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Well-being and education “go together”

Well-being and education “go together”

BBC |July 5, 2012

By Angela Harrison Education correspondent, BBC News
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People who are better educated are more likely to say they are satisfied with their lives, a study suggests.

And they are more likely to say that the things they do are worthwhile, according to research by the Office for National Statistics.

The study is part of a £2m project launched by the prime minister to try to measure people’s happiness and well-being.

It does not say education necessarily leads to happiness.

The researchers point out that many other factors affect the way people feel, including someone’s age, health, income and job.

The study also shows that over time, the UK’s population has become better-educated.

Between 1993 and 2011, the proportion of adults aged 16 to 64 without any formal educational qualifications has more than halved from 27% to 11%, it says.

Meanwhile, the proportion with a degree or equivalent qualification has more than doubled from 11% to 24%.

Among people with A-level or higher qualifications, 81% rated their overall satisfaction with life as seven out of 10 or more.

And 85% felt similarly positive about how worthwhile they felt the things they were doing were.

Among those who left school with no qualifications, 64% rated their happiness with life as seven out of 10 or higher.

Poverty gap

The researchers also quote from a study of the British Household Survey which found that people who were learning part-time in evening classes or in other ways were more likely to rate their well-being as high.

And they point out that in England, while three-quarters of children from the richest families achieve five good GCSE passes (A* to C), only one in five from the poorest homes do so.

The report is one in a series about well-being from the ONS.

It is part of £2m national consultation launched by the prime minister in autumn 2010 aimed at working out how best to measure the nation’s happiness.

David Cameron said he wanted more research on what mattered most to people, saying this could help shape future policy and gauge the effect of government action on people’s well-being and quality of life.

The Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair had also looked at the idea of creating what is often called a “happiness index”.

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Do smart devices make smart kids?

Do smart devices make smart kids?

bbc.com  6 July 2012 Last updated at 05:24 GMT

By Jane Wakefield Technology reporter
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I grew up with Ladybird books. They looked pretty old-fashioned when I was reading them and they seem to belong to a bygone age in the era of iPads and e-books.

These days, with the toddler acknowledged as the family’s tablet expert, children often learn to navigate the internet before they learn to read.

But are smart screens making our children smarter or simply creating a new generation of “square eyes”?

In the US most young children have access to a touch-screen device and, according to Daniel Anderson, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, using these devices could be more addictive than watching television.

A young child will look away from a TV screen about 150 times an hour, but a well-designed iPad app is more engaging because the child is touching the screen to generate actions.

  Reading crisis       Book or e-book reader? Which is best?

Half of all US 10-year-olds read poorly, according to Dr Michael Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which was set up to research how digital media impact on learning.

One of the centre’s studies, using an iPod Touch, found that the vocabulary of 13 five-year-olds improved by an average of 27% after using an educational app called Martha Speaks.

Another study, using a different educational app, had a similar result, with three-year-olds showing a 17% gain.

Its latest research compared how children learned using traditional books versus e-readers.

The conclusion was that for young children traditional books were more effective in focusing attention on literacy skills while e-readers helped older children maintain attention and excitement with books.

But even then the picture is complicated.

“Children may be distracted by the bells and whistles of enhanced e-books. They may be engaged but many are not comprehending as much,” said Dr Levine.

“It depends on the context and content, but e-readers aren’t going to solve the reading crisis.”

  Book power

The idea that apps and touch screens are now constant companions for young readers was the inspiration for MagicTown, a fantasy world built around classic children’s books such as Elmer, Winnie The Witch and Little Princess.

The site is trying to bridge the gap between the screen-based digital world and a time when families gathered around to listen to stories.

Every time a child listens to a story, they create a new house in the town.

They can choose a variety of modes for stories, from basic listening to modules that require them to participate in the story.

Even in the web age, stories maintain their power said David Begg, chief executive officer and co-founder.

“Story is the best medium to teach children. From the village elder importing stories from generation to generation, it is how people learn about emotions, morals and the structure of society,” he said.

