Friday 5: Child poverty, childcare uptake, local learning landscapes, a worsening teacher labour market and Trailblazer devolution deals for skills
by Baz Ramaiah
24th March 2023
Hello! It’s been another eventful week in the world of education and youth policy. Catch-up on some of the key reports, analysis and commentary with this handy round-up, courtesy of our policy team.
This week, our Friday 5 covers child poverty, childcare uptake, local learning landscapes, a worsening teacher labour market and Trailblazer devolution deals for skills.
New data shows that 350,000 more children have been pulled into poverty by government policy choices
The government published its latest data on Households Below Average Income (HBAI) yesterday, covering the year 2021-2022. The dataset is an important source of information on child poverty, with Child Poverty Action Group’s (CPAG) analysis showing that between 2021 and 2022:
- 350,000 more children were pulled into poverty last year (largely because of government cuts to the universal credit uplift)
- The total number of children in poverty was at 4.2 million in 2022, with this figure slated to increase as the impact of social security cuts are more widely felt
- 71% of poor children live in families where at least one parent is in work
- 47% of children in Asian and British Asian families are in poverty, 53% of children in Black/ African/ Caribbean and Black British families, and 25% of children in White families
CPAG’s further analysis emphasises that child poverty costs the government. the UK £39.5 billion a year – in lost tax and earnings, unemployment benefit and additional public services spending. This is up from £25bn in 2008.
Pulling children out of poverty will involve a multifaceted approach. While organisations such as CPAG argue for welfare solutions, issues of labour policy (e.g. raising the minimum wage) and labour supply (increasing the supply and accessibility of well-paid work) and industrial strategy but also housing policies such as rent controls (for example). The government (current and prospective) should be taking seriously this challenge, planning a dedicated taskforce and programme of radical investment.
Nesta argue that more money for childcare isn’t enough – the government also need to radically simplify how childcare allowances are accessed
After last week’s spring budget committed the government to £4 billion of investment into improving access to free childcare, Nesta have responded with a blog that points out that funding is not the only issue. The issue is also one of uptake and how to make sure the funding gets used.
Government schemes tend to suffer from low uptake in England, with childcare being a prime example. Only 40% of eligible families use their tax-free childcare allowance at present and nearly a third of eligible households do not use their free childcare allowance.
Nesta therefore argue that new funding needs to be accompanied with ways of increasing uptake of government childcare programmes:
- Simplifying the seven different childcare offers into just two: one for families on universal credit and one for those who aren’t
- Tell parents they are eligible: send letters to parents which show what they are specifically eligible for (evidence shows this improves uptake by 55%)
- Simplifying the application process: a voucher (‘golden ticket’) approach as opposed to myriad lengthy forms has been shown to improve uptake by as much as 87% in some local authorities
Baz Ramaiah, head of policy at CfEY, goes further and argues that the spirit of simplification can of course be extended to universal free provision – the ultimate way of guaranteeing uptake. Research from the New Economics Foundation shows that universalisation of childcare can save governments in excess of a £1 trillion over 15 years in the accrued savings it makes to other kinds of social transfers (e.g. healthcare) and on increased economic output.
Read Nesta’s full blog here.
New report shows how schools are dealing with fragmented ‘local learning landscapes’
A new report from academics at the University of Nottingham considers issues of coherence, equity and quality in teacher professional development in England. The authors used three case studies of ‘local learning landscapes’ to explore how primary maths provision was coordinated between schools in different contexts.
A combination of quantitative insight (e.g. extent of academisation, economic disadvantage) and qualitative interviews give a rich understanding of the different ways in which Maths CPDL is provided and coordinated in these different landscapes.
In ‘City’ (a central area within a larger city), experienced headteachers argued that MAT-isation had driven fragmentation of the local CPDL landscape, which had previously been coordinated by the local authority. Elsewhere, in ‘Shire’ (part of a larger shire LA), there was a significant difference between large and small schools’ capacity to take on external CPDL, given teachers in the latter often take on multiple subject lead responsibilities.
More generally, it became clear that the ‘local’ was important to interviewees’ practices and professional activities, particularly for those working in schools. One common pattern was the splintering of previously strong local collaborations as schools joined different MATs, with several headteachers mourning the loss of this local, place-based working. At the launch event, Sam Freedman argued that Whitehall was overstretched and that fiscal devolution could help revitalise the ‘local’.
Read the full report here.
NFER Teacher Labour Market report reveals a bleak recruitment and retention picture
The NFER’s annual report reveals historically low ITT recruitment and falling retention rates, signalling teaching’s declining attractiveness compared to other professions. Public sector pay growth has been lagging well behind the private sector but the pay situation is particularly dire for teachers. Teacher pay has fallen in real terms since 2010 and NFER note that the profession is being left behind other grad jobs.
As Jack Worth observes in his handy round-up thread, there may be a range of other factors shaping current recruitment and retention challenges. For instance, after the pandemic, the proportion of grads mainly working from home has tripled to 45%. While it will certainly be worth looking at opportunities to increase flexibility, the nature of teaching means the profession cannot directly compete on this front.
Moreover, pay continues to be the key lever the government can pull to make the profession more attractive and, unfortunately, the DfE’s current pay proposals for next year don’t go far enough. To narrow the gap between teacher pay and the wider labour market, the NFER call for the 2023 pay award to exceed 4.1% (the OBR’s forecast for earnings growth in the wider labour market).
Read the full report here.
Spring Budget also commits to trailblazer devolution deals and devolved education powers – but to what end?
The Spring Budget had a further education announcement that was underdiscussed in the press – the confirmation of the trailblazer devolution deals we’ve discussed previously in Friday 5. Thankfully the Institute for Government have written a handy summary.
The trailblazer devolution deals will devolve key new powers (with accompanying funding) to the Greater Manchester and West Midlands metropolitan mayoralties. Included in this package is:
- Control of skills funding such as the Free Courses for Jobs programme and skills bootcamps
- An expanded role in post-16 technical education, involving joint governance with ventral government. These joint boards will co-design future employment support programmes
- These new joint boards will also be responsible for convening and providing careers guidance in each metro area
The new powers aim to support local industrial strategy as mayors coordinate technical skill development in a way that meets the supply and demand nexus of their area. As discussed in previous Friday 5s, it will be important for the early parts of this devolution to be properly overseen, for example through proper accounts committees that cover both the central and local government role.
Read the Institute for Government’s summary here.