The TES podcast, GCSE entries, the international boom, exam board seminars, more bad news for E-Act, destination data, the living wage and much more

24th July 2013 at 13:10
All the latest schools news, views and comment, brought to you by the TES editorial team

The TES weekly podcast is here, so you best have a listen - 01 August 2013

The TES team discusses the main stories from this week's issue, including a look at performance related pay that hands you the bonus and then threatens to take it off you, a glimpse at the school reforms currently gripping Australia, whether emotional intelligence exists or not, and we catch up with Chloe Combi who talks about her feature on girls being groomed.

Download it here.

And tell the podcast's editor Richard Vaughan what you think.

Early entries, multiple entries and IGCSEs all rocket. But why? - 01 August 2013

Early GCSE entry, simultaneous use of multiple exam boards in the same subject and growth in the alternative IGCSE have all shot up this summer as schools try everything to maximise students' chances of crucial C grades.

Ofqual, the exams watchdog, has revealed that early GCSE entry has now reached the point where only two-thirds of the GCSE maths results published later this month will be for 16-year-olds.

Maths is also the biggest example of schools entering their pupils simultaneously for GCSEs from several exam boards. Ofqual said that 15 per cent of students entered for a maths GCSE last summer had also sat one or more units from another GCSE in the subject, and the regulator believes the trend is continuing this year.

Meanwhile, in what is believed to be a reaction to the 2012 GCSE English grading controversy, the number of candidates for IGCSEs in English language has exploded from last year's 18,000 to 78,000, orone in 10 of the cohort.

The changes come as schools need ever better results to fulfil tougher Ofsted inspections and meet government floor targets, at a time when Ofqual is clamping down on grade inflation. Last year, the watchdog's "comparable outcomes" approach ended GCSE grade inflation for the first time in the qualification's history (

Glenys Stacey, Ofqual's chief regulator, said multiple entry was a school "tactic" more common for students judged to be on the C-D grade borderline.

"In some cases we're seeing, in maths, that students are riding two horses and then moving to a third horse, a completely different one, halfway through," she said.

But Ms Stacey said there were "questions to be asked" about the educational value of the practice. "There's a fine balance between doing the best for a student by perhaps putting them in for more than one assessment and demotivating a student by putting them through a good number of assessments when actually, perhaps, the time might be better spent teaching," she said.

"If these trends continue, people are going to be suspicious about what a C grade represents."

Department for Education research published last month (http:www.parliament.ukdocumentscommons-committeesEducationMemoSelectCommitteeGCSEMultipleEntryFinal.pdf) revealed that among last year's cohort were 400 students who had been entered for GCSE maths seven or more times, including resits.

The study also found that students entered for multiple GCSEs achieved lower grades than single entrants with the same prior attainment. "The Government does not believe that continually sitting examinations is beneficial or motivating for pupils," the report read.

Ms Stacey said the 333 per cent rise in IGCSE English language entries suggested that schools were reacting to last year's English grading controversy.

IGCSE maths entries were also significantly up but with a much lower increase, from 34,000 to 45,000.

Michael Gove has encouraged the switch to the international version of the GCSE, traditionally favoured among independent schools. Last September, the education secretary told Parliament: "I would encourage all schools to consider how the IGCSE might be an appropriate preparation for the changes [to GCSE] that we hope to introduce."

Early entries from students in Year 10 or below will account for 23 per cent of GCSE maths entries this summer, up from 18 per cent last year. In English language, early entries are up from 7 to 10 per cent. Ofqual believes this might be because this summer is the last time that GCSEs will be modular, with assessments throughout the course.

The watchdog bases its system for countering grade inflation only on the prior attainment of 16-year-olds taking the GCSE. So a big increase in younger, less educated candidates could lead to the proportion of good grades falling.

Macolm Trobe, deputy general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "A lot of this [changes in entry tactics] comes down to the accountability system, which is putting an inordinate strain on schools."

In November, TES revealed ( that simultaneous entry to GCSE and IGCSE English exams was being promoted to around 400 secondaries, which were each paying pound;3,500 a year to receive advice from a group called the PiXL (Performance in Excellence) Club. The DfE condemned the practice as cynical.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: "When accusations fly that schools are somehow gaming the system, it is often the case that a blind eye is turned to the malign influence of Ofsted benchmarks and ever changing floor targets from government."

William Stewart

Tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think.

Will GCSE Results Day 2013 repeat 2012? Don't expect it to pass without rowing and recrimination - 31 July 2013

The dust has settled on the drama of the court case, lessons have been learned and new safeguards put in place by exams regulator Ofqual.

