Mike Baker's Award-winning Education Blog

Winner of the 2011 CIPRA National Journalism Award for Best Online Commentary on Education.


Fund raising day on May13th for Mike's memorial fund

 All the details for this event and all blog posts in the future will be on the cancer blog now.

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13 Apr 2014 7 comments - read and reply.

Thank you for all your donations

Hi everyone,

We hope everyone is having a nice summer so far.
Since our last blog post we have raised an astounding £1,500 for the 'BAKER’S BIKE RIDE’, so a massive thank you to everyone who has already donated as this is an amazing achievement and we feel truly touched!
It is the money that we raise, and this money alone, that helps to support the Journalism course and the annual student awards at Villiers Park Educational Trust. Our aim is to raise enough money to keep the course and award scheme running forever, but we need your help! The generosity of everyone so far has really inspired us so we are upping our fundraising target to £3,000...which we know is definitely achievable! Please help us to reach this goal by visiting our fundraising site: www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/Bakersbikers20 Thank you in advance for all your donations...each one is very much appreciated.
The bike ride preparations themselves are well underway - we have purchased the oh-so-glamorous padded shorts so we are ready to take on those hills!
One of the BAKER’S BIKERS potentially taking on the bike ride will be Nigel Griffiths, Chrissy’s cousin, who visited Villiers…

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22 Aug 2013 7 comments - read and reply.

The Big Bike Ride

Hello everybody

We had a slight hiccup with the blog as people have not been receiving email reminders and have been unable to post comments. Sorry about that but it is all fixed now - thanks Joe,

I wrote a piece on the blog in June after we buried Mike's ashes on 31st May so do have a look at that. 


The BAKER'S BIKERS  are riding from The Parlour at Clayhidon to our favourite beach - Putsborough on the North Devon coast. 

The date: September 7th & 8th

The hills are going to be steep and the going tough so please sponsor us to raise money for Mike's memorial trust - I'm sure the more we raise the 'flatter' it will get!!

We have set up a Virgin Money fundraising site: www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/Bakersbikers20

I know most of you know all about the Villiers Park Educational Trust where Mike was a trustee but it's always good to have an update:

Villiers Park Educational Trust is doing a fantastic job helping 14-18 year old disadvantaged bright students…

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31 Jul 2013

The Burial of Mike’s Ashes, Friday 31st May

 At 2:30 a small gathering of 25 family and friends made a loving, supportive semi-circle around the beautiful spot in Clayhidon churchyard where Mike’s ashes will rest.

The glorious sunshine enhanced the abundant spring flowers, rolling hills and birdsong that seemed to be just for us during the silent moments. Continuing the Baker tradition we punctuated the short ceremony with 2 uplifting songs - a Thunderbridge Boys song ‘Keep on Walking’ and an old family favourite for long holiday drives - ‘It Takes a Worried Man’ sung by Chris Barber, Van Morrison and Lonnie Donegan from their skiffle sessions recorded in 1998. We used to tease Mike that this was his song, and he loved singing along to it.

I chose to read ‘Death is Nothing At All’ by Henry Scott Holland, a poem that sang to my soul and just felt so right. I could hear Mike saying the words;

Speak to me in the easy way you always would,
Put no difference into your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow,
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

We also shared a poem Louise had written for…

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23 Jun 2013

Happy New Year

Hello everyone,

A big thank you for all the amazing letters that I have received over the past few months.  The heart felt words and thoughts have really helped me to cope during this period. I will get round to replying to them eventually!

The memorial fund is now at an amazing fourteen thousand pounds, so thank you very much to everyone who donated so generously. We will be able to do so much with this money and so many students will benefit so that's really good news. The girls and I will be visiting Villiers Park's Cambridge Centre in February, and we will be meeting some of the students so we will let you know how that goes.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas - we went to the panto in Richmond (oh no we didn't! oh yes we did!) - and the girls and I wish you all a very happy, joyous and relaxing 2013.

Love Chrissy, Louise and Rachel 

P.S sorry this a little late but we had to update the domain name! Technology - don' t you just love it!

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04 Jan 2013 9 comments - read and reply.

Mike's Memorial Service

Photo: Mike with a group of Scholars at Villiers Park in 2011.

It was an overcast day for the memorial service but with the numbers in excess of 300, the wonderful tributes, poems and live jazz music all added up to an incredible service in memory of Mike. For me and the girls all the anxiety and organising was worthwhile.

Thank you so much to everyone who came, gave tributes, or thought about Mike from afar. It was all so special and we will hold the day in our hearts forever.

