Friday, June 21, 2013

Obama: Hostile Toward Catholic Education? (1)

Oddly, President Obama chose to analogize education by Catholics and Protestants to segregation during his trip to Northern Ireland:

    "Because issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity--symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others--these are not tangential to peace; they’re essential to it. If towns remain divided--if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs--if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation."

Of course, it's ironic that the most divisive President in American history should go to Ireland and condemn division.  But it also raises questions: Does this signal hostility to Catholic education in America -- or hostility to religious education in general?

It's clear -- from his ObamaCare abortifacient/contraceptive mandate to his efforts to cut charitable deductions --  that the President sees government as the only really legitimate actor in civil society.  But his willingness to characterize education by religious orders as enabling division and discord is an unpleasant reminder of his hostility to any social force with potential to check the power of Big Government.


Obama: Hostile Toward Catholic Education? (2)

The Catholic media is up in arms over comments President Obama made during a speech while in Northern Ireland for the G8 summit. Obama made what is described as “an alarming call for an end to Catholic education,” in spite of the fact that it is considered “a critical component of the Church.”

In front of an audience of about 2,000 young people, including many Catholics, Obama claimed that Catholic education divides people and blocks peace, according to the Scottish Catholic Observer.

“If towns remain divided—if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden—that too encourages division and discourages cooperation,” Obama said.

Catholic World News noted:

    "Ironically, President Obama made his comments just as Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told a crowd in Scotland that religious education upholds the dignity of the human person. Archbishop Müller said that Catholic schools should promote “all that is good in the philosophies of societies and human culture.”

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf quoted the Observer’s article on Fr. Z’s blog and added:

    "Another example of what this man wants: total isolation of any religious values in the private sphere alone. Pres. Obama is working either to intimidate or legislate or even TAX religious freedom out of the public square.

    Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a foreign visit to a Islamic nation where he told people on his arrival that they shouldn’t have madrasas.  Can you?

    Did he when visiting, say, Israel, say “You Jews shouldn’t have synagogue schools and you muslims shouldn’t have mosque schools.”  I can’t remember.  Did he?"

Each of the articles drew numerous public comments, most suggesting that Obama be more concerned about the public schools in the United States than their parochial schools, which are working just fine.


British universities lose ground on rivals in Far East

British universities are losing ground on rival institutions in the Far East because of funding cuts and rows over immigration, according to education experts.

The standing of “young” British universities among global competitors has slipped in the past year, international rankings show.

The new tables have prompted claims that Britain’s universities face being “usurped” by nations such as South Korea and Singapore, which are investing heavily in higher education.

Eighteen UK institutions were placed in the second annual league table of 100 universities under 50 years old — still a higher number than any other country.

However, the new rankings, drawn up by Times Higher Education (THE) magazine, show that the UK has only one institution — York University — in the top 10, compared with three in 2012.

A total of 11 British universities fell in the rankings this year and two institutions — City University and Bradford — dropped out of the table altogether.

The 100 Under 50 ranking is intended to provide a “fresh perspective” by examining institutions which were formed relatively recently compared with universities such as Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge, which lead THE’s traditional tables.

The top five places are dominated by universities in the Far East, led by the Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea, which retains first place.

Its national rival, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, has moved up from fifth to third place, while the Swiss École Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne is second.

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is in fourth place, followed by the University of California Irvine in the US.

Phil Baty, the table’s editor, said that having 18 universities in the list showed the “strength and depth” of Britain’s higher education system.

But governments in the Far East are “throwing money” at universities and British institutions face being left behind, he added.

“In the race to attract the world’s top talent and to develop new knowledge, universities have to run fast just to stand still, and at this crucial moment, while others are sprinting ahead, there is a risk that the UK is getting bogged down by austerity cuts and immigration rows,” he said.

“South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore are putting massive resources behind their universities and Britain at the moment is hitting them very hard with austerity.

“We need money to compete. Our competitors are throwing money at universities and we are at risk of throwing away this world leading advantage.”

He continued: “We are starting to clamp down on visa provisions for students and academics — I think that sends a strong message to the rest of the world that we are not open for business.”

Simon Renton, president of the University and College Union said: "Only with increased investment does the UK have a fighting chance of competing on this increasingly dynamic world stage where developing countries have proved they can set up world class players in just 20 years.

"The days where we could take our historical dominance for granted are over.

"These countries are investing heavily in higher education and if we don't do the same, UK higher education PLC will be usurped.”

Labour said the figures showed a “downward trend” for higher education in the UK.

Shabana Mahmood, the shadow universities and science minister, said: “Policies that send signals around the world that we are closed for business at the same time as cutting deeply into higher education budgets, is the fastest way to ensure that UK universities lose their ability to compete on the world stage.”

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said: “We have more institutions in the top 100 under 50 table than any other country. This is a great testament to the sector’s staff and students.

“Our reforms will strengthen the university sector further. They include a more sustainable funding regime, more incentives for world-class teaching and a clearer path for new high-quality providers.”


British student 'suspended' after reporting alleged rape

An amazing rush to judgment

A student was suspended from college after accusing three fellow students of rape and sexual assault, a court has heard.

The 18-year-old was accused of “bringing the college into disrepute” by sleeping with the men on campus, she claimed.

Having been formally excluded, the alleged victim was forced to tell her family why she had left and was urged to report the incident to the police.

Stephen Johnson, 21, William Robinson, 22 and Thomas Price, 21, deny abusing the woman.

The teenager told Hull Crown Court that the three men had befriended her outside her halls of residence before taking her keys and pushing her into her room where they assaulted and then left, laughing.

"I told the college I had been sexually assaulted but I didn't give the details of what had happened, I just gave them an outline,” she said.

"The college said I had brought it into disrepute by having sexual actions with a group of people.

"A couple of days later they recommended that I was excluded.”

The court heard that during the alleged assault, the teenager’s flatmate heard her shouting: "Get off! Get out of my room!” and subsequently reported the incident to a warden at Bishop Burton College, East Riding.

A member of staff then interviewed the woman and all three men and reviewed CCTV footage of the men approaching the student outside the college.

All four were suspended and the woman was sent a letter stating that she had been recommended for exclusion for her “demeaning sexual actions”.

The teenager admitted she was drunk when she first encountered the men and was “happy” until they began to make suggestions.  “I knew they were intending something,” she said.

