NASUWT on the importance of Local Schools

This week NASUWT published the results of a survey, commissioned last year, seeking parents’ views of schools and colleges.   Alongside views of education the results reveal the most and least important factors that parents consider when choosing a school or college for their child, as well as the strategies they have used to inform their decision making. The following table reveals the responses to the question:

Which, if any, are the most important factors when choosing your child’s school/college?

(Comres, 2015: 7)
(Comres, 2015: 7)

In reporting these results NASUWT has highlighted location (referring to the school’s proximity to the family home, or parent’s workplace) as the most popular factor to be identified as important by parents.  In contrast, league table position is highlighted as being considered as important by only 21% of parents surveyed.   Clearly, in publishing these survey responses NASUWT are trying to challenge the importance that UK Government discourses place on quantitative measures of school ‘performance’.  The message  given is that parents believe other things are more important when considering the future education of their children and the Government should, therefore, focus on providing more ‘good’ local schools and focusing less on league tables:

“It remains the case that for the majority of parents the locality of a school is a key factor, supporting the NASUWT’s long-argued view that what every parent wants is access to a good local school.”

Aside from what is mean by a “good school”, while it may not appear a surprising result, the identification of locality may be more complex.  As Burgess et al (2014) discuss, while location may be an important factor in school choice decision making, this factor is itself influenced by the context in which the parents are identifying that location as an important factor.

“household location is a choice and may be endogenously affected by demand for high-quality schools. Suppose a family had moved to an area with good academic schools for this reason. This would give undue weight to proximity to the school in estimation, so the true preference for academic quality would appear as a preference for proximity.” (Burgess, et al, 2014: 7-8)

Location is clearly important, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that parents view academic performance as any less important, even though they may appear to do so when asked this question in a survey.  As Ball and Vincent (1998) observe, the school choice process may be a long term project, particularly for middle-class parents, which takes several years.  So, in the example from Burgess et al (2014) parents who may have moved house in order to be in proximity to what they view as a ‘good’ school would have done this because of the importance they place on academic standards.  However, they may well identify proximity as the most important factor if asked about choosing a school for their child.

When asked about strategies employed in school-choice decision making, 29% of parents reported they had checked school performance data tables, which is slightly higher, but not inconsistent with the percentage identifying this as an important factor in decision making.  School Performance Tables are provided by the  Department of Education and this facility allows anyone who is interested to view a range of selected data on schools and to compare this ‘performance’ with other schools. Presumably, if the statistics from the NASUWT survey are representative, around a third of parents are using this tool in their school choice decision making, meaning most parents, around two thirds, are not. Again, the results from this survey are far from nuanced.  As Ball and Vincent (1998) revealed in their study, school-choice decision making is a complex process and the importance placed on ‘cold’ knowledge, such as performance data is shaped by a range of factors, such as social class and gender.  The NASUWT survey  makes a valid point in highlighting that relatively few parents consult this kind of data when choosing a school or college for their child, but more information is needed.  An interesting question remains: what type of parent believes performance tables are an important factor in school-choice decision making and how do they interpret this data?  Or: Are some groups of parents being super-served via school performance tables

Continue reading “NASUWT on the importance of Local Schools”

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Gove stands up to the ‘Blob’

There are so many problems with Michael Gove’s recent article in the Daily Mail that I am not sure where to start.  I am also not sure whether I have the inclination to engage with something that I consider to be diatribe.  But here goes:

After opening with an invocation of Cyril Connolly, Gove appeals to fear:

“Because there are millions of talented young people being denied the opportunity to succeed as they deserve. Far too many are having their potential thwarted by a new set of Enemies Of Promise.”

Gove is trying to claim that he is concerned about the educational prospects of our young people.  Perhaps he is only concerned about those who he deems as talented, and therefore deserving of success?  Nevertheless, he is concerned about them.  Yet, Daily Mail readers should be warned, there are people out there, these  ‘Enemies Of Promise’ who threaten to stand in the way of these opportunities to success.

So, who are these ‘Enemies Of Promise’? They are:

“a set of politically motivated individuals”

These individuals do not agree with Gove, therefore they are enemies, and, moreover they are politically motivated, and worst of all, they are ‘Marxist’.  Helpfully, the Daily Mail has included a picture of the bearded man himself.  Presumably, in describing his enemies as “politically motivated,  Gove is suggesting that he is not similarly motivated.  This is clearly nonsense.

