Monthly Archives: November 2013

‘Mindless’ parents in school parking row

This post comes from the Lancashire Evening Post. I just had to post this as I was completely shocked.

Drivers have been branded “mindless and stupid” for driving on footpaths by a Chorley school. It is claimed mothers with children in prams were put at risk in Buckshaw Village.

The incident happened when a lorry was parked blocking Unity Way outside Trinity CE/Methodist Primary School.

Instead of waiting for the lorry to move, parents reportedly took it upon themselves to drive over the public footpath, passing a children’s play area, so they could leave the school. Shocked county councillor Mark Perks said: “This is a real act of stupidity and irresponsible. People could have been hurt, and it goes against every health and safety law. The worst part is that it was parents from the school who were the drivers.”

The incident was reported to the police and Coun Perks has also urged the school, where he is a governor, to highlight the incident to parents. He said: “The school publishes a weekly newsletter, and the parents need to be told this simply cannot happen. This was a mindless act and a real act of stupidity.”

The headteacher at Trinity CE/Methodist Primary School, Jill Wright, was unavailable for comment.

I cannot believe I’m seeing this. We are seeing parents acting irresponsibly in what is effectively a death machine. What kind of example does that set for our children? Not generalising or blaming parents entirely, but it sure gives a pretty dire role model, which could be a major factor in why there are plenty of incidents involving younger drivers on our roads.


Really Gove? You want to give a school £17m?

The Independent is reporting that a government decision to give a planned state boarding school in the heart of the Sussex countryside £17 million tis being attacked by a senior headteacher.

The school dubbed “the Eton of the state sector” has the enthusiastic support of Education Secretary Michael Gove although questions have been raised over its financial viability. However, Roy Page, chairman of the State Boarding Schools Association, will tell his annual conference this afternoon that the award comes at a time when existing state boarding schools are being forced to teach their pupils in crumbling buildings dating back to the 15th century.

Mr Page, headmaster of the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, will attack ministers for a “lack of vision” as to how they can support existing state boarding schools while handing out millions to “an organisation and headmaster with no experience in boarding”

They are ready to pay for training staff but neglect the buildings. “We may end up with wonderfully trained staff in buildings collapsing around them, with boarders running for cover and prospective parents – and Ofsted inspectors – frankly horrified,” he will say. “For two years now we have been seeking clarity and security from the Government concerning capital investment in the fabric of state boarding schools. We are in dire need of it.”

All of this is in stark contrast to the decision to hand the Durand Education Trust £17 million “no questions asked” to set up the new boarding school in the village of Stedham, West Sussex, which will take in secondary school age pupils from Stockwell in south London.

He said the funding decision had been “quite rightly” queried by the Commons public accounts committee and public spending watchdogs the National Audit Office.

The Sussex scheme is to be financed jointly by the Department for Education and the Durand Education Trust, set up by the Durand Academy – an existing primary school in Stockwell whose pupils will be able to transfer to the new boarding school. The trust earns income from a health club, swimming pool and residential property near the primary school. The scheme is the brainchild of Sir Greg Martin, head of the primary school.

Earlier this year, Mr Gove’s department was censured by the NAO with its head, Amyas Morse, saying the proposal lacked “sufficiently robust estimates of the financial risk of the project”.

A summary of the NAO’s investigation sent to Chris Wormald, the Permanent Secretary at the DfE, said: “At the point which it decided to confirm funding (for the project), the department lacked sufficient appreciation of the scale of financial and operating risk involved”.

Melvyn Roffe, a former chairman of the SBSA, said the sum set aside for providing a boarding school education – “1, 100 per pupil – was “ludicrous”.

A spokeswoman for the DfE said: “Durand is an innovative and inspirational project which has enormous potential. The decision to fund this school is part of our commitment to allow good schools to expand and closing the unacceptable attainment gap.”

We will turn this school round!

In the latest of our most high profile troubled school in Derby, the Chief of Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust, who recently sponsored the Al-Madinah Free School, has argued that their trust will turn this school around.

Derby’S failing Muslim free school has been thrown a lifeline by the Government.

After being threatened with closure because of its poor academic standards and dire financial situation, Al-Madinah School could become part of a 22-strong academic trust.

