THE CLASSROOM IS NO PLACE FOR POLITICIANS
The next few months will influence education policy for the next decade or more. More than in many previous general elections, we will be offered very different visions for our future education system.
This was the headline and first two sentences of the Opinion article by Estelle Morris, Baroness and former Secretary of State for Education, in EducationGuardian on 26 January. She expressed concern over the takeover of pedagogy by politicians and the lack of evaluation of policy initiatives. She wrote: If politicians really want to exercise influence in the classroom, they have to develop a much better understanding of the process of achieving change.
This was picked up in a letter to The Guardian on 31 March from 14 professors of education.
IT’S TIME FOR ALL PARTIES TO TAKE POLITICS OUT OF RUNNING SCHOOLS
Education will be a battlefield in the forthcoming election and so we believe it is imperative to define clearly what may be fought over by politicians and what should be a politically neutral zone.
Fundamentally we urge that schooling should be depoliticised. What happens in classrooms should no longer be micromanaged by government, irrespective of who wins the election. While many recognise that political intervention in the work of schools was necessary at the end of the last century, it is now counterproductive and damaging the all-round education of our youth. Early in the next Parliament we would like to see an Education Bill that resolves the question ‘who is responsible for what?’ along these lines:
• Parliament should (as now) fund national education and control its overall systems and structures. On these national issues political parties may differ and Parliamentary debate should precede Government action. Government should engender respect for teachers and trust their commitment and professional competence.
• Schools and colleges should shape classroom practice. What is taught (curriculum), how it is taught (pedagogy), whether it is learned successfully (assessment), and how effectively each school tackles its tasks (evaluation) should properly be the local province of teachers, working collegially and supported by school governors, neighbouring schools, parents, a constructive inspectorate and, nationally, educational researchers. Guidance should be available from outside bodies, including local authorities, for example in mathematics.
• But in between these two levels of responsibility must be a third: a research-informed National Education Council working with rejuvenated local authorities. The latter are democratically accountable to their citizens, big enough to employ the requisite specialists, close enough to schools to understand local issues and to ensure that sufficient school places are available, and able to support and challenge a process of accountability in which school self-evaluation is scrutinised by school governing bodies as the starting point for a reporting process that goes via local authorities to an independent and research-based National Education Council. This Council would guide schools in their development of curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and self-evaluation; monitor children’s attainments by sampling; monitor local authorities’ support for schools; sponsor research into worthwhile practice; and generally aim to tell the general public and Parliament of the successes, failures and future directions of the education system – without fear or favour of party politics.
It is time to shift the prime responsibility for education towards schools and colleges and so enable teachers to build the public trust that they deserve and need in order to be effective guardians, with parents, of the development of the young and hence custodians of the nation’s uncertain future. It can be done.
Three days later the letter also featured in the TES with the heading: BATTLE LINES DRAWN IN FIGHT TO REMOVE POLITICS FROM EDUCATION
POLITICAL MEDDLING A THREAT TO STANDARDS, TOP EXAMINER SAYS
Jessica Shepherd writes in The Guardian on 30 April:
Politicians constant tampering with GCSE and A-level courses is threatening exam standards and making it easier to achieve top grades, [yesterday said] Tim Oates, director of assessment and research at Cambridge University’s exam board, Cambridge Assessment. [He} accused the government of arbitrary and “faddish” changes to the examination system.
Oates told a conference that over the last 15 years, politicians have banned and then reintroduced the use of calculators in maths GCSE examinations seven times. He said that the government in 2000 had split A-level courses into six modules, then changed this to four modules, allowing students to retake module exams in order to obtain higher grades. He noted that universities complain that since the percentage of students gaining three A grades has risen from 7% in the mid 1990s to 17% they can no longer differentiate between top students. So a further grade has been introduced of A*. He argued that it should be universities, schools and employers who instigate change, not government.
Extracts from the Education section of the Government’s document THE COALITION: OUR PROGRAMME FOR GOVERNMENT (20 May 2010) which are relevant to the concerns of this website.
With a new Government, the whole range of arguments about schools are in turmoil. For the present here are extracts from the Coalition’s document of intent.
