Focus on quality of early education, politicians urged

Child with early years teacher

The next government should focus on the quality of care and education received by young children, say campaigners.

Politicians have concentrated on increasing the quantity of free childcare available but its quality is crucial, they say.

In particular, funds should be targeted at quality provision for the poorest children, says the British Association for Early Childhood Education.

They deserve more than good “care”, says an open letter from the group.

“They need high quality, professionalised early educators,” the letter argues.

“The evidence shows that children who benefit most from high quality early years provision are those whose families are struggling in the most challenging economic circumstances,” says the letter.

It adds that the “substantial” economic and social benefits of good early education “are demonstrable for all society”.

‘Emphasise quality’

The group welcome the focus by politicians on the accessibility and affordability of childcare for working parents but say there needs to be more emphasis on the quality of the care and education provided.

Child painting

They are keen to point out this is not about the “schoolification” of early years.

Instead they argue for a “suitably trained workforce capable of sensitively stimulating, challenging and extending these young children’s capabilities in an atmosphere which is caring, responsive and attentive to their needs”.

So the next government should work both to increase the number of hours of childcare available for working parents but also on “upskilling” the early years workforce “to create a graduate-led profession able to give children the best possible start in life”, they argue.

The association’s chief executive, Beatrice Merrick, said: “Politicians of all parties clearly think offering more hours of free childcare will appeal to parents, but they need to look rigorously at the evidence of whether that is good use of scarce public funds.

“One clear lesson from every previous expansion of early years provision is that quality does not keep up with quality when the sector is pressured to grow too fast.”

The current system entitles three and four-year-olds in England to 15 free hours of nursery or childcare a week.

The Liberal Democrats say protecting funding from “cradle to college” is a “red line” issue for them while the Conservatives say they will increase the number of free hours to 30 a week, and Labour to 25 hours.

Policy guide: Education

This election issue includes funding for schools, university tuition fees and early years education.

The association’s president, Prof Tony Bertram, said: “This election has seen promises to increase the number of hours of childcare for working families, and much less discussion about the quality of early education, especially for the most disadvantaged children.

“Every child has the right to the best possible start in life, including high quality care and education delivered by a well-qualified workforce.

“This may cost a little more, but all the evidence shows that it is an investment not a cost, with beneficial impacts on the educational achievement and wellbeing of our poorest children.”

Ofsted inspections harm children's services, says report

child on swing

Ofsted inspections of children’s services are outdated and do not always protect vulnerable children, claims a report from a group campaigning for reforms to public services.

A poor rating for a local authority can leave children less safe than before the inspection, say the authors.

They say a new model of help for vulnerable families is needed.

Ofsted argues that while they recognise the challenges facing social workers, “independent scrutiny” is crucial.


The paper written by the local government consultancy group Impower highlights concerns over the inspections carried out by Ofsted on failing local authority services.

Ofsted inspect and regulate services for children and young people in schools, local authorities and childcare settings.

The report authors say there is a “lack of clarity” within the inspection framework and little has been done to work out which approach is best for protecting children.

They argue that a lack of consistency within the inspection process means that a single judgement of inadequate by Ofsted can trigger a “catastrophic spiralling effect” on a local authority.

Their analysis suggests that after a negative inspection in a local authority, work volumes often increase, intervention is reduced leaving children potentially less safe than before and there is a higher turnover of staff.

Report author Amanda Kelly describes the challenges faced by councils and rising demands on services as a “volatile mix”.

“Many councils want to go down a preventative route, intervening earlier and working more closely with the police, schools and NHS.

“The challenge at present is the dysfunction in Ofsted.”

Targeted approach

The best way to help families and vulnerable children at risk is to intervene much earlier and include health visitors, school nurses, teachers and GPs, says the report.

It highlights that the rise in family breakdown is a “leading cause” of children needing support from social services.

But a national shortage of social workers means that councils are reliant on agency staff who are more expensive and may lack consistency when dealing with vulnerable children, it adds.

Alan Wood, London Borough of Hackney’s director of children’s services told the BBC a new model of inspection was needed.

This should be “able to assess the contribution made by each of the public agencies and not just the local authority, and one that allows the local authority to improve areas that need improving and maintain their ability to recruit skilled social workers.”

He added that although more than 70% of local authorities inspected were found to be worse than good, “this is not consistent with the reality on the ground”.

