All pupils to study maths until 18…?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of making all students study maths until they are 18?

Rishi Sunak wants every student in the U.K. to study maths up until the age of 18 (1)

In his first speech of 2023 Sunak stated that he wants people to better equipped with numeracy skills so that they are better equipped to deal with an increasingly data-driven society and to manage their personal finances.

A further argument for making some kind of maths or numeracy lessons compulsory until 18 is that doing so should make British students more competitive internationally: many other countries which are higher up the PISA league tables do so, such as Finland and Canada.

Approximately half of 16-18 year olds currently do maths or science subjects at A-level, but most of these are those who achieved lower than a C grade at GCSE and are forced to resit their GCSE.

Only a minority of students who get C and above in maths go on to do a maths related subject at A-level, there are currently at least 400 000 16-18 year olds in Further Education institutions who are qualified to maths or science subjects but aren’t doing them, having opted for humanities subjects instead (20)

The speech was thin on details but the government has ruled out making A-level maths compulsory at 16-18 and has suggested that developing some innovate approaches to teaching numeracy post-16 will probably be required.

Increasing Maths Teaching: Supply and Demand Challenges…

On the supply side, the government is currently 5000 maths teachers short of its recruitment target.

A brief look at the statistics illustrates this: there were only 35 771 Maths teachers in state secondary schools in 2021, compared to 39 000 English teachers, with one in eight maths lessons being taught routinely by a non-specialist.

It seems unlikely that the government is going to be able to recruit more maths teachers given the 24% real terms pay cut teachers have been subjected to since 2010 and the current below inflation 5% pay increase being offered by the government for 2023.

And jobs in teaching are going to be especially unattractive for maths and science graduates, given that maths and science degrees tend to be gateways to higher paying careers.

A related supply problem is that sixth form colleges have seen drastic real terms funding cuts compared to other sixth form providers in recent years, being 20% underfunded in comparison, so these probably don’t have the funds to boost 16-18 math provision effectively.

On the demand side there is the problem that most students simply do not want to do maths related subjects beyond the age 16, and forcing all students to spend an hour or two a week studying a subject they don’t want to is a waste of resources, and so increasing maths provision could come at the expense of teaching students a broader range of subjects that they think will actually be of use to them.

There are a whole load of other subjects students could be usefully taught besides maths, such as critical thinking, political issues and debating contemporary news items civilly, for example.

And besides this A-level maths is actually the most popular subject already, with entries having increased from 83 000 in 2018-19 to almost 89 000 in 2020/ 2021. (3)

Finally, forcing 16-18 year olds to do maths won’t help the 8 million adults in the UK who only have primary levels of numeracy.

Signposting

This post is most relevant to the sociology of education, especially education policies.

Sources

(1) BBC News (January 2023) Rishi Sunak Wants All Pupils to Study Maths Until Age 18.

(2) The Guardian (January 2023) Multiplication of Teachers and Funds Needed for Sunak’s Post-16 Maths Policy.

(3) Gov Data on STEM A-level subject entries, accessed January 2023.

Learning During Lockdown

students from independent schools did 7.4 hours more schoolwork per week during lockdown compared to students from state comprehensive schools.

Students from higher socio-economic backgrounds had significantly more support from their schools during lockdowns compared to students from lower economic backgrounds.

This is according to the latest findings from a contemporary longitudinal study (1) being carried by the Sutton Trust which is analysing the short and longterm consequences of the disruption suffered by students during the Covid lockdowns.

Social class differences in learning during lockdowns

Better of schools (in terms of FSM provision) were able to adapt much more quickly during Lockdown one to minimise disruption to student learning compared the most deprived schools.

Students attending independent schools (compared to state grammar and state comprehensive) and students attending the least deprived schools by FSM provision were more likely to receive online lessons during lockdowns; more likely to get more frequent online lessons; had more access to teachers outside of lessons; and suffered fewer barriers to learning such as lack of access to laptops at home.

By lockdown three the support offered to students by the more deprived schools had caught up with that of the least deprived schools, but significant differences remained.

For example, by lockdown three:

  • Students from the least deprived schools were doing 2.9 hours more schoolwork per week than students from the most deprived schools.
  • 71% of students from the least deprived schools reported having 3 or more online lessons per week compared to only 53% of students from the most deprived schools.
  • Only 6% of pupils from higher managerial backgrounds reported only having a mobile device (rather than a computer) to access learning compared to 14% of pupils from routine/ manual/ non-working backgrounds.  

Teacher contact during lockdowns

73% of students from independent schools reported having contact with teachers outside of lessons at least once a week during the first lockdown compared to only 43% of students from comprehensive schools. This gap had narrowed by the third lockdown with 77% of students from Independent schools and 52% of students from comprehensive schools reporting teacher contact.

Students from the most deprived quintile reported more teacher contact than those from the least deprived during the first lockdown and there was almost no reported variation during the third lockdown.

Hours of schoolwork during Lockdowns

Students from independent schools did almost twice as many hours schoolwork per week during the first lockdown compared to students from state comprehensive schools. The gap was narrower during the third lockdown with independent school students reporting 23.7 hours per week compared to 16.3 hours per week for comprehensive school children.

Pupils from the least deprived quintile did 3.2 hours more schoolwork per week during the first lockdown than pupils from the most deprived quintile and 2.9 hours more during the third lockdown.

Provision of online lessons during lockdowns

During the first lockdown 94% of independent schools provided online lessons compared to only 64% of state comprehensive schools. By the third lockdown state comprehensives had caught of a lot but there was still a large difference with 96% of independent schools providing online lessons compared to 87% of comprehensive schools.

By the third lockdown 95% of the least deprived schools (by FSM provision) were providing online learning compared to only 80% of the most deprived schools.

The above differences are significant but if we look at the amount of online learning which took place (immediately below) we find that independent schools and the least deprived schools were much more likely to provide MORE online classes…

How many online classes during lockdowns?

84% of pupils at Independent schools reported having more than three online lessons per day during the first lockdown, compared to only 33% of students from state comprehensive schools. The figures were 93% compared to 59% respectively during the third lockdown.

71% of students from the least deprived quintile reported having access to three or more online lessons a day during lockdown three compared to only 53% of students from the most deprived quintile.

NB this basically means that students attending the more deprived schools were more likely to get very little in the way of online learning, just one or two lessons a day, while students attending the better off schools were more likely to get three or more lessons, closer to a regular school day.

Barriers to learning during lockdowns by social class

Students faced several barriers to learning during lockdowns including:

  • Minimal provision of online lessons or, in some cases, no online lessons.
  • Internet connectivity problems.
  • Inability to access teachers during the lockdown periods.
  • Lack of access to desktop or laptop computers and having to rely on mobile devices.
  • Having to share a device with siblings.
  • A small percentage of students didn’t have any devices to access online learning
  • Lack of a quiet study space.
  • Parents who lacked the confidence to help students with learning during lockdowns

Students from lower social class backgrounds were more likely to suffer barriers to learning during lockdowns compared to students from higher social backgrounds.

