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Education professionals rubbish Williamson’s claim Covid has worsened behaviour in English schools

Wearing the dunce’s cap yet again: Gavin Williamson was happy to deliberately endanger your children by reopening schools at the height of the Covid crisis (he was forced to close them again when the demand for him to do so became overwhelming. Now he’s happy to falsely criminalise them – in order to satisfy a new profit-making market he is creating?

The Tory Education Secretary’s unevidenced claim that discipline in English schools has “inevitably” worsened after a year of lockdowns has been dismissed as nonsense by people who actually work with school pupils.

Gavin Williamson intends to impose a national network of “behaviour hubs” to spread “best practice” among schools and teachers.

But it seems there is absolutely no need for them. Why is the Tory minister so keen to force them on our schools, and on our children?

Is it anything to do with his new network of “secure schools” – prisons for youngsters – to be run by private firms as “charitable” enterprises?

But Mark Russell, the chief executive of the Children’s Society, told The Guardian:

“We are not aware of any evidence that their behaviour is worse, and our practitioners report that on the whole young people have been relieved to get back inside the classroom.”

Mary Bousted, a joint leader of the National Education Union, said:

“With all the challenges currently facing schools, playing to the gallery by talking tough on behaviour is the least useful approach the education secretary can take.”

Wes Streeting, Labour’s Shadow Schools Minister, also said something – but we are already aware that he is an extremely suspect character himself so it is best to pass him by.

Stuart Lock is chief executive of the Advantage Schools trust, which includes one of the 22 schools named as hubs. Even he disagreed with Williamson’s claims:

“I don’t believe classroom behaviour has got worse than it was before the pandemic. It is probably a bit better.”

Even the man leading the new project – Tom Bennett, the DfE’s lead adviser on behaviour – has said there is no evidence of worsened behaviour:

“To be honest, the picture on behaviour we’re seeing is reasonably consistent with the behaviour we were seeing before the pandemic.”

So why has Williamson suddenly falsified a claim that our kids have all gone feral, and started wasting our money on a project to correct behaviour that hasn’t gone bad?

Well, there is this new “secure schools” aspect of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill:

Secure schools are essentially a re-branding of Young Offenders Institutions that allows private organisations to run them.

The government says it is building “schools with security, not prisons with education” but as Zahra Bei wrote in 2019, “the policy of rebranding youth jails as ‘secure schools’ provides a thinly-veiled disguise for what in essence marks the start of the biggest children’s prison expansion programme in Britain”.

Members of the British Association of Social Workers have called the plans “a penal approach rooted in the past”.

The contract for the first secure school was awarded to academy chain Oasis, which has one of the highest rates of personal exclusions in the UK.

It will be on the site of the former Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent, which was described as “a site of violence and abuse that prevented the young people who were held there from accessing learning and freedom”.

After a dispute arose over whether running a child prison could be considered a suitable activity for a charity, the government wrote clauses into its new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to ensure that running a child prison can be considered a charitable activity in law.

The change will encourage more academy chains to be providers, creating what the Tories no doubt hope will be a profitable market. And the use of charities will put distance between the Tory government and anything that happens there.

You can read further information on the “secure schools” project here.

With a new market opening up for the detention (and mistreatment?) of children, it seems clear that the organisations running it will want a supply of children.

And suddenly Gavin Williamson is talking about poor behaviour in schools. Convenient?

Source: Experts reject claim Covid has worsened behaviour in English schools | Pupil behaviour | The Guardian

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Gavin Williamson wants school discipline clampdown. Based on what evidence?

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em: Gavin Williamson was unkindly compared to Frank Spencer from the 70s sitcom. Sadly, if he were more like the character Michael Crawford immortalised, he’d probably care more about children’s well-being and less about subjecting them to “discipline” – which, in the mouth of a Tory, seems very creepy indeed.

Gavin Williamson, the dunderheaded education secretary who illegally scrapped dozens of legal rights for children, is attacking them again.

This time he’s telling us that long periods in lockdown have “inevitably” turned our children feral, and they need to have hefty amounts of discipline whacked into them now that schools are open again.

(When I say “whacked”, I should stress that he’s not actually promoting a return to physical punishments – although I wouldn’t put it past him and our government of weirdo fascists.)

