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Welfare Reform on the Web (November 2011): Education - UK - schools

A-level results are unreliable judge of talent, says Grayling

G. Hurst

The Times, Oct. 6th 2011 p. 26

A. C. Grayling the leader of an elite arts college, New College of the Humanities in Bloomsbury, London, has declared A-level results an unreliable judge of talent. 'You can get students with very large numbers of A*s who are no brighter or promising than someone with less brilliant results on paper that are interesting and with whom a lot can be done.' The College will charge fees of 18,000 a year. It is recruiting for its first intake of up to 180 undergraduates for 2012 and aims initially to offer free means-tested scholarships or reduced fees of between 6,000 and 7,000 to one in five students.

A-level students to be ranked in league table

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Oct.14th 2011, p. 1 + 2

Under a planned reform of the examination grading system, pupils in England face being ranked according to performance in A-levels. Pupils could be set against all other students sitting the same examination in an authoritative new league table designed to identify the best and worst performers. The national ranking system could sit alongside conventional grades to give universities and employers a better grasp of pupils' results compared with the standards achieved by their peers.

Businesses to sponsor new vocational colleges

J. Vasagar and J. Shepherd

The Guardian, Oct. 10th 2011, p. 8

A new wave of comprehensive schools backed by firms including the developers of the BlackBerry, Toshiba, Boeing and Rolls Royce will open in England in 2012 as part of a new generation of vocational schools in which businesses will help shape the curriculum. Known as university technical colleges, the schools include one in Newcastle with a focus on engineering; one in Liverpool, specialising in life sciences and backed by the pharmaceutical firm Novartis; and one in Plymouth backed by the Royal Navy and Babcock, which manufactures defence equipment.

Children are being taught in ghettos as cities split over race, warns headmaster

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Oct. 5th 2011, p. 1

A leading headmaster speaking at the 2011 annual meeting of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference warned that children were being taught in 'ghettos' as inner city schools became increasingly divided along racial lines. He said that parts of London were starting to resemble apartheid-era South Africa, with black and white pupils separated at a young age.

(See also Independent, Oct. 5th 2011, p. 13)

Education funding cuts are 'biggest for 50 years'

R. Garner

The Independent, Oct. 25th 2011, p. 6

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reveals that spending on education will fall by more than 13 per cent over the next four years. The worst-hit will be school building programmes, universities, and provision for the under-fives and 16 to 19-year olds. The IFS says the cuts will be deepest for capital spending and higher education; school spending is relatively protected.

The English Baccalaureate

Education Committee

London: TSO, 2011 (House of Commons papers, session 2010/12; HC 851)

The report suggests that any new performance or curriculum measures affecting schools should only be implemented after proper consultation with key stakeholders and the wider public - something which didn't happen with the English Baccalaureate (EBac). The Committee says that the Government should also have waited until after the conclusion of the National Curriculum Review before introducing the EBac. The Government should deliver on its promise in the White Paper The Importance of Teaching (Cm. 7980) to use performance tables to put greater emphasis on the progress of every child. The report notes that "certain academic subjects studied at A-level are more valued by Russell Group universities than others", but argues that a "focus on a fairly narrow range of subjects, demanding considerable curriculum time, is likely to have negative consequences on the uptake of other subjects." The Committee does not make recommendations on which subjects should or should not be included but rather encourages the Government to reconsider the EBac's composition when the National Curriculum Review is concluded. The Government should confirm how it will monitor the attainment of children on free school meals in the EBac. The report also calls for further international evidence to inform debate on the merits of the EBac.

English education policy after New Labour: Big Society or back to basics?

M. Goodwin

Political Quarterly, vol. 82, 2011, p. 407-424

The track record of the Conservative-led Coalition government in 2010/11 suggests that it will largely retain the New Labour strategy for the political management of education. There are no indications of any serious challenge to New Labour's centralised standards agenda which, if anything, is further reinforced by Coalition policies. Inasmuch as the Coalition has developed an education project to replace that of New Labour, this has revolved around the deregulation of educational markets and an attempt to encourage new agency from civil society to populate these markets. However there are significant unresolved dilemmas involved in the promotion of a market in education. The Coalition government has shown itself not to be averse to the top-down governing tactics favoured by New Labour, but its promotion of diversity through the free schools initiative means that it will potentially have less control over the education system. This could lead to variations in standards of achievement, variation in the curriculum, and variations in school type, pedagogy and social segregation across localities. This would be disastrous for a government that continued to be held accountable for educational outcomes and the use of taxpayers' money.

