Kicking politicians out of schools, flower arranging, Thatcher's educational legacy and performance pay for teachers

3rd April 2013 at 17:53
All the latest schools news, views and comment, brought to you by the TES editorial team

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

As clear as mud: more details of performance pay for teachers released - 16 April 2013

The eagerly-awaited - or, depending on your viewpoint, dreaded - draft of the new School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document was finally published this afternoon.

Ministers had already announced last year that automatic incremental annual pay rises for teachers on the main pay scale are to be abolished, and that their pay will in future be tied more closely with performance.

But with details on the implementation of the pay reform a little thin on the ground, the new document and an advisory toolkit have been brought out to help schools plan their new pay and appraisal policies in time for the start of the school year in September.

The document aims to reassure teachers that "continued good performance" should give them "an expectation of progression to the top of their respective pay range".

However, if you were hoping for everything to be spelt out in simple terms, think again. Confusingly, the draft STRB includes tables for salary ranges and pay spines that are left completely blank. This is because no decision has yet been made on whether the next 1 per cent annual pay rise for teachers should be universal across the profession.

Understandable, maybe, but the continued confusion will do little to placate school leaders and governors across the country attempting to get to grips with setting separate pay rises and appraisal objectives for individual teachers.

Even more perplexingly, the document goes on to point out that a teacher who meets "less stretching" appraisal targets may be less deserving of a pay rise than a colleague who has "made good progress on, but not quite achieved, a very challenging objective". "Similarly," it continues, "a teacher may have achieved all their objectives but failed to meet all of the relevant standards."

Got that?

Schools are also advised to think about whether teachers' targets should be "absolute" (for example, they get a set pay rise if, say, 50 per cent of their students get an A in their subject), "relative" (they earn a rise if, for instance, they are among the top 10 per cent of teachers in the school) or even a combination of the two.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, has already criticised the new document as "a bureaucratic nightmare, packed with management speak". "The DfE's advice might be welcome if headteachers had nothing to do but draw up lists of performance measures and pay criteria, but in the real world heads have schools to run and teachers have pupils who want to learn," she added.

But fear not, heads: the NAHT heads' union has already announced that it plans to publish its own guidance and model pay policy in the near future. Others will no doubt follow suit.

Given the plethora of options outlined in the DfE's official guidance, many schools would be forgiven for picking the easy option: using a ready-made system drawn up by someone else.

Stephen Exley

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

The primary sector seems unenthusiastic about teacher training reforms. What to do about it? - 15 April 2013

Tasked with being the standard-bearers for English teacher training, teaching schools are central to the government's plans to overhaul education. That they should become the equivalent of teaching hospitals, in terms of respectability and importance, is central to ministers' desire to reduce the influence of university teacher training departments.

Charged with playing a key role in training new teachers and developing existing members of the profession, while also working in school improvement, some 361 teaching schools have been approved, the latest 150 just last week.

The government has set the bar high. Only schools that already have a track record in this work and have an outstanding headteacher and an effective leadership team are approved.

But this is part of a problem highlighted in a new "think piece" published by the National College for Teaching and Leadership - the agency responsible for the initiative - that raises questions about how primary schools can realistically achieve the status.

It is, the report says, "essential that they [primary schools] are fully represented in the teaching school policy", but currently they "are not proportionately represented" in terms of applications. So far only 142 primary schools out of nearly 30,000 nationwide have been approved.

Surely the main reason for this is that their capacity - the ability to carry out the wide-ranging work required - is limited simply because of their scale?

So should be done about it? The report's authors, Peter Matthews and Sir George Berwick, suggest that primaries could pool resources, applying jointly, or that every secondary school that applies must have two primaries already willing to work with it.

To be fair, the National College is already making efforts to help smaller schools become involved in the policy by developing a "job share" model and allowing them to apply in partnership.

But whether this will make any real difference to the number of primaries getting involved is very far from clear. And on this rests the success of a major Michael Gove policy.

Kerra Maddern

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

Academy chain Ark set on expansion strategy - 12 April 2013

Ark Schools, the most lavishly praised of the academy chains, is to increase the number of schools it runs to about 50 by 2015.

The high-performing chain had always stated that it wanted to consolidate its position as a school provider, and until the change of government in 2010 had just eight schools under its control. If it hits its new target, Ark would have as many secondaries under its control as some local authorities but will be remain well behind other groups and their planned growth.

News that the organisation, which is in part bankrolled by donations from City of London hedge funds, plans to more than double the 18 schools it currently runs marks a major departure, and raises questions as to whether the group can maintain standards over a range of different schools each with individual challenges.

