Colin Lever

Author & Educationist

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 3)

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

 

 

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One child a week, on Jersey, presents at A&E as a failed suicide (Jersey Child Accident Prevention). How do you view this statistic? Shocked? Appalled? Apathetic? The number of incidents of self-harming amongst children appearing at A&E is significant. A recent poll in the UK revealed that over a third of children had self-harmed. But what is the root of these statistics?

Jersey is an off-shore tax haven, synonymous with a luxuriant life-style but it is a place where inequality is higher than in many countries. £850k is spent on pupil premium per year, yet £12 million is spent subsidising private education. There is an underclass that struggle to survive. Exorbitant rents and poor housing are the norm. Homelessness and food banks are increasingly prevalent.

‘Poverty begetting child neglect’ is an all too familiar stereotype, one that society is becoming impervious to but the issue of wellbeing is not the sole preserve of the underprivileged. What must happen for us to be jolted out of our complacency? Child abuse is not just historic, it is operating today, in plain sight. The signs are there but nobody dares to join up the dots. It is the emperor’s new clothes.

We are horrified when we see stories of child abuse and exploitation in the National media. Who cannot be shocked by the treatment of infants in homes where violence prevails or the organised gangs that roam city streets grooming vulnerable teenagers? For most of us, watching the news on TV or reading the paper is as close to child exploitation as we get… or is it?

What is reported in the news is at the extreme but what actually constitutes child abuse. Much is made of slapping children. Some see this as child abuse others as acceptable ‘discipline’. The line that is crossed is not so clear, at least in this country. If slapping is abusive what about chastising your child? Is shouting at them being abusive? Grabbing them by the arm? We can accept such actions in context, to prevent our child from immediate harm but what about when they are just not being compliant, in non life-threatening situations. Are such actions acceptable then? If not could they be deemed abusive?

If we turn our attention to schools and schooling, how do teachers keep their pupils ‘on task’? Do they use positive reinforcement techniques, exclusively, or do they resort to less savoury actions? Physical contact is a ‘no-no’ that is understood but how many resort to giving children the ‘hair dryer’ treatment when they step out of line?  Maybe they badger the children constantly or perhaps use more sinister strategies? Whilst we all hope that our children learn in a happy, productive yet cognitively challenging atmosphere, what is the reality of day to day working in a classroom?

The emphasis in the classroom was once about positive motivation, enjoyment and engagement. If the children were ‘at ease’ with themselves this made for a relaxed and productive atmosphere.  With the introduction of performance related targets the class dynamic has changed beyond all recognition. It is one thing to have a star-chart on the wall but to list academic performance for all to see, naming and shaming? Is this bullying? Is this abuse? I believe that it is.

What about the children that are underperforming? How are they dealt with? How much pressure is applied to get them to meet their targets? At what point does ‘encouragement’ become abuse? Do the teachers recognise anxiety in their protégés? If they do when do they decide that enough is enough? Bullying in schools is commonplace and it is not just in the playground.

The teachers are, themselves, put upon by their line managers. Performance data is shared in department meetings and beyond. Questions are asked of those children working below the required performance ‘flight path’ and what the teacher is doing to remedy the situation? How many in these meetings put the emotional needs of the child first, accepting emotional distress as a legitimate reason for taking the foot off the pedal?

Rising further up the management chain, head teachers are pressured to improve school performance results as a priority. They are ‘advised’ by a small group of ‘professional partners’ whose sole aim is to ‘raise achievement’. Where in their meetings do they consider the wellbeing of individual pupils? Does this come first or after strategies aimed at increasing productivity? Is it mentioned at all?

Few of us are party to what is discussed in these meetings, the minutes are not readily available. However, the consequence of what goes on in classrooms, as a result of meetings etc is writ large in the statistics that reflect the wellbeing of our children.

The Mental Health Quality Report (2016-17) revealed that on Jersey;

  • One in ten children have a mental health problem
  • 50% of mental health issues are established by the age of 14
  • Self-Esteem amongst teenagers has fallen by 20%
  • 75% of mental health issues start before the age of eighteen

Self-harm is not just about cutting. Drug taking, eating disorders are types of self-harming. On Jersey one in three children are obese by the age of eleven.  Absence from school is higher than in the UK referrals to CAMHs is at breaking point. Oddly none of these have been chosen as indicators in the 2016 Mental Health report for the island.

