4 Trusting schools|
Extending Academies' freedoms
70. Some categories of schools already have considerable
freedom in relation to the National Curriculum. This was the case
with the small number of City Technology Colleges (CTCs) introduced
following the 1988 Education Reform Act. The same was true for
the first waves of Academies, which represented a similar category
of schools to CTCs, so much so that most CTCs have now converted
into Academies. The first Academies were not required to teach
to the National Curriculum but were required to teach the core
subjects of English, mathematics, science and ICT and otherwise
offer a 'broad and balanced' curriculum. Since 2007, all newly-signed
Academy funding agreements have required Academies to follow the
National Curriculum for the core subjects. There are currently
133 Academies, which represent 4% of secondary schools in England;
the Department is committed to establishing 400 Academies, though
it does not give a date by which this should be achieved.
Curriculum freedoms will be considered on a case-by-case basis
for a further category of schoolsNational Challenge schoolswhich
in January 2009 numbered 440, around 13% of secondary schools.
71. The Department's argument for Academies' curriculum
freedoms is that these schools have a particularly disadvantaged
pupil intake and therefore may need to spend more time on literacy
and numeracy or find new ways to engage pupils in their learning.
The Department expects that as Academies drive up performance
they will offer the full National Curriculum to the large majority
of their pupils. In the meantime, however, it deems Academies'
curriculum freedoms to be essential if these schools are to raise
in his evidence to us the Minister was not concerned that Academy
pupils' access to a broad and balanced curriculum, or coverage
of particular key topics, was in any way under threat from the
curriculum freedoms that these schools enjoy:
I guess we would have confidence in the fact
that [Academy pupils] had a good grounding and competence in the
core subjects. Those are the core subjects because it is only
with confidence in them that pupils will prosper across the curriculum.
On the basis of that foundation, when pupils move schools, they
can do so with some confidence.
Some catching up might be required [in relation
to particular topics], but again, one of the joys of the new Key
Stage 3 secondary curriculum is that the flexibility is there
for one-to-one catch-up or for groups to be able to catch up and
stretch according to the needs of individuals.
72. Should other schools wish to disapply a Programme
of Study, whether for the whole school or particular groups of
pupils, they must apply to do so through the Department. If a
school is successful in its application it will be able to take
forward its proposed innovation only for a specified time period,
after which a further application must be submitted.
73. Given that the Department sees Academies' curriculum
freedoms as a key factor in their ability to raise standards,
and that the Minister is so confident that Academies' curriculum
freedoms have not damaged these pupils' access to a rounded curriculum,
it is not clear why the Department restricts these freedoms to
Academies. We recommend that the freedoms that Academies enjoy
in relation to the National Curriculum be immediately extended
to all maintained schools.
74. Some categories of schools, including Academies,
have other freedoms that are relevant to their ability to shape
their curriculum offer to best meet the needs of their pupils,
most notably their ability to extend the school day. Should Foundation
schools, Voluntary-Aided schools or Academies wish to change the
length of the school day the only requirement is one of acting
reasonably (e.g. consulting with parents, pupils and staff). By
contrast, Community and Voluntary-Controlled schoolswhich
together comprise 75% of all maintained schoolsface
particular restrictions, as set out below:
i. The governing body of a Community or Voluntary-Controlled
school must consult with various audiences as set out in the regulations.
This includes the local authority, the head teacher, parents
and all persons employed in any teaching or non-teaching post
at the school.
ii. If the governing body wants to change
the morning start time or afternoon end time, change can only
come in at the start of the school year and when the local authority
and parents have had a minimum of three months notice of the change.
iii. If change is to other times (e.g. lunch-break),
change can only come in at the start of the school term and where
the local authority and parents have had a minimum of six weeks
notice of the change.
iv. If seeking an exception to any of the requirements
set out under (ii) and (iii), the governing body can apply to
the Department for 'Power to Innovate'.
Even where a Community or Voluntary-Controlled school
becomes a National Challenge school (i.e. they dip below the threshold
of 30% pupils achieving five GCSEs A*-C, including English and
mathematics), these requirements still stand. Community and
Voluntary-Controlled schools currently represent 72% of the
440 National Challenge schools.
75. We note that the roll-out of extended schools
will offer all maintained schools more time in the school day
in which to deliver the curriculum. In the meantime, no reason
has been brought to our attention for the discrepancy between
different categories of schools in terms of the processes that
they must follow if they wish to extend the school day. We believe
that the greater freedom that Foundation and Voluntary-Aided schools
and Academies enjoy in relation to changing the length of the
school day should be immediately granted to all maintained schools.
This would offer all maintained schools maximum scope to shape
their delivery of the National Curriculum around the needs of
Promoting local ownership of
the National Curriculum
76. We recognise that simply handing greater freedoms
to schools in the context of current accountability arrangements
would not necessarily result in significant change to the way
in which schools and teachers work with the National Curriculum
and related guidance and the way in which children and young people
experience the National Curriculum.
77. The response of schools to date to the opportunity
to have the National Curriculum disapplied illustrates the nervousness
of some in relation to curriculum innovation. As the Minister
] it is interesting that the applications
that [the Department has] had in respect of variation from the
National Curriculum for curriculum innovation have not been refused
because we do not want people to do the innovation, but because
they could already have done the things that they wanted to do
within the National Curriculum.
78. In line with the findings of our recent testing
and assessment inquiry, a range of evidence submitted to our National
Curriculum inquiry commented on the way in which the curriculum
as delivered to pupils tends to follow testing rather than, as
claimed by the Department, testing following the curriculum.
It is widely believed that the Department's proposed future approach
to testing, Single Level Tests, could actually exacerbate some
of the problems encountered with Key Stage testing in this regard.
