All posts tagged 'Education'

Are heads right to bridle at KCC's "hire-and-fire" plan?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, March 12 2014

Kent County Council is facing some awkward questions and unwanted publicity over a draft protocol that sets out to head teachers what might happen to them if they preside over a failing school and have been in charge for two years or more.

Under the proposals, heads will effectively be eased out, put on gardening leave and replaced. Given that under Ofsted's own inspection regime, if a school is in special measures it is regarded as failing to have the necessary leadership skills to improve things, you might well ask why head teachers are complaining.

Especially given that KCC has drawn up the policy document after being requested to by the Kent Primary School Forum. Cllr Roger Gough, the politician in charge of schooling and standards, admits he is slightly puzzled by the furore - as diplomatic as ever.

It is not as if head teachers don't know that this is the likely scenario - indeed, it happens more or less every time a school is failed by Ofsted, not just in Kent but every other part of the country. And many parents would find it hard to understand why, if their child's school is failing to make the grade, there is no change in the leadership of that school.

So, do heads have a genuine grievance? The long shadow of Ofsted looms daily over schools. Heads, governors and teachers live in an almost constant state of tension and nervousness about a visit from inspectors.

At the same time, education authorities bear the corporate responsibility of improving standards at all schools - yes, even academies - and education officials at County Hall have the DfE breathing down their necks, which is then transposed to schools.

It is a toxic combination. You can forgive heads for feeling a little aggrieved at the stark way in which KCC has set out the likely sequence of events although invoking the Argentinian junta's policy of "disappearing" military dissidents is a little over the top.

The analogy one head made with football club managers struggling to keep their team from relegation and keeping demanding owners happy with results is a fairer one.

The problem seems to be that heads, rightly or wrongly, feel that KCC has got the balance between offering support and threatening sanctions skewed towards the latter. 

There is no doubt that Kent does have a problem with recruitment at the top. In a selective system, the challenges facing non-selective secondary schools are sometimes seen as a disincentive to aspiring heads although there are a number of all-ability schools that prove that becoming an outstanding schools is not beyond them. 

KCC insists its overriding priority is to provide schools and heads with appropriate support, although given the axe that is being taken to school improvement services that becomes more difficult.

Under the stewardship of its director Patrick Leeson, standards have steadily improved but there are some signs that sustaining this improvement is going to be a greater challenge.

Heads are right to flag up their concerns about recruitment.

They are also right to question what looks like a fairly uncompromising approach by KCC to under-performance. 

The authority appears to have forgotten its own mantra that  'one size does not fit all.'




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Gove's academy revolution and the school place free-for-all

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, February 26 2014

Kent County Council's decision to consult over closing the Chaucer Technology College has unsurprisingly caused anger and dismay among parents and pupils, who had thought the future was secure only a few weeks ago and are now levelling accusations of betrayal.

Had the politicians had any alternative, there is no doubt they would have sought to find one.

Decisions to close schools are almost always contentious and invariably trigger campaigns to keep them open. In the case of the Chaucer School,  it has been a particularly messy affair - not helped in this case by the fact that Kent County Council had believed an academy chain wanted to take it over  but then withdrew their interest.

Chaucer's future will be determined in June but the proposal to shut it provides a vivid illustration of the tension between education authorities and the Department for Education when it comes to planning and providing enough places.

The county council's statutory obligation is to ensure that there are enough school places across Kent. In the jargon, it is now a "commissioner" of places rather than a "provider." This obligation also requires the council to make sure that there are not too many empty desks or surplus places.

This job has become much more difficult with the advent of academy schools, which are independent and outside council control. Under Michael Gove's revolution, academies have been empowered to expand and grow to meet parental demand.

Why? Because the government believes that the often illusory concept of choice is enhanced if you allow popular schools to expand.

In the brave new world of Michael Gove, in which freedom and autonomy for schools are valued above anything else, academies can expand without anyone outside the school having a say in whether it might be a good or bad thing. Councils have no power of veto over academies who want to take in more pupils which is precisely what the Canterbury Academy is doing. 

