Category Archives: Briefing

C15 Comprehensive is top Rugby school

C15 Comprehensive is top Rugby School

Education suffers from cliches, and the one about Comprehensives being Secondary Moderns stuck – because it came from a Labour Minister. Just after Easter, a story that was easy to miss told the success story of a Welsh comprehensive as an elite school for rugby. The School, Brynteg Comprehensive, produced is 8th British and Irish Lion when Osprey and Wales scrum half Rhys Webb was called up on Wednesday 19th April for the tour down under.

Rhys is the 8th British and Irish Lion from the school and adding up multiple Wales internationals from across both rugby codes makes for an impressive honours board which they rightly display proudly. And the school is right to trumpet a successful list which includes Jack Matthews, JPR Williams, Gareth Williams, Mike Hall, Rob Howley, Dafydd James and Gavin Henson as successful Lions selections.

It is of course a Welsh school in the heart of rugby country at Bridgend, and the school is well aware of the value of being a community comprehensive. Adam Rosser, head of physical education at the school, says “the local clubs in the Bridgend district work their socks off and we’re extremely grateful for the contribution that they make”.

It is not the only Welsh comprehensive that has produced Lions for Warren Gatland’s current squad. Wales pair Dan Biggar and Liam Williams both attended Gowerton School in Swansea.

School sport is being squeezed by EBAC and financial cuts and Wales may be better off than England, where the sale of playing fields has been one of the scandals of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition era and still continues. But what these schools show is that if the comprehensive system has the right financial and political support, it can compete with the best in the most competitive areas of modern life.

Trevor Fisher 22 04 17

B8 How gradgrind education damages schools.

B8 How Gradgrind Education damages science in schools.

Note: The author considers that the thrust toward a broad and balanced curriculum was helped by the Thatcher government’s Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) which led, paradoxically, to a large core curriculum and fewer options and was ‘a good thing’. Ed

The failure of science education in English Schools

Roger Titcombe.

I was prompted to write this article by a recent telephone conversation with the complaints section of my Electricity Supply company. I won’t bore readers with the details, but if I indicate that it concerned estimated meter readings and the unilateral raising of my monthly direct debit on the basis of flawed projections of annual energy use, then it may strike a chord with many.

The issue was the relative significance of my actual meter readings compared with the company’s estimated ones. I finally lost all confidence when the person on the other end of the phone started referring to our electrical energy use in ‘kilowatts per hour’. When I tried to correct her it was clear she did not have a clue about the difference between ‘kilowatts’ and ‘kilowatt-hours’ (the proper unit), let alone that ‘kilowatts per hour’ is just nonsense.

This ignorance of basic science in relation to electrical energy is now widespread throughout all sections of society including in broadsheet newspapers and on the BBC. It emerges whenever electrical power generation is being discussed. For example, it is common for the ‘power’ of a new wind turbine installation to be described in ‘kilowatts per year’ in the same paragraph as a statement of the number of households whose energy needs were being met. The correct unit in each case is ‘kilowatts’ (or more likely megawatts). The error is like stating the speed of ship in ‘knots per hour’ (1 knot = 1 nautical mile per hour).

The distinction is between ‘energy’ (what the householder pays for) and ‘power’ (the rate of production of the energy). The latter rises with the number of customers and the power demands of their households/businesses.

I will return to this later, but not before registering my horror at the same misunderstanding being perpetuated and transmitted to millions of school student watchers of the 2016 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, when the presenter compared the electrical power needs of the TV studio with the number of AA batteries needed to provide it. Despite a short statement that ‘energy’ and ‘power’ were different quantities, the programme went on to seriously confuse the two in a series of further comments and energy transfer demonstrations.

Does this matter except to science ‘nerds’ like me? Of course it does. We would not tolerate being lectured on literature by an illiterate who could not string together a grammatically coherent sentence and who misspelled common words like ‘there’, their’, ‘to’, ‘too’, ‘your’, ‘you’re’ etc.

Science and maths differ from many other subjects in that they get very complicated, very quickly. Despite the assertions of popularisers like ‘Carol Vorderman’, none of it is ‘common sense’. Unlike other science popularisers,  Brian Cox to his credit gets this.

That is probably why it has fallen to science teachers like Michael Shayer and the late ‘Philip’ Adey to assert the validity of the work of Piaget and so lead the way in establishing the essential pedagogic distinction between knowledge and understanding.  Despite the necessity of the former, no amount of it guarantees the latter. As with most of my articles we are back in the territory of both Piaget and Vygotsky, whose pithy statement of the distinction between knowledge and understanding cannot be improved upon.

As we know from investigations of concept formation, a concept is more than the sum of certain associative bonds formed by memory, more than a mere mental habit; it is a genuine and complex act of thought that cannot be taught by drilling, but can only be accomplished when the child’s mental development has itself reached the requisite level.

Has our education system got worse in these regards? Experience from before the marketisation-enabling 1988 Education Reform Act suggests that it has.

On 21 November 2013 OfSTED published a report entitled, Maintaining curiosity: a survey into science education in schools. They found that, dull teaching – accompanied by a lack of practical work in the subject – was putting pupils off the science subjects. In some schools, not enough time had been set aside in the timetable for pupils to do practical work. Girls, in particular, were likely to ditch physics – with only 11,390 going on to do it in the sixth-form in 2011 despite 159,745 getting two good GCSE passes in science. In addition, a minority of secondary schools were ‘pre-occupied with tests and examination results as ends in themselves’ rather than aiming to improve pupils’ deeper knowledge of the subject. The report points out that getting good grades in science is not necessarily the same as “getting” science.

All this is true but the principles are general and relate to all learning. Practical work is not just necessary for developing ‘practical skills’ but for promoting cognitive development that spills over into all subjects and all learning.

Have things improved since 2013? I maintain that they have not. Not only has the decline in practical work continued, but crucially the exam system has been further degraded to make higher grades ‘more accessible’ to students that lack the cognitive development necessary for deep learning and understanding.

There are also increasing problems in recruiting qualified science teachers trained/experienced in devising, planning and managing practical activities and experiments in science, along with concerns that schools may not still possess the extensive range of cleverly designed  equipment that was provided by LEAs to all schools in the 1970s following the widespread adoption of ‘Nuffield Science’, along with the ‘lab technician’ posts needed to maintain it.

The consequent science education crisis is being exacerbated by allowing Academy chains to accredit qualified teacher status, when they may have little interest in encouraging science practical work. This is a serious concern given the lack of effective regulation of Academies and Academy Chains.

 

This is not an argument for special pedagogic treatment on the part of science and maths. Didactic ‘Instruction’ and ‘knowledge’ dissemination on the Hirsch model, backed by the harsh discipline needed to keep students ‘on task’ while being literally bored stupid, have elbowed out interactive enquiry and peer with peer debate across the curriculum.

I started my teaching career in 1971. In 1975 I was running a science department at The Bosworth College in Leicestershire. This was then a 14-18 comprehensive Community College whose ‘progressive’ teaching methods would today be widely scorned. Students were on first name terms with teachers including the headteacher and there was no school uniform. A surge of blue denim was disgorged every day from the huge number of busses that converged on the village of Desford from its huge, mainly rural catchment area. The boys’ fashion was denim jeans and denim jackets and the girls similar, but sometimes with the substitution of denim skirts. Is the scornful dismissal of the ‘progressiveness’ of the time justified?

Discovery’ and ‘project-based’ learning was indeed frequently shallow and insufficiently challenging. And while there were many excellent and inspirational teachers, some were undoubtedly lazy and overly politicised.

But none of this was true of the Bosworth Science Department where we ran a ‘General Science’ CSE Mode 3 course (syllabus and schemes of work designed and assessed by teachers) based on ‘Nuffield Secondary Science’. This was a practically-based course that had nothing in common with the shallow GNVQ ‘vocational scam’ introduced by the Blair government in the late 1990s that was rightly seen off by Michael Gove.

Like the other Nuffield GCE and A Level Science courses taught in the school, Bosworth College General Science adopted a scientifically rigorous approach designed to establish sound foundations and bring about the cognitive development needed to secure deep understanding of the most significant principles of science. There was no setting in the science department, but with year groups of 400+, it was mainly lower ability students that chose General Science rather than GCE courses in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. General Science was not intended as a preparation for further studies in science, but to equip students with sound levels of basic understanding and scientific literacy.The CSE was graded on a scale of 1 to 5. Grade 1 corresponded to a C grade or above at GCE and grade 5 to a GCE grade G. The CSE system defined grade 4 (GCE F) as that ‘to be expected from a student of average ability following a competently taught course of study’.

