Plan for more grammar schools abandoned

Rikama Education 21st June 2017

The creation of a new wave of grammar schools in England is not included in the government’s plans for legislation.

The Queen’s Speech says the government will “look at all options” for new schools, but there are no signs of the legislation needed to remove the current ban on expanding selection.

The controversial plan to scrap free lunches for all infants is also absent.

This would remove the biggest source of extra funding promised for schools in the Conservative manifesto.

The government’s plans for the next two years no longer include their most high profile education reform – the expansion of selective education in England.

Budget shortages

The re-written plans now call for “every child to go to a good or outstanding school” – but it recognises that any proposals will depend upon being able to “command a majority”.

But the suggestion that “all options” remained open for new schools raised concerns from head teachers’ leader, Geoff Barton.

“We sincerely hope that this is not an attempt to revive its plans to expand the number of selective schools in England,” said the leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union.

Schools have been campaigning about budget shortages – with a letter being sent this week to two million families warning about funding cuts.

But the government’s biggest plan to find extra funding, announced in the Conservative manifesto, also seems to have been ditched.

The scrapping of free meals for all infants was meant to save about £650m, which would have been the majority of an extra £1bn per year to boost school budgets.

Jo Yurky, who ran a parents’ campaign over school cuts, said the lack of movement on funding had shown a “baffling disregard for the concerns of parents, teachers and school leaders”.

The government says it is pressing ahead with changes to how budgets are allocated to individual schools, through a new National Funding Formula.

The new formula is meant to resolve unfairness and anomalies in how funding is allocated.

There is also a commitment to improving vocational education and improving the level of skills in the workforce – training people for “high-skilled, high-wage jobs of the future”.

The ambition is for vocational exams to be given as much status as their academic counterparts – and there are plans for so-called “T-levels” for technical qualifications.

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IPads ‘help improve young pupils’ skills’

Rikama Education 24th May 2017

Young children’s maths, English and communication skills improve if they use iPads in school on a regular basis.

That is one of the key findings of the most in-depth research of its kind ever carried out in Northern Ireland.

The study – Mobile Devices in Early Learning – was carried out over two years and involved about 650 pupils in five Belfast primary schools and five nursery schools.

Schools which took part were in some of the most deprived areas of the city.

They were each supplied with sets of iPads for nursery, primary one, primary two and primary three classes.

Researchers from Stranmillis University College then assessed how pupils, parents, principals and teachers used them over the course of two years.

Among their key findings were that:

  • The introduction of digital technology has had a positive impact on the development of children’s literacy and numeracy skills
  • Contrary to initial expectations, principals and teachers report that the use of ipads in the classroom has enhanced children’s communication skills
  • Children view learning using handheld devices as play and are more highly motivated, enthused and engaged
  • Boys appear to be more enthused when using digital technology, particularly when producing pieces of written work

IPads helped young children to be more motivated and engaged in class, said Dr Colette Gray from Stranmillis, who was one of the study’s authors.

“It’s not a panacea or the holy grail, but is another method to reach children who might otherwise underachieve,” she said.

“For many children it does seem like a playful learning activity. Children, even if working alone, would talk to each others or talk to the teacher.

“There was actually an increase in communication in the classroom, which we didn’t initially anticipate.”

The five primary schools which received ipads and took part in the study were Black Mountain PS, Donegal Road PS, Gaelscoil na Móna, Holy Trinity PS and Elmgrove PS.

The primary three teacher at Elmgrove PS, Hannah Maxwell, said that using iPads had helped to engage many of her pupils.

“We don’t replace pen and paper with the iPad,” she said.

“It’s all about having a balance between using the iPad and using old school methods.

“They’re using different methods and trying different things to learn.

“It does take planning but the benefits are shown at the end of it.”

The principal of Elmgrove, Jayne Jeffers, said using iPads had improved many pupils’ academic performance.

“We have found that attainment has increased in a lot of areas because the children are more engaged,” she said.

“All of the children we have in school now have been born knowing about smartphone technology and mobile technology.

“We have a duty as a school to prepare children for their future and that includes digital learning.

