Weekly education news roundup 20/10/2017



2017 provisional league tables revealed

The Department for Education published its provisional league tables of all state-funded schools and colleges for GCSEs and the new measures of school performance - Progress 8 and Attainment 8. The results fall under "freedom of information" and can be viewed online.

The change from ranking a school by its pupils’ progress rather than attainment (the previous measure was the rate of pupils achieving top GCSE grades) has seen big changes in the positions of many schools, with some ranked far higher than previously and others much lower.

Revised data for GCSE-age pupils will be published in January, along with similar league tables based on A-level results. No school will be identified as ‘coasting’ – where overall results show pupils are failing to reach their potential – until the revised results are published in January.

School funding update

The government has announced £53 million for "the MAT development and improvement fund". It is an incentive for MATs to add struggling schools to the number of academies they run. The grants are said to be open to MATs,

  • with a proven track record of turning around the fortunes of underperforming schools
  • based in around 100 specifically-targeted areas of the country where there are low education standards and weak capacity to improve.

The grants will be overseen by regional schools commissioners (RSCs) who will also provide the successful MATs with any necessary support in taking on schools with significant performance gaps.

Some unions and educators have raised concerns that the fund may incentivise MATs to overreach, and suggested that other local maintained schools might also be in a good position to manage underperforming schools.


Changes to early entry exams announced

Education Secretary Kirsty Williams will introduce new rules to lower the number of pupils entered early for GCSEs. From 2019 school league tables will be compiled using a pupil's original GCSE results, regardless of whether or not they take the exam again and score a higher grade. Under current rules, schools are judged by a pupil's best grade after multiple sittings. This will help to benefit individual pupils rather than schools, and ensure that schools don't "play the system" by encouraging early entry when it is not in a pupil's best interests, but motivated by improving the school’s league table position. The move follows research by Qualifications Wales, who have acknowledged that the new rules divide opinion among the teaching profession. Kirsty Williams said, “GCSEs are designed to be sat after two years of teaching, not one. These changes will ensure our young people access a broad and balanced curriculum, and focus in on what’s best for our children and young people.”

Northern Ireland

Hurricane Ophelia forces schools to close

Schools across the country closed on Monday and Tuesday as Hurricane Ophelia caused widespread devastation with winds of up to 92 mph.

Parents expressed concern over the late announcement from Stormont, as the Department of Education issued a Tweet at 10.20pm on Sunday followed by a press release at 10.45pm, advising of school closures and leaving parents little notice to make alternative arrangements. There was also criticism that the Tweet said that schools "should" close, which implied that closure was down to school leaders' discretion rather than mandatory. The closures were implemented as a “precautionary measure”, and pupils returned to their studies on Wednesday. 
Many homes and businesses were left without power. Northern Ireland Electricity confirmed that "widespread damage" was created by Hurricane Ophelia, but power was quickly restored to the vast majority of properties. However, the storm has left many buildings, including schools, facing extensive repairs.

Hans Sloane Medal for top science pupil

Northern Ireland schools are invited to celebrate their top budding scientists. The A-level student gaining the highest combined marks across three of the sciences (maths, biology, chemistry and physics) will become the recipient of the Hans Sloane Medal; while a brand-new Sloan McClay Award will be presented to the equivalent top-performer at GCSE.

Sir Hans Sloane and Sir Allen McClay, who give their names to the awards and were both from Northern Ireland, used science to improve lives. Sir Hans Sloane was a pioneering surgeon; while Sir Allen McClay founded Galen (now Warner Chilcott) a major pharmaceutical company. Schools will be invited to put forward their top-performers at science, and winning entrants and their families will enjoy an awards ceremony at the Ulster Museum in the New Year.














Image of Hurricane Ophelia by Antti Lipponen (Tropical Storm Ophelia 2017 10 11) via Wikimedia Commons.

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