A report by the school support company The Key suggests two thirds of headteachers and school leaders nationally are most worried about mental health, followed by domestic violence, with 58 per cent citing it as a top concern. More than 1,000 leaders were surveyed as part of The Key’s annual State of Education report.

Professor Tanya Byron backed by the Times recently launched “a blueprint” for Mental Health calling for urgent change. Byron said: “When are we going to wake up to the fact that mental health problems in children can be as serious and life changing as physical illnesses? How as a society can we justify the fact that the mental health of children is so low on our list of priorities?” Although politicians have expressed their concerns about childrens mental health and want schools to do more to identify children suffering mental health issues and to seek support for these children,  figures show spending on  mental health services has  actually fallen every year since 2010.

Nonetheless Emotional wellbeing, resilience and good mental health are seen as a priority for the Department foe Education. As the Secretary of State said in an interview with the Times on 4 July 2015, there are lots of new pressures on young people growing up. Ministers want children to do well academically and attainment is supported if they have good mental health character and resilience. They say these are two sides of the same coin.

The National Curriculum framework is clear that all schools should teach Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education – a non-statutory national curriculum subject which supports and extends other subjects in the school curriculum, such as Citizenship and Information Technology. This helps pupils to develop self-esteem, resilience, confidence and their ability to learn, as well as dealing with specific issues such as online and cyberbullying.

In order to support teachers to improve teaching about mental health in PSHE, the government has  funded the PSHE Association to produce guidance and detailed lesson plans for Key Stages 1-4 which are available online here at:

The government says ‘ While teachers are well placed to spot where students have a problem, they are not mental health professionals. It is important that students can get swift access to specialist mental health support where needed. An additional £1.25bn is available for mental health services for children, young people and new mothers over the next 5 years, to ensure timely access to appropriate specialist support is available’


Source Schools Week and Hansard 20 July



In March the Department for Education and the Department of Health published joint statutory guidance on promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children. This emphasises the importance of emotional well-being and mental as well as physical health. Support to vulnerable groups, including looked-after children, was also a focus of the work leading up to the publication of Future in Mind.



Schools Week reported in February that no data on young people’s mental health had been collected by the government since 2004.


The general prohibition against academic selection in state schools prevents the establishment of any new Grammar schools. However, existing Grammar schools can expand, providing that any expansion onto a new site is a change to an existing school and not a new school. Which is why the anti-grammar school lobby is getting  animated about developments in Sevenoaks, Kent, where an existing Grammar school is seeking to open a satellite,  some distance away.

The Antis  are watching this closely.  It could be the tip of  an iceberg.  A decision is awaited from the Education Secretary.  Yes, they know that the law doesn’t allow for the expansion of grammar schools, and for this to happen there needs to be new legislation-which will need a majority in Parliament. That, of course,  will not happen. But they suspect that the pro-grammar lobby will  seek to use the satellite route to expand the programme elsewhere.

Grammar schools, secondary modern schools and technical schools formed what was known as the tripartite system, which arose from the interpretation of the Education Act 1944  .Grammar schools provided admission to children on the basis of their ability and offered an academic education. Selection was usually made at the end of primary school in the form of the ‘11 plus’ examination. Secondary moderns provided a more general education with an emphasis on more practical subjects. Technical schools provided a more general education but with a focus on technical subjects.

There are currently 163 grammar schools in England with a total number of 163,000 pupils. This comprises around  5% of the total number of pupils in England. Ten local authorities are classified by the Department for Education as having a wholly selective system and a further 26 have at least one grammar school in their area.

Not all Tories, by any means, support selection ,or the expansion of Grammar schools. But it is significant that two influential Tories,  Graham Brady and Boris Johnson, simultaneously, are making the case for more Grammars.  It looks to be orchestrated.

Opponents of Grammar schools are against selection in the state system. They believe that they may offer social mobility to a few, but its only the few. They may be fine institutions for those  fortunate  enough to attend them. But the real problem is the provision for those who fail to gain a place. And a majority of pupils  who enter fail the selection exam.

