Latest Educational News

'Too much of our education policy favours specific schools, endorses specific pedagogy and cherry-picks professional consensus'

by TES, January 24, 2018

One politics teacher asks: What happened to democracy in education? It seems that edu-policy, whether it be from the Right or the Left, is no longer properly checked and balanced
A spectre is haunting education – the spectre of democracy.

Where are our Benjamin Franklins and our Thomas Jeffersons? Where our constitutionalists? Where our democratic thinkers? I had hoped for so much more from the Labour Party. Not for the first time in recent years, I am left thinking that democracy is something many people praise when it promises to bring them to power – and soon forget the closer they are to it.

Labour MP Emma Hardy’s engagement with education policy since being elected – and long before that, throughout her career as an outspoken teacher and union representative – has always struck a chord with me.

As a grassroots activist, her aim was always true when striking at politicians and policy influencers. As an MP and member of the Education Select Committee, that skill has not abated in her questioning and holding the government to account.

Free infant lunches policy doubled take-up of school meals

by TES, January 24, 2018

But report finds many schools saw pupil premium funding hit as a result of the introduction of universal infant free school meals
The introduction of free lunches for all infants has more than doubled the take-up of school meals, new research shows.

However, it also says almost a third of school leaders (31 per cent) said the introduction of universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) had led to fewer parents registering for free school meals, reducing their school’s pupil premium funding, compared to 15 per cent who said it had increased.

The policy was introduced by the coalition government in 2014.

Today’s report is published by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), whose executive chairman David Laws was a schools minister at the time, and one of its authors Peter Sellen, worked on the policy when he worked at the DfE.

However, the EPI said Mr Laws was not involved in the conduct of the research, while Mr Sellens’ DfE role was to produce objective research and advice.

The report says the take-up of school meals increased from 38 per cent in 2013-14 to 80 per cent in 2015-16, and was higher in small schools and rural schools.

It also finds the policy saved parents an average of 50 minutes, and £10, a week.

GCSE attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils 'will persist'

by TES, January 24, 2018

Attainment 8 gap expected to stay the same in the next five years and Progress 8 gap to widen
“Little or no headway” is expected in closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates in the next five years, according to a new report from the Education Endowment Foundation.

While improvements in primary schools mean that the gap between the proportion of disadvantaged pupils with at least a good pass in English and maths GCSEs and all other pupils is set to reduce, the government-funded research body said there would be little change for the Attainment 8 and Progress 8 gaps.

The EEF looked at data from key stage 2 to predict how the attainment gap is likely to shift in the next five years.

According to its research, the attainment gap for the proportion of disadvantaged pupils with at least a good pass in English and maths, compared with the proportion of all other pupils, is set to reduce from 24 percentage points to 21.5 points between 2017 and 2021

But, for Attainment 8 – which measures average achievement in GCSE across eight subjects – the EEF is predicting no change, with the attainment gap of 11 points in 2017 remaining in 2021.

And for Progress 8 – which measures students’ progress between KS2 and KS4 across eight subjects – the attainment gap is set to increase a little, from 14.8 percentage points in 2017 to 15.6 in 2021.

Budget plans refused for 632 NI schools

by BBC, January 24, 2018

The Education Authority (EA) has refused to approve the budget plans submitted by 632 schools, the BBC has learned.

The authority said it was because those schools were unable to show they could stay within their allocated budgets in 2017/18.

By contrast, only 239 schools have had their spending plans approved.

If the EA does not approve a school's budget plan, it can take more control over the school's financial planning.

NI schools in the red: £350m funds gap
Principals write to NI Secretary over budget cuts
Minister warns schools need extra money
There have been numerous warnings from school principals about the financial pressure their schools are facing.

Those warnings were echoed in December 2017 by the head of the EA, Gavin Boyd.

Education cuts impossible to defend, says council leader

by BBC, January 23, 2018

Cuts to local authorities' education budgets are "impossible to defend", the leader of Swansea council has said.

In a letter to Education Secretary Kirsty Williams, Rob Stewart criticised cuts to a grant that was partly used to fund teaching children who do not speak English as a first language.

