Boris Johnson at the chalkface, Sir Bruce Liddington resigns, Michael Gove's love for you, illegal exclusions and Thatcher's educational legacy

18th April 2013 at 14:04
All the latest schools news, views and comment, brought to you by the TES editorial team

Head of E-Act quits after `financial notice to improve' - 26 April 2013

The head of one of the country's biggest academy chains and one of the UK's best-paid people in education, Sir Bruce Liddington, has dramatically resigned from his job running E-Act.

The organisation, which has 31 schools under its remit, came under fire last week when it emerged that it had been hit by a "financial notice to improve" from the Education Funding Agency (EFA).

Sir Bruce - who received almost pound;300,000 in 2010-11 in pay and pension contributions - rose to prominence in the 1990s for turning Northampton School for Boys around, for which he was knighted. He subsequently spent nearly a decade as a top civil servant.

Not long after taking over the reins at E-Act in 2009, he predicted that the chain could grow to control 250 schools.

Last week's notice to improve was not the first time, however, that concerns had been raised over E-Act's financial arrangements. In 2008, a government inquiry found that the sponsor had failed to comply with financial management requirements, leading to the resignation of its then chairman Lord Bhatia.

Accepting Liddington's resignation today, Ann Limb, current chair of E-Act, said: "Bruce is driven by a profound desire to ensure that all young people have access to the best education possible so they can achieve their potential and make something positive of their lives - as he himself has done."

Sir Bruce added: "I have worked on the academies programme since its inception 13 years ago. I joke that I have the word ACADEMY running through my body like a stick of Blackpool rock.

"It has thrilled me how quickly the programme has grown - from five academies when I joined to more than 200 during my time at the Department for Education; from 200 to more than 2,000 since the last election. This has been mirrored by what we have achieved in E-Act where we have grown from a single school, when I joined, to more than 30 now."

Sir Bruce is to take up a secondment for a consultancy advising the government on the development of academy chains until October of this year.

He will be replaced at the top of E-Act by David Moran, director of operations, who will take on day-to-day management of the organisation, including responsibilities as acting chief executive.

Ed Dorrell

Your education secretary loves you. No, really he does - 25 April 2013

Michael Gove often tells us about the famous educational thinkers he admires and the headteachers he believes are doing inspiring work.

But did you know he also holds you in high esteem, oh user of TES Connect? If you've ever shared a resource it would seem you are in the good books of the education secretary, who enthusiastically namechecked our website and its users this afternoon, describing how "new technology. [is providing] an environment in which the best minds can collaborate to improve what our children learn".

Indeed, Mr Gove once again insisted that he was in favour of teachers being in charge. The new national curriculum, he said, may well be the last "because in future teachers will be doing it for themselves".

He is often accused of not listening to the profession but, speaking at the National College for Teaching and Leadership today, Mr Gove insisted that he liked to hear the outspoken views of "great" teachers.

As if to make his point, Mr Gove revealed that he is a fan of a range of teacher commentators - the blog Scenes from the Battleground by "Andrew Old", John Blake of Labour Teachers, TES behaviour guru Tom Bennett and the blogger "Matthew Hunter".

"It's teachers - at every level - who are shaping the future," Mr Gove said.

Kerra Maddern

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editorEd Dorrellwhat you think

UEA wins: Times Higher Education publishes survey of student satisfaction - 25 April 2013

The University of East Anglia, with its lovely campus just outside Norwich, good teaching, lively social life and comfortable accommodation, came out top in a major survey of student experience published this morning.

TES' sister title Times Higher Education asked 12,000 undergraduates at universities across the country to score 21 aspects of their campus life, creating a league table of universities.

The management team at East Anglia will be delighted at topping the table, especially as pound;9,000-a-year tuition fees have made the higher education sector increasingly market-driven and competitive.

Indeed, it is very likely that sixth-formers will scrutinise these "customer satisfaction surveys" more and more, as they will want to be sure to enjoy themselves and be well-looked after as they accrue thousands of pounds worth of debt.

The value of these surveys is that the students who fill them in will be telling the truth: they have no interest in lying to promote their own institutions. As such, universities will have to make a genuine investment in the student experience. Comfier beds, less robotic lecturers and well-priced canteens will become a must, not a luxury.

Students are also progressively less grateful for being admitted to a high-quality institution when they are paying for it. In the era of mega-bucks fees, they are intolerant of bad teaching under a good brand.

Much of the old guard still came off well in this morning's survey results: the universities of Oxford and Cambridge are second and joint third in the table, respectively.