We will promote the reform of schools in order to ensure that … all schools have greater freedom over the curriculum; and that all schools are held properly to account.
We will simplify the regulation of standards in education and target inspection on areas of failure.
We will reform league tables so that schools are able to focus on, and demonstrate, the progress of children of all abilities.
We will keep external assessment, but will review how Key Stage 2 tests operate in future.
For the record, this is a letter I sent to the new Secretary of State for Education on 12 May 2010
Dear Mr Gove Congratulations on your Cabinet appointment as minister responsible for the national government of schools, as announced this evening. I write to you as one of 14 professors of education who recently said publicly that schooling should be depoliticised. We argued that schools and colleges should be free to shape classroom practice and we hoped for an Education Bill to that end. But for the present I would like to put before you ideas on how to resolve the Sats crisis that is unfolding this week with many primary schools now boycotting the national curriculum testing. I am sure you realise that the National Association of Headteachers and the National Union of Teachers are conducting this boycott not for the convenience or financial gain of their members, but because they are convinced that the education of the children of England is being seriously damaged. As you know, 11-year-olds Sats results for schools are published in alphabetical lists which many newspapers turn into league tables. These league tables have a pernicious impact on the work of children in many schools because teachers need to skew their teaching to prepare children for the tests in English and mathematics. You will be familiar with the powerful criticisms that have come from the Select Committee, from Professor Alexander’s Primary Review, and a host of other bodies. While the NASUWT and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers are not supporting the boycott they are also firmly opposed to league tables. Before the election you talked of moving the Sats testing to Year 7 and having it carried out by secondary teachers, with the results being collated to produce league tables of primary school performance. By now I am sure you will have realised that this would be disastrous. While on-going formative assessment is recognised as an essential part of the teaching process, it is clear to most people that a summative assessment of their child’s level of attainment at the end of primary education is what many parents want. But equally parents do not want the school work of their child to be narrowed by the school frantically pushing for high levels of that summative assessment in English and mathematics at the cost of a broad and balanced all-round education. The answer to this dilemma is to abandon the league tables while providing schools with simple testing materials, that are not time consuming, which teachers can use to ensure that their judgements are in accord with national standards. Various proposals about ensuring that teachers’ assessments are reliable have been made. And it needs to be remembered that the research evidence is that with the present rigorous external testing, one child in every five is nevertheless given an assessment level which does not reflect their true ability. Why do politicians hold onto league tables while the profession and a substantial body of other people want to abandon them? Certainly the parents of primary age children do not need them for choosing a school. In most cases they will have no more than three primary schools within easy distance of their home and the sound advice to them is to visit these local schools and make their choices in terms of their impressions and the views expressed by parents with children already at the schools. It would be a major step forward if you were to announce that primary school league tables will not be published this year or in the future. Supported by careful arguments it would show parents, teachers and the general public that this new Government has a prime concern for the effective all-round education of the nation’s children. Yours sincerely
Dear Mr Gove
Congratulations on your Cabinet appointment as minister responsible for the national government of schools, as announced this evening.
I write to you as one of 14 professors of education who recently said publicly that schooling should be depoliticised. We argued that schools and colleges should be free to shape classroom practice and we hoped for an Education Bill to that end.
But for the present I would like to put before you ideas on how to resolve the Sats crisis that is unfolding this week with many primary schools now boycotting the national curriculum testing.
I am sure you realise that the National Association of Headteachers and the National Union of Teachers are conducting this boycott not for the convenience or financial gain of their members, but because they are convinced that the education of the children of England is being seriously damaged. As you know, 11-year-olds Sats results for schools are published in alphabetical lists which many newspapers turn into league tables. These league tables have a pernicious impact on the work of children in many schools because teachers need to skew their teaching to prepare children for the tests in English and mathematics. You will be familiar with the powerful criticisms that have come from the Select Committee, from Professor Alexander’s Primary Review, and a host of other bodies. While the NASUWT and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers are not supporting the boycott they are also firmly opposed to league tables.
Before the election you talked of moving the Sats testing to Year 7 and having it carried out by secondary teachers, with the results being collated to produce league tables of primary school performance. By now I am sure you will have realised that this would be disastrous.
