A letter to parents | @joirritableowl

jogartonJo Garton is a primary headteacher and has been for eight years. In a former life she was a Labour local councillor for five years, chair of the education committee and a parliamentary candidate.

Dear Parents,

I have had some really brilliant times at Bridlewood, but after eight years I’ve decided that I have had enough. The government’s assessment system for both this year and last in year six is completely hopeless and is putting huge strain on children, parents, teachers and school leaders. The continual criticism of schools by the media and the government encourages a small minority to expect more that can possibly be given, particularly with the shrinking amount of money coming into the service. Children with special needs have to wait years to be diagnosed, putting unmanageable strain on teachers and their parents. Added to which the mental health and social care services for children are completely inadequate through underfunding.

Most of all I do not believe that the government have the correct curriculum. How can it be right in the twenty-first century that children are wasting time on Roman numerals, but are not able to use calculators? The National Curriculum is 50% English. I have two English degrees, but even I think that this cannot be considered broad and balanced. Added to this the interim assessment framework in year six is absurd and further narrowing the primary curriculum. Children have been used as guinea pigs by politicians, yet again, which could affect their life chances for the future. This is unforgivable. We have done our best and will continue to do so to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, but we are working against the government in this.

In our school, we were in the top 6% of the country for reading last year, yet this year only 50% of our children met the expected standard in reading. This is not because the children are not able or because our teaching was any less good, but because the government set a standard for tests which is completely unreasonable. In writing, there is no way that using hyphens, dashes and semi-colons should be more important than the actual content of the writing. I suspect than almost all great writers would fail the government’s standard.

I am conscious that we are expecting an Ofsted inspection; I would not let anyone in Bridlewood down, so I am happy to stay until April 2017. March will be five years from the last inspection so we should have been inspected by then.

I have always said that the children of Bridlewood are wonderful and I hope the school will allow me to see them in the future by volunteering with reading or in the library. Thank you for sharing them with me- they have been a complete pleasure. I would like to thank you all and the governors for your great support of the school. I have been exceptionally blessed in the chairs of governors at Bridlewood: Jayne Keen, Steve Bentley, Paul Russell and Mark Boffin. I am happy to support the school in any way possible in the transition to my successor.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Garton

Last Week’s Posts on @LabourTeachers (Week Ending 17th September 2016)

Here’s last week’s posts. If you are a Labour supporting teacher and you’d like to write something for us, please get in touch.

Sunday

The Annual Shaming of Parents | @RosMcM

The culture that surrounds education and schooling in the UK is so dominated by social class it is really quite extraordinary. We know from research that the biggest factors in success at school are family background, parental support for education and aspiration.

Monday

An end to ‘radical reform’ in education? | @kevbartle

And so it begins again. Another school year – my 22nd, for the record – and another massive structural change plan for education. According to the reports on Radio 4 this morning (well, it is my 22nd year in teaching and so you can forgive me for living the middle-age, middle-class dream) this is the most radical reform of schooling for half a century. I confess to giving a hollow laugh as I negotiated the journey to work. Whether it was the emphasis on ‘reform’ or the emphasis on ‘radical’ that caused my sarcastic snicker I’m not quite sure.

Tuesday

Selection and Despair | @68ron

If there is anything that crystallises my sense of despair with the national political situation it is the government’s latest attempt to expand academic selection.

Wednesday

Should I stay or should I go? | @MichaelT1979

I’m not an active member. If I’m honest, I’ve always been put off by emails that invite me to meetings that begin with “Dear Comrade…”, so the thought that now I might be insulted or abused as a Blairite (and a Blairite I unquestionably am) hardly entices me any further.

Thursday

Where is our creative revolution for music in schools? | Christopher H

In February 2006, Sir Ken Robinson asked the question at his TED talk, “Do schools kill creativity?” His speech was charming, funny, engaging and gave a convincing argument that we should be doing more to engage in creativity in schools. The talk is the most viewed TED talk of its history seen over forty million times in the talk’s ten-year history. It has made Sir Ken Robinson a well-known name in education and often referred to in professional development.

Friday

The Unbearable Language of Grammars | @JulesDaulby

When justifying why we need grammar schools, Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, said:

“Because some children need to be academically stretched”.

= 80% of children in the UK don’t need to be.

“We must reward hard work and aspiration” said Prime Minister, Theresa May.

= 80% of children have low aspirations and don’t work hard.

 

The Unbearable Language of Grammars | @JulesDaulby

unknownJules Daulby is a Literacy and Language Co-ordinator in a comprehensive in Dorset.  As part of her role, she leads a specialist Speech and Language base, an alternative curriculum for students who follow ASDAN instead of a GCSE option and is responsible for whole school literacy.

