Highlights from the Education Show 2013


From new-look GCSEs and the Pupil Premium to discussions about dyslexia with the Fonz, seasoned Education Show delegate, Sal McKeown, offers her highlights from last month’s event in Birmingham.

Imagine two days of professional workshops based on specific requests from senior leadership teams. That is exactly what was on offer in the School Leaders Summit at the Education Show, which ran at the NEC in Birmingham over three days last month.

The symposium featured headteachers, assistant headteachers and business managers who were facing the same challenges as many of the delegates, but who were perhaps a little further down the road in finding solutions. There was also the usual mix of policy-makers from government and bodies such as Ofqual. Here are some of my highlights from the summit, which was hosted with support from the National Association of School Business Management and The Key.

Curriculum and exams

While many in the audience were delighted by the demise of the English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC), others were concerned about changes to the national curriculum and the uncertainty over the look of new examinations.

Ofqual chief regulator Glenys Stacey told a packed session: “If I had been standing here a few months ago we would have been talking about EBCs. I am so very glad that we are not. We are not talking about EBCs in some subjects but about better GCSEs in all subjects.” There are to be new GCSEs in nine subjects: English language, English literature, maths, biology, chemistry, physics, combined science (double award), history and geography. Teaching for these will start in September 2015. 

She drew a distinction between the roles of the government and of Ofqual: “Government can decide that qualifications need to change, and it can decide the timeframe it would like for that. Our role at Ofqual is different. It is about standards. We decide how qualifications should be designed – so for example, what the assessment arrangements should be so that we have valid assessments. We make sure that our qualifications are of the right quality.”

The new qualifications will apparently try to measure “value-added” rather than simple A* to C grade attainment, and they will introduce sample testing as well but there was a lack of detail about how this would be accomplished. The secretary of state will consult on the subject content for these nine subjects by May of this year.

In a session on the main floor of the show, Graham Pepper, from the Department for Education’s National Curriculum Review Division, provided the background to the draft curriculum review. Since the review process started in January 2011, there have been 5,500 responses.

Star guest

While presentations were generally well received, the undoubted star of the first day was Henry Winkler. These days he is very busy working as an actor, director, producer as well as being co-author of the Hank Zipzer series of children’s books. 

For many people he will forever be the super cool Fonz from the cult TV series Happy Days with his trademark leather jacket, slicked back hair and snappy one-liners. What many forget is that Fonzie dropped out of school but secretly attended night classes to get his high school diploma. 

Mr Winkler’s high school career was equally problematic. He grew up in New York, the son of German immigrants, and was expected to take over the family business buying and selling wood. While his father spoke 11 languages, Mr Winkler was intimidated by the printed word and was diagnosed with dyslexia in his 30s. 

Now he is working with Achievement for All and the weekly children’s publication First News. He is in Britain to visit schools to raise awareness and to help to dispel the stigma surrounding dyslexia and literacy difficulties. 

He took time out to speak to the School Leaders Summit. His talk “Finding Every Child’s Talent – Achievement for All”, drew on examples of young people and schools in the UK and the States. He talked about Danny, who was “allergic” to school, who failed all his GCSEs but enjoyed work experience and planned to set up a business as a plasterer.

It was his own personal and often very witty take on dyslexia that engaged his audience. “I used to think that if I sat at a desk long enough I would get it. I did four years of geometry but I never got it. And I have never needed to use the word hypotenuse in a sentence.” Like many of the Fonz’s best lines it made his audience laugh but also gave them pause for thought.

Pupil Premium

The Pupil Premium was another key topic for those concerned with narrowing the achievement gap. Among the presenters was Nicola Buchan, business and community manager at Esher CE High School in Surrey.

In order to make better provision for children who were entitled to the Pupil Premium and evaluate the effectiveness of different interventions, they began by looking at research from Durham University, the Sutton Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

In Experiences of Poverty arid Educational Disadvantage, 2007, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “Children from less advantaged backgrounds are more likely to feel a lack of control over, and less involvement in, their learning, and so have a greater tendency to become reluctant recipients of the taught curriculum. These factors are at the heart of the social divide in educational outcomes, yet they have not been at the heart of solutions so far.”

Esher followed up by considering approaches used in other schools. They took the Ofsted list of outstanding schools for 2011/12 and looked at what they were doing with the Pupil Premium. This gave them access to many interventions. 

Closer to home, they talked to pupils in years 10 and 11 and were quickly made aware that there was no such thing as a typical child on the Pupil Premium. Some had nowhere to study at home; others needed computer access. Some barriers were economic but others were cognitive. Some children had no parental support or encouragement so low expectations and negative thought patterns were a major barrier. 

Often children needed practical support such as transport, a Kindle, the money for a school trip, or a Netbook so they could access the internet at home.

The school appointed four learning mentors each responsible for a caseload of pupils. They offered individual coaching, sometimes taking pupils out of school, helping them with exam preparation, supporting them in lessons, or developing a programme to improve handwriting. “The important thing,” said Ms Buchan, “is that there is a menu of approaches and that we strike a balance between making provision and measuring the impact.”

  • Sal McKeown is a freelance journalist who specialises in SEN education and ICT. 
Further information
CAPTION: Discussing dyslexia: Actor Henry Winkler, who was diagnosed as dyslexic in his 30s, was a popular draw at the Education Show


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