Monthly Archives: October 2013

Teachers less qualified than McDonalds staff according to Labour

I have to say when I saw this on twitter, it reminded me of a long standing joke between myself and my housemate, who studies a Degree (BTec) in History (He thinks it’s a real degree). I know he’s going to read this so he’s going to send me a text message saying PLEASE! LEAVE ME ALONE! as soon as this goes out XD. We’ve had quite a few times of banter and sending memes between each other saying he’s going to end up working in McDonalds. Ah the student banter …

Now back to the serious stuff. The Telegraph is reporting claims from Tristram Hunt that shift managers at McDonald’s require more qualifications than teachers under Michael Gove’s flagship free schools. Mr Hunt, a television historian before entering parliament, said the “wholesale deregulation” of schools had undermined teachers and would drive down standards.

“Under David Cameron, we have this situation where you now need more qualifications to work as a shift manager at McDonald’s than to become a teacher,” Mr Hunt said. “I am pleased McDonald’s insist on qualifications for their shift managers. It’s surprising and alarming that Education Secretary Michael Gove doesn’t operate in the same way.”

He added: “The quality of our teaching system determines the success of our education system, so it makes no sense to water down standards for teachers.”

In 2008 the fast food restaurant introduced an A-level standard Diploma in Shift Management, endorsed by Ofqual, the qualifications watchdog. The on-the-job course is examined by a multiple-choice examination, practical assessments and coursework and teaches business principles and people management.

Mr Gove’s department insists state-funded schools should be able to employ untrained teachers in the same way that private schools “hire the great linguists, scientists, engineers and other specialists they know can best teach and inspire their pupils”.

But the policy has caused a split in the Coalition, with the Liberal Democrats supporting Labour calls for teachers to require teaching qualifications. David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools minister, yesterday spoke in defence of Mr Gove’s policy in the Commons, before abstaining on the vote. The Labour motion, to force all teachers to have a minimum standard of qualifications, was defeated by 263 to 229 after only one Liberal Democrat voted with the Government.


Education: a game of two halves

I’m sure those who are more the sporty type may recognise the football reference this time round. These are mooching, introspective times for English football. Never has our national game been richer or more popular. Never has it been more widely and scathingly maligned.

The failure of the national side to make more than a modest dent at any major tournament in the last generation has been compounded by the eclipsing of our top club sides at European level. In last season’s Champions League, the world’s leading club competition, no English team made it beyond the last 16. Other nations have streaked ahead in terms of tactics, training and governance. To be involved in English football these days is akin to being a BBC television presenter in the 1970s – not condemnable in itself, but certainly enough to make folk a bit suspicious.

And yet from English soil rise great English monuments, symbolising a determination to thrive. The new national football academy at St George’s Park in Staffordshire was acclaimed as one of the finest training facilities in the world when it was opened last month. The redeveloped Wembley Stadium may have cost an arm, a leg and several bureaucratic red faces, but it is built, it is ours and it is magnificent. As the sun sets on the ”golden generation’’, attention now turns to the next generation. English football is in a fight for its own relevance, and its next frontier is the classroom.

Well why is a teacher talking about football? What’s this got to do with education? Well, we have Free Schools to thank (oh god). Manchester City and Everton are just two of the Premier League clubs who have taken advantage of the Coalition’s education reforms to open their own free schools. Connell Sixth Form College in east Manchester opened its doors to 60 students last month, with the aim of taking on 300 pupils from some of the most deprived areas in the region.

Everton Free School, located at four sites across Merseyside, has been going for more than a year now and was recently named as one of the best football community programmes in Europe. Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, are sponsoring a new technical college in north-east London, in partnership with Middlesex University, that accepts its first intake in September 2014.

The idea of a football club running a school conjures up all sorts of surreal images: keepie-uppies in the corridors, perhaps, or children being tested on their knowledge of historic FA Cup winners. The reality is a little more prosaic. These are regular schools, with the odd twist. Like the long-standing Ashton-on-Mersey school in Sale, which is sponsored by Manchester United (BOO), setting up a school gives football clubs a certain stake in the education of their young players. The likes of Gerard Pique, Danny Welbeck and Jonny Evans were schooled at Ashton-on-Mersey while youth team players at United, eventually graduating to the first-team, international honours and — in Pique’s case — a World Cup win.

