Longer School Days

The Budget carried a lot of news for schools from the expansion of the academy system to funding changes. It seems now is the time for a comprehensive restructure of English schooling. Another part of the proposals from the Budget was the announcement of a longer school day. What kind of effect could this have on our children’s education and what will the additional contact time be used for?

The policy aims to provide children with a broader education but how this will be delivered under a longer timetable is still unclear. There are several suggestions and ideas being floated around. Here’s our round up of the most popular…

Extra-Curricular Activities

Some are suggesting that as opposed to extra lessons, schools could use the extra time to provide a wider range of extra-curricular activities. The hope is that more sporting activities could be offered with funding from the sugar tax which will also be introduced as a result of the Budget. This could encourage more children to enjoy sport and lead to a healthier generation.

Homework Prep

The extra time could be used to provide a support period for pupils to complete homework in. This would involve pupils working on homework in school time but also receiving support and advice from their teacher as they go. The hope would be that this additional support would lead to improvements in pupil performance in homework and subsequent exams.

Extra Classes

Subjects that are not currently taught or are under-taught could receive more time as part of this proposal. This would provide a broader education for students and may lead to more general academic improvements.

Some parents will benefit from the change because it will reduce the number of hours of childcare they need. It could also make arrangements for collecting children after work easier. The cost of after school clubs and sports teams may also be reduced.

However, despite these many positives, there are some question marks surrounding how pupils will react with many fearing they will be overly tired and therefore underperform.

The extra hour is optional for schools and they can choose whether it implement it, but the funding will only be available to 25% of schools. It will also only be possible in schools that apply for and are successful in getting extra funding specifically for this purpose. This means that there will not be a radical change to the school day for everyone but if trials are successful it could be rolled out nationwide.

Do you think it is a good idea for schools to continue beyond 3:30pm? Would this help you as a parent? Let us know on our social media pages

Changes To Qualified Teacher Status

The education secretary Nicky Morgan recently announced a radical overhaul in the way that teachers become qualified. This is part of her Educational Excellence Everywhere white paper which seeks major reforms to schooling. This change specifically aims to bring more specialists into schools and to shorten the length of time required to officially become a teacher.

Currently teachers must earn their Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) before they are able to be a teacher in charge of a class. The current system sees teachers complete either a postgraduate or undergraduate training programme at University. After completion of this course they will spend a whole year getting experience in a school before receiving QTS status. This system gives newcomers time to adapt to the education environment and sharpen their skills in preparation for the classroom.

The new system though is more comparable to a driving test and will be centred around a teacher’s performance in the classroom. New teachers will win accreditation when they can prove their knowledge of both the subject they intend to teach and an understanding of behaviour management. This brings the qualification process closer to those used in professions such as accounting.

Unlike the previous system, there is no set amount of time in which it takes a teacher to qualify. This means that some prospective teachers will become qualified very quickly but some may take many years to reach the required standard. It can also depend upon the head teacher who decides when new teachers are ready to take the test.

It is hoped that this policy will make it easier to recruit experts in certain fields who have no formal teaching qualifications. Professionals like musicians and coders are highlighted as some of the new talent that this policy will aim to bring into teaching. These areas require highly specialised knowledge which is often not taught as part of teacher training programmes. It also means that more of the teachers in these subjects will have specific industry experience which could be beneficial to teaching pupils marketable and employable skills.

The response to these new proposals has been somewhat mixed. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said, “At a time when school budgets are being cut in real terms, there will be pressures on school leaders to delay accreditation as a way of saving wage costs.” While The Association of School and College Leaders believes that it will help ensure high standards and is a greater benefit to schools and new teachers. This is because of the much stronger focus on in-classroom training.

What do you think of the changes to teacher accreditation? Are these going to help more professionals become teachers? Let us know on our social media sites.

What Is An Academy?

As part of the budget, plans were announced last week to make every school in England an academy by 2020. This has left some parents wondering what an academy is and how it differs from a comprehensive. There are several key differences between these schools.

