North East Knight takes lead on BIG PIE Friday Challenge for schools

After the success of last years’ largest ever Enterprise, Engineering and Coding Education Challenge that involved over 1,000 pupils, 21 schools and 50 businesses, this year’s is planned to be even bigger and better.  The hugely successful, popular and industrious Sir John Hall has agreed to take the lead on this year’s BIG PIE Friday Challenge taking place on the morning of Friday 31st March.  The challenge will see primary schools from across Tyne & Wear, Durham and Darlington compete against one another.

Targeting 9, 10 and 11 year olds, this unique, exciting and ambitious Challenge will engage inspire and educate future generations in enterprise and Science, Technology, Engineering, Enterprise and Maths (STEEM) based activities.

The BIG PIE Friday Challenge is being delivered free to schools over three stages. The first stage being two timed activities, one engineering and another Coding based, on the morning of the 31st March. Five schools from each area that are the quickest at completing the tasks will go through to the second stage where they will each undertake a full day of enterprise.  The students will plan, create and sell something with support from local businesses, complete a formal qualification, and then be judged on the profits they have made.  The Challenge will culminate in an awards ceremony in Newcastle in June 2017.

Continue reading “North East Knight takes lead on BIG PIE Friday Challenge for schools”

Two Sunderland Heads gave evidence to MPs on school buildings

Following a recent National Audit Office report which estimated that improving the condition of school buildings would cost £6.7m, the Public Accounts Committee took evidence from both acting and former Head Teachers of Hetton School in Sunderland.

The Commons spending watchdog also found that too much money is being paid for the land and buildings needed for new free schools, saying the Education Funding Agency has paid above the market value in 60% of cases.

Craig Knowles and Phil Keay told MPs they have to close various parts of the school due to bad weather and concerns about asbestos, adding that the school building “was not fit to have children in for several years”.

Mr Knowles told the Committee he will have to make two staff members redundant due to the high costs of equipment for the school.

MPs heard that removing asbestos from schools would cost £100m.

Former Head Phil Keay said: “In terms of the asbestos, most of the asbestos is encased, but there were some ceiling tiles which are taped together, so therefore should be fairly secure, but on windy days, literally the wind got through the building, would open doors and would lift ceilings. And when ceilings lift, the dust then falls.”

Continue reading “Two Sunderland Heads gave evidence to MPs on school buildings”

Experts present brand new research at North East evidence-based education conference

The White Working Class conference, the first in a series of SCHOOLS NorthEast events around evidence-based education, took place today at the Durham County Cricket Club and brought together 100 school delegates from across the region.

1.jpgIn his wide-ranging keynote address, Professor Stephen Gorard, a former teacher who is now Professor of Education at Durham University, told delegates that whilst white working class pupils make up a large proportion of the North East’s pupil population, it might also be a red herring. The evidence shows that there is a great deal of variation within ethnic groups and that labelling and categorising pupils may not be a particularly helpful approach.

4Professor Gorard also noted that identifying “working class” pupils can be difficult due to “imperfect” existing social measures. Free School Meals is commonly used as a proxy for deprivation, but this does not pick up all pupils from deprived backgrounds and Prof. Gorard argued that, in fact, it misses some of the most deprived.

He then challenged the theory that there is a negative “North East effect” on attainment. Regression modelling demonstrates that, when relevant social factors are taken into account, there is no underachievement in the North East. In fact, there is actually a very slight positive effect on pupils’ attainment from attending a school in our region.

Professor Gorard then moved on to look at which interventions have been proven to work and which have no evidence-base. In general, the most effective interventions have been found to be those that are bespoke and focusing on individual pupils. These include Accelerated Reader and Switch-on. He noted that interventions that were clearly proven to be effective are relatively rare, so it is important to celebrate those that are. One of the interventions mentioned by Prof. Gorard that is not proven to have any positive impact on attainment is computer-aided learning. Whilst computers can aid learning, there is no evidence that pupils will learn more just because a computer is involved.

Continue reading “Experts present brand new research at North East evidence-based education conference”

How do we equip youngsters today to cope with the often quite pernicious effect of “fake news”?

Kieran McLaughlin 2
Kieran McLaughlin, Headmaster at Durham School

FACT! LIE! Sad! We can barely open our internet browsers these days without being swamped by rival factions claiming territory over the truth in the news. Diametrically opposed viewpoints argue their case with vociferous energy, castigate their enemies and fight for airtime on conventional news websites or the pages of social media outlets. We seem to be living in a world of confusion and combativeness, and it isn’t likely to change soon.


How do we equip youngsters today to cope with the often quite pernicious effect of “fake news”? Up to now, when we were faced with rumours or scare stories, it was relatively easy to combat them. Newspapers were the august records of the day; anything reported in The Times could be said to be authoritative and, whilst the relationship between the tabloid press and the truth could be a little more tangential, there was a journalistic pride felt in writing the history of the future. Television too would be studiously impartial, balancing both sides of an argument to an almost paranoid degree.

