All posts by Robert Pepper

Are you confident in the quality of Ofsted inspectors?

The summer term is a time for public examinations, sports days, and self-evaluation. Teachers and senior leaders across the country are evaluating their progress and plotting out a better future for their students. But as the evening sun of the academic year shines, so a long shadow is cast. And lurking in this shadow, deep in the collective unconscious of the education community, is the amorphous figure of the Ofsted inspector. Some teachers speak publicly about the Ofsted inspector, invoking the ‘O’ word like an amulet to ward off harm. Other suspiciously avoid mentioning the word, believing its recitation can be a summons. Others still profess to have no fear or respect of the supposed powers of Ofsted. But their voices ring hollow, and are rarely heeded by the cautious.

The question gnawing in the back of the collective mind is: what might  Ofsted say about our department, faculty, school, or MAT?

As Amanda Spielman, in her first interview back in January, noted:

“I’ve seen at very close quarters how the pressures of accountability influence what schools do, and how they lead to trade-offs with what people do… More than the centre of the Mat, more than parents, Ofsted felt as if it was the most pressing thing, the most powerful force on what a school did.”

Corbyn: Progress Vs Attainment

When Theresa May opportunistically (but not unreasonably) called a snap election on April 18th, I posted this question on twitter:

The general consensus seemed to be that this election would be not just a disaster for the Labour party, but a defining one: the moment when the public truly lost faith in our ability not only to govern but also to mount an effective opposition. In the earlier days of the campaign the Liberal Democrats argued just that, and their Phoenix-like return to prominence seemed likely. The reason for our malaise? Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn has been the leader of the Labour party for almost two years. His unlikely and divisive tenure encapsulating the chaotic unpredictability that currently characterises world politics. Corbyn shouldn’t have been on the ballot that was produced by the PLP. His MP nominators only selected him to give the illusion of choice to the membership. He was a token, a cipher, a phantom candidate. This type of dismal political misjudgement has characterised the Labour party in recent years, and the ramifications were enormous.

Corbyn could speak to the various core elements of the Labour base: social justice and human rights protesters, pacifists, university educated socialists, metropolitan liberals. He could also energise sparsely attended CLPs meeting in non-conformist church halls on a soggy Tuesday in the shires. He is an affable everyman with a socialist conscience. Of course he won. It seems only logical now.

Corbyn’s highly effective campaign, Momentum, appeared to some to have become a party-within-a-party. Corbyn supporters were often vocal and vociferous on social media. Some of Corbyn’s more aggressive advocates sought to decide who was a ‘true’ Labour supporter, and who ‘might as well leave and join the Conservatives’. This was difficult for Labourites with decades of membership to hear from someone who has paid £3 to ‘support’ the party and vote.

Corbyn seemed to some the spearhead of an entryist movement into the party. To the majority of members he was a saviour, returning the party to its socialist principles. A civil war ensued, which Corbyn won once again. But the infighting had been damaging. He seemed cut adrift from his PLP and supported by a base that some argued was unrepresentative of the public at large. The election was called and the two rival camps within the party were still largely unreconciled.

This is clearly demonstrated by the words of two contributors to Labour Teachers, Russell Mayne and Michael Power. Although both supporters of the Labour party, they have radically different views about Corbyn. Russell expresses clearly and concisely many of the doubts that still persist about Corbyn in the mind of the electorate:

 

A video is doing the rounds on social media called ‘5 times Corbyn was on the right side of history’. After a 30 year career in politics, is it really noteworthy that a politician made the right decision five times? His supporters apparently think it is. The video is meant to show how moral JC is but it’s easy to find 5 times Corbyn was on the ‘wrong side’ of history.

5. He was and remains anti-EU

In 1975 he voted against the UK remaining in the common market. In 1993 he voted against the Maastricht treaty. He then voted against the Lisbon treaty in 2008. After declaring he was no ‘lover of Europe’ (about 7 out of 10 in terms of passion) during the remain campaign, he wasted no time calling for a quick triggering of Article 50 after the referendum.

A different labour leader might have fought harder against BREXIT and might have offered people a reversal of Brexit at the general election. Not JC. His supporters, who seem overwhelmingly pro-Europe, rarely mention this.

4. Kosovo

One misstep that is not often talked about is Corbyn’s views on Kosovo. Corbyn sided with John Pilger in claiming that the whole thing was a hoax. There was no genocide. As Kamm writes:

The motion repeated many false assertions and “congratulate[d] John Pilger on his expose of the fraudulent justifications for intervening in a ‘genocide’ that never really existed in Kosovo.

 

3. Uncritically Supported Chavez

Corbyn saw Venezuela as a poster child for democratic socialism done right. Of course, the massive mishandling of state mineral wealth and corruption means that the country has now been plunged into mass unrest. For a country with massive oil reserves this is an impressive feat. Corbyn has yet to criticise the abuses that occurred under Chavez and his successor Maduro.

2. Press TV

The very moral Corbyn appeared on Press TV, the state arm of Iran’s theocratic regime. Iran, known for murdering homosexuals, torturing journalists into confessions (broadcast on Press TV) and supporting anti-Semitism is apparently an acceptable employer for Jeremy.

