The RE APPG Reports its Findings

After a twelve month enquiry, the RE APPG recently released its findings on the state of RE in schools today. The report makes for very sorry reading, but reinforces what most in the RE world already knew: That RE is being undervalued and undermined. It’s being squeezed out of the timetable, funding is being reduced and children are being given a bad deal.

  • Over 50% of those teaching RE in secondary schools have no qualification or relevant expertise in the subject
  • A quarter of all primary schools that responded said the lesson was given by a teaching assistant
  • Primary and primary trainee teachers lack confidence and expertise in teaching RE, especially in diverse and multi-cultural classrooms
  • Support for RE teachers at a local level has been dramatically reduced by local authority funding cuts and the academies programme
  • Bursaries for RE trainees have been removed and there has been a radical reduction in applicant numbers for 2013/14
  • Because of this lack of training and support many of those teaching RE are unable to meet the Department for Education’s Teaching Standards, selling young people short in their schools.

This makes for very sorry reading. Whatever you think about the place of RE in the curriculum, it is currently there and young people study it. Why not give it appropriate funding, time and training for it to be of real benefit to those who study it. Imagine if it did and received the best training and teachers. The possibilities are endless!

I think it’ll be interesting to see how the RE Review responds and the recommendations it makes to take RE forward. And then we just need Gove to join us all in 2013 and accept the recommendations!

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Teachers on Strike – Good idea? Bad idea?

This weekend saw the major teaching unions Easter conferences. There was certainly lots to talk about. Gove. Strike action. Ofsted. They covered it all. I don’t think anyone was overly surprised by the outcome.

Lack of confidence in Gove and his capability to be Education Secretary. 

Lack of confidence in Ofsted and what it stands for.

Lack of confidence in the Government and the current pay conditions.

But when all is said and done, is striking the best form of action?

For one thing, some parents and teachers are against it. Why? It takes teachers out of the classrooms and stops them educating the children, which is, after all, why they are there. Some people are against teachers taking strike action because they feel that teachers already get a fair deal and they should just get on with it. Some people think that we’ve all got to help the country get back on its feet.

Some people support the strike because it’s important for teachers to stand up for themselves and what they believe in. If everyone just accepted what the Government did and didn’t make their voices heard, then what kind of nation would that create?! Standing up for decent pay & conditions is right and just, not just for teachers, not just for those working in education, but for everyone who feels that the Government is taking advantage of them, which is pretty much most people.

No one wants to strike. And it might not be the best plan of action. So what are the alternatives? On Twitter, some people are suggesting that instead of striking on a school day, teachers go in on a Saturday and give an extra day. I don’t know if I’d be in support of that, but it certainly is different. What is important is that the message of why teachers are unhappy with Gove, Ofsted and the Government as a whole stays central. Educate the children on what’s going on, create YouTube videos of students telling Gove & Cameron why teachers deserve better pay and conditions, hold rallies and debates to come up with a more creative and positive way of tackling the issues. Because, after all, isn’t teaching a creative profession?! Surely we can do better?

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It’s Official – Teachers work excessive hours

Finally there’s real evidence to support the claim that teachers have been making for a long time – they work more hours than the stereotypical view of 9 – 3. I hope Michael Wilshaw got the memo – so he can shelve his idea to penalise staff who leave the school premises at 3pm! (Who might just be going to work at home because it’s a lot nicer than working in their classroom, the wifi might be better, the coffee most certainly will be!) If people wondered why teachers were so up in arms about the Government freezing their pay and messing around their pensions, it’s because they’ve already given more than most public sector workers. They’ve given £7billion worth of unpaid overtime.

Just to be clear, teachers cannot claim over time. They are paid a salary. Their contract covers them for the hours that they spend teaching in the classroom plus a certain number of hours, 1265 to be exact, which is where before & after school meetings, including Parents Evening, are factored in. Most British teachers work 10 hours a week over their hours. Now this might not sound like much. But if you add that up over the course of a year, that’s a lot of hours.

