What now for the Pargetter twins?

Yesterday, listeners to The Archers will have tuned in to hear Nigel Pargetter’s funeral.  In a previous post I described how Nigel fell off his roof.

At the end of the episode the issue of Freddie and Lily Pargetter’s impending entrance exam cropped up.  Remember, it is hoped that they will be accepted to The Cathedral School, in nearby Felpersham.   Elizabeth Pargetter rounds off the conversation with:

“I have to do something about it”

What, we don’t know, yet.

The “half-baked” English Baccalaureate

This week, the Government published its secondary school performance tables and school spend data.  These performance tables include a new English Baccalaureate indicator.  This measures the percentage of pupils who have attained an A*-C at GCSE (or IGCSE) in English, Mathematics, Sciences, an Ancient or Modern Language, and History or Geography.  The statistics show that overall, in England 15.6% of pupils achieved the English Baccalaureate.

The data revealed this week also shows that 216 schools failed to meet a target of 35% of pupils achieving 5  GCSEs A*-C, including English and Mathematics.  These schools face the possibility of being taken over by a more ‘successful’ headteacher.

Newspapers have covered the release of the data. The Guardian ran with a story about the 200 plus schools failing to meet the GCSE targets, but also ran a story about the low levels of pupils achieving the English Baccalaureate. The Independent also ran a piece about pupils and schools missing targets.

My favourite headline and story came from the The Telegraph.  It read:

“GCSE league tables: private schools attack ‘half-baked’ rankings”

The article went on to describe how several leading English public schools, such as Eton and Harrow have ranked lower “than some of England’s worst-performing comprehensives”.  Representatives of private schools are, predictably, not happy.

My immediate, emotional response was:

“They should learn to take the rough with the smooth”

My nuanced, sociologically refined response is not a lot different.  Here is why:

The basis of the private schools’ objection is a technicality.  The Mathematics IGCSE which some private schools opted for, was not accredited in time to be included in this years’ rankings.  Had the figure for the pass rate of this exam been included, the rankings may have looked different.

However, their complaint about the unjust nature of this implies an expectation that school performance tables are a true and accurate representation of school performance, that they enable direct comparisons to be made between schools, and, that, until now, league tables have been accurate, fair, and representative.

This belief comes from a faith in statistics as an objective measure of an objective reality.    The problem is, the statistics from which performance tables are derived do not accurately represent reality.

The objections to league tables are well rehearsed.  Schools have different pupil populations with diverse social backgrounds.  As Bethan Marshall (2003: 35) says about the ‘failing’ Hammersmith County School which replace by the Phoenix School, with a new ‘super head’:

“To compare the results of this school with those of the London Oratory where over 90% of the boys achieved 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, as the very form of the league tables suggest we must, was and is a nonsense”

I doubt very much that Eton and Harrow will suffer now that they have decided league tables aren’t what they claim to be.

Continue reading “The “half-baked” English Baccalaureate”

More rushing to claim Free School Meals

Today, the Guardian runs a story about Sacred Heart High School in Hammersmith. Its headteacher, Dr Christine Carpenter has warned parents that the school’s budget will be cut from next year, and, consequently is urging parents to apply for Free School Meals in order that the school may receive the Pupil Premium.  This is estimated to make up some, but not all the cuts in the school’s budget

I can only assume the Guardian does not read my blog, and therefore did not see my previous post.  In that case it was Middlesbrough LEA which was urging parents to apply for this entitlement, not individual schools, indicating, perhaps the continued importance of LEAs, from whose control the current Government is keen to set schools free.   Further, it suggests that the Infant Hercules was taking the lead on the push to drive up claiming of Free School Meals, its press release on the matter coming a whole week before Guardian story on the significance of Free School Meals.

Nevertheless, what both stories indicate is that ensuring the maximum take-up for Free School Meals has never been so important for schools’ budgets.  Maximising the take-up of this entitlement ensures the school receives its share of the Pupil Premium.

What these stories also indicate is the level  of under claiming of benefits.  According to today’s Guardian article the Sacred Heart High School has 6% of pupils claiming Free School Meals with an estimate that as many as 35% could be entitled. In my previous post I commented on the estimates that perhaps only two-thirds of pupils in Middlesbrough entitled to receive Free School Meals actually do.

Schools may be desperately doing whatever they can to maximise the number of children claiming Free School Meals in time for the deadline later this month.  If a child becomes entitled after this date, or if a child moves into a school after this date (a major issue in some schools) then the school misses out on the funding for that child. But, under-claiming of Free School Meals, as of other benefits is nothing new, as the Guardian article reports, Tim Nichols from the Child Poverty Action Group says:

“…it does make you ask why…they weren’t so interested in the past”

Of course, now the schools have a budget incentive to ensure that all who are entitled, claim.

