Education in brief: teachers are leaving some academies in droves

Education in brief: teachers are leaving some academies in droves

guardian.co.uk |by Warwick Mansell on July 2, 2012

Prime Minister David Cameron Visits Kingsdale Foundation School

David Cameron talks with students at Kingsdale foundation school last year. The school will have seen the departure of at least 40 teachers over this academic year. Photograph: Getty Images

Waving goodbye

Some well-known academies are facing an exodus of teachers this summer, Speed Read has learned. Sheffield Springs academy, run by the United Learning Trust charity, is poised to lose at least 25 teaching staff, insiders tell us, while the troubled school is on its third principal of the academic year. This comes after a new permanent head was recently appointed, only to then turn the post down, the ULT citing “family circumstances”. In February, Ofsted inspectors criticised the “significant instability in leadership and management” since the academy was established in 2006, as it was then on its fifth principal in that time. Now it’s on its sixth.

Meanwhile, Kingsdale foundation school, an academy in south London, praised as “brilliant” by David Cameron last year but which has been in the news over an investigation into alleged cheating in GCSEs, will have seen the departure of at least 40 teachers over this academic year, including 15 from science alone. The school started the year with 125 teaching staff. Finally, we have been told of another high-profile academy where 25 staff are reportedly leaving this term. We hope to keep you posted on that one.

Fewer free lunches

Amid news reports of only 37 pupil places having been filled so far at Beccles free school in Suffolk, which is due to open in September, statistics on the socio-economic backgrounds of families using free schools as a whole may have been missed.

Data released last month by the Department for Education shows that while 19% of pupils educated in state primary schools and 16% of those in state secondaries are eligible for free school meals, the figures for free schools – institutions set up by parents, teachers or private groups – are much lower. FSM rates in the 24 free schools that opened last year were half those for the state-funded sector, at 9% for primaries and 8% for secondaries.

No need to ask

Parents at Downhills school, the primary in north London that has become a cause celebre among opponents of government moves to force academy status on institutions even where the local community is against this, are fighting on.

Last month, the school was told Michael Gove is to issue an academy order, handing its governance to the Harris academy chain. Parent campaigners have written to Gove renewing a threat of legal action. One of their arguments is that the law says parents must be consulted on any move to academy status. Official consultation on the academy move, which preceded Gove’s decision, found 3% of the 234 responding parents in favour, and 94% against.

The campaigners say the consultation was not meaningful and are alleging a waste of public money: they were told in writing that the consultation cost at least £45,000 – enough to employ a teacher.

Should Packed Lunches Be Banned?

Ban packed lunches, says Katie Price’s ex Alex Reid

On 25th April 2012 Alex Reid, former husband of Katie Price, called for a ban on packed lunches in schools. In a speech before the All-Party Group on School Food he advocated compulsory free, healthy school meals for all children. His concerns are, that by eating chocolate and crisps children are:

“affecting their ability to concentrate in lessons”.

He has proposed that the school meals scheme be funded at a cost of £1 billion by raising money from companies through a scheme called Let’s Do Lunch. This would involve private firms being given the opportunity to invest in the scheme in return for promotional opportunities including direct marketing to parents. He said his proposal would remove the financial burden of providing school meals from the taxpayer and that:

“The important thing is the Let’s Do Lunch marketing would help companies investing in the scheme to generate more revenues. I want to make healthy school meals available to all kids. We will essentially make them compulsory and ban packed lunches.”

The idea was backed by Labour’s shadow education minister for children and families Sharon Hodgson who expressed her fears that under the Universal Credit system more children could lose their entitlement to free school meals. This is in light of the government scrapping a Labour devised scheme in 2010 that would have widened entitlement to free meals to 500,000 more low-income families. She said that:

“We now have to look at other ways of achieving those ambitions. The project that Alex is working on could go some way towards that.”

Should Packed Lunches Be Banned?

In a word No! This is not to say that Alex Reid’s aspiration of seeing every school child receive healthy school meals is not to be applauded. But our concern is the way in which he is attempting to see this fulfilled. The first problem that we perceive is the fact that Mr Reid’s main motivation appears to be the increase in revenues for the companies that invest in the scheme. The primary driving force behind any school meals scheme should be increasing the health and well-being of our children and it must be non-profit making.

