Inclement response to diploma delivery
Diploma delivery dominated much of the discussion during the latest Council meeting on 7-8 February, with representatives arguing the case for a modular structure, the ability to co-teach levels and an overarching general diploma.
Full Council debate
Serious concerns were raised about the implementation of the 14-19 diplomas in a debate led by the Education Committee.
Council in principle welcomed the efforts to provide an accessible, work-related qualification which is more likely to motivate those students who do not engage with the traditional National Curriculum or A levels. It welcomed the greater collaboration encouraged by the diploma structure, and the focus on internal assessment for the diplomas.
However, serious concerns were raised about the implementation process, the massive complexity of the proposed structure and the wholesale confusion over the target audience. The recurring question was: who are they for?
The concern was raised that the diplomas may fail to engage 'middle England' and thus could entrench the vocational/academic divide. At the same time, level 1 in its current form is not hands-on and practical enough and may fail to engage students who want a vocational route.
The scale of the diploma delivery could have a detrimental impact on the rest of the curriculum, especially at Key Stage 3. And of course huge logistical issues remain for those planning diplomas.
Although the additional grant for diplomas now looks to be a respectable £28 million, the decision to delegate funding decisions to local authorities and their partners means that the distribution and detail of the funding mechanism is cloaked in uncertainty. In response to this, Council passed the following resolution:
ASCL believes that, as an interim measure up to 2013, the diplomas grant should be devolved in its entirety by the local authority to the 14-19 Learning Partnerships. The level of grant must be sufficient to recognise the costs of managing 14-19 partnership working in addition to extra costs of diploma delivery.
Support for the diploma concept focused on its role as an umbrella qualification. There was broad agreement that what is needed is an overarching 'general' diploma with generic learning and functional skills at the core, supplemented by optional accredited packages. Qualifications like A levels and BTECs could be recognised within this framework.
A modular structure and the ability to co-teach level 1 and 2 are essential to the ability to deliver. Rather than 14 year-olds choosing a diploma line to go into, the diploma title would be determined at the end of the course, based on the modules taken.
Students should be able to gain unit credits along the way so that they can dip in and out and will have something to take away after four years even if they don't gain the diploma.
Chris Tweedale, the deputy director of the DCSF 14-19 Reform Group, spoke to Council members during the Thursday evening Forum session and was told about many of these issues first hand.
In addition, ASCL past president Malcolm Trobe is on the DCSF 14-19 Expert Advisory Group and will continue to raise concerns. Following the debate ASCL is drawing up a position paper on diplomas.
Full Council debate
With the national focus on whole-school continuing professional development (CPD) increasing, Council held a debate to refine a draft ASCL policy put forward by Professional Committee.
Regarding the possibility, raised in the Children's Plan, of master's level qualifications for all teachers, Council felt strongly that entitlement was preferable to compulsion. Views were divided on whether master's level accreditation should be linked to pay progression.
The target of 'rarely cover' for schools by 2009 will reduce the flexibility to offer CPD time - schools will find it difficult to deliver both more CPD and less cover.
It was agreed that CPD activity should be linked to the school development plan and to performance management. CPD should be considered in the broadest sense - including job shadowing, in-house training, twilight sessions - not just external courses. Clearly there should not be a prescribed model(s); each institution will have a different response.
Council also agreed that the ASCL policy on CPD must cover all teaching and non-teaching staff and take account of the distinct regulations and issues facing college members.
Professional Committee will bring a revised policy paper to the next Council.
New Relationship with Schools
Public and Parliamentary Committee
With the publication of the Children's Plan and changes to personnel within the DCSF, the committee expressed concern that some of the positive steps taken under the New Relationship with Schools (NRwS) - particularly the emphasis on a single conversation through school improvement partners, streamlined bidding process and reducing paperwork - may be lost.
'The Key', currently under pilot, which is intended to be a one-stop information service for schools, may prove to be useful, but it is not a replacement for the NRwS and the goals it is trying to achieve.
John Dunford and Jane Lees are on the DCSF NRwS consultative group and will continue to monitor the situation and represent ASCL's views. The Implementation Review Unit of the DCSF, on which ASCL members sit, is also monitoring developments.
Pay and Conditions Committee
The committee approved a paper on 'rarely cover' for ASCL Pay and Conditions Specialist Stephen Szemerenyi to take to the next meeting of the social partnership, which will determine the details of its implementation. As stated in the workforce agreement, by 2009 schools must ensure that teachers 'rarely' cover lessons and they should be making progress towards this in 2008.
The paper sets out ASCL's definition of 'rarely cover' and re-emphasises that 'rarely' does not mean 'never'. ASCL is arguing that there should be no nationally defined target for rarely cover; each school should agree its own in consultation with staff.
Feedback from ASCL members indicates a wide range of practice, with some schools already implementing rarely cover and some only just beginning to put measures in place.
The Funding Committee is looking into the financial implications of rarely cover. Again there is wide variation, with some schools reporting additional costs and some that the exercise has been cost neutral.
Public and Parliamentary Committee
The committee heard that ASCL has been monitoring several issues raised in the Education and Skills Bill, and was invited to present to the parliamentary bill committee in January.
One concern is the artificial division made in the bill between careers education (CE), provided by the school; and information, advice and guidance (IAG) provided by external agencies (currently Connexions but transferring to local authorities).
The view was that the division between CE and IAG is unhelpful and potentially confusing because in reality they cannot be separated. CE and IAG both need to be part of a coherently and holistically planned curriculum.
The committee's preference is for one clear and brief set of guidance to cover both IAG providers and CE in school. ASCL will pursue this with the DCSF.
Post-16 funding and minimum funding guarantee
Funding specialist Lindsey Wharmby updated the committee on the new post-16 funding formula, now that schools had received their initial funding calculations.
She explained that if the funding rate after transition protection was less than £2,945 the school is a long-term winner but is being pegged to provide the funding for protecting the long-term losers. If the rate is greater than £2,945, the school is receiving protection and its funding will decrease over the next few years. Colleges receive a lower rate than schools but the same reasoning applies to their rate.
In addition the committee heard that the DCSF has acknowledged that the minimum funding guarantee (MFG), set at 2.1 per cent, is about 1 per cent below cost pressures. Therefore all schools are likely to feel some effect on their budget. In addition, the MFG applies only to pre-16 budgets so schools with sixth forms will face additional pressure if they are 'losers' in the move towards the new formula.
To gauge the effect on schools, Lindsey would like to hear from schools what per cent the AWPU has gone up in this year's settlement. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
The DCSF has put out a consultation on the specific functions of the two new agencies to be created out of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. The committee welcomed the outline plan for the independent body, reporting to Parliament, to accredit and regulate state funded exams, monitor awarding bodies, ensure value for money and investigate complaints.
However members had concerns about the downgrading of the other agency from an authoritative advisory body to a curriculum 'development' agency which would "support ministers" and provide advice when requested. The committee strongly felt that a robust curriculum authority is needed. ASCL will make these points in the consultation response.
The next Council meeting is on 5-6 June.
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