Monday, August 30, 2010

British teacher fired for imposing discipline wins employment tribunal

A schoolgirl simulated a sex act in class – and the teacher who disciplined her was fired by a bitchy headmistress. Now he has been vindicated.

It must rate as one of the more vulgar and indecorous moments of misconduct witnessed in a British classroom. During a science lesson with a class of bottom-set 13-year-olds at Collegiate High School in Blackpool, one girl, a known troublemaker, threw herself into the lap of a startled girl sitting nearby and began simulating a lewd sex act.

Her teacher, David Roy, was horrified. When the youngster finally stood up, she wandered around the classroom, disrupting the lesson. Eventually she slumped down upon a table, turning her back on her teacher.

Mr Roy was not prepared to talk to the girl’s back. Nor was he willing to let her disrupt the class. “So I moved the table, which was big and heavy, and in a dramatic gesture — what I would call an exaggerated fashion — she fell off,” he explains.

To Mr Roy’s frustration the lesson was ruined. “I felt sorry for the other pupils who just wanted to learn,” he says wearily. “She was a troublemaker, I knew that.”

Just how much of a troublemaker she was, Mr Roy — a mild-mannered and measured man who says he would never countenance physically abusing a pupil — would find out in the year ahead.

Though the teaching assistant who witnessed the girl’s antics later described the incident as “the worst classroom behaviour” she had ever seen, the girl lodged a complaint. Police and social services became involved and both concluded there was nothing to investigate.

When the school’s deputy head looked into the episode, which happened in September 2008, he exonerated Mr Roy of any wrongdoing. And there the matter may have rested. Instead, it would become the first salvo in campaign that ultimately cost the science master his job.

To Mr Roy’s disbelief, after two more alleged incidents, involving his disciplining of unruly pupils, he was dismissed. In spite of the fact that it was deemed he had no case to answer over the original girl’s complaint, school staff used it as a reason to sack him.

As part of the head’s investigation she did not ask the former Army officer for his version of the later incidents, but relied mainly on the word of the students involved.

She did seek the views of teachers who witnessed parts of the confrontations, but so “abused” the statements that the teachers willingly appeared as witnesses for Mr Roy when he took the school to an employment tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal. One, Allyson England, said she had been “primed” by the head teacher and a human resources officer from Blackpool council to answer questions to support their argument.

Nine days ago, a very different conclusion was reached by an employment tribunal in Manchester. Mr Roy, described as a “model teacher” by colleagues, was awarded £63,000 after winning his case. To his relief he walked out of the tribunal without a blemish on his professional reputation.

Mr Roy’s case was extreme. His supporters say that his dismissal was a moral outrage and that he was the victim of appalling injustice. But it is also the tip of the iceberg.

According to critics, today’s teachers are so bound by the rule books that there are few disciplinary methods left available to them other than to suspend pupils. Government figures show that some of the country’s most unruly children have missed the equivalent of a school term after being suspended more than 20 times in the same year. Incredibly, 1,430 pupils were sent home for bad behaviour at least 10 times in an academic year — and many 20 times.

As Nick Seaton, the chairman for the Campaign for Real Education points out, suspension is the only tool teachers still possess. “In lots of schools it is the only effective punishment left. Instead of teachers being the authority, the pupils have control. Teachers have gradually lost their authority so their only option is exclusion.”

The current situation, the critics say, is a legacy of Labour’s insistence that teaching should be “child-centred”, that pupils should dictate the pace of learning and that their voices should be listened to above all others. The result has been a spate of dismissals of talented teachers. In many cases the teacher under investigation is not even consulted.


British children's grasp of the 3Rs at its worst in a decade: One in five struggling to spell at age seven

Children’s grasp of the three Rs after two years of school is at its worst for a decade, official figures suggested yesterday. One in five seven-year-olds - nearly 105,000 pupils - failed to reach the writing standards expected of their age this spring, struggling to use capital letters and spell single-syllable words.

One in six, or about 84,000, failed to reach expected standards in reading and nearly one in ten - 58,700 - failed to make the grade in maths.

Boys trailed girls in every tested subject, while performance by bright pupils dipped on last year.

Despite record investment in early education by the Labour government, pupils’ average scores in reading, writing and maths combined has fallen from 15.5 points in 2000 to 15.3 this year.

The Coalition responded by pledging a stronger focus on traditional teaching methods, including the back-to-basics ‘synthetic phonics’ approach to reading.

Ministers are planning a new reading test for six-year-olds to identify struggling pupils earlier. Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: ‘In spite of the hard work of teachers and pupils, there are still too many seven-year-olds not reaching the expected level.

