Archive for the ‘Musings on Education’ Category

A sweet in every layer?

I like the sound of my own opinions.  (A characteristic that I imagine to be common to most bloggers.) But I do find it depressing to find myself opining repeatedly on policies causing anxiety, frustration and concern to the majority, especially when the available evidence supports a different policy-course altogether. Such frustration has clearly been felt by academics, commentators, politicians and teachers long-opposed to a return to selection and grammar schools, as news of Theresa May’s desire for more grammar schools has filled the airwaves for the last week. (On the plus side, she has succeeded in creating some unity across political divides and amongst the educational establishment!)

Even the BBC, normally so anxious to produce two sides to a policy argument (even when that leads to completely lopsided arguments being presented as if opinion was equally divided), had to portray Theresa May’s stance as politically-motivated rather than arguable on the basis of evidence. That’s because the evidence clearly shows that selection at 11 does not improve educational attainment across the system, nor does it advance social mobility. Grammar schools are good at stretching the pupils who attend them, not at improving the life chances of those who don’t.

Theresa May has been very clever. She is portraying ‘meritocracy’ as somehow intrinsic to our sense of ‘British values’ (whatever they are). And she is banking on the assumption that we Brits, supposedly, care more about potential than reality. In her world of potential, every ‘deserving’ child could get a place in the grammar school; in the real world, of course, the majority will be rejected. Like the Free Schools debacle, where increasing the choice of schools is presented as more relevant than improving all schools, this is a policy for parents, not for pupils.  In another similarity, it’s very difficult to see how a return to selection is practically possible outside large towns and cities, unless all schools are suddenly to be provided with the additional resources required to bus children from one market town to another. I’ve got to hand it to Mrs May (and to Justine Greening, who as Education Secretary is the person actually charged with trying to make it happen): so far they’ve managed to talk about returning to a pass/fail system as if it’s an ‘everyone gets a prize’ system. As if their new selection system will be like the modern version of pass-the-parcel where there’s a sweet in every layer, rather than one single prize in the very middle of the parcel like there was when I was a child.

Education isn’t a prize. Or it shouldn’t be. It’s a right. Leaving aside the arguments in favour of a comprehensive system from an educational and social perspective, there’s a far more simple problem Mrs May could have chosen to address: there simply isn’t enough money in the system right now for all schools to provide that basic educational right for their pupils in a way which actually meets their needs.  Structural changes cost money (ask the NHS), as well as creating uncertainty for staff and children.  If she really believes all children really do deserve a good education, surely the target for her limited resources should be improving the educational and life chances of ALL the children in the poorest areas, not just the academically gifted ones?

I passed the eleven-plus, being in the last year group in Somerset to go through selection, and I got a good education in a school that was half grammar, half private (that being the kind of compromise that school systems had to make in rural areas).  My children are getting a good education now – but in a properly comprehensive school which doesn’t educate them at the expense of their peers, like mine did. For all the attempts at assuring us that the new policy will not result in the same two-tier system that operated when grammar schools were last commonplace, it is impossible to see how this could actually be done in practice given the limited resources available.

Rant nearly over for now, though doubtless set to be repeated over the coming weeks. One more point for now: the White Paper on education that was published earlier this year included, amongst the chaos of mass-academisation, the proposal that teachers do not need to be qualified. Quite where the White Paper sits in Justine Greening’s in-tray is currently unclear, but if the proposals in it carry on through parliament, we are left with the very real possibility that not only will many schools be losing funding under the new funding formula – in addition to the financial squeeze all schools are under anyway – some schools will be employing unqualified teachers. (And I’ll bet it won’t be the selective ones.) So much for improving our education system. If they carry on like this, there won’t be a parcel to pass around at all.




What is teaching for?

The new school year is fast approaching, and the next few days see teachers finalising their lesson plans whilst pupils enjoy their last few days of summer freedom and parents like me wonder what they have forgotten to buy. I’m approaching this new school year with a little trepidation though – as for  countless other parents this year,  I will no longer have a child at primary school. Like those other parents, I’m suddenly prone to making rather repetitive but somehow inevitable comments about how fast my children are growing up.

