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24 Hours to Save Schools #QuickWins

I sense the next five years are going to be quite a challenge for schools.  We’ve been through hard times before and no doubt we’ll go through them again.  With the General Election approaching a new Secretary of State for Education will shortly be in post.


None of the Above

The election doesn’t seem to have set the education world on fire with many teachers seemingly undecided on who would be the best party to form a government for the next five years.  I thought the incoming Secretary of State for Education might benefit from a few ideas provided by the profession on how to get us out of the mess we are arguably in, with a titanic struggle for teacher supply expected in the next Parliament due to the current climate within schools.

If you were Secretary of State for Education what changes would be top of you agenda to make schools fairer, better and more appealing places to work.  I’ve used a variety of sources to collect together a number of #QuickWins a new Secretary of State could make.  They don’t need any legislative changes and none of them would do any harm to children, in fact, they may improve things significantly.  They are all aimed at abandonment rather than adding anything to overworked teachers and school leaders. 

I’ve added a poll for people to vote which closes at 10:00 p.m. on the 7th May 2015.  I’ll blog out the results and copy it to the incoming Secretary of State for Education.  Hopefully the new incumbent will be more willing to listen to the combined wisdom of the profession and work with teachers, instead of against them.  Here are a set of possible changes for you to consider and then vote on using the poll at the bottom of the post.

Keep Grading System the Same for All GCSEs

With new GCSEs in English & Maths this September, with first sitting in Summer 2017 students, schools, parents and employers will find themselves with two different grading systems.  The familiar A*-G (8 points) and the new 1-9 (9 points).  The problem is this will lead to a change in the points awarded between 2016 and 2017 disproportionately affecting schools with lower attaining students.  Better to either retain the old A*-G or move all GCSEs to 1-9 grades in 2017.

Short Inspections for All

The pernicious nature of our accountability system is having a hugely negative impact on schools.  Removing Ofsted will require legislative change but moving all schools to the new short one day inspection doesn’t.  This short inspection has no grades and a simple letter issued to the schools.  The letter should be formative and development and no triggering of Section 5 inspections permitted.

Scrap the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check

Considered by many as a ridiculous waste of time and energy as the test only checks decoding skills rather than actually what a child reads and understands.  The screening is in place to ensure that schools deliver synthetic phonics as the primary way of delivery of the teaching of reading.  It does not greatly enhance the teaching of reading just the teaching of decoding skills. For more able children, going over the laborious sounding out and blending actually detracts from the meaning whereas children with specific areas of SEN need, such as children with Downs syndrome, do not learn to read by the synthetic phonics methodology.

Quadruple Funds for a Child with an Education, Health & Care Plan (EHCP)

Concerns have been raised about some schools skewing their intake against students with special educational needs.  This has a significant impact on other nearby schools that may then have a disproportionately high number of students with Special Educational Needs.  This would mean funding of £14-18k for children with EHCP delivered via the PP funding route.  The extra resources must be used to meet the child’s needs and may be a win:win in the austere times ahead.

Delay A-level Changes until 2017 and 2018

A-level changes

New A-level courses will be introduced for most subjects at the same time as the introduction of new GCSEs.  This will create a massive workload problem for teachers in 11-18 schools.  It will also mean for Sixth Form Colleges the students they receive will have studied different GCSE curriculum and have variable knowledge for years to come.  For students they will be studying new A-level content having not covered it in the new GCSEs.  Delay A-level reforms until the new GCSEs have been introduced and studied by the first cohort of students.

Automatically Identify Children Eligible for Pupil Premium Funding

Getting families to self-declare their eligibility for Pupil Premium funding is placing an unnecessary burden on schools.  With the introduction of Universal Free School Meals for all infants there is no benefit to any family to inform the primary school so vital Pupil Premium funding may be lost.  Schools are spending time chasing up families asking them to register.  The government should have all the data required and inform schools of children’s eligibility rather than vice versa.

Scrap the E-Bacc as a Performance Measure

The E-Bacc was retrospectively introduced by Michael Gove when he was Secretary of State for Education.  The call to scrap the E-Bacc would still leave the E-Bacc subjects as an element of the Progress and Attainment 8 measures but would free up the curriculum for lots of children in secondary schools.  The concern is to many schools are chasing the performance measure rather than meeting the needs of their students.

Ditch Performance Related Pay

We all know we’re accountable but within a profession like teaching identifying an individual’s contribution, to students’ outcome, is very complex.  In addition, performance related pay in a time of increasing austerity is more likely to be linked to funds available than actual performance of a teacher no matter what the metric.  There is little to be gained by keeping it and too much upset and distress caused by its imposition.

