The PTE Newsletter – Friday 18 June

The smallest unit known to mankind is the difference between a classroom’s temperature being too cold for pupils, and it being too hot. It’s fair to say that the heat this past week has tested everyone, so thank goodness that the high temperatures have gone away for now.

Also, thank goodness it’s Friday!

“What Every Parent Needs to Know: How to Help Your Child Get the Most Out of Primary School” – Toby Young & Miranda Thomas

Between dabbling in New York and Hollywood high life and becoming a free speech warrior, Toby Young thrust himself into the world of education with some real success.

He led a parent group that opened one of the country’s first “free schools” – the West London Free School. The story of how this happened and how they got the school opened in only eighteen months is quite the tale. A 2010 BBC documentary covered the first part of that journey, but alas it is not available online these days.

One institution wasn’t enough for this group though – they were keen to grow a family of warm-strict, knowledge-rich schools, and soon enough they had added three primaries to the original secondary. And it is out of the work to do all this that this week’s book comes, What Every Parent Needs to Know: How to Help Your Child Get the Most Out of Primary School.”

Written by Toby and Miranda Thomas, a very experienced teacher, it was published in 2014 and does exactly what it says on the tin: it is a guide to the things that primary aged children should be learning in school. It came out not long after the National Curriculum had been revamped as part of the Michael Gove/Nick Gibb reforms. Some reviews of the book were sniffy about its tone – far more earnest than a typical Young product, and others criticised it as overly simplistic.

But this was to completely miss the point of the book. It’s tone and level were what made it so useful for its target audience: parents who knew that they knew little about schooling these days, and who wanted an accessible primer on key aspects. And on these terms the book is really, really good. READ MORE HERE

Latest news & views

It’s been a really newsy second half to the week – so we’ve pulled together pieces about the main stories to make sense of stuff.

First of all: it’s TAG Submission Day, when secondary schools have to upload the final Teacher Assessed Grades they’ve come up with for their pupils for GCSEs & A-levels.

The work to generate these grades has dominated much of this term for secondary colleagues, as they strived to come up with grades that were reliable and valid. There are still concerns about the whole process.

A TES poll shows that schools have adopted a wide range of methods – from full sets of mock exams to coursework and assessments that schools devised themselves. It also showed that the majority of schools did not use exam board assessment materials exclusively, with many teachers commenting that the exam board-produced tests were inadequate.

The same poll showed that one in four teachers had parents put pressure on them to raise students’ grades, or to change the evidence going towards their teacher-assessed GCSE and A-level grades; a third reported pressure from students.

Meanwhile, Gavin Williamson has said that he backs teachers on grades – so that’s alright then.

Yesterday saw the release of some important DfE data sets, relevant to everyone interested in schools and not just the geeks among us!

First off was “Secondary and primary school applications and offers” – which shows how many pupils applied for school places for this autumn, and how many got a place they asked for, and so on. The proportion getting their first choice at primary was UP on last year, and the proportion getting their first choice at  secondary was DOWN.

The reasons for this are simple – and could be seen in the second important release: “Schools, pupils, and their characteristics”. This does what it says on the tin, and among other things shows how the primary population is falling, and forecast to continue to do so for a while yet – meaning less competition for places. The secondary population is rising now and for a few years yet – so there is more competition for places, hence the lower percentage getting first choices.

Schools Week had a good summary analysis of things – definitely worth reading.

The data also showed an increase in those eligible for Free School Meals – the Guardian wrote about this in some detail.

Gavin Williamson’s backing for teacher-generated grades came in his speech at the (online) Festival of Education. In this speech he also made a number of other important announcements:

Onto another key figure in education now, and Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief, gave evidence to the Education Select Committee on Tuesday.

It was quite a tough session for her, with the Chair Rob Halfon and others asking why the problems identified by the Everyone’s Invited campaign and follow up Ofsted review hadn’t been spotted sooner during routine inspections. The TES wrote an article with a headline that implied Spielman didn’t think teens sexting one another was a problem: Ofsted: Nude pupil pictures not a safeguarding issue. This led to Ofsted issuing a clarification the next day, which TES covered with the headline Naked images can be safeguarding issue, says Spielman.

They glossed over all the other things Spielman spoke about, including her warning schools off victim blaming around the issue of “modesty shorts”.

And finally for today – Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, has written for the Guardian about the need for clarity in the education recovery plan: “For all the difficulties that the pandemic has brought us, school leaders have told me that it is not Covid that has been their biggest headache, but the constantly changing expectations of the government.”

So lots and lots to be thinking about. In the meantime though – have a wonderful weekend!