In Magic Town the village elder is a lion called Louis who will tell different stories to children daily.

The tree at the centre of the town grows more leaves the more stories listened to and withers if none are read.

“It is not about ramming books down kids throats but about engaging them,” said Mr Begg.

“We wanted it to be something that parents think is valuable for their children,” he added.

  Screen learning       Not all children have access to books at home

The model of children learning alongside adults is thought to be the ideal, but in parts of the world with low literacy rates it is simply not possible.

In such places, the screen may take the place of a parent or teacher.

Prof Sugata Mitra, whose “hole-in-the-wall” terminals offered children living in the slums of India their first experience of computers.

Now, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Education, he is experimenting with teaching children to read without adult intervention.

“We are trying to find out if children can learn to read by themselves,” he said.

He and his team have created reading software which has been installed on computers in three villages in central India, one in West Bengal, plus in a slum school and household in Calcutta.

The trial runs until the end of the year.

“The field reports so far are exciting. Children are starting to read already,” said Prof Mitra.

Just how technology can be harnessed to help children learn in better ways may be unclear, but it is obvious children’s perception of books has radically altered.

“Really young children look at a real book and think that it is electronic. They try to swipe it and think it is broken when nothing happens,” said Dr Levine.

Free schools campaigners celebrate freedom of information victory

Free schools campaigners celebrate freedom of information victory

guardian.co.uk |by Hélène Mulholland on July 6, 2012

schoolchildren sitting exams

Free schools victory – Disclosure could lead to speculation about why a proposal was unsuccessful, the education department has warned. Photograph: Bubbles/Alamy

The Department for Education has been ordered to release details of all proposals to establish free schools, after a complaint by the British Humanist Association over an unsuccessful freedom of information (FOI) request lodged in June last year.

The BHA asked for the release of the information amid concerns that the additional freedoms afforded to free schools could lead to a rise in religious discrimination within the state-funded sector, and see a growth in what it considers “evangelical and pseudoscientific schools”.

It argued that since applications were only known once successful, the public had been denied a chance to scrutinise the bids, and requested a list of all free school proposals – including unsuccessful ones – in the first and second wave since the policy was introduced in 2010.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruled there were “very strong” public interest grounds to publish.

Education secretary Michael Gove’s department argued against disclosure under a section of the FOI Act, initially on the grounds that such a move would be “prejudice of effective conduct of public affairs”. The DfE subsequently argued for exemption on the grounds that the information related to the formulation or development of government policy.

The department argued that unsuccessful proposals could be improved and successfully resubmitted and that the release of earlier failed proposals could attract negative publicity and deter proposers, thereby reducing choice for parents and pupils.

Disclosure could also lead to speculation about why a proposal was unsuccessful, such as whether the proposed area or religious character of the school was a factor, and this could increase local tensions and deter other proposals, said the DfE.

But the ICO said the public interest factors in favour of disclosure were “very strong”.

“The withheld information relates to the practical application of a new national education policy and the expenditure of public money,” the decision notice stated. “There is a very strong public interest in providing the public with information about free school applications, both on a national and local level. The disclosure of this information would help to increase the transparency of the programme, help public understanding and enable participation.”

While acknowledging there were valid public interest arguments for maintaining the exemption, it concluded these were outweighed.

BHA faith schools campaigner Richy Thompson welcomed the ruling. “The BHA campaigns against state-funded faith schools, and an important part of being able to do this effectively is being able to identify who is applying to set them up,” he said. “This year we have been trying to identify all free school applications, but have only been able to identify about two-fifths of the groups that applied – the majority of groups are simply unknown to the public at large.

“It is hard to know how the public is able to scrutinise these proposals if we don’t even know about them in the first place. By the time free schools are ‘pre-approved’ to open by the DfE and publicly listed, it is often too late to stop them.”

The DfE has 35 days to comply or appeal. A spokesperson said: “We are currently considering the ICO’s decision, and will respond in due course.”

