Teachers in UK report growing ‘vocabulary deficiency’ 

Teachers are encountering increasing numbers of children with stunted vocabularies – haunting many pupils from primary to secondary school – and they fear “vocabulary deficiency” will hold them back educationally and socially.

In response some schools said they had adopted approaches such as highlighting pupils’ use of informal words such as “innit” and encouraging them to improve and widen their use of language.

A survey of 1,300 primary and secondary school teachers across the UK found that more than 60% saw increasing incidents of underdeveloped vocabulary among pupils of all ages, leading to lower self-esteem, negative behaviour and in some cases greater difficulties in making friends.

“This is significant because while language development is a key focus in early years education, relatively little research has been conducted into language deficit as children progress through secondary education,” the report’s authors noted.

Secondary school teachers said that vocabulary deficiency held back pupils’ progress not just in English but also across a range of subjects, including history and geography.

Those with a low vocabulary were also less likely to do well in national tests such as GCSEs, struggling to understand instructions and questions included in papers.


Northern schools blast RSCs in Children’s Commissioner report

A new report by the Children’s Commissioner says that Northern schools feel unsupported by their Regional Schools Commissioners, who fail to communicate “any plan” for the area.

Anne Longfield, who oversees children’s rights in England, found “very little evidence” of thorough work by RSCs, academy trusts or councils to tackle low pupil attainment at northern schools after a year-long investigation.

Secondary schools in the north are especially disappointing, compared to “impressive” primary schools, which currently get better progress than the national average.

But more than half of secondary schools serving the north’s poorest areas are rated less than ‘good’ by Ofsted, and many pupils drop out before sixth form or college.

The region’s RSCs were criticised by schools who spoke to the Children’s Commissioner. These are Janet Renou, the RSC for the North, Vicky Beer, the RSC for Lancashire and West Yorkshire, and John Edwards, the RSC for East Midlands and the Humber.

Read the full article in Schools Week.

Dame Julia Cleverdon: “North East such an entrepreneurial place for education”

“The North East is one of the most special places in Britain,” said Dame Julia Cleverdon at the SCHOOLS NorthEast Patron’s Dinner.

Addressing the 300-strong attendees at the dinner, held at the Biscuit Factory, Newcastle, Dame Julia focused her speech on the importance of the North East on education, how instrumental SCHOOLS NorthEast was in bringing a spotlight to the region, and how instilling career ambition and leadership goals in children is important for us all.

The Vice President of Business in the Community said: “SCHOOLS NorthEast was so ahead of the curve 10 years ago with putting children first. Other parts of the UK has found this so difficult, but the North East was, and is, such an entrepreneurial place.”

Dame Julia Cleverdon, the key note speaker for Patron’s Dinner 2018, was the former Special Adviser to The Prince’s Charities and promotes collaboration among leaders from business, government, education and community organisations to build a more robust society.

Dame Julia told guests at the Patron’s Dinner about her experience of visiting a school in Newcastle some years ago with Sir Mike Darrington from Greggs and how meeting the children and the Head Teacher showed her how much pressure schools were under beyond teaching.

She was keen to stress with attendees the importance of helping disadvantaged children, in all aspect of education.

She said: “We met the Head Teacher, who no doubt could have done without us all there, and he was trying to convince the children to eat their breakfast.

“Mike Darrington of Greggs said to the Head, ‘why don’t we focus on the breakfast so you can focus on the school’, and that was the first time I saw a Breakfast Club be established in a school.

“One of the most important things to do is give poor children breakfast.”

Dame Julia’s speech then moved on to addressing instilling career ambition in children, and how the 16 North East schools secondary schools were instrumental in making the Gatsby Benchmarks work.

She said: “The pilot in North East is now the basis on which the Government’s new statutory Careers Strategy is based on – this region is an innovative place.

“You’ve done a great job in instilling ambition, but everybody must embrace this innovation. We need to engage young people in leadership.

“Teacher by teacher, school by school, we must build ambition leadership ambition in our children.”

Speaking of Teach First, of which she was Chair of from 2006 to 2014, Dame Julia said that 29% of ‘Teach Firsters’ were Free School Meal children themselves.

She concluded: “In the end, the only answer is to inspire and enthuse others to come into education. Put education into the hands of the long-term thinkers, rather than it be used as a political football.

“Ultimately, we must be inspired ourselves.”

UCAS blames Northern schools for lack of ‘aspiration and attainment’

The head of UCAS has said this week that fewer students in the north are applying to university than the rest of England because of ‘school aspiration and attainment’ in the region.

Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of the admissions body, said that teachers needed to instil ‘aspiration’ in their pupils by talking to them about university as early as primary school.

