Friday Five: the impact of child poverty, teacher workload, short breaks for SEND pupils, inquiry into 11-16 education and banning physical punishment


14th April 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 the impact of  child poverty on learning, new government data on teacher workload, a short break scheme for SEND pupils, a new House of Lords inquiry into 11-16 education and a rejected ban on physical punishment of children in England.

New NEU survey captures the worsening impact of poverty on pupil learning and school life

Published in conference week, a survey of 18,000 National Education Union members finds that:

  • 61% of teachers and 66% of support staff say that poverty/low income affects learning ‘to a large extent’, up from 52% when asked in 2021
  • Schools are responding to poverty through their existing budgets – 78% are providing help with uniforms to disadvantaged pupils, 55% with free breakfasts, 31% with toiletries and 68% with period products
  • 94% of teachers and 97% of support staff respondents believe that the current rate of child poverty or low income generally affects pupil learning

Three quarters of NEU members support universal free school meals at primary as a policy response to child poverty. There are also calls for affordable school uniforms.

With the NEU growing in visibility and influence through ongoing strike action – 60% of parents support teacher strikes – they have a more pronounced advocacy platform for change in the wider education system. The election of socialist Daniel Kebede to the general secretary role will also likely keep such wider social calls at the top of their advocacy agenda. Trade unions have long been a neglected feature of models of policy change among wonks – is all that about to change?

Read the NEU’s full press release here.

New government report finds that teacher workload is crippling the profession and contributing to the retention crisis

The government’s long delayed ‘Working lives of teachers and leaders’ report on 2022 is full of stark and concerning issues about the state of things in the current workforce. Based on a survey of 11,000 teachers the report finds:

  • 40% of leaders and 20% of teachers work 60-hour weeks
  • Two thirds of teachers spent 50% of their time or more on admin tasks in a given working week
  • A quarter of school staff considered leaving the profession in 2022 – 92% cited workload as the main push factor, 69% Ofsted inspections, and 76% policy changes
  • Over 50% of teachers report negative effects on their mental health due to work-related stress, with their wellbeing below the UK population average

While there are no real surprises in these findings, they do serve as a reminder that there is more to the current recruitment and retention crisis than teacher pay. While pay is a relatively straightforward issue to fix, reducing teaching workload is much more challenging with successive government strategies having done little to stop workload being the primary reason teachers leave the profession. Some salary sensitivity research suggests that teachers are willing to endure high workloads if they are paid well and believe they are being paid fairly. Is the most efficient solution to all this a transformative improvement in the teacher pay deal?

Read the DfE’s full report here

DfE announces expansion of short break scheme for children with special educational needs

The DfE has announced an expansion of the short breaks scheme, which gives children with SEN opportunities to participate in activities like theatre trips, hiking, and craft workshops. The scheme provides councils with up to £1m a year to work with families to design and deliver opportunities that would not otherwise be accessible to the children due to their disability.

In Sunderland, the council used last year’s funding to support children with social, emotional or mental health needs (SEMH) or autism, working across alternative provision and disability services to deliver various activities, such as sensory arts and crafts sessions for non-verbal children with autism.

The short breaks innovation fund commits £30m over three years for LAs to deliver short breaks and test new approaches. The first year of funding saw the scheme delivered in seven LAs. As announced on Tuesday, the second year of delivery will see 10 LAs receive new funding, with a view to developing a future national policy for short breaks.

Read about the announcement here.

New House of Lords Inquiry into secondary education states that education is “at a crossroads”, adding to growing interest in reform

A new House of Lords inquiry into 11-16 year olds’ education is calling for evidence on:

  • The effectiveness of the 11-16 curriculum in equipping young people with the skills they need to progress into post-16 education and employment in a future digital and green economy
  • The effectiveness of GCSEs as a means of assessing the achievements of all pupils at the end of the 11-16 phase
  • How the school accountability system affects the 11-16 curriculum
  • The role technology can play in this education phase

The House of Lords is frequently the site of more radical reporting, presenting and debating on key issues across the world of policy. This goes for education as well, where a recent debate on cultural learning included calls for wholesale reform of Arts Council England and a a radical increase in young people’s access to classical music. The bicamerial structure of legislature means that this has limited sway on policy development, but it can be crucial for setting off conversations in the otherwise cloistered world of Westminster.

Read and respond to the call for evidence here.

The government rejects calls to ban physical punishment of children in England

The government has rejected proposals from children’s charities to end the legal defence of “reasonable chastisement”, which currently allows parents or carers to hit their children.

Currently, in Wales, Scotland and Jersey, any type of corporal punishment (e.g. smacking, hitting, slapping, shaking) is illegal. However, in England and Northern Ireland, a parent or carer can discipline their child physically provided it is a “reasonable” punishment.

As noted in the BBC’s report, YouGov polling suggests two-thirds of people across England think physically disciplining children is not acceptable, while last year Childline delivered almost 900 counselling sessions to children with concerns about physical punishment.

The NSPCC and Barnardo’s have called for changes to the current law to better protect children. The government has argued that parents should be trusted to discipline their children, while a DfE spokesperson said that there are “clear laws in place to prevent it [violence towards children]”.

Read the BBC report 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.