Ofsted in the spotlight – again

17 Aug

I        Inspecting schools/academies – a high-risk business

Working as an inspector for Ofsted is a high-risk business.   Because inspections are obsessed with judgements, the exercise can have devastating consequences on schools and academies.  It is, therefore, unsurprising that Ofsted is constantly under scrutiny.

The great and the good, including Professors Dylan Wiliam, formerly of University College and Institute of Education London, and Robert Coe of Durham University, have been critical of Ofsted in the past.

William Stewart wrote in an article for The Times Educational Supplement in April 2015 that Wiliam said in 2012 that Ofsted needed to subject its school inspections to a proper evaluation of reliability, claiming the watchdog did “not know good teaching” when it saw it. Coe warned, in 2013, that Ofsted’s practice was not research- or evidence-based adding that it needed to demonstrate that its evaluations of lessons were valid by testing the judgements of different inspection teams.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) Amanda Spielman is making strenuous efforts to change the public perception of inspections.   First she is confronting schools/academy leaders who off-load their “disruptive” children – especially prior to a possible inspection and/or the examinations in which they are likely to fail.  Second, she is introducing a fairer inspection regimen that takes more account of children’s starting points.

Secretary of State Damian Hinds is giving his support.   For instance, he has made it clear that it is not going to be the Regional Schools’ Commissioners (RSCs) who will be inspecting and evaluating the quality of education in schools/academies but rather Ofsted that will judge the institutions.

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Head of steam developing for T levels as launch date draws nearer

17 Aug

I        What are the T Levels?

On 11 October 2017, the then Education Secretary, Justine Greening, announced the launch of the first three T (Technical) levels in September 2020. Delivered by a small number of providers, they will be

  • Childcare and Education (Education Pathway);
  • Digital (Software Applications Design Pathway); and
  • Construction (Building, Services and Engineering Pathway).

In September 2021, the six T Levels, which will join the first three, are

  • Legal, Finance and Accounting (Full Route);
  • Childcare and Education (Full Route);
  • Digital (Full Route);
  • Construction (Full Route);
  • Engineering and Manufacturing (Full Route); and
  • Health and Science (Full Route)

The remaining five, which will take off in September 2022, are

  • Hair and Beauty (Full Route);
  • Agriculture, Environment and Animal Care (Full Route);
  • Business and Administration (Full Route);
  • Catering and Hospitality (Full Route); and
  • Creative Design (Full Route).

A small number of providers will offer the first three qualifications from 2020.  Selected providers will deliver the six priority areas (see above) the following year.  The vast majority of providers will offer T levels by 2024.  The government intends to confirm who these providers will be in Autumn 2018.

II       Technical Studies: the Cinderella of Education

We in the United Kingdom have a problem with technology, which, in our educational system is Cinderella to her academic step-sisters, the A Levels.  To understand why, we must go back into history.

Sir Bernhard Samuelson, MP for Banbury and the son of a Swiss-German engineer, headed up a Royal Commission on technical instruction in the 1880s. He was the son of a Swiss-German engineer, who was a pioneer of the dual system of apprenticeship.   Sir Bernhard was charged with persuading the Treasury about the merits of his plans to give technical education the status that it deserved at a time when there was not much enthusiasm to provide the resources needed.   Accordingly, the mandarins (civil servants) had the then Chancellor agree to imposing a tax on whisky production to help local authorities achieve Sir Bernhard’s aims.

This was at a time when the Iron Chancellor of Germany, Otto von Bismark, was funding an expansive network of vocational schools in his country, many of which exist till today.    It wasn’t surprising, consequently, when Britain became the object of the joke of not being able to organise quality vocational training from a booze-up in a brewery.

The T levels initiative has been the brainchild of the Sainsbury Review 2016.   Sainsbury’s working group had found the existing vocational qualifications too confusing besides not providing young people with the necessary skills to succeed if not excel at work.  Altogether, £60 million has been made available this financial year to prepare for the launch of T levels.  This will rise to £445 million in 2021-22 and eventually to £500 million by the year following.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, told The Times Educational Supplement: “The new T levels will need to fight hard to gain recognition and to be valued, but this announcement is a good first step. I look forward to working with the government on developing the pathways from level 2 through levels 3, 4 and 5 which are needed for success.”

Neil Carberry, managing director for people policy at the CBI, added: “Businesses will be encouraged by the positive progress on the introduction of T levels, though there is still much for companies and the government to address together. It’s important that these new technical routes are woven into the wider education system from the start, to ensure they are respected and are seen to have the same quality as A levels.”

