Colin Lever

Author & Educationist

Author: Colin Lever (page 1 of 2)

Bullying and Harassment in the school workplace

B & H 5

School Bullies

 

Bullying and harassment in all its forms is an abuse of power. On Jersey, the lack of a trusted complaints procedure within the States has been recognised.

Examples of bullying and harassment include;

  • Repeated shouting
  • Overbearing supervision
  • Unfair, persistent criticism
  • Demeaning another employee
  • Singling out or excluding an employee
  • Deliberately impeding work performance

(source; Bullying and Harassment guidelines, States of Jersey)

 

In a recent meeting of the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny panel, the Education Minister and Chief Education officer were questioned about bullying and harassment of staff in schools. Both cited that there is little evidence to substantiate the concerns. Is this because staff are unwilling to speak out for fear of blighting their career? At present there are two cases involving teachers, in front of the S.E.B.

 

We are not talking of physical or verbal abuse (although the latter happens). Workplace bullying is much more subtle. For example, if a member of staff complains about unfair treatment they may become subject to more rigorous scrutiny. Longer term they may be passed over for promotion or given less favourable jobs.

 

Here are few comments from teachers that I have received;

“We are not encouraged or praised. We are told off, humiliated about grades, in public.”

“My head of department writes 35% as a prediction, the head teacher writes 50%.”

“Fear leads me to teach every single lesson as if I might get caught out at any moment!”

“The professional partner used me to show the head teacher how to conduct a forceful meeting. I was not asked I was told. It was like a firing squad, spitting out questions before I was finished answering the first.”

“We are constantly told that we are failing.”

“.. he also said (publicly) that I was useless.”

“We are told that we will carry the can.”

 

I have received worrying reports of senior leaders shouting at staff in public. As teachers we are told to treat children with respect, so why can school leaders not do the same when speaking to fellow professionals? Is this the tip of the ice-berg or just a few isolated cases? Unless more staff come forward it is difficult to assess how endemic the issue is.

 

There is evidence of head teachers using CCTV to ‘spy’ on staff; head teachers destroying careers by writing damning references rendering staff unemployable and senior leaders in school trying to belittle staff in public meetings.

 

As a principle, learning walks, the use of performance data and a desire to raise standards should not be an issue but in the hands of the inexperienced, the incompetent or the unscrupulous they can be toxic. Messrs Donovan and Bryans ask for evidence of bullying and harassment, it is there, hiding in plain sight. The micromanagement practices that they have sanctioned are the instruments in the hands of the inquisitors.

 

“There is a culture of fear”

“Staff are worn down. We don’t have a voice.”

 

Justin Donovan uses the term ‘robust management’. Those on the receiving end see it very differently.  Is this why there is a looming recruitment crisis (FOI revealed that 156 teachers left for reasons other than retirement in the last three years) with state schools having to employ unqualified teachers? That our education system is in need of modernising is not in question but the end does not justify the means if those means are coercive.

 

Advice given in the States guidelines suggests that complaints should be taken to a line manager. But at no juncture is the process independent.  Even the S.E.B is perceived by some as being politically compromised. The advice suggests involving the unions but they, too, are feeling the pinch, with the perception that their representatives are being targeted. At least one secondary school now has no union representation on its staff.  The results of a teachers’ survey is due to be released in Spring. How independent will the interpretation of that data be?

 

If staff have concerns regarding bullying and harassment, the States do have a whistleblowing service. It can be contacted at;

 

Chief Internal Auditor

Cyril le Marquand House

PO Box 53

email; reportconcerns@gov.je

or  www.jacs.org.je/

 

There is an independent review of the States complaints procedure being undertaken. Perhaps this is an opportunity for teachers to voice any concerns (confidentially) that they have.

The email contact to send information is;

martintiplady@chameleonpeoplesolutions.co.uk

 

 

In the interim what can be done to put staff at ease is for the education department to publish a code of conduct for all staff, to be posted on staff notice boards and in staff handbooks.  The grievance policy information and the States whistleblowing contacts should also be readily available. A confidential Freephone would also help. The best way to reduce bullying is to shine a light on it.

 

Contact Colin at behaviourinschools@gmail.comB & H 5

School Bullies

 

Bullying and harassment in all its forms is an abuse of power. On Jersey, the lack of a trusted complaints procedure within the States has been recognised.

Examples of bullying and harassment include;

  • Repeated shouting
  • Overbearing supervision
  • Unfair, persistent criticism
  • Demeaning another employee
  • Singling out or excluding an employee
  • Deliberately impeding work performance

(source; Bullying and Harassment guidelines, States of Jersey)

 

In a recent meeting of the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny panel, the Education Minister and Chief Education officer were questioned about bullying and harassment of staff in schools. Both cited that there is little evidence to substantiate the concerns. Is this because staff are unwilling to speak out for fear of blighting their career? At present there are two cases involving teachers, in front of the S.E.B.

 

We are not talking of physical or verbal abuse (although the latter happens). Workplace bullying is much more subtle. For example, if a member of staff complains about unfair treatment they may become subject to more rigorous scrutiny. Longer term they may be passed over for promotion or given less favourable jobs.

 

Here are few comments from teachers that I have received;

“We are not encouraged or praised. We are told off, humiliated about grades, in public.”

“My head of department writes 35% as a prediction, the head teacher writes 50%.”

