Friday Five: student finance, school absences, Turing Scheme, gaming, links between schools and families


12th January 2024

1. IFS publishes new report on the cost to government of student finance

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has published a new report looking at the cost to the government of student finance. While there has been plenty of research on the impact of tuition fees and student finance on university students and the cost of repayment to the taxpayer, much less attention has been placed on the potential costs to the government. The IFS report has three main findings:

One: The government is likely to make a loss on all student loans, whether they have been repaid in full or not. While the interest rates on student loans are linked to the Retail Price Index (RPI), the rate the government has to pay on its borrowing to fund the loans is not. The IFS has found that the cost of government borrowing relative to expected RPI inflation has risen by 3%, meaning that the government can expect to pay 1.6% more on the interest of its debt than the interest it makes from student loan repayments.

Two: As a result, funding the student loan system in its current form will cost roughly £10 billion a year. When tuition fees were introduced, inflation was significantly lower, and the government made a profit on loans as its borrowing costs were lower than the RPI-linked rates on student loans. The inverse is now true, and where the government once made profit, it now makes loss. It is significantly more expensive for the government to fund the student finance system in its current form than it ever has been before.

Three: This rise in costs is not reflected in the government’s official measures of the cost of student finance. When evaluating the cost of student finance, the government uses two official measures. One, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), does not take the cost of government borrowing into account at all. The other, from the Department for Education, uses a ‘backward-looking’ measure of government borrowing costs, meaning the steep rises over the past two years have not been accounted for in its figures.

The full report is available here.

2. Labour plans to push for a mandatory national register of home-schooled children 

In response to the high school absence rates exacerbated by the pandemic, the Labour Party plans to introduce legislation for a compulsory national register of home-schooled children to address persistent school absences. The proposed law would require councils to maintain a register of non-school attending children, with parents providing information on home education. Unions, local authorities, and child protection charities have long pushed for such a mandatory national register. 

Labour also aims to use artificial intelligence to identify absence trends and enhance coordination between education, social care, and support services. The party also intends to empower the schools inspectorate, Ofsted, to review absence as part of its annual safeguarding spot-checks, as well as the introduction of evidence-based early language interventions, increased mental health support and universal free breakfast clubs to help improve attendance. 

Read more here

3. Evaluation of the government’s Turing Scheme reveals missed targets

A new report published by the government evaluating the performance of the first year of its new Turing Scheme has highlighted a host of missed targets. The Turing Scheme, the government’s post-Brexit replacement for the EU’s Erasmus programme, offers study abroad opportunities for both students and school-aged pupils.

The report found that the scheme missed its schools targets by up to 40%. 2,828 pupils took part in the scheme in its first year, against a target of 5,000. While 115 schools were allocated funding for trips abroad through the scheme, only 89 schools actually participated. However, although the number of participating pupils fell well short of targets, the number of participating pupils was higher than the equivalent figure during the final year of the UK’s participation in Erasmus, when 2,550 took part.

What are the reasons behind these missed targets? The report highlights two main factors: the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and issues in the application process. The vast majority of providers – over 9 in 10 in fact – felt that the pandemic had an impact on the delivery of the first year of the scheme. From more stringent entry requirements abroad to logistical challenges associated with travelling during the pandemic, the report found that potential Turing applicants were more wary of applying, and less able to participate should they be offered funding. Meanwhile, 80% of universities and 29% of schools sampled for the evaluation reported finding the application process challenging and difficult.  

Read more analysis from Schools Week here; the full report is available here.

4. Children’s Commissioner publishes new report on children’s views on gaming

The Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, has published a new report evaluating children’s views on video games. Data for this report is drawn from a March 2023 survey of children in England aged 8-17, and qualitative analysis of The Big Ask data from 2021.

The report found that the majority of children have a positive view of video games and their impact. Around two thirds of children felt that video games were beneficial to their health and wellbeing. The children surveyed were marginally more positive about single-player games than multi-player games, with 67% agreeing that single-player games are beneficial for children’s mental health and wellbeing, compared with 62% for multi-player games. Across all forms of gaming, boys took a more positive view than girls: while 69% of boys felt that multi-player games were good for their health and wellbeing, just 56% of girls felt the same.

The report identified several positive and negative themes on gaming that emerged from the data. Children’s positive views ranged from seeing gaming as a fun activity to expressing desires to pursue a career as a professional gamer in the future. Negative views on gaming, meanwhile, revealed social anxieties around equipment, concerns around addiction, and worries that gaming distracts from other fun activities.

The full report is available here.

5. The Centre for Social Justice’s new report on restoring the bond between schools and families 

A new YouGov poll commissioned by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) reveals that around three in ten parents believe that the pandemic has shown that daily school attendance is not essential. Only 70% of parents express confidence in their child’s needs being met at school, dropping to 61% for those with secondary school children. The CSJ report, titled “The Missing Link: Restoring the bond between schools and families,” emphasises the need for increased parental engagement to address crisis-level school absences. 

The report recommends seven areas for governmental reform: the creation of a national parental participation strategy, nation-wide roll-out of attendance mentors, statutory DfE guidance on attendance, improving school attendance data metrics, improving relational work through youth clubs and services, introducing the right to sport in schools, and conducting a review of the policy of fines and attendance prosecution. 

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 @conorcarleton for future editions.