Radical reforms announced for 21st century schools

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Schools Secretary Ed Balls has set out radical new school reforms to build on the significant improvements in the last decade.

The proposals include the need for teachers to have a licence to work in the classroom which will have to be renewed every five years, a new Pupil Guarantee to provide personalised learning, School Report Cards to give parents all the information they need; and a tough approach to school improvement with the best schools linking up to raise standards in all schools

The Your Child, Your Schools, Our Future White Paper sets out statutory Pupil and Parent Guarantee underpinned by legislation, a clear devolution of power matched by stronger accountability and an uncompromising approach to school improvement so that every child can succeed.

It creates a new Pupil Guarantee setting out what every young person should get during their school careers, including one to one or small-group tuition for pupils falling behind at primary and the first year in secondary school – with a progress check at Year 7. This will become a legal right.

The new Parent Guarantee includes tougher Home-School Agreements, so every family understands their responsibilities and heads can take action against parents with the worst behaved children if they do not comply.

The School Report Card will give parents all the information they need including not just academic results but pupils’ progress and other parents views.

Mr Balls said that schools would be given a single grade - A to D - based on a series of measures ranging from test results and the social background of the intake, pupils' views, attendance and pupils' "well-being". The report cards, to be piloted from this autumn, will be published nationally for all England's schools - alongside the test result league tables.

The “Licence to Teach” will boost public confidence by matching what happens with other high status professions like doctors and lawyers and giving every teachers an entitlement to continuous professional development.

The White Paper proposes system reforms including Accredited School Groups – chains of schools, directly run by the best education providers and giving schools new freedoms to drive up teaching standards and introduce innovative approaches. This will effectively create chains of schools with a shared "brand" identity. There will be a list of successful schools and organisations accredited to set up such chains - which would mean groups of primary and secondary schools with similar uniforms and brand names under a single executive head teacher.

Mr Balls said the White Paper was based on three principles - "new guarantees for pupils and parents, a significant devolution of power to school leaders ... and an uncompromising approach to school improvement".

The licence to teach, to be introduced for newly-qualified teachers from September 2010, is intended to boost the status of the profession. Mr Balls said it would be foolish to speculate about numbers.

National Union of Teachers leader Christine Blower was against the check: "We don't think this is necessary at all."

Mary Bousted, head of the ATL union, said it would be a "bureaucratic nightmare".

But Chris Keates of the NASUWT said the licensing scheme would give teachers "the long overdue recognition that it is a high status qualification".

And head teachers' leader, John Dunford, said: "We expect our doctors to be up to date when they treat us. It is reasonable for the public to expect teachers to be up to date when they teach their children."

The key proposals in the white paper include:

  • a new Pupil Guarantee and Parent Guarantee, setting out specific entitlements which young people will get during their school careers – brought together into a single offer for the first time. A clear, straightforward and effective complaints procedure is set out for parents and pupils not getting their entitlements without having to have recourse to courts – to firstly, complain to headteachers, governing bodies or local authorities and secondly, the new streamlined complaints process run by the Local Government Ombudsman if problems cannot be resolved locally. This is being legislated for in the current Apprenticeships, Children, Skills and Learning Bill.The Pupil Guarantee includes:
    • guaranteed one-on-one English and maths tuition for primary pupils starting Key Stage 2 below expectations and unlikely to make two levels of progress by 11;
    • extra catch-up support for 11-year-olds who start secondary school below expectations or who have fallen behind, including one to one tuition and small group work;
    • statutory proper choice of high quality learning routes at 14 – and guaranteed education or training at 16 and 17;
    • specialist outside help for health and social problems;
    • a clear say on how their school is doing and how it can be improved;
    • a Personal Tutor at secondary school;
    • triple science GCSE for the highest achieving students;
    • support for identified gifted and talented learners; and
    • five hours PE or sport a week in and out of school

The new Parent Guarantee includes:

