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London School of Economics hails Bihar’s bicycle policy

Global news, UK

Times of India

24-09-2013

LONDON: London School of Economics’ Ideas for Growth conference on Monday hailed the Bihar government’s ‘bicycles-to-girls’ policy as one that can be imitated globally. Researchers from the International Growth Centre Karthik Muralidharan from the University of California and Nishith Prakash from the University of Connecticut analyzed the policy to see if had made any impact on the ground. The findings were heartening.

Calling it the “most visible policy initiatives for improving female educational attainment in India in the past decade” the bicycles-togirls policy found that the rate of age-appropriate participation in secondary school for girls increased by 30% among those exposed to the cycle program.

The policy also reduced the gender gap in age-appropriate secondary school enrolment by 40%. Ground data also found a 10% increase in girls who appeared for SSC exam. “This confirms that the increase in enrolment was not just on paper, but led to a real increase in school participation,” the researchers said. The analysis was carried out 18 months after the inception of the cycle programme.

Comparisons with conditional cash transfer programs in other South Asian countries suggest the cycle programme was much more cost effective at increasing girls’ secondary school enrolment than an equivalentvalued cash transfer.

Comment

Michael Gove brings back 12 times tables in new curriculum

Curriculum Development, Global news, UK

MONDAY 08 JULY 2013

The Independent

Children will be taught fractions from the age of five and will once again have to learn the 12 times tables under a controversial new national curriculum to be announced today by the Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The emphasis on a more traditional academic curriculum has already provoked critics to warn that it will damage children’s education.

At present, pupils have to learn times tables up to 10 by the age of 11, but Mr Gove wants them to learn multiplication sums up to 12 by heart by the age of nine.

In English, he is expected to press for pupils to have to study a pre-20th century novel from the likes of Dickens, Austen or Thackeray, after research showed most pupils were shunning the great authors of the past.

In history, Mr Gove will stick to his guns, insisting that pupils learn their UK history chronologically – rather than focus on topics such as the Nazis or the Tudors, the most popular option in recent years. The curriculum will concentrate on key characters from history such as Queen Elizabeth I, Oliver Cromwell,  Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill.

However, in a concession to his critics, he will insist that – while the emphasis will be on British history – every pupil will have to study events in world history, too. History teachers criticised both Mr Gove and Prime Minister David Cameron’s original “gung ho” attitude that they should be teaching about British history “in all its glory”.

Mr Gove came under fire again last night. Professor Terry Wrigley of Leeds Metropolitan University, one of the organisers of a letter to The Independent signed by 100 academics opposing the plans, said: “My own feeling is that Mr Gove is simply not listening to anyone.

“To think you rely on memorisation is simply a delusion,” he said. “It strikes me the way that Gove’s mind works is he thinks you raise standards by getting nine-year-olds to remember their 12 times tables and five-year-olds to do fractions. It is not the direction other high-performing countries have taken.”

Kevin Courtney, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added that the proposals “are being rushed through with little thought given to the practicalities of implementation – never mind the content”. They were confronting schools with “an unprecedented amount of change”, coming as they did on top of GCSE and A-level reforms.

Stephen Twigg, Labour’s education spokesman, said they represented Mr Gove’s third attempt to rewrite the curriculum. “He should listen to the experts and not try to write it himself based on his personal prejudices,” he said.

The Department for Education said last night it would concentrate on “getting basics right”. Mr Gove added: “This curriculum is a foundation for learning the vital advanced skills that universities and businesses desperately need – skills such as essay writing, problem-solving, mathematical knowledge and computer programming.” He said it would aim to halt what he called England’s “disastrous” slide down international league tables from 24th to 28th in maths, 17th to 25th in reading and 14th to 16th in science between 2006 and 2009.

Computer programming and electronics will be given more emphasis, while evolution will be taught to primary school pupils for the first time.

Mr Cameron said: “This curriculum marks a new chapter in British education… This is a curriculum to inspire a generation – and it will educate the great British engineers, scientists, writers and thinkers of the future.”

The new curriculum will be taught in schools from September 2014.

Comment

New measures build on progress protecting childhood

Global news, UK

May 28, 2013

Education News

The government announces that more DVDs are to carry an age rating, more is to be done on online age ratings and WiFi will be family friendly.

Age ratings will be given to a range of video content that is currently exempt – such as some music and sports DVDs – so that those unsuitable for younger children will have to carry a British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) age rating in future.

The government is also announcing plans for public WiFi providers to filter websites in public places to give parents the peace of mind that children will be protected from inappropriate websites when away from home.

The announcements come alongside the publication of the government’s Bailey Review, assessing the impact of measures to tackle the pressures on children to grow up too quickly.

Video Recordings Act

The government is publishing the response to its recent consultation on the Video Recordings Act which addresses concerns about the exemptions from age rating that are currently given to a range of music, sports, religious and educational DVDs and Blu-Ray discs.

The Video Recordings Act will now be changed so that any of these products that are unsuitable for younger children will have to carry the familiar ‘12’, ‘15’ and ‘18’ BBFC age ratings in future. The changes are expected to come into force in 2014.

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said:

Government realises that the world has moved on since these exemptions were written into the Video Recordings Act some 30 years ago.

The changes we’ve announced today will help ensure children are better protected, and that parents are provided with the information necessary for them to make informed choices about what their children view.

In order to help ensure parents can make more informed decisions about the material their children watch online, ministers are also calling on industry to develop solutions so that more online videos – particularly those that are likely to be sought out by children and young people – carry advice about their age suitability in future.

Public WiFi

Wireless internet providers are also working with government to make their publicly available WiFi family friendly in places where children regularly visit, and ensure children are protected from harmful content.

Significant progress has already been made and where the big providers are not already doing so they will now:

  • automatically block pornography websites
  • or encourage their business partners to adopt filtering services at sites where children may have access to their free WiFi service

Edward Timpson, Children and Families Minister, said:

Parents need to be confident that their children are not exposed to adult content when out and about in public places. This progress is encouraging.

Through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) we will push for a firmer commitment from WiFi providers, retailers, shops and cafes so parents are reassured their children will not be able to access pornography when they are away from home.

To build on this progress, the 6 main providers (Arqiva, BT, Nomad, Sky, Virgin and O2) are working with UKCCIS Executive Board members to consider whether it would be helpful to have a mark of approval or an industry code of practice.

Vince Russell, managing director of The Cloud, a BSkyB company:

In full support of the Bailey review, BSkyB became the first public WiFi operator in the UK to automatically filter adult content across its entire network. As both a responsible business and the largest WiFi provider on the high street, we wanted to give parents the peace of mind that their children are protected when they access content outside the home.

This commitment was first demonstrated in 2007 when we pioneered offering venue partners the opportunity to filter adult content. And with filters now active right across our 18,000 hotspots, we’re proud of our continued leadership in this area.

These measures come on top of plans announced at the end of last year to help parents protect their child online in the home. Steps announced in December mean that parents will be prompted to tailor their internet filters to protect their children and that if they don’t make choices, protection will be automatically on.

Bailey Review

Today’s stocktake comes 18 months after the independent Bailey Review, headed by Chief Executive of the Mothers’ Union, Reg Bailey. The Bailey Review made a number of practical recommendations to the businesses, broadcasters and regulators to tackle the commercialisation and sexualisation of children.

The stocktake has found that good progress has been made on a voluntary basis, including:

  • British Retail Consortium, who are today producing updated guidance for their members on responsible childrenswear retailing – many major retailers have signed up to these guidelines or are including their principles in their business practices
  • Ofcom, the Advertising Standards Authority and all the other main media regulators have set up the ParentPort website, a single point of call for parents who wish to complain about a programme, advert, product or service and providing a range of useful information about media and technology.
  • the BPI has extended its parental advisory scheme to the online world, so that explicit songs and videos should now be labeled as such and are continuing to work with government to ensure that parents have the best information possible. Government is also calling for more progress on online content to be made this year, with industry developing further solutions so that more online videos carry advice about their age suitability.
  • broadcasters have listened to the views of parents and issued new guidance to broadcasters on family viewing to ensure that viewers are less likely to be confronted with stronger adult material, before or immediately after the watershed.
  • UKCCIS has helped to ensure the 5 main ISPs develop and implement free and easy to use parental controls. And going further, they have committed to providing parental controls which will cover all devices in the home by the end of the year.

Reg Bailey said:

It is almost 2 years since the publication of my report, and I have been pleased to see that many parts of industry have risen to the challenge, with good progress made against my recommendations. As to the future, I want to see this stocktake reinforce that there is a need for a cultural change in how businesses and regulatory bodies put the protection of children at the heart of what they do. It is early days but I believe this is now underway. By supporting parents to do their job, we can all make sure that children are allowed to be children.