When justifying why we need grammar schools, Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, said:

“Because some children need to be academically stretched”.

= 80% of children in the UK don’t need to be.

“We must reward hard work and aspiration” said Prime Minister, Theresa May.

= 80% of children have low aspirations and don’t work hard.

“We are lucky enough to have grammar schools in Kent; other counties are not so lucky” exclaimed MP for Sevenoaks, Michael Fallon.

“We” = minority of parents who get their children into those grammar schools.

“Meritocracy” = The deserved few.

“Deserved” = Children who are not clever enough to get into grammars don’t deserve our money because they don’t try hard enough.

“Some children are better doing vocational subjects” = 80% of children are good with their hands and a test at 11 will decide.

Vocational = Cor blimey, governor.

Academic = Spiffing.

Non-tutored IQ tests = We’ll get your child through the 11+ if you pay us lots of money.

Where is our creative revolution for music in schools? | Christopher H

Choddinott photoChristopher H is a Music Teacher from Hull in the UK, who has a passion for creativity. He has worked in education for the last eight years and has a love for music and drinking tea.

In February 2006, Sir Ken Robinson asked the question at his TED talk, “Do schools kill creativity?” His speech was charming, funny, engaging and gave a convincing argument that we should be doing more to engage in creativity in schools. The talk is the most viewed TED talk of its history seen over forty million times in the talk’s ten-year history. It has made Sir Ken Robinson a well-known name in education and often referred to in professional development.

However, since his inspiring and famous speech, has much changed to inspire creativity and promote the creative arts in schools? In my opinion, the standards to support the arts in school have been minimal. The importance of standards and emphasis on the subjects such as English, Science, and Mathematics has continued to be the measure by governments of education as a whole. How well a school is doing is assessed by the criteria set in those main subjects. As Sir Ken Robinson says “it places less value on practical disciplines, art, drama, dance, music, design and physical education.” Creativity is stifled by the emphasis on the “core” subjects.

Schools have to realise the beneficial effect that music and the arts in the school as a whole. Not only does it teach creative skills, such as how to innovate, evaluate, reflect, problem solves and communicate ideas, it improves the learning environment for the whole school. It is proved that music and the arts improve academic standards as a whole. For example research by Nina Kraus showed “children who learned how to play a musical instrument showed stronger language skills than children who took music appreciation courses.” It is not only true for language learning but true for a whole range of subjects, the fact that students who play a musical instrument perform well academically overall.

With the evidence and research that is available, it would be thought that music and the arts are actively encouraged in schools. However, that is not the case, not just in the UK but across the world as Anita Collins, an academic in neuroscience and music education, says:

“Music education is often one of the first programs to be cut or scaled back when the purse strings are tightened in a school. Again when considering the research that now exists, this also seems flawed.”

With this statement, it has meant the numbers of students opting to take GCSE music are low and continuing to drop. Around 8% of all students choose to take GCSE music which compares to 20% taking Physical Education. So what is the cause of a decline in music? There is a lack of purposeful investment in music, as it is expensive to run and many schools cutting back on their music programs and are not offering GCSE music as an option. Ofsted has failed to hold to account schools for neglected art programs. Many students also find the KS3 material stagnant and uninspiring, where more focus should be on helping students play an instrument in school, or developing skills in music technology and music production. Students are also put off having careers in music by a lack of support from peers, teachers, parents and society.

In short, we should be doing more to pressure the powers that be to agree that creative subjects such as music hold an important part in the school community. We should encourage each child to play one instrument and give them the opportunities to practice, perform and develop. They should be encouraged that many creative industries are looking for talented musicians and a career can be made from music.

References

Collins, A. (2015) Music education key to raising literacy and numeracy standards. (Accessed: 14 September 2016).

Dovey, D. (2014) The link between music and academic success. (Accessed: 14 September 2016).

Maton, K. (2016) ‘Choosing music: Exploratory studies into the low uptake of music GCSE.   (Accessed: 14 September 2016).

Robinson, K. and Aronica, L. (2015) Creative schools: Revolutionizing education from the ground up. London, United Kingdom: Allen Lane.

TED (2007) Do schools kill creativity? | sir Ken Robinson | TED talks

 

Should I stay or should I go? | @MichaelT1979

Twitter PhotoMichael Tidd is deputy headteacher of a primary and nursery school in Nottinghamshire, and a Labour Party member in Derbyshire. He was a member of the selection committee that appointed the trustees of the College Of Teaching.

