Policy Exchange report on Primary schools warns of a looming ‘perfect storm’ and urges reform


All maintained schools, both primary and secondary, should be converted into academies in the next five years, according to a report by the centre right think tank  Policy Exchange .

More than half (56%) of secondary schools are now academies; among primary schools, the figure is just 11%.

The report ‘Primary Focus’ states that one in five Primaries (3,000 schools) are at risk of failing from 2016 because of the introduction of tough new minimum standards in reading, writing and maths.

It says that English primary schools face “a perfect storm”, with a fifth of head teachers approaching retirement age, continuing cuts in local authority funding, and the introduction of a rigorous new national curriculum and assessment systems, which will put additional pressure on teachers.

The most effective way to address the considerable challenges, say the authors, Annaliese Briggs and Jonathan Simons, is to convert all primaries into academies in the next five years, encouraging them to join existing academy chains by 2020 so teachers can be properly supported and can focus on teaching and learning in the classroom, rather than administration.

While acknowledging that Academy status is no panacea in itself, the greater scale of a chain represents the best way to allow teachers and heads to focus on teaching and learning in the classroom rather than on form filling and other more administrative tasks. This will particularly benefit the significant number of small primary schools in England – there are currently 1,975 schools with fewer than 100 pupils and 113 schools with fewer than 30 pupils.

The report argues that moving all primary schools into being part of a formal (academy) grouping represents:

“The best way in which to drive greater strategic capacity and capability in the primary sector. It achieves this by establishing collaborative practices around teaching and learning, by supporting teachers and individual school leaders to focus on what happens in classrooms, and by supporting a culture of continuous improvement and development. In turn, these actions improve outcomes.

Although, under these proposals, primary schools would become separate from local authorities, LAs could  choose to set up their own arm’s length chain or learning trust, which provides an interesting avenue for LA re-engagement with schools.

Other recommendations include:

All remaining local authority secondary schools should also become Academies over the same time period, as should special schools. While these schools would not be obliged to join chains, they should be encouraged to partner with others as part of a wider move towards a school led, self-improving system.

Individual schools should, for the first time, be able to switch between chains providing they are rated Good or Outstanding and given a year’s notice. This will allow for greater competition and fluidity in the market, and prevent any academy chain building a local monopoly of offering a poor service for a long period of time.

The role of Regional School Commissioners or Directors of School Standards should be beefed up. They should have responsibility for overseeing and approving the emergence of these new chains as well as existing ones. They should also be able to split chains up and move schools in the case of underperformance as the DfE currently does now.

Primary chains should think about how they can work closely with early years providers to support continued improvements in quality in the early years sector. Greater co-operation offers the chance of more effective working between early years settings and graduate teachers in the primary phase, as well as co-ordination on curriculum, and the opportunity for more location of early years settings within schools

Sir David Carter, the newly appointed regional schools commissioner for south-west England, enthusiastically backed the report and called for a fundamental change to the way we approach primary education: “An entirely autonomous, academised system is a vision I wholly endorse. Not because of a statistical quest to have every school an academy, but because the academy in which you work will be part of a wider family and the independence this brings creates opportunity for innovation and choice.”

Sir David  writes in the preface ‘ Collaboration works well in a variety of contexts but the common thread that  runs through this report is that working in isolation is no longer an option.  Working together is an enabling act especially when the volume and scale of the challenge is hard.’

The Department for Education defended the changes facing primary schools. “The new national curriculum and more rigorous floor standards will match the best in the world and equip every child for life in modern Britain. As a result of our reforms and the dedication of teachers, 80,000 more children are reaching the expected standard in reading, writing and maths than five years ago.”

There has been a reluctance ,among  some Primary  schools,  for a number of reasons  , to become academies.  With the political agenda moving away from structures, to what happens in the classroom,   and the quality of teaching,  its interesting to see that Policy Exchange is now  seeking to refocus the debate on structures, against the backdrop of what they see as a looming crisis. Collaboration between schools and groups of schools, of course , remains vital to help  improve student outcomes , but what could stick in the craw,  with  some, is the element of prescription  implicit here. Rather  than   developing a range of incentives, to foster meaningful collaboration, across the system, bottom up , this all looks a bit like  top down  prescription. Maybe thats what is needed now, but it  will be against the grain for  quite a few Heads .