The school’s three founding trustees – Shazia Parveen, Shahban Rehmat and Ziad Amjad – have said they will step down, paving the way for new sponsors. Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust, which runs the City of Derby Academy, has been confirmed as Schools Minister Lord Nash’s preferred sponsor.

Trust chief executive Barry Day said they were keen for a successful outcome and would examine what needed to be done.

He said: “We have taken on many challenging schools and we believe we can help Al-Madinah. We have still to look at the accounts and talk to everyone involved before we make a final decision to step in. It has to be right for everyone.”

Mr Day expects to meet with parents and staff within the next 10 days to discuss the school’s future.

He said: “I want to talk with parents, trustees, staff and the wider community to get a clear sense of where they want to go with the school.

“I particularly want to build relationships and I am convinced that, by meeting, we can move the situation forward in a good and purposeful way.

“I am happy to involve everyone who wants to be involved in any discussions that will take place in the next few weeks.

“The bottom line is that we are not taking over the school immediately, rather we are exploring what benefits we can bring to the school and if the situation is right for the school and for us.

“This is not a formal consultation but a chance for us to hear from the people involved and as quickly as possible.

“I always lead on potential new projects and will be heading up any meetings which take place.

“I want people to be honest about what they want to happen with the school, particularly parents, for whom the education of their children is extremely important, because they made an active choice to move them out of a mainstream school into this one.”

Parents may be wondering whether or not the school will stick with its Islamic ethos in the future.

Lord Nash appeared to think it would when he wrote to the retiring trustees about Greenwood Dale.

He says: “An important factor in making my decision is delivering your original vision for an inclusive, all-through school with a Muslim ethos, serving the local community.

“The Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust has a track record of providing a high-quality education to children from a Muslim background.”

There are concerns about this school though. Not everyone is pleased that Al-Madinah free school could remain open. Also, the Government’s free school programme has come under fire in the House of Commons regularly in the past few weeks.

Mike Lake, of the Derby Campaign for Inclusive Education, said: “This bad decision was predicted from day one. The Government has too much to lose by admitting failure with one of its flagship free schools. The school will still not be answerable to local people.”

The Derby Community Education Forum, formed in 2012 when proposals for the school were put forward and concerns were raised by forum members, is pleased the trustees have resigned. Spokesman Zafer Iqbal said: “The community had concerns over a year ago. The school has become stigmatised and needs new leadership, rebranding and collaborative partnerships with excellent schools if it is to survive. Importantly, current and potential parents as well as the local community have to be part of the process moving forward and this is not happening. There needs to be greater transparency in the future than there had been in the past. The entire leadership at the school has to go – it is not acceptable that only some people are asked to step down. Meetings behind closed doors are unacceptable, as are unilateral decisions imposed on the community.”

The Labour-led Derby City Council has been at loggerheads with the Government over academic standards for more than 12 months. Last year, the city council unsuccessfully applied for a judicial review into the Government’s decision to turn Sinfin Community School into an academy, under the Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust. City councillor Martin Rawson said: “I will continue to have grave concerns about the standard of education at this school.”

£900million of student loans sold to debt collection company

Student loans … the government funding for university students to complete their degrees, which is only paid back when the graduate is earning more than £15k a year, which may well never be the case for some people in the current economic climate.

This morning, according to the Independent, the government has sold almost £900 million in student loans to a debt collection company in an effort to improve the nation’s finances. A debt management consortium bought the loans from the Student Loans Company for £160 million, after Universities Minister David Willetts launched a project to find a new buyer earlier in the year.

Mr Willets said that the loans, which were taken out by students who began courses between 1990 and 1998, were sold to allow the Student Loans Company to concentrate on administering newer loans. He added that the private sector was best placed to collect the outstanding debt.

Of the 250,000 loans sold, around 46 per cent are earning below the repayment threshold, 14 per cent of borrowers are still repaying and 40 per cent are not repaying their loans in accordance with their terms.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills told The Independent that the loans being sold were the last batch of older, mortgage-style loans, and that no-one with a loan taken out after 1998 would be affected. This is the last batch of these loans to be sold off, representing about 17 per cent of the total taken out. Holders of these older loans will not see changes in their terms and conditions, including on the calculation of interest rates.

He confirmed that the Government is currently “looking at options” on what to do with post-’98, income-contingent loans, and that “no decisions have been made”.

