This morning's Education and Equalities Committee began with a discussion of children's mental health. In response to the DfE proposals on mental health 'first aid' training in schools, the NUT has used 'In Conversation' to discuss this with secondary school teachers. 88% of teachers surveyed thought that the number of students with complex mental health problems was increasing , whilst 67% didn't feel the pastoral support for students was sufficient.
A number of teachers reported positive approaches in their school towards addressing children's mental health and the committee agreed to seek to publicise some of these, whilst not ignoring the causes of increasing mental health problems amongst children and the inadequacy of funding for specialist services to address this.
The committee received a report on the OFSTED consultation on 'light touch' inspections. OFSTED is consulting on two proposed changes - introducing a time-lapse of up to 15 days when a 'light tough' inspection transitions to a full inspection, and the ability to move straight to a full inspection on the basis of a risk assessment. These are thought to be related to logistical problems in finding serving headteachers at short notice when a 'light touch' inspection becomes a full inspection and were roundly rejected by a survey of our members. This will form the basis of the Union response, in addition to a statement on the overall inadequacy of the current inspection system.
The committee held a useful discussion on secondary assessment, including the problems with the new GCSEs, the issues with Progress 8 and the dubious use of data, and the government's recent announcement on EBacc. The latter announcement makes clear that the government is intending to press ahead with EBacc targets in spite of the impact on those subjects excluded from the EBacc as currently defined. The committee also noted that consultation responses from those organisations affiliated to 'EBacc for the Future', which campaigns for the broadening of the EBacc, were separated out and dealt with in their own section of the report. The committee considered the next steps in highlighting and addressing these issues, including developing and promoting alternatives to the current mess in secondary assessment, based on our members' professional expertise. In particular, we should be using our links with educational researchers, through More Than a Score and Reclaiming Schools, to develop a robust critique of the current arrangements and a set of alternatives for which we can win support amongst parents and policy-makers.
The committee discussed and reiterated the union's position on Prevent, including concerns around the narrowing of spaces for discussion and the 'securitisation' of schools (both of which are likely to lead to greater radicalisation). It was pointed out that this linked with the narrowing of the curriculum and the redefinition of education in neoliberal terms (as about data and 'production' of results), with many subjects which would previously have presented opportunities for discussion of these issues (citizenship, RE, social studies, etc.) being forced off the curriculum.
The committee received a report from Angela Jardine on developments in Wales, including the implementation of the Donaldson Review on curriculum, a new review (also to be chaired by Professor Graham Donaldson) into Estyn (the Welsh equivalent of OFSTED), and potential changes around assessment and accountability, with the current system increasingly being seen to be unfit. Wales will be launching workload guidance similar to that released in England in an effort to tackle excessive workload driven by Estyn.
Finally, the committee received a report from an online survey of secondary teachers on the issue of body image. Shockingly, 98% of teachers said that some or many of their students were affected by "societal pressure to act a certain way" and 97% said some or many of their students are affected by sexist or stereotyping comments. This reflects wider issues in society around sexism and sexual harassment but, when we consider the shocking statistic (which Kiri Tunks pointed out at the meeting) that one third of rapes are of girls aged under 16, it is clear that this is very much our issue.
The NUT must continue to provide and promote materials to challenge sexism, stereotyping and sexual harassment in schools, and also to campaign for a statutory duty for schools to report sexist abuse, as there is for racist abuse. In addition, we must ensure that sex, as a legally-defined protected characteristic, is present in all union and school equalities policies.
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