Your Weekly Sector News 12/08/22

Read ahead to find out the latest trends and developments in education. As the new school year approaches, we discuss anticipated updates to policy and guidance, and consider the pivotal role that teachers play in shaping our children’s future.
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Academy Trust Handbook delay

The Academy Trust Handbook for 2022-23 remains unpublished, leaving leaders frustrated as the beginning of the new term draws near. In previous years, the document – also known as the Academies Financial Handbook – has been published in June, giving leaders almost three months to respond to any changes.

The handbook contains information regarding academy trusts’ financial and safeguarding responsibilities, including main financial requirements, limits and freedoms, as well as internal scrutiny and the duties of key figures. The Department for Education (DfE) states that ‘academy trusts must comply with this handbook as a condition of their funding agreement.’

But without knowledge of any amendments to the document, academy leaders have expressed concerns about plans for the next financial year. Chief Executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST), Leora Cruddas, says that ‘trusts should not be placed in this position as it risks undermining sound governance and financial planning.’

The CST is working with the government to ensure these risks are mitigated. In the meantime, Stephen Morales, chief executive of the Institute of School Business Leadership, tells leaders ‘do not use emotional energy at this stage speculating on what is to come. From a sector point of view, just use the old handbook.’

Attorney General says schools are “well-intentioned but misinformed” on gender issues

As schools wait for official guidance on how to approach issues of sex and gender, the attorney general has shared her understanding of the law, hoping to provide legal clarity to schools. Writing in The Telegraph, Suella Braverman, says that ‘many schools and teachers believe – incorrectly – that they are under an absolute legal obligation to treat children who are gender questioning according to the preference of the child.’

Braverman considers this a misinterpretation of Equality legislation, stating that it is lawful for schools to not comply with pupils’ gender preferences. She explains that mixed schools may refuse to allow transgender girls to wear girl uniforms or participate in girls’ sports, whilst single-sex schools have the right not to admit trans-identifying pupils of the opposite sex. The attorney general also clarifies that there is a ‘separate duty to provide single-sex toilets in schools, breach of which would be unlawful.’

Furthermore, Braverman warns schools that supporting the social transition of a child without the knowledge or consent of parents may ‘increase their exposure to a negligence claim for breach of their duty of care to that child.’ When making the decision to reinforce a child’s transgender identity, schools must ensure that ‘all safeguarding processes have been followed, medical advice obtained and a full risk assessment conducted, including taking into account the impact on other children.’

Despite trying to provide clarity, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) claims that the attorney general’s comments ‘serve only to further muddy the waters.’ He argues that ‘schools and colleges are doing their very best to navigate this sensitive and often contentious territory in the best interests of all their pupils,’ but without any official guidance, they are at risk of being criticised for any policies they adopt. The Department for Education is set to publish new guidance on sex and gender for schools this autumn.

What are teachers’ current attitudes towards apprenticeships ?

In 1999, the Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, famously announced his target of getting fifty percent of young people into university. Twenty years later, in 2019, that target was reached for the first time. But over the last two decades, political leaders have started to encourage young people to explore other possible routes of education. In a speech last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed that ‘we love our universities […] but we need to escalate the value of practical and vocational education that can transform people’s lives, and that is why we are rolling out T-levels and apprenticeships.’

Supporting a new ambition in education, the government has expanded Skills Bootcamp and Skills Accelerator programmes, whilst also publishing new careers guidance for schools and colleges, in effort to make apprenticeships more accessible and attractive to young people.

In a recent survey, PLMR polled over five thousand teachers to see if they shared the government’s attitudes towards higher and further education. Researchers found that the majority of teachers hold a favourable view of further education, with three-quarters reporting that they would feel positive if their top-achieving pupils decided to pursue an apprenticeship. Surprisingly, only thirty-eight percent of teachers agreed that university provides excellent future opportunities for students, compared to almost seventy percent when considering apprenticeships. Eighty-six percent of teachers believed too few students are taking up the opportunity of apprenticeships.

Despite their high regard for vocational and technical learning, only a quarter of teachers felt confident advising their pupils on how to find an apprenticeship, versus ninety percent for a university place. Researchers point out that, having gone to university themselves, teachers can draw on their own experiences, as well as the wide range of resources on UCAS, to support pupils with university applications.

To ensure teachers and pupils both have the support they need to explore different pathways, researchers suggest that simple resources should be created, whilst making it a requirement to list all apprenticeships on UCAS. They also say that careers advisers should play a role in raising awareness of different post-18 opportunities. Leora Cruddas, Chief Executive Officer of the Confederation of School Trusts, welcomes the recommendations, saying ‘as the drive for more young people to take up apprenticeships accelerates, it is critical schools and trusts have the knowledge and confidence to give meaningful advice.’

School leaders and teachers work hard to inspire their pupils and create habits for lifelong learning. Working in the ever-changing environment of education, we must always be open to learning ourselves.

To gain further clarity and understanding of your role and responsibilities, One Education can help with compliance checks; skills audits; consultancy and training opportunities. Providing a trusted and reliable service, our professionals will address the knowledge gaps in your team and ensure that all statutory duties are met.

Explore our services or get in touch to find out more.

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