Religious education classes ‘needed’ in schools

Developing young people’s “religious literacy” would help to make them less vulnerable to radicalisation, a conference will hear later.

“Good religious education has never been more needed,” Ed Pawson, chairman of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education, will say.

But pupils will miss out unless the government addresses a shortage of RE teachers, he will warn.

The government said training bursaries would help to recruit more RE staff.

‘Never more threatened’

In a speech to NATRE’s inaugural annual conference, Mr Pawson is expected to ask “what hope” there is for students to receive a strong religious education when so few of those teaching the subject are qualified to do so.

RE “has never been under greater threat”, he is expected to say.

Mr Pawson will cite official figures that show 54% of secondary RE teachers have no post-A-level qualification in a related subject.

“This compares very unfavourably with history, where a mere 27% of teachers lack post-A-level expertise.”

Primary pupils are even worse served, he will add, with a NATRE survey of teachers in 2013 suggesting half of almost 700 who responded had received only three hours’ training in the subject. A quarter had no training at all.

Good RE teaching can help promote a vision for a more respectful, Mr Pawson will say

“We must work hard to attract bright young graduates to join the RE profession, bringing with them energy, creativity and a vision for a more respectful, understanding and diverse society – but let’s be honest about some of the facts: as a subject, we need more resources.”

Mr Pawson is expected to mention Ofsted’s 2013 report on RE, which said more than half of schools were failing pupils on religious education and raised “significant concerns” about the training deficit.

This report found low standards, weak teaching, a confused sense of the purpose of religious education, training gaps and weaknesses in the way the subject was examined.

A report by MPs from the same year said many primary subject leaders in RE lacked sufficient experience and expertise to fulfil the role.

Two religions

On top of this, from 2016, proposed changes to GCSE subject specifications for RE, requiring the study of two religions, will pose even greater challenges to teachers, he will argue.

“There is still a mountain to climb to bring RE teachers up to the level of qualification and skill that is required to make it a vibrant, exciting and academically rigorous subject in all our schools.”

In the speech, Mr Pawson is expected to describe England’s Education Secretary Nicky Morgan as “supportive” of religious education.

He promises NATRE will be “candid about the significant obstacles we face” in forthcoming meetings with ministers.

The government said RE was a “vital part” of its plan to prepare young people for life in modern Britain by helping children to develop an understanding of the different faiths and cultures which make up our society.

“That is why it remains compulsory at all key stages, including at primary,” a Department for Education spokesman said.

From September top graduates, “including those with the potential to be exceptional RE teachers”, could apply for a training bursary “worth £9,000 for a first-class degree and £4,000 for a 2:1”, he added.


University applications hit record high

University applications have reached record levels, according to the Ucas admissions service.

These figures, showing applications for full-time courses starting in autumn 2015, show increases in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

More than 592,000 people have applied so far, up 2% compared with the same point last year.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said it showed the progress made “to break down barriers to higher education”.

The figures show the numbers of applications submitted by the mid-January deadline – and they show rising numbers of 18- and 19-year-olds seeking places.

The complete picture will not be known until after exams have been taken in the summer, as students can still apply later, but it is the clearest indication so far of this year’s applications.

Demand for full-time undergraduate places has risen across the UK – with 18-year-olds in Northern Ireland remaining the most likely to apply, followed by England, Scotland and Wales.

Gender gap

These figures are the latest evidence that applications have recovered after the introduction of tuition fees of up to £9,000 in England.

Within England there are substantial regional differences, with the gap between London and the rest of England getting even wider, with almost 44% of 18-year-olds in the capital applying for places, compared with 31% in the North East.

University applications
There has been a long-term growth in applications, recovering after tuition fee increases

But the London figure remains below Northern Ireland, where 48% of those about to take their A-levels are applying. In Scotland, 32% are applying and 31% in Wales.

The gender gap is also growing, with women driving the increasing demand for places. In England, 35% of 18-year-olds are applying to university – but below this headline figure, 30% of men are applying and more than 40% of women.

But there has been a decline in applications from older students – those aged above 20. When the decline in mature students is combined with the gender differences, there are fewer men applying to university now than four years ago.

There has also been an increase in applications from European Union and overseas students, including from the United States.

Wealth gap narrowing

Applications from the most disadvantaged students have continued to rise and the gap in applications from rich and poor is narrowing – but the difference is still substantial. Among 18-year-olds, young people from wealthy families are two-point-four times more likely to apply compared with disadvantaged youngsters.

