Friday, November 23, 2012

Whaaat?  British schools 'to offer new qualification in body image'

What about a qualification in brushing your hair or washing your dick? Hair and dicks are important

Children will be given the chance to gain a secondary school qualification in "body image" under new plans, it emerged today.

Examiners have drawn up proposals for a new course focusing on issues such as positive and negative portrayals of bodies in the media and ways of "building confidence and self-esteem" among young people.

The qualification - for secondary school pupils aged 11 to 14 - will also cover healthy eating and how to keep physically fit.

The plans - backed by Olympic weightlifter Zoe Smith - are being led by an examination board set up by the YMCA in the late 90s to specialise in qualifications focusing on health and fitness.

It comes amid concerns that children are being left with eating disorders and other psychological conditions because of anxiety over their appearance.

Earlier this year, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on body image said that one-in-five people had been victimised over their weight, adding that physical appearance was now the number one reason for being bullied at school.

The new qualification could be accredited for teaching in schools - and other organisations such as youth clubs - from next September.

But the plans were criticised today by the former Schools Minister who insisted that teachers should use curriculum time to tackle academic subjects rather than social issues.

Nick Gibb, the Conservative MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, who spent more than two years in the Department for Education, said: "We do have a proliferation of this type of qualification and I would be disappointed if schools devoted curriculum time to it.  "It is important that children understand healthy eating and exercise, but one way to cover that is to make sure schools are delivering an interesting academic curriculum that covers a range of subjects."

But Miss Smith, who has been the subject of offensive comments on Twitter for her muscular physique, said the qualification "should help young people gain a better understanding of their body image and that exercise is for everyone, no matter what your body shape or size".

Central YMCA Qualifications - the charity's exam board - has submitted outline plans to Ofqual to have the new course formally accredited. It would pave the way to offering it in state secondary schools.

The course is a Level 1 qualification and will take eight-to-10 hours' teaching and working time. But the CYQ insisted it was not intended to be equivalent to GCSEs and was seen as being "in addition to" mainstream qualifications.

Under plans, it will be split into two sections: understanding body image and exploring active leisure pursuits and healthy eating.  The first part covers issues such as positive and negative portrayal of bodies in the media, factors affecting self-esteem and ways of building confidence. The second includes an understanding of physical fitness, the principals of training, identifying the main food groups and planning and preparing a healthy meal.

Pupils are assessed through a series of tasks, including completing workbooks, producing a website article, creating a pamphlet and making a healthy packed lunch.

Caroline Nokes, chairwoman of the APPG on body image said: "We currently have a problem getting young people more active, and having a healthy relationship with food.  "Poor body image is part of the problem - if you don't value your body, then why would you look after it. Initiatives such as this which support holistic health and young people should be welcomed."


Reading test for infants 'significantly skewed' by teachers

A new reading test for six-year-olds is being effectively manipulated by teachers to make sure pupils pass, the exams regulator has warned.  Teachers "significantly skewed" results in the assessment this year to push the maximum number of children over the target threshold, it was claimed.

In a damning report, Ofqual said schools had been "influenced" by prior knowledge of the pass score needed to mark pupils out as good readers.   It suggests that the validity of the test - taken for the first time this year - may have been undermined.

This comes despite the fact that the results of the check are not being used to rank or measure standards at individual schools.

As part of the assessment, pupils are supposed to accurately "decode" a list of 40 words using phonics - the back-to-basics method of reading in which words are broken down into constituent parts.

The list includes a number of made-up words such as "voo", "terg", "bim", "thazz" and "spron" to ensure pupils are properly employing the phonics system.   It is intended to mark out pupils struggling the most after a year of compulsory education - allowing teachers to target them with extra help.

This year, pupils gaining 32 marks were deemed to have decent reading skills.

But in a report, Ofqual warned that prior knowledge of the threshold score led to manipulation of the results, with teachers effectively edging pupils over the pass mark.

Some 8,819 pupils gained 31 marks but 43,283 achieved 32 - the exact number needed to cross the threshold.

"The distribution of scores awarded by teachers is significantly skewed and appears to have been strongly influenced by this knowledge," Ofqual said. "For example, almost five times as many pupils attained 32 marks (the threshold) as attained 31 marks."

A spokesman for the Department for Education insisted the phonics check was helping teachers identify pupils who needed extra help, with 235,000 found to be below the expected standard this year.   But he added: "Ministers have been clear the phonics check will not be used to judge schools - it has been introduced to help every child become a strong reader.  "We expect teachers to take professional responsibility for the accurate marking of the test so that the right children can be helped."


Poor white boys 'lagging behind classmates at age five'

This is just the old, old correlation between social class and IQ.  It's not going away any time soon.  Girls do a little better because they mature earlier

White working-class boys are lagging dramatically behind other children at the age of five amid growing fears over poor parenting skills in the most deprived communities, it emerged today.   Official figures show that just over a third of white boys from the most disadvantaged families are developing properly in the early years.

Data from the Department for Education shows they are less likely to be able to read, communicate, use basic numeracy and show the necessary physical and social awareness as children from other groups.

It emerged that more white boys eligible for free school meals actually hit Government targets for early development this summer compared with 2011.  But figures show the gap between these pupils and the national average widened in the last 12 months following an improvement in standards across-the-board.

