Spotlight on Education March 2023 Edition

Spotlight on Education March 2023 Edition

Labour pledges overhaul of school standards reporting system

If Labour wins power in the next General Election, the party has pledged a major shake-up of school reporting standards.

According to Shadow Education Secretary, Bridget Phillipson, a Labour Government would consider replacing Ofsted inspection grades with a school scorecard.

During a keynote speech at the recent Association of School and College Leaders’ (ASCL) conference, Ms. Phillipson claimed that both families and schools would benefit from ‘a more effective system’, that offers valuable information for parents whilst reducing pressure on staff.

Her comments come in the wake of recent demands by ASCL and the Confederation of School Trusts to either eliminate or re-evaluate Ofsted’s overall inspection grades, following the tragic death of a School Head Teacher who, it is believed, took her own life after her school was downgraded by Ofsted.

The Shadow Education Secretary believes that providing parents with straightforward data through a report card will empower them to better understand a school’s strengths and areas for improvement.

She said: “Information in the form of a report card will better enable them to get an understanding of where a school is performing well and where they can do better.

“I do not believe it is right that we give children, parents and staff a one or two word judgement on their school. It is simplistic, it hides the variation in the quality of our schools, and the pace of their improvement.

“Parents and schools deserve better than a system that is high stakes for staff, but low information for parents.”


Schools give DfE a lesson in overturning forced academisation orders

A recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed that more than 50 schools have successfully overturned forced academisation orders.

A number of head teachers have now spoken out about their legal challenges, with one explaining that although they were not against the basic principle of academisation, they objected to the timing and the trust they had been paired with.

Some schools facing forced academisation as a result of unfavourable Ofsted reports, subsequently managed to turn around their ratings, leading to successful appeals.

The FOI request by Schools Week recently discovered that 52 academy orders have been revoked since the introduction of an escape clause in 2016, although the DfE claims that they are only allowed in “exceptional circumstances”.

In 2022, eight academy conversions were abandoned following appeals.

However, some schools have found that even a successful turnaround following a poor Ofsted inspection, does not automatically lead to the halting of forced academisation.

Andrew Murray, Head Teacher at Chadwick High School in Lancaster, said he was left frustrated that, following an ‘inadequate’ rating in 2017, a ‘good’ rating three years later did not automatically stop the conversion.

The school did eventually succeed in revoking the academisation order, with Mr Murray claiming that delays at county council level had delayed the process.

Yew Tree Primary School in Walsall successfully took the DfE to the High Court in 2021 to halt forced academisation.

Head Teacher, Jamie Barry has since admitted that the school is now considering fresh plans for academisation. He commented: “We were never saying it’s the wrong thing, just the wrong time and trust.

“Now we’ve got a stable school, supporting others and with admissions up, we’d look for one aligned with our values and where we’d complement them.”

Former DfE adviser, Mark Lehain, has suggested that the issue of schools being forced into academisation with a less than desirable sponsor could be overcome with the creation of a government-funded, independent “MATchmaker” or “Tinder for Trusts” service that could informally connect schools and MATs. 


Ofsted boss responds to “over-zealous” inspectors criticisms

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, has conceded that the organisation’s complaints process has fallen short and is not “satisfying” requirements, as criticism regarding its management of school-related concerns intensify.

At the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the Ofsted boss also acknowledged that opinions based on pupil behaviour may have been overly influential in inspection judgments, an issue Ofsted aims to rectify through training initiatives.

Her comments follow claims by some academy trust heads that some inspectors have made “over-zealous” conclusions based on some pupils’ derogatory language or behaviour issues during inspections.

Acknowledging that improvements to the complaints process are required, Miss Spielman told delegates: “We know it’s not a satisfying process…. it’s not something we’re happy with or complacent about.

“We know that for all the immense amount of work put in and the conscientiousness with which we do it, it still doesn’t lead to satisfaction at the end of the day.”

However, she also claimed that the majority of complaints were not formalised.

She continued: “We do everything we can to make space so that if a school thinks an outcome is not heading in the right direction […] there’s a lot of discussion [and then] opportunities for more senior inspectors to become involved.

