NEWSLETTER

No 73, Spring 2011

NEW CHAIRMAN TAKES OVER

After more than 20 years as chairman, Nick Seaton has stepped down. We are delighted to announce that our new chairman is Chris McGovern, a long-standing committee member, and a firm defender of high standards and parental choice. As a former state-school history teacher and, more recently, the head of a successful London prep school, Chris fully understands the issues and will be a great asset.

Vice-chairmen Jenny Chew, Jacqui Davies and Katie Ivens continue as before and Nick is now secretary. Vera Dalley continues as treasurer, having previously held the positions of secretary and treasurer.

Meanwhile, Nick wishes to thank everyone for the magnificent support he and his colleagues have enjoyed over the years – long may it continue!

We also have a new manifesto: Freedom to teach, Freedom to learn, Freedom to choose. These nine words, we believe, encapsulate our aims and objectives. Some brief explanatory notes are accessible from the homepage of our website: www.cre.org.uk.

Also on our website in the ‘Subjects’ section are some sensible proposals for improving the teaching of history in primary and secondary schools. These have been submitted by the History Curriculum Association to the government’s review of the national curriculum. Your comments or suggestions will be most welcome.

PRIMARY SCIENCE CURRICULUM

Our suggested primary-level science curriculum has now joined the ones for English, maths, geography and history in the primary section on our website.

It was written by David Perks, to whom we are most grateful. Mr Perks is head of physics at Graveney School in London and has written extensively on the teaching of science – see, for example, What Is Science Education For?, Institute of Ideas, 2006 and The Corruption of the Curriculum, Civitas, 2007.

MANY THANKS

Many thanks indeed to everyone who has sent a donation to the Katharine Birbalsingh Defence Fund. Miss Birbalsingh’s book, To Miss with Love, has now been published by Viking. Costing £9.99, her book paints a disturbing picture of life in inner-city state schools. It received excellent reviews and was serialised in The Sunday Times and on Radio 4.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Miss Birbalsingh’s former school, St Michael and All Angels Academy in London, is to close. Applications for places have now fallen to 16 from only around 30 the previous year. Considering Miss Birbalsingh had only joined the school as deputy head last September, just weeks before her speech at the Conservative conference, how could governors possibly blame her for the school’s problems and deprive her of her job?

Meanwhile, her lawyers are still working on her behalf and will eventually need paying. So if you care about freedom of speech in state education and would like to help, please send a cheque payable to the Katharine Birbalsingh Defence Fund, c/o 18 Westlands Grove, York YO31 1EF. Or, if you prefer, please make an electronic money transfer to the Katharine Birbalsingh Defence Fund, HSBC Bank, Account Number 04355970, Sort Code 40-47-31.

AN EFFECTIVE NEW MEASURE?

Perhaps one of the cheapest and most effective reforms to improve the performance of schools is the publication of each school’s percentage of pupils achieving the new EBac – GCSEs at grade C or above in English, maths, science, geography or history, and a foreign language. This has exposed the schools that have encouraged their pupils to enter for GCSEs in ‘soft’ subjects instead of traditional ones that open doors to serious A-levels, better jobs and places at good universities.

On 28 January, the Times Educational Supplement reported that: ‘In 58 of the 187 academies where pupils sat GCSEs last year, no EBacs were achieved. Only six academies saw more than one third of pupils achieve an EBac and five of those were recently converted independent schools.’

EBac percentages at random schools that have come to our notice include: David Young Community Academy (Leeds) 0%; Marlowe Academy (Ramsgate) 0%; Marsh Academy (New Romney) 0%; Richard Rose Central Academy (Carlisle) 3%; Richard Rose Morton Academy (Carlisle) 0%; New Line Learning Academy (Maidstone) 0%.

These, we are told, are the schools of the future. But are such schools improving the prospects of their pupils? Or are they holding them back?

Department for Education (DfE) statistics show that the average percentages of pupils entering and passing the EBac by type of school are as follows: grammar schools, 74.7% entered, 67.4% passed; comprehensive schools, 20.4% entered, 13.6% passed; modern schools, 11.3% entered, 6.5% passed. The academies’ average, it seems, is so low that ministers dare not publish it. And despite their huge cost, why are so many academies performing below the average for the few remaining, much-maligned secondary modern schools?

Control by local authorities has obviously not worked. But has control by the DfE and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust worked any better?

AN ADMISSION OF FAILURE?