It will raise concerns that tens of thousands of disadvantaged white boys are not ready for school at the age of five, with fears that many will fail to catch up throughout compulsory education.

The disclosure comes after Ofsted launched a major inquiry earlier this year into the gulf in standards between rich and poor pupils in the English education system.

Launching the report, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, said one of its principal objectives would be tackle an "anti-school culture" among white working-class families.  He warned that thousands of poor children - particularly boys - were growing up with little hope of a good education or career after being raised by families that fail to set proper boundaries or fully understand the difference between right and wrong.

Today, a DfE spokesman said the the achievement gap between rich and poor children, and between boys and girls, had been "too big for too long".   "We are determined to give children from poor families the chance of a better start in life, which is why we will give 15 hours a week free early education to 260,000 of the poorest two-year-olds," he said.

"We must also ensure staff have the skills and qualifications they need to give every child a high quality early education. That is why we commissioned a review of early years qualifications and we will be responding in due course.  "By improving the quality of staff and raising the status of the profession, we will give parents greater confidence in the education their children are receiving."

The latest data was based on children's performance at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage - a compulsory "nappy curriculum" for under-fives which must be followed by all nurseries, pre-schools and childminders in England.

Children's development is tracked in six areas - per sonal and social development, communication and language, problem solving and numeracy, understanding of the world, physical development and creativity.   Nationally, 64 per cent of pupils achieved a "good level of development" at the age of five this summer, meaning they can dress independently, count to 10, write their own name and other basic words and sing simple songs from memory.

But the data shows a significant gender gap, with 73 per cent of girls hitting the target compared with just 55 per cent of boys. The 18 percentage point gap was the same as 2011.

Among white boys eligible for free school meals, the proportion dropped to just 36 per cent. It represented a 28 percentage point gap compared with the national average - one point up on the gulf recorded in 2011.  By comparison, 56 per cent of poor white girls achieved the level this year.

Poor boys from other ethnic groups performed better, it emerged, with numbers rising to 50 per cent among Indian children, 42 per cent among Pakistani children and 44 per cent among black Caribbeans and 48 per cent among children from black African families.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Problems with university bias policies and attempts to improve campus climate

So far, we have examined how universities restrict speech by mandating "civility," improperly broadening the definition of "harassment," restricting students' online expression, and placing undue restrictions on campus postings and on student protests and demonstrations. Today we wrap up this series with a discussion of overly broad policies on "bias" and "intolerance."

Universities frequently have the best of intentions when they enact policies on bias and intolerance. But since most speech that people would consider "biased" or "intolerant" is protected by the First Amendment, schools must find ways to improve the campus climate and provide support to affected students without infringing on other students' free speech rights.

At some schools, any "biased" or "intolerant" speech is prohibited, which is a clear and substantial First Amendment violation. At many other schools, the problems are more subtle. Some schools, for example, chill protected speech by encouraging students to report any "biased" expression to the university and promising to investigate all reports. Even if protected speech is ultimately not punished at these schools, the potential of being subjected to an official investigation will be enough to deter many students from expressing controversial or dissenting opinions, leading to an impermissible chilling effect on speech.

Scripps College in California, for example, defines bias incidents as "expressions of hostility against another person (or group) because of that person's (or group's) race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, gender or sexual orientation," and states:

"If you witness or experience conduct that discriminates, stereotypes, excludes, harasses or harms anyone in our community based on their identity (such as race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, age or religion) please report it to the College."

Although the policy notes that bias incidents do not include speech protected by the First Amendment, college students are unlikely to be familiar enough with the specifics of First Amendment law for this "savings clause" to have any meaningful effect on their willingness to speak out. As a federal judge wrote in holding that San Francisco State University's speech codes likely violated the First Amendment:

"We must assess regulatory language in the real world context in which the persons being regulated will encounter that language. The persons being regulated here are college students, not scholars of First Amendment law.... What path is a college student who faces this regulatory situation most likely to follow? Is she more likely to feel that she should heed the relatively specific proscriptions of the Code that are set forth in words she thinks she understands, or is she more likely to feel that she can engage in conduct that violates those proscriptions (and thus is risky and likely controversial) in the hope that the powers-that-be will agree, after the fact, that the course of action she chose was protected by the First Amendment?"

Other bias policies are so vaguely written that they could well be enforced to include protected speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that a law or regulation is unconstitutionally vague when it does not "give a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly." Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108 (1972). 

At Furman University in South Carolina, "acts of intolerance" are prohibited. The university defines acts of intolerance as "malicious behaviors that can be motivated by prejudice towards a person or group," including "verbal attacks" that "cause harm." Since "attack" and "harm" are not defined, they could presumably include anything from actual harassment to a harshly worded expression of opinion that leaves someone with hurt feelings. Since students have no way to know how the university will interpret the provision, they will more than likely err on the side of caution and refrain from anything that might run afoul of the policy.

Similarly, Duke University policy states that:

"A bias incident is an act or behavior motivated by the offender's bias against the facets of another's identity. Bias occurs whether the act is intentional or unintentional. Bias may be directed toward an individual or group. Bias may contribute to creating an unsafe/unwelcoming environment."

