Should Schools Become Academies?

Headteachers claim forced academy status is unjustified

 

A worrying article was published in the Guardian on 7th May 2012 that highlights an increasing trend in schools being forced into converting to academy status against their will and unnecessarily. Under the Academy Act 2010 schools can be forced down this route if their exam results or Ofsted inspections show that they are failing. But the cases examined in the Guardian report do not fall under any of the categories that would warrant compulsory conversion.  Worse still a growing number of head teachers and school governors are reporting that threatening tactics are being used by DfE officials to scare them into changing the status of their schools.

Anna Jones (whose name has been changed) is a headteacher with a proven track record in school improvement having brought a school out of special measures. She was appointed to run a Birmingham primary school and tasked with repeating her achievements. Through solid management, extensive monitoring of teacher performance and pupils’ achievements and attainments the hard work is paying off. The school is out of special measures having been assessed as satisfactory after the last Ofsted visit and is oversubscribed in some year groups. Furthermore, pupil achievement and attainment is increasing rapidly and according to internal tracking of progress more than 60% of their 11 year olds will pass English and Maths SATs this summer.  The 60% figure is the new floor target for schools recently set by Ofsted.  According to Jones:

“This is a large school in an area of multiple deprivation.”

Jones also pays tribute to her deputies, who, she says, have:

“worked really hard to pull it up”. Now “we have quality and improved teaching and learning. We have very robust self-evaluation and our improvement plan is led by that”.

However, despite all these improvements she has been informed that her school will be forced into academy status if she and her governors do not vote to apply to become an academy as it will be evidence of “weak leadership”. Existing governors would be removed and a section 60 notice to improve issued, a new governing body put in place and a sponsor imposed.

Should Schools Become Academies?

The short answer to this is NO because there are several major concerns over the academies programme.

  1. Michael Gove appears to be confused about his own policies. Academies were introduced by the last Labour administration as an educational improvement tool to turn around failing schools. When Gove took office he opened up the option of conversion to academy status to outstanding schools. Subsequently, voluntary conversion was widened to other schools. Each school converting to academy status receives initial upfront funding per pupil. This money is removed from Local Authority funding for state maintained schools and public services and is expected to have cost £413 million between 2011 and 2013. However, there appears to have been an underestimate of the costs for 2012-13 so the figures for this year could be as high as £997 million.  That means vital services are being cut back in order to fund academies which in itself would be a cause for concern even if the academy programme was a coherent one. But the academy system was designed to improve failing schools and now hundreds of millions of pounds is being given to schools that don’t need to be converted to academy status.  So if the academy programme is aimed at educational improvement why is so much money being wasted on converting good and outstanding schools?
  2. Secondly, this policy flies in the face of the Government’s overall localism aspirations and the DfE’s claims that academies are providing more choice and control for parents. Academies have smaller proportions of local governors on their boards than maintained schools, are less accountable through the Freedom of Information Act not least in relation to their accounts and any appeals over issues with academies must be made through the DfE and its related Westminster based bodies rather than local authorities. Additionally, overall control of academies rests with the Education Secretary.
  3. Thirdly, as we can see in the case of Jenny Jones’ school the academy programme is now spreading to primary schools.  Many of the nearly 50% of secondary schools that have already converted  were motivated by the financial incentive but the vast majority of primary schools have decided that the academy system is not suitable for them and virtually none have converted. Now it seems that primary schools are being increasingly falsely downgraded in order to justify forcible conversion to academy status to speed up the spread of academies through the primary school sector. One concern is that the DfE is rushing to convert schools such as Jenny Jones’ into academy status by August in an effort to artificially inflate the success rates of academies. This is because the vastly improved SATs results will be credited to the conversion of her school to an academy; something, which the DfE strongly denies.
  4. Fourthly, there is no empirical evidence that academies produce better results than state maintained secondary schools. According to an National Audit Office Report in  2010 academies were a long way from matching the national average for the percentage of pupils achieving five or more A* – C grade GCSEs or equivalent particularly when English and Maths were included. They were however, assessed as making good progress against comparable maintained schools, both in absolute attainment and relative to prior attainment. Furthermore it was judged that the overall performance trend masked “wide variation between individual academies with some performing exceptionally well and others making little progress”. In addition, a report produced in February 2012 revealed that while 60% of pupils in non-academy schools attained five A* to C grade GCSEs last year, only 47% did so in the 249 sponsored academies.  As a result nearly a billion pounds is being taken out of hard hit public services during the next year in order to fund an education programme with a questionable success rate.
  5. Finally, much praise has been heaped upon Mossbourne Academy in London and its transformation under the now head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw.  It is proclaimed as a flagship for the academy programme. However, less publicity is given to the fact that Sir Michael turned around a previous secondary school in a similarly spectacular fashion without it becoming an academy thus proving that a whole host of factors are necessary for raising standards in a school but conversion to an academy is not one of them.  

