Tag Archives: schools

Introducing children to data visualisation

The economist and dataviz blogger Jonathan Schwabish took on an unusual challenge, to introduce his son’s primary school classmates to data visualisation.

I wouldn’t know where to start — I’m still not sure of the difference between a histogram and a bar chart — but cleverly, Jonathan begins with examples of diagrams everyone is familiar with. Maps.

Teaching data visualization to kids
I then introduced the term “choropleth” and showed them this map of graveyards in the US and this map of McDonald’s (a couple of kids actually tied the two together!). I also showed them a clip of Aron Koblins’ Flight Patterns project (my son loves this one)—the simple and intuitive animation, and black and white color scheme make it easy to follow. I also showed them a video of Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas’ Wind Map, again, something I think they could all relate to.

He then asks the children to draw their own maps, of their homes rather than the whole world, and to add in any data they liked.

I then passed out tracing paper and, bringing up the graphs I showed them earlier in which color, dots, lines, and bubbles were placed on top of the map, I asked them to plot any data they liked. … Could they add differently-sized bubbles to their favorite rooms? Could they draw lines showing their paths through the house? What about smiley faces for the most fun room?

children-data-visualisation-1

What a fantastic idea. I hope others are similarly encouraged to spread the word in this way. As he says in his conclusion, helping children to understand graphs is a good thing for many reasons.

I’d love to see a way to make data visualization education a broader part of the curriculum, both on its own and linked with their math and other classes. Imagine adding different shapes to maps in their Social Studies classes to encode data or using waterfall charts in their math classes to visually demonstrate a simple mathematical equation or developing simple network diagrams in science class. The combination of the scientific approach to data visualization and the creativity it sparks could serve as a great way to help students learn.

(Via FlowingData.)

A plan to reduce (some) teacher workload

Following on from the Ofsted Chief Inspector’s comments about teachers being ‘reduced to data managers’, the Education Secretary has written to all schools this week, reiterating his commitment to “clamp down on teachers’ workload.” Here’s the DfE’s press release.

DfE: More support for school leaders to tackle workload
Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds said: “Many teachers are having to work way too many hours each week on unnecessary tasks, including excessive time spent on marking and data analysis. I want to make sure teachers are teaching, not putting data into spreadsheets. That’s why I am stopping my department asking for data other than in the school’s existing format.

“I am united with the unions and Ofsted in wanting teachers to do less admin. I have a straightforward message to head teachers who want their staff to cut right down on collecting data to be able to devote energies to teaching: I will support you. Frequent data drops and excessive monitoring of a child’s progress are not required either by Ofsted or by the DfE.”

Here’s a link to the Teacher Workload Advisory Group report and government response.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out and what, if anything, changes. Perhaps less data collection, rather than less data analysis: I can see schools making judgements about students’ progress two or three times a year, instead of three or four, but will they really stop analysing progress by pupil premium, SEN, ethnicity, gender and so on and so on? Perhaps this is aimed at classroom teachers, rather than subject leaders, data managers and SLT data leads.

Understanding EAL students’ backgrounds

A teacher at the school I work at shared these news reports from the last couple of weeks, to give us an insight into the background of some of our EAL students; what they may have experienced in their countries and why they may have come here. I thought I’d share them here too.

Far right in Czech Republic: the politicians turning on Roma
Hostility towards Roma people is so ingrained in Czech political life, the country’s president recently called them “work shy”, and in this weekend’s Czech municipal elections some politicians are openly stirring up virulent anti-Roma sentiment.

I know one should never read YouTube comments, but the majority under that video make for difficult reading.

‘It’s just slavery’: Eritrean conscripts wait in vain for freedom
With their hopes dashed that peace with Ethiopia would bring an end to national service, young Eritreans must either accept a life of forced labour or flee.

“Reduced”?

Have I just been insulted by the head of Ofsted?

Spielman: Teachers ‘reduced to data managers’
Teachers have been reduced to “data managers” instead of “experts in their field”, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman will argue today. “I don’t know a single teacher who went into teaching to get the perfect Progress 8 score (a measure of pupil progress),” she will tell a schools conference in Newcastle this morning.

I see her point, though that’s unfortunate paraphrasing from TES. The Guardian’s version, after the speech actually took place, also has the line ‘reduced teachers to the status of “data managers”.’

