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Vikings and Normans – 866 to 1100

The History Of Education In England

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

Vikings and Normans – 866 to 1100


The progression and expansion of education in England was violently interrupted due to the prolonged succession of Viking raids from around 866 onwards. According to historian A.F. Leach:

“A gloomy interval in the history of English education ensued after the death of Offa and the widespread devastation caused by the Viking invasions. When the curtain rises again, the scene has shifted from the North and the Midlands to the South, and centres in the great figure of Alfred.”

Alfred’s prominence in the next stage of education was down to his Wessex kingdom being the only part of England that successfully resisted the Viking invasion. HAL Fisher tells us that Alfred took:

‘delight in the songs and literature of his people’ and showed ‘concern for education’.

He also taught his own children English literature and Latin and it was through him that reconstruction of the English school system began. His influence on the importance of education was continued by his son and grandson Edward the Elder and Athlestan.


It transpires however, that not all Vikings were destructive when it came to education. Canute, a Christian who married his predecessor’s (Ethlered the Unready) widow, was greatly concerned about the education of poor boys. Herman, the 11th Century historian of Bury St. Edmunds wrote:

whenever he went to any famous monastery or borough he sent there at his own expense boys to be taught for the clerical or monastic order, not only those whom he found among freemen but also the cleverer of the poor, and with his own hand in kingly munificence he also in his progress made some free.


Further big changes were to come as a result of the Norman invasion in 1066. Leach asserts that one of the worst effects of the Conquest was:

‘the foisting of the Italian adventurer Lanfranc into the See of Canterbury’

It seems that there was a desire to expel the monks from Canterbury along with the other monastic cathedral schools and reinstate seculars but these attempts were frustrated by the monkish Lanfranc. As a result the school remained under the control of Lanfranc unlike York and St. Paul’s whose schools who were taught and governed by resident Chapter members. The downside to this was Lanfranc’s lack of residency and his lack of interest in schools and schoolboys.

Despite these problems the secular schools flourished under the Normans with French replacing English as the teaching language medium for Latin and Latin being translated into Norman-French rather than English.  Norman-French remained the vernacular of the upper classes in the country, the middle classes in the towns, and the whole cultured and clerkly class until the reign of Edward III in the mid 14th Century.

Even though the secular schools were expanding education was still mainly about vocational training for those intending to become monks or enter the priesthood but there are records of education for younger members of the royal and noble families.



Charity tax row: Oxbridge joins revolt

Charity tax row: Oxbridge joins revolt

BBC |April 13, 2012

Oxford, Cambridge and other universities have joined the growing disquiet over government plans to curb tax breaks on charitable donations.

The Oxford and Cambridge vice-chancellors wrote privately to Chancellor George Osborne saying his plans risked undermining the culture of university philanthropy.

UK universities, which raised some £560m from charitable gifts last year, want him to rethink.

Ministers want to stop tax avoidance.

Mr Osborne says he is shocked by the scale of legal tax avoidance by multi-millionaires.

Under current rules, higher-rate taxpayers can donate unlimited amounts of money to charity and offset it against their tax bill to effectively bring the amount of tax they pay down, sometimes to zero.

But from 2013, uncapped tax reliefs – including those on charitable donations – are to be capped at £50,000 or 25% of a person’s income, whichever is higher.

Opposition to the plans has been gathering pace. On Thursday, Business Secretary Vince Cable openly voiced concerns after hearing from universities first hand about how the changes could affect them.

And Oxford vice-chancellor Andrew Hamilton wrote a private letter to Mr Osborne pointing out how reliant the university was on charitable donations.

The leading university raised more than £1.25bn over the past eight years, with many of the gifts topping what would be the yearly £50,000 limit.

‘Ill-considered’An Oxford University spokeswoman said that the government’s own policy emphasised the role of private and philanthropic investment, rather than the public purse.

“A step that penalises the government’s own approach seems ill-considered.

“Oxford’s fund-raising campaign recently passed its initial target over £1.25bn and we are continuing to seek support.

“The generosity of Oxford’s donors provides huge public benefit, contributing to teaching, research and student bursaries.

“We have done our best, along with other universities and charities, to foster a culture of giving in the UK, and this move risks undermining that culture.”

Cambridge vice-chancellor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz has also written privately to the chancellor reflecting similar concerns.

The two universities account for 44.2% of philanthropic funds secured by British universities last year.