In summary, we are forced to question why such heavy handed tactics are being employed by a Government minister and his representatives in order to forcibly convert unwilling schools into a system of schooling that is both educationally unnecessary and extremely costly to the taxpayer at a time of massive budget cutbacks and austerity measures.

National plan for music education

National plan for music education

education.gov.uk

National plan for music education

Updated: 04 May 2012

The first ever National Plan for Music Education – The Importance of Music was published on 25 November 2011. It sets out the Government’s vision for music education – to enable children from all backgrounds and every part of England to have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument; to make music with others; to learn to sing; and to have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence.

This is part of the Government’s aim to ensure that all pupils have rich cultural opportunities alongside their academic and vocational studies.

From 2012 music education will be provided by new‘hubs’ which will deliver music education in partnership, building on the work of existing local authority music services.

The main elements of the National Plan for Music Education are:

  • A new national funding formula to make sure all parts of the country get fair funding for music on a per pupil basis, with a weighting for deprivation. There will be protection for areas that would otherwise have seen reductions of more than 10 per cent funding in 2012-13 and more than 20 per cent in 2013-14.
  • Funding of £77 million, £65 million and £60 million confirmed for the next three years. Most of this will go to the music education hubs.
  • A new music teaching module will be developed for trainee primary teachers, to give them extra skills to teach music.
  • Continued funding of £500,000 per year to the National Youth Music Organisations fund, matched by the Arts Council England currently via Youth Music.
  • Continued support for the internationally recognised Music and Dance Scheme – which provides money for exceptionally gifted young people to attend the highly specialist music and dance schools.
  • Continued funding for In Harmony, Sistema England, augmented by matched funding from Arts Council England so that the programme can expand.

From August 2012, music education hubs will be funded to bring together local authorities and local music organisations, like orchestras, choirs and other music groups. They will work in partnership to make sure every child has a high quality music education, including the opportunity to learn to sing, to play an instrument and to make music with others. The hubs will be fully operational from September 2012.

The hubs, which will be held accountable for their effectiveness, will also help improve the consistency around the country and make sure all pupils receive a high quality music education. Local authorities will receive funding, via the Federation of Music Services, to continue providing music education services until August 2012. Allocations will be made on a per pupil basis with a weighting for pupils eligible for free school meals. There will be protection so that, in 2012-13, no area loses more than 10 per cent compared to its 2011-12 funding. In 2013-14 no area will lose more than 20 per cent compared to its 2012-13 funding.

The Department has asked the Arts Council for England to run the application and approval process for the new music education hubs. Applications will need to demonstrate how they will deliver at least the core roles, which are to:

  • ensure that every child aged 5-18 has the opportunity to learn a musical instrument (other than voice) through whole-class ensemble teaching programmes for ideally a year (but for a minimum of a term) of weekly tuition on the same instrument
  • provide opportunities to play in ensembles and to perform from an early stage
  • ensure that clear progression routes are available and affordable to all young people
  • develop a singing strategy to ensure that every pupil sings regularly and that choirs and other vocal ensembles are available in the area.

The national plan for music is available in the publications section of this website.

Funding allocations are set out in a spreadsheet, which can be downloaded from this page.

On 4 May 2012, the Arts Council announced the results of the application process. Successful applications have been received that will deliver 122 music education hubs throughout England. This announcement marks the start of detailed negotiations between the Arts Council and the hub leads to agree detailed business plans. The Arts Council will also work with applicants to ensure that their proposals meet the hub criteria as strongly as possible.

Heads oppose new punctuation and spelling test

Heads oppose new punctuation and spelling test

BBC |May 6, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News education reporter
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Head teachers say they will disrupt a new spelling, grammar and punctuation test to be introduced in England’s primary schools next summer.

The SPAG test will be sat by pupils at the end of primary school as part of their national curriculum tests (SATs).

But the National Association of Head Teachers said the new tests were “a waste of taxpayers’ money”.

Ministers said too little attention had been paid to spelling, punctuation and grammar in recent years.

But the association has voted to explore ways of ensuring “this flawed test does not take place”.

Introducing a motion to disrupt the “technical English” tests, Milton Keynes head teacher Tony Draper said teachers should be left to assess pupils in spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Mr Draper said the new test from 2013 would cost millions of pounds to administer – money that would be better spent on teacher training and learning.

“It will lead to further narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the tests and increased misery for our year six students and their families already sick of a diet of practice SATs and drills.

“Trust us to assess all our children’s writing this year and every year or we will not cooperate with any future tests.”

