I don't do political blogging; I am driven by developing teaching and learning; however as part of my role with school to school support at with the TELA TSA I was invited to a Q&A today with the SecState and felt honour bound to report back what I had heard, so here goes...
In a quiet drama studio at Thomas Estley Community College a small group of senior leadership and school to school support teachers gathered to hear the gospel of our beloved Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan.
Having submitted our questions for the Q&A we waited eagerly to receive clarity to our questions. My question didn't get past the guard dogs at the DfE but I was able to raise it in the later free for all. It was only part answered: I did manage to find out come things about grade 4/5 but not much. I don't want to go through all the back and forth so I will summarise the outcomes of the discussion:
1) Top five priorities for the DfE were listed as: over-arching - Excellence everywhere, with every child having access to an excellent education. The point was raised that it was deeply unfair for a child, through no fault of their own, to go to a school which wasn't at least good. The numbered priorities were then 1) School places, 2) Teacher recruitment, 3) Funding and making it fairer, 4) schools developing character and resilience rather than just academia and 5) mental health and well being for young people.
2) The plans to make the Ebacc compulsory were discussed for new Year 7 (2015-2016 first year group), with the challenges to meet the recruitment of languages teachers. Apparently there will be incentives for languages teachers, the possibility of overseas recruitment drives, and also ideas around careers education and services used by careers converters to highlight teaching (in general). A point was asked about having government backed schemes like the 'Big Bang project' in science; Ms Morgan suggested that this is something that the Department would love to hear about if teachers have ideas, and she would love for schools to lead themselves in developing this.
3) The question was asked about adopting an always cross-party lead on education (as it apparently is in Finland), to stop education becoming a political plaything for whichever party is in government. The Secretary of State suggested that when discussed this idea was rejected by a majority of stakeholders, including opposition parties, and that the preference was to have that accountability for performance resting with the party in power. The point was repeated about the need for embedding changes and not having new things rushed in.
4) The changes to the allocation policy for ITT were queried, with the concern that people would just rush to give out places without due care for who they were accepting just to secure funding. The point was made that it was only for one year and because the profession asked for it; and again the department would welcome feedback on any problems created. The point about retaining was almost asked about, and apparently the picture is more rosy than the media might suggest, with figures given of 90% still in profession after 1 year and 75% after 5 years (although as I said to a colleague, in the private sector, if I were losing my boss 10% of all the people we appointed within a year, questions would be asked!). On this point the workload survey was bandied out, with apparent help coming on reducing workload through marking, data collection and lesson planning. It was said that much of it comes down to leadership in schools, which then took a tangent off into head teacher recruitment and the fear of losing a career to Ofsted putting people off. It was mentioned that Ofsted was losing a lot of inspectors to try and increase the consistency of judgements, but what they (Ofsted) really want is head teachers to be confident about why what they are doing is good practice. Ms Morgan did point out the support programmes through NLEs etc.
5) A big one this so I will put it in bold Pupil premium funding to be held at current levels as per the manifesto pledge through the life of the parliament.
6) Talk turned to the life without levels saga, with both primary and secondary colleagues asking about accountability and ensuring that information can be shared between schools. Apparently the 'experts' designing the new curriculum decided that levels weren't fit for purpose; guidance will be forthcoming but schools should develop what they need for their pupils and parents to let them know about the progress their pupils are making, and that schools will likely baseline new entrants for their own system. School collaboration and discussion was said to be important.
7) A question was at least partially ducked about why exam marking was preferred to teacher judgement given the high profile errors with exam marking. The response was basically that there weren't as many mistakes as highlighted and this then segwayed into a brief treatise on the changes to linear exams over two years with no early entry unless best for child blah blah blah...
8) The question about government developing capacity in teaching school alliances given the time and energy involved in administering them; again the DfE welcomes schools and alliances leading on how to develop this capacity (talk about chicken and egg!) Related to this was the question about funding through the NCSL as this seemed to be unclear and was causing anxiety; no answers forthcoming on this one but a promise to find out and report back.
9) Ebacc reared its head again, about the vocational/arts subjects this time. The question was put directly as to whether they were valued, and of course the answer was yes. There will be consultation in september time about groups of pupils that may not have a compulsory ebacc, but still the expectation that most will do. A commitment to 'technical and professional' (the new term for vocational) qualifications was reiterated.
10) I finally got to ask my question about what happens to pupils who get grade 4 post 16 - do they have to resit to grade 5 and are FE colleges expected to change admissions from 5+ A*-C to 5+ 9 to 5 or 9 to 4? The first was expertly dodged with an assertion (ready for this FE teachers...) that FE have a 2 year window before grade 5 becomes their measure as recognition that they need longer to develop (with no mention to what actually happens to the pupils); the second point was partially dodged in that it was clear that colleges set their own admissions policies (true so not really a dodge) but that one would assume in time that the more rigorous standard would be the one to aim for.
11) A question about inclusion policy and special schools - vague on this one, looking at the area, along with LAC as well, looking at the sometimes slower performance of the services that work with schools. Little titbit, apparently 17% of Free schools set up were special or alternative provision schools. It was said there is a need for more time to see how the whole special needs sector is working and make improvements. Important not to let people slip through the net was how that one ended.
12) Last question, back to funding - It was made clear that the first time we would see changes is the 2017/2018 cohort as the consultation wasn't starting until October. The reason given was the need to get things right first time (we wait with baited breath for this to happen for the first time ever out of the DfE) rather than change quickly and have to change again. There was a final follow up statement rather than question about the government needing to realise that private school pupils are funded at an average 3 to 4 times higher through their parent's payments to schools than state schools are funded by government.
Make of it what you will, Mrs Morgan at least seems to listen a bit more than our last Secretary of State, so that might be a positive thing!