Gove goes on to outline what he believes is evidence of the poor standards of education in our schools with this rhetological fallacy:

“Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance”

His appeal to authority conveniently fails to identify which surveys uncovered this ignorance.

These poor educational standards, according to Gove are concentrated in our most disadvantaged communities, such as East Durham. (you may remember that this is a place where Gove claims to be able smell defeat).  Given this observation of differences in educational achievement, Marxists may point out that in capitalism there are winners and losers, and that within this system lies the explanation for differential education attainment.  However, Marxists are the subject of this attack, so anything they have to say is subject to further opprobrium in the remainder of the article.

Of course capitalism is not to blame! Gove much prefers to point the finger at the ‘Enemies Of Promise’. One hundred of these apparent enemies are signatories to a letter in The Independent in which they warn of the potential dangers of Gove’s new National Curriculum  (which explains why Gove doesn’t like them).  Some of these enemies, according to Gove, inhabit a “Red Planet” (they are Marxists after all!).  This, according to Gove is proven by their research interests:

“One of the letter’s principal signatories claims to write ‘from a classical Marxist perspective’, another studies ‘how masculinities and femininities operate as communities of practice’, a third makes their life work an ‘intergenerational ethnography of the intersection of class, place, education and school resistance’.”

This is nothing more than an ignorant attack on the social sciences, and one which, presumably Gove hopes the readers of his derision will agree with.

Gove then goes on to describe ‘enemies’ as a ‘Blob’ consisting of “ultra-militants in the unions who are threatening strikes”. This choice of language purposefully ignores the reality that unions are made up of their members, in this case teachers who have collectively chosen to withdraw their labour in summer of strike action.

In short, a fine example of Govian ad hominem reasoning.  No wonder the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) has recorded no confidence in him.

Teachers’ Strike

The discourse of government responses to planned industrial action by public sector workers highlights the inconvenience of that action to the rest of the public.  The Department for Education‘s response to the planned industrial action by the NUT and ATL on the 30th June is a case in point.  A spokesperson said:

“The Government is committed to working openly and constructively with unions to ensure that teachers continue to receive high quality pensions, and that the interests of all professionals are represented fully as pension reform is taken forward.

Lord Hutton has made it clear that there needs to be a balance between a common framework for all schemes and the need for flexibility to take account of specific workforce circumstances, such as those of the teaching workforce.

But we are clear that a strike by teachers will only damage pupils’ learning and inconvenience their busy working parents. The wellbeing and safety of pupils must remain paramount.”

Firstly, teachers are being told that, whatever the outcome of the pension reforms, teachers will be getting a good deal, furthermore they will continue to get a good deal. In other words, teachers are receiving good pensions and will continue to do so.   The message is – teachers should stop complaining. Of course, the unions’ story is different. In short, the reasons why they are proposing to walk out on the 30th is because they have calculated that teachers will have to pay £100 or more extra a month in pension contributions, will have to work longer before being able to retire, and, after this, will receive less in their pensions.

Secondly, the DfE statement highlights the balance that needs to be struck, and thus, they are calling on teachers to compromise, given our economically straightened times, thus calling on teachers, and the rest of the public sector, to share the collective burden. Further, by invoking Lord Hutton the Department is highlighting that it is not so much themselves that are proposing these changes, but it is the recommendations of an independent expert.  This way, the Department is able to counter accusations that changes to public sector pensions might be politically motivated.

It is the third part of the DfE statement which gets to the point.  The damage that striking will do to children, and the inconvenience to hard working parents.  This is a divide and rule tactic, although some of  those busy parents will also be public sector workers facing the same concerns over their futures as teachers.  This final part of the DfE’s response is an emotional plea to teachers in that it implies that teachers will be at fault if children’s education suffers as a result of the strike.  However, this plea also highlights the vital importance of teachers  (if the absence of teachers for one day damages education, then teachers must, by default, be crucial), and therefore, you have to question the priorities of a society which cannot, or will not ensure a decent pension for its most vital employees.

Francis Maude, Minister of the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General has also criticised the proposed industrial action. The Guardian reports him as saying:

“…We very strongly hope that anyone who works in public service will put their own interest and the interest of those they are there to serve ahead of their union leaders.”

which is interesting, suggesting as it does, that the interests of unions are somehow disconnected from their members, and that members of those unions did not vote for industrial action, suggesting that they see their interests as being best expressed by collective action.  Again, Maude is appealing to workers’ sense of moral obligation to those they are there to serve.  In other words, put aside your own concerns and deliver to the public.  But, unless workers have the right to withdraw their labour, they are nothing but serfs, and we live in a feudal age.