The conference voted almost unanimously (98.8%) to find ways of stopping the test going ahead.

The vote came as NAHT general secretary, Russell Hobby, said the association could boycott a controversial new reading test for six-year-olds in England if it was used as “a stick to beat schools”.

New regime

Mr Hobby said the initiative should only be used as a genuine test to assess pupils, rather than to measure schools.

Two years ago the NAHT boycotted Year 6 SATs and following this the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, set up a review of the tests headed by Lord Bew.

As a result, this year’s tests – which will be sat by 11-year-olds in England next week – will be the first under a new regime.

The writing test – the one most criticised by heads and teachers as an inaccurate assessment of what their pupils can achieve – will, for the first time, be assessed by teachers on the pupils’work during the year rather than an end-of-year test externally marked.

But the NAHT is angry that the government has got rid of one externally-marked test and effectively replaced with another in the SPAG test.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Too little attention has been given to spelling, punctuation and grammar over the last decade.

“That’s why we have accepted Lord Bew’s recommendation to assess spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary as part of the writing test at Key Stage 2.”

Children start dieting as young as 10

Children start dieting as young as 10

guardian.co.uk

Year 5 children at Cheddar Grove primary school play the body image game.

Year 5 children at Cheddar Grove primary school play the body image game. The course encourages children to think about what makes them unique. Photograph: Sam Frost

Like most children, the year 5 pupils at Cheddar Grove primary used to believe the adverts on the telly. Not any more. “Do you know that with some models they plaster about 10 layers of make-up on, and then they make their hair all wavy with a fan, and they can even change how they look with the computer so they’re slimmer?” says Carys. “They don’t really look like that at all!”

“About 99% of adverts you see have been Photoshopped,” adds her classmate Harry. “You just can’t trust a thing they tell you,” says his friend Franklin. “When I see an advert now, I often just laugh and think – yeah, not very likely.”

For nine- and 10-year-olds, this is remarkably sophisticated media analysis – and pretty welcome, given that the average child watches as many as 40,000 adverts a year. These children’s eyes were opened to the tricks of the trade by a pair of ex-teachers who are on a mission to improve children’s body image– and they believe that to do that, you have to start young.

Nicky Hutchinson and Chris Calland – previously a primary and a secondary school teacher respectively – are education consultants in Bristol. They specialise in children’s behaviour, but devised their primary school body-image course, which has just been piloted at Cheddar Grove in the city, after getting requests from heads and teachers for advice on how to deal with the increasing anxiety pupils were displaying about how they looked.

“Parents were calling schools to say their children were stressing about what to wear on non-uniform days, or for friends’ birthday parties, or for the school disco,” says Hutchinson. “The more we looked into it, the more we discovered what a problem it was. By the age of 10, around a third of all girls, and 22% of boys, say how their bodies look is their number one worry. And 10 is also the average age when children start dieting.”

“So much is affected by how you feel about your body –your ability to enjoy life, form good relationships and make the most of opportunities,” says Calland. “But all the indicators are that the current population of young people have lower body confidence than ever before – and that’s borne out by the rising numbers of youngsters with eating disordersand serious anxieties about their appearance.”

It’s certainly not a problem limited to girls. “Boys worry about it far more than in the past,” she says. “Traditionally girls have always shown greater concern about their weight and appearance, but the research shows boys are also worrying. They want to be tall and, when they’re a bit older, to be muscular – and they worry about weight too.”

At present, most interventions to counter negative body image are concentrated on secondary schools, where some children already have eating disorders – but Hutchinson and Calland believe the lessons should start much earlier, towards the top of primary school. “Research shows that this is the age when children are at risk of developing a poor body image,” says Hutchinson. “We believe that by helping to improve their self-esteem at this stage, and making them more aware of the messages the media is putting out, we’ll be able to equip them better to be confident about how they look.”

The course Calland and Hutchinson run encourages children to think about what makes them unique, and to question the way the media distorts body images. It’s clear, talking to year 5 at Cheddar Grove, that the lessons struck a chord.

“We talked about two boys who each had a very different body image – one was happy with the way he looked, the other was unhappy,” says Harry. “After we’d discussed their feelings, we turned the cards over to see what the two boys looked like …and realised they were the same boy!” “The whole idea,” says Calland, “is to get them to realise that body image is quite separate from how a person looks. Anyone, however they look, can have a positive or a negative body image – and that’s an important thing to realise – it helps you look more deeply at what it’s all about.”

