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Global hunger, the prevalence of porn, the TES podcast, to cut or not to cut, Gove's 'defeatist' opponents, performance pay, Mr Men, and Lammy on exam 'lies'

news | Published in TES magazine on 13 May, 2013

All the latest schools news, views and comment, brought to you by the TES editorial team

Hunger is the biggest educational problem around the world. Solve that, then turn to schools - 28 May 2013

Next week some of the world’s most powerful governments will meet with charities and business leaders in London to discuss a problem damaging the educational prospects of millions of children – hunger.

Lobbyists are already highlighting just what is at stake ahead of the Hunger Summit on 8 June. This morning Save the Children published a report warning that missing out on a nutritious diet can severely damage a child’s ability to read and write simple sentences, and answer basic mathematics questions correctly.

Headline findings, which have been reported elsewhere, include the fact that on average these children are a fifth less literate than their peers – regardless of the amount and quality of their education.

But some of the background information included is just as shocking. There is the fact that the impact of malnutrition goes way beyond the devastating biological effect it can have on the brain.

“Parents sometimes treat a malnourished boy or girl differently because they are small, and this child is also more likely to miss school and key learning opportunities due to illness,” the report says. “Malnutrition is associated with children having lower self-esteem, self-confidence and career aspirations. Malnourished children not only face direct damage to their bodies and minds but are less confident to learn and aspire to change the situation they were born into.”

Then there are the huge numbers of children involved. India – in so many ways the paradigm of the new knowledge-based economy – had some 61.4 million children under 5 with stunted growth due to poor nutrition in 2012, according to United Nations figures.

For them, and many more of the world’s most deprived young people, the quality of their schools will make little difference to their educational disadvantage unless something is done to tackle the more fundamental problem of not having enough to eat.

William Stewart

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think


The weekly TES edition review podcast is here. Best listen - 24 May 2013

The TES team talks about today’s TES, which looks at the latest high-performing region in education, Massachusetts, Google’s new wearable technology the Glass, and the damaging effect of online pornography on students. Download or listen to it here.

Don’t be afraid to tell the podcast’s editor Richard Vaughan what you think


Shocking. Deputy children’s commissioner writes about the prevalence of porn for TES – 24 May 2013

It won’t have escaped you that this morning the Office of the Children’s Commissioner published an explosive report into the prevalence of porn in our society.

The report – entitled Basically… porn is everywhere – is truly shocking. As is a comment piece by deputy children’s commissioner Sue Berelowitz published online by TES. Here’s an extract:

“Pornographic material, including of an extreme and violent nature in still and moving images, is but a few clicks away. Children do not need to be at home sitting at a computer to watch pornography; the advent of smartphones and tablets means they can and do view pornography anywhere and at any time.”

Frankly it’s a must read.

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think


Top public school head calls for return of grammars. No surprises there, then - 23 May 2013

Here’s one that’s likely to make headlines in tomorrow’s newspapers: a leading private school headmaster has accused the government of “chickening out” of reintroducing grammar schools.

Stephen Winkley claimed that the demise of grammars has closed an opportunity for Britain to keep pace educationally with countries such as Finland, China and Singapore.

It had also removed the chance for brighter children from deprived areas to achieve their full potential, he added.

By not bringing back grammars, Michael Gove, education secretary for England, has given into political pressures, he said, as he prepares to retire as head of Rossall School in Lancashire.

Dr Winkley, who was previously headmaster of the elite Uppingham School in Rutland for 15 years, said: “We had the answer for many years…it was the grammar school system and it was dispensed with by politicians who suggested it was an elitist system that catered only for the brightest children to the detriment of those less gifted.

“Ironically, the politicians who decried grammar schools were probably educating their own children at independent schools, as many still do.”

Dr Winkley also asked why England cannot emulate the success of Finland – ironically, a country that embraces local comprehensive schools.

Cue rightwing media preparing to fawn and anyone who knows anything about education sighing a very heavy sigh.

Irena Barker

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think


Beware of unforeseen consequences, Mr Gove. Could performance pay lead to bigger class sizes? – 22 May 2013

The decision to abolish automatic pay rises for classroom teachers and instead tie their salaries to performance will “give schools the autonomy to attract, recruit and reward the teachers that they need”, UK education secretary Michael Gove has insisted.

