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Green Paper: Schools that work for everyone

1 Jan

I        Preamble

On 12 September, the Government published the Green Paper, Schools that work for everyone, which the Department for Education (DfE) has taken off the websiteThe deadline for responses was 12 December 2016.   We now have to wait on the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, to give the nation a steer on where she wishes to go from here.

The Green Paper proposed a number of recommendations which, if implemented, will affect four discrete institutions:

  • Independent Schools
  • Universities
  • Selective Schools
  • Free Schools which are faith orientated

The proposals were issued against the background of increasing pressure on school places – especially good ones.  Primary numbers grew by 11% between 2010 and 2016. This will feed into the secondary sector for the rest of the life of this Parliament.   The most recent projections are that the primary school population is estimated to increase by a further 174,000 (3.9%) from the current year to 2020.  The secondary school population will rise by 284,000 (10.3%) over the same period.

While the Green Paper made it abundantly clear that the government would continue to support schools with the Pupil Premium Grant to promote the education of the most socially deprived children in our system – i.e. those entitled to free school meals (FSM) and in care – it expressed government concerns that those children whose families just fail to qualify – i.e. the just about managing (JAM) – were being short-changed.

Children entitled to FSM come from families in one of these classifications. Those in receipt of

  • Income Support
  • Income-Based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Income-Based Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit

This effectively means that if either parent/carer is earning more than £16,190 annually, the child does not qualify for FSM.  In January 2016, the national average for those entitled to FSM was 14.3%. The government is, however, worried about children in families on modest incomes who do not qualify for such benefits but are, nevertheless struggling financially.

Information on the educational achievements of such children is opaque as it melds with data on those who come from well-heeled backgrounds.  Accordingly, the first two questions that the Green Paper posed for us were as follows.

  • How can we identify such children?
  • How can we better understand the impact of policy on a wider cohort of pupils whose life chances are profoundly affected by school but who may not qualify or apply for free school meals?

So what plans does the government has for the four groups set out above?

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Ofsted Annual Report 2015/16

1 Jan

Preamble

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), published his fifth and final Ofsted annual report on the education system in England on Thursday, 1 December 2016.  He retired 30 days later.  In presenting the report, Sir Michael said “a world class education system is within our grasp – but only if serious capacity challenges are urgently addressed”.

Sir Michael stressed that a north/south ‘geographical divide’ meant the ablest pupils in the North and Midlands were less likely to reach A/A* at GCSE. He said: “Standards can only truly be considered high if they are high in every part of the country and for all pupils regardless of background or ability.”

However, his report is, in the main, positive.    The country’s schools/academies, he avers, had made progress over the last five years. Educators could be justly proud.  “Young people are getting a better deal than ever before,” he said.  School/academy leaders responded well to the changes in the system.  The decision to replace the “satisfactory” judgement with “requires improvement” led to schools/academies upping their game, making a greater effort ensuring that pupils are offered the very best possible education.     Of the former 4,800 satisfactory primary schools/academies, 79% were now good or outstanding and, of the previous satisfactory secondary ones, 56% were good or better.

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Governors need to up their game in challenging school/academy leadership, says Ofsted

1 Jan

The schools’ inspectorate Ofsted published a new report in December 2016 on the state of school governance, called Improving governance: Governance arrangements in complex and challenging circumstances.

The report is based on 2,632 responses to Ofsted’s public call for evidence last autumn, 96 routine inspections or monitoring visits, and dedicated visits made by inspectors to 24 schools which had recently improved standards. The report outlines the barriers faced by governors in these schools and the actions taken to strengthen their professional skills to fulfil their roles.

Ofsted’s report stated that governors often lack the necessary skills and training to challenge school leaders effectively. At one institution, the governing body accepted a senior leader’s assurance that the school budget was in a healthy position. A week later, the governors discovered that the school had a deficit of more than £300,000.

Weak governance is associated with governors’ lack of knowledge about pupil progress and achievement or budget management at their schools/academies. Governors’ failure to challenge their headteachers follows from this lack of knowledge, according to the report.   “When inspectors judge the leadership and management of a school to be less than good, a common underlying weakness is the failure of governors to hold school leaders to account,” the report states.

