Proportion of pupils on Free Schools Meals a little over half national average

  • 9.4% of children in free schools entitled to free school meals
  • Canary Wharf College has just 2% on FSM compared with local average of 48%
  • Five schools have no children entitled to Free School Meals

392 children entitled to free school meals (FSM) are attending the first wave of free schools, according to data supplied under a Freedom of Information Act request by the 24 schools. The data shows that in these schools about one in ten of the children on roll were registered for free school meals in October 2011. Nationally, 16.7% of children are entitled to claim free school meals because their household income is below £16,000.

More significantly, when the data for individual schools is compared with that of their nearest five schools with the same age range all but two of the free schools are below average (the exceptions are Stour Valley Free School which has 9.1% FSM, compared with 7.7% in the nearest 5 schools with data, and King’s Science Academy in Bradford which has 24.8% compared with a local average of 22.2%). Three – Ark Atwood Primary in Westminster, the Free School Norwich and King’s Science Academy – have above their local authority average for FSM.

When the schools opened in September, research by the Guardian suggested that they were being mainly established in wealthier areas. The Department for Education (DfE) disputed this and claimed half of the schools are in the 30% most deprived communities in England. The new data shows conclusively that on average the schools are sited in more deprived areas but more importantly, they are not taking a fair proportion of more deprived children. Data from the schools nearest to where free schools have been established shows that on average, a quarter of children in the schools near free schools are entitled to free school meals. But with just one in 10 children at free schools entitled to FSM, in most cases the children attending the school are not characteristic of the community in which it is located.

The DfE claimed that many of the schools had been set up “to support the very poorest pupils who live in communities where results and aspiration have been low for generations”. The data published today (table 1) shows this has not happened because in many cases these children are not attending the new free schools.

Special Educational Needs

We also asked schools to state the number of children they have in school who are listed as having special educational needs, this will include children with and without statements. These figures are less secure because as some schools pointed out, identifying children with SEN is an ongoing process and in new primary schools it may take some time before the numbers are settled. Nishkam Primary School, for example, has just 4 pupils on school action for SEN but another five are being assessed. [Update: I am informed by Toby Young that the data for West London Free School, as supplied by the school, contains an error.  I was informed that there are no children with SEN, it turns out this figure refers to children with statements, but I have not been given a revised figure for overall SEN.]

The data shows that the proportion of children identified as having SEN in free schools at 11.2% is half the average rate at their nearest schools (table 2). While in 20 of the 24 new free schools providing data there is a below average proportion of children with SEN, some schools do appear to be extending their care to these children. At Woodpecker Hall Primary School in Enfield, for example, more than four in 10 children have special educational needs and at the Rainbow Free School in Bradford 28.9% of children have been identified as having SEN. In both these cases, the proportion is above the local average.

Teacher:pupil ratios

Many free schools have marketed themselves by promising to offer small classes. Data supplied by the schools (Table 3) shows that on average, free schools in the primary phase have a pupil:teacher (QTS) ratio of 16:1 and the seven secondary or all phase schools on the list average 13:1. When each free school was compared to its 5 nearest schools in the same phase, most of the schools had a ratio at or below the average. However, there is a wide variation in the figures, and we would expect those with very low ratios to see increases as their pupil numbers rise. All Saints Junior School in Reading and St Luke’s CofE in Camden have the lowest ratios for primaries but are tiny schools. Neither of them has any children on free school meals.

Free schools are allowed to employ unqualified teachers and we also asked the schools about the number of unqualified staff they employed. Unqualified teachers have been employed by 11 schools, but in almost all cases this was because the teachers were in their NQT year and were on their way to achieving fully qualified status. There are two exceptions to this: Moorlands Free School – previously an independent prep school – employs two PE teachers who do not hold QTS; The Discovery Free School is a Montessori school and employs teachers who do not hold QTS but hold Montessori qualifications. In both cases, this has an effect on the pupil:QTS teacher ratio in the table.

Are free schools “revolutionising education”?

