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Your Weekly Sector News 13/05/22

With new insight from education think tanks, exam boards, and a new Schools Bill, there is a lot to keep abreast with in the sector this week. Never miss out on the latest information with Your Weekly Sector News at One Education.

By Elise Vipond on 13 May 2022

With new insight from education think tanks, exam boards, and a new Schools Bill, there is a lot to keep abreast with in the sector this week. Never miss out on the latest information with Your Weekly Sector News at One Education.

Only a Matter of Time For Online Exams

In last week’s news roundup, we spoke about Ofqual’s vision for the future of assessment and the potential of using adaptive online testing to replace tiering. Tiering is where GCSEs are split in two, so that some pupils sit foundation papers in which the top possible grade is a 4, whilst others sit a higher paper in which grade 9 is possible. For the last decade, tiering has been a subject of debate. Back in 2013, previous Education secretary Michael Gove tried to axe tiered papers, arguing that the system promoted a ‘culture of low expectations.’

Leaders in schools have also found difficulties with the system. In 2019, almost 4,500 out of the 140,000 pupils who took combined science received a U grade after being put into the higher tier paper. Ofqual subsequently wrote to schools to remind them to enter students into the appropriate tier. But as educators, dedicated to helping pupils reach their full potential, placing pupils into tiers sometimes seems counterintuitive. Likewise, both pupils and parents can feel like opportunities are being taken away from them.

Perhaps this is why over half of teachers support the move to online exams. Polled by Pearson, teachers said that they would use onscreen assessment now if it was available in their area, and over three-quarters said they would like to use more technology in teaching and exams.

But aside from adapting in real-time to cater to the pupils’ ability, there are lots of other advantages to online assessments. For example, Hayley White, assessment director at Pearson, explained that ‘onscreen assessment could be on-demand, making it possible for students to sit exams when they’re ready during the academic year, rather than the current fixed points in the summer.’

As set out in their corporate plan, Ofqual will begin to work on developing new testing methods, using technology to enhance the validity and accessibility of qualifications. This summer, as part of an onscreen assessment pilot launched by AQA, 2,500 pupils from 100 schools and colleges will sit online GCSEs alongside the traditional paper-and-pen format. ‘Digital assessment is only a matter of time,’ according to Colin Hughes, CEO of AQA, who says that online exams ‘better prepare students for future learning and work settings, and deliver a more personalised experience.’

Making the Most of the Parent Pledge

Earlier this week, the Department for Education (DfE) contacted schools to remind them to factor in the Parent Pledge when planning their school budgets. Announced in the Schools White Paper, the Parent Pledge promises that any child who falls behind in English or Maths will receive support to help them catch up and schools will keep parents updated on their child’s progress.

The DfE acknowledged that ‘most schools and trusts are already doing this, but, for some, it will be a shift in approach.’ According to polls, three-quarters of teachers already fulfil the commitment of the Parent Pledge. However, the Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY) encourages all schools to go ‘beyond this baseline for parent engagement,’ adapting a whole-school approach to building relationships with parents.

Increasing parent engagement can mean encouraging parents to help children with homework; boosting attendance at parents evenings, assemblies, and other school activities; promoting the value of different subjects, topics, or ways of learning; and even fostering more ambitious aspirations. As a result, children can benefit from a wider base of support, potentially improving their academic attainment as well as their social, moral, spiritual and cultural education.

The CfEY posits that ‘schools must work to build a relationship with families through sustained interaction [and] to an extent, the ‘Parent Pledge’ encourages this.’ To ensure that schools make the most of this opportunity, the CfEY urges schools to draw on behavioural science and change the “choice landscape” for parents - instead of giving parents the choice to engage or not to engage, give parents options about what engagement looks like. For example, one study measured the difference between parents given the choice to opt-in or opt-out of a text messaging service, which provided information about their child’s performance, missed classes and missed assignments. Slightly less than eight percent of parents chose to opt-in with the service. But when given the choice to opt-out, only four percent chose to do so - meaning that ninety-six percent of parents adopted the service. In this way, schools can establish social norms that emphasise the social belonging and accountability of parents, ultimately maximising parent engagement. Therein lies the ‘real value of the Parent Pledge,’ the CfEY argues, and calls schools to take advantage of it.

The New School Bill

As promised in the Queen’s Speech, the government has published the first major piece of legislation for education since 2016. Reflecting the proposals set out in the Schools White Paper, the Schools Bill seeks to increase attendance, improve safeguarding and raise standards across the country.

There is a lot of information to digest from the Schools Bill, so we have briefly covered some of the basics for you here. Note that there may be many amendments to the final draft before it is signed into law.

Academies

  • Councils will be able to force through academy conversions for one, some, or even all of their schools.
  • New statutory academy trust standards will replace existing guidance, introducing a more consistent approach to managing attendance, local governance and complaints.
  • The DfE will have new powers to intervene at academy trusts, including the ability to issue a notice to improve, replace the board of trustees with an interim board or appoint new trustees, and finally terminate the trust.
  • Academised church schools will be given the same protections as maintained schools over the delivery of religious education and collective worship.

Attendance

  • Schools will be required to publish attendance policies and take action to promote attendance.
  • Councils must keep a register of children not in school.
  • The Education secretary will be able to decide when absence fines are warranted.

Accountability

  • Settings that provide full-time education to five or more children, or just one child who has an education health and care plan or who is looked after, will be required to register as a school.
  • Ofsted will be given more powers to identify and investigate illegal schools, allowing inspectors to search for and seize evidence. It will be a criminal offence to obstruct or refuse assistance to inspectors during these investigations.
  • Powers to ban teachers for misconduct will be extended to any teacher working in post-16 and FE settings, teaching online, or not currently teaching.

As the sector seeks new ways to uplift pupils, engage with parents, and refine the structure of the education system, we cannot forget the importance of seeking new opportunities for teaching professionals themselves. Investment in staff is not something that schools can afford to do without if they wish to continue their success.

One Education is committed to ensuring school leaders and teachers have all the tools they need to grow in confidence and expertise. Take a look at our training courses and conferences to find new opportunities for you and your colleagues.

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