Rescue Our Schools

Latest News

Very interesting points about school funding that all parents should know

• Analysis of the actual school funding allocations from 2015/16 to 2018/19 shows that the real terms cuts are probably even worse than the £2.5bn that were originally estimated – as school costs have actually turned out to have been higher than the NAO originally anticipated. What we do know is that schools in England received over £2.5bn less in real terms this year than the start of the 2015/16.

• There are 66,000 more kids in state schools in England this year compared to last, yet compared to last year there are 10,800 fewer staff in our school – including over 5,000 fewer teachers, over 2,500 fewer teaching assistants and over 2,000 fewer support staff.

• And a major survey by the National Governors Association this month shows that “three-quarters of governors believe financial pressures will harm the quality of education and nearly a third of schools were in the red”.

All this means, we’re still seeing:

• Heads increasingly struggling to balance budgets

• Cuts to staffing

• Increasing difficulties matching funding to special education needs and vulnerable pupils

• Cuts to counselling and mental health services for kids
• Parents being asked for regular funding contributions

Political situation:

• The budget will be held in October this year – a very important one as it is likely to indicate the total spending envelope over the next 4 year period (the spending review)

• Next year the spending review will set out what each government department is planned to receive in terms of revenue (day to day) and capital (buildings, equipment) over each of the next four years

• The Chancellor therefore has the opportunity to reverse austerity and spending cuts and start investing in schools and other public services

• Research (by New Economics Foundation and others) recently published suggests that the Chancellor could borrow up to £30bn more without breaching his ‘fiscal rules’ – these are the limits that the Chancellor has put on borrowing and spending in order to eliminate the deficit and bring borrowing down as a % of GDP

• We are seeing more and more Conservative MPs voice their concerns about this. In recent months, we’ve seen Theresa Villiers, Ann Main and Tim Loughton (ex-children’s minister) have all publicly raised concerns about impact of cuts to schools.

Events coming up:

• Parents and children are meeting MPs at Westminster this Wednesday 10 October

• The F40 group of lowest funding local authorities are meeting MPs at Westminster on 15 October

• Parent campaigners are holding a national day of action on 19 October – #floss4funding #parentsteachersunited

Parents, teaching unions, headteachers, F40 and National Governors Association are all out there making the case for more funding for schools in order to:

• Reverse cuts since 2015

• Enabling real terms funding increases per pupil going forward

• Meet increasing school costs, including teacher pay, pensions, NI, apprenticeship levy, inflation and other costs

• Ensure the implementation of a fair National Funding Formula that doesn’t relay on taking money away from some schools to give to others.

Layla Moran, John McDonnell and Caroline Lucas are among a cross-party panel of MPs hosting a Parliamentary briefing-with-a-difference tomorrow. At the event, children will come from all over England to tell and sing their stories of how years of damaging underfunding is affecting them and their schools.

We do hope you have signed up for this event..if not, click this link

We have heard today that due to reasons beyond our control unfortunately we are no longer able to use the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House for our event.

We are pleased to tell you that the event is still going ahead at a different venue, but we have had to change the timings slightly so that we can be accomodated.

Due to the unprecedented nature of the event, there has been a lot of press interest.  We would like to invite you to attend a press call ahead of the event itself.

Please see below for press call details and new event venue and timings:

Press Call:
DATE: WED 10 OCT
TIME: 12.45-1.30PM
VENUE: PARLIAMENT SQUARE
PHOTO/FILMING OPPORTUNITY: CHILDREN, PARENTS, MPs AND ARTWORKSEvent:

DATE: WED 10 OCT
TIME: 2- 3PM
VENUE: COMMITTEE ROOM 16, WESTMINSTER HALL (CROMWELL GREEN ENTRANCE)
EVENT: CHILDREN’S SPEECHES, ARTWORKS, INTERVIEWS WITH CHILDREN, PARENTS AND MPs

We would be delighted if as many of you as possible could join us on Parliament Square for the press call.  Please note that this will not be a protest, but a small and quiet gathering to provide a backdrop for the press.   Please no banners or chanting as we don’t have permission to protest!  After the press call we can make our way to Westminster Hall straight from Parliament Square where we will be checked in.

If you are unable to make the press call beforehand, you are still very welcome to come to the event. Please come to Westminster Hall twenty minutes prior to the start of the event as it can take up to twenty minutes to get through security.

