Skip to main content
article icon

The latest on the new GCSEs, Ofsted on bright kids, teaching girls to be subversive and the TES podcast

news | Published in TES magazine on 6 June, 2013

All the latest schools news, views and comment, brought to you by the TES editorial team

Funding for the training of new Sencos set to be scrapped – 14 June 2013

The Department for Education appears set to scrap the funding that pays for new special educational needs coordinators – Sencos – to undertake mandatory training.

The masters-level course – called the National Award for Special Educational Needs Co-ordination – is run by universities and local authorities and costs around £3,000 per student, which includes funding for classroom cover.

It seems schools will be left to foot the bill.

DfE officials have announced there will be “one further” round of funding, for 800 places, for the 2013-14 academic year. Applications open next week and places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. But after that the money from central government will dry up.

Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of SEN organisation Nasen, said: “It will come down to schools having to find the money to put their Sencos through this training. But it is not very expensive for what they get out of it.

“Schools will now have to be thinking ahead, and putting money aside for training when they employ a new Senco.”

And Christopher Robertson, lecturer in inclusive and special education in the School of Education, University of Birmingham, said the changes would have a “deleterious impact on small and rural schools” because they have smaller budgets. “It will also have an impact on nursery schools, who have told me they can’t afford to pay for this training,” he said.

A DfE spokesman confirmed that the latest round of funding would be the last, but insisted: “We have protected the Special Educational Needs budget for all schools, but it is headteachers who are best placed to decide how to manage funds and ensure staff take the appropriate qualifications.” 

Kerra Maddern

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

Tomorrow’s TES content previewed on today’s TES podcast, available for download now - 13 June 2013

Listen to the latest TES podcast previewing tomorrow’s issue. In this episode we discuss Michael Gove’s latest GCSE reforms, what teachers should reveal about their private lives, and a major exclusive about radicalisation in schools.

Get it here.

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

“Teach girls to disrupt, subvert and challenge authority - don’t always praise their attentiveness” – 13 June 2013

Inspection reports for private girls’ schools often praise the students’ good behaviour, politeness and neat written work. Principals are, inevitably, delighted with these plaudits and encourage the girls to keep doing their best.

But the director of innovation and learning at the Girls’ Day School Trust has questioned this jolly state of affairs: while it is delightful that girls are sitting nicely and making sure their margins are aligned, he has said, is this really what we should be praising them for?

Kevin Stannard has claimed that these sorts of value judgements – in particular, praise for neatness – are rarely mentioned in boys’ schools inspection reports.

“The ways we are measured are gendered,” he told the trust’s annual conference in London yesterday. “Are we applying slightly different criteria when judging what is a good girls’ school? What would a boys’ school think if these judgements were being made there?”

Dr Stannard was trying to tackle the question being posed by the conference of why “good” girls who achieve spotless academic success often fail to shine in their careers.

And as he spoke, his answer to the problem emerged: teach them to misbehave. “Do schools reflect and reproduce gender differences or do they subvert them?” he said. “Being disruptive is not something we would appear to value in our schools but experts say that disruption is a proven path to success.

“It’s about subverting gender stereotypes and encouraging positive disruptive tendencies. Girls have to learn to challenge authority, find effective forms of self-promotion, go for being respected, not just liked.

“Schools should teach pupils to question and debate. We should not just praise girls who conform. We should not just work with the grain, with what we think girls do.”

But Dr Stannard had a proviso. This encouragement of “misbehaviour”, he said, should only go so far: “What we don’t want to end up with is people who don’t value academic success.”

So, in summary: girls, by all means speak out in a debate – court controversy, even – but don’t ditch the A levels in favour of running off to join the circus.

Irena Barker  

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

Playing fast and loose with the stats, eh Ofsted? - 13 June 2013

In what chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw called a “landmark report”, England’s schools inspectorate Ofsted today accuses mainstream secondary schools of letting down tens of thousands of the brightest children by allowing them to miss out on top grades.

But its most dramatic claim rests on a statistical sleight of hand, which more than doubles the extent to which schools for 11- to 18-year-olds are failing to ensure students reach their potential.

The key datapoint is based on tracking students who achieve level 5 in English and mathematics in key stage 2 tests at the age of 11. By GCSE, almost two-thirds of those attending comprehensives miss out on A* or A grade in the same subjects.

Among Sir Michael’s recommendations is that the Department for Education should ensure every parent receives an annual report that says whether their child is on track to achieve their expected grade in national exams.