The Labour councillor said the money had been taken away but councils were still expected to provide the service.

The Welsh Government said talks to provide extra funding were under way.

In the last budget, the Welsh Government responded to calls from local authorities to cut the number of grants that force them to spend money on specific services and said it would instead transfer the money into the main funding pot.

But Mr Stewart said his education budget would face a shortfall of £2m in the next financial year.

Primary schools given help to support pupils' mental health

by TES, January 23, 2018

Resource also offers guidance for teachers looking to introduce a whole-school policy to address wellbeing
All primary schools will be able to access resources to support pupils’ mental health through a website launched today.

The website, Mentally Healthy Schools, will offer more than 1,500 online teaching resources, all independently evaluated to ensure that they are suitable for use with primary pupils.

The aim is to improve pupils’ awareness of issues surrounding mental health – and their confidence in dealing with these issues as they arise.

In addition to teaching resources, the site will also offer advice to staff on the risks associated with mental ill-health and on how to introduce a whole-school approach to ensuring pupils’ wellbeing.

Supporting mental health
More than half of all mental-health problems among adults have started by the age of 14. One in 10 children experiences a mental health difficulty by the age of 11.

Exclusive: Teachers say their poor mental health is harming pupil progress

by TES, January 23, 2018

Excessive workload is among the reasons why teachers are experiencing suffering mental health problems, study finds
Children’s education is suffering because of the poor mental health experienced by many teachers, according to new research.

And excessive workload and constant scrutiny are among the causes of mental ill-health among teachers, the study from the Leeds Beckett University reveals.

The study of 775 teachers shows that more than three quarters – 77 per cent – said that poor teacher mental health was having a detrimental effect on pupils’ progress.

Ninety-four per cent of those questioned by the university’s Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health said that they felt their classroom energy levels drop when suffering from poor mental health.

Almost as many – 89 per cent – said that they were less creative in the classroom during these times. And 85 per cent thought that poor mental health could adversely affect the quality of their lesson planning.

In addition, 73 per cent believed that poor mental health affected how well they explained things during lessons. And 72 per cent thought that their questioning skills during lessons suffered as a result of mental ill-health.

Parent fights to prove 11-plus doesn’t add up

by The Guardian, January 23, 2018

Classified as 11 Plus.

This Thursday an indignant parent, James Coombs, will stand in front of a tribunal to argue that the controversial 11-plus test needs greater scrutiny and that families should be shown their children’s raw scores. Why shouldn’t this important test, which changes the course of children’s lives, be open to evaluation like GCSEs and other life‑changing exams, he asks.

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“It’s an existential problem to the grammar system. If you demonstrate that you cannot administrate a selective system in a fair way, then what you’re doing is illegal,” he says.

Coombs, representing himself, will be up against a barrister for the Information Commissioner’s Office, defending its decision last year [pdf] to uphold the wish of the test-provider, CEM, to withhold the scores, requested by Coombs under Freedom of Information.

CEM, the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, part of Durham University, argued that disclosing the information could prejudice its commercial interests. It said it had created a tutor-proof test – and that if the raw scores were released, 11-plus tutors would be able to teach to the test. But CEM has since admitted that its 11-plus test is not tutor-proof at all.

'English national pupil database one of the most impressive in the world'

by TES, January 22, 2018

National pupil database has enabled unique debate on "equity, life chances, social mobility, social justice", global education expert says
The national pupil database is one of the most "impressive" in the world and has enabled a "particularly well-informed discourse" about social justice in England, a global education expert has said.

This afternoon the Education Development Trust – a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving education around the world – published a report analysing England's approach to school performance data.

Tony McAleavy, the EDT's director of research and consultancy, who launched the report at the Education World Forum in London, said that the national pupil database had emerged as the "unlikely hero" in the evolution of school performance data in England.

'Mature and impressive system'
The database was enabled by the creation in 1999 of a unique pupil number (UPN) for every single student who attends a government school. This allows pupils' key characteristics to be tracked over time, including their attainment, ethnicity, and whether they come from a deprived background.

