In light of all the evidence, the Alliance puts forward a number of recommendations for government, education practitioners, voluntary organisations and universities. These recommendations are designed to stimulate improvement in areas where performance gaps remain stubbornly high and accelerate change in areas where there are already some signs of improvement.
Top five priorities for government
The Alliance believes that national spending should not decrease in real terms on a per pupil basis. The government should address the underfunding of the schools system to ensure that schools can continue to raise standards in education for all pupils, and continue to meet the additional needs of learners. Sufficient funding in the system is crucial if the government is to deliver on its social mobility aims and industrial strategy. The FEA believes that the government’s announcement of more school funding is a step in the right direction. However, the Treasury will have to provide additional funding if we are to provide every child with a world class education.
Destinations and Careers
Every primary and secondary school in England should have a designated and trained senior leader responsible for developing and delivering a whole school approach to destinations including a bespoke destination pathway for each student.
Measurement of Social and Emotional Competencies
We support the creation of a framework of measures available to all schools in the UK to support their knowledge of the social and emotional competencies of their students. The framework will build on evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation and feedback from practitioners. More broadly we must recognise social and emotional competencies as a critical lever in boosting both attainment and social mobility for young people by creating a national standard setting out the principles of effective practice in partnership with schools, colleges, the third sector, business and government.
Support for the continued development of the childcare and early education workforce should be a top priority. Our long-term ambition is for all group settings to be led by an early years teacher or equivalent, supported by well-qualified staff at all levels. Initially, the government should commit to working with the sector to ensure that every group setting serving the 30% most deprived areas in England is led by an early years teacher or equivalent by 2020. The government should also use the recently published early years workforce strategy as the platform to take steps to reverse the decline in early years teacher recruitment; ensure professional development and progression opportunities are available for everyone working in childcare and early education in England; and renew its ambition to driving improvements in quality through a properly supported and trained early years workforce. Ultimately Government must renew its ambition to drive improvements in quality by providing sufficient funding so settings can recruit and retain their workforce and support staff progression, so qualified staff no longer leave settings so rapidly after qualifying as teachers.
Evidence suggests that an expansion of grammar schools would have a negative impact on social mobility. We welcome the decision not to proceed with expanding grammar schools in the immediate future. The government should resist calls to expand selective education in the future.
Parental and carer engagement
All schools should be supported to introduce clear policies on engaging parents and carers in their children’s learning. This should set out whole-school arrangements for reaching all parents and carers – not just those who most readily attend events at the school – and helping them to support their children’s learning in the most effective and age appropriate ways.
Free School Meal Registration
Owing to the opt-in policy for free school meals, approximately 200,000 children who are currently eligible do not claim the support meaning they may well be going hungry and schools miss out on much needed pupil premium funding. To rectify this, government should push for automatic registration of eligible pupils for free school meals, and therefore also pupil premium. The current requirement for families to come forward to register often acts as a barrier to entitlement. Local authorities have the information on the families in receipt of benefits and the DfE must bring in changes to allow all local authorities to share this information with schools so that eligible pupils are automatically identified.
The Alliance recognises that there is a real challenge to recruit and retain teachers into some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country. The government should explore the use of financial incentives such as loan forgiveness and mortgage deposit support as a way of incentivising a longterm commitment to the area. Any financial incentive scheme should be evaluated.
The FEA is aware that teacher retention and wellbeing are significant issues facing schools. We recognise and welcome the government’s recognition of the importance of teacher workload. We also recognise the role that school leaders and governors can play in creating a supportive and sustainable organisational culture. We call for schools and the government to address teacher retention and wellbeing through a range of measures including increasing flexible working, offering high quality development and support for school leaders and setting sensible expectations about teacher workload and staffing ratios.
Continuing Professional Development in Numeracy
The Alliance recognises the importance of CPD in supporting teachers to help every child to reach their potential, irrespective of their background. Specifically:
a) The government should introduce a national maths professional development programme focusing on subject knowledge and pedagogy for early years settings. This could be based on existing models currently offered by a number of educational organisations working in this area and should ensure that staff are confident in the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework, develop positive attitudes to maths, ensure practitioner subject knowledge is developed in the context of working with children and encourage practitioner research. This must be on-going and support settings in developing a culture of CPD, which becomes embedded in the setting.
b) Teachers and leaders in primary settings should be supported (including through funding) in accessing a national mathematics specific professional development programme, which encompasses a coherent curriculum framework with ongoing knowledge and skills development. This should also be aligned to Government’s standards on teachers’ professional development, as laid out by the Department for Education in June 2016. There also needs to be particular focus on supporting teachers to assess children’s progress in mathematics.
Qualifications and Assessments
The FEA believes that a consistent and holistic national measure of children’s reading at age 11 and ways of tracking progress in early language and literacy throughout the early years should be developed. Universities, charities and government should work together to develop proportionate, consistent and effective ways of measuring progress that can be used year on year, including supporting access to relevant data sets.
Socio-economic Disadvantage & Qualification Reform
DfE is monitoring the impact of qualification reform on social mobility and the impact on the attainment of certain demographics (e.g. disability, gender). It should also assess the impact on students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, using Pupil Premium as an indicator of disadvantage.
Relationships and Sex Education and PSHE
The Alliance welcomes the government’s decision to introduce statutory sex and relationships education and the provision for Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in all schools. It is now crucial that we build on this development by ensuring statutory RSE delivers for young people and meets their needs so they are able make informed decisions and stay safe. This should include consent, online safety, violence against women and girls, LGBTQ+ issues and healthy relationships. Statutory Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) should support young people to build resilience and learn about gender equality, body confidence and challenge sexism, narrow beauty ideals and pressures to be perfect.
Contextualised Higher Education Admissions
Universities should provide clear and transparent information to students, schools, parents and carers about if, and how, they use contextual data and information in admissions decision making. Research should be conducted by the sector to provide evidence of the long-term impact of contextual admissions processes.
Research should be conducted by the sector to understand the benefits to students from low-income backgrounds of Foundation Years. The research should address how successful they are in terms of widening access and increased retention on to full degree courses, achievement and graduation rates.
University Retention and Progression
The FEA welcomes increased investment from universities into better understanding the gap in degree completion rates between more and less affluent students, and for supporting programmes that seek to address it. The FEA recommends that further research is commissioned into the efficacy of pre-and-post enrolment interventions that support the retention of students from under-represented backgrounds. It recommends that research into retention is included in the scope of Universities UK’s Evidence and Impact Exchange.
University and Careers Funding Alignment
There should be greater co-ordination and collaboration between the university and careers sector to ensure that guidance activities and funding is aligned for greatest (regional) impact.
Shared Measures of Success in Widening Participation
The FEA calls for the evaluation of widening participation activity to be based on a common set of sector-wide data, benchmarks and metrics to more accurately measure impact on young people’s attainment and behaviour, for instance focusing more on intervening earlier on in a child’s life and monitoring this impact. The Alliance believes this approach will make widening participation work more transparent and enable better co-ordination and comparison of the effectiveness of different activities. This should be based on robust evidence from the Universities UK Evidence and Impact Exchange, and we support OFFA’s portfolio of research exploring how the sector is evaluating outreach. We look forward to seeing how forthcoming practical guidance will support institutions to develop, implement and learn from effective evaluation of activity to ensure that outreach is reducing barriers for learners in communities with low rates of progression to higher education.