Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Illegal schools should be shut down immediately & all home-educated kids registered

There has been a surge in the number of illegal schools and out-of-hours tuition centres according to the Department for Education.

Many of these are faith schools which teach almost exclusively religious texts – and they include all religions.

Ofsted has found over 350 illegal schools and have managed to inspect 200 of them. Fifty of these have been issued with warning notices and twelve are under criminal investigation.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, has again called for tougher powers to regulate and close illegal schools. Something councils have been calling on the government for some time to give them more powers but the government – or more likely their PC civil servants – are worried about upsetting religious groups.

Councils are convinced that many children being taken out of school to be  home-educated are actually being sent to these illegal schools.

Last year Spielman was quoted as saying “It is clear that weaknesses in current legislation allow some organisations to teach school-aged children religious texts full-time, while avoiding registration and proper scrutiny. Action is needed now to protect the children who attend these places”

The new education secretary has promised to get tough on this issue as there is growing concern that children are at risk of being radicalised, trafficked, abused, or growing up ignorant without a proper education.

And it’s not just illegal schools but children who are home educated or home schooled. A bill to require all children to be registered and tracked once they reach school age will be debated in the House of Lords next month. Last year there were 30,000 children known to be home educated, double the numbers five years previously. And that’s just those the authorities know about.

The education department says “Unregistered schools are illegal and unsafe. There are clear powers in place for local authorities and the police to intervene where children are being put at risk or not receiving suitable education. We expect them to use the and will support them to do so”.

So why do councils feel helpless and Ofsted restricted in what it can inspect? Hackney Council recently found almost thirty unregistered yeshivas in the borough educating between 1,000 and 1,500 boys from the Haredi Orthodox Jewish community.

Last year a senior officer in the Metropolitan Police said “segregated, isolated communities, unregulated education and home schooling are a breeding ground for extremists and future terrorists“. This is just one aspect of radicalisation. Judges appear to be going soft on convicted terrorists allowing them shorter or no prison sentences because they have children. Yes judge let’s give them back to their parents so they can influence them even more!

  • I hope the bill goes through despite opposition from do-good liberals (including luvvie self-publicists who boast about home education and are prepared to go to prison for their beliefs) who demand the right to educate their kids themselves. They are being selfish and denying their children the opportunity of a good education with recognised standards.
  • I also firmly believe that we shouldn’t have any faith schools at all. They are decisive and produce selfish children

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Religious children more selfish, not a good sign

Given the current problems with religious fundamentalists trying to influence school policies about uniforms and the way children are taught British values – for example the way  head teacher Neena Lall, of St Stephen’s state primary in east London, who tried to prevent children under the age of eight from wearing the hijab in class, was attacked by muslim fundamentalists, I thought it worth while updating and re-posting this from one of my other blogs two years ago.


The idea that religious children might be more selfish  may seem counter-intuitive as you might expect people with strong religious beliefs to be “better” people.

However a study carried out by the University of Chicago of children around the world aged 5 to 12 found that children brought up in a religious families were more selfish than those from atheist or agnostic ones. And the more they went to their place of worship, be it church or mosque, the more selfish they were.

The study used a test of altruism and involved sharing stickers with anonymous children in their school. The idea was to test the notion that being religious has positive associations with self-control and moral behaviours. Jean Decety, the lead author of the study, says this view is so deeply embedded that in some countries e.g. the USA, not being religious can make you a morally suspect person.

While Jesus may have believed in the social benefits of sharing in this study it was the non-believers who demonstrated the principle not his followers. Furthermore muslim children were more likely to believe that when their peers transgressed they should receive more punitive punishments.

This research fits with earlier studies which showed that religious people were the most selfish. And the point in a colleague’s blog about not needing to be religious to have moral values seems borne out by this research.

Why should this be the case? One view is that it is due to what is called “moral licensing when people use something good to justify something bad” without realising what they are doing. Religious people believe they have done something good simply by being religious and this gives them the licence to do something bad.

Doing something which strengthens their positive self-image makes them less worried about the consequences of doing something immoral. Decety said “I hope people begin to understand that religion is not a guarantee for morality and that religion and morality are two different things. Societies that cultivate secular values are more peaceful and generally “healthier” than those countries which anchor or base their values in religion

Personally I don’t think we should have any faith schools as I believe they are divisive. And when the Chief Inspector of Schools Amanda Spielman is warning that religious extremists are using schools to narrow children’s horizons and “pervert education”, I think that supports my view. She said some community leaders see schools as vehicles to “indoctrinate impressionable minds” – with extremist ideology in some cases. This is really worrying as there is good evidence that religious societies are more violent and suffer more anti-social behaviour than more secular ones.


