The new Educational Landscape – Transformation at break neck speed.

When Michael Gove took over, the rumour on the ground was that the Coalition Government did not want to make the mistakes of the past. They believed the previous regime had not moved fast enough on their reforms. So that not enough of what they had hoped for, was achieved. Rightly or wrongly, our new Educational Minister took this theory to heart, and swiftly the maelstrom of change began. Scientists predict it is the pace of change that is of most concern with regard to climate change and all species ability to adapt. In comparison as a Head the last seven years have left me reeling as more and more change has been heaped on to the system, with more and more haste, and less and less money. It was this era that bought in the new final document that meant there were probably another three documents of change prior to the final, final, final document spouting the latest proclamation. Please note we are not a sector unused to change, education is continually moving in circles. If the direction is correct these circles should move us in a spiral forward. Have we moved forward? I will leave the judgement to others. What I want to do is to describe the spin of this era as the pace has been phenomenal. If success was defined as the ability to achieve the change in the first four years of Government, then yes, Gove was successful. Our educational landscape is irrevocably altered.

For a Government that regularly tells us we have more self- autonomy, schools at the eye of this hurricane of change have been left feeling the opposite. Challenging schools in particular, have had little to help buffer them from the effects of the pace of change and its content. Particularly, as the tactic of aligning the Ofsted judgement to a directive from the Department of Education and vice a versa has now become common place.   In this chapter I hope to outline the main areas of change and highlight the impact for my school. However, I felt it was important to begin with what life would have been like prior to the coalition Government for those in education. I do this, as I believe the role of Executive Head should have a note of caution to it. If you were a Head prior to 2009 and not post, your world of education and our current world are very, very different. Do remember the further you climb the further you move from the classroom, the children and the learning process.

A leader prior to 2009 in a school setting will have experienced the following educational climate:

–          Revenue for school improvement.

–          Capital grants and the Building Schools for the Future funding for new schools.

–          Value added and Contextual value added analysis of schools’ performance. This meant the context of the school was considered in how well a school achieved and progressed.

–          Vocational qualifications that were worth four GCSE’s.

–          Vocational qualifications that were of varying quality and universally considered not as rigorous as GCSE. Yet added value for the school and student, at the same level as a GCSE.

–          A significant number of qualifications that were predominantly coursework based and teacher assessed.

–          A much greater freedom of choice in the selection of subjects from age fourteen onwards.

–          AS and A levels. Two stages to the completion of sixth form both examined.

–          A supply of teachers of quality, particularly in cities and particularly in London.

–          Reliable training providers predominantly at Universities, with an entry system to the profession that was well understood and well signposted. Only failing schools were restricted from this supply.

–          A training programme for teachers that allowed satisfactory schools opportunities to participate.

–          An Ofsted framework that believed data was a “signpost not the destination”, and that HMI were “agents of change” and “best placed to support change.” (Annual Ofsted report, 2010)[1]

–          A performance management process that was not directly pay related until threshold. A unified, published set of pay scales for teachers.

–          In the Summer of 2007, the first smart phone arrived on the scene. In 2010 this was followed by the IPad. In September 2006 face- book extended its network to anyone with an email address. All information becomes accessible regardless of its content.

Here comes the revolution:

Sourcing the supply of teachers and training: in 2009 the main source of new recruitment came through the University route in association with in school training. Very quickly this system was diversified and our national structure became a much more complex. For our school, this resulted in 2015 receiving new teachers from eight different qualified status routes. The main entries into the profession included:

  • non- salaried routes, and salaried routes known as Schools Direct which allow a colleague to be trained within a school.
  • Post graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) partner schools provide placements to support the main University training.
  • Teaching School Alliances where a University may provide some of the training, but the majority is formed within the Alliance and within schools. The Alliance has to be formed and led by an outstanding school.

Unqualified teachers were officially accepted in schools with no impetus or expectation that they should train. College trained teachers were also able to make the cross over to teaching in schools without further training.  In an era where cost was prohibitive, the financial incentive for the Government to increase training in school was significant. In comparison this became a very low cost option in comparison with University training.

The decision on how many teachers were needed nationally, was determined annually and through a quota system. It took little consideration of regional need.  This has led to providers filling courses as quickly as possible in order to ensure their quotas are met. This does not necessarily lead to the best quality recruits, just the fastest and or fastest providers.[2] A direct impact of the new training methods has been, to see the number of University PGCE places shrink and in some cases the courses have closed.

Shortfalls between the numbers of teachers needed and the number trained has increased.  As a result of these shortages the Government has intervened. Currently physics teacher can now receive a golden handshake of £30,000. Maths teachers £25,000. These bursaries do not require any commitment to long term or medium term teaching. Regional differences exacerbated shortages, particularly in the East of England where my school was located.


