Monthly Archives: July 2014

Operation Overhaul for Student loans?

Proposals to allow universities to underwrite student loans have been drawn up by civil servants as part of research into how to shift the burden away from the taxpayer as a result of some students being unable to repay their loans.

The plans were commissioned by David Willetts, who was universities minister until the recent cabinet reshuffle. He believes that universities should be allowed to buy up the debt and then be repaid by students who would, in theory, benefit from a supportive long-term relationship with third-level institutions.

While the idea is that universities could make money if graduates earn more than expected, it is also controversial, not least because of fears that universities might expect to be allowed to raise the £9,000 cap on fees in exchange for taking responsibility for some of the risk of recouping loans. There are also concerns that raising the importance of students’ future earnings could mean there would be fewer incentives to offer courses that do not lead to high earnings, such as those in the humanities and social services.

Advocates of the idea suggest however that students would benefit from a long-term relationship with universities, who would have an interest in providing retraining and further career support. The BBC’s Newsnight reported that at least half a dozen universities had expressed support for the proposals. Willetts told the programme: “The main point of the idea is to give universities a stronger incentive to focus on the jobs and the earnings prospects of their graduates and to keep the graduate and the university in contact with each other. At the moment the Student Loans Company is not allowed to provide any information about graduates to universities so we make it impossible to for them to build the kind of contacts that they have in the US. I think that if the student consents that kind of information exchange should happen and if the university wishes they should be able to hold the student debt.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “The department regularly conducts research in order to explore the viability of policy suggestions and these play an important role in informing ministers and shaping policy. David Willetts commissioned this research when he was the universities and science minister and it does not represent government policy.”

I’m all for trying to lessen the burden of student debt on the taxpayer, but raising the tuition fees to over £9000 is what I would call ‘a disaster plan’. It already costs an awful lot for a degree now as it is, so making it more expensive could potentially cause a class divide even amongst graduates, to add the already apparent class system we have between those who go to university and get degrees and work in more professional careers to those who leave school early and take on lower paid jobs just to get by in life. I have little respect for ideas that almost isolate different classes from each other, based on careers. There is little in fact no guarantee a scheme like this will genuinely work as no company would want to see a load of debt on their balance sheets.

The war between buildings and playgrounds

We talk a lot lately about the ever growing need for places in our primary schools as more and more children are being born, making the fight for places in local schools more and more competitive. This means that schools are forced to build to accommodate more classrooms. Many schools have had to take in extra classes, building temporary classrooms to accommodate the extra pupils.

Pupils in a third of expanding primaries could end up with less space to play in as new classrooms swallow up fields and playgrounds, it is reported. A survey of 82 of England’s councils by the Times Educational Supplement suggests 335 of the 957 expanding primaries it received information on are losing outdoor space. More pupils will use the same area in 54% of these schools, the survey says.

The government says it has tightened rules on building on playing fields.

The TES calculated that if the figures were extrapolated to the whole of England, it would mean 213,750 children would have less space per head in their schools.

Last year, a study by the National Audit Office (NAO) warned that by September 2014 an estimated extra 256,000 primary and secondary school places would be needed to meet demand. Of these, 240,000 are required in primary schools, with more than a third needed in London alone.

The Department for Education has made about £5bn available to councils to create new school places, and 212,000 new primary places were created between May 2010 and May last year. But the figures also show 102 schools are gaining space.

David Burchett, operations manager for the charity, Learning through Landscapes, told the magazine that access to outside space was “incredibly important”. “Children need space. We appreciate that some schools are on restricted sites, but they should do whatever they can,” he said. “It would be unacceptable to say, ‘Right, let’s fit 60 children into a classroom where there’s room for 30.'”

A DfE spokesman said: “We have brought in new regulations to make it harder for councils and schools to build new classrooms on their playing fields. They must apply directly to us for permission and our rules make clear that this should only be a last resort where there is a pressing need for new school places. We consider each case on its merits and permission will only be given if councils and schools satisfy us that suitable space is available so children can still play outside.”

What will win the war: space to play in or more classrooms? Personally I don’t see what’s wrong with schools building upwards instead of outwards. What’s wrong with having stairs in our schools? Are they worried about the kids falling down them at a constant rate or something? Should we not be teaching these children the fine motor skills they need to move competently anyway? We do not need to be building on our playgrounds and sacrificing the room for kids to move around during break times.

