Gordon Brown given UN education role

Gordon Brown given UN education role

BBC |July 13, 2012

By Sean Coughlan| BBC News education correspondent

Former prime minister Gordon Brown is to become a global education envoy for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Mr Brown’s aim is to see 61 million more children enrolled into education across the world by 2015.

Since leaving office in 2010, the former UK prime minister has produced a series of reports on education in developing countries.

Earlier this year he launched a campaign for an international fund to bring education to all children.

Mr Brown said his new role would be a “great privilege”.

“Ensuring that every child in the world has the opportunity to go to school and to learn is a longstanding passion of mine,” said Mr Brown.

“Education breaks the cycle of poverty and unlocks better health and better job prospects.”

Global goals

The announcement, made in New York, means Mr Brown becomes a UN envoy – supporting UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.

This unpaid position is the first big job for the former prime minister since he left Downing Street two years ago.

But it does not mean that he will be leaving domestic politics.

His office told the BBC that Mr Brown definitely remained the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

That could lead to further criticism from those who have attacked him for attending few debates and voting in Parliament on only a handful of occasions.

He joins the likes of the former US President, Bill Clinton, and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Mr Brown has been campaigning in support of the millennium development goal that by 2015 all children should have access to at least a primary school education.

While it seems increasingly likely that some of the millennium goals will be missed, Mr Brown has called on the international community to try to keep its pledge on primary education.

Mr Brown earlier this year published a report warning of the “silent emergency” of millions of children not receiving any education – and called for an urgent investment to change this.

He reported that in South Sudan, girls were more likely to die in childbirth than complete a primary school education.

Mr Brown says he wants to support the UN secretary-general’s initiative, Education First, which aims to prioritise education within development projects.

“Enrolling an additional 61 million children and ensuring a quality education for all by the end of 2015 will not be easy – but it is a goal which, working together, we can achieve,” says Mr Brown.

Mr Brown has worked with his wife Sarah on a number of international education projects, including promoting the cause of children in conflict zones who miss out on education.

In a report on South Sudan published in April, he said that more than 40% of the world’s children missing out on education lived in “fragile states” or those affected by violence.

He warned that at present, only 2% of humanitarian aid goes into education.

Mr Brown has said he will continue to serve as MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

Gove turns down group’s bid for extra education funding

Gove turns down group’s bid for extra education funding

BBC |July 13, 2012

By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter

A group of England’s lowest-funded local education authorities has had its bid for extra funding turned down by the Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Schools run by members of the group, known as f40, get up to £600 less in basic grant per pupil than the local council average.

They had asked for £99m to share between them until a new national funding formula is introduced in 2015.

Turning them down, Mr Gove blamed the economic situation.

The group heard the decision just days before Mr Gove announced approval for about 100 new free schools.

‘Economic situation’

In a letter to the group’s chairman, Councillor Ivan Ould, Mr Gove said: “I am very sympathetic to the case you and your colleagues put forward.

“I agree the current system for funding schools is out of date and complex, and that is why I have committed to introducing a new National Funding Formula.”

He continued: “It is important that we move to a new formula gradually and at a pace which schools can manage.”

He said it was important to consider any changes carefully and get the new formula right.

He added that because of the “reality of the current economic situation” any extra funds would have had to have come from elsewhere in the funding system.

The government has indicated the new funding formula will not be introduced during the current parliament.

‘Fairer funding’

But group secretary Doug Allen said what made the news particularly difficult was coverage of grants to free schools.

“I read recently that Mr Gove is giving £2m to a school in Beccles for a small number of pupils.

“You have to question where is the sense in that, where is all that extra money coming from?”

He added that the campaign for fairer funding had been going on for 20 years under governments of all descriptions.

But this was the first time that the group felt they had won the argument, he said.

The group was asked specifically by Mr Gove in March to produce some financial modelling to show how the issue could be addressed.

He highlighted the disparities in funding using the example of schools close to each other in Leicester City and Leicestershire.

“You could be living in one street and go to a school in Leicestershire that gets £800 per pupil less than the one someone else in that street goes to because it is a Leicester city school.”

He said similar discrepancies existed between the East Riding of Yorkshire and Hull, and Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.

Education and skills have long-term effect on cities’ economic well being

Education and skills have long-term effect on cities’ economic well being

guardian.co.uk |by Robert Booth on July 12, 2012

closed coal mine, barnsley

People living in former coalfield communities of Barnsley are facing a battle against poverty today. In 1901, the town was in the bottom 20 for skills levels. Photograph: John Giles/PA

The long-term economic health of towns and cities rests on investment in citizens’ skills and professional qualifications, according to a study published on Thursday examining the effects of 111 years of change in urban life in England and Wales.

