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Damian Hinds’s educational vision

17 Aug

Damian Hinds described the direction in which he will steer the future education of the children in our country. He proposes expanding opportunities for young people by loosening the reins of accountability on schools and academies and giving teachers greater opportunities to grow and develop professionally.

I        National Association of Headteachers’ Conference

When addressing a conference of the National Association of Headteachers on 4 May 2018 in Liverpool, he told delegates: “Accountability is vital. Children only get one shot at an education and we owe them the best…where they are being let down we need to take action quickly – so no one ends up left behind.

“But what I’ve found from speaking to many of you these last few months is that there is also real confusion within the sector… I believe school leaders need complete clarity on how the accountability system will operate.

“I’m clear that Ofsted is the body that can provide an independent, rounded judgement of a school’s performance.

“This means we will not be forcibly turning schools into academies unless Ofsted has judged them to be inadequate.  I believe strongly that becoming an academy can bring enormous benefits to schools. Hundreds of schools every year voluntarily choose to become academies and I want this to be a positive choice for more and more schools as we move forward.

“We must also have a system that does more than just deal with failure… But we will do so in the right way, and there will be a single, transparent data trigger for schools to be offered support – which we will consult on.  I intend this to replace the current confusing system of having both below the floor and coasting standards for performance…

“I have a clear message to schools and their leaders: I trust you to get on with the job.”

Mr Hinds recognised that those involved in education knew about the “what” that was needed to secure excellent provision for our children.  However, there continued to be dissonance on the “how” of achieving those objectives.  While schools and academies – like all other publicly funded institutions – were accountable to the taxpayers, there was “confusion within the sector” on the multiple accountabilities to which school leaders and teachers were subjected.

He said that Ofsted (and only Ofsted) would be the body that would provide independent, rounded judgements on the performances of schools and academies.  He wanted schools – including those that required improvement – to be free to make their own decisions, and if they wished to go down the academy route, he thought the choice should be a positive one rather than one stemming from compulsion.  Schools that are struggling will, in the first instance, be offered support before being shanghaied into another academisation.

He recognised that the system of having below the floor and coasting standards for performance needed to be replaced by something that was simpler and coherent.  To this end, he would be working.  What was encouraging was his statement: “I have a clear message to schools and their leaders: I trust you to get on with the job.”

To retain good, experienced teachers in England, he stated that they would be offered up to a year’s paid sabbatical after 10 years’ services.   For this purpose, he has set £5 million aside.   It is more likely that a teacher will receive a term’s sabbatical, albeit occasionally, she/he could be offered a year off to study or spend time working in an industry relevant to her/his field.

Newly qualified teachers (NQTs) will have their probationary period lengthened from a year to two years.  “We will be introducing an enhanced offer of support for new teachers, including extending the induction period to two years,” he said, “and we will work with the profession to develop a new early career content framework that will set out all the training and mentoring a teacher is entitled to receive in those first years.”

Mr Hinds has recognised that the profession is haemorrhaging teachers at a very unhealthy rate.   He remarked: “We have a shared goal of making sure teaching remains an attractive, fulfilling profession.  We will take an unflinching look at the things that discourage people from going into teaching or make them consider leaving and we will look at how we support teachers to get better at what they do and hone their expertise and career progression.”

Mr Hinds will create an advisory, working group with the teacher unions to help develop the strategy of the Department for Education.  Among other things, this working group will address teachers’ workload and how it can be eased for them without negatively affecting the quality of education, the progress that children make and the standards they achieve.  He acknowledged that unacceptable burdens were placed on teachers by the policies they set on marking and the data that they were directed to garner and maintain.   He hinted that governors and headteachers were responsible but they in turn passed on the pressures from central bodies such as inspectors, Regional School Commissioners (RSCs) and the DfE itself to the front-line workers – teachers and teaching assistants.

He said that standards in the classrooms were higher than ever.  Altogether, 89% of schools and academies had been judged Good or Outstanding by Ofsted.   This should give us cause to be optimistic.

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Head of steam developing for T levels as launch date draws nearer

17 Aug

I        What are the T Levels?

On 11 October 2017, the then Education Secretary, Justine Greening, announced the launch of the first three T (Technical) levels in September 2020. Delivered by a small number of providers, they will be

  • Childcare and Education (Education Pathway);
  • Digital (Software Applications Design Pathway); and
  • Construction (Building, Services and Engineering Pathway).