Girls being put off of sport? Reason – PE at school?

Sport is played and watched by multimillions if not billions of people worldwide, but it cannot be helped that in most major sports such as football for example, more people will watch the men’s game than the women’s game. This is also true for playing sport.

Girls are being put off sport by PE lessons and must be offered more “imaginative” activities including dance and cycling, the Commons culture, media and sport watchdog has concluded. With 2 million fewer women than men playing regular sport, the cross-party group of MPs will call on the government to force schools into taking girls’ exercise more seriously, especially in light of growing inactivity in children. They said this could be done by amending the public sector equality duty for schools to make clear that an equal amount of attention must be given to sport for girls as boys.

In a report, the committee, led by senior Conservative MP John Whittingdale, found that some enjoy team games like football or netball, but the top sports for female participation are tennis, swimming, running and Zumba. It said there should be a wider variety of activities on offer, such as dance and cycling, or non-traditional games for girls, like rugby.

“Girls are being deterred from participating in sport by their experiences in school PE lessons,” the report found. “Unfortunately, an emphasis on competitive sport may make this situation worse for some girls … Whatever the reality, there is a perception amongst pupils and others that schools care more about, and spend more money on, sport for boys than for girls.”

The MPs said they were concerned about “persistently low rates of participation in sport by women and girls”, with 30% playing sport once a week compared with 40% of men. It said some of the reasons for this found by Sport England included lifestyle barriers, such as family responsibilities, and personal barriers, such as not knowing anyone, a belief that muscular and sporty bodies are not feminine, and not wanting to look silly. The report also blames local authority budget cuts for the fact there are too few facilities to allow people to easily participate in sport.

“We fear that a diminution in the number and quality of sporting facilities will simply increase the need for more expensive health and social care interventions in a less fit population, even if one does not take into account the loss to individuals,” it said. “Provision of some basic facilities – pitches, swimming pools, sports halls – at low cost should be seen as a contribution to public health rather than a leisure programme.”

The MPs also looked at the under-representation of women on sporting bodies, the lack of women’s sport on television and lower pay for professional female sports players, saying all of these areas should be addressed. Helpful measures, they concluded, might include the publication of more results of women’s matches in the media and fewer comments on the appearance of sportswomen and the ability of women in general to play sports.

As a massive football fan, I find it disappointing that the women’s game doesn’t get the tv attention that it should. I’m an avid Manchester City fan and follow all aspects of our club from our first men’s team, to our youth teams, women’s team and partner teams in New York and Melbourne. Sadly as I’m not living in or around Manchester, watching the games at the stadia just isn’t going to happen for me so I rely on tv coverage and the club’s Youtube channel to follow their progress. I find it really disappointing that the vast majority of games I watch are the men’s game. All this media attention to the men’s game is actually promoting a gender inequality and giving the women’s game a poor image. I would like to see the women’s game get more publicity in the UK, which in turn might promote girls getting into sport down at grass roots level. This isn’t just the case for football, it’s the case for all sports. I personally think the media have the power to be able to promote girls into sport at all levels.

Poorer Pupil Priority

The battle for places in schools these days is becoming more and more competitive, meaning that there are potential issues for families getting their children into a good school in their locality, particular those who have lower incomes.

Well, under consultation by the government, state schools in England could be allowed to prioritise places for poorer children, meaning that children who carry eligibility for Pupil Premium will have first choice on school places.

For those unfamiliar with Pupil Premium, it is a government grant that is given to schools for each disadvantaged children. In September, it will be worth an annual sum of £1300 per primary pupil and £935 per secondary pupil.

Under the latest proposals, published for consultation, all state schools would have the freedom to give priority in admissions to youngsters who attract the funding. This policy is already in place for Academies and Free Schools.

There could be some issues though as this latest admissions proposal may prove controversial if wealthier parents struggle to get school places for their children. I would like to see how those parents react when they get to see what it feels like to be lower down the income ladder and how hard it is to gets children into local schools in this day and age.

The consultation says: “These changes are consistent with the government’s social mobility agenda and will allow schools the opportunity to support the least advantaged in society in a practical way.”

It says there will be no legal requirement for schools to prioritise pupil premium children and that it would be up to them to decide.