Here’s the full, less patronising, quote, with no reduction to be seen.

Amanda Spielman speech to the SCHOOLS NorthEast summit
The bottom line is that we must make sure that we, as an inspectorate, complement rather than intensify performance data, because our curriculum research and a vast amount of sector feedback have told us that a focus on performance data is coming at the expense of what is taught in schools.

A new focus on substance should change that, bringing the inspection conversation back to the substance of young people’s learning and treating teachers like the experts in their field, not just data managers. I don’t know a single teacher who went into teaching to get the perfect progress 8 score. They go into it because they love what they teach and want children to love it too. That is where the inspection conversation should start and with the new framework, we have an opportunity to do just that.

And here’s another write-up, that doesn’t mention us data managers at all.

Spielman: Focus on substance over outcomes will help tackle workload
The chief inspector said she did not think there was an “appetite to revive the inspection model of 20 years ago”, but that the new framework, which will come into effect next September, will build on some of the “strengths” of the current system, “especially letting leaders tell their own story”.

“I also want to rebalance inspector time usage so that more time is spent on site, having those professional conversations with leaders and teachers, with less time away from schools and colleges in pre and post-inspection activity.”

Reading just isn’t a boyish habit?

An article from the Atlantic on a possible contributor to the educational gender gap in schools across the world.

Boys don’t read enough
In two of the largest studies ever conducted into the reading habits of children in the United Kingdom, Keith Topping—a professor of educational and social research at Scotland’s University of Dundee—found that boys dedicate less time than girls to processing words, that they’re more prone to skipping passages or entire sections, and that they frequently choose books that are beneath their reading levels.

But there’s nothing to say this can’t be turned around, though.

David Reilly, a psychologist and Ph.D. candidate at Australia’s Griffith University who co-authored a recent analysis on gender disparities in reading in the U.S., echoed these arguments, pointing to the stereotype that liking and excelling at reading is a feminine trait. He suggested that psychological factors—like girls’ tendency to develop self-awareness and relationship skills earlier in life than boys—could play a role in the disparity, too, while also explaining why boys often struggle to cultivate a love of reading. “Give boys the right literature, that appeals to their tastes and interests, and you can quickly see changes in reading attitudes,” he says, citing comic books as an example.

Topping suggests that schools ought to make a more concerted effort to equip their libraries with the kinds of books—like nonfiction and comic books—that boys say they’re drawn to. “The ability to read a variety of kinds of text for a variety of purposes is important for life after school,” he says.

Back to school

If you work in schools I’m sure it feels like September comes round quicker every year. We were just starting to finally relax and unwind and before you know it we’re back, reading things like this.

Dozens of secondary schools exclude at least 20% of pupils
A spokesman for the trust said it had taken over “some of the toughest schools in England” and repeatedly turned around their performance. He said that in many cases, the schools it had taken over had previously been excluding high numbers of children informally, meaning the increase in the number of official exclusions was misleading.

The Guardian view on education: some things money should not buy
These figures point up a general hollowing out of trust in the state system, which the introduction of competition both reflected and greatly exacerbated. Catchment areas operate as a kind of pre-exclusion mechanism, which keeps poorer children out of good schools just as surely as later exclusions can expel them. In all this, both schools and parents are responding to the logic, and the incentives, of a system predicated on competition as a zero-sum game. We are all poorer as a result.

But cheer up, we’re not the only ones feeling this way. Some of the great artists have identified the same issues.

An art history of back to school
Ever since I published ‘An art history of school inspections’ a few years ago, studying the way that art has portrayed schools has been somewhat of a hobby of mine. In this post, I’ll take you through the ways that artists throughout time have interpreted that key moment in a teacher’s year: going back to school.

back-to-school-2

The first day back has finally arrived in Benjamin West’s ‘These Are the New Guys’ (1776), which depicts the moment when the school’s new staff members are introduced in the first staff meeting, and the entire faculty stare back at them. The new staff members hang their heads and blush as every current member of staff looks at them, some with a sense of envy at their youth, and some with a sense of pity at what these new guys have let themselves in for.

So how do you combat the end of holiday blues and keep that vibe of novelty and freedom going? Suggestions here include joining a club, starting a new hobby, changing your commute. I liked number 7.

