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Keeping children safe: more changes take effect from September

12 Aug

More changes are to take effect from September 2019 so that schools and academies keep children safer.  At the time of writing, the updated guidance had not been published.  What is extant on keeping children safe in schools, academies and colleges can be found here. The Department for Education has been extremely helpful in that it has brought together everything that you should know about safeguarding children in one on-line document which you can access here.

(1)       What’s new

(a)        On-line safety

Much of the law and guidance has been around for some time.  What is relatively new is the measures trustees, governors and staff in schools and academies should take to protect youngsters from peer-on-peer abuse. In particular, steps are necessary to prevent “up-skirting”. A peer up-skirts when he photographs a girl’s clothing – without her knowing – for sexual gratification.

Adults – especially teaching and support staff in schools/academies – are required to put into action the on-line safety guidance from the DfE.  (See the paragraph above.)

(b)       Peer-on-peer abuse

Peer-on-peer abuse is particularly daunting because, more often than not, both, the victim and the perpetrator are vulnerable, the victim because s/he has suffered abuse at the hands of the perpetrator and the perpetrator because s/he has probably been a victim somewhere else and is venting her/his spleen on the victim.

David Smellie, partner at the law firm Farrer, provided The Times Education Supplement with 10 recommendations for schools/academies to use when dealing with this kind of abuse.  These are as follows.

(1)        Make a prompt referral to statutory agencies.

(2)        Always remember the statutory right of the victim to anonymity.

(3)        Be proactive with police and social services. Propose how you think the school/academy should handle it and seek to get staff on board.

(4)        Remember the role that can be played by local rape and sexual violence crisis centres. Victims will often be very nervous about reporting to or cooperating with the police. These centres have the expertise to be able to offer concrete and confidential advice to victims and there is no risk to victims from seeking that advice.

(5)        When facing either a decision by the police not to investigate (for example, by reason of the victim’s wishes) or where there has been an arrest but with a lengthy investigation in prospect, look to develop a safety plan.

(6)        The default option must not be to move or remove the victim. Remember that if that happens, you will forever undermine the confidence of future victims of sexual violence to report or come forward.

(7)        Any safety plan in these circumstances must involve detailed consultation with the victim and her/his family and with the accused and her/his family. Use advice from children’s services and police to inform the assessment of risk and possible mitigation measures.

(8)        Secure buy-in from statutory agencies to any safety plan. They may not be that keen at first, but it pays to be persistent.

(9)        Supplement advice where necessary with your own expert inputs, for example from the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, and/or adolescent psychologists.

(10)      At all stages, talk and keep talking to the victim, and offer support in whatever way you can.

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Obesity Crisis: a national problem which begins at birth

12 Aug

I        Preamble

Obesity has become a national crisis.  Increasing numbers of pregnant mothers overeat.  The expectant mother justifies doing so by kidding herself with: “Well, I am eating for two.” There is some medical evidence to suggest that the overeating impacts on the unborn child, who on arrival also tends later to overeat.  The problem often starts at birth. A tragedy.

Obesity causes diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and early death.   That apart, the obese person is impeded from living a normal life. S/he walks slower, has problems breathing, spends more on larger-sized clothes and shoes, takes up considerable seating space in public transport attracting angst from others and does not look and feel good.

Childhood obesity is linked to different health conditions such as asthma and type-2 diabetes.  It also increases cardiovascular risk factors.   Obese children suffer from mental ill-health and behavioural problems.   Worst of all, an obese child becomes and obese adult.

In 2017, a national survey revealed that 36% of the UK population was overweight and 29% obese.  In the case of men, 40% were overweight and 27% obese.  With women, 31% were overweight and 30% obese.

In 1984 fewer than 10% of five to ten-year-olds were overweight, and fewer than 2% obese. In 2017/18 more than 20% of children were overweight or obese when they began school and over 33% overweight or obese by the time they left primary school.  Obesity numbers are highest in the most deprived 10% of the population twice that of the least deprived 10%.

The poorest have become the biggest victims of obesity.  Forty years ago, a poor child was around 25% more likely to be obese than a rich one. Now, by 11 s/he is three times as likely. Marie Antoinette said of the common French person: “Let them eat cake.” Prime Minister Johnson is now saying to the manufacturers about the common man in the United Kingdom: “Let them eat sugar” – a cry that does not liberate but is a curse.

Obese children are stigmatised and bullied. This leads to low self-esteem and frequent absences.

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Mind the gap: the link between poverty and educational development

12 Aug

The attainment gap between pupils from well-heeled backgrounds and those from the deprived segments of our society continues to grow by the time pupils attained the age of 16, according to the 2019 annual report of the Education Policy Institute (EPI).  Disadvantaged pupils were a week further behind than their peers in 2018.  The EPI research also discovered that by the school-leaving age – the pupils in London were two years ahead – achievement-wise – than their peers in some northern areas such as Rotherham and Blackpool.  Poor pupils in these towns were two years behind their more privileged class friends, said EPI.

