Enjoy 2009. There's a bumpy ride ahead

2nd January 2009 at 00:00
The classroom should be calmer this year. But the recession could make future years a lot rougher, predicts William Stewart

Only the most reckless, foolhardy pundit would ever predict a quiet year in education. That said, the coming year should be a relatively calm one for those at the chalkface. At least compared to 2008 when schools faced a new secondary curriculum, new A-levels, the first work-related diplomas, and the new early years foundation stage curriculum, causing predictions of system meltdown.

By contrast comparatively few reforms are slated for introduction in the next 12 months. Instead, 2009 should be a time of transition with last year's changes bedding in and the first signs of future years' upheaval just starting to emerge. In that sense the focus will shift from secondary to primary. It will also be the year that schools come under new types of scrutiny - it is not yet clear if they will be better or worse than existing methods.


By September, those teaching 5 to 11-year-olds are likely to have had their professional futures mapped out on a variety of fronts.

The Department for Children Schools and Families will announce its school improvement strategy for the primary sector. It could have been called the primary National Challenge, after the secondary scheme that threatened schools with closure if they failed to reach a target for raw exam results. But ministers and officials appear to have been stung by the angry reception that scheme received. So instead the Government has been looking at taking a much more holistic view of primary performance, ditching the emphasis on raw scores.

The scheme is likely to include extra one-to-one tuition and support for leadership and the deployment of advisers in schools judged to need extra help.

In April Sir Jim Rose is expected to publish the final report of his primary curriculum review. His recommendations will be considered by the Schools Secretary, with the final curriculum format to be consulted on by September. The review could well trigger more protest about national tests, because although many consider them a major factor in what is taught in primaries, Sir Jim has been told not to comment on them in detail.

His report will coincide with the publication of the conclusions of the separate, independent primary review led by Pro- fessor Robin Alexander which is likely to criticise testing.

Schools will also be watching out for problems with this year's key stage 2 tests, taken over by Edexcel following last year's ETS debacle. Any difficulties will add to pressure for the tests to be abolished - as they were for key stage 3 - or reformed.

The single-level progress tests could be an alternative, but trials have revealed they have problems of their own.

Anyone expecting the Government to abandon primary school accountability through testing is likely to be disappointed.


The whole system of school accountability will start to change radically in 2009 anyway. Ofsted introduces a new inspection framework in September when new school report cards - which could eventually replace league tables - start being piloted.

The new-style inspections would see inspectors spending more time observing lessons in low-performing schools.

The framework would also mean high-performing schools inspected every six years instead of every three, with data-based "health checks" published in between.

But such checks are being treated with greater scepticism after Ofsted's failure to spot the shortcomings in Haringey that contributed to the Baby P tragedy.

The Commons schools committee will examine inspections as part of a major inquiry into school accountability that also looks at the report cards, which aim to give a more holistic view of school performance.

The law needed for the introduction of these new "health checks" for schools is to be introduced in a Children, Skills and Learning Bill. This will give the Schools Secretary more power to force local authorities to intervene in low performing schools. It will also set up a new pay body for school support staff.

Independent schools in England will face greater scrutiny from the Charity Commission, which will begin its public benefit inspections in earnest.


The recognition that the quality of teachers, rather than schools, is key to raising standards will start to show as the new masters in teaching and learning become available.

But it is initially being focused on secondaries in the National Challenge, a scheme that still sees the school as the unit to focus on. This year should determine whether the support offered to schools through the controversial improvement programme starts to outweigh the bad publicity they suffered because of it. All secondaries will experience their first summer without having to prepare 14-year-olds for compulsory national tests.

But the difference it will make in the classroom will vary, with some schools planning to plough on and hold the tests internally, while others may bring forward GCSE work. Secondary schools will be more affected than primaries by many parts of the legislation in the Children, Skills and Learning Bill. These measures include:

  • a requirement that all secondary schools work in behaviour improvement partnerships,
  • giving schools powers to search pupils for alcohol, drugs and stolen goods,
  • the transfer of funding and responsibility for 16-19 education from the Learning and Skills Council to local authorities and an expended apprenticeship scheme,
  • a new exams regulatory system with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority replaced by Ofqual and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency.
    • Special needs

      Special educational needs will come under the microscope in 2009, with Ofsted looking to see if the whole system needs reforming.

