Archive | Political Policies RSS feed for this section

Coping with the physical and mental damage of Covid-19

27 Aug

The summer term of 2020 will be memorable.  Who would have thought that when the new year broke, we would be on the cusp of experiencing the most gruelling time on this planet testing the leaders of schools and academies to the limit?  This is what precisely happened as we approached the end of the spring term.  Having originated in a market in Wuhan, China, at the tail-end of 2019, Covid-19, the virus, leapt from bats to humans.  Since then, this microscopic predator has wreaked havoc on humankind, laying low many people’s lives, devasting the world’s finances and disrupting civilization as we have known it.  The world’s scientists, at the time of writing, are frantically trying to find a cure to fight the enemy and a vaccine to stop it from entering humans and creating more mayhem.  At the earliest, they will not know if they are successful until the year ends and 2021 dawns.

Education – among most aspects of life – has been clobbered by Covid-19.

Schools and academies have been compelled to shut down during the summer term of 2020 and, at the time of writing, are directed to reopen in September 2020.  However, the government has a fight on its hands with the unions, especially as scientists have now discovered that youngsters from the age of 10 upwards can become infected with the virus and worse still, pass it on to adults – teachers, support staff and, of course, their parents.

School and academy leaders have on the one hand to do everything possible guard their communities – pupils and staff – from the virus and, on the other hand, act as “piggy-in-the-middle” between the government that is determined that institutions will open in September and the unions who justifiably fear for the lives of their members.   Their leadership will be severely tested trying to promote peace between two warring factions.

In the middle of it all are the children, who have suffered greatly, the poor and disadvantaged more than the rest.  In my mind’s eye, I see two bulls at war with each other – the government on the one hand and the unions on the other.  The ground on which they do battle are the schools and academies, and the lives that they imperil the most are the children.  I often wish that if they must fight, they take their feuds elsewhere.  However, they don’t, and they can’t.   The curious feature of this conflict is that both sides aver that they take the stance that they do in the best interests of the children.

Continue reading

Covid-19: The Continuing Saga

27 Aug

Covid-19 has dominated our lives during the Spring Term 2020 and is likely to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.     The world-wide pandemic has had a devastating and mainly negative impact.  Post-Covid-19 is likely to see an altogether different landscape from the one we viewed pre-pandemic.  No area of life will be left unaffected, including education.

Most businesses have suffered as also people – vis-à-vis their economic condition.  However, the negative impact was mitigated by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who pumped billions into the British economy.  Who would have thought that this would have happened in December 2019 when Boris Johnson triumphantly trumpeted that we would – come hail or shine – be leaving the European Union by the end of 2020?

The government recognised that it made some serious mistakes.  Boris Johnson – at last – accepted responsibility when Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC interviewed him on 24 July 2020.  He said that in the “first few weeks and months” of the outbreak, his ministers and he “could have done differently” in its handling of the virus.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Damian Hinds’s possible educational agenda for English schools

20 Apr

Damian Hinds was appointed Education Secretary on 7 January 2018, when Theresa May reshuffled her Cabinet.  He replaced Justine Greening, who turned down May’s offer to become the Secretary for Works and Pensions. Hinds rose from being a Whip to Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury then on to the Department for Works and Pensions as Employment Minister before taking on his current job.

Educated at the voluntary aided Roman Catholic Grammar School, St Ambrose College in Altrincham, Cheshire, he went on to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics in Oxford, securing a first-class degree. During his stay, he was elected President of the Oxford Union Society.

He was elected to Parliament in 2010 from East Hampshire, re-elected in 2015 and then in 2016 – increasing his majority from 56.8%, to 60.7% to 63.6% of the votes cast.

Continue reading

New faces in education’s top team

18 Aug

Prime Minister Theresa May appointed two new ministers at the Department for Education – Mr Robert Goodwill and Ms Anne Milton.  The rest of the education team remains unchanged and will continue to be led by Ms Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities.  Mr Nick Gibbs remains as Minister of State for School Standards and Equalities, Mr Jo Johnson continues to be in charge of Universities, Science, Research and Innovation and Lord John Nash stays on as Under- Secretary of State for the School System.

