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Academy and School News Update, May 1-31 2014

Documents mentioned below, and other documents issued this month, can be found on

  • A survey shows that pupils want “drastic” changes to the way they receive jobs guidance. The research, published by the Association of Colleges (AoC), found that young people want more detailed, hands-on careers guidance, including information on what jobs actually involve, as well as “have-a-go” experiences to get an idea what skills are needed in the world of work. The report, Careers Guidance: Guaranteed, says that while there were pockets of good practice, on the whole, the level of advice needed to improve.

The AoC report identifies four strands that are needed for best practice in careers guidance. These are relevant local information provided face-to-face and online; exposure to the world of work through ‘have-a-go’ sessions or ‘day in the life’ videos demonstrating what a job involves; longer-term work experience; and more direction and structure to careers guidance sessions. Pupils also want more practical guidance about how to go about researching jobs they’re interested in, and the steps they need to take.

A copy of the report can be downloaded from the above website

  • Private schools planning to join the state sector are being flooded with applications from parents prepared to pay for a year’s tuition to secure their children places when fees are dropped.
  • Almost two-thirds of governors believe the role is unattractive to volunteers, with “high expectations” and a “lack of recognition” cited as the main reasons behind the turn off. Three-quarters (74 per cent) of those surveyed by The Keythe online support service for school leaders, do not believe governors get adequate recognition from the government, with more than a third (37 per cent) saying their employer provides them with additional benefits as a governor. Fergal Roche, chief executive of The Key, said the results of the survey of more than 1,000 governors revealed a “growing distance between government’s vision for a more robust, professional, up-to-date model for school governance and the reality of how governors are actually treated”. The findings also suggest a deep-rooted concern about how school governors think their role is perceived, with 64 per cent saying it is unattractive to volunteers. A fifth of governors say they spend at least seven days a month on governing body duties. The Key’s survey also revealed concerns among governors about government policy, with 60 per cent responding that they were dissatisfied with the government’s performance in education.

The research comes just weeks after education secretary Michael Gove told governors to “toughen up”, adding that being a governor was not “just a touchy-feely, sherry pouring, cake-slicing exercise in hugging each other and singing Kumbayah; Mr Gove said being a governor was about “asking tough questions”.

However at the same time a survey of 7,500 governors published earlier this month, carried out by the NGA and the University of Bath, revealed that while 60 per cent of governors found the work challenging, 75 per cent said they enjoyed being a governor. It reports that governors give on average more than 17 hours of their time a month to their schools. The report concludes that while school governance appears to be functioning well and moving in the right direction, schools are still experiencing problems recruiting governors, which undermines the overall effectiveness of many governing bodies. Although recruitment is difficult across all settings, it is particularly hard in primary schools and special schools, as well as those serving disadvantaged areas. Schools in urban areas, those with below-average attainment, those with poor Ofsted reports and non-academies also experienced difficulties. As well as a shortage of parent governors, there are particular shortages of potential staff governors and those drawn from the wider community. Governor induction, training and development appear to have improved in recent years, the report says, though governors of schools in “challenging circumstances” could get more involved in training and development. While all governing bodies strongly prioritise matters relating to their school’s educational and financial performance, they give less priority to longer term strategic issues. The report says: “This is a matter of particular concern given increasing levels of institutional autonomy and independence as more schools take on academy status.”

To coincide with the publication of the report, a new alliance is being launched today to celebrate and promote the importance of high quality school and college governance. The Inspiring Governors Alliance, which includes the government, employer representatives, and education bodies, aims to inspire more high calibre people to volunteer.

  • The NUT has shelved plans for a strike next month, but could take action alongside other unions in July, it has announced. At its annual conference over the Easter weekend, members decided to back a strike in the week beginning 23 June. But today the union said that this action would be postponed “to allow time to see if progress is possible in the talks with government”. If there is no breakthrough in the talks, which the union says will be attended by education secretary Michael Gove in person, the NUT says that it will take action on 10 July. This is the date that has been mooted for a strike by the main unions representing school support staff. Unison, Unite and GMB are to ballot their members over strike action, after a 1 per cent pay offer was overwhelmingly rejected by their members.
  • Top-down changes to GCSEs and league tables have had an instant impact in schools, new statistics show, with a dramatic decline in early entries and a big switch to IGCSE in English. This is mainly because of the announcement in September that future school league tables would only include pupils’ first attempt at a GCSE, rather than their best effort . Ofqual figures show that the number of pupils in Year 10 or below taking GCSEs this summer dropping to 505,000. That is a 40 per cent decline from last summer’s 842,000. In maths alone, early entries had dropped by 82 per cent, while in English it was down 86 per cent and English language was down 81 per cent. English literature was a notable exception, with a 134 per cent increase in early entries.

Ofqual’s statistics also show a 4 per cent decline in overall GCSE entries to 5,089,000 – much of which can be explained by a fall in pupil numbers. But there has also been a 95 per cent rise in IGCSE entries in summer 2014, to 294,000. Much of the switch took place in English and English language. GCSEs in those subjects saw a 28 per cent fall, while IGCSE English language enjoyed a 133 per cent rise in entries. The academic subjects that qualify for the English Baccalaureate league table measure – English and English language, German and the three separate sciences – all saw falls in GCSE entries. But GCSEs in science and additional science, English literature, maths, history, geography, French and Spanish were up.

