Category Archives: secondary schools


The pupil premium funding will rise from £1.875 billion to £2.5 billion in 2014-15. The primary school pupil rate will increase from £900 to £1,300 to reflect the importance of early intervention. For the first time, all pupils who are looked after or leave care through adoption, special guardianship or residence orders will attract £1,900 from April 2014.

The teaching and learning toolkit, provided by the Education Endowment Foundation,  is an accessible summary of research on key education interventions that have the most  impact in this area. Any school judged to be requiring improvement, where the leadership is also deemed to require improvement, is expected to carry out a pupil premium review.  Also Schools must publish online details of what they do with the pupil premium and Ofsted will be looking very closely at its use and effect on pupils’ attainment. If the PP had been used on general provision, the school would have to justify how that had impacted all pupils. Ofsted inspections are increasingly focused on the achievement of disadvantaged pupils.  Lord Nash said on 3 February that “It is now very unlikely that a school which is not showing good progression for disadvantaged pupils would make an outstanding rating.”

Pupils who are eligible for the pupil premium:

Are registered as eligible for FSM or who have been registered at any point in the last 6 years (known as ‘Ever6’); or

Have been looked after by the local authority for a day or more; or

Were previously looked after and left care through being adopted on or after 30 December

2005; under a Special Guardianship Order on or after 30 December 2005; or under a Residence Order on or after 14 October 1991; and

Who have been recorded on the January Schools Census as being in one of these categories.

Summer schools for pupils receiving  the PP, according to DFE  ‘ provide an excellent opportunity for secondary schools to help disadvantaged new pupils understand what and how they will be studying in key stage 3. It is also an opportunity for schools to help disadvantaged pupils who are behind in key areas such as literacy and numeracy to  catch up with their peers.’


But closing the achievement gap-regarded as the Holy Grail in education- remains a  huge  challenge .As John Dunford pointed out ,recently, in a letter to the Guardian – ‘While the gap has not narrowed in secondary schools, in primaries it has. The most recent data for key stage 2 shows the gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and all other pupils narrowed from 20% (2011) to 17% (2012).’ (based, though, on just one years’ results)

For schools interested  in summer schools, see link



Huron surveys look at what choices the richest Chinese are making

UK Secondary  education rated above US

The Hurun Report  which surveys the choices and preferences of  the Chinese elite – also publishes  ‘The Best of British Education . The Best of British Education  is part of the Schools Guide Series, and is targeted at affluent Chinese parents intending to send their children to boarding schools and universities in the UK. Hurun. Report Founder and Director of the Schools Guide Series, Rupert Hoogewerf said, “British boarding schools are leaders of elite education across in the world, and are greatly acknowledged by Chinese entrepreneurs” In 2011, more than 50,000 UK student visas were issued by the UK Border Agency/Home Office in China, an increase of 20% from 2010. British boarding (secondary) schools are the first choice for Chinese entrepreneurs seeking an international education for their children. (the US is second)

The most recent consumer survey  found that 28.7% prefer UK as destination to educate children at high school level (secondary), slightly ahead of the US at 26%. 36% favour US for undergraduate and above education

The Schools Guide Series is an extensive and growing collection of guides, which provide Chinese parents  ‘with unrivalled insight into the education systems of seven countries, including the UK, US, Canada, Singapore, Australia & New Zealand and Switzerland with Hong Kong on its way this year.’

The top two concerns for the Chinese entrepreneur is their child’s education and leading a healthier life. 4 out of 5 millionaires in China are considering sending their child overseas to study and among industry experts, it is accepted that sending a child abroad is often the first step to much greater investment.

TEL:+86 (0)21 5010 5808 ADD:6F, Zhongrong Jasper Tower, 8 Yincheng Road, Pudong, Shanghai 200120, China




The debate continues but expansion put on the backburner


Many grassroots Tories still see grammar schools as an article of meritocratic faith, offering talented children from modest backgrounds the chance, perhaps the only real chance, of a first-class education and a ladder out if deprivation. There are 164 remaining state grammar schools (out of just over 4,000  state  secondary schools) dotted around about 20 local authorities. Only a few, including Kent, retain a completely selective system. Selection is based on an 11+ plus exam. Mary Ann Sieghart writing in the Independent a while back said …’if you are bright but poor and you live in Kent, Essex, Buckinghamshire or Northern Ireland, your parentage doesn’t have to dictate your progress. You have nearly the same chance of becoming a cabinet minister, a judge, a newspaper editor or a top rower as your privately educated neighbour. Why is that? Because these areas still have grammar schools, those turbo-chargers of social mobility.’