    • clearer information about their child’s school performance; help and advice on choosing schools; and high quality advice about their career and subject choices;
    • closer involvement about their child’s progress through access to a named personal tutor or teacher, with regular face-to-face and secure, online information about child’s attainment, progress, SEN, behaviour and attendance in secondary schools by 2010 and primaries by 2012;
    • more influence on their school, and on schools locally – with their reviews taken into account in the School Report Card; schools’ own self-evaluation and Ofsted inspection judgements; and
    • access to Parent Support Advisers and other professionals to give them additional support and access to childcare, activities and health and other specialist services for their child.
  • strengthened Home-School Agreements so all pupils and their families clearly understand school rules and their responsibilities, signing up to adhere to the rules when they choose schools. There will be agreements for the worst behaved children that make clear the particular expectations of their behaviour, to give them real force. Heads will have stronger powers and a clear route to action against parents who do not comply with their Home School Agreement through Parenting Contracts to Parenting Orders. It proposes clear legislation from the Steer recommendations to give teachers the confidence to use their powers to tackle behaviour in schools – with the implementation plan published shortly;
  • introducing the Licence to Teach to boost the status of the profession – giving every teacher an entitlement to ongoing training throughout their careers and parents an explicit indicator of high-quality teaching. All qualified teachers and headteachers will have to demonstrate high standards of teaching and practice, coupled with ongoing professional development, to maintain their licence – or face losing it. This will be initially introduced for newly qualified teachers before being extended – with particular focus making sure teachers who have been out of the classroom for some time and supply staff get the professional development they need;
  • introduce a new Year 7 'progress check' for children starting secondary school below expectations for their age in English and/or maths, alongside the guaranteed support, to make sure that all children get up to speed quickly. The White Paper proposes that teachers should assess pupils’ achievement levels throughout the year to check their progress – with the results reported directed to parents. A national sample assessment of teachers’ judgements will measure the overall progress this pupil group makes. Ministers will consult widely on the progress check and its introduction.
  • introduce new School Report Cards, which will not only include the information on school attainment which league tables are currently based on, but go well beyond it. Our School Report Cards will give parents clear, online information about: how the school is improving standards; how well it is helping those pupils who have fallen behind to catch up, and stretching the most able; discipline, attendance, sport, healthy eating – all of which contribute to learning; and the views of parents and pupils. As part of their new school inspection framework Ofsted will have a higher bar for school inspection grades, more focus on achievement and more focus on higher risk schools. A pilot of the School Report Card will begin in September.
  • parents empowered to influence the choice of secondary schools available in their local area – with local authorities having to plan for change if a significant number of parents are unhappy with local schools. Changes might include replacing school governors, federating or merging weaker or less popular schools with the best, using National or Local Leaders of Education to drive school improvement, closing or building new schools or Academies. This approach will be piloted this autumn. Parents will be surveyed on their views of school choices available in their area leading to a significant strengthening of parental voice.
  • radical plans to create new Accredited School Groups - chains of state-schools, directly run by the best education providers, including schools, universities and colleges, with a new scheme to accredit the best. They will have the freedom to recruit the best heads and freedom to reward them substantial pay packages. The first providers have already come forward for accreditation – including universities, schools and further education colleges;
  • schools given greater freedoms to lead their own improvement, with large centrally-driven school improvement support being replaced by a system of locally tailored support services; specialist school status decided locally; and a stronger role for School Improvement Partners – including brokering support from a new market of specialist provision to strengthen teaching; and having the power to make funding dependent on heads agreeing to clear improvement plans.

Key practices that have driven reform, including literacy hours; daily maths lessons; and the National Teaching Frameworks in English and maths will stay – with the accountability system, including Ofsted inspection, continuing to make sure schools retain the best practice in teaching and learning.

  • governing bodies strengthened to hold heads and management to account – including specific, formal training for all chairs and trained clerks to support every governing body; power to ask for expert, external assessments by requesting Ofsted inspections; new regulations that governing bodies must consider executive headship and/or federation with other schools to drive up standards, when recruiting a new head; greater access to information and advice on school performance from School Improvement Partners; and being freer to recruit the most skilled and talented people, including from the business community.
  • new legislation to require Children’s Trusts to intervene early where children have health, social or education issues – with legislation to ensure that early years’ services work with schools or co-locate to give families the support they need, when they need it; and
  • freer and fairer funding system – remove funding restrictions so schools can pool funding on extended services, joint facilities and collocated services on single sites to improve children’s lives across their areas – and challenging schools to invest the £1.9 billion national surplus in school budgets in partnerships and early intervention projects.
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