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In The Beginning – The King’s School Canterbury

The History Of Education In England

An occasional series highlighting the history of our education system from the 6th Century onwards

In The Beginning – The King’s School Canterbury

The first schools were established by St. Augustine in order to teach Latin to English priests. It is generally accepted that the first of these schools was King’s School in Canterbury (pictured above), a Grammar School which was founded in around 597 or 598 making it the world’s oldest extant school.  King’s School was endowed by King Ethelbert who also endowed the Church that was founded at the same time but is actually named after Henry VIII as it was refounded at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.

The first Grammar Schools were not schools as we understand them.  The educational ideas were derived from Roman and Hellenistic schools of rhetoric and they taught seven liberal arts and sciences – grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy – which were regarded as a preparation for the study of theology, law and medicine.  The primary subjects were Latin grammar and literature because the schools’ main aims were to prepare scholars for the priesthood making it a vocational education.

The scholars were future priests and monks who were being trained to conduct Church services and to read and understand the Bible and early Christian fathers’ writings. As a result ‘grammar’ at this point did not mean learning about the structure of language as we understand it today.  The current meaning didn’t develop until the middle ages. It was instead a preparation for reading, especially reading aloud, and was taken to involve comprehension and commentary.


Fund Primary Places Not Free Schools, Labour Urges

Fund primary places not free schools, Labour urges

BBC |March 20, 2012

By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter
PlaygroundThe government should tackle the growing crisis in primary school places rather than building more free schools, says shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg.

The equivalent of 2,000 primary schools’ worth of children – some 450,000 – need to be found places in England’s schools by 2015, he says.

Cash should be allocated where it is needed the most, he add.

The government says it will spend £4bn on easing the pressure.

This sum includes £1.9bn already announced for 2011-12 and an extra £600m announced in the autumn.

‘Real need’

It also includes a further £800m for the coming two years, which the Department for Education is expecting to be allocated.

But Mr Twigg accuses the government of “ignoring” what he says is a growing crisis.

He highlights the fact that much of the money promised for new places has been ear-marked for free schools – the majority of which are secondaries where pupil numbers are falling.

As free schools are parent-promoted they do not necessarily emerge where the population pressure points are.

Mr Twigg says it would make more sense to spend the money on tackling the shortfall in primary school places, but that this could include some free schools.

He says: “Across England we need nearly half a million more primary places – the equivalent of building an extra 2,000 primary schools between now and the general election.

“At the moment, the government has only promised an extra 100 new free schools, many of which will be secondaries.

“The government seems oblivious to the problem, preferring to focus on pet projects rather than real need.

“If we are to improve the number and quality of our primary schools, the government needs to start rolling up its sleeves.”

‘Salami slicing’

Mr Twigg is not saying that 2,000 primary schools need to be built, and readily acknowledges that many of the children could be accommodated in expanded primaries.

But he urged ministers to address the issue head-on in the Budget, “allocating all its education capital to meeting real need, not salami slicing some off for pet projects”.

He added that if the government did not address the real need the effect on pupils’ education would be dramatic, with many“squeezed into temporary bulge classrooms in Portakabins”.

The problem is particularly acute in London with 100,000 places required by 2015. Extreme measures are being taken to tackle the problem.

In Barking and Dagenham, where an extra 8,000 places are needed, the council are proposing to rent out an empty Woolworths and an empty MFI store. And in Sutton, the council leader has asked for permission to end the infant class size limit of 30.

In Brighton, where 2,000 more places are required, there are plans to teach children in a football stadium, a bingo hall and redundant churches.

And in Lancashire alone a whopping extra 14,000 places are needed and predictions show 11,000 places are needed in Birmingham, Leeds, Hertfordshire and Hampshire.


Education Secretary Michael Gove accused Labour of hypocrisy, saying: “For years they ignored warnings about the baby boom and splurged billions on extravagant and expensive secondary school projects instead.