“A lot of…things are put right before it ever gets to a point where a formal complaint is recorded,” she said.

Her comments follow criticism from MP, Philip Hollobone, who has claimed that certain inspectors had “prearranged agendas” and sought to engineer reasons to downgrade schools.

Mr Hollobone cited two comments made during an Ofsted inspection to a school in his constituency which was downgraded from ‘excellent’ to ‘requires improvement’.

The MP claimed an inspector had asked a male pupil if he felt “this is a white, middle-class school”, whilst a female student was questioned as to whether she “felt uncomfortable walking upstairs in a skirt”.

Ofsted has also been criticised for its inspectors’ lack of experience, with claims that they have insufficient specialist expertise in the phase of school being inspected.

Responding to the claims, Miss Spielman said: “[we do] everything we can to assign experienced people to where their experience is, as much as we can.

“But we are as constrained on resources as every other part of the education system and…I cannot set up a primary Ofsted and a secondary Ofsted within what we do, so we will have to carry on making the best that we can.”


SEND contextual league tables plans omitted from Green Paper

The DfE appears to have cancelled plans to assess the inclusivity of mainstream schools through performance league tables as part of the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) review.

The SEND and Alternative Provision (AP) Green Paper had originally supported the plan, arguing that providing contextual information alongside results would “make it easier to identify” schools effectively supporting students with SEND.

Although specific details were sparse, the Government had previously claimed it had received reports of numerous instances of mainstream schools lacking a satisfactory inclusivity policy.

However, it also admitted that accountability measures might inadvertently discourage schools from enrolling students with SEND.

Following the publication of the finalised SEND improvement plan, the proposed performance league tables are no longer included, suggesting that the initiative has been shelved.

Leora Cruddas, Chief Executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, welcomed the revised proposals saying: “What the improvement plan rightly focuses on is improving the expertise of the workforce…this is likely to result in much better outcomes for pupils and young people.”

However, James Bowen, Policy Director with the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “There is a strong sense within the profession [that] the current accountability system does not appropriately recognise the most inclusive schools.

“There is no doubt this would be a complex issue to deal with, but it is important that schools doing a particularly good job for pupils with SEND are recognised and certainly not penalised.”

According to a 2021 report by the Education Policy Institute, SEND identification is currently a “lottery,” and is often down to the primary school a student attends rather than any personal factors, experiences, or their place of residence.

It is understood that the Government’s major SEND reforms will take a minimum of three years to go live, with an initial £70million ‘change programme’ due to be trialled before a roll out across all schools.


ESFA publishes SSG application guidelines

Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan has confirmed that £1.2billion of funding will be set aside for schools, nurseries and further education colleges through the Schools Supplementary Grant (SSG).

The SSG is intended to support schools to meet the costs of the Health and Social Care Levy, including wider costs for primary and secondary schools.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has now set out SSG payment criteria via local authorities.

SSG funding will be incorporated into core budget allocations for 2023 to 2024 where possible, meaning that funding will be rolled into the schools’ national funding formula (NFF) for 2023 to 2024.

  • Allocation and payment to mainstream schools

Local authorities must pay to each schools which they are responsible for maintaining, the allocation amounts shown in 2022 to 2023 schools supplementary grant school level allocations.

SSG is not part of schools’ budget shares and is not part of the individual schools’ budget. It is not to be counted for the purpose of calculating the minimum funding guarantee.

  • Permitted use of SSG funds

Local authorities must ensure that their maintained schools only spend SSG funds for the purposes of the school or its pupils

SSG funds do not have to be spent by maintained schools or academies in the financial year beginning 1 April 2022. Maintained schools and academies may carry some or all of the SSG funds forward to future financial years.


Independent schools accelerate expansion overseas

Independent schools are widening their reach by setting up new international satellite schools, with a particular focus on the Middle and Far East.

Cambodia, Bangladesh and Vietnam are amongst the countries that have recently benefitted from partnership schemes with private schools.

In the last five years, the number of overseas satellites operated by English charitable private schools has doubled to more than 100, with reports that a further 28 are in the pipeline.