For example 34% of students from higher and professional managerial backgrounds reported infrequent teacher contact during lockdowns compared to 39% of students from routine/ manual/ never worked backgrounds. The figures for having to share a device were 9% and 15% respectively for these two social classes.

Pupils without a device during lockdowns

Only 2% of pupils from independent schools reported not having access to a suitable device by lockdown three compared to 11% of pupils from state comprehensives.

5% of pupils from the least deprived backgrounds reported no access to a suitable device during lockdown three compared to 19% from the least deprived quintile.

Conclusions and policy implications…

15-18 year olds doing GCSEs and A-levels suffered just as much learning loss as younger students, and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds suffered proportionately more learning loss. Thus the pupil premium should be extended and paid out for 16-19 year olds for a couple of years. ATM Pupil Premium ends with year 11 students.  

By lockdown three 30% of all year 11s who needed a laptop had received one, which was significant. However, HALF of all students who lacked a laptop or didn’t have access to one during the pandemic still haven’t received one.

Sources

Cullinane, C., Anders, J., De Gennaro, A., Early, E., Holt-White, E., Montacute, R., Shao, X., & Yarde, J. (2022). Wave 1 Initial Findings – Lockdown Learning. COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities (COSMO) study  Briefing No. 1. London: UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities & Sutton Trust. Available at: https://cosmostudy.uk/publications/lockdown-learning

Comparative Education

comparative education studies are useful to policy makers because they allow the ‘adaptation’ of best educational practice, but there are problems because what works in one culture may not be so successful in another!

Comparative education studies involve comparing aspects of one nation’s education system with another and analysing the reasons for similarities and differences within those systems.

Typical motives for doing a cross national comparative studies of education systems would be to find out why some countries get better overall outcomes (in terms of qualifications) for their pupils, or why some countries have better outcomes for disadvantaged students, and thus better equality of educational opportunity.

Comparative education studies have become increasingly popular in recent years and are one response to the increasing interest in education globally, as evidenced by the PISA testing regime which publishes comparisons of student performance in standardised international tests.

Why compare education systems…?

Comparative education studies are themselves part of the globalisation of education and there are different reasons why actors may wish to compare education systems.

Probably the most obvious is the pragmatic aim to improve education policy – this is where policy makers in one country will employ researchers to study aspects of education systems in another country to see what works well with the intention of adapting or even just copying those aspects for use in their home country.

Such studies may be done by policy makers in post-industrial countries hoping to maintain their competitiveness in a fast changing global economy, or by developing countries hoping to use education to modernise quickly.

One specific phenomena which has led to recent increase in this kind of practical study is ‘PISA shock’ – where countries have found their positions in the PISA league tables to be lower than expected, which can spur them on to conduct research into the education systems of countries higher up the league tables looking for ways to improve their own systems.

Besides pragmatic reasons for comparative education studies some researchers also do purely academic studies, just to develop a deeper understanding of how education systems interact with other institutions within a society – purely focused on theory building and with no intention of applying findings at a policy level.

Bartram (2018) notes that international comparisons of education are increasingly motivated by economic and political reasons rather than purely theoretical motives.

Problems with comparing national education systems

Educational practices need to be considered in the context of the local culture.

It may not be possible to simply lift aspects of one education system and apply it to another and get improved results, because educational practices which ‘fit’ the culture in one country might not fit the national or local cultures of another.

For example, in Western countries educators have introduced more collaborative learning in recent decades (such as more group work) and this has led to improved performance for most students, but this may not work as well in some Asian cultures which are more sensitive to ‘public image’, and in such cultures more individualised ‘sit down and be quiet learning may get better outcomes for students.

You also have to think about WHO is doing the comparisons and applying the (potential) policy changes. Often such research studies are dominated by western experts who may well regard western models of education as superior to traditional indigenous, community based models which may be regarded as inferior.

There is actually a long history of this, stretching back to colonial times when Western powers used their education systems a means of subjugating indigenous people in their colonies, but even after independence new states were coerced into accepting Western education systems as a condition to receive international development aid (Nguyen-Phuong Mai, 2019).

It is simply not the case that Western practices can be transplanted and fitted into local indigenous cultures with easy success, and in many cases countries and local cultures simply don’t want this kind of education, as is the case in many Islamic countries for example.

There is also a problem with comparing results obtained from international tests such as the PISA tests: for those countries appearing near the bottom of the international league tables it is easy to blame their education systems for their poor performance, but this simply may not be the case – it could be a range of other factors such as the prevailing wider economic problems in those countries.

In fact, there is some research (Pasl Sahlberg, 2015) that shows that neoliberal marketised education systems which preference parental choice do not yield better educational performance, even though this has been the dominant educational ideology of the last 40 years.

Signposting and Relevance to A-Level Sociology

The material above is most relevant to the sociology of education module, developing the theme of the relationship between globalisation and education.

Sources

Barlett and Burton (2021): Introduction to Education Studies, fifth edition

Has Education in the U.K. become more Personalised…?

Personalised learning means listening to student’s needs and tailoring teaching and learning to meet those needs.

Personalised learning involves putting individual students at the centre of the learning experience, listening to their voices, understanding their individual strengths and limitations and tailoring teaching and learning strategies to their individual needs. It also involves working with them to help them realise their full potential and allowing students an element of choice in what they study through flexible learning pathways, which may entail schools working in partnership with institutions outsides of the school.

A useful analogy to help understand the concept of personalised learning is to contrast it to the world of production.

Personalised learning is the equivalent of making bespoke products according to what the individual consumer wants, in contrast to ‘standard education’ which is like mass production – taking a one sized fits all approach by teaching all students the same thing in the same way (like Chalk and Talk).

Personalised Learning in education policy

Personalised Education became a formal part of education policy in 2004 under the the New Labour Government.

At that time the DfES defined personalisation of learning as “a highly structured and responsive approach to each child’s and young person’s learning, in order that all are able to progress, achieve and participate. It means strengthening the link between learning and teaching by engaging pupils – and their parents – as partners in learning (1)

While the above definition is a fairly typical example of government speak – in that it doesn’t really say anything the DfES did at least further identify five key components of personalised learning which give some more specific details of what the policy might look like in practice:

  1. Assessment for Learning – teachers knowing the strengths and limitations of individual students.
  2. Teaching and learning strategies that build on the individual needs of students – for example learning being appropriately paced and stretching those students who need it.
  3. Curriculum choice – flexible learning pathways which encourage students to take responsibility of their own learning.
  4. The whole school taking a student centred approach, taking student voices seriously.
  5. Strong partnership beyond the school – involving local communities and institutions.

Personalised learning is a reaction against the kind of standardised education that many associated with the ‘bog standard’ comprehensives of the 1960s – in which students were required to largely sit there and listen to the teacher, taking notes, with very little in the way of creativity or interactivity occurring.

NB this kind of ‘bog standard education’ didn’t necessarily happen in every Comprehensive school, and it may be something of a stereotype, but at least this image serves the function of showing what personalised learning isn’t!

What does personalised learning look like…?

Ideally it will start with teachers finding out as much as they can about the individual and working alongside them to find a suitable learning pathway.