Comment

Entrepreneur seeks to offer quality education at fraction of cost

Global news, UK

The New York Times

May 27, 2013

London: When Sunny Varkey was 4 years old, his parents left him in the care of family members in his native India while they “went to seek green pastures” teaching English as a second language in Dubai in the late 1950s, in what was then a sleepy British protectorate on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf.

“My parents were brought over by Easa Saleh al-Gurg, who later became the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Great Britain,” he said in a recent interview in London. “Our family came with empty hands, but in those days the UAE was a land of opportunity.”

Initially his parents’ pupils came almost exclusively from local families, but the discovery of oil in Dubai in 1966 brought an influx of foreign workers, many from the Asian subcontinent. Two years later, Varkey’s parents opened Our Own English High School, the first private school in Dubai for Indian students. Meanwhile Varkey was completing his own education, first at a Catholic boarding school in India and then in Dubai, followed by a year at a college on the Isle of Wight, in Britain.

“I did not study much,” Varkey said. He joined his parents in 1970, just before Dubai gained its independence from Britain, and took over the company in 1980, starting with his parents’ single school in Dubai.

Although he never attended university himself, he now runs GEMS Education, which claims to be the largest private provider of K-12 education in the world, and presides over a network of about 70 schools operating in 18 countries, from the United States to Britain, Egypt to China. His two sons, Dino and Jay, now hold senior positions at the company, making it a three-generation endeavor.

In addition to owning schools with a total of 130,000 students, the Dubai-based company also manages schools and school systems on government contracts and acts as consultants in the Philippines and several African countries.

Despite his company’s growing influence, Varkey has long avoided the media spotlight. But with more recent moves into Britain and the United States, that seems to have changed. In February the company hosted the first Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, bringing together 500 delegates to discuss the relationship between governments and the private sector. It included former President Bill Clinton, who was recently named honorary chairman of the Varkey GEMS Foundation, the company’s philanthropic arm.

Varkey cited the attendance of Clinton and former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain as evidence of his ambition to turn the annual gathering “into the Davos of education.”

Varkey’s increasing prominence has also brought greater scrutiny both of his business model and his educational philosophy. From the beginning, the GEMS schools in Dubai took for granted a kind of ethnic segregation.

“We had an Indian school, we had a Pakistani school. We also opened a British school,” where “we had key British teachers – the head of school, head of curriculum, and so on, as well as a number of Asian teachers,” Varkey said.

The company remains the largest employer of British teachers outside of the United Kingdom, as well as the largest employer of Indian teachers outside of India. Pay scales at each school are linked not to the local economy or the nature of the school, but to salaries in a teacher’s home country.

And while the company boasts that it provides the same high-quality education at its least-expensive schools (where fees are approximately 750 dollars a year) as it does at premium schools (where fees can exceed 40,000 dollars), there has been criticism at both ends of the scale.

GEMS announced last year plans to open six private schools in Britain charging between 8,000 and 12,000 pounds – or between 12,000 dollars and 18,000 dollars – a year. That works out to roughly one-half to one-third of the price of more prestigious private schools like Eton or Winchester.

The head of Brighton College, in Sussex, which charges more than 18,000 pounds a year and has no relation to GEMS, said that the only way to cut costs would be to increase class sizes. “Any school that thinks it can stint on teachers’ salaries and class sizes while still offering a first-class education is kidding itself,” Richard Cairns, Brighton College’s headmaster, told The Guardian.

When GEMS first came to Britain in 2004, it raised class sizes by as much as a third at a school in Milton Keynes, and parents complained.

In 2008, parents with children at the GEMS Jumeirah Primary School in Dubai wrote to Varkey after class sizes were increased. There have also been complaints about sharp increases in school fees and the closure of the Westminster School in Dubai after the country’s school regulator would not raise a cap on private school tuition.

Jane Donovan’s two daughters, now ages 10 and 7, have attended GEMS Wellington since they moved to Dubai three years ago. In Britain, they had attended a private school with similar tuition fees.

“I can see how it would be a struggle for parents who, for the first time, have to pay for education because there is no public option for them,” she said, referring to the fact that expatriates in the UAE do not have the same access to free public education that local citizens do, or that they would have had back in their home countries.

“But we were paying anyway back home, and we were very happy with the quality of teaching and school grounds at GEMS,” Donovan said.

When challenged on class size, Varkey pointed to airlines, which offer first class, business and economy seats on the same plane, or to Mercedes, which produces several classes of cars.