Teachers don’t age though. Or so we think – unless we carry on meeting them in adulthood, they become fixed in our memory at the point when they taught us. Which is why it always seems slightly discombobulating to meet them years later. I did just that earlier this summer, when attending a joyous university reunion of fellow music students from the 1980s. As we prepared to do some formal singing together we all contributed to one of those “in 50 words tell us what you do now” exercises. Former music students are (to the uninitiated)  a surprisingly versatile breed, and our number included opera singers, barristers, sound engineers, accountants and of course a fair spread of teachers, amongst other endeavours). One of our former professors was singing with us. His 50 words were telling: he was visibly moved and spoke of his pride at the people we had become – not for specific achievements (though some of these were noteworthy), but for having been able to play a part in helping us to become the people we are today. It struck me that it isn’t just pupils who are stuck in a time-warp, few teachers get to see their students 30 years on. But I think his sentiment is shared by teachers everywhere.

A bit later this summer I had the privilege of observing some teaching on a summer music course.  Such courses are of course free from the usual strictures and structures of term-time lessons; they should be (and in this case are) fun, and give the student the opportunity to be ‘a person playing the cello’ rather ‘the cello pupil’.  As if to demonstrate this one of the teachers began a masterclass by asking all the students to tell her their name and something (other than music) they like doing. Not a new trick, but one that makes it clear to the student that the subject of study wasn’t the only thing of relevance or of interest. Music is, of course, a deeply personal business. Once there’s enough technique to play whatever piece is to be played, it’s the way in which the player communicates their connection to the music which matters. So in finding the way to help this emerge it may be more obvious to the onlooker that a music teacher is thinking about the whole person than it is with, say, a maths teacher. But we shouldn’t take that to mean that the maths teacher cares less about the person you are, or that you could become. Why, after all, do teachers become teachers if not to influence our future, as much as to inform our present? (And no, I don’t think teachers are saints: just not automatons. But seeing pupils as fully-fledged people  is somewhat at odds with the governmental way of looking at teachers as individual subject-programmers.)

As parents, we expect our primary school teachers to be interested in the whole person rather than just their subject. But then our children are to some extent cocooned at primary school. There is necessarily more connection between home and school, there is the school gate and the familiarity (at least in general if not in specifics) of the class and classmates. And until relatively recently, our primary school children weren’t treated so much like parts to be processed on a governmental conveyor belt. It’s different in secondary school. The secondary school my children go to has benefitted from an impressive and attractive new building, so when my daughter goes next week it won’t be the same warren that my son navigated in his first few days. But fears about the geography of the school, the bus trip to get there, and the presence of 1000 more children than at primary school, daunting as they may seem to both parents and new pupils, seem to me to be fairly quickly overcome, at least for most. Rather harder for pupil and parents is maintaining the sense that school is still about learning, experiencing and growing in the self, as well as in the subjects studied.  Thanks to government’s relentless pursuit of higher PISA ranking (and the desire for economic growth at all costs), we have now been inculcated into a culture in which children, their teachers and their schools appear defined more by test results  than by personal characteristics. But it doesn’t have to be this way. At their best, schools set the groundwork for pupils to flourish as people (which some do quickly and others more leisurely), and it is our schools’ teachers who make that happen, with whatever subject (music, maths, or any other) that provides them with the medium for doing so.

As school or university pupils, our relationships with teachers are fairly one-dimensional; we rarely appreciate that our teachers have our wider interests (or even any of our interests) at heart. But my experiences this summer illustrate that that is not the case. So as we parents prepare to start the new year defending, endorsing (or occasionally challenging) a teacher’s perspective on some issue, it’s worth bearing in mind that those teachers do actually have our children’ whole self in mind, even if the demands of the governmental conveyor belt make it hard for us to see that. I sincerely hope that my daughters’ new teachers aren’t so defeated by the increasing requirement to view whole pupils only in terms of scores (subject, year group or school) that they are still able to see her as a past, present and future person, when she leaves her secondary school a few years hence.

