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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Ofsted"

John Bald: Academisation does not guarantee higher school standards

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Vice President of the Conservative Education Society.

West London Free School celebrated the end of the school year with a concert and an announcement by headteacher Clare Wagner that no lessons had been missed during lockdown. Pupils in Years 10 and 12, the pre-examination years, had taken school exams, and six pupils, from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, had received offers from Oxford or Cambridge. The contrast with the National Education Union’s panoply of excuses not to do this, with the Guardian’s article on Manchester Grammar School, implying that state schools couldn’t possibly, and with the “Woke” lobby’s insistence that minority ethnic groups are essentially victims, could not be greater. Like Michaela, West London has travelled a long and sometimes difficult road, but has shown that the ethos of hard work and kindness works, and is the solution to the problems that have beset education since Labour’s botched introduction of comprehensives in the 60s. Like Michaela, West London is not (apart from twelve music places) selective, and, like Michaela, it has shown the difference between a genuine comprehensive school and a secondary modern.

There is a further contrast with Stantonbury International School, a sprawling, oversized comprehensive in Milton Keynes, which boasts of “Proud traditions, wide horizons and high achievement,” and has just received an Ofsted report, that is as bad as those that made headlines in the days of the late Sir Chris Woodhead. Numbers are high at 1,600, pupils are not safe, behaviour is poor, learning is haphazard, and examination results strongly negative from pupils starting points, with only three per cent achieving the English Baccalaureate (West London has 69 per cent). Like most comprehensive schools, it hides the full scale of the disaster behind the screen imposed by Lib Dems during the coalition, which provides an opaque summary rather than the full picture. Gavin Williamson should restore the requirement that schools publish their full results by grade and subject.

Stantonbury, an Academy with the Griffin Schools Trust since 2016, illustrates the difference between mass academisation and the best Free Schools, which are driven by the dynamism and vision of some of the best minds in education, as evidenced by Michaela’s second book, The Power of Culture, edited by Katharine Birbalsingh but written by members of staff. Each chapter is a detailed and intensely personal account of the author’s contribution, as head of department or year group, deputy, special needs co-ordinator, new teacher or school secretary. The result is a complete picture of its contribution to society as well as to its pupils’ education, including, but not limited to, some of the best examination results in history. Katharine Birbalsingh is not the fictional Miss Trunchbull of Crunchem Hall, but a smiling, happy person who uses authority much as the late Cardinal Hume did, in the service of the pupils.

New teachers are told that pupils will only give their best to a teacher if they love them, which comes from understanding that teachers care, and give their best to the pupils. This is not achieved by a raised voice, but by clarity and careful explanation, so that the pupils buy into the school’s ethos and share its purpose. At 380 pages, this is a demanding read, but worth it. It is the best book on school education that I’ve ever read, and better than I ever expected to find.

Back at Stantonbury, the Griffin Schools Trust has taken action to replace the senior team and the governors. But the school has been under its control since 2016, and was identified by Ofsted as requiring improvement two years later. It is fair to ask why it took virtual meltdown to lead to the necessary action, and whether this and some other multi-academy trusts are any better than the local authorities they replaced. Some of the most celebrated are demonstrably worse, and it was not good enough for Jeremy Hunt to tell me at the leadership hustings last year that I should focus on what had gone right rather than what had gone wrong.

An Academies pioneer once told me in private that “We haven’t got enough good people,” and the meltdown at Stantonbury proves the point. Barry Smith, who turned Great Yarmouth Charter Academy from sink to a thriving community in under a year, is now doing similar work in Hackney, and would do so wherever he went. Other distinguished headteachers, like Dr David Moody, formerly of Harris Battersea and now CEO of Academy Enterprise Trust are making a similar impact. But have we got enough of them? And are we making the best use of those we have? Until these questions are answered, the success of Academies as a national system of education will remain in the balance.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Unity Howard: Fixing educational inequalities must be top of the Government’s agenda as it reopens schools

Unity Howard is Director of the New Schools Network.

With the Prime Minister signalling there will be news this week on the plan to re-open schools, this topic has very much become a lynchpin for the post-Coronavirus recovery.

On an almost daily basis journalists question politicians, medical officers and scientific experts on when schools will re-open in England.

But for those in education, ‘when’ is less of an issue than ‘how’ and, more controversially, ‘why’.

Today, these debates feel incredibly important.

But when it comes to the next decade, the reality is they are not.

The last general election focused on inequality of opportunity, the disadvantage gap, lack of consistency of ambition and a levelling up of opportunity across the country.

These issues are more important today as the impact of Coronavirus takes hold. We cannot take our foot off the pedal in driving this forward.

The Department for Education is grappling with the practical solutions posed by re-opening. Which year groups to bring back first; how to manage with continuing staff absences; what social distancing measures might be necessary.