  • School trips to the zoo, local caves and castles have helped children struggling with writing to dramatically improve their written work, a report suggests. Pupils who went on memorable day trips followed by sessions writing about their experiences made nine months more progress than would be expected over a year, according to results published by the Education Endowment Foundation
  • The head of an influential Parliamentary committee has condemned controversial proposals to stop practical science work counting towards A-level grades as “daft”. The criticism, from Andrew Miller, chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, came as the scientific community stepped up its opposition to the decision to give A- level practicals simple pass/fail marks, separate from overall grades.
  • The “rise of Islam” and pre-colonial African kingdoms are among the new topics that pupils could study in a reformed history A-level, it was announced today. But the focus of the history A-level, which also includes the Arab Spring, Genghis Khan, and the Ottoman and Mughal empires, may prove controversial for an education secretary who has emphasised the importance of teaching British history. Only two of the ten new topics in the qualification specifically relate to Britain. The qualification has been developed by OCR. The reformed history A-level aims to improve preparation for the study of the subject at university by encouraging students to “develop greater understanding of how different parts of the world relate to each other”. The new qualification will be submitted to exams regulator Ofqual for accreditation early next month.

The full list of its ten new topics are:

  • Alfred and the Making of England, 871-1016
  • Early Anglo-Saxons, c400-800
  • Genghis Khan and the Explosion from the Steppes, c1167-1405
  • Japan, 1853-1937
  • African Kingdoms, c1400-c1800
  • The Rise and Decline of the Mughal Empire in India, 1526-1739
  • The Rise of Islam, c550-750
  • The Ascendancy of the Ottoman Empire, 1453-1606
  • China and its rulers, 1839-1989
  • The Middle East, 1908-2011, Ottomans to Arab Spring
  • Teachers in the UK are falling behind their colleagues in other countries because of a lack of coherent training after they have entered the classroom, a new report has said. An 18-month joint inquiry by the British Educational Research Association (BERA) and the RSA think tank has found that in many cases, teachers’ experiences of professional development is “fragmented, occasional and insufficiently informed by research”. It points out that in contrast, top-performing education systems, such as Finland, Canada and Singapore, have teachers who are involved in educational research.
  • State schools are turning out “too many amoral children”, because of the pressures of the results-driven culture says Richard Walden, chair of the Independent Schools Association; some state schools are so focused on exams that they do not have time to teach children basic values.

At the same time a group of leading experts have claimed that Schools in England are neglecting, and may even be actively harming, the physical and mental health of their pupils They said children’s wellbeing, personal development and health was being ignored amid an ever increasing focus on “maximising students’ academic attainment”, which could lead to stress and anxiety, while also pushing some pupils into high risk behaviour like smoking, drug-taking and violence. They said that the ideas underpinning current education policy, which they said placed academic attainment at odds with personal and health development in schools, were “deeply flawed”.

  • Banning calculators from national tests in primary schools is a “backward step”, leading academics and researchers have warned.  University dons from Oxford, Cambridge and Kings College London have criticised ministers’ decision to prevent pupils from using the devices during their Sats exams.
  • School sixth-forms and colleges will be held to account by a new maths and physics measure, ministers have announced, which will show the proportion of boys and girls studying the subjects at A-level. The move has been introduced in a bid to boost the numbers of students taking these subjects, and will highlight areas of the country where take up of maths, further maths and physics is “unacceptably low”. It is said the new measure will be similar to the Ebac,
  • A-level and GCSE examiners are to be given “real-time” information on how pupils have performed nationally in this year’s exams, before they start marking their papers.  England’s biggest school exam board, AQA, is piloting the scheme that will see markers briefed over the internet on the latest trends that have been spotted in students’ scripts.  They will be shown real examples from the actual question papers that they will go on to mark. Online “webinars” will also mean the markers can be told about any issues that have emerged about the way candidates have responded to the questions. The board believes that providing this advance information can help improve the quality of marking, something that has become a bone of contention for many schools in recent years. Heads’ leaders have welcomed the idea. The pilot beginning this month will cover GCSE religious studies and A-level English literature. The results will be evaluated later in the year.
  • The majority of teachers are yet to be convinced of the need for a College of Teaching to act as an independent body for their profession, a new survey has revealed. The proposed professional body for teachers, brokered by the Prince’s Teaching Institute (PTI) and currently being developed by a specially-appointed commission, would be intended to give teachers a greater say over education policy, professional standards, curriculum and assessment, as well as offering support in developing their own teaching skills. However a new poll, commissioned by the Sutton Trust and carried out by the National Foundation for Education Research, found that more than half were either against, or unsure of the plans. Under the latest proposals, membership of the professional body would cost between £30 and £130 per year. Of those who supported the plans, 26 per cent said they wouldn’t be prepared to pay for it and 47 per cent said they would not be prepared to pay more than £30. However at the NAHT heads’ union’s annual conference last weekend, 98.4 per cent of delegates supported a manifesto which included a call for a College of Teaching. Plans for the college were also supported by ATL general secretary Mary Bousted.
  • Government oversight of how taxpayers’ money is being spent on free schools is “not up to scratch” and officials are too reliant on whistleblowers to expose problems, a cross-party group of MPs has warned. In its report, the Commons Public Accounts Committee said both the DfE and the Education Funding Agency (EFA) needed to improve arrangements to be sure public money was being “used appropriately”.   The committee’s report said the department had estimated around GBP1.1 billion had been spent on the initiative by March this year. Less than half of free schools submitted their financial accounts for 2011/12 to the EFA on time, despite being required to do so, it says.

