The year started with a new Secretary of State, Damian Hinds, taking up office and ended with him writing to Amanda Speilman, HMCI, about Ofsted’s summary evaluations of multi-academy trusts (MATs).
The notable events of the year as they happened:
Emma Knights, CEO National Governance Association received an OBE in the New Years’ Honours List along with other governors.
Damian Hinds became the Secretary of State for Education. Sam Giymah replaced Jo Johnson as minister for higher education, Robert Goodwill was removed from his post as minister of state for children and families and Nadhim Zahawi was appointed as parliamentary under-secretary of state.
The updated its statutory careers guidance for schools to bring it in line with the government’s new careers strategy.
Amanda Spielman, while speaking at the Association for Science Education’s annual conference discussed the importance of a challenging curriculum with sufficient time to teach science stating “exams should exist in service to the curriculum, rather than the other way around.” She also said that “too few governing bodies look to understand curriculum quality or hold leaders to account for the curriculum beyond looking at test outcomes”.
Staff wellbeing was in the spotlight throughout the year. Figures released as a result of a freedom of information request showed that 3,750 teachers were on sick-leave for a month or more during the 2016-17 school year as a result of stress and mental health issues.
Sir David Carter (National Schools Commissioner) said governors and trustees are the “unsung heroes of the education system”. He also said that “effective governance lies at the heart of school improvement.”
Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP (Chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee) wrote to Lord Agnew, the minister with responsibility for the school system and school governance, expressing “concerns over a lack of transparency and accountability” in the multi academy trust (MAT) system, lack of communication to parents and an overlap between the roles of regional schools commissioners (RSCs), Ofsted and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) in the accountability system and MATs “stripping assets from their schools”.
National Foundation for Educational Research (NEFR) published a report on the effect of changes to school funding on school spending in England. Amongst other things it found that
- The “observed benefits of higher spending are typically greater” for disadvantaged pupils
- Schools are expected to face ongoing significant cost increases, especially in regard to staffing
The £45 million MAT Development and Improvement Fund, announced last year, was allocated to over 400 multi-academy trusts (MATs) “to improve underperforming schools” with £30 million of this money going to around 300 academy trusts in areas facing the greatest challenges across England”.
The next six Opportunity Area plans (Bradford, Doncaster, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent) were announced. They would share £25 million across 75 projects aimed at giving “more support for schools, many of which will increase pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills”.
Damian Hinds, wrote an article in The Times welcoming the “rigorous new curriculum and a return to core academic subjects” introduced in recent years and supporting the need for “high-quality vocational routes” post 16.
The changing role of governors in MATs was discussed in tes and concern expressed that the number of governors was being slashed as schools joined MATs.
The revised 2016/17 GCSE exam data for secondary schools and were published showing 365 schools are below the floor standard in 2017 and 271 meet the coasting definition”. This means that 12% of state-funded schools are “below the secondary floor standard”.
DfE released official statistics on MAT performance measures for 2016-2017. The MAT performance tables comparison and benchmarking of performance for both Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4. These tables currently only include MATs with three or more schools that have been part of the trust for at least three years. According to these tables, 45% of MATs performed “significantly below average” in terms of pupil progress in Key Stage 4 in 2017.
DfE updated its guidance for schools causing concern emphasizing that formal action for coasting schools would occur only in exceptional cases and, most commonly, “the RSC will look to work collaboratively with school leaders to bring about improvement” using a range of support mechanisms.
Damian Hinds and Nick Gibb spoke at the World Education Forum. Damian Hinds spoke about core academic subjects being at the heart” of preparing students for success in the future and the importance of soft skills, character and resilience. Nick Gibb spoke about the importance of a curriculum in ensuring education equity by furnishing pupils with the knowledge they need, so that they are best prepared for the rigours of a globalised 21st century jobs market.
Automatic disqualification rules for charity trustees and charity senior positions were issued. As academies are chariots these will apply to academy trustees too.
Sir David Carter wrote an article for NGA’s Governing Matters magazine setting out how governing boards can help support disadvantaged pupils.
