Holiday childcare: ‘I’m lucky – my sister has my child’

Rikama Education 18th July 2018

“There’s no way I can work, on my wages, and pay the childminder for the holidays,” says mother-of-one Emma.

“I’ve been very lucky because my sister has my daughter for me.”

For Emma, being able to leave her child with her sister and pay her a much reduced rate has been a godsend for childcare in the school holidays.

But for many British parents, the impending holidays can mean an average bill of £133.34 a week for full-time holiday childcare for one child.

This figure has been produced by the Family and Childcare Trust which surveyed local councils across England, Scotland and Wales about the cost of holiday childcare provision.

What did the trust’s survey find?

The trust’s survey finds that in England, parents pay £134.66 a week, while in Scotland and Wales it’s around £10 cheaper at £124.44 and £124.85 respectively.

The most expensive English region is the East of England, where parents can expect to hand over £169.38 a week for full-time holiday care.

This is around 35% higher than some other areas, including Inner London, where average weekly prices are £125.01 and the West Midlands at £125.90.

It also finds that childcare costs have risen by 4% in the past year.

The trust’s report says most working parents do not have enough annual leave to cover the 13 weeks of school holidays.

regional breakdown

“For parents and carers, finding childcare during the holidays can be particularly challenging,” it says.

“The price is normally significantly higher than term-time childcare, which can throw off carefully managed budgets.

“There are also substantial gaps in availability, meaning many parents will find it difficult to find childcare that covers their working patterns and suits their children’s needs.

“Where holiday childcare is unavailable or too expensive, parents are left with few options. Many cannot call on family and friends to provide all the informal childcare they need, and will not have enough annual leave to cover the long break, and some struggle to stay in work.”

Emma is well aware of how lucky she has been to be able to access informal childcare through her sister.

“If I was to pay someone else to have my child, it just wouldn’t be possible.

“We’ve got a good network within our family, but if you don’t, you’re lumbered and it makes it even harder.

“Unfortunately some parents have got no choice but to fork out. And a lot of parents end up using all their annual leave through the six-week holiday.”

price changes

Ellen Broome, chief executive of the Family and Childcare Trust, says it’s time to “urgently address childcare policy for school-age children”.

“For too many families, the long summer holiday is a time of stress and expense as they try to patch together a solution despite the gaps in availability and financial support.

“Current government policies, including the new ‘right to request’ [flexible working], are not working to help families to deal with school age childcare. This price rise is another blow for families already struggling to find and afford childcare over the long school holidays.”

Justine Roberts, founder and chief executive of Mumsnet, says childcare costs are a “huge drag” on families’ budgets.

“Childcare is an essential infrastructure to support employment, particularly for mothers, and needs to be recognised as such.”

What does the government say?

Minister for Children and Families Nadhim Zahawi says: “This government is doing more than any before to support parents with the cost of childcare.

“We are investing record amounts – around £6bn a year by 2020 – to make sure as many children as possible have access to high-quality care.

“We are also looking at the most effective ways to support parents with wraparound care for older children, which includes £26m to kick-start and improve breakfast clubs in at least 1,700 schools and £2m to fund free enrichment activities and healthy food to disadvantaged children during the summer holidays.”

Read more

Rising numbers pass primary Sats tests

Rikama Education 11th July 2018

A higher proportion of primary school pupils in England have reached the expected standards in national curriculum tests, often known as Sats, in maths and English.

In reading, 75% reached the expected standard, compared with 71% last year.

In maths, 76% reached the expected standard, up from 75% last year.

Julie McCulloch, of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the “impressive results” but criticised the pressure created by the tests.

Stress worries

The results showed that 64% of pupils met the expected standard across all the tests in reading, writing and mathematics, up from 61% last year.

In writing, 78% reached the expected level, up from 76%. And in grammar, punctuation and spelling, it was 78%, up from 77%.

Ms McCulloch, policy director for the heads’ union, said the continuing improvement showed the hard work of pupils and schools, following the introduction of “harder tests” in 2016.

In the first year in which the tougher assessments were introduced only 53% made the grade, which has now risen in two years to 64%.

But Ms McCulloch was concerned by reports of “stress and anxiety” for pupils taking the tests.

The heads’ union also warned against giving too much weight to a “single set of results”.

The “expected level” for maths and English is based on reaching a scaled score of 100.

This year’s average scaled score for reading was 105, slightly up from 104 last year. The average for maths remained the same at 104.

Rising standards

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said the results reflected rising standards in primary school.

“A good primary education lays the foundations for success at secondary school and beyond,” he said.

