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Under new management

Last year, when we decided that we wished to step down as editors of Labour Teachers, we were keen that the site should continue: as a discussion space for Labour-supporting teachers (and those who want to talk to them) that operated without policy motions and activist-centred conferences, we believed and continue to believe the site has something to offer to the process of debating education within the Labour Party and amongst teachers. In an age in which social media has become increasingly important in the wider political discussion of schools policy, Labour Teachers retains significant potential to build support for Labour amongst educators as well as challenging and shaping the consensus on education within the party.

For that reason, we are delighted to say that prominent education blogger Old Andrew has agreed to take on the mantle of Editor of Labour Teachers. Andrew has a long pedigree in education blogging: his Scenes From The Battleground is required reading for anyone interested in the education debate, from the Secretary of State on down. He is a powerful and passionate advocate for traditional ideas of teaching in education, but has always made clear his commitment is drawn from his own left-wing beliefs. As a member of the Labour Party and the NUT, Andrew is well-placed to share and examine ideas for education emanating from the labour movement.

But more than just sharing his own ideas, Andrew has shown a consistent commitment to amplifying the voice of other teachers on social media (including many with whom he has crossed Tweeted swords) via the Education Echo Chamber blog (and it’s even more comprehensive “Uncut” sibling) and his creation and curation of the most definitive lists of UK education bloggers available. Andrew has also written for Schools Week, highlighting excellent education blogging. As we have always been, Andrew is committed to offering a platform to the diversity of views on education, and under his editorship, Labour Teachers will continue to seek out differing perspectives from the chalkface amongst Labour supporters.

We will both continue to be involved with Labour Teachers, writing and helping out in other ways, but as we approach what may be a defining election for Labour, now is an excellent time for a new editor to take charge.

Andrew’s combination of firm Labour values, well-considered policy positions and desire for intense but open debate makes him the ideal person to take Labour Teachers forward, and we both wish him well.

John Blake & John Taylor
Editors of Labour Teachers 2011-2015 

Labour Teachers: Time for a change

It has now been nearly three years since Labour Teachers was established to explore ways of putting working Labour-supporting teachers in touch with policy-makers to create a  positive dialogue to defend and build on Labour’s excellent record in education. Since then, we’ve worked closely with all Labour’s Shadow Secretaries of State for Education: Andy Burnham, Stephen Twigg and Tristram Hunt.
We’ve hosted policy events for teachers at Labour Party Conferences, including the hugely-successful Labour TeachMeet (and we’re currently putting together another for this coming September). We’ve run a blog which has garnered contributions from a whole range of members of the Labour family: MPs, school leaders, think-tankers and teachers in primary and secondary.
Throughout that time, we have edited the site and run its events in a spirit of open, positive discussion, aimed at ensuring a diversity of views are shared. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved, but the time has come for new people to take control. Both of us are moving on in our careers and neither of us ever intended to edit Labour Teachers forever.
For that reason, we’d really like to hear from people in Labour with a strong interest in education and teaching who would like to take on the role of editor or joint editors after the Party Conference at the end of September. We’d like to pass the site on to people with the same commitment to a strong Labour education policy built on hearing a plurality of Labour voices. We’d like someone who is happy building up links with teachers and policy-makers within and outside of Labour and who wants to make a really positive contribution to Labour’s education policy debate.
If you would like to take on that role (bearing in mind that it is an unpaid position!), please contact editors@labourteachers.org.uk, outlining how you’d like to take Labour Teachers forward and what skills you have that you think would allow you to do that.
Please send in your application by Thursday 11 September, and please do contact editors@labourteachers.org.uk if you’d like any more details.
John Blake and John Taylor, co-editors of Labour Teachers

Gove and the English Literature GCSE

This is a cross-post from Michael Merrick’s blog.
They say that a lie is halfway around the world before the truth has even got its boots on. That was before the internet came along. Now it can spin a whole web before anybody notices that something is not quite right. Which happened today, as a whole army of teachers lined up to denounce Gove for issuing an outright ban on anything written by Johnny Foreigner from being taught in our schools. Or insisting all children recite Dickens by heart. Or something like that. Anyway, whatever the details (and please, don’t bother me with such things), the general consensus is that Gove has been really bad and has re-written the English curriculum, by hand and to the tune of Rule Britannia, and we’re All Really Angry about it.
Of course what has actually been said, and what will eventually be proposed, is irrelevant. The very suggestion of change is enough for some to dust off their favourite sanctimony-pants and take to the Twitter dancefloor, strutting along issuing poignant comment about the day they communed with the noumenon whilst reading Of Mice and Men back in their Year 10 English class. No other book, it seems, can offer this. And even if it could it wouldn’t be as good ‘cos, y’know, yeah. Thus to propose any sort of change is not just callous, but a spiritual violence: the Child Catcher has nothing on old Gove.
And that’s just the tamer end of the Outraged spectrum. Gove the racist? Yep. Imperialist? Yep. Xenophobe? Yep. Mysogynist? Why, of course. The whole stinking, steaming, rotting dung-heap has been aimed at him. For many, this is not a debate about what literary treasures should be passed on to our children, but a simple battle between Good and Evil, between the Enlightened Elect and Gradgrind Gove, with his uneducated obsession with Dead, White Males.  That’s all there is to it. Argument over. Go back to your homes.
There are some chinks in the armour, mind. The Crusaders for Literary Diversity seem remarkably comfortable with the fact that, according to OCR, around 90% of school kids have all read the same text for their exams. Nor the fact that, looking at the guidance issued to date, there is nothing whatsoever to say foreign literature is banned, nor to suggest that it needs to be. But hey, why let reality get in the way of spittle-flecked anger? I’m outraged, goddammit, and the world shall know of it. Reason has no home here. Instead, those who swing the Sword of EduJustice have worked one another into an orgy of righteous indignation , using the #GetGoveReading premium rate hashtag as a kind of speed-dating service for the self-evidently superior. Calvin’s Elect does Take Me Out, digitised.
The real root of the issue – that kids should be given the opportunity in school to read a broader range of texts, and most don’t get the opportunity to do so – has been crushed by the weight of a thousand slurs about the moral and intellectual deficiencies of He Who Rocked The Boat. If this really were about the kids, and not Gove, they might find some sympathy with his remarks. After all, if most children leave our schools never having read a classic novel from the 19th century, why is that to be celebrated?  If few children have had the opportunity to engage with the literary fruits of the culture in which they are being formed, then why not question how that should be?  I once wrote that it is a tragedy that too often we deny our children access to high culture because of the hang-ups of their teachers. One or two folk pulled me up on that. I feel increased resolve to insist on it today.
And so we find ourselves in the curious position of being angry about teaching things to children that the parents of those children might deem broadly worthwhile and desirable. And by and large they would not understand the resentment of teachers that this should be so. I’m sure I don’t take too much of a risk in confidently predicting that few parents will write into school demanding an explanation for why little Joan has taken to pulling Gaskell off the shelf.
In other words, we don’t seem to be on the side of their kids. And that’s fairly fundamental.
Take a bow, everybody. Good job.

