If you’ve been following the recent debates in the press, interviews on the television and arguments in the House of Commons, you’ll know there is something of a political storm brewing.
It may surprise parents to know, but independent schools are free to employ whomever they wish (subject to safeguarding checks) to the role of teacher (or Head Teacher for that matter) in their schools. This has always been the case in the independent sector. So for example, an excellent graduate with a degree in English could be appointed as an English teacher without ever studying how to teach.
In contrast, schools in the state sector, may only employ qualified teachers to teaching positions. In addition to having a degree, teachers must hold QTS (qualified teacher status), obtained through either a specialist degree in teaching with QTS, or through a number of post-graduate qualifications, some being school based qualifications, assessed externally.
Mr Gove (Secretary of State for Education) has opened up a can of worms by offering the same freedoms that independent schools have, to state funded schools, such as Free Schools and Academies.
The recently appointed Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt is quoted as saying that under this Government, become a teacher is easier than flipping burgers thanks to the Government.
The argument goes something like this: independent schools are typically credited with providing pupils with an excellent education, so extending the freedoms they enjoy to some schools in the maintained sector could raise standards.
Richard Cairns, Head Master of Brighton College, has entered into the debate by pointing out that approximately a third of his teachers do not hold qualified teacher status.
So in a nutshell; do you need to be a qualified teacher to be a good teacher?
My answer to that questions would be a qualified ‘usually’!
It’s easy to be anecdotal and talk about inspirational teachers who were ‘unqualified’ and by contrast, awful teachers who were qualified teachers. This doesn’t really advance the argument.
I believe, especially when we are talking about the education of primary-aged children, that graduates being trained in how to teach, enhances their effectiveness as a teacher. Understanding how children learn, how their brains develop, how children assimilate new skills and how children acquire language, are all very important for teachers to know. The dark art of teaching is not just something that is just in the genes! Pedagogy, defined as both an art and the science of teaching.
Equally, effective classroom control, the ability to assess children’s learning and how to teach children in an interesting and stimulating way are key elements of teaching as well. However well-qualified a graduate is in a particular subject, does not necessarily mean this translates into them being an effective teacher.
As a general rule, the younger the child, the more a teacher needs to know and understand about pedagogy. At the other end of the ‘teaching’ spectrum, a university lecturer could be a rather dull unqualified teacher, but their subject knowledge in their chosen discipline is key. By this time, young adults can cope with experts who are unhindered by concerns of how their students learn.
So by extension of this argument, there could be a case for well-qualified and enthusiastic graduates sharing their subject knowledge with well-established, sophisticated learners in the sixth form.
I’m not saying that some graduates, without any formal training in teaching, can’t become good teachers. What I am saying is that good graduates, with a passion for enthusing others, could become excellent teachers with additional training and qualifications.
I believe Mr Gove is misguided in his belief that teachers teaching our children, whether in the independent or maintained sector, don’t need formal training or qualifications in teaching. We should strive to have the best-qualified teachers and graduates teaching our children, and not enter a race to the lowest common denominator. And what about those good ‘unqualified’ teachers in our schools? We should give them the opportunity to obtain QTS (qualified teacher status) by in-service training. They may even find this helpful and all our children would benefit as a result. The deregulation of teacher training is not a panacea to raising educational standards.
I look forward to the introduction of formal qualifications and training for Members of Parliament, especially for Secretaries of State. Just imagine, a qualified Head as Education Secretary, a soldier as Defence Secretary, a surgeon as Health Secretary…. where would it all end?
Head Master and qualified teacher
It’s been quite a couple of weeks in terms of politics! The political party conference season has come to an end, as too have the IAPS and HMC national annual conferences for the Heads of the leading independent junior and senior schools.
Education, as ever, is never far from the lips of our politicians. Indeed, in my 13 years as a Head, I have never been short of advice on how to run a school!
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, told Heads at the HMC conference this week that independent schools must help failing state schools by sponsoring them, setting up academies and helping them learn from the long experience of independent schools at running their own affairs.
I feel rather reluctant to take any lessons on the subject from Sir Michael. Independent schools have long been under attack from previous governments in the form of the big stick that is the Charity Commission, and have become an embarrassment to our current government in terms of their own schooling. Shhhh! Don’t mention Eton!
