Edition ten editorial

Inspections reveal Ofsted’s approach to British values in wake of ‘Trojan Horse’

School leaders are stressed by Ofsted at the best of times.

When there is confusion about what they are looking for, it gets worse.

In Ofsted’s latest round of no-notice inspections, 23 grades fell, eight remained unchanged and one improved.

Ofsted acknowledges problems with snap inspections, such as one headteacher not being available when the inspectors arrived.

Yet despite these “logistical drawback”, the chief inspector says he intends to extend their use in certain circumstances.

One criteria ripe for extension in the wake of the Trojan Horse affair is where Ofsted has “serious concerns about the breadth and balance of the curriculum”.

Of the schools visited, Ofsted says this was the case for 17 schools, of which 11 “were not preparing pupils for life in Britain today”.

Analysis by Academies Week of these 11 reports sheds further light on what Ofsted did or didn’t find, but are teachers clear on what Ofsted mean by “life in Britain today”?

Mary Bousted, the boss at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers doesn’t think so, which should concern us all.


Edition nine editorial

Teacher banning orders double for abuse of social media

When the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) bans a teacher it can, on occasion, make for incredible and disturbing reading.

Who can forget the story last month of the teacher struck off after hypnotising and then abusing pupils?

The use of hypnosis by a teacher is of course rare, but you would only know this if you read each and every published misconduct hearing report.

It is surely important for school leaders to be aware of any particular trends, and consider putting in place new safeguards.

We therefore looked at nearly 200 reports, and found a more than doubling of teacher prohibition orders for activity relating to social media. This should spark a debate about the adequacy of training and monitoring

According to the NCTL’s Annual Report and Accounts for 2013-14 there were also 877 teacher misconduct referrals, the majority of which did not make it to a hearing, but with no detail about the types of allegation.

There will be more trend analysis of the hearings in our next edition, but for the benefit of the schools sector, the Department for Education should collate and publish their own.


Edition eight editorial

New DfE building plans include gym and space for art collection

When Nicky Morgan said spare money should be spent in schools, she was right. Given we have reported on schools with malfunctioning generators and temporary premises there are plenty of places that need it.

Though the government may save money with the move, it still matters what you spend that saving on. And it is right questions are raised about whether upgrading a gym for DfE staff or installing the government art collection is a good use of money.

There is a reasonable argument to say it is worth spending the money. Staff perks attract a strong workforce. Art collections hold value if looked after.

Yet the DfE didn’t make these arguments. Instead, despite it being in the tender specification, they said “no final decision” had been made on the gym or location for the art.

So where does this leave the contractors in responding to the specification?

And, the question that has to be asked, is that if you aren’t prepared to defend a spending decision publicly then should it be authorised? That’s one for Morgan and Whitehall to ponder.


Edition seven editorial

Free school sixth-form offer £500 recruitment ‘incentive’ to pupils

A proposed sixth-form free school advertising £500 incentives to new pupils is at best questionable, but at worst it’s an uncosted bribe.

The ‘academic scholarship’ is not a bursary for materials, travel or meals, typically given to pupils with parents on low incomes.

It is also not a financial incentive for high attendance levels, which some colleges have continued to offer following the end of the Education Maintenance Allowance.

Put simply, it is lot of money for doing well in your GCSEs, elsewhere.

And New College Pontefract needed 1,000 signatures to proceed to the next stage in the free school proposal process.

So it seems likely the “opportunity to receive £500″ helped drum-up support for signatures.

If it can be proven that the offer influenced the number of signatures then the government should consider taking a closer look.

Either way, schemes like this warrant scrutiny, whether or not it proves expensive for the college.


Edition six editorial

Ofsted ditches inspector who copied reports

After presenting Ofsted with irrefutable evidence of recycled reports from inspections less than six months ago, they have sacked the inspector.

Additional [contracted] inspectors have been caught doing this before and have been sacked. But what is truly shocking about this latest copy-and-paste story is Ofsted knew he was doing it in 2012.

Relying on the contractor to
“monitor all subsequent inspections and reports” was clearly a weak and insufficient response.

He continued doing it in 2013 and 2014, as our investigation and published examples show.

Bringing inspectors in-house may help stamp this out, but Ofsted will now need to regain the trust of parents and the profession.

So Sir Michael Wilshaw should take Robert Peal’s advice and quality assure reports using simple plagiarism software.

I’ll say this once: nobody wants this story repeated.


Edition five editorial

Gender salaries gap ‘widens’ in academies 

In the office we were concerned to hear that the gap between men and women’s earnings in schools is widening.

Chris Keates, general secretary at the NASUWT raised the issue this week at an Education Select Committee, and we’ve published the latest official statistics (see page 5).

