Who Takes the Blame for Term-Time Holidays, Schools, Local Authority, Parents or Travel Companies? (repost)

Well, this one has been grumbling on for quite some time. Although it has now come to an end with the Supreme Court in the UK judging against Jon Platt. If anyone does not know the story. Mr Platt was fined by his local authority for taking his daughter on a term-time holiday and refusing to pay the £60 fine issued by the local authority. Mr Platt went through the various legal stages in the UK and ended up in the Supreme Court and has now lost.

I remember being back at school that the headteacher could grant discretionary leave for unforeseen circumstances outside of illness and bereavement, however it is now the case that headteachers usually do not do this unless it is exceptional circumstances. I can understand how frustrating it must be for the parent since holiday operators do tend to charge extra during holiday time and to be honest why would they not, if they can get away with it. There is no doubt it is good business practice, whether you think it is morally right for these companies to raise prices by as much as 50% during school holiday times is another matter.

Speaking from an educators point of view, it is extremely disruptive when students have unauthorised absences, as it not only disrupts the missing student but also the present students if the teacher chooses to revisit topics that have already been covered. Now if this is happening six or seven times a year with different students, it really does start to become a problem. The local authority stance seems to be relating to regular attendance, so this certainly needs to be made clear to parents, so they know where they stand on the issue.

I am sure that it has been a very expensive and upsetting time for Mr Platt to ultimately be on the wrong end of the court’s decision, however, we at least now know where we stand going forward. So, we are back to the situation that it has been put in the hands of the headteacher to decide if an unauthorised absence is warranted. Hopefully, this ends the confusion, I do hope for the sake of Mr Platt that he accepts the court’s decision and pays the fine as I would hate to see him hit with a £2500 fine or a custodial sentence.

The correct decision has been made and I hope that It minimises disruption. As for the blame, I am hanging this directly on the door of the travel companies, something must be put into legislation that stops such a price hike at certain times of the year.

Sex Education In Schools (repost)

I have had a few discussions recently in relation to who is responsible for teaching sex education, should it be the responsibility of teachers or parents? Maybe it should be a combination of both, but there are certainly a lot of discussions on the subject.  I have changed my view about this slightly over the years, I was always of the opinion that sex education should be the role of the parent, in fact, I believe social education should be a parental responsibility and not something they can simply wash their hands of because they will learn it in school.

When I first qualified as a teacher in 2001 I believed, teachers should be teaching academic subjects and parents should be responsible for social teaching, I have changed my opinion of this in the last five years or so.  If we look at things that really should be taught how to educate young people it probably is way beyond the scope of everyone but the most clued-up parents.  It also has taken on a much wider scope since I learned about these things in the early 80’s.  So, what we are looking at now is a strategy of age suitable sex and relationship education in schools that will tackle a very wide variety of areas.

I think the time of sex education being taught by the Science/Biology teacher must be replaced by PSHE specialist practitioners who have a vast knowledge in all areas of sexual and relationship education.  There is no doubt this can be achieved in secondary schools but I am not sure how well it can be done in primary schools where it is probably not feasible in the social climate to have a PSHE specialist on staff. What could happen though if this is such a target for the government is to deliver extra funding for every school to have a PSHE specialist employed, whether it is a primary or secondary school?  It is very well for the government to say these things should happen, but this needs to be backed up with the resources to implement it.

There are of course other issues that are holding things back on this problem, with the increase in free schools and there being still many faith schools around, this muddies the waters on the sex education strategy.  Should certain schools be allowed to withdraw from the strategy? If OFSTED is inspecting you, should you be sanctioned in the inspection for not having a sex education strategy? Should certain schools only be required to deliver part of the strategy, some sex education is better than none, right?

Going back to what I said about parents, I believe they should work hand in hand with teachers to deliver a sound strategy of sex and relationship education.  There are going to be many areas that parents do not have the current underpinning knowledge about and this is where PSHE practitioners will shine. It is worrying that during OFSTED inspections that sex education is only mentioned in 1% of reports, this must change if we are going to get serious about this.

