School sports, QTS and GCSE grading

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As SecEd returns for the new term, editor Pete Henshaw looks back at the summer ― from sporting gaffs to grading rows.

Welcome back to a new school year. Like you all (I hope), SecEd has been away for the summer, recharging its batteries. In this first editorial of the year, I would like to tackle three key debates that have sprung up during the summer.

School sports

It was bizarre to see just how many gaffs the government managed as it tried to jump on the Olympics bandwagon. All ministers had to do was fire off some sound-bytes (goodness knows they’re good at that) and they would have got their headlines.

What they actually managed to achieve was to quite glaringly illustrate just how much school sport has been hindered of late. The prime minister kicked off the gaffs by accusing teachers of being unwilling to take on extra-curricular school sport – this is so far from the reality I see in schools it’s not funny.

Ministers then decided to scrap the two-hour target on weekly PE and also the requirements on how much outdoor space schools must have. I’m open to the debate on these issues, but scrapping them during our Olympic summer is asking for bad press.

David Cameron then backed competitive sports in schools and pledged to put competition at the heart of the new primary PE curriculum. This is another debate I am happy to have (I would argue that just because we had a great medal haul this summer doesn’t mean that every school sport must now be an Olympic one and competitive in nature). However, in making his announcement, Mr Cameron heralded the use of Olympic legacy funding to ensure strong links between community sports clubs and schools. This, unsurprisingly, prompted educationalists to point out that the axed 450 School Sport Partnerships (SSPs) already did much of this kind of work, linking schools to clubs, promoting extra-curricular (and competitive sport), promoting inter and intra-school tournaments.

So Michael Gove’s axing of the £162 million that funded the SSPs has become a quite embarrassing indictment of the government’s ambition for a sporting legacy.

But then again Mr Gove was having legacy problems of his own after being forced to admit that he has sold off 21 playing fields since taking office – before admitting that this admission was not quite right and he had actually allowed 31 to be flogged – five of them against the advice of his expert advisors.

I sincerely hope that our ministers get their act together when we begin to discuss the legacy that the British public will want to see from the London Paralympic Games.

GCSE English exam grading

You know the story and can read the latest here. I just want to add how saddened I am that this has become a debate about GCSE standards, when this mess has been brought about by a failure of examination administration.

Brian Lightman, of the Association of School and College Leaders, put it much better than I could: “This is nothing to do with maintaining standards or any wider debate about qualifications reform. It is about a catastrophic failure of the awarding bodies and regulator to implement this particular examination properly with potentially disastrous consequences for the life chances of young people and the confidence of the teaching profession.” Hear, hear.

Qualified Teacher Status

Academies can now employ non-qualified staff as teachers after the government slipped out a so-called “minor” announcement on the eve of the Olympic Games. It’s actually a quite major announcement when you consider that most secondary schools will be academies by the end of the Parliament. I fully acknowledge the role of industry or professional expertise in the classroom. However, when it comes to the people leading the learning of our children – I want them fully trained and qualified in the pedagogy and skills of education.


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