Destination data, the living wage, Gove and the NUT, Ofsted rates free schools, the weekly podcast, Pisa "thinking skills", Durand and much, much more

16th July 2013 at 16:21
All the latest schools news, views and comment, brought to you by the TES editorial team

Destination data: 16 local authorities "named and shamed" - 23 July 2013

The government today published its official statistics showing where students end up after leaving school. The data reveal some fascinating, and perhaps troubling, findings.

The Department for Education has "named and shamed" 16 local authorities that failed to get a single student on free school meals into a Russell Group university in 2010.

The list includes: Merton, Sandwell, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire, East Riding of Yorkshire, North East Lincolnshire, Milton Keynes, East Sussex, Portsmouth, Southampton, Bracknell Forest, West Berkshire, Reading, Halton, Isle of Wight and Northumberland.

It's a mixed bag for sure: Sandwell is a deprived borough in the West Midlands that has been a test bed for numerous educational initiatives over the past few years. Merton is the only London borough, but no inner-city boroughs make the list.

Relatively rural areas with pockets of high poverty, such as North Somerset, are also highlighted.

The department has contrasted these councils with high-performers that managed to get at least 10 per cent of their students on free school meals into top institutions. Trafford, a selective authority, is singled out, along with Manchester, Kirklees and Stockport. Nationally, 4 per cent of students claiming free school meals attended a Russell Group university in 2010-11, compared with 9 per cent of students not on free school meals.

The news comes after Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said he wanted to create a new cadre of superteachers who would be parachuted into mediocre schools, in an attempt to improve the education of poor children in areas neglected by school improvement drives.

It will be interesting to see whether the pupil premium - introduced in April 2011 - will have any effect on future destination data. And as thousands of schools become academies, it may also become harder for officials to single out authorities for poor performance.

Irena Barker

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Major independent school chain adopts living wage for support staff - 23 July 2013

Teachers' pay is a high-profile issue, and plans to hand salary decision-making to headteachers has caused uproar.

But little has been said of late about school support staff - the teaching assistants, cooks, cleaners, caretakers and admin staff who toil to ensure the smooth running of a school, often for little pay.

In the state sector, efforts to create a consistent pay and grading structure failed to reach fruition with the departure of the last Labour government three years ago, and so the market still rules the salaries of some of the lowest paid staff in schools.

So it is with interest that we hear the news that a leading chain of private girls' schools is to introduce the "living wage" and a formal pay and grading structure for all of its 2,000 support staff. The move is believed to be a first for the private education sector.

The decision means that, from September, the vast majority of support staff in Girls' Day School Trust (GDST) 24 schools will receive at least pound;7.45 an hour and pound;8.55 in London. This amounts to a pay rise for a third of the chain's employees.

Officers at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) union, who worked with GDST to reach the deal, point out that while the move is good news, around six schools employ cleaning and catering contractors. The living wage will not apply to those workers yet.

But schools have promised to favour living-wage employers when contracts come up for renewal.

As for the new universal pay and grading structure, the GDST and union representatives say it will be fairer, ironing out years of inequality.

Peter Morris, national official for support staff at the ATL, who negotiated the deal, told TES: "This is creating transparency and consistency across the schools.

"Creating a formal structure to pay and roles, you are putting support staff on the same level as the teachers in terms of professionalism."

Mr Morris added that it is an "irony" that the School Support Staff Negotiating Body - set up to create a national pay and grading structure in the state sector - has abandoned the ambition, while a private school chain has successfully achieved its aims.

Of course, as with all job re-evaluations, there have been winners and losers during the review process and compromises have been made: the ATL says a very small percentage of staff found they had been overpaid for their jobs.

Around 140 staff who were on 52-week contracts have also been told they will be paid term-time only, to put them in line with other support staff in the chain. They will have two years' grace until their pay will change, or can choose a compensation package.

Helen Fraser, chief executive of the GDST, said: "The majority of those who benefit from the living wage are women, as they tend to fill lower paid cleaning and catering jobs.