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Government turns screws on schools and academies to promote technical education

17 Aug

I        What are the T Levels?

On 11 October 2017, the then Education Secretary, Justine Greening, announced the launch of the first three T (Technical) levels in September 2020. Delivered by a small number of providers, they will be

  • Childcare and Education (Education Pathway);
  • Digital (Software Applications Design Pathway); and
  • Construction (Building, Services and Engineering Pathway).

In September 2021, the six T Levels, which will join the first three, are

  • Legal, Finance and Accounting (Full Route);
  • Childcare and Education (Full Route);
  • Digital (Full Route);
  • Construction (Full Route);
  • Engineering and Manufacturing (Full Route); and
  • Health and Science (Full Route)

The remaining five, which will take off in September 2022, are

  • Hair and Beauty (Full Route);
  • Agriculture, Environment and Animal Care (Full Route);
  • Business and Administration (Full Route);
  • Catering and Hospitality (Full Route); and
  • Creative Design (Full Route).

A small number of providers will offer the first three qualifications from 2020.  Selected providers will deliver the six priority areas (see above) the following year.  The vast majority of providers will offer T levels by 2024.  The government intends to confirm who these providers will be in Autumn 2018.

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The Education Reform Act (ERA) 1988 celebrates 30th birthday

17 Aug

I        What precisely is ERA?

The Education Reform Act 1988 (ERA) is regarded by many as the most important piece of legislation since the Education Act 1994. The ERA – known as the Butler Act – celebrated 30 years of being on the statute books in July 2018.   It firmly placed education in the marketplace, a process that began in the early 1980s under Mrs Margaret Thatcher’s government. Her Education Secretary at that time was Kenneth (now Lord) Baker.   The Act transferred most powers and responsibilities from local educational authorities (LEAs) to school governing boards at one end of the educational spectrum and to the Secretary of State at the other end.

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What is it to be in schools – competition or cooperation?

20 Apr

Many eons ago, as the education officer for schools in a London local authority, I was given strict instructions not to promote competition among youngsters – especially in sport.  The reason?   It was important to build the self-esteem of all pupils.  Putting pupils in a “lose” situation would deflate them.   The concept of winners and losers was anathema.  All must have prizes.

Zafar Ansari, the Surrey cricketer and Cambridge graduate with a double fist in politics and sociology had decided to retire from the sport at the tender age of 25. He was struggling to cope with the competitive ethos in cricket which he intensely disliked.

Ansari wrote in the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack: “It goes without saying that competition is a foundation of sport: to be competitive is clearly an advantage, providing the mental framework to maximise the chances of success. Yet, as my career progressed, I felt uncomfortable conducting myself in this way. This feeling emerged, in part, from a broader left-wing perspective, which informed my approach to life.”

He was also wary of “a professional culture that treated the uncompromising pursuit of victory as essentially virtuous.” Ansari has now quit professional cricket and is working for Just for Kids, a charity which supports underprivileged children, while studying to become a lawyer.

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Damian Hinds’s possible educational agenda for English schools

20 Apr

Damian Hinds was appointed Education Secretary on 7 January 2018, when Theresa May reshuffled her Cabinet.  He replaced Justine Greening, who turned down May’s offer to become the Secretary for Works and Pensions. Hinds rose from being a Whip to Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury then on to the Department for Works and Pensions as Employment Minister before taking on his current job.

Educated at the voluntary aided Roman Catholic Grammar School, St Ambrose College in Altrincham, Cheshire, he went on to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics in Oxford, securing a first-class degree. During his stay, he was elected President of the Oxford Union Society.

He was elected to Parliament in 2010 from East Hampshire, re-elected in 2015 and then in 2016 – increasing his majority from 56.8%, to 60.7% to 63.6% of the votes cast.

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Education, Health and Care Plans replace Statements, but all’s not well with provision for vulnerable children

20 Apr

To comply with the Children and Families Act 2014, pupils who have profound education needs began to be assessed from September 2014 to receive Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).  Since then and till March 2018, EHCPs were maintained alongside statements of special needs – the predecessor system. Statements had been issued prior to the 2014 Act and abandoned on 1 April 2018.   For more on the subject, see the SEND Code of Practice.

Young people aged 16-25, who had severe learning disabilities, were assessed and given Learning Disabilities Assessments (LDAs).   The LDAs were converted to EHCPs by 1 September 2016.

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