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Welfare Reform on the Web (June 2012): Education - UK - schools

Academies challenged for barring pupils with special needs

J. Harris and J. Vasagar

The Guardian, May 25th 2012, p. 23

Two of the government's flagship academy schools face legal challenges for refusing to admit children with statements of special needs. In one case involving Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, east London, which had been celebrated for its academic record, the school refused to admit an 11-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, arguing it would compromise other children's education and it already had a higher than average number of pupils with special needs. The London Oratory, a Catholic school in Fulham which became an academy last year, was also facing a special needs legal challenge.

Clegg to propose 10,000 to boost schools' performance

R. Syal

The Guardian, May 14th 2012, p. 6

Schools were to be asked to compete to find the best way of spending government money - and could win an extra 10,000 for being one of the country's top performers. Additional cash awards would be handed out to 50 schools as the government sought to introduce an added incentive for those receiving the "pupil premium". The money was part of the deputy prime minister's plan to break the grip of private schools on the British establishment as he sought a boost to social mobility. But the plan was expected to be condemned by teaching unions, who would claim it failed to address inequalities between state and private education.

Corporate plan 2012-2015



Proposals to reform the examinations system outlined include: 1) cutting the number of GCSE grades ; 2) stripping vocational subjects of their GCSE status in order to stop the qualification from being devalued; 3) reviewing SATS tests in English and maths for eleven-year-olds to make them comparable with examinations in other countries; 4) consulting on proposals to allow universities to set A-level examinations and syllabuses; 5) abolishing the modular approach to A-levels in favour of end of course examinations; and 6) reviewing the cost of examinations to schools.

Education policy unravelled

D. Garratt and G. Forrester

London: Continuum, 2012

This book examines the nature of contemporary education policy, its purposes and political formation. It charts the continuity of policy development along neo-liberal lines, taking an historical perspective and moving from New Labour to the emerging position of the Coalition government. Contrary to popular belief about recent radical change in education policy, the authors draw attention to the fact that there have been strong similarities and nuanced disagreements between successive modern governments. Written in an accessible style, the book contains a number of activities and pedagogical features designed to appeal to students, to inform thinking and understanding around key policy issues. It is an invaluable guide for engaging with education policy as it uses a variety of key elements of policy theory in order to support students through some of the complexities involved in contemporary policy analysis and critique.

Fewer qualifications, but schools pay out even more to exam boards

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 10th 2012, p. 10

It emerged that the amount of money that schools spent on tests had increased by 8.5% in 12 months, despite a drop in the overall number of qualifications awarded. Examination fees had doubled over eight years and by 2012 accounted for the second largest share of school running costs. Head teachers criticised the 'over-inflated' GCSE and A-level system, on which schools spent almost 330m in 2011.

Gove 'backs more grammar schools'

R. Garner

Independent, May 10th 2011, p. 15

It was reported that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, had expressed his support for the expansion of grammar schools at a reception held at the Commons by the Friends of Grammar Schools. Mr Gove's office denied the Education Secretary had made any specific promise, saying instead he believed any good school should be allowed to expand.

Gove hints at Tory go ahead for state schools run for profit

J. Vasagar

The Guardian, May 30th 2012, p. 2

The education secretary has given his clearest indication yet that a future Conservative government would let state schools be run for profit. Giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry into phone hacking, Michael Gove was asked whether he hoped free schools would be able to make profits in a Tory second term. He replied: "It's my belief that we could move to that situation but at the moment it's important to recognise that the free schools movement is succeeding without that element and I think we should cross that bridge when we come to it." Allowing schools to make a profit is politically toxic. A Populus poll this year found overwhelming public opposition. It is also a sore point in the coalition. Nick Clegg made a speech in September 2011 in which he ruled out profit-making, saying: "Let me reassure you . 'no' to running schools for a profit, not in our state-funded education sector."

Headteachers vote to expel Gove's new reading tests for primary school pupils

R. Garner

Independent, May 7th 2011, p. 14

Delegates at the National Association of Head Teachers' conference in 2012 have voted to boycott two new literacy tests for primary school children. The two tests, aimed at evaluating spelling, punctuation, grammar, and handwriting of 11 year olds, were set to be introduced in 2012 by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary. In addition, the union's general secretary warned that heads would oppose the publication of school-by-school results of the tests. The tests were to be externally marked. Head teachers said there was no reason why they should not be marked internally and that resources should be spent on teacher training programmes.

Key exams 'are easier after decade of dumbing down'

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 2nd 2012, p. 2

The examinations regulator Ofqual conducted reviews of GCSEs and A-Levels in chemistry and biology between 2003 and 2008. It also analysed A-Level geography papers between 2001 and 2010, and A-Level critical thinking in 2010. According to the research:

  • A-Level chemistry papers contained more short-answer questions involving simple recall in 2008 than in 2003 and many courses also repeated subject content already covered at GCSE
  • The removal of coursework from A-Level geography in 2010 made it less demanding, while a reduction in subjects covered in the examination provided fewer chances to assess pupils' skills.
  • Multiple choice questions in many GCSE biology papers featured distracters (incorrect answers) that were occasionally trivial or irrelevant and included made up words, allowing pupils to pass with a basic command of English only.
  • Other GCSE biology papers were too focused on mid-ranking pupils, at the expense of candidates at the top or bottom of the ability range.

