Schools white paper: the importance of teaching

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Initial briefing notes from the National Union of Teachers
December 2010

The purpose of this paper is to provide members of the Education Select Committee with the National Union of Teachers’ initial thoughts on ‘The Importance of Teaching’ Schools White Paper, prior to the appearance of the Secretary of State for Education before the Committee on 14 December.
These notes simply provide a list of issues as they arise through the document rather than provide a critique of the bigger picture that the White Paper represents. The wider implications of these proposals – and what is missing from them - are, of course, vitally important and further analysis will follow, particularly when the Bill is published early next year.
The Department for Education (DfE) has published three additional documents which require equal scrutiny and further analysis – these are ‘Schools White Paper Overarching Equality Impact Assessment’, an ‘Economic Impact Assessment’ and ‘The Case for Change’. These can be found at

Chapter 2: Teaching and leadership


NUT comment

The Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) skills test to be moved to the start of the course. Reduced re-sit options and the tests to be made more difficult

Agree should be moved to start, but concerned about impact on range of applicants accepted to Initial Teacher Training (ITT), especially hard on dyslexics and those who get flustered by rapid on-screen test system.

ITT not funded for people with below 2:2 degree

Concern that it will reduce diversity of workforce, particularly teaching assistants who wish to be teachers

Expand Teach First

Question mark over whether this can be scaled up from current very small numbers; difficulty of securing sufficient schools to place candidates; capacity of primary schools may be an issue

A new national network of teaching schools for ITT and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and university training schools for ITT

Need more details, but capacity of teaching schools may be an issue; additional responsibility being placed on teachers without recognition has already generated casework in current Training Schools

Increase proportion of time trainees spend in the classroom

Trainees on PGCE courses already spend over 60 per cent of time in classroom, so misinterpretation of evidence. Will need to change regulations/statutory guidance for ITT providers

ITT to focus on reading, maths and behaviour

Very reductionalist, no room for theoretical perspective or study of child development. Evidence also shows that ITT graduates not prepared to support English as additional language (EAL) pupils or necessarily work in multicultural classrooms – no mention of these issues.

Introduce aptitude test as part of ITT interview process

Will need to see details but psychometric testing has been discredited and disproportionally impacts on black and minority ethnic (BME) people.

Financial incentives for shortage subjects for PGCE, possibility of repayment of student loans.

Incentives should be equally available to all, regardless of route/phase/subject. Experience has shown that targeted incentives do not address the fundamental causes of teacher supply problems – these are attributable to pay, conditions and status issues.

Targeted support for career changers via Teach Next

Concerns about Fast Track into Leadership programme. Need to learn lessons of the previous programme, which was very expensive but unsuccessful

Troops to Teachers programme, a sponsored PGCE course or a condensed BEd course.

Unfair financial advantage. Concerns about whether candidates would have suitable qualifications. Contradicts other reforms proposed here

Expansion of school-centred initial teacher training (SCITTs) and Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) programmes with central application system.

Union surveys and Ofsted have identified concerns about variations in quality of these programmes

Undergraduate scholarships available if students commit to teaching for a fixed period

Could be useful, need more details

Training and Development Agency (TDA) functions will transfer to DfE

Capacity to oversee all ITT and CPD? Does this mean the TDA will be abolished?

Reduction in bureaucracy and red tape

Schools can still use flexibilities in pay to recruit and retain staff despite pay freeze, including pupil premium funding. School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) to look at even greater flexibilities in early 2011

Pay flexibility is part of the problem, not the solution. The national pay structure is essential in a system comprising well over 20,000 separate workplaces: it puts in place a rate for the job and safeguards equal opportunities. Any moves to break up the national pay structure will have serious implications for teachers’ pay – increased pay discretion leads to downward pressure on pay levels and prospects

Shortened and simplified competency procedures, remove duplication between performance management and capability

What duplication? Very concerned that may make support elements of processes less important. Political move to be seen to be tough on poor teachers. Needs equality proofing as black teachers are disproportionately more likely to be put through competency procedures

Review professional standards and General Teaching Council Code of Conduct

Welcome reviews. The profession will need to have an input into both. Code is in legislation but will it need to be amended if only the content of the Code changes?

