Friday Five: teacher workforce, police in schools, admissions, online safety, and KS 5 subject choices


3rd November 2023

1. EEF publishes new evidence reviews that look at strategies to support teacher recruitment and retention

This week, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) released three evidence reviews to identify how best to recruit and retain high-quality teaching staff in schools with high numbers of socio-economically disadvantaged pupils. The reports are very well-timed, given the enduring workforce challenges facing the profession.

A report conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) offered a review of flexible working approaches, drawing on a range of data, including a rapid evidence review, School Workforce Census data, interviews, and a range of other sources. It finds that flexible working in English schools is more common in primary than secondary and among females than males. Flexible working mainly involves part-time working, with around a fifth to a third of teachers working part-time. Other forms of flexible working include phased retirement, flexible hours, personal days, and remote working (during non-teaching time). While there is a lack of robust evidence concerning the impact of teachers’ flexible working, it appears that there is potential here for improved job satisfaction, motivation, and expertise, which could all feed into a healthier teacher workforce situation.

Elsewhere, another EEF-commissioned NFER report adopted a mixed-methods approach to understanding teacher workload challenges and school responses, especially those serving areas of high disadvantage. They find that many workload pressures come from beyond the school gates, mainly from the government and Ofsted, but also from parents and carers. While many schools have changed policies and approaches to reduce teacher workload, the introduction of new strategies would often contribute to workload, at least in the short term. Crucially, funding and staff capacity were top barriers to workload reduction. Finally, a third review from Durham University and the University of Warwick, highlights the importance of school leadership in encouraging teacher retention.

Read more about these reports here.

2. A letter to headteachers reveals plan for more visible patrols

A letter sent to headteachers reveals that Met officers have been briefed to “increase their visible patrols” at schools and gather intel about “community tensions” in light of the Israel-Hamas war. While the Met argue that this greater police presence is about “keeping young people safe, improving trust and confidence in the police and deterring them from criminal activity”, there are concerns about the impact this might have on pupils.

In response to the letter, which was sent to headteachers in Wandsworth, Kingston, Merton and Richmond, Stafford Scott, a community campaigner expressed concern that this will “stereotype and criminalise young people, especially those from minority backgrounds”. Elsewhere, Kevin Blow, coordinator of Netpol, has argued that further surveillance of children may (justifiably) lead young people to be afraid about sharing their political opinions. This concern has previously been raised in relation to the government’s highly criticised Prevent anti-radicalisation programme.

This increased police interference may worsen the already fraught relationship between young people, local communities, and the police, while also undermining pupils’ trust in their teachers. As we have discussed previously in Friday Five (following the tragic Child Q incident), far more needs to be done to improve the relationship between young people and the police.

Read The Guardian report here.

3. Brighton and Hove Council propose priority for FSM-eligible pupils in secondary school admissions

This week Brighton and Hove Council proposed to introduce a new priority category in their secondary school admissions system, giving students eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) a better chance of attending their first choice school.

The proposal would prioritise admissions for FSM-eligible pupils, up to the city average of FSM-eligible pupils attending secondary education, which is currently estimated to be at 25%. This innovative approach acts as part of a wider discussion around how the area can mitigate the falling numbers in local primary schools after announcing the planned closure of two primary schools in the area. This change would not affect the highest priority for school places being given to children in care and those with exceptional circumstances. It is not the first time the locality has diverged from regular school admissions systems: it runs a ballot system which distributes places by random allocation rather than proximity once a school is oversubscribed, designed to diminish the impact of social selection through house prices in school catchment areas.

Brighton and Hove City Council’s Children, Families and Schools Committee will meet to discuss the proposal on 6th November. If the move is approved by councillors, they will begin a seven-week consultation, discussing the change with schools, head teachers, and governing bodies. 

Read the article reporting on this proposal here.

4. Online Safety Bill becomes law

After it was first proposed in 2019, the controversial Online Safety Bill has finally passed into law.

The bill gives social media platforms legal duties to prevent and remove illegal content while also filtering access to harmful content, such as content promoting self-harm, for children and young people. The passing of the bill marks significant changes in the online landscape in the past ten years, as reflected in CfEY’s own ongoing work with Internet Matters on the state of media literacy among children and young people. With the growth of AI and surveys showing children are spending more time online than ever, online literacy and safety remains a crucial issue.

The bill has engendered much controversy. It is hailed by some as making the internet a safer place; in particular by Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, who said the bill “will mean that children up and down the UK are fundamentally safer in their everyday lives”. In contrast, tech companies have opposed the bill, arguing that it would make them unfairly liable for material on their platforms and would limit the use of messaging encryption, commonly used by platforms such as WhatsApp, eroding people’s privacy. Enforcement for these new guidelines will be the job of OfCom, whose CEO, Dame Melanie Dawes, said they will set out not to “censor” content but “to tackle the root causes of harm”.

Read the government’s summary of the bill here.

5. FFT Education Datalab produces new survey of the popularity of Key Stage 5 subjects by ethnicity

The FFT Education Datalab has published a new blog, breaking down how Key Stage 5 subject choice varies by ethnicity.

Pulling data from the National Pupil Database, their analysis focuses on students who completed Key Stage 5 in 2022. While they have previously looked at subject choice based on other characteristics, such as gender, prior attainment, disadvantage status, and geographical area, this blog breaks down the data using the DfE’s ‘ethnic group minor’ categories.

Some of the main findings are listed below:

  • “83% of pupils from a Chinese background and 76% of those from an Indian background went on to enter a L3 qualification. But just 21% of those from a White Irish Traveller background and 10% of those from a White Gypsy/Roma background did so.”
  • “For the majority of ethnic groups, A-Level maths was the most popular subject. This was particularly true for students from a Chinese background – nearly twice as many studied this subject as the next most popular choice, chemistry.”
  • “The groups in which maths was not the most popular choice were Pakistani, Black Caribbean, other Black, mixed White and Black Caribbean, mixed White and Black African, and White British. The top choice for students from a Pakistani background was biology, and for the other groups it was psychology.”
  • “Subjects in which there were particularly large differences between pupils from different ethnic groups include A-Level maths and A-Levels in the three main science subjects: biology, chemistry and physics.”

The blog explains that the large difference in the proportion of pupils from different ethnic groups entering STEM subjects is partially driven by their greater popularity with students from Asian backgrounds – including Chinese, Indian, and other Asian backgrounds – and lower popularity among those from other backgrounds, particularly students from Black Caribbean backgrounds. The author avoids speculating about causes and instead focuses on an intersectional reading of the material (as opposed to looking at ethnicity in isolation).

Read the article 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.