Vanessa Willms, Ark's director of primary, said that the chain intends to add five or six new schools every year, with an overall make-up of three-fifths primary schools and two-fifths secondary.

"Next year we'll be taking on a further six primary schools so we will be up to 15 next year," Ms Willms said. "And the aim is we will take five or six primary schools every year and we're hoping to have 30 primaries by 2015.

"It's still a slower growth rate than many of the other chains out there," she added. "It's a much more deliberate, considered growth than many of the chains have had. The risk is that one would grow and one would dilute, but I think we're well placed now and we have good to outstanding schools in our network."

The question remains, however, whether the organisation will be able to retain its gleaming reputation with so many schools, and their different challenges, under its control.

Richard Vaughan

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

National Curriculum of "flower arranging" and "sock darning" leave Damp;T teachers raging - 11 April 2013

In its short history, design and technology has come to be seen as one of the most forward-looking, dynamic parts of the national curriculum. But today teachers claimed that ministers are taking their subject back to the 1950s by introducing sock-darning and flower arranging at the expense of vital 21st century technological skills.

Their concerns follow an admission from a senior civil servant that the proposed new Damp;T national curriculum has been drawn up internally in the Department for Education without expert input.

Now the Design and Technology Association (DATA) is calling for the new curriculum to be abandoned because it is "unambitious and incoherent", "completely inappropriate for a technologically advanced nation" and would make England the "laughing stock" of the Western world.

The association is running an online poll which suggests that more than 90 per cent of teachers and members of the public oppose the draft programme of study for 5- to 14-year-olds, saying it will not give them a suitable grounding for further study in the subject.

Richard Green, DATA chief executive, said: "This is a really regressive step. It is about a focus on utility, make-do-and-mend skills as opposed to a forward-looking 21st century design and technology experience.

"It is missing out the opportunity to teach children the skills and knowledge that the economy needs to get us out of the mess we find ourselves in."

Leading industry figures have also condemned the proposals, with the CBI warning that they focus "too much on just basic craft and manual skills".

The controversy follows widespread condemnation by academics and teachers of the whole of the government's proposed new national curriculum.

The new Damp;T curriculum says it will give students opportunities to "create, innovate, design, make and evaluate a variety of well-crafted products". It says they should be taught "technical skills and craftsmanship" and does include some references to the use of ICT and "making products".

However, DATA is concerned that this area of the curriculum is being downgraded, with the introduction of horticulture and the dropping of essential skills such as computer-aided manufacture. It argues that the focus that is "more DIY than Damp;T".

An Ofsted report in 2011 said that schools needed to modernise the Damp;T curriculum to "keep pace with global technological developments". But the government's proposed changes have "more relevance to the needs of 1950 than 2014", according to the association.

It has highlighted a section which says students should learn how to "cultivate plants for practical purposes, such as for food or for decorative displays". Mr Green said he could "only interpret that as flower arranging".

Elsewhere it says they should learn how to "repair" textiles using techniques such as sewing - which he said amounted to "darning socks".

Designer and businessman Sir James Dyson said of the proposed changes: "This new curriculum will not inspire the inventors and engineers Britain so desperately needs. The academic rigour Mr Gove demanded in other core subjects is missing in Damp;T."

And last week Dick Olver, chairman of BAE Systems, attacked the new curriculum for ignoring important technological advances, saying that "something had gone very wrong".

Asked in February who had advised on the Damp;T curriculum, Matt White, assistant director of the Department for Education's national curriculum review, told a Westminster Education Forum event that it had been drafted internally without "an advisory structure".

"I'm not suggesting that it was prepared, as it were, in consultation," he said, before admitting that the DfE did not "have a body of specific design and technology expertise".

The one aspect of the new Damp;T curriculum that has been widely praised is the inclusion of compulsory cookery and food lessons. But even here DATA claims that the current wording would allow schools that lack the facilities to opt out of the requirement.

It also warns that the government is not providing the support that would be necessary to re-train teachers for such radical changes to the Damp;T curriculum.

The association's poll, which had more than 1,200 responses by the end of last month, found that 82 per cent of respondents did not believe implementation would be possible by next September, as the government wants.

The DfE consultation on the plans closes on Tuesday. Schools minister Elizabeth Truss admitted last month that "improvements could certainly be made" to the current draft and said she had been talking to DATA about its concerns. A department spokesman added: "We want to give schools the freedom and flexibility to use their judgement to teach design and technology in a wide range of practical contexts and fields."

Damp;T has its roots in craft lessons such as woodwork and needlework but has evolved into something very different that encompasses modern manufacturing processes and computer aided design.

According to DATA it has become so popular with students that it is the now "least truanted" subject in the curriculum. But the association argues that the government's planned revamp is risking that progress.

