What matters seems to be to offload schools into Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), rather than Local Authorities (LAs), but without the whole system functioning effectively to enable the MATs to function better than the LAs.
The system is in danger of failing the children, now and for the foreseeable future, with changes in academisation not being complete until 2022, if then.
I would prefer the Government to be using the available expertise to better coordinate and upgrade the system, to advantage all children, rather than continue to seek to break it apart. Children, whatever their abilities and achievements, within every school, should be valued for themselves and be offered and supported to achieve. No system is perfect, but it can always be more efficient and effective.
When I was in Grammar School, if the school field was too wet for the planned games of rugby, there was always the fall back of cross country. As a schoolboy rugby player, I was good enough to get County trials, with several positional options, with speed and strength and, at that time, equality of stature. I could keep going for the 80 minutes, but I wasn’t built for cross country, which was dominated by the more lithe group. While I kept plodding, they went off at speed and were usually showered and dry by the time that my group got back. The able rugby players were not necessarily the able cross country runners. I got my own back with general athletics and went to local area sports in 100m, relay and javelin, as well as County cricket. It showed me, at an early age, that everyone has slightly different aptitudes, interests and motivation for different activities. If I had been judged on my cross country ability, I’d have been a failure, being in the lower quarter of achievement, but, by being encouraged by PE teachers to see it as stamina building for the other sports, it still held some purpose.
Recently, I put together a series of posts on Inclusion, deriving from my, almost ten years, experience of working in that area. The links to these blogs are at the foot of this post.
Inclusion has been much in debate recently, but, in many ways, I have become a little concerned by the ever narrower remit being described. Where inclusion was initially defined as a step up from integrating SEND children into mainstream towards the “Every Child Matters” agenda, incorporating the needs of all children, from able to the SEND, it can appear to be beginning to be claimed again as the flag of the SEND lobby, in order to survive.
This narrowing of the definition, in itself, I fear, enables mainstream teachers and schools to emphasise the, to me, less desirable aspects of the current curriculum and assessment approach.
The new National Curriculum is year based, with year 2 and year 6 testing enabling the use of terms such as “at, or not at national standard”, or similar statements. I have seen school reports from other years that suggest that a child may not be on track to achieve at the “appropriate” standard. I wonder how this is then discussed at home? Nuanced and encouraging or seeing the child and themselves as failures?
Negativity built in from year 1?
A recent report by the Centre for High Performance (CfHP), widely circulated on Twitter, even managed to suggest that a means of ensuring high performance for Academies would be to exclude “poor quality students”. Some schools openly articulate the sentiment “Our way or on your way”.
The “mastery” debate, with the concomitant “Teach to the top” argument ensures that children whose achievements put them in the lower half, possibly three-quarters, of the “Bell curve” will be put into a state of stress throughout their school career, as they seek to “keep up” with the others.
Levels have gone, to the delight of some and the chagrin of others, to be replaced by… a wide variety of approaches that might or might not be supportive of progress. Many replicate what was there before, but which will, inevitably, cause an issue at transfer into another school.
I have said in many blogs, that Levels, when they were introduced, actually led to an uplift in outcome expectation. They gave some description to expectation, so teachers became more aware of what to look out for. Personalised, they became individual working targets. Over time, the number system of levels took over from the descriptors, as data was needed at different time points to plot progress “more accurately”. This, in itself, devalued the descriptors and led, with busy teachers seeking to accommodate group and cohort needs, to tasks that enabled some to progress with personal gaps in their learning.
Personalised approaches enable Inclusion, with child and teacher aware of the specifics of learning needs. While a group need can be generalizable for tasking, eg the writing of a letter, with essential structuring expected and modelled, the incorporation and focus of individual targets can enable participation and success at a child’s own level.
The current overall system can allow for some to “succeed”, while others will “fail”.
The argument against levels will be tested when years 2 and 6 undertake the SATs papers in a few weeks’ time. I would put the argument that, unless a child achieves 100% in the test, they will have “gaps” in knowledge, in exactly the same way as was the case with Levels. In the same way that Secondary schools often ignored the transfer data from Primary and retested on entry, they will continue to do the same. Gaps are an inevitable part of dealing with a human cohort. Identifying and addressing these are the essential skills of an aware teacher.
To me, the big “but” comes with the earlier statement from CfHP showing that some children are more desirable than others.
While those with an EHCP (Education Health and care Plan) will have specific needs identified and (hopefully) addressed, either in mainstream or a Special School, whichever is deemed to be the best environment for their needs, another 47.5% of children will fall “below average”, whatever the average is. If standards rise, then the average rises, but still that proportion are below. A proportion of these will be “below national expectation”. It seems to be easier today to somehow imply that “they don’t fit”, as they’re not up to scratch. There may well be teachers around the country openly stating that “x doesn’t fit in this school”.
This could also be taken to mean that the teacher doesn’t have the skill and knowledge, or the will, to address the child’s needs, but they won’t say it in that way. It will be the child at fault.
Instead of seeking to upgrade teacher expertise in order to ensure that every teacher has the skill and knowledge to deal with the full range of children, with the added investigative skills to investigate individual anomalies, the Government has decided to seek to academise the system.
The recruitment and retention of teachers is suspect, the curriculum is not in a fully settled state, assessment is in turmoil, SEND systems are not fully embedded, exams and testing systems are changing, but, in seeking to “upgrade the system”, the Government has chosen to take a top down, dictatorial approach that requires money to be diverted to land exchange and legal notices, rather than to use the money to increase, and make efficient, the essential services that support education.
Every child has always mattered. It's what education is supposed to do...
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Inclusion at Exemplar Primary
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