While on-going formative assessment is recognised as an essential part of the teaching process, it is clear to most people that a summative assessment of their child’s level of attainment at the end of primary education is what many parents want. But equally parents do not want the school work of their child to be narrowed by the school frantically pushing for high levels of that summative assessment in English and mathematics at the cost of a broad and balanced all-round education. The answer to this dilemma is to abandon the league tables while providing schools with simple testing materials, that are not time consuming, which teachers can use to ensure that their judgements are in accord with national standards. Various proposals about ensuring that teachers’ assessments are reliable have been made. And it needs to be remembered that the research evidence is that with the present rigorous external testing, one child in every five is nevertheless given an assessment level which does not reflect their true ability.
Why do politicians hold onto league tables while the profession and a substantial body of other people want to abandon them? Certainly the parents of primary age children do not need them for choosing a school. In most cases they will have no more than three primary schools within easy distance of their home and the sound advice to them is to visit these local schools and make their choices in terms of their impressions and the views expressed by parents with children already at the schools.
It would be a major step forward if you were to announce that primary school league tables will not be published this year or in the future. Supported by careful arguments it would show parents, teachers and the general public that this new Government has a prime concern for the effective all-round education of the nation’s children.
Michael Bassey, Emeritus Professor of Education, Nottingham Trent University
LONDON'S STATE SECONDARY SCHOOLS ARE DOING VERY WELL SAYS WOODS
The new year in education started with a resounding cry by Professor David Woods, chief adviser of National Challenge saying that
Some parents, while perfectly prepared to buy into state primary education, have an innate prejudice against their local state secondary school. Despite what you hear from the chattering classes – by which I mean the dinner parties of Islington – London's state secondary schools are doing very well. Almost a quarter have been judged outstanding.
He added that there has been a dramatic improvement in the proportion of comprehensive pupils obtaining five good GCSE grades and the number of comprehensives labelled as "failing" has dropped from about half in 1997 to one in 10 now.
GOOD LOCAL SCHOOLS DESERVE PARENTAL SUPPORT
Fiona Millar agreed with Professor Woods in The Guardian on 12 January. She said Far too many parents shun their local schools without even stepping inside the front entrance, often because they don’t like the look of the other children or parents walking through it. Taking the argument back to politics she said that we need some prominent politicians (or even a whole party) to say something like this:
We believe in the principle of good local schools and children of all backgrounds being educated together. Our government is committed to supporting those schools with investment and expertise so that your child can walk through the same gate as his or her neighbours every morning and be safe and happy and flourish academically.
The nation is facing an unprecedented economic crisis, so rather than wasting money creating new schools we may not need, we are going to focus on making the schools we already have work better for all children. There will be less emphasis on diversity, specialism, fancy names and flashy new buildings …
She added, supporting Woods, that many local state schools are good enough for the parents who currently reject them. We should stop apologising for them and make them the jewel in the crown of our system.
108,000 TO MISS OUT ON TOP-CHOICE SECONDARY SCHOOL
Jessica Shepherd in The Guardian on 27 February reported that Ian Craig, head of the school admissions watchdog, expected that about a fifth of all applicants for secondary school places would not get into the school of the first choice made by their families. He also reckoned that some 2,000 parents, desperate for a place at their top-choice school, would have tried to cheat the system. The most common ways parents commit admission fraud are to temporarily change address to fit in a school’s catchment or to send their children to live with grandparents whose home is in the catchment.
In the TES of 26 February, an academic, Professor Bernard Barker of Leicester University (with many years of successful work in schools behind him), wrote that Our government must dispose of the flawed logic that is driving our education recession – whichever party is in power. ... There is an urgent need to abandon central government’s money-centred obsession with functional skills and efficiency, and to establish a new, progressive vision concerned with students’ personal growth and needs.
Speeches made in the following week by politicians did not seem to heed him.