A problem may be that, while the Pupil Premium is available, schools’ budgets are being cut, so how effective is this ‘additional’ money going to be in improving the educational opportunities of children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds?

Additionally, there is a limited amount set aside (£2.5 billion) for the Pupil Premium. The efforts of LEAs and schools in maximising take-up of entitlement might not be appreciated by a government keen to reduce public spending.

Missing out on Free School Meals?

Children are eligible for Free School Meals if their parents receive certain benefits.  Eligibility for Free School Meals has long been used as a proxy indicator of socio-economic status; if a child receives Free School Meals, they are likely to be socio-economically deprived in comparison to children who do not.  As  sociologists of education will tell you, socio-economic status (some of us even dare use the word ‘class’) shapes educational attainment.  A lifetime ago, employed by an LEA, I would benchmark schools Key Stage results according to ‘FSM eligibility’, so that we could claim to be comparing the results of schools with a similar pupil intake.

The FSM statistics are not without controversy. To what extent can this statistic reliably measure socio-economic status?[1]

One of the problems with the ‘FSM eligibility’ statistics is that, despite the title, the figure measures claimants of Free School Meals.  There is a big difference between eligibility and the claiming of benefits entitled because of that eligibility.  Benefits go left unclaimed.

The significance of all this?   The Pupil Premium, which is additional money which the Government has pledged to benefit the education of “deprived children”. It will be allocated to schools’ budgets according to the number of children in receipt of FSM. Middlesbrough, in the North East of England has some of the most deprived wards in the country, and as such you would expect their to be a significant number of children eligible for Free School Meals.  Middlesbrough Council is concerned that as many as 3000 children who are eligible are not receiving this benefit. It amounts to additional £1.1 million in Pupil Premium funding for Middlesbrough schools.   They have urged eligible parents to complete a form in order to claim their entitlement.  That is the way Free School Meals works, a parent has to apply for it, it is not automatic. In Middlesbrough, there are, at present approximately  6000 children already in receipt of Free School Meals.  So, in other words, around one-third of parents have not claimed this benefit.   Who knows what the real eligibility figure is if this level of non claiming is repeated in other socio-economically deprived areas.  The Government has set aside £2.5 billion a year for the Pupil Premium.  Will it be enough?

Continue reading “Missing out on Free School Meals?”

Say Hello

Today, The Kings Speech, is released in UK cinemas.  It tells the story of King George VI, who, although he was never destined to be King, became the monarch following the abdication of his brother King Edward VIII.  George VI, or Bertie as he was previously known, had a stammer, and so the film tells the story of his relationship with Lionel Logue who helped him to face his fears of public speaking in order to make the broadcast speeches that were expected of a monarch, particularly in wartime.   What has that to do with education.  Not a lot, not directly. The release of the film however is the first date in the diary of Hello – the national year of communication.

Supported by the Department for Education,   Hello is the national year of communication, 2011.

What is hello?

It is a campaign, run by The Communication Trust, which is a collection of voluntary and community organisations with interests in speech, language and communication.  The campaign hopes to raise understanding about the importance of speech, language and communication skills to children and young people.  It is estimated that around 10% of children (over 1 million children) have a speech, language or communication need, not caused by deprivation or english as an additional language.  Problems can be exacerbated by poverty, and in areas of high social deprivation it is estimated that upwards of 50% of children begin school with some form of language delay.  Hello aims to raise awareness among parents, children’s workforce, and health care commissioners and providers.  The timing of the release of The Kings Speech fits nicely with the first months’ theme: Don’t take communication for granted.  About The Kings Speech, The Communication Trust says:

“hopefully this film will help others to understand what it is like for those who struggle to communicate and the people around them.”

The British Stammering Association is one of the organisations working with The Communication Trust, and it sees the release of the film is an opportunity to raise awareness of, and to talk openly about the challenges faced by people who stammer.  It has a dedicated stammering in education site which provides invaluable information for school staff, as well as some excellent information concerning pre-school children.

Meanwhile, watch the film.

Continue reading “Say Hello”

Strictly Grammar Schools

Ann Widdecombe likes Grammar schools.  She is calling for the ban on Grammar schools to end, and wants new ones to be set up.    Her statement on this issue was reported in this week’s Guardian, and comes prior to her speech at the North of England Education Conference.

Her rationale?

Widdecombe believes, or wants to believe that Grammar schools offer the opportunity of social mobility to bright working class children.

This is an appealing claim.  Who would want to deny a child from a poor background from fulfilling their potential, by receiving the best possible education?  The notion that Grammar schools offer a rigorous academic education support this claim.

