Scrap ‘pointless’ GCSEs says Education Select Committee Chair

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Education Select Committee Chair Robert Halfon MP has called for GCSEs to be scrapped and A-Levels replaced by a baccalaureate.

He argues that emphasis on a  “knowledge-rich curriculum”, through performance measures like the EBacc, has pressurised teachers to train to the test. This leads to the focus being on rote learning above skills such as communication, critical thinking, problem-solving and team-working, Mr Halfon believes.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said:

“GSCEs are the gold standard qualification at age 16 and a passport to further study and employability – they were recently reformed so that their demand matches that in other high-performing countries and better prepare students for work and further study. “We are also taking forward reforms from the Independent Panel on Technical Education to give students a clear choice between an academic or technical path at aged 16. T Levels, alongside apprenticeships, will form the basis of our high-quality technical education offer.”

Commenting on Schools North East’s twitter page, one North East school governor said:

“So when a young person leaves one of our many 11 -16 schools they will have…nothing to show for it? This is half an idea at best”

And one Secondary Head Teacher responded:

“We have just undergone a huge programme of reform in GCSEs and A levels UNDER A CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT. If they don’t want even more teachers to leave the profession, they will leave things alone for a few years.”


Education Links w/c 11th February 2019 – Chronicle Live, Council bosses ‘quietly optimistic’ over future of Haydon Bridge High School. – Chronicle Live, Hexham and Seaton Delaval are both set to get new school buildings. – Chronicle Live, Multi-million pound plans unveiled to expand three Northumberland schools. – Chronicle Live, Fire service ‘gambling with children’s safety’ by not responding immediately to school alarms. – Chronicle Live, Education bosses criticised over exclusions and expulsion figures in Sunderland secondary schools. – Darlington & Stockton Times, Middleton St George school among England’s top three per cent. – Darlington & Stockton Times, Northallerton school blows trumpet. – Darlington & Stockton Times, Pupils learn about world of work at Teesside Park. – The Northern Echo, Darlington College students develop internet safety games. – The Northern Echo, Young pupils in North Yorkshire collect 20kg of old pens for recycling. – Shields Gazette, Check out the incredible scenes from the Knitted Bible on display at a South Tyneside school. – Shields Gazette, ‘Snowflake generation is now complete!’: 20 things you said about bid to start school at 10am. – Berwick Advertiser, Scones selling like hot cakes at The Grove. – Berwick Advertiser, Rascals day nursery is ‘outstanding’.

MPs to debate Gateshead Heads’ funding petition

Parliamentary time has been allocated for debate on a school funding petition launched by the Gateshead Heads’ Forum. MPs are set to discuss the matter on 4 March at 4:30PM.

The campaign was spearheaded by Andrew Ramanandi, Head Teacher of St Joseph’s Catholic School in Blaydon. In response to the news Mr Ramanandi said:

Head Teachers across Gateshead are pleased that the petition they initiated has resulted in a debate in Parliament. 

At the end of November last year, we sent parents a letter to let them know how the lack of sufficient funding was affecting our schools. We encouraged them to sign an online petition to ask the government to fund schools sufficiently and fairly by increasing school funding. 

They did and the petitions committee listened.

 On Monday 4th March a debate will take place in Westminster Hall, which is the second debating chamber of the House of Commons. Liz Twist MP, a member of the Petitions Committee, will open the debate. 

This is great news and parental support is greatly appreciated. 

We need the government to hear how damaging the cuts to school funding have been. Schools across Gateshead are making very difficult decisions which will impact on the quality of education they can provide. Staff are being made redundant and vacant posts are not being filled. Many schools are having to cut back resources and reduce specialism in subjects like Music. All of this is bad for children’s education. 

Now that government are listening, we need to stress how important funding schools sufficiently is. Parents can help further. 

We are going to be asking parents to take a little time to contact their MP to let them know how they feel about this matter. If elected officials hear how parents, their constituents feel, then MPs can share parental voice in this important debate.