As they researched their course, Calland and Hutchinson realised they’d stumbled on what was, for many teachers, a topic to avoid at all costs. “Many teachers admitted they were fearful because there are always going to be children in any class who have issues: maybe they’re overweight, maybe they’re already very concerned with their appearance, maybe they have a disfigurement or disability,” she says. “We understand that concern, but we say, these are already issues for these children. It’s much better to bring them out into the open and explore them than just leave them to fester.

“Children may already be being bullied or teased, and by emphasising children’s inner qualities, they are likely to be helped by realising that it’s who they are inside that counts. Talking about our individual skills and talents, which is another strong element of the course, means children who are already suffering from a poor body image will be helped by getting compliments from their peers for their unsung qualities – and they’ll also realise they’re not alone, and that others have anxieties as well.”

Healthy eating and anti-obesity messages, though necessary, says Calland, sometimes have a negative effect. “Some children have absorbed the anti-obesity message to such an extent that they dread gaining weight. We’ve spoken to parents who say their children have become obsessive after learning about obesity as an issue in school– and the research shows that even young children identify being fat with being unintelligent, lazy and smelly –something, in other words, to avoid at any price. So we’re giving children part of the picture, but we’re not giving them the whole picture: we’re neglecting the wider landscape and that’s really not fair to the children.”

Hutchinson and Calland’s course at Cheddar Grove, and another Bristol primary school, is currently being evaluated by Dr Emma Halliwell, senior psychology lecturer at the University of the West of England. “We know that simply giving pupils information about eating disorders, usually in secondary school, isn’t helpful,” she says. “We’ve got to tackle these problems in new ways, and I’m looking at whether this course can equip children with the skills they need in the long term.”

Pupils who have been on the course have been questioned about its impact, and will be questioned again before the end of the school year; Halliwell will report her findings in July.

Parents, meanwhile, have been overwhelmingly positive about the classes, according to Cheddar Grove year 5 teacher Lisa Cullin. “We had a parents’ evening a few weeks after the course ended, and lots of the parents said it had prompted discussions at home,” she says.“Year 5 is a perfect age to start dealing with these issues because they’re just starting to get more body aware, and the hormones are just starting to kick in.

“The teaching is quite subtle and age-appropriate, but the children were really shocked by some of what they learned – especially about the advertising industry, and how much manipulation goes on. They still talk about that a lot.”

• For more information on the body image course, see• Body Image in the Primary School, which has resources for teachers, is published by Routledge, price £19.99

Headteachers claim forced academy status is unjustified

Headteachers claim forced academy status is unjustified

guardian.co.uk

Some headteachers feel they have no option but to convert to academy status

Under pressure: headteachers believe the wrong schools are being targeted, but feel they can only speak out anonymously. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Anna Jones* is a headteacher with a proven track record in school improvement. When she joined her Birmingham primary school, it was in special measures. She had brought a previous school out of special measures and was appointed to do the same again. As soon as she arrived, Jones set about an extensive analysis of the gaps in teaching performance and put in place a monitoring programme to check and re-check that pupils’ achievement (progress) and attainment (results) were accurately assessed and targeted for improvement.

The efforts appear to be working. The school is now out of special measures and was deemed “satisfactory” after an Ofsted monitoring visit. It is oversubscribed in some year groups, has 95% attendance, and pupil achievement and attainment are increasing fast. Crucially, internal tracking of progress predicts that, come this summer, the school will pass Ofsted’s newly redrawn Sats floor target, under which 60% of 11-year-olds must reach the standard expected of them in English and maths.

This is a large school in an area of multiple deprivation. Jones pays tribute to her deputies, who, she says, have “worked really hard to pull it up”. Now, she says, “we have quality and improved teaching and learning. We have very robust self-evaluation and our improvement plan is led by that”.

But despite all this, a shellshocked Jones has just been informed that her school is among those that will be forced into academy status. If her governors do not vote to apply for academy status, this will be deemed evidence of “weak leadership”. Existing governors would, she was told, be removed, a section 60 “notice to improve” issued, a new governing body put in place and a sponsor imposed.

The 12-month lag between a school’s most recent published results and its next set of Sats scores is the problem, Jones explains. If Ofsted turns up this term to inspect her school, under the recently redrawn criteria, it would no longer be deemed“satisfactory” because its most recently published results –the Sats tests taken in 2011 – were below the 60% floor level. It’s a matter of timing, Jones notes wryly: this summer, when this year’s validated Sats results come out, her rigorously policed internal tracking of pupil progress indicates that the school will hit the threshold.

Jones is adamantly opposed to becoming an academy, though she says she has no ideological opposition to the model. She says she and her chair of governors have researched the available evidence and nothing they have seen has convinced them that it’s a magic bullet for improving pupil outcomes.