The policy provides a wide range of possible university actions in response to a bias incident report, ranging from promoting campus dialogue to referring to the student conduct office. There are no guidelines as to when a bias incident constitutes a conduct violation as opposed to when it is simply an occasion for the university to respond with more speech, so students have no way to know what is actually prohibited under the policy.

Universities can successfully maintain policies that strike an appropriate balance between protecting student speech and maintaining a positive campus climate. The University of Virginia, for example, encourages student reporting of "bias complaints," but makes clear that its definition "is used for reporting and statistical purposes only" and "carries no independent sanctioning authority." It also states that protected speech is not only not subject to punishment, but is not even grounds for "formal investigation." Similarly, Michigan State University's bias incident reporting policy provides that "A bias incident that is not an act of discrimination or harassment prohibited under the Anti-Discrimination Policy may only be recorded for internal monitoring purposes in order to target resources and support to specific areas within campus."

The University of New Hampshire's policy not only states that constitutionally protected speech is not punishable, but also provides clear examples of protected speech (such as "offensive and hurtful expressions that are vague and do not convey a specific and imminent threat of harm" and "parody, ridicule, and satire") rather than assuming that students will simply know what is and is not protected.

So as you can see, universities need not choose between protecting students' free speech rights and supporting an inclusive campus environment; they simply must craft narrowly tailored policies that make clear to students that they will not face discipline or investigation simply for engaging in protected expression.


Dumbing down for dollars: A tale of two Floridas

Florida students in government-run schools are being challenged to improve their math and reading performance significantly over the next six years. But some students are being held to higher standards than others depending on their race.

The State Board of Education recently voted that by 2018, 74 percent of black students, 81 percent of Hispanic students, 88 percent of white students, and 90 percent of Asian students need to be reading at grade level.

Those new standards are in response to the U.S Department of Education’s requirement that the percentage of student sub-groups that are not proficient in reading and math be halved.

“As a matter of philosophy … I think we should have the same goal for all categories of our citizenry,” said board member John Padget. “Are we happy with the signal that this sends?” Board member Roberto Martinez added, “Should an Asian child and an Hispanic child be held to the same standard down the road? The answer is, yes”

This is the preferred vision of politicians and bureaucrats, and not just ones in Florida—equal opportunity and expectations for some but not others. But another vision of equal educational opportunity for all exists in Florida now—not some point down an undefined road.

The state of education in Florida in the late 1990’s is reminiscent of the status quo in too many states today. “A decade ago, Florida schools were failing and ranked near the bottom in nearly every national survey. More than half of the state’s public school students were not reading or performing math at grade level,” according to former Governor Jeb Bush. “Mediocrity was tolerated and excuses were more common than accountability. Back then, schools tracked library books better than students’ progress and poor performance in schools produced a round-robin of blame.”

A combination of reforms beginning in 1998 make up what is commonly referred to as the “Florida Formula,” namely, high academic standards, grading schools on an A to F scale, standardized assessment and measurement, data-based accountability, effective teaching, outcome-based funding, and school choice.

Florida’s corporate tax credit scholarship program is currently helping more than 40,000 low-income students statewide attend non-government schools of their parents’ choice. Another 24,000 students with special needs are also attending non-government schools that meet their needs through the McKay Scholarship Program. Students in failing government-run schools can also transfer to better ones through the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Parents of students in failing schools who prefer a non-government option can use the tax credit scholarship program.

Allowing all children, regardless of their address, family income, or race, to attend schools that work best for them…well…just works overall.

The transformation in achievement across student sub-groups in just one decade “ranks as perhaps the greatest public policy success story of the past decade,” as the Foundation for Florida’s Future explains: “Once near the bottom of the pack on national tests, Florida‘s students are racing to the top, proving that all children can learn when given the right opportunity. In 1998, Florida students scored at the bottom of the nation in student achievement. 47 percent of Florida’s fourth-grade students were functionally illiterate.” (See p. 1). By 2009, the fruits of the Florida Formula were evident. Florida’s fourth grade Hispanic students were reading as well or better than the statewide average of all students in 21 states. Meanwhile, African-American fourth graders were reading as well or better than the statewide average in eight states. (See p. 2)

Florida politicians blame new U.S. Department of Education achievement mandates for their decision to institutionalize achievement gaps. Leaving aside the fact that they could just say “No,” the same education department singled out Florida as one of only three states in 2009 that successfully narrowed the black/white achievement gap in reading and math—and it has remained one of the few states to do so since with Hispanic students as well. (See here and here, for example.)

This is what happens when parents are in charge of their children’s education. Dumbing down standards for dollars is what happens when politicians and bureaucrats run the show.


Poll: 63 percent of college grads think the American Dream is dead

Sixty-three percent of college graduates believe that the American Dream is dead, leading some to consider moving out of the country, according to a survey conducted by a discount coupon company.

“We all have heard about the ‘American dream’ and we were curious to discover whether or not current graduates were still optimistic about their future,”  said Mark Pearson, chairman of “We were shocked to discover that the majority of the graduates polled believed that the American dream was dead and with increased debt, inability to find work and trouble finding affordable housing, it is no wonder they are quite pessimistic about their future.”

