Sunday, November 11, 2012

Teachers 'failing to champion excellence', Australian academic warns

Speaking in Britain

School standards are being damaged by a "conspiracy of silence" among teachers who refuse to champion excellence, a leading academic has warned.

Pupils may be missing out on the very best results because of a "great equalisation" at the heart of the teaching profession that fails to mark out and reward top-performing staff, it was claimed.

John Hattie, professor of education at Melbourne University, suggested that too many teachers were reluctant to value expertise for fear of denigrating struggling colleagues.

He insisted that the "tyranny of the closed door" was a major problem as it prevented teachers sharing their best ideas and lessons with their colleagues.

A rigorous focus on teacher improvement is the hallmark of top education systems around the world but a reluctance to adopt a similar system in the UK risks undermining standards, Prof Hattie suggested.

He warned that the impact that schools can have on pupils "will barely change" until drastic reforms are made.

The comments come amid continuing concerns the variable quality of lessons in schools.

In its annual report last year, Ofsted warned that teaching was not good enough in more than four-in-10 English schools, with "dull" lessons fuelling bad behaviour in the classroom.

Ministers have now introduced new rules making it easier for heads to sack consistently struggling teachers. The Government is also considering introducing a new system of performance-related pay to reward the very best staff.

Prof Hattie, an expert in the evaluation of teaching standards, said there was a "great equalisation in the profession that does not welcome excellence and a conspiracy of silence to even talk among each other about the impact of their teaching".

Speaking ahead of a presentation to the London Festival of Education on November 17, he said too many teachers failed to properly observe their colleagues at work.

"The greatest difference between one school and another is the quality of teaching," he said.

"Yet in spite of this there is a conspiracy of silence, with teachers unwilling to talk to their colleagues about the impact of their teaching.

"Teachers, like politicians, prefer to talk about the curriculum, children, assessments and the structural parts of schooling such as the state of the school building.

"Until this situation is properly acknowledged, it just isn't possible to truly change the impact a teacher, a school, even an entire education system, can have on its pupils."

The academic, author of the book "Visible Learning", said the UK education system was not sufficiently geared towards teacher improvement, adding that the profession failed to sufficiently "rejoice" at evidence of improvement being made.

"Teachers too often live in their private worlds with teaching often done in front of classes not visible to colleagues," he said.

"And our studies show that the most high impact and passionate teachers are not always the most social in the staffroom."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, insisted that teachers constantly "strived for excellence" but were hampered by a lack of on-the-job training and attacks from politicians.

"Teachers find their efforts to improve the quality of their teaching stymied by the low priority given to continuing professional development," she said.

"And teachers' morale is at rock bottom - damaged by wave upon wave of denigration by Michael Gove [the Education Secretary] and his acolytes.

"If the situation is to improve, teachers must become partners in the drive to improve education performance. After all, it is teachers who will make the difference - not politicians."


Universities 'grossly distorted' by Government reforms

The higher education system is being "grossly distorted" by Government reforms to universities, a powerful coalition of academics and peers has warned.

Academic research and student teaching has been undermined by the sheer scale of "excessive, inefficient and hugely wasteful" regulations imposed on institutions, it was claimed.

The newly-established Council for the Defence of British Universities, which is being backed by 65 key figures, including Lord Bragg, Alan Bennett, Sir Simon Jenkins and Lord Rees, warned that the "very purpose" of a degree was under threat.

Students are increasingly being seen as "consumers" who are encouraged to invest in an undergraduate course to boost their earning prospects instead of developing their "intellectual and critical capacities to the full", the group suggested.

Particular criticism was levelled at the Coalition's decision to axe all direct state funding for arts, languages and humanities courses while continuing to subsidise science, technology, engineering and maths.

Sir Keith Thomas, the Oxford University historian and former president of the British Academy, said the move will have "unfortunate effects" and could lead to a decline in the study of subjects such as Chinese, Russian, German and French.

The group - which will be officially launched next week - will campaign for the abolition of existing Government quangos set up to fund higher education in favour of fully independent grant-making bodies designed to act as "buffers between the universities and the politicians".

