Lowering the student loan repayment salary threshold….

The government is proposing to reduce the salary threshold at which students start to repay their tuition and maintenance loans.

Presently, graduates only start repaying their loans when the start earning £27 000 a year, but this could be cut to £23 000.

Students pay back 9% of their salary above the threshold – so if someone is earnings £28K a year, they only pay back £90 a year, 9% of the £1000 above the current threshold of £27 000.

This move will obviously affect lower earners more, and will cost the average student and additional £400 a year in loan repayments and it is estimated that this will save the treasury over £2 billion a year.

Criticisms of this policy change

This will hit lower earners the hardest, bringing in anyone now earning from £23 000 to £27000. This also means graduates will start paying back sooner, even if this will be a relatively small amount in the early days of repayment.

This won’t affect higher earners as much because they are able to pay back faster and thus pay back less than people who get stuck in the £40-50K bracket of earnings, according to analysts from Money Saving Expert:

Those earning £50K a year are currently set to pay back more than those earning £55K a year – all the proposed changes will do is mean those earning £45K a year will end up paying more than those earning £55K a year.

This is because of the insane 5% interest on increasing student loan amounts. The current average student debt is a staggering £45 000 a year, and with interest on PLAN 2 loans (for students who started from 2021) set at RPI plus 3% (total interest currently around 5%).

Once you factor in interest the total amount repayable ends up being nearer £150 000 over 30 years, which means you won’t pay it off in the repayment period unless you’re a very high income earner.

There is also the fact that the proposal to lower the repayment threshold simply isn’t fair to impose on students who have just had their learning disrupted because of Covid and they are also facing reduced job prospects as a result of the Pandemic.

NB – the idea for lowering the threshold came out of a review in 2019 which also recommended lowering tuition fees to £7500 a year, which would help reduce this debt if implemented at the same time.

Signposting/ relevance to A-level sociology

This is an important update for students studying the education module, relevant to the education policies section of that module.

It’s also worth asking yourself whether it’s worth doing a degree, when you can do an Apprenticeship for free!

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

Covid Catch-Up Policies: Are they Sufficient?

Most students in England and Wales missed around 20 weeks of regular in-school contact time due to lock down measures in 2020 and 2021.

The government has introduced a number of policies to try and help students catch up with lost learning, funded with £1.4 billion.

The main official government document outlines several different initiatives which started in 2020 and run through to the end of 2021 and beyond, but are these measures really enough to help students catch up on so much lost learning?

Some of the measure include:

  • The covid catch up and recovery premiums
  • Extra funding for the National Tuition programme
  • £200 million additional funding for summer schools in summer 2021.
  • Extra training and support for teachers
  • Mental health and well being support.

The Covid Catch up Premium

This was £650 million allocated to schools to help them provide catch up lessons in 2021, including running summer schools.

This amounted to £80 per pupil up to year 11 inclusive, £240 for SEND pupils.

If that doesn’t sound like a lot, that’s because it isn’t a lot.

The Covid Recovery Premium

This was an additional £350 million for the 2021-2022 academic year for schools delivering ‘evidenced based approaches’ to helping students catch up. This money is supposed to be targeted and economically disadvantaged and SEND pupils.

£200 million for summer schools

You can read about the government guidance for summer schools here, there’s not much to say about this other than this isn’t a lot of money to go around all schools in England and Wales!

More money for the National Tutoring Programme

An additional £218 million for the National Tutoring Programme which specialises in running additional support classes for small groups of pupils.

The target was for there to be packages of 15 hours extra tuition for the most in-need students on top of all of the extra support already mentioned above.

Other Measures

Besides the above the government also outlines more training support for teachers, mental health and well being funding and holiday food clubs, but I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that most of these were already planned before Covid and the government are just re-hashing them and ‘labelling’ them as extra support for Covid-recovery?!?

Criticisms of these government measures

  • There is wide spread condemnation among teaching unions and other commentators that £1.4 billion is no where near enough money to make up for lost learning. This figure is also pitifully small compared to the amounts being spent on education catch up by other similar European counties. The UK is spending £50 a head, The Netherlands are spending £2500 a head.
  • Like with other forms of ‘compensatory education’ these measures are a sticking plaster. They do nothing to tackle wider inequalities in the UK and which is the root cause of poorer pupils having fallen further behind as a result of the pandemic compared to pupils from wealthier backgrounds.
  • I’m not convincing that everything in the covid-recovery plan is actually new, I’m sure a lot of it was already planned before the pandemic, and has been rebranding as part of covid-recovery policy!