Another aspect is helping students figure out what their end-goals are (usually cast in terms of career aspirations) and helping them study the right subjects to set them up for their future goals.

It also involves finding out how students learn the most effectively and designing tasks for them to work on that are gong to suit their learning style, part of this will involve encouraging them to work in groups or individually, and most likely a mixture of both depending on the subjects.

In reality the capacity for schools to personalise learning is limited (see below) by available staff and the curriculum demands (schools are still required to be exam factories) so the personalisation of learning may well be reduced to:

  • occasional guided independent study lessons, days or maybe weeks during the year.
  • students working with teachers to draw up personalised learning plans for independent study which are reviewed only once or twice a term.
  • Some lessons maybe more ‘personalised’ with the the teacher acting as a ‘facilitator’ most of the time and students largely getting on with their own project work. You are most likely to see this in post-16 education and in creative subjects such as art and music technology.

Limitations to personalised learning

Firstly there is the fact of the national curriculum and the demand on schools to get students GCSE grades – obviously personalisation isn’t to go as far as to allowing students to simply learn guitar or pain for 6 hours a day 5 days a week, so ‘personalisation’ is limited by the requirement that students have to study English, Maths and the other core subjects.

Secondly there is the limitation of teachers’ time – the higher the ratio of students to teachers the less personalised learning is going to be. Teachers have to get through a certain amount of content and most of the time PowerPoints and group work where all students are focused on the same topic are quicker than allowing students to spend time exploring their own ‘learning pathways’.

Thirdly, schools are required to encourage students to work together, and so while a students might personally prefer to just work entirely on their own, if they are in school, this probably won’t be allowed to happen most of the time – they are going to be in a classroom working with other students.

A 2016 article from Education Week points out that the available research on personalised learning initiatives isn’t robust enough to prove that personalised learning is effective.

The Digital Counter-Revolution blog criticises the concept of personalised learning as being focused on individual academic achievement. In practice a lot of personalised learning has turned into a helping students how to maximise their grades.

in this sense all personalised learning is doing is making individual students compete more with each other, it isn’t about helping them think more critically or about being more creative or just about being better people – it is just a response to the pressures of marketisation and a competitive Higher Education and labour market.

Has Learning in the U.K. become more personalised?

Mainstream education as a whole has become more ‘postmodern’, but the tend has been very slight and mainly on the fringes of the mainstream education.

For the most part our education system remains very ‘modern’ with it being 95% focused on teaching the national curriculum and getting students through standardised exams.

I think the same thing is true for personalisation which is part of the very gradual and slight/ fringe move towards postmodernity, given that individualism, diversity and relativism are a key ideas within postmodernism.

So YES mainstream education in the U.K. has become more personalised, but personally I’d say most schools pay lip-service to this personalisation, with students having little real choice over what they study until post-GCSEs (they are not allowed to ditch English and Maths for example and have to resit it post-16 if they fail it at GCSE level).

Signposting

This material is mainly relevant to the education topic within A-level Sociology.

To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com

Sources

(1) Complex Needs – Personalised Learning Policy

Policies to Combat Racism in Schools

Education policy to combat racism has gone from ignorance, through assimilation, integration, multiculturalism to aggressive majoritarianism in 2022.

Gilborn (2008) divided policy approaches to combatting racism into eight phases:

  1. Ignorance and neglect (1945 to late 1950s)
  2. Assimilation (late 1950s to mid 1960s)
  3. Integration (mid 1960s to late 1970s)
  4. Cultural pluralism and multiculturalism (late 1970s to late 1980s)
  5. Thatcherism: the new racism and colour-blind policy (mid 1980s to 1997)
  6. New Labour: Naive multiculturalism (1997 to 2001)
  7. Cynical multiculturalism: from 9/11 to 7/7 (2001 to 2005)
  8. Aggressive majoritarianism (2005 to present day).

Ignorance, assimilation and integration

The government’s response to immigration from 1945 to the late 1950s was that of ignorance and neglect. The government largely ignored the issue of immigration from mainly the Caribbean, India and Pakistan and put no educational policies in place to do anything about the children of immigrants.

This was in line with the racist colonial mentality that people from Africa and the Indian subcontinent would do primarily menial, unskilled manual jobs which required little in the way of educational input to prepare them for.

Assimilation

From the late 1950s to the mid 1960s the government’s official response to immigration was to expect immigrants to assimilate to the British way of life, meaning that they were expected to adapt and become just like the majority white British population.

This was very much a one-way expectation, with ‘them’ being expected to become ‘like us’. Any racial tensions in schools during this period were interpreted as a migrant problem – some immigrants were just not trying hard enough to assimilate.

Integration and education policy

By the late 1960s policy makers had begun to realise that the assimilationist approach was impractical – Indian and Black-Caribbean cultures were not simply going to disappear after a period of time and there was a move towards policies being more accepting of cultural diversity.

This period saw the introduction of the Race Relations Act in 1976 which made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of ‘race’.

Multicultural education

Education became more multicultural from the late 1970s to the late 1980s.

The late 1970s were a period of large spread social unrest due to the failures of Capitalism leading to mass unemployment and poverty, which were disproportionately felt by black and asian minorities.

This was a period in which ethnic minorities were protesting more about the high levels of marginalisation, poverty, unemployment and racial discrimination they were experiencing which resulted in a number of widely publicised riots such as the Brixton Riots of 1981.

Part of this resistance by young ethnic minorities manifested itself in more disruption in school and higher truancy rates.

The Swann Report was published in 1985 as a response to such unrest and this represented something of a landmark change in thinking about how policy should combat racism:

  • It recognised that cultural diversity was a positive force for social change and that a society with a plurality of cultures was richer than a more homogenous white culture.
  • It recognised that ethnic minorities in the U.K. faced higher levels of unemployment, poverty and racial discrimination.
  • It explicitly identified institutional racism as a problem which it defined as ‘where the official institutions in society, such as the education system… operate in a way that automatically discriminates against and disadvantages certain groups.
  • It also recognised that racism was not just a problem that ethnic minorities had to deal with but that it was also a white problem, and that white people needed to be educated about racism, especially in white-majority areas.

The Swann report caused division in central government and was largely ignored there, but many Local Education Authorities acted on its findings and introduced changes to make education more multicultural.

Multicultural education involved understanding and celebrating difference in education

Two examples of multicultural education included:

  • having classes which specifically educated students about the languages, religions and diets of different minority ethnic groups.
  • Changing text books so that they had broader representation of ethnic minorities.

However early multicultural education has been criticised for being condescending and ignoring institutional racism, seen by many as tokenistic and doing little to really foster a mutual understanding and respect between cultures.

Anti-Racist Education

Anti-Racist education believed that racist attitudes needed to be explicitly opposed within schools and that active measures needed to be taken to ensure equality of opportunity for all ethnic groups. Anti racist policies were primarily adopted by some of the more left-wing Local Education Authorities, to whom the New Right Tory government was opposed in the early 1980s.

