Friday Five: #eduQs, Funding Challenges, Northern Irish Review, Creative Health in Education, and Parents’ Views


15th December 2023

1. Gillian Keegan and other education ministers answer #eduQs in the House of Commons

The Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, and the Minister of State for School Standards, Damian Hinds, answered questions in the House of Commons this week – as summarised by Schools Week’s handy livetweeting thread.

The tragic death of Ruth Perry and subsequent calls for Ofsted reform recurred throughout the question session, with both Keegan and Hinds offering condolences to the headteacher’s family. Keegan stated she was ‘honoured’ to work with the family and friends of Ruth Perry on ‘important changes to inspection practice’, while arguing that Ofsted plays a crucial role in the education sector.

Responding to a question on last week’s disappointing teacher recruitment statistics, Hinds answered that we have ‘the most talented generation of teachers ever’. He also said that there are currently 27,000 more teachers and 60,000 more TAs than in 2010. As Schools Week accurately points out in their thread, there are also considerably more students than in 2010 and well-reported pressures in delivering curriculum content. 

On another current pressing topic, that of decreasing attendance rates, Keegan was questioned on the possibility of a register of children not attending school. Keegan denied that this recommendation had been blocked by Number 10, instead citing a lack of legislative time, but reaffirmed that attendance is a high priority for the department. 

Both Hinds and Keegan were asked about the ‘chaos’ caused by RAAC in schools and about delays to temporary classrooms in schools affected by RAAC. They responded by reaffirming the government’s commitment to remove RAAC from all schools and colleges and acknowledging the fortitude of school staff, but without specifically addressing progress on making ‘alternative arrangements’ or the issue of temporary classrooms.

Although not noted in the Schools Week thread, FE Week reported that the Education Minister also answered questions related to T-Levels and the shortage of technical skills. CfEY recently launched a new report on Higher Technical Qualifications with Policy Connect, reporting on how HTQs might play a critical role in improving the UK skills pipeline. The full report can be found here, on the CfEY website.

The full Schools Week livetweet thread is available here.

2. New Nuffield Foundation/IFS report on education spending highlights financial challenges facing the sector

A new report by the Nuffield Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) into education spending has highlighted numerous funding challenges facing the sector in England. The report is the latest in an ongoing series examining education funding published by the Nuffield Foundation and the IFS.

The Nuffield Foundation highlighted four key findings from the report. First, while school funding has ostensibly increased over the last year, this has not been in line with inflation, meaning that any funding increases have not been reflected in school budgets. The impact of this has been compounded by the fact that education spending as a proportion of national income is considerably lower than in 2010.

Second, per capita funding on children and young people of different ages has converged, meaning older pupils no longer receive more funding per head than their younger counterparts. Within the context of real-world funding decreases across the education sector, the report celebrates the flattening out of age-based funding provision: early years funding, now recognised as fundamentally important in supporting children’s development, is no less deserving of funding than support for young people in their final years of school.

Third, redistributive funding measures aimed at increasing resources for disadvantaged children have decreased. This includes reductions in real-term levels of Pupil Premium, free school meal provisions, and eligibility requirements for free childcare entitlements. This is a serious cause for concern: the ongoing attainment gap in English schools, widened by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, risks being further widened in the years to come.

Finally, the UK Government’s ‘Education Investment Areas’ policies aimed at tackling regional inequalities remain limited. The report argues that the policies do not go far enough, and as such are having limited impact both on shaping funding levels and on redistributing knowledge and political attention more equitably across the education sector in England.

The full report is available here.

3. Northern Ireland Independent Review of Education

This week, the Independent Review of Education released their final report on the Northern Ireland education system, after two years of investigation.

The report first noted that levels of attainment in Northern Ireland exceed those in other parts of the UK, and are also in good standing internationally. However, the report also found that some young people are falling through the gaps, leaving the education system underqualified and underskilled, in part due to a lack of funding. Organisations within Northern Ireland are interpreting the report as a call to action, recommending radical changes to the current system. A key recommendation of the report is additional funding, invested in a systematic manner to target key problem areas.

