Susan Young looks at what makes an outstanding school leader.
Susan Young talks to Early Years teacher, Jane Flood about becoming part of a Research Learning Community.
James Ashmore writes on the importance of staying optimistic as a middle leader.
How can school leaders use PE, physical activity and sport to tackle issues of childhood obesity and mental well-being and to drive whole school performance?
Jean Gross outlines the provision and support for children with SLCN.
In the UK today, there are areas where a staggering one in six children are currently living in poverty (Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission).
The charity, Speakers for Schools, gives access to top quality speakers for free
Within a school context it is essential to ensure a level of consistency; a common approach to coaching sessions is important.
Exploring video CPD: developing a supportive culture and establishing a solid programme.
Christophe Mullings, Head of Education at IRIS Connect, explores video CPD and practical strategies for getting started.
The BELMAS Reflective Practice Award for innovation and critical reflection in education is now open for entries
Guest blogger James Ashmore asks: As a middle leader, what could you do to raise your team’s happiness quotient?
How does an autistic person get heard and understood? How do they find their voice? How do we hear their voice? And are we giving space to hear the autistic voice?
You may feel that your work/life balance is seriously out of kilter and that moving into middle leadership has done nothing to redress this, in fact it’s made it worse.
In the short term a dedicated middle leader can make sacrifices, willing to take on more because they are not only ambitious for themselves but committed to high quality education for pupils within their school. But is this sustainable asks Lara Ginn?
Teacher workload is among one of the greatest issues schools face nowadays. Over recent years this has become a source of wide scale discussion within the profession and in the media. The government has, through recent independent reviews, endeavoured to identify some of the primary factors causing the heavy workload faced by teaching staff and means by which all stakeholders can redress this.
By the age of 16 at least one child in every classroom (1 in 29) will have experienced the death of a parent or sibling (Penny & Stubbs, 2015).
Middle leaders are increasingly recognised for their pivotal role in developing the quality of practice. So how is this being achieved, and how can you plan for this?
Running successful meetings is an often overlooked skill but one that will almost certainly be required of you as a middle leader. The times you have together with your team can be critical to your success and so it is vitally important that they go well.
It is becoming more and more widely understood that there may well be as many girls and women with autism as there are boys and men, but their needs are not always being identified.
As every teacher will tell you, the start of a new school year brings with it a tangible sense of new beginnings. There is the new class of children to get to know, new staff to work with, new parents to meet and sometimes even a new classroom to decorate! Uniforms are at their brightest, shoes at their shiniest and pencil cases brim with new stationery accumulated over the holidays (including those annoyingly oversized novelty pencils which no child can write with no matter how much they protest!)
This year the sense of a fresh start reaches far beyond the classroom, corridor and school gates. Following the fall-out of the Brexit vote in June, this September we return with a new Prime Minster and a new Secretary of State for Education.
2016/17 promises to be another busy and potentially eventful year, so what might be some of the key issues dominating the education headlines?
Assessment dominated much of all of our thinking in 2016 and will almost certainly continue to do so this year as well. The government has confirmed that the much maligned interim frameworks for Key Stage One and Key Stage Two will be used again this year. We have made it clear that we cannot accept a repeat of last year’s chaos and, at the very least, we will expect to see changes made to mitigate some of the worst aspects of the current system. In the longer-term we will continue to call on the government to commit to a comprehensive review of primary assessment so that we get to a system that works for children, teachers, parents and schools.
Assessment will feature prominently in our secondary members’ thinking too. Not only will they be getting to grips with the new type of Key Stage 2 data that they are inheriting but they are also continuing to deal with the impact of on-going GCSE and A Level reform. Next summer will see the first cohort of pupils being awarded the new 1-9 grades in English and Maths and, for many teachers, September sees the introduction of new specifications in their subjects.
New Chief Inspector for Schools
In January we will see Amanda Spielman take up post as Ofsted’s new Chief Inspector. It will be very interesting to watch the impact this has on the future direction of the inspectorate. At the very least I think we could expect to see a change in tone and communication. Spielman is clearly a very different character to the current incumbent and I think we can expect far less of the controversial headline grabbing speeches that we became used to under Sir Michael Wilshaw. There are also early indications that she might be willing to consult with the profession on some quite significant changes in how Ofsted inspects and reports including the potential scrapping of the Outstanding grade.
