Curriculum and Assessment

ASCL position statements

These position statements are agreed via our Curriculum and Assessment Committee and cover:
  • curriculum
  • pedagogy
  • assessment
  • national tests and qualifications

What is the context? 
Each year, thousands of candidates submit a review of marking (through their centre) for units/papers of their GCSEs, A levels and technical qualifications.

These reviews come with a fee, which is set by each exam board independently, but is typically around £40 per paper at GCSE, and £50 per paper at A level. Candidates/centres are not charged if the review of marking results in a change of grade, but are if their grade is not changed (even if their marks go up).

Different centres have different approaches to whether or not they pass this fee on to candidates and their families. Some plan for the cost through existing budgets, whereas others expect the family to pay. This creates inequality and systemic unfairness in the system. We know, for example, that independent school candidates are more likely to request reviews of grading, as a proportion of the system.

In 2023, 21.8% of GCSE grades challenged (245,920 in total) were changed, while 22% of A level grades challenges (57,350 in total) were changed. 

ASCL position
ASCL believes that the DfE should fund any reviews of marking for disadvantaged learners. The current system disincentivises disadvantaged students from asking their centre to request a review.

It should still be the centre’s decision, as it is now, whether or not to request a review.

Why are we saying this?
As above, roughly a fifth of reviews of marking at both GCSE and A level result in a change of grades. Although this figure may seem quite high, there is still a circa 78% chance that a review of marking will not result in a change of grade; and therefore the centre or candidate will be charged the exam boards’ fees for each paper they requested a review of.

This can strongly disincentive and discourage disadvantaged candidates from requesting a review of marking, as £40 - £50 per paper is a significant cost.

We therefore think that the DfE should pay for any unsuccessful fees of marking for disadvantaged candidates (successful reviews would continue not to be charged by the exam board).

‘Disadvantaged’ should be defined as pupil premium students at GCSE, and students on free school meals post-16.

As is currently the case, it should remain the right of the centre to decide whether to endorse a review of marking or not, in discussion with the candidate and their family. Candidates are already made aware that a review of marking can result in a grade going down as well as up, so only where the centre agrees that the marking is poor, or a student has missed their target grade but is on the boundary, should they be encouraged to request a review.

What is the context? 
The government is required by statute to publish a national curriculum, and can make changes the curriculum or national assessments. This has been the case since 1988.

In practice, when governments want to change a curriculum or national assessment such as SATs, GCSEs, A levels or technical qualifications, they typically bring together a group of experts including academics, practitioners and representatives from industry, universities, etc. Often this expert group is, to some extent, appointed in order to align with the current government or minister’s beliefs and aims, rather than to provide genuinely impartial advice. This is not always the case, but either way, the government selects the expert group and then can choose to accept its recommendations or not.

The last review of the national curriculum was carried out and published over a decade ago. However, a vast majority of pupils in England do not now have to follow the national curriculum because they attend academies. In reality, most do (because so much teaching is driven by exam and test specifications), and it is ASCL policy that all state-funded schools should follow a slimmed-down national curriculum.

Labour have promised a curriculum and assessment review. This position is intended to support that process, and any future curriculum and/or assessment reviews in the future by current or successive governments.

ASCL position
ASCL supports the development of an independent curriculum and assessment review body to advise government on possible changes to the national curriculum or national assessments.

The body should ensure independence and impartiality by having a series of checks and balances as to its membership and operating structure. 

Decisions on whether or not to implement the independent review body’s recommendations remain the government’s. The body would have no statutory powers to mandate curriculum changes.

Why are we saying this?
We believe that any curriculum and assessment review should be as independent and impartial as possible. We are suggesting a three-tiered approach to ensure this:

  • A statutory appointing committee, which appoints…
  • A standing committee, whose make-up is defined by the appointing committee, which in turn appoints...
  • Expert groups, who work on a task-and-finish basis, based on the brief given to them, and who make recommendations to government.
In practice, if government wants to review an area of curriculum or assessment (e.g. the computing curriculum, GCSE English language, or the whole national curriculum), it would ask the standing group to convene a group of experts to make recommendations. The expert group would publicly report back to the government, and the government could choose to accept and implement the recommendations or not. 

We think it’s right that government retains overall control of the curriculum, but that the process of review is more impartial and more transparent.

We also believe that there should be a two-way dialogue between the standing committee and the government. Our proposal is that government writes to the standing committee when it has a particular area of curriculum or assessment it wants to review, leading to the process outlined above. However, we propose that the standing committee meets annually to make recommendations to government about any areas of the curriculum or national assessments which may need review (it may recommend that no review is necessary). The government could then decide whether or not to ask the standing committee to convene an expert group.
Unlike previous curriculum and assessment bodies such as the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, the standing committee’s only role would be to convene expert groups when asked, and to make annual recommendations about areas for review. Any recommendations made by expert groups would not be statutory, but made transparently to government.