“I have the privilege of working in lots of different countries, and I have personally never come across anything quite like it,” Mr McAleavy said. “The States has nothing like it – certainly at a federal level.”

"It is a particularly – in global terms – mature and impressive system. It’s one that most of the world hasn’t really heard of, and I think…that it does make possible in this country a particularly well-informed discourse relating to equity, life chances, social mobility, social justice.

Hinds says schools face digital challenge

by BBC, January 22, 2018

Schools need to prepare young people for a digital revolution and a fast-changing jobs market, says England's new education secretary, Damian Hinds.

In his first public speech since taking up the post, Mr Hinds said schools needed a mix of traditional academic subjects and a sense of "resilience" and skills such as public speaking.

Mr Hinds said that a high proportion of new jobs would require digital skills.

He also called for improvements in vocational training for adults.

The education secretary said young people needed the skills to be able to "write apps" as well as being able to use them.

He said lessons in computing were needed to prepare young people for industries being changed by artificial intelligence and the arrival of technologies such as autonomous vehicles.

Speaking at the Education World Forum in London, Mr Hinds emphasised the need for both "core academic subjects" and other, "soft skills" that could make young people more employable.

How to avoid a primary maths meltdown

by TES, January 19, 2018

If we want students to enjoy maths, we need to remember why we are teaching it in the first place, says one primary school deputy head
A new curriculum, new assessments, changes to assessment frameworks... Primary teaching can sometimes feel like running towards a set of goalposts, only to have those goalposts moved at the last minute.

This means that there always seems to be a huge last-minute rush to get Year 6 pupils ready for the Sats. Spending Year 6 cramming is stressful for teachers and stressful for the children, too.

However, the facts of maths never change: 8 x 7 will always be 56. This tells us what we should really be focusing on as we try to get our pupils through the primary maths curriculum. What if we didn't have to cram and cram in Year 6? What if we just made sure that the grasp of the facts is right as pupils go through the school.

It sounds simple, but maybe it should be. Don't be too keen to rush through the curriculum. Instead, linger longer and make sure the groundwork is right. Then provide every opportunity possible to not only apply these facts but also transfer these problem-solving skills to solve problems that may not even be in the ‘Year X’ curriculum.

That way, even if the criteria changes mid-year, or the assessments get even harder, this won't be a problem because pupils will have the tools and know how to use them.

New universities minister backs tuition fee review

by The Telegraph, January 19, 2018

The new universities minister has said that a review of tuition fees will be a “positive move” for the Government.

Sam Gyimah signalled his willingness to revive Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for wide reaching reforms of funding for higher education.

Speaking on Thursday evening at Queen Mary University London, he said: “It is right to look carefully at how the current system is working and to make sure that it works best for students.”

He declined to elaborate on details of the review, such as the terms of reference, but added: “I think that [the review] is a positive move for us.”

£45m to be given to academy chains to help underperformance in disadvantaged areas

by TES, January 19, 2018

Education secretary Damian Hinds also reveals the plans for social mobility 'opportunity areas'
More than £45 million will be given to successful multi-academy trusts (MATs) to help improve underperforming schools in disadvantaged areas of the country, the government has revealed.

And 75 largely school-led projects will share another £25 million to help more children from disadvantaged backgrounds as part of the government’s Strategic School Improvement Fund (SSIF).

The announcements, made by education secretary Damian Hinds today, include the delivery plans for former education secretary Justine Greening’s six social mobility “opportunity areas”: Bradford, Doncaster, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent.

Yesterday, a Department for Education (DfE) official revealed that the government’s flagship scheme to improve social mobility in 12 "cold spots" in England risked overloading schools.

But today further plans for the scheme, which targets £72 million at 12 areas, were announced by Mr Hinds – which included a new research school for the Ipswich opportunity area.

Highfield Nursery School, which will receive £200,000 over three years, will be the first early years setting to join a network of research schools across the country in other opportunity areas.

The school is part-funded through the government programme and partly through a joint initiative between the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Institute for Effective Education (IEE).

