Curriculum transition extended for a further year – Friday 14 February 2020

This week I report on Ofsted’s curriculum transition arrangements being extended for a further year, the outcome of this week’s Cabinet reshuffle on education, a consultation on a new national plan for music education and updated PSHE guidance in line with the statutory changes that come into force in September 2020.

Curriculum transition extended for a further year
Ofsted’s national Director of Education Sean Harford announced in his blog yesterday that schools will get an extra year (until July 2021) to bring their curriculum into line with Ofsted’s new inspection framework.

The new framework, which places greater weight on curriculum content and less on outcomes, came into effect last September. However Ofsted had originally worked in a year-long transition so that judgements were made based on where schools currently were in implementing curriculum changes, rather than expecting them to be “fully ready”.

Mr Harford has now said “The transition arrangements will only apply when it’s clear that a school is well on the way with its curriculum journey – but isn’t quite ‘there’ yet. This is not an amnesty for schools where teaching is weak or pupils’ outcomes (including, but not exclusively, national tests and examination results) aren’t good enough.”

Impact of Cabinet reshuffle on education
Gavin Williamson will continue in the role of Education Secretary following a reshuffle yesterday that saw a number of his colleagues return to the backbenches. Williamson’s re-appointment signals that the direction of travel is unlikely to change. The Education Secretary previously signalled that he would not seek to enact major system change in the near future.

Nick Gibb has also been re-appointed as Schools Minister, a role he has had since May 2015.   This morning it was confirmed that Lord Agnew, the School Academies Minister has left the DfE and Baroness Elizabeth Berridge has been appointed parliamentary under secretary of state.

DfE consultation on new national plan for music education
To help reflect advances in technology in the way music is created, recorded and produced, and to reassess the music education young people benefit from at school the DfE has launched a call for evidence to inform proposals for a refreshed national plan for music education. The consultation will run until 13 March 2020 and the updated plan will be published in the Autumn.

Updated PSHE guidance
On Tuesday the DfE updated its guidance for schools on Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education. The guidance document focuses on the statutory changes to the curriculum requirements in respect of; relationships, sex and health education from September 2020.

Proposal to cut the cost of school uniforms – Friday 7 February 2020

This week I report on the member’s bill hoping to make school uniform guidance statutory and the release of updated GCSE results from last academic year showing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and others has increased for the second year in a row.

Government backs proposal to cut the cost of school uniforms
On Wednesday a private member’s bill was introduced to seek to make the DfE’s 2013 school uniform guidance statutory. The Government has announced it will back this draft law aimed at cutting the cost of school uniforms and discouraging deals between schools and single uniform suppliers which potentially restricts competition and drives up costs for parents.

Private member’s bills rarely get past the early stages of their development because of Parliamentary time, but the Government’s backing means the school uniform bill is likely to pass. The bill is called the Education guidance about costs of school uniform bill and will have its second reading in the House of Commons on 13 February.

Attainment gap widens between disadvantaged pupils and their peers
An updated breakdown of GCSE results issued by the DfE this week showed the gap between disadvantaged pupils and others increased slightly for the second year in a row. The DfE classes about one in four state school pupils as disadvantaged, defined as having been eligible for free school meals within the five years before sitting GCSEs or if they have been in care or adopted from care.

While more than two-thirds of non-disadvantaged children achieved grade 4 or higher in maths and English, just 36% of those eligible for free school meals did so.

Guaranteed funding for schools next year – Friday 31 January 2020

This week I report on the guaranteed funding for primary and secondary schools for next year, the publication of the Opportunity North East delivery plan and updated DfE guidance on the statutory policies schools and academies must have.

Guaranteed minimum funding levels for all schools
New legislation laid in Parliament on Wednesday guarantees every secondary school at least £5k per pupil next year, and every primary school at least £3,750 per pupil, with funding per pupil for primary schools rising to £4k the following year.

Parents will now also be able to find out how much extra funding their local school will attract next year using a new, easy-to-use website which allows anyone to look up allocations under the National Funding Formula for schools in England for 2020-21.

Publication of the Opportunity North East (ONE) delivery plan
At the Schools North East Academies Conference held on Wednesday, the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson announced the Government would not stop in its drive to transform the lives and prospects of young people across the North East.

This comes as the Department published its Opportunity North East (ONE) delivery plan, setting out a series of ambitions to deliver on the programme’s long-term commitment to level up on educational outcomes and unleash the potential of young people in the region.

