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England’s schools ‘letting down brightest pupils’

England’s schools ‘letting down brightest pupils’

BBC |July 5, 2012


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.”


Neets ‘lack skills needed for first jobs’

Neets ‘lack skills needed for first jobs’

BBC |May 22, 2012

By Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondent

Too many young people lack the social skills needed to get their first job, says a report on the issue of “Neets”.

The Work Foundation says more than 450,000 Neets – youngsters not in education, employment or training – have never had a regular job.

Report author Paul Sissons says young people can lack the “soft skills” needed for the jobs available to them in the service sector.

He says youngsters need help at “this crucial point of transition”.

First steps

The report from the Work Foundation think tank warns of a long-term problem of Neets – aged between 16 and 24 – who have never successfully made the first steps from education into employment.

It suggests that first jobs are now increasingly unlikely to be in manufacturing – but instead will be in the service sector.

But it warns that too many youngsters in this Neet category lack soft skills – such as “communication, team working and customer service” – to get a start in such jobs.

“We know that if young people haven’t got on to the first rung of the job ladder by 24, they will suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives,” said Shaks Ghosh, chief executive of the Private Equity Foundation, which supports the report.

“Some will never work. That’s why this research is so shocking.

“Many Neet young people face a Catch-22. They don’t have the so-called ‘soft skills’ employers are looking for, but often the only opportunity to learn those skills is on the job,” he said.

The report, Lost in Transition, says that the growing number of Neets reflects a major shift in the labour market in the past decade, which has caused a mismatch between the jobs available and the skills of those who are out of work.

It means that more than half of Neets will never have had any sustained experience of a job.

Approaching a million youngsters are classified as Neet – with updated figures expected to be published this week.

International problem

Dr Sissons says such youngsters need “personalised guidance, workplace mentors and introductions to business networks, as well as work experience which leads to paid employment”.

Earlier this week the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) launched a Skills Strategy to address this problem on an international level.

The OECD has warned about the problems of people in industrialised countries isolated from the labour market by a lack of skills.

Even when there are job vacancies, the OECD has reported problems faced by employers who are unable to find suitably-qualified candidates.

The OECD argues for a more co-ordinated approach between education authorities and employers to prepare people for the skills likely to be needed in the future.

Neet blackspots in Great Britain (Northern Ireland not shown as it was not included in the study)

UK childcare needs to be more affordable – CentreForum

UK childcare needs to be more affordable – CentreForum

BBC |May 21, 2012

UK childcare needs to be overhauled to make it more affordable, a report for think tank Centreforum has suggested.

The average family spends more than a quarter (27%) of income on childcare, according to Elizabeth Truss’s report.

The Conservative MP argued regulation should be simplified and childminders allowed to care for more children at a time, to attract higher-paid staff.

Critics said this could put the quality of childcare at risk. The government said it had been cutting bureaucracy.

In her report, Ms Truss said recent studies had shown widespread problems with quality, price and availability.

The figure spent on childcare in the UK is higher than every country in the world except Switzerland, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Ms Truss, MP for South West Norfolk, said the number of nursery places had increased since 1996 but childminder places had dropped drastically in the same period to 245,000 in 2010.

‘Spiralling costs’This had led to price inflation and becoming a childminder was now fraught with red tape, her report said.

It called for childminders to be allowed to take on more children at one time.

Under current rules there has to be one minder for every three children aged five or younger, the report said.

This ratio should be changed to one adult for every five children aged five or under, it said.

Ms Truss argued this would attract higher-paid staff to the profession, improving the quality and availability of childcare, or making it more affordable, and making the UK comparable to other European nations.

Her report also called for a single funding system and for childminders to be able to register with a local agency, nursery or network which would take responsibility for inspection and training and be regulated by Ofsted.

“The coalition government has a great opportunity to simplify the provision of childcare and get better value for money for parents,” Ms Truss said.

“Reform could lead to an increase in availability of flexible childcare and an end to spiralling costs.”

Assuring qualityMs Truss told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that British childcare had the lowest ratio of children to adults in Europe.

“Childminders are getting an average income of £11,000 a year, so not many people want to go into the profession, therefore you have an issue about quality provision.”

But Daycare Trust chief executive Anand Shulka told Today he did not think Ms Truss’s proposals would do very much to address the cost of childcare.

“Looking at the question of ratios, I think, will do very little in terms of reducing the cost of childcare because the additional income that may come in by having more children would be offset by the higher salaries that you pay to childcarers.”

Mr Shulka said he doubted deregulation would lead to lower costs for parents and thought the model proposed by Ms Truss had “issues in relation to assuring quality”.

“If you look at the Netherlands they went down this road a few years ago and they’ve had to row back on it because they’ve been so worried about some of the effects in respect of quality. The cost to the exchequer went up by 50% as well,” he said.

The Department for Education acknowledged families were finding it hard to pay for childcare but said the government was addressing this by strengthening and investing in free early education.

