Tag Archives: Tristram Hunt

Waging War on Mediocrity – The Education Plans

So, just in case people didn’t know, there’s an election coming up, and all the politicians we’ve all come to love or completely despise (yes looking at you here Mr Gove) all come up with their remarkable promises that pretty much every single time they don’t stick to (take the Lib Dems and university tuition fees).

So what’s been happening this time round? Well Mr Cameron promises that in a Conservative government, there will be no cuts to the schools budget in cash terms. He also promised that he would provide an additional £7bn for places for the rising number of pupils due to the baby boom we’ve had over the past few years. Well on the face of it, that sounds all rather nice, yay no cuts. But wait … hang on a minute. He said ‘in cash terms’, which means that it doesn’t increase in line with inflation, so in ‘real terms’ what he’s actually saying is that he is actually cutting the schools budget.

Another promise that came up concerned schools becoming academies. This was initially a Labour ideal but the Tories have brought it on further. Mr Cameron says he is ‘waging war on the mediocrity of our schools’ and he believes academies are the solution. What I find interesting about this is that Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Education Secretary, who represents the party that started this whole academy process off, suggested that this isn’t the only solution. Say what you like about academies, but for me there is genuinely not enough evidence to suggest that academies have been an effective way to solve our education issues. What Mr Cameron wants to do is make more schools that aren’t rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted become academies in a bid to improve standards. But how reliable are Ofsted’s judgements? We constantly hear them come under fire from all directions from teachers to parents and unions. I personally have been a pupil and taught in several schools rated from what is now ‘requires improvement’ to ‘outstanding’ and in some cases have not seen a difference in ones that require improvement and outstanding schools, so begs the question of why the inconsistency. There are also schools out there, such as schools that specialise in SEN, where the progress targets are not so easy to meet.

Talking of Tristram Hunt and Labour, they also came under fire today with a pledge that has leaked out with regards to the tuition fees. I took a bit of a swipe in my intro at the Lib Dems putting the cost up to £9000 per year, well Labour want to do something about this by reducing the fees down to £6000 per year. Once again this sounds really good and will certainly ease the cost of higher education. However, if you work out the costings of all of that, it works out that over the next Parliament, Labour would have to find somewhere in the region of £12bn to pay for it, so the burning question in my mind is ‘how do you propose to pay for that?’ We all know the common answers: increase taxes, cut spending in other areas, or do a Gordon Brown and go on a borrowing binge. Why not get a loan of £12bn from Wonga? Not like we have a high national debt right?

I’ll be honest, what I’m getting from all of this is that we’re not going to see anything particularly positive with regards to our beloved education anytime soon no matter who we elect into our next Parliament. All the more reason for me to not really want to vote for anyone because noone is able to make a positive difference.

Charge of the Teach Brigade

With elections not too far away now, and important issues and pledges being made thick and fast in a mad rush to persuade voters, it is little surprise to see an education pledge appearing from the Tories, who in many respects are looking to move beyond just talking about Europe and immigration.

Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged that he will create an elite squad of high quality teachers in what he calls a National Teaching Service to go into what are described as ‘failing schools’, of which there are estimated to be around 500. These people will also be given the power to remove the schools’ leadership if it is deemed necessary. In order to do this, Mr Cameron says that he will be consulting a team of of ‘experts’ to help develop such a package.

It is the first initiative Cameron has undertaken with the new education secretary, Nicky Morgan, drafted into the cabinet to replace the unpopular Michael Gove. Morgan said that it had become necessary to “go further” and target schools where she said “failure has become ingrained”. She added: “We will not tolerate failure, and where we find it we will use tried and trusted interventions to turn things around in the interests of young people everywhere.”

The regional commissioners were largely developed by Gove as he realised the rapid extension of city academies meant the department for education was directly responsible for the oversight of thousands of academy and free schools in what was rapidly becoming an act of unwieldy centralisation.

