Education News Update
School Leaders Turn Against Government Tutoring Scheme
School leaders have been left feeling the government’s national tutoring scheme, part of their Covid catch-up planning, is more of a hindrance than a help. In a statement, Paul Whiteman from the NAHT said “The national tutoring programme is a great idea in principle and could have a really positive impact, but the current bureaucracy surrounding it and the difficulties schools are facing accessing tutors means that it is starting to feel like yet another hoop to jump through and a pressure rather than a help.” A recent poll from the NAHT found that, whilst 97% of Heads supported the idea of catch-up tutoring, only 3% felt it should be prioritised.
School Air Pollution Too High According to WHO
Over a quarter of UK schools are located in areas that exceed the amount of air pollution deemed acceptable by World Health Organisation. The latest findings from the Global Action Plan found 27 per cent of schools were based in postcodes that went above the international health body’s limits for fine particulate matter.
Free School Meals Figures Rise
More than 1.7 million children in the UK are now on free school meals. The latest figures from the annual school census show a rise in students eligible from 17.3% in January 2020 to 21% in January 2021. One million of those on free school meals are aged between four and eleven. More than 100,000 of the qualifying students became eligible post-October 2020, meaning their schools missed the government’s new deadline for receiving pupil premium funding.
More Students Remaining in Education Than Ever Before
The latest figures show that students are now more likely to choose to continue with their education. Of last year’s cohort of school leavers, 66.5% were in higher or further education nine months after leaving school- the highest number since records began in 2009. The number of those in employment went down however, from 28% to 21.3%, the lowest figure since records began. Students that were unemployed rose from 5.8% to 6.8% and higher education was the most common destination for school leavers at 42.9%, followed by further education at 23.6%.
Study Finds Enjoyment of School Impacts Progress
A new study published in the Science of Learning Journal has found that children who enjoy school are more likely to be successful than those who do not. The study found ‘School enjoyment strongly associated with later achievement in age 16 compulsory GCSE exams even after adjustment for socioeconomic background and cognitive ability; pupils who reported enjoying school scored on average… almost a 3-grade increase across all subjects and were 29% more likely to obtain 5 + A*-C GCSE’s including Maths and English than those who did not enjoy school.’ The report also found that, at age six, girls were more than twice as likely to state that they enjoyed school than boys.
Duchess and First Lady Join Forces for Early Education
The Duchess of Cambridge and First Lady, Dr Jill Biden met for the first time last week as they visited Connor Downs Academy in Cornwall. They have since written a joint article stating the importance of early education for children. The letter, published by CNN, said “If we care about how children perform at school, how they succeed in their careers when they are older, and about their lifelong mental and physical health, then we have to care about how we are nurturing their brains, their experiences and relationships in the early years before school.”
Children's' Commissioner Blames Access to Online Pornography for Rise in Sexual Harassment in Schools
The Children’s Commissioner has said that the ease of access for children to online pornography, is a key factor in the normalising of sexual harassment in schools. Dame Rachel de Souza stated ‘One area I’m clear on is that online hardcore pornography warps boys’ expectations of normal relationships and normalises behaviours that girls are then expected to accept, and it’s just too easy for children to access.” She has called for internet companies to introduce more restrictions on what children can access online and plans to work with tech companies, law enforcement, children’s charities and schools on how to make children safer online.
Delta Variant Prevalent in Secondary Students
The latest modelled data from the Office for National Statistics had led to calls from school leaders to prioritise vaccinations for anyone over the age of 12. The data highlighted that students in years 7 to 11 in secondary schools had the highest infection rate of any age group, with one case in every 210 on 2nd June. At the start of May, the same age group’s rate was over four times lower. One Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Edinburgh, Mark Woolhouse doesn’t think the increased infection rate is a cause for concern just yet, saying ‘If the Delta variant is much more transmissible in children, it might raise the R number [in schools] above one, and then you would consistently start to see larger outbreaks more frequently in schools. So far, I don’t think the PHE data are convincing on that. Yes, there are outbreaks in schools but it’s a tiny fraction of them’.