“We have two nursery units and the children are using iPads there right the way up to P7.

“We are situated in inner east Belfast and there would be a lot of deprivation in the local area, but we’re trying to give them every advantage we can.”

The study also found that although some teachers were initially nervous, many had developed their own confidence by using iPads extensively in class.

There were concerns, however, that parents needed to know more about the safe use of technology if young children were using one outside school.

The total cost of the project, which was funded by Belfast Regeneration Office, was £299,400.

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New 9-1 GCSE grades ‘creating uncertainty for schools’

Rikama Education 19th April 2017

Reforms to the GCSE grading system in England has created “huge uncertainty” for schools, the NASUWT union says.

The union says the new 9-1 GCSE grades will increase the pressure on pupils and narrow the range of educational opportunities for young people.

The new grading system is being phased in from this summer, starting with maths and English, with grades 9-1 replacing grades A*-G.

The government maintains the changes will drive up standards.

Education Secretary Justine Greening says a grade four will be seen as a “standard pass” and a grade five as a “strong pass”.

But the NASUWT’s annual conference in Manchester heard that the introduction of a new grading system was causing unnecessary confusion, with negative consequences for pupils and teachers.

Paul Daly, a maths teacher at Whitworth Park school in Spennymoor, County Durham, told the BBC pupils would be taking the new maths GCSE imminently, amid confusion about grade boundaries.

“We still haven’t got our head around what the grade boundaries are because no-one will provide us with any.

“So we’re giving them mock exams and then telling them ‘we think that your grade might be a four, or might be a five, or it might be a six, or it could be anything because we don’t know because we haven’t been told anything about grade boundaries.

“All we know is, compared to last year, the marks are very, very low and very few people are scoring very high marks in the exams.”

Mr Daly said students were often anxious and confused, and that low scores like 25% meant “a bit of a counselling session goes on” after mock exams.

“You sit down with the kids and you try to make them feel like actually they’re doing well, they’re working hard and ‘I know that last year you would have got a grade B, you’re that kind of student, you would have got a grade B last year.

“‘This year I think you’re probably going to get a five but I have no clue because I don’t have any grade boundaries, I have nothing to judge it off, so as much as I want to make you feel better, I can’t give you any guarantees.”

Languages teacher Candy Mellor from Marden High School in North Tyneside is preparing for the new GCSEs which will be taken for the first time in her subject next summer.

“I feel very sorry for the Year 10s who have only got two years’ preparation for this new exam that we’re still learning about.

“We are making up examinations that we think that it’s going to be like for our Year 10s to practice – but we just don’t know what it looks like.

“But I can start thinking about my Year 7s, so they’ll get five years’ preparation, whereas the Year 10s have got two where we’re still working it out and confused.

Claire Taylor from Woodlawn Special School, in North Tyneside, says her pupils, who have special needs, will not even be able to access the new exams.

“I’ve got no young person who is able to take the current maths GCSE at present.”

This makes them “feel different” from their peers, she says.

“They’re already struggling, given the fact that they have a learning disability or a physical disability […] and they are now standing out even further from the crowd because they can’t access the same type of curriculum and the same type of opportunities and qualifications as other young people across the education system.”


Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the changes – brought in under Michael Gove when he was education secretary – had been driven by “political imperative”, rather than the needs of young people.

“The government has consistently sought to portray GCSEs as ‘broken’ and ‘dumbed down’ qualifications in order to push through its vision of an elitist, narrowly focused curriculum and qualifications system which risks failing to meet the needs of the majority of young people.

“The changes to exam grading have created huge uncertainty for pupils, teachers, parents and employers which will be difficult for schools to manage.

“Schools already buckling from excessive workload are now facing even more bureaucratic reform and young people, already experiencing rising rates of anxiety and mental ill health, will face even greater pressure to perform.”

A Department for Education spokesman said the new GCSEs would provide “more rigorous content” and the new grading system provided “greater stretch” for the highest performers.

“These changes will help young people ‎to compete with the best in the world and deliver the skills that employers tell us they need.

