Category Archives: Education

A university union rep unhappy with their university’s spending?

I think it’s traditional to mock corporate rebrands and be appalled at the sums of money involved swapping one little logo for another little logo, but the timing of this one could have been better.

University of Portsmouth under fire over £800,000 rebrand costs as departments face cuts
Dr James Hicks, city university branch secretary of the University and College union, said: ‘I don’t understand why they would spend so much money on a logo and shortly after that say we’re having difficulties and might need to make savings. ‘You would assume they would have thought this through and it would be a little more joined up.

I wouldn’t like to comment on the levels of marketing and recruitment expertise the UCU rep has – obviously it’s not £800,000 on just a logo – but after yesterday’s post about strike action, and the attention currently on VC pay, this could have been managed better.

Tougher talk this time

I was about to comment along the lines of ‘haven’t we been here before’, but it does seem a little different this time.

Tensions mount on campus as USS pensions strike looms
In a sign of the growing tensions, management at the University of Leeds were accused of “bullying” after they wrote to academics warning them that, as well as withholding pay for each day of strike action, the institution would deduct a quarter of their daily salary if they refused to reschedule lectures or cover for absent colleagues.

So it’s not just the students that cheat

The Guardian reporting on a Sunday Times story.

Thousands of teachers caught cheating to improve exam results
Nearly 2,300 malpractice offences were committed by staff in educational institutions offering OCR exams between 2012 and 2016, according to data obtained through a freedom of information request by the Sunday Times. More than half of the teachers committing malpractice offences were accused of providing “improper assistance” to students taking exams. In comparison, there were 3,603 cases of candidates being caught cheating over the same period.

Read more on The Times website (if you’ve bought a subscription).

Thousands of teachers caught cheating in exams
Teachers cheat in exams nearly as often as pupils but escape with far lighter punishment, according to figures that OCR, one of the country’s leading exam boards, tried to suppress. The scandal has come to light after the information commissioner ordered OCR to answer questions from The Sunday Times.

And here’s The Telegraph, not to be outdone, wanting to remind us of its investigative journalism.

Thousands of teachers caught cheating in tests as MPs demand transparency from exam boards
The disclosures come after an investigation by this newspaper last year uncovered an exam cheating scandal embroiling senior teachers at some of the country’s leading independent schools. The scandal, which resulted in the Government ordering the exam regulator Ofqual to launch an inquiry, saw teachers at Eton and Winchester College dismissed for leaking details of upcoming test papers to their pupils.

Nobody to blame but himself

Here’s the conclusion of a story I spotted some time ago.

Oxford University not at fault for graduate’s 2:1 as he may have ‘simply coasted’, judge rules
The judge added that it was possible that Mr Siddiqui “simply gets over-anxious during the examination process and does not do himself justice on occasions”. He added: “However, anxiety producing a less than otherwise merited result is not an unfamiliar examination scenario generally nor, in his case, is it the fault or responsibility of his teachers.” Mr Siddiqui “has a very significant track record for looking for someone else or some other factor to blame for any failure on his part to achieve what he perceives to have been the right result for him”, he said.

It had been going on since 2016.

Oxford University is sued for £1 million by a former student named Faiz Siddiqui over his unsuccessful career
The university, for its part, wants the lawsuit thrown out—mostly because of the decade and a half that’s passed since Siddiqui graduated. While some students in the US have seen success in suing their schools, those campuses (including Donald Trump’s legally-tangled real estate university) tended to skew toward the non-elite, for-profit field, and were not established institutions like 1,100-year-old Oxford.

I can’t help but think if he had spent as much time and energy on his degree in the first place, as he has on the lawsuit following it, he wouldn’t now be in this position. Who knows how much pursuing that case would have cost him, both in terms of money and reputation.

No going back to school?

The academisation cliff-edge: ‘You’re handing your school over for adoption and there’s no changing your mind’
So what can you do if you join and it’s not working out? Well, not a lot. The journey from maintained school to academy is a one-way ticket. No pressure, governors, but you’re signing your school over for adoption and there’s no changing your mind, no going back. You sign over your legal rights, your assets and your future to the MAT. Your school is no longer run by 15 enthusiastic local governors and the SLT, it’s overseen by nine people based 40 miles away who have only visited a handful of times.

This article, from a parent governor of a primary school in Derbyshire, makes for alarming reading. He’s certainly very anxious about the “choiceless choice” before him. Is it really as bleak?

Counting scapegoats

Two articles from The Guardian caught my eye recently, about immigration.

That working-class lives are more fraught is not down to immigration
Economic, social and political developments have, in recent years, coalesced to make working-class lives far more precarious – the imposition of austerity, the rise of the gig economy, the savaging of public services, at the same time as the growing atomisation of society, the erosion of the power of labour movement organisations and the shift of the Labour party away from its traditional constituencies.

Immigration has played almost no part in fostering these changes.

2VCs on … what does 2018 look like for universities?
“There can be few if any rational arguments for including international students in the net migration figures,” Humphris says unequivocally. “The evidence is there. They do not overstay. They add hugely to the enrichment of our universities that should be global and outward-looking. They make a massive contribution. The whole debate around immigration and international students creates very unhelpful mood music.”

Some things are easier to quantify than others, but just because something is countable doesn’t mean that that is where we should be focusing attention or laying blame, surely.

Fake degrees still big business

The scale of this still astounds me. All the work that goes into administering and assuring our degrees – let alone the work the students themselves undertake – is put in jeopardy if these fraudulent qualifications are not challenged.