Williamson Criticises 'Restrictive' Schools
Education secretary, Gavin Williamson has criticised schools this week for ‘restricting’ the school day. In a statement, Williamson said that schools had the power to set their own hours and questioned whether some could justify sending pupils home at 2.45pm while others remained in school. He also claimed some schools were ‘restricting’ what children could do in their lunch breaks. Speaking to MPs, Williamson said “As we move forward over the next few months, there are significant challenges as we talk about the school day… We’ve seen too many schools go down a route of actually restricting what children have the benefit of doing. A school lunch hour has become increasingly restricted and is increasingly a school lunch half-hour as against an hour”. The accusations from the education secretary come as the government continues to battle criticism of their underfunded catch-up plan for schools.
End of the Road for One of UK's Oldest Boarding Schools
One of the UK’s oldest boarding schools is set to close this summer after running out of money. Ockbrook School in Derbyshire was founded in 1799 but, more recently, Trustees for the school have struggled to find financial backers. The financial situation was made worse by the pandemic, leading to insolvency and forcing the school’s leadership team to make the difficult decision to close following the end of this academic year.
Unions Call For Return to Mandatory Masks
Teaching unions are calling on the government to reintroduce compulsory mask wearing in classrooms as cases of the Delta variant continue to rise across England. According to the latest figures from the Department for Education, one in every 50 secondary school students in England was absent for Covid-related reasons before the half-term break with a huge rise in children self-isolating. The data also showed there were 4,000 children in state schools with confirmed cases of Covid-19 on 27 May, the same as the previous week, but the number off school with suspected cases rose to 19,000, while the number self-isolating because of contacts within their school rocketed from 60,000 to 90,000, a 50% increase in seven days. Several education figureheads and Sir David King- a former government scientific advisor- have requested the return to mandatory masks in the classroom.
Teacher Recruitment Up in Wales
Recruitment levels for trainee teachers were missed for the sixth year running in the 2019-20 academic year. Following the last year however, they are expected to increase, with the Welsh government believing the pandemic has highlighted the importance of the profession. A government spokesman said: "Current trends suggest the pandemic has helped to highlight the vital role played by teachers and more people are choosing to start teacher training. Senior policy officer for the NEU, Mary van den Heuvel, also said she believes lockdown has helped the image of the profession - but that it was too early to know the exact impact. In 2019 in Wales, only 465 secondary trainees enlisted, of an allocated 1006 spaces!
Labour Force Vote on ‘Catch-Up’ Funding
The Labour party has called the government’s £1.4 billion catch up plan ‘inadequate’. The shadow education secretary, Kate Green said she was ‘shocked at how little the plan contains, describing it as a "betrayal of our young people and stated that ‘Kevan Collins' resignation makes it clear that the government's education recovery plan is totally insufficient to help every child bounce back from these impacts of the pandemic’. The Labour party is seeking a U-turn on the policy, testing government backbenchers with an opposition day debate this Wednesday in the House of Commons.
Pupils Urged to Take Tests Before Return to School
Gavin Williamson has urged families to ensure they complete Covid tests before returning to school following the May half term holiday. More than 50 million lateral flow tests have been taken by students across England since January. Williamson said he was ‘hugely grateful to the families, students and all those working in education for their role in making it happen’. Despite the continued testing regimes, concern is still mounting in schools surrounding the Delta variant - which is thought to have a 40% higher transmission rate than other Covid variants.
Education Czar Resigns Over Lack of Funding
Kevan Collins, the ‘education czar’, has resigned. His resignation comes after the failure to secure the £15 billion in funding he recommended to support students following the coronavirus pandemic. In an open letter, Collins called the government’s current plan for ‘catch-up’ “A half-hearted approach[which] risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils...The support announced by government so far does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge’, citing this as why he had ‘no option but to resign’. Even prior to the pandemic, students from disadvantaged backgrounds were about 18 months behind their classmates by the end of secondary school according to the Education Policy Institute. That gap will only have widened over the past year.
