Friday Five: Police strip searches, Local Needs Funding, holiday free school meals, academies policy, and the futility of education policymaking


31st 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 Five covers police strip searches, Local Needs Funding, holiday free school meals, academies regulation and commissioning, and an article arguing that much education policymaking is pointless!

New investigation by the Children’s Commissioner finds extensive use of police strip searches on children across the country

The horrifying Child Q incident – discussed by our head of policy on LBC here – last year has brought the issue of police strip searches of children into sharp public focus. A new report from the Children’s Commissioner’s Office reveals new data on the extent to which these powers are used across the country and their regulatory oversight.

The report finds that:

  • 2,847 strip searches were conducted on children (as part of stop and search) between 2018 and 2022
  • 52% of searches happened without an Appropriate Adult confirmed to be present, showing lack of compliance by the police with statutory codes of practice for strip searching children
  • Poor quality data mean that police forces struggle to readily account for the number or circumstances of strip searches of children they have conducted. The lack of national data means that there is no transparency on the consistency of practice between forces.

The report recommends a comprehensive review of the legislative and policy framework around the issue and the strengthening of statutory safeguards for children including the involvement of an Age Appropriate adult and tighter criteria around when a search may be conducted. While reasonable as recommendations, the report fails to grapple with the findings of the Sarah Everard inquiry which found much deeper institutional rot around the safeguarding of vulnerable people. If we want to protect young people from the police, perhaps more than what this report recommends is required.

Read the full report here.

The government announces £42m for Local Needs Funding for Priority Education Investment Areas

This week, the government announced £42m will be allocated to Priority Education Investment Areas (PEIAs), which featured in both the Schools and Levelling Up White Paper. PEIAs look to improve education in cold spots by boosting teacher retention, improving attendance, and moving struggling schools into strong MATs.

The Local Needs Fund will focus on literacy, numeracy, and attendance. Further investment is, of course, welcome, particularly given the Whitehall ‘bidding and begging bowl culture’ (not our words but those of the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands CA!) that has defined previous allocations of levelling up funds.

However, the press release focuses more on the government’s move towards MAT-isation. While the now-abandoned Schools Bill’s aim to have all schools in (or in the process of joining) MATs by 2030 is not explicitly mentioned, the press release makes it clear that MAT-isation continues to be the direction of travel.

Indeed, the press release was accompanied by information about the Academies Regulatory and Commissioning Review as well as Trust Development Statements, which set out how each Education Investment Area (EIA) should look to develop their trust landscapes (e.g. through encouraging LA-maintained schools to join MATs, encouraging trusts to move into an area, merging trusts).

Read the Local Needs Fund press release here.

The DfE releases the Academies Regulatory and Commissioning Review

As mentioned above, the government has released the Academies Regulatory and Commissioning Review, covering issues like minimum trust standards, measuring trust strength, and improving the legitimacy of decision-making.

The review gives some insights concerning the direction of travel concerning MAT-isation and presents a rationale for government taking a stronger role in trust-level interventions where performance is intolerably low, as covered in Schools Week.

In addition, the Review suggests that the government expand on descriptions of trust quality, with plans to set out proposed descriptions in April, with a view to finalising them in June. This greater will be very helpful, as at the moment ‘strong MATs’ is a term that is often used but seldom defined.

Alongside the aforementioned Trust Development Statements, there’s also a lot of emphasis placed on supporting trust to facilitate ‘self-improving system’, through trials of new regional trust development networks, and a MAT CEO Leadership Development Programme starting by 2024.

Read the Academies Regulatory and Commissioning Review here.

Read Schools Week commentary here.

Mayor of London announces £3.5m one-off school holiday and weekend meals scheme

The Mayor of London has announced a year’s worth of emergency funding to charities and other partners in London to deliver a further 6.9m meals to children and young people, targeting those most in need. The scheme, which will see the mayor’s office partner up with The Felix Project, should be due to start in time for the Easter holidays.

The scheme follows the £130m funding recently announced by the Mayor for universal free school meals to all London primary schoolchildren. This support will be well-received by parents and carers in the capital, many of whom are financially struggling during the cost of living crisis.

The announcement coincides with a new IfS report that considers the options and trade-offs for expanding free school meals in England. They find that evidence suggests free school meals tends to reduce families’ spend on groceries but usually by less than the value of the meals, suggesting families may partly respond by upping the quantity and quality of food they consume.

The IfS find that expanding eligibility for all children whose families claim universal credit would cost ~£1b a year in the longer term while raising the income cap to £20,000 a year would increase eligibility by around 900,000 and cost £425m a year.

Read the GLA announcement here.

Read BBC commentary on the announcement here.

Read the IfS report here.

A new article argues that education policymaking is pointless and we’re too blinded by optimism bias to appreciate this

Freddie deBoer is an American writer with an unfailingly provocative analysis of education policy. In a recent article, he makes the case that much education policymaking is pointless and the material interests of those involved in policy formation prevent them from appreciating the futility of their work. Provocative indeed!

DeBoer’s thesis begins with the argument that there is a large international body of evidence showing that successive cycles of education policy have failed to close the attainment gap. This is despite the ostensive aim of these policies often being to close this gap and equalise educational opportunity and outcome. Therefore it seems that the attainment gap is either impossible to close – because of latent genetic differences in academic aptitude – or that the route to close the attainment gap is not through educational policy.

DeBoer argues that this evidence is utterly persuasive and that most working in educational policy – especially in thinktanks – are aware of this research but are not compelled by it. This is due in part to a general ‘optimism bias’ in the sector to think positively and affirmatively about the transformative power of education and similar. But equally, lots of people’s jobs in the world of education policy depend on the shared view that the attainment gap can be closed through effective education policies. Without this shared view, much of the sector would be rendered redundant.

DeBoer’s analysis is always challenging and stimulating, albeit far less original than its presentation suggests. It’s beyond the scope of a humble Friday 5 to respond to every part of his argument but expect a more detailed confrontation of this thesis in the coming weeks from our head of policy, Baz Ramaiah.

Read the full piece here.