So it stands to reason that this August should see no repeat of last summer's GCSE English grading controversy?

Wrong, say heads' leaders. And they have told TES they are also anticipating further rows blowing up over GCSE results in maths and science.

More than 30,000 pupils unfairly missed out on crucial C grades in 2012 according to schools, unions and local authorities, who took the fight to get them changed all the way to the High Court. There they argued unsuccessfully that a dramatic increase in grade boundaries between January and June last year was a "statistical fix" that amounted to an "unfair" and "capricious" "abuse of power" by Ofqual and two exam boards.

There can be no such dramatic increase in boundaries this year, because there will not be any grades awarded until all modules assessed in January and June 2013 have been marked.

But the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) doubts whether that will be enough to avoid further trouble.

"There will be some significant turbulence again this year," Malcolm Trobe, the association's deputy general secretary, warned, "We are pretty certain that will happen because those schools who went down last [in terms of GCSE English grades] could go up and vice versa."

The heads' case is simple. They point to the increased emphasis placed on ensuring "comparable outcomes" by Ofqual, which last year ended GCSE grade inflation for the first time in the qualification's history. The heads say this has made grading a "zero sum game".

Mr Trobe believes schools that were caught out last year with large drops in the proportion of pupils getting good English grades - down by as much as 15 percentage points - will have raised their game to prevent the same thing happening in 2013.

But ASCL argues that with overall grade increases effectively capped - a point that Ofqual disputes - that will mean that other schools' results will fall as a consequence.

The association is also concerned about the impact on grades of new science GCSEs -which have been deliberately toughened up - and about maths, which Mr Trobe claims has ongoing issues that were overshadowed last year by the English controversy.

"Small reductions in grades are not a problem," he said. "But they could be if the impact is not a flat adjustment across the board."

Ofqual has written to schools warning that it expects the "more challenging" new science GCSEs to lead to a "small drop in achievements overall".

The regulator has also said comparable outcomes should be used only when there has been "no substantial improvement in the quality of teaching and learning".

So if teaching gets better then overall grades should be allowed to rise and there will be no zero sum game. Last year grades in 37 GCSEs did go above the comparable outcomes limits set by Ofqual.

Nevertheless it remains unclear exactly what needs to happen for the regulator to decide that teaching and learning has substantially improved.

So anyone expecting GCSE results day on 22 August to pass by without further recrimination may well be disappointed.

William Stewart

Tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think.

Private schools and post-16 colleges bring international boom to the UK economy - 29 July 2013

While schools have been spared the most severe funding cuts since the coalition came to power in 2010, the post-16 sector has borne the brunt of Chancellor George Osborne's austerity measures.

The independent sector, too, has suffered as a result of wider economic problems, reporting a drop in student numbers this year.

But a report published today by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills suggests that, aside from universities, these could well be the two most valuable education sectors in the UK economy. New figures in the document, International Education Strategy: Global Growth and Prosperity reveal just how lucrative colleges and private schools are.

The report estimates that foreign students attending independent schools were worth pound;620 million to the economy in 2011, through their fees and living expenses. Further education colleges raked in even more the UK from overseas students - more than pound;1.1 billion in total, including pound;320 million in tuition fees and pound;810 million through students' living costs.

And this is only part of the story: the country received an additional pound;1 billion through the schools and campuses that its institutions run abroad. British schools in other countries were worth a whopping pound;960 million, with pound;30 million more coming from colleges' overseas sites. With substantially more colleges looking to expand their overseas provision to maximise their income in the coming years - not least through the Association of Colleges in India initiative and recently approved plans for an all-female college in Saudi Arabia - this figure is expected to increase dramatically.

While most of the focus at the report launch at Pearson headquarters in London this morning was on the ambitions for the university sector to attract 90,000 extra foreign university students by 2018, the school and college sectors are confident they, too, could be on to a winner.

Association of Colleges chief executive Martin Doel said: "China is also looking to learn from England's apprenticeships and Colombia and Brazil - to name but two - aren't far behind them.This demonstrates how further education colleges are able to bring their vocational expertise to the fore and train teaching staff in these countries."

Christopher Ray, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, was equally positive - not surprisingly, given that he will soon be leaving the Manchester Grammar School to become principal of the British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi.

"The values of an outstanding liberal education of the kind developed in British independent schools has worldwide appeal and it is good to see this contribution being recognised in government," he said. "It is a cultural as well as an economic benefit for the nation and one which will surely grow in the coming years."

Stephen Exley

Tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think.