While we know about and have had experience of the work and impact of the latter four, what do we know about the first two?

Continue reading

Impact of 8 June 2017 elections on education

18 Aug

In the run-up to the last general elections, several people in England were worried about the possible impact of the election outcome on education, especially when Prime Minister Theresa May kept on banging about wanting a “strong and stable” government.  You may recall reading in the Tory manifesto, released breathtakingly late, that it was the intention of government to increase the number of grammar schools in the country from the present 163.  The argument for it was that comprehensive schools were failing children.   That the additional children who would be attending the increased number of grammar schools would continue to fall well short of those that applied for it, causing disappointment, rejection and dismay failed to shake May from her avowed position.

These “several people” breathed a sigh of relief when the election outcome produced a hung parliament – clipping the Prime Minister’s wings and resulting in the ousting of her private advisers, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, the advisers of the grammar school initiative which would have taken us back to the future.

Perhaps we will now have some respite from educational policy initiative and the opportunity of bedding down the countless reforms heaped upon us – beginning with the assessment of pupils in the Early Years Foundation Stage, moving through curricular changes and ending in reforms in GCSE gradings. Unlike commentators like Warwick Mansell (writing in The Guardian on 18 June 2017), I don’t find education policy initiative anathema, per se.  Rather, the plethora of them (including some bad policies) does not make for the nurturing of a good educational system and sells our children short.  The hung parliament will place a brake on such initiatives.

Continue reading

Green Paper: Schools that work for everyone

1 Jan

I        Preamble

On 12 September, the Government published the Green Paper, Schools that work for everyone, which the Department for Education (DfE) has taken off the websiteThe deadline for responses was 12 December 2016.   We now have to wait on the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, to give the nation a steer on where she wishes to go from here.

The Green Paper proposed a number of recommendations which, if implemented, will affect four discrete institutions:

  • Independent Schools
  • Universities
  • Selective Schools
  • Free Schools which are faith orientated

The proposals were issued against the background of increasing pressure on school places – especially good ones.  Primary numbers grew by 11% between 2010 and 2016. This will feed into the secondary sector for the rest of the life of this Parliament.   The most recent projections are that the primary school population is estimated to increase by a further 174,000 (3.9%) from the current year to 2020.  The secondary school population will rise by 284,000 (10.3%) over the same period.

While the Green Paper made it abundantly clear that the government would continue to support schools with the Pupil Premium Grant to promote the education of the most socially deprived children in our system – i.e. those entitled to free school meals (FSM) and in care – it expressed government concerns that those children whose families just fail to qualify – i.e. the just about managing (JAM) – were being short-changed.

Children entitled to FSM come from families in one of these classifications. Those in receipt of

  • Income Support
  • Income-Based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Income-Based Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit

This effectively means that if either parent/carer is earning more than £16,190 annually, the child does not qualify for FSM.  In January 2016, the national average for those entitled to FSM was 14.3%. The government is, however, worried about children in families on modest incomes who do not qualify for such benefits but are, nevertheless struggling financially.

Information on the educational achievements of such children is opaque as it melds with data on those who come from well-heeled backgrounds.  Accordingly, the first two questions that the Green Paper posed for us were as follows.

  • How can we identify such children?
  • How can we better understand the impact of policy on a wider cohort of pupils whose life chances are profoundly affected by school but who may not qualify or apply for free school meals?

So what plans does the government has for the four groups set out above?

Continue reading

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

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

What do the major parties have to offer schools?

13 Apr

Election fever is gripping the nation and no party appears to be sure of winning the next general election.  The time has come, consequently, to review briefly the educational policies of the three major political parties so as to enable all those in the thick of delivering the service have the opportunity reflect on who would be best for education.  Continue reading