“Fear leads me to teach every single lesson as if I might get caught out at any moment!”

“The professional partner used me to show the head teacher how to conduct a forceful meeting. I was not asked I was told. It was like a firing squad, spitting out questions before I was finished answering the first.”

“We are constantly told that we are failing.”

“.. he also said (publicly) that I was useless.”

“We are told that we will carry the can.”

 

I have received worrying reports of senior leaders shouting at staff in public. As teachers we are told to treat children with respect, so why can school leaders not do the same when speaking to fellow professionals? Is this the tip of the ice-berg or just a few isolated cases? Unless more staff come forward it is difficult to assess how endemic the issue is.

 

There is evidence of head teachers using CCTV to ‘spy’ on staff; head teachers destroying careers by writing damning references rendering staff unemployable and senior leaders in school trying to belittle staff in public meetings.

 

As a principle, learning walks, the use of performance data and a desire to raise standards should not be an issue but in the hands of the inexperienced, the incompetent or the unscrupulous they can be toxic. Messrs Donovan and Bryans ask for evidence of bullying and harassment, it is there, hiding in plain sight. The micromanagement practices that they have sanctioned are the instruments in the hands of the inquisitors.

 

“There is a culture of fear”

“Staff are worn down. We don’t have a voice.”

 

Justin Donovan uses the term ‘robust management’. Those on the receiving end see it very differently.  Is this why there is a looming recruitment crisis (FOI revealed that 156 teachers left for reasons other than retirement in the last three years) with state schools having to employ unqualified teachers? That our education system is in need of modernising is not in question but the end does not justify the means if those means are coercive.

 

Advice given in the States guidelines suggests that complaints should be taken to a line manager. But at no juncture is the process independent.  Even the S.E.B is perceived by some as being politically compromised. The advice suggests involving the unions but they, too, are feeling the pinch, with the perception that their representatives are being targeted. At least one secondary school now has no union representation on its staff.  The results of a teachers’ survey is due to be released in Spring. How independent will the interpretation of that data be?

 

If staff have concerns regarding bullying and harassment, the States do have a whistleblowing service. It can be contacted at;

 

Chief Internal Auditor

Cyril le Marquand House

PO Box 53

email; reportconcerns@gov.je

or  www.jacs.org.je/

 

There is an independent review of the States complaints procedure being undertaken. Perhaps this is an opportunity for teachers to voice any concerns (confidentially) that they have.

The email contact to send information is;

martintiplady@chameleonpeoplesolutions.co.uk

 

 

In the interim what can be done to put staff at ease is for the education department to publish a code of conduct for all staff, to be posted on staff notice boards and in staff handbooks.  The grievance policy information and the States whistleblowing contacts should also be readily available. A confidential Freephone would also help. The best way to reduce bullying is to shine a light on it.

 

Contact Colin at behaviourinschools@gmail.com

 

adapted from article in JEP December 2017

Education Politics

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We hear a lot about politicians affecting education but what about education’s influence on politicians? The rite of passage from an independent education through to high office has been a key feature in politics for centuries but the mould seemed to be broken when Clement Atlee’s labour party swept into power in 1945. However, Atlee attended a prep school and was from a distinctly middle class background. Nye Bevan, the architect of the N.H.S and welfare state had his roots in a truly ‘working class’ culture as did Herbert Morrison. Their aim was to improve social mobility for all. The Tripartite education system, created by the Conservative politician Rab Butler in 1944 was the pre-cursor to a post-war demand for equality, offering all those bright enough the opportunity to get an education comparable to that offered by private schools. This was mirrored on Jersey, post-war, with the creation of Hautlieu albeit it took until the 1960’s to achieve this aim.

 

Whilst most on the right of politics continued to be privately educated those on the left were either schooled in grammars (Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Jeremy Corbyn) or Comprehensives (Ed Milliband, Gordon Brown, Neil Kinnock). Tony Blair the pin-up boy of the centre left was privately educated as was Michael Foot. Champagne Socialists? Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May were both grammar school educated. Most went on to study at Oxford University. In June 2017, for the first time ever, following the UK election, 50% of the UK Government has had a comprehensive education. A sign of the times no doubt but when you factor in that only 7% of children attend private schools, the bias is still significant.

 

So what of our own states members? At present, the States is comprised of members from a wide range of educational backgrounds. A couple have their origins in boarding school education, some are grammar school taught. Only one has had a truly comprehensive education but if you include Hautlieu that rises to 18% so the mix is not an homogenous one bearing in mind 50% of the schools population are not in fee paying education. This mirrors the UK correlation of having a privileged education and occupying leadership posts.

 

In Nick Duffell’s seminal book, “Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion-a psychotherapy” he concludes that politicians that have travelled the ‘gold-plated’ route from boarding school to leadership are not best suited for the role of politician because they lack the emotional intelligence needed to make reasoned judgements. For many, it is not just about their education but is also as a result of absent parents, creating attachments issues that resonate into adult life. Jon Ronson goes one step further, suggesting that 1 in 25 leaders are psychopaths. That means we might have two in our government at present!

 

Any accountant can balance the books but it takes much more to be an effective leader in today’s fast changing society. Where leadership was once about being the most competitive, nowadays it is also about having the wherewithal to collaborate, inspire and motivate. Why just cut staffing when, with a little more initiative you could involve employees in the modernisation process? Modern leadership is about having the ability to empathise; with a workforce, with a community, with a voting public and a person’s schooling plays a significant role in this respect. Children raised in an inclusive environment tend to be inclusive by inclination. But is the reverse also true?