Secondly, we would worry about the idea of participating companies being afforded promotional opportunities and direct marketing openings to parents. When we first opened Kip McGrath Education Centre Scunthorpe we contacted all the primary schools in the area to discuss what we did and how we could support their hard work with their pupils. We also asked if they could distribute our flyers in pupils’ book bags. Some schools were happy to allow this but a number stated that their policy meant they couldn’t be seen to recommend a particular business. We accepted each school’s choice on this matter. This suggests that schools are, on the whole, uncomfortable with private companies directly marketing through book bags and newsletters and so on. If they were unhappy at providing information about fellow education providers then we cannot imagine that they would wish to be used as a source of promotion for unrelated profit-making enterprises. If schools wish to recommend an organisation because it shares their values and/or they believe that its products or services would be of value to their families they should be at liberty to do so but this must be on a voluntary basis and not compulsory.

Finally, we feel that to arbitrarily ban packed lunches from schools regardless of how healthy they are is playing nanny state and will only cause resentment. Additionally, it serves no purpose in teaching children and families about healthy eating because you are simply spoon-feeding them healthy food without educating them about the variety of factors involved in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

What Are The Alternatives?

The scheme does have merits but needs some rethinking on how it would work.

  • There should be no direct marketing involved. No participating company should be allowed to profit directly from helping our children to become healthier and fitter. The firms concerned could simply have their name linked to the Let’s Do Lunch logo on school publications and displayed in limited but appropriate locations around the school. In addition, rather than using large multi-million pound corporations it might be possible to set up local Let’s Do Lunch schemes that would involve smaller businesses who wish to support their local schools. This would mean that a wide variety of local businesses would gain equal PR and that no business could profit or gain unfair advantage in their particular market place. It would also establish positive links between schools and the local business community.
  • Under no circumstances should this scheme be compulsory for parents. The merits of free, healthy school meals should be promoted to families and they can decide for themselves whether to participate or not. Encouragement for families to lead healthier lifestyles should come through education, not least the great healthy eating lessons that already take place up and down the country and the support of the School Food Trust. As a result parents can be taught and supported and this will increase the prospects of more children receiving healthy meals at home as well as in school.
  • Finally, the money saved from providing school meals should be ring-fenced for building new schools or expanding existing ones to help alleviate the growing crisis of shortages in primary school places.

Any schemes that attempt to encourage our children to live healthy lifestyles are to be praised but they should be carefully thought out with regard to both motivation and outcome and Let’s Do Lunch should be given careful consideration with regard to these criteria.

350,000 children ‘will lose free school meals in welfare reform’

350,000 children ‘will lose free school meals in welfare reform’

The Guardian World News |by Randeep Ramesh

school meals

Free school lunches are the main meal of the day for many children, says the Children’s Society. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

More than 350,000 children will lose their free school meals under the government’s radical plans to reform welfare entitlement next year, an analysis by the Children’s Society has warned.

In a report entitled Fair and Square, the charity says the proposed universal credit system, which comes into force in October 2013, will stop paying for certain benefits if a household earns more than £7,500.

At present the welfare system compensates poor families with cash from the tax credit system.

The result is that 120,000 poorer families are likely lose free school meals, worth £367 a year, unless they dropped their earnings below the threshold of £7,500. This would mean parents having to cut the numbers of hours worked or take a pay cut to keep their benefits.

The charity says that although the universal credit, which is a single payment designed to replace a plethora of benefits, was supposed to simplify the current system it will end up replicating some of worst aspects of the old one.

“Because of how universal credit entitlement is structured– with high withdrawal rates of benefits when earning more or working longer hours – many of the families affected will have to earn far more before they recover the loss of free school meals.”

Parents would have to garner “unrealistic” pay rises before the loss of benefits could be recouped.

As an example, it says that a lone parent with three children earning just below £7,500 a year would need to get a pay rise of 60% or £4,500 to compensate for the loss of free school meals under the new benefit.

The report argues that the system does need reform as it estimates more than half of all schoolchildren living in poverty – 1.2 million – are missing out on free school meals. Another 700,000 are not entitled to free school meals at all.

However, it adds that universal credit, as currently envisaged, seems a step backward.

Free school meals provide vital financial support for low-income families, argues the charity. For almost a third of children, school lunch is their main meal of the day.

Elaine Hindal of the Children’s Society said: “If the government introduces a free school meals earnings threshold into the universal credit, then as many as 120,000 families could end up in the perverse situation where they are better off taking a pay cut, or working fewer hours. This could mean 350,000 children suffering as a result.