When Bosworth College was subject to a full HMI Inspection in the late 1970s, the General Science course was described by the lead inspector as, ‘The best he had ever seen’.

In conclusion, I had better rehearse how electrical energy and power are measured.

All energy is measured in joules.

1 joule is the energy needed to lift a weight of 1 newton (eg a 100g apple) a height of 1 metre.

Power is the rate of expending/providing energy. It is measured in watts.

A power of 1 watt is when energy is expended/provided at a rate of 1 joule per second.

So watts (power) = joules/seconds and so joules(energy) = watts x seconds

These units are too small to be practical in terms of household electrical energy needs, so kilowatts are used in homes (and megawatts in power stations).

1 kilowatt = 1 kilojoule per second

So the practical unit of electrical energy that you are billed for by your energy supply company is the kilowatt-hour (kWh). This is equivalent to a 1 kW electrical appliance switched on for one hour.

Therefore 1 kilowatt hour = 3,600,000 joules (1000 watts x 3,600 seconds)

So the power of a wind turbine installation is expressed in kilowatts (or more likely megawatts).

The units of energy that your energy company bills you for are in kilowatt-hours (kWhs).

The cost of using an electrical appliances in your home can thus be worked out.

Electricity cost = (power of appliance in kW) x (hours used) x (the unit cost per kWh).

This was just a small part of our students’ comprehensive study of the principles and safe use of electrical energy in the home. Students also learned how to read the electricity meters of the time, with their small counter-rotating dials, calculate the energy use and running costs of various appliances,  wire 3-pin mains plugs (new appliances never came with plugs attached in those days) and calculate the fuse ratings needed for appliances of different power and much else besides.

If the lower ability students of a comprehensive school in the 1970s could learn all this, and delight in the practical and experimental aspects of their studies, then why are so many current school leavers and adults, not to mention the public agents of the energy supply companies, along with journalists at all levels of their profession, so woefully ignorant?

We have to assume that this criticism does not also apply to Secretaries of State for Education

B8 How Gradgrind Education damages science in schools.

Note: The author considers that the thrust toward a broad and balanced curriculum was helped by the Thatcher government’s Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) which led, paradoxically, to a large core curriculum and fewer options and was ‘a good thing’. Ed

The failure of science education in English Schools

Roger Titcombe.

I was prompted to write this article by a recent telephone conversation with the complaints section of my Electricity Supply company. I won’t bore readers with the details, but if I indicate that it concerned estimated meter readings and the unilateral raising of my monthly direct debit on the basis of flawed projections of annual energy use, then it may strike a chord with many.

The issue was the relative significance of my actual meter readings compared with the company’s estimated ones. I finally lost all confidence when the person on the other end of the phone started referring to our electrical energy use in ‘kilowatts per hour’. When I tried to correct her it was clear she did not have a clue about the difference between ‘kilowatts’ and ‘kilowatt-hours’ (the proper unit), let alone that ‘kilowatts per hour’ is just nonsense.

This ignorance of basic science in relation to electrical energy is now widespread throughout all sections of society including in broadsheet newspapers and on the BBC. It emerges whenever electrical power generation is being discussed. For example, it is common for the ‘power’ of a new wind turbine installation to be described in ‘kilowatts per year’ in the same paragraph as a statement of the number of households whose energy needs were being met. The correct unit in each case is ‘kilowatts’ (or more likely megawatts). The error is like stating the speed of ship in ‘knots per hour’ (1 knot = 1 nautical mile per hour).

The distinction is between ‘energy’ (what the householder pays for) and ‘power’ (the rate of production of the energy). The latter rises with the number of customers and the power demands of their households/businesses.

I will return to this later, but not before registering my horror at the same misunderstanding being perpetuated and transmitted to millions of school student watchers of the 2016 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, when the presenter compared the electrical power needs of the TV studio with the number of AA batteries needed to provide it. Despite a short statement that ‘energy’ and ‘power’ were different quantities, the programme went on to seriously confuse the two in a series of further comments and energy transfer demonstrations.

Does this matter except to science ‘nerds’ like me? Of course it does. We would not tolerate being lectured on literature by an illiterate who could not string together a grammatically coherent sentence and who misspelled common words like ‘there’, their’, ‘to’, ‘too’, ‘your’, ‘you’re’ etc.

Science and maths differ from many other subjects in that they get very complicated, very quickly. Despite the assertions of popularisers like ‘Carol Vorderman’, none of it is ‘common sense’. Unlike other science popularisers,  Brian Cox to his credit gets this.

That is probably why it has fallen to science teachers like Michael Shayer and the late ‘Philip’ Adey to assert the validity of the work of Piaget and so lead the way in establishing the essential pedagogic distinction between knowledge and understanding.  Despite the necessity of the former, no amount of it guarantees the latter. As with most of my articles we are back in the territory of both Piaget and Vygotsky, whose pithy statement of the distinction between knowledge and understanding cannot be improved upon.

As we know from investigations of concept formation, a concept is more than the sum of certain associative bonds formed by memory, more than a mere mental habit; it is a genuine and complex act of thought that cannot be taught by drilling, but can only be accomplished when the child’s mental development has itself reached the requisite level.

Has our education system got worse in these regards? Experience from before the marketisation-enabling 1988 Education Reform Act suggests that it has.

On 21 November 2013 OfSTED published a report entitled, Maintaining curiosity: a survey into science education in schools. They found that, dull teaching – accompanied by a lack of practical work in the subject – was putting pupils off the science subjects. In some schools, not enough time had been set aside in the timetable for pupils to do practical work. Girls, in particular, were likely to ditch physics – with only 11,390 going on to do it in the sixth-form in 2011 despite 159,745 getting two good GCSE passes in science. In addition, a minority of secondary schools were ‘pre-occupied with tests and examination results as ends in themselves’ rather than aiming to improve pupils’ deeper knowledge of the subject. The report points out that getting good grades in science is not necessarily the same as “getting” science.

All this is true but the principles are general and relate to all learning. Practical work is not just necessary for developing ‘practical skills’ but for promoting cognitive development that spills over into all subjects and all learning.

Have things improved since 2013? I maintain that they have not. Not only has the decline in practical work continued, but crucially the exam system has been further degraded to make higher grades ‘more accessible’ to students that lack the cognitive development necessary for deep learning and understanding.

There are also increasing problems in recruiting qualified science teachers trained/experienced in devising, planning and managing practical activities and experiments in science, along with concerns that schools may not still possess the extensive range of cleverly designed  equipment that was provided by LEAs to all schools in the 1970s following the widespread adoption of ‘Nuffield Science’, along with the ‘lab technician’ posts needed to maintain it.

The consequent science education crisis is being exacerbated by allowing Academy chains to accredit qualified teacher status, when they may have little interest in encouraging science practical work. This is a serious concern given the lack of effective regulation of Academies and Academy Chains.

 

This is not an argument for special pedagogic treatment on the part of science and maths. Didactic ‘Instruction’ and ‘knowledge’ dissemination on the Hirsch model, backed by the harsh discipline needed to keep students ‘on task’ while being literally bored stupid, have elbowed out interactive enquiry and peer with peer debate across the curriculum.

I started my teaching career in 1971. In 1975 I was running a science department at The Bosworth College in Leicestershire. This was then a 14-18 comprehensive Community College whose ‘progressive’ teaching methods would today be widely scorned. Students were on first name terms with teachers including the headteacher and there was no school uniform. A surge of blue denim was disgorged every day from the huge number of busses that converged on the village of Desford from its huge, mainly rural catchment area. The boys’ fashion was denim jeans and denim jackets and the girls similar, but sometimes with the substitution of denim skirts. Is the scornful dismissal of the ‘progressiveness’ of the time justified?

Discovery’ and ‘project-based’ learning was indeed frequently shallow and insufficiently challenging. And while there were many excellent and inspirational teachers, some were undoubtedly lazy and overly politicised.

