Archive | Issue 72-Spring 2018 RSS feed for this section

Assessing Testing

4 Jan

Confession time for me.  It is easy to pontificate if one is a consultant as I am.  When in charge of an organisation or institution and constantly under the public microscope, it is a different matter.   So, what follows may well be in a sermonising vein.  But don’t pass judgement until you have read what follows.

Competition does not have the kind of benefits the UK government’s claims it does.  This is not to say that it is unnecessary.  However, much credence has been given to its seeming advantages.

We need tests and examinations to determine how well our children are doing and ensure that the young people who qualify to become the future movers and shakers of our society succeed in life.   I wouldn’t like to be operated on (for the removal of a cancerous tumour) by an unqualified surgeon who hasn’t passed a raft of medical examinations.

However, the value we put on tests, examinations and league tables has a detrimental effect on those schools/academies who are struggling to improve the quality of education.   To start with, tests and examinations tell us only so much about what is happening in an institution, which has responsibility for imparting to future generations the knowledge and wisdom of the current and previous generations together with helping them develop skills to navigate the chopping waters of the future.

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Quality of Education in England – a Curate’s Egg: Good in Parts

4 Jan

Chief Inspector’s Annual Report 2017-18

On 4 December 2018, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) of Schools, Amanda Spielman, issued her second annual report to Parliament, in accord with section 121 of the Education and Inspection Act 2006.  You may have missed it because of the Brexit kerfuffle.

As always, there was good news and bad news for the nation’s schools, academies, Further Education (FE) Colleges and local authorities (LAs).

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Minor inspection changes from September 2018

4 Jan

I        The Changes

Minor changes were made to the Inspection Handbook. These changes took effect from September 2018.

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Ofsted researches curriculum focus to plan for future inspections

4 Jan

I           The Consultation

From 16 January 2019, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman begins a consultation on the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF).   The focus on inspections is to be rebalanced.  Previously, outcomes was under the microscope – more so than progress – which had been stressing out headteachers and school/academy staff alike.   The current proposal is on refocusing inspections on the quality of education, including curriculum intent, implementation and impact.

To ensure that inspecting the quality of education is valid and reliable, she commissioned a major, two-year research study into the curriculum.   Inspectors visited 40 schools/academies in phase 1, 23 in phase 2 and 64 schools in phase 3[1]. There were also focus groups, reviews of inspection reports and other exercises undertaken.

Mrs Spielman said: “…….at the very heart of education sits the vast accumulated wealth of human knowledge and what we choose to impart to the next generation: the curriculum.

“Without a curriculum, a building full of teachers, leaders and pupils is not a school. Without receiving knowledge, pupils have learned nothing, and no progress has been made – whatever the measures might indicate.”  Exams should exist to serve the curriculum rather than the other way around. The dog must wag the tail not the tail the dog.  While exams were the best measure of how successfully knowledge was transmitted to young people, any test was just a sample of the knowledge that was gained. The curriculum goes well beyond that.

Knowledge appears to be like the cosmos and seems to have no boundaries in both, time and space.   Accordingly, an excellent school/academy makes careful choices between the breadth and depth of the curriculum it adopts and pursues, drawing on appropriate resources and deciding what to teach mindful of the opportunities available for pupils to develop new concepts.

This should be grounded firmly in a consensus of what knowledge and concepts should be handed over to the next generation to help that generation succeed and flourish.

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An effective clerk’s responsibilities to the governing board

4 Jan

I           The governing board’s tripod

The effectiveness of a governing board is dependent on a range of factors.  It is difficult to put these factors in a pecking order of importance.   However, every person on the governing board should operate with conscientious and probity by

(i)         discharging her/his responsibilities responsibly and

(ii)        acting in concert with the other governors to make the whole greater than that of the sum of the parts.

Three important people stand out with their noses just ahead of the rest of the members of the governing board. They are the chair, the headteacher and the clerk. The legislation prescribes that every school/academy must have a headteacher and chair on and a clerk serving the governing board. However, the headteacher may opt not to be a governor, though her/his attendance at the meetings is imperative.

  • The chair holds the reins of operations. S/he invests more time and effort than the rank and file of governors and is the port of call in emergencies.
  • The headteacher acts as the point of contact between the governing board and the school’s community, i.e. the pupils, staff and parents. S/he operates as a conduit for communication or (to mix my metaphors) a gatekeeper – ensuring that governors keep their noses out of issues of management.  However, the headteacher in the latter role – the management supremo – could also be obstructive – a definite no-no – and block governors from discharging their responsibilities.
  • Last, but by no means the least, every governing board has a clerk. In the halcyon days, the clerk operated as a glorified cleric (in a non-religious way).   Not so any more.

Much has been written about the role of the chair and the headteacher, vis-à-vis governors’ efficiency and effectiveness; much less about the role of the clerk.  The National Governors’ Association has spearheaded training for clerks so that they can understand governance, develop knowledge, secure the skills necessary to service the needs of governors and governing boards and act as the governing board’s trusted adviser.  It is a vital role for governors to discharge their responsibilities responsibly if the governing board is to act efficiently and effectively, adding value to the school/academy.

