DfE Questions & Answers (April - May 2012)
Each week the DfE will answer your questions here. To get your questions answered just send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: How many school age children are there in UK or England?
DfE answers: There were nearly 9.7 million full-time and part-time pupils in 32,750 schools in the United Kingdom in 2010/11(the latest figures). In England there were 8,092,000 pupils, full and part-time. All the information is available here: http://www.education.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/VOL/v001045/v02-2011v2.pdf
Q: Could you confirm, please, whether there is training available for the new One to One Tuition tutors?
DfE answers: Not directly from DfE although your Local Authority may provide some. Here’s our guidance on One to One Tuition:
Also, resources are available here on tuition: http://www.tes.co.uk/mypublicprofile.aspx?uc=1750067and here: http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/pupilsupport/inclusionandlearnersupport/onetoonetuition/b0056257/one-to-one-tuition-guidance-and-resources/guidance
Q: How regularly should teachers report on pupil progress in terms of NC levels?
DfE answers: Schools must report brief details of achievements in all subjects and other activities forming part of the curriculum and comments on general progress each year report (with an exception for pupils who will receive a school leaver’s report instead). The minimum information that must be reported to parents in the head teacher’s annual report to parents is noted in the Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2005, SI 2005/1437 (as amended in 2008) available here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2005/1437/contents/made
The minimum content of the annual report should include:
- brief particulars of achievements in all subjects and activities forming part of the curriculum
- comments on general progress
- arrangements for discussing the report with the pupil’s teacher
- attendance record
- results of any public exams taken by subject and grade
- details of any vocational qualifications or credits towards such qualifications gained and
- results of any National Curriculum tests taken during that year, by level.
There are also specific reporting requirements for children in Key Stages 1 to 3 (as set out in para 2(1) of Schedule 1) and for the reports for children with SEN. The latter is set out in para 2(2) and 2( 3) to Schedule 1 (inserted by the 2008 Regs).
Schools are also encouraged to carry out precise on-going teacher assessment to inform their teaching plans and to inform parents of their child’s attainment. It is up to schools to decide when best to make these assessments and how they are reported, as long as the statutory requirements are complied with, as outlined above.
Q: Would the dept consider reporting levels every 6 weeks counter the original intention of levels?
DfE answers: The Department is not planning to make any changes to the reporting of levels ahead of the review of the National Curriculum. As you are aware, the review is considering the content and structure of both primary and secondary levels. Further details of the review can be found by following the link below.
Q: Would the Dept confirm that NC levels are not meant to be applied to individual pieces of work?
DfE answers: It is for schools to decide how to mark and assess pupils’ work.
Q: DfE have just published the statutory guidance on pupil exclusion effective from September 2012, ‘Exclusion from maintained schools, Academies and pupil referral units in England’. Section 10 of it deals with a governing body reconsidering its exclusion decision when directed to do so by an Independent Review Panel. I have a question about this section of the guidance.
The guidance says merely that the governors must “reconvene” to reconsider their decision. There is no other guidance on procedures for this reconsideration so we presumably have wide discretion how we do this.
1. Governing bodies nearly always make their exclusion decisions by a committee of the governing body. Do the DfE have a view as to whether the reconsideration should be made by the same committee of governors who made the original decision, or by a different group of governors who were not involved with the original decision?
2. When the governors reconsider their decision should all the parties who were invited to the original governors’ meeting - head teacher, parents, and (in LA schools) the LA - also be invited to the ‘reconsideration meeting’? The guidance doesn’t say they should, but doesn’t say they shouldn’t either! Is this at the discretion of the governors taking into account the reasons the Independent Review Panel has given for directing reconsideration?
3. If the governors do invite other parties to the reconsideration meeting do they have to invite all those who they invited to the original meeting and allow them to make further representations or can they, for example, only invite the head teacher?
DfE answers: Whether reconsideration is by the same committee of governors that made the original decision or a different group of governors not involved in the original decision is a matter for the governing body to determine.
The basis of the governing body’s reconsideration is the finding of the independent review panel at which all parties had a right to make representations. There is no expectation that these parties should be invited to the governing body’s ‘reconsideration meeting’.
Q: What does the DfE think should happen if there is only one governor willing to be the Chair of our governing body, do we have to vote or is the governor automatically elected unopposed?
The Procedures Regulations say only that we “shall elect” a chair but don’t say what happens if there is only one candidate. Some people have advised that even if there is only one candidate there still has to be a secret ballot so that governors can vote yes or no to the one candidate, others think that if there is only one candidate they are elected unopposed and there is no need for us to hold a ballot. What do DfE advise?
If it is at the discretion of the governing body what to do if there is only one candidate do DfE have a view on what would be good practice?