Cities with the highest numbers of well-trained and educated residents in 1901 are found to be among the best performing places today, while those with the lowest skills base in Edwardian times tend to be the most vulnerable economies today, according to the research by the Centre for Cities thinktank.

The report’s authors claimed the research has significant implications for policymakers and “illustrates that short-term cuts in expenditure on the policies that support cities to boost skills, from education to transport infrastructure, are likely to result in a big bill for government in the medium to longer term”.

Seven out of eight of the best performing cities today had above average skills levels in 1901, including Oxford, Brighton, Crawley and London, the study found. Meanwhile 80% of cities with struggling economies today fell into the bottom 20 cities for skills levels in 1901, including Grimsby, Middlesbrough, Barnsley, Stoke and Burnley. Figures for 1901 were collated using census data and the figures for today are based on national statistics and government data.

“History tells us that failure to invest in city economies has long-term effects for the UK economy,” said Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities. “The government needs to preference the policies that support cities to grow – the research shows that skills and transport in particular can shape the economic health of a city. Ensuring the education system prepares children for the world of work when they leave school is vital for those children and for the future health of the UK economy.”

The thinktank is urging the government to combine investment in core literacy, numeracy and IT skills with investment in technical courses such as engineering, a skill it warns is likely to be in shortage over the next decade.

The health of economies was assessed in 2010 using a range of factors including economic output, growth in private sector jobs, unemployment and wages. Skills levels in 1901 were based on numbers in professional occupations such as banking, insurance, accountancy, as well as merchants, and commercial and business clerks.

The study found that cities like Preston, Warrington and Swindon have progressed much more quickly than others. For example, the skills of Warrington’s population are more highly developed now than in 1901, when it was in the bottom 5% of cities. Now it falls within the top 20% of cities for skills and according to the thinktank’s index of economic indicators. The report’s authors attribute the trend to state investment in transport networks, both road and rail.

The balance of power between cities was dramatically different at the turn of the century, according to the analysis. The coastal towns and cities of Southend, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Hastings and Brighton had the highest number of people in higher wage occupations, while Bournemouth, London and Blackpool had the highest property values per member of the population. The city with the most joint stock companies per head of population, a measure of enterprise, was not London, but Cardiff, followed by Bradford and then London. Liverpool, which was described by Benjamin Disraeli as the “second city of the Empire”, was ranked as one of the most economically buoyant in 1901 but by 2011 it tanked among the 20% worst performing in the UK.

Headteachers signed up by ministry to praise Gove’s free school policies

Headteachers signed up by ministry to praise Gove’s free school policies

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar on July 11, 2012

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Michael Gove

Education secretary Michael Gove is due to announce the next wave of free schools soon. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Civil servants at the Department for Education were asked by Michael Gove’s advisers to enlist sympathetic headteachers who could act as defenders of controversial government policies, including the creation of free schools.

The PR operation involved creating a database of sympathisers who could advocate policy instead of ministers. Quotes from headteachers on the database were added to official announcements. It was shut down amid concern that it risked politicising the civil service.

The education secretary, who is due to announce the next wave of free schools imminently, has faced mounting criticism in recent weeks.

The Stakeholder and Advocacy team was established within the DfE last April as the government prepared for the opening of the first free schools.

One source with knowledge of the operation said: “It was just a pretty simple database: anyone supportive of free schools or academies or back-to-basics 1950s schooling was just dumped on the database, you could roll them out with an announcement – to back it. It was all driven by spads [special advisers].”

The new drive marked a shift from the traditional civil service method of using data to back government announcements, the source said. “DfE [in the past] would just put out loads of data; Tory spads were from a softer PR background and wanted to use case studies.”

The aim was to have headteachers advancing policy rather than ministers, the source said.

Headteachers on the list included Patricia Sowter, head of an academy school, who spoke before Gove at the Conservative party conference in 2010.

Press releases from the DfE in the past year have frequently included supportive quotes from headteachers. An announcement about the new school admissions code had a quote from Rob McDonough, headteacher at West Bridgford school in Nottingham, which read: “I very much welcome the direction of change. Through greater school autonomy, and the academies programme, which will positively impact upon standards, I do believe this will increase the supply of good school places for parents.”

McDonough told the Guardian: “In that particular instance, I had as a headteacher been invited to work on the working party looking at the new admissions code. The fact that as a practising headteacher I’d been offered the opportunity to look at all the new admissions proposals, I was very appreciative of that. If they’re putting my name to that on a press release, it’s justified.”

External endorsement has been an important source of support at a time when Gove faces intense criticism. The education secretary’s proposed reforms have been attacked by senior figures including Lord Adonis, the former schools minister, and the director of the Institute of Education, Chris Husbands.