The venue is slightly smaller than the Boothroyd Room and as such we need to keep a check on numbers.  If you are no longer able to make it, we would be very grateful if you could de-register yourself on eventbrite.  If we cannot accommodate everyone in the room itself on the day, please bear with us, an overspill looks great for the press and we will provide copies of the speeches to anyone who couldn’t get into the room.

Please accept our apologies for the short notice, we very much hope to see you on the day!

With best wishes

Gemma (on behalf of Save Our Schools)

 

Have you had a child off-rolled? Do you home school?

We have been approached by a TV production company who are making a documentary for a major broadcaster about home schooling. They are keen to hear from parents with experience of children being off-rolled and then home-schooled. If you would like to chat to the producer with no obligation to be filmed, please email us at info@rescueourschools.co.uk

Layla Moran, John McDonnell and Caroline Lucas are among a cross-party panel of MPs hosting a Parliamentary briefing-with-a-difference on 10 Oct, 2018. At the event, children will come from all over England to tell and sing their stories of how years of damaging underfunding is affecting them and their schools.

Parent campaign group Save Our Schools UK, in conjunction with other parent groups nationally, including Rescue Our Schools, have invited MPs and Peers to the event, and expect MPs from all parties to seize the opportunity to hear directly from children and their families about the impact of the cuts.

“Recent claims on spending and on quality of education from the Department for Education are deliberately misleading, and have yet again led to investigation by the National Statistics Authority,” says Alison Ali, co-founder of the SOS campaign in Brighton & Hove.

Independent figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that funding per pupil had fallen by 8% between 2010 and 2018. There are 66,000 more children in state schools this year than last, but 10,800 fewer staff, including 5,000 fewer teachers and 2,500 fewer teaching assistants. And a recent survey by the National Governors Association shows nearly a third of schools nationwide are already in the red.

“As other state services crumble, schools are expected to do more, with more pupils; yet they’re being given less money, and have fewer teachers,” Ali continues. “A nine-year-old can see the figures don’t add up – it’s time for Damian Hinds and Philip Hammond to do the maths and reverse the damaging cuts before schools slip so far into crisis there’ll be no coming back.”

Children will speak about the different ways the funding crisis affects them, including their heartbreak at losing most of the teaching assistants at their schools; the devastating cuts to SEND provision; the social inequality created by an increasing reliance on parent donations; loss of opportunity as non-core subjects disappear from the curriculum and what it’s like to learn in crumbling buildings.

“We can see with our own eyes the effect that funding cuts are having on our schools,” says Edie Bellamy, a 12-year-old from Derbyshire. “We want to be able to study the subjects we love; we want children who need help to get it. We want all the MPs to ask the government to start funding schools properly so that every child can have a good education.”

Children will bring large-scale artworks and messages to the event, as well as hand-painted pebbles for MPs to keep on their desks as paperweights. Parents will be asking MPs to sign a pledge to lobby hard for a properly funded education system, and will distribute dossiers cataloguing the effects of these real-terms cuts in regions around the country.

The parent-led event, bringing together Save Our Schools, Fairer Funding for All Schools, Rescue our Schools and many new parents groups springing up around the country, comes hot on the heels of more than 1,000 head teachers marching on Downing Street in September, and demonstrates how parents, teachers, heads, support staff, governors and teaching unions are working together to demand a reversal of the funding cuts in this Autumn’s budget.

“Philip Hammond’s predecessor said this year that ‘ministers would need to see a marked and rapid deterioration in standards’ before they stepped in with more cash,” says parent and teacher Kate Taylor, from Birmingham. “Parents can see that deterioration plainly, as our donations prop up school budgets, school buildings spring hundreds of leaks and we hear of 2,000 SEND children being left in limbo with no state education whatsoever.”

Parent groups – and their children – want to know how bad things have to get before the Treasury abandons its crisis-driven approach to funding schools, and provides the money needed to make sure all our children get the education they deserve.

Register for tickets here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-parliamentary-event-by-save-our-schools-uk-tickets-50407290563

#childrenspeakMPslisten #parentsteachersunite

Parents – Please help! Make sure your MP hears our message about school funding

We need as many MPs and Peers as possible to attend a briefing we have organised.

On 10 October Save Our Schools, Fair Funding for All Schools and Rescue Our Schools parent groups are taking their children to Parliament to tell their stories about how underfunding is damaging their schools, their education and their communities.
Please encourage your local MP to come to this event and listen to children from around England telling their stories. How? Forward this video to your local MP on Facebook, then share this animation widely asking all your friends to do the same. You can find out your MP’s Facebook address by going to https://www.theyworkforyou.com and scrolling down to the Social Media part of their profile.