Signposting

This post has been written primarily for students of A-level sociology and should serve as a useful update for education policies, which are taught as part of the education module.

Aspects of these policies are also a contemporary example of compensatory education, as some of the funding is aimed at disadvantaged pupils.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

The New T Levels

T Levels are vocational A-levels for 16-19 year olds focussed on general career areas. They run over two years and are mainly taught in colleges and including 45 days on the job training.

They have been developed in collaboration with businesses and are designed to give students the knowledge and skills they need for work or further study. One T-level qualification is equivalent in UCAS points to three A-levels.

The introduction of T-Levels represent a significant effort by the UK government to improve both the standard and status of Vocational Education In England and Wales.

There are several T-Levels currently available, with more to be released for first teaching in September 2022 and they are very broad in scope, with qualifications being offered in such areas as:

  • agriculture, land management and production
  • building services engineering for construction
  • catering
  • craft and design
  • education and childcare (now available)
  • finance
  • hair, beauty and aesthetics
  • legal
  • management and administration
  • media, broadcast and production
  • science

A full list of T Level Qualifications, 2021

T Levels are designed to give students a third option of study after GCSE, alongside Apprenticeships and A-levels, in fact they seem designed to fit mid way between the two, being more academic than apprenticeships (more classroom based learning) and more hands-on than A-levels.

Design and Delivery

The content of each T-level varies a lot, and there is a lot of content in each – the Digital Production T level specification, designed by Pearsons has a 100 page specification, for example.

The content will be delivered primarily by FE colleges, but also local employers will have to get involved for the 45 days work experience component.

Interestingly there are no national requirements to get onto T Levels, the government has left it to individual colleges to decide on entry requirements.

Each T-level has three components:

  • General competencies – English, Maths and Digital Literacy
  • A Core component – focussing on Business related content/ legal issues which are common across several different T-levels
  • A subject specific component – specific to whatever the T level is!

Assessment

This might vary from T level to T level but the ones I have reviewed have a mixture of assessment by examination, coursework and project work.

For more information the government web site on T-Levels is a good starting point.

T Levels: Positive Evaluations so far

  • T Levels seem to be a good compromise between purely academic A-levels and Apprenticeships which are much more on the job and much less academic.
  • The fact that businesses have had a say in designing the specifications means students should leave college at 18 better prepared for work, which could be good for the economy.
  • The ones I’ve looked at seem to have rigorous specifications and assessment, which should give these new vocational qualifications status.
  • They offer students more flexibility than either and apprenticeship or pure A-levels when they finish – either to work or to university.
  • The fact that there are components common to several T Levels means it’s easier for colleges to deliver them.

Personally I’m more inclined to see T-Levels as a net positive, but there are some potential problems…

T-Levels: Potential Problems

  • These are asking students to specialise from a very young age, at the age of 16, and once they’re a few months in they are pretty much ‘locked into’ that path.
  • There might be something of a shortage of employers willing to provide training places for 45 days, or three months.
  • There could be a shortage of teachers in colleges capable of delivering some of the subject specific knowledge. For example, one of the T-levels has modules in ‘data science’ – most data scientists are working in industry, they aren’t going to take a 50% pay cut to go teach in a college.
  • Many industries move very quickly. It could be challenging keeping teachers in college updated with the relevant knowledge and training to deliver appropriate content in some of these career areas.
  • Some of them probably won’t be very popular – Human Resources in particular springs to mind!

Signposting

This is a useful update for students studying the compulsory module in Education, usually taught in the first year of A-level Sociology.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

Why has the Achievement Gap Between Private and State Schools Increased?

Possible explanations include less disruption to schooling, more parental pressure and higher prior attainment

Teachers in private schools awarded 70% of A-level entries A or A* grades in 2021, compared to just 45% for all exam entries across both state and private schools.

And the proportion of top grades awarded to candidates from private schools increased at a faster rate than for state schools – the A/ A* rate rose by 9% in 2021 compared to 2020 in private schools, but only by 6% elsewhere.

Why have private school candidates improved at a faster rate than state school candidates?

This article from The Guardian suggests that there are three possible reasons for the rapid improvement of private school pupils.

  • Private school students’ learning may have been less disrupted by school closures and forced isolation for individual students than was the case with state schools – private schools generally have smaller class sizes than state schools and so it would be easier for teachers to manage online learning and classroom learning at the same time.
  • Middle class parents may have been better able to home-school their children during school closures due to their higher levels of cultural capital.
  • Teachers in private schools may have been under more pressure from paying parents to inflate their children’s grades – this may not even be conscious, but parents are paying for a service, and if the teachers don’t deliver when they have the opportunity to do so (when THEY determine the grades, not the examiners), this could make the parents question what they are spending their money on?!?
  • The difference might also be due to the higher prior levels of learning among privately schooled students – state school students simply may have got further behind because of year 1 of disruption the year before, and this is an accumulative affect.

Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This update has clear links to the sociology of education, especially the topic on social class and educational achievement, fitting in quite nicely as supporting evidence for how material and cultural capital advantages students from wealthier backgrounds.

It should also be of interest to any state school student who generally likes to feel enraged by social injustice.

How will teachers cope with longer school days?

Most schools in England and Wales re-open today after effectively being closed for two months.

There are talks of school days being extended and the summer holidays being cut to allow those students who need it to catch up.

The problem is, are teachers going to cope with this? When stress levels are already a historic highs:

Being a teacher during the Pandemic has been a horrifically stressful experience for most teaching professionals. Whether schools are closed are open, it means more work for teachers than pre-pandemic, even without extra catch up lessons.

While schools are in full lockdown, teachers still have to manage online lessons for as long as they did while in school, knowing full-well that some students would be paying minimal if any attention during said lessons, which creates a demand/ need to chase such pupils.

And surely things are worse when back in school – if some students are isolating, teachers have to manage the classroom AND those students who can’t attend in person, juggling yet more tasks.

And then there’s having to deal with not just the academic side of things, but the social and mental health problems that come with dealing with a Pandemic overall.

Teacher stress is at an all time high according to a recent survey by education support, so it’s all very well and good putting in place plans to help students catch up, but this might break some teachers.

A simple solution to avoid scrapping exams next year

I really don’t understand why there is such a panic over exams next year, when the solution is quite simple:

  1. Put all other school years not doing exams on a part-home study schedule with about 1/5 of their lessons to be done at home, self-study for the duration of the exams.
  2. This means every class gets 1 day home-study a week, make it the same day of the week per class for simplicity. So class 1A is always Monday, class 1B always Wednesday and so on.
  3. This will free up 1/5th of classrooms, set them up as exam-rooms.
  4. 1/5th of classrooms will be equivalent to the entire cohort (year 11) sitting their GCSE exams, so sufficient room even for those large compulsory exams such as English.
  5. If classrooms are a little cramped, a portion of the class could sit the exam in the regular exam hall (typically the sports hall) – but the extra space created by the classrooms being used should allow an extra measure of social distancing.
  6. Simply get GCSE students to sit their exams in their regular class-sets, even if in different class rooms.
  7. If necessary mix the teachers up as invigilators and get volunteer parents in to be second invigilators.

As far as I can see it the above is a pretty minimally disruptive way of minimising disruption for regular teaching while maintaining ‘class bubbles’ and the integrity of the exams.

Parents coming into the school will not increase the risk of transmission of covid compared their kids coming in!

OK there will be a bit more mixing of people than in regular classrooms, but honestly, will it be more than takes place during regular break times?

OK it’s a bit of hassle for the parents who may need one day off of work a week to look after their children, but it’s only for a month of exams.

I fail to see what all the fuss is about!

Of course with A-levels it should be a no-brainer to not scrap them – with those you COULD send the entirety of year 12 home to study independently for 3 weeks while the exams take place which really would create sufficient classroom space for the A-levels – year 12s are 16/17 so need no legal adult supervision at home!

Then teachers can simply teach the year 12s until the bitter-end of the summer term -right up until the 20th of July if necessary, rather than letting it all ease off.

Practice Portuguese: The Best Place to Learn European Portuguese Online

I can highly recommend Practice Portuguese as the best place to European Portuguese online.

Many of the most commonly used platforms and downloadable apps for learning the language, such as Duolingo focus on Brazilian Portuguese as there are many more people seeking to learn the Latin American version compared to the European version.

HOWEVER, there are significant differences between the two, especially in terms of pronunciation – so if you learn ‘Brazilian Portuguese in Portugal then you run the risk of not being able to understand what people are saying to you and not being able to make yourself understood.

Hence if you are a newly arrived resident in Portugal or are thinking of moving to Portugal in the near future (which I recommend btw!) then you’re better off using a dedicated European Portuguese learning platform such as Practice Portuguese, which is what I use!

Course Structure

Trust me, as a professional teacher I don’t recommend any old online learning platform – but I’m happy to direct people to this site because it’s so well thought-out for those new to the language:

When starting out, you’re directed to a number of clear modules, with progress indicators, starting with ‘the basics’ and the gradually getting more complex.