I’m not an active member. If I’m honest, I’ve always been put off by emails that invite me to meetings that begin with “Dear Comrade…”, so the thought that now I might be insulted or abused as a Blairite (and a Blairite I unquestionably am) hardly entices me any further.

I comfort myself with a small financial contribution each month towards the running of the party. Or at least, I did. And when that meant trying to make the most of Ed Miliband, I went door-to-door on election day and tried my best – to no avail. But now, with what looks like further wilderness years ahead, I’m not sure what to do.

Do I keep paying my subs, in the hope that when another leadership election eventually comes around I’ll be eligible to bring the party back closer to electability? Or do I pull the plug, in the hope that it is recognised that not everyone in the party is happy to prioritise ‘the club’ over the need for Labour government. Perhaps my small monthly contribution would be better spent on cause that actually aim to help those most in need of support, rather than a militant club.

I’ve cast my leadership vote, perhaps with even less hope than I did in 2015, and certainly with as little enthusiasm for any of the candidates as I’ve ever mustered, in the hope that we might at least pull things back from the brink.

But if, as seems likely, we really are destined to be stuck with a leader who refuses to give up his own internal power, despite showing no capacity to gain any collective power, is there any good reason for me to keep contributing to the pot? I’m open to persuasion, but I really can’t see much point.

Recommendations for alternative locations for my monthly cash, or arguments for keeping in for the long haul, are welcome!

Selection and Despair | @68ron

image1@68ron is a teacher living and working on the south coast. He likes to think he can see educational issues from a number of different perspectives, teacher, parent, governor and (teaching) trade union officer. His 16th birthday present was a Labour Party membership card (when it still had Clause IV written on it). His greatest moment in teaching came while listening live on the ‘wireless’ to Mrs Thatcher’s defenestration while sitting in the smokers’ staff room during morning break.

If there is anything that crystallises my sense of despair with the national political situation it is the government’s latest attempt to expand academic selection.

In the first place it is a very bad idea. There is zero evidence that selection advances social mobility and substantial evidence it entrenches social immobility. If you want to be reminded of this see Chris Cook’s excellent analysis of selection that he wrote for the FT a few years ago. We’re supposed to be living in an era of evidence-based policy aren’t we?

Secondly, it reminds me of the failures of previous Labour governments to abolish selection when they had the chance to – a notable failure of Labour governments from 1997-2010. The irony is that when Margaret Thatcher was Education Secretary more selective schools were abolished than under Labour.

Another reason it fills me with despair is that the debate is still framed as if it is about the merits of grammar schools rather than the problems of secondary moderns and de facto secondary moderns. With selection more kids fail than pass – so why do we name the system after the destination of the minority of children? Why are others allowed to frame the debate in this way? Why are more people not challenging this?

Which leads me to my final point…Labour. I could weep. This debate should be led by us. It’s one we can win. We should be building alliances with others on this including Tory MPs. But we can not. How can we credibly build alliances with others when we can not even build alliances within our own party. We are too busy indulging in an internecine war to put the case for comprehensive education. Frankly as a party we should be ashamed.

An end to ‘radical reform’ in education? | @kevbartle

SubstandardFullSizeRender (1)Keven Bartle is the Headteacher of Canons High School in Edgware, NW London, which is a Teaching School as part of the Canons Park Alliance. He is a lifelong Labour supporter from one of the few remaining bastions of Labour support, the North East. He tweets as @kevbartle, blogs here and does so in very much a personal capacity.

And so it begins again. Another school year – my 22nd, for the record – and another massive structural change plan for education. According to the reports on Radio 4 this morning (well, it is my 22nd year in teaching and so you can forgive me for living the middle-age, middle-class dream) this is the most radical reform of schooling for half a century. I confess to giving a hollow laugh as I negotiated the journey to work. Whether it was the emphasis on ‘reform’ or the emphasis on ‘radical’ that caused my sarcastic snicker I’m not quite sure.

Once upon a time radical reform was a generational concept. In the post-war era it was the tripartite system of the 40s, the comprehensivisation of the 60s, the marketisation of the 80s and then the academisation of the 00s. But then something happened to politicians, starting under the Blair era and continuing ever since: continuity within governments was sacrificed on the altar of the seen-to-be-doing-something-radical intra-governmental-change mindset.