Colour Blind Education Policy

The New Right Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher and John Major adopted what David Gilborn (2001) has described as a ‘colour blind’ education policy because it ignored ethnic diversity altogether.

This was convenient for the Tories in the early 1980s against the backdrop of the Falklands’ war and increasing popular concern about the amount of immigration to the U.K. and a rising fervour over (white) national identity.

Two ways in which the New Right’s education policies were colour blind include:

  • Leaving everything to market forces and individual choice which took no account of ethnic diversity.
  • The National Curriculum which was introduced in 1988 was also highly ethnocentric if we examine some of the core subjects such as languages, literature and history. The only languages which were options for students were white European languages and there was almost no recognition of black and Asian minority cultures in history or english during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Naive multiculturalism

Gliborn (2001) characterises New Labour’s education policies as being a form of naive multiculturalism. He suggests that while New Labour acknowledged that significant ethnic inequalities existed and that something had to be done about this, they in fact introduced no significant policies to actually to do so.

Rather, in education, they assumed that issues such as racial discrimination would be tackled adequately through the introduction of Citizenship into the curriculum.

Cynical multiculturalism

The September 11 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York ushered in what Gilborn (2008) refers to as an era of cynical multiculturalism in social policy. This means that while New Labour maintained a rhetoric of commitment to promoting ethnic diversity and equality of opportunity the policies they introduced were more similar to the assimilation/ integration phases of the 1950s and 1960s.

For example New Labour made it harder for the spouses of recently arrived immigrants to join them in the U.K., they sped up the deportation of illegal immigrants and they put more emphasis on the importance for migrants to learn English.

Aggressive majoritarianism

Gilborn (2008) suggests that since the London Bombings of 2005 the New Labour government adopted a stance of aggressive majoritarianism.

The media discourse at this time was one of Islamophobia and of how integration policies have failed, and there was something of a return to assimilationism.

There was also more open criticism of veiling as a problem rather than an aspect of diversity and acceptance of diversity was more likely to be seen as destabilising rather than something to be celebrated.

The Coalition government carried on the majoritarian agenda, with the then Prime Minister David Cameron saying in 2011 that multiculturalism had failed and that we needed a stronger identity in the UK to prevent extremism.

The Coalition government’s introduction of British Values into the curriculum is another example of a more assimilationist majoritarianism.

British Values are today taught as something passive and peaceful and the policy discourse suggests that greater social harmony can be achieved if everyone accepts ‘Britishness’ as a core identity rather than us celebrating multiculturalism in schools.

British Values – A form of cynical multiculturalism?

We might also interpret the ‘PREVENT’ agenda, introduced in 2011 as an example of this – which highlights the fact that some elements of Islamic culture have failed to integrate and it is the job of schools to identify these failures and intervene to prevent these aspects of Islamic culture from harming the majority.

It also seems to be the case that the government thinks that we are now in a post-racial Britain – that there is no real problem with racial discrimination anymore so education policy need not address this.

Signposting

Education policy and its relationship to ethnicity and racism is a topic within the AQA’s A-level sociology specification.

To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com

Sources

Barlett and Burton (2021): Introduction to Education Studies, fifth edition

Gilborn (2008) Racism and Education: Coincidence or Conspiracy?

Online Education Trends

Increasing numbers of people are making use of online learning platforms to educate themselves, but getting representative data on online learning is a challenge!

Online education has expanded rapidly with the rise of the internet and in 2022 there are a huge variety of websites and learning platforms that people are making use of to learn about a huge range of topics.

Online learning ranges from the very formal to the very informal, and it is much easier to collect valid statistics on the extent of formal online learning compared to informal online learning, because the former have hard data on the number of student enrolments and degree of engagement for example, data which might not exist for the more informal learning that takes place online.

Examples of formal online learning include universities putting their courses online, workplaces running online training courses and courses run through online learning platforms such as Coursera.

Informal learning is much more difficult to measure at it involves people hacking together an education using whatever free sources they can fund – by using YouTube videos to learn new skills for example.

Gathering data on the extent of online learning is complicated by the fact that there isn’t a clear boundary between using the internet for education and using it for entertainment, not to say, of course, that education can’t in itself be entertaining.

In this post I gather together some data which gives us an insight into the nature and extent of both formal and informal online learning in the world today, taking a global focus.

My reason for doing this is to demonstrate how significant online learning is in relation to formal education in schools, colleges and universities. I don’t believe a sociology of education should ignore these trends in online learning simply because online learning plays an increasingly significant role in many people’s lives, especially in people’s adult lives.

I also focus on the problems of collecting valid data on the extent of online learning in 2022.

Formal and informal online learning

Ranging from the formal to the informal, four basic types of online learning include….

  • The rise of virtual schools offering formally recognised national curriculums.
  • The rise of online digital learning platforms such as Udemy
  • The increase in independent people offering education and training on YouTube and other channels
  • The increase in ordinary people sharing their stories, experiences and life-experiments, and the increased interest in people consuming these.

An Overview of Global Online Learning

According to Global Market Insights (1) the value of the global e-learning market was over $315 billion in 2021.

70% of demand for online learning comes from the U.S.A and Europe (3)

Coursera’s statistics (6) show us that America has the most online learners, followed by India, and we can see that online learning is truly a global phenomenon!

80% of employers use online learning platforms…

Virtual Schools

America leads the way in virtual schools and in 2019-20, 40 there were 477 full-time virtual schools that enrolled 332,379 students, and 306 blended schools that enrolled 152,530 students (2).

NB as I understand it these are schools offering an officially recognised curriculum leading to formal exams, so this is a very formal type of online education.

Online learning platforms

Elearning Industry (8) lists 893 online learning platforms as of December 2022, unfortunately there is no data on how many courses are offered across these platforms or how many people are making use of them.

If you do a Google Search for ‘how many learning platforms are there’ Google returns search results for blogs outlining the ‘best’ platforms, not necessarily those with the most users, for example Thinkific (9) provides 10 of the best which include LinkdIn learning, Coursera and Udemy.

So if you want to find out how many people are making use of online learning platforms, you need to look at the stats from the individual platforms (and there may be overlap, some people enrolled on a Coursera course are also going to be doing a Udemy Courses!).

I don’t have time to trawl through almost 900 online learning platforms to collect the data but to look two of the biggest:

In 2021 Coursera had 92 million registered learners and 189 million enrolments (4)

In 2022 Udemy had 52 million learners and 213 000 courses (5)

So two of the largest platforms have 150 million people currently enrolled on their courses, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that across all learning platforms it’s likely that there are several hundred million people globally doing some kind of formally structured course on such platforms.

Learning Management Systems

Learner Management Systems are back end solutions for managing learners’ data while Online Learning Platforms are front-end packages.

I’m not analysing use of online Learner Management Systems (LMSs) here because pretty much every school, college and university will make use of an LMS to manage their learners’ data.

Educational blogs and vlogs

Many blogs and vlogs are educational, it is very difficult to get statistics on how many exist because many accounts include content which is both educational and purely for entertainment.