Parents can check who their MP is by quickly typing your post code on this website.   

If anyone is concerned about the impact of funding on our local schools then we’d urge them to please let their MP know, encourage them to attend the debate and to share their concerns. 

Our children deserve this.”

Schools North East will shortly be launching the #FundOurFuture campaign which will fight on behalf of schools for greater funding.

The campaign aims to mobilise schools, parents and relatives of pupils to take the Government to task over funding shortfalls which have seen an 8% real terms cut in per-pupil funding.

New Redcar early years reading initiative launches

The National Literacy Trust’s Read North East campaign has partnered with Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council and Public Health South Tees to launch an Early Years Partnership in the town.

The Redcar Early Years Partnership will bring the National Literacy Trust’s flagship early years programme, Early Words Together, to 20 settings across Redcar and Cleveland, with the aim of reaching more than 400 families over the next two years. The project will also incorporate other Read North East campaign activity, such as book giveaways, to improve the literacy outcomes of preschool children.

Early Words Together trains early years staff and volunteers to work with parents and children aged three to five, building parents’ confidence so that they can support their children’s communication, language and literacy skills at home. Research shows that parents and the home learning environment (HLE) play a crucial role in tackling the early word gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, supporting early literacy skills and helping children to fulfil their potential.

The campaign will launch on Thursday 7 February with a storytelling event for selected early years settings, staff and parents. Children will be treated to storytelling sessions and each child will take home a free book.

Read North East is a creative campaign from the North East Literacy Forum, led by the National Literacy Trust and supported by Penguin Random House UK, the Education Endowment Foundation and Greggs PLC. Established in 2017, the campaign’s key focus is encouraging parents of early years children to change their literacy behaviours.

The Redcar Early Years partnership launch will be an opportunity to pilot new campaign leaflets and posters featuring illustrations of Spot the Dog from the popular children’s books by Eric Hill. Thanks to the support of Penguin Random House, the loveable canine character has become the face of the campaign to encourage families in Redcar to chat, sing and read with their children. Free Spot the Dog books will be given away at the event

James Kingett, Manager of the Read North East campaign, said:“We’re delighted to bring our Read North East campaign to the youngest residents of the town as part of the Redcar Early Years Partnership. Our new specific tag line ‘Chat, sing, read’ – 3 simple ways to make your child happy and help them learn – was drafted very much with our target audience in mind.

“We want to make developing children’s literacy skills as easy as possible for parents and, crucially, we want them to know why it is important. We hope that by receiving their new Spot the Dog books, Redcar families will be inspired to share stories together at home.”

Councillor Craig Hannaway, Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, said: “We welcome any scheme that brings families together and develops a shared love of books.

“Reading is an essential part of life and the best way to encourage children is to create a sense of joy in reading, rather than seeing it as a chore. I’m sure Early Words Together will be a great success and children will enjoy sharing the antics of Spot the Dog and other much-loved characters with their parents.

“As Lemony Snicket said, “Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”
To find out more about the Read North East Early Years Partnership, visit

Ministers accused of pressure over teacher recruits 

Teacher training providers have accused the Government of “lowering the bar” on teacher recruitment to beat England’s shortage in the classroom, with Teacher Trainers coming under pressure from officials to “justify” decisions to reject candidates.

Emma Hollis, head of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers, said making it easier to get into teaching was not the answer.

However, the Government said that recruitment requirements had not changed. It stressed that all those who go on to get qualified teacher status must be judged by the provider to have met all the relevant standards by the end of their course.

Statistics show that recruitment targets have been missed for six years in a row and hundreds of Head Teachers say how tough it is to recruit teachers, particularly those in specialist subjects.

Ministers have recently made attempts to get more people into teaching, drawing up a new strategy to help with recruitment and retention.

