Memorandum submitted by Christopher Price
I understand from the LGA that you would be
interested in issues to raise with OFSTED. I attach a letter I
recently wrote on behalf of the Commission to the chief executive
of OFSTED in the hope that he might collect information about
the pattern of the school year in the OFSTED visits to gauge whether
it has an influence on either standards of either pupils' attainment
or school management generally.
If there is an opportunity to do so, I hope
the Committee might be able to raise this issue.
Letter from Christopher Price to David
Bell, HM Chief Inspector, OFSTED
My Commission is about to issue its 2002 report
on recommendations for term and holiday dates in 2004-05. I append
a paragraph about our objectives and part of a later one on consultations.
I also enclose a copy of our first report in September 2000.
The objectives the Commission was seeking in
making its recommendations are:
Raising educational standards and
assisting pupils and their teachers, through
1. The avoidance of stress. All those we
consulted agreed that excessively long terms induced stress and
absences from school among both teachers and pupils. Our proposals
for a longer holiday in late October and for ensuring that no
term lasts more than around seven weeks are designed to achieve
a reduction in stress and are based on the experience of schools
which have already adopted a similar pattern. We brought forward
evidence about patterns of teacher stress in our September 2000
report. We are encouraged to note that the General Teaching Council
for England (GTCE) has set up a Teacher Data and Research Forum,
whose primary purpose is to enable key stakeholder groups to share
data on the teacher labour force and is convening a Retention
Forum to explore what more can be done to help teachers fulfil
their professional aspirations and remain in teaching; we hope
that out of these initiatives research data on term time sensitive
aspects of the incidence of teacher sickness, absence from school
and stress may emerge so that the results can inform future reports.
2. A better environment for planning and
managing the curriculum and assessment. All schools which have
abandoned the three term framework and opted for more, shorter
"terms" (whether five or six) testify to the benefits
which this new pattern has brought to pupils' learning, teachers'
planning and the school's ability to manage both the curriculum
and assessment more successfully and coherently. It is significant
that none of the new `academies' currently being launched have
opted for a conventional three term year.
Improving the transition between
the stages of education, especially the transition from school
to higher education (Post Qualification Application, PQA). The
recent widespread debate about the future of A level has highlighted
the recommendation of the Commission that PQA be implemented.
This issue is currently with Universities UK (UUK). The Commission
recommends that the Secretary of State indicates her intention
as soon as possible to investigate in detail the feasibility of
PQA and use her powers to fix the timing of public examinations
to make PQA possible.
An element of standardisation and
predictability for parents as well as teachers. We are seeking
to establish a framework within which differences in term dates
between LEAs and schools are minimised and reasonable advance
notice can be given to parents and teachers of both the beginning
and end dates of each term and the incidence of any training days
within them when pupils will not be attending school.
The Commission, however, does not
believe that `one size fits all'. It is seeking a national framework,
not a straightjacket. It is aware that a pattern which applies
to primary schools may not exactly suit secondary schools and
that local traditions, social mix, practices about teachers' professional
development and the demand for particular faith holidays will
produce variations; it has offered flexibility guidelines to cover
AND LGA CONTACTS
During 2001-02 the Commission and LGA officers
have kept in contact with a number of national bodies with an
interest in the school year, including:
Ministers and officials in DfES.
The Chair of the Commission has made representations about the
legal environment in which LEAs operate and roles which DfES and
OFSTED might play in any general move towards standardisation
within a pattern of shorter `terms'. If progress is made with
these representations, further reports will be issued."
I had a discussion with David Miliband earlier
this month about the possibility of OFSTED considering school
term and holiday arangements in so far as they have an impact
Pupil and teacher stress and sickness
Effective school management
in its assessment of standards.
I do not know whether or not you have had any
contact with DfES on this. In 2000 when I talked to your research
department, I was told that a search of OFSTED reports for "school
terms and holidays" and "school year" produced
no results whatsoever.
What has struck me most about visits to schools
over the past three years, is that those schools, like the original
CTCs and a couple of foundation schools, which had the powers
to reorganise the school year and use them, abandoned the traditional
configuration of the school year by dividing it up into smaller,
more manageable units and encountered often spectacular improvements
in achievement, morale and attendance and a comparable decline
in stress and sickness. The teachers I spoke to all attributed
this to the structure of the five term year or six term year which
they had adopted rather than any advantage in resources which
they had received. But this is anecdotal. Some measured investigation
of the phenomenon would be helpful to see whether anecdote is
supported by harder evidence.
I note that the LGA has been asked by the House
of Commons Select Committee for ideas in advance of your appearance
before it in October. (I chaired the Committee 20 years ago when
it was concerned with surprisingly similar issues.) We will be
asking the Select Committee to raise with you the pattern of the
year in the context of standards, stress and management.
Our report is due to be issued on 27 September.
I hope you and your colleagues find this information helpful.
If you or they would like to discuss it with me, I would be happy
to find time to do so.
18 September 2002