Monthly Archives: March 2014

‘Cinderella’ emotional law under consideration

If there was anything that made me scream ‘it’s about time’ it was this story. I’ve been ever hopeful of this for some time.

It has been confirmed that the government are considering whether to introduce a new offence of emotional cruelty to children. This follows the campaign from charity Action for Children which aimed for a ‘Cinderella law’.

Current neglect laws have been criticised for focusing mainly on the physical effects of abuse only, one would assume mostly as it’s easier to find evidence for the physical abuse. The proposed change to neglect laws in England and Wales would see parents who deny their children affection face prosecution for the first time.

Social workers have a definition of cruelty which forms the basis of their work, but this definition is not written in law surprisingly. What this means is that it’s very difficult for police to gather evidence in these cases.

Action for Children’s chief executive, Sir Tony Hawkhead, said the change would be a “monumental step forward for thousands of children”.

Robert Buckland, a Conservative MP who has backed the charity’s campaign, said the current law was outdated as it is based largely on legislation first introduced 150 years ago. And he stressed that non-physical abuse could cause “significant harm” to children.

“You can look at a range of behaviours, from ignoring a child’s presence, failing to stimulate a child, right through to acts of in fact terrorising a child where the child is frightened to disclose what is happening to them,” Mr Buckland told BBC Radio 5 live. “Isolating them, belittling them, rejecting them, corrupting them, as well, into criminal or anti-social behaviour.”

He said the new law would not criminalise parents for being nasty, but for their criminal behaviour.

“This proposal is not about widening the net, it’s about making the net stronger so that we catch those parents and carers who are quite clearly inflicting significant harm on their children, whereas they should be nurturing them and loving them,” Mr Buckland said. He added that it would also give police a “clearer way” in which to work, he said.

The campaign was also backed by Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams, who introduced a private member’s bill on the issue last year, the late Labour MP Paul Goggins and Baroness Butler-Sloss, a former judge who was president of the family division of the High Court.

The Children and Young Persons Act of 1933 provides for the punishment of a person who treats a child “in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health (including injury to or loss of sight, or hearing, or limb, or organ of the body, and any mental derangement)”. Mr Williams’s bill would add a further category of harm for which the perpetrator could be punished: impairment of “physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development”.

Child neglect was made a punishable offence by the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1868.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed it was “considering ways the law can support” protecting children from this sort of harm. A spokesman said protecting children from harm was “fundamental” and that child cruelty was an “abhorrent crime which should be punished”.

Ministers are looking to introduce the measure ahead of the next election, possibly in the Queen’s Speech, but sources told the BBC it was not yet a done deal. But it is understood this might not be the case as such a change would not require a separate piece of legislation – it could instead be added on to an existing bill.

Well I think it’s blatantly obvious why my thought is ‘it’s about time’. Neglect by definition is a persistent failure to meet a child’s physical and psychological needs. The civil law does recognise emotional abuse of children, that is what our social workers operate guidance from, but the police however are limited because the criminal law does not, it only recognises physical abuse. This law was introduced 146 years ago and has not been updated in all that time. Emotional abuse is just as serious an offense and can have just as negative as an impact as physical abuse so should be given the same punishment.

I want to finish this post with a story released by Action for Children. This is the story of a woman called Collette. Collette’s father is black and was frequently told by her white mother that she had been ‘a mistake’. Here is an account of what Collette said;

‘When my mother met my stepfather and had children with him, I was in the way. My stepfather was racist and she had no excuse for having a mixed-raced child. The result was me being treated like Cinderella but without the ball and happy ending. I felt like I shouldn’t have been born, I’d been told often enough. I would watch how my parents would be so different with my younger siblings and burn with anger and jealousy. I was placed under the Mental Health Act and have been receiving help ever since. I was finally diagnosed with severe depression, post-traumatic stress, bipolar and anxiety.’

Stories that are similar to this occur in around 1 in 10 children, according to a report last week by Action for Children. Let’s put a stop to this cruel and vile behaviour. No child deserves this, so let’s put those shameful people who inflict it away for good.

Mistakes and the science behind them

One of the many things all teachers seem to spend their lives doing is marking. We spend so much time marking homework, classwork and test papers and give them back to the children with constructive feedback and targets for the children to improve. This all seems very handy.

However there is a problem with this ideology, and it’s the fact that school seems to inherently teach children that you must be getting all the answers right and mistakes are a bad thing. As a result, children don’t really want to look at anything past their overall marks in their exams because they don’t want to see these mistakes.

Now before anyone gets mad at me, no I don’t think children should be written off as lazy or ungrateful for all the feedback we give them and so on, in fact what they do makes perfect sense.

