Your Weekly Sector News 20/10/23

Join us for another edition of Your Weekly Sector News, as we consider opportunities for change and innovation within the world of education. This week, we look at the future of Ofsted, the launch of digital exams, and the profound influence of school leaders.
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Education Committee investigates Ofsted’s work with schools

This week, industry leaders and experts spoke to the Education Select Committee as part of their inquiry into Ofsted’s work with schools. The inquiry will look into the impact of Ofsted judgements on schools and pupils, including the impact on workload and wellbeing for all members of the school community. 

Many leaders agreed that removing one-word judgements would have the biggest impact on workload and wellbeing in schools. Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said that one-word judgements can also be linked to recruitment challenges, leaving schools ‘stuck in a cycle of decline.’ Instead, speakers were in favour of a lower-stakes report card system. 

Leaders also expressed concerns about a lack of expertise amongst inspectors when assessing primary and early years education – and also, potentially, multi-academy trusts (MATs). Currently, Ofsted does not have the power to carry out full inspections on MATs and instead offers summary evaluations. Yet, this may change with the arrival of the new Ofsted chief inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver.

However, Steve Rollett, deputy chief executive of the Conderations of School Trusts, told the committee that Ofsted would need to create a new approach in order to avert the ‘huge risks of layering it over the existing inspection system.’ Others agreed that MAT inspections could be divisive amongst parents and potentially prevent trusts from taking on schools that are struggling. 

Digital exams to be rolled out by 2026

According to AQA, England’s largest exam board, pupils are set to take some of their GCSE exams digitally within the next few years. The first exams to go digital include parts of GCSE Italian and Polish. In these subjects, AQA plans to launch mock digital exams in 2025, with live exams released in the following year. It is hoped that at least one major subject, such as English, will be at least partly digital by 2030. 

AQA explains that digital exams hold greater potential for assessing what a student knows, understands and can do. However, the exam board aims to ‘move to digital exams in an evolutionary, not revolutionary, way.’ In 2026, digital exams will simply be traditional papers on a screen. Other possible design features, such as interactive audio and video elements, are part of a longer-term vision. 

In AQA’s pilot studies of digital exams, more than half of pupils reported having an overall positive experience, compared to just 12% who felt negatively. Tom Middlehurst, curriculum, assessment and inspection specialist at the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL), says it is encouraging to see exam boards exploring new ways of moving towards digital exams. However, he adds that all students must be given equal access to the devices they will use in exams, ‘otherwise this approach risks favouring students who have greater access to technology at home and could inadvertently increase the disadvantage gap.’

The strong influence of headteachers on pupil attainment

The Education Policy Institute has published a new report exploring the influence of headteachers on their schools. Findings show that schools with the most effective headteachers see their pupil attainment increase by two GCSE grades across all subjects. 

The study draws from national data on all pupils and headteachers in England between 2004 and 2019. Researchers followed 22,300 primary and 5,400 secondary headteachers, tracking their impact on pupil progress, teacher turnover, teacher absences, and the composition of the staff and pupil bodies. 

According to the study, even replacing an ineffective headteacher with one of average quality can boost pupil progress by one GCSE grade. Researchers explain that an extra grade is estimated to add £8,000 to a pupil’s lifetime earnings. Therefore, in an average secondary school of 1,000 pupils, recruiting and retaining an effective headteacher in post for five years could result in an extra £16 million in lifetime earnings for those pupils. 

With this in mind, researchers call on the government to prioritise enhancing the quality of school leadership as a cost-effective route to school improvement. Researchers also emphasise that headteachers’ effectiveness increases with their experience and the time they spend at a particular school. Therefore, they urge governors and Ofsted to focus on supporting those new to the role and recognising it may take years to realise the full improvement in results from switching headteachers. Furthermore, researchers suggest that the government should think about how to encourage effective school leaders to take on more challenging schools, as the reallocation of high-quality headteachers may help to reduce inequalities in attainment. 

One Education is passionate about working with schools and trusts to continually raise standards in education, ultimately providing the best possible experience for children and young people. 

Find out more about our wide portfolio of consultancy services, training and resources, and let’s work together to unlock new possibilities and limitless potential. 

Explore our services today. 

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