In response to the criticism of their inspections Ofsted replied: “We make no apology for carrying out robust inspections of local authority services on behalf of the children and young people who use them.

“The independent scrutiny which Ofsted provides is essential. However, it is right that the inspectorate is itself scrutinised and we welcome this debate.”

Nick Clegg: Free school meals for 7 to 11-year-olds

Nick Clegg and his wife Miriam cook up a crumble at Ivy Lane Primary School in Chippenham

Free school meals will be available to all primary school children in England, under a £610m-a-year plan unveiled by the Liberal Democrats.

Infant school pupils are already entitled to a free meal under a policy championed by leader Nick Clegg and introduced in September last year.

But Mr Clegg wants seven to 11-year-olds to also benefit from 2017/18.

The Lib Dem pledge came as the Tories promised not to raise taxes and Labour said it would ensure tax credits rise.

Mr Clegg and his wife Miriam, who runs a food blog, donned aprons and made an apple and blackberry crumble for pupils at a Wiltshire school to promote the measure, which they claim will benefit 1.9 million youngsters and save parents £400 per child on lunches.

Mr Clegg said his policy would also ensure all primary school children enjoyed a nutritious meal rather than a “slice of white bread with chocolate paste on it”.

Kitchen improvements

The introduction of free school meals for Key Stage 1 pupils faced criticism over the way it was funded, with some councils raiding maintenance budgets to meet the obligation.

Under the expanded Lib Dem plan, an estimated £100m would be earmarked for improvements to school kitchens and dining facilities in primary schools.

The extension of free school meals to cover children aged seven to 11 would cost £610m a year, including a share destined for the education budgets of areas where power has been devolved.

“Sometimes we talk as if every packed lunch has a pot of hummus and some carrot sticks and muesli,” said Mr Clegg, adding that this wasn’t the case.

“I’m not pointing an accusatory finger at parents, but a lot of kids are going to schools with packed lunches which simply aren’t nutritious.

“I’ve seen some schools where kids turn up with a fizzy drink and a slice of white bread with chocolate paste on it.

“If you give that to a four or five-year-old, don’t be surprised if they can’t concentrate very well by the end of the school day.”

Mr Clegg said the move would save parents £400 for every child they have in primary school.

His party said the scheme would be introduced once the deficit had been eliminated, paid for “as resources allow” in line with projected public spending increases in line with economic growth.

The Lib Dems said pilot schemes showed a 23% increase in the number of children eating vegetables at lunchtime and an 18% drop in those eating crisps.

Judge schools over five-year period, says exam board

Exam room

Schools in England should be judged by five years’ worth of results rather than just one, an exam board says.

A Cambridge Assessment study found “surprisingly high levels” of school results volatility year on year.

Variations in results were of “serious concern” in many of the 150 schools analysed, even after the impact marking quality had been removed, it said.

Heads backed the report’s call, saying decisions on schools should not be made on the basis of one year’s results.

School league table positions are based on headline GCSE results for one year only.

Under the current system, schools are considered to be failing if fewer than 40% of their students score at least five Cs at GCSE, including English and maths, and they do not meet national averages in pupil progress.

‘Complex factors’

The exam board’s group director of assessment and development, Tim Oates, said: “Underlying school-level volatility may be an enduring and persistent feature of education.”

This meant “that school performance – in terms of exam results – should be judged on a five-year picture rather than one-off annual drops or increases”, he added.

“This is a very important finding,” he said, “and one which challenges many assumptions, with implications for the approach to accountability and for accountability measurements.”

The study did not investigate all the causes of volatility – but it suggested marking quality and grade boundaries had little impact on variability of results, as they remained volatile when these were removed from the equation.

The exam board analysed the GCSE results in maths and history in all England’s schools between 2008 and 2013 and then focused on 150 of the most stable schools, taking out the impact of marking quality and shifts to grade boundaries.

Study author Tom Bramley said: “Exam results in a school may go up or down in unanticipated ways, caused by a wide and complex set of factors.”When swings occur, they could be because of what is happening in the school or the children’s lives, they could be to do with the assessment itself or the way that national standards are applied, or to do with teaching and learning.

“But what our study shows is that when we’ve taken account of the variations which can be attributed to quality of marking and to the location of grade boundaries, surprisingly high levels of year-on-year volatility in exam results remain.”

