Archive | Issue 63-Spring 2016 RSS feed for this section

Leaving a Legacy

5 Jan

The start of a new year gives us the opportunity to act Jason-like, looking into two directions: backwards – on the year that has passed and to the future – the one ahead, setting out plans for the future while also wondering what events are likely to unfold.    Reflecting on past successes and failures and pondering how we can build on those successes and learning from failures are always compelling.

Commentators are awash with reflections about the past.  Optimists are keen to look to the future to confront the world and its problems and leave an impact for the positive, possibly a legacy by which they will be remembered when long gone.

In the last issue of The Times Educational Supplement of 2015, Sir Tim Brighouse, former Schools Commissioner for London and Chief Education Officer for Birmingham, however, wrote: “Seeking a legacy is fool’s gold: so often it’s seen as the bedfellow of hubris….”

To prove his point, he describes politicians keen to leave a “legacy of initiatives as an essential platform for the next step in their careers”.

Fortunately, he did not write that it is “always seen as a bedfellow of hubris”.  Sir Tim particularly aims his revolver at politicians of all persuasions who run our educational system.  He mentions the plethora of education acts that have littered the corridors of educational history.  More recently, the ex-Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, introduced (or imposed if you prefer to be more aggressive), the English Baccalaureate, synthetic phonics, a new primary curriculum, a mystical assessment system, new GCSE gradings, the end of coursework and the proscription of BTEC courses, among other things.  Continue reading

Chief Inspector to turn his sights on school governance in 2016

5 Jan

I           Sir Michael Wilshaw’s thoughts on school/academy governance

In a commentary he published on 19 November 2015, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), Sir Michael Wilshaw, said that he would be turning his attention to school governance, similar to the study he did of primary schools in October 2015.

He paid tribute to the overwhelming majority of governors who do wonderful work in very difficult circumstances, stating: “There are thousands of people across the country, who give up their time to serve on governing boards. We know that the majority take their duties very seriously and act responsibly and in the interests of the whole-school community.

“Inspectors find that in many schools, governors and trustees are making an important contribution to raising standards and lifting aspiration. The best of these champion the school in the local community and take great pride in the success of their pupils.”

However, these welcome words appear only after, in his usual “headmasterly” way, he sets out what governors are supposed to do and chastising the few who fail to do so.

By way of preamble, he trots out the obvious. “The …… increasingly autonomous education system over the past five years, including the rapid growth of academies and free schools, has placed more power into the hands of governing boards than ever before,” he remarks.

He reminds governors and trustees that they have responsibility for setting out their schools’ and academies’ visions, ethos and strategic direction.  No surprise there.

He adds that governors “have to be perceptive people who can challenge and support” their headteachers/principals “in equal measure and know when and how to do this”, warning them that they should not overstep the mark by trying to run their schools/academies by themselves.   The Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association (NGA) had already put this strategy pithily by exhorting governors and trustees to operate in an “Eyes on, hands off” manner.  Continue reading

Sir Michael Wilshaw laments North-South divide in educational quality and deems that academisation is not the panacea for poor pupil outcomes

5 Jan

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) of Schools in England, Sir Michael Wilshaw, issued his fourth annual report on 2 December 2015.

(1)        Two questions

In his preamble to it, he posed two questions.

(a)        Is our educational system improving?

(b)        If there is improvement, is this improvement likely to raise our standing internationally?

In answer to his first, he said that there is improvement, but, alas, this improvement is only partial.  There are disparities.

There is a North-South divide in educational quality and outcomes, with the North lagging well behind the South. England is a divided nation after the age of 11, he avers.   While across the country, an equal number of primary schools – roughly 84% – are deemed to be good or outstanding, there is a gap in the achievements of pupils in secondary schools between the North and South. Altogether, 79% of secondary schools in the South are good or outstanding whereas only 68% of secondaries in the North are.

In particular, London schools do very well.  However, he states that the excuse that London and the South East are advantaged does not wash as some of poorest students in the country live in the capital.   Besides, primary schools perform equally well in North England as in the South.

The inevitable answer, therefore, to the second question is that, as a country, we still have some way to go before we can be considered world class. Continue reading

Dilemmas in abiding by the Prevent Duty

5 Jan

One of the most challenging professions that a young person can contemplate is teaching.   Teachers are required to be all people to all people.   For instance, they often take on the role of parents, in the absence of parental love and attention.   They are required to be alert to issues of welfare which normally comes within the purview of social workers.   Where children suffer hydrocephalic seizures, are seriously diabetic, hurt and injure themselves or even suffer indigestion, they assume the role of nurses and doctors and provide the necessary medical attention.

