DfE response about the schools national funding formula.

Very helpful, thought-provoking and utterly depressing piece from Sandra. If this was not so serious, it would be funny. The NAO constantly deride the DfE – and this shows why!

Sandra Leaton Gray

I wrote to the DfE recently, pointing out that the largely urbanised model the Government continues to use in calculating school funding penalises schools and pupils in deprived rural areas, such as East Fenland in Cambridgeshire, to quote one example. Here we have the reply. I am relieved that switching energy providers and photocopier contracts will apparently solve the problem at one fell swoop. Who knew?

Dear Ms Leaton Gray

Thank you for correspondence regarding the schools national funding formula.

The government has protected the core schools budget in real terms overall. This year, it is the largest ever on record, totalling over £40 billion. This is set to increase to £42 billion by 2019-20 as pupil numbers rise over the next two years.

The current funding system is, however, based on data that is a decade or more out of date and does not support the government’s ambition for…

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Assessing primary pupils in PE

Today, I was talking to a secondary PE teacher. We were chatting about assessment and how secondary schools assessed Year 7 students on entry. This teacher explained how much time is wasted in secondary PE departments in assessing students’ skills and starting points when they join the school. If only, he said, primary schools could assess their Y6 pupils before they transfer to secondary schools. So this is a plea to primary colleagues to ensure that our Y6 pupils have the very best opportunities to move forward in PE when they enter KS3. You never know, we may start a trend.

But, where to begin? Fortunately we don’t need to re-invent the wheel because there are a few resources out there to help. Some of them will cost more than others, and many are free. Obviously, the paid resources are relatively superior but you’ll need to decide if the benefit justifies the cost. Two starting points might be The PE Hub (don’t confuse the UK version with the US one), which offers a subscription service that gives access to plans, resources and assessment information. Alternatively, primary schools might like the PE Passport, which is an app that offers teachers online planning, assessment and tracking tools.

However, if you don’t want to spend loads of money, there are some free assessment tools on offer from schools. I have reviewed several and have not be super-impressed by many, especially those that replace levels with levels by another name. However, a TES user, going by the name of Hilly100m, has put onto the TES resource site a really super set of downloads for PE assessment – and they are free. One commentator seemed concerned that you’d need a sheet per pupil but a) how difficult is that? And b) if you’ve the time, it is easy to use the sheets as the basis of an excel spreadsheet. As a starting point for primary PE assessment, I would highly recommend this download. Follow this link – but to connect you’ll need to be logged in to TES.

Even if you only use this for your departing Year 6 pupils, it will be very helpful to the PE Department(s) in their secondary school(s). You might need to provide them with a set of the assessment grids to help them understand your judgements. If you think this is a good idea, spread the word.

Pisa, Timss and Pirls of Wisdom

Much is made of international comparison and the government seems to be obsessed with England’s relative performance on a world stage. However, just what do these international comparisons show?  Here is a little information:-


The latest edition of the programme for international student achievement (Pisa) from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), published 2015 shows that

  • The UK is still lagging behind leading countries and has made little progress in international rankings since results three years ago.
  • When we focus upon the top 10% of pupils in science, England is among the world’s leading countries. In only three countries (Singapore, Taiwan and Japan) are the top 10% of pupils more than a school term ahead of the top 10% of pupils in England in science.
  • In maths, the UK is ranked 27th, slipping down a place from three years ago, the lowest since it began participating in the Pisa tests in 2000
  • In reading, the UK is ranked 22nd, up from 23rd, having fallen out of the top 20 in 2006
  • The UK’s most successful subject is science, up from 21st to 15th place– the highest placing since 2006, although the test score has declined


The four-yearly Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), published 2015 shows that:

  • England is above average in maths – and ahead of many European countries – but it has not made any significant progress in rankings, despite the ambitions of ministers that overhauling the school system would tackle “stagnating” performance.
  • In these latest international TIMSS tests, England has fallen down in maths by one place at both primary, from ninth to 10th, and secondary level, 10th to 11th.
  • In science, England’s primary pupils remain in 15th place, but have risen from ninth to eighth place at secondary level.