But none of this was true of the Bosworth Science Department where we ran a ‘General Science’ CSE Mode 3 course (syllabus and schemes of work designed and assessed by teachers) based on ‘Nuffield Secondary Science’. This was a practically-based course that had nothing in common with the shallow GNVQ ‘vocational scam’ introduced by the Blair government in the late 1990s that was rightly seen off by Michael Gove.

Like the other Nuffield GCE and A Level Science courses taught in the school, Bosworth College General Science adopted a scientifically rigorous approach designed to establish sound foundations and bring about the cognitive development needed to secure deep understanding of the most significant principles of science. There was no setting in the science department, but with year groups of 400+, it was mainly lower ability students that chose General Science rather than GCE courses in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. General Science was not intended as a preparation for further studies in science, but to equip students with sound levels of basic understanding and scientific literacy.The CSE was graded on a scale of 1 to 5. Grade 1 corresponded to a C grade or above at GCE and grade 5 to a GCE grade G. The CSE system defined grade 4 (GCE F) as that ‘to be expected from a student of average ability following a competently taught course of study’.

When Bosworth College was subject to a full HMI Inspection in the late 1970s, the General Science course was described by the lead inspector as, ‘The best he had ever seen’.

In conclusion, I had better rehearse how electrical energy and power are measured.

All energy is measured in joules.

1 joule is the energy needed to lift a weight of 1 newton (eg a 100g apple) a height of 1 metre.

Power is the rate of expending/providing energy. It is measured in watts.

A power of 1 watt is when energy is expended/provided at a rate of 1 joule per second.

So watts (power) = joules/seconds and so joules(energy) = watts x seconds

These units are too small to be practical in terms of household electrical energy needs, so kilowatts are used in homes (and megawatts in power stations).

1 kilowatt = 1 kilojoule per second

So the practical unit of electrical energy that you are billed for by your energy supply company is the kilowatt-hour (kWh). This is equivalent to a 1 kW electrical appliance switched on for one hour.

Therefore 1 kilowatt hour = 3,600,000 joules (1000 watts x 3,600 seconds)

So the power of a wind turbine installation is expressed in kilowatts (or more likely megawatts).

The units of energy that your energy company bills you for are in kilowatt-hours (kWhs).

The cost of using an electrical appliances in your home can thus be worked out.

Electricity cost = (power of appliance in kW) x (hours used) x (the unit cost per kWh).

This was just a small part of our students’ comprehensive study of the principles and safe use of electrical energy in the home. Students also learned how to read the electricity meters of the time, with their small counter-rotating dials, calculate the energy use and running costs of various appliances,  wire 3-pin mains plugs (new appliances never came with plugs attached in those days) and calculate the fuse ratings needed for appliances of different power and much else besides.

If the lower ability students of a comprehensive school in the 1970s could learn all this, and delight in the practical and experimental aspects of their studies, then why are so many current school leavers and adults, not to mention the public agents of the energy supply companies, along with journalists at all levels of their profession, so woefully ignorant?

We have to assume that this criticism does not also apply to Secretaries of State for Education

B7 The School Revolution Briefing introduced

English education is in the middle of a Revolution, driven by the Conservatives and supported across the Westminster Bubble. All that currently exists is being undermined to allow a Brave New World to emerge. Starting from the government video The Schools Revolution, still the only official statement, this pamphlet looks at some of the key issues raised by the radical new agenda and its contradictions. The core of the Revolution – the Academy/Free Schools programme – is proposed as the means of raising standards. Independent observers cannot find conclusive evidence. The Education Select Committee of MPs drawn across all parties concluded earlier this year that

“Current evidence does not allow us to draw conclusions on whether academies in themselves are a positive force for change… there is at present no convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools. The DfE should commission such research as a matter of urgency”

The research has not been conducted. The need for this to take place before the Academies Bill 2015 operates is vital.

It is equally vital to examine the chains of schools, replacing Local Authorities (LAs), increasingly favoured by government who will not allow OFSTED inspectors to report on them. Democratically elected councils are inspected, why not chains of schools?

The ‘opt out schools’ are not the only key problem posed by the Schools Revolution. This pamphlet looks at the way schools are being turned into Examination Factories, dominated by test results, and at the contradictions in the Academy-Free School opt out programme. In theory this is about giving power to individual schools, but in practice is transferring power to unaccountable figures in national – and international – Chains of Schools. There are serious risks of schools running out of supplies of teachers, buildings and money. Additionally, Conservative election claims that school budgets are protected from austerity are now in doubt – the TES (28th August) reports estimates of cuts over the next five years of 12 per cent in real terms.

Undermining the rhetoric of freedom is a an agenda of government control, with Primary Schools ordered to teach phonics and Secondary schools to teach the Ebac. Far from being a Brave New World, how close is the Schools Revolution to being an Orwellian nightmare? Is it not time to suspend the Revolution for a Royal Commission on improving schools to avoid the profound risk of long term damage to English schools?

Further reading

Department of Education Comparison of Different Types of School, (DfE Website), July 14th 2014.

House of Commons Education Committee, Academies & Free Schools, HC 258 27th January 2015

Mansell Warwick, Education by Numbers, Politicos 2007

National Union of Teachers Exam Factories? Merryn Hutchings with Dr Naveed Kazmi, 2015

Wolf, Alison – Heading for the Precipice – can further and Higher education funding policies be sustained? Kings College London, June 2015

Further copies of this pamphlet and discussion material from SOSS, at enquries(at)soss.org.uk.

Published by the Symposium on Sustainable Schools, edited by Trevor Fisher. Editorial Board Richard Pring, Michael Bassey, Richard Sidley, Trevor Fisher.

What is the School Revolution? 
Can it be sustained?
Education with a Conservative agenda

Education virtually vanished from the election campaign in the spring of 2015, and the current Conservative agenda was hardly questioned in the media. However there is no doubt that the School Revolution, as it has been called by The Spectator magazine, is accelerating, largely unscrutinised. The Education and Adoption Bill, the first major legislation of the new government, gives politicians more and more power to interfere in schools. What are they doing? Why is a system which once only had three effective powers in the ministry now operating over two thousand? And how can real debate about schools be started when the media carries little positive news and even less comment?

The School Revolution is not a simple process and some of the changes are contradictory. The driver is said to be school autonomy, but politicians interfere. For example, primary schools have to use the phonics method for teaching literacy, while in secondary schools Ebacc subjects will be compulsory. Academies are claimed to be autonomous by becoming independent of local authorities but many of the new governing bodies – academy chains – put stringent demands on the teachers in their schools.

A Revolution from the top

No blueprint for the School Revolution exists, but changes to structures and practices are imposed from the top. Nick Gibb, Schools Minister in the new government, told The Times on June 6th 2015 that the reason for the new Bill was “liberating teachers from the dead hand of the local authorities and these failed orthodoxies that have suffocated teachers”. Labour may have no problem with this statement, but would not be happy with the attack on what he called “education faculties of universities (which) have atrophied intellectually”… he stopped just short of calling them The Blob, and avoided the question of Qualified Teacher Status which Labour supports while the Tories do not. Alas Labour does not question the right of ministers to make arbitrary and untested changes. The SOSS exam pamphlet pointed out the problems of initiating untested reforms over school examinations. There is much else that is dogmatic – state schools are becoming exam factories.

Bringing the Revolution into focus

As the revolution accelerates under an untrammeled Conservative party, is is becoming essential to bring the critical factors in the system into focus. In The Times interview, Gibb attacked worksheets for “adding hugely to a teacher’s workload”. The big issue over workload is the impact of initiatives, inspection regimes and the meeting of targets – all leading to teachers leaving the profession: 40% now leave in the first five years. Teacher supply is becoming critical. The control mechanisms, notably performance tables, make for a high stress experience. The January 2015 tables saw high performing schools drop to the bottom as the International GCSE (IGCSE – taken by a number of schools) was arbitrarily ruled out. 

There is also a major crisis coming over education spending particularly in post 16 and the FE and college sector. With school building also failing to match increased pupil numbers and the free school policy diverting cash into areas which have no shortage of places, dogma supplants need. But there was no debate on education development in the 2015 election.

The current developments arise from the forty-year long development of an educational consensus which developed out of the Black Papers. While the history has been complex, the root cause of the problem is central power and unchecked interference in schools and colleges. In 1944 the Secretary of State for Education had just three powers, now Nicky Morgan wields over two thousand and is adding more.

