04 September 2007

A Sense of Belonging

Discussing today's Public Services Improvement Policy Group report on Radio 4 this morning, Baroness Perry suggested that the tendency for school size to increase over the last ten years has been a disaster "very much at the root of some of the bad behaviour that we have seen":

"It's a sense of belonging more than anything else which children lack in very large schools. They feel that nobody knows them and if you are not known you can get away with anything. The sense of being part of a smaller community where people do know who you are, where you have a real sense that you belong in the community and it matters what you do, makes a huge difference."
She went on to praise experiments in America where big schools have been broken down into small units — what they call "several small schools under one roof" — resulting in reduced truancy rates and improvement in both performance and discipline. She was also critical of the increase in the number of repeating exclusions — almost a quarter of a million a year — which she described as "just a recognition of failure":
"I want to see much more positive attempts within the school to keep these children engaged, interested and excited in what's going on. I think we are failing them by giving them a curriculum which is only really suitable for about half the children in our schools — the other half are being failed by what we're offering them."
Among the 156 proposals in the report, some of the other ones that stand out for me are:

  • We propose that the Treasury should present an annual report to Parliament which sets out the public health implications and impacts of all public expenditure programmes both within and outside the Department of Health.
  • We propose that the next Conservative government should remove licences from shops prosecuted for selling alcohol and tobacco to minors.
  • We propose that the next Conservative government should establish better access to mental health and drug rehabilitation services for those in the criminal justice system.
  • We propose that the next Conservative government should bring forward legislation to provide for the establishment of an NHS Board which is independent and accountable to local communities and through Ministers to Parliament.
  • We propose that the next Conservative government should establish a new statutory framework for NICE which clarifies the scope of its work and advice.
  • We propose the next Conservative government should work with professional and patient groups to develop a new primary dental service contract that ensures equitable access to dental services.
  • We recommend that teachers receive full anonymity until any case against them has been fully dealt with.
  • We recommend that a review of guidelines and publications are sent to schools should take place, with the aim of reducing the burden that these place upon teachers, allowing them the professional freedom to teach.
  • We propose that the level of prescription set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile and the Primary National Framework be slimmed down to enable early years teachers to focus their judgments on what is best for each individual child.
  • We recommend that there should be far fewer national targets, as the determination of the broad outcomes would give a firm steer to the service nationally. A slimmed down structure of national tests at 7, 11, 14, GCSE and 18-19 examinations and diplomas would provide the government and public with all the information needed to monitor whether the system was delivering successfully.
  • Any pupil falling behind at the age of 11 should, we believe, be given a chance to have remedial education to bring them up to the right standard in the basics, either during the summer before secondary school, or even – particularly perhaps for the summer-born – repeating the final primary school year.
  • We recommend that schools should set by ability unless they can demonstrate that they can achieve higher standards using mixed ability teaching.
Social Housing
  • We recommend that social and economic mobility should be cornerstone of housing policy generally, and of community housing policy in particular. The aim of community housing must be to encourage greater home ownership, with a flexibility that will cater both for those in greatest need and for those struggling to find a home.
  • We recommend that tenants who move between Housing Associations retain their Preserved Right to Buy.
  • We propose a review of VAT and Stamp Duty regimes that discourage private sector involvement in refurbishing the social housing sector.