The Education Select Committee 14th November: A Round Up

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, appeared before MPs on the Education Select Committee on 14 November. Here’s a quick roundup of the key things she had to say:

Mental Health

In response to question from Chair Robert Halfon MP she said that children and parents had been talking to her about mental health since from the moment she started her job. Worryingly, she commented that a number of children told her reporting suicidal thoughts is not enough to get help- you actually have to attempt suicide to be taken seriously. This is something we have also heard from our partner schools.

In her opinion the prevalence of mental health problems among children is increasing, something teachers and parents have also reported to her. She cited the increasing complexity of life, social media and issues in home life as the main contributing factors and said she is keen to shine a light on this and let MPs know about it.

Government should hold review to look at the impact of digital. She is currently doing one herself and pushing social media companies to be more responsible. Citing mental health support in schools is an urgency.

Later in the session she said child mental health was one of the key social justice concerns that need to be tackled.

Opportunity Areas

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns asked why there is an Opportunity Area in the constituency of the Children’s Minister but none in the entire North East. This followed his question to the Secretary of State at an earlier section after SCHOOLS NorthEast contacted his office. He went on to ask why, as an advocate for children all over the country, she had not “raised an eyebrow” about the lack of an Opportunity Area in the North East.

Longfield replied that although she had no role in the allocation of Opportunity Areas, many areas in the North East would benefit from one. She said she would be oppressing for more opportunity areas where there is a great need for them and agreed that the North East should have one.

More generally, she said it was too early in the lifetime of Opportunity Areas to know how well they were working. She said she favours place based initiatives but her main criticism of Opportunity Areas was that they need to take on a much broader role than just education.

Alternative Provision

Chair Robert Halfon MP asked about Alternative Provision. Longfield replied that she welcomes the Committee’s inquiry, given that numbers are rising and outcomes for children are unacceptably low. She mentioned that the price per head for alternative provision can be 5 or 6 times higher than what it is in mainstream school.

She said her office had just produced a study on Alternative Provision, summarising its finding by saying children were generally disappointed with what the curriculum and can offer them.

Role of the Children’s Commissioner for England

Ian Mearns asked if it was the Children’s Commissioner’s role to carry out an impact assessment of the cumulative impact of Government policies on children’s lives?

The Commissioner replied that the most thorough work on this is the UN’s “Children’s rights in impact assessments” report, which takes place every five years. She went on to say that her office did look across Government to try to bring together Departments and join the dots.

Further questioned by Mr Mearns on what had happened in the time since she last appeared before the Committee, she said that she had further strengthened her team and produced a new “vulnerability framework”. She said while there is much concern about vulnerability, there is no common definition or data. An established vulnerability framework which measures the extent and scale of vulnerability is therefore vital. She went on to say she would like to see the framework recognised by Government and the third sector.

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Unions set out Five tests for next week’s Budget

The country’s largest education union, the National Education Union, formed in September following a merger between the NUT and ATL, has set out five tests for the Chancellor in next week’s Budget. It says they will ensure a quality education for all children:

  1. Reverse school cuts – ensure the same levels of per-pupil funding as in 2015.
  2. New money from the Treasury – the union stressed that additional funding must not be taken from other areas of education spending. They said at least £2 billion was required every year to maintain real terms per-pupil funding, given inflation and rising pupil numbers.
  3. Fair funding for high needs, early years and post-16 education – the union suggested that these areas have seen even larger real terms cuts since the Coalition Government came to power in 2010.
  4. Funding certainty – to provide stability and certainty, the NEU is asking for funding to be announced and guaranteed for at least the next five years.
  5. Tackle historic underfunding – schools in historically underfunded areas should receive extra money “through a process of levelling up with better-funded areas”, rather than by “taking money away from some schools to give to other schools”.

Mary Bousted, NEU’s joint general secretary, said: “The Chancellor must not fear amending his fiscal rules in line with our five tests to better safeguard our children’s future.

“Totally inadequate funding and a teacher and recruitment crisis driven by an intolerable workload and pay freezes is vastly diminishing the educational experience of children and young people and blighting the working life of many teachers.”

The Schools Minister Nick Gibb responded by saying: “There are no cuts in funding. The introduction of the national funding formula from 2018-19, backed by £1.3 billion of additional investment, has been widely welcomed and will put an end to historic disparities in the system. Every school will see an increase in funding through the formula, with secondary schools set to receive at least £4,800 per pupil by 2019-20. As the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has confirmed, overall schools funding is being protected at a national level in real terms per pupil over the next two years.”

An ‘extra 50,000 pupils’ eligible for free school meals under universal credit shake up’

New Government plans to change the eligibility criteria of introducing universal credit could mean that 50,000 more pupils are now eligible for free school meals.

