National Curriculum Assessments – Key Stage 2

Today, the Department for Education published data on National Curriculum Assessments at Key Stage 2.  The data from these has  shown a drop in the number of schools falling below government targets.  As such, the DfE was was able to claim its “new tougher floor targets” had proved successful with the following statement:

“Higher floor standards driving up performance”

The logic being that higher targets will lead to higher standards.  At the same time as celebrating the success of England’s primary schools the Department for Education highlights those Local Authorities where relatively high proportions of schools have fewer than 60% of pupils achieving the expected level 4 at Key Stage 2. These schools face being converted into academies as part of the current government’s plan to transform ‘weak’ schools.   The optimistic rationale is that the “expertise and strong leadership” of an academy sponsor  gives pupils “the best chance of a first-class education”.   At this point it is worth reading Henry Stewart’s post for the Local Schools Network which provides some interesting counter analysis for such a claim, based on the data released today.

We also need to consider which pupils are doing better, and which pupils are not achieving expected levels:

  • Chinese pupils are most likely to achieve level 4 at Key Stage 2 in English and Maths
  • Children who are entitled to Free School Meals (FSM) are less likely than their peers to achieve level 4 or above at Key Stage 2
  • The size of this gap differs according to gender and ethnicity, with the gap between white and black boys on FSM and the national average of particular concern

Therefore, improvement is not uniform. The persistent differences in attainment between socio-economic groups suggests the ability of individual schools to transcend these inequalities is limited.  Can primary academies really do any better?

Summer Skirts for Boys

“And sometimes it takes a grown man a long time to learn, just what it would take a child a night to learn”  Billy Bragg – The Passion

Today the BBC ran this story.  Chris Whitehead, a pupil at Impington Village College attended school wearing a skirt.  His rationale?  The weather was hot, school rules ban the wearing of shorts in hot weather, but, crucially, not skirts.

Chris Whitehead’s decision therefore, was logical and consistent with the school’s uniform policy.   Of course, in protesting in this way the uniform policy of the school has been exposed as inconsistent.

The loophole in the school rules uncovered, he, appropriately came to school in a skirt.  He apparently got some teasing, but he appears not to mind.  The school, to its credit, praised the way Chris protested, and have decided to review their uniform policy.  Maybe the school will, after all, rectify its inconsistency.

Uniforms are used by schools to signify gender (amongst other functions).  Skirts are normally associated with femininity, as opposed to masculinity. Impington Village College probably felt it didn’t need to specify that only girls are expected to wear skirts.  This article of clothing, hitherto unquestionably female, has been questioned, by a 12-year-old boy. Well done Chris.

Impington Village College may choose to react by specifying a skirt length (for girls) reaching to just above their ankles, thereby scuppering any pupil’s desire to stay cooler in the summer.  However, lets hope they do the sensible thing and allow boys to wear shorts in the hot weather.

New term at Waterloo Road

The 7th series of Waterloo Road enables renewed opportunity to examine a popular construction of comprehensive schools. Waterloo Road is a stereotypical comprehensive; it is urban, it is working class, it is struggling to improve standards, pupil behaviour is unlikely to be graded outstanding, and a number of the teachers are portrayed as incompetent. Thus, it should be seen as undesirable, a place unsuited for educating the future generation. Yet, it is estimated that 4.91 million people tuned in to watch the first episode in the new series last Wednesday night [1]. There is clearly something attractive in the undesirable comprehensive school.

A pupil we had never seen before, Ali Redback,  left her newborn baby in the changing room.  Her decision to leave him in this location meant that someone was likely to find him, sooner, rather than later.  The baby’s chances of survival were also much greater having been left in a findable location[2].   As it turned out, the finder was the new site manager, Rob Scotcher.

In a departure with convention, the staff at Waterloo Road did appear to contact the emergency services, but it was the police, not a team of paramedics that arrived to take charge of the baby. When a pupil asked why the police were at the school, Eleanor Chaudry, the new English teacher offered the rationale that “a serious crime had been committed”.  She is, technically, correct (child abandonment is a criminal offence, however, in appeals at least, police tend to focus on the welfare of the mother rather than a potential prosecution[2]).