Leading on standards: our next steps


London, 2012

This report by the owners of the Edexcel examination board sets out proposals for a radical reform of the system. It argues that reform is needed to tackle persistent grade inflation over the past decade. It outlines plans for:

  • A new generation of tougher A-levels that 'set the bar higher' with longer essay-style questions
  • Limits on the number of A-level resits to stop pupils retaking examinations more than once
  • The introduction of skill assessments at the age of 18 alongside A-levels to check pupils' communication, team working and leadership skills as well as their grasp of literacy and numeracy.
  • Enhanced training for examiners to improve standards of marking

(See also Daily Telegraph, May 14th 2012, p. 1+ 2)

Most secondary schools are not good enough, says Ofsted

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 4th 2012, p. 16

Under a new school inspection regime introduced in January 2012, Ofsted focused on teaching standards, leadership, pupil achievement and behaviour. More than six in ten state secondary schools were judged not good enough under the new regime. Around one in eight were given the lowest possible rating, more than four times higher than previous figures. Head teachers claimed that the new system had been set up to attack schools, rather than raise standards.

Ofsted 'intimidation' risks exodus of headteachers, survey warns

R. Garner

Independent, May 4th 2012, p. 2

A report by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said that up to 40 per cent of headteachers were planning to leave the profession early. Headteachers were unhappy with what they called the "culture of intimidation" being created by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog. Heads said that Ofsted's rhetoric, together with proposed changes to the way inspections were conducted (for example, the introduction of no-notice inspections) had caused morale to plummet.

Old school ties are strangling social justice, says Gove

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 11th 2012, p. 8

The education secretary Michael Gove pointed out in a speech that private school pupils were increasingly dominating positions of power, influence and wealth, pointing to a deep problem in society. Parentage dictated progress more in the UK than in almost any other developed nation. He argued that this social stratification was morally indefensible, but insisted that the Coalition government's reforms to the education system would help narrow the achievement gap between state and independent schools.

Most schools miss out on privately financed renovation programme

J. Vasagar

The Guardian, May 25th 2012, p. 9

Fewer than half of the schools that applied for renovation under the government's privately financed school building programme had been successful, it was announced. The education secretary, Michael Gove, said just 261 schools out of 587 that applied would be rebuilt or refurbished under the 2bn PFI scheme, despite widespread concern about the state of school buildings. A survey for the Observer revealed 39% of headteachers believed their school buildings were not fit for purpose, with complaints of overcrowding, leaking ceilings and poor ventilation.

Pay schoolteachers according to their performance, MPs propose

J. Vasagar

The Guardian, May 1st 2012, p. 4

Teachers' pay should be more closely tied to the value they add to pupils' performance so that the best were rewarded while the weakest were discouraged from staying in the profession, MPs on the education select committee were to recommend. The MPs said there were "huge differences" in the performance of teachers but expressed concern that the pay system rewarded poorly performing teachers at the same levels as their more successful counterparts. In a report, the committee urged ministers to develop proposals for a pay system that rewarded the teachers who added the "greatest value" to pupil performance. The report said: "We believe that performance management systems should support and reward the strongest teachers, as well as make no excuses (or, worse, incentives to remain) for the weaker." The MPs acknowledged there would be practical and political difficulties in such a system, but said the relative impact of an outstanding teacher was so great that such difficulties must be overcome.

Polish children joining schools 'improve British pupils' grades'

J. Bingham

Daily Telegraph, May 22nd 2012, p. 9

Research published by the Centre for Economic Performance looked at data from the English schools census for the years 2005 to 2009. Results showed that, overall, schools with a higher percentage of children for whom English was not their first language tended to get lower scores in maths and English tests. However, when the results were adjusted to take account of factors such as deprivation no direct link was found. The study then looked at results for schools with a higher proportion of white non-native speakers, including Eastern European children, on their rolls. Catholic schools had experienced a bigger increase in this group because of the religious affiliation of Polish immigrants. The researchers noted that there was no noticeable impact on English test scores at Catholic schools but a small upturn in maths.

Provision for mathematically gifted children in primary schools: an investigation of four different methods of organisational provision

C. Dimitriadis

Educational Review, vol. 64, 2012, p. 241-260

This article presents the findings of four case studies conducted in four different primary schools in England. The case studies examined in depth the implementation of different methods of organisational provision for mathematically gifted children - within-classroom provision, setting, pull-out grouping and mentoring - and their impact on pupils' attitudes and progress. Based on classroom observation, documentary evidence, and interviews with teachers and pupils, this study found more positive effects from the use of pull-out grouping and mentoring compared with the other methods. This was correlated with the existence of teachers with subject expertise and with more opportunities for focused attention and extension for gifted children; something which was limited in large classes with children of ranging ability, even when these children were placed with same-ability peers or given higher-level work. This study also found evidence for the effect of teachers' professional development on their confidence and on pupils' attitudes and motivation.

