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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

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

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.

Exam boards face fines for test paper errors

Exam boards face fines for test paper errors

BBC |May 4, 2012

By Judith Burns Education reporter, BBC News

Exam boards face multi-million pound fines for mistakes in test papers under new powers granted to the exams watchdog Ofqual.

Just days before the exam season gets under way, the regulator has given details of new sanctions – including fines of up to 10% of annual turnover.

The regulator can also order exam papers to be rewritten or ban boards from offering certain qualifications.

Fiona Pethick of Ofqual promised to “act firmly and robustly”.

The biggest exam boards have turnovers of up to £300m, so fines of 10% would be substantial.

The government says the money will go to the public purse.

Ms Pethick, Ofqual’s director of regulation said: “We want awarding organisations to provide high-quality qualifications and good levels of service.

“Our additional powers, including the power to fine, mean that when things go wrong, we have more ways in which we can sanction an awarding organisation.

“With exams starting shortly, this is a timely announcement for us as we now have our new powers in place should there be any problems during this important period.”

‘Unanswerable questions’

The move follows a series of unanswerable questions and printing errors in last summer’s A-level and GCSE exam papers, sat by 140,000 students in England Wales and Northern Ireland.

After about a dozen mistakes were found in national test papers, the government promised to have new regulatory powers, including a system of fines, ready for this summer’s exams.

Last summer’s mistakes included multiple-choice questions where all the answers were wrong, and questions which were impossible to answer because wrong information had been given.

The subjects affected were geography, maths, chemistry, biology, business studies and Latin.

Pupils vented their anger on social networking sites, with some calling for the exams to be re-staged.

At the time the exam boards apologised for the mistakes and said they were taking measures to ensure pupils would not be advantaged or disadvantaged by them.

Heads warning over smart phone pornography

Heads warning over smart phone pornography

BBC |May 4, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News, Harrogate

Parents must take greater responsibility for the material their children are accessing on computers and smart phones urge head teachers.

Some heads say pupils are viewing pornography and other unsuitable material on phones bought by parents.

Others say they increasingly see pupils as young as four re-enacting violent computer games in the playground.

The National Association of Head Teachers says parents need to be aware of the dangers of technology.

Speaking as the NAHT annual conference got underway in Harrogate, head teachers said they wanted more guidance from government on how to deal with pupils who have access to inappropriate material.


Kenny Frederick, a primary head teacher from London, said: “What is a big issue in terms of mobile phones is parents buying their youngsters smartphones on which they can access pornography, anything, it’s something we have no control over.

“Parents have to take control. Trying to make sure parents understand the issues is a big thing.

“In terms of messaging and so on, we deal with the issues around that day in and day out. It’s a growing problem. Schools have a part to play, but parents have to take control of that at home.

“It doesn’t start in school, but it ends up in school and we have to deal with the fallout when there are allegations of bullying and so on down to the misuse of mobile phones and technology.”

John Killeen, a primary head teacher from North Yorkshire, said head teachers were increasingly aware of children having access to inappropriate software and films.

“They’re replicating the games. It could be combat fighting, kung foo attacks. They see people doing it and they think they can replicate that in play situations.”

‘Reclaim social media’

Stephen Watkins, a primary head from Leeds, said young children were often not able to distinguish between fantasy and reality.

“Four-year-olds don’t understand that if you hit someone over the head with a brick they’re not going to recover immediately and jump up – as they do on screen.”

But Sue Street, a school leader in Harrow, London, said it was important for schools to embrace modern technology.

“We’re encouraging heads to engage with social media,” she said.

“Using it and setting a good example is one of the best ways of stopping children and parents from engaging in some of the other elements of it.

“We’ve got to reclaim it [social media]… we’re hoping more and more heads will get involved.”

The NAHT conference will debate social media over the weekend and is likely to call for more child protection guidance from government.

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

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.

Dear Mr Gove: Letter from a curious parent

Dear Mr Gove: Letter from a curious parent


An academy library

Most academies are performing well, but if they don’t, who will solve the problem? Photograph: Alamy

I know you’re proud of your policy of creating academies, but something happened on 23 April that pressed my panic button. You told the Commons education select committee that eight academyschools have been served with “pre-warning notices” because they are severely underperforming. I immediately thought, how come? Aren’t academies the solve-all, the system that will rid us of “underperforming”schools? For the record, let’s say it out loud: we now know that academies can and do fail. Perhaps, though, I should suspend my judgment, because the great advantage of the academy system is that the moment something goes wrong, the parents’ complaints will be heard and the secretary of state will be on to it?

Let’s look closer. First, we’re not allowed to know what or where these academies are. With local authority schools, we have accountability and transparency with online Ofsted reports, sometimes followed by local newspaper headlines and TV fly-on-the-wall documentaries, but with academies, we have the schools that dare not speak their name. And we have the academy accounts that dare not be made public.