In a combative article in the Daily Telegraph, David Cameron claimed that he knows free schools work because he has seen them for himself. He hailed them as “the shock troops of innovation” in our complacent education system.  By an order of magnitude, such claims overstate the position. We cannot know how well these schools will perform until we see some results. What is really different about free schools? So far, all we know is that generous start-up funding has allowed some to have very small classes and that most have below average numbers of disadvantaged children. When we do see some results from these schools, we will have to keep in mind that they do differ from their neighbouring institutions – not necessarily because they are particularly innovative, but because their intakes do not reflect their communities.

The lesson Mr Cameron and Mr Gove should take from the intakes of this first wave of schools is that they will have to try harder to ensure that their expensive free school project really does fill the gaps in our education system. If the data presented here is not going to show a substantial improvement when the second tranche of approximately 60 schools opens in September 2012, they should consider some tighter guidelines for the approval of free school projects. They should be restricted to areas of genuine place shortage – that means distinguishing between “need” and “want”. In addition, priority should be given to free school projects that commit to using their new admission freedoms to guarantee places for disadvantaged children.

[This post has been updated following the late arrival of data from King's Science Academy and to reflect revised data from Woodpecker Primary School]

Table 1

Free School Local Authority (FSM %) (1)

No. of pupils (2)

FSM % (2)

Local ave. FSM % (3)

Aldborough E-ACT Free School Redbridge (20.1%)

120

18.3%

19.8%

All Saints Junior School Reading (21.5%)

16

0.0%

21.8%

ARK Atwood Primary Academy Westminster (38.6%)

55

41.8%

46.2%

ARK Conway Primary Academy Hammersmith and Fulham (40.3%)

30

13.3%

45.7%

Batley Grammar School Kirklees (15.2%)

577

4.3%

19.1%

Bristol Free School City of Bristol (23.3%)

80

10.0%

14.9%

Canary Wharf College Tower Hamlets (47.5%)

60

1.7%

48.2%

Discovery Free School West Sussex (8.8%)

48

8.3%

16.8%

Eden Primary School Haringey (31.7%)

30

0.0%

10.6%

Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School Barnet (21.6%)

48

0.0%

18.3%

King’s Science Academy Bradford (23.3%)  137  24.8%

22.2%

Krishna-Avanti Primary School Leicester (25.6%)

146

9.6%

19.9%

Langley Hall Primary Academy Slough (18.8%)

182

7.7%

16.9%

Maharishi Academy Lancashire (15.5%)

134

8.2%

18.9%

Moorlands Free School Luton (21.5%)

275

20.0%

23.1%

Nishkam Primary School Birmingham (34.5%)

177

9.0%

47.1%

Priors Free School Warwickshire (12.6%)

43

0.0%

2.8%

Rainbow Primary School Bradford (23.1%)

38

21.1%

29.5%

St Lukes CofE Primary School Camden (40.8%)

15

0.0%

35.3%

Sandbach School Cheshire East (9.3%)

1255

6.2%

15.3%

Stour Valley Community School Suffolk (10%)

176

9.1%

7.7%

The Free School Norwich Norfolk (16%)

96

18.8%

24.6%

West London Free School Hammersmith and Fulham (34%)

120

23.3%

32.2%

Woodpecker Hall Primary School Enfield (30.5%)

90

25.0%

39.6%

Average (4)

10.0%

24.9%

Notes:
1 Local Authority FSM%: for the phase (primary or secondary) of the free school. The Maharishi Academy covers both phases so this is the LA overall average. Data from Statistical Release SFR 12/2011.
2 These figures supplied by the schools.
3 Using the location postcode and the DfE Compare Schools tool, this is calculated from the nearest five schools in the same phase that have data available.4 Average FSM is the overall pupil-weighted average, not the average of the school figures.
Table 2
Free School Local Authority (SEN %) (1)

No of pupils (2)

SEN % (2)

Local ave. SEN % (3)

Aldborough E-ACT Free School Redbridge (16.6%)

120

1.7%

18.8%

All Saints Junior School Reading (21%)

16

0.0%

17.9%

ARK Atwood Primary Academy Westminster (22.6%)

55

27.3%

23.3%

ARK Conway Primary Academy Hammersmith and Fulham (25.4%)