The committee also expressed concerns that there have been no bids to open primary free schools in areas that have a high or severe need for places. Overall, 42 free schools have opened in areas that have no forecast need for places, with an estimated total building cost of at least £241 million for mainstream schools. But the criticisms were challenged by the New Schools Network, a charity that helps groups to set up free schools, which said the programme was addressing a “crisis in good school places”.  “This September, 90 per cent of new free schools are opening in areas where there is a predicted shortage of places, and in London, this rises to 100 per cent. Once full, all currently open or planned Free Schools will provide an extra 150,000 badly needed places.”

  • More than 80 per cent of heads believe staff morale has become worse since the coalition came to power in 2010, a survey of school leaders has shown. Six in ten headteachers also said a job in teaching was “unattractive” to people considering their careers, with more than 70 per cent warning the role of headship had become unappealing to senior leaders.  The figures were taken from a survey of more than 2,500 heads and governors by IpsosMori on behalf of The Key, the online support service for school leaders, and they painted a miserable picture of the teaching workforce.  Almost three-quarters of heads said a career leading a school had become a less attractive proposition since 2010 when the coalition came to power. Similarly, 75 per cent said they were “unimpressed” by the government’s performance on education. According to the survey, almost nine out of 10 heads thought the quality of teaching nationally was “good” – just 2 per cent thought that it was “poor”.

    The Department for Education disputed the figures, stating teaching was the number one career choice for a growing number of graduates. “Teaching has never been more attractive, more popular or more rewarding. A record number of top graduates are now applying to become teachers and there have never been more teachers in England’s classrooms, with a rise of 9,000 in the last year,” a DfE spokesperson said. “The latest figures show that job vacancies for headteachers remain very low. Since 2010 the headteacher vacancy rate has remained below 0.2 per cent — and latest figures show just 30 headteacher vacancies across the whole country. “The growing network of teaching schools is increasingly helping to develop the next generation of great heads, as they identify teachers with leadership potential and nurture them throughout their careers.”

  • Teachers are being told by Michael Gove to look out for signs of radicalisation, female genital mutilation, sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse in their pupils. The education secretary has written to all schools in England today to warn them to be on the alert and draw their attention to new statutory guidance on ‘Keeping children safe in education’. The new advice contains links to existing more detailed advice on a range of issues. One on ‘Protecting vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism’ warns that “the most significant threat to this country is from Al Qa’ida affiliated, influenced and associated groups”. It suggests a number of indicators that a pupil is involved with an extremist group or cause, such as changing how they dress, or their appearance, losing interest in friends or activities not associated with a particular ideology and behaviour focused on an extreme idea or cause. Other signs to look out for include “possession of material or symbols associated with an extremist cause (e.g. the swastika for far right groups)”.
  • The DfE could face a £600 million black hole by next year, rising to £4.6 billion within four years, a new report has claimed. The Association of Colleges (AoC), which carried out the analysis, has warned that a combination of factors, including rising pupil numbers, the cost of free school meals for infants and increased contributions to teachers’ pay and pensions, will create a “time-bomb” for the sector in the period following next year’s general election. While the schools budget for pupils up to the age of 16 has been protected from public sector cuts since 2010, the AoC has warned there is currently no commitment to ring fence it, or protect spending on post-16 provision, after next year. It says that if ministers do not tackle the situation early, there was a risk that 16 to 18 provision would bear the brunt of “damaging short-term savings” after the next election.

A DfE spokeswoman said the “speculative” figures were “based on analysis of a budget that does not even exist yet”.

  • The UK has the second best education system in Europe and the sixth best in the world, according to newly published global rankings. British pupils are behind only Finland when it comes to European nations, the league table says, with the top four places occupied by South Korea, Japan, Singapore and the city state of Hong Kong. The results are found in the new Learning Curve Index, published by Pearson, which ranks 39 countries on their educational performance. The man behind the figures, Sir Michael Barber, said the UK would perform higher if its students were not being held back by parents who believe intelligence is inherited and are either “born bright” or “not academic”. This tendency among UK parents means they are less likely to push their children to succeed at school than those in East Asian nations, Sir Michael said.
  • Low performing primaries that have been converted to sponsored academies are improving at a slower rate than their conventional state school counterparts, a new analysis of national test results claims. The analysis of government figures by the Local Schools Network (LSN) compares primaries starting from similar test scores, with similar proportions of disadvantaged pupils. It suggests that in every case non-academies are actually improving faster than their sponsored academy equivalents.
  • England’s school system is suffering from “science deserts” where too few teenagers, especially girls, are studying the subject, ministers have warned. At half of all mixed state schools, there are no girls studying physics at A-level, according to education minister Elizabeth Truss. She said that while more youngsters have been studying the sciences at GCSE, beyond this point the “pipeline of talent is broken”. The minister was speaking at an event at the Science Museum in London to mark the launch of a new campaign to get more young people to study science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) in a bid to fill the growing skills shortage in these industries. As part of the effort, new maths and physics “chairs” will be created from PhD specialists in the subjects. The new chairs will be paid a starting salary of £40,000 – well above that of the average new teacher salary – in a bid to “inject enthusiasm” in schools that are failing to attract students to study the subjects.
  • The next government must make Qualified Teacher Status mandatory, introduce “tiered” Ofsted inspections and set aside a pot of cash to attract the best school staff to the most deprived areas, a heads’ think tank has said. The Headteachers’ Roundtable education manifesto also includes a drive to improve the quality of the profession. The group has put forward 10 policy recommendations, which it believes will provide a “coherent” strategy to improving the education system overall.