What was the impact on my school?

Sourcing new and quality teachers’ year on year is challenging and there is no national strategy to reduce the problem of regional differences. Outstanding schools are the key determiners of where beginning teachers train, and these trainees are now far less likely to experience any time in a Requiring Improvement school. As our Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw identified in the 2013 – 2014 annual report, by mapping the location of Teaching Alliances alongside the location of underperforming schools. There is a complete disparity. Outstanding schools have significant access to the new graduate teachers through the Alliance. Failing and Requiring improvement schools have very little if any access.

Having approached the nearest Teaching Alliance which was twenty miles away, on numerous occasions. We continued to receive zero recruits to train. This was stifling to our school improvement, as a challenging schools source of teachers will always be these new recruits. We were not assigned any recruits to train despite four years of requests. This left us at the mercy of agency recruitment for our Newly Qualified Teachers and their ever increasing commission rates.

In recognition of the shrinking number of quality candidates on the market at any one time. There was and continues to be an increasing tendency for schools within Teaching Alliances to secure hard to recruit teachers even when they do not have the need, investing in the future and their succession process. This made an already hard to reach market of graduates even harder.

The freedom from regulated salary scales increased the problem. We were now in a market economy system where the winners were able to offer significantly larger salaries to staff. Supply agencies capitalised on this, increasing their agency fees and the demands for their clients. As a school that was already broke (inherited), and with a shrinking role, we were left behind. Those schools that could afford to pay premium prices for the rarest of recruits, recruited well. Money talks and so did our label, Requiring Improvement. Neither conversation was positive to a prospective new teacher.

Eventually in 2014 we decided to ignore the ring fencing and approached a series of providers to work with us. Eventually, we were aligned to seven universities and a non- salaried route provider. We were used as an example of outstanding practice in a key London University Ofsted inspection and our assessment only trainees were the only two in County to achieve Outstanding in their final judgement. Not bad for a school Requiring Improvement. However, prior to this move, the restriction on training damaged us significantly. Continually stifling our access to quality new staff.

Training and support for schools in challenging circumstances

With the development of the Teaching Alliance the money for school improvement that was normally given to County moved to the Alliance who were assigned the new lead role in school to school improvement. The teachers and leaders designated, were newly announced National Subject leaders and School leaders. This designation was and remains ring fenced to teachers serving in outstanding schools. Any teacher and or leader in an RI or Failing school is unable to access the title, but can receive support from an individual with this label. Even if you weren’t the School leader and or Subject leader to achieve the outstanding grade, you can still apply and achieve the accolade if your school is outstanding.

What was the impact on my school?

The LA support mechanism disappeared and I was then under the support of the Teaching Alliance and their leaders. These schools had an above average intake, and high Parent Power. See chapter on Parent power, when and if the book is published.) Their world of existence was very different from our day to day. I lost my access to individuals who had significant experience of school improvement in challenging circumstances and gained those who didn’t. With this change went a substantial Local Authority budget that supported our school improvement. The new National Leaders and their Outstanding schools were the new recipients. They were funded instead to support any work they chose to deliver in the school. At this point a two tier class of head teachers and leaders was created and we were definitely second class. My career pathway became blurred at best and damaged by my inability to be recognised and or apply for National Leader Status.

What should students be learning in schools?

Mr Gove has made no bones about his love of the grammar system and the traditional curriculum and he moved swiftly to re- introduce the EBACC and reduce the value of vocational qualifications as they stood at the time. The introduction of phonics screening at primary and the prescriptive grammar, punctuation and spelling, alongside mental arithmetic tests in schools gained momentum. The cagey use of league tables and the direct link to the Ofsted and handbook, encouraged many schools to make the leap to an EBACC curriculum quickly and reduce choice. The significant drop in sixth form funding, also increased the pressure to reduce choice and return to the traditional subjects.

New rigid exams structures came into place initially in secondary and later primary. Our curriculum choice returned to the Mr Gove’s golden era of grammar and secondary modern schools. This conflicted with the latest requirements from industry and current educational research. Out of all the graduates that attend university almost a quarter fail and businesses continue to bemoan the fact that as well as basic maths and literacy issues students lack employment skills such as problem solving, team working and time management. Business believes, “non- routine tasks and analytical or interactive skills” are the key to employment. Innovation Unit 2015.  Will our new exam system and curriculum support this demand?