Writing in Times Higher Education magazine, Sir Keith, a member of the council, criticised the "repugnant" treatment of universities by successive governments.

He said it was correct that safeguards should be placed on the spending of public money, but added: "The degree of audit and accountability now demanded is excessive, inefficient and hugely wasteful of time and resources.

"More fundamentally, the very purpose of the university is grossly distorted by the attempt to create a market in higher education.

"Students are regarded as `consumers' and encouraged to invest in the degree course they think most likely to enhance their earning prospects.

"Academics are seen as 'producers', whose research is expected to focus on topics of commercial value and whose 'output' is measured against a single scale and graded like sacks of wheat.

"The universities themselves are encouraged to teach and research not what they think is intrinsically worthwhile but what is likely to be financially most profitable."

In recent years, the system for funding university research has been overhauled, with institutions being scored through a complex mechanism based on quality and impact. Universities also must hit new admissions targets designed to create a more socially-diverse student body and institutions are subjected to additional audits by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

Sir Keith said that the "central values of the university" - to develop students' intellectual and critical capacities - were being "sidelined or forgotten".

Also writing in the Times Higher, Lord Rees, emeritus professor of cosmology and astrophysics at Cambridge University, said academics' morale was being eroded, even at world-leading institutions.

"I am lucky to have spent many years in one in the University of Cambridge. But even there, morale is falling," he said.

"Coffee-time conversations are less about ideas and more about grants, the research excellence framework, job security and suchlike. Prospects of sustaining excellence will plummet if such concerns prey unduly on the minds of even the best young academics."


British father attacks daughter's school after she was told to remove poppy band as it breached health and safety rules

A man whose grandfather was a Second World War soldier has hit out at his daughter's school after she was banned from wearing her poppy wristband because of health and safety fears.

Maggy Lane, 13, was ordered to remove the Poppy Appeal band - a symbol of remembrance sold by the Royal British Legion - by teachers at Shepshed High School in Leicestershire.

The teenager was told the wristband was forbidden because it breached the school's uniform code and it was feared the rubber bangle could get caught on something during a lesson.

The schoolgirl's father Myles Lane, 39, questioned why the rubber bands were banned because of the potential safety risk when students are allowed to wear poppies secured to their uniform by a pin.

'I feel quite passionate about it,' said Mr Lane, who added that his grandfather Arthur Witherbed, who died last year at the age of 90, was part of the Royal Leicester Regiment which fought in Norway in 1940.

'I have always drummed into my daughter the importance of Poppy Day and she had bought the band out of her own money.

'They told me it was a health and safety risk, but they are okay to wear a poppy with a pin on it.

'I can appreciate the school has health and safety issues with bracelets but I think they should be able to make an allowance with a poppy band,' said Mr Lane, a draughtsman.

'Perhaps they could ask students to remove them in potentially hazardous situations like for P.E. and in cookery lessons, then let them wear the bands at other times.'

Mr Lane, from Shepshed, said Remembrance Day held extra significance for his family since his grandfather's death last year.  When the Germans invaded Norway in 1940 Mr Witherbed escaped by walking to neighbouring Sweden. From there he made his way back to England, and he was stationed with the military police at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire.

Adrian Stephenson, joint head teacher at the school, said: 'We don’t allow children to wear wrist bands at school. It is as simple as that.  'We have to stick to the uniform code,' he said.   'When governors put the dress code together, health and safety is part of the issue of wearing jewellery.

'It is important to stress we want the children to understand all about remembrance and it is a central part of what we do, but at the same time, if you want to run a good school you have a set of rules and you have to stick to them,' Mr Stephenson added.

His co-head Stewart Goacher said the wristband was forbidden under the same rules that prevent pupils from wearing bracelets.  Mr Goacher added that the school sells lapel poppies, holds an annual remembrance assembly and supports the charity Help for Heroes.

David Hobday, chair of the Loughborough British Legion, said: 'In theory, I am upset because it is a promotional time particularly for us, but if it is school policy and they have been asked to take them off then that is the school’s prerogative.'


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