Sad summer’s over? 18 ways to keep the health, humour and happiness of your holiday alive
7 Buy a carafe. No, seriously. The best €3 I ever spent went on a little glass carafe that says “quarto litro” at its neck, just like the ones in which the cheapest wine is served in my favourite holiday trattoria. Back home, it encourages restraint on the wine front, while adding ceremony.

back-to-school-3

Happy statistics day

It’s GCSE results day and, despite the new grading system, the news people are bringing out updated versions of their usual it’s-getting-better-it’s-getting-worse stories.

GCSE results day 2018: New ‘tougher’ exams favour boys as gender gap narrowest in seven years
Girls remain in the lead, with 23.4 per cent achieving one of the highest grades, which is the same as last year, compared to 17.1 per cent of boys, up from 16.2 per cent last year. But the gap in top grades between boy and girls is now at its narrowest since 2010, with boys just 6.3 per cent behind girls, down from 7.2 per cent last year.

GCSE results rise despite tougher exams
A total of 20 of the most popular GCSE subjects in England have been graded for the first time in the numerical format – plus English and maths, which were introduced in the new format last year. These include history, geography, sciences and modern languages, all of which have been designed to be more difficult.

Of those achieving all grade 9s – and taking at least seven of the new GCSEs – almost two-thirds were girls.

GCSEs: boys close gap on girls after exams overhaul
Boys appear to have been the major beneficiary of the overhaul of GCSE examinations taken in England for the first time this summer, as results showed across-the-board improvements in boys gaining top marks while girls saw their share of top grades dip.

Across the UK the proportion of students gaining an A or 7 and above, the new top grade used in England, rose above 20%, with boys in England closing the gap on girls with an almost one percentage point rise to 17.1% with girls unchanged at 23.4%.

In the reformed GCSEs in England, 4.3% of the results were the new highest 9 grade, set at a higher mark than the previous A* grade. The figures on Thursday showed 732 students attained seven or more grade 9s.

Despite the improvements by boys in England they were still outperformed by girls at the highest level: 5% of entries by girls received 9s, compared with just 3.6% of boys.

GCSE pass rate goes UP – but fewer students get new top ‘9’ grade compared to old A* mark
The overall pass rate – the percentage of students getting a 4 or above or a C or above – was 66.9 per cent, compared with 66.4 per cent last year.

But just 4.3 per cent of exams were given the new 9 grade, which was brought in to reward the absolute highest achievers. Just 732 students in England got a clean sweep of seven or more grade 9s.

Previously around seven per cent of exams scored the top A* grade.

The more detail-oriented education sector websites are worth a read, if you really want to dig down into all this.

GCSE results 2018: How many grade 9s were awarded in the newly reformed subjects?
There has been a curious amount of interest in how many students might achieve straight 9s in all subjects. It seems to have started with a throwaway remark on twitter by the then-chief scientific adviser at the Department for Education that only two students would do so. Tom Benton from Cambridge Assessment then produced some excellent research showing that it would, in fact, be several hundred.

Today Ofqual has answered the question once and for all. A total of 732 students who took at least seven reformed GCSEs achieved grade 9 in all of them. Given that fewer grade 9s are awarded than grade A*, it should come as no surprise that fewer students will achieve straight grade 9s compared to straight grade A*s.

But it can get a little heavy-going at times.

GCSE results day 2018: The main trends in entries and grades
Across all subjects, 21.5% of entries were awarded a grade 7/A or above, compared to 21.1% last year. At grade 4/C or above, 69.3% of entries achieved the standard this year, compared to 68.9% last year. Both figures have been on something of a downward trend since 2015, so this year’s figures arrest this decline.

GCSE and A-Level results analysis
Explore trends in national entry and attainment data between 2014 and 2018 in:
All subjects
Additional mathematics
Additional science
Art and design subjects
Biology
Business and communication systems
Business studies
Chemistry
Citizenship studies

GCSE 2018 variability charts: Are your results normal?
Each year Ofqual produces boring-sounding variability charts. It sounds dull but they show how many centres, i.e. schools or colleges, dropped or increased their results compared with the previous year. This means that if you dropped, say, 25 per cent in one subject, you can see how many other schools also saw the same dip.

Let’s give the last word to the JCQ and Ofqual, and have done with it: I’m getting a headache.

