Reforming school funding, OECD stats, segregated PE teaching, Wilshaw on Dubai and Derby, The TES podcast, the poorest pupils, teachers' working hours, Osborne's cuts and much more

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It is time to "start Ofqual's funeral rites", says top HMC head - 26 June 2013

The exam system has become used to taking flak from angry heads, particularly in the wake of last summer's GCSE English grading controversy.

But the attack mounted today by Christopher Ray, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmasters' Conference, representing elite independent schools, was strong, even by those standards.

The high master of Manchester Grammar School told a Westminster Education Forum event that he had come "if not to bury" Ofqual, then "to start the funeral rites" for the exams regulator.

"Our exams system is a mess," Dr Ray argued. "It is an industry built on foundations of sand."

He went on to claim that for many teachers, exam boards were now seen as "the enemy" and he had lost confidence in their regulator. "Would our pupils be any worse off without Ofqual?" Dr Ray concluded, "I don't think so".

HMC had presented the regulator with evidence of "massive" year-to-year variations of results between individual schools caused by poor quality marking - "the response zilch," he said.

The "nub of the problem", he said was an Ofqual code of practice which HMC has argued loads the dice in favour of exam boards and makes it "nigh on impossible" for pupils to challenge poor marking.

Ofqual responded with a report on marking this month which found that the biggest factor in its reliability was the design of qualifications. The watchdog will publish another report into process for challenging and appealing against results later this summer.

But that has come nowhere near to satisfying Dr Ray, who claims the regulator is procrastinating and believes only government can now solve the problem.

Ofqual chief regulator, Glenys Stacey, was there to hear his comments and noted that the watchdog had found that markers were well educated and experienced, both in their subjects and in marking.

But the strongest challenge to Dr Ray's claims came from a more neutral source - Professor Paul Newton.

The assessment expert from London University's Institute of Education said that exam boards did not deserve a "good kicking" for the quality of their marking - yet.

But he suggested double marking of essay questions could be introduced and that examining could become a professional responsibility, with research on marking levels routinely published.

William Stewart

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Reforming the funding formula for schools is beset with problems. Many have tried, many have failed - 26 June 2013

The government will introduce a "fairer" funding system for all schools by bringing in a national funding formula by 201516, chancellor George Osborne said today in his much-anticipated Comprehensive Spending Review.

In setting out his spending plans review for 201516, Mr Osborne committed the government to a change in the way schools are funded that he hopes will see major discrepancies between per-pupil funding levels ironed out.

But previous attempts to alter the school funding formula - including one under the New Labour government - have been and gone as the political and financial ramifications of such a move have proved too great in the past.

Currently, similar schools in different areas can often receive up to pound;1,000 difference per pupil, which a national funding formula would look to abolish.

Labelling it as an historic reform, Mr Osborne added that the current system was "unfair and we are going to put it right".

Rural and suburban schools have been campaigning for a change in school funding for years due to the inherent unfairness of the system as it stands.

In 2010, education secretary Michael Gove attempted to introduce a national funding formula but abandoned the idea after realising that it would be too difficult to implement in the current climate. Many believed that the plans had been shelved indefinitely.

Since entering the Department for Education, schools minister David Laws has been committed to the idea of a fairer funding system, but the plans will be fraught with challenges.

In 2011, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published research showing the "winners and losers" of any attempt to change the funding system. According to this work, urban schools in areas such as Liverpool and Wigan would suffer cuts of up to 10 per cent, while schools in areas such as Warwickshire, Derbyshire and, oddly, Islington could see rises of up to 10 per cent.

Trying to introduce a new funding formula in less than 10 years, the IFS said, would see some schools suffering hugely dramatic cuts in money. "In a transition lasting six years, some schools would incur annual cash-terms losses of funding of up to 5 per cent," senior research economist Luke Sibieta said at the time.

Should Messrs Osborne and Gove be in power in 2015, it will be interesting to see if they have the stomach to push these changes through

Meanwhile, the chancellor confirmed that school spending will be protected from cuts taking place elsewhere to government departments. Mr Osborne also announced that 180 new free schools would be created in 201516. However, there was no mention of cuts to the wider education department, with pre-school and FE widely anticipated to be sacrificed in the name of spending for children aged between 5 and 16.

