Your Weekly Sector News 06/01/23

Happy new year and welcome back to school! With the Christmas break behind us, there is already so much to catch up on. Find out what you might have missed with Your Weekly Sector News.
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Prime Minister’s plans for all pupils to study maths until 18

In his first speech of 2023, the Prime Minister set out his priorities for the year ahead. Alongside plans to halve inflation and tackle the NHS crisis, Rishi Sunak pledged to make numeracy a central objective of the education system. He remarked that ‘just half of all 16 – 19 year olds study any maths at all. Yet in a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, our children’s jobs will require more analytical skills than ever before.’

Under his reforms, all pupils will study maths until the age of 18, as they do in many other countries – including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the USA. The Prime Minister emphasised this would not necessarily mean a compulsory A Level in maths for everyone. Instead, the government will explore other routes, such as Core Maths qualifications, T Levels, and more innovative options.

Whilst many sector leaders welcome the prospect of curriculum reform, there are concerns over how the policy will be delivered. Research by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) shows that maths teachers are some of the most difficult to recruit and almost half of senior leaders are already relying on non-specialists to teach maths lessons. This year the government failed to hit targets for initial teacher training (ITT) programmes in maths by 10 percent.

Beyond the problem of staffing, leaders also believe the policy is not ambitious enough. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), argues that the Prime Minister’s plans overlook ‘increasingly detailed and urgent discussions about curriculum reform,’ despite a widespread consensus for change.

Similarly, Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust, says that ‘maths is just the tip of the iceberg.’ He encourages the government to look at countries following a baccalaureate-style model, which allows students to graduate from school with a far wider range of knowledge.

Primary school pupils to benefit from new careers scheme

The Department for Education (DfE) has delivered on a pledge in the Schools White Paper to create a new careers programme in primary schools. This will introduce children to future job possibilities, whilst ‘nurturing aspirations and challenging stereotypes.’

Currently, most careers advice is focused on the secondary phase. However, the DfE points to research that shows children begin to eliminate potential careers, jobs and interests at an early age, based on who they perceive themselves to be. For example, between the ages of 6 – 8, children start to see certain career pathways as intrinsically gendered. These perceptions go on to influence the academic effort children exert in certain lessons, the subjects they choose to study, and the jobs they will eventually pursue.

Researchers suggest that careers-related learning in primary school should encourage ‘children to broadly consider a multitude of options that are available, and to not restrict or limit possibilities for their future aspirations.’

The primary school scheme will be rolled out across the government’s 55 education investment areas, where school outcomes are the weakest. With £2.6 million funding, the scheme will reach 600,000 pupils in over 2,200 primary schools. Teachers will receive training to deliver the scheme, which will link lessons to different careers, training and skills. It will also give children the opportunity to meet employers and role models from different industries.

At the same time, a change to the law means that secondary schools are now required to give Year 8 – 13 pupils at least six opportunities to meet a range of providers of technical education. Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon says that ‘to deliver the future workforce that this country needs, it is essential that careers advice and work experience helps young people from all backgrounds to climb the ladder of opportunity.’

Artificial Intelligence poses threat to academic integrity

Headteachers have raised concerns about ChatGPT, a new online artificial intelligence (AI) that can generate human-like answers to coursework and exam questions. The chatbot was designed by OpenAI, a research company whose mission is ‘to ensure artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity.’ Currently, ChatGPT is free and available for anyone to use.

After the chatbot was launched on 30 November 2022, it quickly went viral on social media, especially amongst young people who discovered the technology could be used to complete their homework. The chatbot can write essays, poetry and code; answer factual queries; and summarise scientific papers.

School leaders are now planning out their response. Some have considered a flipped learning approach, where pupils carry out research as part of their homework and then write essays in class. One headteacher explains, ‘I’m not worried it will give us As and A* s, but it can fool us a lot with the middle-of-the-road esssay. A teacher marking 25 essays is not going to detect one written by this software.’

Teachers who were asked to mark ChatGPT responses to GCSE questions in English Language, English Literature and History gave them scores between a grade 4 and grade 6. With academic integrity at risk, exams regulator Ofqual may issue guidance for schools. A spokesperson has said that ‘we speak regularly with exam boards about risks, including malpractice risks, and will consider whether additional advice or guidance might be helpful.’

So far, content produced by the chatbot has also managed to pass the plagiarism screening test by Turnitin. However, the company says that ‘like AI, we are advancing quickly,’ reassuring that they will release products that can detect AI-assisted writing later this year.

Computer scientists at OpenAI acknowledge that there are many limitations with the software, and encourage users to provide feedback ‘to help us uncover and understand novel risks and possible mitigations.’ To combat plagiarism, researchers say they are working on a way to watermark AI-generated text to make it more detectable.

As we step into 2023, now is the perfect time to reflect on your school’s priorities and plan for the year ahead.

As always, the team at One Education are here to help you achieve your full potential.

Get in touch to explore your options.

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