Isolation poor use of funding?

Regular readers of this blog will notice there has been something of an absence of posts during the first part of this month. This means that there has been no discussion of interesting reports such as the one by the Institute of Fiscal studies into how the distribution of funding has changed over time. That report makes for an interesting read, especially when compared with books about education funding written forty years ago, such as ‘depriving the deprived’ in which Prof Tony Travers took part as one of the team investigating education spending over the course of a year in Newham, in the context of the then government financing of education.

However, the education story that most moved me to return to this blog was the one from the BBC about how children can spend long periods in isolation  There are a group of children that a decade ago would have been locked up under Labour’s draconian policy of the period. This was a policy whether it was articulated or not that took several thousand young people off the streets and out of education and into Young Offenders Institutions.

With fewer young people coming into the criminal justice system these days, despite the increase in knife crime, it stands to reason that schools will retain more of these young people and will find their behaviour challenging. Behaviour management has always been the top concern of many schools and the teachers that work within them, despite the shift in funding. As schools were forced to focus on outputs and achievements and less on their social responsibilities, it seems obvious that some schools will look to the greatest good for the greatest number and methods that will allow teachers to teach as many pupils as possible by removing disruptive influences on the learning process.

What was missing for the BBC article was whether isolation was really a room on the road to exclusion or whether pupils were either rehabilitated back into mainstream education or moved to more appropriate settings.  If I were a youngster forced to face the wall – albeit without the dunce’s cap of Victorian times – I might see rebelling further as a way to liberation and exclusion: anything might be better than such isolation.

With secondary schools often belonging to many different academy trusts or acting alone, it is difficult to see what body can manage the local solution to this problem. Next week at Oxfordshire’s Cabinet, I have a question – put before the BBC story – about how many pupils each secondary school has brought to the local Fair Access Panel over the past few years. This is to see how the balance of permanent exclusions is playing out across the county. I doubt that the measures announced recently by the DfE in relation to under-performing schools will help tackle this problem: what is needed is concerted local action managed by a body with the long-term interests of all young people in an area. Now, I wonder what they might be.


Quality Assurance or Quality Control?

Just after 7am this morning I was telephoned by a researcher from BBC 5 Live to ask what I thought about the new ‘tables’ tests for Year 4 pupils? Not a great deal at that time of the morning was my first and honest thought. However, early morning phone calls are an occupational hazard for anyone prepared to make a comment on issues of public interest and that response wouldn’t do. Some calls of this nature develop into big stories and make headlines: others disappear onto the modern equivalent of the editor’s spike, either dumped or relegated to a footnote in a news bulletin.

Sometimes, you don’t get a call back, as promised, but a text message saying that the item isn’t proceeding either due to other stories taking precedence or some similar phrase, as happened this morning and you then wonder whether the point of view you expressed to the researcher was too similar to those everyone else was expressing and what they were looking for was a different view to balance the debate?

On the story about multiplication tests or ‘checks’ as they are being called, my view is that they should be scrutinised through the lens of whether they are a quality control or a quality assurance measure? If the former, then they are likely to be required of all teachers at the same time. The results then tell us on that day how well the age group are doing. We would possibly expect summer born children to do less well than those with a longer exposure to schooling and those that have remained in the same school to do better than those pupils that have already been subject to changing school one or more times. Pupils will a poor attendance record, for whatever reason, might also do less well.

A quality assurance check would allow the DfE to provide both an expected level but also to help teachers diagnose why those pupils that don’t reach the level expected fail to do so. The DfE might them provide some research into what will work with these pupils to help them reach the standard expected of most children at that point in their education. Such an approach, rich in a developmental approach aimed at helping the system, is more expensive than a simple check that will allow Ministers to blame failing schools and by implication their teachers through the medium of the Ofsted inspection.  If I was in charge of Ofsted, I might want to take the DfE to task for making the job of improving our school system a bit harder if it further reduced trust in the inspection system.

I guess that the DfE cannot afford to spend money on diagnostic tests and a simple pen and paper exercise to be marked by teachers in their own time looks more profitable in terms of political capital.

