Tougher targets mean hundreds more primary schools risk failure

Tougher targets mean hundreds more primary schools risk failure

The Guardian  |by Jessica Shepherd

primary school tests
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The government is about to announce another raising of the floor standards for Year 6 SATs results in England’s Primary Schools. This will result in yet more schools being potentially unfairly labelled as failing and becoming ripe for takeover by an academy sponsor.  No-one could reasonably disagree with a desire to see schools improve and children’s prospects do likewise but policies like this one simply push already improving schools below a seemingly arbitrarily decided standard whilst doing nothing to change the education system for the better. Once again it appears to be motivated by a misplaced reliance on the Academy system and will be used to force more schools down this route against their will. 

Hundreds more primary schools in England risk being labelled failures after the coalition set stricter targets.

David Laws, the schools minister, will tell an education conference on Tuesday that primaries will be deemed to be under-performing from 2014 if under 65% of their pupils reach a satisfactory standard in reading, writing and maths and their school fails to achieve above-average progress in these subjects.

Until now, primaries have been said to be “below the floor target” – or under-performing – if under 60% of pupils reach a satisfactory standard in reading, writing and maths and pupils do not make above-average progress in these subjects. Under-performing schools risk being taken over by an academy sponsor.

Government officials said schools improved when targets were made tougher. Last year, 476 primaries were under-performing against 1,310 in 2011. Fewer than 900 primaries could be deemed to be under-performing under the new stricter target.

However, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the government was “always shifting the goal posts” and that this would “do little” for standards.

“England’s primary schools have been improving steadily for many years, nearly doubling the rate of children leaving with the expected standards,” he said. “There is no lack of ambition. The expected reward for that performance is always a shifting of the goal posts, so it will be no surprise to heads that the floor standard is shifting again next year. Raising the bar while reducing resources will, however, do little for standards.

Laws will also tell the Association of School and College Leaders that experts will help schools work out how best to spend pupil premium money if a school is judged to be anything less than “good” by Ofsted inspectors andis not narrowing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. Schools receive the £600 premium for each pupil from homes where the joint income is less than £16,000 a year.

Primary pupils are expected to reach level four in reading, writing and maths by the time they leave secondary school.

From December, the government will publish the proportion of primary pupils who achieve a “good” level four. This is so that parents know whether pupils are just making level four or exceeding it by some margin.

Laws will say many children who only just achieve level four are not “secondary ready”. “We must ensure that a far higher proportion of pupils are ‘secondary ready’ by the end of their primary school,” he will say. “This will allow them not simply to cope, but thrive, when presented with the challenges and opportunities of secondary school … The figures do not lie – a pupil who manages a low level four by the end of primary school is unlikely to go on to achieve five good GCSEs.”

Foreign languages to be taught at school from age seven

Foreign languages to be taught at school from age seven

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar on June 10, 2012

  • Jeevan Vasagar, education editor
  • guardian.co.uk, Sunday 10 June 2012 12.25 EDT
primary school pupils

Learning a foreign language could soon become compulsory for primary school pupils from the age of seven under government reforms Photograph: Don Mcphee for the Guardian

All children are to be taught a foreign language – which could include Mandarin, Latin or Greek – from the age of seven under reforms to the national curriculum being unveiled by the education secretary, Michael Gove.

In other reforms, children will be encouraged to learn science by studying nature, and schools will be expected to place less emphasis on teaching scientific method.

The introduction of compulsory language teaching in primary schoolsis intended to reverse the dramatic decline in takeup at GCSE. Pupils will need to be able to speak in sentences, with the appropriate pronunciation, and express simple ideas clearly in another language.

They will be expected to develop an understanding of the basic grammar of the language, and be acquainted with songs and poetry. Ministers say that teaching should focus on making “substantial progress” in one language.

The science curriculum is expected to emphasise using the natural habitat around schools – learning biology by studying the growth and development of trees, for example.