We think this three-tiered approach would introduce sufficient checks and balances to prevent hegemony or ideology over curriculum content, while retaining the sovereignty of government to define the curriculum under the 1988 Education Act.

What is the context? 
Between 2022 and 2024, students were given enhanced equation and formulae sheets in GCSE maths, physics and combined science exams, as a mitigation for lost learning during the pandemic. The DfE has confirmed that it does not intend to provide these beyond 2024.

It was previous ASCL policy that the equation and formulae sheets should be extended to the 2024 summer cohort ‘and beyond’. We were pleased that the DfE and ministers changed their policy in autumn 2023 to confirm that the 2024 summer cohort would have the sheets made available.

This position statement updates the earlier position.

ASCL position
ASCL believes that the formulae and equation sheets that have been provided in the last three years in GCSE maths, physics and combined science should continue in perpetuity. 

Why are we saying this?
GCSE students continue to be affected by the long-term learning implications of school closures between 2020 – 2022, and will continue to be so for some time.

More important, though, is the fact that unless students understand the underlying knowledge and concepts behind an equation or formula, providing them with the sum itself is unlikely to help them in the exam.

As such, requiring students to identify the right formula to use, apply it to the information given and work out an answer is a valid assessment of their knowledge and understanding; there is no need for an additional test of memory.

It is imperative that a timely decision is made on this, as new cohorts of year 11s and 10s will need to know what materials will or won’t be provided in the exams.

What is the context? 
In 2019, ASCL commissioned a report on the 'forgotten third', focused on the third of young people who don’t achieve a grade 4 in English and maths GCSE by the end of secondary school. The report made a series of recommendations for future policy and practice, including the development of a new assessment in literacy and numeracy to enable future progression.

The latest available data shows that this third continues to be a concern. In 2023, 41% of pupils did not achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths combined by the end of primary school. At GCSE, 26% of 16-year-olds did not achieve a grade 4+ in English, while 28% did not achieve a grade 4+ in maths.

Since 2017, Ofqual has applied a comparable outcomes approach to GCSE and A levels, initially introduced to ensure that students were not disadvantaged by the change in exam specifications at that time. Ofqual maintains that the proportion of students who achieve a grade 4+ can go up, depending on the performance of candidates in the exams, but many in the sector feels that this ‘bakes in’ the proportion of students who can achieve at certain grades.

The government describes a grade 4 at GCSE as a ‘standard pass’ and a grade 5 as a ‘strong pass’. This has understandably resulted in a perception that grades 1-3 are a ‘fail’. Students who don’t achieve a grade 4+ in English or maths have to resit post-16 as a condition of funding, with the expected number of hours required for their resit subjects going up from September 2024.

ASCL notes that, while the proportion of students meeting expected standards at primary and getting a grade 4+ in English and maths at GCSE is broadly similar between 2019 and 2023, the disadvantage gap at each stage has grown since the pandemic.

ASCL position
ASCL continues to support the principles of the Forgotten Third Commission and believes that any curriculum and assessment review should have this group of learners at its core.

National assessments should ensure that all young people are able to demonstrate their achievements.
The ongoing impact of Covid-19 has exacerbated the problems and inequalities identified in the 2019 Commission, making these an even more urgent priority for government.

Why are we saying this?
The Forgotten Third report remains relevant and timely in a post-pandemic landscape. However, some of the challenges identified have worsened since 2019, and in the context of a new government, new solutions and recommendations may need to be found to tackle these.

In particular, we continue to believe that GCSE English language is not fit for purpose. Nor we do we think that GCSE English and maths should be used as proxies for being literate and numerate.

Instead, ASCL has advocated for new assessments in literacy and numeracy, which can be taken when learners are ready, showing future employers or educators that they meet these requirements.  

This third of students continue to be ‘forgotten’ in the policy-making process. It is ASCL’s view that all students deserve the dignity of achievement after eleven years of compulsory schooling, and that national assessments should reflect this ambition.

What is the context? 
Since 2014, any students who did not achieve a grade C+/4+ in GCSE English and/or maths have been required to resit the qualification as a ‘condition of funding’ of their post-16 programme of study. A November resit opportunity is available for these students, as is the main summer series.

Up until now, the DfE has not specified the amount of time that sixth forms or colleges need to teach these resit subjects.

