Could funding cuts put more pressure on school resources?

Funding cuts to both primary and secondary schools could pile more pressure on the education system, a watchdog has warned. The cuts come at a time when schools are already facing increasing pupil numbers and the National Audit Office (NAO) has stated that the latest budget could put educational outcomes at risk. It’s likely that in order to meet the financial requirements some schools will have to scale back extra activities, such as trips, or cut back on new resources, like books and PE equipment.

The Department of Education has said its aim to find £3 million of savings by 2019-20 is achievable while still maintaining the current high standards of the education system. However, NAO has thrown this claim into doubt, noting that it’s uncertain how schools will react to the new budget and make the cuts, resulting in choices that put pupil learning at risk. The cuts represent an 8% cut in funding per pupil over the next three years in real terms.

The funding cuts are likely to concern parents that are deciding which schools to send their children. In recent years, schools have reported reducing their spending on teaching staff to stave off a deficit and the latest round could see this issue deepen further. While the NAO does state that there are some desirable cuts schools could make to improve efficiency, it also adds that there is a risk of schools making poorly informed decisions. In order to combat this the watchdog has urged the government to set out guidelines to make both finance and standards sustainable.

Around 60% of secondary schools are already facing shortfalls in cash and some head teachers have even warned that less funding could mean the need to cut down school hours after already having difficulty in buying basic equipment for pupil learning. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said that 6 in 10 schools need to spend more than government funding in order to provide every child with an education, putting their ability to meet their responsibility to children at risk. It’s also likely to have a significant impact on activities that fall outside of the curriculum but are still important parts of a child’s development, such as after school clubs and expanding library services.

What do you think to the education budget cuts – will it affect the standards? Let us know your thoughts on the School Reviewer forum.

Calls for boost in financial education in schools

The ability to manage money and budget is a hugely important skill to have a grip on when we’re adults but are children being let down? A new piece of research suggests that more needs to be done to help children and teenagers understand financial details that could help them later in life with many not receiving any financial education at all.

According to a report from The London Institute of Banking & Finance, 58% of pupils do not receive any form of financial education in school or college. As a result, the majority rely on their family to support their financial understanding and help them make decisions. While half of teenagers across the UK believe they have enough knowledge to manage their own money effectively, the fact that 61% say they have money worries and over half believe they will be earning above the national average salary at the age of 30 suggests that more support could be beneficial.

The report notes that technology has had a positive impact on the ability for people to keep a closer eye on their finances and while more students are learning about money in maths and citizenship, there is still a significant gap. With finances playing such an important role in life, from day to day budgeting to securing a mortgage to get on the property ladder, equipping children with the financial skills they need could give them additional support in the future.

While money skills are increasingly being taught in schools, the reliance of teenagers on their families for advice shows how important money lessons at home are too. Try these tips to help set your children on the right path:

  • Teach patience – Helping kids understand that they might have to wait to buy something they want is a great way to set children up for later in life and hopefully deter reliance on credit cards.
  • The difference between want and need – When they’re younger it’s easy for children to confuse what they want and need. Explaining to them and getting them to think about whether they want or need each item can help them make more sensible choices in the future.
  • Instil the need to save – Encouraging children to put some money aside to save for a more expensive item or a rainy day is a great way to start a lifelong habit that will serve them well as they get older.
  • Show them how to budget – As children get older you can begin teaching them how to budget and make sure they can cover everything they need to with their money.

Ofsted to emphasise the importance of employment

There has been a lot of talk about schools making sure they prepare pupils for life outside of education ever since the school leaving age increased. And it seems that now Ofsted has seen the importance of work skills, as it has announced that it will judge schools more heavily on how they prepare pupils for the world of work.

According to the non-ministerial department, schools were putting the “nation’s future economic prosperity” at risk because of a failure to adequately prioritise enterprise education. Ofsted inspectors found that just 10% of schools were getting their enterprise education right, while warning that poor coordination between schools and businesses, combined with the absence of an ‘overarching government strategy’, was leaving many young people unprepared for the impending world of work.

The announcement came after Ofsted personnel visited 40 schools up and down England, and found that just 10% were demonstrating what it called an “effective approach” to this aspect of the curriculum. And as a result, the investigation has prompted calls for better promotion of the Careers and Enterprise Company, after Ofsted found that businesses were mostly unaware of it at all, despite the organisation receiving the majority of the government’s £70 million funding for careers education in this parliament. The regulator also stated that its inspectors should ensure their judgments took “greater account of the coherence and rigour with which schools prepare pupils for employment and self-employment”.

