In a time of austerity, tightened schools budgets and pay and pension reviews the Department of Education plays some interesting games with money. Seventeen consultant companies were paid a total of 66 million pounds in fees last year. The money was primarily to fund support in setting up academies and free schools has created significant ill feeling from teachers unions including the National Union of Teachers (NUT) who claim it is a “dreadful waste of public resources and money.” More….
Posts Tagged ‘NUT’
British ex Prime Minister Tony Blair once emphasised a crucial part of his political manifesto in a speech; “education, education, education.” So good he named it thrice. But twenty years on little has been achieved. Plenty of educational initiatives have been and gone taking a Kings ransom with them. Teachers have introduced change, reinforced it, refreshed it then watch it replaced by another scheme. But perhaps the greatest shock emerges with Mr Blair’s confession that he wished he had done more to remove teachers who were not up to the job.
The subject remains a thorny issue. Its recent resurrection by Michael Gove has teacher unions already kicking up dust saying his plans to remove failing teachers will be strongly opposed. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, prefers that errant teachers should be given help and retrained as a prerequisite before any potential for the sack. A positive stance providing the resource is available to help. How many new teachers are tossed into the fray with little or no immediate support because none is available. But the problem also lies with some time served teachers. It was this group that gave Tony Blair the greatest regret; that he failed to raise the standards in schools.
The downside of all this change and recrimination is the number of children that have subsequently had a damaged education. Even Michael Gove’s present enthusiasm is tempered by the fact he proposes poor teachers should be removed after a term rather than a year. Still a long time to provide a class of children with substandard teaching.
The secretary of state for education, Michael Gove is stamping renewed vigour into his policy to sack governors of failing schools and had them over to academies. His current target, Downhills Primary school in North London are attempting to resist being taken over by an academy sponsor after years of poor performance. Academy Groups Scooping Up Failing Schools.
The school is one of many who are in the sights of Michael Gove who wishes to remove poor performance in school. The announcement last year that over 200 primary schools will be placed into academy status remains at the forefront of his quest to improve schooling standards. Speaking at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College he said “For years hundreds of children have grown up effectively illiterate and innumerate. In one of the most disadvantaged parts of our capital city poor children have been deprived of the skills they need to succeed.”
The transfer to academy status is certainly forefront in the sights of the Educational secretary. He has the option to utilise his intervention powers within the Academies Act to push failing schools to switch to academy status. But there is opposition from concerned schools, educational authourities and the National Union of Teachers they he will need to overcome.
The latest SAT’s results reveal a further decline in reading standards at primary school level. Falling for the third year in a row how can we stop the slide in this essential ability to progress in education.
Shrouded in a bewildering cloud of statistics, perhaps proving numeric skills are just as important, the Department for Education (DfE) announced the results of this year’s SAT tests in primary schools. You may recall the actions of the National Union of Teachers boycotted the tests in around 25 per cent of primary schools, thus the results are a little wobbly. The aim of the NUT was to highlight concern that SAT’s have induced a “teaching to the test” process which focused undue attention to passing the test at the expense of a wider learning programme. Despite the test to test syndrome the results show we are still failing a great chunk of kids.
Reading is the key to all learning. Educational programmes have yet to implant knowledge via Star Wars technology so without these brain programming rays we are stuck with conventional teaching resources. Yet after centuries of teaching English and reading skills the process is still largely unchanged. Techniques using for example phonics have ebbed and flowed as the tide. All have seemingly failed to fundamentally break the mould to improve overall standards. This years results show 84 per cent of children achieved the expected level in the national curriculum tests (ignoring the boycott effect). This is down from 86 per cent in 2009, and 87 per cent in 2008.
The results include a mix of some better news with brighter children improving their skill in English and Maths. But the damning evidence reveal lower achieving children are being traumatised by the tests showing the disparity in our primary teaching resources. Interestingly the Teachers’ assessment of pupils progress, rather like a Doctors prognosis, used skill and judgement and revealed predictions of children performance in the SAT’s within one per cent of that achieved. Michael Gove Secretary of State for Education has stated SAT’s will go ahead again next year. Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers said the tests should be replaced by sample testing. I must admit to siding with the NUT on this. Teacher predictions have been proven accurate and can be checked through sample testing. Freed from Teaching-to-test activities would leave teachers with an extra nine weeks a year of teaching time. And the winners would be more children equipped with the reading skills essential to all further learning. Could lead to an ability to comprehend government statistics.
The SAT’s are out and show the usual confusion of claims, counter claims and criticisms. Headline results imply improvements in our primary resources in Maths and English. Schools Minister Nick Gibb congratulated pupils and teachers on the results – and defended externally verified test. He, also warned that there were still too many pupils failing to make the grade.