Having been a Head in both the maintained and the independent sector, what unites Heads and schools is considerably more than what divides us. A strong sense of moral purpose and a desire that every child, whether attending a state or independent school, receives a good education should be, and is the prime purpose of all school leaders. Equally, I am absolutely clear that whilst being as generous with my time and skills as possible, my prime concern is for The Elms. Ensuring the children here get the best possible education is my number one priority. Diverting money from parents, who are working incredibly hard to pay the fees for their own children, in addition to paying tax and contributing to the national education spend without benefiting from it, in itself raises moral questions.
Closer to home, I very much enjoyed listening to Alistair Campbell this week speaking at Trent about his life in politics. Whilst interesting, I could not share his views on education, and in particular his anti-independent education stance. I’m not sure how Mr Campbell could claim the moral high ground of sending his children to the local state schools, when he was actually consuming scarce educational funding, whilst at the same time ensuring that his post-code and house price guaranteed his children went to the best state school anyway.
Is being a millionaire, sending your children to the local state funded school and using your spare cash to buy luxury cars and second homes morally more acceptable than foregoing those things and spending disposable income on school fees? I think not!
Instead of bashing the independent sector, if only politicians could embrace it, we could move on and spend our time and effort on other things. It appears that whatever the hue of the political party, there has been an acceptance of the concept on nursery funding vouchers, given to parents to spend on the provider of their choice. This includes state run nursery schools, private businesses as well as nursery schools like our very own at The Elms. Surely then, isn’t it a natural extension of this scheme to give all parents an entitlement to a school voucher? Most independent schools, especially junior schools, charge similar fees per child to the per capita funding given to the state sector. Wouldn’t this revolutionise the education system in England in the same way it has nursery provision?
As the school population grows, and primary school places are expected to be over-subscribed by 20%, causing a crisis in state education, could education vouchers offer a sensible, lower cost solution? This could utilise the expertise, capacity and energy in the independent sector and make an independent education more affordable to more parents. It would be cheaper than building new schools.
Britain is renowned throughout the world for having an excellent independent education system. One only has to look at the growth of British independent schools who are opening overseas schools and the growth in international students coming to the UK as evidence of this. The only people who don’t seem to appreciate or acknowledge this fact are some of our own politicians. How deep the politics of envy runs through the veins of British political life!
P.S. How much is a pint of milk by the way? Mine comes in litres.
Have you got your Google glasses yet? If you’ve seen the press releases, then you’ll know that Google have developed a computer that is integrated into a pair of glasses that can be worn wherever we go to enable us to be ‘on-line’ every minute we are awake. Whilst the common use of such devices may be a little way off into the future, we are more connected than ever before, and children as well as adults are increasingly ‘wired up’ on the move with powerful phones, tablets and games consoles.
I have to confess to being part of this ‘connected’ revolution and from a work, social and educational point of view; there are many advantages of harnessing technology as a tool. But sometimes it can feel like this ability to send emails round the clock, check phone messages and respond to textgets in the way of life, rather than enhancing it.
The affect of constant electronic stimulation and the nature of online gaming are addictive, especially for children. The availability of such devices in children’s bedrooms is one factor highlighted, as a cause of sleep deprivation is a recent study. The international comparison, carried out by Boston College, found the United States to have the highest number of sleep-deprived students, with 73% of 9 and 10-year-olds and 80% of 13 and 14-year-olds identified by their teachers as being adversely affected. Other countries with the most sleep-deprived youngsters were New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Australia, England, Ireland and France.
The research showed that children who had more sleep performed better at school and achieved higher results in Maths, English and Science tests. In particular, the light emitted from screens close to the face (as with mobile phones) was found to have a particular negative effect on sleep patterns.
So what can we do as parents to ensure our children do get enough sleep? One sensible solution would be to insist our children leave their mobile phones downstairs before going to bed. Ideally children would not have TVs or computers in their bedrooms, but this is increasingly rare, especially as children get older. Another helpful idea is to set time limits to the amount of time children can spend playing electronic games. These games are highly addictive; ask any parent what happens when they try to get their son to switch off the X-box! It has also been found that getting children to switch off and have a ‘cool down’ time before going to sleep is also very helpful. How about some wonderful old technology like reading a book?