Maintained Schools

The current system works with local education authorities (LEA) which are part of the local council. They distribute money to schools in the area. They also manage all the schools in the local area, overseeing much of the recruitment and purchasing. Through economies of scale this gives discounts when ordering and hiring. They must also follow the national curriculum and all teachers must be fully qualified. Maintained schools are still the majority of schools in England but with this new policy that is set to change.

Academies

The key difference between academies and LEA schools is that funding for academies comes from central government and goes straight to the school. An academy also often receives funding from a sponsor. These can be businesses or individuals who put money into the school and help to run it.

The structure of an academy differs around the country. Some schools are singular academies and have complete control over the day to day running. However, some fit into academy chains that make all the decisions for the schools in the chain. Academies can also ignore the conditions of employment for teachers and offer different wages. They also set their own holidays and determine the admissions policy. Clearly they have a lot more freedom over the administrative process but this is not the only area of freedom.

The curriculum is another key difference where academies are provided with higher levels of autonomy. They do not have to follow the national curriculum so as what they provide is ‘broad and balanced’. This means that there can be huge differences in what children are taught.

Are Academies Better?

This is an almost impossible question to answer; there is some evidence that academy status can improve schools but there is also evidence that suggests they aren’t always better.

The government argues that standards are improved in academies because the greater independence for heads leads to greater innovation. Backing this up, schools that choose to become academies are more likely to maintain or improve their ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Ofsted inspection status.

Opponents of academies claim they lack oversight in their financing and public accountability. The Ofsted chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw recently criticised seven of the largest academy chains for failing to improve pupil’s results but maintaining high salaries for board members.

It is difficult to tell if academies are better or worse than maintained schools and there is little evidence suggesting it to be one way or the other. The quality of a school is dependent on a number of factors and whether it is an academy or maintained should not be the first deciding factor.

Do you think academies are better schools? Should all schools be forced to become academies? Let us know on our social media pages.

Post-16 Education Must Improve

Next year the rules regarding school leaving age will change. No longer will children be able to leave at 16 instead they must remain in education until the age of 18. It is hoped that this will help create a better qualified workforce and that it will give time for students to get their GCSE grades up.

However, according to a charity that works closely with young adults the education standards after the age of 16 must improve. Many of those that retake GCSE subjects fail to achieve the A*-C standard. Despite having a year or two as an extra chance to study the likelihood is that they will be unable to improve their grades.

The charity looked at figures from 2012 where over 200,000 pupils left school without achieving A*-C in English and a similar number suffered the same fate in maths. In both these subjects around of quarter of these young adults who failed to gain the pass rate entered onto a post-16 catch-up course. Of those that joined these courses well over 50% did not manage to achieve the required grades by age 19. The charity claims that given these figures there is little hope of improvement for the much larger group of children who will be staying in education or training from next year.

Failing to achieve this standard at GCSE can have serious limitations on their ability to work. There are a lot fewer opportunities for pupils that did not reach this standard in either the job market or the education and training sector. Therefore, it is imperative that standards and opportunities increase so as to give these learners the best possible start in their careers.

From next year pupils will be required to stay in education or training for an extra two years. This will give even more students the opportunity to improve poor GCSE grades. There are concerns though that these improvements could be severely limited because of the continued failure to improve grades of those who actively seek to get higher grades.

The ability to retake will be opened up to sixth forms and colleges. This means that students can continue to learn practical skills at college whilst attempting to improve their overall GCSE grades. It is great that these facilities can give them that second chance to improve grades whilst learning practical skills but the ways in which these grades can be improved must be assessed.

Do you think there are enough opportunities for children at 16? How would you help them improve grades? Let us know on our social media sites.

Should Rugby Tackling Be Banned in Schools?

Sport forms an important part of a child’s education. It teaches many different life skills but perhaps most important of all are the social skills acquired through sport. Participating in team games encourages interaction between youngsters and helps them to not only have a better understanding of themselves but also of their surroundings. This can have a huge and positive effect on the long-term ability to socialise successfully.