The head of Ofsted has just accused grammar schools of being “stuffed full” of middle-class children and of failing to increase social mobility.

“Grammar schools are stuffed full of middle-class kids. A tiny percentage are on free school meals: 3 per cent. That is a nonsense,” the Ofsted head told The Observer.

“Anyone who thinks grammar schools are going to increase social mobility needs to look at those figures. I don’t think they work.

“The fact of the matter is that there will be calls for a return to the grammar school system. Well, look what is happening at the moment.

“Northern Ireland has a selective system and they did worse than us in the [international comparison] table.

“The grammar schools might do well with 10% of the school population, but everyone else does really badly. What we have to do is make sure all schools do well in the areas in which they are located.”

Opponents of grammar schools have long claimed that disadvantaged pupils and those on FSM , and with SEN, are badly underrepresented, that rich parents ensure that they buy places through investing in private  tuition to give their children an unfair advantage at the test, and that, if you drill down into the academic results of grammar schools,  they are not quite as good   as they might at first seem, particularly if you use added value  measurements . Fiona Millar, from the group Comprehensive Future, told BBC 4s World this weekend  “The problem is that doing the [11+] tests is accompanied by a very expensive private tuition industry,”

The debate on Grammars has been rekindled  because last week the  plan for a “satellite” grammar school in Kent, which  was hatched because Sevenoaks was the only area of the county not to have a grammar school, was  rejected by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State. Campaigners had high hopes that he would approve the proposal and it would be the first of many.

The two applications by existing grammar schools – Weald of Kent and Invicta in Maidstone –were turned down by the Department for Education on the grounds that they did not constitute an expansion but would create a new school. One of the main arguments used was that the selective “satellite” was to be co-educational while both the proposers were single-sex schools. Under existing legislation, it is illegal to set up a new selective state school, but any good school – including a grammar school – can expand.(providing it satisfies local planning laws etc)

DfE officials though say the door is still open for an alternative proposal which can convince them it would expand an existing school. One option would be to persuade a co-educational grammar school to put in a bid. Sir Michael’s comments were criticised by David Davies, a Conservative MP and former grammar school pupil, who said many working-class children “got on through having access to grammar schools”.

Graham Brady, who resigned as a party spokesman in protest at Prime Minister David Cameron’s opposition to new grammar schools, said Sir Michael would do better to focus on the still large number of “very bad schools”.

Chris Cook, when he was education correspondent at the FT, examined recent data   and found that on average, poor children do markedly (GCSE results) worse in Kent than in the rest of the country. Kent is also less socially mobile than the rest of England – and much less mobile than London. He also found that ‘ A poor child in Kent, using the usual definition of a child eligible for free school meals, has a 55 per cent chance of getting results that put it in the bottom fifth of results- that means results weaker than around 3 Cs at GCSE. To look at the other end of the spectrum, only 4 per cent of FSM-eligible children in Kent get results in the top fifth nationally – that means the equivalent of eight As. If Kent were overcoming disadvantage totally, this would approach 20 per cent.’  To cut to the quick, Cooks main point t was that Anne Marie Sieghart was plain wrong in suggesting that Grammars were engines of social mobility.’

Improving social mobility is very much on the governments agenda, but they are largely at a loss to work out how to improve social mobility. With few disadvantaged  pupils getting good,  timely  careers advice from independent professionals,  and little integrated  employer engagement with schools it seems that not much   will change in the near future.

Doubtless the arguments over grammars  will continue. But grammar schools are unlikely to develop a larger footprint on the English schools landscape any time soon.


Transformation from area of underperformance and failing schools to one with  some of the best urban schools in the world

But Ofsted concerned about outcomes for 19 year olds


Tower Hamlets, which was praised by Ofsted for its achievements in its Annual Report , is described as having some of the best urban schools in the world,  by  a new report that charts the local authority’s transformation.

In 1997 Tower Hamlets schools were rated as the worst in the country.

But  a  new report  ‘Transforming Education for All: the Tower Hamlets Story’, by three educational academics, Prof David Woods, Prof Chris Husbands and Dr Chris Brown, looks at  how education in this deprived  borough has been transformed over the last few years.

The report notes that in 1998 only 26 per cent of students achieved five or more high-grade GCSEs – well below the national average of 43 per cent.

In 2012, this was up to 61.8 per cent of students achieving five GCSE grades A* to C including English and maths, above the national average of 59.4 per cent.

