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Welfare Reform on the Web (June 2009): Education - UK - schools

100 primary schools shut each year to save money

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 12th 2009, p. 16

Reports that more than 1,000 primary schools in England have been closed in the past 10 years due to pressure on local authorities to save money, despite fears over a shortage of places. Opposition political parties claim the cull has left some areas struggling to cope with a sudden surge in applications due to rising birth rates and the recession, which has forced parents to abandon private education.

Attainment gaps between the most deprived and advantaged schools

London: Sutton Trust, 2009

Research shows that pupils ranked among the best at age 11 were less likely to get good GCSEs after being placed in 'deprived' comprehensive schools. They dropped by up to a grade in four GCSE subjects at age 16 when compared with pupils of similar ability in affluent schools. The difference is attributed to 'peer effect', when top-performing pupils benefit from being educated with other bright teenagers. The report also suggests better behaviour and superior teaching at the best schools is a major factor.

Bright pupils pulled down in deprived schools, says study

P. Curtis

The Guardian, May 5th 2009, p. 11

Research funded by the Sutton Trust and carried out at the LSE has suggested that academically able pupils who attend schools in deprived areas do significantly worse in their GCSE exams than pupils at schools in wealthy areas. The research also indicates that the use of the 'free school meals' measure as an indicator of poverty was inadequate as many parents who are entitled to claim free school meals for their children do not do so because of the stigma attached.

Choice in the public services: crying 'wolf' in the school choice debate

M. Goodwin

Political Quarterly, vol.80, 2009, p. 270-281

This article approaches the issue of choice in the public services through an examination of the long-running controversy over choice in the English secondary school system. It argues that the case against school choice has not been decisively made and that it can, in principle, form part of a socially progressive education project. Those opposed to choice in education should attempt to engage with the idea by considering it in isolation from any neoliberal ideological baggage. Choice need not be seen as a threat to equity and quality of provision. Failure to engage with the arguments for choice may weaken the defence against attempts by a future Conservative government to fully marketise the secondary education system.

'Embers from the ashes'? : the experience of being an assisted place holder

S. Power and others

London: Sutton Trust, 2009

Research shows that poor children given free places at top private schools often struggle to adapt to the 'elite atmosphere'. Many such pupils feel estranged and alienated from other students and teachers. In addition, some are unable to take part in cultural visits or foreign exchange trips because their parents cannot afford them.

Expulsion curb condemns unruly pupils to a merry-go-round of disruption

N. Woolcock & A. Fishburn

The Times, 28th May 2009, p. 14-15

According to a survey of local authorities conducted by The Times, an estimated 176,000 pupils were suspended more than once last year. There has also been an increase in fixed length short-term expulsions. Carl Parsons, a professor of education and John Bangs, the head of education at the NUT, have expressed concerns about the impact of the increasing use of expulsion on the children's long term education. Other surveys indicate that prisoners were likely to have been expelled or suspended from school as children.

Heads back school test boycott to end 'disruption and drilling'

A. Frean

The Times, May 4th 2009, p.11

The National Association of Head Teachers has voted to support a boycott of Key Stage 2 tests in 2010. If action is supported by a ballot, teachers will not prepare pupils aged 11 for the 2010 national curriculum tests.

(See also The Independent, May 4th 2009, p. 1 & 2)

History GCSE is history as pupils opt for skills

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 26th 2009, p. 11

Less than one third of pupils now take a GCSE in history as schools encourage students to opt for vocational courses in subjects such as information and communication technology. Examination entries for traditional subjects are increasingly being dominated by pupils from private and grammar schools, leaving many children without an adequate understanding of the past.

Illuminating and improving National Curriculum development: students' perceptions and suggestions. A pilot study in a state secondary school

P. Wakefield and D. Pumfrey

Educational Review, vol. 61, 2009, p. 63-83

In curriculum evaluation and development, the views of students are important but are often overlooked. This paper reports findings from a small but innovative project involving 60 male and female students in two successive age groups, namely UK National Curriculum Year Groups 8 and 9 (aged 12-13 years and 13-14 years respectively). The project was carried out in a West Midlands city comprehensive school in an era of curriculum change and involved three phases with a questionnaire developed for each phase. In this way, suggested actions by the individual student, and also the school staff, were obtained. Quantitative analyses based on 5,160 items of data and qualitative analyses of students' suggestions for change were generated. The students were enthusiastic at being involved in the study and, in addition, the findings proved informative and valuable to the school.