There is more bad news.   The pre-school gap stopped closing.  Is this because we have abandoned the Sure Start programme? (Who knows?) The good news is that the gap between rich and poor pupils is closing at primary level.   There is now a 9.2 months difference in achievement by the age of 11 when compared to the 10.7 months in 2011.    However, at the secondary stage, the gap grew.  The researchers hinted that this could be the case because secondary institutions had been more exposed to the cuts.

The other EPI finding is that pupils of Chinese and Indian heritage significantly outperform those of white British and black Caribbean backgrounds.

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DfE signals its intent to tackle teacher shortages

18 Apr

I        Some hard facts

Schools and academies are suffering budget reductions in real terms causing trustees, governors and headteachers to consider staff reductions.  These difficulties are being exacerbated by teacher shortages.

Recent recruitment and retention statistics showed that the teaching profession was a profession in crisis. In 2017, nearly 35,000 teachers left the profession for reasons other than retirement, with four in 10 teachers quitting within their first year of qualification.

It’s not hard to see why.  Horror stories continue to proliferate of dedicated teachers suffering burnout and leaving the profession.  Here are some facts.

(1)        20% of teachers feel tense about their jobs most or all the time compared with 13% of those in similar professions.

(2)        41% of teachers are dissatisfied with the amount of leisure time they have compared with 32% of those in similar professions.

(3)        23% of full-time teachers would like to reduce their working hours even if it meant taking a pay cut, compared with 17% of those in similar professions.

(4)        The pay of average teachers fell by 12% since 2010 in real terms.

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National funding formula: Transition Arrangements

31 Dec

National funding formula: Transition Arrangements

The National Funding Formula (NFF) kicks in on 1 April 2017 following two stages of consultation.  The government published the formula and the transition arrangements to be implemented from 2018-19. For the full exemplification of what is to come see here.

I           Summary

The National Funding Formula will comprise the following.

(i)         Per pupil costs, i.e. basic per pupil funding together with growth and mobility

(ii)        Additional needs, based on

  • Deprivation
  • looked-after children
  • English as an additional language
  • low prior attainment

(iii)       premises, which offers a lump sum for each school/academy, split sites, sparsity, the private finance initiative and exceptional circumstances

(iv)       area costs to take account of the cost of living in London and other conurbations

Basic per-pupil funding is the largest factor in the formula will account for almost 73% of the total schools’ block.

A school’s/academy’s per-pupil funding for 2018-19 will have minimum sums of £3,300 for every primary pupil and £4,600 for every secondary pupil. In 2019-20, this will rise to £3,500 for a primary pupil and £4,800 for a secondary one.

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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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The Prevent Strategy: Nagging Dilemmas

18 Apr

Schools have been bombarded with advice on how to deal with preventing the growth of terrorism as part of their Safeguarding duties. This advice has come on the heels of the publication of the Prevent Strategy in 2011.  

However, the strategy has been subject to criticism from several quarters, not least from moderate Muslim leaders.

Dal Babu, chief superintendent of the Metropolitan Police before his retirement in 2013, is on record as stating that many Muslims see the scheme as spying and many involved in promoting it do not understand the communities the strategy is meant to serve.  Having acknowledged that it started off as “a good idea”, Dal Babu remarked that it had become less and less trusted.

Some have criticised Prevent as being counter-productive and promoting unfair discrimination against the rank-and-file of Muslims – and others observed that there was no clear way of measuring how effective it was.

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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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Assessing Assessments

18 Apr

Assessments in English schools are in a state of flux. There appears to be little likelihood that the government will be bring about a measure of clarity any time soon.   What exactly is happening?

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Data from international tests rain down in Autumn 2016 like confetti

1 Jan

In the last week of November 2016, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) published its report on the Trends in Maths and Science Study (TIMMS).  A week later, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – an arm of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – published its findings.   Both are based on a battery of tests which samples of pupils/students took in 2015.

I        TIMMS

TIMMS is a survey of the educational achievements of pupils in years 5 (aged nine-to-ten year olds) and 9 (aged 13-to-14 year olds) in 57 participating countries, as well as comparisons of the curriculum and the teaching of Mathematics and Science.

The national report for England found that while the country’s maths results are now at the highest point for 20 years in both age groups, overall improvement is still lagging behind other countries. Since the first assessment in 1995, England’s score in Maths increased by 12.8% for year 5 and by 4% for year 9. Despite this, the score is behind top-achieving countries who have seen more rapid improvement. The East Asian group of countries continued to perform extremely well across the assessments.

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