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Education in brief: rewriting history; more bullying allegations; spotlight on academy governors

Education in brief: rewriting history; more bullying allegations; spotlight on academy governors

The Guardian|by Warwick Mansell and Geraldine Hackett on March 11, 2013

There have been rumours that Michael Gove has written the new history curriculum

There have been rumours that the education secretary, Michael Gove, has written the new national history curriculum. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
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Michael Gove finds himself mired in yet more controversy. This time over the history curriculum which he has been accused of writing himself whilst ignoring the advice of history education experts. In addition there have been further allegations of bullying made against his department. It really does beggar belief how such a controversial and seemingly incompetent minister has remained in post for so long.
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A case of rewriting the history curriculum?

Who wrote the much-discussed new national curriculum for history? It is an intriguing question, with the Historical Association having said its advice and evidence have been ignored, while one Conservative former adviser to Michael Gove said the current draft “bore no resemblance” to versions he had worked on as recently as January.

So what is the rumour going around the history community at the moment? It is that the seven-page draft curriculum, with its 134 bullet points, including the stipulation that key stage 1 pupils learn about Christina Rossetti and those in KS2 about the Heptarchy, was written by the education secretary himself.

Chairing a history conference last week, the shadow schools minister, Kevin Brennan, voiced this publicly. “There’s no truth to the rumour that the secretary of state wrote up [the draft history curriculum] over a weekend?” he asked of senior civil servant Marc Cavey. “It’s a nice story, but indeed not,” replied Cavey, perhaps a tad nervously. A source had earlier told Education Guardian that the seemingly unsubstantiated gossip had featured at a recent Historical Association meeting.

Speakers at the Westminster Education Forum event disagreed over the merits of the document’s detailed content. But most were of the view that the volume of material included made it questionable whether the new curriculum would ever actually be taught in full to pupils.

More bullying allegations surface at the DfE

With Gove due to reappear before the education select committee this week to answer questions about what he knew about bullying allegations within the Department for Education, news reaches us of an official complaint that has been made about “intimidation” by one of that department’s academy “brokers”.

The complaint came in a letter sent by Tim Crumpton, a Labour councillor in Dudley, West Midlands, to the office of Gove’s schools commissioner, Elizabeth Sidwell, last November. Crumpton, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, asked the office to investigate “bullying” by the broker.

As reported in this column, these DfE brokers are seeking to push many schools towards academy status. Crumpton said he had accompanied the senior official on three visits to schools in Dudley. “On each occasion, [her] behaviour has been intimidating and bullying towards governors, headteachers and local authority staff,” he wrote.

The broker had provided no agenda or subsequent notes of the meetings at schools under pressure to become academies, while, said Crumpton’s letter, on each occasion she had said: “The minister will make you become an academy, and will intervene both in the school and in the local authority if they do not support this action.”

Crumpton told his local paper, the Stourbridge News, he had received an unhelpful response to the letter from the DfE.

The DfE said: “We carried out a thorough investigation and found no basis in the claims.”

Meanwhile, campaign groups associated with at least four schools that are under sustained DfE pressure to convert to sponsored academy status have joined together to set up an organisation called Parents Against Forced Academies. The group has aproposal on the 38degrees campaigning website which, with approaching 2,000 supporters, was top of a list of “hot” issues on the site as of last week.

Parents at Roke primary school in Kenley, Surrey, have now said they intend to launch a legal challenge against the DfE’s move to enforce academy sponsorship under the Harris chain.

Kingsdale results under the spotlight

Intriguing goings-on continue at Kingsdale school, the academy in Southwark, south London, which has been at the centre of an unresolved GCSE and BTec cheating inquiry by exam boards for more than 18 months now.

