Tag Archives: education

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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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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Teachers Pay

It’s been a while since Sir Michael Wilshaw said something to annoy the teaching community so his most recent comment was sure to stir things up. According to this report by BBC News, Wilshaw told the Times that teachers must work extra hours if they want a pay rise and teachers who were out of the door by 3pm shouldn’t be promoted. Staff who went the extra mile, should get promoted.

I agree.

Now I never thought that I would agree with anything Sir Wilshaw said but there are a lot of teachers who work incredibly hard who don’t get any recognition. When I was teaching, I worked a lot. For example, I worked 14 hour days & worked Sunday as standard. I was always looking for ways to improve my teaching & improve the learning experience for all my students. Nothing was too much work. Another teacher at the school didn’t work to the same level that I did. For example, they didn’t plan or mark regularly. However, due to them passing threshold at a previous school, they earned more than I did. How was that fair? It wasn’t. And it used to get to me big time.

If someone isn’t doing their job, why should their pay get increased? Why should they be considered for promotion? If they can’t complete the basic requirements of their jobs then they shouldn’t get paid the same as someone who goes the extra mile.

Now, all Wilshaw needs to do is put his money where his mouth is. There are plenty of teachers who do go the extra mile and my hope is that for those teachers, they can start to see some extra money in their pay packets. No one gets into teaching because of the pay, pension or holidays. They get into it because of their passion to help young people learn and improve their life chances.

It is an incredibly stressful job, not stressful like being on the frontline of the Armed Forces, but it is stressful. And it’s not easy. With the Government constantly moving the goalposts & with each new class bringing with it fresh challenges and needs, it is like being in a hamster wheel. Unlike teaching in the past, teaching is no longer a secure job. Schools up and down the country are making redundancies and teaching posts aren’t being filled due to lack of funding, causing some teachers to regularly teach outside their specialism. This only adds to the tension within schools. No one is saying that teachers should be above and beyond economics but they are doing a very difficult job. So many PGCE students start the school year with full to the brim with enthusiasm  Find those PGCE students 5 years into their teaching career & they are exhausted.

Just like every other profession, there are great teachers, mediocre teachers and awful teachers. It would be impossible to weed out the poor ones from every school but I think rewarding those who do a great job, as long as it’s not just based on performance, is about time.

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GCSE’s

Sixteen years ago, to the day, I received my GCSE results. I’d worked very hard to achieve 1 A, 5 B’s and 4 C’s. I even managed a C in Maths, which I really wasn’t sure I could do, but needed for university. I cried as I opened my results, and can picture my Mum sitting next to me in the car, double checking them because I didn’t think I had read it right the first time. For years after, I waited for a letter for the exam board saying they had got it wrong!

At this time of year, education is under intense scrutiny. If results exceed expectation, people accuse exam boards of ‘dumbing down’. If they fall, like they have this year, people blame exam boards for ‘harsh marking’. If a student fails, their teachers are asked to explain why. What could they have done differently? Did they do everything they could for that student? It’s the most soul-destroying part of teaching I have ever experienced. You are accountable for the successes and failures of your students. Not the students, I hasten to add, you are. This makes me so angry. And why I think performance related pay is so dangerous. You can do everything in your power to prepare your students, then they can go into the exam hall and write nothing. And this does happen, not very often, but it does happen.  When I was preparing for my Maths GCSE, I had a tutor. We did this because I was struggling. Maths has never been my strong point and I needed extra help. At no point did we blame the teacher for lack of attention or the school for not preparing me, I just needed 1-1 help and this wasn’t possible every lesson at school.

“The key question is, are [GCSEs] fit for purpose for the economy today?”

