Opinion: Answers on no more than 2 sides of A4 (part 1)

In the first of a series of three, school governor Alex Feakes looks at elements of the recent education white paper.

The Importance of Teaching schools White Paper published by the government last month has lots going for it and has attracted the qualified support of many in the teaching profession. As a discussion paper, however, there are still quite a few wrinkles to be ironed out. Here’s one:

Exclusions

Like many secondary school governors who have been on disciplinary panels, I occasionally have had to confirm the headteacher’s decision to permanently exclude a student from the school. If the student is not accepted at another school, then they will typically attend the LEA’s Pupil Referral Unit which will assume full responsibility for their education and draw down the funding attached to the child to pay for it. Unfortunately, many PRUs are viewed as providing poor education and children’s academic achievement can suffer when they attend one.

To address this and under the guise of greater autonomy for schools, The Importance of Teaching proposes shifting the responsibility for excluded students’ education back to the school from which they have just been excluded (para 3.37 et seq). Schools would be ‘held accountable for the pupils they exclude’ and excluded students’ academic attainment would be included in the compilation of the school performance tables.

The aim is to create incentives to avoid exclusions wherever possible and to ensure that pupils will receive good quality alternative education.

These proposals present a danger of perverse consequences. Imagine a child which has unfortunately been excluded in Year 7 (11-12 yo): their original secondary school – which may only have seen them for a few weeks of term before the exclusion – is responsible for the education of that child, potentially for up to seven years.

The White Paper suggests that the school purchases suitable alternative provision, probably alongside other schools. So instead of being educators of the child, the school’s teachers become contract managers on his or her behalf, in an environment where there are lots of other teacher-contract mangers from other schools who are pushing for better performance for their individual students. As a governor, I would rather the teachers we employ are using their skills and training to the best benefit of the students in front of them, and not having to develop new contract management skills.

The excluded child’s results will be included in the school performance table, yet the school’s teachers won’t have taught the child, who also won’t have benefited from the school’s pastoral environment. The inclusion of the excluded student’s results will therefore distort the picture of the school’s educational performance and perhaps reduce further the league tables’ reliability as a measure of how good a school is at teaching its students.

These plans aim to increase the accountability of schools, but it’s a usual principle that people should only be accountable for those things over which they exercise control. As a governor, I am nervous that we are being asked to be accountable for an education that we have only distant and indirect influence over. Considerable amounts of management time will be diverted to looking after the excluded students’ education, leaving less for those whom we can directly teach. Will there be extra funding for these additional responsibilities?

The Importance of Teaching White Paper has much to recommend in it, but many of its proposals need more thought and I would welcome some attention being given to the concerns presented above.

Alex Feakes is a Liberal Democrat councillor in Forest Hill, southeast London and a governor of a girls’ community secondary school. He blogs at www.alexfeakes.org and is on twitter.

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One Comment

  • I’m not sure about former troops coming back and retraining as school teachers. Many seem to have anger management issues. 1:8 suffer from PTSD; a condition that surfaces years after the event, often with devastating consequences. It seems a stupid idea to me.

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