Telling students they need to take advantage of the feedback they get isn’t just good advice — it’s established science. In the last few decades, researchers have discovered a lot about how people become experts. The main idea, made popular by everyone from author Malcolm Gladwell to rapper Macklemore, is the 10,000-hour rule. Ten thousand is the number of hours it takes to become an expert in almost any field. While it’s wonderful that people are starting to understand how work leads to expertise, the most important part of that research is not how much practice someone needs to perform, but what kind of practice. This latter category is called deliberate practice and involves isolating what’s not working and mastering the difficult area before moving on.

Here’s a nice musical analogy for you. Picture a classical violinist rehearsing. He or she would not play a new piece start-to-finish, fudging through tricky sections and trying to “be done.” That musician stops in trouble spots, figures them out, and then plays that measure over and over again, and only moves on when it’s perfect. We can apply this same idea to schoolwork.

Mistakes are the most important thing that happens in any classroom, because they tell you where to focus that deliberate practice.

So why don’t children view their mistakes as a valuable asset? Well, children don’t think about their mistakes rationally — they think about them emotionally. Mistakes make them feel stupid. “Stupid” is just that: a feeling. Specifically, it’s the feeling of shame, and our natural response is to avoid its source. If we say something embarrassing, we hide our face. If we get a bad mark, we hide the test away. Unsurprisingly, that’s the worst move to make if you ever want to get better. Academic success does not come from how smart or motivated children are. It comes from how they feel about their mistakes.

Changing your children’s perspective on mistakes is the greatest gift you can give yourself as a teacher. Imagine having a classroom of students who are engaged and constantly improving — it’s every teacher’s dream. Instead, teachers face too many children who are disengaged and really rather surly. That surliness is years in the making. By the time children walk into your classroom, they’ve likely already internalized their mistakes as evidence that they’re just not smart. Getting a bad grade feels like a personal attack. No wonder they’re giving the deliverer of those grades evil eyes as if to say ‘I hate you so much’.

Ok so what do we do? Well, to help our children rethink mistakes, help them be specific about their errors. Knowing that answer #3 is wrong doesn’t mean much. Knowing that they didn’t understand mitosis gives them a mandate for getting better. Often, when we go through tests with children, the mistakes they perceive as dire are either careless errors or a single concept applied incorrectly on several questions. Either way, the “fix” is usually smaller than how big the problem feels.

We can also help children view their mistakes as helpful. The red pen, contrary to their belief, isn’t the enemy — when students understand how to deal with errors, red means go. One way to encourage that attitude is to take the most common mistakes that the class made on a test or quiz and analyze them together. The more open everyone is about the mistakes they’ve made and how they happened, the less significance any children will place on future errors.

Mistakes happen for concrete reasons. Perhaps the child didn’t memorize all the requisite facts, didn’t execute the steps of a process, or perhaps just ignored the directions. The red “X” is just a simple assessment of the actions that child took — actions he or she can easily fix next time. Sharing that clarity and causality with our children is the best way to teach deliberate practice, instill motivation and help them develop a more constructive relationship with mistakes. In short, this creates the class you and your children have always wanted. We don’t want our children coming in with the mentality of ‘made a mistake – can’t fix it – I’m stupid.’ We want our children to come forward with the attitude of ‘made a mistake – where did I go wrong – how do I fix it so I don’t go wrong again?’

Possible inspection overhaul?

We’ve all felt the pressure of them, and in recent months to some teachers, they tend to put unnecessary pressure on our teachers, and questions can be raised over the accuracy and reliability of Ofsted’s judgements, but there is no escaping them. Of course this is all about Ofsted inspections.

The head of England’s schools watchdog Ofsted is to outline proposals to change school inspections and defend his organisation, in a speech to heads. Sir Michael Wilshaw will propose more frequent, lighter-touch inspections of good schools, but longer, more in-depth visits for underperforming ones. He will also set out plans for using more experienced inspectors.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), which is meeting in Birmingham, argues change is needed. The union has raised questions about the quality of some inspectors and has called for a new two-stage inspection system.

A survey by ASCL of 900 head teachers found that 65% said they did not have confidence in Ofsted overall to make accurate and reliable judgements. The survey mirrors what many members of teaching unions have been saying for the past few years.

However, Sir Michael told the ASCL conference that Ofsted is helping to push up standards. “Ofsted will always champion the right of every child to a decent education,” he says. “And Ofsted will always shine a spotlight on those institutions that fail to provide it.”

He says that schools which are currently judged good – some 60% – would no longer be subject to full routine inspections, as they are now, which last for three days.

Currently only outstanding schools are exempt from such inspections which usually happen for all other schools every five years. Instead, under these proposals, schools in the top two ratings of outstanding or good would in future be visited more often – but by one inspector on a day-long visit. The proposals would need to be approved by the Department for Education.