The girl said that after the ordeal, which left her with bruising, Johnson and Robinson came back to her room to apologise.

John Thackray, prosecuting, accused the men of drunkenly taking advantage of the student knowing that she did not consent. "The prosecution case is that there is clear and compelling evidence that three men took advantage of a young girl on her own in the early hours of the morning,” he said.

"She was suspended from the college and following that the complainant reported the matter to the police."

Paul Genney, defending, claimed the student had flirted with the men, wanted to have sex and only reported it because she was hurt by their cruel laughter and faced expulsion.

He said she had told others she was dragged down the corridor when CCTV showed her smiling with her arm around Robinson.

Mr Genney said there were no threats, injuries, blood on the sheets or damage to clothing.  "You were perfectly willing with everything that happened,” he said. “Embarrassing though it may be, it was done with consent.”

He accused the woman of obtaining a crime number from the police in order to back up her appeal to the college.

Johnson, from Tickton, Yorks, denies one charge of sexual assault by penetration and a charge of sexual assault. Robinson, from Doncaster, South Yorks, denies sexual assault by penetration and Price, from Rotherham, South Yorks, denies rape and assault by penetration.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

The 14-year-old kid arrested over his pro-NRA shirt now faces a year in jail

The West Virginia eighth-grader who was suspended and arrested in late April after he refused to remove a t-shirt supporting the National Rifle Association appeared in court this week and was formally charged with obstructing an officer.

As CBS affiliate WOWK reports, 14-year-old Jared Marcum now faces a $500 fine and a maximum of one year in prison.

The boy’s father, Allen Lardieri, is not pleased.  “Me, I’m more of a fighter and so is Jared and eventually we’re going to get through this,” Lardieri told WOWK.  “I don’t think it should have ever gotten this far.”

“Every aspect of this is just totally wrong,” Lardieri added.  “He has no background of anything criminal up until now and it just seems like nobody wants to admit they’re wrong.”

Officials at Logan Middle School in Logan County, West Va. maintain that Marcum, who has since completed eighth grade, was suspended for one day because he caused a disruption after a teacher asked him to remove a shirt emblazoned with a hunting rifle and the statement “protect your right.”

“She said, ‘Are you supposed to wear that in school?’” Marcum had previously explained in an interview with the CBS affiliate. “I said, ‘I don’t see why I shouldn’t.’”

In a move The Daily Caller can only characterize as courageous, Marcum returned to school after his suspension wearing exactly the same shirt. Students across the rural county showed their support for Marcum by wearing similar shirts on that day as well.


British primary school teaching assistant fired after her 18-year-old son was convicted of child sex offence wins £28,000 compensation

A teaching assistant who was sacked from a primary school over her contact with her sex offender son has won £28,300 in compensation.

Tracy Hodgkinson, 47, informed her school bosses when her 18-year-old son was arrested in November 2009 for having a relationship with an underage girl.

But she claimed that they then began to try and force her out of her job after she had taught for ten years at Halifax Primary School in Ipswich, Suffolk.

Her son was jailed for two-and-a-half years in May 2010 for an offence of grooming and sexual activity with a girl aged under 14.

Mrs Hodgkinson was dismissed in January last year after the 362-pupil school raised concerns about her contact with her son and claimed it no long had 'trust and confidence' in her.

She took her case to an employment tribunal in Bury St Edmunds Suffolk, which ruled last December that she had been unfairly dismissed.

The tribunal has now awarded her compensation of £28,300, but has made no order for her to be given her job back.

Mrs Hodgkinson of Ipswich said she could not abandon her son who became her only child after her daughter died from a rare form of cancer in December 2004.

She said: 'It is a weight off my shoulders. The whole process has really taken its toll, my health has suffered.

'I couldn't abandon my son, he's the only child I have left. Me having contact with my son, who has paid for what he did, posed no risk to the children.

'They tried to make me pay for his crimes. I feel I can draw a line under it all now. I am very saddened by what has happened, but glad that I stood up and fought for what I believed in.

'I still can't really believe I had the strength to stand up and fight my case in front of barristers and lawyers.

'There were times when I contemplated taking my own life, but the memory of my daughter got me through. I really hope the school has learned from what happened.'

Her son was living with his father, her ex-husband, at the time he was arrested over his relationship with the girl who had no connection with Halifax Primary School

Mrs Hodgkinson informed the school's headteacher Anna Hennell-James and Janice Lee, strategic manager for the learning and improvement service at Suffolk County Council, of his arrest.  She asked for some time off and was told to remain at home until the school had decided on a strategy to respond to the situation.

But she claimed that a subsequent meeting with the headteacher and a council official 'turned into a disciplinary hearing'.

The school later raised concerns about her not reporting that there had been a request for a friend's 15-year-old daughter to visit her son in Norwich prison.

Mrs Hodgkinson claimed the visit didn't happen after she contacted the girl's parents to ask their permission and the mother refused it.  She consequently did not inform the school because she did not consider it a 'serious matter'. The prison later admitted that the visiting request should not have been issued.

The school also accused her of 'associating with offenders' after she met her son at a McDonald's restaurant following his release to a bail hostel in Ipswich. When the pair met, her son had a friend from the hostel with him.

Mrs Hodgkinson went to an employment tribunal after losing an appeal against her dismissal.

The tribunal found that the school's statement that it had lost confidence in her was 'not based on reasonable grounds'.  It also ruled that disciplinary process was full of mistakes, misunderstandings and a lack of proper consideration.

Mrs Hodgkinson had also not received any formal disciplinary warnings let alone a warning that her job was at risk.

There was also no evidence that she had failed to spot or safeguard the interests of any child at the school before or after her son's arrest.

A spokesman for Halifax Primary Schoool said: 'We are disappointed that the tribunal did not see fit to uphold our decision to dismiss Mrs Hodgkinson.  'Our main priority has always been, and will continue to be, the safety of children in our care.'

Mrs Hodgkinson said: 'I am just so pleased that the little person has fought against all odds and won.

'At the end of the day I took them on because while I know my son has done wrong - I'm not disputing that and have never condoned his crime - it was his crime, not mine.

'I had worked at the school for ten years, I loved it there and my little girl loved it there before she died. Now I can't look at it in the same way.

'After losing my daughter I couldn't just stop seeing my son. He's the only child I have left.

'After I told the school it seemed everything I did was picked up on. It feels like they have tried to make me pay for what my son did.

