Thursday, August 14, 2014


The Department of Education released a fact sheet Monday about the availability of public school education for undocumented immigrant children — specifically the tens of thousands unaccompanied minors who have recently entered the U.S. illegally.

“We have begun to receive inquiries regarding educational services for a specific group of immigrant children who have been in the news – children from Central America who have recently crossed the U.S. - Mexico border,” the Department of Education explains.

“This new fact sheet provides information to help education leaders better understand the responsibilities of States and local educational agencies (LEAs) in connection with such students, and the existing resources available to help educate all immigrant students – including children who recently arrived in the United States,” it adds. 

The fact sheet lays out the basics about the undocumented immigrant children’s rights and what communities can do to help with enrollment.

“All children in the United States are entitled to equal access to a public elementary and secondary education, regardless of their or their parents' actual or perceived national origin, citizenship, or immigration status,” the fact sheet explains. “This includes recently arrived unaccompanied children, who are in immigration proceedings while residing in local communities with a parent, family member, or other appropriate adult sponsor.”

Since October more than 62,900 unaccompanied minors have been detained illegally entering the U.S., the vast majority of who have been from Central America. As the fact sheet explains, the unaccompanied, undocumented minors are placed in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) where HHS offers “educational services.”

HHS then releases the children into the United States into the custody of a family member or other “sponsor,” while in their care the undocumented immigrant children “have a right” to attend public school.

“While residing with a sponsor, these children have a right under federal law to enroll in public elementary and secondary schools in their local communities and to benefit from educational services, as do all children in the U.S.,” the sheet explains.


How badly do we teach our children?

There are many occasions when I’ve been ashamed of my parenting skills. Homework is a particularly contentious issue. Trying to get an eight-year-old to sit still and focus when she’d prefer to waft around the room, talking and doing anything else, is beyond frustrating. lf she would but just concentrate for five minutes, she’d get it done – and my finely tuned evening routine of putting children to bed, while preparing for an early-morning start for the Today programme, would not be disturbed. Now they are older, my girls tell me: “You used to get really stressy.”

According to Professor John Hattie, I needn’t have. Homework in primary school adds little or nothing to a child’s education, and the only reason it is given is to satisfy pushy parents.

I spoke to Prof Hattie as part of a new BBC Radio 4 series called The Educators. Over the coming eight weeks, I shall be interviewing eight people on the front line of education, at home and abroad, who are influencing current thinking.

Prof Hattie, from the University of Melbourne, has reviewed thousands of international research papers on every aspect of teaching from class size and uniform, to projects, class discussions and school type. By making the findings directly comparable, he has produced what amounts to a league table of “teaching interventions”. The results are astonishing.

Forget class size, or grouping by ability, or whether the school is state or private. While parents may get worked up about such things, these factors don’t really have an impact on academic outcome. What matters most is what happens in the classroom between the teacher and the pupil, the interaction. And, as I write that, I realise that it shouldn’t be that surprising.

Top of Prof Hattie’s league table – what makes the biggest difference to outcomes – is what he calls “student expectations”. This is when pupils are asked to predict what grade they think they will get. It ensures they are more active in their own learning, and if they beat their own prediction, it boosts confidence and they aim higher still. Teacher credibility – whether they give effective feedback to students, and how much classroom discussion they encourage – is also a factor.

Prof Hattie lists 140 such important interventions and says almost all can make a small positive difference to how a child does.

Another of my Educators, Sir Ken Robinson, an international adviser on education in the arts, says the focus on testing in our efforts to try to prove we are as good as, if not better, than other countries in maths and literacy is a “catastrophe” for our children’s education.

Not everyone likes what he has to say, but his 2006 online TED lecture How Schools Kill Creativity has been viewed 27 million times – more than any other TED talk.

I met him at his old school in Liverpool, the Margaret Beavan School for the Physically Handicapped. He was sent there in the Fifties because he had had polio. As we walked round the derelict building, he remembered it fondly, describing how he and his friends, with their various disabilities, must have looked,“like the bar-room scene from Star Wars”. And yet he recalled how each was only interested in what the others could do – not what they couldn’t.

That observation seemed to sum up his whole argument, which is that almost everyone has a passion and aptitude for something. Yet our system of schooling – designed for an industrial age – will often crush that talent rather than nurture it.

In Sir Ken’s ideal school, there would be no hierarchy of subjects in the curriculum and classes would not be grouped by age. Dance would be as important as maths, and children would feel free to do what they wanted, even get up and wander around in lessons. All of his ideas are peppered with amusing anecdotes, but he couldn’t be more serious about the message, and it’s one that’s reaching governments around the world.

Someone with very different ideas, who has had the ear of this Government, is Daisy Christodoulou, author of Seven Myths about Education. Not yet 30, she seems as surprised as anyone at how her ideas have struck a chord.

When she was training to teach, she observed that the lessons she thought were most powerful would not have passed an Ofsted inspection. The schools inspector wanted to see children learning by themselves, through discovery, rather than being explicitly told by a teacher. That emphasis on skills rather than facts seems in keeping with an age when everyone has Google at their fingertips. But Christodoulou thinks that a generation of children are being let down by this approach, and they would be better served by teachers telling them more facts, to build up a greater bedrock of knowledge.

When she wrote as much, first in a blog, then in her book, she created quite a stir. She’s been described as Right-wing, not least because the former education secretary Michael Gove appeared to agree with her. Such political labels, she says, are wrong–headed. And she’s clearly frustrated at how education has become so politicised.