“We’re already cutting bureaucracy and paperwork by slimming down the early years curriculum – to make sure that nurseries and childminders focus on what really matters in child development, such as speech and language,” a spokesperson said. “We’ll continue to scrutinise all the rules and regulations to make sure they are genuinely ensuring safety and driving up quality.”

‘Accessible, affordable quality’MP Harriet Harman was the architect of New Labour’s childcare policy.

She told the BBC “choice was at the essence” of the policy.“Accessible, affordable quality – that’s what we wanted,” she said.“Childminders themselves wanted to be more trained and more professionalised.”

But Deb Knowles, who runs Sheffield’s Hydra Tots private nursery, told the programme she knew of several local childminders who had left the profession because of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) compulsory curriculum.

“It has put some childminders off,” she said. “In the local vicinity there were quite a few childminders and I know of three that have left because of the stresses of the paperwork.

“They’re very good with children, they’re excellent with the families but they’re no good from an administrative point of view -they don’t have the training and other education themselves to be able to administer the Early Years Foundation Stage appropriately.”

Teachers’ performance pay ‘does not raise standards’

Teachers’ performance pay ‘does not raise standards’

BBC |May 15, 2012

By Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondent

There is no clear link between performance pay for teachers and raising standards in schools, says an international survey.

The OECD has examined data from its Pisa tests to find whether targeting pay improves pupil achievement.

Previous studies have identified the importance of high-quality teaching.

But the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher says the international evidence reveals “no relationship” between pupils’ test results and the use of performance pay.

Researchers have already established that top-performing school systems are likely to have teachers who are well-paid or with high social status.

Stretched budgets

The quality of teaching has been identified as central to the outcomes for pupils.

A previous OECD report advised that raising achievement in schools depended on attracting the best students into teaching with“status, pay and professional autonomy”.

But raising the pay for all teachers becomes difficult when public spending is under such pressure in many countries.

The OECD report says many countries facing financial constraints want to see whether they can increase the rewards for the most effective teachers.

The OECD’s membership includes more than 30 of the world’s industrialised countries – and about half of these already use some kind of extra pay incentives for specific teachers.

As such, the OECD has examined whether such a targeted, performance-related approach delivers better results.

Professional status

The findings are that there is no clear pattern.

“In other words, some high-performing education systems use performance-based pay while others don’t,” writes Mr Schleicher.

South Korea, often applauded as an education success story, does not use performance pay. But Finland, often commended for an equitable system, does use an element of performance-based pay.

England has a performance threshold linked to higher pay – while France and Germany do not use performance pay.

But within this bigger picture of ambiguity there are some identifiable and contradictory trends.

In economies where teachers are relatively poorly paid, performance-related pay can be associated with improved student performance.

The report says this might suggest that for countries that cannot afford good pay for teachers, such a strategy could have value.

But in countries where teachers’ pay is relatively good, the use of performance pay is linked to poorer performance.

Measuring results

The report also emphasises that performance pay comes in many forms and raises many difficult questions:

How is performance to be reliably and fairly measured? How can an individual teacher’s impact be separated from the contribution of other staff? Should rewards be shared among staff reflecting their collective effort?

And it says that many successful school systems have a wider approach to attracting and rewarding staff.

This can include ensuring the public status of teachers, providing career development and giving teachers professional responsibility.

Michael Gove proposes that schools set own teachers’ pay

Michael Gove proposes that schools set own teachers’ pay

guardian.co.uk |by Jessica Shepherd

  • Jessica Shepherd, education correspondent
  • guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 16 May 2012 11.10 EDT
Michael Gove

The education secretary Michael Gove has suggested that schools set their own teachers’ pay. Photograph: David Jones/PA

England’s state schools could be allowed to set their teachers’ salaries themselves, the education secretary has proposed, leading to the end of a national pay scale for the profession.

Michael Gove made the suggestion in a submission to a review on teachers’ pay due to report this autumn.

His idea would trigger one of the biggest shakeups in teachers’working conditions for a generation and was deeply unpopular withtrade unions.

Gove said the current national pay scale for the profession was too rigid and meant that schools in some parts of the country struggled to recruit good teachers, while others significantly overpaid their staff.

Academies are already allowed to deviate from the national pay scale, but just 35% have chosen to do so.

Government research shows a wide variation in teacher vacancies and turnover across the country. In London, there are at least 40% more vacancies than across the rest of the country. Salford, in Greater Manchester, has several schools with a large number of vacancies, but in 90% of its schools there are no vacancies. Teacher turnover is above average in east London, London and the south-east, but low in the north-east.

These regional discrepancies are “indicative of the challenges that exist at an individual school level”, the government’s submission to the school teachers’ review body states.

Abolishing the national pay scale for teachers would enable schools to “accommodate local market-facing pay fluctuations and any school specific issues that might affect the school’s ability to attract and retain high quality teachers”, the submission says.

It would also allow schools to manage their budgets more effectively and pay good teachers more, earlier in their careers. However, the submission admits there are considerable disadvantages to a system of complete deregulation.