Compounding her lack of confidence in the evidence base foracademies, Jones is concerned that academy schools may further marginalise already vulnerable children; she cites national fixedexclusion figures, which show that permanent exclusions are more than three times higher in academies than in community schools. She also says she has found no compelling evidence that the academies model benefits primary schools, and objects to her pupils being guinea pigs.

After meetings with education department officials, however, Jones has been left in no doubt that opposing the will of the secretary of state would be “career suicide”. “We’re going to have to make this work for us, and exerting some influence over the choice of sponsor is the only way we’re going to have the vaguest of says in this process. It is absolutely outrageous,” she says.

In Birmingham, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) reports that it has been contacted by more than 20 schools to say that they are being forced to become academies against the will of the governing body, headteacher, staff and community. All of those, it says, with one exception, are recording improvement in their internal tracking of pupils’ achievement and attainment.

Birmingham may be the biggest local authority area in the country, but it is only one part of the story. The NAHT’s representative for the West Midlands, Rob Kelsall, says that more than 60 primary schools in his region have contacted him with fears that the DfE will oblige them to “choose” an academy sponsor and make the switch. “The data and trajectory is on the up in almost all of these schools,” he says.

Given this, he says, there is a growing suspicion among heads that the DfE is targeting schools that were failing but are now on the up precisely so that their rising achievement – when the next set of Sats results is published after each school’s switch to academy status – can be claimed as a success for the academies strategy. The DfE says this is “wholly untrue”.

Kelsall, however, believes his members are being picked off and intimidated. In two cases, DfE officials have requested one-to-one meetings with headteachers to discuss restructuring, without even their chair of governors being present.

“It seemed quite out of order,” says Birmingham primary head Joelle Varley. “My chair of governors and the NAHT said no.”

“I totally ignored his request to meet me alone,” says Fiona Fair, another primary head in the Birmingham local authority area.“My governors said ‘we have a school improvement plan and we are moving forward’.”

The DfE does not deny that such meetings have been requested; it says that it always tries to talk to local authorities and heads, but that private meetings with schools have been sought in cases where the local authority “isn’t helping us to make rapid progress”.

Varley may have thought that her own school’s progress from being judged inadequate several years ago to its recent“satisfactory” Ofsted report may have given her, her staff and parents the right to a say over its future. Having arrived as head after the school had experienced significant staffing turbulence and turned it around so that, to her great delight, it hit the 60% floor target last year, Varley says she thought she would be left alone.

But at the start of this year, she was informed that she would be required to “choose” an academy sponsor and make the switch. Increasing pressure, she says, has been brought to bear over several conversations with DfE officials, with hints about what would lie in store for her and the governing body if they mounted any opposition. She sensed she had no option but to comply or be edged out.

“In that first meeting, I asked, are staff’s jobs safe? The answer was ‘it’s up to the sponsor’,” she says. Under TUPE legislation, which guarantees terms and conditions when staff transfer over from one organisation to another, jobs are protected. Staff jobs may be safe, but it appears headteachers may have to fight for their own; the DfE’s line is: “Whilst TUPE does apply, the new sponsor will have a view on the right leadership structure, as this will be critical in driving school improvement. Each project’s leadership structure will therefore need to be decided on its own circumstances.”

Schools can be forced to convert if they are in special measures, or if they have been issued with a section 60 “notice to improve”. Because of this, says Kelsall, there is now enormous anxiety around spot Ofsted inspections. And the rate at which schools are being judged as failing seems to be on the increase, he says. In Staffordshire, Kelsall has counted 31 inspections in one term and 11 schools have gone into special measures. Before, Kelsall believes, the average going into that category was four a year.

Varley and Fair are damning in their condemnation of the lack of support from Birmingham city council’s education officials. They say that out of the five options ratified in Birmingham’s school improvement strategy, the only one offered to them was to become an academy.

Sally Taylor, director of education and skills for Birmingham city council, says officials “do look at what is best for the individual school rather than a one-size-fits-all approach”. She adds: “Birmingham has a number of primary schools that have been under the floor standard for a number of consecutive years and school-to-school support may not result in the rapid improvement needed.

“So for each of these schools with a history of under-performance, where a range of other options have not succeeded, such as changed leadership, local authority support and changed governance, a radical response is needed. Becoming an academy or working with a network of academy schools may be the best way of ensuring sustained improvement.”

Two other nearby councils have taken a stand against the DfE’s preferred option for school improvement. Coventry city council opposes the forced conversion of any school to an academy. And Sandwell council’s cabinet member for children and families, Bob Badham, says they are resisting it. “I can’t guarantee that it’s not going to be imposed upon us, but what we’re doing is putting a very robust case that we don’t think for all schools, especially primaries, academisation is beneficial,” he says.