Seventy-one percent of respondents “felt that the difficulty finding jobs in the present day was a contributing factor, while 67% cited problems with debt as a main reason and 53% said being unable get onto the property ladder was an issue.”

President Obama famously appeals to youth voters, but these graduates are pretty pessimistic about his ability to turn things around — ” When asked whether or not they were hopeful for the future, even with the re-election of President Barack Obama, just 39% said ‘yes,’” the company said.

The survey featured 2,101 recent graduates around the country.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Senate Fiddles While College Debt Explodes

America's accumulated college-loan debt will surpass $1 trillion this year; what is our leadership doing about it? The Obama Administration took over the student loan market and expanded Pell Grants, but hasn't accomplished anything to address the root cause of the crisis: exploding college fees and related costs. The only thing they've done is criticize innovators and entrepreneurs.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), issued a new report calling into question the costs and performance of For-Profit universities. There are actually hundreds of these schools, perhaps the most well-known being University of Phoenix and Devry University. The report provides some damning statistics about For-Profits which should concern us all, since a large amount of free federal money (Pell Grants) is handed out to their students. Their cost of recruiting is much higher than private and public universities (the Establishment), and their four-year graduation rate 31 percent compared to 52 percent for Establishment schools.

When I read the report and its analysis, my only thought was "Wow! Is the committee staff really this dense?" Here are a few points:

1. Wouldn't you expect the graduation rates to be lower at For-Profits? After all, how many of the best students in the country are going to University of Phoenix rather than Yale, Stanford, UCLA, or Texas? It's obvious that they're not attracting top-tier students, so it makes sense that their dropout rate would be higher.

2. The fact that more money is spent on recruitment also makes sense. Every high school in America has guidance counselors who direct students to Establishment colleges. Have you ever heard of a high school counselor telling a student that he should be going to Devry? The report leads one to believe that Establishment schools average a little over one staff person who does recruiting. Obviously, the people who compiled that statistic never had a kid go to college. That is just foolish.

3. The report also talks about the cost per student, but the numbers used don't reflect the huge costs underwritten by states for public schools, or the cost to the federal treasury for tax deductions taken for "charitable" donations to Establishment schools. The comparison of costs is absolutely and totally slanted.

This is the fourth "study" done by this committee on For-Profit colleges in the last two years. And how many have been done on Establishment schools? Zero. One might come to the conclusion that someone has a vendetta against For-Profit schools. Since the Committee Chair is Senator Harkin, the finger must be pointed at him.

When I discussed the issue with Elizabeth Donovan, Deputy Press Secretary for HELP, she indicated that there had indeed been hearings on the Establishment schools and at my request kindly sent me copies of the witness statements. It struck me as strange that all of the testimony came from representatives of public schools, even though private schools (except Hillsdale College) receive substantial federal money.

I asked Ms. Donovan why representatives of private schools were not included, but she was unwilling to answer. I then asked whether there would be any similar studies released on Establishment schools. Again, she was unwilling to reply. But on September 13, 2012, the committee held a two-hour hearing on the soaring costs of Establishment schools. They concluded that costs are escalating because states are cutting their higher education budgets, and that schools are holding committee meetings and discussions in an effort to control costs. The reaction of the Senate committee was basically - that's cool.

To its credit, the Republican minority, headed by Senator Enzi (R-Wyoming), issued a statement denouncing the For-Profit study. While acknowledging challenges in these particular schools, they asked the big question: why is so much effort being spent on For-Profit colleges, which represents 10% of the education industry, while Establishment schools, which represent 90%, are being ignored? It's like focusing on your child's performance in P.E. when they are failing math, English, and social studies. The minority enumerated the many reasons why the full report had been manipulated to make the industry look bad. And it questioned why Senator Harkin is unwilling to address the main issue - Establishment schools piling huge amounts of debt onto the public without a shred of accountability.

We deserve some real answers. Young adults are told that if they want to succeed, they must graduate from college. Today, parents are breaking themselves financially and their children are piling up ridiculous levels of debt. Increasingly, students are graduating with little hope of finding a job lucrative enough to pay off their debt, or with a degree that is useless for obtaining a position. And yet nobody asks why schools are issuing degrees in silly majors or why so many schools promote majors for which there is little demand for the graduates. More important, why are costs soaring way above the inflation rate, and why are the rapidly-increasing numbers of administrators getting paid so much? How about the falsehood of "not-for-profit" schools whose "one-class-a-week" professors earn salaries as high as $300,000 and college presidents earn $500,000 and up? There is nothing "not for profit" for these schools except their misleading titles.

Richard Cordray, Elizabeth Warren's stand-in at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, broached the subject of why student loans are excluded from bankruptcy and suggested a rule change. I suspect that President Obama may in his second term run with this proposal, which means that a large portion of another $1 trillion - as well as any debt incurred in the future - will be dumped on the shoulders of American taxpayers. The Administration bemoans the debt level, but does nothing to correct the root causes. Obama's ally in the Senate spends his time fiddling with 10% of the schools while Rome is burning.

Then again, is anyone really surprised?


