Latest Educational News

Children who struggle with numbers on the rise in Scotland, major survey shows

by TES Connect, May 31, 2016

Scottish Labour describes the findings of numeracy survey as a “disgrace”
Falling numeracy standards in Scotland have been branded a “disgrace” after the publication of national statistics today.

The proportion of P4 pupils – who are at the half-way point of primary school – performing well or very well in numeracy dropped again in 2015, after the previous round of figures (2013) also showed a fall.

And the latest Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) has more bad news for the Scottish government’s new education secretary, John Swinney.

He has made closing the attainment gap between wealthy and poor children his priority, but is confronted with a large divide in numeracy performance between pupils from the most and least deprived areas that has so far proven resistant to various government initiatives.

However, declining numeracy performance at P7 – the last year of primary school – has stabilised since the last survey, and a small fall in performance in the second year of secondary school has been written off by SSLN statisticians as negligible.

The P4 figures are easily the most concerning: 76 per cent of children were performing well or very well in 2011, but in 2013 that had fallen to 69 per cent. Now the new figures show another fall, down to 66 per cent.

And the gap between the performance of wealthy and poor children grows as they get older. At P4, 55 per cent of the most deprived children do well or very well, against 76 per cent of the least deprived. By S2, the least deprived children are more than twice as likely to perform at that level (53 per cent, compared with 25 per cent of the most deprived).

'The exam regulator has failed pupils, parents and teachers'

by TES Connect, May 31, 2016

It is clear from Ofqual's undemocratic response to the problem of exam appeals that its loyalties lie first with itself, and second with the exam boards, writes one leading headteacher
As teenagers all over the country continue to slog over their examinations this week, they will, thankfully, be unaware that a very serious decision has just been taken which will decrease their chances of gaining fair and accurate grades.

The background is that the exam watchdog Ofqual is taking action over the ever-increasing numbers of successful challenges to suspect exam results. Last year more than 90,000 grades had to be changed after appeals by schools who knew that particular results were out of line with a pupil’s other grades and quite simply, not believable. That was an increase of 17 per cent in just one year.

So what has Ofqual done? Sort out paper setting, the quality of assessment and marking, perhaps – essentially fix a system increasingly not fit for purpose? No. Instead, it has made it more difficult to appeal successfully. It has fixed its own problem of embarrassingly high numbers of re-marks whilst leaving the public’s problem firmly in place. At the same time, it has insolently suggested that this new system is, in fact, fairer and those who have been campaigning to get accurate results for all pupils are doing so through ignorance and self-interest.

Essentially, pupils sitting their GCSEs and A levels will now face a tough new process if they challenge their grades in August. Exam boards will not be allowed to change a mark on the basis that a second examiner brought in to check the original mark disagrees with the first grade. Instead it will all be based on the concept of “reasonableness” (as yet unclear) and a “clear marking error” (ditto).

This is, quite simply, a cynical and undemocratic response to a serious problem which affects young people hopes and futures. It is unfair and shameful on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to start. But here goes.

Student loan payback petition tops 100,000 signatures

by BBC News, May 31, 2016

A petition against government plans to freeze the salary threshold at which graduates must start paying back their student loans has topped 100,000 signatures.
This means the issue will now be considered for debate in Parliament.
When higher fees and loans were introduced in 2012, ministers said the repayment point would rise in line with average earnings.
But last year, the government decided to freeze it at £21,000.
Campaigners say lower-paid graduates will be hit particularly hard by the change because they will be paying a larger percentage of their monthly income.
Higher repayments
The petition, started last week by Alex True, an engineering student at Durham University, calls for the retrospective changes to the student loans agreement to be stopped.
"By introducing retrospective changes it threatens any trust in the student finance system," it argues.
It says the changes will mean 2 million graduates will end up paying £306 more a year by 2020-21 if they earn over £21,000.
By the end of last week, the petition stood at more than 100,000 signatures and has now reached over 120,000.

