Education Reform

Speed read: ASCL’s blueprint to tackle education’s ‘entrenched injustice’

The school leaders’ union wants wide-ranging reforms, warning studies suggest rich-poor attainment gap ‘may never close’.

The school leaders’ union wants wide-ranging reforms, warning studies suggest rich-poor attainment gap ‘may never close’.

14 Sep 2021, 0:01

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School leaders are calling for priority in admissions for disadvantaged pupils and an overhaul of exams, the curriculum and performance tables to secure a “fairer education system”.

The recommendations are included in a new “blueprint” for England’s schools by the Association of School and College Leaders, aimed at closing the attainment gap between better- and worse-off pupils.

The report warns “we can no longer be confident that it will ever close”, arguing problems have worsened since a 2019 study found the gap would take more than 500 years to close.

Here’s a breakdown of the key proposals…

1. Build ‘consensus’ for new mandatory curriculum

A new curriculum review body should be launched which includes representation from schools, experts, parents and politicians across parties.

This should build “cross-party consensus” behind a new core curriculum on a 10-year cycle, focusing on fewer topics in more depth, and made it mandatory for academies.

The current curriculum is “crowded,” “lacks coherence” between primary and secondary and its non-compulsory nature in academies “creates a two-tier system”. But MAT support firm Forum Strategy warned against eroding academies’ freedoms.

2. Give deprived pupils admissions priority

ASCL wants a school admissions review to analyse the benefits of requiring schools to prioritise all children eligible for the pupil premium or in persistent poverty.

Children in or previously in care already have priority.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said it would tackle “entrenched injustice”, adding: “Middle-class parents have the buying power to afford homes in areas near popular schools that are rated as good or outstanding.”

3. New ‘scorecard’ to measure schools

A new “dashboard” or “scorecard” with broader measures than just exam results should be “the key accountability mechanism” for all schools or school groups.

This could include not only attainment measures, but also information on their curriculum, inclusion and staff development. Ofsted inspections should be based on evaluating progress against these measures.

4. Revamp primary assessment

Current mandatory primary assessments should be scaled back to just Year 1 phonics checks and end-of-primary assessments in Year 6.

Key Stage 2 SATs should be replaced with “adaptive assessments”, making more use of technology. Between Years 1 and 6, “schools should be free to determine their own approaches”.

5. Revamp GCSEs away from exams

GCSEs should be reformed to include more ongoing assessment over the course of study, reducing reliance on end-of-course summer exams.

6. Widen pupil premium and improve SEND funding

Extra funding for disadvantaged pupils up to 16 via the pupil premium should be extended to cover 16- to 19-year-olds too. SEND funding should also be “simpler, clearer and better resourced”.

7. More cash for careers advice

Improved funding, training and support for high-quality careers advice, particularly for disadvantaged pupils, is another recommendation. This should be “throughout primary, secondary and post-16 education”, with mentoring opportunities and parents involved

8. New support needed for new leaders

Reforms demanded for staff include encouraging every school and college to have at least one staff member complete the new NPQ in leading teacher development.

A pilot should trial ringfencing 20 per cent of staff time for collaborative planning and CPD.

A new framework and accompanying support is also needed for new leaders, mirroring the early career framework for new teachers, according to ASCL.

Meanwhile pay for all staff should keep up with inflation, and the sector should “encourage more flexible working practices”.

9. Hold off on “system change”

Despite the current system being “fragmented” between different school types, ASCL’s policy director Julie McCulloch warned radical change in any direction was “not a panacea”.

The report warns wholesale “system change” is disruptive, and should only happen if benefits outweigh disruption.

By contrast the report is focused on measures that are “eminently do-able”, according to Barton.

But ASCL does back supporting all schools to join partnerships albeit not only trusts, and reforming councils’ and regional schools commissioners’ roles to create a “clearer, more effective” single organisation.

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