Coffee shops, B&Q and (thank God) Greggs, are testing measures like this. But while the majority of businesses can operate with some social distancing, this is not the case in schools.

You cannot mandate teachers to keep children apart, ensuring a two metre distance in the classroom (unless we move to tiny numbers), corridor (unless we rebuild most of our schools), or sandbox (just impossible).

There is also a growing debate about the ‘why’, as policy wonks busy themselves with re-imagining education.

What is the role of external assessment or Ofsted? Should schools instil a love of learning, or just provide childcare so that parents can get back to work?

This can be intellectually stimulating, but asking ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ obscures more important questions about the long-term impact of Coronavirus and the risk of a lost generation of pupils.

There have been some exceptions – in the last few days, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman flagged that the attainment gap is only going to widen the longer schools stay closed, with the most deprived children facing greater challenges to their continued education.

The Education Endowment Foundation has warned even more starkly that progress made over the last decade to narrow the attainment gap by around 10 per cent could well be reversed by school closures, and that the annual loss of learning over the summer holidays will become cavernous for some communities.

So we should park the wearisome debates we are all used to in education. The concept of the school year running from September to July; minimum class sizes; set year groups and school terms; and fixed assessment points.

This is pre- not post-Coronavirus language; it’s old money not new.

In the wake of this crisis, schools have come up with some brilliantly innovative solutions to these challenges.

Take King’s Leadership Academy Warrington, where pupils are doing a full complement of lessons each day online with attendance that is higher than most schools’ dreams.

Or Oak National Academy – an online school that has been set up virtually overnight, and has taught over two million lessons in just one week.

These achievements deserve considerable praise. They were unimaginable just a few weeks’ ago.

But if we keep obsessing over when and how to open schools, understanding and improving the impact of initiatives like these won’t happen at the rate they need to.

This is not a theoretical debate about the purpose of education. In five years’ time, we won’t be measuring the process or the timing, or the idea of schooling.

With that in mind, there are three guiding principles that Government must keep its sights firmly fixed upon:

  • Achievement: Not necessarily measured by exam grades, but by children leaving school to move onto further education, high quality apprenticeships or fulfilling employment
  • Security: We need to ensure our young people can actively engage in their education, in a safe environment which prioritises their physical and emotional wellbeing
  • Equality: A child’s future should never be decided by their background – whether they come from an urban tower block or an isolated coastal town, equal life chances should be at the heart of any education strategy

All of these are exponentially more challenging to deliver in the circumstances we now face. But they should matter.

That might mean things that are hard to stomach, like postponing schools opening except for the educationally and socially disadvantaged, and vulnerable pupils, until next academic year.

Whenever the country decides to re-open schools, and however it is done, is less important than we might think from reading the news every day.

What we should care about is the societal and economic impact of every decision being taken right now.

Overcoming inequalities for this generation must be our number one focus.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

John Bald: Copying is not an effective way for pupils to learn

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Vice President of the Conservative Education Society.

Three long-standing educational issues over the past week – marking, copying, and phonics. As an inspector, I liked marking and saw its frequent absence as evidence of neglect. In some cases, books would not even be looked at for months at a time, resulting in incomplete work, full of errors, and showing no progress. Pointing this out could provoke a furious response, backed by reference to academics who, said the schools, didn’t believe in marking either, and on one occasion leading to an official complaint. I took more notice of comments from my pupils.

“They don’t look at the books much,” said one rather depressed 13-year-old, whose maths book and attempts to write in French showed that he had not understood anything about either. His “outstanding” school had ignored an action point from Ofsted to do something about it and complained to the local paper about Ofsted wasting everyone’s time. During Labour’s coursework era, we had the opposite, with teachers pressured into “deep” marking that amounted to rewriting work for the pupils to copy out and obtain a fake grade.

But Michaela, whose results are stratospheric, does not mark books, a fact that I had overlooked when praising its pupils’ astonishing progress in writing during my visit. Geoffrey Main drew my attention to this in discussion of his application to found a free school, and their approach is set out in Jo Facer’s chapter in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teacher. It is anything but neglect. Rather than correcting individual errors, teachers analyse them and use them as a basis for teaching, so that pupils learn to adjust their thinking and avoid them.

The school’s use of setting according to abilities and learning needs makes this possible, as the teacher is not obliged to try to teach too many things at once.  I used a similar approach with FE students, some of whose writing was so weak that there would be three or more errors in every sentence. I would type the original into a word processor, discuss and review it with them, and we would agree on a final version, which we would print off. Michaela shares pupils’ work using a visualiser, a device that will project any text onto a screen. I still take issue with the title of the chapter – “Marking is Futile” – as marking is the quickest and most effective way to provide feedback on some types of work, but this chapter is well worth acting on, as well as reading.