Today’s landscape is much more complex. Perhaps the effect has been heightened through recent political events, but the partisan nature of much news reporting is too readily apparent. More worrying is the role of social media in the relaying of news events. On the positive side, outlets such as Twitter provide a literally up-to-the-minute guide to events taking place. However, no rules of journalistic balance or, in some cases, integrity apply and there is often no corroboration of the “news” event being claimed. This was seen most powerfully in the American presidential election, where the effect of sharing of bogus news stories, manipulation of statistics and the telling of downright lies is only just becoming apparent.

Continue reading “How do we equip youngsters today to cope with the often quite pernicious effect of “fake news”?”

BUDGET 2017: the key points

Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his first Budget yesterday, making a series of education-related announcements. Below is a breakdown of the key points he made during his speech, along with comments from SCHOOLS NorthEast.

Free schools and grammar schools expansion

The Government will extend the free schools programme with investment of £320m in this Parliament to help fund up to 140 schools, including independent-led, faith, selective, university-led and specialist maths schools.

Of these, 30 were announced to open in September 2020 and the new free schools “will be located where they are most needed to improve the choice of schools available to parents, following a rigorous assessment of local factors”.

The Government has also expanded the current ‘extended rights’ entitlement for children aged 11-16 who receive free school meals or whose parents claim Maximum Working Tax Credit. Under these conditions, they will now get free transport to attend the nearest selective school in their area.

In Autumn Statement 2016 the Government also pledged £50m per year of new funding towards the expansion of existing grammar schools.

Mr Parker commented: “Demand for school places, particularly in secondary schools, is rising sharply so additional funding to increase capacity is welcome. The argument that grammar schools is the solution has yet to be proven. In fact, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) found that, in areas where grammar schools are in operation, pupils who do not attend selective schools ‘make less progress in partially-selective and wholly-selective areas than in areas without selection’.

“The fixation on school structure gets in the way of the real issue which is that we need to make sure we’ve got sufficient places at good quality schools across the country.”

T-levels: funding technical education 

The Government pledged to increase the number of programme hours of training for 16-19 year olds on technical routes by more than 50%, to over 900 hours a year on average, including the completion of a high quality industry work placement during the programme.

The routes will be introduced from 2019-20 and £500m of additional funding per year invested once routes are fully implemented.

The new T-levels were announced by the Chancellor as “game-changing” reforms to technical qualifications.

Director Mike Parker said: “Giving vocational qualifications an equal standing to academic ones is a positive step and efforts to streamline the system will make it easier for pupils and parents to make the right choice.

“However, if the Government does not focus on funding 0-16 education adequately, it risks harming the ability of children deciding to study for these T-level qualifications. We must ensure children don’t miss out on the strong educational grounding that is essential to give them the skills and ability to go on to achieve advanced qualifications – both vocational and academic.”


Funding for school maintenance 

The Chancellor announced a further £216m investment in school maintenance, to help rebuild and refurbish existing schools. The money will be allocated over the course of two academic years, with half spent in 2018-19 and the other half in 2019-20.

Mike Parker commented: “Funding to help rebuild and refurbish existing schools is much needed. However, it doesn’t fill the operational blackhole in schools across England.”

£1bn for school sports from the sugar tax 

The Chancellor announced that the sugar tax revenue was lower than initially forecast, as manufacturers reduced the sugar content in some products. Despite the shortfall, the Treasury will give the Department for Education £1bn over the rest of this parliament to spend on sports activities in schools and to help promote healthy lifestyles amongst pupils.


National Careers Week 2017 #NCW2017

National Careers Week 2017 is taking place this week between 6-11 March, promoting the importance of good careers education in schools and colleges.

Every year this is a celebration of careers and free resources in education across the UK and encourages education providers to bring together students, local employers and advisers through careers events and activities.

SCHOOLS NorthEast will hold a Spring Term Ofsted briefing with a themed discussion around careers education. This will be led by Adrian Lyons HMI, Ofsted’s National Lead for economics, business and enterprise, who spearheaded the ‘Getting Ready for Work’ report, published by Ofsted in November 2016.

We will hold two events in two different locations in the region, to maximise the opportunity for school leaders to attend. These will take place on Wednesday 5 April:

South of the region
Time: 10:00am – 12:00pm
Venue: Inspire2 Learn, Normanby Road, South Bank, Middlesbrough, TS6 9AE

North of the region
Time: 2:00pm – 4:00pm
Venue: The Durham Centre, Belmont Industrial Estate, Durham, DH1 1TN

Visit the event page for more information or email to book your place.

SCHOOLS NorthEast also held its annual careers conference last month. FutureReady 2017 helped schools from across the region to access best practice in careers guidance, vital in making sure their pupils are equipped with the knowledge and experiences, along with the key attributes and attitudes, they need to succeed in the 21st century. You can read a summary of the event here and you can access all speaker presentations here.


