Exclusive: Primary schools could boycott ‘chaotic’ Sats tests

By Helen Ward (TES)
The NAHT heads’ union says schools could refuse to administer the tests if discussions with government are not ‘fruitful’

Headteachers are warning ministers that they could boycott Sats next year unless significant changes to primary assessment begin in the next few weeks.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, has been outspoken about the “chaos and confusion” of this year’s tougher key stage 2 tests.

Now he wants the Department for Education to take action on three key issues before half-term, including rethinking proposals for resits in Year 7, redesigning the reading test and addressing concerns about the use of “secure fit” rather than “best fit” on the writing assessment.

The government also needs to address the inconsistencies between local authorities on how writing is moderated, he said.

Mr Hobby added: “The long-term picture is to sit down and discuss a more coherent strategy for assessment that could take years to come to fruition. But in the short term there are very serious concerns. A boycott remains a possibility for 2017 if discussions with the government are not fruitful.”

His warning comes as the government is preparing to publish further details on Thursday of how pupils performed in the controversial reading, maths, and Spag tests.

Initial results, published in July, revealed that just 53 per cent of pupils had reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, compared with 80 per cent of pupils who achieved the expected level 4 last year.

‘The tests last year were a shambles’

The government has said that the writing assessment system will stay in place for the coming school year, to give it time to “engage” with teachers before changes are made.

The NAHT’s position is being backed by other teaching unions. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said: “The current regime is not fair, valid or reliable. We would be prepared to look at a boycott.

“The KS2 tests last year were a shambles.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “The improvements that we have made to the primary curriculum and assessments will raise educational standards and help ensure all children leave primary school having mastered the basics they need to succeed.”

They added that the DfE was “working constructively with teaching unions” to “ensure this is done effectively”.

This is an edited version of an article in the 26 August edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. You can also download the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.



Councils ‘should monitor academy cash’

Dixons Academy
Image captionTwo members of staff at Kings Science Academy in Bradford were convicted of fraud

Academy budgets should be overseen by local authorities following a series of financial abuses, say council leaders.

Cash earmarked for education in England is too often “disappearing into the back pockets of those in charge”, says the Local Government Association.

Current scrutiny is ineffective, leaving the media and whistleblowers to uncover fraud, argues the LGA.

The government says academies and free schools are subject to greater scrutiny than council-run schools.

Council leaders are urging Education Secretary Justine Greening to restore local oversight of all school finances “providing democratic accountability so that parents and communities can be confident their children aren’t missing out”.

They say the Education Funding Agency, the official body responsible for the financial oversight of academies and free schools, lacks the capacity “to provide the level of scrutiny necessary to ensure value for money and catch out fraudsters”.

The LGA highlighted two scandals this year at:

  • Kings Science Academy in Bradford where two members were convicted of fraud for transferring £150,000 of government grants into their own bank accounts
  • and Perry Beeches Academy in Birmingham where the chief executive was paid a second salary through two separate companies

In April, a report by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee raised concerns that the rapid expansion of the academies programme in England had made it difficult to keep track of spending and land.

In May, the government abandoned controversial plans to force all England’s schools to become academies.

The Department for Education says all academies operate under a strict system of oversight and accountability which is more robust than in council-run schools and ensures any issues are identified quickly.

“Unlike other schools, their accounts are scrutinised by an independent auditor and we have considerably more financial information about academies than we ever had for council-run schools,” said a spokeswoman.

“The academy programme puts control of running schools in the hands of teachers and school leaders, the people who know best how to run their schools.

“They also allow us to tackle underperformance far more swiftly than in a council-run system where many schools have been allowed to fail for years.”

Gove and Cameron at Perry Beeches
Image captionFormer Prime Minister David Cameron and then Education Secretary Michael Gove were at the opening of Perry Beeches III free school in 2013

Richard Watts, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “We are told that academies and free schools are subject to more financial scrutiny than council-maintained schools, yet we keep hearing that millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, which has been earmarked to make sure our children get a good education, is disappearing into the back pockets of those in charge.

“The National Audit Office has raised serious concerns about the ability of the DfE to effectively monitor academy trusts’ spending, even before the planned expansion of the academy programme, and we don’t believe it can possibly have effective oversight of spending in more than 20,000 schools,” said Mr Watts, who is Labour leader of Islington Council in north London.

“Centralising control of schools isn’t working, oversight needs to be devolved down to local councils,” he added.



Learning to speak English? Making yourself understood isn’t all about the accent

Talia Isaacs, University of Bristol; Dustin Crowther, Michigan State University; Kazuya Saito, Waseda University, and Pavel Trofimovich, Concordia University

Being able to communicate effectively in a foreign language is a challenge faced by many of us. If you’re a newcomer to a country, conveying a message in a language that is not your mother tongue is often necessary to access vital services, perform well on the job, achieve good grades and integrate into society. But it’s possible that speakers of different native languages face different challenges in making themselves easily understood.

In new research comparing the speaking performances of 60 adult learners of English from four different language groups: Chinese, Hindi/Urdu, Romance languages (French/Spanish) and Farsi, we found dramatic differences between how their use of language determines how understandable they are.

But our study showed that the language-related factors that underlie what makes someone sound accented were very similar regardless of a person’s mother tongue. For example, vowel and consonant errors universally make people sound accented.

Yet it’s not always these factors that affect how easy or difficult to understand a person is. Whereas producing inaccurate vowels and consonants impeded how easy Chinese learners were for English listeners to understand, for Hindi or Urdu learners, it was appropriate use of vocabulary and grammar that helped their ability to be understood.

Too much focus on accent

Foreign accents often receive an undue amount of attention because they are highly noticeable to listeners. Previous research has shown that untrained listeners can tell native and non-native speakers apart after listening to speech that is just 0.03 seconds long, is played backwards, or is in an unfamiliar language.

Despite listeners’ sensitivity to accent, there is growing agreement among language teachers and researchers that trying to reduce a learner’s accent is not an appropriate goal. This is mostly because people do not need to sound like native speakers to successfully integrate into a new society or to effectively carry out their professional tasks.

In addition, sounding like a native speaker is an unrealistic language learning goal for adults and also perhaps an undesirable one due to issues of identity. So most language experts agree that what counts the most in oral communication is for learners to be readily understandable or comprehensible to their conversational partners.

By teasing apart the aspects of speech that are essential for being understood from those factors that might be noticeable or irritating but do not actually impede communication, English teachers can target the most vital aspects of speech their students need to get their messages across.

Making yourself understood

We wanted to find out what impact an adult learner’s mother tongue has on how easy they are to understand when they speak a foreign language, and how important a part their accent played.

In our experiment, ten experienced English teachers scored the speech of four groups of 15 international students telling a story in English. The 60 students spoke Chinese, Hindi or Urdu, Romance languages (French or Spanish), and Farsi.

The teachers first provided judgements on how accented each speaker sounded and how difficult he or she was to understand. Next, they provided judgements using ten language variables including pronunciation, fluency, vocabulary, and grammar.

Here are some example recordings of speakers who scored relatively low and high. First, from the Chinese native speakers:

A Chinese person judged relatively hard to understand.
A Chinese person judged relatively easy to understand.

And then from the Farsi speakers:

A Farsi person judged relatively hard to understand.
A Farsi person judged relatively easy to understand.

What difference an acccent makes

Statistical tests were carried out to examine language-related influences on the listeners’ judgements of accent and comprehensibility, first for the entire group of 60 speakers, then broken down by each of the four language groups.

When it came to scoring the speakers on how accented they sounded, variations in their pronunciation were the strongest contributing factors. Our listeners – all English teachers – paid most attention to vowel and consonant errors regardless of the speaker’s native language background. Chinese accents sounded stronger than those of the other language groups.

Different stumbling blocks

The picture was different for ease of understanding. The graph below shows that – for the entire group of 60 international students – pronunciation variables: a combination of vowel/consonant accuracy, word stress, intonation and speech rate are not the only contributing factors to how easy a speaker is to understand. Vocabulary, grammar accuracy and complexity or “lexicogrammar” variables also play a part.