The decision follows a separate ruling in May instructing the DfE to publish a list of proposed university technical colleges and 16-19 free schools.

Governors hit back at Gove’s ‘badge of status’ comments

Governors hit back at Gove’s ‘badge of status’ comments

BBC |July 6, 2012

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Governors have hit back at the education secretary’s claims that they can be “local worthies” who view their post as a “badge of status not of work”.

Michael Gove said in a recent speech that he wanted to speed up reforms to school governance in England.

Head of the National Governors’ Association Emma Knights said there was not status in being a governor.

Most governors volunteer because they want to give something back, she added.

She told BBC News: “There are very few people who do it for a badge of status. There isn’t even any status in being a school governor.

“In fact what you find is that people volunteer because they want to give something back to their community. They’re interested in children and whether children are getting a good deal.”

‘Local worthies’She said her organisation was “incredibly disappointed by the language of the secretary of state”, adding that she had been in discussions with his department over how governors could best be supported.

She said Mr Gove had focussed on the minority of governing bodies who do not do a good job.

Ms Knights was speaking after Mr Gove said in a speech in London that he wanted to speed up reforms to school governance.

“All too sadly”, he said, people knew what bad governance looked like.

“A sprawling committee and proliferating sub-committees. Local worthies who see being a governor as a badge of status not a job of work.

“Discussions that ramble on about peripheral issues, influenced by fads and anecdote, not facts and analysis.

“A failure to be rigorous about performance. A failure to challenge heads forensically and also, when heads are doing a good job, support them authoritatively.”

‘Volunteers’And he also described good governance, characterised by “smaller governing bodies, where people are there because they have a skill, not because they represent some political constituency”.

“They concentrate on essentials such as leadership, standards, teaching and behaviour,” he said

“Ofsted, in their new inspection framework, will now be asking searching questions on governance – including assessing how well governors hold the head and senior leader to account,” he added.

An aide to Mr Gove said the secretary of state was not critical of all governors and that his intention was merely to improve standards in schools.

There are about 300,000 volunteer governors in England who sit on school governing bodies. They are responsible for working with the head teacher to ensure the school gives a good quality education.

As well as appointing and dismissing staff and deciding how budgets are spent, they act as a critical friend to the head teachers, holding them to account.

England’s schools ‘letting down brightest pupils’

England’s schools ‘letting down brightest pupils’

BBC |July 5, 2012

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England is neglecting its brightest children, leaving them lagging far behind their peers overseas in top level maths scores, a report says.

The Sutton Trust study shows teenagers in England are half as likely as those in the average developed nation to reach higher levels in maths.

Brighter pupils are more likely to go to private or grammar schools rather than other state schools, it adds.

The government said it wanted to “restore academic rigour” to schools.

Researchers at the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University examined the proportions of pupils achieving the highest levels in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tests.

‘Deeply troubling’

The PISA tests (Programme for International Student Assessment) compare the performance of pupils in different countries in subjects such as reading and maths. The latest results date back to 2009.

The report found that just 1.7% of England’s 15-year-olds reached the highest level, Level 6, in maths, compared with an OECD average of 3.1%.

In Switzerland and Korea, 7.8% of pupils reached this level.

Overall, England ranked 26th out of 34 OECD countries for the proportion of pupils reaching the top level in maths, behind other nations like Slovenia (3.9%), the Slovak Republic (3.6%) France (3.3%) and the Czech Republic (3.2%), which were among those scoring around the OECD average.

The report adds that the situation looks worse for England when a wider global comparison is used.

Singapore, which is not part of the OECD table analysed, saw 15.6% of its students score the top level, while in Hong Kong and Shanghai, which were also not part of the OECD table, 10.8% and 26.6% respectively got the top level.

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: “This is a deeply troubling picture for any us who care about our brightest pupils from non-privileged backgrounds.”

The study also suggests that comparing the maths results of 18-year-olds would be even more stark because 90% of English pupils drop the subject after GCSE.