Toni Pearce, the president of the NUS said that the move was “extremely concerning”, and that it “will see the public subsidising a private company making a profit from public debt”. “The impact of this sale won’t only affect borrowers, but will affect everybody. The simple fact is that having these loans on the public books would be better off for the Government in the long run. Selling off the loan book at a discount to secure a cash lump sum now doesn’t make economic sense.”

Aaron Kiely of the Student Assembly Against Austerity said: “It is outrageous that the government has just sold off a public asset worth £900m for only £160m, confirming once again that the Tories care more about the profits of their mates than the lives of ordinary people. This will lead to higher interest rates and a greater burden of debt on graduates, with private companies aiming to make as much profit as they can.”

The project to find a buyer was launched earlier this year, when Mr Willetts said the plan would “maximise the value of one of the Government’s assets”.

The mortgage-style loans have a face value of around £890 million but the market value is significantly lower. The SLC will continue to manage the loan book until it is transferred to Erudio Student Loans in a few months’ time. Erudio is backed by a consortium led by CarVal Investors and Arrow Global, a consumer debt management firm.

Charity Shoutout! Donations needed!

Hi everyone! I want to bring your attentions to another charity shoutout that an old friend of mine’s brother is taking part in. This one is looking at aiming to make a difference to those who suffer from Fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is probably something that most people haven’t heard of, unless they are in the medical profession or have family that suffer from it, or indeed suffer from it themselves. It’s a condition that causes widespread pain throughout the body and a heightened and painful response to pressure. At this moment in time we don’t know the cause of Fibromyalgia but it is believed to involve psychological, genetic, neurobiological and environmental factors.

This condition is a lot more common than you might think, in fact it is more common than rheumatoid arthritis, and can be considerably more painful. It’s prevalence is believed to be between 2.9 and 4.7% according to A Survey in Five European Countries.

The link to more information and to donate can be found here:

Together we can find the cause of this wretched condition and improve the care and conditions of those who suffer from it, so get donating!

Ruck Over! How to use rugby to immerse boys in writing

The Guardian really can produce some interesting articles at times. I’ve always been interested in why there are gender differences in attainment in maths and english, particularly writing. Teacher Matt James wrote an article in there today that describes how he turned his classroom into a rugby stadium to immerse boys in writing. Here’s what he wrote;

When I was eight years old my father took me to Wales’ home stadium, then affectionately known as the Arms Park. To this day, I remember it vividly. I can recall the sounds, the sights, even the smells. Years later I found myself trying to engage a class in descriptive writing with a particular focus on Cwricwlwm Cymreig – the idea of Wales and Welsh.

It was also around this point that my headteacher called me into his office and asked me to take the school lead on the national classroom conundrum – countering boys’ underachievement.

Remembering my first time at a stadium, I decided to arm myself with both conundrums – Wales and boys’ needs – and ask my class to list, in a table of the senses, things they would find at the Millennium Stadium (or another stadium of their choice).

To my surprise, very few of my students had made the pilgrimage to the home of Welsh rugby or, indeed, any stadium. My naivety had blinkered me to the socio-economic challenges of the local environment. After a hastily rearranged lesson, I went home and thought about possible alternatives.

At such short notice I couldn’t take a whole class to the stadium, let alone to see a game, so I decided to bring the stadium to the classroom.

I told my pupils that in their next lesson we would describe the Millennium Stadium and that the classroom was going to become the rugby arena. I invited them to bring their Welsh rugby tops and they were permitted (just this once) to bring snacks and drinks.

The focus was still going to be descriptive writing and they were still going to be thinking about the stadium using their five senses. I just wanted them to get a genuine feel for what it would be like to be there and to experience what they were being asked to write about. If there was no experiential learning, I may as well have asked them to describe the scene at midnight on the moon.

Prior to their arrival at the next lesson I organised my room so that all desks were at the back and the chairs formed two horseshoes, both facing the interactive whiteboard. As the class entered the room the speakers blared “Bread of Heaven” and”Men of Harlech” – two anthems strongly associated with Welsh rugby – and the pupils were told that all they would need is their table of senses from the earlier (failed) lesson and a pen.