A copy of the manifesto can be found on the above website

  • A new English A- level could see students studying an interview with rap star Dizzee Rascal, tweets by journalist Caitlin Moran and the evidence on drugs policy that comedian Russell Brand gave to Parliament. The English Language and Literature A level would also include more conventional texts on its study list, such as the poems of Emily Dickinson and William Blake as well as works by Shakespeare and George Orwell. Exam board, OCR, is billing the new qualification – planned as one of the government’s new “more rigorous” school exams – as “the most diverse yet for any English A- level”. However, it may prove controversial for traditionalists like education secretary, Michael Gove, who has spoken of his belief in the importance of studying the “great works of the [English literary] canon”. But the new exam, due to be introduced alongside Mr Gove’s other reformed A levels in September 2015, has been drawn up according to a specification for subject content approved by the education secretary last month.

A DfE spokesman said: “All new A- levels must be accredited by the independent exams regulator Ofqual against new, more rigorous criteria. This exam has not been accredited and we await Ofqual’s decision with interest.”

  • From the NAHT conference
    • Government-imposed floor targets should be replaced by “more ambitious” goals set by schools themselves involving replacing minimum standards of exam performance with “paths of improvement” tailored for individual institutions.
    • Delegates backed a motion calling for reformed GCSEs, A-levels and vocational qualifications to include an “appropriate balance between knowledge, understanding and skill acquisition”.
    • Conference delegates watered down some of the union’s other proposals, including reducing the length of the summer holiday and spreading breaks more evenly throughout the year
    • Members also amended controversial proposals to give admissions priority to children eligible for free school meals, deciding that an impact assessment should be carried out before a final decision is made.
    • There was a call for schools to be given five years free from Ofsted inspections. Delegates passed several motions criticising inconsistencies between inspection team It was said that  the quality of many teams leaves much to be desired
    •  “Some people were given schools to run who should not have been allowed near them,” the general secretary told the conference, a reference to free schools
    • Parents, broadcasters and media regulators must do more to protect children from the “erosion of childhood” through exposure to adult themes and bad language. The union has launched a charter calling for agencies to work together and recognise their shared responsibility for keeping sexual or violent media content away from young people.
  • Another free school has been placed into special measures by Ofsted. The report on The Hawthorne’s Free School in Liverpool means the percentage of free schools given Ofsted’s lowest “inadequate” rating is now nearly twice as high as the rest of the state sector, under the watchdog’s latest inspection framework. But analysis of free school Ofsted reports also shows that a significantly higher percentage have been judged “outstanding”, than other state schools. Overall, 45 Ofsted reports on free schools have so far been published, of which seven were outstanding, 23 good, ten required improvement and five inadequate.
  • The greatest single impact of the new phonics check for six-year-olds has been to increase the teaching of nonsense words, rather than improving reading abilities, according to a study. Children taking the test are asked to read 40 words, 20 of them pseudo, or “nonsense”, words. An official evaluation  found the test had become more accepted by teachers in 2013 than when it was first introduced in 2012 and produced some useful information for school staff. But just over a half of literacy coordinators said the single biggest change was the introduction of nonsense words – such as thob, blim and flamp – which were now taught in almost two-thirds of England’s Year 1 classes. Other changes included increased assessment of progress in phonics, introducing groups for phonics and increasing phonics teaching time. The report also revealed national cost of the check to schools was £4.3 million, or £4.99 per pupil. In the 2013 phonics check, 69 per cent of six-year-olds met the expected standard of being able to read 32 words or more correctly, up from 58 per cent in 2012. The evaluation of the phonics check also found that many teachers believed that a phonics approach should be used alongside other methods.  The researchers concluded: “Attainment in reading or writing more broadly appears unaffected by the school’s enthusiasm, or not, for systematic synthetic phonics and the check, and by their approach to the teaching of phonics.”

A DfE spokesman said: “Our phonics check is allowing teachers to identify children struggling at an early age so they can receive the extra help and support they need before it is too late. “The check has now helped teachers identify more than 400,000 six-year-olds behind on reading – demonstrating its value and driving up the standard of literacy.”

  • The “quality and effectiveness” of teacher training courses is to be reviewed, Michael Gove has announced, in what has been branded a further attack on university education departments.
    The education secretary said the review, which was launched today, will seek to “define effective ITT [initial teacher training] practice”, while recommending ways to improve teacher training overall.
  • More than half of grammar schools are set to fundamentally reform their admissions by giving preference to children from poor homes. Thirty grammar schools have already agreed to give preference to bright children eligible for free school meals and another 58 schools are seriously considering the move, the Grammar Schools Heads Association (GSHA)  has announced
  • For England in the first quarter of 2014 (January to March) compared to the same period in 2013:
    • there are 774,000 16- to 24-year-olds who are NEET (13.1%) – this is down 135,000 (2 percentage points) on last year, and is the lowest rate for this quarter since 2005
    • there are 122,000 16- to 18-year-olds NEET (6.7%) – this is down 29,000 (1.5 percentage points) on last year, and is the lowest since comparable data began in 2001
    • there are 652,000 19- to 24-year-olds NEET – this is down 105,000 (2.3 percentage points) on last year, and is the lowest since 2008

In England overall, today’s data shows the number of NEETs down from 100,930 in 2012 to 93,030 in 2013, a fall of 9%.