William Stewart

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

Asia University Rankings: Japan comes out top - 11 April 2013

Japan has the largest number of good universities in the Far East, according to the first ever Asia University Rankings, organised by TES's sister title Times Higher Education.

As the higher education sector becomes ever more internationalised, and British pupils increasingly looking abroad, this should be of interest to the UK schools.

The University of Tokyo, which claimed top spot, was one of 22 Japanese institutions in the top 100, the largest number of any country in the list.

Five countries or special regions (such as Hong Kong) feature in the Asia top 10, and overall 15 appear in the top 100 - including for the first time the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Malaysia.

The National University of Singapore was the second highest ranked institution, followed by the University of Hong Kong.

The question is will UK students start looking to Asian universities, as they are increasingly looking to the US?

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

Storm clouds threaten, as Welsh government enlists weatherman to explain reforms - 10 April 2013

When you attend an event designed to explain major changes to the way you teach, you might reasonably expect to hear from a fellow educationalist, or at the very least a government official.

So it came as something as a shock to teachers in North Wales recently to find a seminar on the Welsh government's new literacy and numeracy framework hosted by a television weatherman.

Quite why the government thought S4C's Chris Jones would be the best person to front the event in Llandudno is a mystery, especially since his appearance was part of a major educational strategy in the principality.

To make matters worse, the weatherman incident is far from an isolated controversy. As civil servants endeavour to roll out the framework countrywide, the explanatory seminars have left many teachers asking: "What was the point of that?"

Attendees have been left shocked at the poor quality of the events, branding them "disgraceful", "useless" and a "waste of time". Some said they felt more like "recruitment drives" than information sessions, and others said they felt "insulted" and "patronised" at some of the basic advice being given out.

The new framework has been designed to improve flagging standards after the country has slipped down international league tables. All primary and secondary schools will use it to make sure that literacy and numeracy skills are taught across all subjects. It also includes new annual national reading and numeracy tests to measure student progress.

And with the framework being implemented as soon as September and the new tests being introduced next month, teachers could be forgiven for expecting a lot more from the seminars.

"We seem to be in a situation where the mantra is `do it first, plan it later'," Philip Dixon, director of the ATL Cymru union, said.

The Welsh government said that comments from the events are being analysed and reviewed so improvements can be made. They had better act quickly.

Darren Evans

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

Baker on Thatcher: the origins of the modern educational status quo - 09 April 2013

This just in. Margaret Thatcher's most influential education secretary Kenneth Baker - now Lord Baker of Dorking - has penned a piece for this week's TES magazine on the Thatcherite legacy in education.

Much of what we now understand as the mainstream educational landscape can be found in their 1988 Education Reform Act (not least of all the first national curriculum), so it's certainly worth a read. Here's a highlight:

"Appointed to the role of education secretary in January 1986, I went to see Margaret, expecting to be given a list of what she wanted done. In fact, she asked me to go away and think about the necessary reforms for the school system and come back to her in eight weeks with my proposals. This rather counters the belief that Margaret dominated her ministers and told them what to do - indeed, that was not my experience."

So interesting do we think the article is, we've published it online first - take a look and get a better understanding of just how Thatcher was responsible for how we work in schools in 2013.

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

Lady Thatcher bows out, leaving education divided over how to respond - 08 April 2013

Most education commentators, teachers and politicians have a view on the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. And after the death of the former prime minister earlier today they have been taking to the airwaves and the internet to share their memories and opinions.

For those that remember Baroness Thatcher best as a prime minister, it is worth noting that from 1970 until 1974 she served as education secretary, when she became known as the "milk snatcher". And while she was in No 10 she was transformative, overseeing among other things the introduction of the national curriculum, local management of schools and city technical colleges, the precursors to academies.

Sam Freedman, former adviser to Michael Gove, took to Twitter to point out that, perhaps counter-intuitively, Lady Thatcher had "created more comprehensives than anyone else and won funding for expansion of higher education", having overseen the closure of more grammar schools than any other education secretary.

Mr Freedman, who now works as a director of Teach First, posted a link to policies mooted in a White Paper by Lady Thatcher in 1972, which proposed a school building programme, a "larger teaching force further to improve staffing standards in schools" and improvements to teacher training.

Also counter-intuitive is the fact that the majority of teachers voted for Thatcher's Conservatives in 1979.

But heads who were in post during the Thatcher governments seem to have different memories of the "Iron Lady". Speaking to TES, John Dunford, who led Durham Johnston School in Durham from 1982 to 1998 and was later general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, recalls a "constant battle with decreasing budgets". This, combined with a period of falling rolls at many secondary schools, meant "staff cuts almost every year".

