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Fragmented System Holds Looked-After Children Back From Education

Fragmented system holds looked-after children back from education

By Janaki Mahadevan Friday, 16 March 2012 cypnow.co.uk

Government policies intended to support looked-after children into further education are failing because of a fragmented system that confuses both young people and professionals, The Who Cares? Trust has warned.

Report calls for more to be done to help children in care thrive in education. Image: Lucie CarlierReport calls for more to be done to help children in care thrive in education. Image: Lucie Carlier

The charity’s latest report, Open Doors, Open Minds, claims that despite significant improvements in legislation and statutory guidance, the culture and practice within the care system does not consistently support children in care and care leavers to achieve in education.

Based on interviews, focus groups and surveys of more than 300 professionals and young people, the report found that while schemes such as the pupil premium, 16 to 19 Bursary and new tuition fee arrangements offer more financial support to children in care, implementation has been left to local bodies, leaving a “postcode lottery” of support.

Natasha Finlayson, chief executive of The Who Cares? Trust, said: “The government has brought in a range of policies that aim to help open up opportunities for these young people, but unfortunately a misplaced determination to leave everything to individual schools, colleges and universities has undermined their efforts, exacerbated the postcode lottery of care and created new barriers to learning.

“We want to see swift action to ensure that the additional resources in the system are put to effective use so that being in care doesn’t mean failing in education.”

The report found that half of professionals working with looked-after children and care leavers had not heard of the pupil premium while only a quarter said they knew a lot about it.

However, more than three-quarters of professionals reported knowledge of the 16 to 19 Bursary, but only 12 per cent thought that looked-after children and care leavers in their area had enough information about the replacement for the education maintenance allowance.

The charity also found that while the government had introduced access agreements to ensure that vulnerable groups, including care leavers, could still access university despite higher fees, there was extremely wide variation in the support for care leavers provided by universities.

An analysis of access agreements, undertaken as part of the project, revealed that the top 10 universities in England were less likely than other universities to say that they provided support for care leavers. It also found that a lack of data about recruitment and retention of care leavers prevented some universities from setting meaningful targets for improving access.

The charity is now calling for greater clarity and information about funding for further and higher education for young people and those who work with them. It has appealed to the government to provide central direction on funding for looked-after children’s education to guarantee consistency across the country. According to the report, this should involve strengthening guidance and the collection of better data on the progress of looked-after children and care leavers in further and higher education.

The report also calls for the strengthening of the role of the independent reviewing officer as well as that of the virtual school and head teachers, who are appointed by local authorities to promote the educational achievement of all looked-after children in their area.


Six Scottish Colleges Face Ban On Recruiting Foreign Students

Six Scottish colleges face ban on recruiting foreign students

BBC |March 15, 2012

Stow College

Six Scottish colleges are facing a ban on the recruitment of foreign students after failing immigration rules.

The colleges in question are seeking urgent talks with the Home Office after they were stripped of their trusted sponsor status.

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) said applications from the colleges did not meet the current criteria.

The institutions involved include Anniesland, Stow and Cardonald in Glasgow, along with Motherwell College.

The UKBA is cracking down on colleges which it fears may be getting used as a front for illegal immigration.

The government agency regularly checks on the sponsors of students, and can suspend the licence of a college if it believes it is not fulfilling its duties.

The recruitment of overseas students represents a way for colleges to increase their income, with approximately 2,500 students from outside the EU currently enrolled in Scotland.

Urgent discussionsSome estimates suggest these students can bring in as much as£15m a year in fees.

The move comes at a particularly sensitive time as from next month, only those with highly trusted status can recruit overseas students.

Scotland’s Colleges, which represents college principals, confirmed it was seeking urgent discussions with the Home Office.

John Spencer, the organisation’s convener, said: “It is easy to understand why these rules exist, but it is nonetheless the case that they end up discriminating against colleges in Scotland.

“The loss of highly trusted status damages the reputation and prospects of the institution in attracting students to study with them.”

