Education Update – January – March 2016

Selected items from the national scene as reported by TES

1st January 2016

Pisa scores to assess team working ability

For the first time the latest programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) will highlight how pupils in each country score in ‘collaborative problem-solving’. This will be factored in along with the usual scores for Maths, Reading and Science.

Uncertainty re new Primary National Tests

Tougher yearly national tests will be taken for the first time this year. A new grammar test is being introduced into Year 2.

The new Year 6 Sats will assess reading, maths and grammar, punctuation and spelling with a science test taken by a sample of pupils. Content is expected to be harder, reflecting the new national curriculum. However, there is uncertainty over the new national standard since levels have been scrapped. The government has said it will be equivalent to level 4b (higher than the current level) but it cannot say how many marks are needed to reach this standard.

Underperforming Schools to be made to convert to Academies

Under the Education and Adoption Bill, passed through the House of Lords last month, Education Minister, Nicky Morgan, will have power to convert every under-performing independent school into an academy by the summer. In addition, the same could happen to schools judged to be consistently ‘coasting’.

New National Schools Commissioner

Sir David Carter will become the new National Schools Commissioner in February and will be responsible for leading the team of eight regional schools’ commissioners, as well as scrutinising academy trusts more closely. Sir David will be expected to intervene in any school (whether academy or state-maintained) if they are deemed to be ‘coasting’.

8th January 2016

RE guidance

Nicky Morgan issued guidance from government ministers that non-religious beliefs need not be given ‘equal parity with religious beliefs’.

22th January 2016

Exam boards may raise fees

Exam boards are struggling with huge financial pressures. A range of government reforms has left the awarding bodies in England facing falling income from entries and rising costs due to reformed GCSEs and A-levels. Raising fees would risk lowering entries.

The culture of many Secondaries ‘not good enough’

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, speaking at an event organised by think-tank CentreForum, said that too many Secondaries have ‘noisy corridors, lippy children and sullen classrooms’ and a culture that is ‘just not good enough’. He also criticised the options for less academic pupils at age 16. The provision was ‘inadequate at best and non-existent at worst’ he said.

RE dangerous?

Religious Education may tend to entrench existing ethnic and national and political divisions in regions of conflict. So suggests research by Giuditta Fontana of the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College, London. Her research has been informed by Lebanon, N. Ireland and Macedonia. See research at

Troops to Teachers

A controversial scheme to turn former military personnel into teachers has only trained ⅙ of its target number in the first two years. Only 32 out of 180 places available in the Troops to Teachers initiative completed training this month in its first cohort. The two subsequent recruitments have not fared much better with 46 and 49 for 2014 and 2015 respectively.

School Leadership KEY

Key components of English Leadership according to Prof. Jonathan Supovitz:

  • Multiple leadership positions within a school including senior and middle-level leaders
  • Clearly identified levels of knowledge and skill required for each different level of leadership
  • Formal and informal network opportunities allowing for learning to be both expert-led and peer-led
  • Widely recognised certification for school leaders
  • Leadership function incorporated into the broader accountability system, to promote the role of leadership in school improvement

29th January 2016

North East Tops the Rankings

Schools in the NE of England out-perform all other regions in GCSE and Sats results when pupils’ background is taken into account. These findings challenge warnings by Ofsted and ministers about a ‘North-South divide’ in education. (Analysis carried out by Education Datalab)

5th February 2016

Unions call for Performance related pay to be ended

The ATL and NUT teaching unions are uniting to call for PRP to be dropped in the light of their recent research which indicates the scheme is increasing workload and disproportionately disadvantaging black and part-time teachers.

DfE reveals new official measure of Primary pupils’ progress

Schools will be judged by how individual children perform at the age of 11 in comparison with the average for children who have the same score as them in reading, writing and maths at aged 7 years. Individual scores will not be reported, only the school’s average.

12th February 2016

Unions want 4 yr olds tests scrapped

Research commissioned by ATL and NUT unions and the UCL Institute of Education in London has led to teachers and academics warning that the tests will an unnecessary workload and risk damaging pupils, producing no useful information. The survey of 1,100 teachers indicated that the majority (60%) believe the assessments will not give an accurate assessment. A third of teachers said the assessments had damaged their relationships with pupils. The baseline assessment, not yet mandatory, has been described by the government as the only way to measure progress.

Loss of Art Teachers?

Over 50% of secondary Art teachers are considering leaving the profession because of increased workload and a belief that their subject has been devalued by the government English Baccalaureate which does not include Art.

19th February 2016

Teacher Recruitment Crisis?

A TES analysis of DfE statistics re: staff trainees for Maths and Science show significant drops in the numbers of eligible candidates starting training, despite increased bursaries being offered. In Maths a drop from 2232 trainees in 2011-12 to 1888 in 2015-16. In Science for the same years there was a drop from 2732 to 2289. A DfE spokesman described it “disingenuous” to suggest their approach is not working, saying that “the proportion of trainee teachers with a top degree has grown”. [Se also the report “Training New Teachers” published by the National Audit Office (NAO)]

Primary Schools also have been told by DfE to stop recruiting their own trainees causing fear of a looming shortage of teachers for 2017.

Cheap classic books for schools

Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, has encouraged secondary schools to stock up on classic literature after publisher Penguin offered a list of 100 titles it would supply cheaper in a bulk buy deal for schools. Books cost £1 each. Note: many are also free on TES Resources (

Ofsted finds teaching skills wanting

Ofsted has demanded that Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) and E-Act which run a total of 90 academies need to take urgent action to improve the quality of education they offer.

26th February 2016

New National Schools Commissioner (NSC)

The new commissioner, Sir David Carter, plans to identify 100 weakest academies in the country and introduce a new hierarchical system of academy chains. Multi-Academy Trusts (MATS) will be organised into four distinct levels based on the schools under their control.

The four tiers:

Starter Trusts:                         5 schools in 1 region

Established Trusts                   5-15 schools in 1 region

National Trusts                        15-30 schools in 1 region

System Leader Trusts              30+ schools across the country

The latter will be directly accountable to Sir David Carter. He will use 8 Regional Commissioners in each of the following areas: –

South Central England and NW London

East Midlands and the Humber

West Midlands

East of England

South East England and South London

Lancashire and West Yorkshire

North of England

South West England

They will monitor the performance of Academies, Free Schools, UTCs and Studio Schools in their area. These include 5133 Academies and 303 Free Schools.

Sir David says: “My vision is that fundamentally everybody needs some help and can give some help.”

Number of trainee RE teachers up by a third

After a campaign to attract more RE teachers the number of teachers applying has risen by 31%. 850 people applied to train as RE teachers from September 2015.

4th March 2016

Critical budget situation damaging education?

A critical funding situation has led 80% of secondary schools to reduce staff and 75% of the sector’s school leaders warn that education is being damaged.

Best books

Winner of 2016 Blue Peter Award for the “best” story book is ‘The Nowhere Emporium’ by Ross Mackenzie.

Winner of the best facts book is ‘The Epic Book of Epicness’ by Adam Frost.

DfE Data analysis shows schools with low ability will suffer under new GCSE measure

Schools with large numbers of lower ability pupils will be disproportionately penalised by Progress 8 – the government’s new accountability measure according to a new data analysis.

8 in 10 teachers have mental health problems

A new poll of 2000 teachers suggest 84% of the profession have had to deal with poor mental health. The DfE says it is working with teachers to tackle the causes of overload and trusted schools to support staff.

Teachers anger over new Primary assessment

Primary assessment will require:

  • An optional baseline assessment for children starting in reception
  • In Year 2 a new grammar, spelling and punctuation test
  • New tests are planned for 7 yr olds and multiplication table tests for 11 yr olds in future years
  • This summer Year 6 pupils will take reformed tougher SATS tests
  • Statutory teacher assessments are to be carried out in reading, writing, maths and science at the end of Year 2 and 6Teachers are angry over the sheer amount of change and uncertainty in such a short space of time. They are also angry at the increased workload with up to 198 tick boxes for each pupil.

11th March 2016

Dyslexic children to suffer under new assessment?

In order to reach the expected standard for Year 6 high-achieving, dyslexic children must be able to spell most of the 200 words on government word lists (100 for Year 3/4 and 100 for Year 5/6). Teachers are furious because the DfE says no allowance will be made for dyslexic children and they fear thousands will fail. The NAHT and Dyslexia Action are warning that this stance is discriminatory and are demanding change.

New Review on effective teaching in Primary schools

A review has been launched by the Teaching Schools Council and will be led by Dame Reena Keeble – a former headteacher.

Ofsted expects most secondary pupils to do the English Baccalaureate

Sir Michael Wilshaw announced this at the Association of School and College Leaders’ conference.

18th March 2016

Ofsted Chief attacks performance of multi-academy trusts

Sir Michael Wilshaw has reported as ‘worrying’ the performance of 7 chains of Academy Trusts but the DfE denied these concerns were accurate and said they were no reflection on the MAT model.

Ex-Exam Head warns against England’s culture of testing

Mr Little, now chief academic officer for GEMS Education, speaking at a Global Education and Skills Forum in Dublin, has warned that a ‘joyless’ and ‘Victorian’ approach to exams and testing in England is ‘undermining the culture of our schools’ in an age that demanded ‘academic and technical rigour beyond boundaries’.

Criticism of the English Maths Curriculum

Mr Andreas Schleicher, who runs the global PISA programme, criticised English Maths curriculum as “a mile wide and an inch deep”, focusing on memorisation and learning facts rather than mathematical concepts.

Risk of closure of small schools

The government Academies Revolution (requiring all schools to become academies) is causing small schools to fear they will be closed or have nowhere to turn for support. 15,000+ state schools have yet to acquire academy status. A DfE consultation on funding revealed that from 2017 local authorities would no longer be funded or expected to carry out school improvement. A DfE spokesperson emphasised that failure will not be tolerated and the academies programme will give the benefits of ‘efficiencies’ and partnership with other schools to ‘improve expertise’. Small schools will be ‘encouraged’ to join multi-academy trusts.

25th March 2016

Strategy for preventing extremism causing a surge in referrals

The government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy, which encourages educational institutions to refer pupils who they think need preventing from being drawn into terrorism, has surged to a new high often, say Unions, because ‘scared’ teachers are worried about Ofsted checks.


The Prevent strategy requires schools to:

  • Have clear procedures in place for protecting children who are at risk of radicalisation
  • Make sure that staff have training that gives them the knowledge and confidence to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism
  • Ensure children are safe from terrorist and extremist material when accessing the internet in school, including the establishing of appropriate levels of filtering


Renewed calls have been made for schools to stop subjecting pupils to ‘harmful’ informal exclusions. A report by Dr Maggie Atkinson in 2013 (Always Someone Else’s Problem) identified many exclusions as illegal.

Statutory guidance on exclusion:

  • Only a headteacher can exclude a pupil and this must be on disciplinary grounds
  • Informal or unofficial exclusions are ‘unlawful’ even when carried out with the agreement of parents or carers
  • Any exclusion of a pupil, even for short periods of time, must be formally recorded