Subject: SCHOOLS NorthEast Weekly Update - Week 38

Summit 2012 - book now

The SCHOOLS NorthEast Weekly Update goes out to every Head Teacher in the North East every Tuesday, but if anybody else in your school or LA would like to receive the Update, please send their name and email address to

In this Issue

  • A roundup of the latest in local and national education news
  • School to School with Steve Gittins from Tyneview Primary
  • Michael Gove targets Middlesbrough Council
  • Lord Adonis to speak at the SCHOOLS NorthEast Summit 2012

Focus on…exam reforms (again!)

Just a couple of weeks after the Education Secretary called for major changes to exams and for the return of ‘O’ levels, the cross party Education Select Committee has stated that the exam system is in need of “fundamental reform”. The Committee has accused exam boards of creating a “race to the bottom”, as the competition to sign up schools is leading to a dumbing down of standards.

After taking evidence for nearly a year, the Committee was clear that the burden of assessment on schools was attributable to Government policy and the decisions made by schools responding to pressures from the accountability system. They stated that “Government should not underestimate the extent to which the accountability system incentivises schools to act in certain ways with regard to exams” and that sometimes this may not be in the best interest of students.

To tackle this, they have challenged the Government to reduce the dominant influence of the measure of 5 GCSE A*– C or equivalent including English and mathematics, review the content of league tables, increase the credit given to schools for the progress made by all children across the ability range, and limit the practice of early and multiple entry in exams.

The Committee also asked the Government to clarify its position in relation to exams by stating whether the importance of the comparability of standards over time in England or benchmarking against the standards of qualifications in other countries were the greatest priority and whether the maintenance of standards over time or making exams tougher were more important.

The Committee rejected the Education Secretary’s plans for a single exam board because of the costs, heightened risk, disruption, and potential for increased political interference.  Instead it called for the introduction of national syllabuses to address downward competition on content and provide reassurance on standards. To strengthen syllabus development, accreditation and monitoring, the Committee called on Ofqual to convene national subject committees drawing their membership from learned societies, subject associations, higher education and employers.

Throughout the report, the Committee stressed the importance of the role of exam regulator Ofqual in restoring and building public confidence in the exam system stating "Ofqual must show that it is prepared to bear its teeth and take vigorous action when required.”  The report makes a series of recommendations to strengthen the role and rigour of Ofqual including:

  • The appointment of an assessment expert to Ofqual’s board to ‘build its assessment expertise’;
  • Further work to investigate grading issues and increase public engagement in the debate on exam standards;
  • Close monitoring of changes in the market share between exam boards to establish the reasons for changes at individual qualification level and ascertain whether there is any link to standards; and
  • A more robust and investigative approach to assessing whether the costs of exams are appropriate and fair.

Following the scandals regarding exam board training sessions, the Committee supports the decision to end exam board training on specific qualifications stating that Ofqual must ensure “a school’s loyalty to a particular exam board cannot be rewarded with access to information not available to others”.

In addition, the Committee criticised the potential conflict of interest for examiners involved in question paper setting and writing textbooks. They called for Ofqual to make clear the expected future role of examiners in textbook authorship and to consider restricting exclusive endorsement arrangements between exam boards and publishers, suggesting that in future “’A’ level textbooks be endorsed by the universities involved in developing a particular syllabus rather than by the exam board”. 

Last summer’s errors in question papers and criticism of marking led the Committee to stress the importance of thorough investigation by Ofqual of any allegations of improper conduct by exam boards and the “taking of vigorous action, to ensure that candidates are awarded the grades they deserve and to protect the integrity of the exam system”. They also welcomed work to ensure common standards of marking and further work to monitor the effectiveness of online standardisation of marking.

The Chair of the Committee, Graham Stuart MP, said:

"The public has lost confidence in exam standards and this needs to be put right. We’ve got to stop the dumbing down of the courses young people sit and stop exam boards competing on how 'accessible' their syllabuses are…

We believe that the best reform would be the creation of National Syllabuses. There could be a competition, such as the Secretary of State has already suggested, to decide which exam board would design the syllabus for a particular subject, which would then be accredited by the regulator, Ofqual. After that, any board could set an exam for that syllabus and compete on innovation, efficiency, service and support. Ofqual would ensure that exam boards didn't compete by making papers easier and could readily identify problems and make statistical adjustments if necessary”.

You can read the full report here

Your view… do you agree with the Committee’s proposals?  Would a single syllabus for each subject be a positive move?  Does the current system incentivise the dumbing down of exams?  Let us know email

Further reading:

Top local news

‘One month’s rain fell in less than hour...’