However, from September 2024, sixth forms and colleges will be ‘expected’ to give resit students a minimum of three hours a week for English and four hours a week for maths. This expectation will become mandatory in September 2025. These hours must be ‘stand-alone, whole-class, in-person teaching, with any additional support, such as small group tuition or online support, supplementary to these minimum classroom hours’.
Furthermore, current funding thresholds (the percentage of students who should be resitting GCSE English or maths, but aren’t) are being reduced from 5% (reducing the funding level of students above this tolerance by half per student) to 2.5% in September 2025, before being removed entirely in September 2026. This means that every student on roll who has not achieved a GCSE 4+ in English and/or maths must study three hours of English or four hours of maths per week, or they will not be funded at all, with no exceptions.

This is within the context of the current government’s proposed plans for a new Advanced British Standard, which would require a minimum number of hours of English and maths for all students until 18.

ASCL position
ASCL disagrees with the new mandated rules on GCSE maths and English resits in the 16-19 phase. 

We particularly disagree with the new minimum requirement for three hours per week for English and four hours per week for maths. Schools and colleges should be allowed to decide for themselves how many hours per week to allocate for these two subjects, just as they do for all other qualifications.

We also disagree with the change to the condition of funding rules, which will mean that the present tolerance levels for non-compliance (the ‘safety net’) will be removed. 

Why are we saying this?
ASCL is always clear that school and college leaders are best placed to determine the length of the school week, how much time should be given to certain subjects and topics, and what the school or college curriculum looks like. This policy represents another dangerous step towards centralisation by stealth, without formal consultation or primary legislation.

Many school sixth forms, sixth form colleges and FE colleges meet the current funding condition by providing high-quality tutoring, online learning and additional support outside of the classroom. None of these interventions would count towards the new minimum expectations.

The specified number of hours is not possible for all institutions to provide, under current budget and staffing restraints. In 2024, the DfE only recruited 74% of new maths teachers against its own target, so the recruitment and retention crisis is only like to get worse between now and September 2025, unless there is rapid intervention.

As post-16 providers are able to set their own admissions criteria, those who can’t meet the new minimum number of hours may be incentivised not to admit students who don’t have a grade 4+ in English or maths, as their entire programme of study would be unfunded. This may in turn leave this group of students ‘homeless’ in some areas of the country.

As this group – which ASCL refers to as the 'forgotten third’ – is already disadvantaged, this would further disenfranchise them and raise the risk of them not being in education, employment or training.

ASCL has continually raised concerns about the impact of the condition of funding, especially given the number of students who don’t achieve more highly in their resit exams. The minimum specified number of hours, coupled with the removal of the threshold, is unacceptable and will have long term implications for the cohorts affected by this disastrous and ill-thought-through policy.

What is the context? 
Oak was originally set up in the early days of the pandemic by schools and trusts which volunteered their resources to support the enforced move to online learning for the majority of pupils.

In September 2022, Oak National Academy formally relaunched as an arm’s-length body, owned by the DfE, with £43 million funding over three years. 

The business case, published by the DfE in October 2022, acknowledges the need for the body to be independent from government in order to get buy-in from the sector, but made it clear that it is strategically aligned to government curriculum aims.

Oak’s own research found that using Oak resources saved teachers’ time. This is significant during a recruitment and retention crisis.

However, ASCL has previously raised concerns about the extent to which Oak is independent from government, about increasing non-statutory curriculum guidance that goes beyond the national curriculum, and about the procurement of Oak materials.

ASCL position: ASCL is concerned that the establishment of Oak National Academy as an arm’s-length body supported by government funding constitutes a drift towards a government-approved curriculum. This runs the risk of undermining curriculum diversity and innovation, and represents an inappropriate use of public money, when other approaches to reducing teacher upload may have more impact.  ASCL believes that Oak National Academy should not be constituted and funded in this manner, and that it should be given no preference over any other provider of curriculum resources.

Why are we are saying this?
 ASCL recognises the case for Oak, and supports efforts to reduce teachers’ and leaders’ workload.

However, on balance, we think that Oak represents a drift towards a government-approved curriculum, and do not believe it can be truly independent. While the current leadership of Oak and DfE understand these risks, we worry that the creation of an arms-length body has the potential to centralise curriculum in the future.

We are also concerned that government-funded curriculum resources will undermine other providers, which is a detriment to the sector.

(amended February 2024)

What’s the context?
In its update to the secondary performance accountability measures in October 2023, the DfE confirmed two changes to future accountability measures:

  • Entries into triple science (the percentage of pupils entered for all three single sciences) and entries into languages (the percentage of pupils entered for an EBacc language) will change from being additional measures to become headline measures for 2023/24, and will be reported on the main school page in performance tables from autumn 2024.
  • The DfE wants to move to a headline EBacc attainment measure that incentivises full EBacc entry. They will explore making changes to the headline EBacc attainment measure (EBacc Average Point Score). They plan to engage with the sector on this during the autumn, with a view to confirming the approach in early 2024. The change would be introduced for 2024/25 measures, to be published in autumn 2025.
As indicated by the publishing years above, these measures will be applied retrospectively to the current year 11 and year 10 cohorts, who have already started their GCSEs.

