Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Hidden by the hacking: end-of-term education manoeuvres

With the eyes of the world turned elsewhere, the education department has been performing a few subtle U-turns that could save it further embarrassment later on.

First, they effectively ditched the whole idea of a National Funding Formula yesterday, as they bowed to the local government lobby and launched a consultation to continue using local factors, effectively a simplification of the existing formula. While many headteachers favour a formula that reduces the extraordinary anomalies that exist between schools in similar circumstances, but across council boundaries, it was always going to be a tall order to introduce the change at a time of funding cuts. There would, of course, have been many howls of outrage if the cuts had been even more severe. But now, even academies and free schools will have their funding tied to local formulas, albeit with the more generous funding that comes from not taking local authority services. Sensibly, they propose to strengthen school forums, but this will need to be more than cosmetic and to avoid gaming, it should have to gain support from a majority of secondary and a majority of primary schools for anything beyond the basic formula. The shift was obscured by a more contentious statement on Building Schools for the Future, where Michael Gove said he would do what he intended all along.

Second, while ministers have clung to the English Baccalaureate in its current form in the league tables, they have announced that the existing vocational equivalences for GCSEs will continue for two years. Had they dropped them quickly, there would have been huge problems for schools adjusting, akin to the outrage caused when the EBacc was introduced retrospectively. However, they have missed a chance to add a Technical Baccalaureate to the mix, something that Kenneth Baker and Andrew Adonis have joined many heads in arguing for. The two year vocational hiatus should allow time to think again on this: but students starting their GCSE options in September need to know what their qualifications will be worth, as do their schools.

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