      A separate review by the Government will examine parents' confidence in the system and why schools and local councils are not giving them information they should legally receive.

      From September, all special needs co-ordinators will either have to be qualified teachers or, if they are already in post, be training to qualify by 2011. The new rule will force up to a third of secondaries to train their Sencos as teachers.

      Coping with the recession

      While all this is happening an economic storm will be blowing, potentially damaging intakes at private schools.

      State schools should be relatively sheltered for the time being. By happy chance 2008-09 is only the first year of a three year funding settlement which ministers say they are "absolutely confident" they can deliver.

      That does not mean schools will feel rich. The deal amounts to an annual average 2.8 per cent above inflation rise for education, considerably less than the 5.3 per cent averaged between 1999-2008.

      Only a small rise in costs will mean schools quickly feeling the pinch. The biggest cost of all is teachers' wages. A salary rise of 2.3 per cent has already been proposed for September. The School Teachers' Review Body is to give its final verdict in June.

      But falling inflation and the fact that many schools will only receive funding increases of 2.1 per cent suggest it is unlikely to go higher.

      In the end, like everyone else, state schools are likely to suffer financially because of the recession. And if a general election is called this year and the Conservatives win, it could bite very quickly. The Opposition says that the need to reduce public debt and taxes mean they will not be able to afford to match Government spending plans from 2010.

      Even if Labour remains in power, tough times are ahead. The recession has led the Government to reduce its forecast annual increase in spending between April 2011 to March 2014 from 1.9 to just 1.1 per cent.

      So enjoy 2009. It may not feel like it now, but schools may eventually look back on this year as a time of prosperity.

      Key dates for 2009


      7-9 North of England Education Conference, Wirral Council and Chester University

      8-10 Association of Science Education Conference, Reading University

      14-17 Bett computer technology show, London Olympia

      22 School Grounds national conference, Beeches Management Centre, Bournville, Birmingham


      11-12 Building Schools exhibition and conference, Manchester

      23-28 Eating Disorders Awareness Week


      6-15 National Science and Engineering Week

      6-8 Liberal Democrat spring conference, Harrogate

      13 Red Nose Day, Comic Relief

      13-15 Association of Schools and College Leaders annual conference, Hilton Metropole Hotel, Birmingham

      26-28 The Education Show, NEC, Birmingham


      2 International Children's Book Day

      6-9 ATL annual conference, Liverpool

      10-14 NUT annual conference, Cardiff

      13-16 NASUWT annual conference, Bournemouth

      24-25 Early Years amp; Primary Teaching show, Manchester

      24-25 Special Needs North exhibition, Manchester

      24-26 Conservative Party spring conference, Cheltenham


      1-3 NAHT national conference, Brighton

      5-7 Boarding Schools' Association annual conference for headteachers, Oxfordshire

      9 World Fair Trade Day


      2 Independent Schools Council annual conference, London

      10-2 National College for School Leadership conference, ICC Birmingham

      16-19 Unison annual conference, Brighton

      30 (to July 2) Design and Technology annual conference, Loughborough University


      27-29 Professional Association of Teachers annual conference, Leeds


      20 A-level results

      27 GCSE results


      2-5 British Educational Research Association conference, Manchester University

      8 International Literacy Day

      19-23 Liberal Democrat Conference, Bournemouth

      26-30 Labour Party annual conference, Brighton


      Black History Month

      International Walk to School Month

      5-8 The Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference annual conference, Liverpool

      2-3 TES Education show, Olympia, London

      5 World Teachers' Day

      5-8 Conservative Party Conference, Manchester

      16-17 Special Needs London exhibition


      16-20 Anti-Bullying Week

      25-27 Specialist Schools and Academies Trust annual conference, Birmingham


      21 Most authorities break up for Christmas holiday.

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