Thank you also for all the generous donations. More than £3,000 has been raised already, which is a fantastic start to the memorial fund. Significant amounts have also been raised for the National Education Trust and Princess Alice Hospice.

We are very happy that Villiers Park Educational Trust is to honour Mike’s memory by establishing a fund that will help disadvantaged young students aged 14-19 participate in their educational activities. Through their Inspiring Excellence Programme of residential courses and their Scholars Programme, students develop key skills, self-confidence, a passion for learning and academic success. The fund will be…

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25 Nov 2012 8 comments - read and reply.

School resources from Farm Africa

 Just a brief - and deserving - mention for the charity, Farm Africa, which has produced a resources pack for schools. The resources are designed to help teachers connect their pupils with the very different lives of children in Africa and the issues they are facing.

The UK charity, which works with communities in rural Africa to end hunger and build sustainable livelihoods, is asking schoolchildren, parents and teachers to “get their wellies on” and take part in a mass UK-wide welly-walk to one of its projects in eastern Africa. And back!

 Don't panic - you don't actually have to walk to Africa...the miles will be added up collectively and equated to distances in Africa.

The resources are here:www.farmafrica.org.uk/ghtb/give-hunger-the-boot 

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20 Jul 2012 8 comments - read and reply.

An appeal for help

 Please excuse this posting, which would normally belong on my 'Cancer Blog' not in the education section. It's a one-off excursion, I promise.

 As some of my education readers may know, I was diagnosed last year with Stage 4 (terminal) lung cancer, despite having never smoked. 

 I won't bore you with the details, as it's all on the Cancer Blog but I have put great faith in the value of exercise and diet in my campaign to resist the effects and spread of the cancer. I feel strongly that - like me - most cancer patients are never given education and advice about what can be achieved through regular exercise and a change of diet. There is plenty of conventional medical research that supports their value in cancer treatment and it's a view that is slowly gaining ground.

 I really want more people to know about this, so I was delighted when I heard about a group of cancer patients who are staging a 1,000 mile cycle ride through the UK and Ireland specifically in order to raise awareness of the value of exercise in health care. I'll be joining them for part of The Ride in Wales…

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15 Jul 2012 5 comments - read and reply.

Gove's crazy O Level plans

 At first I just didn't believe the headlines. It must have been the usual political spin: Michael Gove's advisers trying to suck up to Tory traditionalists by emphasising a return to 1950's -style education. Usually, on closer examination, the policy proposals are not quite as daft as the headlines initially suggest.

 But it seems this time, Mr Gove really means it. He really does seem to be planning a return to O Levels in the sense of one exam system for the most academically able and another for everyone else. This is dangerous stuff.

 Remember, of course, that the GCSE is already a tiered exam, so students are entered for differentiated papers according to their predicted grades. But they key thing is that they are all doing the same type of examination, with the same name. There is no suggestion that some exams are less equal than others.

Origin of O Levels

By contrast, the old O Level and CSE system was just that. O Levels were introduced in 1951 for the most able 20% (at the time roughly the proportion that might be aiming to stay on for A level studies). As it became plain that having no…

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22 Jun 2012 124 comments - read and reply.

National Curriculum review at risk of political hijack

 The draft review of the primary National Curriculum has much to commend it, especially if you can see past the smokescreen of political spin about it being a 'back-to-basics' approach and a 'return to rigour' and a reversal of decades of dumbing down. 

 The radical nature of the reform has also been overblown, as much of what is proposed is not so different from the existing curriculum.

 The report of the expert panel, on which it is largely based, was thoughtful and balanced, stressing the need to give teachers the freedom to innovate and adapt teaching to their own pupils' needs, whilst also emphasising some of the key elements of knowledge that all pupils should master.

 Most of this has survived the political process it has been through over the past few months since the panel reported. But, sadly, not all of it.

 The biggest danger is that - as with previous versions of the National Curriculum - there will still be too many compulsory requirements and that the core elements will, in practice, drive out the broader elements of the curriculum because it is these that will be the focus of inspectors' judgements, statutory testing, and performance tables.

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12 Jun 2012 9 comments - read and reply.

Gove 'open mind' on for-profit Free Schools

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, revealed today that he has an 'open mind' on whether to allow Free Schools to be run for profit.  

Speaking at the Leveson Inquiry, Mr Gove hinted at the tensions in the coalition over the issue of allowing for-profit operators to open and own Free Schools, saying 'there are some of my colleagues in the Coalition who are very sceptical of the benefits of profit. I have an open mind'.

