The PTE Newsletter – Friday 1 October

Finally – finally! – schools have been told what is planned for exams next summer.

They were promised details before the end of September, and this deadline was narrowly met, with information shared on the very last day of the month.

There’s still some more to be decided nearer the time, but at least pupils and teachers know the kind of things to expect – which is a big relief.

In the meantime, term goes on, another week is about to be done, and everyone is still working hard to keep the show on the road…

Choosing a School: Sources of Information

In the last piece we covered a couple of “formal” datasets about schools – the government’s Performance Tables, and Ofsted’s inspection report.

In this article we are going to cover three other really important sources of information that families can use to come up with a shortlist of school preferences:

  • Recent applications data
  • School websites, and
  • Local word-of-mouth

Again though, like all information on schools it’s really important to not let any one thing put you off or encourage you too much.

Remember: one parent’s “too strict” is another’s “safe and orderly”. And people with axes to grind tend to be more vocal than those who are content with things, so shared views tend to be skewed.

Recent applications data

Every local authority is obliged to publish admissions information every year, so that people can see how many applications each school received in previous years, and on what basis places were allocated.

To find this data for schools you’re potentially interested in, go to the council website for where the school is based, and search for the section on “schools”or “school admissions” or something similar.

Somewhere in this section will be a document that explains how places were allocated – sometimes it’s one document covering all age ranges, sometimes there is a different one for primary and secondary schools.

The document will contain, for every school information like the total number of places on offer, how many places were given to children in care, or those with siblings, and so on. It should also list the furthest distance from school that a child lived who was offered a place: READ MORE HERE

Latest news & views

PLANS FOR 2022 EXAMS: Yesterday we finally found out what the exam regulator Ofqual intends to do regarding adjustments for exams next summer. After the disruption to learning since the pandemic started there were always going to need to be changes to how they were organised, and also to the pass rates – and now details for most of these things have been released.

GCSEs and A-levels students will sit adapted exams next summer and receive grades that are a “midway” point between last year and pre-pandemic 2019 results.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said they have put “fairness at the heart”of their approach, listening to pupils, teachers and parents. New Ofqual chief regulator Dr Jo Saxton said the approach will “recognise the disruption experienced by students taking exams” this year. “It will provide a safety net for those who might otherwise just miss out on a higher grade, while taking a step back to normal,” she added.

Schools Week has a useful overview of the “plan B” proposed, in case exams can’t be sat next summer after all.

Policy wonk & commentator-for-hire Sam Freedman has written for TES on what he makes of the proposals:

“While I understand Ofqual’s decision – and I hope it works out for the sake of young people and their schools – I feel it’s an unnecessary hostage to fortune. There is nothing about the 2019 standard that is intrinsically “correct” or “normal”. It is not benchmarked to any external standard, but is simply what the grades were when the current system was introduced in 2011.”

INTERVIEW WITH HEAD OF OFQUAL: The decisions about next summer’s exams were made by the new boss at Ofqual, Dr Jo Saxton – a former member of the PTE Advisory Council. What a start to the job!

TES has a really good interview with her. It captures her really well – especially her moral purpose. Definitely worth a read.

“ “My mission for this academic year is that we need young people and their families to again trust qualifications, [to trust] that exams are fair,” she says. “I think the best way of doing that is to put the interests of young people first. That has to be the compass that guides our decisions.” ”

KEIR STARMER ON SCHOOLS: An incoming Labour government would recruit thousands of new teachers in an attempt to cut vacancies and close skills gaps across the profession, Sir Keir Starmer announced in his conference speech.

Outlining Labour’s “ambitious school improvement plan” on the final day of the party’s annual conference in Brighton, he pledged to reform Ofsted “to focus on supporting struggling schools” and said that Labour’s “National Excellence Programme” would be funded by ending tax exemptions for private schools.

Will Hazell, Education Correspondent at the i newspaper, has a good analysis of Starmer’s speech, pointing out that his cheeky reference to Mr Blair’s famous “education, education, education” slogan signalled a turning away from the education policy of the Corbyn years.

And now for some more comment pieces…

READING RESEARCH: Research has found that children’s reading speed can be improved by simply increasing the space between letters within a piece of text.  A study by Anglia Ruskin University looked at the benefits of letter spacing and coloured overlays among a group of dyslexic and non-dyslexic children. It discovered that text with increased space between each letter provided a benefit to both groups.

THE EEF TEACHING & LEARNING TOOLKIT Jonathan Kay of the Education Endowment Fund has a useful piece on how their T&L toolkit has been updated.

“Over the past decade, our Teaching and Learning Toolkit has become one of the most popular educational resources used by teachers and school leaders. Practitioners across the globe have drawn on the Toolkit’s findings to complement their professional expertise and identify approaches that might help accelerate pupil progress.”

MEETINGS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN EMAILS Laura May Rowlands has some handy tips on how to spot meetings that were unnecessary.

“In a job as full-on and demanding as teaching, there’s little worse than being summoned to a gathering that could – and should – have been an email. Here are the telltale signs that this meeting may be a waste of your precious time…”

Hopefully you haven’t had any meetings like that this week. Have a great weekend!