Friday Five: Vaping, the Freedom of Speech bill, universal credit for childcare, student travel costs and RSHE


1st June 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 marketing of vapes to children, the new Freedom of Speech bill, a Universal Credit uplift for childcare, the high cost of travel for students and the new RSHE curriculum.

Government plans to crackdown on marketing of vapes to children

The government announced plans to tighten regulatory measures around marketing of vapes to children and teens. According to a YouGov survey, there has been a rise in experimental vaping among 11- to 17- year olds, from 7.7% in 2022 to 11.6% in 2023. Even though selling nicotine products to people under 18 is illegal, some companies are manipulating the law to give away free samples. According to data from Action on Smoking and Health, in the past year thousands of children in the UK were given a free vape. 

The loophole allowing retailers to give free vape samples to children is set to be closed under the new government plans. This announcement comes just weeks after ministers have opened a call for evidence on youth vaping. Even though the government encourages adult smokers to switch to vapes as a step towards quitting smoking, young people need to be carefully informed about the risks involved in vaping. A recent BBC investigation found that illegal vapes confiscated from school pupils contained far higher levels of lead, nickel and chromium than deemed safe.  

Government plans to include lessons on the health risks of vaping in the ‘Relationships, Sex, and Health Education’ curriculum as well. A resource pack for schools on vaping is being developed and set to be rolled out online in July. 

Read the report here. 

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill becomes law 

The new Freedom of Speech Act will require universities, colleges and students’ unions in England to take steps to ensure lawful freedom of speech on campus. This does not include unlawful speech, including harassment, terrorism or incitement of violence. It is for universities, colleges and students’ unions to consider whether the speech is lawful, by taking into account criminal laws such as the Public Order Act or the Equality Act.

The Act is expected to come into force before the 2024-25 academic year. The government is in the process of drafting the necessary regulations and other necessary mechanisms for implementation. Under the law, a Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom will be appointed to oversee all the Office for Students free speech functions, and a code of practice will be published to protect freedom of speech. 

The government media release states that, “Under the Act, universities won’t be allowed to silence people who raise complaints of sexual misconduct, abuse, harassment or bullying by using non-disclosure agreements. Students, staff and visiting speakers will be able to bring claims to court if they feel they have suffered loss as a result of their free speech rights being unlawfully restricted”.

Read the full release here

More childcare support for parents on universal credit 

As part of the 2023 Budget, the government has announced a policy that increases childcare benefit to £951 for one child and £1630 for two or more children- a 47% increase. At the moment, eligible parents pay childcare costs upfront and then claim a refund. The government has announced that it will also support eligible parents with their first month of childcare costs when they either enter work or increase their hours, by providing childcare funding upfront. Those parents will receive up to 85% of their childcare costs back before their next month’s bills are due. The scheme will also be extended for some parents (earning at least £152 a week but less than £100,000 a year) offering them 30 free hours of childcare per week to cover younger children.

The Labour Party have criticised the plans to be inadequate, as there would be no increase in childcare workers this year. The shadow education minister Helen Hayes said, “What parents and children both need is higher standards, better availability across our country, and a flexible system that supports families from the end of parental leave to the end of primary school”. 

Read the government press release here

National Union of Students (NUS) survey reveals impact of high travel cost on students

A survey of more than 3500 students shows that cost of travel (for over 46% of respondents) takes up over a quarter of their weekly budget and has a debilitating impact on academics and quality of life. 20% report having missed classes, 35% having cut down on extracurricular activities, 35% have missed seeing family and 32% have skipped a meal due to travel costs. The impact is seen to be higher on disabled students, since they are more likely to drive to their place of study due to inaccessibility of public transportation. 

The report makes a number of recommendations on making public transport more affordable, accessible and available for students: 

  • Address socioeconomic disparities through free student transport 
  • Prioritise accessibility and inclusion 
  • Consider geographic and urban-rural disparities 
  • Mitigate gender inequalities 
  • Political commitment to free student transport 
  • Engage students’ unions and democratise policy 

Read the full report here.

Education Secretary announces the formation of an independent expert panel to review the RSHE curriculum

Following concerns from teachers and parents about inappropriate lessons being taught in the Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) curriculum, the government has announced a review of the statutory guidance that came into force in 2020. As part of the review process, an expert advisory panel of five members consisting of teachers, lawyer, doctor and a social worker, has been set up to review the factual correctness and age-appropriateness of the curriculum. 

The panel will begin their work immediately and conclude by September 2023. A consultation is scheduled to take place in autumn, which will bring together input from this independent panel and other wider stakeholders. The government press release states that “The review of the curriculum will also make sure priority issues are given the attention they deserve, including considering new or additional content on mental health, suicide prevention, vaping and tackling violence against women and girls”. The review is expected to be completed by the end of the year. 

Read the full press release 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.