The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), undertaken every five years, involved children aged about 10 in 40 countries, indicated in 2011 that:

The reading performance of children in England has fallen from third to 19th in the world.

A randomised sample of 170 schools from across England were selected to take part in PIRLS 2016. The results will be published this year

RE Assessment simplified (at last!)

For a good many years, assessment in RE has been against a series of ‘I Can’ Statements, linked to notional levels, similar to those in the pre-2014 National Curriculum. Now, as a National Society (Church of England) school inspector, and assessor for the RE Quality Mark, I encounter school after school that is struggling to make sense of assessment in RE. This is often because they are confused about the use of the I Can statements and don’t understand how the ‘levels’ in RE can stand up in a world where NC levels have gone.

My colleague, Emily Norman, and I have now created a simple change to the existing system, which merely simplifies what we already have – it keeps the familiar but makes it manageable. The materials for this, including assessment Excel sheets for Years R to 9, have been placed online and are freely downloadable from: http://bit.ly/2hUx0Xl

This simple view is based on the following key principles: –

1. It is important to acknowledge that Attainment Target 1 (learning about religion) and Attainment Target 2 (learning from religion) are essential components to RE planning but they are part of a child’s overall development in the skills and understanding of RE. Therefore, they should be a part of any assessment system but not necessarily separated. The separation is a function of planning and formative feedback rather than summative assessment.

2. The way that the I can statements are laid out is against the RE Council’s Six Areas of Enquiry. This makes every sense because it aligns the development of skills in RE with the content. Our table, therefore, includes the REC’s key question which underpin each area. This makes it easier for teachers to see how pupils demonstrate their understanding. It also blends the current thinking about the content domain and the cognitive domain and so aligns with NC approaches.

3. It is no longer appropriate to think about Levels in RE or in any other subject. Therefore, our table is laid out in age-appropriate expectations, with an additional line for Year R, and an indication of when pupils are working towards (WT) or working at greater depth (GD).

4. To depersonalise assessment, since it is the teacher who is making the judgement, the first person references in the old I Can Statements have been re-written in the third person.

It is a key principle of assessment that pupils do not progress linearly and there was tendency to use the I Can statements as a ‘best fit’ system which expected linear progression. Therefore the most sensible approach here is to acknowledge that pupils progress at differential rates and reflect this in whatever assessment recording system we use. Then it would be simple for teachers to highlight the relevant statements. Where this is used robustly, of course, they would be able to identify evidence that the statement applies. Thus assessment can be much more forensic than the rather hit-and-miss system that sometimes characterises a school’s approach.

Ours is not a revolution, more a sensible revision, but we hope that it will help schools to bring the RE assessment into line with other subjects, rather than still expecting some kind of artificial levels. Also, we see AT1 and AT2 as planning tools, their impact on pupils’ thinking is reflected in the statements.

The knowledge question

The recent post by teachingbattleground, centred on the arguments around a knowledge-based curriculum reminded me that, while nobody – surely – is arguing that we should not teach children knowledge, it might be timely to explore what we mean by teacher knowledge.

There has always been a narrative around the skills (knowledge? art? craft?) of teaching and, since I frequently get invited to provide CPD in this sphere, I find it helpful to link thinking to the Teachers’ Standards. As a teacher trainer, I often refer trainees to the old QCDA fourfold explanation of teacher knowledge because it sits quite well with aspects of the 2012 standards.

Teachers’ Standard 3 has three key elements: secure subject knowledge, critical understanding of developments in the subject and the personally correct use of English. The two other aspects relate to knowledge of phonics and early maths teaching. Add to this the expectation, in Standard 2, that teachers should know how children learn and we can now see that the QCDA fourfold explanation is a helpful model. This states explains teacher knowledge as:

  • Subject knowledge per se;
  • Pedagogical theory and practice;
  • Understanding how children learn; and
  • The teacher’s own attitudes to learning.

