Tag Archives: Nicky Morgan

Getting to work on teacher’s workload – Ministers’ Measures

One of the many factors that has been the caused of incessant and frequent striking by members of the teaching profession as well as other educators leaving the profession for other careers has been the high level of workload. For a long time under Michael Gove, this was seen as ‘excuses’ more than anything else, so the news that this current Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Deputy Leader Nick Clegg are looking at ways to improve it has got to be music to the ears of those who are still left in the profession.

So what are these ‘decisive measures’ that the two politicians announced? Well they include;

  1. Commitments by Ofsted to not change their handbook or framework during the academic year, unless absolutely necessary
  2. Giving schools more notice of significant curriculum changes, and not making any changes to qualifications during the academic year, unless urgently required
  3. Carrying out a large robust survey in 2016 and then every two years in order to track teachers’ workload.

These announcements come after results from a Workload Challenge survey released by the Department of Education, of which around 44,000 (the vast majority of teachers) responded to. They cited excessive amounts of time spent recording data and dealing with bureaucracy as factors which contributed to “unnecessary” or “unproductive” workloads. Other reasons included unrealistic deadlines and excessive marking – with some saying they marked up to 120 books a day.

Ms Morgan said the changes would tackle the root causes of excessive workloads. “It is no secret that we have made some very important changes in schools – changes that we know have increased the pressure on many teachers,” she said. “We know there is no quick fix but we hope the commitments we have outlined today will support and empower the profession, and free up teachers to focus on what matters most in their jobs.”

If only that were true. It is believed by many that this isn’t enough. The National Union of Teachers said teachers would be “bitterly disappointed” by the measures.

“At a time when the number of teachers leaving this proud profession is at a 10-year high, this announcement on workload is simply insufficient,” said general secretary Christine Blower. She said the government should immediately tackle its “out-of-control accountability system”, which had “Ofsted at its centre”.

The dreaded Ofsted again. It is no secret that the very name brings a shudder to many members of our profession, and with that shudder comes the feeling of needing to do extra work to prevent yourself from showing a bad light. I’ve worked in schools where inspections are going on and have seen even experienced teachers in a panic.

HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said Ofsted was working to “dispel some of the myths that may have led to unnecessary workloads”. “It is very important that schools maintain a sense of proportion when preparing for an Ofsted inspection,” he said. “If they are devoting their energies to getting things right for pupils, then an Ofsted inspection will take care of itself.”

I personally welcome the announcement, it’s at least a step in the right direction, but if progress is judged on speed of movement, this is more like a pigeon-toe step than a sprint. Hopefully there are many more to come soon and maybe, just maybe, the profession might be given a bit of a morale boost.

So what is allowed and what isn’t when it comes to ‘authorised absence’?

I’ve written about this before and it evoked quite an interesting discussion both on here, through my colleagues and friends on Facebook and on Twitter about what should and shouldn’t be allowed as an authorised absence and whether people should be paying these fines introduced under the new government regulations.

Well head teachers’ union NAHT have now released some guidelines that have been drawn up over what is and isn’t allowed, which has allegedly received the backing of current Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

Funerals, weddings and religious events will count as acceptable “exceptional circumstances” but cheaper holidays will not be “a good enough reason”.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the current system had caused confusion among heads. He said the new guidance would also permit time off to see parents returning from duty with the armed forces, and for children with disabilities or special needs who are suffering a family crisis.

Until September 2013, heads in England could grant up to 10 days’ leave a year for family holidays in “special circumstances”. But now head teachers can grant absence outside school holidays only in “exceptional circumstances”. Mr Hobby said: “The trouble is, we have no consistent definition of an ‘exceptional circumstance’. This has led to confusion and a sense of unfairness. Two-thirds of the heads we surveyed found this guidance problematic.”

He said the NAHT guidelines would help identify an “event whose timing cannot be controlled and which are great emotional significance to the families involved”. But Mr Hobby said pupils should not be given “extended leave” either side of an event.

He said there had been 60,000 fines handed out to parents for removing children without approval and not all were holidaymakers.

