Tag Archives: schools

The Love of Learning

What are we doing to our young people? Testing them until the joy is out of learning and school is just one tick box after another. The head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, said

The regular taking of test papers does little to increase a child’s ability to comprehend.

We have completely the wrong approach to learning. We need holistic education for our young people, encompassing the widest range of subjects, building character and instilling the love of learning.

This includes the arts. When I was 11, we moved to Missouri. I started at a new junior high school (years 6-7 in the English system) which had a school band. Up to that stage I had played a bit of piano and sung in the church choir. The music teacher asked if I’d like to learn the clarinet as he needed more players in his band. Within three months I was sitting 2nd chair in the clarinet section. I would never have learned an instrument if it hadn’t been for the opportunity at this state school. I remember my parents, who were on a tight budget, scraping money together for some private lessons later that year, costing $4 a lesson.

Years later, I’m a professional musician, wondering where the next generation of musicians is coming from. We need music, and all the arts, as an integral part of our schools. The economic argument is obvious – the creative industries contribute £87.4 billion per year to the economy. We would be denuded as a society without the undergirding of the arts which permeate and enrich our lives.

But I wish to make the moral argument, bringing me back to the opening point of school being too much about testing. Having an arts-inclusive curriculum builds a well-rounded intellect. The brain, when it has to marry the left and right halves in analysing and performing a piece of music, develops physiologically. Attention spans are lengthened when one learns to concentrate on playing your part in a band. Aesthetic awareness is broadened, that life is not about ticking boxes but about beauty, relationships and creativity. Learning to sing together builds community and teaches young people to work together. We learn that coming together produces something more wonderful than striving alone.

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Solving the school places crisis without building a single classroom

Embed from Getty Images

In the London Borough of Bromley, as in many places across the country, we are facing a massive projected shortfall in school places over the next few years. Councillors and activists from all parties are busy scrutinising planning applications for new schools of all shapes and sizes. But is it really necessary?

Imagine a school, let’s call it the Tweddle Academy (though pupils and staff just call it Tweds). Tweds was once a medium sized comprehensive with 1200 children on roll. Now it is an establishment providing all-through education for 2400 kids aged 6 to 18.

The school day at Tweds begins at 7.30am when children aged 6 to 12 arrive. They attend lessons until 10.20am, have a 20 minute break, then it’s back to the classroom. At 1.30pm they head to the school canteen for lunch before being dismissed for the day an hour later.

At 1.15pm while the younger pupils come to the end of lessons, teachers wait by the school gate to register the senior cohort. At 1.30pm, after the younger children have moved to the canteen, the 13 to 18 year olds begin their lessons. Their school day runs from 1.30pm to 7.30pm, with a 20 minute break.

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John Pugh MP writes: Campaigning for your local school

Its Spring and much is stirring as people look cheerfully ahead at prospects new. Every well informed individual in the schools sector though looks ahead with scarcely disguised pessimism.

There is one very obvious reason for this. School funding is scheduled to nose dive. Heads know it,teachers know it and gradually parents are getting to hear about it. Today we have seen a new report published by the Education Policy Institute underlining the same grim statistics that troubled everyone from the National Union of Teachersto the National Audit Office. https://www.nao.org.uk/report/financial-sustainability-in-schools

The message is stark. Rejigging pupil funding on a national formula within a budget falling in real terms by £3 billion spells gloom for all. Nearly every school they suggest will lose and on average that will cost two teachers to primary schools and six to secondary schools. In many places the impacts will be worse.

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Grammar and comprehensive…or Hive?

While the debate over the potential development of new grammar schools rages, I dream of a school that nurtures every person who passes through it by giving them the freedom to grow into their own talents; a school that gives all of our children the skills to make their own opportunities.

Welcome to The Hive.

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What did the EU ever do for us?

 

And so the Brexit campaign tells us how much better things would be if we went it alone.  Well, let me share my own experience as a former Headteacher and bring some perspective and reality into the argument.

Apparently we constantly lose out financially by being in the EU. Not my experience.

My school was a relatively successful rural comprehensive in County Durham. As with many rural schools, we struggled each year to balance our budgets and were certainly not favoured by either central or local government. No Building Schools for the Future, Excellence in Cities or Action Zones funding for us! We were certainly losing out compared to other schools in the area.

