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.

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More pupils on free school meals

A Statistical First Release (SFR), produced by National Statistics was published this week by the new Department for Education.  It provides statistical information on schools and pupils and their characteristics, including numbers of  pupils, class sizes, pupils with SEN, with English as an Additional Language, Ethnicity, and the numbers eligible for free school meals.

The statistics in this SFR are derived from a Census of all maintained schools in England, taken in January this year.  In terms of free school meals, the figures show that 1.2 million children are eligible, an increase of approximately 83,000 since 2009.

In primary schools, 18.5 % of pupils are known to be eligible for free school meals, compared with 17.1% in 2009.  In secondary schools, 15.4% are known to be eligible, compared with 14.5% last year.

This year’s rise in eligibility follows on from last year’s rise, and, is likely to be a symptom of the current economic climate.  However, for primary schools, at least, it is difficult to make direct comparisons with the 2009 figures because of a free school meals pilot operating in the following LEAs:

  • Durham
  • Newham
  • Wolverhampton

In these authorities, extended or universal free school meals are being provided to pupils in maintained primary schools.  This immediately changes the eligibility criteria: more, and in some cases, all primary school pupils are eligible.  A similar scheme is planned to start in parts of Cumbria, later this year.

The pilot figures are, however likely to explain only a proportion of the increase in eligibility.  Income inequality and child poverty are important factors. With cuts in public services expected, these children will suffer the most.

The release of these figures has not received much media attention amidst coverage of the post-election coalition formation and abolition of the DCSF.  The Independent reports on the figures, and a virtually identical article can be found in the Telegraph.  Meanwhile the Daily Express chose to focus on the issue of English as an Additional Language, and in doing so managed to conflate English as an Additional Language with not being able to speak English properly. The two are not the same.  It is true that free school meal data was not the only information reported in this SFR.  However, the relative neglect of free school meals, and the decision by some sections of the press to, inaccurately report on figures of non native English speakers  is worrying. The press is setting the agenda, focusing on ethnicity, fueling fears over immigration, while ignoring the important issue of child poverty.

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Washing-up the Education Bill

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a General Election for May 6th.  This means Parliament needs to be dissolved, and therefore the business that Parliament was going to consider between now and May 6th either gets abandoned, or ‘washed-up’, in other words rushed through Parliament.

The Children, School and Families Bill, sometimes referred to as the Education Bill was washed-up yesterday.  However, in order for the bill to get passed a number of amendments have had to be made.  This was because the bill could not get passed without approval, opposition parties, particularly the Conservatives would only give their approval to the bill if a number of elements were removed.  The following provisions will no longer be included:

  • The Pupil and Parent Guarantees – which guarantee core rights and entitlements for pupils and parents, including catch-up lessons, 1-2-1 tuition and small group support for pupils needing extra support.
  • Home School Agreements – the Bill strengthens Home School Agreements, making them more personalised for each pupil, and new and stronger powers to enforce parents’ responsibilities in supporting the school in maintaining good behaviour including the possibility of a court-imposed parenting order.
  • Reform of the primary curriculum – the reforms to the primary curriculum, following Sir Jim Rose’s extensive expert review, provide greater flexibility for schools to tailor teaching to the needs and interests of their children while also focusing on the basics of literacy, numeracy and ICT.
  • Introduction of compulsory Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) education – the PSHE provisions ensure that all children receive at least one year of compulsory sex and relationship education (SRE) by making PSHE compulsory, and lowering the age at which parents can withdraw their children from PSHE from 19 to 15 years old. Legal advice to the Secretary of State was that increasing the age of the PSHE opt-out to 16 would have made the bill non-compliant with the ECHR.
  • The new Licence to Practise for teachers – this licence, accompanied by a contractual entitlement to continuing professional development, will establish the professional standing of the workforce and provide teachers with the status they deserve.
  • Registration and monitoring of home education – following Graham Badman’s independent report into home education, these provisions put in place a valuable tool for local authorities in their work to safeguard all children.
  • School Improvement Partners (SIPs) – the powers of SIPs will be updated so headteachers receive peer support, and challenge.
  • Data for the school report card – the new school report card gives fairer and more accurate accountability for schools and gives parents even more information about the schools their children attend.
  • Schools eligible for intervention and schools causing concern – the Bill strengthens local authority powers to intervene in schools causing concern, and more powers for the Secretary of State to intervene where improvement is not good enough.
  • Youth Offending Teams – the Bill gives powers for the Secretary of State to intervene where an inspection or other evidence reveals a significant failing in a Youth Offending Team (YOT) which may be putting young people or the wider community at risk.
  • Parental satisfaction surveys – this duty on local authorities would require them proactively to seek parents’ views on the range and quality of secondary school places in their area and then act on their responses.

There are, therefore a number of key, and high-profile measures which will not now become law.  The recommendations arising from the Rose Review of the primary school curriculum, for one.  This was high-profile, and certainly controversial, but it did suggest that the primary school curriculum was going to change significantly.