During a debate at the Institute of Education Sir David Carter said that he would bring to an end the practice of visits on behalf of RSC in close proximity to visits by Ofsted as that created pressure and added to the workload of school staff.
National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) called for a “national framework for salaries within the state school system” following concerns of high pay of certain academy CEOs.
The Local Government Association (LGA) submitted a briefing to the House of Lords focusing on the LGA’s concerns around councils having no power to enter homes or see children who are home educated which made it difficult for them to carry out safeguarding duties. The briefing also raised concerns around illegal schools.
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, Nadhim Zahawi MP, responded to questions on educational outcomes of children with autism recognising that it is frequently taking too long for children to receive a diagnosis of autism and the disproportionate number of children with autism being excluded from school.
The Education Committee held its second evidence session into Alternative Provision (AP). Witnesses were critical of rigid school behavioural and zero tolerance policies. Witnesses emphasised the failure to recognise the impact of poverty.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System, Lord Agnew, wrote to the chairs of all academy trusts in England
- Recognising the important work that they do for young people’s education. He emphasised that trusts that are performing well should not see frequent interventions from the Department for Education (DfE).
- Urging them to ensure that budgets are managed to deliver value for money, particularly when setting the pay of lead executives
- Emphasising the role of chairs in reducing teacher workload by only collecting the necessary information
- Ensuring that trust governance contacts are up to date
The National Audit Office (NAO) published a report on conversion of maintained schools into academies.
- The conversion of almost 7,000 schools has cost roughly £745 million since 2010-11.
- Challenges around the conversion of schools into academies are likely to increase in future
- Creating coherence in the school system “will be crucial to secure value for money and provide children with access to good end-to-end schooling”.
In 2016 the government had consulted on its proposed reforms on reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect. The outcome of the consultation and the government’s response confirmed that no further legal duties will be imposed on school staff (and other practitioners, groups and organisations) to report child abuse concerns or to take appropriate action where they know or suspect a child is at risk of or actually suffering from child abuse.
Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman told the Education Select Committee that “accountability systems need to reflect the way that the system actually operates today” which was why Ofsted would like to be able to inspect MATs. While speaking at the ASCL Conference she talked, amongst other things, about curriculum, about Ofsted not expecting schools to prepare for inspections and about moving away from a compliance approach to safeguarding.
DfE announced a review to better understand the inequalities surrounding the school exclusion system.
The Education Select Committee heard from Damian Hinds (who acknowledged the significant cost pressures that schools are experiencing but suggested there would be no additional funding ahead of the comprehensive spending review in 2019, did not answer directly if Ofsted were to be permitted to inspect MATs) and Nick Gibb (who told MPs that the DfE is not struggling to find sponsors for schools across the country as a whole).
The chief executive of the Education and Skills Funding Agency, Eileen Milner, wrote to the chairs of all academy trusts in England that pay two or more salaries between £100k and £150k, asking them to justify these salaries.
James Bowen, a senior director at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) writing inTes talked about the important role played by governors and trustees in schools. He also emphasised the need for high quality training, mentoring and support.
Ofsted announced changes to its inspection timeframe under which schools previously judged ‘good’ will now receive a short inspection approximately every four years rather than every three years. Schools judged ‘requires improvement’, ‘serious weaknesses’ or ‘special measures’ will be re-inspected within 30 months (previously the timeframes were 30, 18 and 24 months respectively) while monitoring inspections would continue as before.
The Education Select Committee announced inquiries into the level of school and college funding and into support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Ambition School Leadership and LKMco published research “into the leadership, vision, strategy and operations of multi-academy trusts (MATs)”. Five models of school improvement within MATs were identified, which trusts may move through as they grow.
Sir David spoke about the crucial role of governance in ensuring schools are the best they can be at the London Regional Conference. He also expressed the view that it was not good practice for the lead executive in an academy trust to also be a trustee. Later on in the month Sir David announced his retirement from the Civil Service.
Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, addressed the National Association of Headteachers annual conference in Liverpool and discussed the role of Ofsted, the future of accountability measures, academisation and improving career support for teachers.