It plans to offer 50 more places to Year 7 children in a direct response to parental demand and its continuing popularity. And it is this that KCC cites as a key reason why Chauncer should close.

This growth at Canterbury Academy comes at a time when the demand for places in the district are forecast to fall over the next few years, in contrast with many other areas of the county.

The planned closure of Chaucer is not the fault of Canterbury Academy. It is simply doing what parents want and it certainly hasn't done it out of any malice towards Chaucer.

Kent County Council and the school undoubtedly have questions to answer about the way it has handled the decision, not the least of which is the apparent shortcomings in the way the news was communicated to shocked parents and pupils.

But some questions should also be asked of the government. It has sold the academy programme on claims that it will improve standards and critically give parents greater opportunity for their children to attend popular and successful schools locally - a promise that parents at Chaucer may well feel is hardly worth the paper it is written on.

An education system in which councils are given the job of planning for places but do so alongside increasing numbers of  individual schools who can do their own thing may not be totally impossible but certainly presents challenges.

And if the unfettered free-for-all for school places continues, we may find there are other schools becoming "unviable".


Why is it taking so long for Kent crime commissioner Ann Barnes to announce who is to be her youth crime tsar?

Interviews for the post took place in November but since then, nothing has happened. Pressed on the issue by MP Mark Reckless at a Home Affairs Select Committee, Mrs Barnes said it wouldn't be too long before she could say anything but alluded to "various reasons" why there had been a delay.

Unfortunately, we are none the wiser as she added that she could not go into any details. Curious.


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Religion in schools? Let’s concentrate on sorting out this world

by The Codgers' Club Friday, October 18 2013

by Peter Cook

Let’s keep religion out of education.

Just now I’ve read about a state funded orthodox Jewish girls’ school that doctored the GCSE exam papers to remove references to evolution.

Last week we heard of a Muslim academy school that made girls sit at the back and teachers wear headscarves.

All over the country there are Roman Catholic schools that preach anti-contraception propaganda.

There are hundreds of Church of England schools. I’m not sure what they teach, but then probably neither are they.

What religion you belong to is mostly determined by where and to whom you were born.

If I was born in Pakistan I would almost certainly be Muslim – if I knew what was good for me.

If I had been born in Burma I would probably be Buddhist. If in India, quite possibly Hindu.

As it is I was born in England and was christened into the Church of England where I became a quite angelic though vocally inept choirboy.

The fact is, no one knows if there’s a God or not.

If there is one, he, she or it has decided not to reveal him, her or itself to the likes of you and me. Not yet anyway.

So let’s put all that aside and concentrate on sorting out this world, before worrying about the next, which we can’t do anything about anyway.

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Categories: Education | Religion

Uni? Do I HAVE to?

by Kent music reviews and teenage views, with Nick Tompkins Thursday, September 13 2012

I am seventeen years old. I've just begun the second and final year of my A levels, and all I hear day in day out, are the words, "personal statement", "degree" and most irratating of all "UCAS". At this point in time, if I could just find the individual responsible for the word "UCAS" I would most definitely fight them. Fisticuffs. 

The way I see it, I have just endured 14 years of education- beginning with finger paintings and egg and spoon races, with a slow progression to where I am now-  corsework, essays and ultimately two hour exams (of course via the albhabet, sex education and algebra). To get this far, the idea of another possible four years or more of attending lectures and meeting essay deadlines, kills me. This isn't even touching on the inevitability of walking away with £50,000 of debt. 

However, even as a 'nay-sayer' of University, I am still told by my teachers and peers, "Oh, you've still got to at least apply, otherwise if you change your mind you'll have nowhere to go!" at which point a small part of me dies inside. This is because despite my sheer dislike and contempt for the idea of University, I still have to spend hours of my time attending open days- none of which I believe will interest me considering the whole concept they are offering seems utterly depressing, despite the courses themselves- I must also write a personal statement: a document expressing my passion and desire for a place at said Uni, and through means of flattery, bragging and a bit of grovelling, I must then plead my case for how much I would LOVE to go to University. This process by the way, takes many months and usually several drafts are needed before the final product; I can't wait to get cracking on that bad boy...

