England’s schools ‘letting down brightest pupils’

England’s schools ‘letting down brightest pupils’

BBC |July 5, 2012

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England is neglecting its brightest children, leaving them lagging far behind their peers overseas in top level maths scores, a report says.

The Sutton Trust study shows teenagers in England are half as likely as those in the average developed nation to reach higher levels in maths.

Brighter pupils are more likely to go to private or grammar schools rather than other state schools, it adds.

The government said it wanted to “restore academic rigour” to schools.

Researchers at the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University examined the proportions of pupils achieving the highest levels in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tests.

‘Deeply troubling’

The PISA tests (Programme for International Student Assessment) compare the performance of pupils in different countries in subjects such as reading and maths. The latest results date back to 2009.

The report found that just 1.7% of England’s 15-year-olds reached the highest level, Level 6, in maths, compared with an OECD average of 3.1%.

In Switzerland and Korea, 7.8% of pupils reached this level.

Overall, England ranked 26th out of 34 OECD countries for the proportion of pupils reaching the top level in maths, behind other nations like Slovenia (3.9%), the Slovak Republic (3.6%) France (3.3%) and the Czech Republic (3.2%), which were among those scoring around the OECD average.

The report adds that the situation looks worse for England when a wider global comparison is used.

Singapore, which is not part of the OECD table analysed, saw 15.6% of its students score the top level, while in Hong Kong and Shanghai, which were also not part of the OECD table, 10.8% and 26.6% respectively got the top level.

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: “This is a deeply troubling picture for any us who care about our brightest pupils from non-privileged backgrounds.”

The study also suggests that comparing the maths results of 18-year-olds would be even more stark because 90% of English pupils drop the subject after GCSE.

Whereas in many other countries, maths is compulsory up to the age of 18.

The report argues that England is falling down international tables because of successive failures to help the most able pupils.

It calls for bright children to be identified at the end of primary school, with their achievements and progress tracked from then on.

‘Profound concerns’

It says there should also be tougher questions in exams to allow bright youngsters to stretch themselves and show their abilities.

Sir Peter said: “These are shocking findings that raise profound concerns about how well we support our most academically-able pupils, from non-privileged backgrounds.

“Excellence in maths is crucial in so many areas such as science, engineering, IT, economics and finance. These figures show that few bright non-privileged students reach their academic potential – which is unfair and a tragedy for them and the country as a whole.”

Report author Prof Alan Smithers said recent education policy for the brightest had been a mess.

“The government should signal to schools the importance of educating the brightest through how it holds the schools to account.

“At present the accountability measures are pitched at the weakest and middling performers,” he added.

Education Secretary Michael Gove added: “We already knew that under Labour we plummeted down the international league tables in maths.

“Now we see further evidence that they betrayed bright children from poor backgrounds and – worst of all – that their policies drove talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds away from the subjects that employers and universities value most.”

Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said: “Results for all pupils, including the brightest, improved under Labour.

“While there are always improvements that could be made, gifted and talented pupils were stretched through a National Academy, targeted scholarships and a new A* grade at A-level.

“While we want to see bright pupils stretched, this can’t be at the expense of leaving some behind. Michael Gove’s plans will create a two tier exam system, which will do nothing to help all pupils make the most of their potential.”

Nasuwt teaching union head Chris Keates said the tests used to draw the comparisons, and the way children prepare for them, differed between countries.

“Their conclusions raise more questions than they answer. They are not comparing like with like.

“The education systems are different. The pupils taking the tests are selected differently. Some countries do nothing but prepare for the tests for months. Some, like Shanghai may not enter a pupil sample generally reflective of the student population and use crammer sessions to prepare.”

‘Buried’ report praised Labour’s school building programme

‘Buried’ report praised Labour’s school building programme

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar on July 5, 2012

Schoolchildren at the Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol

Schoolchildren at the Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol at work in a classroom constructed under the Building Schools for the Future programme and opened in January 2009. The programme was given a glowing report. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty

Ministers are being accused of suppressing a glowing report about Labour’s school renovation programme, Building Schools for the Future, which was controversially scrapped by the education secretary Michael Gove.

The report, which has now been disclosed under Freedom of Information legislation, says that schools rebuilt under BSF showed “significant” improvements in exam results and declining truancy.

The report was drawn up by Partnerships for Schools, the quango which oversaw the mammoth school building programme, in September 2010.

Gove scrapped BSF in July 2010, two months after the general election, telling the Commons the scheme had been characterised by “massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy”.

At the time, the minister said there was “no firm evidence” of improved results as a result of school renovation. But the evaluation of BSF found that at 62% of the schools sampled, GCSE results were improving at a rate that was above the national average. Attendance improved in 73% of the schools.