Ms Hollis said: “We are asked to justify why we are rejecting people. What reasons can you give for rejecting those applicants?”

She added: “There’s a pressure on providers to deal with the problem that we are faced with, by accepting a higher proportion of those we interview, even when experience is absolutely telling us that they might not be right.

“Whilst initial teacher training (ITT) providers are acutely aware of the recruitment pressures facing schools, it is right and proper that they must act as gatekeepers to the profession. Providers have always looked for potential in applicants to teacher training and have never expected ‘oven ready’ candidates.”

You can read the full story here.

Landmark judicial review hands schools more power to challenge council SEND placements

Schools are in a stronger position to push back against councils that order them to take a pupil whose special educational needs they are unable to meet following a landmark judicial review.

The High Court has today ruled that Medway Council acted unlawfully when it changed the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) of an autistic pupil so that a nearby mainstream primary school, which cannot be named for legal reasons, would have to admit him.

The school claimed the council “eviscerated” details from the boy’s EHCP,  including the need for a sensory room, after the school stated it was “unsuitable” for the placement.

Judge Philip Mott QC said Medway had “no proper basis for explaining and justifying its decision”.

The ruling said the deletions were “considerate and deliberate”, adding: “I am bound to conclude that Medway’s removal of so much, without any change in the evidence, was irrational and unlawful.”

You can read the full story here.

Department for Education launches mental health trials in schools

Education Secretary Damian Hinds has announced that up to 370 schools in England will be taking part in a series of trials testing different approaches to supporting young people’s mental health.

Led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families in partnership with University College London, the school study is now in its second wave and recruiting more primary and secondary schools to join.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “Schools and teachers don’t have all the answers, nor could they, but we know they can play a special role which is why we have launched one of the biggest mental health trials in schools. These trials are key to improving our understanding of how practical, simple advice can help young people cope with the pressures they face.”

The trials will include  mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques and breathing exercises to help children regulate their emotions, alongside pupil sessions with mental health experts. The study will run until 2021 and aims to give schools new, robust evidence about what works best for their students’ mental health and wellbeing.

Mr Hinds also confirmed the nine areas across the country that will trial new high-quality mental health assessments for young people entering care, helping them get the support they need to meet their individual needs at a time when they are more vulnerable.

Schools North East has been a longstanding advocate of improving mental health and wellbeing in schools, having launched the UK’s first schools-led mental health commission, Healthy MindED, in 2016.

You can read more on this story here.

Healthy MindED 2019: Bookings are now open for the Healthy MindED Conference 2019 taking place in Durham in May. To find out more about the event and to book your place. click here

Government responds to Gateshead Heads’ petition on funding

The Government has responded to the funding petition launched in the Autumn Term by the Gateshead Heads’ Forum.

The campaign, which was spearheaded by Andrew Ramanandi, Head Teacher of St Joseph’s Catholic School in Blaydon, has so far gained 62,960 signatures, and earlier this week the Government gave the following response:

We recognise schools are facing budgeting challenges and we are asking them to do more. We have increased funding by an extra £1.3bn across this year and next, over and above previous spending plans.

While there is more money going into our schools than ever before, we recognise the budgeting challenges schools face and that we are asking them to do more. The total core schools and high needs budget will rise from almost £41bn in 2017-18 to £43.5bn by 2019-20.

Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that in 2020, per pupil funding for five to sixteen year olds, adjusted for inflation, will be 50% higher than in 2000, and 70% higher than in 1990. We can also compare ourselves favourably to other countries – we spend as much per pupil on state school education as any major economy in the world, with the single exception of the United States of America.

We are also distributing that funding more fairly, through the national funding formula which directs money to where it is most needed, based on schools’ and pupils’ needs and characteristics – not accidents of geography or past arrangements. Since 2017, the national funding formula has allocated every local authority more money for every pupil in every school, while allocating the largest increases to the schools that have been most underfunded.