Just one squirrel can make a school’s data go nuts

by TES, January 19, 2018

The difference between a school receiving an ‘above average’ or ‘average’ rating can be one pupil losing a mark in a test because she was distracted by wildlife outside of the window
Primary school “A” has a reading progress score of +2.48. In the performance tables, the school receives a nice green box containing the words “above average”. It is obviously very happy about this. Primary school “B” also has a reading progress score of +2.48, but it only gets a yellow box and is deemed to be “average”.

So how can two schools with the same scores have such seemingly different outcomes? The answer: confidence intervals.

A confidence interval is a range of scores constructed around a school’s progress score that will usually (in 95 per cent of cases) contain the national average of zero. In those cases where it doesn’t, the progress score is deemed to be unusual, or statistically significant.

The confidence interval takes account of the number of pupils in the cohort – the more there are, the narrower the interval; the fewer pupils, the wider the interval. This means a bigger school’s data does not have to shift as far to be statistically significant, which is fair because one pupil has less of an effect on overall outcomes.

Significant progress
School “A” has 25 pupils in the cohort and its confidence interval is +0.04 to +4.92. Because this confidence interval is entirely above zero, progress is deemed to be significantly “above average”. School “B”, on the other hand, has 24 pupils and its confidence interval is -0.01 to +4.97. Here, the confidence interval includes zero (just!) and progress is therefore classified as “average”, which is why school “B” gets the yellow box while school “A” gets a lovely shade of green. If school “B” had the same number of pupils as school “A” , it would have the same confidence interval and the same green box. Sadly, one high-flying pupil left the school in March and this caused the confidence interval to widen to include zero.

You will also note that the lower part of the school “B” confidence interval is -0.01. Increasing the progress score by just 0.02 (one fiftieth of a scale point) would be enough to make the data significantly above average, which, in this case, requires just one pupil to get one extra mark on the test. Unfortunately, on the day of the test, that pupil was distracted by a squirrel outside the window.

It is easy to infer cause from these colourful indicators, and we commonly use them as proxies for school standards, but all they really point to is a deviation from the national average that probably didn’t happen by chance. Is it right to suggest school “A” is that much better than school “B”? Or is it simply that one school had a squirrel and the other one didn’t?

Children draw their future job ambitions

by BBC, January 19, 2018

Young people in developing countries often have more aspirational career ambitions than boys in the UK, an international survey suggests.

While boys in the UK aimed to be footballers or YouTube stars, their counterparts in Uganda and Zambia wanted to be doctors or teachers.

The findings are from a survey of 20,000 children by the Education and Employers careers charity.

The results are to be presented to business leaders at Davos next week.

The study asked primary school children in 20 countries to draw pictures of the jobs they wanted to have when they grew up.

Gender roles
The careers charity said the results showed how much gender stereotypes were established from an early age.

In the UK, girls were much less likely to want to become engineers or scientists.

Early years teachers call on Ofsted to publish Bold Beginnings clarification

by TES, January 18, 2018

Reassurance for delegates at early years conference, but concerns that published document is still open to misinterpretation
Early years teachers attending a briefing on the controversial Bold Beginnings report in London have been reassured that four and five-five-year-old children will not be expected to spend more time sitting at desks.

But although many teachers said they were happy to hear such clarification from Gill Jones, Ofsted’s deputy director for early education and co-author of the report, there were several calls for written clarification to be published by Ofsted.

The Bold Beginnings report, published in November said that Reception year was a “false start” for many children. It caused great concern in the early years sector as it was seen as pushing for more formal education in Reception.

Ofsted has since held a number of meetings with organisations and individuals in an attempt to build bridges - including the briefing hosted by training organization Early Excellence on Thursday.

“Why did we focus so much on literacy, reading and maths in the report?” Ms Jones told delegates at Early Excellence’s London centre. “Well because those are the weakest areas later on, in terms of development and there are some elements there that we think are really important to get to grips with.

“If we were doing this again I might reconsider how I landed this report because really essentially what this is about is about getting children on the road to reading and becoming really good readers. Because if you create a reader, you create a child that has access to absolutely everything and if you can’t create a reader then they find all sorts of mechanisms for hiding that.”

