What's coming in the new term

5th September 2008 at 01:00
So many changes - from early years to A-levels - are coming on stream that they're calling it the `meltdown year'

What's coming

- Big changes in the key stage 3 curriculum, A-levels and the introduction of the first statutory early years curriculum;

- Primaries with low test scores and `coasting' secondaries to come under pressure to improve results;

- Rumbling dispute over below-inflation teachers' pay;

- Independent schools to learn their fate over charitable status;

- School funding pressures;

- More new and refurbished school buildings;

- Ofsted decision on zero-notice inspections

Teachers can expect a turbulent autumn term, with the biggest set of changes to the curriculum in two decades, even more pressure to improve results, tighter funding and the possibility of another national pay strike.

One of the first differences many will experience as they return to school, for the beginning of what has been termed the "meltdown year", will be major changes in what they are expected to teach.

A curriculum big-bang will see new A-level specifications in every subject except maths, the introduction of the first 14-19 diplomas, a new key stage 3 curriculum and the new early years foundation stage.

The so called "nappy curriculum" is particularly controversial because of goals such as every child being able to write their own name by the age of five.

But despite disquiet over these official goals, TES research suggests that, in principle, most early years teachers support the changes.

Their KS3 colleagues may feel less positive about the parallel overhaul of the 11-14 curriculum being introduced this term.

The changes, starting in Year 7 this month, are supposed to strip down prescription over content, handing teachers more flexibility, reducing duplication between subjects and giving cross-curricular attributes - such as thinking skills - more prominence.

However, there are signs that some teachers have struggled to focus on these changes, with their attention on preparing for new GCSEs - which will start in 2009 - and A-level changes which begin this month. Designed to be more challenging, the new A-level specifications will introduce A* grades and a reduction from six to four modules, except in science.

Teachers are likely to come under even more intense pressure to improve results with a big extension of the Government's controversial school improvement scheme.

Known as the National Challenge, the scheme has already offered support, along with threats of closure, to hundreds of secondaries with low raw GCSE results.

Hundreds more "coasting" schools, with results deemed "unacceptably low" when pupil backgrounds are taken into account, can expect similar treatment this term. A separate get-tough programme for primaries with low results is also expected before Christmas.

Teachers' pay goes up by 2.45 per cent this month. But with retail price index inflation at more than twice that level, the National Union of Teachers says this is insufficient, and it may ballot for another strike this term. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers also says its members are running out of patience.

But even below-inflation pay rises will lead to some heads struggling to balance their budgets, with funding increases as low as 2 per cent for many schools. Rapidly rising power, oil, gas and food prices will only add to the pressure.

Many teachers should be working in nicer surroundings. This term sees what government officials have billed as the biggest opening of new and refurbished schools for a generation. They include 51 academies and 21 new secondaries in the Building Schools for the Future programme.

But private schools may feel less keen to invest in new buildings; the Charity Commission is due to publish its final guidance on their charitable status and public benefits by the end of the year. Its verdict could result in the indepedent sector having to fund more bursaries.

This term should be a pivotal one for primaries, with the publication of the final report and conclusions of the independent Primary Review, the biggest study of primary education for 40 years.

There will also be the release of the interim report from Sir Jim Rose's government-commissioned primary curriculum review, and a National Audit Office report on primary maths.

Meanwhile, Ofsted is expected to kill off its controversial plans for zero-notice inspections.

One thing is crystal clear - this term is going to be busy.

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