The report said: “There are clear patterns of improvement that compare favourably with both local and national data. The patterns are significant and need further investigation to provide explanations about the impact of the BSF process.”

Rebuilding was one of a “number of interventions” in the schools concerned, the study said. The report, drawn up by the now-defunct Partnerships for Schools, was not published and the Department for Education did not carry out any further research. The quango has been scrapped by Gove.

The evalution has been disclosed following an FOI request by Building magazine.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: “[David] Cameron promised this government would herald a new era of transparency, but Michael Gove seems to have missed the memo. He should explain why this report seems to have been buried by the Department for Education.If we are to raise school standards, policy should be driven by evidence not the personal prejudice of ministers.” Twigg said that while the quality of teaching was “by far the most important factor” for school success, the research suggested a link between the quality of school buildings and the quality of education.

The government has come under criticism for pursuing policies despite a lack of evidence that they work. The Department for Work and Pensions expanded a scheme requiring unemployed people to do unpaid work, despite its own study concluding that the programme had “no impact on the likelihood of being employed”.

Nusrat Faizullah, chief executive of the British Council for School Environments, an education charity, said it was vital to evaluate the success of building projects to make future decisions about renovating schools.

“We can see no good reasons for suppressing evaluation data about school buildings.

“Our worry is that the decision to deny access to this information is driven by politics. Is this government anxious about giving credit to new or refurbished schools funded by the last government? This should be about what works for our communities, not about political point scoring.”

More than 700 school building projects were cancelled when BSF was scrapped. In May, the DfE announced that 261 schools had made successful bids under the coalition’s privately financed Priority School Building Programme. This is fewer than half of the number that applied for rebuilds.

The government has commissioned a survey of the school estate which will detail the condition of every school in England by next autumn.

There is widespread concern among headteachers that the country’s classrooms are not fit for purpose, with complaints of overcrowding, leaking ceilings and poor ventilation.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Our priority is to deliver robust standards and high quality teaching to all pupils. As well as launching the Priority Schools Building Programme we are providing extra capital investment to support the provision of new school places and meet essential maintenance needs.”

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City scheme challenges academies

City scheme challenges academies

BBC |July 5, 2012

By Judith  BurnsEducation reporter BBC News
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The government has been urged to reconsider whether sponsored academies are the best way to boost weak schools.

Figures suggest results in England’s sponsored academies rose more slowly than in some other poor performing schools, a study claims.

Researchers at London Metropolitan University said results rose fastest in schools in the City Challenge programme which ran in some areas until 2011.

The government said: “We are building on the best of what we had before.”

City Challenge ran in London, Manchester and the Black Country from 2008 to 2011. In the capital, a  similar programme, The London Challenge began in 2003.

‘Poorest performing’

The researchers, from the Institute of Policy Studies in Education at London Metropolitan University, drew on government data to compare GCSE improvement rates for the poorest-performing fifth of schools between 2008 and 2011.

These were schools where in 2008 fewer than 32% of pupils achieved five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths.

The research team says its analysis suggests that pupil attainment in the underperforming schools supported by City Challenge improved significantly more than it did in other weak schools, including sponsored academies.

By 2011, the secondary schools that had been in City Challenge programmes improved their exam results by 4% more than schools, including sponsored academies, that had not, says the study.

Some of the secondary schools supported by City Challenge programmes subsequently became sponsored academies, but they did not improve significantly more than other schools supported by the scheme, the researchers found.

Lead author Professor Merryn Hutchings told BBC News: “What we are showing is that there is an effective way to improve schools through support and expert advice as happened with City Challenge.

“The current government’s policy is to turn weak schools into sponsored academies. Our data suggests that this has been effective only in those schools that had previously been supported through City Challenge.”

The report, Evaluation of the City Challenge Programme, was commissioned by the Department for Education.

City Challenge was designed to “crack the associated cycle of disadvantage and underachievement” by reducing the number of underperforming schools, increasing the number of good and outstanding schools and improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children, says the report.

The report defines the programme’s strategy as providing external experts to work alongside existing head teachers to assess each school’s individual needs and to set up bespoke support programmes which included mentoring by head teachers from better performing schools.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “For too long children from the poorest backgrounds have been left with the worst schools.

“We are building on the best of what we had before. We have introduced the Pupil Premium to ensure every school is equipped to support pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. The Pupil Premium has increased to £600 and been extended to many more children.

“We are also transforming the worst-performing schools with new leadership as academies and free schools.

“This gives parents and teachers the power to make decisions that are right for local children. The most recent data available shows that the attainment rate for pupils on free school meals in academies improved by 8.3 percentage points between 2009 and 2010.”

The report says that programme was particularly successful in London where it ran for eight years, first as the London Challenge and later as City Challenge.

According to the researchers, London schools now perform well above the national average while pupils on free school meals do better than in any other region.

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