Plenty to discuss as we make a return to class

While we’ve all been enjoying our summer break and the exceptional weather that has accompanied it, the world keeps turning, leaving us with a few things to consider as we pack our bags for the start of term.

As I write, our friends in Canada are back at their desks. Mike Dubeau and his leadership team returned to work on August 8. They will be followed by our colleagues returning from the United Kingdom to Dubai, where they are still required to wear face masks. Their leadership team starts on the 17 August, just in time to receive their students’ A levels results, which will be followed later by the GCSE results. As we have reported, both of these results will be adjusted for the impact of Covid on the students’ learning, but not to the degree they were last year. Students in Sweden return this week or next depending upon their region. The general election takes place in the next three weeks and education remains a key issue.

Many of our colleagues are hoping that the relaxation of the Covid directives that have dominated their roles over the past three years will allow for some of their actions to be self-determined. Even better if these include systemic leadership roles. Only time will tell.

On the wider political front in the UK, a leadership contest is underway to determine who will become the next Prime Minister, replacing the ousted Boris Johnson. As education is devolved to each region, there has been limited mention of policy in this area from the candidates. What has been proposed is unlikely to have a major impact on schools as they have suggested the expansion of grammar schools, the removal of funding for university degrees whose graduates do not contribute to the economy and greater access for high performing A-level students to the best universities.

In England, the amount of reporting on education has not abated during the holiday. In fact there has been a surge.

Negative feelings

On August 1 The Times, as part of its education commission, published an article in which former UK prime minister Gordon Brown pointed to a survey of 10,000 young people in ten countries that revealed pupils in Britain felt more negative towards the quality of education they received than those from the other countries. In particular, more than a third did not feel valued and 73 per cent were concerned about the value of education worldwide.

As the cost of living crisis in the United Kingdom takes a firm hold of household budgets, a campaign to cut the school week to four days is gaining wide support. School budgets have been hit not only by the increase in the cost of energy but also by teacher pay rises. The pay award was higher than originally predicted and energy prices for one multi-academy trust we know have risen four-fold. Both of these increases have to be funded from existing budgets.

These budgetary issues need to be seen, as The Times reported, in the longer-term context in which funding per pupil in England has fallen 9 per cent since 2010 and in 2020 – before the current crisis – the government had promised to return it to 2010 levels by 2024.

Mental health

A large UK health insurer has reported a rapid rise in parents requesting mental health support for their children. This considerable increase was attributed to the disruption to young people’s lives by the pandemic, which has disrupted school and home life and also prevented many from accessing the support they required when they needed it. There is real potential for this to become a crisis – as we know, it takes years to train staff in the necessary skills and there is a limited pool of expertise to draw upon. Therefore, responding to such increases in demand is problematic.

Access to university

Efforts to ensure higher education is accessed fairly by all parts of society in England continues. The Department for Education has published data revealing that in the 2020-21 academic year, the highest proportion of pupils from socially disadvantaged backgrounds gained access (28.1 per cent) to university. More than half (50.6 per cent) of girls from these backgrounds gained access, which was a record and the proportion of boys rose year-on-year, from 37.6 per cent to 38.4 per cent. More detailed figures show that the lowest represented proportion of an ethnic group at Russell Group Universities is white, (10.5 per cent) whilst 40.7 per cent of students with Chinese heritage gained access.

This overall increase in access to university from state school pupils has impacted Oxford and Cambridge. The result being that the independent school sector is reporting that more students are applying to universities in the USA than in the past because the number of places offered to them by Oxbridge universities is declining.

Diversity

On August 11, the attorney-general in England, Suella Braverman, warned that schools teaching their pupils about changing their gender could be downgraded by Ofsted. She said that it was illegal for schools to offer only unisex toilets and teachers were entitled to ignore requests from under-18s questioning their gender identity to use different pronouns, wear different uniforms or participate in girl’s sport.


We hope that all our colleagues have a good start to the year, which unfortunately for many will be challenging as they deal with the legacy of Covid, the impact of the energy crisis on school funding and the growing amount of legislation they have to conform to.

In particular we would like to recognise those who are responsible for school budgets in England who have had a torrid summer as both the increase in energy prices and staff wages have been released during the summer holidays.

As always we are grateful to all those who contribute to our journal.

Best wishes

George

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