Archive | January, 2014

Steering the school ship – Reflections

2 Jan

One of the key functions of governors is developing the school strategy.  Taking account of the school’s strengths and weaknesses, the educational landscape and the likely developments for the future, many governors spend away-days with senior school staff to shape the future.

Where this exercise is productive, governors keep as their central focus the pupils, their welfare and development, and aim to answer four important questions.

(1)        What do we want for the future and where do we wish the school to be in x year’s time?

(2)        Why do we want what we want?

(3)        How are we going to get from where we are to where we want to be? In search of the answer, what do we need to do and what must we avoid doing?

(4)        How long should we be taking to get to where we want to, given that our children have only one chance in life?     Continue reading

Chief Inspector sets sight on school governance

2 Jan

I           What the Chief Inspector said in his Annual Report

Ofsted released the second annual report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, in the second week of December 2013 based on the findings from inspections carried out in 2012/13. Almost 80% of schools are good or better, higher than at any time during Ofsted’s existence.  However, the spread of ‘good’ or better schools is uneven. In the Isle of Wight, 14% of young people attend a secondary school that is ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’; in Bath and North East Somerset 100% do. In Wolverhampton, 56% of primary pupils attend a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ school; in Sandwell, 82% do and in Darlington the figure is 97%. Of the 13 local authorities (LAs) where fewer than half of the pupils attend a ‘good’ school, five are in Yorkshire and the Humber.  On the other hand, seven of the nine LAs in which all children attend a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ secondary are in London.

The three prominent (negative) findings in the Annual Report were as follows.

(i)         There was too much mediocre teaching and weak leadership.

(ii)        There were huge regional variations in the quality of education.

(iii)       Many children from low-income families – particularly White children – were underachieving.

Heralding his report, Sir Michael expressed cautious optimism about the future.  “Our statistics this year show that more schools are now getting to good at a faster rate than at any other time in Ofsted’s 21-year history. Some 78% of schools are now good compared with 70% last year,” he said.   He was convinced that if this trend were sustained, our standing in the next PISA (Programme for International Student Assessments) league table would be much higher. Continue reading

Religious schools criticised for ignoring disadvantaged children

2 Jan

In early December 2013, the Fair Admissions Campaign published research into how religious selection criteria in faith schools unfairly discriminates against the most vulnerable pupils we educate, especially those entitled to free schools meals and others who have a mother tongue other than English, militating against social and ethnic inclusiveness. The research synthesised data from five main sources and hundreds of admissions directories.  Researchers then mapped out the hierarchy of areas (see here) where the discrimination exists.  Continue reading

Free School Meals for Infant Pupils

2 Jan

On Thursday, 5 December 2013 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, confirmed in his autumn statement that there will be extra “financial resources to fund the expansion of free school meals to all school children in reception, year 1 and year 2”, as previously announced by the Deputy Prime Minster, Nick Clegg.  (See here.)

The government will be providing the Department for Education (DfE) £450 million in 2014/15 and £635 million in 2015/16 to fund this commitment. This will be new money in the DfE budget. The government will also make £150m of capital available to ensure that schools can build new kitchens or increase dining capacity where necessary.

Before the announcement, concerns were raised about the source of this ‘additional’ funding. The government has now declared that £70m of the capital allocation will be new money from the Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT) and around £80m will be from unspent DfE maintenance budgets.

The full statement can be viewed here.

On a visit to a primary school in Lambeth, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “Early on I made it very clear that universal free school meals would be my personal priority in this Autumn Statement and I’m proud that we are now delivering it. From the start of the next school year, every single infant school pupil will be able to sit down to a free school lunch.

“Today, I can announce that we’re providing more than £1 billion to ensure children get a healthy meal in the middle of the day. We’re also making sure that schools are not left out of pocket by putting £150 million on the table to fund new kitchen and dining facilities where they are needed.

