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.

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Playing for Success…but not for long.

 

Yesterday evening I was the guest of honour at a Playing for Success (PfS) award ceremony. I expect you’ve heard of Playing for Success. No? It’s another superb programme that supports children’s learning and development and has got the thumbs down from the government. Funding ends in March.

 PfS uses top flight sports venues such as premier league football stadiums as after school study centres. PfS is not about sport but uses the discipline that sportspeople have as inspiration to support children in their basic literacy and numeracy skills. Pupils also brush up their ICT and develop their team work, personal and study skills. Pupils from a local secondary school give up their own precious free time to mentor the younger pupils.

 At the event I attended, I handed out certificates and prizes to children from four local primary schools. The kids who attended the study centre after school were supported by their very proud parents. The venue is a world famous centre for sporting excellence and is more than generous with their time and support too. They provide food and drink for the event, a representative speaker and free use of their amazing facilities. They organise for famous players to speak to pupils and provide prizes and support to the programme.

 It’s the second time I’ve presented prizes at this event and I always feel so impressed by what the pupils and their leaders have achieved.  In my speech I acknowledged their hard work and gently reminded the families in attendance that with government cuts biting deeply, we should take advantage of the excellent services we currently enjoy.

 While we hear about the major cuts in the national media, it’s the smaller cuts to children’s services that I think will really harm the chances of state school educated children. And when people describe public sector workers as feckless, lazy and parasitic, perhaps they’d like to see the committed, passionate and energetic staff members that I work with.  Not all of us push papers around.

 So this is where we are:

 Playing for Success: funding ended.

 School Sports Partnership: funded ended.

 National Healthy Schools Programme: funding ended.

 Extended services: funding ended.

 Primary and secondary strategies: funding ended

Happy Christmas and a prosperous new year?

PSHE- the forgotten subject?

In the comments on my post about student demonstrations, ‘Citizen CW’ drew my attention to the website of the Campaign for Real Education so I dropped by and had a look. As an educator who is passionate about excellent learning in the state system I was horrified. I haven’t read such fantasy since Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the CRE have attacked PSHE in particular.

 PSHE (Personal Social and Health Education) is the forgotten subject of the national curriculum. It’s non-statutory so schools don’t have to teach it but I’ve yet to meet a school that doesn’t have PSHE on the curriculum even though there aren’t any qualifications in it and in these legaue table-driven times that’s saying something. Where it’s taught well, students are engaged and interested and learn the knowledge, skills and attitudes that support them in life.

 The previous government wanted PSHE to be a statutory subject area in schools but they waited until 2009 to bring in a bill and this was lost at wash-up at the beginning of this year.

 We didn’t have PSHE when I was at school because it was expected that our parents would teach us the stuff we needed but the world has changed immeasurably since then. PSHE is essential in order for all students to be well informed on all aspects of health including learning about sex, relationships, drugs, alcohol, money, food, bullying and mental and emotional health and wellbeing. Problems we simply didn’t experience a few years ago are now part of our children’s lives and need to be tackled via PSHE: cyber bullying and online safety is a massive issue for young people and sexual bullying is on the increase. Knife crime and hate crime are daily occurrences in all children’s lives and not just those living on sink estates in cities.

 Good PSHE gives children the skills to deal with these issues and offers them the space and time to reflect on their own attitudes and learn skills to cope. It shows them how to access support and help if these are not available at home and gives young people the tools to be safe and healthy in all aspects of their lives. 

Sadly, where PSHE is taught badly it’s a waste of everyone’s time and this is why teachers- particularly those in secondary schools who are not PSHE trained- need support, networking and training. Try teaching a class of teens about contraception if you’ve not had the training or answer questions about how harmful the latest legal and illegal drugs are.

 But the CrE have their own ideas and these are absolutely not grounded in fact. It describes Sex and Relationships Education (SRE, the word ‘relationships’ is absolutely key), an integral part of PSHE as being ‘value free.’ The most recent government guidance on SRE is from 2000 and clearly states that SRE should include these attitudes and values:

learning the importance of values and individual conscience and moral considerations;

learning the value of family life, marriage, and stable and loving relationships for the nurture of children;

learning the value of respect, love and care;

exploring, considering and understanding moral dilemmas; and developing critical thinking as part of decision-making.