Including students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in mainstream schools

N. Humphrey

British Journal of Special Education, vol. 36, 2009, p. 19-25

Around 80% of pupils with attention deficit disorder are educated in mainstream schools and the difficulties relating to inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity experienced by such pupils present mainstream educators with a unique set of challenges and opportunities. This article discusses key evidence-based strategies and approaches to facilitate the inclusion of pupils affected by attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD). These include the need to reframe AD/HD, to understand the role of medication, to minimise distractions, to provide predictability, structure and routine, and to apply cognitive and behavioural strategies.

Independent schools after old boys' skills, not money

N. Woolcock

The Times, May 15th 2009, p.23

Jonathan Cook, the General Secretary of the Independent Schools' Bursars Association (ISBA) has said that schools were trying to encourage former pupils to offer work experience and assistance in the labour market to current pupils. The recession has made the exploitation of alumni networks even more significant in facilitating the employment future of sixth form students.

Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum: Final Report

Sir Jim Rose

London: DCSF, 2009

The review of the primary school curriculum recommends:

  • Summer-born children should start school in the September after their fourth birthday, instead of waiting until the following April or January
  • Information technology should become a core skill
  • Children should get lessons in health, happiness and self-improvement, including the basics of nutrition and food preparation, and the development of social skills.
  • Pupils should begin lengthy academic projects in their last year at primary school, for completion in the first year at secondary school to help smooth the transition between schools.

National curriculum

Children, Schools and Families Committee

London: TSO, 2009 (House of Commons papers, session 2008/09: HC 344)

In this report, the Children, Schools and Families Committee (the Committee), recommends major changes to the nature and management of the national curriculum. In its current form the national curriculum essentially accounts for all the available teaching time: the Committee would like to see a cap placed so that less than half that time is prescribed centrally. A slimmed-down national curriculum designed much more from the learner's perspective, setting out the learning that they have a right to access, is recommended. Parents should be provided with a copy of the national curriculum so that they can take on a greater role in overseeing the curriculum that their child experiences. The Committee is not convinced by the proposed Programmes of Study for the primary curriculum put forward in the interim report of the Rose Review, which seem unnecessarily complex. The Committee takes a similar view on the new secondary curriculum and is concerned at some of the Early Learning Goals specified in the Early Years Foundation Stage (there should be more emphasis at this stage on developing speaking, listening and social skills). All schools should have the freedoms in curriculum matters enjoyed by Academies and should not be pressured to follow the non-statutory National Strategies guidance. The report also stresses the importance of empowering professional teachers rather than the current approach of prescription and direction. The coherence and continuity in the curriculum is another concern, with a history of piecemeal creation and amendment to frameworks from 0 to 19. The Committee recommends an independent curriculum authority be established to review and then keep the curriculum refreshed.

Mathematics performance in primary schools: getting the best result

Public Accounts Committee

London: TSO, 2009 (House of Commons papers, session 2008/09; HC44)

According to this report, one in five children leaves primary school with poor maths skills 2.3bn having been spent on teaching the subject. This would mean that many young people would need expensive remedial lessons in later life to get a job, which would have major implications for the economy. The Committee concluded that Labour's numeracy strategy had stalled and called for a rethink.

Out of sight, out of mind? Transition for young people with learning difficulties in out-of-area residential special schools and colleges

D. Abbott and P. Heslop

British Journal of Special Education, vol. 36, 2009, p. 45-54

Young people with learning difficulties who go to residential special schools and colleges are highly vulnerable, often living a long way from home. As a result, transition towards adulthood - from school to college, or college and beyond - requires careful planning and support for both young people and their families. Although there is national policy and guidance in this area, this article suggests that young people with learning difficulties in out-of-area placements are being failed in terms of transition education and face uncertainty and very limited choices. Drawing on empirical research with 15 young people, their families, and the professionals who support them, the authors outline the main barriers to effective transition planning. They suggest that a great deal more focus on planning and commitment to good outcomes is required to ensure that this group of young people have similar life chances to their non-disabled peers.