Author provided

But there are no universal rules when it comes to making yourself understood. For Chinese learners, who were the lowest rated group overall, vowel and consonant errors were detrimental to being understood. Although such errors made Hindi and Urdu speakers sound more accented, it was grammatical errors, and not errors of pronunciation, that affected their comprehensibility.

For French and Spanish speakers, both pronunciation and grammar were linked to their comprehensibility. It could be that for Romance learners, rhythm, vocabulary, and grammar structures are closely tied together. Here is an example of a French native speaker who scored low relative to other French speakers:

A French person who scored low relative to other French speakers.

In contrast, for Farsi learners, no single language variable was striking enough to be strongly linked with comprehensibility. But our listening English teachers may have had difficulty pinpointing problematic aspects of Farsi learners’ speech – who were rated as the most uniformly comprehensible of all groups in the study.

Pronunciation lessons for non-native English speakers should make it a priority to help learners be more easily understandable to their conversational partners rather than minimising their accents. Our study helps to shed light on the marked influence that people’s first language background can have on their ability to communicate in a comprehensible way.

Ultimately, instructional materials and teaching techniques should take into account the factors that are most important for helping learners communicate more effectively depending on their native language background.

The Conversation

Talia Isaacs, Senior Lecturer in Education; Director of the Second Language Speech Lab, University of Bristol; Dustin Crowther, PhD Student, Michigan State University; Kazuya Saito, Assistant Professor of English, School of Commerce, Waseda University, and Pavel Trofimovich, Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics, Department of Education, Concordia University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘More Rio medal winners were state-school educated’

Laura Trott and Jason Kenny
Image captionCycling gold medallists Jason Kenny and Laura Trott both went to comprehensive schools

The proportion of Team GB medal winners who were state-school educated has grown since London 2012, says an education charity.

Just under a third (32%) of Team GB’s medal winners went to private school, down from 36% four years ago, suggests analysis by the Sutton Trust.

The new generation of state-educated athletes is challenging private school dominance, says the charity.

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl described the findings as “fantastic”.

The Sutton Trust, which campaigns to increase social mobility through education, analysed the school background both of medal winners and Team GB members overall.

Mo FarahImage copyrightPA
Image captionMo Farah took gold in the men’s 5,000m and 10,000m

Fewer than a third of the 130 Team GB medallists at the Rio Olympics attended fee-paying schools.

While the 13 most successful Olympians – those who won multiple medals at Rio – were more likely to come from state schools, says the charity.

  • Jason Kenny, who took three cycling golds, went to comprehensive school in Manchester
  • Max Whitlock, with two gymnastic golds and a bronze went to comprehensive school in Hertfordshire
  • Mo Farah, with golds in both the 5,000m and 10,000m was at state school in West London
  • Laura Trott, with two cycling golds was at a Hertfordshire comprehensive school
  • Charlotte Dujardin, winner of gold and team silver in dressage attended a Bedfordshire comprehensive.

But this still means that compared with the general population, Team GB members are still four times more likely to have been privately educated, says the charity.

For the team as a whole, whether medal winners or not, the numbers privately educated rose from 20% in 2012 to 28% this year.

And when it comes to rowing and hockey the proportion of privately educated players is 52% and 50% respectively, says the charity.

Eton winners

It points out that an old Etonian has won a medal for team GB every year since 1992.

London 2012 silver medallist William Fox-Pitt went to EtonImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionLondon 2012 team eventing silver medallist William Fox-Pitt went to Eton

These include Matthew Pinsent in rowing in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 and William Fox-Pitt in equestrian eventing in 2008 and 2012, as well as Constantine Louloudis with a rowing bronze in London and gold in Rio.

The charity says a growing trend for partnerships between state and private schools has helped boost the prospects of athletes like swimming gold medallist Adam Peaty who attended state school but used training facilities at Repton public school.

‘National triumph’

Sir Peter Lampl described the success of Team GB in Rio as “a national triumph”.

“It’s been fantastic to see a growing number of our national heroes coming from comprehensive and other state schools,” said Sir Peter.

“But alumni of private schools are still over-represented among our medallists.