Currently, Ebacc entry is a headline measure. Ebacc APS is currently measured by the average grade in each ‘bucket’ of the Ebacc (English – if both are taken, maths, two sciences, history of geography and a MFL), divided by six.

It is not yet clear (as at October 2023) what the changes to Ebacc APS would look like.

At ASCL’s data conference in autumn 2023, the DfE confirmed that no formal consultation will take place on these changes.
ASCL position
ASCL believes that school performance measures should not be applied retrospectively to cohorts who have already started their GCSEs. This holds schools accountable against a headline metric of which they weren’t aware when curriculum decisions were made.

We also believe this contravenes the DfE’s own workload protocols to give schools a full academic year’s notice of significant changes to accountability.
Why are we saying this?
It is wrong to hold schools accountable against a measure which they didn’t know was coming for cohorts who have already started their GCSEs, and made their options.

Under these proposals, entry into triple science and languages will become a headline measure for the current year 11s; and the more significant change to Ebacc APS will apply to the current year 10s. As students have already started their courses, there is little schools can now do.

The DfE confirmed that they are not planning a public consultation on either of these changes. Given the significance of this for schools, we think that is inappropriate; and that a short consultation, with a quick response from government is in the public interest.

The rationale given for these changes is to incentivise full Ebacc take-up. As these measures are being applied retrospectively, this will not be an immediate output. If these measures were to be implemented (after proper consultation) it would only make sense to implement them for the 2025/26 measures, at the earliest.

ASCL believes that this breaks the spirit of the DfE’s own workload protocols, which promise a full academic year before any major changes are made. Although the announcement on Ebacc APS itself is expected in spring 2024, for publication in autumn 2025, there is nothing that schools can do change the curriculum plans students are on. Doing so would drastically increase workload and be severely damaging to young people.

We urge the DfE to consult the sector and public on these proposals, fully publish the outcome of the consultation, and to delay any changes to existing measures until 2025/26.

What’s the context?
Ofqual and the DfE have confirmed that exams and grading in summer 2024 will return to a normal, pre-pandemic approach.

Summer 2022 saw a ‘glide back’ year, with grades nationally roughly halfway between 2019 and 2021.

Summer 2023 included ‘grade protection’ for students. This ensured that, even if the performance of the cohort was weaker, then grades would not be lower than in 2019. In most key benchmarks for GCSEs and A levels, national grades were actually slightly higher than in 2019.

There is no grade protection proposed for the summer 2024 series. Ofqual has said that it ‘expects’ grades in 2024 to be similar to 2023, but there may be some change depending on the strength of the cohort. This means that, nationally, grades may be lower than in 2019, if the performance of the cohort is weaker.

Moreover, the government has not confirmed whether formula and equation sheets in GCSE maths, combined science and physics (which were provided for students in 2022 and 2023) will be provided in 2024 and beyond.

The current Year 11 and Year 13 cohorts have had much of their secondary education disrupted by Covid-19. Furthermore, Covid cases in autumn 2023 are rising, which will further impact on these cohorts’ learning.
ASCL position
ASCL believes that grade protection, as was in place in 2023, should continue into the summer 2024 exam series. This would ensure that, nationally, grades awarded in 2024 would not be lower than in 2019, even if the performance of the cohort is weaker.

ASCL also believes that the equation and formulae sheets in GCSE maths, combined science and physics should continue in 2024 and beyond.
Why are we saying this?
This year’s exam cohorts have been as much affected by the pandemic as last year’s. We agree with DfE and Ofqual’s decision to return to a 2019 grade profile, as this provides greater clarity and support for schools, colleges, universities and employers. However, not having grade protection in place may disadvantage students taking exams next summer.

Even if grades are similar to previous years, ASCL members report a significant rise in exam anxiety. The lack of grade protection is arguably contributing to this anxiety.

We believe that the equation sheets and formulae sheets should never have been removed when GCSEs were last reformed. This requires GCSE students to memorise up to twenty equations by memory. We maintain that if students don’t understand how to use the equation, providing it the exam will be of little help; therefore when they are provided, the assessment is still valid.

We think that the government should consult on changing the content of these GCSEs to make the formula sheets provided in 2022 and 2023 a permanent feature of these exams.

It is imperative that the government confirms whether or not formula sheets can be used in 2024 exams as soon as possible. Many schools and colleges will be running mock exams in the autumn or spring terms, and need to know whether or not to provide formula sheets.

What’s the context?
At the Conservative Party Conference in October 2023, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan announced that the government was ‘banning’ mobile phones from schools.

She later clarified that the government was not actually intending to try to pass new primary legislation to require schools to ban phones, but was instead planning to publish updated non-statutory guidance.

