Latest Educational News

Pisa: UK and England see performance drop in maths and reading, but climb rankings in science

by TES, December 6, 2016

Singapore sweeps the board in Pisa global rankings of maths, science and reading, but scores for UK and England drop in all three subjects
The UK and England have seen their performances drop in science, maths and reading, according to the latest results from Pisa released this morning.

But both countries rose up the science rankings in the influential Programme for International Student Assessment and finished above mainland's China's entry in reading. Singapore finished top in all three subjects.

Despite the UK's score in science slipping from 515 to 509, falls in other countries’ results meant it rose six places in the science rankings to 15th.

In maths, the UK slipped one place to 27th compared to the last round of testing in 2012. In reading, it rose one place to 22nd, according to the tests taken by 540,000 15-year-olds in 72 countries last year.

The Pisa scores, compiled by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), show that compared to their counterparts in Singapore, 15-year-olds in the UK are about one-and-a-half years behind in science and two years behind in maths.

All individual UK countries saw their scores drop in science compared to 2012. England and Scotland saw maths scores fall, while in Northern Ireland and Wales they rose.

In reading, England recorded the same score, while the other three UK countries all saw lower scores.

Lords must fix flaws in higher education and research bill

by The Guardian, December 5, 2016

The UK higher education sector has a global reputation for excellence, offering high-quality learning opportunities for more than 2.5 million students across a diverse range of universities and colleges, large and small.

As the representative bodies for UK higher education, Universities UK and GuildHE recognise that new primary legislation, in the form of a higher education and research bill, is essential. The regulatory framework has not kept up with the implications of fee changes, increased competition and the growth in new alternative providers. That is why we support the objectives of the bill to provide greater protection for students and ensure that all providers of higher education – old or new – can be regulated fairly, consistently and on the basis of risk.

However, in the form that gets its second reading in the House of Lords on 6 December, the bill retains flaws. Proposals that would allow untested organisations to award degrees much more quickly and without robust, independent scrutiny of their suitability. Our members are concerned about the potential for the secretary of state to intervene in areas such as academic standards and course funding, and they reject proposals that a government body, rather than an existing higher education provider, should be able to underwrite degrees awarded by a new provider.

Education policy should be led by those in it for the long term

by The Guardian, December 5, 2016

Sadly, your editorial (The outgoing Ofsted chief has ruffled a lot of the right feathers, 2 December) is right that “a preference for evidence over ideology … is too rare in the politics of education”. The dismantling of local authority oversight of schools and its replacement by cross-country academy chains is an example of ideological change with an absence of supporting evidence that it will improve our schools.
Another is the burdening of primary education with testing. A booklet just published by the National Union of Teachers, The Mismeasurement of Learning, gives 16 short essays of evidence on how tests are damaging children and primary education (see reclaimingschools.org). The authors are academic experts (disclaimer – I’m one) with extensive experience of different aspects of school assessment and give powerful support to the 90% of primary teachers in a recent NUT survey who identified fundamental problems with today’s assessment system.

Five ways to improve your relationships with your pupils’ parents

by TES, December 5, 2016

Having good working relationships with parents can make teaching easier, but those relationships can be hard to build. One learning support specialist offers her advice on how to reach out to parents.
Whether you are just starting out in teaching or are already an experienced professional, the importance of good relationships with your pupils’ parents cannot be underestimated.

Throughout education policy there is an expectation that parents and teachers will work together, but in practice there is often a lack of understanding and little direction or support around how these relationships can be achieved.

Here are some steps you can take to improve your relationships with parents in the New Year.

Little and often

Teaching is a demanding job, but try investing just a few minutes a week in your relationships with parents. As early as possible, communicate something positive to parents about their child. In a primary setting, a photo with a caption about how well the child approached a task, or a picture of the work they completed, takes seconds to send on a school tablet. In a secondary setting, a phone call communicating good work may be more appropriate.

