News Updates

Take a look at what's been happening in the world of education and health and safety since our last issue...

44% of Teachers in England Say They Will Quit in the Next Five Years

A poll by the National Education Union (NEU) shows almost half of teachers in England plan to quit within the next five years.

The survey of 1,788 teachers revealed that 22% said they would leave within two years, citing an unmanageable workload as the key reason. Concerns about the level of trust in teachers from the public and government were also a significant factor. Pay and accountability were also flagged as reasons to consider leaving.

Almost 70% of staff reported they were stressed at least 60% of the time, with one teacher reporting that stretched staffing had left staff “close to burnout”.

Teachers said schools were finding it difficult to fill vacancies, leading to increased pressure on staff. 73% reported the issue had got worse since the start of the pandemic.

One of the teachers polled said that “everything is pared to the bone. We have increased leadership responsibilities but our time to carry this out has been axed,” they added. “Classes are covered by teaching assistants on a regular basis, as if this is perfectly satisfactory.”

66% of secondary school teachers said the issue of vacant teaching assistant and support staff posts had worsened since March 2020. One teacher said there were “far too few” teaching assistants and they were being asked to cover classes more than ever before.

Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the NEU, said “We remain a profession with amongst the highest number of unpaid working hours, and we are still well above the international average for hours worked by teachers. This is simply unsustainable and can only lead to burnout.”

She added; “Our survey findings show that whether it be recruitment targets missed, talented teachers leaving the profession, the pernicious effects of a punitive and deeply flawed inspection system, or the effect of real-terms cuts to pay over many years, a national policy decision is always the villain of the piece.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressure that staff in schools and colleges have been under and are enormously grateful to them for their efforts, resilience, and service now and throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Teaching remains an attractive and fulfilling profession. The number of teachers in our schools remains high, with more than 461,000 teachers working in schools across the country – 20,000 more than in 2010. We have taken and will continue to take action to improve teacher and leader workload and wellbeing, working proactively with the sector to understand the drivers behind such issues and improve our policies and interventions.”

The Labour Party Claim School Budgets are Being Overstretched Due to Rising Heating Costs

The Labour Party said that school energy bills had doubled over the past year according to their analysis of data from the House of Commons Library and has urged the Government to ensure pupils did not miss out on opportunities because of rising costs. Labour’s shadow schools minister, Stephen Morgan said: “Children have already faced huge disruption due to the Government’s chaotic handling of the pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis, made worse by Downing Street, is further squeezing school budgets. Ministers must get a grip and engage with schools to ensure children do not lose out on further opportunities."

“Labour is calling on the Government to prioritise children’s learning and development post-pandemic, with breakfast and afterschool clubs, tutoring and mental health support.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Rising energy costs are a huge concern for school leaders. Labour’s analysis shows bills doubled in 2021, which was hard enough, but the massive hikes we’re hearing about so far this year dwarf that. Like every household and business, schools are facing rises in energy costs that could cripple their budgets, budgets that are already stretched to breaking point. The Government needs to remember that every penny diverted to paying increased energy bills is a penny that can’t be spent on children’s learning and wellbeing. It is pupils that could suffer if they don’t take action to help.”

Business leadership specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, Hayley Dunn said that Labour was “certainly right to throw the spotlight on how energy costs spiralling upwards will further squeeze school and college budgets which have been under significant and continual pressure for many years. Education leaders are used to having to make difficult decisions on spending in order to remain financially stable. That was happening well before the current energy crisis and the grave state of the gas and electricity markets will be creating greater uncertainty.” A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We recognise schools may be facing cost pressures in the coming months, particularly where energy prices have increased, and we are looking carefully at how these rises will impact schools and considering what additional support we could offer. Cost increases should be seen in the wider context of funding for schools. In 2022-23, core schools funding will increase by £4 billion compared to 2021-22 – a 7% cash terms per pupil boost – and this will help schools to meet wider cost pressures, including energy prices. All schools can access a range of tools to help them get the best value from their resources, including recommended deals for energy costs and services related to energy.”