Thank you for helping to ensure that when children speak, MPs listen!

#childrenspeakMPslisten

Parents, our children are in the hands of careless money-makers and political agendas. Isn’t it time we demand change?

This week you’ll find my blog takes quite a personally political journey. My politics are very left leaning but I am also very angry with this current government as I witness the impact of their policies furthering the hardship suffered by those already battling on the invisible periphery of our society. These are my opinions based on my observations and I invite all to comment, to engage, to discuss where we find ourselves today, how we feel about it and most importantly, what we want done about it.

I have a new job in adult education. On my way to work I pass the Grenfell Tower. Today a tall white tarpaulin structure supports the weakened skeleton beneath and hides the devastation of that night. The green heart, chosen by school children local to the area, symbolising their love for those they lost, adorns the top section of this otherwise clinical memorial. It is hard not to be moved every time I trundle past on the daily commute. It’s hard not to be ashamed that this actually happened in London, in 2017, in a borough which hosts some of the world’s wealthiest people. But what is particularly unforgivable is how the residents had complained over and over again, fearing it would only be when a tragedy occurred that the powers-that-be would listen to their voices. Unforgivable but unsurprising.

Why am I writing about this, you may wonder? Because it is a physical representation of how broken the ‘system’ has become as the neoliberal project powers full steam ahead here in the UK. Money rules. If you can save a pound here or there, apparently it is okay to view human life as collateral. We have a government that endeavours to turn all aspects of social care and provision over to private providers. Whether it be the cladding of social housing or access to good education, ‘bidding’ and ‘tendering’ have become the language of our human rights. How about ‘Everybody’s right to life shall be protected by law’ (European Convention on Human Rights, Article 2)? Anyone? Who’ll start the bidding? Or how about: ‘Education must develop every child’s personality, talents and abilities to the full’ (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 29)?  Of course, the neoliberal line is all about freedom, but freedom for whom in this trickle-down economy? Certainly not those living in Grenfell Tower. Their freedom of voice was ignored at every turn in their battle for the legal right to life. Must they really wait for that trickle to enter their neighbourhood before they earn that freedom? Meanwhile, no money, no power.

The Grenfell fire came out of the same neoliberal agenda as our current education system. The shutting down of parents’ voices in education by the loud and affluent men at the heart of our children’s education, Lord Nash, Lord Agnew, Lord Fink (anyone spot a pattern?) and their millionaire buddies, is leading to the catastrophic failing of schools to provide the right to education for every single child. Not every child is guaranteed safety in their home, nor a chance to thrive under this government. But do our leaders care?

Not really. People really are an encumbrance to our government. Remember Theresa May’s apology for her poor response to the Grenfell community on the anniversary of the disaster? Stating she regretted not meeting them, she has gone on to not meet them. Her apology took place in the safety of an interview with Sky News. The carelessness and cynicism with which our government treats those it is supposed to serve is unconscionable. That apology is meaningless. It’s offensive. But maybe it’s meant to be. These people demanding action and support from the State really are trying their luck when they know they must wait their turn…you know, for that trickle to reach them.

If we needed more evidence of the cynical treatment of our children under this government, we can look to Damian Hinds every time. He views everyone he has responsibility for, students, parents and teachers, as liabilities. I’d like to draw your attention to a quotation from last week’s TES regarding the recent reports on the impact of the new GCSE assessment on students’ well-being. Findings from research carried out by NEU, ASCL and Rescue Our Schools have suggested categorically that this is an urgent matter of concern to be dealt with at the highest level. Mr Hinds responded:

“Having, for most subjects, the exams at the end of the period also enables you to think, to consider all the different aspects of the subject together and, in turn, then helps you if you are going on to A levels for those that are, to go on for that, and then for those going on to university, but of course GCSEs are there to help you prepare for whatever your next step is.”

It’s rather like when you pick dropped food up from the floor and you okay its consumption with ‘a bit of dirt never hurt.’ There is no substance to this answer. Some bits of dirt actually probably do hurt, as does the introduction of retrograde policies. The uproar and controversy this return to 100% examination has caused is widespread. The stress amongst students is leading to increased levels of anxiety and both parents and teachers are shouting out their concerns. But Mr Hinds brushes this off with the glibbest statement ever: bit of thinking, great for A levels and university, oh yeah and for those others.