Updated guidance on statutory policies for schools and academy trusts
This week the DfE has updated its guidance on the policies and documents that governing bodies and proprietors of schools must have. It has:

  • added a link in section 8 ‘Relationship and sex education’ to statutory guidance published in June last year which schools must follow from September 2020;
  • added references to specify if policies also apply to maintained or non-maintained nursery schools;
  • updated the ‘Register of business interests of headteachers and governors’ section to reference that it is a live document;
  • updated the ‘Capability of staff’ section to reflect that academies can set their own terms for approval.

Free webinars for governors – Friday 24 January 2020

This week I highlight the latest series of free webinars offered by Governors for Schools, the announcement that LA maintained schools can join the insurance scheme already available to academies, that free sanitary products are now available to order for all schools and colleges and notice that the Education Secretary has outlined pay increases for teachers to the STRB.

New programme of free webinars for governors
Supported by Lloyds Banking Group, Governors for Schools has announced another series of free webinars for governors as follows:

  • Safer recruitment (with Better Governor) on Thursday 30 January 2020 from 8 to 9 am – will look at what governors need to know about safer recruitment procedures, criminal record and other vetting checks, and the training governors and staff involved in recruitment should undertake.
  • Managing exclusions (with The Key for School Governors) on Tuesday 11 February from 12:30 to 1:30 pm – will set out boards’ specific legal duties in relation to pupil exclusions. Explore how boards can monitor exclusion levels effectively. This can help to provide assurance that exclusion is being used proportionately and in a non-discriminatory manner.
  • Behaviour and attitudes in the new Ofsted framework (with Better Governor) on Thursday 27 February from 8:00 to 9:00 am – will explore in detail this element of Ofsted’s recently updated inspection framework. The new judgement covers behaviour, attendance, exclusion and attitudes to learning.
  • Reputation management (with Irwin Mitchell Solicitors) on Tuesday 10 March from 12:30 to 1:30 pm – will look at how to manage a school’s reputation when the world of social media reigns: when to engage and when not to engage.
  • Personal Development in the new Ofsted framework (with Better Governor) on Thursday 26 March from 8 to 9 am – will explore in detail this element of Ofsted’s recently updated inspection framework. The new judgement covers many aspects of personal development including confidence, character, personal safety and readiness for the next stage of education.

If you are interested in signing up for any of the webinars listed above please use this link.

LA maintained schools to be allowed to join the RPA from April 2020
This week the Government published its response to the consultation carried out late last year on whether the existing risk protection arrangement scheme for academies and free schools could be extended to maintained schools.

From mid-March LA maintained schools will be able to join the RPA using the DfE’s online portal. The cover will start from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021 and whilst voluntary, could provide savings for maintained schools as cover costs just £18 per pupil.

Free sanitary products for all schools and colleges
From Monday this week, schools and colleges are able to order a range of sanitary products from supplier phs Group, giving pupils easy access, helping break down stigmas and ensure no young person’s education is disrupted.

Schools and colleges should have received an activation email from the phs Group on Monday which will enable them to order products from the phs Group portal – a range of products will be available so that schools and colleges can offer choice to young people, including eco-friendly options.

Teachers set for biggest sustained pay increase since 2005
Under proposals submitted on Tuesday to the independent School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has outlined plans to increase starting salaries to at least £26,000 in September 2020, with those in outer and inner London to rise to £30,000 and £32,000 respectively. Experienced teachers, heads and school leaders would see an above inflation pay increase of 2.5% to their pay ranges, with early career teachers’ salaries increasing by up to 6.7%, supporting an attractive career path for the whole profession.

The STRB will now consider the Department’s proposals and respond with their recommendations later in the year.

Latest DfE School Governance update – Friday 17 January 2020

This week I highlight the latest school governance update from the DfE and news that Ofsted is in talks with the Government about running longer inspections to improve schools that have been ‘stuck’ i.e. not judged good or better since 2006.

Latest DfE School Governance update
Yesterday the DfE published its third governance update for LA maintained schools and for academies. Lord Agnew, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, provided a new year message indicating the updates would be published approximately twice per term.