In pursuit of joy

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. No I don’t mean trying to keep up with the headlines or the fallout from the headlines, though I can’t say that isn’t also a challenge. I mean domestically. It’s the end of term, so there has been a procession of concerts and (intentionally) dramatic events to attend, a street fair, a fete, end of term assemblies and so on. This year is different because it’s my daughter’s last at primary school. Which means, of course, that she leaves not only with a set of wonderful memories and burgeoning opportunities, but with a set of SATS results.

A week or so ago we had our school summer concert (which I help with, as I’m involved with music at school). This was the 8th of these annual events, and quite possibly the best yet. They always follow the same format: choirs, ukulele group and recorder group have a standing slot, and most of the rest of the programme is given over to pupil performances – anything from solo songs to dance routines. Pupils audition for a slot in the programme, for which they devise and rehearse their own pieces. Variety is more important than perfection – over the years we’ve had all sorts from Mozart on the horn to solo renditions of Take That songs. This year, one of the highlights for me was the ‘Kingfisher boys’ –  a group of year 3 boys (complete with baseball caps), one singer in the middle of five dancers – including some rather skilful breakdancing. It wasn’t note-perfect or movement-perfect. But it was exuberant, entertaining, and above all joyful. Like a lot else in the summer concert, it was impossible to watch without smiling.

The other thing that happened that day was that their school reports came out. These, for those lucky children in year 6, included their SATS results.  In an attempt to explain the reporting of SATS results, the headteacher usefully included a flyer  written for parents by the government Standards and Testing Agency. It goes on about the government’s desire to raise standards, and includes statements which of course presage an intentionally higher number of ‘failures’ than previously:  “As the new standard is higher than the old one, fewer children have met the new expected standard than the previous standard”, and then goes on to suggest that parents go online to find out how their child’s results compare with the national average (which smacks rather of trying to generate fear of failure in parents as well as pupils, rather than drawing on the more positive effects of competition). The leaflet also suggests that tests and teacher assessments help teachers in secondary school to target extra help. Well my daughter’s test results didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know about her or anything she didn’t already know about herself. Nor, more importantly, did they tell her teacher anything she didn’t already know and couldn’t already communicate to the secondary school in a teacher assessment.  So what, you might wonder, was the point of all that anguish back in May?

The leaflet appears to suggest that more children failing the tests will result in them having a better “mastery of the basics” (I’m really not sure that ‘fronted adverbials’ are basic, but that’s another matter).  But whilst it’s made clear that the SATS system has been specifically engineered to create more  ‘failures’ than ‘successes’, for this year at least, the leaflet doesn’t explain how ‘failing’ might actually help a child learn.  (I can of course see how such engineering will help the government claim to have  improved standards in a couple of years time, but that’s another matter also.)  It doesn’t explain it because it can’t explain it. Back in May, my daughter feared the tests, though in the event she did fine. That fear wasn’t productive, it was just a waste of emotional energy.  And generating fear of failure in parents by frequent use of words like ‘mastery’ and ‘expected standard’ is simply unacceptable, as well as being unlikely to result in pupils actually doing better.

In our summer concerts, on the other hand, there are no failures. In eight years of summer concerts, I have never seen a child crumble on stage. True, some enjoy performing more than others, some are more engaging than others, some have practised more or display more talent than others –  but they all get up on the stage and take pleasure in having done so. Those Kingfisher Boys applied themselves to the task, thought creatively and worked collaboratively, listened to advice and put it into practice (and rose to the challenge of performing in front of at least 200 people). All rather useful skills for life, let alone for learning.  But SATS tests don’t value any of those attributes at all. Instead they have tested whether my daughter and her peers can produce a piece of writing in time and remember various facts and processes. I’m not seeking to denigrate the value of learning these things in themselves (except much of the content of the SPaG test, of course). But I question their value for our children’s overall emotional and cognitive development. Children find joy in things that they value and that they get satisfaction from learning – whether that’s on stage, on the cricket pitch or indeed, with a skilled teacher, in a classroom. And that joy spurs them on. Testing for the sake of testing, on the other hand, eviscerates joy.  I am heartily relieved, as my daughter prepares for secondary school, that she has been at a school which values the creative antics of boys in year 3 as highly as a few test results.