The UKBA confirmed to BBC Scotland that Cardonald College in Glasgow would not be able to submit another application with regards to trusted sponsor status until September this year.

It refused to comment on the situation with regards to the other colleges involved.

A spokesperson for Anniesland College said it did not currently have trusted sponsor status, but that this was due to an application and not as a result of an inspection.

The college added that it was currently working with the Home office and the UK Border Agency.

SNP MSP Sandra White met representatives from Scotland’s Colleges to discuss how they had been affected and is writing to Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop on the matter.

Ms White said: “Colleges are worried this is going to impact negatively on their international reputations.

“For some, the loss of highly trusted status for these institutions is devastating.”

The National Union of Students Scotland has demanded that colleges affected by the UKBA decision quickly provide information and support for their international students.

Robin Parker, NUS Scotland president, said: “The reports of a number of Scottish colleges losing their highly trusted status for taking in international students is incredibly worrying news.

“For those students from outside of the EU in the middle of their courses, this will be a huge cloud hanging over their heads which could harm their studies.

“The colleges involved now need to provide as much information as possible to their international students during this difficult time.”

Primary Schools To Rise To 1,000 Pupils In Places Shortage

Primary schools to rise to 1,000 pupils in places shortage

BBC |March 14, 2012

Primary playground

By Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondentA growing number of primary schools will have 1,000 pupils or more – as extra classes are added to cope with a rapid increase in the birth rate.Instead of one or two classes in each year group, there are plans for some schools to have six forms in each year.

The Local Government Association says councils would “step up to the plate” to ensure enough primary places.

The Department for Education says it is providing £4bn for areas “facing the greatest pressure”.

It is also relaxing building regulations so that new schools can occupy a smaller space – secondary schools by 15% and primary schools by 5% – but the DfE says this has nothing to do with the shortage of places.

Supersize schoolsThe rise of supersize primary schools reflects urgent efforts to find places for the surging numbers of pupils – with official figures showing that an extra 455,000 places will be needed in England by 2015.

If expansion proposals are implemented it would mean Birmingham, Brent, Waltham Forest, Newham, Redbridge, Hillingdon, Bromley and Barking could all have examples of primary schools with capacity for about 1,000 pupils and in some cases up to 1,200.

There are many more schools which will be expanded to take 90 or 120 pupils in each year, with proposals for some schools to double their intakes.

Brent Council, in north London, has published a report showing it will need another 23 classrooms.

It already has more than 500 primary age children which are not placed in any school – enough to fill a traditional size school.

An earlier report included a shortlist of four primary schools which would have capacity for more than 1,000 pupils by 2014-15.

A spokesman said Brent Council was doing “absolutely everything it can, working closely with local schools, to create more spaces… but it is a real challenge”.

Spikes in populationEarlier this week, John Howson, a research fellow at Oxford University’s education department, described the shortage of primary places as the “biggest problem” facing the school system.

The shortage is not only in the biggest cities – there are pressures in places such as Winchester, Bristol and Bournemouth.

But compounding the challenge is that the pattern of population growth is very uneven – with a surplus of places in some parts of the country.

There are even big differences within cities. In Birmingham, the birth rate rose by 25% between 2000 and 2007.

But within this average, there are wards with a primary-age population projected to rise by more than 50% and others where there is zero increase expected.

In response to such local pressures, there are plans for Nansen Primary in Birmingham to expand from 630 pupils to 1,260 – which means moving to six forms per year group.

There have been many different local proposals to finding enough space for extra pupils – including temporary classrooms, converting empty shops, developing split-site schools and in Barking there was a suggestion for pupils using a building in different shifts.

Parental choice

But it is also putting pressure on parental choice.

In response, Tower Hamlets in east London is considering changes to its admissions policy for next year, including a system which would recognise how far children would have to travel to their next available place if local schools were full up.

It also means a distinct change in the image of a typical primary school.

Between 1950 and 2010, the average size of a primary school in the UK remained relatively constant, in a narrow range between 180 and 220 pupils.