Primary Focus- The next stage of improvement for primary schools in England ,Annaliese Briggs and Jonathan Simons-Policy Exchange-September 2014


Local authorities’ receive ministerial warning on disadvantaged


The present Government cites ‘Raising the achievement of disadvantaged children’ as one of ten schools policies it is pursuing. The policy description describes the issue thus:

‘Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are far less likely to get good GCSE results. Attainment statistics published in January 2014 show that in 2013 37.9% of pupils who qualified for free school meals got 5 GCSEs, including English and mathematics at A* to C, compared with 64.6% of pupils who do not qualify.

We believe it is unacceptable for children’s success to be determined by their social circumstances. We intend to raise levels of achievement for all disadvantaged pupils and to close the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.’

The main, though not exclusive, policy lever for addressing the challenge presented by disadvantaged pupils, is the Pupil Premium ,extra funding given to schools based on the number of FSM pupils. Within the autonomous schools system it is up to schools to decide how this money is spent, amid some concerns that it is not always used to support interventions that are evidence based.

Local authorities complain that although they have a responsibility for school improvement ,within the  autonomous system they have limited resources, information  and levers to support schools  that need improving.

Nonetheless,  David Laws, the schools minister, wrote to 87 local authorities in March and April 2014, raising his concerns about the 2013 examination results of disadvantaged pupils in particular maintained schools within their areas, and asking them to support those schools’ improvement. The recipient list and criteria are below and will be published on GOV.UK shortly.

Letters were sent to local authorities where ministerial letters had been sent in the spring to a small number of maintained schools expressing concern about the progress of disadvantaged pupils at key stage 2, and the progress and/or overall attainment of disadvantaged pupils at key stage 4. Letters were also sent to local authorities where the average GCSE results of disadvantaged pupils across all of their maintained schools declined between 2011 and 2013 or between 2012 and 2013.

Local authorities in receipt of letters:


Barking and Dagenham


Bath & NE Somerset


Blackburn with Darwen



Bracknell Forest







Cheshire East









East Sussex




Hammersmith & Fulham




Isle of Wight






Leicester city






North Lincolnshire

North Somerset

North Yorkshire



Nottingham City





Richmond upon Thames









South Gloucestershire






Stoke on Trent










West Berkshire

West Sussex







Ps I  was at a lecture the other day on social mobility and a teacher  in a London academy told us that his school was  using the Pupil Premium in innovative ways,. One example he  offered was buying , alarm clocks for all  FSM pupils. Presumably none of  his  pupils had access to mobiles. The  PP is supposed to be used for interventions that are known to be effective. I have scanned the EEF Toolkit and am not entirely surprised to find nothing on the effective use of alarm clocks to secure better outcomes for pupils. Schools have to be careful how they use this extra funding because they will be held accountable.



Does  school autonomy support inspiring teachers?

What are the characteristics of an inspiring teacher?


A study of 36 inspiring teachers, in CFBT Education Trust schools, by researchers from Oxford and Worcester Universities,  found that many participating   teachers  are worried that  their autonomy had been reduced and their working conditions suffered as a result of  recent reforms.

The project involved teachers from CfBT Schools Trust schools, all nominated by their headteachers as particularly inspiring. By observing these teachers delivering lessons, and interviewing them, their colleagues and their students, the research identified characteristics of more effective teaching, including developing positive relationships; having good classroom management; creating a positive and supportive climate; providing formative feedback; delivering high quality learning experiences; and emphasising enjoyment in learning.

The main aim of the research was ‘ to provide robust new evidence about both inspiring teachers and inspiring teaching from different perspectives to increase understanding of these widely used but elusive and often poorly defined concepts.’ The research sought to address the following questions:

What do inspiring teachers say about their practice?

What do inspiring teachers do in their classrooms?

What are their students’ views and experiences?

The research found that many teachers were becoming disillusioned with work, reflecting disquiet at current education reforms seen  as badly reducing teacher autonomy and working conditions, increasing workloads and distracting from classroom work.

Many teachers drew attention to their worries in this area and expressed concern and disagreement with what they saw as external interference by central government. “The majority had strong and negative views about recent changes in the national curriculum, national assessment and examinations. They saw these changes as highly political and felt they had produced great confusion and work overload, and lacked clarity. The changes were seen to have shifted the focus from engaging students and innovating in teaching to managing change and achieving targets with too much focus on tests and examination results.”

