A little over a week ago I was present to hear Conservative MP & Shadow Minister for Schools Nick Gibb address an invited audience – largely made up of Head teachers, Chairs of Governors, and others with an involvement in schools, at Glaziers Hall, in London, courtesty of solicitors Winckworth Sherwood Winckworth Sherwood – Tories aim to boost ‘prestige and esteem’ of teaching
He presented a short outline of future plans for “Schools under the Conservatives”.
His talk focussed on structure and standards, with some of the key points arising being:
- the introduction of new “not-for-profit” providers who will establish schools using the academy model; plans are already under way under the New Schools Network;
- the extension of academy status to other schools who wish to obtain it;
- planning laws are to be altered to facilitate the establishment of new schools;
- school heads are to be given more freedom, with powers being devolved to them; the right to appeal against exclusions to the local independent appeal panel is to be abolished;
- there will be no “voucher” system and there are no plans to curtail the admissions current code;
- BSF schemes which have reached financial close will be guaranteed but there could be no guarantee for other schemes given the current national budget situation.
(abstract e-mailed to me by Winckworth Sherwood)
Now I’m no Tory – and it’s perhaps to be expected that I wasn’t overly impressed, but having mulled this over for a while, I started to come round to thinking that what was lacking from these proposals was not so much content, as a little bit of enthusiasm. There is actually plenty in there to make voters sit up and think – if only it was presented more enticingly.
It’s not about chucking out the progress that Labour has made; and it does promise a fairly radical expansion of the academies scheme – which although many on the left oppose, is seen by a large number of voters as a positive development.
It also puts paid to the voucher system – thus demonstrating that there’s no lurch to the right, and that if independent providers want to educate pupils from the state sector then they’ll need to run state schools – again a fair bit of “progressive” thinking- especially considering that this is the Conservative Party
Whether you like those ideas or not, there should be plenty there to sell to the electorate.
I do think the abandonment of BSF would be a disaster – and feel that this could possibly be challenged in law – but to be fair, I’m not exactly part of the Tories’ core vote strategy – and this policy is in line with their plans for radical spending cuts sooner rather than later. No matter how I disagree with them, there’s clearly a consistency with their wider aims there.
Of course since then there have been all kinds of hiccups for the Conservatives – criticism of the campaign, narrowing poll leads, the furore over Lord Ashcroft’s tax status etc.
I was nevertheless shocked to read Michael Gove’s proposals for education on the Times website today Gove unveils Tory plan for return to ‘traditional’ school lessons – Times Online – coming a mere 10 days after I’d heard Nick Gibb spell out a very different picture.
Now Michael Gove – Shadow Secretary of State for Children – says they’re going to :
- Instruct children to learn poetry by heart , in a return to a “traditionalist” education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11, and modern foreign languages.
- Rewrite the national curriculum to restore past methods of teaching history, English, maths and science
- Teach History “in order” – as a narrative
- Put more emphasis on the classics in English classes
Mr Gove says that Teachers entering the profession “don’t love abstract thinking skills”, but that “what draws people into teaching is that they love history or physics, and they want to communicate that love“
He goes on “A lot of the ‘great tradition’ is locked in a cupboard marked ‘too difficult’ and that’s quite wrong. I’ve been talking to the RSC about bringing Shakespeare into primary schools,”
Mr Gove asserts that “Most parents would rather their children had a traditional education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England”
I don’t know how he knows this – certainly it’s not what I want as a parent, not that anyone’s ever asked me.
It does all rather remind me though of another chapter in Conservative education. A period between 1992 and 1994 in which the then Education Secretary John Patten wrote to all teachers in state schools extolling the virtues of formal “traditional” teaching – sitting in rows, as researched by one Neville Bennett in his work ” Teaching Styles and Pupil Progress blissfully unaware that most if not all qualified teachers had studied Bennett’s work – and also knew of his later work in which he cast doubt over his original findings.