Change in education should demand debate and factual analysis. It is alarming they are missing at the current time. Is it time to take politicians out of education? Should this be at the heart of the Great Debate now needed about the School Revolution? 

Jointly signed to promote debate by Michael Bassey, Trevor Fisher, Richard Sidley and Richard Pring July 10th 2015

Education missing in the election campaign 2015

The 2015 General Election saw education policies in the manifestos, but not in the election campaign. The disturbing absence of education from the election debate was alarmingly clear.

The Independent editorial of April 2nd suggested that
“In all the sound and fury that this election campaign has produced, it is astonishing and rather sinister how little has been said about our creaking state education system…. the political leaders have so far avoided wading in to questions affecting the future of more than eight million children now in state primary or secondary schools.”**

The situation did not change in the final weeks of the campaign. None of the parties was prepared to place at the centre of debate the wide issues of how state education is developing, though this is a vital service costing £40 billion per year. The sidelining of education was not because of lack of public interest.

On April 22nd, YouGov published a poll of issues in the election and their perceived priority. Education topped the list of issues that the public did not think had been discussed properly, 40% of respondents citing Education as the most neglected topic – along with the enviroment. These are disturbing outcomes for Greens and Educationalists. In both areas hard working and talented activists work to raise the profile of the topics. They do not make enough impact in the Westminster Bubble.

The Conservatives had had to remove Michael Gove from the Education brief because of his controversial policies, yet Labour hardly challenged his successor Nicky Morgan – though she had the same policies. The Lib Dems made no attempt to promote education despite their unswerving support for Gove and Nicky Morgan, and the media failed to see any issues in education as important. Gove’s personality had been newsworthy, but the same policies under Morgan hardly featured in media coverage of the election. Education was not an election priority, but scarcely because English education is uncontroversial. While radical changes happen at a brutal pace, there is little serious debate about them. This situation demands scrutiny beyond the particular changes and the specific issues the reforms target.

Not just England and Wales

The lack of objective debate is not just our problem. The OECD pointed out in January that reform without evaluation is an international problem, only 10 per cent of the current reforms arising from the GERM – the Global Education Reform Movement as the Finnish expert Pasi Sahlberg has called it – are properly evaluated. Politicians spend huge amounts of money on largely untested ‘miracle cures’. It is almost an inevitable reflex of politicians being in charge: they will not expose their pet schemes to possible failure. Nor do they question the assumptions that underlie their reform programmes, still less the globalisation theories which underpin them. This is now the challenge for post election debate in the progressive educational movement.

The Consensus and its uneasy foundations

For those in education who believe the current consensus is dangerously flawed and the ideas of the comprehensive and progressive movement need reasserting and updating to raise the political profile of education, the big issues are now how to challenge the fundamentals of the current Westminster consensus and the wider GERM movement. The perspective will be historical, examining developments back at least to the Black Papers of the 1970s. This is the broad aim of SOSS.

The debate will be promoted within a broad spectrum of ideas promoted by the Reclaim Education Alliance and other action groups. The web sites listed below give some of the forums which already exist, though SOSS is entirely independent and experimental in seeking to promote ways to challenge the ideas of the Westminster Bubble. It aims as well to give focussed and in depth attention to particular pressing issues, and has already published two pamphlets on School Exam Reform plus a pamphlet on the London Challenge and School Improvement. These are available via the Publications section.

It must never happen again that a General Election campaign can largely marginalise education policy. Current policies demand debate, with the history of the cross party consensus requiring rigorous scrutiny. Too much depends on a few voices within the Bubble. Now the election has led to a Tory Majority government the issues touched on by the Independent will become even sharper. New ways to address them urgently need to be developed. The consensus inside the Westminster Bubble though not monolithic is too complacent, dogmatic and prone to ignore warning voices. What is to replace it?

Relevant web sites and campaigns reccomended in the post election situation.

Socialist Educational Association AT www.socialisteducation.org.uk

Reclaim Education Alliance AT www.pickingupthepieces.org.uk/story.html/

Reclaim Schools Alliance AT http://reclaimingschools.org/
(supporting the National Union of Teachers Stand Up For Education manifesto.

**the full editorial can be read at http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/editorials/for-our-education-system-to-flourish-school-staff-need-a-huge-increase-in-support-10150605.html

* SOSS stands for Symposium on Sustainable Schools. The current methods of running English Education. are not sustainable.

To take part in the debate, please contact the Symposium on Sustainable Schools at Viewpoint, PO Box 3599 ST16 9RD, or here on the web.

B6 Education’s Tipping Point?

Background: Callaghan’s 1976 Speech on Education

Download this briefing as a pdf

Forty years ago this autumn the Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, gave a speech at Ruskin College in Oxford which still defines education politics today. Before Callaghan, no Prime Minister had ever given a speech about Education. Since he spoke, politicians have not stopped talking about schools.

In the Westminster bubble the speech has never been forgotten. Schools minister Nick Gibb made this explicit in a speech to an ASCL curriculum conference on April 27th. (1) Gibb argued that “this year marks the 40th anniversary of Jim Callaghan’s Ruskin Speech, a landmark speech in which Callaghan in many ways set the direction of reform for the next 4 decades”. For Gibb, the most important part of the speech was his curriculum comments notably Callaghan’s criticism of the view that children should have “just enough learning to earn their living in the factory”. Callaghan had argued, as Gibb said, that schools should “equip children to the best of their ability for a lively, constructive place in society”.   Callaghan argued for a more balanced and rounded curriculum, though with a utilitarian and scientific bent, highlighting concerns which Margaret Thatcher would address a decade later through the short lived Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI).

Controversially, Gibb argued “Many during Callaghan’s time referred to the curriculum as the ‘secret garden’ for policy makers, but I think that the curriculum has also in recent history been… seen as slightly peripheral when it comes to driving improvement”. Callaghan certainly can be seen as proposing the National |Curriculum introduced in the 1988 Conservative Education Reform Act and it is very odd that Gibb thinks the curriculum has been neglected. He witnessed the disputes over Michael Gove’s revised National Curriculum from 2010-2013 and must be aware David Cameron described the Gove reforms as vital to national economic prosperity in words which echo Callaghan’s speech. Cameron said “This curriculum marks a new chapter in British education… As Prime Minister I know this revolution in education is critical for Britain’s* prosperity in the decades to come”. (2) How can Nick Gibb argue that with the new plans in place curriculum has become peripheral? However he is quite right to argue the Callaghan speech represented a fundamental shift of opinion.

Callaghan himself said before his death in 2005 that “of all the speeches I have delivered in a long political life, the Ruskin Speech is the one that is best remembered” (3). Two decades after the event, Tony Blair went to Ruskin to claim Education for Labour in the run up to the 1997 victory. Three decades later, his Schools Minister Andrew Adonis wrote an approving article in which he said Callaghan’s speech “lit a flare that has illuminated education reform ever since” (4). The Conservative Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, in recalling the speech claimed it for the politics of the present government. But what was the speech and why has it become legendary?

Primarily the speech was an assertion that politicians had the right to comment on education. Previously, the government role was limited to providing schools and teachers: while councils and teachers decided school policy. In 1960 Conservative Education Minister David Eccles had defined schools as “The Secret Garden” and the lack of information on what was happening in classrooms led Callaghan to call for what he called “the Great Debate”. Callaghan did not use the phrase “the Great Debate” at Ruskin, but he had used this in the Commons four days earlier. The phrase ‘Secret Garden’ did not appear in the speech either, but hung in the air.

Callaghan was not prescriptive about how more openness in school politics could be achieved, He focussed on standards, teaching methods, and the curriculum, showing a somewhat utilitarian concern for the needs of industry. The long running standards debate was seen in an economic context – Callaghan spoke of ‘complaints from industry that new recruits do not have the basic tools to do the job’ – with mathematics highlighted. He was concerned about the lack of interest in joining industry and the gender gap in science, querying “why is it that such a high proportion of girls abandon science before leaving school?” The Prime Minister did not commit to specifics on curriculum or the inspectorate, refusing to pronounce on “whether there should be be a basic curriculum with universal standards.. nor.. the role of the inspectorate”. It would be Conservative governments which brought in the National Curriculum and the Ofsted inspectorate.

