Teaching faces up to the premature death of a reform agenda

16th April 2010 at 01:00
Rose wilted, report cards shredded, MOTs scrapped and PSHE sidelined as dissolution of Parliament leaves the Children, Schools and Families Bill in tatters

Report card KO prompts fear of replacements teachers' leaders have expressed fear over what will come next after the Government's proposed school report card was shelved last week in the rush to dissolve Parliament.

The Labour party saw a series of measures contained in the Children, Schools and Families Bill blocked by the Conservatives, including plans to replace league tables with a school report card. At the time the Tories trumpeted the result, claiming the measure would have replaced league tables with a "meaningless grade".

In a National Foundation for Educational Research survey earlier this year, more than a third of teachers polled believed the US-style report cards were a bad idea, while 23 per cent were dubious about their benefits.

But while the scheme attracted criticism from teaching unions - particularly for its proposal to judge performance with a single grade - the cards received general backing for its attempt to score schools on a range of criteria, not just exam results.

Teachers' leaders are now anxious about what will come in its place if the Conservatives gain a majority in the general election.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the report card was a "sensible attempt" to give more balance to schools and reform the accountability framework.

"But if it is not going to be the report card, then what else will it be?" Dr Bousted said. "Michael Gove says he wants to reward schools for what they are achieving, but at the same time he wants to exclude vocational subjects from league tables. So `what else' could be even more rigid and even more narrow and even more unfair than the existing five A*-C measure, which is narrow enough."

Similarly, John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, urged the next government, of whichever colour, to continue the "search for a more intelligent form of accountability for schools and colleges".

"Although it was threatening to be over-complicated, the school report card at least recognised that schools have wider aims than the proportion of children with five A*-C grades or with level 4 in English and maths," he said.

Heads' union the NAHT said it was glad to see the back of the proposal of a school being represented by a single grade, but added that it was apprehensive about what the Conservatives will offer.

Mick Brookes, the union's general secretary, said: "We have a lot of concerns over what might come next, whoever is in power. But we're not quite sure what it is the Tories want parents to have. League tables are not helpful, but we don't want a report card that is directed from the centre. We believe schools should be left to inform people themselves, as they are the ones who know best."

`Unpopular' teacher MOT thrown on scrapheap but unions remain wary

Teachers and heads have welcomed the end of "deeply unpopular" plans for a five-yearly "MOT" for school staff.

The teaching licence proposals were scrapped in the wash-up as Parliament prepared to dissolve. Unions celebrated the end of the idea, but they have vowed to continue their campaign against a licence to practise, after Labour said an MOT for school staff could still be introduced.

The party's manifesto says teachers will get a "new right" to continuing professional development (CPD), but "in return they will have to demonstrate high standards of teaching to maintain their licence to practise".

Around 25,000 members of teaching union the NUT have signed a petition against a licence to practise.

Heads' unions the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the NAHT are also opposed to the idea and NASUWT members have voted to take industrial action if it is introduced. The unions believe it is wrong to link a right to training with job performance.

Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, said she was "delighted" when plans for the licence were dropped. "We see it as a wholly unnecessary additional hurdle," she said. "Teachers are already highly trained and qualified. We don't need another accountability measure. It's regrettable that the idea is in the Labour party manifesto."

Mick Brookes, NAHT general secretary, said: "Teachers already have a licence to practise - our qualifications. Solicitors have to complete 18 hours of CPD to get their licence, teachers have to do at least five days. This is a sledgehammer to crack a nut and we are glad it was dropped in Parliament."

John Morgan, president of the ASCL, said: "We already have a strong performance-management system in schools. This would just be a `tick box' exercise. What poorly performing teachers need is support. This wouldn't improve the quality of the profession."

Keith Bartley, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for England, said he would continue to make sure a licence would not place "unwarranted burdens on teachers or schools" if introduced by any future government as part of new legislation.

Lack of sex education will create an `ignorant generation'

Both labour and the Conservatives have consigned a generation of children to "ignorance" when it comes to sex education, a leading sexual health charity has said.

The Terrence Higgins Trust hit out at the two parties after vast swathes of the Children, Schools and Families Bill were dropped, including mandatory personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education in all schools, following the dissolution of Parliament.

The charity is just one voice in a chorus of dissatisfaction, including teenage pregnancy groups and the Liberal Democrats, which believe the scrapping of statutory sex education for every pupil from the age of five will have detrimental effects for society as a whole.