Similarly Connell, which is in the process of building a brand-new campus just a stone’s throw away from City’s Etihad Stadium, provides the club’s apprentices with their own tailored education. “Their teaching is very much within a flexible timetable, around their training sessions,” says Gillian Winter, the principal of Connell, which is run in partnership with the Brights Future Educational Trust. “The great advantage of our college is that we do have extended days, so three times a week our college is open until 8.15pm. That means that the elite athletes can come in after the end of the official college day and do independent study, guided by the teachers. Then there are things like the virtual learning environment, which allows athletes to access their studies anywhere in the world. Even if they get sent to Japan or South Africa, for instance, they can continue their studies in their hotel room or wherever.”

The curriculum, almost surprisingly, is not geared towards a sporting existence. “We offer PE, we offer level-three BTEC sports science, but essentially what these athletes tell us is that they want to study an academic curriculum that they would have had access to had they stayed at school,” says Winter. “Because if they don’t make it in sport, they need something to fall back on. And we are providing them with the education which will allow them to achieve if they don’t make it in their chosen sport.”

The benefits for regular students are both tangible and intangible. “Elite athletes are always very well-disciplined people,” says Winter. “They’ve been exposed to a variety of experiences that our students haven’t necessarily done. But they can share those with our students, which is opening their eyes to horizons beyond college. That’s one tremendous plus.”

Meanwhile, the revelation that some Connell students were offered free tickets for the Champions League home game against European champions Bayern Munich last month will be enough to have every Light Blue kid in Manchester pestering their parents to get them in. And yet competition for places is expected to be fierce. Entry requirements are currently five GCSEs at A*-C grade, with at least two at grade B, and passes in Maths and English.

Prospective students at Everton Free School undergo psychological profiling from the school’s resident psychologist to assess their suitability for admission. The school’s motto mirrors that of the football club: “Nothing but the best”.

This may not be education for the masses – class sizes are kept low in order give each child a tailored learning experience. But footballing free schools are anything but elitist. Rather, they offer aspiration for children who have frequently been failed by the education system.

Before Connell opened, east Manchester was virtually devoid of half-decent sixth-form colleges. A bright 16-year-old with designs on going to Oxbridge from Droylesden or Gorton, say, was faced with the choice of travelling miles for their further education or dropping out of school altogether. “What we found when we looked at the demographics and we looked at what young people were doing was that some of them were having to travel a long way for an academic education,” Winter says. “Others just went into a job, which of course this year they can’t do. It has brought academic aspiration into east Manchester, which is tremendous, really.”

Or as Jim Battle, deputy leader of Manchester city council, said at the time Connell secured its funding: “Regeneration should be indelibly linked with aspiration.”

So, how does all this help our football clubs? One of the reasons Premier League teams reacted so enthusiastically to the free school movement is linked to the existing football academy system. Because of their studies, school-age footballers aged nine to 16 currently receive about five hours of training a week – far behind their counterparts in France, the Netherlands or Spain, where 15-20 hours of training a week are generally the norm.

It is during these formative years that other nations have opened up a gap on us. The humiliating performance of the England under-21 team at the European Championships this summer underlined the rawness of our young footballers, and the need for an education system that optimises their athletic potential. In return, regular students are infused with a little of sport’s ruthless quest for excellence. In short, everybody wins; one day, possibly even the England football team.

The teacher who is allergic to school

I’m a massive fan of Educating Yorkshire as most of you who follow my blog regularly will probably have guess by now. But one teacher on that show has been hit by the media’s attention. Mr Steer, Deputy Head and Maths teacher, constantly kept going for his pupils despite the body underneath him seemingly falling apart more and more each day.

But the Channel 4 documentary star suffers from a mixture of severe skin conditions leaving him suffering painful reactions to dozens of classroom items. He often has to wear gloves to teach at Thornhill Community Academy in a bid to avoid suffering an allergic reaction to red ink, smartboards, plastic chairs, computer screens, rulers, glue sticks, folders and marker pens.

The deputy head teacher, 36, battles sensitivity to potassium dichromate, eczema and dermatitis, and can see his hands and skin swell up and become raw after contact with the chemical.

