Monday, November 19, 2012

Politicians are demonising independent schools, says top head

 The leader of Britain's public schools has accused senior politicians of "demonising" independent education.   In an outspoken attack, Dr Christopher Ray says there has been "wilful mischaracterisation" of fee-paying schools by political leaders, including "malicious" attempts to downplay the help they offer to poorer families and to state schools.

 At the same time, he says, ministers over the years have failed to improve standards in state schools, leading increasing numbers of parents to seek to go private.

 In an article for The Telegraph, Dr Ray, the chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, writes that British public schools are "the envy of the educational world, even though we are demonised by some here at home".

 "The existence of incredibly successful independent schools is an irritant to many Labour politicians, a puzzle to Liberal Democrats and, it often seems, an embarrassment to the Prime Minister.

 "We are often damned with the faintest of praise, knowing that they cannot afford either financially or politically to dismantle us, whatever sabre-rattling they employ."

 David Cameron has appeared sensitive to accusations from political opponents that his "posh" or "privileged" education at Eton College leaves him out of touch with voters.

 The few prominent Labour politicians who have sent their children to private schools have faced fierce criticism from within their own party.

 The attack by Dr Ray, who is also the High Master of Manchester Grammar School, comes at a key time for the Coalition as ministers seek to persuade independent schools to sponsor new academies in their flagship education programme.

 However, Dr Ray criticises academies and the claim by their supporters that they benefit from being independent of local education authority control.

 He says their continued reliance on state funding means they are not truly independent and that the term has been "abused by those who would like to dupe us into thinking that red is blue".

 He points out that an increasing number of academies are in chains run by powerful chief executives, and notes that the freedoms they now enjoy may be reined in by a future government - "What one secretary of state may give, another may take away."

 He directly dismisses an appeal from Lord Adonis, the former Labour schools minister and one of the architects of the academies policy, who this month urged independent schools to get involved with the programme, warning that otherwise they risked failing in their charitable missions.

 In his article, Dr Ray accuses Lord Adonis of "failing to understand the nature of the independent sector". "It is ludicrous to characterise us all as exclusive public schools, educating only the rich."

 The dispute echoes the row between public schools and Tony Blair's government in 2006, when the Charities Bill forced head teachers to justify the "public benefit" their institutions were providing in order to retain charitable status, which allows them not to charge VAT on school fees.

 In his party conference speech this year, Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, made a point of highlighting his education at Haverstock comprehensive school in north London, claiming that his time there had taught him "how to get on with people from all backgrounds".

 Mr Cameron did not mention Eton by name in his speech but simply said: "I went to a great school and I want every child to have a great education."

 In a broad-ranging attack on standards in state schools, Dr Ray says that under Labour they "stubbornly resisted improvement" while a policy of "spend, spend, spend" had left only a "mess, mess, mess".

 Grade inflation at GCSE and A-level, he argues, masked a decline in the performance of students relative to their international peers as recorded in tables released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

 About half a million children now attend independent schools, accounting for around seven per cent of all pupils aged 11-16. They produce a fifth of all students at the country's top 10 universities.

 A survey published earlier this month found that 57 per cent of families would send their children to an independent school if they could afford to, up from 51 per cent in 1997.

 Supporters of private education have argued that it saves taxpayers £3 billion a year, the extra cost that would fall on the state system if it were required to educate all the pupils currently at independent schools.

 Last year, independent schools supported almost 40,000 children on means-tested bursaries with an annual value of almost £300 million, while more than 1,000 fee-paying schools had partnership links to help state schools or local community groups.

 Dr Ray has led Manchester Grammar, a boys school founded in the 16th century, since 2004. The school, whose alumni include Mike Atherton, the former England cricket captain; Ben Kingsley, the actor and Chris Addison, the comedian, provides 230 bursaries for children from poorer families, has links with three academies and partnerships with 10 state primaries.


Britain's compulsory reading test 'should be scrapped'

Bright children are being "failed" by the Coalition's controversial new reading test for six-year-olds, literacy experts warned today.

Pupils with fluent skills are being confused by the assessment that forces children to decode "nonsense" words using phonics, it was claimed.   The UK Literacy Association warned that the test - compulsory in all English state schools - may label some good readers as failures and knock children's confidence.  In a damning report, it was suggested that the checks were "costly, time-consuming and unnecessary".

The Department for Education has defended the test, which was introduced for the first time this year, insisting that it enabled teachers to identify pupils lagging behind in reading after at least a year of school.  It is feared that any failure to improve reading skills at a young age can have hugely damaging effects on pupils throughout primary and secondary education.