The document also puts forward a proposal to allow primary schools to give priority to pupil premium children who attend a nursery attached to their school. But this suggestion caused concern among the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nursery sector, which fears children in these settings will be put at an unfair disadvantage. Chief executive of the Pre-School Alliance Neil Leitch said: “Parents of eligible children, who might have preferred to place their child with a local childminder or at a local PVI group setting, may feel under pressure to instead opt for a school-based nursery to have a better chance of securing a place at that same school later on. We are concerned that this is yet another example of the government pushing for a more school-focused early years system at the expense of the PVI sector, and about the potentially detrimental impact this could have on children and families.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “Currently, only academies and free schools have the freedom to prioritise children eligible for the pupil premium or service premium for the children of military personnel or both. We want to extend this option to all state schools, and also give admission authorities of primary schools the option to prioritise children eligible for the pupil premium, who attend a nursery which is part of the school. These changes will improve the fair and open allocation of school places even further and ensure every child receives a first class education.”

The new admission consultation comes a few weeks after schools minister David Laws said he was encouraged to see that some grammar schools were now using the pupil premium as part of their admissions criteria when offering places to pupils. About 32 grammars are prioritising pupils on free school meals – a key measure of poverty – in their admissions, Mr Laws said in a speech, adding that the government would “fully support” any school that chose to change its admissions in this way.

I’m all for this idea if I’m honest. I’m from a deprived background myself and it frustrates me at times to see money talking. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a grammar school, but I know many people from my background don’t get such opportunities, not always due to money but still. There has to be a fair system that allows all children to have equal grounds to get into schools. Money isn’t the biggest factor in children’s possible development, the opportunity for quality education is. I was one of the lucky ones, but I would love to see more people from lesser privileged backgrounds achieving their potential

Financial Education?

With summer holidays now upon us for most schools, children can attend to having a break before preparing for next year, in which there comes something new: Financial Education.

It has long been a belief of mine that in schools in the UK we do not teach our children enough about essential life skills such as budgeting and pensions, which is something that occurs in the lives of every individual at some point in their lives, instead focusing on trigonometry and other specialised mathematics which is not going to be used in everyone’s life. This means that children are heading into University or out into the big wide world without the necessary skills to live a successful independent life. Well this is all about to change

Financial education is a subject which now means that 11-16 year olds will be taught both budgeting and pensions, as well as looking at public spending and finance related problem solving. This change has been lobbied hard for by charities ever since the recession hit back in 2008 and it’s taken all this time for it to finally come.

In the Guardian this morning, the journalist had visited a school looking into this story and how the kids felt about this change, and the kids of the school responded with mixed feelings. Here are some examples of what was reported;

“It’s probably as important as English and business studies,” says Karim Blake.

Chaib is worried about too much focus on saving. “We are teenagers. We should be able to spend on what we want. You should start worrying when you are 16 … I don’t want to get: ‘You are going to have a rubbish future.'”

Gabby Urbonaviciute is also unsure. “If it was for the whole time, I think it would get boring. Today is fun. Two lessons but not more than that,” she says while filling in a quiz on which celebrity spender she is most like – from “super saver” J K Rowling to “spenderholic” Mike Tyson.

There are some points about this that I quite like. Take Karim’s point for example. He cites English and Business Studies, which is understandable if you want a working knowledge of how the economy works and how businesses in differing fields may make money. What surprises me is that budgeting and finances actually comes under Business Studies, albeit slightly differently to what the government are bringing in now, but the principles are the same. For me personally I don’t see why the government shouldn’t make Business Studies a compulsory GCSE subject and teach budgeting and pensions as part of that.

Gabby also raised quite an interesting point and it’s the same thing that came to my mind. Is 5 years really necessary? How many lessons a week would you need to cover everything? Being brutally honest I can’t see how you would be able to fill that many lessons with the topics that were listed under Financial Education. The issue with this is that it could end up falling into the category of ‘marginalised’ subjects which tend to fall by the wayside.

This workshop that piloted this new subject is being run by MyBnk. Set up in 2007 it has so far helped 80,000 children with lessons on the difference between “needs and wants”, how to save, public spending, banking and enterprise.

Founder Lily Lapenna started the charity after working in international development in Africa and Asia. When she returned to London it was the calm before the great financial storm but Lapenna was already nervous about the build-up of personal debt.