According to TUC research, teachers do more unpaid overtime than any other public sector worker. This isn’t because they’re already paid an excessive salary – due to the freezing of teachers’ salaries over recent years and cost of living increases, most teachers’ take home pay has effectively decreased. Why do they do this? Quite simply, it’s because it is the only possible way to do everything the Government requires teachers to do today. There are certain expectations for teachers. It’s not only the teaching in the classroom, the marking, the planning, but also the meetings, the duties, the school trips etc etc. The expectation that you add value for every student.

This equates to a great experience for students, in theory. For the teacher and their loved ones, it equates to quite a negative experience. Teachers working all day & night, and weekends, will be exhausted, stressed and very overworked. This affects all their relationships. Not great for a workforce already on its knees.

Gove has floated the idea of extending the school day. While this might have its merits, it will not ease the burden for teachers and support staff. Another sticky issue is the current Work to Rule instruction from the NUT & NASUWT has also put extra pressure on teachers. The job hasn’t changed and they do the job because they are passionate about it. Working to Rule doesn’t change that! It doesn’t take away all the things that need to be done. Hence most teachers will be working very long days this week.

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The RE APPG

In February last year, as the RE world continued to be under attack from Government, an All Party Parliamentary Group was set up. It involved:

  1. The Church of England,
  2. The Catholic Church, The Buddhist, Jewish, Sikh and Muslim faiths,
  3. The British Humanist Association
  4. Professional RE teaching associations

Its aim? Simple.

To safeguard the provision of RE in schools and explore how the subject can continue to deliver a valuable dimension to the education of all children and young people.

Since then, more people have joined the RE APPG and RE has had some wins and some loses. But the APPG isn’t done. It was set up in response to the growing number of non-specialists teaching RE. The DfE discovered that, in 2011, 55% of RE teachers had no post-A Level qualification in RE. To put this in context, for History it was only 27%. Why does this happen? Well, budgets are stretched and, sadly, RE is often seen as the poor relation. I remember one headteacher saying to me, “Anyone can teach RE. It’s just common sense.” Really?! This just goes to show that it still has stigma attached to it and just isn’t taken seriously in a lot of schools by a lot of teachers and SMT. Specialist RE teachers aren’t always deemed to be worth the money. RE teachers fight this prejudice on a daily basis, not only with students and parents, but with their colleagues as well.

There is some excellent and outstanding RE teaching going on but when non-specialists are used in placed of specialists the impact is huge. Not only does it affect results, but it affects the passion with which a subject like RE is taught with. When RE is taught well, it captures the imagination of questioning, thoughtful young people. Furthermore, if students receive good RE in Primary schools, the benefit in Secondary School is massive. They are more open to discussing different religious and philosophical beliefs, they are more articulate and show a greater level of understanding. And this last point is one of the reasons why RE was introduced in the first place. By reducing its importance has MP’s worried.

I think that it is even more important today that our children learn about the range of different faiths, cultures and beliefs to give them the chance to gain a level of knowledge across the piste so they don’t just have to listen to what’s on the internet or what may be the fundamentally bigoted attitudes of their parents or peers towards other religions. It is becoming more and more important because of the globalised world.

How is RE being undermined? PGCE places have dropped by more than 50% since 2010 and funding for RE PGCE students has been abolished. With the exclusion of RE as a Humanities subject from the EBacc, not only does reduce space for RE on the timetable, but it sends out a very negative message to SMT, parents and students, as well as RE teachers, lots of whom are working tirelessly to make RE accessible and relevant to all.

Only time will tell, but since last February, RE seems to be on stronger ground. It is a vital subject for today’s young people. We live in an increasingly instant and open world and we need to understand each other more and more.

The final report, written by Barbara Wintersgill, will be published on March 12th.