“Teachers felt they had put in more time and that their past efforts in developing their resources and planning were being wasted, including having to replace expensive texts and materials because of curriculum and exam changes,” the research added.

But, encouragingly,  “ despite external challenges, nearly all want to continue in their teaching careers, they genuinely like  students and enjoy teaching, and they show resilience in the stressful and fast-changing educational  environment”.

The two characteristics most frequently mentioned by teachers with regard to inspiring teachers   were Enthusiasm for teaching and Positive  relationships with students. Both these two main features reflect the nature of teaching as an interactive and social activity that engages the emotions. They are followed by less commonly identified characteristics such as Flexibility, Relevant teaching, Safe and stimulating classroom climate, Positive classroom management, Reflectiveness and Innovative teaching.


Effective Collaboration and shared evidence based practice  have been flagged up by academics (Hargreaves Fullan et al) as key to improving teacher and student outcomes. So what does this research say about that?


‘The degree to which the school ethos is one that promotes positive and collaborative relationships  among teachers was also considered a very important factor, noted by approximately half of the  interviewees. The motivation from collaboration and the role of mentoring were also highlighted by some. Most teachers reported that their school had some type of professional development programme in place, such as breakfast training sessions, INSET days, etc. A number of teachers considered collaborative and personalised learning, with colleagues within their school, to be their preferred form of professional development. Teachers were asked about their professional development needs. The areas that they identified for further development were highly diverse but the three most common areas teachers wanted to improve were:

  • subject knowledge
  • differentiation
  • IT skills.’


As for as students are concerned  their overall ratings indicate that they strongly believe their teachers:

  • have high expectations for students, and positive relationships with them
  • create a positive, supportive and reassuring classroom climate
  • provide clear instructional goals and well-structured lessons
  • are approachable, fair and helpful
  • transmit their enjoyment of learning to students
  • promote positive learning experiences, attitudes, engagement and motivation.


The report concluded:

‘This project has sought to understand what is meant by inspiring practice by drawing on different sources of evidence. The main evidence is a triangulation based on teachers’ voices expressed through interviews, what we saw in the classroom (from both quantitative observation schedules and qualitative field notes) and students’ views (from a questionnaire survey).  Each source offers rich information and some unique contributions. Nonetheless there are strong  overlaps that add to the robustness of our conclusions. Figure 6.1, following, shows the overlap between these various sources and perspectives. The teachers showed strongly the characteristics of more effective teaching. In terms of inspiring practice at the core we can highlight:

  • positive relationships
  • good classroom/behaviour management
  • positive and supportive climate
  • formative feedback
  • high quality learning experiences
  • enjoyment.

These teachers show a high degree of engagement with their students; they are effective, organised and knowledgeable practitioners who exhibit a continued passion for teaching and for promoting the well-being of students. They are highly professional, confident and reflective practitioners.  Despite external challenges, nearly all want to continue in their teaching careers, they genuinely like students and enjoy teaching, and they show resilience in the stressful and fast-changing educational environment. In observing their classes there was a strong emphasis on making learning enjoyable   engaging, activating students’ own motivation; classroom experiences were typically varied, imaginative and ‘fun’. These inspiring teachers value the support they receive from leaders and colleagues in their schools. They are keen to work with and support colleagues, often through their particular leadership roles in their schools. Overall, they are committed professionals who continue to learn and improve their own practice and seek out opportunities and networks for professional development aligned to their needs and interests. This report has sought to highlight what we can learn from their inspiring practice’.


Inspiring teachers:  perspectives and practices

Summary report

Professor Pam Sammons, Dr Alison Kington,  Ariel Lindorff-Vijayendran, Lorena Ortega

Edited by Anna Riggall

CFBT Education Trust-2014




The National Careers Council  is disappointed in progress and notes a decline in careers services to young people

NCC seeks culture change


The National Careers Council was established in May 2012 by the Skills Minister to advise Government on careers provision for young people and adults in England.

In 2013, the Council set out a future strategic vision for the National Careers Service. It  advised Government that the general public  should expect to find:

“A recognised, trusted, independent and impartial careers service for young people and adults that works with employers and educators to help engage more people more successfully with the UK economy.”

