School buildings ordered to close days before the new term
A building safety crisis has struck hundreds of schools in England, as the Department for Education (DfE) orders the closure of school buildings just days before the start of the new academic year. This follows concerns about the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), a lightweight material that can collapse without warning. This was used in schools and other buildings across the UK between the 1950s to the 1990s, but has now passed its 30 year design-life.
The government has published a list of 147 schools with confirmed presence of RAAC. Of these, 20 are educating pupils with a blend of face-to-face and remote learning. Meanwhile, 19 have delayed the start of term and four others have switched to remote learning full time.
Union leaders warn that hundreds more could be affected, as 1,500 schools are yet to have checks. Another 450 schools with suspected RAAC are waiting for official assessments, which are due to take place over the next two weeks. Unions also call for greater clarity over funding, as current guidance states that the government will provide funding for mitigation works that are capital funded, but not additional revenue costs such as transport or rent for temporary accommodation.
In response to the crisis, the Education Committee has called in the DfE to explain the actions it is taking to end the disruption to schools and colleges. Chair of the Committee, Robin Walker MP, says ‘we share the feeling of urgency to establish how this situation developed […] and what lessons need to be learnt.’
Schools fill the gaps left by the cost of living crisis
Research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) reveals that schools have expanded the scale and range of additional support they offer to pupils in response to the cost-of-living crisis. For example, nearly nine in ten schools in England are providing uniforms and clothing to pupils. Additionally, warm spaces and washing facilities have also been newly introduced in schools.
The findings are based on responses to a survey of 1,354 senior leaders and 1,317 teachers in state mainstream primary and secondary schools in England, carried out between April and May. School leaders warn that the cost of living crisis has led to a rise in safeguarding concerns, behaviour incidents and absenteeism. NFER Research Director and co-author of the report, Jenna Julius, explains that ‘pupils whose most basic needs are not being met – whether it is going to school hungry, or being unable to afford uniform or transport costs – are less likely to attend school and successfully engage with learning.’
As a result, school leaders have stepped in to ensure these basic needs are met. The report shows that 70% of senior leaders have offered food to pupils, either in the form of food parcels, food banks, vouchers and subsidised breakfasts. Over 90% are providing subsidies for extracurricular activities.
To address the crisis, researchers argue that the government should extend eligibility for free school meals, whilst providing greater financial support for pupils’ wellbeing and welfare needs. Furthermore, they suggest action is taken to increase the capacity of CYPMHS and other services around families, rather than relying on schools to step in and fill the gaps in support.
Joint inspections to tackle serious youth violence
From September, new joint targeted area inspections (JTAI) will be carried out to assess how effectively agencies come together to combat youth violence. Led by an Ofsted social care inspector, inspection teams will meet with schools and other education providers to evaluate how the setting contributes to a well-coordinated and timely response, ensuring children are receiving the support they need. Inspections will cover up to six local areas between now and May 2024.
Inspectors will evaluate children’s experiences against a 21-part list of criteria. Among these criteria, two directly pertain to schools. Schools must have effective systems to identify children at risk of, or subject to, serious youth violence or exploitation, and children missing from school. They should make timely referrals for appropriate support and be supported by local safeguarding partners to effectively contribute to multi-agency working and raise awareness about the risks of youth violence.
Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s National Director for Social Care, explains ‘the causes [of serious youth violence] are complex and the JTAI framework is well placed to evaluate how different local agencies work together to tackle this critical issue.’ It is hoped that inspections will highlight good practice and areas for improvement to ultimately safeguard children and keep their communities safe.
The start of a new school year is an exciting time for many, however it can also be a time of stress and uncertainty. As we embark on this new academic year together, we want you to know that One Education will work alongside you every step of the way, charting the course for success.
Here’s to a year filled with endless possibilities and remarkable achievements!
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