Pupils go to market

Last week I went with my daughter to the Suffolk Show. Big rural fairs aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, I appreciate, and seeing sheep, cows and working horses parade around the ring and wait for their prizes (the “Grand Parade”) may seem a bizarre anachronism in the modern age when most people probably don’t see a live pig from one year to the next, let alone a pig farmer. But – as well as providing lots of entertainment, a wealth of good food and numerous opportunities to buy horsey clothing – these country shows do provide those of us in more rural areas with a link between where we live and the farming industry which for centuries has been the mainstay of the rural economy.

One thing rural economies don’t breed much of these days is school-pupils. Even accounting for migration the birth rate in Suffolk is declining, and looks set to continue doing so. Sustaining our schools is key to keeping our villages and market towns alive and to curtailing their transition into retirement complexes for the middle classes who can afford to buy houses in them. Markets – whether for butchers buying pork or parents seeking school places – need enough buyers (or pupils, in the case of schools) for any of the competitors to survive.  Suffolk grows quite a lot of pigs but not pupils. So why, then, has the DfE appeared to choose Suffolk as the test-bed for a new market in education provision, by approving so many new free schools in the county over the last few years ?

The news reported by Schoolsweek this weekend that the DfE has overturned – at least in the short-term – another new free school in Bury St Edmunds, is of course very welcome. (Sorry to labour the point but there are already enough – very good – schools in the area for the number of pupils available.) Also good news is the fact that the reversal happened because the County Council presented the DfE with a legal challenge. I presume that they did so primarily because the proposed free school, a middle school, threatened to undermine the final stages of the county’s transition into a two-tier system (primary and secondary schools instead of primary, middle and upper schools), rather than because of any new-found opposition to market models in public services.

Over many years the Conservative administration in Suffolk has demonstrated an enthusiasm for market-led models in areas of public service (in areas such as care homes), and they have previously kept quiet as new free schools have popped up in market towns over the last few years. But they have argued long and fiercely for a transition to the two-tier school structure, on the grounds that it will raise GCSE attainment. (That said, given how much else has been going on in education it will of course be impossible to prove this either way). And perhaps they have finally got fed up with Suffolk’s children being used to test out government policy. There are, after all, no shortage of other areas where people want free schools and where there are pupils in need of school places.

Suffolk now boasts five more secondary schools than it needs in areas all served by schools with ample spaces, all so the DfE could boast a new market in education. And they aren’t just any secondary schools, either: they include one – IES Breckland with a ‘for-profit’ provider which has already had to install a new headteacher due to being put in special measures, and three run by a trust – The Seckford Foundation – which might have been better off sticking to running private schools, which it seems better suited to. Is that a fair criticism? Well the Seckford Foundation’s Free Schools Trust (effectively a new academy chain, which runs Beccles, Saxmundham and Ixworth Free Schools), has already been subject to a DfE Warning Notice in relation to  Beccles and Saxmundham (that must have hurt the DfE) as well as a rap over the knuckles by the Advertising Standards Authority. Stour Valley Community School, on the other hand, appears to be faring better, and things are improving in regard to Ofsted and staff turnover at IES Breckland. (Incidentally neither of these belong to academy chains – or at least not yet. Their independence makes them a bit vulnerable given the government’s stated aim that all schools – and it is still all schools – will be in academy chains by 2022, but that’s a whole other blog post).