DfE announced the setting up of a Selective Schools Expansion Fund of £50 million for existing selective (grammar) schools to expand their premises to create new places.
The Education and Skills and Funding Agency published information on the enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificate that chairs of academy trusts must have. Chairs are also required to have their application countersigned by the secretary of state for Education.
The Public Accounts Committee heard evidence from Emma Knights of NGA as part of their inquiry into the value for money delivered on converting schools to academies.
The National Audit Office (NAO) has published a report on the value for money of Ofsted inspection of schools. It found that “as a result of decisions by the Department and Ofsted, the level of independent assurance about schools’ effectiveness has reduced”. It also reported that 44% of headteachers said that inspection had led to improvements in their school while 71% agreed that inspectors provided useful feedback. 99% of Ofsted inspectors who are also serving practitioners said that the knowledge and experience gained was valuable to their own school(s).
The House of Commons Education Select Committee held an accountability session with the minister for school standards, Nick Gibb. Grammar schools, executive pay, recruitment and retention and English Baccalaureate were some the topics he was asked about.
The NGA, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) published a joint letter to thank school governors and trustees.
Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds and Shadow Secretary of State Angela Rayner attended the NGA Summer Conference. The Minister announced
- Doubling of funding for governance training and support to £6 million up to 2021.
- Requirement for academy trust accounts to detail staff earning over £100,000 and the percentage of teaching time those individuals undertake.
- A “more robust process” to manage related party transactions within which “from April 2019 trusts will have to seek approval from EFSA [Education and Skills Funding Agency] for related-party transaction payments of more than £20,000” whilst “transactions below £20,000 will need to be formally declared”.
The Academies Financial Handbook, effective September 2018, was published
- Requiring rusts to share monthly management accounts with the chair
- Requiring trusts to meet regularly enough and for bigger trusts to consider meeting more than three times a year
- Removal of the term “ex officio” from the description of the senior executive leader, to show that he or she does not automatically become a trustee.
- Requiring trust boards to ensure their approach to executive pay is transparent, proportionate and justifiable
Dominic Herrington was confirmed as the interim National Schools Commissioner (NSC).
Education Policy Institute published a report comparing the performance of ‘academy chains’ and the collective performance of maintained schools under different local authorities. They found
- “What matters most is being in a high performing school group, not being in an academy rather than a local authority maintained school or vice-versa”
- Local authorities in London outperform other areas of the country
- There are cases of high performance and of sustained underperformance among both local authorities and academy chains
The education and youth ‘think and action-tank’ LKMco and the school mental health organisation Minds Ahead published a report into the scale and causes of youth mental health issues. The report found that “75% of mental health problems begin before the age of 18”. The report also highlighted that “school leaders, including governors [and trustees] have the power to set the climate within their schools and to place pupil wellbeing at the heart of their decisions”.
SEND Governance Review Guide commissioned by Whole School SEND and co-funded by the DfE and Driver Youth Trust in partnership with governance leaders was published.
Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) published a guide for governing boards on Understanding your Data setting out the broad range of information governing boards might need to consider when fulfilling their duties.
Secretary of state Damian Hinds appeared before the House of Commons Education Select Committee to answer MPs’ questions on a whole range of issues including school funding, careers guidance, the wellbeing of pupils, exclusion of children with SEND, the accountability system and teacher workload and retention.
Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman spoke at the Education Policy Institute about the inspection of schools which are part of multi-academy trusts (MATs). She reported two common misconceptions that inspectors encounter:
- Schools in MATs often see themselves as separate to the leadership of the trust rather than part of the same legal entity
- “Local governing bodies” are the accountable body for the governance of the school when in fact that is the role of the trust board
She also reported that Ofsted will begin a training programme to improve inspectors’ understanding of MAT structures and governance.
DfE published non-statutory guidance for mixed schools (maintained, academies and other independent schools) on gender separation and aims to provide support to school leaders, staff and governing boards in identifying what is legally acceptable when it comes separating pupils by sex.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published a new analysis comparing changes in school spending per pupil in Wales and England since 2009-10. It found that spending per pupil reduced by 8% in England compared to 5% in Wales.
