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 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

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.

Inside the school’s cuts crisis

This 2019 Panorama documentary is a case study in the effects of education funding cuts on one primary school in a deprived area of the U.K. in 2019.

school funding cuts effects.PNG

Summary        

This 30 minute documentary follows one primary school in a deprived area exploring the impact of cuts to education funding since 2010, and investigating the strategies adopted by the school management to deal with these funding cuts.

This particular school seems to have been hit especially hard because of its location in an area with high levels of material and cultural deprivation, meaning it educates a high proportion of disadvantaged children.

The main strategy adopted by the school is to reduce the number of support staff – a number of special education needs (SEN) pupils require additional support in class and we see how the school is facing the possibility of cutting up to seven support staff.

As a result, the parents of one pupil with autism have made the decision to pull him out of mainstream education and get him a place in a specialist school, because of the threat of his support worker disappearing, evidence of schools becoming less inclusive.

One of the staff being sacked is the librarian, and so some of the older pupils are being trained up to manage the library.

One of the initiatives the management insist on keeping alive is the school food bank: pupils who have limited food at home (maybe because their parent’s pay check has been delayed) can take home food parcels.

Relevance to A-level sociology

There are several examples of what material deprivation looks like in real life (lack of food etc.) and how this has a negative impact on students’ education.

Useful for adding to analysis of the effects of New Right/ Neoliberal education policy (cuts to education funding)

This is a good example of how education funding cuts have a negative impact on education, having a disproportionately negative impact on SEN pupils and pupils from deprived backgrounds.

However, at the same time this particular case study is an example of how such funding cuts can be managed effectively in order to minimize negative impact. This might suggest support for the New Right – IF we get competent management in schools, we can still provide a decent standard of education with fewer resources.

Having said that, Marxists might argue the selection of this school for this documentary is ideological – it gives the impression that ‘good management’ can still, on the whole, provide an effective education for most students, without the whole system falling apart.

The broader truth could be that the cuts are having more negative effects, but we don’t see this because of selection bias in sampling (we see a school with good management doing OK rather than average management struggling to cope).

Methodological strengths and limitations

Good validity (to an extent) as we get to see the negative consequences of educating funding cuts in one school, however one has to question the selection of content for the documentary – this is entirely focused on the negatives – for every pupil impacted negatively, there might be 10 who have hardly been impacted at all – the later kind of students don’t make for an interesting documentary.

Limited representativeness – this is only one school among thousands, and it’s unlikely the experience of this school will mirror the experience of other schools. The management and staff at this school are probably more competent than in the average school – the less competent you are, the less likely you are to let a film crew in to film you for a few months!

Ironically this documentary aired around the same time as Boris Johnson announced an increase in education funding, so it’s potentially already out of date. However, IF we come out of the EU without a deal this might send the economy into a downward spiral and the squeeze on education funding may continue.

Finally, while useful to ‘bring to life’ complex sociological issues, always keep in mind that documentaries are themselves social constructions, which reflect the biases of the producers.

 

The consequences of cutting bursaries for student nurses…

Cutting free tuition and bursaries for student nurses seems to be a good candidate for the one of the worst social policy decisions of the decade…

The NHS is currently critically short of nurses, with 42 000 posts in England unfilled.

This seems to be due to a decision by the Tory party in 2015 to remove free tuition and bursaries for those undertaking nursing courses, requiring nursing students to take out loans to cover their fees and costs of living while studying.

It appears that the prospect of starting a nursing career up to £50K in debt has but people off applying for nursing in droves. Since 2016 nursing applications have dropped by one third, and they are down 40% among mature students.

There seems to be a direct correlation here between the removal of bursaries and people deciding to not do nursing courses, which makes sense given that nursing is a low paid, stressful and low status career: who would want to start out £50K in debt?

In 2015, it was projected that the policy would have saved £1 billion a year, but this is almost certainly not going to be the case as it is estimated that nearly 50% of loans to student nurses will be written off because they will never earn above the repayment threshold, and because of the requirement to hire nurses through more expensive agencies.

It is estimated that replacing agency nurses with regular full-time nurses would save the NHS £560 million a year.

Why did the Tories introduce this policy?

It could be due a total disconnect between elite Tories and the kinds of people doing nursing degrees. Most Tories will have no idea what it’s like living on marginal wages and  the difference bursaries can make down at the bottom of the pay scale.

Or it might be ideological – deliberately done to put the NHS in crisis and make it more expensive to run, justifying (in a downward spiral) the further outsourcing and selling off for profit later. Tories don’t need it after all, they have private health care.

It can’t be due to any rational decision making as this policy clearly makes no financial sense on any level.