“Every child deserves the best possible start in life, and at the same time we are doing all we can to help ease the pressure on household budgets. This not only encourages positive eating habits and helps improve concentration and performance in the classroom, but this will also mean significant savings for families.

“Providing universal free school meals will help give every child the future they deserve, building a stronger economy and a fairer society.

“Universal free school meals for primary school pupils were a key recommendation in a recent review of school food produced independently for the DfE. The School Food Plan, published by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent in July this year, recommended that the government embark on a phased roll out of free school meals for all children in all primary schools.

“The School Food Plan presented evidence that this would lead to positive improvements in health, attainment and social cohesion, and help families with the cost of living:

(a)        the average school meal costs £437 per child per year and

(b)        many children on low incomes are not eligible for free school meals: approximately four out of 10 children (from all age groups) living in poverty are not eligible.”

Plans to establish “Career Colleges” receive the green light

2 Jan

On 15 October 2013, Lord Kenneth Baker, Margaret Thatcher’s secretary of state for education who spearheaded epic reforms in the late 1980s and early 1990s, unveiled plans to establish pioneering “career colleges” for 14-to-19-year-olds that had the approval of Matthew Hancock, the skills minister. The colleges will offer vocational training in a range of subjects including digital technology, construction, catering and healthcare. These will build on his network of successful university technical colleges which specialise in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.  Continue reading

Bar raised for the Key Stage 2 Standard Assessment Tests

2 Jan

Even the more heavyweight papers carried “alarming” headlines of doom and gloom when announcing the Key Stage 2 Standard Assessment Test results.   “More than 700 primaries fail Gove’s tough new test” boomed The Times when lamenting that “hundreds more primary schools have slipped beneath the minimum of test results”.  The actual number is 767.   The Department for Education has threatened that it will impose on those primary schools that have fallen below the floor level “new leadership and governance from academy sponsors”.

And what is the floor level? Well, not only have the goalposts moved on this but also narrowed.  This year, at least 60% of pupils in a school were required to attain level 4 and above in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2.  Last year, 60% were expected to attain level 4 and above in English (per se) and mathematics.  At the time, a pupil may have attained level 5 in reading but only level 3 in writing – averaging out to level 4. She/he would have been deemed to have met the target required.  Not so this year.

As a consequence, in 2011/12, 521 primary schools were below this threshold, having improved on the picture in 2010/11 when 1,310 failed to do so.  Were the same benchmarks used in 2011/12 as have been deployed this year, 834 would have failed. The press would benefit from reflecting that it depends on one’s perspective when making a judgement about whether the nation’s primary pupils are improving or “going down the pan”.

The actual results were as follows.

%age  achieving level 4 and above in reading, writing and maths %age achieving level 4B and above in reading, writing and maths %age making expected progress






England – all schools







England – state funded schools only







A DfE spokesman told The Times: “The floor standards we introduced were tougher and performance is improving.  Heads, teachers and pupils deserve credit for meeting the challenge head on.”  Then he added the “killer” remark.  “Schools with a long history of underperformance and who are not stepping up to the mark will be taken over by an academy sponsor.   The expertise and strong leadership provided by sponsors is the best way to turn around weak schools and give pupils the best chance of a first-class education.”

There is only one little problem with what the DfE is planning to do.  Several sponsored academies have also fallen below the floor level.   What plans is the government hatching to have these academies also taken over and who will do the job?

National Funding Formula: Radical changes in the offing

2 Jan

The government is set to introduce a new national funding formula by April 2015 which will be very much a curate’s egg, good in parts but diabolical in its effects on some schools.

Historically, inner-city areas – mainly in Labour-leaning parts – have been extremely favourably funded when compared to those in the shire counties, especially those that contain pockets of the well-heeled parts of society from where many Conservative MPs are elected.  The aim is to shift funding from the former to the latter sections of the country.

Altogether £35 billion are spent on our schools. This funding has been frozen since 2010.   After the 13 years of plenty, this is painful.  However, it could have been much worse as, along with the NHS, education spending has been protected and spared the detriment other areas – such as Defence and Works and Pension – have had to endure.

