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July 2019 – Free Market Conservatives: Funding isn’t the only issue facing our schools. If we are to make real improvements, the “progressive” blob will also need to be dealt with.
June 2019 – Conservative Woman: My pupils need Mozart, not Stormzy. Innit?
May 2019 – The Commentator: Schools have a responsibility to promote British values, in order to unify our society once more
ConHome:
Future of Education: Leave the curriculum alone, and focus on quality of delivery
TES: A tolerant society depends on how far teachers will defend freedom of speech – including Conservatives in the staffroom
Other TES mentions: onetwothree.
Conservative Woman: Conservative Woman Interview: Our schools are becoming Conservative-free zones
Conservative Way Forward: Let’s put British values back into British schools
Conservatives for Liberty: Our young people are being indoctrinated towards a left-wing bias
Conservative Home: We need to recruit and retain more teachers. Here’s how.
Conservative Teachers: Brent Council are denying parents the choice they deserve
Conservative Teachers: Poorly trained middle-leaders are harming our schools
Politics Home: Teaching digital skills will help tackle social exclusion

Education
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Fiddling Results by Lowering Grade Thresholds Is Counter-productive

Written for the Daily Mail on A-Level results day, Thursday, 17th August 2017:

It has become one of the time-honoured rituals of modern British education.   Every year, the release of A-level results in mid-August is accompanied by images of celebrating teenagers, some leaping for joy as they delight in their success, others tearfully hugging their friends in relief.

This year the celebrations have been given an extra impetus, thanks to a rise in the number for top grades awarded for the first time since 2011.   After a modest decline over the last six years, this summer saw 26.3 per cent of A-level entries receive A or A*, up 0.5 per cent on 2016.  The increase comes even though the syllabus this year was tougher in 13 subjects, following reforms introduced by the former Education Secretary Michael Gove, who wanted to see more rigour in the system.   Only last week, before the results were announced, there were predictions of chaos and decline.   But these dire warnings never materialized.

But while the government was dialling up the academic rigour, examiners have been dumbing down their marking. While individual pupils can rightly celebrate their results, celebration by the educational establishment must be tempered by the recognition that the exam authorities, by their own admission, have wilfully sought to undermine the drive for greater robustness by lowering pass marks.   Gove tried to take a sword to the culture of low expectations and illusory achievement.    The educational establishment has, once again, blunted his instrument.   As a consequence of this flawed marking policy, we are at risk of ending up with the same old grade inflation, lack of integrity and statistical manipulation that have done so much to discredit the exam regime.

What is extraordinary is that the education chiefs are quite open about its approach.   In a remarkable interview published last weekend, Sally Collier, the head of the exam quango Ofqual, admitted that she had decided to lower grade thresholds in the exact same 13 A-level exams to which the Gove reforms had been applied.    Her aim, she declared, was to avoid a dramatic fall in results, thereby ensuring that the same proportion of pupils – roughly a quarter – would achieve the top grades as they did last year.   Justifying her move, she resorted to the kind of cringing, non-judgemental language that so typifies the progressive mentality.  “I want the message to be that students have done fantastically well.  All our kids are brilliant,” she said, adding that “the most important thing for our students is that they get the praise they deserve for having undertaken new courses of study.”

As a teacher myself, I despair of rhetoric like that.   It does pupils no favours at all.   Far from encouraging them, such indiscriminate cheerleading actually undermines their real achievements and diligence.     If everyone has to be told they are “brilliant”, what is the point of hard work?   Sally Collier might think that she is supportive, but she is the opposite as she seeks to perpetuate a discredited system that is crying out for real change.

I love my work, teaching A-level Computer Science.    It is a job that gives me tremendous job satisfaction as I have the chance to pass on my knowledge and equip the next generation for our increasingly hi-tech world.    But I want my pupils to be challenged so that they can show they really understand their subject.    Mollycoddling them with meaningless praise and inflated grades is no way to help them achieve.

It is precisely my belief in academic rigour that led me to support the Government’s reforms.     The old regime was simply not working.    Employers complained that school leavers did not have the skills or attitude for the workplace.    Amid an unrelenting glut of top grades, universities found it hard to identify the most able pupils.     I saw many of the problems for myself.     There was far too much emphasis on coursework, which meant that pupils could have their hands held by their teachers – and sometimes by overzealous parents – as they were guided through the process.     Moreover the modular nature of many courses meant that pupils could often keep resitting a particular test until they passed it.    The entire structure meant that entrants were assessed, not on their real talent and understanding of their subject, but on their ability to jump through a series of arbitrary hoops.