There must be well over a million ‘high quality’ educational videos on YouTube alone, produced by institutions such as the BBC and TED, the latest data i could find from 2015 put the figure at 700 000 videos on YouTubeEdu (10), so today there must be many more.

Educational content can range from the academic to videos designed to help people figure out ‘how to present themselves online’ as in the picture below…

TBH I’m not sure how I’d even go about designing a methodology to quantify the number of educational blogs and vlogs online, let alone the number of people consuming them.

Suffice to say, there are A LOT!

One thing I have learned from researching this is that online learning via blogs and vlogs is something of a fragmented and overwhelming experience!

Ted talks

TED (Technology Education and Design) is worth a special mention as many of the talks are relevant to sociology. The TED channel hosts thousands of videos, its YouTube channel has over 22 million subscribers and the most popular talk by Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity has 22 million views.

The problem with global statistics on elearning!

Even formal online learning is difficult to measure as there is no body monitoring the total number of online learners (as far as I am aware), and manually trawling through almost 1000 online learning platforms would take a long time.

Most of the available global statistics come from private companies who themselves offer online learning services. The first problem with this is that there can be a barrier in the form of a significant pay wall (7), another possible problem is with the validity of the data because these companies may use methods of data collection which deliberately exaggerate the extent of online learning: doing so makes it seem like institutions should invest more in online learning to keep up with an inevitable trend.

As to informal learning it is very difficult to measure how many educational blogs and vlogs there are simply because there is so much educational content out there!

Hence what we know about the nature and extent of online learning in 2023 is based on samples of those companies that do publish data, and there is no way this is representative of all online learning!

Sources

(1) Global Market Insights – E-learning market trends.

(2) National Education Policy Centre – Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2021.

(3) Upskillwise – Online Learning Statistics

(4) Coursera 2021 report.

(5) Udemy – About Udemy.

To do

(6) World Economic Forum – charts on global e-learning

(7) For example the Gartner Report apparently contains some data on online learning but I can’t access it because it is so expensive!

(8) Elearning Industry

(9) Thinkific – Top 10 online learning platforms.

(10) Wikipedia entry on YouTube and education.

Signposting

This material is meant as an update to the sociology of education.

To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com

Why do Poor students underachieve at A-level?

16-19 year old students who are eligible for free school meals underachieve by 3 A-level grades compared to their wealthier peers.

This is primarily because of lower prior attainment at GCSE, but also because poorer students take fewer and different qualifications (BTECs more likely than A-levels).

This is according to some recent quantitative research published in 2021 by Tuckett al: Measuring the Attainment Gap in 16-19 Education (1).

The rest of this post summarises and evaluates this research.

Methodology

Sampling

The sample of students was about as close to a ‘total sample’ as you can get. It included all students at the end of their 16-19 study at a state-maintained school or college other than those on apprenticeship programmes.

Measuring Disadvantage

To measure (or ‘operationalise’) disadvantage the researchers used students’ free school meal status during their last six years of school (prior to key stage 4) as the indicator.

They also conducted some analysis using a measure of persistent disadvantage which was defined as any students who had been eligible for Free School Meals for 80% of the previous 6 years.

Measuring Educational Attainment

To measure educational attainment the researchers used the best three qualifications achieved by the end of 16-19 education.

Interestingly, they used two different weighting systems to take account of the different types of qualification students achieved results in: the main difference being between A-levels and BTEC subjects.  

  • For on measure of attainment they treated all level 3 qualifications as being equal, giving the same weight to all level three courses with the same guided teaching hours – so all A-level subjects had the same ‘achievement’ rating as all level 3 BTEC courses. (This is the standard way of measuring Attainment used by UCAS).
  • They also used a second measure of attainment by adjusting the above for the economic value associated with the different qualifications. Thus science based A-levels would receive a higher score than BTEC business studies, because the kind of jobs students who achieve A-levels in physics, chemistry and biology go on to do are higher paid.

Analysis of results

This is a bit technical for A-level students, but they use Regression analysis. More specifically they used ordinary least regression squares holding attainment as the dependent variable with students clustered into institutions. 

They also used Oaxaca Blinder decomposition to find out how much of the difference in achievement between disadvantaged students and non-disadvantaged students were down to a specific variable. 

The rest of this post outlines the findings of this study.

How many 16-19 year old students are disadvantaged

in 2019 there were 119, 497 16-19 year old students who were classified as disadvantaged, meaning they had been eligible for free school meals for at least one of the previous six years.

119, 497 students is equivalent to almost 25% of of the total number of 16-19 students in 2019 which was 497, 541.

YearDisadvantagedNon-disadvantagedTotal students
2017119. 980385. 178505, 158
2018120, 049378, 839498, 888
2019119, 497378, 044497, 541

How big is the attainment gap between ‘poor’ students and the rest?

By age 19 poor (disadvantaged) students are almost 3 A-level grades behind non disadvantaged students, if we give all A-levels and BTECs equal waiting.

It we weight different qualifications according to their economic value then poor (disadvantaged) students are more than 4 grades behind non disadvantaged students.

The disadvantage gap narrowed slightly between 2017 and 2019, but not significantly and more recent evidence suggests that the Pandemic increased this gap again.

interestingly in terms of ‘average’s it makes quite a difference whether you use the Mean score which they use here or the Median – there are significant numbers of 16-19s who don’t achieve, so by including those you drag the results of the ‘disadvantaged’ down because the extreme majority of those who get no results are disadvantaged!  

Why do poor students get worse results?

 Regression analysis shows that:

  • Prior attainment explains 39 per cent of the total gap,
  • the type of qualifications entered explains 33 per cent.
  • the average prior attainment of students’ peers explains 12 per cent

The researchers also noted that fourteen per cent of the disadvantage attainment gap cannot be explained by student or institution characteristics, equivalent to almost half an A level grade. This could be the continued effect of disadvantage itself, and/or it could be due to differences in unobserved characteristics such as health or motivation

Disadvantaged students take different qualifications

Disadvantaged students are more likely to take vocational and technical qualifications. They also tend to enter fewer, and lower level, qualifications.

Taken altogether these differences explain 33% of the attainment gap, mainly because fewer and lower level qualifications mean lower point scores at age 19!

The disadvantage gap and ethnicity

There are significant variations in the disadvantage gap by ethnicity.

Poor white students underachieve by around 4.5 A level grades compared to their richer peers, equivalent to almost an entire A level.

The disadvantage gap is smaller for all other ethnicity groups.

Policy suggestions

One specific policy suggestion is to extend the pupil premium to 16-19 year old students. This means that colleges should receive extra funding for each student they enrol who is eligible for free school meals and have to spend that money supporting disadvantaged students with extra lessons for example,

Strengths and Limitations of this study

This study is very useful because it fills a research gap focussing specifically on the post-16 education sector.

It shows that the disadvantage gap at GCSE level continues into post-16 education and that poor prior attainment explains most of the achievement gap in post-16 education. It also shows that qualification type explains a significant amount of the gap with poor students having to ddo fewer and lower level qualifications.

Sampling is very strong with a near total sample used.