When the present coalition came into power, Michael Gove, secretary of state, made an attempt to introduce a national funding formula, which was to be equitable, especially when he learnt that a typical rural secondary school receives £4,200 per pupil  annually while an Inner London one might secure anything up to £9,500. The difference between a rural and inner-city primary school can be as much as £3,000 (i.e. rural – £3,000 and inner-city – £6,000).

However, without an injection of extra resources, the change is bound to cause suffering, especially in the inner-city areas.  This is the reason why Gove and the Deputy Primary Minister, Nick Clegg, are submitting earnest pleas to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Chancellor, George Osborne, to sanction a big rise in spending on schools to soften the blow on the putative losers.

A Whitehall source told The Times, “We are very conscious that we want to do this very, very carefully and minimise disruption.”  We will know for certain only much later this year (i.e. 2014) whether Gove will have his wishes granted.

National Curriculum, Tests and Exams Set to Morph

2 Jan

In September 2013, Michael Gove published the new national curricular framework, following consultations.  Some aspects of this will come into force on 1 September 2014.  From 1 September 2015, the new national curriculum for English, mathematics and science will take effect for years 2 to 6.  English, mathematics and science for Key Stage 4 will be phased in from September 2015.  Background information on the review, including details of previous publication, can be found here.

The new mathematics GCSE (see here) will require a deeper and broader mathematics understanding.   It will provide students with coverage on ratio, proportion and rates of changes and there will be an expectation that students will provide clearer arguments for their answers.  All students who fail to reach a C grade will be required to continue studying mathematics post-16.

The English Language GCSE (see here) will, according to Gove, provide all students with a robust foundation of reading and good written English and with language and literary skills.   Altogether, 20% of the marks will be awarded for accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Where students take English Literature, they will engage in “high-quality texts across a range of genres and periods” – including Shakespeare, the works of nineteenth century novelists and poets of the Romantic era.  The new English Literature GCSE will build on this foundation and encourage students to “read, write and think critically”.  Continue reading

Academies – Where and What Next?

2 Jan

I           The general picture

Schools continue to apply to become academies.  The Department for Education provides useful guidance on how this can be achieved.  However, the pace of conversion appears to be slackening.   In October 2013, 36 applications were in the pipeline.  Over that month, 22 were approved and 35 new academies opened.   In the country as a whole, there are now 2,481 sponsored and converter academies from a total of 3,254 applications received.   At the time of writing, 441 applications for academy status have been approved but the schools still need to convert.

The thrust for conversion continues to be dominated by the secondary schools, which, because of their larger sizes, have a greater capacity to manage their financial and business affairs than smaller primary schools.  However, fewer than one in eight schools in the country is now an academy. Continue reading

UK Students’ progress in the Programme for International Student Assessments [PISA] frozen

1 Jan

(1)     What is PISA?

In December 2013, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published the Programme for International Student Assessment’s (PISA’s) fifth survey based on a battery of tests carried out in 2012.   PISA assesses the competencies of a cross-section of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, science and problem-solving.  The focus this time was on mathematics.

PISA charts the extent to which 15-year-old students have acquired key knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. The assessment in the four areas does not just ascertain whether students can reproduce what they have learned but also examines how well they can extrapolate from what they have learned and apply that knowledge in unfamiliar settings, both, in and outside school. This approach reflects the fact that modern societies reward individuals not for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know.

Paper-based tests were used each lasting two hours. In a range of countries and economies, an additional 40 minutes were devoted to the computer-based assessment of mathematics, reading and problem solving.

Test items were a mixture of questions requiring students to construct their own responses and multiple-choice items. The items were organised in groups based on a passage setting out a real-life situation. Altogether, 390 minutes of test items were covered, with different students tackling variously combined problems.

Students answered a background questionnaire, which took 30 minutes to complete, that sought information about themselves, their homes and their schools and learning experiences. Continue reading