Posted by Site Administrator at 22/05/2012 13:02:34
In preparing May/June’s Leadership Focus magazine for you, one thing that caught my eye was Russell Hobby’s assertion that during his time as General Secretary of the NAHT there had been one lesson more ‘hard-earned’ than all the others.
It wasn’t to do with negotiating with Government ministers, nor what to do or say on television or radio – it was that the NAHT hasn’t been talking to the right people. It’s surprising because the Association is always talking to ministers, civil servants and school leaders.
Yet he tells LF: “We’re talking to the wrong people. It’s the hardest lesson I have learned over the past 18 months.”
He suggests that the NAHT’s target ‘must be public opinion’.
“We need to blow our own trumpet and talk about the massive achievements we have made. If we start listening to parents about what they want, and talking to them about what we can do, we could make a formidable team.”
He explains that this move is necessary to combat the criticism faced by schools and the people who work in them.
So, for all the conversations with ministers and the lobbying that takes place across the country, it’s at grass roots level and with the ordinary members that the onus now appears to lie.
It’s not going to be easy either. The recent NAHT Annual Conference in Harrogate generated a lot of media coverage - not least when it came to Ofsted and the actions of its ex-head teacher leader, HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw – and public opinion isn’t necessarily where we’d want it to be.
A snapshot can be gauged by reading the 466 comments* posted on the BBC website story “Heads attack chief inspector’s ‘bully-boy tactics’”, which was based around the emergency motion presented at Conference that expressed ‘sadness and dismay’ at Ofsted policies (such as no-notice inspections).
As you might expect, views are polarised on the BBC page, with a creditable number of people making the NAHT case. However, it’s important to know what the opposition will throw at you if you are going to counter it - so here are five typical comments that offer the opposing view:
“How arrogant of head teachers to call into question the usefulness of inspections. Any manager dislikes external inspections because it potentially questions their competence - but tough.
If head teachers/unions dislike OFSTED then frankly they are doing their job properly.”
“Only in the public sector could you justify retiring eight years before the rest of the population, having inspections only when you know about them, and not being sacked for being a poor teacher. Not to mention 13 weeks holidays. It’s all about the £ and not the kids.”
“What an arrogant lot this lot are! Can we call for a motion of no confidence in the teaching profession seeing that hundreds of thousands are leaving school without basic reading/maths?”
“Get real! I normally fight the corner for teachers but this is beyond reasonable. Almost every profession that has a regulatory body is under the looming threat of unannounced visits. What's the point in giving schools 48 hours to prepare a facade and charade?”
“I am a teacher and I fully support unannounced inspections - It would stop all the games heads play to tick boxes - borrowing teachers from other schools, cancelling school trips, making sure disruptive pupils don't come in. Also it would stop teachers spending all night trying to plan the perfect lesson that ticks all the Ofsted boxes which cannot be done day in day out.”
It doesn’t make for easy reading, but it can all be countered. It’s also interesting to note that in a separate article in the next LF, the Association’s Head of Research and Policy Development Lesley Gannon says: “When arguments are played out in the media, and so much depends on winning public opinion, it becomes something of a ‘numbers game’.”
So I would urge school leaders to check out the comments sections on the main news sites - if you see a story about education and school leaders - add your own comment to it. Set the record straight. Public opinion is increasingly shaped online and it’s important that the public have all the facts at their fingertips. It’s a hard lesson, but one we need to heed.
* The BBC story is now closed to comments - but do look out for new ones.
Posted by Site Administrator at 09/03/2012 14:09:09
Future criminals ‘can be spotted at the age of two’, or at least that's what was reported by the Daily Telegraph on May 8 (http://tgr.ph/zlnB9D).
The story came from the findings of the Government's behaviour Tsar, Charlie Taylor, who has apparently said that nurseries should identify toddlers showing early signs of aggression and crack down on bad behaviour by marking them out for specialist tuition
Oh no! As the father of an 18-month old boy, I'm now going to spend the next six months worrying. Arthur bit me yesterday, and smacked me round the head the day before.
Granted, he's been a bit poorly, but if having a cough and a cold prompts that kind of aggressive response, what's he going to be like with a steaming hangover at 18? He'll be mugging grannies and dealing heroin before I know it.
But hang on, nurseries should identify miscreants among their collections of toddlers? I don't know about you, but I'll be eternally grateful to our nursery (hello Trafalgar, if you're reading this) for teaching Arthur such life skills as how to dance, do high fives and to eat with a spoon. Especially the latter. I really don't think that two year olds in nurseries are the ones most at risk here.