Parents in north of England should be more pushy, says children's tsar

by BBC News, December 5, 2016

Parents in the north of England should learn from their pushier counterparts in the south to help their children get top grades, says the children's tsar.
The Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, herself a Leeds-based mother, said parents in the south spur on their children.
The Commissioner's Growing up North research on children's prospects in the north will be launched on Tuesday.
A north-south attainment gap opens up in secondary school, says the study.
'Tiger parents'
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Some of the findings were positive for northern children - with better well-being at age 11 - and in some areas, for example the north-east, children doing very well, with 56% reaching the expected standard at 11, only slightly behind inner London on 57%, say the researchers.
However, the study found that by the time they become adults, a gap in attainment and outcomes emerges between children in London and the south-east and their counterparts in English counties north of an imaginary line drawn between the mouth of the river Mersey and the Wash.

Irish parents pay the most in Europe for ‘free’ education

by The Times, December 4, 2016

Despite operating a system of “free education”, Irish people spend a greater proportion of their income on schooling than other Europeans, according to a new study.

Education is described as “free” in Ireland, but it is, in fact, particularly expensive because of the cost of books, uniforms, resource materials, “voluntary” contributions at primary and secondary level, and registration fees at third level.

Education accounts for 2.6% of household expenditure in Ireland, more than twice the European Union average of 1.1%, according to Eurostat. The statistics service has found that Irish households spend a larger proportion of their outgoings on education than their counterparts in any of the other 22 countries for which data was available.

GCSEs: 'Is a student with a low grade 9 really any brighter than a candidate with a high 8?'

by TES, December 3, 2016

Top-slicing at the point of grading doesn’t add much to the integrity of the qualification – it is based on identifying differences where they don’t exist, writes one leading educationist
In his famous philosophical paradox, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea imagined a race between Achilles and a tortoise.

As long as Achilles gives the tortoise a head start in the race, fleet of foot though he is, he will never catch up. Before he can overtake the tortoise, he first has to catch up with it.

But each time he reaches a point previously occupied by his shelled adversary, the tortoise has moved on. The new gap might be smaller, but it is still a gap.

And by the time that Achilles reaches the next point, the tortoise has moved on, by however small a distance. And so on.

Achilles can never catch up.

Michael Gove was not a philosopher. Neither was he Greek (although he was born in Edinburgh, the "Athens of the North"). But as secretary of state he seemed extremely keen to pursue reductio ad absurdum in continually dividing small distinctions into even smaller ones.

How else can we explain his obsession with top-slicing the GCSE A* and creating a new wafer-thin, even starrier grade?

The ostensible problem was that too many candidates achieved A*. Grade inflation had to be stopped (which was the reason why A* had been introduced in the first place).

So a new top grade has been introduced, called grade 9 (presumably a hedge to provide room for a future grade 10 should too many do too well in the new exams).

Bright students striving to reach the glittering prize will find that it is no longer there when they arrive. It looks like an exercise in exemplifying Zeno’s paradox.

Primary school pupils taught how to cope with stress

by BBC News, December 2, 2016

Pupils preparing to leave primary school are being taught how to deal with stress and to be more resilient as part of a new mental health initiative.
Children in P6 and P7 will learn how to cope with change under the Healthy Me programme developed by Northern Ireland charity, Action Mental Health.
Its chief executive David Babington said it will help prepare pupils for the stresses of the transfer test and big changes in their educational life.
Five schools took part in a pilot.
The charity is now hoping the programme will be rolled out in schools across Northern Ireland.
It consists of "interactive workshops" in which pupils are made aware of the importance of emotional wellbeing; encouraged to seek help if they are in distress and helped to identify sources of support.
The workshops also provide teachers with basic training in promoting emotional wellbeing.

‘Charity or not, our school values remain the same’

by TES, December 2, 2016

Independent schools wrestling with the prospect of having to form partnerships with maintained schools are debating the pros and cons of retaining charitable status
The recent education Green Paper signals a renewal of the link between independent schools’ charitable status and schools’ commitment to working with the maintained sector. This goes back to Andrew Adonis’ proposal in 2007 that the independent sector should do more to implant its “educational DNA” into state sector schools. It is this theme that has been pursued with some enthusiasm in the Green Paper.