Could the middle tier look like this?

This is a cross-post from Matthew Hood’s blog.

Yesterday Laura and I outlined the differences between Labour’s Director of School Standards and the Coalition’s Regional School Commissioners – both of which are solutions to The Big Middle Tier Problem (or “who should watch over schools to make sure they aren’t rubbish?”). Today we promised to reveal what we had been trying to persuade people ought to be the middle.

Sadly, the solutions presented by both sides so far fudge the real issues of a missing middle tier because they are based on beliefs about each side thinks ought solve the problem, rather than based on the actual problems.  Hence, the Coalition’s approach reflects its dislike of local authorities, with RSCs basically ignoring them and local authorities frozen out of running schools, place planning, etc.  Labour’s vision shows their preference for bringing local authorities but then blurs some lines of independence and what a Director of School Standards is (are they just local authorities over bigger areas?!).

So let’s step back why do we need commissioners in the first place?

We need because someone needs to:

  • Decide if new schools should open or existing ones expand
  • Broker support if a school is in need of intervention (because of financial, teaching, leadership problems, etc).
  • Change the management of a school if its performance has taken a turn for the worse
  • Close a school where there are performance or falling roll issues

Local authorities could do this but if you are both the person responsible for a school, and its improvement, and calling it quits – that’s a conflict of interest. Also, not every local authority needs to do these things. Some have only a few schools and are quite limited in what they can do. And, finally, academies have an agreement that says they don’t need to listen to local authorities.

However, there are some things local authorities can do really well:

  • Run schools. Some LAs are brilliant at this. They offer helpful services at a reasonable price and support their schools as well as even the top academy chains.
  • Know the demography of the area – what is the likely place demand, what are the available areas of land for building on, etc.
  • Co-ordinate provision from other parts of the authority, e.g. transport, health services, etc.

Hence, after Laura sent me her picture (genuinely scribbled on paper) we spent a few more weeks hammering it out until we got to this diagram. I get that it looks a bit mad and is hard to see on here, but if you’re interested it’s worth downloading to look at further. Otherwise, skip down to read “the essential outline”

The Essentials

1.Local authorities would continue running their schools as arms-length ‘local authority trusts’. Labour also seem to agree with this and call them Community Trusts. But under our model, however, it wouldn’t be optional. If the LA wants to carry on running schools it would create the trust (much like happened with social housing trusts in the past) and be done with it. If they don’t want to be a trust, they need to find someone else to take the schools.

2. Regional School Commissioners would be appointed by the Department for Education and be responsible for the opening, monitoring and closing/transferring of all schools. We are sticking with a DfE appointment as we think independence is vital. We would get rid of HTBs because they compromise the independence.

3. RSCs would take annual submissions from the LEA on place-planning need in the area. This which then be used to grant academy extensions and/or new schools.

4. RSCs will use Ofsted, performance data and annual accounts to monitor schools. RSCs can issue pre-warning notices.

5. If a school is in trouble, a six-month target is given for improvement by the RSC with a range of options for support offered by other chains/schools etc (remember: LA ‘trusts’ can offer services too).

6. After six months, if improvement is unacceptable the RSC brokers a chain transfer. The new chain is given two years to improve the school.

7. After two years if the school has not sufficiently improved then steps will be taken to merge the school with a more successful one, or to wind down its operations by no longer accepting new pupils into the school. A new school provider will be found to operate a school for the new intake.

8. Local authorities retain ‘strategic’ oversight and can feed information to RSCs for opening, monitoring and closing. On admissions, transport and other social services the LA has a leading role.

On ‘democratic accountability’

When discussing this with people a common then is that there needs to be local ‘democratic accountability’ for schools. I.e. if schools are bad in a place then someone should be ‘vote-outable’. We are sceptical that this is really how local politics works and we also don’t think parents want to wait up to four years to vote someone out when their child is not getting a good enough education.

Hence, we feel local democracy would be better served by:

1. Having councillors act as ‘advocates’ for parent. As they will no longer need to ‘defend local schools’ they can operate on behalf of their constituents, rather than on behalf of the school. They could then fairly help parents with admissions, accessing any required additional resources and – where parents are unhappy – help guide them them through a national ‘complaints pathway’ which leads from academy headteacher, to governing body, to regional commissioner, to national school commissioner. This could be an online system with an ombudsman with annual reports published of complaints against trusts and their outcomes. If councillors do not fulfil this role, then it would be fair for people to vote them out!

