Would grammar schools create a wealth divide?

Since Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans to create more grammar schools across the UK the debate around whether or not it is a positive step has been ranging. Some have argued that it will create a wealth divide while others state it can raise education standards for all children in the country.

Grammar schools are state secondary schools that aim to ensure that the brightest children are encouraged to achieve higher academic standards. In order to be accepted into a grammar school children aged 11 must sit an entrance exam before the school selects those that will attend. Currently there are just 164 grammar schools in the England and over 3,000 secondary schools.

Now the education director of think-tank OECD Andreas Schleicher has wade into the discussion. While he recognised that a selective education system works in some countries, he argued that it was not a solution for the UK and instead alternatives for giving bright pupils more opportunities should be sought. During a speech Schleicher said that within the European education system schools are good at selecting students based on their social background and one-off tests are likely to favour this over true academic potential.

Many teachers too are not supportive of the call for more grammar schools. According to TES, a platform for teachers to share resources, 72% of teaching staff don’t think it’s a good idea and over half would not be prepared to work in a grammar school.

While there has been some criticism in response to the plans, May and the Education Secretary Justine Greening have continued to back the proposal. The government has also made an effort to address some of the concerns that those disapproving of the plans have raised. The Department of Education has stated that pupils coming from disadvantaged backgrounds may be favoured during grammar school admission process, allowing children from lower-income families to have access to the good education that grammar schools provide.

The department has also added that there will be a focus on maintaining standards right across the educational system, with grammar school bettering British education rather than coming at the cost of other local schools.

What do you think to the grammar school plans? Do you think they will create a wealth divide or help bright pupils achieve more? Let us know you views on the School Reviewer forum.

Encouraging your children to do their homework

As an adult, coming home after a long day at work and knowing that you have more work to do is not an appealing thought, so as a parent it is easy to relate to your child if finishing their homework isn’t at the top of their to do list after a tiring day at school. Unfortunately, it is in your kids best interest to keep up with their extra workload in order to help them progress through their education easily. So how do you get past the tantrums and create an atmosphere that encourages your child to succeed with finishing their homework? Read on!

Limit distractions

Homework can often seem like a chore to your child, because the thought of doing it means that they will have no spare time to enjoy that evening. More often than not though, their homework will not actually take them much time and will only be lengthy if they are constantly distracted. Help them finish what needs to be done much more quickly by creating an area that allows your child to focus, removing all tempting televisions, video games, and other forms of entertainment that may seem much more appealing!

Make it manageable

Allocate specific time slots to doing homework every day or week, depending on your child’s workload. Some kids will work best if they complete their tasks immediately after school, and if so, you should get into a routine that assists this way of working. Other children will need a break after a busy day, so if this is the case dedicate  a time period for fun after school, but make it clear to your child that they are expected to do their homework at a certain time after then. Once you have agreed these time slots with your child, be sure to stick with them to build trust. Keeping to a dedicated schedule will help your child to concentrate during this period, knowing that they will be able to enjoy the rest of the evening once it is over.

Be reasonable

Not every day is the same, and one day your child may have had a fall out with friends, something upsetting may have happened to them, or they may simply not be feeling well. Understand when your child truly needs a rest, but make it clear that they will need to make up for this time when they are in a better mood to work.

Are top performing schools still state schools?

Children up and down the country have packed their bags, filled up their pencil cases and headed back to school. However for many, they descended to a school they never thought they’d be going to.

We’re all aware how competitive school places are. In this day and age getting into a certain school can entirely rest on your street name or postcode. And as a result, millions of children – and their parents alike – are left devastated when they don’t get into their first, second or sometimes even third choice. Subsequently, parents are doing all they can to ensure their children get into their preferred school – whatever the cost.

The competitive nature of school places is heightening year upon year; reports left, right and centre come in at the start of summer, and every year it seems that more and more children are left disappointed. However figures just released from Lloyds Bank has highlighted just how far parents are willing to go in order to secure places at their preferred school. According to the bank, parents are willing to pay £53,000 on average more to secure homes that will guarantee a place at a high achieving school. And the competitive nature is further emphasised by the fact this highlights a 31% increase on last year’s figures.

Although this is seemingly good news for the property market, and a great way to secure state school places, it does exclude millions of families. Average house prices are now peaking at £366,744 in the catchment areas surrounding England’s top 30 state schools. This compares to a general average of £313,318 elsewhere. This has undoubtedly been helped along by the six top 30 schools appearing to have pushed house prices up by at least a whopping £150,000 above their county averages.

The top performing schools are judged by their previous year’s GCSE results. Last week, the Telegraph reported that The Henrietta Barnett School, the selective all-girls school in Barnet was the top performing school this year, while the Thomas Telford School in Shropshire, the fully-comprehensive school topped that list.