"Our schools have a long history of promoting the advancement of women and our trustees are committed to ensuring that our employees, both male and female, are getting a fair deal."

Irena Barker

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Michael Gove may want to attend the union conferences but it looks unlikely - 22 July 2013

While Michael Gove has a reputation for being a charmer behind closed doors, his public persona - particularly as far as the education establishment is concerned - is somewhat more abrasive.

So much so, in fact, that he ended up being heckled by an audience of school leaders during a bad-tempered appearance at the annual conference of the NAHT - the union with which he enjoys the closest relationship.

But if a report in The Times today is to be believed, Mr Gove is set to unleash a "charm offensive" on school leaders and teachers. As well as revealing plans for a series of autumn roadshows in which he will engage with "ordinary" school leaders, it seems he is even willing to extend the olive branch to the arch "enemies of promise" themselves: the classroom unions. Mr Gove, the newspaper reports, "has told friends that he will accept invitations to speak at all the headteachers' and classroom teachers' union conferences next spring, and is even ready to attend the conference of the National Union of Teachers, the most left-wing of the unions".

Despite speaking at all the union conferences while he was shadow education minister, since joining the cabinet Mr Gove has only appeared before the headteachers' unions. While former minister Nick Gibb was dispatched to the classroom union conferences in the early days of the coalition, this year only the ATL, the most moderate of the three largest unions, was blessed with a visit from the current schools minister, David Laws, a lib dem.

The NUT conference has traditionally had a prickly relationship with politicians. In 1995, Labour's then education spokesman David Blunkett was infamously forced to take refuge in an office after infuriating delegates by pledging to close under-performing schools. The union later made the decision not to invite any politicians to speak. While the NASUWT does invite ministers, last year it was rebuffed for the government for the first time. Somewhat surreally, general secretary Chris Keates had to make do with addressing a cardboard cut-out of Mr Gove on stage instead.

But if Mr Gove thinks he is going to be welcomed back into the fold with open arms, he may have to think again. The NASUWT insists it has not yet made a decision on who will be invited to next year's conference. The NUT's response, meanwhile, was even cooler.

"We don't invite politicians", a spokeswoman told TES, insisting that the union has not had any official contact from the Department for Education about next year's annual conference in Brighton, and currently had no plans to relax its ban on politicos. Mr Gove would be well advised not to rush out to buy a new bucket and spade just yet.

Stephen Exley

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Exam boards have "lessons to learn" after investigation uncovers maladministration at lauded secondary - 22 July 2013

Exam boards have been told by Ofqual that they have "lessons to learn" after an investigation into allegations of exam cheating at a London secondary took nearly two years to complete.

Staff at Kingsdale Foundation School allowed students to make second attempts at coursework after their original work had been marked by teachers, and allowed "unauthorised emergency scribes" to be used by exam candidates who were capable of writing, according to reports finally made public on Thursday.

They reveal that one board, OCR, discarded all GCSE science coursework marks from the school, having "lost confidence" in their "validity and reliability", while another board, AQA found inconsistent and overly generous marking in some GCSE English coursework.

The school claims the reports, written by the boards, contain "misleading and inaccurate" statements. Ofqual has noted that the "the reports have not been agreed by the school" but has decided it is in the public interest to publish them.

The OCR report shows that a member of school staff received a written warning from the boards for giving students "more assistance than is permitted".

The allegations, involving four exam boards, were first made in July 2011, the same year that Prime Minister David Cameron described the secondary in Dulwich, South London, as "brilliant".

The boards initially allowed the school's chair of governors to appoint an "independent" investigator to lead the inquiry. The investigator had previously advised the school, a fact the school says the boards were fully aware of before approving the appointment.

But Ofqual has now told the boards that in future it expects them to: "Delegate investigation to the school or governing body only when the exam board has confidence that the investigation will be prompt, thorough, independent and effective."

It took until May this year for the boards' investigation to conclude. They initially refused to publish the results, saying that they remained confidential.

Ofqual overruled that decision on Thursday, acknowledging the boards had taken "a long time" to complete the investigation.