Exam board seminars given green light to continue after U-turn from Ofqual - 26 July 2013

Michael Gove's big bang qualifications revolution has scuppered a ban on controversial exam board seminars for teachers, which the education secretary's officials had welcomed.

The U-turn on the planned ban was announced by Ofqual this morning. Explaining its change of heart, the exams watchdog pointed to Mr Gove's plan to introduce radically overhauled A levels and GCSEs simultaneously in 2015.

"We had previously decided to stop events taking place for specific qualifications after they start being taught in schools," Ofqual's chief regulator Glenys Stacey said. "Since our original decision, the full scale and pace of the programme to reform GCSEs and A levels has become clear."

She said the boards had now put in place "new approaches for managing confidentiality" relating to the assessment information available at the seminars for teachers.

"After looking at this evidence and listening to the feedback from our recent consultation, we have decided that appropriately run seminars can still play a key role in supporting teachers to prepare their students for the new qualifications," Ms Stacey added.

The controversy over the exam seminars blew up in December 2011 when an undercover newspaper investigation revealed that some had been used to used to advise teachers on exam questions and the exact wording that students should use to obtain higher marks.
One chief examiner was secretly recorded telling teachers: "We're cheating. We're telling you the cycle [of the compulsory question]. Probably the regulator will tell us off."

Mr Gove told the paper: "I am clear, and the public reaction proves, that [the exam boards] have overstepped the mark on what is felt to be an acceptable level of advance information."

And last year Ofqual duly decided that such face-to-face events, often costing between pound;100-pound;200 per teacher, should stop from September 2013. The only exception was where they were for qualifications where teaching had yet to start or where teachers needed to be trained in internal assessment.

The Department for Education welcomed the ban when it was announced in April 2012. But it had no comment to make on Ofqual's U-turn this morning.

"Teachers should be given enough information about new qualifications to be able to plan their teaching and to teach students well, but they should not be given confidential information about future exams," Ms Stacey said.

"We are making sure that teachers can get the right information about qualifications, and that what happens in seminars is all above board."

New tighter rules for the seminars insist that:

*The boards must make any such training events "reasonably available" to all teachers and publish all training materials used in ways that teachers can access.

*Nobody who has had access to confidential assessment materials can be present at events.

*Exam boards should monitor what is said at events, "for example by recording them".

Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board, said: "We were really concerned when we thought there might be a total ban as there hadn't been any problems with our seminars and it looked like Ofqual was going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This would have been very serious at a time when new GCSEs and A levels are being introduced.

"We do need to see the detail of how things will work - for example, the people leading the seminars need to have the right level of expertise without knowing confidential information about exams. But I am now much more optimistic that we will be able to provide teachers with the support they need."

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that Ofqual had made a "sensible and proportionate decision".

"The seminars are very helpful for teachers in providing information, clarifying grey areas and giving opportunities to come together to discuss issues around exams," he said.

"Given the level and speed of changes to qualifications, these seminars will be even more important in the coming year so that teachers can plan and prepare students for these very different qualifications."

William Stewart

Tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think.

This week's TES podcast is here. Teachers all over the country and around the world listen to it. Do you? 25 July 2013

The TES team discusses the main news and features from this week's issue. We look at why gay and lesbian teachers are less likely to discipline pupils for homophobic bullying, how PISA's world rankings could be more than a little dodgy and we examine the much-envied long school summer holiday.

Listen to it here or subscribe to the TES podcast via iTunes.

Tell the podcast's editor Richard Vaughan what you think.

Exam officers experiencing a "crisis of confidence" as massive reforms loom large - 25 July 2013

School exam officers say they feel under threat, overstretched and are suffering a "crisis in confidence" just as the system they manage is about undergo huge change.

The warning comes from the Examination Officers' Association, which represents the often unsung, usually non-teaching, staff who ensure the cogs of the country's vast exam machine turn smoothly at school level.

The association has told TES it "gets at least one or two calls a week now from members and non-members who feel their job is under threat andor are being confronted with disciplinary action over some issue or error they have made often as a result of being overstretched over a long period of time".

The body carried out a snap poll at the start of this summer's exam season. Of the 200 members who responded, only 57 per cent felt their exam office had a secure position in their school "for the foreseeable future", and just 26 per cent felt the jobs in their office were secure.

These exam officers have told the association their warnings about growing workload are ignored by school management. Now they feel they are being unjustly "brought to book over, sometimes, very minor incidents".

"Time and time again, these calls are not [from] new exams office staff but seasoned campaigners," the association said.

