Monthly Archives: June 2017

Mental Health training for teachers – Friday 30 June 2017

This week I report on new mental health training that will be offered to teachers over the next 5 years, the review of fire safety in schools following the Grenfell Tower fire, the announcement of the pass mark for this year’s Phonics screening check and that schools will now get the opportunity to appeal GCSE and A Level marking errors.

Mental Health training for teachers
The Government has pledged that every secondary school in the country will receive mental health training by 2020 and that this will be extended to primary schools by 2022. The programme will be delivered by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, a social enterprise organisation, and is backed by £200,000 in Government funding.

Staff will receive practical advice on how to deal with issues such as depression and anxiety, suicide and psychosis, self-harm, and eating disorders. They will also be invited to become ‘first aid champions’, sharing their knowledge and experiences across schools and communities to raise awareness and break down stigma and discrimination.

Fire Safety in schools
In the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy the Government is analysing school buildings to identify those that are over four storeys high and establish which, if any, external cladding has been used on them. At the end of last week, the Government had instructed councils and academy trusts to carry out fire safety checks on school buildings to identify any that may need further investigation in light of the blaze.

The DfE is also reportedly dropping proposals to change fire safety rules around the installation of sprinklers and teaching unions have called on the Government to officially confirm they have abandoned the proposed fire safety rule changes.

Phonics screening check pass mark announced
On Monday, the Government announced the pass mark for the phonics screening check will be 32 out of 40, for the sixth year running. The phonics check was taken by more than 600,000 five and six year old pupils in Year 1. It is a test of 40 words, half of which are nonsense words, and is administered and marked by a teacher or staff member who is known to the pupil. Last year, 81% of pupils met the expected standard in Year 1, up from 77% in 2015.

Schools to get right to appeal GCSE and A-level ‘marking errors’
This week the exams regulator Ofqual has announced that schools will be given the right to appeal against GCSE and A-level results if they suspect there has been a marking error. This comes on the back of a successful pilot last year in which it allowed schools to appeal on the grounds of marking errors in three A level subjects.

The exams regulator changed the rules in recent years so that schools could only appeal an exam result if they felt exam boards had not properly followed procedures. Schools could not appeal if they believed there had been an error in the marking or moderation of an exam. The new rule will be phased in over the next 2 years, starting with all AS and A-level subjects from this summer.


Queen’s Speech and education priorities – Friday 23 June 2017

This week I report on the Queen’s speech and the impact it will have on education, the publication of information for parents/employers/FE and HE providers on the new GCSE grading structure and two new EEF trials to test school careers programmes.

Queen’s Speech – legislative priorities for next two years
On Wednesday, the Queen unveiled the Government’s legislative priorities for the next two years. Whilst the speech set out laws the Government wants to pass, it was silent on a series of promises made in the Conservative election manifesto including overturning the ban on grammar schools and scrapping free school lunches.

The speech included a commitment to ensure “all schools are fairly funded”. The government has indicated that the national funding formula for schools that it recently consulted on will go ahead in some form. The Conservative manifesto pledged that no school would see its budget cut under the new formula. It is not clear if the Government has the votes to push the reform through the Commons, and the Queen’s Speech did not promise any legislation on this.

In relation to technical education the Queen said the Government would “work to ensure that people have the skills they need for the high-skilled, high-wage jobs of the future” with “a major reform of technical education”.

The Government also said it will publish a green paper on children and young people’s mental health “focused on helping our youngest and most vulnerable members of society receive the best start in life”. The manifesto committed the Government to publishing this “before the end of this year”.

Information on the new GCSE grading structure      
This week the DfE published information about the new GCSE grades for parents, employers and further and higher education providers.

New trials launched to test school careers programmes 
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has announced two new trials will test how different careers education programmes can boost teenagers’ motivation at school. One will link-up pupils with business mentors to deliver community projects and the other will test the impact of supporting pupils to apply and participate in Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM)-related work experience.  Both programmes will be funded under a million-pound partnership between the EEF, the Careers & Enterprise Company and Bank of America Merrill Lynch.


Justine Greening stays as education secretary in May reshuffle – Friday 16 June 2017

This week it was confirmed that Justine Greening would remain as Education Secretary, Ofsted has launched a consultation on proposals to improve the short inspection model and a new study has found that pupils are more alert in the afternoon.