But David Reedy, UKLA general secretary, called for the tests to be made voluntary.  "This shouldn't be a compulsory test and we strongly recommend that the Government re-thinks this," he said.

"We know phonics is important, but for some children it is holding them back. It should be part and parcel of what teachers have to hand and they should be able to use it when they think it's necessary."

The check is taken by around 600,000 pupils at the end of their first year of formal schooling. Pupils are supposed to use phonics - a system which breaks words down into a series of sounds - to decode a list of 40 words.   The list includes made-up words such as "voo", "terg", "bim", "thazz" and "spron" to ensure pupils are properly using the phonics system.

A study conducted by the UKLA analysed teachers' opinions of the test at 494 primary schools in England.

Many schools said the results of the check, which is used as an indicator of a child's reading skills, "did not reflect children's reading abilities as there is much more to reading than decoding".

Only around one in six of those questioned said that all of their pupils who were fluent readers achieved the required level to pass the phonics check, the study found.   Almost three-quarters said that one or more of their good readers failed to meet the expected standard to pass.

UKLA's study found that teachers felt there were "far too many nonsense words".  "These confused more fluent readers, who had been taught to read for meaning, and therefore tried hard to make sense of the 'alien words' they read," it said.

The study warned that the check focuses on decoding words without their meanings, which "goes against everything the children have been taught".

One teacher told researchers: "The test took longer for some able readers who read for meaning. I felt that words very close to real words were unfair - e.g. 'strom'."   And another said: "Almost all children, regardless of ability said 'storm"'.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "The phonics check is based on an internationally proven method to improve children's reading.  "Too many children are not reaching the expected levels of reading whilst at a young age, do not catch up, and then struggle in secondary school and beyond.  "The pilot last year found that the test only takes a few minutes to complete, and that many children enjoyed it.

"Ensuring all children master the ability to decode and sound out new words is essential if they are to become confident readers. The phonics check will ensure that no child slips through the net still struggling with this basic skill."


1 in 5 boys at British primary schools have no male teachers while some could go through their entire education without one

Nearly one in five boys is being taught in a primary school without a single male teacher on the staff.

Official statistics compiled for the first time reveal how 360,485 boys aged four to 11 are attending schools which have only women teachers.

Of these, 61,060 are eligible for free school meals because of low household income.

The disclosure prompted claims that too many boys are having little or no contact with an adult male before they reach secondary school.

And since the number of male teachers is also low in many secondary schools, some could go through an entire education without being taught by a male teacher.

With women increasingly taking on the role of caretaker, in some schools 'there will be no male on the premises', according to experts.

The figures, which were placed in the House of Commons library, will add to fears that misbehaviour among disaffected boys is partly driven by a lack of male authority figures.
Lack of role models: Some boys could even go through their entire schooling including secondary without having a male teacher

Lack of role models: Some boys could even go through their entire schooling including secondary without having a male teacher

The data shows that 18 per cent of two million primary age boys in England are being taught in schools with no qualified male teacher on the staff.

But in some areas, particularly the south east and east of the country, the figure is significantly higher.

The Department for Education said campaigns to boost the number of male teachers in primary schools were beginning to bear fruit.

Officials said the number of accepted male applicants onto primary training courses was up 50 per cent in three years.

They said a more balanced workforce would better reflect society at large and help children to engage confidently with both sexes.
But they insisted the aim was not to achieve statistical equality but to recruit 'the best possible teachers'.

John Howson, a teacher recruitment expert and visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University, said that in some schools, all staff including the caretaker will be women, 'so there will be no male on the premises'

With men in secondary schools were over-represented in leadership roles, 'it is perfectly possible for boys to go through their education without a single classroom teacher who is male.'

'The changing nature of households is such that there are significant numbers of children who, even though they may spend a lot of their childhood in households with more standard relationships, will go through periods of time where there is no male role model around,' he added.

'School is the only other institution in society nowadays where they spend any additional amount of time.'

Some boys may grow up with a 'distorted' view of society, he warned.

'If you never get a chance to interact with one gender, then you are not getting a rounded education,' he said.

'We talk about female role models - why can't we have male role models in schools?'

He warned that past paedophile scandals have tended to have a knock-on effect on recruitment to teaching.

While education has been largely immune from the current furore which began with revelations about Jimmy Savile, there is a risk some may be put off, he warned.

'We have to make teaching an equal opportunities career which is attractive to both men and women,' he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: 'We want more men to consider primary teaching. Applications from men have already risen, with 50% more male primary trainees in 2011/2012.

'We're encouraging men to apply for training places by holding events where they can speak to teaching experts and other trainees. Up to 1,000 high quality male graduates will take part this year in a new school experience programme which will boost numbers further.'


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