Numeracy rate falls among pupils in Scotland, latest figures show

by BBC News, May 31, 2016

Pupils in Scotland are doing less well in maths, according to the latest Scottish government figures.
Between 2013 and 2015, the proportion of P4 and S2 students performing "well or very well" fell.
Pupils from better off areas recorded better results than those from the most deprived communities.
The country's new education secretary John Swinney said the statistics reinforced the need to improve attainment.
The statistics feature in the latest Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) which is an annual sample monitoring national performance of school children at P4, P7 and S2 in literacy and numeracy.
'We have much to do'
Approximately 10,500 pupils in 2,200 schools took part in the 2015 survey.
Numeracy performance was highest at P4 and P7 with 66% of pupils at those stages performing well or very well. At S2, 40% of pupils performed well or very well.

Children in China who climb 2,500 foot cliff to get to school may be given stairs

by Independent, May 29, 2016

Classified as General.

Government officials are said to be assessing the area for safer access options, after images of the children's journey were shared worldwide.

A group of children in who climb 2,500 feet (762 metres) up a mountain to get to school in China may finally be given stairs.

The 15 schoolchildren use a precarious bamboo ladder to scale a sheer cliff face once every two weeks in order to get to the village in Zhaojue county, southwest China, where they are educated.

The ladder is currently the only means of access to the village and is used by 72 families who live in the rural area.

Images of the 6-15 year-olds climbing the ladder appeared online in recent days, prompting the local Liangshan prefectural government to announce plans for a set of steel stairs to be built to help the children until a safer, long-term solution can be found.

In a news release, local residents were quoted as saying that in addition to the safety issue, the ladder-only access exposed villagers to exploitation since traders knew they would be unable to carry unsold produce back up the cliff after making the journey to sell goods.

The residents are members of the Yi minority group in Sichuan province and subsist mainly by farming potatoes, walnuts and chili peppers.

County Communist Party Secretary, General Jikejingsong said the authorities’ main concern was improving transport for trade.

“The most important issue at hand is to solve the transport issue. That will allow us to make larger-scale plans about opening up the economy and looking for opportunities in tourism,” he was quoted as saying.

A team of 50 officials from the Zhaojue country government travelled to the area on Wednesday after images of the children climbing the 17 separate ladders gained global media attention.

The Global Times reported that government officials were in the process of assessing safer alternatives to the ladder, including potential construction of a road to connect the village, despite being disproportionately expensive for the impoverished region.

Many of China's poorest inhabitants are from long-marginalized minority groups or are farmers and herders living in the mountainous southwest, where rope bridges, aerial runways, canoes and cliff-side ladders are often used to as a means of transport connection.

Boys who live with books ‘earn more as adults’

by The Guardian, May 29, 2016

“A room without books is like a body without a soul,” observed the Roman philosopher, Cicero. It can also be a sign of financial hardship to come.

New research has uncovered a strong correlation between the earnings of adults and whether they grew up surrounded by books as children.

Three economists at the University of Padua – Giorgio Brunello, Guglielmo Weber and Christoph Weiss – studied 6,000 men born in nine European countries and concluded that children with access to books could expect to earn materially more than those who grow up with few or no books.

They studied the period from 1920 to 1956, when school reforms saw the minimum school leaving age raised across Europe. They looked at whether, at the age of 10, a child lived in a house with fewer than 10 books, a shelf of books, a bookcase with up to 100 books, two bookcases, or more than two bookcases.

Over the period studied, the research, published in the Economic Journal, found that an additional year of education increased a man’s average lifetime earnings by 9%. But the returns varied markedly according to socio-economic background.

Men brought up in households with less than a shelf of books earned only 5% more as a result of the extra year’s education, compared with 21% more for those who had access to a lot of books. And those that had access to books were more likely to move to the better-earning opportunities in cities than those without books.

Cambridge University to remain with NUS

by BBC News, May 27, 2016

Cambridge University will remain affiliated to the National Union of Students after a referendum of students rejected a motion to leave.
Cambridge is one of several universities to hold disaffiliation votes after Malia Bouattia, who has been accused of anti-semitism, was elected as NUS president.
Just over half of the 6,178 students who voted rejected the motion.
A vote at Oxford University is scheduled for next week.
NUS vice-president Richard Brooks said he was delighted at the result "which comes at a crucial time for students".
Mr Brooks said the union was planning changes to its democratic model.
"It means that Cambridge students will continue to be part of our national voice."
Cambridge University Student Union President Priscilla Mensah, who campaigned against disaffiliation, said she was "pleased that Cambridge students will continue to have a voice in shaping and changing NUS for the better".
The Yes to Disaffiliation Campaign described themselves as disappointed.