He also advised he was looking forward to publishing the response to the consultation on financial transparency which included levelling up the reporting requirements for local authority schools and academies. The update provides the following:

  • Encouragement to participate in the consultation on the removal of the outstanding exemption.
  • Encouragement to take part in the NFER and DfE survey of governance in the sector (5000 schools across England have been invited to take part) with the deadline for responding extended to 24 January.
  • Information highlighting the clerking competency framework which demonstrates the importance of professional clerking and the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to deliver it.
  • An opportunity for clerks to speak to the DfE governance policy team to help develop their policy work.
  • A reminder that seven organisations have been contracted to provided funded training and development programmes for Chairs, Vice Chairs, Committee Chairs and Clerks.
  • Information on how to access the DfE’s financial benchmarking service to compare how much a school is spending on agency staff compared with similar schools.
  • A reminder that keeping governor details on GIAS (Get Information About Schools) up to date will ensure they receive governance update email alerts direct. For governors in academies this year’s Academies Financial Handbook set out a new requirement for all academy trusts to provide a direct email address for all their members and trustees in the governance section of GIAS.

Ofsted in talks with the Government to run longer inspections to improve ‘stuck schools’
New research from Ofsted has found that 415 schools have not been judged as good or better since 2006 and have had at least four full inspections during that time. Common characteristics of these “stuck” schools included that they were resistant to change and were “chaotic” with one school having had 14 different headteachers in 10 years.

Ofsted has said it is “well-placed” to help these schools but that it needs to “increase the depth of diagnosis” it gives. Ofsted is now in talks with the Government over funding a trial of “longer, deeper” inspections with the aim of “not passing judgement but enabling support to improve”.


Consultation on the removal of the outstanding exemption – Friday 10 January 2020

This week I highlight a new Government consultation on removing the Ofsted outstanding exemption, the announcement of six new Teaching School hubs and the latest Ofsted blog focusing on making curriculum decisions in the best interests of children.

Government consultation on the removal of the outstanding exemption
Some schools and colleges delivering publicly-funded education and training, which were rated outstanding by Ofsted at their last inspection, are legally exempt from further routine Ofsted inspection. In some cases this has meant that some schools and colleges have not been inspected for over a decade.

Today the DfE has opened a consultation seeking views on the removal of the exemption and under the proposals all outstanding schools and colleges will be brought back into a regular inspection cycle, with Ofsted visiting every 4 to 5 years. The consultation closes on 24 February 2020 and subject to the outcome, the Government intends to remove the exemption with effect from September 2020.

Announcement of six new Teaching School Hubs
On Tuesday the Schools Minister announced six successful new Teaching School Hubs to support struggling schools. Schools will benefit from a three-year programme of support, with each of the six successful schools acting as a regional hub and will receive funding to support between 200 to 300 other schools in the local area.

The aim is to give struggling schools direct access to expertise from school leaders with a track record of improving challenging schools. Support could include delivering tailored professional development for teachers, hosting observations and visits or deploying system leaders to offer advice and guidance to local schools.

The six successful new Teaching School Hubs are:

  • North: Harrogate Grammar School and Red Kite Learning Trust
  • Lancashire and West Yorkshire: Copthorne Primary School and Exceed Academies Trust
  • East Midlands and Humber: Silverdale School and Chorus Education Trust
  • East of England and North East London: Harris Academy Chafford Hundred and Harris Federation
  • East of England and North East London: Saffron Walden County High School and Saffron Academy Trust
  • South West: Kingsbridge Community College

Latest Ofsted blog on making curriculum decisions in the best interests of children
In a blog published on the Ofsted website today, Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director for education discusses how inspectors will be judging the curriculum and whether length of key stage matters. He said it was “simply not the case” that Ofsted was opposed to lengthened key stage fours, and schools “do not automatically get marked down if their Key Stage 3 is less than three academic years long”.

Second Queen’s speech focuses on funding – Friday 20 December 2019

In the final week of the Autumn term I report on the Queen’s speech and the announcement of the DfE’s new northern MAT taking on its first struggling academy in Teesside.

Second Queen’s speech pledges nothing new for schools
There were no new policies for schools in yesterday’s Queen’s speech, with ministers focusing instead on existing pledges on school funding and efforts to tackle serious violence.

Under Boris Johnson’s plans, the schools’ budget will increase by £7.1 billion by 2022-23, and schools will receive new minimum per-pupil funding rates from next year of £5,000 for secondary schools and £3,750 for secondary schools (rising to £4,000 from 2021-22).

There was no mention in the Queen’s speech of plans to legislate for the full implementation of the Government’s proposed national funding formula. The speech also included no reference to plans by the Government to improve the lot of pupils excluded or otherwise moved from schools, despite pledges earlier this year to do so in response to the landmark Timpson review. The Prime Minister’s election pledge to trial no-notice inspections of schools was also not mentioned.

DfE’s northern MAT takes on first struggling academy
A new specialist academy trust which has been set up by the Government to take on struggling schools in the North of England has announced it’s taking on its first academy.

