Friday 5: Sex education, essential skills, tutoring for the disadvantaged, work experience and how childcare costs vary across England


10th 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.

1. The government announces a review into sex education in schools after MPs claim that young people are learning “how to choke a partner” 

This week saw a group of 50 MPs write to the prime minister to argue that Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) lessons in school are being used to “indoctrinat[e] children with radical and unevidenced ideologies about sex and gender” and to call for a review of RSHE practice. MPs’ assertions include claims that children are being taught “graphic lessons on oral sex, how to choke your partner safely and [that there are] 72 genders”.

The frankly hysterical claims of the 50 MPs have yet to be substantiated by good evidence, with the NAHT noting that they have encountered no cases that have these characteristics. Equally, they have described the calls for a review as “political”. The implication is that the government may be using an RSHE review as part of  leaning into traditional ‘culture wars’ terrain as they campaign in advance of the next election.

Despite the questionability of the content, the call does bring the RSHE issue into the foreground, prompting some important reminders:

  • The new statutory RSHE curriculum introduced in 2020 is based on extensive stakeholder consultation. Similarly, it was the first changes to be made to the curriculum since 2000, meaning that many young people in the interleaving years experienced woefully outdated RSHE
  • While the government committed £6 million to funding schools to prepare teachers for delivering the new RSHE curriculum, at least half of this funding was redirected to other DfE priorities over the pandemic. The consequence is that teachers may be less prepared than they should be to deliver a new statutory RSHE curriculum
  • The research evidence is clear that comprehensive RSHE delivered by well-trained teachers is an especially effective way of supporting young people’s safety in sex and relationships

Read the full news story here.

2. A new Skills Builder report finds that a lack of essential skills is costing the country £22 billion a year, with a push for better teaching of these skills in schools to grow the economy

The Skills Builder Partnership released their annual ‘Skills Tracker’ this week, capturing the current state of ‘essential skills’ in our systems of education, employment and the economy more broadly.

‘Essential skills’ are defined as highly transferable skills – like problem solving, teamwork and leadership – required in most jobs. Skills Builder Partnership have consolidated these skills areas into eight specific skills that they measure and track for their annual reports. It remains one of the only widely used frameworks for thinking about the often ill-defined area of skills.

So what does this year’s tracker find? Using surveys and econometric analysis, the report finds that:

  • Individuals with higher levels of essential skills experience improved social mobility, employment, earnings, job and life satisfaction
  • Essential skills act as a platform for developing other skills, such as literacy, numeracy and technical skills
  • Low levels of essential skills costs the country in £22.2 billion in lost economic output every year, similar to the same losses as for low numeracy
  • Improving essential skills could be a promising route to improve the country’s uniquely low levels of economic productivity (which have remained stagnant since the 2008 financial crisis)

Skills Builder here follow us at CfEY, where we have been arguing that the ‘productivity puzzle’ is heavily tied to underinvestment in human capital, particularly underinvestment in developing young people’s ‘essential skills’ for when they enter the labour market. They recommend that the government make progress on developing these skills by developing an agreed framework on skills, a systemic joined up approach to lifelong learning for access to developing these skills as and the development of essential skills as part of the school curriculum.

You can read the tracker report in full here.

3. The National Tutoring Programme is improving disadvantaged young people’s access to tutoring – but it still has a long way to go to deliver on its ambitious promises

A new report from The Sutton Trust takes a detailed look at how the pandemic and the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) have impacted access to tutoring for different groups of students. Drawing on a range of survey data, the report finds that:

  • The establishment of the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) in 2020 has had a substantial impact on the tutoring landscape. In early 2020, 10% of secondary school leaders reported that one-to-one and small group tuition was their priority for pupil premium spending that year. By 2022 this was 34%
  • During the 2020/21 academic year 41% of year 11 pupils in state comprehensive schools reported being offered some type of tutoring by their school, with 28% taking it up. This compares to 9% undertaking private tutoring during this time
  • Across a variety of measures the pattern of school-based tutoring is the opposite of private tutoring. The most deprived schools have the lowest rates of private tutoring (19 percentage points lower than the least deprived), but the highest rates of school tutoring (13 percentage points higher than the least deprived).

As such, the report concludes that the NTP has been successful in broadening access to tutoring. However, echoing our ‘Levelling Up Tutoring’ report, Sutton Trust acknowledge that there is still more work to be done to sweat value out of the NTP. This includes recommendations made in our report, including folding the NTP into our core system of schooling, maintaining focus on disadvantaged pupils in the issuing of in-school tutoring entitlements, direction of funding to stimulate growth of tuition providers around the country and the postponing of cuts to the current tutoring subsidy for schools.

You can read the full report here.

4. Social Market Foundation report provides a roadmap for rolling out high quality, universal work experience

A recent report from the Social Market Foundation documents a decline in work experience access in recent years, before setting out ways forward to address this issue. They note that between 2004-2011, it was effectively mandatory for schools to offer work experience, but this stopped being the case after the Wolf review.

With a lack of a universal offer, certain groups of young people are more likely to access work experience opportunities than others. Students with an identified SEND in mainstream schools are even less likely to access work experience, while those independent schools are more likely.

Social Market Foundation recommend the government work towards a goal of universal mandatory work experience, estimating the cost at around £75m. Part of this funding would be put towards an online platform that would offer a range of virtual opportunities to young people.

Virtual work experience could be vital in helping young people who may otherwise have their possible opportunities limited by geography. This could be a real game-changer for those who are looking to get into highly specialised fields and/or industries that are not very prominent where they live.

Read the full report here.

5. New survey analysis reveals how childcare costs vary across England

Nesta’s new analysis of the childcare and early years providers survey finds that the median pre-tax cost of an hour’s childcare is almost a third of the average hourly wage.

London is ‘England’s affordability blackspot’ when it comes to childcare, averaging £7.31 for an hour’s care for a child under two. However, an hour of childcare in Manchester, Leicester and Herefordshire is as expensive as some of the most affluent parts of the capital once median wage is accounted for. Nesta also offer a deep dive into London, exposing how childcare costs vary between local authorities in the capital. In CfEY’s home borough of Hackney, the affordability ratio is a very high 36%, with as many as 45% of children estimated to be growing up in poverty once housing costs are accounted for.

With parents across the country facing insurmountable childcare costs, it is no surprise to see childcare emerging as a key area of interest for Labour, with the Shadow Education Secretary, Bridget Phillipson, addressing Onward about the subject on Thursday.

Read the report here. Read about the childcare and early years providers survey here.

That’s all for this week! If you found this blog useful, please be sure to share/tweet it and follow @theCfEY@Barristotle and @billyhubt for future editions.