Monthly Archives: August 2011


Generally, in the wake of the dreadful rioting, looting and  arson of the last few days politicians of all parties have acted responsibly and not sought to score political points. Whatever the reasons and motivations of the rioters the responsibility and   fault   cannot  lie with  individual politicians or one administration .  But cue Harriet Harman MP,   whose command of Orwellian double speak    never fails  to rise to  the challenge.  Seeking to score political points she said,  in an exchange with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, that she was not justifying the violence looting and arson   but then   went ahead,  with bull headed determination,  and attempted to do precisely  that,  managing to face  in two different  directions, at the same time. She said:

“there is a sense that young people feel they are not being listened to. That is not to justify violence. But when you’ve got the trebling of tuition fees, they should think again about that. When you’ve got the EMA being taken away, when you’ve got jobs being cut and youth unemployment rising and they are shutting the job centre in Camberwell – well you should think again about that”.

So, we are to assume,  using Harman’s logic , that our  disaffected  youth have reached a tipping point    since, that is,  the  Coalition Government came to power . However if   you look  at  youth unemployment, NEET and Truancy  figures  under the last Government there has been only marginal change in the first year of this government . In any case you look at figures  over a number of years  to determine trends and evaluate policy effects and outcomes .  When Labour came into power in 1997, around half of 16- to 17-year-olds were working. Now it’s just 23.3%, the lowest since figures were collected.  This is self-evidently part of a longer term trend most of which   was played out under the last Labour government of which she was a member. It is deeply unfortunate that Harman chose this line of attack. Presumably she is  regretting it now.

David Goodhart of left leaning Prospect is probably the most insightful on the rioters possible self-justification

“The nihilistic grievance culture of the black inner city, fanned by parts of the hip-hop/rap scene and copied by many white people, has created a hardcore sub-culture of post-political disaffection. The disaffection is mainly unjustified. It’s as if the routine brutalities and racist humiliations of 30 to 40 years ago have been lovingly preserved to provide a motor of real anger for what is really just a kind of adolescent pose.”

Or Danny Kruger a former  Cameron  aide (in FT) has this take:

‘The intifada of the underclass, as someone called it on Monday night, bears a pathetic comparison with the uprisings elsewhere around the Arab world during this year. Young people in Egypt and Tunisia had something to lose from their protests – their lives – and something to gain – democracy and justice. Our young people have nothing to lose and nothing to gain, except thrills and new trainers. They are simply confirming, in the most disgraceful terms possible, their own disgrace’


Is the Government ignoring the needs of the most disadvantaged pupils?


The Government points out that the highest performing education systems are built on a high level of autonomy and the right approach is to allow educational professionals to make the decisions about where to target resources. The principle of schools autonomy is sound. Surely it is best to ensure that Heads and governors are empowered to make the key decisions affecting their schools. School autonomy is the main justification for Minsters approach to Careers guidance in schools.  So there should, they say, be no earmarked funds for careers  advice  and it is up to  Heads and governors   to decide how best to deliver Careers advice in their schools, whether its by telephone, face to face, or through a web portal.  

But this fails to take into account one important point. We live in a world not as we would like it to be, but as it is.  Schools have a poor record, to date, in ensuring that their pupils have had access to sound, independent,  professional careers advice,  with most experts rating  it as ‘patchy’ and  have a financial interest still in keeping pupils on their rolls, whether or not that is in the interests of  the pupils concerned ,  a fact  acknowledged, amongst others, by the Minister with responsibility, John Hayes. He now wants to trust their judgement to ensure appropriate  advice, combining this  with very  weak accountability measures. Professor Tony Watts  our  leading expert in Careers Guidance has already pointed out the folly of such an approach.

It is also true that Hayes’ approach runs counter to a main thrust of Government policy-that is in supporting disadvantaged pupils, improving their opportunities and encouraging social mobility.  Experts  are as one is pointing out that if the Government is serious about reducing NEET, Truancy and in  advancing the Social Mobility agenda (which I think they are) including ensuring that our most disadvantaged pupils can get access to Higher Education, then   it is imperative that pupils, aged from 13  have  good ‘face to face’ advice, that is given in context, with the full information available on that pupil  and in which proper ‘ face to face’ interaction   between the pupil and  the professional adviser takes place. This optimises the chances that pupils will be given the best advice to suit their specific circumstances, and reduces  as well the the chances of them making silly mistakes ie studying the wrong qualifications for the route they want to choose. It is worth noting that many admissions tutors remain frustrated that pupils often take inappropriate qualifications because either they receive poor advice or no advice at all.