Teachers worse off by tens of thousands of pounds, analysis finds

by TES Connect, May 27, 2016

Teachers in Scotland have lost out on thousands in the past six years, because of increased pension contributions and below-inflation rises, the NASUWT says
Teachers in Scotland have lost tens of thousands of pounds from their salaries since 2010, with the best-paid classroom staff down by more than £30,000 and headteachers by nearly £65,000, an analysis shows.

The study by a teaching union shows that failure to keep pace with inflation and increasing pension contributions have put Scotland near the foot of international rankings.

The figures also reveal that a teacher on point 1 of the main scale missed out on £18,177 cumulatively between 2010 and 2016; while a teacher at point 6 missed out on £25,753 over the same period.

'Shocking' loss of earnings
Jane Peckham, the Scotland organiser for teachers’ union the NASUWT, said that while officials knew the situation was bad, she had been “quite shocked” to see the findings of her organisation’s analysis. Her union also says that an increase in National Insurance contributions in April will "wipe out" the 2016 pay award agreed last year.

Details of the research emerged at NASUWT Scotland’s annual conference in Edinburgh this month, where members heard that the country ranked 22nd out of 32 nations for teacher salaries, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Meanwhile, the general secretary of another union has said that teachers at the top of the pay scale in England are £2,108 a year better off than equivalent teachers in Scotland.

Seamus Searson told the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association's annual conference in Crieff that the Scottish government was “failing to address the fundamental issue of teachers' pay” and called for a “substantial increase” to retain and attract teachers.

Scots students face 'shocking' university access gap

by BBC News, May 27, 2016

Young Scots from disadvantaged areas are four times less likely to go to university than those from wealthy backgrounds, researchers have found.
Their study showed 90% of growth in higher education places for disadvantaged students came from colleges, not universities.
The Sutton Trust said its findings showed a "shocking access gap".
The Scottish government said university access for students from poorer areas was up by 29% since it came to power.
In England, those from the poorest neighbourhoods are 2.4 times less likely to attend university than people in the richest areas.
Those in Northern Ireland and Wales are three times less likely to do so.
'Strong push'
The Sutton Trust is now calling for the urgent appointment of a new independent commissioner for fair access to tackle the problem.
Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: "Scotland faces a shocking access gap and it is vital that the government appoints a strong independent commissioner without delay.

Exam regulator clamps down on re-marks

by BBC News, May 26, 2016

England's exams regulator is clamping down on the "unfair advantage" gained by some schools which seek high numbers of GCSE and A-level re-marks.
Ofqual is changing its system this summer, so that new marks can only be issued if a "marking error" is found.
Their research shows independent schools seek twice as many GCSE reviews as comprehensive schools request.
But Chris King, chairman of the independent schools body the HMC, called the proposals "unfair".
Most reviews led to slightly higher marks, Ofqual said, penalising pupils from schools which did not ask for re-marks.
It said the change would mean a "level playing field".
Independent schools sought reviews for one in eight A-level grades, more than twice the proportion of state-funded colleges, it added.
Exam boards charge fees of between £20 and £60 per paper to be re-marked, but refund the fee if the grade changes. These costs are borne by the school.

New childcare policy 'could widen the attainment gap' in schools

by TES Connect, May 26, 2016

Increased strain on funding and places could lead to poorer quality provision, report finds
A new policy that will provide working families with 30 hours of free childcare for the under-5s could widen the attainment gap when children start school, a report warns today.

The research from the thinktank CentreForum finds that the policy – being introduced in September 2017 – may mean that children from disadvantaged backgrounds end up with worse, rather than better, access to high-quality early-years education.

Giving working families extra childcare for three- and four-year-olds would create a demand for places which could mean that two-year-olds from poor families who also qualify for free places could be squeezed out of nurseries, the report warns.

Previous experience in providing the 15 free hours that all three- and four-year-olds currently receive shows that underfunding and a lack of places can lead to poor quality provision, it says. To have an impact on attainment upon starting school, early years provision must be of high quality, it adds.