This return to 1950’s is compounded as the current winners in the school system are less likely to provoke change, and more likely to maintain the status quo for their curriculum and learning. Why rock the boat when it is succeeding? Why go against the tide of curriculum reform? Of course there are exceptions to this model, but the new high stakes landscape does not encourage prototypes of learning and or structures for the future. Unlike business models which are now moving away from mass production, towards innovation and individuality as the route to success.[3] Schools are moving backward to what has gone before, and where large chains are involved the temptation is to homogenise.

Even the opportunity to open Free Schools has not heralded mass innovation and change. The innovation unit recently expressed their frustration that the Department for Education board were passing more of the same Free Schools rather than those with innovative design. The result is that mass education is retreating into well- worn and dated practices, more of the same. While our future need is demanding something totally different and unpredictable. How are we preparing our students for the unknown?

What direct impact did this have on our school?

Our GCSE range shrunk dramatically and for a number of years, vocational qualifications almost disappeared. The number of students we sent to college, reduced dramatically and sadly the college had to cut these GCSE courses. The opportunity to individualise learning became a thing of the past for secondary students as choice disappeared from the curriculum.

Assessment in the new educational landscape

Assessment changes arrived swift and fast to secondary schools. The Coalition Government mission focused around raising standards in a set of rigid exams with minimal teacher assessment. In primary the opposite was occurring, with an increase in the use of teacher assessment and a reduction in external exams. During this period Michael Wilshaw highlighted the primary improvement as far exceeding that of secondary which in the same period is seen to have stalled. Will the improvement in primary continue, as the new curriculum, and rigid exam process embeds into primaries?

Assessment for secondary schools has been set at a bar never seen before. All Key Stages in tumult with subjects moving to new exams at different times, and a complete abolition of previous assessment procedures, particularly at Key Stage One, two and three. Many exam specifications arrived late. With no time for ancillary companies to produce supporting resources and materials for students and teachers. Decisions about what was a qualification and what would be accountable within the league tables, and to students, changed again and again. The most horrifying changes that created maximum damage were those that reduced the qualification when students had already complete a year of their GCSE.

If you wanted a subject that I think has been mucked around more than most at secondary, it would be Science. With the numerous, double, single and triple courses available for the specification. The changes have been absolutely ridiculous, in amount and regularity.

For Primary the key curriculum changes came about with the new curriculum across all key stages including early years in 2014.  Prior to this Phonics had become a significant initiative with screen testing for all children in key stage 1. Primary initially experienced a relax on external assessment as Science tests were removed from Key Stage two and the English written exam was withdrawn in favour of teacher assessment.

It is only into the Conservative Government regime, that we now see examination returning to primary schools with the initial proposal for four year olds (now thankfully withdrawn), seven and eleven year olds. In-fact the eleven- year old example tests are an excellent route into witnessing, the terrific hike in expectations that have gone across the whole school system. We are currently conducting one of the biggest experiments in state education. An 11- year old, is being asked to complete the work which was until this year GCSE standard. In English the grammar is spurious. Will raising the standards so high, so swiftly, and with very little if any training for teachers, improve our outcomes? (Don’t forget a primary teacher is not a specialist in all subject areas. Yet is now expected to deliver a standard of education that can achieve what was a fourteen – year old expectations previously, in most subjects?) If I was a Parent of teenager about to sit GCSE’s or a year six child, whose previous education has not built to support these hikes. I would be horrified that they were sitting a test of this magnitude. Did we ask for this? Where is the evidence hiking expectations works as a stand- alone measure? Will this raise standards?

The value of subjects at secondary has also altered, and we have a two or three tier system with the grand EBACC in prime position. In the sixth form where the traditional subjects including English and Maths now carry more weight and emphasis. Rightly or wrongly this move has seen a de valuing of the Arts, and Vocational subjects in particular. It has created mounting pressures on the recruitment of subject teachers in the EBACC subjects who were already in short supply. I am pleased to see Computing has been reintroduced in schools and programming but giggle out Algorithms for 5 year olds, and I worry about the ability to recruit.

One of the funniest but I am now realising potentially damaging move to national assessment was the overnight banishing of levels. Huge research and debate currently exists over what is assessment and what is effective assessment?  In picking up on a particular strand of this research, the Department for Education moved with one fell swoop to cut down the offending Levels for Assessment at Key Stage one, two and three. Nothing was to replace the aberrant articles on mass, but we were to be reassured, that our outstanding schools would provide us all with a system of assessment that we could adopt. Sadly, we are all still waiting for these shining examples. While there is amazing work out there on what quality assessment is, Daisy Christodoulou is a great place to start. What the previous levels did provide, was a map of what learning looks and feels like, that the most inexperienced secondary teachers and or primary and a non- specialist could begin with. A blank page is wonderful for those that have the specialism capacity and experience to deliver an assessment map, because they know what learning looks like in their subject, but not for all.