'Me having contact with my son poses no risk to the children.  'They [the school] have tried to make me out to be a bad person. It's been a living nightmare.'


Britain’s universities have to play it clever

The foreign competition is fierce – our leading institutions must raise endowments or perish

Last month, David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, acknowledged how vital universities are to the UK economy, adding that their innovation and research will “keep us ahead in the global race”. But there is one international race top British universities are at risk of losing: the competition to attract and retain the brightest undergraduates, amid the economic realities of higher education on either side of the Atlantic. Tackling this issue will require a reassessment by leading establishments of how they financially support their pupils, and changes in how British students think about their relationship with their universities after graduation.

I teach an undergraduate class in statistics at Harvard. Enrolment in statistics courses here has grown significantly over the past five years, but there has been another discernible trend: the increase in the proportion of British accents. In 1992, when I was completing my graduate studies at Harvard, 15 British undergraduates enrolled in Harvard College – four per year out of an annual class of about 1,600. That enrolment has quadrupled this year, to 62. I encounter these students in my office hours, ambitious young men and women who, in a different era, would have headed to Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial or other leading UK universities without considering an American alternative.

A similar story is playing out at other elite US universities. Higher education as a whole has become a more international enterprise, but it is likely that the shifting economics of education in the UK versus the US is contributing to the increasing numbers of British undergraduates studying in America. The highly charged debate in Britain has focused largely on the level of fees, but the more relevant metric is affordability; that is, the net cost of a university education, once financial aid has been factored in.

On the American side, the total gross cost per year – tuition, room, board and fees – of attending Harvard has risen from $31,132 in 1998-99 (the year tuition fees were introduced in Britain) to $52,652 in 2012-13. Yet the net cost (taking aid into account) has remained relatively stable, at only $18,277 (about £12,000). Enabled by the largest university endowment in the world, Harvard College spent $172 million last year on undergraduate financial aid. Families whose annual income is less than $65,000 – whether they are US citizens or not – are not required to pay anything towards their children’s education, so many attend Harvard free of charge.

Contrast this with Britain, where tuition fees jumped from £3,300 per year in 2011 to a maximum of £9,000 per year in England from 2012. Most leading universities have opted to charge the higher amount, which still does not cover the cost of educating a student. However, no student in England has to pay fees while they are studying. Rather, they may take on a government-arranged loan, and defer payment until they earn a salary of at least £21,000 per year.

Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial are regularly placed in the top 10 universities in the world. As Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Cambridge Vice-Chancellor, wrote last year: “We too are in a global competition of Olympic proportions.” These achievements are a testament to the quality of the undergraduates, faculty and research students at British universities. The institutions must, however, recognise the evolving economic realities, which mean they can no longer assume top talent will gravitate to them by default. A decade ago, the leading UK universities maintained a virtual oligopoly on able students; now, new-world competitors are poaching their talent.

This is worrying for the UK. While many British students may ultimately return home to pursue a career, an international undergraduate education can often be the first step towards a more permanent emigration of talent. Each time an outstanding British undergraduate is admitted to Harvard on financial aid, not only the student but also Harvard itself celebrates. The vibrancy of an institution of higher education is driven by the excellence of its undergraduate body.

Leading UK universities are examining how to remain pre-eminent amid international competition. For instance, the Cambridge bursary scheme, in an echo of Harvard’s affordable funding initiative, provides grants of £3,500 for students whose household income is below £25,000, and £1,500 for those below £35,000. Establishing momentum behind such initiatives will involve a cultural shift in the attitudes of alumni to higher education funding. By way of comparison, the recent Stanford endowment campaign raised over $6 billion in five years, a sum greater than the value of the entire Cambridge University endowment (age, 804 years). British universities must engage wholeheartedly in conversations with their alumni about the future affordability of a good undergraduate degree. Faculties should accept that raising endowment funding to support undergraduates will be critical to competitiveness. Such initiatives are becoming more urgent, so that “premier league” British universities do not find themselves unable to attract the best students, and end up relegated from the top division.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Colleges May Be the Next Burst Bubble

by Martin Hutchinson

When a service's costs exceed its benefits, yet its price continues to increase faster than inflation, there can be only one outcome

A recent study by the website shows it can take decades in some professions to pay off college debt. Conversely, the leaker Edward Snowden, according to reports, didn’t graduate from high school and yet was holding down a six-figure job in one of the most bureaucratized of sectors. Those and other signals strongly suggest that while the cost of a four-year college degree inexorably increases in real terms, the return to students on that investment is declining, and that only abundant subsidized finance from the Federal government is keeping the system going. As a banker-journalist of forty years' experience, I can tell you: higher education looks like a bubble about to burst.

Countless studies have shown there to be around a 50% salary premium for obtaining a 4-year bachelor's degree, compared with high-school graduates. On that comparison rests the entire economics of the gigantic college education industry. Even a cost over $100,000 in tuition for a 4-year degree can be justified by the prospect of a 50% salary increase for one's entire career, although the taxman's substantial slice of it lessens the economic benefit.

However the comparison is a false one, for the simple reason that the college graduates and the high-school graduates have different levels of ability. Given the strong social pressures toward college, particularly in high schools themselves, there is a heavy tendency for the student with the ability to get into college to do so. Once in college, even if the student finds the work uninteresting and the expenses heavy, there is a strong tendency to graduate, because the student who does not graduate has supposedly shown to employers that he lacks the "discipline" that college requires. Only students who can wangle themselves interesting job offers without graduating are likely to drop out without facing a substantial job-market penalty.

However if the innate abilities of the college graduate and the high school graduate are different, then much of the salary difference between the two groups can be explained by the difference in their innate abilities, and not by the value of the college degree itself. Thus half or more of the 50% college graduate premium may in reality be due to differential ability, reducing the true value of the college degree to 25% or even less. When that correction is made, the economic incentive to pay for a four-year college is greatly reduced.

The other question is to what extent the requirement of some jobs for college degrees is artificial. Clearly, in some professions such as medicine and the law, professional bodies themselves impose a requirement for a medical degree or (in the case of the law) a law school post-graduate education – even graduation in the state bar exam is no longer enough, in most cases.