New arrangements for professional misconduct and incompetence. DfE to take over from GTC (England). New judgements either ‘barred’ or ‘not barred’.

Must be a role for the profession to oversee conduct itself. Two judgement options only may be a very blunt instrument, hard to give either judgement for more complex cases. Will need legislation to transfer function from GTC (England)

Remove statutory duties and requirements, for example, co-operation with Children’s Trusts, local authority production of Children and Young People’s Plan. Remove prescription on governing bodies, for example, consultation on changes to the length of the school day, ending centralised target setting.

While some of these are very important democratic functions which need to be retained, will need to make judgements on case-by-case basis. Some of these are currently legal requirements which would need to be repealed

Make clear no format for written lesson plans required by either DfE or Ofsted. Similarly, no prescription about the use of Assessing Pupils’ Progress (APP).

Welcome. Look forward to receiving a clear statement on this.

A culture of CPD will exist

Single designation to include Advanced Skills Teachers, Excellent Teachers and Leading Teachers.

Unclear whether the individual functions of each of these three designations denoted would be retained. Indicates that Professional Standards Framework will be streamlined. Revisions to the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) will be needed

Remove three hour limit to classroom observation.

Apparent confusion between limits to performance management observation and observation for CPD purposes, e.g. peer observation

To look at rolling-out of Chartered London Teacher model nationally.

Teachers need equal access to CPD if this is to work, also additional funding which is a key part of the London scheme

Competitive National Scholarship Scheme from 2011 to support teachers’ subject knowledge.

Need details on how it would work, but should be an entitlement for all teachers not just for a few willing to jump through hoops to be awarded a scholarship

Significant increase in National Leaders of Education

Review of National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH), a new qualification to be offered from September 2011

Have had concerns about content of NPQH, particularly people management and National College “clones”. Need to see detail.

National College to have an enhanced role and take on training of governors and leaders of Children’s Centres

This is logical. Need to see how ‘arm’s length’ National College will be from Government.

Continued support for Future Leaders and Teaching Leaders programmes

Welcome, but very small scale at the moment. No mention of how lack of underrepresented groups in school leadership will be tackled

Double the number of National Leaders of Education and Local Leaders of Education by 2015

Welcome use of serving head teachers to support the system, but have to be issues of capacity and workload for individuals. Also, knock-on effect on their schools when they are out doing this work

Teaching Schools to take on training and deployment of National Leaders of Education and Local Leaders of Education in addition to Middle Leaders programmes and to identify potential heads for the future

Serious concerns about capacity given duties expected in relation to ITT, CPD and middle management training: they still have to teach children too

Succession planning in areas where need is most will continue to be funded centrally

Welcome, but should continue funding nationally, rather than just in shortage “hot spots”. Rather short-sighted view

Chapter 3: Behaviour


NUT comment

Extend power to search to include pornography, tobacco and fireworks (already alcohol, knives, and other weapons, controlled drugs and stolen property) Also introduce a more general power for anything that might cause harm

Concerns about teachers having to police students – we argued for a general power to protect against imminent harm during debate on Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill (2009).

Use of force

May welcome clarification of existing legislation – but largely happy with current guidance which already allows physical restraint and for children to be comforted – critical issue is that teachers will not face any unforeseen consequences as a result of them using such powers. That needs clear guidance and procedures

Anonymity for teachers accused

Welcome but need to see detail, and how will this relate to suspensions? These should be avoided where possible and where there is no immediate risk to children

Abolish requirement to give 24 hour notice for detentions

Should schools be advised to continue to give adequate notice to parents as a matter of good practice?