Throughout my GCSEs and my A levels, myself and my peers have been drip fed ideas of Universities and degrees directly into our absorbant young brains, and I must admit, after that, it did take me a while to even imagine a post-school future for myself where a Uni wasn't present. However, even though I am heavily leaning towards not going to Uni, around 80% of my peers are all planning to head off to University next year. If this is roughly the case for all schools, and the majority of these students come out with a degree, just how credible is a degree going to be anyway? I mean, in the dark, dingy abyss that the economical future of my generation seems to be, there will of course be 'less jobs', 'less money' and 'more unemployment', so if EVERYBODY has a degree, what good will it do anyway? I'd much rather get out there (give or take) four years early with my youth on my side- lower sallery, easy to for the boss to manipulate, full of child-like enthusiasm- and get a head start on all these other competitors trying to take my job with a piece of paper and a silly hat with a square on the top. Another reason not to graduate: the hats look ridiculous.

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Categories: Education | School | Schools | Work

Why Kent puts £9k price tag on not being dubbed a "cheapjack" uni

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Monday, April 4 2011

It’s no surprise that the University of Kent wants to hike fees to the maximum permitted £9,000.

Most universities are going for the higher figure and the rest will not wish to signal that it’s a “cheapjack” uni.

Spending cuts will affect higher education and universities want to claw back as much as they can.

The Coalition Government was naive to believe that the outcome would be anything other than a near-universal clamour for the top whack.

Of course, the Office for Fair Access (a weird PC name if ever there was one) will have to decide whether universities bidding for nine grand have strengthened their case by pledging enough sweeteners to students and their hard-pressed families.

The main political concern seems to be avoiding putting off students from poorer backgrounds and attracting as many as possible from homes without a university tradition.  Actually, this group will get a lot of financial help.

It is the usual suspects in the middle who will worry most about this hike. They will qualify for next to nothing but are already feeling the pinch from all sides - lower tax threshold, higher National Insurance, lower benefits etc. They will have taught their children to put money aside for pensions, and to buy a starter home as soon as they can – all adding to the overall debt burden.

Discussions are going on all over the country about whether their offspring should place themselves in hock to the tune of £50,000 or more for university education.  They will weigh up the cost benefit analysis. Will their sons and daughters be able to use their degree to enhance their incomes sufficiently to merit the hard work and financial sacrifice necessary? OK, it will be fun, but will that come at a price?

When you have huge youth and graduate unemployment, when many employers have not increased pay for years, when the public sector is taking on fewer, if any, trainees, they will have to consider whether three years’ practical experience will be more useful than three years’ study and graduation well behind their working peers. You certainly don’t need a degree to be an entrepreneur.

These are difficult decisions for people looking at jobs for which a degree is not compulsory, such as law or education.

Schools are keen to push their students to university, but it might not always be the best route. All this uncertainty gives a golden opportunity to enlightened employers keen to take on young talent and nurture it. Come 2012, there will probably be a bigger pool of people with A Levels available to the labour market than before.

KPMG, Lloyds TSB Bank and others have launched schemes to tap talent early. I hope there will be more, so that bright young people are given a promising alternative to years of stressful debt.


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Categories: Education

Will Gove's school revolution make the grade? Plus: Why MPs are powerless over rail fare hike

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, November 24 2010

I've got a feeling of deja vu listening to and reading about Michael Gove's blueprint for driving up classroom standards. There's lots of talk about tradition - natural Conservative territory - the desire to see more pupils wearing blazers and ties and an emphasis on improving the quality of teaching. (Although I couldn't spot the word "diversity" anywhere which was littered through most of the Labour government's various reforms)

Somewhere in amongst it, there are also references to houses and prefects. It all sounds vaguely redolent of Hogwarts so I was slightly surprised to hear no mention of Quidditch and wizadry skills being introduced to the curriculum.

Of course, one traditional feature of education provision is already undergoing radical reform - namely, the role of councils and what future they will play as Gove stirs up a cauldron of reforms.