I invited them to fill out the table now as they sat in their seats watching the interactive board playing one of my many rugby DVDs. This one, incidentally, showed extended highlights of Wales’ victory over England in 2008.

I was amazed at the engagement of the class. This wasn’t the real stadium but, with their tops on, food and drink at the ready, and the volume turned up to the maximum, they did begin to get a genuine sense of place.

At the end of the match, which brought with it many loud cheers, I informed the pupils that they now had to go to the “press room” at the back of the class. They carried their seats to the desks and began writing up their findings.

I was delighted to read some exciting writing from some previously disengaged boys. One had even commented on the “boy sitting behind me who couldn’t sit still and tipped crisps on my seat”. Another, without being asked, started creating similes such as, “the players played like dragons” and “the crowd roared like a lion”.

I was delighted. The pupils from this first lesson have since left the school armed with their GCSEs but I still remember their year eight excitement as they left the classroom, discussing the match as if they had been there.

I’m constantly updating this lesson. One issue I often have with it is asking pupils to disregard the match commentary. Most find this an easy task, but lower-ability pupils sometimes fall into the trap of describing what they hear the commentator saying. Something that I’m also always aware of is that not all boys are interested in sport. For this reason, sometimes the lesson is turned into “describe a theme park” and YouTube videos of rollercoasters are used. The possibilities, while not endless, are numerous.

When I next do this lesson, I’m going to prepare match day tickets before to the lesson so that pupils have to go to allocated seats and maybe face the shuffle down the row as others have to stand or swing their knees to one side. Now, every time I go to watch a game I’m always thinking about how to bring certain aspects of it to my classroom. I think it’d be a bit too far to bring hotdogs and burgers to lesson though.

School changing rooms

Ah the school changing rooms, where pupils hide when they don’t want to be in lessons (I have not done this before honest) … or where children get changed to do PE. It is arguably the most chaotic room in the school. In this all action, all motion room there are plenty of dangers we need to be aware of and able to protect our children from. So I’m going to look at ways we can make sure the changing rooms are as secure as our classrooms should be.

Let’s start by looking at regulation. According to the School Premises Regulations passed in 2012, every school must have changing accommodation for all pupils above the age of 11 years from the start of the school year. Also included in these regulations are showers that spout out hot and cold water as to avoid scalding the pupils. While we can consider children below the age of 11 who have to wear a PE uniform (which if I’m not mistaken is most schools, certainly true for all the schools I’ve taught in or visited) but this is not required under the regulations.

Next comes the benches and clothes hooks. Traditionally benches used in changing rooms are made of polished wood so that they do not deteriorate due to the moisture of the sweat from the pupils running round after a PE lesson. The danger with benches is the possibility of sharp edges, which could cause cuts and bruises should pupils fall on it. Obviously these edges are rounded to take the worst possible scenarios out the way. Similar story with the clothes hooks, these need to be rounded and not protruding too far away from the backboard so it doesn’t injure a pupil or give someone the chance of hanging a pupil on them …

Next comes the flooring, quite an easy slipping hazard in a moisture environment if not correct. The floor must be non slip, or at very least provide measures, such as textured tiles, in showering areas that aid with foot grips. Floor mats should be provided in doorways as to avoid mud or dirt entering the room from the pupils shoes. The floor will need to be mopped on a daily basis so the type of flooring needs to be easy to maintain. This leads me nicely onto the next issue …

Cleaning. According to the 1992 Workplace Regulations any floors or indoor traffic routes should be cleaned at least once a week, and places where dirt and refuse accumulate, such as school changing rooms, should be cleaned daily. Cleaning should also be carried out when necessary to keep areas free of spillages – so if there is excess water within a changing room then this must be mopped up to prevent someone slipping on it and injuring themselves. It is also necessary to clean changing rooms of any offensive waste matter or health hazard – for instance if a pupil hurts themselves on the playing fields and gets cut, then any blood spilled in the changing room must be cleaned up as soon as possible and the surrounding area disinfected.

Next comes behaviour and discipline. It’s always best to try to run your changing room with the right attitude and discipline. If pupils understand the importance of safety and security then it’s easier to get them to behave in a safe manner. Rather than assuming that good behaviour is mandatory, why not take one lesson at the beginning of the year to discuss potential dangers within the environment, which should help them understand why there is a need for them to act in a responsible manner.