Parents 'shelling out for free nursery scheme'

by BBC, January 18, 2018

Parents are subsidising a new flagship "free" nursery scheme for three- and four-year-olds in England from their own pockets, a survey suggests.

Nurseries are making up losses by upping fees for younger children and charging for meals and nappies, a survey of 1,662 providers suggests.

The survey, by the Pre-School Learning Alliance, suggests only a third are delivering the hours totally free.

The government says it is investing £6bn in childcare by 2020.

It added that any charges to parents on the scheme must be voluntary.

The poll of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders is the first to be carried out since the 30-hour free childcare scheme came into effect in September, and has been shared exclusively with the BBC.

Families where both parents are working more than 16 hours a week, but earning under £100,000 each, qualify for the scheme. It expands the number of free hours childcare for this age group from 15 a week.

Exclusive: At least a quarter of all free schools overestimated pupil numbers

by TES, January 18, 2018

Overestimates meant free schools received £40m more from the DfE than they were supposed to – with £1.3 million already having been written off
At least a quarter of all free schools have overestimated their pupil rolls, resulting in payments of more than £40 million for unfilled places.

And the government has written off another £1.3 million for schools that have struggled to recruit pupils or have closed, a Freedom of Information response from the Department for Education reveals.

The most recent write-off was for the troubled Collective Spirit free school in Oldham, which closed at very short notice last summer after it had been placed in special measures the year before.

It had £248,661 written off in 2016-17 – the latest year for which figures are available.

Money clawed back from free schools
The FoI response shows that 332 free schools that opened in the four years to 2016-17 have been funded based on the number of pupils they expected to recruit.

During that time, £41.4 million has had to be clawed back from schools that failed to attract as many pupils as planned. However, only £31.5 million has so far been recovered.

In 2016-17 alone, 138 free schools had to pay back a combined £11.9 million as a result of these "pupil number adjustments" (PNAs). That represents 29 per cent of the 473 free schools open as of September 2017.

Schools cost 40 per cent extra to build under PFI, watchdog reveals

by TES, January 18, 2018

National Audit Office report also highlights “operational inflexibility” of PFI contracts and the huge fees involved
Schools can cost 40 per cent more to build and maintain under the private finance initiative (PFI) than if the government simply borrowed the money, a damning new report from the official public spending watchdog reveals today.

The National Audit Office findings are particularly concerning because they relate to a reformed version of PFI, known as PF2, which the government claims offers “better value for money” than the original.

But today’s report – which finds that taxpayers owe £199bn for all PFI projects even if no new deals are struck – says schools could be built for much less.

“The Department for Education has estimated the expected spend on PF2 schools compared with a public sector comparator (PSC),” the report states.

“Our analysis of these data for one group of schools shows that PF2 costs are around 40 per cent higher than the costs of a project financed by government borrowing.”

The chair of the influential House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier, said that PF2 amounted to little more than a rebranding of an “exorbitantly expensive” scheme.

Both the PFI and PF2 systems see private consortiums, rather than government, raising funding to build public facilities like schools, in return for regular payments over several decades.

All the facts you need to answer tricky questions about higher education

by The Guardian, January 17, 2018

Education journalist Fran Abrams tackles 10 of the most challenging questions about universities by looking at the latest research

Are fewer poor students going to university in the UK?
According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the gender gap is getting wider, with 55% of women entering higher education compared to just 43% of men. Recent research for the Sutton Trust [pdf] tells us that the poorest students are slightly more likely to go than they used to be – 11.3% of students come from the poorest areas, compared with 9.6% six years ago. But the most elite universities take far fewer – no more than 4% at Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and UCL.

Most universities take some social indicators into account when admitting students, the most common being participation in outreach programmes, coming from a poorer neighbourhood or school, and having been in receipt of free school meals. Widening access programmes are the most common contextual indicator used, with two-thirds of these leading universities reporting that they take them into account. The Sutton Trust finds universities which do this don’t experience any rise in drop-out rates or a drop in grades as a result.

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