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Primary Education News
News Education in brief: Alan Bennett speaks up for London student 'grants'
History Boys playwright backs Tower Hamlets' university grants scheme; a heavily loaded Harris school consultation; fears over free school conversion. And has pupils' evidence on exam cheating been heard?
Bennett backs London grants
Alan Bennett, the award-winning playwright and author of The History Boys, has endorsed a London borough's bid to introduce a policy for hard-pressed local young people that has echoes of the old university grant system – while laying into the coalition's student policy.
In a message of support for the new Tower Hamlets mayor's higher education award, Bennett writes: "Now that the education maintenance allowance has been withdrawn (a shameful and shortsighted economy), potential students are in financial difficulties before they even leave school."
These difficulties, "can only multiply" when they go into higher education, he adds, and continues: "If the Tower Hamlets higher education award can in any way alleviate this deplorable situation [it] is to be welcomed."
Bennett, an outspoken critic of private education, adds: "I … believe education at every level should be free. I came to this view at the age of 17 and have never found any reason to alter it."
Tower Hamlets' scheme, launched last month, will offer £1,500 grants for 400 lucky applicants, this year and next, to help pay their university costs.
Who could possibly disagree?
The ability of the government's new free school planners to design their own consultations with local people has already come in for criticism. But one current example may provide a case study. Questions asked of parents by the Harris academies chain in its consultation for a new free school in East Dulwich, south London, seem designed to avoid negative responses.
"The aim of the new school is to prepare its children for happy lives and academic success. Do you agree that this is a suitable aim?" begins the brief five-question survey.
It goes on: "The new school will encourage children, in work and in play, towards the traditional values of good manners, enthusiasm for learning and recognising right from wrong. Do you agree that this is a suitable ethos?"
One local source comments: "How meaningful is a consultation when the questions are like the ones in here?!"
A Harris spokesperson says: "The consultation has provided a formal opportunity to engage with parents, and others, about the school. The form was one way of participating and other people have written, emailed, called or met with us at our public meeting."
The office … or the school?
Still on the subject of new schools, a source from Bournemouth has been wondering whether a long-awaited free school, due to open next month, is on track to do so, given the apparent state of its building.
Parkfield school, which was originally scheduled to open in September 2012 but delayed when a previous building plan fell through, is due to open for students on 9 September. But our source says building work to convert the eight-storey office block that will be the school's temporary home began only last week. The source says: "They have just started work, and have been partitioning off this open-plan building with plasterboard."
When he asked builders working on the current site last week whether Parkfield could open within five weeks, he says they laughed at him. But Terry Conaghan, principal of Parkfield, is reassuring. "The programme of works is on schedule and the school will open in September," he says.
Pupils who alleged exam cheating: were they heard?
Finally, we were interested to see last month four official exam board reports on their investigations into alleged exam malpractice in 2011 at Kingsdale foundation school, in Southwark, London. As previously reported, this led to two written warnings being given to staff, though one was lifted on appeal.
But how complete were the investigations? A dossier of evidence sent by teacher whistleblowers to the exam boards, Ofqual and the Department for Education included statements, seemingly from eight Kingsdale students, saying that teachers had told pupils answers in the exam hall. Three teacher whistleblowers made similar claims.
One pupil said: "Teachers were dictating the answers." Another said: "Lots of teachers tried to give students the answers, especially ones that are in lower subject classes." Another wrote: "I done the exam finished early … and [the teacher] wouldn't let us leave until he read through [the] paper and told the answers." Another wrote: "[Two teachers] were present and were providing answers to students who put up their hands."
Yet, in the list of allegations documented in the reports as having been investigated, there are only two brief mentions of claims of pupils having been assisted in exams. Teacher sources have also consistently said that very few pupils who submitted statements to the boards were interviewed.
A spokesman for the Joint Council for Qualifications, the boards' umbrella body, said it would not comment further, pointing to a previous statement, which said: "all of the allegations were investigated thoroughly". The boards placed an "inspector" full-time in Kingsdale for the exams in 2012, with the academy now given a clean bill of health. A school spokesperson says: "We understand that all such allegations were either disproved or that no evidence could be found to support them."