30

0.0%

39.0%

Batley Grammar School Kirklees (21.1%)

577

4.9%

28.4%

Bristol Free School City of Bristol (21.8%)

80

7.5%

17.9%

Canary Wharf College Tower Hamlets (20.8%)

60

8.3%

20.1%

Discovery Free School West Sussex (19.7%)

48

27.1%

28.0%

Eden Primary School Haringey (22.3%)

30

0.0%

17.5%

Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School Barnet (22.5%)

48

12.5%

20.9%

King’s Science Academy Bradford (25.8%)  137  2.2%

30.6%

Krishna-Avanti Primary School Leicester (19.5%)

146

2.1%

15.9%

Langley Hall Primary Academy Slough (20.2%)

182

15.4%

21.4%

Maharishi Academy Lancashire (17.9%)

134

9.0%

19.0%

Moorlands Free School Luton (21.8%)

275

22.2%

28.4%

Nishkam Primary School Birmingham (22%)

177

2.3%

28.0%

Priors Free School Warwickshire (18.1%)

43

14.0%

21.1%

Rainbow Primary School Bradford (20%)

38

28.9%

26.7%

St Lukes CofE Primary School Camden (21.9%)

15

13.3%

22.7%

Sandbach School Cheshire East (14.9%)

1255

11.1%

18.0%

Stour Valley Community School Suffolk (19.8%)

176

25.6%

18.6%

The Free School Norwich Norfolk (22.7%)

96

13.5%

28.2%

West London Free School Hammersmith and Fulham (24.6%)

120

??

26.1%

Woodpecker Hall Primary School Enfield (20.7%)

90

43.3%

26.8%

Average (4)

11.2%

23.5%

Notes:
1 Local Authority SEN %: for the phase (primary or secondary) of the free school. The Maharishi Academy covers both phases so this is the LA overall average. Data from SFR 14/2011.
2 These figures supplied by the schools.
3 Using the location postcode and the DfE Compare Schools tool, this is calculated from the nearest five schools in the same phase that have data available.4 Average SEN is the overall pupil-weighted average, not the average of the school figures.

Table 3

Free School Phase

No. of pupils (1)

No. of QTS (1)

No. non-QTS teachers (1)

Pupil: QTS ratio

Local Pupil:QTS ratio(2)

Aldborough E-ACT Free School Primary

120

6

0

20:1

22:1

All Saints Junior School Primary

16

2

0

8:1

21:1

ARK Atwood Primary Academy Primary

55

4

0

14:1

20:1

ARK Conway Primary Academy Primary

30

3

0

10:1

21:1

Batley Grammar School Secondary

577

38

1

15:1

15:1

Bristol Free School Secondary

80

8

4

10:1

15:1

Canary Wharf College Primary

60

4

0

15:1

21:1

Discovery Free School Primary

48

1.2

2

40:1

20:1

Eden Primary School Primary

30

2.6

0

12:1

22:1

Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School Primary

48

3

1

16:1

20:1

King’s Science Academy Secondary  137  15  2  9:1

15:1

Krishna-Avanti Primary School Primary

146

6

0

24:1

22:1

Langley Hall Primary Academy Primary

182

9.4

0

19:1

23:1

Maharishi Academy All phase

134

8

0.5

17:1

15:1

Moorlands Free School Primary

275

14

2

20:1

22:1

Nishkam Primary School Primary  177  10  0  18:1

19:1

Priors Free School Primary

43

4

0

11:1

19:1

Rainbow Primary School Primary

38

2

0

19:1

21:1

St Lukes CofE Primary School Primary

15

1.6

0

9:1

21:1

Sandbach School Secondary

1255

71.7

2.2

18:1

16:1

Stour Valley Community School Secondary

176

17

4

10:1

14:1

The Free School Norwich Primary

96

5

0

19:1

22:1

West London Free School Secondary

120

8.74

0.35

14:1

15:1

Woodpecker Hall Primary School Primary

90

4.2

1

21:1

21:1

Notes
1 Data supplied by the schools. In most cases, unqualified teachers are in their NQT year.
2 Using the location postcode and the DfE Compare Schools tool, this is calculated from the nearest five schools in the same phase that have data available.