But other institutions do well, too. Sheffield comes in joint third place, Loughborough is fifth and Bath is sixth.

And a special mention must go to York St John University, a post-1992 institution that has jumped from 58th place in 2011 to ninth this year.

Which shows what a little aspiration can do. Look after your students, universities, and they will look after you.

Irena Barker

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editorEd Dorrellwhat you think

Slimmed down Sats for now, but there's lots more testing on the horizon - 24 April 2012

Slimmed-down Sats week is almost upon us, with only maths and reading remaining as they were in 2011.

The long writing test finished last year (apart from the few schools that opted in or asked to take sample tests), while the science sample test will be sat next in 2014.

Some of the spare timetable space will be filled by the controversial spelling, punctuation and grammar test - running for the first time - and for a few thousand children there will be additional level 6 papers.

However it cannot be denied that the class of 2013 will spend less time being tested in Year 6 than their older brothers and sisters.

This doesn't mean that the anti-testing lobby should be popping the champagne corks. The reason? The government's apparent enthusiasm for the 2011 Bew report.

Lord Bew, a professor of Irish politics at Queen's University Belfast, was charged by Michael Gove with reviewing the key stage 2 assessment system after a boycott backed by a quarter of primary schools.

As well as the changes already enacted by ministers, Bew also set out a blueprint for the future of KS2 testing - a roadmap that Gove and his coalition colleagues seem determined to follow.

This suggests that we will soon see new "mastery" tests with a simple passfail rating taken as early as Year 4 to assess whether pupils have grasped the "core" of "essential knowledge" that all students should have when they leave primary at age 11.

But, Bew said, relying on these alone could limit ambition, especially for the brightest, so in the last year of primary school there should be further tests to allow students to demonstrate the extent of their knowledge. These would be graded in greater detail than the current Sats and show how students have done in key aspects of a subject.

The Bew report itself notes that caution would be needed before introducing any of its long-term recommendations. But the government seems determined to stick to the plan - even when it means overriding advice from its own experts.

Our advice? Enjoy the relative hiatus while you can - there's yet more Govian revolution around the corner.

Helen Ward

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editorEd Dorrellwhat you think

What sanctions would force schools to end illegal exclusions? - 24 April 2013

Have you ever sent a badly behaved student home to cool off without filling in any official paperwork? Or coerced parents into moving their son or daughter to a different school?

If so, you have broken the law. And it seems you are not alone. In a report published today, Dr Maggie Atkinson, the Children's Commissioner for England, says that illegal school exclusions affect "thousands of children in several hundred schools" - and that is her conservative estimate.

Dr Atkinson and her team have spent eight months gathering evidence. They have found cases where children have been encouraged to stay at home rather than attend schooland of students being put on "extended study leave" or part-time timetables.

Of course, all schools have the freedom to exclude students. What makes it illegal is when the proper procedures are not followed. Without a paper trail, parents and children cannot challenge a teacher's decision.

Evidence collected for the report shows that illegal practice is "far from the norm" in English schools but "neither does it appear to be the practice of only a tiny number of `bad apples'".

So why is this happening? The report says that parents, children and even teachers do not know the law on exclusion so some illegal activity is accidental. Also, inspections and league tables can unintentionally encourage some headteachers to act in this way.

Apart from Ofsted, no one is doing enough to tackle this problem, Dr Atkinson has concluded. She wants local authorities and the Education Funding Agency to do more.

What sanctions would a school face for breaking the law? Nothing "meaningful", the report says, although headteachers can face criminal charges for falsifying registers.

Dr Atkinson's survey of teachers shows that 6.7 per cent of schools have sent children home for disciplinary reasons without recording it as an exclusion and 2.7 per cent of schools have sent home children with statements of special educational needs when their carer, classroom support or teaching assistant was unavailable.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was "not surprised that many classroom teachers are not clear on the law. It is neither their responsibility nor their decision."

So would punishing schools for breaking the law be fair, or should a different solution be sought?

Kerra Maddern

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editorEd Dorrellwhat you think

In his element: Boris brings St George to life in inner-city London - 23 April 2013

After delivering a lesson containing visions of burning bodies, nudity and the ancient gods, nobody could accuse Boris Johnson of being a boring teacher.

The mayor of London's primary pupils giggled hopelessly as he talked to them about classical history - and England's patron saint - on the morning of St George's Day.