Isn’t it time to close down all faith schools?

world_religions_1600_wht_8904Religion – or more accurately differences in religious beliefs – has been said to be the cause of more deaths in our history on this planet than any other. And you don’t have to look much further than the schism between different kinds of muslims and the horrendous outcomes of that disagreement to wonder if that is true.

Since the Trojan Horse scandal in the midlands Ofsted inspectors seem to be taking the threat of extremist influences more seriously. At present the British Education Secretary has threatened to shut six independent muslim schools which, following snap inspections, have been found inadequate amid concerns about child welfare. (Of these schools four of them were previously rated as good or outstanding but three of the six schools were inspected by a muslim inspector begging the question of impartiality surely?).

At one school the designated child protection officer didn’t know he had the job. At another pupils told inspectors that a woman’s roles was to stay at home and cook and clean. At another girls had to wait for lessons to start until the teachers and the boys returned from the mosque.

The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said he was extremely concerned “about the large number of failings in each of the six independent schools inspected“. These include inadequate health and safety arrangements including locked fire exits and easy access by unauthorised members of the public (three of the schools were situated inside mosques). In all six policies relating to health, safety and welfare were missing or out of date. In four of the six schools statutory background checks had not been completed on the teaching staff.

They also had narrow curriculums focussing on developing Islamic knowledge at the expense of core subjects.

Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary said “while there is no evidence of a coordinated plot it is clear these schools are failing children and it is unacceptable. All schools must prepare children for life in modern Britain” 

She has said that unless the schools produce an Action Plan within weeks she reserves the right to close them down.

Janice Turner, writing in the Times, described a conversation with a girl who had attended a private Islamic Boarding school – Jania Al-Hudaa in Nottingham. Pupils there were forbidden to swim, make art, read a newspaper, play a musical instrument, speak to the opposite sex, own a camera or read Harry Potter. Biology textbooks were censored.

Pupils din’t know the difference between sharia and  British law. The  majority of time on the curriculum is spent on “Islamic sciences“. Now over a thousand years ago Islamic scholars were developing ideas in maths, astronomy, physics and medicine based on what we would now recognise as a scientific approach but nowadays it’s a study of how the world is to be interpreted through the Qoran.

Furthermore these schools are funded by Saudi Arabian clerics who are devoted to spreading the extreme arab-speaking Wahabi version of Islam. (See Un- islamic things muslims do). Remember the free school in Derby that was closed down after pupils were segregated and all female staff (including non-muslims – were forced to wear the hijab?

But it’s not just muslim-run schools. Sir John Cass Foundation and Red Coat school,  a Church of England secondary school which was previously rated as outstanding, has been failed by inspectors.

It failed to vet visiting speakers and didn’t teach children about the risks of extremism despite more than 90% of its pupils being muslim. Although it had achieved excellent results it was  placed in special measures because the behaviour and safety of students.

Some students had set up Facebook and Youtube accounts account linked to jihadi extremism and boys and girls were segregated in the school. How can the head, Haydn Evans, who got a CBE this year plus an honorary degree from the University of London only this week,  have thought this was OK?

And today the Sunday Times reported on Hasidic, Orthodox Jewish, schools where students were students’s welfare was neglected and in one school students were slapped as punishment because teachers thought it “resulted in full submission”. The curriculum of these schools seems to consist of teaching religious instruction in Yiddish or Hebrew.

Two schools in Stamford Hill, London, have been threatened with closure and one in Salford has been downgraded from good to inadequate. Another London school has been downgraded from outstanding to good. Last year it received a warning after blacking out  questions on evolution in GCSE science examinations.

Apparently theDfE has had concerns about some of these school for 5 years! It said “Some orthodox Jewish schools often do not devote priority and time to secular education”. According to a mother of a pulp at one of the schools only 1 hour a day was spent on non-religious education.

The government’s guidelines on spiritual, moral, social and cultural development for independent schools came into force on 29 September and the Tower Hamlet’s schools were inspected under the guidelines in October. Several are criticised as failing under the guidelines, such as not dealing with allegedly extremist leaflets in mosques associated with some of the schools.

The growth of faith schools started when Tony Blair was Prime Minister (perhaps explained by his secret desire to become a catholic) and now a third of all state schools are religious. But David Cameron is also an apologist for them saying “faith-based schools help to build ethos and community”. 

And recently the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welsby, dismissed criticism of faith schools saying none had been caught up in the Trojan Horse scandal. He said “We are the solution not the problem”. Well that was two weeks ago and it shows how short-sighted the establishment can be to let these things fester in plain view because of concerns about being seen to be multi-cultural.

