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Welfare Reform on the Web (June 2008): Education - UK - schools

Academics say school tables are almost worthless

G. Tibbetts

Daily Telegraph, May 29th 2008, p. 8

Current school league tables in England take into account factors such as prior achievements of pupils, lack of spoken English in the home and proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals as well as examination results when ranking schools. Statisticians from Bristol University looked at the GCSE scores of secondary schools in England and compared the 'value-added' scores with simple GCSE averages. They found that there was often a large gap between the two sets of data, which allowed schools to publicise the version which suited them best. More importantly, parents are selecting schools on the basis of tables that will be out of date by the time their child sits public examinations six years later. When this was taken into account. fewer than five per cent of schools could be significantly separated from the average or from each other.

All must have prizes: challenging the gifted and talented paradigm

J. Dyson

Gifted Education International, vol. 24, 2008, p. 58-66

This article describes a professional dilemma faced by the coordinator of gifted and talented education in East London. Colleagues objected to the implementation of a government funded project aimed at identifying and providing opportunities for gifted primary school pupils on the grounds that the approach was elitist. The dilemma was resolved by developing an enrichment and extension programme open to all pupils.

Back on track: a strategy for modernizing alternative provision for young people

Department for Children, Schools and Families

London: TSO, 2008 (Cm 7410)

This white paper unveils a series of proposed reforms to improve the education of excluded pupils. These include sending expelled pupils to 'studio schools' to learn a trade such as plumbing, carpentry or car maintenance. Charities and private firms could be involved in running these. Unruly teenagers will also receive a new curriculum concentrating on the core subjects of English , maths and information technology to ensure that they leave school with basic skills.

Commerce in schools put under spotlight

P. Curtis

The Guardian, May 19th 2008, p. 4

An enquiry into the impact which commercial companies have on schools as part of private-public partnerships has been launched by the government. Every aspect of the 'privatisation' of schools is set to be investigated to ensure that children's wellbeing and education are not being damaged by partnerships between schools and business.

Could do better ... the demise of the parents' evening

M. Beckford

Daily Telegraph, May 8th 2008, p. 10

Research has shown that parents prefer informal discussions with school staff to parents' evenings as means to find out about their children's progress. Government is therefore suggesting that progress reports should be posted online like football scores.

(See also The Guardian, May 8th 2008, p. 11)

The country needs more 'private' schools

A. Thomson

Daily Telegraph, May 9th 2008, p.25

Argues that state schools need to change to emulate private schools and attract middle class parents who are paying astronomical fees to educate their children privately. Private schools succeed because they are selective, because they can expel disruptive pupils and get rid of incompetent teachers who cannot be sacked in the state system. They are also less burdened by bureaucracy and spend less time pandering to government directives.

Exam system 'fails to prepare students for university studies'


The Times, May 14th 2008, p. 11

Professor Ferguson, a senior Research Fellow at Oxford has said that teenagers in England were being let down by an overemphasis on timed examinations and by being forced to choose too early between arts and science subjects. At a conference at Rugby School in Warwickshire he called for A levels to be replaced by baccalaureate-style studies.

Every school has at least one bad teacher, says minister

P. Curtis

The Guardian, May 27th 2008, p. 10

The schools minister Jim Knight has said that every school has at least one incompetent teacher who should be helped to improve or 'moved on' to another school to retrain. The issue of bad teaching, which can undermine the education of thousands of children, is set to be addressed by government plans currently under development.

A focus on improvement: proposals for maintained school inspections from September 2009


London: 2008

The Chief Inspector of schools is consulting on plans for schools with poorer results to come under greater scrutiny from Ofsted. The weakest schools could face annual visits from inspectors, while the best would be visited only once every six years. To ensure that standards at good schools do not slip between six yearly inspections, parents will be allowed to alert Ofsted if they become concerned. Strong schools may also get three yearly 'health checks' between inspections. Parents' views will be central to the checks and may be collected online. The health checks will generate short reports on the schools' standards. There are also proposals on how to minimise the danger of malicious complaints from parents, and to increase the time that inspectors spend observing lessons.

From failure to outstanding: transforming the English curriculum in an especially challenging urban school

P. Cross

Journal of Partnership and Professional Development vol.2, 2008, p.3-28

This study analyses student perceptions of the underlying reasons for the rapid improvement of the English curriculum in an especially challenging urban school. Exploratory factor analysis is used to identify the essential components from 276 questionnaires completed by students who had attended the school throughout the period March 2004 to February 2007, when it underwent dramatic improvement. Factor analysis revealed the potential for single and three-factor solutions and both were investigated. The single-factor solution accounted for 38.222% of the common variance and was consistent with the notion of strong, clear curriculum leadership being the latent improvement factor. The three-factor solution accounted for 49.71% of the common variance and these factors were interpreted as: assessment for learning; the quality and range of resources and the climate for learning. The solutions are used to offer a conceptual model for improvement that is framed within a clear contextualised approach to curriculum practice in an especially challenging environment.