 

Grenfell Tower in London stands as a monument to hard-nosed austerity, a ghastly reminder of how fiscal prudence took priority over the health and safety of its residents. Working with people is far more complex than just reading a spreadsheet and meeting targets, it is a skill that requires nurture. Perhaps this lack of empathy is behind voter apathy on the island.

 

Whilst empathy is not the preserve of those that have had a comprehensive education it would stand to reason that effective governance should have a balance of contributors from all walks of life which, at present, the Island’s government does not. Around 50% come from business and finance; only a quarter are women and there is no representation from ethnic minorities (20% of Jersey’s population). Ethnic diversity is conspicuous by its absence in our independent schools. Around 35% of the present government were taught in single sex establishments. Diversity will only happen when the people promoting it actually comprehend what it involves. If the island is serious about improving diversity in government, and by inference social mobility, it must look at its education system and address the imbalance at source.

LESS IS MORE

Less-is-More2

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chair of Ofsted in the UK, highlighted in his annual report, the divide between the poor North and the affluent South in respect of educational achievement. In Jersey we have our own educational divide, between the state sector schools and the private schools, some of which are part subsidised by the state. It would appear that to try and allay this ‘divide’, the States of Jersey are using a pupil premium, £1000 per head given to educate the poorest children. But is this not a political sleight of hand? Is the education department looking to raise standards or performance? The same States department has put a cap on these potential first generation academics by no longer supporting them through university should they earn the right get there. The initiative might also be seen as patronising as it assumes that poor means dumb and in my experience this is not the case.

 

There is a global, political, imperative to be seen at the top of the P.I.S.A league, akin to a country topping the medals table at the Olympics. Internationally, politicians believe that being the top, reflects the superior nature of their ideology. Nationally the pursuit of ever improving performance targets seduces voters into believing that the government is raising attainment. Be under no illusion chasing performance targets in education is more about political expediency than it is about any altruistic desire to raise student aspirations. There is a world of difference between raising educational standards and improving examination performance.

 

The O.E.C.D has repeatedly shown that if you are wanting higher grades then look to the education systems of the Far-East. Countries like China and South Korea are always in the top six of the P.I.S.A charts for literacy and numeracy. But beware, the reason for their lofty status is as much about their culture as it is about education. Their children are made to study from a very early age and they have long school days as well as after school tuition, regularly amounting to twelve or more hours a day. The work is largely repetitious and the children are pressured and shamed into performing. They are tested incessantly and all are expected to meet the stringent targets set irrespective of ability. But then you look at the wellbeing of each nation’s youth. South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world for teenagers. Jian Xueqin, a director at Peking University said recently;

 

“Using tests to structure schooling is a mistake. Students lose their innate inquisitiveness and imagination, and become insecure and amoral in the pursuit of high scores….they’re merely producing competent mediocrity.”

 

 

The UK (20th) follows US (28th)and Jersey tends to slavishly mirror all that the UK does and so we are seeing more testing, more content, more assessment, more monitoring, more meetings, longer school days, more after school clubs, more homework. The belief is that ‘more begats more’ but it is a false economy. Our children are more stressed, more disaffected and often anxious. The teachers are, increasingly disillusioned hence why 50,000 left the profession in the UK last year alone. 40% leave the profession within twelve months.  Jersey is no exception, struggling to find quality teachers, and to retain them.

 

What if Jersey had an education system that was the envy of the UK; one which raised academic achievement for all, beyond expectations, whilst ensuring our children’s positive mental health and wellbeing; one that could reduce overall costs? Too good to be true? Well we could have our educational cake and eat it. Oddly the answer lies in an ethos where ‘less is more’.

 

Finland lies 6th in the PISA league just a few points behind the draconian practices of the Far-Eastern countries and way ahead of the ‘wannabes’ below.  It has evolved an education system that many countries are taking a serious look at, including those from the Far-East.  Class sizes in Finland are between 15 and 20, giving the teacher plenty of time to get around each pupil in the class. They have a short school day, generally four lessons and 15-20 minute breaks between each in order to refresh and reflect. The subject content is less allowing more time to engender understanding.  Interestingly, children do not start full time schooling until they are 7 years of age and, crucially, receive only one formal test, at the age of sixteen.  How do they achieve higher grades if they spend less time studying?

 

The, teachers are highly trained (Masters degree or better) and are specially selected to ensure capability for the job. Only 10% of those that apply are successful. Teachers pay is on a par with doctors and lawyers, ensuring a highly motivated work force. Perhaps, most important is the fact that the teachers are empowered to get on with the job. There is no competition between schools and no performance targets.

 

It is an education system based on equality and egalitarianism and it is inclusive. Pupils with special educational needs are brought up to pace using specially trained teachers. The difference between the lowest performing pupils and the highest is the lowest in the OECD rankings. If Jersey were to introduce the Finnish education model, achievement across the bailiwick could be around 20% higher than the maximum 3% that the pupil premium appears to offer.

 

Costs are reduced by improving efficiency. If teaching is of a high quality there is no need for the circus that surrounds the profession. Jersey’s educational system is top heavy with administrators and ‘support’ services. The secondary schools have far too many ‘managers’.  The one million pound subsidy given to the private sector, would cover the cost of more than twenty new teachers in state schools. That is at least one extra teacher for every primary school, reducing class sizes and improving educational standards at a sweep.

