National strikes, Knowsley, Michael Gove, the new TES podcast, teacher training, the new national curriculum and Ofsted

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

England's worst performing council closes pound;24m secondary just four years after it opened - 15 July 2013

Knowsley, on the outskirts of Liverpool, will claim to a very dubious honour at the end of term this week. It will become the first local authority to shut a brand new school built under Labour's Building Schools for the Future programme.

The council voted earlier this year to close the pound;24 million Christ the King Centre for Learning just four years after it was completed. Its current student roll is 381 out of a 900-place capacity.

In January 2011 TES first reported the authority was considering plans to shut the school due to falling student numbers, but a parent backlash gave a stay of execution.

Knowsley was the first local authority to rebuild all of its secondary schools under Labour's ambitious, and vastly expensive, pound;55 billion school rebuilding programme. There was no requirement when the council was bidding for building funds that it should outline how demand for places would meet the planned supply, a failure that has reached its natural climax with the closure of Christ the King.

Rooted to the bottom of GCSE league tables in 2001, the local authority, flush with Building Schools for the Future money, frequently opted for unconventional methods in a bid to boost performance. But to little avail - last year it remained very much the country's worst GCSE performer.

As part of the failed improvement strategy schools were rebranded "centres for learning", teachers renamed "progress leaders" and Knowsley itself became an "innovation zone" and a "test bed for wider government urban policy".

The authority even carried out an audit into students' "learning styles". It concluded the majority were "kinaesthetic learners" who learned best through physical activity. Teaching methods and school buildings were changed accordingly.

And in January 2010, Knowsley proudly proclaimed it was the first local authority to have all of its secondary schools rebuilt under Building Schools for the Future.

But just 12 months later the news about Christ the King's precarious position broke, and two fraught years after that we have now, finally, reached the end. In less than a week the remaining students will walk out of the school gates for the last time and Knowsley will gain a very public white elephant.

Richard Vaughan

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The national strike is "like being forced to witness some slow-moving lemming leap".

Our very own editor Gerard Kelly has penned some thoughts on the news this morning that the big two classroom unions, the NASUWT and the NUT, are planning a national strike for the Autumn term. It's excoriating stuff:

"How are pointless strikes with no chance of success likely to help teacher morale? Do teachers really deserve or need to be led over the top and over a cliff? This is not a strategy, it is an adolescent farce. It's like being forced to witness some slow-moving lemming leap."

Read the full article here.

Why not let him know what you think on Twitter @teseditor or by email.

All out! National strike announced for the Autumn - 12 July 2013

England's two largest teacher unions, the NASUWT and the NUT, have announced joint plans this morning for a one-day national strike.

The action is part of an ongoing joint campaign over a number of issues in education labelled "Protecting Teachers Defending Education". This covers not just pay and conditions - especially performance-related pay - but wider education policies, including academisation.

The move comes after a one-day strike held at the end of last month, the success of which was disputed by the government and the union leadership. According to official Department for Education statistics some 776 (27 per cent) of schools remained open during the June strikes, 789 (28 per cent) remained partially open and 1,214 schools (42 per cent) were closed.

Regionalised one-day strikes will take place at the end of September and beginning of October, with plans for a combined national walkout by the end of the Autumn term.

This morning's announcement also included the continuation of "action short of strike action", a kind of work-to-rule campaign that has affected a number of schools.

"The secretary of state needs to take seriously the very deep concerns and anger of teachers and school leaders," Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said. "The relentless attack on the teaching profession is damaging the morale of teachers and undermining the education of pupils."

And this was echoed by Christine Blower, NUT general secretary: "Michael Gove is well aware that under his time as education secretary, teacher morale has plummeted. Teachers are angry at the government's continual undermining of their pay, pensions and working conditions.

"Strike action is always a last resort for teachers and they are very well aware of the difficulties that this causes for parents and pupils. Teachers, however, have been left with no option."

In the week beginning 30 September, members will take part in strike action in the East, East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside regions and in Wales (regions to be confirmed).

In the week beginning 14 October, members will take part in strike action in the North East, London, South East, South West regions and in Wales (regions to be confirmed).

"We are very disappointed that the NUT and NASUWT have announced they will be taking further strike action, which less than a quarter of teachers actually voted for," a DfE spokesman said. "Industrial action will disrupt pupils' education, hugely inconvenience parents and damage the profession's reputation in the eyes of the public at a time when our reforms are driving up standards across the country.

"It is disappointing that the NUT and NASUWT are opposing measures to allow heads to pay good teachers more. We have met frequently with the NUT and NASUWT to discuss their concerns and will continue to do so."

Tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think.

The TES weekly podcast is here, you lucky people. You best have a listen - 11 July 2013

Previewing tomorrow's magazine, the TES team discusses the biggest news of the week including of the latest draft of the national curriculum, we hear from curriculum expert Dylan Wiliam, sexism in the classroom and how zero tolerance behaviour policies are racially discriminating.

Listen to it or download it here.

Tell the podcast's editor Richard Vaughan what you think.