“That’s why we introduced a more rigorous, knowledge-rich primary school curriculum – with an emphasis on reading and fluency in arithmetic – to ensure every child is helped to reach their potential from the moment they start school.”

But a campaign group of parents and teachers warned against too much testing in schools.

“At a time when their minds could have been stimulated and their knowledge expanded, their education has been sacrificed to a system which is in thrall to league tables,” said Madeleine Holt, of the More Than A Score campaign.

Read more

Military children: ‘I’ve lived in 12 different houses’

Rikama Education 27th June 2018

“This is my 10th school, I’ve lived in 12 different houses,” a girl, 14, says.

She is one of 40 eight- to 15-year-olds to have shared their experiences of growing up in military families with England’s children’s commissioner.

Anne Longfield is calling for a child-focused approach to supporting them.

Her report says the “all-encompassing character of a military lifestyle means service children can experience ‘growing-up’ quite differently from their peers”.

“The mobile lifestyle of many military families can be tough, with children telling us that multiple school moves leave them feeling unsettled and anxious about achieving good grades,” it says.

‘Not having mum there’

One 12-year-old girl told the researchers: “I’ve moved nearly every two years. I’ve never finished a school.

“I’ve just been moving around a lot with my family. I moved from Germany to Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland to England, so I’ve moved houses so many times.”

Some of the children interviewed spoke about the anxiety of being separated from a parent.

“My dad went away to the Falklands and he went away for a year. And I missed him like every second because I knew how long he was going away for,” said a nine-year-old boy.

“And the thing that I didn’t like about that is because he missed Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, my birthday, my mum’s birthday.”

A nine-year-old girl said: “Not having Mum there, not talking to her lots, because mums are usually the person that you talk to when you’ve gone back from school and you’ve had a really rubbish day.”

“On Wednesday it’s normally Dad who takes me swimming,” said a seven-year-old girl

“When he’s away, Laura’s dad takes me but I always wish it was my dad.”

A 14-year-old boy said: “My dad’s been away for two years once and he went to Afghanistan as well and it was only me and my mum before my brother came and my brother was born while my dad was still away.

“So, he didn’t have a dad for six months until he came back.”

They also spoke of the worry of wondering if their parent was safe.

“Yeah, there’s always the thought that you’re never going to see them again. That’s always the thought that’s in my head all the time,” said one 15-year-old boy.

“When you’re older, you know that in reality, in war, obviously I’ve seen stuff, people getting shot and stuff like that and then you go, ‘My dad could be watching his friends get shot to pieces and all that.’

A 14-year old girl said: “And then you just think… you can’t stop thinking about him and if he’s OK, if he’s dead or not and then seeing him in a funeral coming out of a plane, it’s just, that’s what you always think about, that’s what I always think about.”

What does the children’s commissioner say?

Ms Longfield says the children her office interviewed were very proud of their background but more must be done to support them.

She says: “The vast majority of service children we spoke to during this project were happy, resilient and incredibly proud to have a parent serving in the armed forces.

“Belonging to a military family was central to their identity and sense of self. And it is clear that we should celebrate the contribution and the sacrifices made by military families.

“However, more can be done to improve the services that help these children as they cope with the pressures brought about by frequent moves and parental deployment.

“I want to see a child-focused approach to supporting military families that takes into account the complex challenges that are inevitably part of growing up in an armed forces family.”

What does the report recommend?

The report makes a number of recommendations to help children growing up in service families:

  • The Ministry of Defence (MoD) needs to better promote its policies aimed at minimising disruption to family life
  • More must be done to ensure additional support, for example for special needs or mental health issues, is not disrupted when service children move between local authorities or devolved nations
  • Schools should be supported to manage the “timely transfer” of children’s information
  • Children must be placed in “the most appropriate school with siblings”
  • Service children’s interests should be taken into account when making deployment decisions and, when both parents are serving personnel, every effort must be made not to deploy both at the same time
  • The MoD play and youth work strategy should be developed to ensure effective emotional support is available for service children, especially teenagers
  • The MoD and Department for Education should improve their data collection on service pupils, to build a clearer picture of the numbers of these children in schools and their patterns of mobility and parental development

What does the government say?

The MoD said it welcomed the report and looked forward to “working together to address the areas where we can do more to provide the support that our service children, and their parents, deserve”.

A spokesman said: “We understand the unique challenges that children of armed forces personnel face.

“We already have a range of measures in place and are further improving these to ensure that service children are treated fairly and achieve their full potential.