Callaghan’s most contentious contribution was on teaching methods and without laying down guidelines he discussed “the unease felt by parents and others about the new informal methods of teaching …excellent… when in well qualified hands but … more dubious when they are not”. It was not hard to see in this a reference to the recent scandal at William Tyndale primary school in London.

The main legacy of the speech, however, may be less a concern for falling standards than the need for rising standards in a modern economy. Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds, who has written about Labour’s ‘Ruskin Tradition’ was on stronger ground in arguing “the aim of a relentless focus on educational improvement is one we now almost take for granted” (5). True, and it is clear the Conservatives match Labour stride for stride.

There is no doubt that the Callaghan speech initiated a new era in English education and the ferment of government activity it initiated is continuing. The Secret Garden is long gone, with hyperaccountability dominating every state school in England. When politicians state that this was a landmark speech, it is unquestionable that they are right- and with what effects? Forty years on, it is time to scrutinise the Callaghan speech as the turning point it undoubtedly proved to be.

On 17th November a seminar in the House of Lords will debate the impact of the speech with Lords Blunkett – ex Labour Secretary of State for Education – Lord Donoghue, head of the Number 10 Policy Unit in 1976, Fiona Millar journalist and writer, Chair Professor Richard Pring. Details on www.soss.org.uk. A briefing paper giving the speech in full is also available from SOSS.

Trevor Fisher

Notes

(1) Nick Gibb https://www.gov.uk/government/people/nick-gibb OR http://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-importance-of-the-curriculum

(2) DFE press release 8th July 2013.

(3) Callaghan made the claim in Continuing the Education Debate, ed Michael Williams, Richard Daugherty & Frank Banks, Cassell 1992 p9.

(4) Guardian 17th October 2006

(5) On the Progress web site, www.progressonline.org.uk/2012/06/06/labours-education-ruskin-tradition,

B5 The White Paper analysed

The appearance of the 2016 Education White Paper in the March budget speech took the media and everyone by suprise. As the 2015 Act had only passed the Royal Assent the previous month, the fact that the government had been planning new measures was a revelation, including to Tory M Ps who suddenly had to defend compulsory Academisation which they had not been prepared for. The U turn that was not then took place and convinced 38 Degrees and other media that the government backed off. In reality Nicky Morgan is a lady not for turning – or those in the cabinet or beyond who make the decisions. As Michael Bassey’s analysis shows, this is a government which does not consult (no Green Papers), want the ideas of others, or has anything other than a will to impose its will. TF

B5 ANALYSIS OF 2016 WHITE PAPER : “Education Excellence Everywhere”

OCCURRENCES OF ‘WE WILL’ IN THE OPENING CHAPTER

Michael Bassey

Using a search facility I have identified in the opening chapter of the White Paper 76 “we will” statements and these are set out below. The actual intent of some of the statements may need reference to the document itself through the paragraph numbers given here. Some of these “we will” statements, like “we will continue to set unapologetically high expectations for all children”, are no more than pious expressions of ambition, but 61 of them are statements of intended action, like “we will replace the current ‘Qualified Teacher Status’ (QTS)”. Such statements are underlined in this analysis.

It is right to have “high expectations for all children” but to believe that this will be achieved by this set of 61 Government intentions is highly questionable.

Extracts from Chapter One of “we will …” Statements of intended action are underlined

we will continue to set unapologetically high expectations for all children. … we will focus on intensively tackling areas of the country that have lagged behind for too long. …We will do more to support communities where underperformance has become entrenched … We … will set out more detail about our plans to protect children’s safety and promote their wellbeing, and to prepare all young people for adult life, later this year. (1.11)

In 2010, we started an historic devolution of power from local and central government to the best school leaders. … Over the next five years, we will continue that devolution of power (1.15)

we will do more to strengthen the school-led system (1.24)

we will both empower our best leaders and do more to set them up for success (1.29)

leaders, teachers, sponsors, members of governing boards, and parents. In the coming years, we will work with them to transform the lives of children in every part of this country, for good. (1.30)

the demand for teachers in some subjects is rising even faster. So we recognise that the challenge is increasing, and we will need to improve continuously the proportion of each graduating class that is attracted to teaching. (1.34)

we will reform the National College for Teaching and Leadership, … we will create simple web tools that enable schools to advertise vacancies for free and a new national teacher vacancy website (1.36a)

we will reform our allocation of teacher training places so that ITT is delivered by the best Higher Education Institutions (HEI) and school-led providers where new entrants are most needed, where places are most likely to be filled, and where training is most likely to be delivered well. We will also continue to increase the proportion of ITT offered by the best schools (1.36b)

we will strengthen ITT content, … We’ll ensure discredited ideas unsupported by firm evidence are not promoted to new teachers (1.36c)

we will replace the current ‘Qualified Teacher Status’ (QTS) with a stronger, more challenging accreditation based on a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom, (1.36d)

we will help ensure the best teachers and middle leaders work in the most challenging areas by developing the new National Teaching Service (1.36e)

we will ensure there is a sufficient supply of high-quality CPD provision … We will also introduce a new Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development to help schools improve the quality and availability of CPD. We will examine the feasibility of incentivising teaching schools to publish their research and CPD materials on an ‘open-source’ basis (1.36f)

[we will continue] to address some of the main issues that teachers tell us cause them to leave the profession, including workload and unnecessary bureaucracy, stripping back unnecessary requirements and helping schools understand where they can avoid gold-plating (1.36g)

[we will support] the establishment of a new, independent College of Teaching (1.36g)

We will continue to work in partnership with the Education Endowment Foundation (1.36g)

We want to put more power into the hands of the best school and system leaders, and to extend their reach. …. So we will ensure these leaders are set up well to exercise the new responsibilities they are offered (1.37)

we will convene leading headteachers, MAT CEOs and other experts to design new voluntary National Professional Qualifications for each level of leadership (1.37b)

we will rebalance incentives in the accountability system so that great leaders are encouraged to work in challenging schools and areas. We will emphasise the progress that pupils make, and will introduce an ‘improvement period’ during which schools won’t be inspected by Ofsted,. … we will implement fair national funding formulae (1.37c)

we will introduce the National Teaching Service to support strong middle leaders to move to work in some of the nation’s most challenging areas (1.37d)

[we will launch] a new Excellence in Leadership Fund (1.37e)

We will continue to help governing boards to recruit skilled people … We will provide all governing boards with clearer performance information about their schools, to help them discharge their role. We will also establish a database of everyone involved in governance and we intend to legislate to enable us to bar unsuitable individuals from being governors of maintained schools (1.39)

We will take new powers to direct schools to become academies in local authority areas which are underperforming (1.42)

we will support the establishment of new schools to drive up standards and stimulate competition. We will build upon the success of the free school programme to open at least 500 new schools by 2020 – and will strengthen the university technical colleges programme (1.48)

We will engage MATs, sponsors, academies, dioceses and the wider schools sector to ensure that the legal framework for academies is fit for the long term. (1.50)

To support these changes, we will empower pupils, parents and local communities: We will put children and parents first and establish a clearly defined role for local government. (1.51)

  • we will launch a new online Parent Portal (1.51a)
  • we will provide guidance on handling complaints… We will also make it simpler to escalate complaints beyond the governing board to the DfE, and beyond that to a public service ombudsman (1.51b)
  • We will seek views on a number of changes to the school admissions system to make it simpler and clearer … we will seek views on requiring local authorities to coordinate in-year admissions (1.51c)

[we] will consider how parents may be able to petition RSCs for their school to move to a different MAT (1.51d)

we will also designate teaching school alliances to develop networks … we will continue to appoint more National Leaders of Education (NLEs) (1.53)

We will focus on ensuring there is extra support and challenge in areas of the country where too many schools are falling behind (1.54)