In September 2021, the six T Levels, which will join the first three, are

  • Legal, Finance and Accounting (Full Route);
  • Childcare and Education (Full Route);
  • Digital (Full Route);
  • Construction (Full Route);
  • Engineering and Manufacturing (Full Route); and
  • Health and Science (Full Route)

The remaining five, which will take off in September 2022, are

  • Hair and Beauty (Full Route);
  • Agriculture, Environment and Animal Care (Full Route);
  • Business and Administration (Full Route);
  • Catering and Hospitality (Full Route); and
  • Creative Design (Full Route).

A small number of providers will offer the first three qualifications from 2020.  Selected providers will deliver the six priority areas (see above) the following year.  The vast majority of providers will offer T levels by 2024.  The government intends to confirm who these providers will be in Autumn 2018.

II       Technical Studies: the Cinderella of Education

We in the United Kingdom have a problem with technology, which, in our educational system is Cinderella to her academic step-sisters, the A Levels.  To understand why, we must go back into history.

Sir Bernhard Samuelson, MP for Banbury and the son of a Swiss-German engineer, headed up a Royal Commission on technical instruction in the 1880s. He was the son of a Swiss-German engineer, who was a pioneer of the dual system of apprenticeship.   Sir Bernhard was charged with persuading the Treasury about the merits of his plans to give technical education the status that it deserved at a time when there was not much enthusiasm to provide the resources needed.   Accordingly, the mandarins (civil servants) had the then Chancellor agree to imposing a tax on whisky production to help local authorities achieve Sir Bernhard’s aims.

This was at a time when the Iron Chancellor of Germany, Otto von Bismark, was funding an expansive network of vocational schools in his country, many of which exist till today.    It wasn’t surprising, consequently, when Britain became the object of the joke of not being able to organise quality vocational training from a booze-up in a brewery.

The T levels initiative has been the brainchild of the Sainsbury Review 2016.   Sainsbury’s working group had found the existing vocational qualifications too confusing besides not providing young people with the necessary skills to succeed if not excel at work.  Altogether, £60 million has been made available this financial year to prepare for the launch of T levels.  This will rise to £445 million in 2021-22 and eventually to £500 million by the year following.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, told The Times Educational Supplement: “The new T levels will need to fight hard to gain recognition and to be valued, but this announcement is a good first step. I look forward to working with the government on developing the pathways from level 2 through levels 3, 4 and 5 which are needed for success.”

Neil Carberry, managing director for people policy at the CBI, added: “Businesses will be encouraged by the positive progress on the introduction of T levels, though there is still much for companies and the government to address together. It’s important that these new technical routes are woven into the wider education system from the start, to ensure they are respected and are seen to have the same quality as A levels.”

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The Education Reform Act (ERA) 1988 celebrates 30th birthday

17 Aug

I        What precisely is ERA?

The Education Reform Act 1988 (ERA) is regarded by many as the most important piece of legislation since the Education Act 1994. The ERA – known as the Butler Act – celebrated 30 years of being on the statute books in July 2018.   It firmly placed education in the marketplace, a process that began in the early 1980s under Mrs Margaret Thatcher’s government. Her Education Secretary at that time was Kenneth (now Lord) Baker.   The Act transferred most powers and responsibilities from local educational authorities (LEAs) to school governing boards at one end of the educational spectrum and to the Secretary of State at the other end.

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Preparing to implement the General Data Protection Regulations

31 Dec

In Governors’ Agenda, Issue 67 – the summer term issue – we alerted you to the implications of the General Data Protection Regulations that were to come into effect on 25 May 2018.  If your governing board has not begun to address the issue, it is high time that members begin to act.

While it isn’t the function of governors to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO), as this is an operational matter, they should offer support and scrutiny on her/his appointment.  It is the role of the Headteacher to propose how best to appoint such a person and then take the necessary action to find a suitable person to discharge the functions of securing the data held at the school/academy.

Some schools/academies have decided to use consultancy rather than make DPO appointments.  If that is what your headteacher is proposing to do, governors should closely question her/him about the rationale and criteria for the choice.

Where the headteacher proposes to appoint an existing staff member to undertake the preparatory work, governors should ensure that this person is suitably qualified to do the job and has the time for it.