It is very hard to give individual pupils privacy in the changing room. The most important thing is to instill an atmosphere of discipline where pupils are encouraged to change as quickly as possible to get ready for their sports lesson. It is important to remind them that getting changed is not actually part of the lesson and that they stay focused on their own behaviour whilst getting changed.

Although you may have a number of strict rules about how pupils should behave in any changing room, signs can be employed to remind them of the right behaviour. For instance, you may wish to put up signs that remind pupils to dry off thoroughly when leaving a shower area to prevent them from bringing water into the dressing area of the changing rooms, cutting down on the chances of the floor becoming slippery. Outside the changing rooms signs can be employed to remind pupils to remove the mud from their football or hockey boots, or signs regarding general behaviour in gym or pool can be displayed as a helpful nudge in the direction of safe and sensible behaviour.

Next issue surrounds the children’s belongings. One way of ensuring that pupils’ belongings are safe I’ve noticed in the past is providing lockers throughout the changing room on a one locker, one pupil basis allowing them to keep their valuables safe whilst participating in sports lessons. If this isn’t possible I’d suggest that you employ a safe box system where pupils can voluntarily put any valuable item into a locked box that is stored in the teacher’s office for collection after the lesson. It is of course vital that the changing room has a proper deadlock that is religiously locked when lessons are being conducted to prevent outside parties from breaking in.

Next comes damage and vandalism, whether it’s deliberate or not. If you are concerned with unruly or badly behaved pupils damaging parts of the changing room then it is possible to invest in heavy duty fixings that will stand up to most attacks. These range from toilets through to shower fixings and even benches that are specially made from strong materials and components and use mechanisms such as lockable housings for plumbing features to prevent vandalism.

The last, and quite clearly the most controversial of them all, is cameras. A report in 2012 noted that some 207 schools have a total of 825 cameras in changing rooms and washrooms. They have a very strict policy about how footage is viewed – it can only be accessed by authorised staff and every time any footage is viewed the reasons must be recorded in a log book. I’d always suggest that this is a last resort if discipline within the changing rooms can’t be maintained, but it can serve as an effective deterrent to stop particularly troublesome pupils causing fights and stealing other pupils’ property.

Finally … its here …

We’ve heard enough about it over the past month or so, and now hopefully this is the end of it. The troubled Al-Madinah Free School that has never evaded our attentions has been taken over, as confirmed by Lord Nash.

It follows a highly critical Ofsted report and a letter from the minister outlining 17 areas of improvement to be addressed by the school. The school was described as “dysfunctional” and rated inadequate.

The trustees have agreed to resign along with the chair of governors, Shazia Parveen.

The Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust, which runs several academy schools across the East Midlands, has been asked to work with the school.

In a letter to the outgoing chair of governors Lord Nash said: “Overall, I am not satisfied that you have demonstrated a strong basis for the transformation required at the school. I cannot tolerate any child experiencing a poor quality of education in any state funded school and am therefore determined to ensure there is a swift resolution. I have decided that the needs of the pupils at Al-Madinah school would be best served by bringing in a more experienced trust with the skills and capability required to deliver the improvements needed. The Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust has a track record of providing high quality education to children from a Muslim background and I have no doubt they will apply this expertise at Al-Madinah.”

Earlier, a statement on the school’s website said the governors would not be resigning and would be working with the Department for Education (DfE) over the future of the school. The message read: “Just to re-assure parents regarding the rumours circulating… about governors resigning. This is not the case and we would urge parents to talk to the PTA and the governors if they are concerned. We are working with the DfE to ensure that our pupils future and the future of our school is secure.”

Lord Nash had written to the Al-Madinah Education Trust on 8 October “placing 17 requirements, which they must satisfy or risk their funding agreement being terminated”.

The school’s trustees were told to provide a plan by 1 November to show how fit they were to run the school and how it would improve. Derby’s Muslim community leaders had already called for all the governors at the school to go after chairwoman of governors, Ms Parveen, announced she was stepping down.

An Ofsted inspection was brought forward after fears were raised over teaching standards. The report found teachers are inexperienced and have not been provided with proper training. It concluded the school required special measures.

The school said it accepted the report, meaning that should this new trust deliver what the DfE seems to think it will deliver, then this is the last we will hear about this school.