  • There are now over 500 teaching schools. Well over 1 million children are already attending a school which forms part of a teaching school alliance

They are responsible for:

  • recruiting and training the next generation of outstanding teachers
  • peer-to-peer professional and leadership development
  • supporting and improving other schools
  • identifying and developing leadership potential
  • engaging in research and development

Some Teaching Schools are identifying pupils with an aptitude for the job, including leadership potential, good presentation skills and expertise in “shortage” subjects such as science and maths, it has emerged. Pupils are then encouraged to improve their skills by tutoring children in local primary schools and taking part in formal “get into teaching” sessions in the sixth-form.

  • The details re the 2015 Pupil premium Awards have been published



  • Groups of councils across the country have been announced as pathfinder champions for the government’s special educational needs and disability (SEND) reforms. The champions will help teams in their neighbouring councils prepare for the changes, which will give thousands of families greater control over the support they receive.

The regions and their champions are:

  • North East: Darlington will lead in this area (see notes to editors)
  • Yorkshire and Humber: North Yorkshire, Calderdale and York City lead in this area
  • North West: Wigan, Manchester, Stockport, Salford and Lancashire lead in this area
  • East Midlands: Leicester City and Nottinghamshire lead in this area
  • West Midlands: Solihull, Birmingham City, Coventry City, Dudley, Sandwell, Staffordshire, Telford and Wrekin, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wolverhampton and Worcestershire lead in this area
  • South West: Cornwall, Portsmouth and Southampton lead in this area (see notes to editors)
  • East of England: Hertfordshire and Bedford lead in this area
  • London 1: Bromley, Bexley and Enfield lead in this area
  • London 2: SE7 consortium which consists of Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, West Sussex, Medway, Hampshire, Kent and Surrey lead in this area
  • South East: SE7 consortium which consists of Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, West Sussex, Medway, Hampshire, Kent and Surrey lead in this area

The new pathfinder champions will act as the first point of contact for other councils, ensuring each region is ready for the reforms coming into effect from September 2014. Alongside their regional support roles, certain champions will take on one or more national champion roles in areas where they have already developed particular strengths and expertise, including taking a leading role at national events.

These reforms are part of the Children and Families Act, through which the government is:

  • replacing special educational needs statements and learning disability assessments with a new birth-to-25 education, health and care plan – setting out in one place all the support families will receive
  • requiring better co-operation between councils and health services to make sure services for children and young people with SEND are jointly planned and commissioned, giving parents and young people with education, health and care plans the offer of a personal budget – putting families firmly in charge of the care they receive
  • requiring councils to publish a ‘local offer’ showing the support available to all disabled children and young people and their families in the area – not just those with educational needs
  • introducing mediation for disputes and trialling, giving children and young people the right to appeal if they are unhappy with their support
  • introducing a new legal right for children and young people with an education, health and care plan to express a preference for state academies, free schools and further education colleges – currently limited to maintained mainstream and special schools


This document can be found on the above website


Draft SEND Code of practice 0-25 years

A useful website on these reforms is;

  • The first school to be rebuilt as part of the government’s Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) has opened to its pupils. Pupils and teachers at Whitmore Park Primary School in Coventry have had their school building completely rebuilt as part of the £2.4 billion programme to rebuild 261 of the schools in England in the worst condition. In total, 28 schools are now either under construction or open as part of the PSBP, while design work has begun at 234 schools – 90% of the programme. All schools will be delivered by the end of 2017.

Ministers have also announced today a second phase of the programme, worth around £2 billion will run over the next Spending Review period, from 2015-2021. The original PSBP worked on the basis of the condition of the school site as a whole. David Laws announced that the new phase will refine this to look at targeting individual school buildings, as well as whole school rebuilds where this is appropriate. The department has published initial application guidelines for this new phase of the PSBP, and further information on the application process is due shortly. Applications will need to be submitted before the summer break, but exact timescales to be confirmed shortly.. Any queries about this new phase of the Priority School Building Programme can be sent to the dedicated PSBP mailbox at

  • There is a DfE led consultation on Headteacher Standards

This document can be found on the above website



  • The DfE has issued “Supporting pupils at school with medical conditions

Statutory guidance for governing bodies of maintained schools and proprietors of academies in England

This document can be found on the above website



  • An email sent to Staffordshire headteachers says that during a meeting Frank Green, the Schools Commissioner set out how the new regional schools commissioner system, which he is overseeing from its inception in August, will work. He is reported to have said that “no academy would be allowed to stand alone”, with all being placed in “clusters of five to 10 schools led by an external sponsor or, as there are insufficient external sponsors, an outstanding school”. A council official further reported that Green said his remit is to convert all schools to academies before the end of the next Parliament (although this could be within the next 2-3 years)”. The DfE subsequently denied that the second point is the case
  • Michael Gove has denies that he banned classic American novels such as John Steinbeck‘s Of Mice and Men and Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird from the GCSE English literature curriculum. “I have not banned anything. Nor has anyone else. All we are doing is asking exam boards to broaden – not narrow – the books young people study for GCSE,” Gove wrote.