There were also 5,500 more primary schools in the early 1970s, when there was last such a demand for places.

David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, says much bigger primary schools are now going to become“less unusual”.

But Mr Simmonds, deputy leader of Hillingdon Council, is confident that local authorities will be able to cope with the pressure.

The decision to expand existing schools in urban areas, where land is scarce and expensive, is often the most practical way of creating more places, he says. In rural and suburban areas, there might be more opportunity for new schools.

The response of parents can vary, he says, in what is an“emotive” subject.

Big is beautiful?

Parents wanting to get children into an oversubscribed school might welcome the creation of more places – while those at the school might be less enthusiastic about such major changes to pupil numbers.

There can also be practical questions such as parking congestion around schools, he says.

The response from parents to previous stories on the BBC News website also shows that there are supporters of bigger schools – with emails arguing that they provide the capacity for more activities, sports and specialist staff.

Head teachers’ leader Russell Hobby backed the expansion of existing schools as the best response to the places shortage.

“However, there are limits to how far a primary can grow and still retain the ethos that makes it special and welcoming to young children. Primary heads are more than capable of handing the logistics, but it is the culture and pastoral care that are at issue,” said Mr Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers.

“Primaries can run well at 500 or even 700 pupils, but then you’re stretching it.”

The shortage of primary places also runs across political fault lines.

Local authorities have a responsibility to ensure enough places – but the government has a “presumption” that new schools should be free schools or academies, outside of local authority control.

This has raised questions about whether the political investment in free schools is at odds with the strategic need to meet the demand for places.

Mr Simmonds, a Conservative, says councils should work with potential free school providers and that there should not be any delays as a result.

But he says it is clear that tackling this places shortage is going to be a priority.

“For the next five years, almost all the capital spending will be on primary places,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We’re creating thousands more places to deal with the impact of soaring birth rates on primary schools. We’re more than doubling targeted investment at areas facing the greatest pressure on numbers – over£4billion in the next four years.

“No-one is saying it will be easy balancing demand for places with retaining the sort of character and ethos that parents want. Our job is to put the capital and the policies to help councils and schools to make the right decisions.”

Academy Row School Governors Sacked By Michael Gove

Academy row school governors sacked by Michael Gove

BBC |March 15, 2012

By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter

Downhill primary

Education Secretary Michael Gove has sacked the governing body of a “failing” school at the centre of a row over attempts to make it an academy.

The governors of Downhills Primary School in Haringey, London, have been replaced with a high-profile “interim executive board”.

It will now consult on whether the school will become an academy. Parents had campaigned against such a move.

The Department for Education said the school had been failing its pupils.

The new board is reported to have arrived at the school on Thursday morning to take charge.

It will now begin a consultation on whether it should become an academy – a state-funded but privately run school outside of local authority influence.

Although the power to remove a governing body has existed for some time, it was never used by the previous Labour government.

This government has only used the powers three times before this case, and only once previously for a primary school – Nightingale Primary in Haringey two weeks ago.

A DfE spokesman said such powers were not used lightly, adding:“Downhills has been underperforming for several years and Ofsted has now found that the school requires special measures.

“They have found that the school is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and that those responsible for leading, managing and governing the school do not have the capacity to secure the necessary improvement.

“We have therefore decided to appoint an interim executive board to give the school the leadership and expertise it needs to improve.

“Those connected with the school will then be consulted on whether the school should convert into a sponsored academy under the leadership of the Harris Federation.”

The Harris Federation is the DfE’s preferred sponsor for the school, which has turned around 13 previously failing schools in London, eight of which have now been judged as outstanding.

The DfE spokesman added: “We think the strong external challenge and support from an academy sponsor is the best way to improve schools that are consistently underperforming.”

‘Trots’The hand-picked interim executive board will be chaired by Les Walton, the chairman of the the Young People’s Learning Agency -the academies’ funding body.

Other members include the head of the Harris Federation, Dr Dan Moyniham, and Dame Sylvia Morris.