Ofsted Director calls predicting grades for new exams a “very imprecise science”, asking inspectors not to request them

In a letter to all inspectors, Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director for Education, asked them not to request predictions for cohorts about to take examinations.

Mr Harford admitted the new English and mathematics GCSEs, as well as the first set of new A-levels, will bring a much higher level of uncertainty this summer, calling predicting results for them “a mug’s game”.

In a move to reassure school leaders and teachers that schools will only be asked how they assessed pupil progress,  the Ofsted Director wrote in his most recent update to all inspectors:

Ofsted does not expect any prediction by schools of a progress score, as they are
aware that this information will not be possible to produce due to the way progress
measures at both KS2 and KS4 are calculated. Inspectors should understand from all
training and recent updates that there is no national expectation of any particular
amount of progress from any starting point.

‘Expected progress’ was a DfE accountability measure until 2015. Inspectors must not use this term when referring to progress for 2016 or current pupils.

Mr Harford makes reference to an Ofqual blog article which sets out “the pitfalls of predicting” for GCSEs and A-levels. You can read “Grade boundaries: the problem with predictions” by Cath Jadhav here.

Sean Harford’s article about inspection and the use of grade predictions is available here.

Ofsted study finds consistency in double inspection decisions, but can’t rule out “unintentional influence” by inspectors

The schools inspectorate has released a study of the reliability of its new short inspections, taking an evidence-based approach to the issue.

It found that in 22 of the 24 short inspections included in the analysis, the two inspectors “agreed on their independent decision about whether the school remained good or the inspection should convert to gather more evidence”.

The study, titled “Do two inspectors inspecting the same school make consistent decisions?“, was published on Tuesday (3 March) along with a commentary from HMCI Amanda Spielman, her first in her new capacity as head of Ofsted.

Three North East schools were involved in the research:

  • One was converted to a full inspection and remained good
  • One was not converted so remained good
  • One was converted and downgraded to RI

Ofsted says further research is needed to establish the effect that inspectors, different types of provision, or different school contexts will have a reliability. At the moment, Ofsted does not analyse inter-regional disparities.

Continue reading “Ofsted study finds consistency in double inspection decisions, but can’t rule out “unintentional influence” by inspectors”

Hammond must use first Budget to fill funding blackhole in schools

SCHOOLS NorthEast is calling on Chancellor Phillip Hammond to use his first Budget to tackle the funding crisis within schools.

Increases in employers’ pension costs and national insurance contributions, coupled with cuts in support services and heightened pressures such as growing pupil mental health issues have left schools facing a £3bn shortfall by 2020, according to the National Audit Office.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has identified that schools are losing £339 for every primary age pupil and £477 for every child in secondary school.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has calculated a drop of 6.5% in real-term spending on schools over the course of this parliament.

The issue is worse for North East schools where a legacy of underfunding has left schools exposed. Analysis by SCHOOLS NorthEast shows that, on the basis of the current 2016-17 funding levels, our region would benefit from an extra £323m per year if it were funded at London levels, and around £42m if funded at national levels.

Schools in Sunderland and Northumberland would be entitled to over £7m more if funded at national level, and those in County Durham would see almost £60m more cash a year if funded at London level.

Click here to view a regional breakdown.

Middlesbrough is the only Local Authority area in the North East that receives more funding than the national average. However, as the second most deprived area in England (based on the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) score), Middlesbrough schools are proportionally underfunded.

Mike Parker, Director of SCHOOLS NorthEast, said: “The Government has to recognise that if it wants a world class education system it has to fund schools appropriately. The education budget as a whole must increase and the share for the North East has to rebalance the legacy of underfunding in this region.”

Newcastle MP asks NFF question in Parliament, after meeting SCHOOLS NorthEast to discuss funding concerns for the region

Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, asked the Schools Minister Nick Gibb whether the Department for Education had made an assessment of the effect of the area cost adjustment on school funding in the North East.

The question followed a meeting between the MP and SCHOOLS NorthEast during which the growing concerns around the new National Funding Formula, and the Area Cost Adjustment in particular, were raised.

The Schools Minister replied:

Our proposals for a national funding formula include an area cost adjustment to reflect the different labour market costs across the country. Schools in the North East would not receive an uplift through the area cost adjustment, as it is only applied to areas where labour market costs are particularly high. Our proposed national funding formula would increase funding for 622 schools in the North East, with funding for schools in the region as a whole increasing by 1%.

The consultation on the national funding formula will conclude on 22 March. We will confirm final arrangements in the summer, and introduce the formula from April 2018.

While the NFF will increase the funding for some schools in the North East, the situation is predicted to worsen across the country, with the IFS forecasting a drop of 6.5% in real-term spending on schools over the course of this parliament. The Area Cost Adjustment will only divert resources from schools in disadvantaged areas to affluent boroughs.

SCHOOLS NorthEast has strongly campaigned against the ACA in our response to the first stage of the NFF consultation, and will continue to in our final response by the 22 March deadline.