Friday, January 13, 2017

Scotland: Parents left baffled and excluded by jargon in school reforms

Parents say they have been left puzzled and excluded by the Scottish government’s school reforms which were intended to give them more power over their children’s education.

They have also rejected John Swinney’s moves to give greater responsibility to head teachers, saying they have not been given any evidence that this works, and called for control to remain with councillors.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) also says that hundreds of people keen to express their views were baffled by jargon in the Scottish government’s schools consultation.

In its submission to ministers, the organisation questioned many of the assumptions underpinning the education secretary’s proposals, which will involve handing more power to heads, the establishment of school clusters and a funding overhaul.


UK: New Ofsted chief fires broadside at Brexit and grammars: Amanda Spielman dismisses plans for new schools as a 'distraction'

The new chief of Ofsted yesterday dismissed plans for grammar schools as a ‘distraction’ and voiced fears over the ‘national preoccupation’ with Brexit.

In her first interview since taking up the post as chief inspector of schools in England, Amanda Spielman said efforts to boost school improvement could be sidelined by political debates over the EU and selective education.

The comments will be a blow to Theresa May, who is grappling with negotiations to leave the EU and signalled this week that the UK would pull out of the single market.

The Prime Minister is also planning a wave of new grammars in the neediest areas, overturning a ban imposed by Labour 20 years ago.

The Government believes such schools could improve the life chances of bright working-class children who do not come from aspirational families. But in an interview with the Guardian, Mrs Spielman said she could not see how new selective schools would contribute to improving the system as a whole.

‘For me it’s a distraction from our work,’ she said. ‘I don’t see it as something that has much to do with making the most of every school, of Ofsted making the most of its work and contributing to system improvement.’

She said she expected it would be a relatively small initiative, but said it would have an impact on multi-academy trusts – groups of state-funded schools that are independent of local council control – which may introduce selective elements.

She said: ‘It’s certainly a complication. I hear stuff anecdotally about how they are going to react, I don’t know what will happen in practice.

‘I hear that some are poised and ready to go, and others who say they won’t actually will, and others will keep themselves distant.’ However, in an apparent attempt to distance herself from the debate, she added: ‘It’s not something I want to get involved with.’

Mrs Spielman’s comments follow controversy over the decision in July by then education secretary Nicky Morgan to appoint her to the £195,000-a-year role as head of the education watchdog.

Mrs Morgan forced through the nomination despite opposition from the Commons education committee, whose members said Mrs Spielman lacked ‘vision and passion’. Teachers’ unions were opposed to the appointment because she has no teaching experience.

Mrs Spielman also used her interview yesterday to voice concerns over the impact of the Brexit debate on education policy, although Ofsted sources stressed she was ‘not expressing a view’ on the merits of Brexit itself.

‘The next few years are not going to be an easy time in any of our remits,’ she said. ‘Brexit is obviously a huge, huge – distraction’s the wrong word – national preoccupation. In terms of government thinking and government action, it’s something that’s going to be absorbing so much time and attention that it may be harder to get the focus sometimes that we need.’

Asked if she thought education could be neglected, Mrs Spielman said: ‘Neglected may be putting it too strongly but it may slide a bit further down the priority list.’

Mrs Spielman, 55, was previously chairman of exam regulator Ofqual and policy director at Ark academy chain after spending many years in corporate finance and consultancy.

She has taken over at Ofsted from Sir Michael Wilshaw, a former headmaster with a record of turning around troubled schools. His outspoken views were not always in line with the Government’s.

Mrs Spielman, who has two teenage daughters, was born in Kensington and attended a state school in Glasgow, followed by a boarding school in Dorset. She studied law at Clare College, Cambridge.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘This government wants this to be a country that works for everyone, not just for the privileged few, and education lies at the heart of that ambition.

‘Thanks to our reforms, there are almost 1.8million more children being taught in schools that are rated good or outstanding than in 2010. We are building on our reforms, backed by record levels of school investment.

‘We have consulted on proposals to create even more good school places, for more parents, in more parts of the country, by lifting the ban on new selective school places.’


May God help these cotton wool kids

Kevin Donnelly writes from Australia

IT doesn’t surprise that private schools are spending millions on wellness centres because students are stressed and lack resilience. It also doesn’t surprise that one of the fastest growing activities in primary schools is teaching meditation and mindfulness.

According to the latest Mission Australia survey, close to 22,000 young Australians rank mental health issues among their top three concerns.

And according to Beyond Blue, one in four young Australians aged between 16 and 24 has experienced a mental health issue some time in the past 12 months.

Instead of optimism, confidence and resilience it ­appears that more and more young people are suffering insecurity, anxiety and stress.

Why are so many students and young Australians at risk and unable to cope, and what’s to be done?

The first thing is that parents have to stop wrapping their children in cotton wool. Free-range children are a thing of the past and long gone are the days when kids were allowed to take risks.

Trampolines now have safety nets. Instead of walking or riding a bike to school children are chauffeured by a parent, and reprimanding or punishing a child is now politically incorrect and equivalent to child abuse.

Many children are so spoilt and indulged that at the first sign of not getting what they want, they collapse in tears or manufactured rage. The Asian tiger mums are far from perfect but at least they discipline their children and teach them the benefits of application and hard work.

Progressive, new-age education is also to blame as teachers are told that nurturing self-esteem and making sure all are winners are more important than teaching children to be competitive and to overcome adversity.

For many years it was forbidden in Australian classrooms to grade students 10 out of 10 or A, B, C, D and E (where E meant fail). Instead teachers had to use meaningless ­descriptions such as consolidating, not yet achieved and ­satisfactory.

Instead of optimism, confidence and resilience it ­appears that more and more young people are suffering insecurity, anxiety and stress.

Compared with top performing Asian education systems, where students regularly face high-risk tests and exams, the first time Australian students are pressured is at Year 12. And even then, each year more and more Year 12 students are ­applying for special consideration as a result of the stress and anxiety caused by the fear of being ranked in terms of performance and not doing as well as expected.

Growing up during the ’60s when at primary school we loved to play British Bulldog and Stacks on the Mill. Such games have long since been banned as too dangerous even though they taught us to overcome fear and that there was nothing special about a sprained wrist or a grazed knee.

A number of local councils are also getting rid of monkey bars and swings because of the risk that children might be hurt. Add to that the fact that in many junior sports no one is allowed to keep the score and it’s understandable why many children lack ­resilience and the will to succeed.

The American author ­Joseph Campbell, who helped to inspire George Lucas to produce Star Wars, argues that children must learn about the archetypes, myths and fables that teach how to deal with challenges and loss and how to overcome adversity.

Tales such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, where the hero overcomes fear and doubt, teaches children, especially boys, to be resourceful and brave. Norse legends such as ­Beowulf and stories like Queen Boadicea should also be compulsory reading.

Unfortunately, such traditional legends and stories are now considered old fashioned and students are more likely to be fed a diet of contemporary stories about dysfunctional families, teenage substance abuse and gender confusion and dysphoria.

Even though religion is often sidelined and ignored, it’s also true that Christianity provides an anecdote to anxiety and depression. Stories such as David and Goliath ­illustrate how ingenuity and faith can beat what appear to be insurmountable odds.

Believing in something spiritual and transcendent also counters the emptiness and sterility of secular ­society’s focus on commercialism and self-interest.

No amount of social networking on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram can replace the very human need for a deeper and more lasting sense of fulfilment.


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