Free School rhetoric has it that competition raises standards, though how this would actually work in practice has never been satisfactorily explained. The results from Suffolk’s five free secondary  schools (from DfE performance tables) so far suggest they have some way to go to get level with existing schools, let alone surpass them or drive up the county average. Stour Valley, at 52%, came closest to the Suffolk average of 54.5% for 5 A-Cs at GCSE including English and Maths in 2015.  Beccles, Saxmundham and IES Breckland (Ixworth did not have a year 11 cohort last year) were all more than 10% behind the Suffolk average. It is important to state that the cohort in each of these schools was small, so a few pupils with very poor results could be pulling down the averages. But even so, they are poor results.

So where does that leave Suffolk’s pupils? Still off to market, but without much guarantee of success. Moreover, the financial impact of that market is felt across our existing schools as well as the new ones. Schools with fewer pupils than planned for have less money to spend, whether they are the new free schools or the existing schools which pupils would otherwise have gone to. And despite protestations that markets raise standards, there just isn’t the evidence out there to support the idea that any sort of schools can raise standards with a reduction in funds.   Interestingly it’s Suffolk’s free schools which are taking the worst hit, by and large. Freedom of Information requests have revealed that whilst first choice applications to IES Breckland, Saxmundham and Stour Valley Community School have increased in the last year, applications to Beccles more than halved. And when it comes to actually offering places, more pupils have been offered places at the three Seckford Foundation schools (210 in total) than put them as first choice (177 in total), suggesting that a fair number of pupils are being sent to Free Schools rather than actually choosing to go to them. The really startling figure is that between them, the three Seckford schools anticipate filling less than 60% of their total year 7 places this September. That’s a very expensive experiment.

So far, then, you might wonder if market models work better for Suffolk’s pigs than for Suffolk’s pupils. The DfE has so far spent millions opening 5 new schools in Suffolk which are entirely surplus to requirements and which don’t produce better results. It approved then overturned (at least for the time being) another free school in Bury St Edmunds after local (good and outstanding) schools and the (Conservative) county council complained both forcefully and legally – even though the free school approval process is supposed to include consulting with local authorities and stakeholders.  Given their aggressive – and rather chaotic – pursuit of ‘school growth’ it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the DfE care more about growing a market in schools than they do about the quality of the education it delivers. Pigs get welfare standards, but schools don’t. As any financial advisor will tell you, one of the essential characteristics of market-based approaches – in any commodity – is that individual elements of it can fail. As it stands, some of the schools in this pupil market are surely heading for a crash, for both financial and educational reasons. This isn’t like buying bacon, it has a lasting impact on pupils’ life chances. Where, you might wonder, will we go from here?

What price “progress”?

Spoiler alert: there’s no humour in this post.

This morning, my eleven-year old daughter was in tears as she prepared to go to school (which has never happened before). Like many year 6 children she is anxious to do her best, and frightened of being made to repeat the tests (a peculiar proposal for the government to put forward if the tests really are about measuring the system not the pupils, as Nick Gibb tried to suggest last week). She is at a great school, with encouraging and experienced teachers who, I am very confident, will do their utmost to make the week as relaxed as possible.  But that won’t take away the essential problem – that she, her friends and her teachers are being used by government as pawns to test the  UK system against a few select international competitors. Which isn’t a very healthy position for any of the individuals concerned.

There is, of course, a big difference between feeling temporarily stressed and having a diagnosed mental health problem, but the two can be related, and it made me think about the potential for schools (as agents for education policy and independently of it) to contribute both positively and negatively to children’s mental health and wellbeing.

Over the last five years, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of children and adolescents with mental health problems, and a consequent increase in referrals to specialist services, resulting in frustration and anxiety for young people and their parents who need help at the point of referral, not several months down the line. (For more information see for example this report by Centre Forum.) To try and cope with the rising demand on Child & Mental Health Services (CAMHS), government identified £1.25 billion for ‘transforming’ CAMHS services so that by 2020 they are more accessible, more responsive and better able to cope with rising demand.

That might sound like a lot of money, but once you spread the money over five years and then start costing out services across the country, it’s still going to be a huge challenge for local services to meet the rising need. And part of that rise is the government’s own fault.

