Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Tories: Exclusive or inclusive?

Next in the series examining Tory education policies....

We believe that Head Teachers are best placed to raise standards of behaviour, which is why we will stop heads being overruled by bureaucrats over exclusions.

Decisions about whether or not to exclude a child from school should not be taken lightly. As well as the fact that a pupil who is excluded is very likely to end up with no qualifications and to become ‘NEET’ (not in education, employment or training), Fairbridge, a charity that supports pupils in danger of exclusion, says that educating an excluded child in a Pupil Referral Unit (where a majority of excluded children end up) costs around £15,000 a year – three times as much as a place at secondary school. The aggregate cost of all exclusions is around £650 million every year and the average lifetime cost of crime is over £15,500 per excluded child.

The Conservatives pledge that they will give the power to exclude a child to Head Teachers, who will no longer be ‘overruled by bureaucrats.’ The Tories have a broad understanding of the term ‘bureaucrat’ - in this case they mean the independent appeals panels administered by local authorities. In their schools policy paper from 2007, they make it clear that, under a Tory government, “The only appeal would be to the governing body of the school.” This is wrong.

It is wrong because it emphasises exclusion when the most successful inner-city schools are placing a very strong emphasis on inclusion. A report published by OFSTED last year, ‘12 Outstanding Secondary Schools, Excelling against the odds’, noted that one of the characteristics of all the schools featured is that, “They are highly inclusive, having complete regard for educational progress, personal development and well being of every child.” Some of the schools now employ ‘social inclusion managers’ who “spend their time around the corridors or dropping into lessons” and work closely with heads of year to follow through on any issues arising. The outcome of these innovations (and others like it) is that, “The outstanding schools manage behaviour issues very well without instilling an oppressive atmosphere.”

The Tory argument is that schools are very often using fixed term exclusions (suspensions) when permanent exclusion would be a “compelling alternative” that would ensure pupils are placed in a setting “more appropriate to his her specific and often challenging needs.” The problem is that those settings (pupil referral units) are, very often, as OFSTED says (and the Tories themselves quote) “the least successful of all in ensuring the good progress of the pupils who attended.” Expecting them to improve very quickly and deal simultaneously with larger numbers of pupils is a very tall – and expensive – order.

If a Head Teacher is not required to justify her decision to an external body, they may take the decision more lightly. No Head Teacher wants to exclude a child – it goes completely against what all teachers are working to achieve – but without a check on their decisions, they may on occasions get a call wrong or exclude a child too rashly. The Conservatives have pointed out on several occasions that we know an ever increasing amount about how schools succeed against the odds. They argue that they will work to ensure that all schools have this knowledge; on exclusions, their message is counter to what the inclusive emphasis of the best schools.

How will this policy actually change the educational landscape?

This policy would make it easier for pupils to be permanently excluded from school and would put a lot of extra burden on pupil referral units that are already struggling to cope with very challenging pupils.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Reasonable force and false accusations

The next Conservative manifesto pledge....

We will make it easier for teachers to use reasonable force to deal with violent incidents and remove disruptive pupils from the classroom without fear of legal action, and give teachers the strongest possible protection from false accusations.

The 2008/09 OFSTED annual report states that: “Pupils’ behaviour is better overall in primary and special schools than in secondary schools but it is nevertheless good or outstanding in 80% of secondary schools. These figures indicate that the very large majority of schools manage behaviour well and engage pupils effectively.” Despite this, a key part of the Conservative Party education manifesto is “TOUGHER DISCIPLINE”. David Cameron, speaking in January 2010, said that we must give teachers, “the powers and protections they need to keep order. Over the last decade these have been slowly stripped away.”

Ed Balls disagrees. Speaking last week to the NASUWT conference, he launched guidelines that aim to clarify teachers’ existing rights to use force in the classroom. He said, "Myths that schools should have 'no-contact policies', that teachers shouldn't be able to protect and defend themselves and others, will be dispelled by this new guidance which makes clear that in some situations, teachers have the powers and protection to use force."

Have teachers’ power to deal with “violent incidents” been, as Mr. Cameron claims, “stripped away”? Judging by the number of changes to the law that extend teachers’ rights to use reasonable force (and to search pupils and their property without consent) it does not seem so: additional statutory powers have been granted to teachers in the Education and Inspections Act of 2006, the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 and the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009.

The guidelines launched by Ed Balls (and published on the Teachernet website) explain that,

“Section 93 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 enables school staff to use reasonable force to prevent a pupil from:
a. committing a criminal offence (or, for a pupil under the age of criminal responsibility, what would be an offence for an older pupil);
b. causing personal injury or damage to property; or
c. prejudicing the maintenance of good order and discipline at the school, whether during a teaching session or otherwise.”

They go on to make it clear that all staff at the school have this power, whether temporary or full time, and that the power applies “where the pupil (including a pupil from another school) is on the school premises or elsewhere in the lawful control or charge of the staff member (for example on a school trip).”

I wonder then, exactly how do the Conservatives plan to make it ‘easier’ for teachers to use ‘reasonable force’ without ‘fear of legal action’? What is the Tory approach? I cannot think of any circumstances that might arise in which teachers would need to use force that are not already captured in the above, especially point ‘c’ which is quite wide-ranging, so a further change to the law seems unnecessary; a campaign to raise teacher awareness of their rights is welcome but, in releasing the new guidelines on the use of force, Labour has already begun this work; and if the Tories dictate to schools what they must include in their behaviour policies, they will be vulnerable to the very charge they make against how we are currently governed, “where power is held by a distant and technocratic elite.”

The only aspect of the pledge that could, if implemented, be a genuine move from the status quo is the plan to “give teachers the strongest possible protection from false accusations.” Michael Gove elaborated on this in a speech in March 2009, “Teachers will enjoy anonymity if faced with complaints from pupils and there will be a time limit by which any allegation against a teacher must be investigated or dropped.” This idea has significant support - according to the TES, “The [House of] Commons children, schools and families select committee argued that teachers should be named only in the event of a conviction” and, as you would expect, teachers’ unions are also in favour. It is unclear, however, in both the manifesto pledge and Gove’s speech, whether the Tories support statutory anonymity or simply anonymity until a charge is formally brought against a teacher. The meaning of “the strongest possible protection” will need to be spelled out very clearly if the Tories are to gain teachers’ support on this basis.

David Cameron says “We [the Tories] are going to say to our teachers, if you want to search for and confiscate any item you think is dangerous and disruptive – you can. If you want to remove violent children from the classroom – you can.” If he had just added the word “already” before the word “can”, he would be accurately describing the current situation. He goes on, “And if you want protection from false allegations of abuse that wreck lives and wreck careers – we’ll make sure you have it.” But, he forgot to add, we haven’t yet specified whether the protection will be statutory.

How will this policy actually change the educational landscape?

An additional emphasis, under the Conservatives, on the rights of teachers may make teachers feel more supported. However, further legal rights seem unnecessary and without a clear expression of exactly how they plan to make it ‘easier’ for teachers to use ‘reasonable force’ without fear of legal action, we are left feeling like the Tories might be serious about supporting teachers.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Desmonds for teachers

With the election campaign now underway I will be posting every day or two to examine the specific pledges in the Conservative education manifesto and how they will (or not) change the educational landscape. First up teacher qualifications.....

"... graduates will need at least a 2:2 in their degree in order to qualify for state-funded training."

When David Cameron and Michael Gove announced that all teachers must have a 2:2 degree to become teachers, they said they want to make the teaching profession “brazenly elitist”. Inspired by countries with very high-performing education systems, such as Finland and South Korea, where teachers are taken from amongst the top graduates in the country, the Conservatives hope their policy will make teaching a high status, “noble profession”. Will it work?

The answer, in the short term at least, is no. According to the Training and Development Agency for Schools, only 2% of primary and 3% of secondary school teachers have 3rd class degrees, so the policy will not have a meaningful impact on the actual make-up of the profession. Even if people with 3rd class degrees are barred we will still be a very long way from drawing teachers from the top 10% (Finland) to 25% (South Korea) of graduates. In 2008/09, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, approximately 13% of (full time) students at UK universities were awarded a third class and ‘unclassified’ undergraduate degrees. I doubt that any new Tory government will be announcing proudly that, due to their education policy, teachers in the UK now come from the top 87% of graduates.

However, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Michael Gove recognised that by taking this step the Conservatives are just “embarking on a journey” to raise the prestige of the teaching profession; this is just the first stage of a long and very difficult process that will take “a generation”. The idea of the policy, it seems, is almost to launch a campaign, to let people know that the Tories mean business.

So what is the rest of the process by which teaching will become a high prestige profession? This is less clear than the first step. It does not, says Gove, involve raising teacher salaries (which is fortunate given the state of the economy) as the most important thing is not more money for teachers but more “respect”. He is right, respect is most important, but increasing salaries is one means of achieving respect. Although teachers’ salaries have improved since Labour came to power they remain significantly lower than those of, for example, GPs, who earned an average of around £110,000 a year, compared to around £34,000 for teachers. Pay is by no means everything but it does say a certain amount about the value society places on a profession.

The three suggestions outlined by Gove in his Radio 4 interview about how to increase respect for the teaching profession were of mixed quality. The first, that with the Conservatives “you’ve got the next Prime Minister of this country saying that he regards teaching as the most important profession”, was ridiculed on the spot by the presenter. The second, that under the Conservative Party discipline will be better and therefore teachers will feel “safer” in the classroom may, over time, lead some people to enter the profession but it is unclear what comes first, better teachers or better discipline.

The final (and, in my view, best) suggestion is that improving continuing professional development and providing opportunities for teachers to pursue Masters level qualifications will help teachers feel part of a broader academic community and “intellectual and professional elite.” As Tim Brighouse wrote, in his ‘Jigsaw of a successful school’, “Unless the interests and skills of all staff are constantly supported, we produce, as mentioned earlier, more ‘energy consumers’ than ‘energy creators’. It’s a battle between the “Why we can’ts” and the “How we coulds”.” If teachers are seen to be ‘energy creators’, not just for their individual schools but for society, their status will surely rise.

So how would this policy actually change the educational landscape?

In the short term not very much at all as so few teachers currently have third class degrees. However, it does at least point in the direction of a (distant) landscape in which teachers are held in high regard by society – whether or not we ever get there depends on teachers being given real opportunities to develop as professionals. And, because long journeys are expensive, higher salaries might just help get the journey underway.


*It will become ‘noble’ and ‘elitist’ (but probably not in the way Cameron means) if people who can afford to pay for the training themselves are still allowed to become teachers with third class degrees – they will just have to convince the Admissions Tutors that they have a 'Gentleman’s Third'.