Michael Gove, Conservative shadow secretary for Education, got plenty of newsprint at the beginning of March, with his promise to end the ‘political control’ of examinations. Richard Vaughan, in the TES of 5 March reporting on a speech made to the Royal Society, noted that:
The Conservatives propose to undertake a complete “reconstruction” of the curriculum [which would be in place by September 2011] should they come to power after the general election, while restating their intentions to allow universities to take control of A-levels. Mr Gove said the Conservatives would launch an immediate review of the curriculum focusing on the core subjects of English, maths and science that will require the “full engagement” of “learned societies”. Reforms to history and geography would follow later.
Once reconstructed the curriculum would be free from political meddling, perhaps adopting the Dutch method of reviewing it every 10 years. [Also they would] abandon the Rose Review of the primary curriculum … as it diminishes the place of maths, and key stage 2 tests would include the likes of geometry and algebra.
In another speech Mr Gove said that if elected they would abolish the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and, in reforming the curriculum, specify the core knowledge that children should have at each age, benchmarked against their peers across the world.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, summed it up neatly: He wants to end political interference by interfering.
By contrast, Vernon Coaker, schools minister, said that tackling inequality must remain the top priority. In an article in the TES of 5 March he first praised the achievements of our schools, before looking ahead:
In every part of the country and at every age, school standards have risen over the past decade. But I’m particularly proud that it’s many of the most deprived areas of the country that have seen the biggest rises in results. It’s also the case that schools where more than half of children are eligible for free school meals have seen the sharpest increases in GCSE results. And the historic gap between children eligible for free school meals and the rest is finally starting to narrow.
Despite this progress, however, it is still the case that family income and social class are strongly associated with poorer performance, on average, at every key stage. This is not only morally unacceptable, it is damaging for social cohesion and bad for the economy. Most of all it is plain unfair …
I know there is much more to do to continue raising the achievements and aspirations of children from low-income families as we break the historic link between poverty and low attainment. It means tackling all the barriers that children face, whether that’s the income of their family or their special educational need. …
The stakes are high, but I am determined to do everything I can to build on the progress of the past decade so that every child, whatever their background, gets the very best start in life and the opportunities others take for granted.
OFSTED MIGHT AS WELL BE ABOLISHED SAYS WOODHEAD
How do you mend Ofsted? was a banner heading in the TES on 12 February. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, while acknowledging that the public has a right to accountability, criticised Ofsted for not supporting schools and being the brand that strikes fear into the hearts of many. She added, Fear of being judged by Ofsted as failing has promoted a culture in schools where doing things to please inspectors competes with professional judgements about the learning needs of pupils as the prime motivation for action.
Tim Brighouse was trenchant: An urgent, major overhaul of Ofsted is much needed. Judged against two yardsticks – excellence and efficiency – the inspectorate is presently failing on both counts. It used to be different. Consider how widely respected the HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspectors) were.
The Editor of the TES, Gerard Haigh, put it strongly:
But it was Professor Chris Woodhead, first chief of Ofsted, who truly put the boot in, saying: It pains me to say it, but Ofsted might as well be abolished.
OFSTED’S FRESH APPROACH LEAVES HEADS ‘FURIOUS’ AND UNION ‘AGHAST’
This was the headline in the TES on 5 March to an article by William Stewart. In a table he showed that Ofsted judgements had changed dramatically because of the new framework between the academic year 2008/9 and the current period from September 2009 to February 2010.
Primary schools: ‘outstanding’ dropped from 16% to 7%; ‘good’ dropped from 52% to 37%; ‘satisfactory’ increased from 29% to 43%; and ‘inadequate’ climbed from 3% to 7%
Secondary schools: ‘outstanding’ dropped from 22% to 10%; ‘good’ dropped from 41% to 37%; ‘satisfactory’ increased from 31% to 44%; and ‘inadequate’ climbed from 6% to 10%
For heads, teachers and those who represent them, these findings are more than just figures. They represent lost jobs, ruined careers, damaged morale and schools already struggling in difficult circumstances being pushed into steeper decline as alarmed parents take flight.
No one could argue that they weren’t warned. Ofsted was always quite explicit that it was, once again, “raising the bar” and increasing “expectations”. But the sheer size of the difference in inspection grades has taken people aback. …
For Keith Dennis, inspections consultant at the Association of School and College Leaders, Stewart says the real issue is the greater emphasis on raw exam results or “attainment” which he said had created “real fear” among heads. In nine years of working on inspections I have never known fear like it. It is people doing everything possible who are sometimes constrained by things beyond their powers. It might be that they can’t recruit an English teacher, or a maths teacher goes off on maternity leave at a crucial time and results drop.