Maintained schools, academies, voluntary-aided and voluntary-controlled school must have due regard to non-statutory guidance, but ultimately it is up to the school or college whether, and how, to implement this guidance.

The ‘Behaviour in Schools Guidance’, published in 2022, states that: ‘headteachers should decide if mobile phones can be used during the school day’ (paragraph 122).
ASCL position
We are concerned that the Education Secretary’s statement on the banning of mobile phones will have created public confusion about the status of proposed new guidance. This is expected to be non-statutory and merely update existing guidance. Current guidance makes it clear that school leaders are best placed to make operational decisions over policies on mobile phones. We reassert the importance of this as a guiding principle and call on the government to clarify this position as soon as possible.
Why are we saying this?
This is yet another example of many ‘non-statutory expectations’ placed on school and college leaders by government. This is confusing to the public and creates additional workload for school leaders and governors.

ASCL supports a strong focus on good behaviour for learning in schools and colleges, and welcomes any support the DfE can give to this. However, the vast majority of schools and colleges already have policies on use of mobile phones in and out of lessons.

The government’s announcement and subsequent media campaign around this was disingenuous. It implied that the government has banned mobile phones from schools, when they haven’t. This will lead to public confusion, and could leave schools in conflict with parents.

ASCL is concerned that the Education Secretary chose to highlight this update to non-statutory guidance in her conference speech, while failing to mention much more significant issues such as the recruitment and retention of teaching and support staff, the school estate, funding, or SEND provision.

What’s the context?
In the Schools White Paper Opportunity for All, the government set out its plans to expect all schools to offer the (current) average school week of 32.5 hours. This time includes the formal timetable, as well as pastoral, break and lunch times, and any compulsory extracurricular activities.

In July 2023, the DfE published new guidance which gave a revised deadline for the non-statutory expectation as September 2024.

Currently, 52% of primary schools, and 62% of secondary schools already run a week of 32.5 hours or more. A further 41% of primary schools, and 35% of secondary schools run a week between 31.25 – 32.5 hours. This means that 8% of primary schools and 5% of secondary schools run a week that is less than 31.25 hours.

There is no evidence that schools in England with less than a 32.5 hour week produce lower outcomes or have a poorer Ofsted ratings.

The DfE has said that Ofsted will report on schools which do not meet this non-statutory expectation. This is reflected in paragraph 223 of the Ofsted handbook, which states that:

‘Where it is clear that increasing the overall time pupils spend in school (to at least 32.5 hours per week) would improve the quality of education, inspectors will reflect this in their evaluation of the school, and in the inspection report. If a school is not meeting the minimum expectation, and this impacts on the quality of education, inspectors will expect schools to set out a clear rationale for this and understand what impact it has on the quality of education. They will also want to understand what plans are in place to meet the minimum expectation.’

ASCL position
ASCL believes that it is not the role of the government to tell schools, regardless of their context and their own professional judgement, that the length of the school week should be at least 32.5 hours. There is no evidence this will raise the quality of education in schools which currently don’t meet this criterion. Moreover, it is inappropriate for Ofsted to report on whether or not schools meet this expectation, which is non-statutory.
Why are we saying this?
We do not believe that is the government’s job to dictate the length of the school day or school week. School leaders, governors and trustees use their professional judgement to set an appropriate timetable based on the context of the school and the needs of their pupils.

Because this policy is focused on the length of the school week – not time spent in classrooms – there is no evidence that this will improve the quality of education. In fact, many ASCL members have reported that they reduced the length of the school week to reduce the length of breaks, in order to improve behaviour and attitude to learning.

The ‘easy’ and cost-effective way of complying with this new minimum expectation would, for most schools not already meeting it, be to add time to break or lunch. This could inadvertently reduce the quality of education in schools.

Schools are encouraged to adopt an integrated approach to curriculum and financial planning. For many schools, under current funding pressures, they would be unable to increase the amount of curriculum time in their school or trust.

It is highly inappropriate for Ofsted to inspect against non-statutory guidance, and against something that is not explicit in the EIF. We do not understand how, on a two-day inspection, there would be ‘clear’ evidence that by increasing the length of the school week (not time learning in classrooms) there would be a positive impact on the quality of education. We urge Ofsted to publicly share the research methodology that inspectors will be using to assess this during inspection, in the interest of being a transparent and evidence-driven organisation.

What’s the context?
In 2019 the government started its review of level 3 and below qualifications, with the intention of reducing the number of qualifications and making the T level qualification the technical qualification of choice.

The government believes that the defunding of BTECs and other Applied General Qualifications (AGQs) is necessary in order to ensure the take-up of T levels by students. In May 2022 the government produced its first list of 160 qualifications to be defunded, which includes many AGQs.

It is the government’s intention to defund all AGQs by 2026, with the final teaching of some AGQs in September 2024.