I           Requirements placed on schools and academies

The latest duty placed on them is one of surveillance. From 1 July 2015, all schools and registered childcare providers have been subject – under section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 – to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

Paragraph 16 of the Home Office guidance on the Prevent Duty – which covers schools and academies – requires them to

(i)         establish or use mechanisms for understanding the risk of radicalisation;

(ii)        ensure that staff members understand the risk and build the capabilities to deal with it;

(iii)       communicate and promote the importance of the duty; and

(iv)       ensure that staff members implement the duty effectively.

Paragraph 23 goes on to add that all specified authorities (including schools and academies) maintain appropriate records to show compliance with their responsibilities and provide reports when requested. Continue reading

Children’s Commissioner asks schools to take more action to safeguard children from child-sexual abuse

5 Jan

The governing body of a school has responsibility for framing, keeping under review and implementing the safeguarding policy.   The members also have the duty of monitoring how well it is working on the ground.

This is serious business given that the number of children known to have died as a result of abuse or neglect increased last year by 60%.  A report by Ofsted states that there were 56 confirmed deaths from child abuse or neglect in 2014/15 against 35 in 2013/14.

In late November 2015, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield OBE, published her first report of an inquiry into child sexual abuse within the family and its network. Her findings are unsurprising albeit worrying.

Having commissioned the University of Middlesex to carry out a review of the literature, Ms Longfield gathered evidence from the police, had her enquiry team carry out site visits in five areas of the country to meet with statutory and non-statutory agencies who were tackling child sexual abuse, took oral evidence from experts in the subject, carried out an adult survivor survey and logged information from focus groups. Continue reading

Government guidance on managing pupil behaviour yet to be updated

5 Jan

About a year ago, the government withdrew the updated guidance to schools on the management of pupil behaviour. Despite pressure being brought to bear on civil servants, the guidance has yet to be reissued.

Lawyers defending pupils appealing against permanent exclusion argued that more children would be expelled under the revised guidance and threatened legal action against Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State, on the grounds that the changes had been introduced without consultation.

Under the guidance of 2012, which is still extant, headteachers could exclude children only as a last resort.  It states that a headteacher can exclude a child permanently only if allowing her/him to remain at school would seriously harm the education or welfare of others.  The now withdrawn guidance lowered the threshold from “seriously harmful” to “detrimental”. Continue reading

Drive to alter school structure seen as key to raising standards

5 Jan

I           Plans to convert every state school into an academy

Prime Minister David Cameron said that by the end of this parliament – i.e. 2020 – he intended to convert all secondary schools into academies.  The Times Educational Supplement (TES), in its first issue of 2016, wrote that ministers were considering publishing a White Paper to formalise plans to convert every state school into an academy.   Of the 23,500 (circa) institutions in the country, there are now over over 4,500 academies – 2,075 secondary (comprising 61.4% of all secondary schools) and 2,440 primary 14.6% of all primary schools).

Also, in a speech he made in March 2015, the Prime Minister pledged that he would open 500 new free schools in the following five years.   He averred that state-funded, start-up schools were “raising standards and restoring discipline”. Free schools can be established by academy sponsors, teachers and groups of parents. They operate outside local authority control. Continue reading

The Education and Adoption Bill

5 Jan

The Education and Adoption Bill aims to empower the Secretary of State for Education to intervene and convert schools that are not providing suitable education into academies. She will also be authorised to make joint arrangements for carrying out local authority adoption functions in England.

So what are the categories of schools judged to be unsatisfactory which will come under the Secretary of State’s scrutiny? Continue reading

The Trade Union Bill 2015/16

5 Jan

The Trade Union Bill 2015/16 focuses on new provision for industrial action, trade unions, employers’ associations and the functions of the certification officer.   The Bill, which has had its third reading in the House of Commons on 10 November 2015, and is going through the House of Lords, proposes a higher voting threshold for ballots.

When enacted, it will apply to England, Wales and Scotland.   It will impose a minimum 50% turnout in strike ballots – with public-sector strikes also requiring the backing of at least 40% of those eligible to vote.   Under the current rules, a strike can be called if the majority of those participating in a ballot vote in favour.

The Bill

(a)        doubles the amount of notice unions will have to give before a strike can be held from seven to 14 days;

(b)        allows employers to use agency workers to replacing striking staff;

(c)        introduces fines of up to £20,000 on unions for repeatedly failing to ensure picket supervisors wear official armbands; and

(d)        ends the so-called check-off system for collecting union subscriptions direct from the salaries of members. This means it will be unlawful to require a member of a trade union to make a contribution to the political fund of a trade union if the member has not given to the union notice in writing of her/his willingness to contribute to that fund (an “opt-in notice”); or an opt-in notice given by the member has expired under subsection or has withdrawn it.

Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, stressed that this was not a “declaration of war” against the unions but rather, an attempt to stop “endless” threats of industrial action.   The Labour Party, on the other hand, said the Bill was “draconian and counter-productive”.