Another year, another set of reforms

This week saw the announcement of the first 47 trust schools and a school commissioner, ushering in a year of radical change. Graeme Paton and William Stewart report

Schools could sound like quite different places by the end of the year: governed by "trusts", run by "principals" and populated with "functionally skilled" pupils.

In a profession bombarded by initiatives and seemingly awash with government-fuelled jargon, the next 12 months promise to herald some of the most radical reforms yet seen by teachers.

They will be subjected to a new performance-management regime designed to bolster the link between pay and performance.

And heads, who have long complained that they bear the brunt of staff stress and workload, will be the subject of a report looking at how to recruit and retain more school leaders.

But it is the structure of the schools system that will face some of the most revolutionary reform this term. This week ministers named the first 47 schools working towards trust status and Sir Bruce Liddington, from the academies division at the Department for Education and Skills, as schools comissioner.

The schools are involved in 28 pathfinder trusts, many involving more than one school as The TES predicted in June. But with only four external partners named, only one of which - Microsoft - is a private company, Sir Bruce will have his work cut out.

His tasks will include ensuring local authorities promote parental choice, promoting and supporting trust schools, and finding the many private companies that ministers expected to sponsor them.

The controversial new breed of school is at the heart of the education and inspections bill, which could become law by Christmas. They will be able to control their own assets, federate with other schools, alter the curriculum, decide their own admissions policies, and vary staff pay and conditions. The bill, to be debated in the House of Lords in October, will also give school staff more power to punish pupils, confiscate possessions, hand out detentions and use reasonable force.

Meanwhile the academies programme continues with 18 of the independent state schools opening this term, bringing the total to 46 - the biggest expansion of the programme. The Government is also expected to publish a green paper this term outlining proposals to give children in care places in the country's top boarding schools.

What the new academic year heralds for teachers

Controversial new arrangements for performance management will be introduced in January, giving line managers and heads of department a key role in determining pay rises.

There are fears that fewer teachers will get increases because schools will tighten the criteria for progression up the pay spine. These concerns have already been fuelled by the introduction of new professional standards - possibly in the New Year - governing promotion to jobs such as the "excellent teacher" and "advanced skills teacher".

For heads and senior staff, some of the biggest waves in education this autumn will be made by the publication of a report on the future of school leadership by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The report was commissioned by the Government and is expected to pay close attention to recommendations for improving recruitment and retention of heads, and include changes to pay and the structure of leadership teams.

Although a full version is not expected until December, it has already led to divisions between Britain's two main headteacher unions, the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Association of Head Teachers. ASCL has given its support to proposals that schools could be run by non-teachers, who would take the title of "principal". But this idea has been attacked by the NAHT and classroom unions.

The curriculum

This year could be one of the busiest for qualifications reform, with a host of changes in development in preparation for the "meltdown" year of 2008.

Trials of new functional skills tests in English, maths and ICT will begin this month. The exams - which are likely to be online and which teenagers will have to pass to gain a high pass at GCSE - follow complaints from employers and Sir Mike Tomlinson, who led a two-year review of qualifications for the Government, that good exam results are no guarantee that young people have mastered the basics.

The tests are likely to emphasise spelling, grammar, punctuation and "real-world" application of maths, but precise details are still being worked out.

Details will also be finalised by the end of the autumn on the removal of conventional coursework from many GCSEs and A-levels within two years.

Instead, pupils in many subjects will sit supervised in-class tests, to be marked by the teacher. The change comes amid unhappiness within government about the susceptibility of conventional coursework to internet plagiarism and cheating by parents and teachers. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will announce how each subject is to be affected before January.

Perhaps most significantly, 20067 will see exam boards and employers attempt to put the final touches to new diploma courses, described by the QCA as the most significant curriculum reforms taking place anywhere in the world. They have nine months to work up the detailed design of courses in five diploma subjects, ranging from engineering to creative and media, with schools due to receive full details this time next year. They will be launched from 2008. By then, schools will be well used to change.

Primary schools

Primaries face a testing time this term as new targets for literacy and numeracy are introduced. From this month, the literacy hour has been scrapped, a move some commentators have heralded as the removal of a "straitjacket" for primary teachers.

But many teachers fear their workload will not be drastically altered as the Government has announced that English and maths will still have to be taught each day and tougher lessons for infants should be introduced.

The new literacy and numeracy framework - introduced this month - is designed to improve standards at 11 and comes after the government again failed to meet its targets for English and maths in key stage 2 tests this summer.

Under the reforms, pupils will be expected to know multiplication tables up to 10 times 10 by the age of nine, rather than 10, and by age six they should understand the symbols for greater than, less than and equals.

English in reception classes will include more synthetic phonics - learning to read based on the sounds letters make - and at the age of seven, rather than eight, pupils will need to spell words with prefixes and suffixes. The youngest pupils will also be scrutinised to an unprecedented level.

In October, the Government will release foundation-stage profile results, in which five-year-olds are rated on skills including emotional development, language for communication, linking sounds and letters, reading and writing.

By 2008, ministers expect 53 per cent of children to be rated at least six - on a nine-point scale - in all seven areas. To mark the transition, primary schools will be offered extra help. The first primary school improvement partners -"critical friends" who have already been employed in the secondary sector -start work in 30 to 40 local authorities this month.


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