  • we will set up every school, wherever it is in the country, to access support, collaboration and best practice … We will use a new, more sophisticated approach to designate up to 300 more teaching schools and 800 more NLEs where they’re most needed, … We will put in place the right incentives and brokerage to ensure that the work of teaching schools, NLEs and SLEs is more focused and reaches the most vulnerable schools. We will also better target school improvement funding to where it’s most needed, funding system leaders to help build capacity and engage with schools most in need of support, and RSCs to commission the turnaround of failing and coasting schools (1.54b)
  • we will establish new and better means of brokering school improvement to help schools find the partners and support they need without needing to depend on local or central government (1.54c)
  • we will ensure there are enough strong academy sponsors from business, charitable organisations and existing strong schools available to transform schools that need their support, particularly in the toughest areas. (1.54d)
  • we will focus our programmes on areas of chronic, persistent underperformance …. We’ll target a wide range of our interventions toward these Achieving Excellence Areas (1.54e)

We will embed a knowledge-based curriculum as the cornerstone of an excellent, academically rigorous education up to the age of 16 … we will monitor its implementation and increase support for teachers to help them deliver it effectively (1.55a)

we will embed the existing changes [in assessment] to these gold standard qualifications and ensure the vast majority of pupils study the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) (1.55b)

we will introduce more support for schools to expand the range of evidence-based, character-building opportunities they provide to pupils and make available funding so that it is easier for 25% of secondary schools to extend their school day to include a wider range of activities, such as sport, arts and debating. We will expand the National Citizen Service so every pupil has the opportunity to take part. We will also work with a group of leading headteachers and practitioners to produce an action plan for improving personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) provision. (1.55c)

we will also focus on boosting the attainment of four groups of children neglected by the previous curriculum and accountability system (1.55d)

we will embed existing reforms to primary, secondary and 16-19 accountability. (1.59)

  • we will work with Ofsted to ensure inspection is fair and increasingly focused on underperformance (1.59b)
  • we will publish new performance tables for MATs (1.59c)
  • we will increase accountability to parents and governors by providing them with the right information – in easy-to- navigate formats (1.59d)

we will introduce new, fair national funding formulae to allocate school and high needs funding (1.60)

we will continue the pupil premium, and improve its effectiveness (1.60b)

We will take a more differentiated and proportionate approach to financial oversight (1.60c)

We will ensure that the bodies responsible for school buildings get a fair share of funding according to their needs We will continue to rebuild and refurbish schools in the worst condition across the country (1.60d)

MB 7 June 2016

Can England staff its schools?

B4 Can England Staff its Schools?

Key issues in the supply of Qualified Teachers in the light of the Education White Paper 2016 – a Scrutiny Seminar 4-6pm Monday June 6th 2016.

The Education White Paper 2016 makes bold claims for the supply of teachers in English schools and the future training of qualified teaching staff. The key thrust of the paper is to shift the balance of teaching into schools, asserting that existing moves to schools level, notably School ( Direct, have proved notably successful. Involvement of universities (HEIs) is to be limited to a few ‘top’ universities, while standards would be set by headteachers in a few elite training schools.

But are the proposals in Chapter 2 acceptable? Given the widely reported claims of teacher shortages, have the current systems proved successful? And will the proposals improve or damage the supply of Qualified Teachers? How do they relate to the ongoing policy of academisation, with the intention of allowing all schools to employ unqualified teaching staff?

It is a fundamental contradiction that schools following the plans outlined must apply a lengthy, variable accreditation process for qualification – without Qualified Teacher Status being granted – but academies can employ unqualified staff in the classroom.

The Scrutiny Seminar will examine three key issues in the light of the overall thrust of the paper and the ongoing debate on teacher shortages in English Schools. These are

* the implications for teacher training/education in English schools through accreditation at school level

* the role of school based training notably Schools Direct

* the effect on individual subject provision, with mathematics as a case study, with the definition of a mathematics teacher and the current drive through bursaries and adverts to attract staff suggesting specific and general issues with supply.

The speakers will be

Alison Ryan of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers on the implications for schools

Professor Tony Brown of Manchester Metropolitan University on the latest research on School Direct provision

Dr Sue Pope of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics on the case study of supply of Mathematics teachers

The meeting will be chaired jointly by Lord Watson of Invergowrie and Trevor Fisher of SOSS

The seminar will take place in the House of Lords.

Sponsored by the Symposium on Sustainable Schools (SOSS)

B4 Can England Staff its Schools?

Key issues in the supply of Qualified Teachers in the light of the Education White Paper 2016 – a Scrutiny Seminar 4-6pm Monday June 6th 2016.

The Education White Paper 2016 makes bold claims for the supply of teachers in English schools and the future training of qualified teaching staff. The key thrust of the paper is to shift the balance of teaching into schools, asserting that existing moves to schools level, notably School ( Direct, have proved notably successful. Involvement of universities (HEIs) is to be limited to a few ‘top’ universities, while standards would be set by headteachers in a few elite training schools.

But are the proposals in Chapter 2 acceptable? Given the widely reported claims of teacher shortages, have the current systems proved successful? And will the proposals improve or damage the supply of Qualified Teachers? How do they relate to the ongoing policy of academisation, with the intention of allowing all schools to employ unqualified teaching staff?

It is a fundamental contradiction that schools following the plans outlined must apply a lengthy, variable accreditation process for qualification – without Qualified Teacher Status being granted – but academies can employ unqualified staff in the classroom.

The Scrutiny Seminar will examine three key issues in the light of the overall thrust of the paper and the ongoing debate on teacher shortages in English Schools. These are

* the implications for teacher training/education in English schools through accreditation at school level

* the role of school based training notably Schools Direct

* the effect on individual subject provision, with mathematics as a case study, with the definition of a mathematics teacher and the current drive through bursaries and adverts to attract staff suggesting specific and general issues with supply.

The speakers will be

Alison Ryan of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers on the implications for schools

Professor Tony Brown of Manchester Metropolitan University on the latest research on School Direct provision

Dr Sue Pope of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics on the case study of supply of Mathematics teachers

The meeting will be chaired jointly by Lord Watson of Invergowrie and Trevor Fisher of SOSS

The seminar will take place in the House of Lords.

Sponsored by the Symposium on Sustainable Schools (SOSS)

time for a game changer

TIME FOR A GAME CHANGER: A ROYAL COMMISSION ON EDUCATION IS NEEDED

Opposition to the 2016 Education White Paper, “Education Excellence Everywhere”, has been vocal and widespread, and rightly so. Even some Tory MPs are unhappy with compulsory academisation. Yet the Government has said there will be no U-turn. We must take this seriously. As SOSS pointed out it in its autumn briefing, the Coalition government explicitly claimed to be engaged in a School Revolution. The Conservatives are now simply accelerating it. This White Paper brings together the whole gamut of right-wing dogmas and is attempting to achieve a complete sweep across the whole English education system.

The situation calls for a Game Changing initiative. While opposition has rightly focussed on compulsory academisation and the removal of obligatory parent governors, there is more to the White Paper: one commentator counted 87 items of Government intent, all starting with the phrase “We will …”.

Initial Teacher Training (ITT) is to move from the present shared responsibility of universities and schools to schools only, with serious implications for the pedagogic knowledge of future teachers. There is no evidence that removing higher education from ITT makes for better teaching. This decision is typical of a political approach in which evidence is not recognised as a key issue and objections are sidelined. This recalls Michael Gove’s denigration of objectors to his policies as “The Blob”.

Some of the White Papers’ proposals may be worthwhile but they all merit careful scrutiny and debate by the full educational community before any are enacted. In addition to those mentioned above the proposed changes in QTS, the intent to “embed a knowledge-based curriculum as the cornerstone of an excellent, academically rigorous education to age 16”, the policy of “more robust and rigorous GCSEs and A levels”, the reforms promised for primary school assessments; and “the development of the character traits and fundamental British values that will help children succeed”, are all issues which require careful discussion by parents, teachers, business and professional people, academics and other interested parties before government decisions are taken which will affect the millions of the nations’ children.

Undoubtedly there is common ground between Government, teachers, parents and the wider community that education matters and that children should get good schooling. But the authors of this White Paper show a frightening level of ignorance about what others think good schooling is and how it is achieved. They are driven by ideology, not by debate. In particular the contention that academy trusts will provide better schooling than local authorities is not substantiated by evidence.

The brutal reality of the government’s “School Revolution” is that opposition so far has not reversed the direction of travel, nor even slowed it down. As the Education Select Committee noted last year, independent reports demonstrate a sustained lack of evidence that becoming an academy leads to improvement in standards, with government spokespersons resorting to anecdotal improvements in individual schools. Even this has now been abandoned as Schools Minister Nick Gibb at the ResearchEd Conference on September 5th last year accepted that academies are not necessarily better than maintained schools. The National Audit Office has reported on financial problems in academies accounts, as has the Public Accounts Committee, with little effect.