The fact is schools, including those with the most pupils on FSM, will be under financial pressure to opt for the cheapest option -web based advice. True, for some pupils this might be adequate. However, nobody believes, certainly those with    whom I have spoken  ie those  dealing  with the most disadvantaged pupils  and who are involved with the Inclusion agenda, that web based advice is appropriate for  most disadvantaged pupils. As such, the current approach undermines the Governments key focus on improving the opportunities for  the most  disadvantaged, a worthy policy aim that has widespread support and the current approach is  therefore deserving of a radical rethink.

As for school autonomy, it is, as we have said, a sound principle to guide policy. However, Hayes must be aware that under current arrangements schools have some of their autonomy circumscribed in certain specific areas for legitimate reasons (which are built in, for instance ,to their funding agreements, in the case of academies). Schools can do as they please but within certain parameters in order to ensure for instance that  equity  is safeguarded.  It is perplexing that the Government is choosing to pursue a policy that is self-evidently going to harm the interests of  the cohort of pupils its education reforms are  targeted at, the most disadvantaged, who will benefit most from face to face advice.

According to the ASCL the Advisory Group on the All-Age Careers Service established by the Government has been reconstituted as the National Careers Service Advisory Group. After some discussion at a pre-meeting of the Group where resignation was considered, the lay members present agreed to continue to support this work. But they wish to place their concern in the public domain about the significant reduction in the Group’s remit and in the scope of the new service.



ICT has big potential but   can be undermined by poor choices


The demise of BECTA left many involved with ICT in education seriously concerned about the future, and particularly the broadband service to schools. BECTA is gone because it was seen by Ministers as having been slow to move in a number of areas and wasteful. There was also some resentment among stakeholders about the way it handled contracting issues and others remarked on its inexplicable slowness in harnessing and exploiting  open access  software.

Schools have complained in the past of being sold expensive  ICT equipment   that’s not fit for purpose and there have been concerns over the quality of software that has no discernible impact on learning. Salesman have too often  oversold and overstated the benefits of ICT in the classroom, against the backdrop of mixed international evidence as to the impact of ICT on learning.

The consensus is that ICT can be a useful support tool to assist learning (and has significant potential too  for much wider use) but it has to be well-managed and thought through, and too often it isn’t and it  is certainly not an end in itself.

Schools  can be left with a significant longer term  commitment in terms of up-grading both hardware and software when their budgets are under significant pressure.  And those most vociferously in support of ICT in schools, rather too often, have tended to have  a commercial stake in  its success. Finding a genuinely independent ICT adviser is as difficult as finding a genuinely independent financial adviser.

Critics are also conscious of the fact that in the wider world    many big, large scale  ICT contracts don’t deliver on their promise, are over budget and are often late in delivery, with taxpayers often  having to take the consequences.

A 2010 CFBT Education Trust report by Joe Nutt ‘Professional educators and the evolving role of ICT in schools’ found that claims for how technology can improve educational performance in schools are widespread and  influential yet the research evidence is extremely weak and the discourse is often clouded and  confused by the motives and interests of some key individuals and organisations. Nonetheless, huge investments have been made and continue to be made across the developed and the  developing world.  One of the major reasons this has happened is because of an alliance between influential individuals, technology companies and government agencies. A small group of enthusiastic writers and  researchers – ‘ICT Gurus’ termed in this paper ‘techno-zealots’ – have allied themselves with the  suppliers of ICT equipment and convinced many policy-makers of the remarkable, transforming   power of technology. The reports and publications produced by the techno-zealots and their allies  often fail to meet high standards of scholarship and evidence. Typically the likelihood of impact and  better educational outcomes through technology is simply asserted without a remotely compelling  evidence base. There are dissenting voices. There is an increasing body of evidence and research by reputable organisations and educational bodies, which raises serious questions about how ICT  in schools is designed, procured and implemented,’ concluded Nutt