Take this new the test when a pupil is  ready; collect the data electronically and then let the results tell the DfE if their choice of Opportunity Areas is the correct one or whether key areas such as South East Oxford City have been consistently overlooked for intervention and extra resources? In this technological age, we need to harness the resources at our disposal to help both teachers and their pupils to learn effectively not just impose more burdens on everyone.

Trying to succeed is not failing

The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme has been looking at pupils stuck in the cycle of multiple resits as the government tries to ensure everyone, or as many young people as possible, reach the established milestone of Grades C in English and mathematics.

Now, I can see both sides of the debate on this issue after a lifetime in education and also from personal experience. The three years of my sixth form career was punctuated by the regular visit to the examination hall to try and pass English Language ‘O’ level. While my ‘A’ level studies were progressing well, and much better than my progress during the previous five years at secondary school, I carried the millstone around my neck of not having passed English Language ‘O’ level. In passing, regular readers of this blog will have noticed the longer-term effects of a poor start in our native tongue on my writing style.

Anyway, in the third year of the sixth form, I eventually passed, but only after nine months without any additional teaching. As a result, I was able to go to university, but my UCCA application, as it was in those ways, was heavily dependent upon universities and courses that didn’t require either Latin or English at ‘O’ level, since at that point I had neither. I would probably have ended up at LSE anyway – required neither – as I did, but the choice might have been wider.

I do understand the motivation of governments to ensure higher attainment in literacy and numeracy skills for our population as a whole, but I sat on a panel discussion in Abingdon on Friday night last week and listened to a FE lecturer calling for greater understanding of the range of examinations and functional skills we could accept from those for whom the traditional examination isn’t a good test. I have a lot of sympathy for that view. One size probably doesn’t fit all in this case. A range of skills test linked to the new investment in technical qualifications might be a helpful way forward.

So, my message to these young people forced to re-sit is, don’t give up and don’t regard it as an imposition. But, my message to government is, do consider the appropriate nature of the examination and one size and shape probably doesn’t fit all.

What we must never do is deter either young people or indeed learners of any age by making them think learning is just a chore to be endured. In later life, I have written many thousands of words and I am grateful that the school made me continue to re-take English language. Now, English literature was a different matter: that subject I passed first time.



500th post

Today is the fourth anniversary of this blog. The first posting was on 25th January 2013. By a coincidence this is also the 500th post. What a lot has happened since my first two posts that January four years ago. We are on our third Secretary of State for Education; academies were going to be the arrangements for all schools and local authorities would relinquish their role in schooling; then academies were not going to be made mandatory; grammar schools became government policy; there is a new though slightly haphazard arrangement for technical schools; a post BREXIT scheme to bring in teachers from Spain that sits oddly with the current rhetoric and a funding formula that  looks likely to create carnage among rural schools if implemented in its present form.

Then there have been curriculum changes and new assessment rules, plus a new Chief inspector and sundry other new heads of different bodies. The NCTL has a Chair, but no obvious Board for him to chair, and teacher preparation programme has drifted towards a school-based system, but without managing to stem concerns about a supply crisis. Pressures on funding may well solve the teacher supply crisis for many schools, as well as eliminating certain subjects from the curriculum. In passing, we have also had a general election and the BREXIT decision with the result of a new Prime Minister. What interesting times.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the 40,000 or so visitors that have generated 76,000 views of this blog. The main theme started, as I explained in the post at the end of 2016, as a means of replacing various columns about numbers in education that had graced various publications since 1997.

Partly because it has been an interest of mine since the early 1980s, and partly because of the development of TeachVac as a free recruitment site that costs schools and teachers nothing to use, the labour market for teachers has featured in a significant number of posts over the last three years ( I am proud that TeachVac has the best data on vacancies in the secondary sector and also now tracks primary as well and is building up its database in that sector to allow for comparisons of trends over time.

I have lost count of the number of countries where at least one visitor to the site has been recorded, although Africa and the Middle East still remain the parts of the world with the least visitors and the United States, the EU and Australia the countries, after the United Kingdom, with the most views over the past four years.

My aim for a general post on this blog is to write around 500 words, although there are specific posts that are longer, including various talks I have presented over the past four years.