“The difference is facilities,” he said. At Our Own English High School, an Indian girls’ school in Dubai with 10,000 students, tuition is just 2,000 dollars a year. “But every graduate of that school went to university,” he said.

One of the company’s premium schools, also in the United Arab Emirates, offers students an Olympic running track, planetarium and swimming pool for their 40,000 dollars a year.

Class sizes in the company’s less expensive schools can reach 30 or 35 students. But Varkey says his customers know what they are getting. “Indian middle-class parents are not the same as middle-class parents in the UK,” he said. Indian parents “want their children to get good grades to go on to a good university. They don’t place much importance on tennis or golf.”

“You can’t rely on a fee structure to determine the quality of a school,” said Roopa Chan, a Dubai-based teacher who had taught English at a GEMS affiliate, Our Own Indian School. “Maybe the infrastructure is good, and it’s a posh environment, but that doesn’t always guarantee greater quality.”

Varkey has ambitious plans for Britain, the United States and Europe; in September GEMS will open a school in Etoy, Switzerland, following the International Baccalaureate curriculum. However, the legion of South Asian expatriates who have moved overseas remain his core customers. “They don’t have social security, so they have to work their butts off to achieve,” Varkey said.

As long as globalization continues, “our business will remain recession proof,” he said. He has just completed a $550 million round of financing to help the company continue to expand into countries where “we can deliver a higher quality of education than the state can provide.”

Comment

Education reform’s next big thing: Common Core standards ramp up

Global news, UK

By Amanda Paulson

Christian Science Monitor 

May 15, 2013

Common Core standards are aimed at building students’ critical thinking skills, and 46 states have adopted them. But critics say the methods are unproven and the education reform is moving to fast.

In an Algebra I class at Mountain View High School, a freshman girl is struggling with a new assignment: The students are working in small groups to try to find the number of different-shaped tiles needed to cover a certain size tabletop – and then how to find a pattern and extrapolate on that answer for other sizes.

“Is this supposed to be hard or easy?” she asks her teacher in frustration.

“It’s supposed to make you think,” replies Kristina Smith, the teacher, as she patiently circles through the room, responding to each student’s questions not with an answer but with additional questions that encourage them to push themselves to the next step.

What’s going on at this school in Loveland, Colo., as well as across the United States, is a key step in a long-running shift to national standards. These Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states, have the potential to drastically change curriculum in elementary, middle, and high schools around the country.

In a crowded field of major K-12 education reforms, the shift to new, common standards is one of the biggest. Depending on whom you talk to, it’s the most promising education reform in decades – an opportunity for teachers to delve more deeply into material and focus on critical-thinking skills and comprehension. Or, it’s yet another reform that’s being pushed through too quickly, paired with too many high-stakes consequences, and it will further drive teachers from the classroom and discourage kids.

The true test, both proponents and detractors agree, will come over the next year or two, when the standards shift from just existing on paper to becoming a reality in classrooms. Right now, teachers and administrators are discussing how to translate the standards into practice, which are in various stages of implementation. It’s a state-by-state and district-by-district process, with many different approaches.

“The hope for Common Core, if it’s implemented well, is that we’ll have students who are having a K-12 education that has math and literacy make more sense to them, and a smoother process from grade to grade. And that ultimately, when kids graduate from high school, they are better prepared for courses they’re going into in their first year in college or whatever job they go into,” says Carrie Heath Phillips, director of Common Core standards for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which helped lead the push for the standards. But, Ms. Heath Phillips cautions, “like any initiative, how this ends up being taught, how it’s implemented at the local level – that is everything.”

The Common Core initiative has been in the works for some time. A state-led effort, it began in 2009, fueled by the CCSSO and the National Governors Association. Kentucky was the first state to officially adopt the standards, in 2010, followed by 44 other states and the District of Columbia. The only states not to adopt the standards are Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia. (Minnesota adopted the English standards but not the math standards.)

Prior efforts to set common national standards had failed, in part because they came from the federal government rather than from the states themselves. The hope this time was to have rigorous standards that cross state boundaries and that are coherent across grade levels and subjects – allowing students to build from year to year on prior understanding.

Former standards in many states “were a mile wide and an inch deep,” says Heath Phillips. “We’re trying to go to the opposite – a few inches wide but a mile deep. We’re trying to build those critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and students’ ability to apply those in various real-world situations.”

