DfE Questions Answers (from 4th December 2012)

4th December 2012 at 12:00

National Curriculum levels

Q: My understanding is that these are to go? Hurray!!! Teachers felt compelled to hold kids back amp; `compu'er says no!' mentality was rife thanks to level worship. Can we challenge kids as we see fit? Do stuff that's supposedly hard but we know kids are capable of.with effort? Is this a signal that we can eg in languages, do any grammar we like when we like, loads of reading and writing and translation without being penalised because the levels don't show linear progression? The pressure was always to hold kids back to show year on year linear progression and make up levels every half term that showed `progress' even when level descriptors not fit for purpose. I'm just fearful another numerical restrictive system is about to come to pass.

DfE answers: This is indeed the case. The consultation document states that `Parents deserve a clear assessment of what their children have learned rather than a `level description' which does not convey clear information. A single statement of attainment that sets out that pupils are expected to know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study will encourage all pupils to aspire to reach demanding standards. Parents will be given clear information on what their children should know at each stage in their education and teachers will be able to report on how every pupil is progressing in acquiring this knowledge. We are currently seeking views on how to improve the accountability measures for secondary schools in England.'

Childminding Agency

Q: I am interested in being part of the childminding agencies mentioned in the Children and Families Bill recently. Is there a procedure to go through in order to set up? We operate in the North East of England and have two nurseries which provide Day Care for two local Childrens Centres. We work with local childminders in the local areas.

DfE answers: The Bill introduces childminder agencies which will enable more flexible childminding and removing bureaucracy so that it is easier for schools to offer `wrap-around' care. As the Bill makes its way through both Houses we will be able to say more, as it will probably be passed by Royal Assent and become law in around a year's time. There will be much more information available at www.dfe.gov.uk or at www.gov.uk as information becomes available.

The new grammar, spelling and punctuation test

Q: What percentage of the overall KS2 Literacy SATs will the new test cover?

DfE answers: Pupils in Year 6 will take the new grammar , punctuation and spelling test in May this year, as recommended by Lord Bew's independent review of Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability. Pupils will receive separate test results for grammar , punctuation and spelling, reading and maths. Pupils' writing will be subject to teacher assessment judgement. At school level, the results of each test and assessment will also be published separately and the Department will not calculate a combined overall English level. This will enable schools, parents and the wider public to make informed judgements about schools' performance based on each subject area. The floor standard measure in 2013 will be for at least 60% of pupils to attain Level 4 in reading, writing and mathematics. The new grammar , punctuation and spelling test will not be included in the calculation this year.

Schooltrips- charging parents

Q. I've read the DfE guidance on charging and remissions but it doesn't seem to say anything about the practice in my child's primary school (LA Community school).

When school trips are advised to us we are told by the school that if parents cannot or do not pay the cost of the trip their child will remain in school and be taught in their classroom by another teacher. Those that pay go on the trip, those who don't stay in school. I asked the headteacher about this and she said that's allowed under government rules because the children who don't go on the trip are being given alternative education in school, so it's OK.

Is this right? It doesn't sound fair. We're talking about trips that take place entirely within the normal school day to local museums and the like.

DfE answers: No child should be excluded from an activity simply because his or her parents are unwilling or unable to pay. If insufficient voluntary contributions are raised to fund a visit, then it must be cancelled. Schools must make sure that they make this clear to parents. If a parent is unwilling or unable to pay, their child must still be given an equal chance to go on the visit. Schools should make it clear to parents at the outset what their policy for allocating places on school visits will be.

Number of LA governors

Q: We are thinking about reconstituting our governing body under The School Governance (Constitution) (England) Regulations 2012. We are a local authority community school.

The 2012 Regulations say -

"13 (3) The governing body of a maintained school must include the following-

(a) at least two parent governors;

(b) the head teacher unless the head teacher resigns the office of governor in accordance with regulation 19;

(c) one staff governor; and

(d) one local authority governor."