It says staff fear principals will cut exam officer numbers as government reforms turn GCSEs and A levels into linear qualifications, requiring fewer exam sessions.

But the association argues the changes will mean "the workload has just been redistributed, with a focus on just one summer delivery period proving even more challenging".

William Stewart

Tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think.

Two local authorities labelled "unfit" by Ofsted - 24 July 2013

The first two local authorities visited under a new inspection regime have been labelled "unfit for purpose" for their support of schools.

After five-day inspections, Norfolk and the Isle of Wight were judged "ineffective" at challenging weaker schools and showing strategic leadership in school improvement respectively. The two authorities were targeted for inspection after a series of blitz inspections on schools in areas Ofsted believed were underperforming.

In many of these, the inspections revealed that several schools were improving, prompting criticism from authorities such as Derby City Council that Ofsted was using outdated figures, with some claiming it was part of a politicised agenda favouring the conversion of schools to academies.

But Norfolk and the Isle of Wight have accepted Ofsted's criticisms. Inspectors criticised a "legacy of underachievement" in Norfolk, caused by a reluctance to intervene in poorly performing schools.

"In the past we have been too slow to act in schools that are causing concern," said Gordon Boyd, Norfolk's assistant director of children's services.

"However, our new strategy focuses on much earlier intervention and is beginning to show positive signs of progress - the proportion of good and outstanding schools in the county is increasing and the role of the council in supporting school improvement has been found by Ofsted to be effective in the vast majority of recent school inspections. Despite this we realise that there is a long way to go."

The Isle of Wight lacked a co-ordinated approach to school improvement, inspectors found, and a poor use of performance data meant the authority did not know the schools well enough or intervene quickly enough.

The island brought in support from Hampshire County Council last month to help turn around its failing social services, and now says the nearby authority will also contribute to school improvement.

"We are fully aware of the urgent need to raise the benchmark for education on the island and are strongly committed to improvement," said Councillor Richard Priest, cabinet member for children's services on the Isle of Wight Council.

"We are developing an action plan for improvement with support from Hampshire County Council, our strategic partner for children's services. Clearly we will be making sure that our action plan also addresses the issues that Ofsted has raised."

Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said that the local authority inspections would continue: as they are triggered by performance against national averages, half of all councils could come under scrutiny.

"If councils want to demonstrate they still have a relevant and meaningful role to play within the new educational landscape, they must act as dynamic and proactive agents for improvement," he said.

Joseph Lee

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E-Act dealt loses out on Mill Hill school, following financial mismanagement revelations - 24 July 2013

The bad news keeps on coming for E-Act. One of the country's biggest academy sponsors has been forced to abandon plans to run a new primary school in North London after the local council objected to its involvement in the scheme.

Last week, Barnet Council bosses announced that they had dropped plans for E-Act to sponsor a new primary school in Mill Hill, after revelations that the chain had been reprimanded by the Department for Education for serious financial mismanagement.

Back in February, the town hall announced it was to build the school as part of a wider regeneration project and then hand over the keys to E-Act for the institution to be run as an academy. However, the local authority has said it is now looking at alternative providers for the school.

"E-Act was appointed as the preferred provider earlier in the year but given information that has subsequently come to light we have been working with the DfE since April to develop alternative proposals for the new school," a council spokesman said.

As revealed exclusively by TES in May, an investigation into E-Act, which manages 35 schools in England, unveiled a culture of "extravagant" expenses and revealed that hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money were being spent on unapproved consultancy fees.

A report by the Education Funding Agency, which is part of the DfE, stated: "Expenses claims and use of corporate credit cards indicate a culture involving prestige venues, large drinks bills, business lunches and first-class travel all funded by public money."

It adds that expense and card payments by senior managers "occasionally stretched the concept of propriety and value for money. Controls have been lax and some payments have tended to extravagance. However, we found no evidence of fraud."

The damning report led to the resignation of the chain's director general Sir Bruce Liddington, who was one of the most highly paid people in UK education. In 2010-11, he received almost pound;300,000 in wages and pension contributions.

Since Sir Bruce's departure, the chain has claimed to have moved into a "very different gear" and has conducted a major overhaul of its management and governance.

Commenting on the Mill Hill project, an E-Act spokesperson said that the chain was concentrating on its existing group of schools.

"E-Act doesn't turn down any opportunity to work with parents, pupils and teachers wherever it arises. But our focus at the moment is the existing E-Act family and we are working closely with the EFA to ensure that the excellence of our education is underpinned by excellence in our operations and management," the spokesperson said.

Richard Vaughan

Tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think.

Read previous Big Ed Blog posts here


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