Free school head without any teaching qualifications plans to ignore curriculum

Free school head without any teaching qualifications plans to ignore curriculum

The Guardian |by Daniel Boffey, policy editor on March 9, 2013

Pimlico school

Pimlico Academy free school in Westminster, London, is due to open its primary school in September. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian
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Worrying news that a significant number of unqualified staff are being employed as teachers in free schools. In addition, at least one free school is employing a headteacher who is not a qualified teacher and plans to ignore the national curriculum. This is directly at odds with the requirements for Qualified Teacher Status being made more stringent which suggests that greater qualifications are required to teach effectively. The government’s education policies are, yet again, shown to be, confused and flawed. 

One in ten teachers working in free schools are not formally qualified to do so, according to official figures, including a 27-year-old who has been appointed as headteacher of a primary due to open this year. There were 21 teachers with no teaching qualifications in the 17 free schools that responded to a government census. Almost half (47%) of the schools had at least one unqualified teacher.

Pimlico Primary free school in Westminster, which is due to open in September, has appointed a headteacher who is only now receiving teacher training. Annaliese Briggs, a former thinktank director who advised the coalition government on its national primary curriculum, is the designated head for the new school, which is sponsored by Future, a charity founded by John Nash, the Tory donor and former venture capitalist appointed schools minister in January.

It is understood that Briggs, an English literature graduate from Queen Mary, University of London, and a former deputy director of the right-wing thinktank Civitas, is being trained in Wandsworth in preparation for the beginning of the next school year. She has already said that she will ignore the national curriculum and teach lessons “inspired by the tried and tested methods of ED Hirsch Jr”, the controversial American academic behind what he calls “content-rich” learning.

One local teacher, who did not want to be named, said he was astonished that such an inexperienced candidate had been selected. . “It seems extraordinary that having experience and teaching qualifications are no longer prerequisites to running a school,” he said. Even a young headteacher is normally expected to have six years of teaching experience before they are entrusted with the task of leading a school.

The education secretary, Michael Gove, announced in 2010 that free schools – which are outside the control of local authorities but funded by the state – would be allowed greater leeway over appointments. Last summer he extended such freedoms to the country’s 1,500 academies, claiming that removal of the requirement for staff to have qualified teacher status (QTS) would replicate the “dynamism” that he believes is found in private schools.

The shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, responding to the school census figures – which were collected in November 2011 – said he would reverse the policy if Labour was in power. “Parents will be shocked to learn that this government changed the rules and we now have unqualified teachers in state schools. This wouldn’t happen under Labour – we would ensure teachers are qualified,” said Twigg.

“We need to strengthen, not undermine, the quality and professionalism of teaching. Ministers should reverse this decision so that all young people get the qualified teachers they deserve.”

Leaders of the teaching unions believe the policy is part of a “deskilling” of the profession. Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, said the latest figures were an insult to teachers. “This information is just a manifestation of the fundamentally flawed policies of a coalition government that believes it is acceptable that schools should be able to employ leaders and teachers who do not have qualified teacher status,” she said.

“Parents and the public should be deeply concerned that they can no longer have confidence that when children and young people go to school they are being taught by a qualified teacher.

“If anyone suggested that doctors could be unqualified and allowed to treat patients, everyone would be rightly horrified. Why is the same concern not extended to the education of our children and young people?”

The row comes as the first Ofsted reports into standards in free schools are published. Batley grammar school in West Yorkshire and Sandbach school in Cheshire were both found to “require improvement”. They were said to be letting their pupils down across a range of subjects, particularly English. Staff at Sandbach school were told they had an “inflated view” of their performance.

Jo Saxton, director of education for Pimlico Primary’s sponsor Future, said: “All our staff are carefully selected to ensure the ideal balance between excellent subject knowledge, effective teaching and the ability to engage all pupils.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We have given free schools and academies the same freedoms the best independent schools enjoy to hire great linguists, computer scientists, engineers and other specialists so they can inspire their pupils.

“Pimlico Academy’s governors and teachers [Pimlico Academy secondary school is also run by Future and will share its site with Pimlico Primary] took a failing secondary and increased its Ofsted rating to ‘outstanding’ in record time. Headteachers and governors at places like Pimlico know their schools best and we trust them to recruit the right staff.”