He continued to appear on the channel after OFCOM had revoked the station’s licence.  Corbyn recently went on ‘Pink news’ to defend his appearance on the channel, claiming he used his platform to ‘promote human rights.’  However none of the videos of his appearances available show any criticism of LGBT state murder in Iran.

When Corbyn’s pressTV stint is mentioned the usual response is ‘but but but, May sells weapons to Saudi!’ There are three problems with this claim.

1.    Saudi Arabia are our allies. You (and I) may not particularly like the regime, but that doesn’t change that fact.

2.      While Theresa may personally didn’t sell weapons or profit from the sales of weapons (the UK government did) Corbyn did in fact make a personal decision to appear on and profit from press TV.

3.      Even if May had personally sold weapons to Saudi, how does that make Corbyn’s choices any more or less moral?

1. Support for the IRA

The IRA claim, so I’m frequently told, has been debunked! Well, no it hasn’t. Despite JC’s recent efforts to whitewash his past, and present himself as a peacemaker, the facts are quite clear. Corbyn did not want the kind of peace deal we currently have, he wanted the IRA to succeedHe opposed the Anglo Irish agreement and invited convicted IRA bombers to the House of Commons two weeks after the Brighton bombing. Despite this he claims never to have met IRA members.

All politicians have made good and bad decisions in their careers. But those supporting Corbyn seem to want to present a man who is unlike all politicians and constantly on the ‘right side’ of history. No such politician exists and attempting to portray Corbyn as ‘without sin’ only adds to suspicion that there is something cult like about the movement.

 

Michael Power counters:

 

Why should Jeremy Corbyn be Prime Minister?

Recently a school local to me lost all but the legally required minimum number of teaching assistants, one teacher has had a window in their classroom broken and flapping around in the wind for the best part of a year, departments are having to decide between equipment for the students to use or text books to teach a new GCSE. This isn’t a story limited to just one school, or even just one area. This is the reality for almost all state schools under the Conservative government. – We as teachers are not valued by the current government.

In April Jeremy Corbyn referred to teaching as most important professions in our society and now I want to explain why Jeremy Corbyn should be the man with the most important job in politics.

He has consistently been on the right side of history (an overused cliché but 100% accurate)

Jeremy was a staunch opponent of the Apartheid regime and a supporter of Nelson Mandela and the ANC. As noted in Pink News, Jeremy was an early champion of LGBT rights. At a time when the Tories decried supporting LGBT rights as ‘loony left’, Jeremy voted against section 28 which sought to demonise same-sex relationships. Jeremy went against the Labour leadership and fully supported the miners in their effort to prevent the total destruction of their industry and communities. In the 1970s and 1980s, while the UK and other Western governments were selling weapons to Saddam Hussein, Jeremy campaigned and demonstrated against it. Jeremy opposed New Labour’s introduction of university tuition fees. Jeremy argued against PFIs for funding the building of new schools and hospitals, which was used partly because New Labour had committed itself to Tory spending plans. Right from the beginning Jeremy argued and campaigned against austerity. Despite inheriting a situation where the economy was growing, Osborne’s austerity budgets plunged the UK into a double dip recession in April 2012 and by February 2013 Britain lost its AAA credit rating for the first time since the late 1970s.

He has a clear vision for the country

Jeremy wants to bring about a million good quality jobs across our regions and guarantee a decent job for everyone. Build new homes, including half a million new council houses, give people greater security in their jobs, stop the privatisation of our NHS, rebuild public services and secure quality and justice for everyone in this country. These are actually all fully costed plans within the Labour manifesto and demonstrates that Jeremy is serious in bringing about real change within our country to benefit the many not the few.

He will get us a better deal for Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn has said “We will confirm to the other member states that Britain is leaving the European Union. That issue is not in doubt, but instead of posturing and pumped-up animosity, a Labour government under my leadership will set out a plan for Brexit based on the mutual interests of both Britain and the European Union.” The plan is to stop thinking we can bully our way to getting a good deal and threatening to walk away. Instead Jeremy sets out a plan which is well thought through and will bring about mutually beneficial agreements for the UK and Europe which protects the rights of UK citizens and also those from the EU currently in Britain. Jeremy want’s a Brexit that will work for everybody not just those who can afford to carry on as normal even if it all goes wrong.

Most importantly on this issue, Jeremy is fully committed to a Britain which not only survives but flourished outside of the EU and will do everything to turn that vision to a reality.

These are just three major reasons why Jeremy Corbyn should be the next Prime Minister.  There are actually many more, but I feel that these three issues are the ones which are raised most often during debates during this election campaign. I believe that with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister our country will become more prosperous and demonstrate true leadership both on the world stage and in domestic policies having a profoundly positive effect on education.

 

With such widely divergent views within the party, it was widely believed that Corbyn would struggle to get the electorate to side with him. He is perceived as weak on national security at a time when that has become an election priority, and he is seen as economically naive as the country recovers from recession.

