What to expect from education in 2019?

Written by: Imogen Rowley | Published:

What does 2019 hold in store for the world of state education? Imogen Rowley dusts off her crystal ball and flags up three key areas that could see significant change this year

The year 2018 was another eventful one. Damian Hinds took up the mantle of education secretary, the long-awaited GDPR wreaked havoc in school offices across the country, and there was a steady stream of grumblings about Ofsted and the Department for Education (DfE).

As we arrive, slightly bruised but hopefully still smiling, in a new year, I have gazed into my crystal ball for any hint of what the next 12 months might hold – here are three anticipated changes to keep an eye on.

Curriculum takes centre stage: inspection changes

How could we talk about education in 2019 without mentioning Ofsted’s new inspection framework? Due for release in September, it promises a shift in focus from pupil outcomes (read: exam results) to the “real substance of education” – a school’s curriculum – with a new “quality of education” judgement.

Despite much speculation to the contrary, the “outstanding” grade is here to stay. However, chief inspector Amanda Spielman isn’t happy that “outstanding” schools are exempt from routine inspections, with some going more than 10 years without a visit.

Ofsted has been pushing the DfE hard to agree to more regular inspections and cough up the necessary funding. Schools minister Nick Gibb threw it a bone in December when he said he wanted Ofsted to inspect 10 per cent of outstanding schools. However, he added that the exemption will remain. We wait to see how this one plays out.

There will be a consultation on the new framework later this month, but the general feeling in the sector is that it is a step in the right direction: the current inspection model has long been considered the key driver behind excessive teacher workloads.

However, questions linger around how exactly schools will be held accountable in a post-data era, and some yearn for stability after years of academisation and exam reforms (for more, see page 3 of this edition and also Schools prepare for January consultation over Ofsted plans, Headteacher Update, October 2018: http://bit.ly/2R6vJ1F).

Budgets continue to shrink, particularly for SEND

It will come as no surprise that school funding is under siege. One recent survey from the Association of School and College Leaders revealed that 60 per cent of the responding schools predict they will be in deficit in the next financial year, and things don’t show any signs of letting up.

The situation is particularly acute for SEND funding, with some saying the system is in crisis. Five councils are, or could be, involved in legal action about their decisions to cut high needs funding, and one campaign group is crowdfunding to take Mr Hinds and the DfE to court, saying that central government is responsible for the SEND funding crisis.

The latest figures show that a further one million pupils were on SEND support in January 2018 compared to the previous year, a trend that doesn’t look to be slowing down.

The basic structure of top-up funding isn’t changing in 2019/20, with transfers between the schools and high needs blocks restricted to 0.5 per cent. This could in effect penalise more inclusive schools and could lead to a rise in incidents of “off-rolling”. Ofsted’s annual report articulates concern that pupils with SEND are permanently excluded five times more often than other pupils.

The DfE bowed to pressure from schools and the media in December and announced an extra £350 million cash injection for councils to help support pupils with SEND, but many are saying this doesn’t go far enough. The Local Government Association predicts a £536 million shortfall this year alone. We can probably expect to see more protests like the headteachers’ march on Westminster back in September and a rise in the number of parent campaign groups as funding pressures continue.

More accountability for MATs – possibly

Also from Camp Ofsted, 2019 could be the year that we finally get some clarity on whether it will inspect MATs. We know that Ms Spielman is particularly committed to the idea, saying that the current system of “focused inspections” – where Ofsted inspects a few representative schools in a MAT and sends a letter to the trust – offers only a “limited view”.

Ofsted completed a small pilot last summer in which it exercised more authority by meeting with trust leaders instead of sending them a letter, so the winds of change could be in motion. Its five-year strategy also indicates an intention to “better scrutinise education, training and care structures, including at the MAT level”, and its most recent annual report says: “We look forward to engaging with the DfE as it develops the secretary of state’s plans for greater MAT accountability.”

The decision rests with the DfE. However, there is resistance to the idea, particularly around whether Ofsted has the necessary experience and/or expertise in how MATs function, the potential overlap with the role of Regional School Commissioners, and over whether there is enough funding – especially as Ofsted wants to more frequently inspect outstanding schools too.

  • Imogen Rowley is a lead content editor at The Key, which provides leadership and management support to schools. All predictions here are based on crystal ball-gazing and information available at the time of writing.

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