Michael Gove has been given another kicking by the press after his Department published the list of schools that have applied to convert to Academy status. The basis of their argument is that he exaggerated the number of schools that were going to apply. It is true he did erroneously claim in the debate on the Queens’ Speech that “In less than one week, more than 1,100 schools have applied for academy freedoms”. What he meant was that they had registered an interest – by filling in a form on the DfE website. But this was a slip of the tongue and I forgive him.

However, I cannot excuse the more recent claims during the debate on the Academies Bill that education in this country is in such a dire state that emergency procedures were needed to push through the legislation and his claim on the Today programme that “hundreds of schools are anxious to take advantage of these freedoms”. There is simply no evidence for this at all.

I combed the list of 153 schools that have actually applied to convert and found that most have Foundation, Grammar, Vountary Aided or Vountary Controlled status (and sometimes these categories overlap). Only 62 are ordinary Community schools “controlled” by local authorities. The rest already have significant freedoms – they control their own admissions, employ their own staff and in most cases own their own land and buildings. They also have considerable control over the curriculum – and such freedom will, apparently, be made available to all schools when the Autumn Education Bill becomes law.

So why do these schools want to become Academies? Well, no surprise really – it’s the money. A quick look at what these schools have told parents (and not all of them have done so yet) shows that this is the main reason they cite. They have done the sums using the DfE’s Ready Reckoner and worked out that they will be given a substantial uplift in their income (not to mention £25K just for passing a resolution of the Governing Body).

Here is an edited quote from a Governing Body paper prepared by one Headteacher and accidentally released to parents in an email. It sums up the thinking rather well:
“In fact, most of the freedoms of Academy status are … equivalent to those of Foundation Status. There are, however, some key differences. The principal difference relates to funding. Foundation Schools are still local authority schools in a sense. Their funding comes via the Local Authority and is significantly top-sliced. It is estimated that for a school of 1200 pupils this top-slicing is normally £4-£600 000. A project mentor … advises us that we would expect our funding to increase by around £400 000 following a change to Academy Status.
One other aspect of funding is of particular note. [Mentor] informs us that following a resolution of the Governing Body of ‘intent to become an Academy’ the school will receive a one-off payment of £25k. This payment is not ring-fenced and is without DfE audit. This is provided to the school following the statement of intent duly recorded in the minutes of the governing body and forwarded to [Mentor] personally along with an expression of intent form duly completed by the Headteacher. It is given to the school regardless of whether it ultimately becomes an Academy or not.…
As the Headmaster I would like to ask Governors and the School as a whole to consider the following strategy: That we pass the resolution of ‘intent to become an Academy’. That we follow this up by completing the necessary expression of intent form. That we collect £25K for doing so. We have impending projects that would be enabled by this now.…
The principal gain, in my eyes, is financial…”


So, Mr Gove, it isn’t a revolution at all. It won’t make much difference to standards, except that a few already outstanding schools will have a bit more cash to spend on their high achieving pupils and the schools remaining in the control of impoverished local authorities will have reduced access to services that might help them improve.

Universities and further education

The Government believes that our universities are essential for building a strong and innovative economy. We will take action to create more college and university places, as well as help to foster stronger links between universities, colleges and industries.

* We will seek ways to support the creation of apprenticeships, internships, work pairings, and college and workplace training places as part of our wider programme to get Britain working.
* We will set colleges free from direct state control and abolish many of the further education quangos. Public funding should be fair and follow the choices of students.
* We will await Lord Browne’s final report into higher education funding, and will judge its proposals against the need to: – increase social mobility; – take into account the impact on student debt; – ensure a properly funded university sector; – improve the quality of teaching; – advance scholarship; and – attract a higher proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
* If the response of the Government to Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.
* We will review support for part-time students in terms of loans and fees.
* We will publish more information about the costs, graduate earnings and student satisfaction of different university courses.
* We will ensure that public funding mechanisms for university research safeguard its academic integrity.

Schools

The Government believes that we need to reform our school system to tackle educational inequality, which has widened in recent years, and to give greater powers to parents and pupils to choose a good school. We want to ensure high standards of discipline in the classroom, robust standards and the highest quality teaching. We also believe that the state should help parents, community groups and others come together to improve the education system by starting new schools.