In June 2013, the NCC published “An Aspirational Nation: Creating a culture change in careers provision” which included seven recommendations, all approved by the government.

This latest report monitors progress since that June report. The results, the NCC says, are disappointing.

The Council states:

“Our main assessment of progress since our first report is that, despite some signs of development, not enough action has been taken towards achieving a genuinely relevant all-age careers system. The Council is disappointed with the slow progress made in implementing its seven key recommendations. There is a great deal  that still needs to be done – particularly on careers provision for young  people – with better support also needed for parents and teachers.”

The report concludes  that Careers services for young people in England need to be urgently improved and  highlights more generally  a lack of consistency and availability of careers advice. It warns that too many youngsters do not get the advice they need about work. Deirdre Hughes, who chaired the council, said a “culture change in careers provision was urgently needed”. Adding “Some progress has been made in the last 12 months, but this has been far too slow.

“Meanwhile, our education and labour markets remain complex and confusing for young people, parents and teachers, and there are significant costs associated with this.

“We urge government and others to take action across England to halt the rapid decline in careers services for young people.”

The report says there are “massive variations” in the advice available, depending on where young people live. It says in one region there are 134 careers advisory services, and in another there is only one. There are also concerns that the National Careers Service has been structured to focus mainly on the needs of adults, leaving a gap in school-age advice services.

The Council accepts that moving from a National Careers Service, which is currently focused on adults, towards a genuinely all-age careers service is not without its challenges.  But it adds “We need to drive up the quality and impact of careers provision so that every individual gets the help they need to leave education and/or training with the qualifications, skills and experience to be successful on their chosen  path.”

It says  “ the  growing careers market is crowded, confused and complex with a multiplicity of disjointed careers provision”

Nick Chambers, Director of the Education and Employers Taskforce charity said: “Over the last year there has been a plethora of reports on careers provision from a wide range of organisations. They all agree that more needs to be done to provide young people with better careers advice and guidance. Far too many young people are having to make vital and incredibly important decisions about their futures without access to good and reliable information. Careers provision is undergoing a much needed culture change but in order to assist and accelerate this change we need to support schools and help them so that they can ensure that all our young people have access to high quality, impartial professional careers advice backed up by first-hand insights into the world of work.”

This report sets out four recommendations which the Council believes are needed to bring about action and greater investment in a culture change in careers provision.

Recommendation 1

The Government should establish an Employer-led Advisory Board  reporting directly to relevant ministers comprising senior representatives  from employers, education and the career development profession.  Such a body would advise on careers provision, guide the work of the National Careers Service and ensure value for money

Recommendation 2

The Government should provide schools and colleges with free and/or  subsidised access to independent and impartial career development  professionals’ expertise. This would help in the transition phase to support schools and colleges to meet their new statutory duties

Recommendation 3

The National Careers Service should, as a matter of high priority,  improve its website to make it attractive and appealing to young  people, parents and teachers.

Recommendation 4

The Government should support the scaling up of existing and successful initiatives and the piloting of innovative local models.  This would be best achieved by establishing a careers investment fund administered by the DfE which would ensure a good service nation-wide, though delivered in different and locally-relevant ways,  by a range of organisations


National Careers Council Report

Taking action: Achieving a culture change in careers provision-Sept 2014



Extract from Pg 10 report of NCC  -Taking Action:Achieving a culture change in careers provision-Sept 2014

‘Over the last year, a plethora of evidence-based research and published reports reaffirm the central theme of the National Careers  Council report to Government in June 2013 on the urgent need for  improved careers provision across England. Some examples are provided below. The Women’s Business Council (2014),  Lord Young (2014), Lord Adonis (2014) and many others all emphasise  the need for greater attention by Government to improve careers  provision across England, particularly for young people.

National Careers Council – England

The Association of Accounting Technicians (ATT, 2014)

The Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development (2014)

Careers England (2014)

The Association of Colleges (2014)

The Gatsby Foundation (2014)1

Careers Sector Strategic Alliance (CSSA, 2014)

The British Chamber of Commerce (2014)

The IPPR (2014)

 The Edge Foundation (2014)

The British Youth Council (2014)

The Local Government Association (2014)

The Work Foundation (2014)

The Confederation of British Industry (2014)

The National Union of Students & the  Learning and Skills  Improvement Service  (2014)

The Centre for Social Justice (2013)

The Education Select Committee (2014)

The Federation of Small Businesses

Unison (2013)





This seems topical. Politicians should not prescribe on these issues if school autonomy has anay meaning

Originally posted on Montrose42's Blog:


Does it help the equity agenda? Look at international practice.


