Election news, a GCSE paper blunder and a new Lego ‘Professor of Play’ at Cambridge.
Election catch-up – Independent, Guardian, BBC
It’s been a tough week for the Conservative party, with news that their cost-cutting pledge to replace free school lunches with free school breakfasts could cost up to £400 million (Independent), according to expert analysts – or between 5 and 10 times more than the £60 million Theresa May’s party estimated. The Tories calculated the cost of these breakfast at only 7p per student, when, depending on what’s offered, anything from 25p – 60p would be more appropriate.
At the same time, it’s emerged that at Furzedown primary school, in Wandsworth, pupils have been asked to clean classrooms after they couldn’t afford to replace the cleaner (Guardian), who moved jobs. The husband of headteacher Monica Kitchlew-Wilson is doing the school’s plumbing for free, and parents have been contributing to cover the costs of sports equipment and repairs to the school, showing how Tory funding cuts are hitting schools across the country.
This comes amid news from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), a highly respected independent think tank, that schools would be even worse off under a new Tory government (BBC): “Proposals from the Conservatives would lead to a near 3% real terms fall in spending per pupil over the Parliament, taking it back to its 2010 level,” the report claims. They also report that: “Labour would increase spending per pupil by around 6% after inflation over the course of the Parliament, taking it to just above its previous historic high in 2015”.
However, the IFS has also come out and criticised claims in both the main parties’ manifestos (indy100). They claim there are ‘black holes’ in Labour’s tax plans to cover the cost of public spending (including education), which would lead to a shortfall of £9 billion, and possibly greater unemployment due to a proposed minimum wage increase. While they say that contrary to Theresa May’s claim of ‘stable’ leadership, Tory cuts would in fact lead to radical changes in several areas, including NHS cuts, a worsening of the current crisis in per-pupil funding in education, where a Tory victory would equate to years of funding cuts, and £6 billion less in revenue due to reduced immigration proposals.
The IFS report shows that the Liberal Democrats’ proposals to see spending per pupil maintained in real terms over the course of the parliament would require an extra £2.2bn compared with current spending.
The Education Policy Institute (EPI) was also highly critical of May’s manifesto plans (Guardian), stating they implied “a reduction in per pupil funding in real terms of around 7% between 2015-16 and 2021-22.” The EPI also blasted May’s plans to revive grammar schools, from a practical, social and financial perspective, and criticised Labour’s plans to abolish university tuition fees, at a cost of approximately £11.5 – £13.5 billion. The Tories have said they would use increased university tuition fees to fund new free schools, or by ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ (Independent) as Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, put it.
Other education news
Exam board OCR has been forced to apologise after producing an incorrect question in a GCSE English literature paper, sat by 14,000 students. The error appeared in an question set by OCR about the character Tybalt from Romeo and Juliet. It implied he is a Montague when he is in fact a Capulet. Confusing his family background, the question read: “How does Shakespeare present the ways in which Tybalt’s hatred of the Capulets influences the outcome of the play?”
Headteachers described the mistake as a serious error that would have “caused stress and concern to candidates” who sat the paper on Friday. Students were quick to pick up on the mistake, with many tweeting about it afterwards. One questioned the exam boards commitment to accuracy. One teacher, who asked to be anonymous, said: “It is beyond explanation. And so ironic in a play which includes the line ‘What’s in a name?’
Students in Germany also suffered exam woe after an English paper that included an excerpt of Prince Harry making a speech was deemed too difficult (BBC), with students complaining of tricky vocabulary and loud background noise in the clip. A headmaster in Düsseldorf, Bernd Hinke, was quoted as saying: “Some students were extremely upset, there was weeping and great disappointment”.
In a fantastic piece of news for tired parents, the most comprehensive study of its kind has proven that young children’s maths, English and communication skills improve if they use iPads in school on a regular basis. This research, carried out in Northern Ireland, is the most in-depth of its kind ever carried out. The study – Mobile Devices in Early Learning – was carried out over two years and involved about 650 pupils in five Belfast primary schools and five nursery schools. Schools which took part were in some of the most deprived areas of the city. They were each supplied with sets of iPads for nursery, primary one, primary two and primary three classes. Among their key findings were that:
- The introduction of digital technology has had a positive impact on the development of children’s literacy and numeracy skills
- Contrary to initial expectations, principals and teachers report that the use of ipads in the classroom has enhanced children’s communication skills
- Children view learning using handheld devices as play and are more highly motivated, enthused and engaged
- Boys appear to be more enthused when using digital technology, particularly when producing pieces of written work
IPads helped young children to be more motivated and engaged in class, said Dr Colette Gray from Stranmillis, who was one of the study’s authors. Headteacher Jayne Jeffers said using iPads had improved many pupils’ academic performance. “We have found that attainment has increased in a lot of areas because the children are more engaged,” she said.
Think UK education is in trouble? It could be worse.
For all the problems in UK education at the moment, there are certain things you don’t expect to happen. Like the school in Texas where teachers gave out end of the year awards to students, including “most likely to become a terrorist,” “most likely to cry for every little thing” and “most likely to become homeless” (BBC). The school district released a statement apologising for “the insensitive and offensive fake mock awards that were given to students”. “The teachers involved in this matter have been disciplined according to district policy,” it said.
In other international education news, The Telegraph reports that top private schools in China are subjecting parents to stringent entrance requirements, as they are not allowed to test the children. This can involve looking at the parents’ IQ, academic credentials and even their weight/body shape.
Professor Paul Ramchandani, an expert in child mental health for Imperial College, will lead a team examining the importance of play in education globally. Their research aims to ensure that “children are equipped with 21st century skills like problem-solving, team work and self-control”. The team are to undertake a long-term study into how children are encouraged to play at home and school and how this benefits them, and what brain processes are involved in play. Commenting on the new role, Prof Ramchandani said: ”We need the best evidence possible in order to inform the vital decisions that are made about children’s education and development and I look forward to taking that work forward together with colleagues at Cambridge.”
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.