Significant changes on the school-year horizon

4th January 2013 at 00:00
Want to know more about what to expect in 2013? Then read on

Spring term

The march towards exam season will start in earnest this term. But at the same time as teachers begin planning revision sessions and mock tests, they will also learn much more about the new curriculum they will have to teach in future.

Public consultation will begin on proposed revisions to the primary national curriculum. A draft version has already been published but it was not particularly well received by those in education. A full version will be published later in the year, before the curriculum is introduced in September 2014.

More information on what is expected to be a drastically stripped-down secondary national curriculum is also likely this year. A leaked version appeared last autumn and was heavily criticised by subject associations for lacking in excitement. Subject experts are concerned by "gaps": for example, in English there is not enough on speaking and listening or multimedia, according to some teachers.

"The government says the curriculum will be slim to allow teachers more freedom, but the problem is we will still have the tight assessment shackle," said Simon Gibbons, chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English. "We know schools will concentrate on what is tested."

Early this term heads will know how much funding they will be given for the 2013-14 financial year, which starts in April. The government has said the current system for allocating funding is "complex and opaque". It also means a postcode lottery, with primaries and secondaries in similar circumstances across the country getting different levels.

Ministers want a national funding formula but this won't happen yet. Next year schools and academies should expect money to be allocated in a "simpler" way. The aim is for local authorities to pass as much government funding to schools as possible, other than that for "high-needs" pupils, early years education and a contingency fund in case of increased pupil numbers.

Meanwhile, preparations for English Baccalaureate Certificates will continue, with the government scheduled to pick a single exam board for each of the new qualifications in 2013. But with business, exam boards, Ofqual, teaching unions, academic assessment experts, independent schools and the Conservative chair of the Education Select Committee all expressing major concerns about key elements of the reform, education secretary Michael Gove will face a battle to keep his pet project alive.

Summer term

Expect to see thousands of nervous teacher hopefuls taking skills tests in numeracy and literacy this term: for the first time they will have to pass them before starting their training courses in the autumn. But some might feel they are lucky to have gone through the process before new harder tests are introduced in September.

Meanwhile, much younger people will also be sitting exams to test their key skills. The annual key stage 2 tests will be held in May, and in June pupils will sit the phonics screening check. This test was criticised by teaching unions, which wanted it to be optional. The exam was the passion of former schools minister Nick Gibb - will Mr Gove still stand by it now that Mr Gibb has left the Department for Education?

There will not be an English writing test or English writing sample in key stage 2 in 2013. Instead, writing composition will be subject to teacher assessment. Spelling, punctuation and grammar will be tested by the externally marked new "spag" test, controversial because teachers have not been told how it will contribute to children's overall writing mark.

When older pupils sit GCSEs in the summer, all eyes will be on whether there will be a repeat of the marking controversy that took place in English in 2012. Exam boards and Ofqual will do everything within their power to avoid it.

New rules that will prevent modular grades from being released before the final results should help ensure they are successful. But the battle to rebuild confidence in the exam system among schools may prove much tougher.

Another reform to qualifications planned by ministers - the endorsement of specific A levels by universities - may prove trickier to introduce following a lukewarm response from the higher education sector.

The Duchess of Cambridge's baby, who will be third in line to the throne, might make an appearance just before pupils break up for the summer holidays - but don't bank on having another day off work for royal celebrations in 2013.

Autumn term

Automatic annual pay rises for teachers in the early parts of their careers are set to be abolished in September when the current main pay scale for classroom teachers is due to be scrapped.

Heads will have the discretion to award teachers a salary anywhere in the pay band - between #163;21,588 and #163;31,552 for most teachers outside London - depending on how they perform in annual appraisals. Expect teachers' unions - and headteachers - to continue to voice strong opposition to this in 2013. Some unions are already engaged in work-to-rule industrial action, which will be prolonged into 2013 as they continue to protest about pay, pension and working conditions.

The unions also won't be ecstatic about more governors and heads choosing to convert their schools into academies, should the appetite for conversion continue. How will those academies be adjusting to life outside local authority control and dealing with their additional responsibilities in 2013?

From September teachers have a new duty to promote the good attendance of 16-year-olds in education and training. The government is increasing the age at which all young people in England must remain in education or training, requiring them to continue until the end of the academic year in which they turn 17 from 2013, and until their 18th birthday from 2015.

So there is all that and no doubt lots more - most of it completely unpredictable - to come. We'll see you in these pages as we do our best to cover it.

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