Tweeting headteachers plan to reform education

Tweeting headteachers plan to reform education

The Guardian  |by Fiona Millar on October 22, 2012

John Tomsett (second left) said Labour should do something profoundly different

John Tomsett (second left) said Labour should do something different ‘rather than hang on the coat-tails of the Tories’. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian
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An interesting piece displaying the power of social media.  A number of headmasters from a wide variety of schools divided by geography and socio-economic backgrounds united through Twitter and a growing concern over the current Government education reforms met at the Guardian’s offices recently  in order to put together some alternative policies guided by their experience as educationalists and a desire to achieve the best outcome for their students. 
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Teachers and headteachers could be forgiven for thinking that they get the worst of all worlds: obliged to implement the latest ministerial whims, without having any real influence themselves on policies that directly affect a job they feel passionately about. But could the explosion of social media be about to change all that?

The saga of this summer’s GCSE results provoked a torrent of online comment and communication among teachers and heads. Now one group – mostly secondary headteachers – has come together via the social networking site Twitter to form an embryonic pressure group.

In their sights they have the shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg. Their schools may be poles apart in terms of geography and social context, but they are united in their view that an alternative to current education policy is needed fast, and that Labour is the best hope of achieving it.

Education writer and blogger Ian Gilbert came up with the idea of translating online activity into something more concrete after reflecting on Twitter’s potential for “social outrage” – but also its limits. “You can give vent in an informed way and find information,” he explains. “But you can also sit back in the evening with a glass of wine tweeting and think you have done your bit for society.

“I realised we needed to go further and get together people who have something to say. A strong theme coming through the social media was a frustration with current policy, but also frustration with no alternatives from Labour. We want to put forward the voices of people who know what they are doing. People who are in it for the kids, for the right reasons, to discuss what has and hasn’t been good and come up with some concrete alternatives.”

The group – which has no name yet – met at the Guardian’s offices to discuss their ideas. So what is good in the current landscape? The heads, from a mixture of maintained and academy schools, who were joined by Dr Phil Wood from Leicester University’s school of education, cite the focus on disadvantaged pupils and the release of data as being the most positive developments.

But the positives risk being undermined by too much political interference in curriculum and qualifications, an accountability system focused on an ever narrower range of exams, a continuing divide between vocational and academic qualifications – Labour’s Tech Bacc attracted as much derision from these school leaders as the education secretary’s English Baccalaureate Certificates – and moves towards a norm-referenced qualifications system in which only fixed numbers of students can achieve certain grades.

“We are moving back to a ‘sheep and goats system’ that will stratify society in terms of attainment and potential,” said Ros McMullen, principal of the David Young community academy in Leeds.

“We need to be able to measure improvement and this requires an objective measure where students’ attainment is judged against an unmoving standard, not one where only a certain percentage of students are allowed to hit certain grades. People should be talking about this.”

Several clear themes emerged about how an alternative policy might be shaped if Labour was “brave enough” to set out something profoundly different “rather than hang on the coat-tails of the Tories”, said John Tomsett, a prolific blogger and head of Huntington school in York.

At its heart should be a de-politicisation of curriculum and qualifications, an independent body made up of teaching professionals to drive policy in this area, and a radically different approach to assessment and accountability, the heads agreed.

Proposed changes to GCSEs were described as “an inadequate preparation for 21st-century life” that will only fuel what Vic Goddard, headteacher of Passmores academy in Essex, described as a growing tension between “doing what is right for our school and for our children”.

“What we have to do isn’t always the same as what we need to do. We want an acceptance that education is about more than five exams. It is about the full journey and everything else that comes with it.”

A new form of assessment would have to guarantee rigour and high standards, place no caps on aspiration, but also incorporate other non-exam-based measurements that offer the chance for “success at every level” – a particular concern to those in special needs education, who fear that their children will be “consigned to the scrap heap before they start”, according to Dave Whittaker, head of Springwell special school in Barnsley.

“We must be able to celebrate success at every level so that pupils with SEN aren’t left without motivation or aspiration. This would mean a holistic view of achievement that can genuinely show progress over time and in context. It is not fair that our pupils’ equivalent to the EBacc is a report that says “never mind, you failed, but please try again sometime”.