Parents given power of veto on schools’ use of biometrics

Parents given power of veto on schools’ use of biometrics

education.gov.uk

Parents given power of veto on schools’ use of biometric information

Press notice
Press notice date: 15 May 2012
Updated: 15 May 2012

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New advice to schools will make clear that they will no longer be able to use pupils’ biometric data without parental consent. The advice, launched today for consultation, comes into effect from September 2013.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said children’s biometric data was sensitive personal information and parents must have the right to prevent its use by schools and colleges. Pupils also have the right to refuse to participate and these provisions are explained in the guidance.

The advice has been updated to take into account new measures in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which has now gained Royal Assent. It will clearly set out to schools and colleges that use biometric recognition systems, such as fingerprint identification and facial scanning, that:

  • For all pupils in schools and colleges under 18, they must obtain the written consent of a parent before they take and process their child’s biometric data.
  • They must treat the data with appropriate care and must comply with data protection principles as set out in the Data Protection Act 1998.
  • They must provide alternative means for accessing services where a parent or pupil has refused consent.

Frequently asked questions and optional templates for notification and consent will also be included in the advice.

The Government has been clear that parents should have the right to prevent the use of their child’s personal data in automated biometric recognition systems. This commitment was underlined in the Coalition’s manifesto, Our programme for government.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

Biometrics in schools is a sensitive issue. We want schools to be in no doubt of their responsibilities when it comes to young people’s personal data.

I have heard from many angry parents after they have learned that their children’s personal data was being used by schools without their knowledge. The new legislation gives the power back to parents, as it requires parental consent before the information can be collected.

In the age of the internet, identity and the integrity of biometric data are of increasing importance. Young people need to understand from an early age the sensitivity of such personal data. The provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and the accompanying advice to schools will help to reinforce that message.

Some schools and colleges use biometric technologies such as fingerprint identification and facial scanning. These may be used to record attendance, grant access to libraries and to process cashless payments. The benefits to schools include site safety and the speed and ease of access to services.

The consultation is aimed at proprietors, governing bodies, head teachers, principals and staff. The Department wants schools and colleges to be able to accommodate the new duties without increasing the burden on them. The consultation seeks feedback on the clarity of the Department’s advice ahead of its final publication later in the year. It runs for 12 weeks and closes on 3 August 2012.

Further Education Minister John Hayes said:

It is absolutely right that what we do in schools is consistent with the approach in colleges and, in that spirit, I welcome this consultation.

Half of free schools still negotiating sites for autumn opening, minister says

Half of free schools still negotiating sites for autumn opening, minister says

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd

Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire was one of the first batch of free schools to open

Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire, formerly a fee-paying school, was one of the first batch of free schools to open. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Half of the free schools opening this autumn are still negotiating over premises, an education minister has admitted. Despite many having made provisional offers of places for September, only about 35 of the 70 schools have written confirmation from the land or lease owner that they can use their proposed building, and a few have yet to find a site.

The information was divulged by Nick Gibb, the schools minister, in response to a parliamentary question by Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary. Gibb said “around half” of the free schools due to open this autumn or shortly afterwards had a “confirmed” site, while a “large majority” of the rest were still negotiating contracts for their buildings.

Some 70 free schools are expected to open in September or shortly afterwards – almost three times as many as opened last year. This time last year, fewer than half of those opening last September had confirmed their sites, Gibb said. Of the 24 free schools that opened last September, nine were initially in temporary premises.

However, Labour said the revelation would worry parents and was proof that one of the coalition’s key reforms was “in disarray”.

Free schools are state-funded primaries and secondaries started by parents, teachers, charities and private firms. The policy, inspired by similar initiatives in Sweden and the US, is one of the government’s main education reforms and is designed to raise standards and increase competition in the state sector.

Free schools are allowed greater freedom over the timings of the school day, teachers’ pay and the subjects they teach. They are accountable to central government rather than their local authority, in the same way as academy schools.

Twigg said parents would fear that the coalition’s “approach to new schools is too much of a gamble”.

The New Schools Network, a charity that works closely with the Department for Education to provide advice on setting up free schools, urged the government to rethink the way in which schools find appropriate buildings. Natalie Evans, the charity’s chief operating officer, said some free schools had to postpone their openings because they had been unable to find suitable premises.