I see no evidence in support of Williamson’s claim. Indeed, information he has provided himself suggests that kids in lockdown have settled down to the different routine of remote schooling via the internet.

“Technology has been invaluable keeping children learning during lockdowns and we support its use,” he said.

Unfortunately, in the very same breath, he demanded that technology is a disruptive influence and that mobile phones should be banned from schools.

He’s actually trying to do something clever here – supporting a lie with a truth. But we can all see through it – can’t we?

This Writer’s personal opinion is that mobile phones shouldn’t be allowed in classrooms. If kids insist on bringing them in, teachers should keep a list of those who have them, and should collect them in the morning and give them back at the end of the school day.

It would be too easy to use internet-enabled mobiles to cheat – and that would undermine the point of going to school.

The points about cyberbullying and inappropriate use of social media are, on balance, also fair:

Mr Williamson has made banning mobile phones in schools a key part of his plan, saying they not only distract from “exercise and good old-fashioned play” but also foment cyber bullying and the inappropriate use of social media.

But he has produced no evidence to suggest that possession of a mobile phone, use of it as an education tool during lockdown, or indeed being forced to stay at home at all have eroded discipline in children.

Indeed, if our kids have buckled down and studied at home, without a teacher standing over them, that tends to indicate that they have employed self-discipline. Doesn’t it?

Also, he hasn’t provided any information about the kind of discipline he intends to impose. Is he advocating the conversion of our schools into training grounds for some kind of imposed fascism – the “Johnson Youth”?

The backlash has started:

Last word: It has been alleged that Williamson’s discipline drive is a retaliation against kids who criticised him for policies like his stupid algorithm-based plan to replace exam marks, that automatically assumed that state school pupils would not achieve results as high as those who were privately-educated…

Can anybody provide evidence to support this? I haven’t seen any.

But you have to admit, based on his behaviour, it rings true.

Source: Gavin Williamson backs mobile phone ban in schools and claims children have lacked ‘discipline’ during lockdown | Evening Standard

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‘Pork barrel’ Tories: they quietly changed rules to give money to schools in rich areas

If you live in a poor area, you may soon start wondering why your local school is complaining about having no cash. Here’s the answer:

It’s because Boris Johnson and his Conservatives have quietly changed the way ‘pupil premium’ cash – allocated to children who are classed as deprived – to ensure that most of them could not be registered.

The pupil premium hands over £1,345 for every primary age pupil who claims a free school meal, or £955 for a secondary student.

Allocations have always been based on numbers registered by each January – but was suddenly – and secretly – switched to “the number of eligible pupils recorded by schools in their census in October 2020” – just a few weeks after the new school year started.

Many parents had not provided the necessary information by that time – they tend to need reminding of it because the Tories refused point-blank to introduce a fair system of automatic registration.

Schools in poorer areas are likely to lose around £40,000 each – the equivalent of a full-time teacher or two support staff. Schools in rich Tory areas are said to be likely to benefit.

This is ‘pork barrel’ politics – rewarding people who voted for the Conservatives with cash benefits.

It’s forbidden in election campaigns but sadly there is no way to prevent a government from diverting funding to benefit areas that voted for it; they’ll always have an excuse.

And they have one in this case. Accused of making the change when it was too late to act, the Department for Education responded that the intention was to “allow schools a chance to know their budget earlier in the year, helping them to plan ahead”.

How many had been complaining that they couldn’t plan ahead with the previous system? We’re not told that, which suggests the Tories just made up something they thought would sound good.

This revelation follows a previous discovery that the Tories have stripped £100 million of emergency funding from poorer parts of England – including many Covid-19 hotspots – and given it to Tory constituencies instead.

The government stripped deprivation out of its calculations, despite announcing plans for that switch had been shelved – and despite saying the money was to “fight the pandemic”.

[The cash] is intended to fund getting rough sleepers off the streets and domestic abuse victims into safe accommodation, as well as to help manage funerals and bolster frontline services; all tasks more onerous in deprived areas with more virus cases.

The poorest areas in England lost funding, while the 10 richest areas enjoyed huge boosts.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said it was providing funding in “the fairest way possible” but this rings hollow when compared with the black-and-white figures.

But it’s what the UK’s Tories voted for – a fat bung from a corrupt government, taken from the people who genuinely need the funds.

