Rescue Our Schools

What are your views on re-instating inspections for outstanding schools?

Rescue Our Schools has been approached by the BBC  about Ofsted inspections following this story that they’re being re-instated for outstanding schools. See the article here

Many haven’t been inspected in over 10 years. The BBC journalist would like to hear people’s views as follows:  what do you make of this decision? Do parents rely on Ofsted ratings when choosing their children’s schools? What else do or should they take into account when choosing a school for their children? Do you have any views on inspections in general?  If you would like to send the journalist a comment, please email daniel.wainwright@bbc.co.uk. Thank you in advance!

 

Madeleine wins award for education campaigning

We are thrilled that Rescue Our Schools’ co-founder, Madeleine Holt, has won the 2019 Fred and Anne Jarvis Award for education campaigning, given by the National Education Union. Madeleine helped set up RoS three years ago and was active in creating the More than A Score alliance for alternatives to high stakes tests in primary schools. Last week Jeremy Corbyn announced that a Labour government will abolish SATs and the government’s proposed baseline testing of four-year-olds.
In her acceptance speech at the NEU conference in Liverpool, Madeleine urged Labour to join the Lib Dems and Green party in expanding their education vision to include secondary schools – in particular the huge stress students now face doing the new GCSES, which Michael Gove deliberately made harder. You can watch her speech or read it below:

First of all, thank you to Amanda Martin and her Portsmouth colleagues for nominating me for this award. I am absolutely delighted to receive it.

I would also like to thank all my Rescue Our Schools colleagues, who together keep it going.

So I was going to use this moment to urge Labour to come out with some concrete education policies. And then Jeremy Corbyn announces he is going to get rid of SATS!

Since Rescue Our Schools is part of the brilliant More than a Score along with the NEU – and for which I make campaign films – I am obviously delighted about what he said. But I guess my message now is: keep it up! And please extend your vision to secondary education.

Because since we set up Rescue Our Schools three years we have become particularly concerned about the mental health of students enduring the new GCSES – something which is reflected in the NEU survey today.

One of my children is doing these exams this year. And, as many of you know, they are no longer a General Certificate of Education. Too many students are excluded from showing what they are capable of. It’s back to O levels – except there’s no CSEs, there’s just a collection of fails for the kids who don’t make the grade. As my son put it, “I can get through this, but some can’t, and that’s not right.”

As we all know, our education system is institutionally insensitive to anyone who is not academic, compliant and tough enough to survive 25 GCSE exams over a month. Add in the funding cuts, and this government has created a hostile environment for learning.

But we know that changing the system takes perhaps 5 to 6 years, and staff are in no mood for more upheaveal. Yet in that time we will see up to 3 million teenagers turned off learning. That’s too many.

So this is the conumdrum: how can we make GCSEs in particular less stressful in the short term? We could get rid of the ebacc and Progress 8. We could tell students that exams at 18 matter more. We would love to work with the NEU and others on how to help our teenagers get through this with their mental health intact. And let’s have a proper inquiry into the effect of high stakes exams on students’ well being.

But we all know there’s a bigger battle to fight – our education system is not fit for purpose. In fact my daughter told me the other day that SCHOOL stands for Six Cruel Hours Of Our Lives – something that for once I was grateful she had got off the internet rather than it being a personal comment on her education.

It was enlightening to see the Tory MP Robert Halfon call the other day for GCSEs to be scrapped. All credit to the NEU for backing this. But after Jeremy Corybn’s properly inspiring speech, let’s hope the principles he laid out – that we need to prepare children for life, not just for tests – will very soon embrace education as a whole. How about a national conversation on the purpose of education, just like in New Zealand?

Because parents are voters – there’s 13.8 million of them in England alone. And there’s votes in saying we need a system that puts ALL students’ mental health first and celebrates ALL kinds of talents. Because parents know, through basic common sense, that exam factories do not amount to an education. So, Jeremy, keep up the barnstorming announcements. Bring it on!