The governors should appoint one of their members to oversee the work being done in the area of data protection – for want of a better term, “a data protection champion”, who can, when formally visiting the school/academy in the course of the normal school day satisfy herself/himself that the work is being done well.

Data protection should be an item on the agenda of at least one governors’ meeting in the run-up to 25 May 2018.

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Educational choices at 16+ vis-à-vis T Levels and Apprenticeship

18 Aug

I        The Wolf Review

Readers will recall that in October 2010, Michael Gove, the then Education Secretary, asked Alison Wolf, the Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management at King’s College, to carry out an independent review of vocational education for the 14-to-19-year olds – especially how it could be improved to promote successful progression into training routes, higher education and the labour market.

The review focused on

(i)         institutional arrangements;

(ii)        funding mechanisms including arrangements for who bears the cost of qualifications;

(iii)       progression from vocational education to work, higher education and higher-level training; and

(iv)       the roles of the third sector, private providers, employers and awarding bodies.

Wolf’s key recommendations were as follows.

(i)         Young people should be given incentives to undertake the most valuable vocational qualifications pre-16, with the removal of many vocational qualifications that existed to the detriment of core studies.

(ii)        The government and providers should introduce principles to guide young people on study programmes leading to post-16 vocational routes to ensure that they were gaining skills which led to progression in a variety of jobs or further learning, so that those who had not secured good passes in English and mathematics GCSEs continued to study these subjects.

(iii)       The government was to ensure that there was a system for evaluating the delivery and content of apprenticeships so that young people had the right skills in the workplace.

(iv)       The government was also to ensure that the regulatory framework moved away from accrediting qualifications to regulating awarding organisations.

(v)        There was to be a requirement that all qualifications offered to the 14-to-19-year-olds fitted within the Qualifications and Credit Framework because its absence had had a detrimental effect on their appropriateness and left gaps in the market.

(vi)       FE lecturers and other professionals should be permitted to teach in schools, to ensure that young people were being taught by those best suited to do so.

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Supreme Court rules against term-time holidays for pupils

18 Apr

Jon Platt, a parent living in the Isle of Wight, lost his long-running battle in the Supreme Court on 6 April 2017 with the Council to take his daughter on a seven-day trip to Disney-land in Florida, USA. He had contested the Council’s £60-fine imposed following her absence.  He had argued that his daughter had had a good attendance record leaving parents such as he free to take their children on term-time holidays.

The High Court had backed his case but referred the matter to the Supreme Court.  The Government fought him in that arena, fearing that if he won it would open the floodgates for other parents/carers to make mayhem of their children’s school attendance.

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Will Brexit be good for education?

28 Aug

The media has been teeming with speculation about the effect of Brexit on the economy. (The vote in favour of exit from the EU was narrow, 51.9% to 48.1%.)  Much less has been written about the impact that it is likely to have on education, an issue worth exploring.  Newly-installed Prime Minister Theresa May, who has taken up the reigns of leadership, spends considerable time ascertaining the views of advisers and ministers and more time after reflecting on the information garnered before acting.   While Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, is trying to hustle May into triggering the Brexit process by invoking Section 50, she is holding back and considering what must be done by way of preparation.

(1)       Impact on Schools

(a)        Pupils

Our schools have had to cope with an influx of pupils, several from the Eastern European countries. While there is a headwind to ensure that those children from EU countries currently in the UK remain in the UK, Brexit will put a stop to more joining them, unless there are good reasons to do otherwise – i.e. their parents are employed to work in those professions where we are short of expertise.   However, if both, the EU and Britain, don’t find a way of creating win-win situations, our industry will lose out.  The welcome of the children of other European countries could lose out.   Further, the children of parents from other European countries currently in the country, many of whom have been powering our economy, will be forced to leave.

The loss of such pupils could leave our schools/academies culturally bereft, especially as the curriculum – overt and covert – has benefited from having them as part of our education system.