There are differing opinions what that means about how many local authority governors we can have. Some people think it means we can have one and only one LA governor, no more and no less, irrespective of the size of our governing body. Otherwise the Regulation would say "at least one local authority governor". Others think that because the Regulation doesn't expressly prohibit having more than one LA governor we can have as many as we like if that's what the governing body decides on.

Can the DfE advise? Under the 2012 Regulations are we required to have just one LA governor and no more, or can we have as many LA governors we like as long as we have at least one?

DfE answers: The requirement for "one local authority governor" means that the governing body must have one and only one local authority governor.

Adverse weather school closures

Q: What is the position of an LA school which closes completely for the day because of snow in relation to the statutory requirement for schools to be open for pupils for 380 sessions (190 days) a year? Our closure would mean that if we stick to our published term dates we will only have been open to pupils for 189 days in 2012-13 plus 5 days for staff INSET, 194 days in all. Do we have to extend our term by a day sometime between now and July to bring us back to 195 days? Our closure because of snow was total, premises locked, no staff or pupils in school.

DfE answers: Any maintained school in England must meet for 380 sessions (190 days) in each year unless it is `prevented from meeting' (e.g for severe weather, infectious illness). Schools should make up lost days where they reasonably can, unless it is really impractical to do so. Governing bodies should consider whether it is possible to add extra days to the school year to make up the number missed in order to fulfil the legal requirement. If this is not practicable, schools can consider making up the lost education by other means.

Safeguarding: role of governors and LA

Q: Our governing body have a question about the role of the local authority in relation to safeguarding of children at our LA maintained Community school (concerning policies and procedures, not a specific incident or a specific pupil).

We are committed to high standards of safeguarding and Ofsted have judged our safeguarding as good. We understand that we have legal responsibility under s175 of the Education Act 2002 to carry out our functions relating to the conduct of the school with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, and we do so. We take into account the statutory guidance in "Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education" [DfE 2007] and we understand and fully accept that as governors we are "accountable for ensuring [our school] has effective policies and procedures in place in accordance with [the statutory] guidance" [para 2.18], and that we monitor the school's compliance with them (which we do through regular reports from the headteacher).

We believe that it is up to us to decide how as governors we ensure we meet our obligations and we do not think our LA should be able to demand any specific information from us or insist we submit to a safeguarding audit by them or follow any particular procedures. (If the LA or Ofsted had specific concerns about the effectiveness of our safeguarding, or if it related to a particular child or incident, that may be different, but that is not the case here).

Specifically our LA say:

1. They have a statutory power to require us to furnish them with information about our safeguarding procedures and that we must complete an audit form for them (which they say they are entitled to demand from us under power given to them under s11 of the Children Act 2004).

2. They have a statutory power to direct us to adopt specific safeguarding policies or procedures

3. Our safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures must comply with the procedures of the Local Safeguarding Children Board [LSCB]

This seems to us unnecessarily bureaucratic given that no-one has suggested there is any weakness in our current procedures.

Can you clarify please

a. whether the LA have the statutory powers they claim?

b. do our safeguarding policies and procedures have to comply with any model or directive issued by the LSCB?

c. do the LA have the power under s11 of the Children Act 2004 to require us to submit to audit by them of our safeguarding procedures?

We are always happy to listen to advice and respect our LA's experience and guidance, but we are unhappy about being told we must do it the LA's way when we consider ours is just as good.

DfE answers: The LA do indeed have these powers. Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 places a duty on local authorities to make arrangements to ensure that their functions are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

The DfE guidance Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education states that governing bodies should ensure that the school has a child protection policy and procedures in place that are in accordance with local authority guidance and locally agreed inter-agency procedures, and the policy is made available to parents on request.

Regarding audits, if the authority think this is necessary because of their duty under s11, then yes they can require governing bodies to submit to audit.