Figures published by UCAS this month revealed that the proportion of young people applying to higher education in 2018 has reached a record high, with 37.4% of English 18-year-olds applying by the admission body’s January deadline – a 0.4 percentage point increase on last year.

Read the full article in the Tes.

This has caused quite a stir with Heads in the North East! Read Alan Hardie’s, Principal at Whitburn Church of England Academy, response in this week’s Talking Head.


National Audit Office report shows difficulties matching schools to sponsors

A National Audit Office report Converting maintained schools to academies has pointed out considerable regional variation in the availability of academy sponsors located near underperforming schools.

The key finding of the report are:

  • The Department has matched some academies with sponsors some distance from the school. At January 2018, 242 sponsored academies were more than 50 miles from their sponsor.
  • There is considerable regional variation in the availability of potential sponsors located close to underperforming maintained schools that may convert to academies in future. For example, there are relatively few sponsors near each underperforming primary school in the north of England.
  • It can be difficult for the Department to find sponsors for certain types of school. Issues faced by the most challenged schools, including falling pupil numbers, leading to a drop in funding, and difficulties in recruiting or retaining teachers, may make them less attractive to sponsors. Small primary schools can face particular challenges. Low pupil numbers may threaten their financial viability and the geographical isolation of rural schools can make it difficult for a sponsor to provide support.
  • There appears to be a shortage of sponsors and multi-academy trusts with the capacity to support new academies. In August 2016, the Department estimated that, by 2020, 2,700 more schools might need a sponsor. At January 2018, it had approved only 1,101 sponsors, including nearly two-thirds of existing multi-academy trusts.
  • Since 2012-13, the Department has provided grants aimed at boosting sponsor capacity, but there is no evidence that it has evaluated the impact of this funding.

The full report is available online.

I hate working alone

I hate working alone. So much so that I’ve recently moved in with my new  deputy head. Professionally speaking of course! We have co-located in the same office. It made sense since we both work best through discussion, collaboration and simply ‘chewing the fat’ as the old saying goes.

For me it’s a chance to have another brain to test out a response to a parent, or a spelling, or share in celebrating a pupil who comes up with some fantastic work. I was actually feeling a little left out, as our staff all have PPA together in planning partnerships, it serves the same supportive purpose and as a result the shared workload and top quality lesson planning through collaborative innovation benefits everyone.

Jan is in the midst of an intense induction phase. She moved up from London to join our school and so feels somewhat disconnected to the North Eastern Education scene. I’m sure many of you will have experienced the same feeling when you land in a new area or local authority and suddenly you don’t know who to contact, you feel lost without your set of phone numbers and have to build new networks. And its vital to do this quickly as leadership can be a lonely place without the ability to ‘phone a friend’.

I’m on my fourth local authority and have become pretty adept at quickly creating contacts and networks of support. But having said that, I’ve always been based in the North East and so my networks have always been fairly close by and reachable. It’s very different if you move a long way.

I’m really enjoying connecting Jan with some of the fantastic networks that are available in our region. Chief amongst which is SCHOOLS NorthEast of course! We are uniquely lucky to have an organisation like SNE serving us. Its events and newsletters provide links and networking opportunities, that are the envy of the rest of England. Then there are the Universities, teaching schools, cluster groups, unions, community groups, Twitter even – the list is ever growing.

It really worries me when I come across colleagues who don’t look outward and aren’t connected to others. Schools who deliberately, or through accountability pressure or circumstance, cut themselves off from the networks around them, rarely thrive. In fact I see it a lot through my inspection work – it’s a really obvious characteristic of failing schools that they are cut off from others. They lack the drive to innovate; they don’t see the need, as they don’t have the yardstick of comparison. Not seeking alternative viewpoints or opportunities for comparison prevents questions from forming. They only see their school through their own lens, which inevitably leads to an atrophy of innovation – ‘We are as good as we can be’, ‘this is the best way’. Without a stimulus to ask ‘Isn’t it?’ or ‘Aren’t we?’  a school will never improve.

I listened to a fascinating radio documentary 1 the other day, which investigated how government could get better at experimenting and learning from getting things wrong. It had huge resonance for the important ideas behind good networking and school improvement. The central theme was that networking is synonymous with growth mindset characteristics – which makes perfect sense to me.

It is safe to stay the same. Trying something different takes courage, energy and confidence because it invites failure. It is human nature to avoid situations in which we might fail.

Take a situation where you have 6 ideas for change in your school. You try the first 2, they fail, then a third which also fails. Who would keep going on the fourth, fifth, sixth? Only the brave. But what if the sixth unlocked massive improvement in outcomes?