In other jobs, the requirement for a degree seems purely a matter of bureaucracy. For example degree-learning is little used in the major banks and consultancies, yet few rise in those professions without a college degree. The federal government also is over-impressed by academic attainment, with many employees holding higher degrees, albeit generally from third and fourth tier colleges, without any great need for the skills those colleges have supposedly imparted. Finally, while schoolteachers may be thought to need some modest qualification in education skills, those qualifications are not available without the prerequisite of a college degree, the skills of which are often never used in the teacher's career.

The requirement for degrees in large bureaucracies that do not use the skills learned can be equated to the requirement in the British Army before 1870 for the purchase of commissions. In both cases, there was no implied requirement for skill in the tasks undertaken by the bureaucracy, but simply a desire that the incoming bureaucrat or officer be "one of us" who had paid his/her dues to enter the organization concerned.

Commission purchase was derided by Victorian reformers as keeping the Army unprofessional and dominated by the aristocracy. In reality it had certain logistical advantages; for one thing if promotion had been only by seniority, by the time of the Crimean War, after forty years of peace, all the colonels would have been 70 – as it was too many of them were. It also provided an automatic pension scheme since an officer wishing to retire simply sold his commission and used the proceeds as a pension.

Note the financial similarity between commission purchase and 4-year college. An infantry captain in 1837 earned 192 pounds annually, while his commission cost 1,800 pounds, or 9.4 years' purchase. At the top of the scale, a cavalry lieutenant-colonel earned 600 pounds, while his commission cost 6,175 pounds or 10.3 years' purchase. At the bottom of the scale, an infantry ensign's commission cost only 4.7 years' purchase, presumably reflecting the lesser demand for such a low-paid post.

From's figures, a teacher's degree costs $53,000 or 1.3 years' salary, a dental degree costs $139,000, or 0.9 years' salary (but bear in mind that dentists must pay for liability insurance, a cost unknown to a 19th century cavalry colonel) and at the plebian end of the scale a journalist's degree (presumably the B.A., not the J-school) costs $53,000 or 1.4 years' salary. Of the three qualifications, only the dentist's can be argued to be truly necessary.

The Millennials will rejoice to learn that their degrees cost less than the purchase of even a lowly Ensign's commission – but they should reflect that those degrees, growing costlier by the year, have no monetary value after they have been obtained, and thus cannot be used as a pension. What's more whereas the 19th Century military officer could and did switch careers in mid-life, financing the switch through the sale of his commission, no such opportunity is available to the modern recipient of a liberal arts degree.

There is of course a more precise equivalent to a nineteenth century Army commission: a New York City taxi medallion, which today costs around $700,000, which in 1837 would have got you a Major's commission in a good cavalry regiment.

Skeptics will argue that the college education provides knowledge that is useful in the student's further career or (in the Ivy League) allows the student to mix with an intellectual elite. But in a year in which Harvard College invites Oprah Winfrey as commencement speaker, surely the embodiment (however successful) of lowest-common-denominator culture, it can hardly be claimed that the college adds any intellectual polish that cannot be acquired over the Internet.

If professions wish to maintain exclusivity by demanding their new entrants endure four years of an expensive college process that provides them with little or no additional capability for the job, they should acknowledge the fact openly. Instead of requiring a 4-year college degree, they should rely only on a simple aptitude test, together with a license. Then the number of licenses issued could be restricted according to the current supply/demand for that profession's output.

The licenses would then trade like New York City taxi medallions, with supply/demand for the profession's services determining the price of the license. In bull markets, licenses to practice on Wall Street would become very costly indeed (as did New York Stock Exchange seats when that institution's membership was restricted – they peaked at $625,000 in 1929.) In bear markets, they would be much cheaper – NYSE seat values bottomed at $17,000 in 1942, later than one would have expected. Similarly journalism licenses would soar during election years and major wars in which the U.S. was engaged.

It might be objected that a license system would require a substantial up-front investment, thereby denying the professions to those without private means. But that's also true today with 4-year college degrees. Finance for the professional licenses would be easily available, since unlike a 4-year degree they would have a cash value and be saleable if the licensee wanted to switch careers. Most important, they would save the student 4 years in college, replacing it with the much shorter period required for a prep course for the professional aptitude test.

We're probably never going to a system whereby professional licenses replace college. But the thought-experiment indicates the true value of a college degree is much less than is usually claimed. When a service's costs exceed its benefits, and yet its price continues to increase faster than inflation there can be only one outcome: a massive market correction, with widespread bankruptcies and industry capacity slashed by a large fraction. For the colleges of America, this fate lies ahead.


Poor white children are the worst achievers at school, says British school inspectorate

Why?  Because you can mark them as "Fail".  You can't do that with minorities

Poor white children in rural areas and coastal towns have been revealed as the the biggest under-performers in British schools.

A report from Ofsted, set to be released later this week, outlines how the worst-performing pupils are now found in coastal towns and villages in the east and south-east of England.

It is a dramatic shift from twenty years ago, when inner city pupils in large cities like London and Birmingham and ethnic minorities were the least likely to succeed academically.

Now these children achieve exam results above the national average, while pupils in towns such as Hastings in East Sussex and Great Yarmouth in Norfolk are floundering at school.

The findings were laid out by Ofsted's chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw.

He said: 'Many of these disadvantaged children live in areas that might be considered affluent but nonetheless are performing poorly.

'We need new policies and approaches to deal with underachievement in these areas.'

The report, Access and Achievement, shows that poor British white pupils are the lowest performing ethnic group and since 2007 their qualification attainment has improved by just 13 per cent. By comparison, Bangladeshi pupils of a similar background have jumped by 22 per cent.

Sir Michael, a former headteacher, told the Sunday Times: 'Where those youngsters aren't getting jobs, then they will be attracted to organisations like the English Defence League, and we need to worry about that as a society.'

Although the gulf in achievement between the richest and poorest pupils in cities is closing, it remains 'stubbornly wide' elsewhere.

The report, the first into the academic gap between rich and poor in a decade, also states that children from affluent families are nearly twice as likely to leave school with five good GCSEs than those from underprivileged backgrounds.

Sir Michael announced measures to tackle the disparity, such as more closely monitoring schools and encouraging successful schools to support those nearby that are struggling.

Earlier this week Sir Michael said children should be placed in sets from the age of 11 because state schools are failing to help the most gifted reach their potential.

Mixed ability classes in particular are responsible for stunting their development because they are pitched at average pupils, he said.

‘Too many non-selective schools are failing to nurture scholastic excellence. While the best of these schools provide excellent opportunities, many of our most able students receive mediocre provision,' he added.