GCSE students to face oral tests in French markets

R. Garner

The Independent, May 26 2008, p. 17

As part of a shake-up of the syllabus being introduced by one of the country's biggest examination boards, students studying for their French GCSEs exams will soon be tested on their oral skills during visits to shops or market places while on foreign trips. The new approach could also be introduced in other language examinations, such as Spanish and German.

Government orders inquiry into teaching of children with dyslexia

R. Garner

The Independent, May 6th 2008, p. 4

The Government will today announce a major review of the way an estimated 300,000 dyslexic children are taught in state schools. Sir Jim Rose, the former Ofsted inspector heading an inquiry into the primary school curriculum, will be asked to review the help offered to dyslexic pupils.

(See also The Guardian, May 7th 2008, p. 4; The Times, May 7th 2008, p. 10.)

The legacy of the Education Reform Act 1988

M. Strain and T. Simpkins (guest editors)

Educational management administration and leadership, vol. 36, no.2, 2008, p. 155-302

This special issue features eight papers from international writers on educational management and leadership who share their specific reflections on the legacy of England's Education Reform Act (ERA) (1988) relating to schools. One of the outcomes of the ERA was the substantial reduction of the powers and duties of the local education authorities (LEAs) and this realignment is a recurring theme in many of the articles in this issue.

Legislative scrutiny: Education and Skills Bill

Joint Committee on Human Rights

London: TSO, 2008 (House of Commons papers, session 2007/08; HC 553)

The Committee says that mature and intelligent secondary school children should be allowed to opt out of religious activities in school. They argue that children under 16 should be allowed not to attend religious education classes if they disagree with the content. They warn that the government could be breaching pupils' rights to freedom of thought, conscience and belief, as defined in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, by denying them the choice.

(For comment see Daily Telegraph, May 15th 2008, p. 2)

Let pupils interview teachers for jobs, say guidelines

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 8th 2008, p. 2

New government guidance suggests that pupils should be able to question teachers applying for jobs, help write job descriptions and provide feedback to head teachers and governors. They could also observe teachers in the classroom and report on their performance. The guidance has been condemned by teachers' leaders on the grounds that it undermines professionalism.

A lost generation: more than 40,000 pupils are playing truant on at least two days a week

N. Woolcock

The Times, May 7th 2008, p. 10

Latest government figures indicate that a core of 40,000 pupils are missing at least two days of schooling every week. Furthermore, figures for the autumn term last year show that 300,000 missed more than 14 days of schooling, which represents a rise of 16,000 on the previous year. Political opponents have used the figures to suggest that the Government's introduction of fines for the parents of persistent truants is failing.

Marketers and educationalists two communities divided by time

P. Gibbs

International Journal of Educational Management vol.22, 2008, p.269-278

In this discussion paper the author suggests that marketing has contributed to the foreshortening of educational horizons. Marketing has, it is proposed, contributed to a change in the essence of educational provision and the clash of marketing and liberal education creates a tension that directly affects its delivery. This can be seen in lifelong education which it is suggested is functionally a series of short bite-sized exposures to learning, readily consumable often one after the other. The paper encourages debate about the dialectic relationship between marketing and education in a time of managerialism and consumerism.

Ministers turn to Hollyoaks in campaign for diplomas

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 26th 2008, p. 11

Reports that minutes of the National Council for Education Excellence show that it considered glamourising the new diploma qualifications by asking Channel 4 to feature them in the teenage soap Hollyoaks and seeking the endorsement of a pop star. The disclosure coincided with the emergence of the fact that the number of pupils expected to study for the diplomas had fallen by a half.

MPs warn that national Sats tests distort education

P. Curtis

The Guardian, May 13th 2008, p. 6

The Children, Schools and Families Select Committee is set to release a report recommending reform of the Sats testing system which they say distorts the education of children and depresses their chance of going to university and getting a job. The report recommends that testing in schools be cut back, with more focus on internal teacher assessment instead.

New approach in language lessons helps pupils progress more quickly

R. Garner

The Independent, May 7th 2008, p. 6 & 26

A study by researchers at Durham University of 1,000 pupils learning French through lessons delivered via a CD-Rom revealed significantly higher achievement during the course of a term. The study showed that they progressed at around twice the rate of children using traditional textbooks.