 

However, the public has reacted warmly to many of his ideas. Far from being relics of the 1970s, even his most electorally toxic policies, such as nationalisation, have found traction with a large number of voters:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If this were an election fought on the policies alone, it is likely Labour would win. But personalities play a part, and May built her campaign around the assumption that Middle-England would balk at the thought of Corbyn in 10 Downing Street. However, this might have been a miscalculation. Corbyn has been mauled by the press for two years,. There is nothing new that the press can say to hurt him. In fact, his gentle demeanour and thoughtful policies have impressed a public with very low expectations. May, on the other hand, was surprisingly unknown for a front line politician with so many years experience. Her robotic, arrogant, and cowardly actions during the campaign have weakened her.

 

However, it is not clear that the fate of the leaders with be shared by their respective parties. Although Corbyn has had a much better campaign than many expected, Labour is still expected to lose the election. Despite the government being 7 years into an austerity programme, the Conservatives will most likely win.

The end of the General Election campaign is close, and we can only hope the YouGov poll is accurate. If it is, Corbyn has performed miraculously to close an insurmountable gap and create a tight race. He has behaved with courage, grace, and dignity during the campaign. He has represented the Labour party well. If he doesn’t win, however, the vexed question of his leadership will once again be the primary topic of discussion within the party. If he fails to achieve his target, will his progress be enough?

The Myth of Tory Economic Competence | Ashley Pearce

Labour can’t be trusted on the economy. The Tories are “Strong & stable” as Teresa May keeps bleating on about. Labour spend all of our money. All the polls show that on economic competence the Tories come out ahead of Labour, and on doorsteps I have heard this a few times in the last couple of weeks. A member of my tutor group even said it to me this week. How on earth have they got away with this image? It is completely and utterly lacking in truth. Let’s have a look at the key economic measure that I teach my 16 year old year 12 students Government’s aim for.

Economic growth: If the economy is growing, jobs are created and people are better off (in theory). The UK’s trend rate of growth (our long term average) is around 2-2.5%. Under the coalition and Tories, only once has growth been above 1%. That leaves us with a negative output gap (i.e. we could & SHOULD be doing better). When Labour left power the economy was growing until Osborne and co cut any stimulus (the US & Germany, now thriving, did not do this).

Inflation: Thanks to Boris, Gove, Fox and the other right wing zealots getting their way, Cameron agreed to an EU referendum in which his preferred outcome didn’t happen. We all know that. But since then our exchange rate has collapsed. This is good for exporters & bad for importers. Problem is, in the UK we don’t export as much as we perhaps should and we import a lot. Especially consumer goods and food. If imported food is more expensive, we can’t just stop buying it, so we spend more money on it. This leaves less money for everything else. Inflation has been steadily rising ever since the vote, it is now 2.7%, well above the Bank of England’s 2% target. This is due to costs rising and certainly not due to rising wages…..

Real Wages: Real wage is your actual wage minus inflation. What you actually have to spend. Nurses pay has been “capped” at a 1% rise, as has teachers’ pay (incidentally, MP’s voted through an 11% pay raise for themselves 2 years ago but all in this together eh!?) So this is a pay cut. If prices are up more than my wages, I can afford less. My landlord doesn’t accept lower payment nor does my electricity supplier. “Between 2007 and 2015, the UK was the only big advanced economy in which wages contracted while the economy expanded.” This is from that well known lefty source the Financial Times. Wages in the UK have been falling for ten years. We are the only western country aside from Greece where this is happening. In work poverty is now widespread and linked to the below.

Unemployment: This is the Tories big trumpeted claim, the “jobs miracle”! Record numbers in employment (this is an obvious claim, we have more people so of course we have more jobs!) But the % unemployment rate is also at a record low. Firstly, as usual the Tories have changed the measure, it now excludes more people from the official figures. But most importantly are the types of jobs that have been created. Nearly a million of these jobs are zero hour. Low paid, insecure and importantly, where the employer rarely trains or up skills the worker. This means they can get rid of them whenever they want, and have added no value to their employability. Then there are the self-employed. This induces images of a trading go getter doing deals and making lots of money. The reality is very different. The average wage of the self-employed is £240 a week, 15% lower than in the mid 90’s. These self-employment jobs now account for 15% of the UK workforce. If unemployment was really as low as the figures show, wages would be rising as there would be a lack of labour. But it’s not and they are not.

Trade: The UK has had a trade deficit (importing more from abroad than we export to them) for many decades.  Cameron and Osborne wanted a rebalance but it never came. This is hugely impacted by the exchange rate which as mentioned earlier, has meant a rising cost of imports (and the UK consumer imports a lot). So if more money is leaving the country than coming in how is this balanced. It’s balanced by something called the capital account (mainly UK assets). The fall in our exchange rate means it is easier for people abroad to buy things in the UK. And do you know what they want? Houses. Many high end price houses have been purchased by people abroad who will very rarely even frequent it. But it is not just these. Many houses at a “reasonable” price are snapped up by buy to let landlords abroad and then rented back to us. A house is taken off the market for a UK resident wishing to get on the property ladder and the rent being paid goes abroad so that the UKL never sees it again. This is the “trickle down” nonsense you might hear about.