Thus, Eleanor Chaudry is constructed as a  character unsympathetic to the lives of the pupils she teaches.   We also know this because Tom Clarkson described his new colleague as “Maggie Bloody Thatcher” in reference to her right-wing political activities.  It is possible that this character was created with more than a passing reference to Katharine Birbalsingh, the author of To Miss with Love. Birbalsingh was enthusiastically received by the Conservative Party conference in 2010 because she ‘exposed’ the apparently failing comprehensive system. Katharine Birbalsingh is an experienced teacher, a former deputy head, and, whether you agree or disagree with her understanding and analyses of her teaching experiences she does appear to have genuine empathy with her (now former) pupils. Eleanor Choudry, judging by the comments she made in this first episode, does not.

Meanwhile, Head teacher, Karen Fisher, identified AIi as the mother of the newborn, and Kyle Stack came forward, believing himself to be the father.  Christopher Mead, who has not always demonstrated the highest standards in sexual politics, gave advice to Kyle on his sexual responsibilities. It is safe to assume that Mead is unlikely to be a fan of Nadine Dorries’ proposals identified in Sex Education (Required Content) Bill 2010-11.

Such curriculum content as recommended by Dorries would  have been inappropriately out of touch with the pupil’s reality in this case. It transpired that Kyle was not the father.  The biological parent, was, after all,  Ali’s stepfather, Callum.  Upon this revelation, Chris, committed an act which might have earned him respect among some.  He punched the paedophile stepfather square in the face, sending him to the ground.  Mead’s justification for this act was that people like Callum are monsters.  If only they were Chris, it would make them much easier to spot.

As ever, not much teaching went on.

Continue reading “New term at Waterloo Road”

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.

Department for Education

The Department for Education was formed on the 12th May.  It replaces the Department for Children’s’ Schools and Families (DCSF). 

The new website has been launched here.  At present it looks like the kind of website you find yourself on when you have typed in an incorrect address or an unregistered domain. The familiar rainbow logo has gone, along with the links to the DCSF YouTube site. 

This will all change.  For the time being, there is a photo of a multi-ethnic, mixed gender group of happy, smiling, primary school children (educated under a Labour Government), which is probably designed to reassure us that this new Government has all our children’s educational interests at heart.  The links to school performance tables remain, indicating that league tables are definitely here to stay.

The name change is likely to be significant too.  The keyword is education, which was  missing from the name of the previous department:  the Department for Children Schools and Families. 

By only including education in the government department’s title the new administration is signalling that this is what this new department is about, and, it may appeal to traditionalists.  However, the DCSF recognised that education is a part of a wider social context which impacts on the development of children, and so the name of this department reflected a political will to co-ordinate policies which impacted on the lives of young people, and their families. It was a recognition that policies aimed at improving educational standards, particularly of those who traditionally did not achieve their best cannot be isolated in schools.  The DCSF was designed to help achieve the aims of Every Child Matters  (the link and the information on here is likely to disappear, soon)Additionally, by placing children and families alongside schools, the last Labour Government was also responding to criticism that services for children, young people, and their families were not sufficiently co-ordinated.  For example, Lord Laming’s report into the death of Victoria Climbié. 

Still, according to an article in Children & Young People Now, Michael Gove promises “an exciting journey ahead”. 

Michael Gove, Schools, discipline, standards, and ties

Michael Gove is the new Minister for Schools.

What can we expect?  Well, he is keen on returning to traditional values in education.  This is a popularist term, but is rather vague, suggesting that anything in the past, specifically the Victorian age is good. Unfortunately many social ills were popular in the past, such as high infant mortality, child prostitution, the absence of a welfare state, no minimum wage, and so on.

Gove does get more specific.   School ties help raise standards (oh, and blazers).

Wearing a tie has brought Catherine Tate's Lauren educational success

Yes, he really does believe this.  In this article in the Daily Mail he is reported as saying:

“It is no coincidence that many of the best-performing state schools have proper school uniforms”

The conservatives carried out this ‘research’, looking at GCSE results and school uniform, and so claim this as evidence.  Their research findings did not, however isolate the key item of school uniform as some of the most successful schools did not have blazers. 

Most sociological research on educational attainment has left out school uniforms as a predictor of attainment, instead they have highlighted social class, ethnicity, and gender.  Inequalities in educational attainment are persistent,  even existing in traditional times,  however, maybe ties are indeed the solution.  I doubt it, however.

Gove also wants to restore discipline by using ex-soldiers in schools. However it is not sure whether these soldiers will need to have a minimum degree classification of a 2:2 before they are allowed to become teachers. The Conservatives have promised to raise the standard of teacher training by limiting entry to only those who achieve a minimum 2:2 degree.