The quote above is by Graham Stuart, the Conservative chairman of the Commons’ Education Select Committee. For once, I actually agree with a Conservative politician! I don’t think they are. I think GCSE’s lack the very things our young people need for going into the world. Skills, entrepreneurial ideas, innovative thinking, being ready and able to adapt should be at the forefront of qualifications, but they aren’t. Sure, we need to know the basics, but we also need to remember that young people need qualifications that prepare them for their lives, not just to give us statistics to play with. Some GCSE students today will work in jobs that don’t necessarily exist yet. Very few will only work in one sector. There is no such thing as a job for life and schools need to be able to prepare them as best they can for this.

GCSE’s don’t do this, but neither will Gove’s idea of reverting back to O Levels. We need to harness the best minds in education, business economics and government and come up with something new. Otherwise we’ll all fail our young people.

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Buried News

Well, with all the Olympic news, it would have been silly not to release this on the opening day of the Olympics. It just goes to show how clever our Government really are. They released this information during the summer holidays when the worlds media are focused on super-human athletic events. Well, wouldn’t you? If you were about to undermine an entire profession, again?

So what am I talking about? The news report that the Government has decided that all academies should be kept in line with free schools and be able to employ teachers who don’t have QTS. They feel that this way, academies will be able to employ real specialists eg. computer scientists. This also puts the academies on a level footing with free and independent schools who don’t have to employ qualified teachers. This can be looked at in two ways.

One. The Government has our young people’s best interests at heart and wants them to have the most qualified specialists teaching them, so that when they leave school, they will put the UK on the map for all the right reasons.

Two. The Government wants even less responsibility and is continuing its plan to reduce its responsibility of educating our young people.

Now I’m not exactly known for my optimism but this has to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I’ve worked as a mentor on a PGCE programme at a prestigious university and while the majority of the students were great, some of them weren’t. Trust me, you wouldn’t want the bad apples teaching your children. I wouldn’t have put the bad apples in charge of a pencil let alone a young persons education! And these were the ones who’d got through the application process. These bad apples were dealt with accordingly. If they hadn’t been put through their paces, taught how to handle differentiation or behaviour management strategies, then things would have been a disaster. Those that were excellent, and most were, during their PGCE year excelled with the training they received and made great teachers.

I don’t understand where this idea that anyone can be a teacher comes from. They can’t. The same way that not everyone can perform surgery (I’d pass out!), not everyone can be a premier league footballer and not everyone can be education secretary. Teaching is a juggling act. You have to be able to do 15 things at once, while carrying on at least 5 different conversations and thinking about 10 minutes ahead. All the while you need to be conserving enough energy to get you through the day and onto whatever after school meeting/activity you have to do. This is not for everyone, not even the best PGCE providers can turn you into a teacher. Why the Government thinks that just because someone is a specialist in their field means that this will translate into them being able to teach their specialism is beyond me. It will in some cases, and to those people I say bravo! To those for whom it doesn’t, then you have my sympathy.

And I also realise that not everyone who is a qualified teacher is good at it. I have first hand experience of dealing with someone who should never have been allowed in a classroom. The scary thing is how far up the ladder some of these people get. Even scarier is how hard it is getting rid of someone who isn’t up to the job.

I know the Government will waffle something about more power to the headteacher, better financial controls for the school, etc etc. In some cases this will work. In others it won’t. Some schools are already struggling to  see the benefit of being an academy. The financial incentive isn’t there. LEA’s have all but vanished and schools are going to be left floundering. I realise not all schools will jump at the chance of employing teachers without NQT status, but what if they’re cheaper? What if they’re markedly cheaper? How low can we go before we realise that this will cause damage to the education of our young people?

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Hello TED

Education in Britain does seem to be in a bit of a mess at the moment. There’s always discussions about standards, especially at this time of year, but with curriculum reviews taking place left, right and centre, I think that we have to ask ourselves: What do we want our young people to know? How do we want them to be when they leave school?

