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.

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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.

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Teacher retention: Government ‘failing to get a grip’

Rikama Education 31st January 2018

“Lesson planning, marking, carrying out assessments, parents evenings – there was always something to do.

“I felt very much under pressure to move children on in their learning, to meet their targets,” says Jake Rusby, who left teaching after three years.

“I was consumed by the work, I became quite anxious – it took over my life.”

Jake’s story is not uncommon, and now the Department for Education is under fire from MPs for “failing to get a grip” on teacher retention in England.

In a report, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says the DfE does not have a coherent plan to tackle teacher retention and development.

The report says the number of qualified teachers leaving the profession – for reasons other than retirement – increased from 6% (25,260) of the qualified workforce in 2011 to 8% (34,910) in 2016.

It says the issue is particularly critical in England’s secondary schools, with the number of teachers falling by 10,800 (5%) between 2010 and 2016, from 219,000 to 208,200.

This comes at a time when secondary school pupil numbers are set to increase by 540,000 (19%) between 2017 and 2025.

“The failure of the department to get to grips with the number of teachers leaving puts additional pressure on schools faced with rising numbers of children needing a school place and the teachers to teach them,” the report says.

‘You could work all day every day’

It says workload is the main reason teachers are leaving and criticises the DfE for not setting out what impact its interventions on this matter are having.

“We do not expect the department to prescribe how many hours teachers should work but do expect it to understand and have a view on the relationship between workload and retention,” it adds.

For Jake Rusby, a heavy workload was very much an issue.

“I spent every hour either working or thinking about work – during the week and at weekends,” he says.

“You could work all day every day pretty much and still not get everything done.

“I didn’t see much of my young daughter at the time.”

Jake says that when he left the profession to set up his own business, it was a relief both for him and for his family.

“When I left, my wife said she felt like she’d got me back again,” he says.

What does the government say?

The DfE says there are record numbers of teachers in schools and that last year, 32,000 trainee teachers were recruited, in spite of a competitive labour market.

“Retention rates have been broadly stable for the past 20 years, and the teaching profession continues to be an attractive career,” said a spokeswoman.

 

“We are consulting on proposals to improve and increase development opportunities for teachers across the country and working with teachers, unions and Ofsted to tackle unnecessary workload with specific support for teachers at the start of their careers.

“Alongside this we continue to offer financial incentives to attract the brightest and best into our classrooms.”

What do head teachers say?

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the PAC report was concerning, but came as no surprise.

“Anyone working in a school knows how rewarding it is to help young people learn and grow. On a good day, there’s no better profession to be in,” he said.

“The trouble is our teachers work longer hours for less money compared to their peers around the world.

“Today’s graduates are attracted to other professions, and current teachers are leaving in search of other careers.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the current situation had been “brewing for several years”.

“Ministers spent too long in a state of denial, and having belatedly woken up to the problem have failed to put in place a coherent strategy and have focused instead on piecemeal initiatives. It has been a case of too little too late,” he said.

Mr Barton said the ASCL was keen to work with the new Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, “to solve a crisis which will become much worse – unless action is taken urgently – because pupil numbers are rising significantly and many more teachers will be needed”.

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Is social mobility really about school cash?

Rikama Education 17th January 2018

If you took a list of the top 20 places in England where schools have the most funding, 18 of them would be in London.

And if you took another list, of the top 20 places with the highest level of social mobility, 17 of them would also be in London.

Is that a coincidence?

Head teachers in the Worth Less? campaign over school funding shortages say that if the government is serious about promoting social mobility in education, then it needs to look at how low funding seems to mirror low mobility.

West Somerset has the lowest place on the government’s social mobility index – and is also one of the lowest-funded areas.

The Worth Less? campaign, which has brought together about 5,000 schools over the issue of fair funding, has produced an analysis showing that a secondary school in West Somerset would receive £2m less per year than a similar sized school in Westminster.

Westminster, in the top 10 for funding, is rated as giving its disadvantaged young people the highest chance of social mobility in the country.

And a key aspect of the success of London’s schools has been that poorer youngsters, such as those eligible for free school meals, do much better in the capital than elsewhere.

Funding gaps

Of course, there are many other crosswinds in such a complex topic.

Schools in London get more funding because they have bigger challenges – extra costs because of their location and extra demands, such as high levels of deprivation and many pupils speaking English as a second language.

It has often been claimed that London has its own demographic microclimate, with many migrant families arriving with high ambitions for their children.

But head teachers argue that there’s no escaping the overlap between social mobility and financial support. None of the lowest-funded 20 authorities makes it into the top 50 for social mobility.

And the top 10s for funding and social mobility are shuffling very similar packs.

Top 10 for funding

  1. Hackney
  2. Tower Hamlets
  3. Southwark
  4. Lambeth
  5. Islington
  6. Hammersmith and Fulham
  7. Camden
  8. Haringey
  9. Westminster
  10. Kensington and Chelsea

Top 10 for social mobility

  1. Westminster
  2. Kensington and Chelsea
  3. Tower Hamlets
  4. Wandsworth
  5. Hackney
  6. Redbridge
  7. Islington
  8. Hammersmith and Fulham
  9. Barnet
  10. Ealing

Jules White, a head teacher from West Sussex who has co-ordinated the Worth Less? school funding campaign, is calling for a much closer look at what the variation in funding really means for those outside the capital.

The funding gap between West Somerset and Westminster, for an individual school, is the equivalent of dozens of extra teaching staff, after-school clubs, university links, careers advice and support for pupils who are struggling.