Members of the current Government have attacked members of the opposition for their opposition to the intensive catch-up provision, and their refusal to back compulsory sex education for pupils aged 15 and over. 

Under the intensive catch-up, £169 million had been allocated, over the next three years to provide one-to-one tuition in maths and writing  for pupils who had not met expected targets at key stage 2.  Given that these basic skills are not only identified as essential, but are also a hot political issue, it might seem odd that the Conservatives have opposed this measure.  They are, after all keen to criticise Labour when children fail to meet expected standards in English and Maths. 

The Conservatives have argued that catch-up should be left to the discretion of head teachers, in other words ensuring that pupils meet minimum standards in English and Maths is not something that the Government should concern itself with, especially if it is going to cost £169 million.

Compulsory PSHE (Personal, social and health education) for pupils aged 15 and above has been dropped, this has disappointed several young people’s charities.  This element would also have seen PSHE on the curriculum from the age of 5 (though with parents having the right to withdraw their child). 

The plans to register home educators has been dropped, and although this may please home educators who feared interference it also, potentially puts some children and families at risk in cases where they not being educated appropriately.

A planned licence to practice for teachers has also gone.  This would have required teachers to engage in professional development and maintain their skills.  While the existence of schools full of  ‘bad’ teachers may be a media fuelled myth, this may have been one way of attempting to ensure that teachers remained skilled and competent.

The Conservatives opposed these measures, they claimed, because of the increased bureaucracy that is would bring, preferring de-regulation.  But, whether it is called bureaucracy or red tape, legislation serves to regulate, often for very good reasons.  Ideologies of individualism, which the Conservatives subscribe to are opposed to ‘red tape’ because it limits an individual’s freedom, and because it costs.  Other, collectivist ideologies argue that regulation is needed, precisely to limit an individual’s freedom, but for the collective good of society. 

However, one form of regulation, if not centralisation may remain, these are proposals which will allow Local Authorities and the Schools’ secretary to intervene where a school is failing to meet standards.  The Conservatives in the House of Lords may support this measure.  Strange, considering that when in Government they were keen to free up schools from Local Authority control.

Secondary School Admissions

The publication this week, Secondary school admissions in England: Admission Forums, local authorities and schools by the LSE has brought into question the fairness of school admissions.  The report, written by  Philip Noden and Anne West from the LSE’s Education Research Group is actually the 2nd of two reports  undertaken on behalf of Research and Information on State Education (RISE) looking at school admissions.  While this latest report examines the role of Local Education Authorities and, importantly the role of  School Admissions Forums  (bodies set up to advise LEAs on school admission arrangements taking a particular interest in looked after children and pupils with special educational needs ) it is the non compliance of some schools with admissions code that has captured the attention of recent news reports. 

Headlines have included Schools ‘trying to steal pupils’  from the BBC, and from the Guardian; Schools use dirty tricks to attract best pupils. These dramatic headlines refer to some of the practices reported by the LSE researchers.  These included a school which altered its admission policy with the effect that children living on a social housing estate now had a much reduced chance of being admitted to the secondary school whose catchment area previously included their neighbourhood.  Some schools required parents to complete supplementary information forms, against the Admissions Code. Other schools which were undersubscribed  contacted parents to encourage them to reject their offer from a more popular, oversubscribed school.  In the case of another school it used proximity as a measure on which to allocate offers.  However it did not use the proximity of the child’s address to the school as a criteria which would have been logical. Instead it altered its admissions policy, ranking applicants according to their proximity to a building half a mile away from the school.  Even this admissions policy did not break the Admissions Code and the LEA had not objected to this change in policy.

The findings in the RISE report, aren’t, in fact news, and they are not surprising in the context of a quasi market in education fuelled by the A*-C economy.  In 2004 researchers from, again from the LSE, including Anne West , co-author of the RISE report published research observing the admissions practices of secondary schools in England.  Their analysis revealed that Voluntary Aided and Foundation schools in particular (who have responsibility for their own admissions) adopted criteria which included some groups of pupils while excluding others.  While admissions criteria are designed to do just that the concern is that schools are selecting pupils who are likely to maintain or enhance the school’s rating in league tables, and thus ensuring the school remains a popular choice among potential parents.  In this study, (published in the Oxford Review of Education) West along with fellow researchers Audrey Hind and Hazel Pennell, observed a range of admission criteria, several of which were inconsistent with local Admissions Codes, including some which they termed “idiosyncratic”, “not clear, objective or fair” (p. 359) and  which included, for example admission on the basis of the good conduct of an older sibling.  They concluded that schools which controlled their own admissions criteria were in an advantageous position in the quasi market of education.  This means that these schools in particular are able to cream off the best pupils; often those from middle class backgrounds, while not selecting those from more deprived neighbourhoods and those more likely to be excluded from school.  From a sociological perspective it is possible to see this as an example of the ways in which the education system is implicated in the reproduction of socio-economic inequalities, challenging the common-sense view that education is a route out of poverty.