2. Allow parents to ‘trigger’ academy trust reviews at which the trigger group can put forward evidence as to why the school ought to move trusts. This allows for greater flexibility in the system (and is similar to a recommendation in the Blunkett review).

3. Completely transparent processes for opening and closing schools, and the selection of academy trusts to run a school. This includes proper consultation, local hearings (as with planning laws), and all decisions made in public with full explanation of how evidence has been accounted for and decided.

Why do we think this model would work work?

It ensures the best provider operates schools. We don’t care who  runs schools, just that they run them well and to the law. Excellent local authorities ought to be allowed back in the game, this helps that happen.

It gives local authorities a role in strategy and local councillors a vital role as advocates, but relieves these groups from defending bad schools. Local councillors cannot easily support closing a school even when it is the right thing to do. It is sometimes equally difficult for local authorities if they are the ones leading turnaround efforts. Hence, schools have too often limped on. Our model plays to local authority strengths of contextual knowledge and gives councillors back the ability to truly represent their constituents.

It makes sense in a data and information-rich era to share information and have commissioners operate across broader areas. At one time, it was difficult even watching all the schools in one small area. But we are now in a situation where commissioners can access good data about schools, quickly email or call relevant individuals, hold group meetings with people from different parts of the country via skype. In that context having 100-odd education ‘bureaus’ managing schools in umpteen different ways is a, when you think about it, quite chaotic. There still needs to be human interaction, local knowledge, etc, but our model enables that while also herding parts of the system gone awry.

The Really Big Question

The one thing we haven’t said is how many Commissioners there should be! Being honest, Laura wanted one (based in a big department in Coventry with underlings managing each of the 8 commissioner regions). I initially agreed with the Blunkett review on having ‘sub-regional’ commissioners but Laura kept pointing out that few areas have someone with the capacity to manage this job – and many simply won’t need someone to do it that often.

As a compromise, sticking with 8 RSCs at first seems sensible. They’re already hired, and if LA trusts were created they would automatically fit into their remit anyway. Also, it’s easier to start with fewer then recruit more if needed than disbanding ones if it turns out you’ve overshot.

Hence, we would stick with the RSC job description as is, but blend in local authorities via Community Trusts and be very clear about who was responsible for what parts of the school system as described above.

The Blunkett Review – making it a reality

This is a cross-post from Robert Hill’s personal blog.

David Blunkett’s ‘Review of education structures, functions and the raising of standards for all’ is a significant document. It highlights and reinforces the weaknesses of the current mishmash of arrangements for overseeing the development and improvement of all schools. More significantly, for the purposes of this blog post, it provides a real sense of direction about the likely shape of Labour’s education policy and priorities a year out from next year’s general election.

A strong welcome

Blunkett’s proposals offer the opportunity to bring coherence to school improvement. The principle of school autonomy remains – not a surprise really since Blunkett did much to affirm the autonomy of schools when he was Secretary of State for Education: substantially raising the level of financial delegation to schools. But the vision is for autonomy to operate within a context of partnership and collaboration. Getting this balance right is strengthened by David’s recognition that the actions of one school can impact on another. Education improvement has to be more than a zero sum game – we need all schools in every area to move forward. So the plans to amend schools admissions, enforcement and appeals procedures and integrate place planning are welcome. And (hallelujah!) there is a single framework for overseeing the progress and development of all schools – irrespective of their type or status.

The document also contains some innovative ideas. For example, encouraging and enabling academies to move in and out of chains to bring greater geographical coherence. Or focusing funding agreements on outcomes and renewing them every three of five years – as recommend by the RSA/Pearson Academies’ Commission. The proposals for commissioning new school places rightly maintain a strong competitive ethos but bring coherence to a system which in many areas has been thrown into chaos by the ad hoc establishment of free schools. The creation of Education Incubation Zones would encourage the education system to continue to evolve in order to meet the changing demands of 21st century society.

Three caveats

I have three reservations about the proposals. I can see the case for kitemarking the supply of major school improvement providers – though I am not convinced that the market is broke. A better way forward might be for the kitemarking to be a voluntary arrangement in the first instance.

I also wish that the review had grasped the nettle of clarifying the role of the Office of Schools Commissioner and making it a statutory independent function. There is case for a revamped Schools Commissioner role to include the functions of the Schools’ Adjudicator – thus creating a single regulatory focus.

The approach towards the Pupil Premium is also slightly worrying. Yes, there is evidence that not all the money is being well used at present. But we are on a journey here. The role of the Education Endowment Foundation, the impact of the Ofsted inspection regime, the role of John Dunford as the Pupil Premium champion and the work of a good number of local authorities means that the additional funding is increasingly being better targeted and used. There is a growing focus on impact, so we should be wary of making major changes to the system at this point.

Be prepared

What does Labour need to do next? The Party must learn from its experience of coming into government in 1997. More was achieved more quickly in those policy areas where the detailed policy thinking and work had been done in advance. So having produced this paper Labour cannot rest on its laurels. Here are five ideas on some next steps the Party might take:

  1. Develop its education narrative – the Blunkett reforms are right but they need to be communicated in a way that parents, the media and the wider public can understand. Simple key messages might be:
  • Schools improve at a faster rate when they work together
  • Pupils enjoy better learning when teachers have the opportunity to work with staff from other schools on planning and reviewing lessons
  • There needs to be a fair and level playing field when it comes to admitting pupils to schools and assessing how well schools are improving
  • Supporting schools to improve is best organised locally rather than being decided by Whitehall Ministers and officials
  1. Draft instructions to counsel – for those not familiar with the Whitehall policymaking process this means preparing a policy document that enables the specialist lawyers to prepare a Bill for Parliament. This would provide a discipline for Labour to define the role and powers of the Director of Schools Standards (DSS) and the education panels that would support them. It would also help to think through how the proposed public duty for local authorities, schools and other providers to cooperate with the DSS in brokering collaboration would work.
  1. Consult with the Local Government Association on the new school oversight arrangements – particularly in relation to potential groupings of local authorities and relations between a DSS and constituent authorities. I don’t take the view – put forward by Jonathan Simons and Sam Freedman on Twitter – that local authorities are being completely written out of the script. As suggested in the Blunkett review it might make sense to take the boundaries of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) as the starting point – since this would help to integrate work on careers advice and post-16 provision. However, there are already some groupings of education authorities developing – particularly in London – and so there is also scope to explore whether these might provide a basis for some of the new arrangements.
  1. Set up some demonstration models – it might be possible for local groups of Labour local authorities such as in Manchester (where local authorities and schools have a strong history of working together collaboratively on school improvement) to appoint a DSS in a shadow form. However, any such scheme might be stymied if the Government’s formally appointed Regional Commissioner for overseeing academies refused to collaborate with the initiative.