With no capital funding available, I turned to Europe and twice successfully bid for funding, to build a Construction Workshop and a Virtual Learning Environment. These were not large sums – €120,000 and €150,000 – but it was money I could not access elsewhere. We ran four Comenius projects and a Youth in Action project with our European partners, averaging €25,000 per project, so bringing in a further €125,000 to the school. And then we also successfully bid for two European Social Fund projects to share our best practice with teachers elsewhere in the EU and this brought in a further €80,000.

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David Laws highlights continuing threat of forced academisation

David Laws is quoted in today’s Independent. The former Schools Minister is discussing a Centre Forum analysis of the Government’s education white paper.

Centre Forum says that the Government’s alleged u-turn will just mean that the process will happen anyway as local authorities are taken out of the picture if it’s not viable to run schools if, for example, a critical mass has converted to academy status.

New analysis of the revised strategy, however, suggests this will have accumulative effect on schools – as more schools are converted, more local authorities will be taken over as a result.

In effect, 100 per cent of schools will still be converted into academies by the year 2020 as planned.

David Laws, Executive Chairman of CentreForum, who published the report, said: “Our initial analysis shows that their proposals for new ‘triggers’ that lead to forced academisation in a local authority will in all likelihood lead to thousands of schools becoming academies as a result.”

The think tank said the analysis was dependent on the Government’s definition of what constitutes as an “underperforming local authority”, however – a concept which has not yet been defined by the department.

“The definitions are vague,” the report noted, “and our own analysis has shown that relatively small changes could have implications for hundreds of schools.”

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Farron backs right to term-time holidays

I would normally apologise for linking to the Daily Mail, but on this occasion, as the piece in question has a video showing some of Tim Farron’s first speech as leader, I’m not going to.

The paper quotes Tim Farron expressing support for a motion that’s coming to Conference later this month which would give parents the right to take their children out of school for ten school days for holidays.

He told them:

Many employees have no choice when to take their holidays.

‘People in areas, such as my Westmorland constituency, have to work all through the summer at the height of the tourism season.

So, it’s vitally important to offer more flexibility to schools and headteachers to help families who need to take a break together.

Thornbury and Yate member Karen Wilkinson has written several times for this site about the law change, describing it as “illiberal.” writing in 2013:

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Opinion: Pupil Premium funds must be targeted at the disadvantaged

Recently, the schools budget for disabled children was ring-fenced, so as to designate the funding in schools, colleges and academies. However, the pupil premium money (At present £935 Per 11+ student is free to be used by a school in any way they so choose. Today I had a conversation with the head teacher of my VI form (Who, for reasons clearly, shall remain un-named, as shall the VI Form) to discuss how the pupil premium money for the students at a disadvantage, was being used.

I was horrified to be told that the money going into the school is being used to provide “extra English and Maths lessons to benefit the wider school” There was absolutely no provision for the money to be used to help those students who were at a disadvantage!

As a Liberal Democrat I believe that sharp elbows do not always get you to the front of the queue, and your household income should have no impact on your education and your chances of success.

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The Independent View: Incentives matter in our education system

Incentives matter in our education system. The right ones encourage our schools and teachers to deliver the very best education the system has to offer.

Yet in the run up to the general election, politicians would have us think otherwise. Rather than creating the incentives for excellence to spread, they seek to drive performance from the centre. Cross-party support for a new college of teaching illustrates this shift in rhetoric, with politicians trying to magic more high quality teachers without thinking about the underlying incentives. The so-called “Cinderella” teaching profession really has found its fairy godmother.

The academy school programme is all about incentives. By freeing schools from local authority control and management, the aim is to allow innovation to drive better education for pupils.

Yet better incentives are needed if academies are to drive large scale transformation across the country. According to a survey of academy schools Reform published last year, many academies are inhibited from using their freedom to innovate. Two thirds of the 654 academies surveyed had yet to make changes to the curriculum, staff terms and conditions or the school day, despite having the freedom to do so.

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LibLink: David Laws – Tories will cut schools spending by a quarter

Writing in today’s Telegraph, David Laws says that Tory plans will mean huge cuts to spending on schools:

The Conservatives are offering unfunded tax cuts, meaning they will have to go on making deep cuts to public spending – by far more than is necessary to balance the books.

This would be a huge threat to all we are achieving on education.

