Tuesday, 30 June 2009
"Key schools policy to be ditched
The government is set to abandon one of its most significant education policies in primary schools in England.
From 2011 schools will no longer have to implement national strategies in literacy and numeracy.
Instead they will be encouraged to work together to find local solutions to the challenges of improving the basic skills of their pupils.
The plans are part of wider reforms to be announced by Schools Secretary Ed Balls next week.
Primary schools in England have been expected to teach English and maths according to centralised guidelines set down by national literacy and numeracy strategies for more than 10 years.
BBC News education correspondent Kim Catcheside says standards improved rapidly at first but have risen much more slowly in recent years.
More from Today programme
Mr Balls will say that from 2011 he is ending the multi-million pound contract with private company Capita to deliver the strategies.
The Guardian reports that money will be redirected to schools to spend on creating networks with other schools and having their own advisers to help improve teaching standards and pupils' performance.
The paper says the changes will be part of a wide-ranging White Paper expected to be published on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Mr Balls told a teaching conference: "I think the right thing for us to do now is to move away from what has historically been a rather central view of school improvement through national strategies to something which is essentially being commissioned not from the centre but by schools themselves."
Earlier this year former Ofsted chief Sir Jim Rose produced a report for the government on a proposed overhaul of primary schools in England. He recommended that computer technology should be central to the curriculum alongside English, maths and personal skills.
And ministers have agreed to the findings of a group of educationists and headteachers who said formal Sats tests for 10 and 11-year-olds might eventually be replaced by teacher assessments of their pupils."
The Guardian has commented on this news here:
"...Today's Guardian reports that the government is to abandon its national strategies for schools when it announces its white paper on education next week. That means that the much-loathed literacy and numeracy hours in primaries, with their rigid, minute-by-minute dictation of how every teacher must structure and deliver their lesson, will stop being compulsory from 2011. Instead schools will be able to make their own choices about what their children need and how they should teach.
This, coming from a department whose controlling and centralising instincts would have been applauded in a Soviet state, is truly revolutionary. It is a (very) belated recognition that treating children and classrooms as if they were car parts and assembly lines is a strategy that simply doesn't produce skilled, or educated, or motivated pupils.
It's taken the government years to acknowledge this, because for the first few years of the national strategies, after Labour's election in 1997, test results soared. Ministers preened themselves. Everyone else knew it was because teachers were swiftly discovering how to teach children to the test.
Once they'd learned how to do that, nothing improved. The test results at 11 have more or less plateaued in the last six or seven years.
The strategies don't work at any level other than the most superficial.
Teachers feel helpless when they are in front of classes that aren't grasping the points at the speed the national timetable lays down. There is no flexibility. The national plan compels a teacher to move on, no matter how many children are being left behind. Frantic booster classes at ages seven and 11 teach children the short-term tricks they must know to get them through Sats tests.
Even those who can keep up find the lessons stultifying. Some years ago English teachers in secondaries started reporting that 11-year-old children were arriving saying they hated the subject. For years they'd been exposed to passages by brilliant writers like Michael Morpurgo or Philip Pullman, but not in order to be enraptured by their stories or taken into another world by their prose. No, it was in order to analyse their paragraphs and identify how many adjectives and nouns they had used.
It's hard to know what has finally forced this change. Perhaps it's the shaming results of the department's latest wheeze; the piloting of new single-level tests in English and maths to replace the Sats at 11.
These are supposed to be taken – like music exams – when a child is ready.
What the pilots have revealed is that 14-year-olds are regularly scoring much lower in the tests than 11-year-olds.
There's only one explanation for this, which is that children were never really understanding their subject in the first place; they were just being crammed, and a few years on, they've forgotten how to do it.
Should we be pleased that the government has finally recognised this truth?
I don't think so. I think the appropriate reaction is fury about the wasted years."
Some of the comments under this Guardian article are sad, as well as revealing. One person comments:
"This morning, my glee at the demise of the strategies was short lived. There can be no party for the lost years. My own children have endured these trite,unimaginative lessons, their individuality and imagination stifled, their love of aforementioned Morpurgo and Pullman only present because of having parents who were insistent that they should pick up a book to read and enjoy and not ascertain and scrutinize the sentence level and structure.
As a teacher, I was disenfranchised, disempowered, constantly speeding up or rather "pacing" my lessons to get through the objectives, irrespective of the needs of the children in my charge. Countless pieces of unfinished work or unread literature that just got washed away by the need to move onto the nextset of CVCs or the learning of "where, wear, ware".