He added: “Schools should still monitor exam results for an administrative error which might have occurred and should still look for and alert exam boards to peculiar outcomes – but everyone in the system should be aware of the level of volatility typical in the context of the complex system which is schooling.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We strongly agree with the findings of the report.

“It highlights the risks associated with the impact of drawing sweeping conclusions about the impact variations in exam results which happen anyway.

“They do say that of course schools should scrutinise results carefully, and from time to time there will be human error, but what contributes to those results is a complex set of factors.

“The big thing for us is that we see decisions being made which affect the careers of our members because of one set of results and dramatic changes made to schools when actually these variations in results are just normal variations between year groups.”

'Outsource marking' to cut teachers' workload


Teachers could reduce their workload by outsourcing the marking of pupils’ school work to staff overseas, suggests a leading education researcher.

Rebecca Allen, director of Education Datalab, says research has found “incredibly reliable” marking available overseas costing £2 to £3 per hour.

Dr Allen says there needed to be more radical approaches to cutting workload.

But heads’ leader Brian Lightman said he would have “serious concerns” about regularly outsourcing marking.

Mr Lightman, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, said: “Marking of pupils’ work is an integral part of the professional duties of a teacher.”

Dr Allen, speaking at an Education Media Centre event, suggested that even though all political parties backed the idea of cutting workload for teachers, there were few practical measures to achieve this and “radically different ways” should be considered.

She said schools should consider re-thinking some of the most time-consuming activities, such as marking pupils’ work.

Cutting workload

“We’ve got to look elsewhere. We can’t just say things like ‘paperwork’. I think we need to be realistic and think in radical ways about things like marking,” said Dr Allen, who is also reader in the economics of education at the UCL Institute of Education.

Marking remained popular with parents and was seen as providing evidence for inspections and so teachers were likely to remain under pressure to carry on with large amounts of marking.

Brian Lightman

As such she suggested that there needed to be more imaginative ways of tackling the workload.

One approach could be to “outsource marking”.

She said research projects had found accurate marking could be carried out overseas, in countries such as India, for about £3 per hour or less.

Another approach likely to be explored was using computer technology, she said.

There have already been some experiments with outsourcing the marking of vocational qualifications, with candidates’ answers being scanned into a computer system in the UK to be checked by staff in India.

But heads’ leader Mr Lightman said: “Whilst we would agree that technology can, in appropriate cases be used to process some assessments, I would have serious concerns about outsourcing routine marking.

“Teachers need to see pupils’ work themselves so that they can fully understand the degree to which their pupils have understood what has been taught.

“Schools must be resourced adequately to provide them with the time to do this.

“The unnecessary workload surrounding marking has been caused by a high stakes accountability system which places teachers under intense pressure to provide ‘evidence’ to justify their assessment decisions.”

Teachers’ unions have frequently complained that excessive workload is one of the major problems for the teaching profession.

It has been blamed as a barrier for recruiting teachers and a reason for those leaving the profession.

And earlier this year, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg promised that they wanted to find “decisive measures” to “tackle the root causes of unnecessary teacher workload”.

Global '100-year gap' in education standards

Education gap

There has been a convergence in the number of pupils enrolling in primary school, with many more young children in developing countries now having access to school.

But when it comes to average levels of attainment – how much children have learnt and how long they have spent in school – there remains a massive gap.

When it’s shown as an average number of years in school and levels of achievement, the developing world is about 100 years behind developed countries. These poorer countries still have average levels of education in the 21st Century that were achieved in many western countries by the early decades of the 20th Century.

Head start

If we continue with the current approaches to global education, this century-wide gap will continue into the future.

Of course this gap varies between different countries and regions – and there are differences within countries.

School years

But there are stark overall differences between the average levels of education between the developing and developed countries – a comparison which uses the UN definition of “developed” as Europe, North America, Japan and Australia.

This 100-year gap might not be morally acceptable, but from a historical perspective it is understandable.

The idea that all young people, not just those in the elite, should have an opportunity to be educated had spread across Europe and North America by the middle of the 19th Century.

It was only a century later, spurred on by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that mass schooling spread across the developing world. It meant that there was a 100-year gap there from the outset.

Within the last 50 years, the pace of progress enrolling children in primary school has been much faster, resulting in 90% of the world’s children enrolled in primary school.

Another 70 years

However when looking beyond primary enrolment, at attainment and learning, the idea of global convergence vanishes. While young people around the world may almost all be enrolling in school they are by no means all learning well and progressing through school.