  • We will promote the reform of schools in order to ensure that new providers can enter the state school system in response to parental demand; that all schools have greater freedom over the curriculum; and that all schools are held properly to account.
  • We will fund a significant premium for disadvantaged pupils from outside the schools budget by reductions in spending elsewhere.
  • We will give parents, teachers, charities and local communities the chance to set up new schools, as part of our plans to allow new providers to enter the state school system in response to parental demand.
  • We will support Teach First, create Teach Now to build on the Graduate Teacher Programme, and seek other ways to improve the quality of the teaching profession.
  • We will reform the existing rigid national pay and conditions rules to give schools greater freedoms to pay good teachers more and deal with poor performance.
  • We will help schools tackle bullying in schools, especially homophobic bullying.
  • We will simplify the regulation of standards in education and target inspection on areas of failure.
  • We will give anonymity to teachers accused by pupils and take other measures to protect against false accusations.
  • We will seek to attract more top science and maths graduates to be teachers.
  • We will publish performance data on educational providers, as well as past exam papers.
  • We will create more flexibility in the exams systems so that state schools can offer qualifications like the IGCSE.
  • We will reform league tables so that schools are able to focus on, and demonstrate, the progress of children of all abilities.
  • We will give heads and teachers the powers they need to ensure discipline in the classroom and promote good behaviour.
  • We believe the most vulnerable children deserve the very highest quality of care. We will improve diagnostic assessment for schoolchildren, prevent the unnecessary closure of special schools, and remove the bias towards inclusion.
  • We will improve the quality of vocational education, including increasing flexibility for 14–19 year olds and creating new Technical Academies as part of our plans to diversify schools provision.
  • We will keep external assessment, but will review how Key Stage 2 tests operate in future.
  • We will ensure that all new Academies follow an inclusive admissions policy. We will work with faith groups to enable more faith schools and facilitate inclusive admissions policies in as many of these schools as possible.

The Education Vote 2010

April 14, 2010

Is education the defining issue of the election for you? If so, to which party should you entrust your precious vote? Each of the main political parties has now published its manifesto. Here is my summary of where each party stands on education, and my own view of who to trust and who to avoid. The table below summarises each Party’s position on some of the key issues in education.

Conservative Labour Liberal Democrat
Funding No extra funding, no promise to protect budget. Pupil premium for disadvantage (from existing funds) Guarantee to maintain or increase spending on front-line schools. Pupil premium for disadvantage. Promise of extra £2.5bn pupil premium directed at disadvantaged children.
Sure Start Cut back to most needy families; focus more on early intervention. Payment by results Increased spending and more cooperatively run Children’s Centres No mention
Early Years New Early Years support team for parenting, but no mention of EYFS Increase to 15 hours for 3-4 year olds with more flexible provision EYFS to be replaced with more flexible, simpler curriculum
Primary Curriculum Every child, if capable to read and be tested at 6 yrs. Single subject teaching. Knowledge focussed curriculum. Rose Review reforms. More flexibility. One to one tuition. 3Rs guarantee. Replace National Curriculum with a slimmed down Minimum Curriculum Entitlement
KS2 Tests Keep, and make more rigorous Keep More limited testing with more teacher assessment
Academies Expand Academy programme and extend to primary schools. Establish Technical Academies with vocational focus Further Academies and more Federations of schools Academies to be replaced by “Sponsor-Managed Schools” involving parents and other providers but commissioned by and accountable to local authorities
Parent power The flagship proposal. Parents will be able to set up their own schools or take over local schools earmarked for closure. Parents given the power to trigger ballots on school leadership where they are dissatisfied and bring in new management Parent groups could be involved in running “Sponsor Managed Schools”
Teacher training Expand TeachFirst with TeachNow (for career changers) and Troops to Teachers (for ex-service personnel)

