Friday Five: free school meals, grammar schools, childcare, teaching apprenticeships, attendance and exclusions


24th February 2023

1. London to offer free school meals to all primary pupils for a year

This week began with Sadiq Khan’s office announcing an investment of £120 million into providing free school meals for all children in primary schools in London. The announcement follows concerted campaigning by CfEY’s close friends the NEU, Child Poverty Action Group and the Fair Education Alliance.

The announcement has reactivated a debate central to discussions around welfare policy – whether welfare programmes should be means-tested or universal. In this instance, proponents of the former have argued that much of the £120 million will go towards families who can afford to pay for their child’s school meals, creating ‘policy deadweight’ and inefficiency, while preventing the expenditure of some of that money on other in-need areas in the education system (e.g. investment in mental health services). Universalists have argued that the current rate at which families are slipping into poverty means that a means-testing system will inevitably lead to lags in welfare receipt that will see thousands of children going hungry. They also point to the evidence that universal free school meals programmes increase the likelihood of consumption of free school meals by disadvantaged pupils (due to removal of stigma) and have on-average improvements in health outcomes for all pupils, independent of their family’s income. 

Looking at the policy itself more specifically, commentary has noted:

  • That the £120 million is likely an insufficient investment in making this policy have the intended reach or setting it up to leave a sustainable legacy 
  • The cash is marked for school’s day to day spending, but may not provide schools with the money needed for capital investment in upgrading and expanding kitchen facilities to feed a larger number of pupils every day 
  • There is a vital need for the policy to be effectively evaluated end-to-end, potentially providing powerful insights into the effectiveness and conditions of success for universal free school meals programmes 

You can read about the policy announcement here 

2. A BBC investigation finds that a quarter of grammar schools still let in almost no children from disadvantaged backgrounds

A new investigation by BBC News finds that a quarter of the 160 grammar schools in England have fewer than 5% of pupils on roll who are eligible for pupil premium support. By contrast, only 13 of the 3,000 state secondaries in England have an FSM intake level this low. 

While the figures are stark, they will come as little surprise to many working in education policy where grammar schools’ selective pressure in favour of wealthier pupils is well known. Nevertheless, the BBC find that there have been areas of improvement in this issue – since -2016, three times as many grammar schools have quotas for disadvantaged pupils. In some cases, for example at the King Edward VI grammar schools in Birmingham, these quotas are as high as 25%. 

A non-binding agreement between grammar schools and the government to focus on inclusivity expired in December 2022. At present, there is little incentive for grammar schools to modify their admission policies to reflect missions of educational equality or social justice. Similarly, there seems little sign that grammar schools will disappear from the English educational landscape. As such, the government should adopt a more muscular, centrally directed approach to improving grammar school’s intake – for example, enforcing a minimum 50% quota for disadvantaged young people as several states in India do. 

You can read the BBC’s investigation here

3. Survey reveals that primaries with the most disadvantaged cohorts were least likely to offer wraparound childcare

Results from the School and College Panel for November 2022 reveal a range of insights, spanning school budgets, tutoring, safeguarding, early help services, and a range of other topics.

Given recent commentary on the cost of childcare, it was interesting to look at the wraparound childcare  provided at the primary level. The November 2022 data revealed 65% of primary schools offer both before and after school wraparound childcare, with the proportion of primaries of no childcare continuing to fall.

Worryingly, primaries with the highest proportion of FSM eligible pupils were the least likely to offer before and after school childcare (48% compared to 65% overall). There were no urban/rural differences in wraparound childcare offers, though primaries in London were more likely than other regions to offer before and after school childcare (83% compared to 65% overall).

Those primaries not already offering both before and after school childcare were asked what the government could do to encourage them to provide more wraparound care, with ‘Costs of set-up or expansion of the first 12 months’, ‘Expanding physical space/facilities’ and ‘Support for recruiting staff’ the most popular actions.

Read the full report here.

4. The DfE is developing non-graduate teaching apprenticeships

With teacher recruitment and retention continuing to be a serious cause for concern, there are some interesting insights from the government’s recent evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), including the development of new non-graduate teaching apprenticeships.

The DfE is reportedly working to increase the availability of teacher apprenticeships. Currently, 2,680 teacher apprenticeships have started and the Department is reviewing the Postgraduate Teaching Apprenticeship (PGTA) at level 6.

In addition, the DfE is working with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to develop a new degree and QTS-awarding apprenticeship, helping them get a degree and become a qualified teacher without the student debt. As covered in Schools Week, it remains to be seen i) the level these new apprenticeships will be rewarded at ii) who will oversee this route (universities, other ITT providers?).

Elsewhere, the government’s evidence also pointed to efforts to get former teachers back in the classroom, principally through the Return to Teaching Advisory service, which gives former teachers access to a one-to-one dedicated adviser. The DfE note that in 2021, returning teachers accounted for more than a third of all qualified entrants to the profession.

Read the full evidence submission here.

Read the Schools Week article here.

5. New research and trials will test the effectiveness of programmes designed to improve attendance and reduce exclusions in secondary schools

This week, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) launched new trials and research projects that will test the effectiveness of programmes designed to improve attendance and reduce exclusions in secondary schools.

A previous EEF evidence review found big gaps in the evidence concerning improving attendance and reducing exclusions, which they are seeking to address through five research projects.

One randomised control trial (RCT) will test the effectiveness of Grassroots – a programme that aims to empower well-connected pupils to positively impact their peers’ behaviour. Another will see 100 schools partake in a trial of the Behavioural Insights Team’s BITUP programme, which involves parents and carers being personalised texts to tell them how many days of school their child has missed over the last half-term.

Other research projects will investigate the impact of various school practices on attendance and exclusions, looking at i) employing attendance and liaison officers ii) internal alternative provision in secondary schools iii) authoritative behaviour policies.

Read about the new trials and research projects here.