The revamped system has offers greater thoroughness.     In the focus on genuine academic discipline, much of the waffle and softness has disappeared.    I see it in my own subject of computing, which has been turned into a proper science.   That is a key reason why it now appeals to more pupils.    It is telling that, since the subject became harder, the numbers taking it have increased, up by 38 per cent this year.  Gratifyingly, the number of girls on computer science courses have also gone up, by 34 per cent.   That confounds the gender stereotyping of the politically correct brigade who think that girls can only be enticed into areas traditionally dominated by boys by making subjects less tough.     We should not pander to such prejudice.

The greatest service schools can provide is to make high demands of their pupils.   Good grades should be hard to achieve, rewarding talent and diligence, just as getting good university places should be difficult to get.   If both become easy, then they are devalued.      Competition and aspiration are not dirty words.   They are concepts that should be integral to education.    The last thing that pupils need is for our examination system to degenerate into an academic version of those “all must have prizes” sports days that now proliferate in our schools because of a misguided terror of elitism.     Mere participation can now bring its own reward, while I know of schools which hold races for those unable to compete with the best, which ironically seems like its own curious form of humiliation.

Yet this is the degraded world that Sally Collier of Ofqual seems to envisage, with her belief in universal brilliance.      It has become fashionable in education to talk about “excellence for all”.    Excellent teaching for all, yes, but excellent grades? That’s just another indication of warped thinking.   If everyone achieves perfect grades, how do we find the truly outstanding?     Isn’t the very term “excellent” meaningless if everyone is said to have attained that threshold?   In such circumstances, it is nothing more than the benchmark of average.    That is exactly what could happen with qualifications and grades if the education establishment is allowed to prevail.

In her weekend interview Sally Collier said that, in a period of reform, “you would expect grades to fall but we are protecting students.”     Yet she is doing the very opposite of providing protection.   By indulging in her fiddles, she is denigrating their hard work and underming the process of learning.    The Government’s tougher A-levels should be the start of a wholesale reform of the education system: one that stops schools being mere exam factories, that values technical instruction as much as university academia, that actually meets the skill and professional needs of our nation in the face of fierce international competition, and that promotes the reality of success rather than a statistical illusion.

Michael Gove once famously spoke of the “Blob” in education, that politically correct nexus of town halls, managers, trade unions, lecturers, training colleges and media outlets who would do everything possible to thwart reform.    Sadly, Ofqual’s distortions this week reveal that the Blob remains as powerful as ever.

Education
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Why I am voting to leave the European Union

calvin-robinson-vote-leaveImmigration

Why has it become taboo to talk about Immigration? When did immigration become a naughty word? In this overly politically correct society, you’re more or less automatically deemed as racist for even suggesting the prospect of controlled borders. Equally, you’re classed as xenophobic for wanting to Vote Leave.

Well I want to talk about immigration, and I can imagine some of you cringing. I can promise you I’m not racist, nor am I xenophobic and I think it’s the sign of a healthy democracy that we should be able to talk about these issues without casting such aspersions.

Among the many reasons I am planning to Vote Leave, is to regain control of our borders. Now, that’s not to suggest we should close our borders, but I think we’re big enough and old enough a country to have earned the right to control our own borders.

Net migration to the UK rose to 333,000 last year, according to the Office of National Statistics. Over 55% of that number was from EU countries, that’s a record high and there’s no sign of it stopping any time soon. I’m not going to drone on about the strain on our society, our over-stretched NHS or short supply of housing. You know all of that, and frankly it’s quite glum. Believe it or not, I want to talk about the positive side of immigration, and the benefits of taking back control of our borders.

I’m a school teacher. I trained in Computer Science and that’s what I intended to teach. This year, as well as teaching Computing and ICT, I’ve taught a ridiculous amount of Latin – a subject I never studied a day in my life. I went to a state school in the Midlands, Latin wasn’t on the curriculum where I grew up. But because we simply don’t have the teachers, I’ve had to just get on with it. Why don’t we have the teachers? Teaching is, or was, a respected profession. As the DofE will tell you, we have lots of people training to become teachers, but with our population increasing at a number we can’t sustain, we don’t have enough teachers to manage the number of pupils.

Class sizes are increasing and learning quality is decreasing as a direct result. The UK is now 20th position in the world ranking of education systems. 20th, that’s below most of Asia and half of Europe.

You might ask, if we have such high numbers of immigration, why aren’t teachers in abundance? Because the majority of immigrants entering the UK are low-skilled, entry-level workers. Not only is this bad for British entry-level workers, who can’t compete with the low wages that immigrants from poorer Eastern European states are willing to work for, but it also means that the skilled professionals we want and need to emigrate to the UK can’t.

This doesn’t just apply to teachers of course. While it’s difficult for teachers from say Australia, it’s equally hard for nurses from Canada, software developers from India, you name it, the list goes on. If you’re not from an EU country, you’re pushed to the back of the queue. It’s nothing more than discrimination.

The fact of the matter is, we do need immigration. We need more immigration of skilled professionals, and to do that we have to drop the discriminatory EU policy and create a fairer more open system that is inclusive of everyone, no matter what country they come from, so long as they have the skills we need.

What I’m suggesting isn’t rocket science, nor is it a new idea. I am a direct result of a policy of encouraging immigration to fill gaps where we need the workers. My dad’s side of the family are from the West Indies. They moved over here during the Windrush period, to fill shortages in the labour market. West Indian labourers were invited to live and work in the UK at a time when the help was needed, but the borders didn’t remain open forever. The Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 62 made it so that if you already had a work permit or your parents or grandparents were born in Britain, you could still emigrate, so families weren’t ripped apart, but the floodgates weren’t left open.

Right now we have shortages of so many professions. We need more teachers, nurses, doctors, so let’s set up a fairer system and encourage them to join us. The only way we can do that, is by leaving the EU.

Sovereignty

Talking about us having control of our own country. Sovereignty is another one of those words that instantly raises eyebrows. And why should it?

When I talk about Britain taking back control, I’m talking about us – as a British people – having a say over who serves us in government. We elect a government based on a manifesto – a selection of promises – and if they fail to accomplish their pledges, we have the option of getting rid of them and replacing them with someone else. It’s a beautiful system. Britain lead the way in democracy, for decades. We’ve fought wars to defend our freedom of democracy, both on a global scale, and civil. It used to be important to us. It ought to be important to us.

That’s why I’m surprised when I hear arguments from the Remain camp that it’s okay for us compromise our sovereignty in order to subscribe to the EU project, because it’s better than not knowing entirely what will happen after we leave. I can’t tell you everything that will happen if we Vote Leave, but I can tell you we will regain control of our country. We will regain the right to create our own laws and govern our own land. Right now the majority of our laws, are created in Brussels, by people we didn’t vote for, and people we cannot remove if we don’t like what they’re doing. It’s okay to say “well the EU has created some really useful legislation” well that might be the case, on occasion, but what happens when the EU create legislation we don’t agree with? Laws that go against the British way of life, what then? We have literally no democratic way of undoing those laws, and we have no way of removing the people creating them. Not only that, but EU law has supremacy over UK law. We signed up to a trade deal and ended up joining a superstate. It’s a coup of the highest proportions, and it all happened in broad daylight, right under our noses.

Again, people will argue the case that giving up our supremacy of law and the right to control our own borders is a just compromise, for trade deals and/or short term financial stability. To that I say they’re short sighted.

My colleague to my left has far more knowledge and experience of trade than I probably ever will, so I will leave it to him to explain in more depth, the ins and outs of why Britain would not only survive, but grow stronger outside of the EU. But even a layman like myself can see that the 5th largest economy in the world, being part of the slowest growing continent (bar Antartica) is a one-sided relationship. And that a project that has taken nearly a decade to forge a trade deal with Canada (that’s still not complete) is not fit to negotiate on our behalf.

The EU has no trade deals with China or India, two of the fastest growing economies on the planet. People accuse the Vote Leave campaign of being isolationist, but it is the EU that is in fact isolationist. We’ve heard arguments that the EU would no longer trade with us if we left the project – what kind of nonsense is that? You honestly mean to tell me that  Audi,  BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen would no longer want to sell their cars to one of their biggest markets? And if the EU really is that spiteful, maybe that explains the lack of deals with China and India, and the amount of time it has taken to even begin to form a deal with Canada. It sounds more like a protection racket to me. Is that something we really want to be a part of? We’re Britain, we stand up for the underdog, it’s what we do. Why are we a part of this bullying, discriminatory system?

Let’s sack them off. Get out of this exclusive, isolationist, walled-garden and join the larger, global marketplace. As Gove said the other evening, “‘rather than be a difficult lodger in a house we didn’t design, let’s be a better neighbour.’”. And as I said earlier, we’re big enough and old enough – I think we can cope! In fact, if we regain our freedom of democracy, supremacy of law and control of our own borders, I think we’ll thrive. So let’s Vote Leave and Take Back Control!

Politics
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Poorly trained middle-leaders are harming our schools

Workload is one of the evergreen hot topics in education. Teachers are – often rightly – voicing their dissatisfaction with the ever-increasing amount of work piled on their plates, which is affecting their ability to get on and teach effectively. Nicky Morgan has expressed an interest in this topic and is looking at ways of alleviating some of the pressures passed on to teachers from senior management. However, I’m not sure the problem stops there. We should take a better look at our middle management structures, to adjust what could potentially be a bottleneck in the system.

Many middle leaders have been promoted to the role because they are fantastic teachers. This is a problem in and of itself. Being a great teacher does not necessarily make one a good manager. The majority of middle managers in schools have progressed through the traditional route of School > University > PGCE and of course back into school, meaning they have no ‘real world’ experience to guide them in this more senior role. Too often, teachers profess that working in a school feels like being back in school, due to the way that staff are treated. This is because our middle managers usually have no industry experience, little to no management training and are sometimes promoted above their level of competence.

This becomes a problem when we’re asking for more top-down support, whether it be in behaviour management systems, simply staff morale or the all-important curriculum design. Your school could employ the best ‘superhead’ in the country, but if his/her messages, policies and enthusiasm are getting halted at a bottleneck of over-worked under-trained middle management, it’ll do no one any good. What was once a brilliant asset can instantly become a hindrance to the school, through no fault of their own.

There are a few ways we could improve this situation. Of course, we could provide better management training to those promoted to middle management roles, and/or encourage all teachers to spend some time in industry, to further expand their subject knowledge and real-world business skills. But another solution would be to simply create more admin roles in schools. If all schools had more administrative employees along the lines of office managers or civil servants, they could focus on monitoring targets and filling in spreadsheets, while the good teachers are left to do just that, teach. After all, isn’t that why we got into this job in the first place? To pass on knowledge and facilitate learning, not to tick boxes like bureaucrats.

Education
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Brent Council are denying parents the choice they deserve

Originally published on ConservativeTeachers.com

With the demand for good secondary school places in Brent ever increasing, and a sufficient number of Free Schools failing to open in the area, is it a case of the Labour-lead Brent Council dangerously hampering the borough? I decided to conduct some research into the issue by using the Freedom of Information Act to request details of meetings by the Brent Council Teacher’s Panel.

Below are the minutes from the last meeting of the Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee (7 July 2015); specifically these are items raised by the ‘Teachers’ Panel’:

The council’s attitude and possible actions regarding new academies and free
schools

The Teachers’ Panel referred to the Kilburn Grange School due to be opened in 2015
and asked to receive information on the number of places that would be allocated for
Brent students. They also heard that Gateway School was not proceeding and that
while Gladstone School had submitted plans to the DFE and the council’s planning
department, there was discussion of the number of forms of entry. The earliest it would
open would be September 2016 possibly on a temporary site.
The Teachers’ Panel highlighted the action being taken around the country against the
government policies on Free Schools and Academies and that parents were becoming
increasingly aware that the justification for the introduction of the policies was not
related to increasing parental choice. They called on the council to do the minimum
required to comply with legislation but to join teachers’ unions in pointing out the
shortcomings of the policy and make parents aware of the council’s position. The Chair
asked it to be recorded that discussion on this was taking place within the Labour
Group.

As you can see, Brent Council’s Teacher’s Panel has “called on the council to do the minimum required to comply with legislation but to join teachers’ unions in pointing out the shortcomings of the policy and make parents aware of the council’s position”. Surely the council’s position should be to increase the number of good school places available to children in the borough? Brent has such a high demand for good school places, it’s irresponsible of the Labour-run Brent Council to oppose the idea of Free Schools simply to oppose a Conservative government’s policy. The issue is too important for them to be playing party politics.

If we look back to the Michaela Community School situation, it’s a well known but little reported fact that Brent Council made the process as difficult as possible for them. Even after the application to open a Free School in Brent was accepted by the Department for Education, Brent Council placed roadblocks in the paths of Michaela’s board of trustees at every turn, to the point that it was questioned whether the school would actually be able to open. When a bid was placed on the old Brent Town Hall, for example, it was rejected in place of an offer from the French Lycée International School. While the Lycée may be a brilliant project, it won’t offer the secondary school places that are needed in Brent, and the deal on the table happened to be significantly less than what DfE/Michaela were offering. On the one hand Brent Council are claiming budget cuts as one of the main reasons for the majority of their bad decisions as of late, while on the other hand they’re biting their nose off to spite their face by accepting an offer for a French curriculum primary school offering much less value than that of an English curriculum secondary school in an area where demand for good school places outweighs supply.

Michaela Free School: allocation of pupil places for September 2015

The Teachers’ Panel made enquiries of the number of places at Michaela School in Wembley Park and heard that there had been 321 applications for 120 places of 4FE.

In the end, Michaela went for a private property deal and as a result were the first Free School to successfully open in Brent, and are doing a fantastic job of educating hundreds of Brent children, with demand at nearly 3 times the current intake. But many Free School projects have failed to get off the ground in Brent and it’s becoming obvious why.

It has been speculated for a while now that Labour councils are getting in the way of a good secondary education. But with Free School applicants not be able to speak publicly about the issue, for obvious reasons, there hasn’t been much evidence to focus on until now. This Brent Council Teacher’s Panel report was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request – it may well be that more councils are operating under similar pretences.

Have you witnessed similar opposition to Free Schools in your own borough? Get in touch if you’d like to share your experiences.

Education
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