November 2013 news update

Controversy over free schools

Free Schools are state schools that are independent of local council control. There is growing controversy over their regulation with a number of high-profile failures to date, with a new organisation being established to monitor their performance. This is going to be a hot political topic running into the next election in 2015 with the Labour party taking an increasingly hostile position against them.

Money and education

Two new stories have shined a light on how money still plays an important role in a child’s education opportunities. Research showed that access to top universities is still linked to family wealth whilst graduates who have been educated privately are more likely to get the top jobs. For younger children, grammar schools, traditionally viewed as a great tool of social mobility, are increasingly being monopolised by middle-class families.

Me no speak foreign

Figures have shown that there was a sharp slump in students starting foreign language undergraduate courses last year. Three-quarters of adults cannot speak a foreign language. There seems to be an alarming hole opening up in the UK foreign language capability.

Universities pushing for fees to rise

University leaders are pushing for a lifting of the £9,000 cap on tuition fees for undergraduate students. They are suggesting that it is reasonable that they should rise with inflation. This may be worth flagging with families with teenage children who are moving abroad.

Moving back into the state school system from overseas.

The state school system in England has, broadly, two main points of entry for children* – primary schools at the age of 4+ and secondary schools at the age of 11+.

Every year anxious parents start the application process – with the deadline for application for secondary schools closing at the end of October, and for primary schools mid January for entry in the following September.

But what happens if you are living overseas and wish to apply into the state schools at these entry points.

If you own a property, and it is not rented out, then an application can be straight-forward as most councils and schools will take it on trust that you are resident and not push too deeply, especially at 4+ entry.  It can be more complicated at 11+ as councils will not that children are not in school in the UK.

However, if you don’t have a property, or your property is rented out and somebody else is footing the Council Tax bill, then you are likely to hit a roadblock.  Councils won’t accept applications and will shuffle them to the back of the queue, processing them when you return to the UK and the places in the better schools are likely gone.

There can be opportunities to find a route around this roadblock.  A growing number of councils will accept an application with a firm indication to return.   This would include proof that you are living in the area – a notice to leave for tenants or a lease agreement.  It might also require a letter from the company with a firm date of return.

Some schools may also be more flexible in approach, especially since many councils are beginning to hand back responsibility for admissions to them.  The advent of a less homogenous state system – with the introduction of academies and free schools – has also helped.  Speak to schools directly to talk about your particular situation and build a relationship with the admissions officers and headteachers over time.  Visit in person and then maintain that relationships with an occasional call or email to remind them of your interest.

The state school system is still hardwork for relocating families – but with a bit of knowledge successes can still be won.

* This is written with the understanding that there are junior, first, middle and senior schools available too with different entry points.  The principles remain the same.


September 2013 news update

Change in school leaving age

From September 2013 the education leaving age in England will rise to 17 and from 2015 it will rise again, to 18.

Education after 16 doesn’t just mean staying at school full-time: a child can stay at school, go to college, or take up an apprenticeship or a part-time training course.

Delay in reforms to exams

Delays to the reforms to GCSEs and A-levels have been forced upon the Government by the exams regulator Ofqual as they are not be ready to be introduced.

The new exams were intended to be brought into schools in September 2015, but new A-levels in Maths and further Maths will be put back and introduced a year later, while at GCSE level only the core subjects English and Maths will stick to the original timetable outlined earlier this year.

The reforms will see change of emphasis in the exam syllabuses, with the end of almost all coursework and a focus upon a one-off course exam.

Independent schools fees increase

Dean Associates’ annual survey of private school fees in the UK saw a modest rise of just over 2%, a little lower than last year.

Exam results update

At both A and GCSE level there has been a drop in the proportion of GCSE exam entries awarded top grades

At GCSE, about two-thirds of exam entries were graded between an A* and a C – a fall on last year and the proportion getting an A* or an A fell from 22.4% to 21.3%.

For A Level, there has been a fall in the proportion of A-levels awarded top grades for the second year in a row, after years of steady increases. Just over a quarter of exam entries – 26.3% – were given A or A* grades, a slight fall on 2012’s figure of 26.6%.

Latest research trends:

Start school later?

A group of 130 education specialists insist that children should not start at school until after the age six or seven.  They are argue a “too much, too soon” culture undercuts the long-term value of learning through play.

Keen readers do better at Maths.

Children who read for pleasure are likely to do better in maths and English than those who rarely read in their free time, research by the Institute of Education, London University suggests.  The report concluded a wide vocabulary helps children absorb information across the curriculum.

Councils releasing grip on school admissions

A number of councils in England are returning control of in-year state school admissions back to individual schools.

For the last few years, all admissions have been handled centrally by individual councils, lifting the administrative load from school offices and providing relocating families with a single point of contact for school admissions.

However, in practice, the system can falter. Families have endured long delays in receiving response from council offices after posting applications and occasionally places have been offered that do not exist, the so-called “ghost seats”.

Those councils who are now starting to loosen their grip on the admissions process include Camden in central London and Hertfordshire.

Research into school places will become more labour intensive for relocating families, however, once a place has been identified, there should be a much shorter turn-around allowing children to start promptly.