We should be more like France (I never thought those words would pass my lips) be proud of our British values and insist on a wholly secular education system.


Teachers – must do better!

pointing_at_chalkboard_text_10562Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is proposing that trainee teachers will only be allowed to take their numeracy and literacy test three times.

At present there is no limit on the number of times the tests can be taken.

In my view the misguided philosophy of endless retakes undermines the whole point of exams and goes some way to explain why exam grades appear to improve year on year, plus team course assessments which are open to all kinds of fiddling.

Looking at the examples of test questions reported in the press, many of them multiple choice, anyone with a modicum of intelligence should pass with flying colours the first time. Rather than wait until the trainees start their courses wouldn’t it be better if they took the tests as a selection filter so if they failed they didn’t waste their time and our money on resits which they might fail? That would save everyone’s time and protect our children from bad teachers.

Gove also proposes that teachers should all have at least a 2:2 degree. Whilst this is more contentious most averagely intelligent graduates obtain this class of degree and if they can’t they don’t deserve to become a teacher. This is a vast improvement on former Ofsted chief  Zenna Atkins who (in)famously said “every school should have a useless teacher….”

Something needs to be done when 20-25% of children leave primary school unable to read or write properly and the last Chief Inspector of Schools admitted that only 4% of schools offered “outstanding teaching”.

And he wants to make it easier to sack bad teachers. There are an estimated 15,000 of these of which less than a dozen have been dismissed since 2008. He probably needs to toughen up some head teachers before that happens as in the past they have had a habit of giving references to poor teachers to move them on or otherwise rewarding poor performance (see “Don’t reward failure”).

One of Gove’s earlier ideas was to follow the US example and recruit and pay ex-soldiers to train as teachers to help improve discipline in schools. Ex-army graduates would receive 6 weeks training and non-graduates would be paid a £9,000 a year bursary to complete a two-year degree. Of course the unions don’t like it but it worked in American where research shows that ex-soldiers were better at dealing with classroom disruptions than regular teachers and also got better exam results.

And there was a great article in The Times magazine this week on Charlie Taylor who runs Willows School; which deals with London’s naughtiest children and which has been rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted. He is also the newly appointed “behaviour czar”. The article describes how he uses a range of positive psychology and behavioural techniques. He also believes that if discipline is carried out consistently the core group of trouble makers can be reduced to a manageable size. He wrote a book called “Divas and door slammers” in which he describes how he won one group over by being civil with them.

He also believes that the ratio of positive to negative feedback needs to be 6:1 (something I have long advocated in performance appraisal schemes). He also believes that teachers get better results from constructive praise. Things might be looking up for the future of our children’s education.


Every school should have one!

An incompetent teacher! Yes, according to Ofsted chief Zenna Atkins. She says; “every school should have a useless teacher so children can learn how to deal with people in authority who are not up to the job”.

She thinks children are adept at exploiting incompetent teachers and they could learn a valuable skill for “playing authority” later in life. She accepts that in business you would get rid of the 10% of staff who are poor performers but doesn’t think that applies to teaching.

A self-proclaimed social entrepreneur who was illiterate at 11 years of age, expelled from school, failed English 3 times and left with 1 O level (she claims to be dyslexic) she was appointed as the chairman of Ofsted in 2006 to beef it up. She said she wanted to get the basics right and that her mission was to get all children to read.

So far so good you might think given how she overcame her own difficulties at school. So what is she talking about now? The now-disbanded General Teaching Council said there were 17,000 “sub-standard” teachers two years ago and they have only managed to get rid of 18 in the last ten years so there are plenty of bad teachers still around, largely due it seems to gutless head teachers who give them references so they can move on to another school.

Children need good teachers to help them achieve their potential and Ofsted should be setting hight standards not accepting that some teachers are rubbish. Atkins is leaving Ofsted to take over as Chief Executive of Gems, the world’s biggest private education company, which intends to set up state funded “free schools”. I wonder how many incompetent teachers they will be recruiting?

Updated 25 November 2010: It seems Zenna Atkins’ new job as Chief Executive of Gems – UK, Europe, and Africa wing, didn’t work out too well. She left after just 7 weeks. She wouldn’t say why she had left or if it was a mutual decision just that she had “quickly realised that the company wasn’t for her” and had not taken any severance pay by choice.