“Credit flowed quickly and easily – overdrafts, credit cards and mortgages. Many of my friends were in debt but living fabulously without a clue of what APR meant nor how it impacted them,” she says, referring to the annual percentage rate (APR) measure of how much it costs to borrow money. “Something didn’t feel right. Sure, we could pay our monthly bills, but what if we lost our job, what would we do if our boiler packed up?”

She started classes for schoolchildren and since the onset of the financial crisis, demand for MyBnk’s sessions has soared. “We need to teach students to manage money. That was not the prevailing attitude pre-crash where thoughts were, they will learn from their parents,” says Lapenna. “Demand has skyrocketed … Next year we are targeting a doubling of our reach to 40,000 young people.”

Since changes to the national curriculum were announced last November the charity has been providing classes that fit the new guidelines and anticipates even more demand from September. Under the changes, lessons in budgeting and public spending will be taught in citizenship and financial equations will be part of maths teaching.

There are doubts about whether the curriculum requirements go far enough and whether teachers will be well enough supported. But those who campaigned for financial education in schools have broadly welcomed the change.

Tope Chiedozie, an education officer for MyBnk, says such lessons are vital to help children understand basic concepts about earning, saving and spending before they leave home. He also wants them to gain skills they can put to use straight away. “Many schools have chicken and chip shops and newsagents nearby. When you look at their budgets and what they spend in a week it’s scary. Some of them are given £20 on Monday and on Tuesday have £2,” he says. “At schools in more affluent areas the challenge is teaching children about the value of money,” says Chiedozie. “Some kids I ask: Have you got a mobile phone, have you got a laptop, an iPad, a computer, a TV in your room?’ Some have all of them. Overindulgence like that doesn’t help the money in their hand have any value at all.”

Rhiannon Colvin, another trainer with MyBnk says financial education is as much about young people understanding the public finances as their own personal finances. “I hope that they are empowered with the knowledge to make their own decisions and to have more say in how the economy works,” she says.

One thing that stands out wherever she runs sessions, says Colvin, is an entrenched view about how the government spends its money. “They are saying things like (money goes) to benefit scroungers. When you ask them what the government spends its money on you’d think that the first thing they would say is schools or hospitals but they say people who are not working. Those media messages filter down.”

Freddie Ewer co-founder of the financial education group RedStart says new teaching in the area must work towards changing attitudes in the UK. “This has a huge role to play in ensuring we don’t end up with another huge debt driven financial crisis,” he says.

RedStart, spun out of a pensions adviser, is also seeing rising demand from schools for its sessions. It is recruiting companies in the financial sector to host and teach the workshops. “I think the financial crisis has brought a shift in financial responsibility away from government and big business to individuals, for example, in pensions, tuition fees, increasing use of private healthcare. If you are going to put all this responsibility on the shoulders of people you need to have an education system that explains to them at a young age how basic financial concepts work,” says Ewer.

There are worries that the national curriculum changes will leave many children behind. MyBnk points out there are still no compulsory financial lessons for anyone over 16, when they may be facing big financial decisions. Also, academies and free schools can opt out of teaching the national curriculum.

Teachers themselves will need training or outside help, say charities. “A lot of these people who are being asked to teach financial education have never been taught it themselves,” says RedStart’s Ewer.

The deputy head at the school, Alice Clay, is hopeful that given her school has included financial education in classes for some time, the new term will not bring a significant shift. But she expects some areas of the new curriculum to be more challenging than others. “The children are really interested in the enterprise part of things and business planning. We have to work harder to keep them interested in personal finance issues,” she says.

I guess this is another ‘time will tell if this will work’ theory, although I do suspect that the teachers will not necessarily have had adequate training to be able to take on teaching these subjects. My concern is who is going to be teaching this, how often is it going to be taught, and for how long will each lesson last. Part of me suspects that it may be one of those things you briefly look at in morning and afternoon registration and then it whizzes through one of the kids ears and out of the other. Of course I would hope for that not to be the case because these skills are essential and thus need to be given the time and care that it deserves.

Morgan – More of the same

I’m sure every teacher, parent or educator was jumping up and down with joy at the departure of Michael Gove, I know I sure was. What I was also hoping for is this means that the new secretary Nicky Morgan would slow down a few of her predecessors changes which are deemed somewhat controversial.