Those others. Again, we see those who don’t fit the government’s agenda being brushed under the carpet. They’re not important. They don’t need thinking about. I am not happy as a member of the London community to see any child in my city be swept under the carpet. I will get my children through, one way or another, but I cannot stand the thought that it’s not the responsibility of the State to ensure every child actually lives to adulthood and is allowed to prosper. I have seen children arrive in year 7 full of aspiration and dreams and watched them realise by year 10 that they aren’t the ones that matter, and they start to slip from your hands.

I remember, with great frustration and sadness, one of my year 11 boys becoming homeless in the run up to his exams. He was so clever, undoubtedly a Russell Group university candidate, but his controlled assessment folder was incomplete, his attendance was poor and his behaviour volatile. Prison was also another possible destination. Living in a hostel with his two sisters and hardworking mum, his school work was not his priority. He became passive and withdrawn, both physically and psychologically. If challenged, he exploded. As his English teacher and one of his heads of year, I made it my aim to make him feel safe in my space. He finished his controlled assessments – and believe me, his creative writing was stunning in its craft but also its visceral emotion. I did cry. Unfortunately, he was placed on a fixed-term exclusion for swearing at another teacher. At his ‘return from exclusion’ interview, he apparently sat silently until he was asked to offer his opinion regarding his attitude going forwards. He simply responded with a number of the most hardcore expletives. He was permanently excluded so spent the exam period locked in a room in a hostel, revising. This broke my heart. For me, that was a shout out from a young person, to see if anyone was going to care, if anyone was going to grab his hand and get him through. The system instead just confirmed for him that he actually doesn’t belong within it. Where he is today, I don’t know, but I’m going to guess he’s not about to enter the doors of the university he is so academically suited to.

Let’s be very clear, this government seeks to wash its hands of education. It seeks to strengthen the market to create competition between ‘providers’ (in the old days these were known as ‘schools’) and ultimately privatise education. The responsibility for failure is no longer theirs. Any offer it therefore makes is not to nurture the system but make it vulnerable to those with pound signs in their eyes. Panorama’s report this week on the Bright Tribe Academy Trust could not have exposed more clearly how schooling has become vulnerable to profiteering at the risk of our children’s learning, but also their lives. Fire doors not fitted, ceilings not secured nor fire safe, despite grants worth thousands of pounds handed over unquestioningly by the Department for Education. Where is our money? Whose bank accounts is it now in? Why are our children allowed to enter these lethal buildings? If the CEO of a trust needs a lawyer present to talk about their provision, it’s time, surely, to put a stop to this policy and bring education, our human right, back into the hands of the democratically elected local government; accountable to the government, accountable to us.

Now, you may be lucky. Your child may be in a school with an ethos of care where children are placed at the heart of all they do. And this is of course happening across the nation. Despite the funding cuts, limited curriculum and increased stress, they are doing their utmost to protect your child’s education. But we know others are not having that experience. They are lost in a world of money-makers and agendas. Their education is suffering and their safety is not guaranteed. Parents are cut out and disempowered. If we believe in a good education for our child, we simply must ensure the same for other people’s children too.

Let’s start fighting for the prevention of horrific outcomes. Grenfell shocked our nation and the response was overwhelming with donations and sympathy. But we need to act sooner. We need to demand people are not unwittingly placed in danger; that everyone is heard. If you live in social housing, if you attend a state school, you should be safe in the knowledge that government, both local and national, has got your needs and your rights covered. At the moment, this is not the case. Local government is being steadily brought to its knees; the Prime Minister doesn’t want to see you and Damian Hinds will brush you off like dandruff from his shoulder. It is time to make it clear that we are not liabilities in the path of their agenda; their agenda is the liability in the path of our children’s progress. We want it cleared.

 

Did you go to great lengths to get your child into a school?

A national newspaper is looking for parents who would be willing to talk to them anonymously about the lengths they have had to go to in order to secure the school place they wanted: e.g. move to another area, go to Church, appeal, etc.

If you are willing to talk to their very trustworthy education correspondent, please email us at info@rescueourschools.co.uk asap today Wednesday 12th September.

Thank you.

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

State or Independent Education? If you can make this choice, the state sector needs you!

I didn’t go back to school this week. After twelve years of returning from the six-week summer break to inset days and Learning-to-Learn days, this lack of attendance marks the start of a new era for me. I am no longer a school teacher. And I grieve for my career.