“Although some state schools have improved support for competitive sport over the last decade, they’re still more likely to benefit from ample time set aside for sport, excellent sporting facilities and highly qualified coaches.”


‘Teaching artists’: creative ways to teach English to immigrant kids

Liane Brouillette, University of California, Irvine

Bringing professional actors and dancers into the classroom may seem an unusual strategy for boosting the speaking skills of children who speak a language other than English at home. Yet, these creative drama and movement activities can help children struggling to improve their fluency in the English language.

English language learners face a daunting challenge in today’s classrooms, which have an increased focus on written work. To improve their English language skills, these children need frequent opportunities to engage in verbal interactions. Children who do not become proficient in reading by the end of third grade are at an increased risk of dropping out of school.

Schools in San Diego, California, are successfully leading the way in using creative ways to teach English.

Educators and teaching artists have come together in San Diego schools to demonstrate how theatre games and creative movement activities in early grades can help children improve their English language fluency.

Making it happen

Having begun my career as an educator in Europe, I was attracted by the idea of an arts-rich curriculum that motivated children through imaginative engagement.

As the director of the Center for Learning in the Arts and Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, I approached the Visual and Performing Arts Department of the San Diego Unified School District about setting up a pilot project in 15 San Diego elementary schools.

In 2007, our proposal was funded by the California Postsecondary Education Commission.

Over a period of several months, the San Diego Visual and Performing Arts Department recruited and trained the professional actors and dancers who would serve as “teaching artists.”

The idea of recruiting teaching artists was to have a group of professionals trained in dance and drama, who could visit as many as five classrooms each day and encourage English learners to use language as a tool of communication even during the first lessons.

Two teachers at Central Elementary lead a theatre warm-up.
University of California eScholarship Repository, CC BY

Classroom teachers co-taught with a teaching artist for 50 minutes each week for 28 weeks (14 weeks of drama, 14 weeks of dance). Teachers practiced with their pupils on the days between visits. Videos of lessons were made available online, so that teachers could remind themselves of details.

How it worked

In a way, this program was not all that new. These lessons were only an enhanced version of the theatre and dance curriculum that was available to all San Diego elementary schools before testing and budget pressures caused the school district to reduce its offerings.

Budget cuts over the years have forced the elimination of arts activities in kindergarten to second grade in many school districts nationwide. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2009–2010, only 4% of US elementary schools offered instruction that was designated as drama or theatre; just 3% offered dance.

When the teaching artists arrived in San Diego classrooms, children welcomed them enthusiastically and eagerly joined in.

The lessons generally started with the class standing in a circle, responding through words and physical movements to directions given by the teaching artist. Instead of memorizing vocabulary and studying grammar, children learned through active participation.

And English learners who were unsure of the meaning of verbal instructions could check their understanding by watching the teaching artist and other students.

Rigorous evaluation has shown that the program has helped children, especially those with the most limited English speaking skills.

Kindergartners at Balboa Elementary practice a dance activity with their teacher.
University of California eScholarship Repository, CC BY

Teacher interviews affirmed that the vocabulary and communication skills of all children were enhanced by the teaching artist visits.

The most striking improvement was in the speaking skills of the English learners.

Limited learning in classrooms

Today’s classrooms face many challenges.

Nearly 10% of the student population in the US now comes from non-English speaking homes. In California, children whose home language is not English make up over 20% of the public school enrollment.

The passage of Proposition 227 in 1998 has made the situation particularly challenging for non-English speaking children. Proposition 227 requires California public schools to teach even limited English-proficient students in classes that are taught nearly all in English.

In today’s classrooms, children’s learning is limited by several factors.

Contemporary kindergarten classrooms resemble the first grade classes of a generation ago. First graders are tackling assignments that were formerly taught in second grade.

Moreover, the demands of a highly structured curriculum and rising class sizes leave limited opportunities for rich verbal interactions between the teacher and the pupil. Chances for individualized feedback are also often limited.

This is reflected in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) data: only 11 of the 50 states are meeting adequate yearly progress targets for limited English-proficient students under NCLB. At the same time, the number of school-age kids who speak English as a second language is continuing to grow.