This is also an example of a study which uses some innovate research methods – through the use of multiple measures. I especially like the measure which weights qualifications for future economic value because anyone who has worked in a sixth form environment knows that not all A-levels and BTECs are worth the same, even though UCAS insists on giving them equal weight.

In terms of weakness I don’t like the fact they do most of their analysis using the mean, I’d rather the median – I think it’s fairer to compare students who actually do qualifications!

One final limitation is the time-scale – published in 2021 but it’s only showing data up to 2019, and with the Pandemic, we are now in a different era so this is already in need of an update!

Signposting and relevance to A-level Sociology

This material should be of interest to anyone studying the sociology of education.

To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com

Sources

(1) Tuckett et al (2021) Measuring the Attainment Gap in 16-19 Education

Education Policy in England and Wales 2015-2019

From 2015 the conservatives cut funding for education, carried on with academisation and the pupil premium, supported more state selective education, encouraged the EBacc and introduced T Levels.

In 2015 the Tory Party were returned to power with a single party majority having won an unexpected but significant victory in the May general election, and for education policy this meant a continuation of the conservative policies pursued under the previous Coalition government.

The Tory government continued the austerity policies which had been started under the coalition and while education budgets weren’t as badly cut as other areas of public spending, education policy from 2015 onwards can only be understood in the context of their being less money available than previously.

The National Curriculum was changed – the content of GSCEs was made more academically demanding and coursework and modular assessments replaced with end of year exams.

The grading system for GCSEs was also modified with the 1-9 grading system replacing the traditional A* to G grades from 2017 onwards.

Progress 8 was introduced as a measure of schools performance in 2016 which measured the average progress a school’s students make compared to the national average of students with the same prior achievement across eight approved subjects.

Leckie and Goldstein (2019) caution that school performance measures derived from pupil scores that do not allow for variation in pupil background favour schools with more educationally advantaged pupils in their intakes. Thus schools with higher proportions of disadvantaged students are more likely to have lower Progress 8 scores.

The rest of this post considers some of the major policy changes introduced under the Conservatives…

NB for ‘Education Policy and the Pandemic’ will be dealt with separately via a different post.

Conservative Education Policy from 2015: A Summary

The main education policies enacted by the conservative government from 2105 were:

  • Austerity and funding cuts of an average of 8% for schools
  • Continuing the rapid conversion of LEA schools to academies and introducing more free schools
  • Increasing the number of grammar schools and thus selective state education (subtly and largely by stealth)
  • Continuation of the Pupil Premium
  • Encouraging schools to shift to the EBacc.
  • Introducing T Level Qualifications (16–19s)

Austerity and Education

The Social Mobility Commission’s 2019 Annual State of the Nation Review noted that since 2010 school funding has been cut back by 8%, by 12% for 16-19 year olds (per pupil), and hundreds of children’s centres have been closed.

While funding cuts don’t technically involve doing anything, this is still a policy choice and the fact that schools had 8% less funding in 2019 compared to 2010 has meant it has been more challenging than ever for schools to maintain standards.

Ebacc and technical education

The Tory government has majorly promoted the EBacc and intends for 95% of pupils to be following it by 2025.

The Ebacc has had a significant impact on other subjects in curriculum, with there being a reduction in the uptake on non Ebacc subjects such as P.E.

T Level Qualifications were introduced in 2020 for 16-19 year olds who wished to pursue a technical education rather than A-levels.

Pupil Premium

Pupil Premium funding continued under the Tory government from 2015.

Pupil Premium funding is additional funding to schools awarded for every pupil on Free School Meals.

Schools are monitored by OFSTED to make sure they are spending the money specifically on helping disadvantaged students who are underperforming compared to their peers.

Academies and Free Schools

The Tories continued to encourage the conversion of LEA schools to academies and conversion continued apace from 2015 until the Pandemic in 2020 when it slowed due to schools having to focus more on managing a ‘safe return’ to school after lockdowns and now helping pupils catch up.

The government initially wanted ALL schools to become academies by 2022 but gave up on this goal following strong resistance from mainly well performing primary schools who saw no advantage to leaving LEA control for relatively new Academy chains.

Free schools also expanded under the tories, adding on around another 200 Free Schools between 2015 to 2022, of which there are now just over 500 in England and Wales.

After 22 years of academisation 80% of secondary schools are now academies, accounting for 79% of all pupils, which means we effectively have an education market outside of the control of LEAs.

Primary schools are lagging behind – only 39% of primary schools are academies, accounting for 40% of all pupils.

Grammar Schools

The Tory party has been in favour of opening more selective state grammar schools.

Since 2010 successful Grammar Schools have been allowed to expand by establishing ‘annexes’ in other close-by towns and cities.

An example of this is Tonbridge Grammar school in Kent establishing an ‘annexe’ in Sevenoaks, 10 miles away, which is effectively a new school serving students in that area.

Grammar schools have also been able to expand by becoming sponsors of failing schools which reopen as academies under a multi-academy-trust headed by the grammar school.

Gorard and Siddiqui (2018) suggest that there are three main claims which are made in support of the policy of increasing the number of grammar schools.

  1. Pupils at selective grammar schools get better results than those at non selective schools.
  2. The poorest students at grammar schools do exceptionally well compared to their peers in non selective schools.
  3. Grammar schools have no harmful effects on other schools in the local area.

HOWEVER, Gorard and Siddiqui (2018) also say there is NO EVIDENCE to support any of these claims….

  1. Grammar schools perform better than non selective schools on the Progress 8 measure of achievement but this measure does not take account of other ‘environmental factors’ such as material deprivation – once you factor in these, grammar school performance is no better than non selective schools.
  2. FSM pupils may well do better at grammar schools but there are relatively few of them. It is likely that these are the exceptional few who are exceptionally motivated. FSM students at grammar schools are not representative of FSM students as a whole.
  3. This is just nonsense – the other schools around grammar schools become secondary moderns – grammar schools increase social and economic segregation in local areas.

Despite the flaws of grammar schools by allowing them to set up satellite schools the Conservatives have laid the grounds for the expansion of selective state education

30 hours free childcare for 3-4 year olds

In 2017 the Conservative government introduced a new policy allowing working parents to claim an additional 15 hours of free childcare per week for children aged 3-4 years for 38 weeks a year (the same as school). This means that eligible parents would have access to 30 hours of free childcare a year for their 3-4 year olds rather than the 15 hours free care which everyone gets.

To receive the additional 15 hours both parents (if there are two parents in the household) have to be working for at least 16 hours per week and earning between the minimum wage and £100 000 a year. Those earning more than £100K (net) a year aren’t eligible to apply.

Those NOT eligible for the additional 15 hours include…

  • Any household where one or more parent isn’t working more than 16 hours a week.
  • Any household where one or more parent is on benefits (those on disability benefits are eligible)

The idea behind this is clearly the classic line of ‘make work pay’ – where both partners are working they get more childcare, where both or one parent isn’t working the assumption seems to be that the other partner will be around to do the childcare.

Criticisms of this policy

The Sutton Trust point out that the above policy gives more support the relatively advantaged.

