Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the Secondary Heads Association (TU 04)

  1.  The Secondary Heads Association (SHA) welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence to the Select Committee on the progress of the government's education policies.

  2.  The key stage 3 strategy is largely welcomed by school leaders. Its implementation has provided schools with useful resources and training, but has not been as prescriptive as we had feared. When the initial strands of literacy and numeracy are extended to other subjects, there is concern that schools will be overloaded with initiatives.

  3.  The new post-16 curriculum, which has SHA's support, has been badly introduced and has caused many problems for schools. The government must learn lessons from this situation. A one-year lead time in schools for all new curriculum initiatives and syllabuses should be standard practice.

  4.  SHA welcomes the government's adoption of a 14 to 19 timeframe and looks forward to the forthcoming Green Paper, although we note the irony of the eventual adoption of 14-19 by the government so soon after it has established a split of powers at age 16 for funding and planning.

  5.  SHA believes that a radical review of external examinations and assessment should be urgently undertaken and that the extent of national testing and examinations should be reduced.

  6.  Initiative overload in 2001 was characterised by the expectation for schools to manage simultaneously the first year of the key stage 3 strategy, the introduction of AS, preparation for A2 and the new GCSE syllabuses. This was unreasonable and suggests the lack of an overview by QCA and the DfES.

  7.  SHA believes that the policy of increasing diversity between schools is wrong and will not necessarily raise standards overall. A hierarchy of schools is being created. Commitment to a comprehensive system of secondary schools points to the need for diversity within schools, rather than between them. A status of specialist community schools would do much to help schools, particularly in rural areas, which seek to serve the needs of all the pupils in the area, who may have no other choice of school.

  8.  SHA has put forward its ideas on schools of the future and is delighted that the Secretary of State, in her speeches to the Social Market Foundation and the North of England Conference, has articulated similar ideas. The capacity for schools to federate under a single Principal would enable groups of schools to create Community Learning Centres, which, in SHA's view, should be the goal of schools in the future.

  9.  SHA is disappointed at the measures on autonomy in the Education Bill. SHA members do not want autonomy in pay and conditions and they do not believe that autonomy in curriculum should have to be earned in the manner described. Greater autonomy and less central prescriptiveness would, however, be most welcome to school leaders.

  10.  SHA has identified 71 different funding streams to schools and has noted over 50 different funding announcements by the government since the 2001 general election. This is not a sensible way to fund schools and makes financial planning very difficult. We need to move rapidly towards a national funding entitlement, which is more equitable and transparent than the present system and which does not have so many sub-divisions.

  11.  The teacher shortage crisis remains a major concern for school leaders. The seriousness of the situation in September 2001 was mitigated only by the Herculean efforts of school leaders, although they were dissatisfied with some of the appointments they had to make from the available applicants. We believe that much hangs on the results of the discussions on teacher workload and it will be necessary for the government to recognise that workload has to be reduced, not merely better managed.

  12.  Performance pay is perhaps the greatest concern of school leaders at the present time, since the prospect of introducing a post-threshold upper pay spine with inadequate funding threatens the fragile edifice of performance management. The threshold itself was introduced with far too much bureaucracy and imposed an unreasonable burden on head teachers.

  13.  SHA remains deeply concerned at the way in which school performance is measured. The proportion of pupils gaining 5 A-C grade passes is a woefully inadequate measure. SHA believes that league tables should be abolished, as they create too many perverse incentives for schools and work against the pursuit of many aspects of government policy.

  14.  There is much concern about the transfer of responsibility for post-16 education to the Learning and Skills Councils, which harbour little expertise in full-time post-16 education. There is considerable fear that LSCs will introduce massive additional bureaucracy into schools. It remains to be seen whether the huge responsibilities of LSCs for funding and planning post-16 can be sustained into the 14-19 era.

  15.  SHA welcomes the support given by the Select Committee to the LGA Commission's proposals for a six-term year—particularly the longer October break and the fixing of the April holiday to produce consistent term lengths.

Secondary Heads Association

January 2002

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