Education News Update: August Edition
School’s out, but there’s still plenty of education news to report…
More than half a million primary school children in England are being taught in “super-sized” classes of over 30 pupils (Independent), new analysis of Government figures has revealed.
Children in the South East and North West of the country are the worst affected, with more than 90,000 primary age children such classes according to Labour party analysis. The number of children attending primary school has increased in recent years, fuelled by a rising birth rate in the early 2000s. This will affect secondary school numbers in England moving forward, which are set to rise by almost a fifth over the next decade. On top of this, schools are facing a teacher recruitment and retention crisis, leaving many school leaders with little choice but to merge classes as a result of staff shortages. Labour’s Shadow schools minister Mike Kane said “These figures expose seven years of Tory failure in our schools.” Paul Whiteman, general secretary designate of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “A rise in class sizes is down to real terms cuts schools are facing. Every day, school leaders are making tough decisions about class sizes, staffing and their curriculum in an effort to balance budgets.”
Fuelling news of the teacher retention crisis, recent figures reveal that more than half a million pupils are being taught lessons by unqualified teachers (Independent). Labour analysis of Government figures suggests as many as 613,000 state-school pupils are being given lessons from teachers who lack expertise in the subject.
The number of unqualified teachers has also risen by more than 60% to 24,000, up from 14,800 in 2012, when the Government removed a requirement for teachers to be qualified in the specific subjects they cover. The Government has also missed its teacher training targets for the fifth year in a row.
Shadow schools minister Mike Kane, said: “Unqualified teachers have no guaranteed training in safeguarding children, controlling a class or adapting teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils.” The situation is particularly bad in maths, English and the sciences – all ‘core’ subjects students must take at GCSE – with between a third and a fifth of teachers only having qualifications up to A Level in these subjects.
A study by the Education Policy Institute suggests the most disadvantaged pupils are more than two years behind their classmates when they sit their GCSEs (BBC). The very poorest children in England have fallen even further behind their non-disadvantaged classmates since 2007, the research says. These children were those entitled to free school meals for 80% of their time at secondary school. Education Secretary Justine Greening warned of a social mobility emergency, highlighting certain areas of the country with an “entrenched disadvantage” – where low skills and poor employment were found in a downward spiral alongside underachieving schools.
National Union of Teachers assistant general secretary Avis Gilmore said unless investment and the correct interventions are in place, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers would continue. “Local authorities and schools are being starved of cash resulting in the closure of – or cutbacks to – many essential support services for those pupils most in need.”
Children’s Online Habits
Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner, has said parents must intervene to stop their children overusing social media and consuming time online “like junk food.” She criticised the ways social media giants use to draw children into spending more time, saying parents should be proactive in stopping their children from bingeing on the internet in the summer holidays. Ms Longfield has launched a campaign to help parents with the issue.
She said: “When phones, social media and games make us feel worried, stressed and out of control, it means we haven’t got the balance right…With your diet, you know that, because you don’t feel that good. It’s the same with social media.”
However, the former head of the Government’s electronic spy agency, GCHQ, warns that Britain is struggling to keep pace with its digital rivals, and suggests children should spend more time online (Telegraph premium – subscription required). Robert Hannigan suggests children should be encouraged to master and embrace the virtual world to improve cyber skills and eventually ‘save the country.’ Hmmm…
The catastrophically disorganised business of Student Loan repayments has left some graduates paying up to £300 a month to the government-backed SLC (Student Loans Company) even after they have paid off their full debt (Guardian). Many students have reported horror stories about money taken wrongfully from earnings, ignored complaints, not hearing about repayments until months after they’ve been taken, miscommunications about repayments and generally dire incompetence on behalf of the SLC.
HMRC is at least partially to blame for the issue of students overpaying (up to the tune of £10,00), for using an outdated system to collect the money (Telegraph). Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that almost 90,000 students continued making payments on their student loans after they had already repaid it in full in the 2015-16 tax year, the latest period for which figures are available. A total of £51m was overpaid during that year, and the number of graduates overpaying has increased by 80% in the past six years.
Loans are not the only issue for students. Recent research has revealed that some university students are paying as much as £1,000 per hour for tuition (BBC). Students on courses including economics and history may be receiving as little as 26 hours one-to-one tuition over a three year degree, whereas students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects such as physics will receive up to 75 hours, or more. This leads to a wildly imbalanced system where humanities students are subsidising their STEM peers. The numbers of contact hours also varied significantly between top universities and less competitive ones, even if the fees did not reflect this disparity, leading to many students being ‘ripped off’.
A drive for diversity at top universities has also stalled, with official figures revealing that the gap between state and private school students is the largest since records began (Telegraph). In 2008/9, the first year that data was recorded in its current format, there was a 37 percentage point attainment gap between private and state school educated students, which rose to 43 percentage points in 2014/15, the most recent set of figures. This, despite leading universities pumping millions of pounds into “access agreements”, according to data published on Thursday by the Department for Education (DfE). Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that universities’ efforts to improve access are “well meaning” but are not “evidence based.” It’s been suggested that money allocated to bursaries would be better spent investing in schools, helping disadvantaged pupils achieve when they are younger.
However, for the first time ever, the Independent reports that Cambridge University admitted more black males than students from Eton College (22 against 21 – baby steps, it must be said). But admission statistics have revealed that black male and female students are still much less successful than their white counterparts. It is at best cause for limited celebration: last year also saw low numbers of other ethnic minority students accepting places. There were just nine students who identified as ‘Asian or Asian British – Bangladeshi’, and 35 who identified as British – Pakistani. There were higher numbers of British Indian and Chinese students, with 152 and 92 students respectively, taking up places at the University. White students numbered at 2,037.
Finally, in more bizarre news, controversial President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has labelled Oxford University as a “school for stupid people” (Independent) following a disagreement over a research paper detailing and criticising his social media habits. The Oxford research paper looked at 27 other countries besides the Philippines to examine the prevalence of military or political parties’ commitment to using social media to influence the public. It is said to be a global phenomenon, with every authoritarian regime studied using social media campaigns to target their own populations.
A grandmother who nearly died due to a kidney infection has graduated with a doctorate in education from the University of Bristol. Peggy Styles, 86, took eight years to complete the course due to the life-threatening condition. “The university was absolutely super and agreed to suspend my studies until I felt better. I was determined to finish my doctorate,” she said.
She is the oldest student ever to graduate from the university.
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.