‘Put simply, they are not doing well enough because their secondary schools fail to challenge and support them sufficiently from the beginning.'


The British Labour Party has raised the white flag on free schools. It's just going to re-brand them 'parent-led academies'

I sympathise with Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary. From the moment he was appointed, he made it clear that he doesn't oppose free schools. I suspect that his attitude towards them in private is the same as Andrew Adonis's and, like his close colleague, he believes Labour should take credit for them. As Adonis has often pointed out, free schools are just a subset of the sponsored academies introduced by Labour.

But Twigg cannot simply embrace the policy without alienating the teaching unions and large sections his own party. Ed Miliband dismissed free schools as "the opposite of the thing we need" and Ed Balls, Labour's last education secretary, described the policy as the most socially divisive in 60 years. So Twigg needs to sugar the pill if he's to persuade the party to swallow the policy.

His strategy in the past has been to support free schools, but only on certain conditions. In 2011, for instance, he said Labour wouldn't oppose free schools provided that they raised standards, narrowed the attainment gap between rich and poor and didn't have a negative impact on neighbouring schools. In his big speech today, Twigg has made essentially the same point, only with a different set of conditions. This time, he's saying that Labour will support free schools provided they don't create surplus places or employ non-qualified teachers. Oh, and it's going to re-brand them "parent academies".

If this is a "U-turn", it's not a policy shift on Twigg's part. Rather, the new development is that the Blairite Twigg has finally persuaded his largely Brownite party to accept his position on free schools. He's done his best to create the impression that a great gulf exists between this policy and that of the Conservatives, but the truth is that the majority of free schools are already in areas where there's a basic need for more school places, thanks in part to the last government's open-door immigration policy. In principle, the Department for Education will still approve a free school application if the proposer group can show that there's a genuine demand for places, but the number of proposals being approved in areas where there's already a surplus of places is getting smaller and smaller. Of the proposals for mainstream free schools approved last month, over 90 per cent were in areas where there's a shortage of places.

What about non-qualified teachers? Twigg has always been opposed to free schools employing teachers without the union-approved credentials, but that's not just a freedom enjoyed by schools like the one I co-founded. Independent schools and academies have the same latitude. Is Labour going to force them to sack non-qualified teachers as well? It looks as though Twigg wants this to be the main dividing line between the two parties when it comes to education policy in the run-up to the next election and Labour's internal polling suggests that, on this issue, the public is on its side. But I find it difficult to take seriously because I can't see how a Labour government could enforce such a policy. The autonomy of free schools and academies when it comes to things like employing staff is guaranteed in their funding agreements and it's hard for an Education Secretary to override those agreements, as Ed Balls discovered when he unsuccessfully tried to force academies to teach the National Curriculum in 2007. A new Labour government could pass legislation making it illegal for schools to employ non-qualified staff, but any school that sacked a teacher as a result of this law could almost certainly be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights.

My reading of this element in Stephen Twigg's speech is that it's a sop to the teaching unions – and the left of his own party – designed to neuter their opposition to Labour's support for free schools and will be quietly dropped if the party wins the next election. For that reason, defenders of Michael Gove's education reforms shouldn't be drawn into a debate on this point. Instead, they should welcome the shadow education secretary's success in persuading his party to drop its opposition to free schools and taunt Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and the leaders of the teaching unions about this at every opportunity: "So you're opposed to free schools, but in favour of parent-led academies. Can you tell me what the difference is, please?"

In the public debate about free schools, both internally and externally, the enemies of promise have been trounced.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Common Core Standards

Most states have traded their education standards for Common Core national standards. State leaders were told Common Core would not infringe on state and local control, would establish high academic quality, and would improve student performance. Unfortunately, none of this became true when the standards were actually written.

Common Core was written behind closed doors, largely by four education consultants employed by private organizations. Because of this, most state lawmakers and citizens did not hear about Common Core until after state boards and departments of education had quickly adopted it and corresponding national tests, with the Obama administration having presented adoption as the surest route to eligibility for federal Race to the Top money.

As they have learned how Common Core will affect curricula, teaching, and testing, state lawmakers and citizens have objected strenuously, leading more than a dozen states to consider withdrawing, while others have dropped their involvement with federally funded tests. The main concerns include Common Core’s questionable academic quality, nontransparent creation and quick adoption, federal involvement, links to a vast expansion of student data-mining, and further erosion of state and local control.

Policy Solution

States should replace Common Core with higher-quality, state-controlled academic standards and tests not funded by the federal government. They should secure student data privacy and ensure national testing mandates do not affect instruction in private and home schools.

Policy Message

    Point 1: Common Core is of mediocre academic quality, according to nationally known experts, and research shows education standards do not improve student achievement.

    Point 2: Common Core was not created by states in any meaningful sense. It was written behind closed doors by unelected committees inside organizations funded largely by the federal government.

    Point 3: Most states have agreed to subject their laws to federally funded and monitored Common Core testing groups, largely through contracts legislatures have not reviewed.

    Point 4: Many states promised the federal government they would trade their standards for Common Core before a draft or final version of the standards was published.

    Point 5: The national Common Core testing groups have not specified what data they will require of states within their student assessments, but they have promised the federal government will receive full access. The Obama administration has removed federal protections that in the past limited student data-sharing and required schools to inform parents of it.

    Point 6: Common Core threatens school choice, private schools, and home schools by creating a national market for education in which all tests—including the SAT, ACT, Iowa Basic, and Stanford 10—and most curricula are structured according to one system.

    Point 7: Common Core is entirely experimental. No state or school has ever tested it.

    Point 8: Education standards are not curriculum, but they determine what children will and will not learn. They define curriculum. And the federally funded testing consortia are creating a model Common Core curriculum, although federal curriculum creation is illegal.

    Point 9: Almost no state has analyzed how much retraining teachers, new curriculum, and upgrading technology by 2016 for online-only Common Core tests will cost taxpayers.

    Point 10: There is no process for parents, teachers, and school boards to provide feedback or gain flexibility on all or part of Common Core as students begin encountering it.

    Point 11: Common Core assumes one schedule of learning fits all children, and a small group of paid experts know what it is. It also rests on the premise, rejected by many communities and parents, that the sole purpose of public education is workforce training.


