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Valuing Values in Education

18 Aug

We live on three plains – the physical, intellectual and spiritual – ‘spiritual’ in a non-religious sense.

On the physical plain, we engage in a zero-sum game. What one person gains another loses and vice versa.  For instance, if you and I have a pound, we each have a pound and together we have two pounds.  If you give me your pound, I have two and you have nothing.  The reverse is true too.  If we exchange other the pounds with each other, we will still have a pound each and together we will have two.

The next level to which we can rise is the intellectual one.   If you have an idea and I have an idea, each of us has one idea and together we have two.   If I gave you my idea, you will have two but I will still have one.  I do not lose the idea that I have because I give it to you.   The same will apply to you.  If we gave our ideas to each other, each will have two ideas, but in total we will still have two.

We live on a spiritual plain too where values flourish.  Nolan set them out clearly and they are the seven principles of public life, i.e.

  1. Selflessness
  2. Integrity
  3. Objectivity
  4. Accountability
  5. Openness
  6. Honesty
  7. Leadership

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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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Governors need to up their game in challenging school/academy leadership, says Ofsted

1 Jan

The schools’ inspectorate Ofsted published a new report in December 2016 on the state of school governance, called Improving governance: Governance arrangements in complex and challenging circumstances.

The report is based on 2,632 responses to Ofsted’s public call for evidence last autumn, 96 routine inspections or monitoring visits, and dedicated visits made by inspectors to 24 schools which had recently improved standards. The report outlines the barriers faced by governors in these schools and the actions taken to strengthen their professional skills to fulfil their roles.

Ofsted’s report stated that governors often lack the necessary skills and training to challenge school leaders effectively. At one institution, the governing body accepted a senior leader’s assurance that the school budget was in a healthy position. A week later, the governors discovered that the school had a deficit of more than £300,000.

Weak governance is associated with governors’ lack of knowledge about pupil progress and achievement or budget management at their schools/academies. Governors’ failure to challenge their headteachers follows from this lack of knowledge, according to the report.   “When inspectors judge the leadership and management of a school to be less than good, a common underlying weakness is the failure of governors to hold school leaders to account,” the report states.

More than 2,000 respondents also told Ofsted that recruitment and retention of governors was a challenge. This was especially so in the poorest areas of the country. “The challenge in finding governors with the necessary knowledge and skills was often greater for those schools that were in areas where unemployment was high and qualifications low.”

In one school, parent governors told inspectors that they knew that teaching and learning were improving only because their own children had told them so. “On all of these boards, governors did not have enough knowledge about their roles and responsibilities,” the report stated. “These weak governing boards rarely looked outwards and often failed to keep up to date with developments in education. They tended to pay little attention to pupils’ outcomes.”

Consequently, governors lacked the ability to raise important issues, or to ask probing questions. They became over-reliant on their headteachers’ version of events.

Weak governance often remained undetected until the school/academy was inspected by Ofsted. Two-thirds of the schools/academies surveyed had not identified any weaknesses in governance until Ofsted had judged the schools/academies to be less than good.

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Towards good governance: mind the pitfalls

28 Aug

I           Preamble

Ministers and civil servants of the Department for Education (DfE) exhort schools to populate our governing bodies with governors who are knowledgeable and have discrete skills in areas such as human resources, estate management, finance and the law, among other things.  Where governors have gaps in knowledge, they are encouraged to read and train to discharge their responsibilities well.   The National Governors’ Association (NGA) has produced an excellent skills audit for governing bodies to identify and plug the gaps in knowledge and skills.

However, like a football team comprising talented players, a governing body may well have members who are both, knowledgeable and skilled, in all the identified areas, yet fail to function like a well-oil machine.  Why?

When I was a teacher and planned residential trips for groups of pupils, I organised games for them at the end of an arduous day’s work.  One game I played was to ask children to walk from point A to point B blindfolded.   Between the two points, I would place obstacles and invited each child to remember where these were placed by taking a good look before putting on the blindfold.  The children took it in turns to do so.  The one that succeeded did not touch any obstacle.

Often, when the “chosen one” began the journey, her/his peers shouted out instructions about the direction in which the child should move and the obstacles s/he was to avoid.      It was a great challenge which the youngsters enjoyed enormously. Sometimes, before the blindfolded child began the journey, I would mischievously take away all the obstacles. It was great fun to hear peers shouting “Left!”, “Right!” and “Straight”, “Avoid this!” and “Beware of that!” when there were no obstacles on the way and to see the surprised face of the “chosen one” at the end of the journey when the blindfold was removed.

The lesson that I learnt (and hoped the children did too) was that when embarking on a journey it is as important to know what to do as what not to do, to get from point A to point B.   For governors to be classed as “Outstanding” by Ofsted and others, it is no different.