DfE answers: It is at the discretion of the governing body. There are no regulations prescribing the election process as it is believed that governing bodies are best placed to decide how to organise this process. It’s not a problem if only one person stands in our view.
Q: Would the Dept think it appropriate for teachers to use their own professional judgement re choice of:
- Individual silent activity
- Pair work activity
- Group work activity
Would it be appropriate for the teacher to choose whether an activity should be individual & silent, pair or group according to his/her judgement as to which format would garner the maximum learning progress
Would the Dept agree that the objective of all lessons is to maximise pupil achievement and that it is the responsibility and professional choice of the classroom teacher to choose the methodology that he/she believes will maximise this achievement.
Would the Dept agree that pair and group work are possible means to an end but not ends in themselves, that an activity’s value should always be judged upon its impact upon learning and progress?
DfE answers: We would agree with your statements as we believe that teachers should be trusted to use their professional judgement. The professional standards state that teachers should: Have a good, up-to-date working knowledge and understanding of a range of teaching, learning and behaviour management strategies and know how to use and adapt them, including how to personalise learning to provide opportunities for all learners to achieve their potential.
Q: The notion of preferred learning styles has been discredited. Yet there is a commonly held misconception that inspectors are looking for teaching that acknowledges pupils’ preferred learning styles.
I am aware of the excellent DfE Mythbuster document re: gender which makes some reference to learning styles. Are there any other DfE publications that specifically deal with the issue of learning styles. And to my understanding, the notion of boy friendly teaching based upon a belief that boys’ brains or preferred learning styles are different from those of girls, has been discredited.
DfE answers: No, we don’t have any publications on this and it’s not a policy area that we are currently working on or have plans to fund in the future. Glad you like the Mythbuster!
Q: Often teachers have been told, by teacher trainers and even SLT that they should aim to be facilitators and encourage self-directed pupil learning as much as possible. Teachers have been encouraged to restrict teacher talk as much as possible and to inspire pupils through games and “fun” activities. Below are a series of quotes from Michael Gove. These seem to directly contradict much that teachers have been told for many years. I like Mr Gove’s view as represented in these quotes and wondered if there were any plans to compile a publication that effectively “put to bed” many of the unhelpful ideas that teachers have been, and are still very often, taught, by PGCE tutors and inset providers.
I am a teacher trainer and I travel the country referencing what I see as the fundamental common sense and wisdom of Mr Gove’s and Sir Michael Wilshaw’s perspective on successful education. It is a hard slog at times!Teachers have, over several decades, been fed a diet of faddy ideology that is in direct opposition to the thoughts, as I understand them, of Mr Gove and Sir Michael Wilshaw.
Does the department intend to give a definitive take to underline to teachers that authoritative didactic teaching, based upon teacher expertise, passion and an understanding of their pupils’ learning needs, has its place and that pseudoscience does not?
DfE answers: We believe that it is for teachers to use their professional judgement to determine which resources to use based on their circumstances and the needs of their pupils. We do not prescribe or endorse specific resources or methods of teaching for use in schools, with the exception of phonics where we do support teachers with suggested resources and matched funding. However Michael Gove said recently: ‘I am worried that far too often we do not expect, let alone demand the level of effort, application and ambition of which students are capable’ and we are instigating a review of teachers’ standards (more information here: http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/reviewofstandards/a00200678/qa-on-the-review-of-teachers-standards).
Q: Braingym: Has the Dept released a statement condemning the pseudoscience behind this practice?
DfE answers: No, but we do not endorse Braingym.
Q: In many schools teachers are obliged to give levels to pupils each half term. My understanding was that too frequent level was seen as counter-productive by the Dept.
In some schools teachers are obliged to level individual pieces of work. My understanding was that levelling individual pieces of work was not in line with the purpose of the levels and that levels were not fit for this purpose.
In some schools teachers hold back from setting challenging work that would be recorded at a high level since this might damage value added comparisons in the next key stage or be seen to demonstrate lack of progress if, for example, level 6 work was undertaken in year 7. My understanding was that teachers should set challenging targets for all pupils and that they should not set goals/work according to pupils’ chronological age but rather according to their perceived ability.
What would the Dept’s comment be re: these issues?
DfE answers: Instead of requiring schools to set targets on specific measures through a standardised process, we expect schools to set their own improvement priorities so they can determine what targets and measures to set for themselves, along with choosing what forms of external support they want and determining how to evaluate themselves.
Please also see our information on levels of attainment:http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/secondary
Q: Some schools insist that teachers adopt a no hands up policy. Pupils are able to call at their responses at will.