We now have a blank canvass, and with a reduced curriculum, many have lost the map of learning. I am aware large numbers of professionals will be screaming at me, that we gained freedom, but did we gain quality? Having visited a couple of schools I can see the damage this can cause. Luckily in our County the Local Authority have worked with subject specialist to produce a comprehensive route map, which we can tweak. This provides detailed outlines of what learning looks like in the new curriculum. This is a beginning.

For me, this shows how research can be misused and it is the misuse that is damaging. All research is detailed and specific. The research that led to the abolishment of levels was never intended to produce one on mass solution.  The result of the abolition has promoted potential chaos. Resulting in a seizure to learning in some schools. Combined with this concern is my equal worry, that the increased testing reintroduced to primaries, will result in vulnerable teachers and schools becoming reliant on the arcane exams as the map to what students learning looks like. Thus sucking the fun and curiosity out of all learning and returning to a tick box, jumping hoops education.

The impact on my school

Like many challenging schools the grade boundary hikes have had significant impact on the C -D borderline which has at times, impacted on our results. The turbulence of assessment has added to the turbulence of recruiting science and maths staff and resulted in continued instability in these subjects. In one year, changes to the value of exams impacted on our students when they were half way through a Science course. The course was devalued, and at this point I went into teach. We started with two terms and a two year course to deliver.

As a school we have all lost significant faith in the exam process.  Particularly when we find a U grade returns as an A grade. If nationally we are struggling to recruit teaches and retain them, where are the exam markers sourced from?

Shrinking budgets

In real term costs the budget for schools has shrunk. Big hitters to the school budgets have come from the following:

–          the reduction in sixth form funding, a stepped reduction to funding

–          the loss of the specialist status fund (interestingly exactly the same amount of additional funding that we would have received had we been able to convert to an academy)

–          the increase in contributions to national insurance (D code)

–          the increase in contributions to teachers pensions and local government pensions in a bid to reduce the short fall

–          the increase in energy bills (although they have reduced at the moment)

–          Our capital grant shrunk from a healthy £100,000 to under £20,000 annually

Subsidiary, to this but of extreme relevance. The cost of staffing is increased annually as the market forces were unleashed on salaries. The classic rules of low supply, high demand generated higher and higher salaries and agency fees.

The direction of spend during the coalition government has been steered towards academies and Good or Outstanding schools, the replacement to building schools for the future restricted bids to only these schools. The over spend of the Free schools’ budget has led to Free School children receiving a disproportionate amount of money. What really breaks my heart is to see so many brand new schools or college with only year seven pupils in it! Five years later that spend will function at its maximum capacity.

The impact for my school

For once we were ahead of other schools in the game of school improvement without money. With our significant deficit we have never had any. Learning to school improve without any money has been our only experience. Yet the shrinkage of budgets, the reduction in external services to support the most vulnerable, and the unfilled places at my school have left all staff pushed to maximum capacity. Our class numbers have increased dramatically and we were unable to fund small, specialised courses. Our curriculum- offer became poorer.

Standards pay and conditions and performance management/ appraisal

Prior to the coalition government, the standard pay and conditions for teachers were regulated with set of pay scales. Under the new standards pay and conditions there are now freedoms as to how much an academy wishes to pay its members of staff. The new conditions, provided schools with the ability to remove the expectation that main scale teachers would automatically increase their scale, and or with- hold or withdraw upper threshold awards for the most experienced teachers. Countering this they did remember the carrot, by providing opportunities for outcome related pay awards and the double jumping of scales were permitted in order to encourage teachers to succeed. All schools now decide their own pay policy and the variance between schools is significant. Contracts and conditions are now vastly different depending on the institution.

The impact for my school

For the business minded this seems appropriate. Why shouldn’t we be paid for our performance, how fair? However, underlying this premise is the assumption that teachers are the soul determiner of a student’s outcome. Are they?  During the first era of the coalition government attainment was the key measure of success, inspection directly related the quality of teaching to outcomes, at a time when standards were rising significantly. Challenging schools became even more unattractive as individual salaries were now at risk if teachers could not meet the demands of the high stakes accountability regime.

The movement from Super Heads to Executive Heads and the cult of “get ‘em in and get ‘em out, fire em!”

Gun slinging Super Heads are now being given the opportunity in our new academy landscape to take on roles that involve the leadership of groups of schools. This costly move, is yet to be proven and I have some concerns. If an Executive Head last practiced leading a school prior to 2009 then their experience base and knowledge are outdated and quite frankly ancient history. If the current regime thinking continues then the source of candidates for this role are likely to come from schools with high parent power. Do they have the skill set and track record to deliver on all school improvement? The jury is out, and my own experience tells me that the answer is no, not unless they have completed the journey themselves as a leader in a low parent power challenging school.