Mr Steer said: ‘The three skin conditions essentially combine to create the perfect storm – meaning there’s a whole host of things in a classroom I’m allergic to. I can’t hold stationery, can’t touch the board and can’t mark students’ work with red pens. Every day I wake up and go to work I’m walking into a giant death trap. I’m allergic to the whole school.’

Alongside his duty to introduce teenagers to trigonometry, Mr Steer works tirelessly to improve the school’s overall standards. His workhorse attitude can often trigger reactions as stress can make him more prone to allergic reactions. He has suffered painful reactions to potassium dichromate from an early age – something that has proved difficult to live with as the substance is found in thousands of products such as dyes and colourings, adhesives, mobile phones, colour photos, paper, paint, shoes, wood polish and soap.

And when he comes into contact with a product that contains the compound, his condition will immediately flare up.

Mr Steer said: ‘When I come into contact with the chemical my hands will balloon or sores will flare up, my knuckles will become stiff and tender to move. It comes and goes, it gets better, and it gets worse. Being in a school environment there’s a lot of things I cannot use. And if I do come into contact with something my body essentially attacks itself. When doctors first diagnosed it they gave me a whole list of things I was allergic to – from aeroplanes to army uniforms, match heads to raw chicken. It’s a really bizarre condition that I’ve had to adapt to. I try to not let it affect me and my job.’

I remember watching the series and his leg had flared up and looked like a complete mess. He still kept going, despite the headteacher constantly telling him to get it looked at. This man is a hero.

Mr Gove should be renamed ‘Mr Sloppy’

I’m loving the irony of this title, given the Mr Men argument Michael Gove had with Educator Russel Tarr over his Mr Men history programme. But why am I saying this? Well, a speech Michael Gove made last month, has had to be put right in its online version, meaning that something was wrong. Heaven forbid Gove get something wrong! Oh wait …

Michael Gove has made much of how his policies are “evidence-based,” but the Education Secretary has retrospectively had to go through a speech that he delivered to the Policy Exchange last month with a red pen.

“In schools like Woodpecker Hall Primary in Edmonton or Durand Academy in Lambeth, far more children than the national average are registered as having special educational needs,” he told the assembled gathering. “But every child – regardless of the challenges they face – achieves far above the national average in numeracy and literacy.”

It has since been changed in its online rendering to: “In schools like Cuckoo Hall Primary or Durand Academy, far more children than the national average are registered as having special educational needs. But the vast majority of children – regardless of the challenges they face – achieved at or above the expected level in numeracy and literacy.”

Gove’s spokesman reports: “Our website makes clear that the published version of the speech was corrected for accuracy. The Secretary of State mistakenly cited Woodpecker Hall, instead of Cuckoo Hall. Both Durand and Cuckoo Hall have far more children than the national average registered as having special educational needs and 90 per cent and 94 per cent respectively of their pupils achieved at or above the expected level in numeracy and literacy. Last year, there were 223 schools with far more children than the national average registered as having special educational needs, where every child – regardless of the challenges they face – achieved at or above the expected level in numeracy and literacy.”

Wow, I can’t believe Michael Gove even cited a school in the first place. That’s his first blunder. There is no excuse for naming schools individually, especially as what he said could be interpreted (which I did first time I read it) as those school children clearly don’t have special educational needs. What the report doesn’t say is what those needs are, baring in minded Gifted and Talented can and sometimes is classed as a special educational need.

Gove’s second blunder: if he is going to name a school, he should at least name the correct one! This is pretty shocking to say the least. He could potentially be shaming a school unfairly, putting a false impression on parents etc and potentially damaging the reputation of what is a highly performing school.

I’m not going to lie, I can think of quite a few names to rename Michael Gove, none that sing his praises. But we’ll go with ‘Mr Sloppy’. Roger Hargreaves sadly passed away in 1988, but I would have loved to have seen him write a book based on this title. Would probably fit Gove to a T …

Give Muslim free school more time … PLEAAASSEEE!

We’ve been hearing a lot recently about a certain failing Free School set up in Derby. Well, a new parents’ group set up to support Derby’s failing Muslim free school is to petition the Government for time to turn the school around.