‘We need to make sure that government gives schools the support they need to get the basics right. A solid foundation in reading, writing, maths and science in the early years of education is crucial to a child’s success in later life.’

Yesterday’s results are based on ‘key stage one’ assessments of 553,000 seven-year-olds by teachers in English primary schools after formal SATs were scrapped. A sample of the assessments is cross-checked to ensure consistency across the country. They cover speaking and listening, reading, writing, maths and science.

Some 15 per cent of children failed to meet the expected national curriculum ‘level two’ in reading. It means they struggle to read simple passages or express opinions about stories.

Meanwhile 19 per cent fell short of ‘level two’ in writing. This level requires youngsters to be able to use past and present tenses, vary their sentence structures, spell common words correctly and use full stops and capital letters.

Some 11 per cent failed to make the grade in maths, meaning they struggle to count to 100, and a similar proportion in science.

Mr Gibb highlighted an ‘unacceptable’ gap in attainment between rich and poorer areas. He promised extra funds for teaching deprived pupils.

GCSEs taken by hundreds of thousands of pupils this summer were too easy, according to the qualifications watchdog. Isabel Nisbet, chief executive of Ofqual, told the Times Educational Supplement that the general GCSE science and additional science exams represented a ‘collective falling short of the standards that young people and teachers have a right to expect’.

Teenagers passed 60.9 per cent of science GCSEs and 64.7 per cent of additional science papers at grade C or above this summer.


The Power of Choice

Newsweek ran a good article on “New Orleans’ Charter-School Revolution” yesterday, and it shows the possibilities of a very open charter school system:
In most public school systems in America, students attend the school for which their neighborhood is zoned. But in the five years since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has created a school system unlike any other in the country. “We used Katrina as an opportunity to build—not rebuild, but build—a new school system,” says Paul Vallas, the outgoing superintendent of the Recovery School District, which, authorized by the state to turn around failing schools, took over most of New Orleans’s schools after the storm. Last year more than 60 percent of the city’s students attended charter schools; this year nine additional schools switched to a charter model, so that number will be higher. Vallas calls this new paradigm an “overwhelmingly publicly funded, predominantly privately run school system.”

In 2005 Orleans Parish was the second-worst-performing school district in the state, and in some schools 30 percent of seniors dropped out over the course of the year. In 2003 one high-school valedictorian failed the math portion of the state exit exam five times and could not graduate. Things were different at the charters: at New Orleans Charter Middle School, which in 1998 became the city’s first charter school, parents would put their head in their hands and cry if their child’s name didn’t come up in the admissions lottery.

In New Orleans today, students and educators have unprecedented leeway to mold educational experiences. Students can apply to and, if accepted, choose to attend any of the [...] 46 charter schools or 23 “traditional” schools. The vast majority of schools have open-enrollment policies that allow any student to attend, regardless of past academic success. (Schools with more applicants than spots hold lotteries.) The prevalence of charters means that in most of the city’s schools, educators can choose how their schools are run. Even in traditional schools, principals have unusual autonomy over the hiring—and firing—of teachers, since the city’s teachers’ union lost its collective-bargaining rights.

So far, the experiment appears to be working. Before Katrina, two thirds of students were attending schools deemed failing by state standards, notes Leslie Jacobs, a New Orleans education-reform advocate; in the 2010–11 academic year, she says, it will be less than one third. “The fact that we haven’t gotten everything right yet shouldn’t take away from the fact that we’re getting a whole lot more right,” she says. New Orleans schools are still performing below the state average on achievement tests, but according to Jacobs’s analysis of state data, the gap between New Orleans and the rest of the state has basically been cut in half.

Obviously, that’s far from perfect, but it’s more improvement than the city saw under the old regime. I also think that the teacher union’s loss of collective bargaining rights is a big reason that charters schools have the chance to succeed in New Orleans. Public school teacher unions typically act as a special interest groups hell-bent on stopping any kind of competition to the public school model, so they lobby for laws restricting options like vouchers, education tax credits, and charter schools. Missouri, for instance, has fairly strict rules on charters requiring them to have an academic sponsor and restricting their operations to the cities of Saint Louis and Kansas City.

Still, students in Missouri’s charter schools can be expected to outperform their public school counterparts over time, according to a study by Standford University’s Center for Research on Education, which my colleague Josh Smith blogged about last year. If Missouri offered an even more welcoming environment to charter schools — by, say, letting them operate anywhere in the state — we might be able to come closer to matching the impressive gains of the New Orleans’ schools. At the very least, the research shows that charter schools can replicate the academic accomplishments of public schools at a much lower cost, which is still a net benefit over the status quo.

Again, the evidence shows that schools are like most other institutions in that they perform best when their stakeholders have alternatives and choose which establishment to patronize.


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