‎”Nothing has changed with regard to schools being held to account for the proportion of children achieving a strong pass and we are working with Ofqual ‎to support teachers as we implement the new system.”

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The government has announced 11 new schools will be built in Kent

Rikama Education 13th April 2017

The Government has granted applications for 11 new schools to be built in Kent, it has been revealed.

More than 69,000 places will be created in 131 new schools across the country approved by the Department of Education today (April 12).

This is the largest wave of free school approvals for this Parliament, after Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed a one-off payment of £320 million for them in his Budget last month.

nd 11 of these new schools announced today are coming to Kent, including the Medway, Dartford, Folkestone and Canterbury areas.

Five of the schools will be secondary schools, five will be primary schools and one is for all years. One will be a special school and one will be an alternative provision school, for those who cannot attend mainstream schools.

One of the schools coming to Kent is Stone Lodge Academy, a new secondary school for 11 to 19 year-olds in Dartford proposed by Endeavour Multi Academy Trust.

The trust already runs two grammar schools and will use its expertise running selective schools to open a new, non-selective, free school.

Barton Court Academy Trust Free School, proposed by the Ofsted outstanding Barton Court Grammar School, will offer a new non-selective free school providing 1,050 school places for 11 to 19-year-olds in Canterbury.

Education Secretary Justine Greening said: “We need schools that can bring out the best in every single child no matter where they’re growing up, how much their parents earn, or however different their talents are.

“That’s why these new schools are so important – they give us the school places we need for the future, and they also give parents more choices to find a great school place in their area that’s right for their child.”

Since 2015, 124 free schools have opened with a further 373 in the pipeline – including the schools announced today.

This is part of the government’s manifesto commitment of opening 500 more new free schools by September 2020.

As part of its work to open more free schools the government has also created a new body called LocatED.

The organisation is made up of experienced property specialists to help speed up the process of acquiring sites for new schools and help get the best value for the taxpayer.


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Drop in teacher training recruits revealed

Rikama Education 23rd March 2017

There are fears it could get even tougher to recruit teachers after a drop in the number of trainees on courses in England.

The latest figures show a 7% drop in acceptances on to teacher training courses for this year.

Head teachers’ leaders said the drop in recruits would deepen the teacher recruitment crisis.

The Department for Education said there were more teachers than ever before in England’s schools.

It said it was investing £1.3bn in recruitment over this Parliament, and had devised schemes to ensure new teachers stayed in their jobs in those areas that have a poor record of retaining teachers.

Because of the high turnover in the profession, schools in England need to recruit about 30,000 new teachers every year to stand still.

‘Deeply worrying’

The predominant source of these recruits is from the crop of the teacher trainees.

But these new figures show only 26,000 were accepted on to teacher training courses for 2016-2017.

And government targets for teacher recruitment in England have been missed for five consecutive years.

Whereas in Wales, there was an increase of 2% in applicants placed on to courses over the same period.

Malcolm Trobe, acting general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There are severe teacher shortages in schools across the country, particularly in maths and science.

“Schools have to rely upon supply staff and non-specialists to teach many classes.”

He urged the government to address the issue urgently and make teaching a more attractive career option.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said the figures were deeply worrying, but hardly surprising.

She pointed to what she said was the government’s continued failure to address the issues that make teaching less attractive as a profession.


“Excessive teacher workloads continue to drive down retention rates, salaries are falling behind those of other graduate professions and funding cuts are reducing what schools can provide for children,” she said.

“The government must tackle the workload and salary levels for classroom teachers as a key priority, investing in school funding and national pay.”

Professor John Howson, a teacher recruitment expert who runs a free teacher vacancy service for schools, said: “The Ministry of Defence had managed to persuade the Treasury that officers training at Sandhurst could have a salary – it’s about time trainee teachers had a salary too.”

Liberal Democrat education spokesman John Pugh said the recruitment crisis was of the government’s making.

“Half baked schemes to desperately lure people into teaching do not and cannot compensate for the demoralisation of existing staff.

“An unprecedented number of teachers are exiting the profession unable to withstand bureaucratic overload and constant insults to their professionalism from meddling ministers.”

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