Copying is an easier target. Jerking back and forth from the original to one’s own version breaks the process of writing down to the number of letters a person can hold in their head. Over 40 years ago, HMI described the illusion of copying for weak pupils in secondary school, whose copied work, letter by letter, masked a lack of knowledge and understanding that became clear once they tried to write without prompts. Copying has been prevalent in education since the ancient world – it was the main method of teaching Babylonian cuneiform – and, despite denials, is still used today in secondary schools, particularly in languages. Now that we know that learning is based on the formation and consolidation of neural networks, which cannot benefit from these constant switches in attention, the time is right for a concerted effort to get rid of it.

And so to phonics. Since the 1970s, I’ve argued that phonics, the relationships between letters and sounds, are the basis of reading in an alphabetic language. I supported pioneering schools and teachers, including Jerwood Award winner St Clare’s Birmingham, and helped restore them to the national curriculum before they were replaced by the Searchlights approach in Labour’s disastrous strategies. Most recently, a phonic approach has been endorsed by the French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene, despite the fact that phonics in French are complicated by its extensive use of silent letters at the ends of words for grammatical purposes. The alternatives to phonics, variations on the theme of whole word reading, or “whole language”, are unreliable, as they involve guesswork and are not consistent with the way we process the information from print as we read, tracking every word and every letter closely. The conflict between these approaches, from around 1970 onwards, became known as the reading wars.

The phonics revival, which began in the 1990s, has driven the guessing game theorists back into their heartlands in teacher education, but phonics has itself developed a purist variation that attempts to present the whole of the language in terms of sound-symbol correspondence, dressed up with Greek terminology such as “phoneme” (sound) “grapheme” (letter or group of letters representing a sound), backed by charts listing every possible way of representing a sound, sometimes expecting children to learn every variation before they start to read. The trouble with this is that letters do not always represent the sound we expect, or indeed the small variations in sounds that characterise English. Some children pick these variations up for themselves, as indeed some learn almost the whole system for themselves, whatever instruction they receive. Others become confused in the face of any ambiguity, for example finding it very difficult to adjust from the idea of t as in top or cat, to representing a different sound when followed by h, as in this, or think. Presenting the language as a chart of sound correspondences does not explain why things are as they are – th is a Norman invention, to replace the Anglo-Saxon letter thorn, þ, as Norman scribes did not like anything Anglo-Saxon.

Telling the story unlocks this and many other stumbling blocks, and prepares children for other letter patterns that don’t do as we might expect. Presenting all of the variations to them in a chart, an approach that I call “whole phonics”, does not, and causes confusion to a significant minority of children.. To carry the phonics revolution through, and tackle the more advanced reading issues identified by the recent GL Assessment report,  we need to teach English as it is, explain how things have come to be as they are, and then develop and reinforce this knowledge in everything a school does.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

John Bald: Tolerating poor behaviour in schools is a major threat to the mental health of teachers

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Chairman of the Conservative Education Society.

Mental health is a big issue in education across the developed world, and it is time we started to do something about it. For teachers as well as pupils, it appears to originate in stress and anxiety, though the point at which these become a threat to health is impossible to pin down. Each person’s experience is different from birth, and attempting to isolate single factors, using the methods of sociology, can never get to the heart of individual cases. For example, our opponents see stress as the result of tests, and prefer continuous assessment and coursework. One of my sixteen year old pupils, by contrast, found the pressure of continuous coursework so demoralising that he could not put pen to paper and needed hospital treatment. I stopped short of that at university, where mine was one of the first to use continuous assessment, but completely understood how he felt – a system designed to reduce pressure from final examinations had, for me, the effect of making it last four years.

For children, stress often begins with the transition from home to school. If they don’t know how to get along with others, their instinct can often be one of aggression or withdrawal, and I won’t forget the wonderful atmosphere of family lunch I saw with four and five year olds at Wentworth nursery school in Hackney while I was a consultant there. It was exactly the same as that at Michaela, for children six years older, many of whom candidly admitted that they had been allowed to mess around all day in their primary schools and were now happy to work and learn, part of which included lunchtime conversation. Everyone’s best was good enough – including their teachers’ – and they were encouraged to celebrate it, “loud and proud”.

The policy of tolerating poor behaviour in the name of inclusion, still tacitly practised in many schools, is a major threat to the mental health of teachers, as it prevents them from doing their work. I’ve seen a class deliberately reduce a teacher to tears during an inspection, and when I intervened to restore order, telling them that they were not going to do that to one of my colleagues in my presence, the school complained, saying that education was a tough business and that not everyone survived. In the East End in the seventies, I had a pupil who would now almost certainly be assessed as having Tourette’s syndrome – which no-one had heard of – whose continual outbursts nearly drove me to distraction. Others have not been so fortunate, and careers and lives have been wrecked when they have been driven beyond endurance. Teachers should have the right to impose an immediate and substantial detention, organised by senior management, and heads who don’t ensure good behaviour in their schools should be required by Ofsted to change their ways.

