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Dfee 1998 Homework Guidelines Middle School

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Primary and secondary schools have the information they need on pupil performance to develop plans for raising standards. But they will need their partners in government - the LEAs, OFSTED and the DfEE - to support them and maintain pressure to improve. All these partners must understand clearly what are their roles and responsibilities.

1 All the evidence indicates that standards rise fastest where schools themselves take responsibility for their own improvement But schools need the right balance of pressure and support from central and local government. Because the education service has been poorly co-ordinated in recent years, we have not achieved that balance. The support from central and local agencies has been patchy and inconsistent. Schools have had plenty of pressure, but not always of a kind which raised standards. There has been an excessive concentration on the structure and organisation of schools at the expense of improving teaching, learning and leadership.

2 We need to improve the combination of pressure and support which central and local government apply to schools to stimulate constant improvement and tackle underperformance There is already regular high quality external inspection by OFSTED of schools. To complement this, schools must have annual plans for improving their performance which are focused on better teaching and learning, and are based on the

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results they are already achieving. The way they set plans should follow best practice and be approved by the LEA. LEAs' work in raising standards will itself be improved through pressure and support from the DfEE, spearheaded by the new Standards and Effectiveness Unit. OFSTED inspection of LEAs will complement this.

3 One of the most powerful underlying reasons for low performance in our schools has been low expectations which have allowed poor quality teaching to continue unchallenged. Too many teachers, parents and pupils have come to accept a ceiling on achievement which is far below what is possible.

4 Schools often fail to stretch the most able; and they have not been good at identifying and pushing the modest or poor performers, or those with special educational needs. In some cases the excuse has been that "you cannot expect high achievement from children in a run-down area like this". Even more often, schools in comfortable circumstances have complacently accepted average performance when they should be aiming for excellence.

National Curriculum assessment

5 We now have sound, consistent, national measures of pupil achievement for each school at each Key Stage of the National Curriculum, They show that children, whatever their background, can achieve a great deal if they are well taught and well motivated. But they also show that, in practice, schools with similar intakes of pupils achieve widely differing results. The differences are a measure of a school's effectiveness in teaching and motivating its pupils.

6 We already hold much more comprehensive data than is held in other countries. We are consulting on proposals for further improvements in the collection, dissemination and use of pupil performance and comparative data through better use of IT and more effective co-operation between the schools and agencies involved. As baseline assessment at age 5 is progressively introduced, it will be possible to measure any pupil's progress through his or her school career, and also compare that pupil with any other individual or group, whether locally or nationally. We must put all the available information to work.

Performance data

7 The publication of performance data benefits parents and acts as a spur to improve performance. We will publish more such data than ever before. We need to provide parents and others with better information by supplementing "raw" results with a measure of the progress which pupils have made. Data on prior attainment, which could form the basis of true measures of "value added", are not yet available consistently for every Key Stage, but better information can be introduced into performance tables progressively from 1998.

8 As early as this autumn, when we publish the 1997 secondary school results, it will be possible to provide some information on the rate of improvement of a school alongside the local and national averages. In addition, SCAA's successor body, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), will provide benchmark data so that schools can compare themselves to the best performing schools with similar intakes.

9 LEAs should be keeping local parents better informed. We plan to issue the secondary school performance tables to LEAs ahead of national publication, so that they can respond to detailed requests for information from parents when the tables are published. We intend to speed up the publication of information on primary schools' performance by requiring 11 year-olds' assessment results to be prepared and published locally, but in a form which continues to make national comparisons possible and which allows additional information

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to be published by individual authorities. Getting the information to parents sooner will make it more useful to them when choosing schools.

10 LEAs should also provide their schools with local comparative data. Many of the best LEAs already do so. We will expect all LEAs to include such information, and guidelines on its use, in their Education Development Plans (described in paragraphs 21-24). This will enable all schools not only to examine their overall performance relative to other schools but also, for example, to look at differences in performance between girls and boys, or between groups from different ethnic minorities.