There are lot more modules after this, I just don’t want to put in too many screenshots!

Videos and Podcasts for Learning Portuguese

Another feature I really like about the site is the collection of videos and podcasts which are available, again nicely organised and easy to navigate…

Being new to the language I cannot emphasise enough how useful being able to hear the language is, and being able to practice along is fundamental to gaining confidence in using it.

They even have videos focussing on gaining residency, which you’ll know is very useful if you’ve every tried dealing with Portuguese bureaucracy – attempting to speak the language goes a long way!

Discussion threads

Finally there’s a nice forum in which you can pose questions for people to answer, or just browse previous questions – which is a nice link to the lived experience of living in Portugal which you won’t get with some of the larger learning sites.

Practice Portuguese Final Thoughts

Overall I’m really enjoying using the site, it’s a very accessible way of learning European Portuguese.

I also really like the fact that it’s a relatively small scale, niche service run by two very friendly guys: Rui and Joel, which is much like what I do with this blog here!

I can recommend Practice Portuguese both professionally and personally!

The 2011 Wolfe Report on Vocational Education

The 2011 Review of Vocational Education, also known as the 2011 Wolf Report noted a number of strengths and limitations of Vocational Education in England and Wales in 2011, before going on to make almost 30 recommendations.

This is an important report because it set the scene for a possible major (if very gradual) restructuring of the delivery of vocational education in England and Wales.

The strengths of Vocational Education in 2011

  • Some vocational courses taught important and valuable labour market skills to a very high standard, skills which couldn’t be met through academic courses.
  • Some Vocational courses offered a direct route to higher level study – hundreds of thousands of students had benefited from these.
  • Some prestigious apprenticeships were massively over-subscribed, and thus very popular (in high demand)
  • Good vocational programmes are respected, valuable and an important part of our, and any other country’s, educational provision.

The limitations of Vocational Education in 2011

Too many vocational students were pursuing sub-standard vocational pathways:

  • Many 16 to 17 year olds were moving in and out of education and short-term
    employment.
  • Between a quarter and a third of post-16 vocational students were doing vocational qualifications with little labour market value.
  • At least 350,000 students were getting little to no benefit from the post-16 education system.
  • The report saw English and Maths GCSE (at grades A*-C) as fundamental to young people’s future prospects, yet less than 50% of students had achieved both by the age of 16.
  • The system then steered that 50% of Maths and English failures into ‘inferior’ vocational qualifications.

Recommendations based on the above report

The report made 27 recommendations, including:

  • Schools should have more freedom to offer vocational qualifications for pupils aged 14-16
  • Students who fail their GCSEs in English and Maths at age 16 should be required to redo them as part of their post 16 study.
  • There needs to be a set of general standards for all post 16 vocational programmes
  • Post-16 students shouldn’t be able to pursue a purely occupation based training course, there should be some kind of academic study in there.
  • The bottom quintile of achieving students should pursue post-16 education which focus on employability and ‘core skills’.
  • Employers who provided apprenticeships should be paid.
  • Generally there needs to be better links and standardisation between colleges and employers in the provision of training.
  • If students don’t use up their ‘education allowance by the age of 19’ they should be given a credit to use later on in life.

Some of the recommendations were quite wooly!

The 2015 review of Progress

If you’re interested you can read this here!

Sources

The 2011 Wolfe Report

Heidi Safia Mirza: Young Female and Black

Young Female and Black is a research study of 198 young women and men who attended two comprehensive schools in London in the late 1980s. The main focus of the study is on 62 black women. The book was published in 1992.

Mirza used a variety of research methods, but this is primarily an example of a qualitative research study using observations and interviews with both pupils and parents. 

The myth of Underachievement 

Mirza argued that there was evidence of racism from some teachers, and that some of the girls felt that teachers had low expectations of them, she argues that these negative labels did not have a negative impact on the girls’ self-esteem.

When asked who they most admired, almost 50% of the girls said themselves, and the black girls in the study achieved better exam results than black boys and white girls in the school, both of which criticise the labelling theory of underachievement.

Types of Teacher

Overt Racists

These teachers were ‘overtly racist’. One of them even used the term ‘wog’ when talking to one of the black girls. The girls tried to avoid these teachers as far as possible and strongly rejected their negative opinions of black people.

The Christians

These teachers had a ‘colour blind’ attitude to ethnic differences. Their attitude was less harmful than that of the overt racists, but did create some problems. For example, they opposed the setting up multi-ethnic working parties because they didn’t believe there was a problem with racism in the school.