Sources say the school refused to give out its 2012 GCSE results to parents last autumn citing the controversy over GCSE English, meaning that grades were provisional at this stage. But in January, official league table results on Kingsdale – described as “brilliant” by David Cameron in 2011 – seemingly showed a dramatic fall in grades in summer 2012. The previous year, 60% of pupils gained five good GCSEsincluding English and maths. By 2012, it had fallen to 36%, which is below the government’s current 40% “floor target” minimum.

The government data does not include the effect of any GCSE English resits or appeals, and the school has now published unofficial statistics, taking them into account, which put the figure at 49%.

However, new data published by Ofsted makes it clear that Kingsdale’s results drop was not confined to English, with science A*-Cs also falling sharply, from 63 to 26%, and maths also down.

Ofsted visited the school in December and gave it a “good” rating. But some parental and whistleblower sources are puzzled as to why the latest GCSE results were not given more prominence in the inspection report, which says mysteriously that unspecified “circumstances”, leading to a reduction in revision support, helped to explain the 2012 drop.

Steve Morrison, Kingsdale’s headteacher, said the decision to hold back some of its 2012 exam data last term, because of the GCSE English review, was a practice “in line with hundreds of schools” across England. Kingsdale results were also generally good, with early-entry GCSE grades for pupils now in years 10 and 11 at a “record high”, he said.

The crème de la crème of academy governors?

The state of Swindon academy, one of seven academies that have had warning letters from Ofsted, suggests that having experts on the governing body is not always a guarantee of success. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, has been complaining that some governors are not up to scratch, but Swindon has a line-up other schools might envy.

Mary Curnock Cook, the chief executive of Ucas, the university admissions service, has been a governor there for five years. The chair is Sir Anthony Greener, a former chair of the now abolished Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Fellow governors include Colin Fraser, recently retired deputy head of Marlborough College (£31,000 a year for boarders) and Marlborough’s director of science, Nic Allott. From industry, there is Mike Godfrey, who until a couple of months ago was chief engineer at Swindon’s Honda plant. He had worked for Honda for 27 years.

The blame-hunters might direct their attention at United Learning, the academy’s sponsor, which runs its schools from the centre. United Learning is now run by Jon Coles, a former senior civil servant at the DfE.

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Ofsted chief calls for paid school governors

Ofsted chief calls for paid school governors

The Guardian  |February 27, 2013

Sir Michael Wilshaw

Sir Michael Wilshaw has, once again, criticised the professionalism of school governors by asserting that a lack of pay equates to a lack of ability to carry out the role. Whilst not all school governors consistently work effectively for the good of the schools that they serve this should not be used as a stick with which to beat all the hard-working school governors up and down the country. It is also worrying that he is advocating an increased role for so called ‘professionals’ while simultaneously minimising the use of volunteers from the local community.  In a climate of shrinking community volunteer places on boards of governors through the Coalition’s Academies and Free Schools programme this plan will simply further remove local and democratic accountability in the primary and secondary education system. There is far more to running a school than looking at figures on a  report card; using paid governors who have no wider understanding of the school in question and no long-term interest in or knowledge of the local community is not the way forward.

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Businesses should order staff to become governors at their local schools, the Ofsted chief inspector has said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said more professionalism was needed among school governors, and again suggested that some should be paid for their work.

His comments came as he announced every primary and secondary school in England would be handed an annual report card detailing their exam results and attendance rates.

The one-page overview would be made available to the public so it could be used by parents to compare schools.

The move came amid concerns by Ofsted that governors need more information to hold their schools to account.

Wilshaw warned some school governors were not up to scratch and would rather spend time “looking at the quality of lunches and not enough on maths and English”.

In a speech to the Policy Exchange in central London on Wednesday, he argued there needed to be a “professional approach” among governing bodies, particularly in the most challenging schools.

He said: “Of course there will always be a place for the volunteer and those from the community who want to support their local school. That will always be the case. But where there is a lack of capacity and where there are few volunteers without the necessary skills, we need to consider radical solutions.

“I have said it before and I will say it again, we should not rule out payment to governors with the necessary expertise to challenge and support schools with a long legacy of under-performance.”

