How can schools prevent purdah purgatory paralysing student achievement?

Published: 24 Apr 2017

Some would be forgiven for thinking we’ve been in purdah for some time as we await details about the Fairer Funding Formula for schools, how the Opportunity Areas might work, a decision on whether to overturn the ban on new Grammar Schools and a myriad of other key education issues, but the reality is that we are only now entering the pre-election period preventing political announcements. 

Whilst it is anticipated that all the political parties will use education as part of their key manifesto pledges nothing will actually happen until after the election, leaving schools in purdah purgatory.  But education doesn’t stop during this time, students are still preparing for, and will be sitting, their GCSEs and A-levels and aspiring to futures that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, promised, “We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.”

Will no action be taken to resolve the well documented issues around school budget pressures?

  • The National Audit Office announced that schools face 8% budget cuts and about 60% of secondary schools already have deficits.
  • A recent survey of secondary school headteachers revealed that 65 per cent said their school had cut back on teaching staff to save money.
  • A poll of ATL and NUT members found that 61% of respondents reported cuts in non-EBacc subjects, in particular, affecting music, modern languages, drama, PE, and art, as well as to vocational subjects including engineering, construction, childcare and business studies.

As a result many schools are asking parents to make voluntary contributions to help fill the shortfall.  A bigger issue at stake here is that budget restraints are likely to impact on the extra-curricular activities that enable students ‘to go as far as [their] talents will take [them]’.  It is acknowledged that these activities can have a big impact on developing key academic, personal and employability skills – including confidence, resilience, leadership and project management, enthusiasm for learning – that empower students to fulfil their potential.

But as we enter this political void filled with promises but not resolutions what can schools do to ensure it is not their students that suffer?  A solution could be to employ, or should that be deploy, their greatest asset.  Their students.

Students can be empowered to design, implement and manage projects that not only help them develop the skills to succeed, but also those of their peers, therefore raising whole school aspirations and possibly even attainment.  Projects can include organising a programme of visiting speakers, running workshops for younger students (for example, fun experiments during Science Week or arranging revision sessions); establishing clubs and societies, and peer mentoring younger or less experienced students.

Such extra-curricular activities do not just benefit the participating students, the schools and colleges also benefit through more engaged and proactive learners, who truly set themselves apart as independent learners, defying the lazy, ‘spoon-fed’ label increasingly levelled at this generation. Projects can be included as part of the strategic improvement or development planning process and during Ofsted visits they can be used as an example of stretching and challenging their pupils and preparing them for higher education.

In an era where teacher workload has hit crisis point, alarm bells might start sounding at the thought of another time-consuming initiative, but the truth is quite the contrary. The students do the work, with just a small amount of adult oversight.  And this is what we do at Villiers Park Educational Trust through our recently launched INVOLVE Award Scheme.  Through an online portal we empower and guide students through the process of setting up and carrying out projects to enrich their learning communities.  We see students improving key skills and they receive an Award based on the number of hours input and level of leadership they demonstrate.  INVOLVE is recognised on the UCAS form under Preparation for HE and can be used in personal statements to exhibit a passion for learning and commitment to improving outcomes for the individual and their peers.

Pilot projects have been completed by students in schools across the UK. Examples include students on our 2020 STEM Scholars Programme, who have created an online resource to support GCSE Maths revision.  Scholars in Hastings have helped younger peers work on ‘pride dissertations’. Swindon Scholars have organised a live Science demonstration for younger peers. Tyneside Scholars have organised a careers event.  East Lancashire Scholars have organised one-to-one mentoring to help their younger peers transition to Sixth Form.  Hundreds of students are benefiting from initiatives such as these.

As a result of a sixth form led primary school science workshop, Leonardo, a student at the Mark Rutherford School in Bedford, enthusiastically said, ”I have been able to take the lead role in my subject of choice and put my knowledge to use educating younger students. The participants were overwhelmed and my headteacher wishes for a repeat event in the future”. This was backed up by Second in Science Tracy Jakins, stating, “This is a first for us – we’ve never held an event like this before where lower schools have come to us and the sixth form have been so active in taking the lead.  It was brilliant.”

So whilst there is political purdah, let us keep moving forward with innovative strategies to ensure students succeed.


Notes to Editors:

  1. Villiers Park Educational Trust is a registered charity with over 50 years of experience – empowering bright young people with the academic and personal skills to fulfil their potential and become tomorrow’s leaders.  The charity is committed to fair access – enabling students from low-income backgrounds to gain places at leading universities, or other centres of excellence, and to thrive once there. Villiers Park INVOLVE empowers students to enrich the learning community in their schools by leading exciting educational projects among their peers. The Trust’s Scholars Programme is a four year comprehensive programme of support for students between Years 10 and 13 which works in seven areas across the UK.
  1. For more information on Villiers Park INVOLVE please visit:
  1. For further information please contact Julia Shervington, Communications Executive, Villiers Park Educational Trust on or 01223 872601.