The authors said in a statement: “The Tower Hamlets story demonstrates that deprivation is not destiny and is an inspiring example to other schools, local authorities and the education system as a whole of what can be achieved.”

Mayor Lutfur Rahman welcomed the report, saying the transformation of the borough’s schools was “a wonderful success story”.

He said: “This success has been hard won. It is the result of tremendous work by students, parents, head teachers, school staff, council officers and politicians over the past 15 years.”

Mr Rahman added: “All those who have been involved in education in Tower Hamlets since 1998 should feel enormous pride in an achievement that is being held up as a shining example to communities around the world.”

Di Warne, head of secondary learning and achievement there, said the key to success was working in partnership with other schools and high expectations and support from local politicians.

“One of the biggest things has been our focus on monitoring and tracking the progress of young people and we do that really rigorously,” she said.

“I suppose what I would say to them [regions that are struggling] is to raise your aspirations and make your aspirations for your young people really clear and that poverty is no barrier to success and I think that is what London has proved more than anything.”

However, before we get too carried away, Ofsted in its annual report found that   sound GCSE attainment in some boroughs, including Tower Hamlets, is not being converted to good outcomes at age 19.

The academics developed seven explanatory themes that they believe have driven the change and improvement witnessed within the Borough. These are:

• Ambitious leadership at all levels

• Very effective school improvement

• High quality teaching and learning

• High levels of funding

• External integrated services

• Community development and partnerships

• A resilient approach to external government policies and pressure

They also  identify six major factors which explain the Tower Hamlets experience:

• Shared values and beliefs with robust and resilient purpose and professional will. ‘Yes we can…’

• Highly effective and ambitious leadership at all levels – Local Authority and school leadership.

• Schools rising to the standards challenge – improved teaching and learning, enhanced Continuing Professional Development, rigorous pupil tracking and assessment, a relentless focus on school improvement.

• Partnership working – inward and outward facing, external and integrated services, shared responsibility and accountability.

• Community development – building collaborative capacity and community cohesion.

• A professional learning community – building momentum and engagement through and across school communities, high levels of knowledge, trust and professional relationships.

Three respected educational academics, Prof David Woods, Prof Chris Husbands and Dr Chris Brown, have analysed how this turnaround was achieved in a report published on 11 December, called Transforming Education for All: the Tower Hamlets Story (PDF, 2mb).


Government keen on more faith schools but not everyone agrees


This government strongly supports faith schools and would like to see more of them. New faith academies and free schools may admit only half their intake based on faith where they are oversubscribed. But, according to Lord Nash, the Government  ‘remain strongly committed to faith schools, which play a long-established role in our diverse education system. They allow parents to choose a school in line with their faith and they make a significant contribution to educational standards in this country.’

According to the five A* to C statistics, including English and maths, 65% of pupils at Catholic schools achieve five A* to C grades, as opposed to non-faith schools, where the figure is 58%. At level 4 of key stage 2, 85% of pupils at Catholic schools achieve a pass mark, as opposed to 78% for non-faith schools. Church of England schools  achieving five A* to C grades, including in English and maths,  score 62% versus 58%, and at level 4 of key stage 2 they score 82% as opposed to 78%.

A number of new muslim schools are now entering the state  system too.

Some critics are concerned that faith schools could help segregate communities rather than support and  promote social cohesion, despite a clear duty placed on schools to  ‘promote community cohesion’. The government  points out that ‘ All state-funded schools are also required by law to teach a broad and balanced curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils, and Ofsted’s inspection framework includes a focus on this’

However the Cantle report of 2001 in the wake of the Bradford/Oldham riots found that communities were developing in parallel with little interaction and criticised the  Governments  policy of encouraging single-faith schools   as it  raised the  possibility of deeper divisions. Northern Irelands segregated school system has also been blamed for embedding and reinforcing division between catholic and protestant communities and helping to fuel the ‘Troubles’.

It is also the case that faith schools have been accused of not taking their share of FSM pupils, often below the respective local authority average, which  helps inflate their academic performance.  There is a significant performance gap between FSM pupils and their peers.



Overcoming the perceived stigma


It is well known that many children who are entitled to free school meals do not take up the offer. Figures from January show 1,307,455 pupils registered for free school meals, a key measure of poverty. Of these, 82.7% actually took up the dinners, meaning 225,690 schoolchildren were not eating the free meals for which they were registered.