We don’t need no … spelling and grammar …

One in three boys at primary school today believe Pink Floyd’s Number One hit “We Don’t Need No Education” should be rewritten to read “We Don’t Need No Spelling and Grammar”.

They think that they no longer need to learn the basics because of the invention of a wonderful tool called spellchecker (sarcasm Sheldon Cooper). A similar number say they would never or rarely write anything outside of a lesson.

The study, by the National Literacy Trust, also reveals that one in five say they would be “embarrassed” if any of their friends found them writing out of school.

The boys’ lack of enthusiasm for writing contrasts starkly with girls – one out of three of whom say they write out of class every day.

A breakdown of the research shows that 30.6 per cent of boys thought there was no point in learning spelling and grammar as a result of spellcheckers – compared with 21.7 per cent of girls – while 30.2 per cent of boys said they never or rarely wrote out of class compared with 17.3 per cent of boys.

On being embarrassed to be found writing out of school, the figures were 19.5 per cent and 12.7 per cent respectively.

More than one in three girls (35.2 per cent) thought writing was “cool” compared with 26.8 per cent of boys.

The NLT report reflects a direct link between children’s enjoyment of writing and their results at school. Of those who say they do not enjoy writing, more than half fail to reach the recommended standard in national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds.

Julie Gibbins, senior programme manager at the NLT, said: “Reading and writing go hand-in-hand and it is through writing that children learn to formulate thoughts and improve their creativity and thinking skills. It’s down to teachers as well as parents to nurture a love of writing in boys and help to develop positive attitudes towards it early on in their education.”

The survey, which covered 35,000 eight to 16-year-olds, coincided with the second phase of the charity’s Transforming Writing project, which aims to raise attainment in primary schools through giving pupils more say over what they read. In the first schools to take part in the project, 68 per cent of all pupils made more progress than expected – with no discernible difference in the performance of the sexes.

Target: sound less Cumbrian … ONLY JOKING!

On Tuesday a rather bizarre article appeared in the papers, where a teacher in Cumbria apparently was told that she had an official target to sound less Cumbrian and more southern. A link to the article can be found here:

Now not to put a finer point on it, but how ridiculous is that? I would love to try and see a man from Newcastle trying to speak in a southern accent. Would be rather amusing ….

Well guess what? This was all a joke according to the teacher in question. The teacher apparently said it as a joke but apparently the union rep didn’t get the sense of humour in it and took it as fact and sparked this whole thing off. Standard unions then, getting things wrong as usual …

The chair of governors of a Berkshire school has dismissed a claim that a teacher was given an official target to sound “less Cumbrian”.

Teaching union NASUWT had claimed she had been told to tone down her accent during a recent Ofsted inspection at Whitelands Park Primary in Thatcham. Paul Dick said it was “simply not true” and the teacher was “mortified”. He said it had all stemmed from a joke made in front of union representatives in the staff room.

A spokesman for NASUWT said it would not comment further and the teacher has declined to be interviewed.

One of its union representatives, Paul Watkins, claimed to have learned last week that the target was set for the teacher by the school in response to a comment by an Ofsted inspector. He said the teacher had not made an official complaint to NASUWT and had taken the request in “good humour”.

But Mr Dick said: “The teacher concerned is mortified, the head’s very upset and the school’s sick of the whole thing because it’s simply not true.”

He said a meeting was held last week to discuss the proposal for the school becoming an academy, during which union representatives asked staff about a number of things, including targets. “This particular teacher made a joke – a staff room joke. [She said] ‘Oh, yeah, mine’s easy, there’s no problem with mine, I’ve just got to sort my accent out.’ She laughed, the others laughed, she got up and left, picked up her child and went home for the weekend and thought nothing more of it.”

A union representative had then emailed her and asked her to take it further, but she did not see the email until the Monday, Mr Dick explained. At that point she responded to say it was not true and that she did not want to be involved. Mr Dick said he had joined the head and the teacher to examine all the feedback documents from the inspectors, and the teacher’s performance targets. “There is no mention anywhere of accent,” he added.

A classic example of a joke taken out of context me thinks. While it’s quite amusing from the outside it’s not going to help the school much. Hopefully this will disappear quickly.