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Proposal to add VAT to private school fees – a knee-jerk notion

18 Apr

Two politicians at the opposite ends of the spectrum of thinking – Michael Gove, former Education Secretary, and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party –  have come together on a plan to “soak the rich”.

Writing in The Times (Put VAT on school fees and soak the rich) on 24 February 2017 Gove pointed to “group of highly successful enterprises that is pretty much insulated from the present row about business rates” – private schools – because they are charities.  Because private schools are VAT-exempt, writes Gove, “the wealthiest in this country” are able “to buy a prestige service that secures their children a permanent, positional edge in society at an effective 20% discount”.

Turning to the knotty issue of the number of scholarships and bursaries these schools provide, he criticises (with a rhetorical question) the small number of students given educational opportunities from depressed areas of the country such as Knowsley, Sunderland, Merthyr Tydfil and Blyth Valley.

Two months later, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader, and the Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, came up with a not dissimilar proposal to charge parents VAT on the fees they pay to private schools, with a view to using the income to offer free meals to all children in primary schools.

Rayner told the BBC: “There are many private businesses that are paying VAT that are struggling.  I don’t see why the state school system should subsidise the private sector.”

She added: “The evidence from the National Centre for Social Research (NCSR) and the IFS (the Institute of Fiscal Studies) have both been quite clear that actually providing universal school meals at primary level will raise attainment.”

She was backed by Labour’s headquarters which claimed that research had shown that access to free school meals improved educational attainment by two months.

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Mental Health: a case for placing it centre-stage

18 Apr

I           The Health and Education Select Committee

In the last week of March 2017, MPs on the Health and Education Select Committee received oral evidence from experts in the final session of their joint inquiry into the role of education in preventing mental health problems in children and young people.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield, the chair of the values-based child and adolescent mental-health system commission, Lord Layard, director of the Well-Being Programme at the London School of Economics, and Natasha Devon, a former government mental health champion, among others, presented evidence.

The main points raised during the session included the following.

  1. Embedding well-being and mental health awareness across the whole school was very important. Baroness Tyler explained that well-being in the school context includes parents and teachers. She welcomed the move to place Sex and Relationships education (SRE) on a statutory footing and called for compulsory personal, social, economic and health education (PSHE) in all schools.
  2. Senior leaders should be encouraged to measure how schools were influencing the well-being of children through surveys, and their integration into school improvement plans. Lord Layard asked the committee to run a pilot with volunteer schools to re-balance the present focus on measuring academic performance only.
  3. The impact of school funding pressures on mental health should be measured. Natasha Devon highlighted the effect of cuts on access to school support services including counsellors, to the enrichment curriculum and to subjects like sports, drama and music which support positive mental health.

The cross-party group of MPs on the Committee questioned ministers on their record on education and children’s mental health. Edward Timpson MP, Minister of State for Vulnerable Children and Families, said: “There was still much to be done” to address patchy and variable access to mental health services for young people across the country.

The MPs involved recognised that governing boards are responsible for promoting the well-being of children and young people and required to ensure that they set a supportive ethos and culture.

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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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Unpacking the dilemmas of promoting British Values

1 Jan

Are we losing our way in promoting British values?  Take two recent test cases.

I        A tale of two incidents

(a)        In early November 2016, British Gymnastics suspended Louis Smith, the UK Olympian, after he appeared in an online video in October 2016 with his friend and former gymnast, Luke Carson.  The video shows him pretending to pray to Allah while laughing.   British Gymnastics issued a statement: “Louis Smith admitted his behaviour was in breach of the Standards of Conduct.  The panel upheld the allegation and, taking into account a previous breach of the Standards of Conduct heard in June this year (where it also was made clear to Louis the consequences of any further breach), the panel determine a cumulative penalty was appropriate and order a two-month period of suspension……”

Twenty-seven-year-old Smith accepted offers to learn more about the Muslim faith after admitting he had been “ignorant to people’s religion”.

(b)        Later in November 2016, a row broke out over free speech following a government ban on 32-year-old Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing journalist, after an invitation extended to him by sixth former pupils at his former secondary school, i.e. Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury, Kent.  Yiannopoulos is the editor of the far-right news website, Breitbart.   The Department for Education’s Counter Extremism Unit cancelled the arrangement over safety concerns and the “threat of demonstrations at the school”.

Yiannopoulos, labelled by Claire Fox, Director of the Institute of Ideas, a “notorious troll and Donald Trump supporter”, is a colourful character, to say the least, who has described feminism as a cancer, called Islam the real culprit of race culture and said women who are offended online should just “log off”.

However, the decision to cancel the journalist’s talk caused a major row over free speech.  More than 200 – 220 to be precise – sixth form students had signed up for the event – with parental permission.

Yiannopoulos wrote: “My old high school has been bullied into cancelling my talk …. by the ‘counter-extremism’ unit at the UK Department of Education.  Who even knew the DoE (sic) had a counter-extremism unit?  And that it wasn’t set up to combat terrorism but rather to punish gays with the wrong opinions.  Perhaps if I’d called the speech ‘Muslims are awesome’ they’d have left us alone. Disgusted.”

A Simon Langton student encapsulated the feelings and thoughts of many of his peers when he said, despite disagreeing with Yiannopoulos’s opinions, he felt the decision to ban his talk was “wrong”. He observed: “I feel the old adage applies: ‘I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’”

The school, which expelled Yiannopoulos when he was a student, stated that objections to his talk had come almost “entirely from people with no direct connection to Langton”.

“The staff and students of the school were overwhelmingly in favour,” said Dr Matthew Baxter, the Headteacher.  “While disappointed that both, the pastoral care and intellectual preparation we offer to our students, have been called into question, we, at Langton, remain committed to the principle of free speech and open debate, and will resist, where possible, all forms of censorship.”

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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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Call to raise the profile of and provision for mental health in schools and academies

1 Jan

For the well-being of a nation to be promoted, children’s mental health must be safeguarded.  They are our future.   We commit a heinous crime by neglecting children’s welfare and happiness.   However, children’s mental health is taking a backseat in the provision we make for them within our schools/academies and the wider society.  The focus, at times, is exclusively on a narrow curriculum dominated by English and Mathematics and, when in their teens, the English Baccalaureate.

In the 61st issue of Governors’ Agenda, (see here) we focused on the promotion of children’s mental health.  It is now time to revisit this important matter, especially as there have been developments.

Emily Frith of the Education Policy Institute published in November 2016 Children and Young People’s Mental Health: Time to Deliver.  The report calls for a “high profile, national government programme to ensure a stronger focus on mental health and wellbeing within schools”. The recommendations in the report – set out in three sections – are as follows.

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Developing children’s financial nous

28 Aug

The love of money is the root of much evil, but money, per se, makes the world go round.   Maslow would, in all probability, have placed money at the base of his triangle of human motivation – an essential for meeting physiological needs, which includes food, water, warmth and rest.  The best things in life may be free – such as the air we breathe, the songs of birds that we hear and the happiness emanating from the good life.  However, to appreciate these, human beings need food, water and creature comforts, which are not available unless humans have enough money.

It is sad, therefore, that in the United Kingdom, we have accumulated a national debt of £1.5 trillion – a debt that we will be expecting our children, grandchildren and future generations to pay back to the world.  And this debt can increase.

Schools/academies are suspect for not devoting sufficient time to teaching pupils/students how to manage money. Why else would so many, in a straw poll of 2,500 students between the ages of 11 and 16 carried out by The Times Educational Supplement (TES), list financial themes among the 100 things they would like to do before they finish their schooling such as “Learn what to do if you are in debt”, “Learn how to save money” and “Learn about taxes, mortgages and rent”.   In short, they are keen to learn how to survive (if not flourish) in the world of austerity that they will face. Continue reading