The Parents and Friends of Al Madinah School has been formed following a meeting of mums and dads last weekend in the wake of a damning report by Ofsted. It called the school, which has sites in Nelson Street and Friar Gate, “dysfunctional”, “in chaos” and “inadequate”, placing it in special measures.

Schools Minister Lord Nash had already given the school until November 1 to come up with an action plan to make improvements or face having its funding cut and closure.

Parent Abdul Ghafar said: “We feel very much let down by the Government. It seems our children are not being treated like children from other state schools in the area, which are also in special measures. We request that the Prime Minister shows he really does care about our children and gives this school more time and support to get things right.”

Parents will be attending meetings over the next few days to launch a campaign based on giving the school time and support to deliver the changes required.

Mr Ghafar said: “We expect more than 200 parents to attend and we aim to have a petition with thousands of signatures of support. We are not prepared to let this school close.”

The petition reads: “This is a petition by the parents and friends of Al-Madinah Free School, Derby. We strongly believe that this school should be given the same opportunities and support to improve as other state schools locally and nationally, when they are under special measures. We have confidence in the governors and staff to achieve this, God willing. We believe this free school, given time, has the potential to become an outstanding school.”

The school, which has 412 pupils aged four to 16, hit the national headlines after it was revealed on September 20th that non-Muslim female staff were being forced to cover their heads with a hijab – an Islamic head scarf.

Lord Nash ordered the school to stop the practice and it is no longer a requirement of staff dress. He also imposed two interim deadlines by which the school needed to supply him with information ahead of November 1st. One expired last Tuesday and the other, which required the management to satisfy Lord Nash it was fit to run the school, was yesterday.

The school and the Department for Education remained tight-lipped about whether or not the deadlines had been fully met. A DfE spokesman said: “Information has been sent to us but we will not be formally commenting on what we have received.” He declined to comment on the petition.

‘Hitler wasn’t all bad’, but you are …

The BBC is reporting that a religious education teacher in Scotland has been struck off after telling pupils: “Hitler wasn’t all bad – he killed the Jews, the gays and the disabled”

David McNally also told pupils at Kilwinning Academy that he would rather have been a child abuser and liked to watch porn on his mobile phone.

The remarks were made to S3 and higher RE classes on 1 November 2012. McNally will be struck off after he was found to be unfit to teach by the General Teaching Council for Scotland. In his submission to the General Teaching Council, McNally accepted he had made the remarks but that he was having a particularly bad day.

The teacher – who did not attend the hearing – was accused of making a number of offensive or inappropriate remarks. As well as the remark about Hitler he asked one of his Higher pupils if they had had sex at the weekend. On the same day he said to pupils in his third year class: “I didn’t want to be a teacher. I would rather have been a prison warden or a child abuser.” He also said: “I have a part-time job at a children’s home – they have taught me how to whip a child with a wet towel without leaving a mark.”

The hearing was also told he said: “I love my mobile phone because I can sit and watch porn on it.”

McNally also made inappropriate comments about disgraced DJ Jimmy Savile after widespread reports emerged about him being a child abuser. The General Teaching Council panel noted that McNally had suggested that, after a long career, he had made these comments when he was having a particularly bad day. But the panel rejected his suggestion that the comments had been made in a general sense. It noted that the pupils had reacted to the comments by reporting the matter to their parents.

McNally now has the opportunity to appeal. WHAAAAAATTTTT! Why is he being given the opportunity to appeal?!?!?! This guy is ridiculous! There is nothing to appeal against! In fact he needs to be locked in a mental institution if he really thinks he has a case. What a waste of court’s time this is going to be …

Shoesmith Payout Stinks!

A six-figure payout to the ex-head of Haringey children’s services “leaves a bad taste in the mouth,” shadow chancellor Ed Balls has said.

Mr Balls said he made the right decision as children’s secretary to remove Sharon Shoesmith from her role. Ms Shoesmith, who earned £133,000 a year, won a ruling in 2011 that she was unfairly sacked after a damning report into the death of Baby Peter. BBC Newsnight revealed the payout could cost Haringey Council up to £600,000.