New graduates will need a 2:2 to get funding for ITT

Expansion of TeachFirst Expand Teach First and school based GTP
14-19 education Every pupil to have the chance to study separate sciences at GCSE; 20,000 additional young apprenticeships; schools and colleges to offer workplace training More to study single sciences and MFL; one to one and small group tuition for GCSEs; Diploma programme; entitlement to apprenticeships for all; more freedom for FE colleges 14–19 year-olds the right to take up a course at college, rather than at school, if it suits them better; aspiration to close funding gap between 6th forms and FE; no rise in school leaving age
Exams Schools to have freedom to offer  international exams. Review of all qualifications in 2013 with changes to take effect in following Parliament General Diploma to bring together GCSEs, A-levels and vocational qualifications
Accountability More rigorous and targeted Ofsted, reporting on performance only in teaching and learning.

Any school that is in special measures for more than a year will be taken over immediately by a successful Academy provider.

School report cards will give each school an overall grade for its performance. No mention of Ofsted, but assume the new framework will continue. Establish the Education Standards Authority to oversee exams, school standards and the curriculum, incorporating QCDA, Ofqual and Ofsted
SEN End to Special School closures and bias towards inclusion in mainstream More specialist dyslexia teachers and better teacher training for children with autism. More teachers for special schools. Improved statementing process Diagnostic SEN assessments for all 5-year-olds; improve SEN provision and improve SEN training for teachers.
Behaviour Give teachers more protection from false accusations; and reinforce powers of discipline by strengthening home-school behaviour contracts. “Zero tolerance”. Strengthen home-school agreements; improve PRUs; more anti-bullying work Improve discipline by early intervention to tackle the poor basic education; confront bullying and include bullying prevention in teacher training
Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Heads will be given the power to pay good teachers more. Pay freeze. 1% pay rise cap. Licence to teach. Make national pay and conditions rules “more flexible” to attract excellent teachers

xxxxxxxxxxxx

So which party is offering education the best deal?

I’ll start with the Tories. I’ll try really hard to be objective about them but, I confess, I grew up under the education policies of Thatcher and Keith Joseph and I find it hard to forget how schools were turned into an ideological battleground. So I’m not objective.

Conservative: we will enable parents to start new schools

You’ll have got your invitation? To join the Conservative Government? The seductive narrative the Tories offer is that the state will be rolled back leaving ordinary people free to run their own lives. One of the big sound bites of the launch was for “parents to start their own schools”, including the offer to save local schools faced with closure. Sounds good? But remember – there is no extra money to fund these new schools. All the cash will come from existing education budgets. And having parents running schools sounds like a nightmare to me. And I’m a parent governor, so I should know. My view is that Tory policies will be a disaster for state education. It isn’t only the hankering after an outdated model of education based on schemes of single subject knowledge that makes me uneasy. It is the flagship promise of a host of new schools, set up by and for the elite, accountable to no-one. Without strategic direction, we will have anarchy. Existing schools will be drained of money leaving the vast majority of pupils worse off as a result.

Labour Manifesto: sounds familiar?

Labour’s manifesto commitments will inevitably sound familiar because they build upon the initiatives that have been pursued over the past 13 years of government. So there will be more Academies and new Trust schools run through cooperatives of parents, teachers and the community. The Rose Review reforms will be introduced to give more flexibility and creativity in the primary curriculum. Parent and pupils will be guaranteed minimum standards of provision including access to one to one tuition if they are failing to achieve basic standards. In addition, parents will be given the power to trigger ballots on school leadership where they are dissatisfied. Labour have promised to protect school budgets from spending cuts but are not being as apparently generous as the Lib Dems. Labour does know about schools and it has learned a lot in the last 13 years. It realises its early approach was too prescriptive and that some of the huge investment in schools has been wasted. But I think it understands what needs to happen next. I trust Labour to do a decent job.

Liberal Democrats: Extra £2.5bn for education

Like both the other main parties, the Liberal Democrats promise a pupil premium to provide extra cash for schools educating disadvantaged children. In contrast to the others, the Lib Dems put a price on it. They will provide an extra £2.5bn (with the money coming from closing tax loopholes, they say) that they want schools to use to reduce class sizes to 20, provide one to one tuition and catch up classes in secondary schools for an average of 160 pupils. These are ambitious targets and there must be some doubt about whether £2.5bn will be enough money. As well as this big commitment, the Lib Dems have a host of other education proposals, many of which I think teachers will like. They make a good case and, unlike the Tories, seem to understand state education. And if I were in a Tory/Lib Dem marginal, I’d vote Lib Dem.