Sir Michael states: “At the moment, it can be five years or even more between inspections for a good school. This is too long. It’s too long for parents. It’s too long between inspections to spot decline, and it’s too long for improving schools to show that they are outstanding. Far better for an inspector to visit the school for a day than for a full team to descend on the school more infrequently, and then giving, more likely than not, the same judgement as the previous inspection.”

His proposals are backed by ASCL, which published a report recently similarly calling for good or outstanding schools to receive an initial one-day visit from an inspector. This check would look at whether a full inspection was needed to come up with an action plan for improvement. A greater focus on schools that are deemed in need of improvement is the flipside of his plans and would be enabled by a freeing up of resources.

ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said the current system of inspections had a “negative impact” and had “served its purpose”. He said: “What happens sometimes is that on the back of an inspection, which recognises that schools have got areas to improve but they are still schools which are doing lots of good things, people are losing their jobs. That’s putting people off going for headship and that’s very worrying. We need to move away from that.”

A consultation on the future of shape of Ofsted inspections is currently being carried out by the watchdog.

Sir Michael’s speech comes after a report by the Policy Exchange think tank that said many Ofsted inspectors did not have the skills needed to make fair judgements of schools. The report recommended that Ofsted abolished or radically reduced the number of inspectors it used from private firms and called for inspectors to pass an accreditation exam.

And Sir Michael said that he would like to carry out a “root and branch review of outsourced inspections”.

Currently inspections are carried out by inspectors contracted to Ofsted through three large firms.

Sir Michael also plans to increase the number of inspector posts over the next few years to include a greater number of inspectors currently working in schools.

National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Russell Hobby said: “If Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI) is to become increasingly busy in the inspection of good schools every two years, what impact will that have on the availability of these HMIs to focus on more vulnerable schools, who need confident and skilled inspectors?”

Well Sir Michael, I have respect for the fact that you want to adjust the inspection system, but you’re completely missing the point. While it seems daft that schools rated outstanding are not being inspected as often as those who are not, it is clear that the inspections of these schools are not quite right. I have to say I’m with the unions. I have never been one for putting labels on schools in the first place, and labelling a school as underperforming is extremely damaging for morale of both the staff and the parents of pupils, because they can start questionning themselves over the education that their children are receiving.

What I would like to see instead is a different way of giving schools feedback. Everyone likes a bit of constructive criticism, that’s how people improve. Ofsted feels more like the school bully at the moment.

RIP Bev Evans

It was a sad day a couple of days ago for those in the teaching profession. On Tuesday, Bev Evans passed away.

Bev was a creator of many fantastic resources that were used in classrooms all over the world. She shared them on her own site http://www.communication4all.co.uk as well as all sorts of teaching websites. You might have used some of her resources in your lessons without even realising. I know I’ve used them in the past and the kids have loved them!

There is no doubting that Bev’s contribution to teaching and education has been massive and everyone appreciates the generosity and inspiration she has provided over the years. She will be missed, but her resources will live on for many years to come I’m sure!

RIP Bev Evans!

Islamic invasion investigation

One thing that caught my eye in the papers was an alleged plan that some headteachers in Birmingham are being ousted in order to make those schools adhere to Islamic principles, given the name ‘Operation Trojan Horse’.

Quite unsurprisingly, this issue has now emerged as being investigated, and quite rightfully so!

A letter detailing the plan claims responsibility for leadership changes at four schools. These schools are Adderley Primary, Saltley School, Park View School and Regents Park Community Primary School.

Saltley’s head teacher resigned last year after a critical Ofsted report. Inspectors said there was a “dysfunctional” relationship between head teacher Balwant Bains and governors which was hindering the school.

The letter, which purports to outline “Operation Trojan Horse”, has subsequently been sent to at least another 12 schools in the city – all believed to be vulnerable to takeover. It states that parents could be encouraged to turn against the leadership team if they are told the school is “corrupting their children with sex education, teaching about homosexuals, making their children pray Christian prayers and carrying out mixed swimming and sport”.

Among various claims in the letter is one that the group has “caused a great amount of organised disruption in Birmingham and as a result we have our own academies and are on the way to getting rid of more head teachers and taking over their schools”.

The head teachers of the schools met Birmingham City Council on Thursday to discuss their concerns. The letter was apparently written by someone in Birmingham to a contact in Bradford, and goes on to outline ways and means by which schools can be taken over. It says: “We have an obligation to our children to fulfil our roles and ensure these schools are run on Islamic principles.”

It is understood that would mean a greater emphasis on religious studies, as well as girls and boys being taught separately in some classes.