However it was Beaconsfield High School in Buckinghamshire, which came 35th out of the selective state schools that topped the list for demanding the biggest premiums for properties. Homes sell for almost £630,000, which is a whopping 171% above the county average house price of £367,191. The Henrietta Barnett School came second on the list with a £429,506 premium on homes, while this was followed by The William Borlase’s Grammar School in Buckinghamshire (£220,082), The Tiffin Girls’ School in Kingston upon Thames (£192,011) and Dr Challoner’s High School in Buckinghamshire (£168,308). According to Lloyds Banks, this analysis highlights that since 2011, average house prices in the areas with the best state schools have increased by £76,000. This compares to a national increase of just over £42,000. Pricing many out of the areas, it is mirroring the paid-for education, allowing only the privileged to attend such schools, and further underlining the class divide for children at a very young age.

The grammar school plans so far

Whenever there’s a new government, the whole education sector waits with bated breath to see what new reforms will be unveiled. However due to somewhat of a blunder earlier this week, one of the government’s biggest plans was leaked earlier this week – confirmed by recent news. Theresa May plans to unveil her plans on grammar schools during her first domestic policy speech as Prime Minister.

Grammar schools have been under the radar over the last decade due changes during the mid-90s. However plans for new grammar schools appear to have been accidentally revealed earlier in the week, after an education department official was photographed with a document containing the details.

The memo, clutched in Earl Howe’s hand, was photographed in Downing Street that appeared to show proposals to work with existing grammar schools to prove they can be both expanded and reformed ahead of a move to open new ones. The leaked document, signed off by Johnathan Slater, refers to a “con doc” – civil service slang for “consultation document” – and claims that such a document will say the government plans to open new grammar schools, under certain conditions.

The picture, leaked on social media site, Twitter, prompted calls for an urgent statement to Parliament about the government’s plans, as well as speculation about how ministers might approach lifting the ban on new selective schools that were imposed by Tony Blair’s government in the 1990s. This statement has since been confirmed, with regular live updates to the news as it happens.

The memo seemingly explained that the education secretary, Justine Greening, wants new grammars to be presented as an option that is “only to be pursued once we have worked with existing grammars to show how they can be expanded and reformed”.

For those unfamiliar with grammar schools, they are state secondaries that select their pupils by setting an entrance exam at age 11. Out of 3,000 state secondary schools in England, 163 are grammar schools.

The document stated that the government wholeheartedly wants to avoid disadvantaging those who don’t get in, which is currently a key criticism of existing selective schools, and was one of the drawbacks of grammar schools in their prime.

As a result, the leaked document, and corresponding announcements, show that the government is actively working towards lifting the ban. Such a move however is likely to face strong opposition from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The leaked sheet of paper stated that Earl Howe didn’t know what the new Prime Minister thinks of the ideas, but does speculate about apparent difficulties in getting the House of Lords to squash the ban on new grammar schools. It’s worth noting that the Prime Minister herself went to a grammar school, so is likely to favour the idea. But as the government commands a majority of just 12 in the House of Commons, but the Conservatives have no majority in the House of Lords. And Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader has been quoted as saying that the party will continue to oppose the plans and stop them from pushing it “through the back door”.

What are your views on grammar schools – did you go to one?

Preparing for the First Day at School

August is a busy month for parents, you’ll be getting your kids ready for school and may even be jetting off on a late summer holiday. However, for one group of parents it can be both an exciting and daunting month. Millions of children will walk into schools for the first time next month, leaving parents with a sense of trepidation. If you’re one of those parents, don’t panic. There are plenty of things you can do to make the transition as smooth as possible.

The Idea of School

The idea of school can be scary for any four-year-old. Try reading Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s Starting School or I am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child to alleviate any worries. These are both engaging books that will create a positive impression of school and explain what to expect from a typical school day. It can help answer a lot of questions your child may have on things like going to the toilet, eating and getting home.

Let Them See it

Part of the reason some children are scared of school is that it’s a complete unknown. Walk or drive past your child’s new school on a regular basis. Point out things like the playground facilities and where they can play football. This helps to replace anxieties your child may have about starting school with a sense of excitement for the new experiences that await.

Meet Up

There are at least 20-30 other children in exactly the same position as yours. Seeing a familiar face at the school gates can help to quell nerves and make the whole experience a lot less daunting. Try arranging playdates with their future classmates, then they will at least know one other child when they arrive.

What Should They Know?

Some parents will worry that their child can’t tell an ‘A’ from a ‘Z’ or cannot write their own name. They do not need to know anything like this, that is what school is there for. Just ensure they can go to the toilet on their own, change for PE alone, recognise their name, eat independently and understand when to sit quietly, share and listen.