One sport that is commonly played within schools is Rugby. However, despite a recent move by The Rugby Football Union to introduce the game to over one million schoolchildren in a seven-year period, a number of experts have come forward to oppose tackling in the game at school level.

An open letter calling for an end to tackling was signed by 70 doctors and academics before being sent to the government last week. The experts argue that the injuries which can be caused in this full-contact sport can have serious and lifelong consequences. The letter suggests that two thirds of injuries suffered by players and most concussions occur as a result of poor tackling.

Concussion is considered to be a common injury amongst rugby players. The doctors signing the letter highlighted that suffering repeated concussions can lead to decreased cognitive function and are associated with depression and memory loss. Using these statistics as their framework, the health and medical experts called for non-contact forms of rugby, including tag rugby where tackles are replaced with the removal of a small tag from their cloth, to be introduced.

Rugby fans who oppose this move argue that the game builds character and that the suggestions for non-contact sports water down rugby, and teach less challenging versions of the game. Most children are encouraged to wear protection such as gum shields when playing. There is also a significant emphasis especially within schools that tackling technique should be rigorously taught. Doing this well may decrease the overall number of injuries. Some have also argued that the risk factor is beneficial to children because it gives them an understanding of how to compare risks. Which may have significant benefits later in life.

Those opposing the suggested ban also point out that the quality and quantity of adult players would suffer, should the tackling ban be brought in with younger players coming through the ranks having less experience of full-contact rugby and next to no education about the importance of proper technique when tackling.

It is clearly a debate that will not end soon. There are risks to players but are these countered enough with safety precautions? Would the game be fundamentally different if contact from a young age was removed? The questions this controversial topic raises look set to go on and on.

Do you think full-contact rugby should be banned for school children? Let us know on our social media sites.

The Changing Face of the School Trip

Traditionally school trips were a day out at a local museum or a weekend in Wales or some other part of the UK. However, they have now become something far more exotic. The majority of schools – but in particular independent ones – offer trips that you would be forgiven for mistaking as a 5-star holiday.

Trips can now be as a varied as an Antiguan cricket tour, winter sports in Lapland, turtle conservation in Costa Rica and language tours to Cuba. The options are limitless. Despite the wide range of choice and the exotic countries and continents they take in, some parents will question if these trips add anything to their child’s education and will question if they are worth the often exceptionally high cost.

The new trips are an unforgettable experience that expose your children to new landscapes, cultures and religions. At a young age these experiences could have a long lasting beneficial effect. Not only does the student benefit from the experiences available in the new country they also benefit by being independent. Being away like this will helps youngsters to cope better and function as individuals, while also having benefits in social skills too. They will be forced to communicate with peers and teachers more, improving relationships and getting a better understanding of human interaction.

There has also been a lot of research that has shown that residential trips boost the overall attainment levels of children. This demonstrates that even though these new educational excursions may not feature strict academic teaching, they can actually have a positive effect on how your child does in exams.

The cost of these trips is no small matter though. They can be over £1500 per child – representing a huge cost for parents, especially ones with more than one child. Despite the clear benefits that these trips do have many will wonder if they are really worth the money. Family holidays are often touted as a reason that exotic school trips are unnecessary but the independence on family trips and chances to explore are more limited. Remember school trips are optional and it is entirely up to the parent whether their child participates. If you don’t think your child will benefit, then you do not have to send them.

School outings certainly have changed and moved in to a very exotic world that provides diverse experiences with many upsides for a child’s development but whether or not a trip to Cuba as a teenager or Antigua is beneficial is for the parent to decide.

Where is the most exotic place your child has travelled to for a school trip? Do you think it helped their education? Let us know on our social media sites.