Whilst the government has now abandoned initial plans to force all schools to become academies by 2022, it is fair to say that we can expect to see the number of academies continuing to grow at a national level. In many cases, this will be because schools have taken that decision for themselves as they feel it is in their best interests. However, there will still be those who come under pressure to convert against their will and we will continue to strongly support the right of school leaders and governors to make such decisions based on what is right for their schools. We will need to watch very closely how this develops, particularly in terms of the definition of ‘unviable’ Local Authorities which would potentially see groups of schools coming under pressure to convert.
Grammar School Debate
As I’m sure you won’t have missed over the summer, it would seem that the grammar school debate is now well on truly back on the table. Whilst early signs are that we are unlikely to see a large-scale return to the establishment of grammar schools nationwide, there do appear to be some rumblings from the government that they could be looking to reintroduce some form of academic selection in certain areas. Currently there is an awful lot of speculation and guesswork taking place but we should start to get a clearer picture later in the autumn term. Either way, I think it is fair to say that the issue could continue to fill column inches for some time to come.
Year 7 Resits
In the autumn we are also expecting a formal consultation to be announced regarding the possible introduction of year 7 resits for the 2017/18 academic year. The real question will be whether or not they manage to find a single person who actually thinks that this is a good idea! As a profession, we will need to make our case very strongly as to why this is such a deeply flawed plan.
And that’s not all..
These are just a few of the topics that we might expect to see dominate the education headlines this year. Of course, there will be plenty of other issues occupying our members’ minds including the increase in free childcare hours in the Early Years, the continued impact of SEND reforms and a whole raft of subject specific developments including the additional funding for schools to trial the Shanghai approach to maths teaching. We will ensure that we keep you informed and updated on all of these developments.
Reasons to be cheerful…
Whilst it is easy to feel a little gloomy or overwhelmed by some of the external pressures currently facing schools, we must not lose sight of what makes teaching and leading in schools such a fantastic and rewarding job.
Just as in previous years, this year you will be given an amazing opportunity to shape the lives of the young people that you work with. You will become one of the most important and significant influences on their lives for the next twelve months. You will help the children in your class understand entirely new concepts and ideas, you will unlock previously locked doors and help them navigate all sorts of unpredictable emotional ups and downs. You will not always see your impact immediately but never underestimate it.
The pupils you work with will have little regard for the politics of education and, for a large proportion of the time, nor should you. The classroom itself can be a great escape from all the external ‘noise’ as you fully commit to making the most of every minute with the children you teach. With all the pressures surrounding data, accountability and workloads it can feel a challenge to not get bogged down by it all but this year why not a make a simple resolution to allow yourself to really enjoy those moments when you are with the children and doing what you entered the profession to do in the first place.
When we asked middle leaders in schools what was holding back their development, the most common answers were time and money. This may seem unsurprising, but it’s also unnecessary and wasteful when there’s this talented group of individuals in schools who are ready for more responsibility if they can get the right support and professional development. In 2015 a new national entitlement to development could start to give emerging leaders in schools the support that professionals in other industries enjoy, helping them to reach their potential. Surely that’s a resolution worth sticking to?
Even though we invest thousands in ‘golden hellos’ for graduates to get them into teaching, we do little to get them to stay in the profession or to transition into leadership roles. Too often time spent on continuing professional development (CPD), including at INSET days, is focused on short-term information-giving and regulatory compliance, rather than sustained personal development that leads to better leaders, teachers and student outcomes.
The government-backed accredited qualifications are one important part of this puzzle. And although we’re waiting to see the latest projections from the National College about the number of school leaders completing the three accredited qualifications (NPQML, NPQSL and NPQH), our own research shows some potentially worrying trends, especially around the former.
Despite seeing the value in such qualifications, the incentives to enrol don’t always seem to be there in many schools. Too many promising and talented teachers aren’t being supported fully when they take on greater responsibilities beyond their own classrooms. This puts their careers, their colleagues and their students at risk.
