The TES news podcast, Mr Men, abuse in Chetham's School of Music, floor targets and NAHT's move into school improvement

26th April 2013 at 18:43
All the latest schools news, views and comment, brought to you by the TES editorial team

Don't miss it: This week's TES news podcast is now available - 10 May 2013

In this week's show we discuss how random drug tests in schools are turning students to harder drugs, one student's battle against creationism being taught in schools and the growing role of the private sector in global education.

Don't miss it.

Richard Vaughan

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Wrong target, Mr Gove - 9 May 2013

Mr Men and Hitler hit the national headlines today, thanks to an attack on the supposed ills of much of state education, every bit as media-savvy as you would expect from a former Times news editor.

Michael Gove, for it is he, set out to give the nation "an appreciation of how history is being taught in many of our schools now" when he spoke at Brighton College.

And the education secretary seemed to choose his target well, telling his audience of independent school leaders about a set of resources "at GCSE level" that "suggests spending classroom time depicting the rise of Hitler as a `Mr Men' story".

And it's true. The resource really does propose that Year 11 students discuss which Mr Men characters are "the best match" for the likes of Hitler, Hindenburg and Goering.

Except that it has nothing to do with the GCSEs that Mr Gove has criticised and is now reforming. The resource is actually aimed at students taking the IGCSEs that the education secretary has encouraged schools to use instead.

Nor is it a product of England's state education system. It has been put together by one Russel Tarr, head of history at the International School of Toulouse in France. Prior to that Mr Tarr worked at the independent, pound;11,664-a-year Wolverhampton Grammar.

And as to whether there really "many" schools teaching such resources, as the often Gove friendly Daily Telegraph points out here no one really seems to know.

William Stewart

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Cambridge Assessment wants two-tier exams at 16 - 09 May 2013

New GCSEs should use a controversial tiered structure condemned by critics and ministers as a "cap on aspiration", and should also replace grades with numerical scores, according to one of England's biggest exam boards.

Cambridge Assessment is effectively suggesting that ministers return to the two-tier exam system floated when plans to reform GCSEs were first leaked in June 2012.

Back then it was proposed that new "explicitly harder" O level-style exams would be accompanied by "simpler exams, similar to the old CSEs" to be sat by the "bottom 25 per cent of pupils".

The idea sparked alarm and cross-party opposition, forcing Michael Gove into a swift retreat. Pressed to defend the leaked proposals in Parliament hours later, the education secretary made no mention of the CSE idea.

He has instead condemned the current GCSE as a multi-tiered "cap on aspiration" and proposed new single-tier GCSEs that would be tougher but could still be taken by most students.

Now Cambridge Assessment, owner of the OCR exam board, has joined academic assessment experts and the exam regulator, Ofqual, in suggesting that this may not be the best way forward.

Cambridge Assessment is promoting the two-tier O and N (normal) level approach it has implemented in Singapore, understood to be the inspiration for Mr Gove's original, leaked plans.

Around 80 per cent of students in the high-performing Asian city state eventually take O levels, with the easier N levels used for the remainder. About 18 per cent of a cohort will sit both qualifications, using N levels as stepping stones to O levels.

Tim Oates, Cambridge Assessment's research director, describes this as a level 1level 2 model and argues that it would have "considerable merit" in England, particularly in maths and English.

"The current GCSE is both a level 1 and level 2 qualification, and as such presents major challenges to delivering on both," he said. "Far better to have a level 1 qualification with real worth to which students can aspire, and then build upon, than the current situation of receiving what is perceived to be a fail the first time the student attempts it."

Mr Oates stresses that the Singapore model does not amount to England's old O levelCSE approach because it allows progression from N levels to O levels.

He believes the whole comparison with CSEs, which he says did act as a "cap on aspiration", was an "unhelpful" and inaccurate piece of spin from government.

The Department for Education declined to comment.

William Stewart

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

Ofqual calls for changes to the floor targets used to judge school performance - 08 May 2013

Ofqual has suggested a radical change in the crucial "floor standards" used by the government to identify and target low-performing secondaries, which can result in schools closing and leadership teams being dismissed.

The exams watchdog has called on ministers to consider putting the progress students achieve in English and maths, instead of their raw exam results, at the centre of the standards.

