Friday Five: Labour’s education priorities, free school meals, post-16, ‘stuck schools’, and T-Levels


7th July 2023

1. Keir Starmer speech sets out Labour’s education priorities

On Thursday, Keir Starmer set out Labour’s education ‘mission’, which aims to break down barriers to opportunity and ‘shatter the class ceiling’. There are three key aims here:
1. Half a million more children hitting early learning goals by 2030

  1. Improved school outcomes over the next decade
  2. Expanded high-quality education, employment and training routes and uptake by 2025

While we await further detail on these plans, a few areas stand out:

  • Addressing ‘childcare deserts’ by improving the capacity of the EY and childcare sector and reducing LA legislative barriers. Also an emphasis on keeping existing staff in these settings through access to high-quality training.
  • An ‘expert-led review of curriculum and assessment’ that seeks to ensure a strong educational foundation; a curriculum that is broad, prepares young people for work and life, reflects the issues and diversities of our society; and an assessment system that better captures children’s strengths and reflects curricular breadth.
  • A more tailored approach to teacher retention payments, which accounts for subject and geography, along with a new Early Career Framework retention payment that recognises the training undertaken by staff.
  • Taking a wider view of young people’s outcomes, looking at building more affordable houses and a New Deal for Working People, which will include a ban on zero-hours contracts and a ban on unpaid internships outside formal education and training courses.

Read Schools Week’s coverage of the speech and plan here.

Read the full document here

2. SMF make the case for universal free school meals plan

This short commentary note by Lee Crawford from the Social Market Foundation explores international literature to contend that universal free school meal programs are cost-effective and have long-lasting benefits. 

Looking at the domestic evidence from the UK, the author cites the example of the universal free school meal pilot that ran in Durham and Newham in 2009. The evaluation of the program showed that though expensive, “the universal entitlement pilot appeared to deliver better value for money for pupils, on average, than highly targeted educational interventions such as Every Child a Reader’. Evidence from other countries like the US, South Korea and Sweden also have shown promising impact on behaviour, reduced suspensions, mental health, obesity, reduced grocery bills for parents, and on lifetime earnings. The article also draws one’s attention to two other aspects of the program that merit consideration- that the scheme is easy to run and effective domestic implementation can enable the UK to be leaders for developing countries who are also trying to expand their school free meal schemes.

See the full article here. 

3. The Sutton Trust investigate reasons for the lost potential of high-potential disadvantaged pupils after age 16

In their new research series ‘Social Mobility: the next generation, Lost Potential at Age 16’, the Sutton Trust examine the Opportunity Cohort of the COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities (COSMO) study. They find that disadvantaged high attainers scored around 8 grades lower in their GCSE scores than their more affluent counterparts and are three times more likely to fall out of the top third of attainers by the time they reach Key Stage 4. 

The report analyses possible reasons for this slide in performance by disadvantaged high-attainers. They find that disadvantaged students are over three times more likely to lack a suitable device to study at home, twice as likely to lack a suitable place to study, half as likely to receive private tutoring, three times as likely to have caring responsibilities, four times as likely to live in a single-parent household, half as likely to have a parent with a degree- as compared to other high attainers. 

The report makes a number of recommendations to bridge this educational gap including: 

  • Designating a team of teachers as highly able coordinators to support highly able students.
  • Using Pupil Premium to enable access to bespoke programmes for disadvantaged highly able students. 
  • Introducing strong mentoring and tutoring programmes, notably through the National Tutoring Programme, using Pupil Premium to subsidise costs.

Read the full research paper here

4. UCL’s IOE investigate ‘stuck schools’- schools that continuously fail Ofsted inspections

Approximately 2-3% of all state-funded schools in England get consistently classified as less than ‘good’ for more than a decade. University College of London’s Institute of Education conducts research to find out what causes these schools to be ‘stuck’ and what will unstick them from their under-performance predicament. 

The study finds that ‘stuck’ schools typically tend to have an unusually challenging combination of circumstances, including high teacher turnover, student mobility, frequent changes in school management, high proportion of disadvantaged students, and problematic geographical locations. A key finding from the report is that even though these characteristics can also be found in other well-performing schools, failing an inspection itself brings detrimental effects that contribute to a downward performance spiral over time. The study found that inspection frequency could increase from three to sixteen times, with some schools receiving up to four consecutive monitoring inspections in the space of two years. This did not give time to implement changes and made it more difficult to demonstrate improvement. In the study’s sample, the schools that managed to un-stick from their poor performance rating took an average of 9 years to receive a ‘good’ grade. 

The researchers make a number of recommendations for DfE and Ofsted to avoid the detrimental effects of bad Ofsted ratings, especially for those working in challenging circumstances. They include: 

  • Boosting financial resources of ‘stuck’ schools that are under-subscribed, particularly of those secondary schools whose per-pupil funding is only marginally higher than other secondary schools
  • Helping ‘stuck’ schools learn lessons from the experience of ‘un-stuck’ schools through creating networks and dissemination of best practices 
  • Revising the cycles of full section 5 inspections and monitoring section 8 inspections in order to give time to implement improvements 
  • Ensuring that inspectors are properly trained to understand the significance and implications of schools working in very challenging circumstances

Read the full report here

5. Ed Select committee disappointed with government response to T-Levels report

Following the publication of the government’s response to the Ed Select Committee’s report on post-16 qualifications, the Committee have released a statement bemoaning government’s unwillingness to review overall FE funding and pause the withdrawal of Applied General Qualifications (AGQs).

The Ed Select Committee had called on the government to pause their shake-up of post-16 qualifications. This included a recommendation that the government cease its rapid defunding of AGQs – current technical qualifications, including BTEC – until “there is a robust evidence base proving that T Levels are demonstrably more effective in preparing students for progression, meeting industry needs and promoting social mobility”.

While the government has hailed T-Levels as a vital step in ensuring “parity of esteem” between academic and vocational qualifications, there are concerns about young people’s awareness of T-Levels as well as completion rates, with around one-fifth of the first cohort dropping out. The Ed Select Committee statement argues that the government’s response ignores much of the evidence presented in the Committee’s report and that these changes are being pushed through too hastily.

Read the statement here.