That’s Life! The government appoints charity to sexual health advisory group

The trouble with health education and dealing with issues like sex, drugs and alcohol is that many people have very fixed ideas about what children and young people should learn. Add to this the fact that teachers are often anxious and unsure of how and what to teach and parents are anxious about their children are learning and we have a very shaky situation. When the phone rings and someone offers to come and teach about sex or drugs to students, many head teachers and teachers breathe a sigh of relief and quickly book them in.

But how many schools take the time (or indeed have the time) to do a little research on these groups? A quick google is usually all it takes to find out what you need to know. There are some excellent groups out there teaching SRE and drug and alcohol education but there are an awful lot of charlatans too and my worry is that more and more of these charlatans will find their way into schools because local authority staff are not there to advise them.

I used to get regular phonecalls from schools asking me about groups that had contacted them. Part of my job was the check these people out. I’d observe lessons, check lesson plans and watch theatre groups in action to see if what they were offering was in line with good practice. I’d tell schools to ask for detailed lesson plans and references before booking. Anyone with good track record will be happy to offer these.

A good example of this is Narcanon. A quick search on the internet will tell you that they’re Scientologists and offer lessons based on L Ron Hubbard’s teachings. Now they don’t call up and say, ‘Hi! We’re the Scientologists and we’d like to give your students some spurious Science about drugs.’ If you’ve done your research and believe that they are a group who should be speaking to your pupils then, fine, invite them in. but make sure the parents know what their children are learning and from whom.

Another group who offer talks to schools are Life. This pro-life charity will come and talk to your children about how a baby grows (primary) and about abortion and assisted reproduction (secondary)and to be fair to Life, they offer clear, detailed lesson plans and are a hit with many schools, including faith schools. I advise schools again to do their research carefully and make an informed decision while informing parents of exactly who is talking to their children as part of a well-planned programme of SRE that addresses the needs of all children. The fact remains, however, that Life is a group with an agenda and a point to get across. 

It was interesting to see then that Life has been given membership of the government’s sexual health forum while the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has been given its marching orders.

Abortion issues have always been a hot political potato in the US but in the UK we’ve usually taken the pro-choice stance. It seems now that the coalition government is looking west for all things sexual health. If I was an MP I’d be looking towards countries where teenage pregnancy, STIs and were lower than ours and find out what they were doing right. Our American cousins do many things well but sexual health? Not so much. What next? Looking to see how the US addresses childhood obesity and demanding that chips and turkey twizzlers are brought back into schools?

BD (before Dorries) I’d have been horrified by this latest move but now? I’m feeling jaded, fed up and more than a little depressed. Those of us who are passionate about children’s health are not all leftie lunatics; we do what we do because we believe that we can make things better.

Next time, Mr Cameron et al, just give us a call and we’ll be there to help. Agenda-free.

For more information on pro-choice check out Education for Choice.

Spending cuts: how much do they know?

I’m running a series of briefings for teachers about the future of our services and what they need to be doing right now. We were about to launch a really exciting new phase of projects in school but of course, this has now been changed and we’re still waiting to see what the replacement will look like.

Sprinkle liberally

 I planned to talk about these changes and link them to the wider picture in education by talking about the white paper. I had an emergency PowerPoint on the white paper courtesy if the DfE but I thought the teachers would know what was in it and I’d only need to chat briefly about it.

 Wrong.

 ‘So who’s read the white paper then,’ I asked cheerily.

 Silence.

 ‘Who knows the things in the white paper that will affect your day to day working life?’

 A tumbleweed rolled by.

 So I spent more time than I intended on informing the group about the white paper and how it will affect their schools: changes in behaviour management, a greater focus on bullying and synthetic phonics (luckily the two are not inter-related), exclusions, academies and free schools. Their head teachers are probably well-informed but sometimes the infromation doesn’t always filter down to the class teachers.

 The other aspect of the changes they weren’t entirely aware of were the cuts in local authority staff. My lot know that my post has been deleted but I don’t think they yet realise the implications of this. When they need me they pick up the phone and ask or drop me e-mail and I help to the best of my abilities. It’s my job.

 A head teacher phoned me this morning and explained that some of her parents were very anxious about a certain policy the school had just redeveloped and how she wasn’t sure what to do.

 ‘Would you like me to come and run a workshop for your parents?’ I said.

 ‘You’ve just sprinkled magic fairy dust over my day!’ she replied.

 I think this means she was pleased. And it solves everyone’s problems: the parents are reassured and informed, the staff can get back to teaching and I’ve got the knowledge at my fingertips to run sessions like these.

 It will be interesting to see how schools react when they don’t have the support of staff  whose job it is to translate government policy, share their expertise with schools and be there for them. Sometimes just for a chat and a bit of support and maybe to sprinkle a little fairy dust on someone’s day.