The education levels of the adult workforce, often measured by average numbers of years of school, is in the developed countries double that of their developing country peers.

School years catch up

In developed countries, adults have an average of 12 years of school, compared with 6.5 years of school for those in developing countries.

This gap is not projected to close any time soon. If we continue with today’s pace of change, it will take at least 65 years for average adults in developing countries to reach 12 years of school and that stretches to 85 years for the adults living in low-income countries.

The 100-year gap is also evident in the learning levels between students in developed and developing countries.

Victorian classroom
The idea of mass schooling had spread through Europe and North America in the 19th Century

At the current rate of progress, it will take well over 100 years for students in developing countries to catch up to the learning levels of today’s developed country students.

This analysis is a reminder of the urgent need for a rethink on how to make progress in education.

The 100-year gap analysis is a useful tool to bring attention to the serious inequities in education globally.

But the real question is what can be done to close the gap? Can some of the evolutionary steps be skipped to make more rapid progress? Can there be entirely different models that would accelerate change?

Or is there a technological way for education systems to “leapfrog” a few stages forward, such as the way that in some developing countries banking using mobile phones has jumped ahead without the stage of building a network of bank branches.

Premji varsity introducing new syllabus

The way Indian students are introduced to economics needs a lot of improvement and there has to be a contextualization before jumping into theories and tools of economics, says Venu Narayan, director of the School of Liberal Studies and Strategic Development at Azim Premji University.

The university is introducing a new economics syllabus for its undergraduate students, which, it says, is more appropriate and useful. Besides, it is also making available a new book with contributions by at least 15 economists from across the world free. Excerpts:

Elaborate on the university’s new economics syllabus.

Our university is part of a group of international institutions contributing to a project ( dedicated to developing an innovative undergraduate economics curriculum. The CORE project, based at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, has produced a new introductory UG textbook. Leading economists from all over the world have contributed to this e-book, ‘The Economy’. While this book will be the first two introductory courses for our students, an overall syllabus, along the same lines, has been developed for the whole course at our university.

There is news that the book is free and your university is also planning translations, including into Kannada.

Yes. The university is also supporting translation of the book into Indian languages. We have begun work on translations into Kannada and Hindi.

What prompted the university to look at a completely new syllabus?

Since its inception, our university’s goal has been to create human resource that is both competent and sensitive. Existing higher education in India is seen wanting in many areas, which is why we began with our masters programmes first. And now with our undergraduate programme, we thought economics was both an important and popular subject. But how it is being taught and what is being taught both needed improvements.

The existing UG syllabus for economics is too narrowly designed. We do not have a negative agenda of rejecting everything that exists; our aim is to enrich the experience and give India a modern perspective.

Can you point out the aims/objectives of this?

Clearly, it is not to just teach students some theories and tools of economics, which, of course are important. We aim to see UG students who are philosophically grounded (because economics has questions of ethics), historically informed (why and what led to some economic practices and so on) and socio-politically engaged besides being competitively adept. You can’t introduce a UG student to demand and supply theories in the second or third class as if that is all there is to economics.


78% Indian teachers support mobile devices in class

In a study conducted by an American software company, 78% Indian teachers support the idea of incorporating mobile technology in the education system. Titled ‘Transforming education with mobile and digital technology’, the survey was conducted among primary, secondary and high school teachers in 13 countries in the Asia-Pacific Region (APAC). India constituted 22% of the study sample.

According to the survey, 78% of Indian educators felt that the increase use of mobile devices will have a positive effect on the students. While 83% felt that accessibility to digital facilities while making lesson plans will help students comprehend information and concepts better. Among the other findings, 86% felt that institutions need to be equipped with better infrastructure to use the digital facilities.

Adelaide Vaz, Director of Vidya Ankur International Education said, “Students are now net savvy. They first surf the internet for information on any subject. Teachers need to train themselves to use technology. Students also comprehend faster.”

When asked about the hurdles that institutions in India have to overcome to implement mobile technology, 31% teachers felt that lack of integration of mobile and technology in the existing infrastructure is the biggest hurdle. While 27% think that laws and policies in the country are not conducive to use of mobile technology. The biggest hurdle among other countries was allocation of budget (39%).

The main aim of the study by Adobe was to assess the state and importance of mobile technology in classrooms. Kulmeet Bawa, Director Enterprise (South Asia), Adobe, said, “The challenge is to provide support to enable greater mobile adoption.”