What worries me most is that this role seems to have generated a phenomenon where some Executive Heads and chains are chewing up and spitting out new head teachers at rapid rate, if improvements are not made swiftly then they move onto the next head.  These mauled heads are normally the youngest and fresh to the system. How are executive heads judged and held to account? How many of their group of schools have to succeed and how? Are they avoiding our current firing line and is this appropriate?

The impact on my school?

It was clear my work was coming to an end with the 3rd inspection a year away since we were downgrade from satisfactory to requiring improvement. The never ending possibility of a sponsorship chain being forced upon the Governing body and the inevitable Executive Head, I concluded that we need to find the right sponsor. This meant the last two years of my career left me with the real chance of losing my job, and consumed my energies in finding a sponsor and converting to an academy. This continually pulled me away from the school improvement agenda.

The structure, and ownership of schools and the removal of the LA.

A school is a centre of learning, but how learning is structured is now free to market forces. 14 – 19, 0 – 19, 0 – 11, 0-9, technical, free, sponsored, stand alone, and multi academy trusts are dispersed in the landscape and are set to continue to grow and diversify with little or no state intervention. What seems to be emerging is that, as a successful school the landscape can remain diversified and unique. As a Requiring Improvement or Failing school sponsorship is now the only alternative. This can leave schools at risk to a homogenised chain, with a factory like approach to school improvement. We currently do not see huge numbers of Good or Outstanding schools stepping up to work with challenging schools. From my time of working with disadvantaged students I am clear that individualise and small scale intervention have greatest impact, when focused on student need. This homogenisation worries me.

The Impact on my school

With label change to Requiring Improvement, leaders of these schools including myself became vulnerable to removal. As the hand book demands increased, and the quality and experience of the teams reduced. (See the chapter on Ofsted). The RI increased our vulnerability and acted as a disincentive for attracting high quality external leaders into the school. Our risk of a Regional Inspector and or Regional commissioner designating us in need of sponsor became very real.  I resigned myself to the fact this meant I would go. The process of seeking the sponsor and the sponsorship process consumed myself and the Governing body and took us away from what should be our total focus school improvement.


SEND provision

The SEND Code of practice was re written with a significantly greater emphasis on support from the teacher in the classroom.  Pupils and Parents were placed at the centre of any planning for provision including how budgets were used. Teacher accountability was increased with dictates to include SEND outcomes in performance management and through the criteria in the Ofsted handbook.  The current handbook requires an outstanding outcome to fulfil, “for pupils generally and specifically for disadvantaged pupils, disabled pupils and those who have special education needs, progress is above average across nearly all year groups.” Ofsted handbook 2015. The boundaries to achieve SEND nomination were raised with the abolition of School Action and School Action plus students. Behavioural needs were dismissed.

The Impact for my school

At the same time, we gained success with our disadvantaged students and a reputation for working with behaviourally challenging students, the acknowledgement of special need for these students disappeared and along with it any funding. Our reputation for supporting SEND students increased, but the criteria for achieving a SEND designation decreased. At the end of my time, we were receiving more students who were vulnerable, but without designation and or the new educational health care plans. Yet our Teaching Assistant resource had shrunk from a team of nine to five, due to our most recent redundancy process.

Like the children who were excluded or close to exclusion we were at risk of receiving mid- year (with no budget planning) SEND students and these could be extreme. In one incident we were asked to take an individual who fantasised about guns, and soiled himself regularly and daily. He spoke limited English and the levels he entered with were a work of fiction. We were not full and had no internal funding to support this individual, we were offered none.

Frustratingly like those most at risk of exclusion the system funnelled the most vulnerable to us but gave us the least capacity to support these students. Reaching above average progress is this scenario was impossible we were trapped and so were their outcomes.

Access to the net at our fingertips

Have you watched a young child access information these days? Their ability to receive and communicate is changing rapidly and we are….

* Ofsted 2009 – 2010 Annual report – Christine Gilbert Chief Inspector

*10 schools for the 21st Century –  Marth Hampson, Alec Patton and Leonie Shanks Innovation unit 2015



[1] Gilbert Christine Chief Inspector. (2010) The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2009/10.

[2] Sir Amyas Morse KCG Comptroller and Auditor General. (2016) Training New Teachers, Department of Education.

[3] Seth Goodwin 2010. How to get your ideas spread, TED Talks. This is broken! TED talks Sept 2010.


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