So, sadly, conventional evidence-based campaigning is ineffective. Studies such as The Truth About Our Schools (Downs and Benn, Routledge, 2015) and Bad Education – Debunking Myths in Education (Adey and Dillon, Open University, 2012) have not swayed government thinking. Nor have anguished letters in newspapers: The Guardian, for example, has had batches of letters under these headings over recent months: “The many reasons why there’s a teacher shortage” (13 October 2015), “Schools don’t have to be exam factories” (1 March 2016), “Academisation and a school system on the brink” (25 March 2016), “Primary testing regime needs greater scrutiny” (2 May 2016). Sound arguments, some of which now come from inside the Conservative Party itself, make no difference to a government that ignores these challenges.

The Labour critique of the White Paper in the Commons debate of April 13th focussed on forced academisation and the removal of parental governors, both valid targets. But, as noted above, the threats of the White Paper are wider. A way of uniting the various opposition currents and forcing a suspension of the White Paper could be to demand a Royal Commission on Education. There have been no Royal Commissions on Education since the Clarendon, Newcastle and Taunton commissions of the nineteenth century. Politicians may prefer to operate in secret – the White Paper came as a surprise even within the Conservative Party – but state schools belong to all of us and are not the property of politicians. Parents, teachers, academics, business and professional folk, as well as politicians and others, have a stake in state schools and any major changes should be approved by their representatives in sober dialogue with government ministers.

A Royal Commission would require a temporary halt on change in our education system and would open a forum for reasoned evidence and rational argument. It would be a Game Changer.

Of course, it is governments that set up Royal Commissions, so the initiative would need an energetic and subtle campaign to see it happen. Is it not time for the People to regain control of our education system, using the precedents of the Victorians to open a 21st century agenda,

May 2016 Michael Bassey and Trevor Fisher

B2 Teacher Shortages Autumn 2015

B2 John Howson on Teacher shortages- November 2015

Address at the Conference: Reclaiming Education 14th November 2015 London

We are facing the largest increase in pupil numbers since the 1970s that even under normal circumstances would put a strain on the system in terms of producing enough teachers to meet the demands of the labour market. But;

With salaries uncompetitive in comparison with those for graduates a year after they have completed their degrees;

the pressure to teach every child to the maximum of their potential increasing workload;

a workforce with the largest number of women of childbearing age since maternity leave was introduced;

a housing market that makes it unattractive for teachers to work in large parts of the south of England and

a teacher preparation system lacking a long-term agreed plan that will guarantee places where they are needed to meet the requirements of schools

there are significant challenges if we are to continue to improve our school system. Additionally, the lack of a coherent governance system probably doesn’t help. Of course, if you are a PE teacher that trained in the North East you may be wondering what all the fuss is about.

You may well not have a teaching job, and if you do, it may well not be teaching PE or only for a part of the week. Even so, this is not just a problem of London and the South East, although that’s where it is at its worse; possibly in parts of Essex and Hertfordshire and other authorities where the out-dated funding formula affects the funds schools receive.

The DfE policy decisions that underpin the Teacher Supply Model will force secondary schools towards EBacc subjects and away from the other curriculum areas as despite rising pupil numbers training targets have been reduced for 2017 for almost all non-Ebacc subjects.

In primary, the situation is even more challenging. If the TSM figure is too low, as many seems to think it is, then by 2017 there may be recruitment difficulties that no National Teaching Service will be able to prevent. There is will almost certainly be more problems with equality issues in the profession as a result of the recruitment controls being used this year. I am on record in my blog wondering whether they might be imposed in PE before the end of this month in view of the number of applications already in the system.

Of course, the export industry that is using UK trained teachers to teach children from other countries won’t be affected by a teacher shortage so long as they can put up the fees to pay higher salaries to attract teachers.

In the end it will be an understanding of economics that will solve the problem of teacher supply. When something is in short supply you either ration it or allow the price to rise to a level that satisfies demand. I cannot see this government wanting to ration the supply of teachers into the market; at least not directly. In some ways the distribution of training places, and especially those through school direct, could be seen as a form of rationing, but a very crude one.

However, if price is used – and we can see the pricing of physics graduates has increased for 2017 with the rise to £30,000 in a small number of bursaries. Although I see that more as a marketing exercise to create a headline for the advertising campaign rather than a real attempt to tackle the problem. I think that will come later if greater efforts on the part of government and NCTL don’t pay off.

I expect when the ITT census is published we will learn that there are more trainees in 2015 than in 2014, but not I think enough to meet the TSM targets in many subjects. Still, the government is likely to announce any increase in EBacc subject recruitment as good news and I suppose it certainly isn’t bad news. Whether achieving increased trainee numbers by allowing around 50%+ of all applicants to be offered places is a good idea is something we can debate later.

So, on to solutions.

Well, better marketing is clearly stage 1 of the process and that is now happening.

Make teaching an attractive career. This helps retention and probably involves doing something about workload. What are the workload implications for teaching children as individuals rather than as classes, especially in the secondary sector?

As some of you know from my blog, I am not an enthusiast of the present system of bursaries that I think is difficult to market and inequitable. I would prefer a return to the pre-2010 situation of abated fees and a training grant for all entrants to the profession. After all, if it is good enough for cadet officers at Sandhurst, it should surely be good enough for trainee teachers wherever they train.

Without sufficient teachers in training not only will schools have to spend more money on recruitment until they have all switched to TeachVac our free service that matches school needs with teachers and trainees job requests. Why pay private companies and their profits when you can use a free service set up by those that understand the needs of the teaching profession.

Finally, shortages in training now have consequences for years to come. If we take D&T as an example:

In 2012 there were 1,200 trainees –about 103% of TSM need. This means about 500 remaining after 5 years, enough to satisfy the demand for heads of department and other middle leaders in the subject. In 2015 there were around 450 entrants to the profession meaning around 150 are likely to remain by 2020; not enough to provide an adequate supply of middle leaders.

*********************************************************************************************************************

But, there is no use just moaning. We need an agenda for action on teacher supply. Here are some suggestions;

As I have already said: pay the fees of all graduate trainees from 2015 entry onwards: this will be especially helpful to career changers that have paid off previous fees and will need to repay the £9,000 as soon as they start teaching– Look to how those training to be teachers that have links to communities can be employed in those communities and more mobile students can be encouraged to move to where they are needed.

Make sure teacher preparation places are more closely linked to where the jobs will be. This means reviewing places in London and the Home Counties – not enough – and the North West – probably too many in some subjects and sectors.

look at trainees that cannot find a job because we trained too many of them and see whether with some minimal re-training they might be useful teachers. This applies especially to PE teachers this year – some might re-train as science teachers or primary PE specialists and art teachers if they can work in design part of D&T.

ramp up the 2015 autumn advertising campaign spend, including an early TV and social media advertising spend that at least matches that of the MoD.

split the teacher preparation part of the National College away from the Leadership and professional development elements and put someone in charge that understands the issues-

look at the NQT year support now that local authorities don’t have the cash to help. This may be vital in keeping primary teachers in the profession, especially if anything goes wrong at the school where they are working.

None of these are new idea, and many were in my submission to the Carter Review. What is clear is that the new government cannot continue with an amateurish approach that marked some of the tactics towards teacher supply during the last few years. With many thousands more pupils entering schools over the next few years we cannot create a world class school system with fewer teachers.

John Howson

B2 John Howson on Teacher shortages- November 2015

Address at the Conference: Reclaiming Education 14th November 2015 London

We are facing the largest increase in pupil numbers since the 1970s that even under normal circumstances would put a strain on the system in terms of producing enough teachers to meet the demands of the labour market. But;

With salaries uncompetitive in comparison with those for graduates a year after they have completed their degrees;

the pressure to teach every child to the maximum of their potential increasing workload;

a workforce with the largest number of women of childbearing age since maternity leave was introduced;

a housing market that makes it unattractive for teachers to work in large parts of the south of England and

a teacher preparation system lacking a long-term agreed plan that will guarantee places where they are needed to meet the requirements of schools

there are significant challenges if we are to continue to improve our school system. Additionally, the lack of a coherent governance system probably doesn’t help. Of course, if you are a PE teacher that trained in the North East you may be wondering what all the fuss is about.