The government could not oblige all schools to take account of the local labour market, for example, and schools could pay qualified teachers at a significantly reduced rate. Other suggestions include giving headteachers and their governing bodies a larger degree of pay flexibility than they currently have.

At present, teachers’ pay automatically rises according to their experience.

Gove has also asked the school teachers’ review body to look into whether teachers’ pay should be more closely linked to performance and whether there should be local pay, triggering threats of strikes from the National Union of Teachers (NUT).

This week, an international study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development showed there was no clear link between awarding teachers performance-related pay and improving standards in schools.

Gove’s proposal to scrap teachers’ national pay scale was greeted with anger from trade unions.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said a national pay scale gave the profession transparency and ensured “much greater fairness and non-discrimination than pay levels determined at school level”.

“Education is a nationally-delivered service so local pay for a teacher is completely inappropriate. It would reduce teacher mobility, create shortages in areas of lower pay, hit recruitment and retention, and create needless extra expense and bureaucracy for schools. The most disadvantaged parts of the country would be hit by a double whammy of government cuts and lower pay,” she said.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said teachers’ pay should be more closely linked to performance. “Good teachers ought to be able to progress more quickly on the basis of a rounded and objective judgement of their performance,” he said. But he rejected the idea of schools setting their teachers’ pay. “This will force schools in our most deprived communities to pay staff less,” he said.

Ontario Shows Us We Should Support Our Teachers, Not Shame Them

Ontario shows us we should support our teachers, not shame them

The Canadian province improved its education system by being supportive rather than dismissive of state schools, says Fiona Millar

The Guardian World News

Children in class in the UK

Schools in the UK can learn a lot from the education reforms carried out in the Canadian province of Ontario. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Whatever you may feel about his current reforms, the new head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, is certainly an interesting character. In the later stages of the Blair government we used to meet in the occasional television studio, although usually on opposing sides because we didn’t agree on the role of local authorities.

However, I have always admired his commitment to high standards and unwavering belief in all-ability, comprehensive schools. So it was disappointing to hear reports recently that he had equated low staff morale with success, and a relief to see him partially retract this statement in his evidence to the education select committee earlier this month.

At the moment, the lion’s share of the public debate about education – whether from Ofsted, ministers, their tweeting acolytes or media cronies – is focused on failure. Wherever you look, schools, teachers, heads and pupils are lumped together in a great big heaving mass of underachievement. I don’t make this point to excuse inadequate performance but to pose a serious question: can you really build a better system by denigrating and demotivating the very people you need to make it work well?

The answer to that question is almost certainly no. Anyone who doesn’t believe that should read How to Change 5,000 Schools by Canadian academic and ex-education minister Ben Levin. In this book Levin, who is delivering a lecture at the Institute of Education in London later this month, charts the reform programme that has transformed schooling and outcomes for young people in the large, diverse province of Ontario over the last 10 years.

When the provincial government in which Levin served was elected, the Ontario school system was in trouble. In Canada each province has sole responsibility for education, and previous administrations had made structural changes, slashed funding, over promoted testing and gone to war with the unions. Perhaps most important, Levin writes: “The government was vigorously critical of schools and teachers in public.” The result was industrial unrest, plummeting teacher morale, low parental confidence and stagnating pupil achievement. Maybe not surprisingly, in 2003 a new government was elected on a platform of renewing and improving public education. Today Ontario is widely acclaimed, not least by both the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) and the OECD for its rare combination of excellence and equity for all.

There are many important messages in Levin’s fascinating, passionate and humane book.

The state matters, not as a monolithic controller of schools but as a driver for change and high expectations. Ontario learned from some of the 1997 English Labour government’s successes (when standards mattered more than structures), while being less prescriptive and recognising that support rather than punishment was a better way to tackle schools that were not improving fast enough.

The Ontario government chose a few targeted and ambitious, but not unusual, objectives: raising standards for all, narrowing gaps, increasing participation rates, and growing public confidence in state schools. But rather than experimenting with US-style marketisation policies and tinkering with structures, it developed a rigorous programme based on evidence, and began a relentless focus on implementation and building capacity at every level.

“Skill” and “will” became the watchwords, not just for teachers but for everybody involved in the education system, which progressed rapidly thanks to massive investment in leadership and professional development at school, district and ministerial level.

Public statements from government and ministers were switched to be deliberately supportive rather than dismissive of state schools. Finally, and most crucially, the government set out to build a respectful, collaborative relationship with teachers, unions, pupils and parents. “You cannot threaten, shame or punish people into top performance,” writes Levin.

It all seems a long way from home, where division and animosity prevail, parents and teachers are obliged to organise against forced, unpopular takeovers of their schools, anyone who dares to criticise the government is a closet Trot, and even the headteachers’ union is polling members on how morale is affecting their work.

It is too late for the Tories – they are too far gone in the opposite direction. But this book should be essential reading for the shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, Ofsted’s Wilshaw, and any members of the Liberal Democrats who still hope to salvage some of their party from its current hara-kiri mission. Someone will have to pick up the pieces when the current debacle is over, and this book shows how it can be done.

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