The SecEd year that was


This academic year has seen a torrent of educational change, with a mix of policy debate, Ofsted reform and union action. Rebekah Bell looks at the key stories covered by SecEd in 2011/12.


Education secretary Michael Gove kicked off the year with a focus on truancy in schools. He said that more scrutiny would be placed on schools when it comes to attendance and unveiled plans to reduce the threshold for being persistently absent from 20 to 15 per cent of school lessons missed. Meanwhile, he warned students who make false accusations that they could face prosecution.

SecEd continued its campaign to raise awareness over the dangers of the asbestos in schools. We asked founder of the Asbestos in Schools group, Michael Lees, to outline some key questions for the Department for Education to answer. We supported his call for guidance and regulations to be created to specifically govern asbestos management in schools and for the removal of asbestos from the 75 per cent of UK schools that still contain the deadly substance.

Many teachers continued to protest at the government’s changes to public sector pensions. Changes to pension indexing and a 50 per cent increase in contribution rates saw teachers’ pensions devalued by up to 25 per cent. The government also said it would push ahead with plans to raise the retirement age to 66 and then to 68. Angry education unions announced plans for protests outside Parliament in October and strike action in November.

In Scotland, the publication of the long-awaited McCormac Review caused concerns among teachers after calling for more flexible working, including an end to fixed lesson preparation time and the scrapping of the Chartered Teacher scheme.


October was dominated by talk of the newly published and revised Ofsted inspection framework. Due to come into effect in January 2012, the new regime reduced inspection to four core focuses: pupil achievement, quality of teaching, leadership, and behaviour/safety. Ofsted also announced a new website to allow parents to comment anonymously on their children’s schools. ParentView was launched amid union concern that the system could lead to false allegations. The new framework provided the subject for the first of SecEd’s new Guide To supplements.

On the pensions front, SecEd reported that retiring teachers will lose out by as much as £7,700 in pensions income over the next 10 years. A study by Wesleyan for Teachers found the decision to link public sector pensions to the CPI inflation measure instead of RPI meant that teachers who retired in 2010 would lose £7,670 over the next decade.

Almost a fifth of schools reported being in deficit as government cuts continued to bite. A report from the National Audit Office warned that with schools having to make cuts of £1 billion by 2014, academic standards could be hit. However, many heads said they were happy to “run with” deficits to protect pupils’ education.

Thousands of teachers took part in a day of protest during half-term. They descended on Parliament and took part in lobbies around the county in protest at the government’s pension cuts. 


The “biggest trade union mobilisation for a generation” went ahead at the end of November as public sector unions walked out in protest at changes to pensions. As many as 750,000 teachers and school staff were thought to have walked out. The protest caused 90 per cent of schools across the country to close (pictured).

Six “brave” local authorities lost their fight to save their Building Schools for the Future funding. The authorities had won a High Court battle to force the education secretary to reconsider his decision to cut funding from their much-needed school refurbishment projects. However, Michael Gove said he was not “persuaded” to reverse the cuts.

The Ofsted annual report saw many negative headlines in the national press. SecEd fought back, pointing out that after the 2010/11 Ofsted inspection cycle, seven out of 10 schools had been classed as “good” or “outstanding”. Inspectors announced plans to target those schools “stuck on satisfactory”.


The two biggest teaching unions confirmed their refusal to back the government’s “final” pensions offer. The NUT and NASUWT refused to sign up the revised pensions offer tabled before Christmas. The proposals retained plans for a career-average instead of final salary scheme but offered a better accrual rate and some protection for those teachers within 10 years of retirement.

Headteachers and education unions slammed Ofsted’s plans for “no-notice” inspections. The plans were revealed in a consultation on changes to Ofsted’s inspection framework from September 2012. Ofsted also unveiled plans to scrap the “satisfactory” rating and replace it with “requires improvement”.

Changes were promised to school league tables after schools minister Nick Gibb admitted that they can force schools to focus on certain pupils. He pledged to bring this to an end by focusing more on progression between 11 and 16. He said the tables would look at the progress of both high achieving primary pupils, as well as students from poorer backgrounds.

A SecEd special report focused on the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM). It is thought that 66,000 women in England and Wales fall victim to the illegal practice. It is feared that 23,000 girls under the age of 15 are also at risk of being forced to undergo FGM.


There was a call for national guidance after more than one in 10 teacher misconduct cases before the General Teaching Council for England featured misuse of social media or email.

Education minister Michael Gove tells the Education Select Committee that he expects more than half of secondary schools to be academies by the end of this Parliament. He also raises the idea of judging schools on where their students go after they leave.

The ATL and ASCL education unions signed up to the government’s final offer on pensions, while the NAHT decided to “withhold judgement”.

A cross-party committee of MPs called for a phased removal of all asbestos from UK schools. It said the fact that 75 per cent of schools still contain the material was a “national scandal”.


Michael Gove set out his plans for performance-related pay for teachers. He asked the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) to advise him on how pay scales might be reformed to “strengthen the link between pay and performance”. The STRB was also asked to consider how a regional pay framework might be implemented. There is outrage at the plans, not least because a move to regional pay – in which local public sector pay is matched to the private sector – could see teachers’ pay reduced by as much as 18 per cent in some areas.

New duties on schools to deliver careers guidance for pupils in years 9 to 11 came into force. There was confusion over the requirement for schools to provide “impartial” advice and to what extent this means buying in external services. A survey finds that one in 10 schools intends to ignore the new duty.

Plans for a five-term year for Nottingham’s maintained schools sparked a union walkout by members of the National Union of Teachers. There was outrage at a council suggestion that teachers could lose their jobs if they did not comply with the plan.

A report from the children’s commissioner Maggie Atkinson finds that a Black African Caribbean boy with SEN and on free school meals is 168 times more likely to be permanently excluded than a White girl with no SEN and from a rich family. The study raises some serious questions over equality in our education system and the factors that too often lead to exclusion.


A top-level commission is set up to examine the impact and implications of the government’s policy to mass “academies” the nation’s state schools. Christine Gilbert, former chief inspector of schools and visiting professor at London University’s Institute of Education, is to lead the inquiry.


Cuts to school budgets, government criticism of the profession and declining job satisfaction have all been blamed for the loss of more than 10,000 teachers’ jobs in the past year. Notably, the biggest cut was to local authority-employed teaching staff. 

The examination seminars scandal that dominated the national press before Christmas hits the headlines again as watchdog Ofqual states that face-to-face workshops on specific qualifications will be banned from September 2013. An investigation found good practice in most seminars – there are 4,000 a year – but did acknowledge incidents of malpractice.

Ofsted chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, caused outrage among professionals after stating that stress is too often used as an excuse for poor performance in schools. SecEd hit back by giving the profession a right of reply.

The NAHT union turns the tables on Ofsted as it launches SchoolView, a website which allows school leaders to pass comments on their Ofsted inspection teams. The move was a response to the Ofsted ParentView website.


Michael Gove’s plans to axe GCSEs were leaked to the national press. Mr Gove said he wanted to introduce a new system based on the old O level exams with a “simpler exam” for less intelligent students. The proposals were likened to the CSE/O level exams, sparking fears of a return to a two-tier system. The plans, which the Lib Dems admitted they knew nothing about, also included the axing of the secondary curriculum.

Ofsted backs down on plans for no-notice inspections from September 2012, instead agreeing to call schools on the afternoon before a visit to allow heads time to prepare.

Wide-ranging changes to A levels are set out in an Ofqual consultation – including the ending of modules and January examinations, giving universities “sign-off” over content, and the possible ending of AS levels.

All of SecEd’s articles from the past academic year can be found online at


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