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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