Primary schools face places crisis

G. Paton and B. Martin

Daily Telegraph, May 5th 2009, p. 1-2

There has been a sharp rise in demand for primary school places in England due to the recession, rising immigration and increased birth rates. A survey has shown that almost one third of councils are struggling to cope with demand, with many forced to create more places by building temporary classrooms. Competition for places is now intense and some children could be left without a place in September.

(See also Public Finance, Apr. 24th-30th 2009, p. 16-17)

A qualitatively different experience: mainstreaming pupils with a visual impairment in Northern Ireland

C. Gray

European Journal of Special Needs Education, vol. 24, 2009, p. 169-182

This paper reports the experiences of special education needs coordinators on the inclusion of pupils with a visual impairment (VI) in mainstream schools in Northern Ireland. A mixed method approach was utilised and incorporated in both postal surveys and interviews. The results indicated an inverse relationship between school years and pupil numbers, with negligible numbers of pupils with a VI reported in higher examination classes. They also revealed that, for health and safety reasons and due to problems in accessing text books, some schools discourage pupils with a VI from studying subjects such as technology and design, physical education and mathematics. In addition, while pupils with a VI are thought to enjoy the social aspects of school life, less is known about their ability to access a number of areas within the school, including lunchtime clubs and the dinner hall. These findings raise questions about the qualitative nature of the educational experience afforded pupils with a VI.

Review scraps science tests for 11-year olds but maths and English Sats expected to continue

P. Curtis

The Guardian, May 7th 2009, p. 4

The review commissioned by the Government which has made the recommendation above and suggested changes to the system of publishing schools' results to create league tables, is expected to come in for criticism from the National Union of Teachers and National Association of Head Teachers.

Rules 'let unruly pupils off hook'

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 13th 2009, p. 14

Under the Education and Inspection Act 2006, schools are required to provide full time tuition for any child suspended for more than five days. To investigate the impact of this policy, which came into force in September 2007, Ofsted inspected 36 mainstream schools, including 28 secondaries. It found that the number of suspensions had dropped at two-thirds of the secondary schools since the new rules came into force. Some schools allowed unruly pupils back into the classroom on the sixth day although their misdemeanours warranted longer exclusion.

(See also The Independent, May 13th 2009, p. 13)

Satisfaction with educational provision for children with SEN or disabilities: a national postal survey of the views of parents in Great Britain

S. Parsons and others

Educational Review, vol. 61, 2009, p. 19-47

The success and quality of educational provision for children with SEN and/or disabilities is a matter of considerable debate, with wide differences reported by parents. This paper reports systematic, comparative evidence from a factor analysis of a large sample of diverse parents in Great Britain, surveyed on key aspects of provision such as choice of school and influence of attitudinal and environmental factors. In contrast to dominant notions of widespread unhappiness amongst parents, a largely positive view of educational provision was found. Parents of children with psychosocial difficulties in mainstream schools were the main exceptions, being the least satisfied with provision.

School to start at four with new timetable to 'restore creativity'

R. Garner

The Independent, May 1st 2009, p. 20 & 21

A government enquiry, carried out by former Ofsted inspector Sir Jim Rose, aims to restore creativity to the centre of the school curriculum for the schools of the 21st century. As a result, lessons will focus more on the use of drama and, in addition, 10 and 11-year-olds will be encouraged to take part in essay-style extended projects which will give their secondary school teachers more insight into their thinking skills. Children will also be given their own personal tutors (staff from secondary schools) in a bid to smooth the transition between the two. However, one of the biggest changes will be to guarantee every four-year-old a place in school in the September after their fourth birthday.