Number of primary school appeals up by 20 per cent

S. Cassidy

The Independent, May 23rd 2008, p. 17

Increasing numbers of parents are unhappy with the primary school allocated to their child, according to official figures. More than 26,000 families decided to appeal after being refused the primary school of their choice up 20 per cent on the previous year.

(See also The Guardian, May 23rd 2008, p. 10)

One in five 11-year-olds fails to make grade on three Rs, warns Ofsted

A. Lipsett

The Guardian, May 20th 2008, p. 8

Ofsted have warned that school standards are slipping with one in five 11-year-olds unable to read, write and add up properly. Reforms to the inspection process will allow parents to trigger inspections if they are unhappy with school performance. Children too could trigger inspections if survey feedback indicates lessons are boring them.

(See also The Times, May 19th 2008, p.1; The Times, May 20th 2008, p.11; The Independent, May 20th 2008, p. 10)

Primed for success: the characteristics and practices of state schools with good track records of entry into prestigious UK universities

A. Curtis and others

Sutton Trust, 2008

The research found that, within the state maintained sector, there are relatively few comprehensive schools that send significant numbers of students to the most prestigious universities. Those which did tended to have relatively advantaged students. In briefings on higher education, teachers were generally reluctant to point out status differences between universities, and many students appeared to have only a vague notion of status. The predicted A level grades of many 'first generation' higher education aspirants were generally lower than those of their peers. Such students would only apply to the more prestigious universities if their predicted grades were very high. However, a number of teachers felt that some students had unrealistic expectations in wanting to apply to elite universities in the light of their predicted grades.

Pre-school literacy targets 'are too ambitious and should be dropped'

A. Frean

The Times, May 22nd 2008, p.8

Members of the Early Education Advisory Group are urging the children's minister, Beverley Hughes, to reduce the learning targets set for four and five year olds. Currently 69 learning goals have been set under the Early Years Foundation Stage framework. Members of the advisory group suggest that these targets are unrealistic and 'purely aspirational' for most young children.

Pupils should not expect right marks, says exam watchdog

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 16th 2008, p. 1

Kathleen Tattersall, chair of Ofqual, said at the new agency's launch that the public had a simplistic expectation that the GCSE and A level marking systems should be perfect. Markers had to make individual judgements about answers to questions in public examination papers, and some variation was inevitable.

A quarter of pupils to be denied their primary school of choice

A. Frean

The Times, May 1st 2008, p. 30

Thousands of children are set to miss out on their first choice of primary school this year due to a surge in applications. The problem is worst in London and the South East, with the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in south west London only offering three quarters of parents their first choice of primary school, and leaving 200 pupils with no school place at all.

(See also Daily Telegraph, May 2nd 2008, p. 10)

Schools revolt in over under-5s curriculum


The Times, May 26th 2008, p.1

The Times has seen a copy of a letter written to Beverley Hughes, the children's minister, by the Independent Schools Council (ICS) which represents fee-paying schools. The letter complains that the Early Years Foundation Stage framework severely affects the independence of schools and makes the education of under-fives subject to more government interference than any other age group.

(See also The Times, May 26th 2008, p.4; Daily Telegraph, May 26th 2008, p. 8)

Schools snub A-Level rival as take-up falls

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 22nd 2008, p. 6

Reports that some schools will not be offering the new diplomas that combine academic study with vocational training when they are launched in September 2008 because their facilities are inadequate and teachers have not been trained. Just 20,000 teenagers will study for the new diplomas in 2008/09 instead of the 40,000 originally estimated.

Schools to be graded by number of pupils going on to university

N. Woolcock

The Times, May 27th 2008, p. 4

Steve Smith, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter and the head of higher education for the National Council of Educational Excellence will recommend to the Prime Minister that university entry data could be used to rank schools according to the number of their pupils who enter higher education. There is opposition to the recommendation from teachers' unions such as the NASUWT and NUT.

Schools told to take action on growing menace of gangs

P. Curtis

The Guardian, May 22nd 2008, p 1 & 2

The government is advising teachers to be aware of the growing gang culture amongst British young people and to try to combat this trend by screening the computer accounts of those suspected of being involved with gangs and collecting evidence. The government is concerned that gangs are growing in number and recruiting ever younger pupils. There are also fears that girls are particularly at risk as instances of sexual abuse of girls by gangs have increased.

