Friday Five: school funding pressures, social mobility, inspection reform, catch-up, raised legal age of marriage.


3rd March 2023

The Edge Foundation find that funding pressures on schools are making young people unhappy and disengaged from learning

A new report by The Edge Foundation draws on a survey of 10,000 15-16 year olds and interviews with 100 15-18 year olds to understand how policy changes in recent years have affected young people’s sense of wellbeing and belonging in school.

With a focus on reforms to GCSE qualifications and the Ebacc / Progress 8 accountability measures, the report argues that the school curriculum has become more heavily focused on academic subjects. The consequence is that:

  • Half of 15-16 year olds do not find secondary school to be a meaningful or enjoyable experience
  • Young people with SEND or creative/practical interests find lessons alienating and stressful
  • Cuts to school budgets have left young people feeling their pastoral needs and requirements for extra educational support are not being met
  • Young people who had left mainstream school for alternative education provision or vocational education and training were mostly thriving in these different educational settings, often for the first time

The report also captures much about the experience of marginalized young people in school more broadly, concluding with an argument for “a broader conception of the purposes of – and what it means to be successful in – education”.

Is young people’s dissatisfaction with school a compelling data point for policymakers? Perhaps not – policymakers work to the brief of their minister and politicians tend not to worry what young people think as they can’t vote. However, given the government’s interest in normalizing lifelong learning, it may be worth considering the impact of negative schooling experiences on people’s overall attitude towards participation in education over the course of their lifetime.

Read the full report from Edge here.

Article calls for a new model of social mobility

Sir Michael Barber (Chancellor, University of Exeter and Chair of the South West Social Mobility Commission) and Lee Elliot Major (Professor of Social Mobility, University of Exeter)  argue that we need to look beyond the lazy rhetoric of north-south divides and the American Dream, towards a well-evidenced, place-based understanding of social mobility.

While we often see social mobility as an ascent of the social ladder, the authors argue that for many young people in the south-west, a more immediate concern is their ability to afford a decent life in the region. Drawing on recent research, they note low HE participation rates, high school absence rates, and a drop off in managerial professional jobs compared to London and the south-east.

This article interested us for two key reasons. 1) We’ve been doing a fair bit of work in one part of the south-west – Somerset. Last year, we published a report for West Somerset Opportunity Area and we’re currently supporting Somerset County Council with their Education for Life strategy. It’s helpful to see where this Somerset work fits into the wider south-west picture.

… 2) The article proposes a set of indicators to ‘hold the region to account’, with schools, trusts, employers, and other stakeholders having to play their part. This sort of work demands strong place-based partnerships of the kind we are exploring in our current work on Area-Based Education Partnerships.

Read the article here.

Read the University of Exeter research here.

A new policy paper sets out 10 proposals for school inspection reform 

A new policy paper from the Confederations of School Trusts (CST) offers 10 policy ideas concerning inspection. A shift in performance tables from ‘Find and Compare Schools’ to ‘Find and Check’ performance has seen the government acknowledge that ‘direct comparisons between schools can be unhelpful or misleading’. CST suggest this principle could be applied to inspection outcomes to move towards a more sophisticated understanding of school performance.

CST also suggest that more research needs to be done to understand the reliability and validity of inspection outcomes, ahead of the new HMCI due to start in January 2024. This should help ensure that Ofsted’s inspection policy is evidence-informed.

Elsewhere, CST suggests Ofsted should ‘calibrate the pace and scope of its curriculum publications with the capacity issues schools are facing in a post-pandemic world’. Indeed, with pressures on teacher workload and concerns about teacher recruitment and retention, it’s important that the inspectorate’s asks of schools are proportionate and that schools are given the support they need to meet Ofsted’s expectations.

For us, there is an additional concern here around small schools. In a small, isolated rural secondary school, for instance, teachers may be teaching multiple subjects and be unable to draw on the centralised resources that a well-connected inner-city school may have. Ofsted should consult with such schools to ensure that their plans reflect the contextual challenges they may face when trying to implement a strong curriculum.

Read the full report here.

Performance Tracker reveals  increased demands placed on schools and issues with catch-up funding

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountability (CIPFA) have released the second edition of their Performance Tracker, with a range of insights concerning services accessed by children and young people.

The big picture is that the government’s reluctance to meet to resolve public sector disputes and its introduction of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill has extended the length and breadth of industrial disputes and associated disruption. In the longer term, limiting striking powers and paying workers less than they feel acceptable threatens to exacerbate existing recruitment and retention issues.

In education, demands placed on schools have grown, with the number of children requiring an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) increasing to 356,000 (from 237,000 in 2016), with around half of these pupils in state-funded mainstream schools. Further, many schools are having to compensate for reduced LAs and stretched CAMHS to ensure their pupils get the mental health and wellbeing support they need.

Elsewhere, the authors remind us that the funds committed to educational catch-up fall significantly short of the £15bn recommended in 2021 by the government’s then education recovery commissioner. Further, The National Audit Office estimated there had been a 14% underspend on the available schools funding up to the end of the 2021/22 financial year.

The legal age of marriage is being raised to 18 in England and Wales, with the aim of preventing forced marriages

The new Marriage and Civil Partnership Act will raise the minimum age of marriage in England and Wales to the age of 18. Previously, young people were able to marry at the age of 16 or 17 with parental consent. However, campaigners have argued for years that this legal ‘loophole’ has allowed many young people to be forced into marriages by their parents.

The government’s own data on estimated numbers of child marriages is difficult to interpret as it includes cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) in statistics. However, two data points raise questions about the effectiveness of this policy –

  • Incidents of reported child marriage have been consistently falling for the last decade without legal reform
  • In 2020, only 13% of cases of child marriage involve 16-17 year olds

This data may just cover cases that have involved the government’s Forced Marriage Unit and the true rate of child marriages may be very different. However, there is little good data on this issue. It is also worth being mindful that the government’s messaging around forced marriage has frequently framed the issue as one grounded in Asian culture, especially as related to Islam. In this respect, the policy change may be part of the Conservative Party’s signaling the ‘culture war’ terms that it intends to fight the next election on. Nevertheless, any policy that is hopefully able to eliminate the crime of forced marriage is surely welcome.

Read The Guardian’s summary of the legislation here and the government’s data on forced marriage here.