What about the selection process?. Although the 11 plus exam is supposed to measure potential, there are plenty of private tutors  who boast that they can get just about anyone to pass the 11 plus  providing they put in or ‘invest’  the extra hours. So this means, in practice, that middle class parents, with a decent income, are more likely to get their child into a grammar school than parents from a disadvantaged community. Hence the charge that Grammars are colonized by the middle classes.

If you can tutor for the exam, it rather suggests that it is not simply about measuring potential. And there appears to be no reliable evidence to suggest, in any case ,that 11 is the best age to measure a child’s potential.

But one of the most compelling arguments against grammar schools is that successive governments have seen the holy grail of education in improving the lot of the most disadvantaged pupils and narrowing the achievement gap between them and their peers. So this should be the benchmark against which Grammars are measured. Disadvantaged pupils are broadly those defined as eligible for free school meals. But in 2014, the proportion of grammar school pupils eligible for free school meals was 2.7% but 15.7% across all types of schools.

Minister Lord Nash, in the last government, (he is still in post) served a warning to grammar schools, on 1 July 2014 ,when he stated:

“The Government is committed to closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers. Grammar schools and the highest performing non-selective schools currently have some of the lowest representations of children eligible for free school meals in England. We want to encourage all high performing schools, including grammar schools to do more to attract and support disadvantaged children.”

When Chris Cook, a former Tory ministerial adviser (now with the BBC), was the FTs education correspondent he did some number crunching to find out how poor children fared in areas that had selective education. His verdict  was clear -poor children do dramatically worse in selective areas. He wrote on 28 January 2013 ‘If you plot how well children do on average by household deprivation for selective areas and for the rest of the country, you can see that the net effect of grammar schools is to disadvantage poor children and help the rich.’

So, if this is the case, are Ministers really going to agree that the expansion of  Grammar schools  is the best way to further social mobility and  narrow the achievement gap? I think not.

That doesn’t mean that  some satellites won’t be approved. Nor does it mean that Grammar schools that exist are not safe. They are. It just means that it is highly unlikely that we will see a significant expansion of Grammar schools, any time soon.


All regional schools commissioners are employed under a contract of employment with the Department for Education.

The Regional Schools Commissioners carry out the following functions on behalf of the Secretary of State:

Monitoring the performance of academies and free schools in their area;

Taking action when an academy or free school is underperforming;

Taking decisions on local authority maintained schools wishing to convert to academy status;

Approving changes to open academies, including age range changes, mergers between academies, and changes to multi-academy trust arrangements;

Managing the regional sponsor market for academies, including approving applications to become an academy sponsor;

Making recommendations to ministers about free school applications;

And from this month (July):

Decision-making on tackling underperformance in maintained schools through sponsored academy arrangements.

The Secretary of State continues to be accountable for these areas and for all decision-making on her behalf.

Regional School Commissioners are clearly  now an important part of the accountability framework. They are being asked to do quite a lot in holding  many schools to account, across local authority boundaries. It will be interesting to see how their relationship with Ofsted develops. But am I alone in thinking that  this is all a bit of a gamble ? RSCs are untested and look  to me to  be very short  indeed on the capacity front,  given the scope of their remit, even taking into account the support they will receive   from the 32 headteachers (who already  have a day job) who have been voted by their peers to sit on the boards of the eight RSCs.

The staffing complement in each regional schools commissioner’s office is listed in the table below:

Office and regional schools commissioner Total staff Grade 6 Grade 7 SEO HEO EO AO
East Midlands and the Humber – Jennifer Bexon-Smith 6 1 2 1 2
Lancashire and West Yorkshire – Paul Smith 7 1 2 1 2 1
North of England – Janet Renou 6 1 2 2 1
East of England and North East London – Dr Tim Coulson 7 1 1 1 1 3
South Central England and North West London – Martin Post 6 1 2 1 2
South East England and South London – Dominic Herrington 7 1 2 4
West Midlands – Pank Patel 6 1 2 1 1 1
South West England – Sir David Carter 7 1 2 1 1 2



Groundhog Day?

The government has promised to accelerate academisation, but the impact on standards may be negligible,

Nicky Morgan’s big post-election theme is that schools are engines of social justice, so ‘academisation’ must be accelerated. The education secretary’s ambition, if not her logic, can hardly be faulted. The Education & Adoption Bill removes barriers that can delay the conversion process, including local objections, new powers will be given to regional school commissioners, experts will be brought in to run failing schools, and coasting schools will be targeted. What could possibly go wrong?