“When we said there was a problem, they dismissed our calls as‘nonsense’.

“By contrast, we have more than doubled funding for extra places to give local authorities the resources they need.

“Instead of shirking responsibility, Stephen Twigg should admit his party’s mistakes and back this government’s actions to sort the problem out.”

He also accused Labour of cutting funding for extra school places by 26%, saying he had doubled funding to £800m a year.

But this came after he scrapped the primary school building programme which aimed to rebuild half of all primary schools by 2023.

Warwick And Queen Mary Universities To Share Lecturers

Warwick and Queen Mary universities to share lecturers

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd – Tuesday 20 March 2012

Queen Mary, University of London

Queen Mary, University of London, which announced a close collaboration with Warwick University. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Students at Warwick University and at Queen Mary, University of London are to share lecturers in what will be one of the closest alliances yet between two higher education institutions in England.

Academics at the two universities will teach each other’s English, history and computer science undergraduates from this autumn.

The universities will not be merging timetables in these subjects, but said this could be possible in coming years. In future, more subjects are likely to be jointly taught.

The two institutions, which are 80 miles apart, will also share teams that work on increasing the diversity of their student populations, and will work together on their outreach activities in schools.

They will conduct far more research together in future and are advertising for two post-doctoral research fellow posts, one in each university, to collaborate in the history of mental health, discrete mathematics, the renaissance, and functional molecular materials.

The universities denied that their “strategic partnership” would lead to a merger and said they would not be making redundancies as a result of it.

But Prof Simon Gaskell, Queen Mary’s principal, said the partnership was a response to the “high level of uncertainty” that had been created by ministers reducing public funding for higher education and raising the maximum tuition fees to£9,000 a year. Both institutions will charge the maximum fees this autumn.

The government has also made it more difficult to recruit overseas students, who pay higher fees than their UK peers.

Gaskell said many universities would respond to these pressures with a “fundamentally cautious approach”, but that neither Queen Mary nor Warwick intended to do so. “Critical to new approaches will be the achievement of the right balance between competition and collaboration,” he said.

Warwick and Queen Mary would continue to compete with each other, he added, but their collaboration would mean they could“serve a much wider community both nationally and internationally as well as ensure efficient and effective use of resources”.

The universities said the collaboration would lead to students being taught by an “even broader range of leading academics”.

The University and College Union, which represents academics, said Warwick and Queen Mary’s plans would have to be “considered carefully” to ensure they did not lead to “the heaping of more work on already hard-pressed staff”.

Sally Hunt, the union’s general secretary, said she shared the universities’ concerns about government policy and reductions in funding.

A report published this month by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which hands out public funds to universities on behalf of the government, said institutions were being challenged “as never before to reconsider their fundamental role, market position, structures, relationships, partnerships, policies and processes”.

“They will need to continue questioning how they operate internally, engage externally with other institutions and organisations, and interact with the wider society. This raises the profile and potential relevance of collaborations, alliances and mergers,” it said.

New University Bursaries Tell Students What To Spend The Money On

New university bursaries tell students what to spend the money on

The Guardian World News |by Harriet Swain

Tom Vonier, student at UEL

UEL student Tom Vonier sees the benefits of the new bursary but would prefer to receive cash to spend on living costs. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

When Tom Vonier started the second semester of his journalism degree at the University of East London last year, the university handed him £500. The fact that he could only spend it in certain university shops and on certain things did not really bother him. It topped up his Oyster card (for travel on London transport), bought books and went towards a MacBook. “It’s quite helpful having it like this because you can’t just spend it on holidays,” he says.

But isn’t part of the point of university to learn through bitter experience not to blow your cash on a lost week in Ibiza? Depends whose cash it is. Under the new higher tuition fee regime universities are under pressure to offer bursaries in order to meet Office for Fair Access targets on recruiting students from disadvantaged backgrounds. But it can be hard for institutions to watch money that could have been spent on an extra lecturer disappear into the local kebab house.