And these are exactly the kinds of added extras that could improve social mobility.

Mr White, speaking at a Westminster Education Forum event on school funding, has broken down the figures to per-pupil spending.

 

Barnsley, near the bottom for social mobility, has £4,729 for each secondary pupil, while Hackney, in the top five for social mobility, receives £7,840.

How much could schools in Barnsley help their young people with an extra £1,000 per term for each of them? Or what more progress could be supported in other areas on the bottom rungs for funding, such as York, Leicestershire and West Sussex.

But it’s not always such a neat match between funding and social mobility. Nottingham and Manchester are among areas that are relatively well-funded, but don’t do particularly well on social mobility.

Tightrope act

The Westminster forum on funding heard warnings that the answer was not taking money from schools in the capital.

A chair of governors from a secondary school in Lambeth said that the changes proposed in the new national funding formula would leave them with a budget deficit heading towards £500,000, which could only be resolved by significant cuts in the teaching staff.

Valentine Mulholland, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the funding squeeze had already meant the loss of jobs for teaching and support staff.

And a study from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) suggested higher spending particularly benefited disadvantaged pupils.

 

New Education Secretary Damian Hinds has made a priority of social mobility – but he will also have to make some big decisions about the pressure over school funding.

The Department for Education has consistently argued that there are record levels of funding – and the NFER’s Ben Durbin agreed that by international standards, England’s schools are relatively well-funded.

The political tightrope act for ministers is to push more cash to the less well-funded areas without damaging those schools performing well in better-funded places.

But the head teachers are arguing that funding and social mobility should no longer be seen as separate conversations.

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Top five questions for education new boy Damian Hinds

Rikama Education 10th January 2018

Damian Hinds has become the new Education Secretary, replacing Justine Greening. What are the questions waiting at the top of his in-tray? And what should he do differently to avoid the sudden exit of his predecessor?

1) How to get back the political initiative?

Damian Hinds will have to re-energise the Conservatives’ vision for education, finding something positive that will connect with the public.

From the perspective of 10 Downing Street, it must have seemed as though Labour was making much of the weather over schools and universities.

Parents were worried about being asked to bail out cash-starved schools. And Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to scrap tuition fees had seen Labour’s student vote reaching record levels.

Justine Greening seemed unenthusiastic about the prime minister’s Tory heartlands view of education, characterised by the push for more grammar schools.

But, it is suggested, there was impatience in Downing Street about the lack of any clear alternative vision or policy offer for parents.

There is a catch for Mr Hinds. His revival has to cost nothing and not take up legislative time consumed by Brexit.

 

2) Can anyone end the pain of tuition fees?

Theresa May has promised a major review of university funding and how much students should be expected to pay – as evidence that she was “listening” after the election.

Jo Johnson, the outgoing Universities Minister, had made no secret of his reluctance for any significant changes. But his departure opens the way for a much more far-reaching review.

The rising levels of fees, interest charges and student debt, have been like a recurrent political toothache, and Mr Hinds will be looking for an affordable way to neutralise the electoral pain.

It’s been the mouse-trap hidden in the in-tray for ministers of successive governments.

And he will have to see whether university bosses can really be more restrained over pay, after the chastening battles over “fat cat” salaries.

 

3) What will head teachers be demanding?

School funding gaps and teacher shortages are among the issues that heads see as most urgent.

They are exasperated that they have to keep juggling and struggling on with what they claim are inadequate budgets.

In the election it became a significant doorstep issue, not least because head teachers discovered the power of sending a letter home to millions of parents.

When it comes to plausibility, head teachers’ warnings of cuts to children’s lessons will always win out over politicians protesting that funding is at record levels.

It’s a challenge that the new education secretary will have to resolve. Otherwise he risks cold water being poured over any other initiatives, as heads tell ministers to get back to the basics of funding and staffing.

 

4) What does social mobility actually mean?

Damian Hinds and Justine Greening have something in common. They both say social mobility is a priority, as has the prime minister.

But what does it really mean? The government’s own social mobility commissioners walked out claiming so far it had been all talk and no progress.

Mr Hinds has previously highlighted the importance of investing in the early years, before the social divide begins to widen.

He has also pointed to the central importance of high-quality teachers to making sure that the disadvantaged get the best chances in school.

It might seem an age ago, but before the election the focus of social mobility was on the need to help “ordinary working families”, working hard on low incomes and without access to good schools.

Mr Hinds will have to decide how to make social mobility something more than rhetoric and good intentions.

 

5) How to balance tradition with reform?

As a former grammar school boy from the north-west of England, with a Hampshire constituency, Mr Hinds will be seen as representing a less metropolitan view of education.

He will be seen as closer to the views of Tory backbenchers, uncertain about the wholesale ditching of grammar schools.

Mr Hinds will also be expected to push through a change to free school regulations, promised in the Conservative manifesto, which would make it easier for faith groups to set up new schools.

This would allow religious free schools to give priority in admissions in the same way as existing local authority and academy faith schools.

Such a change, likely to increase the number of faith schools, will be opposed by humanists and secular campaigners.

But that could be the kind of opposition and clear blue water that would be relished by an education secretary wanting to assert his traditionalist credentials.

Ministers have always been advised to pick their enemies as carefully as their friends – and Mr Hinds will also have noted that Ms Greening’s bridge-building with the teachers’ unions did her no political favours.

And someone somewhere is going to write a headline about the benefit of “Hinds-sight”.

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