But as things stand, those reports wouldn’t say that students gaining a B had underachieved: the department’s own official statistics report A* to B as the expected range for those with level 5 on leaving primary school at 11. (Grammar school students have an extra level of testing in the 11-plus.)

That would mean that just over a quarter are missing out on their expected grades – mostly getting Cs, or, in just a few thousand cases each year, Ds and below – not the two-thirds in the report’s headline figure.

“Our country needs to demonstrate that the class and background of our most able children should not be a barrier to success at the very highest level,” Sir Michael said.

He defended the use of the A* and A statistic on the grounds that it is a key predictor of A-level success and progression to the top universities.

The report concludes that transition arrangements from primary are too often ineffective, and that the most able are overlooked at key stage 3 (ages 11-14), causing many to lose momentum in their studies. The effect of the grade C/D threshold on school incentives is held to be partly to blame.

Sir Michael cast doubt on the use of mixed-ability teaching for core subjects, arguing that except in rare cases where it was working, principals and school governors should consider setting by ability from Year 7.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that most schools pay close attention to student progress at all abilities. While Sir Michael said his most “shocking” finding was that some schools do not know who their most able students are, Mr Lightman said that schools routinely run their own assessments on entry, such as cognitive ability tests.

“Key stage 2 assessments are not a reliable predictor. We’ve known this for a long time. That’s why secondary schools very often carry out their own assessments when children transfer,” Mr Lightman added.

Joseph Lee

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

So now we know. DfE releases list of experts behind content for Gove’s new GCSEs - 12 June 2013

Content for Michael Gove’s new GCSEs, was “drawn up in collaboration with distinguished subject experts”, the education secretary revealed yesterday. That news will come as a relief to many, following Mr Gove’s controversial new national curriculum.

He originally took on a panel of academic experts, three-quarters of whom ended up criticising the reforms only to be dismissed by Mr Gove as just “a few professors”.

But the curriculum itself was put together in-house by Department for Education (DfE) civil servants after extensive consultations with experts, most people assumed.

Only it turned out that in one of the most contentious areas – design and technology – that hadn’t been the case.

Matt White, assistant director of the DfE’s national curriculum review, let the cat out of the bag in February when he revealed that D&T was draftedwithout “an advisory structure”.

“I’m not suggesting that it was prepared, as it were, in consultation,” he said, before admitting that the DfE did not “have a body of specific design and technology expertise”.

The result took the subject back to the 1950s by introducing sock-darning and flower arranging at the expense of vital 21st-century technological skills, according to the Design and Technology Association. In May, an under-fire Mr Gove promised a new and “better” draft.

So who are the experts that the DfE has turned to avoid any repeat of such controversy for the new GCSEs? Today, TES reveals the full list below.

It won’t, sadly, allow us to know exactly who is responsible for this gem in the specification for ancient language GCSEs, requiring students to “deploy knowledge of inflectional morphology and syntax”.

The DfE notes that inclusion on the list of contracted experts “should not be taken to imply an individual’s endorsement or otherwise of the published drafts”. But at least we now know who ministers and their officials have been talking to:

Maths experts

Dr Helen Drury, director of Mathematics Mastery (an ARK programme); Lynne McClure director of NRICH, University of Cambridge; Charlie Stripp, Mathematics in Education and Industry chief executive, and National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics director.

English expert

Janet Brennan, former HMI, independent consultant and editor.

Science experts

Dr Anthony Ashmore, independent consultant; Professor Paul Black, emeritus professor of science education, King’s College London; Ann Fullick, science education consultant; Dr Colin Osborne, independent consultant.

Languages expert

Bernardette Holmes, University of Cambridge Language Centre programme director.

History expert

Elizabeth Hutchinson, former head of history, Parkstone Grammar School, Poole.

Geography expert

Eleanor Rawling, research fellow, University of Oxford Department of Education.

‘Assessment principles’ experts

Mark Evans, Inspiration Trust; Ben Rogers, Inspiration Trust; Sharon Moore, independent consultant.

William Stewart

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

Education select committee chair Graham Stuart slams alliance that look legal action over GCSE English-gate - 12 June 2013

This could get a lot of people riled. The head of an influential parliamentary committee has launched an attack on an alliance of schools, teachers and students that unsuccessfully took watchdog Ofqual and two exam boards to court over last year’s GCSE English grading controversy.