The next issue is failure: real, imagined, or feared. In 2005, when we were ruled by Blair, Brown, and Balls and did not have an education department, an 11 year old pupil of mine couldn’t sleep because every morning the teacher would read out the scores achieved by each child in the mock SAT test they sat the morning before. They did this in English and maths each morning, a practice that, alas, persists. My pupil’s scores were not good, as she was late in learning to read. I made a quick trip to Waitrose to buy some nice things for tea for her and her mother, and we composed a letter to her headteacher. The practice ceased, and she is now a First-class honours graduate with a PhD, but she is by no means the only high flyer to suffer in this way. For some, anything short of an A* is failure – I know of one who was seriously upset with 11 A*s and an A – and this needs to change. People develop at different rates, and I agree with Angela Rayner that many of us need more than one chance.

The problem is international. The 14 year old son of a friend in Spain has three hours of additional maths tuition a week, in addition to two hours homework each night. Peter Gumbel, who has had two daughters in French schools, describes a regime virtually founded on stress, in which even recruits to the top Grandes Écoles are commonly given grades of 2 or 3 out of 20 for their work, until they learn to think as their teachers think. Lucy Crehan’s “Clever Lands”, a self-funded journey through school systems across the world, lists many similar examples alongside her praise of Finland. The most chilling to me was the Japanese proverb, “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.” Much of Crehan’s book is taken up by descriptions of alternative education for pupils who have failed in the school system, and been written off as useless. The systems themselves are not always particularly clever.

Ours certainly isn’t, but some simple steps could easily improve it. Abolishing tests and publication of results is not one of them. They were introduced in the early nineties to combat chronic and perpetual underachievement and the new checks on phonics, tables, and baseline have not caused the stress claimed by our opponents. Targets for secondary schools have not eliminated very low standards, whether or not the schools are called academies, but they have cut down the number of extreme cases, and made it clear that languishing is not an option.

Putting test results in context, and giving schools a fair chance to improve, is another matter. Heads have reason to fear for their jobs where test results are poor. However, the micromanagement that too many engage in, effectively requiring teachers to write down everything they do, and hand in planning, is a form of executive bullying that does not happen anywhere else in Europe. It harms teachers’ family lives and mental health, causes many to leave early, and needs to be stopped – exhortation won’t do it, but Ofsted’s new framework, and its decision not to consider schools’ internal data, might help. Our opponents need to abandon their dogmatic attachment to mixed ability teaching, which hobbles the most able pupils, while making the least able feel frustrated and inadquate. The “differentiation” that is supposed to make it work cannot give them the very small steps and additional explanation that they need in order to succeed. The emerging evidence from brain research – “The Learning Brain” by Blakemore and Frith remains a good starting point – shows us that all learning involves the formation and consolidation of networks in the brain. This can’t happen if pupils are overloaded or rushed. In the end, a solution to the growing problem of mental health may be found in a combination of brain research, and common sense.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

John Bald: The Party Conferences have shown up deep-seated divisions over the purposes of education

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Chairman of the Conservative Education Society.

To the Royal College of Music, for a masterclass by opera star Sir Thomas Allen. Three hours of teaching, closely matched to the highly varied requirements of five young singers, moving from intense concentration to hilarity as appropriate, and enhanced by his own singing, technique and stagecraft, beginning when he entered to thunderous applause and looked around him as if startled. Eric Morcombe could not have done it better. Sir Tom goes for subtlety, sound and phrasing based on deep understanding of the text and how its meaning is brought out and enhanced by the music. He spoke of living with texts for long periods before performing them and went into the smallest detail of pronunciation, such as whether or not to pronounce a final consonant to maintain a line, as if playing it on a cello. A Soft Day, sung here by Sharon Carty, shows the goal and the difficulty, for example, near the end, in a tiny diminuendo of four repeated words, from a very soft start.

And so to Party Conference, sitting beside the brilliant Clare Wagner, head of West London Free School, which has over twice the national average of level 7+ (A or A*) grades at GCSE, and is sending sixth formers to places like Jesus College, Cambridge, and the French Grandes Ecoles. The occasion was a joint panel of the Conservative Education Society and the National Education Union. Each side politely attempted to persuade the other of the error of its ways, while making the most of common ground, of which there is more than might be thought. We could agree, as do Ministers, that the financial squeeze on school budgets, and the cut in further education funding, need to be tackled, and that special, or additional, educational needs require a review, which Gavin Williamson had already announced.

