2022 Summer Term

The know zone

  • Opportunity for all?
    The long-awaited white paper has been published but will it finally help close the disadvantage gap in primary and will it level up? Tiffnie Harris takes a closer look. More
  • Just how safe is the BTEC now?
    After a softening of the government's language on defunding BTECs, the first list of affected qualifications is now out. Kevin Gilmartin provides an update. More
  • Flexible working
    Hayley Dunn believes schools can successfully recruit and retain business leaders by offering them an opportunity to work from home. More
  • Boost or bust?
    Will the government's new Skills and Post-16 Education Act measure up, deliver growth and boost the economy? Anne Murdoch investigates. More
  • Debunking myths
    Jacques Szemalikowski offers reassurance around changes to the pension scheme. More
  • Nuggets of joy
    ASCL members share their uplifting stories, moments of greatness and little nuggets of joy and laughter More
  • Keep smiling
    In search of some much-needed light relief, Gareth Burton dips into the pages of his journal which records the amusing moments from his two decades as a teacher. More
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The long-awaited white paper has been published but will it finally help close the disadvantage gap in primary and will it level up? Tiffnie Harris takes a closer look.

Opportunity for all?

The publication of the new schools white paper, Opportunity for All: Strong schools with great teachers for your child (tinyurl.com/5f2xy8te) initially appears to raise more questions than answers, especially when looking at how the significant rise in primary targets might be achieved by 2030. 

The paper’s introduction provides us with a stark reminder that “In 2019, 35% of children did not achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by the end of primary school in key stage 2”. It goes on to reinforce another well-versed statistic that “children who were disadvantaged or vulnerable, including those with special educational needs, were more likely to be amongst those missing out on key learning milestones”. 

It’s also no surprise to primary school leaders when the paper says “Covid-19 has exacerbated these challenges” and “we must support children to recover from its educational and emotional effects”. 

Additionally, one of the white paper’s key ambitions is that “90% of primary school children will achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by a third”. 

Actions, not words 

All of this is all very well, but as the saying goes, ‘actions speak louder than words’, therefore, the government needs to do much more than publish words alongside raised targets to ensure schools are fully supported in being able to improve on previous outcomes. 

Nobody would argue against better outcomes for children. After all, no primary school leader or teacher leaves their home each morning with an expectation that children in their class will not achieve. If teachers could do more, they would of course do more. Doubtless too would any primary school leader disagree with the section in the white paper that says, “Literacy and numeracy are the bedrock of a great education, unlocking the whole curriculum and turbocharging social mobility. They are the essential tools which allow children to go on to further training and employment, and to live fulfilled lives. They are the gateway to the broad and rich curriculum children need.” But what many leaders and teachers would say is that raising the stakes of accountability in English and maths at primary will only narrow the curriculum further, thus negatively impacting on opportunities for pupils later. 

Marc Rowland, Adviser for Improving Outcomes for Disadvantaged Learners at Unity Schools Partnership, recently presented a webinar as part of the ASCL Primary Essentials Programme (our free webinars for primary leaders – find out more at www.ascl.org.uk/primaryessentials), with a focus on disadvantaged pupils in primary schools. 

As part of his webinar, he used the suggestion that children are not at risk of underachieving because they have been identified as Pupil Premium, but instead, they are at risk of underachievement because of the impact of social disadvantage on their learning over time. He made the point that schools cannot solve all of society’s problems – although it increasingly feels as though that is exactly what is being expected of them. 

If the higher targets set out within the white paper are to be achieved by the impending 2030 deadline, then the government must: 

  1. ensure all primary schools have enough money to achieve the aims 
  2. value the profession 
  3. actively support a move away from accountability, rather than the needs of the children, driving day-to-day practice 

We make many of these points in A Great Education for Every Child: The ASCL blueprint for a fairer education system (www.ascl.org.uk/blueprint), which sets out a long-term vision for how we can ensure our most disadvantaged children and young people can flourish and thrive as we begin to emerge from one of the most difficult periods most of us have ever experienced. 

For now, primary leaders can focus only on what is within their control at present and continue to provide the best education they can with the staff and resources that are available to them. 

Tiffnie Harris
ASCL Primary and Data Specialist