Aims and objectives
In his annual conference address, Malcolm Trobe commended school and college leaders for creating opportunities out of the many challenges facing them. He also set out some challenges - or opportunities - for the government.
In order to achieve the challenging targets set for achievement and participation over the next few years, school and college leaders will need to have the full support of the government at local and national level. The government also needs to trust us to get on with job and this means less micromanagement from Sanctuary Buildings.
Yes, we need some guidance. We also need to be clearer about what is regulatory and what is simply guidance. Guidance should be what it says - guidance - and guidance doesn't always have to be followed. Guidance should be:
based on what is in regulation and /or statute
built around what is practical to achieve
steeped in best practice
above all clear and concise
Too much of it reminds me of the Mark Twain story when he said that he'd written a friend a long letter because he didn't have time to write a short one.
Not only is it off putting when you received lengthy guidance, it makes it difficult to take everything into account when determining the school's policy and practices. School leaders cannot issue extensive documents to staff to take action on. There is that old maxim: "Keep it simple, stupid."
Call for back up
I would suggest that the department has a clear responsibility to support school and college leaders when they are facing difficult issues.
How refreshing it was earlier this year when a DfES official stated: "It is nonsense to suggest that schools cannot send pupils home to change into the correct uniform. We fully support schools in taking tough action to enforce school uniform policy."
As well as supporting school and college leaders, actions need to be taken to reduce bureaucracy and put downward pressure on workload of the leadership team. It does not help when the requests for information and data by both local authorities and central government continue to increase.
It is clearly important that information is collected centrally but, according to members, the uncoordinated collection of data is still an issue in many parts of the country.
These concerns were voiced at our last ASCL Council meeting and as John Dunford wrote in Leader a few months ago we are advising members to say no to these additional requests for information.
We continue to raise concerns over the misuse of value-added and contextualised value-added (CVA) data. I am continuing to 'bang the drum' about this and the failure to recognise the difficulties caused by using a norm referenced system. The way things work at the moment, a school can have its students perform better and still see its VA and CVA scores go down.
I have put this suggestion to the department: If we want a better year on year measure for each school, we need to baseline the VA and CVA measures, perhaps from 2004 or 2005.
This would give a more accurate year on year comparator for each school and an accurate measure of 'system improvement'. It is not an original idea; it is what happens in the States with pre-university exams.
I have been voicing my worries about the proposed post-16 CVA measure for some time; there are still many issues with the methodology even though it is due to 'go live' nationally in 2007. We have been campaigning strongly to have the introduction delayed at least by a year until the issues are resolved.
Spiraling exam costs
Schools and colleges have reported a huge increase in examination fees in the last few years. Recent information from a sample of schools showed an average increase over the last three years of a staggering 51.2 per cent. One school even reported an increase of over 100 per cent in exam costs.
The schools in the sample were spending an average of nearly 2 per cent of the budget on examination fees. One school was already at 3 per cent. Many schools reported spending more on examination fees than on their subject capitation (books, photocopying and other learning resources). One small school had an examination bill of £68,000 compared with a subject capitation of £53,000.
There are huge development costs in new syllabus production (new GCSEs, functional skills, AS and A levels as well as the diplomas). These costs are inevitably passed on to schools and colleges even though it is the government that requires these changes.
So will we have to face further significant increases in exam fees? This is another issue on which we are pressing the government to take action. Schools and colleges should not have to bear this cost.
Malcolm Trobe is ASCL President
I am very keen to hear from members on issues they believe ASCL should be bringing to the attention of ministers and the DfES. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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