Head Teacher Abused Over Covid Testing
Three adults have been fined in Liverpool after harassing a head teacher over Covid testing policies. The trio filmed themselves in a car shouting through a megaphone that the virus was "a lie" and "a fraud in front of horrified parents. The testing in place was part of a mass-testing scheme rolled out across Liverpool and was entirely voluntary. In response, the group harassed military personnel conducting the testing and surrounded the school's head teacher, saying: "If you are the head teacher, we will put you on notice, if anything happens to these children getting tested for Covid-19 - absolute disgrace, this will be going further." The adults were found to have travelled over 100 miles to carry out the verbal attack.
Parents Seek Legal Advice Ahead of A-Level Results
Despite A Level results not being released until 10th August this year, many parents have already started to contact lawyers in anticipation of launching appeals against teacher assessment grades. Education lawyers quoted in The Guardian this weekend said parents are panicking about teacher bias in awarding grades and whether special educational needs and disabilities will have been properly taken into account. Also quoted was Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union who said her main ‘concern [was] that teachers will just be left in the lurch by a secretary of state who has created this situation’. Ofqual have stated that schools must appeal grades if asked to by students and that they have released sufficient guidance to teachers on how to avoid any grading bias.
Anti-Semitism on the Rise in Schools
Gavin Williamson has been out this week reminding teachers of their ‘legal duties regarding political impartiality’ following an increase in Anti-Semitic incidents in schools. The rise comes as students are becoming more politically aware and involved in the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East. Williamson stated teachers should ‘act appropriately, particularly in the political views they express’ and that ‘pupils should be offered a balanced presentation of opposing views when political issues are raised’.
‘Stupid’ decision from the PM says Cummings
Dominic Cummings has called the Prime Minister’s decision to go toe to toe with footballer Marcus Rashford over the free school meals debacle, ‘stupid’. Speaking at the seven-hour joint session of the Commons Heath, and Science and Technology committees, Cummings was quoted saying: “For example, the whole thing with Rashford, the director of communications said to the prime minister twice, ‘do not pick a fight with Rashford. Obviously, we should do this instead...The Prime Minister decided to pick a fight and then surrendered twice.”
End to Teacher’s Suspension for Showing an Image of Muhammed
It has been ruled that a teacher at Batley Grammar School, who was suspended for using an image of the Prophet Muhammed in lessons, may return to the classroom. The Trust running the school said in a report that teaching staff "genuinely believed that using the image had an educational purpose and benefit" but topics "could have been effectively addressed in other ways and without using the image" and it was "not necessary for staff to use the material in question to deliver the learning outcomes on the subject of blasphemy". The report from the Trust acknowledged the "deep offence" caused by the image to a number of students, parents and members of the school community, and stated that they "deeply regret the distress" caused.
Unions Demand Accurate Covid Data
Eight teaching unions have joined together to write a letter to the education secretary demanding accurate data on new numbers of Covid cases in schools be released. Ongoing outbreaks have caused many schools to close or send students home already. The letter stated that “There are growing concerns around the variant B.1.617.2 and reports from areas such as Bolton that cases are growing fastest amongst school-age children, with cases in Bolton higher now than at any point during the pandemic.” On Thursday, the Office for National Statistics published data showing the percentage of school staff testing positive for Covid antibodies resulting from infection “increased significantly” between December and March, when schools fully reopened.
Thirty Three Years Since Section 28
It has been thirty three years since the introduction of Section 28 into British law. The discriminatory law came into effect on 24th May 1988 and made it illegal for teachers and local councils to educate students about the LGBT community. Section 28 was introduced by Margaret Thatcher following a conference speech in 1987 where she stated “Children that need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay’ and “All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life’. The amendment was still in place less than twenty years ago, only being revoked in England and Wales in 2003.
Lack of Quiet Spaces to Work an Issue for Remote Learning
Academics from Exeter University and the London School of Economics have found that, during lockdown, 91 per cent of children aged nine to 16 had access to a computer and 90 per cent had a good internet connection. However, only 74 per cent of students had a quiet place to study. Parents involved in the study stated that the lack of a suitable place to work was more of a barrier to learning during the time away from school than issues with access to technology.
