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.

The responsibility of us all

The following item was reported in several newspapers earlier this week, including The Daily Telegraph

NHS data shows a 63% increase over five years in the number of children aged 16 and under who have been treated for stab wounds in England. The largest increase (85%) between 2011/12 and 2016/17 was among 15-year-olds. The overall rise in the number of stabbings across England during the same period was 14%.

Now there may not be a correlation, but 15-year olds, and 15-year old young men in particular, have the highest rate of exclusions from our schools. After falling for many years, exclusions are also on the rise across much of England.

As those that know my life history will understand these two sets of statistics and particularly the one about knife crime have an especial resonance with me, as it was a teenager that stabbed me over 40 years ago in a rare act of serious and unprovoked violence that just happened to take place in a classroom in front of a group of children. As a result, knife crime has always been of special concern to me. I do view the recent upturn as a worrying trend.

Oxfordshire’s Cabinet will be discussing the County’s Education Scrutiny Committee report on exclusions in the county at their meeting next Tuesday. You can read the report in the Cabinet papers for 17th April 2018 at at item 6. I always hope that young people engaged fully in education will be less likely to commit these acts of knife crime.

I am also sure that cutbacks in both the Youth Service budget and that of the Youth Offending Teams across the county, along with revisions to Probation, probably haven’t helped in the prevention of such crimes. As ever, cutbacks have consequences further down the line when the money is being well spent.

In this case, changes in the nature of the curriculum probably may also have played a part since practical subjects have also too often been replaced with additional classroom time that can make life more challenging for many teachers working with pupils that don’t appreciate their efforts.

I believe there needs to be a concerted effort on the part of all responsible to once again recognise the need for behaviour management and to do everything to research and investigate the causes of exclusions in their school. Generally, persistent disruptive behaviour is given as the reasons for the largest number of exclusions. Working out how to reduce these exclusions should help allow resources to then be focused on dealing with other reasons why pupils are excluded.

It doesn’t matter whether schools are maintained, voluntary added, academies or free schools, they all have a responsibility to tackle this problem of school children carrying and using knives. Teaching Schools, National Leaders of Education and of Governance and those responsible for both training new entrants into the profession as well as designing continuing professional development will also need to ensure that they continue to make behaviour management strategies a high priority.


Breakfast Clubs good: but not for all?

A coterie of key research organisations have collaborated in a small scale study of the effects of breakfast clubs in schools. The results of their research have been published today.

The headline on the IFS press release is ‘Breakfast clubs work their magic in disadvantaged English schools’. However, embedded in the text of the press summary is the observation that: “while relatively disadvantaged students (those eligible for free school meals) were more likely to attend the breakfast clubs, the intervention was more effective at raising the attainment of pupils from less disadvantaged backgrounds (those not eligible for free school meals). This suggests that support for school breakfast clubs might not reduce socio-economic gaps in pupil attainment.” For many this will be a disappointing outcome as it is always hoped that the breakfast will have benefits on learning: perhaps the results take time to trickle down or the sample of these pupils in the study produced this finding.

However, this finding raises the issue of cost effectiveness of this type of intervention. The report states that “gains in pupil achievement were delivered at relatively low cost. Dividing the costs by all pupils in the school, the intervention cost just £11.86 per eligible pupil over the course of the academic year. It also required 2.6 hours of staff time per eligible pupil per year. It should be noted, however, that the breakfast club take-up rates were relatively low – the average school’s take-up rate was between 13% and 52%. An increase in take-up would lead to higher costs, but also potentially higher impact on attainment.” There are, of course, other benefits, two of which are detailed below.

There did seem to be a positive gain in terms of attendance with “absence rates falling by almost one half-day per year. The effect was particularly strong for authorised absences, which are primarily due to ill health. This suggests that the breakfast club might have improved pupil health, although we did not find strong evidence to support this when looking at the average Body Mass Index of students in Year 6.” Sadly, late arrivals were not significantly encouraged by the offer of a before-school breakfast club to seemingly improve their arrival times. This is a disappointment, as it might have been hoped that the breakfast club would have helped encourage both attendance and an improvement in time-keeping. Perhaps the research didn’t cover a long enough period or the marketing to parents didn’t reach the groups that might benefit the most.

The other finding that teachers will welcome and that might be enough to encourage more schools down the road of breakfast clubs was that “Behaviour and concentration in the classroom improved substantially as a result of the breakfast club provision, suggesting that a better classroom learning environment is an important mechanism through which the intervention might improve attainment. The improvement in teachers’ assessments of their classroom learning environment was equivalent to moving a classroom from average ratings of behaviour and concentration to ratings in the top quarter of the schools in our sample.” Food aids learning, improves concentration and reduces bad behaviour. Great news for teachers.





Stupidity and criminality: a fine line?

The news that a teenage boy has been placed on the police national database for sharing a photograph of himself unclothed via an app he expected to destroy the photograph within seconds of its receipt raises interesting questions. Firstly, there is the issue of what is indecent? Had he taken a photo using the app on a nudist beach and shared it with someone else on the same beach would it have been indecent. Secondly, was the school suffering from large numbers of pupils sharing such photographs of others in a manner that was disrupting the life of the school, even if the photographs were taken outside of the school? If this was the case, were pupils told that taking and sending such photos, even on a self-destruct basis, was a breach of school rules?