“It is heartening to see the gap between rich and poor continue to narrow,” said Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Ucas admissions service.

Megan Dunn, vice-president of the National Union of Students, said: “These figures only paint part of the picture. It’s not surprising that students continue to apply for university when there are few alternative options available to them, like entry-level jobs or well-paid apprenticeships.

“We’re still really concerned about the ongoing decline in the numbers of part-time students, which will have devastating long-term effects on the economy and in society more generally.”

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of new universities, welcomed the overall rising numbers, but warned of her “major concern” about the decline in mature students.

Vince Cable, whose Business, Innovation and Skills department is responsible for universities, said: “There were many who said that the reform of student finance would discourage young people from going to university. The opposite has occurred; numbers have grown, in particular those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Schools damaged by lack of oversight, say MPs

Problems in some schools in England are going undetected “until serious damage has been done”, MPs say.

The Public Accounts Committee says a lack of oversight has “allowed some schools to fall through the gap” and failure to go “unnoticed”.

The academy programme and fewer inspections for better schools have increased school autonomy.

The government has disagreed with the report, saying it “does not reflect the real picture in England’s classrooms”.

The Public Accounts Committee report, entitled School Oversight and Intervention, said the Department for Education (DfE) took a “light touch” approach to school oversight.

Its narrow focus, on exam results and Ofsted inspections, meant it had “not spotted important failures” in some areas until it was too late, it added.

Committee chairman

For areas such as safeguarding, financial integrity and governance the DfE was “over-reliant on whistleblowers”, MPs said.

They noted that educational performance in schools could change very quickly, and highlighted that Ofsted does not inspect outstanding schools at all, while good schools are inspected once every five years.

The report cited the case of two of the schools at the centre of the Trojan Horse allegations in Birmingham recently, which were rated outstanding and thus exempt from routine inspections but nevertheless ran into problems.

The government’s academies and free schools programme – where schools are run by independent organisations but outside of local authority influence – aims to improve failing schools.

But the report said often a failing school will become part of a chain of academies run by one sponsor with a central management function.

Some chains had grown “too quickly without the necessary capacity and capability” the report said.

“It has currently ‘paused’ the growth of 18 sponsors because of concerns about their performance; these sponsors are currently educating almost 100,000 children,” it added.

It noted that in September 2013, 179 open academies met the DfE’s criteria for formal intervention, based on its own definition of failure (exam results and Ofsted rating). It should have intervened formally in all cases, but it only sent a warning notice to 15.

The Education Funding Agency also maintains a list of academies of national concern over financial management or governance issues.

Officials say many schools have been paired “with excellent sponsors to give pupils the best chances”

It had issued financial notices to improve to four of these academies, as a result of fraud allegations or financial irregularity; but there were another seven which had been on the list for suspected fraud but had not received a financial notice to improve, the committee said.

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: “The Department for Education has focused on increasing schools’ autonomy but it has done so without a proper strategy for overseeing the system.

“Confusion about the roles and responsibilities of the Department, the Education Funding Agency, local authorities and academy sponsors has allowed some schools to fall through gaps in the system, meaning failure can go unnoticed.”

She added: “We hope that the Department will respond to our recommendations fully in order to reduce the likelihood of further unforeseen school scandals, like the ‘Trojan horse’ affair in Birmingham.”

‘Decades of neglect’

The Department for Education disagreed with the committee’s assessment, saying it had a “strong oversight of schools”.

“We have already intervened in more than 1,000 schools over the past four years; pairing them up with excellent sponsors to give pupils the best chances.

“That compares with the years and even decades of neglect many schools suffered under local authority control.”

The DfE said there are 41 local authority schools that have been in special measures for more than 18 months, compared to just nine academies.

‘Risks remain’

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, said: “David Cameron’s schools policy is harming the life chances of young people, as schools exposed to undue influence and falling standards are left to go unchecked.

“The events in schools in Birmingham reveal the weakness in government policy and the failure to prevent radical agendas playing out in our schools.”

National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Russell Hobby said although significant steps had been made, there were still fundamental flaws.

“We operate in a highly autonomous and fragmented system. There is no substitute for strong local relationships which can spot troubles before they emerge. While we rely on an overstretched centralised inspection service and crude national league tables, risks remain.”

