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How does the managing of school finances differ from business?

9 Dec

It is not unusual for a governor with an industrial background to seek clarification on how the management of school finances differs from a business.

In brief, a school’s income comes from government – and, where the school is not an academy or free school – via the local education authority.   It is fixed, predicated on the wealth of the nation and reliant on the public taxes. In other words, you and I, who benefit from education, also pay for it.

A business, on the other hand, derives its income from providing goods and services that generate profit.   The better the product is the greater will the income be enabling the business to grow.   The worse the product, the less the income resulting in the company shrinking until it goes to the wall.     Initial success creates the inertia to have future successes.  If nothing succeeds like success, nothing fails like failure. Continue reading

The Education of Summer-Born Children – Keeping Pace with Others

9 Dec

A child in this country is said to be of a particular school age when it is calculated from 1 September of one calendar year to the 31 August of the next.    In some other countries like India, the academic year coincides with the calendar one.

The statutory school age for children in England and Wales is in the term following her/his fifth birthday.  However, most local authorities admit children into the reception age group at the beginning of the academic year in which they turn five.

For summer-born children, this means that they are only from a month to three of having turned four years old. In some cases, children have their birthdays in the latter half of August, which makes them exceedingly young when they start main schools.  In the early years the rate of development is hugely more than the rate at which children develop in the primary and secondary phase.  By the time a human being comes to the age at which this writer is, development virtually ceases if not moves backwards.

Accordingly, parents are concerned that a very young reception pupil – i.e. someone who has just turned four – will be left behind the rest of the class in the learning that is going on.   So what can be done?  Continue reading

How much time should a school governor spend on governance?

9 Dec

Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education, disparagingly spoke of some school governors who volunteer to serve so that they can attend meetings as social gatherings for tea and sympathy and to sing collectively Kumbayah.     This incensed many governors and governor groups, among others, the National Governors’ Association to whom he apologised.   Rightly so.

The work of governors has increased is profound – if done properly.  Duties and responsibilities which formerly were in the purview of the local authority have transferred to governing bodies so that two fundamental requirements for governors are that they

(i)            have skills to contribute to school governance – in areas such as the law, human resources, finance and, of course, the curriculum and pedagogy – and

(ii)           are prepared to give time and energy to the school. Continue reading

£7.4 million to set aside to develop future primary school leaders

25 Aug

On 6 June 2014, David Laws, Minister of State for schools, announced a scheme, Teaching Leaders Primary, to help develop primary school leaders of the future. The scheme, which is being run by the charity, Teaching Leaders, will recruit primary teachers already working in challenging schools with the potential to become outstanding leaders. They will go through a two-year training programme intended to develop their skills and help them get the most from pupils.

Altogether, 160,000 primary-aged children from disadvantaged backgrounds will benefit over the next four years. In its first year, the programme will be open to 1,200 primary teachers in London, Manchester and Birmingham, and in specific areas of need – like Hull, Norfolk and Blackpool.

David Laws said, “This funding will allow Teaching Leaders to expand their success with promising teachers in secondary schools to those at primary level. Now primary teachers with the potential to be outstanding heads will get the support they need to become the best school leaders of tomorrow.”

Schools were invited to apply to enlist outstanding middle leaders and applications closed on 19 June 2014.  The programme began in August 2014.   (See here for more information).

Bar raised for the Key Stage 2 Standard Assessment Tests

2 Jan

Even the more heavyweight papers carried “alarming” headlines of doom and gloom when announcing the Key Stage 2 Standard Assessment Test results.   “More than 700 primaries fail Gove’s tough new test” boomed The Times when lamenting that “hundreds more primary schools have slipped beneath the minimum of test results”.  The actual number is 767.   The Department for Education has threatened that it will impose on those primary schools that have fallen below the floor level “new leadership and governance from academy sponsors”.

And what is the floor level? Well, not only have the goalposts moved on this but also narrowed.  This year, at least 60% of pupils in a school were required to attain level 4 and above in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2.  Last year, 60% were expected to attain level 4 and above in English (per se) and mathematics.  At the time, a pupil may have attained level 5 in reading but only level 3 in writing – averaging out to level 4. She/he would have been deemed to have met the target required.  Not so this year.