Still, the standards are seeing a fair amount of backlash – some of which, say observers, is primarily due to bad messaging or misunderstandings: people equating standards with standardized testing, for instance; assuming national standards means a national curriculum; or thinking that the standard that 70 percent of texts be informational by 12th grade means English classes will no longer focus on fiction (the standard actually applies across courses, and the intent is for social studies and science classes to do more literacy work).

But some of the backlash is also due to concerns about how standards that may look good on paper will be implemented.

“When you first introduce the concept of Common Core to teachers who have been beaten down by … drilling kids for testing, they are extremely excited,” says Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University in California. “It’s what people want for their own children. But that excitement is very quickly followed by fear and dread, because the ways in which it’s going to be used are unknown. If it gets squeezed back into the old multiple-choice testing mentality as a tool for rewards and sanctions, and not a tool for classrooms to engage with more rewarding and challenging instruction, then teachers will turn against it.”

Some educators already have.

Diane Ravitch, an education historian and New York University professor, is a frequent critic of accountability reforms, but was initially supportive of the idea of national standards. She’s turned against Common Core – in large part, she says, because of the process by which the standards were created and the speed with which they’re being implemented.

“No one wanted to give it a trial, and now we’re trying it in 46 states,” Ms. Ravitch says. “How do we know it will improve achievement? We haven’t tried it. How do we know it will work in real classrooms?”

Ravitch also has concerns about the appropriateness of the standards in lower grades – a concern shared by some early-childhood experts. The methods for arriving at standards, working backward from what high school graduates should be expected to know, in some cases has resulted in standards that don’t take into account how young children learn, such experts say.

Moreover, the timing of the standards – along with numerous other accountability reforms – couldn’t be worse, Ravitch says.

“American public education is being stretched to the breaking point,” she says. “If someone is struggling with a 30-pound thing on their back, do you say, carry another 35 pounds because this is good for you?”

That concern is one shared by many teachers, as well as their union leaders. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), praised the Common Core standards in an April 30 address, even as she called for a moratorium on high-stakes consequences while they’re being implemented.

In a recent poll of AFT members, Ms. Weingarten noted, 75 percent supported the standards, which she said should mean “less memorization, less racing through a course of study, and more searching for evidence and conceptual understanding.”

But in too many cases, including New York, Weingarten said, tests that are aligned with the standards are being fast-tracked before the standards have even begun to be implemented – on material students have never learned. And too many high-stakes consequences are being tied to those tests, she said.

Officials, Weingarten said in her speech, are seeking “to make [the standards] count before they make them work.”

Advocates of Common Core also emphasize how important it is to do the implementation well.

“I think there is a growing backlash against standards and accountability-driven reform. This is basically our last shot to get this right,” says Kathleen Porter-Magee, senior director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank headquartered in Washington. “Speed should be secondary to thoughtfulness and deliberateness.”

Here in Colorado, educators have been central to the transition to the new standards – and many are welcoming them.

The state brought more than 500 teachers together last fall to translate the standards into curriculum and materials that could be shared. This spring, the state is conducting workshops with more teachers around the state; over the summer, teachers will gather to further develop the materials, with special attention on how to improve instruction for particular groups, including special-education and gifted students and English-language learners. This is in addition to district-led efforts going on around the state.

Thompson School District, which includes Mountain View High School, is one of 13 districts working with the Colorado Legacy Foundation. Those districts are doing even more work around integrating new standards (which in Colorado include not just the Common Core ones, but also new state standards in social studies and science) and helping teachers develop curriculum. They’ve been holding multiple lesson studies like the one Ms. Smith was running, observed by teachers and administrators who later discuss what they saw, share ideas, and talk about what worked.

“It’s no longer just about skills: It’s about coherence, and how do these concepts flow from grade to grade and course to course, and about rigor,” says Smith, who has been teaching math for seven years and welcomes the changes. “My concern is if [we can] accomplish what we need to accomplish in the short period we have, but then I say we don’t have any choice.”

Lessons like the one she was teaching about tiles, she says, are valuable since they emphasize process and understanding, rather than memorization of an equation.

“I didn’t care what [students] gave me as the final answer,” she says. “I wanted to see the math they gave me as the process…. My goal was to get them to back up their answer.”

In a class downstairs, as part of the same lesson study, Tiffany Utoft is giving her Algebra II students the same problem. The change in the students’ understanding and the sophistication of their responses compared with that of the Algebra I students – many develop complicated formulas to solve the problem – are striking.

“I just had an epiphany!” yells Lizzy Fanning, a sophomore with curly red hair, at one point.

The exercise, she says, is a good one since it’s so tangible. “When you’re learning math, everyone asks how could this apply in real life,” Lizzy says. “If you were a carpenter, you could have to do what we’re doing now.”

Comment

New plan to crack down on poorly-qualified private tutors

Global news, UK

By , Education Editor

The Telegraph,

22 May 2013

New rules are to be introduced to regulate private tutors amid a surge in the number of middle-class parents paying for evening and weekend classes to boost children’s performance in exams.

Tutors will be expected to abide by minimum qualification standards and sign up to a code of ethics following concerns that poor teaching may be damaging pupils’ education.

It is feared that some tutors may be preying on parental anxiety over school places and exam grades by “over-tutoring” children, with reports of some infants aged just three being given booster sessions.

Experts said there was also a problem of tutors undermining the work being done in school and a lack of quality control.

It comes after a leading headmaster criticised private tutoring for “devouring” children’s free time as parents subject them to extra classes after school and at the weekend.

Ben Thomas, head of Thomas’s Battersea, said he had heard of tutoring agencies that were “starting to work on three-year-olds” for the school’s entrance exams.

One study last year suggested more than half of parents who put sons and daughters through school admissions tests pay for an academic coach or private tutoring company, while thousands more invest in revision books or past papers to give children the edge.

Now the Centre for Market Reform of Education, a think-tank, is planning to establish the first national association for tutors – with backing from a number of major tutoring companies – to develop industry standards and improve the consistency of teaching.

A consultation on the new Tutoring Association was launched on Wednesday that will require tutors to sign up to a new code of ethics, take part in vetting procedures and meet minimum qualification thresholds.

It says that tutors should hold university degrees in their chosen specialist subject when teaching children aged 11 upwards and general degrees in any subject for those tutoring primary-age pupils.

Although membership will not be compulsory, it is intended to act as a “kite-mark” for the industry.

James Croft, the think-tank’s director, said there was “precious little guidance for parents seeking tutors, who are often ill-equipped to assess their children’s precise needs”.

He added: “There’s the occasional problem of tutors undermining the work being done in school by teaching different methods, but more problematic is just this widespread lack of clarity about what tutors are supposed to be achieving and how to gauge whether they are helping.

“On the other side of the equation, there’s the problem of over-tutoring in preparation for exams, which can obviously be counter-productive.

“Underlying all this is the problem that there’s little assessment of pupil’s needs going on that is separate from the tutoring process.

“Presented with an anxious parent who is insistent that their child needs help, a freelance [tutor] is unlikely to turn that customer away.”

Mr Croft said the lack of proper qualifications among tutors was a major problem with no rules preventing people setting themselves up as freelance tutors irrespective of their expertise.

Research has also shown that a number of legitimate tutoring agencies “appear not to require degree-level subject knowledge or teaching qualifications” among their staff. A previous study found 57 per cent demanded a relevant degree and 78 per cent wanted teaching experience, while 90 per cent of tutors were hired by parents “through word of mouth or other means”.

Comment

Top school scraps 11-plus over ‘endemic’ tutoring culture

Girl Child Education, Global news, UK

By , Education Editor

The Telegraph

15May 2013

One of England’s top performing grammar schools is to scrap its entrance exam amid fears the 11-plus is being undermined by an “endemic” culture of tutoring.

Chelmsford County High School for Girls will introduce a new selection system from September to stop middle-class parents subjecting children to up to six years’ worth of coaching in preparation for the admissions test.

Nicole Chapman, the headmistress, said the existing 11-plus “discourages girls whose parents can’t afford tutoring” from even applying to the school.

The comments represent the latest in a series of attacks on the private tutoring industry which some experts claim is damaging children’s education by subjecting them to “far too much” pressure at a young age.

One study last year suggested more than half of parents who put sons and daughters through school admissions tests pay for an academic coach or private tutoring company, while thousands more invest in revision books or past papers to give children the edge.

Chelmsford County High – traditionally rated among the top 10 schools in England for GCSE and A-level results – has normally relied on a series of entrance tests set as part of a consortium of grammar schools across Essex.

But the school, which receives around seven applications for every place, is now breaking away from other local schools to run its own “tutor proof” test.

It follows similar moves by schools in Buckinghamshire and the London borough of Bexley.

Council officials in Kent, which has more grammar schools than any other country, are also reviewing the entrance exam sat by local pupils.

Mrs Chapman said: “What we have seen develop across the whole country, not just Essex, is a culture of tutoring and coaching that has reached such high proportions that I have been made aware that it really discourages girls whose parents can’t afford to have tutoring or coaching from even applying.