It was a difficult time for the Conservatives – the approach to education being part of the wider “Back to Basics” campaign. There’s lots of stuff out there on the Internet to read about it - make a start with the Wikipedia entry Back to Basics – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia which commences thus :
“Back to Basics was an ill-fated attempt to relaunch the government of British Prime Minister John Major in 1993…
… the initiative was intended to focus on issues of law and order, education and public probity (especially single mothers) … was widely interpreted as a moral campaign, and hence was ridiculed by political opponents”
So – when the going gets tough, it would appear that the Tories lurch to the right, and go back to the tried and tested. Except that when it was tested – it failed miserably and disastrously.
If this is Michael Gove’s honest approach to Education policy, then it is sadly misguided, and frankly more than a little stupid.
The Tories election campaign is rapidly becoming a train wreck
I came across this “News” on the Conservative Party’s own website : Widening education gap between the many and the few
There are so many things about this post that niggle me that it’s difficult to know where to start – but I’ll try !
OK – first up – the language is lifted straight from Gordon Brown’s speech yesterday – fine, that’s politics. It is clear however that they seem pretty pleased that a privileged few are apparently making greater educational achievements than the rest of the school population – that’s not a GOOD thing in my book – Oh but wait – I’m missing the Tory point (not the first time that points have been missed with Tories though) – they’re blaming this on Labour.
Right, now I see. Actually – no I don’t – the figures that they quote (which incidentally have been in the public domain since August 2009 – so why any of this is “news” I do not know) – do show some significant differences between A level performance in independent schools and state schools. They also show some similarities – state school performance at 3 A’s has roughly doubled since 1998 – (I wonder why they chose that date – and not 1996 – the year before Labour came to Government ?) – whilst performance at independent schools using the same measure has – hey ! roughly doubled. Which does make it even less newsworthy.
So really the gap hasn’t widened – it’s the same gap – except that all students are far more likely than they were in the dark days before Labour took office, of gaining 3 A’s.
So murky are the Conservatives’ figures though that it’s really difficult to work out exactly what is going on here. Now I thought that there were around 300,000 A level students last year ( A-level results: One in four A-levels passed at grade A | Education | guardian.co.uk ) but it seems the Conservative party think otherwise – If 32.6 % of students in private schools gained the 11,500 three straight A’s they claim, then that gives us, by my calculations, 35,276 A level students in private schools – so that leaves 264,724 or so in the state sector. A little bit more than just three times as many that the Tories claim.
That of course would make the paltry figure of 9,725 students with three A’s from the state sector even worse – but hang on – 9,725 isn’t 8.1% of 264,724 – it’s only 3.6%. 8.1% would represent 21,442.
But which is it ? Something’s wrong here isn’t it ?
Well maybe they’ve got their sums wrong again.
Look closely though, I suspect that may not be it – they’re not really doing what I’m doing – I’m comparing independent sector with state sector. Isn’t that what they’re doing ? No – they’re (deliberately ?) creating confusion by saying “comprehensive” – which of course leaves out all manner of different types of state schools. It doesn’t include grammar schools and other selective schools (obviously not important to Conservatives !) – it doesn’t presumably involve Voluntary Aided & faith schools – it may not include Foundation Schools or Academies – Who is to say what it does include ? Not the Tories that’s for sure.
I wonder if those schools were included whether things would look rather different. Perhaps if they included FE and Sixth Form Colleges as well they would. (Don’t forget also that the Government also ultimately have a responsibility for monitoring and maintaining standards in Independent schools)
So I’m not convinced by any of this “data”
Even if I were, I would point out that a commercial organisation commanding fees on the basis of a reputation for getting students to 3 straight A’s would be hardly like to select pupils who were unlikely to do so. State schools on the other hand tend to take the students they end up with – and are obliged to adopt an approach which states that “Every Child Matters” – that’s ALL of them – not just the straight A students, not just the ones with money, not just the ones who are likely to go to university. ALL of them.
So I don’t buy the Conservative idea of turning all state schools into private schools. Private schools achieve the success they do (and I could argue extensively about narrow definitions of educational achievement) because they provide only for a moneyed elite. In just the same way as Nicholas Winterton finds that he needs to avoid the different type of people travelling in standard class, parents sending their children to private schools find their oasis of privilege by paying for something which the other ‘type of people’ can not afford (or like me – choose not to).
