General election pledges, the dangers of screen time and surprisingly happy teenagers
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has put education at the centre of his campaign for the snap general election. Corbyn described education as being in crisis, specifically highlighting the Tories’ recent record on school budget cuts and growing class sizes. Indeed, Labour’s first TV advert of the campaign is even set in a classroom, with a teacher explaining how Labour will address issues such as library closures, teacher retention, school trips and class sizes. However, the TES reports that teachers have pointed out that the advert itself subverts the 1996 Education Act, which forbids the promotion of partisan political views in the classroom.
The Guardian reports that the issues that young people are most focused on in the upcoming election include education, mental health, internet safety, employment opportunity, gender equality and the environment.
Millions wasted on free schools amid funding crisis – Independent
At least £138.5 million of taxpayer money has been spent on opening 62 free schools, university technical colleges (UTC) and studio schools that have either closed, partially closed, or failed to open at all, analysis by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) shows. This figure would fund the employment of 3,680 teachers for a year, and provide £6,586 for every school in England. Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said this highlights how ‘deeply inefficient’ the government’s free schools program is, and criticised them for failing to provide sufficient new school places where they’re most needed. Kevin Courtney, NUT general secretary, described the situation as “criminal”, impelled the Government to apologise to teachers and parents for “throwing away” such significant sums of money, and added the £135 million figure was likely to be much higher, with some data unavailable.
At the same time, Schoolsweek reports that the government has said it will not be publishing the promised white paper on the plans for new grammar schools until after the election on June 8th, despite Justine Greening’s March 20th promise that it would arrive in the “coming weeks.”
The funding crisis in English schools has now got so severe that Kevin Courtney, NUT general secretary, has threatened industrial action before the school year is out. Mr Courtney laid down an ultimatum to Education Secretary Justine Greening to increase government funding for schools by the Autumn Budget or risk strike action. He warned: “If Justine Greening announces the funding formula is changing to make things even worse in some areas, that would be very likely to raise the level of anger in those areas to a point where action will take place.” The Government has said it has protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010, with school funding at its highest level on record at more than £40 billion in 2016-17
A survey of British secondary school students reveals that many believes overuse of smartphones disrupts family life. More than a third of 2,000 11 to 18-year-olds who responded to a poll said they had asked their parents to stop checking their devices, and 14% said their parents were online at meal times (although 95% of 3,000 parents, polled separately, denied it). Other findings included:
- 82% felt mealtimes should be device-free
- 22% said the use of mobiles stopped their family enjoying each other’s company
- 36% had asked their parents to put down their phones
- Of pupils who had asked their parents to put down their phones, 46% said their parents took no notice, while 44% felt upset and ignored.
- Only 10% of parents believed their mobile use was a concern for their children – although almost half 43% felt they spent too much of their own time online
- 72% of pupils said they were online between three and 10 hours a day – but for 11% this could rise to 15 hours at weekends and holidays
- Children’s greatest worry about their own online use was lack of sleep, with 47% highlighting it as a major concern – although only 10% of parents worried about their child’s online time leading to sleep deprivation.
These findings come at the same time as the revelation that British schoolchildren spend more time online than in almost any other developed nation, with nearly one in four pupils in the UK now considered “extreme” internet users. The Telegraph reports that British youngsters spend 188 minutes per school day on average engrossed on their smartphones or computers, behind only Chile in the OECD’s Pisa tests, which surveyed 540,000 pupils aged 15 from around the world. This has been linked to Britain falling into the bottom eleven of the 48 OECD countries for happiness (see below), with unhappiness being more pronounced in girls, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Most teenagers are happy – BBC
An OECD survey of young people has found that, defying stereotypes, most teenagers across the world are happy, scoring an average 7.3 out of 10. However, British teenagers were below average, scoring only 7, with bullying, exam-related anxiety and heavy screen use (see above) leaving many feeling lonely and less satisfied. Of the 48 countries surveyed, top scorers were the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Costa Rica (scoring 8.5, 8.3 and 8.2 respectively) with Britain also behind America, Russia, Bulgaria and Estonia. Asian countries/economies tended to score worst, with none of Korea, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan exceeding an average of 6.6.
The new GCSE 9-1 grading system has caused confusion, while increasing pressure on pupils and narrowing the range of educational opportunities for young people, according to the NASUWT teaching union’s annual conference in Manchester. One teacher said: “We still haven’t got our head around what the grade boundaries are because no-one will provide us with any.” Justine Greening has said that grade four will be a ‘standard pass’ and grade five a ‘strong pass.’ Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the changes – brought in under Michael Gove – had been driven by “political imperative” and not the needs of the majority of young people, which they are failing to meet. “The changes to exam grading have created huge uncertainty for pupils, teachers, parents and employers which will be difficult for schools to manage.”
Fortunately, Minerva has produced a handy guide to understanding the new GCSE grading system, to help address some of the confusion.
‘March for Science’ to celebrate Earth Day – Guardian
600 marches across the world, including London, where Dr. Who star Peter Capaldi made an appearance, (although the main march was in Washington DC) were held on Earth Day last week, with climate researchers, oceanographers, bird watchers and thousands of other science fans involved. Though officially non-political, the marches have been seen as being in global opposition to Donald Trump, and his administration’s decision to ignore climate change.
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.