The most obvious answer is that we want them to be skilled, well educated, decent functioning members of society that contribute positively to society as a whole. It would be easy for me to say that this isn’t happening, and that would be wrong. The vast majority of young people today have these things. But that wouldn’t grab any headlines now would it? It wouldn’t exacerbate the already-strained relationship between Gove/Ofsted and the teaching profession. Having said that, and under the belief that ‘every child matters’, the education system doesn’t always get it right. I’m not going to complain (again) about over-worked teachers and under-funded schools, despite these being a constant issue. There are ways around this and some schools are doing amazing jobs at helping our young people achieve. Educators need to be innovative and that’s why I’m writing this post. I wish I’d come across TED while I was still teaching. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t but I can see so many uses for it across the whole of the school experience.

If you’re not sure where to start, then have a look at this list of 8 Great TED Talks about the Future of Education and Learning. They will inspire you and give you hope that all is not lost. My favourite is the top one, by Ken Robinson. It affirmed my own thinking that not all is well with education. But it also makes me think that we shouldn’t despair – maybe we should vote better, but not despair! If those involved within education speak up during curriculum reviews, like the A Level one that is going on right now, do what they can to be innovative, teach beyond the test and support one another (I’m including SMT’s in this too!) then surely the future of education needn’t be all doom and gloom (or led by Gove!). There are great resources out there and TED is just one of them.

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School’s nearly out for the Summer…

…but the dreaded marking period isn’t over yet.

This year, I’ve done some exam marking. I have a new found respect for teachers who mark alongside their day job. Unbelievable. You might think that when Year 11 and Year 13 go, teachers pop a few DVD’s on and chill out. Nope.

For Year 9, 10 and 12, the exam courses are all continuing and, while teachers might have some ‘gained time’ from the year groups that have gone, most will be busy preparing for September in the vain hope that they can actually have a few weeks off over the Summer Holiday.

Some teachers, however, are marking away like their lives depend on it. And I knew that those who did exam marking alongside their normal teaching load were a bit crazy, but now I have confirmation. There is no way I could’ve marked for an exam board while teaching. There was still way too much to do and I’m not the kind of person that can stay up marking till 2 in the morning and then get up early to do more. But this year, I knew I’d be able to manage my time more easily – for example, my commute now is less than a minute (walking down stairs!) whereas last year it was 45 minute drive each way, depending on traffic, so I opted to try my hand. I asked to mark for one of the RE papers. It was such an interesting experience, despite it being tedious and frustrating at times.

The training was fine, got a nice night away for it; some of the online experiences were fine but some were not. Some of the user interfaces were terrible and I felt that the exam board expected me to know some of the information, which I didn’t! I had to look for things in about three different places and getting a straight answer was very difficult.

Marking the papers was okay, worth doing for the money and a real confidence booster. It finally dawned on me how great a teacher I was, this being enforced by whole centres not knowing the answers to some basic questions. All I could think was, ‘My kids would know the answer to that!’. Plus it made me think how hard I pushed my kids. It paid off, we consistently achieved higher than national averages.

One of the things that dawned on me while I was half way through was so what? So what if the kids could say this and that about God? How will it help them when they’re older? How does getting a GCSE in RE help them? Do employers appreciate it? Does the curriculum encourage tolerance and understanding? Is the syllabus and exam rigorous enough to push and enable all students? Not necessarily. I’m not saying I have all the answers, nor do I agree with Gove and his education plan, but something does need to change. A backwards step isn’t the answer, neither is blaming the teachers.

One thing that did surprise me was that most students put a lot of effort in. I’d often wondered what students wrote when they hadn’t revised or didn’t really care, but while both these were obvious in some papers, at least they tried. Bless them!

If the exam board will have me, I will definitely mark again, if I need the money (!) and have the time. The thing that annoys me about education in the media in this country is that educationalists are always the enemy and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

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I’m Back!

Well, that was shortlived! I honestly thought that I would be giving up New Term. But I was thinking about education. I’m still passionate about it & I still want to be able to comment on it.

So I’m keeping New Term going & will be commenting on the general state of education, great ideas that I have about it (!) and sharing any interesting pieces of information that I come across.

Keep checking back for these wonderful insights! I’ve already got a few ideas that should keep me going for a bit.

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