The silence could be ominous.

Richard Vaughan

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

The UK has highest proportion of teachers in their 20s in OECD - 25 June 2013

Teachers in the UK are among the youngest in the world, according to new figures published today.

Nearly a third - 31 per cent - of primary teachers in the country are still in their 20s. The proportion is much higher than any of the 30 other countries in the `Education at a Glance' study, and more than double the average of just 13 per cent.

The UK's secondary staffrooms are also unusually youthful with a fifth of teachers in their 20s. Of the other countries in the study compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), only Indonesia, with 29 per cent, has a larger proportion of under-30 secondary teachers.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD education special advisor, described the UK's teacher demography as "really good".

"What we can clearly say is that a younger teaching force makes it a lot easier to bring new ideas in teaching into the labour market," he said. "Initial teacher education makes a much greater impact."

But despite examining the issue from "various angles" the OECD had not been able to establish any actual statistical relationship between teacher age and school results, Mr Schleicher said.

The UK also has a lower proportion of primary teachers aged more than 40, greater than any other country in the study, at just 40 per cent.

This is in "stark contrast to the situation in many European countries where inflexible employment conditions coupled with declining youth populations have led to ageing teacher populations," the report notes.

It cites Italy where 85 per cent of primary teachers are 40-and-over; Sweden at 72 per cent, and Germany at 71 per cent.

And in UK secondaries 51 per cent of teachers are at least 40-years-old, less than anywhere in the OECD study except Brazil at 49 per cent and Indonesia at 38 per cent.

William Stewart

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Why do we still segregate PE teaching along gender lines? - 24 June 2013

Imagine a curriculum where only boys learned algebra, but geometry was deemed suitable only for girls. Imagine a school where the head appointed a male head of boys' English and a female head of girls' English.

Academic Dr Gary Stidder uses this absurd construct to underline how outdated and gender-segregated some schools' attitude to physical education teaching can be.

He says that even in our modern, politically correct world, girls are still frequently encouraged to pursue "female" sports such as netball, hockey, rounders and "aesthetic" activities like dance, and their teachers are often women.

Men tend to be appointed with the brief of teaching the boys the finer points of forming a rugby scrum or rubbing the ball on your cricket whites.

But new research from Dr Stidder suggests that the gender of a PE teacher makes no difference at all to the quality of teaching. Women can teach boys just as well as men, and men can teach girls, he found.

His research looked closely at two female trainee teachers undertaking PGCEs and working in boys-only schools and a male trainee working at a girls-only school. He interviewed dozens of other staff, PGCE course tutors, mentors and students to reach his conclusions.

"This has dispelled the myth that the biological sex of a physical education teacher is a significant factor to be considered in the teaching and learning of physical education in secondary schools," Dr Stidder, principal lecturer at the University of Brighton's School of Sport and Service Management, said. "It makes little or no difference to the learning of secondary school pupils [aged 11-18], nor is there any evidence to suggest that it jeopardises the professional development or career prospects of new recruits to the profession."

Dr Stidder now hopes his close-up study will stimulate professional debate over training policies in secondary school physical education, leading to wider opportunities for teachers.

One trainee teacher, the appropriately named Stephanie Fitt, said she found students at the all-boys Hayesbrook School in Kent were a "bit cheeky", but it seems she got on rather well with them. "That's what boys are," she said, "and I quite enjoy it."

Irena Barker

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`Less Dubai and more Derby': chief inspector tells private schools to up their game - 21 June 2013

Not content with criticising the country's underachieving schools, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has now had a pop at the overachievers.

Speaking at the Festival of Education at Wellington College this morning, Sir Michael trained his sights on some of the country's most prestigious private schools, urging them to become more involved in the state sector.

Private schools need to have more of an active role in improving underperforming state schools, he said, adding that this is not just the right thing to do but would also be good for the country.

"As the political leaders have realised, it is as much about an economic necessity as it is a moral obligation," he said.

He joins a long line of politicians and educationists calling on private schools to do more, including Prime Minister David Cameron, education secretary Michael Gove, former schools minister Lord Adonis and Wellington College's master Anthony Seldon.