Ofsted published an update for its inspectors, which includes a clarification that schools should inform all governors/trustees of the inspection and that arrangements should be made for inspectors to meet the chair of governors/chair of the board of trustees and as many governors/trustees as possible during the inspection, and that as many governors/trustees as possible should also be invited to attend the final feedback meeting.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a report in to its converting schools to academies inquiry. The report said that the government seemed not to be learning the lessons from high profile academy failures. It called for greater transparency for parents and for support for schools which wanted to become academies (including finding sponsors).
Education Select Committee (ESC) took evidence from experts as part of its inquiry into special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). In her evidence Baroness Warnock said that schools should be rewarded for inclusivity.
Data released by DfE showed that there was a 15.5% rise in the number of permanent exclusions and a 12.5% rise in the number of fixed rate exclusions in 2016/2017 compared to 2015/16.
A new research report from Ofsted into obesity, healthy eating and physical activity in primary schools outlines that schools should not be seen as a “silver bullet” to tackling the complex societal issue of childhood obesity.
DfE published the results of a study using a series of “two-day, in-depth, qualitative case studies” with a range of London and non-London schools with consistently good and poor outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. The research looked to assess whether school cultures and practices conducive to high performance were “unique to, or more deeply ingrained in, high-performing London schools” compared to others across the country. The report concluded that pupil performance was a better indicator of cultures and practices than where a school was located geographically. High-performing schools tended to “hold particularly high expectations”, “engender positive relationships” across the school community and “responded positively to pupils’ aspirational goals” regardless of location.
Ofsted published the findings of its Annual Teachers Survey 2018: Teachers’ Awareness and Perceptions of Ofsted. It found:
- 51% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that “Ofsted acts as a reliable and trusted arbiter of standards across all different types of schools in England” compared with 35% who agreed or strongly agreed
- 62% of teachers whose school had been inspected by Ofsted felt “the final judgement reached by the inspection team was a fair and accurate assessment”.
- Two thirds (66%) of teachers had heard of off-rolling and a fifth (21%) had seen it happen
A ruling from the Upper Tribunal means that schools must make appropriate adjustments for pupils with violence linked condition before looking towards exclusion.
The Tes/NGA survey report, “School governance in 2018” was published. Amongst other things it found
- Three quarters of governors and trustees have a negative view of the government’s performance in education over the past year
- Just one in five are confident that they can manage budget constraints without compromising the quality of education. Only half of respondents said that that they are balancing income and expenditure with almost a third drawing on reserves
- Staff recruitment is particularly challenging in regions surrounding London and in schools with lower Ofsted grades
In a letter written to CEOs, principals and Chairs of Trustees, Eileen Milner, Chief Executive of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), outlined the most significant changes to the Academies Financial Handbook. The letter drew their attention to the changing of rules on related party transactions, the expectations for trusts to ensure that they are “transparent, proportionate and justifiable” in regard to executive pay, the role of trustees in scrutinising the trust budget, and ensuring they keep up to date on the monthly financial management reports of the trust.
Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Ofsted, published a new commentary which outlined that a new inspection framework will have the curriculum as a central focus and acknowledged that Ofsted had placed “too much weight on test and exam results”.
Over 1,000 headteachers from all over the country marched to Westminster to deliver a letter to Phillip Hammond, the chancellor, calling for increased funding and outlining how seven years of budget cuts have resulted in financial crisis for a lot of schools.
Damian Hinds, the Secretary of State for Education, announced key policy measures:
- English hubs
- Maths hubs
- £10 million to “support the spreading of best practice and knowledge on behaviour management and classroom management”
- Careers guidance
- T Levels: capital funding to support the roll-out of the new technical qualifications
- Sports Action Plan
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, has announced some of the changes Ofsted plans to make to the schools inspection framework. The aim of these changes is to move Ofsted’s focus from headline data to how schools are educating pupils and the substance of the curriculum. A formal consultation on the new draft framework will take place from January with implementation planned from September 2019.
