If you’re an education policy nerd like me (and, if you are still reading after that opening, you must be) then today will have been a pretty exciting day for you. We got not one but several important announcements from education secretary Justine Greening.
The move towards a National Funding Formula (NFF) affects every child in the country, while the primary assessment consultation response will impact on how we prioritise and assess the progress children make in key areas – impacting on accountability and staff workload, too.
For an edu-geek, the anticipation before these kinds of announcements is similar to that for a football fan before an FA cup final. And like any big match, there were highlights and dodgy decisions, too.
Overall though, I’m pretty darned happy – and I think there are loads of positives in there for all of us involved in education.
1. Fairer funding will allow easier comparisons between schools, local authorities and multi-academy trusts
I can’t stress enough how important this will be. I know that it won’t be completely comparable, as no schools will be losing money, but it will definitely be significantly better than before.
Just think of all the comparisons we will be able to make. Why do schools in this area do better than that area? Private schools cost £X per pupil more than state schools – are they worth it? This area spends a much higher proportion of funding on leadership than that area – has it made a difference?
The amount of reliable and open data we can use to find out what works and what doesn’t is going to rocket. Political parties will have to start explaining exactly how much they will fund schools per pupil if they get into government. This is a real game-changer.
2. No school need be worse off financially
This was the obvious and understandable fear for many, and one of the main issues around the implementation of an NFF. A truly even playing field would have meant some areas and schools losing out in both real terms and cash terms, and this could have derailed the transition towards something everyone agrees is really important.
Now, today’s stuff doesn’t mean that the playing field is completely level, but it is certainly a lot better than before, while ensuring that every authority does better than before in cash terms and no one need lose out in real terms. The postcode lottery is not quite over, but it’s nearer to ending, and this means that we can put the divisive issue of who loses out to one side and focus on the really important thing: how the money is spent.
3. The end of KS1 Sats
As someone who firmly believes in the importance of assessment and accountability, even at a young age, I’m pleased that this has been addressed. The KS1 tests were simply unreliable and not helpful to anyone. They were far too reliant on teacher assessment with “moderation”, which is inevitably open to unconscious biases and even gaming of the system.
Removing these and having a baseline assessment (see below) is another step on the path to a more reliable, less stressful system for primary pupils and teachers.
4. School readiness tests
School readiness has come up in the past as something that teachers and senior leaders increasingly worry about, so it is nice to see it addressed. PTE has raised concerns in the past about the EYFS framework not doing enough to ensure that children are able to read to a high enough level by the time they begin school, and this is the first step to counter that.
However, more must be done if we’re going to ensure that every child is ready for school. One other thing that the Department for Education has done in this regard is…
5. The Multiplication Tables Check (MTC)
As a former (sheds tear) maths teacher, I am of the firm belief that fluency in the building blocks of maths are the bedrock of any successful education, and equipping kids with this early on is doubly important where they already face other disadvantages in life. Closing the word and number gap is key.
I like the way the MTC is being introduced. It isn’t another scary accountability measure and shouldn’t be stressful for anyone if it is done right. Instead, it is an important objective measure to check children know their times tables; additional support can be given if they don’t.
Also, we all agree that we want teaching to be an evidence-driven profession – think of the data sets available to researchers on what kinds of schools are smashing this out of the park so that we can learn from them.
Don’t get me wrong: I still think that there are things that could have addressed, but haven’t been.
I worry about the repeated mention of “teacher assessment” at key points – the problems with this regarding reliability, unconscious bias, workload and accountability are so well rehearsed as to not be worth repeating here, so why are we still using it? How do we ensure more reliable forms of this – such as comparative judgement – are used and not the dodgy methods of the past?
And there are big question marks over how the funding announced will end up being divvied out by Local Authorities (LAs). We’re going to have a “soft” funding formula for now, with each LA being allowed to determine how it shares out the cash allocated to it by the government’s calculations. Expect those sitting on Local School Forums to become very popular with fellow heads – they still have the final say on how much each school will ultimately get.
Overall, though, I’m very positive about the announcements. Fairer funding and decent primary assessment could play a massive part in improving children’s outcomes and social mobility in this country, and today was a big step in that direction.
There is more than enough work still to be done, but for now I’m going to bask in the afterglow of my very own edu-geek FA Cup final.
Mark Lehain is director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence and the Founder of Bedford Free School