Official figures suggest that in state-funded secondary schools 16.3 per cent of pupils ( 452,600) were known in January 2013 to be eligible for and claiming free school meals, a small increase from 16.0 per  cent in 2012. In maintained nursery and state-funded primary schools 19.2 per cent of pupils (774,610) were known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals, a small  decrease from 19.3 per cent in 2012.

For many children, their free school lunch can be the only full meal they eat in a day. But too many pupils who would qualify are either not registered to have their free meal, or choose not to eat it. Part of the problem may be the perceived stigma attached to FSM. In order to encourage all schools to take action to remove this  stigma and to encourage all those who are eligible to apply, the DFE  provides guidance on good practice and steps that schools and local authorities can take to encourage take-up of free school meals, for example by informing parents that registering for free school meals is confidential. Schools and local councils can also provide free lunches to children not eligible for free school meals if they wish, or to subsidise school meal prices for certain groups of children.

The Department’s online Eligibility Checking Service enables parents to apply for school meals without having to give the school information about their income from benefits or earnings. DFE are encouraging local authorities to increase their use of this resource so that more parents have the opportunity to apply online.

A number of schools and local authorities have implemented cashless payment systems, which help ensure that those children who are receiving free school meals cannot be identified.

According to DFE there are good practices schools can implement to registration. In particular, schools should consider letting parents know:

That registering their child as eligible for FSM will bring more money to the school to help their child achieve.

What the school will spend the Pupil Premium on, so they are incentivised to apply.

What, if any, other benefits may be available for children registered as eligible for FSM, i.e. help with the cost of music lessons or school trips.

That registering for FSM is confidential and their peers, and their child’s peers, will not know they have applied.

What registering for FSM involves and what it means for their child, including the fact that taking up the meal is recommended but optional.

This is in addition to any information the school may be able to provide about the benefits and quality of school meals.

You can download an example letter to parents, based on good practice examples from schools. This letter can be personalised and sent out to parents to encourage registration.


Who qualifies for FSM?

You can register your child for Free School Meals if you get any of these benefits:

•        Income Support

•        Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance

•        Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

•        Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999

•        The Guarantee element of State Pension Credit

•        Child Tax Credit, provided they are not entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual income (as assessed by HM Revenue & Customs) that does not exceed £16,190

•        Working Tax Credit ‘run-on’ – the payment someone may receive for a further four weeks after they stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit


Selection in state schools remains controversial but grammar school are secure

Little prospect though of   any new grammar schools


Grammar schools are defined under section 104 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 as maintained (community, foundation, voluntary aided and voluntary controlled) schools which select all, or substantially all, of their pupils by reference to high academic ability.

They select their pupils by examination of their high academic ability, usually through the  11 plus examination.

The number of grammar schools had peaked at 1,298 in 1964. The proportion of secondary school pupils in grammars was highest in 1947 at just under 38%. The absolute number of pupils in state grammar schools peaked at 726,000 in 1964.  Their number went from 1,298 in 1964 to 675 in 1974 and 261 in 1979. The fastest period of decline was the 1970s. Between 1971 and 1978 650 grammar schools closed, an average of more than 90 per year.  The last grammar school in Wales closed in 1988.   However, there was a modest increase in the number of grammar schools in England in the early/mid 1990s. Their number remained at 164 up to 2012 with roughly 5% of secondary pupils in the maintained sector in grammar schools.

Under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 no new maintained grammar school can be opened and existing schools cannot introduce new selection by ability. Section 39 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 re-states section 99 of the 1998 Act. This prohibits any new selection by ability, other than for banding or for sixth forms. So, current legislation does not allow for a new grammar school to be established. But the Secretary of State is allowed to designate a new grammar school where it is established to replace existing grammar school provision.  And, any grammar school can seek to expand by opening another site .

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 and the Academies Act 2010 effectively mean that there can be no ‘new’ grammar schools (ie in addition to the 164 grammar school already operating).   However, as illustrated by the so called Sevenoaks   model, it is also the case that any school can seek to expand by opening another site. This has been allowed since the 1944 Education Act.  But to do so it must be a continuance of the original school.  In 2012, some councils attempted to use loopholes in the schools admissions code to expand the number of grammar places – building “annexes” of existing schools in new towns several miles away.  Hence, the compromise endorsed by councillors in Sevenoaks in 2012.  The promised extra provision in Sevenoaks will not be in a ‘new’ grammar school, but in two “satellites”, each with 60 places, run by existing grammars in other towns.

The first new state-funded selective school for many years opened at the start of 2012/13 –the Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School -Blackburn and Darwen)- Which is a Free School catering for 11-18 year olds.

