Thursday, December 17, 2009

More British parents 'educating children at home'

Growing numbers of parents are shunning state schools to educate their children at home

Up to 150,000 children are taught outside mainstream schools and numbers are "believed to be growing steadily", said the Commons schools select committee. In a report published on Wednesday, it was suggested the trend was driven by parents’ failure to get sons and daughters into their preferred school, coupled with the impact of testing and a perceived rise in bullying.

MPs said there was also growing evidence that some children were being effectively forced out of school by head teachers and local councils. Parents were "coerced to deregister" children from school because of problems with their examination results, attendance or behaviour, said the report.

The findings will raise fresh fears that schools are prioritising their reputation and league table position over the needs of individual children. It came as the select committee criticised new rules designed to crackdown on parents who educate their children at home.

Earlier this year, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, announced plans to force all families with children taught at home to register sons and daughters with local councils for the first time. They must also submit lesson plans every 12 months. Under proposals, authorities can “inspect” parents’ homes and order children back into school if education standards are not high enough. The move followed claims in a study by Graham Badman, former head of education at Kent Council, that home education could be a front for abuse.

In the least report, the select committee said these claims were built on a “less than robust evidence base”. MPs welcomed some of the measures to improve home education but insisted many of the recommendations went too far. It suggested the registration scheme should be voluntary and education officials lacked the training and expertise to support families. MPs also demanded the introduction of a more precise definition of what constituted a “suitable” education.

The study said that – despite the action – more parents were choosing to educate children in their own home. “The lower estimate is 45,000 – higher estimates are 80,000 and 150,000,” the study said. This represents up to two per cent of the 7,300,000 schoolchildren in England, it was disclosed.

MPs said that a “common motivation” for pulling children out mainstream education was the “nature of schooling, including the impact of testing on children and children’s learning”. Children with special needs were often educated at home because local authorities had failed to cater for them in normal schools, it was claimed.

The report added: “There were also references to instances where children had been so badly bullied and traumatised by their time at school that they did not feel able to return to a school environment. “The comments of some of the local authority officers with whom we met as part of our inquiry suggested that the failure to obtain a place for the child at the family’s preferred school was another reason for a family to choose to home educate.”

In some cases, local councils and schools "coerced" parents into pulling children out of mainstream education, MPs said. "Local authorities and schools encourage parents to deregister their child from school it is typically as a result of a child’s poor school attendance, poor behaviour and/or poor attainment," the report said. "That schools are held accountable on all three is no doubt part of the explanation for this practice."


Australian universities bribed to accept unqualified students

Fixing the High Schools is the real solution to helping the poor but spending the taxpayers' money is so much easier

UNIVERSITIES are likely to have a significant financial incentive to enrol poor students as the federal government's loading for low-socioeconomic status students increases to about $1500 a student by 2012. While the initial loading set for next year of about $540 a student doesn't cover the costs of successfully teaching non-traditional students, who are generally less prepared for university study, it is five times the present rate of low-SES loading.

The loading, which is sourced from a fixed four-year bucket of money, is dependent on the number of students in any year. It is forecast to be about $1033 in 2011 and $1434 in 2013. The HES has seen internal cost estimates from one university suggesting the extra cost of low-SES students is in the region of $1100 to $1200 a student. About $42 million will be available for the loading next year, rising to $84m in 2011 and about $126m in both 2012 and 2013.

"The low-SES student loading is generous and, combined with proposed additional funding for the progress and retention of these students, will ensure that educational equity becomes more than a discretionary policy," said Deakin University's manager of student access and equity Jennifer Oriel. "It is an incentive to give these students the red carpet treatment," Richard James, director of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, told the HES.

Professor James said the loading would allow universities to invest in extra student support and new curriculum in the first year to better cater for these students and encourage their retention. He said the initial loading was modest but at the higher rates it would be "a serious financial incentive for universities".

The government signalled that in identifying low-SES students next year it may use Centrelink data on student income support to supplement its reliance on ranking post codes. Such a combined measure would apply in the interim while more accurate measures were developed. These could take into account parental education and may utilise a smaller geographic indicator than post codes such as census collection districts, which comprise about 250 households.

The government has released a discussion paper on measures. Submissions are due by February 5.

The government has allocated $433m during the four years to June 30, 2013, towards raising the participation at university of students from the poorest 25 per cent of society, from about 15 per cent of the student body now to at least 20 per cent by 2020. That is about a further 55,000 low-SES students.

About $325m will be allocated as a loading for low-SES enrolments and $108m will fund partnerships between universities, schools and vocational providers to boost aspirations and pathways to university for low-SES students. About $14m of partnership money will be available to the sector next year and will be divided equally among the 38 universities. From 2011 the money will be allocated as grants to individual proposals and projects as approved by the government.

Successful applications will be judged on a series of principles. Among them are that the proposals include mechanisms to measure results and, where appropriate, that they address early intervention, defined as beginning before year 9.


Australian principals seek to hire and fire

SCHOOL principals are calling for the power to hire and fire teachers and manage their schools if they are to be held accountable for student results with the publication of national performance reports next month. With the launch on January 28 of the myschool website, on which student results for every school in the nation will be publicly available for the first time, principals are worried they will be held responsible for their school's performance while many are denied the power to effect changes necessary for improvement.

The presidents of the primary and secondary school principal associations, Leonie Trimper and Andrew Blair, argue that international research shows a direct correlation between a principal's ability to select staff and school results.

Education Minister Julia Gillard agrees that principals should be given more control over the running of their school, and says comparison of school results in January will provide evidence on the effectiveness of different management practices. The issue was raised at a principals forum last month hosted by Ms Gillard, where Adelaide high school principal Wendy Johnson questioned the validity of school comparisons on the website. Myschool attempts to compare schools considered alike in their students' social makeup.

Ms Johnson said a group of similar schools could include very different management practices, and compare a school where a principal was able to hire teachers with another where a principal had to accept the teacher sent to them from the education department.

Ms Johnson, principal of Glenunga International High School, yesterday said that international research showed the key to making a difference in student learning was the quality of a teacher, which could account for up to 30-40 per cent of student results. "If you have teachers who want to be working with these students and want to be working in that particular school with its particular emphasis, its particular directions and its particular culture, you have enormous advantage over a situation where a teacher might be not bothered or the match between the school culture and their beliefs doesn't sit well," she said. "If you have no control over it, it's really difficult to hold you accountable. Every principal is committed to making an improvement in student outcomes -- that's why we went into teaching in the first place -- but if you don't have the material to make a difference it makes it really difficult to deliver."

State education departments give their schools varying degrees of autonomy, with Victorian principals having the most control and NSW considered to have the most centralised system. Western Australia is relaxing its control in some schools next year, with the introduction of 30 "independent public schools", allowing principals and parents greater control over their school including hiring teachers.

Mr Blair, president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association, said principal autonomy was a necessary precondition for school improvement. He queried the validity of comparing schools with different principal powers, asking how accountable a principal was for the results of teachers that were sent to the school.

Ms Trimper, president of the Primary Principals Association, said matching the needs of the school and its students with the expertise and skills of the teacher would improve the system. "Name any company that sits back for Centrelink to ring and say, `Here's your 10 staff'," she said. "It just doesn't happen."

Ms Gillard said there were differing views among school principals about the nature of school management and leadership, but the federal government was encouraging greater empowerment of principals through its national partnerships on disadvantaged schools and teacher quality. The Education Minister believed devolving power to local schools and principals could make a difference to students' results. "But the more weight we put on the shoulders of school leaders, the greater the obligation we have to support and nurture school leadership," Ms Gillard said.


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