11 Further progress towards the use of pupil performance data at school or LEA level is limited by the difficulty of tracking pupils as they move from school to school. As we focus more on the progress made between different stages, it will become essential to be able to link an individual pupil's results over time. We therefore propose to consult on arrangements for improving tracking, including a simple system of unique identifiers held by schools for each pupil.

Question: What more can be done to ensure that clear information on pupil performance gets through to schools. LEAs, parents and the local community?

Setting school targets

12 From September 1998, each school will be required to have challenging targets for improvement. If schools are to take their targets seriously, it is important that they should take direct responsibility for them. Governing bodies as part of their strategic role set out in Chapter 7 should take time to consider all the available information and discuss in detail their school's targets, together with proposals from the headteacher on the necessary improvement plans to achieve them.

13 School targets should be based on:

  • benchmark information on the performance of similar schools, at national and local level;
  • information on the rate of progress needed to achieve national targets: and
  • the most recent inspection evidence.

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14 The role of the LEA is to advise and, where necessary, challenge schools to set their sights at the right level. This will apply to all schools, and especially those which may have coasted along with average performance when their real potential is far higher. OFSTED's inspection reports should comment on whether the school's targets are appropriate and on the progress towards them.

15 The use within a school of reliable and consistent performance analyses enables teachers to assess progress by their pupils and to change their teaching strategies accordingly. Comparisons of performance by different subjects, classes, year-groups and other categories help schools to set targets for individual pupils which take full account of each pupil's starting point. Such detailed comparisons also help headteachers to monitor the performance of classroom teachers.

Question: How can schools and LEAs ensure that they use the target-setting process most effectively to improve performance?

16 The main responsibility for raising standards lies with schools themselves. But they will be more effective in doing so if they work in active partnership with LEAs, OFSTED and the DfEE. The LEA's role is to help schools set and meet their targets. OFSTED's role is to inspect performance by individual schools and LEAs, and provide an external assessment of the state of the school system as a whole. The DfEE's role is to set the policy framework, promote best practice, and to provide pressure and support in relation to LEAs as LEAs themselves do for their schools.

The LEA's role

17 The LEA's task is to challenge schools to raise standards continuously and to apply pressure where they do not. That role is not one of control. Those days are gone. An effective LEA will challenge schools to improve themselves, being ready to intervene where there are problems, but not interfere with those schools that are doing well.

18 The LEA role in school improvement in relation to individual schools is set out in the box on page 28. Where schools are performing well, the LEA involvement will be limited to fairly routine monitoring of key indicators. Where schools are in the "could do better" category, the LEA will wish to have a discussion with the headteacher and the chair of governors, and offer suitable support - perhaps a mix of training and expert advice. An LEA will need to take further steps where effective improvement is not being made. To do this successfully, an LEA will need both a good knowledge of its schools and the capacity to help them improve. In addition, LEAs should draw attention to and encourage effective teaching and learning by establishing a bank of good practice resources that can be drawn on by schools.

19 This does not mean LEAs establishing an alternative inspection system, but an effective LEA will:

  • challenge schools to raise standards and act as a voice for parents;
  • provide clear performance data that can be readily used by schools;
  • offer educational services to schools which choose to use them;
  • provide focused support to schools which are underperforming;
  • focus their efforts on national priorities such as literacy and numeracy; and
  • work with the DfEE and other LEAs to help celebrate excellence and to spread best practice.
Chapter 7 describes the LEA's wider administrative responsibilities.

[page 28]

20 This new constructive role will replace the uncertainty from which LEAs have suffered in recent years. In return, LEAs will have to be fully accountable. They must demonstrate to their own schools, to parents and the local electorate, and to the DfEE that they are doing a good job in improving their schools. The Government expects all LEAs to play their part in driving up standards. Where they do not, we will not hesitate to intervene directly.

Education Development Plans

21 A key element in our strategy will be the requirement for each LEA to prepare an Education Development Plan (EDP), setting out how it intends to promote school improvement and including the performance targets set by its schools in agreement with the LEA. EDPs should be drawn up in discussion with schools and other local partners.