There will be less of a focus on doing experiments. Instead, children will be taught to observe their surroundings and learn how scientists have classified the natural world. One source with knowledge of the curriculum review said: “The idea of science being based around a careful observation of the world is a very important place to begin. The science curriculum in Japan has at its core the love of nature. In the past we put too much emphasis on how scientists found stuff out, not enough on what they have found out.”

The curriculum reforms will result in more demanding lessons, and represent a return to the basics of each subject. In maths, the teaching of statistics at primary school will be slimmed down to make way for more mental arithmetic.

Children will be expected to do multiplication and division with large numbers without the use of pen and paper. Pupils in the final year of primary school will be introduced to algebra.

The new programmes of study, which are being published for consultation this week, are to be introduced in schools in September 2014. They follow a report on the future framework of the national curriculum in England drawn up by an expert panel chaired by Tim Oates, director of research at Cambridge Assessment, an exam board. One of the most far-reaching proposals is a plan to scrap the levels that children are awarded in Sats tests at the end of primary school. The percentage of pupils reaching level 4 is used to determine whether a primary school is failing. It is not clear what will replace Sats levels. Scrapping them may pave the way for schools to provide more specific details of pupils’ progress in subjects.

In English, the curriculum will emphasise the importance of grammar. For the first time, the government will set a list of words that all children must learn how to spell. These will include bruise, destroy, ridiculous and tyrant.

Pupils will be expected to learn poems by heart and recite them in public. They will also be taught how to debate.

The new English curriculum will say that by the end of year 4, children should be listening to and discussing a wide range of fiction and nonfiction. There is also greater stress on learning to read through phonics.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “There is no doubt these programmes are more demanding. It is appropriate to express high expectations in a statement of curriculum aims, but schools will need time and support to develop their teaching to reach those aims.”

The shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, said the government was “absolutely right” to make the learning of foreignlanguages compulsory from the age of seven.

On BBC1’s Sunday Politics programme, he urged ministers to go further. “Children will get a love of learning languages if they get the chance to learn them younger. The government’s talking about seven. I would encourage schools to start teaching languages younger than seven,” he said.

Twigg said he was opposed to the legislation that created free schools, but a future Labour government would not close down“excellent schools”. He said: “I have a different concern about free schools … At the moment there is a serious shortage of primary school places in many parts of the country and yet the government’s spending priority on schools’ capital is free schools.”

The number of primary schools teaching languages has been increasing in response to a target set by the previous government., though school inspectors say headteachers’ monitoring of language provision can be weak. This is often because primary heads feel they lack competence to judge language provision, Ofsted says. Languages have collapsed at GCSE since they were made optional at the age of 14. In 2010, just 43% of GCSE candidates were entered for a language, down from 75% in 2002.

Heads oppose new punctuation and spelling test

Heads oppose new punctuation and spelling test

BBC |May 6, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News education reporter
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Head teachers say they will disrupt a new spelling, grammar and punctuation test to be introduced in England’s primary schools next summer.

The SPAG test will be sat by pupils at the end of primary school as part of their national curriculum tests (SATs).

But the National Association of Head Teachers said the new tests were “a waste of taxpayers’ money”.

Ministers said too little attention had been paid to spelling, punctuation and grammar in recent years.

But the association has voted to explore ways of ensuring “this flawed test does not take place”.

Introducing a motion to disrupt the “technical English” tests, Milton Keynes head teacher Tony Draper said teachers should be left to assess pupils in spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Mr Draper said the new test from 2013 would cost millions of pounds to administer – money that would be better spent on teacher training and learning.

“It will lead to further narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the tests and increased misery for our year six students and their families already sick of a diet of practice SATs and drills.

“Trust us to assess all our children’s writing this year and every year or we will not cooperate with any future tests.”

The conference voted almost unanimously (98.8%) to find ways of stopping the test going ahead.

The vote came as NAHT general secretary, Russell Hobby, said the association could boycott a controversial new reading test for six-year-olds in England if it was used as “a stick to beat schools”.