Asked recently by Lord Willis, in the Lords, about the impact of e-learning resources on children’s learning, Lord Hill, the education Minister,  replied: “The DfE reviews existing educational research and commissions its own studies. Overall there is a strong body of evidence linking the effective use of technology to improvements in education. Schools that take a systematic and planned approach to using technology to support education achieve better outcomes with technology than other schools. Strong patterns of impact are also found from pupils’ use of technology to support study at home.” This is certainly an endorsement of ICT in the classroom. But note the Ministers important qualification- ‘effective ; and systematic and planned’. Too often in schools the use of technology has had  none of these characteristics .Given the waste involved in so many large ICT contracts,  pressure on budgets and  the mixed evidence on its impact on learning it is right to be  cautious and circumspect when developing schools ICT policy.

A recent PfS briefing for school suppliers revealed that the capital spend per Academy pupil for ICT had been cut from £1,450 to £800 and the state of the market is perhaps reflected in the fact that RM, a major supplier, has issued a profits warning  fuelling concerns that investment will be placed on the backburner, although investment in broadband technology seems to be safe, for the time being.

The Secretary of State,  Michael Gove, is shortly to make an announcement on ICT policy. In his recent Royal Society speech  he said  “So as well as reviewing our curriculum and strengthening our workforce, we need to look at the way the very technological innovations we are racing to keep up with can help us along the way. We need to change curricula, tests and teaching to keep up with technology, and technology itself is changing curricula, tests, and teaching.” The Government is now aware too  of the progress the exam boards are making in using new technology in tests and examinations.

Lord Hill, in the Lords when discussing the Education bill (still in the Lords), pointed to the fact that “  we have an extraordinarily successful market in educational technology in the UK. We are a leader, so there are strong commercial reasons why we should support it. We want to encourage sharing of evidence of effective practice in the use of technology and improved teacher skills in using it.” He elaborated “We are talking to a number of interested parties-school leaders, professional bodies, educational charities, industry, academics and other experts-about how the department should take forward its thinking about technology. Given the pace of change, we think it important to allow schools and teachers themselves, working with industry, to respond to the changes. We want to give teachers the freedom to choose how to use it to create lessons that engage their pupils and enable them to achieve their full potential.”

That’s fine up to a point but teachers are not always best placed to make informed decisions on what they need and the wrong decision can affect the school for years to come , while ,as we have seen , accessing  sound, genuinely  independent  ICT advice is not that easy. Far too many schools have made decisions  that they have regretted when it  comes to both  hardware and software.

There seems little doubt though that technology will play a greater influence in  learning ,  both in and  outside the classroom,  and in testing.  Virtual education will accelerate learning through interactive multimedia resources, networking via the Internet, interactive television, mobiles, satellites, and other technologies. As Professor Ken Robinson has pointed out, some of the best learning is a product of collaboration and technology can broaden the scope for collaboration, within schools, between schools and indeed across the world. These mediums will probably dominate the preferences of the masses and schools are lagging behind in exploiting new technologies particularly when you look at how young people use these technologies in their social lives. The Internet will also enable  students to take a greater interest in developing the way they learn best. Students will become directors and producers, shaping their lessons to accommodate their learning style and needs.

There is clearly huge potential  for ICT in learning , but also huge  pitfalls if you get it wrong. Caveat Emptor.




High fallout means huge waste


Teaching as a career is currently popular. The Economist points out that ‘ Demand for university-based teacher-training courses now far outstrips supply: admissions tutors offered just 39% of applicants a place on postgraduate courses last year, down from 48% six years earlier’

However, popular or not,  there  have been long standing concerns over teacher retention and how too many trainee teachers lack resilience and staying power, either leaving the profession after training or shortly after qualifying. The wastage rate from teaching courses is likely to be costing taxpayers tens of millions of pounds a year in wasted tuition and student support costs.

Four out of 10 trainees in 2007/08 were not teaching in state schools six months after leaving university (from an analysis of teacher training institutions by Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson of Buckingham University). Selecting only the best trainees might not only improve the quality and status of teaching; it could also save some of the money currently wasted on training those teachers who rapidly become disillusioned and quit.

Using more scientific vetting and selection procedures might also help. Some claim that  you can  weed out those at the beginning of the process who are unsuited to teaching, for instance through psychometric testing,  so saving effort and wasted resources .