 

Jersey cannot afford not to look at what the Finnish system can offer.

 

 

Colin Lever is the author of: Children in Need Education, Wellbeing & the Pursuit of GDP

Is Competition Healthy?

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In any competition there are winners and losers. We learn from our mistakes or at least that’s what we like to tell ourselves. Whilst we cannot protect our children from experiencing setbacks, it is the nature of the defeat that shapes our character. I am not an advocate of wrapping children up in cotton wool but surely there should be a limit to how much we should expose them to failure, in terms of frequency and intensity. Robustness takes time to instil in a child.

 

On many a classroom wall there is a star chart, tallying up points for good practice for each child. Healthy competition? Providing a challenge and motivation? Invariably it is the same pupils that win (usually the most able or the naughty ones). Consider the quiet, compliant child at the back of the class. They barely get noticed. In fact there can be only one winner. How many times do you have to lose before you give up?

 

In China, classes are taught in mixed ability groups. Lists are put up for all to see, showing the rank order of best to worst. The ones at the bottom are, literally, named and shamed and this in a culture that places a strong emphasis on family honour. Achievement is raised through negative motivation.  Nobody wants to be bottom so they work like stink to avoid being the class dunce. They are subjected to this trauma from when they first start school at the age of five. It is no wonder suicide rates among teenagers are so high in the Far East.

 

Those over a certain age might be wondering what all the fuss is about. We were also taught in very large classes, using a chalk and talk approach. School reports always showed your position in the class.  Failure meant ridicule, laziness was sanctioned. ‘It did us no harm’ you say, but I bet you can all remember every blow as vividly as if it were yesterday. What have changed are the motives that drive education. The difference between then and now is that children were not seen as a commodity.

 

In Jersey, each teacher’s performance is monitored to ensure that every child in the class follows a linear progression in their learning. Deviations are seized upon, pressure is brought to bear on the teacher and subsequently on the pupil, to bring them back into line. What if the child is suffering a family trauma? Should we not expect that the child be excused such pressures, at least until the problem eases?

 

When every grade matters it is easy for the wellbeing of the child to be compromised for the sake of raising achievement. As a parent what comes first, your child’s wellbeing or getting those grades? It should be a ‘no brainer’ but for those in education the choice is not so straightforward.  We are now hearing the football manager’s cliché ‘we are in a results business’ echoing in the educational corridors of power. But should education be just about results? And if so, why are those not delivering, sacked, as football managers frequently are?

 

Be under no illusion, it is not just pupils that are now competing. Each and every school on the island is in competition with the other (we’ve all seen the banner at the top of St Saviour’s Hill). There institutional micro-management? It is compromising the ability of teachers to take a holistic view of the children? We exchanged one form of abuse for another. Are our children winners or losers in this game?

 

At what point does zealousness on the part of the professionals become exploitation of the child? What checks and balances are in place in school to ensure that the unscrupulous do not cross the line in their desire for ever higher results? Accountability should be as rigorous when it comes to wellbeing as it is in the pursuit of academic improvement. Yes there are policies and support in situ but surely it is more important to be pro-active and this involves putting the wellbeing of pupils and staff before results.  There can be no compromise.

 

The statistics regarding child mental health are a worry, so we need to know if there is any substance to these tales being told out of class. And what of the teachers? Stress and anxiety are contagious. How can we expect staff to be understanding of the pupils when they, themselves are not in a ‘good place’? We need to get at the facts and this can only be achieved by asking those directly involved, the pupils and the teachers.

 

 

Adapted from article in JEP

 

Child development and the pursuit of GDP

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While arguments rage about the efficacy of means testing parents who want to send their children to private nurseries something much more fundamental is being overlooked. It is well established that the first twelve months of a child’s life play a pivotal role in a person’s physical and mental development. This is the age when brain development is, arguably, at its most versatile. Children learn to walk, talk and to co-ordinate. Theirs is a world of inquisitiveness as they explore their environment. The same is true of their emotional development. In a loving and caring environment the child gains esteem, building a positive resilience in the knowledge that they are being supported. In the first twelve months, the young child endeavours to build secure attachments to their primary carer, usually the mother, and then with other family members.

 

If a child is placed outside of the family unit at this formative stage then that secure attachment may be compromised. Placing a baby in childcare may result in their physiological and basic health and safety needs being met but we cannot be certain that its emotional needs are being catered for. The younger a child is when placed with a carer and the longer it is away from its parents the more likely its sense of belonging will be compromised, leading to anxiety, stress, affecting their emerging self-esteem.

 

Much is made of children being born into poverty but what of the child born today in any social demographic where the parents are absent for long periods during these formative months? The absence of a discrete primary care-giver leads to insecure attachments which in turn reduce self-esteem and builds a negative resilience, sometimes described as a ‘survival instinct’. It is well documented that insecure attachment can manifest itself as A.D.H.D, O.D.D, or P.T.S.D and other socio/emotional behaviour conditions. S.E.B.D is no longer the sole domain of the poor in society.