New regime

Mr Hobby said the initiative should only be used as a genuine test to assess pupils, rather than to measure schools.

Two years ago the NAHT boycotted Year 6 SATs and following this the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, set up a review of the tests headed by Lord Bew.

As a result, this year’s tests – which will be sat by 11-year-olds in England next week – will be the first under a new regime.

The writing test – the one most criticised by heads and teachers as an inaccurate assessment of what their pupils can achieve – will, for the first time, be assessed by teachers on the pupils’work during the year rather than an end-of-year test externally marked.

But the NAHT is angry that the government has got rid of one externally-marked test and effectively replaced with another in the SPAG test.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Too little attention has been given to spelling, punctuation and grammar over the last decade.

“That’s why we have accepted Lord Bew’s recommendation to assess spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary as part of the writing test at Key Stage 2.”

Heads threaten reading test boycott

Heads threaten reading test boycott

BBC |May 6, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News, NAHT conference in Harrogate
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Head teachers could boycott a controversial new reading test for six-year-olds in England if it is used as “a stick to beat schools”.

The National Association of Head Teachers said the initiative should only be used as a genuine test to assess pupils, rather than to measure schools.

The NAHT said schools were already proficient in testing pupils’reading.

The Government says it will help identify children who need extra help.

The phonics reading checks will be used for children at the end of Year 1 from June and are expected to take five to 10 minutes.

Children will be asked to read 20 words and 20 “made-up words”such as “zog” or “vot” to their teachers.

The check is aimed at measuring whether pupils have a good understanding of phonics – the sounds of letters and groups of letters – which the government says is the key to helping children to read.

‘Genuine test’

Proposing a motion calling for a “fairer and more purposeful system of assessment”, Yorkshire head teacher Jane Gilmour said schools should be able to choose whether to do it, rather than have it imposed.

“We need a balanced approach to teaching reading, not one driven by fear of tests,” she said.

“If the intention is to improve reading, let’s stop wasting money on a blanket test.”

The motion was overwhelmingly carried.

Later, in his address to the NAHT conference in Harrogate, general secretary Russell Hobby said: “We fear that the pass rate for the new phonics screening check will be set at an arbitrary high level in order to fuel headlines about children failing to learn to read.

“There is not yet a robust evidence base for any particular pass rate.

“We don’t see the need for this screening check – it is inferior to what most schools do already – but if it is to happen it should be used as a genuine diagnostic test, not a stick to beat schools with.

“And if it is used to attack rather than assess, that will be the end of the screening check as far as the NAHT is concerned.

“And we will happily work with our colleagues in other unions like NUT to frustrate its further application.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We have been clear that the results for the reading check will not be published in league tables.

“Schools will be required to tell parents their own child’s results.”

Parents

Mr Hobby also told heads that winning the backing of parents was the best way to challenge government policy.

“The hardest lesson I have learned over the last 18 months is that, to put it bluntly, we are talking to the wrong people.

“Traditionally, public sector trade unions have faced off -positively or negatively – towards the government.

“Our target must be public opinion. And, in our existing close relationship with parents and families… we have a massive opportunity.

“In this age of criticism of schools and the people who work in them, we need to blow our own trumpet and talk about the massive achievements we have made.

“Therefore, as you already do in your schools, NAHT itself must listen to and talk to parents and families, to champion their concerns as well as its own; to give them the information they need and treat them as partners – not merely consumers – in education.”

Parents ‘more involved in children’s schools’

Parents ‘more involved in children’s schools’

BBC |May 5, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News, NAHT conference in Harrogate
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Parents believe they are more involved in their children’s education than their own parents were – and that children now have more opportunities in school, suggests a survey.

The survey for the National Association of Head Teachers looked at how parents viewed their children’s schooling.

Almost three quarters believed they were more engaged with their children’s school than the previous generation.

Head teachers’ leader Russell Hobby said the results were“heartening”.

Mr Hobby said the poll of over 1,000 parents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland suggested the schools were “welcoming places”.