Research into the success of innovative Silicone Valley companies identified a common thread of an empowered attitude to failure. Coined the Silcone Valley Mindset (read growth mindset) the courage to test out and embrace failure until they struck gold.

Through visiting and talking to other schools who are doing things differently to us with success energises me and gives me confidence to drive change and experimentation in my own school. You don’t know what you don’t know, unless you go looking for it. The same goes for your staff – get them out. Think for a moment about your staff  – how many of them in the last 2 years may have never visited another school to look at something new?

My wife is a Professor of Education (yes… the brains behind the operation – I am proud to say) she has just started a new job at Leeds Beckett University; check out Collective Ed below her first piece of work. Suddenly we are both becoming connected to a whole new set of fantastic, committed, thinking teachers, researchers and educationalists. Working in contexts very different from mine and I am embracing it with open arms. Especially as it involves beer.

Ever heard of BrewEd? Well if you are nervous of networking but like a drink this may be the answer to your prayers and it’s coming to a pub near you.

The brain child of Daryn Simon and Ed Finch from Sheffield who could see the power of educational networks and debate on Twitter, but were frustrated by the limitations of 140 characters, decided to use the platform to invite interested teachers and leaders to a pub, creating an informal space for a day of structured debate, chat, eating and socialising – perfect! The idea has gathered momentum and the second event in Wakefield a few weeks ago put me in touch with colleagues with new and unfamiliar ideas. Events are now planned for Oxford and Newcastle.

See you there!

#brewedwake   @ed_debate  @MrEFinch  @darynsimon

CollectivED Dec 2017 Issue – Prof R Lofthouse, Leeds Beckett University

  1. ‘Learning from Life and Death’ Matthew Syed, BBC radio 4

 Colin Lofthouse is the Head Teacher of Rickleton Primary School in Washington. 

Want to be our next Talking Head? Contact Nicola Chapman, Marketing and Communications Officer, for more information: n.chapman@schoolsnortheast.com/0191 2048866

More North East schools below floor standard in Key Stage 4 results

More North East schools are below floor standard in Key Stage 4 results, however commentators have urged caution over this year’s data in light of significant curriculum and assessment changes that have impacted Progress 8.

The DfE’s publication of revised KS4 results yesterday showed that:

  • The North East has the most schools of any English region below the Government’s Progress 8 floor standard of -0.5. 20.9% of state-funded secondaries in the region fell into this category, up from 17.2% last year.
  • This comes against the background of a worsening situation nationally: the number of schools falling below the standard in England as a whole went up by 2.7% from 2016 to 2017 and now stands at 12%.
  • There are more “coasting” schools in the region than elsewhere in the country, with the number of schools meeting the DfE’s definition rising from 14.8% in 2016 to 16.9% in 2017.
  • The impact of the new Maths and English GCSEs appears to have been worse in the North East than in other regions. This is particularly evident in the English component of Progress 8, which saw a fall of -0.12. Most other regions saw small increases or decreases in their scores, aside from the South West which saw a larger fall of -0.15.

Commenting on yesterday’s data Mike Parker, Director of SCHOOLS NorthEast said:

“These results have to be seen in the context of a significant overhaul in GCSEs this year. Experts predicted this would be the case and it has seen more schools across the country go below the floor standard.

“That said, we have to be more ambitious for educational outcomes here in the North East.

“The results highlight the disparity of our region compared to others in the country and there are three main areas that have to be urgently addressed.

“Firstly, secondary schools in the region have to be given a level playing field. The Department for Education has neglected the North East. Too many of its initiatives and major funding allocations which are too often focused in and around Opportunity Areas. The North East remains the sole region outside of London not to be included in this flagship policy area.

“North East schools are operating with a fraction of the money that London schools enjoy; they face a recruitment crisis; and, they face some of the most challenging conditions in a sparsely-populated region with widespread poverty which is proven to be the major drag on education attainment.

“That said, leaders in the region cannot, and must not, accept this as a fait accompli. They have to ruthlessly pursue measures to bring about a step change in education in this region. A relentless focus on evidence-based practice has to be at the core of all that schools do now and in future.

“Finally, the communities around schools have to become more actively engaged and supportive of education in the region. Employers – private, public and third sector – have to understand and embrace their role in improving the basic skills of their workforces. They also need to positively promote the importance of education and back schools so that the parents and grandparents they employ fully understand the role they play in supporting their children through secondary education.”

The Education Select Committee 14th November: A Round Up 

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, appeared before MPs on the Education Select Committee on 14 November. Here’s a quick roundup of the key things she had to say:

Mental Health

In response to question from Chair Robert Halfon MP she said that children and parents had been talking to her about mental health since from the moment she started her job. Worryingly, she commented that a number of children told her reporting suicidal thoughts is not enough to get help – you actually have to attempt suicide to be taken seriously. This is something we have also heard from our partner schools.