About 5,000 children from EU countries are studying in our independent boarding schools.  Brexit is likely to increase restrictions and add to the complexity of travel arrangements, making their parents reconsider whether they want their children to be educated in these institutions.  If the responses of the parents are negative, the independent schools could well be in financial straits. Continue reading

The Education and Adoption Act and the Rise of the Regional School Commissioners

9 Apr

I        The contents

On Tuesday, 23 February 2016 the Education and Adoption Bill 2015 completed its passage through Parliament. The Act

  • empowers the Secretary of State to convert every school judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted into a sponsored academy;
  • enables the Secretary of State to intervene in maintained schools considered to be underperforming, and constrains local authorities from doing so in some circumstances;
  • expands the legal definition of the ‘eligible for intervention’ category to include ‘coasting’ schools, and allows the Secretary of State to intervene through a range of measures including requiring the school to become a sponsored academy; and
  • enables intervention in academies on the basis that they are ‘coasting’.

When the Act was journeying through Parliament as a Bill, the definition of “coasting” was applied only to maintained schools but this was altered by the government following pressure from the House of Lords.

The details of how the Act’s provisions will be implemented will be set out in a new version of the Schools Causing Concern guidance. The DfE consulted on the drafts of both, this guidance and the proposed ‘coasting’ definition, in late 2015. The outcome is expected to be published in the near future.

In addition, the Act

  • gives power to the Secretary of State to issue directions, with time limits, to school governing bodies and local authorities to speed up academy conversions;
  • places a new duty on schools and local authorities in specified cases to take all reasonable steps to progress the conversion;
  • requires schools and local authorities in specified cases to work with identified sponsors towards ‘making academy arrangements’ with those sponsors;
  • removes the requirements for a consultation to be held where a school ‘eligible for intervention’ is being converted to a sponsored academy.

Government amendments tabled in the Lords and carried into law will require a new sponsor to communicate his/her plans for a school to parents.

Speaking in the Commons on 23 February 2016, Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that, although not precluding those who choose to consult on a planned academy conversion, the law would end the current “rigid approach that allowed vested interests to prevent sponsors from taking decisive action and to delay the process of transformation”.

The government is planning to use its powers of intervention through the eight Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs). The initiative was taken as a practical response to establishing an intermediate cadre of “civil servants” between Whitehall and the growing number of academies.

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Government Unveils it National Strategy for Education in Education Excellence for All

9 Apr

I        Content

We would be daft to deny Nicky Morgan’s assertions that “education has the power to transform lives” and her desire to secure higher standards with a view to securing our children’s future.   In her Foreword to the White Paper, she is correct to write that one in three children leaving primary school in 2010 did not attain the norm in both, English and mathematics, albeit she alleges that they did not know how to “read, write and add up properly” – which is not true.   She also mentioned that we have been falling behind in the international league tables, which is all too true.

The vision of the Department of Education, which she leads, is commendatory.  It focuses on our young people and aims to

(i)         secure their safety and promote the country’s youth’s well-being;

(ii)        ensure that there is educational excellence everywhere;

(iii)       prepare young people for adult life.

It would be foolhardy to deny the principles underpinning the White Paper, which are that

(i)         children and young people come first;

(ii)        all those involved in education must have high expectations for all our children;

(iii)       the government must promote a central policy focusing on outcomes, not on methods;

(iv)       the government creates “supported autonomy”; and

(v)        ministers and civil servants are responsive to need and autonomy.

Autonomy is not licence; rather, it is the sibling of accountability.   For too long, schools have been subjected to and hamstrung by fetters and diktat of both, central and local government.   Schools must be given space to breathe.  Just as parents need to give their children wings to fly, government has to give schools the freedom to scale the heights.  The White Paper quotes Joel Klein, American lawyer and former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, which serves more than 1.1 million pupils in 1,600 schools:  “You can mandate adequacy but you cannot mandate greatness; it has to be unleashed.”

The White Paper exhorts us to have high expectations for our children and build capacity and capability to grow their young people and future generations.

It goes on to set out seven levers for achieving these goals.

(i)         A sufficient supply of great teachers everywhere.

(ii)        Great leaders in our schools.

(iii)       A school-led system where every school is an academy with local authorities having a different role to play from the one that they current do.   In particular, LAs will

  1. ensure every child has a school place;
  2. ensure the needs of vulnerable pupils are met; and
  3. act as champions for all parents and families.

(iv)       The prevention of underperformance and available help for schools to go from good to great; school-led improvement, with scaffolding and support where it’s needed.

(v)        High expectations of those working in and benefiting from our education system and a world-leading curriculum for all.

(vi)       An education system that is fair and ambitious for every child and is accountable to its users.

(vii)      The availability of the right resources in the right hands and the allocation of finance where it can do the most good.

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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