“Securing a site does appear to be the single most challenging issue for free school groups once they have been approved,” she said. “We believe the government needs to think again about the whole process of finding a site and who actually carries out that role, as what was fit for purpose for a couple of dozen of free schools will not work for the hundreds that are now coming forward.”

Those involved in the Greenwich free school, a secondary school opening this September in south-east London, told the Guardian that finding a suitable building had been challenging. The school may require an interim site while renovation work is carried out on its premises – the former living quarters for nurses of the Royal Herbert hospital.

Louise Buckley, a governor of the Greenwich free school, said the group had also looked at a former rifle factory but found that the modifications required to the building would have been too expensive.

John Simes, founder of Collingwood Learning, an education consultancy which helped the Greenwich free school find its premises, said obtaining a building had been fraught and stressful.“The time frame is short … It can take up to two years to find a building which can sometimes bring you near to the point at which the school needs to open.”

Zenna Atkins, chief executive officer of consultancy Wey Education, anticipated that “quite a few” of the free schools expected to open in September would be in temporary premises at first.

The Tories’ star teacher, Katharine Birbalsingh, has had to delay the opening of her free school. Birbalsingh gave a blistering speech to the Conservative party conference in 2010 in which she attacked dumbed-down standards in exams and “chaos” in classrooms. She had planned to open a secondary school, the Michaela community school, in Tooting, south London, this September, but failed to secure her preferred location. The school may open next year instead.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said the government was working closely with free school groups to “help realise their vision of creating great new schools with high standards and strong discipline – in response to local demand”.

Half of England’s secondaries becoming academies

Half of England’s secondaries becoming academies

BBC |April 5, 2012

By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter
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Academies will soon dominate England’s secondary education landscape, with more than half of schools having sought to convert, official figures show.Some 1,641 out of a total of 3,261 secondaries have applied to become the state-funded but independently run schools – 1,283 are already open.

This means that 50.3% of secondaries no longer have official ties with their local authority.

Schools minister Lord Hill said heads were seizing independence.

Academies are funded directly by the secretary of state rather than through their local authority and they have more freedoms to opt out of the national curriculum and change term and even day length.

Ministers say this gives head teachers the power to innovate and improve the standard of education on offer without undue interference.

More freedoms

But detractors argue academies are unaccountable and undemocratic as they have no link with locally-elected education authorities which provide support services to schools in their area and manage admissions.

Soon after the coalition government came to power in May 2010, Education Secretary Michael Gove invited all outstanding schools to convert to academy status. At that point there were 203 academies.

He then further extended the invitation to all types of schools. And many took the opportunity to discover how much more money would be added to their budgets as they become responsible for commissioning their own support services.

Announcing the tipping point, Lord Hill said: “A recent survey shows that hundreds of academies have already adapted the curriculum to raise standards, and a third are changing – or are considering changing – term times.

“With greater freedoms, these state-funded schools can truly meet the needs of local parents and pupils.”

The DfE also said that in two areas of the country, Darlington and Rutland, 100% of state-funded schools were academies.

And in six other local authorities all schools are either already academies or on the way to becoming academies. These include Bexley, Swindon, Kingston-Upon-Thames and Bromley.

Schools cannot solve all of society’s problems, says minister

Schools cannot solve all of society’s problems, says minister

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd

Nick Gibb, the schools minister

Nick Gibb, the schools minister. Photograph: Ian Nicholson/PA

Teachers are expected to solve too many of society’s problems, the schools minister Nick Gibb has said.

In a speech to the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), Gibb criticised lobby groups for saying schools could help tackle a growing number of issues.

He said children were now more aggressive and more likely to grow up in “fragmented families” without boundaries, but the answer was not to “fill the school curriculum with all the social issues that pressure groups want us to put [in the school day]”.

“It seems that the first answer of many to almost any problem in society is to give a duty to schools to tackle it, be it obesity, teenage pregnancy or knife crime,” he said. “It feels like every other week I am presented with proposals from one well-meaning group or another to add something ‘socially desirable’ to the curriculum.”

Gibb said one lobby group had asked him to make pilates compulsory for pupils. “We could easily fill up the school curriculum with all the social issues that many pressure groups want us to put in the curriculum. Then there would be no time left for the academic subjects that need to be taught,” he said. “My view is that the best way for schools to tackle social problems… is to make sure children leave school well-educated. That is the best way out of poverty.”