One suggestion is to move away from exams at 16 towards the International Baccalaureate learner profile. “The IB is an internationally highly rated qualification that includes skills and competencies,” argued Tomsett. “Our assessment system must move away from pure examinations and towards a blended range of assessments like personal projects, extended essays, oral skills, as well as formal exams. The fact that Labour can only come up with a Tech Bacc in response to the EBacc simply highlights the paucity of their thinking.”

Another theme was Ofsted and its focus on one-off judgments rather than supporting improvement. This, said the school leaders, should be addressed by transferring resources to local school improvement partnerships, and investment in professional development for teachers, allied to a national annual release of all performance data to schools and parents.

“I want to be held accountable locally,” said Goddard. “We are publicly funded with the most precious resource in the world – our children – but don’t just tell me where I am going wrong. I want the people who are holding me to account to be part of the journey of making me better.”

These individuals could be described as being part of what is now called the “magic middle” in social media. Not celebrities or the political commentariat, but trusted, persuasive experts with years of experience who blog and tweet and have the power to mobilise opinion. In other fields, businesses are trying to woo such people. When it comes to schools policy, are politicians behind the curve?

A spokesperson for Stephen Twigg said he would be willing to meet the group’s members and described their ideas as “interesting”. Some, including regional versions of Ofsted, reform of assessment and the 14-19 curriculum, were already being considered by Labour’s policy review, he said, adding “we agree there shouldn’t be an artificial cap on aspiration”.

Education Guardian will be following the group’s progress.

Five-point plan

• Schools should be assessed in a range of ways, not just judged by the numbers achieving five specific grades at 16;

• Ofsted should be replaced by local partnerships that would hold schools to account and help them to improve;

• The curriculum and assessment should be taken out of political control and given to an independent agency (under licence for 20 years);

• The government should encourage small families of local schools in preference to large national chains;

• “Norm referencing” in exam grading is not fair, ie capping the number of students who can achieve a certain grade. There shouldn’t be a cap on what individual pupils can achieve.

• Join the movement by tweeting @thatiangilbert or @johntomsett

More secondary students studying core academic subjects

More secondary students studying core academic subjects

education.gov.uk

New statistics reveal more students are studying core academic subjects at secondary school

Press notice
Press notice date: 25 April 2012
Updated: 10 May 2012

New statistics published today show that there are around 3,400 more teachers in secondary schools teaching in English Baccalaureate – or EBacc – subjects. The statistics also reveal that the number of hours taught in history, geography and modern languages – EBacc subjects– is up by 10 per cent overall in 2011 compared with the previous year. These subjects have historically been in decline so this shows that schools are widening the opportunities for pupils to study these subjects in Key Stage 4.

The EBacc was introduced in January 2011 by the Department as an additional measure in the performance tables. It recognises the success of those young people who attain GCSEs, or accredited versions of established iGCSEs, at grades A* to C across a core of academic subjects – English, maths, geography or history, the sciences and a language. These are the qualifications which will best prepare young people for further study and rewarding employment.

The new data shows there was an increase of 23,000 teaching hours in the EBacc subjects compromising:

  • an increase of 11 per cent in the number of hours of history lessons at Key Stage 4 – from 43,800 in 2010 to 48,600 in 2011
  • an increase of around 13 per cent in the number of hours of geography lessons at Key Stage 4 – from 37,100 in 2010 to 41,900 in 2011
  • an increase of around 8 per cent in the number of hours of languages lessons at Key Stage 4 – from 69,300 in 2010 to 74,600 in 2011.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

We want all children to have a broad and balanced education that includes English, maths, the sciences, a language and history or geography. Today’s figures show an encouraging trend that reflects the fact that schools are offering more of these core academic subjects. In 2011 there were around 3,400 more teachers teaching in these subjects and an increase of 23,000 teaching hours on the previous year.

The EBacc ensures that young people have the knowledge and skills they need to progress to further study or to rewarding employment. Through the EBacc, we are opening up these core subjects to all pupils, regardless of their background.

A survey of almost 700 maintained secondary schools by the National Centre for Social Research last year showed that:

  • 33 per cent of pupils in the schools surveyed taking GCSEs this year will be doing a combination of subjects that could lead to an EBacc
  • 47 per cent of pupils in the schools surveyed taking GCSEs in 2013 will be doing a combination of subjects that could lead to an EBacc.

This compares with data which shows that in 2010 just 22 per cent of GCSE-stage pupils were entered for the EBacc.