By making all schools into independent schools, the advantage that independent schools now hold would vanish. It would however quickly be replaced by a hierarchy of provision with the richest people receiving the most prestigious education – and the poor receiving a provision based on the minimum cost to the government, rather than the maximum benefit to the pupil.
I call that a scandalously archaic approach to education in the 21st century – I will do everything I can to oppose that.
UPDATE Comment via twitter from Secretary of State for Children, schools & Families, Ed Balls (@EdBallsMP) You’re right – FE students deliberately excluded RT @northernheckler: my latest blog on Tories & private schools http://wp.me/pycui-lU
So encouraging to get feedback from the man who is ultimately my ‘boss’ in education, on the occasion of my 100th blog !! Thanks Ed !
I was suprised this morning to read of Ed Balls interview with the Sunday Times Labour’s £2bn cuts for schools in which he apparently calls for around £2bn worth of cuts to the education system, arrived at by – amongst other things, reducing the senior leadership teams of schools, and also making savings by bringing schools together in “Federations” where they would have one head overseeing many schools.
He doesn’t seem to be saying quite the same thing on his web site where he publishes a transcript of a later interview televised on the BBC’s The Politics Show Transcript of interview on The Politics Show . It’s interesting that the BBC in it’s version of the two interviews seems to rely rather more on the edited account of the Time’s interview, than it does on the interview it carried out itself : ‘Labour ‘could save schools £2bn’ . Perhaps because Ed Balls did say in the BBC interview “I think it’s really important to have a head in every school, that’s my view”, and also (in relation to federation of schools) “I’m not saying … I’m going to impose from the top down you must do this” – which sort of takes the sting out of it.
He did more than hint though at making savings through a reduction in Senior Managers, and that this could be partly achieved by encouraging Federations of schools.
So what it’s it all about ?
Well I may be a headteacher, but I don’t really know. Ed Balls is not a foolish man, and must have been aware that this would be reported, pretty much in the way it has been – a way in which at first glance few people working in the field of education would immediately clap their hands with glee.
I do know a few things though. I know that forming federations at the moment is a matter which is done at the discretion purely of the Governing Bodies of the schools involved. So it would involve either primary legislation, or an unprecedented co-ordination of Local Authority arm-bending to make sure federations happen in any large numbers.
Not that they don’t happen. In fact one of the reasons why federations do crop up is that many schools find it difficult to recruit suitable headteachers, and quite often end up seconding a head from a nearby school to oversee another one – this has in some cases led to “executive heads” being appointed across several schools. I couldn’t comment on whether it saves money – you’d need to do the sums in a real situation. However,I can’t imagine it would save much. Having an executive head often means having individual heads as well – or at least having ‘super deputies’ paid a similar salary to a head. Once you lose the sitting candidates (who are often the first post holders for “super deputy” jobs) these can be difficult posts to fill. In many ways all the responsibilities of a head (some of them legal responsibilities) – but without autonomy and individual influence on the school that a true headship brings. No head who has enjoyed being a head would ever want to go back to “running someone elses show”.
What I seem to be sensing from Ed Ball’s comments is a hint towards further Government commitment to ways of ‘radicalising’ schools – in current parlance this of course means academies, trust schools, specialist school and federations of schools – all of which have met to some extent with criticism from teachers unions.
I’m not particularly opposed to them though. Here’s why -
Since the Conservatives took power in 1979, and particularly since the Education Reform Act of 1989 there’s been a move towards schools having greater and greater independence in managing their own affairs. The role of a Headteacher has changed dramatically – and is now a multi-faceted business leadership role – but one which requires experience and expertise in education first and foremost as a qualification for the post. There are things that crop up in Headteachers woking lives then that are way outside their realm of experience – and many is the time when I would dearly love to employ – (for example) – an accountant, a computer engineer, an architect, a builder, a fund raiser, another 4 secretaries – I could go on. Why – because they would help me to do the things that I either don’t have time for, or am simply not particularly good at.
Of course I am at liberty to employ those people if I wish – so what stops me ? Two things ! - first of all it’s very difficult to move from the structure of schools which is well established – it’s hard to think radical, because everything’s set up to keep things the same. Secondly – I’m too small. I can’t afford to do those things.