Twenty-five key recommendations are made, predominantly centering around the following themes:

  • Keeping CYP in education longer: expanding early years education and raising the age of educational participation
  • Free lifelong universal opportunities for basic education
  • Curriculum reform, including new curricular pathways at 14
  • Increased career support, also focusing on retaining local talent
  • Additional professional development for teachers
  • Prioritise young people’s wellbeing with the funding of additional services
  • Establish a single Department for the entire education system

One theme which appears throughout the report is the need for ‘broad measures of success’ within the education sector, moving away from a focus solely on grades and progression towards a broader range of educational outcomes which add ‘value’ to the lives of young people. This chimes with a theme in CfEY’s recent research, looking at the need for greater opportunities for enrichment and social and emotional learning within UK schools.

The full three-volume report is available here; an Irish language version of volume 1 is also available.

4. APPG on Arts, Health, and Wellbeing publishes new Creative Health Review

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing has published its new Creative Health Review, looking at the impact of arts participation on health and wellbeing outcomes. As part of the review, the APPG looks at the impact of arts education on children’s health and wellbeing. It argues that creative activity in education settings can play an important role in shaping educational outcomes, improving mental health for pupils, and in reducing healthcare burdens in the NHS. 

The review begins by outlining the ongoing mental health crisis amongst children and young people. One in six 15 – 16 year olds have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and 75% of them are unable to access NHS support due to long waiting times and a lack of local provision. This situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with an increase in feelings of worry, grief, and hopelessness reported by young people alongside increased rates of depression, self-harm, anxiety, and PTSD. This crisis impacts some groups more than others: children from ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ young people, young people with long-term health conditions or disabilities, and those from poorer backgrounds are all disproportionately affected by this crisis.

The relationship between high-quality early years provision and good mental health is well observed. Roughly half of all mental health issues begin by age 14. The importance of cultural and creative learning is also well documented, and unequal access to creative experiences in childhood plays a part in shaping later socio-economic inequality. Schools have an important role to play in offering creative provision both within and outside of the curriculum, and shaping access to the arts as a vital constituent part of what the review calls the ‘creative health ecosystem.’

Next, the review places the relationship between creative education and good mental health within the context of declining arts provision, reductions in funding, and reductions in equitable access to creative industries covered in other reports.

Finally, the review introduces the concept of ‘creative health’ in educational settings. Applied in school settings, ‘creative health’ can be used to improve health and wellbeing outcomes and address the needs of pupils. As such, it represents an important part of the curriculum throughout school by aiding educational development, regardless of whether students take, or plan to take, arts subjects as part of their formal qualifications. It can also have wider applicability, as part of wider community efforts to shape arts access and utilise resources to improve the accessibility of cultural experiences for pupils and other local people. The Department for Education, therefore, has an important role in shaping health and wellbeing outcomes for children and young people.

The full review is available here.

5. Public First report sets out its vision for the UK’s education system

This report by Public First lays out systematically gathered views of British parents and carers on the type of experiences that they want their children to have in school. The topics of deliberation range from school exams, nature of the curriculum, enrichment, and the role of Ofsted. Some of the topline findings from the report are: 

  • Parents and teachers find exams to cause needless stress and agree that testing dominates school priorities excessively. However, parents are more open to wide-ranging exam reform than teachers or MAT trustees.
  • There is a strong appetite among parents and teachers for greater emphasis on ‘life skills’, enrichment and building character at school, and the need for funding this learning. 
  • There is an agreement over the need for schools to be held accountable. Parents from higher social groups are more invested in Ofsted grades, but parents across all social groups agree that Ofsted accurately reflects their child’s experience of school. 

The authors make a number of recommendations, including the need for reform without diluting the focus on academics, defining life skills education more clearly, review of the PSHE curriculum, expansion of the co-curricular offer from all pupils across England, expansion of the school day, as well as a more ‘report-card’ like accountability structure than the current one word judgement.

The full report is available here

That’s all for this week! If you found this blog useful, please be sure to share/tweet it and follow @theCfEY and @Barristotle for future editions.