Perhaps the most significant educational event of recent months was the announcement by ministers that top universities will not be allowed to charge high fees unless they admit more youngsters from state schools. To achieve their ‘fair access’ targets, universities must consider the ‘potential’ of applicants from educationally deprived areas rather than their exam grades. So a youngster from an independent school (or perhaps a grammar school) with top grades in ‘hard’ subjects may lose his or her preferred university place in favour of someone with lower grades from an under-performing school.

This, of course, is a tacit admission that control by politicians and officials at the DfE has been a disaster. Social mobility has fallen, so politicians now expect universities to compensate for the failures of state schools. Not content with levelling down the best schools, they are now imposing a similar fate on the best universities.

Universities that don’t comply with their social engineering quotas could be fined up to £500,000 by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), the quango led by Sir Martin Harris. Isn’t undermining our finest educational institutions a form of treason?

NATIONAL CURRICULUM CONFUSION

After almost a year in office, education ministers have still not announced whether the National Curriculum will continue or not. Or whether the so-called key stages (ages 5-11, 11-14 and 14-16) will continue in place of the more traditional, year-by-year curriculum. These are fundamental questions that should have been answered by now.

For example, History for All, an Ofsted report into the teaching of history (see Publications, below) noted that many schools now cover key stage 3 in two years instead of three. This allows youngsters to take GCSEs a year early (to benefit the school rather than the pupils). It also means many youngsters have no history lessons at all after the age of 13. The report also revealed that only 20% of academy pupils take GCSE history and only around 30% take it in ordinary comprehensive schools. This compares with 48% in independent schools.

In the meantime, we advise parents to monitor their local schools’ performance tables on the DfE's website. New ‘floor standards’ for all schools are now official: in primary schools, at least 60% of 11-year-olds (key stage 2) pupils are expected to reach level 4 or above; in secondary schools, at least 35% of 16-year-olds (key stage 4) are expected to achieve 5 or more A*-C GCSEs including English and maths. EBac percentages, in our view, should be at least 30-40% in comprehensive schools. The better ones achieve 70%-plus, so why are others so far behind?

Value for money is also an issue. On 6 February, The Sunday Times highlighted massive variations in costs against A-level results achieved at hundreds of secondary schools. It mentioned the Skinners’ Company’s school for girls in Hackney, a comprehensive that has now become an academy. Each of its pupils costs £13,977 a year – much more than the fees at many independent day-schools.

CHOICE OR A LOTTERY?

On 26 February, The Daily Telegraph published a list of local authorities where schools use lotteries or ‘fair banding’ to allocate school places. (‘Fair banding’ means secondary school places are allocated on the basis of equal numbers from each of 4 or 5 ability bands.) Out of 150 local authorities in England, 110 replied to a Freedom of Information request for details of their policies. A staggering 27 of these use ‘random allocation’ (lotteries) to allocate school places and in 21 areas, at least one school uses ‘fair banding’.

On 1 March, the day when parents are officially notified which school is offering a place for their child, it was reported that nationally, around 4 out of 10 children were not allocated a place at the school of their choice. Figures from the Pan London Admissions Board, which allocates places across the capital, showed that 1 in 3 London families did not get their first choice of secondary school.

On 2 March, The Yorkshire Post reported that more than 5,000 pupils in Yorkshire had been denied their first choice of secondary school. In this one county, almost 1,000 children missed out on all their preferred schools.

OECD IS DISINGENUOUS

‘The education systems in Wales and Northern Ireland used to be very similar to the English one, but differences have increased since 1998 as England has diversified from the comprehensive secondary school system that still prevails in Wales and Northern Ireland.’ This quotation is from the 2011 OECD Economic Survey, United Kingdom (page 83, paragraph 3.12). It is, of course, nonsense. England has not ‘diversified’ from the comprehensive school system that still prevails in Wales. And most secondary schools in Northern Ireland are selective, which is probably why Northern Ireland continues to produce the best results of any country in the UK. Why should the OECD be disingenuous about something so basic, unless, of course, its political agenda is more important than the truth?

POLITICIANS CAN BE VERY DANGEROUS

On 8 March 2011, Northern Ireland’s education minister, Caitriona Ruane, approved a proposal to discontinue academic selection at Loreto College, one of the province’s 68 existing grammar schools. In a press release issued by the Northern Ireland Department for Education, Ms Ruane suggested that other grammar schools wishing to end academic selection could still remain grammar schools, which, of course, is nonsense – a grammar school is defined by its selection process. Without that, it is a comprehensive school.