"The school was never redecorated, no new furniture was bought and we had no carpets," Dr Dunford said. "Schools were very bare places. Every year the finances were a struggle and this overlaid everything else."

Nigel de Gruchy, NASUWT general secretary between 1990-2002, was an economics teacher at a Lewisham secondary during Baroness Thatcher's spell as education secretary in the early 70s. He describes her tenure as "fairly average", "run of the mill" and "ineffectual". "She did far less damage as education secretary than she did as Prime Minister," he said.

The right, meanwhile, have been in mourning, with free school founder Toby Young labelling Lady Thatcher "the greatest PM since the 2nd World War" on Twitter.

You can safely expect these debates to rage on in the days and weeks ahead.

Kerra Maddern

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

Whatever happened to the cosy relationship between the Welsh government and the classroom unions? - 5 April 2013

Since becoming English education secretary Michael Gove has had to become used to the portrayal of him by teaching unions as a pantomime villain. The barracking is particularly evident during the spring conference season, when the mere mention of his name is guaranteed to provoke boos and jeers.

But his opposite number in Wales, the Labour education minister Leighton Andrews, has largely escaped such scorn and derision from the union faithful.

Indeed, until relatively recently senior Tories in England characterised education policy in the principality as "as if schools were run by the NUT".

That this has now changed was evident at the NUT's annual conference in Liverpool last weekend. Perhaps it was because - despite the formerly cosy relationship between Welsh ministers and unions - the NUT has been in dispute with Mr Andrews since last June over issues including teacher workload and lesson observation? Or perhaps it was because the union now has a Welsh woman, Beth Davies, head of Alltwen Primary in Neath, as its national president?

Whatever the reason, Mr Andrews and his policies came under sustained attack in Liverpool, led chiefly by Ms Davies and executive member Neil Foden, headteacher of Ysgol Friars in Bangor.

During her inaugural address to the conference, Ms Davies accused the education minister of being "ill-advised", reeling off a list of people and organisations Mr Andrews has blamed for falling standards in Welsh schools, from his own government and local authorities right down to schools and teachers.

The only people he hadn't yet blamed was the students themselves, she claimed. Mr Foden then accused the Welsh government of running "one of the most teacher unfriendly regimes" NUT Cymru's members could remember, and said that one of the "most destructive forces" impacting upon Welsh teachers' morale was Mr Andrews' attitude towards them.

It remains to be seen whether this opprobrium will scupper recent attempts by NUT Cymru to reach agreement with the Welsh government and end its dispute.

And Mr Andrews is not known to be forgiving.

Darren Evans

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

It looks like it'll take more than advertising to boost teacher recruitment - 3 April 2013

For schools to function, many new teachers need to be hired each year. This September will be no different, with schools aiming at a target of 38,000 new recruits to match projected demand.

But how do you keep the flow of newly qualified and student teachers steady, or even climbing? Finding all these people is a huge task for the government, universities and, increasingly, for schools, which are being asked to train a growing proportion of new entrants.

Of course, there are those who believe they are born to teach - who need no encouragement that a life in the classroom is right for them - but they are very rarely enough to fill the quotas. Most years, the powers that be must also persuade others to choose the chalkface over a different career.

Advertising is often seen as the solution. Who could forget the "those who can, teach", "no one forgets a good teacher" and "use your head, teach" posters and films?

But more recently the tone has changed. Advertisements now bear the slogan "Rewarding. Challenging. Teaching". They feature professional-looking people in sharp suits, and stress the similarities between teaching and corporate careers.

So what it does cost to make sure we have enough teachers? TES can reveal that pound;8 million was spent in 2012 on marketing the profession to potential recruits using television and print adverts, social media such as Twitter, email campaigns and online videos.

To put this in context, the Ministry of Defence spent pound;30 million on recruiting for the armed forces in the same 12-month period, and advertising industry estimates suggest that around pound;60 million a year is spent on advertising the deodorant brand Lynx.

So is the Department for Education getting any "bang for its buck"? The answer, it would seem, is "not really". The number of applicants to English training courses starting in 2012 fell by 12 per cent. And things aren't looking much rosier lately, with figures published yesterday showing that the number of applicants to English universities and other teacher training courses is down by 7.3 per cent compared with the same period last year.

It is worth bearing in mind that this year's numbers are less clear-cut than normal due to new emphasis being put on Schools Direct, a new school-based training route for which application data is yet to be published.

However, while advertising spend may be key, there are clearly still important lessons to be learned as the government battles to recruit top graduates to the classroom.

Kerra Maddern

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

Catch up with our earlier news stories


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