Gove and the EBacc Disaster

Gove finally caved in on the changes to education that he was rushing through last week. Teachers and educationalists awoke to the news that he was going to have stop the removal of GCSE’s. However, this hasn’t stopped the EBacc altogether. Now while lots of teachers, parents and students would agree that GCSE’s need reform, a lot would argue against the EBacc in its current form, mainly because it seems that not all subjects are equal. Most within education have known this for a long time. Certain subjects receive more funding, staff and timetable time than others. There are some legitimate reasons for this, like school performance. Maths, English and Science will always take priority but lots of subjects, for example MFL, RE and the Arts have all had to take a back seat in recent years. With lack of funding and investment, cuts in PGCE placements and school funding being on a knife edge, means that teachers are teaching outside their specialism, staff aren’t being replaced and students aren’t getting the best deal.

On the positive side, RE and the Arts have been reaffirmed in the new National Curriculum, with RE having to be ‘taught in every key stage’ and it’s now included in the Specialist Leader in Education Programme run by the NCSL. However, all this good work will be undone because of the weight placed on the EBacc. It will be the main measure of school performance. The implications for non-EBacc subjects here is huge. All RE teachers teaching compulsory GCSE have suffered the ‘it’s not an important GCSE is it? I only value my option subjects’ response from students, often supported by parents. *head, desk* So if the Government isn’t valuing non-EBacc subjects, what hope have they got? Also, RE Short Course GCSE will not count towards school performance at all. Anyone else hearing a death knell?!

During the Parliamentary debate, RE was only mentioned by one MP (I forget which one!) But Gove being the excellent politician that he is, avoided it, as he did most questions, by thanking everyone for the valuable contribution to the process. He simply refused to acknowledge the existence of the subject. There are still dark days ahead for education in Great Britain, despite the odd glimmers of hope.

The RE Fight goes on – The RE Review, Phase 2

RE is just one subject that is getting the Gove treatment, and by that I mean, he’s treating it like it’s worthless. But the RE community continues to  fight and the fight is gaining momentum and increasing support from different groups. Politicians, parents, teachers, students, both from within the RE Community and outside, are calling for Gove to rethink his plans for the British Education system. Whether he will listen remains to be seen. Either way, the RE community is standing united and continues with its work.

The RE Review is entering Phase 2 and this should last until July this year. There will be two task groups:

  • Group 1 will be looking at developing non-statutory guidance material on RE and its curriculum, focusing on aims, knowledge and understanding, skills and assessment.
  • Group 2 will be developing strategies designed to structure and sustain the future of RE. They aim to build influential links with stakeholders to promote RE in schools, as well as key external bodies including the DfE and exam boards.

The final product will be a document, similar to the new National Curriculum, but with a more positive focus and something that the RE community will continue to build on in years to come. What is clear is that very few people are happy with the treatment that Gove is giving, not just to RE, but to the Education System as a whole. But then, what would you expect from someone whose only experience of education is the one he himself received?!

Computer Science is more important than RE?

Today the government announced that Computer Science is going to be included in the English Baccalaureate. It will count as a science alongside physics, chemistry and biology. This follows Gove scrapping ICT and bringing in a more challenging computer curriculum, in order to meet the demand of technology in the wider world. Last October saw computer giants Google and Microsoft called upon Gove to include the new computer science curriculum in the EBacc.

This is quite an interesting move by Gove. Quite rightly, the current ICT curriculum is inadequate in preparing students for the wider world, especially for students who leave school straight after GCSE’s and head out into the world of work. However, there are a few issues with including it in the EBacc. Firstly, money. One of the main reasons that ICT has been inadequate is the lack of funding that has historically run alongside it. Technology moves very quickly and a lot of schools have failed to keep up with it due to financial restraints. So I’d quite like to see Gove put his money where his mouth is and support schools to deliver the new Computer Science component adequately. Secondly, while I think the inclusion of a more rigorous IT course is a good move, it has come at the expense of other equally worthwhile subjects. RE and the Arts have suffered greatly under the creation of the EBacc and this is a massive error on Goves’ part. There are many benefits for students to have to take an art through to GCSE, and RE is going to continue to be marginalised.

But RE isn’t going anywhere for now. And it’s not being quiet about the contant attacks from Gove. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about how the RE community is fighting back. To start with, the RE Council has launched a campaign, ReThink RE.