A classical scholar, Mr Johnson was in his element describing the Roman-era soldier who slayed the dragon. His Year 6 class certainly seemed willing participants in the intellectual journey through ancient history.

Mr Johnson was at Tidemill Academy in inner-city Deptford, southeast London, to highlight the work of Teach First, which trains top graduates to become teachers in deprived areas.

He is among several well-known figures taking lessons around the country this week, including fashion designer Giles Deacon, television historian Dan Snow and comedian Shappi Khorsandi.

Explaining that the Greeks held the first Olympics, long before London's edition last year, Mr Johnson was keen to point out the differences between the event in ancient and modern times. "[They] loved running around naked, I'm afraid to say," he told the children, who guffawed.

The class's teacher, Teach First graduate Ed Wickstead, did not seem fazed ahead of the mayor's visit, or by the media gathering with large cameras at the back of the classroom. Instead, he encouraged the children to come up with questions about Mr Johnson's policies and political views. "You can call him Boris," he told the class.

"Who was St George?" Mr Johnson asked when he arrived in the classroom, and many children put their hands up eagerly. He readily agreed with their answers, describing him as a "Greek guy who joined the Roman army".

But children didn't have the answers to all his questions. "We haven't done much third century AD," Mr Wickstead said.

Ofsted might not have given Mr Johnson an "outstanding" for his lesson planning - as he once said, "I'm wandering off the point."

But he certainly covered a lively array of topics: the work of historian Edward Gibbon; artist JMW Turner; whether St George was really a Turkish bakery merchant ("We support entrepreneurs and business people like him"); and the grisly meaning of the original "Roman candle" used to burn Christian martyrs ("Nero was a nasty piece of work").

Pupil Sonny Johnson (no relation), who has ambitions to become a politician, asked Mr Johnson for tips and was told: "You've just got to keep going."

However, the 10-year-old commented afterwards that it would be "good if he was a bit more serious". No doubt David Cameron would agree.

Kerra Maddern

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editorEd Dorrellwhat you think

More questions raised over financial management of academies - 23 April 2013

A highly influential committee of MPs today questioned the financial management of the government's academy programme.

In a report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee, concerns were raised over a lack of transparency on school-by-school financial data. It also pointed to a lack of control by the Department for Education, which resulted in a pound;1 billion overspend during the growth of academies.

The publication of the report comes just days after TES revealed that one of the country's largest academy chains, E-Act, had been hit with a "financial notice to improve", by the Education Funding Agency, which is part of the DfE.

The EFA's warning referred to a lack of data being collated by E-Act to hold each of its 31 academies' finances to account.

It is believed the chain will not try to acquire any further academies until its house is in order. The chain has three months to respond to the EFA.

The Public Accounts Committee's report highlights a pressing problem for the DfE, illustrated when it was forced to write to another academy chain - AET, the biggest in the country with 65 schools - over fears that it was expanding too fast.

The committee, perhaps rightly, is worried not only that the taxpayer might not be getting value for money from the academy programme, but also that it is almost impossible for anyone to tell because of poor financial management among individual academies and bigger academy chains.

The programme has already cost pound;8.3 billion, according to the report, which includes the additional pound;1 billion that was not originally budgeted for.

What's more, there is little confidence, particularly from committee chair Margaret Hodge, that the DfE will be able to get a handle on its flagship policy in the near future.

"Effective oversight of the programme is crucial as it continues to expand," Hodge said. "We have already seen some instances where public money has not been used appropriately.

"We are sceptical that the Department is up to the job as cuts are made to its staff and those of its agencies."

Richard Vaughan

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editorEd Dorrellwhat you think

TechBac wins near unanimous support and yet next to no agreement - 22 April 2013

The idea of a technical baccalaureate, as announced by ministers today, has almost universal support - but there is little agreement about what it should look like.

Two lords from opposing sides of the Westminster divide, Adonis and Baker, were the first to announce their support for a TechBac two years ago. It was envisaged as an alternative to the English Baccalaureate, incorporating GCSEs, with an advanced version for post-16 students. Labour followed suit in Ed Miliband's speech to the party conference last year.

But each of the proposals so far has differed in the age range and level they target, and other details.

Now the government has put its weight behind the TechBac as a performance measure for A-level-equivalent, level 3 vocational study. Students will achieve the TechBac measure if they gain a "high-quality" vocational qualification (chosen from a list that is due to be published at the end of the year) and a level 3 "core maths" qualification. They must also complete an extended project, which will test writing and communication skills, research and soft skills such as discipline and self-motivation. This TechBac will apparently launch next year, in time for the sixth-form performance tables in January 2017.