It is too early to tell how the initial statements about independent schools of a certain size being required to seek a partnership with a maintained school will become codified in the final directives. However, independent school governing bodies and headteachers are already examining the benefits that charitable status brings and at what a post-charitable status world might look like if the requirements of government threaten our independence and, more likely, cost too much.

My initial, gut reaction to the prime minister’s comments was to think that somehow a school like my own might suffer some kind of erosion of moral purpose if it gave up its charitable status, but let’s unpack that instinctive response and see whether it is logical.

Faith school push will not 'help results'

by BBC News, December 2, 2016

Plans to allow new faith schools to increase the share of pupils they take on religious grounds in England will not improve standards, a report says.
The Education Policy Institute research also finds the move is unlikely to boost social mobility.
The proposal is part of a range of measures, including opening new grammar schools, aimed at boosting the number of places in high performing schools.
The government said faith schools were some of the best and most popular.
The Department for Education's plans to allow new faith schools to recruit more than half of their pupils on religious grounds are based on the assumption that children do better in these schools.
They appeared in the Green Paper, Schools that Work for Everyone, which sets out plans to allow successful schools to expand.
'Poorest pupils'
At the moment new faith schools, set up as free schools, can only recruit 50% of pupils on the basis of faith.
But existing faith schools have no limits on the percentage of pupils they can recruit on religious grounds, although Church of England schools admit quotas of non-religious pupils.
The more oversubscribed a school is, the more likely it is to have higher numbers of pupils admitted on religious grounds.
This can mean families of pupils are required to attend church, synagogues or mosques on a weekly basis.

UK's top 250 state schools revealed - did your child's school make the list?

by Chronicle Live, December 1, 2016

The UK’s 250 top state schools have been revealed - and five from the North East have made the list.

This week, the Sunday Times released its ranking of all of the country’s state secondary schools, based on GCSE and A-level performance .

The highest-achieving school in our region was Durham Johnston school, in Durham .

In this year’s exams, more than 76% of students at the 1,590-pupil comprehensive achieved A*s-B in their A-levels — the 69th highest score for a state school in the UK.

Almost 38% of GCSE pupils gained As or A*s at the school, the 222nd best rate in the country, leaving Durham Johnston at 132nd place overall.

Next comes Emmanuel College , in Gateshead, which has also been praised in our Real Schools Guide.

Art history A-level saved at last minute

by BBC News, December 1, 2016

Campaigners for art history A-level say they are "absolutely thrilled" by a late decision to save the subject, which was set to be discontinued.
Exam board Pearson has confirmed plans to develop a new history of art A-level for teaching from next September.
October's decision by the AQA board to drop the subject provoked an outcry from experts who argued "society had never required its insights more".
"It's amazing - just about in the nick of time," said teacher Sarah Phillips.
Ms Phillips, from state sixth form Godalming College, developed the new syllabus with AQA and added: "Now we need to get the message out to Year 11 students as soon as possible."
'Global specification'
Subject to approval by Ofqual, Ms Phillips says she expects Pearson to build on her work which has been made available to the Department for Education by AQA.
"It is a global specification. Students won't just study the work of dead white men," she said. "They will have the opportunity to study Islamic architecture and work by men and women of all colours and creeds. The support has been overwhelming," she added.
In October, top experts signed an open letter to AQA condemning the decision not to offer the A-level to new students after this year.
AQA was the last board to offer the subject and the decision represented "a vital loss for students", they argued.
At the time AQA said the change "was not about money or whether history of art deserves a place in the curriculum", but said that it feared the new qualification was so wide-ranging that accurate marking would be impossible.

National Teaching Service dropped, government confirms

by BBC News, December 1, 2016

A scheme to recruit good teachers to work in deprived areas has been dropped, the government has confirmed.
The National Teaching Service was announced by England's then Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, in 2015.
The plan was for 1,500 outstanding teachers and leaders to be deployed by 2020 "to the schools that need them most", with a pilot in the North West.
But following the pilot "we can confirm that we will not be progressing", said a Department for Education spokesman.
Teacher shortages
The original plan was to send "the country's best teachers and leaders to underperforming schools that struggle to attract and retain the professionals they need", according to a speech made by Mrs Morgan to the Policy Exchange think-tank in November 2015.
The initiative was part of a government plan "to give every child an excellent education".
"Too many places are lagging behind, meaning young people in these areas are not being given a fair shot," said the government at the time.
NTS staff would work with schools for a period of up to three years in a bid to drive up standards.
An initial pilot was launched to enlist up to 100 teachers and leaders to work in primary and secondary schools in the North West from September 2016.