“Despite pupils’ and teachers’ hard work, one in five pupils are still not reaching the expected level in either English or maths and over a third are not achieving this level in reading, writing and maths combined.”
Christine Blower, leader of the National Union of Teachers, said the scale of boycott would “render this year’s league tables an irrelevance”. With 25 per cent of schools boycotting the SAT tests this year she has a point. The disruption was no idle whim of teachers. Frustrated by teaching practices which focused disproportionate effort on “teaching to test” where children were deliberately taught how to answer exams rather than receiving a more general education. Teachers believe this damaging syndrome is skewing the chances of children receiving a wider more relevant education.
The topic of SAT’s has long been a bone of contention – at least in England. We may think this is a national educational issue but Wales and Northern Ireland have already abolished SAT’s and Scotland never introduced them. This situation should prove beyond doubt whether they work or not. We have two samples which will reveal the effect of abandonment, and one control area who never introduced them. This presents the statisticians’ ideal set of results. Analysis of the cause and effect of SAT’s would prove the way ahead conclusively. The NAHT and NUT unions representing a key proportion of our teaching resources are predominately against the tests in the current format.
In the meantime Education Secretary Michael Gove has said the tests will go ahead next year. However, he has said there were “flaws” in the testing system and has promised a review. But we have to wait and see if this will this be clouded by the coalition manifesto. Prior to the election, the Conservatives said the tests need to be “reformed but not scrapped” while the Liberal Democrats said they would keep SAT’s, but refine them with more weight put on internal teacher assessment and greater external checks to guarantee quality and consistency. Not quite the clear cut answer or direction we might hope for. In the meantime we can expect some changes to the tests. Let us hope the results do not muddy the waters on the real problem- How are we still failing to educate so many children? The overall standards are still far too low and this is 2010.
The DCSF and educational authorities are facing a dilemma. How do they efficiently measure school performance without interrupting the learning process for children and overwhelming the teaching resources? Universally teachers belonging ot the National Union Of Teachers NUT and National Association of Head Teachers NAHT will demonstrate their frustration with the process by boycotting the SAT’s scheduled to be held this week.
Checks and balances are an essential management tool. They monitor performance revealing achievement and areas of concern. Yet within the school environment these Key performance indicators (KPI) have ironically displaced the very learning process they are designed to measure. Teachers, concerned that the SAT’s statutory assessment tests denude the national curriculum are refusing to support the SAT’s tests scheduled for this week. But there is a further dilemma. Teachers believe the downside of SAT’s has resulted in the “teach to test” syndrome which has narrowed the curriculum. To improve performance most schools defer all new learning for the nine weeks leading up to the tests and spend this time practising for the test. An unanswered question is whether the children involved as a consequence of the boycott were groomed for the tests, or have received nine weeks of ongoing education. Similarly if subsequently forced to complete the SAT’s will they have the same chance as groomed children. If Head Teachers involved in the conflict have prepared the children anyway this would leave them double losers. The decision to groom or not was taken some months ago.
Understandably the government and Ed balls are attempting to counter this resistance with threats of retribution levelled at head teachers and school staff refusing to support SAT’s. Yet the level of resistance is a sure sign that something is wrong. It would be crass for the DCSF to ignore what is a national rebellion. Teachers see the operational pros and cons of the national curriculum at the coal face. Their opinion must be heard. Surely the universal rejection – even allowing for an element of mass hysteria must be viewed as a negative KPI on the government. The DCSF could be judged as being in default and need to review its teaching assessment programme accordingly.
We in the UK are not alone. The feeling that children’s education in literacy and numeracy is being interrupted by needless tests is also under a revolt by teachers in Australia. Teachers there are also refusing to handle the SAT’s tests. Interestingly the Australian education authority has reacted in similar fashion to the UK. But there is huge difference; the Australian educational authorities claim to have 3,000 examiners in reserve to handle the tests. But the question now is what additional educational benefit could be gained in children’s educational progress if these 3,000 additional teachers were actually engaged in expanding the curriculum instead manning tests.
The defiance by teachers has doubled significant. We are about to see a stalwart of society, responsible for the education of our children and a significant influence on their attitudes, whose actions are breaking the law. This can send out mixed messages. Clearly the DCSF need some means of measuring a schools performance but if the current system is flawed to the extent where teachers are prepared to break the law something needs to done. It is a great shame that The DCSF failed to acknowledge this level of disquiet and modified their approach before this conflict was elevated to the extend we are to see this week.