Free Schools, the Norfolk Model

The current government is keen to adopt free schools, citing parental choice, and freedom from the LEA.  On this site has been a number of posts critically assessing this development. However, maybe the left, in their oppostion to free schools is missing some potential with these proposed schools. They could look to their own history.

There is an example of an English school, established with support of pupils, and parents,  which was sponsored by numerous organisations, and was free from the control of the local council.  It sounds every inch a free school, it was open to local children, it did not charge fees, and parental choice was a key feature.   However, it wasn’t funded by central government, so, in this sense it is distinct from proposed free schools.

The school was established in April 1914, and was located in the Norfolk village of Burston, near Diss.  In, perhaps an early example of pupil voice, pupils from the local council school marched on the village green to protest at the dismissal of their teachers, Tom and Kitty Higdon.  At first, the school was located on the village green until donations came in from trade unions and co-operative movements to build the ‘Burston Strike School’.  The building is still standing today, though the school closed in 1939.  Every year, during the first weekend in September there is a rally in Burston. If you do visit the school look out for one of the foundation stones, indicating sponsorship from Tolstoi.  This is a romantic idea, but, it might be wise to check up on the history of this supposed sponsor before accepting the this sponsorship stone as evidence of the great man’s support of the school.

It is fair to say that this is not the type of school envisaged under the free schools model.     Continue reading “Free Schools, the Norfolk Model”

The Tory Boy and Chris Keates

The Tory Boy describes itself as a “new conservative blog”.  Yesterday, it published this post about Michael Gove and the plans to transform schools into academies. 

Apart from suggesting that no-one has noticed that academies, with their generous  funding might ‘suck’ teachers away from other schools, it devotes its 3rd paragraph  to comments made by Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT.

As you won’t be able to read the detail on the image, here is an extract of the relevant section:

Chris Keates who is the general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, expressed his disapproval towards this new policy saying the policy was disappointing. He also said that this policy fails to improve the existing education quality as the term ‘academy’ does not mean the school associated with the term offers excellent quality of education. He made his point on basis of statistics which clearly proved that existing academies were no better in their performances when compared to ordinary schools.”

Oh, dear.  I think The Tory Boy needs to learn a little more about the general secretary of one of Britain’s main teaching unions, perhaps clicking here might help.  Gender politics was never one of the conservative’s strong points.

‘Outstanding schools’ to become Academies

Following today’s Queen’s Speech, hundreds more secondary schools, as well as primary schools are set to be granted academy status. 

'Outstanding' schools are set to become academies

By becoming academies, schools which have been deemed as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted will be taken out of LEA control and will receive funding direct from central government.  The political discourse which the Conservatives use to justify this move refers to  freedom.  Schools becoming academies will be  free of the constraining  LEA.  Being free from LEA control (which has obviously not be so constraining, given that they are deemed ‘outstanding’ ) academies will have greater freedom over the curriculum, admissions policies (which pupils they do and don’t want) and what they will pay teachers. 

There are several claims made for these new academies, however these claims are not robust.  Consider the following: 

  • Michael Gove, the new education secretary believes these new academies will raise standards, he bases this on the ‘evidence’ from the performance of existing academies (so, one can assume he gives the Labour Government credited for raising standards through academies).
    • Evidence that existing academies have raised standards is not clear, in some cases standards, in terms of GCSE performance fell, while the use of GCSE equivalents may have accounted for the rise in other academies.  See my previous post about Francis Beckett’s book.
    • These new schools are already among the top performing schools, there is a limit to how far they can improve standards, yet high standards are likely to be maintained, not improved.
  • New academies will promote choice
    • For the academies, yes they do.  Freeing schools from the constraints of the LEA means that schools can decide on their own admissions policies, the academies are free to choose which pupils they want, and crucially which pupils they don’t want.  Meanwhile, LEAs still have the responsibility to provide schooling for children in the area, but have fewer schools to choose from.
  • These new academies will promote social justice
    • How?  They are free to choose which pupils they want, and they need to maintain standards in order to maintain their freedom, even with a pupil premium (an incentive for schools to take pupils from deprived backgrounds) academies are unlikely to characterised by a comprehensive intake.
    • They are allowed to choose their own pay rates, this will hardly lead to social justice among teachers.
    • Social justice cannot be achieved where academies are treated more favourably, for example, by receiving more money from Government, while others struggle for funding. 