Last week, the Local Government Association said the new rules do not recognise the complexities of family life and head teachers should be allowed to take a “common-sense approach” to term time holidays. Mr Hobby said: “So what about allowing holidays in term time simply because of the cost? I’m afraid these just don’t fit the bill. It’s not a good enough reason to damage an education. You cannot easily make up the lost learning at home, and falling behind in class can put children at a permanent disadvantage. Those who work in schools share your pain. Many are parents themselves and pay these prices, too. We must tackle this. The government should work with the holiday industry to find a way through.”

Local authorities are obliged to instigate fines and enforce legal proceedings on behalf of schools in cases of unauthorised absences. Parents who take children out of school during term-time can receive automatic penalty notices of £60 per child. This rises to £120 if not paid within 21 days. Parents who fail to pay could face prosecution and a maximum fine of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.

So, it’s clearer now, under family circumstances such as weddings, bereavements and religious events are fine, but taking children out of school just for a cheaper holiday is a no go. So if you want to take your child on holiday, then pay the price for it, like you would for anything else such as food or housing or cars, which don’t just come around for free. Honestly I find it frustrating, people have often said to me ‘oh but look at the experiences they can have in these places and what they can learn.’ My response to that is ‘Yeah, and is that really why they’re going on holiday?’ to which the simple answer is no.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t take your children on holiday, but what I’m saying is don’t bargain with your children’s education just to cut the cost down. You might say ‘well i’ll take the risk and refuse to pay the fine’, but look at the consequences of that. You would have to pay probably more than the saving you made compared to going on holiday out of term time, and face a jail sentence and a criminal record. Is it really worth it? For me, no it isn’t. I mean sure, I’m 22 and don’t have children of my own, but I am of the mindset that if you want something, you pay the money for it. If you can’t afford it, well you don’t get it, simple as that.

Double down in oversized classes

The oversized class, every teacher’s worst nightmare, with several children all with differing needs and circumstances. One would hope for no class to be oversized.

Well, according to Labour today, actually quite the reverse is happening. In fact, they are claiming that oversized classes for infant primary school children have ‘spiralled by 200%’ since 2010, citing reasons that money is being spent on the government’s ‘pet project’ Free Schools program as opposed to dealing with the place crisis.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt says data shows 93,000 pupils in England are in classes of more than 30, with 446 in classes of more than 70.

The government said it was Labour who cut primary places during a baby boom. The Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “Tristram Hunt seems to have forgotten that it was Labour who cut 200,000 primary school places in the middle of a baby boom – at the same time as letting immigration get out of control.”

Labour analysed figures produced by the Department for Education earlier this year for pupils at infant schools, from age four to seven. The party says the figures show that of 93,000 children in classes of more than 30, including 40,000 in classes of more than 36, over a third were in classes of more than 40, while 5,817 were in classes of more than 50, 2,556 in classes of more than 60 and 446 in classes of more than 70 pupils. 70 pupils in a class! Wow! I would never have thought that high. I mean I remember being in a class of 40 at school in my middle school years, but 70? That’s a whole year group in one room surely?

Labour calculates that if the trend were to continue through the next parliament, as many as one in four pupils would be affected.

The current regulations set a lawful limit of 30 pupils in a class.

Mr Hunt highlighted the figures in a speech in London, part of a series by members of the shadow cabinet outlining the party’s analysis of key issues at the next general election. “In 2008 David Cameron said ‘The more we can get class sizes down the better’, but as parents and pupils prepare to begin the new school year, there are real concerns about the number of children in classes of more than 30 infants under the Tories,” said Mr Hunt. “By diverting resources away from areas in desperate need of more primary school places in favour of pursuing his pet project of expensive free schools in areas where there is no shortage of places, David Cameron has created classes of more than 40, 50, 60 and even 70 pupils. Labour will end the free schools programme and instead focus spending on areas in need of extra school places. The choice on education is clear; the threat of ever more children crammed in to large class sizes under the Tories or a Labour future where we transform standards with a qualified teacher in every classroom and action on class sizes.”

Mrs Morgan said the government had doubled funding to local authorities for school places. “As part of our long-term economic plan, the difficult decisions we have taken have meant we have been able to double the funding to local authorities for school places to £5bn, creating 260,000 new places. But Labour haven’t learnt their lesson. Their policy of not trusting head teachers would create more bureaucrats, meaning more resources are spent on paperwork not places. Children would have a worse future under Labour.” Mrs Morgan I have a question for you. Under the current government, as highlighted last week with the A level results, results in secondary school achievement has actually gone down in the last couple of years. Given that your party have been in government since 2010, can you please explain how the policies of your department has improved the standard of our education system?