Even so, should I have confidence that the matter is being handled competently? It doesn’t seem so. The education select committee chairman, Graham Stuart, tried to work out whose job it was to deal with what parents think about these underperforming academies. Was it the Young People’s Learning Agency – now closed – where parents with children in local authority schools used to go with their complaints, or perhaps the Education Funding Agency?

No one in the world, least of all you, seemed to know. When some parents (who are presumably under some kind of gagging order to not reveal where this is going on) called the YPLA, they were told this wasn’t in its remit. The Special Education Consortium seems to have approached the EFA to find out if this was in its remit. Nope. The EFA said that dealing with complaints about academies wasn’t its problem either. I’m sure you would agree that it’s a shame these parents can’t talk to the press about their frustrations in this matter.

The problem was: it was no one’s problem. Not the YPLA’s, not the EFA’s, not yours. It’s not good enough, is it? In fact, it’s a scandal. Can I make an observation? Over the last 20 years, your predecessors and you have been very keen to point the finger at what they say are “underperforming” schools. You have even taken action to force through a conversion job, turning a “failing” local authority school into a seemingly un-fail-able academy (not so un-fail-able, huh?). Yet when we look at your own process of governance, we find it’s underperforming. It’s not enabling parents’ complaints to be heard. That makes it not fit for purpose. What’s more, you didn’t know about it. You’re underperforming as well.

That to one side, should we be confident these academies will improve? All we hear from you is that if things don’t get better,“action” will be taken. What is this action? I read this week that you’re very keen to up the involvement of the Church of England in education. Perhaps you have a plan up your sleeve where clerics from areas where congregations have shrunk could be redeployed taking over failing academies?

While we’re on religion, can I ask you about the Bibles? I have a clear memory of you saying that you were going to put Bibles in every school. Did you buy the Bibles? If not, why not? Alternatively, if you did buy the Bibles, where are they? In a self-storage depot? I can see them now: thousands of brand-new Bibles jammed into steel boxes in Safestore just off the A1 near Biggleswade. Maybe they’re waiting for your team of CofE recruits. And how much is it all costing? I do hope it’s not another case of underperforming.

Grammar schools in tougher ranking call

Grammar schools in tougher ranking call

BBC |May 2, 2012

By Angela Harrison Education correspondent, BBC News

England’s grammar schools should be rated on tougher league table measures, a report suggests.

They should be ranked on how many pupils get A and A* grades at GCSE, says a study for the Schools Network.

Schools in England are measured on how many pupils get A* to C grades in five GCSEs, including maths and English.

The report also shows wide variations in both the intake of grammar schools in different parts of England and in pupils’performance at GCSE.

In general, it found that grammars in less wealthy areas were more likely to have pupils who entered them with lower academic attainment than other grammars.

Performance at GCSE was also relatively lower, although still high when compared with the national average.

Usually grammars come high up in the academic league tables, with most scoring close to 100% in the government’s chosen measure- pupils getting five A* to C grades including maths and English.

Among pupils at comprehensives, about 58% reach that level.


The study was carried out by Professor David Jesson for the Schools Network. He is an associate director of the organisation, which represents 5,000 schools and academies, including about 100 of England’s 164 grammar schools.

Professor Jesson looked at how the schools measured up against each other if ranked on what proportion of pupils got five GCSEs including maths and English all at A* or A grades.

He said: “I am quite surprised by the findings because of the range of outcomes for schools which appear to recruit very similar students.

“The 19 schools in London are really quite outstanding. The South East [Kent and Medway] came lowest.

“More important, there was quite a range of outcomes between schools in each area.”

Grammar schools are small in number compared with other secondaries; there are about 3,500 secondary schools and academies in England.


Professor Jesson, of the University of York, says his study shows some grammar schools need to improve.

“Grammar schools should expect to achieve high levels of performance for their pupils and most do. There are however substantial differences between grammar schools’ outcomes which tend to go unnoticed in the standard performance tables.

“If we are genuinely committed to the idea of excellence for all we need a new way of measuring the performance of these schools and making sure that every pupil reaches their full potential.”

Those opposed to academic selection believe it widens the gap between rich and poor, and say grammar schools tend to be dominated by the middle classes.

Just over 2% of children at grammar schools are eligible for free school meals compared with a national average of about 16%.

The campaign group Comprehensive Future says it does not want to see grammar schools abolished – just the 11-plus exam which is used to select pupils.

Fiona Millar from the group said: “I do think it is important that the performance of grammars is scrutinised more closely.

“The 5 A* -C measure is quite a crude one with which to judge schools that are already taking the top 20-30% of children.

“There is an assumption that they are all outstanding schools, but we should be allowed to see more evidence about whether the teaching and progress does justify that claim.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “No school can ever afford to rest on its laurels.

“We want to make sure that all schools are stretching their brightest pupils and that schools with very able intakes are helping students reach their full potential rather than allowing them to coast along.

“The tables now show expected and actual performance for low, middle and high-attaining pupils so that schools can be judged on whether they are improving all their students.”

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