Education News Weekly – 9th December, 2016
International education rankings, dodgy A Level predictions and the schools that’s grading parents
A Nottinghamshire school has been praised by Ofsted for its innovative scheme of grading parents on their support of their child’s education. Since 2011, Parents at Greasley Beauvale Primary School have been graded A to D on how well they are supporting their children’s learning, from those who are regularly, actively involved and go ‘above and beyond’ to those who offer little help with learning at home and are rarely seen at school events. ‘Inspirational’ head teacher Donna Chambers has been praised for the ‘startling’ results, while head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw wrote ‘For many children at this school, it is making a huge difference.’
However, he also acknowledged the difficulty of confronting some parents over how their lack of involvement can negatively impact a child’s education, and some parents have been vocal critics of the system. ‘They’ll have us all wearing dunce’s hats next,’ one mother complained.
The results of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), undertaken once every three years, were published this week, revealing that the UK has improved its global ranking in reading and sciences. The PISA measures 15 year-olds from 72 countries on their abilities in the core subjects, with a focus on science this year. The UK climbed from 21st in 2012 to 15th last year, despite the overall points score falling from 514 to 509 (still well above the OECD average of 493).
Singapore was first with 556, followed by Japan and Estonia, with Chinese Taipei and Finland completing the top 5. The UK has also risen from 23rd to 21st for reading, despite falling by a single point from 499 to 498, while girls have again outscored boys in both areas, by an average of 22 points. However, some education experts have called the results ‘disappointing’, as the scores show little improvement in actual terms on the results of three years ago.
Several leading Russell Group universities have warned that students’ A Level choices are now more important than ever, as they may not have a chance to change courses, with the changes to the A Level system. AS Levels have become their own independent qualification, separate from the A Level, which is now a (generally tougher) two-year course, with exams at the end. With up to 15% fewer students are choosing not to take AS Levels this year, their subject choices are even more important, as they may realise too late they have chosen the wrong subjects for their preferred university course, the group said in their updated ‘Informed Choices’ guide.
In April, Which? surveyed more than 1,000 UK 18- and 19-year-old university applicants and found almost a third (28%) said they wished they had chosen different subjects, and 41% wished they had considered which subjects would be most useful when applying for university courses.
To add to that pressure, in more good news for those currently attending secondary school, an analysis of the results of 1.3 million university applicants over three years reveals that only 16% achieve the grades their teachers predict. 75% of students who sat A Levels in 2013-2015 were given overly optimistic grade predictions by their schools, although nearly one in ten (9%) did better.
The report from UCL’s Institute of Education also showed that the grades of able students from disadvantaged backgrounds were most likely to be under-predicted, with 24% of applicants from lower-income households had their grades under-predicted, compared to 20% for their more privileged counterparts. Dr Gill Wyness, author of the report, said she found it ‘worrying’ that over 1,000 disadvantaged students per year were under-predicted grades, likely affecting their university and course choices, and potential future income. The report, published by the University College Union, suggests a post-qualifications admission (PQA), rather than one it is based on grade predictions, or ‘poor guestimates’.
Education Secretary Justine Greening has suggested that junior teachers could receive an improved pay-rise, in order to address the recruitment and retention crisis. However, she stopped short of guaranteeing an overall pay-rise for teachers, instead saying the current 1% increase would take a ‘more targeted approach’ at junior teachers. This could make teaching more appealing to younger professionals, without lifting the top of the pay-scale, although such an approach could result in cutting pay in the long term for more experienced staff, warned Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. Alternatively, it could lead to schools having to pay some wages from their own finances, further pressurising already tightly squeezed budgets.
UK library budgets fall £25 million – Guardian
The UK library sector suffered enormous financial damage this year, with budgets falling by £25 million in the year to March, while the number of libraries open hit a ten-year low, and visitor numbers slid by 15 million. The results echo a five-year trend in declining financial support for libraries, with librarians predominantly blaming central government for the crisis. The main thrust of government policy towards libraries is shifting them towards the voluntary sector, reflected in the most recent figures: though paid library staff fell by 5.3% from 18,028 to 17,064, volunteer numbers rose by 7.5% to 44,501 in the last year.
Nick Poole, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals, was highly critical: “The government’s response to libraries being among our most used and trusted public services is to cut budgets and hollow out services.” However, the government’s Libraries Deliver report last week announced a £4m innovation fund for projects to help disadvantaged communities among the schemes it outlined, so the news isn’t all bad (just mostly).
Oxford graduate sues university over 2:1 – Guardian
A graduate who left Oxford University in June 2000 with a 2:1 is suing the institution for his failure to get a first, which he believes significantly impacted his future career and earning prospects. Faiz Siddiqui argues the ‘appallingly bad’ teaching on one of his courses, combined with the number of staff on sabbatical at the time, meant he could not get a first, and a judge has allowed the £1 million legal battle to proceed.
By David Bard
David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about creative writing and everything that’s trending in education.