Middle-class British children are struggling in secondary schools after excessive tutoring for the 11-plus exam

Their marks may not indicate ability in such cases

Hot-housing children through entrance exams at selective schools could leave them struggling to keep up with more talented pupils in future, a leading headmaster has warned.

Parents are increasingly relying on tutors to help their children pass the 11-plus for grammar schools and private schools’ Common Entrance exam sat at 13.

But Christopher Ray, the chairman of the Headmasters and Headmistresses’ Conference, said many are unable to cope when they get into their chosen school.

Some are even asked to leave at 16 to avoid damaging the school’s A-level pass rates.  ‘At 11 it’s very hard [to select], so mistakes are made,’ said Dr Ray who is head of Manchester Grammar School.

‘You have to ask the question of whether students are going to make it into the sixth form at 16. The saddest thing of all is to get it wrong.

‘Why is that mistake made? One of the possible reasons is that the pupils have been over-tutored, hot-housed for the entrance exam and progressively cannot cope.’

Dr Ray said entrance exams for selective schools should be axed as so many children are now being intensively coached outside school.

University-style ‘assessment days’ - where teachers could monitor children over several hours in a classroom environment - would be better, he suggested.

More than half of children are being tutored privately as parents fight to get them into the best schools, a study suggested last year. Some are as young as two.  The practice has exploded in recent years despite the squeeze on family incomes.

In many cases parents are prepared to pay for their children to get into the best state schools as the overall cost is cheaper than private schools. Many grammar schools now have ten applications for each place.

Some schools are now asking questions that are harder to prepare for but critics say it is impossible to completely ‘tutor-proof’ the process.

‘Entrance exams are almost the worst way to select students academically,’ Dr Ray told a Sunday newspaper.  ‘They don’t really get to the heart of pupils’ potential.

'They don’t really tell you how that pupil thinks and almost all of them can be tutored for, which gives a very unfair advantage to those who are tutored.

‘Some heads say a 15 or 20-minute interview can be the corrective for that. I don’t think so - pupils are also being tutored for interviews.’

There are also concerns at the length of time children spend being coached outside school hours and the quality of education provided by some tutors.

Ben Thomas, headteacher at independent preparatory Thomas’s, Battersea in South London, said children’s free time was being ‘devoured’ by the practice.

The Centre for Market Reform of Education think-tank last month announced plans to establish a national association for private tutors.

Members of the association - the first of its kind - would have to sign up to minimum qualification standards and a code of ethics.

Headteachers have also revealed how parents are forcing children to do lengthy commutes so that they can attend the right schools.

Jane Grubb, headmistress of Bedales Prep School in Hampshire, said earlier this year that some children travel up to ten hours a week.


A very educational book

With traditional American values seemingly under assault from all sides, parents can struggle to find children’s literature that corresponds with their beliefs. Susan Allen, Virginia’s former first lady, fills this void with The Remarkable Ronald Reagan, her delightful new children’s book narrating our 40th president’s fascinating life and extolling the virtues he embodied.

The Remarkable Ronald Reagan traces President Reagan’s career living the American Dream from his days as young “Dutch” to his presidency, including his experiences in sports broadcasting, World War II combat and acting. By demonstrating to children the richness of a life spent fulfilling dreams, Allen’s narrative radiates optimism and love of country. Her portrayal of Reagan’s enduring faith, relentless work ethic and perseverance in the face of adversity gives children a true hero to whom they can all look up.

For many of Allen’s readers, Leslie Harrington’s illustrations will steal the show. Her sleek images render a sense of life and color to Reagan’s story that merits recognition. For those inclined to learn more, Allen includes a convenient addendum to the book with a timeline of Reagan’s life, notable bits of his correspondence with children and two pages full of fantastic Reagan quotations.

Allen’s book is more than a bedtime story—it’s a way for parents to showcase the American way of life. In an age of cynicism and moral ambiguity, children need a portrait of faith and clarity. Allen does a remarkable job of illustrating to children exactly why Ronald Reagan was America at its best.


Monday, June 17, 2013

School Threatens to Ruin Valedictorian’s Naval Academy Appointment

A Texas high school principal threatened to sabotage a valedictorian’s appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy after the student delivered a speech that referenced God and the U.S. Constitution, the boy’s attorney alleges.

Hiram Sasser, director of litigation with the Liberty Institute, said Joshua High School principal Mick Cochran threatened to write a letter to the U.S. Naval Academy disparaging the character of Remington Reimer.

“It was intimidating having my high school principal threaten my future because I wanted to stand up for the Constitution and acknowledge my faith and not simply read a government approved speech,” the teenager said.

Sasser is now representing the teenager and is calling for the Joshua Independent School District to issue a public statement exonerating him of any wrongdoing.

He said the speech was edited and reviewed by four different school officials – including an officer in the JROTC. Sasser said the censorship violated federal and state laws.

“All he did was simply follow state law and Joshua ISD policy,” he said.

Reimer, a senior at Joshua High School, made national headlines on June 6 when officials cut off his microphone in mid-speech after he strayed from pre-approved remarks and began talking about his relationship with Jesus Christ.

Reimer, who has received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, thanked God for “sending His only son to die for me and the rest of the world,” the Joshua Star reported.

The following day the principal met with Reimer’s father and informed him “that he intended to punish Remington for his perceived misdeed.”

“Specifically, he threatened to send a letter to the United States Naval Academy advising them that Remington has poor character or words to that effect,” Sasser told Fox News.

After consulting with a school attorney, the principal temporarily retracted the threat, Sasser said.

“The principal said he wanted to try to ruin him for what he did – for talking about the Constitution and his faith,” Sasser said. “I don’t know if he’s going to be able to continue to be the principal of that school.”

Sasser said the school district violated state and federal laws by censoring Reimer’s speech. He said the law, along with local school policy, requires the school to distance itself from the valedictorian’s speech. That means not editing or drafting the speech.

The school was also required to publish a message in the graduation program that read in part, “the content of each student-speaker’s message is the private expression of the individual student and does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position or expression of the District.”

Sasser said contrary to the law and its own policies the Joshua Independent School District failed to include the disclaimer and not only edited – but tried to control Reimer’s speech.

“These school officials broke the rules and violated state and federal law and their own board policy,” Sasser said. “They should be held accountable for violating school board policy and causing needless embarrassment for Joshua ISD and the Joshua community.”