Asked if it was his view that the government might eventually move to allowing for-profit operators into the Free Schools market, he said 'it's my belief that we could move to that situation...<but> ...  I think we should cross that bridge when we come to it'.

Mr Gove added, under questionning, that he had not discusssed the involvement of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation in running for-profit schools with anyone from the company. He said he believed that Mr Murdoch was only interested in getting involved in running a school in the UK for 'purely philanthropic' reasons. 

You can watch -…

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29 May 2012 5 comments - read and reply.

'Serious failings' at academy chain

 The rapid growth of academy chains has been one of the most significant - if relatively quiet - developments in schools policy in England. There has already been concern about the very large salaries paid to some of the Chief Executives of these chains, many of which now have numbers of schools running into double figures.

So this week's outcome of  the Department for Education's investigation into the Lincolnshire-based Priory Federation, which has three schools in it, is an important warning sign. The investigation found 'serious failings' in relation to financial management. The Federation's Trust has accepted responsibility and the Chief Executive, Richard Gilliland, has left.

The full report is worth reading for the shocking details of how an individual manager could so drastically misuse school funds. These include using schools funds for personal use and the purchase and decoration of a floor of a Manor House to meet the needs of the CEO and his wife not the needs of the Federation. 

There are now 48 academy chains, covering nearly 350 academies.  Some are getting very big and are almost mini-local education authorities. Indeed just 9  chains account for 182 open or planned academies.

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02 May 2012 45 comments - read and reply.

Updates on invaluable website resource

 I have mentioned before Derek Gillard's invaluable website resource for education policy. Well now I'm happy to hear that he has not only updated his website - The History of Education in England - with many new documents and reviews but has also created a update page so you can quickly see what's new.

It's here: www.educationengland.org.uk/new.html

Among the new records now available are: the 2011 Education Act, the Bew, Tickell, and Henley Reports and - going much further back - the 1968 Newsom Report and the 1944 Fleming Report. Happy reading!


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18 Apr 2012

University admissions disappointment

 The news that UCAS will not be going ahead with its proposals for a Post Qualifications Admissions (PQA)  system will not be too surprising to anyone who has seen the reluctance of most university leaders to embrace the change . However there was disappointment from student leaders, who felt an opportunity had been missed.

This decision looks set to end the debate about PQA for many years to come, bringing to an end a discussion that has been going on since the Schwartz report suggested the reform under the last government.

Obstacles to PQA

According to UCAS, the obstacles to PQA were that:

  • different term dates and qualifications' timetables across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland;
  • university initiatives to support disadvantaged applicants could be compromised;
  • it might encourage an undesirable focus on simple grade achievements rather than more rounded assessments of applicants' potential.

Reform of Clearing

Instead, UCAS will press ahead with reforms to the system of Clearing, reforming the Extra service, and improving the on-line application form. There will also be defined offer deadlines to give greater certainty to applicants.

The full report is here: UCAS Admissions Process Review

New study says intervene early

Meanwhile a…

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28 Mar 2012 1 comments - read and reply.

University participation rate stalls

The proportion of young people in England entering university has hit a plateau -- stilll short of the 50% target set by Tony Blair's government.

The latest official statistics shows that 47% of people aged between 17 - 30 entered university in 2010-11. That represents no change on the previous year - the first time in recent years that there has been no year-on-year increase. 

In 2006/7 the participation rate was 42% and it climbed steadily to 47% in 2009/10, but since the advent of the coalition government that increase has halted. The 50% target has, of course, not been endorsed by coalition ministers.

Women  ahead of men

Female participation at 52% remains well ahead of that for males, which is is 42%.

The statistic - known as the Higher Education Initial Participation Rate - measures the probability that a 17 year-old will enter university by the time they reach the age of 30.

Read the full statistical bulletin here.

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28 Mar 2012 4 comments - read and reply.

21st Century Free School: a way ahead?

Caption: Peter Hyman delivers NET Lecture. Photo: Gary Eason



Free Schools remain controversial and, while some excellent new schools have been proposed, the big questions remain:

  • how sustainable are they?
  • will they ever reach more than a tiny minority of children?
  • what is their effect on neighbouring schools?
  • can they maintain curriculum innovation despite league table targets and Ofsted inspections?

These dilemmas were raised by the audience at last night's annual National Education Trust lecture. They had heard an inspirational talk from former Tony Blair strategist, Peter Hyman, who is opening a new Free School - School 21 - in east London this coming September.