Torrential rain and lightning storms wreaked havoc across the North East last Thursday. Flash floods forced many schools to close and the damage caused is expected to cost the region millions.

Sunderland children's centres remain open despite £1.7m budget cut

Councillors in Sunderland have approved plans to create a "hub and spoke" model for delivering children's centre services, resulting in fewer Ofsted inspections and contributing to a £1.7m cut in spending.

Local news by area






North Tyneside


South Tyneside





Top national education news

Michael Gove targets councils that do not agree with his policies

Middlesbrough Council has been singled out by the Government in its drive to force more schools to join its flagship academies programme. Alongside Leeds Council, Middlesbrough Council is said to have been chosen because it has been less co-operative with ministers in tackling under-performance in its schools than others who may have a worse record in national curriculum tests.

Schools in Middlesbrough will be expected to embrace new sponsors and, most likely, new Heads in an effort to turn their performance around. If they still do not co-operate, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has the power to sack the governing body and impose his own interim executive board to run the school before it becomes an academy.

Mike Carr, Middlesbrough’s executive member for children, dismissed the threat as “an example of Mr Gove, touted as a possible future Tory leader, playing political games.” Mr Carr said four of the town’s primary schools were already converting to academies for the autumn, with a further ten actively considering the switch. He added: “Mr Gove likes to pursue this in a macho way, but we are not challenging him on this. As an authority, we are supporting schools that wish to convert and I’m not aware of any governing bodies refusing to do so.”

 Boys' reading skills 'must be tackled’

Yesterday, the All Party Parliamentary Literacy Group Boys' Reading Commission published the findings of a six month inquiry into reading failure among boys after research indicated consistently that boys’ reading lags behind girls'.  The Commission was a joint venture with the National Literacy Trust and ran from January to June 2012.

The Commission’s report reveals the “reading gender gap” is widening and says action needs to be taken in homes, schools and communities, with recommendations including boys having weekly access to male reading role models. Read the full report here.

New rules for teachers to bring discipline to the classroom

Classes developed by the Government’s behaviour and discipline advisor Charlie Taylor, will give trainee teachers lessons on how to be authoritative, including advice on when to be stern with students and when to punish them. Mr Taylor, himself a former Head Teacher, produced the recommendations after discovering some trainee teachers had received as little as one lecture in controlling their classrooms.

Resources and opportunities

Inspire your pupils to pursue new career paths

Under a new scheme, scores of leading employers, including the BBC and the NHS, will call for volunteers across the country to visit a school near them once a year and spend an hour talking with young people about their job.

The Inspiring the Future campaign, thought up by the charity Education and Employers Taskforce, is designed to tackle the "skills mismatch" between jobs and young people, and inspire schoolchildren to pursue careers they would not have otherwise thought of.

To find out more and to sign your school up, please click here.

Inject new life into your PSHE lessons

If you are looking for an innovative way to provide your students with the life skills needed in an increasingly complex world, then local charity ‘Doorways’ has produced a resource to assist you. Doorways Youth Project strives to reach out to young people in difficult situations. They have just launched an educational CD-ROM ‘Life-Skills Labyrinth‘, which acts as an innovative multi-sensory learning resource. For a one off cost of £56 (plus postage) you will receive the full ‘Life-Skills Labyrinth’ package which can be used on your entire school network, allowing a full class of students to access the recourse at any one time. For more information and to order please click here or email .

Are you making the most of the mobile devices your students already have in their pockets?

Get the GCSEPod app for free now! GCSEPod is an accessible and affordable learning product, written by teachers for use by Years 9, 10 and 11 on computers, iPods and Mobile Phones, anytime, anywhere, all year round.

The GCSEPod app is now available for iPhone and iTouch and it’s free for schools with a full GCSEPod subscription. The app can be downloaded direct from the AppStore to any iPhone or iTouch. The iPad and Android apps are currently in development. Click here to find out more or email . To sign up call 0191 2111 999 and quote JULYSEPT12.


SCHOOLS NorthEast Events

SCHOOLS NorthEast Summit – 19 October at St James’ Park

Now in its fourth year, the SCHOOLS NorthEast Summit is the annual event bringing together the North East's school leaders, leading educationalists, and decision makers to discuss the issues, practice, challenges and opportunities that will shape education now and in the coming years. Last year’s event sold out, with over 300 school leaders attending.

Delegate places cost just £80 for Primaries and £100 for Secondaries, with discounts for SCHOOLS NorthEast Enhanced Members and group bookings.

For more information and to book now please click here or email .