Debt and Taxes: But Labour always put up our taxes! And they increase our debt! It is just untrue. The UK national debt (the total amount the Government has ever borrowed) has risen by more in the last 7 years than ALL LABOUR GOVERNMENTS EVER COMBINED!! Re-read that sentence. It is a huge lie Labour are frivolous with taxpayer’s money. If you look back through history, Labour have also ran smaller budget deficits year on year on average, and paid off more of the national debt in the past. On tax, “the amount of tax paid in the UK is poised to reach the highest level in 30 years and will rise even further because of mounting debt and pressure on public services” according to the Institute of fiscal studies. It is about how they tax too. They are very proud of the income tax allowance changes, “lifting 10million people out of income tax altogether”. Thanks very much, oh but you have raised VAT to 20% taking it back and making the poorest pay most as usual. It’s the equivalent of not punching me in the face so you can kick me in the shin. In their manifesto they have now said they won’t rule out income tax or National insurance increases. But they can cut the top rate of income tax, corporation tax on companies and raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m. It is the greatest transfer of wealth and income from poor to rich ever.

Then there are the public service, per head (which is what we care about) we all know that school funding, NHS funding and funding for any other public service has fallen. We are now told we will work until we are 67 where we will now get a lower pension and benefit trimmed back. The bombshell of the Tory dementia tax is another astonishing attack on the poor and ill. If you are unlucky enough to be ill in later life, we will take away your last wish of leaving your kids something and make you pay for it.

The Tories tax you more, give you less in crumbling public services and increase debt. It is an astoundingly bad legacy.

 

 

Ashley Pearce (@ashleypearce84)  is a secondary school economics teacher in a comprehensive school just outside of Reading.  Last year he was elected as a councillor for the Labour party for an area in South Reading.  He is also a Reading FC fan and keen reader of educational literature.

Grammar Schools and the Veil of Ignorance | Robert Pepper

The Policy

From a political perspective, the Conservative idea to reinstate grammar schools is a truly great policy. In the popular imagination grammars represent a place of rigour, discipline, and academia, and the 11+ as a concept appeals to a pseudo-meritocratic impulse in  Conservative voters. In theory it is fair: in practice it favours them and their families.

When Labour politicians, leading union officials, and normal teachers rally in defence of the comprehensive ideal the Conservatives can wearily shake their heads, shrug their shoulders and say: we tried. They stopped us. Remember ‘the blob’ that Gove talked about? Here it is again. It is a policy that costs nothing to announce and makes those of us who devote our professional lives to improving the educational outcomes of young people look like the major barrier they face to success.

Meanwhile, schools are starved of funding and no one talks about it. Teaching continues to struggle to recruit sufficiently good applicants in sufficiently high numbers, and no one talks about it. There is only so much air-time that can be dedicated to education. Only one story is likely to break through into the mainstream. A fist-fight over grammars is a lot juicier than another public service complaining it lacks sufficient funds to serve the public properly.

 

The Reality

Whilst talking about reintroducing grammars is an excellent move, actually reintroducing them across the country is a terrible idea. Not because individual grammar schools are intrinsically bad. Whilst some are bastions of privilege and unhappy hot-houses, others can be magical places. Like John McDonnell, like Jeremy Corbyn, like Dianne Abbott, like 27% of Labour MPs elected in 2010,  I went to one. It changed my life. I found the high academic expectations the school had, that my teachers had, challenging and thrilling. My old grammar makes Michaela seem like a forest school. It was a stand-up-in-silence, sit-down-shut-up-and-get-your-books-out, 1950s-style institution. Emphasis on institution. I was the first person in my family to go to university and I went to Oxford. And that was normal for the school. I owe my grammar school very much indeed. To castigate it would be ungrateful, inaccurate and churlish.

But what was the local comprehensive in the town like? You know the answer to that. And that is the problem.

It is the non-attenders of grammar schools who will be impacted by this policy. Of course, it will affect the poorest children the most, even if Justine Greening violates the meritocratic purity of the 11+ in order to favour poorer families. But if we widen our scope out still further, we will see that three times more children will not attend grammars than attend them. As Angela Rayner has repeatedly pointed out, the re-introduction of grammar schools is also the re-introduction of secondary moderns.

 

 

When it comes to re-designing our schools, we must ask if what we are building is fair and just. This brings me to John Rawls’ ‘veil of ignorance’, or ‘original position’. Rawls states that we should create systems and institutions we would happily be part of regardless of our role or position within them. With that in mind, would you support the nationwide re-introduction of grammars if you knew your child would go to the secondary modern? Or would you rather that there was an outstanding comprehensive school in your town instead? If you had the money to launch new grammars, would you? Or would you ensure that existing schools were properly financed?

Of course, there are deficiencies and blind-spots in comprehensive schools and there is an unacceptable variability of school quality across the country that disproportionately affects poor people. Schools are running out of money and that is affecting provision in a profound way. The introduction of grammar schools does nothing to alleviate any of these problems.

 

Robert Pepper

@rbnpepper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had expected the Conservatives fascination with grammar schools to have abated by now.