The UEL scheme aims to solve this problem. Every student who successfully completes their first semester receives a progress bursary: a card loaded with £500, which can be spent on books, stationery, art materials, IT products, field trips, printing, and even nursery and accommodation costs. They get more when they complete further semesters, to a total value of £1,100, and parents and other sponsors can load money on to the card too.

Stuart Smith, head of marketing and student recruitment at UEL, says that linking release of the money to students progressing through their course nearly halved the university’s dropout rate in the three years after it was introduced.

The scheme, first developed by the academic bookseller John Smith & Son for institutions in Africa, has allowed the university to give students money “targeted to things that will help them succeed”. Investment in academic materials appears to show a strong correlation to performance in terms of final degree classification, he says, with students gaining a first spending an average £269 on books, students with a 2:1 spending £227, and those with a 2:2 spending £195. Data collected on the cards has allowed the university to track what each student is spending and offer advice if they appear to be underspending on books or course materials.

Southampton is now planning an entitlement card scheme run on similar lines, while the University of Chester already offers an Aspire card, giving eligible students credit to spend on books and learning materials. The universities minister David Willetts recently met executives at John Smith to discuss how the scheme could operate more widely.

Delyth Chambers, an HE consultant advising John Smith, says:“The scheme has the potential to answer a lot of questions being posed by the funding council and OFFA in showing return on the investment institutions are making in scholarships and bursaries.”

She says it is often difficult for institutions to measure the impact of the cash bursaries and scholarships they offer. This way they can decide what their students need and how they want them to spend their bursaries. “From a parental point of view, I would be far happier knowing my child was spending money on things that will help them in their careers rather than in the O2 Arena,”Chambers says. “There are benefits all round.”

Students are more cautious about the idea, however. Liam Burns, president of the NUS, says bursaries are generally far better than fee waivers because many students will never have to pay back the full cost of their fees, so if these “hypothecated” bursaries encourage more universities to go down the bursary route, that is a good thing. However, he argues that some students may have financial needs that impact on their studies but do not fall into the categories covered by the scheme. “Students have life to manage,” he says. “We don’t make any other section of society jump through such hoops for public money.”

He is also worried about the possibility of creating monopolies, with university-based bookshops or other suppliers able to inflate costs. A further fear is that universities might start to push course costs, such as lab equipment or printed notes, on to the card rather than meeting them through fees. The hidden costs of some courses are the focus of a current NUS campaign and featured in a week of action by NUS last week.

“This is a company that has to make a profit,” says Burns. There has to be scrutiny of where those profits come from.” He would like to see student unions able to veto such schemes if they were unhappy with them.

But he sees the issue as a distraction from more pressing concerns that “the student support system is fundamentally broken”.He would like to see a clear national bursary offer so that students know exactly what financial help they will be entitled to before they apply to higher education and do not have to sift through information from individual institutions.

“Part of this is who has the shiniest package and how can they use this scheme as a sales pitch to get students to come to their institution,” he argues.

Tessa Stone, chief executive of the Brightside Trust, an education charity that organises mentoring projects for students, agrees that hypothecated bursaries are likely to be more attractive to students than fee waivers, but questions whether they will persuade students worried about high fees into higher education.“It depends if they feel they are getting a good deal or that the university is just giving them money to put straight back into the university’s coffers,” she says.

She is in no doubt that some students need financial guidance. While it may seem infantilising to dictate how they spend their money, it is easy for students with no family experience of university, who were not taught financial management taught at school, to get into serious trouble, she says. “There are no safety nets in this new fee system.”

But Stone is not convinced by arguments that the more students spend on textbooks, the better they do in their degree, suggesting that those buying more books may simply be more motivated in the first place. What the bursary scheme cannot show is how particular students would have spent their money if it had been given to them without conditions.

Yet it does collect a huge amount of other kinds of data, which could help universities to target their support for students more accurately – something the NUS supports.

