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The News Line: Feature SCHOOLS PRIVATISATION MUST BE RESISTED says ATL President Hank Roberts
Teachers unions marching in November last year in defence of pensions
EDUCATION Secretary Michael Gove’s plans for schools to be run for profit and to end state education as we know it must be resisted, says Hank Roberts, incoming president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

Roberts, who takes over as ATL President on 1 September, says: ‘I warned of the dangers of global businesses taking over our schools and running them for profit as long ago as 2001.

‘This September sees the opening of the first free school being run for profit as part of Michael Gove’s plans to privatise the whole of state education and open it all up for companies to make a profit from our schools.

‘Allowing from October unqualified teachers to teach in academies as well as free schools is part of this plan.’

Roberts has been campaigning against the privatisation of the management of schools since academies were introduced.

His opposition has increased under the coalition government with Gove’s intention to turn all schools into academies and free schools by force if necessary.

Roberts says: ‘Everyone needs to wake up to the threat our whole education system is under before it is too late.

‘Many people realise that the government is privatising the NHS, but opposition to academies and free schools, while growing, is still not as universal as it should and must be.

‘There are magnificent campaigns, and increasingly more of them, which show the potential if people get their minds right.

‘And if the Government resorts to unjust laws parents, teachers and governors will have to consider what actions they can take.’

Roberts says: ‘I would like ATL to approach other teacher unions and professional bodies, the learned societies and universities to form a united campaign to demand proper scientific and reliable evidence before education initiatives are implemented.

‘If the government fails to carry out proper research, teachers should defend children’s education and their professionalism and boycott any spurious initiatives.  We owe it to ourselves and our pupils.’

l Inequality in educational provision is set to increase for ethnic minority pupils, a research report published today by the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, has found.

The savage cuts to local authority spending and the decision by the coalition government to end ring-fenced funding for the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant is having a major adverse impact on the help schools can give to ethnic minority pupils, the research has shown.

Well over a third (37 per cent) of teachers and headteachers who responded to an NASUWT survey reported that resources for ethnic minority achievement and English as an additional language provision were dwindling in their area, with resources being increasingly diverted towards other activities.

Funding changes in September 2011 removed dedicated funding for the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant, incorporating the funding into the Dedicated School Grant.

This ended the requirement for schools to spend this money solely on supporting the needs of ethnic minority pupils and students with English as an additional language.

At a time of deep cuts to school and local authority budgets it was inevitable that schools would simply absorb this grant to try to make their budgets balance.

As a result, nearly a third (32 per cent) of headteachers said support for these students has become more difficult to access over the last year.

A significant number (46 per cent) of teachers and headteachers believe that funding for these services will decline further in the coming years.

Nine per cent of those surveyed said that cost pressures have led to redundancies in their schools and 19 per cent were aware of redundancies in neighbouring schools or in their local authority.

Half of headteachers said the pressure on schools to provide help to ethnic minority pupils has increased in the last year and 65 per cent stated that current resources were insufficient to meet this need.

NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates said: ‘This research shows that once again the casualties of the coalition government’s education reforms and austerity measures are the children and young people that need the most support.

‘The NASUWT predicted that the funding changes, driven by a desire by the Department for Education to mask the level and impact of cuts to school and local authority budgets, would result in those who needed the support to address their needs losing it.

‘The progress made in the last decade to address inequality is being rapidly eroded away.

‘Despite the consequences being highlighted by the NASUWT at the time that the funding changes were proposed, ministers chose to carry on regardless.

‘The coalition government’s policies are producing a society deeply riven with inequality.’

Rob Berkeley, Director of race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, said: ‘This government’s inattention to persistent racial inequality makes a lie of the claim that “we are all in this together”.

‘The failure to protect the progress that schools, teachers and young people from minority ethnic communities have made over recent years risks leaving another generation of young black and Asian people unable to maximise their potential and their contribution to society.’

l Nine in ten (91 per cent) year one teachers said the phonics checks for five and six year olds did not tell them anything new about the reading ability of their pupils, according to a survey carried out by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and National Union of Teachers (NUT).

Teachers complained that the checks did not tell them anything new, did not test children’s reading ability, only how well they decode words, took up teaching time, took teachers out of the class and cost schools money to implement.

Some 86 per cent of year one teachers said the phonics checks should not continue, and many of the teachers who had been open-minded about the test before administering it are now totally opposed to it.

Many teachers said that fluent readers were confused by made-up words such as ‘strom’ as they are so close to real words (‘storm’) the children assumed they were misprints and tried to make sense of them.

Teachers of all primary age children emphasised the importance of using a range of strategies to teach children to read, and not just synthetic phonics, because children learn in different ways.

They also highlighted that children read for comprehension and so reading words without any context is problematic, with many children for whom English is a second language (EAL) struggling even though they do well in year two SATs which measure comprehension.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of year one teachers feared that pupils who failed would have their confidence dented if they had to re-take the phonics checks. 

Nearly nine in ten (88 per cent) year one teachers practised reading made-up words such as spron, geck, fape and thazz with their pupils.  And 43 per cent said they had felt under additional pressure to teach synthetic phonics in the week before the checks to the detriment of other literacy activity.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: ‘Phonics tests waste time and money to tell teachers what they already know.

‘We fear the harm they will do to fluent readers who fail the tests because they assume the nonsense words are misprints, and to children with special educational needs and English as an additional language who get confused by them.

‘The government risks doing long-term damage to children’s reading if it persists with the checks and its mistaken determination to make synthetic phonics the only method used to teach children to read.’

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said:
 ‘Synthetic phonics is an essential contribution to helping most children learn to read, which is why most schools already make heavy use of it.

‘This test, however, is another matter. It is inaccurate and unnecessary. It distorts the teaching and measurement of reading.

‘A lifelong love of reading, as well as fluency, is built on more than decoding. It is built on the pleasure of a great story, something that ideology is now crowding out of the early curriculum.’

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: ‘The phonics check must be scrapped. The results of this survey provide stark evidence that schools are being made to squander money on what they know to be an unreliable “progress report”.

‘The strength of feeling against this unnecessary test is extremely high and the gains for children low.  Five is too young to fail.’

The unions surveyed 1,679 year one teachers working in state-funded schools in England between 26 June and 13 July 2012.This was part of a wider survey of 2,779 teachers and heads working in primary schools in England.
 
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