It’s a mindset that largely plays out in structural reform, but one that is also mirrored in reforms to external assessment and accountability mechanisms too. And so we find ourselves in the midst of changes for new and untried curricula feeding into new and untried examinations to inform new and untried RAISEonline data packages to provide ammunition for new and untried inspection mechanisms that are evaluated by new and untried commissioners within education to sweep schools into new and untried multi-academy trusts that will use new and untried methodologies to raise the attainment levels of the children who are meant to be at the heart of the whole new and untried system. Oh, and to top it all off, all of this needs to be done within the finances of a not even yet new and untried funding system (should the government ever get around to completing their consultation on the matter).

And all the while, a deeply resilient profession plays on as best it can like the band on board the Titanic. The lifeboats fill as the lifeblood drains out. At one end of the scale Headteachers are being retired and fired in greater numbers than they are being hired. At the other targets for new entrants to the profession are undershot whilst those who are recruited are attritioned out in massive numbers. And the squeezed middle, be they curriculum and pastoral leaders or the old classroom hands who unsexily keep the whole show on the road, find themselves with increasing class sizes and increasing contact time (but barely increasing pay packets for almost a decade now) as the never-ending race-to-the-bottom austerity agenda continues to bite individuals and institutions in equal measure.

So, forgive me for the negativity about the ‘radical reform’ of re-grammarisation and my hollow laugh at the end of what is supposed to be the honeymoon period of the school year. And forgive me for wondering, yet again, where Labour is in this debate, other than in vague and generalised opposition to the plans put forward by others.

In apology, let me finish with some positivity (all of this is, after all, set against the backdrop of the loveliest late summer sunshine I can remember in my 22nd September as a teacher) and a suggestion for the shadow education secretary. Call this government out on its botched reforms of the middle tier, on its botched approach to teacher recruitment and on its botched approaches to accountability that have the whole profession running in fear into the arms of questionable ethical practices with both teachers and students.

And when the media asks what you would do instead of free schools, grammar schools, mass academisation and Regional Schools Commissioners, tell them that you would instigate a Royal Commission to bring together the best and the brightest of the profession, of academics and of whoever else has a stake in the long-term inter-generational stability of our vital education system. Tell them that this commission would be empowered to look under every stone to seek out the best and the worst of what we already do.  Tell them that it would cut across party lines but that all parties would commit to carrying out its recommendations and to setting a twenty year moratorium on future change. Tell them that education is too important to remain in the field of play as little more than a political football and that you will end the game-playing that seems to have replaced real politics. Go on – I dare you, with every ounce of my 21 and a bit years of experience – tell them that.

The Annual Shaming of Parents | @RosMcM

JpegAfter 31 years of teaching, 15 of them as firstly Headteacher, then Principal, and latterly as Executive Principal and CEO of an Academy Trust, Ros is now working independently in the sector.

The culture that surrounds education and schooling in the UK is so dominated by social class it is really quite extraordinary. We know from research that the biggest factors in success at school are family background, parental support for education and aspiration.

Grammar schools (seen as ‘aspirational’) had the hallmark of the smart school uniform; independent schools traditionally have distinctive uniform. These smart and distinctive uniforms are supported by parents who want a statement of their aspiration for their children. This is why those of us establishing the first academies introduced smart uniform – something which is now common across the system. Insisting on proper smart uniform has now become one of the first things a headteacher does when embarking upon school improvement and transformation. It is about making a statement to parents that we expect them to support the education of their children and to share our aspirations for their children’s academic performance. It is also about making a statement to young people: you put on a uniform and you wear it with pride to make a statement about your aspiration for yourself.

There are a very small number of exceptions to what I am going on to say (I acknowledge the middle-class, ‘hippy-ish’ ‘my child is a free spirit and should be allowed to wear what they want’ parents) but the overwhelming majority of parents who want to fight a school’s uniform policy are exposing their lack of aspiration for their children’s success or their lack of parental control over their children. And everybody knows this.

I am embarrassed at the annual shaming of parents self-identifying as an obstacle to their children’s success by defending their right to wear ‘skinny’ trousers / trainers / piercings / short skirts etc. In our class-ridden culture people watch the way they watched the parents passing fish and chips through the school fence as their children didn’t like healthy school meals; they watch the way they watch Jeremy Kyle; they watch in incredulity and with a pity which is highly judgemental.

I hate seeing this: I hate seeing the under-aspirational demonised instead of educated and supported. Above all I hate the media collusion in this – in allowing those who want ‘to be on the telly’ to expose themselves allowing other parents to tut, feel smug and justified in their prejudices. It doesn’t help anyone and only serves to reinforce just how class-based our education system is. This year, witnessing these unedifying school gates arguments against a backdrop of news reports about reintroducing grammar schools just makes me want to weep.

Last Week’s Posts on @LabourTeachers (Week Ending 11th September 2016)

Here’s last week’s posts. If you are a Labour supporting teacher and you’d like to write something for us, please get in touch.

Sunday

The flocks | @Lisa7Pettifer

Small blue birds, jaunty animations in a simplistic design, bobbed around outside the windows like bubbles blown at a child’s birthday party. Occasionally, one bumped into the glass, made no sound, and burst into a shower of tiny red hearts. Flocks of forty, fifty, even sixty were commonplace. Sometimes they circled in signature flocks, as if ready to swoop if Jo left the house.

Monday

Those who can, mentor | @rhsp27

As a former vicar and now NQT, I’m often noting the similarities between my old and new professions. Common to both is the issue of how to engage and inspire your listeners; the importance of keeping abreast of the latest developments in theory and practice; the inevitable stresses and strains that have to be coped with, work-life balance; and the time off that is too-often cluttered with work things that have to be done and can’t wait. And both teachers and clergy will testify to the ever-present threat of personal and professional burn-out.

Tuesday

Why I still will not go gentle into that good night of a disintegrating Europe Part 1 | Andrew James

Andrew has been reflecting on how Britain’s involvement in the EU affected his life.

In 1996, my wife, Stefi, and I,  returned to the UK to work in a series of short-term posts in international schools in the west country. At this time, there was a huge influx of international students into these schools, which were struggling to cope with the impact of the lower levels of English of the incoming students. We needed to provide intensive, fast-track courses in English for them, in order that they could integrate more quickly into the mainstream schools. As they were a long way from home, they also needed twenty-four-hour care, which we provided as houseparents.

Wednesday

Why I still will not go gentle into that good night of a disintegrating Europe Part 2 | Andrew James

Andrew has been reflecting on how Britain’s involvement in the EU affected his life.

In 2005, it was Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who came to our rescue as an ‘immigrant’ family. The system of tax credits that he introduced gave us the breathing space we needed to get back on our feet. In Canterbury, there was plenty of hourly paid teaching and training work for English language consultants, but few full-time permanent contracts on offer in the private sector. In the state system, there was plenty of supply teaching, but few permanent jobs for someone with my experience. After working with international business people and students on short courses, I eventually found a full-time role as a teacher of English and Humanities at IGCSE and International Baccalaureate Diploma levels, and of Cambridge IELTS. Eventually, both of us got full-time permanent posts, so that we were able to pay off our tax credits.

Thursday

The return of the debate about grammar schools should be a wake up call for us all | @MikeBerkoff

I come from a background in education that pre-disposes me against Grammar Schools but the point of this blog is not ideological but about evidence based arguments. The government is once again returning to suggesting an expansion of Grammar Schools. This is in fact a long standing ambition for many Conservatives. I specifically say ‘many’ rather than ‘all’ because there are those in that party who have a long standing familiarity with education and have some commitment to the comprehensive system.

Friday

Uniforms | @srcav

Uniforms are part and parcel of school life for the vast majority of us. They are often quite arbitrary and they differ from school to school. They are something that, for some reason, never stop being discussed.

Uniforms | @srcav

cavStephen Cavadino is a maths teacher (and fanatic) from Leeds. He is a member of the Labour party. You can read of his musings on maths, teaching and life at cavmaths.wordpress.com . When he isn’t teaching; writing about, or doing maths he spends the majority of his time with his family, watching rugby (both codes) and playing guitar.

Uniforms are part and parcel of school life for the vast majority of us. They are often quite arbitrary and they differ from school to school. They are something that, for some reason, never stop being discussed.

They can be expensive,  I’ve recently seen these costs as a parent for the first time and I understand them. But they aren’t a great deal more than other clothes.

So why is it they have hit the news again?

Well that’s because a school crackdown has caused outrage, as usual. What I imagine has happened is that the school has either brought in a new uniform requirement or, the more likely scenario, the school has decided to ensure that students follow the uniform policy. It seems like basic common sense to me. If a school has a uniform policy, it should be enforced. If you attend a school with a uniform policy you should follow that policy. If your child attends a school with a uniform policy you should ensure they are following said policy.

It’s strange, I’ve worked in many jobs which have had many different dress codes. Some simple uniforms (a pub branded t shirt); some full uniforms (a branded suit and tie); some strict dress codes (suit and tie), and some more lax (shirt and tie). I’ve never thought to try and get round it.

I have, however, heard every excuse under the sun from students.

Following uniform policies is important. It’s the opening gambit. If you have a uniform policy and don’t enforce it you are saying to the world “our policies mean nothing” and inviting students to break the behaviour policy, the attendance policy etc. etc. etc.