Seven Local Education Authorities (LEAs) Trafford, Buckinghamshire, Slough, Torbay, Southend, Kent and Medway- out of the 151 with secondary schools, have a fully selective system (grammar and secondary modern schools). A further 29 have partially selective secondary systems (grammars/secondary moderns alongside comprehensives).

Grammar schools remain though controversial. They are a totemic issue for the left in politics who eschew any form of selection in the education system and want a fully comprehensive  system, believing that selection diminishes individuals, casting the majority as failures at an early age (11), and  leads to social segregation. The Right see them as a ladder for bright disadvantaged pupils to improve their life opportunities and point to the fact that less working class children accessed the best universities   as the number of grammar school places  declined. If anything social mobility has been in decline over the last generation, mainly because of this.

In 2008 the (then) Department for Children Schools and Families looked at the intake of grammar schools in comparison to that of their local area. This found that free school meal rates in grammars were not representative of their local areas. They were around one-fifth of the level in their local area in 2007. In addition they also had fewer pupils from the low attaining ethnic groups –Black African, Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani- than their local area. The gap varied somewhat by ethnic group, but was typically around half the rate in their local area in 2007. This study also looked at the level of deprivation affecting children in the areas that different types of schools took their pupils from. In grammar schools in 2007 the proportion of pupils from the least deprived quartile was just over 40%, compared to around 25% in their local area. (Faith schools, research suggests, also tend to fall below the local authority average for pupils on Free school meals, and tend to perform better than peer schools).  Research for the Sutton Trust in 2008 looked at the ‘social selectivity’ of secondary schools and found that grammars were more socially selective than other schools and that they made up 17 of the top 100 most socially selective secondary schools, but 5% of all secondaries. This general finding should be little surprise given the lower attainment of pupils eligible for free school meals at the end of primary school.

Andrew Neil, the former editor of the Sunday Times, now a commentator  in the broadcast media,   made a documentary about  two years ago on grammar schools .In it  he argued  that the grammar schools provided bright working-class and lower-middle class  children with a route to educational and career success.  Far from being elitist and unfair institutions, they were actually effective engines of social mobility, he argued.  One of the most striking pieces of evidence for Neil’s thesis is the social background of UK Prime Ministers.  Between the Eton-educated Alec Douglas-Home and the Fettes-educated Tony Blair, five successive UK Prime Ministers were from modest backgrounds and four were educated at grammar schools.   Chris Cook of the FT who recently researched grammar schools results says ‘there is an idea out there in the ether that grammar schools are better for propelling poor children to the very top of the tree.’  But, that is not true he claims.   ‘Poor children are less likely to score very highly at GCSE in grammar areas than the rest.’ (FT 28 Jan 2013)

To recap – A single (grammar) school can operate from more than one site, but to do so ‘any other site must be a continuance of the original school.’ But new wholly selective state schools are not permitted under existing legislation.   It would be rash, though, to assume that all grammar schools wish to expand.  And indeed of those who rather like the idea of scaling up   not all will have the space or the capital to do so. We are not going to see an expansion of grammar schools any time soon although arguments over selection in the state system and the future of grammar schools will  doubtless continue.


 Too many schools letting down gifted children


A landmark Ofsted survey, the most extensive investigation of gifted and talented provision they have ever undertaken, was published on 13 June.

The report The Most Able Students: Are they doing as well as they should in our non-selective secondary schools? -found that thousands of bright children are being let down by England’s non-selective secondary schools. More than a quarter (27%) of previously high-attaining pupils had failed to achieve at least a B grade in both English and maths.

A culture of low expectations meant able pupils were failing to achieve top GCSE grades, Ofsted said in a report.

In 2012, 65% of pupils – 65,000 children – who had achieved Level 5 in maths and English tests at the end of primary school failed to attain A* or A grades in both these subjects at GCSE.

Head teachers said school league tables pushed schools into the middle ground.

Ofsted defines high-achievers as those pupils who achieve a Level 5 in both English and maths in their national curriculum tests, commonly known as Sats.

In 40% of the schools visited by inspectors, the brightest students were not making the progress they were capable of and many had become “used” to performing at lower levels, with parents and teachers accepting this “too readily”, Ofsted said.

Tracking the progress of the most academically gifted was “not used sufficiently well in many schools”, the report added.

Ofsted was critical of mixed-ability classes, saying they often saw “a lack of differentiation, teaching to the middle, and the top pupils not being stretched”.

The report said teaching was “insufficiently focused” for able pupils in Key Stage 3 (aged 11-14) and schools should ensure class work was challenging at this stage so that able pupils could make rapid progress.

