Your Weekly Sector News 06/10/23

Join us for another week exploring the latest updates, insights and sector developments. In today’s headlines, we take a look at plans for a new post-16 qualification, the mobile phone ban in schools, and the reality of school costs outpacing inflation.
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Prime Minister announces post-16 curriculum reform

This week, the Prime Minister announced plans to develop a new qualification called the Advanced British Standard (ABS) for 16 to 18 year olds. This will bring together A Levels and T Levels into a single qualification, placing technical and academic education on an equal footing. Plans will also see all students studying some form of maths and English to the age of 18. 

Currently, most A Level students only take three subjects. As part of the ABS, they will study a minimum of five. Some will be studied in greater detail as “majors,” whilst others will be “minors.” Students will have the freedom to take a range of academic and technical subjects. Significantly, the government plans to increase taught hours to a minimum of 1,475 over two years, almost 200 more than a typical A Level student receives. In light of this, the Prime Minister has acknowledged the need to expand the workforce, promising new £30,000 payments over the first five years for new teachers in key subjects. These key subjects are yet to be confirmed. 

Many leaders across the sector welcome the idea of post-16 curriculum reform, but express concerns that the early career bonus payment will not be enough to address teacher recruitment and retention. General Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), Daniel Kebede, points out, ‘simply increasing the number of hours taught would require an additional 5,300 teachers. This year the government missed their recruitment target for secondary teachers by 48%.’ Kebede therefore calls on the Prime Minister to confront the problems of school funding and workload in consultation with the profession.

The government says it will take ten years to design and develop the ABS before it is fully rolled out. Pupils starting primary school this term are expected to be the first cohort to take the new qualification. 

Mobile phones to be banned in schools across England

The Department for Education (DfE) is set to release new guidance that will ban the use of mobile phones in schools across England. It is hoped this will help to improve attention and behaviour in class, whilst also protecting children from the harms of online bullying. 

In England, it is currently up to individual schools to set their own policies on the use of mobile phones. However many countries, including France, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands, have implemented a blanket ban. This follows a report published by the United Nations earlier this year, calling for mobile phones to be banned in classrooms around the world in an effort to improve students’ learning and wellbeing. 

The new guidance will be non-statutory, but the government has said it will consider legislating if schools fail to implement the ban. Tom Bennett OBE, school behaviour adviser, says ‘heads should now be reassured that their efforts to keep schools mobile-free will be backed by the DfE. This is a positive and progressive step forward.’  

Yet, others have criticised the policy as unnecessary, due to data which shows 80% of schools have already restricted the use of mobile phones. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, says ‘schools have been dealing with the issue of mobile phones for many years so it is very hard to see what this latest government guidance will actually achieve.’

The rise in school costs outpacing inflation

Earlier this year, the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, announced that ‘schools in England are set to receive their highest ever funding in real terms,’ with an additional £9.8 billion being invested in the schools core budget between 2021-22 and 2024-25. However, analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has found that by 2024, schools’ purchasing power will actually be 3% lower in real terms than it was in 2010. 

Based on the standard measures of inflation generally used in analysis of public spending, the IFS found that the increase in school funding amounted to a 13% real-terms rise in spending per pupil between 2019 and 2025. They explain that, typically, this would be enough to reverse past cuts and put school spending back on course to be above 2010 levels. However, the IFS adds that ‘we see a very different picture when we analyse the actual costs schools are likely to face.’

Analysis shows that school-specific costs are growing at a faster rate than those faced by the rest of the economy. This is largely driven by support staff pay, inflation of non-staff costs, the rise in pupil numbers, and the costs of high-need provision. When these costs are accounted for, researchers say ‘we see school spending per pupil largely stagnate in real terms after 2022-23.’ 

Julia Harnden, funding specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) says ‘we have long warned that the standard inflation measure does not produce a realistic picture of the pressures that schools and colleges are facing. Funding needs to reflect the real-terms inflation that the sector is dealing with.’

Working in education, staying informed and connecting with others is crucial to help us shape the future of learning and navigate its challenges. 

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