Public schools retain grip on Britain's elite

The Telegraph still sometimes uses "Public schools" in the traditional sense

More than 10% of the best UK high-flyers were educated at a handful of prestigious private schools, new research suggests. It also reveals that a degree from Oxford or Cambridge is vital for some professions, with more than half of the leading lights in the diplomatic service, the law and the civil service graduating from one of the two institutions.

The study, conducted by the Sutton Trust, looked at the educational backgrounds of nearly 8,000 people who featured in the birthday lists of national and Sunday papers last year by examining official website profiles, Who's Who and by direct contact.

It found that 10 elite fee-paying schools produced 12% of the leading high-flyers examined for the study.

Eton College - the former school of David Cameron, Boris Johnson, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry - educated 330 high-flyers, a total of 4% of the UK's elite, the study says.

Among other former Eton pupils are Olympic gold medallist Sir Matthew Pinsent and actors Hugh Laurie and Dominic West.

Alongside Eton, the other nine top private schools, collectively teaching 12% of those whose education backgrounds were examined, are Winchester College, Charterhouse School, Rugby School, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's old school Westminster, Marlborough College, Dulwich College, Harrow School, St Paul's Boys' School, where Chancellor George Osborne was educated, and Wellington College.

Overall, almost half (44%) of the people studied went to private school, 27% attended a grammar school, 21% were educated at comprehensives or other state schools and 8% went to a former direct grant school.

The study found that the comprehensives producing the most high-flyers - with six people each - are Haverstock School, attended by Labour leader Ed Miliband and his brother, former foreign secretary David Miliband, and Holland Park School, which was attended by former environment minister Hilary Benn. Both are in London.

The research, due to be published later today at an event to mark the Sutton Trust's 15th anniversary, also looked at university education.

It found that overall, almost a third (31%) of high-flyers went to Oxbridge, and another fifth attended another leading university. Some 62% of high-flyers in the diplomatic service are Oxbridge graduates, along with 58% of those in the law, and 55% of those at the top of the civil service.

But just 1% of top pop stars attended one of these two institutions, along with 8% of leading sportsmen and 8% of actors and actresses.

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: "This analysis shows how dominant leading universities and schools remain across the professions in Britain. That's why it is so important that access to our leading schools and universities is on the basis of ability alone."

In the last 15 years, the Sutton Trust has helped to improve access to top universities and shown ways in which leading private schools could be opened up on the basis of ability, he said.  He added: "But studies like this - and over 120 pieces of research commissioned by the trust since 1997 - show how far we still need to go to improve social mobility in this country and ensure that every young person can achieve his or her potential, regardless of their family background."

The study examined the educational background of leading individuals working in business, finance, the arts, education, public services, sport, law and journalism.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has in the past described the dominance of the public schoolboy prominent roles in British society is "morally indefensible".

In a speech to independent school headteachers in May, Mr Gove said the sheer scale of privately-educated men in positions of power in business, politics, media, comedy, sport and music was proof of a "deep problem in our country" which politicians have failed to tackle with "anything like the radicalism required".

Lord Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association and himself public school-educated, raised the issue of public school dominance in British Olympic sport in the run up to the London 2012 Games, saying: "It's one of the worst statistics in British sport."


We shouldn't have to open our facilities for state pupils, insists British private schools chief

Private schools should not be expected to open up their facilities to pupils from local state schools, a leading headmistress said yesterday.

Louise Robinson, president of the Girls' Schools Association, said it was `beyond the pale' for the Government to insist that private schools share their `unique selling points', such as facilities and resources, with the `competition'.

She said that middle class parents who manage to find the money for private school fees should not be expected to bankroll state pupils who want to use the same resources.

Her comments are likely to spark fierce debate among private school heads, many of whom justify their schools' `charitable' status by stressing the ways in which they share facilities with local state schools and the community.

David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove have praised this practice and urged independent schools to go further, pooling their `DNA' with state schools by extending financial backing and lending their `brands' to academies.

But Mrs Robinson, head of Merchant Taylors' Girls' School in Crosby, Liverpool, said parents already faced increasing fees due to the growing weight of regulation and red tape that private schools must follow.

She said they should not be expected to pay for an independent education only to see the money spent on `local competition'.

She questioned why, for example, private schools should help set up combined cadet forces (CCFs) for state pupils.

Mrs Robinson stressed that many private schools were keen to help the state sector `on their own terms' but said it was wrong for the Government to impose the practice.

`Michael Gove has been very clear about the rules of co-operating with us, asking us to share our resources or facilities,' she told the GSA's annual conference in Liverpool.  `Many of us happily do this already with a wide variety of schools on our own terms.

`But when we are squeezed between the tightening rules and regulations being imposed upon us, the rising cost of our provision and the ability of middle-class parents to pay our increasing fees, it seems a bit beyond the pale to ask if we will share aspects of our unique selling points with local competition.

`And competition it is; why should my school offer its CCF expertise and experience to parents who could have sent their children to my school, but chose not to, or to a Government which criticises my morality?

`The current government cannot decide whether they are for or against independent schools: they want our DNA, our sponsorship of academies, but we know academies are not the answer to everyone's prayers.'

Mrs Robinson said many private school heads backed an `open access' scheme with poorer parents given financial help to give their children an independent education.

Fees would depend on parental income, with the wealthiest paying full fees and others paying nothing and the Government making up the shortfall.