The new syllabus leaves less flexibility for studying modern authors from outside the British Isles – such as Steinbeck – although exam boards and teachers are free to include additional texts, or authors from outside of Britain and Ireland under the other categories. However a spokeswoman for AQA said that it would be impossible to include additional texts beyond the Government’s minimum requirements without placing “an unacceptable assessment burden” on schools. Gove’s response follows reports that he had personally intervened in the reforms to the GCSE syllabus, with a representative of the OCR exam board claiming it was Gove’s antipathy to John Steinbeck’s Depression-era novel that had caused American fiction to be shunted out of classrooms in England. AQA and WJEC have also produced similar syllabi with the axing of foreign authors. The reports sparked a chorus of complaints that Gove was imposing his tastes and political views on the books schoolchildren in England can study.

  • Campaigners are seeking permission for a judicial review of the government’s crackdown on parents taking their children out of school during term time. The decision by the Department for Education (DfE) last September to remove the discretion of headteachers in England to approve absences in “special circumstances” provoked an outcry, with many parents arguing they were priced out of enriching overseas trips during peak holiday season. The group is keen to emphasise that cost is not the only reason for taking children on holiday during term time. It says that workers in key professions, including people in the NHS, police force, military and public transport face restrictions on when they can take leave.
  • The DfE has urged schools to be vigilant in guarding against the dangers of female genital mutilation ahead of the summer holidays, known to be a particularly dangerous time for at-risk girls. The department has sent out an email to all schools in England and Wales drawing attention to updated guidelines designed to keep girls safe before the start of the summer break, sometimes referred to as the “cutting season” for girls at risk of mutilation.
  • Papers presented to Ofqual’s board in March seem to confirm that any delay in developing the detail of how the new exams will work could present problems. Glenys Stacey, Ofqual chief executive, told the board that the reforms, though currently going smoothly, are subject to “pressing risks, with little or no contingency time”. A paper presented by Mike Jeacock, Ofqual’s interim chief operating officer, points to a “lack of time contingency for subjects due to be delivered for first teaching in 2015”.
  • US educational startup Codecademy is opening an office in London, after signing up 2 million Britons for its online computer programming courses. The news comes as British schools and teachers prepare for the introduction of a new curriculum in September that will introduce children to coding at a much younger age. Codecademy already has partnerships in the UK with after-school coding club network Code Club and educational body Computing At School (CAS), and says its resources have been used by more than 1,000 schools in the UK.
  • Michael Gove has ordered snap investigations into Muslim schools in several cities around England, widening the focus outside of the so-called Trojan Horse allegations of an Islamist plot involving state schools in Birmingham.
  • Many primary schools are struggling to be ready to meet the legal requirement to supply free school meals to all infants as from September. They do not have the facilities and/or the money to pay for them. And some say that they the £2.30 they receive per meal from the Government is not enough to meet all their costs
  • SATs tests taken by 100,000 pupils on Monday contained errors that meant teachers and pupils were given conflicting rules about how the test was to be taken, with headteachers and unions concerned that some of England’s brightest pupils might suffer as a result. The blunder in the national standardised English test exam prepared by the Standards and Testing Agency, an arm of the Department for Education, could affect the key stage 2 assessment results for primary schools in England if it was found to have caused a variation in scores.
  • Michael Gove, needs to prioritise the creation of local authority primary school places over giving money to independently run free schools, the president of the Liberal Democrats has said. Tim Farron entered the coalition clash over education policy after it emerged that senior Treasury officials had raised concerns about the level of spending on free schools. His remarks are a continuation of the row between Nick Clegg and Gove’s DfE, in which each side has accused the other of wasting money on pet projects. Coalition relations threatened to deteriorate to an all-time low after Michael Gove was accused of diverting £400m of essential classroom funding to plug a hole in his free schools project. programme at the expense of much-needed local authority school places. David Laws, the Lib Dem schools minister, is said to have warned Mr Gove not to divert the money, but was overruled by the Education Secretary.
  • Leading academics have accused the OECD) of acting as an unaccountable super-ministry of education which kills the “joy of learning” and turns schooling into “drudgery”. A letter signed by 120 leading academics and teachers from 12 countries– including Britain, the US and Germany – argues the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests on 15-year-olds distort the curriculum, reduce teachers’ autonomy and increase children’s stress levels. The results of the Pisa tests, which the signatories say are “widely known to be imperfect” because they focus narrowly on the economic goals of education, are anxiously awaited in the 66 countries that take part. When their children’s results fall down the league tables, governments often make sweeping changes in how schools are run and what they teach. The 1,300-word letter describes these as “short-term fixes” designed to boost league table positions, and argues that “enduring changes … take decades”. It says the next round of tests in 2015 should be scrapped.
  • Academies can turn pupils away even when they have surplus capacity, according to Oxfordshire county council. This forces councils to pay to transport children to other schools. This is where an academy publishes an admission number which does not accurately reflect its actual capacity, and refuses to admit additional local children despite there being demonstrable demand. Also a small but growing number of schools, mainly sponsored academies, use ability banding as part of their criteria and schools might turn away pupils who do not fall into the right band, even when there are surplus places.
  • Research has found that in areas with a grammar school system, top earners are likely to earn £16.41 an hour more than those on the lowest incomes, or the equivalent of around £30,000 a year based on a typical 35-hour week. In those areas where the education system was fully comprehensive, the salary gap was just £12.33 – a quarter less. High earners from grammar school areas were better off by £1.31 per hour on average than top earners born in similar comprehensive authorities.
  • By 2020 up to 80,000 UK students should visit China every year to take part in study or work experience programmes, Business Secretary Vince Cable has suggested. He called for Britain to “raise its game” and improve links with the country by addressing the huge disparity between the number of Chinese students who come to the UK and vice versa.
  • So-called soft GCSEs such as Media Studies and Leisure and Tourism could face the axe under a fresh overhaul by the exam watchdog Ofqual. The exam regulator Ofqual is drawing up new rigorous guidelines which are expected to jettison ‘easier’ GCSEs altogether. Courses such as Hospitality and Preparation for Life and Work – which teaches pupils about job applications – have a reputation for being easier for less academic pupils to pass Ofqual, which approves courses drawn up by exam boards, will draw up strict new criteria for any subject to get GCSE status after 2016. It is likely this will mean many are reclassified as vocational qualifications. A spokesman for Ofqual said: “From our point of view there’s nothing to stop any particular subject being reformed [to meet a high enough standard] but all the exams will have to meet the standards we set out.” He added: “Some courses might not carry on as GCSEs or A-levels.”
  • Some of Britain’s best headteachers will temporarily hand over control of their schools this summer in an effort to tackle the “scandalously low” number of non-white headteachers in the UK. Promising teachers from ethnic minorities will be put in charge of successful schools for 10 days towards the end of this term. The heads they replace will be available on the telephone in case of emergencies.
