Three stars and a wish: my end-of-year report card for the DfE

I know “feedback” is a contentious issue these days – what with triple marking, and lollipop sticks, and everyone going crazy about exam mark schemes.

But there’s something I still love about the simple “three stars and a wish” format I was taught in teacher training. Three good things, one thing that could be better. I’ve no idea if it’s evidence-based, maybe the government’s new evidence “champion” Kevan Collins will tell me, but it’s definitely a format that leads to fuzzy feelings with room for improvement.

There is no hiding place for school leaders who preside over dipping data or delayed deadlines

I know I can be hard on our beloved government overlords, but that’s because they’re hard on schools. There is no hiding place for school leaders who preside over dipping data or delayed deadlines. They are mauled by governors, Ofsted, commissioners, parents, auditors. Exam results are published.

So we do the same for the group with ultimate power. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

But, in the same way that education secretary Justine Greening says we must no longer purely be punitive towards schools, so too should we remember what the DfE and government has done well. After all, as the schmaltzy speakers at most INSETs will tell you, we are all on an improvement “journey” together.

So, as it’s the end of the academic year, here’s my report card for the Department for Education with three stars and a wish.

Star 1: Pushing back against the use of nationality data for immigration purposes

As home secretary, Theresa May planned for schools to collect data on pupils’ nationality and country of origin to hunt out illegal immigrants.
Although the plan was watered down, by last autumn schools were starting to collect this information and it wasn’t clear how it would be used. Amid a public furore, the DfE created an agreement that protected the data from Home Office use. Given May was prime minister by this time, that was not an easy thing to do. Civil servants had to use much diplomacy while being harangued daily in public (including by us).

There are children who will still be in education next year because of these moves. Thank you to the civil servants who managed it.

Star 2: School place provision

It’s easy to complain about the free schools programme. It hasn’t always been efficient. But the huge bulge of primary children has, largely, hit without too much of an issue. Class sizes have expanded a touch; first preferences fell a tiny amount. But given the stark warnings of a few years ago (including from me), the DfE deserves some kudos for having worked with local authorities to get cash, schools and teachers to where they are needed.

Will they manage it as the population bulge moves into secondaries? The jury is still out!

Star 3: The SATs resit u-turn

This was a smart move by Justine Greening. Given the many problems with the exams, and their expense, this policy was unpopular and impractical (even if well-intended). That Greening was willing to do a u-turn bodes well as we go into the choppy territory of funding and assessments over the next year or so.

The (somewhat massive) wish

There are currently NINE outstanding consultation responses which – when you add the time the schools sector has been waiting – equal EIGHT YEARS of delay. That’s ridiculous.

Funding, environments, staffing, timetabling. These things make schools go round. Proposals have been mooted for each and school leaders have been left dangling for years.

Prevarication while you make good decisions is one thing. But these delays are about the cowardice of a government that only wants information to come out when it’s convenient to its electoral cycles. We don’t have to put up with it.

Hence, we are creating a consultation calendar with the days totted up that we have been waiting and we will be reporting it regularly. What gets measured gets focused on.

We’ll be back with our first edition of the school year on September 15. In the meantime you can find daily news on our website and, if you don’t want to keep checking the site, you can sign up for our daily round-up of headlines here.

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