“On a Saturday morning you can have your child coached while you do your shopping in Sainsbury’s.

“I’ve also heard of little children who are getting up to have coaching before they go to school. No child should be put under this amazing pressure to perform.”

From September, Chelmsford County High will switch to dedicated exams prepared by Durham University’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, which is supposed to distinguish between an average child with coaching and a naturally bright classmate.

It uses less predictable questions and past papers are not available to enable children to revise in advance.

Mrs Chapman added: “Coaching is endemic, absolutely. It leads to social exclusion because parents assume it is a requirement. I have heard it anecdotally that parents say ‘oh no, you can’t possibly apply because you have to be coached to get in to that school’.

“Some parents start their children at the age of five. They have six years worth of additional training.”

Comment

Evidence from America and Britain shows that independence for schools works

Global news, UK, US

FOR decades too many educationalists have succumbed to the tyranny of low expectations, at least when it comes to those at the bottom of the heap. The assumption has been that the poor, often black, children living in some of the world’s biggest and richest cities such as New York, Los Angeles and London face too many challenges to learn. There was little hope that school could make any difference to their future unless the problem of poverty could first be “solved”, which it couldn’t.

Such attitudes consigned whole generations to the scrapheap. But 20 years ago, in St Paul, Minnesota, the first of America’s charter schools started a revolution. There are now 5,600 of them. They are publicly funded, but largely independent of the local educational bureaucracies and the teachers’ unions that live in unhealthy symbiosis with them.

Charter schools are controversial, for three reasons. They represent an “experiment” or “privatisation”. They largely bypass the unions. And their results are mixed. In some states—Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana and Missouri—the results of charter pupils in maths and English are significantly better than those of pupils in traditional public schools. In others—Arizona and Ohio—they have done badly.

Yet the virtue of experiments is that you can learn from them; and it is now becoming clear how and where charter schools work best. Poor pupils, those in urban environments and English-language learners fare better in charters (see article). In states that monitor them carefully and close down failing schools quickly, they work best. And one great advantage is that partly because most are free of union control, they can be closed down more easily if they are failing.

This revolution is now spreading round the world. In Britain academies, also free from local-authority control, were pioneered by the last Labour government. At first they were restricted to inner-city areas where existing schools had failed. But the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has turbocharged their growth, and has launched “free schools”, modelled on a successful Swedish experiment, which have even more independence. By the end of this year half of all British schools will be academies or free schools. Free schools are too new for their performance to be judged; in academies, though, results for GCSEs (the exams pupils take at 15 or 16) are improving twice as fast as those in the state sector as a whole.

It is pretty clear now that giving schools independence—so long as it is done in the right way, with the right monitoring, regulation and safeguards from the state—works. Yet it remains politically difficult to implement. That is why it needs a strong push from national governments. Britain is giving school independence the shove it needs. In America, artificial limits on the number of charter schools must be ended, and they must get the same levels of funding as other schools.

The least we can do

In rich countries, this generation of adults is not doing well by its children. They will have to pay off huge public-
sector debts. They will be expected to foot colossal bills for their parents’ pension and health costs. They will compete for jobs with people from emerging countries, many of whom have better education systems despite their lower incomes. The least this generation can do for its children is to try its best to improve its state schools. Giving them more independence can do that at no extra cost. Let there be more of it.

The Economist, 07 July 2012

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Michael Gove is right: we must do better