My understanding is that the Dylan William concept of no hands up related to teacher’s choosing selected pupils to encourage wider participation and carefully targeted question not a classroom environment where loud or forceful pupils repeatedly dominated lessons or demanded teachers’ attention.
I would therefore advocate that teachers use their own professional judgement as to when pupils should raise their hands to request or respond, and that pupils should not be encouraged to call out
The Dept’s comments?
DfE answers: We leave the detail of what is acceptable in a classroom to Heads and teachers, while supporting them in how they can tackle basic disciplinary issues (http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/inthenews/a00199412/simple-behaviour-checklist-to-help-teachers-maintain-discipline-in-school)
Here are our resources on behaviour in the classroom: http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/toolsandinitiatives/tripsresearchdigests/a0013242/themes-behaviour
Q: My understanding is that written objectives are not required and no particular format has been set that must be adhered to or indeed is seen as the Dept’s preferred format. My understanding is that lesson objectives should be clear to pupils in order to give them a sense of direction and progress but written objectives are in fact an optional choice for the teacher.
The Dept’s comments?
DfE answers: Neither the Department for Education nor Ofsted require written lesson plans for every lesson.
Q:My understanding is that starters are not obligatory. The value of a starter is to be judged according to its impact upon learning. If a particular starter activity is seen to represent a poor return on time investment in terms of its impact upon learning and progress then the starter is ill advised.
Teachers should structure lessons to ensure a focus on learning and progression and ensure that lessons start briskly, with a sense of purpose, immediate gain and an expectation of contribution from all.
Therefore, if a class arrive on time and the teacher feels that a starter is unnecessary or indeed that it will detract from the maximisation of learning he/she should move directly into the main body of the learning. If in his professional judgement, this would represent the best use of lesson time for maximum progress.
The Dept’s comments?
DfE answers: We trust teachers to plan lessons appropriately and do not impose how the best use of lesson time should be made.
Q: If a teacher has 10 classes of 25 pupils (total 250 pupils) and the said teacher marks each pupil’s book for a total of 5 minutes over the course of a fortnight, that represents approximately 21 hours of marking over a fortnight or a little over two hours of marking every night of the week Monday to Fri.
This would represent a total of 15 minutes personalised written feedback per half term.
Would the Dept advocate teachers seeking out methods that were time effective for teachers and had a high impact on progress?
And, if so, would it be judicious planning for teachers, using their expertise and experience, to plan lessons and teaching in such a way that the most common errors were highlighted to pupils before they even occurred. In this way progress is accelerated, marking time is reduced and more challenging work may be set more rapidly.
In conjunction with this approach would it be wise for teachers to highlight to pupils the good subject specific habits of effective learners and in this way avoid common misconceptions and errors and reduce marking also and, once again, allow lessons to aim higher in terms of content.
DfE answers: Interesting comments and we would agree that teachers taking the time to share best practice is useful. This resource might help: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/good-practice-resource-making-marking-matter
Q: If pupils have literacy problems would the Dept advocate that teachers in fact encourage pupils to read and write more to develop their skills? This would be done in such a way as to support, challenge and encourage pupils in an environment where challenging work was valued and mistakes were seen as genuinely useful feedback.
Would it be seen as harmful for teachers to avoid challenging pupils with poor literacy skills and instead set picture based work or work with few literacy demands?
Would a strong literacy focused approach that pre-empted problems, explicitly taught effective strategies and boosted resilience and confidence through challenge and perseverance be seen as a positive approach to teaching?
Would this approach be equally appropriate, in a supportive environment, for pupils with specific learning difficulties?
DfE answers: we have lots of help available for supporting pupils with SEN in literacy: http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/careers/traininganddevelopment/staff/standards/b00203854/nos-for-stl/units-for-particular-jobs/supporting-sen
The new phonics check at KS1, to start in June 2012, will help schools to target support at pupils who’ve not reached the required standard for reading. Here’s the article on phonics teaching: http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/pedagogy/phonics/a0010240/criteria-for-assuring-high-quality-phonic-work
The actual methods used by teachers for inspiring a love of reading, and the level of challenge they wish to provide we leave to them.
Q: Please could you tell me which font is recommended for use in maths teaching resources for KS1 and 2?
There does not seem to be a standard one used by educational suppliers. We currently use Sassoon Infant Basic and Sassoon Primary for literacy products. Is this font suitable for maths products?
DfE answers: We don’t prescribe any particular font but we follow the Shaw Trust guidelines, which state that 14 point font size is going to make your document accessible to as many people as possible. A plain font such as Helvetica or Ariel is going to give readers few problems with clarity. However if you think that the fonts you are using are appropriate and the numbers are clear then that’s fine.