Do I believe in compulsory sex and relationship education? Yes, I do for all children in all schools, whether they are primary, secondary, free or faith schools.  This is not 1981 anymore when the Biology teacher would spend a lesson talking about reproduction and possibly puberty, we are in 2017 now and a comprehensive sex and relationship education plan is necessary, so parents, teachers and governments need to work together on this to make it happen. I have changed my opinion about this over the last 16 years, so maybe it is the time that you did the same.

Retention of Students That Do Not Want to Be There!!! (repost)

Now, this has happened on many courses that I have taught on, you know the student that is just there to either be with their friends or they have been persuaded to move into further education by parents. In fact, it was happening so much at one establishment I taught at, from 2005 onwards we decided that every full-time course in the department below level two must have a four-week introduction course before moving the students on to the main program and so avoid a retention hit.

Now, this did work on some courses as it allowed us to see the students that would probably be an issue further down the line. It also meant that the students left with a short qualification and we did not take a possible retention figure hit on the maim program. Although the students did not progress onto the main program they originally wanted at least they left with something. Of course, quite a few students were not identified during the four-week intro course period, so they had to be addressed on an individual basis as the course progressed.

I usually found with the un-motivated students, quite a lot of them were there under duress because it was a choice after leaving school of either coming to college or getting a job. Often the college option seemed a great deal more desirable. Now to add another issue to the mix we had EMA payments, while these did help a lot of students to be able to continue with education, there were quite a few and many that told me or my learning mentors directly in tutorials that they were only on the course for the EMA.

So how do we deal with these students, they have no interest in putting the required work required to pass the course, they are still attending so they get their EMA, quite often they would have the term bonus payment withheld but they never seemed too worried about that. The major problem was not just the issue that more than likely it would be a not completed the course associated with that learner, but they would disrupt classes for other students. You could go through the disciplinary procedure, however, unless it was a very serious incident, the college did not want to take the retention hit.

I could turn a few students around over the years that went from un-motivated and disruptive to putting some effort in and completing the course. This was fantastic, as I found nothing better than bringing a student through in this way. I was lucky that I had an excellent group of learning mentors to work with who did a fantastic job, not every college is in that position though and they just turn into yet another failure on the stat sheet,

So, whether it is down to parents pushing the kids into something they do not want to do, or a more robust recruitment policy for colleges, I really think more has to be done so you are not setting these young adults up for failure. I am not going to go into the way that FE is funded as I have already written an article on that but something needs to be done about the situation.

Restraint Injuries at Special Need Schools What Is Going On? (repost)

It was reported at the end of last week that there were many restraint injuries reported in special needs schools according to the BBC. According to the report, there have been 773 incidents reported in the last three years according to a Freedom of Information Request based on 13,000 physical restraints. Now I understand that this may have t be done on occasions to keep the people within the classroom safe, however, these seem like an unusually large number of restraint-related injuries.

I speak with a bit of experience here from both sides of the situation. I have an autistic son who attends a special needs school and also have had to use reasonable force a few times within my own classes as a further education tutor. I know my own son has two support workers and he can be a bit of a handful but I have to also say he has never had any restraint injuries which I am obviously delighted about. Going back to my own teaching experiences, there are many times I have had to step between students and remove them from the classroom. It is different though as this is for young adults and not, people with severe learning disabilities.

I think the bigger issue here is the possibility that restraint is being used as a punishment rather than a safety technique. If this is the case and it can be proven, I really hope whoever is responsible for this is dealt with in the severest way possible. These techniques should only be used as a last resort to avoid injury and never for punishment. I fear though, with the funding cuts that are going on in UK education though those things are going to get worse, there will just not be the highly trained practitioners to deal with these students will complex learning needs.

