Welcome to the Pleasuredome

Here are the five issues, in no particular order that I would put into the in-tray of the incoming Secretary of State for Education. They all need some form of resolution if the reforms that have been made in the past years are to be absorbed into the system.

Summer Results

So, Ofqual threw their cat into the middle of the pigeons and ran away. Hands washed. This summers results will lack comparability with anything that has gone before. The new SoS needs to be on top of this and understand the consequences for the system – that is the inability to compare outcomes across years.

Budgets

Any one with any involvement in schools will know just how tight budgets are this year. Schools with sixth-forms are feeling even more of a pinch. This is not going to get easier. The number of students in the top 5 years of primary is 7% higher than the first 5 years of secondary. This is a billion pound problem about to hit secondary. There are similar issues coming up through primary.

I’m convinced that this was one of the primary factors behind the drive to change teachers pay policy. DfE needs to be more explicit about this. It also needs to be a more open about the impact increasing numbers will have on schools. An additional 2 or 3% rise in student numbers could be absorbed within many schools without additional costs. Above that we are talking not only additional teachers, but additional classrooms as well. This needs to be planned for rather than allowing it to happen in an ad-hoc, unplanned way..

Ofsted

This past year has seen Ofsted take a bit of a beating, frankly. Some of this was self-inflicted – preferred teaching styles, poor QA of reports, do we/don’t we grade lessons (which to my mind is still not definitively answered). Some of it was inflicted by others – I believe that the regulator was very badly used in Birmingham. Then there were joint enterprises – no notice inspections.

We need a strong and confident regulator. At the moment we have a bear with a sore paw. This needs fixing and fixing fast.

Assessment

We had a national assessment schema. It was flawed. Or rather it was used (and abused) in a flawed way. And it was flawed. Now we have a vacuum. And a competition to replace levels (most of the entries to which look unsurprisingly like levels). A vacuum is not good. The Ofsted guidance I’ve seen on how they will address the issue of assessment looks very wooly and is a nightmare in the making. It is not beyond the wit of DfE to get together a sensible group of teachers and work out some practical guidance. I’m sorry, but schools have too much to do for every one of them to be wasting their time inventing a new assessment schema.

Structures

We have too many types of school. This means we end up having a complex regulatory system around them., with different rules applying to different schools. Also, we need a middle tier. I am not, nor have i ever been a massive fan of the LA model. But I’m definitely not a fan of what we have now.

My view, for what its worth? At secondary, academies everything. Let schools join in the federations/chains they want to. Homogenise the funding agreements. Primary is more complex. In many ways they are often too small to benefit from academisation in the ways that Adonis originally intended. Again, this is an area that would benefit from a plan which says more than “This can now happen, lets see what can happen.

Schools Commissioners represent the beginnings of a way forward but this plan needs more thought in order to become sustainable.

As there is not much more than a fag-paper between Labour and Conservatives on issues of structure I would suggest that they get themselves together and sort out a solution. This element of education at least needs to be taken out of politics. We need stability in the structures.

 

None of these issues are easy which is why I have deliberately tried not to suggest to many solutions. I genuinely think that most of these can be solved in non-partisan fashion but that can only happen with discussion – firstly to properly understand the impact of these issues on the system and secondly to resolve them. This requires engaging with and listening to a wider forum than the past few SoSs have done.

You may think otherwise….

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