Significantly slim down guidance on bullying

Is this possible without leaving out important detailed advice? Welcome emphasis on homophobic bullying

Reform of exclusion appeals process

What happens to children who have been permanently excluded? What recourse do they have if there is no chance that they might be reinstated? Will this mean that parents and children have to resort to the courts? (if so there is very real chance that the courts could become back logged). Taken alongside the cuts in legal aid budgets you are effectively ruling any possibility of appeal out for poorer families

Chapter 4: Curriculum, assessment and qualifications

Review of National Curriculum


NUT comment

Tighter, more rigorous model of the knowledge every child is expected to master at every key stage, but also will become a rigorous benchmark rather than prescriptive straightjacket

This is an extremely contradictory policy position. We need to see the detail, but there appears to be a strong element of prescription here. Fear any references to inclusion, equality and the global dimension may be removed. What could be lost in a core based curriculum is the focus on cultural understanding and diversity across the curriculum. The proposals take no account of the success of the relatively new Secondary Curriculum, which was thoroughly consulted on and welcomed by secondary teachers. Will current National Curriculum legislation cover these changes?. The NUT supported the opportunities created in the Secondary Curriculum for cross-curricula learning

Traditional subjects disciplines

Strong prejudice against thematic teaching despite evidence that it works. Also contradicts what is said above about prescription

Teachers will be freer to decide how subject knowledge is acquired

Pedagogy has always officially been the domain of teachers. However, the Government now intends to prescribe how teachers teach reading via phonics – another contradiction

Academies and free schools will continue to be able to disapply parts of the National Curriculum

No surprises. If good for academies and free schools, why not good for all schools?

Early focus on reading

Phonics is described as the best method for teaching reading

A very selective reading of evidence and contradictory to what has been said about freeing up teachers

Support for teaching phonics for every school, funding for training and for classroom teaching resources

Would welcome more broadly-based funding and resources to support the teaching of reading

Reading and phonics to be a particular focus of Ofsted inspections and ITT

Contradicts what is said elsewhere about the Government not meddling or dictating the agenda for Ofsted or for initial teaching training

Reading check at age 6. Result will be reported via Raise Online

Real concerns about this, especially as will be linked to accountability. This moves focus away from the diagnostic

Assessment of pupils at each transition change

Reading test at age 6, plus Key Stage 2 tests, seen as assessments in primary for this

Concerns as above

New testing agency will oversee statutory tests and assessments for children up to age 14

Why remove this function from Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) which already has the expertise and set up another body? Likely to be waste of money.

Review of Key Stage 2 testing

The remit of the Review is described as seeking to retain a strong basis for accountability and information to parents and secondary schools

This implies that there will be little change from the model of testing at the end of Key Stage 2

The Government will ensure that pupils take part in international tests of literacy, maths and science

Welcome, but not explained how they will ensure this. Does it intend to require/legislate for schools to participate and, if so, how does this square with the “freedom” agenda?

Ofqual to report on standards at ages 11 and 16, comparing England with high performing nations

Dependent on previous proposal working. Offer good alternative assessment model to SATs.

Introduction of English Baccalaureate

The English Baccalaureate to encourage schools to offer a broad set of academic subjects to age 16. This will be given special recognition in performance tables

Concern this will only encourage further competition between schools and exacerbate further academic and vocational education divide as it is likely that vocational qualifications will be recorded separately in performance tables and, therefore, could be seen as ‘second best’. There is no evidence that such a measure of performance will be a ‘powerful incentive’ to all schools with a diverse intake of pupils

Reform of GCSEs and A levels

White Paper states ‘we are working with Ofqual, awarding bodies & HEIs’

No mention of consultation with teachers in schools. The development of qualifications such as A levels, should not be the main responsibility of any one body or organisation as there is a danger of ideological bias taking over qualification development.

Proposal to move to completely linear qualifications

Concerned about potential loss of modular approach which may be better suited to certain learners

Vocational education

Unhelpful assumptions made about quality of qualifications, “too many young people are following courses because they are easy for schools or colleges to deliver or because they confer advantages in the accountability system”.