Global news, UK

Say what you like about the British education system, but when it comes to passing the buck, it remains world-class. When business and industry complain – as they so frequently do – about the quality of the graduates they are asked to find jobs for, the universities tend to blame the secondary schools for not preparing students adequately for the demands of higher education. The secondaries, in turn, blame the primary schools for failing to equip pupils with the basic skills needed at GCSE or A-level. The primaries presumably excuse themselves by arguing that they have to invest too much time in repairing the damage inflicted by the nurseries.
In his review of the National Curriculum in primary schools, Michael Gove, the increasingly impressive Education Secretary, is attempting to ensure that the secondaries and universities have rather better material to work with. Instead of the vague “areas of learning and development” introduced under Labour, there will be a renewed focus on core subjects, facts and learning. Foreign languages will be pushed up the agenda, but the highest priority will be given to English, science and maths – a reflection of the decline in numeracy that prompted this newspaper’s Make Britain Count campaign. Study of poetry and literature will be mandatory; proper grammar will be taught; and the most glaring gaps in the present curriculum, such as the failure to teach the use and multiplication of fractions (a vital precursor to studying algebra), will be addressed.
Mr Gove’s critics will doubtless claim that teachers are already trying their hardest, and that micro-managing classrooms further, and putting more pressure on pupils, will be counter-productive. Why should it matter, they will say, that an 11-year-old only knows their 10 times tables, rather than their 12? This, of course, is to miss the point spectacularly. A touchy-feely insistence on letting children learn at their own pace, and a lazy tolerance of low standards, have blighted the lives of millions. They have also had calamitous consequences for the economy: witness the damning comments of firms surveyed recently by the CBI. In the hyper-competitive world of the 21st century, the only way to prosper is to possess a highly skilled, highly educated and highly motivated workforce. The Government argues that its draft proposals – which will, once finalised, be adopted by non-academy state schools from September 2014 – are a match for the best and toughest curricula adopted by our rivals. By challenging Britain’s teachers and pupils to do better, Mr Gove hopes to turn around decades of educational under-performance. Let us hope he succeeds – and, indeed, that it is not already too late.

The Telegraph, 11 June 2012

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Banning term-time days off is not the answer to truancy

Global news, Licenses and Regulations, UK

Yes, missing school is damaging, but we should let parents take a few days out while cracking down on unauthorised absence.

One morning when I was about seven my dad packed us all into the car for school as he did every other school day of the year. It was just an ordinary morning until my mum got in the car as well and they announced that we were all – including my dad, who would usually have gone straight to work after the school run – bunking off and going to Whipsnade safari park for the day. That memory is a mixture of unbridled joy heightened by the complete shock that we were collectively, as a family, throwing the rule book out of the window.

Under Michael Gove’s plans to crack down on truancy my parents would have been automatically fined. Gove wants to scrap the current system whereby parents can legally, with a school’s agreement, remove their children from school for up to 10 days in any school year. This is supposed to be for illness, bereavement and if they can’t get to school because of the weather, but increasingly some families have used this time for holidays out of the horrendously expensive peak season of school holidays. Gove wants to scrap the distinction between these “authorised” absences and unauthorised absences and toughen up the penalties.

My memory of that day my family bunked off is stronger than any individual lesson I remember from school. Having that day off didn’t undermine my parents’ usual no-nonsense insistence that school was a non-negotiable thing – we knew exactly how naughty we were being.

I had this in mind when I tweeted a suggestion that instead of a blanket outlawing of absences, parents should be given five days a year when they could take their child out of school, no questions asked, in return for a wider tougher crackdown on truancy. These two things – advocating a set number of days off while simultaneously condemning unauthorised days off – might seem at odds but I think it could be a practical solution.

There is lots of evidence that missing school is damaging educationally. The Youth Cohort Study found that 38% of persistent truants did not get any GCSEs, compared with 3% of those who did not truant. It’s not clear whether that educational underachievement was a cofactor or caused by truancy, but it’s widely accepted that truancy is damaging. What’s more, the gap between children from educationally rich homes and those from educationally impoverished homes widens during school holidays meaning that truancy can exacerbate inequalities further.

As an education correspondent I spent a day with the police and council officers doing “truancy sweeps” in local high streets and I saw that the bulk of the problem of truancy wasn’t engaged families like mine taking a once in a lifetime day out. I saw lots of kids with their parents who said they were too ill to be at school but were out shopping anyway, some bunking off with their friends and claiming to have “study periods” and one who had to attend a benefits meeting with his mother to act as a translator.

As a school governor I know that there are many families who simply can’t afford to visit relatives overseas or spend time abroad at all during the holidays. The last government tried to do deals with travel companies to make it more affordable, but to no effect. Should families that struggle to afford it be barred from those experiences?

There is clearly a problem with parents advocating truancy, but perhaps the answer isn’t just to criminalise parents further but to strike a new deal whereby they can take a limited amount of time off to avoid the extortionate airfares and spend time with family – time that might, just occasionally, be more valuable than school. In exchange parents would be expected to send their child to school every other day in the school calendar perhaps even with tougher penalties to help enforce it.

At the moment some parents take the whole 10 days off, which is a substantial chunk of school to miss while others are criminalised when they allow their children to truant – or fail to stop them. I think we need a more transparent system with an acknowledged deal between schools and parents that strikes a compromise between the child’s right to a consistent education and a family’s right, within reason, to make its memories.

The Guardian, 20 February 2012

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