EdCo News Round Up December 2019

Northern and ‘underperforming’ schools penalised by progress 8, research shows

More details about pupils’ backgrounds should be taken into consideration when compiling secondary school league tables in England, new research claims. The study found that a fifth of schools would see their national league table position change by over 500 places if factors such as eligibility for free meals, residential deprivation and whether English is a first language were to be considered.

The researchers, from the Centre for Multilevel Modelling at Bristol University, claim that schools should be judged on a more contextual Progress 8 measure that considers factors other than academic progress that can play a part in school achievement. With such a change, 51% of schools currently judged to be ‘underperforming’ against standard accountability measures would move out of this category.

"The high-average Progress 8 score seen in London halves when we adjust for pupil background," the report says. "In contrast, the low-average Progress 8 score seen in the north-east improves substantially after adjustment, due to the high proportion of poor pupils taught in this region."

The Department for Education says that Progress 8, as it currently is assessed, is a fair measure that helps parents to chose schools. They assert that the measure helps to recognise schools that make good progress with lower attaining pupils, and to identify schools not doing enough with high-performing students.

Half of ‘underperforming’ schools do better when progress 8 includes pupil background (Schools Week)
Pupil background 'should be part of league tables' (BBC)
More than half of 'underperforming' schools would improve if pupil backgrounds were considered, study finds (The Independent)
Northern schools 'penalised by Progress 8 tables' (TES)

School admission policies: confusing and discriminatory, experts claim

The Good Schools Guide has claimed that school admission policies are over-complicated and disadvantage children whose parents work weekends or do not speak fluent English, requiring “labour-intensive” research and reams of paperwork.

Elizabeth Coatman, state education specialist at the Guide, said requiring parents to decipher a complex admissions policy could be “discriminatory”. There were 604,500 applications for secondary school places in September 2019, with 4.6 percent of applicants offered places at non-preferred schools. The Guide claims that popular state schools are most likely to be over-subscribed and tend to have over-complicated policies in place to decide which pupils to admit. In addition, faith schools often expect additional paperwork and prioritise baptised children from families who regularly attend worship.

“The variation in admissions policies is incredible. What one school demands of an applicant may be very different from the requirements of an apparently similar school down the road,” said Coatman. “Setting aside time to research options and work out the likelihood of a successful application, not to mention fathoming the further obligations and paperwork as required by some schools, is labour intensive and no doubt disadvantages less affluent families.”

The Guide is calling for a simplified approach, and for the admissions watchdog to be given greater power over policies. The Department for Education responded that any concerns about admission arrangements can be raised with the School Adjudicator.

Schools excluding poorer families with confusing admission policies, experts warn (The Independent)
School admission policies in England 'favour certain sections of society' (The Guardian)

Scrutinise headteacher pay, says highest earning academy boss

On the back of a Sunday Times investigation into head teachers and academy trust leaders’ salaries, the top earner on the Times’ list has called for more scrutiny over school leader pay. Sir Dan Moynihan, whose salary and benefits package for his role as leader of the Harris Federation is in the region of £550,000, defended his own pay package in an interview with TES but said that the large salaries of heads who run only one or two schools should be "looked at".

“What matters is the outcomes for kids and if we’re managing our budgets efficiently and the kids are getting a good deal,” Sir Dan said. “If you’ve got very large salaries and it's one school or two schools, that needs a closer look, I think. But it’s different when there is a large number of schools and [the trust] is doing well and disadvantaged kids are making progress.”

Financial accounts earlier this year revealed that the head of Holland Park School, a single-academy trust, raised its leader’s salary to £260,000 this year. It was one of the chains that received a letter from the academies minister in February which called in trusts to work with the government to tackle the “issue” of high pay.

A report last year from the Public Accounts Committee last year said that academy trusts pay their bosses “unjustifiably high salaries”, and that the money could be better spent on improving children’s education. In his interview with TES, Sir Dan was asked if the cost saving measures he had introduced had covered the cost of his salary. “I have to be very circumspect in what I say here”, Sir Dan responded. “Whatever I say I’ll be killed for.”

Exclusive: Probe high academy pay, says £550k Moynihan (TES)
Some school salaries are too big, says highest earner (The Times)
Academy boss paid £550,000 calls for greater scrutiny of headteacher pay (The Independent)