The DfE is introducing new Alternative Academic Qualifications (AAQs) and Alternative Technical Qualifications (ATQs) from September 2025.

ASCL position
We believe that Applied General Qualifications (AGQs) play an important role in post-16 education, and can work effectively alongside A levels and T levels.

The decision which has already been made to defund significant numbers of AGQs and introduce new AAQs and ATQs will not improve outcomes nor progression for young people. Any further decisions about defunding AGQs should be delayed until there is sufficient evidence about replacement qualifications.
Why are we saying this?
The introduction of T levels is a welcome addition to the 16-19 landscape, but it should represent a third route for 16-19 year-olds. It should sit alongside the academic route (A levels / International Baccalaureate) and the vocational/technical route (BTECs and other AGQs).

Continuing to defund further AGQs will reduce progression opportunities and impact the most on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are more likely to study AGQs.

ASCL is also unclear as to how the government’s new AAQs and ATQs will work with their plans for a new Advanced British Standard qualification.

What is the context?
The National Tutoring Programme (NTP) was introduced after the pandemic to help pupils in Key Stages 1 to 4 to catch up on lost learning.

The NTP was continued in 2022/23, with a focus on disadvantaged and low-attaining pupils. This was subsidised at a rate of 60%, meaning that schools had to top up the funding by 40% from their own budgets in order to ‘unlock’ their NTP allocation.

Three routes are currently funded through NTP: tuition partners; academic mentors and school-led tutoring.

The DfE has confirmed that, in 2023/24, the subsidy will be reduced to 50%, meaning that schools will need to find 50% from their existing budgets to access their full allocation.

There is currently no guarantee from the government that NTP funding, or the NTP itself, will continue beyond 2023/24.

ASCL position: ASCL believes that schools should be able to use their full allocation of National Tutoring Programme (NTP) funding in 2023-24, without the need to top it up from existing budgets. 

We would welcome the continuation of ring-fenced NTP funding in the future, providing schools can use their full allocation without having to top it up.

Why are we saying this? 
High quality tuition is an evidenced-based intervention, which the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) toolkit shows to be highly effective and cost effective. We should therefore ensure that as many pupils as possible are able to access high-quality tutoring, using the money available.

However, school budgets are already stretched and, in line with DfE policy, schools have allocated already their spend. This means that having to provide 50% of the NTP spend is a significant barrier for many schools and trusts.

ASCL has written to the Minister for School Standards twice, expressing this view and explaining that this policy will undermine joint efforts to make tutoring available to more pupils, and embed it as a long-term intervention strategy.

ASCL does not understand why schools cannot receive and use their full allocation – still ringfenced for tutoring through one of the NTP routes – without the need to top it up. We believe that adopting this position would allow more students to access tutoring, and remove the barriers that schools report to us.


What is the context? 
In January 2023 the Prime Minister announced an ‘ambition’ for all pupils in England to study maths up to the age of 18 – ‘to tackle innumeracy and better equip them for the modern workplace’. England remains one of the few countries not to require all students to take some form of maths up to the age of 18. However, England also has one of the narrowest curricula at post-16.

ASCL position: ASCL believes that the government must set out the evidence for extending maths for all students to the age of 18 before introducing any policy in this area. Any new policies must avoid exacerbating the already chronic national shortage of maths teachers.

Why are we are saying this?
Currently, the post-16 qualifications system encourages students to specialise in a small number of subjects, and government reforms in recent years have actually served to narrow the curriculum. Many may be in favour of a 16-18 system which allows for greater subject breadth, tailored around the needs of the student, and including students doing some form of numeracy or maths. This is a very different proposition, however, from simply bolting on more maths to the existing post-16 offer.

One in eight maths classes is currently staffed by a non-maths specialist, and the government has missed its teacher training target for maths teachers for the last eleven years. For 2022-23 the government has only hit 90% of its target, resulting in a shortfall of nearly 200 maths teachers on top of previous years’ deficits. 44% of colleges report maths staff vacancies.

Any far-reaching policy such as this should, as a matter of course, be discussed in advance with the teaching profession. There was no consultation whatsoever before this announcement. 


What is the context? 
The National Tutoring Programme (NTP) was launched in November 2020 to help primary and secondary pupils catch-up on learning they may have missed during the pandemic. The NTP now consists of three pathways:

  • tuition partners (approved, third-party tuition providers)
  • academic mentors (in-school, salaried full-time tutors)
  • school-led tutoring (tutoring done by trained staff within school)
In 2021/2022, schools were given funding they could use towards the NTP, but there was no requirement to use this.

On the May bank holiday 2022, the Secretary of State wrote to headteachers advising that information about which schools used their NTP funding in 2021/2022 would be published to parents and the public in autumn 2022. He also advised that this information would be shared with Ofsted to inform inspections.