“These include the service pupil premium, special provisions in school admission codes to make sure children aren’t disadvantaged, and an information sharing system, which allows schools to record and securely share the educational needs of individual children, allowing smoother transitions between schools.”

Read more

Mary Beard on big thinkers and ‘sexist rants’

Rikama Education 20th June 2018

Historian Mary Beard moves seamlessly from tackling aggressive dimwits on Twitter to talking about the politics of ancient Rome.

It’s the kind of abrupt gear change we now expect from public intellectuals.

And Professor Mary Beard – who became Dame Mary in the most recent honours – has been highly successful at mixing the realm of ideas with a popular appeal, embodied in her ratings-friendly TV history shows.

She’s also a Cambridge professor of classics who has the battle scars of the badlands of social media, facing violent threats and relentlessly misogynistic abuse.

‘Curious minds’

But how should public thinkers make big ideas open and accessible? How do they avoid being sidelined in an era of fake news and attention-seeking punditry?

This is the challenge for the British Academy, the national body for the humanities and social sciences, which is throwing open the doors of its London headquarters for a summer showcase, promising “ideas for curious minds”.

Image captionDame Mary brought the history of ancient Rome to a mainstream television audience

Getting people across the threshold is the first challenge, she says. The British Academy is based in an elegant building near St James’s Park in central London. It’s a place dedicated to public culture, but wants to stop looking like a private club.

“You can see why people might be a bit intimidated,” says Dame Mary, a fellow of the academy.

“But what the television shows you is that ideas are not the preserve of posh white men.”

‘No sloganising’

She wants to open up academic debates to a wider public, but she says a really important part of the message must be to make people realise that things can be “complicated”.

“You don’t need to be an expert to have a view of Roman politics,” she says, such as whether it was right to assassinate Julius Caesar.

Image captionThe academy’s summer showcase will present research on music, including South African jazz

But whatever your view, she says there has to be a recognition of the moral and political complexity of such decisions.

“Everyone can join in, but it doesn’t mean you can shoot your mouth off.” Opinions shouldn’t be untroubled by thought.

A by-product of the advance of social media, she says, is the tendency to “sloganise” and to turn every argument into a one-dimensional sound-bite.

Image captionDame Mary wants people to look further than their noses

Ideas can be complicated and divisive, she says, and she takes umbrage at the type of people who think everyone should agree about everything.

Dame Mary says she gets annoyed when people on Twitter say they are “disappointed” in her views. She says they’re “patronising” and can’t stand people having their own opinions.

‘Death threats’

The British Academy’s august building was once the home of 19th Century prime minister William Gladstone. It’s hard to think what such a high-minded statesman would have made of being shouted at on Twitter.

Dame Mary has been subject to dreadful online abuse, but she still argues for the benefits of engaging with people and their thoughts on social media.

Image captionThe British Academy wants to open its doors to show big ideas are not a private club

“You don’t think – great, death threats,” she says.

But she’s still ready to get into arguments, even though there is a likely risk of it all descending into “lots of sexist rants”.

“It’s a combination of anger, outrage and appalling self-righteousness,” she says of too many social media exchanges.

It’s not the rudeness that really rankles, she says, because “being rude is part of the human condition”.

What really annoys her is the over-simplification and the refusal to recognise that some problems can be complicated and nuanced and not sorted out by a shouting match.

Such public thinkers might feel that they’re not running with the grain of the times.

Fake news

The academy’s president, historian Professor Sir David Cannadine, warns against a populist mood in which decisions are made on “gut instincts” rather than evidence.

“In the world of fake news there is a distrust of experts which is wholly regrettable,” says Sir David.

Institutions such as the British Academy might be engaged in advancing knowledge, but he says they might not be “very good at explaining themselves”.

Image caption“Ideas change society,” says Sir David Cannadine, president of the British Academy

Sir David wants the open days to persuade people of the relevance of the humanities – to show that they are at the heart of “private recreations and public culture”.

The summer showcase will have talks and presentations and displays on history, music, art, literature and the future of work.

It’s also making a case for internationalism – as he says ideas and knowledge and expertise “know no international boundaries”.

“Ideas change society,” he says.

British Academy Summer Showcase is on 22 and 23 June, 10-11, Carlton House Terrace, St. James’s, London SW1Y 5AH

Read more

Hotter years ‘mean lower exam results’

Rikama Education 30th May 2018

In years with hotter weather pupils are likely to perform less well in exams, says a major study from researchers at Harvard and other US universities.

There is a “significant” link between higher temperatures and lower school achievement, say economic researchers.

An analysis of test scores of 10 million US secondary school students over 13 years shows hot weather has a negative impact on results.