Where authorities could progress the Blunkett agenda without hindrance would be encouraging the creation of Community Trusts for groups of primary schools. Several authorities have already or are currently working with their schools on forming local clusters. Legislation relating to Trust schools is already on the statute book and so the organizational vehicle is there to create formal groupings of primary schools. The only restraint is that it is difficult for voluntary aided faith schools to be formally part of such a Trust – because they are already a Trust. This needs discussion with church representatives – we should be encouraging faith schools to work with other local schools rather than just retreat into faith-based academy chain enclaves.

  1. Assess the costs – the coalition will no doubt try and dub the proposals as bureaucratic and costly. But the Blunkett plan would be able to build on the savings made from scrapping the regional Commissioner posts. There are also substantial resources going into employing a small army of civil servants and brokers who are monitoring, tracking and, where necessary, intervening in the 3,000 plus academies. These costs need to captured and quantified. It might also be possible to make savings from the Education Funding Agency budget. The more transparent financial regime advocated by Blunkett allied with the adoption of prudential corporate governance practices could reduce the need for the extensive financial monitoring that the government has put in place.

And for its next trick…

The Blunkett review marks a big step forward in Labour’s thinking. For its next trick it might want to think about how to turn the Ofsted regime (which has become an excessively high stakes regime) into something that retains rigour but is more supportive of school development!

Robert Hill (@Robt_Hill) is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Education and Professional Studies at King’s College London, and was previously an adviser to the last Labour government.

A World Class Teacher in Every Classroom, Studio and College Workshop – Tristram Hunt speech to NASUWT Conference 2014

This is the full text of the speech delivered by the Shadow Secretary of State for Education to the NASUWT Conference on 19 April 2014.

Thank you.

It is a great pleasure to be here in Birmingham again.

Those delegates who approached Conference from the East cannot fail to have noticed the wondrous new Library of Birmingham.

It serves as a powerful declaration of this city’s belief in life-long learning, whilst demonstrating how seriously it takes its civic duty to make scholarship accessible to all.

This is a city which a young woman who survived an assassination attempt because she dared to demand an equal education for her compatriots has chosen to make her refuge.

Right around the world, Malala Yousafzai has shown that this city prides itself on a culture of learning and equality.

That is something to be extraordinarily proud of – as is the NASUWT role in showing solidarity with Malala’s Send my Friend to School campaign.

Then there is Birmingham’s history.

Because of all the many gifts this city bestowed on England during its halcyon period as the global second city of industry this conference is a celebration of the most important: public education.

(For those wondering about the first it was – as I’m sure you’ll agree Chris – of course Stoke-on-Trent).

Without the agitation of Joseph Chamberlain and his radical allies on the Birmingham Education League, we may not have had William Forster’s celebrated Elementary Education Act of 1870.

And guaranteed public education for all could have eluded us for at least another generation.

Which if is not the only reason why the NASUWT has made this city it’s home, at least makes it the perfect venue for your Reclaim the Promise campaign.

Conference, I have come here today to share with you the Labour Party’s vision for the future of public education – which we will put to the nation in 2015.

And I am extremely grateful to Chris, Geoff and everyone else at the NASUWT for giving me this opportunity.

Because we in the Labour Party passionately believe that it is teaching that makes all the difference to our children’s attainment.

Yes, school autonomy matters; yes, leadership is vital; yes, accountability is important;

But the global evidence is clear: no education system can outperform the quality of its teaching.

So the purpose of my speech today is two-fold.

First, to demonstrate my party’s commitment to action on what matters: raising the status, elevating the standing and lifting the standard of teaching in this country.

And second, to draw on this city’s rich history of academic and vocational harmony to spell out how Labour would deliver an education system that allows all learners to fulfil their potential.

EFFECTIVE LOCAL OVERSIGHT

However, I want to begin this morning by addressing some of the troubling issues that have come to light concerning Birmingham’s own schooling.

We have heard allegations of infiltration, intimidation and the pursuit of a divisive religious extremism through systems of school governorship.

Let me say, first of all, that I value the contribution of all civic-minded people wiling to act as school governors.

I also welcome the growing involvement of often marginalised, ethnic minority communities in the role of schools.

Schools do not succeed as Islands: they work best when they have the effective support and engagement of other schools, parents and communities.

Furthermore, we are not France. Just as we do not ban headscarves in public, nor do we seek to banish religiosity from the school environment.

Across the country, we can all point to many successful, collaborative, pluralist faith schools working with children of particular denominations and of no faith at all.

But we also need to be clear about the duties which a state-funded school is expected to fulfil.

We cannot have narrow, religious motives which seek to divide and isolate, dictating state schooling.

We cannot have headteachers forced out; teachers undermined; curricula re-written; and cultural or gender-based segregation.

Indeed it is more important than ever in a modern, multi-cultural city like this one that schooling serves to unite, not fracture communities.

It should teach the ties that bind, the history that weaves cultures together, a sense of citizenship which meets the complexities of the 21st century.