Wilshaw said he wanted to issue a challenge to the public and private sectors to encourage their best people to get involved in school governance.

“For example, all large and medium-sized companies could insist that their senior and middle managers join the governing bodies of local schools. I believe Rolls-Royce strongly encourage their managers to do this.”

The new report card – the school data dashboard – will give information on how well a school is performing in test and exam results, as well as attendance, compared with other similar schools.

Ofsted said it would publish the documents, updated annually, for more than 20,000 state primary and secondary schools.

Wilshaw said governors should have access to the right information to understand and challenge their school, with no excuses for those that fail to do so.

“The school data dashboard I am launching today raises the stakes,” he said. “Many governors know their school well already. But for those that don’t, there are now no excuses. Inspectors will be very critical of governing bodies who, despite the dashboard, still don’t know their school well enough.”

The 6,000 schools currently considered less than good by Ofsted usually have issues with their leadership, including governors, Wilshaw said.

“Poor governance focuses on the marginal rather than the key issues. In other words, too much time spent looking at the quality of school lunches and not enough on maths and English.”

Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “It is absolutely right that governors and parents should hold schools to account, and access to data is a part of this.

“However, all data, especially ‘simple’ statistics, comes with a health warning. It should encourage people to ask more questions, not to draw premature conclusions. Reciting statistics about how a school is performing is much different from really understanding its strong points and areas for development.”

The last Labour government set out proposals for a US-style report card in a white paper published in 2009. Under the plans, every school was to be ranked on a number of measures and given a final overall grade. The proposals were scrapped after the last election.

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.

Education in brief: teachers are leaving some academies in droves

Education in brief: teachers are leaving some academies in droves

guardian.co.uk |by Warwick Mansell on July 2, 2012

Prime Minister David Cameron Visits Kingsdale Foundation School

David Cameron talks with students at Kingsdale foundation school last year. The school will have seen the departure of at least 40 teachers over this academic year. Photograph: Getty Images

Waving goodbye

Some well-known academies are facing an exodus of teachers this summer, Speed Read has learned. Sheffield Springs academy, run by the United Learning Trust charity, is poised to lose at least 25 teaching staff, insiders tell us, while the troubled school is on its third principal of the academic year. This comes after a new permanent head was recently appointed, only to then turn the post down, the ULT citing “family circumstances”. In February, Ofsted inspectors criticised the “significant instability in leadership and management” since the academy was established in 2006, as it was then on its fifth principal in that time. Now it’s on its sixth.

Meanwhile, Kingsdale foundation school, an academy in south London, praised as “brilliant” by David Cameron last year but which has been in the news over an investigation into alleged cheating in GCSEs, will have seen the departure of at least 40 teachers over this academic year, including 15 from science alone. The school started the year with 125 teaching staff. Finally, we have been told of another high-profile academy where 25 staff are reportedly leaving this term. We hope to keep you posted on that one.

Fewer free lunches

Amid news reports of only 37 pupil places having been filled so far at Beccles free school in Suffolk, which is due to open in September, statistics on the socio-economic backgrounds of families using free schools as a whole may have been missed.

Data released last month by the Department for Education shows that while 19% of pupils educated in state primary schools and 16% of those in state secondaries are eligible for free school meals, the figures for free schools – institutions set up by parents, teachers or private groups – are much lower. FSM rates in the 24 free schools that opened last year were half those for the state-funded sector, at 9% for primaries and 8% for secondaries.

No need to ask

Parents at Downhills school, the primary in north London that has become a cause celebre among opponents of government moves to force academy status on institutions even where the local community is against this, are fighting on.

Last month, the school was told Michael Gove is to issue an academy order, handing its governance to the Harris academy chain. Parent campaigners have written to Gove renewing a threat of legal action. One of their arguments is that the law says parents must be consulted on any move to academy status. Official consultation on the academy move, which preceded Gove’s decision, found 3% of the 234 responding parents in favour, and 94% against.