The study says a practical response could be to use more air conditioning.

Heat wave

Students taking exams in a summer heat wave might have always complained that they were hampered by the sweltering weather.

But this study, from academics at Harvard, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and Georgia State University, claims to have produced the first clear evidence showing that when temperatures go up, school performance goes down.

Researchers have tracked how secondary school students performed in tests in different years, between 2001 and 2014, across the different climates and weather patterns within the US.

The study, published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research, found that students were more likely to have lower scores in years with higher temperatures and better results in cooler years.

This applied across the many different types of climate – whether in cooler northern US states or in the southern states where temperatures are typically much higher.

The study, Heat and Learning, suggested that hotter weather made it harder to study in lessons in school and to concentrate on homework out of school.

Researchers calculated that for every 0.55C increase in average temperature over the year, there was a 1% fall in learning.

Colder days did not seem to damage achievement – but the negative impact began to be measurable as temperatures rose above 21C.

The reduction in learning accelerated once temperatures rose above 32C and even more so above 38C.

Turning up the air conditioning

The study also found the impact of the heat was much greater on low income families and students from ethnic minorities.

There were suggestions that wealthier families and schools in disadvantaged areas were more likely to intervene if pupils were slipping behind and to find ways to compensate, such as extra tuition.

But it says a “simpler explanation” might be greater access to air conditioning in more affluent families and the schools their children attend.

Joshua Goodman, associate professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and his co-authors provide evidence that the “heat’s disruption of instruction or homework time is responsible for the observed drop in test scores”.

He says students were incrementally more likely to be “distracted, agitated and find it harder to focus”.

But Mr Goodman says it would have been harder to carry out similar studies in the education systems in the UK, because the differences in weather conditions would have been much narrower.

The wide range of weather conditions in the US allows comparisons within the same year group as well as with test performances in previous years.

Mr Goodman says the findings also raise bigger questions about whether climate change and global warming will have implications for school achievement.

More from Global education

The study also asks whether heat plays a part in the huge regional differences in achievement within the US.

Northern states such as Massachusetts have very high levels of achievement in international tests, such as the OECD’s Pisa tests, which compare teenagers’ ability in reading, maths and science.

But southern states such as Alabama and Mississippi are at a level below European countries and closer to Turkey and Mexico.

The researchers also argue there are implications for the ethnic achievement gaps – with black and Hispanic students more concentrated in hotter states of the US.

“We argue that heat effects account for up to 13% of the US racial achievement gap,” says the study, because of where black and Hispanic students live and because their test scores seem to be disproportionately disrupted by the changes in temperature.

Mr Goodman says the researchers also want to examine the long-term consequences of a hot year on a cohort of students.

If students happen to take important exams in a heatwave year, does that mean they are more likely to miss out on exam results and university places?

Mr Goodman says that policymakers and parents have under-estimated the significance of temperatures in schools and overheated classrooms.

“Teachers and students already know it’s a problem – because they’ve had to live it,” he said.

Views from the public

Ananas Kumar in India: Weather always affects the result of an exam. Having experienced both summer and winter exams I can say that summer affects your performance more due to hot temperatures, dehydration and sunstroke.

John Hammond: As a retired teacher, I don’t think this is news at all. The simple fact is that it is little to do with the actual exams and far more to do with the weather in the run up to the exams and this starts as soon as Easter. I taught in a school on the south coast and we dreaded a good Easter because the pupils all went to the beach to revise rather than stay at home and doing it properly. The study should have concentrated on the IQs of the kids involved; usually the brighter ones were more capable of resisting the pull of the beach.

Haidab Hany in Ghana: I would like to challenge the Harvard research that heat-waves affect students during exams. I live in Ghana which is a tropical country. We have very hot weather from December to April and students in schools all over the country write exams and do well. Some pupils of course don’t do well, but that’s not due to the heat just poor preparation. I’ve studied in Ghana and during heat waves and had no issues.

Afbell: As someone who took O-levels and A-levels more than 40 years ago, I have known this for over 40 years! I personally had the double whammy of suffering from hay-fever so had to put up with warm weather and the accompanying high pollen count. Antihistamines were considerably less effective in the mid-70s so I just had to suffer. My recollection of this period also includes trying to revise during very hot weather. This was actually worse than the exams; exams had a finish time, revising seemed to be endless in the heat.

Joe Field: I have been teaching since 1972, I have no doubt that test results during a heat-wave are lower than in cooler weather. Learning in general is worse during a heat wave. This appears to be one reason for the long summer school holidays in the UK, US and elsewhere.

Read more