Church Of England Aims For 200 New Anglican Schools Over Five Years

Church of England aims for 200 new Anglican schools over five years

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd

Church of England aims for 200 new Anglican schools over five years

Lady Warsi last month warned of what she called the ‘militant secularisation’ of society. A review into the Church’s role in education now argues Christian culture in schools should be protected against ‘aggressive secularism’. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

At least 200 Anglican primary and secondary schools could be established over the next five years as the Church expands its role in education.

The Church plans to take advantage of the coalition’s academies and free schools reforms, which take schools out of local authority control and places them with parents, firms, charities and faith groups.

A review led by the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, who is also chairman of the Church’s board of education, said the number of Anglican schools – currently 4,800 – could rise to 5,000.

Free school groups and other state schools have already started to approach dioceses because they feel their ethos is similar to that of Anglican schools, the review – The Church School of the Future – states.

The report recommends that in future, dioceses could offer services to schools to replace those previously provided by local authorities until their budgets were cut and their role reduced.

Pritchard also called for the Christian culture and ethos in Anglican schools to be protected “against a rising tide of strident opposition” and the “onset of so-called ‘aggressive secularism’.”

Dr Priscilla Chadwick, a former headteacher who chaired a six-month review that led to the report, added that the public’s“default understanding of Christianity was disappearing”. Last month, the Tory party chairman, Lady Warsi, warned of what she called the “militant secularisation” of society and proposed that Christianity was given a central role in public life.

The Church’s review also warns that ministers are sidelining religious education from the curriculum.

The subject faces “multiple challenges” and the government has“no will” to address them, it argues. The English Baccalaureate, introduced in school league tables last year, recognises pupils who have achieved a grade C or better in English, maths, history or geography, sciences and a language. RE’s absence from the Ebacc is disappointing, and has led to fewer pupils taking the subject, the Church said.

“While the Church of England has received some encouragement to work together with other partners to address some of the issues related to religious education, the responses of the government to these concerns have been disappointing,” its report states.

The Department of Education said pupils still had to study RE up to the age of 18. “It is rightly down to schools themselves to make sure pupils take the exams right for them and decide how much teaching time to devote to RE – not politicians in Whitehall.”

All Children Should Learn Foreign Languages, Say Peers

All children should learn foreign languages, say peers

BBC |March 22, 2012

By Angela Harrison Education correspondent, BBC News
All children should learn a foreign language at primary and secondary school, a House of Lords committee has said.The UK’s attitude to languages has prevented its students from studying in Europe, according to the House of Lords’ EU committee.

It says the UK has been popular with EU students keen to improve their English, but it is now facing competition.

Education Secretary Michael Gove also favours language learning from five.

A new league table measure for England is expected to lead to more teenagers studying languages.

Known as the English Baccalaureate, it is given to pupils who get good GCSEs in five key subjects including a language.

Languages are not compulsory in English and Welsh secondary schools beyond the age of 14, although a review of the curriculum is under way in England.

Tougher competition

The Lords’ committee says too few British students are taking part in schemes designed to encourage movement among students in the EU and blames “monoglot” (speaking just one language) attitudes.

Students in France, Germany and Spain were three times as likely as those in Britain to take part in an EU programme called Erasmus, where students can study or work abroad as part of their degree, the committee said.

Its inquiry follows a report from the European Commission last September which said that European universities had“under-exploited potential” to contribute to Europe’s prosperity and society.

The Lords call on the EU to allocate more funds to research and education to help in the region’s long-term economic recovery.

Committee chairman Baroness Young of Hornsey said: “The government must place higher education at the heart of their growth agenda in order to maintain and contribute to the economic and social wealth of the UK and Europe as a whole.

“In the immediate few months, this will require the government to negotiate ambitiously to allocate a greater proportion of the long-term EU budget to research, innovation and education.”

The committee reject a call from the European Commission to bring in a new ranking system for universities.

Overseas students

And they call on the government to “remain vigilant” about attracting students from overseas, particularly following the increase in tuition fees.

From the autumn, fees at England’s universities will be allowed to rise up to a maximum of £9,000 a year, although they are covered by student loans which do not have to be paid back until graduates are earning £21,000 a year.

Fees are also rising in other parts of the UK, although students from Northern Ireland who stay there to study will not be affected and those from Wales will be subsidised wherever they study in the UK. Students in Scotland will continue to pay no fees.

The UK is facing tougher competition for students from the EU and further afield the report says, particularly as some universities in mainland Europe are teaching courses in English and have lower fees.

EU students who go to Scottish universities do not have to pay fees.

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