Ofqual chief regulator, Glenys Stacey, has also suggested that closer regulation of GCSE "equivalent" qualifications such as IGCSEs and BTECs may be needed in order to ensure that school accountability measures "stay meaningful". She also wants the government to look at giving increased weight to English and maths in such measures.

In a letter to Michael Gove, published today, Ms Stacey asks the education secretary to look at basing the floor standards "on progress in English and maths rather than absolute performance".

Ministers had already proposed changing the main floor standards from the current, controversial, benchmark that measures the percentage of pupils achieving five A*-C GCSEs or equivalent, including English and maths.

The government's consultation on secondary school accountability, which closed last week, said the new floor standards should instead be based in part on the percentage of students achieving a grade C or equivalent in new English and maths GCSEs.

Ofqual has now warned of the pressure this "threshold measure" would place on the "most important GCSEs". But it does still want floor standards to include some "absolute" measure of performance.

Ms Stacey suggested that this could utilise a new points score indicator, already proposed by government, based on students' achievements in eight qualifications.

English and maths would be compulsory in the measure, alongside any three of the other English Baccalaureate GCSEs - languages, computer science, history, geography and sciences. The three remaining slots could be filled by further EBac GCSEs or "or any other high-value arts, academic or [government-approved] vocational qualifications".

But the regulator is concerned that the indicator "will draw on qualifications whose standards are not currently directly aligned with GCSEs" such as IGCSEs and BTECs.

"If accountability measures are to stay meaningful, there are implications for design and standard setting in those qualifications," Ms Stacey warns in her letter.

She also notes that the government's proposed measures give each subject "equal weight and focus".

"You may consider giving different weights to the eight qualifications to recognise the particular importance of English and maths in the overall mix," her letter says.

But Ms Stacey agrees that the current accountability system "has too many perverse incentives, and can distort teaching, narrow the curriculum and place undue pressure on individual qualifications".

"In general", she concludes, the government proposals are "in very much the right direction".

William Stewart

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

How could it happen? One former Chetham's student describes how music education can result in abuse - 8 May 2013

Detectives investigating sexual abuse at Chetham's School of Music in Manchester today announced that they have spoken to more than 30 women who have reported incidents of past abuse at the school.

The revelations come after former choirmaster Michael Brewer, 68, was convicted in March of abusing pupil Frances Andrade at the school in the 1970s and 1980s.

Manchester Metropolitan Police, which began examining the allegations surrounding the school in February, now says it is investigating a "pool" of around 10 offenders.

Writing for TES today in a personal capacity, former Chetham's student Ian Pace recalls his time at the school, and explains how he believes sexual abuse can become a problem in the rarified environment of specialist music schools.

When hugely revered musicians work as tutors, he says, few question their behaviour because institutions' reputations and students' careers depend on them, he writes. Here's an extract:

"Students' desperation to please has for too long been allowed to mask a pattern of abusive behaviour. Solo performance entails either a highly intimate expression of the self, dealing with deeply intimate emotions, or it entails a seduction, captivation and bewitchment of one's audience, that can objectify performer and listener alike.

"Both place the musician in a vulnerable situation, which can be withstood from the vantage point of adult emotional and sexual maturity, but are extremely testing and potentially dangerous for children."

Read more here.

Mr Pace, who is now a concert pianist and head of performance at City University London, has called for a public inquiry into sexual and other abuse at Chetham's and other specialist music schools in the UK.

Irena Barker

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Don't go booking any hols for Summer 2014 - 7 May 2013

It came as a surprise to many this morning that left-wing Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru announced a policy first proposed by England's Tory education secretary Michael Gove a month ago.

Plaid's education spokesman Simon Thomas agrees with Mr Gove that the school summer holidays are in need of an overhaul, and has even used similar language to that of England's education secretary in describing it as a "Victorian" structure.

However, while Mr Gove wants to cut school holidays in England from the current 190 days a year and lengthen the school day, Mr Thomas is only arguing for a "redistribution" across the academic year in Wales.

"Spreading school holidays over the year, rather than having them in one large block, will help children retain information and help them in their studies," he says.

He says the move will also benefit working families by making it easier for them to arrange holidays and childcare, and has urged Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews to hold talks with the education sector to discuss the matter.

But Mr Andrews is unlikely to follow suit. A Welsh government source said: "Where Michael Gove leads, Simon Thomas follows. Even theirlanguage is the same. This is another half-baked proposal from Plaid Cymru's fantasy island."