An article by Hannah Frankel in the TES Magazine a month earlier showed one of the consequences of government obsession with results. In 2004, 30 heads and deputies of secondary schools were sacked for failure to deliver what were deemed acceptable results: four years later the figure was 150. She asks, Is the next generation of potential school leaders running scared of an inspection-obsessed culture and ‘football manager’ syndrome? She adds, Meanwhile, headteacher vacancies remain too high: some 26 per cent of primary, 19 per cent of secondary, and 27 per cent of special school headteacher posts were reported unfilled in 2009. And retirements are unlikely to eae-off until at least 2013.
‘APPEALING AGAINST OFSTED IS A WASTE OF TIME’
William Stewart of the TES on 12 March reported that the Association of School and College Leaders is so disenchanted with the appeals procedure by which schools should be able to challenge Ofsted judgements which they consider unfair, that it is recommending schools not to bother.
He also noted that Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, commented that Ofsted has driven many good schools to the wall for no valid reason. When Christine Gilbert, chief schools inspector was asked what she would say to heads who lost their jobs because of inspection verdicts, she said My job is to raise the expectations on behalf of the pupils and parents.
HEADS’ UNIONS DEMANDS THAT ALL INSPECTIONS ARE HMI-LED
The NAHT and the ASCL believe that the increase in schools being failed by Ofsted is partly due to inspectors’ belief that they have to follow the Ofsted framework to the letter. In contrast, the two unions believe that HMIs, who have been rigorously selected and trained, are more likely than contracted inspectors to treat the framework as guidance that is open to interpretation – hence their demand for HMI-led inspections. Ofsted disagreed. TES (William Stewart) 19 March
MPs IN CROSS-PARTY ATTACK ON OFSTED’S ‘ARBITARY’ JUDGEMENT’
William Stewart reported in the TES on 2 April that more than 80 MPs have told Parliament that they are “seriously concerned” about reports of Ofsted making “arbitrary” judgements, leading to schools being unfairly marked down and failed. They claim that parents and the general public will be given an erroneous and misleading impression of school standards. Christine Gilbert, chief inspector, said in reply I am confident that these myths will lose currency as more schools experience the new inspection arrangement themselves.
LAST-DITCH BID TO WOO PRIMARY HEADS AS SATS BALLOT LOOMS
This was the heading to Helen Ward’s report in the TES on 12 March that Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker have written to all primary heads re-stating their pledge that league tables will be superseded by school report cards, but that KS2 tests in English and maths will remain until teacher assessment is more robust. Their letter also advises heads not to drill children for the tests. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), dismissed the letter, saying that his Association wants the current system of league tables to be dropped this year.
Jessica Shepherd, in The Guardian on 24 March reported that the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the NAHT are now balloting heads and deputies asking whether they would agree to frustrate the administration of the tests. Pupils and teachers would still attend school if a boycott went ahead, but the children would not be entered for the tests. Sats are due to take place during the week beginning May 10 – just after the general election.
TES DEBATE: SHOULD TEACHERS BACK A SATS BOYCOTT?
Mick Brookes, general secretary of the NAHT, said ‘Yes’, arguing that
A vote in favour will boost morale and send a message to the next government. … It goes without saying that we want to ensure that Year 5 and 6 children have the best possible time at school, uncluttered by the need to monotonously rehearse practice tests. The NAHT and the NUT have consistently stated that we are not against testing per se, but we are against this “high stakes” regime that skews the curriculum. … Why is it that a Labour government should perpetuate a system that humiliates children and their schools in those very communities in which so much as been invested?
We have built children up for these tests and can’t now let them down. … I would love to disrupt these tawdry tests and allay the rot they set in our schools. Deep down I am up for a boycott – but not this one
40% 0F SCHOOLS DROP OUT OF SINGLE LEVEL TEST PILOTS
This was a report in the TES of 19 March about the Government’s trials of a new form of Sat tests. These were originally designed in 2007 as an alternative to the ‘traditional’ Sats in an attempt to take the pressure of teachers and pupils by allowing them to be entered for a test measuring a particular level when they were ready. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, asked Why are schools leaving if the tests are as worthwhile and valid as the Government says? The low numbers remaining cast doubt on the whole exercise.