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Why IDS is still in his job is revealing of Conservative attitudes to social security

Iain Duncan SmithWhen Andrew Lansley’s health reforms ran into trouble – and his inability to take with him the public or those working in the NHS proved toxic – David Cameron reshuffled him out of harm’s way. Jeremy Hunt was brought in to make nice to the health sector and patients.

When Michael Gove’s education reforms started to run before they could walk – and his inability to take with him the public or the teachers proved toxic, especially in marginal constituencies – David Cameron reshuffled him out of harm’s way. Nicky …

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A longer read for the weekend… David Laws on ‘Education: Lessons from this parliament and directions for the next’

david laws centre forumDavid Laws, Lib Dem minister for schools, delivered a keynote speech at CentreForum this week, ‘Education: Lessons from this parliament and directions for the next’.

As the title suggests, it was a reflection on the Coalition’s policies, and in particular the Lib Dems’ achievements. But also a look forward to what he sees as the major educational issues and what Lib Dems should be seeking to do in the next parliament.

You can read the full text over at CentreForum’s site here. But here’s an excerpt in which David looks to the challenges of the five years to come…

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Teacher workload – a concern north and south of the border

Yesterday, Nick Clegg gave a speech to public sector workers. His specific focus was on teacher workload. Everyone thinks that teachers work short hours and have long holidays. Yet everyone who has a child actually at school will know how much effort goes in to preparing lessons. And everyone who knows a teacher knows that they spend a lot of their supposed “off-duty” time thinking of interesting lessons or, more likely these days, filling in interminable paperwork. We know that children need to be kept safe and their progress checked, but I get the feeling that the bureaucracy is overbearing and unnecessary. Let’s just give you a small example from my own experience. Every time my child sets foot outside the school we have to fill in a consent form. It’s A4. It has all sorts of medical info on it. It even asks how far they can swim unaided, a skill which is unlikely to be needed when representing the school in a maths competition or reading stories to 6 year olds in the local primary school. We can be filling in one of these forms twice a month. If it’s a mild inconvenience for us as parents, what’s it like for teachers who have maybe 30 of them to collect for each class? Why can parents not fill in a standing consent with all the info which covers the whole year?

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LibLink: Nick Clegg: Why we must reduce teachers’ workloads

Nick Clegg has been writing for the Times Educational Supplement on the need to make sure teachers’ workloads were more manageable. He recognised that most teachers put in much more effort than they get credit for:

There’s an outdated preconception, which hasn’t quite died out, that a teacher’s working day starts at 9am and finishes at 3pm, with 12 weeks off a year to recuperate. Yet, ask anyone who actually spends their days trying to inspire and educate a classroom of children and they’ll tell you a very different story.

They’ll talk about 50 hour working weeks, the unnecessary bureaucracy they have to deal with every day, the challenges of helping children, from all different backgrounds, get the skills they need and also the rewards, like that moment when you see a young boy or girl in your care thrive.

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The Independent View: Liberal Democrats – Please make compulsory Sex and Relationships Education a red line Issue

Women’s organisations gave a huge welcome to David Laws’ announcement in August that the compulsory teaching of good quality Sex & Relationships Education (SRE) from age seven onwards will be in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. And we hope to hear this policy cheered loudly at Liberal Democrat conference this weekend.

Is it not shocking that in 2014 this subject is not compulsory in schools? All schools are currently statutorily required to do is teach the biological basics of reproduction by the age of 15, and schools can choose to insert the teaching into any subject they choose (science, RE, PSHE if it is taught at their school – it’s not compulsory either).

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The Independent View: Free school meals is universalism at its best – all children benefit, but low-income children benefit most

school mealsSo the summer is over and it’s back to school time. But there is a silver lining to the autumnal clouds: free school meals. On their first day back at school, all infants school pupils (4 to 7 year olds) should be able to sit down to enjoy a free, nutritious meal.

This is one of the rare occasions when politics visibly touches normal family life, saving harassed parents the need to make a packed lunch and saving them money at the same time. Families will save almost £10 a week on average for every child benefiting from the policy.

Families up and down the country for years to come will benefit from the leadership of local and national politicians of all parties in helping to make this happen. From the previous government and local authorities for piloting and taking it forward at a local level, to Michael Gove for backing the idea in principle, to Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats for getting the Coalition to implement it. And now the Liberal Democrats have gone even further pledging to extend it to all primary school children if they are in government post-election.