Drop-out rates in some subjects are shocking: the Royal Society reckons that half of maths and science teachers leave within five years of starting their training.

The Economist says that the lesson of Teach First is that higher-calibre recruits also tend to be resilient. Even though they didn’t intend to stay in teaching for ever, and are placed in challenging schools, 65% of those who enrolled in 2003, when the scheme was launched, are still working either in schools or on education policy—suggesting that teachers who have been through a rigorous selection process are less likely to walk away from the whiteboard than those who have not.

Little research has gone in to the selection and vetting of teachers, why they decide  to leave the profession and strategies to improve retention.  Given the importance attached to good teachers, this is surprising.





Limited transition planning  resulting in confusion

Face to Face  advice giving  way to remote delivery

Schools unclear of new role in Careers Guidance


A Report ‘ Careers Work with Young People-Collapse or Transition’,  from The International Centre for Guidance Studies at  Derby University analyses the current information available (in July 2011) about the changes that are taking place in careers work following recent government policy initiatives and public-sector austerity measures. It seems that  the current situation veers more towards collapse, than  to  seamless transition.  The report  finds that the current environment is having a potentially disastrous impact on the careers profession, as Local Authorities sack Careers advisers and it may well damage Government attempts to re-professionalise the Careers profession. It says that as responsibility for resourcing career guidance has been moved from Local Authorities to schools, this is happening without any transfer of funding. This is likely to reduce substantially the overall capacity to deliver career support for young people.

The report examines the local developments that have emerged in relation to a national policy context in which: Existing careers work is being radically reconfigured.

• The new National Careers Service (NCS) will principally serve adults (apart from its telephone/web-based services, which will cover young people too).

• Securing careers guidance for young people has been made the responsibility of schools.

• The requirement for schools to provide careers education has been removed.

• There has been very limited transition planning at national level: this has led to considerable local confusion.

• In particular, there is continuing confusion about the future relationship of remaining face-to-face Connexions services to the NCS, and about the branding of such services.

Implications for Connexions services, Local Authorities, schools, new market players and the careers profession are identified:


Connexions services

• Connexions services have been seriously damaged by the new environment. Most have made staff cuts, closed centres and undertaken restructuring processes. Some have reduced face-to-face services in favour of remote delivery.

• Many Connexions services have abandoned or reduced universal careers services and focused their services on vulnerable young people.

• Some Connexions services are developing an offer for schools to buy into.

• The Connexions brand seems likely to disappear in a growing number of areas.

Local Authorities

• Most Local Authorities have responded to the new policy environment by cutting funding to Connexions services, to a greater extent than the cuts to other services.

• Some Local Authorities have sought a way through the transition by restructuring (frequently by absorbing the remaining Connexions service into the Local Authority).

• Other Local Authorities have begun to explore ways to facilitate the creation of a local school-centred market in careers services.

• It is possible to summarise the main Local Authorities strategies as follows:

o Extreme cutting (at least 12 Local Authorities).

o Focusing solely on vulnerable young people (at least 49 Local Authorities).

o Wait and see (at least 49 Local Authorities).

o Working to sustain universal career guidance (at least 15 Local Authorities)


• The situation for schools is challenging: in addition to the erosion of Connexions, they have also lost support from Aimhigher and Education-Business Partnerships.

• The removal of the statutory duty to provide careers education could result in a focus on “activities” rather than on a developmental curriculum.

• Many schools are unclear what their new responsibilities are and how best to discharge them.

• Some schools are exploring how best to deliver career support, with internal, external and multi-school models being explored.

• It is unclear how much resource schools will be able and willing to allocate to career support services, but it seems likely in most cases to be much less than previous provision.

New market players

• There is some evidence that new players are entering the school careers market, e.g. educational agencies, private career support providers and IT-based solutions.

The careers profession

• The current environment is having a potentially disastrous impact on the careers profession. In particular, the following issues are causing concern:

o Reduction in the number of posts.

o Downward pressure on pay and conditions.

o Loss of specialist careers roles within Local Authorities.

o Loss of experienced staff from the profession.

• These challenges to the careers profession could throw the wider project of re professionalisation, being encouraged and supported by the Government, into doubt.

Local Authorities have limited scope within which to react to the changes that have been made by the

Government. However, there is currently considerable diversity in the models that have begun to emerge. These include:

• Abandonment of universal careers work.