Ofsted annual report: Primary emphasis on spelling and grammar risks narrowing the curriculum

by TES, December 1, 2016

Report also warns that secondary heads do not realise that the primary curriculum has changed and still think that pupils' progress is measured in levels
The emphasis on reading, writing, spelling and grammar at primary school risks narrowing the curriculum, today's Ofsted annual report states.

This means that subjects such as science and modern foreign languages can suffer as a result.

The report says: “The underlying importance of literacy means that reading, writing, spelling and grammar remain of the utmost importance in the primary curriculum.

“However, this clear emphasis, which has been embraced successfully by the vast majority of primary schools, can create a risk that the curriculum becomes narrowed.”

Nous n'avons pas de temps

Evidence from inspections shows that science and foreign languages end up suffering, because not enough time is available for in-depth study, the report stated.

Foreign languages were particularly affected. None of the primary schools inspected this year spent more than two hours a week on language study. The majority – more than two thirds – spent less than an hour on foreign languages.

Four in 10 teachers said that time pressure was one of the biggest barriers to effective language teaching in primary schools.

And, in a quarter of primaries, inspectors felt that pupils were not well-prepared for continued study of a foreign language after they left.

Muslim families sending children to Catholic schools

by BBC News, December 1, 2016

More than 26,000 Muslim pupils are enrolled in Catholic schools in England and Wales.
For the first time an annual census of Catholic schools has collected information on the number of pupils from other religions.
The biggest group of non-Catholic pupils are from other Christian denominations - but almost a tenth are from Muslim families.
The government has plans to encourage more Catholic free schools to open.
This analysis shows that, overall, nearly a third of the more than 850,000 pupils within the Catholic school system are not Catholic - a total of almost 290,000.
Changing populations
This can reflect local demographic changes and migration - with Catholic schools serving areas with a declining number of Catholic families.
The Muslim pupils are the biggest non-Christian group, apart from the 63,000 who are from non-religious families.

School performance link to Brexit vote, says Ofsted boss

by BBC News, December 1, 2016

The failure to improve schools in some parts of England has contributed to the feeling of being ignored revealed in the Brexit vote, the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw has said.
The Ofsted boss said while standards were rising overall, the number of poorly performing schools in the north and the East Midlands would continue to fuel the sense of a divided nation.
He said the situation was very serious.
Sir Michael publishes his final annual report as chief inspector on Thursday.
In an interview with the BBC in Manchester, he said the economic future of the north of England relied on addressing the poor performance of some schools.
Sir Michael said the European Union referendum result had revealed a wider malaise, with communities feeling their needs were being ignored.
He said parents in Manchester, Liverpool and many towns in the North of England had less of a chance of seeing their children get a good job or go on to university than those in London.

Is the government finally moving away from data as the only way to judge school performance?

by TES, November 30, 2016

Ministers’ over-dependence on annual test results has taken its toll on a generation of heads – and those put off headship because of it – but there are refreshing signs that this could be changing
Within Justine Greening’s recent announcement on assessment there was a very interesting line that has gone somewhat under the radar:

"Because of the changes to primary assessment, I want to be clear that no decisions on intervention will be made on the basis of the 2016 data alone. Regional schools commissioners and local authorities will work together with the current leaders of the small minority of primary schools below the floor or coasting to help and support the schools to move forward in a positive direction.”

The fact that intervention cannot be based on 2016 data alone is a welcome and tacit admission that the results from last year cannot be relied upon to give an accurate picture of school performance. Whilst this will come as no surprise to those working in our primary schools, it is positive to see it being acknowledged by the government. However, the really interesting phrase is: ‘will work together with the current leaders’. If the education secretary’s words are to be taken at face value, this might just be the first steps towards a significant and welcome shift from a policy of heavy-handed intervention to one of genuine support for schools that are struggling.