One of the reports says that some BTECs in applied science at Kingsdale were not awarded by the Edexcel exam board because the portfolios "were not at a standard to allow certification".

But Kingsdale said it "had not yet completed its own internal moderation process and had therefore not sought certification for these BTECs in applied science".

AQA looked at GCSE English and English literature coursework and found "irregularities", including "discrepancies between marks", some assessment "much higher than it should have been" and annotation that was lacking or inconsistent.

The WJEC board found there had been "unauthorised use of scribes" because three students had handwriting that varied between exam scripts in different subjects. It also found that candidates may have been invigilated by their subject teachers. Despite the boards' findings, only one written warning was issued.

TES revealed in July 2012 that one of the reasons for the delay in the investigation was that the school had considered taking legal action against the exam boards.

Whistleblowers who made the original allegation said then that they had "lost all faith" in the investigation.

But Kingsdale headteacher, Steve Morrison, said the inquiry was delayed because the exam boards were trying to "put their houses in order" and the school had wanted to bring it to a quicker end.

"We have expressed our concerns to both Ofqual and the examination bodies over what we consider to be misleading andor inaccurate statements contained within them, particularly with respect to the report from OCR," Mr Morrison said. "We are confident that outcomes compare favourably to many other enquiries over the same period in spite of the extended forensic examination of the school.

"The outcomes of investigations have produced no evidence at all of institutional or systemic malpractice or maladministration at the school. Parents, students and the public can have confidence in the integrity of past, current and future examination grades awarded at the school."

William Stewart

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A mixed outlook for free schools: One outstanding, four requiring improvement and the West London Free School expecting "good" - 19 July 2013

Yesterday, England's education secretary Michael Gove issued a missive trumpeting the fact that Ark Conway Primary Academy was the first free school to be given an outstanding rating by schools inspectorate Ofsted.

But on the same day Mr Gove was applauding the West London school, the fourth free school so far was handed a "requires improvement" judgement .

The Birmingham-based Nishkam Free School, which describes itself as a multi-faith primary with a Sikh ethos, was given the rating following its inspection last month and will now be revisited by the watchdog within two years.

"Teaching does not enable all pupils to make good progress because work is not always set at the right level," the school's report said. "In particular, more-able pupils do not make good progress because they are frequently given work which is too easy."

Nishkam joins Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire, Sandbach School in Cheshire and Kings Science Academy in Bradford in the category, according to Ofsted.

And the Discovery New School in West Sussex was last month placed in special measures after inspectors judged the school to be inadequate.

So far 13 free schools from the first wave in 2011 have been inspected: one was deemed outstanding and seven good, four were handed "requires improvement" and one was slapped with an inadequate rating.

Mr Gove hailed the achievements of the free schools, stating: "Free Schools, set up by dedicated groups of individuals and organisations, are raising standards and giving parents a real choice of good local schools. More and more free schools are opening and I look forward to many more being rated outstanding over the coming years."

Meanwhile, perhaps the most famous free school of them all, the West London Free School, set up by author and journalist Toby Young, is believed to have been given a "good with outstanding features" rating by inspectors.

The official report into the school is expected to be released imminently.

Richard Vaughan

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Listen up! The TES weekly podcast is here - 18 July 2013

The TES team discusses some of this week's main news stories and gives a glimpse of what to expect in tomorrow's edition, including a look at life as a teacher's other half, how social media can actually help teaching not hinder it, and the government's plans to rank 11-year-olds.

Tune in here.

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U-turn? English pupils sat Pisa "thinking skills" tests despite government vow that they wouldn't - 18 July 2013

Ministers have quietly executed a U-turn and entered England for new international tests of pupils' thinking skills, TES can reveal. But their officials are refusing to say why or when they changed their minds.

The latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey took place last year and included, for the first time, an optional test on problem solving.

When TES approached the Department for Education (DfE) about the new tests in October 2011, a spokesman said: "We are not taking part in the 2012 problem solving test, because we don't want to overburden schools."