Source: Millions of pounds swiped from England’s poorest schools in fresh ‘political’ funding switch | The Independent

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Education Secretary denies refusing cheap internet for children, to ensure they couldn’t learn at home

Gavin Williamson: so stupid, he thinks his daft excuse about quality control will hold water. His Tory government doesn’t have any?

It seems Gavin Williamson is making a fuss about this.

According to the Mirror,

Gavin Williamson turned down an offer to get free or cheap broadband for thousands of disadvantaged families, the Mirror has learned.

Broadband giant BT offered to supply families basic connections to allow children to access online learning with schools closed for months during the Covid-19 pandemic.

And the firm’s Chief Executive revealed they had given free wifi vouchers to the Government in June but the Department for Education ‘struggled to distribute them effectively’ and returned them.

Williamson tells a different story:

A spokesman for the education department said a pilot of the scheme had not provided “reliable and consistent” internet connection.

Who do you believe?

Well, BT is an Internet Service Provider of very long standing, with experience in providing a reliable service to many thousands – if not millions – of homes.

And the Conservative Government of which Williamson is a member has also displayed consistency – in wasting public money on services offered by cowboy companies cobbled together by Tory donors or spoilt friends of Cabinet members.

It looks like another ideologically-motivated attack on the poor; pretend the offer doesn’t meet what passes for Conservative government quality control and reject it – to ensure that poor kids miss out on the education that might otherwise give them an advantage over rich kids who tend not to have two brain cells to rub together.

How does it look to you?

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School meal vouchers for poorest families ‘delayed’ – yet another Tory coronavirus fail

School meal: this image is from before the coronavirus lockdown. These kids are probably starving to death right now, waiting for their mythical Tory meal vouchers.

Oh, they’ve been delayed, have they? Funny, that…

Funny that the claim comes after This Site ran a poll asking whether anybody had received their vouchers – and two-thirds of the respondents said no.

Funny that the Tory government seems unable to supply anything that it has promised in the coronavirus crisis.

They promised plenty of personal protective equipment for NHS staff dealing with people who have the disease – and didn’t supply it. Medical professionals are dying, who should be helping to treat the virus, because of this failure.

They promised ventilators to stop people with the disease from dying of the pneumonia that kills them – and didn’t. This meant GP surgeries ended up asking some of the most vulnerable people in the UK to sign forms saying the did not want ventilators if they caught the disease – effectively signing their lives away.

They promised 100,000 tests per day to find carriers of the disease – and ended up turning away offers to supply test kits.

They promised to help victims of domestic abuse who have been shut in their homes with their abusers. No such help has been forthcoming.

They promised all kinds of financial packages to help businesses and employees hit by the pandemic – leaving gaping holes in the provision, through which many people are in danger of falling (if they haven’t already done so).

These Tories have promised the world, and delivered very little indeed – apart from at least 7,097 deaths so far.

So ask yourself: are they evil, or just monumentally stupid?

Many families whose children are eligible for free school meals have not received supermarket vouchers as promised by the government because of delays in the supply system, school leaders say.

Headteachers and school business managers in England said the problem was widespread, and many took to social media to complain about difficulties accessing the scheme and delays in delivering vouchers to the families who need them.

Until now there has been support for the government’s announcement of a national voucher scheme to ensure that children from the poorest families continue to receive free meals while schools are closed during the Covid-19 crisis.

Source: UK’s poorest families suffering as free school meal vouchers delayed | Education | The Guardian

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Children and coronavirus – the facts have made a worse fool of Johnson

A class at school: if just one of these pupils had the coronavirus, who knows how many would have taken it home with them at the end of the day?

Children can be invisible carriers of the coronavirus, playing a key role in its spread, according to scientists.

The revelation has made Boris Johnson’s decision to keep schools open for as long as possible look even more ignorant and dangerous than it already did.

According to Jonathan Ball, who is a professor of molecular virology, young people are at less risk of suffering serious illness as a result of contracting the virus – but this means their potential for harming more vulnerable people could be devastating.

And Boris Johnson insisted that they remain in contact with those vulnerable people for as long as possible.

Professor Ball said that, in more than 85 per cent of confirmed cases, symptoms can go undetected or be easily confused with the common cold of mild flu.

