Under new management

5th January 2007 at 00:00
Gordon Brown looks set to cast a long shadow in 2007, which is likely to mean a tightening of targets - and belts. David Marley explains Illustration Paul Bateman

the education world may be hoping for a quiet 2007 after the past 12 reform-packed months. But with the promise of a new prime minister, and a host of other changes, there seems little chance of that.

In all likelihood Gordon Brown will get the keys to No 10, possibly as soon as May. He has been carefully building up his education credentials, pouring money into improvements to school buildings and promising to match funding for state school pupils with the lavish levels of the private sector.

However, it is not clear how far the state school-educated chancellor will endorse Tony Blair's wide-ranging education reforms.

After so long waiting in the wings, he is sure to want to make an impression. Teachers' union leaders already fear that schools may feel the full force of the target obsession he has brought to the Treasury.

"Gordon could end up making Tony look like he had a light grip on schools,"

one said.

As Tony makes way for Gordon, Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Education, may also make way for another. The former postman is still in the running for the deputy Labour leader's job. And if he fails to get that, Mr Brown could well choose to put his own stamp on the future of education policy by picking another secretary of state.


OUT IN the real world, away from Westminster job shuffles, schools will be busy with curriculum developments as they prepare for an overload of new qualifications in 2008.

Prime among them will be the specialised vocational diplomas, which are meant to offer hundreds of thousands of pupils an alternative to GCSEs and A-levels. Details of the first of these qualifications will be finalised this year and sent to schools in the summer so they can teach them from September next year.

The first batch - which will be in construction, engineering, ICT, creative and media, and health and social care - appear impressive from early briefings.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has been hailing them as the most significant curriculum reforms taking place anywhere in the world.

But there have been grumblings about them being second class courses, particularly after Blair backed the international baccalaureate in November.

The next few months, when the exam boards finalise their details and schools try to plan how to teach them, will be crucial in determining whether diplomas have the popularity to survive.

Meanwhile, maths GCSEs without coursework will debut in September, paving the way for several other GCSEs to be launched without a conventional coursework component in coming years.

The Government will begin trialling new "functional skills" tests in English, maths and ICT from September, which pupils will need to pass in order to get higher GCSE grades.

It also has to work out how exactly the new A* grades for A-level will work. Will harder questions be mixed into the exams, or will brighter pupils be made to sit additional papers?


THIS MONTH will see the first official GCSE league tables to measure the proportion of pupils who gain A* to C grades in five subjects, which must include English and maths.

Ministers brought in the new criterion following claims that the standard measure - five A* to C grades in any subject - could be gained without having mastered the basics of literacy and numeracy, and that some pupils had been able to boost their positions artificially by using vocational qualifications, which count as four GCSEs.

Expect hundreds of schools to plunge down the tables, and hundreds to rise up them, as a result.

At the end of the year, results of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's international tests for 15-year-olds will be published, complete with league tables ranking the world's education systems.

The so-called Pisa tests (Programme for International Student Assessment) are held every three years, but, embarrassingly, England's results were invalid in 2003 because too few schools took part. This year's results will be a key indicator of the success of Labour's education reforms.


this year could be one of the first without an education bill since Labour came to power in 1997, although schools will be testing legislation pushed through parliament in 2006. They can now apply for trust status, effectively making them state-funded independent schools, which can be controlled by outside organisations including businesses and charities. The Government hopes that this model will help increase the number of schools working in federations.

The academy programme will also continue its expansion: 36 new academies are due to open in 2007.

One of the most welcome reforms for schools is that teachers now have a clear legal right to discipline pupils, which includes using reasonable force and giving detentions.

And a new admissions code, to be introduced this year, will ban schools from conducting interviews and other forms of back-door selection.


heads and senior staff will be looking out for a report on the future of school leadership, to be published this month by consultantcy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The Government-commissioned report is expected to recommend that people from non-teaching backgrounds could run federations of schools. It is also expected to propose that the School Teachers' Review Body, which helps determine pay, should review the remuneration of school leaders and governors.

Meanwhile, primary headteachers and other members of the National Association of Head Teachers are likely to get back into ministers' good books.

The association will vote later this month on whether it should rejoin the "social partnership" with the Government and other unions, which it abandoned in 2005 over complaints that there were not enough resources to give teachers time outside the classroom.

Mick Brookes, the union's general secretary is supporting the U-turn. He argues that the NAHT should be involved in decisions about school structure and leadership.


government spending plans until 2010-11 will be announced in the summer, and it is not expected to be good news for schools. The 2007 comprehensive spending review, which sets budgets across all departments, is thought likely to slow the rate of investment enjoyed by the DfES since Labour came to power.

David Bell, permanent secretary at the department, warned the Commons education committee last year: "It is going to get tighter. I don't think there is any doubt about that."

He said his department would have to "drill down hard" on priorities.

Whether that will result in fewer initiatives for schools to implement remains to be seen.


teachers will take part in the biggest independent review of primary education in almost 40 years. More than 60 researchers, led by Professor Robin Alexander of Cambridge university, will gather evidence from teachers and parents on how primary schools should develop. Their report is due to be published in 2008.

Meanwhile, the Government's new primary framework, which involves teachers responding more to pupils' progress, will begin this year. It recommends that elements of numeracy and literacy are taught earlier and that teachers plot the broad topics they will cover several weeks ahead, but only plan two lessons in advance.

Local authorities are due to run introductory sessions on the framework from this term.

But those who cannot wait to get their hands on the 1,600-page document can find it at www.dfes.gov.uk

2007 dates for your diary

January 5 North of England conference ends, Preston

January 26 Tackling prejudice-related bullying, a NASUWT conference, Manchester

February 27 Estelle Morris, former education secretary, gives the annual York Education Lecture at the York Racecourse.

April 2-5 ATL annual conference, Bournemouth

April 6-10 NUT annual conference, Harrogate

April 9-12 NASUWT annual conference, Belfast

May 10-12 Independent Schools Association conference, Stratford-upon-Avon

July 30 to August 1 Professional Association of Teachers conference, Harrogate

August 16 A-level results

August 23 GCSE results

September 11-14 TUC annual conference, Brighton

October 1 to 4 Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, Bournemouth

November 28-30 Specialist Schools and Academy Trust conference, Birmingham

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