Some Key facts

62% of pupils (at non-selective secondary schools) who got Level 5 in their English Sats did not get an A* or A grade in this subject at GCSE in 2012

25% of pupils who got Level 5 in their English Sats failed to get at least a B

53% of students who got Level 5 in their maths Sats did not gain an A* or A grade in this subject at GCSE

22% of pupils who got Level 5 in maths in their Sats failed to get at least a B


Some comprehensive schools did ensure that bright children achieved high grades and applied to top universities by setting high expectations, identifying able children, giving challenging tasks and checking progress. But provision for able children was not good enough in 17 of the 41 schools, Ofsted said.

By way of comparison, 59% of selective state school – grammar school – students who attained level five in both English and maths at the end of their primary school education went on to achieve an A or A* in those subjects at GCSE level in 2012. The figure for students from non-selective schools was 35%. Comparisons with independent schools are not available.

On Thursday, Sir Michael  Wilshaw told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme that the statistics were “pretty poor”, adding that children at selective state schools were far more likely to win places at top universities than those who went to non-selective ones.

“We’ve got to make sure that the great majority of youngsters do well and go to the top universities,” he said.

He said school leadership was crucial in improving pupils’ performances, as was creating a culture of scholarship and ensuring that students remained focused on their studies after Key Stage 3.

The findings matched earlier research by the Sutton Trust charity that many state schools in England were failing to advance their pupils towards the most selective universities. Its chairman, Sir Peter Lampl, called the Ofsted report “a wake-up call to ministers”.

“Schools must improve their provision, as Ofsted recommends. But the government should play its part too by providing funding to trial the most effective ways to enable our brightest young people to fulfil their potential.,” Lampl said.

Denise Yates, Chief Executive of the  Potential Plus charity, which supports bright children, said: “We warned the Government in 2010 when it scrapped the gifted and talented programme that this would be the result. Many schools are doing a fantastic job in supporting these children. However we know from experience that busy schools will often only have time to focus on the latest priorities. The needs of the most able children have fallen to the bottom of the political and social agenda and it’s time to put it right to the top again.”

On Advice and Guidance the report said :

‘The schools visited did not always provide early, or effective, careers guidance to students to show, for example, the likely pay progression in ‘top jobs’. The absence of such guidance was compounded by a lack of effective information to increase students’ understanding of grants, loans, and the cost and benefits of attending university. Early and strong support for first-time entrants to university, including financial advice to students and parents, led to more positive outcomes.Some schools showed a lack of up-to-date, in-school intelligence about universities, especially in relation to universities outside their region. Current knowledge of the entry requirements for different courses was weak in some of the schools.However, this was not the picture in all the schools. In a third of those visited, well-qualified, knowledgeable and experienced staff provided high-quality support and guidance.’


The Department for Education (DfE) should:

ensure that parents receive from schools a report each year which communicates whether their children are on track to achieve as well as they should in national tests and examinations

 develop progress measures to identify how well the most able students have progressed from Year 6 through Key Stage 4 to the end of Key Stage 5

 promote the new destination data, which will show what proportion of students in sixth form providers go to university and, particularly, the Russell Group of universities.

Maintained schools and academies should:

 develop their culture and ethos so that the needs of the most able students are championed by school leaders

 help the most able students to flourish and leave school with the best qualifications by providing first-rate opportunities to develop the skills, confidence and attitudes needed to succeed at the best universities

 improve the transfer between primary and secondary schools so that all Year 7 teachers know which students achieved highly, know what aspects of the curriculum the most able students have studied in Year 6, and use this information to plan and teach lessons that build on prior knowledge and skills

 ensure that work continues to be challenging and demanding throughout Key Stage 3 so that the most able students make rapid progress

 ensure that senior leaders evaluate mixed ability teaching so that the most able students are sufficiently challenged and make good progress evaluate the quality of homework set for the most able students to ensure that it is suitably challenging

 give the parents and carers of the most able students better and more frequent information about what their children should achieve and raise their expectations where necessary

 work with families more closely, particularly the families of first generation university applicants and those eligible for free school meals, to overcome any cultural and financial obstacles to university application

 develop more in-house expertise and up-to-date knowledge to support applications to the most prestigious universities, particularly in relation to the knowledge and skills required for undergraduate courses

 publish more widely a list of the university destinations of all their students.