Sir Michael praised those in the independent sector that have taken up the challenge such as Wellington College, which sponsors the Wellington Academy, and Eton College, which is working with a number of state schools.

But he gave no quarter to Repton School over its decision to open a new private school in Dubai, rather than focusing on nearby Derby.

"Children in Derby have less than a 5050 chance of going to a primary school that is good or better.[but] Repton has recently opened a new school in Dubai. I couldn't help but wonder if they might have looked closer to home," he said. "Maybe next time they could think less Dubai and more Derby, please."

Richard Vaughan

The TES weekly podcast is here, including a chat with PISA top-dog Andreas Schleicher - 20 June 2013

This week's programme includes a chat with Pisa's Andreas Schleicher, the seven deadly sins of teacher CPD and a glimpse at two very different but very successful schools in New York City.Don't miss it.

Get it here.

Don't be afraid to tell the podcast's editor Richard Vaughan what you think

100 under 50 - The world's best young universities revealed - 20 June 2013

Given that the fast developing internationalisation of the HE sector is of increasing interest to England's school system, the latest global university rankings make for fascinating reading.

Many school leaders and careers advisors are now actively encouraging their pupils to look beyond Britain when considering their options at 18.

South Korea's Pohang University of Science and Technology has topped the list of the world's top 100 universities that were set up less than 50 years ago.

Founded in 1986, Pohang is top of the pile in TES sister title Times Higher Education's second annual "100 Under 50" list, ahead of second placed Eacute;cole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

It's an especially good day for South Korea with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist), coming in third.

The UK can claim just one of the top ten, with the University of York in seventh place, followed by the University of Warwick in 13th, Lancaster University 14th and the University of East Anglia 16th.

For the full list and further analysis visit THE.

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Gove moves to scrap limits on teachers' working hours - 19 June 2013

Michael Gove has made no secret of his disdain for what he sees as the restrictions of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD). Back in April, the education secretary argued that limits on the length of school days and term dates were out of touch with modern Britain. A longer school day, he said, would be more family-friendly and "consistent with the pressures of a modern society".

But the full extent of the changes he wants have finally been made clear in the Department for Education's submission to the School Teachers' Review Body - which it must consult before changing teachers' pay and conditions - published yesterday. And it will not make pleasant reading for the teaching unions, to whom the STPCD is sacrosanct.

"Overly prescriptive" limits to teachers' working hours and restrictions on what tasks they should undertake should be scrapped altogether, the department argues.

At present, teachers may work for a maximum of 1,265 hours a year, spread over 195 days, and do not have to undertake a list of specified administrative tasks such as bulk photocopying or creating classroom displays. A number of provisions also specify that teachers and headteachers are entitled to time for specific activities such as planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) and dedicated leadership and management time.

"This is unhelpfully restrictive for schools that are seeking to manage their teaching staff and plan their timetable as effectively and efficiently as possible," the DfE submission says.

The conditions can, it continues, "limit a school's ability to make decisions about how teachers are deployed and so restrict its capacity to get the best value from its teaching staff and use their skills to achieve maximum impact for their pupils".

"Children in the Far East are also often learning for many more hours than their peers in England, giving them a critical edge when they leave school," the submission says, adding that the example of academies - already free to deviate from the pay and conditions document - shows that schools would "exercise those freedoms responsibly and selectively".

According to the submission, the Working Time Directive would continue to apply - providing for "an average weekly limit of 48 working hours and minimum rest periods of 20 minutes per six hours worked; 11 hours per day, and one interrupted break of 24 hours every seven days." So that's all right, then.

Predictably, the response from the union side has been furious. In his blog, NUT executive member Martin Powell-Davies writes that the education secretary's plans "can be summarised in one sentence: Gove wants to remove every significant contractual workload protection we have in order to cut public spending".

The first regional strike by the NUT and NASUWT takes place in the North West of England next Thursday. It's safe to assume that Mr Gove has just ratcheted up the unions' anger another notch or two.

Stephen Exley

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Award-winning children's author attacks government's approach to primary teaching - 19 June

An author branded "unteachable" as a child due to her dyslexia has won the Carnegie Medal for children's books.