Dealing with people that have severe learning difficulties is a very difficult job and there are some fantastically dedicated practitioners doing it, I just hope the possibility of a few bad apples does not tarnish the reputation of the thousands of great teachers and support workers.

I will be interested in what the Department of Education put into their new guidelines that are going to be published in relation to restraining in schools. I just hope it works in the best interests of all parties involved and brings an end to restraint-related injuries.


Ofsted considering the use of social media to see how schools are performing (repost)

Well this was an interesting one that came from Ofsted at the end of last week. I am not too sure how I would feel about basing my schools possible need for intervention based around how many likes It has on Twitter or thumbs up on Facebook. The problem with using social media for this sort of exercise is that people tend to be overly negative in relation to things, a parent is much more likely to highlight bad practice than they would good practice. After all good practice is what you would expect, right?

I have always believed actions should be based on evidence presented and not on hearsay, whichever way you look at social media, quite a lot of what is on there is hearsay. Of, course Ofsted did not go into any details of what this would involve, only that it was part of the “innovation and regulation plan”, and was working with the Department of Education on a “data science project”.

So, will anything come of it? Personally, I doubt it although it is always good fun to through ideas out there and possibly using near real-time feedback would be a great idea, I am just not sure that Facebook and Twitter is the way to do. As I mentioned earlier, it will probably give skewed judgement as most people go to social media to put a negative spin on things. Although I mentioned getting near real-time feedback would be a great idea, one downside would be that people would be shooting from the hip rather than thinking about things. I guess that is social media though, a very reactionary medium.

Lots of schools are already using real-time data already, I am sure this could be expanded upon and improved over time, without having to go anywhere near social media for data. As things in this area year on year, it will become a vital way in which Ofsted can come to their decisions as to which are weak and which are strong schools and colleges.

Teacher Training, does it prepare you for stepping into the classroom? (repost)

I am going to take a step back in time to Autumn/Fall of 2001, this is when I started to do my initial teacher training. I must say it was a very enjoyable experience. There was a wide range of subject covered within the course. So, I must say it was a really great time. What I am asking though is, did the underpinning knowledge that I learned by completing this course add a great deal to me growing as a practitioner, or did the growth only take place within the classroom environment?

I was lucky as I was teaching 24+ hours a week while I was training, either in a team teaching role or my own classes. There were plenty of people though in my peer group that was only teaching the minimum requirement of the course. While I did gain some excellent underpinning knowledge on the course, what was learnt in the classroom and interacting with colleagues was far more important in my growth as a practitioner. As I said earlier I did enjoy the underpinning knowledge of assessment and educational trends, but getting in there and dealing with the students is where the real learning takes place.

I am speaking from a Further Education environment here, so I am not really in the position to comment on the school teaching experience. I will say though that it was certainly a shock, the range of abilities within the same group. In my first-year teaching, I was delivering sessions to groups that ranged from entry level 2 to full level 3 learners, which is fine and I had no problem with that.

The thing I found the most difficult as a new practitioner was the range of ability within the same group. I spoke about the issue with this in a blog post on the 8th February. You will never be told during teacher training there is a likelihood of having a range of abilities that covers five level. You will not be told that because it should not happen, in that situation it is clearly a recruitment issue and you can be the greatest master of differentiation on the planet if you have a class to deliver over that range of ability you are going to struggle.

So, what should happen? Well, I think a bit of honesty should come into things. In-class educational psychology is fine, does it prepare you for having to break up fights or get you ready for when one of your students comes to see you in tears because he/she is having problems at home? When you are doing your teaching practice, it would be an idea to have a range of groups with different challenges, rather than being given a good safe group to work with. I would say the breakdown of things for me would be 20% in-class and 80% teaching/reflection should be the weighting for teacher training going forward.

