Your Weekly Sector News 16/02/24

Stay prepared for what lies ahead in the world of education with Your Weekly Sector News. This week, we reflect on equal access to extracurricular activities, new guidance on school place planning, and the challenges of flexible working in schools.
Classroom Geography
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Flexible working requests refused for over a third of women in schools

According to a survey by Unison, the public service union, 37% of female school staff have had their requests for flexible working denied. This follows a recent review of flexible working, recruitment and retention carried out by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), which found that flexible working practices have a positive impact on ‘teachers’ wellbeing, sense of work-life balance, and job satisfaction, which, in turn, reduces staff absence and improves motivation.’

In total, 44,000 women working in schools, hospitals, care homes, town halls, police stations and other key services responded to Unison’s survey. The findings reveal that more than two fifths had requested flexibility in their jobs in order to achieve better work-life balance. 37% had done so for their mental health, whilst 36% sought to fit work around childcare. However, of those who had requests for flexible working denied, a quarter were refused multiple times. Unison comments that employers are being ‘inconsistent, rigid and unimaginative’ by denying workers the flexibility they need. 

Employers gave women a range of explanations as to why their requests were rejected. 42% of women were told it would affect the quality of the service, whilst 28% were told that there was a lack of available staff to cover their duties. A fifth were denied flexible working because managers feared other colleagues would ask for similar arrangements. 15% of respondents said they were given no reason at all. Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, says flexible working would be ‘beneficial for staff and employers alike, and help bring workplaces into the 21st century.’ Unison is therefore pushing for all employers to include flexible working options in job adverts to ensure more requests are agreed in the future. 

★ One Education HR can support your school to embrace flexible working strategies to improve recruitment, retention, wellbeing and career development.

Contact us today for expert advice and support.

Vulnerable pupils less likely to take part in extracurriculars

Extracurricular activities are thought to have long-lasting benefits for children and young people, such as improved health and cognitive development, as well as the development of social skills and friendships. However, a new report published by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) reveals that vulnerable pupils are less likely to participate in these activities. Researchers found that children with prior lower attainment are 17% less likely to attend sports clubs than their peers. Similarly, children eligible for free school meals (FSM) are 11% less likely. Participation is even lower for children with poor health at 21% and those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) at 23%. The report shows these groups are also less likely to attend clubs for hobbies, arts, and music. Children with lower attainment are the least likely to participate at 20%, followed by those with poor health (18%), children with SEND (17%), and children eligible for FSM (9%). 

Participation in extracurricular activities also varies by school type. In independent schools, 91% of pupils attend sports clubs and 86% attend clubs for hobbies, arts and music. This is significantly higher than pupils who attend local authority maintained schools, where participation stands at 67% and 52% respectively. Notably, this is also lower than pupils who attend academies. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL), explains that ‘school budgets are under such pressure that it is becoming increasingly challenging to run sports clubs and other groups.

To improve children’s access to extracurricular activities, the EPI suggests that the government should introduce a set of benchmarks similar to the Gatsby benchmarks that support high-quality careers information advice and guidance. This would help to set the expected standard for extracurricular provision that is both ‘high quality and accessible.’ The report also recommends offering an extended school day which would include enrichment opportunities including sports, hobbies, music, and art alongside academic activities. As well as improving equal access, researchers suggest this has ‘the potential to contribute towards improving attendance levels in schools.’

Guidance on school place planning and making changes to academies

The sufficiency duty is the local authority’s statutory duty to ensure there are enough school places available for every child in their area. To support the place planning process, the government has released new guidance on making significant changes to an academy. This sets out a ‘sufficiency framework’ for academy trusts, local authorities (LAs), and schools to work with the Department for Education (DfE) to ensure there are enough school places and how to manage excess spaces. This comes as many schools are hit by falling pupil numbers due to declining birth rates. 

Academy trusts are expected to work collaboratively with LAs, other trusts, schools, dioceses or other religious bodies, and the DfE to support their place planning responsibilities, including determining accurate, up-to-date capacity assessments. Trusts are expected to act reasonably when responding to requests to raise or lower the published admission number (PAN). They should promptly inform the LA of any changes affecting capacity, as well as the Regions Group, the DfE’s local delivery team. When considering any significant changes, trusts are expected to undertake a fair and open local consultation before submitting proposals to the DfE. 

Transparency is highlighted as ‘one of the key pillars’ of the framework. Academy trusts are expected to be transparent with LAs and Regions Group about issues affecting their ability to deliver places. Similarly, LAs are called to share their place planning strategy with academy trusts and other local partners. They should also be transparent about underpinning capacity and forecast data, as well as the rationale for targeting schools for expansion or contraction. The Regions Group will be responsible for ensuring trusts are supported to deliver places and that the ability of the LA to meet their sufficiency duty is not ‘unreasonably fettered.’

Supporting you with day-to-day and strategic challenges, One Education is proud to help schools achieve the best possible outcomes for pupils. 

If you would like to explore opportunities for collaboration and development, please don’t hesitate to get in touch

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