Peter Connelly, who was 17 months old, died in 2007 after months of abuse. The boy had more than 50 injuries, despite being on the at-risk register and receiving 60 visits from social workers, police and health professionals over eight months. Three people were jailed in 2009, including his mother.

The Court of Appeal concluded Ms Shoesmith had been “unfairly scapegoated” and her removal from office in December 2008 by the then Children’s Secretary Ed Balls had been “intrinsically unfair and unlawful”.

One government source told BBC Newsnight that the cost to Haringey Council could be as high as £600,000, although Ms Shoesmith is expected to receive a lower sum. The exact figure may not emerge as there are confidentiality clauses preventing its disclosure but it will be significantly short of the £1m figure it had been reported she was seeking.

However, it would appear the package is more than the minimum suggested by senior judge Lord Neuberger in a 2011 ruling in the Court of Appeal. He suggested Ms Shoesmith was entitled to a minimum of three months’ salary plus pensions contributions. Three months’ salary would have been about £33,000.

Mr Balls, now shadow chancellor, told BBC Radio 5 live: “An independent report said there were disastrous failings in Haringey children’s services. They said the management was at fault. Sharon Shoesmith was the director of children’s services and so of course it leaves a bad taste in the mouth that the person who was leading that department and responsible ends up walking away with, it seems, a large amount of money.”

Earlier, Conservative MP Tim Loughton told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the payout became “inevitable” after the Court of Appeal ruled that Mr Balls “had made a complete botched job of her dismissal”.

But he added: “This is going to leave a really bad taste in taxpayers’ mouths that a not insubstantial amount of public money is being used to pay off somebody who presided over a dysfunctional department in Haringey where a 17-month-old boy died in horrific circumstances. We are effectively rewarding failure and when you are appointed a director of children’s services… the buck has to stop somewhere and somebody has to take responsibility, and you don’t expect that person… to get a large cheque on the back of it as well.”

A statement from Haringey Council confirmed it had reached a settlement with Ms Shoesmith but that the terms of the settlement were confidential and it was unable to comment further. Some of the cash will come from central government, but Haringey council will foot most of the bill, it is understood. An exact figure is yet to be agreed.
But one source told Newsnight that Education Secretary Michael Gove was “furious” about the secrecy over the amount paid to Ms Shoesmith, believing it to be “indefensible”.

Downing Street said the Department for Education’s contribution to the payout would be made public. Lawyers representing Haringey Council and Ms Shoesmith had been in lengthy discussions regarding a settlement since the May 2011 ruling. Ms Shoesmith had been due to return to court later this week, seeking a declaration that she remained employed by Haringey Council. That action has now been dropped and the settlement reached between the two parties is understood to be a final one.

Peter Connelly’s mother, Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend, Steven Barker, and his brother, Jason Owen, were jailed in May 2009 for causing or allowing the child’s death. Earlier this month it was reported that Connelly was due to be released from prison on parole.

University lecturers getting in on the strike act!

Hundreds of thousands of students could face disruption this week as universities are brought to a standstill as part of a national strike. Lectures and tutorials at universities across the UK are expected to be cancelled after unions representing academics and support staff vowed to press ahead with industrial action.

Members of the University and College Union will walk out on Thursday – alongside staff belonging to Unison and Unite – as part of an ongoing row over pay. Unions insist that a one per cent pay rise offered to lecturers, technicians and administration workers represents a significant real-terms cut in salaries. It is claimed that staff have seen wages effectively reduced by 13 per cent pay over the last five years. Activists suggest that tens of thousands of staff members will walk out this week in a move that could partially close universities across the UK. It would be the first protest of its kind since academics took action in a row over pensions in 2011 and the first strike specifically related to pay since 2006.

Today, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which represents and negotiates on behalf of institutions, said it was “disappointed” by the move.

The association predicted the action would have a “low level impact” on students. But Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “There is widespread anger at the pay cuts staff have had to endure in recent years and all the reports we are getting is that Thursday’s strike will be very well supported. We are amazed the employers are still refusing to sit down with us to try and resolve this without any need for disruption. There are precious few days left now, but our offer of talks remains open. If the employers refuse to move then there will be massive disruption across UK universities on Thursday. There was last time we were on strike over pay back in 2006 and this time our colleagues in Unite and Unison are also on strike.”

