Friday Five: Advanced British Standard, fairer tax, early years, global teacher shortages, Covid learning gap


6th October 2023

1. New ‘Advanced British Standard’ gets a mixed reception

This week’s education news has been dominated by Rishi Sunak’s announcement of the Advanced British Standard. In his speech at the Conservative Party Conference, the prime minister laid out plans for this new qualification, which would replace A Levels and T Levels.

The policy document argues that “the traditional parallel structure of A levels and technical qualifications (…) limits the breadth of young people’s education and prevents fully parity”. In response, it aims to:

  • Remove the “artificial separation between technical and academic qualifications”
  • Increase taught hours for most 16-19 year-olds by 15%
  • Ensure some level of study in England and maths to 18
  • Increase breadth, allowing students to choose from a mixture of “major” (bigger) and “minor” (smaller) subjects

While this new approach does respond to serious issues such as curricular breadth (as covered in our recent ‘Balancing Act’ report with IPPR), lots of questions remain about the desirability, feasibility, and timing of the announcement.

For our CEO, Joe Hallgarten, greater emphasis should be placed on support for the third of pupils that currently do not achieve good passes in English and maths, and consider the full range of routes that these young people follow at post-16. Elsewhere, our Head of Policy, Baz Ramaiah, spoke with Sky News about the proposals. Baz questioned the rationale for such radical changes in the context of major teacher recruitment and retention issues, while emphasising the importance of prioritising early intervention and developing young people’s foundational skills.

Read the policy document here.

2. IPPR report on fairer tax regimes

A policy briefing by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) lays out proposals for raising tax levels to fund public services such as education, health, and social services to improve living standards. The author proposes increasing corporation tax combined with generous investment allowances as a sensible strategy to generate more revenue for the state, without compromising investment. The report posits that if additional tax revenues enable the government to spend more on public services or infrastructure investments, the public will have greater access to things such as healthcare and education, and businesses will have a more productive workforce and easier access to markets. It notes that the IMF, despite it being a fiscally cautious institution, has supported policies of increasing spending on health, education, and net zero to boost growth and long term prosperity.

The report points out that, despite the narrative of ‘record’ levels of tax in the UK, the country’s tax levels are in the middle of the pack relative to other OECD economies, since other advanced economies have steadily increased their tax levels since the 1960s as opposed to the UK where the levels have stagnated. The report underlines that over 55 percent of British people support an increase in tax to fund higher public spending, and about 63 percent believe that the wealthy are under-taxed.

Read the full briefing here.

3. IFS report on early years spending 

This report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies analyses changes in early years spending in the last 25 years, in light of the March 2023 budget that announced further increases in spending.  Some of the key findings in the report are: 

  • Total spending on the early years and childcare more than quadrupled between 2001-02 and 2018-19. 
  • In the matter of funded childcare, free entitlement spending is set to double between this year and 2026-28; it is the largest and fastest expansion on record.
  • However, once childcare providers’ costs are considered, core funding per hour for 2-year-olds in 2022-23 was no higher in real terms than in 2015-16. 
  • In the 2023 budget, the government is prioritising younger children; for 2 year olds average funding rate is set to increase in real terms but for 3-4 year olds it is set to decrease in real terms as compared to the past. 
  • The transition from legacy benefits to universal credit, a squeeze on generosity in the benefits system, and a cash-terms freeze in the maximum allowable income for eligibility have all reduced eligibility for the existing 2-year-old offer.
  • While the new entitlements will directly benefit just over half of parents with a child aged between nine months and two years, that includes a fifth of families earning less than £20,000 a year and four-fifths of families with household incomes above £45,000.
  • The authors estimate that around five-sixths of spending on the new entitlements will pay for care that parents would have otherwise paid for themselves.

Read the full report here.

4. UNESCO report outlines global teacher shortages

A new UNESCO report uses global and regional data to determine the number of teachers needed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and explores some of the factors contributing to teacher shortages.

Here are some key findings:

  • Globally, 44m additional teachers are needed to ensure secure universal primary and secondary education by 2030
  • Global attrition rates among primary teachers almost doubled between 2015-2022, from 4.62% to 9.06%.
  • Only half of all countries pay primary teachers more than other professionals with similar qualifications

There are a wealth of useful insights in the report. For instance, country-level attrition rates vary widely by education level and from year to year but little is known about why attrition rates are particularly high or low in different contexts. The report does note, however, that attrition rates will vary within countries based on various factors, “especially for schools or districts with high poverty rates, in remote locations or facing emergency situations”.

Elsewhere, the report looks at the issues that attrition can cause for students, other teachers and schools. These include missing out on the improvements that teachers can make across their careers, increased class sizes, and fewer subject specialists. It also covers some of the factors that can drive teachers away from the profession, such as low salaries, stress, and the quality of working relationships.

Read the full report here.

5. NFER report shows signs that learning gap due to Covid may be narrowing 

This long-term longitudinal research conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research follows a group of the youngest school-aged children during and since the Covid 19 pandemic to understand the long-term impact of Covid-19 related disruption to schools on pupils’ attainment and social skills. 

Some of the key findings from the third year of this research (2023) are: 

  • Covid-19 gap appears to have closed for both Year 3 and Year 4 pupils, on average, in both reading and mathematics.
  • There is a notable proportion of very low attaining pupils in Year 3 reading, which is larger than that seen before the pandemic.
  • There is a disadvantage gap for reading in both Year 3 and Year 4 of around 7 months’ progress and these gaps have not decreased since spring 2021.
  • There is a disadvantage gap for mathematics in both Year 3 and Year 4 of around 6 months’ progress. These gaps have reduced significantly since spring 2021, but remain wider than those reported before the pandemic.
  • Despite the signs of recovery, it is not yet clear if our findings are embedded trends, or how long catch-up support may be needed for recovery to be sustained. 

Read the full 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.