Fake degrees, real news
But as this recent File on Four investigation by the BBC demonstrated, this Diploma Mill business is still booming and, according to the report, over 3,000 fake qualifications have been sold to individuals (and in one case a company) in the UK out of a worldwide total of 215,000 which netted a profit in excess of £37m in 2015. It seems that the investigation in Pakistan has ground to a halt “amid claims of government corruption” and sales are continuing, but now with a new twist: extortion.

Belltown University? Queens Bay University? Just two from a very long list indeed.

Capita? As in SIMS Capita?

Here’s one of several articles about Capita’s profit warning announced today:

Capita shares plunge 35% after outsourcing giant announces shock profit warning and rights issue
New chief executive Jonathan Lewis, who took up the role on 1 December, said “significant change” was needed to get Capita back on track. He said an “immediate priority” was to strengthen the group’s balance sheet, with plans to raise as much as £700m in a rights issue, as well as slashing costs after finding “significant scope” for savings and aims to sell off unprofitable businesses.

Some have the shares dropping by as much as 45%, but this headline caught my eye:

Capita collapse could create bigger headache than Carillion’s demise
A potential collapse of Capita could create an even more of a headache for the public sector than Carillion since it is the biggest supplier of local government services in the UK, according to Tussell data. “If Capita were to fail the ensuing political fallout would make Carillion look like a tea party,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

Too big to fail, surely?

A link-baity article about universities and drug gangs

A thought-provoking read, in the style of Freakonomics, about pay structures and working conditions within higher education. The similarities to drug gangs catches the eye, of course, but it’s interesting to read how this compares across countries.

How Academia resembles a drug gang
Academic systems rely on the existence of a supply of “outsiders” ready to forgo wages and employment security in exchange for the prospect of uncertain security, prestige, freedom and reasonably high salaries that tenured positions entail. Drawing on data from the US, Germany and the UK, Alexandre Afonso looks at how the academic job market is structured in many respects like a drug gang, with an expanding mass of outsiders and a shrinking core of insiders.

Academies shmacademies

Didn’t have them in my day, of course, but academies are all you ever hear about now. A change for the better and a force for good, or privatisation by the back door? As ever, I’m finding it’s more complicated than that. Coming from the HE sector, I’m not so familiar with the politics here, so here’s a round-up of some of the news stories that have caught my eye.

First there’s this, about central government’s plans to take every school in England out of local government control.

Every English school to become an academy, ministers to announce
Concerns have already been raised about whether there would be enough good sponsors to take on schools. With many more schools facing academisation, that task will be even greater at a time when some academy trusts are facing criticism for under-achievement. MPs sitting on the education select committee announced this week they would be launching an inquiry into multiple academy trusts after a series of Ofsted inspections raised concerns.

Those plans were unveiled in the budget, of which more here.

Budget 2016: The 5 things schools need to know
#1 Every school to become an academy
Every state primary and secondary school will be expected to have either become an academy by 2020, or to have an academy order in place to convert by 2022. Osborne has already indicated that schools which fail to meet these criteria will face “radical intervention”.

And here.

Budget 2016: School days to become longer as all schools forced to become academies
Mr Osborne will tell MPs he is allocating an extra £1.5bn in the Budget to increase classroom standards to help pupils match the levels of their international counterparts. English secondary schools will be invited to bid for a slice of that money to enable them to stay open after 3.30pm, offering up to five hours a week of additional classes or extra-curricular activities. The cash will enable around a quarter of secondaries to be open later.

I wonder if that invitation to extend the curriculum is in response to the perceived shrinking of it following EBacc. But back to academies. People seem quite negative about them, so I thought I’d look for a more positive opinion.

This Budget will liberate schools from the tyranny of local authorities
It’s impossible to say definitively that this improvement is due to academisation, but that was the provisional conclusion of the House of Commons Education Select Committee which produced a report on academies last year. There’s plenty of international research showing the effect of competition in public education is positive.

It does seem easier to find more negative stories than positive ones, though.

Government under fire for secrecy surrounding key decisions about academies and free schools
The DfE argued that releasing the information would prejudice the conduct of public affairs and said “it is considered to be commercially sensitive information”. Scott Lyons, joint division secretary for Norfolk NUT, said: “Parents should be worried, especially in the light of proposals to get rid of parent governors. How are people going to be able to challenge how academies are run?”

‘Never look where their hands are pointing’: The hidden parts of the white paper
Forcing freedom on schools is bizarre. Planning not to enforce it until 2022 is even stranger unless you are hoping that people will do the hard work for you, and convert before you even need to pass a law. While that battle is being fought, however, remember the other 37 policies, plus these oddities, will also be on the go.

‘They’ve gone bonkers’: Tory councillors angry with academy plans
Perry, who also speaks on a national level as chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, has always been open-minded about academies. But on forced academisation, he said it was like an entire class of children being kept back for detention just because one or two have misbehaved.

Headteacher promises ‘non-corporate’ academy chain if forced to convert
“Any Huntington academy will focus upon improving the quality of teaching and learning above all else, to the benefit of our children, just as our parent wishes,” he said. “If you begin and live by those values then whatever decision you make about academisation, because clearly it is inevitable, then you have a chance of doing something good.”

Academy trust lauded by Cameron in ‘serious breaches’ of guidelines
Government reports raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest involving Perry Beeches academy trust and companies linked to some of its senior administrators. They also found problems with the number of pupils declared as eligible for free school meals.

I’ve never worked in an academy before this one, and I have to say there is a positive and upbeat approach here, one I wouldn’t expect to find if I believed everything I read in the media. There is a definite mismatch between what I’m seeing and what I’m reading.

And some other people, at least, think the future could be bright for academies and multi academy trusts:

How can MATs be more than the sum of their parts?
How can Multi Academy Trusts realise their potential in a rapidly changing educational landscape so that they become more than the sum of their parts and make a contribution to system leadership that transforms education as we know it?