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Teach children to fail well and fast

17 Aug

Summer is a time of tests and examinations and autumn of league tables.  Throughout the year we have inspections.  All three have one thing in common.   Achievement.   God help children if they fail and thus threaten their schools/academies with a lower rank on the national league table.  God help schools/academies if they fail their Ofsted inspections.   The education culture in our country appears to be obsessed with success and terrified of failure.   I question whether this is the culture we should be promoting.

Education is sometimes compared to a three-legged stool.  The first leg constitutes the disciplines/subjects that are taught, often, discretely, subjects such as mathematics, history, geography and music.  The second leg is each of the cross-curricular themes that help develop children in a rounded manner – such as expression/language and the ability to think.   The third leg is the way education is promoted, e.g. how teachers teach (e.g. telling and teamwork) and enabling children to learn (e.g. discovery, imitation and observation).  The late Professor Ted Wragg of Exeter University ascribed a different metaphor to this calling it the cuboid curriculum.

But there is a fourth leg (going by my analogy) or dimension (going by Professor Wragg’s one) – i.e. the qualities that we wish to promote within our children, a key one being resilience.   Intrinsic within resilience is managing and coping with failure.   Because every school/academy wishes to be at the top of its league table, governors, headteachers and staff do everything it takes to succeed.  This desire is both, intrinsically and extrinsically, passed on to the pupils.   And when they fail, their skies come tumbling down on them – as it did with chicken-licken in the toddler’s story.

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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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New Opportunity Fund to boost provision for bright, disadvantaged children

17 Aug

It is now official.  Bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds are underachieving.  Some time ago, the Sutton Trust were banging the drum for them.  Rebecca Allen, Director of Datalab who carried out the research for the Trust, revealed that a much higher proportion of children on free school meals or from disadvantaged backgrounds were unable to go on from primary SATs to secondary GCSEs and achieve similar results – even for those in the highest 10% of results at state primary school level in England.

The Social Mobility Commission had pointed out in the past that disadvantaged children of all ages underperform.   Allen’s research specifically compared the results of most able disadvantaged children at the primary stage with their later results in GCSEs.   She discovered that one of three boys eligible for free school meals – where households earned £16,000 or less annually or on benefits – who attained top marks at the end of Key Stage2 failed to feature among the top 25% of those at GCSE level.   Meanwhile, a quarter of disadvantaged girls who attained top Key Stage 2 results, failed to feature in the highest quarter of GCSE grades.

Allen wondered: “The highly able Pupil Premium children had the school and home support to do really well at primary school, so why do things go so wrong for some of them at secondary school?

“Nobody’s looked at how this happens; what sort of qualifications highly able Pupil Premium children take, or where this missing talent is in the country. Obviously, it is in areas that are underperforming generally, but there are also areas with good schools that nevertheless do poorly for highly able children.”

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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?

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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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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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