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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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

Taking care of business

GCSE changes consultation

Education committee
Committee Chair Andy Yarrow pointed out that the decision had already been taken to replace modular with linear GCSEs for examinations in summer 2014 and the current consultation was about the detail.

ASCL’s consultation would register strong opposition to the lack of consultation. Concerns were expressed about certain groups, such as SEN students or those not achieving a grade C, becoming alienated and further disengaged.

Response to specific questions in the consultation document was as follows:

There should be an opportunity for a November re-take in GCSE Maths and English. However there was a concern that schools would enter students earlier for examinations to enable a re-take. Students should be allowed to use unit results from a single GCSE to aggregate to a double award GCSE. Would the Russell group universities only accept students who had been entered once?

Students should be allowed to carry forward units from a short course to a long course. ASCL should consult subject specialists about exceptions to linear GCSEs; for example evidence seems to suggest that units work for languages. Further evidence is also needed about the possible impact of linear GCSEs on groups such as SEN students and travellers.

The proposal to set marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG) at 5 per cent was considered too high especially for SEN and EAL pupils. How SPAG should be assessed depends on the type of question.

It was agreed to make these points in ASCL’s response to the consultation.

Destination data

Professional Committee
The committee, chaired by Ian Bauckham, heard that DfE intends to publish destinations for 2011 Key Stage 4 and 16-18 cohorts if the measure is robust enough. Publication will go ahead despite legal and methodological problems. This will extend to include employment and work-based learning destinations for 2012 cohort. In the longer term it could include more detail, such as named institutions, broken down by student characteristics.

Baseline data will be collected from existing school and college census arrangements and there will be no separate data collection. Schools will be able to drill into data at student level.

Following discussion, committee members raised the following concerns: What constitutes a positive destination? Do we want to see a ‘hierarchy’ of destinations? Is this likely to become a proxy indicator for the effectiveness of a school’s IAG? ASCL officers will seek feedback to these when they meet with DfE officials.

It was agreed that ASCL should be pushing for a robust national value-added system. The committee broadly welcome the efforts by the DfE to improve speed of production.

Funding consultation for schools

Funding Committee
Led by chair David Grigg, the committee discussed ASCL’s response to the school funding consultation and Funding Specialist Sam Ellis gave a brief summary of the consultation meetings attended. The results of the consultation will be discussed at the School Funding Implementation Group meetings and the points made in the ASCL response will be made in those discussions.

It was stressed that the DfE need to provide clarity on how free schools are being funded. Discussion took place on schools converting to academies and what happens when an academy fails financially. There is difficulty in getting an answer from the DfE. Sam Ellis agreed to continue to try to persuade DfE officials to consider an activity referenced approach.

Changing pay and conditions

Pay and Conditions Committee
Public Affairs Director Martin Ward gave the committee an overview of the changes within the FE college sector over the last 15 years; the situation now is very similar to schools regarding pay and conditions of service.

Following incorporation in 1993, an Employers Forum was created to conduct national negotiations, working with the unions, regarding pay and conditions for teachers and support staff. National negotiations produce pay recommendations – individual corporations then decide if/how these can be afforded.

The effect of the changes on support staff has been to allow more creativity and has been seen to improve the pay and conditions. Sixth form colleges have tried to maintain a level of salary similar to that in schools to aid recruitment and retention.

Because national pay and conditions do not apply to the academy sector, Chair David Trace agreed that ASCL needs to consider what action it should take. The possibility of setting up a similar employers’ forum for academies was discussed.

SEND Green Paper

Inclusion Committee
The committee, chaired by Jonathan Fawcett, agreed that the biggest challenge was how ASCL influences progress on changes to special needs. There may also be constraints for the Health Service as it faces a time of change.

Three members of the committee are involved with the pathfinders which run until April 2013 and they will report back to the committee. Concerns were raised about where the funding is going. The pathfinders appear to be concentrating on a small number of children with severe special needs, rather than on the larger number who require less intensive support.

The point was raised that financial stress could occur if pupils who could have been in mainstream are encouraged to go to special schools. This is already occurring in at least one area and inclusion is suffering.

Concerns about were raised about SENCO training and the difficulty of succession planning and appointing high quality SENCOs. Statutory training is demanding and it is difficult to release a SENCO to do this during the school day.

Future of local authorities

Professional Committee
Lively debate ensued around this issue as committee members’ experience of local authorities is wide and variable. It was widely felt that there was a lack of creative thinking in LA circles about their future, when they could have a transformational role. In many areas local school-led partnerships and cooperative learning trusts are replacing local authority-led groups. These can also be national, especially but not only when a converter academy is part of a chain.

The risk is that some schools could be left out and become isolated. The committee generally agreed that the most effective collaborations are school-led. Due to the decreasing role of LAs there appears to be a need for an intermediate force between parents and schools and the secretary of state. Chair Peter Campling agreed that the committee will discuss what this body would look like and what its role would be at December Council.

Pensions Pay and Conditions

Committee and plenary debate
The committee, chaired by David Trace, heard that unions are presenting a range of real-life career profiles for government actuaries so that they have a clear understanding of the nature of the profession. Danny Alexander has stated that the situation for lower and middle-paid will be broadly the same. Those further up the pay scales will be hardest hit.

Pensions Specialist David Binnie referred to the need to look at transitional arrangements for those who would be retiring soon after changes are implemented in 2014/15.

The committee was not in favour of proposals for tiered contributions and was therefore unable to respond appropriately to the questions in the consultation. ASCL is not in a position to respond to specifics until far more about broader proposals are known, for instance what a Career Average Revalued Earnings (CARE) scheme might look like.

Full Council heard an overview of the current situation and reviewed ASCL’s position on strike action. After debate, a vote was taken on adopting the following position: “Council authorises the General Secretary to call a ballot of members for appropriate industrial action, including strike action, if pension negotiations fail.” It was overwhelmingly approved.

  • The full minutes from all the committees and the full council plenary sessions are available at
  • The next meeting will be held in Coventry on 8-9 December.

Taking care of business