Education News Roundup 27/10/16

October 27, 2016 by Minerva Tutors,

New teachers leaving schools, a breakthrough in autism treatment and what Brexit could mean for education.


One of the first indications of how Brexit may affect British universities emerged this week, as applications for UK universities from EU students fell by 9%, after increasing annually for the last four years. The figures for EU students for the October UCAS deadline fell from 6,860 last year to 6,240 this year, even though the numbers have seen a 3% rise in applications from British students, and an overall 1% rise in all overseas applications. EU students applying this year have been guaranteed the same loan/grant options as British students, but many still seem deterred, while an 8% and 7% increase in applications from England and Wales respectively hints at a post-Brexit demographic shift towards more British students.

Brexit has also prompted a string of British universities to consider expanding their global – EU and non-EU – links, so as not to become alienated from the wider academic community. Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chair of the University of Buckingham, and Sir David Greenaway, vice chancellor of the University of Nottingham (the first university to open a campus in China), have both spoken about the global possibilities Brexit offers British universities. This includes opening campuses in EU countries, to maintain their links, and indeed expanding further beyond Europe. Greenaway says Nottingham’s response to Brexit has been to become ‘more global, more outwardly facing…[and] send a message to the world that British universities are open for business’.

Recent statistics delivered another blow to the teaching industry in the UK, revealing that 30% of newly qualified teachers who took up jobs in the UK in 2010 have now quit the profession. Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said urgent action needed to be taken, and blamed Michael Gove’s reforms on the crisis, for ‘denigrating the profession, questioning their [teachers’] capabilities, worsening their [teachers’] lot through higher workload and real terms pay cuts, freezes, and, for good measure, a sledgehammer to pensions.’ The union believes the increasing workload and attacks on salaries are driving this exodus, and ask ministers to consider what is happening. Despite many schools with teaching gaps to fill, the Department for Education countered that teacher retention rates had been ‘broadly stable’ for 20 years, there are more teachers entering classrooms than leaving, that the UK has a higher average teaching salary than other OECD countries, and a spokesman insisted that ‘teaching remains an attractive career…and we are working with the sector to find constructive solutions.’

In spite of this assertion, secondary school teachers in Scotland are taking industrial action against what they call an ‘excessive workload’. The SSTA, which represents secondary teachers, voted 91% in favour industrial action, meaning a third of secondary school teachers took part in the strike on monday. However, the EIS, the largest teaching union in Scotland, suspended action due to steps taken by the government to reduce workloads, though the SSTA believes these changes will have no effect on the current academic term.

Cutbacks in education funding, alongside the decoupling of AS and A-levels, have led to many schools now only offering students three A-levels, as opposed to the traditional four, when one is dropped after AS level. A survey of sixth form colleges suggests only 10% will offer the traditional four subject at AS and three at A-level from september 2017. 39% of schools have had to drop some modern languages, 84% say they are working with bigger class sizes, 64% of sixth form colleges say they will not have sufficient funding to offer requisite support for disadvantaged students, and 90% of colleges describe themselves as concerned or very concerned about the financial health of their institution. 58% of institutions said they have had to make cuts to extra-curricular activities. Figures come from the Sixth Form College Association (SFCA), which represents 90 institutions, 160,000 students aged 16-18, and accounts for 20% of all A-levels taken in England.  

In even more troubling DfE-related news, they have sent out the controversial national schools’ census, aiming to collate details on the race, religion, place of birth, nationality, and proficiency in English of millions of students. This information is supposed to be voluntary, but schools have the option to ‘ascribe’ (read – guess) the ethnicity of a child if it is not offered. The census also asks for passport number and expiry date, and includes a section on asylum status and whether or not students are members of a ‘traveller community.’ Understandably, critics are concerned these (potentially inaccurate) statistics could be mis-used for immigration purposes, and will go on a permanent database, the use of which could have long-term and unforeseen consequences.

A long-term study into the effects of parenting skills on autistic children has revealed the potential for ‘drastic’ improvement in their social skills, if parents are given the right guidance. This involves intensive training, where parents re-watch and analyse footage of how they interact with their autistic children, in order to learn how to improve. Although the intense training is hard work, the results are impressive, with 46% of children experiencing severe symptoms of autism after six years, compared to 63% with regular treatments.

A recent study has confirmed long-held anecdotal evidence that girls tend to be much better at reading than boys. Interestingly, neither socioeconomic factors nor whether they were reading fiction or non-fiction (generally preferred by boys) seemed to make a difference. The study, by professor Keith Topping, of over a million children assessed how well a child had understood a book based on a quiz they took afterwards, with girls consistently outperforming boys.


And finally… the student union of the University of Kent was left deeply embarrassed, and forced to apologise, after promoting Black History Month using images of former One Direction singer Zayn Malik and Sadiq Khan, both of whom have Pakistani roots, and neither of whom has any African or Caribbean heritage

And even more finally… History of Art A-level may have been saved! Read more here


For more information on this week’s stories…

Fall in EU applicants to British universities – Telegraph

British universities looking to expand – Independent

Newly qualified teachers quitting profession – BBC

Scottish teachers taking industrial action over workload – Independent

Funding cutbacks lead to fewer A-level options at colleges – BBC

Department for Education criticised over school census – Independent

Training parents leads to autism improvements – BBC

Girls outperform boys in reading assessment – Independent

University of Kent union embarrassed over Black History Month gaffe – BBC


By David Bard


David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about creative writing and everything that’s trending in education.

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