I had a conversation yesterday with a woman in the park whose son was experiencing his first day of secondary school. We were quite well into our conversation about schools in the area before she ‘admitted’ apologetically that her son was now at a local independent school, and that she had also moved her daughter from my sons’ primary school to a local independent girls’ school. Her argument is one I’m hearing more and more where I live. They don’t want their children’s opportunities to be limited by their education. Wow, that’s a difficult to sentence to write as a member of the teaching community. It’s one reason I grieve. Because she’s not wrong, is she?

The cutting of the arts from the curriculum was her first concern. Now, we have to really question the motive behind this. We all know how the working world is changing and how the skills developed when studying the Arts will prepare our students perfectly for this future. We also know how expressive the Arts are. You need to free your ideas and question, be prepared to challenge and even transgress to succeed in this field. But our current government does not want this. Schools today are places where compliance and performance are encouraged. There is an agenda here to shut voices up, not free them. My own GCSE Art teacher told me my homework was better than my classwork. Her theory? Uniform restricted my creativity. This statement has stuck with me since. My identity was squashed by the enforced dominance of the school’s. As a university drama student, I had to wear all black for our practical sessions. Now, this might sound pretentious, but the idea was to strip you of your identity so you could become a canvas, so to speak, to leave you open and uninhibited to allow exploration and expression.

I was, however, told by my favourite local Executive Head that creativity needs to be controlled: ‘Get the shoes shiny and the tie straight, get control and then you can enable creativity.’ Now, I entered the teaching profession because I wanted to inspire learning and help children blossom into happy, productive adults. I never said, “I really want to control children.’ When the word ‘control’ is used so freely by senior members of our teaching community, we must look at the agenda leading reform. Education is being used as a tool to divide and rule. Most likely my opportunity to wear all black and become a vehicle for artistic expression, even transgression (I did get to perform the role of Simone in the Marat Sade) was a privilege I earned by getting a place in an elite university.

But those able and inclined to make the choice to take their children into the independent sector are rewarded with earlier access to a breadth of curriculum and opportunity. As for everyone else? We are told untruths. I know of a school in a challenging inner-city context that has shut down all its arts and vocational courses, making numerous teachers redundant, but it’s okay because they have introduced Latin. What’s the story here? On board with the Conservative agenda, they will bombard these children in this difficult context with the academic rigour of the EBacc, and this will enable them to compete with those at the independent schools surrounding them. This is dangerously misleading. I once attended a university open day with year 12 students from my school based in an equally deprived area. We piled off our coach straight into another recently arrived cohort. Just by looking at the two groups, it was obvious that my students were already a step behind in that competition. Apart from the fact those we’d met were literally double their height, the way the two groups dressed told a visual story of a social gulf. My girls were in little dresses and shiny shoes, our competitors in fashionably ripped denim and hair flicked dramatically from one side of the head to the other. We could get the academic results out of our students but their social naivety, their lack of access to a world inhabited by this other group would always keep their ceiling lower, the rungs of the ladder harder to reach. And stripping the Arts from those lower down the ladder will ensure their ideas remain latent, silence their voice in debate, and, let’s face it, halt the possible revolution which surely would follow if those currently held down by the system were exposed to the real agenda. As my conversation buddy said, you only get one shot at this. For some that shot will always fall short of the target. But maybe I’m just cynical, sitting here in the ashes of my career; no, I’m sure a weekly Latin lesson will level those ceilings perfectly.

The conversation moved on to another concern: Who will actually be teaching her children? She has seen there is a recruitment and retention crisis. The NEU reported that in 2016, one in every ten teachers left the profession. And of those who qualified in 2010, nearly a third had left five years later. And connected to this level of exodus, it was reported last week that children across the country are not being taught by subject specialists. I was told by the Head of my nearest secondary school that yes, they do teach formulaic lessons (all teaching the same lesson content at the same time, planned by a teacher who has some knowledge) because, and this is a direct quote: ‘Well, you can’t get the quality of teachers these days. You can’t trust them to do it themselves.’ Wow! That’s a bold statement to a parent touring your school.