That seemed a little strange bearing in mind the importance that Michael Gove, education secretary, had been placing on Pisa, arguing that no nation could afford to ignore it.

Critics argued England's absence from the test made a mockery of Mr Gove's emphasis on international evidence and claimed he was "cherry-picking" the pieces that matched his views.

"I don't think it washes," John Bangs, who sits on the trade union advisory committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which produces Pisa, said at the time.

"I think that when you sign up to Pisa, as Gove has done, you sign up to every aspect."

But England was not taking part and that, as far as anyone knew, was that.

Last month when TES approached the DfE for reaction to the news that foreign language tests were being planned for Pisa, a spokeswoman suddenly revealed that England had taken part in the 2012 problem solving tests after all.

When it was pointed out that this was something of an about turn, the DfE said the opt out decision "was originally taken in 2009", neglecting to address the fact that the Coalition had apparently been happy to stand by it right up until October 2011. And what about the burden on schools? Why was this no longer seen as a problem?

A month of further inquiries has failed to elicit any rationale for the DfE's change of heart, beyond the fact that a review had taken place. Could it be that Mr Gove was embarrassed by the cherry-picking accusation? We will probably never know.

But the result is that this traditionalist fan of subject knowledge has signed up to test skills designed to be developed through "progressive teaching methods" such as "inquiry-based learning" and to prepare students for "unknown future challenges for which direct teaching of today's knowledge is not sufficient".

Does this mean Mr Gove will continue to ignore his natural prejudices and embrace the tests of creativity being suggested for future editions of Pisa? Only time will tell.

William Stewart

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Durand's plans for a country boarding school to go ahead without a sixth form - 17 July 2013

Durand Academy has scrapped plans for a sixth form at its controversial countryside boarding school for students from inner city London, TES can reveal.

The Stockwell school may be a favourite of education secretary Michael Gove, but its plans to bus hundreds of teenagers from the capital to a new boarding school in a mock Tudor mansion in the South Downs have come in for plenty of criticism.

Earlier this month, the National Audit Office criticised the Department for Education's decision to hand over pound;17 million in funding for the project. It had, a letter from the NAO's head Amyas Morse argued, "lacked sufficient appreciation of the scale of financial and operating risk association with the project".

Previously, the scheme had been described by residents as a "white elephant in a national park" - and one councillor courted controversy by claiming that "bringing Brixton to the countryside" would result in a "sexual volcano". He has since quit his position.

In the latest twist in the saga, it has emerged that the school has decided to remove a proposed sixth form from its planning application. This is expected to reduce the school's capacity from 575 to just 375 - although Durand insists that it will add a sixth form on the site in Stedham, West Sussex, at a later date.

It remains to be seen how this will affect the school's funding arrangements, but the fact that the school will be delivering - initially, at least - a substantially smaller number of places than originally agreed will be seen by its critics as adding fuel to the concerns raised by the NAO.

Executive head Sir Greg Martin told TES: "As there is further work to be done on the design and specification of the sixth form boarding houses we have decided - in close consultation with South Downs National Park Authority officers - to remove them from this first phase of works. However, we are still committed to delivering a sixth form for Durand's intake longer term, in line with our all-through vision."

Sir Greg also hit back at the Stedham residents opposed to the new school. "While a minority of individuals - like a neighbour who is a property developer with vested interests, and a former councillor who was racist - try to derail the project, we are delighted with the many messages of warm and uplifting support we have received from local people in the past weeks and months."

Durand still intends to open the boarding school in September 2014 in line with the original plans.

Stephen Exley

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Ranking pupils nationally at 11: "It would be devastating" - 17 July 2013

"Imagine that conversation - telling an 11-year-old that they are in the bottom 10 per cent in the whole country. It would be devastating. And you give that information to a child after they have taken a 45-minute test on one day of the year."

That was the reaction of Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, to news that parents of all 11-year-olds will be told where they rank in one of 10 ability groups based on their key stage 2 test results, under proposals put forward by the government this morning.