Fantasy it may be, but when two politicians of such different hues agree, might it be possible to discern a policy trend? Don't go booking any summer holidays for 2014 just yet.

Darren Evans

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Teachers' and heads' confidence in the GCSE brand plunges - 3 May 2013

Headteachers' and teachers' confidence in GCSEs dropped dramatically following the grading controversy last year -- but a survey by exams regulator Ofqual found that the attitude of the public barely changed.

The annual survey found that confidence in GCSEs was 30 percentage points lower than A levels among heads and teachers. Four out of five headteachers and three out of five classroom teachers reported less confidence in the exam - rising to 92 per cent among the English teachers who were directly affected.

"This survey is about perceptions and it's important for us to know what concerns people have," chief regulator Glenys Stacey said. "We want to see confidence in GCSEs return as they become more robust and assessment is seen to be, and is, fair and accurate. I think there is an appetite for change and improvement."

An estimated 10,000 students missed out on crucial C grades in GCSE English after grade boundaries were raised in the summer to prevent too many students gaining the top grades.

A legal challenge by headteachers and unions was rejected in February, saying Ofqual was right to prevent "unrealistically high" numbers of students gaining Cs.

"It is hardly surprising that last year's GCSE marking fiasco caused concerns," said Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. "It is very clear to the NUT that a great injustice has been done. The education secretary should have taken the lead from Wales and ordered the regrading of those affected."

But she said that the overall high levels of confidence in the A levels and GCSEs showed that there was no appetite for fundamentally changing the qualification system, as education secretary Michael Gove has proposed.

Confidence in A levels is high and rising among 25 per cent of the general public, especially students, 43 per cent of whom had increased confidence in the exam.

The survey also found that more than half the population believed that vocational, academic and mixed qualifications were all of equal value.

Joseph Lee

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Another classroom union takes a big step in the direction of strike action - 03 May 2013

The prospect of performance-related pay has angered large swathes of the teaching profession, and this week another union came out fighting.

In an emergency resolution at their annual conference in Llandrindod Wells, members of Welsh teaching union UCAC voted overwhelmingly in favour of considering strike action to oppose education secretary Michael Gove's plans to "destroy" the current framework.

UCAC has around 4,000 members, roughly 15 per cent of the teacher workforce in Wales, working mainly in Welsh-medium schools. While a strike by its members would not cause widespread disruption, it could force the closure of hundreds of small, rural schools in its Welsh-speaking heartland.

UCAC had been waiting to see what action the biggest two teaching unions - the NUT and NASUWT - were going to take but was frustrated that a national strike was put off until the Autumn term. The motion gives the union a mandate to coordinate action with other unions or to go it alone.

Because the matter of teachers' pay and conditions is not devolved, Mr Gove's pay proposals to give schools control over teachers' salaries will be implemented in both England and Wales in September, despite opposition from the Welsh government.

Elaine Edwards, UCAC's general secretary, said the move was "unfair" and had the potential to create rifts between staff. "Mr Gove is pushing an agenda for English schools based on a business model, but that is not the Welsh agenda," she added

Darren Evans

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Is there any surprise that there's a problem with sex ed? - 2 May 2013

Teaching personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education is a tricky task. From explaining the icky details of sexually transmitted diseases to broaching the fraught topic of teenage love, it takes a special kind of teacher to do it well.

So it may come as no surprise that the schools' inspectorate Ofsted has this morning criticised the teaching of PSHE, saying that two-fifths of schools fail to provide lessons that will prepare students for adult life.

A major concern was that teachers were focusing too much on the "mechanics" of reproduction and failing to address "controversial issues", such as pornography, sex abuse and homosexuality.

While basics such as pregnancy, abortion and contraception were covered in most secondary schools, many teachers steered clear of these topics, it said.

But it is hardly surprising that this is the case. PSHE is not on the national curriculum and is at high risk of being sidelined. In some schools, it can be regarded as a second-class subject to be delivered by members of staff who are not easily embarrassed.

The PSHE Association said that the task is often handed to a newly-qualified teacher - not as a cruel joke - but because they often just get given the stuff that nobody else wants to do.

So it is no wonder that inexperienced teachers with little specialist training like to stick to the more straightforward areas of PSHE, such as contraception and teenage pregnancy.

