Back To School: New Pencil Cases and New Policies

Franklin Scholars staff member Lucy Anderson contemplates the new school year, the impacts of austerity on schools, and leaked Government plans for the education sector.

As pupils around the country are dusting off their school uniforms, grappling with new timetables and admiring their new pencil cases, we are reflecting on our summer and considering the year ahead.

This summer, we were pleased to host three fantastic young women as interns in our office. The interns supported staff in various capacities, including events, outreach and preparations for the next academic year. We were incredibly impressed with their positive and dedicated attitudes, as they all made valuable contributions to the organisation. We particularly appreciated their insightful contributions at our scale accelerator workshops, as Lizabeth brought expertise from the American education system and Divine and Radvile contributed their experience as ex-Franklin Scholars. If you would like to find out more about their experiences and insights, you can read their thought-provoking blog posts by following the links.

Lucy, Divine and Radvile at the Spring Impact Scale Accelerator Workshop

Lucy, Divine and Radvile at the Spring Impact Scale Accelerator Workshop

Looking to the year ahead, this week saw the launch of the 2019/20 programme, with recruitment and training beginning for the new cohorts of Franklin Scholars across the country. At the same time, we have been considering the possible implications of the recently leaked government document detailing a number of funding changes and policies for schools.

The past nine years of austerity has been felt across the education system, with some schools reporting such dire levels of funding that they are closing school early on a Friday or turning to parents for donations. Some headteachers have even taken matters into their own hands, for example our very own trustee Evelyn Forde, Headteacher of Copthall, is climbing Mount Snowdon to raise money for the school (donate to the cause here).

However, there is an ongoing discrepancy in regard to school funding. As teachers are climbing mountains to raise funds to buy vital school equipment, numerous politicians (including recent Prime Minister Theresa May) continue to assert that more money than ever before is going to schools. Although this is factually correct, it is also misleading. The level of UK education spending has indeed risen significantly over time, but it has not kept up with inflation or with the rising numbers of students in full-time education. As a result, despite record amounts of money going to schools, the funding per student has decreased by 4-8% (according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies).

This means that more money needs to go to schools, and this has been outlined in the leaked Tory plan. Namely, £14bn by 2022/23 has been pledged, with £2.6bn in the first year. The Institute of Fiscal Studies suggested that this kind of cash injection will take the funding status back to the state in 2009/10, so it is an improvement, but arguably still not enough. Alongside more funding for pupils, the proposal also outlines a raise in teacher starting salaries to £30,000 by 2022, which has widely been met with approval.

Aside from funding, the DfE paper also includes new, tougher behavioural guidelines. The proposed reform places emphasis on allowing teachers to “use reasonable force” against unruly pupils. School staff are already permitted to “use reasonable force” to “control pupils or to restrain them” (see the DfE’s current guidelines on the use of reasonable force). However, the new guidelines seem to suggest that staff will now be supported to use “reasonable force” in more situations, including when confiscating mobile phones and to enforce same-day detentions. This has been widely criticised as dangerous, due to ambiguity around what “reasonable force” means. Mary Bousted, Joint Secretary of the National Education Union, said, “We don’t want teachers exercising reasonable force, we want well-disciplined schools which are well funded.” Similarly, the DfE has been accused of missing the mark with the proposal to reduce the number of teaching assistants.

“We don’t want teachers exercising reasonable force, we want well-disciplined schools which are well funded.” - Mary Bousted, Joint Secretary of the National Education Union

It is clear that many changes are on the horizon for the UK education system. Ultimately, we hope that, whether this particular proposal comes to fruition or not, the wellbeing of the pupils is not overlooked. Meanwhile, we are looking forward to an action-packed year of training, workshops and events as we support more secondary pupils than ever with their transition to secondary school.

Find out more about the issues discussed in this blog post: Institute for Fiscal Studies, The Independent, The Guardian