Now – supposing I was part of a group of 5 schools. Then we might be able to appoint some people who could help us to be more efficient. Suppose that we had more freedom to employ people in roles other than the traditional ones – dare I say it – as an Academy ? Then we could think radical – we could stop trying to do all the same old things better, and start doing new things better. We could forge partnerships with Universities, we could place our teachers on research programmes, sponsored by the people who sponsor university research. We could … well we could do all sorts really.
This is what I think Ed Balls is after, and I’m not especially disagreeing (I could pick a few holes though). There are plenty who would though – the NUT for one union (and I’m a member) would throw a real wobbly for sure. So I think the Secretary of State is measuring his words, knowing that anything in the press that smacks of a slap in the face for the relatively highly paid will go down well in at least some circles, and knowing that there’ll be time enough to present a radical agenda at some time in the future.
Well that’s my guess anyway.
[ Sorry this one's a bit longer than my usual posts - stick with it though ! ]
I happened to hear a snatch of BBC Radio 4′s Any Questions today. A rarity for me but I was captivated by the first question which concerned the Government’s “Vetting and Barring scheme”, and whether it will prevent parents from giving other people’s kids a lift to the football or not. Unsurprisingly it precipitated emotional outpourings about the Government going over the top, and sowing the seeds of moral panic.
It’s never so black and white though. The BBC have explained the legislation Q&A: Vetting and Barring Scheme – and actually give a balanced and factual explanation of the scheme, but link also to Mark Easton’s somewhat more sensationalist blog When panic shapes policy .
As Headteacher of a special school – and previously a 52 week residential special school (categorised as children’s home), I’m more familiar than most with the requirements of CRB – Criminal Record Bureau – checks. It doesn’t surprise me that the Government is finding it difficult to wade through the complexities of this legislation.
Seemingly the aim of the legislation is to streamline the existing system, to make it more efficient and effective by combining the various lists in use, and having common protocols to ease the process. There is still confusion among different employers and authorities, for instance about whether pre-existing checks can be used as clearance for a new post, and the difference between standard and enhanced CRB checks. For organisations such as schools, the legislation will simplify – but not substantially alter – the existing scheme.
The other bits of the legislation though are a bit of a minefield. It is well documented that those who seek to target children deliberately in order to abuse them, are likely to do so via roles which necessitate contact with children, and will do so in ways which are informal and apparently innocent. Of course these people are very few in number, and the vast majority – statistically almost 100% – of people involved in those kind of activities are not just apparently innocent – but totally innocent. So you can understand why they’d feel aggrieved – their good intentions are apparently doubted by the government.
In fact in the eyes of some members of the public, people who volunteer to work with children, are considered to be slightly dodgy right from the word go. Especially if they are male. If they’re male and gay they’re almost judged and hanged the moment they reveal that they might be, for example, a scout leader.
Although the justification given for the legislation though, is the recommendations of the Bichard report into the Soham murders, it’s perhaps true to say that it’s the sense of moral outrage which followed that case which is the real reason. The current system of CRB checking would not have prevented Ian Huntley from being appointed. Although his work was with a school it did not involve direct regular contact with, or supervision of children. As such he would have been subject only to a standard CRB check – not an enhanced one. It would show only convictions – of which he had none. An enhanced CRB would also flag up cautions and bind-overs – a far more extensive screening – which would effectively usually identify people “known” to the police. Not Ian Huntley though – he had no cautions or bind overs – and so quite properly, no central record was kept.
One of the key improvements made by the existing regulations has been that police guidelines regarding cautions, have been modified in the light of the enhanced CRB scheme. A caution can no longer be given to expedite situations where police lack evidence to secure a conviction. It’s only issued where a suspect has admitted the wrong doing – so the argument of “they gave me a caution but I never did it – I was never convicted” simply does not apply. The situation where Huntley confessed to having sex with an under age girl for instance, but faced no penalty because the girl did not wish it to be pursued, could no longer happen. He would at the least be given a caution – which would show up on future checks.
The amendments to the legislation will iron out still further these anomalies.
