WAS IT FOR THIS THE CLAY GREW TALL?

This is not a happy Christmas message; it is not an optimistic assessment of how great we will be as a nation once we have got Brexit done. It is not to welcome a new era of opportunity for our students or teachers. I will only mention the election to apologise for failing so badly to educate the electorate. We now accept the sort of lies and false propaganda that Goebbels and Stalin would have enjoyed.

I allegedly answered a student’s question yesterday, “I would rather pour boiling water over my testicles than vote for…..” Sorry if that offends you.

I am against all sorts of things in state education: faith schools that isolate communities, accentuate the differences between people and refuse non-believers access to good, state funded education, just for starters.

I would abolish faith schools.

I think we are dividing people by class and the ability to pay for expensive uniforms, parental donations and fees. I believe that many of our best state comprehensive schools deliberately select out the children who most need an education and that’s before one examines the children with special needs who are perversely rejected by schools obliged, by law, to welcome them.

I would fine schools that have expensive uniforms.

Schools that call themselves comprehensives should not be allowed Saturday morning tests in order to select and deselect children.

Our exams systems have always been there to fail as many young people as are required to provide a working population available for short term, unskilled and low paid workers who will accept their place at the bottom of society’s heap. No matter how good the teaching, only 65% of kids are allowed through. A smaller number of unemployable, poorer people on whom we can look down is another feature of mature capitalist societies such as ours. Having a number of homeless people trying to sleep in winter-battered shop doorways is acceptable, too. Well, if it isn’t, how come they are there in all our English towns?

If we can identify a lumpen proletariat to be the subjects of our hatred and extended prison sentences so much the better and are we really that far away from the Hate sessions of Orwell’s “1984?”

And yet, I have just walked round my school and met hundreds of smiling, engaged students and happy, tired teachers.

A third of 10 year olds who sit the SATs in their primary schools are told that they are failures, using the descriptive, “below expectation” to supposedly soften the blow of having spent half of Year 6 engaged on mind numbing repetition. Instead of Drama, PE, Geography, History or Science – learning how and why their world works- 10 year olds may briefly be able to tell you what a subordinate adverbial clause of reason looks like. And then forget. I have spoken with junior school headteachers and not one of them respects or wants SATs.

45 of our 222 Year 7 children officially had help in their SATs so they didn’t really get the scores they were awarded, did they? Such meaningless competition acts against the children’s needs for learning.

I would abolish SATs and allow experienced teachers to assess a child’s progress in a broader curriculum.

25% of students sitting GCSEs last year qualified for extra time in their exams. One or two of them had dyslexic tendencies and all of them were granted extra time according to subjective school assessment. I would advise the other 75% to self-examine and put themselves forward for special consideration. 20 years ago my daughter qualified as, I guess, white middle class. She declined but that’s not the point. If 257,000 students, a quarter of all 16 year olds cannot do their exams in the allotted time there must be something wrong with the exams. (TES 25/11/2019)

The latest PISA figures show that England has risen slightly in international tables, thus justifying the abhorrent work of the dreadful Michael Gove.  Or showing that schools took the tests slightly more seriously than a few years ago. Following my advice the blog ‘Taking the Pisa’ 21/04/14, would have had the UK soar to meaningless heights in the PISA tests. We could have come close to China, Number 1 but only counting children in the 4 most affluent areas, and Macou (again Chinese) with a population of 650,000.

We are becoming a school system obsessed with tests. And tests tell us how well someone does in tests.

The latest research from the universally respected Sutton Trust recognises that the new GCSEs have further widened the attainment gap between affluent and disadvantaged children, benefitting those with private tutors and making the poorer child’s life more difficult and drive social mobility downwards. (TES 05/12/2019)

Coursework and practicals have been eradicated, oracy counts for nothing and if children are lucky enough to still have Food or Technology lessons they will find the qualification in those subjects weighted heavily towards writing and tests.

In our secondary schools we can offer vocational courses to our 16-18 year olds and these have motivated loads of young people who might otherwise enter the unskilled world of zero hours. Many have perked up so well that they have worked harder and grown in self-esteem and gone on to great jobs, apprenticeships and university places. Whoever the last secretary of state for education was launched a consultation to determine how he was to abolish these (BTec) courses in schools. Not whether, just how. BTecs have been like cockroaches and have survived years of meddling governments but now politicians, detached from the reality of schools think it is acceptable to erase children’s opportunities.

I know this is pretty miserable stuff but with our politicians denying the importance of dignity and truth you may understand my feelings of doom. I don’t accept that I should be lied to.  I know that this government will not encourage teachers to help our children learn social skills, team work or problem solving, will not reverse the cuts of the last decade and will not encourage the arts and humanities. Because they haven’t, don’t and won’t.

Our biggest industries are creative and service based: that’s media and arts, project development (that’s coursework) and social skills.

One particular, quite nasty form of school selection which adversely affects social mobility and employability is the practice of “off-rolling” children in the final year of their schooling. Parents “opt” to home educate, usually with little attempt at educating their 15 year olds at home. There are suggestions that school leaders have encouraged off-rolling as a means to improve the apparent performance of the schools.

Young people who behave atrociously even after getting loads of support should be expelled and local authorities should then fulfil their legal duty to provide remedial help and education. It is our failure to help the dreadfully behaved that fills our prisons.

Some schools have off-rolled dozens of children in their final year, as if parents have now decided that their children are going to be better educated at home.

There are children who really cannot cope in school, any school. Where there is no appropriate local provision some parents elect to Home Educate and work hard at providing for their children often this involves a range of private tutors, stay-at-home, well educated parents and group activities with like-minded parents. At what age would parents decide big school is not the answer to their child’s needs? In Hertfordshire, which is possibly atypical, my FOI request produced figures showing that 202 parents (of 547 total for years  1-11) decided to home educate after Year 9.

If a parent writes a note, “I am home educating my child from this date,” that’s it: the child is removed from roll, their existence does not count in exam statistics, someone from the Local Authority may knock on your door, once, and no one checks what the parents are doing to educate at home.

  • National figures on off-rolling are hard to find but The Education Policy Institute question how 49,100 children have an “unexplained exit” from school rolls
  • Over 19,000 students left their schools between January of Year 10 and January of Year 11 (Jason Bradbury 06/09/2019 Ofsted Blog)
  • Outrageously, in statistical terms, 23% of these children – the disappeared – came from 6% of secondary schools.
  • These 6% of schools, 340 schools in total, lost an average of 13 students each between the start of Year 10 and the start of Year 11.
  • There is evidence from Ofsted (Schoolsweek 24/06/2109) that some Local Authorities have co-operated in off-rolling and Ofsted has downgraded schools who cannot explain their high numbers of disappeared children.

19,000 missing schoolchildren, a safeguarding issue?

No Headteacher enters education to remove needy children from their schools but, one way or another, some do, placing exam performance tables above the moral obligation to teach all children.

Our schools should be able to support young people who need extra help, we should be able to offer vocational alternatives for 14-18 year olds to develop work-related skills and then Ofsted should be able to give school leaders a mighty slap if they place their individual status above the needs of children.

Ormiston Academies Trust has been issued with a termination warning notice. Inspectors said the decision to remove pupils from the school’s roll at the start of Year 11 “was taken in the best interests of the school rather than of the pupils”. Thanks, Adrian Lyons, for this inspection and alerting my colleagues to the dangers of gaming.

There you go: a partial set of manifesto promises to make our children safer, happier and more successful. I just know that the way the votes go tomorrow will do none of these things. Schools will get no more help or encouragement, no additional funding and no decent pay for our staff.

Oh dear.

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