 

Parenting is driven by social trends. The demand on some families is such that both parents have to work in order to keep a roof over their heads. The situation is further complicated by issues over equality and the rights of both parents to have a career. Governments encourage a debt driven economy which may create jobs but the consequence of rampant consumerism is that both parents have to work to maintain their lifestyle. Something has to give. There has to be compromise if we are to ensure the wellbeing of our children.

 

After about 12 months, although child development is continuing, the resilience of the child is better established.  It should be borne in mind that insecure attachment can occur at any point in a person’s life, be that parental divorce, bereavement or other emotional trauma so any change in routine needs to handled sensitively.

 

The timing of moving from full-time parental care to a part-time one is significant. Basic maternity leave on Jersey is 18 weeks but in the UK it is 26 weeks This coincides with both parents being back at work when secure attachment between primary caregiver and child is at its most vulnerable. If leave of absence was longer, around twelve months, this would better support a child’s mental health development. This of course would have financial implications. But why should a parent have to choose between having a child and having a career? Can they not have both without risking the wellbeing of their child?

 

If a child has to have childcare, parents want to be assured of a high quality of provision. At present there are minimum physical requirements that early years establishments have to meet. These include staff to children ratios, square footage etc. There is also a pre-school quality framework that nurseries have signed up to. This includes; relationships, organisation, learning and achievement. On Jersey assessment is largely through self-assessment. However, the degree of quality assurance is not evident. There is a lack of transparency and a dearth of independent information meaning that parents have little to refer to in order to help them facilitate choice.

 

Nursery managers have to have a level three qualification in childcare. But that is not the case with all childcare ‘assistants’ who make up the majority of the adults who, in turn are not well paid. Why is nursery education not a degree entry profession like the rest of education and paid accordingly?

 

Jersey has one of the highest numbers of working mothers in the world and so the demand for childcare places is high. The island spends far less on Pre-school education as a proportion of GDP than the UK(1.2%). Raising children in today’s society is an expensive business and parents bear the brunt of that expense. The three new nurseries will be a welcome addition but of all the areas within education Pre-school is where there is least investment and yet this is where the foundations of social, emotional and educational development are built.

 

Adapted from article in JEP

Child protection and the role of the school

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Haute de la Garenne was a scandal involving children in the care of the States of Jersey. People were employed to provide a ‘duty of care’, but as we now know, a small number of adults abused their positions of trust. Every employee within the care system has the same responsibility to the children under their guidance, from States Ministers right through to frontline staff. Whilst those identified as ‘abusers’ take the blame there is  a corporate responsibility to ensure that there are not only policies and procedures in place but that the necessary checks and balances are actively implemented.  One states minister has been accused of telling lies, another finds himself having to apologise for committing a ‘grave political error’ and a third does not see the efficacy of putting the needs of children first. These are examples of a lack of empathy with the whole issue of child protection, people seemingly putting their own political careers foremost. It is symptomatic of child abuse tragedies in the UK and across the world. Other ‘managers’ within the system are just as complicit, hiding behind policies and procedures. It should be a case of being not doing. Child abuse is still happening on Jersey and elsewhere. The need for a Children’s champion has never been greater.

 

Whilst the focus is on the care system, many children that are at risk are still under the supervision of their parents. It is the policy within social care to keep the child with its parents if at all possible. Their position is an invidious one and fraught with risk to the child at the centre. Jersey has appointed an advisory panel to look the recommendations coming from the resultant enquiry. I am not sure how far the remit of the newly appointed advisory panel extends but it must look at the broader picture in respect of child protection. Child abuse takes on many forms. Sexual and physical abuse make the headlines but emotional abuse and neglect are perhaps the most prevalent. Children in need rarely express their concerns openly. Challenging behaviour in school is often an expression of an unmet need and it is the skilled professional with the time to consider the situation that draws the right conclusion. Herein lies the rub.

 

All schools have policies and procedures in place with a designated staff member holding responsibility for child protection. Secondary schools have school counsellors and primary schools have visiting wellbeing experts. It is within these confidential conversations where children express their anxieties that many issues of abuse come to light. The referral route is well established, the problem is the ever increasing demand and the shortage of social workers. There were over 244 referrals to Children’s Services last November on Jersey, double the monthly amount.

 

However, it is also the case that classroom teachers get wind of children experiencing personal problems. A child might become more challenging in class or more introvert. It is a concern that with the present climate in schools staff, where they  may not pick up signs of abuse, so focussed are they on improving academic performance. It is an essential part of a teacher’s job but one which is being increasingly compromised.  This a prime example of management putting profit before people.

 

If behavioural issues are resolved using only punitive sanctions they can quickly escalate into something much bigger. Ultimately the child might receive an external suspension, putting them back into a family situation that increases their risk of being abused. In Jersey secondary schools, external suspensions have increased by almost 20% in the last five years. The maximum time allowed in respect of external suspension on Jersey is 45 days with a maximum of 15 days for each term.  The vast majority of school suspensions are for verbal abuse. Exclusions are an area that the advisory panel might want to look at. Children that are externally suspended might be being returned to a high risk situation. There are alternatives.

 

Another issue relating to school and child protection is the issue of vetting in respect of adults working in schools. All staff employed by a school are subject to standard police checks but what about jobs that are put out to tender, many of whom are new to the island and not cleared via statutory police checks? Such cost cutting is putting our children at risk.