• Stretching of existing resources to continue to deliver a comparable (if significantly reduced) service.

• Encouraging school-based modes of delivery around either a single-school or multi-school approach.

• Development of a contracting-in approach to the delivery of careers services.

This new situation has emerged as a direct result of Government policies and actions. The paper discusses this new policy framework and concludes that:

• A new kind of market in careers work is beginning to emerge as a result of the current environment.

• This market is centred around schools as the sole consumers of careers services, effectively excluding all other stakeholders from direct market participation.

• Responsibility for resourcing career guidance has been moved from Local Authorities to schools, but without any transfer of funding.

• This is likely to reduce substantially the overall capacity to deliver career support for young people.

• The Government needs to review its roles in relation to the market in career support, in terms of:

o Stimulating the career support market in order to build its capacity.

o Regulating this market and assuring the quality of services within it.

o Compensating for market failures.

The paper concludes by setting out some key policy questions for the Government, for Local Authorities,  for the careers profession, and for schools.

Careers Work with Young People: Collapse or Transition? An analysis of current developments in careers education and guidance for young people in England Tristram Hooley & A.G. Watts; iCeGS




New Research identifies different approaches in schools and authorities to Community Cohesion


Community cohesion is about ensuring different groups of people share a common vision and sense of belonging, where similar life opportunities are available to all. It is defined as working towards a society in which there is a common vision and sense of belonging by all communities; a society in which the diversity of people’s backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and valued; a society in which similar life opportunities are available to all; and a society in which strong and positive relationships exist and continue to be developed in the workplace, in schools and in the wider community.

Since September 2007, schools have had a legal duty to promote community cohesion and their inspectorate, Ofsted has had to check that they are doing so. The requirement – enshrined in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 – was introduced in part to combat fears of a rise in support for the British National Party and Islamophobia. But the coalition government is now scaling back Ofsted’s role and confining its remit to inspecting what it sees as core elements- the quality of leadership in schools, teaching , pupil behaviour and child safety and achievement. The plans seek  to reduce the bureaucratic burden on schools and this in effect  means an end to Ofsted inspections of the duty, but, importantly,  the duty itself  remains.

Research on community cohesion, just published by CfBT Education Trust, was conducted in English schools in 2010.

The research uses an opportunity sample of 27 primary and secondary schools in three local authorities to generate insights on how the duty to promote community cohesion has been interpreted, enacted and accounted for since its beginning in 2007. The significance of this report is not in the sample size or spectrum but in the themes that emerged from  the semi-structured interviews.

The researchers found that, overall, the duty to promote community cohesion received an ambivalent response from school leaders and teachers. Yet most regarded it as important, not only for their students’ wellbeing but as essential to the building of a successful school. The schools also see a focus on community cohesion as an opportunity to improve relations with and between parents – and  it provides a chance to draw on resources available within the local authority and wider community.

Tony McAleavy, director of education at CfBT Education Trust, wrote in the Guardian on 26 July   that the report ‘ identified promising schemes with the potential for integrating parents not only into the school, but also into their communities. These could offer a template for local authorities. Crash courses in English have been set up in response to the arrival of a large group of newcomers; a primary staged a community week when parents were invited to take part in a range of activities including playing games with local children.’

The requirement for schools to foster community cohesion has been interpreted differently by different local authorities: an equal opportunities self-evaluation scheme for schools had been developed in one authority, while there had been a strong emphasis on respect in another programme. Where money had become available to prevent violent extremism, this was drawn on to support police working with schools in one area, but spent on training teachers about Islamic fundamentalism in another.’.

Two reports are available:

A Perspective Report, School Leaders, Community Cohesion and the Big Society sets out the background to the duty to promote community cohesion, including its inception as a policy and its roots in other measures, is discussed in an opening section. The findings from group and individual interviews with teachers and school senior leaders are analysed under themed headings. Pointers for future policy development, including links with the ‘Big Society’ agenda, are discussed.

A Research Report, Teaching, Learning and Community Cohesion: a study of primary and secondary schools’ responses to a new statutory duty, provides more detailed guidance for teachers and school leaders.

McAleavy poses   an  important question- whether it is sensible to have a statutory duty to promote community cohesion, but for Ofsted not to inspect that function in schools.

CFBT Reports