Grammar schools opposition, a deepening funding crisis and the primary school head who’s a champion weightlifter
Theresa May is facing vocal cross-party opposition from MPs to her flagship education policy, the opening of new selective grammar schools. Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, former Tory education secretary Nicky Morgan and Labour’s ex-shadow education secretary Lucy Powell produced a joint article in The Observer, claiming that new grammar schools will do nothing to help social mobility, or improve results in the country’s most deprived areas. They emphasise that the current priority to should be to make all schools good, not improve circumstances for those at selective schools. Meanwhile, director of the New Schools Network, Toby Young, one of the DfE’s main champions for new schools, believes we should scrap the 11 plus as a means of determining which children go to grammar schools – or force all pupils to take it, in order to improve social mobility. Young argues that primary school headteachers should decide which pupils move on to grammar schools, given the current impossibility of a ‘tutor-proof’ 11 plus test, and said he believes that no more than five new grammar schools would be open by 2020.
Other education industry leaders have recently condemned May’s plan amid concerns it could hurt existing schools, after Treasury officials admitted to The Independent that the money in the spring Budget for new free schools will only fund a fifth of the promised 70,000 new school places. Critics are worried the shortfall could be made up my siphoning off money currently earmarked for improvements to state comprehensives. At the same time, a scathing report from the National Audit Office states some £6.7bn is needed just to bring all existing school buildings up to a “satisfactory” standard, while billions is being spent on building new state-of-the-art free schools
These are just the latest in a series of attacks on May’s plan, from within her own party the opposition and the world of education, threatening to derail it altogether.
Schools funding crisis deepens… – Independent
All of this comes amid a dire funding crisis, and a new ‘national funding formula’ that will see funds redistributed across the country, but not actually increased. Schools across the board are facing real-terms cuts: being forced to reduce GCSE and A Level course options, cut back on trips and after school activities and increase class sizes. More than 1,000 members of the ASCL (Association of Schools and College Leaders) were polled, and the results appear fairly bleak:
- 72% of schools that teach 14-16-year-olds said GCSE or vocational courses have had to be cut in the past 12 months.
- 79% of schools that teach sixth-formers also said courses have been cut.
- 82% of those surveyed said they have had to increase class sizes, with the average largest class size at 33.
- The worst hit subjects were design and technology, music, performing/visual arts and languages.
- 95% said their school had cut back on support services, including equipment such as books, special needs support, IT and mental health support.
Interim general secretary Malcolm Trobe said school leaders are being forced to make “impossible choices”, while the DfE insists funding is protected and at a record level (despite endless evidence that it is still, very clearly, insufficient).
…And deepens – BBC
Analysis by the The Education Policy Institute suggests every state school in England will see budget cuts and face a funding gap by 2020 – even those that stand to benefit from the new funding formula. Despite a 2015 manifesto promise from the Conservatives of a real-terms increase in the schools budget, the EPI estimates that average losses will reach £74,000 for primary schools and £291,000 for secondary schools by 2019-20. This seriously undermines the Tory claims that “Under a future Conservative government, the amount of money following your child into school will be protected” and “As the number of pupils increases, so will the amount of money in our schools.”
The Guardian has helpfully summed up the English schools’ funding row right here.
Addressing the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, former education secretary and leading Brexit campaigner Michael Gove credited high immigration figures as a key reason that schools in London have excelled. “There’s lots of evidence that London having become more diverse has contributed to educational standards rising.” Gove praised the work ethic and educational expectations of many migrant families, especially in comparison to less diverse parts of the country where more students struggle. However, he also blamed migrant figures for increasing pressure on services, rising class sizes and said they threatened “the sense of cohesion.” He remained coy on the subject of grammar schools, but did warn against education policies that focused on “little things for political points.”
Leading academics from 35 Oxford colleges have urged the Government to guarantee the rights of their EU colleagues post-Brexit. They warned that some academics have already left the UK amid growing uncertainty, and that a failure to secure guarantees would lead to “enormous damage” in the higher education sector.
They wrote: “Our EU colleagues are not reassured by a government which tells them that deportation is not going to happen but declines to convert that assurance into law; some are worried, some are desperate, some are already making plans to leave.”
A Scottish charity is encouraging young people to help spot bullying and loneliness in schools, after research found that over half of teenagers try and cope with mental health difficulties alone. Mikeysline, the Inverness-based charity, was launched by the family of Michael Williamson, who killed himself in 2015 aged 23, and they are developing the Mikey’s Mates training programme through crowdfunding, to be rolled out in schools across the Highlands, alongside the Mikeysline app. The plan is to train students to spot the signs of mental illness in schools, and to offer a friendly and calming voice and show people how to get the help they need. These individuals can then reach out to and train others. They have funding for several schools in the highlands, and are hoping to roll out the programme to all of Scotland in the future, to help tackle the stigma around mental health.
School forced 14 year-old to shave every day – Telegraph
A school has come in for criticism over forcing a 14 year-old boy to shave on an almost daily basis over their strict no facial hair policy. This has kicked off a row with the student’s mother, after he was removed from lessons and forced to report regularly to the headmaster over not shaving, leading her to question “What’s more important, his education or the hair on his face?” Kim Wright claims that Astor College in Dover demanded her son Connor shave daily, from the age of 12 – before he could legally buy a razor. The school has sinced slightly relaxed their demands, but Wright still added, “The kids should be able to go through puberty the way they want to.” Hear, hear.
The head of Inverness’ Smithton Primary has retained a British powerlifting championship title for the third year running – even though she only began competing three years ago. Lynda Banks, 51, competes in the sports’ Masters 2 class, which is open to 50 to 59-year-old competitors. She is also a Commonwealth Champion, and placed third at last year’s World Championship.
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.