  • Ofsted should be given the power to inspect private as well as state schools, Michael Gove has said.
  • The executive head of a primary school academy was awarded a 56 per cent pay rise last year, bringing his salary to more than £200,000 a year. The bumper pay rise was awarded to Sir Greg Martin, the executive head of the Durand primary academy in Stockwell near Brixton, south London, one of five superheads singled out for praise by Education Secretary Michael Gove soon after taking office.
  • Ofsted has announced that it will abolish current rules that see thousands of inspections being contracted out to private companies. From 2015, all inspections of schools and colleges will be managed in-house to give the watchdog more control over selection, training and quality control. The move follows claims that too many inspectors “lack the necessary skills” or experience to make fair judgments about the education system. Ofsted has now announced that current contracts with three companies – CfBT, Serco and Tribal – will not be renewed beyond August next year. They have run since 2009.
  • Students are facing mounting competition for university places after applications surged by more than 20,000 in just 12 months. Figures show that around 634,600 people applied for degree courses by the end of May – an increase of four per cent in a year and the second highest number on record.
  • Teachers should consider taking down over-elaborate classroom displays amid concerns maps, artwork and photographs damage children’s education, according to research. Researchers said highly-decorated walls in primary schools undermined pupils’ ability to concentrate during lessons and absorb teachers’ instructions.
  • Children in the schools most plagued by illegal drugs are being monitored by security cameras with the permission of the Government The DfE is allowing schools to trial state-of-the-art surveillance equipment in a crackdown on pupils dealing and taking drugs on their premises. In contrast to conventional CCTV cameras, parents and teachers are able to watch live feeds across dozens of the IP (internet protocol) cameras set up in classrooms, corridors and playgrounds to keep tabs on schoolchildren’s behaviour.
  • PE lessons in primary schools are to be toughened up  For the first time, a generation of specialist physical education teachers will be employed directly by state primaries in England to give pupils advanced exercise sessions, healthy living advice and more competitive sport. More than 100 teachers will be sent into schools from September and thousands more will follow in coming years.
  • Schools could face a decline in GCSE and A-level results following a toughening up of the qualifications system, the exams watchdog has warned. Ofqual has told schools to expect “greater variation” in grades this summer because of major changes to the way teenagers are assessed. The most significant effect will be felt at GCSE where all exams will be sat at the end of the two-year course for the first time in 2014 – cutting out bite-sized modules and preventing pupils repeatedly re-sitting papers. In a new report, the regulator said pupils “who have not had the opportunity to re-sit will generally do less well”. Similar effects will be seen at A-level where the watchdog has scrapped January exams – forcing all pupils to sit them in the summer – a route employed by schools in the past to allow students to attempts tests twice.
  • School attendance rates have hit an eight-year high. Provisional figures show that around 65,000 more children were in classes every day during the autumn term last year. In all, some 4.3 per cent of lesson time was lost as a result between September and December. It was down from 5.2 per cent at the same point in 2012. Data released by the DfE also showed that the overall proportion of days missed due to family holidays also dropped – from 0.5 to 0.4 per cent. Among primary schools, 3.9 per cent of lesson time was lost compared with 4.7 per cent a year earlier and 5.6 per cent in 2010. In secondary schools, the absence rate stood at 4.9 per cent, compared with 5.7 per cent a year earlier and 6.7 per cent in 2010. The number of children classed as “persistent absentees” also fell from 6.4 to 4.6 per cent.
  • The number of 11-year-olds being entered for “super SATs” tests designed to stretch the brightest pupils has almost doubled in just two years. The DfE said 106,000 pupils – more than one-in-six – took the optional test in maths. It was up by 93 per cent compared with 2012 and represented a rise of a third on last year. A similar increase was recorded for the reading exam and a separate test in grammar, punctuation and spelling. It is the third year that the “level 6” tests have been run in England after previously being abolished by the former government more than a decade ago.
  • Schools are being told to provide at least one addition session in the mathematics – typically around 40 minutes in many cases – amid fears children are lagging behind those in Hong Kong and Singapore. A Government report said demands on pupils would be “wider and deeper” than the existing curriculum to reflect standards seen in top performing countries. The DfE said English schools currently spend “far less time teaching mathematics than other countries International studies show that English schools devote an average of 116 hours a year – or around three hours a week during term time – to maths. By comparison, Australian schools provide an average of 143 hours each year and pupils do around 138 hours in Singapore and the new ‘Big Maths’ is said to be nothing short of a quantum leap for teachers, at nearly twice the size of most current maths GCSEs.
  • Students may be missing out on vital marks in GCSEs and A-levels because of a significant deterioration in handwriting skills, according to research. Figures show almost two-thirds of teachers admit to marking down teenagers’ work amid concerns over “illegible writing”. The study revealed that more than a third had also seen emoticons – facial expressions normally inserted into mobile phone text messages – in exam answers or coursework. Handwriting experts told how large numbers of students were being left with blisters and aching hands after being forced to write for long periods because of a lack of practice. It was claimed that a decline in traditional handwriting skills was directly linked to an overreliance on technology in classrooms and in the home.
  • Schools are being told to allow summer-born children to delay starting education for a year amid fears among parents that early entry can damage pupils’ development. Updated guidance from the DfE says families have the legal right to request that children with birthdays between April and August can start school in the reception year at the age of five instead of four. Currently, many schools allow summer-born children to be admitted later than their peers but often demand that pupils go straight into Year 1 – skipping the reception class altogether. It means these children effectively miss out on almost 12 months of early schooling and may face a tough introduction to formal lessons. But DfE guidelines – affecting around 250,000 children a year – say it is “unlawful” for a school or council to impose a blanket ban on summer born pupils starting a year later.
  • Hundreds of leading private schools are preparing to abandon A-levels in favour of alternative exams created for pupils in China, India, Singapore and the United States, according to headmasters. Rising numbers of fee-paying institutions are considering dropping the “gold standard” qualification because of growing concerns over Coalition reforms combined with serious marking problems, it was claimed. The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) said the International A-level, which has been created by Cambridge University’s exam board principally for schools abroad, was becoming increasingly popular in Britain.
  • ·        
    The DfE recently announced the appointment of the eight regional schools commissioners,(RSCs), who will take on key decisions regarding academies and free schools in their regions on behalf of the Secretary of State. Each RSC will be advised by a headteacher board (HTB) made up of four elected academy headteachers and experienced professional leaders, to provide sector expertise and local knowledge. The HTB elections, which will be independently managed by the Electoral Reform Services, will take place between 23 June and 11 July 2014. All headteachers of academies open by 1 May 2014 will be eligible to vote for the candidates that they wish to see elected in their region. The nomination period for headteachers wishing to stand opens on 23 May and closes on 13 June

