What the resource is:
Your child, your schools, our future: building a 21st century school system is a government white paper which outlines new policies and proposed changes to legislation relating to many aspects of the English education system. It is a report aimed at all stakeholders involved in the school system, and seems to be particularly directed towards parents.
The aims of the resource:
From the title of this document, it appears that the target audience includes parents as well as schools and policy makers. The report sets out a vision of school improvement to make the education a meaningful and worthwhile experience for all pupils in the 21st century. It outlines a school system where all pupils can expect to receive a high quality education which meets their individual needs. It also describes changes to school leadership, school organisation, structural re-organisation, partnership working, inspection and training.
Key findings or focus:
There are many key points raised in this document which relate to teaching and learning, funding, teacher training, school inspections, school leadership and the role of external organisations. The most relevant to initial teacher education are summarised below, although there are many other points raised in this extensive document which may be of interest to individual teachers and policy makers. Within the report, these are organised in six chapters, but for ease of synopsis, these are discussed below under more generic subheadings.
A ‘Pupil Guarantee' (Annex A) has been produced in order to ensure that "there are high aspirations for all pupils and that each and every pupil is given the opportunity to do the best they possibly can and succeed in school and adult life". However, many of the promises made on this document may be unrealistic to achieve, particularly given the current inequality of English schools and the communities which they serve. The guarantee has five key areas, which relate to: behaviour expectations; a broad, balanced and flexible curriculum; meeting individual needs; participating in sport and cultural activities; and health and wellbeing. Pupils are encouraged to engage with discussions over their wellbeing and education, although the channels for contributing to these discussions, apart from with a ‘personal tutor', are not made explicit.
The focus on mathematics and literacy remains. All pupils will be assigned a personal tutor, and any pupil falling behind at mathematics or literacy in Key Stage 2 will be entitled to ten hours one-to-one tuition. Those behind at the start of secondary school will also be guaranteed extra tuition, either individually or in small groups. All pupils will remain in education or training until the age of 17 from 2013, and aged 18 from 2015. All pupils must be offered a range of suitable qualifications, including the full range of Diplomas by 2013, which may mean collaboration with other schools.
A ‘Parent Guarantee' (Annex B) outlines the rights and responsibilities of parents and indicates that their input will be valued and heard. It includes the introduction of a non-statutory home-school agreement, in which behaviour expectations are outlined and their rights and responsibilities explained. Real-time reporting will be available and parents will receive information about their child's progress, behaviour, attendance, progress and attainment. Parents will be encouraged to take a greater role in their child's education, through ongoing dialogue with schools and advice from schools on how to help their child, although the structures for this are not made explicit. Extended services, including child minding and parenting advice, must be provided by schools by 2010. School admissions policies must be transparent and fair.
Parents of pupils with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), will continue to have a say in decisions made about their child's education and be given guidance on how to enhance learning. Likewise, parents of pupils identified as gifted and talented will be given guidance on how to help and support their child in order to maximise their learning.
School inspection, structure and management
Schools will work with a broader range of school improvement partners (SIPs) and be inspected by Ofsted more frequently if they are deemed to be making insufficient progress or underperforming. Ofsted inspections will include a greater focus on lesson observations. Schools will continue to be graded against their own judgements and, from 2011, produce a ‘School Report Card' which is also publically available. This will report upon "pupil attainment, progress, and wellbeing; a school's success in reducing the impact of disadvantage; and parents and pupils views of the school and the support they are receiving" (4.21). These views will be ascertained through ‘perception surveys' (4.29). It is intended that the Report Card will cover all pupils aged 5-16, and that a separate version will be produced by post-16 institutions.