Gove is due to announce which free schools are approved to open in September 2013 before parliament rises on 17 July.

While the Labour government also sought out supportive headteachers, Gove’s team wanted to put this PR operation on a formal footing, another source said. The operation was closed down amid concern about how the people on the database were selected, and that civil servants were being asked to do work that was the province of special advisers. The civil service is required to be politically impartial while special advisers assist ministers in areas where the work of the government and governing party overlap.

“If you were being uncharitable you could say it was using civil servants to wheel out Tory supporters,” a source said.

Civil servants would be encouraged to add names to the list by ministerial aides who said: “This guy’s good, we know him from Tory circles.”

In response to questions in parliament from the Labour MP Lisa Nandy, the government confirmed the team was intended to “improve relationships and build understanding of the department’s policies with key stakeholders”.

Nandy said: “I asked these questions because I was increasingly concerned about the politicisation of the civil service. It has been incredibly difficult to get answers to parliamentary questions and FOI requests out of the DfE, and particularly in relation to this group on why it was disbanded so suddenly.

“If you set that within the wider context of the last two years – public money awarded without a proper tendering process to an organisation run by a former [Gove] adviser, Tory donors brought on to the board of the Department for Education, an outside body linked to the Tory party directing civil servants, and private emails used to discuss official business – it seems there is a blurring of boundaries between the Conservative party and the civil service, which is a significant cause for concern, and deserves answers.”

The PR drive was established after the media strategist James Frayne was appointed Gove’s director of communications. Frayne, a former campaigns director at the Taxpayers’ Alliance,  has written about the importance of “mobilising third parties”.

Frayne is leaving the DfE post at the end of August to work for the Republicans in this year’s US presidential elections.

A DfE spokesman said: “The Stakeholder and Advocacy Team was created in the spring of 2011 and existed for just over six months. In that time it helped stage events on the curriculum and on maths and science policy. It also generated lists of interested parties that were invited to events and kept informed about departmental policy. It was closed as part of a restructure which halved the size of the communications team.

“All civil servants operate under the civil service code. Any substantive allegations of breaches of the code would be investigated in the usual way.”

Well-being and education “go together”

Well-being and education “go together”

BBC |July 5, 2012

By Angela Harrison Education correspondent, BBC News
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People who are better educated are more likely to say they are satisfied with their lives, a study suggests.

And they are more likely to say that the things they do are worthwhile, according to research by the Office for National Statistics.

The study is part of a £2m project launched by the prime minister to try to measure people’s happiness and well-being.

It does not say education necessarily leads to happiness.

The researchers point out that many other factors affect the way people feel, including someone’s age, health, income and job.

The study also shows that over time, the UK’s population has become better-educated.

Between 1993 and 2011, the proportion of adults aged 16 to 64 without any formal educational qualifications has more than halved from 27% to 11%, it says.

Meanwhile, the proportion with a degree or equivalent qualification has more than doubled from 11% to 24%.

Among people with A-level or higher qualifications, 81% rated their overall satisfaction with life as seven out of 10 or more.

And 85% felt similarly positive about how worthwhile they felt the things they were doing were.

Among those who left school with no qualifications, 64% rated their happiness with life as seven out of 10 or higher.

Poverty gap

The researchers also quote from a study of the British Household Survey which found that people who were learning part-time in evening classes or in other ways were more likely to rate their well-being as high.

And they point out that in England, while three-quarters of children from the richest families achieve five good GCSE passes (A* to C), only one in five from the poorest homes do so.

The report is one in a series about well-being from the ONS.

It is part of £2m national consultation launched by the prime minister in autumn 2010 aimed at working out how best to measure the nation’s happiness.

David Cameron said he wanted more research on what mattered most to people, saying this could help shape future policy and gauge the effect of government action on people’s well-being and quality of life.

The Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair had also looked at the idea of creating what is often called a “happiness index”.

Do smart devices make smart kids?

Do smart devices make smart kids?

bbc.com  6 July 2012 Last updated at 05:24 GMT

By Jane Wakefield Technology reporter
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I grew up with Ladybird books. They looked pretty old-fashioned when I was reading them and they seem to belong to a bygone age in the era of iPads and e-books.

These days, with the toddler acknowledged as the family’s tablet expert, children often learn to navigate the internet before they learn to read.

But are smart screens making our children smarter or simply creating a new generation of “square eyes”?

In the US most young children have access to a touch-screen device and, according to Daniel Anderson, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, using these devices could be more addictive than watching television.

A young child will look away from a TV screen about 150 times an hour, but a well-designed iPad app is more engaging because the child is touching the screen to generate actions.

  Reading crisis       Book or e-book reader? Which is best?

Half of all US 10-year-olds read poorly, according to Dr Michael Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which was set up to research how digital media impact on learning.