JCQ Joint Council for Qualifications: Examination results
Each year, JCQCIC collates the collective results for its members from more than 26 million scripts and items of coursework. We only publish collated results from our members though and cannot supply regional, centre or candidate information.

Ofqual Analytics
Ofqual analytics presents a selection of data in an engaging and accessible way by using interactive visualisations. We hope this innovative approach to presenting data will make it easier to understand and explore the data we produce.

Map of GCSE (9 to 1) grade outcomes by county in England
The map shows reformed GCSE full course results (the percentage of students achieving specific grades) in England by subject and county for the summer 2018 examination series as well as the summer 2017 examination series. Data in the map represents the results that were issued on results day for both years (23 August 2018 and 24 August 2017) and do not reflect any changes following post-results services.

happy-statistics-day-2

(All I know is that my boy got his GCSE results today too, and they’re a credit to the amount of time and effort he’s put in over the years.)

Yes, year 11 exams are challenging; that’s the idea

Tom Sherrington on the need for balance and pragmatism when considering school exams.

GCSE Exams: Keeping a proportionate positive perspective.
Despite the fact that we’ve been running Y11 exams in one form or another for decades, there is always a fairly strong undercurrent in the discourse around the annual exam season characterised by a sense of injustice and unreasonableness. […]

This recent article by Simon Jenkins is a classic example of this kind of anti-exam hysteria. It’s so way over the top, it’s hard to take any of the arguments seriously.

Let me restore some balance.

My son’s just about finished his year 11 exams, and I’ve been very proud of his attitude towards them. He’s really taken to heart the maxim, ‘you get out what you put in’.

In my view there is a healthy pressure and work ethic that endpoint assessments generate. As a parent I’ve been quite happy to see my kids work really hard – super hard – for several months, motivated by the desire to succeed; to be ready to do their best. I totally reject the idea that this is intrinsically unfair or unhealthy or that the kind of exam revision required to get top GCSE grades is superficial and temporary. Would our kids know more in five years’ time if they hadn’t sat their exams – no! They’d know much less. They have much greater chance of remembering knowledge having had to revise extensively. This is particularly true, for both of my children and countless students I’ve taught, because the exam revision process had yielded multiple lightbulb moments. The intensity of study suddenly brings things together that were only half understood before.

Artists (and everyone else) against Ebacc

Surely everyone can agree the success of the UK’s Creative Industries is something we can all be proud of. The government themselves published figures in 2016 that show they are worth £84.1 billion per year to the UK economy. And yet the foundation of that success is being put at risk.

This open letter in the Guardian from a wide range of artists — including Antony Gormley, Rachel Whiteread, Mona Hatoum and Anish Kapoor — is just the latest in a long line of complaints people have about the narrowness of the Ebacc curriculum.

British artists: Ebacc will damage creativity and self-expression
We are writing to express our grave concern about the exclusion of arts and creative subjects from the new English baccalaureate, or Ebacc, for secondary school children, which we believe will seriously damage the future of many young people in this country. There is compelling evidence that the study of creative subjects is in decline in state schools and that entries to arts and creative subjects have fallen to their lowest level in a decade. Young people are being deprived of opportunities for personal development in the fields of self-expression, sociability, imagination and creativity.

The introduction of these performance measures and targets that concentrate on core subjects is having an undeniable effect on the range of subjects across our schools.

The disappearing subjects
The change for non-EBacc subjects is clear, depressing and substantial. Whilst some ministers have been in denial about the impact of the EBacc the old, gnarled ex-Deputy Heads with responsibility for the curriculum, options or timetables, of which I am one, knew this data was coming.

Here, the presumptions around some subjects being easier than others are challenged.

EBac: ‘With what authority is it being argued that art, social sciences, D&T, and the rest, are not “stretching”?’
The idea of core academic subjects is an example of lazy thinking. It seems unconnected to the conversations being had in other educationally high-performing countries about what it is to be educated today. In England, we need high-quality options that are broad, rich and deep for all children, not the five restricting pillars that we are being offered.

There are concerns at primary school level, too. In another Guardian open letter, past winners of the BBC Young Musician competition are seeking improvements in music education.

Letters: restore music to our children’s lives
However, despite some brilliant schemes, we are all deeply concerned that instrumental music learning is being left to decay in many British schools to the point that it could seriously damage the future of music here and jeopardise British music’s hard won worldwide reputation.