“It is exactly this kind of problem that universal credit set out to solve. The government can and must address this by extending free school meals to all families in receipt of universal credit.”

At the heart of the debate is a split in the coalition. Some ministers think universal credit would create a very complicated system that is very difficult to administer. To ensure that half of children in poverty get free school meals would cost an extra£1bn – galling at a time of fiscal restraint.

Stephen Twigg, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said “the government has shown a scant disregard for the welfare of some of the poorest children in England” and he would be considering how to tackle the issue as part of the party’s “policy review”.

The Department for Education said it would be consulting on the issue “later this year”.

Children’s minister Sarah Teather said: “We remain totally committed to continuing to provide free school meals to children from the poorest families.

“We are reforming welfare to get more people into jobs as that is the surest way of cutting poverty.

“The reforms mean we will have to think hard about the best way to decide who is eligible for FSM so they continue to be targeted at those who need them the most. No plans have yet been set and we will be consulting later this year about the best way forward.”

Pupils going hungry as school meals shrink, teachers warn

Pupils going hungry as school meals shrink, teachers warn

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd

School meals

School staff have noticed a rise in the number of children eligible for free school meals, according to an ATL poll. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

School lunch portions are now so small that many children in England are hungry during afternoon lessons, teachers have warned.

Canteens are cutting costs by reducing portion sizes, the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) heard. Some run out of food before all children have been served.

At the same time, teachers said, the number of children eligible for free school meals was on the increase because of rising unemployment. Pupils are entitled to a free lunch if their parents’ joint income is less than £16,000 a year. For many of these children their only daily hot meal is eaten at school.

An ATL poll of 503 school staff found that more than a third had noticed a rise in the number of children eligible for free school meals. Just over three-fifths (62%) said the cost of school meals had risen by up to £95 a year per child. But many warned that portion sizes had been reduced and the choice of healthy options had become more limited.

School food experts said this could have a damaging effect on children’s concentration and behaviour.

One teacher, who did not want to be named, said children at her primary school were served “very small portions and very limited choice. Children who come with packed lunches eat a lot more at lunchtime.”

Another said the portions at her school were very poor. “There seems to be no regular inspection of the food, the kitchens or portion sizes,” she said. A secondary school teacher said schools offered chips, pasta and rice rather than vegetables and salad because that was what cooks could prepare in bulk quantities.

Many schools outsource the running of their canteens to private firms. Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: “Private market forces risk taking over what we are feeding the nation’s children. The size of a portion will, to some extent, affect the size of the profits of an outsourced firm … it is absolutely the case that children are going hungry.”

The Jamie Oliver Foundation, a charity that helps the public to make better-informed choices about food, said a nutritious lunch increased children’s concentration, improved their behaviour and made it more likely that they would achieve top grades.

Benefits Cap Is Forcing My Pupils To Quit Heart Of London, Says Head

Benefits cap is forcing my pupils to quit heart of London, says head

The Guardian World News |by Daniel Boffey

St. Cuthbert with St. Matthias CE Primary School

St Cuthbert with St Matthias primary school, which faces losing up to 100 pupils as the new benefits cap is applied. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

A primary school in the country’s most affluent borough is making plans to cope with losing up to half its children in the wake of the benefits cap, which critics fear will make London unaffordable for thousands of families.

In the latest sign of the impact of the government’s benefits reforms, Stephen Boatright, the headteacher at St Cuthbert with St Matthias Church of England school in Kensington and Chelsea, said he was making “strategic plans” to deal with an exodus. The loss of up to 100 pupils from the poorest families would force him to cut staff numbers and deal with a huge change in culture, he said.

The school currently has children of 55 nationalities and dozens of different languages, but Boatright said St Cuthbert could be unrecognisable as wealthier children replaced the poorest.

The £500-a-week benefits cap, which is due to be implemented in 2013, is expected to leave around 130,000 families across the capital unable to pay their rent. The royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea will be particularly hit by the changes because of its high rents and lack of social housing.

Boatright said that children from six families had already moved to live as far away as Nottingham and Hull. He said schools in Enfield, north London, where the costs of private accommodation were lower, were already taking in huge numbers of children.

“In terms of a policy, it seems to us to be a slight bit of social engineering,” Boatright said. “It is removing children from the very heart of the city and they are going to be replaced by wealthier families and children. That makes our mix that much weaker. We don’t know how many families will be affected because we don’t know how many are in privately rented accommodation.

