2015/16 will see an extra £350 million handed to the country's worst funded schools but the Government is still not ready to create a new national fairer formula. Schools Minister David Laws told MPs that the extra cash would be available from next year to schools in more than a third of the education authority areas across the country. "It would be 'fairer'- the first time in a decade that funding has been allocated to local areas on the basis of the actual characteristics of their pupils and schools, rather than simply on the basis on historic levels of spending."
The Liberal Democrat MP also insisted that no school or authority would lose money. Nick Clegg wished to assure urban schools in northern England but a Hull MP saw her city schools losing out. Goole's MP responded by pointing out that currently schools in Hull were being funded £442 more per pupil more than in Goole and more than areas such as Surrey.
Every local authority will attract a minimum funding level per pupil and school- for poor pupils, for those with English as an additional language, for those with low levels of attainment and for those who have been in care and with a minimum level of funding to help with fixed costs such as hiring a head teacher as well as money for rural schools and higher funding for certain areas where teacher's pay is higher.
Anne McIntosh, MP, welcomed North Yorkshire schools receiving an extra £97 per pupil. She said: "The additional money will greatly assist the funding of schools in rural and sparsely populated areas."
The f40 group represents the UK's worst funded authorities. Around 60, mainly in rural areas, will receive more cash. Chairman Ivan Ould said: "This is a huge step forward for our campaign for fair funding. For over 20 years pupils and schools in f40 areas have been dis-advantaged by an archaic system.
Almost 70 schools have closed in Wales in the past five years with significant impact on local communities- the backbone of Wales' thriving rural communities before the flight of post offices, banks and pubs. Harsh budgets mean schools endure constant closure threats. Three in Ynys Mon (Anglesey) and one in Denbighshire are currently threatened. Ysgol Llanbedr has 21 full-time and seven part-time pupils. Many objections have come from locals, politicians and clergymen. Anglesey plans offer just the stereotypical 'area school.'
Mr. Bill Goodhand, (NASS), explaining the facts about small schools said: "They're probably in some cases the only public service of any dimension that still survives. Rural people are paying the same taxes as everybody else in this country and they deserve a service on their doorstep for young children. Any economist would see the savings are miniscule when on-going transport costs are assessed. You still have to educate those children in another school."
Devolution has seen the Assembly set targets to reduce school places that have already closed many schools. 2010 research showed more than half Welsh rural primary schools had 90 pupils or less and so categorised by the Audit Commission as "small".
Professor David Reynolds spent 30 years defending small schools, warning in 2005 that 200 faced closure because of the targets. But his 2007 research for the Institute of Welsh Affairs and found that "really small schools", (20 to 30 pupils and one teacher) struggle on standards. (The research, its methods and findings were, however, seriously flawed- under peer review- but sadly still drive policy!)
Councillor Huw Williams, for Llanbedr Dyffryn Clwyd, said the Denbighshire village school's declining roll (management problems) had ended- numbers would rise to 41 this year and 55 next if the 150-year-old school remained open. He said: "Whenever we have a community event the school is supportive of the community event. Losing the school will leave a big hole in our community."
A Welsh Government spokesperson said of the 69 closures only three schools had more than 90 pupils, while 61 had fewer than 50 at the last census prior to closure and several had no children remaining on the roll. (There is NO evidence showing a given number of pupils is automatically educationally unviable. Ofsted has found quality of teaching better in very small schools!- NASS)
"Any case for closure should be robust and must demonstrate how this would be in the best interests of educational provision in the area. Any decision on closure must be in the best interests of learners A report recently published by Estyn found that both primary and secondary schools of all sizes can provide good standards of education. Of great importance is good leadership."
Council consults on transport cuts
Northumberland County Council has begun consultation on the possibility of reducing its school transport bill by no longer supporting free transport for children in Faith schools as a result of parental choice. The proposal will especially hit post-16 provision (£600 for a bus previously boarded for free) but the risk to village schools is obvious.
One politician said: "Over many years communities have worked hard to keep their small village schools open. Any fall in pupil numbers would put the long term viability of these rural schools at risk."
The Labour-led council says its current approach is no longer sustainable. It is expected to approve proposals to save £2.4 million a year. In five years student numbers (3500 from 800) mean council costs are now £3.3 million per year. Alternative options to reduce costs had to be considered.
Decile ranking of pupils test results withdrawn
The inspiration of the minor partner in the governing coalition no doubt keen to show a positive commitment to raising standards, the proposal would have extended existing public reporting of national test results to a process of decile ranking under which parents were alleged to be able to see how their individual child's result rated across the nation.
NASS and NAPE (National Association for Primary Education) have long much supported each other and were part of the group of associations that strongly opposed the worst aspects of the first draft for the new National Curriculum. Significant changes were made- though some have been wilfully ignored despite wide professional criticism.
We were both very concerned by the new ranking proposal- not least because it threatened to overturn further, if not completely, the original small schools exemption from publishing results- designed to prevent individual results being identified.
NAPE submitted a telling and powerful response to the earlier consultation on assessment under the proposed new National Curriculum. It firmly opposed the dependence on narrow testing, and especially baseline assessment on entry to reception classes. It offered the following best practice advice:
"It is not accepted that the assessment practice indicated in the DfE document 'Primary assessment and accountability under the new national curriculum' can be described as good.
Progress in learning cannot always be set out in steps. Much learning in the primary years consists of a growth of understanding upon which later skills so much depend. We do not agree that progress in understanding can be measured by comparing results in one test with results in another taken years later. In common with a large majority of teachers our formative assessments are guided not by test results but by Jerome Bruner's statement that "Knowing is a process, not a product". It follows it is impossible to measure progress with any precision. We rely on the judgements of parents and teachers informed through their close proximity to the children.
We reject the Year 6 expectation that children should be 'secondary ready.' This expectation, highly dangerous to the quality of teaching, encourages coaching rather than education. The 15% of the age group the government assumes will not meet the expectation have a right to education matched to their individual aptitudes and needs. Schools should fit children not the reverse. Please refer to chapters 16 and 17 of the final report of the Cambridge Primary Review. Also to Professor John Hattie's work on effective feedback from assessment. His view is that "The most powerful single moderator that enhances achievement is feedback".
On decile ranking NAPE asked:
Q Will decile ranking be helpful to teachers and parents?
A. No, not at all. The DfE reference to 'scaled scores used in international surveys' indicates that the Rasch model will be used- a model strongly criticised by several researchers as contributing to the wide variation in Pisa rankings which makes their interpretation so problematic. (PISA is increasingly criticised- Shanghai is withdrawing from its analyses as too data-driven-....... Editor)
Decile ranking of scaled scores gives great concern. Inevitably scores will bunch around the mean and risk arbitrary allocation to deciles. It is vital parents fully understand the process involved and have confidence in the fairness of the resultant ranking which could have a profound effect upon their relationship with their children. Reporting will be to teachers and parents yet it is very likely that children will come to know their ranking- for many, not least the 15% not 'secondary ready,' the worst possible start to the next stage of their education. The government's 'value added' is an improved ability to gain higher test scores. Yet test scores are only a small part of progress towards autonomous adulthood with appropriate skills. NAPE's view of the U-turn:
Assessing Young Children
NAPE welcomes the substantial shift away from the original proposals published in summer 2013. Ministers have had to listen to the serious reservations voiced by teachers and parents.
Only 17% of consultation replies regarded the proposals a basis for effective assessment. Fewer than one person in seven was happy about ranking children in ten categories (called deciles) from the most to the least able. There has been a major U-turn. The levels have been retained with a face saving name change. Some two thirds of respondents were either opposed or doubtful about the intention to run checks on the youngest children aged four or five in their first weeks in school. More enlightened thinking has prevailed. What the government calls baseline assessment will come within the broader analysis of children's needs- part of every admission teacher's work.
This early assessment is not a statutory requirement. Many schools will decide not to go ahead since the assessment will inevitably overlap with parenting skills as much as the children themselves. Assessment as an essential teaching tool is very different from being a government accountability tool. Baseline assessment findings will be held as data throughout the school lives of children. Schools most likely to choose to assess children from the beginning of their schooling are those facing the severest social and educational disadvantage. Such records will inform later progress so providing a surer guide to the quality of the schools' work. If this is the choice it is vital that appraising parenting closely involves those parents. Widespread disquiet will rightly follow if they find teachers have made judgements of parenting but without the full involvement of the families.
It is easy to dismiss a rural day school's ability to succeed in national examinations Karaguririo Primary School has slowly clawed its way to the height of achievement. Earlier performance changed when Charles Mwangi Waweru became Headteacher.
"We brought the parents on board and counselled them to take a keen interest in their children's education. We set targets and insisted on punctuality for the students. In a day school, time management is important.
However, he soon noted that the pupils' mind-set was wrong. So the school management team organised visits to national schools in the county as well as the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology just to open up their minds and allow them to dream of possibilities.
(This should sound very familiar- the ingredients of quality are the same anywhere.)
CfBT commissioned Robert Hill and NFER to examine forms of small school partnership bringing beneficial outcomes in terms of raising standards and other performance benefits. The report, available from the respective websites, notes the strengths of small schools and describes the range of forms partnership today may take but reports under the encouraging theme: "Best of Both Worlds"
NASS has a few concerns as to how the project was established. We have reported CfBT's role for many years recently as de facto running Lincolnshire's education service. Only 30 schools were studied. Presumably there are many others. CfBT does a lot of work with groups of schools, or chains to use the modern word. The study might prove to have implications relating to such partnerships.
CfBT also used schools under 210 with two successive "satisfactory" Ofsted gradings as a definition of its motive for the study- a tacit argument that partnership may be needed to make small schools effective- despite 'good' and 'outstanding' being achieved by so many small schools without. Though reducing this later to 180 small schools, by Ofsted and NASS definition small schools have fewer than 100 pupils. Ofsted data raises more questions as rolls rise above 100. Ofsted has been very pleased with schools with 100 or fewer on roll.