Sally Gardner won the prestigious award with Maggot Moon a dystopian tale about a teenage boy, Standish, who lives in an alternative 1950s Britain called The Motherland. The prize comes after the book won the 2012 Costa Children's Book Award.

Gardnerhas been writing children's books since 1993 and has previously won the Nestl Smarties Book Prize.

She was diagnosed as dyslexic at the age of 12 and ended up at a school for "maladjusted" children. Then at 14 she discovered the book Wuthering Heights and began to read, winning a scholarship to Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design at 18 and going on to work with playwright Alan Ayckbourn at the National Theatre.

She admits she still has terrible spelling, but has an editor who corrects her manuscripts.

As such, reading and writing are issues close to her heart. In her acceptance speech this morning Gardner hits out at a move towards more rote learning in the curriculum, saying that teachers should be allowed to do what they do best - teach - rather than judge children on a series of standardised exams.

"Both Janet and John agree with Mr. Gove that learning by rote (or by ROPE as I call it, the gallows for the inquiring mind), is the only answer. Cut down on creativity, give the little blighters exams exams exams exams until they all become good sheep."

She has also joined the newly-appointed Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman in praising librarians. "Stop praising literacy with one hand and closing libraries with the other," she said. "Let librarians be free to do what they do best: encourage a lifelong love of reading in every child, even the ones without a hope of ever getting an A-star. Stop testing children into failure!"

Helen Ward

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SEN, FE and childcare at risk in next week's spending review. But mainly SEN - 19 June 2013

Now that the G8 summit has finished, the media's focus is shifting to next Wednesday's Spending Review.

The chancellor George Osborne has been trailing potential cuts to education for a number of weeks as he tries to find pound;11.5 billion in savings across all government departments for the year 2015-16.

It is widely understood that education secretary Michael Gove has agreed to about pound;2 billion in savings from his department. To be clear, while Mr Osborne and Mr Gove have been at pains to say that school spending will be protected over the next five years, this only refers to children aged between 5 and 16.

And just yesterday, the chancellor is reported to have said that "ultimately Britain has got to live within its means, we've got to be able to have an army we can afford or an education system we can afford", when speaking at the G8.

This has left onlookers to cast around for areas in the Department for Education budget that could suffer the chop next week and it leaves childcare, special educational needs (SEN) and education's perennial Cinderella story, FE colleges, looking vulnerable.

Childcare and pre-school provision has already taken centre stage this year following children's minister Elizabeth Truss' botched childcare reforms, which were eventually blocked by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. The Lib Dems see childcare as a major battleground for them in the run-up to the general election, so it will take some serious negotiating between Messrs Clegg, Osborne and Gove to take sizeable chunks out of this budget.

All of which leaves SEN. Last week, TES ran on this blog an exclusive story revealing that money for Senco training had been pulled. Just one further round of funding will be paid for before schools will be forced to find their own cash to pay for the training.

Going by this then the signs look ominous for SEN, but it is just as likely that all of the above suffer cuts as part of the efforts to protect traditional schooling. It is, however, a sign of the times when we are forced to make spending choices between the army and education.

Richard Vaughan

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

Is the current crop of student teachers "lacking excitement" in their lessons? One top don thinks so - 18 June 2013

Last week, Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief of England's schools inspectorate Ofsted, claimed that schools were not stretching the brightest students. The statement caused a day of media uproar, and comprehensive schools took the brunt of the blow for failing to convert enough clever Year 6s into top GCSE swots.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union pointed out that schools have been "forced into the middle ground" because of league tables and Ofsted itself.

Now a leading figure in education academe has added fuel to Mr Hobby's argument in an interview with TES.

Jacek Brant, head of the Department of Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment at the University of London's Institute of Education, said that he now sees "very little excellent" teaching when asked to observe trainees giving lessons.

On the plus side, he added, he also sees far less poor teaching than when he started as an external examiner 15 years ago. But trainees, he believes, are failing to be creative.

"Real lessons are when you don't know what is going to happen," he told TES prior to giving a talk at the Festival of Education on Saturday. "Teachers are no longer taking risks and the lessons aren't spontaneous.

"In the past you would see people who you do not believe they are student teachers, using group work, role plays, imaginative use of scenarios. Now you see mainly formulaic teaching.

