Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Raising the participation age: A wasted opportunity

I know that several schools have been taking time to consider the implications of Raising the Participation Age (RPA).

Those with Sixth Forms are thinking about how they can create spaces for students who traditionally leave at 16.  Those without are thinking about how they can help their students make progress to other provision.

The DfE state that:

From summer 2013, young people will be required to continue in education or training to the end of the academic year in which they turn 17, and from summer 2015 they will be required to stay until their 18th birthday. This does not mean young people will be required to stay in school. There will be three ways in which young people can participate post-16: full-time education in a school or college; an apprenticeship; part-time accredited learning if they are in full-time employment or volunteering.
Many people assume that this means that NEETs will no longer exist.  However, the sad fact is that they will.  To understand this we need to consider what happens in the future if a student leaves school aged 16.

As the school leaving age has not been raised to 17, parents are not responsible for ensuring that their child remains in education until 17.  Schools have no additional duties to ensure that students remain in education or training.  There are also no requirements for the students themselves.  The only duty is upon the Local Authority.  The DfE guidance states that:

The Education and Skills Act places additional duties on local authorities in relation to RPA:
  • Promoting the effective participation of all 16 and 17 year old residents in your area; and
  • Making arrangements to identify young people resident in your area who are not participating
So any student who refuses to stay on until 17 will be 'identified'.  Then what?  Nothing as far as I can see.  Once students realise that nothing happens then nothing will change for the NEETs.  What a wasted opportunity!

Monday, 8 April 2013

Pupil Premium: Keeping Ofsted happy

With the total cost of the Pupil Premium reaching £2.5b, the government wants to make sure that schools are using the money the way it was intended - raising the attainment of traditionally underperforming groups (see ASCL speech by David Laws).  Rather than forcing schools to spend the money on certain pre-defined approaches they have opted to give schools the freedom to spend the money on 'what works'.  However, Ofsted have been tasked with checking that schools are using the money wisely.

What makes that job even harder is, for most schools I know, the Pupil Premium doesn't feel like additional money.  Cuts elsewhere mean that, once again, schools are under pressure to do more, with less.  Still, mustn't grumble, eh?

This feels like some sort of high-stakes guessing game where the price of failure is a poor Ofsted report and all that entails.  So how do you keep Ofsted happy?

Helpfully, they have given an Analysis and Challenge Toolkit which provides some guidance.  The basic advice seems to be as follows:

1) Know who the Pupil Premium students are
I know of several schools recently receiving an Ofsted inspection (I am in Norfolk after all!) and I have been told about Inspectors walking into classrooms and asking the teachers, "who here is on free school meals?"
Every teacher should be able to identify which students are eligible for the Pupil Premium.  This task is harder now that it is those students who have been on FSMs sometime in the last 6 years (FSM6).  The data is available from the Key-to-Success website (data managers should have access).  If you have access to FFTLive you have access to a report in the Development Section called New Student Explorer.  This will also list all the students who are currently in your school who are on the FSM6 list.
You will need to know which students are currently looked after (LAC or CLA) and those who are children of service personnel.  Both of these should already be on your MIS as they must be reported to the government at the Census points.
It really helps inspectors if you are able to provide seating plans with students' attributes (LAC, FSM, FSM6 etc) and their current grades.  One product which might help is Class Charts. This does more than seating plans and others may be available.

2) Know how well they are doing
Schools track the progress of those students who claim Free School Meals.  Now we need to ensure that we track the progress of all students who are eligible for the Pupil Premium.  Use it to COMPARE their progress and attainment with students in your school who are not eligible and against national averages for non-Premium students.

3) Have a plan for improvement ("closing the gap")
Is there is a difference between the Premium students and the non-Premium students, or, if there is no gap, how are your Premium students doing compared with non-Premium students nationally?  Could your Premium students be doing even better? What are you doing about it?
Use resources such as Ofsted's guidance about how to spend the Pupil Premium or the EFF's Pupil Premium Toolkit.
Also look closely at things you are already doing.  Do you have intervention, SEN support, LSAs, After School Clubs, Breakfast Clubs, additional resources in the Library etc?  Work out the cost of these and make sure your Pupil Premium is contributing to the costs.
Add costings to your plan and show that you are spending the money to raise attainment.

4) Publish the plan AND an evaluation of last year's plan - showing impact - on your website.
This is a statutory requirement under the new Information Publishing requirements.  Academies and Free Schools usually have these requirements as part of their funding agreements.

The sort of impact you can show is:
  • Have APS or CAPS improved for Pupil Premium students?
  • Has attainment at any of the thresholds improved?
  • Has the gap got smaller?
Note: There is an argument that the gap doesn't always get smaller.  Both Premium and non-Premium students' results could be improving rapidly but non-Premium students are making faster progress.  This will widen the gap.  If this is the case, make sure you point it out!

I'm not a great fan of doing things for the the sake of Ofsted but, it is clear that they are asking difficult questions when inspecting schools around the use of the Pupil Premium.  Forewarned is forearmed!

Friday, 5 April 2013

It's not about poverty

I suspect that this blog will be "stating the bleedin' obvious" for most teachers but I feel that teachers' voices are not being heard in the current arguments on education.

