Friday Five: hidden schooling costs, pornography, overcoming adversity, school funding, and Covid recovery


12th May 2023

1. CPAG report shows how much it really costs families to send their children to school

New research by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) shows that it costs families an average of about £865 a year to send a child to primary school and about £1756 a year for secondary school. These calculations on the cost of sending a child to school do not include the significant costs of wrap-around childcare (£5,000 annually for a primary school child).

Some families do receive government support to help cover educational costs, but this support is most commonly means-tested and targeted at families on the lowest incomes. This leaves out many families in poverty; Scotland fares the best in its coverage of educational support and England the worst. Despite education in the UK being ‘free’ at the point of access, many families incur hidden costs on uniforms, shoes, bags, packed lunches, transport, and enrichment.

The report acknowledges action taken by governments to date to support the cost of the school day but notes that it is inconsistent across the UK. It urges policymakers to ensure that adequate funding support for big-budget items is provided to families across the nations, especially those living on a low income. Recommendations include providing access to school uniforms, hot school meals, opportunities to attend school residentials and trips, free transport, and a free curriculum without any hidden subject-related costs.

Read the report here.

2. Report from Children’s Commissioner looks at pornography’s influence on harmful sexual behaviour among children

With the Online Safety Bill moving through parliament, a new report from the Children’s Commissioner (CCo) looks at pornography’s harmful impact on young people. It follows previous CCo research that found almost two-thirds of young people had reportedly viewed pornography, with the average age of first exposure to it being 13 years-old. This second report focuses on the intersection between pornography and harmful sexual behaviour.

The report combines a review of external literature with analysis of 379 Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) transcripts of interviews with children who have been sexually harmed and children who have sexually harmed another child, and 123 Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) documents.

The CCo found that in 50% of cases of child sexual abuse, associated transcripts included words referring to an act (or acts) of sexual violence commonly seen in pornography. In addition, a manual review of 32 transcripts saw examples of police and children making direct links between the abuse and the abuser’s exposure to pornography.

The report notes that people are predisposed to seek novelty in sexual experiences, which, in the world of online pornography, may result in ‘an escalation of preferences, towards content which is increasingly deviant and extreme’. In one study cited by CCo, of 132,000 pornography titles, one in eight titles shown to a first-time visitor on mainstream sites describe sexual violence.

The report makes for difficult but important reading. It makes various calls for policy action, including but not limited to:

  • The urgent passing of the Online Safety Bill, which should mandate all sites remove illegal content
  • Robust and consistent age verification
  • The Victims and Prisoners Bill must ensure all child victims of crime are entitled to support from an advocate, including specialist advocacy if they have been the victim of sexual abuse
  • The DfE should pilot interventions for children who exhibit harmful sexual behaviour (HSB)
  • A new qualification for Designated Safeguarding Leads, akin to the National Award for SENCos

Read the full report here.

3. New NFER study looks at the major initiatives aimed at improving life chances of children and young people in adversity

A new mapping study from NFER looks to understand the major initiatives supporting children and young people in adversity in the UK nations and the Republic of Ireland, focusing on six key policy areas, including education and youth justice. The study was of particular interest to us, given our current investment in mapping and place-based working.

The authors note that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are over ten times more likely to occur in the poorest 20% of the population, in comparison to the richest 20%. Too often, however, initiatives backed by the government and other funders take too narrow a view of a given policy issue, leading to piecemeal approaches to support for these children and young people. In recent years, there has been a move towards ‘system-change’ through major initiatives aimed at tackling multiple disadvantages.

The section on major education initiatives in England covers a lot of ground, including education recovery initiatives (e.g. the National Tutoring Programme), Priority Education Investment Areas, and the Supporting Families Programme, among others. They find that there was less focus on initiatives for young people aged 16 or above in adversity or those at risk of, or having been excluded from, mainstream school.

In general, taking the six areas into account, the NFER find that a greater number of initiatives were operating in England but more of the major initiatives here focused on a particular policy area, with fewer cross-cutting initiatives that take a more holistic approach to tackling the causes and effects of adversity.

Read the report here.

4. Office for Statistical Regulation responds to DfE’s request for review of its schools’ cost funding offer

Ed Humpherson (Director General for Regulation) responds to Graham Archer (Director General for Strategy Group of the Department for Education) in a letter issued on 10th May, regarding the clarity and reliability of the teachers’ pay offer issued by the DfE.

The regulatory authority notes that the term ‘fully funded’ has led to confusion, on whether it refers to the totality of funding at the national level or at the individual school level. It notes that DfE acknowledges in its evidence to the School Teachers Pay Review Body that as schools have different budgetary pressures, not all schools will experience the additional expenditure represented in the national average estimates and that ‘all schools need to understand and plan for their own situation’. In this light, the letter recommends that DfE considers including its definition of fully funded in the Schools’ Costs Technical Notes to clarify that it refers to the funding at the national level. It also recommends that DfE share more information on the size of high-needs funding.

The regulatory body passes satisfactory comments on the clarity of analysis presented on estimates of future funding needs by use of concrete models, and on the extensive use of sources in footnotes and the annex.

Read the response here.

5. Education Policy Institute analysis takes a look at progress towards recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic

A new report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Renaissance observes a decline in KS2 outcomes, while the disadvantage gap is at its widest since 2012 at both KS2 and KS4. The work, which draws on data from 2022 assessments, finds that outcomes in reading appear to have recovered for most year groups but outcomes in primary mathematics have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

The data used here is drawn from Renaissance’s Star Reading and Star Maths assessments. While the report acknowledges some limitations to the data (the Renaissance population may have changed, e.g. % of pupils who are disadvantaged, the performance of participant schools), the descriptive statistics highlight Covid’s enduring impact and the need for continued investment in recovery.

In future, this assessment data will be linked to the National Pupil Database to produce more robust estimates of lost learning, controlling for pupil characteristics, and providing results for different pupil groups. It would also be interesting to see the regional breakdown of results, which may feature in subsequent reports.

Read the report here.