Gove may want them to, but are independents really going to apply for teaching school status? Unlikely - 11 July 2013

Since Labour schools minister Lord Adonis said he wanted to poach the "educational DNA" of independent schools in 2008, governments have been in love with what the private sector can do for the state sector.

In recent years - largely driven by privately educated politicians - there has been a strong drive for private schools to do everything from sponsoring academies to lending teachers to state comprehensives.

These requests have been met with various levels of enthusiasm.

On the one hand, you have the likes of Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, who has leapt on every new initiative with gusto. But on the other hand, most schools argue that they do not have the funds or the manpower to get properly involved.

Of course, the increasing numbers of private schools converting to become independent state-funded academies and free schools (nine have either completed or are in the process of completing the switch) will mean their "DNA" is transferred to the state sector, but many of these moves have been motivated by cash flow rather than pure altruism - not exactly what Lord Adonis had in mind.

As such, it seems ambitious that education secretary Michael Gove yesterday called for more private schools to become official "teaching schools" - the government's flagship policy to wrest control of teacher training from university education departments and place it firmly with schools.

Currently, only three out of 358 of them are independent schools.

But again, rather like sponsoring an academy, becoming a teaching school is a huge undertaking, and the entry criteria are tough. Schools must have an existing track record of excellence in teacher training and have an established network of links with other schools.

Key figures in the independent sector have said they welcome the diversification of teacher training, but even enthusiastic schools will have a lot of concerns about the size of the undertaking.

Some schools may also reject, on principle, becoming involved in a government-backed initiative. They know that however "free from the constraints of government" Mr Gove wants teaching schools to be, these sorts of schemes will always have strings attached.

Irena Barker

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Are teacher training providers about to be held to account for the NQTs they train? - 10 July 2013

How much does the performance of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) say about those who trained them? Can you judge a course by the quality of students' work in the classroom months later?

These are suddenly very real questions.

Schools inspectorate for England Ofsted has revealed that it is now paying "greater attention" to the quality of lessons taught by NQTs. Inspectors are recording where the teacher trained and using this information to "inform the inspection process", helping the body make decisions about when and where to inspect teacher training courses.

This strategy was triggered by an Ofsted analysis that identified 17 providers currently rated as "outstanding" but whose most recent alumni had been observed teaching inadequate lessons. This has led the inspectorate to "prioritise" these providers for inspections in the 2013-14 academic year, according to a recent memo sent to school inspectors by Ofsted.

One initial teacher training coordinator, who asked to remain anonymous, told TES: "We are all interested in raising the quality of training, but this is not a very well thought through approach

"This will seriously disadvantage large providers. The chance of one of their NQTs being inspected is higher, and the chances of them delivering an inadequate lesson is higher."

James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said the performance of NQTs in the classroom also depends on the help given to them by their school.

"[Ofsted] ought to see the NQTs' performance as also due to the support of the school, and also look to see if it is consistent or if this is a one off. If the performance is consistent does it reflect on the culture of the school?" he said. "Only then should Ofsted start to look back at the initial teacher training providers."

But Ofsted certainly doesn't look set to give ground on this, so the only question that remains is: how much trouble will it cause training colleges and education departments, both of which are already under the cosh?

Kerra Maddern

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The new national curriculum will "introduce five-year-olds to fractions for the first time", say ministers. They have to already - 09 July 2013

This week's announcement of a new national curriculum could be viewed by ministers as a huge success in showcasing the way they are "raising standards" in education.

Everyone from The Guardian to The Daily Telegraph and the BBC dutifully trotted out the line that this "rigorous", "more stretching" curriculum would "revolutionise learning" by, in the government's words, "introducing five-year-olds to fractions for the first time".

But the problem, as my TES colleague Helen Ward has pointed out, is that this just isn't true. The new curriculum does require Year 1 students to understand basic fractions such as a half and a quarter.

But so did the previous national curriculum, introduced under Labour. You can see here that it requires key stage 1 students (five- to seven-year-olds) to "understand that halving is the inverse of doubling and find one half and one quarter of shapes and small numbers of objects".

Moreover the previous government's National Numeracy Strategy, used in conjunction with the curriculum to guide schools on what should be taught when, also makes it clear here that Year 1 students (aged 5-6) should also be able to use "halves and quarters in context".

So much for the top line in this week's media blitz on what the Department for Education has billed as a curriculum "far better than the current one".

There are other aspects, highlighted for journalists, that may have been explicitly stated in the national curriculum for the first time but are hardly new to state schools.

Take the fact that nine-year-olds will have to know their multiplication tables up to 12x12. Last summer when the government first proposed its changes, a poll by TES and the NAHT headteachers' union of more than 500 primary leaders and classroom teachers suggested that students in more than half of primaries already knew the tables.

What about the fact that children will be expected to recite a range of poetry by heart in Year 1? This could be seen as a slight toughening up on the previous curriculum, which said students of the same age should "learn, recite and act out stories and poems".

But it is worth noting that last year's poll found that around half of primary teachers said their students learned poetry by heart anyway.

Other poll findings worth considering by those convinced that there is a lack of "rigour" in primaries today are that:

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