Graham Stuart, a Conservative MP, spoke out after the Commons Education Select Committee he chairs reported that last year’s problems were caused by the poor design of the qualification – not by meddling.

The alliance and its legal representatives claimed that the scandal led to 30,000 students being unfairly awarded Ds in English GCSEs rather than the crucial C grades they deserved.

Asked if his committee was happy with the way Ofqual, the exams regulator, handled the affair, Mr Stuart told TES: “We are yes. And that was the same conclusion that the judge came to. You have to remember that those who took Ofqual and two exam boards to court lost on every single count.

“We didn’t see many heads rolling after that…After that absolutely comprehensive judicial finding it is not so much Ofqual that has questions to answer but some of the people who took them to court.”

But Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of Schools and College Leaders – part of the alliance of six teaching unions, 150 schools, 167 students and 42 councils that triggered the High Court judicial review – hit back.

“We have had enough of the constant denigration of heads and teachers,” he said. “It is just not helpful. The High Court made it quite clear that there was an issue which was of sufficient importance to merit a judicial review.”

Mr Stuart’s committee acknowledged there were “some very sobering lessons to be learned” from the affair but noted that the High Court case had resulted in “the judge endorsing the actions taken by Ofqual and exam boards”.

The MPs instead found that a “series of avoidable errors” were made under the previous government when the new courses were being developed.

William Stewart

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

Name change or not, Mr Gove’s reformed GCSEs are still a big deal - 11 June 2013

After a ludicrous number of leaks, several significant climbdowns and more suggested names than seems sensible, details of Michael Gove’s proposed GCSE reforms were finally unveiled today.

Look back at the education secretary for England’s original vision for his exam revolution, as first leaked a year ago, and much has changed.

But two major elements have survived – the new exams are being designed to be “explicitly harder” and they will in some ways have more in common with the old O levels than the current domestic GCSEs. The amount of coursework is likely to be massively reduced.

They will not be called O levels, of course – that might spark too many memories of last June’s ill-fated scheme to revive CSE-style exams for the “less intelligent” “bottom 25 per cent”.

That idea had been ditched by September, along with a plan to get the exams into schools by 2014. A new name was thought up – the English Baccalaureate Certificate. By February that had gone, too, along the idea that exam boards would compete for exclusive franchises to run each of the new qualifications.

So what has been lost this time round? Well the qualifications – the first of which are supposed to be taught from September 2015 – are not likely to be called I or Intermediate Levels, as the latest leak last week suggested might be the case.

Sources close to Mr Gove insist they had never heard the name until it appeared in The Times newspaper, which says it came from within Ofqual, the exams regulator.

But it is important not to get too hung up on names. Much else of what was expected appears in Ofqual’s proposals for the exams, expected to be known as GCSEs:

- A*-G grades will be replaced by grades 1-8.

- The modular system will end, with all exams taken at the end of two-year courses.

- There will be a drastic reduction in resit opportunities, with all sittings in the summer, except for English language and mathematics, where November resits will be allowed.

- Coursework or controlled assessment will be reduced – it is only to be used where exams cannot test certain skills or knowledge.

- Tiered exam papers for students of different abilities will go from many GCSEs. But Mr Gove, who had condemned tiers as a “cap on aspiration”, has had a rethink. The tiers will stay in mathematics and science where, he admitted to Parliament today, a two-tier system is “absolutely essential”.

The Department for Education is running a separate two-month consultation on new content for GCSEs covering English language and literature, mathematics, the sciences, history, geography, and ancient and modern languages.

“Under the previous system, specifications were too vague,” Mr Gove told MPs today. “This caused suspicion and speculation that some exam boards were ‘harder’ than others, undermining the credibility of the exam system as a whole.”

The new more detailed requirements will “ensure greater consistency and fairness across subjects and between exam boards” and “raise the bar”, he said.

They include more extended writing in English and history and “more advanced problem-solving skills” in mathematics and science.

Brian Lightman, Association of School and College Leaders general secretary, said the structural changes seem “sensible”, but he is concerned about the new content. “Simply making exams harder does not guarantee higher standards or mean that students will be prepared for a job at the end of it,” he said.

The latest version of Mr Gove’s GCSE reforms was relatively well received in Parliament, and even saw the education secretary finding a common cause with Labour leftwinger Diane Abbott.

But it is the exceedingly tight timetable rather than the changes themselves that may yet cause problems. New A levels are being introduced at the same time and a new national curriculum the year before.

