Friday Five: UK 2040 Options, Green Economy, Key Facts about English Education, SEND, Support for SEND, PISA 2022


8th December 2023

  1. CfEY contribute to new UK 2040 Options report ‘Education: The Choices’

As part of an expert advisory panel, CfEY’s Head of Policy Baz Ramaiah contributed to the latest report from Nesta’s UK 2040 Options Project, which explores policy options for children born today who will become adults in the 2040s. 

Early years education is a particular focus for the report. It highlights the ‘false dichotomy’ between quality early years provision and its delivery at scale. At present, while the evidence is clear that good early years education leads to better outcomes, costs for families can be as high as a quarter of average household income. Changes to the workforce strategy, a new funding system, and shifting from a demand-led to a supply-led model were solutions proposed to bring the cost of early years provision down for families without compromising on quality.

Solutions to deal with the teacher retention crisis are also explored. At present, the Government is recruiting less than two-thirds of the teachers it needs, while a third of teachers leave the profession within their first five years on the job. Increasing teachers’ pay, the introduction of pay bursary schemes for under-subscribed subjects, reducing teachers’ workload through accountability reforms and changes to Ofsted’s role in schools, and looking to technological innovation, are some of the solutions presented.

Changes to support for pupils and families outside the classroom are also considered. Schools are just one part in a wider support system. Investment in family support services like the Family Nurse Partnership, uplifts to Universal Credit, and a cash transfer scheme for parents could help reduce family poverty and in turn improve school outcomes for disadvantaged young people.

The full report is available here.

2. Public First’s report on young people’s attitudes to jobs in the green economy

The report titled ‘Generation Green Jobs?’ explores young people’s readiness for the Net Zero skills to find that young people lack the awareness of and interest in green jobs presenting a serious risk to the UK meeting its Net Zero targets. The report is based on analysis of data gathered in a national poll of young people between 16-25 and five online focus groups in regions that are due to see a large number of green jobs. 

Key findings of the report include:

  • Young people do not find many green jobs attractive, despite feeling strongly about environmental issues. 
  • The advantages that young people associate with green jobs, for their positive impact on the climate, do not influence their career choices since these jobs are not seen to have good pay or rapid progression. 
  • Terms like Net Zero are poorly understood and many young people have little clue of how Net Zero will transform the economy in the coming years. 
  • Green jobs are seen as relevant for those taking academic routes, and thus limiting the confidence of those outside of them in feeling confident to access them. 
  • Young women are even less aware of and interested in green jobs, risking perpetuation of existing gender disparities in the industries that are key to Net Zero. 

The report underscores the urgent need to boost the pipeline of young people prepared to enter jobs in the green economy and makes many practical recommendations for employers, educators and the government towards that. On Tuesday 5th December, CfEY along with Policy Connect, released a report in the Parliament to highlight the role of Higher Technical Qualifications in bridging the skills gap in the UK. We believe that these discussions are particularly critical in strengthening the Level 4 and Level 5 vocational and technical pathways that are so critical for the economy of the future led by green Net Zero ambitions as well as growth in automation. 

Read the full report here

3. EPI publishes new report outlining ’11 key facts’ about England’s education system

The Education Policy Institute has published a new report detailing what it claims are the ’11 key facts’ about the current state of the education system in England. The report forms part of Nesta’s UK 2040 Options Project, which explores policy options for children born today who will become adults in the 2040s. 

Many of the EPI’s ‘key facts’ deal with the attainment gap in England. The report argues that 40 percent of the advantage gap between pupils at age 16 can be seen at age 5. Funding issues compound this: while good early years provision does lead to better outcomes, costs for the average family can be as high as a quarter of their household income. With one-in-five pupils now regularly missing school, and vulnerable children amongst those worst affected, attainment disparities on socio-economic lines remain an important feature of education in England.