I have deliberately not mentioned much of the other things you must take on when entering the teaching’ profession like, Assessment, CPD, Meetings, Internal Verification, Pastoral and many other things that have to be completed. What you learn in the teacher training classroom nowhere near prepares you for what you must deal with on the shop floor. I am just so happy that I was delivering 900+ hours while I was training as this showed me what teaching is really about, and held me in good stead going forward.

Grammar Schools, Are They Better Education or Just Segregation? (repost)

There is a huge issue in the UK education system now, and that is the lifting of the ban relating to new grammar schools. As most people know who read this blog I am an FE and Adult Education teacher so it will not directly affect me but I do have some very strong views on this subject. So, I am sure you guessed already that I am firmly against this idea, I believe everybody should be taught I the same type of outstanding educational establishment and there should be no grammar schools, secondary modern schools or any other descriptor you wish to label them with. There should just be schools that do a fantastic job of teaching our children.

There is absolutely zero reason for a two-tier education system to be in place. I could not believe what I was hearing when Theresa May said the ban on new grammar schools would give every child the best chance of a quality education. What a disgusting slap in the face for all the current hard-working practitioners that are reaching every day in non-grammar schools. Theresa, are you really saying that these people are not delivering a satisfactory education? If I were a school teacher I would be pretty upset by that statement, and unless it can be backed up with very solid rationale I would expect a fulsome apology for this outrageous verbal attack.

I do not always agree with Jeremy Corbyn, in fact, I rarely ever do but on this occasion, I have to agree that it seems like Thresa’ May’s personal vanity project that could have a devastating effect on the way education is currently delivered. The best teachers and the best students will be skimmed off for grammar schools and that will leave students that are less academically gifted with the educators that do not quite make the grammar school mark. I guess we could just send those students to UTC’s because that is working out so well isn’t it Mr Gove?

So the money has been found for new selective schools but the budgets for non-selective schools are being cut. Well, this seems like a fantastic idea that has great news written all over It. How about we just shelve the plan for selective schools and try and just make our schools deliver a fantastic education for all the children attending them. Let every child progress on their merits in the same school as their peers. Then we will really have education and not segregation.


Further education funding needs to change (repost)

Something came through one of my social media feeds earlier today which had me thinking about teaching in the FE sector including the way funding works, all of us that have worked in that sector understand the pressures that are put on by management, especially when it comes time for the big “O” to come and visit you again.  So obviously, the management of the college want as many people on the courses as possible.  The issue here is when do you sacrifice quantity for quality.  At some point, you have got to get past the point of taking everyone with a pulse on the courses just to inflate recruitment numbers.

Let us look at some hard facts here, what is the use of having great recruitment if you are setting the students up to fail? So, what you end up doing is just to keep them for your retention and achievement stats and let them drift along in the hope that they will somehow scrape through the course.  I mean to hell with giving them a well-rounded education, it is all to do with funding.  Yes, I know college managers would say to me that less funding means fewer jobs so we either take on students with less ability or we have less staff to teach the students.

Why is the base level of the students coming from school to FE colleges so low? I am not a school teacher and I have always taught in the FE sector so I would not attempt to second guess why this is happening but surely something needs to be done to improve the transition from the national curriculum to further education.  You could have lower level courses run more often which would then give you a stepping stone to level one and two main are courses, though should there be a need to have three entry levels of course before you progress to a level one course, of course not.  As we know most courses may have entry three as one year stepping stone to your main course.  We all know though that more likely that you will have students put on level one courses that are not ready for the work that is required to achieve this.

Now let us move on to the staff that must teach on these courses, you know as a teacher you are going to have students on your course that are at completely different ends of the ability scale.  So, you are putting together your scheme of work at the beginning of the year knowing full well that some of the work is going to leave the best students bored and the less able students completely lost, you need to find a happy medium, right? So, let us go for that great “D” word, “which D word?” I hear you ask, differentiation, of course, you know the of that college managers and OFSTED inspectors love.  How far do you take it? Do I have to plan and teach four different lessons for the ability ranges of my group? Is it any wonder that teachers are quitting FE in droves.