Why is this the case when doctors can take up to 10 paid days of study or professional leave a year, with all expenses paid and regardless of their employers’ financial position?
The reasons why this group of emerging school leaders aren’t always properly nurtured are complex, involving a mix of in-school and system-wide factors. For example, circumstances don’t always encourage some senior leaders to let go of their staff, or they struggle to find new opportunities for people to step up internally. Middle leaders aren’t always properly recognised, given the right responsibilities or rewarded accordingly. It’s also hard for anybody to spend time and money on meaningful personal development in a context where schools are still adapting to such an intense period of reform and change. The whole area of professional development is an ongoing focus for NAHT Edge. We’re pursuing the issue on all fronts to help improve the situation.
Although they’ll play their part, schools and unions can’t do everything. Whoever governs after May’s general election could help by ensuring sufficient time and money are ring-fenced for emerging school leaders who’ve started to prove their potential. A national entitlement to development could initially feature, say, a modest five days and £5,000 of government-backed funding a year for each TLR one or two post holder who has served a year successfully and met their performance objectives. Making this statutory would ensure a minimum level of support for all emerging school leaders, regardless of in-school circumstances.
Perhaps the funding could include existing CPD-related bursaries and scholarships for Teaching Schools or accredited NCTL qualifications. This would save a lot of new money being required and ensure all middle leaders are supported. Qualified individuals in all schools could then spend the development time and money they’re entitled to as they saw best, including but not exclusively on accredited qualifications. That could make for a much happier new year.
This blog was written for the Teacher Development Trust.
Now the dust has almost settled on this year’s GCSE season, it’s timely to reflect on some of the debates surrounding the qualification. The word ‘almost’ was chosen deliberately because at the time of writing this blog there still appeared to be matters to be resolved concerning IGCSE English results.
We also see suspicions aired that grade boundaries have been raised to suppress outcomes or make it harder for pupils to achieve particular grades. It’s understandable why those at the sharp end of this stick might interpret events in this way. It does, however, miss a fundamental point: grade boundaries are adjusted from year to year to ensure the performance standard is protected (ie a grade C this year represents the same level of performance as the same grade in previous years).
This is important not only in relation to this year’s candidates but also with regard to performance table showings and the impact on English provision in post-16 settings. Schools and colleges will no doubt have planned the provision of teaching for those not attaining a grade C or higher on the basis of predicted grades. There’s also the need to maintain confidence in the qualification for those taking the examination in 2016. Schools offering IGCSE are, in a sense, locked into the qualification for 2015/16.
We stand, of course, at the onset of the disruption of the stable state. September has seen the first teaching of revised specifications in English and maths, and schools currently offering IGCSE will have returned to the GCSE fold as a consequence of the exclusion of IGCSE from performance tables from 2017 onwards. Schools face three years in which new GCSE specifications will be phased in.
All curriculum reform presents challenges. For many teachers, particularly younger ones, reform heralds the implementation of a curriculum and assessment structure with which they’re unfamiliar (this being the linear approach). Is my unease that this challenge may be underestimated and unfounded?
We are, therefore, at the stage where teachers will be focusing on introducing new specifications. At the same time, two debates are emerging concerning wider aspects of the GCSE.
One assumes the GCSE is here to stay, but questions whether the current system of competing awarding bodies is fit for purpose. Michael Gove attempted to challenge this in 2013 when he proposed ‘English Baccalaureate Certificates’, with each subject awarded to one awarding body on a franchise basis. Concerted opposition beat off this challenge and Gove conceded it was ‘a bridge too far.’ Some of us at the time felt we had won a battle but not the war.
It, therefore, came as no surprise when Nick Gibb re-visited this in August, questioning whether the competitive model was causing grade inflation. This was a curious interjection given the stability of outcomes over the last three years and it being a Conservative politician proposing a state monopoly. I suspect we haven’t heard the last of this.
The other debate emerged before the general election and reflected the position NAHT has taken since 2013. It poses the fundamental question of whether there’s a continuing need for the GCSE as we know it in the era of the raising of the participation age to 18. It’s something that’s attracted support from across the spectrum. As NAHT Edge reported earlier in the year, the CBI director general called for the GCSE to be scrapped and proposed a new system based on personalisation where the most important exams (such as A levels) would take place at the age of 18. Tristram Hunt also expressed his support. In recent weeks, Lord Kenneth Baker opined the GCSE will ‘wither on the vine’ within the next 10 years and prominent independent school heads have added their support.
During 2015/16, it’s likely the nascent National Baccalaureate Trust will strengthen its voice. NAHT and NAHT Edge were jointly represented at its initial convention towards the end of the last school year. A recent article in the Daily Telegraph gives a flavour of its aims.
This blog has, it is hoped, set the scene for the debates we can anticipate in 2015/16. NAHT and NAHT Edge intend to be at the forefront. To ensure we’re representative in the positions we take, your views are sought and will be warmly received. Share your thoughts by posting a comment below.
The new 2015 Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) impacts its members in two significant ways in comparison with the pre-2007 and 2007 schemes.
It’s introduced a career average scheme (rather than final salary) and the average contribution rate for members has risen from six per cent to 9.6 per cent, dependent on salary.
For hard-pressed middle leaders who will become subject to the 2015 TPS, the most difficult change to bear may be that the new scheme is aligning with state pension age; this is currently 65 years of age for men and most women, but it’s rising to 66 years of age by October 2020 and 67 years of age between 2026 and 2028.
Going forward, future changes to the state pension age will be driven by a guiding principle that people should expect to spend, on average, up to a third of their adult life in receipt of the state pension. Based on current projections of life expectancy, this implies an increase to 68 years of age in the mid-2030s.
Teaching unions haven’t taken this lying down, with a pension campaign in 2011 that saw widespread strike action and secured a number of concessions, but NAHT has continued to raise concerns with the DfE. In particular, we’re concerned in the long-term about the capacity of teachers to work until the age of 68. We believe there are some roles - especially those with quite a physical or practical element to them, like early years, or design and technology teachers - where the demands of the job may be too much for the average 68-year-old.
But we also need our members to tell us what they think: could they perform their current role until the age of 68 and, if not, would anything help to sustain them in the role? What employment practices could support working for longer and what are the barriers for those who do? Is it money or attitudes (or both), or something completely different? And how would a teacher or school leader stay motivated for a 45-year career in teaching?
We’ll be working with the DfE, other teaching unions and employers’ organisations across the next two years to explore this. To inform our thinking, we’re sending a short survey to all NAHT Edge and NAHT members to ask them what they think and what ideas they have to help people stay in their role. This is a real opportunity to influence how we take forward this issue and what we push the DfE for, so we hope as many NAHT Edge members as possible can complete this survey. Many of our members will become the senior leaders of tomorrow, so they’ll be the ones taking decisions about these matters in to their own schools.
Recently NAHT and NAHT Edge wrote to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to pass on our members’ dismay with the current key stage one and two assessment arrangements – in particular the issues with the recent year six SATs. In our letter, we have called for a thorough review of the primary assessment arrangements, so we don't have a repeat of this year's chaos again.
Throughout the year, we have also been expressing our strong concerns to ministers about the use of secure fit as a way of assessing children’s writing. For non-teachers, this may seem like a bit of a technicality. But, as teachers and school leaders, we know this could have a profound impact on our children's results this year and the whole-school results.
So, as we enter moderation season, what are the problems with the secure fit approach? I appreciate I’m in real danger of preaching to the converted here, but I think it's important we’re clear about why we’re against this method of assessment.
Two different assessment systems
One of the most obvious problems is that at key stage two, secure fit is effectively only being used in writing assessment. I appreciate this isn’t the case for teacher assessment in reading and maths, but in all honesty, who has ever asked to see your key stage two teacher assessment results in these subjects?
As we know, the children's maths, reading and SPaG results will be based on a scaled score that’s calculated by converting their raw test result. This isn’t a secure fit approach, and it means we basically have two different assessment methods being used. It seems odd that only 100 per cent will do for writing, but this isn’t the case for the other subjects being assessed. The powers that be will look at the raw scores children have achieved on these tests and apply a 'pass mark' (as this is essentially what that score has now become). If it appears not enough children have achieved the expected level, they have the opportunity to move the threshold down; however, I do wonder quite where this will be set for reading following the recent paper!
Because of the design of the tests, it’s quite possible that children won’t have mastered specific areas of the curriculum in maths and SPaG, but they still get the expected standard by picking up marks elsewhere. This isn’t the case for writing. Teachers can only judge a child to be achieving age-related expectations (ARE) if they can provide evidence for every single statement in the criteria – often meeting each statement multiple times.
What this means, in practice, is that writing will potentially take on a whole new significance in terms of a child's combined score and it could skew the school's results, particularly in terms of floor and coasting standards. It shouldn’t be the case that an overly harsh assessment process in one of the subjects should have a disproportionate influence on a child’s and the school’s overall combined results. This is especially true for schools when the combined scores play such a big role in terms of accountability.
Good writers judged too harshly
While it isn't necessarily a bad thing to note that a child struggles with, for example, their handwriting or spelling, we shouldn't be forced to label them as ‘failing to reach a set standard’ when they’re otherwise an excellent or proficient writer. Schools will want to identify any specific areas of development their children need and share these with their pupils’ parents and feeder secondary schools. But a single, specific area of weakness shouldn’t be a limiting factor when making an overarching judgement. To use an extreme example: theoretically in the secure fit approach, a child could write the equivalent of ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens, but they wouldn’t be classed as ‘working above the expected standard’ for an 11-year-old if they struggled to spell the words from the year five and six word list. This can’t be right, and it tells us nothing useful about that child’s writing ability.
Following on from this is the point many have made regarding how such an approach appears to discriminate against children with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. In the secure fit approach, many children with such needs are destined to be always working below the expected standard regardless of whether their writing is grammatically correct, creative and entertaining. Some form of ‘exemption’ for children with dyslexia would also be very difficult to achieve because of the complexities and challenges that surround gaining a diagnosis.
The box-ticking approach to teaching
Another issue with a secure fit approach, in its current format, is the impact it has on classroom practice and the way we teach writing. We have all heard of year six teachers having to teach a series of lessons on modal verbs and reminding children to include a few of these in their next piece of writing just so that the relevant box can be ticked. This isn’t the way we should be teaching children to write. There’s a time and place for modal verbs, and I don't have an issue with teachers explaining and teaching these if they feel it’ll support the overall purpose and quality of their pupils’ writing. However, insisting on seeing evidence of them in several pieces of work will inevitably lead to teachers having to 'teach to the criteria' just so they can tick the correct box. We want to enthuse and motivate children to want to write, not make them think it’s a box-ticking exercise. This approach saps all the joy and pleasure out of writing – surely not what we want for our children.
Only 100 per cent will do
When defending the secure fit approach, we have heard ministers and the DfE referring to it as a common assessment method used elsewhere in the world. I can’t think of any other exam, test or assessment in either education or life in general that requires a 100 per cent pass mark. You can gain a First Class Honours degree with less than 100 per cent, and even the driving test allows you to make a number of minor mistakes. Why can’t we apply a similarly reasonable approach when assessing the writing of six or 11-year-olds?
Back to the drawing board
I feel the Department for Education (DfE) needs to go back to the drawing board on this one and completely rethink how writing should be assessed at the end of key stage one and two. However, if the DfE is insistent that secure fit is here to stay, at the very least it should look again at some of the specific criteria that have been set in the interim assessment frameworks for this year. It’s currently overly focused on some of the more technical aspects of writing, such as spelling and grammar, that are already assessed elsewhere (ie in the SPaG test). A revised framework should have much greater focus on a child’s overall ability to communicate their meaning in writing and how they’re able to write for a given purpose and audience.
Either way, as teachers and school leaders will tell you, an urgent and thorough review of primary assessment should be at the very top of the DfE’s to-do list ahead of September.
There’s no topic more likely to stimulate a heated debate between primary and secondary teachers than the transition of pupils from one sector to the next. At one extreme, a primary teacher will bemoan seven years’ inculcating enquiring minds and helping pupils to develop a love for learning can dissipate within a couple of terms of secondary school. At the other end of the scale, the extreme secondary view is the children have spent seven years playing about and now the real business of education begins. The truth, however, probably doesn’t even lie in the middle of these extremes.
Ofsted’s recently published report on Key stage three: the wasted years? (with its Adrian Mole-like title) summarised the issue succinctly. “Leaders prioritise the pastoral over the academic needs of pupils during the transition from primary school” and “many secondary schools do not build sufficiently on pupils’ prior learning,” says the report.
Research into this area is surprisingly scant and tends to focus on pastoral aspects with some reference to the ‘year seven dip’. The emphasis on the pastoral was reflected in a recent You and Yours programme on Radio 4. A representative from the association was invited to discuss the implications of Ofsted’s report, but the programme was hijacked by overcautious parents sharing their anxieties (and, in some cases, no doubt feeding their children on them).
NAHT and NAHT Edge believe 2015/16 presents the ideal time to address the concerns raised by Ofsted. In 2016, year six pupils will be the first post-levels cohort and will carry with them a totally different set of prior attainment data.
This isn’t a lament for levels, which were of limited use in providing the basis for planning progress in learning between key stages three and four. Provide a sample of teachers from years six and seven with a piece of English writing and, in all likelihood, they’d emerge with differing judgements. Both sets of judgements would be ‘right’, but on a different basis.
There’s a lesson to be learned. Attempts to stimulate professional conversations across the divide have, at best, been piecemeal. Furthermore, such conversations would be compromised by the false construct that is sub-levels. These have become used in both pre and post-summative modes. Both lack clarity in that a 5c can represent a plethora of learning outcomes. As a construct, therefore, there’s a lack of precision and granularity.
But, if one accepts this to be the case, just wait until summer 2016! Pupils will have scaled scores in maths, reading and SPaG allied with a threefold teacher-assessed judgement for one year only. Science and writing will also have these teacher-assessed judgements. The teacher-assessed judgements are broad, ‘can do’ type statements.
The scaled scores can be interpreted, to an extent, by consulting the framework provided to test developers. It’ll provide some understanding of what the performance represented by 100 scaled score marks (the ‘expected standard’) will represent. For example, a score of 86 in maths will tell us a pupil is below the expected standard, but it doesn’t have any degree of granularity. Is the pupil, for example, weak across all aspects, or is it perhaps the space and shape that’s pulling the pupil down?
This points us in the direction transition practice and policy ought to be taking. Secondary schools need to work with feeder primaries to develop mechanisms to answer questions that scaled scores and relatively bland teacher-assessment statements pose. This needs to be done in a way that both strengthens understanding and erodes the great divide without necessitating additional burdens on year six teachers. Maybe a starting point would be to look at the assessment approaches primary schools are developing in the post-levels era and how the data they contain can be translated into meaningful transition information.
Seizing this opportunity is about more than just ensuring progress in learning. Given the brave new world, secondary schools will need to rethink how pupil progress is tracked. New key stage two baseline data and new key stage four output measures mean traditional ‘flight path’ approaches are redundant. This provides a gilt-edged opportunity to realign assessment with teaching and learning.
In 2016, the first pupil premium cohort sits GCSE examinations. What will the impact be on closing the gap measures? To conclude, consider this. How can we be confident the interventions funded by pupil premium (and also catch-up premium) are most effectively targeted without rich, granular transition data?
It’s been described as a vital contribution to the education sector; while others argue it’s simply not working. What’s the future for pupil premium funding as the election looms?
Ask any education professional what’s keeping them up at night and you won’t be surprised to hear funding as a common answer. For many, it’s not just a case of having sufficient funds; it’s working out how to invest effectively. This could perhaps explain why our pupil premium toolkit has proved so popular. Indeed, while hard cash may be tangible, gathering evidence of impact for Ofsted can be less so. How do we really know the pupil premium is working?
On the one side, pupil premium funding (the brainchild of Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg and David Laws) has been lauded as a blessing: a clear route to help close the gap in attainment levels for disadvantaged children. Those supporting the funding, such as pupil premium champion Sir John Dunford, claim we’re already seeing tangible benefits from the funding and the future is looking equally rosy.
On the other side, feathers were ruffled recently after a report from think-tank Demos suggested the national attainment divide had in fact widened slightly despite investment from government. Its analysis of GCSE results showed that while 33.7 per cent of pupils on free school meals achieved five A-C grades (including English and maths), for other pupils the figure rose to 60.7 per cent. This meant the gap had in fact increased by 0.3 percentage points from the previous year.
However, in a recent interview, Sir John Dunford told me these figures are unreliable, given the different exams in 2014. “If you analyse on similar criteria, the gap has closed,” he asserted. Similarly, the DfE labelled the Demos report ‘nonsense’ and argued that when analysed with ‘our more informative and accurate measure’ the gap had narrowed by almost four per cent in 2012. This has been further supported by more recent analysis from the DfE, which shows secondary schools using the pupil premium to best effect have halved this gap in three years and the best primary schools have almost entirely removed it in two years.
There are also ongoing discussions about changing the way it’s calculated and what the most effective ways to spend it are. Given the challenges now for schools trying to register free school meal (FSM) students, there have been calls for direct pupil premium allocations to schools.
And so the funding debate continues.
As election day looms, schools will be bracing themselves for the prospect of yet another raft of changes. So what’s the future for the pupil premium post-election?
If David Cameron’s Conservatives were to win, the education sector would already be familiar with some aspects of his party’s manifesto. And if one digs beneath the well-rehearsed sound bites, there have been some firm pledges already. For one, Cameron has promised to protect England’s school budget and maintain current levels of per-pupil funding – good news for those in reception to the end of GCSEs.
However, he has openly admitted that this per-pupil funding wouldn’t keep pace with inflation and could in fact fall in real terms. Added to this, pre-school and post-16 education won’t be ring-fenced. Unsurprisingly, not all reactions to this news have been positive, with school leaders warning this could force some schools to make staff cuts to balance the books.
On a brighter note, the Conservative manifesto stresses they have already increased funding for the 69 least well-funded local authorities in the country and pledges to make this the baseline for their funding in the next parliament.
Then there’s the Labour party. While not quite an echo of Tony Blair’s famous ‘education, education, education’ mantra back in 1997, Ed Miliband’s speeches have tried to show that education wouldn’t be put on the backburner.
Labour’s manifesto states that the party will protect ‘the entire education budget, so it rises in line with inflation’ from early years through to post-16 education.
However, per-pupil funding isn’t specifically protected, which suggests any increase will be absorbed by rising pupil numbers. Again, the focus has been on education spending, but with no specific mention of the pupil premium. It appears to be a no-go area for many politicians to discuss or attach any pledges to. One can only wonder why.
And so to the Liberal Democrats, the founders of the £2.5bn-a-year pupil premium, who have promised to protect the education budget from cuts (for schools, early years and 16-19 education) and focus on putting aside more money for disadvantaged school children. Nick Clegg has even called on other political leaders to ensure the education budget is protected in the next parliament. “With the pupil premium,” Clegg states in his party’s manifesto, “we are finally tackling the scandalous gap in exam results between rich and poor. But we must do even more.”
Clegg remains distinctly sanguine on the subject, citing the recent DfE report and stating that if the current trend were to continue in all schools, the gap between rich and poor could be closed in 10 years’ time. His optimism is admirable. Realistic? Only you can decide.
As for UKIP, apart from some intense commentary on grammar and private schools, Nigel Farage is certainly not standing as an advocate for pupil premium funding. His party’s manifesto does little to shed light on any future funding plans: one short paragraph pledges to fund all secondary schools according to ‘a single formula’. As to what that formula is, we are not told. It appears Farage and his party have other issues on their mind.
As we wait with anticipation to find out who will be running our country, we urge whoever comes into power to keep education a priority and to engage in the critical issue of funding for the most disadvantaged in our schools.
Subscribers can find Optimus Education’s pupil premium toolkit and the John Dunford interview on their Knowledge Centre, a suite of useful tools along with ready-to-implement training resources. You can also see a demo of the service and sign up for a free trial.
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