Teachers Need More Support with Sexual Assault Cases
BBC Radio 4 and teaching union NASUWT have joined forces to compile a survey on teachers confidence levels when dealing with incidents of sexual assault. More than half of teachers questioned felt their schools did not have the resources to deal with such incidents. Almost a third of those surveyed also said they had witnessed peer-on-peer sexual harassment or abuse and almost one in ten said they saw it on a weekly basis. The study concluded that better training and support was needed for staff dealing with the steadily rising number of sexual assault cases in schools.
Government's Proposed Extension to School Day
The Times Educational Supplement has discovered that the government is considering two different approaches to extending the school day. According to Tes, ministers may consider a compulsory half hour extension to the school day, with an academic focus. The alternative is a longer, voluntary, 8am to 6pm day, involving some extra-curricular activities rather than just more academic lessons. Tes understands that the government will base the wider education recovery plan around the three Ts, of tutoring, teaching, and extra time in school.
Schools Left With £118 Million Less in Pupil Premium Funding
A BBC documentary has told the story of how hundreds of Black children were labelled as “educationally subnormal” in 1960s and 70s Britain. Subnormal: A British Scandal was shown on BBC One at 9pm on Thursday 20 May.
The term “educationally subnormal” derived from the 1944 Education Act and was used to define those thought to have limited intellectual ability. Activist and academic Gus John told the BBC that “The education system fuelled and legitimised the idea that black Caribbean children were less intelligent than other children. It was rampant racism”.
Spanish Holidays Given the Go-Ahead
Parents who take their children on holiday to Spain at half-term will avoid fines for keeping them home to quarantine.
The British government intends to use online learning to cover this situation, with school leaders fearing that children who picked up the virus abroad would infect classmates after half-term. Spain remains on the UK’s amber list for foreign travel. This means that travellers must isolate for 10 days when they return home and take two Covid tests in that time. Spain will welcome British tourists this week without needing to show a negative Covid test or quarantine on arrival.
Schools Left With £118 Million Less in Pupil Premium Funding
The annual date for counting students eligible for pupil premium funding has been moved forward, meaning students who became eligible between October 2020 and January 2021 will have to wait until October 2021 to be counted. Schools face losses of almost £118 million of funding as a result. A survey by the National Association of Head Teachers highlighted that nearly 62% of schools have at least five pupils who became eligible between October 2020 and January 2021 and will now not be counted until much later this year.
Exam Board Statement Proves Controversial with Teachers
Philip Wright, director general of exam board representative JCQ, is facing backlash from overworked and overtired teachers following an article published in Schools Week. In the article, Wright said exam boards had been working ‘harder than ever’ and their work was simply just ‘not immediately visible’. He also appealed to teachers by saying he recognised ‘the enormous responsibility placed on schools and colleges and its implications for teacher workload. Because far from twiddling our thumbs, we feel it too’. The suggested empathy did little to appease teachers however who took to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction.
Parents Pleased with Schools' Covid Efforts
Ofsted’s annual parent survey has shown that 87% of parents think that their child’s school has handled the pandemic well. 7 in 10 parents also said they had received guidance or training from their child’s school to help support remote education at home. Around two thirds of those questioned however, did state that they were worried about their child’s learning loss and their mental health.
Study Suggests Bias in Teacher Assessed Grades
Academics from universities across England, Russia, Italy and Northern Ireland have conducted an investigation into bias when awarding exam grades. The research, based on a study of 1200 students in Russia, concluded that "Teacher-rated school achievement might be more influenced by personality than the objective performance measured by a standardized exam," and that "Teacher ratings might reflect some conscious or unconscious biases, such as judging more leniently students that they perceive as more focused on school tasks, who are well behaved...and who are more emotionally fragile." A professor from Queens University Belfast did however note that ‘the results of the study [were] not marked enough to say that this bias is making a huge difference to outcomes."
