Grade inflation at universities, double standards for inappropriate teachers and a blistering attack on the Department for Education, in our first education news roundup of 2018…
Furious school leaders have attacked the Department for Education as not fit for purpose, providing no taxpayer value for money and failing schools across the country, leaving them ‘on the edge of collapse’. Schools face having to cut ‘key staff’ by 25% come 2021, as the extra 1.3 billion for schools in the inadequate New Funding Formula (moved elsewhere from the education budget) fails desperately to paper over the cracks. This could lead to schools have a ratio of key staff to pupils down at 16:1, from the current 12.5:1, a drastic increase. Grahame Robson, headteacher of Manor Green College, a special school in West Sussex, repeated warnings he first made in Tes, that he is having to send pupils home due to cuts to the high needs budget leaving him short-staffed. He called for “interim funding” for schools that the DfE “knows are on the edge of collapse”. “Schools like mine do not have time to wait,” he added.
In the meantime, a new campaign has been launched (BBC) to address the connection between school funding and social mobility. The Worth Less? Campaign for fairer funding, launched by West Sussex Schools, shows that school funding shortages disproportionately affect areas with low social mobility, establishing a strong connection between the two causes. If you took a list of the top 20 places in England where schools have the most funding, 18 of them would be in London. And if you took another list, of the top 20 places with the highest level of social mobility, 17 of them would also be in London. At the same time, West Somerset has the lowest place on the government’s social mobility index – and is also one of the lowest-funded areas. Head teachers are arguing that funding and social mobility should no longer be seen as separate conversations.
One upshot of the sudden (but also eminently foreseeable) collapse of Carillion is that all their apprentices – all 1,400 – face losing their apprenticeships, and even work for the company that they had saved online. Although many of the apprentices have work experience with local providers, they are now being forced to look elsewhere for places they can finish their qualifications. The Construction Industries Training Board (CITB) says it is working to secure the future of the apprentices and hopes a package of grants and transfer incentives it is putting together will help current apprentices find work. “CITB’s priority is to do all it can to ensure that Carillion apprentices can continue their training so their skills are not lost,” said chief executive Sarah Beale.
A Cambridge Professor has claimed that grade inflation – where 75% of students will now leave university with a first class degree or 2:1 – is due to students working harder, since the tuition fee hike in 2012, and increasingly tricky job market. Others believe that this grade inflation is down to universities ‘massaging’ grades, to increase their league table positions, and improve student satisfaction. But Professor Graham Virgo, Cambridge’s pro-vice chancellor for education, said that a record rise in first class degrees was not a “cause for concern”, adding that students were now more determined to “get the best job that they can”. Figures last week showed that graduates leaving with a first class degree is up 40% since 2012, totalling 100,495 students. Critics have suggested grade boundaries should be moved annually (as they are with GCSE and A Level), to maintain a consistent number of students achieving top honours, and prevent this inflation continuing.
Double standards for inappropriate teachers – TES
Two teachers – a 44 year-old male and a 22 year-old female newly qualified teacher – have both recently been convicted of acting inappropriately with students, with completely different outcomes. The woman, Felicity Simpson, apparently found it easier to connect with sixth-form students than older staff members. As such, she bought a student a Valentine’s Day-related gift, allowed him to sit with her legs across her in the sixth-form common room, purchased drinks at a pub for underage sixth form students, and kissed a student. However, due to being newly-qualified, horrified at her actions, and showing ‘evident ability’ as a teacher, she was retained, and not struck off.
Many people have pointed out that if this were a male teacher we would look at it very differently – and this was the case for Guy Rogers, a 44 year-old guitar teacher indefinitely banned from teaching for having ‘inappropriate discussions’ with pupils. He allegedly discussed his mental health, marriage, whom he found attractive and when he believed it was an appropriate for people to start having sex – as well making racist remarks. Not to mention suggesting that men “prefer women who are gay or bisexual” and admitting to a student that he owns a sex toy. Unsurprisingly, he was deemed inappropriate to continue teaching, despite his otherwise good history, and others describing him as an ‘inspirational’ teacher. As a peripatetic teacher, he has received less training than a fully trained teacher, but that doesn’t really excuse his actions.
Although no two cases are the same, it seems here that there is a double-standard stacked against male teachers, and an assumption that female teachers are less culpable in comparable circumstances.
The Office for Students has been launched amid major controversy over the appointment (and resignation) of one Toby Young, as well as the massive media furore over free speech at universities and vice-chancellor pay. But what is it that students actually want from the new body (which only has one student on the board)?
The Guardian asked several students from different courses and universities and, unsurprisingly, free speech and vice-chancellor pay were extremely low down on most students’ lists. ‘Freedom of speech should be about eighth place down the pecking order’ said one student. ‘Vice chancellor’s pay and freedom of speech are non-issues’ said another. What consistently came up were economic concerns: getting value for money from a degree (when paying 9,000 a year for as little as 4 hours a week of tuition); the relationship between tuition fees and rent; receiving students loans too late into the term. Others also spoke up about mental health and wellbeing services, diversity and representation on campuses, students being made aware of the services available to support them and, inevitably, employability.
And with good reason, after uncertainty over Brexit has caused many of the UK’s most prestigious employers to significantly cut graduate recruitment (Guardian), resulting in a fall in the number of new graduate jobs for the first time since the global financial crisis. Companies such as Goldman Sachs, Unilever, BP and other leading graduate recruiters downgraded their hiring plans, taking on 10% fewer graduates by the end of 2017. Which is probably of more concern to students than no-platforming and vice-chancellor pay.
A bad school report can be a parent’s worst nightmare, but it’s well known that it’s no barrier to later success. The likes of John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, Judy Dench, Charlotte Bronte, Winston Churchill and even Stephen Fry at one point or another received damning school reports. Above are some to make you feel better next time one of your children’s reports leaves…room for improvement.
By David Bard
David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.