What English learners need

Unfortunately, preparation programs for elementary teachers currently dedicate little time to methods for teaching oral language skills.

Research has demonstrated that oral language proficiency in the primary grades is critical to the literacy development of children in general, but especially of English learners.

Drama and dance activities in which nonverbal communication is utilized in combination with verbal interactions can offer an effective substitute for one-on-one interactions with the classroom teacher.

Given that the weekly teaching artist visits constitute a relatively low-cost intervention, such programs may provide a means of affordably addressing an urgent problem.

The San Diego project did not just help English learners; it provided benefits for English-speaking students as well through increased engagement, attendance and exposure to the arts.

But clearly, the need is greater for English learners, for whom the arts can provide a bridge to understanding the language of the classroom.

Next: How should kids learn English: through Old MacDonald’s farm or Ali Baba’s farm?

The Conversation

Liane Brouillette, Associate Professor of Education, University of California, Irvine

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How the Queen’s English has had to defer to Africa’s rich multilingualism

Rajend Mesthrie, University of Cape Town

For the first time in history a truly global language has emerged. English enables international communication par excellence, with a far wider reach than other possible candidates for this position – like Latin in the past, and French, Spanish and Mandarin in the present.

In a memorable phrase, former Tanzanian statesman Julius Nyerere once characterised English as the Kiswahili of the world. In Africa, English is more widely spoken than other important lingua francas like Kiswahili, Arabic, French and Portuguese, with at least 26 countries using English as one of their official languages.

But English in Africa comes in many different shapes and forms. It has taken root in an exceptionally multilingual context, with well over a thousand languages spoken on the continent. The influence of this multilingualism tends to be largely erased at the most formal levels of use – for example, in the national media and in higher educational contexts. But at an everyday level, the Queen’s English has had to defer to the continent’s rich abundance of languages. Pidgin, creole, second-language and first-language English all flourish alongside them.

The birth of new languages

English did not enter Africa as an innocent language. Its history is tied up with trade and exploitation, capitalist expansion, slavery and colonisation.

The history of English is tied up with trade, capitalist expansion, slavery and colonialism.

As the need for communication arose and increased under these circumstances, forms of English, known as pidgins and creoles, developed. This took place within a context of unequal encounters, a lack of sustained contact with speakers of English and an absence of formal education. Under these conditions, English words were learnt and attached to an emerging grammar that owed more to African languages than to English.

A pidgin is defined by linguists as an initially simple form of communication that arises from contact between speakers of disparate languages who have
no other means of communication in common. Pidgins, therefore, do not have mother-tongue speakers. The existence of pidgins in the early period of West African-European contact is not well documented, and some linguists like Salikoko Mufwene judge their early significance to be overestimated.

Pidgins can become more complex if they take on new functions. They are relabelled creoles if, over time and under specific circumstances, they become fully developed as the first language of a group of speakers.

Ultimately, pidgins and creoles develop grammatical norms that are far removed from the colonial forms that partially spawned them: to a British English speaker listening to a pidgin or creole, the words may seem familiar in form, but not always in meaning.

Linguists pay particular attention to these languages because they afford them the opportunity to observe creativity at first hand: the birth of new languages.

The creoles of West Africa

West Africa’s creoles are of two types: those that developed outside Africa; and those that first developed from within the continent.

The West African creoles that developed outside Africa emerged out of the multilingual and oppressive slave experience in the New World. They were then brought to West Africa after 1787 by freed slaves repatriated from Britain, North America and the Caribbean. “Krio” was the name given to the English-based creole of slaves freed from Britain who were returned to Sierra Leone, where they were joined by slaves released from Nova Scotia and Jamaica.

Some years after that, in 1821, Liberia was established as an African homeland for freed slaves from the US. These men and women brought with them what some linguists call “Liberian settler English”. This particular creole continues to make Liberia somewhat special on the continent, with American rather than British forms of English dominating there.

These languages from the New World were very influential in their new environments, especially over the developing West African pidgin English.