In Jersey’s educational business plan 2017-19 there is much about systems, training and academic progress (although the reality is not worth shouting about) but almost nothing about child wellbeing, nor was there any mention of this in the 2014 business plan. The island is not alone in its failure to step up to the mark.

Deriding children as ‘snowflakes’ or dismissing them as having been ‘mollycoddled’ is just avoiding the inconvenient truth. Detractors need to ‘man-up’ and face the facts, poor mental health is an epidemic. What we can all agree is that the ‘school of hard knocks’ shapes our personality.  Mental Health issues now account for almost half the illness on the island and are costing business millions of pounds that is why it is being taken seriously (not because our children are hurting, notice). ‘Grinning and bearing’ is no longer an option.

Anxiety and depression are at the core of most mental health issues and much of it starts in childhood. Family breakdowns and abuse play their part but a recent survey carried out by YouGov for Barnardo’s in the UK has revealed that the main reason for pupils’ anxieties is school (65%) with concern about their future (42%) second. Online bullying accounted for only 12% yet it has garnered much publicity.

A recent PISA report (2017) showed that UK children were amongst the most unhappiest in the world, ranked 38/48. Only countries such as those in the Far-East that top the PISA league tables for Maths, Reading and Science fared worse.  South Korea has the worst record in the world for teenage suicide. The correlation between poor mental health and the G.E.R.M (Global Education Reform Movement) approach to education is well established. Both the Barnardo’s (83%) and the PISA (72%) reports show that anxiety levels reach a peak at 15 years of age. As examination stress kicks in.

The issue not just about examinations, the problems go far deeper, the pressure to ‘perform’ is unabatting, from Nursery to A level and beyond. Children as young as two years old are put into ability sets. They are clinically compared with others and to benchmarks imposed upon them. There was a time when if a pupil was asked whether they would prefer the enjoyment of a subject or to get a good grade, most would have said the former. Today, nearly all choose the latter.

Education purports to be the vehicle for social mobility. Get your examinations, get a good job so you can earn more and have a better life. Parents and teachers buy into this rhetoric. It is a mantra that has been sung for millennia. You will now be contributing to the GDP and, by association, the collective prosperity of the nation, a real community effort.  The reality is far more sinister. Education actively subjugates the population, forcing them to be accepting of working in a highly scrutinised, monotonous environment and to be compliant to boot. The situation is truly Orwellian. Neoliberalism is rife in education and it is destroying lives before they even have the skills to defend themselves.

If life in school is not stressful enough, children are subjected to further scrutiny in their private lives. Their first electronic device introduces them to a world that assesses their popularity as measured by the number of friends/likes they have on social media. (UK children spend 188 minutes on the internet, the international average is 142 minutes). Is it any wonder that our children are wracked with anxiety and depression?

The education department hides behind policies and procedures yet the culture of neglect remains; as long as the boxes are ticked……  All the resources that deal with mental health issues in school (and there are many) go into supporting or early intervention but these only treat the symptoms.  It is called wellBEING not wellDOING for a reason.

Education constantly fans the flames. The wellbeing of our children should come first but it does not, academic performance is the (sole) priority. The policy makers are aware of the mental health issues their policies are instilling in our children but they choose to brush concerns under the carpet. The Education Minister (Rod Bryans) sanctioned present policy; the Chief Education Officer (Justin Donovan) created the monster, headteachers implemented it, teachers follow orders, professionals are complicit, many parents are too busy or too frightened to speak out for fear of reprisals and the general public is seemingly ambivalent. The Chief Minister (Ian Gorst) has passed the buck to Charlie Parker (the island’s latest CEO) and Deborah Macmillan (the island’s new Children’s Commissioner) with no guarantee he will implement their recommendations. I would urge them to investigate.

Our children’s silence is deafening but nobody is listening. Dissatisfaction, de-motivation and depression are prevalent (academic progress remains stubbornly slow). The queue to see the school counsellor and CAHMS grows ever longer. Both Charlie Parker and Deborah Macmillan are correct in that island culture needs to change.  If they are to rescue our children their biggest challenge is yet to come.