 

The actions of some teachers as they attempt to maintain discipline and improve academic performance can be questionable. In most cases it comes from frustration at being unable to manage an individual’s behaviour and it is often the most vulnerable children that are the most challenging. Many teachers and management in school are not adequately skilled in dealing with child protection issues; more training is needed, especially in intervention techniques, if schools are to offer protection to all children. It is essential that schools do not become part of the problem.images

Industrial Relations

Industrial Relations

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In 2016 one of the teaching unions in Jersey (N.A.S.U.W.T) agreed an ‘educational partnership’ with Jersey States. It appeared to welcome in a new era of employer/employee industrial relations. On its anniversary in 2017, Education Minister, Deputy Rod Bryans stated;

 

“One of the main drivers for creating the Educational Partnership was to avoid the confrontational approach …and to put children and teachers at the heart of our decision-making.”

Kathy  Wallis, president of the NASUWT  UK added;

“It is clear that it is having a beneficial impact on the development of Jersey’s education system.”

A survey carried out soon after its creation saw 87% of teachers satisfied with their lot.

 

As this summer recess approaches we see;

  • Teaching staff turnover is almost double that of the UK (almost a third of the staff in one secondary school are leaving this summer)
  • Cutting class teachers salaries to balance the books of schools that have a large overspend (almost £1.5 million across all state schools, with one school accounting for over six hundred thousand pounds in the last two years)
  • A significant rise in the number of teachers being disciplined
  • A growing number of grievances being brought against senior management by teaching staff
  • One headteacher leaving following significant staff turnaround at the school (65 staff in seven years)

 

The tales of debilitating micromanagement emanating from many schools are increasing. Some think that conflict is an unfortunate consequence of trying to effect change in working practises.  New teachers coming into the profession know no different, they are cheaper and more accepting of the latest terms and conditions. But the principle of teaching being a vocation is being eroded and this it at the heart of the ‘troubles’. In the UK, one third of teachers leave within five years and 13% of NQT’s quit after just twelve months. Jersey’s education system cannot sustain a lower pay, high turnover approach to management. The graduate teacher training programme cannot meet such demands and the recruitment of Science and Maths teachers from UK universities has sourced less than five staff in the last two years.

 

We used to attract high quality teachers to the island, encouraged by competitive salaries, pay and conditions. In the UK about 10% of experienced staff that teach core subjects has left their posts.  There is evidence of this happening here. In the UK not enough people are taking up teaching, leading to significant staff shortages. It is naive to believe that Jersey is not affected in the same way. The Chair of Education has given reassures that ‘all teaching posts are filled’ for the start of the next academic year; but what with? It is impossible to get an accurate picture of how shortages, especially in the specialist subjects, are hitting Jersey schools as the education department remains tight lipped. This is an issue for ‘Scrutiny’.

 

Information relayed to the public speaks of standards rising. But this is because the data being used takes an average of the schools on the island, State schools and significantly, State Funded Private schools. It is difficult to get a homogenous sample but the latter group skew the data favourably. Take them away and difference is evident with 52.6% 5 A* to C at GCSE (with three schools well below that average). The UK average is 67% and their international record is mediocre. For parents with children in the primary sector performance data for 2016 is still not available. Why?

 

It is easy to blame frontline staff for any short fall in achievement but they are being coerced into following an education pedagogy  who’s progress, to date, can best be described as glacial. UK Educational ‘advisors’, the education department and top heavy senior management in schools must bear the bulk of the responsibility for any shortcomings. It is they who are enforcing this change of practice. But where is their accountability?

 

Where does this summer of discontent leave industrial relations and what effect is all this angst having on our children’s wellbeing? When it comes to educational management on Jersey, the needs of the child are not the top priority. Attempting to improve productivity whilst cutting costs is a difficult task but we are not dealing with on-line parcel deliveries or high street sports retailing. Our children are not a commodity. There are more efficient, less draconian, management models, ones that will empower teachers, engage children and raise standards significantly; and they will cost the tax payer no extra money. Why do we not use them?

 

Adapted from an article in the JEP July 2017

How education divides society

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The purpose of a pupil premium in the UK is to raise the academic achievement of ‘under privileged’ children, seeking to lift them out of their cycle of poverty and help to create a more equal society. The early signs  are that the initiative is working, albeit slowly. Success is measured by comparing the achievement gap between those registered and the rest of the school population. That gap is closing in the primary sector but in the secondary sector the gap is proving harder to bridge. The likely reason for this discrepancy is that as pupils get older their sense of failure becomes more ingrained. Getting a teaching assistant to help them is tantamount to sticking a dunce’s hat on their head. The very act of trying to support them stigmatises them in the eyes of their peers.

There are those that think it is throwing good money after bad as the odds against these children succeeding are substantial. Children who exhibit significant behaviour problems mainly come from this cohort and as such provide a real challenge. Hence, the quality of support is vital if the pupil premium is going to be a success. Does that degree of expertise exist in enough numbers to meet the demand?

The project is being funded, on Jersey, to the tune of£850,000 per year. Just over two thousand pupils are eligible. Each primary child selected receives an extra £700 and £450 for secondary pupils. It would be churlish to criticise such philanthropy but whilst States members congratulate themselves on a vote winner they remain silent about that other piece of educational patronage; the eight million pounds that is allocated to the two thousand pupils that attend the rebranded ‘States Funded Private Schools’, an oxymoron with serious societal implications. It is TEN TIMES the amount apportioned to the pupil premium. The States also subsidise other Independent schools to the tune of £4 million, with the highest paid head teacher on the island, being in charge of one of these. And what of the majority of pupils that receive no extra financial support? Most islanders cannot afford to send their children to a S.F.P.S yet it is their taxes that subsidise them.

