Your Weekly Sector News 26/01/24

Keep up with the latest developments in education with Your Weekly Sector News. This week, we discuss plans to expand early years provision, digital leadership guidance, and school buildings in need of repair. 
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Childcare expansion risks widening the early years attainment gap 

The government’s expansion of state-funded early years provision will begin to be rolled out in two months’ time. From April, working parents of two-year-olds will be entitled to 15 hours per week of free childcare during term time, extending to children from nine months old in September 2024. By September 2025, the scheme is set to be fully rolled out, providing 30 hours of free childcare per week to working parents of children under five. However, the Sutton Trust, an education charity set up to champion social mobility, warns that current plans for the childcare system risk widening the early years attainment gap. 

The charity explains that increasing workforce and capacity pressures for providers could prompt them to prioritise places for children eligible for the most funded hours. This may create ‘childcare deserts’ in less affluent areas, where access to nursery places becomes increasingly scarce. Whilst 80% of families earning over £45,000 are expected to gain access to the planned expansion of funded places, only 20% of families earning less than £20,000 a year will benefit. 

As a result, the Sutton Trust warns both political parties that ‘the next government will reinforce disadvantage for children before they even start at school, and risk widening the attainment gap.’ The gap between children eligible for free school meals and their peers has been increasing since before the pandemic, from 17% in 2016/17 to 20% in 2022/23. 

To resolve these issues, the charity argues that all young children should be entitled to a core education of at least 20 hours per week, with extra provision needed for childcare paid by parents on a sliding scale of fees by income level. The charity also calls for a review of early years pupil premium and an early years workforce strategy. Further, they say that families with young children should also receive wider support through a reinvigorated national children’s centre programme. 

Our Early Years specialists can support you with the development of the learning environment, the role of the adult, transitions and more, laying the foundations for future success.

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New guidance to support schools with digital leadership

The Department for Education (DfE) has published updated guidance to support schools with digital leadership and governance. Notably, it recommends appointing a member of the senior leadership team (SLT) to be responsible for digital technology. This individual will have ‘strategic oversight of all digital technology and how it fits with their development plan.’ Crucially, they will act as a link between the SLT, curriculum leads, technical staff, the data protection officer, designated safeguarding lead, school business professionals, and any IT director or equivalent. 

The digital lead is expected to create and manage the digital technology strategy according to the needs of staff and pupils, not the technology itself. This should be designed to support the school development plan, whilst prioritising sustainability and minimising impact on the environment. Moreover, the guidance states this should be a minimum two-year strategy that is reviewed on an annual basis, capturing ‘a longer-term vision for digital technology to support all educational and organisational needs.’

Additionally, the digital lead will be responsible for keeping registers relating to hardware and systems up to date, as well as including digital technology within disaster recovery and business continuity plans. However, due to workload and staffing concerns, education unions warn that many schools will struggle to meet new standards. 

Caroline Barlow, a headteacher and member of the Digital Standards DfE Group that created the guidance, explains the standards are not intended as a checklist but as an audit tool to help schools ‘think about what we meet already, what we don’t, and to get us thinking about our intentions.’

If you want support with developing a digital technology strategy, our IT experts can provide your school with an IT audit, including a 3-5 year budget plan to help you plan IT updates around the curriculum.

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700,000 pupils attending schools in need of major rebuilding or refurbishment 

Government data shows that the average primary school in England needs £300,000 worth of maintenance or upgrades, whilst the average secondary needs an estimated £1.5 million. This week, a BBC Panorama investigation exposed the extent of damage and decay that exists across England’s school estate. Reporters discovered windows held together with tape; a lack of central heating; no-go areas due to the presence of asbestos; repeated evacuations due to flooding and the risk of potentially explosive sewage gas. 

According to the National Audit Office (NAO) report on school conditions, around 24,000 school buildings – equivalent to more than a third of the entire school estate – are ‘beyond original design life.’  The School Rebuilding Programme was launched in 2021 to rebuild 500 schools in a decade – 50 schools each year. However only four schools have been completed. The Department for Education (DfE) says £5.3 billion is needed each year to maintain schools in England, but it has only been allocated £3 billion by the Treasury. With a £2 billion shortfall, the backlog of repairs is quickly rising.

This comes alongside a warning from the environmental audit committee (EAC) that the DfE is falling behind its goals to slash emissions by three-quarters by 2037, before becoming net zero in 2025. Philip Dunne, chair of EAC, raised concerns about the impact of climate change on schools, particularly the lack of long-term planning to mitigate the risks from flooding, overheating and water scarcity. In a letter to the Education Secretary, he explains that with the current rate of school retrofits, only one-fifth of the UK’s existing estate would likely be retrofitted to meet sustainability and climate change requirements by 20250. He added that retrofitting all schools to meet net-zero targets would ‘result in a significant charge on the public purse.’ It is estimated that 650 school retrofits annually would have an annual cost of £2 billion. 

Baroness Barran, Minister for the School System and Student Finance, admits the school rebuilding programme would not be sufficient to meet net-zero targets by itself. She emphasises an ‘innovate, test, and invest’ approach to accelerate retrofitting of the education estate. This will help to inform future plans, including the roadmap that will outline how the department will meet its sustainability targets.

One Education is proud to be the partner of choice for schools and trusts across the country, supporting staff to grow in confidence and thrive in practice. 

Find out how we can support your school with specialist training, tailored solutions, and expert support. 

Get in touch today. 

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