Friday, December 09, 2011

French school head held hostage by parents demanding a 'tyrant' teacher is sacked

Furious parents today took a headmistress and four other members of staff hostage to try and get a 'tyrant' teacher sacked from a French school.

The extraordinary stand-off saw police flooding into the Roman Catholic Notre-Dame de Caderot school in Berre l'Etang, a suburb of Marseilles, in the south of the country.

'We want one of the teachers fired because he's not up to standard,' said one of the 15 parents occupying the site. 'More generally, we want to see a huge improvement in standards, because at the moment are children are not getting a good enough education. 'We have taken a few hostages, but our children have been held hostage at this school for months.

'The teacher concerned is a tyrant – he treats are pupils abominably. He rants and raves at our kids, causing them psychological problems.'

Christophe Planes, another parent, said: 'We are very worried that the pupils are falling behind in school. 'We think our children are in danger. That's why we have decided to hold the headmistress and a couple of teachers hostage. We want things to change.'

Headmistress Christine Courtot said via mobile phone: 'We had a meeting with parents to discuss their concerns, and then they decided to kidnap me with two teachers.'

The main focus for the parents' anger is a male trainee teacher who is in charge of pupils aged 9 to 10. He has not been named. A spokesman for the school said they had agreed to transfer the teacher to another school, but the parents said they wanted proof.

The siege started late on Tuesday evening when the parents broke into the building and barricaded themselves into a classroom along with the headmistress, two other teachers, and two secretaries.

Although police have surrounded the school, and entered the building, they are under orders not to intervene in the dispute. An Education Ministry spokesman said the school was privately run, and needed to sort out the industrial dispute themselves.

French workers have a tradition of kidnapping bosses during industrial dispute, but this is believed to be the first time that a head teacher has been taken hostage.


Why Britain's private schools have a moral duty not to support government schools

According to Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College, Berkshire, fee-paying private schools have a “moral duty” to help run failing government schools in deprived areas. However private schools are right to question the wisdom of this approach.

First, it is important to remember that the government initially intervened in education in the late 19th century to help support the growth and development of education in deprived areas. However, instead of subsidizing parents and allowing them to choose between a variety of different schools, previous governments directed all public subsidies towards its own free schools, whilst neglecting and ignoring all private alternatives. This subsequently forced the closure of thousands of private and voluntary schools leaving only a small number of private schools to cater for families on a higher income.

As a result, instead of focusing on the development of education in deprived areas, the government soon found itself attempting to manage and control the vast majority of schools serving both rich and poor alike. Unfortunately, any system of education which restricts the freedom of parents to choose will hit those on low incomes the hardest. While better off families can either move to the suburbs in search of a better school or purchase private tuition, those on low incomes who live in deprived areas are forced to accept their local government school, irrespective of how it performs. Government intervention has therefore had the opposite effect from the one that was originally intended.

However, after forcing the vast majority of private and voluntary schools out of business and after creating a system of education which restricts parents’ right to choose and penalises those families living in deprived areas, the government now attempts to blame the remaining private schools for all of the problems which they themselves have just created. And to put things right the guilty private schools must now give a helping hand to the failing government schools which they have helped to create. However, let’s be clear - all apartheid, social division and barriers in education are a direct result of the way in which all previous governments have directed public funds to government schools only, thereby denying parents their fundamental right to choose and eventually crowding out the majority of private alternatives.

Second, to suggest that Eton can help to transform a failing inner city comprehensive government school is to completely misunderstand the nature of the problem. First, I suspect that the knowledge and experience required to educate children who live in deprived areas is slightly different from the knowledge and experience required to educate children who attend Eton. Therefore as Eton will have very little if any knowledge or experience of educating children who live in deprived areas, it is difficult to see what they can bring to the table. Second, all failing (or coasting) government schools located in deprived areas exist because of the way in which all previous governments have directed public funds to government schools only, thereby denying parents their fundamental right to choose and eventually crowding out the majority of private alternatives. It should therefore be blatantly obvious that the only way to solve this problem is for the government to change the way they fund education by creating a level playing field, giving all schools an equal opportunity and by directing all public funds to parents.

Third, by lending their support to failing government schools, private schools will help to prolong the life of a stagnant and immoral government system, which restricts the fundamental right of parents to choose and restricts the freedom of a variety of different organisations to invest and compete in the delivery of children’s schooling. Private schools therefore have a moral duty not to support failing government schools.