For the love of teaching | Ashley Pearce

Ashley Pearce (@ashleypearce84)  is a secondary school economics teacher in a comprehensive school just outside of Reading.  Last year he was elected as a councillor for the Labour party for an area in South Reading.  He is also a Reading FC fan and keen reader of educational literature.

I recently read an article on the TES website titled “The press is full of bad news stories about teaching-we desperately need to focus on the positives as well”. At first glance this seem a fanciful idea as more requests for tracking come in, you haven’t replied to that parent email, you have a pile of marking building up and you haven’t planned tomorrow’s lessons yet. It also made me think of the fairly well trodden known that all teachers do is moan. Now I’m sure this is true of most professions but most professions don’t get the press coverage that teaching does.

I am well aware of all of the negative stories around teaching in recent years: exam reform, pay cuts, pensions worsening, stress, class sizes…..there is a long list.

But there are so many positives to teaching that maybe sometimes we forget and the press certainly doesn’t report. We have the opportunity every day to influence and inspire a whole group of young people. It may not seem it sometimes but many of these young people really do look up to their teachers. I was a guest at a Primary schools Council recently and 5 of the 15 students present when asked who their role models were replied their teachers. From the kids own words, because they never give up, they explain things to us, they make things interesting and they’re passionate. Every day teachers get to choose (within the restraints of the curriculum) how to deliver knowledge and enthuse kids about subjects that are close to our hearts. This is a privilege most don’t have.

For us personally, we have the holidays. Twelve weeks off a year, treble the holidays of most. Yes we have to work in them sometimes and it is annoying flights are so expensive during them but still, most workers would happily swap for these. There is also our pay progression. Most professions do not all but guarantee a pay rise every year or every other year for the first ten years in a profession. Of course there are those schools that have used performance related pay to curtail wage rises but on the whole these are few. Despite this Government attempting to ruin our pensions (managing to damage them sadly), we still have a decent pension. Not “gold plated” as the media would like people to believe but we get a decent sum matched to what we put in, this isn’t the case for most. This is in part down to teaching unions being able to protect (at least in part) our rights and pensions, again, another right many jobs don’t have.

So why all the negativity around teaching? To me it seems most of this is psychological and leads to what is called “Negativity bias”. This is just a clever way of saying humans remember the bad more than the good. In teaching (as well as all walks of life), I’m sure we can all relate to this. You have had a 5 lesson day where you are really enthused, all of the kids have been engaged and all your lessons have hit the spot. Then last lesson, little Timmy just doesn’t want to know, he’s not interested in learning and what’s more, he’s going to make sure no one else in the room is going to learn either. He’s ruined your lesson. Which of those are you going to go home and tell your partner about? The 80% of the day that was positive or the 20% of the day that was not so much? As humans we are prone to focus on the negatives and tell others about them also. This is why negative political campaigns are more memorable than positive ones. Tory election strategist Lynton Crosby called it the “dead Cat on the table”. The premise being that to counter a story he didn’t want in the news, bring out another story that will counter it, the more negative the better.

The other reason for many of the negatives surrounding teaching include the admin, the paper work and bureaucracy. Much of this is down to another psychological phenomenon called “pluralistic ignorance”- a situation in which a majority of group members privately reject a norm, but incorrectly assume that most others accept it, and therefore go along with it. Sometimes there isn’t much any individual teacher can do, but if we all rejected it, what would happen? We all knew the Ebacc was a nonsense when introduced by Michael Gove, it’s included in stats so Governors have to care. Head teachers may have to push unsuitable students into those subjects to improve the stats, the kids don’t want to do these subjects and many times there are not sufficient teacher numbers to teach them. In short, we all know it is nonsense! But we all go along with it. Another facet to this is that the huge majority of teachers want to help, that’s why many went into teaching in the first place. Most teachers want to help and mostly want to be compliant, this good nature is often taken advantage of. Teachers don’t like saying no.

But for teachers to enjoy their job this is exactly what I think they need to do, they need to say no more. Saying no lowers the demand on your time, it enables you to make better decisions and focus on what is important. It enables you to keep a work life balance. To students, no I am not running an Easter revision session, revise yourself. No I am not replying to every email that doesn’t need it. No I am not going to look at my emails at home or lunch time. No I am not partaking in every school event. I know this sounds much easier than it actually is and I appreciate that. But for teachers to not burn out, keep their passion for the job and stay in the profession, this is exactly what is needed. In the long run this benefits the Government, parents, students and teachers themselves. Tired, burned out teachers leave the profession, saying no may just stop that.

 

 

In Defence of Universal Free School Meals | Tom Clements

Now, over the last eighteen months I have become used to the current leadership’s policies, or more commonly the lack of them, being criticised by people I respect in the Party. In fact, usually, I’m in agreement. But for universal free school meals, I find myself making an exception. This is a policy which is costed, thoughtful and will make a real difference to the lives of thousands of children.

 

(C) Daily Record

Firstly, let’s deal with the main criticism – that education funding is in crisis. School leaders and governors across the country are being forced to make impossible decisions every day. And I wouldn’t dispute that. I couldn’t dispute that. But these are two different arguments. Of course we should be challenging the government to increase school budgets. But we shouldn’t be using money raised from private schools just to plug gaps in state school funding. These monies should only be spent on improving state school standards, not just maintaining current provision. Otherwise, state schools will continue to be the poor relation to their private counterparts.