Just as you don’t have search far for a story about a young person struggling to access the counselling or other mental health help they need,  you don’t have to look far for stories about the emotional and psychological impact on pupils of the government’s policies for increasing school test results. Here’s one, for example, on the Let Our Kids be Kids site.

The Centre Forum report suggests that 3 pupils in every class need mental health services or at the very least some additional support. So in a joined-up system you might think that schools would be supported to link up with local mental health services (many schools in the past have had CAMHS workers embedded in schools which has worked well for all concerned), or would have counselling provision that can link up with those services. You might also expect that local authorities or academy trusts would be required to monitor and check that such support is in place. But no. Some schools have pupil wellbeing firmly on their agenda, provide support in-house and make such links as far as is possible given the constraints on services (I’m pleased to say my son’s school, Thomas Gainsborough, held a parents information event recently following on from PSHE days on emotional wellbeing and mental health). But other schools don’t, because they are too fearful of failing to comply with the government requirement that test results go up.   And fear is not a positive motivator.

Schools with results above the required level have a bit of breathing space (though I grant you, it may not feel like it). Schools with falling results  – or even results which stay fairly constant – have no room whatsoever. And the consequence? Often, sadly, a relentless focus on tests and testing at the exclusion of creative arts, sporting activities – and crucially, support services for pupils who are struggling. And the academy system just makes this worse. The lack of accountability of academies to parents and local authorities increases the ‘freedom’ of academies to impose actions which are not supported by parents, not good for pupil’s emotional or psychological wellbeing, and  even not likely to improve outcomes (i.e. don’t follow the evidence-base). And sadly there are academies and academy chains out there that seem hell-bent on driving through mechanistic measures to improve results without consideration of the impact on pupil wellbeing or of the ramifications of losing parent support for the school’s actions. An example I heard recently really brought this home.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a campaign meeting about the Education White Paper, and heard a parent speak with clarity and passion about changes imposed in her daughters (secondary) school since a recent downturn in GCSE exam results.  Whilst still officially a ‘Good with outstanding features’ school (that is, it hasn’t had an Ofsted visit since results went down), the school now appears to be in panic mode, and its actions don’t, at least on the face of it, appear likely to improve either the exam results or the wellbeing of pupils. It has instigated some very victorian practices such as making all year groups (yes even the 15 year olds) line up before school, and withdrawing the morning break. Another of the ‘solutions’ it has put in place is to publish pupils’ test results for each year group. So exams are no longer used to inform pupils, parents and teachers of how pupils are doing (nothing new in that, after all), but to rank pupils – and then to display that information for anyone in school to see. When challenged, the school explained that this practice was used in another academy in the same chain. They either did not or could not explain why it was supposed to be helpful in that original school, or how they expected it to work in one with a significantly more diverse intake.

I’m aware that pupils often know quite a bit about how they perform relative to their peers. But that is not at all the same as having that information bandied about publicly for all outside their immediate peer group to see – and potentially to misuse. And how public shaming (which is what it can amount to for some) is supposed to be motivational is beyond me. Instead, it’s all too easy for pupils to lose self-esteem and motivation – as the parent I heard testified, with the example of another pupil who has now left the school.

All this, whilst seeming unlikely to have a positive impact on exam results, is very likely to create demand for child and adolescent mental health services. An increasing emphasis on a school culture based on stick and no carrot, combined with a lack of time for PHSE and a failure to value constructive relationships with parents, almost certainly goes against what most schools would be wanting to achieve if they really had the freedom to act in their pupil’s best interests.

There is plenty of evidence linking increased pupil wellbeing to educational attainment (or in other words better exam results). And there’s no shortage of best practice about how to support schools to recognise young people in need of help and liaise effectively with the right services. So you might expect the government, faced with rising demand for CAMHS services, to take the opportunity in the CAMHS transformation funding to ensure that local authorities (which are responsible for these services at school level) are both required and resourced to put such services in our schools.  But instead they have cut funding to local authorities.  And I notice that wellbeing of young people doesn’t feature in the governments (very short) list of things that local authorities will remain responsible for if their White Paper gets through parliament.