No acknowledgement of a need to build on what has been successful or that courses such as BTechs and City & Guilds awards are popular with learners, pre and post-16

Commitment to increase minimum leaving age

Welcome. No mention of how NEETs will be supported by providing suitable progression routes into education, training or employment. No mention is made in the White Paper on progression routes in qualification using Foundation Learning or Entry Level qualifications

Chapter 5: New Schools System

Academies programme to be expanded


NUT comment

Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) to be allowed to become academies

Some of society’s most vulnerable children are educated and supported in PRUs – how will private providers be monitored and made accountable for their actions and decisions in relation to these children?

Lowest performing schools, those attaining poorly and those in Ofsted’s categories and not improving will be transformed into academies. This includes primary and special schools

Shifting the goalposts on floor targets and criteria for Secretary of State to intervene. This is a way of rapidly expanding Academies programme by force where persuasion has failed. Can already be done via powers in Academies Act. Serious concerns about two tier system and segregation in Academies and Free Schools

Legislation will be introduced to extend the Secretary of State’s powers to close schools subject to a notice to improve

Ratcheting up of Secretary of State’s powers, a way of increasing numbers of academies. Implies these will be run by existing sponsors and/or chains

Free Schools

Free Schools will be demand-led and their geographical distribution will depend on individuals and organisations coming forward to play a role in improving provision in their community

Emphasis on ‘improving’ provision rather than meeting need for additional places.

Government to make it easier to secure land and premises for new schools

Overrides principles of local democratic planning overseen by local authority in interests of the whole community. Concerned about lack of requirement for outdoor play space

Will legislate to strengthen controls on disposal of existing school premises to ensure they can be available for Free Schools

May be tensions here between wider needs of the local community and demands of a small group of parents

All Free Schools will be able to access financial support to secure premises – a commitment to support capital investment in ‘pioneer Free Schools’.

Building Schools for the Future (BSF) money being used for the establishment of Free Schools

Studio Schools and University Technical Colleges are new types of schools that are likely to be established as Free Schools

Concern that these technical academies will lead to ‘selection by the back door’. Students will be channelled into narrow, separate, paths at the age of 14, leading to a two-tier system with technical schools being seen as the poor cousin

New strategic role for local authority

Greater freedom by removing central targets, regulations, ring-fencing

This proposal may sound attractive to some elements of the public, but targeted provision is very important in meeting specific needs. This has been demonstrated in the recent controversy over school sport funding. Removal of targets and ring-fencing has already resulted in cuts to local authority services essential to schools

Key roles described as:

  • Developing own school improvement strategies and an ability to market them to all schools, not just in their area.

  • Good supply of strong schools, promoting academies and free schools as the first choice for new schools and simplifying the competition process.

  • Ensuring fair admissions and ending the requirement for an Admissions Forum.

  • Championing the interests of parents and children, supporting vulnerable pupils and

  • Supporting under-performing schools to either improve or convert. Local authorities will be able to raise concerns with an academy or free school informally and then can refer them to Ofsted for an inspection if concerns remain and then ultimately refer them to the Secretary of State

This is a very limited view of what local authorities do. There seems very little that is actually strategic in this. It is a very stripped back model of local authorities. Welcome addition of some local authority powers in relation to academies – will require amending the Education and Inspections Act 2006? There is a question of how local authorities will fulfil their roles as “champions” of parents, children and vulnerable pupils given the loss of funding to local authorities inherent in the Academies programme

The Government intends to legislate to end the ‘bureaucratic requirements’ for local authorities to establish admission forums

Concerned about the intention to remove procedures for promoting fair admissions, i.e. ending the requirement on local authorities to report on admissions and the abolition of the school admission forum

Schools adjudicator will now review admissions complaints for all schools including Academies and Free Schools

Welcome this but want to see role of local authorities strengthened in admissions

Chapter 6: Accountability

Governing bodies


NUT comment

Establishment of smaller governing bodies with appointments primarily focused on skills

Legislation will ensure a minimum of two parent governors but there is no guarantee that community and staff governor representation will be protected

Increased information

Data about attainment in specific subjects, trends over time, class size, attendance levels, composition of pupil intake and financial information to be produced in a standard format online for individual schools and for families of schools

Unsure how much of this information is actually needed and will it have to be supplied directly by schools, which could cause significant workload?