Prepare

When it comes to the first day, if you’re calm chances are they will be too. Get organised beforehand by practicing the school schedule. You’ll also need to get their school supplies gathered together in plenty of time. Take a look at our guide to preparing your child for a return to school for some more ideas on getting them school ready.

Back to School Tips

Summer is winding down and a new school year is fast approaching. It will be all change as your children face new challenges and possibly even a new school. All the shops are wheeling out their back to school sales and you’ll be in the midst of a pile of paperwork planning the year ahead. Here are our tips to help you get organised in plenty of time.

Schedule

The first day back after the summer break tends to elicit a rollercoaster of emotions. There are big changes on the horizon and your household schedule has to drastically change. Instead of approaching it cold turkey, try easing them back into the school routine ahead of time. In the final two weeks of summer bring in school term bedtimes and wake them earlier. This will help them adjust to the new school schedule and smooth the transition from endless summer holiday to term time.

Calendar

Schools are prolific organisers, and there are always a lot of events you need to help your child prepare for. A family calendar can help you stay on top of what’s coming up in the school year – harvest festivals, dances, school trips and parent’s evenings for example. You can put this all on your phone and work from there but if you have a paper calendar on the wall, it can be used to help teach children about the importance of organisation.

Plan

Back to school sales can begin as early as July but rushing around the shops on the Bank Holiday weekend will needlessly stress you out. Preparation is the key to beating the back to school sale rush. Take an afternoon to turn out your children’s drawers and asses what they actually need. Discard what doesn’t fit or move it into your younger child’s room. Make a list of everything they need from clothing to stationery. The earlier you shop the more likely it is you will get everything you need at the best possible price.

Mornings

September mornings up and down the country are generally crazed and chaotic. It’s usually a mad rush to get out of the door so start preparing your children the night before to bring some calm to the chaos. Choose easy breakfasts, make lunch the night before and check bags for books and homework. This will stop any morning panic and leaves your child in a positive frame of mind for school – which will help them achieve even more.

Practice

Practice makes perfect and this is true for the school run too. At the end of summer have a couple days where you fully practice the morning routine. This is especially important if they’re at a new school because it will give you a better understanding of how long it takes to get there. Practicing eliminates any surprises you may face on their first day.

A Parent’s Guide to Clearing

Hammering the refresh button and making panicked phone calls through tears can mean only one thing – its results day and your teenager is looking for a university place through clearing.

Clearing connects A-level students who missed out on their first choice university place with available spaces. Not every university or course will be available through clearing – don’t expect to find Oxford, Cambridge or Medicine for example, as they’re all in high demand. For most courses though, it offers great alternatives. It means students can go to university in September as planned with no moping around for a year waiting to reapply. Which reports that in 2014, 61,000 students found a university place through clearing.

How does it work?

On the morning of results day, A-level students up and down the country will log into UCAS Track, where they will see if they have a confirmed place at university or not. If they slightly miss their expected results the place may still be offered so there is a chance they will not have to enter the clearing system. Try getting them to call the admissions tutor directly to discuss their application. The tutor may request some samples of work but sometimes a heartfelt plea is enough to convince them. If this doesn’t work out for your teenager, it’s time to start looking at clearing places.

Clearing is handled through the UCAS system, so when you login courses similar to those originally applied for will be offered first. However, it’s also possible to do a random search if preferred. Research every opportunity – look at the course specifications, university reputation and if you have time, try visiting it.

Making the call

Once your child has chosen the place they wish to apply for, it’s time to ring that university up. Sit down together and talk through the decision making process, list questions to ask and any information that you might like – a call in panicked tones without preparation will only harm their chances. This call is essentially a mini-interview. Universities usually keep clearing offers open for around 24 hours, so there is no need to rush into the phone call like a bull in a china shop. More advice can be obtained from the school’s careers advisor or by calling UCAS’s results helpline on 0808 100 8000.

Parental help

Clearing begins on what can be the most tense and hectic day your child has ever experienced. The pressure will be on from the second they realise clearing is their only option which can lead to a mad rush to find places and grab the first available opportunity. This is where you need to offer support and restraint but don’t get in their way. Remain calm and level headed and discuss the options together to ensure their choice is the right one.

A Parent’s Guide to Results Day

Frantic phone calls, an accelerated heart rate, sweaty palms – results day can be truly nerve-wracking and it’s no walk in the park for your 18-year-old either. You will have been there for them through GCSE results day but A-levels are an entirely different story.

A-level results are far more nerve-wracking because everything hangs on it – university places, apprenticeships and even jobs. So how do you calm a nervous teenager when everything is seemingly on the line?

As obvious as it may sound you need to rein in your emotions because it is their day after all. Having an excitable parent on hand with a camera ready to snap their reaction when they open their results only makes the situation worse. There are however a few things you can do to offer assistance should it be required…

The Day Before

Before results day, learn their schedule. Figure out when results will be released and what time they should be at school to collect them. This way if they slip into typical teenage behaviour and oversleep, you’ll know whether you need to hurry them up or not.