‘Part of community’

The survey found that 71% of parents believed that they were more involved in their children’s school than their parents had been during their school days.

Comparing standards, 86% of respondents agreed with the statement that their child could read as well as they could at the age of 11 and 37% thought their child could read better.

The survey also found parents were encouraged to take part in their children’s schooling.

Of those surveyed, 93% said they were made to feel welcome at schools and 89% felt they were made to feel part of the school community.

Nine out of 10 were impressed by the behaviour of pupils at the school and 52% thought the school was good at building up their children’s self-confidence, while 25% said the school was outstanding in this area.

Over half (54%) thought the school was good at providing moral guidance, while 23% rated the school as outstanding.

The poll found 81% had read a school inspection report, but 51% thought the reports did not tell the whole story about a school.

The poll also suggests parents are happy with standards at their children’s school, with 85% saying their children’s school offered good or outstanding quality of teaching.

‘Respect and trust’

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: “This feedback shows that schools retain the respect and trust of the communities they serve.

“It’s also heartening to see that families feel schools are welcoming places which are also well disciplined, aware of their moral responsibilities and ambitious for their children.

“Parents know what they want from a good school and it seems most of them are getting it, which is something to celebrate.

“Helping schools to build on what they are getting right and helping them develop areas where they could do better is ultimately what will secure an education system that gets the best from every pupil.”

The survey of 1,010 parents of children aged between five and 13 was carried out in April.

Ofsted risks put off school leaders, say heads

Ofsted risks put off school leaders, say heads

BBC |May 5, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News, NAHT conference in Harrogate
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Over 50% of deputy and head teachers do not want to apply for further posts as school leaders, the National Association of Heads Teachers warns.

The association says many good candidates are put off headship by the demands of Ofsted inspections.

From September schools given notice to improve by inspectors will only have two more chances to improve standards before being put into special measures.

The NAHT says heads need time to turn struggling schools around.

Speaking at the NAHT annual conference in Harrogate, general secretary Russell Hobby said: “It’s three strikes and you’re out -you have to wonder who is going to take on a school with two satisfactory Oftseds [inspection reports] when they then have a 12 month window to turn around that school.

“If they’re going to take on those schools, they need to know they’ve got time and space to make those changes – otherwise we’ll just see superficial measures to get the headline figures up.

“It’s three strikes and you’re out.”

‘Russian roulette’

Meanwhile the incoming president of the NAHT and Yorkshire head teacher, Steve Iredale, accused ministers of playing Russian roulette with children’s education.

“Is it not time for governments, of whichever persuasion, to see the bigger picture and work towards the greater good for all children and the future economic success of our country rather than playing Russian roulette with their lives?

“You really do have to ask, does political meddling really have a place in our children’s learning?”

Mr Iredale was also critical of Ofsted and the chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw’s plans to introduce no-notice inspections from the autumn.

Currently, schools get up to two days’ notice of an inspection.

Mr Iredale also challenged ministers to work with heads “in an open and honest way” to develop policies for schools.

“I am fed up to the back teeth of policies which are clearly created on the back of a fag packet and are consequently damaging our health, that of our children and the future prosperity of our nations.”

Overpaid academy schools must return £15m by July

Overpaid academy schools must return £15m by July

BBC |May 4, 2012

By Judith Burns Education reporter, BBC News
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Dozens of academies must return nearly £15m by July because of a government funding blunder, say accountants for some of the affected schools.

Figures obtained under a freedom of information request show 128 academies have been overpaid by the government.

On average, each affected school must pay back almost£118,000, according to UHY Hacker Young Accountants.

Ministers would like all English state schools to become academies, which are funded directly by Whitehall.

A government spokeswoman said: “Where pupil numbers don’t match estimates, we claw back excess funding.”

In a statement, the Department for Education said the current problem was caused by an old funding formula used to allocate the budgets of the older academies.

“A small proportion of academies… receive funding based on pupil estimates, not pupil numbers. This is because of the way their funding agreements were written.

