Your Weekly Sector News 12/09/22

Welcome back to the new term! We hope you have enjoyed your first week back in school, meeting pupils, reconnecting with colleagues, and bringing fresh ideas to the classroom. Back with our Weekly Sector News, One Education will ensure you are ready to face the new school term, keeping you up to date with the latest trends and developments.
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Kit Malthouse becomes the new Education secretary

Earlier this week, Liz Truss was elected as Conservative party leader, succeeding Boris Johnson as the new Prime Minister. In the cabinet reshuffle that followed, Kit Malthouse was appointed as the new Education secretary, making him the fourth minister to hold the role in just over two months, and the ninth in the last eight years.

Before pursuing a career in politics, Malthouse qualified as a chartered accountant with Deloitte & Touche, and then worked as a Finance Director of the Cannock Group. During his time in government, he has served as minister of state for family support; housing and planning; and policing. His previous appointment was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which began only in July this year.

Leaders in education are concerned with the high turnover in ministerial jobs and how this ‘constant upheaval’ appears to leave many issues across the sector unresolved. Schools currently face huge financial pressures, exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis, energy bills and unfunded pay awards; problems with teacher recruitment and retention; and unanswered questions surrounding the Schools Bill. With all this in mind, Kevin Courtney of the National Education Union (NEU) warns that ‘our current education system is on its knees […] the new Secretary of State will only deliver workable solutions by listening to and working with the profession, students and parents.’

Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson, has expressed her doubts about the new Education secretary, commenting that he ‘hasn’t displayed much of a passion for [education], this post is clearly just a stepping stone for Kit Malthouse.’

However, when Kit Malthouse entered the race for party leadership in 2019, he argued the case for making the Conservative party the ‘party of children, with their welfare, protection and future at the heart of everything we do […] as Prime Minister I would make ours the party of well-funded schools, investing in the future of each and every child.’ We hope that he carries these ambitions into his new role, ensuring every pupil receives the education they deserve.

The disadvantage gap widens to largest level in ten years

Latest government data shows that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more privileged peers has widened to the largest level in a decade. Between 2011 and 2018, the disadvantage gap index gradually reduced, before coming to a resting point of 2.91 in 2019. A score of zero would indicate that the gap had completely closed, meaning there would be no difference in performance between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off classmates. This year, the index increased to 3.21, the highest level since 2012.

Reflecting on the data, the government suggests that ‘disruption to learning during the Covid-19 pandemic has had a greater impact on disadvantaged pupils.’ In the aftermath of the pandemic, data shows that pupil attainment has fallen in all subjects bar reading, however the attainment of poorer pupils has fallen further than the rest. Now, just 43% of disadvantaged pupils reach expected standards in reading, writing and maths, compared to 65% of other pupils.

Union leaders argue that the effects of the pandemic could have been mitigated with a properly-funded education recovery plan. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, says that ‘only through proper investment in education can we expect to see an improved picture.’ Now, as schools consider cuts to teaching and support staff in order to contend with financial pressures, unions agree that ‘the government cannot sit back and let this second massive blow to disadvantaged pupils hit.’

Energy price cap extended to schools

The government’s announcement to freeze energy costs for schools and colleges over the next six months has been welcomed by school leaders, however many say the intervention does not go far enough.

In a speech to parliament yesterday, Liz Truss announced plans to cap the average price of energy bills for households to £2,500 a year for two years, starting in October. The price cap will also be extended to businesses, charities, and public sector organisations for a period of six months. After reports that some schools faced energy price hikes of more than five-hundred percent, leaders agree that government intervention was desperately needed.

However, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has expressed concerns that the guarantee will last for only six months. He says that the union will seek clarification about what happens beyond then, reiterating that ‘there is absolutely no way that schools and colleges can bear unrestrained energy cost increases at any point without this impacting on educational provision.’ Furthermore, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), argues that the measure ‘will do nothing to mitigate the increases that have already happened,’ as schools strike multi-year deals which lock them into high prices, unable to afford more short-term agreements.

Explaining that energy bills are just one of the cost pressures facing schools this year, unions call for further funding for the sector, arguing that plans to cut school staff, resources, trips and building works may still go ahead without adequate support.

The new school year is an exciting time, full of new possibilities and potential. But faced with so many challenges, we understand that school leaders, staff and pupils may also feel a sense of uncertainty and trepidation.

With One Education, you can meet the challenges of the new school term with confidence and optimism, finding opportunities to learn, grow and build for the future. Get in touch to discuss your ambitions, and we will do our very best to help you achieve them.

We wish you all every success in the academic year ahead.

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