“But we do know that half of our children have free school meals. We know that social housing in the area is very limited, so we are making the assumption that some of our children whose parents don’t work will have to move, and some of our parents who do work will have to move because the rents in this area are outrageous.”

Kensington and Chelsea council has written to people in private accommodation whom it believes will be hit. More children from poorer families are expected to leave schools such as St Cuthbert in the coming months.

Boatright said: “It is a destruction of community because there is a strong Arabic-speaking community in this area, really good, fantastic parents, and the reason they moved to this area is so they could have community support. They will have to move to areas where that community support will not be available.”

St Cuthbert, which received a satisfactory rating in its latest Ofsted inspection last year, has its funding judged by the number of pupils it has in January. Boatright said he believed the impact would be felt in 2014.

Sam Royston of the Children’s Society said he expected the experience of St Cuthbert to be replicated across central London.“This demonstrates the reality of how children’s lives are going to be affected by a policy that will inevitably leave them as the victims. It is of great concern that some schools are already faced with having to plan for an exodus of children. The government’s own impact assessment indicates that approaching a quarter of a million children will be in families affected.”

London Councils, an umbrella organisation for the 33 London boroughs, commissioned independent research to examine how plans to reform housing benefit will affect the capital. Researchers looked at the impact of the universal credit cap (which will limit the total amount families can claim in benefits to £500 a week), as well as the changes to local housing allowance, which will reduce the amount of housing benefit available to private sector tenants.

The report, Does the Cap Fit?, by Navigant Consulting, estimated in November that more than 130,000 London households may be unable to pay their rent.

A spokeswoman for London Councils said: “London is facing a housing crisis, with an acute shortage of affordable accommodation for low-income households. The latest figures show that there are already 1,680 households in bed-and-breakfast accommodation across London, and we expect this figure to rise.”

A spokesman for Kensington and Chelsea council said: “Private rented accommodation in the borough is among the most expensive in the country, so it is inevitable that changes to local housing allowance will have a greater impact in this borough than many other areas.”

Schools concerned about child neglect

Schools concerned about child neglect

The Guardian World News 5 MARCH 2012

School in south-east London - anonymous

Schools are concerned that cuts to services will mean more children will be vulnerable. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

We are walking across the bright, airy atrium of a newly refurbished Victorian primary in south London. A little girl reading with a parent volunteer looks up and waves enthusiastically; the headteacher, my tour guide, grins and waves back.

The school’s positive atmosphere belies the difficulties that some of its pupils face. Half of students here are eligible for free school meals and 37 languages are spoken – “which I think is incredibly enriching”, says the head.

The headteacher – let’s call him Mr Smith, as he has asked us not to identify his school – is about to introduce me to the manager of the school’s child protection and family services unit. Smith started to fund in-school family support just over two years ago, he explains, because he felt there was not enough intervention by social services. He and his staff felt some of the children were showing signs of neglect that needed to be dealt with here and now, and that the level of need a child had to be experiencing before social services would take action was unacceptably high.

In this school, judged “outstanding” by Ofsted, identifying and dealing with instances of neglect before they escalate is a high priority. The team – whose members have expertise in child protection, family support and early years development –focuses on issues many would think the responsibility of the local authority. This head believes the resource, deployed across his federation of four primaries, is probably still not enough to protect all his pupils from neglect and abuse.

“What frightens me is I think we’re barely scratching the surface here, and that’s with our heightened awareness and due diligence,” he says.

Neglect is hard to define. The school’s deputy head recalls her dismay when a child arrived midway through the year “really struggling with eating”. On investigation, it turned out his mother had never weaned him, instead crushing biscuits into milk and“still bottle-feeding him at four years old”.

Even with the exceptional on-site expertise now in place, she is“always worried that you’ll miss somebody”.

“It can be little things,” says Clare, a reception teacher,“that they’re hungry every time they come into school, or eating crisps again. Very often it’s non-verbal signs – appearance, the way they smell sometimes. We don’t do homework, but if the family activities are never completed; if the reading diary is never filled in; if there’s a stream of different people picking them up, even older siblings; all this stuff would pick up on my radar.”

It’s not just physical signs and symptoms that teachers need to watch out for, however, says Joanne, who manages the special unit.“I spent eight years doing early years before I did family work,”she explains, “and I think teachers need a very strong understanding of early years development because it’s integral to recognising neglect. If a child is not meeting milestones, it’s a sign that they may have experienced neglect in the past.”