The irony here is that I left teaching partly due to this peculiar ‘Schooling in a Box’ approach infiltrating our education system. I don’t believe I am the only member of my generation of teachers struggling with this lack of pedagogical freedom. I was told in my last school to start every lesson with a ‘Do it now!’ task. A teacher friend of mine told me learning walks in her school are used to check if you are on the right section of the lesson at the right time. Another told me at her school they had to ensure the ‘Eight Must Haves’ were in every lesson. They were so focused on meeting this they weren’t really focusing on the needs of the individuals in their classrooms, and were criticised for this in observations. Left drained and teary, they could only question what more they had to do? And put yourself in the shoes of a student: every lesson so predictable in structure, every lesson requiring the same performance. Inspirational stuff!

This flummoxed me in what turned out to be the final observation of my career. In previous years, I had used observations to test and develop myself. For example, I taught agenda in war poetry with half the class sitting in trenches constructed using our desks and chairs, whilst the other half of the class were army generals sitting around large board-room tables. They wrote stanzas for a poem about the soldier’s life in these contexts. And they got the importance of writer’s agenda. However, in my final observation I felt the pressure to tick the list of school requirements, and I failed to take ownership of the content. My husband’s feedback on my lesson plan summed it up: ‘It’s not your usual stuff.’ He was absolutely right. It was dictated and therefore impossible to deliver. I left teaching feeling a failure and a fraud.

But I am no fool. I understand the agenda here. I’m an experienced and effective teacher borne from an era when teacher training focused hugely on pedagogical research and experimentation. No question, many unnecessary gimmicks came out of this period, but what it instilled in this generation was the energy of inquiry and commitment to the art of teaching. I treasure memories from my PGCE days of university-based sessions designed to support my classroom practice: fantastic sessions on educational theory; interactive workshops on behaviour management with some of the most experienced practitioners in the field; work on how to use your voice effectively; being surrounded by academics who made you question and reflect all the time.

Today, in England, we have teachers with the least amount of training in a culture of ‘chuck ‘em in and see if they sink or swim’ schemes. They have come into teaching at a time when you are not being trained to question or reflect, as you only have time to get on and teach what you’ve been told to teach. If we want to compare this practice with the global high performers, we see that Singapore advocates a theory-practice teacher training; a four-year undergraduate degree or between 16 months to two years for a postgraduate course. Finland is five years university-based training resulting in a Masters level qualification. Their investment in teachers demands a commitment to the long-term as well as a high level of academic achievement. In return, teachers leave their training with the tools to step into the classroom and take ownership. Plus, they are trusted to do so.

So, I have sympathy with my friend in the park. Students are experiencing a high turnover of teachers, and may have a year or so with a number of supply teachers endeavouring to get them through. Sometimes they will have a PE teacher teaching them Geography because they did it at A’ level. With budgets tight, the experienced teachers are expensive, so take a glimpse at the TES job pages and see how many ask for NQTs, especially those beast-sized MATs. I have sympathy too for her argument about the creative subjects. I witnessed the shrinking of the Art department at my school as the Science department crept quietly down the corridor, transforming art studios into laboratories every few months. The Arts will become the preserve of those who can afford them, those who are allowed to have their say in this divided nation.

Despite my sympathy, I would ask my friend in the park, and others who are debating their options to consider how their choice to step into the independent sector may ensure their children’s future, but it only serves to further reduce the opportunities for those without such a choice. I would urge those parents to stay with us and fight for the best teachers with the most impressive training, and demand teaching is valued as much as in other countries. I would urge them to demand access to the Arts for all; to ensure spaces are open to all to express their emotions, talents, and ideas. Don’t let others get left behind.

Don’t let other children’s opportunities be shut down by their education.

 

A good art provision in primary schools supports well-being.

My name is Emily Gopaul and I am an artist, art teacher, author and art education advocate with Rescue Our Schools. I recommend approaches that primary schools can adopt to ensure children have access to a high-quality art curriculum.

The arts are steadily being downgraded across our education system, but primary art education should be non-negotiable and should not be side-lined for other subjects, or SATS preparations. There are many reasons why I advocate art in the primary sector but on a fundamental level, creativity is our human right and it makes us feel good.

Recently, I read an article by Andy Cope about children’s mental health. The article highlights that statistics show that one in 10 children – an average of three in every classroom – has a diagnosable mental health problem. I agree with Cope that we should be looking at how we can prevent young people from experiencing mental health difficulties in the first place.

