Tag Archives: gove

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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The RE Review

Religious Education has taken a bit of a battering over recent years. It is very clear that Gove does not want to find a place for it in the modern British Education system. Despite this, the RE community isn’t going to go quietly. From NATRE and the Culham Institute to the Save RE Group on Facebook, the RE community is very alive and shouting their point of view from the rooftops. They are fighting their cause from every corner possible, from writing letters to Gove and Clegg to setting up this review, supporters of RE are reinforcing the fact that good RE is an essential part of the curriculum. As it wasn’t included in Gove’s review of the National Curriculum, the RE Council is undertaking its own review. It is being run by Dr Janet Orchard and it has been broken down into 4 phases, starting with setting up a panel of expert witnesses. Members of the Phase One Expert Panel are:
Bill Gent, Karen Walshe, Lat Blaylock, Julian Stern with Janet Orchard (Project Manager) and Sarah Smalley (REC Executive Support Officer).

The aim of the review is to:

  • Analyse the current strengths and weaknesses of RE
  • Consider the impact of current Government policies on RE
  • Establish a ‘Case’ for RE
  • Refocus the RE curriculum
  • Promote exemplars of good practice in RE
  • A way forward for qualifications in RE
  • Secure the national/local balance of responsibility for RE
  • Identify and resolve further emerging issues

In order to achieve this, the REC is aiming to draw upon its very wide-ranging membership to make the review as inclusive as possible. It’s inviting everyone in the RE community and beyond to have a say on what Phase One has established so far. The consultation is from 12th November until 7th December. So make sure that you get involved and have your say about RE. The Phase 1 report can be found here on the REC’s website.

For More Information:
In order to maximise the consultation phase, the RE Council has created a hash tag, #REReview, to use on Twitter. This is a great way to be able to add your thoughts to the process and see what other people think. Updates about the Review is also included in the RE Council’s monthly newsletter, summarising the latest news, and the RE Review also has its own newsletter, which explains the developments in the review in more detail and this can be found on the REC website.

To find out more information, have your say and to get the latest updates on the RE Review, click on the images below to get to the RE Council website, Facebook page and Twitter timeline.

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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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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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The Joy of Learning

I loved school when I was a kid. I was happy in every subject with the exception of maths. (Numbers & I don’t play well together!) I enjoyed learning & still do, no matter what it is. At the moment I am enjoying learning about new knitting stitches & web design. Inspired by the @ukedchat debate on independent learning got me thinking about why I enjoy learning & others don’t. It was the most frustrating thing as a teacher. Some teachers are being told it’s them, and sometimes it is. Teachers are under more and more pressure to get their students to ‘perform’ well. I know of schools that are telling their teachers if a child doesn’t meet their expected grade, it is simply the fault of the teacher. I am boiling with rage as I type that.

This morning I also noticed a debate on obesity levels led by Zest magazine & how it can be reduced among children. I was disturbed by the number of tweets from people saying ‘schools should teach them how to eat healthy’. Um…they do!

And I guess the thing that angers me the most, still even though I’m no longer teaching, is the perception that it’s always the fault of teachers, schools and education. If I don’t eat fruit or veg, it’s up to me. If I decide to close my mind to new learning experiences, it’s up to me. Even children choose whether they want to eat their greens or do their homework.

I learnt all about food at home. I watched my mother and my grandmothers cooking and baking. Fatty foods were ‘treats’. Homework was done before anything else. It was at home, growing up that these lessons were learnt. Why is it so different now? (I’m only 31 after all!)

How many families sit down to a healthy dinner in the evening and how many won’t? How many children will be given books and educational toys this Christmas and how many will receive computer games, mobile phones & make-up? I was always given presents that encouraged me to do or learn something new. I had (& still have) a huge imagination and relished being creative.

I think my point is this. I wonder when we’ll stop blaming schools for the failings of society. It’s not one teachers fault if a child doesn’t achieve 5 A* – C grades. It’s the whole school, the family, the authorities, government, media & society as a whole. If childhood obesity is on the rise then it’s the fault of everyone, for thinking we can eat fatty foods and not exercise much and children won’t notice. By the time most children reach secondary school they are set in their ways. They’ve watched their family and other people, how they behave, what they do, what their attitude is. By the time they reach key stage four, the battle is almost over and their paths can rarely be changed. If Mr Gove wants education to change, simply forcing his own schooling on the nation’s children isn’t the way to do it.


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Educating Essex

I have been avoiding the new documentary series on Channel 4, Educating Essex. I couldn’t bare the annoying way that the teenagers would be speaking or the frustration on the teachers faces. But I couldn’t hold out & watched all three episodes today. I found it very interesting.

There are loads of lovely teenagers in the education system, who want to learn & get on and be successful. And there are loads that aren’t. They are annoying & frustrating but they’re usually the students that you feel satisfied with when/if they turn it around. I don’t miss being shouted out or spoken to like a second class citizen. But despite this, it wasn’t the students that made me want to leave. It was a number of things.

I think the series really highlights the challenges that most schools feel today. It is so difficult for schools to teach when students have so many distractions, such as mobiles but also there’s so little support in the system. Education psychologists, social services etc have all had their funding cut. Schools have had their budgets cut meaning they’ve had to cut back on the support that they can give to the students. It all means that all staff within schools will have to work even harder to maintain & improve standards and help students increase their life chances.

It is refreshing to see tweets like these from teachers & the public alike, for everyone to really see and understand what it is like to teach in Modern Britain: @Jonsieboy wrote “I hope viewers realise that all teachers deal with stuff like the Vinnie story. And it gets to us all.” @PivotalErica wrote “For any of you who doubt how difficult it is to be a #teacher just watch #educatingessexTeaching is tough, but worthwhile. And people need to respect that & support it as much as possible.

I just hope Mr Gove was watching.

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