More than 2,000 respondents also told Ofsted that recruitment and retention of governors was a challenge. This was especially so in the poorest areas of the country. “The challenge in finding governors with the necessary knowledge and skills was often greater for those schools that were in areas where unemployment was high and qualifications low.”

In one school, parent governors told inspectors that they knew that teaching and learning were improving only because their own children had told them so. “On all of these boards, governors did not have enough knowledge about their roles and responsibilities,” the report stated. “These weak governing boards rarely looked outwards and often failed to keep up to date with developments in education. They tended to pay little attention to pupils’ outcomes.”

Consequently, governors lacked the ability to raise important issues, or to ask probing questions. They became over-reliant on their headteachers’ version of events.

Weak governance often remained undetected until the school/academy was inspected by Ofsted. Two-thirds of the schools/academies surveyed had not identified any weaknesses in governance until Ofsted had judged the schools/academies to be less than good.

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The Education and Adoption Act and the Rise of the Regional School Commissioners

9 Apr

I        The contents

On Tuesday, 23 February 2016 the Education and Adoption Bill 2015 completed its passage through Parliament. The Act

  • empowers the Secretary of State to convert every school judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted into a sponsored academy;
  • enables the Secretary of State to intervene in maintained schools considered to be underperforming, and constrains local authorities from doing so in some circumstances;
  • expands the legal definition of the ‘eligible for intervention’ category to include ‘coasting’ schools, and allows the Secretary of State to intervene through a range of measures including requiring the school to become a sponsored academy; and
  • enables intervention in academies on the basis that they are ‘coasting’.

When the Act was journeying through Parliament as a Bill, the definition of “coasting” was applied only to maintained schools but this was altered by the government following pressure from the House of Lords.

The details of how the Act’s provisions will be implemented will be set out in a new version of the Schools Causing Concern guidance. The DfE consulted on the drafts of both, this guidance and the proposed ‘coasting’ definition, in late 2015. The outcome is expected to be published in the near future.

In addition, the Act

  • gives power to the Secretary of State to issue directions, with time limits, to school governing bodies and local authorities to speed up academy conversions;
  • places a new duty on schools and local authorities in specified cases to take all reasonable steps to progress the conversion;
  • requires schools and local authorities in specified cases to work with identified sponsors towards ‘making academy arrangements’ with those sponsors;
  • removes the requirements for a consultation to be held where a school ‘eligible for intervention’ is being converted to a sponsored academy.

Government amendments tabled in the Lords and carried into law will require a new sponsor to communicate his/her plans for a school to parents.

Speaking in the Commons on 23 February 2016, Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that, although not precluding those who choose to consult on a planned academy conversion, the law would end the current “rigid approach that allowed vested interests to prevent sponsors from taking decisive action and to delay the process of transformation”.

The government is planning to use its powers of intervention through the eight Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs). The initiative was taken as a practical response to establishing an intermediate cadre of “civil servants” between Whitehall and the growing number of academies.

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Researchers propose mechanisms for turning around a failing school/academy

9 Apr

I        The Global Educational and Skills Forum

The Global and Education and Skills Forum (GESF) held in Dubai on 12-13 March 2016, will be memorable for many reasons – not least for Hanan Al Hroub’s winning the Global Teacher Prize of $1 million awarded by Sunny Varkey Foundation.

Mrs Hanan Al Hroub, who was born in Bethlehem, grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp.   She has dedicated her life to teaching following an incident in which her children were left deeply traumatised by a shooting incident they witnessed on their way from school.  Hanan is committed to a “no violence” approach which is set out in a book she wrote, We Play and Learn.  She fosters trusting, respectful, honest and affectionate relationships with her students, emphasising the importance of literacy.  She has generously shared her philosophy and approach at teacher training sessions and in conferences organised by the Ministry.

The GESF this year will also be remembered for another reason.  Dr Alex Hill, Associate Professor at the Kingston Business School, Kingston University, shared his research findings on academies in relation to how to turn around a failing school.   The issue continues to be of growing importance.

While many aver that converting a school “going down the pits” into a successful one is “Mission Impossible”, the internet is awash with articles capturing the experiences of many who have been engaged in this exercise.  Accordingly, Professor Alex Hill, in collaboration with academics from Cambridge University, was commissioned by the government to find the secret of successful transformations.

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