Education Secretary Arne Duncan: Pre-School is Better Than Grandma

I'd back grandma

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday that “cultural hesitation” makes it more difficult for some Hispanic parents to want to enroll their children in public pre-school programs because of their preference for family and friends.

Duncan’s remarks came when asked about pre-school and the Hispanic community at an event to mark the anniversary of Educare of Washington, D.C., a preschool for children from six weeks to five years old.

Educare of Washington, D.C., is part of the Educare Learning Network, which has 18 pre-schools in 12 states.

Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius attended the event to urge support for President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget request to double the number of four-year-olds in pre-school nationwide from 1.1 million to 2.2 million over the next decade, the Washington Post reported.

Obama is also proposing $15 million more for infants and toddlers and home visitations, according to Duncan.

“Two different challenges that I think we have to face,” Duncan said. “One that [HHS Secretary] Kathy [Sebelius] talked about is sometimes you have a cultural piece where people are scared to put their kids in more formal care and they prefer, you know, to do the grandmother, the neighbor, whatever.

“And so how we communicate very directly with families and churches and non-profits to make sure if we build it they will come, there’s some work we need to do there,” Duncan said.

Sebelius said pre-school could make Hispanic children “culturally comfortable” with entering public schools as kindergartners.

“Making sure that families are culturally comfortable with the kind of environments that they’re going to hit at a school level and that they feel welcome, know how to participate and know how to support their kids,” Sebelius said.

Duncan said work was needed on “how we challenge some of the cultural hesitation” of Hispanic parents.


Australia: Education's ominous national plan destined for failure

THE government isn't quite sure what to call it - is it the National Plan for School Improvement or Gonski or Better Schools?

For a while there, the government decided to refrain from using the term Gonski to describe its ambitious plans to alter school funding and impose federal oversight of schools. And well it might; there is an important point of difference between what the federal government is proposing and one of the core premises of the Gonski report.

According to the Gonski report, "the panel recognises that the states and territories have constitutional responsibilities for the delivery and management of schooling. They require a strong degree of autonomy to meet the needs of their state or territory school communities and student population."

The problem with using the term National Plan for School Improvement is that it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue.

And, let's face it, that mouthful is a bit spooky. The Soviet Union probably had a national plan for school improvement, along with national plans for all sorts of other improvements.

Better Schools could work. But under that heading the government includes the national curriculum, ongoing teacher training and better communication with parents, in addition to funding based on student needs.

So how is the implementation of the new school funding system progressing under the earnest and increasingly desperate stewardship of ex-pop singer Peter Garrett? We should not forget this is not just any area of policy, it is one of the Prime Minister's pet projects.

The answer is that progress to date has been long on politics and short on systematic and measured policymaking. Lots of shots of Garrett and Gillard with generally well-behaved school students, but the real outcomes are partial and patchy.

Take the Australian Education Bill 2012 that was rushed through the House of Representatives late last year. What was the point? It read like a Labor Party pamphlet with lots of buzz phrases, including students receiving excellent education, students reaching their full potential in the Asian Century and Australia having one of the top five performing school systems in 2025.

There was the truly bizarre section 10, which stated that the act did not create legally enforceable obligations. Why would the government ask the parliament to pass an act that had no legally enforceable obligations? Obviously, the government saw some political advantage to the passage of the bill; it was arguably a gross misuse of parliamentary processes.

The first five-plus months of this year have been a chaotic period of policy confusion, incomplete modelling, uncertain funding and costly side deals offered to the more amenable states and territories. The government even seems to have managed to get the non-government schools offside.

In the week before last, the government rammed a large number of amendments to the Australian Education Bill through the House of Representatives. There are 71 pages of amendments, compared with the 11 pages in the original bill. The main thrust of these amendments is to carve out separate deals for participating states and territories and non-participating states and territories, respectively.

These amendments are very strange. Normally, one would expect to see these sorts of details articulated in regulations or as attachments to the National Education Reform Agreement, rather than sit in an act. Again, politics is the explanation, plus an attempt by this government to rule from the grave.

At least the federal government has been quite frank about its intended takeover of school education. In the Prime Minister's words, "The funding flows to states, territories and Catholic and independent schools who agree to the actions, targets and reporting for improvement which we agree under the national plan."

In other words, the national plan trumps everything. Note that "all schools will engage with at least one school in Asia in support of the teaching of a priority Asian language, taking advantage of the National Broadband Network", according to Gillard. Schools, Asia and NBN all in the one sentence - how good is that?

As Kevin Donnelly points out, the real trouble is that the new arrangements and accountability requirements being foisted on schools are the complete antithesis of giving schools and their principals more autonomy.

The Australian Education Act may not withstand a constitutional challenge. After all, section 99 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act states that "The commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade, commerce, or revenue, give preference to one state or any part thereof over another state or any part thereof".

Moreover, Bronwyn Hinz and Brian Galligan, of the University of Melbourne, have raised broader constitutional problems for the Gonski reforms stemming from the fact school education is a residual power of the states.

The authors claim it is only a matter of time before there is a further legal challenge.

According to Hinz and Galligan, "Gonski and the High Court both stated that the commonwealth should retreat from schooling, the former on practical grounds, the latter on constitutional grounds. The commonwealth rejected both their conclusions."

The state of play with Gonski is that NSW, the ACT and South Australia have signed up. The remaining Labor state, Tasmania, in all likelihood, will sign up soon.

Given the parlous state of the budgets of Tasmania and South Australia, it is quite fanciful that either can really afford Gonski, given the co-funding requirement. But because the Gonski financial arrangements are heavily back-end loaded, the fiction can be maintained for a little while.

There are some short-term financial penalties for the non-participating states that Garrett clearly hopes will be sufficient to get Queensland and Victoria over the line. The decision to kill off several National Partnership programs in education, funded by the commonwealth, is a further part of Garrett's armoury.

The bottom line is that the implementation of Gonski is no way to conduct important public policy reforms. And if the key is the reform of school funding to reflect student needs, we should take note of Hinz and Galligan's observation that "the funding formula Gonski recommended is already being used in various degrees by most states".

But when it comes to leaving the control and management of public schools in the hands of the states and territories, the Labor government isn't having a bar of it.

New controls, new bodies, new accountability measures, all 10,000 schools submitting annual School Improvement Plans - it is no wonder that the lagging states are a bit hesitant. And most of these new arrangements also will apply to non-government schools.