Under the new model, the commissioners will be able to order immediate personnel changes to governing bodies, introduce standard punishment tariffs for bad behaviour, and bring in behaviour experts to implement new policies on classroom discipline, school uniform standards and homework. They would also have powers to make “immediate personnel changes to the governing body to improve the calibre of leadership and ensure they have the skills they need to improve”. Ofsted has largely been left to rate schools, but there was no systematic means of improving schools’ performance. It is not yet clear how the new commissioners would work with the under-fire Ofsted under the Conservative plans.

Last week it emerged that Gove had discussed how to remove Sir Michael Wilshaw as chief inspector of schools, but he responded on Friday, vowing to carry on in his position and claiming that he was a victim of “smear campaigns”.

The former education secretary David Blunkett, in a report in May to the current shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, had proposed a new, more democratic, middle-tier body to oversee improvement of local schools led by a new local Directors of School Standards. The proposal was largely modelled on the successful London Challenge responsible for improving school standards in the capital. Hunt, just back from studying the widely praised Singapore education system, added:“Ministers are now trying to play catch-up but the public will see that it is this government’s damaging schools policy that has failed pupils.”

So basically, Cameron’s idea is a Salvation Army of Teaching. Who are these so-called high quality teachers and what makes them stand out? If our education system is supposed to be of high quality, shouldn’t all of our teachers be qualified to be in this particular group? How is it going to feel if you have been consistently praised as an outstanding teacher for years on end, only to not even be considered for such a position? Am I the only one who thinks this has the potential for damaging the already battered and bruised morale of most of the teaching profession? If that happens, then there will be more and more people trying to leave the profession instead of joining it. We have a shortage enough, why make the situation worse? Ofsted are already under fire, so do we really want another mini Ofsted as well? I remain to be convinced of 1) how this is going to work and 2) where it fits into an already awkward system.

Overall GCSE Grades risen, butt ay drop inn Inglish

It’s another results day! This time for those hundreds of thousands of pupils who have battled through the wonderful world of GCSEs.

As you can tell from the title, there has been quite a significant drop in the English GCSE results, however the overall number of those achieving the A*-C grades have risen on average across all subjects. So it looks like on average we’re improving, but become seemingly less literate. Slightly worrying …

Exam officials revealed that 68.8% of entries scored A*-C, up 0.7 percentage points on last summer. However, The proportion of pupils getting the top A* grade across all subjects fell slightly to 6.7%, down from 6.8% last year.

There were significant differences between the A* to C grade results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – where increasingly dissimilar versions of GCSE are being taught. Results rose in each of the three education systems.

There have been warnings of “volatility” in results following an overhaul of the exam system. Brian Lightman, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, reported “increased volatility” in the results being received by schools. A “significant minority” had not received their predicted results, he said, with schools with many disadvantaged students having been “hit the hardest”. “The volume of change has made year on year comparisons in GCSE results increasingly meaningless. It is almost apples and oranges,” said Mr Lightman.

Andrew Hall, head of the AQA exam board, said the most significant impact on this year’s results has been the big fall in younger pupils taking exams a year early. Changes in the league tables discouraged schools from such multiple entries. I am still not convinced this isn’t holding back those children who are capable of getting high quality grades a year earlier. I don’t agree with schools using this system to as a pass to get more than one attempt at these GCSEs, but if they are capable of getting an A* or an A a year early, then let them.

It is important also to remember that across the three nations of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, whilst all have the same name of GCSEs, they are in fact different courses because the reforms such as the switch to linear, non-modular courses and less coursework, have applied only to England.

The results in English seem to have been most affected, with the number of A*-C grades down 1.9 percentage points to 61.7%. This was also influenced by the removal of the “speaking and listening” element of the subject.

The CBI’s deputy director general, Katja Hall, said exam reforms have helped to increase “rigour”. But from an employer’s perspective, she said more was needed to ensure a GCSE grade was an accurate measure of “skills they can bring to the workplace”. The removal of speaking and listening from the English GCSE was “particularly concerning”, said Ms Hall. She also warned that “we cannot continue to turn a blind eye” to the question of whether there should be such an exam for 16 year olds.