We recently confirmed funding allocations for local authorities through the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) for 2019-20. More information on the DSG and a detailed breakdown of funding allocations for each local authority is available here:

We also announced that we will provide £250m additional funding for high needs over this financial year and the next. This brings the total allocated for high needs, within the overall core schools budget, to £6.1 billion in 2018-19 and £6.3 billion in 2019-20. We recognise that the high needs budget faces significant pressures and this additional expenditure will help to manage those pressures.

Spending plans beyond 2019-20 will be set at the next Spending Review and naturally we cannot pre-empt these decisions – but we are of course committed to securing the right deal for education.

Despite all of this, we do recognise that budgets remain tight. That is why we are supporting schools and head teachers to make the most of their budgets and reduce costs on things like energy, water bills and materials.

Department for Education

Commenting on the Government’s response, Mr Ramanandi said: “The concern has always been that schools are not funded sufficiently currently, and this response acknowledges that ‘budgets are tight’. Schools are already working collaboratively to make efficiency savings. The scale of projected savings that schools will need to make to avoid deficit budgets go well beyond savings that could be made ‘on things like energy, water bills and materials.

“The petition was set up to empower the DfE to pressure the Treasury to fund schools adequately ahead of the spending review. The response states that the DfE are ‘committed to securing the right deal for education’ and this shows the positive impact the petition has had.

“I hope that the ever-increasing number of signatories on our petition will support the DfE in securing sufficient and adequate funding for our schools.

“If you are a Head Teacher and this strikes a chord, then please sign our petition and consider encouraging the parents of your pupils to sign it too.

“If you are a Teacher or a Teaching Assistant and you are concerned about what you and your school are able to provide, then please sign our petition and ask your friends and family to sign as well.

“If you are a Governor being asked to make untenable decisions, then please sign our petition and support your Head Teacher in sharing this message.

“If you are a parent, grandparent, aunty or uncle and are concerned about the impact on the quality of education afforded to the children in your family, then please sign our petition to protect their future.

“If you feel that Government should fund schools sufficiently and fairly, and want to have your voice heard, then please add your name to our petition ‘Increase Funding for Schools’.

“If you feel that Government should fund schools sufficiently and fairly, and have already added your name to our petition, please amplify your voice by encouraging your family and friends to do so too.”

Home Office delayed free school meals eligibility checks

The Home Office prioritised checks on pupils’ immigration status over helping schools to identify migrant children in need of free school meals, an independent review has found.

A report by David Bolt, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, into data-sharing between government departments found communications problems between the Department for Education and Home Office led to “delays and uncertainty” in the free school meals eligibility checking process.

The review sheds more light on the involvement of the Department for Education in attempts to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants, and comes after campaigners successfully challenged the Department over its divisive collection of pupil nationality and country of birth data by schools.

Bolt’s report reveals that although the Home Office was “ready to invest in making the relationship work” when it was the main beneficiary of data-sharing deals, collaboration between the two departments did not work “as effectively” when it was schools that stood to benefit.

Read the full article in Schools Week.

Education Links w/c 4th February 2019 – Chronicle Live, Blyth Primary School given green light for an extension due to growing number of pupils. – Chronicle Live, Ofsted results for North East schools: How do inspectors say they are performing? tests waste of time for teachers, MSPs told. – Darlington & Stockton Times, Mental health trials launched in schools.  – The Northern Echo, Meet the man inspired to turn struggling schools around. – The Northern Echo, Rotary awards honour Darlington’s outstanding young people. – The Northern Echo, GCSE resits success under Darlington College’s pilot scheme. – The Northern Echo, Durham University’s £5m boost to train scientists of the future. – Shields Gazette, School to become first to open elite football academy for girls. – Berwick Advertiser, Art Award success for two local schools. – Berwick Advertiser, Berwick nursery helped by police fund. – Northumberland Gazette, £37m earmarked for new buildings on one site for two Northumberland schools.