Policy Exchange – Fining secondary schools to fund FE

A think tank, Policy Exchange, published a report this week arguing that secondary schools whose pupils fail to achieve required grades in GCSE maths and English should be fined, with funding for a ‘resit levy’ reallocated to Further Education colleges. It has prompted some strong reactions but provides an opportunity to exchange some relevant policy ideas.

You can read a synopsis and download the full report here. This extract from the summary identifies an important issue at a time of severe funding pressure in post 16 education.

The report highlights that currently, the post 16 funding system does not recognise the additional burden that FE Colleges have to take on from the failure of schools to educate their students to a C grade or above. FE Colleges receive £4,000 for a 16-17 year old and £3,300 for an 18 year old to teach a full time qualification. This funding does not include remedial maths and English teaching for students resitting their GCSEs.

The paper says that the burden on FE Colleges has further increased since the government’s policy to force 16 year olds who fail GCSE English or maths kicked in in 2013, and many are struggling to cope. Potentially hundreds of thousands of students who received their GCSE results last week will be required to retake their  GCSEs or a similar qualification, and most will probably choose to attend a Further Education college.

The report draws welcome attention to a growing problem but its proposed solutions have provoked inevitable controversy. Pitting sector against sector is counter-productive and schools are not the only influencing factor affecting their pupils’ performance. The impact of home and family cannot be underestimated as children and young people grow and develop.

This extract from a Department for Education article, The role of parents in a child’s learning, from 26 April 2012 describes the impact of parental support for their children’s education:

….research shows that parental involvement in children’s learning is a key factor in improving children’s academic attainment and achievements, as well as their overall behaviour and attendance.

The role of parents during a child’s earliest years is the single biggest influence on their development. Good quality home learning contributes more to children’s intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education or income.

A parent’s attitudes, aspirations and behaviour are all important, as is their ability to:
• understand their child’s day-to-day progress
• undertake family learning together
• talk regularly with their child about their learning.

For some parents, developing this confidence can be difficult – especially if they also need help with their own literacy, language and numeracy skills.

Secondary schools are a pivotal stage of education, but they are part of a continuum in lifelong learning. There is a wider context of family and community circumstances, of earlier educational experience and expectations. Teachers of adolescents can control some but not all factors affecting attainment.

Is the partitioning of education sectors part of the problem? In policy terms, early years, primary, secondary, further and higher education are not overseen by a single government department. The system is front-loaded and the Policy Exchange’s report is right to highlight the disproportionately low amount of funding available for post-16 students, especially those who need more intensive support. Failing to consider education as a lifelong and life-wide process perpetuates a cycle of low expectations, attainment and negative attitudes that can be transmitted across generations. The closer pupils get to leaving school, the closer many get to becoming parents and influencing their own children’s learning.

Two older reports offer alternative approaches and solutions. A policy exchange incorporating their recommendations would be timely, as would extending the shelf life of important reports.

Written by David Watson and Tom Schuller, the 2009 report on Learning though Life remains very relevant. It merits further reading. It proposes policy approaches for learning throughout life and into the fourth age, locating school education on a continuum.

Learning through Life

Family Learning Works, a 2013 report,  makes recommendations and proposes actions based on 12 months of detailed research and analysis by a NIACE-led Independent Inquiry into Family Learning chaired by Baroness Valerie Howarth. This diagram summarises some points from the report.

FLW

Both reports offer more positive approaches that punishing secondary schools with fines that are unlikely to improve teaching and learning.

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Family Learning Works – invest now or pay later?

‘Family Learning Works’ was launched last Friday. The report makes recommendations and proposes actions based on 12 months of detailed research and analysis by the NIACE-led Independent Inquiry into Family Learning chaired by Baroness Valerie Howarth.

The report offers some affordable hope and practical solutions in the wake of the OECD’s recent PIAAC Report on levels of adult literacy and numeracy and the Parliamentary debate on these issues on 10 October. The PIAAC statistics and last week’s ‘State of the Nation 2013’ report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission suggest grim prospects for too many adults – especially those furthest from decent employment and for their dependent children. These reports show why we need to act now to reduce the knock-on effects on our society, economy and future public spending to deal with the consequences of poor literacy, numeracy and confidence.

Young people who leave school with low levels of skills are not just be ill-prepared for employment but will be poorly equipped to provide their future children with vital learning support, perpetuating a chain of educational disadvantage through generations. We can’t let this continue and it makes so much sense to intervene across two generations at a time, helping adults to reach their own potential and to nurture their children’s education. This is good for the adults, good for the children, good for schools and good for society.

You can find a summary of the Family Learning Works report here, but here’s an at-a-glance taster to show some key points:

FLW

Family Learning is an important aspect of the WEA’s work. We know and can show that wanting better chances for their children is a strong motive for many adults to improve their own literacy and numeracy skills – with lasting benefits for both generations.

There’s been a consistent theme running through events that I’ve been involved in this week – the WEA’s Biennial Conference, a celebration of ESF Community Learning Grants and now the launch of Family Learning Works – and it’s that community and family learning are tried, tested and effective but insufficiently recognised ways of dealing with some deep-rooted problems in our communities and wider society.

Having been a Commissioner on the Inquiry into Family Learning, I share other Commissioners’ commitment to making report’s recommendations a reality. The report is completed but the work on implementation starts now. It’s a frustrating coincidence that a lead story on the WEA’s website on the day of the report’s launch reads that:

“The WEA is supporting the growing campaign against cuts to Children’s Centres in Oxfordshire. An article in the Sunday Times on Sunday 13th Oxford reported potentially radical closure of many centres that are key partners of the WEA….”

You can read more here.

We have to acknowledge that this situation is symptomatic of current pressures on public spending and on competing priorities. We also recognise and welcome recent interventions such as the Community Learning Innovation Fund and the setting up of pilot Community Learning Trusts as well as some protected funding for adult and community learning from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills via the Skills Funding Agency, albeit on a standstill basis for several years now.

Funding for family learning is not simply a handout or a one-way transaction. It offers a significant return for modest investment and its impact affects several government departments and policy agendas, although no department ‘owns’ it.

Can we afford not to support intergenerational learning and to foist the cost of poor adult literacy and numeracy levels as a legacy for our children and grandchildren with all the resulting social and economic costs? This question is surely to big to ignore.