In a consultation launched today, ministers say that currently “some of the most disadvantaged low-income households do not qualify for free school meals”.

The Government now plan to base the eligibility on each household’s net earnings, instead of the number of hours worked at present.

These net earnings would not include additional income from benefits.

From April 2018, the Government plans to introduce a £7,400 net earnings threshold for households to be entitled to free school meals.

However, the document also suggest that around 10% of pupils currently receiving free school meals would no longer be eligible.

The Government says it would introduce protections to ensure that no child would lose their free school meals during the transition to universal credit.

Pupils still receiving free meals once the switch is complete would continue to get them until they finish their current phase of education.

Robert Goodwill, the Minister for Children and Families, said: “We want every child to reach their potential, regardless of their background. As universal credit is rolled out, it is right that we continue to make sure this support reaches children from the most disadvantaged families.

“Our proposals should not only protect those children already receiving free school meals and additional school funding but will see thousands more benefitting from this support in future.”

Universal infant free school meals, which the Conservatives proposed scrapping in their 2017 election manifesto, would not be affected.

The consultation closes on 11 January 2018.

The Education Select Committee 14th November: A Round Up 

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, appeared before MPs on the Education Select Committee on 14 November. Here’s a quick roundup of the key things she had to say:

Mental Health

In response to question from Chair Robert Halfon MP she said that children and parents had been talking to her about mental health since from the moment she started her job. Worryingly, she commented that a number of children told her reporting suicidal thoughts is not enough to get help – you actually have to attempt suicide to be taken seriously. This is something we have also heard from our partner schools.

In her opinion the prevalence of mental health problems among children is increasing, something teachers and parents have also reported to her. She cited the increasing complexity of life, social media and issues in home life as the main contributing factors and said she is keen to shine a light on this and let MPs know about it.

Government should hold review to look at the impact of digital. She is currently doing one herself and pushing social media companies to be more responsible. Citing mental health support in schools is an urgency.

Later in the session she said child mental health was one of the key social justice concerns that need to be tackled.

Opportunity Areas

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns asked why there is an Opportunity Area in the constituency of the Children’s Minister but none in the entire North East. This followed his question to the Secretary of State at an earlier section after SCHOOLS NorthEast contacted his office. He went on to ask why, as an advocate for children all over the country, she had not “raised an eyebrow” about the lack of an Opportunity Area in the North East.

Longfield replied that although she had no role in the allocation of Opportunity Areas, many areas in the North East would benefit from one. She said she would be oppressing for more opportunity areas where there is a great need for them and agreed that the North East should have one.

More generally, she said it was too early in the lifetime of Opportunity Areas to know how well they were working. She said she favours place based initiatives but her main criticism of Opportunity Areas was that they need to take on a much broader role than just education.

Alternative Provision

Chair Robert Halfon MP asked about Alternative Provision. Longfield replied that she welcomes the Committee’s inquiry, given that numbers are rising and outcomes for children are unacceptably low. She mentioned that the price per head for alternative provision can be 5 or 6 times higher than what it is in mainstream school.

She said her office had just produced a study on Alternative Provision, summarising its finding by saying children were generally disappointed with what the curriculum can offer them.

Role of the Children’s Commissioner for England

Ian Mearns asked if it was the Children’s Commissioner’s role to carry out an impact assessment of the cumulative impact of Government policies on children’s lives?

The Commissioner replied that the most thorough work on this is the UN’s “Children’s rights in impact assessments” report, which takes place every five years. She went on to say that her office did look across Government to try to bring together Departments and join the dots.

Further questioned by Mr Mearns on what had happened in the time since she last appeared before the Committee, she said that she had further strengthened her team and produced a new “vulnerability framework”. She said while there is much concern about vulnerability, there is no common definition or data. An established vulnerability framework which measures the extent and scale of vulnerability is therefore vital. She went on to say she would like to see the framework recognised by Government and the third sector.

School in Theresa May’s constituency seeks £1 for pens

A primary school in Prime Minister Theresa May’s constituency has asked parents for a £1 daily donation to help pay for stationery and books.

Robert Piggott CofE School in Wargrave, Berkshire, said the plea comes after “national changes to school funding”.

Labour said this showed “Tory cuts” were “hitting schools badly”.

Education minister Nick Gibb said the school is set to gain around £10K a year in extra cash from 2018 under the new National Funding Formula.

The school, which according to the most recent figures has 311 pupils, is in the Maidenhead constituency represented by Mrs May since 1997.

Read the full article on the BBC.

Pupils being harmed by schools ‘gaming’ the system to climb league tables

Former Nick Clegg adviser calls for action to make it harder to teach to the test

Children’s education is being put at risk by a system that encourages schools to “game” the system and drill pupils to pass tests, a new study warns.