Chances are that – for now at least – if parents have a two-year old in nursery, they're reasonably well off (at £70 a day, you need to be) and their children are being looked after admirably. They'll be developing good manners, being educated and having fun in a safe environment.
To my mind, the ones most at risk (and always will be) are the children who don't go to nursery, arrive at school never having seen a book, can't eat with a knife and fork and still wear a nappy. Perhaps this will change next year when 40 per cent of two year olds from disadvantaged families are given 15 hours a week of free 'early education' for 38 weeks a year. Maybe then nurseries can assess them for signs of aggression. Or is that just succumbing to stereotypes about lower-income families.
It could just be the Telegraph's spin on the story, but putting the responsibility onto nurseries rather than parents; and criticising PRUs for being 'shoddy', seems to me to be just another example of the Government preferring to smack schools around the head rather than do anything that might upset parents.
Schools are an easy target after all, they don't vote. As such, you could argue that it's classic bullying behaviour. And how old is this Government now? A quick check on Google tells me that it'll be two years old on May 10.
I really hope that Charlie Taylor has his eye on David Cameron. He looks like trouble to me.
Posted by Site Administrator at 06/03/2012 09:00:19
Mick Brookes, the former General Secretary of the NAHT, used to tell a tale about Billy, a young lad at his primary school in Nottinghamshire.
One day Billy stopped to puzzle over the answer to a question on a test.
“A teacher is taking her class for a picnic, and so she packs 45 sandwiches. Each child is entitled to three sandwiches, but how many bananas should she take to ensure they have one each?”
Clearly, it’s a test to see if the children can work out that they need to divide 45 by 3. Not that tricky, really.
But Billy answered 17. No points for that one.
Yet his teacher knew that he was perfectly capable of dividing 45 by three, and when she quizzed him about it afterwards, he replied: “Well, you know what bananas are like, they get squashed quite easily. So I thought it was safer to take a couple of spares.”
He’s clearly a boy who should go far. But with no marks available for that kind of creative thinking, would he actually be rewarded for showing initiative? Not with a strict marking criteria. He’d be more likely to end up in the bottom set for maths and destined for unpaid work experience at Tesco.
Mick’s [possibly apocryphal] anecdote seems timely for a number of reasons.
Leaving aside the bigger picture of how schools and school leaders are judged on a narrow set of criteria and box-ticking by Ofsted, this week has seen the launch of a new charity to champion better maths skills (nationalnumeracy.org.uk).
National Numeracy’s chairman, Chris Humphries, a former chief executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, has been quoted as saying: "It is simply inexcusable for anyone to say 'I can't do maths'. It is a peculiarly British disease which we aim to eradicate.”
He elaborates by saying: “That point came home to me in 2010 when I was in Singapore for an education conference. Almost 95 per cent of its school leavers get the equivalent of a decent GCSE pass in maths. Here, the figure is nearer 60 per cent. And the benefit is there for all to see. Singapore is strong in electronics, IT, advanced engineering, research and development.”
Then, there are the comments by current NAHT General Secretary Russell Hobby this week in which he welcomed criticisms of accountability measures that encourage schools to treat pupils as statistics, not individuals.
He said: “All crude quantitative measures, used in isolation, distort behaviour and eventually defeat what they sought to measure in the first place. The higher the stakes, the sooner this happens. School progress needs to be monitored and assessed – no one would dispute that. But it’s how we do this in a way that supports what is best for pupils, rather than fuelling simplistic statements that is important.”
And, finally, there’s the emergence this week of funnyexam.com into the mainstream consciousness. The website features examples of ‘comic’ responses to questions posed in tests and exams.
I’ll leave the ethical question of whether such sites should exist or not for another time, but it does throw up many examples of children who, while clearly intelligent, score 0 on tests.
First is the one who was asked how you change centimetres to metres?
“You take out ‘centi’.”
And also the one asked to “briefly explain what hard water is.”
Their answer? “Ice.”
One solution to the problem of factually correct but non-scoring answers is to teach children how to pass tests. Spend time explaining what questions actually want from them, and what will earn them a pass and you should be rewarded with higher test scores.
But surely a better long-term solution is to put less reliance on narrow/crude measures and to incorporate some form of teacher assessment, as this will add so much more value to the statistics.
It should also lead to less frustration and disengagement among students. And a quick look at funnyexam.com is all it takes to see how disengaged students will vent their frustration with tests…
Posted by Site Administrator at 20/01/2012 09:23:33
The assertion that ‘history is written by the victors’ appears to have been proved this month in Libya.
The country’s schools had been shut for the entire Autumn 2011 term due to the civil war but, following the toppling of General Gaddafi, some 1.2 million children returned to their desks earlier this month (January).
There were a few changes for them to take in. Classroom walls were missing the formerly compulsory portrait of their toppled leader, their main text books were no longer the three volumes of Gadaffi’s Green Book, and there was also a pruned back curriculum.
Gone were two entire subject areas. “The subjects of political awareness and community studies have been cancelled,” the minister of education, Suliman Ali al-Saheli told the press, before adding that they have some ideas for substitute subjects but these are still being pondered.
He then told them that: “the history subject has been cancelled and replaced by a new one put together by experts in this area to give us a real history.”
A ‘real history’? That’ll be the day. Unfortunately history isn’t an exact science. It’s not even an inexact one. It’s far too subjective and all too often based on guesswork, assumptions and fragments of evidence. Just how easy it is to manipulate can be seen from those who deny the holocaust ever took place. It’s still within living memory for many, there’s a wealth of evidence, yet it is being denied and many people actually believe that it never happened.
So what will the new Libyan history syllabus make of Gadaffi? Will he be painted as a murdering tyrant? Will he be wiped out completely as if he never existed? Or, arguably most unlikely, will he be regarded as a ‘freedom fighter’ for overthrowing the monarchy in a bloodless coup, as he did in 1969? All three options are possible.
However, reports that Michael Gove has been called in to advise the Libyans on their history syllabus appear to be unfounded. Although it appears that he is still keen to re-write the British GCSE syllabus. The Education Secretary wants us to ‘celebrate the distinguished role of these islands in the history of the world and portray Britain as a beacon of liberty for others to emulate’.
Apparently he’s aggrieved that the current syllabus is too focused on the rise of Nazi Germany and the development of the Amercian ‘wild’ west – albeit these are events that played a massive role in shaping the Europe that we live in today; and also the USA that we follow so slavishly.
Mr Gove said last year that history should: "give people the chance to be proud of our past and, in particular, proud of the heroes and heroines that fought for freedom over time. And that doesn't mean airbrushing out times when horrific things have been done."
And, as Mr Gove’s party won the last general election, who’s to say he can’t write whatever history he likes?
Posted by Site Administrator at 15/12/2011 11:22:13
According to research from the National Literacy Trust, there are now almost four million children in the UK who do not own a book, which works out at roughly one in three. Seven years ago it was one in 10, so it’s a massive decline.
Should we be worried? The obvious answer is yes.
The report shows that the number of books in the home is directly linked to children’s reading levels: more books = better readers.
The Trust’s research also reveals that:
43% of boys say they enjoy reading, compared with 58% of girls
19% of boys say they only read in class, while just 11% of girls agree with this statement
24% of boys think reading is boring, compared with 13% of girls
45% of girls like going to the library, while only 35% of boys do
But perhaps the decline in book-reading isn’t quite as bad as it appears on the surface, although I’ll be the first to admit that it does look quite troubling. Even so, books are very much ‘last century’. Everything is digital now - just like film has disappeared for cameras, and vinyl for music, so paper is on the way out. We really shouldn’t be surprised that children don’t own physical books any more.
My wife owns a Kindle and while I [a book enthusiast] find it soulless and aesthetically devoid of any kind of appeal with its dull greyness and Victorian screen saver, she loves it. And this is despite our one-year-old vomiting all over it [that’s my boy] and ruining the integrated light that was housed in its lime-green cover.
If the Kindle had a bit more character or style in its appearance I might be converted to its undoubted practicality. But it doesn’t, so I’m not. However, while I still buy books and lug them into work in the hope I might get 15 minutes to read them on the train, she has her dinky little e-book thing, and carries hundreds of ‘books’ around with her as if she were Hercules.
I suspect that if you ask her in a year’s time if she owns any books, the answer will probably be ‘no’, yet she will still be an avid reader. Our son, incidentally, has lots of books. Currently, he prefers to eat them than to read, but we hope that situation will change with the passing months.
Yet somehow, I suspect it may not. He is fascinated by our mobiles, laptops and Kindle and much more likely to read on screen. Books may not be able to hold his attention.
It’s because ‘once upon a time’, as most children’s books used to start [and by the way, what a meaningless statement this is – how can anything be ‘upon a time’?] there were few other ways of conveying stories and providing knowledge, entertainment and escapism. Not to mention keeping children quiet for a few hours. But now there are hundreds of means: TV, video, DVD, computer games, websites, movies and so on.
The change can already be seen in our schools. Don’t forget that there’s a primary school in Bolton where all the students have been given iPods and if nothing else convinces schools to ditch printed books, then the economic argument – the cost of buying text books versus the download costs – will eventually win the day.
I think it’s a shame, but we’re fast approaching a time when we may not actually need books to foster reading any more.