National Offer Day Surprises Schools
Expectations were subverted this National Offer Day, as data seems to reflect the large ripple effects of the pandemic. Councils expected to be swamped with applications this year, as children born of the 2010-11 baby boom approach their final days of primary school. However many places found that no such surge occurred. Rates actually fell in places like London, or stagnated in cities such as Manchester, Essex and Leeds. Although lockdowns are finally over, these trends seem to indicate that new modes of working and various social changes are here to stay. For example, rising pupil numbers in areas like Oxfordshire and Hertfordshire imply that many families from the capital have relocated to the suburbs. For many applicants, these shifts in numbers have been a good thing, as more pupils across England and Wales were delighted to be accepted into their first choice of secondary schools.
Whilst National Offer Day can be exciting for some families, others are anxious and perhaps ultimately disappointed. Mindful of the pressures that both families and local authorities are placed under, some leaders in the industry have called for changes to the process. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders union NAHT, argues that there needs to be a coordinated approach to place-planning, as local authorities are currently deprived of the powers and resources necessary to ensure there are sufficient school places. Similarly, Aveek Bhattacharya, chief executive of the Social Market Foundation, suggests that the majority of students should simply be allocated to their local catchment school by default, as is the case in Scotland, rather than letting families decide. With pupil numbers set to fluctuate in the coming years, it seems that the lead up to National Offer Day will continue to be a time of nervous anticipation unless a new strategy is decided.
National Tutoring Programme Loses Focus
After disruptions to education caused by the pandemic, the government developed the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), which offers additional, targeted support to pupils to help them catch up with learning. However, so far the programme has failed to deliver the two million tutoring courses it originally promised, with only three-hundred thousand beginning last term. According to widespread complaints, the apparent failure of the programme may be due to the fact that it is bureaucratic, inaccessible, and difficult to use. In response, efforts have been made to simplify the programme, potentially to the detriment of the children it was designed to benefit.
The fifty-six organisations belonging to the NTP have been told they are no longer required to ensure that sixty-five percent of their tuition support is provided to children on pupil premium. Whilst the NTP still asks tutors to direct support to pupils most in need of it, they emphasise that ‘this will include a significant number of pupils outside of the pupil premium cohort and we encourage you to offer your support to this wider audience.’
As the government seeks to level-up education, professionals across the industry despair that this latest change ‘could worsen, not improve, social mobility.’ Critics argue that without the pupil premium target, the NTP is much less likely to achieve its explicit aim of supporting disadvantaged pupils, who saw disproportionate losses in attainment over the course of the pandemic. Chief executive of the Education Policy Institute, Natalie Perera, argues that ‘if fewer disadvantaged pupils are to benefit from this flagship programme, the government must set out clearly how it intends to support these pupils through alternative interventions.’ Others have called for a public inquiry. In response, a spokesperson from the Department of Education has reiterated that, whilst tutoring organisations have been given more operational flexibility, disadvantaged children will continue to be prioritised.
Abuse in Schools Without Safeguarding Culture
Despite various improvements to safeguarding policies over the past twenty years, the latest report from the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse (IIICSA) has found that sexual abuse and harassment remains endemic for some children in schools. Published earlier this week, the report investigated music, residential, and boarding schools where predators exploited their positions of power and trust, emboldened by a culture in which the reputation of the school was paramount, rather than the safety of children.
The investigation found that in many instances, shortcomings in leadership often led to poor practice, where staff were unaware of how to report concerns of sexual abuse, or were too afraid of the consequences. In other cases, leaders found it “inconceivable” that allegations of sexual abuse against their staff could be true.
Yet, in settings where headteachers embodied the values of the school and acted as role models to other staff, there were huge shifts in attitudes and practices. For example, it was the appointment of a new headteacher that strengthened the school ethos and culture, subsequently enabling one of the victims to come forward. Other victims described how a new headteacher completely changed their school with frequent discussions of safeguarding policy and campaigns displayed on the walls, so that everyone understood their responsibility. The contingency between the school leadership and the efficacy of child protection cannot be underestimated. Through the curation of a culture that prioritises child protection, opportunities for abuse can be reduced, whilst the likelihood of detection and reports can be increased.
In addition to strong leadership, the IIICSA also made several recommendations to the Department of Education to improve child protection systems in schools. These include the introduction of National Safeguarding Standards, in order to ensure consistency in safeguarding approaches. The government has also been urged to improve relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) for students with special education needs and disabilities, who make up a large proportion of CSA victims. Furthermore, the IIICSA asks that other staff within schools be more effectively monitored, including teaching assistants, learning support staff, cover supervisors, and volunteers.
In response, a government spokesperson has said that changes have already been made with reforms to RSHE education and safeguarding training days, also emphasising that ‘Our Tacking Child Sexual Abuse Strategy sets out a whole system, cross-government approach to tackling all forms of child sexual abuse, regardless of where it takes place.’
There have been lots of stories to catch up on in the news this week, but they have certainly provided us with food for thought. If you have any areas of concern in regards to safeguarding, school development, or school business management, please get in touch to find out how we can help.