Ofsted Report: Strong Signs of Recovery Across Education, But Challenges Remain

Ofsted has recently published the second report in a series looking at the pandemic’s continued impact on education providers. Drawing on evidence from around 280 inspections and multiple focus groups with inspectors the report endeavours to understand how early years, schools, further education and skills, and prison education providers are responding to ongoing issues, and the approaches they are taking to help children and learners catch up.

Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said: “We have seen lots of really good work across early years, schools and further education this term. Most providers are using effective catch-up strategies to spot gaps in children and learners’ knowledge and skills and help get them back to where they need to be. In many cases, those gaps have closed altogether. And we’ve also seen promising improvements in children’s well-being and behaviour. But elsewhere concerns remain, and it’s clear that the pandemic has created some lingering challenges. I’m particularly worried about younger children’s development, which, if left unaddressed, could potentially cause problems for primary schools down the line.”

The report finds that the pandemic has continued to affect young children’s communication and language development, with many providers noticing delays in speech and language. Others said babies have struggled to respond to basic facial expressions, which may be due to reduced social interaction during the pandemic. The negative impact on children’s personal, social and emotional development has also continued, with many lacking confidence in group activities.

Children’s social and friendship-building skills have been affected. Some providers reported that toddlers and pre-schoolers needed more support with sharing and turn-taking. To address this, staff were providing as many opportunities as possible for children to mix with others and build confidence in social situations.

Many providers reported difficulties retaining high-quality staff since the start of the pandemic. This has left some short of skilled practitioners, which has affected the quality of teaching and catch-up strategies. Some providers are concerned about their long-term sustainability given fluctuations in numbers of children on roll.

In schools, the pandemic continued to hinder pupils’ learning and personal development into this year. Leaders still described gaps in pupils’ knowledge, particularly in mathematics, phonics and writing stamina. However, compared with last term, more leaders said these gaps were closing.

The pandemic’s impact on some pupils’ mental health and well-being remained a concern. Leaders talked about pupils having lower levels of resilience and confidence, and increased levels of anxiety. Many schools were providing in-house support for these pupils because external agencies often had long wait times. This has been particularly challenging for special schools, who rely on a lot of support from other agencies.

Staff absence related to COVID-19 was a challenge for schools in the spring term, which was exacerbated by difficulties recruiting supply teachers. This resulted in increased staff workloads, as schools used their own staff to cover lessons.

The disruption to GCSEs experienced by the newest intake of learners had adversely affected behaviours and attitudes. Providers reported that social skills and confidence had dwindled, and more disruptive behaviour was observed.

The recruitment and retention of staff was challenging for many providers. In some cases, this had impacted on the quality of education and increased staff workloads.

Mental health concerns remained high. New learners who had enrolled from school were experiencing higher levels of exam anxiety. Providers were offering additional support to help learners increase their stamina and prepare for formal examinations.

An increased number of COVID-19 outbreaks has led to staff absences at all levels, including managers, who have had to turn their hand to operational issues. This has meant that leadership activities, such as planning for an effective curriculum and assuring the quality of education, have been neglected.

New Ofsted Inspection System Requires Pupils to Face Questions Without Prior Notice

Under a new inspection framework, schools are at risk of being marked down if pupils fail to adequately recall or articulate details of subjects and topics they have been taught sometimes years before when given an impromptu “pop quiz” by inspectors.

Schools are being judged under a new framework introduced in 2019, which focuses more on teaching and the curriculum. Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector of education, has said that she expects the number of outstanding schools, currently one in five, to be cut by half under the new regime.

As part of the framework, inspectors conduct “deep dives” in four to six subjects to explore planning, teaching and the impact on pupils’ learning. This involves inspectors asking randomly chosen pupils about what they have learned to test what they know and have retained.