A more recent, homegrown type of West African creole has emerged in the region. This West African creole is spreading in the context of urban multilingualism and changing youth identities. Over the past 50 years, it has grown spectacularly in Ghana, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone, and it is believed to be the fastest-growing language in Nigeria. In this process pidgin English has been expanded into a creole, used as one of the languages of the home. For such speakers, the designation “pidgin” is now a misnomer, although it remains widely used.

In East Africa, in contrast, the strength and historicity of Kiswahili as a lingua franca prevented the rapid development of pidgins based on colonial languages. There, traders and colonists had to learn Kiswahili for successful everyday communication. This gave locals more time to master English as a fully-fledged second language.

Other varieties of English

Africa, mirroring the trend in the rest of the world, has a large and increasing number of second-language English speakers. Second-language varieties of English are mutually intelligible with first-language versions, while showing varying degrees of difference in accent, grammar and nuance of vocabulary. Formal colonisation and the educational system from the 19th century onwards account for the wide spread of second-language English.

What about first-language varieties of English on the continent? The South African variety looms large in this history, showing similarities with English in Australia and New Zealand, especially in details of accent.

In post-apartheid South Africa many young black people from middle-class backgrounds now speak this variety either as a dominant language or as a “second first-language”. But for most South Africans English is a second language – a very important one for education, business and international communication.

For family and cultural matters, African languages remain of inestimable value throughout the continent.

The Conversation

Rajend Mesthrie, Professor of Linguistics, University of Cape Town

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Fair advice call for A-level results

A social mobility charity is sending volunteers to help provide advice to state school pupils receiving their A-level results this week.

The charity, MyBigCareer, wants state pupils to have fair access to personal advice about their options for university places or apprenticeships.

Founder Deborah Streatfield says she wants all pupils to have the type of support available in private schools.

“They have worked hard and need a fair chance,” said Mrs Streatfield.

The charity has trained volunteer advisers to help in 10 schools, mostly in east London, providing individual support for pupils trying to make decisions after discovering their results.

my big career
Image captionLondon universities have helped to recruit volunteers to go into state schools on results day

Mrs Streatfield wants a level playing field when pupils get their results, particularly for those who have missed out on grades and are trying to decide their next step.

There will also be advice to boost the aspirations of those who have done better than expected.

She says independent schools often have well-resourced operations on results day to help pupils maximise their opportunities.

But she is concerned that some state school pupils are not getting the same support.

“It can make a huge difference,” says Mrs Streatfield.

Pupils who have not got their expected grades can be “too distraught” to make phone calls and need help with making decisions, she says.

Results advice
Image captionThe Department for Education is funding an advice helpline for students wanting help

Apart from weighing up offers from other universities, she says young people can face daunting questions about accommodation and their finances.

Figures published this month showed that the gap in university entry rates between private and state schools has grown wider.

By the age of 19, 85% of pupils who attended private school will have gone into higher education, compared with 62% at state schools.

Universities including King’s College London, City, Anglia Ruskin, London School of Economics, University of East London, Queen Mary and Imperial have helped to provide volunteers.

These will be at schools from 07:00 BST on Thursday, ready for pupils arriving to find out their results.

“Students can afford to be a lot more aspirational in getting places at more prestigious universities. Yet in disadvantaged areas such as Hackney they don’t tend to have the support that gives them the information and the personal confidence to get into such universities,” said volunteer Joanna Hemingway.

Hundreds of thousands of teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be getting their A-level results this week.

The limits on university places have been removed and there have been suggestions that universities will be competing to attract students.

“Many universities will still have places available on Thursday. It’s a buyers’ market out there,” said Lucy Everest of Middlesex University.

The Russell Group of leading universities says that some of its members are expecting to have places available through clearing, the system which matches applicants with vacant places after the exam results are published.

The Department for Education is funding a free exam results helpline – 0808 100 8000 – which students will be able to ring to get advice.

It will be available from 08:00 to 20:00 BST on Thursday when results are published and will remain open for the next two weeks.

Helpline adviser Nick Hynes says: “Every year, there are students who don’t get the grades they need for university, there are those who achieve better grades than expected and those whose career plans have changed since they made their original university choices.

“At such a critical and life-changing time, it’s imperative that these students are clear what all of their options are, enabling them to make fully informed decisions about their futures.”