Whereas in many other countries, maths is compulsory up to the age of 18.

The report argues that England is falling down international tables because of successive failures to help the most able pupils.

It calls for bright children to be identified at the end of primary school, with their achievements and progress tracked from then on.

‘Profound concerns’

It says there should also be tougher questions in exams to allow bright youngsters to stretch themselves and show their abilities.

Sir Peter said: “These are shocking findings that raise profound concerns about how well we support our most academically-able pupils, from non-privileged backgrounds.

“Excellence in maths is crucial in so many areas such as science, engineering, IT, economics and finance. These figures show that few bright non-privileged students reach their academic potential – which is unfair and a tragedy for them and the country as a whole.”

Report author Prof Alan Smithers said recent education policy for the brightest had been a mess.

“The government should signal to schools the importance of educating the brightest through how it holds the schools to account.

“At present the accountability measures are pitched at the weakest and middling performers,” he added.

Education Secretary Michael Gove added: “We already knew that under Labour we plummeted down the international league tables in maths.

“Now we see further evidence that they betrayed bright children from poor backgrounds and – worst of all – that their policies drove talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds away from the subjects that employers and universities value most.”

Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said: “Results for all pupils, including the brightest, improved under Labour.

“While there are always improvements that could be made, gifted and talented pupils were stretched through a National Academy, targeted scholarships and a new A* grade at A-level.

“While we want to see bright pupils stretched, this can’t be at the expense of leaving some behind. Michael Gove’s plans will create a two tier exam system, which will do nothing to help all pupils make the most of their potential.”

Nasuwt teaching union head Chris Keates said the tests used to draw the comparisons, and the way children prepare for them, differed between countries.

“Their conclusions raise more questions than they answer. They are not comparing like with like.

“The education systems are different. The pupils taking the tests are selected differently. Some countries do nothing but prepare for the tests for months. Some, like Shanghai may not enter a pupil sample generally reflective of the student population and use crammer sessions to prepare.”

‘Buried’ report praised Labour’s school building programme

‘Buried’ report praised Labour’s school building programme

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar on July 5, 2012

Schoolchildren at the Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol

Schoolchildren at the Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol at work in a classroom constructed under the Building Schools for the Future programme and opened in January 2009. The programme was given a glowing report. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty

Ministers are being accused of suppressing a glowing report about Labour’s school renovation programme, Building Schools for the Future, which was controversially scrapped by the education secretary Michael Gove.

The report, which has now been disclosed under Freedom of Information legislation, says that schools rebuilt under BSF showed “significant” improvements in exam results and declining truancy.

The report was drawn up by Partnerships for Schools, the quango which oversaw the mammoth school building programme, in September 2010.

Gove scrapped BSF in July 2010, two months after the general election, telling the Commons the scheme had been characterised by “massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy”.

At the time, the minister said there was “no firm evidence” of improved results as a result of school renovation. But the evaluation of BSF found that at 62% of the schools sampled, GCSE results were improving at a rate that was above the national average. Attendance improved in 73% of the schools.

The report said: “There are clear patterns of improvement that compare favourably with both local and national data. The patterns are significant and need further investigation to provide explanations about the impact of the BSF process.”

Rebuilding was one of a “number of interventions” in the schools concerned, the study said. The report, drawn up by the now-defunct Partnerships for Schools, was not published and the Department for Education did not carry out any further research. The quango has been scrapped by Gove.

The evalution has been disclosed following an FOI request by Building magazine.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: “[David] Cameron promised this government would herald a new era of transparency, but Michael Gove seems to have missed the memo. He should explain why this report seems to have been buried by the Department for Education.If we are to raise school standards, policy should be driven by evidence not the personal prejudice of ministers.” Twigg said that while the quality of teaching was “by far the most important factor” for school success, the research suggested a link between the quality of school buildings and the quality of education.

