Thursday, September 10, 2009

ERG and the effect on schools

There's much talk about the place about being Erg'd. The expert review group comes to your school and makes adjustments to your teaching programme to improve results.

I'm beginning to wonder if being Erg'd is equivalent to being Nerfed, a common term in gaming and computer circles. To Nerf something is to take an overpowered component and effectively make it useless or less effective to empower some other component.

In talking to others, one concern about being Erg'd is the adjustment made to the school teaching offerings. If Erg suggests that a school is teaching above it's cohort, the inferences is that higher subjects get dropped from the curriculum - the usual suspects (level three subjects, Physics, Chemistry, Specialist Maths, History and the like) as class sizes for these subjects are small in a small school. As a parent you need to be aware if this is happening at your school, as your brighter student will be most affected. To gain access to more difficult subjects your student will be offered to be bussed to an adjacent school (and away from teacher and peer support) or through SIDE (distance education), not have the subject offered at all or be encouraged to take an easier or alternate subject.

Classes like Maths specialist and 3CD maths that require small class sizes in any school instantly get scrutiny. Sometimes we forget that to get league table support we need to support these kids most as they attract more capable students to the school and best publically demonstrate the true ability of the school to educate. They need specialist support in special learning environments (with relatively small class sizes!).

To maintain subject selection within smaller schools, other solutions are being trialled such as combining year 11/12 cohorts and running classes with mixed offerings (such as 2A and 3A in the same room). In some cases both at the same time. These have their own set of problems such as students with different ability, motivational and maturity levels and that finish/exam times are different for year 11 and 12 classes.

Issues for teachers from being Nerfed also arise as teachers unable to teach the upper range subjects (such as 3A and beyond) get pigeonholed and are not competitive when competing for transfers. This is equivalent to the issues faced by middle school teachers now on EIP as they have limited ability to teach upper school NCOS. When an application says needs 3A and beyond or G&T experience, the teacher can't apply. There is no compensation for this employment loss of capability (other than the hard to staff bonus) and teachers need to consider moving after a fairly limited time if they wish to continue developing their teaching skills (which again puts more pressure on HTS schools). With increased freedom to 'chose' teachers in independent public schools this becomes more of an issue.

When a school is Nerfed, further parity is lost between the independent and public system. This is something that needs careful consideration beyond the 'best use of resources' argument. Yes we currently have more kids that need academic support at lower levels - but it becomes ever more important that our top end is encouraged to grow and we as a sector show that we can effectively support bright students in all of our public schools without compromise.

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