Jo Boaler, formerly Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University, now Professor of Education at Sussex, in her paper ‘The ‘Psychological Prisons’ from which they never escaped: The role of ability grouping in reproducing social class inequalities’ asserted that the ability grouping policies that new Labour encourages in schools would not be entertained in most other countries in the world and goes some way to explaining the inequities in the UK system.  She writes ‘England strides forward, encouraging extensive ability grouping practices at the youngest possible age. It is only the rarest and bravest of teachers who have managed to resist the pressures to group by ‘ability’ from the current Labour government, thereby maintaining a vision of schooling that promotes equity and high attainment for all.   ‘ In Sweden ability grouping is illegal because it is known…

View original 596 more words



Pisa rankings can be misleading

So why do countries worry so much about them?


Every three years governments around the world wait – some eagerly, but most anxiously – for the latest results of the OECD Pisa survey. Those who fare badly in the tables often suffer what’s termed ‘Pisa shock’. In fact, roughly half of the governments affected change their education policies as a result of poor scores.

Take the US in 2013. Reacting to another poor showing – and a league-topping display by Shanghai – President Obama talked darkly of a generational “Sputnik moment” for his countrymen. America needed to catch up with the world’s best performers in maths and science, he said, and fast.

After its results, Norway, a laggard performer by high Nordic standards, immediately pledged new investment to boost teacher training, development and quality. And the Welsh government, with a mean score below the OECD average, talked of a grave situation and “systemic weaknesses”, committing to a reform programme focused on literacy and numeracy.    Such self-flagellation is understandable. Pisa is an ambitious, large-scale attempt to measure and compare literacy, mathematics and science across education systems. First launched in 2000, the surveys are taken every three years, the latest in 2012, and countries slipping down the tables do so with the world looking on.

Moreover, the test aims to assess learners, aged fifteen, on their competence to address ‘real life’ challenges. Andreas Schleicher, the architect of Pisa – and the “the most important man in English education”, according to former education secretary Michael Gove – says that the world economy will not pay you for what you know, but rather for how you apply your knowledge. In that sense, Pisa scores speak directly to our deepest fears about future prosperity and a changing world order.

Don’t be Rasch

Pisa certainly generates significant amounts of useful data and evidence that can be used by policy makers and practitioners. But there are growing concerns about its methodology and the way its results are used. In principle, comparing yourself with the best in the world is good practice. But practically it’s a huge challenge to compare across different countries given the cultural and linguistic barriers.

Pisa’s comparison of countries relies on plausible student scores derived from the so-called Rasch model, which is not unchallenged. In short, pupils are not given identical questions but that is accounted for in the model, which seeks to iron out so-called ‘contextual’ features. However, some researchers question whether this scaling model is being applied reliably or consistently across the board. We probably can’t very accurately rank students across countries, as if they have all sat identical tests at the same time in an identical context, and that’s because they haven’t.

Cambridge University statistics professor David Spiegelhalter investigated Pisa for the BBC recently. He talked to experts including Svend Kreiner in Copenhagen, Harvey Goldstein at Bristol, Oxford’s Jenny Ozga and professor Alan Smithers of the University of Buckingham. His conclusion was that league tables are essentially misleading and unreliable, even though the data produced by Pisa is useful.

Gabriel Sahlgren, of the Centre for Market Reform, warns governments against using Pisa results to inform changes to their systems, because of its poor methodology. Pisa, he claims, confuses correlation with causation. And Professor Smithers has made an important point: the OECD cannot possibly know for sure whether a pupil does well in a test because of their schools system, or in spite of it. In the case of South East Asian countries, most of which rate highly in Pisa rankings, many pupils receive extra private tuition outside of school. And yet Pisa has no way of taking this into account.

The home front

Arguably, if you think that Pisa tests assess things that are worthwhile and you acknowledge their political consequences, then it makes sense to prepare your students for the test. Many countries do, of course; but in England, where the latest Pisa test results stagnated, that hasn’t happened.