Small departmental reshuffleDfE image
Following last week’s general election, Theresa May has carried out a very minor reshuffle of her ministers. Justine Greening remains Secretary of State for Education and Nick Gibb (School Standards), Jo Johnson (Universities), Caroline Dinenage (Early Years) and Lord Nash (School System) have all retained their pre-election briefs. The new Children and Families Minister is Robert Goodwill and Anne Milton has been appointed Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills.

Launch of consultation on improving the short inspection model Ofsted image
Yesterday Ofsted launched a consultation on proposals to improve the short inspection model. Short inspections were introduced in September 2015 for schools previously judged to be good. They last for one day and, in most cases, the inspectors are satisfied that the school remains good. Currently a third of short inspections are converted to full inspections when the lead inspector decides there is insufficient evidence to confirm the school is still good, or thinks it may now be outstanding. A team of inspectors then arrives at the school within 48 hours, to gather more evidence and reach a final judgement.

Ofsted has found the 48-hour conversion period challenging because it means that inspection schedules often change at the last minute, standing inspectors down at short notice. They have also noted that school leaders find the current experience of conversion “overwhelming”. Finally, they say that “in about 20% of cases, before a short inspection takes place it is already clear that a school is facing complex circumstances that warrant a full inspection”. Ofsted is therefore proposing two operational changes:

  • When a short inspection converts, the full inspection will be completed within a maximum of 15 working days, rather than 48 hours.
  • A full inspection will automatically take place in around 1 in 5 cases where Ofsted has prior evidence that a school is in complex circumstances.

These changes are being piloted in around 35 schools this term. If the proposals are accepted, it is expected that the changes will take effect immediately after the October half term this year. The consultation is open for around 2 months and will close at 11:30pm on 18 August 2017 if you would like to submit a response.

New study finds pupils more alert in the afternoonTerrific Scientific
A new study by BBC Terrific Scientific and the University of Oxford has found primary pupils may be more alert in the afternoon, which “contradicts” the practice of schools scheduling maths and literacy lessons in the morning because teachers think youngsters will be “more awake to learning”.

In March, this year 900 children (aged 9 to 11) from schools across the UK took part in the study, with researchers finding that pupils on average were faster in the afternoon than in the morning, and that reaction times appeared generally slower before the clock change. The study also found that sleep time for the children increased by an average of 30 minutes after the clock-change weekend and that 68% of the children participating felt they had higher levels of energy later in the day.


Impact of hung Parliament on education – Friday 9 June 2017

In another momentous week in UK politics we have a hung Parliament and if the Conservative Party can form a new government it seems likely that the plans for new grammar schools and the national funding formula will be dead in the water. Without a majority, the Conservatives will find it difficult to push through these contentious decisions, particularly given the rebellion that had already been brewing in the Tory party backbenches.

Election outcome
It was announced this morning that Theresa May will visit Buckingham Palace at 12:30 p.m. today to seek permission to form a UK government, despite losing her Commons majority. The prime minister is attempting to stay in office on the understanding that the Democratic Unionist Party will support her minority administration. With one seat left to declare, the Tories are eight seats short of the 326 figure needed to command a majority.

In the past, when minority governments have been formed at Westminster, the prime minister has held another election at the earliest opportunity to try and gain a working majority. Or the opposition has forced another election by tabling a “confidence” motion.

The Fixed-Term Parliament Act (passed by the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to make their 2010 coalition less likely to collapse) means an election can only be held if:

  • Two thirds of MPs vote for it. In practice, it would need to be supported by both Labour and the Conservatives;
  • If MPs pass a motion of no confidence in the government AND an existing or new government cannot win a confidence vote in the Commons within 14 days of the no-confidence vote.

Impact from an Education perspective
The former Chair of the Education Select Committee Neil Carmichael has lost his seat in Parliament in one of many shock upsets for the Conservative Party. Mr Carmichael lost to his Labour opponent (former Labour MP and teacher David Drew) by almost 700 votes, while the Education Secretary Justine Greening’s majority in her south London seat of Putney was cut from more than 10,000 to less than 2,000. Edward Timpson, the Children’s Minister, has lost his Crewe and Nantwich seat to Labour candidate, teacher and school funding campaigner Laura Smith by just 48 votes.

Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, has also lost her Richmond Park seat back to Conservative former London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, who she beat in a by-election last December.

Lucy Powell, the former shadow education secretary, saw her majority in Manchester Central increased, while Mike Kane, the shadow schools minister, also retained his seat.