The School Funding Debate

Currently the education budget for England sits above £50 Billion but many argue that despite this high figure there is injustice within the system of distribution. Some are suggesting that certain schools benefit more than others and that this creates an unfair advantage. To try and counteract this Nicky Morgan, The Education Secretary is pushing ahead on proposed changes to the system. This leads to the question, how is school funding currently decided? And is it inherently unfair?

One of the key examples often highlighted is the difference between schools in Rotherham and Plymouth. Both areas have similar levels of disadvantaged pupils but each one in Rotherham receives on average £500 more per year than pupils in Plymouth. A member of the Education Select Committee further demonstrated this inequality by highlighting that in the best funded areas, schools receive over £6000 per pupil per year, but in the worst funded areas they only receive a little over £4000.

This difference is quite shocking and could mean a huge difference in the types of courses, resources and experiences the pupils get from their school. The current system involves payments being made through Education Funding Agency to Local Authorities who then pass this on to the schools themselves.

Plans but forward by the Education Secretary aim to remove councils from this process and instead pass funds directly to head teachers. This plan was first announced as part of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in which he claimed that there would now be a national minimum for each pupil with schools in need receiving a further top-up. This additional amount would be given to the neediest, for example schools with high levels of deprivation or in areas that are expensive would receive boosts. The aim is to have this new funding formula in place by 2017.

There is still limited detail about this plan, with many wondering which schools will benefit and which will suffer as a result. There has been some suggestion that inner city schools particularly those in London would be the worst affected. However, this is still unclear and The Education Secretary stated that the current system didn’t actually reflect levels of need. She highlighted that the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals has gone up in the rural county of Lincolnshire but has decreased in the London borough of Southwark.

Clearly some disparity exists within the funding of state schools but whether changing the current system will solve all these problems is still unclear.
Do you think the way that our schools are funded is unfair? Will these changes affect your child’s school? Let us know on our social media pages.

Outstanding success for unconventional ‘Steiner’ school

When it comes to taking on practical everyday tasks such as sewing or knitting, a common topic of conversation always crops up: “Why didn’t we learn this at school?” Most of our UK schools focus on teaching children English, maths and science, but this is not the focus for one Nottingham-based establishment.

The Iona School is thriving and is amongst the top in the city, based on inspector’s results. This is a modern day school with a twist, it isn’t run by a head teacher and has no computers – something you probably wouldn’t expect from a school in the 21st century. Instead they focus on practical life-skills such as farming, sewing and house building.

Iona is an independent school with no attachments to an academy or the local authorities. Instead the school follows the Steiner Waldorf curriculum, which emphasises the importance of hands-on activities and creative play as an imperative part of a child’s development.

So what exactly is a ‘Steiner’ school you may ask? It is named after Dr Rudolf Steiner, who founded the first Steiner school in 1919 when he set-up a school in Stuttgart, Germany for the children of factory workers. Steiner, who was a scientist and philosopher, believed that schools should teach children universal human values and that all learning should be meaningful.

Steiner unknowingly started what has become a global movement of schools that promote a more traditional style of learning. There are now over 1,000 Steiner schools in over 60 countries worldwide.

The Iona School, which has been rated as ‘outstanding’ by the School Inspection Service, welcomes its children every morning with sing-songs and poems. Then the children undertake their usual lessons with the opportunity to take their learning outside of the classroom, finishing the day with arts and crafts. The majority of the teaching takes place away from the classroom but when the children are at their desks they learn from a traditional blackboard. The school also has a no exam policy and the children do not have to wear uniforms.

This fee paying school costs parents £5,400 per year and is made up of 12 teachers with an average class size of 22 pupils. The school, which was founded in 1985, has seen many of its student’s transition seamlessly into secondary education due to the school’s commitment to working closely with their feeder secondary schools to ensure that their students are ready for mainstream education.

Do you think Steiner schools are a good idea? Do you think there should be more of them in the UK? Let us know on our social media pages.