Ofsted will:

 focus more closely in its inspections on the teaching and progress of the most able students, the curriculum available to them, and the information, advice and guidance provided to the most able students

 consider in more detail during inspection how well the pupil premium is used to support the most able students from disadvantaged backgrounds

 report its inspection findings about this group of students more clearly in school inspection, sixth form and college reports.

Note 1

Gifted Phoenix a blog written by an expert in the field sees a role for Free schools in supporting gifted children. Although there is nothing to prevent primary, secondary and all-through free schools from specialising in gifted education, the restriction on selection may be acting as a brake on innovation.

Note 2

Also see Gifted Phoenix analysis of High Attaining Students in the 2012 Secondary School Performance Tables. This post collects and analyses data about the performance of high attaining students at Key Stages 4 and 5 in the 2012 Secondary Performance Tables and Key Stage 5 Tables respectively. It also draws on evidence from the Statistical First Reviews (SFRs) published alongside the tables.

Gifted Phoenix is the social media pseudonym of Tim Dracup a UK-based consultant in – and commentator on – gifted and talented education. You can also follow him on Twitter (@Gifted Phoenix) and on Facebook.


Cridland looking for a more holistic approach and a binding theme to reforms

And criticises careers advice in schools


It is true to say that the CBI, which represents  big business to government, is broadly supportive (though not uncritical) of the governments education policies. CBI members,  though, would  not disagree with  the oppositions Tristram Hunt  in his observation  that there is still  a worrying disconnect  between the education system and the job market.

But John Cridland who heads the organisation, has recently articulated other concerns. Firstly, that the Education Secretary has managed to alienate rather too many stakeholders, including ‘moderate’ unions (the on going  fall out over curriculum reforms adds to this impression). Secondly, as he described in a recent Guardian article (29 May) ‘What’s lacking is the thread that ties it (ie reforms) all together, the theme tune that will give more school leaders the confidence to get up and dance.’ Goves team, of course ,would dispute this. Having driven through structural reforms focused on school autonomy  ,against some  concerted opposition,,they are now focused on the curriculum, assessment and the quality of teachers and teaching ,so our schools and system  can  compare with the very  best in the world.  The  overarching theme is to improve the lot ,in particular, of  the most disadvantaged pupils narrowing  the achievement gap between them and their peers. So, there is the theme tune, or narrative, which was pretty clearly spelt out in the coalition agreement . Gove to be fair, whether one agrees with him or not, has been  pretty clear from the outset about his intentions.

As for alienating stakeholders, Gove joins a long line of  Secretary of States, both Conservative and Labour, who have upset both Headteachers and union leaders (remember David Blunkett?)

Cridland  suggests though   that there are three areas in which swift action could be taken to address this.

Firstly, standards and accountability.There’s more to school than just rigour he claims: ‘ The exam treadmill needs to be replaced with fewer but tougher tests in more relevant subjects, freeing time in the curriculum to focus on space for broader education. The accountability system also needs to keep pace with this.’ ‘ In schools, tough exams are essential but are not sufficient in creating a great education system.The government needs to adopt a more holistic view that wins support from heads, business and parents. Ofsted needs to adjust its role to be a guarantor, through reports that mix assessment on exam results with a broader narrative setting out achievement in the round.’

Secondly, the curriculum. 18 will be the main point of achievement for young people once the participation age is raised in two years time. So we need a refreshed, single curriculum from 14 onwards which acknowledges that each young person will learn in a different way and find a different path. Let’s invest in rigorous vocational alternatives and give them a proper standing in the system – gold standard vocational A-levels. And let’s stimulate a culture where individual learning plans are the norm, mapping out each young person’s academic and personal development.

Finally, we need, according to Cridland, ‘ to equip young people in making the transition from school into an increasingly complex labour market.  He writes ‘We know that schools are struggling with the new duty to provide careers advice which in many places is increasingly on life support. Businesses must step up to the mark to help with this but ministers’ attitude suggests that they simply don’t prioritise it. We need urgent action if the forthcoming impact assessment proves the negative picture many anticipate.’

Worryingly for the Gove team ,having focused so much in the first two years on structural reforms, with some success, they now  find that they are running out of time  on other fronts,  including   on curriculum  reforms, where the process appears rushed, and  meaningful consultation signally  lacking.


1″Provision [of careers advice] is absolutely patchy,” Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders has said . “We are aware of some very good practice, but lots of schools are really struggling.” Changes to the school-leaving age – due to rise to 17 this year and 18 by 2015 – make good, early careers advice “all the more important”, he added.