The difference is particularly acute in primary academies, with figures from last November showing female teachers earning on average 9 per cent less than men in those schools.

Next month the official salary count will take place again, and there are fears the gap may have widened further.

And how will the performance-related pay regime impact on gender equality?

As the DfE have rightly said: “Pay discrimination is unlawful and equal pay legislation applies to academies.”

So compliance is not an option or a freedom to ignore, it’s the law.


Edition four editorial

Having Academies Week reporters for nine days across the three main party conferences proved something of a resource and logistical challenge during our first four editions.
But it was worth it to share the fringe debates and key speech announcements (or lack of them) as they happened.

Highlights included Tristram Hunt talking of a ‘value neutral’ approach to school structures at the Labour party conference in Manchester, Nicky Morgan describing teachers as the school story ‘hero’ at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham and David Lawes not giving a speech so instead stalked by deputy editor Laura McInerney at the Liberal Democrat party conference in Glasgow.

Being out-and-about, or ‘on location’ as we call it, is an important way to hear from the school sector as well as be the first to tweet, blog and report on the news.

So if you have an event for us to report from then get in touch, and to hear from our reporters as they travel up and down the country follow @AWonlocation on twitter.


Edition three editorial

Exclusive: Free school ‘forced me out’ for not being top university ready

Nicky Morgan was keen to voice opposition to selective education at the Conservative Party Conference. And she’s right.

Yet on pages 6 and 7 a highly selective sixth form, praised in February by Michael Gove as a “superb new free school,” is exposed by Academies Week for dumping students halfway through their A-levels.

Why? Because, as the principal at the London Academy of Excellence (LAE) admits, if students don’t stand a strong chance of getting into a ‘competitive university’ he has decided they must retake their A-levels elsewhere.

Visit the LAE website and instead of an end of first year ‘forcing out’ policy for parents to ponder, you find press releases about their progression rates to Russell Group universities.
LAE should not be applauded for rigging their success.

The plaudits should go to the further education sixth form college next door.

Eddie Playfair at NewVic sixth form is supporting the ex-LAE students to retake their A-levels, and now doing so on less funding once they turn 18.

With the help of the local MP let’s hope LAE do the right thing for their students.


Edition two editorial

Childcare, qualified teachers, the forgotten 50% – Hunt’s policy pillars for 2015

The Labour Party conference will have proved a disappointment to anyone expecting schools policy to feature highly.

The Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt used his speech to repeat well-rehearsed lines about childcare, the forgotten 50 per cent and wanting “world class teachers in every classroom”.

Sitting in the main hall listening to Tristram finish in the seventh minute, as all cabinet minister speech’s do, it certainly felt short on announcements and detail.

And within minutes of him coming off stage on the Sunday afternoon the rumour mill cranked into action.

Was there a last minute change of heart? Had Ed Balls over-ruled a spending commitment? Or, more likely, had the shiny new education announcement been saved for the leader’s speech two days later?

When Ed Miliband finally stood up at the end of the conference he remembered to announce not a school-based policy, but apprenticeships as the new shiny new education priority for 2015.

Labour not only wants the minimum duration doubled (to at least two years) and the difficulty level raised higher (from level two to at least level three) we also learnt for the first time that employers would be forced to recruit apprentices as part of procurement contracts.

For schools, then, it’s business as usual, as reaffirmed by Tristram in a series of fringe events (where time was less limited and detail, if not newness, was more forthcoming).

Good schools, whether free schools or academies would not be shut, in a commitment to a ‘value neutral’ approach to school structure.

This will have disappointed many, as will the lack of school related announcements.

But change fatigue seems to be a ‘thing’ (see Ofqual survey on page 10), so perhaps a period of stability is to be welcomed.


Edition one editorial

Exclusive: Secondary school opens ‘near empty’

A school opening story is perhaps not surprising given the time of year, but with 17 pupils Trinity Academy could find itself in the unenviable position of being the smallest ever mainstream secondary school.

Despite late decisions over the £18m site, many will point to the predictability of a ‘near empty’ school given the borough already had more than 200 surplus places.

But this misses the point as in the longer term a surplus might become a deficit and some allege that competition drives up education standards.

What’s important about this story is that the government decided to proceed with opening at all.

While under-recruitment at a new schools is not unheard of, hadn’t the DfE tightened up on allowing such inefficient funding agreements?

Clearly finding a site for the Trinity Academy proved a major challenge, and free school locations remains a hot topic.

It is then perhaps not surprising, although entirely coincidental, that Natalie Evans from the New School Network makes some sensible suggestions as to how the government purchase sites and school buildings in future.

First edition download