Despite there being increased emphasis on employment skills, during their investigation, inspectors found that many schools simply did not view it as a priority, while others did not have the budget to factor in such learning. This is in spite of the fact that many do view it as an integral part of the school’s purpose. However, worryingly, inspectors did find that even where schools were delivering enterprise education, it was sometimes unclear whether it aided pupils’ knowledge and skills at all.

To add to this rather dreary outlook, Ofsted also suggested that the opportunities for work experience were somewhat limited at key stage 4 – primarily due to a lack of business involvement that relied far too heavily on the personal networks of teachers and parents, which, as you would expect, resulted in disadvantaged pupils missing out.

This rather chaotic approach, combined with the lack of real life skills and the unevenness between one school and another, is what has made Ofsted look closely at the efforts by each individual institution and mark them accordingly. And that, we think, can only be viewed as a step in the right direction.

What do you think to Ofsted’s plans – do you think schools are failing our children?

Finland’s shorter days and no homework rule working – what do you think?

Schools have long been criticised by parents for putting undue pressure on children. Homework in junior school, exams from the age of 11 and an increased emphasis on high achieving has, according to some, overshadowed what it means to be a child. Gone are the days when children didn’t have a care in the world. Now, it seems, it is more important than ever to perform well academically by whatever means. This has resulted in more and more homework and more assessments and league tables for both schools and pupils. But is this the right way to go about pushing children? According to Finland, that answer is a firm ‘no’!

Finland has many processes that are admired the world over; the baby box for example, where every child, no matter what their family’s income, starts out ‘equal’ in the same ‘box’ with a range of products that are considered ‘vital’ for their first few weeks, is one of the most famous, and as a result, has been adopted further afield. However the ideal that is currently making the headlines is their commitment to children – not babies. The forward-thinking country has taken a rather liberal view of schooling in order to give children back their lives. The country now boasts shorter school days and has almost abolished homework for its students, yet has some of the best academic results in the world. Add that together with longer summer holidays, of around 10 or 11 weeks, and the fact that children don’t have to start school until they are 7 years old, and the whole school process seems a lot nicer for children.

So exactly how much better is Finland’s school performance than our native UK?

The international Pisa tests are the best gauge for this, and the results, despite Finland offering children less learning time overall, perform a significant amount better than the UK. The UK is 23rd when it comes to reading, and this compares to Finland’s positioning of sixth, while the UK stands in 26th place for maths, which is a whole 14 places lower than our Finnish rivals.

This rather ‘holistic’ approach to education is designed to offer parents a family-friendly approach. There is no culture of private education, while there is very little homework when compared to schools in the UK. Instead, the system works on ‘trust’; parents trust the schools to make the right decisions when it comes to delivering a good education within the set hours, and the teachers trust parents to monitor children’s progress and give them added support should they need it.

This, in comparison to the UK system, could not be further apart. Finland only has one set of exams throughout the academic year – right at the end, whereas the UK’s approach has been one of multiple league tables, checklists, tests and scores. However the figures do not lie – this system is not working. And in order to become a world-leading player in the education industry, it needs to change. And following Finland’s lead could be the best way to do this.

What do you think to Finland’s approach?

School academy plans dropped by government

Plans that aimed to force schools to become academies have been formally dropped by the government as the focus shifts to Theresa May’s raft of educational reforms. The move has largely been welcomed by those working in the education system and means schools will be able maintain greater autonomy.

Plans originally put forward under former prime minister David Cameron set out that all schools would be forced to become academies or have plans to become an academy by 2022. However, this quickly changed and it was suggested that only those found to be underperforming would be forced to change. Now the plans have been scrapped altogether with the government focussing on encouraging schools to voluntarily become academies.

While academy schools are state funded they are independent of local authority control and are usually run by non-profit trusts instead. This means they don’t have to follow the national curriculum and may receive extra support, including financial, from corporate sponsors.

The ability to receive additional funding is one of the benefits of academy schools. Those the back the movement also argue that it allows head teachers to have more control over teacher salary, the length of the school day and term times to better suit the needs of their pupils. As they can choose to opt out of the national curriculum they also have more freedom over what is taught. Academy school were originally brought in under a Labour government to support failing schools and, according to the government, it has largely been successful at achieving this, with academies improving twice as fast.