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Opinion: New school curriculum

schoolsignI have recently written a couple of articles on Liberal Democrat Voice around changes to schools (here and here).  Please read them, as they go with this one. To follow on from them I believe we also need Lib Dems to get behind changes to the curriculum in secondary schools.

The National Curriculum in England gives standards for each subject, but not which subjects (beyond the core subjects of Maths, English and Science) must be taught. If a mainstream school offers History they must follow the History national curriculum standards, but if they don’t have a History teacher then they don’t have to offer it, that needs to change. We need a balanced curriculum for all students, irrespective of which school or local authority are students attend.

The changes we should bring are that all secondary schools (including academies or free schools) to offer the following GCSE options (options being subjects that are not core subjects):

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For-profit schools: some evidence of why I’m far from convinced

student_ipad_school - 175Labour’s shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, this week called on Michael Gove to rule out profit-making schools, arguing “Beyond 2015, whether it admits it or not, the Conservative Party intends to introduce the profit motive into English education”.

The Tories have sidestepped the issue and instead invited Labour to turn its fire on the Lib Dems: they claim that Nick Clegg’s advisers Julian Astle and Richard Reeves were behind-the-scenes cheerleaders for profit-making schools. The mercurial Dominic Cummings, Gove’s former special adviser, has made the same allegation. This may very …

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Mike Storey writes: Qualified teachers and a national curriculum

New Classroom“We are, and always will, be the party of education”. So Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said in his speech at Bloomberg last Monday. This is indeed what the Liberal Democrats stand for, and it’s not just an empty sound bite. The policies we pledge to adopt will be to ensure that school pupils will have the right to be taught by qualified teachers and taught a core curriculum – a truly national curriculum.

The recent ‘Trojan Horse’ controversy has shocked the national conscience. It highlighted that some schools ran a risk of depriving children of an all-rounded and fair education. Academies and free schools are based on the concept of autonomy, but this should not mean that children should suffer because of particular interests. Some schools that did have discretion over their curriculum were abusing that by stripping back the curriculum and narrowing the experience of schooling for every young child. Action needs to be taken to ensure children’s futures are not put at risk.

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Clegg’s “Parental Guarantee”: calls for all schools to employ qualified teachers and teach ‘core curriculum’

Teacher In Classroom“We are and always will be the party of education and I’ll be saying more about that in the near future,” promised Nick Clegg in his Bloomburg speech on Monday. Today we saw the start, with the Lib Dem leader setting out the party’s Parental Guarantee that “every parent can be confident that their child will be taught a core curriculum by a properly qualified teacher”.

This isn’t actually a new policy. The ‘parental guarantee’ was first announced last October. And the policy it’s based on was …

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The Independent View: Keep academy freedoms – and extend them to all schools

schoolsignThe question whether to curtail or extend academy freedoms to state-funded schools was resurrected last October in a speech by Nick Clegg. The answer he put forward was to extend academy freedoms to all schools, albeit in a limited form. Clegg would like to claw-back the freedoms academies have over unqualified teachers and the curriculum, but to extend the remaining freedoms to all state-funded schools.

 Clegg’s new-found middle way is based on a belief that guaranteeing high standards in education is best achieved by curtailing autonomy. In October 2013, he said: “There is nothing…inconsistent in believing that greater school autonomy can be married to certain core standards for all.”

 Yet high levels of autonomy and accountability are conducive to high pupil attainment. The Deputy Director for Education and Skills at the OECD, Andreas Schleicher, has said that England’s multiple measures of accountability, along with a “high level of autonomy and discretion at the front line”, are key to success in education.

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Opinion: A poor careers move

Nick Clegg and Vince Cable at a factory 2 - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsMy name’s Adam and I’m a careers teacher. This presents something of a challenge because it turns out that as a teacher I know nothing about careers.

I must say before continuing that I am a fan of Vince. On the credit crunch, on banking regulation and on bonuses I not only agree with what he says, but also with how he says it. This is part of why I was so surprised, and not a little bit irked, that he said of teachers “They know how universities work, they know what you have to do to get an A-level, they know about UCAS forms – but they know absolutely nothing about the world of work. They don’t know how to direct people to apprenticeships or traineeships which we’re now doing as a first stage for people”.