“The haste with which Michael Gove is pushing through huge simultaneous changes to both exams and the curriculum carries major risks that will put last summer’s English GCSE debacle into the shade,” Mary Bousted, Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary, said.

“We particularly feel for the children in their first year of secondary school who are going to be Mr Gove’s guinea pigs. They will have a single year being taught the new curriculum when they are 13 and then move straight into the new and untested GCSE exam syllabus at age 14.”

William Stewart

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

Everything you need to know about the new content of the core GCSEs in a crib sheet - 11 June 2013

In among this morning’s other announcements on the future of exams at KS4, the Department for Education began a two-month consultation on the content of the core subjects for the reformed GCSEs.

English language, English literature, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, double combined science, geography and history will be introduced for schools to teach from September 2015. GCSEs in ancient and modern languages, also being consulted on today, will follow a year later.

Here at TES Towers we’ve been working away creating a crib sheet of the content your schools are going to be teaching in the years to come. You lucky things.

Read it here, and perhaps tell us what you think. Maybe even share it with your colleagues.

William Stewart

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

RIP the I level. At just six days old, surely the shortest lived qualification in history – 10 June 2013

It could be the shortest lived qualification never to have existed: the I (intermediate) level, the TES understands, may have been strangled at birth.

It first stepped onto the stage only last Tuesday, when the Times reported leaked plans on GCSE reforms, claiming that the revamped exams would also have a new ‘I level’ label.

But since then several well placed sources have poured cold water the idea, insisting that Michael Gove, education secretary, has no interest in pursuing the new name.

We should know for sure tomorrow lunchtime, when details of the long-awaited reforms are due to be officially unveiled.

But David Cameron seemed to confirm the premature death of the I level today when he said they would be “proposals for new GCSE content which is more challenging”.

It is understood that as well as the content for core subjects, the proposals are also likely to include the new numerical grading system also reported last week.

But if the name stays the same it does leave one important unsolved issue. The English, Welsh and Northern Irish qualification systems have been diverging at an alarming rate since last year’s grading scandal. So which has the real GCSE?

William Stewart

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

57m primary-age kids around the world still miss out on school - 10 June 2013

Progress towards ensuring that every child in the world receives a basic education by 2015 has almost stalled, according to a new report from the United Nations.

This news comes at the same time as the announcement that international aid for primary education (typically covering children aged 4-11) has dropped for the first time in more than a decade.

According to a Unesco report, there were still 57 million children out of school in 2011, the latest year for which data is available. This is only 2 million fewer children than in the previous year.

In 1990, world leaders pledged to achieve universal primary education by the turn of the millennium. This was later moved forward to 2015, as part of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. There are already discussions about moving this target forwards, as it seems increasingly unlikely to be met.

According to the new report, more than half of all out-of-school children live in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 1 million children in countries such as Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Kenya are not in education. Nigeria has the worst record internationally, with 10,542 children not in school.

One in five primary-aged children in this region has either never attended school or dropped out before completing the final grade of primary school.

The Unesco report, which will be discussed by government leaders and civil-society representatives in New York on Tuesday, also shows that there has been little reduction in the rate of school drop-outs around the world.

Meanwhile, international aid to basic education fell by 6 per cent between 2010 and 2011: the first decrease in education aid since 2002.

Six of the top 10 donors – the US, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and Canada – reduced their spending. The UK, however, increased its aid, taking over from the US as the world’s largest donor to international education.

“Now is not the time for aid donors to back out,” said Irina Bokova, director-general of Unesco. “Donors must renew their commitments, so that no child is left out of school

Adi Bloom

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

Ofqual: Gove’s GCSE reforms will mean exam marking is less reliable - 07 June 2013

Michael Gove’s proposed GCSE reforms will mean marking of the exams becomes less reliable, England’s qualifications watchdog warned this morning.

The education secretary’s plan to replace existing GCSEs with more demanding exams will mean “a shift in the balance away from reliability”, according to an Ofqual report on marking published today.

The more complex questions required for more stretching exams will mean examiners have to make “a more subjective judgement”, the report says, which in turn will lead to “lower levels of marker agreement”.

The warning comes in the week that details of the expected new qualifications were leaked. Reports, neither confirmed or denied by Ofqual and the Department for Education, suggested they would be known as I or Intermediate Levels and would have a numerical grading system with a top grade of 8, which would be harder to achieve than the current GCSE A* grade.