Coronavirus’s biggest weapon – the thing that has, according to one study, allowed it to spread so easily – is this ability to cause mild disease in the majority of people it infects.

When you can’t easily tell if someone has a cold or coronavirus, case identification and infection control are far more difficult – and Boris Johnson closed down testing for the disease.

As a result, according to Professor Ball:

Far from being uninfected by this virus, children could in fact be its unseen carriers, important links in community transmission chains.

By assuming that the young and healthy weren’t at risk, the UK government may have underestimated the effects of coronavirus.

Younger people and children are less likely to die from coronavirus, but their mild symptoms could make them contagious carriers of the virus – and they are more difficult to spot.

So now you know.

Those of you who spotted mild symptoms in your children and isolated them immediately are to be congratulated; you did absolutely the right thing.

Those in your government who said schools should stay open so “children congregate en masse, often in close proximity, and then return home, taking with them any new infection they’ve picked up” are to be vilified.

Let’s be honest: it is politicians like Johnson who have really been spreading the infection.

Source: What scientists know so far about the effects of coronavirus on children | Jonathan Ball | Opinion | The Guardian

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Labour’s mental health pledge will help vulnerable children across the UK

School: It isn’t just exams that can stretch young people’s mental health. Labour’s plan could help eight million pupils.

Every school pupil in the UK will have access to mental health support under a Labour pledge to end Tory neglect – worth £845 million a year.

Vulnerable youngsters would no longer have to wait months for urgent help – all they would have to do is report to their school’s qualified counsellor.

And a network of drop-in hubs will help 300,000 more kids after it was revealed one in eight suffer at least one mental health disorder.

Here’s the Mirror:

Labour’s child mental healthcare revolution will ensure a healthier, happier generation that will benefit all of society for decades to come.

Its £845million-a-year Healthy Young Minds plan will reverse years of Tory failures that have left vulnerable youngsters waiting months for urgent care.

Early intervention would dramatically help the one in eight children suffering at least one mental disorder.

A Labour government will:

  • Recruit on-site mental health professionals for each of England’s 3,500 secondary schools.
  • Give every primary school access to qualified experts at least once a week.
  • Set up drop-in mental health hubs in every local authority to directly help 300,000 more children.

It means every one of the country’s eight million state school children will have access to help when they need it.

For information:

The number of child and adolescent mental health service appointments cancelled by the NHS in England soared by 25 per cent in the last year alone, to 175,000, according to mental health charity Mind.

The rise suggests the Tory-run system is struggling to handle the level of demand.

Children who do get treatment have to wait on average 83 days from first referral – yet early identification is crucial, with half of all mental health problems developing by the age of 14.

Around 95 per cent of teachers believe they have taught a child suffering anxiety, while 60 per cent believe at least one pupil is self-harming.

One in eight youngsters aged five to 19 had at least one mental health disorder in 2017, the last year for which data is available, NHS figures show.

Yet nearly 60 per cent of local authorities have seen a real-terms fall in low-level mental health services.

To This Writer, the choice seems clear:

Continued despair under the Tory system – or a brighter future for all our children with Labour.

Source: Labour pledges £845m for forgotten children struggling with their mental health – Mirror Online

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Food bank opens AT SCHOOL after famished children start stealing from lunchboxes

The food bank at North Denes Junior School in Norfolk.

Now even children are being forced into crime by repressive Conservative government policies.

Think it through: Schoolchildren are almost entirely dependent on their parents for nutrition and Conservative policies have pushed 14 million UK citizens below the poverty line.

This figure includes four million people who are in work.

We may conclude that this is because the Tories have deliberately pushed wages through the floor. Only last week, Tory ex-minister Dominic Raab was ridiculed after he claimed wages were rising at their fastest rate in eight years. They weren’t; and they’re still lower – in real terms – than in 2010 when Gordon Brown was prime minister.

Here’s the graph:

Fairy tale: Dominic Raab thinks it’s terrific that wages are lower now than when Labour was in office.

And the benefit nightmare the Tories euphemistically call “Universal Credit” only worsens matters. The Tories say there’s nothing wrong with it because, even though there is a five-week wait before people who are successful in claiming it receive the cash, they can apply for an advance of up to 100 per cent.