 

Then there is the argument that this is money that will be spent on the well off. Well, that’s just not the case. Many of the children currently living in poverty do not currently qualify for FSM. This allows the state to support these children whilst removing the stigma of FSM. More than that, it puts us clearly on the side of the ‘strivers’. Universal free school meals starts the long process of moving us towards being a Party that is seen to be on the side of the ‘squeezed middle’. Millions of parents would be better off. These are the very people that we failed to convince to vote for us in 2015.

 

There has also been the suggestion that the 20% increase in school fees would prevent parents from sending their children to private schools. We’re not seriously complaining about this are we? More parents having a stake in comprehensive education can only be a good thing. It would bring out the chattering classes and Daily Mail readers; forcing the issue of underfunding of state education into the political mainstream. Making comprehensive standards matter for more children can only mean that comprehensive standards will improve for more children.

 

Linked to this is the concern that a reduction in children going to private schools would reduce the tax receipts which would threaten the viability of universal free school meals. We’re not going to be scared by that are we? We’re the Party that fought for a minimum wage during a cacophony of claims that it would threaten a million jobs. And we shouldn’t forget the impact that a clear, understandable and measureable policy can have on our reputation. Our Party has a habit, certainly under Ed Miliband, of using the same money more than once. This was one of the reasons that we never recovered our economic credibility in the last Parliament. The universal free school meals policy has clear funding and would make children’s lives better – this is a win.

 

Then you have the criticism that universal free school meals aren’t bold enough. That it’s too modest to make a difference. To this, I can’t agree. We only have to look at the brilliant impact that family lunches have had at Dixons Trinity Academy and Michaela Free School have had on standards there. According to Luke Sparkes, principal at Dixons Trinity, family lunch offers an opportunity for students tosit around a dining table with an adult … eat[ing] from the best plates and dishes and drink[ing] from real glasses [where] conversation and manners is modelled by the adult [as] this is a time of day when our children can learn so much”. Universal free school meals would provide a great opportunity for schools to improve behaviour, manners, and much more whilst also serving nutritional, hot meals for all.

 

It’s hard not to get too excited after the dearth of initiatives of the past eighteen months but it’s clear that universal free school meals is a really solid policy. At our heart, we are a Party that stands up for the many, not the few and we should always stand up for the principle of universalism. We cannot allow our public services to become poor services for poor people. Universal free school meals are not the solution to all the problems facing the state education sector but it’s a start.

 

 

Tom Clements is a History and Politics teacher in Yorkshire.

@labourtomclem

 

Minding the Gaps | Mike Watson

Mike Watson on raising the educational attainment of boys at UK state schools

 

The House of Lords recently considered what has become a real and entrenched sociological issue in England’s schools: the fact that girls consistently out-perform boys in educational achievement. Boys are nearly twice as likely as girls to fall behind, and despite a dramatic improvement in overall results over the past decade or so, the gender gap has hardly changed for five-year-olds.

 

Research by Save the Children shows that since 2006, there has been a 20% improvement in overall attainment in state schools, and an 8% reduction in the poverty gap. Yet there has been a reduction of just 1% in the gender gap, in terms of educational attainment. In 2015, boys accounted for 51% of children who started primary school but 66% of those who were behind in their early language and communication. The pattern is similar at Key Stage 2 (age 11) and with GCSE results, and also found across all ethnic groupings.

 

There is no obvious reason for this disparity. But research from University of Bristol has shown how big an impact the gender gap in the Early Years Foundation Stage (up to age 5) has on boys’ primary school attainment. Two-thirds of the gap in reading at Key Stage 2 can be attributed to the fact that boys begin school with poorer language and attention skills than girls. Evidence meanwhile, from a wide range of other studies points clearly to high-quality early childhood education and care provision being the most powerful protection against the risk of falling behind.

 

This is especially the case with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ministers says they want to improve social mobility. I don’t doubt their good intentions in terms of apprenticeships but they are misguided about expanding grammar schools, for which there is no evidence to demonstrate these have a positive impact on such mobility. Instead, the government should relentlessly target resources at early years’ provision.

 

Since 2010, over 400 of the Sure Start centres across England established by the last Labour government have closed. In July 2015, the then childcare minister announced the launch of an open consultation on Children’s Centres for that autumn – something that never happened.

 

Ministers must grasp the need for investment in the best early education and childcare provision, particularly in the most deprived areas, led by graduates and supported by skilled staff at all levels. A well-qualified early years’ workforce is vital if young children are to have the support they need to thrive. There is also a need to increase the number of teachers and those with equivalent graduate qualifications. The difference in the quality of provision at nurseries between the most and least deprived areas is almost completely wiped out if a graduate is present.

 

We cannot wait for disadvantaged children – girls and boys alike – to get to school before they receive the support they need. By that time many will have already fallen behind, with negative consequences for their childhoods, life chances and success.