Dame Sylvia has just retired as head teacher of St Saviour and St Mary Overy Primary School in Southwark. She was made a dame in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours for services to education, and mentors new head teachers in four London boroughs.

The school’s former head teacher Leslie Church resigned earlier this year after Ofsted placed the school in special measures.

Downhills became a focus for protests against the forced expansion of academies into England’s primary schools.

Hundreds of parents and supporters attended a protest meeting in January at the school in Tottenham, including local MP and former pupil David Lammy.

The school, which is more than 100 years old, was told in January 2010 by Ofsted that “significant improvement” was needed.

At a parliamentary committee hearing in January, Mr Gove labelled campaigners against the academy plan for Downhills“Trots”, claiming they were politically motivated and linked to the Socialist Workers Party.

Asian Universities Challenge US-UK Domination Of Rankings


Asian universities challenge US-UK domination of rankings

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd

Peking University

The Peking University, one of the Asian institutions which rose in the Times Higher Education survey. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features

The UK has better universities than any other country apart from the US, but Asian nations are catching up fast, a major survey of the world’s top thinkers shows.

Campuses across the world were rated by 17,554 leading academics from 149 countries according to how good they thought their research and teaching were.

Harvard takes the top spot, with the University of Cambridge in third place and the University of Oxford in sixth place –the same as last year.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology comes second, while Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, are in fourth and fifth place.

The results, published as a league table by Times Higher Educationmagazine, places 44 US universities in the top 100 – one fewer than last year – while the UK has 10, two fewer than last year. Japan and the Netherlands have five each in the top 100.

Just four countries are represented in the top 20: the US, the UK, Japan and Canada.

Some of the UK’s leading universities have dropped several places since last year, while China’s universities have improved their performance. China is expanding its higher education system faster than most other countries in the world.

Imperial College London has dropped from 11th to 13th place and University College London from 19th to 21st. The University of Edinburgh has fallen from 45th to 49th place, while the University of Sheffield and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are no longer in the top 100.

However, the London School of Economics and Political Science has risen from 37th place last year to 29th.

All the leading Asian universities, particularly those in China, have a higher ranking than they did last year. Tsinghua University in Beijing rose from 35th to 30th; Peking University has gone from 43rd to 38th; and the University of Hong Kong is now ranked 39th, up three places from last year.

The National University of Singapore has climbed from 27th to 23rd place. The University of Tokyo has maintained its place as the eighth best in the world.

Phil Baty, rankings editor at Times Higher Education magazine, said there was a clear risk that UK universities, other than Oxford and Cambridge, would be “relegated from the premier league …in the eyes of the world, with tangible and sustained damage”.

“Perception is reality and it seems that we are perceived as a fading power,” he said. “Our data provides clear evidence that, in terms of prestige among academics around the world, there is the start of a power shift from the west to the east.”

Academics taking part in the survey have worked in universities for an average of more than 16 years and published several papers.

There are several other league tables of the world’s universities, but this one only ranks institutions on their reputation. Universities are likely to use the rankings to judge how much they should charge in tuition fees.

Shabana Mahmood, the shadow minister for higher education, said:“While it is a sign of our strength that the UK is one of only four countries represented in the top 20 universities in the world, the government should sit up and take note of the relative decline of UK institutions compared to those in Europe, the far east and Australia.

“This is symptomatic of the chaos and confusion being created by the government as a result of their rapid changes to higher education. Trebling tuition fees and cutting funding to universities has damaged the promise of Britain and this has been reflected around the world.”

Cambridge Student Gets Seven-Term Ban For Poetic Protest At Willetts Speech

Cambridge student gets seven-term ban for poetic protest at Willetts speech

The Guardian World News |by Jeevan Vasagar

David Willetts

Higher education minister David Willetts was told ‘your gods have failed’ in the protest at Cambridge University. Photograph: Anna Gordon for the Guardian

A PhD student at Cambridge University has been suspended until the end of 2014 for his role in a protest against thehigher education minister, David Willetts.