Setting aside the possible threat of judicial reviews (focused on the lack of local consultation), the first big challenge  was always going to be in defining coasting schools. It was clearly risky putting the term ‘Coasting’ on the face of the Bill , without  any agreement on what that  actually meant . A consultation process , aimed at identifying consensus,   was duly  launched,   but  given how unsettled Heads were , Morgan was pressured  into offering an early  definition of  ‘Coasting’  at the  start of the Commons Committee stage. In the event, this was less to do with Ofsted ratings,  and more to do with  exam scores , over the last three years. The reaction to the proposals was mixed  ,but it still left  many Heads, of well rated schools, perplexed and worried, not least because they actually thought there would be a consultation process, rather than a ‘ fait accompli.’

The next issue is Morgan’s political positioning. In the last parliament she had adroitly distanced herself from the Goveian legacy. No longer. It’s not those who are opposed to academisation, on ideological grounds, that she needs to worry about. They can be managed. It is those leaders, almost certainly the majority, who  absolutely  get the merits of structural reforms, and that this is part of the reform equation, but who are also aware  of what the evidence says on the other part. Leadership and raising the quality of classroom teaching matters the most in terms of improving outcomes. And it’s an area that received too little attention in the last administration, a problem that looks likely to continue. It must feel to them like groundhog day, and a lost opportunity. But, make no mistake, she needs their support.

Ministers’ faith in academies remains undiminished. Undoubtedly, there are many outstanding academies and multi-academy trusts (MATs), but if you look at the evidence it is pretty clear that giving a school academy status is no panacea for success.

Ofsted figures show that, of  the schools rated as ‘inadequate’ just before becoming academies, 60% subsequently, in their next inspection, received either a ‘requires improvement’ or an ‘inadequate’ rating, while just 38% received an ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ rating. This is hardly compelling evidence in support of the transformative effects of academy status.

A London School of Economics report suggested that while the first one hundred, well-resourced academies brought about a transformation in attitudes and standards, latterly the evidence is much less clear and nuanced. It is a fact that academies, because there are so many now and school spending is tight, are no longer accessing the significant extra funding and other support services they once did. It is also the case that there are as many failing academy trusts as there are local authorities (150 in each case nationally). Some trusts are even off-loading schools, either because they have been forced to, or because they realise they have expanded too quickly. At any given time, there are around fifteen MATs forbidden from expanding by DfE, due to concerns over quality.

Both the National Audit Office and all-party Education Select Committee found that although standards have risen, it is still too early to determine the impact of academies. The MPs specifically warned there is “no convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools”.

The overarching threat to academisation remains a shortage of capacity. With too many MATs underperforming, with some of the best wary about expanding, and with a shortage of school heads, it’s difficult to see from where these ‘experts’ will appear, to support these new schools. Transformative change will have to happen, it seems, with less capacity, funding and a reduced support network than was the case when the programme started. Now that’s a big ask.



The Message- EBacc curriculum is not appropriate for all

Following the announcement by Nick Gibb MP ,  the minister of state for school reform, on 11 June, that the government was committed to honouring its manifesto pledge to require pupils to study the EBacc,  SSAT (the Schools, Students and Teachers Network) – the country’s largest schools’ membership network, launched a survey for school leaders. The intention was to build a rapid and representative picture of the positions being adopted by school leaders their responses to the requirement for this academic EBacc curriculum for all.

SSAT’s survey received 1500 responses in the first three days.(unusually high for this type of survey) The total number received when the survey closed, soon after that, was 1664.

The survey found ‘an overwhelming feeling that the EBacc curriculum is not appropriate for all. Pupils with lower prior attainment, those newly arrived to the country, and some with poor literacy, were cited as being ‘set up to fail’ if forced to study a language and a humanity at GCSE. Many practitioners worried that this could distract students from the core curriculum of English, maths and science and limit the opportunity for these students to undertake rigorous vocational and technical courses.’