Tony Little, on the other hand, is acutely aware of the politics that comes with his job. Little is headmaster of probably the most famous school in the world, but one he admits some people can only think of as a four-letter word: Eton. He agrees that there is a stigma associated with attending the school, but thinks it may be good for his students and make them more aware of how privileged they are. Even its detractors would recognise its success: 19 of Britain’s prime ministers were educated within its walls.

As I stood with a be-gowned Little in a classroom that dates from the 15th century, and on whose benches Walpole and Shelley had gouged their names, he said the history of the place must rub off on the pupils. The implicit question asked of them, he says, is, “if they’ve done it, why not you?”

He puts the success of the school down to what happens outside the classroom as much as in it; like Sir Ken Robinson, he emphasises the importance of allowing each boy to find his own passion, whether it is academic or not. It’s one of the reasons he would get rid of almost all school exams, suggesting that in chasing certificates we “over-school” and “under-educate”.

Little himself went to Eton, having won a scholarship there in the Sixties. He was the first male in his family to be educated beyond the age of 14. He feels the school has a “moral imperative” to ensure its success is spread more widely and is not just confined to the wealthiest. Today, 263 of the 1,300 boys do not pay the full £32,000 in fees, but the school’s stated ambition is that ultimately it will be “needs blind”, deciding who goes there entirely on their ability, rather than their parents’ capacity to pay.

When exactly they can realise that aim will depend on when they have a big enough pot of money in their endowment. One prospective parent offered Little ''millions’’ if the school took his less-than-bright son.

“It must have been tempting,” I asked.

“Hundreds of millions, then I might have been tempted,” he quipped.

Perhaps the most striking image of where we may be headed comes from the psychologist and neuroscience expert Dr Paul Howard-Jones. He can see a day in the not too distant future when children will put on a cap that passes an electrical current over the scalp and stimulates the brain to think and learn quicker. It’s called transcranial electrical stimulation, and is already being tested.

Now that’s something I’d like to have access to. Not only might it solve the stress of homework, it would come in rather handy in the Today studio, too.


Trojan Horse purge 'threat to Christmas': Independent schools and academies could be forced to drop celebrations under new rules to tackle extremists

Independent schools and academies may be forced to drop Christmas celebrations under rules designed to tackle extremists, critics warned yesterday.

They say 6,000 private schools will be compelled to adopt political correctness.

Following the Trojan Horse scandal, in which Birmingham schools came under the sway of Islamic extremists, the Education Department proposed that independent schools must ‘actively promote’ British values – said to include respect for legally ‘protected characteristics’.

Critics warn the rules will bring a series of unintended consequences, including preventing teachers from using words like husband or wife when discussing marriage; making teachers inflate the reputation of politicians in their lessons, and dictating the curriculum and exams schools must use.

They also accuse the Department for Education of setting too tight a timetable when it set up a consultation among schools over the rules. Responses to the key proposals had to be returned last week – a month before the end of the school holidays and at a time when heads are likely to be on the beach rather than answering Whitehall questionnaires.

The Independent School Standards consultation was begun in late June at the height of the Trojan Horse affair, in which a group of schools in Birmingham were found to have fallen under the sway of Islamic extremists. An inquiry found the schools segregated boys and girls, disparaged British soldiers, promoted hatred of homosexuals, and taught scepticism about responsibility for the murder of soldier Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings.

The resulting Education Department proposals say that independent schools must ‘actively promote’ British values, which are said to include respect for legally ‘protected characteristics’ such as homosexuality, religion, gender change, disability, race and marital status. They also require improved teaching standards from schools with the lowest levels of attainment.

The rules will apply to academies and free schools as well as the long-established independent sector.

A consultation paper reveals this would allow Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to take ‘regulatory action’ in cases such as where girls are ‘disadvantaged’ on grounds of gender, ‘failure to address homophobia’, or where prejudice against other faiths is ‘encouraged or not adequately challenged’.

The Christian Institute (CI) warned this may rule out Christmas events if other religions’ festivals are not celebrated to the same degree. It also fears teachers may have to avoid the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ when discussing marriage, so as not to discriminate against same-sex couples.

The CI’s Colin Hart said: ‘They mistakenly advance the principle that political correctness equal British values. Accordingly they could be used to punish any school in the independent sector which has a religious ethos, a set of traditional beliefs, or which does not promote every minority group’s world view.’

The Institute said Christmas celebrations in schools and use of words like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ in discussions of marriage could be barred under the proposals.

Mr Hart added: ‘Under the plans, private schools, academies and free schools would have much less control over their ethos than ordinary state schools. There was clearly a managerial problem in the schools in Birmingham, but is forcing more than 6,000 schools and nearly three million pupils to the submit themselves to every whim of the PC brigade really the best way to tackle it? It makes no sense.’

A reply to the Education Department from the Independent Schools Council, which represents 1,200 schools, said that forcing schools to accept common standards means they will be ‘subject to political interference’ and that the proposals ‘risk dictating to independent schools which curriculum to follow.’

The Council’s objections also say that ‘there is a major risk of unintended consequences’, that standards in high-achieving schools will be forced down, and ‘time will be wasted considering how schools actively promote these values.’

It added: ‘Explicitly requiring schools to encourage respect for the basis on which the law is made in England comes close to requiring schools actively promote respect for politicians as lawmakers.’

The Association of School and College Leaders, which represents over 18,000 heads and senior staff, said the proposals had been made in undue haste and to such a short timetable that many heads would find out what was happening only after consultation deadlines had passed. A submission from the Association said: ‘This can only undermine respect for democracy and the rule of law as practised in Britain.’

Mrs Morgan now faces a High Court judicial review brought by the Christian Institute over the attempt to impose the rules on independent schools without giving proper time to listen to their views.


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