In a foreword to the report, David Laws, the former Lib Dem schools minister who is now CentreForum executive chairman, said: “There is a risk that this policy may widen the attainment gap on entry to school, and cut across initiatives such as the Pupil Premium, which aim to narrow this gap.”

Teacher 'caused' last-minute exam change

by BBC News, May 26, 2016

A teacher who allegedly told students what to expect in the Higher English exam sparked a near-emergency at the exams agency, BBC Scotland can reveal.
One of the Higher English papers was replaced weeks before the exam amid concerns it may have been leaked.
A teacher involved in setting the paper may have given their students too much information, BBC Scotland understands.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said it was carrying out a full investigation.
It compiled a replacement paper as a precaution.
The replacement was sent to schools and exam centres a week before the exam earlier this month. It was compiled much more quickly than usual to meet the urgent deadline.
The SQA gave little information about the specific circumstances which led to the emergency.
The exams body said "unusual" and external" circumstances were to blame.

A third of teacher training places unfilled in Wales

by BBC News, May 26, 2016

A third of secondary school teacher training places were not filled at the start of this academic year, official figures show.
A teaching union said it showed Wales is facing a problem with recruiting new teachers.
Only 553 students started initial secondary teacher training in September 2015 but the official target is 880.
The Welsh Government said the overall teacher vacancy rate "remains very low".
The Ucac teaching union said the figures were "dramatic" and blamed the "out of control" workload as one factor in making the profession less attractive.

Online degree units to cut tuition fees

by BBC News, May 26, 2016

A UK online university network is claiming a "breakthrough moment" with a project which will allow students to cut the cost of a Russell Group degree by studying part of it online.
A Futurelearn online course will provide credits towards a University of Leeds undergraduate degree.
It will mean reducing the time and cost of tuition fees for a full degree.
Futurelearn chairman Peter Horrocks says this will provide the flexibility needed by many students.
The online learning platform, which offers courses from more than 50 universities, was set up in 2013 by the Open University, as a UK provider for so-called Moocs (massive, open, online courses).
'Significant step'
There are 3.7 million students registered for Futurelearn's online courses, but Mr Horrocks says that this latest development represents a "really significant step".
It will allow students to take a University of Leeds online course in Environmental Challenges and, if they pass an exam, to gain credits towards a geography degree at Leeds.

Sturgeon announces school reform summit as part of 'bold' education plan

by BBC News, May 25, 2016

The Scottish government is to convene a "major summit" of education leaders in a bid to close the attainment gap between schools.
Nicola Sturgeon underlined education and the economy as her top priorities in a speech at Holyrood.
The first minister said her ministers aimed for "real and lasting progress towards true equality of opportunity".
Opposition parties said they would work with the government on education, but urged "genuine reform".
Look back on Nicola Sturgeon's address to Holyrood and reaction to it
The FM will be speaking to the BBC's Scotland 2016 programme at 22:30 on BBC Two Scotland
MSPs will also vote later in the day on a motion to extend future sessions of First Minister's Questions to 45 minutes.

Four-year-olds' name-writing ability predicts their later achievement, research finds

by TES Connect, May 25, 2016

Children who can write their name well when they start school perform better than other children at reading and maths later in life, research has found.
The study, by Durham University and published today, shows name-writing ability is a “robust predictor” of later academic ability.

It says that teachers should look at children’s name-writing skills as a way to identify underlying difficulties and offer extra support to those who are struggling.

But it also finds that although there is a correlation, there is no evidence of a causal relationship between children’s ability to write their names and their later academic achievement, so helping children to write their name well will not necessarily determine their future outcomes.

The findings, published in the academic journal Educational Research, show children with longer names do not gain an advantage. Previous studies have suggested that having a longer name was an advantage because it helped children to become familiar with a wider range of letters at a young age.

Dr Lee Copping, assessment developer at Durham University’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring and lead author of the report, said: “This study shows that name-writing ability in the early years is a good predictor of future outcomes in reading and mathematics.

“Teachers should have confidence in using such measures alongside other indicators of attainment in these subject areas to inform their teaching and planning.”

The research was carried out by the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University. The study analysed nearly 15,000 pupils from England, Scotland and Australia. In the English sample, the findings remained the same after controlling for pupils’ socioeconomic status and ethnicity.