Even now, I get palpatations at the thought, and for those contributers who say why didn't teachers just do what they thought was right, well, how could we? With didactic headteachers breathing down our necks and the impending requirements of an Ofsted regime fixated on test results, we were stymied."
Monitoring arrangements for home education are mentioned in the Improving schools and safeguarding children Bill
"Creating world class standards in schools, listening to parents, giving them more information and acting to protect vulnerable children by:
delivering the commitments in the forthcoming Schools White Paper including:
- a new set of guarantees to an individually tailored education for each child and their parents;
- backing head teachers to enforce good behaviour with measures to clarify parents responsibilities to sit alongside their entitlements;
- an accountability framework and school improvement strategies for all schools, underpinned by a new School Report Card;
- giving parents a greater say over the range of schools in their local area;
clarifying the role of Ofsted and other inspectorates in inspecting Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) and enable information sharing for LSCB purposes;
- improving monitoring arrangements for children educated at home;
- helping to tackle anti-social behaviour through powers of intervention with Youth Offending Teams that are considered to be failing - otherwise putting young people and/or local communities at risk;
- putting in place a new framework, based on the position in youth courts, to enable the media to report the substance of family proceedings whilst protecting the identities of families and providing the courts with discretion to disapply this safeguard where it is in the public interest and safe to do so."
It's really worrying that because the home ed stuff is all mixed in with other good-sounding stuff it could just end up slipping through parliament with little resistance.You can comment on the draft proposals here
as well as making your views known to your MP.
Thursday, 25 June 2009
Between a rock and a nappy sack of dog poo via the valley of cryogenic fruit. Or 'Why scientists should bring the dinosaurs back'
Anyway. I'll start writing and post the photos up a bit later at which point I'll remember more things to write about and if I repeat myself, well be a little tolerant. It's my age you know.
There's been a bit of a ROCK theme going on here recently.
Did I tell you about the David Attenborough DVD on fossils that the kids watched while we were doing 'Evolution and Darwin'?
Well, following on from the DVD we've strayed into more of the fossil subject area. Ds1 had already been reminiscing about fossil hunting in Lyme Regis and coincidentally I've been reading outloud to the kids a book on Mary Anning (The Dragon in the Cliff by Sheila Cole), who is famous for finding some amazing fossils on the Dorset coast when she was a girl in the 1800s. Anyway, it's a fab book, and absolutely the best sort for reading out loud. Ds1 has actually been begging for me to read it to him (my throat was sore today and he was gutted that I wasn't going to read the next chapter!).
[If you liked the Little House on the Prairie Series of books it has a similar 'feel' to it AND Mary is home educated for most of her childhood, which is a plus for our home educating family!].
On Tuesday we took off to do some fossil hunting in a local quarry, loaded down with picnic and hammers and dog and identification books and cameras and nappy sacks of dog poo (I'm sure traditional palaeontologists don't have the latter to contend with on their explorations). I'd never been to this quarry before and had no idea what to expect. Although we didn't find anything remarkable (no dinosaurs) in the limestone, there were certainly fossils and the kids were thrilled.
A moth, yet to be identified (a cinabar moth?).
On the rock theme, here are some pictures of the boys doing some stone carving at an arts and crafts weekend. Ds1 wouldn't leave the block alone and spent most of the weekend chiselling away at it! Dh has promised to get him a couple of breeze blocks in the back garden and lend him a hammer and chisel. It's not like the neighbours think we're normal anyway...
Ds1 training to be a plastic surgeon (actually I think it's a penguin in progress)
Ds2 getting a lesson in pot throwing at the arts and crafts show. I was hoping for one of those 'Generation Game' moments with wobbly pots flying off into the audience, but alas he was far too good at it!)
The kids have also been watching repeats of 'The Fossil Detectives' on bbc iplayer. They only seem to be available for a week after showing on BBC4, (no.2 is on iplayer at the moment), but they are to be recommended! My boys really enjoyed them. Oh, and if you go to
there is a link where you can order a free 'Fossil Detectives' guide from the Open University. We've already got ours and it's a really useful start to fossil hunting. Not exactly comprehensive, but in some ways better than lugging around some huge tome on fossils that the kids wont want to look at anyway.
And on the evolution theme we were watching 'The Incredible Human Journey' on iplayer, except that the series must have ended now because it's all vanished off the website (poo). But we've managed to watch a few, and have downloaded a couple more. Maybe the BBC will repeat the series (they seem to repeat everything else).