Whether it ever will is questionable, too. After all, how will Pisa benchmarking fit with the reforms made to English education since 2010, whereby schools are increasingly autonomous and ‘self-improving’, with parents and teachers driving change?

Lessons from overseas are only useful if they can inform the English system. But this requires an institutional framework that enables findings to directly influence classroom practice. Neither the structural reforms to our system, nor changes to the accountability or assessment frameworks, were designed to improve our Pisa ratings. So the chances are they will not improve.

But, here is a heretical thought. Perhaps we should, given Pisa’s limitations, continue to use its data where appropriate, but concurrently seek ways to accurately measure and compare ‘soft skills’ in young people.

Communication, character and the ability to work in teams are just some of the skills employers desperately want, but find in shockingly short supply. Perhaps not surprisingly, none of those skills are measured by the Pisa test either.

Published- Education Investor- September 2014


Another League Table or  ‘ Efficiency Index ‘has just been published by Gems. It purports to rate the efficiency of education systems around the world , relying inevitably on Pisa data. Korea, where parents have to invest $10bn in out of school private tutors to get their children up to the right level to progress, is ranked second. Surely an efficient  state system would not drive parents to seek private sector support for tutoring  the basics?   And then there is the case of Germany. Despite having the best trained and motivated workforce in europe with  a  good balance between cognitive and non-cognitive skills, it is ranked 27th in the table. Sorry,   I just dont buy it.




Of course

But changing it is a big challenge

Yet another report, this time from the Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, confirms that the privately educated pretty much run the country.

We have known  this,  of course, since the publication of an ‘Anatomy of Britain’ in the 1960s, (Anthony Sampson) since re-confirmed, and up-dated   by much research from the Sutton Trust .One wonders just  how   much more research we need on this topic . After all,   we have already received the same message time and again ,repeating pretty much the same  statistics, give or take a percentage point ,here or there.  There is a law, surely, of diminishing returns operating  here.   We have got the message, promise! The  report  finds ( yes, again) that   the establishment in the UK is broadly run by those who attended private schools and our best universities. It found that those who had attended fee-paying schools included:

71% of senior judges

62% of senior armed forces officers

55% of permanent secretaries (the most senior civil servants)

53% of senior diplomats.

It states :‘This report examines who is in charge of our country. It does so on the basis of new research which has analysed the background of 4,000 leaders in politics, business, the media and other aspects of public life in the UK.  This research highlights a dramatic over-representation of those educated at independent schools and Oxbridge across the institutions that have such a profound influence on what happens in our country.’

It suggests that Britain is deeply elitist. This is not good news, as it is neither fair nor efficient and certainly isnt meritocratic (but, then again , name a country that is) .As the report says ‘ it  locks  out a diversity of talents and experiences, makes Britain’s leading  institutions less informed, less representative and, ultimately,  less credible than they should be’. Who could disagree with that? What is more of a challenge is working out what to do about it.Some say that you should focus all attention and resources on your schools-they are the main engines of social mobility-others that you need a multi-faceted, cross cutting approach. This report, like all the others ,does not identify a  golden key to unlock social mobility

It  suggests that employers  can help through:

Schools outreach:

Employers should build long-term relationships with schools on mentoring, careers advice, and insights into work

Work experience and internships:

Firms should advertise work experience and pay internships

Recruitment and selection:

Employers should broaden the range of universities they recruit from and use school and university-blind applications

Flexible entry:

Employers should build non-graduate routes, such as Higher Apprenticeships and school-leaver programmes

Monitoring and data collection:

Firms should collect and publish data on data on social background of new recruits and existing staff


The  Social and Child Poverty Commission will take a lead by:


Annual ‘State of the Nation’ report

Continuing to hold the government and other actors in society to account through our Annual Report, published in October

Engaging with firms:  Encouraging the publication of data, opening up of diverse entry routes and widening the talent pool

Low pay research:  Encouraging employers to offer career opportunities and progression for low-paid workers

Encouraging the Social Mobility

Business Compact:  Pushing firms and the government to make tangible changes for social mobility

Advice to ministers: Informing ministers on issues around social mobility and child poverty, to ensure that it remains on the agenda