Today, we are launching a campaign for every primary school child to be taught to play an instrument, at no cost to them or their families. It is crucial to restore music’s rightful place in children’s lives, not only with all the clear social and educational benefits, but showing them the joy of making and sharing music. We are especially concerned that this should be a universal right. This is an opportunity to show the world that we care about music’s future and its beneficial impact on our children.

And here’s a call for a focus on creativity at university level.

The UK’s #1 skill should be creativity
If the review is serious about the skills the country needs then a focus on creativity is essential. Skills developed in art, design, the performing arts, and humanities courses should be given the same value as those found in other disciplines – with creativity the boundary spanning concept for all subjects and disciplines.

Serious unintended consequences may result in the failure to recognise the value of the arts and humanities, and their promotion of creativity as the core skill the country needs. This goes beyond just purely monetary returns, as this number one skill will also lead to a more engaged, joyful and sustainable society.

This debate around the Ebacc’s effects on the subjects schools should be offering has been going on for years. Here is the former Conservative Education Secretary Kenneth Baker, from 2016.

ebacc-2

Kenneth Baker: ‘We need design, art, music and drama in the heart of a new baccalaureate. The current EBacc doesn’t work’
Secondly, the current EBacc is almost word for word a curriculum that was announced by Robert Morant, secretary to the Board of Education, in 1904. Even Morant saw fit to add one technical subject – drawing! It is clear the EBacc is a classic example of old-fashioned thinking. It hasn’t worked very well for the last 112 years, so in its place we should be looking for a 21st-century approach that equips young people for the age of the digital revolution.

Former Tory education secretary Lord Baker attacks government’s EBacc target
“With hindsight, I now wish I had ended the national curriculum at 14,” Lord Baker said. “This narrow-minded view persists that ‘technical’ and ‘vocational’ forms of education are for those who fail to achieve academically; in reality, the countries with the lowest youth unemployment and the most highly skilled workforce are those where technical subjects are studied side-by-side with academic subjects.”

Bad data protection practices save the day

In reviewing our GDPR readiness at work we’ve been discussing the dangers of leaving important documents laying around our offices. Yes, the offices are locked when we’re not there, but what about the cleaners? They have access to all our rooms and offices.

But there are benefits to having nosey school cleaners, it seems.

Woolwich accountant told to pay back £3m or face 8 years in jail
Judge Nicholas Heathcote Williams said in his new judgment: ‘Over nearly seven years Kayode stole and defrauded over £4million from Haberdashers’ by transferring money from their account to his and his wife Grace’s.’

His boss, chief financial officer Paul Durgan, failed to notice any money was missing. Kayode was caught only when a school cleaner spotted bank account statements in his office.

Stressful, testing times

Haven’t we been here before?

Primary school headteacher quits over government’s curriculum reforms with emotional letter
On the controversial Sats exams, Ms Ahmad told The Independent: “I don’t have an issue at all with assessment but why do we have to put these pressures on children? In Year 6 it is exam conditions. In my opinion it is wrong – these children are 10 or 11.

“I feel that cannot put children’s needs first, and in my opinion that is the most important thing. I would do anything to look after my children but it has become harder and harder to do.” Earlier this month, The Independent revealed that thousands of parents are expected to withdraw their 10- and 11-year-olds from the Sats exams next month over concerns about their wellbeing.

Here’s Michael Rosen’s view on the SATs, from a few years ago now.

Michael Rosen: They say we’ve politicised the children’s stress. No, it’s the stress that’s political.
When you have high stakes*, summative**, norm-referenced*** testing, (e.g. SATs) you have to have enough questions which a given percentage of people will get wrong. That’s because the people who design these tests are told that the results have to come out looking right on a particular kind of graph. This is the so-called ‘normal’ distribution of children or students doing a given exam. If a test is given and ‘too many’ children appear to have done well, then the test will be condemned as being ‘too easy’ and newspaper columnists will say that the country is going to the dogs. So, these kinds of tests must have the ‘right’ proportion of failures. It has to be built-in to the test, and into the lead-up to the tests – in other words into what we call ‘education’ (!).

I guess those issues haven’t gone away. But look the government says it’s all going well, right?

Primary school tests show schools rising to the challenge
The national Key Stage 2 results show that 61% of primary school children in England achieved the expected standard, compared to 53% last year.