For the 2022/2023 year, all of schools’ allocations for the NTP will be given directly to the school. The funding allocations for 2022/2023 are:
  • £162 per mainstream pupil-premium pupil
  • £423 per non-mainstream pupil-premium pupil

These allocations can be used to pay for up to 60% of the cost of tutoring. Schools are required to fund the additional 40% from existing school budgets, including the pupil premium.

ASCL position: ASCL does not support the government’s decision to publish retrospective data on which schools have used the NTP in 2021/22. We do not believe that this data should be shared with Ofsted for the purposes of accountability. If the government intends to hold schools directly accountable for their use of the NTP then this should be clearly communicated in advance, and the programme must be fully funded. 

Why are we saying this?
Firstly, we think the decision to publish retrospective data on schools’ use of the NTP funding breaks the government’s own workload protocols, which say they will not introduce any significant new accountability measures without a year’s notice. ASCL wrote to the Secretary of State on this matter, and while he apologised for sending the letter to headteachers on a bank holiday, he did not agree that the publication of this information breaks protocol. We contend that it does. 

Furthermore, this may have encouraged a knee-jerk response in which schools felt the need to quickly use NTP funding in the summer term 2022, rather than carefully planned and sequenced interventions that meet the needs of their pupils.

Secondly, the decision to share this information with Ofsted is unhelpful and unclear. Ofsted already consider the deployment of tutors “where the school is directly deploying [them]” under the quality of education judgement . This policy runs the risk of appearing to use the independent inspectorate as an enforcer of non-statutory guidance, and creating a compliance culture. If this information is to be shared with Ofsted, both the Department and Ofsted must be transparent about how it will be used within inspection, beyond what is already done.

Thirdly, we recognise that tutoring and feedback is highly rated and evidenced by the Education Endowment Foundation, and that where schools have used NTP routes as part of a wider, planned strategy of catch-up, it has made a positive difference. However, as the ratio of DfE to school funding is less in 2022/2023 than previously, schools will have to subsidise 40% of tutoring from existing school budgets. School budgets, including the pupil premium, will already have been set for 2022/2023, although many schools will now feel pressured to allocate more funding to tutoring. If the government wants all schools to engage in the NTP, it should fully fund all three routes. 


What is the context? 
ASCL has already expressed concern about, and has a policy position, on the use of model curricula, subject research reviews and other non-statutory guidance. In this position statement, ASCL Council expressed its concern that these documents were being used to shape school curricula, though a tacit expectation from DfE and Ofsted that schools would use them, and the fact that they are referenced in some Ofsted inspection activity. 

The Schools White Paper Opportunity for All touches on many areas of the curriculum (including tuition, length of the school week, interventions and parent reporting) which may result in a raft of new non-statutory guidance and expectations.

The Oak National Academy, which was set up by volunteer school leaders during the pandemic, and subsequently received public funds, is in the process of being transformed by the DfE into a new arms-length curriculum body. This body will have the explicit role of creating optional resources to support a knowledge-rich curriculum, and providing curriculum design support.

The Schools Bill currently making its way through Parliament would give the current and future Secretary of State the legal power to set standards over twenty areas of education in academies, including the quality of education and length of the school week. In its first reading in the House of Lords, three former Education Secretaries, from both the Conservative and Labour benches, expressed concern that this represents an unprecedented degree of power for the government to direct what happens in schools. All three of these Lords, along with many other peers, have tabled amendments to the Bill to limit these powers.

ASCL position: ASCL strongly objects to what we see as the increasing centralisation of the curriculum beyond the National Curriculum, through the growing frequency of non-statutory guidance and expectations being introduced by the government and Ofsted.

ASCL believes that school leaders are best placed to make decisions that relate to curriculum, including pedagogy, and how to effectively support all learners.

Why are we saying this?
We believe that it is the government’s role, in consultation with experts, to define a common curriculum entitlement for all young people. We think this is an important vehicle for social justice and levelling up. In ASCL’s Blueprint for a Fairer Education System we advocate for a core, slimmed-down National Curriculum which all state-funded schools should be required to follow. We suggest that the content of this should be defined by a non-political independent body which would meet infrequently, outside of political cycles, to review content.

What concerns us is a perception that new curriculum demands and expectations are being introduced ‘by the back door’, through non-statutory guidance, subject reviews and model curricula. Even when non-statutory, and however well-intentioned, guidance and shared practice from the DfE and Ofsted carries a certain weight and is likely to be perceived in a certain way.

In meetings with the DfE, we have repeatedly suggested that the sharing of good practice or case studies is best done through the Education Endowment Foundation, which has existing processes to measure the effectiveness of school practices, policies and approaches.