The campaigners say the consultation was not meaningful and are alleging a waste of public money: they were told in writing that the consultation cost at least £45,000 – enough to employ a teacher.

Teachers could have pay frozen after poor school inspection reports

Teachers could have pay frozen after poor school inspection reports

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar

  • Jeevan Vasagar, education editor
  • The Guardian, Tuesday 29 May 2012
Pupils in a classroom

Ofsted’s ‘satisfactory’ grade for schools will from September be replaced with ‘requires improvement’. Photograph: Alamy

Teachers could have their pay frozen after school inspections under new Ofsted measures aimed at linking salaries with the quality of classroom performance.

Announcing the changes, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, said Ofsted will“consider whether there is a correlation between the quality ofteaching and salary progression”.

Inspectors will look at anonymised information about the performance management of all teachers in schools they visit to ensure that heads are using pay to raise standards, Ofsted says. But inspectors will not be able to influence the salary of individual teachers.

In a speech in February, the chief inspector said heads should only approve salary increases for the most hardworking teachers. “The thing that irritates good teachers, people who work hard and go the extra mile, is seeing the people that don’t do that being rewarded,”Wilshaw said.

MPs have recommended that teachers’ pay should be more closely linked to the value they add to pupil performance so that the best are rewarded while the weakest are discouraged from staying in the profession.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, criticised the measure, saying it was wrong to pay one teacher more than another for success that was due to the efforts of everyone in the school.

She said: “Performance management is supposed to be about encouraging teachers in developing their skills, not about judging pay or comparing pupil results,” Blower said. “Teaching is a collegiate profession and this is a divisive, unrealistic and simplistic way of looking at how schools work.”

In the same announcement, Ofsted dropped plans to inspect schools without notice after protest from heads. From this autumn schools will be given notice the afternoon before inspectors visit. At present, the normal notice period is two days.

Heads feared that inspecting schools without notice meant they might be away when inspectors arrived, and that the proposed change indicated a lack of trust in the professions.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), praised Ofsted for dropping the proposal for no-notice inspection.

Wilshaw said the progress made by pupils would be central to inspectors’ judgment. If pupils were making good progress, a school would be able to get a good Ofsted report even if results were below average.

Wilshaw confirmed that Ofsted would no longer describe schools as “satisfactory” when they were not providing a good level of education. From September, the “satisfactory” grade will be replaced with “requires improvement” and those schools will be subject to an explicit report of its failings and a full re-inspection within two years.

If a school is judged to require improvement at two consecutive inspections, and is still not providing a good education at the third, it is likely to be placed in special measures. Ofsted will expect schools to improve to “good” within four years.

He said: “School leaders will be relieved to hear that Ofsted has listened to their concerns. This signals a move towards establishing a more constructive working relationship between the profession and its inspectorate.

“Ofsted is rightly maintaining a robust position on standards– a position which the NAHT supports – but this move signifies a genuine attempt to work with schools on the best way to achieve those standards.”

Government is failing on education a€“ time for councils to take control

Government is failing on education a€“ time for councils to take control

guardian.co.uk

A child alone in a school playground

Is it time for local government to go it alone on school reform? Photograph: Alamy

In January this column highlighted the urgency of local governmentredefining its role in light of the government’s school reforms. Over the past two years perceptions of the academy movement have shifted.

When, under Labour, about 200 of the poorest performing schools were given academy status, it was seen as freeing them from local government control. Now the number is climbing past 1,600, it looks like a school system that is simultaneously fragmenting and being centralised under the increasingly interventionist education secretary Michael Gove.

Whichever one of these contradictory descriptions you think fits, it is clear that accountability to local communities is being rapidly eroded.

The debate has been complicated by the proposal from Ofsted chief inspector Michael Wilshaw of a network of local commissioners, separate from local government, to identify poorly performing academies that should be stripped of their status or have their headteacher replaced.