The government has come under criticism for pursuing policies despite a lack of evidence that they work. The Department for Work and Pensions expanded a scheme requiring unemployed people to do unpaid work, despite its own study concluding that the programme had “no impact on the likelihood of being employed”.

Nusrat Faizullah, chief executive of the British Council for School Environments, an education charity, said it was vital to evaluate the success of building projects to make future decisions about renovating schools.

“We can see no good reasons for suppressing evaluation data about school buildings.

“Our worry is that the decision to deny access to this information is driven by politics. Is this government anxious about giving credit to new or refurbished schools funded by the last government? This should be about what works for our communities, not about political point scoring.”

More than 700 school building projects were cancelled when BSF was scrapped. In May, the DfE announced that 261 schools had made successful bids under the coalition’s privately financed Priority School Building Programme. This is fewer than half of the number that applied for rebuilds.

The government has commissioned a survey of the school estate which will detail the condition of every school in England by next autumn.

There is widespread concern among headteachers that the country’s classrooms are not fit for purpose, with complaints of overcrowding, leaking ceilings and poor ventilation.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Our priority is to deliver robust standards and high quality teaching to all pupils. As well as launching the Priority Schools Building Programme we are providing extra capital investment to support the provision of new school places and meet essential maintenance needs.”

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City scheme challenges academies

City scheme challenges academies

BBC |July 5, 2012

By Judith  BurnsEducation reporter BBC News
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The government has been urged to reconsider whether sponsored academies are the best way to boost weak schools.

Figures suggest results in England’s sponsored academies rose more slowly than in some other poor performing schools, a study claims.

Researchers at London Metropolitan University said results rose fastest in schools in the City Challenge programme which ran in some areas until 2011.

The government said: “We are building on the best of what we had before.”

City Challenge ran in London, Manchester and the Black Country from 2008 to 2011. In the capital, a  similar programme, The London Challenge began in 2003.

‘Poorest performing’

The researchers, from the Institute of Policy Studies in Education at London Metropolitan University, drew on government data to compare GCSE improvement rates for the poorest-performing fifth of schools between 2008 and 2011.

These were schools where in 2008 fewer than 32% of pupils achieved five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths.

The research team says its analysis suggests that pupil attainment in the underperforming schools supported by City Challenge improved significantly more than it did in other weak schools, including sponsored academies.

By 2011, the secondary schools that had been in City Challenge programmes improved their exam results by 4% more than schools, including sponsored academies, that had not, says the study.

Some of the secondary schools supported by City Challenge programmes subsequently became sponsored academies, but they did not improve significantly more than other schools supported by the scheme, the researchers found.

Lead author Professor Merryn Hutchings told BBC News: “What we are showing is that there is an effective way to improve schools through support and expert advice as happened with City Challenge.

“The current government’s policy is to turn weak schools into sponsored academies. Our data suggests that this has been effective only in those schools that had previously been supported through City Challenge.”

The report, Evaluation of the City Challenge Programme, was commissioned by the Department for Education.

City Challenge was designed to “crack the associated cycle of disadvantage and underachievement” by reducing the number of underperforming schools, increasing the number of good and outstanding schools and improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children, says the report.

The report defines the programme’s strategy as providing external experts to work alongside existing head teachers to assess each school’s individual needs and to set up bespoke support programmes which included mentoring by head teachers from better performing schools.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “For too long children from the poorest backgrounds have been left with the worst schools.

“We are building on the best of what we had before. We have introduced the Pupil Premium to ensure every school is equipped to support pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. The Pupil Premium has increased to £600 and been extended to many more children.

“We are also transforming the worst-performing schools with new leadership as academies and free schools.

“This gives parents and teachers the power to make decisions that are right for local children. The most recent data available shows that the attainment rate for pupils on free school meals in academies improved by 8.3 percentage points between 2009 and 2010.”

The report says that programme was particularly successful in London where it ran for eight years, first as the London Challenge and later as City Challenge.

According to the researchers, London schools now perform well above the national average while pupils on free school meals do better than in any other region.

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