The letter implies these methods have already been put into action and urges the recipient to use Ofsted reports to identify schools in predominantly Muslim areas which are struggling. It adds: ”Operation ‘Trojan Horse’ has been very carefully thought through and is tried and tested within Birmingham, implementing it in Bradford will not be difficult for you.”

It says that Salafi parents should be enlisted to help, because they are regarded as a more orthodox branch of Islam and would be more likely to be willing to help.

It was sent to the city council in 2013 and has led to a number of investigations. Part of the inquiry will focus on whether the plot is genuine or fake. A Birmingham City Council spokesperson confirmed the letters had been received and that an investigation was ongoing.

The Department for Education’s (DfE) Extremist Unit is also involved and the West Midlands Police Counter-Terrorism Unit has also looked into the case after being handed the letter in December 2013. Supt Sue Southern, head of the unit, said it was decided the allegations in the letter were “not a matter for the police”.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said it had “received some anonymous letters in February which claimed that an extremist religious group was trying to engineer the sacking of head teachers who did not promote the group’s ideals”. It said it was working with the police, the Department for Education and Birmingham City Council to investigate the claim. Russell Hobby, NAHT general secretary, said the union took the allegations “extremely seriously”.

Liam Byrne, Labour MP for Hodge Hill, said he had held urgent talks with Ofsted, City Council officials, the office of Michael Gove and DfE officials. “These are deeply disturbing allegations, which is why Ofsted has been called in,” he said. “I have demanded that the second we have results from those inspections, both the city council and the Secretary of State take immediate action.”

I have nothing against schools being founded on religious principles, after all history does show that a lot of schools particularly in the 1500s were set up on those very principles, and schools today are based on those principles, but to deliberately engineer and oust schools that do not run on those principles with the sole intent of converting them to those principles is quite frankly disgraceful in my eyes. Schools are not battery farms for your religion. It has been my belief that children should choose based on their own experiences to follow a particular religion. Mind you I come from a non-religious background so that must have a bearing on whether I am religious or not, but at the same time I’ve been through the education system and have been taught religious education by members of differing faiths so I do have some awareness and experience of what being a member of certain religions involves, and chose not to be a part of it. I don’t think any less of anyone who is part of any religious group in comparison to those who are not.

Free school meals will happen on time

It has been in the pipeline and planning for some time, and is due to come into force come September. Of course I’m talking about the government plans to bring the Free School Meals program into all infant schools in England.

Like most things that Mr Gove and his government have tried to bring in at a rapid rate of knots, it has been debated whether it will happen both on time and with success. Education Minister David Laws insisted that these doubts are unjustified and these plans will happen on time.

He told BBC 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics that the September start date was “absolutely fine” and that most teachers were “incredibly supportive”.

Last week, senior Conservative MP Graham Stuart said schools would struggle and more planning was needed.

Mr Laws, a Liberal Democrat, said free meals would have a “positive” effect.

All Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 children in state-funded schools in England will be entitled to free lunches under the scheme, which supporters say will save parents about £400 a year per child.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launched the plan at last autumn’s Liberal Democrat conference. Since then, several head teachers have complained that the timescale for implementation is unrealistic. Last week, Mr Stuart, chairman of the Commons education committee, said schools struggling to comply – such as those lacking adequate kitchen capacity – should get more “discretion” over start dates.

But the government says £150m is going to schools to expand their kitchens and dining facilities where needed.

Mr Laws told Pienaar’s Politics: “We believe that the timetable is absolutely fine. When we had pilots a few years ago in different parts of the country, those areas actually had less time than we have given to implement this across the country.”

He added: “I do understand that for many head teachers who have to implement this, it’s an implementation challenge. So it’s not surprising that it’s some of those individuals who are expressing concerns about the things they’ve got to do over the next few months.”

He called free meals “a hugely positive thing”, adding that the government had “found a huge amount of money at a time of austerity to do this because we think it’s very valuable in a multiplicity of different ways”. Mr Laws also said: “Most teachers and most of the teacher unions are incredibly positive about this and I believe they can implement it on time.”

I have to say I share the concerns about the timescales in particular. Having worked in a smaller school with only 1 class per year in a very small building with a kitchen literally the size of a box bedroom in a modern day house, trying to fit free school meals into that school was challenging enough. I cannot imagine how schools that do not even have those facilities will be able to bring those in, because it’s not like schools have an infinite pot of money to be able to extend their school buildings to fit them in. £150million across the whole country doesn’t seem like enough to me.

Don’t get me wrong, the idea is perfectly sound, but like all things from this government like the new curriculum, I just feel it’s been rushed in to try and make the government look impressive, rather than actually consider the effect that it might be having on schools in real terms.