Schools should use extra cash 'to reduce inequality'

O. Wright

The Independent, May 14th 2012, p. 12

A plan contained in a new package of measures said that schools across England would be assessed on how they spent the Government's new pupil premium - 600 per disadvantaged pupil. They could be judged as 'failing' if the money did not help reduce inequality among the children they taught. The new plan would allow schools to pay exceptional teachers more to retain them. Other plans included 500 per pupil for summer schools to prepare primary school pupils for secondary education.

The strategic management of truancy and school absenteeism: finding solutions from a national perspective

K. Reid

Educational Review, vol. 64, 2012, p. 211-222

This paper has been written specifically from two perspectives. First, because of the research and professional activity carried out by the author in the field for over forty years. Second, as a consequence of the author chairing the National Behaviour and Attendance Review (NBAR) in Wales and writing the subsequent Report, as well as being involved in follow up activities. Given this unique expertise, it seemed appropriate to reflect upon how school attendance rates could be improved and truancy reduced. In order to achieve this task the author first reflects on key issues in the published data before considering the implications from a strategic and managerial perspective. Finally, a short action plan is presented which could be followed by national governments or local authorities alike, whilst the fundamental principles are relevant for teachers, schools and local authorities as well as for pointing the way forward for future research.

Teachers don't know what stress is, says Ofsted head

R. Garner

Independent, May 11th 2012, p. 6

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, said that teachers did not understand what real stress was and often used the latter to make excuses for poor performance. The attack came after heavy criticism by teachers of Ofsted's new regime of inspections. Teachers retorted that Ofsted was part of the problem with its continual changing of the inspections goal posts and "ridiculous demands for lessons to be exciting at all times."

Teachers' pay rises to come under scrutiny from Ofsted

J. Vasagar

The Guardian, May 30th 2012, p. 11

Teachers could have their pay frozen after school inspections under Ofsted measures aimed at linking salaries with the quality of classroom performance. Announcing the changes, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, said Ofsted would "consider whether there is a correlation between the quality of teaching and salary progression". Inspectors would look at anonymised information about the performance management of all teachers in schools they visited to ensure that heads were using pay to raise standards. But inspectors would not be able to influence the salary of individual teachers. In a speech in February, the chief inspector said heads should only approve salary increases for the most hardworking teachers. "The thing that irritates good teachers, people who work hard and go the extra mile, is seeing the people that don't do that being rewarded," Wilshaw said. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, criticised the measure, saying it was wrong to pay one teacher more than another for success that was due to the efforts of everyone in the school

Teachers' unions plan joint protest in autumn

D. Milmo and J. Vasagar

The Guardian, May 29th 2012, p. 14

Schools in England and Wales faced the threat of strike action in the autumn of 2012 after the two largest teaching unions - representing 600,000 teachers - announced an "unprecedented" joint protest over the government's education policies. The NUT and NASUWT, who between them represented nine out of 10 teachers in England and Wales, called on the education secretary, Michael Gove, to hold joint talks with their general secretaries or face walkouts by more than 600,000 education professionals after the summer. Alluding to historic tensions between the unions, the NUT's general secretary, Christine Blower, said the government had succeeded in bringing together the UK's two largest teaching organisations in a "historic" agreement. "Michael Gove has managed to get us to a point where we are making a joint declaration," she said. She added: "We would say this is quite unprecedented and historic. This is the first time that we have actually put anything out which categorically bears the emblem 'joint declaration of intent'. This is qualitatively different from what these unions have done before."

Thousands to be struck off special needs list

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 15th 2012, p. 1 + 2

The government announced that it would tighten the rules on the diagnosis of special educational needs to exclude children who were underachieving due to poor teaching or who were merely causing disruption in class. More specifically, the two most common categories of special needs - school action and school action plus, which are normally diagnosed in-house by teachers, - would be scrapped and replaced with a single grouping. An expert panel would be formed to look at which children should be classed as having emotional and behavioural difficulties to stop the category being overused by schools. Parents would be given legal powers to control budgets, enabling them to buy in their own specialist help. Children with special needs would be able to gain a priority place at one of the academies and those with the most severe problems would get support until the age of 25 instead of 16. Better teacher training would be introduced to help staff manage challenging behaviour.

Tie pay to class results, say half of teachers

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, May 4th 2012, p. 16

A survey by the Sutton Trust found that 75% of teachers were in favour of some form of performance related pay. Fifty-two per cent thought that badly performing teachers should not receive a pay rise, while 23% said that increases should be reserved for top performers. Almost half the teachers said performance assessments should be linked to pupil progress. The disclosures came after it emerged that the Department for Education had written to the body charged with reviewing teachers' salaries in England, asking it to strengthen the link between performance and pay.

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