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Crisis in mental health swells as awareness grows

4 Jan

I           National Health Service Survey

On 22 November 2018, the National Health Service (NHS) published the outcomes of a survey that showed that  one in eight – 12.8% – children aged five to 19 had mental health problems in 2017.  There was a steady increase in mental ill-health among the five-to-15-year-olds, rising from 9.7% in 1999 to 11.2% in 2017.

Emotional disorders were prominent (8.1% of young people from the ages of 5 to 19) – though there were other disorders such as those linked to behaviour and hyperactivity.

Altogether, 9,117 children and young people were surveyed.  One in 18 children (5.5%) from the ages of two to four years had at least one mental disorder.  This rose to 16.9% for those from 17 to 19 years old.

Over a third (34.9%) of the 14-to-19-year-old young people who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or with another sexual identity had mental disorders against 13.2% who identified themselves as heterosexual.

About 25% of the 11-to-16-year-olds with mental disorders self-harmed or attempted suicide, compared to 3% of those without them.

If we exclude eating disorders, most mental health conditions were prevalent in children whose families were on low income or receiving benefits.  Over a third of children with mental health disorders had special educational needs and 50% with special needs had Educational Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).

What are we doing to help these young people? Not much, it seems.  The number of referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in England increased by 26% during the last five years, according to the Education Policy Institute (EPI). CAMHS rejected 25% of referrals deeming them inappropriate for treatment according to BBC Radio 5 Live, whose researchers compiled the returns under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.

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Parental responsibility for the children they choose to have

4 Jan

(a)       Children don’t have parents…….

When my partner and I were on the cusp of having our first child over three decades ago, at the get-together we had with my parents, I told them in as sensitive a way as possible, “Mum and Dad, when the child comes along, we will be putting the child first in all that we do, giving her/him priority and showering the kid with all our love – although, we hope, it won’t be indulgent.   This will mean, mum and dad, that we will not be able to give you the kind of attention we are doing right now.   I will (as also my other half) continue to love and care for you.”

I had to get home the message to them diplomatically that parents have children, not the other way around.  Children don’t have a choice about appearing on this planet.  Parents make that possible and parents owe everything to them in relation to tough love.  This is not to say, being Jewish, that I was not going to abide by the fifth of the Ten Commandments – Honour thy father and thy mother. 

The reason for this exchange with my mother and father was because we came from India and were of Jewish heritage where it is custom and practice that parents rear their children so that when the youngsters are adults and the parents are aged, they (the children) can look after and care for them.  In other words, parents have children as an investment for their old age.  However, it is possible for sons and daughters to honour their fathers and mothers while simultaneously putting their children first.

Many in the West have children, willy-nilly.  It’s easily done as they fall in and out of love with free and often unprotected sex.   And when children arrive, they become others’/society’s responsibility.   Schools and academies are important segments of that society.

When children fail, it is the schools’ (and academies’) fault.   When they succeed, many parents many parents are inclined to take the credit.

At the other end of the uncaring spectrum, is the inordinate and crazy pressures helicopter parents place on their children to flourish because they live through their children.  Their children’s successes are theirs (the parents’ successes).   They cause undue stress and trigger mental ill-health.  Failing is not an option for these young people.

Some schools and academies are lucky to have parents who bring a sense of balance in their attitude towards their children’s growth and development.   We know from good governance that the ingredients of a successful educational approach towards staff members is a combination of support and challenge. It is no different in the interactions between parents and children.  Parental love for children must be unconditional.  However, it must be tough love.   When a daughter scores 70% in a science test, her parents must praise her and follow the praise with the question, “Now, darling, how can we learn from the mistakes you made that caused you to miss out on the 30%.”

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Squeeze on educational finance continues

4 Jan

In biblical times, seven years of plenty were followed by seven years of famine.  However, in Britain’s educational scene, the periods of time have been that much longer.   In 1997 when Labour was elected with thunderous applause, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, pledged that his three priorities for the foreseeable future was to be Education, Education, Education.

However, the international financial crash in 2008, 11 years later, saw the start of a period of financial famine that has continued ever since – 11 years on.  Schools and colleges continue to experience the after-shocks, following the movement of the educational tectonic plates.  There are no signs that there will be much let-up.

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Teacher shortages threaten quality education

4 Jan

A school/academy is only as good as the quality of teaching. The quality of teaching, in turn, is predicated on the requirement that each institution has sufficient teachers.   At present, the country is haemorrhaging teachers faster than replacing them, which is having a debilitating effect on schools and academies.  The main reason for this appears to be the workload that teachers have been having to undertake over the last decade or so.  The cost of housing in London and the South-East of the United Kingdom is another factor that is exacerbating the situation for institutions located in these areas.

Thousands of talented teachers have upped sticks and gone abroad to use their talents.  They have been lapped up by other countries.   Two cases exemplify the experience of many.

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Members’ role at the top of the Multi-Academy Trust

4 Jan

When the two schools I used to clerk in the recent past decided to convert into academies and join together (in holy matrimony) to become a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), I found the role of the top tier of the structure was “as clear as mud”.  The National Governors’ Association has now provided excellent clarification setting this out in its paper, Academy trusts: the role of members. The full explanation can be accessed only if you become a member of the NGA, something that is becoming a must for a school or academy.

In every MAT, there are three tiers of governance.  In the top tier sits the members.  Trustees are below that and governors on the third.  What separates these tiers and their functions?

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