Behind the good manners were deep-seated divisions over the purposes of education. I’ll discuss these in detail next week in the context of the coming election, but a big indicator was the way the brilliant results of Michaela and the West London Free School did not sit easily with the NEU leadership.

Some remarked, fairly enough, that Clare Wagner and Katharine Birbalsingh are exceptional leaders, and that you can’t build a system on the exceptional, but this does not take account of the effect of their approach in other schools, notably the best of the Ark and Harris chains, which are also posting record results.

NEU President Amanda Martin said that we should study the strengths of the successful schools and learn from them, but our conversation was cut short when she was called away to other duties. So I’ll set out the key points here. First, pupils know that any form of disruption brings an immediate detention, so there is little misbehaviour after the first couple of weeks of pupils joining. Next, pupils are grouped in core subjects and languages according to their abilities and learning needs, with teaching of high quality for all pupils, and not just the top sets. Finally, all pupils are expected to do their best at all times. They learn to buy into the system, not just to conform to the rules, and understand the Michaela principle – “Work hard, be kind.” Getting rid of the dogmatic commitment to mixed ability teaching is a key issue. It hits the least able and most disadvantaged children harder even than the gifted, as they have the fewest resources to counter its weaknesses. These are the lessons of our successful schools, though I doubt the NEU is about to learn them.

At our earlier joint session, they had argued for the abolition of all national testing, beginning with the check on phonic knowledge for six year olds, though some seemed surprised to hear that phonics as an introductory teaching method had been endorsed both by a group of professors led by Anne Castles and by the leading European neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene, despite the strong grammatical element in spelling in his native French. (A typical French text has four times as many silent letters as English, almost all at the ends of words.)

This is not to minimise continuing problems. The destruction of Ofsted by Sir David Bell and his Labour masters in 2005, when they moved to data as the basis of inspection, is just beginning to be tackled by Amanda Spielman and her senior colleagues, and in the meantime teachers are still subject to observation by their own senior staff, and by many inspectors, that can best be described as semi-skilled. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, 2016, is not working as intended, causing distress to parents, and post-16 provision is still suffering from cuts that have forced Clare Wagner to cut subjects from her sixth form curriculum that would be offered without question in the private sector. When I asked Jeremy Hunt at a leadership hustings what he was going to do to prevent further scandals in the academy sector, he said that we should not be focusing on what had gone wrong, but on what had gone right. The 2017 election showed that this was not good enough, and we will have to do better. Soon.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

John Bald: There is no reason why other schools should not apply Michaela’s principles

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Chairman of the Conservative Education Society.

Now that the euphoria over Michaela Community School’s results has calmed down, we can consider their wider implications.

First, the facts. Four times the national average of the new top grade of Level 9 – 18 per cent of all entries, with two pupils (from 850 or so nationally) this grade in all subjects. Two and a half times the national average at L7+, equivalent to the former A grade, and 58 per cent Ebacc passes, compared to a national average over recent years in the low twenties. I’ve questioned the validity of the “progress 8” measure, which sees everything in terms of scores in English and maths at 11, but this is still an astonishing 1.5.

The Guardian, no friend of Michaela, said these results placed Michaela among the best state schools in the country, an understatement. They represent the latest milestone in a long journey that has extended the idea of who can succeed academically from the 25 per cent of pupils in the grammar school era, via 50 per cent in the Newsom “Half our Future” report of the early 60s, to the over 80 per cent achieved by Mossbourne nine years ago. Over 90 per cent of Michaela’s passes were at Level 4 (old C) and above, and there are grammar schiools not far away.

Michaela has not merely broken the mould but, as Katharine Birbalsingh put it, “smashed it”. Discussions with teachers at the school’s celebration evening on Friday added to what I’d learned on my visit two years ago. First, the low-level disruption that plagues education in many schools, including some rated outstanding – pupils only do it when inspectors are there if they really hate their teachers – is eliminated during the induction “boot camp”. Pupils who have been used to setting their own behaviour patterns have to change their ways – a smirk across the table when a teacher is talking brings an immediate 25 minute detention, and teachers do not back down in the face of a tantrum.

Second, pupils are grouped according to their abilities and learning needs. Unlike almost all other schools that do this, however, the same attention to detail is paid to the teaching of lower-attaining pupils as to top sets. The one valid objection to ability grouping, that lower sets do not get their share of the best teaching, does not apply, and Deputy Head Katy Ashford, who doubles as special needs co-ordinator, is a key figure in making this happen. No stigma is attached to lower sets, and visitors mentioning setting in front of pupils may be asked to leave.

