Education News Weekly – 11th June, 2017

June 11, 2017 by Minerva Tutors,

Dangerous smartphones, a school fight club and what a hung parliament could mean for education


Election news – Guardian, Independent, BBC

Well, well, well. That was exhilarating, wasn’t it? Who saw that coming, eh? Certainly, there’s a good chance the education vote swung heavily towards Labour, given Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to increase per-pupil spending by 6% over the next parliament, against Theresa May’s plan for a real-terms funding cut of 7% per pupil. Go figure.

Given Labour’s additional offers of higher spending on schools, free university tuition, wiping some existing student debts and providing better mental health provision, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the 18-25 vote hugely emerged to support Corbyn’s party, with an incredible turnout of 72% (up from 48% at the 2015 general election).  

At the time of writing, the UK doesn’t technically ‘have’ a government (but Justine Greening remains education secretary), so perhaps our election special on what education will look like in 2021 was premature. But one thing looks almost for certain: grammar schools are out. Given opposition from within the Conservative party, and the volatile nature of the Tories’ current will-they-won’t-they supply and confidence agreement with the DUP, it is unlikely Mrs May will be able to push forward with her controversial flagship education policy. Much to the relief of many in the education world who have spent months campaigning against it. Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “The Conservative party was hugely divided over grammar schools…This policy can’t possibly survive this calamitous election. Government education policy now needs to urgently concentrate on and address school funding cuts.”

With stories abounding of schools closing half an hour early to save money, parents being sent begging letters asking for donations, teachers buying art materials and textbooks using money from their own pocket, and schools in disrepair (not to mention the words ‘infants’ and ‘free schools lunches’), the funding crisis remains the most pressing issue for education. If the Tories do successfully form a government, and plough on with their potentially catastrophic New Funding Formula, it could remain a tricky time for schools.

However, it appears that in the drive to create new school places, the expansion of free schools would continue. Although they have proven good results, the new schools have been accused of being costly and unaccountable, often requiring the purchase of expensive land, and swallowing huge budgets while local authority schools are struggling to cover basic costs. Toby Young, head of the New Schools Network and the man tasked with delivering up to 100 new free schools a year, was confident: “It remains to be seen what impact the election result will have on individual education policies, but I expect the free schools programme to continue,” he said.


Are smartphones as dangerous as drugs and alcohol? – Independent

In what feels like something of an over-reaction, an expert has claimed that giving children a smartphone or tablet is like “giving them a bottle of wine or a gram of coke.” Harley Street rehab clinic specialist Mandy Saligari said screen time was too often overlooked as a potential vehicle for addiction in young people. She saidL “Why do we pay so much less attention to those things than we do to drugs and alcohol when they work on the same brain impulses?”

Wine and smartphones: as bad as each other?

Her comments follow news that:


Experts have suggested that to tackle this, greater emphasis was needed on sleep and digital curfews at home, as well as a systematic approach within schools, for example by introducing a smartphone amnesty at the beginning of the school day, and teaching children to self-regulate.


Students increasingly regard university as ‘poor value for money’ – Independent

more than 14,000 undergraduates were asked questions on how hard they felt they were working and how satisfied they were with their lives, as well as their thoughts on recent government policies. While the majority said they had learned “a lot”, and teaching quality appears to be improving year on year, perceptions of value for money was highlighted as a major concern among analysts.  Students who rated the value of their degree as “good” or “very good” are now at 35% – the lowest level on record – compared to more than 50 per cent five years ago.

The survey, from Higher Education Policy Unit and the Higher Education Academy also found student wellbeing to have declined overall, with just 14 per cent saying they felt satisfied with their lives.

  • Young women and LGBT students at university are particularly likely to feel unhappy, the survey found. This was also true for black, Chinese and Asian students.
  • As in previous years, the majority of respondents were in favour of tuition fees being scrapped, and three-quarters of students felt that the new Teaching Excellence Framework-linked fee rises should not apply.
  • Industry leaders have blamed rising tuition fees and threats to the reputation of UK universities as a result of Brexit for the fall in interest among students, with numbers of applicants dropping significantly over the last year



UK universities fall in global rankings – Guardian


Cambridge fell in the rankings…still pretty though.

The annual QS World University rankings has seen English universities tumble, amid falling levels of funding, weaker research performance and fears over Brexit. The majority of British universities slipping down its table, with 57 of the 76 UK institutions receiving lower ratings than last year. However, it’s not all bad news, with British universities occupying four of the top eight places. The world rankings were headed by the US powerhouses of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford and Harvard universities. The University of Cambridge was overtaken by Caltech, the California Institute of Technology, in fourth place, which were trailed by the University of Oxford and University College London in sixth and seventh – while Imperial College London rose from ninth last year to eighth. The Russell Group of leading UK research universities saw 16 of its 24 ranked institutions fall down the league table – and you can see the rankings here.

In slightly lighter university news, students at New College, Oxford, were treated to a visit by Hugh Grant, who stopped by at the New College Bar to – by the looks of it – get plastered with the college’s rugby club.

Courtesy of New College Rugby Club’s Twitter


Luton teacher held out-of-hours ‘fight club’ at school – BBC

A teacher at Icknield High School, Luton, has been banned from the profession for allowing students to settle disputes through off-site wrestling matches. Azam Ziam, who wasn’t trained to instruct wrestling, failed to notify parents about the sessions, which were only attended by Muslim boys, and charged pupils £15-£20 to attend. The National College of Teaching and Leaderhsip panel found that he had “failed to maintain appropriate professional boundaries” and that his actions could have impacted on pupil safety.” The teaching ban imposed on Mr Zia will last for a minimum of two years.


Exam board apologises for GCSE cock-up – BBC

Exam board OCR was forced to apologise when a maths question turned up in an A Level psychology paper, baffling students. OCR said they would “correct this [mistake] in our marking.”  The rogue question asked students to calculate the mean percentage of words recalled, and then gave them data to do this from a maths test containing only numbers. iOCR said about 5,000 A Level candidates had been affected, but it was not yet known how many tackled the question. Understandably, students vented on social media:

Sass from Sophie (picture from BBC News)


And finally…

Canvey Island student tops Stephen Hawking’s IQ – BBC

It looks like for brilliant students, the only way is Essex. Several students from a school in Canvey Island scored highly on the Mensa Genius Test, coming in the top 2% of the country. 13 year-old Michael Doran top scored with an IQ of 161 – one more than Professor Hawking.


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.

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