Even if all the above were true, the boy seems to have been stupid. The person who stopped his photo self-destructing and then passed it on to others gratuitously seems to be much more culpable, as was anyone then passing it on to another person. However, what if the boy had painted an image of himself in a life class and then photographed it? Would that constitute a representation of art or an indecent image, even if forwarded to a third party?

The fact that the police officer appears to have said that she had been told by her superior to take action suggests this might not have been an isolated incident. Even so, did it merit what appears to be a deterrent sentence of inclusion as intelligence on the police computer with all that entails for enhanced DBS checks? Without knowing the full facts, it is difficult to answer that question other than in the abstract.

There was a suggestion during the coalition government that all of these teenage transgressions be wiped from the record at eighteen if there had been no further mis-behaviour. After all, most teenagers do silly things, some of which are not legal.  I would support at least the of an individual to have the ability to ask a court to take such action as a way forward. Presumably, the school will have to decide whether it includes reference to this event in any support it provides on an application form for a job, apprenticeship or university place?

The law does seem to be bearing down hard on teenagers at present even though I suspect that deterrent sentences have less effect on teenagers that on adults, as young people often act before thinking. In this case it raises the question of where does the criminal law operate in relation to institutions? I suspect the answer is that the rule of law is paramount and must always take precedence over the rules of an institution. However, there seems to be an issue of what happens with cases that fail to meet the charging threshold and are left to junior police officers to decide the outcome and consequences for the individual in such circumstances where they cannot have either a jury or a bench of magistrates decide on guilt or innocence. That seems to me to pose big risks as we have seen with the use of unfettered police bail in the past. It is why I have never favoured district judges sitting alone to decide on the issue of guilt or innocence except in the most clear cut motoring cases.

Grammar schools do not have a monopoly on good order and discipline

The piece by Sir Michael Wilshaw in today’s Daily Telegraph goes a long way to explain why I started life as a Liberal and became a founder member of the Liberal Democrats.

It is not that I am against his basic tenant that schools needed to be places of order and control, where every student is both encouraged and able to develop to the best of their abilities. Indeed, I do think that the degree of order and control expected in schools should be ingrained in pupils so as to extend beyond the school gates to include the manner in which young people go to and from school and I would certainly ban mobile phones from any classroom where I was a teacher.

Rather, my concerns are that the Chief inspector seems to equate the ideal standards of behaviour with grammar schools and by inference at least that teachers in other state schools have lower standards that Ofsted must inspect out of existence.

I am not sure what the business editor the Daily Telegraph thought if he read the piece over his cornflakes, but I wonder if he will get a call from the CBI on Tuesday asking where the skills businesses want such as self-reliance and confidence are to be found in the Wilshaw world of pupils sitting in serried rows and bowing and scraping whenever an adult enters the classroom. As a teacher I never saw the point of that unless the person entering was a really distinguished visitor. As the doors were at the back of the room, any class I was teaching didn’t notice a visitor until they were well into the room anyway, by which time standing up waste just a waste of time. Presumably Michael Wilshaw would make the wearing of academic gowns mandatory to distinguish teachers from teaching assistants and other support staff, even though they are all vital members of the team in a school.

In the grammar school I attended there were lots of examples of behaviour Michael Wilshaw won’t accept. At one point the sixth form excluded a teacher from a lesson by lining up the desks between the window and the door to prevent him entering; leaving him stranded in the corridor. At another time pupils set fire to waste bins in the playground. On the other hand the school had an outstanding record for drama and sport. I don’t know what HMI thought of the school because in those days reports weren’t made public; publication only started in the 1980s.

In my experience, as a pupil, a teacher and teacher trainer, it is the quality of the staff that makes a school. That is the reason why I spend so much time worrying about teacher supply. We need teaching to be a profession of choice that attracts high quality staff at all levels. It is in schools with poor quality staff that the invisible line between order and chaos edges ever closer to chaos. The same happens when teacher turnover in a school rises too quickly, as often happens when there are teacher shortages and plenty of job opportunities.

Mr Wilshaw is right to remind us that not all learning is fun, but wrong to select the examples he chooses. I recall a great lesson by one of my students teaching tables with a beanbag being thrown around the class. Answer the question and you got the chance to ask the next one to another pupil. I guess you can do the same with computers today and monitor where pupils regularly don’t give the correct answer. It was a stimulating learning experience and the pupils knew their tables.

If the Daily Telegraph piece is part of the Tory attempt to bring back grammar schools, then they should think again. The world has moved a long way from that of the 1940s, even if the Conservatives haven’t. Education is a right for all and not the privilege for the few.

Conflicting evidence on pupil behaviour?