Meanwhile Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of umbrella body Universities UK, said the considerable sums raised by universities made a major contribution to what they could offer.

The funds raised were used to offer students support through bursaries, scholarships, to improve facilities and fund research.

“Because universities are the preferred cause of major donors (gifts over £1m), we anticipate that they would be particularly hard-hit by the change in the budget.

“After a period in which universities have stepped up their game in fund-raising, this could undo some of the excellent progress they have made.”

But ministers have said they intend to stick to the plans.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander acknowledged they were proving controversial, but said: “We have put in place a cap on unlimited reliefs, we have done so for the very good reason that everyone should pay a decent proportion of their income in tax and that is a policy that we are going to stick to.”

But he did say the government would work with charities and philanthropists “to ensure the removal of the tax relief does not have a significant impact on charities which depend on large donations”.

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”.

Teachers’ union criticises phonics tests

Teachers’ union criticises phonics tests

The Guardian World News |by Hélène Mulholland

Phonics lesson

Phonics teaching focuses on sounds rather than recognising whole words. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

A teachers’ union has called for a campaign against the government’s new reading tests, including a possible boycott, as it said some pupils would be labelled as failures.

Delegates at the NUT’s annual conference in Torquay passed a resolution warning that the mandatory testing of phonics – a system that focuses on sounds rather than recognising whole words– was “unnecessary and inappropriate”.

The government has championed phonics as the best way to boost reading standards. It announced plans for the test last year amid fears children with poor reading skills were slipping through the net.

The test, to be taken by children at the end of their first year of compulsory schooling, will require pupils to sound out or decode a series of words, some of which are made up, to test their reading skills.

The union said the government’s policy of promoting phonics would send a message to schools and parents that other aspects of reading were less important.

A poll for the union found that two-thirds of teachers (66%) thought the test was unnecessary, 67% believed it was a waste of money and 63% said the test was “inappropriate” for many children with special educational needs and those who have English as a second language.

The NUT leader, Christine Blower said: “Our members are saying five is too young to fail.”

Hazel Danson, a phonics teacher and chairman of the NUT’s education committee, said reading involved far more “than just decoding a text”.

“You might as well be giving them quite frankly a page of French and they can decode that but have absolutely no understanding or can ascribe meaning to it,” Danson said. “One headteacher has said he thought it was damaging to give children material they couldn’t read because they would see that as a failure. If you follow that logic, you would never be able to give children any books that had any conversational dialogue in it because the word ‘said’ is impossible to decode phonically.”

A pilot of the test carried out last year saw some bright children struggle as they were trying to make real words out of made-up ones, and failing as a result, said Danson.

“Most adults do not read phonically,” she said. “They read by visual memory or they use context queueing to predict what the sentence might be, so some children who have already got that skill quite early on who were taking the test were left confused.”

Blower highlighted a “very odd, perverse incentive” to drill children in learning non-words, “because if you know that you’re a better, or more advanced, or more able reader you might try to make a word out of a word that’s a non-word.

“Teachers will have a tendency to say ‘well, let’s practice lots of non-words, so when you see a non-word you don’t try to make them be words’. How stupid is that?”

Blower said that if, at some stage, the test results were used in league tables, “you would have people doing the exact opposite of what you want them to do. You would be teaching them [children] to not read, essentially.

“When reading is essential to being able to work with the rest of the curriculum, why would you want to do something that would potentially demotivate not only the children who might have a lot of difficulty with the test because maybe they haven’t reached that level, but also the kids who are actually beyond that who then fail it because they are trying to bring skills to bear which are not useful to being able to do the test?”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We have been clear that the results for the reading check will not be published in league tables. Schools will be required to tell parents their own child’s results.

“Standards of reading need to rise. At the moment around one in six children leaves primary school unable to read to the level we expect, and one in 10 boys leaves able to read no better than a seven-year-old. These children go on to struggle at secondary school and beyond.

“The new check is based on synthetic phonics, a method internationally proven to get results. The evidence from the pilot carried out last year is clear – thousands of six-year-olds, who would otherwise slip through the net, will get the extra reading help they need to become good readers, to flourish at secondary school, and to enjoy a lifetime’s love of reading.”

While NUT members gathered for the third day of the conference in Torquay, the NASUWT union was staging its third day of debate in Birmingham. A poll showed two-thirds of teachers had experienced or witnessed workplace bullying in the past 12 months, with one in five victims quitting their job as a result. The survey revealed that 67% witnessed or were subject to bullying, harassment and abuse from colleagues.

