Mar 27

Annual Lunch with Tristram Hunt MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Tristram Hunt speaking at the APPG for Education Annual Lunch

Tristram Hunt speaking at the APPG for Education Annual Lunch

The APPG for Education was delighted to host Tristram Hunt as their guest speaker at the Group’s annual lunch on 25th March 2014.

Mr Hunt addressed an audience of APPG members and stakeholders from the education sector about the Labour Party’s priorities for education, should they form a Government next year. Covering topics such as the importance of early years education, primary and secondary assessment regimes and the National Curriculum changes, Mr Hunt outlined where he felt the Government had gone wrong, or at the very least rushed into decisions without due consultation, and where there was some consensus over policy.

Support for Mr Gove’s changes included the abolition of primary school levels and the introduction of the pupil premium, which Mr Hunt believes to be a concrete part of the school landscape now. The National Curriculum might need tweaking, according to the Shadow Secretary of State, but it should be given the opportunity to ‘bed in’ first.

Tristram Hunt at the APPG for Education Annual Lunch

Mr Hunt was questioned on FE/HE and the links to schooling, careers provision, CPD, SureStart, Ofsted and the use of ICT in schools. A firm advocate of using technology to aid teaching, Mr Hunt was quite clear that the necessary teacher training was vital to maximise the positive impact of educational IT.

The next APPG meeting is on the 20th May at 1pm to discuss effective use of the Pupil Premium. For more details, please see the meetings page.

Feb 17

Meeting on the Impact of the Classroom Environment on Educational Attainment

Classroom Learning Environment Meeting

On Tuesday 11 February 2014, the All Party-Parliamentary Group for Education examined what impact the classroom learning environment has on educational attainment. The meeting was addressed by Professor Peter Barrett of Salford University, who is currently conducting research in this area, Murray Hudson, of Grantells Ltd and Will Hinks of Metalliform.

Welcomed and introduced by the APPG’s Co-Chair, Nic Dakin MP, Professor Barrett gave a detailed presentation concerning the evidence that his study has uncovered.

Professor Barrett explained that his study has devised a system to isolate the impact the classroom has on attainment in primary schools. The results of Phase One of his study reveal that the classroom environment accounts for 25% of the variation in learning achieved by pupils during a school year. He explained that the ongoing Phase II of the study uses a far greater sample size and he would expect the impact the classroom has to be reduced. Current results would suggest an impact figure of 13%.

Professor Barrett showed the meeting contrasting photos from many of the schools he visited to illustrate his findings. He highlighted several factors as being of importance, including: the level of natural light and good quality artificial light; adjustable chairs; how much room there is and if there are different areas in the classroom; the ability for students to personalise their classrooms; classrooms having the right level between overstimulation and being bare; and flexibility to change the classroom layout rather than enough space just for rows of desks.

Other findings however were surprising. For example, contrary to perceived wisdom, it was found that cooler colours worked better with smaller children by helping calm them down whilst warmer, brighter, colours seemed to work better with older children.

Professor Barrett wished to stress that many of his findings indicate cheap ways teachers can affect the attainment of their students at the present time rather than only be something that can be implemented at the start of a new school building. He also made the comment that, in his view, it was the 1950s buildings which had the best and most flexible ‘teaching spaces’.

After Professor Barrett finished his talk the Chair invited comments and questions. Contributions, from Lindsey Roy MP, Baroness Howe and members of the furniture industry, covered subjects such as possible Government support for Professor Barrett’s findings, training teachers to make use of better classroom design, spaces for play and frustration that often new builds went way over budget (mostly due to inexperienced teachers, architects and builders not used to school design). So often the budget for the furnishings gets cut as a result. One attendee commented that by his calculation, schools spend on average ½ a penny per day on what a child will sit on for five to six hours daily.

Nov 20

APPG Meets with Sir Michael Wilshaw

Sir Michael Wilshaw at APPG for Education

On Tuesday 12 November 2013, the All Party-Parliamentary Group for Education was addressed by Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Schools.

Introduced by the APPG’s Co-Chair, Nic Dakin MP, Sir Michael addressed those in attendance about the recent work of and changes made to Ofsted since he took up his post. He remarked on several improvements seen in education provision, including 78% of schools have been judged good or better this year compared to 70% last year and 60% five years ago. Sir Michael pointed to greater accountability as the key driver for improvement, and hailed Ofsted’s role in that process. He welcomed the increased autonomy being given to schools but believes that it is still the place of government to decide the content of the national curriculum.

Sir Michael noted that the poorest performing areas in England are often the most deprived, but that ‘poverty of expectation’ is the main problem, rather than a lack of ability among poorer children. Children from white, working class, low income families are the main group needing more help, through the introduction of a national strategy. He also reported that a lack of accountability in Wales has led to a decline in standards there.

Sir Michael particularly highlighted the importance of ensuring that good teachers are placed in poorly performing schools, adding that “without better teaching, outcomes will not improve.”

He went on to point to the lessons learnt from the experience of London. In the 1980s, London schools were very well funded but poorly performing. Since then the capital has seen dramatic improvements in standards.

“The lesson from London is that it can be done. The real problem,” said Wilshaw, “was poverty of expectation.”

Sir Michael’s presentation was followed by a lively question and answer session, during which he was quizzed by several MPs, Peers and stakeholders from across the education world.

A range of issues were raised and debated, including the difference between social mobility in urban and rural areas, a possible requirement for employability to be tested in Ofsted inspections, the inspection of child-minding agencies, and the impact of greater freedoms for schools.

Further discussion took place regarding the changed framework for Ofsted inspections, how schools know how to develop and improve following inspection and the variations in improvement between primary and secondary education.

Ofsted want to see a majority of teaching to be outstanding, in outstanding schools, Sir Michael remarked. Results for children are the most important thing, and Ofsted do not have a preferred method of teaching to achieve those, he explained. Improvements have been seen across primary and secondary schools, but independent schools could also get more involved in improving state schools further, beyond the current piecemeal approach they have taken. Ofsted can act as a broker encouraging closer cooperation among schools, particularly between these sectors.

Questions were also asked on the role of the independent sector in supporting national standards, inspections of children’s services and safeguarding children, the role of inspectors in supporting a school, and how to ensure that inspectors are up to date with the technology used in education.

Sir Michael also outlined his belief that inspections should be about improvement, and that Ofsted was well placed to advise on best practice. He acknowledged that technology empowers teachers and has improved how they teach.

During the meeting there were contributions from MPs including Ben Gummer, Gisela Stuart and Robert Wilson. Baroness Howe, Baroness Walmsley and Lady Warnock also raised concerns and questions, and the Group’s Vice Chair, Baroness Perry gave a vote of thanks at the end of the meeting.

Commenting on the meeting, Sir Michael said, “I was delighted to attend this meeting of the APPG for Education, an important forum through which politicians can debate key aspects of education policy. The opportunity to discuss with MPs and peers the role which Ofsted has to play in continued school improvement was a welcome one”.

Nic Dakin MP, the Group’s Co-Chairman, said, “Sir Michael’s presentation stimulated an interesting and forthright discussion about how we can best improve educational provision. The APPG for Education provides an excellent opportunity for parliamentarians to discuss, debate and examine all aspects of educational policy, and there are few areas which are more important than the work of Ofsted.”

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