 

Much better to consider the positive benefits of improving boys’ language and communication skills early on in life – whether in terms of personal relations or how they might better interact with the world around them. As well of course, how it might help deal with the adult counter-point to this particular concern: the fact that despite the early attainment gap between boys and girls, it is the latter that continue to lose out once they enter the workplace.

 

Lord Mike Watson of Invergowrie is Shadow Education Minister in the House of Lords

Teach First Career Change | Joanne Crossley

I had always wanted to be a teacher. Many a happy childhood hour was passed creating registers, devising rules and putting on productions at my imaginary school (yes, I know). It was my Mum who stopped me. She was a deputy head at a local primary school and she felt that I could do something ‘better’. So for twenty years I worked as a Barrister in Leeds, specialising in family law. My work was varied, challenging and interesting but in later years something seemed to be missing: it didn’t always seem very worthwhile. Dealing with the financial arrangements of divorce was often frustrating and sometimes it even felt damaging to the families involved. I began to dream of being a teacher again.

 

My husband told me about Teach First as a colleague of his had recently left the Bar to join. I went to a presentation evening in Leeds and, six months later, had been accepted and was waiting to hear where I had been posted. In September 2016 I started as an English teacher at a school in special measures in Bradford.

I chose the Teach First route because I wanted to make a difference where it is most needed. Although fully aware of the effects of educational disadvantage, I was still shocked by the statistics. Children from the poorest families are only half as likely as others to get five A*-C grades at GCSE and of these children, nearly 50% achieve no GCSEs above a D grade. The odds against a child eligible for free school meals at a state secondary school being admitted to Oxbridge are 2000-1. For a privately educated child it’s 20-1. Teach First say that the link between income and attainment at school is stronger in the UK than almost anywhere else in the world.

Although these statistics are motivation enough, there are practical aspects that make Teach First an attractive ITT option, especially if you are a career changer.  You are paid a salary whilst you achieve your PGCE and QTS status and the leadership development aspect of the programme gives you the option of swift career progression, assuming you make it through the first year.

 

Critics are suspicious of the six week ‘Summer Institute’ training. Whilst it’s true that nothing can prepare you fully for being dropped full-time into the classroom in September, the support from Teach First amounts to far more than a six week training course. That’s partly what makes this route so demanding. In addition to getting to grips with classroom management, there are academic assignments, subject days, weekend conferences and half-termly leadership development workshops. Each participant is looked after by a dedicated team of mentors and tutors, some school based and some based at partner universities.

 

Teach First are quite clear that ‘nobody said changing lives was be easy’. It’s in big letters on their website. Despite this, I had not imagined it would be quite so difficult. Nor that it would be so challenging to change career mid-life. I had rather arrogantly assumed I would be instantly recognised as the saviour of teaching. I wasn’t. And for good reason.  To go right back to the beginning, and accept that you are just, well, rubbish, is a tall order. The ‘Growth Mindset’ display in my classroom (that I proudly took a whole day of the summer holidays to make) has provided more help to me than it ever has to any of my pupils.  Especially the bit that says: I can’t do it yet.

It seems ridiculous now but at the time I didn’t pay much attention to the ‘First’ part – just the ‘Teach’.  Being older than everyone else has its drawbacks – 12 hour working days, all night essay crises, two-for-one cocktails:  all so much harder to handle second time round. And I did not like student living, even though facilities have much improved since 1988.

 

Life at the Bar is very competitive and can be quite ruthless. One of the many things I love about teaching is the collaboration and openness amongst colleagues. If it weren’t for the support of my Teach First colleagues in school, and the @Team_English1 community on Twitter, I might not have stuck with the programme. Now that I’m starting to find my feet, I think that this is the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s too early to say whether my pupils feels the same.
I think my colleagues at the Bar think I have lost my mind and will soon be back in Chambers. My children tease me by pointing out that as they are growing older, I’m looking for other children for whom I can be a pushy Mum. Perhaps this is partly true: I want all children to have the same access to educational opportunity, not just those with wealthy or sharp-elbowed parents. But if I’m honest, the reason for the change is largely selfish.  Yes, there’s lots of marking, inexplicable data collection and seemingly endless multi-coloured dialogic feedback. But a tough day at work now involves reading poetry, or Y8 dystopian fiction, or planning Y7 creative writing club. And for that, I cannot thank Teach First enough.

 

@JoanneCrossley

From court room to classroom: was Barrister, now Teacher. Teach First Yorks and Humber 16 cohort.

Becoming a Teacher

There are approximately half a million teachers in the UK (full-time equivalent)  educating over 8 million students in around 25,000 schools. And yet we have a teacher shortage that has reached critical levels. The Education Select Committee recently published a report on the Recruitment and Retention of Teachers that sought to outline the situation more clearly in the hope of finding some solutions.

One of the issues identified by the report was the plurality of routes into the profession:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the report makes clear, this diversity may be useful but it is also confusing. It also poses significant questions: are all these routes equally rigorous? Do these routes present a unified vision of the profession? Do we need a unified vision? Is it possible for Ofsted to quality assure the myriad of school direct courses? Should universities or schools take the lead? Is a truly equitable partnership between schools and universities possible? Perhaps most critically of all, we are compelled to ask: do we need these different routes?