Schools required to publish data online, e.g., admissions and over-subscription information, curriculum, phonics and reading schemes, setting policy, behaviour policy, home school agreement, SEN policy, how school uses the Pupil Premium.

Highly prescriptive and will cause significant workload. Will it need legislation? Real concern about teacher-level information and its potential misuse. Also, how much information do parents really want?

Legislation which established the local government ombudsman for parental complaints will be repealed

Welcome. Was always a very heavy-handed tool which discouraged resolution at school level

Reform of Ofsted

Framework to be reduced from 27 inspection headings to 4. These will be pupil achievement; the quality of teaching; leadership and management; and behaviour and safety of pupils.

Welcome more focus on what happens in the classroom, however concerns about how this will be implemented in practice, particularly use and length of lesson observations

New inspection framework to be introduced from September 2011

Very short timescale which will not allow piloting of framework as has been done previously. Likely to be a lot of problems initially

Primaries, secondaries and sixth forms judged to be outstanding will be exempt from routine inspections from September 2011. They will only be re-inspected if there is evidence of decline or widening attainment gaps. The same approach will be developed for special schools and PRUs

Concerned about how far a school can be judged and monitored purely on its data. Too much differentiation between so-called outstanding schools and the rest. Legislation needed to vary inspection cycles

All schools will be able to request an Ofsted inspection. Ofsted will be able to charge for this

Unconvinced that many schools would want to pay Ofsted to inspect them

Reform of performance tables

New measure of how well deprived pupils do. This is defined as pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium. The contextual value added (CVA) measure will be removed.

CVA was never perfect, but we have no idea what this new measure will be and how fair it will be to schools with the most deprived communities

More emphasis on progress

However, also more emphasis on raw attainment. This is likely to disadvantage schools in challenging areas despite the rhetoric about the usefulness of progression measures

The Government will review performance measures for special schools where intakes perform below National Curriculum tests or GCSE levels

Welcome. Criticism has always been that these schools are judged on the same measures as mainstream schools. Needs to be reflected in Ofsted framework too


A new floor standard is to be introduced, which is higher than the previous one but which will also include attainment and progression. It is defined as 35 per cent 5 A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths, and for primary schools, 60 per cent Level 4s in both English and maths and expected levels of progress between Key Stages 1 and 2. The Government plans to continue to raise these floor standards over time

Ratcheting up of demands on the schools which are under most pressure. Arbitrary raising of the existing floor targets contradicts what was said earlier about not imposing central targets. The words ‘targets’ and ‘standards’ have simply been switched. We do not know yet what the expected levels of progress measure will actually be. As these will continue to rise over time, schools will constantly be under pressure to meet them, therefore, undermining all that the Government has said about schools not being influenced by tests and tables

An ‘appropriately differentiated approach’ to supporting schools below the floor standards. The approach will depend on the context of the school

Good to see there is some sort of personalisation in the support but need to see the details. Will still result in school being labelled as “failing”, which is not helpful. Focus has to be on capacity building within school

Chapter 7: School Improvement

School-based, school-led, school-to-school


NUT comment

School Improvement Partners (SIPs) and centralised target setting processes to be abolished. Schools to set own targets

Welcome removal of SIPs as they diluted/duplicated local authority school improvement work and were not necessarily as knowledgeable, but, as above, targets are just now being called by another name. Think legislation may be needed to remove these.