Well sadly for all you optimists out there, Mrs Morgan’s first speech in the House of Commons didn’t bode well. Mrs Morgan pledged to carry on the work of Michael Gove by radically expanding free schools, supporting unqualified teachers and keeping changes to the exam system, despite the unpopularity of her predecessor with teachers. Morgan made clear she admired Gove’s legacy and would maintain “undimmed” enthusiasm for free schools – the programme of new state-funded schools built by third parties such as parent groups, education charities or religious groups.

She made the remarks after Richard Fuller, MP for Bedford, said Gove had not been radical on free schools and called for a rapid expansion of the programme across the country, to which Morgan replied: “Can I thank the honourable gentleman? It’s always very exciting to be tempted and asked to be more radical. Absolutely. I am undimmed in my commitment to free schools and look forward to working with him and members on all sides in getting more free schools up and running.”

Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, called on Morgan to “make the break and put the interests of pupils and teachers above Tory party ideology” by ditching the party’s commitment to allowing unqualified teachers in free schools. He said Gove was “a man full of ideas – they just happened to be the wrong ones”. But Morgan responded by mocking his “theatricals typical of someone who took part in the Cambridge Footlights as he did”. She also accused the history lecturer, who has a doctorate from the University of Cambridge, of being an unqualified teacher himself. After ignoring the insult, Hunt asked Morgan whether she would slow down the government’s “rushed curriculum changes that risk undermining faith in the examination system, causing confusion for pupils and parents?”

“Already Ofqual has warned of greater than normal turbulence in examination results this summer. Is the secretary of state fully satisfied that her government’s changes will not compromise fairness and consistency as pupils receive their results in August?” he asked.

Gove argued his changes to the curriculum would make education more rigorous by placing more emphasis on “knowledge-based” exams and less on coursework. His critics accused him of trying to bring them in too quickly, returning to old-fashioned ideas and meddling too much in specifics of what should be taught, such as prioritising British history and authors.

Morgan, who described Gove as “one of the great reforming secretaries of state for education”, replied that she was confident in the exam results because a quarter of a million fewer pupils were now in underperforming schools and there were 800,000 more pupils at schools rated good and outstanding.

“That is the legacy left by my right hon friend the member for Surrey Heath, which I intend to be building on,” she said.

Morgan did not comment directly on last week’s report about extremism in Birmingham schools, which revealed evidence of “coordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in the city”.

The conclusion emerged from a draft of a report leaked to the Guardian, which was commissioned by Gove and written by Peter Clarke, the former head of the Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism command.

Morgan will make a statement in the Commons on the report at some point today and told Birmingham Ladywood MP Shabana Mahmood: “There is absolutely no place for extremist views in our schools.” She declined an invitation from Liam Byrne, the Birmingham Hodge Hill MP, to apologise for failings by the government to keep schools in the city in check.

Teachers are banking on Morgan to build bridges with their profession after criticism that Gove dismissed much of the educational establishment as “the blob” and pushed through radical changes without listening to warnings about the possible consequences. The Observer reported on Sunday that Morgan rewrote a final ministerial statement from her predecessor to include a promise to listen to their views on schools reform.

The new education secretary has said she will be “nice to teachers”, but she made it clear in an interview with the Sunday Times that she would not be “soft-pedalling” in the job.

This is an interesting point for those who have followed my blog before and remember my post Prosecute the term time holiday parents! (Can be found here if you haven’t read it: https://markmelaney.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/prosecute-the-term-time-holiday-parents/ ). She also backed Gove’s changes that mean parents can be fined for taking their children out of school in term time. She said: “For every day or half-day that a child misses school, it does affect their education. From the prime minister downwards, we have made it clear that being in schools during term time is the best place for children to be. I’m really clear that will continue.”

So all in all, what to make of Mrs Morgan so far? Well being brutally honest there were little glimpses there, particular regarding to term time holiday debacle and the rewriting of a final ministerial statement to give the educational establishment a bit of input which didn’t happen under Gove. But the reality is, it’s all more of the same. More and more unqualified teachers are set to enter our schools, despite the fact that it completely undermines the profession to the point where can we really call teaching a profession anymore? With all these free schools appearing is there a need for universities to offer teacher training programmes at all when even with a degree your job can be secured by someone who has no degree whatsoever. That is of course a whole different debate.

I don’t believe in free schools, I never have done, although most of what I know about them comes from looking from the outside at media and polls etc. The fact that unqualified teachers could be teaching the next generation of kids worries me too much to want to be in a free school (that’s not to say I wouldn’t teach in one if the job came round). If there is any policy stopped this is one I would definitely like to see grounded to a halt.

