We spy another year of revolution

11th September 2009 at 01:00
So you thought the last academic year was action-packed, with its constant government reforms and inquiries? Well, the pace of change shows no signs of slowing for teachers in 200910. Let Kerra Maddern guide you through what to expect on the agenda in the coming months

Rarely cover

This year, for the first time, teachers will be expected to "rarely cover" for their absent colleagues. Although the change was agreed in 2003 as part of the workload reforms, the decision to introduce the policy this September was only taken in 2007 and headteachers are expected to have to spend this term briefing all their staff about it.

Unions say rarely cover will have the most impact in secondary schools, which rely far more on cover. But there is rampant speculation about the settling-in period, with many predicting that it will prove extremely difficult to organise, and heads' unions expecting any number of calls from members unclear about the full ramifications. The change is also likely to cause problems for special schools, which avoid using supply staff because it unsettles pupils.

The National Association of Head Teachers thinks those schools will be the first to break the law, and that special educational needs (SEN) staff should have more flexibility in how rarely cover operates.

The general election

Only Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his most trusted colleagues know when exactly voters will be able to go to the poll and choose their MPs, but it is guaranteed to be before the end of the new school year. It is, therefore, certain that everyone will be bombarded with policy announcements from all parties between now and the general election.

It's hard to see what else Labour can announce for schools following the comprehensive 21st Century Schools White Paper, but Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, and his team will likely herald the huge amount of spending on education over the past 12 years, with funding doubling per pupil. The Liberal Democrats seem most prepared, having already announced major education policies - plus details of how they will be funded. They include infant class sizes of 15 and a pupil premium for those from poorer backgrounds, paid for by scrapping the ID card.

The Conservatives have been making noises about the need for a back-to-basics approach to education, favouring traditional exams and making it easier for private firms or parents to run their own schools. Expect every announcement to make increasing waves if they continue to hold on to their extensive opinion-poll lead.

The Sats boycott

Potentially a major political rocking horse, the boycott of Sats by members of the teaching unions NUT and NASUWT will coincide with a general election if it is held in May. It seems unlikely that the Government will avert the industrial action by promising changes to the exams; the only reaction from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) so far has been to claim the strike is illegal. Expect little support from politicians or the media, who have both already condemned it.

But will teachers observe the boycott if threatened with disciplinary action? And what will the impact of the Tories' explicit policy of scrapping the Sats in primary schools be? There is a great deal up in the air and the boycott's potential to disrupt primaries throughout England is vast.

The economy

Education has been funded at unprecedented levels during the past 12 years, and a whole generation of teachers has got used to support staff, plentiful equipment and new schools. This halcyon period for budgets is already coming to an end - first signalled by less generous cash handouts to headteachers agreed in 2008. It is clear that heads and governors will spend this academic year preparing for predicted cuts to follow, with some school budgets actually expected to drop. First to go will be resources - such as that much-needed IT upgrade - followed swiftly by staff numbers. Things are not going to be pretty as the Government, of whatever political colour, tries to claw back the national debt.

A-level and university crises

As the reaction to the latest exam successes shows, concern over the quality of GCSEs and A-levels won't go away as long as the pass rate continues to rise. The new A* A-level grade, due to be awarded for the first time in summer 2010, is designed to help universities pick the best applicants - but unfortunately its introduction is likely to coincide with a repeat of this year's clearing crisis. There was a 10 per cent rise in university applications in 2009 but the number of places only rose by about 1 per cent. Expect teenagers disappointed this year to try again in 2010 - meaning even more of next year's A-level students struggling to get on to a degree course.

Unsuccessful students might even decide to resit exams - putting pressure on sixth-form places at a time when their funding is precarious. The Chancellor had to step in to find extra funding to pay for the additional sixth-formers this year, encouraged to stay on in education thanks to the September Guarantee - which says every teenager will get a place on a course or a job.

The primary curriculum

Primary school teachers are likely to spend next year in limbo. This term, Government will decide the final shape of the primary curriculum to be taught from 2011. In his government review, Sir Jim Rose has proposed that the current subject-based National Curriculum be scrapped in favour of one based on six areas of learning. There will also be a higher priority on personal, social and thinking skills. The aim is to give teachers more flexibility to shape lessons to suit their pupils. It has widespread support from the profession, but it is not supported by the Conservative Party. Schools have two years to prepare for the new curriculum, but whether they will be willing to do so with a general election looming remains to be seen.

And just as the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) starts to settle down after its bumpy start last year, a review of the curriculum for under-fives comes along. All those working with under-fives currently have to follow the play-based curriculum, but although many practioners are happy with the principles, there have been continuing complaints about workload and whether the literacy goals are pitched too high. The EYFS curriculum is due to be reviewed in 2010 (by Helen Ward).

The new Ofsted framework

Headteachers visited from this September could be forgiven for thinking Ofsted and the DCSF have become one - inspectors will judge schools on government policies such as the National Challenge benchmark of 30 per cent of pupils achieving five A*-C GCSEs, including English and Maths. Ofsted has backed off from its plan to inspect all schools without warning, but its new framework, which comes into force from this term, will see inspectors place greater emphasis on "raw" exam results.

Schools judged to be inadequate - either at promoting equal opportunities among pupils and tackling discrimination or at ensuring pupil safety - are likely to be judged inadequate overall and either placed in special measures or given a formal notice to improve. Heads fear that this will make it even harder for schools in deprived areas to achieve good Ofsted ratings, and exacerbate their problems by making it more difficult to recruit teachers.

Special educational needs

The final report from Brian Lamb, chair of the Special Education Consortium, on SEN provision and parental confidence is due in September after his team heard thousands of testimonies from teachers, parents and children. Mr Lamb is expected to look in detail at statements and why their use has declined, and the way Ofsted inspects special schools.

Judging by his previous reports, Mr Lamb is unlikely to hold back criticism of the current UK system. Major new special-needs courses for teachers begin this month, designed to create new dyslexia specialists and accredit new Senco coordinators for the first time. Funding for both lasts for two years.

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