79. Further to our Testing and Assessment
Report we again draw the Department's attention to concerns that
a system of Single Level Tests linked to targets, and potentially
to funding, could further narrow the curriculum as experienced
by all or some pupils.
80. The perception among schools is that the outcomes
of Ofsted inspections are largely determined by a school's test
scores and Contextual Value Added scores and that inspectors pay
little attention to broader Every Child Matters outcomes.
This reinforces the potential for current testing arrangements
to impact negatively on teaching and learning.
81. Yet, it seems that inspection also impacts directly
on how the curriculum is delivered in schools by encouraging
adherence to the National Strategies as the means of raising
Key Stage test performance. The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union
of Women Teachers (NASUWT) commented:
Despite its claims to the contrary, the current
inspection system focuses almost exclusively on the nature and
operation of school processes rather than outcomes.
Although the [National] Strategy frameworks are
not statutory [
] Ofsted continues to emphasise their importance
in the development of effective approaches to curriculum planning
and delivery at school level.
82. In such a context it seems to us that a local
authority or a school would have to be very confident to decide
not to 'play it safe' by following centrally-produced guidance:
The underlying policy is one of Ministers being
relentless in driving up standards and in developing the policies
to do so. [
] Time and again one hears of teachers who suspend
their judgement and instead follow what the various curricula
tell them to do because then they 'can't be blamed'.
And, indeed, there was evidence to suggest that some
local authority officers and school improvement partnersthrough
which the National Strategies are increasingly brokeredare
placing pressure on schools to use National Strategies guidance.
83. There are also instances where the Department's
emphasis on the non-statutory status of National Strategies guidance
appears particularly disingenuous, most notably in the case of
Letters and Sounds. This was an 'opt-out' rather than 'opt-in'
set of guidance, and in his evidence to us the Minister was clear
that the Department wishes to see more "consistent use"
made of it.
84. Part of the problem with the National Strategies
guidance in this respect is that it has often promoted a particular
approach as the 'one best way', whether, for example, objective-led
lessons, the three-part lesson or synthetic phonics.
This is all the more problematic given the suggestion that the
National Strategies have typically been supported by post-hoc
justification based on selective use of the available evidence.
To take the example of literacy, it appears that the promotion
of 'one best way' has resulted in some teachers being prevented
from using their preferred approach due to pressure to follow
centrally-produced guidance. As one teacher commented to us:
In 2004, I was not allowed by my local authority
to teach children consistently according to the principles of
synthetic phonics. I was told I must use the National Literacy
Strategy 'searchlights' [approach]. [
] I was also told that
I must use the government programmes, Progression in Phonics
and Playing with Sounds. These programmes have now been
withdrawn by Government and replaced by the synthetic phonics
programme Letters and Sounds. In other words, government
initiatives were used as justification for preventing me from
teaching in a way that was later promoted through new government
While there is considerable support for the Letters
and Sounds guidance, our own extensive inquiry into the teaching
of early reading concluded that a range of approaches can work
effectively, so long as teachers are trained to use them and they
are applied systematically.
85. The idea that there is one best way to teach
is not supported by the research evidence and so should not be
the basis for the delivery of the National Curriculum.
86. The Department must not place pressure on
schools to follow certain sets of non-statutory guidance, such
as it has done in the case of Letters and Sounds. We recommend
that the Department send a much stronger message to Ofsted, local
authorities, school improvement partners and schools as to the
non-statutory nature of National Strategies guidance.
45 DCSF, Education and Training Statistics for
the United Kingdom: 2008. Table 1.1: Number of schools,
by type of school-time series; 2007/08 figures. For up-to-date
figures on Academies see www.standards.dcsf.gov.uk. Back
"Number of National Challenge schools down", DCSF press
release 2009/0007, 14 January 2009. Back
See www.standards.dcsf.gov.uk Back
See www.standards.dcsf.gov.uk Back
Qq 224-225 Back
DfES, Disapplication of the National Curriculum (Revised), guidance
(July 2006) Back
DCSF, Schools and Pupils in England: January 2007 (Final),
2007. SFR 30/2007. Table 8a: Maintained primary and secondary
schools: number of schools by their status and religious character.
Statutory Instrument 1999 No. 2733, The Changing of School Session
Times (England) Regulations 1999. Back
Through the Power to Innovate the Secretary of State for the
DCSF is able, temporarily, to suspend or modify education legislation
that may be holding back innovative approaches to raising standards.
The Power to Innovate guidance and application form can be viewed
at www.teachernet.gov.uk Back
Data supplied by DCSF. Back
Q 220 Back
Ev 111, paragraph 72 Back
Ev 161, paragraph 26. See also Ev 45, paragraph 33; Ev 67, paragraphs
45-46; Ev 71, paragraph 96; Ev 161, paragraph 24; Ev 282, paragraph
4(iii); Ev 290, paragraph 9.2 Back
e.g. Q 476 Back
e.g. Q 272 Back
Ev 56 Back
Ev 61, paragraph 40. See also Ev 271, paragraph 4; Q 273 Back
Ev 256, paragraphs 6-7 [Jolly Learning Ltd] Back
Ev 256, paragraph 7; Ev 285, paragraph 4. See also Ev 52, paragraphs
13, 16 Back
Qq 217, 596 Back
Ev 135-136 Back
Ev 135-136; Qq 273, 296 Back
Ev 285, paragraph 4. See also Q 36 Back
House of Commons Education and Skills Committee, Eighth Report
of Session 2004-05, Teaching Children to Read, HC 121.
See also Ev 135-136; Ev 271, paragraphs 5-6; Ev 286, paragraph