Schools Need Good Leaders

The boss of Ofsted has criticised the lack of leadership within our nation’s schools this week. Sir Michael Wilshaw said it was critical to have a national system that identified, trained and nurtured teachers with leadership potential.

Sir Wilshaw has recently completed a paper that highlights his thoughts on how to ensure future schools have strong leadership.

When giving evidence to the Education Select Committee he added that more must be done to bring in the talent of the future. He stated that it was with upmost urgency that a system be introduced to identify potential school leaders early and move them into a senior management career path as soon as possible.

Top quality teachers can take on senior positions within a few years. The financial incentives for such career progression are also impressive. Head teachers of both state and academy schools can earn over £100,000 per annum. This is a very lucrative role to hold and Sir Wilshaw suggested that further publicity about this would encourage more graduates and teachers to consider a career within senior management.

The need for quality leadership comes amongst a much more general need for teachers. This problem has been highlighted by several of the largest teaching unions as well as The National Audit Office.

The Ofsted boss also elaborated on how this problem should be solved. He suggested that as a nation we need to get more people applying for teaching roles. He also highlighted the fact that in many other countries the status of teaching is very high and that by emulating this in Britain we would encourage more graduates to join the profession. He also said he believed that it is the responsibility of the education sector to help raise this status. He said that teachers need to highlight the excellent nature of the job and that there needs to be less focus on negative aspects such as discipline. He suggested that by doing this it would lead to an increase in the number of teachers.

With the lowest levels of recruitment in teaching for many years there is clearly a need to train and employ more. Without strong leaders then who will be in the head teacher of tomorrow? Whether Sir Wilshaw’s proposals alone could solve this crisis is uncertain but it would be an important start.
Do you agree with Sir Wilshaw? Is there a need not only for great teaching staff but also great leaders? Let us know on our social media pages.

A Parent’s Guide To UCAS: Accepting An Offer

It is now March and A-level students will be receiving their final offers for University places before the end of the month. It can be a very daunting time for these young adults, the pressure will rise as they move towards exam season and rejection at this stage can be devastating. The decision of which offers to accept can also weigh heavy. Working with them on this can help alleviate this stress and lets you be sure that your child is following the best educational path for them.

Understanding the process can help you help your teenager through it. Your child will probably have a good idea of where they want to go but there are some things you should definitely do together before accepting anything…

Conditional v Unconditional

Firstly, there are conditional and unconditional offers, usually a conditional offer relies on achieving certain grades in the summer but it can be based on other criteria too. An unconditional offer on the other hand means there is definitely a place for them no matter what happens. Make sure you understand what type of offer your child has and be aware of the requirements needed when making any kind of decision.

Replying to Offers

There are several options when replying to offers. Firm choices mean this is the priority university. So long as the student meets the conditions of the offer they will be able to attend here. Then there is an insurance choice – this is somewhere your child can go if they fail to meet the conditions set by universities under the firm choice list.

There are several things you should do before making either a firm acceptance or insurance response…

  1. Visit the University: this will give your child a much better understanding of both the campus and the city. They won’t want to be there 3 or 4 years without having seen it first.
  2. Check out tuition fees for each course: These can vary and whilst they shouldn’t be a key criteria, the reality is that it will likely be a consideration.
  3. Rank offers. Do this in two ways. Firstly on personal preference and secondly on likelihood of achieving the offer. Compare these to find the best on both fronts.
  4. If your child has special needs or is disabled, then call the University and discover the procedures in place and if they accommodate any specific needs.

Your teenager may change their mind in which case they can reject all offers and apply for Extra which allows them to change courses or institutes and solicit new offers. Once a choice has been made about which offers to accept, help them to reach their goals and focus on exam season. If that doesn’t go so well, then clearing is an option that can be discussed afterwards. The University application process leaves a lot of flexibility with some students not confirming where they will attend until a week before the start of term. It is certainly not something that you or them should be too distressed about in March.

Do you think the application process for University is too long winded and complex for children to cope with alone? Let us know how this blog has helped you on our social media sites.