"Teachers are being very prescriptive in the way they teach, with the three-part lesson - that formula will mean they pass the lesson in Ofsted's eyes."

It's a sorry state of affairs if trainee teachers don't feel able to use their natural flair from the start. Let's hope the majority gain the confidence to do so as their careers progress.

Irena Barker

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The proportion of state school pupils winning top uni places tells us little - it's time to look at disadvantaged kids instead - 23 June 2013

Another report and another bout of hand-wringing over how we can help bright, poor children get into the top universities.

The latest offering from social mobility tsar Alan Milburn, highlights the miserable lack of progress top institutions have had in increasing the proportion of young undergraduates they take from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Over the past 10 years, only four out of the 24 Russell Group universities have succeeded in raising this figure, but even then, generally by less than a percentage point. The University of Oxford, the bastion of excellence and privilege, admitted 11 per cent of its students from the poorest backgrounds in 2011. The same figure as 2002. The University of Cambridge saw its figure drop from 11.3 to 10.3 per cent over the same time.

The University of Nottingham is the top performer, increasing its intake of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds from 16.9 to 19.1 per cent in 10 years. But even then, hardly impressive.

What these figures really highlight is the need to stop using the measure of "state school" as a proxy for disadvantage. For too long, universities have been able to hide behind a gradual upward trend in the numbers of students they admit from the state sector, while they fail to target truly disadvantaged young people.

After extensive outreach efforts, the University of Cambridge recently boasted that more than 63 per cent of undergraduates in 201213 were educated by the state, a 30-year high. The University of Oxford, which spends pound;3 million a year on outreach and spends pound;8 million on bursaries, now admits 57.5 per cent of its undergraduates from the maintained sector.

Universities rarely shout about the numbers of students they take from completely non-selective community comprehensives or high poverty wards because the numbers just aren't that good.

But we do need to be fair on universities. Efforts to attract people from the poorest backgrounds are really only in their early days. It will take time to trickle through. The Office for Fair Access has only just called for universities to focus their efforts on children as young as 7. This, in time, surely stands a chance of being far more effective.

Irena Barker

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At last, some proper policy from Labour. But is it enough from the man who might replace Michael Gove? - 17th June 2013

It may have taken three years, but Labour's education spokesman has finally revealed at least part of his policy hand this morning.

In his most detailed speech to date, Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary and therefore the man with a fighting chance of taking over from education secretary for England Michael Gove in less than two years, set out plans to give every school the freedoms currently enjoyed by academies and free schools.

Speaking at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), Mr Twigg said he wanted to make three "radical" reforms by broadening academy and free school freedoms to all schools, devolving more power to local communities and ensuring greater collaboration between schools.

"Why should we deny those freedoms to thousands of schools? All schools should have them not just academies and free schools," he said.

Mr Twigg also announced:

- Dropping the free school programme and replacing it with "parent academies".

- A review led by former education secretary David Blunkett looking into how local authorities could play a greater role in monitoring school performance.

- All schools must partner with weaker ones as a requirement for receiving an outstanding rating from England's schools inspectorate Ofsted.

- Changes to the admissions code to allow all schools to prioritise children in receipt of the pupil premium, not just academies.

In pinpointing the need for better local accountability, Mr Twigg has highlighted a serious flaw in Mr Gove's education reforms. Mr Gove has made much of the fact he is handing more powers to schools, but in creating a huge number of academies he has effectively put more schools under his direct control than any other education secretary before him.

Under Labour's proposals, Mr Blunkett would explore ways in which more accountability could be handed back to the local communities each school serves.

Greater emphasis on collaboration is also likely to be applauded by principals, as many see the creation of free schools and the expansion of academies as promoting competition.

The announcement of "parent academies" is likely to raise eyebrows, however. Mr Twigg has struggled to define where he stands on free schools, applauding some (such as former Tony Blair adviser Peter Hyman's School 21) while criticising others.

From the brief outline given, parent academies - academies started by parents in areas of need - appear to be free schools under a new name. The only differences being that any type of school could be created, and every school would require qualified teachers, something that is not true in free schools. How this will play out remains to be seen.

As ever, the devil will be in the detail, but at least, two years ahead of the general election, we now have some Labour policies to chew on.

Richard Vaughan

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