Some education experts suggest taking the time to write children a letter to give them regardless of what happens on results day. Use this an opportunity to express how proud you are. This way, if the worst happens you’re a reassuring voice. If their results are what they wanted, it is celebratory.

The Night Before

Clearing opens the evening before results day – it allows students who didn’t achieve the results needed to search for available university places and apply. They won’t be able to apply at this time but they can look and see the kind of courses still available.

The Morning

UCAS Track will be available from 8am, while it won’t state the exact qualifications it will reveal if the required standard for their first choice university was achieved. Students have to go into school in order to receive a detailed breakdown of their results – you could join them to do this but that would deny them an important rite of passage.

When you call them to ask about the results be prepared to be told you’re dead wrong. You may think the achievement is amazing but they could be disappointed with the results. Try to read the situation and adjust your emotions accordingly.

The school has been through every results day scenario you can possibly imagine and it should provide a supportive, unemotional environment to help its pupils make their next move. All you need to do is be a calm voice on the end of the phone and support the decision making process.

Is the Teacher Recruitment Crisis Worsening?

There has been growing anxiety over the number of teachers currently working in the UK. The number of teachers in training is not enough to meet the current gaps in the workforce. New figures reveal the scale of the crisis by highlighting the amount schools are spending to advertise their job vacancies.

The numbers came about following a freedom of information request, which was sent to a sample of schools. It revealed the average amount spent on recruitment advertising was £17,000 last year. In four years, this figure has increased by £7,000. In total, the nation’s secondary schools spent an estimated £56 million on advertising vacant posts.

The increased recruitment spend indicates that schools are struggling to find the staff they desperately need. It has also been revealed that there are more than 5,300 vacancies in core subjects like English, maths and science. This lack of teachers in core subjects could have a detrimental effect on educational standards and the quality of lessons delivered.

A lack of staff also means some teachers are working with subjects they have little experience in. John Tomsett is a head teacher in York, he recently penned a blog post in which he said, “I know of a school whose Science department comprises 17 teachers, but only two have science degrees.” He went on to explain that this school is in a deprived area where they need excellent teaching staff to have any chance of improving social mobility.

It goes without saying that teachers with first-hand experience or specialism in a particular subject are going to be much more capable when it comes to teaching it. They will be able to pass on more relevant information to their students and usually, will have a passion for the subject that is infectious. It is this connection to the subject that helps many pupils learn.

Clearly more needs to be done to encourage graduates from all fields to move into the teaching profession. Only by training more teachers will the recruitment crisis end. It doesn’t look like the government will do anything anytime soon though. As Tomsett concluded, “[recruitment] has to be a priority for us, for school leaders across the country, not for her, because with Brexit to deal with, education has already fallen off Theresa May’s priority list.” This clearly shows that some school leaders believe the recruitment crisis is a problem for schools because the government is too busy.

How do you think we can recruit more teachers? Share your thoughts on our social media pages.

Choosing GCSE Subjects

As the end of term gets ever closer there are some important decisions to be made for pupils of all ages. Sixth formers will have to decide about university, year elevens will have to decide between sixth form or college and year nines will have to pick the GCSE subjects they study. Selecting GCSEs may seem like an easy choice with minimal consequences but it is actually a massive decision that could affect their entire future. Often GCSE subjects are continued to A-level and in many cases even on to University and there are a lot of GCSEs to choose from which makes it even harder.

Mandatory

Some subjects have to be taken at GCSE level, these are English, maths and science. However, these are only the ones mandated by the government some schools also have their own compulsory subjects. A religious school may make pupils take RE as a GCSE, some schools demand a foreign language is taken at GCSE and some specialist arts or technology schools will make pupils pick something in their specialism. The best way to check which subjects are compulsory is to check with the school, many have options evenings where parents can ask questions about GCSE selection.

Optional Subjects

GCSE’s are the first chance that pupils will ever get to pick subjects that they are interested in to study. Different schools offer a diverse range of subjects, this usually depends upon the staff available and the exam boards they use. Generally, the subjects available can be broken down into four categories arts, design and technology, humanities and modern foreign languages. After GCSE reforms pupils will only need to pick eight subjects to study.
While you cannot tell them what to do you should be advising them on the best ones to take. It is essential to study a broad range of GCSEs, so pick one from each category and fill in with anything else they enjoy. Having a broad education ensures they are not forced to focus on an area of school that they dislike and will help them later in life. However, if your child has clear plans for what they wish to do and study then you should help advise them on the best subjects for that career path. There are plenty of online guides that will explain which subjects help with certain careers.
Are you helping your child choose GCSEs? Did this guide help you? Share your thoughts on our social media pages.