Our responsibility for vulnerable pupils: landmark exclusion cases

18 Apr

I        Duty of care for vulnerable pupils

The ground on which bulls fight suffers the most. Bulls may damage each other, but it is the battleground that is smothered.   This is what happens when it comes to caring for and educating children, especially the vulnerable ones: the bulls are the adults, the ground the children.    We adults often forget that, we have a profound duty of care for our youngsters and sometimes fall well short of discharging our responsibilities towards them.

While battles rage about how schools and academies should be judged, and they are compared to one another by the Department for Education (DfE), Ofsted, the politicians, school and academy governors, education leaders, parents, academics and consultants (the bulls), the children (the ground) suffers.  The most vulnerable children – those with special educational needs and disabilities – suffer more than most.  In the academic year 2016/17, the latest year for which these statistics are available, SEND pupils constituted nearly 50% of permanent exclusions.  These children were six times more likely to be permanently excluded than those without special needs.  Often, the covert reasons for excluding them is so that the schools and academies can raise their positions in the test and examination league tables.

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Relationships and sex education guidance updated after nineteen years.

18 Apr

The updated draft guidance on sex and health education was published on 25 February 2019 following the first draft on which the government consulted over 2017 and 2018.  This includes minor changes. The public’s response to the government’s consultations elicited widespread opposition to some Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) elements in its guidance.

From 2020, relationships, sex and health education will be compulsory in all secondary schools and academies, while all primaries will have to teach relationships and health education.  Currently, academies are not compelled to teach this subject because they don’t follow the national curriculum.

Schools and academies “must have regard” to the guidance, and “where they depart from those parts of the guidance which state that they should (or should not) do something they will need to have good reasons for doing so”.

The document includes several aspects of the subject pupils should know by the end of certain stages. There are too many to go into here.

The rest of the article is based on the briefing that The Key, a governors’ services organisation, has given to its members, for which I am deeply grateful.

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Character education to be brought centre-stage

18 Apr

On 7 February 2019, secretary of state Damian Hinds pledged that the government would develop benchmarks for character education.  Schools and academies will be invited to assess themselves against these criteria.   The first step he will take is to appoint an advisory group to make proposals to grow “character and resilience” in pupils and propose benchmarks against which schools/academies will be rated in the area.

The benchmarks are to mirror the Gatsby ones for careers guidance. Gatsby benchmarks are statutory. (See Annex.)  Schools/academies must use them to rate their own work on careers.  However, no action – punitive or otherwise – will be taken by the government against institutions that fail to comply with them.

Addressing the Church of England’s Foundation for Educational Leadership conference, the education secretary said he expected the advisory group to report its recommendations in September, “with a view to implementing next year”.

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Assessing Testing

4 Jan

Confession time for me.  It is easy to pontificate if one is a consultant as I am.  When in charge of an organisation or institution and constantly under the public microscope, it is a different matter.   So, what follows may well be in a sermonising vein.  But don’t pass judgement until you have read what follows.

Competition does not have the kind of benefits the UK government’s claims it does.  This is not to say that it is unnecessary.  However, much credence has been given to its seeming advantages.

We need tests and examinations to determine how well our children are doing and ensure that the young people who qualify to become the future movers and shakers of our society succeed in life.   I wouldn’t like to be operated on (for the removal of a cancerous tumour) by an unqualified surgeon who hasn’t passed a raft of medical examinations.

However, the value we put on tests, examinations and league tables has a detrimental effect on those schools/academies who are struggling to improve the quality of education.   To start with, tests and examinations tell us only so much about what is happening in an institution, which has responsibility for imparting to future generations the knowledge and wisdom of the current and previous generations together with helping them develop skills to navigate the chopping waters of the future.

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Quality of Education in England – a Curate’s Egg: Good in Parts

4 Jan

Chief Inspector’s Annual Report 2017-18

On 4 December 2018, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) of Schools, Amanda Spielman, issued her second annual report to Parliament, in accord with section 121 of the Education and Inspection Act 2006.  You may have missed it because of the Brexit kerfuffle.

As always, there was good news and bad news for the nation’s schools, academies, Further Education (FE) Colleges and local authorities (LAs).

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Minor inspection changes from September 2018

4 Jan

I        The Changes

Minor changes were made to the Inspection Handbook. These changes took effect from September 2018.

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Ofsted researches curriculum focus to plan for future inspections

4 Jan

I           The Consultation

From 16 January 2019, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman begins a consultation on the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF).   The focus on inspections is to be rebalanced.  Previously, outcomes was under the microscope – more so than progress – which had been stressing out headteachers and school/academy staff alike.   The current proposal is on refocusing inspections on the quality of education, including curriculum intent, implementation and impact.

To ensure that inspecting the quality of education is valid and reliable, she commissioned a major, two-year research study into the curriculum.   Inspectors visited 40 schools/academies in phase 1, 23 in phase 2 and 64 schools in phase 3[1]. There were also focus groups, reviews of inspection reports and other exercises undertaken.

Mrs Spielman said: “…….at the very heart of education sits the vast accumulated wealth of human knowledge and what we choose to impart to the next generation: the curriculum.

“Without a curriculum, a building full of teachers, leaders and pupils is not a school. Without receiving knowledge, pupils have learned nothing, and no progress has been made – whatever the measures might indicate.”  Exams should exist to serve the curriculum rather than the other way around. The dog must wag the tail not the tail the dog.  While exams were the best measure of how successfully knowledge was transmitted to young people, any test was just a sample of the knowledge that was gained. The curriculum goes well beyond that.

Knowledge appears to be like the cosmos and seems to have no boundaries in both, time and space.   Accordingly, an excellent school/academy makes careful choices between the breadth and depth of the curriculum it adopts and pursues, drawing on appropriate resources and deciding what to teach mindful of the opportunities available for pupils to develop new concepts.

This should be grounded firmly in a consensus of what knowledge and concepts should be handed over to the next generation to help that generation succeed and flourish.

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