Dubious Ph.D degrees: Bihar govt tightens screw

Amidst complaints of large scale irregularities in the award of Ph.D degrees including allegations of plagiarism and recycling of the same dissertation, indiscriminate lifting of material from works done by others without any acknowledgement and ghost writing of dissertations, the government has tightened screw to make things more transparent and reduce the chances of manipulation.

In a directive issued by SA Karim, director higher education, the university officials have been asked to upload details of the Ph.D degrees awarded by the university on its own website as well the UGC website. The exercise of uploading the required information has to be completed within four weeks of the receipt of the govt directive.

Earlier, UGC made NET mandatory even for Ph.D degree holders for being eligible for appointment to the post of Assistant Professors and equivalent positions. Those obtaining Ph.D as per the 2009 UGC guidelines stipulating a set of stiff conditions including pre Ph.D test, one semester long study of research methodology, open house synopsis and viva presentation and publication of at least two papers in quality journals etc have been exempted for NET clearance.

Ironically, no university of Bihar has so far produced a single Ph.D degree holder fulfilling the stiff criteria laid down by the UGC in the year 2009. In MU, the course in research methodology was only recently introduced and the first Ph.D degree is unlikely to be awarded to candidates fulfilling UGC criteria before the year 2017.

Ruing the deterioration of Ph.D degree quality, a govt official recalled that in assembly election 2010, one the contestants, a Ph.D degree holder from MU spelt rifle as RAIPHAL and revolver as REBOLBER in the affidavit filed at the time of nomination. The document was still available on the election commission website.

The said Ph.D degree holder has won all the elections since 1990, has held important portfolios in the Nitish Kumar led govt and is a CM post aspirant for 2015 elections. Needless to say that the Ph.D degree was awarded to the RAIPHAL holder after he became an MLA.

Acknowledging the receipt of the govt directive, Sanjay Tiwari, Coordinator College Development Council said that efforts are being made to comply with the directive. Degree aspirants are being asked to submit a soft copy of the dissertation to facilitate the uploading process.

Tiwari made it clear that it would not be possible for the university to upload required details of the degrees already awarded as soft copies of such dissertations were not available. Uploading the details on UGC website may take sometime as the University will have to sign an agreement with the UGC and only after the agreement signing process, the UGC will give the password for uploading the required details, said the CCDC.

UOM becomes first university in the state to conduct on line test for PhD seekers

Hundred year old Mysuru university became the first university in the state by conducting the eligibility tests for students who want to enroll themselves for doctorate degrees in the departments of this university.

Disclosing this at a press meet, UOM VC K S Rangappa on Wednesday said software giant TCS has not only provided the software for conducting eligibility tests in various subjects , it also monitors and ensures that tests are conducted in a transparent way without allowing candidates to indulge in any kind of malpractice. ” Any small deviation from the procedures prescribed for taking this on line test will not allow the candidate to answer the questions” he claimed , adding that this year the test was conducted at 37 locations all over India. More than 3500 candidates who want to enroll themselves for doctorate degrees took the test and soon results of the test will be made available for the candidates.

VC said in addition to helping the candidates by making them to appear for on line test it also ensures the meritorious students to pass the test enabling them to enroll for PhD degrees in various departments and subjects . ” With no scope for malpractices or nepotism definitely merit matters” he pointed out.

Rangappa said this is only an eligibility test and this certificate is valid for three years and if the candidate fails to enroll himself for a Ph. D degree with in three years , he or she has to undergo another text which is valid for another three years. ” We have fixed three year validity period for this test unlike the KSAT which has a life time validity because the students interested to enroll for Ph. D will have to keep updated his or her subject knowledge where as students becoming lectures in colleges are forced to study subjects daily before going for classes” he analyzed and said UOM wants to add more number of locations for this on line Ph D test. “We are planning to conduct the eligibility test for Ph D at 650 locations in the coming years” he claimed and said UOM has become a pioneer in the field. Rangappa said he is planning to conduct all tests required for various departments and courses on line and discard manual conduct of tests.

“Karnataka gyan ayoga has appreciated out efforts and directed the other universities to follow the suit” he added. He said in future even the entrance tests for degree and pos graduate courses will be conducted on line. Rangappa reiterated that there is no scope for candidate indulging in malpractices and TC software is perfectly planned and evolved to eliminate all malpractices or misuse of the on line facility to further the candidates interests.