Sources 

https://www.rcn.org.uk/news-and-events/news/removing-the-student-nurse-bursary-has-been-a-disaster

The Week

 

 

 

The academy trusts failing their schools

The schools census information for October 2018 showed that more pupils now study in academies than in maintained LEA schools (50.1% to 49.9%). Academies were first introduced under New Labour and are something the Conservatives expanded massively in the last decade.

how many pupils academies.png Most of these schools are part of a ‘multi academy trust’, and once a school joins one of these trusts, then it no longer exists as a legal and financial entity in its own right – it is wholly ‘incorporated’ by the Trust.

In terms of standards and results, this is generally advantageous when a Trust is performing well, but when a chain performs badly, individual schools are now just stuck with that trust, with no way out, no means of lifting themselves out of the situation. There’s an interesting Observer article about this here.

There is some case study evidence that suggests some academy trusts are fraudulently claiming money from the government for school improvement works, and then spending considerably less. One example of this is the Bright Side Academy Trust which runs 10 schools in England: it claimed £556 000 to demolish and rebuild some unstable sports hall walls in one school, but then simply installed some steel supports to the existing walls at a cost of £60, 000.

NB – The Bright Tribe Trust also has the dubious honour of being the worst performing academy chain in England at key stage 4.

And what can the individual school in these trusts do about their dire situation? Absolutely nothing. They are basically ‘stuck suffering in the chain’.

This is a feature of the new education landscape I hadn’t really considered before: the possibility of there being ‘batches’ of schools in one trust that end up sinking to the bottom together in certain areas of the country.

Was it ever realistic to expect the academy model to improve failing schools anyway?

The flagship early academies, most notably Mossbourne Academy, was a huge success, getting excellent results with some of the most disadvantaged children in London: but that was 2010, that was the flagship that had £23 million spent on it, and there have been additional motivation from it being a role-model.

Now that academies are generalised, now that they’ve become the norm – it appears that there are good academy chains, and there are bad academy chains, surprise surprise!

in fact this shouldn’t be any surprise. Given that most of the main barriers to educational achievement are all external to the school (such as material deprivation), it was always unlikely that simply changing the structure of how schools are organised )from an LEA to an academies model) was going to make a difference in the long run.

I mean, new academies don’t get any more money than LEA schools, and while they might gain from economies of scale, this can’t make that much difference. It’s not as if they can afford to pay a 50% premium to address the shortage in science teachers for example, and it’s not enough to combat the radical hardships that the bottom 10% or so face at home.

 

New research finds Grammar Schools provide equality of opportunity, and they’re good for social mobility

Supporting evidence for the view that grammar schools are good for equality of educational opportunity and social mobility, but the methods are a bit suspect!

A recent paper by the Higher Eduction Policy Institute found that 45% of pupils at selective schools come from households with below median income, which suggests a very ‘fair intake’ across the social class spectrum.

45% of pupils selected to grammar schools come from the poorest 50% of households, which suggests that children from the poorest 50% of households have a near equal chance of being selected to a grammar school compared to the wealthiest 50%.

The chances of being selected aren’t quite equal, but once you factor in all of the ‘objective’ material deprivation related barriers to education which children from low income households face, then this seems to suggest that grammar schools are doing a pretty good job of providing equality of educational opportunity where household income is concerned.

It’s more common to look at selection in relation to Free School Meal (FSM) households, which represent the bottom 15% of households by income. By this measure, only 3% of pupils on Free School Meals get into grammar schools.

Grammar schools are also good for social mobility 

The report also looked at the chances of grammar school educated children getting into highly selective universities (defined as the top 1/3rd by academic performance, not the ‘Russel Group’) compared to children in non-selective (or just regular comprehensive) schools.

It found that: 

  • 39% of pupils in selective school areas progress to highly-selective universities, compared to only 23% in comprehensive areas (so nearly twice as likely)
  • 3% of selectively educated pupils get into Oxford or Cambridge compared to only 1% from regular state schools.
  • a state school pupil with a BME background is more than five times as likely to progress to Oxbridge if they live in a selective area rather than a non-selective area.

grammar schools social mobility

The report also looked at other things and made some policy recommendations. Check it out at the link above!

limitations of the study 

NB – the stats immediately above are NOT looking at how well the bottom 50% of students by household income do, they are looking at all students from state and grammar schools. The study makes something of a leap of faith and assumes that ‘because 45% of students at grammar schools are from the poorest 50% of households then these have exactly the same chance of getting into a good university as students from the top 50% of households’.

This may not be the case if we isolate out the bottom two quintiles. Interestingly the report says the DFE were not prepared to release this data!

Relevance to A Level Sociology 

This is obviously of relevance to the education aspect of the syllabus, but also research methods (handily they’re combined in paper 1!).