According to the Department for Education, the number of vocational qualifications of the required quality trebled between 2001 and 2011. But it added that employer surveys reveal that one in five vacancies for roles such as science and engineering technicians were due to skills shortages.

Ministers want the TechBac to address that problem. "Our reforms to post-16 qualifications, including the introduction of the new TechBac, will do that," said Matthew Hancock, the skills minister. "They will incentivise the development of high-quality courses and incentivise schools and colleges to offer the courses that get young people on in life."

Labour's proposal for the TechBac differs in that it would require both English and maths (although the party has not yet specified what level would need to be achieved) and work experience.

Meanwhile, the AdonisBaker plan is also different, suggesting two levels of TechBac: one at GCSE level as an alternative to the EBac and a higher-level version including more intensive work experience.

To make things even more confusing, the Department for Education says exam boards will be able to develop qualifications called TechBacs, which will sit alongside the performance measure.

If the TechBac is to achieve its aim of becoming a "first-class alternative" to the A-level route, it first needs to be universally understood. There is clearly a long way to go.

Joseph Lee

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editorEd Dorrellwhat you think

Latest row over Durand's new boarding school is laced with irony - 22 April 2013

Plans by Durand Academy in South London, a primary, to open a state boarding secondary for its own pupils in Stedham, West Sussex, ignited a race row at the weekend.

Conservative councillor John Cherry, 73, expressed concerns to the Mail on Sunday that 97 per cent of the pupils would be black or Asian, "plucked from their natural surroundings" and confined to a site that would become a "sexual volcano".

His comments were quickly denounced by fellow Tories and local objectors were rebuked by Michael Gove for blocking an "inspirational" project. Labour also weighed in, with Stephen Twigg urging David Cameron to condemn his councillor and take immediate action. Mr Cherry has since apologised and resigned.

Labour, however, has not always had an easy relationship with the executive head of Durand, Greg Martin, either. The party's councillors in Lambeth have had several legal run-ins with Mr Martin over the years. While these seem to have been resolved, it's no secret that many on the Left are unhappy with Mr Martin's ability to fund school activities with for-profit commercial ventures such as a gym on the school's site. So it's ironic that their spokesmen are now rushing to his defence.

It's equally ironic that some local Tories are implacably opposed to a venture that owes everything to entrepreneurship and a traditionalist approach to teaching and learning. Those outraged Sussex citizens might like to take a look at Durand's results before they return to the fray. Stedham Primary School boasts impressive results - 90 per cent of its pupils reached level 4. Durand achieved 90 per cent, too, but 45 per cent of its pupils are on free school meals compared with 10 per cent of Stedham's, and 37 per cent speak English as a second language. None of Stedham's does.

Perhaps canny locals should change the focus of their ire and instead campaign to get the new school to admit their kids too.

Gerard Kelly - TES editor

Frosty welcome for Gove's plans for shorter school holidays - 19 April 2013

To hear teachers welcoming the idea of the school day being extended and the summer holidays cut is about as likely as turkeys having a whip-round for a bottle of port and a box of Christmas crackers.

So, not surprisingly, Michael Gove's suggestion that those very two things could be what's needed to drive up standards of education in the UK has not gone down well with many in the profession.

Speaking at the Spectator Education Conference in London yesterday, the education secretary argued that a longer school day would be more family-friendly and "consistent with the pressures of a modern society" - and added that a shorter summer holiday would help the UK keep up with high-performing East Asian nations.

"I remember half term in October, when I was at school in Aberdeen, was called the tattie holiday, the period when kids would go to the fields to pick potatoes," he told the conference.

"It was also at a time when the majority of mums stayed home. That world no longer exists, and we can't afford to have an education system that was essentially set in the 19th century."

Predictably these comments were manna from heaven for the national newspapers this morning with headlines screaming about shorter holidays and longer school days.

And just as predictably, teachers on the TES forums were less than impressed. "What the hell is he going on about?" wrote one user, moonpenny. "Tattie holidays? I don't want my children to have long holidays to pick potatoes.neither do I want them stuck in a classroom for long hours and days.they will get that soon enough when they get jobs."

For many teachers, the holidays aren't entirely packed with fun and games, as giggirl points out: "You spend hours of that time planning, preparing, going into school to put up displays, etc."

Echoing the reaction of the profession's union leadership Portandlemon asks: "Does he not realise most teachers come in approx 1 hour before school starts and [continue working] either a few hours after at school or at home?"