Fourth, during the period in which the government proceeded to distort, disrupt and completely undermine the natural growth and development of education in the UK, the private schools that survived have simply gone about their business, doing what they do best, which is providing a unique educational experience to those parents who can afford to purchase it. Therefore to accuse these schools of perpetuating social division, suggests that freedom in education will make those who receive this education better off, only at the expense of those who don’t receive it who will end up worse off. However, one of the key reasons to justify government subsidies in education is because education has some public good qualities, in that the education received by some children will not only benefit these particular children but will also benefit the wider public, who can enjoy the benefits of living in a more educated and civilised society. The better education that one child receives can therefore only be a good thing for the child concerned and for the rest of society.

That said, if Wellington College want to help transform a failing government school then as a private and independent organisation, they are perfectly free to do so. However, attempting to claim the moral high ground by undertaking such an act is a different matter altogether and one that fails to take into account the reason why these schools are failing in the first place and the desperate need for the government to change the way it subsidises and intervenes in education. Therefore, if private schools want to help improve education in deprived areas, they could do much more good by lobbying the government and promoting a change in policy.

In the meantime, if some government schools want to benefit from receiving a service from a local private school then they should be prepared to pay for it. In education, as elsewhere, there is no such thing as a free lunch.


The current British High School exam system is "discredited": Inquiry into cheating row as teachers are 'coached by examiners'

Education Secretary Michael Gove last night ordered an inquiry into claims that examiners have been advising teachers on how to boost GCSE and A-level results. Chief examiners were filmed giving teachers advice on the words pupils should use to get top marks.

Mr Gove said that the footage ‘confirms that the current system is discredited’ and ordered the exam regulator Ofqual to investigate.

The disclosures will add to the row over claims of grade inflation over the past decade and fears over the ‘dumbing down’ of standards.

The undercover investigation found that teachers are paying up to £230 a day to attend seminars with examiners where the advice appeared to go beyond what is allowed. At one such meeting, one of the chief examiners for GCSE history from exam board WJEC was filmed by the Daily Telegraph telling teachers which questions should be expected in the next round of exams.

Paul Evans told teachers at the course in London last month that the compulsory question in the first part of the exam ‘goes through a cycle’.

‘This coming summer, and there’s a slide on this later on, it’s going to be the middle bit: “Life in Germany 1933-39” or for America, it will be “Rise and Fall of the American Economy”… So if you know what the compulsory section is you know you’ve got to teach that,’ he was filmed saying.

When questioned by a teacher on whether this meant they did not have to teach the whole syllabus, he replied: ‘We’re cheating. We’re telling you the cycle (of the compulsory question). Probably the regulator will tell us off.’

In November, at the AQA GCSE English seminar in Brighton, teachers were reportedly told that students could study only three out of 15 poems even though the Qualification and Curriculum Authority states it should be all 15.

In England there are three main exam boards offering GCSEs and A-levels – OCR, AQA and Edexcel – although the Welsh exam board, WJEC, has become more popular.

Critics last night said that the findings were proof that exam boards were lowering standards as they compete with one another to win business from schools. They also warned that it showed examiners were encouraging ‘teaching to the test’.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education said: ‘These findings are shocking, but not surprising, the whole system is rotten to the core. There is no question that standards are going down. Exam boards are competing for custom from schools and the only way to get more schools is to make the exams more attractive. We need to abolish these individual commercial exam boards and create one national exam board that has integrity.’

Announcing the investigation into the claims, Mr Gove said: ‘Our exams system needs fundamental reform. ‘The revelations confirm that the current system is discredited.

‘I have asked Glenys Stacey (the chief executive of Ofqual) to investigate the specific concerns identified... and to report back to me within two weeks with her conclusions and recommendations. ‘It is crucial our exams hold their own with the best in the world. We will take whatever action is necessary to restore faith in our exam system. Nothing is off the table.’

Last night, a spokesman for WJEC said: ‘The advice given in this particular context, relating to nine studies in depth and three thematic studies, is clearly set out in the GCSE History Teachers’ Guide. ‘The examiner at the training course attended… was confirming long-standing guidance on this subject. ‘The alleged use of the word “cheating” appears to have been injudicious, as well as inaccurate; we shall investigate this further.’


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