Exams have always been a tricky one throughout my years of existence and beyond that. I’m not old enough to remember O-levels or such like, but the change from O-levels to SATs, GCSEs and A levels has been all over the shot. The debate between exams and coursework will go on forever and a day but I do feel that you can look back on a lot more with coursework than you can with exams because exams is basically how much can you remember in the allotted time frame. Time is an unnecessary pressure for me when it comes to exams. What I find interesting is that Scotland’s new system is actually heading the other direction towards a more coursework based exam structure, so in the next couple of years we’ll get a pretty good picture as to what the differences are in performance.

Public sector FGM training

One of the many pressures of teaching is to be able to identify and get the correct support for children considered ‘at risk’. One of those situations is Female Genital Mutilation. At a conference earlier this year, the Association for Teachers and Lecturers reported that teachers need more training to help them identify and protect girls at risk. Possible symptoms identified include frequent toilet trips and girls in pain.

Well 3 months later, at a London summit this week, Nick Clegg will announce a package including extra training for public sector workers in FGM. New guidance about the practice will be part of compulsory training in public sector organisations.

Advice about FGM is already issued to many staff but professional bodies have called for a different approach.

The partial or total removal of external female genitalia is illegal in the UK but the practice occurs in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Mr Clegg will tell the Girl Summit being hosted by the government and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef): “Without the right knowledge, skills and experience, people feel like they don’t have the cultural understanding and authority to even talk about this practice honestly, never mind intervene when they’re worried someone is vulnerable.”

He will say: “Female genital mutilation is one of the oldest and the most extreme ways in which societies have sought to control the lives and bodies of generations of young women and girls. We’re currently failing thousands of girls… central to tackling it are the doctors, nurses, teachers and legal professionals who need to be equipped to identify and support young women and girls at risk.”

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Controlling the lives and bodies of young women and girls through FGM has no place in modern Britain. The RCN has worked with the government on the development of training and guidance to help equip frontline staff with the skills they need to tackle this most sensitive of issues.”

Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, welcomed the government plans but said they had to be backed up with “resources and commitment” to ensure staff have access to the training.

Ofsted – Down with traditional teaching!

We all know that teaching styles alter in time due to the different requirements and needs that our children change with developments of technology amongst other situations. But there are some methods that have transcended the boundaries of time.

Well not according to Ofsted. In fact, according to a report from thinktank Civitas, Ofsted is actually penalising teachers who use the traditional ‘chalk and talk’ style of teaching. This conclusion came from their analysis of 260 Ofsted reports, which found what they describe as ‘trendy’ child led learning and ‘jazzy lessons’ taking precedence over the traditional methods.

Sir Michael Wilshaw himself has said before that it is clear for the teachers for them to decide how they teach, which means that his inspectors have no right to take preference to a certain style of teaching over another.

But the report found teachers were “accustomed to putting on ‘jazzy’ lessons, replete with group work, role play and active learning in order to fulfil what has become widely acknowledged as the ‘Ofsted style'”.

The study for the think tank, by Robert Peal, a history teacher and education research fellow, is based on an analysis of two sets of reports. The first 130 reports, on secondary schools inspected between September 10 and October 13 last year, showed clear evidence of bias, Civitas claims.

While more than half (52%) showed a preference for lessons in which pupils learned independently from teacher instruction, 42% showed a preference for group work, the study says. And 18% criticised teachers for talking too much.

The second set of 130 reports was produced from inspections carried out after new guidance on how to assess teaching quality was issued earlier this year.

Sir Michael wrote to inspectors in January saying: “Please, please, please think carefully before criticising a lesson because it doesn’t conform to a particular view of how children should be taught.”

Although in the second batch of reports the percentage showing a preference for child-centred learning fell to 38%, the report says the change in the language of the reports was “superficial”.

And it claims lead inspectors were given a list of “banned phrases” bemoaning the lack of “trendy teaching methods”. It adds that some reports were edited after publication “to expunge examples of child-centred language”.

“Such a shallow approach to combating the preferred Ofsted style of teaching relies on changing the language of the reports, but allowing the fundamental judgement to remain the same,” the report says. It goes on to call for the removal of Ofsted’s power to grade the quality of teaching so that schools have the “professional autonomy to focus on what teaching methods work best”.