Every pupil is given an ‘assisted weight pupil unit’ or A.W.P.U. This is tallied up to decide school funding. For example the A.W.P.U for a child in a State Primary is around £3,500 and for a secondary school pupil is about £6,500. The A.W.P.U for a child from a S.F.P.S is around half that of a child in the states sector. However, when school fees and sponsorship are added the figure is far in excess of that in the States sector.

In the UK, Independent schools register themselves as a charity.  By registering they save £522 million in  taxes, revenue that could be used for the benefit of all children. The argument used by those that send their children to private schools for continuing the ‘subsidy’ is that they are paying twice. But it is a facile argument. If they want to pay extra, that is their choice and it brings with it exclusivity and privilege. Most parents do not have a choice.

For this taxpayer’s investment in private education what does the island get for their money that a state school could not offer? The number of pupils with Special Educational Needs and/or those with English as a second language are marginal (compared to a school like Haute Vallée that has 13% with S.E.N and 39% E.A.L. Haute Vallée also includes a unit for pupils with autism and integrates pupils from Mont a l’Abbé special school). State funded schools are supposed to promote inclusion and equality, the S.F.P.S  are by their very nature exclusive.

To any outside observer, seeking to make efficiencies in our education system this would be a no brainer. £12 million would pay for free places for all Nursery children, cover the cost of the pupil premium, fund the Jersey Childcare Trust, provide a free music service for all pupils, under write a H.E student loan system  and raise attainment across all schools. Supporters of S.F.P.S say that they are saving the States money by taking their children out of the state system but any school receiving funding from the States should embrace inclusion and equality of opportunity. Likewise, by continuing to provide capital, the States are openly shoring up societal inequality whilst purporting to advocate inclusion via the pupil premium, at a ratio of £10 to £1.

Whilst politicians pay homage to the pupil premium in the hope that some of its political fairy dust will come their way, to rage against the machine is to commit political suicide. The ghost of James Reid (the ex Education Minister that dared to propose cuts in funding for private schools) haunts the States Chamber as a warning to any that dare question the status quo and is testament that the lobby upholding S.F.P.S funding is potent. This institution is a window into the soul of the island. It is a pillar of the established order that maintains a glass ceiling way beyond a person’s formative years. Children learn much from their time at school and until the educational divide is removed the divisions in society on Jersey and in the UK, will remain.

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Is raising achievement making our children less intelligent?

Is Raising Achievement making our children less intelligent?

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A recent study carried out by an Oxford University professor, Danny Dorling, showed that the UK and the US were the worst countries for teaching to examinations. He showed that when students between the ages of 16 and 24 repeat exams in literacy, numeracy and problem solving performance drops significantly. In the UK just over half of our students achieved the benchmark of 5 A* to C grades and how the pupils are taught in our schools is no different.

 

Such is the pressure to ‘perform’, many schools in the UK are not averse to using subterfuge.  From sanitising schools; to massaging results; to the use of quack-science, no stone is left unturned in this pursuit.  It is a sad situation when those we entrust with our children’s wellbeing have to resort to cheating but this is typical of education today.

 

Whatever happened to ‘nurture’?

 

The political talk is of raising achievement but there is a world of difference between improving examination performance and raising educational standards. Be under no illusion, what is taking place in schools across many countries has more to do with political expediency than it has about trying to raise a child’s career opportunities. There is a global, political, imperative to be seen at the top of international ‘performance’ leagues. It is akin to a country topping the medals table at the Olympics. Internationally, politicians believe that being the top, reflects the superior nature of their ideology. Nationally, the pursuit of ever improving performance targets seduces voters into believing that the government is actually raising attainment.

 

In their drive to ‘raise achievement’ a number of schools have lost sight of what role they play in society, deluding themselves and the general  public that educational standards are improving. To ensure accountability in the system, a whole circus of advisors and data systems have been acquired, sucking out vital capital from the classroom and replacing it with angst and anxiety as teachers and pupils feel the heat.

 

The present educational model is unsustainable. You cannot expect a year on year improvement because capability in the population is not exponential. You will always have a range of abilities and there will be those who will not be able to pass at the required level no matter how much time, effort and money you throw at them.  Intelligence is one of a number limiting factors that will cause improvement to plateau at some point in time.  Making examinations ‘harder’ just creates more failures.

 

We have to ask ourselves what it is we actually want from our education system? Focussing purely on ‘performance’ is a false economy, it does not provide a workforce that is skilled enough and will affect economic growth. In terms of social and emotional development this narrow approach to education is creating adults with significant mental health issues, people who do not have the resilience to cope with modern day life. Far from removing social barriers, focussing on performance alone is, in fact, re-enforcing social division and introducing a pupil premium is not going to change anything.

 

Intelligence, like many other human traits is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. We can improve a child’s basic intelligence over time but to do so they must get the right kind of stimulus and motivation. Learning by rote does little except create disaffection.

 

The mantra in education used to be ‘broad and balanced’. Although more content has been added to the curriculum at all levels it cannot be said that it is either broad or balanced. Training children to pass examinations does not teach them to problem solve, apply knowledge, analyse, synthesise or evaluate. Many students emerge lacking the capability to think independently and Professor Dorling’s research emphasises this.