Becoming an academy will not magically fix all under-performing schools, emphasises Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, but even if it did, the wrong ones are being targeted. “Too many schools that are already on strong upwards trajectories are getting sucked into the scheme by crude analysis of data, thereby interrupting their progress rather than reinforcing it. We desperately need to recognise a wider range of strategies for school improvement and better, more consistent ways of monitoring school performance, or we may end up going backwards.”

The DfE says it takes action to compel academisation only when a school is underperforming. When a school is predicting improvement, it says it makes a case-by-case assessment of their sustainability.

Last week, Michael Gove told the Birmingham Post: “Once a school has been converted to academy status, all the evidence is that it is on a journey to improvement. No school is being threatened with academy status. Schools are being promised the benefits that come from being an academy.”

Varley doesn’t want to, but she’ll open as an academy in September. Fair is playing for time. Jones has ridden an emotional rollercoaster for weeks, and is now resigned to the inevitable.“It’s all about playing the game now, to get the best for my kids,”she says. “I’ve had to put my morals to one side, because this is now the only way forward, but it goes against everything I’ve come into this profession to be.”

* The names of all headteachers and some identifying characteristics have been changed

Education research exists, so why isn’t it used in policymaking?

Education research exists, so why isn’t it used in policymaking?

guardian.co.uk

The EPPSE study, initiated by the Major government, followed the life trajectories of 3,000 children

The EPPSE study, initiated by the Major government, is following the life trajectories of 3,000 children. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Earlier this year, the House of Lords published a long and detailed report on the outwardly rather dry topic of governmentchief scientific advisers. This 100-page report was based on almost 400 pages of evidence and made some important recommendations about how scientific evidence should be acted upon in public policymaking.

I only came across it after being alerted to the submission from Oxford University’s Professor Pam Sammons, who used the government’s free schools as an example of how policies are not always based on robust evidence. She suggested that a more in-depth look at the research would have shown the impact of Swedish free schools and American charters on standards and narrowing the gap is not as clearcut as the 2010 white paper, The Importance of Teaching, suggests, and that such policy initiatives should be piloted before being rolled out.

This is not to suggest that the Department for Education doesn’t do research. Indeed the department’s website boasts proudly that £24.7m was spent between 2010 and 2011. And even if the results are cherrypicked, or ignored, it is a valuable resource. One of its most significant projects is the EPPSE(Effective Pre-school, Primary & Secondary Education) study, which I have dipped into repeatedly in the last 10 years. This study, initiated by the Major government, started the painstaking task of following the life trajectories of 3,000 children in the first year of the Blair government and has been producing detailed reports ever since. A running theme has been the factors in and out of school that help to reduce inequality. One of its latest papers,Performing Against the Odds, goes to the heart of the debate about social mobility by looking at why it is that some children from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed against the odds.

All the EPPSE papers are clear about the impact of good teaching, relationships between pupils and teachers and why schools matter. In this report, extra help for children who are falling behind appears critical. But they are equally clear that schools alone can’t compensate for the inequalities in society. High-quality early-years provision, self-esteem, communities, social networks, peer group and enrichment opportunities form a complex web of “risky” and “protective” factors for children.

But the home and parenting may trump the rest in determining whether children thrive. Encouraging, consistent parents and a stimulating home-learning environment help children to develop self-esteem, aspiration and resilience and this is by no means totally down to family income. The researchers talk of visiting homes where the heating was off, where light bulbs and tea bags were a luxury, but where expectation and belief in the children was high.

So why do we never hear about this any more? In the last few years of the Labour government , parenting was a high-profile and controversial subject. I took part in many debates about whether the state should intervene in the private family domain; whether parenting support should be a default model for the most disadvantaged children or a universal offer to acknowledge that wealth doesn’t necessarily equal a supportive home and whether dawn-to-dusk childcare would turn children into delinquent yobs.

But derided as they were, initiatives like the Blair “baby Asbo”, children’s centres and parenting-support advisers were a recognition that intervening and offering support to vulnerable families (even before birth) might help to improve outcomes for their children. Whether you agreed with them or not, it was important that these issues were being debated publicly.

Many schools continue to invest in enrichment, extended services and parenting support, but with difficulty, given the funding situation. But the overly simplistic narrative that synthetic phonics, a focus on five academic GCSEs, rigid discipline and doffing your cap at the teacher will give every working-class child the chance to go to Oxbridge is pulling in the other direction. If only it were that simple. The conclusion of the House of Lords report was that government scientific advisers needed to have status, be independent, challenging and be able to introduce evidence at every stage of the policy process. I would endorse all of that and suggest that for the DfE the findings in this study would be a very good place to start.