Yet despite the complacency of leading politicians and their parties, and official hostility from the Catholic Church, all except two of Northern Ireland’s grammar schools are standing firm. They continue to offer their own voluntary 11-plus tests, which parents continue to support in large numbers.

‘I am confident that this proposal represents the beginning of fundamental change to a more equitable system of transfer…which will give all children the opportunity to reach his or her (sic) potential’, commented Ms Ruane in her press release.

Clearly, a grasp of facts and English grammar do not feature highly on Ms Ruane’s agenda. So how does this make her a suitable person to control education and with it, the life-chances of thousands of children?

LOCAL NEWS

Blackburn with Darwen: Around 70 teachers at Darwen Vale High School recently went on strike because their efforts to impose order were being undermined by a new headteacher, Hilary Torpey, and the senior management team. Teachers’ attempts to punish pupils for swearing at them, challenging them to fights, watching pornography on mobile phones and throwing chairs around were countermanded by senior staff which, of course, made things worse. One governor even blamed inclement weather instead of the pupils for their bad behaviour. In these circumstances, who can blame the teachers for responding as they did?

Doncaster: On 23 March, the Yorkshire Post reported that as part of the National Leaders in Education programme, the services of Michael Wilkins, the chief executive of Outward Grange Academy in Wakefield, have cost taxpayers more than £1m over the past 4 years. Mr Wilkins is improving and transforming 5 other schools. But although 71% of Outward Grange pupils achieved 5 or more A*-C GCSEs including English and maths, only 2% achieved the EBac. Three days later, the Doncaster Free Press revealed that Doncaster local authority had paid £537,861 in consultancy fees to Outward Grange to help the failing North Doncaster Technical College (NDTC). Doncaster council figures showed that it spent almost £17,000 a month on the salaries of Michael Wilkins, executive head of NDTC and the school’s regular headteacher. But the council could not explain why another £18,000, part of a year-long contract, was paid to the consultancy for ‘intervention expenses’. Nor could it explain why four monthly payments totalling £30,000 had been made.

Kirklees: Parents and teachers at Batley Girls’ High School have saved their school by becoming an academy. The local authority had planned to merge this 1100-strong school with an under-performing boys’ school and accommodate both schools in a single new building costing £20m-plus. If the merger plans had gone ahead, Batley Girls’ High School would also have lost its sixth form, which currently has over 200 students.

Gloucestershire: Not long ago, what is now Finlay Community (Primary) School was in special measures – a failing school. Andrew Adonis (now Lord Adonis), who was then schools minister, recommended closure. Fortunately, Cllr Jackie Hall kept an open mind. After talking to parents, heads and teachers, she held a competition for providers to run the school, making it clear that whoever took the job would be expected to raise standards immediately. A new head, with a record of success, was appointed. New management structures were introduced and some teachers were replaced. Within a year, SAT results had doubled. The parents are delighted and Ofsted already reports that Finlay, now run by Gloucester University, has become an outstanding school.

Somerset: Kingsmead Community School near Taunton was in the news last year, when it was reported that pupils were studying the television series, The Simpsons, instead of English literature. This year, 13 and 14 year-olds in year 9 are studying ‘Digital Communications’, a new course introduced by Excel, the exam board. This seems to be mainly based on moving images and ‘new media’. Joseph Reynolds, whose daughter is a pupil, says that after almost 3 years at Kingsmead, her teachers have not expected his daughter to read a single book from the canon of English literature. Every tenth day, the timetable is set aside for a ‘challenge day’, which could mean anything. Yet despite its reasonable reputation in the area, the school seems to treat honest parental complaints with contempt. However, this may soon have to change – whilst a respectable 67% of 16-year-olds achieved 5 or more A*-C GCSEs including English and maths last year, only 26% passed the EBac.

Suffolk: As the new free school in Clare prepares to open its doors in September, another parents’ campaign for a free school in Stoke-by-Nayland gathers pace. Supported by Tim Yeo MP and local business people, the Stoke-by-Nayland project has now progressed to the third stage. The proposed school’s buildings are in good repair and up to 100 people have attended public meetings. Let’s hope ministers back the plans and ensure that local villages remain vibrant. Further information at www.stokebynaylandhighschool.org.uk

NOTICE AND PUBLICATIONS

The Schools’ Bible Project run by Christian Projects is an annual essay competition for schoolchildren offering prizes of £500, £250 and £100 for schools, plus visits to the House of Lords for the main prizewinners. Essays are required no later than 30 June and further details are available at www.christianprojects.org.uk

Could do better: Using international comparisons to refine the National Curriculum in England by Tim Oates emphasises that by removing subject boundaries and prescribing specific forms of teaching, the 2007 revisions of the National Curriculum were ‘at odds with both the letter and spirit of legislation’. Published by Cambridge Assessment last November, the paper can be downloaded at www.cambridgeassessment.org.uk.