22 EDPs will be phased in and will be fully operational in each LEA by April 1999. An EDP should be drawn up taking account of the LEA's wider responsibilities, for example for school places planning, local management schemes and SEN provision, as well as the work of the advisory service. It is the successful deployment of all the LEA's human and financial resources that will lead to the setting of ambitious and achievable targets, and the consequent increase in standards,

23 The DfEE's Standards and Effectiveness Unit (see paragraphs 39-40) will offer guidance to LE.II.s on drawing up a sound EDP The guidance will be based on early evaluation of good practice on a wide range of issues, including financial and administrative matters, and will draw on the evidence of OFSTED inspections of LEAs.

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24 LEAs will submit their completed EDPs to the Secretary of State for his approval. He proposes to consult OFSTED before giving approval. LEAs will be held accountable for the targets and undertakings which the plans contain. The plans will cover a period of three years, and will be subject to annual review. If the Secretary of State is not content he will refer it back to the LEA for further work. If exceptionally agreement cannot be reached, the Secretary of State may direct OFSTED to inspect the LEA.

Question: How much of an LEA's work should be covered in its Education Development Plan?

Support of good management and leadership in schools

25 It is vital that the way governing bodies lead their schools is adequate. There should be a good two-way flow of information between governors and LEAs. The quality of the headteacher is a crucial factor in the success of a school. The proposals in Chapter 5 will improve the quality of all new and existing heads. An LEA should not decide on the appointment of a head: that is plainly and properly a responsibility of the governing body. But before an appointment is offered, the governing body should inform the LEA which would have the right, if it believed the proposed candidate to be unsuitable, to put a formal representation to the governing body which it must consider and respond to.

26 The LEA will have increasingly useful comparative data on a school's performance and will play an important role in helping it to set its targets. That process will help the LEA to form a view of the comparative performance of the headteacher, which might assist the governors when carrying out their annual review of the head's performance. The LEA should make a report to the governing body when it has concerns about the performance of the head. The governing body should report to the LEA what action it proposes to take. The improved dismissal procedures outlined in Chapter 5 will ensure that governing bodies are able where necessary to take prompt action to remove ineffective heads.

Question: What more support do governors need from their LEAs?

Action to tackle underperforming schools

27 There is a large category of schools which, while not failing, have serious weaknesses of management, or are underachieving in particular aspects of what they do. It is essential that such weaknesses should be addressed before they become more acute. The

[page 30]

Government plans to introduce a system of "early warnings" for such schools. The LEA would write to the governing body setting out its grounds for concern and requesting an action plan by a specific deadline. In many cases that will be sufficient to secure the improvement sought. Where the governing body had clearly failed to submit an adequate plan or to implement its plan, the LEA could be justified in appointing additional governors or temporarily withdrawing budgetary delegation, as it already can when a school has been formally found to be failing by OFSTED.

28 OFSTED will continue to inspect such schools. The LEA could also ask OFSTED to carry out a full inspection ahead of the routine schedule to ensure that the school was not allowed to drift towards failure.

Question: How can the proposed early warning system strike the right balance between the respective duties of the school and the LEA to raise standards?

Action to tackle failing schools

29 There are currently 300 schools in England which have been identified by OFSTED as failing to deliver an acceptable education. Some are well supported by their LEA and are showing substantial signs of recovery. However, where schools show insufficient evidence of recovery it may be necessary to consider a "Fresh Start".

30 A fresh start may take different forms. In some cases the most sensible course will be closure and the transfer of the pupils to nearby successful schools. Alternatively, an LEA might be authorised to allow one school to take over the underperforming school to set it on a new path. Another option would be to close the school, and re-open on the same or a different site with a new name and new management. The change would have to be more than superficial. It would need professional leadership of the highest calibre and would need to be seen by everyone as a clean break, and an attempt to create a new and ambitious sense of purpose. The Government intends to remove some of the legal and administrative barriers and to take powers to force an LEA to close a failing school where that is the best course.

OFSTED's role

31 Both external inspection of schools and LEAs by OFSTED, and schools' own improvement planning, are essential and indeed complementary parts of the improvement process.