New money for school improvement, following £600m cut

by TES, November 30, 2016

Heads say money must be distributed fairly
The government has announced £190 million for school improvement work, which will come into effect as it cuts the £600 million education services grant (ESG).

Education secretary, Justine Greening, this afternoon said £50 million would, from September 2017, help local authorities monitor and commission school improvement for low-performing maintained schools.

The money also includes a further £140 million ‘strategic school improvement fund’ targeted at maintained schools and academies “most in need of support" to "drive up standards, use their resources most effectively, and deliver more good school places”.

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was transitional funding as the government moves towards an all-academy system where school leaders, working together were responsible for school improvement, rather than councils.

He called for discussions with the Department for Education to ensure the £140 million was distributed fairly, without placing burdens on schools.

He told TES: “The key thing is to ensure that support is targeted where support is most needed. There is going to have to be a very sophisticated process to identify where the need is greatest.

“We would be very concerned if a bidding process was involved, because writing bids takes time away from the teaching and learning in the school, and these contracts tend to be awarded on the basis of the bid, so it’s the quality of the bid rather than the need.”

Ms Greening also said the Education Endowment Foundation had committed to spend a further £20 million over the next two years to build up and disseminate “evidence-based programmes and approaches”.

She said: “I want this investment to not only transform outcomes for children by improving schools, but also to make sure our school-led system learns from that work. That is why the EEF has a key role to play in this project.

“It’s vital that we now pull these two aspects together to get the maximum impact for children and schools.”

Academisation to reach a 'tipping point' by 2022

by TES, November 30, 2016

Schools minister Lord Nash predicts that in five or six years time academisation will start to become the only viable approach - but he supports a 'mixed economy' of academies and local authority schools for now
Facing MPs at the education select committee today, Lord Nash also predicted the possibility of massive multi-academy trusts in the next couple of decades, running hundreds of schools across large swathes of the country.

Here’s what we learned from the session:

1. The rise of massive MATs

Asked whether MATs could emerge in the future resembling local authorities in their size, Lord Nash said it was possible that “in 20 years time we could have a MAT with hundreds of schools in it”.

That would be a big step-up for the biggest players currently in the system. At the moment the largest academy chain in the country, Academies Enterprise Trust, has 67 schools under its control.

The minister said a MAT running hundreds of schools by the 2030s was “unlikely’, but “it could be done”.

2. "Mixed economy" of academies and local authority schools in short term…

Lord Nash said that following its decision to scrap the Education for All Bill, which would have forced schools to become academies in ‘underperforming local authorities’, the government had “settled in a very good place” on academisation.

He admitted that the government had sent out some “mixed messages” on the issue, but said it would now be pursuing a “consensual approach apart from those schools which are inadequate”.

The minister said we would have a “mixed economy” of academies and local authority maintained schools for the next few years.

Primaries are now becoming academies faster than secondaries

by TES, November 30, 2016

A new report finds stark variations in the number of academies in different regions – and discovers where underperforming schools are most likely to be converted
For the first time, primary schools are becoming academies at a faster rate than secondary schools.

But ministers are unlikely to celebrate this as evidence of growing popularity of their flagship policy among primaries, as the conversion rate in both phases slowed over the last year.

That is one of the main findings of a report by the National Foundation for Educational Research, published today.

The study, ‘A tale of eight regions’, examines how school structures have changed in the different areas covered by regional schools commissioners (RSCs) – the powerful civil servants who oversee academies, and, increasingly, non-academies, in their patch.

Here are six key findings:

Academy growth in the primary sector now exceeds the secondary sector
This year was the first time this has happened since the coalition government put "rocket boosters" under the academy programme in 2010. However, it is not because the rate of academisation among primary schools is increasing – it just declined slower than that of secondary schools.
Growth in the secondary sector was 8.4 per cent in 2013 but now stands at 2.9 per cent in 2016. This compares to the primary sector, where growth has fallen from 4.4 per cent in 2013 to 3.7 per cent now.

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