Much of the practice advocated in the research reviews, model curricula and other guidance is very helpful for schools to consider. However, some of it is open to debate, and offers a limited perspective on current discourse. 

Ultimately, while we think government should always have a role in working with experts to define a core curriculum for all young people, the way in which curriculum is being centralised through non-statutory guidance is wrong, and the powers of the Education Secretary to set curriculum standards in the Schools Bill over-reach themselves.


What is the context?
Over the past year, the Department for Education and Ofsted have both published various new pieces of curriculum guidance, including model curricula and subject research reviews.

While curriculum guidance is welcome, the status of these documents is sometimes unclear: whether they are non-statutory; whether schools should have due regard for them; whether they are best practice; or whether they represent updated statutory curriculum expectations.

These documents include the Ofsted subject reviews; the Model music curriculum, The reading framework and Teaching a broad and balanced curriculum for education recovery.

ASCL has received reports from members that some of the expectations and suggestions set out in these documents have been used in Ofsted inspections to evaluate schools’ curriculum provision.

ASCL position

ASCL believes that the Department for Education and Ofsted should be clearer about the non-statutory nature of these documents and be mindful of not introducing new curriculum expectations by the back door.

Ofsted must continue to ensure that all inspectors are evaluating schools solely against the Education Inspection Framework, and not using additional curriculum guidance or subject reviews.

Schools’ autonomy to design and implement their curricula based on the needs of their pupils must be maintained.

Why are we saying this?
While much of this guidance is helpful, there are many instances when the guidance presents one approach to curriculum or pedagogy as optimal. We believe that school leaders are best placed to make these decisions, within their own context.

The reported use of some of these materials in inspection is inappropriate and creates confusion in the system about the status of these documents.

ASCL would welcome a review of the current National Curriculum and has advocated for an independent review body to carry this out. Any changes to the National Curriculum, or wider curriculum expectations for schools, must be widely consulted on and based on the latest evidence, while also allowing enough space in the curriculum for school and trust autonomy. 

What is the context?
In July 2021, the Department for Education published The Reading Framework: Teaching the Foundations of Literacy. Its foreword “encourage[s] all primary schools to use this guidance to ensure their children have the strongest possible foundations in reading”.

This guidance is described as a ‘policy paper’, and there is no indication that it is statutory. It was published late in the summer term, while schools were dealing with large numbers of pupil and staff absences and other challenges related to the pandemic. Leaders and teachers would therefore have had little time to read, consider and potentially embed the recommendations in the framework before the start of the new school year.

ASCL position: Reading fluency is a key indicator of future success. ASCL welcomes the government’s current focus on reading, which places emphasis on ensuring all children having access to high quality teaching of reading.

However, the timing of the publication of the Reading Framework, alongside the selective way in which this guidance promotes certain strategies for teaching ongoing reading, mean that many schools will struggle to adopt its recommendations. 

ASCL would also like greater clarity on what constitutes statutory or non-statutory guidance. This includes ensuring that schools and colleges are properly consulted on statutory changes within a reasonable timescale. It is also important for Ofsted to be transparent if non-statutory guidance is being used as part of inspection.

Why are we saying this?
There is much in this guidance that is helpful. However, we are concerned about the timing of its publication, the lack of clarity around its status, and the way in which it is being used. 

We are aware of Ofsted inspectors asking schools, during inspections this term, whether they are aware of this guidance and are implementing its recommendations. This is not appropriate given how recently it was published and, crucially, the fact that it is non-statutory, and does not form part of either the National Curriculum or the Education Inspection Framework. It is imperative that it is clear what criteria schools and colleges are held to account against. 

What is the context? In October 2018, ASCL launched an independent Commission of Inquiry to look into how to improve the prospects of the ‘forgotten third’ of young people who do not achieve at least a grade 4 pass in GCSE English and maths at the end of twelve years of schooling. 

In September 2019, the Commission published its final report. The report included fourteen recommendations to help address this issue, covering early years, curriculum and pedagogy, teacher education, and the qualifications system. 

These recommendations included calls for a long-term review both of the English curriculum from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage and of the GCSE exam system as a whole. The Commission also recommended a new approach to end-of-primary assessment and accountability, and the replacement of GCSE English Language with a Passport in English, to be taken by all pupils at the point of readiness between the ages of 15 and 19.

ASCL position: ASCL thanks the Forgotten Third Commission of Inquiry for the expertise and commitment they brought to the question of how we can improve the prospects of the ‘Forgotten Third’.

ASCL fully supports the recommendations in the Commission’s final report, and adopts these as policy.

Why are we saying it? We must do more to improve the life chances of those children and young people, disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, for whom the current education system simply isn’t working. We must also find better ways to recognise the achievements of all young people. We believe that acting on the recommendations in this report would make a significant and positive impact on these young people’s lives and futures.