 

This week I shall be uploading posts by different Labour Teachers explaining their routes into the classroom. These are teacher-recruitment success stories and plot a path from interest in the job to actually doing it. I hope they will help explain the strengths and weaknesses of the various paths into the profession.

 

 

Sharing Resources Online For Free

Teaching is a strange job. Much of it is solitary work: after-hours planning and late night marking. And yet, of course it is public. So very public. The act itself requires another person, and in our education system that usually means more than thirty of them. Our work is primarily self-directed. We have a curriculum to follow, and we must fit into the rhythm of school life and the assessment and reporting calendar, but we call the shots most of the time for most of our day. Combine this autonomy with high levels of personal accountability, a huge workload, and the rigorous treadmill of school life, and it is easy to forget that, actually, we are not alone. We are part of a wider body of colleagues: both in our school and throughout the country. And, with wonderful tools like twitter at our disposal, we have the potential to communicate with each other, help each other, and to influence classrooms we will never see.

 

#TeamEnglish

To illustrate this point, allow me to tell you a personal anecdote. I am in my first year at a new school, and have taken on a year 11 class studying a course I haven’t taught before. This is not an unusual situation (indeed it is the third time I’ve been in it) but this is the first time I’ve been able to borrow the work of other colleagues so extensively. I’m not sure how I found it, or when exactly I found it, but the hashtag #TeamEnglish has been a revelation. I could not quantify the amount of time it has saved me. Knowledge organisers, poetry anthologies, past papers, high quality schemes of learning: I’ve downloaded them all. I gratefully hit the ‘Print’ button, and watch as the work of a dedicated teacher, whom I don’t know and will not be able to adequately thank, is stapled together in neat little bundles.

With all the time this has saved me, I have been able to ruminate on the ethics of this transaction. Does it constitute simply a (wonderful) act of collegiate kindness? Is it an act of financial stupidity? Or is it something more: a meaningful step in re-imaging our professional obligations?

 

Richard Parsons

The simple truth is: people will pay for good resources. A brilliant article in the Telegraph from 2009 speaks of Richard Parsons, a man whose name may be oddly familiar to you. He was the fifth best-selling author of the past decade. Look at these mind-boggling statistics:

“Since 2000 he has sold a total of 9,363,795 books, amassing sales of £48,293,826. That may be dwarfed by Rowling’s sales of 27.5 million books, at a value of £215.8 million, but it ranks happily alongside Bill Bryson’s sales of 5.9 million, with a value of £50 million. Indeed he has outsold Jamie Oliver, who has only managed to shift a paltry 7 million of his cookbooks, and Ian Rankin and Patricia Cornwell, who sold 6.4 million and 6.1 million of their crime novels respectively.”

He is familiar because her is Mr CGP. Those corny, comic-book style revision guides are so widely used he had amassed sales of nearly £50m eight years ago. What he must have made by now is anyone’s guess. No wonder he is seen “sometimes wearing T-shirts emblazoned with ‘The Boss’ on the front.”

 

I don’t begrudge him his success. His books are affordable and useful. But some of the material I’ve downloaded for free using #TeamEnglish has been better. Surely the teachers, busy professionals, who produced these resources deserve a few quid? If they earn enough to go on holiday at the end of the year, wouldn’t that be great?

 

TES Paid Resources

In theory, that is what the TES shop should allow to happen. Teachers sell their handiwork at a nominal sum and are duly paid for their time and effort. Over the course of time, reliable purveyors of high quality resources will be identified by the market place and these diligent practitioners will be supplementing their income whilst simultaneously saving other teachers the task of producing resources. We all benefit.

And yet there is something… uncomfortable about this part of the TES website. I’m not alone in thinking this:

My own survey produced similar results:

(Incidentally, the ‘2% Yes – at a price’ was the result of an accidental button-pressing!)

In addition to boycotting the service, others expressed a disappointment that it even existed:

 

Contrasting this experience with my own use of #TeamEnglish, it is difficult not to share @MissBLilley’s disappointment.

 

Why Share?

If there is money to be had, why not cash in? Why share? It makes sense at this point to pass over to the heroes of the piece and allow them to explain their own motives:

 

A New Vision of Collegiality

Those teachers that choose to share their work online are operating within the noble traditions of the profession. As @Eng_Lysh puts it, ‘teaching is all about sharing and not just with the students.’

Informal collaboratives like this operate as CPD, improve the experience children get in the classroom, and connect us to each other. By helping to relieve the burden of excessive workload they also reinforce our professional kinship. We use other people’s materials and we are moved to share as well.

Whilst TES’ paid resources may prove to be a huge commercial success, I do hope that is not the case. I entirely empathise with any teacher who seeks to make a very modest return on hours of their own labour.  But there is something so brilliantly noble, so heartwarming, so exciting, and so empowering about #TeamEnglish that a few quid could never replace. It is a virtuous circle that helps us to see more clearly our professional obligations to each other. At a time of great upheaval and specimen change, it is right and proper that we band together and share the workload. It is better for all of us, and for young people, that we do this for free.

Not least because, even though it may feel like it at times, in this profession we are never really on our own.