Education News Weekly – 7th November, 2017
CCTV in school toilets, a comedian advocating teachers and some good ol’ fashioned Ofsted-bashing
Ofsted has come under attack this week, with a leading education academic claiming the regulatory board’s methods are “invalid, unreliable and unjust.” Frank Coffield, emeritus professor of education at the UCL Institute of Education, was scathing in his assessment of Ofsted, highlighting how they rarely downgrade ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools even in cases of substantial deterioration, while “The very schools that need most help are further harmed by inaccurate and biased Ofsted reports.” Coffield echoed shadow education secretary Angela Rayner’s claim that Ofsted is ‘not fit for purpose,’ saying it currently “does more harm than good” and requires a complete overhaul.
This criticism comes at the same time that schools minister Nick Gibb referred to the “scourge of the ‘Ofsted teaching style” at the Freedom and Autonomy for Schools National Association (FASNA) autumn conference. Stephen Rollett, inspections and accountability specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, has also criticised Ofsted recently, highlighting inconsistency in their assessments and how much of a role subjective judgment plays, suggesting it’s a deeply flawed system in which we place far too much faith.
Even Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman recently noted that inspection is not just a science but an ‘art’ too. And rather than address criticism, Spielman instead recently announced that children’s failure to learn nursery rhymes such as Humpty Dumpty and The Grand Old Duke of York can affect their longer term preparation for school. Hmmmm…
Oftsed is currently under scrutiny by the National Audit Office (NAO) to see if it provides value for money to the taxpayer, and whether schools are being inspected efficiently and effectively. At the moment, it appears Ofsted ‘requires improvement’ and is pretty far from ‘good,’ let alone ‘outstanding.’
The teaching community found an unlikely ally this week in comedian Russell Howard, who used a segment of his show to discuss how being a teacher is “one of the hardest jobs in this country”. Howard highlighted that the number of teachers signed off with stress has doubled in five years, 71% of London teachers have reported physiological or mental health difficulties at work, one in five suffered panic attacks, 54% have had insomnia or sleeping difficulty and 17% have been formally diagnosed with depression. Perhaps this pressure on teachers isn’t too surprising, given recent statistics showing that some secondary schools have had classes with between 50 and 100 pupils – and the current record standing at 181 children in a class, due to funding cuts. He also highlighted a surge in the number of pupils expelled for physically attacking teachers, and suggested replacing the Rate-my-teacher website with Rate-my-parent, claiming parents should take more responsibility for their child’s behaviour. You can see the whole segment here (some strong language).
Finally, Howard attacked the austerity measures that have seen pay for teachers fall 12% in real terms of the last 10 years (even though many teachers are paying for school supplies through their own savings), while they work longer hours than almost anywhere in the world…and need to make another £3 billion of cuts by 2020. Ouch.
Speaking of which…
Six education unions are calling on the government to give all teachers an immediate, fully-funded 5% pay rise after seven years of real-terms cuts.
In a letter to education secretary Justine Greening, the unions set out their “grave concerns” about the adverse impact that teachers’ pay is having on teacher supply, and the ability to attract ‘high quality’ staff. “Pay levels must be restored at least to the levels that existed before the start of pay restraint in 2010,” the letter states. It added: “It is absolutely essential that all pay rises, including any increases in on-costs, are fully met by additional government funding given the reality that 88% of schools in England and all maintained schools in Wales currently face further real terms cuts over the life of this parliament”.
A school has faced severe criticism from parents and campaigners after installing CCTV cameras in student bathrooms in response to what the head teacher described as “disappointing behaviour” by some students. The cameras were installed at Summerhill school in Kingswinford in the West Midlands. Executive headteacher James Bowkett said the CCTV was intended to monitor who was entering and leaving the toilets, and stressed that the cameras were not directed at cubicles or urinals. However, several parents have reported their children being unwilling to use the school toilets, feeling they are being watched, and describing the decision as ‘intrusive and creepy.’ They have suggested that there must be a better way to monitor behaviour, either by having a prefect or staff member on duty.
However, this isn’t new: Data provided by more than 2,000 schools responding to freedom of information requests revealed that a total of 825 cameras were located in the toilets or changing rooms of 207 schools across England, Scotland and Wales. Renate Samson, the chief executive of campain group Big Brother Watch, said that instead of having cameras in toilets, “The school should rethink their policy and work with parents and students to address problems rather than spend money on inappropriate surveillance.”
The UK’s chief medical officer recommends school-age children do at least an hour of exercise each day – but new research with 25,000 secondary students in England and Northern Ireland suggests that, at secondary level, only 8% of girls and 16% of boys manage this. The statistics are worrying either way, but especially for girls. The survey carried out by Youth Sport Trust and Women in Sport shows that 80% of respondents understood the importance of being active, but almost half of boys and nearly two-thirds of girls were less than keen on taking part themselves.
The research suggests lack of confidence is key: Among girls over 14, more than a third said they felt insecure, hated other people watching them and were self-conscious about their bodies. Almost two-thirds said they disliked competitive PE lessons. Research shows that successful PE lessons and an enjoyment of sport can not only improve physical health, but also promote better mental health and greater self-esteem.
In a survey of 2,000 people, nearly three-fifths of the British public believe that religious studies should be replaced by politics at secondary school. The poll, commissioned by the political youth platform Shout Out UK, showed that more than three-quarters of participants felt they had left school with little or no political knowledge.
- 92% said they believed politics should be a compulsory subject in the national curriculum
- 57% of respondents saying it should replace religious studies.
- 84% said that most of what they knew about politics had to be learned from sources outside education, such as family and the internet.
- 81% thought politics should be a compulsory subject at secondary school level, and then become an optional subject at GCSE and A level.
- 77% said greater knowledge of British politics would have helped after leaving school
- Only 36% cent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 25 said they understood how the voting system worked, with 58% saying they had previously mixed up voting for a local MP with voting for the prime ministerial candidate in a general election.
Matteo Bergamini, founder of Shout Out UK, said it was “baffling” that politics had been overlooked as a compulsory area of learning: “How can we expect the young people of this country to engage with the system in the long run when not even half know how the voting system works?”, he said. “People talk about the disconnect between young people and politics in the UK – I think that teaching it in schools is the first big step towards fixing this.”
Mr Bergamini also said it was encouraged by the poll results, arguing that religion should still be in the curriculum, but taught “As part of history, but not as a standalone subject,” he said. “There are far more important things to learn, like how our democracy works.”
Bursted Wood Primary School in Kent has abolished maths worksheets in favour of a more flexible approach, with open questions that allow all children to access the same learning, but at different levels. And guess what the result is? According to Year 6 teacher Stevie Devlin, the children are more engaged in maths. Result.
By David Bard
David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.