An Ofsted spokesman said: “The arguments put forward in this report are largely reheated ones. What matters to Ofsted is what matters to parents – ensuring that schools are delivering the best possible education for their children. As HM chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has repeatedly made clear, Ofsted does not have a preferred teaching style. It is up to the classroom teacher to determine how they should teach.”

I’m sorry Ofsted, but you are talking complete and utter trash. I’ve been on the front line in classrooms during an Ofsted inspection, and I was told to alter the usual approach I use just to please the Ofsted inspector coming in. I should say at this point that I was a TA for the class teacher. I also noticed the class teacher wasn’t teaching in the same way that they usually taught. This culture of teaching ‘the Ofsted style’ definitely exists, and if you don’t recognise this then I’m afraid you have about as clear a vision as I do in the dark (I used to sleepwalk into walls as a kid). I certainly would never use some of my methods during Ofsted because I would have to include technology in. Not all of my lessons use technology, not just because I’m not it’s biggest fan, but because I don’t want to use technology for using it’s sake. If my lesson could not be done without the technology, fine I’ll use it. But if it’s not necessary I don’t want to replace something that is perfectly fine.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Ofsted, I don’t really think it’s fit for purpose, and if I’m brutally honest, I would like to see it scrapped, and I’m sure I’m not just speaking for myself when I say that. To find a report that is using a hint of bias towards certain teaching styles only adds another nail into the Ofsted coffin for me.

Fairer funding by pumping money

Historically, areas have been poorly funded have been at a disadvantage when it comes to our education.

Schools Minister David Laws has announced that almost £400m more money has been pumped into poorly funded areas in an attempt to make funding fairer. This seems like good news, but headteachers have warned that increasing costs mean that many areas are unlikely to be any better off.

Laws insisted that no other local council’s per-pupil funding will be reduced from its current level. He said: “This £390m increase – £40m more than was announced in March – is the biggest step toward fairer schools funding in a decade, and will go a long way to removing the historical unfairness of the funding system. Crucially, we have ensured no local authority will see a reduction in its budget, while 69 local authorities will get a cash boost. This increase in funding will make a real difference on the ground in the least fairly funded local areas, without creating instability, uncertainty or cuts in any areas.”

Ministers had announced proposals earlier this year to tackle England’s “unfair and complicated” system for allocating school funding, claiming they would set minimum funding levels and hand an extra £350m to schools in the least fairly funded areas.

As an example, Laws said that Cambridgeshire, which was the lowest funded area in 2014/15, will now get an extra £311 per pupil, whilst Northumberland will get an extra £307 and Croydon £278 more for each student.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), welcomed the extra cash saying the increase in basic funding is a “useful step” towards a national fair funding formula. But he added: “This good news is completely overshadowed by the reality that all schools and colleges are facing huge holes in their budgets caused by pension contribution rises and other increasing costs. This real terms reduction in funding will lead to larger class sizes and fewer course options as schools are no longer afford to run subjects that do not recruit well. We want to see the increase in pension contributions fully funded so that children’s education is not compromised. The new minimum-per-pupil level only means that those schools will be hit less hard than other schools that have historically been better funded. At best, schools in low funded areas will be no worse off and schools in better funded areas will see a real term decrease in their budget.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “This focused funding, first proposed in March, is welcome and necessary. It is good to see that the 60 local areas deemed the least fairly funded will benefit. There is growing evidence from Ofsted, the Sutton Trust and others about the effect of clusters of deprivation and these are not always where you might expect.”

He added: “However, this extra money must be seen in the context of on-going austerity for both schools and local authorities in real terms. This is at a time when pupil numbers are rising, there are questions about a sufficient supply of teachers and local authority support is being cut. Given these challenges this funding may not be enough for children in those areas, let alone the rest of the country.”

The other question that comes into my mind is ‘Where is this money coming from?’ What are the government using to fund this injection into these authorities? How are the government gonna make this money back? All these questions are clouding this seemingly great news. Of course the government has reserves that it might have used, but would they really want to do that? I doubt it. I sense that someone somewhere is going to announce some kind of tax added on to our already high costs of living in order to fund this.

Postcode determines education?

We all want the best possible education for our children, that’s what we aim for as both teachers and parents. But how do we ensure we get that?