Natalie Evans, director of the New Schools Network, which represents free schools, said two-thirds were being set up in areas with a shortage of places. “Every primary free school opening in London next month is in a borough with a projected shortfall. There is no denying that there is a huge pressure on our education system. Free schools are one part of the answer.” Notice how it’s two thirds, not all of them. Where are the other third being built then? Are they being built in affluent areas where there is no existence of a place shortage and why are we wasting money building them there?

Well the Free Schools debate is never going away whilst they exist, and I can’t talk enough about my reservations of them, especially given the nature of the staff and their qualifications, but early signs suggest they may be making a slightly positive impact. I’m not convinced they are the answer to the place shortage given the fact that some areas actually have a surplus of places where other areas fall short of adequate numbers. We need to make sure all families have a place at a local school, and not sending them miles away day after day to school. The other option of course is homeschooling or private tutoring but these come with their own health warnings and again I’m not particularly convinced by those either. Every child has a right to suitable education irrespective of where they are from and what background they are born into. As to how we can achieve that whilst we are in a party political state, noone will be able to agree on. Since I remain to be convinced on the principle of academies and free schools, I would like to see a halt in the creation of new ones until the current ones are found to be 100% certain to be having a positive impact.

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.

Gove Out, Morgan in!

It has been long said by the vast majority that Michael Gove should not be our Education Secretary after his seemingly relentless assault on the teaching profession.

Well it seems our wish is David Cameron’s command, as Mr Gove is no longer the Education Secretary as he has been moved to Chief Whip in one of many changes made in a cabinet reshuffle.

He has been replaced by former Treasury Minister Nicky Morgan in a move by David Cameron to promote more women into top jobs in an attempt to convince voters that the ‘male, pale and stale’ imagine that has often been linked to the Conservative government in the media is inaccurate.

So who is Nicky Morgan? Well, she is a Loughborough MP who has enjoyed a meteoric rise up the politic hierarchy in the last 4 years, and The Huffington Post list 7 things that we need to know about her;

1) She’s only been in politic office since 2010
2) She is one of 2 mothers in the new cabinet (hardly an act to deal with the ‘male, pale and stale’ image but it’s a start I guess)
3) She voted against gay marriage, although did explain that she is not against same sex relationships, but to her marriage is between a man and a woman
4) She won’t be dealing with gay marriage. Downing Street hastily announced Nick Boles, the new education and skill minister who is also gay, would be taking charge of implementing same-sex marriage.
5) She famously said in January that the tories should ‘hate less’. Morgan said in January the party needed to have a more constructive message than simply: ‘we’re against this, we’re anti-that, we don’t like them, we don’t want them here, we don’t want them doing this.’
6) She supported a reduction in the upper limits of abortion from 24 weeks to 20
7) She is one of 14 Oxbridge graduates out of 23 members of the new cabinet (Hardly representing the major population are they?)

As you can see from this list, none of that has anything to do with education as such. Well that is because if we examine her background, education hasn’t really featured a huge amount at all. She graduated from Oxford as a solicitor and worked as a corporate lawyer specialising in mergers and acquisitions.

Politically speaking, the only real mention of anything education related noted about her was in the early stage of her political career where she appeared on the Politics Show in 2010 talking about the tripling of the student tuition fees.

Am I the only one thinking here that this is not the sort of person who we want to replace Michael Gove? In all the time I’ve been interested in politics, it has always been my belief that the person who takes on a political role should have experience in that field, for example, the Education Secretary should have experience of education, ie. a former teacher or head teacher perhaps. Aside from being a mother and her own school experiences, she has none. As much as I respect Mr Cameron’s ploy to get more women in top roles in politics and I support that, we need to make sure the right people are in the right roles to ensure the growth of our economy and keeping the growth stable.

I am eagerly anticipating what is gonna happen now we have someone new in charge of our education system. Here’s hoping this Education Secretary listens to everyone else before making rash decisions.