More pupils take term-time holidays, data shows

Rikama Education 22nd March 2018

More pupils in England were taken out of school to go on holiday in the last academic year, government figures show.

Around one in six youngsters (16.9%) missed at least a half day of lessons during 2016-17, compared with 14.7% in the previous 12 months.

The figures also show that the proportion of parents being fined for taking their children out of lessons without permission has fallen.

The data covers the time of a father’s court case over a term-time break.

Jon Platt, from the Isle of Wight, won a high-profile High Court case in May 2016 over taking his daughter out of school for a holiday to Disney World, Florida, without the school’s permission.

The latest Department for Education (DfE) figures suggest that after this ruling, many mothers and fathers took decisions to take term-time breaks, thinking it was unlikely that they would face action as a result.

But Mr Platt’s case was later referred to the Supreme Court, where he lost in April 2017.

He was also given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £2,000.

A spokesman for the DfE said: “Children only get one chance at an education and evidence shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs.

“Therefore we believe that no child should be taken out of school without good reason – and the Supreme Court agrees with us.

“The rules on term-time absences are clear and we have put schools back in control by supporting them – and local authorities – to use their powers to deal with unauthorised absence.”

The overall unauthorised absence rate – pupils missing lessons for any reason without permission – rose from 1.1% to 1.3% between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

According to the statistics, the rate is at its highest level since records, covering state schools in England, began.

“This increase in unauthorised absence is due to an increase in absence due to family holidays that were not agreed by the school,” government statisticians said.

Separate data published by the DfE shows the number of penalty notices issued to parents for their child’s unauthorised absence dropped by 5.4% between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

The majority of fines issued – more than three-quarters (77.5%) – were for unauthorised holidays, the statistics show.

Separate figures on penalty notices show there were 149,321 fines handed out in 2016-17, compared with 157,879 the previous year.

Read more

‘Wasted potential’ of mature students

Rikama Education 14th March 2018

A university group says that the government’s review of tuition fees in England should make a priority of finding ways to attract more mature and part-time students.

The Million Plus group says there is a “huge pool of untapped potential” among adults who missed out on university.

After fees increased in 2012, mature student numbers fell by 20%.

Les Ebdon, head of the university access watchdog, backed calls to reverse this “very worrying trend”.

Mature students – counted as people starting courses at the age of 21 or over – were among the most likely to be deterred by the raising of tuition fees to £9,000 in 2012, which have since risen again to £9,250.

‘Forgotten learners’

Part-time students also saw a significant drop in numbers – and this often overlaps with older students, who might be working and unable to study full-time.

A report from the Million Plus group of universities says that for some courses, such as nursing, part-time, mature student numbers have fallen by 49% since fees were increased.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has launched a review of post-18 education, which will examine fees and financial support for students.

Million Plus, representing new universities, says there should be targeted efforts to attract more mature students, such as restoring maintenance grants, offering better financial support and more rapid write-offs for unpaid student debt.

Image captionThe university group wants the fees review to look beyond school leavers and young students

The report, Forgotten Learners, also calls for more flexible ways of studying that would make it more practical for part-time, adult students.

The particular needs of mature learners should be recognised, says the report, such as having family responsibilities, financial pressures that make full-time study unlikely and a preference for living at home rather than on campus.

“The steep decline in mature student numbers at our universities has been tolerated for too long,” said London South Bank University vice-chancellor David Phoenix, who chairs the Million Plus group.

“The UK faces a daunting productivity challenge in the decade to come and in response we need a better and more flexible offer to those over 21 to ensure that we are able to up-skill and re-skill many more people,” said Prof Phoenix.

Prof Ebdon, director of the Office for Fair Access to Higher Education, said: “There is a clear societal and economic benefit to people succeeding in higher education, whatever stage of their life they come to it.

“But too often, talented people are excluded because of a lack of options that meet their needs.”

Read more

Secondary school staff suffer work attacks

Rikama Education 7th March 2018

Secondary school staff are three times more likely to be physically attacked at work than the average UK employee.

The statistics given to BBC Radio 5 Live come from the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

It asked 40,000 UK households about injuries sustained after being assaulted at work.

The government said violence towards teachers was unacceptable and schools had been given more powers to deal with poor discipline.

Over the six year period analysed – 2009-10 to 2015-16 – there were an average of 8,000 attacks every 12 months in schools (primary and secondary) that left staff with physical injuries.

Jane is a teacher in a primary school in the north of England. She didn’t want to use her real name.

She said she faced violence on a daily basis “I have been kicked. I have been hit, pushed, usually because of children being angry, frustrated, some children with additional needs.

“Some children – just that is the way they react when they don’t get their own way. ”

‘A war zone’

Jane said she had also been punched and had suffered a back injury after restraining a pupil. She said the youngest child to assault her had been just six years old.

“It is like a bit like a war zone, but that becomes part of your management style – that you have to think, ‘Right, this is what could happen.’

“I have to plan. I have to work out what I am going to do and what my responses are going to be. Sometimes you can do that. Sometimes you can’t. And you get massive adrenaline kicks because you have to deal with things,” she said.

The National Education Union, which represents nearly half a million teachers and support staff, said £2.8bn had been taken out of school budgets since 2015.

Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “There’s a general reduction in the amount of staff in schools.

“It used to be that if a child was acting out, you could send them out of the classroom and you could expect them to be looked after somewhere else.

“And in some schools the head teacher doesn’t want you to do that because there isn’t the support outside the classroom for that child to go to.”

‘Tough but proportionate’

The Department for Education said it had issued guidance to schools to make it clear “tough but proportionate” sanctions for misbehaviour were acceptable.

A spokesman said: “This government has taken decisive action to put teachers back in charge of the classroom by giving them the powers they need to tackle poor behaviour and discipline, and has scrapped ‘no touch’ rules that stopped teachers removing disruptive pupils from classrooms.

“Teachers and school staff have a right to feel safe while doing their jobs, and violence towards them is completely unacceptable.”

Read more

MPs investigate impact of social media and screens on youth

Rikama Education 21st February 2018

Are you concerned about the impact social media and screen-use are having on young people? If so, MPs are looking to hear your thoughts.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee has announced an inquiry into the impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health.

The committee says it wants to hear the views of young people themselves, as well as of teachers and youth workers.

Chairman Norman Lamb said it was vital to assess the benefits and risks.

“Social media and smartphones are increasingly being used by children and young people,” he said.

“We want to determine the scale of the issues – separating out the understandable concerns from the hard evidence, and to identify what practical measures people are already taking to boost the benefits and blunt the potential harms.

“We want to hear from schools and young people, as well as from the industry and government.”

Mr Lamb says the committee is particularly keen to hear details of any initiatives undertaken, by children, schools and youth organisations, to help young people cope with the demands of the digital world.

Other issues the MPs would welcome thoughts on include:

  • the wellbeing benefits from social media usage, including any apps that provide mental-health benefits to users
  • the physical or mental harms from social media use and screen-use, including safety risks and the extent of any addictive behaviour
  • any measures being used, or needed, to mitigate any potential harmful effects of excessive screen-use
  • what monitoring, controls or regulation are needed and where responsibility and accountability should lie for such measures
  • areas that should be the focus of any further research

Those who would like to submit written views should do so – in no more than 3,000 words – through the committee’s inquiry page by 6 April.

The Education Policy Institute’s 2017 report showed 95% of 15-year-olds in the UK use social media before or after school, and half of nine to 16-year-olds used smart-phones on a daily basis.

And England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, warned in January that the move from primary to secondary school was problematic for children because social media became more important in their lives.

Her report into the effects of social media on eight to 12-year-old children said many were over-dependent on “likes” and comments for social validation.

Read more

Heads want pay code after £500,000 academy boss

Rikama Education 7th February 2018

Head teachers say the pay levels of all school staff in England, including academy bosses, should be in a fairer framework to stop “fat cat” pay gaps.

The chief executive of the Harris Federation was revealed last week to have become the first in the state sector to earn £500,000.

The National Association of Head Teachers wants more transparency over spending “public money”.

The Department for Education has written to 29 trusts about high pay.

But the academy trusts asked to explain their levels of pay, where bosses earn over £150,000, have only been small, single-school trusts.

The much bigger multi-academy trusts, including Harris, have so far been exempt from this challenge over how much they pay their bosses and managers.

University top pay

The most recent figures, from 2015-16, show more than 120 academy trusts paying someone more than £150,000 – the large majority of which will be in multi-academy trusts.

A spokeswoman for the Harris Federation says its chief executive Sir Dan Moynihan’s earnings of up to £500,000 reflected the high performance of the trust.

Harris operates 44 schools and teaches 32,000 pupils – with all schools rated by Ofsted as either outstanding or good.

Education ministers have been highly critical of university heads earning “excessive” salaries – with universities told they would have to explain if their vice-chancellor had pay above £150,000.

The Harris annual accounts show the academy trust pays 10 of its staff over £150,000.

The Department for Education had threatened interventions if they did not show more restraint over pay – and the vice-chancellor of the University of Bath stepped down in the dispute over her earnings of £468,000.

The Department for Education said its funding agency had written in December to academy trusts with bosses earning over £150,000.

The trusts were told there had been “considerable scrutiny over tax-payer funded executive salaries” and such high pay had to be justified.

But this was only for one-school trusts, often successful schools which had converted to academy status.

National pay code

Malcolm Trobe of the ASCL head teachers’ union said that in practice, this would mostly be targeting individual head teachers running a school, rather than managers of big chains.

NAHT leader Paul Whiteman says there needs to be a national framework for salaries within the state school system, with clear guidelines on what pay was appropriate.

“This would protect lower-paid workers, and avoid gaps opening up between the lowest and highest paid people in any school, which are hard to justify in the public sector,” said Mr Whiteman.

The NAHT says fewer than 1% of head teachers earn £150,000.

Questions about pay for academy trust managers are also against a background of schools complaining about budget shortages.

Eileen Milner, chief executive of the Education and Skills Funding Agency, told the Public Accounts Committee last week that the 29 single-school trusts paying over £150,000 had been asked for an explanation of that level of salary.

On the responses so far, she told the committee that about two-thirds would require further investigation.

“I hope you take some assurance that we are acting first to understand, but then to challenge,” Ms Milner told MPs.

Read more