Under this policy households with working parents earning anything from (approximately) £6000 per year (£12000 if there are two parents in the household) up £200K per household per year would get the additional 15 hours of state funded childcare.

However The Sutton Trust also estimates that 80% of households in the bottom 30% by income would NOT be eligible because these are the households where one more partner is either working for less than 16 hours a week or on benefits.

It follows that the majority of children from the poorest third of society are getting LESS childcare than those in top two thirds of households, and missing out on the educational input which would come with that care.

Thus, this policy will probably increase the pre-school educational achievement gap.

Evaluations of Tory Education Polices since 2015

Tory policies since 2015 have primarily been about encouraging further marketisation which has been achieved primarily through the establishment of more academies and free schools.

We now have an education market in England and Wales with so few secondary schools left under LEA control that it’s difficult to see how we can ever go back to local democratic oversight of schools at a county or regional level.

The Tories have largely seemed concerned to please the middle classes by encouraging more grammar schools, despite evidence that they do no better on average than non-selective schooling.

In terms of raising standards the government is focussing on encouraging more students to take up the EBacc, but this potentially will result in a narrowing of the curriculum.

The establishment of T Levels seems to be about the only thing which is positively about improving diversity and choice for students, but it remains to be seen how successful these will be!

Signposting

Education Policies are an integral part of the Education option for A-level sociology students studying the AQA’s specification.

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

Sources/ Find out More

Barlett and Burton (2021): Introduction to Education Studies, fifth edition

Academies in England and Wales

Academies were first introduced under New Labour in the year 2000 to drive up standards and improve equality of opportunity. However academies under the coalition and the new Tories have been more about creating a quasi market in education.

Academy schools are state funded schools which are independent of Local Education Authorities (LEAs), unlike ‘community schools’ which are subject to more Local Education Authority control and receive their funding from them.

Academies receive their funding directly from the government and have the freedom to manage their own budgets, fire and hire staff, set their own daily timetable and term dates and do not have to follow the national curriculum.

Every academy is required to be part of an academy trust (AT), which is a charity and company limited by guarantee. They can seek additional funding from companies, philanthropists, charities or religious organisations, and are non-profit organisations.

They were first introduced under the New Labour Government in the late 1990s and have gradually replaced schools managed by Local Education authorities.

Some academies are run as part of a multi-academy trust (MATs) such as Harris-Academies where several schools are run under one centralised management structure.

Most of the early academies chose to become academies, but some have been forced to convert away from LEA control to academies following an ‘in need of improvement’ grading by OFSTED, many of these converter academies having to choose an MAT to manage them.

Like community (LEA) schools academies are inspected by OFSTED and follow the same nationally imposed rules regarded exclusions and Special Educational Needs provision.

Types of Academy

There are three main types of academy schools: sponsored, converter and free schools.

Sponsored Academies

Sponsored academies were the first type of academy, established under New Labour in the year 2000. They are typically underperforming schools which have failed an OFSTED inspection and have been required to move away from LEA control and become academies.

In the early days sponsors were businesses, philanthropists, charities or religious organisations but today well established successful academies or MATs can be sponsors and take over failing schools.

Converter Academies

These are already existing schools under Local Education Authority control which have voluntarily chosen to become academies.

There are certain advantages to a school becoming an academy – more control over its affairs and the fact that they save on 15% VAT on goods and services which they don’t pay, unlike LEA schools.

Converter academies are the main type of academy today and account for 2/3rds of existing academies.

Free Schools

Free Schools are newly created schools which are run as academies.

Free Schools were introduced under the Coalition Government in 2011 and are typically established by local interest groups who want a better standard of education for their children.

So far they have been established by groups of parents, teachers, charities, businesses and faith groups.

A History of Academies

City Academies were first introduced in the year 2000 under New Labour and then saw a rapid expansion under both the Coalition (2010-2015) and Tory governments (2015 to present day).

Academies under New Labour

Academies were first launched as ‘city academies’ in 2000 under the New Labour (1997 to 2010) government, and Lord Adonis, then education advisor to the Labour government, is credited with their establishment.

Most early academies were ‘sponsored academies’ – they were failing LEA schools in deprived urban areas which were shut down and then re-opened under new management as academies and in the early 2000s huge amounts of capital funding was injected into these early academies.

In 2002 the prefix ‘city’ was removed to allow schools in non urban areas to join the academies programme.

The rationale behind academies was that they would raise educational standards through increasing diversity and choice and encouraging competition between schools – and they are thus an expansion of the ‘marketisation’ of education introduced by the previous Tory government.

Early academies were founded and governed by sponsors including businesses, charities and universities, with funding initially capped at £2 million per school. (This cap was lifted in 2009).

New Labour’s early academies had a greater intake of Free School Meals students and the hope was that by making them independent of LEA control and introducing private sponsorship they would encourage a culture of high aspirations among students and thus break the cycle of deprivation.

This focus on combining marketisation and social justice concerned is very characteristic of the third way ethos which lay behind many of New Labour’s policies.

Mossbourne Community Academy

An example of a successful early academy is Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, which was opened in 2004 with a capital budget of £23 million being spent on shiny new school buildings.

Mossbourne Academy students lining up before lessons

The first headmaster of Mossbourne Academy was (now) Sir Michael Wilshaw, who went on to become the chief inspector for OFSTED. He instigated a regime of high expectations of all students with strict rules about not only attendance and punctuality but also strict dress code.

Teachers were required to work long hours as were students deemed to be in need of extra help to reach their target grades with additional after school lessons and Saturday lessons part of the weekly regime for those who required them.

The school also set up a range of extra curricular activities emulating private schools such as a debating and rowing club – increasing access to cultural capital for those students who took up these opportunties.

Mossbourne was extremely successful in getting its students excellent grades but there is a question mark over how much of this was down to the extreme amount of initial funding injected into this flagship academy project.

By 2006 there were 46 academies established, half of these in London, which had capital and operating costs of £1.3 billion.

By 2010 there were 203 Academies up and running.

Academies under the Coalition

The Coalition identified academies as one of their main education policies for simultaneously raising standards and improving equality of educational opportunity by narrowing the achievement gap.

The Coalition government pursued the setting up of academies even more enthusiastically than the previous New Labour government, their aim being to make it the norm for all state schools to be academies, rather than just for failing schools and schools in deprived areas as had been the case previously.

The new Coalition Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote to all head teachers in 2010 informing them that all secondary and primary schools would be invited to convert to secondary school status, and schools with and OUTSTANDING status from OFSTED would be fast tracked through the process of conversion.

In 2011 the academy conversion process was extended to all schools doing well, and other schools not classified as doing well good convert to academies if they joined already existing academy chains which were doing well.

Fast tracked schools were required to support at least one weaker school, the idea being that better schools would partner with weaker schools and help them improve.

The Coalition also continued with ‘forced academisation’, in June 2011 the government announced that it would be forcing the weakest 200 schools to become academies, under new management, typically an already existing well-performing academy or academy trust.

The 2010 academies act also made it a requirement for all new schools to be either academies or free schools (see below) – this prevented the Local Education Authorities from setting up new schools.