The country’s two largest teaching unions put the government on notice on Saturday of their intention to continue industrial action, including strikes, in protest at pensions reforms. The motion backed by NASUWT delegates on Saturday also cited pay and workplace-related issues. On Monday the NUT will debate its strategy for opposing government plans to introduce local pay.

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
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.

Academies to become a majority among state secondary schools

Academies to become a majority among state secondary schools

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd

Michael Gove

Critics say Michael Gove wants to force schools to become academies against their will. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA

The majority of England’s state secondary schools are, or are about to become, academies, government data shows – a major milestone for one of the coalition’s most controversial reforms..

Figures published by the Department for Education (DfE) reveal 50.3% of the country’s 3,261 state secondaries are now academies – or have applied to be.

This means the majority of secondary schools will soon no longer be accountable to their local authority. Instead, they will report to central government. Academies are often funded by businesses or philanthropists as well as the state. They have greater freedom to change the timings of the school day, teachers’ pay and conditions, and the subjects they teach, although they must teach core elements of the national curriculum.

The DfE figures show primary schools are far more reluctant to adopt academy status. Just 5% of primaries are, or are about to become, academies.

Academies began as a Labour government initiative under Tony Blair. Under Labour, only under-performing schools could become academies. The government insisted that these schools had high-profile business backers and gave them multimillion-pound buildings. As most of these schools were in deprived parts of the country, the initiative was seen as a way of giving poorly performing schools in difficult circumstances a new start.

In contrast, the coalition has allowed the highest-performing schools, including those that select pupils academically, to become academies. Schools no longer need a sponsor to become an academy.

As a result, the number of academies that have opened since the coalition came to power has risen eightfold. In May 2010, there were 203 academies. Now, there are 1,776. Of these, 464 are primary schools.

In some parts of the country, such as Darlington in north-east England and Rutland in the east Midlands, all state secondary schools are already academies. In other areas, all state secondary schools are, or are in the process of becoming, academies. These include Bromley and Bexley, in south-east London, Kingston upon Thames, in south-west London, and Swindon in Wiltshire.

Ministers argue that the “freedoms” academies are given mean they are more innovative and can respond better to the needs of their pupils. One of the first academies to open under Labour, Djanogly City Academy in Nottingham, has made radical changes. It has introduced a five-term year and its 10 and 11-year-old pupils study themes, such as “international trade”, rather than subjects.

Matt Buxton, curriculum leader for 12 and 13-year-olds at the academy, said that as an academy, the school had been able to“choose what is best for our pupils”. “This is obviously the route schools are taking,” he said.

However, the academies project has attracted considerable criticism from teaching unions, parents and some local authorities who see it as a smokescreen for the privatisation of state education. They object to academies not having to abide by nationally set pay and conditions rules for teachers and are concerned by the schools’ lack of accountability to locally elected town halls.

Last month, government officials registered a spike in applications for academy status from schools, with more than 140 bids – the largest number since May last year. Critics say this coincides with a drive by Michael Gove, the education secretary, to force schools to become academies against their will.

One example of this is Downhills primary in Tottenham, north London, which was judged inadequate in its latest inspection by the watchdog Ofsted in February and will now become an academy.

The school has claimed Gove is illegally attempting to force academy status on it and that attainment records and an interim Ofsted report last September suggest standards were improving.

The DfE said the school, last placed in special measures in 2002, has struggled to obtain the required standards for years and that the independent inspection, ordered by Gove, was necessary. One parent of a pupil at the school has started a judicial review against the DfE in retaliation.

Fiona Millar, an education campaigner said the “vast majority”of England’s primary and secondary schools had chosen not to become academies and this was why the government was “having to force them” to take on academy status.

When a school becomes an academy, it receives money that equates to what its local authority would have spent on it for services such as transport and special needs. Most of those that had decided to become academies recently did so to receive extra funds, Millar said.

“Schools are no longer certain that this money will be available in the next few years,” she said. “In uncertain times, a lot of schools feel cautious about taking the leap to becoming an academy. They rely on their local authority for support. They turn to the authority for emergencies, such as if the roof falls in. If a school goes it alone, then it doesn’t have this support.”

The coalition’s academy programme ran into trouble last year when it emerged that some academies were mistakenly being given an extra £300 per pupil.

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