Perhaps they weren’t amused by her ideas about recruiting useless teachers or maybe they realised she was a bit lacking in the formal qualifications department. Anyway she went to work for a new company called Zail aiming to deliver public services using private sector investment in the UK and sub-Saharan Africa. (Not much about Zail on the www apart from her own blogs. Perhaps it stands for Zenna Atkins in limbo?).

Anyway the good news is that the coalition government is getting tough on Ofsted, teacher training, endless re-sits of exams guaranteeing high grades, and, at last, making it easier to get rid of incompetent teachers. Research in the USA suggests that an excellent teacher gets through a year and a half of material in a year compared with poor teachers who only get through 1/2 a year’s worth. In the UK pupils taught by the worst teachers attain GCSE grades at least one grade lower than other pupils.

Updated 21 February 2011: Despite promises it doesn’t seem that much has changed. In the Sunday Times this weekend it was reported that in the last three years only 28 of the 4448,000 working teachers have been subject to hearings. Since January 2008 there have been 78 cases of incompetence reported but there were only 28 full hearings. 8 were struck off, 6 were suspended, 5 were kept on the register and 8 were cleared.

As I posted last July gutless head teachers are giving bad teachers references so that they can be recycled in the system. The article also suggested that local authorities are failing in their legal duty to refer teachers who are dismissed or resign because of incompetence to the General Teaching Council for England (GTC).

The chairman of the GTC, Gail Mortimer, told its governing council; “we know that recycling of teachers below the threshold of competence remains a part of employment practice, even if it has diminished”. Naturally the teachers’ unions weren’t happy about this criticism but looking at the statistics you wonder if they have their heads in the sand.

A number of teachers were named in the article: Maulhalaxmi Weerasinghe appeared before the GTC and was suspended for two years but is now on a government funded scheme to help her get back into teaching; Susan Preston was barred from teaching in secondary school after being found incompetent by the GTC but is now teaching in primary schools; David Foster escaped with a reprimand despite the GTC finding him seriously incompetent and failing to provide leadership as head of department; Bhavin Toprani was suspended for only a year despite being found seriously incompetent.

Education experts have estimated that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 incompetent teachers. One said he thought there were between 5 and 10% totally incompetent and another 20-25% who didn’t care. He also said that unions were expert at dragging proceedings out for up to a year and that teachers being challenged about their competence would go off on sick leave claiming stress or backache.

So no change so far. Incompetent teachers, ineffective regulation, councils failing in their legal responsibility, and gutless head teachers combine to continue to blight children’s futures.

A survey by the TES found that more than 3,000 teachers were subject to formal proceedings but fewer than 10% were sacked or accepted severance payments. And only 10% of that number get reported to the GTC.

Updated 2 May 2011: More on incompetent teachers and badly run schools in the Times Opinion last Week. A reminder about Zenna Atkins stupid comment, and the impact of a US documentary; “Waiting for Superman” which focussed attention in America back on teaching and showed that if you have the right teachers you can stop worrying about classroom sizes and the curriculum.

Malcolm Gladwell, who found that children were better off with a good teacher in a bad school than vice versa, believes that teaching ability is a gift and; ” teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree”. Research at Bristol University confirms this but the government thinks all teachers should have at least a 2:2 degree to apply for training.

And then we come back to those teachers who try to be friends to their pupils or are scared of them. Or, my hobby horse, weak head teachers who fail to show any real leadership, fail to support their staff and undermine their authority – leading to a recent strike by teachers at one school in Lancashire where the head sat ensconced in her office and local councillors came out with a load of PR speak not worth repeating.

The head teacher, Hilary Torpey, has since been suspended by Blackburn with Darwen Council pending a full investigation and an interim head is being appointed. The move was welcomed by the union and the news story generated several blog postings from people who said they knew her in a previous headship role in Skelmersdale and suggesting she was a bully.

BBC News reported (6/9/2011) that Hilary Torpey has resigned to continue her career “elsewhere in education” Given this country’s track record with bad teachers she will probably land on her feet somewhere else.

And the article mentions the unbelievable example of one head teacher, Belinda Langley-Bliss, who boasted about the size and firmness of her breasts on Facebook just after introducing a new disciplinary regime at Wilmington Enterprise College in Kent. As a result teachers in Kent were sent a letter asking them to close down Facebook and similar social networking accounts as individuals have no control over information once posted.

Updated 24 December 2012: And yet another teacher falls foul of Facebook. This time DebbieJohnson, a primary school head in Hull, has quit her job along with another teacher Nyanza Roberts after posting comments about her pupils on her Facebook page saying “no wonder  everyone is thick … inbreeding must damage brain development”. There might be an element of truth in what she says but hardly the kind of comment to foster good school-parent relationships.