Much more use of school-to-school support, particularly via the National Leaders of Education and Local Leaders of Education

Uncertainties about capacity and consistency

Local authorities free to provide whatever forms of improvement support they choose

Welcome in principle, but unsure whether local authorities will have the capacity to do this given the dismantling of school improvement services recently and the pressure on their budgets now

Schools to set their own improvement priorities. They will not have to use any specific approaches if they are rated as good or better

That is excellent news for good schools but it will be more of the same for struggling schools

Double the number of National Leaders of Education and Local Leaders of Education – 3,000 over the next four years

Welcome, but are there enough people in the system to take on these roles?

A £110m, ten-year new Education Endowment Fund to be established. Local authorities, academy sponsors and Heads of outstanding schools can apply to fund innovative projects for school improvement and raise deprived children’s attainment in under-performing schools

The fund will be pump started with money previously set aside for an extension of free school meals to all primary school children living below the poverty line. Oppose the substitution of philanthropy for state funding of schools

Regional ‘families of schools’ data to help schools identify similar schools which are performing differently and from which they can learn

Could be interesting if only used for developmental purposes, not accountability

A collaboration incentive to reward schools which support weaker schools to improve their performance whilst also improving their own

Is this a bribe to increase the number of schools who will work with weaker partners? This has been a key barrier to collaborative approaches to school improvement in the past. Will academies be included; will they be required to do this?


If schools are below the floor standards and are in either of the Ofsted categories of concern, the DfE will work directly with the school and local authority to produce a plan of action

Very centralised, interfering approach which goes far beyond anything we have ever had before. Will need amendment to Education and Inspections Act (2006)

The DfE will fund local authorities to identify experienced professionals, typically a head teacher, to act as lead advisor and provide support and challenge to the school. He or she will recommend what level of support is needed

Why is this duplicating something the local authority already does? Where are the “good” heads going to come from if they are all being joined up to the National or Local Leaders of Education programme?

In the ‘most serious cases’, i.e., not making progress, the DfE will convert those schools to academies. This will apply to all schools, including academies and free schools. If the school’s sixth form is considered to be failing in this way, it could result in its funding being withdrawn

Again, ratcheting up of centralised intervention and interference. A cynical way of increasing the number of academies. Think existing legislation may need to be amended to include academies and free schools

Chapter 8: School funding


NUT comment

Limit LA claw-back of school surpluses

Balances need to be justified with reference to the needs of the school, so there should be a role for local authorities in being able to monitor such balances

Revisions to capital spending

The BSF programme had major drawbacks, but its removal has caused serious problems for schools – capital spending allocations need to be made on the basis of need. We need to see detail of the review of the capital spending review – what is timetable and how does this fit in with legislative timetable?

Pupil premium

Details of how the pupil premium will be distributed are still awaited at the time of writing, but even Michael Gove has admitted that the pupil premium is not new money and will not protect schools from real terms cuts in funding

Parity of funding between colleges and 6th forms

The disadvantaged position of sixth form colleges is a longstanding NUT concern, but reports indicate that the Government aims to end the disparity by cutting schools’ post-16 provision by around £280 per pupil

Replace Young People's Learning Agency (YPLA) with Education Funding Agency (EFA)

Will require primary legislation. Replacing like with like or will the EFA have even more powers than YPLA? The YPLA already has significant responsibilities, including for academy funding

Move towards a National Funding Formula

This would not necessarily require primary legislation. A national formula would represent massive centralisation, further eroding local democracy and resulting in schools having to deal with a remote and overstretched national body. Local factors impacting on schools’ funding needs would be less likely to be taken into account

Review of centrally funded services and buy back by academies

Not clear how local authorities will provide this funding if significant numbers of local schools become Academies and take their funding out of the local authority

Replace the current Financial Management Standard in Schools with a simpler standard. Schools may be required to employ the services of a high quality business manager to ensure savings are made

The latter provision contradicts the emphasis elsewhere in the White Paper on reducing bureaucracy, and could have a significant cost implication for schools

For further information please do not hesitate to contact: Chris Brown or Emily Evans, NUT Parliamentary & Campaigns Officers, Direct Line: 020 7380 4712; Mobile (Emily) 07736124096 (Chris) 07734537670 E-mail: or

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