Academies VAT Reclaim Scheme

Q: Can you clarify something regarding the answer from DfE posted on December 20th? You replied that "Academies and Free Schools can reclaim VAT on non-business expenses (those related to the provision of free education) incurred in preparing for their opening" but you didn't say anything about their position on capital works such as building refurbishments after they have opened. Can they reclaim the VAT on that as well, or is it only local authorities who can reclaim VAT in those circumstances? Ie, are academies and free schools, once they have opened, in the same position as VA schools as far as VAT on building works is concerned?

DfE answers: Academies have access to a VAT reclaim scheme from HMRC from the point of opening. Through this scheme they can reclaim VAT incurred on non-business expenditure from the opening date and any Academy expenses incurred prior to opening.

This scheme was developed to give Academies access to a VAT reclaim scheme in a comparable way to LA maintained schools so as not to disadvantage them. Therefore they should be in the same position as non-VA maintained schools. VA schools that have become Academies are also able to access the VAT reclaim scheme. Further details can be found in this PDF format information sheet.

Academy Principal -vs- LA school Headteacher

Q: In this article in the Guardian (21 September 2012) the DfE is quoted as saying that the job of Principal in an Academy is "a different role with a much broader remit" than the job of Headteacher in an LA maintained school. Assuming you were correctly quoted and that this is still your view, can the DfE advise:

(a) In what sense is the "remit" of an Academy Principal broader than that of a Headteacher in an LA school that is otherwise equivalent?
(b) Can the DfE give some examples of functions or accountabilities that an Academy Principal has that a Headteacher cannot not have?
(c) In most private sector organisations a job with a larger "remit" typically is more highly paid. Does the DfE therefore consider that the the governors of an academy would be justifed in paying its Principal more after conversion than it did the Headteacher prior to conversion to reflect this "broader remit", all other things being equal?

DfE answers: Academy Principals have a broader remit than headteachers, with greater responsibilities over budgets and the curriculum which is taught in the school.

Some of the freedoms that principals have commented on are:

`Less bureaucracy certainly but also more resources which we will be able to manage.'

`Greater freedom to decide the curriculum.'

`Greater autonomy means we can now ensure that the resources and services we purchase are appropriate for the school and more closely aligned to the specific requirements of our pupils.'

`We will use the freedoms to form new partnerships with schools who would like to work with us both in the UK and abroad.'

`We use our academy freedoms to work with other schools to raise levels of attainment across the board.

Academy Principals earn on average around pound;6,600 than maintained secondary Heads and that decision is part of the Governors' responsibility. Academies enjoy many freedoms - including around staff pay and conditions. Everyone in receipt of public money, of course, has to think very carefully about what the right rate of pay is for staff, particularly senior staff. There may be higher salaries for some Academy staff, reflecting the different responsibilities they have compared to staff in maintained schools, or their different terms and conditions, for example that they may work longer days.

VAT on school building work

Q: My secondary school is planning a major building improvement programme and we are at the early stage of planning it. We were horrified to be told by our architects that because we are an LA VA school it will cost us 20% more than other schools because we have to pay VAT and other schools don't. Can this really be true? How can it be fair or justified?

Our project will be to refurbish existing buildings, we won't be demolishing and rebuilding from scratch. Our funds will come from external fundraising and funds we have accumulated from our delegated budget. We have not been able to access any capital funding from our LA of the DfE. In round terms initial costings for the whole project are pound;5m including VAT at 20%. According to our Architect this work would only cost an LA Community or VC school pound;4m if the LA paid for it, would only cost an Academy pound;4m, but because we are VA and the governors have to pay for it will cost us pound;5m.

(1) Is this true?

(2) What is the reason for VA schools being financially discriminated against is this way?

(3) Why doesn't the DfE change the law to make a level VAT playing field?

(4) Does DfE consider that this by itself is an adequate reason to covert to an academy, to avoid the 20% VAT?