However, it is problematic, for several reasons.

Firstly, there is the construction of the bright working class child as something special, or unusual.  Following on from this is the notion that working class children only deserve a good quality education if they are bright.  Politicians would never suggest creating a sub standard type of school in which dim middle class children could be educated, and separated from their fellow middle class, but cleverer peers.

Widdecombe expresses the belief that Grammar schools are a route out of poverty for working class children.  This is a belief that is often heard in defence of Grammar schools.   However, those getting places in Grammar schools are more likely to be middle class.  With parents employing class strategies, such as private tutoring in preparation for the 11+ in an attempt to secure a place for their child, working class children are likely to stand less of a chance at getting into Grammar school in the first place.

The notion that Grammar schools are unique in providing a good quality academic education is, I argue, a veiled attack on Comprehensive schools.  It is a case of Grammar = good, Comprehensive = bad, despite the evidence to the contrary  (I’m not going to list sources here right now, but it is there).

But Ann Widdecombe did say some Comprehensive schools were “pure gold”?

She did, but again she said others were “very large, incompetent and seriously disruptive” which suggests that she recognises that Comprehensive schools are not necessarily comprehensive.  A report from the  Sutton Trust, entitled: Worlds Apart: social variation among schools highlights the difference between Comprehensive schools, including their social variation.  For “pure gold” read a Comprehensive school colonised by the middle class, or , at least located in a middle class community.  A “very large” and “disruptive” Comprehensive school points to a school located in an urban area, tackling the social problems associated with poverty.

What about the ban?

The so-called ban is not so much a ban as a statement by the Conservative Party in 2007 to the effect that it would not support the reintroduction of Grammar Schools if it won the election.  This didn’t signal a commitment  to Comprehensive Schools.  Certainly, with the growth in Academies, and Free schools selection is likely to increase, so there will be more segregation, not less.

Finally, for this post at least, her request that the Government does not stand in the way of Town Halls (which, surely, are Local Authorities) wanting to reintroduce selection and create Grammar schools is interesting.  Is she not aware that the current Government is pledge to free schools from Local Authority control?

Shocked “to the core”

Listeners to the BBC Radio serial The Archers were expecting an eventful anniversary episode tonight.  The storyline would “shock Ambridge to the core”.  In the final few minutes of the said episode, Nigel Pargetter fell from the roof of Lower Loxley Hall.

According to the editor, Vanessa Whitburn this event  is so dramatic “it will still be affecting Ambridge in 10 years’ time.”

In a previous post I described the dilemma over school choice that the Pargetters were experiencing.  So, we can now assume the decision over the future education of Lily and Freddie Pargetter is made.  They will be far too traumatised to face the imminent entrance exam for the Cathedral School. Will Borchester Green have the honour of educating the Pargetter twins after all?

A look back at Education 2010 – Part 2

This year will see the amount of public money spent on education, fall.  However, we are not supposed to worry about the impact of this.  A number of reassurances are used by the current Government in the process of framing public spending.  For example, the phrase “we’re all in this together” is supposed to make us feel that these cuts are fair, that everyone will experience cuts to the same extent, that no one group is being singled out. It is a case of all citizens sharing the burden, bankers and bin men alike.  This reassurance is however inconsistent with other reassurances from the Government over the protection of ‘front line services’.  Firstly, cuts cannot be fair and equally spread if some services are protected while others are not.  Secondly, the definition of ‘front line services’ is not clear.  The term ‘front line services’ may appear common sensical, referring to those essential services that no civilised society, or no individual can live without.  In reality, ‘front line services’ differ between individuals,  so some members of the population may see the services they rely on protected, while others will see them cut.

When it comes to education, a 0.1% increase in schools’ budgets were suggested in the October spending review.  By December, pantomime season had descended; it was a case of ‘oh no it isn’t’.  The 0.1% rise is not a real rise, given inflation. It also means that the pupil premium isn’t actually extra money.  According to the  DfE Some LEAs and schools will see their budgets fall.

Other cuts were announced.  £162 million of funding to the School Sports Partnership was to be cut.  By the 20th December Gove could be heard crying ‘Oh no its not’ as the DfE issued a news release to the effect that funding will now continue until the end of summer term 2011.

On 17th December Booktrust, an independent charity which runs a book gifting scheme giving books to children and families to encourage reading were told that their  £13 million Government funding would cease from 1 April 2011.   No sooner had the charity released the contents of the letter, but Government, in gesture of seasonal goodwill decided to review the decision.  Clearly the ghost of Christmas future has not visited, as it is only a partial ‘u turn’ as the Government has declared it is committed to  bookgifting and will continue to work with Booktrust.

Could it be argued that school sports, books and reading are not ‘front line services’?