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32 We are firmly committed to regular inspection of all schools by OFSTED. It contributes to public accountability and to the improvement of the education service through the comparative data which is then made available. The first cycle of inspections is nearing completion, and has yielded a vast database of information vital to our understanding of the performance of schools. It has also improved performance by clearly identifying strengths and weaknesses. It can give particularly sharp messages at the two extremes: identifying excellent schools from which important lessons can be learned, and also those which are failing to deliver an acceptable standard of education and require urgent attention. But it must also act as a spur to the majority of schools which, while not failing, can still make significant improvements.

33 Though we will keep the matter under review, we have no plans to alter the frequency of inspections in the second OFSTED cycle whereby every school will be inspected at least every six years, but more frequently where weaknesses are apparent. However, OFSTED is already working on changes to the inspection system aimed primarily at improving its consistency, quality, and value for money. A number of changes are proposed:

  • First, a reduction in the period of notice of inspection from five terms to two terms, with a firm date for the inspection arranged one or one and a half terms in advance. This will ensure inspections provide a more accurate picture of school performance, with less time devoted by schools to unproductive preparation for them.
  • Second, inspection will focus even more closely on classroom practice and the school's capacity to improve, and the final report will be written in clear language leaving no doubt as to the inspectors' overall judgements. Without that, schools cannot respond satisfactorily.
  • Third, it is essential that we make full use of inspection evidence. Aggregate data from inspections, alongside other comparative information, will be much more widely available to schools, LEAs and the DfEE in a digestible format. OFSTED will also issue annual statistical profiles to each school. They will include numerical ratings for each subject, based on inspection findings, which set the school's performance in a national context.
  • Fourth, OFSTED has in hand a programme of professional development for inspection team members, who would then be accredited to inspect particular subjects or aspects. There will also be further guidance for inspectors on judging standards and progress, and on how to assess the quality of teaching. We will also consider taking powers for HMCI to register and de-register team members along the same lines as registered inspectors.
  • Fifth, OFSTED plans to strengthen its complaints procedures by introducing an appeals mechanism for those unhappy with the outcome of inspection. It is also considering increasing the part parents can play in the inspection process, by introducing a post-inspection meeting with the inspectors.
34 We also intend to bring into force the power in the 1997 Education Act for OFSTED, assisted by the Audit Commission, to inspect LEAs on a regular cycle. The regular cycle of inspections will begin in January 1998. There may be a case for the first cycle to focus on the LEAs that appear to be least effective. In addition, the Secretary of State will have the power to direct OFSTED to inspect a particular LEA where there is reason for concern.

35 The inspection of LEAs will operate alongside the new regime of Education Development Plans. To assist both processes, the DfEE's Standards and Effectiveness Unit will work with OFSTED and the Audit Commission to draw up an annual statistical summary of key data on school improvement in each LEA. This information will inform the Secretary of State's approval of EDPs, and the programme of OFSTED-led inspections.

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Question: In what ways can the OFSTED inspection process be further refined and improved?

The DfEE's role

36 To carry out the agenda for raising standards in education we shall need a new form of Government involvement. The change in the status of the Department for Education and Employment to rank alongside the other great offices of state signals a change in expectations. It will no longer be sufficient to act at a distance: the Department will be expected to engage actively with its partners in the education service to pursue the joint goal of higher standards.

37 The extensive consultation on this White Paper marks the first stage in this process. The DfEE has a crucial role to play in leading and creating the climate for change, and working closely with others - in the education world, the business community and beyond. As part of this partnership, the Standards Task Force (STF) has already been established under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State, David Blunkett, and with Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, and Tim Brighouse, Director of Education in Birmingham, as vice chairs. The rest of the membership is drawn from all parts of the education service, and includes successful classroom practitioners and business representatives.

38 That composition reflects our determination to ensure two things: that the DfEE will listen to the world of education and operate in an open and accountable way: and that the various educational interests will act together, in a joint drive to raise standards. The Task Force will provide recognition of success throughout the education system, and in particular identify and celebrate those schools which are improving most rapidly. We will introduce an annual award for the most outstanding examples of school improvement. The Task Force will meet at least four times a year, but its members will also be expected to act as ambassadors for this area of the Department's work. It will provide expert advice to the Government on the development of its education policy.