Respect and Responsibility

Not a hitherto undiscovered Jane Austen oeuvre sadly, but a bright new future for us dribbling peasants. Last week Michael Gove promised that head teachers would have greater responsibility for their pupils outside schools. I imagine that some heads will be rubbing their hands together in glee and some will be sighing deeply at the thought of more things to do and of course Cameron’s Big Society is all based on communal responsibility.

 Well I’m looking forward to everyone taking more responsibility and when the time comes I promise to do my bit as we’re very good at blaming each other for our woes.

 There’s an activity I sometimes do with teachers based on a Have I Got News For You round, or perhaps it should be called the Blame Game. I give them some newspaper headlines with missing words and ask them to guess what goes in the gap. The point is to think about what people read over their cornflakes and how this might affect their opinions.

 In the interest of fairness, I try to include headlines from the major daily papers. These ones are all about children’s health and wellbeing. Have a go; I’ll start you off with an easy one. Answers at the bottom of the page.

Third of children are too _______
Express

Child ________ health problems ‘to double’
Telegraph
_________ to be made responsible for curbing teen pregnancy and obesity
Daily Mail

Blinkered _______ fuel childhood obesity, says report
The Guardian

School note for parents who give children _______ _______ ______
Times

_______ classes for every pupil at 15
The Sun

And finally my favourite and no, the answer is not ‘Zac Ephron’ as one wit wrote on a training course. 

____  _______ blamed for teen pregnancy
Daily Mail

answers in order: fat, mental, schools, parents, unhealthy packed lunches, sex, rap music. Did you get all the answers?

A tale of two academies

I’m in two minds about academies. There seem to be two types at the moment: those that are run by consortiums with huge amounts of money to throw into their schools and those that think that changing their name from Shankem Comprehensive to The Gove Academy for Young Ladies and Gentlemen will somehow magically raise attainment.

 The former type of academy like the Harris consortium or the Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) charity set up by French billionaire and Mr. Uma Thurman, Arpad ‘Arki’  Busson, have a strong set of values and beliefs as well as a bulging wallet.

 ARK now run eight academies in England, with six of them in London. Take, for example, the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton. Although the school has been running since 2004, it has just moved into a £50 million building designed by Zaha Hadid, who comes fresh from designing the 2010 aquatics centre in Stratford.

 The school’s motto is ‘excellence, endeavour and self-discipline’ and there is a strict code of conduct as well as a clear teaching and learning structure and a programme of extra curricular enrichment.

 The first photos of the new building look incredible- a cross between an airport lounge and a P&O cruise ship, the school is designed to maximise learning. I’m wondering if I donned a uniform (blazer smartly pressed, top shirt button done up and shoes polished) they’d take me in for a couple of years.

 But not all academies are like this. Most remain in their tired old buildings with their tired old grounds and their tired old staff.

 With outstanding schools being encouraged to become academies by the coalition government I worry about future academies. Mr. Gove is keen for new academies to be released from the evil grip of their local authorities who only exist, of course, to make trouble for schools and to badger head teachers.

 Boo to the HR department!

Down with legal services and admissions!

Off with advisers, consultants and IT support!

Stuff your catering contract and your school library service.

 Some current academies continue to churn out poor GCSE results and improvements are made at snails’ pace.  A rose by any other name does not always smell so sweet.

 In my experience there is one major factor in any school improvement, be it academy, primary, secondary, special or PRU: inspirational school leadership.

 This means that a modern Head has to be business minded as well as wise about education. They need to have charisma, a firm handshake and skin the thickness of a dehydrated rhino that doesn’t moisturise.

 Heads need to be able to drum up support from business, from parents, from local communities and from pupils.

 They need to be able to manage a budget, mop a floor, write a business plan, fend off a ranting parent, take assembly, meet the chair of governors, praise a good piece of work and write the admissions policy.

 At the same time.

 Before break time.

With a smile.

 I couldn’t do it and I’m in awe of anyone who can.

 So let’s turn our focus to what makes a really good leader (no, Hitler and Pol Pot don’t count) and ensure that our children have the best school leaders possible with the best support possible from the government.

 Academy or not.

The enchanted headteachers

I went to a conference today about commissioning services for schools. The audience was mostly head teachers. I was really there to find out what their attitudes to commissioning were and what sort of things they’d be commissioning now that LA services are being slashed with gay abandon.

 As it turns out, heads are mostly worried about things like business managers, HR, legal and admissions. We hardly even mentioned teaching.

 But the chap who was leading the seminar mentioned some research called Enchanted Headteachers by Ronnie Woods (no, not that one) of the National College for School Leadership (NCSL). I had visions of head teachers skipping through the forest waving their sparkly wands around but it’s about the characteristics of the most successful heads. Stuff like pride in your school, being close to the children and understanding their needs and – perhaps crucially- an optimistic view of change as a challenge. You can read the rest of the report here. It’s not new but it was new to me.

 Luckily, most of our heads are a funny and feisty bunch and I think the pupils are in safe hands. Challenging times are ahead and we’ll need a lot of Shreks.

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