You may well not have a teaching job, and if you do, it may well not be teaching PE or only for a part of the week. Even so, this is not just a problem of London and the South East, although that’s where it is at its worse; possibly in parts of Essex and Hertfordshire and other authorities where the out-dated funding formula affects the funds schools receive.

The DfE policy decisions that underpin the Teacher Supply Model will force secondary schools towards EBacc subjects and away from the other curriculum areas as despite rising pupil numbers training targets have been reduced for 2017 for almost all non-Ebacc subjects.

In primary, the situation is even more challenging. If the TSM figure is too low, as many seems to think it is, then by 2017 there may be recruitment difficulties that no National Teaching Service will be able to prevent. There is will almost certainly be more problems with equality issues in the profession as a result of the recruitment controls being used this year. I am on record in my blog wondering whether they might be imposed in PE before the end of this month in view of the number of applications already in the system.

Of course, the export industry that is using UK trained teachers to teach children from other countries won’t be affected by a teacher shortage so long as they can put up the fees to pay higher salaries to attract teachers.

In the end it will be an understanding of economics that will solve the problem of teacher supply. When something is in short supply you either ration it or allow the price to rise to a level that satisfies demand. I cannot see this government wanting to ration the supply of teachers into the market; at least not directly. In some ways the distribution of training places, and especially those through school direct, could be seen as a form of rationing, but a very crude one.

However, if price is used – and we can see the pricing of physics graduates has increased for 2017 with the rise to £30,000 in a small number of bursaries. Although I see that more as a marketing exercise to create a headline for the advertising campaign rather than a real attempt to tackle the problem. I think that will come later if greater efforts on the part of government and NCTL don’t pay off.

I expect when the ITT census is published we will learn that there are more trainees in 2015 than in 2014, but not I think enough to meet the TSM targets in many subjects. Still, the government is likely to announce any increase in EBacc subject recruitment as good news and I suppose it certainly isn’t bad news. Whether achieving increased trainee numbers by allowing around 50%+ of all applicants to be offered places is a good idea is something we can debate later.

So, on to solutions.

Well, better marketing is clearly stage 1 of the process and that is now happening.

Make teaching an attractive career. This helps retention and probably involves doing something about workload. What are the workload implications for teaching children as individuals rather than as classes, especially in the secondary sector?

As some of you know from my blog, I am not an enthusiast of the present system of bursaries that I think is difficult to market and inequitable. I would prefer a return to the pre-2010 situation of abated fees and a training grant for all entrants to the profession. After all, if it is good enough for cadet officers at Sandhurst, it should surely be good enough for trainee teachers wherever they train.

Without sufficient teachers in training not only will schools have to spend more money on recruitment until they have all switched to TeachVac our free service that matches school needs with teachers and trainees job requests. Why pay private companies and their profits when you can use a free service set up by those that understand the needs of the teaching profession.

Finally, shortages in training now have consequences for years to come. If we take D&T as an example:

In 2012 there were 1,200 trainees –about 103% of TSM need. This means about 500 remaining after 5 years, enough to satisfy the demand for heads of department and other middle leaders in the subject. In 2015 there were around 450 entrants to the profession meaning around 150 are likely to remain by 2020; not enough to provide an adequate supply of middle leaders.

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But, there is no use just moaning. We need an agenda for action on teacher supply. Here are some suggestions;

As I have already said: pay the fees of all graduate trainees from 2015 entry onwards: this will be especially helpful to career changers that have paid off previous fees and will need to repay the £9,000 as soon as they start teaching– Look to how those training to be teachers that have links to communities can be employed in those communities and more mobile students can be encouraged to move to where they are needed.

Make sure teacher preparation places are more closely linked to where the jobs will be. This means reviewing places in London and the Home Counties – not enough – and the North West – probably too many in some subjects and sectors.

look at trainees that cannot find a job because we trained too many of them and see whether with some minimal re-training they might be useful teachers. This applies especially to PE teachers this year – some might re-train as science teachers or primary PE specialists and art teachers if they can work in design part of D&T.

ramp up the 2015 autumn advertising campaign spend, including an early TV and social media advertising spend that at least matches that of the MoD.

split the teacher preparation part of the National College away from the Leadership and professional development elements and put someone in charge that understands the issues-

look at the NQT year support now that local authorities don’t have the cash to help. This may be vital in keeping primary teachers in the profession, especially if anything goes wrong at the school where they are working.

None of these are new idea, and many were in my submission to the Carter Review. What is clear is that the new government cannot continue with an amateurish approach that marked some of the tactics towards teacher supply during the last few years. With many thousands more pupils entering schools over the next few years we cannot create a world class school system with fewer teachers.

John Howson

B1 – Educational apartheid at 16 plus?

Summary: This article comments on the growing division in exam take up between the Private and State School sectors. The private fee paying schools may reject Michael Gove’s reformed GCSEs and opt for the International GCSE, which is not open to interference from domestic politicians. If the state schools opt to follow government policy, English Schools could see Educational Apartheid. Author: Trevor Fisher – originally published in the TES.

Interviewed in the Times Educational Supplement in the middle of April, Frances O’Grady of the TUC was right to argue that the divide between the maintained and public schools is damaging socially in many ways.

And things are set to get worse. Exam reform at 16 plus, perversely, threatens to end one of the few areas where there is a level playing field.

The current exams at the end of Year 11 have long been divided into two systems, the International GCSE (IGCSE) running alongside the mainstream GCSE, mainly for international schools who wished to retain O Level style qualifications. In recent years the IGCSE has become increasingly popular for domestic private schools, creating the illusion that O Level was still available – but only for the private sector.

Whether the IGCSE is in fact an O Level exam and therefore harder than GCSE has never been objectively established, but the fact is that private schools have been moving in numbers to take it. Indeed critics of the private schools claim the IGCSE is in fact easier than GCSE but there is no solid evidence either way.

With rival claims and two parallel systems, it was therefore welcome when Michael Gove changed the rules on performance tables and exam entry to allow state schools to take the IGCSE. This was at least a level playing field. Performance tables reported both, and there was no significant difference detected.

This came to an abrupt halt when the Conservative-Lib Dem government removed IGCSE from the performance tables, (though its approval for state schools and thus funding does not seem to have been affected). The argument was that IGCSEs were not being reformed in the style of mainstream GCSEs and therefore should not count. As a result in January of this year schools like Westminster fell to the bottom of the performance tables, having continued to do IGCSE and having therefore no successes to report. But they can continue to take the exams because league tables are not a major worry.

But when Schools Minister Nick Gibb made the announcement, he created a major obstacle for state schools to do them.

This is a decision which deserves more scrutiny than it has received, but the key immediate point is that a divided system is in prospect, with IGCSE for the private sector and GCSE for state schools.

It is claimed that the new GCSE is harder than the IGCSE, but this claim too needs close examination. OFQUAL have always refused to do trialing or piloting of new exams, or comparative studies of the two systems.

The argument becomes more bizarre as OFQUAL is now seeking a National Reference Test, which is supposed to provide highly accurate evidence for benchmarking the exam system. Like the league tables for GCSE, private schools will be allowed to avoid the NRP. It is impossible to see legislation forcing the private schools to do a test for an examination they do not do.

The net effect of these changes is likely to be to create a two tier system, with GCSEs largely confined to the state sector. The media can be expected to see this in terms of a superior public school system and an inferior state system, whatever the government says.

The importance of IGCSE has largely flown under the radar, as has its popularity in the private sector. After the Gove reforms allowed state schools to take the exam, it did not much matter what exam system was adopted by teachers. Performance tables did not discriminate. But this situation is likely to end as government changes come into force.

The solution? As a first step, it is vitally important to restore the full rights of state schools to take IGCSE, and end discrimination of the basis of performance tables. After that, a serious examination of the merits of both systems should be undertaken.

Alas as things stand, English schools could face educational apartheid with two separate exams system developing at 16 plus.

We are risking English schools splitting into two separate exam paths, with massive implications for social mobility and educational decision making. We are looking at educational apartheid

Trevor Fisher

Published on the Times Educational Supplement web site 5th May 2015