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What to expect from education in 2019
Imogen Rowley, lead content editor at The Key gazes ahead at 2019 and picks out the five anticipated changes in education to keep an eye on
2018 was a big year for education: Damian Hinds took up the mantle of education secretary, the long-awaited GDPR wreaked havoc in school offices across the country, and there was a steady stream of grumblings about Ofsted and the DfE. As we arrive, slightly bruised but smiling, at the threshold of a new year, gazing into our crystal ball for any hint of what the next 12 months might hold, here are five anticipated changes to keep an eye on.
1. Curriculum takes centre stage: inspection changes
How could we talk about education in 2019 without mentioning Ofsted’s new inspection framework? Due for release in September, it promises a shift in focus from pupil outcomes (exam results) to the “real substance of education” – a school’s curriculum – with a new ‘quality of education’ judgement.
Despite much speculation to the contrary, the ‘outstanding’ grade is here to stay. However, chief inspector Amanda Spielman isn’t happy that ‘outstanding’ schools are exempt from routine inspections, with some going more than 10 years without a visit. Ofsted has been pushing the DfE hard to agree to more regular inspections and cough up the necessary funding. Schools minister Nick Gibb threw it a bone in December when he said he wanted Ofsted to inspect 10 per cent of outstanding schools, but he added that the exemption will remain. We wait to see how this one plays out.
There will be a consultation on the new framework in January, but the general feeling in the sector is that it’s a step in the right direction: the current inspection model has long been considered the key driver behind excessive teacher workloads. However, questions linger around how exactly schools will be held accountable in a post-data era, and some yearn for stability after years of academisation and exam reforms.
2. More accountability for MATs
Also from Camp Ofsted, 2019 could be the year that we finally get some clarity on whether it will inspect MATs. We know that Amanda Spielman is particularly committed to the idea, saying that the current system of ‘focused inspections’ - where Ofsted inspects a few representative schools in a MAT and sends a letter to the trust – offers only a “limited view”.
Ofsted completed a small pilot over summer 2018 in which it exercised more authority by meeting with trust leaders instead of sending them a letter, so the winds of change could be in motion. Its five-year strategy also indicates an intention to “better scrutinise education, training and care structures, including at MAT level”, and its most recent annual report says: “We look forward to engaging with the DfE as it develops the secretary of state’s plans for greater MAT accountability”.
The decision rests with the DfE. However, there is resistance to the idea, particularly around whether Ofsted has the necessary experience and/or expertise in how MATs function, the overlap with the role of regional school commissioners, and whether there’s enough funding – especially as Ofsted wants to more frequently inspect ‘outstanding’ schools too.
3. Budgets continue to shrink, particularly for SEND
It will come as no surprise that school funding is under siege. One recent survey from the Association of School and College Leaders revealed that 60 per cent of the responding schools predict they will be in deficit in the next financial year, and things don’t show any signs of letting up.
The situation is particularly acute for SEND funding, with some saying the system is in crisis. Five councils are, or could be, involved in legal action about their decisions to cut high needs funding, and one campaign group is crowdfunding to take Damian Hinds and the DfE to court, saying that central government is responsible for the SEND funding crisis. The latest figures show that a further one million pupils were on SEND support in January 2018 compared to the previous year: a trend that doesn’t look to be slowing down.
The basic structure of top-up funding isn’t changing in 2019/20, with transfers between the schools and high needs blocks restricted to 0.5 per cent. This could in effect penalise more inclusive schools and could lead to a rise in incidents of “off-rolling”. Ofsted’s annual report articulates concern that pupils with SEND are permanently excluded five times more often than other pupils. The DfE bowed to pressure from schools and the media in December and announced an extra £350m cash injection for councils to help support pupils with SEND, but many are saying this doesn’t go far enough – the Local Government Association predicts a £536million shortfall this year alone. We can probably expect to see more protests like the headteachers’ march on Westminster back in September and a rise in the number of parent campaign groups as funding pressures continue to bite.
4. The ‘B’ word
There’s no getting away from it: at least in theory, we’re set to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019.
For schools, Brexit looks likely to hit teacher recruitment the hardest, and it’s already begun: DfE statistics show a 25 per cent drop in the number of teachers from Europe applying for QTS in England during the 2017-18 financial year, compared to the previous year. This will have a huge impact in particular on modern foreign language (MFL) teaching - to meet current demand, a quarter of all MFL graduates need to go into teaching.
Cutting off this vital life source from the continent will only increase pressure on the sector in a time of already considerable strain: the DfE has failed to hit its own teacher recruitment target for six years in a row, and pupil numbers in secondaries are predicted to rise until 2025. A common visa system for skilled workers – including teachers – has been proposed by the Migration Advisory Committee, but it recommends a salary threshold of £30,000: higher than most class teacher salaries. School budgets can’t take the increased strain, so the government will have to step up and diversify its home-grown teacher recruitment plans over the next few years to make up for a shortfall from Europe.
We can also expect to see a drop in the number of school trips and cultural enrichment opportunities abroad, as red tape most likely makes foreign travel more expensive and logistically challenging for everyone. We’ll all have to work harder to ensure our pupils continue to see themselves as global citizens, excited by – and given fair access to – the opportunities that await in the wider world.
5. Floor and coasting standards set to change
The DfE is planning to scrap floor and coasting measures, used to judge school performance, and replace them with a single ‘data standard’ from September 2019. Currently, there’s no word on what this will look like, but the idea is that there’ll be a single, transparent data-based trigger for schools to be offered support. We imagine that the Department will either pitch the new threshold somewhere between the two existing measures (so, for secondary schools, a progress 8 somewhere between -0.5 and -0.25), or they’ll set the score closer to the coasting standard, but increase the level of intervention based on how far below it the school falls, or how long it has been below it.
There will be a further formal consultation in this year, but considering the unpopularity of coasting standards, we can presume that a change will be welcomed. The DfE has also said it’ll consider whether being judged ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted will be “part of the trigger for an offer of support”.
Imogen Rowley is a lead content editor at The Key, which provides leadership and management support to schools. All predictions here are based on crystal ball gazing and information available at the time of writing, in early December 2018.