Despite some support, those against academies state it is the beginning of the privatisation of the education system and state academies lack the oversight and accountability that should be in place. There have also been instances where some academies have failed to improve school results while board members are receiving large salaries, attracting criticism.

Teachers’ unions have welcomed the move away from the forced adoption of academy statues, although some within the industry have commented that the constantly changing education reforms present other problems. With the proposals under the Education for All bill now being dropped the focus has shifted to the educational reforms set out by Theresa May. These reforms include removing the ban on new grammar schools and increasing the number of faith schools.

Do you think more schools should become academies or do you think Theresa May’s proposal would improve the education system? Share your thoughts with us on the School Review forum.


Record number of parents ignoring fines and booking term-time holidays

Parents are increasingly risking fines and taking their children out of school to enjoy family holidays, according to the latest figures. Those supporting the ban on taking children out school argue absences can affect education but those against state quality family time is important too and the occasional absences should be at the discretion of the parent.

According to statistics from the Department of Education, around one in 13 pupils missed at least half a day that was unauthorised during the autumn and spring terms in 2015/16. While the biggest reason for taking time off was illness, one in 20 missed days were the result of a holiday, the figure represents a 5 year high. Despite the number of families choosing to take a holiday during term time, overall absence figures and persistent absentees, those that miss more than 10% of classroom periods, declined.

Previously authorising holidays during school time was at the discretion of head teachers but in 2013 the then education secretary Michael Gove introduced changes. The new rules meant heads could only grant authorised absences in ‘exceptional circumstance’ and parents can face a £60 fine for taking their children out of school. However, many local councils have chosen not to impose fines and in some cases fines have been overturned in favour of the parents in court. The fact that fines are not being upheld could be a contributing factor to the increase in unauthorised absences.

Even with the potential fines posed, many families still opt for term-time holidays due to the price hike on everything from flights to attractions when children are off school, especially during the summer holidays. For some parents getting time off work during the holidays can be a problem too as other parents are competing for the same time to book their holidays off. But can term-time holidays affect education?

For their part, research suggests that the majority of teachers don’t understand the ban on term-time holidays. In a survey almost three quarters of teachers indicated they didn’t agree with the rules and two thirds didn’t think missing school for a family holiday had a detrimental impact on the learning of primary school aged children.

What do you think about the increase in unauthorised absences, should children take time off for family holidays? Let us know your thoughts on our forum


Top grammar school faces financial crisis

Another week, another story about the impact of a lack of school funding. Following on from last week’s blog discussing the potential four-day week due to shortfalls in funding for schools in West Sussex, another school has since announced it is struggling to stay open due to a lack of funding.

One of the most popular grammar schools in the country, Latymer, in North London, recently hit the headlines by asking parents to donate money in order to help it stay open and run effectively. These donations, it claimed, were to help with its significant financial shortfall due to cuts affecting the school. And according to the head teacher, Maureen Cobbett, it is a matter of ‘urgency’.

Issues at the school have been rising in recent years, but have seemingly come to a head this term. Parents of children at the selective school have been warned that continued financial pressures may result in staff cuts with would filter down and cause larger class sizes and fewer subject options for pupils to study at both GCSE and A Level.

In order to try and combat this, the school has asked parents for donations of between £30 and £50 per month. The school says this averages out at between £1.89 and £3.15 per school day for the period a child attends, and is “considerably less than the average fees of an independent school”.

All of this comes, however, not long after Theresa May announced plans to revive grammar schools in the UK, but this financial crisis of one of the country’s most successful schools seemingly mirrors the shape of the public sector. And despite the MP wanting to push forward grammar schools and expand them, it seems like Latymer is actually looking to economise as opposed to expand.

The school has a long history of providing stellar education to its pupils. Founded by a city merchant in 1624 the school is one of the most sought-after in the country due to its excellent exam results and ‘outstanding’ rating by Ofsted. The school has also appealed to alumni for financial support and help the school guide young students.

Despite this announcement coming as a surprise to many, Latymer has actually been asking parents for voluntary donations for 20 years, and in the past has used these donations to fund new sports facilities and school refurbishment. However now the donations are more a necessity to ensure it can continue to offer the standard of education it has for almost 400 years, and not as a way to enhance learning.

Are you concerned about the future of schools for your child?

Is the future of schools a four-day week?