Third, Michaela’s teaching is consistently thoughtful and systematic. Maths in the first year is arithmetic, based on the computer programme Times Tables Rockstars. Mr Bullock, Head of Year 7, does not comment when I say that this should have been done in primary school, but it ensures that nothing is left out by the time algebra is introduced in the second year. Pupils then work on the programme Hegarty Maths, which tracks individual progress, and do so every day. Detention is there if they don’t, but the constant positive feedback makes them want to. This is another key feature at Michaela – everyone, including nearly all visitors, comes to want to buy into the system.

Despite the obstacles and abuse she faced while setting up the school, Birbalsingh, like Sir Michael Wilshaw at Mossbourne. started with one advantage – a new staff who shared her values, commitment and determination. The young teachers joining the school this year, including some from the private sector, and a physics teacher straight from the Higgs boson project, have this experience to learn from, as well as making their own contribution. Former deputy Barry Smith, who has applied Michaela principles at Great Yarmouth, has had to overcome opposition from established staff, and deal with a group of seriously, and at times violently, disruptive pupils and hostile parents. Birbalsingh gives credit to nearby Ark Wembley Park school for adopting Michaela principles, with similarly positive results, showing that the approach works beyond her own school.

There were no politicians at the celebration evening, leaving the field to the people who have done the work – the staff, and pupils who have joined the new sixth form – entry level 7 passes at Grade 7 or above, aiming for Oxbridge and Russell Group universities, and the social mobility that these bring. It was a pity that Michael Gove could not be present at what is, in my view, his greatest achievement. But if the Conservative Conference in 2010 was Katharine Birbalsingh’s day, this was her night. And Michaela’s.

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John Bald: “Points mean prizes” has to stop.

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Chairman of the Conservative Education Society.

For decades, governments have tried to make schools do the impossible, using paperwork, statistics, and inspection as their weapons. Labour demanded reams of policy documents, imposed ill-informed Cromwellian “strategies”, and fiddled results when they didn’t work. In recent years, Conservatives have run them a close second, imposing arbitrary and unrealistic targets, nitpicking over Labour’s cumbersome safeguarding systems, and abusing inspection findings to fast track schools into academy status without giving them a chance to improve.

Tests for 11-year-olds (SATs) are pivotal, as they are both the key indicator for primary schools, and the baseline for setting GCSE grades. The government has correctly dismissed Labour’s call to abolish SATs, because this would return us to the position we had before they were introduced. In the authority I worked for, some schools had under ten per cent of pupils reaching the standard needed for success at secondary school, and no-one was doing anything about it. Follow these pupils through to 16, and their secondary schools had five or six per cent, with five GCSEs at Grade C. Go back to the infant school, and scores on the authority’s reading test showed a steady decline of three-quarters of a percentage point each year over a ten-year period, a fact hidden from elected members by officials, until I published the figures in The Guardian.

But where there is a figure, there will be someone looking to fiddle it, which is probably what Churchill meant by “lies, damned lies and statistics.” Labour again led the way. When test scores dipped, they lowered the pass mark (2000), sacked the markers (2005), or, when even that didn’t work, in tests at 14, abolished the test. That one put them in a bind. Around 1998, a dip in test scores that put Labour, and progressive English teaching, in a bad light, was followed by crazy marking, that credited pupils whose writing was at 7 year-old level with the expected Level 5. These pupils had no chance whatever of making the expected progress to GCSE, which would have looked even worse, and so the tests were scrapped. Points only mean prizes if you can get the points.

Since 2010, our Conservative ministers have had much success in reforming tests and exams. The non-qualification of AS at 17 has been abolished, and external marking at GCSE has left outright cheating as the only, risky, opportunity for fraud. The phonics check for six year olds has a stable, child-friendly format, and focuses attention on the key skill of using information from letters, rather than guessing, to read words. The new multiplication tables check for eight year olds should be as good, and the reformed SATs for 11-year-olds have been more sensible than had been predicted from some of the non-statotory guidance.

And yet we are still in deep political trouble in education, and point scores are at the heart of it. Our coalition partners did not like Ebacc, or Michael Gove’s plans for further reform of GCSEs, and forced through a system called “Progress 8”, which measured a pupil’s best eight GCSEs against their SAT scores in English and maths. How English and maths were to provide a baseline for a GCSE in subjects that have little to do with English and maths is a question that can only be answered by a statistician or bureaucrat. They provide a baseline because we say they do. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t say it. And of course, they reduce everything to a point score, and points mean prizes, in the form of continued employment.