Oh and that's just reminded me. We went to the Cheltenham Science Festival a few weekends ago. It was a long day out, but the boys went and saw the 'Evolution Revolution' talk by Dr Robert Winston and a talk about the satellite that Blue Peter are sending up (don't know much about it, but they seemed to enjoy the talk). They also got to play at all the hands-on stuff that was there, and pick up some freebies (always a plus!). The kids entered a competition and we were notified a few days later that ds2 had won a robot (he had a choice and chose the Roboraptor). We're still waiting for it to arrive nearly a week later and I'm hoping that it hasn't got lost in our appalling postal system, or that they've somehow changed their mind and sent it to someone else :( We don't often win things, so I'm cautiously pessimistic.
Dd checking out the 'science of balance' at The Cheltenham Science Festival!
And pretending to conduct an orchestra like the statue of the very famous bloke behind her whose name I can't remember.
Ds2 paints with mud to show how kind he is to plants (or some other earthy reason that the stallholder gave and that went straight over my head)
Dd draws a dog. Dogs are her current artistic theme. But it is a very nice dog...
Dd2 proves that autonomous education works. Not only did he teach himself to read, but it looks as if he can spell too (in mud)
AND...more evolution. I took the kids to an evolution event at our local museum of natural history. They kind of blanked out with info-overload (especially the woman who seemed determine to explain the differences and similarities in various animals' DNA to my 3 not-very-interested children), but it felt like one more tick in the box (sorry kids, I'm in control of the pen this time). And there was the usual Mr dynamic museum education officer, who is totally animated about everything (yes, I mean EVERYTHING - in a loud voice) and just the sort of person you need to make a dry subject interesting to kids. Why can't every museum have one of him? (I bet the anti-cloning protestors haven't thought of what they are depriving us home educators of - think how much better life would be if we could populate the country with excitable child-friendly museum bods!)
Alongside the fossil theme we've been doing a timeline of evolution (simplified) using the books 'From Lava to Life' and 'Mammals who Morph' by Jennifer Morgan. There are actually 3 books in the series but I was too tight to buy the first one which I assume is about The Big Bang. You can see below some of the pictures that the kids drew to stick on the timeline. I know it's a sneaky way to get them to do a bit of writing, but - as I keep reminding them - if they were in school they'd be doing HOURS of writing. Though to be fair, even if my kids had hours to do writing in, they'd probably still only come up with one or two legible sentences in that time.
Ok, so what else have we been doing (on a non-evolution, non-fossil, non-rock theme)?
Well the strawberries are glutting. I don't suppose that's a verb, but I've just made it into one. Why? Because I'm worth it.
Do you know just how many fresh strawberries a family can eat in one day? We do. And it's less than I'm picking. I still have last year's strawberries in the freezer that I was supposed to make jam out of...and now I have another 3 tubs to add (on top of last year's blackcurrants, rasberries, sliced apple, elderberries, and weird things which may have once been damsons) . My freezer has become the valley of cryogenic fruit.
The mangetout are also glutting. One day they are tiny, the next day they are monstrously tough pea pods. Ok, well maybe not the next day, but the next day that I get around to going down the allotment, which is nearly the same thing. The only thing to do with all these is to dip them in humous. YUM. The kids don't like them, so I'm left trying to eat a bag full a day (and giving the leftovers to the rabbit which seems a shame). I think even neighbours' distribution outlets are overwhelmed (eggs, strawberries AND mangetout).
Shouldn't complain. But I will.
The horsetail is growing well at the allotment. As we have found out from our numerous fossil/evolution viewings and activities the horsetail - or tree-like forms of it - were around at the same time as the dinosaurs. I've been thinking about this (displacement activity no101)...if herbivorous dinosaurs were introduced on to my allotment I'd have no weed problems at all. Where's Jurassic Park scientists when you need them? Oi! Go get some of that dinosaur DNA and breed me a horsetail predator! But knowing my luck they'd probably be fond of carrots too...
[by the way it's taken me three attempts to finish this post, hence the date at the top is actually about 3 days ago]
Saturday, 20 June 2009
They're in there somewhere. Honest. Found them yet?
Am I entering the allotment contest this year ?(criteria: imaculate disease-free weed-free veg, edging trimmed with nail scissors to exactly 2 inches, must be owned by retired person with huge flagons of pesticide and weedkiller, willing to put in 10 hours a day of weeding and tilling and picking)
In fact the allotment secretary didn't even ask me this year.