The national debate on education appears to be driven by a concern for those in poverty.  The 'close the gap' agenda pushes schools to raise the attainment of those who have been on Free School Meals at any time in the last six years.  The goal is to match the attainment of those who are not in poverty.  The argument made by government is that schools are letting down the former based on schools' low expectations.  The CVA model which assessed how well schools were doing taking into account the circumstances of the children was stopped partially because it was seen as 'too complex' but also because, so they argued, it reinforced low expectations of some students.

I recently read "The Tail" (Ed. Paul Marshall), as it promised to explain what could be done about the 1 in 5 children achieving very few qualifications.  Part of the book tried to define what "The Tail" was and pointed out that only 25% of the children in the tail received Free School Meals.  The point was emphasised that poverty does not define "The Tail".  Yet, during the remainder of the book, other contributors talked about children on FSMs as if they were "The Tail".  Many of the solutions suggested in the book were disappointing in that they relied on market forces, league tables and rising floor targets to drive the system.  I finished not knowing who "The Tail" were, nor what could be done about them.

Many people point out that people who live in poverty can escape their circumstances and achieve highly.  This is used to justify the claim that all people who live in poverty can do this.  As a mathematician I recognise the flaw in this 'proof'.  The fact that one person did well whilst living in poverty disproves the statement "All people in poverty will do poorly in education".  However, it does not prove the statement "All people living in poverty can do well in education".  It merely suggests that "Some people in poverty can do well in education."

This is an important point: Poverty is not a bar to doing well in education as some people have shown.  So what then, is the difference between those who do well and those who don't?

The government's argument is that it is down to the quality of the school.  Some schools with high FSM levels and high attainment are highlighted to demonstrate the impact of a good school.  The rest of us are urged to follow suit.  This doesn't answer the question though.  Some children do well from a poor background whilst in a 'bad school'.

In my experience, whether a child has Free School Meals doesn't matter as much as why they do.  A child whose mother is a young, middle-class widow, for example, and working part-time to support her children is likely to achieve well in school.  A child whose parents did poorly at school and have low-paid jobs or no jobs at all because they have few skills and qualifications is likely to achieve poorly in school.

It is not the poverty that makes a difference but the parent's, or other significant adults', attitude to education and the quality of the support given to the child that makes all the difference.  This is why schools with high immigrant populations tend to do well.  Though the children are classed as FSM and EAL, they and their parents are driven to succeed.  The LSE have recently (published between writing and posting this blog) carried out research which suggest the same thing (as reported in the Telegraph.)

I was once told that I was making excuses for failure but I am not.  Without identifying the reasons that so many of our young children do not do as well as they should, we cannot put in place policies that will truly solve the problem.

Now, that would be something worth writing about.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

It's about collaboration, Stupid!

In the same school, I have experienced working independently and, at a different time, working in collaboration with other schools.  We initially chose to work by ourselves because we thought that were were better than other schools, that we had nothing to learn from them and did not want to share our success.  That all ended when Ofsted decided to put us in Special Measures.

Special Measures is a very cruel way of working out that you aren't as good as you thought you were and that splendid isolation is not that splendid after all.

We started to work with schools and the local college closest to us and set up curriculum structures across the different settings.  This enabled us to create courses (such as the Young Apprenticeship in Performing Arts) which any student from any school could apply for and they were delivered with shared staff and resources.  When the Diplomas came along we were already working in a collaborative way and these new courses fitted our models.  This meant that we were in an excellent position to bid for several Diploma lines and we were very successful with our bids.

At its height, the boundaries of each institution in the partnership became very blurred.  At my school we were teaching students who 'belonged' to other schools, with staff who were employed by other institutions.  'Our' students were sometimes elsewhere being taught with students from across the partnership by staff from different places.  It was complicated and it worked.  Students enjoyed much wider curriculum provision that we could have offered by ourselves.

The changes (I can't call them reforms, because that makes them sound like good ideas) introduced by the current government has put the partnership under pressure.  With no Diplomas and no Young Apprenticeships we have moved to BTEC courses.  Most of these 'count' in the league tables but some do not.  The EBacc has encouraged parents and students to 'play safe' and opt for Geography, History and MFL subjects at the expense of the BTEC courses.  Nevertheless, despite these pressures, the partnership is still going and courses are still being run.

In the future, there will be a greater need for this sort of collaboration.

Funding restrictions at Post 16 will mean that shared courses in the local sixth forms will need to increase (the partnership does this to some extent now).  See ASCL Article.

The Primary schools in our cluster are all improving rapidly but all are vulnerable to rising floor targets.  We are working together now more than ever.  We have held several days where different cross-school teams have met to discuss how we can support and develop each other.  This has included SEN, Literacy, Numeracy as well as finance teams.  We are already seeing the benefits of shared working across the cluster.

Since I have joined Twitter, the collaboration I'm involved in has widened even further.  With Teachmeets and the new ResearchEd conference ( there has never been a better time for the profession to share and work together.

Sir Michael Wilshaw (yes, him) pointed out that the transformation of schools in London was mainly based upon school-to-school collaboration (what-a-difference-ten-or-so-days-make).  We know the model works so let's get together.

Collaboration has been of great benefit to me, the school and the students in the wider community.  Let's all take the time to reach out to other schools regardless of their reputation or Ofsted grading and look for common issues to solve.  There will be more than you imagine.