The children’s commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson, is so concerned about how abuse and neglect are addressed in schools that she has commissioned research into how primaries are dealing with child protection concerns. New guidelines based on the findings will be published this autumn.

Physical and sexual abuse may have a high profile, but “neglect is not a softer issue”, emphasises Shaun Kelly, head of safeguarding at Action for Children (A4C).

News coverage of the worst cases underlines his point –children who suffer from acute and sustained neglect can die. But even where it doesn’t have such desperate outcomes, neglect can cause profound damage to children as they grow up. An NSPCC study published last year shows that 10% of 11- to 17-year-olds had suffered from severe neglect.

Research carried out by the University of Stirling for A4C shows that although teachers and nursery staff are becoming more aware of neglect, they often feel unsure what to do when they suspect it is happening.

The study, Child Neglect in 2011, found that four out of five professionals in universal services – including primary schoolteachers, pre-school and nursery staff – have suspected children of being neglected, and 55% of primary and 46% of pre-school and nursery staff said “the most helpful improvement in tackling child neglect would be if they were able to report less serious suspicions before they became worse”.

If a child comes into class bruised or with a cigarette burn, it’s easy to see there’s a potential problem. But neglect manifests over time, and often in subtle ways. Teachers may feel reluctant to report the small things that worry them if they don’t feel confident their concerns will be taken seriously at senior level. They can also be anxious about getting it wrong.

The emotional and practical demands on teachers, even with good support, can be considerable. Orla, a year 2 teacher at the school, says she spent much of last year in almost daily contact with the specialist team because of one child who had “lots of issues”. She points out that eliciting information can be more complex when a child reaches an age where “they become aware that if they tell you things, things can happen [to their family]”.

In this school, having expert staff available takes the strain of making a difficult judgment call away from teachers and means the information is shared with experienced people who know what to do.

Stopping neglect from escalating by being “pre-emptive and active” has become the priority, says Joanne. Every new member of staff gets a 90-minute session on safeguarding. “We also do an inset dedicated to safeguarding every year, and we take people through a case scenario, explain how it was handled and then we’ll talk about what might have been done differently.”

A robust reporting system is also vital for prevention and for building an evidence base for referrals. There are pink slips that teachers can fill in and hand to Joanne or her team. Staff feel that it is worth reporting the observations that niggle but don’t necessarily shout “neglect”, explains Clare. “If they are getting five or six or 10 of those pink slips for a child, or for siblings, she can start to build up a picture,” she says.

With deep cuts affecting many services such as breakfast clubs and play schemes that might once have picked up on a family struggling to cope, this school-based resource is all the more crucial, says Joanne’s colleague, Emma. The team offers intensive coaching to adults who may not have experienced good parenting themselves. They also put on sessions open to all, such as Parent Gym and the Family and Schools Together programme, to build trust between staff and parents.

Early intervention, which can be done not just by social workers, but potentially in schools, should be a statutory requirement in cases of neglect, says Kelly. He points out that its cost-effectiveness has been proved, and “with resources reducing rapidly, you’re more likely to resource what your statutory duties are”.

Because of the school’s work, its local authority referral rates have dropped, but both Joanne and Emma are angry that social services are so stretched that the “thresholds” at which any action is taken are continually, they say, being raised.

The A4C research shows that a large number of social workers are worried about how neglect is dealt with – more than 40% felt that the point at which they were able to intervene in cases was too late, and 80% thought that cuts to services would make the situation worse. More than half said that for children whose cases meet current thresholds, lack of resources was a barrier to them being able to act effectively.

“It’s desperate … I’m sure the local authority wouldn’t like me to say that, but desperate, that’s what it is,” says Joanne. She points out that making the case to social services that a child is being neglected can be much harder than reporting other types of abuse, because neglect tends to be a slow-burn, corrosive narrative rather than a single, extreme incident. Having to convince an administrative officer staffing the phones, rather than a qualified social worker, does not, she says, help matters to progress quickly.

At the University of Stirling, Professor Brigid Daniel, who supervised the A4C research, says she was struck by the extent of the safeguarding role teachers take on.

“People are quite clear that they do have responsibility,” she says. “There was a lot of anxiety around neglect … but people also know that underlying it is a bigger concern – you’re trying to stem a tide caused by much bigger issues, such as mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse.”

“I think you should take ultimate responsibility,” says the south London head. “Schools are the frontline, and not just when things go wrong, but all the time, proactively and not just responsively.”

• All names of those working in the primary school have been changed

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