Recently I pointed out that there had been a slight increase in the level of exclusions from schools, particularly in the primary sector. It therefore came as a bit of surprise to discover the results of a survey showing that teachers in general think pupil behaviour is improving. The data for the latter comes from the NfER Voice Survey and specifically the questions asked on behalf of the DfE. The analysis can be found at:

In view of the fact that half the profession is now under thirty-five the responses by age groups were especially interesting. Teachers in the younger age groups we less likely to report that behaviour was ‘very good’, only 20% of those under 25, and 21% of NQTs did so, compared with 40% of teachers aged over 50. Now the latter category will have included a number of heads and other school leaders, so perhaps it is not surprising that they think behaviour is better than do relatively new teachers. 88% of those teachers over 50 agreed that they felt equipped to manage pupil behaviour compared with just 73% of the under-25s, and 63% of NQTs; a worrying low figure for those just out of training. 37% of young teachers didn’t feel parents respected a teachers’ authority to discipline a pupil, compared with just 20% of teachers over 50 who felt that way. NQTs were also less likely than other teachers to use force either to remove a pupil from a classroom or to break up a fight. Interestingly, male teachers stated that they were also less likely to use force that did female teachers.

Compared with a previous survey in 2008 there was an increase of seven percentage points in teachers seeing behaviour as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. As this has been a period of stable staffing in schools, it may well be that after a period of turmoil pupils in general are becoming better behaved. Alternatively, acceptance of low level disruption is now such that after a few years what is acceptable becomes different to standards expected by new entrants to the profession. I suspect that there may be a bit of both at work in the responses.

Nevertheless ‘persistent disruptive behaviour’ is the main reason for pupils to be excluded from most schools so there still remains a bit of a mis-match between the two sets of statistics. I think in this case I am more likely to accept the evidence of the exclusions, based as they are on actual events rather than the answers to hypothetical questions posed as part of a survey. But it may be that a small number of pupils spoil the good behaviour shown by the majority.

However, I am sure most schools are full of better behaved pupils than when I started teaching in 1971. In those days, the key task for a new teacher in the area where I taught was keeping the pupils contained within the classroom. As ever, the better the lesson the more chance one had of achieving that result; only then could teaching and learning begin.

Exclusions need watching carefully, especially in the primary sector

Recent figures from the DfE* showing data relating to exclusions by schools in 2011/12 reveal a picture where exclusions are happily still lower than a few years ago. Sadly, the downward trend of the past few years has been reversed and, particularly in the primary sector, there has been an increase in exclusions. However, who you are, and where you live, still plays an important part in your risk of being excluded. Boys aged 14, from an Irish Traveller heritage background, and living in one of the most socially deprived parts of the England will face many of the risk factors associated with membership of one of the groups more likely to be excluded: boys are far more likely to be excluded than girls. This isn’t to say that every boy meeting these criteria will be excluded, but for some the risk may well be greater than for others with different profiles. However, by diagnosing the groups most at risk, schools can often put policies in place to minimise the need for exclusions.

For some reason the Hampshire Coast has a reputation for containing special schools with above average rates of fixed term exclusions. This year, The Isle of Wight, Southampton and Portsmouth fill three of the four top spots for fixed term exclusions from special schools. Brighton and Hove comes two places lower. Whether there is something about the sea air, or it is the fact that they are all relatively small authorities with large areas of deprivation isn’t clear from the statistics. The Isle of Wight Council received a stern letter from Ofsted this week for a failure to effect school improvement policies on the island. No doubt Southampton and Portsmouth will also have to convince the inspectors that it isn’t their fault that so many of their most challenging children are disruptive.

Southampton and the Isle of Wight also take the top two places in the secondary school list of authorities where schools have the highest levels of fixed term exclusions, although in this case Portsmouth and Brighton and Hove are lower down the table, but both are still uncomfortably near the top. Hartlepool and South Tyneside, again small coastal authorities, have the lowest levels of fixed term exclusions in both the secondary and special school lists.

Reading, Medway and Portsmouth top the primary sector list, with Tower Hamlets and Richmond upon Thames having the lowest percentages of fixed term exclusions in the primary sector.

As a councillor, I am especially concerned that Oxfordshire is in the top third for secondary school fixed term exclusions, and has above average levels of such exclusions from the special school sector.

Since behaviour management is the topic many new teachers often cite needing more of during their preparation courses some attention might be paid to how they are trained to deal with behaviour leading up to exclusions especially since many of these fixed-term exclusions are for persistent disruptive behaviour. However, it will be interesting to see how the changes to the 14-18 curriculum will affect exclusions among the most numerous group of excludees, boys in that age bracket. Will Science, technology and vocational schools help re-engage these young men with the purpose of education or just add a further stopping point on the road that for too many leads to a life of anti-social behaviour and, too often, crime.

But it is the primary sector, with its rapidly increasing pupil numbers, that should concern policy-makers the most. The reasons for exclusion of these younger children need to be considered, and any feedback on what can help prevent them being excluded should be circulated to all concerned. If necessary, more emphasis on understanding disruptive behaviour will need to become a part of teacher preparation programmes, especially if it is shown that new teachers face unacceptably high levels of disruption without all the skills necessary to deal with them.