Anyone reading the Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph could be forgiven for thinking that the nation’s children were under constant grave danger from a veritable army of paedophile perverts, with the assistance of the Government’s refusal to successfully control their actions – just have a look : Gay rights campaigner led a double life as leader of paedophile ring that carried out a catalogue of child abuse , Convicted paedophile can continue naked Alton Towers trips, rules judge , Almost 7,000 criminals ‘applied to be teachers’ last year. Giving the public the distinct impression that the risk of abuse is huge, and that the Government is complacent in managing this risk.
Yet predictably when the Government augment their legislation they’re accused of branding law abiding citizens as criminals, of abusing civil liberties – and of course presiding over the Nanny State. As is usual for these publications the hypocrisy of arguing for opposing plans of action at the same time is not considered a problem
Unusually though I have some sympathy with them. CRB checks for schools are a pain to administer. At this precise moment I have an employee who was offered a job in another local authority in July, still waiting to be able to formally give notice to us, and likely to not have a start date until late October – or possibly later. This due to her losing her own copy of the form, and the delays in processing a new one. You’ll see the irony – she’s prevented from going to a job which requires an enhanced CRB check, so must remain in her existing job – which requires – an enhanced CRB check ! Even more ironic, she’s an EU citizen who’s been in the UK only 2 years – so the check won’t cover any offences prior to her arival.
It is also difficult when – as a for instance – I’m approached by a student on teacher training course with two weeks to spare before her course starts wishing to work for nothing during those two weeks. Great – eager, hard working, interested in our work, and free of charge. Not without a CRB check though – which is likely to take at least a month and probably more like 2 or three to come through. So many employers are justifiably less than enamoured of the process – and local sports clubs and voluntary organisations who lack the support of organisations such as local authorities will find this even more confusing, and will be tempted to bend the rules on occasions like those I’ve mentioned.
Those occasions though are exactly the times which are “weak points” in the system, and where perhaps the checks are at their most valuable.
So this is really a situation where the Government will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
I once attended a child protection strategy meeting regarding a member of staff who was found to be fabricating evidence to suggest that abusive assaults had taken place on children in her care. Even though no actual abuse had taken place, and even though in 26 years working in schools this is the only example of a deliberately planned programme of unacceptable potentially abusive action that I’ve encountered, I was still sufficiently disgusted at her activities, and endeavours to side step the checks in place to prevent such behaviour to reach the conclusion that Governments should ensure that every attempt to prevent this kind of action is made.
Although I can sympathise with those who think it is overkill, and unnecessary, and to some extent agree with them – when push comes to shove I am in agreement with the new proposals.
If you are the parent of a child who is unfortunate enough to be the victim of abuse perpetrated by the tiny minority of people who utilise trusted access to children as a vehicle to further their unsavoury appetites for harming our young people, the distinction as to whether this a volunteer or a paid employee will be an irrelevance.
It is the public’s disgust with the abuse of children that ultimately dictates that this legislation is justified.
I was very interested to read this post on BBC News : School consultants ‘earned £170m’ , reporting on Shadow Children’s Secretary Michael Gove’s statements claiming that Local authorities were wasting large sums of money on consultants to help them through the government’s Building Schools for the Future programme – commonly referred to as ‘BSF’.
At a local level I’m very involved in a particular BSF scheme – and it would be inappropriate to make comment which related specifically or politically to that project.
I did however feel that Michael Gove’s comments – if reported accurately – were particularly below the belt, and I feel compelled to flag this up – I’ll try and do this in a non-partisan way.
Building Schools for the Future (BSF) is a huge long term project to rebuild or substantially replace all of the country’s special schools. As such it commands (at national level) broad cross party support. Although implemented by the Labour Government at a national level, local authorities of all political persuasions right across the country have worked very hard to move this scheme forward.
It’s been a long process, and I believe the schools which are opening this week as a result of the scheme represent Waves 1,2 and 3 of the project. Waves 4,5 and 6 are in an advanced state of preparedness. Future waves are at various stages – from submitting Outline Business Cases, through to not having started at all. So straight away it’s clear that the process is only part way through – so why Michael Gove should comment that so few schools have benefited is a mystery.