I hope this gives you something to think about but doesn’t keep you awake at night!
I would also like to congratulate all the Musicians who took part in the Summer Breeze Concert on Wednesday afternoon. I am very proud to be Head of such a wonderful school and to have so many talented children and such an excellent team of music staff. The image used above shows just how much the children enjoyed their day.
Just as I was enjoying the sunshine (and hopefully you were too) the last few days of a restful and restorative Easter Holiday, the press was full of Mr Gove’s latest protestations about the length of school holidays and why they should be shortened.
It’s a theme that appears in the press with a degree of regularity and it’s easy to see why. School holidays are long, and most parents work, so how do we balance the need for parents to work with who looks after the children?
I have a great deal of sympathy with this view. When I was growing up, I came from a very traditional family where my mother didn’t go out to work, and there never seemed to be the same issues about child care in the school holidays. Most of my friends were in the same situation – this was the 1970’s after all!
Today, society is different. Increasingly both parents work and therefore the issue of child care in school holidays is a major concern for such parents. I am always amazed by the ingenuity of parents who manage the long school holidays with a rota of time off work, family and relatives drafted in and coming to mutual child care arrangements with friends. There are an increasing amount of holiday clubs available to help parents, with all year round nuresery care and activity sessions from Mad Science to sports in school holidays to provide worthwhile fun activities, as well as quality care.
Whilst having sympathy for parents struggling to find holiday care for their children, I disagree with Mr Gove’s arguments for shorter school holidays and longer school days for pupils.
What parents need is good child care for their children during the school holidays rather than more school. What children need is a break from their studies, a chance to play with family and friends, a chance to recharge batteries and assimilate their learning, a chance to take up new hobbies and meet new people and, dare I say it, a chance to be bored and have to make their own fun to fill an unstructured day. In other words, we need to give our children the opportunity to be children.
Mr Gove is also keen to make comparisons with schools in The Tiger Economies South East Asia, with long days and lots of homework. Having visited schools in China and Vietnam, the work ethic of the pupils is impressive, but the schooling is not something I would wish to replicate here. Very large classes of children sitting in serried rows, learning by rote, demonstrating excellent computational skills but limited creativity, is not the education system we should want for our children. Why is it, that British International Independent Schools are in such demand overseas? Why do so many families living overseas seek to send their children to British Independent Schools? It is precisely the quality of education offered, broad and balanced curriculum, creativity and thinking skills that is valued so highly the world over, but not so by Mr Gove.
Would longer school days and shorter holidays improve results? The evidence for this is far from clear. Anecdotally, children at Independent Schools as a whole achieve better exam results and have longer holidays than state school pupils.
Having seen how hard our pupils (and teachers) work, I feel the holidays are a necessary balance between the long days and demanding curriculum that our children already experience at school.
A good school does much more than educate its pupils in the three R’s. At The Elms and Trent we often speak about educating ‘the whole child” and I believe we do this very well indeed.
Just taking the Lent Term, our children have had numerous opportunities to play sport, star in plays, go on visits and residentials, dress up, ride ponies, make masks and ascend the Eiffel Tower! Our children are very lucky indeed to come here, and very fortunate to have parents who place such a high value on their children’s education, valuing not only their children’s academic success but education in the broadest sense.
The statistics released by the government this week showing a rise in the number of children who are “persistent absentees” from school are very alarming. In the academic year 2011/12, 41,224 penalty notices were issued to parents of children who did not regularly attend school. The fact that such a large number of children are disengaged from the education system and not attending school is shocking.
The reasons for non-attendance are many and varied. I know from parents’ comments and from seeing children at The Elms, how happy our children are here, how they skip into school each day, and how hard the staff work to provide a stimulating, enjoyable and varied curriculum. It’s hard to imagine children so disenfranchised from schooling that they do not attend. Whilst schools have a moral duty to ensure the education they provide is fit for purpose, parents also have a duty to instil in their children the value of a good education, as a life enhancing privilege not available to many of the world’s poorest children.
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by extremists because of her support for girls’ education, returned to school this week and is now attending Edgbaston High School, Independent School for Girls. The example shown by this remarkable young lady, who clearly values the importance of education, should be food for thought for those thousands of teenagers in the DfE statistics who do not attend school regularly.
So in a week where the Chancellor’s red box didn’t give much cause for celebration, I thank all of our parents for the values you instil in your children and for the value you place on a good education.
Your comments, as always, are welcome.
Homework hits the headlines!
Homework or ‘prep’ is one of those perennial issues, where schools are often criticised by parents for giving too much homework, or not enough. In my experience as a Reporting Inspector for the Independent Schools Inspectorate, I find many schools face the dilemma of deciding ‘What is the right amount of homework to give?’
Homework hit the headlines recently in China. The boss of a Chinese company ordered nine employees to do his 12 year old daughter’s homework. Unfortunately for the father and daughter concerned, one of the employees reported the incident to the girl’s school and the whistle was blown! This incident raises several questions. There is the moral issue about cheating, the question about the amount of homework being given to a 12 year old if it takes nine employees to complete, and a sense of jealously as to why my dad didn’t give me the same help with my homework.
At the other end of the spectrum, Franoçis Hollande, the French President, has declared an end to all homework given in primary schools; “An education programme is, by definition, a societal programme. Work should be done at school rather than home”. This move in France follows the success of Denmark, which after introducing homework free schools, reported a rise in overall grades.
So what is the answer? Well, certainly at the junior school level, there are some learning advantages to certain types of homework. Learning and practising common spelling words, reading, learning number bonds or times-tables can certainly assist children with their classroom work. Practising a musical instrument also leads to improved performance. But beyond this, for younger children, there is very little evidence that hours of homework each night are helpful, productive or add anything to a child’s learning.
Indeed, homework can be rather a challenge for parents as well as children! I don’t necessarily mean the level of difficulty, but the impact on family life and the quality of relationships between parents and children. After a hard day at work and school, a family meal and time together is far more life-enhancing than having to become the nagging parent forcing a tired and reluctant child to begin hours of homework.
At The Elms, we have a Homework Policy that we keep under constant review. In brief, we aim to hit the middle ground of balancing those beneficial aspects of homework (spellings, reading and times tables) with a ‘little and often’ philosophy for homework. I am very aware of how hard our children work at school during the day, how far some children travel to be here, and that many families and children have hobbies and interests outside school, which are as valuable as any homework we may set. Unless you feel differently?
Your comments, as always, are welcome.
The world can be a pretty gloomy place at times and the worries and stresses of being an adult are all too easily passed onto our children without us really knowing we are doing it.
Whilst children, especially as they get older, should be aware of the world around them, they should not be burdened by it. Getting the balance between motivating our children, encouraging them to have high expectations of themselves and not feeling anxious is an important balance we must achieve as parents, as a school and as a society. I appreciate the pleasure and the pressure Year 6 children may have experienced when been under taking scholarships exams recently. How we prepare children for success and disappointment and teach them resilience is a key life-long characteristic and one route to achieving happiness. Childhood should be a time of happiness and excitement, and mostly it is! It’s very hard to be anything but happy working in a school such as The Elms with young children. Children are naturally joyful and do bring so many smiles and so much sunshine into the everyday. This week 6RF did an excellent assembly all about love and St Valentine’s Day. The children’s comments and ideas about what love is were very moving and revealed that children can be tuned in to the really important things in life. Happiness is not necessarily brought about by external factors. Money, fame, power and beauty are not the panacea we may think they are.
Different things make us happy. According to the research by Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky (psychologist and happiness expert) we are looking for happiness in the wrong places. She explains “What makes us happier is under our own control; it involves how we think and how we behave in our daily lives. Are we comparing ourselves to others or are we grateful for what we have? Are we forgiving? Do we invest in our relationships or not?”
Some schools are attempting to teach children how to be happy. Wellington College has hit the headlines for introducing happiness lessons to all of its students. Another approach is to challenge our children to perform acts of kindness. In a study carried out in the USA with children aged nine to 11, where children were tasked with carrying our acts of kindness such as helping friends with homework or visiting elderly relatives, the children involved became happier. Their acts of kindness were appreciated, the children received thanks and praise and became more popular with their peers.
So enjoy this half-term break, encourage your children to be kind and help others, and know that happiness is about our outlook on the world.
In the wake of the Head of a leading public school calling for a new General Certificate of Character Education (GCSE), Mr Morrow asks ‘Should schools teach lessons in manners?’