39 The second major change already made is the establishment of the Standards and Effectiveness Unit in the DfEE. The Unit is an integral part of the Department's Schools Directorate, and will take the lead in ensuring that all the partners in the education service contribute fully to the raising of standards. In particular, the Unit will challenge LEAs and schools about their endeavours to raise standards, learn from their experience, question their assumptions, and inform them about examples of best practice. It will be staffed by a combination of civil servants and successful practitioners from schools, local authorities and other educational organisations.

40 The Unit will manage the consultation on the reforms set out in this White Paper, In addition, it will take the lead on the following key Departmental tasks:

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  • leading the national drive for school improvement;
  • directing the implementation of the literacy and numeracy strategies;
  • ensuring best practice is available to all schools through the development of a national database of best practice and other means;
  • implementing the Government's policies on Education Development Plans and advising the Secretary of State on their approval;
  • working with the Teacher Training Agency and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to ensure their contributions to the Government's school improvement strategy are effectively brought together;
  • promoting the analysis and use of performance data to measure pupils' progress at national, local and school level;
  • ensuring that the Government's policy of zero tolerance of underperformance is applied to schools; and
  • developing and implementing the Government's policy on Education Action Zones.
The Unit will work closely with OFSTED in many of these areas and make full use of the Department's links at local and regional level.

41 The task of the Unit to gather and disseminate information will be central to its work. The Unit will work with OFSTED, QCA and others to ensure that relevant performance data are analysed and made available to LEAs and schools in ways which will drive forward further improvement. The Unit will also establish and promote "hallmarked" models and standards for school self-evaluation.

42 The DfEE, finally, has a role as guarantor of last resort: to deal with the failing schools where LEAs have not dealt with them satisfactorily, and to deal with failing LEAs. The SEU will take the Departmental lead in this work. The fresh start for failing schools that are not recovering was described in paragraphs 29-30. Where it appears that an LEA is failing, the Secretary of State may direct OFSTED to undertake an immediate inspection. If that inspection confirms the failings, it may be necessary for the Secretary of State to intervene, either by directing LEA officers or by enabling others to perform some functions until the LEA has demonstrated its capacity to resume its full responsibilities. The principle of zero tolerance will be adhered to unflinchingly. The Government is determined that children should get the good education they deserve.

Question: What more can and should the Department do to support and challenge its partners in education?

43 The proposals in this White Paper will benefit a/l pupils. We are setting high and demanding targets which the vast majority should be aiming to achieve and should be capable of reaching. We recognise of course that there are groups of pupils who may need additional and targeted support because of their particular circumstances.

Special Educational Needs (SEN)

44 The proposals in this White Paper will help tackle the problems which many children face at an early stage and prevent such difficulties from developing into the area of special educational needs. A strategy to improve provision and standards for children with SEN must therefore be an integral part of other national policies for improving standards and for disabled people, including social services support for children in need and with disabilities.

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It must also take account of the socio-economic factors that are in some cases linked to special needs, and the potential contribution of our wider social policies.

45 The SEN Code of Practice provides a framework for identifying and assessing special needs. Teachers have worked hard with LEAs and others to make a reality of the Code, and there have been worthwhile improvements as a consequence. We shall build on this work, helping to ensure that excellent practice in individual schools and LEAs is developed more widely. Within the substantial resources devoted to SEN, there is still too much emphasis on the processes leading to a "statement" of SEN, rather than on preventive and remedial action. Statements will continue to have an important role, but they should not be the driving force in provision for SEN. We want to ensure that, over time, we put resources into direct support for children, rather than bureaucratic procedures. In particular, we want to look urgently at the scope for improved mediation, to reduce the need for disputes to get as far as the SEN Tribunal.