Anyone remotely close to the action in BSF though can not fail to have noticed that the scheme does indeed generate a whole industry of consultants and supporting professionals – who must (as Michael Gove points out) cost large amounts of money.
I wonder though whether Michael knows whether the people working on these projects – Head teachers like myself; Local authority officers and planners, who are on the workstreams for BSF have any knowledge of how to design a school ?
Well I for one haven’t really.
Have I got any knowledge of how to incorporate sustainable energy efficient and environmentally friendly features into a school – adhering to PassivHaus principles ?
Well no I haven’t – I’ve only learned about them through this scheme.
Have I got any experience or knowledge of how to negotiate a multi-million pound deal with mutli-national consortia, who have far more business expertise than I have, and ensure that we get the school we need for future generations of children. Well no I haven’t .
So I wonder who helps the people in schools and local authorities to plan these ambitious, and immensely complicated projects ? Well Mr Gove it’s actually the consultants that you’ve been complaining about. They are the people who are ensuring that the people who really know about schools, but don’t know much about architecture, facilities management contracts, or competetive dialogue processes, are still ble to provide their vital input into the building and refurbishing of the schools of tomorrow – and also ensuring that we get value for money, with high quality designs which will provide us with schools fit for purpose for decades to come. I’ve dealt with lots of them in recent months, and most of them are extremely skilled professionals, extremely hard working, and not always particularly well paid.
I feel that Michael Gove’s comments do little to reflect the efforts of Council members from all parties – Conservative included – who together with officers and other professionals have worked tirelessly on these projects and are now beginning to see the spectacular fruits of their labours.
I was interested to read Labour MP Tom Harris’s post tonight :
and bothered enough about it to prepare a bit of a comment.
On the basis that I don’t think comments should ever be longer than the original post though I’ve stuck it on my own blog instead. Please read Tom’s blog first so that you’ve got some idea what I’m on about.
I think there are 3 sides to this : -
- 1. This “assisted places” scheme sounds like silly season rubbish to me – and would be rubbish in what ever season it was in.
- 2. The people who’ve pointed out that ‘assisted places’ used to mean assistance with fees to private school are I believe right – and I feel very pleased that we’ve lost this scheme which supported a mode of education dedicated to perpetuating inequality in society.It might be interesting to examine though whether we could make better use of partnerships between private and state sectors in education (as indeed we do in the NHS) – Many people may be unaware, for instance, that local authorities already spend many millions of pounds providing independent special school places for children with special needs which can’t be met within the local area. Although there are a few issues with this it generally works quite well.
An increase in public/private partnership in education wouldn’t exactly go down well with the left wing of the Labour party I’m sure, but I’m all for looking at radical solutions – and if something works well, I really don’t care who provides it if it’s free at the point of use.
- 3. You’re wrong when you say that it was nobody’s fault but yours that you didn’t work hard enough to get to university. Yes you made that choice – but your culture (and mine) was a product of the divisive society that preceded you – and the biggest part of the challenge for education is educate ALL sections of society that education actually has value – and to do it in timely fashion so that disadvantaged groups do not drift off into delinquency in their early teens – as I almost did.
If no one in your family has ever been to university or worked in anything other than low paid jobs, then the prospect of getting a degree and landing highly paid jobs in positions of influence seems pretty remote when you’re 15.
I did actually wake up in time to get to university, and did so not on a loan, but on a grant – which was a great leveller – it made even the rich kids poor. Of course now we have far more people at university and the state can only afford loans, and students have to pay tuition fees. Irrespective of the reality of this – the mere prospect of the debt puts prospective students from poorer families off.
What we don’t seem to be facing up to, is that by increasing the numbers of people at universities (and thus reducing the money to fund each student) – we’re actually decreasing the proportion of poorer people at universities – and also devaluing the degrees that they would achieve. It would seem sensible to me, to reduce wider access to universities – replace loans with grants – and ensure selection is purely on academic merit. Oh yes – and find a way of persuading young kids from poor families that doing your homework really is more worthwhile than hanging out all night down the town centre with a bottle of cider.
This would arguably make university education more elitist – however a better way of thinking about it might be to say that it would be more specialised – high academic study is not for everyone – but it should be available to everyone who wants it and is capable of it.