Behind the Education Headlines in March


 Schools White Paper

The biggest school's headline in March was the release of the schools white paper. The paper was Nadhim Zahawi's first as education secretary.

The paper laid out the key ambitions of the government:

  • Every school should be part of a MAT by 2030
  • Up to 6 million "tutoring courses" by 2024 – with tutoring becoming a permanent fixture in schools
  • A compulsory 32.5 hour school week for all schools (except SEND) with a new "arms-length" curriculum
  • Increased funding in the Education Investment Areas

If you would like to read Keystone's full digest of the white paper, click here.

The paper has been met with mixed reactions from schools across the country. Joint general secretary of the NEU, Dr Mary Bousted, has said that the paper does not display "the vision of education recovery" needed to overcome learning loss caused by the pandemic as well as historic failures. The LGA have approved of the government's decision to allow councils to set up their own MATs and give them the power to direct any school (including academies) to admit pupils who are out of school so they can resume their education with minimal time out of the classroom. Although Sir Lampl of the Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation states, "it is extremely difficult for young people to catch up once they have fallen behind."

We look forward to more guidance on how the government intends to fulfil its promises. 

Covid is far from behind us  

Covid cases amongst pupils in maintained schools tripled in the first weeks of March.

Official figures from the DfE showed that over 200,000 pupils were absent on the 17th Match due to Covid. This is a fourfold increase from the end of February when it looked as though attendance was increasing to a more 'normal' level. Attendance is currently down to 89.7% with Covid related absence increased from 0.7% to 2.5%.

Figures from the ONS show that 36% of people who tested positive for Covid between 28th February and 8th March were not following the isolation guidance. This is a significant increase after all Covid restrictions were scrapped at the end of February. 

Questions over teaching of gender and sexuality

A row over homophobia gripped a school in south London in early March. Author Simon James Green was barred from visiting students on World Book Day after the Archdiocese of Southwark said his books had 'no place' in classrooms.

Currently, all primary schools must teach relationship education and all secondary schools must teach both sex and relationship education, but there is still a long way to go to ensure that LGBT students feel safe and seen in schools. Under the 2010 Equality Act, sexual orientation and 'gender reassignment' are 'protected characteristics' and therefor schools have a legal duty to prevent LGBT students from facing discrimination – both direct and indirect.

Five years ago, Stonewall released their 2017 School Report which found that 45% of LGBT students have been bulled for being LGBT. Although this has reduced from 65% in 2007, this figure is still far too high. They also found that despite 70% of pupil's reporting that their school said that homophobic bullying is wrong, half had frequently heard slurs at school. Just Like Us's Growing Up LGBT+ report found there has been little change. 42% of LGBT+ pupils reported that they had been bullied in the last 12 months with 18% saying they felt unable to tell anyone.

Research in the Journal of Research on Adolescence in 2019 found that when schools implement policies that focus on supporting LGBTQIA+ students there is a decrease in the incidence of homophobic bullying and an increase in support. This fits with Just Like Us's statistics which found that in schools where there was no positive messages about being LGBT+, 74% of LGBT pupils had contemplated suicide, compared 65% when their school had good, positive messaging. 

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