The education sector has been facing financial problems for a number of years now. And with funding cuts and more students than ever coming through their doors, there’s no wonder. However that issue has become even more prominent recently as cash-strapped schools look to the future and the possibility of introducing a four-day week.

For as long as many of us can remember school has followed the same pattern as the working week, Monday to Friday. For between six and seven hours per day, five days per week, children between the ages of five and 18 are learning, socialising and playing with kids their own age. However due to underfunding, that could all be set to change in one of the UK’s counties.

Schools in West Sussex have warned they may have no choice but to cut their hours due to a cash shortage, and have even proposed the idea of cutting down to a four day week – unless they are given emergency financial help from the government. And it’s not just primary schools this may be affecting – every single primary, secondary and special school in the county is struggling. Head teachers from the schools have written to parents notifying them of the issues and reiterating the fact that all the obvious cuts to school spending have already been made, and as a last ditch attempt to save money, are now they are considering “modifying school hours”.

Up until the Brexit vote, schools in the underfunded counties, such as West Sussex, were looking forward to the government’s £500m national funding formula for schools. This was due to be introduced next year, but due to the Brexit vote and outcome, that has been pushed back. The funding was designed to address the historic inequalities in the system and even out the funding to ensure every school can reach its potential, and as a result, encourage students to do the same. Yet due to the vote, and that funding looking less and less likely to come within the next year, head teachers in West Sussex have said they need £20m of emergency funds next April in order to tide them over.

How a four-day school week would work remains unclear. However both head teachers and leaders of the Worth Less? Campaign, the group dedicated to securing equal founding for schools in the county, are hoping their warnings will refocus government ministers and bring education back to the forefront of discussion. And in particular, hit a note with schools minister Nick Gibb, who is MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton.

How do you feel about a four-day week for your children – could it actually be a good thing?

Baroness Karren Brady on Radio 5 Live

On Thursday September 22nd 2016 School Reviewer Ambassador Baroness Karren Brady was interviewed by Emma Barnett on Radio 5 Live; talking about School Reviewer and how it can help parents and children find the right schools for their educational journey.

To hear the interview, please click on the player.

The grammar school plans so far

Whenever there’s a new government, the whole education sector waits with bated breath to see what new reforms will be unveiled. However due to somewhat of a blunder earlier this week, one of the government’s biggest plans was leaked earlier this week – confirmed by recent news. Theresa May plans to unveil her plans on grammar schools during her first domestic policy speech as Prime Minister.

Grammar schools have been under the radar over the last decade due changes during the mid-90s. However plans for new grammar schools appear to have been accidentally revealed earlier in the week, after an education department official was photographed with a document containing the details.

The memo, clutched in Earl Howe’s hand, was photographed in Downing Street that appeared to show proposals to work with existing grammar schools to prove they can be both expanded and reformed ahead of a move to open new ones. The leaked document, signed off by Johnathan Slater, refers to a “con doc” – civil service slang for “consultation document” – and claims that such a document will say the government plans to open new grammar schools, under certain conditions.

The picture, leaked on social media site, Twitter, prompted calls for an urgent statement to Parliament about the government’s plans, as well as speculation about how ministers might approach lifting the ban on new selective schools that were imposed by Tony Blair’s government in the 1990s. This statement has since been confirmed, with regular live updates to the news as it happens.

The memo seemingly explained that the education secretary, Justine Greening, wants new grammars to be presented as an option that is “only to be pursued once we have worked with existing grammars to show how they can be expanded and reformed”.

For those unfamiliar with grammar schools, they are state secondaries that select their pupils by setting an entrance exam at age 11. Out of 3,000 state secondary schools in England, 163 are grammar schools.

The document stated that the government wholeheartedly wants to avoid disadvantaging those who don’t get in, which is currently a key criticism of existing selective schools, and was one of the drawbacks of grammar schools in their prime.

As a result, the leaked document, and corresponding announcements, show that the government is actively working towards lifting the ban. Such a move however is likely to face strong opposition from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The leaked sheet of paper stated that Earl Howe didn’t know what the new Prime Minister thinks of the ideas, but does speculate about apparent difficulties in getting the House of Lords to squash the ban on new grammar schools. It’s worth noting that the Prime Minister herself went to a grammar school, so is likely to favour the idea. But as the government commands a majority of just 12 in the House of Commons, but the Conservatives have no majority in the House of Lords. And Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader has been quoted as saying that the party will continue to oppose the plans and stop them from pushing it “through the back door”.

What are your views on grammar schools – did you go to one?