Anything that undermines that mission needs to be dealt with thoroughly. And so I welcome Birmingham City Council’s investigation of the so-called Trojan Horse conspiracy.

But what the events of the last few weeks also point to is the inability of the Department for Education to manage 5,000 schools from a desk in Whitehall.

It clearly shows the need for a new, more accountable system of local oversight.

Especially as the existing local and regional infrastructure for monitoring schools has been so comprehensively undermined in the last four years.

Within the next few weeks, we will be publishing our answer to this question as part of David Blunkett’s review into raising school standards and rebuilding local collaboration.

Come 2015 we will be inheriting a chaotic schools landscape and so we are determined to rebuild a coherent education structure which addresses underperformance, promotes excellence and builds on the successes of the London Challenge model.
A BROAD AND BALANCED CURRICULUM

Conference, as I have suggested, if we are to properly prepare pupils as citizens of an open, tolerant and multi-cultural Britain earning its way in the world, we need clear expectations about what a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ means for contemporary schooling.

Here we have a careful balance to strike between change and churn.

Every week, visiting schools and colleges, one teacher will ask when will you politicians stop coming into office and ripping all the old policies up again?

And the next will ask, when are you getting rid of this, that and other?

So, let me be clear this morning on one misguided, ill thought through and narrow-minded change we won’t be proceeding with.

Having spoken to teachers, head-teachers, parents, students and university vice-chancellors, I can tell Conference this morning that we will not go ahead with the de-coupling of AS and A levels.

Universities value the AS Level as a good indication of future potential. Students value the examination as a good indication of their level. And schools value it as a spur to action for the more lackadaisical.

So when we assume office in May 2015, there will be a swift reversal of this policy and I am giving teachers and school leaders clear indication of that today.

Secondly, I am concerned about the potentiality for the current performance measurement criteria for GCSEs to overly narrow the curriculum.

Even though schools have the capacity and right to teach vocational, creative, and technical GCSEs, more and more schools are leaving their ability to deliver alternative courses severely depleted.

Now, I have long been a critic of the value of semi-vocational, GCSE equivalents, but I am now beginning to fear that the effect of this government’s   curriculum changes is a dangerous limiting of options for young people in the other direction.

Just at the time when we need more engineers, technicians and skilled vocational students as possible.

So whilst I am not interested in adding to your planning by ripping up curriculum reforms, I do reserve my right as Secretary of State to address any potential problems with the current accountability weighting system in order to tackle emerging perverse incentives.

Because our priority has to be deliver a curriculum which allows learners to pursue excellence in vocational as well as academic pathways.

To ensure that those young people whom Ed Miliband has called ‘the forgotten 50%’ get the education they need.

So it goes beyond the curriculum to driving up the quality of apprenticeships by making them all level 3 and last a minimum of two years;

Focusing further education colleges on local labour markets by ensuring all vocational teachers spend time in industry refreshing their skills;

and delivering a sharper focus for Further Education by accrediting the best colleges as new Institutes of Technical Education to deliver a gold-standard Technical Baccalaureate;

So, again, I want to make it absolutely clear that delivering for the “forgotten fifty percent” will be a signal priority for an incoming Labour Government.

It is essential to the bold economic agenda Ed Miliband will take the country: a high wage, hi-tech, high-innovation economy that works for us all.

EXCELLENCE FOR ALL

Yet if we we really want to tear down the deep-seated cultural barriers that exist between vocational and academic routes then we will need to do more.

This summer will mark the seventieth anniversary of Rab Butler’s 1944 Education Act and, quite frankly, our problems go that far back.

Certainly the Technical School aspect of the tripartite system was never fully realised and you could make a convincing case that a lack of focus in vocational education represents the most historic failing of the English education system.

What we need is a clear and coherent strategy for all learners, one that binds different pathways to success together in a rigorous common framework.

So I am absolutely delighted to welcome the recent report of Labour’s skills task-force, which recommended that we develop a National Baccalaureate framework for all pupils aged 14-19.

Based on a three-part ‘common core’, the National Baccalaureate would mean that in addition to existing A-level or high-quality vocational qualifications, all learners would:

study English and maths to 18;

undertake an extended study or collaborative project;

and would develop their character, resilience and employability skills through a tailored personal development programme that could include work experience or community service.

This should not be seen as more unhelpful curriculum tinkering – the core learning component of the National Baccalaureate would be made up entirely from existing qualifications.

But when we look at the challenges facing our young people today, from global economic competition to increasing mental health problems then I would argue that the need for a broader approach to education, one that delivers excellence and opportunity for all our young people, has never been more stark.

We know that qualifications are essential, but not enough.

We need our education system also to deliver those attributes and aptitudes which the world of work and further education requires: character, resilience, self-discipline, emotional intelligence and grit.

CAREERS IN THE CLASSROOM

But, ultimately all of this is dependent upon the human capital – which is you.

More than that, this is a vision of schooling which starts to think of the teacher as more than just an imparter of knowledge.

Alongside this the teacher becomes coach, mentor, critic and facilitator.

And the ability to secure this vision begins and ends with a high qualified, motivated and inspiring teaching workforce.

The first step in achieving this, the absolute bare minimum – is to guarantee that all teachers are qualified.

It is bizarre and damaging that the Government’s signature teaching policy is to make us the only country in the world that doesn’t expect its teachers to have a qualification.

And the latest school workforce statistics revealed that there has been a 16% rise in unqualified teachers within the last year.

So under a Labour Government, all permanent state school teachers would have to have qualified teacher status or be working towards it.

However, at times the Government’s dismantling of professional teaching standards has threatened to go much further than allowing unqualified teachers into our classrooms.

We see in the Free School programme the imprint of an aggressively free market ‘fly or fail’ approach to school improvement.

And traces of that philosophy are detectable in the approach to the national architecture for teaching standards too.