Something must be done with the way FE is funded to make it easier to get recruitment done at the correct level, so you have classes of similar ability and you are not recruiting people just to make up the numbers.  This may prompt things to change in schools so that basic things are not being re-taught to lower ability students.  Until something is done about this you will get more and more students becoming achievement numbers rather than a student that leaves with a well-rounded subject knowledge and the knock-on effect will be more and more staff going off with stress and ultimately leaving the profession.

Why kill yourself working 80 hours per week under the current FE template when you can move into various other areas like corporate training where at least you get to do what you trained for and teach your clients something without the pressures of recruitment, retention and Achievement figures.

Teachers wearing body cameras, a good move or just overkill (repost)

Well, this is certainly an interesting trial, teachers wearing body cameras in the classroom.  This is a very interesting issue especially when you look at the benefits of having it versus the debate on data protection. This will be a hot topic going forward and will be very interesting to see the outcomes of the trial that is currently taking place.

The two schools that are taking part in the trial are wearing the police-style body cameras to try and stop pupil disruption. The trial will take place over a three-month period and will be located in state secondary schools. The cameras will be worn by all the teachers and will be clearly visible, so there will be nothing covert about the filming.

The camera will not be on all the time but will be activated to capture footage of specific incidents where the teacher feels there is a threat to themselves or another student. The scheme is not only being used to control bad behaviour. The scheme could also be used to film positive events as well, with permission of course and according to Tom Ellis from the University of Plymouth.

The Times Educational Supplement recently surveyed 600 teachers about the body cameras with 37% said they would wear them, with the main reason given would be evidence of student behaviour. But 62.3% were not so keen on the idea, the main concerns of these ranged from their own privacy, being spied on by management and the privacy of pupils.

Although it seems like a good use of the technology and may help to improve some student behaviour, the flip-side with privacy especially with children could open a huge can of worms.  So, for now, I would like to say many more schools taking part in the trial so we have a much better sample of data. The jury is out on this one from my personal perspective, I see some positives and negatives and it may need to be decided on each establishments’ individual needs.

Betsy DeVos Is Just a Continuation Of Unqualified Politicians Holding Important Positions (repost)

Well, reading over the last few days about Betsy DeVos and her suitability for Education Secretary in the USA, had me thinking about politicians in general and their suitability to be in control of sections of government. Now I am not going to say whether Ms DeVos is well qualified or not as an Education Secretary as I do not know her educational background. What I will see though if she is a businesswoman and administrator I would be extremely unimpressed with the appointment.

I have long held the opinion that someone running whatever department should have a background in the profession, whether it is medicine, teaching or law. If you do not have a law background, how the hell can you tell a lawyer how to do their job. The same goes for education unless you have been in that classroom teaching the kids, dealing with the problems and breaking the fights up, you have no idea what good teaching is about.

So, take my own country we have Justine Greening currently running education, now I have nothing against Ms Greening and I am sure she is an outstanding politician. My issue is though that Ms Greening’s background is in accountancy, which would be excellent if she was working in the Treasury and not. the education department. Surely there must be a Conservative member of parliament that has a teaching background.

I have run into this myself working in further education. I have had teaching observations done by senior managers who have never taught a class in their life. Yes, they know what is required, they have read the standards and what to look for, but if you have not been on the shop floor you are unable to identify the nuances of teaching a class.

I personally think teaching observations should be undertaken by senior practitioners, they need to have recent teaching experience and not read from the OFSTED handbook. Until we get the correct people at all levels of the organisation, you will always have disquiet as to whether those individuals are suitably qualified for the post they are in.

So, I say again to Betsy DeVos and Justine Greening, how well does your teaching Resume/CV stack up? If the answer is not very well, then you have no right to lecture experienced teaching practitioners about the rights and wrongs. Come back when you are a qualified practitioner with 3000+ hours classroom experience at all levels.