prompted by criticism of an article by Bruce Gilley, a political scientist at Portland State University, who argued that it was time to question the orthodox view that western colonialism “has a bad name”. Professor Biggar concluded: “Bruce Gilley’s case for colonialism calls for us British to moderate our post-imperial guilt.”

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Green Paper: Schools that work for everyone

1 Jan

I        Preamble

On 12 September, the Government published the Green Paper, Schools that work for everyone, which the Department for Education (DfE) has taken off the websiteThe deadline for responses was 12 December 2016.   We now have to wait on the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, to give the nation a steer on where she wishes to go from here.

The Green Paper proposed a number of recommendations which, if implemented, will affect four discrete institutions:

  • Independent Schools
  • Universities
  • Selective Schools
  • Free Schools which are faith orientated

The proposals were issued against the background of increasing pressure on school places – especially good ones.  Primary numbers grew by 11% between 2010 and 2016. This will feed into the secondary sector for the rest of the life of this Parliament.   The most recent projections are that the primary school population is estimated to increase by a further 174,000 (3.9%) from the current year to 2020.  The secondary school population will rise by 284,000 (10.3%) over the same period.

While the Green Paper made it abundantly clear that the government would continue to support schools with the Pupil Premium Grant to promote the education of the most socially deprived children in our system – i.e. those entitled to free school meals (FSM) and in care – it expressed government concerns that those children whose families just fail to qualify – i.e. the just about managing (JAM) – were being short-changed.

Children entitled to FSM come from families in one of these classifications. Those in receipt of

  • Income Support
  • Income-Based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Income-Based Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit

This effectively means that if either parent/carer is earning more than £16,190 annually, the child does not qualify for FSM.  In January 2016, the national average for those entitled to FSM was 14.3%. The government is, however, worried about children in families on modest incomes who do not qualify for such benefits but are, nevertheless struggling financially.

Information on the educational achievements of such children is opaque as it melds with data on those who come from well-heeled backgrounds.  Accordingly, the first two questions that the Green Paper posed for us were as follows.

  • How can we identify such children?
  • How can we better understand the impact of policy on a wider cohort of pupils whose life chances are profoundly affected by school but who may not qualify or apply for free school meals?

So what plans does the government has for the four groups set out above?

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Ofsted Annual Report 2015/16

1 Jan

Preamble

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), published his fifth and final Ofsted annual report on the education system in England on Thursday, 1 December 2016.  He retired 30 days later.  In presenting the report, Sir Michael said “a world class education system is within our grasp – but only if serious capacity challenges are urgently addressed”.

Sir Michael stressed that a north/south ‘geographical divide’ meant the ablest pupils in the North and Midlands were less likely to reach A/A* at GCSE. He said: “Standards can only truly be considered high if they are high in every part of the country and for all pupils regardless of background or ability.”

However, his report is, in the main, positive.    The country’s schools/academies, he avers, had made progress over the last five years. Educators could be justly proud.  “Young people are getting a better deal than ever before,” he said.  School/academy leaders responded well to the changes in the system.  The decision to replace the “satisfactory” judgement with “requires improvement” led to schools/academies upping their game, making a greater effort ensuring that pupils are offered the very best possible education.     Of the former 4,800 satisfactory primary schools/academies, 79% were now good or outstanding and, of the previous satisfactory secondary ones, 56% were good or better.

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Careers guidance in schools not fit for purpose, allege colleges

24 Apr

A survey carried out by the Association of Colleges (AoC), published in April 2014, reveals that schools are failing to give adequate careers guidance to students about further education opportunities.  In fact, several appear actively to be obstructive, stopping students from contacting Further Education (FE) colleges in an attempt to hang on to them for sixth form studies.  Since September 2012, it became a legal requirement for secondary schools to provide careers guidance and advice to their students though the government did not give them with any additional resources.

FE lecturers averred that schools had stopped them from speaking to the students and refused to distribute college prospectuses and/or display information on the provision they offer.   Continue reading

Plans to establish “Career Colleges” receive the green light

2 Jan

On 15 October 2013, Lord Kenneth Baker, Margaret Thatcher’s secretary of state for education who spearheaded epic reforms in the late 1980s and early 1990s, unveiled plans to establish pioneering “career colleges” for 14-to-19-year-olds that had the approval of Matthew Hancock, the skills minister. The colleges will offer vocational training in a range of subjects including digital technology, construction, catering and healthcare. These will build on his network of successful university technical colleges which specialise in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.  Continue reading