In an ATL poll of 1,292 primary and secondary teachers and college lecturers, 73% said their job was damaging their health and wellbeing, and a quarter said they had taken sick leave from work since September.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said the demands placed on those working in schools and colleges was rising. “It is not surprising that so many teachers and lecturers are considering leaving the profession. They are having to cope with endless government initiatives, Ofsted inspections and pressure … to get pupils through tests.”

Teachers have warned that coalition plans to pay teachers according to where they live could lead to lower salaries for those who teach arts, and for primary school teachers.

George Osborne, the chancellor, said in his budget statement last month that he wanted to see public sector pay “more responsive to local pay rates” to help the private sector grow in economically depressed parts of the UK.

A poll of 791 teachers by ATL found that 53% expected this would lead to their salaries being linked to the age group of children they taught, and 62% thought it would result in maths and science teachers being paid the most.

400,000 Pupils Miss Month Of School

400,000 Pupils Miss Month Of School

BBC |March 28, 2012

By Angela Harrison BBC News correspondent

Nick Gibb, Schools Minister: “Missing a month of school is a significant amount”

Figures show 400,000 children were persistently absent from England’s schools in the past year and missed about one month of school each.

The government statistics show a small rise in the number of pupils skipping school without permission, but a drop in overall absence rates.

Overall absence rates, which include sickness, fell from 6% to 5.8%.

About 62,000 youngsters missed sessions without permission on a typical day in the last academic year.

There was a small rise – 0.1 of a percentage point – in the truancy rate – which measures absences where no permission has been given and children are not sick.

This now stands at 1.1% – a level which has stayed roughly the same in recent years.

There was a small increase in the numbers of children missing school for family holidays.

This accounted for 9.5% of all absence – compared with 9.3% the previous year.

The figures show that authorised absence fell to 4.7% in 2010-11, from 5% the year before.

Illness remains the main reason for children missing school, accounting for 58.7% of time missed.

Ministers are trying to crack down on pupils missing school, saying they are losing valuable time from their education.

Fines for parents

Schools Minister Nick Gibb welcomed the downward trend in absence but said he was very concerned about children who persistently missed school.

“A hard core of almost 400,000 pupils still missed at least a month of school. We should not underestimate the impact of this on their future prospects,” he said.

“The effect that poor attendance at school can have on a child’s education can be permanent and damaging. Children who attend school regularly are four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs, including English and maths, than those who are persistently absent.”

Data also released by the government shows that more parents are being fined because their children are failing to attend school.

In total, 32,641 penalty notices were issued in 2010-11, up from 25,657 the year before. Of these, 7,902 went unpaid.

One In Seven Pupils Miss Out On First Choice Secondary School

One in seven pupils miss out on first choice secondary school

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd

Schoolchildren in classroom

About 74,000 children who applied to start secondary school in September did not get a place at their first choice school. Photograph: Rex Features

Around one in seven children in England missed out on a place at their first preference secondary school this year, official figures show.

Statistics published by the Department for Education reveal that 14.7% of the nearly 504,000 11-year-olds who applied to start secondary school this September did not get into the schools their parents wanted.

This is the equivalent of about 74,000 11-year-olds –5,000 fewer than last year. The slight improvement is in part due to 1.7% fewer applications, although the number of places has remained the same.

Inner London had the lowest proportion of pupils getting their first choice school – 65.8% – while outer London was marginally higher at 68.4%. The north-east of England had the highest proportion of first preference offers at 95.1%.

In some parts of London, competition was particularly tough. Just 53.5% of 11-year-olds in Wandsworth, south London, got their first preference. In Hammersmith and Fulham, in west London, and Southwark, in central London, the figures were 54.4% and 55.9% respectively.

Families were told at the start of this month whether their child had a place. Across the country, 95.9% were offered a place at one of the three schools they listed as their preferred choices. This is a rise of 0.3 percentage points on last year and continues a rising trend.

The number of secondary school pupils under 16 has been in decline since 2004 and is expected to decrease further until 2016.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said parents faced an extremely competitive and stressful process for securing a place for their children. “We want to ease this pressure by creating more good school places, which is the driver behind all our reforms to the education system.”

Gibb said the government was allowing the best schools to expand and the growth of academies and free schools meant parents had a wider choice of good schools.

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