Cancel University Tuition Fees for Graduates who Stay in the Teaching Profession

The teacher supply issue is already hitting schools with an anecdotes increasingly exchanged when head teachers and senior leaders meet.  Teachers should no longer be required to repay their university tuition loans but instead half the loans are cancelled after ten years and the other half after twenty years of a graduate being employed as a teacher teaching in a maintained school or academy.  These time scales could be halved for teachers working in a school in challenging circumstances.

Complaints About Ofsted Should be Investigated by an Independent Panel of School Leaders 

As a matter of course at the end of an inspection Ofsted must release all inspectors’ notes to the school prior to leaving the premises to ensure their evidence base and judgements are open to scrutiny.  Any complaint about an Ofsted Inspector or the outcome of an inspection should be investigated by an independent panel of school leaders.  Any report will not be released until the investigation had been completed.

By popular request I’ve now changed this so there is no limit to the number of issues you can vote for.

Have a sneaky second vote from another device 😉

It would be great to get about 5,000+ votes and this will need a few thousand visitors making a couple of votes each.

Please share this post be clicking here.  Thank you for engaging.

Thanks to Ruth Whymark & Jarlath O’Brien for their help with this post.

By the way, if you’ve voted, it’s another tick in the box for your British Values Audit – democracy in action.  🙂



11 thoughts on “24 Hours to Save Schools #QuickWins

  1. Stephen, I have a complaint: so many good ideas and you make us vote for just three!
    It’s rare to see so much common sense packed into a single blog post, thank you.
    I think that cancelling tuition fees would be a quick win as you say, but the long term effect might be limited. While disruption to teacher training has played a part in the growing teacher shortage, recruitment difficulties are also mirrored in health and social services. I believe that there is a common underlying cause rooted in erosion of working conditions, rapid externally-imposed change which the professionals themselves see as having little positive impact, and an increasing culture of blame from government and inspection authorities, with a consequent erosion of respect for these professions. Only a significant change of culture from government can change this. I think that’s why so many teachers are undecided – we can’t see where that change might come from.

    Posted by Caseby's Casebook | May 2, 2015, 7:37 am
  2. Great ideas
    any chance the A level reform idea could be weighted so take into account that most participants in vote would not be effected by it? Same for phonics. A level changes are going to have a massive impact on post 16 in so many ways.

    Posted by Stuart | May 3, 2015, 11:47 am
    • Thanks Stuart. This is the first time I’ve ever put a poll together – even if the software allows weightingeneral (not sure it does) it’s beyond my skills at the moment. In reality I think the new SoS could do all the above. Here’s hoping.

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | May 3, 2015, 12:17 pm
  3. Executive HT, you suggest that a new government should scrap the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check. I disagree.

    The Phonics Check is not a waste of time and energy. In fact, it is doing a lot of good.

    No-one claims it checks more than decoding skills, but decoding skills are vital to reading. It is impossible for a child to understand a text without knowing what the words are. It is in place to ensure that children can read simple words before they go into KS2. If they go into KS2 unable to read simple words, their progress and self-esteem sink fast.

    Is there any evidence that the ability to read unfamiliar words by sounding and blending detracts from understanding for more able children? If you cannot read an unfamiliar word, it is impossible to understand it.

    Is there any evidence that children with Downs syndrome cannot learn to read with synthetic phonics? I know that Mona McNee’s son had Downs syndrome. His school failed to teach him to read, so Mona taught him with synthetic phonics. That experience led her to found the UK branch of the Reading Reform Foundation. She also wrote her own programme, ‘c-a-t = cat’.

    Posted by Elizabeth Nonweiler | May 7, 2015, 4:00 pm
  4. The Year One Phonics Screening Check has raised awareness about wide variation in teaching effectiveness for phonics provision. It is important to demonstrate that teachers are yet to share a common understanding regarding the teaching of reading despite research findings and despite official guidance. When teachers think that their ‘better readers’ are ‘beyond phonics’ and that they have turned pseudo words into ‘real words’ to ‘make sense of them’ – this shows a level of misguided professional understanding. Why should ‘better readers’ not be able to read simple pseudo words accurately? In any event, literature is full of words which are ‘new’ to readers (beyond their oral vocabulary) and are the equivalent of pseudo words. It should not be ‘chance’ as to the content and quality of reading instruction for children – but responses to the phonics check and wide variation in results show that it is still ‘chance’ and this urgently needs to be addressed.

    Posted by Debbie Hepplewhite (@debbiehepp) | May 8, 2015, 4:36 pm


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