Education Secretary Nicky Morgan will insist that all pupils study the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects up until the age of 16. At present, only 39 per cent do - itself up from 22 per cent when the EBacc measure was first introduced in 2010 by her predecessor Michael Gove. This means that every pupil in Secondary School will have to study the five core academic subjects; English, maths, science, languages and geography or history up to GCSE level as a result of radical reforms.
This policy outlined by Nicky Morgan is set to be introduced alongside the new GCSE grading system being introduced for first teaching this September, which replaces the A to G system with a new nine-to-one numbered scale. The new grading system has been designed to reveal the differences between candidates at the top end. Currently, candidates are expected to achieve a C to attain a "good pass", although grades below this are still officially considered passes.
Teachers’ leaders will argue the plan on studying the EBacc subjects is too prescriptive - and that not every pupil is suited to such a demanding academic diet.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said last night that Ms Morgan had reversed the previous government policy of allowing schools to decide which pupils to put in for the EBacc “with just one speech” and “without the least consultation”.
She said the new policy would “cause dismay amongst parents”, adding: “Parents, like teachers want a broad and balanced curriculum for their children”.
However, Ms Morgan states her plans are a key element of the Government’s commitment to social justice. “We want every single person in the country to have access to the best opportunities Britain has to offer - starting with an excellent education,” she said.
In addition, she will announce the appointment of school behavioural expert Tom Bennett to draw up plans for training teachers how to tackle low-level disruption in the classroom - which, education standards watchdog Ofsted estimates, is losing pupils up to an hour of learning a day.
The inspectorate found that children were having a significant impact on the learning of others by swinging on chairs, playing on mobile phones, making silly comments to get attention and passing notes around in class.
Banning mobile phones from schools saves one week's worth of learning per pupil over an academic year, it has been claimed.
According to new research by Louis-Philippe Beland and Richard Murphy, published by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, the effect of banning mobile phones from school premises adds up to the equivalent of an extra week’s schooling over a pupil’s academic year, according to research schools which banned the devices saw their 16-year-olds' test performance improve by 6.4%.
Mobile phone usage in Schools has only become a problem within the last 15 years. In a survey conducted in 2001, no school banned mobiles. By 2007, this had risen to 50%, and by 2012 some 98% of schools had opted to restrict them. In the UK, more than 90% of teenagers own a mobile phone; in the US, just under three quarters have one. The prevalence of the devices poses problems for head teachers, whose attitude towards the technology has hardened as it has become ubiquitous.
However, some schools are starting to allow limited use of the devices. New York mayor Bill de Blasio has lifted a 10-year ban on phones on school premises, with the city’s chancellor of schools stating that it would reduce inequality.
The study was run in schools in Birmingham, London, Leicester and Manchester before and after bans.
Exam boards have been ordered to change new GCSE maths papers just a few months before students are due to study them, amid concerns they are too tough.
There is a "significant risk" that assessments drawn up by three awarding bodies will be too difficult for the full range of pupils' abilities, according to research by Ofqual. Ofqual analysed the results of 4,000 mock tests of sample papers for GCSEs due to be studied in schools next term and found three of the four main exam boards had made their papers too hard for the broad spread of candidates, while the fourth, AQA, has been ordered to make its papers more "challenging".
New maths GCSEs are scheduled to be introduced to schools and colleges from this September as part of the major education overhaul started by the previous government, to toughen up the qualifications. Former education secretary Michael Gove wanted the courses to include more challenging content, to better prepare students for studying A-levels.
As part of the research, thousands of students were asked to sit new sample maths papers. The study found average marks were very low compared with what would be expected in a real GCSE exam – even for students from the best-performing schools.
Overall, the level of difficulty in the sample papers was higher than in current GCSE papers. This is in line with the government’s demands for a more rigorous curriculum. The research found, however, that the higher-tier papers from WJEC Eduqas and Pearson were so difficult that the top grade was often no more than 50%.
"There is a significant risk that all but AQA's assessments will be too difficult for the full range of ability for the cohort for which the qualification is intended," Ofqual's report concludes. This is likely to prevent the reliable grading of students. "The additional challenge will be beneficial for the most able students but the assessments also need to support a positive experience for the rest of the cohort so as to ensure that all students become more confident and competent as mathematicians."
Pupils should be allowed to use Google when sitting GCSE and A-level exams to adapt to the way they learn, according to Mark Dawe, the OCR exam board chief executive.
Introducing tools like Google or calculators will help teachers assess the way students draw on information and apply it to their learning. Mark said everyone has Google available to them and students will only have a limited amount of time to conduct online searches anyway.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Dawe said: “Everyone has a computer available to solve a problem but it’s then about how they interpret the results. We have tools, like Google, why would you exclude those from students’ learning?"
“Surely when they learn in the classroom, everyone uses Google if there is a question. It is more about understanding what results you’re seeing rather than keeping all of that knowledge in your head because that’s not how the modern world works.”
He compared the idea of introducing Google to examinations to the old-age debate about whether to have books available during a test. He said: “In reality you didn’t have too much time [to consult the book] and you had to learn it anyway.”
Despite his enthusiasm about the introduction of technology during examinations, he said this reality was at least a decade away in the UK. He added: “It is important that parents and teachers understand and believe this is fair. The government would need to ensure they have the right regulation to ensure the quality of standards are maintained.”