In a wide-ranging speech, she also forecast that pupils will be able to play video games and learn from the comfort of their homes using web-based lessons and Skype in `Star Trek schools' of the future.

Britain's school system was failing to keep up with 21st century technology and must modernise to equip pupils with the skills they will need in the future, she added.

Her call came days after Mr Gove announced plans for a computer science curriculum with the same status as traditional subjects.

Pupils as young as seven could be required to learn how to `code' computer programs.

Mrs Robinson said she was calling for more `creative curriculum decisions'.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

British primary school teachers could face dismissal for refusing to promote homosexual marriage

 Primary school teachers could face the sack for refusing to promote gay marriage once same-sex unions become law, a minister has signalled.   Liz Truss, an education minister, refused to rule out the possibility that teachers, even in faith schools, could face disciplinary action for objecting on grounds of conscience.

 Miss Truss said simply that it was impossible to know what the impact of the legislation would be at this stage.   Her admission came in a letter to a fellow Conservative MP, David Burrowes, last month.

 Mr Burrowes, a practising Christian, originally wrote to Maria Miller, the equalities minister, raising concerns about the impact on schools of the Coalition's plans to change the marriage laws.

 It followed the publication of a legal opinion by Aidan O'Neill QC, a barrister in the same London chambers as Cherie Blair, commissioned by the Coalition for Marriage, which campaigns against same-sex unions.

 Mr O'Neill, an expert on human rights, was asked to advise on the impact redefining marriage to include same-sex couples could have on schools, churches, hospitals, foster carers and public buildings.

 Among his conclusions was that schools could be within their statutory rights to dismiss staff who wilfully fail to use stories or textbooks promoting same-sex weddings.   Parents who object to gay marriage being taught to their children would also have no right to withdraw their child from lessons, he argued.   And, in theory, the fact that a school was a faith school would make no difference, he added.

 One scenario he looked at was what would happen if a primary school asked a Christian teacher to use a book called King & King, a story of a prince who marries a man, and produce a play based on the tale.

 Mr O'Neill concluded: "If the teacher refused to obey the otherwise lawful instructions of her employers then this would constitute grounds for her dismissal from employment."

 He said that the teacher would be unlikely to be able to use human rights law to challenge such a decision because the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg had previously been "notably unwilling" to allow employers to use religion to request changes to their conditions of employment.

 Mr Burrowes wrote to ministers seeking reassurances that the situation would not arise.

 Replying on behalf of the Government, Miss Truss said that parents currently have a right to withdraw their children from sex education classes and that schools must apply "sensitivity" in deciding what materials to use, taking into account pupils' as well as their "religious and cultural background".

 She added that it is ultimately up to heads to determine what teachers should teach and that staff with concerns should try to reach a "mutual understanding on the way forward."

 However she underlined that teachers must act in an "un-discriminatory manner".

 But she said it was impossible to know how the balance might change further if same-sex marriage becomes law and what the implications might be.

 "As you are aware, legislation on equal civil marriage has yet to be announced by the Home Office, following a consultation exercise earlier this year," she wrote.

 "I am, therefore, unable to advise on the specifics of any legislation and its future impacts at this time."

 It comes despite the Coalition publishing a detailed "impact assessment" on the introduction of same-sex marriage which even included details of how immigration forms might have to be changed to replaces references to husbands or wives with "more neutral" terminology.

 Mr Burrowes said the letter confirmed that gay marriage would be taught in schools and offered no reassurances to teachers who object on grounds of conscience.

 "The reality is that these questions that are raised which have not been fully answered mean that they have not been rebutted," he said.   "The fact that they have not been rebutted when we are so far down the line - the consultation will be coming out within the next weeks and no doubt the DfE has been consulted - now does raise more questions than answers.

 "There is a big and serious question that gay marriage will undermine the liberty of conscience, that's a big question that will hang over the legislation."


Millions of pupils are being failed by 'cult of the average' in our schools says British business organization

A `cult of the average' in Britain's state education system is failing millions of bright children and lower achievers, business leaders warn today.

In a withering indictment, the CBI says that after 35 years of reforms and higher spending on schools than by many other nations the country is still facing `substantial' failure rates.

The business lobby group claims some schools have become little more than `exam factories' churning out average grades while failing to stretch both the brightest and lower attainers to the limit of their ability, leading to classroom disruption.

In a blueprint for reform, the CBI proposes radical changes.  It says the raising of the school leaving age from 16 to 18 over the next few years means it is time to shift the focus of secondary education from GCSEs to A-levels, or vocational alternatives, at 18.

Instead of public exams, there should be assessments at ages 14 or 16 that check pupils' progress and help them decide what subjects or career paths to take. More pupils should be able to begin a technical education at 14.

The CBI's report, published as it meets for its annual conference in London, warns: `The education system fosters a cult of the average: too often failing to stretch the most able or support those that need most help.'

John Cridland, the CBI's director-general, said: `Today we have a system where a large minority of our young people fall behind and never catch up.

'It's not the fault of any individual concerned. It's not the fault of children, parents or teachers. It's a system failure. It's not acceptable any more than it's not acceptable that the top 10 per cent are not stretched enough.'

Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced plans to scrap GCSEs and replace them with English Baccalaureate Certificates and reform A-levels and the national curriculum.


Online initiative to offer college courses for credit

An initiative announced Thursday by 10 U.S. colleges and universities, including Vanderbilt, Northwestern and Brandeis, promises to bring top-quality online courses to students from all over the country and even the world. But don't call it a MOOC.

"This is actually the polar opposite," said Jeremy Johnson, president of the initiative, called Semester Online. He's also co-founder of 2U, which for about four years has supported online master's degree programs for universities.

Unlike MOOCs (massive open online courses), which are free and open to anyone with an Internet connection, Semester Online classes will charge students to enroll, and class sizes will be limited to 15 to 20 students each. Also unlike MOOCs, students will be able to earn college credit right out of the gate.

Participating institutions see it as another opportunity to explore how technology can best expand and improve education. Earlier this week, the American Council on Education announced it would coordinate efforts to study the academic potential of MOOCs, which are largely unregulated, but have quickly emerged as an important development in higher education.

Semester Online offers a different model. Details are still being worked out, but faculty at participating schools will design and teach the courses, which will be open only to academically qualified students. Schools within the consortium would award credit for the courses, which would include real-time discussions.

Rogan Kersh, provost at Wake Forest University, one of the partner schools, said Semester Online enables universities to have more control as they experiment with the online environment.

"This landscape is both quickly shifting and murky at the same time," he said. "No school has a really clear picture of how they're going to use technology."

Kersh said Wake Forest is not ready to consider MOOCs because of its commitment to small classes and face-to-face interaction. Duke, another participating school, is also participating in MOOCs.

"We're experimenting," Duke Provost Peter Lange said. "We believe both educational models have merit, and we're interested in seeing how they both go."

Other participating schools include Emory, The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, University of Rochester and Washington University in St. Louis.


Monday, November 19, 2012


I have been putting up a lot of posts about Britain lately.  That is mainly because there seems to be real energy for educational reform in Britain at the moment.  They seem to be proceeding in a generally constructive direction, though with a bit of zig-zagging  -- JR.

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.'


Sunday, November 18, 2012

British regulator  to 'root out' failing councils in new standards drive

(Most State schools in Britain are still run by local authorities)

 Education inspectors are to launch a fresh crackdown on failing councils and chains of academy schools amid growing fears over a postcode lottery in standards.

 Ofsted is drafting in a new wave of regional directors in January as part of a major drive to “iron out” chronic underperformance in some towns and cities.    Under the plans, inspectors will identify local authorities with a persistently poor record of running schools.

 The watchdog will also focus on chains of independent academies – run by third party sponsors with complete freedom from council control – amid fears their performance may be going unchecked.

 Institutions with the lowest standards will be shopped to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, who has the power to intervene if problems persist.

 Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, said the English education system would continue to lag behind rivals in other countries until “the big regional variations are ironed out”.  In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he said: “There are regional differences that need to be addressed if we are going to move towards a world-class system.  “With this regional structure, we will hold local authorities, academy chains and diocesan authorities and governance in general to account.”

 The comments came as new figures exposed the vast gulf in standards between England’s 152 local authorities.

 Data published following a Parliamentary question shows that in some areas fewer than one-in-five children currently leave school with decent GCSEs in the core “English Baccalaureate” subjects – English, maths, science, languages and history or geography.

 Last year, just 3.2 per cent of pupils gained A*-C grades in Knowsley, Merseyside, while as few as 4.9 per cent hit the target in nearby Halton. Standards were as low as 4.7 per cent in Sandwell in the West Midlands and 4.9 per cent in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham.

 In a further 28 council areas, fewer than one-in-10 pupils gained good grades in the core subjects, it emerged.

 Nationally, 15.4 per cent of teenagers hit the target, rising to around a third in the best-performing areas such as Buckinghamshire and the London boroughs of Barnet, Kingston-upon-Thames and Sutton.

 Chris Skidmore, the Conservative MP for Kingswood, and a member of the Commons education select committee, who obtained the data, said: “These figures demonstrate that there are local authorities failing some of the most disadvantaged pupils in achieving what is becoming the minimum standard for a school education.  “Every pupil, regardless of where they grow up, should be given the opportunity to succeed, and it is clear that this is not happening.”

 From January, Ofsted will draft in eight regional directors covering the North East, North West, East Midlands, West Midlands, East of England, South East, London and the South West.

 Each one – reporting directly to Sir Michael – will lead a team of inspectors tasked with rooting out councils, large-scale chains of academies or faith groups suspected of failing to properly support schools.

 Although Ofsted does not routinely inspect these institutions, Sir Michael insisted that area-wide problems would be reported to the Education Secretary who can then order the watchdog to carry out a full probe.

 Sir Michael will raise further concerns over regional variations in education standards in his first Ofsted annual report, to be published later this month.

 Speaking to the Telegraph, he said: “We need to look behind what’s happening in individual institutions to see whether there is an issue with governance… Is the governance at the local authority good enough? Is the governance by academy chains good enough?

 “If we identify particular issues in a local area, I think it is important that we talk to the Secretary of State about it.”

 A Department for Education spokesman said: “Sir Michael is right – standards in some local authorities are simply not good enough. We are working with them to turn round poor performance in their schools.