 

 

Sometimes, education ministers say things that make you wonder more about their own experience of education than their understanding of the issues they are responsible for. Damian Hinds, the Secretary of State for Education, has attempted to defend the new GCSE exams by suggesting that managing exam stress is useful learning for later life.  Let’s be charitable: it’s possible – IF your later life is going to include exams – and IF you are the kind of person who is likely to do well enough in exams that you won’t be cowed by the experience. And IF you are the kind of person who has  parents who can support you, teachers who have had enough time and resource to implement the new syllabus, and who aren’t being paid by the results their pupils achieve. And so on.

Over the summer, we heard lots of concerns about the impact of the new GCSEs on pupil wellbeing, and carried out two snapshot surveys about the impact of the new GCSEs (one for parents, one for teachers). Our results corroborated those found by ASCL, the union for school leaders, which carried out it’s own research. We found that the majority (over 75%) of parents and teachers found the new system to be less fair, less accessible to all but the brightest pupils, and caused higher levels of stress than the previous system. Not just ‘normal exam anxiety’ – significant levels of distress leading to many young people needing referral to the (already overstretched) mental health services, and other young people just giving up on the exams altogether.
One of the most telling things Hinds said was that the new exams would prepare pupils for A levels and then university. But at least half of pupils won’t go to university. A very significant proportion of them won’t do A levels as their skills and interests lie in other directions – as several of the parents responding to our survey pointed out.
Of course GCSEs are going to be stressful – they  influence the choices available to them for their next steps. But the idea that pupils will be ‘toughened up’ simply because GCSEs have been made harder and taken us back to the Victorian school room is just nonsense. It rather suggests that our education secretary thinks of year 11 as a kind of educational boot camp, in which he wields the stick. A camp from which some may triumph, but many will emerge muddy, tearful, and injured. All of which sounds a rather ineffective means of nurturing the next generation of citizens – let alone pleasing their voting parents.
To say that Damian Hinds’s response to the widespread concern about pupil wellbeing this summer is inadequate is a gross understatement. He appears not to have read the research available to him, but also to have no interest in doing so. Which is why we, alongside educational and mental health experts,  have called for an urgent inquiry into the impact of the new GCSEs on mental wellbeing.  Once that’s underway, he should then read all the research and recommendations that are gathering dust in the DfE offices questionning the very purpose of GCSEs in the current education system.
We know that many of you agree with us, so we need you to sign our petition. It is going straight to Damian Hinds and we think he should listen. Please sign and share it with your friends and familiy

RoS co-founder was invited onto LBC radio last tuesday to speak about Michael Gove’s policy to increase the content of the GCSE syllabus. Listen here

 

We would love to hear your views and your stories if you have children taking these exams this year. How are they coping? What do you think about what they have to learn?

We’re hearing from more and more parents who want to take their children out of SATs – but they have been told by headteachers they can’t. This is simply not true. The most extreme case – featured in the Independent – is the school where parents were told their children had to sit Sats even if they had a minor illness.

Heads and parents need to know their rights. Headteachers have a statutory duty to make sure their pupils take Sats ‘where eligible’. Those last two words are crucial. They also have a duty of care to their students. They ignore this at their peril. An investigation over safeguarding could be far more serious than a dip in results.

As for parents, it is possible to withdraw your child from Sats in Year 6 by taking them out for just four half days when the tests are underway. We know of no case of anyone being fined for sats withdrawal, and you are likely to have to take them out for five whole days to trigger a fine of £60. You can check out the situation in your area by researching your local authority’s code of conduct for unauthorised absence (which should be on your council’s website).

With Year 2 Sats and the phonics check in Year 1, it is much harder to take your children out without the consent of the headteacher. This is because Key Stage 1 Sats can be sat at any time during May – so you would have to take your child out for awhile month to be sure they didn’t sit them. With phonics, a child can be given the test at any time over a fortnight in June.

Let’s keep up the campaign to end these pointless and damaging tests for good. For more legal advice and other ways in which you can protest please check out more than a score’s action toolkit at Morethanascore.co.uk.

“Government should join the dots between education policy, the retention and recruitment crisis in our schools, and the rise in emotional and mental problems in young people of all ages.”

Thank you to everyone who sent in their comments on the mental health green paper.

RoS’ Emma Bishton has written our response which you can read in full here.