Eton teachers for new wave of free schools

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Oct. 10th 2011, p. 2

This article reports plans to establish a new sixth-form college, the London Academy of Excellence, in a deprived area of the East End, under the coalition government's free schools initiative. The new college is backed by 11 independent schools including Eton, Highgate, City of London School and Brighton College. Staff from Eton are to take responsibility for teaching English, while Highgate School takes the lead on maths. The school will offer only 12 academic subjects , with expert pastoral care and guidance on university applications.

Exam reforms 'risk mass failure'

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Oct. 12th 2011, p. 16

The chief executive of the OCR examination board has argued that coalition government attempts to force all children to study academic subjects would alienate thousands of children who were more suited to vocational qualifications. In 2010 the government introduced the English Baccalaureate, a new certificate to reward pupils who gained good GCSEs in five traditional subjects. The move was seen as an attempt to restore academic rigour to schools.

Fears languages in schools 'close to extinction'

J. Shepherd

The Guardian, Oct. 6th 2011, p. 12

Modern languages are close to extinction in British schools, a leading educationalist is to warn teachers. Anthony Seldon, a pioneer of innovative teaching and the headteacher of Wellington College, will tell language teachers that their subject is in deeper trouble than it has been for a century. The number of pupils taking French and German GCSEs has more than halved in the last 16 years. This summer, 154,221 pupils took French, while in 1995, 350,027 did. Some 60,887 students took German GCSE this summer, compared with 129,386 in 1995. The number of pupils taking A-levels in French and German almost halved between 1996 and 2010. Even the take-up of Chinese has fallen in this period, from 2,234 pupils to 2,104.

Fewer pupils taking 'tough' GCSE subjects

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Oct. 21st 2011, p.24

Official figures showed that in 2011 only 16.5% of pupils gained at least a C grade at GCSE in a range of tough academic subjects. The number of pupils taking GCSE examinations in these traditional subjects fell to 21.6% compared to 21.8% in 2010. The disclosures raised fears that pupils were being encouraged to drop traditional academic disciplines in favour of 'soft subjects' to inflate schools' headline results. Figures also underlined the extent to which rigorous subjects were dominated by pupils from independent and grammar schools, helping them to monopolise places at top universities.

Getting the simple things right

Department for Education


This guide to improving discipline in schools offers 22 tips for heads and 21 for teachers, with a strong emphasis on rewarding good behaviour. Head teachers are told to set up a reward system for the best pupils. Staff are urged to run through the checklist twice a day - in the morning and after lunch - to maintain consistent discipline standards. School rules and sanctions for breaking them should be displayed clearly in classrooms to establish boundaries. Head teachers are told to personally patrol dining halls and playgrounds and check that buildings are clean and well maintained. It also urges staff to punish bad behaviour outside school and report unruly children to parents.

Getting value for money from the education of 16- to 18- year-olds

Committee of Public Accounts

London: TSO, 2011 (House of Commons papers, session 2010/12; HC 1116)

The report examines the effectiveness and efficiency of the current education system for 16- to 18 year-olds. In 2009, over 1.6 million 16- to 18 year-olds participated in some form of education and training at a cost of over 6 billion. Most studied full-time for qualifications such as A-levels or National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) at a general further education college, sixth form college, or school sixth form. The system governing the education of 16- to 18 year-olds is devolved and complex: the Department for Education (DfE) has overall responsibility and the Young People's Learning Agency funds education providers and monitors their performance. Local authorities have a duty to secure provision but they have limited powers, and having duties without powers cannot work effectively. There has been an overall improvement in the achievements of 16- to 18 year-olds over the last four years. Students in larger providers have generally achieved better results. This report suggests smaller providers, by collaborating, can achieve some of the benefits of size. In a market, consistently poor providers should fail because they lose funding as students choose to study elsewhere. For the 16- to 18 education market to work effectively, there needs to be consistent and relevant information so the DfE can assess value for money and students can make informed decisionss about their courses and what they lead to. The Committee concludes that where a provider's performance is poor, there must be clarity about the criteria for intervention, and the timing and extent of intervention.