The arresting headline message is the number of respondents prepared to refuse to teach EBacc for all, even if that meant a ceiling of Ofsted ‘good’ for their schools.

Only 17% of respondents said they would make the EBacc compulsory if that were a requirement for an ‘outstanding’ judgement from Ofsted, while 42% were certain that they would not.

But ,it was also the case, that some respondents felt that the policy would be beneficial for some pupils, especially middle and high attainers who might not otherwise have picked academic subjects.

A number of mainly Arts organisations have expressed the view that a focus on the EBacc will pose a threat to non-EBacc subjects. There is a feeling that in championing a more robust curriculum (a worthy aim) the government could be  in danger of communicating the perception that they don’t value  vocational education, the arts and the technologies.

The SSAT believes that as many pupils as possible, on the basis of aptitude, interest, opportunity and ability, should be encouraged to study the EBacc subjects. But adds that  ‘schools should be empowered to deploy their professional judgement in deciding the nature of their own curriculum requirements and pathways.’  It says that ‘Schools should not be penalised for allowing pupils to follow curriculum pathways other than the EBacc. A school can be ‘outstanding’ without all pupils studying a particular selection of subjects.’

There is also the rather knotty issue of academy freedoms. Wasnt one of the most important defining freedoms given to academies, at the outset, that of opting out of the national curriculum? Being forced to teach the Ebacc is now self-evidently profoundly limiting their freedom and flexibility to decide their own curriculum, which in turn could  negatively impact student outcomes. Or am I missing something?


Link to Survey Results



According to Ofsted (Letter, from the Chief Inspector to Shadow Education Minister Kevin Brennan MP -12 June) there are 502 Academy schools where the predecessor school was rated as ‘Inadequate’, at the point of it becoming an Academy. 385 of these schools have  thus far, not  been inspected, since becoming an Academy. However, that leaves 117 that  have been inspected.   Of these, 70,( 60 %), received either a ‘Requires Improvement’  or  an  ‘Inadequate’ rating , while 45,(38%), received an ‘ Outstanding’ or ‘ Good Rating’.  Interesting that.


Teachers cant do much about poverty, but they can make a profound positive difference to every child

In a new publication for Pearson ‘What doesn’t Work in Education’  John Hattie ,the author of Invisible Learning (2009),  which identified  the most effective classroom interventions,   concedes that ‘Poverty, homelessness, abuse and inappropriate use of drugs are all major impediments to students progressing in their learning. They are, in particular, killers of high expectations and encouragement to succeed.’

But he makes the point that ‘ It is my view that we educators cannot do much to fix poverty. Instead, we can offer the best chances to help students’ no matter what their home situation is. Indeed, one of the reasons governments make schooling compulsory is that it offers all students a chance to succeed – and there are many teachers and schools that make important differences to the lives of children from poverty. The mantra needs to be, ‘I can make a profound positive difference to every person who crosses the school gate into my class or school regardless of their background.’

‘Poverty and low family resources are no excuse for not making a major contribution to students, although they certainly make for a tough start. A belief that we can make a difference for children from poorly resourced families is a critical starting point the mantra needs to be, ‘I can make a profound positive difference to every person who crosses the school gate into my class or school regardless of their background.’

So, Poverty and low family resources are no excuse for not making a major contribution to students, although they certainly make for a tough start.

Hattie points out that he was  educated in schools with low socio economic status but his  teachers ‘ helped me to believe that I could succeed in school’.

Teachers, he adds, must ‘find success in whatever way possible, creating the circumstances for success and removing barriers (especially low expectations and explanations of why we cannot effectively teach these students) to allow the best opportunities for all’

Hattie also returns to a theme that he has previously identified as a major barrier to education reforms-that is the need to address the profound variability among teachers in the effect that they have on student learning .Reformers focus on the difference in performance between schools, when they should be paying more attention to the differences within schools, and teacher effectiveness within schools , which are more significant.  Solutions for this can be found  through  improving the expertise of teachers and leaders  and supporting effective  collaborative work and expertise.

He concludes “Recognising, valuing and enhancing the teachers and school leaders with high levels of expertise makes the difference. It’s what works best.”


John Hattie- June 2015

Pearson Report