There is still a significant gender gap in this year’s results, with 73.1% of girls’ exam entries achieving A* to C compared with 64.3% for boys.

Exam officials also highlighted a fall in the numbers of entries for biology, chemistry and physics, the first such decline for a decade.

Another factor that can be considered an influence has been the ability of some schools, notably free schools and academies, to hire unqualified teachers, which is something highlighted by Tristram Hunt. “It is now the case that some of the pupils who have received their grades today may have higher qualifications than the teachers who will be teaching them at the start of the next school term,” claimed Mr Hunt.

Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University, warned of “shocks in store” for some schools, depending on “how much they relied on gaming the old system”.

“All of this piecemeal change to GCSE means that is incredibly difficult for schools to forecast what grades students might expect to achieve, or indeed to compare the school’s results with previous years,” said head teachers’ leader Brian Lightman. Young people are not statistics. They are individuals whose life chances depend on these results. They have worked extremely hard for these exams and been conscientiously supported by their teachers. I hope that their results do them justice.”

Chris Keates, leader of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said this year’s GCSE exam entrants had to “cope with a raft of rushed through and ill-conceived changes to the qualifications system and so today’s results are especially commendable”.

The National Union of Teachers’ leader Christine Blower said that the headline figures “mask underlying issues which will only become clear over time”. “We must ensure that changes being made to our qualifications system do not unfairly disadvantage specific groups of students, including those with special educational needs or those from backgrounds of economic disadvantage.”

As always, if you either have students receiving their results or are in fact a student receiving your results, I hope you all got the results you were striving for and will continue on to achieve your potential in whatever route you go down.

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.

Teacher in every school dedicated to ‘maintaining order’

Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt has today announced that he promises that every school in England and Wales will have a teacher dedicated to maintaining order.

He said these specialist discipline teachers will be required to add simulated exercises to their training to ensure all who qualify are “classroom ready”. This almost seems like a response to Sir Michael Wilshaw’s recent comments about NQTs entering the profession unprepared.

Hunt is known to believe that discipline is the single biggest issue that motivates most voters about education, and in an article designed to court readers of the Sun, he promises to outflank the education secretary, Michael Gove, by being tough on classroom behaviour. “For any great teacher, at the heart of it is behaviour management and concentration in the classroom,” he writes, adding “standards in our schools and kids getting jobs depend on it”.

Successive education secretaries have promised to act on discipline with policies ranging from quicker expulsions of disruptive children to improved pupil referral units.

It is not clear how much substance lies behind Hunt’s promise, made in a speech in which he sets out his plans for teachers to be subject to relicensing. He called for teachers to have a 2 year license, which could be revoked if they under-perform. To me this seems a bit extreme given the fact that we are trying to get teachers in the profession. Knowing they could be out and trying to find another career in 2 years is a real issue.

Hunt writes in the Sun: “Playing on smartphones. Wandering around the class. Chattering on the back row. Then there is the more extreme stuff. On average, 55 assaults take place in our schools every day. Five minutes stamping out disruption in every lesson taught means [each] pupil loses around 130 hours of learning a year,” he adds.

Hunt points out a recent report by the school inspectorate Ofsted revealed weak classroom discipline as one of the biggest blocks for children’s progress – sparking bullying, absenteeism and worse results. He asks: “Surely the very least we can expect as parents is that teachers have had training in teaching and how to control a class? No child can concentrate amidst chaos. And no teacher should have to fear for their safety. So Labour would put improved behaviour at the heart of all teacher training. We would train up a new generation of behaviour experts to boost classroom discipline.”

Teachers less qualified than McDonalds staff according to Labour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Percentage increase in unqualified teachers ‘misleading’?

Labour’s shadow education spokesman Tristram Hunt has stated that coalition policies have led to a 141% increase in the numbers of unqualified teachers since 2010. However, the website Fullfact has examined this claim and found it somewhat misleading as the overall number of unqualified teachers is down, and even the proportion in academies and free schools has reduced.