 “We are identifying consistently weak schools and allowing experienced academy sponsors to take them over. The best way to turn round these schools is the strong external challenge and support from an academy sponsor.

 "Academies have already turned around hundreds of struggling secondary schools across the country and are improving their results at twice the national average.

 “As with maintained schools, if academies do not make the progress we expect, we take further action. This may result in a change to the sponsorship arrangements."


Test case could dictate admissions policy in British faith schools

New faith schools could be forced to admit pupils from non-religious backgrounds if a judicial review currently being heard in the High Court is successful.

Campaigners have brought a legal challenge against Richmond Council, claiming that in approving two new Catholic schools it had broken the law and discriminated against non-Catholic children.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) and a group of local activists, including parents, argue that all new state schools in the London borough should have religiously inclusive admissions policies.

They say they want to halt the “back-door” spread of new religious state schools in England.

If successful, it could mean that traditional faith schools that cater only for believers, could no longer be opened by a local authority without first seeking proposals from those wishing to establish an academy.

A faith academy would be required to reserve at least 50 per cent of places for non-religious pupils if oversubscribed.

The BHA is fighting to overturn the council’s decision to offer a new £8.4 million site to the Catholic Diocese of Westminster to be used for one primary school and one secondary, which are due to open next September.

It says that the council breached a new law introduced earlier this year which states that if a local authority believes a new school is needed, it must seek proposals from groups wanting to set up free schools or academies.

If there are no suitable proposals, local authorities can the open up the competition to include other types of schools.

However, the Department of Education insists that it is possible to open new faith schools outside of such competitive arrangements. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has personally intervened in the case to back the council.

The council said that 67 per cent of parents and residents who responded to a consultation on its plans were in favour of them. There is no Catholic secondary school in the area and the Church insists it is responding to local demand.

Cllr Lord True, leader of Richmond Council, has accused the BHA and Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC) of using local children as “play thing in their ideological campaign to stop church schools”.

But Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA, said the case reflected "a disturbing national pattern", in which religious groups were being given preferential treatment by local councils through "back-door proposals".

He said outside the High Court: "Victory here would hopefully set a precedent and level the playing field on which proposals to establish schools are treated equally, with the same level of scrutiny, whether religious or not.

Voluntary aided faith schools can select pupils solely on the basis of their faith. In Richmond, the new primary school plans to allocate two thirds of its places to Catholics while at the secondary, all places will be selected based on religion.

The two-day judicial review, which represents the first time the new law has been tested, is due to end on Friday.


Australia: Principals say teachers forced to do risk assessments for things like painting and drawing.  Children too frightened to "have a go"

PRINCIPALS say children are becoming too frightened "to have a go at things" as teachers are forced to do risk assessments for activities including painting and drawing.

Principals say common sense has been abandoned in "the litigious age", with society's risk aversion starting to have a visible impact on children.

They warn risk-taking is "absolutely crucial to learning and development", with some students visibly frightened of making mistakes.

Tiggy [tag], handstands and running on bitumen have all been banned in some schoolyards over the past few years.

State schools now keep a Curriculum Activity Register recording all approved high and extreme-risk activities and some medium ones.

In one of the 134 Curriculum Activity Risk Assessments (CARA), painting and drawing is considered as dangerous as ice skating.

Teachers are told the use of toxic material in painting and drawing activities including glues, pigments and solvents require them to document controls or complete a curriculum activity risk assessment.

"Consider obtaining parental/carer permission," teachers are told.

It comes after the Queensland Association of State School Principals (QASSP) warned a senate inquiry "risk management is no longer left to good old 'common sense'."

QASSP president Hilary Backus said workplace, health and safety issues now gobbled up budgets and time, but there was no turning back from the CARA requirements because of fears of being sued.

She said while people once walked around uneven pavers or underneath branches, they were now pointing them out and expecting principals to deal with them immediately.

She said helicopter parenting and a desire to protect children was hurting learning. "We are starting to see children actually frightened to have a go at things and frightened of making mistakes - it does hinder the learning process," she said.

Queensland Secondary Principals' Association president Norm Fuller said people were now looking for someone to blame when accidents occurred.

"In this day and age the (CARA) forms are necessary," Mr Fuller said. "I believe that we have gone past the area of common sense and we are now seeing a trend of relying more on legal interpretation of risks . . . these days everything must be written down and signed."

Education Queensland assistant director-general Marg Pethiyagoda said parents expected their children would be safe at school.

"The department is working to streamline the curriculum activity risk assessment process to reduce the administrative burden on schools while still ensuring schools are safe places for students to engage in a range of learning activities," she said. She said painting involving toxic materials such as glues could result in students being exposed to dangerous fumes, but general art classes in primary school would use non-toxic materials and were considered low risk.

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said the register and CARA guidelines were in line with community expectations and brought schools in line with the private sector.

He said people might decry any suggestion a game like tiggy could be dangerous but children could be seriously hurt.

Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens' Associations president Margaret Leary said she was worried children were being "bubble-wrapped", but CARA was a result of "the litigious nature of society these days".

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said the top priority for all schools should be student safety, which is why CARA guidelines existed. He encouraged staff to take "a commonsense approach" to decisions on playground safety.