Phwarh! What do care? [big raspberry noise].
Anyway, here's a little poem I have written in my head as I am blogging.( Don't expect grand things)
The Little Carrot Poem
I had some little carrot seeds
Ok. Well I said not to expect grand things! No, I wont give up the day job.
Why can't the blighters just all ripen together? What is it with them?! Are they deliberately trying to make work for me? !
By the time the non-ripe ones are ripe, the previously ripe ones will probably be over-ripe and fallen off. Am I to just sit for hours picking off individual currants?
(by the way, 'Yes' isn't an option)
Monday, 15 June 2009
It feels like I've spent the weekend running around like Chicken Licken crying out 'The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!'
Anyway, back to some positive action:
Please add your comments, and demonstrate to Lord Lucas why we reject the Badman Report at http://lordlucas.blogspot.com/
I've just added mine (yet to be posted up - there were only 6 comments when last looked). Here it is:
"Our family is still reeling from the report and the ignorance it demonstratesabout home education.Our family has made an active choice to allow our children to grow up following their interests and passions, to learn at their own pace, and without being subjected to the intrusion of testing and monitoring. As the saying goes 'thepig doesn't get any fatter by weighing it'.
I wonder if the government has plans to monitor and inspect all those parents with preschool children too? Or school children during school holidays?
I don't know anyone in social services who would agree that a yearly visit by astranger would be effective in identifying cases of child abuse, or providing an environment whereby a child might disclose abuse.
And of course there is the huge risk of false-positives caused by an inefficient system that is driven by targets. If you are searching for a needle in a haystack, then making the haystack bigger isn't the solution.
Recommendation 7 proposes a change in the law to give designated local authority officers the right of access to the home. This right is not even extended to the Police and Social Services unless there is probable cause, and defies theEuropean Convention of Human Rights article 8. Are we to be persecuted for making a minority choice in the education of our child?
We have never asked the LA for funding. We have never asked the LA for resources or facilities. We fund home education ourselves, often through outstanding resourcefulness and with considerable hardship.
And where is the money going to come from to administer this uneccessary and intrusive system?No doubt it could be better spent providing funding for grass root organisations that do a great deal of unspoken work to support families in the community. I'm not speaking here about the turgid machinery of the Sure Start Centres, but the small independent voluntary organisations where people meet and communities self-regulate; these are exactly the sorts of places where children ARE seen, where parents are supported and any concerns ARE noted and acted upon(isn't this the whole intention of this monitoring?).
If these recommendations go through then I suspect huge numbers of homeeducators will go underground. And I very much doubt that any of them will be voting for any party that supports this report."
For those who are interested, Lord Lucas (Conservative) has spoken in defence of home education prior to the release of the report:http://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2009-06-02a.107.8&s=speaker%3A13301#g142\.0
The cynic in me thinks that once the Conservatives realise just how many votes they could get from Home Educators in the fallout of this report, there might be a few more of their politicians speaking out!
Will post soon about more usual home ed stuff and I have lots and lots of photos to upload. Of course what I'd really like to be doing is HOME EDUCATING. Unfortunately, thanks to the government, I'm still trying to plough through the implications of the report and make some positive moves about fighting the recommendations. Grrr..
Thursday, 11 June 2009
Anyway, I'm now reeling from the publication of the Badman report of the review into elective home education:
I am too sickened to comment. Too gutted. Too...can't find the words. Recommendation 7 and parts of 23 are particularly chilling.
However, at least one person has spoken up for us home educators (Mark Field, conservative)
"...I became interested, involved and engaged in home education some months back when I met two articulate and passionate local mothers in the Pimlico area of my constituency who had decided to educate their children themselves. One made that decision as a result of her son’s unhappy and unproductive first 18 months in the state school sector. The other had seen home education work brilliantly for family friends, and made the positive decision to take on that task for her daughters. The matter is a Cinderella area, and I approached my meeting with those two mothers with some standard misconceptions that a home education might produce an unsocialised, precocious child who is unable to interact with their peers and perhaps shielded from all negative experiences. However, the more I listened to the two mothers, the
9 Jun 2009 : Column 217WHmore impressed and excited I was by their passion and enthusiasm for home education. Each was able to provide an individualised learning experience tailored to the child’s abilities and interests. Far from having an isolated and insulated existence, the children of those two mothers frequently attended classes with other home schoolers, interacted with children of different ages and abilities, and experienced a wide range of activities from practising judo and learning Japanese to visiting galleries and museums during quieter times of day.