This thinking, in which all subjects are equal, but some are harder than others, has had a distorting and damaging effect on education that affects every 16-year-old in the country. Ofqual, the guardian of standards, interprets this role as the prevention of grade inflation, which it does by applying statistical formulae, based on SAT scores, to all subjects. If a subject, such as German, attracts a large number of higher-attaining candidates, Ofqual maintains standards by giving them lower grades than they would have received in subjects attracting less able pupils. The result of this even-handedness is that German candidates in 2018 were overall one grade lower in German than in their other subjects, and French nearly as bad. I founded the British Association of Teachers of German, which has 280 members, partly to campaign for fair testing and grading, and Ofqual’s stonewalling response would have made the Kremlin proud, if not jealous. Niet, Non, Talk to the Hand. Ofqual is right, and if German dies out at A level and in state schools, it’s not their fault. Statistics can’t lie. They shall not pass. I’m informed that Ofqual is now stonewalling over A level, even though this is now described by Professor Katrin Kohl as harder than Oxford’s first year examinations.

And of course, if heads don’t win enough points to win the prize, they get the sack, and know it. So they go for easy subjects, and are dashing to Spanish, as they think it’s easier than German or French. The statistics prove this under the current system, although Spanish has also stalled, with entries falling in each of the last two years. In the meantime, Ebacc, rightly seen as the core of education, is suffering. Its subjects don’t necessarily count in the progress 8, and, while around 38% of pupils are taking Ebacc, the pass rate is around 23%, which puts the qualification in a precarious position. The point system of Progress 8 is at the heart of it. Heads, and academy chains, look for the best chances of getting points to boost the score, and think of little else. This may be an unintended consequence, but it is a pernicious relic of the coalition and we need to get rid of it.

The solution is simple. Return to the requirement for all schools to publish their grades and entry numbers in all subjects, so that people can see what is really going, on and schools can’t hide weaknesses behind point scores in softer subjects. Then consider these scores in the context of the school. This is, I believe, the principle behind Amanda Spielman’s reforms in Ofsted, and Edward Timpson’s excellent review of exclusions for the DfE, a brilliant analysis that takes full account of the context and reasons for exclusion rather than focusing only on the numbers.

Sir Bruce Forsyth was much loved, and points mean prizes was a great slogan for his game show. It does not serve the needs of children, teachers and schools. It must be scrapped.

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Suella Braverman: What Johnson learned from a London school amidst deprived communities

Suella Braverman is a former DexEU Minister, and is MP for Fareham. She was Chairman of Governors, Michaela Community School, 2013-2017

312AD? Or was it 313AD? Forget questions on Brexit: I know this is what many of us spend hours pondering: what was the date of the conversion of the Holy Roman Empire to Christianity?

It’s a question that Boris Johnson debated when he visited the free school which I co-founded in 2015. The 12 year old pupil at Michaela Community School was adamant that it was 313AD. Johnson – with his Oxford degree in Classics – was convinced of 312AD. A subsequent Google search confirmed that the Mayor of London was indeed wrong, and our Year 8 pupil correct on this point of Roman history – The Edict of Milan being the authoritative source.

Such was Johnson’s very gracious admission later that day when he talked about the pioneering teaching methods that are being deployed at Michaela. For, as one of the early free schools, Michaela is a beacon of empowerment and aspiration in Wembley, a community marked by social deprivation and under-achievement. It’s my home town and, had Michaela been around when I was a child, there is no doubt that I would have attended.

Michaela intakes generally consist of approximately 50 per cent children on Pupil Premium, 10 per cent eligible for Special Education Needs support and over 50 per cent with English as a second language. In some years, a third of pupils arrived with a reading age below their chronological age, or two thirds below the national expectation in maths. Some of our children have been under child protection, in care or excluded from previous schools.

But our robust knowledge-based curriculum, coupled with high standards on behaviour and discipline, is the way forward, as the ex-Mayor himself attested. He said this of Michaela: “I saw the way forward for our city and our country. I have never seen any other single institution in London that was so dramatically transforming the problems of our society. I’ve never seen any single programme that would reduce inequality and encourage social mobility.”

We opened the school in 2014 and, after much opposition from left-wing ideologues, proved the critics wrong. Thanks to the freedoms allowed to these schools, Michaela was rated outstanding by OFSTED in 2017. Seeing some children make two, three, four or even five years progress in reading and maths in the space of a single year, or others metamorphose from out-of-control and excluded into studious and respectful has only been possible thanks to greater autonomy enjoyed by teachers, like our inspirational Headmistress, Katharine Birbalsingh. Children enjoy a bully-free environment, aim high and their teachers have instilled in them perseverance and stoicism. Just as Johnson did, visitors from all over the country marvel at what they see.

How is this working? Johnson summed it up perfectly: ‘These children are learning natural self-esteem that comes from genuine academic achievement. They are learning not only how to achieve and use knowledge but they are learning to want to achieve. They are learning aspiration…With discipline, competition and the acquisition of knowledge, they are putting on a suit of armour and bit by bit becoming stronger and intellectually resilient to take on anything that life throws at them.’

