Behind the Education Headlines in February

February-headlines

TikTok fight leads to surprise Ofsted visit

Concerns over the safeguarding at Northampton International Academy have been raised after a TikTok video showed three students punching and hair pulling two other students.

The academy has had many ups and downs with their safeguarding in recent months. The school was rated 'good' in their last full Ofsted inspection in July 2019. NIA was subject to another inspection due to safeguarding concerns in December 2020, which found 'serious failings'. A monitoring visit in June 2021 praised the school saying, '"leaders have improved safeguarding arrangements since the previous inspection.' However, there were still problems with pupils 'not consistently' improving their behaviour.

The last two years have made it harder for organisations to collect information on bullying and violence in schools. Office of National Statistics figures from 2020 show that 19% of children between 10 and 15 in England and Wales have experienced online bullying. 29% of English headteachers reported that bullying (both physical and non-physical) took place weekly in their schools.

This incident raises important questions about social media usage in school. Research by Ofcom in 2021 found that 97% of school-aged children (5-15) go online. Before the pandemic, most children already used video sharing platforms, but since Covid, the majority increased their usage. The top three apps were TikTok, Youtube, and Roblox. How can schools balance societies increasing need for social media with student's safety? 

Increased support for children's mental health leads to increase in wellbeing

The DfE has released the third annual State of the Nation report which offers an insight into the experiences of youngsters aged between 5 and 24. The report uses 4 key indicators to measure wellbeing - happiness, anxiousness, life being worthwhile, and life satisfaction.

The report suggests that children's happiness decreased during the pandemic when schools were closed. This slight reduction in wellbeing has now rebounded now that the restrictions, especially in schools, have been removed. Interestingly, pupils who has regularly attended school through the pandemic reported higher wellbeing. In secondary schools, girls recorded lower wellbeing that all four categories than males and this widened over the course of the year.

This follows on from the Children's Society Good Childhood Report findings that there is a minority of children (over 300,000) who are unhappy. This number has almost doubled over the past 10 years with schools, friends, and appearance causing the most unhappiness. School is more likely to contribute to children's unhappiness than any other factor.

10% of primary school children have an identifiable mental health condition with this rising to 14% in secondary school. Early intervention is key to enable students to develop mental resilience. Mentally Healthy Schools is a website with free resources to help schools identify risk factors for mental illness, understand their role in pupils' recovery from mental illness and develop support across the whole school.

School child's letter to PM leads to questions about partisanship in schools

Education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, has condemned a school in Nottingham for its 'partisan' lessons. Year 6 pupils at Welbeck Primary School were asked to write letters to people they admired but after Boris Johnson didn't make it onto their list of 'aspiration and role models', they decided to write letters to their local MP. One of the letters criticised Partygate and comments made by the PM during a session of PMQs.

Despite the letters having been linked to the curriculum, Zahawi has said that, "No school should be encouraging young people to pin their colours to a political mast".

Research by Shout Out UK found that 97% of the public think that politics should be a part of the national curriculum. 85% of participants said that they had little knowledge of politics after leaving school and 69% of young respondents (18 – 25) do not know how First Past the Post works.

The Politics in Schools project aims to increase the interest of young people in politics by increasing the dialogue between politicians and students. 79% of teachers feel that they have some level of responsibility to educate their pupils on politics or citizenship, but many feel unable to do so effectively. In their report, 'Politics in schools. 'what exists' and 'what works', there is almost universal agreement that 'political education should teach pupils about key political concepts as well as national and international institutions'. There is also wide agreement that 'political education should teach pupils to be honest, responsible and law-abiding members of the community' (interestingly, there is the lowest level of agreement from teachers who come from a citizenship training subject area). A survey of teachers showed that 79% of schools only conduct politics lessons once a week and 97% report off-curriculum political sessions more than once a month. 

Mental health amongst teachers on the decline

Following on from the NAHT report, 'School Business Leadership in Crisis?' which reported on the attitudes of school business leaders to their jobs, the NASWT have released their Teacher Wellbeing Survey.

Key findings

In the last 12 months, 91% of teachers say their job has negatively affected their mental health and 64% say that it has impacted on their physical health.

Workload has been the major factor in the majority of these cases (52%), although worries about the pandemic (34%) and pupil wellbeing (24%) are also cited.

Only 22% of teachers report that their school's provide staff with workspaces that 'promote wellbeing'. 66% say that their school does not have procedures in place to manage burnout and 53% say that their school does not prioritise mental health.

As school business leaders, it is important to ensure that all members of staff have adequate access to mental health services. Not only does poor mental health impact on student outcomes, but it also leads to rising costs due to staff cover costs. Due to the pandemic, the latest staff absence figures come from 2019 when teachers took an average of 4.1 days of sick leave. The high cost of supply teachers can cause major disruption to even the most robust of budgets. Even in 2019, it cost schools £75 million a year. 

SEND schools to receive cost-cutting visits

The DfE is laying the foundation for a new scheme that will measure council's spending in SEND schools against their performance. 'Delivering Better Value in SEND' is a new £1.5 million programme which will see 15 special educational needs and disability financial advisers appointed.

This comes after the 2021 Autumn budget which announced an additional £2.6bn for SEND places. Research in December 2020 showed a £643 million deficit in SEND funding. 90% of councils overspend, with some of them partially funding this by taking funds from other parts of their budgets. Deficits in high-needs funding could rise to more than £1.3 billion in 2023.

There is rising demand for special needs school places with funding rising from £6.5 billion in 2020/21 to £9.1 billion in 2022/23. Between 2017 and 2020, there was a 0.1% (from 12.1 to 12.2%) increase in pupils needing SEN support and a 0.4% increase in students with an EHC plan (from 3.3% to 3.7%). Widening eligibility for funding, rising parental expectations and increased awareness of the support available have all played a part in this rise.

Hopefully, this new scheme will mirror the success of the SRMA scheme which worked alongside school business leaders to promote best practice. 3 years after its inception, SRMAs have potentially saved schools over £300 million, while maintaining an 84% satisfaction rate.

Supporting Teacher Well-Being
Summary of State of the Nation Report

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