Wandering into terrain such as the impact of online porn on attitudes to real-life relationships may be a step too far for a nervous beginner. Nobody wants to be disciplined after a parent complains about the saucy nature of your classroom resources.

And besides, in many schools with league-table positions to uphold, there will simply not be enough hours given to the subject. Basic facts about drugs and sex may be all there is time for.

Irena Barker

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Can you beat Hungry like the Wolf Report? - 1 May 2013

At the end of last week, we posted a story here about Michael Gove's apparent habit of paraphrasing 1980s pop songs in his speeches, including lyrics by Prince, Eurythmics and the Pet Shop Boys. You can read the full article further down this page.

We asked teaching's Twittersphere to suggest some other musical numbers from that era that the UK education secretary might include in his next speech. Here are some of the best so far:

James: Sit Down = Gove on behaviour management? - @Aadaw

Talking Heads' Road to Nowhere - @NewcastleNUT

Duran Duran: Hungry like the Wolf Report - @68ron

The Clash. Should I Stay or Should I Go? - @SDupp

Duran Duran: Gove on Film - @Askey9

Adam and the Ants: Stand and Deliver = Gove's ideal teaching style? - @Hodders129

Tears for Fears: Everybody Wants to Rule the World - @WriteClubUK

Spandau Ballet: You are Gove! (Gove!) - @AbiFB

So far, TES Towers' favourite is @68ron's Hungry like the Wolf Report, which of course is a reference to the 2011 government-commissioned report into vocational education by Alison Wolf. Can you beat it? A bottle of fizz is up for grabs.

Submit ideas to the email address below or on Twitter using #goverythmics.

Ed Dorrell

Heads union NAHT confirms move into school improvement to help out pressured members - 1 May 2013

Schools judged to be in the "requires improvement" category - formally satisfactory - by Ofsted are under ever greater pressure from the Department for Education. With the threat of forced academy conversion hanging over those that fail to improve, many heads long for the time and space they need to turn around struggling schools without this added pressure.

At last year's NAHT annual conference in Harrogate, general secretary Russell Hobby revealed he had come up with a plan.

The heads' union, he announced, had brokered a pioneering deal with the government to give schools a three-year window in which to improve standards and avoid forced conversion to academy status. The union, he said, would work with existing leadership teams in the schools with the goal of delivering a rating of "good" from Ofsted.

Almost a year on, a pilot of the scheme - called Aspire - is today being formally launched by the NAHT. It involves 20 schools in Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield, West Sussex, Brighton and Hove, Kent and Bristol.

The project has been part-funded for three years by the DfE and, in another innovative move, is being delivered in partnership with private provider EdisonLearning.

"Every school wants to be good but many lack the support and networks to achieve their vision," Mr Hobby said. "The Aspire project is designed to fill the gap with a collaborative, sustainable model of school improvement. Schools joining the project will work in small clusters to help and inspire each other, assisted by NAHT officials, their local authority and external project management."

Education secretary Michael Gove has also given the scheme his backing. "I am pleased to commit my department's support for it," he said. "I wish the project and those schools taking part in it every success as they seek to raise their performance to `good' or better. I will be following this initiative with particular interest over the next two years."

But the schools involved and the NAHT will be under no illusions that, should they fail to make the required improvement by the end of this period, they could end up with substantial amounts of egg on their faces. The potential benefits are great - but so are the risks.

Stephen Exley

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Teaching top earners increase, but overall salaries for school leaders remain disappointing - 30 April 2013

In times of public sector austerity you might not expect school leaders' pay to rise. Yet statistics published today show more heads than ever before have broken the six-figure salary threshold.

Official figures released by the Department for Education show that 600 full-time heads, deputy and assistant heads earn between pound;100,000 and pound;109,000, up from 500 last year.

Indeed, 200 were recorded as earning more than pound;110,000, the statistics' top bracket.

Yet it is worth remembering that the average school leader doesn't earn anything like this much. The same figures, taken from information recorded in November 2012, show the average school leader in a state school earns just pound;55,700, having experienced the smallest increase from pound;55,500.

There are in fact twice as many school leaders taking home less than pound;40,000 (1,600) as those north of pound;100,000 (800).

Last month in the TES, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, argued it should be possible for those running small primary schools in deprived areas to receive a better salary. (Currently school leaders in the smallest maintained primaries outside London have their annual wages capped at pound;57,000.)