***SUMMIT UPDATE*** We are very pleased to announce that Lord Adonis will be speaking at this year’s Summit.  After serving as Minster for Schools between 2000 and 2008, Lord Adonis is viewed by many as both the architect and the driving force behind the original academies programme, which replaced failing and underperforming comprehensive schools with all-ability, independently managed academies, run on a not-for profit basis. By the time he left the Department in October 2008, 133 academies were open and 300 more were in the pipeline.

Lord Adonis is a Trustee of Teach First and also a Trustee of the vocational education charity Edge.  He is a Governor of the Baker-Dearing Trust, which supports the establishment of University Technical Colleges. His book on education reform - 'Education, Education, Education' - is to be published in September 2012.

Are you interested in recruiting and training new teachers? – 12 July

School Direct gives schools the opportunity to work with an accredited training provider to recruit and train new entrants to the teaching profession with a view to employing them on achievement of QTS. Join them at an information and discussion event where a representative from the Teaching Agency will present the facts about School Direct and you will have the opportunity to ask questions and talk with other schools.

The event will take place at Harton Technology College in South Shields on Thursday 12 July from 3.45pm to 5.15pm. There is no charge for the event and refreshments will be provided. To book a place please email .

Other Events

Carrying the Torch for e-Learning: A showcase of best practice – 3 July

20 Free places for SCHOOLS NorthEast members

Hear first-hand from practitioners who are making a huge difference with e-learning, including Leading Lights Award winners. Explore the use of a wide range of easy-to-use digital tools to create and present stories as part of learning together with a series of innovative presentations showing the variety of ways e-learning can be used to enhance teaching and learning.

Hear how you can incorporate the use of Social Networks, such as Skype, to encourage self-study and independent learning, as well as highlighting the benefits of Facebook, e-readers and gaming devices. Delegates will be shown the power behind iTunes U which allows the teacher to distribute digital information i.e. podcasts, or vidcasts to learners.  Lastly, there’s a Kindle to be won in the Prize Draw.

It's all happening at Hartlepool College of FE on Tuesday 3 July 2012 from 10:00am until 3:45pm. For more information and to book please click here .

Learning Outside the Classroom: area workshops with a 10 per cent saving on future bookings –4 July and 11 July

Contour Education Services works on behalf of schools to develop an individual programme of Learning Outside the Classroom.  All of their activities are sourced through the Challenger Trust, a charity that has supported 42,000 students in acquiring new skills over the last 12 years.

To discuss your requirements, Contour Education Services invites you to attend a one hour workshop from 4.30pm to 5.30pm on either Wednesday 4 July (Durham), or Wednesday 11 July (Darlington).

The workshops seek to understand what you currently do, your wishlist for the future, and how, by working with other schools in the region, you can make significant savings on both the price and administrative burden.  Contour Education Services can also help you develop your plans for Summer Schools. All workshop attendees receive an automatic 10 per cent saving on any future bookings.

If you would like to register for one of the workshops, contact or call 01788 517 632.

Becoming World Class- Leading Learning in the 21st Century - 6 July

This conference offers you the opportunity not only to immerse yourself in the insights of those living with the power of learning every day, but to hear from Professor David Leat, Director of the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching at Newcastle University, and Professor Guy Claxton, the pioneer of building Learning Power. Both bring a wealth of experience backed by decades of research, to deepen the exploration of learning and its transformative potential.

To find out more and to download the conference handbook click here or reserve your place by emailing .

School to School

This week we spoke to Steve Gittins from Tyneview Primary School in Newcastle.

Our school`s goal is a simple one - to serve the community it stands in by giving its members the life chances that they deserve.

Our school motto is… values, valuing and valued.

Our school is good at… understanding and promoting the right choice.

Our school is working on… developing the basic skills and using these to enhance the curriculum by allowing the users to influence it.  Also we are looking to develop ways of governor working.

The biggest challenges for our school are… economic factors, staff resources, understanding how to influence behaviour.

We think other schools would be interested in… our parental working strategies and curriculum.

Congratulations to SCHOOLS NorthEast Commercial Supporter

SCHOOLS NorthEast would like to congratulate Muckle LLP on being named the Regional Law Firm of the Year at The Lawyer Awards 2012.  Muckle LLP has been a prominent supporter of SCHOOLS NorthEast since the network was set up, as well as being the main sponsor for the SCHOOLS NorthEast Summits 2010, 2011 and the forthcoming Summit 2012 on 19 October.  This is a tremendous achievement for a North East firm. 

Over the last 7 days we learnt…

Have a great week!

If you have any issues you would like to see covered in the Update, or any other comments, I would love to hear from you at the above address.