Schools are subject to constant demands from politicians to address the ills of society at large:
Riots on the streets of Britain? Schools should teach more about social cohesion.
Obesity crisis? Schools should teach children how to cook for themselves and to reject junk food.
Not enough gold medallists in the Olympics? Schools should teach more sport and stop selling off playing fields.
Is it right to task schools with developing an ever larger curriculum? Or will these demands distract from the core business of school: teaching pupils to become numerate, literate and ready for work in the 21st Century?
Certainly, Dr Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College and the country’s most quotable Head Master has set out his vision for the General Certificate of Character Education (GCCE) to be introduced in all British secondary schools to give pupils a grounding in good manners, self-control, responsibility, punctuality, kindness and tidiness (source: Daily Telegraph).
On the surface, it seems a ridiculous notion. Surely children are taught manners by their parents, not to mention the other attributes mentioned as possible components to the GCCE? Well, apparently not! Or perhaps a more accurate answer would be that not all children are fortunate enough to grow up in households where parents teach their children manners, kindness and responsibility or tidiness.
Throughout my career, I have never worked in a school that doesn’t teach these characteristics. I would regard the components that Dr Seldon speaks about as the stuff of everyday school life; the un-written or ‘hidden’ curriculum that pervades the school culture and add to the ethos of a good school. So is the GCCE a headline catching gimmick or a real call for schools to adopt a different approach?
The key would appear to be for schools to know their pupils and their parents well. We can’t take it for granted that all children and indeed all parent share the same values as we do. Social ‘norms’, like language, evolve over time and we do well to help our children understand that their norms are not always the same as other adults in authority, university admissions tutors or indeed prospective employers. Parents who turn up to see the Head in his study wearing muddy boots, sit during a meeting wearing a baseball cap and feel at home to answer their mobile phone when it rings are not as rare as one might think!
Children receive mixed messages about the attributes that are celebrated by society. We live in a world where footballers, pop stars and celebrities in jungles, can gain fame and fortune through a public display of lack of manners, tidiness, kindness and responsibility. Societies where adults rarely greet each other, manners are an optional extra and the right of the individual supersedes the right of the majority.
All schools have a responsibility to prepare their pupils for the best possible start in life. Academic qualifications are only part of the story. The best schools already have a programme in place to educate children in the broadest possible sense, giving children a wealth of real learning experiences, for a successful future life. If schools are to do their pupils justice, they should instil in their pupils the social skills that will propel them into successful adulthood. If we are to serve all pupils from a variety of backgrounds, clearly schools will need to make decisions about the type of character education that their pupils need. To those schools serving pupils in the most disadvantaged areas, the role schools have to play in inspiring pupils to achieve is transformational. The key is to allow schools to adapt their curriculum offering to meet the needs of the pupils it serves. For successful schools already in tune with their pupils’ needs, teaching manners, responsibility and punctuality are the elements that pervade the ethos of the school; modelled by the teaching staff.
Thank you for reading this blog!
The reaction to Lord Adonis’ admonishment of independent schools for not sponsoring academies rumbles on.
Earlier this month the former Minister for Education commented that Trustees of private schools should look at their charitable values as a “matter of conscience and duty”.
Ever since the threat from the Charity Commission, challenged in the High Court by the independent sector last year, has sought to change the legal definition of what constitutes a charity, independent schools have been under the political microscope.
The Independent Schools Council was instrumental in defending the sector against the Charity Commission and established that, in the words of Matthew Burgess, General Secretary of the ISC, “The diversity of the sector simply means there can be no single moral compass pointing unwaveringly in the direction of the government’s academy programme.”
There are several and many significant reasons why independent schools should not feel a sense of duty to sponsor academies.
Primarily, independent schools are exactly that, independent from Government interference in terms of the curriculum and how they operate. This independence should be fiercely defended. It is what has enabled independent schools to meet the aspirational needs of pupils and parents for many generations.
Grammar schools have been and gone, academies may well do the same. If some independent schools with over-flowing coffers and the willingness to sponsor government funded academies wish to do so, that is their prerogative, but the independent sector as a whole should not feel obliged to follow.