Give students smartphones to boost education standards, say experts

J. Shepherd

The Guardian, Oct. 31st 2011, p. 12

Children's learning could "hugely improve" if all pupils were given smartphones to use in the classroom, technology experts say but, instead, the UK risks falling behind because "the government doesn't seem that interested in it". Research shows that in many areas, the majority of pupils own a smartphone, but many schools ban the devices and the National Association of Head Teachers says they hold "potential for mischief and distraction". Earlier this year, a secondary school in Kent became the first in the country to equip each of its 1,400 pupils with an Apple iPad tablet computer. Longfield Academy near Dartford said the iPads would help pupils' learning. Honywood Community School in Coggeshall, near Colchester in Essex, has also invested in 1,200 iPads for its pupils. Some schools, such as the Oldershaw Academy in Wallasey on Merseyside, have created their own app so parents can check, via their mobiles, what homework their children have been set.

Let pupils leave at 14, says Woodhead

G. Hurst

The Times, Oct. 3rd 2011, p. 17

Sir Chris Woodhead, England's former chief schools inspector, believes that the school leaving age should be cut to 14 to allow teenagers who do poorly in academic subjects to learn a trade. He said that it was a 'recipe for disaster' to require young people to continue to study English and maths at school or college until they were 18. Pupils should be allowed to go into a combination of apprenticeship and further education that takes them through into a job. Sir Chris Woodhead is now chairman of Cognita, Britain's biggest for-profit schools company, which currently runs 44 schools in England and several overseas. He said 'My view is that education is a competitive concept, that parents have different aspirations for their children and they want different schooling. Therefore Cognita should meet the aspirations of the parent as a consumer and our job is to ensure each of our schools, irrespective of its ethos should be the best possible of its kind.'

Misbehaving pupils to be brought to book with 'dawn raids' on schools

G. Hurst

The Times, Oct. 4th 2011 p. 9 Sir Michael Wilshaw, potentially Ofsteds new chief, plans to order 'dawn raids' on schools with poor behaviour records. In response to accusations that schools find ways to remove unruly pupils before scheduled inspections, these visits will be made without notice, sending a powerful signal that heads and teachers will be expected to take a tougher stance on behaviour.

Move to restrict number of A* A-level grades

J. Vasagar

The Guardian, Oct. 14th 2011, p. 15

The A* grade at A-level could be awarded to a fixed percentage of candidates each year, the education secretary, Michael Gove, has proposed. Candidates might also be ranked against others doing the same subject, he told a conference on standards arranged by the exams watchdog, Ofqual. Gove said he wanted to "open up the debate" about changing the A-level system.

My school meals revolution is in jeopardy, says Oliver

D. Campbell

The Guardian, Oct. 25th 2011, p. 1

Jamie Oliver fears the school meals revolution he kickstarted is in danger of unravelling because ministers are ignoring research showing that nutritious lunches improve learning. In an interview with the Guardian, the celebrity chef accused the education secretary, Michael Gove, and the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, of putting at risk the changes that happened after his 2005 Channel 4 series, Jamie's School Dinners. Some of Gove's decisions on school meals have led to unease among health and education campaigners. Gove has ended the school lunch grant as a separate source of funding and exempted academies from the nutritional standards for all other state schools that Labour introduced after Oliver's programmes highlighted the poor quality of much school food.

Parents face 500 travel 'tax' for faith schools

J. Ensor

Daily Telegraph, Oct. 3rd 2011, p. 1 + 2

Research by the Daily Telegraph suggested that more than half of local authorities had abolished, or were considering scrapping, subsidies that enabled pupils to travel to church schools. A further quarter of councils were increasing charges to parents. Roman Catholic and Church of England groups branded the move as discriminatory and warned it could prevent children from attending faith schools as parents struggled with spiralling costs.

Parental choice of primary school in England: what types of school do different types of family really have available to them?

S. Burgess and others

Policy Studies, vol.32, 2011, p. 531-547

School choice is central to the English system of school admissions and has been a major element of government policy for two decades. This is based on the assumption that giving parents the right to choose the school their child attends will cause schools to compete with each other and raise academic standards as a consequence. This article investigates whether families have genuine choice, in terms of being able to access different types of school, using a combination of survey and administrative data. Results show that using proximity as the main criterion for determining access to oversubscribed schools affects pupils' chances of securing a place at a particular school, with higher socio-economic status pupils being more likely to be accepted into nearer, more advantaged schools. It is argued that large differences in the range of schools genuinely available to different families, coupled with the use of proximity as a tie-break device, continue to be a significant barrier to reducing inequality of access in the English school system.

