Archive | April, 2013

The Pupil Premium: maximising its benefits

17 Apr

The national average for pupils on free schools meals (FSM) is 14%.   The attainment gap between these children and the rest is 27.4%.  The government is keen to bridge this chasm. Consequently, it has created a pot of resources, called the Pupil Premium, which schools must deploy for the benefit of those on FSM.  In their calculations, schools can include all children who at some stage during the last six years of their careers were entitled to FSM.

In the last academic year, every child entitled to FSM attracted £623. This year, the sum has gone up £900.   The raison d’être for this is for the nation to assist children from disadvantaged backgrounds surmount the economic and social obstacles they encounter.  Material deprivation can be a major impediment in these children’s paths resulting in ill-health, family stress, low levels of parental education and parental involvement in children’s education.    The socially disadvantaged parents have low levels of cultural and social capital and tend to have low aspirations for their children as well.

In 2013/14, the Pupil Premium funding amounts of £1.875 billion.   The indicator used for disadvantage is that a pupil (according to the January 2013 Pupil Level Annual School Census, i.e. PLASC data) would have been on FSM in the last six years. In addition, every disadvantaged pupil in a non-mainstream setting, who is publicly funded – as also a looked-after child – attracts £900 on the same criterion.  The school at which a child of parents who are in the Army, Navy or Air Force will also receive £300.

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Special Educational Needs: Changes in the Assessment and Provision in the Offing

17 Apr

From 1 September 2014, there will be a sea change to the manner in which we provide for pupils with special educational needs (SEN). One section of the Children and Families Bill currently being debated in Parliament is devoted to this initiative.   The legislation is likely to be enacted in early 2014 with its full implementation in the following academic year.   The Bill heralds a new approach to assessing and supporting young people from birth to the age of 25 (instead of the current 19) who have Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND).

The government intends to simplify the current arrangements for assessing SEND pupils, and wishes to promote better working arrangements among the agencies  and between the education service and parents, increase parental choice and improve outcomes for our young people. The proposed arrangements are being piloted in 31 local authorities among 20 pathfinders.

The Bill takes forward the reform programme set out in the Green Paper, Support and Aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability.   Provision within the planned legislation

(1)        replaces old statements with new birth-to-25 education, health and care plans;

(2)        offers families personal budgets; and

(3)        aims to improve cooperation among all the services that support children and families, especially requiring local and health authorities to work together.

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Academies are not what the government has cracked them up to be

17 Apr

Children have only one chance in school.   We cannot afford to allow schools to fail. Gove knows it and, consequently, is in a hurry.  He is also in a hurry – like his other colleagues – because he wants to demonstrate to the electorate – by 2015 – when the Conservatives will fight the next elections – that he has improved the educational system in this green and pleasant land, making it the best or one of the best in the world – by stamping his imprimatur on it with a philosophy underpinned by robust legislation.   I have no quibble with that.

What concerns me is the method that he and his ministerial colleagues are using to get to his goal.   Focusing on England for this purpose, it is worth observing that we have one of the most diverse school systems in the world.  At one level, we have two types of schools – maintained and independent.   At another level, the number of different kinds of schools we have makes the mind boggle.

In the maintained sector, there is a range of schools which would confuse and turn off any prospective Martian colonists wishing to settle in England.  We have community, foundation, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and free schools, academies, sixth form colleagues, City Technology Colleges (CTCs) and University Technology Colleges (UTCs).   Continue reading

Shortfall in school places

17 Apr

(1)        The Current Scene

According to the National Audit Office (NAO), an estimated 256,000 primary and secondary places will be needed by 1 September 2014 (of which 240,000 will be in the primary sector) with 37% extra in London alone.

Altogether, 80,000 additional primary spaces were created in local authority schools and new Free Schools.  The increase alleviates only a small fraction of the pressure that local authorities face.   According to the NAO,

(i)            more than a fifth of primary schools (20.4%) are already full up or over-capacity;

(ii)           the number of children taught in large infant classes of 31 pupils or more has more than doubled over the last five years;

(iii)          between the academic years 2006/7 and 2011/12, the number of four-year-olds starting reception classes rose by 16%; and

(iv)         by September 2014, an estimated 256,000 extra primary and secondary places will be needed to meet demand.

We also know that 70,000 parents, one in seven of the total, did not get their children into their first choice of secondary school in September 2012. The reality is possibly worse. Many parents purposely select schools they are likely to be offered, rather than risk missing out by applying for the best. A quarter of all parents choose the local schools because they can walk there and a few regret doing so.

The Department for Education (DfE) estimated in 2010 that the country would need £5 billion to provide 324,000 additional places and was of the view that this would be covered by its funding and contributions from local councils.  However, the sum did not include costs such as acquiring land for new schools because the DfE assumed that most new places would be created as part of existing schools. Continue reading