Your Weekly Sector News 27/05/22

In education, we all strive to support children to reach their full potential. Find out how you can keep supporting your pupils’ in Your Weekly Sector News, as we discuss the upcoming extracurricular handbook, changes to the recovery premium, and the prospect of “corporate parenthood.”
A teacher and three boys sitting around a table, looking at a picture book.
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A New Extracurricular Handbook In Development For Schools

Pupil wellbeing has been one of the greatest challenges facing schools since reopening after the pandemic. In a report by the Education Select Committee, published in March, ministers urged the Department for Education (DfE) to introduce a pilot of optional extracurricular activities as part of their catch-up plans, in order to boost pupils’ wellbeing as well as their academic achievement. They also recommended fast-tracking commitments to ensure every school has a designated mental health lead, as well as carrying out mental health and wellbeing assessments for all pupils.

In response, the government says ‘we do not believe that it is practical, nor necessary, for every child to undergo a clinical assessment for their mental health and wellbeing.’ However, the government reiterates its commitment to ensuring every school has the opportunity to train a senior mental health lead by 2025. In addition, the government agrees that ‘participation in varied activities can bring many benefits to children and young people’s mental health, confidence, social skills and general wellbeing.’

Therefore, the DfE says it will publish an extracurricular handbook offering guidance to schools when selecting activities that meet the needs of their pupils. The government will work with schools and MATs with broad enrichment and extracurricular offers to collate the best approaches for promoting wellbeing and delivering emotional support.

Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP, comments that ‘the Department have made some very welcome interventions.’ However, he insists more must be done to ‘ensure that targeted support is provided to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.’

Updates to the Recovery Premium

This week, the government announced changes to the roll out of the recovery premium. Funding for secondary schools has been doubled, rising from an average of £30,000 per school to an average of £60,000. Prioritising disadvantaged or looked-after children, funds will be allocated based on the number of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) in the past six years and numbers of children in care. Pupils will now receive £290 a head, up from £145 last year.

Catch-up funds were also expanded to cover all pupils in special schools and alternative provision. Last year, £290 was allocated to schools based on measures of FSM and looked-after pupils. This year, all pupils will receive £552 a head. Meanwhile, funding remains the same for primary schools, at £145 a head for eligible pupils.

Schools Minister, Robin Walker, explains, ‘this extra support in secondary reflects evidence showing the greater gaps in older pupils’ learning […] while primary pupils have already recovered around two thirds of progress lost due to the pandemic in reading, and around half of progress lost in maths.’ He encourages all schools to make full use of the premium offer to help every child ‘get back on track and stay on track.’

In response, Julia Harnden, Funding Specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, concedes that doubling the rate of the recovery premium for secondary school pupils ‘is obviously welcome […] however, it is disappointing that the allocation for primary school pupils has not been increased. These children have suffered just as much disruption as those in secondary schools.’

The Role of Schools in the Children’s Social Care Reset

In its final report, the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care (IRCSC) makes the case for a ‘dramatic whole system reset’ of children’s social care. Without this fundamental shift, the report warns that the numbers of children in care will rise to 100,000 within the next decade, as the current system ‘too often tries to replace organic bonds and relationships with professionals and services.’

In the IRCSC’s vision for the future of children’s social care, schools will have a large role to play. To begin with, the report recommends that ‘corporate parenting responsibilities’ should be extended to schools as well as other public bodies and organisations. When a child lives in foster care, local authorities act as corporate parents to ensure accountability and oversight. However, in Scotland, schools, police and other organisations have also taken on the legal duty of promoting the wellbeing of looked-after children. After many ‘tangible and meaningful changes,’ the IRCSC believes the same measure could be replicated in England.

The IRCSC also suggests that “targeted early help” and “child in need” services are replaced by one category of Family Help, which would be based in community settings including schools. The report recognises that ‘schools and children’s social care need to be brought into lockstep,’ and so recommends that schools are included as statutory safeguarding partners, ensuring that ‘the voice of education’ is no longer missed.

Teachers may also be asked if they would consider fostering children who cannot be cared for in their family network. The report notes that whilst it is currently considered inappropriate to ask, attitudes must change in order to deliver better outcomes for looked-after children. If just ‘1% of teachers stepped forward to foster a specific child, there would be 4,610 new homes available for children in care with someone who already cared about them and who could offer them stability in their education, friendship groups and community.’

Several other changes relating to schools were suggested in the report, including replacing young offender institutions with secure schools and investing to create state school boarding capacity. To find out more about the role education might play in supporting children’s social care, read the full report here.

In order to give children the best possible start in life, we must ensure they are prepared to face all the challenges that lie ahead. Consider how you can cultivate your pupils’ confidence through extracurricular activities and enrichment, equipping young people with the social skills and emotional resilience that they need to lead happy, healthy lives.

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