Universities insist that the strike lacks a proper mandate. According to the UCEA, some 378,250 people work in the sector but just 29,538 voted from the three unions. Of those, around 17,800 voted in favour of strike action, it was claimed. A spokesman said: “The vast majority of staff understand the reality of the current environment and that the one per cent uplift for all, in addition to other pay increases that include service increments and merit pay for many, is a good outcome. The financial challenges and uncertainty facing the higher education sector are genuine and our institutions know that the employment package they offer is an excellent one.”

A disgusting new Government App …

I have to say I’m appalled. If the mail are to be believed, it has been reported that the government are building an app which allows parents to compare their child’s academic progress with other pupils of similar social backgrounds for the first time.

Department of Education officials say that data based on exam results – such as GCSEs and SATs – is now so sophisticated it can be broken down into social groups based on factors such as family wealth. They are working with technology companies to produce a user-friendly digital app and have launched a pilot scheme with 100 volunteer parents.

A DfE spokesman said: ‘The information would allow parents to have a clearer sense of how their child is performing.’
No it won’t! All it will do is encourage parents to compare their children to other children, which we do not do in the classroom. We do not discuss the progress of other children with one child’s parents, it’s a complete no no. So why on earth, DfE, are you trying to active encourage it?

Also why on earth are you buying into the smartphone technology? Not every family has a smartphone, making them easily isolated by this particular app.

As you can probably imagine, I’m not modern technology’s biggest fan. Well I say that … While I don’t like the idea that technology is plaguing our children as we’re encouraging them to look at screens, which can effect their eyesight, I do understand that we’re heading down a technology route. This is why all these apps are around these days. Companies are going to great lengths to make money out of us.

Also there are means of comparison out there, like the national statistics. Why bring something else in? Who’s going to use this? If I’m honest, the chances are the parents who are going to use this app are the ones who put pressure on their children as is. What good is this going to do to these kids? I wouldn’t want to add to their stress. We put enough on them with all these exams in the first place.

Gene screening to find top pupils?

According to the Sunday Times, one of Britain’s leading scientists is proposing to genetically screen children as they begin their education and establish a new kind of school to help them learn.

In G is for Genes, a book to be published next month, Professor Robert Plomin calls for a “genetically sensitive” school that uses regular IQ testing to fast-track the brightest children. Those less intellectually gifted would opt for vocational subjects, such as sports or music, which best match their passions and talents.

Plomin, an American-born professor based at King’s College London, argues that, if successful, the experiment could be introduced across the country.

A huge research project to identify the genes underpinning the intelligence of more than 10,000 twins born between 1994 and 1996 is being led by Plomin.

He believes that, in future, children could carry “learning chips”, a DNA sequence of their intellectual abilities. “IQ is still the best predictor we have of success in later life,” Plomin said.

“The biggest factor by far in how well a child does in exams is genetics. It is a tough message for people to get but the science is clear. I think children like to do what they’re good at and they’re good at what they like to do . . . If you don’t accept genetic influence, you’re going to create hardships for yourself.”

Plomin, who has presented his work to education ministers, said that he had been approached to work on plans for a free school in the home counties that would develop his ideas.

The “genetically sensitive” school envisioned in Plomin’s and Asbury’s forthcoming book would be as large as a university campus and would accept children with a range of genetic abilities. All children would have to pass tests in reading, writing, numeracy and computer skills. Beyond that, and within a structured framework, children would be able to choose subjects that suited their aptitudes and preferences, seeking out those subjects they enjoyed as well as those they were good at.

Pupils would have a homeworker who would liaise closely with the child’s family to seek to maximise the chances of each fulfilling his or her genetic capabilities.

Am I the only one who thinks this is absurd? This whole book is talking about a school based on genetic makeup, completely ignoring other factors which can inhibit development such as environmental issues. You may carry the ‘gene’ that these people look for, but actually can not be a top pupil. This to me makes a complete mockery of science and our education system. I also don’t like the idea of choosing what subjects to take based on the ones they enjoy and are good at. What about the ones that they aren’t so good at? Are you just going to use a give up mentality by saying ‘if you’re weak at this, don’t do it’? How is that going to look when you go to a job interview?