The most common type of unregistered schools offer ‘alternative provision’ – 28%, while 25% are general educational schools and 21% are religious (although the media tends to focus primarily on the later!).
It is illegal to run a school which is not registered with OFSTED, and to to so is a criminal offence which may result in fines or a prison sentence, but this hasn’t put people off setting such schools up, or put some parents off sending their children to them.
The problem with unregistered schools, according to OFSTED is that they may fail to have adequate checks in place when recruiting staff, lack adequate safeguarding provisions and not put sufficient resources into teaching the ‘British Values’ agenda.
However it seems like illegal schools may continue going forwards as Local agencies lack the power to investigate, so it’s down to OFSTED, and apparently they don’t have the power to shut down illegal schools which are performing below standards anyway.
Even if the people running them face prosecution, which is rare, the penalties handed out don’t appear to be very tough – in one example in which two people were prosecuted – they only received suspended prison sentences and a tiny fine, and that’s after having been caught once before and ignored the instruction to desist running the school!
Relevance to A-level Sociology
This topic is clearly relevant to the education module, and could also be applied to Crime and Deviance.
The existence of such ‘illegal schools’ shows us that there isn’t consensus across the education system as there are hundreds of teachers and parents willing to avoid OFSTED.
You could apply labelling theory to this – these schools are only illegal because OFSTED exists and there is a legal requirement to register – just because OFSTED labels them ‘illegal’ doesn’t mean they are bad schools.
In fact you could say it’s fair enough that such schools have increased (probably, it’s difficult to count!) since Covid-19 – given the disruption to education in regular schools, and what I can only imagine is an extremely stressful environment which is very unpleasant to be in, maybe it’s BETTER that some parents and teachers are ignoring the rules and setting up their own ad-hoc schools.
Don’t go falling into the trap/ myth that formal-‘legal’ state sanctioned ways of doing things are the best or only options!
Why are schools off-rolling more students just before their GCSEs?
Mainstream secondary schools are increasingly engaging in the process of ‘off-rolling’ students between year 10 and sitting their GCSEs, according to a recent OFSTED report:
In 2017, a total of 19 000 students left a school between year 10 and sitting their GCSEs in 2011. This is 10% more than in the previous year.
A total of 2,900 schools offrolled at least one pupil between years 10 and 11,
560 schools had numbers which were significantly above what Ofsted would expect
300 schools had significantly higher offrolling numbers for two consecutive years.
What are the characteristics of off-rolling schools and off-rolled students?
Children with special educational needs, looked after children and some minority ethnic groups are more likely to leave their school.
A higher proportion of schools in London off-roll pupils compared to other parts of the country
Academies, particularly those in academy trusts off-roll more pupils than local authority schools.
What happens to off-rolled students?
Half of them go to other schools – either from LEA to LEA schools or from an Academy to an LEA school (but less likely in the other direction!), and I imagine some will go to Pupil Referral Units.
Half of off-rolled students in 2017 did not reappear in the census of another state school, and according to Jason Bradbury, Ofsted’s deputy director for data and insight, these pupils may now be attending an unregistered school or have dropped out of education entirely.
Of course some of these pupils will be being homeschooled, although TBH it’s probably more a case of their being ‘homeschooled’.
Links to A-level sociology
Bit busy today to thrash out the links, but there seems to be evidence of mainly academies doing this to game the results: getting rid of students most likely to fail, and so this appears to be an obvious unintended negative consequence of marketisation!
An introduction to the key features of the UK education system, including details of the Department for Education, OFSTED, key stages, exams, the National Curriculum, and some straightforward definitions of the different types of school in the UK.
I wrote this post to give students studying A-level sociology a more focused intro the topic than the Wikipedia entry on education in the UK, which IMO is a bit too formal, and not focused enough on the things people actually want to know about!
This post mainly deals with education in England, I’ll update with a focus on Wales and Scotland as and when I can…
Education in the United Kingdom is overseen by the Department for Education (DfE), which oversees the delivery of education to almost 12 million pupils aged 5-18 in 21 000 state primary schools, 4100 state secondary schools, as well as hundreds of further education colleges, with a total budget of £84 billion in 2015-16.
The DfE works with a further 17 agencies or public bodies, the most well-known of which is probably OFSTED, which has the responsibility for inspecting schools on a regular basis.
Local government authorities (LEAs) are responsible for state-funded schools and colleges at a local level, but in recent years most LEA schools have converted to Academy status which means they are free from local education control and receive their funding directly from central government and do not have to follow the National Curriculum.
There are five stages of education
Early Years Foundation Stage (ages 3–5)
Primary education (ages 5 to 11)
Secondary education (ages 11 to 16)
Further education (ages 16 to 18)
Tertiary education (for ages 18+).
School Leaving Age
Full-time education is compulsory for all children aged 5 to 18, either at school or otherwise. Children between the ages of 3 and 5 are entitled to 600 hours per year of optional, state-funded, pre-school education. This can be provided in “playgroups”, nurseries, community childcare centres or nursery classes in schools.
Students can leave school at 16 but must then do one of the following until they are 18:
stay in full-time education, for example at a college
start an apprenticeship or traineeship
spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training
The National Curriculum
The national curriculum is a set of subjects and standards used by primary and secondary schools so children learn the same things. It covers what subjects are taught and the standards children should reach in each subject.