That is why Johnson’s commitment to increase spending on our primary and secondary schools is a real reflection of his passion for social justice. The extra £4.6bn per year into our schools that he will deliver will help to re-energise them. Under his plans, primary and secondary school pupils will receive more resources than they do today. This is a welcome step-change in education funding which will help break down barriers in our society.

If we want to restore trust in the power of what Conservative policies can achieve we need to deliver Brexit by October 31st, and it is only Boris Johnson who will do this. If we really want to tackle that poverty of aspiration, let’s make him Prime Minister. If we want to create a nation where it truly doesn’t matter what your parents did, or which side of town you came from, but where you have learnt to want to achieve and are resilient enough to take on what life throws at you, Boris Johnson is the man to make that a reality for our children.

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Joe Baron: The case of Starbank School teaches us one thing: Ofsted can’t be trusted

The author is a teacher. Joe Baron is a pseudonym.

Yesterday, beleaguered teachers at Starbank School in South Yardley, Birmingham, will go on strike for the second time in six days in response to the school’s abject failure to protect their health and safety at work.

They are working in truly appalling, inhumane conditions. Indeed, according to Paul Nesbitt, the NASUWT national executive member involved in the dispute, the teaching staff are being subjected to feral pupils carrying weapons, daily threats of violence, verbal abuse, and regular brawling in the classrooms.

In one incident, some kids were caught in possession of three knives, one of which had a 12 inch blade; another saw a teacher punched in the face by a Year 7 boy and, as if these examples aren’t shocking enough, every Thursday is now referred to as Thursday Fight Day.

Needless to say, teachers are scared to leave their classrooms. They’ve even been issued with panic buttons. That’s right, the headteacher refuses to ensure the safety of his staff by permanently excluding violent children, but he has given them panic buttons, presumably to press after they’ve been stabbed. I’m sure they will be eternally grateful.

The school contends that only 16 out of 122 teachers have taken action, meaning that, according to them, the rest of the staff must be happy.

But this fails to take into account the courage it takes to go on strike. These individuals know what’s at stake. They are now targets. Their careers at the school are, at the very least, in jeopardy. They may even be over. Senior leaders and school governors will do everything in their power to force them out – an objective that, in the present climate of unmanageable workload, won’t be difficult to realise.

Every single teacher in every single school in the country could be the target of a disgruntled senior leader at any time, desperate to place them on capability in a sinister bid to force them out. There’s simply so much work to do, nobody’s able to keep on top of it. We’re all vulnerable.

So these teachers, the ones with the audacity to strike, will now be the targets of the leadership’s wrath, have no doubt. In light of this depressing reality, most of their colleagues will – understandably – be unwilling to make the same sacrifices, especially if they have families to support. So yes, there may be only 16 members on strike, but you can bet your life on it, many of the remaining teachers will be with them in spirit. I mean, there’s even video footage of ‘Fight Thursday’ for anyone who doubts the veracity of the strikers’ claims.

The most interesting and revealing aspect of this particular case, though, is Ofsted’s sparkling, yes sparkling, review of what is, in reality, a violent dystopian snake pit. Starbank school has been rated ‘outstanding’ since 2012. Last year, moreover, it was described as having an ‘exceptional ethos, care and quality of education’. For whatever reason, the inspectorate failed to spot the school’s myriad shortcomings. And it wouldn’t be the first time.

Ofsted’s judgments, in my experience, aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. I recently taught in a school with appalling levels of what is euphemistically described in the teaching profession as ‘low-level’ disruption. In layman’s terms, that means that, although the kids don’t throw chairs at you, they talk incessantly. In fact, it’s impossible to complete a sentence without being interrupted. This was so bad that the other, more senior teaching staff at the school advised me not to initiate whole-class discussions. It’s pointless, they said. Just do as we do, give them the work and get used to the relentless chatting.

When Ofsted came in, however, just after Christmas, they judged the school and the behaviour to be ‘good’. How is that possible? I thought.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had similar experiences in lots of different schools, some, unfortunately, very much like Starbank. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever concurred with an Ofsted judgment. They’ve always been, in my view, far too generous, demonstrating low expectations of pupils and teachers, especially when it comes to behaviour for learning.

The former advisor to Michael Gove, Tom Richmond, contends that Ofsted’s grades are wrong in up to half of cases. He recently cited two international studies that concluded that different inspectors reached different judgments about the same schools in up to 50 percent of instances.

This surely brings into question the Government’s oft-repeated claim that, due to its education reforms introduced in 2010, nearly two million more children now attend ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools. In short, the claim is bunkum. As demonstrated in the case of Starbank School, Ofsted’s judgments can’t be trusted.

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