Will this ever be possible? Changes are certainly afoot. The School Teachers' Review Body, which advises ministers on pay, has been asked to look at the pay of school leaders "so it is appropriate to the challenge of the position and the contribution they make to their school or schools".

Watch this space.

Kerra Maddern

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Like doctors and nurses, could teachers be on the cusp of getting their own royal college? - 30 April 2013

From nurses to surgeons, nearly every medical profession has its own royal college. Now moves are afoot for teachers to get one too.

Plans were first mooted by the Commons Education Select Committee last year and, after plenty of protracted preliminary discussions, seem to be moving along nicely.

The idea of creating a professional body to help teachers develop excellent teaching practice is gathering momentum. A commission to lead the development of the organisation was announced last week, and an event this evening will see Charlotte Leslie - a Conservative MP and select committee member - and the Royal College of Surgeons launch a booklet to promote the creation of a Royal College of Teaching.

It features contributions from the likes of David Weston, from the Teacher Development Trust, and Professor Jonathan Shepherd of the Royal College of Surgeons, as well as essays written by the leaders of the classroom and headteachers' unions.

"There is an outstanding momentum of consensus from an incredibly broad range of interests who all agree that the time has now come for the teaching profession to look to form its own professional body," Ms Leslie said. "An organisation along the lines of a medical royal college is an opportunity to give teaching the same status and recognition as other professions and to support the professionalism which is at the heart of every school."

A formal consultation, due to be launched next month, should gauge whether teachers themselves are equally enthusiastic about the plans.

Stephen Exley

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Teach First feels the full wrath of Twitter - 29 April 2013

A fundraising drive to encourage members of the public to donate pound;3 to Teach First to "sponsor" a lesson in a school in a deprived community has not gone down too well with some of Twitter's teacher tweeters.

According to the charity, the money raised by the new Every Child Can campaign will pay for work including supporting Teach First participants and "ambassadors" who want to develop new projects that could reduce education inequality - not sponsoring actual lessons.

Nonetheless the initiative was labelled "offensive" by some teachers on Twitter, who took it as a criticism of their work. The implication, they argued, was that these children needed "saving" from their teachers.

Other words used in the burst of Twitter rage that started yesterday and rolled on into this morning described the initiative as "arrogant" and "self-righteous". Steve Iredale, president of the NAHT heads' union, took to the micro-blogging site to say he was "appalled" by the campaign.

This outpouring prompted Teach First to produce a statement this afternoon saying it would "listen to all feedback".

"This is our first public fundraising campaign and we are looking at all of the feedback we have received, both good and bad," the charity's director of external relations James Westhead said. "For many it was a well-received campaign, but we do acknowledge the concerns that have been voiced in the education community."

A recent survey of 2,000 people commissioned by Teach First found that fewer than two in five British people think it will ever be possible for poorer children to be as successful as their more affluent peers. Indeed, last summer just 38.5 per cent of disadvantaged pupils received five good GCSEs including English and maths, compared with 65.7 per cent of other pupils.

The question - what can teachers and schools do about this inequality? - is clear for all to see. But equally clear is that not everyone thinks Teach First is the answer.

Kerra Maddern

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

Michael Gove confirms himself as a 1980s pop fan. Odd, eh? - 26 April 2013

Eagle-eyed observers of Michael Gove's speech this week at the National College for Teaching and Leadership might have noticed he was using some unusual phrases. Yes, that's right. He's back on his 1980s pop meme.

First up was his description of the current teacher work-to-rule industrial action: "We don't like the last 25 years of education reform, why can't we party like it's 1968?" Does this sound a bit familiar? A bit like the lyrics to the Prince song 1999?

Mr Gove also stated that in future "teachers will be doing it for themselves". Again, his words seem similar to another famous 1980s tune. Has he been listening to Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves by the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin?

The education secretary has form on this, believe it or not. Who can forget his parliamentary exchange with Labour's Kevin Brennan back in 2010 when he quoted the Pet Shop Boys song Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)?

"He's got the brains and I've got the looks, and together - I suspect - we could make lots of money," he said in one of the least likely entries in Hansard.

Over to you. There's a bottle of champagne for the best invented Govian 1980s pop reference. Get thinking and email Ed Dorrell with your suggestions.

Kerra Maddern

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

Read previous stories in the Big Ed Blog


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