Thank you for reading and commenting; the next milestone in 100,000 views and 50,000 visitors. I hope to achieve both of these targets in due course.

A rose by any other name

One of the interesting things about language is that it has the ability to be both precise and vague at the same time. As a wordsmith, the Secretary of State, who always seems more comfortable within the literacy domain than the numeracy world, has made two interesting statements this week. As already reported in an earlier post on this blog, he told the House of Commons on Monday that Osfted inspected Academy Chains. This fact was news to many who thought that Ofsted inspected only the schools in such chains, and that although the Funding Agency could look at the books of academy chains, Ofsted didn’t have the power to inspect their overall performance as they can with local authority support for school improvement orChildren’s Services.

And then, yesterday, the Secretary of State was interviewed by pupils experiencing the life of reporters as part of the BBC’s annual School Report exercise.

During the interview the BBC reported that Mr Gove said:

“Teachers should definitely be paid more than they are at the moment,” But he added that his department paid off the debts of some teachers at the start of their careers in the form of bursaries or additional support – particularly those teaching key subjects such as maths, physics or chemistry.

Now the idea of using bursaries to pay off student debt – at the same time as requiring the trainee teachers to take on further student debt as part of their PGCE or Tuition Fee School Direct course – is a curious one. In fact they could only voluntarily pay off existing student debt using the bursary if they were allowed to: it seems pretty unlikely that the Student Loans organisation would be able to offer a new loan with one hand will taking payment on an earlier one with the other. Perhaps the Secretary of State meant that the bursary allowed those trainees not to take out further loans (and thereby increasing their debt) to study to become a teacher.

He may, of course, have been mixing up what happens on Teach First with the situation faced by the much greater number of trainees on the other routes into teaching. In my view, working towards a salary for all trainees, to encourage the best in all subjects to become teachers, would be a positive policy development. After all, graduates that enter most private sector training programmes are now normally paid a salary and don’t have to pay for their training. Most employers recognise that making possible entrants pay for training puts off some applicants.

So, using the phrase ‘paid off the debts of some teachers’, if indeed the transcript shows that those were the words used by the Secretary of State, seems like a somewhat loose use of language. Perhaps Mr Gove could explain both what he actually meant about paying of the student debt of teachers and the inspection of academy chains, so we can all be clear.

He might also like to elucidate on the statement about ‘paying teachers more’, perhaps in his next remit letter to the Pay Review Body.


Are school leaders happy?

On the day that The Association of School & College Leaders (ASCL) revealed a survey that said two thirds of senior leavers were thinking of quitting the profession, the BBC published details of a survey by the Cabinet Office on job and life satisfaction that cranked some 274 different occupations by their satisfaction ratio alongside the average salary for the occupation.   Surprisingly, in view of the ASCL Survey, senior professionals of education establishments topped the satisfaction rankings for the eleven education occupations listed, with a score of 7.789 that put them in 11th place overall, just ahead of primary and nursery education professionals in 13th place on 7.786 some 0.003 points behind. Secondary education professionals were placed 34th on 7.637, just ahead of inspectors and advisers in 36th place. Support staff in school generally had a lower satisfaction rating than the professionals, with teaching assistants in 50th place, and midday supervisors and crossing patrol staff in 145 position, with a score of 7.308. School secretaries fared much better, achieving 17th place on 7.711 a score just 0.078 lower than that of their bosses.

SEN teaching professionals had a ranking placing them in 99th place, worse than the 61st place of Higher Education professionals and the 79th place of Further Education professionals. However, a category of ‘Teaching and other education professionals’ that presumably includes supply teachers ranked 106th in the satisfaction stakes, with a score of just 7.413. If you think the civil servants at Westminster are any happier, think again. National Government Administrative Staff has a satisfaction ranking that placed them in 187th place out of the 274 occupations. Clearly, not everyone is happy in the home of democracy.