More money for schools from the Co-op

The Co-op, what I still think of as that little corner shop on the high street, has announced a multi-million pound plan to expand its Co-op Academies Trust programme, and wants to treble the number of schools it sponsors.

Co-op to turbo charge academy schools plan
The Co-op is already the UK’s largest corporate sponsor of Academies, having opened three in the last year to take its current total to 12. Under the existing strategy, the Co-op takes over predominantly weak schools in economically challenged communities in the North, putting in place ambitious turnaround plans.

This announcement has made its rounds across the news websites, including The Sun.

Co-op plans to take over 28 more failing schools after turning around 12 academies
The group, best known for its stores and funeral services, took on its first academy in Manchester in 2010.

This one, from the Yorkshire Post newspaper, adds it on to an article about its announcement of a nationwide scheme to stock local products in its stores.

Co-op announces plans to support local producers
“W​e want these businesses to thrive in our communities and so we don’t seek exclusivity for instance – our ambition is for our stores to be at the heart of local life, connecting communities together and offering great quality products when and where our members and customers need them​,” he added.​

[…]

The ​Co-op ​said its a​cademies have enjoyed huge success, with a strategy designed to empower teachers and young people to work together for a better education and a better community, in line with the Co-op’s own values.

Tes.com emphasises the geographical aspect of the news.

Co-op ‘turbo-charging’ academies sponsorship in bid to boost the North
The announcement comes after a report by Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield last month highlighted that children from poorer homes in northern England face an education gap that starts before school and widens over time.

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership has also called on businesses in the North to do more to help close the skills gap with the South.

The Telegraph’s account is from a more financial viewpoint.

Co-op returns to profit as it bounces back from bank woes
The Co-operative Group’s boss shrugged off the chaos afflicting Britain’s high streets as the mutual announced it had returned to the black after selling its stake in the troubled Co-operative Bank.

The company, which runs food shops and funeral parlours as well as offering insurance and legal services, made a pre-tax profit of £72m in the year to Jan 6, up from a £132m loss the year before.

[…]

The Co-op also announced plans to sponsor 28 academy schools in the next three years in addition to the 12 it already has. It hopes to hire 250-300 workers from the schools by 2022, but Mr Murrells said the move was based on its aim to “do good in society” rather than for business reasons.

This must be all too much for the Independent. Yes, the Co-op’s doing well at the moment, but it won’t last.

Co-op: Roaring back and in the black but is it just a bit too busy?
That sort of thing is what might make long term watchers of this institution shudder. Just a bit. It has uncomfortable echoes of what the business used to do in the bad old days when it was cursed with executives who, as eventually became clear, were much better at politicking and unveiling grandiose plans with great fanfare than they were at business.

Nudge the parents to nudge the children

Here’s an interesting idea from a school wanting to help parents better engage with their children’s experiences at school.

How nudges can help parents to get more involved in their children’s learning
After hearing Tom Middlehurst speak at an SSAT National Conference 2017 of the effectiveness of sending ‘learning prompt’ messages to parents in schools, we decided to give it a try. We used text messages to generate discussion between our students and their parents/carers, ensuring our nudges were action–focused, with a clear timescale.

[…]

Informal feedback has been very positive. From my discussions with students the day after each text I’d estimate 30% have talked about it at home. A few unintended consequences have emerged:

Parents making their child revise that evening simply because the text nudged them to think about it.

Some students reported having more learning conversations in the weeks following the texts.

Parents feel more equipped to ask follow-up questions on subjects such as the similarities between Banquo and Macbeth.

(I’ve repeated the word ‘nudge’ too many times in my head and now it doesn’t make sense anymore nudge nudge nuj nujj)

Ofsted grades not fit for purpose?

A very interesting read about the need to move away from Ofsted grades.

Five reasons to ditch Ofsted grades
I reckon that in 50 years time, we will look back at the current Ofsted-grading era as one of the big educational blackspots of history. Serious educationalists and policy makers will laugh in knowing horror … at the extraordinary folly of a defunct inspection regime that involved sending a tiny team of people to schools they’d never been to before for a day or two to evaluate them against a massively long list of criteria and give them an overall one-word judgement. All of this while also projecting a national illusion that these judgements made by different people were fair, accurate, reliable and consistent across time and across the nation. And all of that alongside the delusion that this actually made for an ever-improving education system. Ho ho.