History for All, an Ofsted report on the teaching of history in schools, is a typically complacent publication which includes useful information, but also claims that history is ‘well taught’. It can be downloaded at www.ofsted.gov.uk. A short critique of the report is available in the ‘Issues’ section on our website.

Family Bulletin, Issue 142, published by Family & Youth Concern tells how education secretary Michael Gove has singled out Stonewall (of all people) as an organisation that must be consulted about sex and relationship education. Always worth reading, these newsletters are available on the FYC website at www.famyouth.org.uk

Too much, too young exposes the explicit nature of many primary school sex education materials and names the local authorities that recommend them. Parents and most councillors will be deeply shocked. Available from the Christian Institute, Tel. 0191 281 5664 or by emailing info@christian.org.uk.

SNIPPETS

While Marxism has retreated as a political and economic movement, Marxist history has remained a commercial success. Its continued hold on [university] humanities departments is not in doubt. Daily Telegraph Review, 15 January 2011.

After half a century during which standards in schools have been levelled down by a succession of failed initiatives intended to engineer social change, the Coalition now proposes to make the same mistake with the higher education sector, one of the last bastions of educational excellence. The result would be tantamount to the comprehensivisation of our elite universities. Daily Telegraph leader, 11 February 2011.

The former Schools Secretary [Ed Balls] passed through 32 contracts during his three years in office, costing an initial £1.9billion to build or refurbish schools. But we can reveal that under Labour's loony Private Finance Initiative scheme (PFI), his pay-later projects will eventually cost the taxpayer a staggering £6.7billion. News of the World, 27 February 2011.

…There’s no case at all for heaping further punishment on middle-class students for the ‘crime’ of having hard-working parents. If the Coalition wishes to persist with Labour’s social engineering, it should provide the cash from general taxation.

But wouldn’t it be better advised to concentrate on improving state schools, so that teenagers from all backgrounds are equally equipped for higher education? Then the Stalinist Oftoff can be consigned to that much-promised ‘bonfire of the quangos’. Daily Mail leader, 9 March 2011

Where a Labour administration routinely handed out condoms and morning-after pills in secondary schools, now the Coalition condones picture books [for 5-year-olds] explaining how ‘dad’s penis moves gently inside mum’s vagina’ and how, sometimes, ‘boys become curious about other boys’. Daily Mail, 10 March 2011.

The history of Britain is one of the most exhilarating, inspiring stories ever told. It is a glorious tale of heroes and villains, of triumphs and disasters , of exploitation and self-sacrifice.

So how is it possible that in more than 100 state secondary schools, not a single child took history at GCSE?

Could it be that like languages and single sciences, it is seen by some headteachers as a ‘difficult’ subject – harder to teach and harder to pass than, say, media studies or sociology?...

British history is not only the story of our heritage, but also explains our place in today’s world. It is the right of every schoolchild to be taught it. Daily Mail leader, 14 March 2011.

Head teachers spent more than £11,000 on staying at a hotel for a conference which was only a short drive from their schools.

Seventy head teachers and deputy heads stayed at the stately Matfen Hall golf and spa hotel for the Annual Conference of the North Tyneside Association of Secondary Headteachers.

Organisers defended the £11,200 event – just 25 miles from North Tyneside council’s offices – saying it gave a much-needed chance for head teachers to be ‘inspired’ to better leadership. Daily Telegraph, 21 March 2011.

 

Chairman: Chris McGovern.  Tel: 01435 830109 or 07757 715145.  Email: mcgovernchris@hotmail.com
Vice Chairmen: Jennifer Chew OBE, Jacqui Davies, Katie Ivens
Treasurer: Dr WAD Freeman, Ashgate, Halland, East Sussex, BN8 6PW.  Tel: 01825 840831.  Email: anthony831freeman@gmail.com
Secretary: Priya Dutta, 75 Truro Road, London N22 8DH.  Tel: 07701 088720.  Email: priyadutta@hotmail.com