University of Mysore signs pact with Japan varsity for research collaboration

MYSURU: As it inches closer to join league of higher education institutions that have completed a century, the University of Mysore is aiming to spread its activities internationally.

On Thursday, it signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Japan based Hokkaido University to promote research activities. The five-year pact will allow exchange of faculty and research fellows, exchange of students and exchange of academic materials and publications. The pact will focus on life sciences.

VC K S Rangappa and president of the Hokkaido University Keizo Yamaguchi signed the MoU, which can be renewed after five years unless one of the two universities decides to end it. Rangappa said that the Japan university is one of the oldest universities and the collaborate will help the two varsities for attaining excellence in academic and research.

Rangappa said some 25 students from the varsity are pursuing their doctoral and post-doctoral studies at the Japan. “I have association with this university too since ten years. We are formalizing the association to work more in the field of research,” the VC stated.

He said students from Hokkaido university will come here where some short term exchange programmes have been introduced to facilitate foreign students engage in studies in their respective subjects.

Yamaguchi thanked the University of Mysore for the collaboration, which, he said, will foster academic partnerships in the area of life sciences. Students from Mysuru are pursuing research at his university since 2010.

The team from Japan includes Makota Demura, dean, faculty of advanced life science, Shinichiro Nishimura, faculty of advanced life science and Kenji Monde, faculty of advanced life science.

Meanwhile, the University of Mysore is leading a team of scientist from India, Japan and Ethiopia who are involved in research for early diagnosis of cancer and lifestyle diseases including diabetes. The team has collected samples from the premier cancer hospitals. Rangappa, who is the principal investigator of the project said: “We are aiming to collect at least 100 samples to build the research data to start with. The samples will be collected from hospitals from across India.” He said the joint study will look at early identification of cancer.


Why Rajasthan faces paucity of women teachers for math and science

NEW DELHI: At a time when the government is stressing on science and mathematics for girl students, a study from Rajasthan on gender and equity goals in secondary education shows that its efforts are not misplaced and in fact the issue needs urgent attention.

One of the key highlights of the study undertaken with support of MacArthur Foundation shows there is a paucity of women maths and science teachers. Carried out in three districts – Baran (27.3% ST population), Barmer (16.8% SC population) and Ajmer (urban Muslim population of 11.2%) – the study also shows that girls “especially from marginalized communities have limited access to science and math education because most government girls’ school do not offer these subjects.” The study also says, “Further, social perceptions show that math, in particular, is beyond the inherent capabilities of girls. This deficit in math and science students continues into the college level and at B.Ed. level and as a result, very few women science and math teachers are available.”

READ ALSO: Rajasthan ranks third lowest in female teachers employment in schools — study

Study also found that even if science is offered, the decision to choose the subject is influenced by a host of factors. “Parents believe that all girls have to get married and do not need to pursue any profession. Further, in all focus group discussions both with girls and at the community level, it was shared that a major reason for girls to elect the arts stream was that parents were unwilling to invest in the additional financial costs involved with science, such as lab fees, tuitions etc,” it said. In the seven undergraduate colleges that were studied very few women teachers in the science stream, and even fewer faculty, both men and women from the marginalized communities were found.

Another fact highlighted by the study is that in Rajasthan, by and large, higher secondary schools are known as “boys’ schools” (the term is used for co-ed schools) with only a small number of girls’ only schools. In 2011-12, for instance, there were only 557 girls’ only secondary schools against 15,150 for boys in the state. At higher secondary level, there are 779 girls’ only schools against 7,741 boys’ schools.

In the sample districts, the figures are even more skewed with girls’ only secondary schools being as few as five in Barmer district (largest in area). Further, in “boys’ school” girls are admitted either if a girls’ only higher secondary school is not accessible or girls want to pursue specific subjects such as science/ math, which are offered only in boys’ schools.

Access is one of the biggest problems faced by girl students in some difficult areas/districts such as Barmer where the distribution of schools is mostly in urban and peri-urban areas. “Uneven distribution with concentration in just seven districts (Sikar, Kota, Ajmer, Dausa, Sriganganagar, Jaipur and Jhunjhunu) and mostly in urban and peri-urban areas exacerbates limited access for poor and marginalized girls in particular,” the study said. Similarly, strong conservative cultural traditions are important in determining access. In Ajmer, for instance, access to secondary school was restricted for Muslim girls because the school was located just beyond the defined boundaries of the Muslim neighbourhood, the report said.