[…]

5. Every School Requires Improvement. Finally, isn’t this just the most obvious thing; all schools require improvement. Wouldn’t it just be so much better if we took all the labels off the reports, forced people to read them and left all schools with a record of their areas of strength and areas for development? Sure, we need a category for ‘below the line’ – and a separate process for dealing with urgent safeguarding failures – but even here I would argue that it should be called something that suggested maximum support was on its way, recognising the challenges at work – not the pejorative Jack Boots of ‘inadequate’ that just kicks everyone in the teeth.

The challenges and rewards of an inner city school

Even though I’ve worked in a school for a couple of years, I still consider myself new to the sector, after working in universities and colleges for almost 20 years. They’re quite different now, from how I remember mine.

A news team visited an inner city school in Leeds, to share the types of difficulties and opportunities some schools face these days.

The school with 72 languages
Every week we hear about the huge challenges for schools up and down the country – from funding cuts, to talk of a recruitment crisis. Calendar was invited into one particular school – where students speak 72 different languages. It provides many challenges for the Co-operative Academy – in Burmantofts – one of the most deprived areas of Leeds. Not least how to teach children – many of whom do not speak any English – the curriculum.

The dedicated teachers at the Co-operative Academy
The Co-operative Academy in Leeds is in one of the poorest and most diverse areas in the city. Here 75% of students don’t speak English as their first language. And more than 60% are eligible for pupil premium funding – for those with low incomes. That’s more than twice the national average. It means teachers here have a very difficult – and sometimes upsetting – job on their hands. Here’s the second of Helen Steel’s special reports.

Raising aspirations in inner-city school
In the final of a three-part series by Calendar reporter Helen Steel, we see how staff at the Co-operative Academy of Leeds – in one of the most deprived inner-city areas of the UK – are determined to raise aspirations.

So it’s not just the students that cheat

The Guardian reporting on a Sunday Times story.

Thousands of teachers caught cheating to improve exam results
Nearly 2,300 malpractice offences were committed by staff in educational institutions offering OCR exams between 2012 and 2016, according to data obtained through a freedom of information request by the Sunday Times. More than half of the teachers committing malpractice offences were accused of providing “improper assistance” to students taking exams. In comparison, there were 3,603 cases of candidates being caught cheating over the same period.

Read more on The Times website (if you’ve bought a subscription).

Thousands of teachers caught cheating in exams
Teachers cheat in exams nearly as often as pupils but escape with far lighter punishment, according to figures that OCR, one of the country’s leading exam boards, tried to suppress. The scandal has come to light after the information commissioner ordered OCR to answer questions from The Sunday Times.

And here’s The Telegraph, not to be outdone, wanting to remind us of its own investigative journalism.

Thousands of teachers caught cheating in tests as MPs demand transparency from exam boards
The disclosures come after an investigation by this newspaper last year uncovered an exam cheating scandal embroiling senior teachers at some of the country’s leading independent schools. The scandal, which resulted in the Government ordering the exam regulator Ofqual to launch an inquiry, saw teachers at Eton and Winchester College dismissed for leaking details of upcoming test papers to their pupils.

No going back to school?

The academisation cliff-edge: ‘You’re handing your school over for adoption and there’s no changing your mind’
So what can you do if you join and it’s not working out? Well, not a lot. The journey from maintained school to academy is a one-way ticket. No pressure, governors, but you’re signing your school over for adoption and there’s no changing your mind, no going back. You sign over your legal rights, your assets and your future to the MAT. Your school is no longer run by 15 enthusiastic local governors and the SLT, it’s overseen by nine people based 40 miles away who have only visited a handful of times.

This article, from a parent governor of a primary school in Derbyshire, makes for alarming reading. He’s certainly very anxious about the “choiceless choice” before him. Is it really as bleak?

Capita? As in SIMS Capita?

Here’s one of several articles about Capita’s profit warning announced today:

Capita shares plunge 35% after outsourcing giant announces shock profit warning and rights issue
New chief executive Jonathan Lewis, who took up the role on 1 December, said “significant change” was needed to get Capita back on track. He said an “immediate priority” was to strengthen the group’s balance sheet, with plans to raise as much as £700m in a rights issue, as well as slashing costs after finding “significant scope” for savings and aims to sell off unprofitable businesses.

