Squeeze on educational finance continues

4 Jan

In biblical times, seven years of plenty were followed by seven years of famine.  However, in Britain’s educational scene, the periods of time have been that much longer.   In 1997 when Labour was elected with thunderous applause, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, pledged that his three priorities for the foreseeable future was to be Education, Education, Education.

However, the international financial crash in 2008, 11 years later, saw the start of a period of financial famine that has continued ever since – 11 years on.  Schools and colleges continue to experience the after-shocks, following the movement of the educational tectonic plates.  There are no signs that there will be much let-up.

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Teacher shortages threaten quality education

4 Jan

A school/academy is only as good as the quality of teaching. The quality of teaching, in turn, is predicated on the requirement that each institution has sufficient teachers.   At present, the country is haemorrhaging teachers faster than replacing them, which is having a debilitating effect on schools and academies.  The main reason for this appears to be the workload that teachers have been having to undertake over the last decade or so.  The cost of housing in London and the South-East of the United Kingdom is another factor that is exacerbating the situation for institutions located in these areas.

Thousands of talented teachers have upped sticks and gone abroad to use their talents.  They have been lapped up by other countries.   Two cases exemplify the experience of many.

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Members’ role at the top of the Multi-Academy Trust

4 Jan

When the two schools I used to clerk in the recent past decided to convert into academies and join together (in holy matrimony) to become a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), I found the role of the top tier of the structure was “as clear as mud”.  The National Governors’ Association has now provided excellent clarification setting this out in its paper, Academy trusts: the role of members. The full explanation can be accessed only if you become a member of the NGA, something that is becoming a must for a school or academy.

In every MAT, there are three tiers of governance.  In the top tier sits the members.  Trustees are below that and governors on the third.  What separates these tiers and their functions?

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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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Children’s mental health problems cry out for solutions

17 Aug

Data published by The Times on 6 August 2018 revealed that the number of girls who have self-harmed, based on hospital admissions, doubled in the last 20 years in Britain.   Among teenagers, the number of both, boys and girls, who admitted self-poisoning with easily available and prescription drugs rose more sharply.

According to the National Health Service 7,327 girls were admitted to hospital in 1997 for self-harm.   This jumped to 13,463 in 2017.  Altogether, 249 girls were treated for attempting to overdose themselves. This rose to 2,736 – over tenfold – in 2017.     However, boys who self-harmed stayed constant (2,236 in 1997 and 2,332 last year). Notwithstanding, boys who overdosed themselves increased over five and a half times from 152 in 1997 to 839 in 2017.

Denis Campbell wrote in The Guardian on 23 June 2018 that teachers said that Britain’s school children were suffering from an epidemic of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts but barely received the NHS treatment they needed. Altogether, 78% of teachers encountered at least one pupil struggling with mental health problems over the last year and 14% of cases were allied to suicidal thoughts and behaviour.  Two-thirds of 300 teachers surveyed by the health charity, Stem4, said that they had to help pupils suffering from anxiety. A little under half (45%) of teachers supported at least one pupil suffering with depression, 30% with eating disorders, 28% with self-harm and 10% with addiction.

Dr Nihara Krause, the Chief Executive of Stem4, said: “Schools face huge challenges in dealing with mental health issues of their students, and teachers are on the front line. They witness first-hand the devastating impact of pressures such as exam anxiety, bullying, and family problems. The consequences of these problems are serious, often life-threatening, and teachers are desperate to help,” said Krause.

“Yet at a time when the need for preventative, early intervention and specialist services are soaring, schools are finding it increasingly difficult to provide the help their pupils need. There’s an urgent requirement for better support mechanisms in schools, as well as decent funding for the range of mental health services children and young people need.”

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Promoting children’s welfare: foci on obesity and knives

17 Aug

Schools and academies are responsible for promoting children’s welfare and protecting them from harm.  They do so very well – indeed so much so that Children’s Social Services are relieved when they (the schools/academies) shut down for the summer recess. It is then that the pressure of constant referrals that schools/academies make to Social Workers of children being physically, sexually and emotionally abused or neglected reduces significantly.

Two other areas to which governors, headteachers and staff members should give some attention are children’s love of fast foods, especially their penchant for fast foods – a key cause of obesity – and the increasing incidence of knife crime.

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