As a consequence, in 2011/12, 521 primary schools were below this threshold, having improved on the picture in 2010/11 when 1,310 failed to do so.  Were the same benchmarks used in 2011/12 as have been deployed this year, 834 would have failed. The press would benefit from reflecting that it depends on one’s perspective when making a judgement about whether the nation’s primary pupils are improving or “going down the pan”.

The actual results were as follows.

%age  achieving level 4 and above in reading, writing and maths %age achieving level 4B and above in reading, writing and maths %age making expected progress

2013

2012

Reading

Writing

Maths

England – all schools

75%

75%

63%

88%

91%

88%

England – state funded schools only

75%

74%

63%

88%

92%

88%

A DfE spokesman told The Times: “The floor standards we introduced were tougher and performance is improving.  Heads, teachers and pupils deserve credit for meeting the challenge head on.”  Then he added the “killer” remark.  “Schools with a long history of underperformance and who are not stepping up to the mark will be taken over by an academy sponsor.   The expertise and strong leadership provided by sponsors is the best way to turn around weak schools and give pupils the best chance of a first-class education.”

There is only one little problem with what the DfE is planning to do.  Several sponsored academies have also fallen below the floor level.   What plans is the government hatching to have these academies also taken over and who will do the job?

Our lowest attainers; how can we support them?

17 Apr

(1)       The Wood and the Trees

If the overarching objective of a business is to generate profit, that of a school is to ensure that young people are well educated and take their places confidently in adult society.   In 1997, the late Professor Ted Wragg of Exeter University proposed in A Cubic Curriculum a multi-dimension view of what it is to be “well educated” founded on four propositions.

(a)        First, education must incorporate a vision of the future.  If it doesn’t, we will be ill-serving the children in our care.   To cater for this, we have to take account of what will be affecting their lives, but not be wholly bound by it.   For instance, if they are living in the mountains, children need to learn the art of climbing and managing the heights. This does not mean that they may not at some time move down to the plains.

(b)        Second, they have to meet the increasing demands of citizens living in a shrinking world which continues to expand in population – currently standing at 7 billion people.  Employers require higher qualifications in a constantly changing environment.

(c)        Third, because of the increasing complexity in which we live, children need to be taught how to learn so that they can adapt to new developments.  How they learn is at least as important as what is learnt.

(d)        Finally, the curriculum has to be viewed as multi-faceted and not one-dimensional.   Yes, it has to incorporate subject matter but needs to go beyond that and include skills, attitudes, values, behaviour and beliefs.

Within their classrooms, good teachers teach the subjects – e.g. English and mathematics – in cross-curricular themes (such as developing young people’s thinking skills and imaginations, among other things) using a pedagogy that stimulates rather than stultifies the young – deploying a range of methods – such as telling, team-working, practising and imitating.

That’s the wood of which we may be losing sight because we have been obsessing with the trees – i.e. the stubborn fact that 25% of our youngsters leave schools without the basic proficiency – i.e. level 2 or GCSE at grade C – in English and mathematics.   In Sweden it is 14%, in Canada – 12% and in the USA – 11%.   Altogether, 4% of young people leave school without a single GCSE at even Grade G.

The challenge for us is to keep the overarching objectives for education (the wood) in mind while not neglecting the basics (i.e. the trees) that includes helping children develop a good command of literacy and numeracy.  If children are unable to read, write, add up and subtract, their lives are blighted. They will not be able to benefit from Ted Wragg’s vision and fail to live fulfilled and happy lives.

Continue reading

Ofsted’s chief fires and then takes aim at governors

17 Apr

During the first three months of the calendar year 2013, Ofsted’s chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has added to the chilly winter winds making the climate for school governors very inclement.

In a speech on 20 February 2013, he averred that a contributory factor for 6,000 schools rated less than good was poor leadership, of which governors were very much a part.  He compared the worst governors to jurors who were incapable of understanding their responsibilities in a court case – people (possibly) like the first lot of jurors who had to pass judgement on Vicky Pryce, the former wife of the ex-Energy Secretary of State, Chris Hulme.  Those jurors were dismissed for seeking answers from the judge on the most banal questions.