Before 2012, people could only be employed as teachers on a permanent basis at a state school (other than an academy or free school) if they had ‘qualified teacher status‘, meaning they’d undergone and completed formal teacher training.

‘Unqualified teachers‘ (such as teacher trainees, some of those trained overseas and people with particular skills but no training) were permitted to teach only if a school was satisfied they had sufficient qualifications or experience and no suitable qualified personnel were available.

Under the Coalition, the requirements restricting when schools could employ unqualified teachers have been relaxed. Since 1 September 2012, schools don’t need to factor in the availability of a qualified alternative teacher. The same is true for free schools and academies. The Coalition has previously pointed to “innovation, diversity and flexibility” as being at the heart of its free schools policy. More recently, the Education Secretary has responded to questions on the use of unqualified teachers in schools by saying: “Head teachers are best placed to make staffing judgments in individual schools”.

Against the charge that the change is “dumbing down” the education system, ministers last week retorted that the Ofsted inspection process is helping to ensure that quality in the classroom is being maintained.

It’s too soon to discover the full effect of 2012 reforms to recruitment laws have had to maintained schools. Figures on unqualified teachers are only available to November 2012, barely a few months after the law changed.

As well, the quote from Tristram Hunt isn’t very precise: taken as referring to all schools, it’s wrong. The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) unqualified teachers across all publicly funded schools has fallen since 2010. 17,800 (full-time-equivalent: FTE) were unqualified in 2010 compared to 14,800 now. The proportion has fallen as well. In 2010 4% of FTE teachers were unqualified. In 2012 it was 3.3%.

However the case for academies and free schools taken in isolation reflects the numbers Mr Hunt is citing. In 2010, 2,200 teachers at these schools were unqualified. In 2012, 5,300 were the same (a ’141%’ increase).

But these schools have greatly increased in number in recent years. In 2010 they employed 22,800 FTE teachers between them. In 2012 they employed all of 121,000 FTE teachers. So as a proportion of all FTE teachers in these schools, the prevalence of unqualified FTE teachers has actually shrunk from 10% in 2010 to 4.4% in 2012.

So the shadow education secretary’s apparently dramatic increase looks less impressive when you consider what’s really going on. Clearly this isn’t going to be an election winning ploy from Labour. Time to think of another route don’t ya think?

Labour’s plot to sabotage free schools!

New Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt seems to be in the mood to change Labour’s free school policy, after speaking in an interview with Andrew Marr yesterday.

After his interview by Andrew Marr, Mr Hunt told a BBC journalist that, pending the outcome of David Blunkett’s review into local ‘oversight’ of schools, Labour will grant local authorities the power of veto over free schools in their respective boroughs. This means that the local authority decides whether a free school is allowed to open and what sort of school it would be.

If this is true, this is reminiscent of Ed Balls’ effort when he became Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families back in the Labour days (2007 he came in if I’m not mistaken). The only difference between now and then, however, is Mr Balls granted the power of veto over sponsored academies.

Good or bad? Well can you imagine a local authority allowing a group of parents and teachers to set up a free school anywhere near a failing school? I can’t. They would be scared stiff that even fewer parents would send their children to the failing school. Local authorities have to bail out under-subscribed schools so I can’t even imagine a Conservative controlled borough allowing free schools to open near them.

On the contrary, they’ll want to prop up the failing school by forcing poor parents to keep sending their children there through lack of choice. Even where local authorities aren’t worried about the impact of new free schools on their less successful schools, the sorts of schools they approve will likely be identical to the existing ones. It’ll be back to one size fits all, in other words – bog-standard comprehensives.

This confuses me, and it confuses me because Mr Hunt seemingly told a different story in the Mail on Sunday. According to the paper, Mr Hunt claimed that Labour isn’t going to hand control over taxpayer-funded education back to LEAs. “We are not going to go back to the old days of the local authority running all the schools – they will not be in charge,” he said. Doesn’t this have a whiff of a lie in there? It looks to me like this is exactly what Labour are planning to do, just Mr Hunt decided not to tell us that yet …