This is one of the very few pieces of supporting evidence for the view that selective education promotes equality of opportunity and social mobility. As such it is evidence against the Marxist perspective on education and against cultural capital theory.

Also, if it is only grammar schools (rather than comprehensive schools) that are doing this, then it is a good argument for expanding selective education as the Tories want to do.

It’s also an important illustration of how measuring a concept differently gives you different results – if looked at by Free School Meals, it looks like grammar schools are not providing equality of educational opportunity, but if you use wider income categories and compare the bottom 50% with the top 50% then they appear to be doing so. And if you look at how well the poorest 40% do (rather than the poorest 15% on FSM), they also allow for social mobility. NB – this would be a great analysis point in any sociology essay on this topic.

 

Compensatory Education

Compensatory Education aims to tackle cultural deprivation by providing extra funds and resources – examples include Operation Head Start, Education Action Zones and Sure Start

Compensatory Education aims to tackle cultural deprivation by providing extra funds and resources to schools and communities in deprived areas.

Three examples of Compensatory Education are:

  • Operation Head Start
  • Education Action Zones
  • Sure Start

Operation Head Start

Operation Head Start was a multi-billion-dollar scheme of pre-school education which took place in America in the 1960s.

It was a programme of ‘planned enrichment’ for children from deprived areas and consisted of the following:

  • Improving parenting skills
  • Setting up nursery classes
  • Home visits by educational psychologists.  
  • Using mainstream media to promote the importance of values such as punctuality, numeracy and literacy.

Education Action Zones

Education action Zones set up in in 1997. These programmes directed resources to low-income, inner city areas in an attempt to raise educational attainment.

Sure Start

Sure Start was one of the main policies New Labour introduced to tackle poverty and social exclusion.

The aim of Sure Start was to work with parents to promote the physical, intellectual and social development of babies and young children.

The aim of Sure Start was to create high quality learning environments to improve children’s ability to learn and help parents with supporting their children in this process. The idea was to intervene early and break the cycle of disadvantage

The main specific outcome of Sure Start was the establishment of 3500 Sure Start Centres, initially established in low-income areas. These centres provided ‘integrated’ family, parenting, education, and health care support.  Parents could attend Sure Start centres with their pre-school children for up to 12 hours a week.

Criticisms of Compensatory education

Critics have argued that by placing the blame on the child and his/her background, it diverts attention from the deficiencies of the educational system.

Compensatory education policies are likely to only have limited success in raising achievement because they involve quite a modest redistribution of resources to poor areas. They are unlikely to do much for the inequalities in the wider society which lead to poor achievement

Early intervention may be intrusive – it involves monitoring the poor more than the rich.

Compensatory Education is the solution to cultural deprivation, so any of the criticisms of cultural deprivation theory can also be applied to Compensatory Education.

Coalition Education Policies #Revision Notes

Neoliberal ideas were much stronger in the Coalition government’s education policies—in a context of public sector cuts, they focused mainly on the further marketization of education, scrapping many of New Labour’s policies to tackle inequality of opportunity 

Funding cuts to education 

  • Spending on education in the UK fell by almost 15% between 2010-11 and 2014-15. The government argues it needs to do this pay of the country’s debt.
  • However, critics say this is an ideological commitment to keeping taxes low. The Coalition could easily find the money to fund education if it taxed the rich more.

Marketization policies 

  • The Coalition greatly increased the number academies, by allowing any school to convert to an academy if the school and parents wanted it and by forcing ‘satisfactory’ or below schools to become academies.
  • Free Schools—free schools are new schools set up by parents or charitable organisations. They are free from the National Curriculum and give parents even more choice over schooling.

Policies to improve equality of opportunity 

  • Scrapped the Educational Maintenance Allowance AND Reduced funding to Sure Start Centres
  • Introduced the Pupil Premium—schools to get extra funding for each student they take from a low income household (approximately £600 per poor kid)
  • Introduced maintenance HE grants for children from low income backgrounds.

Positive evaluations 

  • Standards have continued to increase
  • The attainment gap (between FSM and non FSM pupils has decreased)
  • All this by spending less.

Criticisms 

  • Free schools reduce funding for other local education authority schools, advantaging middle class parents
  • The scrapping of the EMA lowered the stay on rate in Further Education.
  • Considerable regional inequalities remain—for example up north and coastal areas.

Exam practice question –

Outline three reasons why government education policies aimed at raising educational achievement among disadvantaged groups may not always succeed. [6 marks] 

Answer using the (1+1) format – give a reason and explain how… do this three times for a total of 6 MARKS!

Selected Key Concepts:

  • Marketization,
  • Selection by mortgage
  • skilled and disconnected choosers.

Related topics:

  • The New Right
  • Neoliberalism,
  • the privatisation of education
  • All other education policy sub-topics