December 2011

The know zone

  • Take note
    Governance, finance, buildings, liabilities, personnel… increased autonomy lays bare a raft of rights and responsibilities that academies can’t ignore, says Richard Bird. More
  • Coining new terms
    Sam Ellis introduces a series of articles designed to help leaders adapt to a world in which curriculum planning is determined by what you can afford, not what you need. More
  • Lead vocals
    Quotes from Horace, Napoleon Hill, Maya Angelou, Frank A Clark. More
  • Permanent state of bliss?
    Ross Morrison McGill was made voluntarily redundant from his role as assistant head of an academy in London in August. He hopes to run his own school one day and is currently blogging and fundraising for Bliss, a charity that helps families with prematurely-born children, after his son Freddie was born two months early. More
  • Green is good
    Through its Green Schools Revolution (GSR) community education programme, The Co-operative is encouraging students to work towards a more sustainable future. A range of resources, activities and trips have been devised to engage everyone from young, first-time environmentalists to committed ‘greenagers’. More
  • Adding value
    Data is critical to informing decisions on whole school improvement but many schools and academies are failing to make good use of the powerful tools available in their management information systems (MIS). More
  • LA story: The final cut?
    Do local authorities still have a role to play in education? If so, in what areas? Should they be involved in monitoring and raising standards, take on a more limited role, or have no involvement at all with education? Leaders share their views… More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Terminal exams set to stay in England & Pensions come home to roost More
  • Taking care of business
    While pensions and industrial action were at the forefront of everyone’s mind during the last Council meeting on 13-14 October, there was plenty of other business to attend to. Here is a snapshot of the committee discussions More
  • Trading places
    If the school system becomes polarised between confident high-achieving institutions and ones struggling to overcome major challenges, collaboration will become not just important but essential, says Brian Lightman. Otherwise, the dream of a world-class education system has no hope of becoming a reality. More
  • Sense & sensibility?
    Eric Hester reports a startling DfE development: some leadership teams are being encouraged to deploy discernment, logic and good old-fashioned gumption. More
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The antidote to common leadership conundrums...

Terminal exams set to stay in England

Q I have heard that the Welsh GCSE exams will remain modular and that schools in England can take Welsh GCSEs. Can we do this to get around our students having to do terminal exams? As we are a school serving a mainly deprived area, I believe the move to terminal GCSEs will greatly disadvantage our students, many of whom lack confidence academically when they come to us.

A This was raised as a possibility when the secretary of state first announced the move to terminal exams at GCSE. However, the DfE and Ofqual dealt quickly with the loophole – regulation is likely to state that no exam in England can be called a GCSE unless it has 100 per cent terminal examinations. The Welsh boards can continue to market GCSEs to English schools but they must have terminal exams to count in the tables. Academies will be bound by this regulation but not independent schools. Likewise, IGCSE successors will not have to adhere.

ASCL is concerned about the extremely tight timescale and we have been meeting with Ofqual about this. Awarding bodies are unlikely to have revised specifications ready for centres much before Easter 2012 (although drafts may be on their websites before then) for first teaching in September 2012. We have stressed that teaching approaches will have to change and this means teachers will be adjusting their planning at the last minute.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a recurring habit of this government – make sweeping changes first and then thinking through the impact on students and teachers.

Pensions come home to roost

Q I may be a principal but I am not a pension expert and I am embarrassed to say I don’t understand many of the terms bandied about in the negotiations on pensions. What is an accrual rate, for instance and how does it affect me?

A There is no need to be embarrassed, much of the discussion around the pension changes is highly complex – in fact, a technical group meets weekly to discuss the implications.

An accrual is a payment earned in one period but not paid until a later period. The accrual rate is the proportion of earnings that a defined benefit pension scheme, like the Teachers’ Scheme, pays out as a pension for each year of membership. For example, a scheme with an accrual rate of 1/60 provides 1/60th of earnings for each year of membership, which is higher than a pension based on an accrual rate of 1/80th of earnings.

Another term you may have heard is the discount rate, which is the rate at which pension schemes discount future liabilities to ‘present value’. It is used to set scheme members’ contributions. There is a full glossary of pension terms at

Leaders' surgery