It is tempting to  accuse the government of caring only about exam results and not about the wellbeing of the pupils concerned – that is, to have no capacity or interest in assessing the impact of the processes used to achieve that goal on pupils’ emotional and psychological health. But it could be more accident than design.  Either way, the government’s Department for Education appears entirely disconnected from the Department of Health. As a consequence schools in general are deprived of the support and services they need to respond to the needs of their pupils, and schools that are paralysed by the fear of exam failure are reduced to implementing draconian measures in the hope of shaming pupils to better results – and not even then held accountable for these actions to parents. Not only is all this bad for young people and their families, it will cost us all more in the long term.

SPaGhetti Bollocknese

You have 15 minutes to complete this test. There are different types of question for you to answer in different ways. Do not include any expletives or doodles. Read the instructions carefully so that you know how to answer each question. Budget constraints make it difficult to include tables in the document, so some of the sentences containing multiple choice questions may have complicated instructions.

If your teacher is a Qualified Teacher you should be able to attempt most of the questions. If your teacher is not a qualified teacher, they may not have been able to prepare you properly for the test. Either way, it is important that you do your best. Unfortunately, if you do not answer enough questions correctly, you will have to take the test again. This is especially the case for people who had not previously realised that they are not clever at tests.

  1. Find the fronted adverbial in this sentence:
    Before consulting with experts, ministers of education asked the treasury how soon they planned to privatise schools.
  2. Circle one verb in each underlined pair to complete the sentences using Standard English.
    I is/am always reminding her that SATS are for the school, not for her.
    He is/were moaning about the irrelevance of long division to adult life.
  3. Write the contracted form of the underlined words in the box.
    The decision to force 18,000 schools to become academies does not seem wise.
  4. Circle all the pronouns in the sentence below.
    The government created new MATs for themselves and free schools for their friends.
  5. Circle the option which shows how the underlined words are used in the sentence: as a preposition phrase/ as a relative clause / as a main clause / as a noun phrase.
    My daughter will soon be sitting SATS, which are designed to make children understand that life is competitive.
  6. Indicate how the modal verb affects the meaning of the sentence by underlining which verbs indicate certainty and circling the verbs which indicate possibility.
    Budgets will be very tight next year.
    Nicky might have missed the point.
    George can count money.
    Governments could govern for the benefit of the population.
  7. Circle all the conjunctions in the sentences below.
    Once Nicky had put on her waterproof suit, she read out the White Paper.
    Whilst writing the White Paper, she ignored what the experts suggested.
    Nicky needs to withdraw the proposals immediately, since a hurricane is coming.
  8. Tick all the sentences that contain a preposition.
    George planned to sell off all the schools before he left office.
    The EBacc is beyond useless as a measure of educational success.

    Gibb is below Morgan in the pecking order.
  9. Indicate whether the word after is used as a subordinating conjunction or as a preposition by circling the subordinating conjunctions and underlining the prepositions. She got the job after her predecessor annoyed his friend Dave.
    Students will lose self-esteem if they are forced to repeat their SATS.
    He didn’t bother doing QTS training after the government said it didn’t matter any more.
  10. Please complete the sentence using a noun:
    They are …………..

Dear Nicky Morgan

I have been reading your interview with the Guardian on Friday, and I’m concerned and not a little bit angry. Many of the views you expressed in your interview, and the related proposals in your recent White Paper, don’t make sense to me as a parent.

Along with millions of others in England, I’m both a parent of school-aged children and a taxpayer. I therefore have not just a personal interest in my children’s education but a vested interest in the whole system working effectively. In contrast you seem to think of us parents as passive bystanders about what happens in our schools.  I am sure you, as a parent, would consider yourself to have the skills required to be an effective governor, and thus an interest in school structures. This is true for me, and for all the parents I know who are governors. So I’m unsure why you are seeking to antagonise parents across the country by suggesting otherwise. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that you are mostly concerned with removing power from local people.