Well inspectors have once again warned that pupils’ chances of getting a good education in our country still depends on where they live.

An Ofsted report indicates “considerable variation” across local authorities in how many pupils achieve the expected level at ages 11 and 16. The schools watchdog vowed to “focus its attention” on those areas failing to raise pupil attainment.

The study examined the use of the pupil premium – extra money given to schools to help disadvantaged pupils. The funds are available for pupils who are, or have been over the previous six years, eligible for free school meals or in care. In the academic year 2014-15, the government is allocating £2.5bn to the scheme. Primary schools will get an extra £1,300 per eligible pupil and secondary schools will get £935.

The Ofsted report said this meant an average-sized secondary school in England with an average number of eligible pupils would receive about £200,000 in extra funding – the equivalent of five full-time teachers.

The report, based on official data and inspection reports, concludes there is evidence the pupil premium is boosting the education prospects of many children. It says that while it is still too early to tell if there has been a significant narrowing of the gap between rich and poor youngsters nationally, inspectors believe that school leaders are spending the extra money more effectively than ever.

The cash is most frequently being used to pay for extra teachers and teaching assistants who give individual help or small group tuition, usually in English and maths.

Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw said the improving situation could be down to the watchdog looking at how the premium was being spent as part of inspections. “Head teachers were also aware that they could not get a desirable Ofsted judgment if they did not show how they were improving the results of disadvantaged pupils,” Sir Michael said.

But the report also warned that while some areas had seen major improvements in disadvantaged pupils’ performance, others were improving too slowly. “Although inspectors have seen large improvements in the attitude of school leaders and governors, there is considerable variation across local authorities in the proportion of pupils achieving expected levels at Key Stages 2 (end of primary) and 4 (GCSE level) and the rate of improvement from year to year,” the report said.

Pupils who are eligible for free school meals in Barnsley, Portsmouth, South Gloucestershire, North Lincolnshire and Northumberland were least likely to get five good GCSEs, including English and maths, inspectors said. Last year, about one in four premium-eligible pupils in these areas reached this benchmark, Ofsted said. The report goes on to note that Barnsley had had the third lowest proportion of eligible children getting five or more C grades in 2012, and attainment had declined further to make it the lowest attaining authority in 2013.

At the other end of the scale, Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Lambeth had the highest proportions of premium-eligible youngsters – about three-fifths – reaching this standard. What is very noticeable is these are all provinces of London, the capital city where pretty much all of our money goes.

The report concluded: “It cannot be right that the likelihood of a child receiving a good education should depend on their postcode or economic circumstance. Government should focus its attention on those areas of the country that are letting poor children down. Ofsted will also focus its attention on these areas in subsequent reports to see if improvements have been made.”

Sir Michael Wilshaw, said: “One of the greatest challenges this country faces is closing the unacceptable gap that remains between poorer children and their better-off classmates when it comes to educational outcomes. As chief inspector, I am passionate about improving the prospects of our least advantaged children, so I am encouraged by the clear signs in today’s report that more effective spending and monitoring of the pupil premium is starting to make a positive difference in many schools. Ofsted, for its part, will continue to focus relentlessly on how schools are using this money to ensure these pupils don’t get left behind.”

Schools Minister David Laws said the pupil premium was transforming the life chances of pupils across the country. “The report shows head teachers, teachers and governors are rallying behind the policy to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. And where performance is an issue we are taking swift action to ensure all pupils are given the education they deserve.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg adds: “The pupil premium has been one of the most significant changes in our education system for a long time and is already closing the attainment gap by helping up to two million disadvantaged children get the support, education and skills they need to get on in life – whether it’s through literacy classes, catch-up lessons or one-to-one tuition.”

I’ve been a fan of the pupil premium, and could only have wished it came in when I was at school so not just me but some of my peers could have had the additional support we needed. Back when I was at school, a TA didn’t really exist in many classrooms, and when they did, my experience of their role was merely to photocopy worksheets or do the paperwork that the teacher didn’t do. Over the last decade, their role has evolved continuously, as well as their availability as it’s become more common for a class to have at least 1 TA, although there are still classes where they do not exist.

What disappoints me is that money talks, all the places that have more money pumped into them have a much greater chance of stronger education, whilst small towns like the area I’m from have very little chance. For once I agree with Sir Michael that there needs to be a greater focus on these areas, rather than everywhere talking about how brilliant London is.