This green paper does nothing to improve standards in schools - 85% of which are already graded good or outstanding by Ofsted. We must also not forget that the secretary of state has a statutory duty to intervene in schools that are underperforming under the Education and Adoption Act.
If the government really wants schools that work for everyone they should stop meddling in school structures and invest in attracting and retaining teachers through high quality initial teacher education and a guaranteed programme of continued professional development throughout their career. They should also make sure we have enough places – so every child has a good quality place. There is no mention of SEND in the green paper, yet we know that there is a massive shortage of Special School places.
Selection and grammar schools
The government has pledged £50 million to allow existing selective schools to expand as long as they ensure 'good quality non-selective places locally' and, where local demand exists, allow new selective schools to be set up. We know that selection does not aid social mobility and in fact has a detrimental effect on the chances of those pupils who fail at selection.
ATL believes that reintroducing selection at age 11 will put additional stress on pupils and will adversely impact on learning in primary schools as teachers are forced to teach to the test to get their pupils into the local grammar school. We know that parents will pay for their children to be tutored to be able to pass the test. The government's claim that these new tests will be tutor-proof has been discredited by campaign group Local Equal Excellent who found that tests introduced in Buckinghamshire schools have made little difference to the number of state school primary pupils accessing secondary grammars. If the government are concerned about selection by postcode, with the wealthiest parents moving close to the better schools, then there needs to be a revision of the school admissions code and a guarantee of fair access for all. We are concerned how these schools will be held to account and the impact on pupils, parents and staff if the threat of removal of funding or the ability to select is carried out on schools which do not meet the government's criteria.
In addition the government plans to encourage multi-academy trusts to establish 'centres of excellence' for most able students. This seems to contradict the promise that new schools with selection will be in response to local demand.
The green paper also states that universities who wish to charge higher fees must start a free school or sponsor an academy. We know that the track record of university involvement in schools is mixed. We believe that the contribution that higher education can make to schools is in providing high quality initial teacher training and CPD.
Under the green paper proposals, independent schools will need to sponsor academies or set up free schools or offer a set proportion of places as fully funded bursaries to those who are insufficiently wealthy to pay fees in order to keep their charitable status. Smaller independent schools will be required to provide direct support to state schools such as teaching minority subjects or allowing access to facilities.
We are concerned that the government's view is that independent schools automatically do things better than maintained schools. Independent schools recruit their teachers from the same pool as maintained schools. Instead of stretching the teachers and resources from independent schools perhaps the government should look to replicate some of the perceived advantages of independent schools such as smaller class sizes and reduced workload burden on staff.
Despite Nick Gibb's statement in March 2016 that the 50% cap on faith based admissions in faith free schools was necessary to pupils receiving an inclusive and broad-based education, the summer's green paper proposed to remove the cap. The government proposes that the cap will be replaced by new faith free schools having to consult with local parents, twin with schools not of their faith, consider mixed faith MATs; and/or have governors of other or no faith.
ATL is concerned that this extension of admissions by faith will further divide communities and young people, and goes counter to a significant amount of evidence around the impact of religious based admissions:
- that all faith schools should have flexible and reviewable admissions criteria which take account of school and local needs; and
- that the primary aim of faith schools should be to educate pupils as responsible and compassionate global citizens with the skills and knowledge to question and understand the world around them and to recognise the beliefs, cultures and opinions of others in order to foster shared dialogue and increased understanding.
More details can be found in ATL's position statement on faith schools.