Lisa Powers, head of policy for the Terrence Higgins Trust, said both Labour and the Conservatives had "acted atrociously" in allowing the legislation to be shelved.

"It is the pupils and the parents who are asking for this education, as the provision in schools is hugely variable and, on the whole, not up to scratch," she said. "Some teachers can be very good, but for every well- informed teacher there are lots of others who just teach about reproduction and the spread of HIV, which is all the curriculum asks for. There is nothing about how to stop getting pregnant or how to say `no'.

"By allowing this to be dropped we have opened our children up to a campaign of misinformation and, by doing so, failed to protect them. And it is not just sex education but a host of things such as bullying and how to deal with inappropriate behaviour from adults. Both parties have consigned a generation to ignorance and danger."

The Straight Talking Peer Education charity said it was also frustrated. Chief executive Hilary Pannack said: "Law-makers appear to be ignoring that we live in a highly sexualised society in which young people are learning about sex and relationships from their peers and pornographers.

"In an ideal world, parents should be teaching their children about sex and relationships, but in most cases they do not have the correct information to hand or they are too embarrassed to begin a dialogue."

The Liberal Democrats had supported the legislation from the start and described the Government's capitulation at the hands of the Conservatives as "totally avoidable".

The party's Baroness Joan Walmsley, who fought to keep the measure in the Bill during wash-up, said: "The Conservatives wanted to move the opt-out age to 16. Ed Balls wrote to Michael Gove saying that would have made the bill incompatible with the Human Rights Act, and so it was dropped from the bill. But we would have supported the Government to keep it at 15."

Confusion reigns as Rose changes meet prickly end

The planned reforms to the primary school curriculum inspired by last year's Rose review have been thrown into confusion by a Conservative and Liberal Democrat decision to block their passage into law last week.

The proposals - to replace the current structure of 13 subjects with six areas of learning and introduce compulsory language learning in key stage 2 - had gathered widespread support among heads and teachers.

The plans, which were included in the now tattered Children, Schools and Families Bill, followed a review by Sir Jim Rose that advocated giving more flexibility to schools to tailor lessons.

The Tories had long vowed to replace the reforms with their own changes. The process of legislative horse-trading as the House of Commons prepared to dissolve proved an ideal opportunity.

The failure to pass the Rose changes into law will disappoint the thousands of teachers and educationalists who were preparing for their introduction.

Only last term the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency launched a website to help schools prepare and sent new primary curriculum documents into schools. Training sessions have already been held in some authorities.

But the process of turning the Rose recommendations into law was derailed last week when the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats refused to support the curriculum reforms and the Children, Schools and Families Bill went through without them.

David Mitchell, deputy head of Heathfield Primary, Bolton, said he was disappointed by the failure.

"Our school was excited about it, we saw it as getting permission to be a lot more creative," he said. "We still plan to build a creative curriculum for our children."

Richard Gerver, an educational consultant, said: "Although the Rose review was significant, there are schools with innovative and creative curriculums already. I would encourage schools not to stop what they are doing, because the reality is if you have evidence that what you are developing for children has a significant impact on their education, it doesn't need a bill.

"There may be political uncertainty for 12 months and the profession now has to be the custodians of stability. It has the opportunity to demonstrate its integrity, skill and ability."

Professor Robin Alexander, who led the in-depth Cambridge Primary Review, said: "Many schools have started work on implementing Rose and they will feel understandably sore if their efforts are now to be wasted. But this should be seen as an opportunity, not a setback.

"It's an opportunity for the debate that was prevented by the narrow remit and limited evidence of the Rose review."

TES Forums

What you're saying online about the rethink of the Rose reforms

felixthecat67:"I've been on a science course about the new national curriculum science programmes of study. The course leader said three to four copies of the new document sent to schools. Why didn't they wait?"

rach1968: "I think we'll carry on with our curriculum reform at my school anyway - it is much more interesting than before and an overhaul was needed."

hammered: "This makes me SO CROSS!!! How much money has been potentially wasted on the Rose review and writing the new curriculum? Now it is unlikely to even see the light of day."

tafkam: "I'm not sure what else could have been done really. Teachers would have complained if a new curriculum was knocked up in a few months because it would clearly be rushed. Now because they have taken time over its development, the risk was always there that it wouldn't be pushed through in time for the end of this Parliament."

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today