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.

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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

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).

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

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Sources

(1) Complex Needs – Personalised Learning Policy

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!

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

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Sources/ Find out More

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

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.

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Inequality and the Covid Crisis in the UK

The Covid Crisis in the UK increased inequalities in several different ways such as:

  • School closures disrupted the education of poorer students more than students from wealthier backgrounds.
  • Lockdowns and social distancing meant less work for the less well educated and those in lower paid jobs compared to those in more middle class jobs.
  • and in the longer term missed schooling and less work experience could mean the disadvantaged fall even further behind in years to come.

This is according to a recent report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies released in December 2021, which is VERY RELEVANT for any student studying the Education Module as much of the increasing inequalities referred to are due to school closures.

It’s worth noting that from a policy perspective, the report sees Covid catch up policies as ‘papering over the cracks’ of the widening inequalities caused by the Pandemic, the government isn’t doing enough in the short term, and almost nothing for the longer term implications.

NB this topic – policies and educational inequality is also on the advanced release information from the AQA for the 2022 Sociology exams!

This post summarises some of the key points of this study.

School closures and increasing inequality during Covid

Schools closed for two periods during the Pandemic – for 10 weeks in the Spring of 2020 and then for 9 weeks in the Winter of 2022.

School closures removed the ‘equalising’ affect of schools – by removing for a total of 19 weeks (half a school year) standardised curriculums and learning environments and replacing them with heterogeneous (different) home environments.

This meant that those students from lower income households studied less at home once home education was introduced – basically because lower class parents have less cultural capital and are less able to support home learning than middle class parents…

Once schools re-opened, schools in poorer areas were less likely to offer support for students who were off school and isolating at home (remember there was still a lot of disruption through absences even after schools reopened:

University/ Apprenticeships and Declining job Opportunities

The report notes that University learning suffered minimal disruption – online learning is well established there and the switch to ‘lockdown mode’ was relatively easy.

However, there was massive disruption to apprenticeships, most of which require people to be at work – new apprenticeships during the Pandemic fell by around 30% overall.

Something else to keep in mind is that because it is mainly lower class jobs that have suffered during the Pandemic (middle class jobs kept going through furlough and homework) there is now MORE COMPETITION for lower class jobs than before the Pandemic – meaning a further reduction in opportunities for the lower classes….

The Affect of the Pandemic on Education and Inequalities: Final Thoughts

It seems that disruption to education, apprenticeships and the job market has increased inequality because the disruption was greater for the lower classes.

And it feels unlikely that the government is going to put in place policies with sufficient funding to close these increased gaps.

What is the Pupil Premium and how Effective is it?

The Pupil Premium provides extra funding to schools to improve the educational outcomes of disadvantaged children in England and Wales.

Both Local Education Authority Schools and Academies in England and Wales get the following Pupil Premium Funding (2022 to 2033 figures)

  • £1385 (primary) or £985 per pupil who is eligible for Free School Meals (or who has been eligible within the last six years)
  • £2410 (primary and secondary) per pupil who has been adopted from care or left care,
  • £2410 (primary and secondary) per pupil who is looked after by the Local Authority.

Payments for the first two above are paid directly to the school ( the later to the LEA) and school leaders have the freedom (and responsibility) to spend the extra funding as they see fit.

Approximately two million school children qualify for the Pupil Premium:

How the Government expects schools to spend the Pupil Premium?

There are three suggested areas:

  1. General teaching – school leaders are allowed to just spend money from the Pupil Premium on recruiting more teachers or support staff, or training.
  2. Targeted Support for disadvantage pupils – this is probably what you imagine the funding being spent on – things such as extra tuition in small groups for specific children, probably those who generate the Pupil Premium
  3. Wider areas – such as Breakfast Clubs or helping fund the cost of educational trips

Accountability…

Schools are required to publish online statements outlining how they have spent their Pupil Premium Funding.

Pupil Premium: The Theory

The pupil premium is the main government policy to tackle the educational underachievement ‘caused’ by material deprivation.   

This educational policy recognises the fact that children from disadvantage backgrounds face more challenges and achieve lower grades than children from more affluent backgrounds.

Children who are eligible for Free School Meals are from the lowest 15 – 20% of households by income, so they will probably be living in relative poverty, and some of them will be experience material deprivation.

The government gives most of the money straight to the schools with such disadvantaged children, allowing school leaders to pick a strategy that they think will work best for their school, as one solution won’t work for every school!

The Pupil Premium: Does it Work?

This 2021 Parliament Briefing summarises seven reports on the attainment gap and the effectiveness (or lack of it) of the Pupil Premium.

On the positive side, it notes that the attainment gap (between disadvantaged and non disadvantaged children) has come down in the last ten years, since the Pupil Premium was introduced, BUT this trend alone doesn’t necessarily mean it was the Pupil Premium which led to this.

Moreover, the report notes that the recent school closures following the government’s choice to lockdown the nation as a response to the Pandemic have almost certainly impacted disadvantaged children more, and it’s unlikely that the Pupil Premium will be sufficient to make up for this.

Besides this vaguely positive note, there is a lot of criticism of the Pupil Premium too, and four  stand out:

  • Firstly, a lot of schools are spending the money to plug gaps in school funding, so not targeting it at disadvantaged students, but just spending it on general school needs.
  • Secondly, many reports point out that lack of school funding is the problem and the Pupil Premium doesn’t make up for this.
  • Thirdly, a lot of the money, where targeted, is being spend on Learning Assistants, but apparently this isn’t the most efficient way to help disadvantaged students.
  • Finally, some reports criticise the accountability aspect, schools don’t have to be too specific in outlining how they spend the money.

Links to A-level Sociology

This is relevant to educational policies and can be used to evaluate New Right approaches to education as the Pupil Premium was first introduced by the Right Wing Coalition Government.

It is also relevant to the education and social class topic, but be careful as the Pupil Premium is only designed to tackle material deprivation, not class inequalities or differences more broadly, and relative deprivation/ material deprivation are only one aspect of the more broader concept of social class.  

Find out More

The Pupil Premium government webpage

The Pupil Premium Briefing Paper, House of Commons Library, March 2021

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!

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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.

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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.

 

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