Michael Gove also introduced legislation which allowed for the establishment of Free Schools – entirely new academies which allowed teachers, parents or religious groups (for example) to set up a new school in their own area if they were not satisfied with local provision. By the end of the Coalition government 254 Free Schools had been opened.

All through the five years of the coalition government the academies programme continued at a rapid pace – by the end of the New Labour government in 2010 there were 203 academies, and within nine months of the coalition this had doubled to 442 academies.

By the time of the general election in 2015 there were just over 5000 academies in England and Wales, which was 40% of all secondary schools.

The rapid rise of academies during the Coalition is down to two factors primarily:

  1. The streamlined application process made it a lot faster to convert
  2. There were financial benefits to becoming academies – independent control of budgets (rather than LEA control) made finances easier to manage and there was additional central funding available, all during a time of austerity which made converting very appaling.

West and Baily (2013) have suggested that while New Labour saw academies as a way of solving the problem of failing schools the Coalition used setting them up en masse to enact system wide change towards a more marketised education system.

Academies since 2015

When the Tories came to Power in 2015 David Cameron’s stated aim was to achieve full academisation, that is he wanted ALL schools to become academies.

A 2016 white paper proposed that all schools had to start converting to academies by 2020 and that any that hadn’t would be instructed to do so by 2022, the idea being that the Local Education Authorities would have no role in management education by 2022.

However, there was resistance to this forced academisation, especially by primary schools which were doing well and were reluctant to hand over control to relatively new Multi Academy Trusts and these plans were relaxed and the government focused its efforts on ‘encouraging’ LEA schools to convert voluntarily rather than forcing them.

Even so the number of academies continued to increase rapidly under the Tory government and by 2020 the number of academies had risen to over 9000, an increase of around 1000 per year, and most of these converter academies.

There are also new national structures in place now to regulate academies:

  • The Education and Skills Funding Agency regulates funding
  • The Schools Commissioners Group made up of eight regional commissioners for schools monitors academies in their regions.

The growth of Academies in England and Wales

The total number of academies in England and Wales has grown rapidly since 2010, although the rate of growth has slowed in more recent years.

  • In 2009 to 2010 there were a total of 133 academies
  • By 2019/ 2020 there were a total of 9200 academies

The total number of academies increased by 5% between 2018/2019 to 2019/2020, but this figure would have been lowered because of the impact of Covid, as schools focused on dealing with safe re-opening and helping pupils catch up rather than converting to academy status.

Growth of academies in England and Wales 2009 to 2020

Key for the above table:

  • Dark blue = sponsored academies
  • Light blue = converter academies
  • Mid blue (smallest) = Free Schools.

There are more secondary than primary academies…

  • In 2020 78% of secondary schools were academies, 22% where LEA run schools
  • This compares to 36% of primary schools being academies, 54% remain under LEA control.

Multi Academy Trusts

Source: FFL datalabs

The number of schools in MATs has increased since 2018, with the largest increase being for schools in trusts with 6-10 schools, with 25% of schools being in trusts of 6-10 schools.

Approximately:

  • 15% of schools are single schools
  • 40% are in small trusts of 2-9 schools
  • 25% are in large trusts of 10-19 schools
  • 20% are in very large trusts of 20+ schools

The average number of schools in a trust has increased from 5 to 7 schools in the last four years to 2022 and the largest trust today has 75 schools in it.

Evaluations of Academies

There has been criticism of how far New Labour’s early academies managed to break the cycle of deprivation (Gorand 2009, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, 2008)

Under the coalition the Local Education Authority system of provision of schooling was dismantled – this involved democratically elected bodies planning appropriate educational provision for a local area. This has now been replaced with a greater diversity of provision, increased competition between schools and greater involvement of non-elected officials (sponsors) in how local schooling is run (Walford 2014)

As a result there is now a lack of accountability to the local communities in which academies exist because there is no LEA control.

Funding arrangements for academies are agreed between the secretary of state and the management company of the academy – this means there is no ‘democratic oversight’ of funding arrangements – sponsors are effectively operating outside of the democratic process (Ward and Eden (2009).

While the government speaks of ‘diversity and choice’ another way of looking at this is that they have created a fragmented education system – when there is no local planning for provision you get overlap and inefficiencies, especially where Free Schools are concerned!

Multi Academy Trusts vary in their degrees of competence, and for those schools which are still under LEA control, they may be better off remaining so, BUT LEAs now get much less funding because so much of it has been siphoned off to the academy trusts, so they may not be able to offer as much support in the future.

In short, it’s possible that academisation has gone so far and now LEAs are so weakened that full academisation is possibly now inevitable.

Signposting and Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This material is primarily relevant to the education aspect of the AQA’s A-Level Sociology specification.

Sources/ References

Barlett and Burton (2021): Introduction to Education Studies, fifth edition

Academy Schools Sector in England Consolidated Annual Report and Accounts For the year ended 31 August 2020, HC 851

Education Data Lab – stats on academies in England and Wales.

Politics.co.uk on Academies – a useful summary of some of the Key Facts about academies.

Lockdowns harmed child language development

10% more children now need extra help with their language skills because of lockdowns.

The Number of year 1 students who need extra support with their speech and language skills in school has increased as a result of lockdown according to some BBC analysis conducted on government data in November 2022.

The number of 5 and 6 year olds receiving speech and language support in their first year of primary school increased by 10% in 2021-22 compared to 2020-21…

This was the cohort of children who started reception in the previous year and so had their schooling massively disrupted by the government’s lockdown policies, their chosen response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

This kind of increase cannot be attributed to an increase in the child population or an increase in detection rates of students needing this kind of support, rather it reflects the harmful effects lockdowns had on some students.

The charity Speech and Language UK point to Lockdown as the cause of this regression in child development, suggesting that Lockdowns resulted in students missing being isolated and socialising less, thus losing opportunities to practice and develop their speech and communication skills.

The statistics above back up what teachers and speech and language therapists have been saying for more than a year now.

Primary school teachers have reported increases in the number of primary school pupils starting the year with poor communication skills, some of them pointing to objects rather than saying what they are because they are too anxious about getting the words wrong.

One thing that can help schools to help students catch up is the Nuffield Foundation’s Early Language Intervention Programme

However, this is already full for the current academic year and it seems to involve learning on Learning Support Assistants to help students catch up, just adding more to their work load.

Signposting/ Relevance to A-Level Sociology

More students starting school with poor speech and communication skills reminds me of Bernstein’s concept of restricted speech code which is a form of cultural deprivation.

This is worrying for these students because recent research from Leon Fenstein has found that if a student starts out school with poor language skills it is usually very difficult for them to catch up and he found a correlation with having poor speech at age three and lower income in later life, which sounds very much like what we have here.

It’s most likely that those students who have been hardest hit by the government lockdowns are from lower class, poorer households as it is generally these households who lack the cultural capital to help their children develop those early language skills.

While the government has committed to spending £180 million on early years development, this doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a sufficient amount of money to help ALL the students who need it.

Please click here to return to the homepage – ReviseSociology.com

%d bloggers like this: