Friday, July 25, 2014

Be your own boss, British employment minister tells pupils

Middle-class children should believe that setting up their own business is every bit as good as going to university and working for a big company, the employment minister has said.

Esther McVey told The Daily Telegraph that self-employment should be given the same social status and respect as the more conventional university route into employment.

The Conservative Party should be championing those who have the “spark” to create their own businesses and become “little engines” of wealth creation in their communities, she said.

The minister, who has a law degree from Queen Mary, University of London, was discussing figures that show strong growth in employment levels, partly driven by a big rise in the number of people becoming self-employed.

Some economists have suggested that self-employed workers often earn lower salaries and end up claiming tax credits.

Miss McVey, who joined the Cabinet in the recent reshuffle, strongly defended self-employment, saying that for many people setting up their own firm is “better” than working for an employer.

Asked if middle-class parents should encourage their children to view self-employment as a viable alternative to a degree, the minister said the different routes to work should be seen as equals.

“I believe in choice. If that is your route, to go to university and get a job that way, that is fantastic. If your route is that you are practically minded and that is what presses your button and you do an apprenticeship and you get a job that way, that is fantastic.”

She added: “But if you have this seed, this idea, this creativity, you want to set up a business, then that is what you should do and we as a Conservative Party should be able to support those people.

“That is what we should be doing, liberating everyone’s potential, whether it’s a self-made individual, whether it’s someone taking the university route, whether it’s the apprenticeship route. They are all equal and good and worthwhile.”

The Coalition has introduced a New Enterprise Allowance to provide money and support to people on benefits to start their own business.

So far, 46,000 have claimed the allowance, and Miss McVey said that a significant number are aged between 18 to 24.

“To think that we are all the same and going to follow the same journey, that is wrong. We are going to support and liberate people, to give people as many opportunities to succeed as possible, without being prescriptive,” she said.

Official figures last week showed that the UK unemployment rate has fallen to 6.5 per cent and the number of people in work stands at 30.64 million, just short of an all-time record.

The same figures show that more than 4.5 million people are self-employed, the highest since records began in 1992. The number of people working for themselves rose by 404,000 over the past year.

Critics, including the Trades Union Congress, have said that many new self-employed jobs are of low quality, suggesting that people working for themselves are doing so out of necessity.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, last week questioned the value of self-employed posts, saying that such workers have “seen their earnings drop by nearly 15 per cent in the last five years”.

Miss McVey, who grew up in Merseyside as the daughter of a self-employed property developer, said: “For my family, the people I know, they set up their own businesses, they looked after their wives and children — it set them free.”

She also cited an independent survey, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, as showing that only a fifth of people who start their own companies say they do so out of necessity.

The Department for Work and Pensions said that 60 per cent of the growth in self-employment since 2010 has been in the professional and skilled managerial sectors.


UK: Middle class children to miss out as poor prioritised

Middle class parents could be denied the opportunity to send their children to the best state schools after the government created a new code designed to prioritise youngsters from the poorest backgrounds.

The proposal, which will go to consultation, would apply to children subject to the pupil premium – a subsidy system that gives schools an extra annual payment of £1,300 for each primary pupil and £935 for each secondary pupil who receives free school meals.

The money is designed to help schools with poor pupils put in greater resources.

Free schools and academies can currently discriminate in favour of children on free school meals, but other state schools, including grammar schools, must apply to the Department for Education for permission.

Rules currently do not permit them to give priority based on their parents’ financial status. The exemption would allow them to give preference to "eligible for the early years pupil premium, the pupil premium and the service premium".

It means middle class parents would face stiffer competition for places in good schools as poor children are put to the front of the queue.

The plans were first announced by Michael Gove, the former education secretary, in 2010, as a measure to undo “Britain’s stratified and segregated education system".

He said the proposal would dovetail with the pupil premium since "schools would know that the more children they managed to attract from poorer backgrounds, the more cash they would be able to have".

"Schools would go out to parents who may well have thought in the past that they have got no chance of getting in there," Mr Gove said.

Separately, the Tories’ standing on education and schools among voters is at a two-and-a-half year high in the first poll since Mr Gove was removed as education secretary.

Some 29 per cent of voters think the Tories are the best party for education and schools, their best score - and the narrowest gap with Labour - since January 2012. Labour are on 30 per cent.

It is the first poll of its kind since Michael Gove was demoted to Chief Whip in David Cameron’s reshuffle. He was replaced by Nicky Morgan, who said she would be “nice to teachers”.

There are suggestions Mr Gove lost his job because his confrontational approach to teaching unions – whom he termed the ‘enemies of promise’ – was shown by internal Conservative polling to be deeply unpopular on the doorstep.

The Tories lead on Europe, the economy, law an order, tax and immigration, while Labour is ahead on welfare, housing and the NHS, YouGov found.


UK: Trojan horse school 'ordered some pupils to act as religious police'

The concerns over the “Trojan Horse” plot revealed by an official report include claims that dozens of pupils were recruited as “religious police” to spy on fellow students and staff.

More than 150 pupils at Park View school were tasked with reporting behaviour “deemed unacceptable by conservative Muslims” and notifying the headteacher of “staff who speak out of turn”, Peter Clarke’s review was told.

The review also highlighted fears of children being subjected to “anti-Christian and anti-Israeli indoctrination” at assemblies.

A number of extremist speakers were invited to lead assemblies, including Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman, a preacher who has called on God to “destroy the enemies of Islam”. At the same school IT technicians recorded what appeared to be al-Qaeda terrorist videos on to DVDs, while pupils were told that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be condemned “to an eternity of hell”, Mr Clarke was told.

Mr Clarke said that Park View school exhibited “many of the most concerning features” reported to his investigation. He warned that the evidence uncovered by his inquiry raises “real concerns” about the vulnerability of pupils at the schools to being radicalised in future.

Mr Clarke found that a “significant body” of testimony pointed to the “influential role” of Tahir Alam in the changes he had observed in several Birmingham schools.

Mr Alam was the chairman of governors at Park View until recently and had been a governor since the 1990s.

Among the changes were the introduction by a senior leader of 160 prefects known as “Park View Ambassadors” who, some staff claimed, were selected because they came from strictly observant Muslim families.

Mr Clarke said: “They have been described as the 'religious police’ by some staff, although this is vigorously denied by the acting principal, Monzoor Hussain. Ambassadors have been trained to deliver prepared assemblies in each classroom every day. They are also alleged to report to the headteacher the names of staff and students who exhibit behaviours which are deemed unacceptable by conservative Muslims.

“These include behaviours such as boys and girls talking to each other or touching each other; boyfriend and girlfriend relationships; staff who speak out of turn; staff who wear inappropriate dress and Muslim women staff who may not be sufficiently covered.”

Mr Clarke also highlighted a disclosure, reported by The Telegraph in March, that assemblies included a talk for year 10 and year 11 students in November 2013 by Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman, who asked God to “give victory to the Muslims in Afghanistan and Chechnya” and to “prepare us for the jihad”.

Mr Hussain claimed that the assembly was simply about exam revision, but Mr Clarke said he was told that pupils were “shocked” by its content.

“Some students wondered why he had been talking about them being oppressed in this country,” he said.

Mr Clarke said the Park View Educational Trust disputed “most, if not all” of the allegations made against it.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Common Core Set to be a Defining Issue for 2016

In this age of political polarization, it’s increasingly rare to find an issue that can bridge party lines and unite people of all ideological stripes.

When such an issue does come along, it sets the stage for the kind of meaningful political change that would otherwise, in different times, be impossible. Common Core education standards have emerged from the shadows of obscurity and have become such an issue.

Common Core standards originated in the same way that all government regulations come about: out of fear. For decades we have been told that our children are lagging behind those in other countries, that they cannot compete globally, and that their very futures are in danger unless government steps in and fixes the broken school system.

Parents were understandably rattled by this kind of fear-mongering, and the resulting response has led to such conclusively failed programs as Head Start and No Child Left Behind. When these programs failed to yield the promised results, Common Core was proffered as a solution. Desperation and a feeling of helplessness led many parents to agree – at least until they saw the actual results.

Once the education standards began actually affecting local schools, realization began to set in, followed by dismay, and then anger.

The kinds of curricula resulting from Common Core’s one-size-fits-all mandates were counterintuitive, confusing, and upsetting to children. Recognition of these problems led moderate Republicans – such as Govs. Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal – who initially agreed with the aim of the standards to recant their support.

Even progressives, who tend to support the federal government’s involvement in education, began to recoil as they saw the distress caused to their children. Comedian Louis C.K. made headlines when he used his Twitter feed to denounce the standards for making his kids cry.

Common Core has affected not just parents and students. Teachers are increasingly discovering that Common Core negatively impacts their ability to do their jobs. As a result, several of the nation’s largest teacher’s unions have now come out against the standards, calling their implementation “completely botched.” The American Federation of Teachers is also proposing a resolution to reject Common Core standards altogether.

In the face of widespread opposition, even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has walked back his support of the program.

“I’m just a big proponent of high standards,” he said, admitting that he would not object to states withdrawing from Common Core. “Whether they’re common or not is kind of secondary.”

It has even been pointed out that the tests aligned with Common Core standards are so difficult that schools have starting curving the results to such a degree that random guessing will result in a passing grade, defeating the whole point of stricter standards.

There’s nothing like an abject policy failure that harms children to unite Americans.

As such, the role of the federal government in education policy is certain to be a key issue in upcoming elections, both in November of this year, and especially in the presidential election in 2016. Are we going to commit to a top-down, out of touch bureaucracy to manage the lives of our children, or are we going to give parents the right to decide what is best, whether it be public, private, charter, or home schools?

Does it really, as Hillary Clinton has written, “take a village” to raise our children, or does it just take individual empowerment and freedom of choice?

It’s a national conversation we need to have, which is why FreedomWorks has partnered with Glenn Beck to present “We Will Not Conform,” a strategy session to educate parents and activists on how to defeat Common Core standards, to be held in Dallas, Texas, and broadcast in theaters nationwide on July 22 and July 29.

The future of Common Core has broad implications for the direction of American education. Do we let parents decide, or does government know better? The answer may very well determine the next president of the United States.


Britain's toughest school-run: Mother takes four-hour journey involving 12 buses to get her daughter to school after being turned down for place at primary 10 minutes away

For many mothers, the school run can be one of the most stressful parts of their day.

Spare a thought then for Melissa Stowe, who faces a four-hour journey involving 12 buses to get her daughter Olivia to and from school after the little girl was turned down by primary ten minutes from their home.

When the four-year-old starts school in September, Miss Stowe, 22, will have to take three buses from their home in Methley, Leeds, West Yorkshire to drop her off in Allerton Bywater, and three buses back.

Miss Stowe will then have to repeat the exhausting two-hour round trip - along with eight-month-old baby Daisy and her pram - when she collects Olivia at the end of the day.

Miss Stowe had applied to get Olivia into the reception class at her nearest school in Methley, which is just 10 minutes walk from the family’s home.

However, the school, which has been rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted is massively oversubscribed and she lost an appeal.

Olivia cannot get in, even though she is already at the nursery there.

Olivia has now been placed on the waiting list, and at an appeal hearing Miss Stowe was told there is nothing she can do but wait for a place, if one becomes available.

The school where Olivia has been offered a place is 4.7 miles away by road, but school places are allocated 'as the crow flies' - with that distance being 1.78 miles away.

Neither Miss Stowe, nor her partner James Sheard, 24, drive.

Miss Stowe also cares for her disabled mother, which makes her situation even more difficult.

'We did two test runs of the journey and Olivia was completely exhausted,' Miss Stowe said.

'We will be setting off just after my partner leaves for work every morning, but he will actually get home before us. It’s crazy.'

The full-time mother says she will have to set off at 6.40am for the 6.50am bus to be able to get Olivia to school for 8.40am - meaning in total she will spend almost eight hours a day on buses.

'We are having to rely on three buses,' she said.

'Those buses run at half-hourly intervals so if one of those buses doesn’t turn up we are going to be late.

'I feel so sorry for Olivia having to make that journey. I took her on the bus for a couple of taster sessions and she was so tired at the end of it'

'The schools are now talking about fining for lateness so that is another worry. I am so stressed about it.'

Because the crow flying distance is relatively low the family do not even qualify for any help with bus fares - it will cost them £35 a week.

'James is looking into passing his test and if he did he would have the possibility of a work’s van, but he still wouldn’t be able to take us because he sets off at different times to us,' said Miss Stowe.

Miss Stowe said she will have to wake at about 5.30am to get ready and feed Daisy before waking up Olivia at 6am to get ready for school, and would not get home until after 5pm each evening.

She said: 'When I went for the appeal I took Daisy with me for them to see how difficult it would be for me but they did not seem to consider it would be a problem.

'There was even a suggestion for me to walk across a canal towpath but that journey would be no good with children in tow and in dark, damp mornings and evenings.'

There are other schools that are closer to Miss Stowe but, because they are also oversubscribed she has been placed on their waiting lists, and because she is further away from those, she is further down the lists.

Miss Stowe is the latest among a string of parents who have failed to be allocated slots in their nearest or chosen schools for the new school year starting this September.

While education bosses insist every child in Leeds does have an allocated school place, they admit they are 'acutely aware of the pressure' on spaces.

Paul Brennan, Leeds City Council’s deputy director of children’s services, said: 'We are aware that a number of parents in Methley have expressed concerns about securing places at local schools and we are working hard to address this.

'This year has seen us managing an unusually high demand for places in the area which we anticipate will fall next year.

'We will continue to talk to local schools about possible expansion and will do all we can to support parents to get places in a good school as close as possible to their home.

'National legislation, which limits early years class sizes to no more than 30 pupils, also means that school place appeals can only be granted under exceptional circumstances.'

He stressed the importance of parents completing their applications on time as this is 'vital' in helping secure places at preferred schools.

Miss Stowe also expressed concern that a major new 180-house development planned for Methley will add additional strain to school places in the area.

However, the council said no decision has yet been made regarding planning permission for the new scheme and discussions are ongoing with the developers to ensure full community contributions from the developer regarding education provision are secured.

Leeds faces a potential shortfall of more than 4,000 primary school places within three years.


Australian kids on top of the world at International Olympiad in Informatics

Mostly Han Chinese, I'm guessing, though Ishraq Huda sounds Indian.  About 5% of the Australian population is Han and they tend to top everything educational

Our team brings home two Gold and two Silver medals with Australia's 1st perfect score and 1st and 5th place in the world for computer programming.‏

Australia’s four-member secondary school student team achieved our best ever result at the 2014 International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) held in Taipei, Chinese Taipei, from 13 to 20 July. The top performer in the Australian team was 16-year-old Ishraq Huda, who was one of only three in the world to attain a perfect score, Australia’s first IOI perfect score and best individual ranking result.

Ishraq shared first place with students from China and the United States. Ishraq won a bronze medal in 2013 on his first attempt.

First-time team member, Oliver Fisher, solved 5 out of 6 questions perfectly and also won Gold. Oliver ranked 5th which made Australia the only country in the world to have two students in the top five.

Competing against more than 311 contestants from over 82 countries, the 2014 Australian team brings home 2 gold and 2 silver medals, compared to 3 Silver and 1 Bronze last year.

Countries represented in the top ten include Australia, China, United States, Russian Federation and Bulgaria. This is Australia’s highest ranking since Australia commenced participating in 1999.

Informatics is the science of computer programming and information processing, requiring mathematics skills and creative solving. Hosted by a different country each year, the IOI is part of the UNESCO-sanctioned International Science and Mathematics Olympiads, which are annual worldwide competitions for exceptionally talented secondary school students and represent the pinnacle of achievement in each discipline.  It is the most recently established and now the second largest of the Olympiads.

 The cut-off scores for a Gold medal was 449 and Silver was 323 marks.

The not-for-profit Australian Mathematics Trust, under the Trusteeship of the University of Canberra, runs the training and selection for Australia’s International Mathematical and Informatics Olympiad teams.

The first stage in selection for the Australian IOI team is the Australian Informatics Olympiad (AIO), a 3-hour annual computer programming competition held in high schools. The next AIO will be on Thursday, 4 September and is open to all high school students who can program. For more information contact the Australian Mathemetics Trust on 6201 5137.

Adjunct Professor Mike Clapper, Executive Director of the Trust, said, ‘We are extremely excited about these excellent results and where they might lead us for future participation. This is the best outcome for Australia to date’.

The Trust’s best-known activity is the annual Australian Mathematics Competition sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank which, together with other competitions, helps to identify students for participation and development in the Olympiad programs.  The Mathematics and Science Olympiads are supported by the Australian Government Department of Education through the Mathematics and Science Participation Program.

 The Trust also offers students the opportunity to explore whether they have an aptitude for programming through the Australian Informatics Competition (AIC), which is a non-programming competition designed to promote logical and algorithmic thinking.  In 2015, the AIC will be available on-line and there will be a new division for Upper Primary students.                                                



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why it’s really bad that Michael Gove is gone

Following David Cameron’s Cabinet reshuffle yesterday, many teachers and education union leaders, together with their collective hangers-on, worked themselves up into a celebratory frenzy over the demotion of Michael Gove, the education secretary they so loved to hate. All of two minutes after the announcement of his departure #GoveGone was trending on Twitter, accompanied by increasingly competitive declarations of loathing for the man or expressions of jubilation at his demise. In contrast, the earlier news that the minister of state for universities and science, David Willetts, was also to be replaced was met with a far more muted reaction. Despite the fact that Willetts oversaw the introduction of the current tuition fees regime in English universities, there now appear to be very few who have a bad word to say about him.

Cameron’s aim of securing electoral success through surrounding himself with people who are easy on the eye and don’t upset the electorate meant both Gove and Willetts had to go. Many #GoveGone tweets expressed regret that his departure has come before the General Election – it is assumed that the Conservative Party could never win if he were still in the education post. This view was obviously shared by Cameron himself. Gove has never publicly expressed anything other than enthusiasm for his role as education secretary and an overwhelming desire to see the reforms he has put in place through to completion. Cameron’s ditching of a man who is, by all accounts, both his friend and colleague reveals more about Cameron’s lack of loyalty and principle than it does about Gove’s abilities as a Cabinet minister. Willetts’ crime, on the other hand, is presumably that of being insufficiently diverse for current tastes.

According to the narrative of those trying to fill column inches, the mixed reaction to the departure of both ministers reflects the way bullish, blundering Gove upset all those around him while the more measured and thoughtful Willetts garnered the begrudging respect of academics. It’s no doubt true that Gove’s conviction and determination led him into sometimes unnecessary confrontations. But in reality, the different responses to each man’s departure reflect the fact that Gove threatened the educational establishment in a way that Willetts simply never did.

From his very first day in his post, Gove battled against the group of union leaders, teacher-trainers, members of local education authorities and academics he unhelpfully labelled as ‘the blob’. He challenged the culture of low expectations that has built up in education. He tried to put an end to content-lite courses that demanded little of pupils and mired schools in league-table gaming rather than teaching a knowledge-based curriculum. Unlike many who preceded him, he was an education secretary who believed that schools should be about far more than responding to the immediate demands of social problems or promoting particular values, and that children today are capable of learning poetry and times tables, reading books (even long non-American ones) and understanding the chronology of history.

Unfortunately for some schools, Gove ended a system where cut-and-paste coursework counted towards final marks, modularised exams were taken early and taken often, and low-level vocational courses were deemed to be equivalent to academic exams for the purposes of league tables. For this, he should be applauded. It can be argued that Gove didn’t go far enough and that schools still place too much emphasis on teaching functional skills and emotional wellbeing rather than knowledge. Gove could certainly be bloody-minded and arrogant. Worse, he demonstrated an instrumental regard for league tables and school inspections, data monitoring and performance analysis that often belied his rhetoric about a love for knowledge. At times he clearly confused schooling and education, imposing, for example, petty bureaucratic diktats banning children’s term-time absences. He could rightly have been taken up over any of these things, but instead of engaging in debate, his many opponents turned him into a pantomime villain and made him the target of vicious personal attacks and infantile jokes.

In comparison, the cool response to the departure of Willetts shows that despite the fact that he oversaw an increase in tuition fees to £9,000, reinforced the status of students as consumers, and arguably miscalculated the cost to the government of higher levels of student loans, he never challenged the current consensus on higher education and only ever confirmed the existing prejudices of many of those who work in universities. Above all else, Willetts shared the dominant instrumentalism that pervades academia today. In speeches and interviews throughout his four years in post, he described a degree as an investment and claimed students should go to university in order to cash in on a future graduate premium. Symbolically, under Willetts, universities remained in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Willetts is praised for championing students and teaching, but his inability to conceive of the purpose of university in anything other than the most crudely economic terms is apparent here, too. His view was that ‘ultimately universities have to provide [students] with up to £9,000 of education’. How this amount of education was to be measured and delivered to the student/customers he did not specify.

Whereas Willetts wins plaudits from commentators for suggesting that universities should give preferential treatment to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, Gove argued schools can make a difference and working-class pupils are capable of achieving good grades. Willetts is praised for his focus on social mobility, but again this just means he only understood higher education in terms of economic benefits and thought universities should lower their entry requirements so that more people could gain from this financial windfall; Gove, on the other hand, had a more liberal view of the importance of children knowing stuff. Willetts reportedly fought against tighter visa restrictions on international (revenue-generating) students but lost this Cabinet battle to home secretary Theresa May; Gove would perhaps have been less ready to relinquish ground. In the end, it was Willetts’ cowardice that meant he didn’t cause controversy. He introduced tuition fees but kept universities tightly under state control. A braver university minister might have set them free altogether.

Ultimately, Gove will be remembered and Willetts will not. In fact, the ‘lest we forget’ tweets are already circulating on the Twittersphere. Gove provided a much-needed challenge to the all-too-cosy world of education and won few friends as a result. Willetts, cowardly in the face of arguments, always ready for pragmatic compromise, and demonstrating a philistine view of education at every turn, challenged no one. Gove will be missed – the reforms he had begun to push through could have had a positive, transformative impact on education in this country, raising standards and aspirations. Perhaps university lecturers should hope for someone similar to shake up higher education.


Stop this educational madness

It’s time to resist calls for more mental-health interventions in education

Calls to raise awareness of mental-health issues and initiatives aimed at encouraging people to ‘come out’ with their problems are coming at us from all sides. Following the World Health Association’s apocryphal proclamation that mental ill-health is the world’s biggest epidemic, there has been a spate of calls in the UK this July to intervene in a crisis among young children in state schools, to offer resilience classes to high-achieving young women in independent schools, and to embed mental-health provision in university courses. And, as I wrote recently on spiked, university support and medical services are under unprecedented pressure from students and their parents to treat a wide range of mental-health ‘issues’.

It is no surprise that schools, colleges, adult education centres, universities and workplaces have responded by offering more ‘support’ for mental-health issues. Funding for the Workers’ Educational Association is now directed at services such as ‘confidence-building’, ‘anger management’ and ‘mutual recovery for mental health’, confining its long-running remit for liberal subjects and ‘return to learn’ to history. Across the education system, individual consultants and commercial outfits tout a seemingly endless cacophony of interventions to eager buyers. Schools pay vast sums for ‘positive motivation’ trainers to take pupils out of a day’s lessons, play them pop music and teach ‘positive-thinking strategies’, while their teachers are reduced to crowd managers and presented as part of the problem. In a market free-for-all, some schools run their own ‘mental toughness’ training for 16-year-olds taking GCSEs, while others offer mindfulness, circle-time and happiness training. The University of East Anglia has introduced therapy dogs and plans to encourage staff to take their dogs to work. Some universities have compulsory resilience classes for medical students and trainee teachers. Many offer online self-help groups, cognitive-behaviour therapy and stress-management courses. Others are developing masters’ courses in ‘vulnerabilities and protection’.

Far from being a source of shame or stigma, canny students and parents, and sometimes colleagues, latch on to the discourse of mental ill-health for special pleading, for a quick sick note from the doctor, or just to invoke a soft response to lazy or bad behaviour. This year, some universities have mitigation claims on the grounds of mental issues running at 50 per cent. Alongside an army of snake-oil merchants touting dubious products with no evidence of impact, lawyers will soon be profiting from the introduction of the UK government’s new disability legislation as universities will have to start defending themselves against claims that mental-health needs weren’t met. Some institutions are already allocating resources in anticipation of this.

An array of influences is at play. Each five-year revision of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for clinical psychologists designates new behaviours and responses as category disorders and syndromes. These are growing at exponential rates (see, for example, ‘Turning crime into a mental-health issue’). In tandem, the meanings we now attach to stress, anxiety, depression, abuse, trauma, vulnerability and recovery stretch them to the point of banality. But there are also structural factors: as austerity cuts to social-care centres and community-health services start to bite, doctors refer people with mental-health problems to courses run by bodies like the Workers’ Educational Association.

All of this raises the question of how those of us who work in education should respond to what seems to be an unstoppable tide. We can criticise the discourse and point to a self-fulfilling prophecy of need, a highly contagious social construction that turns everyday mundane experiences and relationships, some of which are undoubtedly difficult or troubling, even stressful or anxiety-inducing, into potential mental-health time-bombs. We can get cynical about those who trivialise problems for their own advantage.

Or we can pillory the interventions as a harmless distraction from the routine day-to-day issues, point to the lack of evidence for impact and criticise a pointless waste of scarce resources that doesn’t help those who really need it. More practically, we can become Orwellian experts in Newspeak, rewriting publicity for support services and introductions for ‘freshers’ week’ to erase the language of vulnerability and remove invitations to seek help for anxiety and stress. We can be clearer and more assertive about where scarce resources for support should go and more discerning about sick notes and mitigation. We can tell some people to get a grip. There seem to be more of these kind of upfront responses now than there were a couple of years ago.

But none of these responses stops mental ill-health being increasingly felt and embodied. These problems are not merely socially constructed. Beyond the trivial or cynical claims being made with regard to mental health, more people seem to find everyday life and education a constant source of distress. The idea that almost all people are psychologically and emotionally vulnerable is everywhere, and we need a wider debate about what impact this has had on how we teach and how we relate to people. We need to resist calls for more support and more intervention and start rethinking how education and other meaningful activities can lead to a world outside the self.


Graduate jobs going begging in Britain.  Quarter of employers had to leave posts unfilled last year because they were unable to find suitable recruits

Almost a quarter of graduate employers had to leave posts unfilled last year because they were unable to find suitable recruits, a survey found today.

As the graduate job market bounces back following the recession, bosses are struggling to find staff with the right knowledge and attitude to work.

Firms are planning to offer 17 per cent more jobs this year – the biggest increase in vacancies since annual surveys of graduate recruiters began 14 years ago.

But they are also concerned about a lack of applicants with the skills they need, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR).

Some 23 per cent of nearly 200 employers surveyed were forced to leave some jobs open last year and there is anecdotal evidence the trend is continuing.

The research also found that firms are increasingly monitoring the social class of graduates recruits.

The number collecting data on the background of their new intake has almost doubled in two years to just under a quarter.

Employers are mainly checking whether or not their parents have degrees, while the proportion recording whether or not recruits went to private school has declined, from 84 per cent to 74 per cent.

More than a third of firms (34.1 per cent) already have schemes in place to diversify the social class mix of staff and a further 16.5 per cent plan to introduce them next year, it emerged.

In further findings, the typical graduate starting salary for 2013/14 is predicted to be £27,000, up £500 on last year.

Graduates planning to work as investment bank or fund managers can expect the highest pay, with typical starting wages of £43,500.

One in 14 graduates can expect to start on at least £41,000.

AGR chief executive Stephen Isherwood said that the rise in vacancies and salaries was ‘fantastic news’ for graduates but warned that the graduate job market was not ‘easy’.

‘There are still unfilled graduate vacancies as employers are not always able to find the right people, with the right knowledge, skills and attitudes, for the job,’ he said.

‘Graduates must ensure they really do their research, target their applications and ensure their CVs do them justice if they want to be in with a good chance of securing a place on a graduate scheme following university.’


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The $2 Million Teacher

Teachers Pay Teachers lets educators reassert their professionalism—and earn big bucks

When Paul Edelman was working as a middle school teacher in New York City during the early '00s, his school gave him none of the lesson plans, handouts, and workbooks necessary for running a classroom. "When school ended at 3 p.m., it was really just the beginning of my workday," says Edelman. He says his first year was "brutal," and his second and third years were only marginally better.

Edelman's experience is hardly unique; many young teachers burn out in part because their schools expect them to generate all of their own materials. "I cried every night," says former teacher Amy Berner. "Every night you sit down and think, 'I am completely unprepared for tomorrow.'"

Out of such pain came an idea: "What if we could create a vast repository of resources that already worked for other teachers," he asks, "juiced with free market forces?"

In 2006, Edelman started Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marketplace for educators to sell digital copies of their classroom materials to each other for small amounts of money. "It's booming," says Berner, the company's head of community and editorial. Gross sales ballooned from $900,000 in 2010 to $44 million in 2013, and so far teachers have earned nearly $48 million on the site. There are more than one million products to choose from, including lesson plans, worksheets, flash cards, PowerPoint presentations, games, quizzes, graphic organizers, bulletin board ideas, and parent guides. And the materials are built by real teachers, so they tend to be perfectly tailored to classroom use.

Edelman says that requiring educators to produce their own classroom materials has its benefits. "I like that teachers in the U.S. have the freedom to create and teach the way they teach best," he says. Despite feeling overworked and underprepared, Edelman says that he was still grateful as a teacher not to have "a nationalized and controlled curriculum," as many other countries do. Teachers Pay Teachers offers the best of both worlds because educators don't have to spend all their free time generating materials from scratch, but they still get to pick what's best for their students—and can tailor the material however they see fit.

For teachers, whose compensation generally reflects not their talent and drive but the number of years they've served in the classroom, Teachers Pay Teachers brings a refreshing dose of market incentives. More than 1,300 teachers have earned at least $5,000 selling their materials through the company, and 164 have earned more than $50,000.

The site's breakout star and top seller is a kindergarten teacher in Macon, Georgia, named Deanna Jump. By selling activities and lesson plans, such as Guided Reading 101: Printables, Strategies and Word Work ($8) and Insects Math and Literacy Fun ($6.80), along with 145 other products, Jump has earned more than $2 million on Teachers Pay Teachers. With her wholesome good looks and exceptional talent as a teacher and curriculum author, Jump makes for an ideal public face. And she hasn't changed with her newfound wealth: Jump still teaches, and the first thing she did after the money started rolling in was purchase a handicap-accessible van for her quadriplegic brother.

At a time when teachers are being judged by central bureaucracies based on how their students perform on high-stakes tests, and union contracts enforce absurd work rules and lockstep pay increases, Teachers Pay Teachers offers educators the dignity of being treated like professionals. "It's like, 'I'm actually being respected for the expert that I am,'" says Berner. "Calling it a revolution in education I don't think is overstating it."


UK: Christians lie and wives must have sex or go to hell, Trojan Horse pupils told

 Children were taught that all Christians are liars and attempts were made to introduce Sharia law in classrooms as part of an alleged 'Trojan Horse' takeover plot of Birmingham schools, an inquiry has found.

The inquiry commissioned by Birmingham City Council found evidence of religious extremism in 13 schools as school governors and teachers tried to promote and enforce radical Islamic values.

Schools put up posters warning children that if they didn't pray they would "go to hell", Christmas was cancelled and girls were taught that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be "punished" by angels "from dusk to dawn".

The report found that the extremism went unchecked because the council "disastrously" prioritised community cohesion over "doing what is right".

It concluded that there was a "determined effort" by "manipulative" governors to introduce "unacceptable" practices, "undermine" head teachers and deny students a broad and balanced education.

Sir Albert Bore, Birmingham's leader, apologised for the council's handling of the scandal.

He said: "The actions of a few, including some within the council, have undermined the reputation of our great city.

"We have previously shied away from tackling this problem out of a misguided fear of being accused of racism."

A separate review by Peter Clarke, the former counter-terrorism chief, found evidence of "co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained" attempts to introduce an "intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos" in schools.

The review, which was commissioned by the Department for Education, found that the schools were trying to impose "segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strain Sunni Islam".

Birmingham City Council's report found no evidence of a "conspiracy" to promote "violent extremism or radicalisation" values, but was still highly critical.

A detailed summary of evidence suggested that there was an attempt to introduce Sharia law at the Al-Fuqan school, and when a woman was recommended for a job on individual suggested a "man with a beard" was needed.

At the Golden Hillock School a teacher allegedly told children at an assembley "not to listen to Christians as they were all liars". The incident was referred to counter-terrorism police. One teacher at the school also reportedly told children they were "lucky to be Muslims and not ignorant like Christians and Jews."

At Nansen School the study of French was replaced by the study of Arabic and Islamic religious assemblies were reinstated. Christmas and Diwali celebrations were councils, and children were not allowed to use a doll to represent Jesus in a nativity play. A total of 28 female teaching assistants were dismissed.

At the Oldknow academy, children were told at an assembly that they should not send Christmas cards and that Mary was not the mother of Jesus. Children were asked whether they believed in Christmas and encouraged to chant "no we don't".

At the Park View Academy children were taught that "if a woman said no to sex with her husband then angels would punish her from dusk till dawn". Girls were taught that a "good" Muslim woman wears a hijab and ties up her hair.


Britain needs new generation of grammar schools, sacked minister says

David Cameron is facing a rebellion over grammar schools as part of a growing backlash in the wake of his reshuffle.

Damian Green, the sacked Home Office minister, said that he is concerned that the topic of grammar schools has become "taboo" for the Conservatives.

He told The Telegraph that he will enlist the support of fellow MPs in the run up to the General Election as he makes the case for building a new generation of grammar schools across Britain.

Mr Green said: "One of the things I intend is to make the case for grammar schools. I went to a grammar school, I am in favour of them, but they have become a taboo.

"I believe that we need to provide an excellent educations across the spectrum, including taking the brightest children pushing them to succeed. They are a route of opportunity rather than a manifestation of privilege."

Mr Cameron is also facing criticism from two influential Conservative MPs over Europe and human rights in the run up to May 2015.

Owen Paterson, who was last week fired as environment secretary, is expected to join forces with Liam Fox, who rejected a junior ministerial post he found demeaning.

The pair are expected to put pressure on Mr Cameron to provide more details over the powers that he will repatriate from Brussels.

One sacked minister said: "They have alienated Liam and Owen, they could live to regret it."

According to reports, Mr Paterson had a "blazing row" with Mr Cameron on Monday night over the decision to remove him in the reshuffle.

Mr Paterson's wife, Rose, later confronted Lynton Crosby, the Tory strategist, and demanded to know why her husband had been sacked.

The former Environment Secretary believes that the decision to axe him will push rural voters into the hands of Ukip.

Mr Fox, who until the reshuffle was tipped as a new foreign secretary, said it was "incredibly naive" to imagine that Britain will win concessions from Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission.

In the wake of the reshuffle, Mr Green is considering restarting the parliamentary friends of grammar schools, which was previously run by Graham Brady, who is now chairman of the back-bench 1922 committee.

There are just 164 grammar schools left in England and 69 in Northern Ireland — down from just under 1,300 under the system’s peak in 1965. The law prevents any more from being built.

Mr Cameron, who was educated at Eton, triggered a furious row within the Conservative party in 2007 after ruling out an expansion of grammar schools, saying parents do not want their children “divided into sheep and goats at the age of 11”.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Court Rules Against Woman Challenging University’s Race-Based Admissions Standards

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled against Abigail Fisher in her ongoing battle against the University of Texas at Austin for discriminating against her based on race. The court upheld the university’s admissions policy which uses racial and ethnic preferences to achieve “diversity” on campus.

Texas adopted a plan in the mid-1990s that automatically admitted Texas students in the top 10 percent of their high school class to all state-funded universities. Following a 2003 Supreme Court decision that authorized schools to consider race or ethnicity as a “plus factor,” the University of Texas began subjecting applicants for the remaining spots to a “holistic review” that included preferences for underrepresented minorities. Abigail Fisher, a white applicant, did not graduate in the top 10 percent, so her application for admission was in competition with candidates who received racial preferences. Fisher challenged the university’s consideration of race in court after her application was denied.

This case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, went to the Supreme Court in the 2012-2013 term. Last June, in a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court held that the lower courts were too deferential to the university’s judgment upon reviewing the university’s admissions plan. The Supreme Court previously stated that racial preferences are constitutional if they pass strict scrutiny review, which requires that the university prove that its classification based on race is “narrowly tailored to further compelling governmental interests.” “On this point,” the Supreme Court determined that university officials are entitled to “no deference.” The Court explained that it is “for the courts, not for university administrators” to ensure that the means used by the university pass strict scrutiny review, which must not be “strict in theory but feeble in fact,” and it sent Fisher’s case back to the federal appellate court for a more searching examination.

Unfortunately, in a 2-1 decision, the Fifth Circuit essentially rubberstamped the university’s judgment once again. The burden was on the university to demonstrate that its use of racial and ethnic preferences advanced its compelling interest in obtaining a “critical mass” of campus diversity, but, as a dissenting judge pointed out, the university didn’t come close to defining what a “critical mass” is. Of course, this is not to say the university should be able to use racial quotas, but it’s difficult for a court to determine if the university’s use of race was necessary to achieve a “critical mass” when the university did not “describe[ ] what ‘critical mass’ requires.”

Further, as Justice Anthony Kennedy noted in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. 1, classifications based on race are constitutionally permissible only as a “last resort.” Thus, the university was required to show that there are “no workable race-neutral alternatives” in order to justify its use of race classifications. The majority found that there were, in fact, “no workable race-neutral alternatives” since the state of Texas had tried various alternatives to increase diversity in the past and the top 10 percent program produced too many students from majority-minority schools (who apparently don’t provide the “right” kind of diversity).

This stereotyping by race contradicts the equal protection guarantee in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The government should not be in the business of sorting people by such innate characteristics as race and ethnicity. The University of Texas is, after all, a state-run school and its use of racial preferences remains discriminatory. Even though they may be “cloaked in good intentions, the University’s racial tinkering harms the very people it claims to be helping,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Indeed, racial preferences are nothing more than government-sanctioned discrimination, and as Chief Justice John Roberts said, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

In a statement following the decision, Fisher said, “It is disappointing that the judges hearing my case are not following the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer. I remain committed to continuing this lawsuit even if it means we appeal to the Supreme Court once again.” It looks like the justices may have a yet another opportunity to consider the continued validity of racial preferences in college admissions.


UK: How Ofsted marks teachers down for actually teaching! Watchdog prefers 'jazzy' child-led learning to 'chalk and talk' lessons

Ofsted inspectors are favouring ‘trendy’ learning methods over traditional ‘chalk and talk’ teaching, a report claims today.

They prefer child-led activities to such an extent that it is ‘inconceivable’ for teachers to allow pupils to learn from textbooks during a visit from the watchdog.

An examination of Ofsted reports by the think-tank Civitas reveals that inspectors show an ‘aversion’ to direct teacher instruction and like group work instead.

This is resulting in staff putting on ‘jazzy’ lessons to impress them, according to the study, Playing The Game: The enduring influence of the preferred Ofsted teaching style.

Robert Peal, a history teacher and education research fellow for Civitas, examined 130 Ofsted reports of secondary schools inspected between September and October last year. Of these, 52 per cent showed a preference for lessons in which pupils learn independently from teachers and 42 per cent favoured group work.

Eighteen per cent criticised teachers for talking too much and the same proportion criticised lessons because the pupils were ‘too passive’.

There was only one example of an inspector recommending a more teacher-led approach.

Two months later, Ofsted issued new guidance for inspectors which stated they should not back one style of teaching over another in the course of their work. And in January this year, Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, wrote to inspectors saying: ‘Please, please, please think carefully before criticising a lesson because it does not conform to a particular view of how children should be taught.’

Mr Peal studied an additional 130 reports of inspections conducted between January and March this year to assess whether inspectors had taken the guidance on board. Only 8 per cent demonstrated a preference for pupil independence and there were no reports of inspectors criticising teachers for talking too much. Two per cent flagged up the ‘passivity’ of pupils.

But Mr Peal claims the changes are ‘largely superficial’ and that ‘fundamental problems’ remain because reports have simply been rewritten to ensure signs of ‘bias’ are not included.

Inspectors have been given a list of ‘banned’ phrases to prevent schools from thinking the watchdog has a preferred style of teaching. Serco – which is contracted by Ofsted – provided its inspectors with alternative ways of making comments in May.

Instead of writing that ‘too much teacher talk dominates’, it was suggested that inspectors could write ‘explanations are not clear’.

Inspectors are also still backing child-led learning in verbal feedback to staff, according to Mr Peal. One teacher told Civitas: ‘“Too much teacher talk” is often verbally mentioned in feedback but, due to new criteria, not written down.’

Writing in the report, Mr Peal claims inspections are ‘distinctly in favour of child-centred teaching methods and prejudiced against more teacher-led alternatives’.

He said: ‘Teachers are accustomed to putting on “jazzy” lessons, replete with group work, role play and active learning in order to fulfil what has become widely acknowledged as the Ofsted style.

‘So strong is the inspectorate’s reputation for favouring trendy teaching methods that the idea of putting on a “chalk and talk” lesson or learning from a textbook with an Ofsted inspector in the room has become inconceivable within the teaching profession.’

In June, Ofsted announced a pilot scheme in the Midlands to end grading teaching quality on each lesson observation form. Instead, lead inspectors will form an overall judgment on teaching in the school from their team’s summaries.

An Ofsted spokesman said: ‘As HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has repeatedly made clear, Ofsted does not have a preferred teaching style. It is up to the classroom teacher to determine how they should teach.’


UK: Teachers pour away seven-year-old pupil's bottle of squash during hot weather claiming it breached school's health policies

A mother has pulled her seven-year-old son out of school after teachers started pouring away his bottle of squash claiming it breached the school’s health policy.

Sammie Riley, 25, started sending son Bailey to The Bewbush Academy in Crawley, West Sussex with bottles of squash because he doesn’t like the taste of water.

However, she was shocked to discover teachers had been pouring the juice away and replacing it with water because the flavoured drink is against the school's health policy.

After finding out her son’s drink was tipped away twice in one week, the mother-of-three decided to take action and kept him off school.

She said: ‘The school have pulled me in about it and told me they have a no juice policy.

‘I kept him off school on July 2 and sent him back on the Thursday but again the staff had tipped his juice away and refilled it with water. I was absolutely fuming.

‘Bearing in mind it was a really hot week with temperatures of 26C outside, it must have been hitting 30C in the classrooms and my son was unable to drink.

‘Bailey came home dehydrated with a really bad headache and I wasn't happy for him to go back to school.  ‘I was livid that they have been tipping Bailey's drink away.’

Miss Riley spoke to the acting head and head of Year 2, but was told it was ‘water or nothing’.

She was also told that staff had tried putting cucumber and lemon in the drinks to spruce up the water, which didn't work.

The mother, who is now considering setting up a petition, has accused the school of double standards because they ban juice but hand out sherbet sticks and lollipops at the end of the week for ‘rewards’.

She said: ‘It is part of their health policy but how is it helpful for my son to become dehydrated and unable to concentrate in lessons?  ‘Of course I'd prefer him to drink water because it's healthier but at this stage I want him to drink rather than being left with nothing.

‘I don't think the school should me to make my son drink something he doesn't like.

‘The school is being totally ludicrous and contradicting its own health policy because they are giving out treats as rewards.’

Headteacher Elizabeth Harrison said parents are able to pack non-fizzy drinks for children to enjoy during break-times, but they must have nothing but water in lessons following advice from health professionals


Sunday, July 20, 2014

What does FFUC stand for?

Fossil Free UC is a group that wants UC to divest its endowment fund of fossil fuel investments. Ophir Bruck from the group sent me this article to explain his group’s thinking. The author explains that fossil fuel investments aren’t really money makers in the long haul, so there’s no real sacrifice from staying out of that market.

Nice try, but the real reason that students are pushing UC to divest in fossil fuels is apparent: UC is an easy target. UC will not fight back. The worst thing that could happen to these activists is that administrators will pat them on the head and praise them for caring so much.

The worst outcome for students, however, would be less money for the endowment. Past disinvestment decisions — for tobacco and Sudan– have cost the endowment $471 million and $6 million respectively.

After my Sunday column appeared, I received this email from Daniel J.B. Mitchell, Professor-Emeritus of the UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management and UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

    "Actually, UC Academic Senate members who have looked at this matter are not keen on divestment, in part because if applied to the pension fund, it might worsen the underfunding problem.  (The anti-fossil fuel group has amended its proposal to exclude the pension – for now – as a result.  But there is no guarantee it wouldn’t be included at some later date.  Note that if excluded, UC could sell its fossil fuel holdings to the pension and technically meet the demands of the divestment folks.)  The fossil fuel divestment push is also potentially entangled with proposals for anti-Israel divestment, something the regents won’t go for."

One final note: I try not to over-use the word “hypocrisy” in my column. Everyone with standards is a hypocrite about something.

But also, the anger people feel toward hypocrisy often looks silly next to the offense to which it is attached. As the late Washington Post editorial page editor Meg Greenfield once said, if a politician murdered his mother, the media’s first response  likely would be “not that it was a terrible thing to do, but rather that in a statement made six years before, he had gone on record as being opposed to matricide.”

With that caveat, liberal plutocrat Tom Steyer is a hypocrite. He made a fortune in part by investing in fossil fuels. You can read about his Australian and Indonesian coal investments in the New York Times here. The Washington Post writes about his investments in tar sands and coal  here. His opposition to the Keystone pipeline notwithstanding, you can read about his ties to an oil sands pipeline to Canada in this Reuters story.

Now Steyer’s pressuring universities to not make money the way he made it.

I understand how UC lefties believe that disinvestment makes sense. But Tom Steyer didn’t try it until he was a billionaire. Why would anyone heed his “moral” teachings?


British education boss should read this (plagiarised) letter – and then fire the headteacher who wrote it

A headteacher of a primary school in Lancashire has been widely praised on Twitter for a letter she sent home to children, with lots of people suggesting that the letter should be the first thing Nicky Morgan reads in her new capacity as the Secretary of State for Education.

I agree with this sentiment. Nicky Morgan should read this. It will give her a good idea of just how much more work there is to do when it comes to improving England's state schools.

The first thing to note is that the KS2 results which the letter is referring to – the Sats results passed on to local authorities and which are included in the school league tables – are comprised of two components: teacher assessments and standardised tests.

Consequently, it's not true to say the people who "score" the children don't know them. When it comes to reading, writing and speaking and listening, for instance, the pupils are scored by their classroom teachers. Almost everything the letter says in the second paragraph is therefore complete guff.

But let's give the author of the letter – Rachael Tomlinson, the headteacher of Barrowford Primary School – the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume she's just referring to the small handful of Key Stage 2 results that are externally assessed. The letter seems to be addressed to those children who did poorly in those tests and offers them a number of excuses. You may not have done well in the externally-marked tests, she's saying, but, hey, it doesn't really matter, because you can "dance or paint a picture" and "your laughter can brighten the dreariest day".

The assumption the headteacher is making here is that these children will feel bad about not doing well and she's providing them with reasons why they shouldn't. But the reasons she gives are all bogus. Yes, they shouldn't feel bad about their poor test results, but not because they do other things well – such as laughing. Rather, it's because the fault lies with the school. As countless high-performing primary schools across the country have demonstrated, it's possible for all children to do well in the externally assessed Key Stage 2 tests, regardless of the challenges they face when they arrive in Reception. Yes, Ms Tomlinson, even those who speak two languages. If the teachers at Barrowford Primary School really know the pupils as well as the headteacher claims, then the school has no excuse for poor Key Stage 2 test results.

The third thing to note about this letter are the final words: "… there are many ways of being smart." Well, yes, maybe, but they certainly don't include things like being someone your friends can rely on or being able to take care of a little brother or enjoying "spending time with special family members and friends". Those are all admirable qualities, but they're not evidence of intelligence. Ms Tomlinson seems to be redefining the word "smart" here to denote almost any human trait – even the ability to travel from A to B – in order to give false comfort to those children at her school who've under-performed in the externally moderated tests. Is that really a useful lesson? That if a child performs badly in a test, they should tell themselves it doesn't matter because they already possess the quality the test was trying to measure in abundance and the reason they can tell themselves that is because it's perfectly all right for them to define that quality to mean absolutely anything whatsoever?

There may be "many ways of being smart" but the fact is that sixth forms and universities tend to measure smartness in the same way that these tests do and teaching children that such measures are unimportant will mean they're less likely to get into them. That won't have much of an impact on middle-class children – the children of parents who profess to be "touched" and "moved" by sentiments like this, but, in reality, make damn sure their little darlings know how important test results are – but it will have an impact on children from under-privileged backgrounds. If their teachers tell them that being able to "wonder about the future" is achievement enough, and they don't have to worry about learning to read, write or do maths, they're unlikely to be able to compete with their middle-class peers.

The fourth thing to note about this letter – and you've probably spotted it by now – is the use of the word "neat" as a synonym for "great". Why is a headteacher at a school in Lancashire using this Americanism? The answer, it turns out, is because she copied it – virtually word for word – from a letter sent to students at an American elementary school last year. Here is the text of that letter, taken from the blog of Diane Ravitch, an American education reformer:

    "We are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you– the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do. They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school. They do not know that you have traveled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends. They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best… the scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything. There are many ways of being smart."

Now, Ms Tomlinson has subsequently admitted she copied the letter – "Mrs Tomlinson said she found the letter on a blog from the US posted on the internet," reports the BBC – but she certainly didn't say that in the original letter home to parents. On the contrary, she tried to pass the letter off as all her own work. That's appalling on numerous levels. It's plagiarism, to begin with, and that's bad enough. But, worse, all the qualities Ms Tomlinson identifies as belonging to the children in her school – because she and her teachers "know" them so well, unlike those heartless external examiners – don't, in fact, belong to them at all. They belong to the children at an American elementary school.

The thrust of the letter is that all children are unique, and therefore can't be properly measured by a standardised test. It's the age old romantic objection to tests of any kind – boiler-plate anti-intellectual mumbo jumbo. But Ms Tomlinson clearly doesn't have much faith in this progressive shibboleth if she thinks the children at her primary school in Lancashire are completely interchangeable with children over 3,000 miles away. Not quite so unique after all.

Yes, Nicky Morgan, you should read this letter – and then encourage the local education authority in Lancashire to sack Ms Tomlinson. She doesn't have any confidence in externally-moderated Key Stage 2 tests. She thinks if children don't do well in them it's their fault, not hers. She's encouraging practices at her school that will entrench inequality. And she's a plagiarist.


OK: Supreme Court upholds Common Core repeal

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the Legislature had the authority to repeal Common Core education standards for English and math in the state's public schools.

The state's highest court took the action a little more than four hours after attorneys presented oral arguments in a lawsuit that challenged the Legislature's action.

The lawsuit alleged lawmakers violated the state Board of Education's constitutional authority over the "supervision of instruction in the public schools" when they repealed Common Core standards earlier this year. But the Supreme Court's 8-1 decision said the Legislature's action was not unconstitutional.

The case was argued about a month before public school students across the state are scheduled to return to classrooms. The standards were scheduled to go into effect in the upcoming school year.

Attorney Robert McCampbell, who represents parents, teachers and four members of the seven-member Oklahoma Board of Education in the lawsuit, said he was "disappointed with the result" but respected the court's decision. McCampbell said he was not surprised the court ruled so quickly.

"We had asked for it to be placed on the expedited docket and they granted that request," he said.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, said he was pleased with the decision. The legislation that repealed the standards also instructed the board to revert to educational standards in place before June 2010 and develop new state educational standards by 2016.

"I look forward to the adoption of new standards for education in Oklahoma which will challenge our students and prepare them for the future," Hickman said.

During oral arguments, McCampbell argued the Legislature's repeal of Common Core was unconstitutional and represented and "unprecedented expansion" of its powers.

"Supervision of instruction is vested in the Board of Education," McCampbell said.

Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick argued that the Legislature, which in 2010 instructed the board to adopt Common Core instructional standards also adopted by more than 40 other states, has supreme authority to pass laws and that public school education standards are subject to legislative review.

"This court has always held that rulemaking is a legislative function," Wyrick said.

The legislation that repealed Common Core standards for English and math did not include standards for science and social studies. Other states that have repealed or formally withdrawn from Common Core standards are Indiana and South Carolina.

Conservative groups maintained that the standards represented federal intrusion into Oklahoma's public education system, and Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law legislation repealing the standards last month. Some Common Core standards have expressed concern that Oklahoma students will fall behind those in other states because of their repeal.

McCampbell said the Legislature has broad authority to set education policy in the state. But the Board of Education, not lawmakers, should decide what math problems are taught in public schools and whether the Gettysburg Address should be taught in the 10th grade or the 11th grade, he said.

"They are reaching into the classroom," McCampbell said. "That's supervision of instruction in the public schools."

But some parents and teachers who were present for the oral arguments expressed support for repeal of the Common Core standards.

Nikki Fate, who attended the hearing with her 7- and 9-year-old daughters, said she believes Common Core standards are developmentally inappropriate.

"It is cognitive abuse on our children," Fate said. "They're learning way too much at a fast pace and their brains aren't developed for it."