Candidates for the four elected positions on the board will need to fulfil one of the following three criteria:

  • Be currently serving as a headteacher/executive head of an academy rated by Ofsted as ‘outstanding’ overall with ‘outstanding leadership and management’;
  • Be currently serving as a headteacher/executive head of an academy rated by Ofsted as ‘good’ overall with ‘outstanding leadership and management’; OR
  • Have recently (within two years of the closing date of the election) served as a headteacher/executive head of an academy, which met either of the two criteria above at the time of their departure. This criterion is primarily aimed at retired headteachers or those who are now employed in a management position within an academy chain or trust.

For more information about RSCs, HTBs and the elections, go to

  • The Ofqual website, Summer 2014 examinations, explains how grades will be awarded this summer for GCSEs and A levels following the changes that have taken place within some of these qualifications.
  • Nick Clegg has announced over £30 million to support vulnerable young people through social impact bonds (SIBs). This investment is made up of two new cross-government programmes targeting 14 to 24-year-olds:
    • The £16 million Youth Engagement Fund will help disadvantaged young people aged 14 to 17 to participated and succeed in education or training. The fund aims to support up to 18,000 young people in over 100 schools in England. Further details on the Youth Engagement Fund will be published soon. In the meantime, you can register your interest in the fund by emailing
    • The £15 million Fair Chance Fund will support vulnerable homeless NEET young people in England aged 18 to 24 into housing, education and work. Jointly funded by the Cabinet Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government, it aims to move over 2,000 homeless young people into sustainable accommodation, as well as employment, education or training over three years.

Individuals who invest in accredited social impact bonds will be eligible for the social investment tax relief, announced in this year’s Budget.

  • Michael Gove has suggested that he would be happy to see the privatisation of LA Children Services. Opponents of this idea say this is not suitable work for profit making companies such as Serco or G4S

Tony Stephens

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