Stresses in life, whether as an adult or child, are inevitable, but creativity – be it the visual arts or otherwise – can serve as an outlet for stress and anxiety; this does not have to be in an art therapy context. Creative endeavours can be a way to express emotions that are difficult to process or vent in other ways. Sometimes art communicates the artist’s experiences so well that we, the viewers, are informed or moved by the work. I am reminded of the many famous artists who did this so well: Frida Kahlo, Virginia Woolf, Billie Holiday and Edvard Munch with The Scream, to name but a few of my personal favourites.

Other times though, outcome is not important. It is the creative act, the process in itself that provides us some respite from life. When we are absorbed in making, nothing else matters, the rise of the adult colouring book is an example of how many of us have realised this. Some of us are fortunate enough to have found or rediscovered some such creative activity, one where time passes without us realising and we enter a focused, almost meditative state.

In my experience, when children have the time and the space to be creative, without the pressures of achieving a particular outcome or grade, they experience a sense of calm and freedom that can feed into their lives and even enhance their academic achievements. In my thirteen years of teaching art, I have spoken with many primary and secondary school children about why they enjoy art, and there appears to be a consensus. Children report that art makes them feel free, that art is good because there are no rules, that they feel peaceful when they create art and that they feel happy and calm in the art studio. More times than I can count, teachers have happened upon a class of mine working in absolute silence and commented upon it. What is always remarkable is that I hardly ever demand this silence. It happens naturally when the children are absorbed in their art work, and when that happens the creative, calm atmosphere is tangible; I call it being ‘in the zone’.

Many times, I have known children who are disengaged with school or experiencing difficulties at home or otherwise to seek out the art studio as a refuge and quietly sit and create during breaktimes or after school. I was one of those children, and had it not have been for a love of art that was inspired in me by my primary teacher, I would not have known that I could utilise art and the art department as a safe space, when life as a teenager became overwhelming.

As an art teacher, I am passionate about the skills and visual language that primary art can impart, the visual literacy that it can support, the beautiful artworks the children may produce, the history and geography that can be learned through art and the cultural enrichment to be gained through a good primary art curriculum. Almost more than all of this though, I am sure that space and time to be creative is vital to us as well-rounded human beings.

A good art provision contributes to a positive primary school atmosphere, which reflects the extent to which the school takes care of the needs of the children. Furthermore, if we are introduced to the magic of creativity at a young age, it can serve as a resource for us throughout life, and support our emotional and mental well-being as adults too.

Natasha Devon, a mental health campaigner, was on channel 4 last night talking about exam stress and academic anxiety being on the increase. She mentioned our petition ! Please watch her interview here and sign and share our petition.

https://www.channel4.com/news/natasha-devon-self-harm-is-always-a-symptom-of-some-kind-of-distress

Parental choice: the schools all look the same so do we simply get to choose our favourite colour blazer?

I am going to hazard a guess: I think a lot of parents heard the Conservative manifesto about the Big Society and the free school movement in 2010 and, quite understandably,  thought to themselves: ‘What a great idea! We get to have more say over our children’s schooling! We get to tailor it more to their needs!’ What an exciting opportunity! Free from the curriculum! And, apparently, it’s worked a treat in other countries so how can it possibly go wrong here?’

You see, Michael Gove did state in the 2010 white paper, ‘The Importance of Teaching’ that ‘convincing international evidence’ existed to prove ‘the galvanising effect on the whole system’ of allowing ‘new entrants in areas where parents are dissatisfied with what is available’. He also went overboard with excitement about the ‘innovation’ this was going to lead to – twenty-eight times he mentioned some derivation of the word! Oh, and the autonomy these academies and free schools were going to experience would be the ripping off of those chains so tightly held by the hands of the State. It was going to be all about developing specialisms, ethos and character.

The picture created was utopian for any parent. Imagine, ‘Autumn Term Secondary School Open Evening Season’ begins in September, and you are skipping and weaving through a myriad of opportunities and innovations which blow your mind. You’re inspired to question thoroughly, ‘Where would my child be happiest? Here, this school is demonstrating advanced problem-solving skills with a strong focus on STEM through project-based learning, whereas yesterday, down the road, I listened to students’ compositions being performed by the school orchestra …’ Long-gone are the days of walking through the corridors of ‘OFSTED GRADED OUTSTANDING’ posters and tedious conversations with the Key Stage 3 coordinator for English about the texts they will be studying in preparation for the GCSE texts in a couple of years’ time, and watching some bored volunteer year 9 students fumble for answers to questions about what they like most about the school. This was to be the beginning of a new era: everyone engaged with education; everyone leading on education; everyone achieving in education. At last!

But, I am going to stop right there and take you back to that ‘convincing international evidence’ Michael Gove found. He was inspired by the free school movement in Sweden and the Charter School programme in The United States of America. Now, I looked extensively at the Swedish reform in 1993 introducing the free school system there and, quite simply, I don’t agree with him.

When, for example, the Swedish Education Minister, Bertil Ostberg, said in 2010, ‘We have actually seen a fall in quality of Swedish schools since the Free Schools were introduced’, what bit of that statement did Gove find convincing? Plus, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Country Note on Sweden, after the 2015 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results, stated that the gap between rich and poor had increased since 2006 and was wider than the average across the OECD countries. Again, where does this support Gove’s pursuit of this policy? I mean, he did state clearly that one lesson to learn ‘of the best education systems is that no country that wishes to be considered world class can afford to allow children from poorer families to fail as a matter of course.’ If he wanted to achieve this, the OECD names Canada, Estonia, Finland and Japan as the best performers with regards to high levels of performance and high levels of equity in outcomes. Why on earth weren’t Gove’s minions out policy researching in these countries to discover how England – because it’s not the whole of the UK having to trot along with these inflicted reforms – could choose and adapt the most suitable practices from these nations to improve the equity here and address all those issues of social justice Gove wanted to tackle so desperately?

Because it was nothing to do with that. There is turmoil in Sweden, there is turmoil in the United States, and now we have a system in chaos right here in England. Where I live, a free school was given the go ahead in one of the early waves of agreed proposals. A group of parents led on it and immediately the local parents jumped on board! Straightaway, the free school was their first choice. Nothing to evidence its strength as an educational institution, but it was at the top of their list on the applications. Of course, I was grumbling about my dislike of the policy. If a government wants to ensure social justice, it holds on tightly to the institutions which will ensure this, not hand them over to anyone with their hand up…oh, and with a lawyer and an accountant in their steering groups in order to be able to actually navigate the process. I was asked numerous times, ‘But as a parent, what would you choose for your children?’ Somehow, I was supposed to want something different for my children than for those I taught. I never understood this distinction – I want my child to have as good an education as the next, and the next child to have as good an education as mine. But, yes, of course, this policy was based on individual needs, not societal needs. But then Gove did mention social justice a lot when promoting his reform. And the notion of social mobility is at the heart of recent Conservative rhetoric on education. Just look at the digging up of grammar schools, but that’s for another week.

Let’s move on a couple of years, after a false start and the school not opening when it was initially due to, and then a head teacher leaving after a year, and of course the school eventually opening on a temporary site (where it will remain for another four terms, at least), they now belong to a Multi-Academy Trust. This happens to be a MAT started by a Church of England school, so now the school’s ethos is based on ‘a Christian framework’ and the uniform is changing this September to fit the ‘brand’: tartan skirts and crosses on the blazer pockets. The parents who were singing and dancing about the new school five years ago now sound a little muffled. They didn’t sign up for a religious school. They were happy with the uniform. But now, the parents’ voices have been muted by the words ‘These changes are non-negotiable.’

The MAT is a powerful force. The Executive Head of a MAT is hard to find, let alone question. The parent is no longer anywhere near the centre of this policy. In fact, a recent report from the Sutton Trust and the National Foundation for Education Research stated only one out of five free schools have been opened by parents. It is the MATs and heavily-sponsored academy chains sweeping up schools – especially those still run by the LEAs whose money is becoming tighter, resources limited and therefore their futures overshadowed by the looming, grasping claws of Ark and Harris, or any of those being fed money by the Department for Education, as they willingly ride the Govian agenda and swot their impoverished competitors aside.

So, I am not excited about entering the ‘Autumn Term Secondary School Open Evening Season’ with my eldest in a couple of years’ time. My choice will be Ark down one road, a (now) Christian academy down the other, or my only LEA comprehensive which is now a little too far out of reach since the Christian school will be opening on its permanent site at the end of my road. I think I am going to be sold two brands, which fundamentally will look the same as they are corporate operations now, not innovative learning spaces, all being driven by the high stakes accountability game, undermining the whole concept of free schooling from the get go. I will still be listening to targets and data and how they prepare for GCSE from the day my children cross the threshold. Let’s face it, I won’t be skipping and weaving through anything apart from brand taglines, hefty blazers, and data. In fact, I won’t be skipping.