So, what can governors do and avoid doing to succeed by minding the pitfalls and gaps?   There are (in broad terms) two groups and one individual comprising the (governing) body, per se.   The first group comprises the patricians – i.e. the Chair and Headteacher; the second group is made up of the plebeians – the rest of the members; and finally, we have the clerk, the servant of the governing body.  Each category has issues which can act as hazards.   Continue reading

Boost staff morale to control expenditure in schools/academies

28 Aug

I        Staff: Human Resources v Resourceful Humans

With the financial noose tightening around the necks of schools/academies, governing bodies have to keep a close check on expenditure and find innovative ways of raising funds.   Staff costs consume the lion’s share of a school budget – anything from 80% to 85%, though one school, with which I worked a few years ago, bucked the trend by spending 102% of its budget share on staff salaries.  The governors leaned heavily on parents – through voluntary contributions – and charities to make up the shortfall in the overspend.

Spending 80% of the budget on staff is unsurprising given that staff members are the most valuable resources of a school.   For governors to keep a firm rein on this area of spending, they don’t have to operate curmudgeonly.  However, they should ensure that the ambience at the school invigorates and motivates staff.   There are sufficient pressures on teachers, in particular, to make this exercise challenging.  They are subject to myriad demands coming from disparate sources.  The mix is toxic: government wishes, parental expectations, Ofsted inspections, changes to the curriculum and assessment, league tables – to name just a few.   The over-emphasis on data has led some taking their eyes of the ball – i.e. the children, for whom the overwhelming number of teachers became teachers in the first place.

The pressures have taken the stuffing out of many, so that, come the holidays, they collapse in a heap.  However, in term time, teachers who are the victims of the hot house environments of their schools, fall ill over varying periods of time, causing their governing bodies concern as they have to find extra monies to cover for their absences.

Education data consultants, SchoolDash, analysed teacher absences for the academic year 2014/15 using the workforce census data published by the Department for Education (DfE).  They discovered that in primary schools/academies rated “Inadequate” by Ofsted, teacher absences averaged 9.97 days compared to 6.26 days for those working in “Outstanding” schools/academies.   In secondary schools/academies rated “Inadequate” the average teacher absences was 8.94 days compared to 5.72 days for the outstanding ones.

The good news is that for teachers taking sick leave, the average number of days lost was 7.6 – down from 7.9 the previous year.

Primary teachers were more likely to go off sick in the West Midlands (55%) and least likely in the north-east (48%).  At secondary level, almost two-third of teachers in the south-west (65%) took time off last year, compared to 56% in the north-east.  However, teachers in the north-east were more likely to be absent because of sickness for longer periods of time.  The lowest average number of days off by region was achieved by London’s primary teachers, i.e. 6.03 days and the capital’s secondary teachers – 5.97%.

The schools suffer in other ways, even if they have the financial wherewithal to hire supply teachers, in that the stand-ins are not that good, consequently, not welcomed by the pupils whom they have to teach.

If schools/academies are to flourish, they need to promote staff happiness. This does not mean that the atmosphere should be one described by Tennyson in his poem on the Lotos-Eaters where “slumber is more sweet than toil” and brother mariners are exhorted to rest and wander no more.

Even if our schools/academies are not haemorrhaging teachers out of the profession, ignoring their welfare is detrimental to the quality of education we are keen to promote.   Several of our school leaders, who themselves are under considerable pressures, pass these pressures onto their staff contributing to the low morale and driving them to sick beds and doctors’ surgeries.  Headteachers want the best for their schools.  However, the methods deployed are sometimes counterproductive and the outcome is plummeting staff morale leading to absences which puts pressure on school budgets.  Continue reading

Sharing the Role of the Chair of Governors

25 Aug

Part 3 of the School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances)(England) Regulations 2013 explains the process of electing the chair and vice chair.   As the role of the chair has become distinctly onerous in recent times, finding a governor who is willing to stand for this position has become daunting.   A solution would be for two governors to share that role.

The Department for Education’s (DfE’s) advice states that “It is possible to appoint more than one person to share the role of chair, or, similarly, the role of vice chair, if the board believes this is …..in the best interests of the school.   The board would need to ensure that any role-sharing arrangement does not lead to a loss of clarity in its leadership.” (Item 18) Continue reading

Effective Headteachers: In quest of the Holy Grail

25 Aug

(1)       Expectations

Headteachers of schools[1] live on the edge.   They work interminable hours and are expected to be all things to all people. Among other things, headteachers are required to engage in strategic planning, managing and supporting staff, working with parents, promoting the standards and welfare of pupils, working in partnership with other schools, dealing with a multitude of changes including the curriculum and assessment and being accountable to parents, governing bodies, the Department for Education (DfE) and, most of all, Ofsted.      Continue reading