Monday, 9 January 2012
Tuesday, 19 April 2011
The Easter school holidays are a landmark – and I am not thinking about the build-up to the royal wedding. At their annual conferences, the teacher unions will get their first chance since the general election to voice collective opposition to the coalition government's policies.
But while they are busy condemning the spread of academies and free schools, headteachers and governors will be using the holiday period to ponder whether to join the growing rush towards academy status.
By the time schools return from the holidays, the first anniversary of the coalition government will be virtually upon us. And, make no mistake, for all the talk about boosting school autonomy and ending central interference, it is becoming clear that this government is driving extensive change in the school system.
Twenty years ago, on becoming education secretary Kenneth Clarke complained that "half the levers are missing". He felt unable to affect what happened in thousands of individual schools. Today the levers are all there, and Michael Gove is pulling them like an enthusiastic railway controller.
In particular, he is using the two most powerful levers: finance and accountability targets. Let's begin with finance. The biggest change to the school system right now is the conversion to academy status.
Last month, a poll conducted by the Association of School and College Leaders showed that almost half of secondary schools had either converted or were actively considering doing so. A further 34% of school leaders were undecided, and only 19% remained defiantly against the change.
And what was driving all these schools to consider becoming academies? Of those considering change, 72% said they believed it would help them financially. Only 24% were motivated by dissatisfaction with their local authority.
Headteachers I speak to are quite clear that academy status offers a financial cushion to soften the hard landing that is coming with the April budgets.
Soon, a tipping point will be reached and even the most reluctant will feel unable to resist the tide. Once several large secondary schools have converted, taking their share of central budgets, a local authority will be unable to support those schools that remain.
This is the fear of many primary heads. They do not want to convert, but see an inevitability to it. Anticipating this, some councils even suggested that their schools should convert en masse.
I predict that by the next general election most schools will have become academies. This will be the coalition government's big legacy, far more significant than the relative sideshow of free schools.
Teachers fear traditional playground games like British bulldog and conkers are disappearing from many of England's schools, a survey suggests.
More than a quarter (29%) of the 653 school staff surveyed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said chasing game British bulldog had been banned from their school.
Some 14% said pupils were banned from playing conkers and 9% said leapfrog.
Most (57%) said they felt schools were becoming increasingly risk averse.
The research was published at the ATL teaching union's annual conference in Liverpool on Tuesday.
And overall 15% of teachers, lecturers, support staff and school leaders said that fewer playground games and sports activities were played at their school than three years ago.'Broken bones'
The key reasons for the decline were fewer staff on hand to supervise activities, reduced funding and concerns over pupil safety.
One secondary school teacher said the game, bulldog, was banned at her school "because of the number of broken bones it generates!"
And a primary school teacher said: "Apparently the main problem with conkers is that nut allergy sufferers are increasingly allergic to them."
Teachers were also questioned about changes in attitude towards risk. Some 57% of staff said there was a growing trend towards risk aversion in schools.
And of the 383 staff who thought schools were more risk adverse, 90% said it constrained activities both in and out of school.
Some 84% think it limits the curriculum, while 83% believe risk aversion puts a brake on pupils' preparation for life.
A deputy head teacher at a primary school in Cleveland said: "All staff recognise the need to keep children safe, but not all recognise that children still need to take measured risks to develop real life skills."
A teacher at the Froebel Small School in East Sussex said it tried to help children learn to be safe.
"Children are allowed to explore their physical limits and learn to negotiate physical tasks at their own pace. Staff have clear guidelines and children have clear boundaries," the teacher added.
Another secondary school teacher, from Wales, said: "Pupils need to learn their own limitations, which they can't do if they don't encounter risk."
And there continues to be fears that school trips could end in teachers or schools being sued, should something go wrong.'Mud and love'
The majority of staff think school trips and activities are very important, with 92% of those surveyed saying they enhanced learning and support the curriculum.
Some schools already have a relaxed attitude towards risk. A teacher at a primary school in England told how its children go on weekly nature walks and end up being taught how to make a campfire and cook on it.
"We also spend the day in the woods around a fire pretending to be Anglo-Saxons. Mud and love is our motto. I think we are unique!"
ATL general secretary, Mary Bousted, said: "Teachers, lecturers, support staff and school leaders all recognise that children need to be safe, however, without encountering risk it is difficult for them to learn their own limitations."
Is this true? What do you find?
Tell us what you think...