Damian Hinds, the Secretary of State for Education, announced a £24million government investment in the North East of England. The “Opportunity North East” scheme is intended to provide opportunities and job prospects to young people, tackling issues which can cause areas to feel “left behind”.
Key for School Leaders published a report entitled The Challenges of Leading a Rural School . It discussed the specific issues facing rural schools.
While speaking to the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) Nadhim Zahawi, children and families minister, talked about the important contribution maintained nursery schools make to closing the attainment gap. He urged “all councils, all local authorities, not to make premature decisions on the future of these schools at this stage.”
The Institute of Directors published report setting out six key challenges facing school governors, as it seeked to encourage and enable business leaders to bring their expertise to the boards of schools and school trusts.
House of Commons education select committee heard from educational experts, schools and local authorities as part of their inquiry into education for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
DfE’s Workload Advisory Group published its report which includes recommendations for governing boards. The Secretary of State for Education accepted all of the report’s recommendations and committed to take action in a joint letter which was signed by NGA, amongst others.
The Department for Education (DfE) published the academy sector annual reports and accounts for 2016/17. The accounts show
- 125 trusts (4% of academy trusts) were paying at least one member of staff more than £150,000
- Details of the numbers of academy trusts (185 in all) in cumulative deficit at the end of August 2017
- The number and value of related party transactions conducted in that year: 2,399 totalling £134 million.
- Figures for pupil attainment in different types of school
DfE updated its guidance on mental health and behaviour in schools with information on how to identify behaviours that may be related to a mental health problem. It Also covered are the questions of working with other professionals and external agencies, along with where to find extra support.
DfE announced that a new statutory assessment system for pupils not in subject-specific study will replace P scales 1 to 4 from 2020. The ‘7 aspects of engagement’ approach focuses on abilities in specific areas such as awareness, curiosity and anticipation.
School Dash and RS Assessment produced a report exploring the association between pupil characteristics and outcomes in primary reading and maths. The data which will be useful for governors focuses on
- Performance of summer born children as compared to their peers
- Comparison of performance in maths between boys and girls
- Comparison of attainment in reading between disadvantaged children and peers
House of Commons Public Accounts Committee held an inquiry into academy accounts and performance.
Ofsted published its annual report for 2017/18.
Key findings relating to schools:
- 95% of early years providers are judged good or outstanding, with 86% of schools judged at least good.
- Between January 2016 and January 2017, 19,000 pupils in years 10-11 “dropped off schools rolls”, with around half of these not appearing on another school roll.
- Ofsted identified around 300 schools with “exceptional levels” of pupils coming off-roll.
- Local area SEND inspections found continued lack of coordinated 0-25 strategies and poor post-19 provision.
- A subsection of schools which have been persistently judged less than “good”, with over 490 “stuck in a cycle of poor performance” since 2005. Spielman called these “stuck schools”.
- Leadership capacity within the sector is “worryingly thin”.
Priorities for the year ahead:
- In December, following some targeted piloting and inspector training, Ofsted will be changing the process for reviewing MATs by introducing MAT summary evaluations.
- From September 2019 Ofsted will use the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) to rebalance inspection and look more into school curriculums.
Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director, Education, published a blog setting out “A new approach to evaluating the work of multi-academy trusts”. Ofsted published guidance for inspectors for summary evaluation of MATs. Damian Hinds wrote to Amanda Spielman saying that Ofsted will “need to be clear that these are in no sense a school inspection, or something which can affect the normal schedule for school inspections, and ensure there is no suggestion that these schools have been assessed or inspected.” He also urged that inspectors “ensure that these visits do not create undue burdens on the schools or MAT”.
Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Standards, wrote to Amanda Spielman asking that Ofsted increase the level of inspection for outstanding schools to 10% (rather than the current 5 – 10%).
Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) released new guidance to help schools engage with their parents to “improve children’s academic outcomes”.
Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) released new guidance to help schools engage with their parents to “improve children’s academic outcomes”.
Primary school performance tables for 2017/18 were released.Governors can compare the performance of their school with comparable schools.
Schools Week published my review of 2018 which can be read here.