In the meantime, we should not be concerned with the educational outcomes of only the worst performing students. We also should worry about those at the top, whose performance has slipped according to international standards. There is work to be done, but the National Plan for School Improvement is far too expensive, constitutionally dubious, overrides the states and territories and is unlikely to make much difference.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

British school bans frilly socks after child trips over

I knew that frills give females a thrill but I could not even imagine what frilly socks would look like.  So I am glad I found the picture below.  Very humourless to deprive little girls of them

After one of the pupils tripped and fell over last week head teacher Jan Buckland banned the children from wearing socks with a frill longer than 3cms.

Some parents have vowed to defy the new rules, but if children turn up wearing the extra long frills they will be forced to change into plain socks Mrs Buckland bought from Primark.

The trend at Kingsholm Primary School in Gloucester was started by pupil Lily-Jo, 6, who was the envy of her friends with the socks handmade by her mother Tracy Rudge.  "I have been making them for Lily-Jo since she was at pre-school," Ms Rudge said. "All the other children wanted them. The kids love them as they are fun.

One girl tripped over last week and the head teacher has now banned them - but her fall was nothing to do with the socks. "All of the parents whose children have them have defied this silly ban and sent their kids into school wearing them.  "But the headmistress ordered them all to take off their socks and she made them wear plain socks that she had bought from Primark."

The cleaner has been making the socks as a hobby while she is on sick leave from work. She has given more than 50 pairs to parents.
She added: "This ban is ridiculous. They have gone health and safety mad but show a complete disregard for us as parents, and our children.  "My daughter knows that she is to follow mum's rules but then she gets to school and is told something different."

A letter was sent home to parents of the school's 438 children to warn them that a new frilly sock ban was coming into force, which outlaws any frill larger than three centimetres.

Those children that defied the ban by coming to school wearing the prohibited socks on Monday were given a 'reminder' letter. Mrs Buckland said: "I have enforced a ban because there was an incident where one of the children, who was wearing a long, lacy frill, fell.  "We had to fill in a health and safety risk assessment and it was clear these socks were a trip hazard.

"The governing body and I decided that a ban was appropriate because the frill had been trailing on the floor.

"The parents made a point of allowing their children to come in wearing them again.  "I asked the children to remove them and we provided them fresh, new pairs of socks. If parents are defiant, the kids will have to change out of them if they arrive in the building wearing them."


GOP: Education system 'congested' with mandates

A Senate committee voted this week to move forward with a Democratic-backed education plan, but Republicans argue the proposal forces the country's school systems to further rely on the federal government.

"Over the last decade, the United States Department of Education has become so congested with federal mandates that it has actually become, in effect, a national school board," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said Saturday in the GOP weekly address.

"If you remember the childhood game, 'Mother, May I?' then you have a pretty good sense of how the process works-states must come to Washington for approval of their plans to educate their students," he continued.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved a bill called "Strengthening America's Schools Act," which was filed by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The ESEA was originally passed in 1965 and requires periodic reauthorization. The current version of the law, No Child Left Behind, was passed under the George W. Bush administration and requires states to set higher standards with greater accountability through standardized testing.

Republicans, however, say the federal government is too involved in students' education and argue the task should be left to local governments.

"Republicans voted to move in a different direction," Alexander said, talking about a bill he proposed that failed to make it out of committee. Alexander said they put forward a 220-page plan that restores "responsibility to states and communities."

"It rejects federal mandates that create a national school board, and prohibits the Education Secretary from prescribing standards or accountability systems for states," he added. "It continues the requirement that states have high standards and quality tests, but doesn't prescribe those standards."

Education is also a hotly debated item on another front this summer, as Congress has until July 1 to reach a deal in order to avoid a doubling of the interest rate for undergraduates borrowing new subsidized federal student loans.

While neither party wants the rate to go up, Republicans and Democrats disagree over how to solve the problem. Republicans wants to tie the rate to economic factors and cap the interest rate at 8.5%.

"It's fairer to students and fairer to taxpayers," Alexander said.

Democrats want Congress to decide the rate, but propose no cap. They would instead include a program to limit a former student's annual expenditures on the loan to no more than 10% of discretionary income.


All pupils must be equal, according to British teachers

Thousands of children risk being consigned to educational failure because of Ofsted demands to set pupils by ability in secondary school, teachers’ leaders have warned.

A move to scrap mixed-ability groups in favour of low and high sets will have a “negative impact” on standards across the board, it is claimed.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said that setting and streaming resulted in a slight improvement for the top set but any gain was more than outweighed by declines in results achieved by traditionally middle- and low-achieving pupils.

The comments will fuel the debate over the value of teaching children separately according to their prior attainment in academic subjects.

It came as teaching unions bitterly rejected the conclusions of a major Ofsted report that claimed large numbers of bright pupils were being systematically failed by state comprehensives.

In a report, the watchdog claimed that clever children were well taught in just a fifth of mixed-ability lessons, often receiving “mediocre” exercises and “insufficiently challenging” homework tasks.

At least a third of schools now use mixed-ability groups for the majority of lessons aimed at 11- to 14-year-olds, with other schools employing them for some subjects, it emerged.

But Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, said he was strongly in favour of setting by ability in most classes from the age of 11 onwards.

Supporters of the approach claim that it allows the brightest children to progress at their own pace while allowing those at the bottom of the ability range to get specialist help to catch up.

But the report was attacked by teachers’ leaders, who claimed it was “absolutely wrong” to suggest that secondary schools failed to set high expectations.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said that a move to scrap mixed-ability classes was contradicted by recent research on the subject.

One study by the Department for Education showed that setting in maths had a “negative effect on both attainment and motivation”, she said.

A separate study showed “that while there may be slight improvement in attainment for pupils in the top ability group, this is significantly outweighed by the negative impact on the rest of the class”, she added.

However, a study published last year by the Royal Economic Society showed that a higher proportion of “low-achieving pupils” in each class had a “negative and significant effect on the academic achievements of regular pupils” because they monopolised teachers’ attention.

Sir Michael said: “Unless you have well-qualified, experienced people who know how to deal with mixed ability then it doesn’t work. And if that’s not happening, it is much better to move towards a setting system.”

But Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This is too important an issue to be reduced to sweeping generalisations.

“We know there are some schools that should be doing more, but to suggest that a culture of low expectations is rampant in our schools is absolutely wrong.

“The majority of schools have good strategies in place to stretch all pupils.”