Comment from the team at Schools.co.uk
Every week the team at Schools.co.uk sends out a short email covering a recent development in government education policy and its effects, and the opportunities these offer to companies that sell into the education market in the UK.
When grades go wrong
Schools are becoming aware that exam grades are not as accurate as they might be
It is sometimes easy to think that there are just two issues in schools at the moment: the lack of teachers and the rise of the school population.
But there is another that has arisen of late: the accuracy of exam results.
During the summer Ofqual, which oversees public exam boards, published research concerning the accuracy of grades given in GCSE and A-level exam papers across a range of subjects during the past four years.
They found that in English and geography the grades awarded to around 30 per cent of students deviated significantly from the grade that a group of senior examiners would have given for the same exam paper.
In history it was even worse:
Government finally gives in on sex education
After years of campaigning the government in England has finally agreed this is one fight it doesn’t have to win.
I suppose the lesson ultimately is that when one is under attack on every front in relation to education - the funding cuts, the failure of some Free Schools to attract both children and staff, the corrupt practices scandals in some academies, and rapidly falling number of teachers at a time of huge rises in the numbers of pupils and students - then something has to give.
And the first thing to give was revealed last week: sex education.
From the moment the government’s “guidance” on sex education was published in 2000 it came under attack as “hopelessly inadequate” for the modern world. And that was in 2000 when the level of cyberbullying, pornography, sexting, grooming, and abuse on line was running at about 0.001% of present levels.
Cutting the school day
Increasingly schools are choosing to cut the school day as a response to government funding plans.
Although the amount of money pledged to the school system by the government has been rising, some schools have found their income per child taught falling. This has been because of three factors: the growth in the number of pupils and students in school, the diversion of some money into the proposed grammar school programme, and the diversion of another chunk of money into the Free School system.
Although some of this looks like changing in the coming months, there is still going to be a shortage of funds - at least until the austerity programme comes to an end.
But also there is a growing shortage of teachers. Young teachers from the EU who previously have welcomed the chance to work for a few years in English schools are no longer coming to the country, and generally there is a declining interest among UK citizens in teaching because of the continuing cap on salaries.
Schools have been looking around for a response to this double problem - and many have found the same solution - to close the school one hour earlier.
More students, less money, what now?
Schools are starting to become very inventive in terms of how they use their share of the £85.2bn annual budget
When I first wrote about the “education market” in the 1980s, the total budget for schools was £35bn per year. Now it is £85bn which, even allowing for inflation, is a massive increase.
So when we hear about “cuts” in the school budget, we need to have a sense of proportion. And we also need to be conscious of the level of change that is happening.
A lot of the growth in money made available to schools in the past was spent on teachers. But since the 1980s methods of teaching and learning have changed so radically that the percentage spent on teachers is declining. But fewer teachers in schools does not necessarily mean a problem; indeed it does release large amounts of money for other uses.
Beware the tricks
If it looks like a clever way to get people to read your emails, it might well have the opposite effect
What with having a few days off over Easter I decided to clean out the junk file in my email in-box.
And in doing so what struck me in skimming through the list of highly unlikely offers of products and services I didn’t want but was told I did, was that over 50% of the emails had my first name as part of the subject line.
Put another way, people writing dubious messages have hit on the notion that the way to get their message to me is by making it seem personal, by putting my first name at the start of the message.
In retaliation my email program (which I have long realised has a mind of its own) has classified all such incoming items as junk.
The way we see schools is a problem
How we think of schools is influenced by our experiences. But they may not reflect what is happening now.
From time to time the Guardian newspaper runs a “Secret Teacher” column in which an anonymous teacher writes of what life in school is really like at the moment.
One article in the series comes from a school that is obsessed by the image it presents. It is portrayed rather like a retailer with a gleaming shopfront showing beautifully presented goods while out back illegal immigrants are forced to work 18 hours a day for 10% of the minimum wage producing fifth rate products that bear no relation to what’s shown in the display window.
Here’s a short extract from the piece…
“I’ve witnessed pupils’ work ripped up in front of their eyes, and criticised in front of the whole school. Teachers are warned to keep students well away from learning resources, should they end up looking worn for the visitors. Staff have even been asked to impersonate children’s work. Much like a show home, most of what you see is there for exhibition.
When government and parents part company
The government’s increasing distance from the reality of contemporary schooling is causing problems but also offering new opportunities.
The case of a parent who argued that he was entitled to take his daughter out of school during term-time to go on holiday has been heard in the Supreme Court, which found in favour of the Local Authority.
The result means that schools and local authorities in England can continue to fine parents £60 for taking their children out of school when they are not ill.
This case will not only present challenges to parents who sought cheaper air fares and hotel bills by going away out of the holiday season, but will also be a challenge to farming families where farmers are often unable to take their holidays during the summer. However it is still possible to argue that the family has “exceptional circumstances” through the requirements of farm work. We will have to wait to see how local authorities react.
Arts in decline? No!
Why it is wrong to accept the popular notion that the arts are being pushed out of schools
A study by the New Schools Network has caused many to rethink the notion that the arts are in serious decline in UK schools and that no money is being spent on them.
The argument throughout has been that the government’s requirement for schools to get students through GCSEs in specific knowledge based subjects, rather than creative subjects, means schools have followed this path.
But while some school managements do seem to follow government diktat in a slavish manner, many others don’t take this attitude at all. And indeed the highly successful revolt by many LA schools against enforced academisation, and the continuing failure of parts of the Free School programme, seem to have emboldened many.
Children are reading later
The way and the speed in which children are learning is changing: but few are talking about it.
Given the changes that are happening in our society and which affect children from the earliest days, it is not surprising that their responses towards reading, learning, and indeed education are changing.
To give but one example, there has been an eight per cent rise in health visitors’ reports of children with delayed language in the last year, according to the Institute of Health Visiting.
Indeed the Institute reported that in 2016 72% of health visitors said they had found an increase in the number of children with delayed speech and communication development.
Avoid telling teachers what you sell and instead show them their relevance to the current school situation.
I have long been advocating the view that the current changes in school budgets don’t mean that schools will buy fewer products, but rather that they will cut the number of teachers (by far their biggest expense), enlarge classes, and start using other means of teaching.
Further, my argument is that this won’t mean redundancies, but rather will mean simply not replacing staff who leave and abandoning attempts to recruit when applicant levels are low to non-existent.
Recently, articles online and in the press have started to concur with this analysis, and the London Councils’ submission to the DfE’s consultation says, “As around 70% of a school’s budget is spent on staff salaries, funding reductions are likely to result in fewer teachers and support staff posts in schools, as well as increased class sizes.”
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