Vonier has no qualms about his university knowing where his money goes, pointing out that no one who shops regularly online or uses Facebook can be too concerned about privacy. “We are so used to data being collected about us that it doesn’t worry me any more,” he says. He does, however, admit that he would prefer a cash bursary to a hypothecated one. “I think I would spend it on life costs,” he says. “Living in London is really expensive.”

Would Ranking Pupils Against Each Other Restore Faith In Exams?

Would ranking pupils against each other restore faith in exams?

The Guardian World News

Sixth form students celebrating 'A' level success at St Nicholas RC High School, Hartford, Cheshire

Celebrations on A-level results day. Photograph: Don McPhee for the Guardian

Have you noticed that when you talk about schools to almost anyone outside the professional world of education you hit an implacable belief that exams have got easier and standards have fallen?

You can quote the many statistics that challenge this view, yet, reinforced by parts of the media and some politicians, it is unshakable. And I’m afraid it will no longer suffice for experts wearily to shake their heads and dismiss the public as ill-informed. This split between those in education and almost everyone else is corrosive; undermining confidence and morale in schools.

So what is to be done? An interesting suggestion comes in a new book by Jerry Jarvis, who ran the UK’s largest exam board and whose authorising signature appears on millions of GCSE and A-level certificates. Despite the title of the book – Cheats, Choices& Dumbing Down – in it, Jarvis defends the exam system’s strenuous attempts to maintain standards over time.

But, despite all these efforts and regulatory controls, he recognises that the public no longer believes that standards are being maintained. He says the problem is that the public understands “standards” in relative not absolute terms. They see a“high standard” as something differentiating the best from the rest. By contrast, in the official exam world, “standards” are thought of as absolute, a level of quality that remains constant however many achieve it.

This is partly because in most other spheres of life we do indeed define “high standards” in relative terms – for example, to denote the best restaurants, the swankiest hotels, the top football teams, the fastest athletes. There are, of course, exceptions. We accept that anyone who has passed a driving test has reached the necessary “standard”, even though there are many more drivers on our roads than 40 or 50 years ago. There are similarities between the driving test and school exams – for example, more people need to drive today, just as more people aim for higher education – but the public seems unwilling to see that higher pass rates could be down to greater motivation and participation any more than they accept it could result from better teaching.

The reason is historical: O- and A-level standards were originally defined in relative terms, and that’s what people grew used to. Students were measured against one another, not against an absolute standard. They were ranked and graded accordingly: the top 10% got an A, the next 15% a B, and so on.

Jarvis’s solution is to reintroduce rank order alongside the current grades. Thus, a student might receive both a grade A and be ranked at the 83% percentile point. It is an interesting idea but I fear it may only add further confusion. Instead, the logic of his argument suggests going the whole way and reporting exam results purely by rank order.

I accept this would be retrograde in some respects. It could prove demoralising for students at the lower end of the achievement scale who, under the current system, are at least rewarded for what they have shown they know, irrespective of their position relative to others.

It could also be argued that it would subordinate the whole school exam system to a single purpose, namely competitive university entrance when, despite the popular view that “everyone”goes to university now, it remains a minority activity.

But there could be some real gains. It might do away with the ridiculous summer ritual when ever-higher pass rates provoke an outcry about falling standards and easier exams. It might also make a nonsense of the culture of government-imposed national targets that encourage teaching-to-the-test. After all, what would be the point in demanding that ever higher percentages of pupils in the country achieve five A*-C grades if pass rates are fixed?

Of course, governments would have to find another way of measuring standards over time. But that can be done by testing a small sample of students year-on-year with a different battery of low-stakes tests, as happened under the Assessment of Performance Unit in the 1970s and 1980s.

So, while a change to rank-order exam results is far from perfect and I suggest it reluctantly, if it ends the sniping about standards, and raises public confidence, it might just allow schools to return to their core role: preparing pupils for adult life in the broadest sense; not coaching them to leap through exam hoops. As they say in exam papers: discuss.

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