Head teachers say cancel primary test results

by BBC News, May 25, 2016

Head teachers are calling on the education secretary to stop the publication of this year's primary school results in England.
They warn of "serious mistakes" in the introduction of changes to tests and say results are too "unpredictable".
This year's primary tests also saw a series of leaks and cancellations.
But the Department for Education said its reforms would "help ensure all children leave primary school having mastered the basics".
Leaders of the National Association of Head Teachers have written an open letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan urging her to cancel the public use of any data from this year's primary tests.
It would mean there would be no primary school league tables, based on the tests taken by 10 and 11 year olds.
The head teachers' union says that individual pupils should be given their results, with warnings to parents about concerns about their reliability, but the results were not robust enough to be used to make comparisons between schools.
Heads are complaining about "inadequate" time to prepare for changes, "obscure guidance" and "massive variations" in how schools approached the tests.
They say that the outcomes of the tests are likely to be so "skewed" that "comparisons between schools become very risky".

Lecturers' pay strike - other staff 'could enter dispute'

by BBC News, May 25, 2016

University lecturers are due to start a two-day strike over pay, amid warnings other staff could join the dispute.
The University and College Union says the 1.1% rise offered by the universities is "an insult".
But the Universities and Colleges Employers Association said the walkout was "disappointing given the very good pay offer".
Unions representing university support staff are balloting on the offer, with strike action possible in the autumn.
Salary squeeze
UCU says its members have suffered a real-terms pay cut of 14.% since 2009 and complains the squeeze on staff salaries has come as university leaders enjoyed hefty increases.
"A 1.1% pay offer is an insult to hardworking staff, especially in light of the 5% pay rise vice-chancellors have enjoyed while holding down staff pay," said general secretary Sally Hunt.
"Industrial action which impacts on students is never taken lightly, but members feel that they have been left with no alternative.
"If the employers wish to see a swift end to this dispute, and avoid further disruption, they need to come back to the table with a much-improved offer."
Summer exams are still running at some universities, though many have finished.
A spokesman for the employers anticipated only "minor impact and minimal student disruption".

Exam board apologises to travel firm over out-of-date AS-level question

by TES Connect, May 24, 2016

Business studies paper included a case study about redundancies and store closures at Thomas Cook, but the information was from 2013
England's biggest school exam board has had to apologise to the travel firm Thomas Cook over a question about the company on one of this year’s AS-level papers.

The AQA AS-level business studies paper, which students took on 19 May, included a case study about plans for store closures and redundancies at the company.

But the firm complained that the exam paper did not make it clear that the information was three years old. It stressed that the case study did not reflect its current situation.

The board has not released the exam paper in question because it avoids publishing recently taken papers so that they can be used as mock exams.

Context needed
An AQA spokeswoman told TES: "We often include real-life case studies in our exams, but we should have made it clear that this one came from three years ago. We’ll make sure we always give this kind of context in the future."

In a statement, the board said: "Our AS-level business studies paper featured a case study about travel company Thomas Cook's plans for store closures and redundancies.

"Thomas Cook has asked us to point out that the information used in this case study was from 2013 and doesn't reflect their current circumstances or plans.

"We're happy to do so and apologise for any misunderstanding."

The Guardian says the second best university for education in the UK is in Belfast

by Belfast Live, May 23, 2016

A Belfast college has been placed second in the Guardian's education league table – behind only Cambridge University.

It's the second time in a row that St Mary's University College on the Fall's Road has been ranked in the top-two.

In the process, St Mary's pipped the prestigious Durham into third with Southampton fourth and Northumbria fifth.

The principal of St Mary’s, Professor Peter Finn, said: "Once again St Mary’s is delighted to be ranked so highly in the Guardian League Tables.

"The tables provide a very good indicator about the quality of the student experience that the College offers those studying education.

"We are very confident that the students who choose St Mary’s for their Initial Teacher Education make an excellent choice."

The University of Ulster was ranked top in the UK for pharmacy and pharmacology with Queen's placed fifth. Queen's came first for dentistry.

In the overall rankings for universities in the UK by the paper, Queen's was placed 48 with Cambridge again coming out on top.