Parents to trigger school inspections with anonymous online reports

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Sept. 30th 2011, p. 14

This article presents an overview of reforms to the school inspection system to be introduced in January 2012. Under the changes, schools would have to identify groups of children at risk of falling behind, including gypsies and travellers, ethnic minority pupils and those eligible for free school meals. Inspectors would put more emphasis on how the needs of these at risk groups were being met. The new inspection framework would require schools to be inspected in four key areas: the achievement of pupils, quality of teaching and learning, behaviour and leadership and management. Under the new system, poor schools would be inspected every three years, good schools every five years, and those rated outstanding not al all. Parents would be able to report under-performing schools to the regulator Ofsted anonymously using an online form. Inspections could be triggered if enough parents reported a drop in examination results, teaching standards or behaviour.

Schools told to take charge of expelled pupils


Daily Telegraph, Oct. 17th 2011, p. 18

The Coalition Government has decided to reform provision for excluded pupils by transferring responsibility for their education from local authorities to schools. It was announced that about 300 secondary schools would take part in a three-year pilot of the proposed system. For the duration of the trial, the schools and not the local authorities, would be responsible for providing excluded children with an alternative education, for example in a pupil referral unit.

'Shocking' catalogue of abuse at Islamic schools


Daily Telegraph, Oct. 18th 2011, p.2

An investigation by BBC Radio 4's File on 4 programme uncovered more than 400 allegations of physical abuse at British madrassahs over three years. Only ten cases went to court, with two leading to convictions, raising fears that abuse in these part-time Islamic schools was going unpunished. A Muslim think tank responded by calling for a national registration scheme and tighter regulation of the schools.

Thousands opt out of sixth form over funding

J. Sugden

The Times, Oct. 13th 2011 p. 7

Thousands of teenagers have dropped out of college and decided not to take A levels because the funding to help them stay in sixth forms has been axed. A survey by the Association of Colleges has found that the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), a payment of up to 30 a week for teenagers from deprived backgrounds, is blamed for falling rolls at half of all colleges in England.

To assist or not to assist? A study of teachers' views of the roles of learning support assistants in the provision of inclusive physical education in England

D. Haycock and A. Smith

International Journal of Inclusive Education, vol. 15, 2011, p. 835-849

This paper examines teachers' perceptions of their working relationships with learning support assistants (LSAs) when seeking to incorporate young disabled people and pupils with special educational needs (SEN) within mainstream physical education (PE), an area that has been a largely neglected aspect of research in inclusive education. The findings indicate that teachers spoke positively of these relationships when LSAs were perceived as making a positive contribution to the development of pupils' learning and when they supported teachers as they did in other school subjects. Conversely, when LSAs and other support staff failed to provide teachers with information that was related to pupils' needs in PE, and when LSAs did not possess the required skills, knowledge and expertise of the subject, teachers were rather critical of their relationships with them. In this regard, LSAs were seen as placing a particularly significant constraint on teachers' ability to meet the needs of pupils in PE lessons. It is concluded that teachers' perceptions of the constraints they experience from working with LSAs to help support pupils, and the extent and quality of support they receive, cannot be understood adequately unless they are located within the context of the relational constraints experienced by teachers.

Transforming education policy: shaping a democratic future

P. A. Woods

Bristol: The Policy Press, 2011

Education is in a state of continual change and schools are ever more diverse. People want more participation and meaning in their lives; organisations want more creativity and flexibility. Building on these trends, this timely book argues that a new paradigm is emerging in education, sowing the seeds of a self-organising system that values holistic democracy. It is an essential read for anyone (academics, policy-makers, practitioners, students, parents, school sponsors and partners) who is interested in how education can broaden its horizons.

Trends in education and schools spending

H. Chowdry and L. Sibieta

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2011

At the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review, ministers announced that state spending on schools would be maintained in real terms. However, official forecasts of inflation then rose sharply. The result of this is predicted to be a cut in real terms of 13.4% between 2010/11 and 2014/15. After the largest increases in education spending since the 1970s under the New Labour governments, these four years will see the largest reductions since records began in 1955. The report finds that in England spending on early years education and youth services would be cut by more than 20% in real terms. Planned cuts to education for 16- to 19-year-olds are likely to be of a similar magnitude. Schools would see the smallest real-terms cut of about 1%. The areas suffering most would be higher education, with a 40% fall in spending in real terms, and capital spending, which is predicted to fall by 50%. The schools worst affected will be in the more affluent areas, due to the introduction of the 'pupil premium' to provide extra money for educating the poorest children in society.


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