The spokeswoman added that the government was working to simplify the system and ensure that all schools were funded fairly in future.

‘Serious cashflow problems’

But Allan Hickie, a partner at UHY Hacker Young, told BBC News there were also errors in some of the government calculations.

“The increase in the number academies meant the government agency responsible for allocating the funding was swamped by work and this led to some of the errors.

“Some schools may not yet know they have a problem. It all depends whether their business manager has noticed they have been overpaid.”

Mr Hickie added that schools with tight cash flow could be seriously affected by having to pay back the money which could amount to 10% of their budget.

He said his firm was acting for one primary school that had been overfunded by £190,000, a sum that could pay for five teachers.

This particular school only became an academy last summer.

He added that about one in 10 academies would now have significantly less money than anticipated, and many would have already spent the money.

“It is difficult to see how that much money could be cut from the existing budget without adversely impacting educational standards.

“Significant adjustments to funding two-thirds of the way through the academic year can cause serious cashflow problems.”

He called for the Education Funding Agency, which recently took over responsibility for allocating academies’ funding, to ensure that future adjustments were kept to a minimum.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the clawbacks were a symptom of confusion in the school funding system and feared it could even lead to staff redundancies at the academies affected.

“It will be a big blow to these schools and plans will be disrupted,” he said.

Heads are urged to report back on Ofsted inspectors

Heads are urged to report back on Ofsted inspectors

BBC |May 3, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News, at the NAHT conference in Harrogate
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Head teachers are being urged to report back on Ofsted inspectors to ensure inspections are carried out constructively and impartially.

The National Association of Head Teachers said inspections were too “variable” and “subjective” and wants heads to record their experiences.

An NAHT survey of 2,158 heads suggests 90% do not like the tone of recent Ofsted announcements.

Ofsted said it strived to achieve consistency.

It added that everyone who inspects for Ofsted is highly trained and subjected its work to a rigorous quality assurance process.

But as the NAHT annual conference get under way in Harrogate, the association said out of about 2,150 responses, 98% felt judgements by England’s school inspections body were subject to political interference.

And some 69% of heads who answered a question about career plans said they felt discouraged by Ofsted announcements.

The new chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, upset some in the teaching profession by suggesting schools would face no-notice inspections from the autumn. Currently, schools get up to two days’ notice of an inspection.

The NAHT is setting up a scheme not dissimilar from Ofsted’s controversial Parent View, where parents are invited to give feedback on schools – heads are invited to report back via a survey on the NAHT website.

It says its School View initiative will enable heads to monitor the performance of Ofsted inspectors.

Heads will be asked to identify themselves – not for publication purposes, but to verify that the source is a bona fide head teacher.

“This is unlike Parent View which is based on anonymous data,”the association says.

‘Roll of the dice’

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said schools must be accountable for their work and problems addressed.

“But the quality of Ofsted inspections is far too variable, too subjective. Pupils, parents and teachers deserve better than a roll of the dice for the result.

“Frequent changes of the inspection framework mean that even the inspectors themselves struggle to keep up.

“There are fair-minded, expert inspectors out there, but we need far more. Ofsted wants a ‘no excuses’ culture – well, that applies to them too.

“NAHT’s School View will provide an independent audit of Ofsted performance by schools which have been inspected. It will go beyond anecdote and rumour to provide hard evidence.”

A spokesman for Ofsted said: “We very much welcome NAHT’s recognition of the importance of accountability and providing the opportunity for feedback.

“Last month we announced our drive to get head teachers more involved in the inspection process by calling on them to undertake a small number of inspections every year and the pilots with the National College will start next month.

“NAHT’s feedback will support our own post-inspection questionnaires with head teachers to ensure that the process works well for schools and Ofsted. More than nine out of 10 respondents consistently tell us inspection will help their school improve and that they are happy with the way their inspection was carried out.”

Mr Hobby is expected to set out proposals for a collaborative approach to raising school standards in his speech to delegates at the conference on Sunday.

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