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): My hon. Friend’s experience is replicated in my constituency where there are 60 home schoolers. That has come to the forefront in my constituency because some parents are deeply unhappy about the school that they have been allocated and are investigating home schooling. It is a resourceful way of proceeding with a valuable education that is tailored to their child’s needs. I echo what my hon. Friend is saying. When one looks into the matter, one sees that it is a heartening way forward and can be complementary to the state system.
Mr. Field: I thank my hon. Friend for her observations. I stress that the notion of a homogenous group of home educators with a single mind could not be further from the truth. Diversity is one of the most important aspects of the home education ideal and the education that is provided for those children who have the great benefit of it. A home-educated child will naturally have a close relationship with their parents, whose lives are often enriched by learning new skills and knowledge alongside their children.
I have discovered that in my constituency, in the heart of the biggest city in our nation, there is an active community of home educators who share classes and co-ordinate their knowledge base. A nationwide lively online community shares best practice and experience, and I have learned about that from the inundation of information to my private office during the past three or four days since it became known that I was having this debate today. I apologise that I will not be able to make all the points that were made to me by interested parents. Many home educators choose not to engage with other families, and the appeal of home education is that individual educational experience can be tailored to best suit the child and the family.
All that comes at no cost to taxpayers because the vast majority of home educators shoulder not only the teaching burden, but the financial one. Despite that, the choice for many home educators is often not the ability to afford such a route—many probably struggle to some extent—but stems from lack of faith in what the state sector provides, particularly when the basis of that provision is “take it or leave it”. That is a problem not so much in my constituency, but in other parts of London where many parents are dissatisfied when only their third, fourth or fifth choice of school is available for their children. Home educators come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and many find that home schooling is the most workable or perhaps the only alternative to expensive school fees or an unattractive local state school.
Unfortunately, both the mothers to whomI spoke at length were deeply concerned about the future of home education. There is long-standing suspicion that the Government, both local and national, are uncomfortable about parents providing education that cannot be monitored, tested or accounted for. There is a real fear that the Government, under the banner of child protection, will try to interfere with the freedom of choice of home educators. I represent a big flagship Conservative borough, but the same probably applies to the local education authority, which is equally to blame. I am not making a partisan party political point. The freedom that is so fiercely guarded by the majority of home educators and their choice to pursue that path is due to a fundamental rejection of the state’s values, and lack of faith in the state’s ability to provide a suitable education for their child.
Home education has been under constant scrutiny since the Children Act 2004, which enshrined the Government’s Every Child Matters agenda in legislation. Draft guidelines clarifying the rights and responsibilities for home educators and local authorities were drafted and debated in early 2005, shelved for two years, and finally published in autumn 2007. That consultation caused great anxiety among home educators because it was feared that the Government would try to introduce inspections and to control the curricula. Eventually, guidelines issued after the review maintained the previous position, and most families were incredibly relieved.
Meanwhile the Education and Inspections Act 2006 introduced new duties for identifying children who were missing education. Yet there was another consultation in autumn last year on children missing education, and all home educators will eventually be tracked down as a result of the ContactPoint database. Local authorities will be required to determine“as far as they are able”whether a child is receiving what a local education bureaucrat deems is a suitable education. Before that, local authorities were required only to make a note of any families whom they found home educating.
All this casts doubt on the Government’s motives with the Badman review, particularly as the consultation response time has been cut from 12 weeks to four. Why have they not given the latest guidance a chance to work through? Could it be that the consultation is a knee-jerk reaction from a Government who are fearful of any further culpability in the face of some quite deep failings in the care system?
Home educators with whom I have engaged conclude that either the Government have no faith in the previous reviews or this is a superficial exercise to try to allay public concern—a bid to make good other failures with frenetic activity—which will result in few or no changes.
Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is making a very strong case. He says that there may be public concern about this sector, but having visited a group of home educators in Penzance in my constituency, it was clear to me that in many cases these people have chosen this option precisely because they want to escape abuse and bullying in schools. Some choose it for other reasons. In a letter dated 19 June 2007 that I received from the then Under-Secretary in the Department, Lord Adonis, he made it clear that under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 the powers already exist to intervene in cases in which the state believes that a child may suffer harm. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The state already has the powers to intervene where it suspects that harm may be going on.
[edited 4 aug 2009 to correct labels for the post]