Setting harms education of some young children, report warns

S. Cassidy

The Independent, May 16 2008, p. 13

According to the latest reports of the Primary Review, led by Cambridge University, teaching young children in groups according to their ability does not increase their achievements and is damaging to those pupils allocated to the bottom groups.

Taking stock of violence in UK schools: risk, regulation and responsibility

H. Cowie and others

Education and Urban Society, vol. 40, 2008, p. 494-505

In the United Kingdom, concern about violence and bullying in schools is high on the political agenda, in spite of a lack of accurate statistical information about its prevalence. This article provides examples of interventions which have been successfully used in UK schools to tackle the problem, including circle time, peer support, mediation, and restorative practice.

Teachers fail to nurture young entrepreneurs

J. Moules

Financial Times, May 15th 2008, p. 6

According to a poll of more than 1,000 16- to 13-year olds conducted for the 25th anniversary of the Prince's Trust Business Programme, 73 per cent of respondents felt that school teachers and college lecturers were failing to nurture the entrepreneurial talent in classrooms by promoting 'safe' careers over setting up alone.

Teachers 'undermined by classes of over 25'

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 16th 2008, p. 6

A study published by Cambridge University claims that classes of more than 25 pupils fuel bad behaviour and put excessive strain on teachers. Young children are also at risk of underachieving in reading, writing and maths as they get less one-to-one attention. These conclusions will provide further ammunition for teachers who are threatening industrial action unless class sizes are capped at 20.

Testing and assessment

Children, Schools and Families Committee

London: TSO, 2008 (House of Commons papers, session 2007/08; HC169)

The Committee finds that the use of national test results for the purpose of school accountability has resulted in some schools emphasising the maximisation of test results at the expense of a more rounded education for their pupils. A variety of classroom practices aimed at improving test results has distorted the education of some children, which may leave them unprepared for higher education and employment. It adds that 'teaching to the test' and narrowing of the taught curriculum are widespread phenomena in schools, resulting in a disproportionate focus on the 'core' subjects of English, mathematics and science and, in particular, on those aspects of these subjects which are likely to be tested in an examination. It concludes that the current system of using a single test for the purposes of measuring pupil attainment, school accountability and national monitoring means that some children receive an education which is focussed too much on those aspects of the curriculum which are subject to national testing. The national testing system should be reformed to decouple these multiple purposes in such a way as to remove from schools the imperative to pursue test results at all costs.

Third of school boards 'struggle'

D. Turner

The Financial Times, May 9th 2008, p. 4

The chief executive of the independent National Governors' Association has suggested that up to one in three of England's school governing bodies is not up to the job. Phil Revell has told the FT that many governing boards were not aware of issues that 'any board of directors would be expected to know', such as 'conflict of interest' involving head teachers. This assertion comes as ministers launch a review into 'strengthening school governance.'

The value-added of primary schools: what is it really measuring?

S. Gorard

Educational Review, vol. 60, 2008, p. 179-185

This paper compares the official value-added scores in 2005 for all primary schools in three adjacent local education authorities in England with the raw-score key stage 2 results for the same schools. The correlation coefficient for the raw- and value-added scores of these 457 schools is around +0.75. Scatterplots show that there are no low attaining schools with average or higher value added scores, and no high attaining schools with below average value-added scores. Value-added analysis is intended to remove the link between schools' intake scores and their raw-score outcomes at key stage 2. It should lead to an estimate of the differential progress made by pupils, assessed between schools. In fact, the relationship between value-added and raw scores is of the same size as the original relationship between intake scores and raw-scores that the value-added is intended to overcome. Value-added figures as at present calculated should not be used by parents, teachers, governors or Ofsted as an instrument for judging schools.

Who's looking after whom? The education of disaffected children in care

I. Sutherland

International Journal on School Disaffection, vol.5, no.2, 2008, p. 25-31

This article begins by looking at the complex legal definition of children in local authority care, which encompasses both children who have been removed from their families via court proceedings and those with more informal arrangements. Government policy initiatives to improve the educational attainment of children in care are then summarised, as are changes in the law made to provide them with added protection. Finally, some interesting projects in the private and public sectors which are seeking to prevent disaffection are reviewed.

Worst readers shoot to the top of class after one-to-one tuition

A. Frean

The Times, May 9th 2008, p.9

A study by the Institute of Education has found that children who are identified as underperforming in reading but then go on to receive one-to-one tuition under the government-backed Every Child a Reader programme feel the benefits of the 30 hours tuition long after it has ended. If children are identified and receive additional help between the crucial ages of 5 years and 9 months and 6 years and 3 months, they are likely to actually overtake their peers in terms of reading skills two years later the study has shown.

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