Rose NOT Gove

April 8, 2010

“They’re all the same” is the laziest possible response to the forthcoming election. And that I hear it from teachers and parents has me in despair. Education is probably the single biggest arena of policy difference. Michael Gove’s vision for education under a Conservative administration represents a seismic shift away from the approach that has been taken since 1997. Many will welcome this, I expect. Teachers will feel that they have been loaded with centrally directed paperwork, dictating not only what should be taught, but how. Gove’s rhetoric promises to free teachers from political interference and allow them to use their professional judgement to improve education in their schools.

But behind this “trust the teacher” veneer is a political agenda. Gove wants a return to a “traditional” classroom. Not merely in the sense that children should sit in rows and listen to the teacher, but he also wants to return to single subject teaching in primary schools. This is a complete reversal of all that primary schools have been doing in recent years. More cross curricular working, topics, group work, creative approaches like Mantle of the Expert – this has been the emphasis in primary teaching. As progress on standards stalled, there was an acceptance that the early Labour initiatives such as the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies were too prescriptive and children and teachers needed a more flexible and creative approach. The Rose Review, published less than a year ago, promised a new curriculum that built on this approach. It was based on a very detailed understanding of how children learn. It was subject to extensive consultation and was widely welcomed by teachers across the primary sector.

But Gove hated it. He dismissed it from the outset and promised that if a Conservative government were elected, it would not be implemented. As it turns out, he didn’t even wait until then. Yesterday, with Parliament struggling to get through its business before prorogation, Gove refused to allow crucial parts of the Childrens, Schools and Families Bill to pass – including the provision for the new primary curriculum. Instead, Gove promises that he will undertake his own review of the curriculum. He has talked in the past of a return to single subject teaching, to learning by rote, “proper” history based on English kings and queens, algebra and mental arithmetic. Now, none of this sounds like freeing schools from political interference, does it? This isn’t just dictating what should be taught but how it should be taught too – precisely the criticism levelled at Labour.

The Rose Review was an exciting development; the documents are already in schools and planning is underway to implement the curriculum by September 2011. Many teachers are aghast that it has been summarily dumped. Ed Balls has promised to reinstate it if Labour is re-elected. So, there is a choice.

And rejecting the Rose Review is just one part of Gove’s agenda. Don’t get me started on Free Schools…

I had a real “head in hands” moment this weekend when I heard the NUT demand a 10% pay rise. And I suspect I am not alone, even among (particularly among?) teachers. I have often mused that the NUT conference seems to take place in a parallel universe, but it seems more true than ever this year. The economy is on its knees. Unemployment is rising. Public finances, including school budgets, are struggling to meet demands on them. And people in the real world are having their working hours cut and pay reduced. The union says that young teachers are leaving the profession because of financial pressures. It found a young teacher leaving for a better paid job in Africa. Well, I wish her luck, but I see little evidence of a general flight out of the profession on the grounds of pay. If they are leaving, I suspect it has a lot more to do with the pressures of teaching and the restrictions placed on their professional judgement.
And this is why I really am cross with the NUT. Because I wholeheartedly support the NUT and the ATL’s decision to boycott next year’s primary SATs. This campaign is smart because it is founded in genuine concerns about the detrimental effect of high-stakes tests on teaching and learning at a time when children should be excited and enthused. Parents who see the disaffection with school that drilling for SATs engenders in Y6 children will have sympathy with teachers who can coherently argue that a boycott will force Ed Balls to reach a reasonable compromise with the education profession. Schools need to be accountable and parents need to know how well their child is progressing. But SATs have become about league tables and not about fulfilling these needs. The campaign is gaining traction and there are promising signs that changes will be made. Unfortunately, this positive work is now being drowned out by press outrage at the “greedy” teaching profession. It is a terrible shame that teachers are being led up this blind alley by their union. We all deserve better from the NUT.

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