It is tempting for the current ‘oustanding’ schools to apply for academy status, this includes nearly 2000 primary schools, as well as secondary schools.  At a time when public services are being, which school wouldn’t want to take advantage of more money?

The main teaching unions,  NUT, NASUWT, and ATL oppose these changes.  The NUT and NASUWT have hinted at strike action should these changes go through, understandably they are concerned about their members’ pay and conditions, but more widely because of the implications these proposals have for education. 

Continue reading “‘Outstanding schools’ to become Academies”

Pupil Voice or Educational X Factor?

The NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers) held its annual conference recently.  One of the issues they discussed was the role of pupils in the recruitment of teaching staff.  The union is so concerned about this issue that delegates voted to support a ballot for industrial action where the abuse of ‘pupil voice’ or ‘student voice’ is identified.  This doesn’t actually mean that NASUWT members will be on the picket line next term, but that they may ballot members on whether to take industrial action where it identifies an abuse of ‘student voice’. 

Giving pupils a voice in their education is officially endorsed by current UK education policy.  However, this is not a new idea. Humanist approaches to education have long promoted the child as an active learner.  While it cannot be claimed that the UK education system is an example of a humanist  ideal of education, the use of ‘pupil voice’, encouraged by the DCSF has its roots in humanist approaches.

‘Pupil Voice’ can, at one end of the spectrum mean enabling pupils to express their views on education, and at the other, it can refer to pupils having some input into decisions made about their education, including the recruitment of teachers.

It is this later form of ‘pupil voice’ which the NASUWT has expressed concern about.   The Guardian reported that children were asking ‘frivolous’ questions, such as “if you could be on Britain’s Got Talent, what would your talent be?”.  This may be frivolous, but it perhaps reflects the influence of popular culture in young people’s lives, which they then apply to decision making about teachers. 

The Independent also reported on the concerns of the NASUWT, highlighting the union’s fears that pupil voice has the potential to “disempower and deprofessionalise teachers”.

These concerns over ‘pupil voice’ have also been studied by researchers.  Some of the concerns of the NASUWT were found in a study carried out by Bragg (2009)[1] who found that teachers’ professional identities could be challenged by ‘pupil voice’.  However, ‘pupil voice’ is enshrined in policy.  The most obvious manifestation of this are School Councils.  Under the 2002 Education Act every school in England  is encouraged to have a School Council (the Government has the power to enforce their existence, but prefers to encourage), in Wales, School Councils are compulsory.  Wider social policies also important, for example the 1989 Children’s Act which  requires young people to be consulted on matters which affect them.  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK has ratified also requires young people to be consulted. 

This does not mean, however that pupils should have the power to hire and fire.  There is a legal requirement for children to be consulted, and in schools this could mean pupils being involved in the recruitment process.  However, it is the governing body which has the final say.  This is how it should be, as these adults are responsible for making decisions about the management of the school and ensuring the well-being of their pupils.  And, it needs to be highlighted, the NASUWT is not opposed to ‘pupil voice’ but is opposed to it being used instead of adult decision making.  Pupils can be consulted, their feelings expressed, but, responsibility rests with adults.

It is not just pupils who draw on popular culture to frame their approach to recruiting teachers. Last year, Ambler Primary School in Islington ran an advert for a Deputy Head Teacher, they were looking for  “Someone who has the X-Factor and is a Superstar!”


[1] Bragg, Sara(2007) ”But I listen to children anyway!’—teacher perspectives on pupil voice’, Educational Action Research, 15: 4, 505 — 518

Scrapping SATs?

The debate over SATs intensified this week when the Conservatives announced that they would ‘scrap’ primary school SATs for 11 year olds.

At first glance this sounds like dramatic news, and a great victory for those who have long campaigned for the abolition of SATs.  However the announcement does not mean the end of testing.

In their place an incoming Conservative Government would instead introduce testing for pupils in Year 7 (the 1st year of secondary school) which would be assessed by teachers.

So, how has the Government,  teachers and their unions responded to these proposals?

Firstly the new Schools Minister, Vernon Coaker described the proposals as “half-baked”, and a “huge step backwards”. 

Why?

The main argument is that as a result of the SATs being taken in Year 7 this would remove accountability from primary schools.  This means it would not be possible to see how well an individual primary school had performed, this would also mean that parents would not know how well their local school was performing.  Politically this is particularly significant as SATs and League tables were introduced, by a Conservative Government partly to make schools accountable and so that parents could make ‘informed decisions’ when choosing a school for their child.

Continue reading “Scrapping SATs?”