"And when am I meant to plan for the extra lessons?" asks secretsiren. "Or do my marking? More time in school means more planning, more prep, more resources, more marking. I wouldn't actually be able to fit this into the day if I wanted to sleep, eat or perhaps see my own children occasionally!"

But cosmos suspects that Gove's plans could prove popular with the public. "I suspect somemany parents will love his proposal though. So much more free childcare."

However, among TES forum users at least, Gove certainly isn't going to win any popularity contests. "I'm not a violent person," paeony insists, "but if I ever meet that man, I will take a cheese grater to his face."

Stephen Exley

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editorEd Dorrellwhat you think

To photocopy or not to photocopy? Teachers will soon have an answer - 18 April 2013

The School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) certainly can't be accused of not working hard for its money. The body - which the education secretary is obliged to consult before making changes to teachers' pay and conditions - already has one remit on the go, having been asked by Michael Gove to look at how the 1 per cent pay rise for teachers should be implemented.

But it has now been given another job to be getting on with - and this one could have far greater long-term implications for teachers. The STRB has been asked by the education secretary to investigate how teachers' conditions of service could be reformed "to raise the status of the profession and support the recruitment and retention of high quality teachers, and raise standards of education for all children". It is also looking into restructuring leadership pay, as well as allowances and pay flexibilities such as special educational needs allowances.

The ramifications are potentially wide-ranging. The School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document outlines in detail exactly what teachers in England should - and, just as importantly, should not - have to undertake. This includes everything from not being asked to work on weekends and bank holidays or invigilate exams to being entitled to a lunch break.

The document also lists administrative tasks that teachers should not have to carry out, including bulk photocopying, creating classroom displays, analysing attendance figures and stocktaking classroom equipment.

The NUT and NASUWT teaching unions are already concerned about the amount of work teachers are forced to undertake that they say is peripheral to the job of teaching. Their ongoing industrial action lists 25 tasks that teachers should not have to carry out. Not surprisingly, then, the prospect of their members being handed a new list of jobs to do is unlikely to go down well.

But Mr Gove's letter to the STRB suggests that, just for once, he could actually share the unions' view. Any changes, he writes, should ensure the pay and conditions framework is "suited to a high status profession and gives primacy to teaching and learning". "I would like to be sure that it does not place unnecessary burdens on teachers, and that it gives schools the flexibilities they need to deliver outstanding education provision," he adds.

Exactly what this will mean is far from clear at this stage, however. And with the STRB not asked to report back until January 2014, teachers will have a long wait before they find out.

Stephen Exley

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editorEd Dorrellwhat you think

Keep politicians out of schools says teachers' favourite - 17 April 2013

Should politicians be able to use schools - and school time - to make political announcements that are of little interest or use to the pupils who are listening?

Mick Waters, former director of curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and something of a teachers' favourite, launched his book Thinking Allowed on Schooling at the House of Commons this week, with a broadside against political interference in education.

He certainly wants politicians to visit schools - but not if it is just for their own ends. In his book, Waters refers to a YouTube clip uploaded by ITN called "Michael Gove bores students", which shows children slumped, with heads in hands or inspecting their nails, as he talks about academisation. The education secretary even apologises to pupils for having to listen to him.

But Waters is not making a party-political point: he points out that Labour, too, was heavily criticised when Tony Blair used a school to launch the party's manifesto for the 2001 general election.

"There must be a concern for our democracy when politicians can walk into schools and make unbalanced political speeches," Waters says.

His desire to reduce the role of politics in education goes further. While politicians of course have policy responsibilities, they should be removed from the detail of schooling, he argues. By way of example, he points to how ministers of defence or health make policy but not decisions on the direction of attack on a guerrilla stronghold, or the stitching technique after an operation.

In his book, Waters sets out five problems with national politicians:

- They seem to think that nothing good ever happened in the previous administration

- They seem to think everywhere is like London

- They all have their own silver bullet

- They want results quickly

- They like to be told what they want to hear

As such, he wants a National Council for Schooling, an elected body, to oversee aspects of school organisation and advise on policy and practices - as the National Institute for Clinical Excellence does in health.

"He [Michael Gove] is like all the others who become secretary of state; they are driven by the best of motives for children and young people, but they are more driven by the need for power and votes. That is one of the reasons why national politicians need to assume a different role."

Helen Ward

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editorEd Dorrellwhat you think

Catch up with our earlier news stories


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