So another school year begins and no doubt there will be unforeseen bumps and surprises along the way. Here are five things in education to look out for over the next year.
Ofsted will return to the headlines
Expect Ofsted to be more vocal this year in the build up to the new inspection framework pencilled in for 2019. Ofsted had a relatively quiet 2016/17, as new chief inspector Amanda Spielman got to grips with the role. But her speech to the Festival of Education in June gave schools a flavour of her thinking and the response was warm. Strongly worded criticism of tick-box culture and gaming of league tables, and a passionate call for a re-emphasis on a rich curriculum, were welcomed by many.
Ofsted is currently collecting evidence for a curriculum review, and Spielman has said that routine inspection may be re-balanced towards the curriculum, so there’ll be more meat to the bone of this conversation as the year develops. How Ofsted turns the vision into reality and navigates the impact of the Ebacc on schools’ curricula, will be watched with interest. Some of the reaction to the announcement this week that inspectors will ask how SLTs are reducing teacher workload suggests the inspectorate faces a challenge in winning over a still sceptical sector.
The national funding formula consultation response will finally arrive
It’s endured more battles, plots and resurrections than a season of Game of Thrones, but Justine Greening’s announcement in July of an extra £1.3bn for schools and a longer transition period before the ‘hard’ formula is implemented appeared to guarantee the national funding formula’s survival. We’re still awaiting the Department for Education’s (DfE) response to phase 2 of the consultation, which Greening said was due in September. Whether there will be any significant change beyond the announcements made in July is unclear, but since schools are still in the dark as to what happens after 2019-20, when the extra 1.3bn ceases, everyone will be looking for more clarity on the DfE’s plans for when that plaster is removed.
MAT CEO pay will continue to provoke debate
Multi-academy trusts (MATs) have had the light shone on executive pay pretty brightly in the last few months and it feels that the debate is set to burn even brighter. Figures such as academies architect Lord Adonis have become increasingly vocal on CEO pay. The pressure on MATs to halt pay rises and the DfE to step in may grow stronger throughout the year, especially if there doesn’t seem to be a change in approach. The new Academies Financial Handbook, now in force, requires MATs to follow an ‘evidence-based process’ when determining executive pay, so MATs will be watching the DfE closely to see if it provides any hints as to what this might be.
The public sector pay cap might be lifted
Rumours abound that Theresa May is set to announce that the 1% cap on public sector pay will be lifted in the autumn budget (remember it’s moved from spring). Should this happen, it’ll be an attempt to regain some authority and boost approval ratings after a, well, difficult year. It’s set to be the centrepiece of the budget, according to reports, which also suggest that there will be a two year period of implementation. Sectors struggling with retention will be prioritised, so this could include schools. Public sector recruitment often struggles when the economy is growing, so a pay rise coupled with a potentially flagging economy as Brexit rumbles on may boost those recruitment figures.
We’ll know more about the impact of GCSE reforms
If the clamour over the impact of the 9-1 grading system and tougher GCSEs during the summer seemed noisy, decibels might increase even further next year, as pupils sit exams for the new GCSEs in subjects such as history, geography, chemistry and most modern foreign languages. With only maths and English literature to judge the new system on this summer, it was hard to really know the impact of the government’s reforms to GCSEs.
Come next year we should have a fuller picture. Employers and parents should have more time to get used to the 9-1 grading structure, so emphasis will be placed on whether pupils are achieving comparably lower grades. Depending on your politics, this will either be welcomed as evidence of a rigorous and world class education system, or a sign that exams have become too hard.