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Realising the potential of pupils with special needs

12 Aug

In the animal kingdom, the fittest survive whenever the chips are down.   We humans like to think that we are cut above them. However, as reductions in the funding of education have bitten deeper and deeper, the vulnerable – i.e. those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) – appear to be suffering more than most.

A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), a think tank, reported in April 2019 on the outcomes of research in the area. The report mentioned that funding for pupils with SEND had fallen by 17% since 2015.  Northern areas, where the reduction was 22%, had suffered more than the rest of the country.  The funding had not only not kept pace with rising demands, said the research, but also been cut back.  The neglect of pupils with SEND from the incipient stages meant that, if these children had received the right support at the outset, they would not, by now, have such complex needs.

It is not all doom and gloom, however. Jack Hunter, the report’s author, said that since 2015, funding had increased by 11% but demand had gone up by 35%.  In North England, funding increased by 8% but those in need of support by 39%.  IPPR North called on government to view support for SEND pupils as an “investment in our collective well-being and a just economy”.  Hunter wrote about the paucity of support: “This is a moral failure, but it is also a failure to recognise the economic benefits of upfront investment in young people’s futures. For example, supporting one person with a learning disability into employment could increase their (sic) income by between 55% and 95%, and reduce lifetime costs to the taxpayer by at least £170,000.”

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What Gavin Williamson’s promotion will mean for schools

12 Aug

On 24 July 2019, Gavin Williamson CBE, the former Defence Secretary of State, was appointed Education Secretary replacing Damian Hinds, sacked by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, following the night of the long knives.

On 30 April 2019, former Prime Minister Theresa May dismissed Williamson from his position as Defence Secretary following allegations that he leaked the news from a top-level National Security Council meeting that the Chinese business giant Huawei was to be granted limited access to help build UK’s new 5G network.  Williamson was reported to have been opposed to this move.  He strenuously denied leaking the information.  Sir Mark Sedwill, Mrs May’s Cabinet Secretary, was asked to investigate the leak after The Daily Telegraph reported her plan for Huawei to have a role.   His report pointed the finger at Williamson.

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How will inspectors assess governors as leaders?

12 Aug

From September 2019, Ofsted’s new inspection model takes effect.   There will not be a separate judgement for governors. Rather, inspectors will include a section on governance in their report subsuming governance practice into leadership and giving leadership a grade.   What does this mean?

I           The areas that will come under the microscope

Gulshan Kayembe, one of The Key’s associate experts who has experience of inspecting schools and academies, has described what the inspectors will be scrutinising when judging governance. Set out below are the key questions they will ask themselves prior to making judgements. For instance, do governors

  • understand their role and carry it out effectively;
  • ensure the school/academy has a clear vision, ethos, and strategic direction;
  • ensure resources are well managed;
  • hold executive leaders – the headteacher or the Chief Education Officer (CEO), for example – to account for educational performance and the performance management of staff;
  • oversee the financial performance of the school/academy, and ensure money is well spent (including the pupil premium);
  • hold leaders to account for the quality of education and staff training;
  • ensure the provider fulfils its statutory duties (complying with provisions of the Equality Act 2010, implementing the Prevent Strategyand abiding by the advice contained in Keeping Children Safe in Education);
  • promote the welfare of learners; and
  • ensure that the education the school/academy provided has a positive impact on all its pupils?

The full judgement on leadership covers a wide range of matters for which the school/academy leaders are responsible.

You can read a full description of the judgements vis-à-vis governance on pages 66 to 67 (paragraphs 233 to 241) of the inspection handbook.

In maintained schools, those responsible for governance are governors. In a single academy trust, it’s the trustees. In Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), it may be local governors or trustees depending on the scheme of delegation.

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Relationships, Sex and Health Education

12 Aug

Relationships, sex and health education becomes compulsory in secondary schools and academies from September 2020.  For primary schools the requirement will be to teach relationships and health education.   While academies do not have to follow the national curriculum, they must pay due regard to the advice of the Department for Education.

(1)       What is compulsory for schools

Schools will be required to teach the subject matter at different stages.  However, when and how the subject is taught will be left to governors, headteachers and teachers.

All schools (whether primary or secondary) must have written policies on how they plan to teach relationship and sex education. They must consult parents when developing the policies, make copies available to members of the public who request them and display the policies on their websites.

Schools must take account of the religious backgrounds of all pupils when planning the teaching.  They have to comply with the Equalities Act 2010 and must not discriminate against anyone on the basis of age, sex, race, disability, religion/belief, gender reassignment, pregnancy/maternity, marriage/civil partnership or sexual orientation.

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Keeping children safe: more changes take effect from September

12 Aug

More changes are to take effect from September 2019 so that schools and academies keep children safer.  At the time of writing, the updated guidance had not been published.  What is extant on keeping children safe in schools, academies and colleges can be found here. The Department for Education has been extremely helpful in that it has brought together everything that you should know about safeguarding children in one on-line document which you can access here.