Schools will be expected to work as part of multi-agency teams with other children's services through the creation of ‘Children's Trust Boards', and have a responsibility to other local children and the wider community as well as to their own pupils. This may be through pooling resources and courses, sharing staff and offering community learning programmes, although there is no indication given in the report about how any of this will be funded. Revised Ofsted grading for partnership working will apply. Local Authorities will be responsible for challenging schools, and weak or failing schools may be shut down, transformed into Academies, given Trust status or become part of an Accredited Schools Group. Successful school heads, who may not necessarily be trained teachers, may be awarded a pay rise and may continue to be responsible for more than one school if appropriate. There is an implicit assumption that a successful head is one who leads a school judged by Ofsted to be good or better and always improving upon its own weaknesses. The NPQH qualification has been updated. School governors will be encouraged to undergo training, and compulsory training will be introduced for the Chair of Governors. There will be greater flexibility about the composition of governing bodies. In order to reverse the link between low educational outcomes and deprivation, schools will receive extra money for taking in children in challenging circumstances, as indicated, for example, by those eligible for free school meals. Professional and leadership development delivered by school consortia may be accredited. It is not clear whether there is a role for Higher Education Institutes in this new accredited training model.
Teachers will be expected to obtain and renew a ‘licence to teach', which will be linked to CPD and performance management. This will be introduced to NQTs and those returning to teaching in the first instance. The potential impact of such a change is not mentioned but is likely to be controversial. Primary schools will be encouraged to share specialist teachers between them, and all primary schools will be expected to have specialist mathematics teachers. Structures for Advanced Skills Teachers and Excellent Teachers will remain. Initial teacher education will continue to include both university and school-based training routes, and it indicates that enhanced bursary payments for shortage subjects will continue, as will ‘golden hello' payments for those teaching shortage subjects, and a new ‘golden handcuff' payment for teachers who complete three years in challenging schools will be introduced. Teachers will be encouraged to gain a Masters level qualification within their first few years of service, and a new practice-based route (Master of Teaching and Learning/MTL) is being introduced from 2010 in order to complement more traditional routes to Masters level qualifications. Support staff will be offered more CPD and supported to obtain at least level 3 qualifications.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource from your subject perspective in relation to ITE:
In addition to pointing out how educational standards have changed in the past 12 years, this document provides information on current practice and future proposed legislation. At times, it provides unsubstantiated statements, for example stating that teachers and headteachers have more power to discipline pupils (2.7), but there is no indication of what these powers are. The biggest contradiction seems to be the home-school agreement, which parents are expected to sign annually and adhere to, but it states that children will not be barred from enrolling if their parents do not sign the agreement, thus effectively making this agreement non-statutory.
The main ‘problem' lies in the fact that with a potential change of government next year, such changes in legislation may alter in timescale or relevance. There is also little or no indication of how these changes will be funded, which is of particular concern within the current economic climate. For example, in schools where pupils will be eligible for ‘catch-up' tuition, it is unclear about where the funding will come from. If schools must provide access to sport and cultural activities outside of the school timetable, financial arrangements need to be in place to support these. Whilst it is a reasonable aspiration for all pupils to go to a school where they can receive the best possible standard of education which meets their individual needs and in which behaviour is not an issue, the social, economic and educational differences in communities, along with the amount of time needed to change an ever-evolving school culture, suggest that this may not be possible in all cases, and thus the value of the pupil and parent guarantees becomes questionable.
In places, the report is repetitive and not all of the key points appear in the executive summary. Nevertheless, the organisation into chapters mostly works. Throughout the report, limited evidence is provided to support points raised, and at times this might lead one to question the credibility of claims made.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:
There is much in this report which will be of interest and relevance to ITE tutors, as well as mentors, particularly in relation to their own position and their career aspirations. In relation to use with their trainees, it is useful for pointing out the value of involving parents in their child's education, the importance of transition and continuity, and promoting an awareness of school legislation and systems; however, it may all be a little overwhelming at this point in their early career. Nevertheless, there are many points in this report which it would be useful for mentors and students to discuss; for example, the role of parents and the impact of the proposals and guarantees on the education of all students they teach could be considered.
The relevance to ITE students:
This report clearly demonstrates how educational policy and practice is always evolving and the many stakeholders which education relies upon. There are many issues raised in this report which would benefit from critical engagement, particularly in relation to where schools are now and where they are expected to get to in the short term. These policy changes place great demands upon the ever-evolving role of the teacher, which would be interesting for ITE students to consider and discuss.
Dr Alison Daubney