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In a nutshell

State schools should all be properly funded and well led, with good teachers, good discipline and lots of ambition for their pupils. The system should help every child reach their potential.

Government initiatives should be based on evidence and research, and funding should leave as much discretion as possible to schools.

Key points

Curriculum: Narrowing the curriculum leads to cultural disenfranchisement. We think that the restoration of breadth should be a priority for funding and measured in performance tables.

Grammar schools: Creating grammar schools by examination is expensive, unnecessary, disadvantages poor children and distorts primary education.

Challenging schools: We need realistic and sustained incentives for teachers to work in challenging schools in all parts of the country, and to train top quality school leaders.

Mental health in schools: Creation and evaluation of a body of good practice should come first, thereafter schools should be supported with specialist help and extra funding.

SEN: The funding for SEN provision is in a confused and confusing state. Sorting this out must be a priority for an incoming government. We also need to think again about whether inclusion should be the default position. 

Grammar schools

A conservative victory would mean that plans for the establishment of new grammar schools will go ahead. Long-term research studies on whether or not grammars have a significant effect on social mobility have proved equivocal at best, leaving the field open for more attractive and compelling ad hominem pro-arguments. Parents are divided on the subject, those whose children pass the 11+, and those who think their child will do so, tend to be in favour. Those whose children have failed or who are unlikely to pass tend to be against.
 
If we are to have a grammar system then all parents who want a grammar school education for their children, and whose children are suited to it, should be able to access it. However, these proposals are going to cost a great deal of money and there need to be assurances that new grammar and free schools will not be funded at the expense of existing schools, many of which are already cutting teaching posts and trimming curricula because of reduced budgets. We also await proposals which may actually tilt the admissions playing field in favour of children from deprived backgrounds.
 

A belief in learning for its own sake, high expectations and standards and tip-top discipline are all associated with grammar schools, but should also be available to children of all abilities at well-funded schools.

Breadth

Most parents want a broad academic and cultural education for their children. The EBacc, changes to sixth form exams and financial constraints all appear to be reducing breadth. By devaluing creative and vocational paths, every child’s education is made more sterile and many are being set up to fail.

  • We think that the restoration of breadth should be a priority for funding.
  • In the absence of that, the EBacc should include at least one creative subject, and the delivery of breadth – including vocational subjects where appropriate - should be remarked on by Ofsted.
  • Longer school days could provide space for breadth, and align better with modern parental work-patterns.

Discipline

All schools should have a consistent and well-understood approach to discipline, and there should be no doubt of a school’s ability to enforce it.

  • Where a school permanently excludes a child, the school should lose and the child should carry with them twice the level of funding that nominally applies to that child. Hoofing out a child should never be the easy option: schools should be incentivised to work hard as a community to help and support children in difficulties. Large numbers of excluded children have an SEN – proper funding/support could prevent many exclusions.

Governance and Structure

  • Where something is going wrong in a school, parents should have access to an easy means of getting something done about it. The current academy/free school structure does not appear to be much better at this than the LEA structure. It would be possible for Ofsted to take on this role.
  • Parents should have some real influence on the policies pursued by a school. In a multi academy trust (MAT) structure, where local influence can be minimal, this may be effectively done by allowing a parental vote to remove a school from its MAT.
  • Ofsted reports are a much better guide to a school than exam statistics alone. Annual half-day visits by an Ofsted inspector, followed by a public letter to parents, would be an improvement, and an incentive to performance beyond exams.

Best practice and teaching

  • The London Challenge (2003 onwards) brought about huge and lasting improvements to secondary schools in the capital by schools working together and bringing in experts where necessary. We now need realistic and sustained incentives for teachers to work in challenging schools in all parts of the country, and to train top quality school leaders.
  • Best practice and proven success exists in multiple schools of all types and location. Collaboration, and dissemination of success, needs to be much more effective. In our experience, this means enough additional funding to employ someone to oversee the change in the receiving school.
  • Involving parents makes a huge difference. Children do best at school and have the best outcomes when home and school work well together.

Mental health

This is an area to which society as a whole has not paid enough attention, and we are an enthusiastic part of the current mood of change. There’s a lot that schools might do, and others might do to help schools, but there’s also as much woo-woo around as good practice, so the creation and evaluation of a body of good practice should come first. There needs to be greatly increased funding for child mental health so schools can refer troubled children to experts without lengthy delays.

School admissions

Parents want, quite reasonably, to be able to secure their child’s admission to a school that they approve of. The current system, as the Conservative manifesto notes, is neither fair nor effective.

There is no obvious way of making rapid changes to geographically-based admission systems: any allowance for refugees from other districts inevitably displaces natives. Many city schools have no room to expand.

Some changes that we would like to see:

  • Fixed geographical catchment areas, to provide parents with a reasonable level of certainty, set so that they are expected to generate no more than 80% of maximum annual intake (i.e. the number that could be accommodated on the site, not the actual current admissions number), the other 20% of places being allocated by lottery.
  • Fairness for religious and irreligious parents. Religious parents should be able to apply to swap their ‘catchment’ school for one with the required religious character, with the latter school accepting the obligation to admit and the former school being relieved of it. Irreligious parents, similarly, should be able to swap their religious catchment school for an irreligious one.
  • No school should be their own admissions authority (i.e. running the admissions process, as opposed to setting the rules) – it far too often leads to covert selection.
  • Full admissions rules and data on how they have worked in the past should be published as Open Data, so that parents can easily make informed decisions on school choices.

Performance tables

Schools should not be made responsible for the results of pupils who transfer in close to examination times. We suggest that pupils’ Progess8 and similar value added measures should be pro-rated between their previous and current schools over the previous three years.

This would also diminish the benefit to schools of hoofing out underperforming pupils in the run-up to exams, and increase the incentives for them to allow pupils to move to other environments (e.g. UTC and FE Colleges)

Schools should publish numbers of pupils starting and completing years 10/11 and sixth form. This would give a good indication of which schools which stand by all pupils and which eject them to improve their statistics.

SEND  

Special Educational NeedsThe funding for SEN provision is in a confused and confusing state. Sorting this out must be a priority for an incoming government. We also need to think again about whether inclusion should be the default position. 

We should preserve the legal rights for all children to be educated in a mainstream school where this is in the child's best interests and it is what the parents want.  However, LAs are cynically using this as a means to avoid paying for specialist provision when this is what the parents want and the child desperately needs. 

We should encourage the founding of schools that suit particular needs. Moderate learning difficulty schools are ideal for children who can't manage in mainstream, but who cannot work to their potential in special schools filled with children with more severe needs. Similarly some children will fare much better in specialist dyslexia/autism schools.

More schools are needed for children with high functioning autism.  There are far too few schools for this rapidly increasing number of children who are very able but who need expert tuition. Frequently, these children cannot cope with the sensory/social etc aspects of mainstream.  Such children should not need to spend years in a psychiatric hospital as a result of poor educational provision.

Local authorities should be liable for parents' costs in tribunal cases which the parents win.  Councils currently lose 86% of the cases which go to the SEND tribunal. Parents have to bear their own costs, which can be 20K plus, even when they win.  This discriminates against poorer families, and encourages councils to pursue vexatious cases (relying on parents to drop away because they can't afford to take the case). 

Schools should never have an incentive to refuse to admit children who need extra help.

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