School travel

Transport Committee

London: TSO, 2009 (House of Commons papers, session 2008/09: HC 351)

In this report, the Transport Select Committee tells education and transport ministers they must do far more to produce a modal shift away from cars towards public transport, dedicated school transport including 'Yellow Buses', walking and safer-cycling schemes for British school children. Also, it recommends that both the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Transport urgently need to identify how they are going to ensure children and young adults are not denied opportunities because public transport is either inadequate or too costly. In particular, travel should not present a barrier to accessing the new Diploma courses. For similar reasons much more should be done to identify children eligible for free school transport. The Committee recognise that no single model will suit all situations and that car travel to school can be the most suitable method in some circumstances. However, they call on ministers to:

  • Provide high quality guidance and examples of best practice to illustrate when a dedicated school bus system is appropriate
  • Top up the Education Maintenance Allowance for students from low income families and extend similar support for young people engaged in the new 14-19 diplomas
  • Do more to encourage local authorities to identify pupils eligible for free school transport
  • Consider the viability of a concessionary scheme offering reduced fares to young people
  • Help local authorities address the inherent tension between school choice and travel impact by raising awareness of sustainable school travel issues amongst parents and young people when they are selecting schools
  • In rural areas, review whether the maximum travel distance under which free transport may be provided allows for sufficient choice of schools
  • Monitor the effectiveness of School Travel Plans.

Scrap GCSEs and let teachers assess pupils instead, head of leading grammar school says

A. Frean

The Times, May 5th 2009, p. 15 and Times2 p. 1-5

Rod MacKinnon, head of Bristol Grammar School, argues that an external exam system for 16-year olds is unproductive and teachers could spend more time teaching if they could use test results from class tests and essays to match pupils to their next course of study. (See also his main article: GCSEs should be abolished. Discuss. in Times 2, p. 1-5)

Specialist schools accused of failing their specialist subjects

R. Garner

The Independent, May 19th 2009, p. 16

Specialist schools face being overhauled if Labour loses power at the next election, because both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats believe they are failing to raise standards in the subjects they specialise in. The Schools minister Jim Knight has revealed that more than a quarter of the country's 310 specialist science schools failed to enter a single candidate for a physics, chemistry or biology GCSE last year. On languages, figures show that only 15 had entered every pupil for a modern foreign language GCSE. These findings follow research from the Centre of Education and Employment at Buckingham University, which casts doubt on the extent to which schools specialising in subjects raised standards in their chosen area. However, supporters of the specialist schools programme argue that these results could be because their schools encourage pupils of all abilities to study the specialism, whereas in others only high-fliers are allowed to take the subject.

Teachers dismiss plan for parents to report poor schools

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 6th 2009, p. 10

Gordon Brown has unveiled plans to allow dissatisfied parents to report under-performing schools to local councils, which would be obliged to respond. The proposals were dismissed by teachers as 'populist spin'. Parents can already report concerns directly to the education regulator, Ofsted.

Those who can, build

D. Padwick

Public Finance, May 8th-14th 2009, p. 22-23

There is now early evidence that the first operational Local Education Partnerships (public-private partnerships developed to ensure the building of schools under the Building Schools for the Future programme) are beginning to produce successes. This article reports recommendations from a review by PriceWaterhouseCoopers on how effective partnering between organisations can be achieved.

Towards educational inclusion in a transforming society: some lessons from community relations and special needs education in Northern Ireland

S. Barr and R. Smith

International Journal of Inclusive Education, vol. 13, 2009, p. 211-230

This paper focuses on the socially constructed ideas that now have the status of taken-for-granted knowledge within the fields of two areas of professional practice - community relations and special needs education - in Northern Ireland. The analysis identifies some very powerful common discourses which, the authors argue, have served to maintain the status quo and limit the space for any creative and pluralistic struggle. It is also argued that this process of unravelling or deconstructing professional meaning-making in relation to education for diversity is a crucial first step towards the development of a more inclusive and participative practice.

Warning as infant class sizes increase

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 14th 2009, p. 10

The latest figures suggest that the number of children being taught in classes of more than 30 rose by 50% in the past year, despite a Labour pledge to eradicate large classes. The average infant class size in England was 26.2 in January 2009, compared to 25.7 in 2008. Some 29,200 infants were in classes with over 30 pupils.

Watchdog warns of exam chaos in 'rushed' courses

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 7th 2009, p. 10

Ofqual, the examinations regulator, has warned that new qualifications are being introduced without guarantees that courses would be delivered accurately and on time. It highlighted serious concerns that all new qualifications, including reformed A-levels and GCSEs as well as the new diploma qualifications were being introduced too hurriedly.

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