Falcon Education Academies Trust will take on Thornaby Academy, in Stockton-on-Tees, early next year, it was revealed yesterday. Thornaby Academy, an 11-16 school, is currently rated as inadequate by Ofsted and has just over 350 pupils, less than half its capacity of 750.

The Falcon Education Academies Trust has senior figures from three well established multi academy trusts in the North. The regional schools commissioner for the North of England Katherine Cowell has approved Thornaby Academy moving from Teesside Learning Trust to Falcon early in the new year, subject to a due diligence exercise.

Impact of the Conservative majority on the education sector – Friday 13 December 2019

This week I report on the impact the Conservative majority Government could have on the education sector and confirmation of the education MPs.

Impact on the education sector of the Conservatives majority
As previously reported the Conservatives’ manifesto provided commitments to back headteachers on issues such as discipline, building more free schools, raising teachers’ starting salaries to £30k and small grant funding pledges for PE teaching, the arts and wraparound childcare.

However, it did also include an ambiguous pledge to “ensure that parents can choose the schools that best suit their children”, which some have suggested could lead to the expansion of academic selection by the back door.

Following the release of the manifesto, Mr Johnson also pledged to trial no-notice inspections of schools by Ofsted, and to increase the length of inspections from two to three days.

With such a significant majority it seems likely that most of this policy platform is likely to be set in motion.

Confirmation of the education MPs
Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, was re-elected in his safe Conservative seat of South Staffordshire, while his opposite number Angela Rayner re-took Ashton-under-Lyne, albeit with a reduced majority.

Schools minister Nick Gibb returned as MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, as did shadow schools minister Mike Kane in Wythenshawe and Sale East.

Robert Halfon, the education committee chair in the 2017 to 2019 Parliament was re-elected in Harlow.

Gordon Marsden, the shadow skills minister, lost his Blackpool South seat to the Conservatives.

Improvement in Pisa rankings – Friday 6 December 2019

This week I report on the publication of the Pisa tests results and the UK’s improvement in the rankings and a Sutton Trust report analysing the GCSE reforms and the disadvantage gap.

Improvement in Pisa rankings but well-being falls
The UK rankings in reading, maths and science have risen according to the results of the Pisa tests released earlier this week.

For reading, the UK has risen to 14th, up from 22nd in the tests three years ago, whilst in science it progressed one ranking to 14th. Maths made the biggest gains moving from 27th to 18th, putting the UK in the top 20 for all three measurements.

The Pisa tests are run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development every three years to test the ability of 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science. The tests are seen by some as an important measure of how the UK compares internationally.

Despite the positive outcomes for students’ achievements, the tests found that UK teenagers had some of the lowest levels of life satisfaction, dropping 13 percentage points from the last tests. Students were more likely to say that they felt ‘worried or miserable’ regularly and were less likely to see ‘meaning’ in their lives.

Sutton Trust report analyses the GCSE reforms and the disadvantage gap
Recent changes to GCSEs, including tougher exams and a new grading system, have led to a slight widening of the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates, according to new research published by the Sutton Trust this week.

Making the Grade, by Professor Simon Burgess from the University of Bristol and Dave Thomson of FFT Education Datalab, found that during the period of the reforms, test scores for disadvantaged pupils fell slightly compared to their classmates, by just over a quarter of a grade across nine subjects.



Conservative Party education manifesto pledges – Friday 29 November 2019

This week I report on the publication of the Conservative party’s education pledges and updated information from DfE on the Buying for Schools service on securing supply, agency and temporary workers.

Conservative Party manifesto pledges
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched the Conservative manifesto for the 2019 General Election last weekend and the key pledges relating to education are detailed below:

  • £7.1bn a year more for schools in England by 2022-23
  • £250m a year, for at least three years, plus a £250m capital spending boost for “wraparound” childcare – meaning after school or during holidays
  • £2bn for further education colleges and establish 20 Institutes of Technology
  • A new National Skills Fund of £600m a year for five years
  • Increase teacher starting salaries to £30,000 and overall teachers’ salaries

Surprisingly, yesterday Mr Johnson also announced he wanted to change the way in which schools were inspected with a pilot of ‘snap’ no notice inspections if the Conservatives form the next government.  At present, schools are notified of Ofsted’s intention to visit at around noon on the working day before the start of the inspection.

Updated information on DfE’s Buying for Schools service
This week the DfE updated its information on using the online service for securing supply, agency and temporary workers.  This is part of the DfE’s suite of information providing advice on buying goods and services for schools to help them get value for money.