Charley Junior’s Schooldays

This short film, Charley Junior’s Schooldays was made by John Halas and Joy Batchelor as a public information film in 1949.  It shows the story of Charley Junior, who, while he is not yet born, is keen to learn about the schools he will attend in the future.  The film is over 60 years old, and so, is clearly not news.  However it is a useful insight into the post war optimism surrounding the welfare state for anyone interested in the history of education in England and Wales.   The film can be seen as a response to the 1944, or ‘Butler Act’. It was this Act which introduced compulsory secondary education up to the age of 15, (the intention was to increase the school leaving age to 16).  The film describes the process of the 11+ exam determining whether a child went to a Grammar, Secondary Modern, or Technical School, though some LEAs chose not to follow this route.

It was, as this film suggests, much more than that.  While Butler, the Minister responsible for the Act was a Conservative, and the Act passed in 1944 prior to the Labour landslide victory of 1945, the Labour Government developed the provisions of the Act as part of its wider collectivist and comprehensive agenda of social welfare.

There are clear references to education being important to socialisation, Charley Junior is told that, for the first few years of his life, his parents will teach him everything he needs to know about the world.  This could have come straight from Emile Durkheim or Talcott Parsons!

The ‘tripartite’ system tends to dominate accounts of the 1944 Act (though the Act never legislated for this system), but here we can see that other educational provision was considered important.  Charley Junior is shown his nursery school and his junior school.  These schools didn’t just drop from the sky. As the film explains all this provisions required the training of teachers  (70, 000 new teachers needed to be trained to meet the needs of post war welfare reforms), the building of schools and supplies of equipment.  Another 600, 000 school places needed to be created, partly due to the raising of the school-leaving age, but also because of the increased birth rate following the end of the war.

The role of government is highlighted too. The Ministry of Education was shown to be of extreme importance, it wasn’t there just to make sure children were taught certain subjects, but it was there to ensure that children had access to health and social care, and that they were provided with a healthy meal.  Regulation and ‘bureaucracy’ were there for a reason.   As I’ve said in a previous post, when you deregulate, you get Turkey Twizzlers on school’s dinner menus.

There are some interesting gender stereotypes shown, with the girls in the Secondary Modern School ironing!  The tripartite (in reality, a bipartite) system presented as natural in this film soon became problematic. Despite these, the film presents a feeling of optimism, that, through collectivity, children will be well educated, that schools will take care of, and nurtue children, and, importantly, that children will have a better start in life than their parents did. In short, it is radical.

GCSE attainment by pupil characteristics

Today the DCSF published statistics on GCSE attainment by pupil characteristics for 2008-09. It breaks down GCSE results according to gender, ethnicity, free school meal (FSM) entitlement, special educational needs (SEN) and English as a first language.

In summary it shows that girls are outperforming boys though the gap between them is narrowing. The figures show that Chinese pupils continue to outperform pupils from other ethnic backgrounds.

The figures also reveal that deprivation continues to shape educational attainment, with pupils who receive free school meals far less likely to achieve 5 or more A*-C grades at GCSE than their peers who do not receive free school meals.  However the gap between the two has shrunk on previous years, albeit by 0.6% .

However, as today’s Guardian announces a new gap has emerged, between rural poor pupils and better off pupils from urban areas.  The funding formula may be partly responsible, providing extra resources to schools in urban areas on the basis of deprivation, allowing these schools to provide one to one tuition and study sessions in school holidays.

The Statistical First Release which summarises the figures is available from the DCSF.

Statistics on pupil attainment at small area level

Today the DCSF announced the release of small area,  National Curriculum Assessment GCSE and Equivalent Attainment and Post 16 Attainment by Pupil Characteristics in England, 2008.   This means that  you can use the National Statistics’ neighbourhood statistics service to examine educational attainment for local geographic areas.  The statistics reveal patterns of attainment – for example a relationship between gender and attainment.  However by looking at this data for small areas (areas smaller than local authority areas) it is possible to see that differences between genders is not the same in all areas of England.  In some areas the gender gap is widening while in other areas in is narrowing.

These figures provide useful evidence for differences in educational attainment which are aligned with existing inequalities in society.   The DCSF reports that more data will be added soon, to include Free School Meal eligibility and pupil ethnicity.  Accompanying the release of the data is the following Map of Key Stage 2 Average Point Score by Local Authority District of school location, 2008.  This shows that the average point score of a pupil differs according to the area in which the pupil’s school is located.  Again it is interesting to consider how these differences are related to the social characteristics of these areas.