EBacc targets are “blinkered”

Ofsted is to check that schools are entering enough pupils for the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) under its new “quality of education” judgment which shifts the focus from accountability measures. Heads say this suggests Ofsted has a preferred “academic” curriculum which undermines school autonomy. It is also unfair, since a shortage of modern foreign language teachers affects some schools’ ability to hit the target of 90% of pupils sitting the EBacc core GCSEs by 2025.

While the draft schools inspection handbook says that “schools taking radically different approaches to the curriculum will be judged fairly”, it also highlights that “at the heart of an effective Key Stage 4 curriculum is a strong academic core: the EBacc”. Last summer, only 38% of pupils sat the EBacc.

Audit culture

Ofsted has claimed that its new inspection framework will reduce teacher workload. The new framework no longer looks at schools’ internal assessment data as this consumed a great deal of preparation time. However, Heads have warned that this proposed shift to looking at “first-hand evidence” of learning will simply “switch the audit culture” to exercise books which could lead to both pupils and teachers feeling the need to record lessons in detail. Since inspectors are not necessarily subject experts, this perusal of books could be problematic too.

Foreign exchange funding

Schools can now apply for a share of a £2.5 million government fund to take disadvantaged pupils on foreign trips to improve their language skills. The overall aim is to increase the numbers of pupils taking GCSE languages. The money, which will be targeted at schools with above-average numbers of pupils eligible for the pupil premium, will enable 2900 secondary school pupils to exchange with partner schools or to travel abroad.

Recent research from the British Council found that only 39% of state-funded secondary schools run foreign exchanges compared with 77% of private schools. The Government has also announced plans to create a new centre for excellence in languages and nine “hub” schools to spread best practice.

Life-saving in schools

Amid plans for health education to become compulsory in all state schools from 2020, Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, has stressed the importance of children learning basic first-aid and life-saving skills in school. Fewer than 1in 10 people who have a cardiac arrest outside hospital in the UK survive but, in countries where cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is taught in schools, cardiac arrest survival rates are more than doubled, because every minute without life-saving treatment reduces the chance of surviving by about 10%.

By the end of secondary school, pupils will have learnt how to administer CPR, the purpose of defibrillators, basic treatments for common injuries and how to get help. There are already free resources available for schools to teach first aid including those provided by the Every Child a Lifesaver Coalition.

“My activity passport”

Backed by charities, the Scouts, Girlguiding and the National Trust, the Department for Education (DfE) have introduced a so-called “passport” of activities designed to enrich children’s experiences and skills and to boost their resilience. The passport will support schools and parents in introducing children to a wide variety of experiences such as flying a kite, learning about the local area or putting on a performance. For example, primary-aged children will be challenged to go on a nature trail, paint a portrait, perform a poem, look at the stars, visit a local landmark or make a treasure map. A list of activities and experiences will be sent to schools for them to adapt to the needs of their own pupils and community. Matt Hyde, Scouts Chief Executive, said: “Not everything can be taught in a classroom, so it’s great to see the DfE recognising the value of extra-curricular activities.”

Academy chains below average

Two-thirds of academy chains perform below average for disadvantaged pupils, according to research by UCL Institute of Education for The Sutton Trust. In their five-year analysis of the performance of pupils entitled to the pupil premium, researchers found that poorer pupils in 12 out of 58 chains performed above the national average on key measures of 2017 attainment for disadvantaged pupils, but disadvantaged pupils in 38 of the 58 chains performed below the national average for all state schools. While long-standing academy chains tended to produce better exam results, newer chains were shown to be frequently performing poorly.

The effect of GDPR on school data

The number of data security incidents reported by the education sector has increased by more than 43% since the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), with a rise in disclosure issues (such as the loss of paperwork or information sent to the wrong email) and cyberattacks (such as malware and phishing). However, some of the increase in disclosure issues may be attributed to schools now having a better understanding of what constitutes a data breach and reporting these to demonstrate compliance with the law through their new Data Protection Officer.

Hold down Ofsted ratings

In its report, It Just Grinds You Down, the think tank Policy Exchange has said that schools should only be rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted if they demand higher standards of behaviour from their pupils. It also warns of a “crisis in authority” in schools, with the idea of the authority of teachers and submission of pupils being perceived as “unfashionable”, and calls for updated teacher and leadership training and clear policies on smartphone use. In addition, teachers should be clear about their right to support on behaviour management from senior staff.

Parents should take responsibility

Parents should not “abdicate responsibility” to schools, for instance expecting teachers to monitor their children’s eating and exercise, according to Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman: “Schools cannot take over the role of health professionals — and above all parents.” She has argued that the answer to the obesity crisis in children is found at home and that schools cannot be a “panacea” for child neglect or knife crime. This has been backed by an Ofsted study of 60 schools which found no link between their obesity interventions and their pupils’ weight, plus the statistic that almost a quarter of children are overweight by time they start primary school.

Last reviewed 3 March 2019