Head teachers attack chief inspector’s ‘culture of fear’

Head teachers attack chief inspector’s ‘culture of fear’

BBC |May 6, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News education reporter in Harrogate
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Head teachers have accused England’s chief inspector of schools of “bully boy tactics”against their profession.

The National Association of Head Teachers said it would have expected more from Sir Michael Wilshaw, a former head himself.

The NAHT said it was “both saddened and dismayed” by Sir Michael’s “negative rhetoric” and said his support was needed to help teachers and pupils.

Ofsted said the intention was to work closely with good heads.

Oxfordshire head teacher Mike Curtis proposed a motion at the NAHT conference in Harrogate saying the conference was “saddened and dismayed” by the approach taken by Mr Wilshaw.

Introducing the motion, he said: “Can we really put our trust in Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector? I suggest not.

“Successful careers are damaged or destroyed on a daily basis as more schools are put into categories.

“Fear reigns and confidence wanes as Ofsted waves its stick. We must stand up to the bully-boy tactics of Michael Wilshaw.

“We need to send a strong message to Michael Wilshaw to say that we have had enough.

“We deplore his negative rhetoric which is demoralising our members and is creating a climate of fear in schools.”

Strained relations

On Saturday, delegates put forward a late motion for discussion which called for a vote of no confidence in the chief inspector.

However, after debate, the NAHT decided the wording of it was too strong and amounted to the same sort of bullying rhetoric they were criticising.

Overnight, the association drew up a new motion which was put before members on Sunday morning.

The NAHT voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new motion, with 98.9% voting yes.

The motion represents a further straining of relationships between the NAHT and Ofsted, coming just days after the association raised concerns about the quality and impartiality of school inspections.

A poll of over 2,000 school leaders, conducted by the union, found almost half (45.3%) believed Ofsted made no contribution to, or actively prevented, standards being raised.

Nine in 10 (89.9%) were either unhappy or very unhappy about the tone and content of recent announcements by the watchdog.

Ofsted has recently announced plans – that are currently out for consultation -, to introduce no-notice inspections for all schools and to scrap the “satisfactory” rating and replace it with“requires improvement”.

‘Intolerable stress’

Vice-president of the NAHT and Staffordshire primary school head teacher Bernadette Hunter said Ofsted was putting an “intolerable amount of stress” on heads.

Ms Hunter said the “horrible rhetoric” from the schools watchdog was putting people off becoming head teachers.

“We are saddened by Sir Michael, especially as he was a head once.”

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said: “Ofsted has been listening to the views of head teachers, teacher and parents about its proposed changes to school inspections and will announce the results of its consultation at the end of the month.

“The intention is to work closely with good heads as they drive improvement in their schools.”

Inspection U-turn

The debate comes despite Education Secretary Michael Gove signalling a U-turn over Sir Michael’s plans for no-notice inspections of schools from September.

Addressing the conference on Saturday morning, Mr Gove said the proposals were likely to be dropped.

The plans, announced by Sir Michael in January, caused anger among head teachers, who currently receive 48 hours’ notice.

The NAHT welcomed Mr Gove’s speech, saying heads had a right to make sure they were on site for inspections.

Sir Michael took up his post in January. He was previously executive head of Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, east London.

Heads threaten reading test boycott

Heads threaten reading test boycott

BBC |May 6, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News, NAHT conference in Harrogate
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Head teachers could boycott a controversial new reading test for six-year-olds in England if it is used as “a stick to beat schools”.

The National Association of Head Teachers said the initiative should only be used as a genuine test to assess pupils, rather than to measure schools.

The NAHT said schools were already proficient in testing pupils’reading.

The Government says it will help identify children who need extra help.

The phonics reading checks will be used for children at the end of Year 1 from June and are expected to take five to 10 minutes.

Children will be asked to read 20 words and 20 “made-up words”such as “zog” or “vot” to their teachers.

The check is aimed at measuring whether pupils have a good understanding of phonics – the sounds of letters and groups of letters – which the government says is the key to helping children to read.

‘Genuine test’

Proposing a motion calling for a “fairer and more purposeful system of assessment”, Yorkshire head teacher Jane Gilmour said schools should be able to choose whether to do it, rather than have it imposed.

“We need a balanced approach to teaching reading, not one driven by fear of tests,” she said.

“If the intention is to improve reading, let’s stop wasting money on a blanket test.”

The motion was overwhelmingly carried.

Later, in his address to the NAHT conference in Harrogate, general secretary Russell Hobby said: “We fear that the pass rate for the new phonics screening check will be set at an arbitrary high level in order to fuel headlines about children failing to learn to read.

“There is not yet a robust evidence base for any particular pass rate.

“We don’t see the need for this screening check – it is inferior to what most schools do already – but if it is to happen it should be used as a genuine diagnostic test, not a stick to beat schools with.