I am fully aware of the way that the media often quote people out of context so I have taken great care to read what he actually, and there is no way around it: he was clearly referring to the fact that most teachers are graduates and that is what he said.

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It’s Laws v Gove again as Lib Dem schools minister says academy chains should be accountable to Ofsted

‘It’s civil war in the Coalition classroom’ – that’s how the Independent bills the latest row between those two very civil politicians running the education department, Conservative secretary of state Michael Gove and Lib Dem schools minister David Laws.

I wrote at the weekend about the first spat, which erupted after Michael Gove’s decision to sack Baroness (Sally) Morgan as chair of Ofsted for doing too good a job – at least, that seemed to be the gist of his argument, as he praised her to the skies for her “superlative” work before saying it was time for a …

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Free school lunches for infants: 60% of Lib Dems back Nick Clegg’s policy

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 750 party members responded – thank you – and we’ve been publishing the full results.

(There were a couple of results I ran out of time to publish during the Christmas holiday period – I’m publishing them this week.)

On Saturday, I reported the results of what party members think about school structures. Yesterday, we looked at whether you thought teachers should have formal professional qualifications and if the National …

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Gove and Laws scrap it out on front pages over sacking of Ofsted head. Here’s what the row is all about.

Today’s newspaper front pages are full of the scrap taking place at the heart of the Department for Education between Conservative secretary of state Michael Gove and Lib Dem schools minister David Laws:

gove laws - papers

  • Ofsted row: Lib Dems furious at Conservative plan to ‘politicise’ classrooms (Independent on Sunday)
  • Lib Dems savage Gove over sacked schools boss (The Sunday Times, £)
  • Angry Lib Dems accuse Michael Gove of bid to politicise education (Observer)
  • Why is there a row?

    On Friday night, The Independent broke the news that Baroness (Sally) Morgan, the Labour

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    Education: 59% of Lib Dems say teachers should have formal teaching qualifications

    Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 750 party members responded – thank you – and we’ve been publishing the full results.

    (There were a couple of results I ran out of time to publish during the Christmas holiday period – I’m publishing them this week.)

    Yesterday I reported the results of what party members think about school structures. Today we look at your views on teachers and the curriculum…

    59% of Lib Dems say teachers employed by state-funded

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    Education: 47% of Lib Dems want grammar schools opened up, while clear majorities oppose academies, free schools and for-profit schools

    Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 750 party members responded – thank you – and we’ve been publishing the full results.

    (There were a couple of results I ran out of time to publish during the Christmas holiday period – I’m publishing them this week.)

    Almost half (47%) Lib Dems call for opening up of grammar schools to all children

    Thinking about grammar schools and schools that select pupils by ability, which of the following best reflects your views?

      21%

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    Pupil Premium: is it working? Probably – but it’s not a quick-fix solution

    The Pupil Premium – money targeted at children from low-income households – is the Lib Dems’ flagship education policy. By the end of the Parliament, it will be worth £2.5 billion, cash given directly to schools to spend as they wish on improving attainment outcomes.

    Is it working? That’s the question being asked, given the news that the attainment gap at age 16 – the difference between GCSE results achieved by pupils eligible for free school meals and all other pupils – increased very slightly last year. In fact, results for both low-income pupils and all other pupils improved; …

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    ‘Good’ gender segregation and ‘bad’ gender segregation?

    universities_uk logoI’ve just heard the Chief Executive of Universities UK be put through the mill on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme following its decision to publish advice that gender segregation might not necessarily be discriminatory as long as “both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way”. The guidance – which you can read here – is specific to invited external speakers at meetings on university premises.

    I do not like gender segregation. At all. Maybe it’s the result of having …

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    Nick (finally) makes his education speech and launches the Coalition’s own ‘Champions League’

    Five days after it was pre-briefed, Nick Clegg finally made his speech on A Liberal Vision for Education at Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets.

    (Morpeth is, by the way, a fantastic school. I visited it for my day-job 18 months ago, and was shown around by two of its pupils, Vanessa and Mahir: the transformational progress of London schools in the past decade is one of the modern wonders of Britain.)

    There was little in the speech we didn’t already know. In fact, there was little that wasn’t known last March when Clegg’s “surprise U-turn on free schools” (© …

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