UK diary – national standards in the news

My first real day on deck in the UK today – visited Tabor Science College in Essex in the morning and had a great talk with headmaster Steven Clarke about how the EPS might be useful to him in his efforts to work with the staff and community to continue to raise the level of achievement and student success at his school. He then took us for a tour of the school where I was impressed both by the quality of the design and architecture, and also by the evidence of the level of student leadership in the school.

The emphasis on measuring and providing evidence of school performance is a big focus here in UK schools, driven to a large degree by the requirements of the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) – although I’d have to say that in a number of the schools I’ve had the privilege of visiting, such as Tabor today, I’ve seen plenty of evidence of this emphasis being driven by school leadership not simply to meet the Ofsted requirements, but out of a genuine desire for continuous improvement and striving for excellence in what they do.

Big news today (apart from the death of Michael Jackson) is the news of the government’s decision to drop primary school literacy and numeracy strategies. The main driver for this decision, from what I can make out, is the need to save money – with the government claiming they’ll save over £100 million a year in consultancy fees when the contract with Capita (the company responsible for administering the standards) is abolished in 2011.

That’s not the only perspective however. The Times online led with the headline Dropping primary school literacy and numeracy strategies ‘long overdue’, citing claims by the teacher’s union that the strategies haven’t been raising standards but have instead have deprived teachers of the proper decisions they should be making about how they should teach and what they should teach.

The Guardian ran a story claiming primary school strategies were a waste of money citing a report from the Policy Exchange thinktank that claims in fact, standards rose faster before the government introduced its national strategies for numeracy and literacy. According to that report in the five years before the national standards were introduced, literacy standards rose by 22% and numeracy by 27%, which slowed to 10% and 6% respectively in the eight years after the strategies came into effect.

Some useful stuff here for my colleagues back in NZ to consider as we look at introducing national standards in an attempt to address the issue of stagnancy in the development of literacy. In responding to questions about the National government’s plan to introduce national standards legislation in parliament Minister of Education Anne Tolley referred to the latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study survey which found that the average reading literacy score for New Zealand, in statistical terms, did not change from 2001-05. Quite a different situation from the UK it seems.

A BBC report quotes Schools Secretary Ed Balls as saying, “I think the right thing for us to do now is to move away from what has historically been a rather central view of school improvement through national strategies to something which is essentially being commissioned not from the centre but by schools themselves.

Apparently the plan is to redirect some of the saved money to schools to spend on creating networks with other schools and having their own advisers to help improve teaching standards and pupils’ performance. This must be great news for schools like Tabor, where there is plenty of evidence that they could make good use of such money – and the model of working in clusters/networks of schools is also very encouraging!

Mmm – I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks over here as an opportunity to learn, reflect and develop new understandings on some of these issues.

7 thoughts on “UK diary – national standards in the news

  1. Hope you are sending this URL as feedback on the National Standards. PIRLS shows that overall NZ is doing well by international comparisons. Staying high performing is not OK any more. Kids achievement is not share prices or GDP’s …. they cannot keep going up in perpetuity.
    Good post and thanks for prompting the thinking!
    cheers
    Greg

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  2. ….Apparently the plan is to redirect some of the saved money to schools to spend on creating networks with other schools and having their own advisers to help improve teaching standards and pupils’ performance…..

    looks like we are doomed to head down a track that the UK authorities have found to be a dead end unless some enlightened thinking surfaces quite quickly.
    We all accept a shift from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side in our teaching existence but it is seldom reflected in our own professional learning. Its time we claimed our profession back from central control and leave school managers to run the business and developed our own solutions to issues affecting us.

    Unfortunatel the major consequence of Tomorrow’s Schools has been that schools compete rather than collaborate. The primary school that has expertise in say Science Fairs and the Principal doesn’t want to share because they would lose an edge. Secondary schools who treat young students as commodities to be processed into grade earning machines at the expense of a happier, wider learning environment. WE have become obsessed with standards, achievement standards and now legislation for new national standards. Once you have standards you need to measure achievement against those standards and then you end up with targets driving your programmes. Incidently the UK has realised the folly of targets in the health sector.

    ……….apologies for the rant but am still recovering from the usual winter flu attack…..oink

    Anyway there are a few good signs that professionals are recovering some of their authority. The process for realigning achievement standards has involved a great deal of professional collaboration, much of it painful but we will be left with an improved assessment system.

    Technolgy allows us to work collaboratively. We can work quite independently of school structures and buildings and become members of our own chosen communities. In a different age that meant sitting round over a few beers and organising an Invercargill Schools football competition. Meeting once a year with a bunch of Science teachers in Jersey Channel Islands and knocking out the shared organisation for that years Science Fair competition. It was all so simple then and un-managed. Its time to forget about assessment practices and concentrate on what we all came into the profession for, stimulating young minds and encouraging a life long passion for learning.

    Time to return to the original quote and why we should consider carefully new initiatives. It would be nice to develop initiatives ourselves locally as well following the latest thinking out of Team Solutions or Core Education. We have the expertise and a little funding from the bottom up will be more cost effective than a lot of funding from the top down. Develop a culture of learning communities within schools then between schools. Back to the future.

    ….and finally spot on with kids achievement greg

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