So, this means that teachers and trainee teachers, must pay particular attention to:

  • Their own subject knowledge and its application so that they teach accurately and in sufficient depth.
  • The way that children learn in order to present material that can be quickly assimilated.
  • The effectiveness of the pedagogies they employ so that material can be effectively deconstructed and presented conceptually.
  • Their own openness to key ideas about teaching and learning so that they do not limit their teaching by what is familiar to them.

If the re-think of the national curriculum and its assessment did anything, it moved the focus away from what the outgoing HMCI once called, ‘a stultifying methodology’ towards a more simple view of ‘what works’ and, as Sir Michael pointed out, ‘what’s good is what works’.  We are still waiting for many headteachers to catch up with this and move away from the straitjacket of WALT, WILF, or whatever set methodology they expect. Improve teachers’ fourfold subject knowledge and we should not need the straitjacket.






The Big Five Revisited

Many years ago, I introduced the concept of ‘The Loop’ to help teachers to think about lesson planning (you can find it in earlier blog posts). At that time I was turning round a school in special measures and we needed these kinds of tools to simplify thinking. Another tool was ‘The Big Five’ guide to lesson planning, also reported in an earlier blog post.  Over the years, the Big Five grew to six and then seven but then I began to think it looked a bit outdated.

However, I recently met a headteacher who made me wonder if there was mileage in revisiting the Big Five in the light of current thinking. So, Louise, this is for you:-

The Big Five (v2.0)

   1.    A clear and specific focus on the learning

If you focus on the doing all you can check is that the work has been done. If you are unsure of the precise learning points then you won’t know the precise teaching points – and you won’t be able to assess the learning.

  1. Key vocabulary: identify it, teach it, display it

Every lesson has its key vocabulary; words and terms that support the learning. Identify the most significant – three to five words, no more – pre-teach them and keep them on display. The most powerful KV is that which is conceptual.

  1. Plan the learning journey

What do you expect the least confident child to walk away knowing or being able to do? What do you expect the most confident child to walk away with? How can you support their learning? Will you use success criteria? If so, then use the ‘remember to..’ approach so that it provides a pathway.  Will you provide opportunities for pupils to work together; collaborative working powerfully supports learning.

  1. Identify key assessment points

What are the key moments for assessment in the lesson? Check pupils’ starting points at the outset. Teach the concepts and plan your questions to check learning. What questions will you ask the most confident children?

  1. Make the plenary count

The plenary has four key functions:

  • It engages pupils with what they have learnt. So, if you were clear about the learning, you can show pupils their improved knowledge or skills. They need to appreciate what they are walking away with. Use the learning focus and the KV to populate the plenary.
  • It is a key assessment point. Don’t trust pupils’ self-reporting (Doug Lemov); ask deep questions to check if they really get it. Use something like exit cards so that pupils can identify their own gaps.
  • It’s the only chance you get to secure the key teaching points. Make them clearly to help pupils later recall skills.
  • It opens the door to the next lesson. ‘Now you know this (or can do this) in the next lesson you’re going to have a go at this. Then, when you arrive in the next lesson, you can look back through the open door and ask, ‘what were we learning last time? What were those words we learnt and what did they mean? You can watch the pupils re-engage. Then you can close the door and move on.


Why are academies so expensive?

Interesting perspective – and it is certainly so.

Sandra Leaton Gray

moneyI think academies are proving to be more expensive than we can realistically afford. A while back I posted something facetious about academy funding, breaking it down very simplistically and pointing out we could have taught every child in Britain to ski had we decided to spend the money otherwise. I would like to develop this now in a more serious way, and in doing so I have to fully acknowledge an anonymous assistant who has painstakingly helped to extract these figures from the DfE’s various publications (anonymous because this is the Internet). We start with this statement, relating to the £8.3 billion that had been spent on the project between 2010 and 2012.

“Of this £8.3 billion total, £6.4 billion was offset by money recovered from local authorities, or was distributed to schools on the same basis, irrespective of whether they were maintained schools or academies – for example…

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