One of the centre’s studies, using an iPod Touch, found that the vocabulary of 13 five-year-olds improved by an average of 27% after using an educational app called Martha Speaks.

Another study, using a different educational app, had a similar result, with three-year-olds showing a 17% gain.

Its latest research compared how children learned using traditional books versus e-readers.

The conclusion was that for young children traditional books were more effective in focusing attention on literacy skills while e-readers helped older children maintain attention and excitement with books.

But even then the picture is complicated.

“Children may be distracted by the bells and whistles of enhanced e-books. They may be engaged but many are not comprehending as much,” said Dr Levine.

“It depends on the context and content, but e-readers aren’t going to solve the reading crisis.”

  Book power

The idea that apps and touch screens are now constant companions for young readers was the inspiration for MagicTown, a fantasy world built around classic children’s books such as Elmer, Winnie The Witch and Little Princess.

The site is trying to bridge the gap between the screen-based digital world and a time when families gathered around to listen to stories.

Every time a child listens to a story, they create a new house in the town.

They can choose a variety of modes for stories, from basic listening to modules that require them to participate in the story.

Even in the web age, stories maintain their power said David Begg, chief executive officer and co-founder.

“Story is the best medium to teach children. From the village elder importing stories from generation to generation, it is how people learn about emotions, morals and the structure of society,” he said.

In Magic Town the village elder is a lion called Louis who will tell different stories to children daily.

The tree at the centre of the town grows more leaves the more stories listened to and withers if none are read.

“It is not about ramming books down kids throats but about engaging them,” said Mr Begg.

“We wanted it to be something that parents think is valuable for their children,” he added.

  Screen learning       Not all children have access to books at home

The model of children learning alongside adults is thought to be the ideal, but in parts of the world with low literacy rates it is simply not possible.

In such places, the screen may take the place of a parent or teacher.

Prof Sugata Mitra, whose “hole-in-the-wall” terminals offered children living in the slums of India their first experience of computers.

Now, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Education, he is experimenting with teaching children to read without adult intervention.

“We are trying to find out if children can learn to read by themselves,” he said.

He and his team have created reading software which has been installed on computers in three villages in central India, one in West Bengal, plus in a slum school and household in Calcutta.

The trial runs until the end of the year.

“The field reports so far are exciting. Children are starting to read already,” said Prof Mitra.

Just how technology can be harnessed to help children learn in better ways may be unclear, but it is obvious children’s perception of books has radically altered.

“Really young children look at a real book and think that it is electronic. They try to swipe it and think it is broken when nothing happens,” said Dr Levine.

Governors hit back at Gove’s ‘badge of status’ comments

Governors hit back at Gove’s ‘badge of status’ comments

BBC |July 6, 2012

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Governors have hit back at the education secretary’s claims that they can be “local worthies” who view their post as a “badge of status not of work”.

Michael Gove said in a recent speech that he wanted to speed up reforms to school governance in England.

Head of the National Governors’ Association Emma Knights said there was not status in being a governor.

Most governors volunteer because they want to give something back, she added.

She told BBC News: “There are very few people who do it for a badge of status. There isn’t even any status in being a school governor.

“In fact what you find is that people volunteer because they want to give something back to their community. They’re interested in children and whether children are getting a good deal.”

‘Local worthies’She said her organisation was “incredibly disappointed by the language of the secretary of state”, adding that she had been in discussions with his department over how governors could best be supported.

She said Mr Gove had focussed on the minority of governing bodies who do not do a good job.

Ms Knights was speaking after Mr Gove said in a speech in London that he wanted to speed up reforms to school governance.

“All too sadly”, he said, people knew what bad governance looked like.

“A sprawling committee and proliferating sub-committees. Local worthies who see being a governor as a badge of status not a job of work.

“Discussions that ramble on about peripheral issues, influenced by fads and anecdote, not facts and analysis.

“A failure to be rigorous about performance. A failure to challenge heads forensically and also, when heads are doing a good job, support them authoritatively.”

‘Volunteers’And he also described good governance, characterised by “smaller governing bodies, where people are there because they have a skill, not because they represent some political constituency”.

“They concentrate on essentials such as leadership, standards, teaching and behaviour,” he said

“Ofsted, in their new inspection framework, will now be asking searching questions on governance – including assessing how well governors hold the head and senior leader to account,” he added.

An aide to Mr Gove said the secretary of state was not critical of all governors and that his intention was merely to improve standards in schools.

There are about 300,000 volunteer governors in England who sit on school governing bodies. They are responsible for working with the head teacher to ensure the school gives a good quality education.

As well as appointing and dismissing staff and deciding how budgets are spent, they act as a critical friend to the head teachers, holding them to account.

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