Councils still have important statutory education functions on issues such as performance and standards, safeguarding, planning and provision of places and Special Educational Needs, although the boundaries of their responsibilities or their power to act are often unclear. For example, councils have little power to intervene in a failing academy or free school, and while they have the responsibility to ensure there are sufficient places, the current bulge in the number of pupils is exposing severe limitations to their ability to do this.

The balancing act for councils is to define a role that respects and promotes schools’ autonomy while acting as the champion of children and parents – unlike the bad old days when a small minority of councils seemed to champion bad teachers and poor schools.

Both Solace and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services have recently spoken out in this debate. In Filling the gap: the championing role of English councils in education, Solace calls for the government to work with councils, academy sponsors and others to agree a national protocol for monitoring and intervening in failing schools. These would be backed up by local agreements on cooperation, support and intervention.

The emphasis of the proposals is on fostering mutual support between schools, with agreed measures for benchmarking performance and ready access to improvement support. In all this the council’s role would be to give voice to parents and children, particularly the most vulnerable – so there would be a strong focus on safeguarding.

From the schools’ point of view, this would balance increased local co-operation with less control by the Department for Education. The mutual support and local monitoring would also act as a welcome antidote to the peculiar terror that seems to seize schools at the mention of Ofsted.

A particular appeal of Solace’s approach is that it would strengthen councils’ work on both health and economic growth. The relationship with schools would support the health and wellbeing board and the new public health teams in co-ordinating activity around the pressing priority of teenage sexual health.

On the economy, local government can exploit its unique ability to broker relationships with local partners to champion lifelong learning – promoting the opportunities and bringing together employers with education and training providers to meet the needs of the local jobs market and tackle unemployment.

In the context of stalled economic growth and the growing scandal around A4e and the government’s welfare-to-work scheme, local government should push hard on this– the Made in Whitehall interventions of the Department for Work and Pensions are failing.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has been developing similar ideas, describing local government (possibly unwisely) as the “missing link” in school improvement.

Education is one of the few policy areas where Labour has had the courage to commit some of its thoughts to paper, inDevolving Power in Education by shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg. He talks of “a strong role for local government” but then describes a “middle tier” without definitively linking the two.

Local government should point him in the direction of Solace’s paper, while spelling out to ministers how councils can play a bigger role in education, the economy and health without threatening schools’ autonomy.

Two Basildon academies placed into special measures

Two Basildon academies placed into special measures

BBC |May 24, 2012

Two academy schools in Essex are to be placed into special measures, as they are failing to give “an acceptable standard of education”.

An Ofsted report said The Basildon Upper and Lower Academies, which opened in 2009, were both inadequate in all five areas of inspection.

It said whilst some radical steps had been taken, they were not showing “sufficient capacity to improve”.

The academy trust has yet to comment on the report.

The two schools are part of the Basildon Academies Trust, which replaced the old Chalvedon and Barstable schools.

They share the same principal, who has been in place since last September.

‘Well below average’In its report of an inspection in March, Ofsted graded both as“inadequate” for pupils’ achievement, behaviour and safety, the quality of teaching and leadership and management.

It said attainment at the Basildon Lower Academy, for pupils between 11 and 14, was “consistently well below average” and students’ behaviour was “not managed consistently”.

The report added whilst steps had been taken since September 2011 to improve teaching standards, its “vision to improve practice” was “not fully shared and understood by all staff”.

The Ofsted report on the Basildon Upper Academy, for 14 to 19 year-olds, said improvements made since a previous report in March 2011 – which had raised “serious concerns” – were fragile.

Despite some progress over the past two years, it found there was a “considerable variation in the quality of teaching”,attainment remained low and students’ progress was inadequate.

As academies the schools are not under Essex County Council control.

The authority said it was “aware of the issues” but had limited powers to intervene.

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