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A period of calm and stability?

Bill WatkinBill Watkin, Operational Director SSAT, writes…

In May, the Secretary of State wrote in her termly email to schools of the need for a period of calm and stability, following years of wide–ranging reform. What she didn’t mention, of course, is that this is the year that many of those reforms start kicking in – leaving schools with a great deal to do and think about.

Leaving aside (for a moment) the new Ofsted framework and the workload, curriculum changes and demographic shifts that make recruiting and retaining teachers so challenging, here are our key changes to watch…

Ebacc for all

All pupils who start secondary school in Sept 2015, and who will start Y10 in 2018, will be required to be entered for GCSE exams in the full Ebacc suite of subjects. But the DfE is still listening to school leaders before introducing the requirement, with a consultation scheduled for this Autumn. SSAT received record responses to our member questionnaire on the reform in the summer and we have been in discussion with DfE about the concerns you expressed. Please be sure to let us have your views if you haven’t already.

Unvalidated GCSE results to be published in October

For the first time the Government will be publishing the unvalidated school performance data next month. They will be reporting on…

  • % achieving 5 or more GCSEs or equivalents at A* to C
  • % achieving the EBacc
  • Attainment 8 scores, for those schools that have opted into the new accountability system a year early.

Of course, it is important to prepare your more detailed and contextualised story for parents – especially if you are expecting significant changes to your position following the re-marks.

More powers for Regional Schools Commissioners

Their teams may be small and their capacity limited, but this term new legislation will hand Regional Schools Commissioners greater powers to scrutinise and intervene in schools. We will be monitoring and sharing members’ experiences. How will these new delegated powers in the accountability framework play out in reality?

500 new free schools

It’s more important than ever to make sure your school is the first choice for parents in your area. The government is pressing ahead with its pledge to open some 500 new free schools in the next five years. But this isn’t just about addressing the shortage of school places. It also means opening new schools in communities where the existing provision isn’t seen as good enough.

Flat cash per pupil

Over the course of this parliament, a school’s revenue will remain the same each year (barring changes to pupil numbers). But of course costs, such as employer pension and NI obligations, will increase.

So, some estimates indicate that schools face a cut of around 2.5%. How are you going to collaborate with other schools to develop economies of scale, and to co-purchase and co-recruit?

Assessment without NC levels (AWOL)

The DfE commission on AWOL was due to report in July. However, their report has been delayed (though a draft was leaked in July) and we are still waiting. So we still don’t know just how prescriptive the guidance will be.

The key to bear in mind is that whatever formative and summative assessment you use, you must be clear about what pupils have learned, how to shape future teaching and how you will report to parents.

National Curriculum

We all know that this is the first year in which all pupils will follow the new National Curriculum. What’s often less clearly understood is that the KS2 tests will from now on be based on the new NC and will not report in levels.

Instead pupils will be given a scaled score, between 80 and 130, where 100 is the equivalent of the old 4b, the new expected standard. Even academies must make sure they teach the content of the new NC because the new GCSE specs will assume knowledge of it.

Reformed GCSEs, 2016

The specifications for the next wave of subjects, for first teaching in 2016, are due very soon. Teachers will then be busy planning their programmes of study, internal assessments and resources. Of course, this is rather too late for schools that have a three year KS4: they have already started teaching the current Y9 the new GCSEs in these subjects, but do not yet have the confirmed syllabus. So for the time being most schools we’ve talked to in the SSAT network are treating Y9 as a foundation year with a focus on generic skills and knowledge.

Last year of legacy GCSE maths (and English)

Current Y11 will sit legacy GCSE in Summer 2016. If they don’t gain a C grade or better, they will only have one resit opportunity in November of Y12.

If they fail a second time, the next opportunity will be the new “fat” maths for which they won’t have been prepared.

So note to Heads of Maths: make sure these students pass their maths at the first attempt, or the second at the latest.

Reformed A Levels

Some subjects are now ready for first teaching this September. AS and AL have been decoupled, but will they be co-teachable? In all subjects? And what will schools be asking of their current Y11 cohort in this term’s Sixth Form Open Evening?

Some schools are staying with the model of the last few years – choose 4 subjects and drop one at the end of Y12; others are reverting to a pre-Curriculum 2000 model, with pupils choosing just 3 subjects which they will follow for two years to A Level.

What is a coasting school?

There’s much talk about coasting schools – but not everyone in schools has taken on board that there’s now a clear set of criteria.

A school that fails to meet these criteria for three consecutive years is deemed to be coasting and will be required to become academies unless they have a convincing school improvement plan in place.

Those which are already academies will be required to join a new sponsor.

New opportunities for 14 year-olds, new competitors for schools

Six more FE colleges intending to start ‘direct recruitment’ of full-time younger learners for 2015/16 have been announced. This brings the total number of colleges “intending to deliver the programme” over the coming academic year to 20, the EFA has confirmed.

Colleges can recruit directly if they meet certain criteria, including a dedicated 14 to 16 area on the college estate and separate leadership for 14 to 16 education.

Time for schools to sharpen their communications with parents!


Follow Bill on Twitter: @billwatkin

Follow SSAT on Twitter: @SSAT

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Read more blogs by Bill.


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