Secondary Students Sent Home in Scotland
Older students at a school in Glasgow have been sent home following rising coronavirus rates in the community. In a letter sent home to parents, the headteacher of Shawlands Academy stated, "We understand that this situation is far from ideal and we had all hoped that the spread of infection would not increase but sadly this is not the case in our local area." The overall infection rate across Glasgow currently stands at 109.9 cases per 100,000 people.
Pimlico Head Resigns
The Head of Pimlico Academy has resigned following the recent race discrimination row. Students at the school took part in a demonstration at the end of March over uniform policy, changes to the curriculum and the siting of a union flag outside the building. Many felt the resignation was a long time coming with the NEU having already passed a motion of no confidence in the head, Daniel Smith. A parent interviewed in the Guardian earlier this week stated that the school needed a leader who was ‘from the same world as the students so incidents like the uniform policy never happen again’.
Confusion Over Mask Policies
Secondary schools in London are facing confusion over face mask policies. Many have scrapped the rules altogether, some are keeping mask use to corridors, whilst others are allowing pupils to decide for themselves. Geoff Barton, from the Association of School and College Leaders, said headteachers are being asked to make “difficult decisions about what is essentially a public health matter”. A recent poll from Parentkind found that 70 per cent of parents strongly agree that pupils should no longer need to wear facemasks in classrooms, however rising Coronavirus rates across London are leaving headteachers in a very difficult position.
Push for Shorter Summer Holidays
Ofsted chief inspector from 2012 to 2016, Sir Michael Wilshaw has come out in favour of shorter summer holidays, calling them ‘long overdue’. In March this year, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced he was considering a shorter summer holiday and five-term structure to the academic year. This was as part of the government’s attempt to help learners ‘catch up’ following several lockdowns. Sir Michael supported the move and was quoted in ‘The I’ saying “A long six week summer break means that youngsters returning have often fallen much further behind than they should. It takes some time – and I speak as an ex-headteacher on this one – for them to catch up.” The government will need to appeal to teachers and parents too however, if it hopes for the new structure to become reality.
Ofqual Announce 2022 Exam Consultation
Ofqual has launched a two week consultation over plans to alter exams for the third academic year running. Adaptations have already been announced for subjects such as geography, geology and environmental studies, which remove the mandatory nature of the fieldwork. There are also proposed changes to how subjects like PE or DT are assessed.
The consultation states: The extent to which public health restrictions will continue, or might need to be reintroduced or strengthened, in the next academic year is not yet certain. however, some subject requirements, particularly those that require group activities or the use of specific pieces of equipment, could be more difficult for students to undertake and for teachers to supervise if restrictions such as social distancing continue.”
Further discussion surrounding the GCSE History and English Literature courses regarding the amount of content being assessed will also be considered within wider policy decisions for the 2022 exams.
Universities Fear Overcrowding
Universities are said to be worried about A level results this year. With the likelihood of teacher assessed grades leading to higher results for students, universities are having to accommodate greater numbers of students than ever before.
An anonymous head of a university in the elite Russell Group, was quoted in the Guardian saying “Private accommodation providers here are already saying bookings are full. We are worried about over-recruitment. Once students have made the grade, there is nothing much you can do. Last year, some places were paying students to defer. Some universities will want to grab extra students but we just don’t want to take them.”
In an attempt to protect themselves, Oxford and Cambridge are thought to have made fewer offers this year. Ucas data shows UCL accepted 32% more UK undergraduate students in 2020 than the previous year, The University of Sheffield took 27% more, Manchester took 22% more and Exeter welcomed 21% more students than the previous year. Concerns are mounting around the workload of academic staff, availability of equipment and accommodation and the growing backlog of students who have deferred their university education.
Rashford Campaigns for Literacy
Marcus Rashford has joined forces with WH Smith and the National Literacy Trust to ensure every child has access to a book at home.
Rashford is giving away free copies of his book ‘You Are A Champion: How To Be The Best You Can Be’ and encouraging donations to the Trust. Rashford says “Enjoying reading can’t just be a privilege; all children should be able to access books, no matter what their background’.