DfE answers: No maintained schools pay VAT on their day to day expenditure. Voluntary aided schools pay VAT on their capital expenditure because they own their own premises and the expenditure is not regarded as carried out on behalf of the local authority. In general, only local authorities have the right to reclaim VAT, under arrangements which apply to lower tier tax raising bodies within the EU.

Academies and Free Schools can reclaim VAT on non-business expenses (those related to the provision of free education) incurred in preparing for their opening. This means that converter academies can reclaim VAT in respect of their converter grant, and sponsored academies, Free Schools and UTCs can reclaim VAT in respect of their pre-opening funding. There are many benefits to converting to academy status, including the chance to benefit from the VAT rebate.

GTP and Induction

Q: If someone completes the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) and is awarded QTS this term do they still have to do a statutory induction period as an NQT?

DfE answers: The induction regulations give the appropriate body discretion to reduce the length of a statutory induction period to a minimum of one term (based on an academic year of three terms). This is to enable them [the appropriate body] to take account of teaching experience that some newly qualified teachers (NQTs) might have gained from other educational sectors, for example, independent schools or schools overseas where completion of statutory induction is not a requirement.

In making such a decision the appropriate body must take account of advice from the head teacherprincipal and gain the agreement of the teacher concerned. The appropriate body may also wish to consider what evidence of previous teaching experience would be sufficient to allow them to make judgements about the level of a teacher's past performance and the extent to which this corresponds to the Teachers' Standards, which all teachers are required to meet. This might include performance management documentation from previous teaching employment. However, the decision, and how that decision is reached, is ultimately one for the appropriate body to make.

Q: If so does it have to be 12 months full-time induction or can the induction period be reduced to take into account the extensive classroom teaching experience gained during the GTP?

DfE answers: Even though some teachers already have significant teaching experience when they enter the maintained sector for the first time, they are still required to serve statutory induction. In such cases, appropriate bodies have discretion to reduce the length of the induction period to a minimum of one term (based on an academic year of three terms) to recognise this experience. In making such a decision they must take account of advice from the head teacherprincipal and gain the agreement of the teacher concerned. If a teacher wishes to serve the full induction period they must be permitted to do so.

Q: If the person was paid on the Unqualified Teacher scale during GTP should they automatically go onto the Qualified Classroom teacher scale at M1 as soon QTS is formally confrmed?

DfE answers: The appropriate body will decide, and may wish to consider what evidence of previous experience and performance they require in reaching their decision including performance management documentation from previous teaching employment.

Training courses

Q: Teacher training companies are not controlled in terms of the message they give. They give some deeply dangerous, misleading and simply factually incorrect messages to teachers.

These messages set teachers and SLT on a path where the core issues of effective teaching are completely missed in favour of:

Only mark in green

Two stars and a wish

Peer comments

No hands up

Lolly sticks

Pair work as an end in itself

Ditto with group work

Written objectives





All, most, some objectives

These courses don't promote the facts that:

1. Progress is just another word for learning 2. Learning isn't always fun 3. Learning is often a slog 4. Teachers need to teach kids that prolonged, sometimes uncomfortable, effort is the key 5. SLT need to value silent sustained, effort-focused activities where kids struggle and overcome 6. The search for gimmicks, games and tricks needs to stop 7. Teachers need to plan with time management in mind 8. 5 mins is 10% of the lesson.what did kids actually accomplish in that 5 mins?

9. Stop trying to edutain, start to think.what is holding back learning 10. Start from focus of effective behaviour management 11.Start with manners, explicit standards re: how pupils talk, listen to, follow teacher instruction

DfE answers: The DfE has no control over what private companies can offer in terms of training. Having said that, all providers of formal initial teacher training (ITT) where learning is accredited are required to demonstrate ongoing compliance with the Secretary of State's requirements for ITT.

Our teacher training guidance and resources

Have a look at our research for teacher development

As we've said before, we don't advise on learning styles and other methods, but leave teachers to teach. Ofsted concentrate now on four key areas:


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