Saturday, March 22, 2008

British politician glimpses the reality of class sizes

And teachers refuse to acknowledge what the evidence has long shown -- that LARGER classes are fine

A schools minister was yesterday heckled by teachers after he backed larger class sizes and suggested that it could be "perfectly acceptable" to teach maths to pupils in classes of up to 70. Jim Knight, was jeered at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' annual conference in Torquay after using his speech to advocate teaching classes of up to 38. He went on to say he had seen successful maths classes of up to 70 children with the aid of teaching assistants. The government is planning a national scheme of one-to-one tutoring for primary pupils struggling in reading and maths and promising greater "personalisation" of teaching. Opposition MPs accused Knight of undermining his government's own policy with his comments.

Questioned by one delegate yesterday about how teachers could be expected to teach classes of 38 pupils well, Knight replied that classroom assistants could help make large classes "manageable". "Class sizes are obviously something we take seriously. If they are growing to the extent that the delegate talks about then there are some concerns attached to that," he said. "Teaching assistants and higher level teaching assistants working alongside teachers are very important to ensuring that class sizes of 38 are manageable."

The audience responded with jeers and shouts of "no!" Knight said he had seen a "perfectly acceptable" maths class in Telford of 70 pupils working well in a large room with three or four teaching assistants. "There was good learning going on," he said. Phil Jacques, ATL's executive member for Dorset, said: "Class sizes of 38 should not be made to be manageable. They just simply shouldn't exist."

In what was supposed to be a vote of thanks for the minister, Jacques called the government's national curriculum dismal, tedious, inflexible and of very little value to the majority of children. "No wonder we have large numbers of disaffected children in those schools - in schools where the disaffection results in violence," Jacques said. Knight described the reception he received as "a sort of friendly disagreement".

The government has met commitments to cut class sizes in English primary schools by 2002, though some evidence suggests numbers have crept back up again in some areas. The Scottish parliament has committed to cutting class sizes for the youngest primary children to 18. However, recent research by the Institute of Education suggests that cutting class sizes is a relatively expensive way to improve results, and only a significant benefit when there are a number of unruly children in the class. Instead teachers' assessment methods can have a cheaper positive effect on children's achievement.

Knight's comments came as a government backed review of maths in primary schools reported that teaching is being undermined because it has become "socially acceptable" to brag about being bad with numbers. Every primary school should have a specialist maths teacher and the government should revisit the requirement that new primary teachers need only a grade C in maths GCSE, Sir Peter Williams, chancellor of Leicester University, said. "The UK remains one of the few advanced nations where it is socially acceptable - fashionable, even - to profess an inability to cope with mathematics. That is hardly conducive to a home environment in which mathematics is seen by children as an essential and rewarding part of their everyday lives," he said. "The principal focus of this review is the role of teachers and practitioners, their education and training, and how society values and rewards them."

Shadow children's secretary Michael Gove said: "The government cannot simultaneously say it is going to deliver personalised learning and then support class sizes at the level Jim Knight is talking about. "We have seen a trend over the last few years towards bigger classes and bigger schools. That runs directly counter to parents' priorities and is not the right direction for education in this country."


EU Rules: Violent criminal cannot be deported from Britain

A foreign criminal who attacked and robbed a pensioner cannot be deported because he is not considered dangerous enough, the Court of Appeal has ruled. The decision has rendered the Government virtually powerless to remove even the most vicious offenders if they come from within the European Union. Ministers wanted to remove the 38-year-old Italian, who lives in Newport, Gwent, at the end of a nine-year jail term imposed for violent robbery

But the Court of Appeal said there were no "imperative grounds of public security" to justify throwing him out. These were the grounds on which the Government failed last year to deport Learco Chindamo, the Italian-born killer of Philip Lawrence, the London head teacher. Under a directive, an EU national living in another member country for 10 years or more cannot be deported except under exceptional circumstances.

The criminal, whose identity was protected by the court, moved to Britain as a teenager and has five convictions. In October 2001 he was jailed for nine years for attacking and robbing a pensioner. A judge called the offence a "brutal, cowardly attack". Last year, the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal ruled that the robber should be deported on grounds of "imperative" public policy, public security or public health. It said he was a "very dangerous man" who posed a "very high risk indeed" to the public. He was also "unwilling to accept any real responsibility for the injuries to his victim".

However, the appeal judge Lady Justice Arden concluded that the tribunal had made an "error of law" and had not distinguished between "serious" and "imperative" threats to public security. The case will now be sent back to the tribunal, which will have to judge whether the offender posed an "imperative" threat - something -lawyers say applies only to terrorists


Proposal for super-surgeries ‘may result in worse care’

Plans to build 152 doctors’ “super-surgeries” in England are confused and there is limited evidence that they will be effective, according to an expert in primary care. Martin Roland, director of the National Primary Care Research and Development Centre at the University of Manchester, said that primary care trusts were already being required to develop polyclinics, or multi-doctor centres, but there was “little clarity about their purpose”.

Lord Darzi of Denham, the Health Minister, has yet to produce the final report of his NHS review, but the Department of Health has indicated that it expects all 152 primary care trusts in England to have at least one poly-clinic. Private companies will provide many of them, although the department has promised GPs that they will get a level playing field in tendering for the contracts.

Professor Roland wrote in the British Medical Journal that the Government champions patient choice, but extending choice means more high-quality practices, not fewer, as the polyclinic model suggests. He said: “On average they [small practices] achieved slightly higher levels of clinical quality than the larger practices.”

Polyclinics may also have specialists working in them, but he claims that there is evidence that consultants work less efficiently outside hospitals.

Polls show that GPs are strongly opposed to polyclinics. Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association GPs’ committee, said: “This is a government plan that is potentially going to waste hundreds of millions of pounds of scarce NHS resources, creating very large health centres that many areas of the country don’t need or want.”

The medical newspaper Pulse has begun a campaign called Save Our Surgeries, and reported that polyclinics would force GP practices to close or merge, and patients to travel further.


No comments: