First look at the Schools White Paper
I am sure you are all avidly reading The Importance of Teaching, which is around 97 pages long and signals a radical reform for schools. Michael Gove MP states in his introduction that: ‘This White Paper outlines the steps necessary to enact such whole-system reform in England. It encompasses both profound structural change and rigorous attention to standards.' The paper gives a school more autonomy, which I am sure will delight headteachers as they will have more control over such things as curriculum, budgets, student behaviour, and new powers on detentions and searching. They will no longer be constrained by government directives or improvement initiatives and I hope will be able to pursue their goals without being held to account for the use of their dedicated ‘single issue' budgets.
The White Paper appears to give freedom to schools in a way that encourages them to work in partnership with other schools with the aim of helping each other to improve. Schools who are failing will be working directly with ‘outstanding' schools. The government continually refers to ‘the evidence from around the world' and identifies schools in other countries that are improving significantly faster than we are, especially concerning the attainment gaps of rich and poor students. They use Singapore, who are looking again at further improving their curriculum, and Hong Kong, who are looking at improving their teacher training, as examples of some of the best school systems, continually striving to get better. Their evidence shows that ‘the most important factor in determining how well children do is the quality of teachers and teaching. The best education systems in the world draw their teachers from among the top graduates and train them rigorously and effectively, focusing on classroom practice.' With all the evidence they have gained, the government seeks to improve the quality of teachers and teaching by recruiting more of the most talented people to the profession by:
- raising the bar for entry to PGCE teacher training for recent graduates by ceasing to provide DfE funding for applicants who do not hold at least a 2:2 degree or equivalent from Sept 2012
- reviewing the current basic skills tests of literacy and numeracy which teachers are required to pass before they can practice: ‘we will make sure student teachers take the test at the start rather than the end of the course, reducing the scope for retaking (currently one in seven teachers re-sits one of the tests more than three times), and strengthen the rigour of the tests to ensure they set a high enough standard.' I am particularly pleased with this review as I think it is appalling when I see poor spelling in documentation received from teachers
- trialling the use of aptitude, personality and resilience tests as part of the candidate selection process, with a view to implementing them as standard.
I am also pleased that the government has finally realised the need for the radical reform of the school funding system. They aim to:
- target more resources on the most deprived pupils over the next four years through a new pupil premium
- consult on developing and introducing a clear, transparent and fairer national funding formula based on the needs of pupils, which will work alongside the pupil premium
- end the disparity in funding for 16-18 year olds so that schools and colleges are funded at the same levels as one another
- cut the bureaucracy from the process of allocating capital funding and securing significantly better value for money.
The White Paper also mentions the dreaded words ‘claw back.' The government states that there will continue to be some situations where claw-back is appropriate and they give the example of where a school has built up an excessive balance or where ‘some level of redistribution would support improved provision across a local area'. They are, however, removing the requirement for local authorities to have a claw-back mechanism from 2011-12, and will review guidance on claw-back arrangements, including on the level of balances deemed to be excessive, with the aim to consult on making changes to the current arrangements from 2012-13.
School business managers are mentioned in the White Paper, in particular paragraph 8.22 pg 84:
‘School business managers make a significant contribution to the effective financial management of a school, saving on average 20-33 per cent of a headteacher's time and covering their own salary in savings. Obtaining the services (shared or full time) of a high quality business manager should be a priority for all governors and headteachers, unless there is someone in the management team with the relevant skills to undertake the role.'
Are they now saying that a teacher can undertake the role of an SBM? In the paragraph following the above they state that it is important that schools should be able to make savings on procurement and back office spend in order to invest resources in teaching and learning. I'm not sure that a member of the leadership team with the skills to undertake the role of the SBM would have the time, as they would more than likely be a teacher!
There will also be ‘Greater transparency in the funding system which will mean that every parent will know the money which is allocated for their child's education, the amount spent by local government, and the amount available to the school.' I wonder whether this will stop schools using the school budget to pay for staff ‘end of term' events?
The government also mentions the two-year pay freeze in the public sector, which will affect teachers (no mention of support staff and how we have not had a pay rise for three years!). However, they appear to be putting a little clause in the paper which states: ‘Nevertheless, schools will still be able to use incentives to recruit and retain their best staff, particularly where schools receive extra money through the pupil premium or are looking to recruit good teachers in shortage subjects.'
I may be being a bit cynical here, but is this opening the door for teachers to receive a ‘pay rise' by other means if the headteacher wishes to implement one, and as the paper talks about ‘staff', would headteachers include support staff as well as teachers within that group? Recommendations are being made to introduce greater freedoms and flexibilities that will make the pay and conditions framework (teachers) less rigid, with the intention of the more flexible pay arrangements being introduced at the end of the current pay freeze. I haven't read as yet to the end of the paper, but up to now I have found no mention of scrapping the Support Staff Negotiating Body (SSNB) and what the government's intention is with regard to support staff. Has anyone else found any mention within the paper?
The White Paper identifies the need to make it ‘easier for schools to adopt models of governance which work for them - including smaller, more focused governing bodies which clearly hold the school to account for children's progress, with governors, as well as the headteacher and teachers to have responsibility for improvement. The government aims to legislate in the forthcoming Education Bill so that all schools can establish smaller governing bodies with appointments primarily focused on skills. They also aim to remove prescription on school governing bodies, simplifying the list of decisions that they are required to take, for example ‘they will be able to take decisions about the length of the school day in whatever way they consider appropriate'.
The government is ending the requirement for every school to have a local authority school improvement partner (SIP) and the current centralised target-setting process, though in the next bullet point they do go on to say that they will make sure every school has access to highly effective professional development support. They are vague on the kind of support schools will receive.
How many SBMs complete sections of the SEF? You will be pleased to know that the government aims to remove the expectation on every school to complete a centrally designed self-evaluation form. The government finally realises that good schools already ‘evaluate themselves rigorously'.
These are but a few brief notes and I am sure that there will be more detailed information when you read through the paper yourselves and have your own ideas on what the benefits will be to your school.