Just last week I was speaking to a teacher in Bury, who reflected on how in the mid-1990s being a teacher was not regarded as holding much status.

And how during the course of the last Labour Government, the tenor of the conversation turned from ‘he or she can’t teach’ to admiring phrases of ‘I don’t know how you do it.’

That is the result of our Social Partnership and it is entirely true – I have sat quietly at the back of quite a few year 10 classes now, and I am completely in awe of your ability to simultaneously stretch the most able, carry the struggling, offer space for reflection, whilst delivering the learning outcomes.

But as the NASUWT’s report today shows, more teaching assistants on an unqualified teacher pay-scale are being asked to take on the role of classroom teachers.

So we have to ensure that the culture of social partnership that this union and the last Labour government won, is not lost in the melee of this Government’s deregulatory agenda.

And we need to look at new ways of getting the sharpest candidates into teaching, placing the best teachers into under-performing schools and, most of all, allowing the best teachers to carry on teaching in the classroom.

Teachers who want to build their expertise in a particular subject or pedagogical skill should be given the opportunity to progress whilst still practicing the calling that first attracted them to the profession.

They should not feel the need to go into management and leadership just to advance their careers.

So we would work with the profession to create a framework of new career pathways for teachers, taking inspiration from the structured career progression routes in Singapore, one of the world’s leading education systems.

And also learning the lessons and building on the best of the Advanced Skills Teacher model.

Because what the Labour Party is interested in, first and foremost, is encouraging teachers to be all they can and should be – professionals whose job is so important it requires the very highest levels of performance.

A REVOLUTION IN CPD

Yet I have to say, when it comes to teacher training, QTS is the minimum we should expect.

It is only the beginning of a teacher’s professional development.

Because whilst you should all be very proud of our performance in the OECD’s test-run for assessing collaborative problem solving skills, our results on reading, mathematics and science show that we still have a long way to go in our pursuit of excellence.

The world is spinning faster. Global competition is accelerating. And Britain’s future prosperity is far from secure.

This is a matter of economic competitiveness and social justice. Because we know that for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, without social capital or parental input to fall back upon, the quality of teaching they receive is fundamental to their life chances.

Research from the London School of Economics and the Sutton Trust has shown that teacher quality can mean as much as a year’s difference to the learning progress of children from challenging circumstances.

However, the traditional policy response – of focusing upon initial teacher training is – is not sufficient to tackling the wider challenge of teacher development.

Because as that same LSE and Sutton Trust research has demonstrated, if we could just raise the performance of the least effective teachers already in the system merely to the average, then England would rank in the top five education systems in the world in reading and mathematics.

So under a Labour Government, teachers would be expected to undertake regular professional development throughout their careers and revalidate their expertise at regular intervals.

Because we believe it is absolutely vital that teachers keep their skills, knowledge and practice up to date.

We believe that, given the pace of progress, an understanding of the latest pedagogical or technological innovations is sure to benefit pupils.

And we believe that a process of re-validating teachers’ expertise would bring them into line with other high-status, mature professions such as lawyers and doctors.

WORKLOAD WOES

However, there are two potential obstacles to this strategy.

The first of these is the poor quality, low value and frankly inadequate provision of continuous professional development that currently exists within our system.

Indeed, this is another reason for our revalidation policy – we want to encourage both supply and demand for high quality, peer to peer professional development.

However, the second is time.

As the Institute of Education has argued the ‘proportion of teacher time devoted to CPD in England is lower than in the best-performing school systems.’

Indeed, if the recent Teacher Workload survey is to be believed, the average secondary classroom teacher could spend less than 2 hours a week on individual or professional development.

So, let me clear: I recognise that workload represents a major challenge in your capacity to grow and develop as teachers.

And I recognise that we need to work together in order to make sure school leaders are giving you enough time time to train.

But what I have said to Chris, what we need to do is work together to see where we can strip out the bureaucracy and form-filling which prevent you doing your job.

Because the Workload survey suggested nearly half of teachers say they waste a significant amount of time on pointless paperwork.

Data and intelligent accountability are important.  One of the lessons of London Challenge was that the effective use of data allowed fragile schools to be assisted, underperformance addressed, demographics in need identified.

But we don’t want it to kill your ability to function in the classroom.

So, I positively welcome any constructive suggestion that can help reduce the bureaucratic burden, move away from this damaging burn-out model of teaching, and begins to let you focus on what you were trained to do: teach.

CONCLUSION

Because we know that teacher quality is the most important element in giving our children the start in life they deserve;

We know that it is inspiring teachers who expose disadvantaged children to the liberating potential of education;

And we know that the best way of improving schools is to raise the status, elevate the standing and lift standards in the teaching profession.

So let me finish by thanking you for all the unseen, unsung and difficult work you do in educating young people – often from troubled backgrounds – up and down this country.

As well as taking this opportunity to put on the record the deep appreciation of myself and the Labour Party for your diligence and dedication as public servants.

But more than that can I offer to work with you over the next year to develop the programmes which can end the relentless churn and party political tinkering with education policy – and focus on what matters.

Vocational as well as academic excellence.

Local oversight and partnership across schools.

Rigorous teacher training and continuing professional development.

A curriculum which stretches the most able, but delivers outcomes for every child.

And a vision of education beyond the exam-factory, offering our young people a sense of confidence, a culture of inquiry, character, resilience, and the skills to be work-ready.

All of that is dependent on what really matters in education policy: a world-class teacher in every classroom, studio or workshop.

And, Chris, I look forward to working with you and your members to offer that mandate to the British people and deliver it in office.

Thank You.

Tristram Hunt (@TristramHuntMP) is MP for Stoke-on-Trent and Shadow Secretary of State for Education.