Alongside this, the EPI suggests that England’s good performance in international comparisons obscures the challenges it faces. While England performs well against international competitors, and spending on education in England is above the OECD average, significant funding challenges exist for schools and colleges. Compounded by rising demand, the school system is failing to support vulnerable children, and the teacher retention crisis continues. The Government is recruiting less than two-thirds of the teachers it needs, while a third of teachers leave within their first five years on the job, and 15 percent leave within their first year.

Against this challenging national picture, the EPI outline some opportunities for the future. England is home to a plethora of world-class universities, although issues with funding and access remain, particularly for those from low-income backgrounds. They also argue that closing the gap between skill supply and employer demand would boost national productivity by as much as five percent. One in 10 employers report having a vacancy they have struggled to fill, and skill shortage vacancies represent considerable percentages in vacancies across manufacturing, construction, and communications sectors. Improving education outcomes can play a key role in closing this gap.

The full report by the EPI is available here.

4. Cutting support for children with SEND will only worse inequalities

Tammy Campbell from LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion responds to the Department of Education’s recent plans to scale back SEND support funds, arguing that this will worsen existing inequalities in care.

The Department of Education recently published its long-awaited SEND and alternative provision improvement plan, which recommends lower spending on SEND throughout the report. The focus is on Local Authorities reforming their ‘high needs systems and associated spending’ to become more ‘cost effective’. It also asks that LAs ‘manage’ demand for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), implicitly asking that fewer EHCPs are granted in order to manage costs. The Education Select Committee, supported by Campbell, argues that ‘a massive rationing process’ is taking place in SEND provision – as seems to be borne out by the government’s new plan.

In her wider research, Campbell has demonstrated that there is a deficit of provision for children in the most deprived areas – and has suggested that increased funding may be the answer to fixing this inequality. She identifies that primary school students in these areas have lower chances of receiving an EHCP, and lower chances of receiving a diagnosis for certain conditions.

“Children with any SEND recorded in the National Pupil Database (NPD) census living in the poorest areas have about a 17.5 percent chance of having an EHCP, compared to 22 per cent in the most affluent areas.”

The reduction of SEND spending seems likely to worsen this situation, reducing the support and funding available for schools who already struggle to cope with the dual pressures of a centralised and prescriptive curriculum and limited resources or flexibility for students with additional needs. 

Campbell’s blog can be read here, and her report on SEND provision in English primary schools can be found here.

5. The PISA 2022 report presents a mixed picture of life for children and young people

This week saw the release of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, offering a comparative assessment of skills in mathematics, reading and science for 15-year-old students in 81 countries across the world.

The report suggests that average performance in mathematics and reading has declined significantly in England since the 2018 report, however, scores remain significantly above the OECD average. The decline in mathematics and reading skills was seen across the OECD sample of countries, and has been provisionally linked to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. This clearly shows that the impact of the pandemic is still being felt by young people, making questions of enriching education recovery increasingly important.

However, the PISA 2022 report also surfaced concerns beyond the three key skills measured. It indicated that one in ten students said that they had skipped a meal in the previous week, well above the OECD average, as pointed out by CfEY’s founder Loic Menzies in his analysis of the report. It is also reported that students in England are twice as likely to have witnessed fights, threats, and vandalism in school. On average in the OECD sample, 75% of students feel a sense of belonging within their school – in England this is only 63%. This trend continues in students’ reported overall life satisfaction: in England, the average score out of ten was 6.01, while the OECD average was 6.75.

Despite these worrying elements, there was also a lot of hopeful information contained within the report – performance in the lowest SES (social economic status) decile was high relative to other participating countries. England also showed a higher percentage of students operating at the highest two proficiency levels than the OECD average (12% compared to the wider sample average 9%).

Overall, the PISA report presents a mixed picture of life for children and young people in England at the moment – there is much to feel good about, but the research also points to the mounting pressure on children and young people, facing a twofold cost of living and mental health crisis. The full report can be found 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.