Some have the shares dropping by as much as 45%, but this headline caught my eye:

Capita collapse could create bigger headache than Carillion’s demise
A potential collapse of Capita could create an even more of a headache for the public sector than Carillion since it is the biggest supplier of local government services in the UK, according to Tussell data. “If Capita were to fail the ensuing political fallout would make Carillion look like a tea party,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

Too big to fail, surely?

Academies shmacademies

Didn’t have them in my day, of course, but academies are all you ever hear about now. A change for the better and a force for good, or privatisation by the back door? As ever, I’m finding it’s more complicated than that. Coming from the HE sector, I’m not so familiar with the politics here, so here’s a round-up of some of the news stories that have caught my eye.

First there’s this, about central government’s plans to take every school in England out of local government control.

Every English school to become an academy, ministers to announce
Concerns have already been raised about whether there would be enough good sponsors to take on schools. With many more schools facing academisation, that task will be even greater at a time when some academy trusts are facing criticism for under-achievement. MPs sitting on the education select committee announced this week they would be launching an inquiry into multiple academy trusts after a series of Ofsted inspections raised concerns.

Those plans were unveiled in the budget, of which more here.

Budget 2016: The 5 things schools need to know
#1 Every school to become an academy. Every state primary and secondary school will be expected to have either become an academy by 2020, or to have an academy order in place to convert by 2022. Osborne has already indicated that schools which fail to meet these criteria will face “radical intervention”.

And here.

Budget 2016: School days to become longer as all schools forced to become academies
Mr Osborne will tell MPs he is allocating an extra £1.5bn in the Budget to increase classroom standards to help pupils match the levels of their international counterparts. English secondary schools will be invited to bid for a slice of that money to enable them to stay open after 3.30pm, offering up to five hours a week of additional classes or extra-curricular activities. The cash will enable around a quarter of secondaries to be open later.

I wonder if that invitation to extend the curriculum is in response to the perceived shrinking of it following EBacc. But back to academies. People seem quite negative about them, so I thought I’d look for a more positive opinion.

This Budget will liberate schools from the tyranny of local authorities
It’s impossible to say definitively that this improvement is due to academisation, but that was the provisional conclusion of the House of Commons Education Select Committee which produced a report on academies last year. There’s plenty of international research showing the effect of competition in public education is positive.

It does seem easier to find more negative stories than positive ones, though.

Government under fire for secrecy surrounding key decisions about academies and free schools
The DfE argued that releasing the information would prejudice the conduct of public affairs and said “it is considered to be commercially sensitive information”. Scott Lyons, joint division secretary for Norfolk NUT, said: “Parents should be worried, especially in the light of proposals to get rid of parent governors. How are people going to be able to challenge how academies are run?”

‘Never look where their hands are pointing’: The hidden parts of the white paper
Forcing freedom on schools is bizarre. Planning not to enforce it until 2022 is even stranger unless you are hoping that people will do the hard work for you, and convert before you even need to pass a law. While that battle is being fought, however, remember the other 37 policies, plus these oddities, will also be on the go.

‘They’ve gone bonkers’: Tory councillors angry with academy plans
Perry, who also speaks on a national level as chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, has always been open-minded about academies. But on forced academisation, he said it was like an entire class of children being kept back for detention just because one or two have misbehaved.

Headteacher promises ‘non-corporate’ academy chain if forced to convert
“Any Huntington academy will focus upon improving the quality of teaching and learning above all else, to the benefit of our children, just as our parent wishes,” he said. “If you begin and live by those values then whatever decision you make about academisation, because clearly it is inevitable, then you have a chance of doing something good.”

Academy trust lauded by Cameron in ‘serious breaches’ of guidelines
Government reports raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest involving Perry Beeches academy trust and companies linked to some of its senior administrators. They also found problems with the number of pupils declared as eligible for free school meals.

I’ve never worked in an academy before this one, and I have to say there is a positive and upbeat approach here, one I wouldn’t expect to find if I believed everything I read in the media. There is a definite mismatch between what I’m seeing and what I’m reading.

And some other people, at least, think the future could be bright for academies and multi academy trusts:

How can MATs be more than the sum of their parts?
How can Multi Academy Trusts realise their potential in a rapidly changing educational landscape so that they become more than the sum of their parts and make a contribution to system leadership that transforms education as we know it?