Increased university fees (again), independent schools abroad and dealing with the education funding crisis asbestos we can.
Almost all universities in England have been granted permission to increase tuition fees year-on-year, following new legislation being pushed through Parliament before the general election.
Ministers claim the new legislation comes as part of efforts to improve teaching in higher education, offering greater value for money for new students. The move is supposed to be tied into the Teaching Excellence Framework, a measure of teaching quality that allows institutions to adjust fees accordingly, but it doesn’t come into play until 2020. In the meantime, universities can make inflation-linked increases as they choose, as this year’s graduates are already expected to owe £9,250 a year in tuition fees alone, the highest debts of anywhere in the English-speaking world. All of this after last month’s announcements that student loan repayments would be hit with a significant increase on interest rates.
Speaking of which – British private schools are now educating more foreign students abroad than in the UK. Satellite campuses of top public schools – including North London Collegiate and Dulwich College – are now teaching 31,773 pupils abroad (predominantly in Asia), while there are only 27,281 pupils with parents from overseas being taught at ISC (Independent Schools Council) schools. This follows Increased government scrutiny of international students coming to the UK , along with the fact that British parents are increasingly unable to afford school fees, so new revenue streams must be sought.
Thousands of students have signed petitions against the new, harder GCSEs, which will require maths students to memorise endless formulae, and take English literature exams without a copy of the text available. Between them, two petitions asking for a formula sheet in maths, and against closed book exams in English, have gained over 130,000 signatures. Both point out that the new exams are demanding more recall, rather than testing how students can understand a formula or interpret a text. The Department of Education must respond to both petitions, as they have over 10,000 signatures.
TES also reports one teenager’s post on social media about the new GCSEs went viral, being shared thousands of times after she mentioned students “crying in the toilets” and “breaking down in the middle of a lesson” over the pressure they faced with the harder 9-1 grading system. Students are more stressed than ever before, and shadow education minister Emma Lewell-Buck argues that disadvantaged and SEN pupils are most likely to suffer with the new grading system.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said: “Regrettably I’m not in the least surprised that pupils are finding the new GCSEs particularly stressful. It is desperately sad to hear so many young people are stressed and not enjoying their education as a result.”
Unsurprisingly, Theresa May has faced yet more backlash from education leaders over her government’s policies, with 500 head teachers signing a letter accusing her of pushing schools ‘to breaking point.’ The government’s ‘rebalancing’ of education finances means a £3 billion real terms funding gap, with many schools losing tens of thousands of pounds. They have been forced to make staff redundancies, cut subjects and extracurricular activities, increase class sizes and even ask parents for money.
The signatories call on the Prime Minister to “stop seeing education as a cost and instead see it as an investment in the future” and reverse the £3 billion of cuts.
The BBC reports that head teachers have even considered bringing in a four and a half day week to cover the funding gap, as heads at the National Association of Head Teachers conference said ministers had not been listening to their plight.
While existing schools are struggling with funding, Public Accounts Committee (PAC) members have warned that the government has paid massively over the odds for new free schools, wasting millions in taxpayer money in the process. The cross-party board also noted that each pupil place in a new free secondary school “costs 51 per cent more than places provided by local authorities”. This was largely due to the high cost of land, which the DfE was found to be paying almost 20 per cent over official valuations for. In terms of failing to maintain existing schools, it was also noted that some 85 per cent of schools are known to have asbestos. The only way to address this would be to completely rebuild the schools at a total cost of £100bn – unlikely, given the government’s pledge to freeze per-pupil spending until 2019-20. The committee added that the Government’s pledge to create 500 free schools – including some grammars – by 2020 involved spending “significant funds”, even in areas with no shortage of pupil places at a time when existing schools “struggle to live within their budgets and carry out routine maintenance”.
However, supporters of the scheme claim that the free schools will almost uniformly be providing ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ education, with as many as 93% of new school places created are in an area of demographic need.
Research by academics at Bath Spa university suggests that parents have had an increasing influence on classroom matters over the last three decades. Although this can in some ways be positive, with parents having more interest in their child’s education, and demanding more accountability of schools, it has also led to a sharp increase in abuse experienced by teachers, leaving their physical and mental health suffering:
- A third of primary school teachers experienced derogatory words or behaviour from parents, either online or on school premises at least once a month.
- Among secondary school teachers, one in five experienced derogatory behaviour once a month. This was mostly on school premises – only 4% of such behaviour occurred online.Female teachers are more likely than male ones to experience abusive behaviour on school premises. Half reported they encountered this several times a year or more, compared with 40% of male teachers.
- A fifth of teaching assistants were exposed to negative words or behaviour either online (5%) or on school premises (16%) at least once a month.
- A third of new teachers who started jobs in English state schools in 2010 left within five years.
- Acceptances to teacher training courses dropped by 7% this year. The government has missed its targets for teacher recruitment in England for five consecutive years.
- Retention rate among secondary heads fell from 91% in 2012 to 87% in 2015.
Some schools have even gone as far as publishing guidelines for parents, outlining the process for making a complaint, and trying to deter angry online comments and email tirades towards teachers.
The Victoria and Albert Museum will run a project promoting design skills for students across the country. The intention is to cultivate the skills for local creative industries, in partnerships between museums and schools, hoping to “promote design education for the future,” in response to a lack of vocational skills and training for industry. The project will coincide with the start of a new design and technology GCSE and will support the revised qualification, which for Labour MP and V and A director Tristram Hunt believes will help “to educate and inspire the artists, innovators, designers and creatives of tomorrow”.
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.