Academies and private schools don’t have to follow the national curriculum. Academies must teach a broad and balanced curriculum including English, maths and science. They must also teach religious education.
Key Stages, and National Assessments/ Exams
The national curriculum is organized into blocks of years called ‘key stages’ (KS). At the end of each key stage, there are formal assessments of how children have progressed:
The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)
GCSEs are the main type of exam taken by pupils at the end of secondary education, aged 16, although they may be taken at any age. From 2017, GCSEs will be graded from 9 to 1 with 9 being the highest grade, replacing the old A* to G grading system)
BTECs can also be taken. The difference between BTECs and GCSEs is that the BTEC course is heavily coursework-based.
Most students will sit 8-10 GCSEs or BTEC equivalents.
There are a number of GCSEs available to students – English and Maths are both compulsory, but besides those students can choose from a range of science and humanities subjects, including sociology!
Achieving five or more A*–C grades, including English and Maths, is often a requirement for taking A-levels and BTEC Level 3 at a sixth form college or at a further education college after leaving secondary school.
Types of State-Funded School in England and Wales
The main types of state school include:
Local Education Authority Maintained schools
A local education authority maintained school is one in which the governing body (the head teacher, and governors) are responsible for the day to day running of the school, but the Local Education authority controls the following:
It owns the land and buildings, and is responsible for funding and the school.
It employs the staff and provides support services, for example, psychological services and special educational needs services.
It determines the admissions policies of the school
The pupils have to follow the national curriculum
(Voluntary aided) Faith Schools
Voluntary aided faith schools still follow the national curriculum, but they are free to teach what they want in terms of religious education. There are two important differences with regular LEA schools.
The land and buildings are usually owned by the religious organisation.
The religious organization, through the governing body, has more of a say in employing the staff and setting admissions criteria.
Academies receive their funding directly from the government, rather than through local authorities. In contrast to Local Education Authorities:
Funding goes directly to the governing body of the school from central government.
The governing body employs staff directly and can vary pay and conditions from staff member to staff member.
The governing body can select its own admissions criteria (in line with national guidelines)
The pupils do not have to follow the national curriculum
There are two types of academy: Converter academies – those deemed to be performing well that have converted to academy status; Sponsored academies – mostly underperforming schools changing to academy status and run by sponsors).
Free schools are essentially a type of academy, but ‘any willing provider’ can set up a free school, including groups of parents.
Grammar Schools are selective schools – they select pupils on the basis of academic ability, typically testing at the age of 10 or 11.
93% of schools in England are funded by state (ultimately paid for by the taxpayer), the remaining 7% are Independent, or private schools, funded privately by individuals, mainly by fees paid by the parents of the pupils who attend them.
Independent schools have more freedoms from government control than state schools.
Somewhat confusingly, some independent schools call themselves ‘grammar schools’ and ‘faith schools’.
This was a brief post designed to provide some introductory material on the education system of the United Kingdom, for students studying A-level sociology.
The most commonly used form of observation in education are lesson observations carried out as part of OFSTED inspections – technically these are a form of quantitative non-participant structured observation: OFSTED inspectors have half a dozen criteria to look out for and grade each criteria 1-4, with 1 being outstanding and 4 meaning unsatisfactory; observers will also add in some qualitative notes.
If a researcher is using previously gained records of lesson observations from OFSTED, this of course would count as a form of secondary data, but such a method is relatively easy (compared to participant-observation) for researchers to carry out as a part of their own primary research into schools.
One example of a structured observational schedule which has been used by education researchers is the Flanders System of Interaction Analysis (FIAC) which has been used to measure pupil and teacher interaction quantitatively. The researcher uses a standard chart to record interactions at three second intervals, placing each observation in one of ten pre-defined behaviour categories:
Teacher accepts pupils’ feelings
Teacher praises or encourages pupils
Teacher accepts or uses ideas of pupils
Teacher asks questions
Teacher gives directions
Terrace criticises pupils or justifies authority
Pupils talk in response to teacher
Pupils initiate talk
Silence or confusion.
Flanders used this form of quantitative behavioural analysis to discover than the typical American classroom is taken up by teacher talk 68% of the time, pupil talk 20% of the time with 12% spent in silence or confusion.
The advantages and disadvantages of OFSTED style non-participant observations applied to education
A practical problem is gaining access to observe lessons – although this is easier than with participant observation, it would still be relatively difficult to get schools and teachers to agree to this
Structured observations are relatively quick to carry out and don’t required much training on the part of the researcher.
Funding would be more likely than with more unstructured forms of observation.
Validity might be an issue – You can only observe with Non Participant Observation, you have little opportunity to get people to explain why they are doing what they are doing.
The Hawthorne Effect can be an issue – students and teachers act differently because they know they are being observed.
Reliability is good if the observation is structured because someone else can repeat the research looking for the same things.
Representativeness is easier than with unstructured observations because they are quicker to do thus larger samples can be achieved. HOWEVER, it is likely that you’ll end up with a self-selecting sample because better schools and teachers are more likely to give their consent to being observed than bad ones.
Dis-empowering for teachers and pupils – The observer is detached and acts as an expert.
Schools might give permission for observers to come in without getting the consent of the pupils.
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