The problem is, they have to pay that advance back, meaning the amount they receive regularly drops below subsistence level – for months. It’s a poverty – and debt – trap.

And it leads to further social problems including poor health and rising crime; people who are starved of money often suffer from malnourishment, with all its attendant health problems, and may turn to crime, simply to feed themselves and their families. Their children may do the same.

The issue creates a huge problem for school authorities, of course.

Teachers are charged with pupils’ moral education, as much as parents and other figures of authority – and cannot, therefore, allow theft from lunchboxes to go unremarked, even if the thieves are starving. And obviously it must be heartbreaking to watch their pupils wasting away due to the policies of a selfish government of the rich and privileged.

So staff at North Denes Junior School in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, set up their own food bank for hungry pupils whose parents are struggling. It is thought to be the first at a British school

Half the school’s 420 pupils get free meals (although this won’t happen during school holidays, meaning that Christmas would be a miserable affair for them if they don’t get this kind of help.

Head Debbie Whiting launched the facility after seeing pupils so famished they were stealing from other children’s packed lunches.

Read more about the school’s food bank here.

But remember that, while the help for starving children is welcome, it is not a solution to the problem.

This is a problem that can only be solved by providing the whole workforce with wages that make it unnecessary for them to have to claim benefits – and by reforming the benefit system to ensure that those who are out of work can look for employment without having to worry about starvation or the threat of eviction.

That will never happen under a Conservative government.

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As parents consider withdrawing primary school children from Sats exams, it’s time to ask: Are Tories bad for our mental health?

It seems the Conservatives have a ‘whole life’ attitude to mental illness – they want to create it in the young and worsen it as we get older.

How else are we to explain the concerns about school pupils’ mental health, due to the pressure being piled on them by the state-run system?

We can see that Tory employment policy seems intended to continue this pressure into the world of work, forcing school leavers into poorly-paid, stress-filled employment.

This, itself, is madness.

Pushing people until they crack is not a sign of a good system; it betrays one that is self-destructively exploitative.

Under this kind of system, more and more people will have to retire from work to seek medical help. Who will care for them? And who will be left to prop up the economy as it sags under the weight of the unwell.

Not the wealthy – we already know the vast majority of the rich are idle – especially those in government.

Parents across the country are preparing to withdraw their 10 and 11-year-olds from tests over concerns about their mental health.

Families are becoming increasingly worried about the number of practice papers and revision classes that Year 6 children face during the Easter holidays, The Independent understands.

Thousands of parents have downloaded a letter which sets out plans to stop their children from taking the Sats exams next month because of the “pressures of a high stakes testing system”.

It comes as teaching unions warned about the “damaging” impact of assessments in primary school.

Just last week, the National Education Union (NUT section) voted to explore ways of disrupting the pilots of the government’s new literacy and numeracy tests for four-year-olds.

Source: Thousands of parents consider withdrawing primary school children from Sats exams over mental health concerns | The Independent


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PFI schools have fire safety issues: Isn’t this a breach of contract?

According to The Independent, eight schools built under Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts have fire safety issues that could affect the health of pupils.

The revelation raises serious questions about the safety of public facilities built by the private sector, according to the newspaper:

PFI supporters say private contractors generally get major projects done quicker, cheaper and to a higher standard than the public sector. However, these claims are increasingly disputed. A report in 2011 by a Treasury Select Committee of MPs comparing PFI with traditionally procured projects said “we have seen reports which found out that building quality was of a lower standard in PFI buildings”.

Isn’t the issue more that the private contractor – Balfour Beatty – is in breach of contract, having built schools that are unsafe?

PFI has been an enormous waste of public money, with nobody profiting from the contracts apart from the privateers who dictated them.

The contracts were originally employed by John Major’s Conservative government.

When Labour came to office in 1997 and found very little money available for the massive job of rebuilding both the health and education services after nearly two decades of Tory neglect, there was little choice but to take up PFI to achieve these goals.

With safety now an issue, public authorities up and down the country should be demanding checks and consulting their contracts for exit strategies that may provide a way out of the PFI nightmare…

… Or did nobody bother to think of that, back when these things were originally negotiated?

Source: Eight PFI schools built by one of UK’s biggest private contractors have fire safety issues – Home News – UK – The Independent

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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