I have been a school governor (not, as it happens, a parent-governor), so I know from personal experience that even a few years ago,  governors were expected to be able to accommodate and interpret large volumes of data and complex policy detail and still be good communicators and ambassadors for their school. I also know that at times,  parents in general can have unrealistic expectations of schools (and schooling) or just be downright annoying. But we also have an emotional investment in our local schools which is, for example, what motivates parent school associations to raise thousands across the country to complement educational provision and to help with reading in the classroom – signs of a collaborative relationship which I would have expected you to support.

In your plans you to force all schools to become academies, you suggest that neither parents nor the local authority should retain any formal relationship with our schools.  But if you remove us from formal involvement in our schools, how do you expect us to feel sufficiently invested in the system to retain these informal support mechanisms?  Furthermore, you seem to be expecting the local authority, stripped of all responsibility, power or resources for overseeing our local schools,  to bounce back from such a hammering so that it can actively “champion the rights of parents” (your words not mine).  I would really appreciate an explanation of how this is going to work in practice, and what difference it will make either to parents or to schools. (Incidentally, I understand that one of your proposals is to pay some governors. Why not just carry on paying the local authority to run a service across schools – surely that would be more efficient, and less subject to conflicts of interest?)

My son’s secondary school recently became an academy because it became clear that the local authority had retained neither the financial nor human resources to provide an effective school support service. It made the move, presumably having seen the writing on the wall, giving it the freedom at least to choose a local trust which actively seeks to promote collaboration between its schools. But my daughter’s primary school is not an academy, nor does it have any reason  – or desire – to become one. It is a successful local school, rated outstanding, and with firm roots in our local community and widespread participation in music and sports – the kind of activities that make our children’s experience of school positive instead of  it an endless battery of tests. (Believe me, this positive experience is important; my daughter finds the tests very stressful even though she’s pretty good at them).  Her school is already free to make effective choices about how it budgets for and teaches the personal, literacy, mathematical and enquiring skills that children need to be equipped with on leaving primary school. As a parent, I like the choices my daughter’s school makes now. What benefits do you anticipate would flow from forcing her school down a path it clearly doesn’t need?

I imagine that both of these schools would appreciate the increase in funding that would result from the fair funding proposals in the White Paper, as Suffolk is one of the 40 lowest funded authorities (per pupil). But in seeking to implement this proposal without addressing the funding gap, you are simply proposing to drag down schools elsewhere to increase the funding for mine, and set groups of us parents against each-other. As antagonistic practices go, it is exceeded only by the statement that really made me angry in your Guardian interview, and which seems to have given you licence to pursue the plans in your White Paper: apparently we parents are insufficiently interested in education for it to be a campaign issue. Apparently we just don’t care enough. Really?  And that’s why the forced academisation of schools wasn’t in the Conservative Manifesto?  That’s a very scary statement for a government to make – and doesn’t exactly sound rooted in the kind of empirical evidence you apparently want to see underpinning our education system.

In producing a manifesto and choosing what to talk about on national media you have plenty of opportunities to influence those doorstep conversations. It speaks volumes about how you view the electorate that you chose not to indicate what you were planning to do you our schools, and our school system, in the election campaign. You feared the outcome if people had know the plans – rather like those NHS ‘reforms’ that were denied and lied about in the 2010 campaign.

We parents are emotionally invested in our children’s education, but we are not stupid, blinkered or unreasonable. Your communications have done nothing to explain why you are keener to pursue an ideological change, with no clear benefits to our education system, than to support the system and its users to pursue a rounded, meaningful and useful education for our children. I can’t tell if you intentionally set out to antagonise parents with your proposals or whether we are just collateral damage. Either way, you are setting us up to  fight (alongside  teachers and school leaders) for the resources and organisational structures that can most efficiently, fairly and effectively make that education happen. If that’s what you want, you’re on.