THE SATs BATTLEFIELD
Peter Mortimore, writing in EducationGuardian on 6 April expressed a familiar concern that the teaching unions are not united.
The teachers’ conferences that are finishing today remind us that, unlike other trade unions, teachers associations remain trapped by their past and still resist amalgamation. As a result, teachers are unable to present a united front to ministers and civil servants adept at dividing and ruling.
Other news items showed how this is the case over Sats. While the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) are conducting a ballot on a boycott action to frustrate the administration of the external testing of 11-year-olds, the NASUWT is concerned that abolishing Sats would lead to extra work for already hard-pressed teachers. Its general secretary, Chris Keates, said: Since KS3 Sats were abolished, secondary teachers in many schools now have even more workload. They face excessively burdensome assessment and not only are they having to administer the tests, but also mark them themselves. …Those who are now calling for the removal of KS2 Sats should take heed. They are doing teachers and pupils no favours.[ Kerra Maddern TES 2 April]
Meanwhile the general secretary of the NUT, Christine Blower, said that these tests for 11-year-olds contravene the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. Under this convention, children are entitled to a broad education which develops their personalities, talents and abilities to their fullest potential. She said that the effect of the Sats is to reduce children to little bundles of measurable outputs trained in a mechanistic model of education in a quote from a speech by Maggie Atkinson, the children’s commissioner.
From Baker to Balls [Jessica Shepherd, The Guardian 7 April]
The House of Commons select committee for children, schools and families in a substantial report entitled From Baker to Balls: The Foundations of the Educational System also came out strongly against Sats.
Sats stigmatise and undermine struggling schools by publishing their raw results and dissuade teachers from inventing creative lessons, the report says.
SATS BOYCOTT ANNOUNCED: May 2010
Jessica Shepherd writes on The Guardian website (21 April)
Primary school heads will press ahead with a boycott of Sats tests for 10- and 11-year-olds next month, Britain's biggest teaching unions confirmed today, potentially throwing league tables and assessment regimes into chaos.
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) confirmed after a meeting of their executives that their members would take industrial action and would not adminster national tests in maths and English.
The decision means the next government is heading for a clash with headteachers, who will be boycotting the tests on the first day of a new administration.
The tests are due to be sat by 600,000 children in their last year of primary school between May 10 and May 13.
Last Friday, headteachers in England voted overwhelmingly to boycott the tests.
The unions said Sats in their current form disrupt the learning process for children in Year 6 (aged 10 and 11), and are misused to compile meaningless league tables which only serve to humiliate and demean children, their teachers and their communities. They said they supported a system of assessment that highlights what children can do rather than focussing on failure.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said:
Mick Brookes, general secretary of the NAHT, said:
We guarantee that children in year 6 will leave with accurate information about their achievements that will be both broad and positive. We are determined, for all the right reasons, to see positive change. This protest is a significant mark of that determination.
Together the two unions represent 80% of headteachers in England's 17,000 primary schools.
OUTINGS, STORIES AND A GIANT PICNIC LAID ON AS THOUSANDS OF PRIMARIES BOYCOTT TESTS
Jessica Shepherd writes in The Guardian on Monday 10 May:
Teaching unions have predicted that half of England’s 17,000 primaries will lock up their test papers in protest, affecting tens of thousands of pupils. Some 600,000 pupils are due to sit the tests, known as Sats, in maths and English every day this week. Unions argue that the tests disrupt children’s learning and are “misused” to compile league tables, which they say humiliate and demean children and their schools. … The unions said a letter from Ed Balls, the schools secretary, warning school governors that it was a teachers’ statutory duty and professional responsibility to carry out the tests had backfired and spurred more teachers to join the boycott.
This page last added to on 10 May 2010.
With the change in government a new page has been opened of Educational press reports 2010 from June entitled 'A new GOVErnment brings in doubtful educational freedoms'!