The crusaders

These were the teachers who tried to actively develop anti racist teaching strategies in their classrooms, however this could backfire. For example one teacher introduced a role play about a truanting pupil and her social worker, designed to reflect the experience of black pupils. However none of the girls in the class has ever played truant or had a social worker.

The liberal chauvenists

These teachers genuinely wanted to help black students, but their help was often patronizing and counter-productive. For example some teachers insisted black girls did less subjects because they felt they could not cope with a more demanding work load, because of issues like their parents not being able to cope at home.

This later point seems very similar to what Gilborn and Youdell found with banding and streaming!

Despite this, this group of teachers was well respected by the all students and were generally useful in helping identifying the needs of black girls.

Ineffective Teachers and Alternative Strategies

Most of the teachers were genuinley concerned with helping the black girls achieve a decent education, however, most failed to so and negative labelling made if difficult for the girls to realise their full potential.

Despite this, the girls were committed to academic success, but felt it necessary to avoid asking for help from most teachers, which was detrimental to their success.

Conclusions

This is an interesting study that criticises the labelling theory of educational acheivement – the girls did not accept their negative labels from their teachers and had positive self-esteem.

However, the end result was that still failed to reach their full potential because their only coping strategy amidst overt racism and negative labelling was to avoid teachers as far as possible and effectively study by themselves, meaning they were still disadvantaged in education.

Adapted from Harlambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.

Vocational Education in Britain Today

Vocational eduacation in Britain today is complex – involving a range or qualifications from GCSEs, BTECs, City and Guids, T levels and higher degree level qualifications and a range of providers – from schools to apprenticeships provided mainly by employers

The Vocational Education landscape in Britain today is very complex: there are number of different types and levels of vocational qualifications, and over 130 different awarding bodies.

This complexity is because there are several different institutions involved with delivering vocational education and awarding qualifications – from schools to employers in many different sectors.

The UK Skills System: An Introduction by The British Council provides a useful overview of the UK’s Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector.

  • Schools – who provide 14-16 Vocational Qualifications
  • Further Education Colleges – who mainly provide 16-19 vocational qualifications such as BTECs and City and Guilds qualifications.
  • Universities – who provide Degree level Higher Technical Qualifications (some FE colleges will also provide these)
  • Employers – who provide a range of different apprenticeships
  • Private training providers – who will provide a range of any post-16 qualification.

The report notes that today there are flexible pathways available to learners so that they may move between academic, vocational/professional and apprenticeship routes.

14-16 Vocational GCSEs

These don’t seem to be very popular. This report notes that only 33000 students started a vocational GCSE compared to 565000 who started maths, in 2016-17

16-19 Vocational qualifications

The main types of 16-19 vocational qualifications are either level 2 or level 3 BTECs and City and Guilds qualifications. You can explore the later by visiting the City and Guilds web site, which also has information about apprenticeships.

T-Levels

These are new technical A-levels to be introduced from September 2020 – they are two year courses designed to be the equivalent of 3 A Levels.

They involve at least 45 days of work experience and have been designed to provide students with a direct pathway into skilled employment

They are available in a number of different subject/ employment areas including:

  • accounting
  • catering
  • education and childcare
  • on-site construction
  • media, broadcast and production.

Apprenticeships

In 2018-19 there were almost 750 000 people in Apprenticeships, with the numbers of apprenticeship starts in recent years falling from 500 000 a year to 350 000 a year today.

This House of Commons Briefing Paper on Apprenticeship Statistics is a useful place to explore this further.

Criticisms of Vocational Education today

The RSA notes the following problems:

  • There has been a lack of a clear, long term vision and strategy about what direction vocational education should take.
  • There has been insufficient funding, not helped by funding cuts to the post-16 sector since 2010.
  • There’s been poor employer engagement in training provision.
  • There is a fragmented system of delivery – with some students getting very high quality vocational education, but too many getting sub-standard training.
  • The majority of parents still hold academic qualifications in more esteem than vocational qualifications

Another recent report from 2018 which compares vocational education in Britain with that in France and Germany notes that:

  • The British education system values academic qualifications more and focuses its resources on nurturing the academically most able, vocational education is seen as inferior and gets relatively less funding.
  • Funding for vocational education ‘stop-gap’ or ‘reactionary’ – the government funds vocational opportunities in local areas where industry is in decline, to deal with unemployment, rather than pro-actively funding vocational courses.
  • The standards of British vocational courses are generally lower than in France or Germany
  • The diversity of choice is lower than in France or Germany.
  • These have tended to treat issues of ethnicity and underachievement together with poverty and educational achievement.