Ofqual is expected to publish its proposals and begin a consultation as early as Tuesday. They will be the latest in long-running GCSE reform saga that began a year ago with leaked plans for a return to an O level/CSE-style system. By September they had evolved into “English Baccalaureate Certificates” (EBCs), which Ofqual warned “will be significantly less reliable, in the technical sense”, and therefore less suitable for school accountability.

The regulator’s reservations about the EBC plan led to it being dropped in February for less sweeping reforms and, it was said then, a return to the GCSE title.

Now Ofqual’s report makes it clear that the latest plan will share some of the major disadvantages of the proposed EBCs. The watchdog notes that “tightly defined questions with unambiguous answers can be marked much more accurately and reliably than extended-answer questions”.

“As questions become less constrained and more complex, it is harder to determine exactly how good a response is,” Ofqual warns. “It also becomes a more subjective judgement, and lower levels of marker agreement on essay questions may be a result of legitimate differences in opinion between equally qualified examiners.”

The report continues: “In March 2013, the Secretary of State wrote to us setting out the government’s policy on reforms to GCSE qualifications.

“One aspect of these reforms is to increase the demand of GCSEs through a focus on more stretching tasks and fewer bite-sized and overly structured questions. This marks a shift in the balance away from reliability and towards validity.”

Ofqual cautions that “if levels of reliability become too low, results are not a consistent measure of candidate performance and the assessment becomes meaningless”.

The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents elite private schools, told TES this week that tougher grades “will only work if the exam boards change their approach to marking” and allow examiners more discretion in the way they award top marks, particularly in essay subjects.

William Stewart

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

The TES Weekly Podcast is ready. Your Friday is now complete - 07 June 2013

The TES team talks about this week’s issue, including a look at Sandy Hook six months on, why heads are seven times more likely to be assaulted at work than the general public and we ask why NASA is pulling back on its education programmes.

Listen to it here.

Why not tell the podcast’s editor Richard Vaughan what you think.

 

Will the teacher found with indecent images be allowed back into the classroom? Not likely − 6 June 2013

“Child porn teacher is allowed back in the classroom” screamed the Daily Mail front page this morning. The story of Geoffrey Bettley has apparently “sparked a furious reaction from MPs, schools campaigners and a children’s charity”.

At this point it is worth interrogating the facts of the story and the claims being made. In December 2010, Mr Bettley’s computer was seized by police and he was suspended from his job as a religious education teacher at St Mary’s school in Menston, West Yorkshire, the same month. In September 2011, he received a police caution for the offence of possessing an indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of a child, and was dismissed by the school in December that year.

Although, according to a recent National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) professional conduct panel that investigated Mr Bettley’s case, the photographs were not at the most serious end of a scale used to categorise child sex abuse images and there were “relatively few” of them, other, more serious images were found unopened on Mr Bettley’s computer. The panel also heard that Mr Bettley had viewed images on a particular site “on and off” for two to three years.

In addition to the police caution, Mr Bettley, a teacher since 1999, was placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for two years. He was also placed by the Independent Safeguarding Authority on the “barred lists” for children and adults but later removed in June 2012.

Nevertheless, the NCTL panel controversially judged that Mr Bettley had shown “insight” and that “his behaviour does not show a deep-seated attitude which leads to harmful behaviour”. It concluded that Mr Bettley does not pose a risk to children and no order was made to ban him from the profession.

But does this mean that Mr Bettley will be able to “resume his career”, as newspapers and media outlets have said? The panel also stated that Mr Bettley’s police caution will remain a matter of public record and will show up on any Disclosure and Barring Service check. Its decision, too, is available for any member of the public, or headteacher, to read.

And a Department for Education spokeswoman has this afternoon added: “We keep the process under review because of legal complexities and we are examining whether this case was handled correctly.”

It seems fair to say, therefore, that it’s extremely unlikely that Mr Bettley will ever be allowed near the chalkface again.

Kerra Maddern

Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

Read previous stories in the Big Ed Blog


Subscribe to the magazine

as yet unrated

Add your comment

Subscribe to the magazine
Join TES for free now

Join TES for free now

Four great reasons to join today...

1. Be part of the largest network of teachers in the world – over 2m members
2. Download over 600,000 free teaching resources
3. Get a personalized email of the most relevant resources for you delivered to your inbox.
4. Find out first about the latest jobs in education