“Teaching not tinkering”: Tristram Hunt’s speech to ATL Conference 2014

Below is the full text of the Shadow Secretary of State for Education’s speech to the 2014 Conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, delivered today in Manchester.

It is, as ever, a great pleasure to be here in Manchester – the second most important city in Britain.

After Stoke-on-Trent.

A city of ideas.

Chartism, Marxism, the Co-operative movement – you can make a convincing case that Manchester is the true home to all these currents so crucial to the intellectual history of the Labour tradition.

From the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 to the home of the Co-operative movement on Rochdale Road (if only they had stayed there) to Chetham Library in Cathedral Gardens, where Karl Marx and Frederich Engels used to sit at that window-side table to discuss the works of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and the educational impact of the 1833 Factory Act (2 hours teaching a day).

Yet most pertinently for today’s speech, Manchester was home of the proto-feminist Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy and so has an important place in the campaign for a woman’s right to an education.

Long before Emmeline Pankhurst and the battle for the suffrage, here in Manchester Lydia Becker was also organising women to get elected onto the new School Boards.

And it was from this ferment of women’s rights, social activism and labour organisation in the late Victorian period that the earliest antecedent of this union, the Association of Assistant Mistresses was formed in 1884.

This union has the representation of women in its DNA and it is to its tremendous credit that we see that tradition so vividly embodied by the leadership of Mary and Alison today.

And in that vein I would like to begin this morning by highlighting a point I made recently at the Association of School and College Leaders conference in Birmingham.

One that given your union’s particular history may carry extra prescience.

That is: when it comes to the appointment of school leaders – and secondary school leaders in particular – like so many other sectors we have a women problem.

Because despite the fact that 62% of secondary teachers are women, when it comes to heads the figure drops to just a third.

Moreover, the Future Leaders charity have presented shocking evidence of governors explicitly making recruitment decisions based upon an applicant’s gender.

We cannot allow this prejudice to continue. After all, how can we possibly talk about giving young women strong female role models, when we don’t practice what we preach in the staff-room?

So I am counting upon ATL members everywhere to hold schools and governing bodies to account, making sure that exceptional female teachers have the opportunity to lead schools – and not just teaching unions…

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Ofsted’s future

The independent think-tank Policy Exchange recently published a report on the future of Ofsted. Here, Policy Exchange’s Head of Education summarises the key messages and consider Sir Michael Wilshaw’s response.

In 1839, Hugh Seymour Tremenheere and Revd John Allen were appointed as the first ever of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools (HMI), with a brief to inspect a small number of elementary schools which had recently been given the support of public money and to ensure that this money was well spent. 175 years later, Ofsted employs – in one way or another – around 1700 school inspectors, who between them carry out over 6,500 inspections a year of maintained schools.

The phrase “hello, I’m calling from Ofsted to let you know that your school will be undergoing an inspection tomorrow” ranks as one of the scariest in the education lexicon. But holding schools accountable for £47bn of expenditure, and the education of around 7m children and young people across England is an important job, and those who simply wish away the presence of a regulator are not holding a credible position. But neither can Ofsted – or any regulator – be preserved in aspic. The watchmen must themselves be watched.

Policy Exchange’s report found that significant changes ought to be made to the way in which Ofsted conducts school inspections to make it as effective as it should be and that it needs to be. Most pertinently, it concluded that the single activity which takes up the most time (and therefore money) of an inspection – that of observing lessons – is neither valid nor reliable. The practice of lesson observations has also spawned an industry of consultants, Heads, CPD suppliers and other third parties enthusiastically selling the idea of ‘an Ofsted perfect lesson’ – whose effects range from being a waste of time at best to actively harmful at worst.

Our report argued that for the vast majority of schools, an inspection should take no more than a day, and consist of one inspector, whose role is explicitly to scrutinise and validate – or otherwise – a school’s judgement on its performance. The inspector may walk the halls and watch behaviour. They may stand at the gates and meet parents. They may even put their head round the door and watch teachers to see why a school has made particular judgements. But their role must be analogous to a restaurant hygiene inspector, and less of a food critic. Should an inspector conclude that a school is potentially struggling, or that this short inspection has been insufficient to make a judgement, then a fuller inspection should take place.

It was great to hear Sir Michael Wilshaw endorse many of the recommendations in this report in his speech to ASCL conference this weekend – including the move to a two stage inspection, as well as a “root and branch” review of the outsourced inspection regime, with a desire to move incrementally towards this all being done by Ofsted employed HMIs. In fairness, I must also report that he called the suggestion that all lesson observations be scraped “absurd”.

Making such a change to the structure of inspections is welcome, even if the fight to abolish all routine lesson observations goes on. But there remain perils ahead. Sir Michael Wilshaw caused some consternation in his same ASCL speech by musing, almost without thinking it seems, that it would be helpful if schools continued to use National Curriculum levels to show progress of their pupils, because that was what inspectors knew and understand. Such a ‘helpful’ suggestion, of course, risks the large scale flight back to levels by schools paranoid that any other system will not be understood properly and that they run the risk of being penalised through inspector incomprehension. If Ofsted is to be believed when they talk of the merits of a school led system, then they must design an inspection system which responds to school actions, and checks those, rather than drives them. I very much hope that Tristram Hunt, Michael Gove and Michael Wilshaw recognise this as the reforms roll out.

Jonathan Simons (@PXEducation) is Head of Education at Policy Exchange,
and also Chair of Governors at Greenwich Free School

 

 

“The death knell for low expectations” – Tristram Hunt’s speech to ASCL 2014

The speech below was given by Tristram Hunt, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, to the conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) on 22 March 2014.

Thank you. It is a great pleasure to be here in Birmingham once more.

And perhaps Brian, Malcolm, Patsy and everyone here at ASCL had a little window into George Osborne’s mind when they settled on the location for this year’s conference.