Whether these two surveys support the jaundiced view that there are lies, damm lies and statistics, I am not sure. After all, I would expect heads to answer in large numbers that there were going to quit in the next five years because many are that close to retirement. I would be more concerned if the ASCL Survey showed younger head teachers as more likely to quit than those nearest to retirement. As to the Cabinet Office survey, I have no idea how many people we questioned in each category, and the methods used, but it is interesting that clergy came top of the 274 occupations with a satisfaction score of 8.291 whereas publicans cam bottom with a score of just 6.38. This really does seem to put God and mammon at opposite ends of the spectrum.

No doubt the scores for teachers will allow the DfE to take a more relaxed attitude to next week’s strikes by teachers, although BiS might need to pay more attention to unrest in FE & HE institutions. But, with the advent of free meals for infant pupils, the relative lack of satisfaction among meal supervisors that placed them in 145th place is probably the score for the group where the greatest attention needs to be focussed. Without the help of this group the introduction of the policy will face a significant challenge in many schools. Even more than the head, they have the capability to derail the policy if their lack of job satisfaction deteriorates even further.

More on made not born: how teachers are created

Last night I caught up with the second episode of BBC3’s new series, ‘Tough Young Teachers’ that is all about the progress of a group of Teach First recruits. (Past episodes are available on the BBC i-player). The teachers featured were working in Harefield Academy, Crown Woods School and the Archbishop Lanfranc School. Although Teach First started as a programme for inner city schools, these three schools that are located in Uxbridge, Croydon, and Bexley, might better be characterised as suburban, and not inner city. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t challenging. Their Free School Meals measure for the Pupil Premium – anytime in the past six years on free school meals – ranges from 29.2% at The Harefield Academy, to 41.7% at Archbishop Lanfranc, and 46.2% at Crown Woods College according to DfE figures; all well above the national average. Both the latter two schools have a significant number of pupils whose native language isn’t English; although as a measure of the need for support it is probably worth re-visiting this indicator to see how it is calibrated. It might be better to classify whether pupils have a level of English that allows them to function effectively in a learning situation rather than know what their native tongue might have been.

All three schools have above average levels of persistent absence, and perform less well with least able pupils than their most able. According to the DfE, Archbishop Lanfranc is an 11-16 school, and the other two have sixth forms. This point worries me, since it is not clear how Teach First ensures any exposure to post-16 teaching for those placed in 11-16 schools? If they want to stay in teaching after two years, this lack of sixth form experience might restrict the range of schools willing to employ them. This is always a risk with a single-training location over courses that allow training in several schools during the programme.

Another risk of such single-school programmes also became apparent in last night’s episode. One of the group was seen facing considerable discipline challenges in their classroom. In a traditional programme of teacher preparation they would receive a second chance to start again in a new school on their next placement. This would allow for a fresh start and see whether they could improve with a new set of pupils. On Teach First, it was suggested last night that the choice is to be battle through or be sacked. In an earlier post last year, I commented how much Teach First appeared to spend on recruitment and selection, so it is worrying that someone can pass through selection, and the six weeks of training, and still face such challenges in a school where many pupils are there because of their sporting achievements: judging by their appearance, and that of the school, they are also generally working in a supportive learning establishment. But, television has to tell as story that entertains, informs and hopefully educates the viewer, so we may not know the real situation. However, that student was filmed sitting down in the classroom too much for my liking, although the arrangement of the furniture probably also didn’t help a new teacher.

For entertainment value, watching endless lessons can become a bit like watching paint dry for the average viewer, and even I looked at my watch a couple of times, so the storyline of the pupil recently returned from a spell in a Pupil Referral Unit offered an interesting counterpoint. Caleb was articulate, truculent, and as viewers know from Educating Yorkshire before Christmas, exactly the sort of pupil to challenge a school, and its experienced teachers, let along one just arrived from six weeks of basic training outside the classroom. No doubt viewers will see more of Caleb in later episodes.

By now the viewer also knows something of the personalities of the new recruits. They also know, if they didn’t already, that teaching is not easy, and there is no such thing as deference to authority in modern society. Respect has to be earned in the classroom as on the beat or by anyone in a position of authority.

As ever, one asks of oneself, how would I have fared?  I don’t know, but if it is any consolation to those training at present, my first year, admittedly with no training, and as a supply teacher in Tottenham, was far worse than some of the scenes from last night’s programme. I will watch future episodes with interest.