46 Where pupils do have special educational needs there are strong educational, social and moral grounds for their education in mainstream schools. Our policy for schools will be consistent with our commitment to rights for disabled people more generally. But we must always put the needs of the child first, and for some children specialist, and perhaps residential, provision will be required, at least for a time. That is compatible with the principle of inclusive education. Specialist facilities can also become a resource for supporting mainstream placements. This will mean planning on a cross-LEA and regional basis, to ensure that specialist support services are available, with a reasonable spread of provision across the country. Chapter 7 sets out our proposals for the future status of special schools.

47 We shall establish a National Advisory Group on SEN, with members from a wide range of backgrounds: schools, LEAs, VOluntary bodies representing children and parents, and others. The group will meet for the first time in July, under the chairmanship of the Minister responsible for SEN. It will work closely with the Standards Task Force (see paragraphs 37-38). The Group's first task will be to advise on the content of a Green Paper - a formal consultative document - which we will publish in September. It will seek views on how best to deliver the Government's commitments on special educational needs against the background of the principles set out above.

48 The DfEE will hold regional meetings throughout the autumn to discuss the issues raised in the Green Paper, and to promote discussion on how to raise standards for children with special educational needs. The outcome will shape the Government's programme for SEN during the remainder of this Parliament. The new National Advisory Group will oversee the implementation of that programme.

Ethnic minority pupils

49 Children from ethnic minority backgrounds now form a tenth of the pupil population. They bring cultural richness and diversity, but some are particularly at risk of under-achievement. Over half a million do not have English as a first language, and many start school without an adequate grasp of it. Racial harassment and stereotyping continue. Pupils from some groups are disproportionately excluded from school or - like Travellers - do not attend regularly. While the achievements of some ethnic groups are exceptional, others are underperforming, and there is an unacceptable and growing gap in performance. The causes of this are complex but must be tackled. Targeted action is required to break the cycle of disadvantage and create genuinely equal opportunities for all.

50 We will use the existing task group on raising achievement of ethnic minority pupils, which is chaired by Ministers, to forge a new partnership at national and local level, and we will take action to:

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  • spread the successful methods of schools that have been most effective in raising ethnic minority pupils' achievement;
  • consult on how best to monitor ethnic minority pupils' performance at national, local and school level, and how to create and implement effective plans of action where monitoring reveals underperformance;
  • provide guidance on best practice in raising awareness of important ethnic considerations, in tackling racial harassment and stereotyping, in promoting attendance and reducing exclusion of ethnic minority pupils, and in creating a harmonious environment in which learning can flourish; and
  • review the level and delivery of specialist support in schools for raising the participation and achievements of ethnic minority pupils to ensure that the support meets continuing needs.

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The 21st century will demand that we develop the diverse talents of all pupils. Mixed ability teaching has proved successful only in the hands of the best teachers and should be used only where it is appropriate and can be seen to be effective. We make a presumption that setting should be the norm in secondary schools. We will explore effective new approaches to teaching and learning and spread them across schools. To do that we must modernise comprehensive secondary education and open up access to new technologies for all.

Head teachers in England are to be given greater discretion over how much homework their pupils are set.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has scrapped the guidelines for home study introduced by Labour in 1998.

It follows parents' complaints that too much homework is limiting family time and opportunities for play and sport.

Education officials said head teachers should be able to make decisions free from "unnecessary bureaucratic guidance".

Labour's guidelines recommend an hour a week for five to seven-year-olds, gradually rising to 2.5 hours per night for pupils aged between 14 and 16.

Now, the decision on whether to set homework at all - and if so how much - will fall to head teachers.

A Department for Education spokesman said homework was "part and parcel of a good education".

"We trust head teachers to set the homework policy for their school. They know their pupils best and should be free to make these decisions without having to adhere to unnecessary bureaucratic guidance."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Homework is like most things in education - it is quality that counts, not quantity. If homework is properly connected to lessons, and regularly marked, it works.

"Just setting large volumes of homework for the sake of meeting targets doesn't work. Sensible discretion on the part of head teachers, to ensure the schools' homework policy reinforces their teaching strategy, is fine."

The administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have devolved powers for education.

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