Your Weekly Sector News 26/04/24

Stay up to date with the latest news and policy developments in education. This week, we discuss the drivers of persistent absence, the future of GCSE outcomes, and plans to keep single-word Ofsted judgements.  
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School attendance crisis driven by mental health difficulties

A new report published by the Centre for Mental Health suggests that mental health difficulties are one of the main drivers of school absence. Researchers highlight data which shows that children with a mental health problem are seven times more likely to have missed 15 days of school in the autumn term of 2022 compared to their peers. As demand for mental health support continues to outstrip capacity, researchers explain how long waiting lists and rejected referrals are also exacerbating the attendance crisis.

The report shows how mental health problems can be compounded by experiences of poverty, bullying, racism and discrimination. This means that groups of pupils with certain characteristics are more likely to be disproportionately represented in both absence and persistent absence figures. This also includes young carers, looked-after children, and pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). 

The government has introduced a number of measures to tackle the attendance crisis, including an increase to the cost of fines. However, the report warns that sanction-based measures can be counterproductive. Instead, researchers encourage the government to address ‘wider social determinants and systemic barriers.’ For example, the Department for Education, Department for Work and Pensions, and HM Treasury are called to work on delivering a new Child Poverty Act to eradicate child poverty by 2030. Additionally, the report calls for the government to introduce a mental health and wellbeing absence code, whilst also providing clarity on the need for medical evidence in authorisation of mental health related absence. This would help to achieve ‘parity of esteem between physical health and mental health’ and its impact on attendance, whilst also protecting families from being punished for a child’s non-attendance due to inaccessiblity to specialist support. 

Our Education Welfare & Safeguarding experts offer a wide range of training opportunities, policy development, professional casework supervision, and more. Get in touch to learn how we can work with you to ensure your safeguarding arrangements are nothing less than outstanding. 

GCSE attainment predicted to decline until the 2030s

Pupils are set to see the biggest decline in GCSE results for decades, according to a major new study funded by the Nuffield Foundation. To illustrate the scale of educational damage wrought by Covid, researchers charted how school closures hindered children’s socioemotional and cognitive skills at the ages of 5, 11, and 14, and predicted how these will impact upon future GCSE prospects and later life outcomes. They estimate that by 2030, less than four in ten pupils in England will achieve a grade 5 or above in GCSE English and maths – lower than the 45.3% of pupils who achieved this benchmark in 2022/23. 

Further, the study shows that the attainment gap for pupils aged 11 at the time of school closures is set to widen by 4.5 percentage points for boys and 4.3 percentage points for girls. As a result, the study suggests that children will experience a fall in lifetime earnings, costing the national economy a total of £31.4 billion. This will also result in a significant decline in social mobility levels.

To improve children’s outcomes, researchers make a series of low-cost policy proposals, including a national programme of trained undergraduate student tutors to help pupils develop foundational cognitive and socio-emotional skills. The study also recommends rebalancing Ofsted inspections to explicitly focus on how schools are performing for pupils from under-resourced backgrounds as well as rebalancing the school calendar to improve teacher wellbeing. Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, emphasises the need for these policies to ‘rebalance the school system so that it supports all children irrespective of their backgrounds […] the decline in social mobility levels threatens to cast a long shadow over our society.’

With expert advice and strategic planning, our School Development team can help you to achieve the best possible outcomes for pupils and sustain your progress over time. Reach out to learn more about our services.

Government rejects call to scrap Ofsted Rating ‘single-word judgments’

Earlier this year, following an inquiry into Ofsted and its impact upon the workload and wellbeing of teachers and school leaders, the cross-bench Education Committee urged the government to ‘develop an alternative to the single-word judgements.’ This was based on findings that single-word judgements were felt to be reductive or simplistic. However, this week, the Department for Education (DfE) rejected the committee’s recommendation, explaining that their priority is to ‘look for ways to improve the current system rather than developing an alternative to it.’ 

In defence of single-word judgements, the DfE argues that they provide a succinct and accessible summary for parents, whilst celebrating the hard work and achievements of school leaders, teachers and support staff. Moreover, the government warns of the risks of a system without an overall effectiveness grade. Views and decisions about the school’s performance would continue to be made and therefore, ministers argue, it is preferable these are linked directly to the independent inspectorate’s overall findings ‘rather than the interpretations by civil servants, politicians and the media looking through the narrative of reports and drawing their own conclusions.’ 

However, the government agrees to continue listening to the views of the sector and increasing the visibility of graded sub-judgements. Education Committee Chair, Robin Walker, agrees that there are benefits to a system of judgements, although he maintains that ‘a more nuanced version of this system is both achievable and in everyone’s interests.’ 

The DfE has also rejected calls to reduce the frequency of inspections to approximately five to six years for “good” and “outstanding” schools and three to four years for those judged “requires improvement” or “inadequate.” Robin Walker urges the government to give more thought to this issue, explaining that ‘the logic here is quality over quantity’ which would help to improve confidence in the system amongst school leaders and teachers. Other recommendations, including calls for multi-academy trusts to be inspected by Ofsted and assessing the decision to impose academy orders on schools that have received two negative Ofsted inspections, are currently being actively considered and kept under review. 

We understand that it can be difficult to strike the right balance between wellbeing and accountability. Our HR Wellbeing support can empower your school to embed the policies and practices to boost job satisfaction, engagement, and performance. Contact our HR team to find out more. 

With our extensive portfolio of services, tailor-made solutions, and child-centred approach, One Education proudly leads the way in supporting leaders and driving school development. 

Let’s work together to give every child the world-class education they deserve.

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