Education News Weekly – 5th June, 2017
Assaults on teachers, May’s mounting election woes and the link between drugs, alcohol and A*s
Election Update – Guardian, BBC, Independent
With people heading to the polls this Thursday, and campaigning halted due to the weekend attacks in London, the race for No. 10 is getting tense…and personal.
The Guardian reports that the education funding crisis has soared up the political agenda in the last few days. This was revealed in a poll of 1,000 parents of schoolchildren, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the National Union of Teachers (NUT). The findings include:
- Over two thirds of parents believe schools are underfunded
- Only a quarter said they thought the funding is adequate
- Education ranked in the top three concerns for respondents, alongside health and Brexit – and ahead of jobs, the economy and terrorism.
- Many parents also reported being asked for financial contributions to cover the cost of school running costs, and even textbooks.
This comes amid news from analysts that the Tory manifesto pledges on education would mean a cut in real terms for schools of nearly 3% by 2021, while both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have promised to invest significantly to relieve the current funding crisis.
The bad news doesn’t stop there. A separate survey of teachers in England and Wales, also carried out by YouGov for the NUT, found:
- One-third reported that the number of teaching jobs in their school had fallen since the last election, in 2015.
- About 60% of teachers said class sizes had increased in their schools over the last two years
- 38% also said the range of subjects available to pupils had shrunk since 2015.
“Politicians of all parties should be aware that parents are saying school funding will influence their vote,” said Kevin Courtney, the NUT’s general secretary.
The Lib Dems have attacked Theresa May over her ‘lunch-snatcher’ policy – replacing free school lunches for infants with free school breakfasts – costed at only 7p per student – as a £600 million cost-cutting measure, a move likely to negatively affect poor families worst (although means-tested lunches for the very poorest will remain in place, as well as breakfast). Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has warned that Theresa May should take “her inspiration from Jamie Oliver not Oliver Twist”.
This is backed up by a poster campaign that pulls no punches:
Warning of the nutritional cost to children, Clegg also pointed out that the lack of nutrition guidelines for breakfasts (which currently do exist for lunch, including plenty of fruit and veg) could have a long term effect on children’s welfare: “This is particularly short-sighted when we are struggling with soaring levels of childhood obesity,” he added. Both Labour and the Lib Dems have committed to extending free school lunches in their manifestos to all children in primary education.
However, Clegg may want to look away now: research by the UCL Institute of Education found that (perhaps unsurprisingly) the tuition fee hike accepted by his government in coalition with the Tories has deterred students from poorer backgrounds from applying to university, due to debt. One researcher, Prof Claire Callender said: “Working-class young people are far more likely than students from other social classes to avoid applying to university because of debt fears.” She said that even when poorer youngsters had the same exam results, they were less likely to apply to university than wealthier ones. Labour has promised to scrap tuition fees in England – while the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would continue with a system of fees and loans.
In fact, May claimed she would further raise tuition fees beyond the current £9,000 cap, in order to cover the cost of building government free schools. As well as announcing plans for more universities and independent schools to sponsor academies, or be made to set up free schools. These plans have been understandably scorned by education leaders, at a time when schools and universities are already facing unprecedented cuts.
Finally, a leading academic has claimed that May’s flagship grammar schools policy was justified using ‘false’ data. Professor Alice Sullivan, who heads the department of quantitative social science at the UCL Institute of Education, claimed the plan failed to take into account the bottom third of poorest families in the data – invalidating any claims of grammar schools helping poorer students, or ‘promoting social mobility.’
Food for thought (breakfast or lunch?) come June 8th.
A US study has concluded that people who go to the best private schools are more likely to end up with drug and alcohol addictions in later life. Studying the habits of two groups of privileged students in affluent communities in New England in the US, researchers from Arizona State University have claimed that pupils who attend elite schools are at a higher risk of turning to cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy, as well as being more prone to alcohol abuse.
- Girls from top schools were three times more likely to suffer from drug and alcohol-related problems than their less privileged peers, even in cases where they performed “exceedingly well” in school and were highly thought of by teachers and friends
- Boys from the same backgrounds were said to be twice as likely as other male students to becoming addicted to drink or substances in early adulthood.
- The earlier and more frequently children start to drink or use drugs, the more likely it is that they will develop addictions in the future, making ostensibly privileged youth among the highest-rick groups
Professor Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology who led the research said: “Results showed that among both men and women and across annual assessments [from high school to age 27], these young adults had substantial elevations, relative to national norms, in frequency of several indicators – drinking to intoxication and of using marijuana, stimulants such as Adderall, cocaine, and club drugs such as ecstasy.”
The study, published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, suggested several possible reasons for these findings:
- Pupils at these schools experience more pressure on them to achieve, in terms of expected grades and entrance into the most competitive universities
- They tended to abide by a “work hard play hard” mentality
- Students often had more money, which helped to buy alcohol and source both prescription and recreational drugs, as well as fake IDs.
- Some parents possibly being lulled into a false sense of security due to their child’s otherwise good behaviour or impressive grades.
But it’s not all bad news, by any stretch: overall, smoking, alcohol and drug use had more than halved among British secondary school students between 2003 and 2014, reflecting a wider global trend for young people.
More than half of school support staff have been attacked at work, according to a survey for the GMB union. 54% of teaching assistants say they have been physically abused or assaulted, while almost a quarter also say they are verbally abused at least once a week..the troubling report found that:
- 18% of teaching assistants polled say they are attacked at least once a week.
- One in ten are abused once a month
- 9% say it happens once a term, and 17% within the past year. Almost a quarter also say they are verbally abused at least once a week.
- 29% of staff have been injured at school with reports of being strangled, punched, kicked and having tables and chairs thrown at them
- Some teachers also reported having false accusations levelled at them by pupils, or working in fear of particular violent students
- Police have been called to schools about 700 times in the past three years to confiscate weapons from pupils.
- Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that across Britain there was a 50% rise in classroom incidents recorded by the police between 2014 and 2016.
Even more troublingly, this abuse extends beyond the classroom. The Independent reports cruel examples of students using fake social media or online dating profiles to prank teachers, or taking inappropriate photos of teachers during lessons, and sending them around the school. A spike in the last year has seen increasing numbers of school staff targeted with such online abuse and security violations, which is often traumatic, leaving them emotionally scarred.
The University of Edinburgh mistakenly sent final year students an email claiming their graduation ceremony was cancelled, as they had failed to achieve enough credits to graduate. The university blamed a ‘system error’ for the mistake, and insisted there had been no breach to their system, or student data compromised. A university spokesperson said: “The university has written to all students affected to reassure them that their graduations have not been cancelled and asking them to ignore the emails.
“All students who might have received the inaccurate information were contacted first thing this morning and told that this was an error. We are currently investigating exactly which students were affected.”
Unsurprisingly, students were quick to criticise the university for the mistake, citing “massive anxiety and stress” as a result.
The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) and the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) will run a pilot scheme in primary schools, encouraging more boys to take up dance, and girls to play cricket. Royal Ballet principal dancer and cricket enthusiast Alexander Campbell said he was delighted to be an ambassador for the project. He said “They [cricket and ballet] are fun and engaging at all levels, and I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to introduce children to my favourite art form, as well as my favourite sport.”
By David Bard
David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.