Academic achievement and wellbeing can be mutually beneficial but at present the two are working antagonistically. We build resilience in our children not by constantly pointing out their failings but by providing them with a positive learning environment that helps to build confidence and self-esteem? Where children are happiest in the world they have an education system that is conducive to wellbeing and one that develops a wide range of positive skills, both emotional as well as cognitive.

We know the cause and its effects but who cares enough to act? The lack of any action to prevent the constant abuse of our children serves to demonstrate that the issue is so emotive that most would rather pretend it did not exist, starving it of oxygen in the hope that our children will ‘survive’ and come out the other end not too damaged by the experience. As an adult, as a parent, as a professional, where do you stand?

Colin Lever is the author of; Children in Need: Education, Wellbeing and the pursuit of GDP

How education continues to massage, manipulate and mislead

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Take a look at any school’s performance data and you will be buried beneath a mass of data from which it is difficult to make a reasoned judgement. Under the auspices of transparency, schools provide more information than is necessary. But then they are damned if they do and damned they don’t. When reporting GCSE grades, the public is given three sets of headline data. There is the total A* to G; the total 5 A* to C and the total 5 A* to C including English and maths. Confused? That’s the whole point. In 2017, one headteacher stated that their school’s results were the best ever but which data were they talking about?

 

On such nuances reputations rest. One school famously displayed a banner, lauding its GCSE results. Other schools sit pretty with a near 100% pass rate and of course there are those, independent, schools that do not publish their results. Even the education department has got in on the act, crowing that the island’s GCSE results (70%) are superior to that of England (65%). Alas, somebody has to be at the bottom of the pile and one school in particular seems to be the perennial whipping boy.

 

But performance data is only as reliable as the numbers that are typed in.  What if the ‘whipping boy’ actually had a higher headline rate than those that blow their own trumpet? ‘Ridiculous’ I hear you shout. Well, unbelievable as it may seem this is exactly the situation we have, here on Jersey.

 

To clarify the issue we have to distinguish between two forms of available GCSE. There is the reformed GCSE and then there is the international baccalaureate or iGCSE. In 2014 the iGCSE was adopted by many independent schools in the UK as they sought an alternative to the largely discredited ‘standard’ GCSE. However, in a twist of irony it was discovered that the iGCSE was being marked too leniently (a trick that examination boards use to attract custom). In pursuit of a perceived increase in rigour, the UK’s Department for Education removed coursework from all syllabi. iGCSE English has a 50% coursework element (speaking and listening), which some suggest is open to ‘manipulation’. The iGCSE is not regulated by the QCA and, therefore, is not included in the data used to calculate performance in England.

 

Education is now perceived as a ‘results led business’. Careers are made and broken on the back of performance data. Four Heads of English have resigned their posts in the last academic year. In the cutthroat world that education has become, schools have tried everything from force feeding pupils with omega-3 to restricting admission of pupils from families deemed ‘inferior’. Some headteachers will stop at nothing in order to steal a march on their rivals.

 

Many  independent schools that once sat at the top of the UK’s schools league table with a 100% pass rate find themselves at the foot of the table with a 0% pass rate, because English and maths are the prerequisites in the 5 A* to C headline figures. Remove one and everything comes tumbling down. A recent FOI shows that one of our state funded private schools would suffer a similar fate and two out the five state secondary schools (69% and 47% iGCSE English) would have their headline figures cut drastically, lifting the ‘whipping boy’ off the bottom. It is no coincidence that the headline figures of the two state schools have risen significantly after introducing iGCSE.

 

The Education Department is fully aware of the rules of engagement;

It should be noted that restrictions on qualifications that can be counted in performance measures in England and Jersey are not the same.” (source, GCSE and equivalent results in Jersey 2016)

So why make comparisons with the UK?

 

They have not factored out the iGCSE from their own comparative statistics and by presenting the island’s figures as 70%, when, using FOI data they are nearer 55% and significantly below that of the UK, they are misleading the public. The iGCSE effect is greater here because of the percentage of pupils involved. If the UK were to include iGCSE English their total would be above Jersey.

 

In the grand scheme of things the difference between the two GCSEs is unlikely to affect any pupil’s future prospects. It highlights the nefarious nature of comparative narratives, so if the powers that be are intent on using performance data they should do so without equivocation, anything less diminishes the integrity of the process and of those involved.