It says the quality of education in many schools is being damaged due to an accountability system that puts pressure on headteachers to produce good results.

The report, published by the RSA today, argues that action is needed to tackle the issue, such as providing more data about schools, making it harder to “teach to the test” and changing school performance tables.

While the current system of holding schools to account for pupils’ progress and results has helped to raise standards in the last 25 years, this has come at a cost, the study, by Julian Astle, a former adviser to former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, says.

Read the full article in the Tes.

Teaching School Alliances miss ‘cold spots’ of struggling schools

There are “cold spots” in the support that struggling schools are getting from Teaching School Alliances across the country, according to new government analysis.

The National College for Teaching and Leadership has released initial findings on the work of teaching school alliances, which are amalgamated teaching schools delivering initial teacher training and school improvement in their local area.

Looking at data for 2015-16, the NCTL found that 1,371 schools (six per cent) delivered support to other schools and 3,652 schools (17 per cent) received support.

But this support, given to struggling schools from those rated highly by Ofsted, is not consistent across the country, and it is lacking in certain areas that need it most.

Read the full article in Schools Week.

Dads must engage more with children’s education, research suggests

According to new research, national programmes that involve fathers in their children’s education can help tackle the issue of boys’ underachievement in schools.

The research, conducted by Natasha Ridge, Susan Kippels and Brian Jaewon Chung of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the United Arab Emirates, suggests that fathers who are actively involved boost their children’s self-esteem, which in turn leads to more positive outcomes.

Commissioned by the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), the research found that it is especially important for fathers to act as ‘strong role models’ for their sons when it comes to learning, as their increased involvement sends a positive message about the value and importance of education.

This research follows the recent exam data released showing that boys’ performance continues to lag behind that of girls at both primary and secondary level. At key stage 2, girls outperformed boys in all areas this year, beating them by seven percentage points in the reading test. And despite evidence that they are closing the gap in some subjects, boys remain behind at GCSE.

The WISE report, entitled ‘The challenges and implications of a global decline in the educational attainment and retention of boys’, found that the rise of automated jobs is making it more important than ever to re-engage boys and men with education. Jobs that are ‘typically the purview of working class males’ are changing significantly, and boys and men will soon need to find new purpose in their lives through education.

The research found that fathers can make a difference by simply reading to their children more often, as this helps to dispel the myth that reading is a feminine activity. It gives boys ‘permission’ to love books and reading without being seen as ‘girly’.

The report suggested that reading schemes for fathers that begin when their children are babies could be run by local schools, hospitals, or community health centres.

The research also recommended programmes for parents to provide awareness of, and strategies to address, the negative impact of too much online gaming.

Initiatives to increase the numbers of men entering and completing teacher-training programmes should also be considered, and be accompanied by ‘boy-friendly approaches’, the study said.

Internationally, the study proposed an online portal that could act as a hub to share helpful resources relating to educating boys and men. This sharing of good practice could be reinforced by the introduction of a global award for innovative schemes that support at-risk boys and their families, it said.

Recruitment crisis: Two-thirds of school leaders aware of staff ‘quitting prematurely’

The proportion of school leaders saying retention is a problem triples in three years.

Two-thirds of school leaders have had staff who quit teaching prematurely, a new survey has revealed.

The NAHT heads’ union found the proportion of school leaders citing retention as one of the key factors contributing to their inability to fill posts has nearly tripled in three years.

The Commons’ Public Accounts Committee is today holding a hearing on teacher retention.

The NAHT has sent a letter to all the members of the committee ahead of the hearing, to share the initial findings of its latest recruitment and retention survey. The full survey will be published next Friday.

According to the letter, 66 per cent of school leaders in the survey said they were aware of some of their staff having left the teaching profession before retirement age.

Read the full article in the Tes.

Two-thirds of school leaders believe teacher recruitment crisis will deepen over next two years

Findings come despite government plans to reimburse student loan repayments for new teachers

Two-thirds of school leaders believe teacher recruitment at their schools will get worse over the next two years, a survey has found.

And when asked to name the five biggest challenges facing the education sector, 70 per cent chose teacher recruitment and retention – second only to funding – and almost double the number that cited government policy, in third place.

The findings come in a survey conducted by the Academies Show with support and analysis by an independent research consultant, Mark Gill.

Asked whether they expected their ability to recruit the right teachers would improve or decline in their school over the next two years, 41 per cent said it would “decline a lot”, with 28 per cent saying “decline a little”.

Only 9 per cent said it would improve a little or a lot, while 22 per cent thought it would remain the same.

Read the full article in the Tes.