2 It is extremely difficult to find evidence in support of the government’s current approach to Careers Education Information and Guidance in schools. Indeed, several reports over the last eighteen months  from, for example, the  Education Select Committee, Alan Milburn, Professor Tony Watts ., HEFC, London Observatory of Skills  and Employment, Careers England, the AOC, ICGES/ Pearson Think Tank ,  NFER , ‘Which’, the Work Foundation, CIPD, and Working Links, paint a  negative, dysfunctional picture of the current state of CEIAG in England’s schools and a lack of confidence in  the direction of travel.

3  CBI First Steps Report 2012:“This report deals with the most important part of the UK’s long-term growth strategy – improving education. As our work sets out, the potential economic gain from getting this right is enormous, yet today we have a system where a large minority of our young people fall behind early and never catch up. This cannot be acceptable”


 Tear down the wall

Many independent schools remain reluctant to help out with the academy programme, says Patrick Watson in Education Investor magazine

Britain has not one school system, but two, existing in parallel, hardly ever coming into contact. This is worrying some of our leading educationalists. Lord Adonis, the architect of the academies scheme, for example, used a conference at Brighton College this month to remind private schools heads that he wanted the “Berlin Wall” separating them from the state system to be torn down. Dr Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington College, meanwhile, talks about the “apartheid” that characterises our schools, and the widening performance gap between the independent and maintained sectors.

Those who support closer links between the two sectors use a number of arguments to make their case. Some argue that these schools are now so exclusive they are actively damaging to their students, because they see so little of the rest of society. Others say that, as charities, independent schools have a moral obligation to serve the many, rather than the few. Adonis argues that most major private schools, originally established as charities for the education of the poor and under-privileged, have in practice “entirely divorced themselves from these groups” over the last century.

His solution is that private schools should get involved with the running of academies, to bring their talents to bear in the state system. Seldon, meanwhile, has called on those organisations that represent private schools to actively broker linkages between private schools and academies. He put his money where his mouth was by establishing the Wellington academy in Tidworth.   A few other private schools – Dulwich, Eton, Uppingham, et al. – have heeded this advice. So far, though, most private schools have ignored the call.

To explain why, you need to understand independent schools. They jealously guard and treasure their independence, and are deeply suspicious of any political intervention that looks like it could threaten it. They are attacked so often, and given so little credit by politicians, that their mind-set is defensive. And they believe that it’s for their own management teams to decide – not only how to run the schools, but also how they should deliver the ‘public benefit’ that justifies their charitable status.

Schools are also sensitive to the fact that many parents are struggling to pay the school fees. They thus feel a pressing duty to use this income exclusively for the benefit of their existing pupils. Sponsoring an academy, though, would mean redirecting resources and staff time over an extended period. There’s reputational risk involved, too: some academies will fail. And private schools, most of whom have little experience of dealing with disadvantaged pupils with little parent support, will be taken out of their comfort zone. So, many think, why risk your reputation and the collateral damage that might follow?

Besides, independent schools can and do provide help to state pupils in many different ways. In 2012 the Independent Schools Council reported that over 90% of its members – more than 1,100 schools – were involved with some form of partnership activity. For some that meant academy sponsorship – but for others it meant offering state pupils access to specific lessons, activities, or facilities; helping prepare them for entry to higher education; seconding teaching staff to maintained schools to teach specialist subjects; and so on. Indeed, the Independent State School Partnership Forum now meets three times a year, to consider how further co-operation can be encouraged.

But it is true, nonetheless, that some schools are better than others at developing such links, and in delivering public benefit. We are told that the Charity Commission will come down hard on those schools that are seen to be ‘tokenistic’. It is hard to argue that a handful of bursaries deliver meaningful public benefit – and it is an uncomfortable truth that cherry-picking the best pupils from the state system harms the schools they leave or eschew. The aim, surely, must be to maximise public benefit and deliver it at scale.

This, then, is one key justification for academy support. Here is another. Education is about making connections and preparing pupils for the real world. How do you give a child a truly rounded education, if you isolate them from the mainstream and, in particular, from the most disadvantaged in society?

In any case, collaboration between schools is now widely seen by experts as the best means to deliver systemic improvement. And, of course, it isn’t a one-way street. Many progressive ideas in education and great teaching are in evidence in the state system, in those schools where socio-economic disadvantage is not seen as an excuse for poor performance and where the concept of adding value is understood.

And, whisper it soft, but some in the independent sector look to be more than a little complacent when it comes to adding value and leadership. For reluctant independent schools, it could be time for a re-think.

Article published in  Education Investor  June  Vol 5 2013