(1)       What’s new

(a)        On-line safety

Much of the law and guidance has been around for some time.  What is relatively new is the measures trustees, governors and staff in schools and academies should take to protect youngsters from peer-on-peer abuse. In particular, steps are necessary to prevent “up-skirting”. A peer up-skirts when he photographs a girl’s clothing – without her knowing – for sexual gratification.

Adults – especially teaching and support staff in schools/academies – are required to put into action the on-line safety guidance from the DfE.  (See the paragraph above.)

(b)       Peer-on-peer abuse

Peer-on-peer abuse is particularly daunting because, more often than not, both, the victim and the perpetrator are vulnerable, the victim because s/he has suffered abuse at the hands of the perpetrator and the perpetrator because s/he has probably been a victim somewhere else and is venting her/his spleen on the victim.

David Smellie, partner at the law firm Farrer, provided The Times Education Supplement with 10 recommendations for schools/academies to use when dealing with this kind of abuse.  These are as follows.

(1)        Make a prompt referral to statutory agencies.

(2)        Always remember the statutory right of the victim to anonymity.

(3)        Be proactive with police and social services. Propose how you think the school/academy should handle it and seek to get staff on board.

(4)        Remember the role that can be played by local rape and sexual violence crisis centres. Victims will often be very nervous about reporting to or cooperating with the police. These centres have the expertise to be able to offer concrete and confidential advice to victims and there is no risk to victims from seeking that advice.

(5)        When facing either a decision by the police not to investigate (for example, by reason of the victim’s wishes) or where there has been an arrest but with a lengthy investigation in prospect, look to develop a safety plan.

(6)        The default option must not be to move or remove the victim. Remember that if that happens, you will forever undermine the confidence of future victims of sexual violence to report or come forward.

(7)        Any safety plan in these circumstances must involve detailed consultation with the victim and her/his family and with the accused and her/his family. Use advice from children’s services and police to inform the assessment of risk and possible mitigation measures.

(8)        Secure buy-in from statutory agencies to any safety plan. They may not be that keen at first, but it pays to be persistent.

(9)        Supplement advice where necessary with your own expert inputs, for example from the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, and/or adolescent psychologists.

(10)      At all stages, talk and keep talking to the victim, and offer support in whatever way you can.

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Obesity Crisis: a national problem which begins at birth

12 Aug

I        Preamble

Obesity has become a national crisis.  Increasing numbers of pregnant mothers overeat.  The expectant mother justifies doing so by kidding herself with: “Well, I am eating for two.” There is some medical evidence to suggest that the overeating impacts on the unborn child, who on arrival also tends later to overeat.  The problem often starts at birth. A tragedy.

Obesity causes diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and early death.   That apart, the obese person is impeded from living a normal life. S/he walks slower, has problems breathing, spends more on larger-sized clothes and shoes, takes up considerable seating space in public transport attracting angst from others and does not look and feel good.

Childhood obesity is linked to different health conditions such as asthma and type-2 diabetes.  It also increases cardiovascular risk factors.   Obese children suffer from mental ill-health and behavioural problems.   Worst of all, an obese child becomes and obese adult.

In 2017, a national survey revealed that 36% of the UK population was overweight and 29% obese.  In the case of men, 40% were overweight and 27% obese.  With women, 31% were overweight and 30% obese.

In 1984 fewer than 10% of five to ten-year-olds were overweight, and fewer than 2% obese. In 2017/18 more than 20% of children were overweight or obese when they began school and over 33% overweight or obese by the time they left primary school.  Obesity numbers are highest in the most deprived 10% of the population twice that of the least deprived 10%.

The poorest have become the biggest victims of obesity.  Forty years ago, a poor child was around 25% more likely to be obese than a rich one. Now, by 11 s/he is three times as likely. Marie Antoinette said of the common French person: “Let them eat cake.” Prime Minister Johnson is now saying to the manufacturers about the common man in the United Kingdom: “Let them eat sugar” – a cry that does not liberate but is a curse.

Obese children are stigmatised and bullied. This leads to low self-esteem and frequent absences.

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Mind the gap: the link between poverty and educational development

12 Aug

The attainment gap between pupils from well-heeled backgrounds and those from the deprived segments of our society continues to grow by the time pupils attained the age of 16, according to the 2019 annual report of the Education Policy Institute (EPI).  Disadvantaged pupils were a week further behind than their peers in 2018.  The EPI research also discovered that by the school-leaving age – the pupils in London were two years ahead – achievement-wise – than their peers in some northern areas such as Rotherham and Blackpool.  Poor pupils in these towns were two years behind their more privileged class friends, said EPI.

There is more bad news.   The pre-school gap stopped closing.  Is this because we have abandoned the Sure Start programme? (Who knows?) The good news is that the gap between rich and poor pupils is closing at primary level.   There is now a 9.2 months difference in achievement by the age of 11 when compared to the 10.7 months in 2011.    However, at the secondary stage, the gap grew.  The researchers hinted that this could be the case because secondary institutions had been more exposed to the cuts.

The other EPI finding is that pupils of Chinese and Indian heritage significantly outperform those of white British and black Caribbean backgrounds.

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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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