The integrity of the gold standard of English state education – the OFSTED “Outstanding” rating – has been brought into question.
The head of OFSTED has commented that these top-rated schools are a “blind-spot” in the education system as they are inspected so infrequently. The decision by the government in 2011 to exempt outstanding schools from routine inspections – brought about by a need to focus limited resources on poorly performing schools – has meant that some schools had not been inspected in over a decade.
Even schools rated “Good”, the second category, only receive a one-day inspection every four years.
The government provides a counter argument that annual performance data provides parents with transparency on how a school is working and that OFSTED would inspect a school in response to parental concerns.
Performance data is helpful – though not always easy to understand since the introduction of a parallel measurement of pure performance in testing and student progress measurement. There is also useful information to be mined – though harder to interpret – with such key indicators as pupil spend, attendance and socio-economic background.
However the importance of on-the-ground support is vital here – revealing soft data such as changes in leadership, teacher turn-over, school morale and pressure on space – that is often impossible find through the Google search.
A new study has shown that parents in England are prepared to pay a considerable premium if they want to live near a top state secondary school.
The report showed that homes near the best secondary schools command an average house price of £415,844, adding 45pc to the English average.
The data from Lloyds Bank reveals that over the past five years, the average property price in areas with a top-performing state school has grown by £116,696 (39pc), compared to a rise of £51,264 (22pc) across England.
Rental prices are similarly affected by the location of secondary schools.
The study noted how this can impact on the social mix of those state schools, stating “The popularity of areas close to high performing schools may mean that homes remain unaffordable for buyers on average earnings.”
Many families do make house buying decisions without fully understanding their preferred school’s admissions criteria. For example, a selective grammar school or faith school will view the location of the house as a less important consideration than academic ability or church attendance when admitting pupils. Even factors such as sibling priority can alter the “catchment” area of a school year on year, especially in urban areas.
Dean Associates’ annual review of independent school fees across the UK has shown an average rise of around 3.5% from academic year 2016/17.
This is similar to the rise over the previous year, but a little higher than the three year period 2012-2015 that saw increases capped at just around 3% per year. The chart below shows how this figure has evolved since 2009.
The independent schools market still appears to be strong, with high demand in most urban areas, although more flexibility on space in rural day schools, especially at primary level.
There is still much debate about the validity of the independent school sector’s charitable status with some critics arguing that the fees should be eligible for VAT – however, this is unlikely to come into play unless a new General Election bring the Labour Party into power.
Many independent schools are also trying to counter this argument – offering greater public access to their facilities and a wider range of means-tested bursary places.
There are two new attainment targets in addition to the traditional percentage of students achieving Grades C and above at GCSE, the exams that English pupils take at the age of 16 (Year 11).
These scores now appear on the secondary school league tables that the government publishes each year.
They are called “Attainment 8” and “Progress 8“.
These are not grades that the students receive but the measurements allow parents to compare school performance with more accuracy.
With Attainment 8, schools achieve a score based on how well pupils have performed in up to 8 qualifications, which include English, maths, 3 English Baccalaureate qualifications including sciences, computer science, history, geography and languages, and 3 other additional approved qualifications.
Progress 8 is perhaps more interesting, showing the progress pupils make between the end of key stage 2 (Year 6) and the end of key stage 4 (Year 11), compared to pupils across England who got similar results at the end of key stage 2. It draws from the same benchmark qualifications as Attainment 8. There is a handy explanation video here: http://bit.ly/2cjrs5X.
Schools are scored between 1 and -1 with the average performance being marked at 0.
A similar progress measurement now applies in primary education.