ReThink RE

The campaign is clear. Good quality RE for all students. And for that to happen, it should be treated equally alongside other Humanities subjects.

Our aim is simple. We want to see every young person in every school given access to good quality RE. And we are urging those responsible to rethink their approach to RE.

RE links very well with the other Humanities subjects so including it with the EBacc gives it the same status. Why Gove is so against this I don’t know. But RE plays a vital role in a young persons education and it is worth fighting for.

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Gove reforms A-Levels

So in the same week that Gove said school’s shouldn’t call snow days, he’s calling for reform over A-Levels. Gove has been hellbent on changing the education system, so that it’s more like it used to be, more like his experience. It’s quite possible that this isn’t the best idea an Education Secretary has ever had.

From 2015, students will no longer be able to do modular exams towards their final A-Levels. They’ll have to do all their exams at the end of the 2 year course. AS levels will still exist, but they’ll become stand alone qualifications. This sounds like a two-tier system to me, similar to the one Gove wants to bring in for GCSE reforms. His arguments for this are:

  • He feels that A-Levels, as they currently are, fail to prepare students for university.
  • He wants them to have a deeper understanding before they go to university
  • He also believes that universities and business want greater rigour and the current system doesn’t provide this.

You can watch him explain it here. What is interesting though, is the amount of criticism and disagreement that has come from both universities and business. For example, on Twitter this afternoon, Cambridge University said that the reforms will:

“jeopardise over a decade’s progress towards fairer access to the University of Cambridge”

screen-capture-3And here’s more information about they think being reported on Twitter from FT Education correspondant, Chris Cook. Also, Neil Carberry, the CBI’s director of employment and skills said:

“Businesses want more rigorous exams but we’re concerned that these changes aren’t being linked up with other reforms, especially to GCSEs. We need a more coherent overall system.”

Not only that, but it will mean that universities are going to have to rely more heavily on school references in order to offer places to students.

So if some Universities and business leaders are criticising it, feeling that it’s rushed and incoherent  then why on earth is it all happening so quickly. Surely, Gove should be having an open dialogue with a variety of educationalists in order to do the best thing for students, instead of just pushing his own agenda. This is going to be problematic for a lot of students.

That’s not to say that the current A-Level system is perfect. It isn’t at all and it does need looking at but what Gove is suggesting doesn’t seem to make the system better for the majority either. What a shock.

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The Pro’s & Con’s of a Snow Day

Oh the joy of the snow day!

Snow Day. Two words that will bring glee to many a teacher and every student across the land. They are those golden days, where a teacher wakes up early, looks out the window at the white stuff covering the ground. Before anything else, they reach for their laptop & opens the following pages on the Internet:

Their school website
Facebook
The local radio station website

And so it begins. The kettle is on, mobile phoned charged with texts & tweets flying between teachers in all different areas.

What are the roads like where you are?

Treacherous! I’m not driving on those! How about you?

Covered! Snow, ice & I’m pretty sure I just saw a polar bear walk by! Too cold for school. Surely!

The mouse clicks on refresh, every 30 seconds. Then, fear creeps in. What if they don’t call a snow day? I’ll have to go in! The kids will be on a snow-high. The paths will be slippy. It’ll be exhausting! *Hits refresh another few times, checks Facebook* Waits.

Then. The moment has come. The notice has appeared on the school’s website. School is closed due to snow and adverse weather conditions.

Result! Back to bed with a cuppa and the mass-messaging of other teachers. Day off! No teaching for me! Will probably do some marking or planning later, or just watch daytime TV. Because I can! Snow Day!

snowday

Why do schools call snow days? Here’s a great interview on the BBC explaining why. It’s not an easy decision management make, but sometimes it’s the safest. Not everyone will be happy – parents who have to take a day of unpaid leave to look after their children because of the closure won’t be. I remember a parent interviewed a few years ago on local news, who complained because her child’s school was shut due to staff not being able to get in. She thought it was wrong of teachers to live so far from school! Love that!

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