The year ahead in education

The Key's Caroline Doherty identifies some of the main developments likely to hit the sector in the next 12 months

2019 was an eventful year, with the biggest news in education undoubtedly being the introduction of the new Ofsted inspection framework. Looking ahead, it feels safe to say that with the Brexit deadline looming, and plans to reform the civil service preoccupying Number Ten, the government's attention is unlikely to be on education sector reform in the immediate future.

Nevertheless, with a new year (and decade!) upon us, I’ve been doing some future gazing to identify some of the main developments likely to hit the sector in the next 12 months.

1) Schools continue to adjust to the new Ofsted framework

We've spoken to a number of schools up and down the country, to hear what being inspected under the new framework looks like in practice.

Headlines indicate that there is now more emphasis on outcomes from the pre-inspection call, less scrabbling around for documents and data on the day and a more evenly spread workload across the senior and middle leadership teams.

Overall, the consensus is that conversations with inspectors are now “more challenging” but in the right kind of way.

The 'Outstanding' exemption will go...

With more of a focus on curriculum and quality of education rather than on outcomes, there is now even more reason to reintegrate previously 'outstanding' schools into a regular inspection schedule. Inspections of previously exempt schools show re-evaluation is definitely needed.

...But 'no-notice inspections' are unlikely

Despite Boris Johnson’s last minute announcement that he'd like to trial a 'no-notice' approach, I can’t see this happening, especially given earlier this year Ofsted amended its plan to introduce on-site inspector preparation in response to consultation with the sector.
Understandably, the idea of no-notice inspections remains unpopular with the sector and Ofsted already has powers to conduct inspections without notice in certain circumstances.

Finally, the new Ofsted framework encouragingly includes more focus on teacher workload and wellbeing, so hopefully we will see more schools taking radical steps to reduce workload this year.

2) Curriculum, curriculum, curriculum!

When we polled our members in October last year,  90%  said they were reviewing their whole-school curriculum intent.  This focus on the curriculum is also likely to drive decisions across areas such as school improvement planning, staff training and development, performance management, and spending decisions.

3) More money for schools

Before the election the government promised increased per-pupil funding rates and investment in arts, music and sport. However, the overall increase only represents a modest real-terms rise (7.4 per cent) and will leave per pupil funding in 2022-23 at the same level in real-terms as in 2009-10. This “levelling up” approach means funding is skewed towards schools that serve less deprived areas, so more campaigning on this issue seems inevitable.

There was a commitment to increase teacher starting salaries to £30,000 in the Conservative manifesto.  This would certainly be welcome but it remains to be seen to what degree this will be funded by government and how this uplift will then affect the salaries of existing teachers.

Very little detail was given about how the government plans to bridge the severe gap in SEND funding beyond 2021 so I would hope to see further announcements on this soon.

The DfE will continue to focus on supporting schools with effective resource management (with a special focus on integrated curriculum financial planning), and for more schools to access support from school resource management advisers. We might also see a continued push for more scrutiny of local authority school’s finances.

A final word

I think it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for more on behaviour management this year. There were a fair few mentions in the conservative manifesto, the launch of Behaviour Hubs is scheduled for later in the year and we’re expecting further advice from government on implementing the recommendations of the Timpson report. I also foresee continued debate, and indeed, hopefully more guidance from the ESFA on MAT CEO pay in 2020.

Caroline Doherty is Head of External Relations at The Key , a provider of up-to-the-minute sector intelligence and resources that empower education leaders with the knowledge to act. She has also been a governor for 10 years.

For more insights and predictions about 2020 listen to this edition of the Key Voices Podcast.