 

Maybe this is a political ploy, to under educate the masses whilst raising the academic ceiling so that the majority can never really aspire to anything. For to improve intelligence would be to create a wider  public with the capacity to reason and to question what is happening around them, and that might not be advantageous at election time. In the end, some politicians stand for nothing but re-election.

 

But the politicians need not worry, the signs are that our children are becoming less intelligent. Professor Dorling’s report is just the latest in a long line of research indicating as much. In 2006 Professor Michael Shayer carried out an extensive study of primary school children which drew this same t conclusion. In the UK the ‘Flynn effect’, an adjustment that is made to standardise the IQ test every generation, is actually falling. In England  just under half the school population cannot pass their GCSE’s. Many leave still unable to do the basics. Our education system is actually deskilling the future workforce.

 

If there really is a desire to raise educational standards then educational policy should be looking at how it can improve the intelligence of ALL children. This requires a change in how children are taught, the volume of information they are expected to acquire, the quality of teaching and learning available and a broad and balanced curriculum with an emphasis on the development of thinking skills. The irony is that if we were to move in this direction, performance in examinations would improve as a consequence.

Adapted from an article in the Jersey Evening Post 01/06/16

Colin Lever is the author of; 

Children in Need; Education, Wellbeing and the pursuit of GDP

Understanding Challenging Behaviour in the Inclusive Classroom

The pursuit of GDP and rise in challenging behaviour of pupils

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Family Matters

One in two marriages end in divorce. The average life of a marriage is eleven years. 1.9 million single parent families with dependent children. The average household debt in the UK stands at £54K and has doubled in ten years. 78% of children attend a childminder. Children spend around six hours a day in front of a screen. Nicky Morgan (UK, Education Secretary) is quoted;

 

“Some parents struggle to find just ten minutes a day to read to sons and daughters because of the demands of work.”

 

The statistics paint a picture of families reliant on debt and working as many hours as they can to manage that debt. How reflective are they of family life today and what values underpin them?

 

If a family is to function properly, it must be able to satisfy the needs of each member. The most basic needs are physiological, health and hygiene etc. Yet, one in three children are now clinically obese and 50% of under eights have serious, tooth decay. If these, most basic of needs are not met what effect will this have on the child?

 

A family should be protective of its members and provide emotional stability. Where physical or emotional abuse is evident, family members may feel insecure.  In England, 48,000 children are in need of protection and 68,000 are in care. Physical abuse is all too obvious but emotional abuse is much harder to detect.

 

A child may be ‘cared for’ by having their basic needs met but if there is a lack of affection in the home this may affect their wellbeing. Parents that are ‘too busy’ may shower their children with gifts. Pampering them by giving in to their demands does not foster a sense of belonging. Lack of belonging is one of the reasons why some children are susceptible to being groomed, whether by paedophiles or extremists.

 

Strong relationships within the family help to build self-esteem and confidence. Insecure attachments can lead to feelings of inferiority or depression and to difficulties in forming long-term relationships. Relationships become brittle and may be brutal. Mental Health issues are often the result of insecure attachments.

 

Some parents convince themselves that they are ‘providing’ for their children by going out to work but the reality is that they are using this as an excuse to satisfy their own, selfish, needs. Getting the balance correct is not an easy one. Compromise is inevitable but if intrinsic family values are sound they will act as a stabiliser. Parenting styles shape the child and become self-perpetuating.

 

If needs are not met then a person is unlikely to achieve their full potential. What emerges is likely to be somebody that is self-centred, focussing on purely on their career, ambition etc.

 

My parents were part of the society that voted for a National Health Service and a Welfare State. These were ideals supported by a strong sense of collectivism on the part of the whole nation, a new beginning after the ravages of Two World Wars. The sense of community was strong with family values such as living within one’s means, respect for others and being neighbourly.

 

The altruistic ideals that created our National Health System and a ‘cradle to grave’ Welfare State have changed. Progress is now judged largely in terms of material acquisitions. It is more about image than wellbeing. We look in horror at a three year old plucked dead from the sea yet we use the maxim ‘charity begins at home’ as an excuse to stop immigration in all of its forms?  Our culture used to be one based on tolerance.

 

Raising children is no longer viewed holistically. Parents put the emphasis on their careers, some even have children as a ‘to do’ item on their checklist, disregarding the commitment required to raise the child. If a child is placed for long periods with a child minder for long periods from whom do they learn their moral compass?

 

Following the financial crash of 2007/8, austerity has chipped away at the institutions created by our forebears. The vulnerable in society are squeezed, the elderly, the disabled and the poor. They are the ones who are forced to make sacrifices caused by those individuals who put self first. Society’s leaders, many of them products of an elitist culture, do not comprehend the human cost of their decisions on the needy.

 

There is a distinct deficiency of empathy running through all levels of society as people now display individualism rather collectivism. The rich get richer and the rest endeavour to emulate ‘the haves’ rather than trying to help the ‘have-nots’.  Politics shapes family values which in turn defines our politics. There is no doubt that families matter.

Adapted from an article in the Jersey Evening Post 13/10/15

Colin Lever is the author of; 

Children in Need; Education, Wellbeing and the pursuit of GDP

Understanding Challenging Behaviour in the Inclusive Classroom

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