Under Lincolnshire CfBT clusters had £20 000 for development. Most were informal but some otherwise. When funding for Haringey's reading project in the mid-1970s stopped, the project seriously slowed down. The study claims that despite benefits small schools have significant problems. Who asks if large schools have allegedly similar endemic problems?
The findings do not suppose teaching schools or academisation bring the required answers but describe the observed benefits of co-operation in its various forms. Partnership activity included sharing data and information on performance, continuing and joint professional development, developing middle leaders, joint programmes and events for pupils, school business management and governor development. Federations and academy trusts were more likely to employ executive Headteachers, deploy staff across schools, have joint leadership teams and use common systems in areas such as data-tracking, classroom observations and procurement. School performance had improved and partnership was one factor.
The report offered "Ten Lessons" for schools, ten for Local Authorities and ten for policy-makers. The latter emphasised flexibility and co-operative strategies. Local Authorities were pointed towards flexibility but with harder options (federation, executive headships where schools" struggled." They are encouraged to take partnership seriously and ensure it is understood, valued and supported throughout the school. Overall the tone and tenor of the report generally positive about small schools. It tends more to endorse the NASS commitment to informal but systematic collaboration between otherwise autonomous schools looking to import what is relevant to learning from larger-scale.
A good majority of NASS member schools will be Church of England schools. The issue of Faith was dealt with generously in the 1944 Education Act under which, according to financial contribution, Faith communities had freedom to teach and practice according to their beliefs. Parents not so disposed could opt their children out of such activity.
Today we have the difficult situation in Birmingham raising the question of Faith and the place- if any- of religious education in schools. But at a very effective suburban Birmingham primary school, with children from seven Faiths, all seven have agreed that the Lord's Prayer may be used in assemblies and in class end-of-day prayers along with one from the other Faiths. Often the children choose the end-of-day prayers. The Lord's Prayer has nothing to offend any Faith.
The Times Educational Supplement has recently considered balance may be achieved in a situation that has progressively become polarised over time. If, as research has shown, the prevailing dominant ambition even of primary children is to be as rich as possible something has been lost- back in 1944 it was engine drivers, film stars and sports heroes! Since the western economic model in purest form offers fewer winners and more losers many of these children will be disappointed. They surely need alternative values to live their now predicted centuries.
The Agreed Syllabus in State education sought to teach religious education more as history and literature- information that could illuminate the story of human existence. The Old Testament is rich in well-researched and well-founded history as the result of many decades of archaeological investigation, in significant cases explaining some of "the difficult to believe stuff" as credible in its historical context. A major 'dig' in Egypt has finally sorted the date of Rameses III which, in the Victorian record, just did not fit the archaeology story. The remains of large residential areas clearly dated as abandoned at critical times explain some aspects maintained in the verbal narrative. If Mr. Gove regards ancient history as the preserve of our younger children- as opposed to the recency that has produced so much exciting work under the former National Curriculum- what better place to start!
The Bible was argued also to be rich in morality and ethics- values for life and living in other words. Issues of gender and equality arise. Many of the examples lent themselves to drama and literary possibilities. Islam, Judaism and Christianity owe common roots in the Old Testament. Following good performance of Captain Noah and the Floating Zoo by a final junior year class the class itself wrote an entire Cantata telling the Jonah story- words and music and then performed before the whole school without any requirement to believe it or not. The teacher ensured much discussion about the use of allegory and imagination in what the biblical writers might have been trying to achieve- much as the circumstances of any history may be questioned and discussed.
The TES article offered many such suggestions for non-contentious treatment of aspects of religious history that once seemed inevitably tied to belief but which have broader, creative curriculum promise within the life and living aims of effective education some commentators today believe neglected.
Thus a teacher was reported in that recent TES article to have asked his pupils to write Noah's diary for a week.
The Malaysian Department of Education has implemented virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to bring high-quality computing and digital education resources to students in rural and inland areas. From March 2014, it has deployed 25,000 Teradici PCoIP zero clients to 1,250 schools, and the zero clients connect to a VMware Horizon View VDI host in a private cloud. The implementation grew out of the Malaysia Education Blueprint, 2013-2015, outlining the country's vision for education from pre-school to university and is expected to affect 6 million students at 10,000 schools.
According to VMware and Teradici, the deployment has provided many of the students with access to desktops, applications and online data for the first time because the rural and remote areas have limited access to online connectivity and electricity. The deployment of computing resources to these schools was made possible through the use of virtual desktop infrastructure, which required "minimal onsite IT setup or modification to the classroom environment," according to Bitara
Bitara is the company that implemented the VDI system, tested VDI using three different protocols: Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) from Microsoft, Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) from Citrix and PC-over-IP (PCoIP) from Teradici. "Within the environmental conditions in Malaysia, we found that PCoIP was very, very good compared to the other choices," said Mohd Rizal bin Hilme, CIO of Bitara Induk.
According to Teradici, "when streaming to multiple endpoints, the first two protocols can congest the network. In contrast, running VDI using the PCoIP protocol compresses, encrypts and rapidly transports pixels and Teradici's PCoIP implementation executes at the chip level."