In her opinion the prevalence of mental health problems among children is increasing, something teachers and parents have also reported to her. She cited the increasing complexity of life, social media and issues in home life as the main contributing factors and said she is keen to shine a light on this and let MPs know about it.

Government should hold review to look at the impact of digital. She is currently doing one herself and pushing social media companies to be more responsible. Citing mental health support in schools is an urgency.

Later in the session she said child mental health was one of the key social justice concerns that need to be tackled.

Opportunity Areas

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns asked why there is an Opportunity Area in the constituency of the Children’s Minister but none in the entire North East. This followed his question to the Secretary of State at an earlier section after SCHOOLS NorthEast contacted his office. He went on to ask why, as an advocate for children all over the country, she had not “raised an eyebrow” about the lack of an Opportunity Area in the North East.

Longfield replied that although she had no role in the allocation of Opportunity Areas, many areas in the North East would benefit from one. She said she would be oppressing for more opportunity areas where there is a great need for them and agreed that the North East should have one.

More generally, she said it was too early in the lifetime of Opportunity Areas to know how well they were working. She said she favours place based initiatives but her main criticism of Opportunity Areas was that they need to take on a much broader role than just education.

Alternative Provision

Chair Robert Halfon MP asked about Alternative Provision. Longfield replied that she welcomes the Committee’s inquiry, given that numbers are rising and outcomes for children are unacceptably low. She mentioned that the price per head for alternative provision can be 5 or 6 times higher than what it is in mainstream school.

She said her office had just produced a study on Alternative Provision, summarising its finding by saying children were generally disappointed with what the curriculum can offer them.

Role of the Children’s Commissioner for England

Ian Mearns asked if it was the Children’s Commissioner’s role to carry out an impact assessment of the cumulative impact of Government policies on children’s lives?

The Commissioner replied that the most thorough work on this is the UN’s “Children’s rights in impact assessments” report, which takes place every five years. She went on to say that her office did look across Government to try to bring together Departments and join the dots.

Further questioned by Mr Mearns on what had happened in the time since she last appeared before the Committee, she said that she had further strengthened her team and produced a new “vulnerability framework”. She said while there is much concern about vulnerability, there is no common definition or data. An established vulnerability framework which measures the extent and scale of vulnerability is therefore vital. She went on to say she would like to see the framework recognised by Government and the third sector.

Government to respond to consultation on ‘secure fit’ writing test model

Changes are expected to be announced soon following the governments consultation on the current assessment system.

Since 2016, reforms to the Sats have seen ‘secure fit’ marking system where all pupils are required to reach all of the criteria set out by government in order to reach the expected standard.

This system is seen to be too rigid, as pupils who reach all but one of the criteria are judged in the same way as those that miss all of them. It is also seen to discriminate against children with dyslexia.

The government has been consulting on these changes, and there has been a high level of engagement with teachers during the process. The response is expected to be announced soon, and the National Association of Head Teachers has advised head teachers to expect a ‘best fit’ model going forward, which would give more weight to the judgement of teachers.

This week the NAHT has written to its members following government talks, to advise them stop preparing for further tests under the current system as they expect the changes to come into effect from 2017-18.

EBacc target reduced to 75% following consultation

In 2015, the government pledged that 90% of pupils would be entered for the full slate of EBacc subjects by 2020.

Responding to a 2015 consultation on the EBacc published this week, the government is now aiming for 90% “starting to study EBacc GCSE courses” by 2025, meaning that they would not achieve the original target of 90% entered for the EBacc until 2027.

Justine Greening has stated that the consultation has allowed the government to listen to the concerns of schools and the barriers they face in achieving the original target. As a result they have now set a new target of 75% of pupils studying EBacc subjects by 2022.

One key concern that had been raised by head teachers through this consultation was a lack of specialist subject teachers, and this has played a part in the target changes announced this week.

The consultation also raised some other areas of concern for both parents and teachers around the potential for the curriculum to be narrowed, and some subjects (particularly the arts) becoming unviable due to low entry numbers.

So far the data does not support this as it shows that state-funded schools which have an increased EBacc entry, have also seen an increase in the uptake of arts subjects. Nor has there been a drop in GCSE entries to these subjects.

The English Baccalaureate, made up of English, maths, science, history or geography and a language is designed to ensure that more pupils have the opportunity to study these subjects (which are seen to open more doors to degrees), regardless of their social background. So far the numbers of pupils studying the EBacc has risen from 22% to 40% since 201o, whilst the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils has closed by 9.3% at key stage 2 and 7% at key stage 4 since 2011.