Julie Robinson, Chief Executive of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), said: “As schools look for ways to reduce their reliance on fee-based income, some have taken up opportunities to establish international campuses and partnerships.

“The money generated is invested back in education in the UK, usually through bursaries and scholarships.”

However, Francis Green, a Professor of Work and Education Economics at University College London who has studied the operations of private schools, sounded a word of caution, saying “the ethical implications of returning large profits to Britain from developing countries may come to be questioned, and the practice resented, by foreign governments and their peoples”.

Revenue from overseas satellite schools has risen in the past 10 years, as an increasing number of private schools have opened international branches.

More than half of these satellite schools are in the UAE, China and Hong Kong, with recent branches being lined up in Kenya, Indonesia, Cambodia, India and Vietnam.

Brighton College currently has branches in Thailand, Singapore and the UAE, with plans to open a satellite school in Hanoi later this year.

Haileybury in Hertfordshire has two ‘partner schools’ in Kazakhstan and will soon open satellites Bangladesh and Malta.

Although critics have claimed that international satellites allow English independent schools to use their charitable status which in turns avoids paying UK corporation tax on the profits the subsidiaries would otherwise have reported, the ISC has defended the growth in satellite schools, attributing it to international demand for British education and the success of earlier ventures.

The Labour Party has made no secret of its intention to add VAT to mainstream private school fees in England and also end their charitable status.

It has called tax breaks for private schools “inexcusable,” with Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson saying the party’s pledge to strip them of charitable status if it wins the next election, would result in £11.7billion of “vital funds for the state sector”.

Critics of independent schools have suggested that international expansion has been deliberately ramped up to boost profits ahead of Labour’s proposed tax relief crackdown.

However a spokesperson for the ISC said: “It takes years to plan and set up satellite schools, so the idea that this is a kneejerk reaction to Labour’s policy is definitely wide of the mark.”


ESFA outlines reporting requirements for PE and sports premium grants

The Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has published sports grants guidelines for schools including reporting requirements.

The latest premium will be paid directly to successful academies in May this year.

The premium must be used to fund additional and sustainable improvements to the provision of PE and sport, for the benefit of primary-aged pupils, to encourage the development of healthy, active lifestyles.

The Department for Education (DfE) has published information on how much PE and sport premium funding primary schools receive, and advice on how to spend it.

Allocations for the academic year 2022 to 2023 are calculated using the number of pupils in years 1 to 6, as recorded in the January 2022 census.

Where a school has opened or is due to open during the 2022 to 2023 academic year, the funding will be paid based on pupils recorded on the autumn 2022 school census.

Academies receive the premium directly from the ESFA. Schools that convert to academies on or after 1 September 2022 up to and including 1 April 2023 will be paid the April to August 2023 element of the academic year allocation direct from ESFA on 3 May 2023.

Schools that convert to academies on or after 1 September 2022 up to and including 1 April 2023 will be paid the April to August 2023 element of the academic year allocation direct from ESFA on 9 May 2023.

The premium must be spent in full by the 31st of July 2023 and funding must be used to make additional and sustainable improvements to the provision of PE and sport for the benefit of all primary-aged pupils to encourage the development of healthy, active lifestyles.

The grant may not be used to fund capital expenditure or to employ coaches or specialist teachers to cover PPA which should instead come out of schools’ core staffing budgets.

Any school in receipt of the grant is required to publish:

  • The amount of premium received
  • A full breakdown of how it has been spent, or will be spent by 31 July 2023
  • What impact the school has seen on pupils’ PE and sport participation and attainment
  • How the improvements will be sustainable in the future
  • The percentage of pupils within their year 6 cohort for academic year 2022 to 2023 that can do each of the following:
    • Swim competently, confidently, and proficiently over a distance of at least 25 metres
    • Use a range of strokes effectively (for example front crawl, backstroke and breaststroke
    • Perform safe self-rescue in different water-based situations

If selected, schools must also take part in a sampling review to scrutinise their compliance with these terms.

If you require help with future ESFA funding applications or require support with reporting requirements, please contact our specialist team now.