“And if it is used to attack rather than assess, that will be the end of the screening check as far as the NAHT is concerned.

“And we will happily work with our colleagues in other unions like NUT to frustrate its further application.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We have been clear that the results for the reading check will not be published in league tables.

“Schools will be required to tell parents their own child’s results.”

Parents

Mr Hobby also told heads that winning the backing of parents was the best way to challenge government policy.

“The hardest lesson I have learned over the last 18 months is that, to put it bluntly, we are talking to the wrong people.

“Traditionally, public sector trade unions have faced off -positively or negatively – towards the government.

“Our target must be public opinion. And, in our existing close relationship with parents and families… we have a massive opportunity.

“In this age of criticism of schools and the people who work in them, we need to blow our own trumpet and talk about the massive achievements we have made.

“Therefore, as you already do in your schools, NAHT itself must listen to and talk to parents and families, to champion their concerns as well as its own; to give them the information they need and treat them as partners – not merely consumers – in education.”

Parents ‘more involved in children’s schools’

Parents ‘more involved in children’s schools’

BBC |May 5, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News, NAHT conference in Harrogate
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Parents believe they are more involved in their children’s education than their own parents were – and that children now have more opportunities in school, suggests a survey.

The survey for the National Association of Head Teachers looked at how parents viewed their children’s schooling.

Almost three quarters believed they were more engaged with their children’s school than the previous generation.

Head teachers’ leader Russell Hobby said the results were“heartening”.

Mr Hobby said the poll of over 1,000 parents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland suggested the schools were “welcoming places”.

‘Part of community’

The survey found that 71% of parents believed that they were more involved in their children’s school than their parents had been during their school days.

Comparing standards, 86% of respondents agreed with the statement that their child could read as well as they could at the age of 11 and 37% thought their child could read better.

The survey also found parents were encouraged to take part in their children’s schooling.

Of those surveyed, 93% said they were made to feel welcome at schools and 89% felt they were made to feel part of the school community.

Nine out of 10 were impressed by the behaviour of pupils at the school and 52% thought the school was good at building up their children’s self-confidence, while 25% said the school was outstanding in this area.

Over half (54%) thought the school was good at providing moral guidance, while 23% rated the school as outstanding.

The poll found 81% had read a school inspection report, but 51% thought the reports did not tell the whole story about a school.

The poll also suggests parents are happy with standards at their children’s school, with 85% saying their children’s school offered good or outstanding quality of teaching.

‘Respect and trust’

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: “This feedback shows that schools retain the respect and trust of the communities they serve.

“It’s also heartening to see that families feel schools are welcoming places which are also well disciplined, aware of their moral responsibilities and ambitious for their children.

“Parents know what they want from a good school and it seems most of them are getting it, which is something to celebrate.

“Helping schools to build on what they are getting right and helping them develop areas where they could do better is ultimately what will secure an education system that gets the best from every pupil.”

The survey of 1,010 parents of children aged between five and 13 was carried out in April.

Michael Gove in U-turn over unannounced Ofsted inspections

Michael Gove in U-turn over unannounced Ofsted inspections

guardian.co.uk

Michael Gove

Education secretary Michael Gove angered teaching unions with proposals to allow no-notice Ofsted inspections. Photograph: David Jones/PA

The education secretary Michael Gove has signalled a U-turn over plans for schools to face unannounced inspections following protests from headteachers.

In an apparent concession to school leaders, Gove suggested thatOfsted’s proposals for no-notice visits could be dropped.

Addressing the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) annual conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, the minister acknowledged there was a perception that Ofsted has become “an arm of the Spanish Inquisition”, storming in to deal with problems.

He told delegates there was a particular concern that “people fear it [no-notice inspection] sends a message that we don’t trust the profession, that Ofsted has become an arm of the Spanish Inquisition or Sean Connery’s Untouchables, that they have to be ready to storm in without any notice in order to deal with something that has gone drastically wrong. That was never the intention.”

Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw announced proposals for no-notice inspections in January, saying it was vital that the public has “absolute confidence” in the integrity of inspections.

But Gove said the government’s plans would take into account that “teachers and heads deserve to have the chance to know when an Ofsted inspection is coming and to be there in order to present the best face of the school”.

He added that the chief inspector would soon outline how notice of inspections is given to schools.

The proposals for no-notice inspections, which are currently under consultation, were announced following concerns that some schools were attempting to trick Ofsted by using tactics such as sending weak teachers and unruly pupils home during inspections.

But teaching unions raised concerns about the proposals, saying headteachers should be given notice to ensure they can be at their school when inspectors arrive.

Under the current system, schools get 48 hours notice before an inspection.

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