Orginally published in the Jersey Evening Post 27/02/18

Sanitising education

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Recent FOI requests have shown that;

  • Teacher turnover on Jersey is almost double that of the UK
  • 156 teachers left between 2014 & 2016 for reasons other than retirement
  • Staff leaving secondary schools has increased by 25% in the last three years

It is also true that:

  • 50% of headteachers have left in the last two years
  • 15 teachers (a third of the workforce) left one secondary school last summer

 

Why have all the teachers gone? When a teacher leaves their post they should be given an ‘exit’ interview, their response offers an insight into their reasons for leaving. At a recent States sitting Deputy Rod Bryans, the Education Minister admitted that he did not know how many (if any) exit interviews had taken place. The information would have been helpful in determining the reasons for the exodus. Perhaps I can enlighten him.

 

The baby boomers that once made up the bulk of teaching posts are almost gone. It is perceived by some that they sat on large salaries and cosy careers. In order to help balance budgets headteachers prayed for them to retire. They could lop as much as £10,000 off the budget by employing a newly qualified teacher to replace the old fogey. With the proposed cut in the NQT’s starting salary another £8000 would be saved. It’s a ‘no brainer’.

 

People leave, they are replaced. What is the issue? If a school can replace five older teachers, that is a saving of almost £100,000. If this happens across the five State secondary schools, that’s a half a million pounds saving. If just one ‘leaver’ is replaced in each primary school that is nearly three quarters of a million pounds lopped off the education budget. Teachers are at their most expensive (and belligerent) once they get into their forties, yet they still have around twenty years to go before they retire. The problem facing management was how to speed up the process.

 

With the focus now on literacy and numeracy, many subjects are a luxury so the curriculum is narrowed, isolating some staff. Other areas seen as surplus include pastoral and special needs. In these days of austerity sacrifices have to be made. These, ‘surplus’ teachers are asked to teach subjects that they are not familiar with. A teacher’s classroom performance can be scrutinised as often as management decree. How they teach is assessed using subjective criteria, which is open to interpretation. For every child that falls below their, algorithmic, flight path target, the teacher is held to account. The teacher may be given the toughest pupils, compromising their chances to meet set targets. Evidence accumulates.

 

The experienced teacher’s job role changes beyond recognition, their ‘performance’ heavily censured and their salary, possibly, downgraded. For how long can they resist the desire to jump ship? They have barely had a day off sick in nearly twenty years but the pressure is telling. Self-esteem suffers, morale drops. Their humiliation is complete.

 

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Is this practice ethical/legal? It is certainly brutal and is as old as the hills but never has it been carried out on such an industrial scale. Teachers could mount a challenge but the unions are weakened by the culture of fear that now stalks school corridors. Any opposition is dealt with in a similar manner. Teachers have mortgages to pay, and families to support. The climate is distinctly Orwellian, the ethos inquisitorial.

In a job market where supply outstrips demand, it is understandable that some unscrupulous managers would operate a F.I.F.O (fit in or **** off) approach to their workforce but this is not the case in respect of staffing in Jersey schools. Which is what makes the whole business seemingly absurd! There can only be one logical explanation and that is that the education department is seeking to impose ideological change within the profession (and possibly on the children that are being taught). They do not want free thinking, innovative, inquisitive staff and pupils, they want compliant, subservient, sycophants.

Once the workforce has been sanitised, new, naive teachers are employed. Via the JGTTP and in-house management training new personnel are indoctrinated. The teaching is largely formulaic and although the administrative duties are long and arduous the new kids on the block know no different. There was some deadwood amongst the old guard but the vast majority are/were highly experienced, adept at balancing the complex demands that it takes to be a successful teacher. For most, teaching was a vocation.

For how long will the culling last? If pupil performance improves significantly and the budget is balanced then surely the end justifies the means? But they haven’t! What then, will be the lasting legacy of this, already, obsolete regime? Pupil wellbeing is compromised, the curriculum squeezed and the quality of teaching diminished. In the UK a third of young teachers leave after five years, 13% within the first twelve months. The UK is struggling to recruit teachers. Jersey is haemorrhaging teachers at an unprecedented rate?  I wonder who they will turn to fill the gaps as the recruitment crisis gathers pace?

Bullying and Harassment in the school workplace

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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

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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

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