Friday Five: Raac closures and exam concerns, new Ofsted chief’s priorities, hybrid schooling, student maintenance support, and expansion of funded childcare


5th January 2024

1. Exam result concerns for pupils in schools with Raac classroom closures

Pupils and parents in schools affected by Raac classroom closures are growing increasingly concerned about the impact of closures on exam results, per reporting by the BBC. Many schools across England have been forced to close at least some of their teaching spaces following safety concerns, impacting pupils’ learning and access to specialist equipment and technology.

Raac, or reinforced autoclave aerated concrete, is a lightweight material used primarily in flat roofing in many school buildings erected in the 1950s-1970s. While it’s a cheaper material than concrete, it only has a lifespan of around 30 years, meaning it’s well past its expected usage in all school buildings in which it is present. At least 231 schools in England are confirmed to have buildings built using Raac, although this figure is widely thought of as an underestimation. The collapse of a supposedly ‘non-critical’ Raac panel at a school shortly before the autumn term last year prompted widespread closures on safety grounds.

Some schools have been forced to completely close temporarily and teach remotely, while many more have been forced to close some of their buildings. These closures adversely affect specialist teaching rooms, such as laboratories or design and technology classrooms, which are more likely to be in Raac buildings. In response to closures, some schools have erected temporary classrooms in playgrounds or other ground space, although these temporary rooms tend to not be equipped with the specialist equipment housed in the rooms they are replacing. As a result, many pupils in schools impacted by Raac closures are unable to access the specialist equipment and classrooms needed for their GCSE or A level courses, raising concerns about the impact of closures on exam results.

A variety of mitigations have been proposed by stakeholders. Solutions have included exam scripts of impacted pupils considered by examiners on a case-by-case basis, a blanket increase in marks for schools affected, or teacher assessed grades, similar to those given for exams during the pandemic, for pupils in impacted schools. In response, the Department for Education has dismissed these proposals, stating that it is ‘not possible to make changes to exams and assessments for only some groups of students.’

Read more here.

2. Three key takeaways from new Ofsted chief’s first interview

Ofsted’s new Chief Inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver, took up his position this week. Oliver replaces Amanda Spielman, who left the watchdog at the end of 2023 in the wake of the inquest into the death of headteacher Ruth Perry following an Ofsted inspection. In his first interview in his new role, Oliver spoke to TES about his immediate and longer-term plans and priorities. Here, we’ve summarised three key takeaways from the interview.

One: routine inspections will not resume until staff have received new training. While inspections prompted by safeguarding concerns will continue to take place, Oliver claims that routine inspections will be paused until lead inspectors have received new ‘external,’ and ‘expert’ training. Oliver himself will lead the first round of this training in January, which will include sessions by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England. A date for when routine inspections will recommence has not been announced.

Two: a new commitment to transparency. Oliver has announced that for the first time Ofsted will share publicly its training materials and inspector aids, something the watchdog has previously faced criticism for keeping private. He claims to welcome working with external researchers to review Ofsted’s performance, and that constructive criticism should be responded to ‘in a non-defensive way.’

Three: an increased emphasis on working with schools. Ofsted inspections should be ‘done with, rather than done to’ schools, Oliver tells TES. He wants to see an ‘exponential increase’ in the number of active school leaders working as Ofsted inspectors, as part of an effort to situate Ofsted and its staff as an integral and supportive part of the sector.

The full interview is available here.

3. Duke’s Education model to offer hybrid schooling from 2024

Duke’s Education is set to offer the first UK-wide hybrid school for children up to sixth-form age, starting September 2024. Duke’s Education, which runs more than 25 schools and colleges in the UK and Europe, are said to have designed this option for school refusers, those with anxiety or those who do not have access to suitable local schools and students who want to fit their education around their sporting or extracurricular commitments. The hybrid model will expect pupils to attend in-person sessions once a week, with online sessions for the remainder of the week. A few other schools, including Harrow School and online schools Kings InterHigh and Academy 21, have offered remote learning but none has adopted the fully hybrid model.

Read more here

4. Sutton Trust analyses student maintenance support received by pupils during the cost-of-living crisis

This report by the Sutton Trust analyses the extent of financial support pupils received in 2023 through student finance, particularly amidst the cost-of-living crisis. The report finds that: 

  • Nearly two-thirds of students spend less than the minimum £37 a week on food needed for essential food items. 
  • Median figures for loans taken out by pupils are £8,500 in London and £7,000 in the rest of England respectively. These loans come nowhere near to covering the median costs of essential spending- £17,287 in London and £11,400 in the rest of England. 
  • Median spending on essentials by students from working-class families is approximately 21% less than those from middle class families. 
  • 66% of working-class students’ essential spending goes on rent and bills, compared to 54% for their more affluent peers. The difference in spend being attributed to grocery bills. 

The authors of the report recommend urgently reviewing the maintenance levels available to students for day-to-day living costs and, in the medium term, working towards bringing back maintenance grants that were discontinued in 2015 so that students from lower-income households are better able to meet their needs without taking on high levels of debt.

Read the full report here

5. Applications open for first stage of Government’s expansion of free childcare

Applications for the first stage of the Government’s planned expansion of free childcare for children aged nine months to two years opened this week. Under plans first announced in the spring budget last year, the Government is increasing the number of hours of free childcare for which parents of children under the age of two are eligible. The roll out for the first stage of this expansion begins in April.

Currently, working parents of children over the age of three, who earn at least £8,670 but no more than £100,000, are entitled to 30 hours of funded childcare per week during term time. The Government’s plan is to eventually extend this to all children over the age of nine months. This will take place in three stages:

In Stage one, which begins this April, parents can apply for 15 hours of funded childcare for children aged two years. Stage two, which begins in September 2024, will see this extended to parents of children aged nine months to two years. In stage three, which begins in September 2025, the hours of funded childcare for children aged nine months to two years will double, bringing childcare provision in line with children aged three and over.

To address the increased childcare capacity needed to carry out this expansion, the Government say they are investing £400 million. It says this will fund the increase in rates paid to local authorities for childcare. It has also announced ‘start-up’ grants of up to £1,200 for childminders. However, analysis by the BBC predicts that demand for childcare places will have risen by 15% by the time the expansion is in place, placing extra pressure on a childcare system described last year by an Education Select Committee report as already ‘straining to provide’ enough places.

Read more 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.