But, according to Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, the change could be considerably more controversial than that. At a lunch event in London yesterday hosted by right-wing thinktank Reform, he argued that heads would be forced to choose between hiring a greater number of lower-paid teachers to keep class sizes down and offering more pay to existing staff but having bigger classes as a result.

The former head of Mossbourne Academy in East London told reporters: “I always said to the staff, ‘I want to reward those of you who are prepared to commit yourself to the school and do a good job in the classroom. To do that might mean that we have larger classes.’ You can’t have small classes – small groups – and a highly paid staff.”

Those who know their educational research will point out that, in fact, class size has very little impact on educational achievement. Nevertheless the possibility that performance-related pay may lead to bigger staff-pupil ratios could prove to be dynamite among voters – and not in a good way for Mr Gove.

Not surprisingly, the comments gone down extremely badly with the teaching unions, which have already organised a series of national and regional strikes in response to the pay reforms. NUT general secretary Christine Blower called the situation an “invidious choice no headteacher or governor would want to make”.

This might end up being a very difficult story for Mr Gove’s team to manage.

Stephen Exley

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think


Teachers teach nonsense words for phonics check, but learn nothing from the results, finds government research – 21 May 2013

Almost half of primary schools are now teaching children how to read nonsense words, following the introduction of the phonics check last year, according to a government-funded evaluation.

The check, which is carried out at the end of Year 1, involves asking children to read a list of 40 words, made up of 20 real words and 20 nonsense words such as “bim” and “spron”. Last year, 58 per cent of children reached the pass mark of 32.

The evaluation by the National Foundation for Educational Research, based on a survey of 844 literacy coordinators, 940 Year 1 teachers and interviews with staff in 14 case-study schools, also found most primary schools believed the phonics check provided no new information.

While teachers were overwhelmingly positive about phonics as an approach to teaching reading and more than 90 per cent taught phonics to all children aged 5 to 7, only a quarter of literacy coordinators said the test provided useful intelligence for teachers.

About one-third of literacy coordinators had reported alterations to teaching and learning in anticipation of the phonics check – the report’s authors say that the changes broadly represented a strengthening in the practice of phonics teaching.

The most significant among thesewas an increase in assessment of progress in phonics (48 per cent) and a jump in the time devoted to phonics teaching (46 per cent).

Responding to the findings, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that early and systematic use of phonics is vital but the screening check was a different matter.

“This is a poorly conceived test which acts to undermine confidence in phonics,” he said. “We have seen nonsense words plastered on the walls of good primary schools to get children used to the concept of words that don’t make sense. What on earth are we being forced to teach children?”

Helen Ward

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

Budget cuts ‘wouldn’t harm standards’, apparently. Think again – 21 May 2013

All the talk in this morning’s education headlines was of a radical report calling for the government to slash school budgets by around a fifth because it would have no impact on standards.

The report, Must do better: spending on schools, published by right-of-centre thinktank Reform, calls for the Treasury to remove the ring-fence around school budgets ahead of the comprehensive spending review next month.

The study claims that some schools spend twice as much as similar institutions with little or no effect on results. This conclusion was drawn from research comparing students’ achievements and teacher quality in nearly all of the primary and secondary schools in the country, according to Reform.

As a result of their findings, researchers came to the conclusion that there is no link between more funding and better results, and no link between more funding and better teaching. School spending should therefore be cut by 18 per cent, the report suggests.

Furthermore, it says, if the ring-fence was removed, school leaders would be forced to “concentrate their spending on where it will have the biggest impact on pupil performance”.

But the study has few suggestions as to how schools should make savings beyond reducing the number of teaching assistants and increasing class sizes – which could mean a massive 40 or 50 students per class in some parts of the country.

The report is right, of course, in that money by itself does not improve achievement. But the suggestion that headteachers are simply spending money with little regard to results may be tough for them to swallow.

And the report is wrong to suggest that there is no link between spending and performance. It is undoubtedly true that money can be spent badly but a look at London’s schools, for example, which do exceptionally well both financially and in terms of results compared to similar areas elsewhere in the country, shows how more money spent wisely can have dramatic outcomes.

Reform’s method of comparing schools in different contexts is also worthy of further interrogation. The Association of School and College Leaders, for example, labelled it “fundamentally flawed” and “overly simplistic”. By looking solely at the data, the heads’ union said, researchers have not taken into account the effect of factors such as staff turnover, which can have a major impact on outcomes.

Another pillar for Reform’s slightly unorthodox conclusions is that other countries are supposedly doing better educationally than England with lower investment. Quite what its research team makes of news from the US where the government is planning to increase spending on education by 4 per cent in a bid to stay competitive internationally is neatly ignored.

Must do better? No doubt the phrase will have sprung to mind among many of the headteachers reading the report.  

Richard Vaughan

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think


Gove labels opponents ‘defeatists’ as he takes another swipe at heads – 20 May 2013

While Michael Gove certainly came in for a tetchy reception from delegates at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) conference on Saturday, the education secretary was in an equally combative mood.

After delegates took him to task over the stress caused by Sats tests and Ofsted inspections, Mr Gove was less than impressed. “I thank you for your candour,” he told the conference, “but I’m afraid that’s where we’re going to have to part company.”

And Mr Gove seems to have struggled to shake off his ill temper following his less-than-successful visit to Birmingham, if his response in The Times today is anything to go by.

He was “particularly disappointed” by the reaction he received, he writes, singling out new NAHT president Bernadette Hunter for individual criticism. “It’s so depressing,” he continues, “when the response from someone affecting to speak on behalf of the profession is a direct attack on the principle of setting higher expectations”.

Mr Gove says that he won’t “compromise on standards to appease the defeatists”, before contrasting the jeering delegates at the conference – who seem to have been absorbed into the “enemies of promise” category – with the “genuinely world-beating heads” who are “embracing these reforms”.

Speaking straight after Mr Gove’s comments at the conference, NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby told him: “I think you create conflict where none is necessary.”

And he perhaps has a point. In contrast with the outright hostility displayed by some of the other education unions, Mr Gove has enjoyed a relatively cordial relationship with the NAHT. At last year’s conference, he went so far as to describe Mr Hobby as “brilliant”.

The NAHT has made a point of promoting positive responses to the educational climate, such as the Aspire school improvement programme and its own peer-led inspections.

Indeed, Mr Hobby even provoked the wrath of the other unions by expressing support for Mr Gove’s performance-pay policy for teachers. As he told delegates in his speech yesterday, “unless we ourselves take ownership of standards, we frankly deserve political interference.”

It’s a message that would have been music to the ears of Mr Gove. At a time when allies within the educational establishment are in short supply for the education secretary, creating even more enemies is perhaps not the wisest move.

Stephen Exley

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think


Headteachers ramp up the rhetoric as they consider joining TUC – 17 May 2013

Among the 54 trade unions affiliated to the Trades Union Congress are the likes of the RMT transport union, led by firebrand Bob Crow, and civil service union PCS, with left-wing agitator extraordinaire Mark Serwotka at the helm.

But there could soon be a more moderate voice around the table: heads’ union the NAHT. Behind closed doors at the union’s annual conference in Birmingham this afternoon, delegates will decide whether the NAHT should attempt to join the national federation of trade unions.

But while some may interpret the move as signalling an impending new wave of militant activity at the union, general secretary Russell Hobby told TES that this was not the intention.

“I think we would be one of the more moderate members,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect there would be a surge in militancy. But the TUC does offer excellent training and support, which we would want to take advantage of.”

The NAHT already enjoys close relationships with some of the classroom unions in the TUC, particularly the moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers, and even the more left-wing NUT. And for the TUC to have input from Mr Hobby – a union leader who maintains a degree of influence in the corridors of power – would be beneficial to both parties.

But while the TUC has indicated that it would welcome the proposed move by the NAHT, it would first have to be ratified by its general council.

While those unions on the Left of the TUC could have reservations, the motions that will be debated at the NAHT conference over the weekend show that its members share plenty of common ground with the other teachers’ unions.

Delegates will debate a motion of no confidence in several government policies, including forced academisation, “anti-inclusive” special educational needs reforms and “curriculum, assessment and examination policies”.
Another motion will condemn “the use of brokers to enforce the secretary of state’s messianic mission to convert all state schools to academies whether they wish to or not” as “an affront to local democratic governance”.

The conference will also debate a polite motion, which argues – without naming any names – that “too much power is currently given to one person to determine national policy on the basis of personal preference and ideologically-driven assumptions”.

Wonder who this could be talking about?

Stephen Exley

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think


‘Ratcheting up of pressure’ drives worst primary headteacher recruitment crisis in 13 years – 16 May 2013

With attainment targets getting tougher and pressure on school leaders becoming ever greater, warnings of a shortage of teachers willing to step up to become headteachers have become ever louder in recent months.

And now it seems that these prophecies have come to pass, as new figures obtained by TES reveal that the number of primary schools struggling to appoint a headteacher has reached a 13-year high.

Of the 261 primary schools advertising for a new headteacher in January this year, 26 per cent were forced to re-advertise within two months – up significantly from just 15 per cent for the same period last year, and a higher proportion than in any year since 2000.

The figures from Education Data Surveys, owned by TES’ parent company TSL Education, show that the situation is even worse in London, where almost half (44 per cent) of the primaries seeking a new headteacher were forced to re-advertise, more than double the 20 per cent rate recorded 12 months previously.

Ahead of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) annual conference, which begins tomorrow in Birmingham, the union’s general secretary Russell Hobby said that many teachers were being put off applying for promotion by education secretary Michael Gove’s negative rhetoric about the profession, as well as by pressure from schools inspectorate Ofsted and the threat of forced conversion to academy status.

“It just shows the effect the ratcheting up of pressure and hostile rhetoric is having in deterring people from becoming heads,” he said.

“Being a head is a wonderful job if you get the support you need but many teachers are worrying about feeling the hand on their shoulder. You need time to turn things around in a school but many school leaders are not confident they will have that.

“When you feel your achievements over the past decade have been belittled, that’s why people don’t want to take up the job.”

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governors’ Association, also told TES that there had been a significant increase in the number of members reporting difficulties in finding new headteachers.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Overall headship vacancies are low and stable but we have always been aware that as the baby boomer generation started to retire we were likely to see a rise in the number of vacancies.

“It is vital that schools find the right head with the skills and expertise to suit their individual circumstances – and most do first time. Where governing bodies plan well in advance for a departure, they are much more likely to make an appropriate appointment.”

The spokeswoman continued: “The growing network of teaching schools is also helping to develop the next generation of great heads, as they identify teachers with the potential for headship right at the start of their careers and nurture them in the job over time.”

But – as disgruntled members are likely to tell the NAHT conference this weekend – many of today’s headteachers feel they themselves could do with a bit more nurturing and support from the government.

Stephen Exley

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think


Row over performance pay escalates with unions accused of issuing “illegal advice to members” - 15 May 2013

If you thought the row between Michael Gove and the NUT-NASUWT alliance couldn’t get any more bad-tempered, it just has.

The parties are already at loggerheads over plans to tie teachers’ pay more closely with performance; today Mr Gove has effectively accused the unions of issuing illegal advice on how to circumvent his reforms.

While the education secretary insists the reforms coming into effect in September will allow schools to pay better teachers more, the unions fear funding pressures will mean many teachers could end up with no annual pay rise at all.

The latest guidance issued by the NUT and the NASUWT advises schools on how they can effectively keep teachers’ pay structures within spitting distance of exactly where they are.

Not surprisingly, Mr Gove is not pleased. Indeed, he has issued a letter to headteachers today, warning that “if every aspect of [the guidance] were adopted by schools, that would mean putting in place a pay policy that failed to meet statutory requirements”.

Department for Education advice published simultaneously critiques the NUT-NASUWT instructions, including – as Mr Gove puts it – “elements I consider to be unlawful”.

One is the suggestion that teachers on the M6 advisory spine point of the Main Pay Range with two years of successful appraisals under their belts should automatically move to the Upper Pay Range. Not so, says the DfE: “The [unions’] checklist advocates a substantial and serious weakening of the process. Any schools adopting this proposal would be acting unlawfully.”

Similarly, the unions suggest Advanced Skills Teachers and Excellent Teachers should be automatically transferred to the new Lead Practitioner pay range. Again, the DfE retorts, schools “would also be acting unlawfully” if they did this unquestioningly.

Mr Gove, according to NUT general secretary Christine Blower, “is now seeking to bully schools by threatening that they will be acting illegally when they adopt our framework.  His allegations are without foundation – as he knows – but his threats reveal the lengths to which he will go to impose his own ideas under the guise of freedom.”

With regional and national strikes on the way in the coming months, this is not a row that is going anywhere soon.

Stephen Exley

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think



Mr Men prove unlikely nemeses for Mr Gove - 14 May 2013

When Michael Gove last week derided a set of classroom resources depicting the rise of Hitler as a “Mr Men” story, he could not have expected the backlash that has followed. Indeed, the fury provoked by the relatively low-key speech at Brighton College has resulted in one of the education secretary’s most embarrassing weeks in office.

Mr Gove told an audience of independent school leaders that a set of GCSE history resources used Mr Men to explain Nazism. He also mocked the Historical Association’s suggestion that teachers use Disney’s Robin Hood film to teach children about King John.

But if the education secretary had been expecting a groundswell of support for his efforts to promote greater rigour in how the subject is taught in state schools, he will have been very much disappointed.

Last week, this very blog pointed out that the Mr Men resources were actually for students taking the IGCSE – a supposedly more rigorous qualification championed by Mr Gove as a GCSE alternative – and were in fact nothing to do with England’s state education system. The resources were actually drawn up by Russel Tarr, head of history at the International School of Toulouse in France.

And plenty of teachers have rushed to the defence of Mr Tarr and his Active History website. The teacher writes on his blog that he has been “barraged with scores of supportive emails and messages of support”. Indeed, a Twitter campaign in support of his efforts has resulted in more than 400 people making their avatar a picture of a Mr Men character, and a number of users of the website have followed suit.

Things got even worse for Mr Gove this morning, when 54 historians wrote a letter to The Times accusing the minister of an “extraordinary and misleading” attack on history teaching in schools and “manipulating and distorting” evidence in his speech.

Not surprisingly, Labour have been quick to stick the boot in. “Before he rushes to judgement about young people, Michael Gove should make sure he has researched the evidence thoroughly,” education spokesman Tristram Hunt said. “Otherwise he risks coming across as Mr Sloppy.”

Stephen Exley

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think


Lammy: It’s a lie to tell deprived kids that exam results can propel them into corporate life - 13 May 2013

Telling disadvantaged young people that gaining top grades at school and university will inevitably lead to career success in corporate Britain is a “white lie”, Tottenham MP David Lammy has said.

The former lawyer - one of the most prominent black British politicians - claimed that students from poorer backgrounds needed additional support to break into the world of finance, and could often feel “shell-shocked” and “out of context” once in a new environment.

He was speaking at the launch of the Social Mobility Foundation’s new City Talent initiative, which will offer ongoing support and internships for talented sixth formers who want to work in the City of London.

“There’s a conceit,” he said, “a bit of a white lie, on the part of our system…that if you work really hard, you get As and A*s in A levels, you go to university, you get a first or a 2:1 and you want to go to the City in some shape, the door will be open for you and all will be fine.

“I falsely believed that once, we understand now it’s not as simple as that. You can come from a working-class or poorer background, you can get the As, do really well in class, but when you go to the City or corporate environment you can experience feeling shell-shocked, feeling out of context,” he said. “It’s somehow different to the school you got your As in. You haven’t acquired the acumen to deal with it.”

Mr Lammy, who was raised by a single mother in Tottenham, but attended a state secondary school in Peterborough as a chorister, added: “That was my experience as a young lawyer, and I’m so grateful to senior lawyers at the time who helped me understand that I shouldn’t have that huge big Michael Jackson hairstyle I had at the time.

“They explained that the nylon shirts I bought and the Buy Rite suit were not what the City firms wanted to see. Some of the ways of being that are appropriate, you have to acquire that as well.

“We all need that kind of mentoring and support.”

Irena Barker

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think


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Comment (4)

  • cgbfgt

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    13 May, 2013


  • These sort of blogs are not very motivating for a 16 year old student 1 week prior to GCSE exams. Thanks for this.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    13 May, 2013


  • You prefer to motivate students with lies?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    14 May, 2013

    Archie Medes

  • Regarding the shortage of Headteachers, I think the data may be skewed in part by schools of a religious character. Did not the TES report a few years ago that such schools have trouble finding candidates who meet their religious criteria, and therefore spend more money on recruitment and selection because of the need to re-advertise? I would like to see what the picture is for non-denominational schools; I suspect they have less trouble when recruiting Headteachers.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    17 May, 2013


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