The vast majority of independent schools demonstrate their ‘public benefit’ in a variety of ways. This can be as diverse as running master classes in particular subjects, sharing campus facilities with local organisations, fundraising for local and national charities, involvement with education projects overseas, holding community or field days supporting local charitable groups and children with special needs.
The Elms is involved in all of these activities and more. In addition, many schools offer various schemes to widen social access and diversity to a first class independent education.
But Lord Adonis seems to over-look two very important factors when criticising the apparent lack of appetite from the independent sector as a whole in not jumping into bed with the Government over sponsoring academies.
Firstly, Britain is in the grip of a financial crisis. Many independent schools, which range in diversity from those tiny proprietorial schools to Eton and Harrow, are simply not in a financial position to give away their income from fee paying parents and let the government off the hook in terms of adequately funding state education.
Many independent schools are struggling to hang on to pupils and support parents whose businesses or income has suffered as a result of the economic downturn.
Secondly, and crucial to any argument about why should independent schools enjoy some small benefits from the taxation system, is the notion that independent schools save the exchequer and the general tax payer an estimated £7billion per year.
Independent schools receive no money from the state and instead rely on parents paying fees from their taxed income. In effect, parents are paying twice in order to send their children to independent schools - once in fees and again through their taxes.
If all independent schools closed tomorrow and the pupils entered the state sector, the general rise in the basic level of taxation needed to fund the additional school places would place a huge burden on the public purse, making any savings made by the sector by keeping their charitable status seem totally irrelevant.
The real question, the political dynamite that all governments have shied away from facing up to, is why are parents willing to pay twice for the education of their children?
What is it independent schools do so well that parents make huge financial sacrifices for in order to send their children? When the government has developed a state education sector to mirror the success of the independent education sector, parents will make their choices accordingly and the arguments of charitable status will be defunct. We can then debate how affluent parents are skewing the housing market in the catchment areas of ‘good schools’.
Until that moment Lord Adonis and his supporters should focus on how to make all schools as good as independent schools and consign the politics of envy to their rightful place.
Every year, members IAPS (Independent Association of Preparatory Schools) gather to learn from each other, share information about the ups and downs of life in the prep-school world and generally take some time away from school to think strategically.
As I’m sure those of you who have ever attended a training course or conference appreciate, they are a mixed bag of the truly exceptional, and the mind-numbingly tedious! Sometimes it’s not always clear where the new learning lies and it can take a little while for the ideas to percolate through the grey matter and become something tangible.
Sifting through the conference programme, there was one gem, one nugget of gold that shone more brightly than all the others. Humphrey Walters, BT Global Challenge round the world yachtsman, motivational speaker and coach for developing high performance teams was an outstanding speaker. He spoke with passion, humour and common sense about the recipes for developing and sustaining high performance teams.
To summarise, he identified three key ingredients:
Firstly, that winning teams know their cause. This can be expressed both in terms of clear strategic intent, as in the school development plan, but also in the daily actions of others. Teachers knowing and understanding how concentrating on delivering excellent teaching and learning, caring for our pupils and leading on their area of the curriculum contributes to the success of the school as a whole.
The second ingredient was ‘pride in the badge’. Successful organisations are ones where people want to belong! I’m always humbled by the pride both pupils and staff take in being part of and belonging to The Elms. This is demonstrated in the pride with which pupils wear their uniform, compete in fixtures and the length of service staff give to the school. It’s a place where people want to be, and that’s got to be good news for everyone who works there.
The final ingredient for a successful team is about the behaviour of the team and how we look after each other. Consideration for others, good manners and compassion are all qualities which are in daily evidence at The Elms. I was delighted that Humphrey Walters found this to be an important factor in successful organisations. It means that looking after each other, caring and supporting pupils and staff is not only the right thing to do, but helps continue as a high performing organisation.
There are always areas for improvement. Nothing is so good that it cannot be better, and I take a huge amount of pride at The Elms that my role as school leader is not about having all the ideas, but more often about tempering the enthusiasm and energy from my team, to introduce new ideas gradually into our school. No idea is unworthy of consideration and to work in a culture where there are so many ideas is an excellent way to keep renewed and refreshed.
I return to The Elms with a renewed sense of pride in the achievements of our team, with some more ideas for our journey of continuous improvement and with a feeling that I’ve missed being at school. I wonder if anyone has missed me….?