 The school will be a far cry from the Toby Young school, which has so far dominated the coverage of Free Schools. It was given its name to denote Hyman's determination to look ahead to 21st century teaching and learning styles. This is not a 1950's, nostalgia-led project designed to give a new boost to school uniforms and Latin. 

School 21  will put a much greater emphasis than usual on speaking and listening skills, or oracy, which - as Hyman argues - is greatly under-emphasised in this country compared…

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15 Mar 2012 29 comments - read and reply.

From Tony Blair to Free School - leap or logic?

 I'll be chairing the annual National Education Trust Lecture this week and - living up to its formidable pedigree - the charity has once again netted a fascinating speaker. This year's lecturer is Peter Hyman, former Downing Street policy advisor and scriptwriter to Tony Blair and now founder of a potentially highly innovative Free School.

His brainchild, School 21 (so named as a school for the 21st century), is due to open in September in the London borough of Newham. It promises a very different approach to the traditional model offered at the Free School founded by his political opposite, Toby Young, which is characterised by school uniform and Latin lessons.

School 21 will move away from the traditional timetable and discrete subjects and will offer a mix of lectures, seminars, individual coaching and more project work. Assessment will be non-traditional too. More at the school's website: www.school21.org/

Will it work? And how will Peter defend his support of a policy initiative that has come from his former political opponents?

To hear more about Peter's plans - and his transition from Downing Street to classroom teacher - come along to the NET annual lecture (there are still a few places…

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10 Mar 2012 8 comments - read and reply.

The teachers' videos competition restarts

 It's good to be involved once again as a judge in the new round of O2 Learn's revision video competition for schools.

The format is slightly different this year, with the introduction of weekly winners who receive £1,000 for themselves and £1,000 for their school. This does mean rather more work for the judges, but it's fun and I'm learning a lot about GCSE topics as varied as science, geography and RE. 

It's a great idea from O2 that enables teachers and students to share the best innovative ideas about teaching techniques and revision aids. What is impressive is the efforts that have been put in by teachers to help their students with their revision.

The competition runs from now until almost the end of the year when - as in 2011 - overall 'Best Lesson' winners will be announced. The first prize is worth £45,000, with £30,000 for the school to spend on resources and £15,000 for the teacher who submitted the video. Not bad, eh?

So send in your entries soon. There's a prize just for uploading your lesson to the website. The first week's winner has already been announced. So well done to Dedworth Middle…

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05 Mar 2012 4 comments - read and reply.

Les Ebdon confirmed as new head of OFFA

 So the government has seen sense (or more likely in the world of realpolitik David Cameron did a compromise deal with Vince Cable) and has allowed the appointment of Professor Les Ebdon as the new head of OFFA to go ahead.

Offa has this morning confirmed his appointment. The outgoing head, Sir Martin Harris, said of his successor, who will take over later this year: “I am confident that all universities will find that he takes a fair, balanced and considered approach to the very difficult issues of fair access and widening participation, helping them continue to work with schools to raise aspirations and standards.”

In a letter to the Select Committee, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, said its report did 'not raise any new, relevant facts about Professor Ebdon's suitability for the post'. However, he did say he took 'seriously' the committee's concerns over his presentational skills, and noted the Professor Ebdon himself 'felt he could perhaps have performed more effectively'.  Professor Ebdon has agreed to return to the committee for further monitoring sessions.

The whole kerfuffle over his appointment has been bizarre and has led to some  over-heated journalism and media commentary. The Daily Telegraph, for…

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20 Feb 2012 5 comments - read and reply.

Les Ebdon likely to be confirmed as head of OFFA next week

 Despite his rejection by the BIS Select Committee last week, it now looks very likely that Professor Les Ebdon will be confirmed as ministers' choice to head the Office for Fair Access after all. A decision is likely to be given to Parliament early next week now that Downing Street has confirmed that it does not have the power to block the appointment.

Its believed that the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, was determined that the appointment would go ahead and there is a strong feeling that the whole appointment process was played by the book and so it would be wrong for the choice of both the selection committee, and of ministers, to be blocked by a vote taken by just 4 out of 11 members of the parliamentary committee. 

A close look at the questioning by those committee members who opposed Professor Ebdon suggests they had either been lobbied by some members of the Russell Group or that they felt they were operating on their behalf.

 Meanwhile, while it now looks unlikely that a Higher Education Bill will appear this coming autumn, this does not mean that plans for legislation have been shelved. It seems ministers are relaxed…

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14 Feb 2012

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