Not so ‘value-free’ after all.

It also calls SRE ‘a disaster’ as teenage pregnancy rates have remained stable (nationally) despite SRE being taught in schools. Good SRE is one factor in teenage pregnancy but only one. There are many more factors including social housing and deprivation. Where I work we have reduced teenage pregnancy significantly through a huge joint operation and partnership working but it’s an uphill struggle. Blaming schools and one subject area in particular for teenage pregnancy is way too simplistic. We may as well say that every sixteen year old should be a Maths genius because they’ve been taught it at school since they were five years old.

The CRE also mistakenly lump together PSHE and Citizenship and call it ‘PSHCE.’ This is incorrect. Citizenship is a separate subject and has been statutory since 2002. They also state that PSHE is a ‘secular alternative to Religious Education.’ Again, incorrect. RE is a different subject again and PSHE does not replace RE and never will and there is certainly no campaign among teachers to see that this happens.

In a section on advice to parents the website states that, ‘although all schools may need to pay lip-service to PSHCE, the better ones will give it little time or credence,’ and when it comes to SRE, ‘good primary heads will almost certainly decide they have more important priorities.’ This it rubbish. I work with excellent head teachers and superb schools and the best teach PSHE as both a discrete and integral part of the school day. All teach SRE well and communicate effectively with parents and carers about children’s learning. I haven’t even begun to explore how good PSHE raises school attainment and grades.

It’s difficult enough being a parent without campaign groups like this adding fuel to the fire and it’s bloody hard growing up as a child in the 21st century. PSHE teaches children about the real world in a supportive and age-appropriate climate and enables them to be considerate and emotionally intelligent adults and I for one can’t see anything wrong with that.

Further reading:

Sex and Relationship Education Guidance. DfEE, 2000.

The MacDonald independent review into PSHE, DfE 2009.

PSHE Association- the subject association for teachers of PSHE.

The Independent way to choose a secondary school

The Independent’s correspondent Richard Garner has written a guide to education.  Being the Independent, it was very… independent but I liked the questions so have appropriated some of them for my own not so independent purposes:

There are three secondary schools in my area. One is an academy, the second a local authority secondary school and the third a Catholic Church school. Oh and they say an independent free school is to open next year. Which shall I choose for my daughter?

Blimey aren’t you lucky? If I were you I’d wait until that free school sets up, especially if it’s the one being run by that bald bloke who wrote that book about alienating people. Debating club should be fun.

What is the difference between an academy and a local authority maintained secondary school?

Well the kids at the academy wear purple and yellow blazers and shiny shoes and the kids at the comp wear black hoodies over their very small very wide ties. If that doesn’t help you, you might wish to delve deeper and look at boring stuff like educational attainment, behaviour and ethos.

Ok I’ve checked out the academy now. It seems it was a failing secondary school that has been given a facelift and brand new buildings and is now run by a bunch of hedge-fund managers. How come?

Well mainly because the feckless local authorities simply can’t be relied upon to support the schools in their area so it’s best we hand them over to the bankers. After all, they can be trusted to get things right, can’t they?

I’m unsure about the academy though. So now what do I do to make sure Endellion gets the best education possible?

Take a look at those impenetrable league tables for each school and try to make or tail of the figures. Especially those figures about value added. Don’t whatever you do go and visit the school to get a feel for it, talk to teachers, pupils or parents to get a balanced view or speak to the head teacher. And for goodness sake don’t make a decision based on the unique needs of your child.

Right I’ve done that. The one that comes out best on both schools is the catholic school. Should I go there?

Well him upstairs does keep an eye on faith schools so I expect to see you at mass at the church of Sweet Baby Jesus and the Wee Donkey on Sunday (don’t forget to pack your cheque book). Make sure you arrange for some adequate sex education because we wouldn’t want little Endellion falling for the nasty charms of one of those comprehensive louts and catholic schools don’t teach about contraception.

Everything clear? good, thought so.

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?

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