Policies! We've enough already

1st September 2006 at 01:00

There is simply no more room in school schedules to handle more government initiatives, writes John Dunford

The new academic year offers no let-up for school leaders in the relentless pace of change. The autumn term of 2005 was reckoned by school mangement to be the busiest they had ever experienced. At the top of a very long list of priorities were staff restructuring, the introduction of teaching and learning responsibility payments (TLRs), and the preparation of the self-evaluation form (SEF) for Ofsted.

In sharp contrast to his predecessor, the new Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, has mercifully avoided announcing any new initiatives. Ruth Kelly may have disappeared from the education scene, but her initiatives live on and schools will have to introduce and police new food standards from this week. Reporting to parents, another Kelly initiative, with a new regulation for at least three reports per year, has yet to be consulted on.

Ruth Kelly's name will forever be associated with the furore over Criminal Records Bureau checks on teachers, the aftermath of which will be felt this term as schools ensure that they have a record of an up-to-date check on all their staff. They will also have to undergo post-Bichard child protection training.

Pay and performance regulations continue to be rolled out, with the accent this year on a new performance management system. The speed of introduction has been slowed down, but there will be much to do to prepare for the changes.

While we will hopefully dispense with the silly term "Kelly hours", extended schools provision will be high on the list of national school reforms to be considered this year.

It was David Miliband who responded to school leaders' complaints about over-accountability by introducing a raft of changes under the umbrella of the new relationship with schools. For many schools, this year will see the introduction of the single conversation with a school improvement partner.

This initiative has been properly trialled, and it is to be hoped that the lessons from the extensive pilot lead to a smooth implementation nationwide.

It is premature of the Government to be giving local authorities a stronger role in school improvement because the new relationship with schools is barely under way, but the Education Act 2006 gives local authorities the power to increase pressure on school leaders and put more of their jobs at risk.

Local authorities will be much exercised by the Every Child Matters agenda and schools should begin to see the benefits of a more joined-up approach to children's services.

Once it is on the statute book, the Education Act will have numerous implications, not least its inter-relationship with other acts. The right to discipline is being put on a statutory basis, with unknown implications for cases that reach the courts. We shall also have to see how the power to search for offensive weapons using reasonable force will work in practice.

Some schools will consider whether to adopt the new trust status, but first they will have to take the fast track to foundation status unless they are already foundation schools. Most potential trust schools will be seeking partners among neighbouring schools to form a joint trust.

Schools will be forming partnerships to deal with hard-to-teach pupils and secondary schools will also be seeking to form partnerships to deliver a wider 14 to 19 curriculum.

The Disability Discrimination Act, due to come into force on October 1, may cause some problems in dealing with poor behaviour by those with special educational needs. On the same date, new age discrimination regulations are introduced.

With fewer than one-third of schools inspected under the framework introduced in September 2005, proportionate inspections are being introduced, with a light-touch visit for schools with the best performance and an increased number of visits for some graded satisfactory. Christine Gilbert starts as chief inspector in England in October so school leaders will be carefully studying the tone of her announcements as much as the substance.

Now that the school improvement stakes are raised so high, it is imperative that inspection judgments are fair. The school curriculum rightly never stands still and schools now have more flexibility to introduce changes.

The inclusion of English and mathematics in performance tables will focus activity on these areas, as will the impending functional skills tests in GCSE. New specifications are introduced in science too - and this subject may also be included in future performance tables.

The end of GNVQs will mean major changes for secondary schools, some of which will also be waiting to hear whether they can offer the first specialised diplomas.

Curriculum planners will need to keep their eyes on the key stage 3 review being carried out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), due to report in early 2007.

The post-16 landscape is ever changing and schools and colleges may well face increasing interference as a result of the closer relationship between the Learning and Skills Council and local authorities over local education and skills strategies.

The burgeoning quality improvement industry post-16 will oversee the implementation of a new quality improvement strategy, as well as Framework for Excellence and New Measures of Success, although the effects will be felt more in colleges than in schools.

In Wales, last year's staff restructuring is continuing in many schools.

The Welsh baccalaureate is still being developed in pilot schools.

Curriculum policies on sustainable development and bilingualism have to be introduced.

Key stage 2 to 3 transition plans must be put in place, and so must school councils. New key stages 2 and 3 assessment and moderation procedures are also being introduced in the wake of the Daugherty report.

Schools have enough on their plate for this year without any more new policies. Schools have been micro-managed for too long by too many different politicians. This year's list of initiatives, which is far too long, but sadly typical, is another sign that it may be the political process governing education that needs reform, at least as much as the schools themselves.

Dr John Dunford is general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders


* Preparing for performance management

* School improvement partners for many schools

* New right for teachers to discipline pupils and search them for weapons

* Schools can decide whether to go for trust status, perhaps with neighbouring schools

* Schools forming partnerships to deal with hard-to-teach pupils and deliver the 14 to 19 curriculum

* Disability and age discrimination legislation comes into effect on October 1

* Introduction of proportionate inspections: light touch for those with the best performance; more for those rated as satisfactory

* Inclusion of English and maths GCSE results in performance tables

* End of GNVQs

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