On 27 February 2013, Wilshaw launched an online, at-a-glance report card for each school (School Data Dashboard), to have access to the end of key stage attainment data of the pupils of the school, which includes information on how they compare with schools across the country.  The unspoken words appeared to be “Governors, you may run, but you cannot hide.”

In an article in the Times Educational Supplement (TES) on 22 March 2013, he explained why he was turning the screws on the 300,000+ governors.  “In an era of ever-greater accountability, autonomy and complexity of school organisation, the role played by the governing body is crucial in determining institutional success.” The expectation is (despite resistance from the teacher unions) that governors spend more time understanding what makes for good pupil progress, i.e. the quality of learning and teaching.

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Carving up the responsibility cake for members of the Governing Body

17 Apr

As Ofsted raises the stakes on governors causing them to take a deeper interest in discharging the main function of schools, i.e. providing a stimulating curriculum that lifts standards, there is a danger that they could fall foul of their most senior managers, i.e. the headteachers, for meddling in matters in which they should have no business. It must be said at this point that the overwhelming majority of governors and managers in the country’s schools have a splendid working relationship and wish to keep it that way.

Governors also recognise that they carry out their functions in a voluntary capacity.  Most have day jobs that bring home the bacon and keep them out of mischief.   Not only don’t they wish to meddle with management issues but they simply don’t have the time to do so.

Occasionally, however, we do come across “rogue” governors who are keen to embark on ego trips and cause their headteachers’ grief.

Generally, at the first meeting of an academic year, the governing body reviews the terms of reference of its committees, appoints members to them and delegates responsibilities to individual members – nominating governors to oversee discrete areas of school life such as Special Needs, Equal Opportunities and Health and Safety.

The Department for Education published in 2012 a very helpful decision planner for governors, from which every governing body can derive considerable benefit.   The planner is set out at four levels: responsibilities that the full governing body may assume, duties that can be delegated to committees, tasks to be carried out by individual governors and aspects of school life for which the headteacher takes charge.

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Teachers’ Pay All change from September 2013

17 Apr

The Government accepted all the recommendations in the 21st report of the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB). The STRB proposed radical changes to how teachers are paid from 1 September 2013.  Increases in teachers’ salaries will be based on how well – or otherwise – they do in their performance reviews and will not be automatic for those on the main scale except for those that are the subject of capability procedures, which is the current practice.

On 21 February 2012, the Secretary of State for Education asked the STRB to review current provision for teachers’ pay with a view to raising the status of the profession and contributing to improving the standard of teaching in our schools. The STRB’s 21st report was in response to that remit.

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Teacher unions prepare for battle

17 Apr

At their conferences in April 2013, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in Liverpool and the National of Union Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) in Bournemouth reaffirmed their commitment to strike action on pay, pensions and conditions of service – in particular, the new performance management arrangements that will kick in on 1 September 2013.

The NUT was the more radical of the two unions.  The delegates unanimously passed a resolution of no-confidence in the Secretary of State Michael Gove.  Further, a significant segment of the members called for a boycott of Ofsted inspections urging members not to co-operate with inspectors when they arrived in their schools.

The unions are unlikely to win much support from Jo Public at a time when everybody has to share in the financial pain caused by the collapse of the economy in 2008.   Protesting against the new performance management arrangements and salaries based on their outcomes is also going to win little sympathy because such a system already exists in industry and within the senior leadership teams of schools.

Calling for a boycott against Ofsted flies in the face of accountability.  Government, local authorities and professionals are doing their utmost to improve the quality of education, raise the standards of all our young people and increase their chances of surviving in an increasing difficult and hostile environment.   Boycotting Ofsted inspections doesn’t help.  Besides, operating in this manner is not consonant with the good behaviour teachers are keen to promote among the pupils they teach.  Such modelling will undermine this objective.  Young people are likely (quite rightly) to accuse them of espousing the adage:  “Do as I say rather than do as I do.”

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