In a ruling condemned as a travesty by fellow students, the English literature student was suspended for seven terms afterreading out a poem that disrupted a speech by the minister.

The student, named by a student newspaper as Owen Holland, read out a poem that included the lines: “You are a man who believes in the market and in the power of competition to drive up quality. But look to the world around you: your gods have failed.”

The minister was forced to abandon the speech on the “Idea of a University” last November, as protesters repeated the lines of the poem in response to the student.

The sentence – known as rusticating – was imposed by the university’s court of discipline, an independent body presided over by a high court judge.

In response, more than 60 academics and students wrote a“Spartacus” letter to the university admitting to their role in the original protest and demanding that they be charged for the same offence.

Rees Arnott-Davies, a student at Corpus Christi college, who was among the protesters, said: “This is out of all proportion. Two and a half years for an entirely legal and peaceful protest is an absolute travesty and makes me ashamed to study at this university. The idea that you can protect freedom of speech by silencing protest is the height of hypocrisy.”

Arnott-Davies said the court had exceeded the punishment requested by the university’s legal counsel, which sought a one-term suspension.

A Cambridge University spokesman said: “The university notes the decision of the court of discipline in its proceedings. By statute, the court of discipline is an independent body, which is empowered to adjudicate when a student is charged with an offence against the discipline of the university by the university advocate. The court may impose a range of sentences as defined by the statute.”

What More Can Universities Do To Support Students With Long-Term Illnesses?

What more can universities do to support students with long-term illnesses?

The Guardian World News |by Russell Parton

Diabetes: A man injects himself with insulin

Students with long-term illnesses such as Diabetes can feel isolated and stressed. Photograph: Corbis

The pressure of making friends, managing your finances and starting a degree course are enough to give any new student the jitters. But imagine factoring in the additional stress of having a long-term illness into your new life on campus. For me it’sdiabetes, an invisible foe with a tendency to put in sudden and untimely appearances. I try not to go anywhere without my injection kit and something sugary, but it’s impossible not to get caught out at some point. Once I found myself asking the entire computer lab if anyone had any sweets. “It’s a medical emergency,” I said, somewhat melodramatically. Thankfully, one person obliged.

I count myself lucky I was diagnosed while a postgraduate student, slightly wiser and better organised than in undergraduate days. On enrolling, I discovered I could apply for the DisabledStudents’ Allowance – a much needed financial boost. Then there was support from the university itself, a student support agreement or ‘learning contract’ that grants extra time in exams or extensions for essays.“All the support we provide is individually based. We want students to know what the support is, how to access it and to feel comfortable and confident that they can do so,” says Danny Marfany,disability adviser at UCL.

It’s great to know there’s somewhere you can go if you have a problem and that practical support is tailored to the individual. But what about social anxieties and fears about fitting in? Daisy Shaw, a first year undergraduate at Leeds Metropolitan, has had diabetes most of her life. She found one of the main challenges was simply explaining to her flatmates that she had it. “I was prompted into telling them when we were having a conversation about phobias,” she says. “All three of the girls I live with revealed they were were scared of needles. At this point I decided to drop the bombshell that I’m diabetic and have to inject myself at least three times a day. As you can imagine, it was a little awkward.”

Diabetes UK operates a peer support service, connecting people living with the illness via email or telephone so they can share information and experiences. It’s a simple idea that universities could adopt. While many student unions boast a disabilities awareness society, in practice this might only be a Facebook group.

For Daisy, it was luck that led to her meeting another diabetic.“My flatmate brought some friends back for dinner. We were chatting away and cooking, when one of the girls pulled out her blood testing kit and injection. We spoke for ages about our diagnoses and management. It was so lovely to know that there was someone else in the same situation as me – at university, with type one diabetes, and with the same fears and holes in her fingertips from blood glucose monitoring.”

The benefits of knowing someone who can relate to your problems mean these meetings shouldn’t be left to chance. But without universities taking the inititative to connect students in the same position, it’s easy to feel alone.

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