The issue was touched on by county councillors at a cross-party committee scrutiny meeting at County Hall today and it was hard to avoid the conclusion that many are struggling to grasp the ramifications of changes which will radically diminish their input.

One of the consequences of drives by this government and its predecessor to give schools more autonomy has been to leave councils with less and less direct involvement in schools (although they continue to provide vital support services.)

This has been a deliberate. The Gove mantra is that schools know best how to educate, not distant overly-bureaucratic councils.

That is why we are seeing a new generation of academies and, in time, free schools - ironically, charged with the job of "innovating" new methods of teaching, although presumably only as long as students are dressed in formal suits.

But what happens when things go wrong at a school? Where are the local checks and balances? Where is the accountability? There was a time when education authorities had the job of intervening and acting to ensure that things improved. Interestingly, their statutory responsibilities in this area are steadily being eroded.

Kent's first academy, The Marlowe Academy in Ramsgate, has just been given a notice to improve by Ofsted. But as an academy, it is detached from KCC which will have absolutely no role in tackling the school's shortcomings. (Perversely, as part of Gove's vision to haul up under-performing schools, the Marlowe could in time be "taken over" by the government and forced to become, er, an academy...)

Conservative backbencher Cllr Kit Smith articulated the general frustration felt by many at this impotence with some pointed remarks at today's meeting. "We as KCC have some form of moral responsibility to make sure children get the best education they can. These are our children for the future and if they have a bad experience at school, that reflects on our county. While the government has taken away our statutory responsibility, we still have  a moral would be irresponsible of us as county council not to."

Who would quibble with such sentiments?

Sadly, in the brave new world of academies, free schools, ties and blazers, no-one appears to give much for moral responsibility, let alone local accountability.


Kent Conservative MPs have been quick to condemn the astronomic rises in rail fares for hard-pressed commuters but they, too, are impotent and unable to do anything.

More commuter woe for Kent's rail users>>>

Why? Well, as several have been quick to point out, the fares regime is tied in to complex franchise agreements determined by the previous government and the changes permitted for regulated and non-regulated tickets.

Which means that for the time being, MPs can roundly condemn the increases - but when it comes to representing the interests of passengers or pressurising for some respite, can't actually do terribly much other than sound off about how dreadful it all is.

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Categories: Conservatives | Education | Local Politics | National Politics

Why Middle England will be hardest hit by student loan reforms

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Tuesday, October 12 2010

Lord Browne’s proposals for hiking university fees may please our academic institutions but is yet another blow to the budgets of millions of families on average or just above average earnings.

This generally law-abiding group that makes little demand on the state is being attacked from all sides. The rich will not notice much difference whether the fees are £3,000, or £7,000. The poorest will be given financial assistance.

But earners on or just above the 40 per cent tax threshold will lose child benefit and qualify for next to no help for doing their best for their family and the country.

Now their children face being saddled with massive lifetime debts for tuition fees, told by rich people to save huge sums for their pension, ordered to work until they drop at 70, as well as taking out a colossal mortgage to buy a home. It will be impossible for many who will abandon aspiration.

Hiking university fees will deter many potential undergraduates. Families already assailed on all fronts by a pincer movement of fewer benefits and higher costs will say enough is enough.

With the jobs market in such a parlous state, many graduates cannot find a job. Or if they can, their salary is likely to be pretty average, although no doubt just above the proposed £21,000 threshold when repayment - at standard interest rate mind you - will kick in. Not everyone will become an investment banker.

If a nation cannot help develop an educated workforce for its future, when India, China, Asia and a host of nations are already overtaking the UK, it is in a poor way.

Tory cuts and cost increases are going too far, creating a sense of pessimism among people who are willing to contribute so much. Labour went too far on a spending spree, the Coalition is going too far the other way.

Someone once said that they liked paying taxes because it bought them civilisation. Present policies are destroying this dictum. The UK is becoming an uncivilised place with a plummeting quality of life. It will be no surprise if the brightest vote to study abroad, while others, if they can afford it, will move abroad. Who could blame them in a society that is being increasingly cruel to Middle Britain.



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Categories: Celebrities | Education | Pictures

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