Two year university degrees, a new online safety initiative and an imminent revolution in sex education?
The government has launched an initiative targeting sexting and cyberbullying, led by culture secretary Karen Brady. Brady said: “We are determined to make Britain the safest place in the world to be online.” Ministers will meet with technology companies, charities, academics and mental health professionals to identify risks and develop an internet safety strategy, aiming to reduce online harassment and abuse.
At the same time, a poll of 2,000 adults found 75 per cent of Britons want children to be taught about the impact of pornography, while just 7 per cent were opposed to the move. The survey, commissioned by the charity Plan International UK, shows parents also overwhelmingly supported the introduction of mandatory lessons on consent, sexting and abusive relationships, while the many pupils have also supported calls for improved and mandatory sex and relationship education (SRE). The findings will fuel demands for compulsory SRE in schools – currently, a loophole allows for academies and free schools to leave it off the syllabus, and parents are allowed to opt children out of classes. Education secretary Justine Greening says she is looking at the issue, but has promised no legislative change as yet.
For more on the question of SRE in schools, see our blog this week
Plans for fast-track two-year full university degrees could be introduced in the UK, charged at £14,000 a year – making costs higher than many US universities. Universities minister Jo Johnson says he believes this is fair, as it would cost the same as a three-year university degree with a faster pace of learning and no dilution of quality, while students would save on a year of living costs. Johnson defended the program, but the UCU lecturers’ union warned that the main beneficiaries would be private, for-profit providers.
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, older teenagers are currently being worst hit by the UK education funding crisis, with continual cuts on provisions hitting 16-18 year olds, despite an overall rise in per pupil spending in most other age groups over the last 30 years. The report says the government’s current proposed spending cuts will mean that:
- In schools – per pupil spending will fall 6.5% by 2019-20 on 2015-16 levels
- In further education – per pupil spending will fall 13% by 2019-20 on 2010-11 levels
- Early years spending will increase by 38% in real-terms by 2020 – though the amount per pupil will still be only about half that in primary schools.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the continued failure to protect the 16 to 18 budget was “not acceptable”, urging the government to review how money was divided between age groups. “The biggest losers, of course, are 16 to 18-year-olds who miss out on the breadth, depth and support that they deserve as they make the daunting journey from childhood into adulthood”.
The same IFS report suggests that now, schools are facing the first real-terms cuts to their funding since the mid-1990s.
Fears of the impact of Brexit on the university sector are growing, after figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency revealed that about a third of university academics in the UK are from outside Britain, with almost one in five coming from the EU. Maths, physics, biology, engineering and technology have some of the highest rates of non-UK staff across the country. The humanities also have over a third of staff from outside the UK, with most of these coming from Europe.There was also evidence of a downturn in overseas students coming to the UK, in figures published by the Office for National Statistics. Many institutions have expressed concern about their ability to attract top academic talent from abroad, highlighting the risk of a perceived anti-immigrant sentiment, and the current the lack of assurances over Brexit.
However, in more positive university news, the University of Birmingham is set to offer free tuition to disadvantaged students as part of its Access to Birmingham scheme, in a bid to boost inclusivity. The scheme is aimed at helping local children from deprived socioeconomic backgrounds, and the university has already dropped grade boundary requirements for eligible applicants.
This fits in the wider trend of universities trying to widen access for pupils from all backgrounds, which has been adopted by several Russell Group universities, and a number of Oxbridge colleges. This includes a group of universities in Yorkshire, including Leeds and Huddersfield, that have expressed an interest in investing part of their access budget on tutoring school children to help them make their offers. However, the entrance process to most of these prestigious institutions undoubtedly still favours wealthier middle class families and those who were privately educated.
Children who are high academic achievers at age 11 are twice as likely to smoke cannabis and drink alcohol regularly during their teens than their peers, according to a 9 year study by University College London. However, bright teenagers are less likely to smoke tobacco than their peers, and Dr James Williams from UCL Medical School said there has been a general downward trend in smoking cannabis and drinking alcohol among teenagers. So don’t panic if your teenager comes home tipsy or bleary-eyed – according to this study, it could be a sign of great things to come*.
*Minerva does not condone underage drinking, smoking or drug use.
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 everything that’s trending in education.