Mr Hobby said: "It seems to me that there would be no guarantee they are in the bottom 10 per cent; the confidence intervals could be greater than 10 per cent. So you take a child, tell them they are useless and for no educational value. It is like the 11-plus but with no destination. I think it's a disgrace."

The move was just one aspect of a Department for Education consultation on changes to the assessment system

Under other proposed changes, primary schools would be expected to get at least 85 per cent of 11-year-olds through a "new, more stretching threshold" from 2016. The tests would be in mathematics, reading, spelling, punctuation and grammar, with science tests for a sample of pupils. Ministers have expressed concern that the current expected standard for the end of primary school - level 4 in English and mathematics - is not high enough.

A progress measure will also remain as a "key element", to allow for different intakes.

At a Westminster Education Forum meeting in London yesterday, Simon Wright, Liberal Democrat MP for Norwich South and an adviser to schools minister David Laws, pointed out that that children reaching level 4C - the bottom third of the level - had only a 47 per cent chance of getting five A* to C grades, including English and mathematics, at GCSE.

"So the new primary standard will be higher," Mr Wright said. "The pass at 11 must mean that the child is on track to be successful at 16; that will be the standard that is at least level with Level 4B at present."

But the proposal to raise both the standard required and the numbers expected to reach it was greeted with anger by the National Union of Teachers. Christine Blower, the union's general secretary, said: "Considering that half of all secondary schools are now academy status, often through coercion or force, an increase in floor targets for the primary sector is surely nothing more than a further land-grab for the academies programme."

Even the promise of more money did not mollify the union leader. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg also announced that pupil premium funding - for students who have received free school meals in the past six years - will rise from pound;900 to pound;1,300 per child in 2014-15.

Ms Blower said: "Schools are having to make ends meet and will in many cases have used this additional money to plug funding shortfalls.the uneven distribution of pupil premium funding across the school system is insufficient to counteract the ongoing real-term cuts to school funding."

Helen Ward

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`Intellectual property' references dropped from Google-inspired computing curriculum - 16 July 2013

Copyright holders have criticised the decision to remove any reference to "intellectual property" from the Google-inspired computing curriculum.

In an earlier draft, the curriculum required students to "respect individuals and intellectual property" in key stage 2 (for children aged 7-11)as part of a section on understanding the internet and using technology safely.

It also required them to "create, reuse, revise and repurpose digital information and content with attention to design, intellectual property and audience" in key stage 3 (for children aged 11-14).

But in the new version, all references to intellectual property have been removed. The Department for Education said that the subject is too "complex and fast-changing" for students.

"The new computing curriculum has been developed in association with experts such as Microsoft, Google and the British Computer Society," a spokeswoman for the Department for Education said. "With a much greater focus on practical experience, it replaces an outdated ICT [information and communications technology] curriculum and will mean that, for the first time, all pupils will be taught how to write, create and test computer programs.

"By removing the references to intellectual property rights, which require expertise in a complex and fast-changing area of the law, we will be focusing the efforts of schools on teaching pupils the fundamental principles of computer science, which are vital for a growing range of careers in the 21st-century economy."

Google did not respond to a request for comment on whether their advice influenced the decision to eliminate intellectual property from the curriculum. But the company has repeatedly criticised the UK's law on copyright, and David Cameron cited Google's founders when announcing the decision to review intellectual property regulations in 2011.

"The founders of Google have said they could never have started their company in Britain," Mr Cameron said at the time. He promised to change the laws if necessary to "make them fit for the internet age" and "break down the barriers to innovation".

Copyright holders see the decision as part of a pattern where technology companies are favoured over creative industries, however.

Russell Baston, a fellow of the British Institute of Professional Photographers, said the decision reflects a political climate in which creators are being given increasingly less protection under intellectual property laws. But many students will need to protect their own copyright in future, as well as respecting others, he added.

"If students go on to image-based courses themselves, they become very concerned about copyright," he said. "Taking intellectual property out of the curriculum is a big mistake." According to the government's own figures, creative industries, many of which are vulnerable to intellectual property abuses, are worth pound;36 billion a year to the UK economy.

Joseph Lee

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