For when we have heard so much about ‘rebalancing’ the economy’ and ‘encouraging the makers’ – then there is no more fitting a location than Birmingham.

Because apart, of course, from Stoke-on-Trent, the indisputable birthplace of the industrial revolution, is there any city more synonymous with England’s industrial heritage than this ‘city of a thousand trades’?

Yet at the heart of Birmingham’s success lay the realisation that there is a crucial link between enterprise and craftsmanship; between economic competitiveness and educational excellence.

And, no less important, a harmonious relationship between academic and vocational enquiry.

For what were Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestley and Stoke-on-Trent’s Josiah Wedgwood doing at their Lunar Society meetings in Soho House if not marrying academic theory to applied, practical learning?

Alas, such wisdom appears lost on the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Because despite the national scandal of one million young people not in education, employment or training; despite the fact we languish 21st out of all OECD countries in terms of technical skills; and despite the fact that England’s young people, almost uniquely, have poorer numeracy and literacy skills than their elder contemporaries; last Wednesday’s budget contained next to no recognition of the urgent economic importance of equipping our young people with the skills demanded by the future.

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What I have learned about improving teaching

Teaching and teachers have never been better.

I started teaching in 1984. I wasn’t given targets, there was no focus on learning, no-one was interested in the students’ results and I was judged to be excellent because difficult teenagers behaved in my classes! I see young entrants to the profession now engaged in discussions about pedagogy, understanding data and using it, interested in academic study about leadership of teaching and learning and with no expectation of 13 weeks holiday a year completely free from all schoolwork. I think it is sad that the public perception of the modern teacher is so rooted in the past.

Some people will never be able to teach.

This is something that people don’t admit. Too often the fact you have a degree and want to be a teacher is seen as enough. Err, no. Some people, no matter how much guidance and training they are given, would lose control of a dead rabbit! Some people are not natural communicators and teachers need to be communicators. One of the most infuriating things about our profession is the way that everyone from journalists to taxi drivers, from politicians to refuse collectors, from parents to shop assistants know about teaching because they went to school! The constant call for teachers to behave professionally is sadly not reflected with the same level of respect for their professional opinion and ability enjoyed by accountants, lawyers and doctors.

Teachers are essentially sociable creatures.

They like people and they like a job with human contact, particularly with the young of the species. There are very few who don’t like children. I have met the odd one or two over the years who don’t like children, but it is rare and I’d bet they didn’t start out like that. By the time they get to that stage we have to have to get them out the profession, but it’s equally important to make sure that the factors which caused them to reach that stage are removed.

Teachers working together are far more effective than those working in isolation.

Ideas which are bounced around amongst enthusiastic professionals become great. Confident enthusiasts build on each other’s work, learning is accelerated, evaluations are more effective and camaraderie raises morale, which raises enthusiasm and we have a virtuous circle. Teachers’ needs for affiliation, recognition and all that “self-actualisation” stuff is met. The system gets better, the teachers get better and the kids get a good deal.

Far too many teachers work in isolation.

There are many reasons for this. Historically there was a view in the profession that a teacher could close their classroom door and be a king in their own classroom, free from “interference” of others. Just plain daft. There can also be a view that if a teacher admits they could do with ideas or support this means that they are “failing”, when of course the opposite is true: it is the confident who understand the importance of seeking help. This nonsense is, however, still prevalent in lots of schools. Thirdly, and in my view this is the most serious cause of teachers working in isolation, is the school that is in a downward spiral of isolation from governance, through to the head, through to the staff and ultimately the kids.

The downward spiral of isolation.

It works like this: a weakness in governance allows a “bunker mentality” to be adopted by the head. The head knows that other schools have “a better intake”, that they are “favourites with the LA/diocese or both”, that “competitor” schools were “very lucky in their last OFSTED” etc etc. this head doesn’t network much because s/he has little real confidence (although this can be heavily disguised). Decisions are often not made or made by default and student behaviour plummets. The culture of excuses and isolation emanates throughout the building. Teachers who have ideas find it’s best to keep them to themselves because “raising your head above the parapet means you’ll be shot down”. What happens in schools doing this is that those who have a sense of what is happening, and who can, leave; some teachers stay and maintain a good level of performance, but are far from fulfilling their potential and, for the majority their performance is way below what it needs to be.

Heads are the people responsible for monitoring teacher performance and this is a core skill of headship.

I’m not deliberately setting out to be controversial here, but these following points seem to me to be self-evident truths, and ones I want politicians to take note of:

1. It is perfectly possible for heads to “sack” / “get rid of” failing teachers in a timely fashion. The processes are there and are used effectively by good heads.

2. If there are heads unwilling or incapable of using existing procedures, that is a capability issue about headship.

3. Teachers who are “failing” can have their performance transformed through excellent leadership and this, together with that downward spiral described in the above paragraph, means that we cannot make judgements about teachers in isolation from leadership.

4. Diluting the responsibility for heads to ensure good teaching will do nothing to improve the quality of leadership.

5. The people who appoint heads and manage the performance of heads are governing bodies. The link from weak governance to weak headship to weak teaching to failing schools is indisputable.

This is Ros banging on again about leadership!

Well, yes I am! If anyone is responsible for licensing or re-licensing my teachers, it is me. And if I am incapable of ensuring quality teaching, then I am incapable of headship and someone should do something about that.

Please can we have our National College back ……

as an independent organisation intellectually, ideologically and professionally committed to raising the quality of teaching and leadership, with a leader who is recognised across all sectors as outstanding and who has the confidence of the NLEs? Give NLEs “teeth” in supporting schools and licensing other heads. Allow the profession to control the CPD, through the college and led by the system.

I promise all the politicians that if you follow this formula teaching will look after itself.

Ros McMullen (@RosMcM) is an academy principal and academy trust CEO in Leeds and a member of the core group of @HeadsRoundtable. She is a Labour Party member.