Inspection reports refer to “gaps in pupils’ knowledge and understanding” and cite instances of pupils not able to remember or articulate taught content or who display “shallow” or “disjointed” understanding. Schools say too much weight is being given to these responses. The Ofsted handbook says inspectors must take “a rounded view” of the quality of education and use a variety of types of evidence in their judgments. Coalway Community Infant School, in the Forest of Dean, was downgraded from “outstanding” to “requires improvement”, following an instance where pupils, who are aged up to seven, could not “order important events in history as they have gaps in their knowledge”. Ian Hartwright, senior policy adviser at the National Association of Head Teachers, said; “I’ve had an example come across my desk last week where a school is absolutely convinced that they meet the criteria for outstanding but they were tripped up because children were asked about something they learnt in a previous year in design technology and they weren’t able to remember."

Outstanding schools that were, up until recently, exempt from routine inspection are now being visited.

Ofsted Chief Slams Unregistered Schools

Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman, speaking after a report that they could be given new powers to enter illegal schools and close them, described conditions "you wouldn’t want to put a dog in, let alone a child" in some unregistered schools. She added that these schools are often run by people from “very separate communities”, including religious ones, who view the separation as “extremely important”. She went on to describe how “overwhelmingly” unregistered schools are “of very poor quality”.

The Sunday Times reported that Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi is set to legislate to make it easier for inspectors to turn up to these premises unannounced and gather evidence.

When asked about the number of unregistered schools in the UK, Ms Spielman told Times Radio: “It’s hard to get an idea of the scale precisely because these aren’t registered schools, but we’ve visited several hundred now. And the likely number of children being educated in unregistered establishments is probably into tens of thousands, rather (than) still in single-digit thousands. Children in these schools are often growing up simply ignorant of so much that we expect all children to know to be able to fit into British society as adults.”

Ms Spielman added: “Of course, they won’t fix everything, and just to put it in context, I think nobody contemplated when the legislation around schools was put in, that somebody would want to carry on running a school illegally after it had been pointed out to them that they needed to register and comply with the law.”

She said that unregistered schools have “existed for longer than most people realise”, and have “certainly grown in recent years. There are five schools so far that have been prosecuted for running illegally, and in four of those, the children were claimed to be being educated by their parents at home but were in fact in an illegal school. So a proportion of that number is going to be in illegal schools. The wider estimates of how many children are not in school, how many children are designated as electively home-educated, has grown very significantly in recent years. It’s estimated to be something like 115,000 at the moment, and of those, a proportion are actually in illegal schools.”

“Children in these schools are often growing up simply ignorant of so much that we expect all children to know to be able to fit into British society as adults, to have enough knowledge of the world around them and to be able to make the adult choices that we all have to make about how we want to live our adult lives.”

She added: “Children are often getting a really bad education there. They’re often being taught by unqualified staff who haven’t been DBS-checked, who really shouldn’t be teaching children."

Builders Warned to Prioritise Electrical Safety Following Increase in Cable Strikes

Data from electricity distributor UK Power Networks, which covers London, the South East and East of England, has revealed that 23% of cable-damage incidents in 2021 involved building work – the highest incidence rate among the trades. It warned that construction workers could be at risk of serious harm when carrying out cable-related building activities, or when using equipment such as lifting equipment, ladders, pneumatic drills and other hand tools.

UK Power Networks safety adviser Ros Forbes said: “Working as a builder near our networks, whether they be underground cables, overhead lines or electricity substations, can place employers and employees at risk of serious injury if the risks are not properly considered.”

According to the Health and Safety Executive, three construction workers died from the handling of electricity between April and December 2021, making it the second major cause of workplace death, after falls from height.

Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry said that building sites are “dangerous environments”, especially where live cables are present, urging builders to keep abreast of the latest safety guidelines on working with live wires.

UK Power Networks have reiterated that it was essential for builders to plan ahead for cable safety on site. Other recommendations include using cable detectors on walls and roofs, marking cables clearly, disconnecting wires before demolition work, and communicating with fellow workers about the location of cables.

The First Schools White Paper in Six Years

March 2022’s schools white paper for England is the first in six years and is set against a backdrop of pandemic disruption and ‘learning loss’ for many, especially disadvantaged and vulnerable children.

The policy paper, Opportunity for all: strong schools with great teachers for your child, is wide-ranging, proposing changes to how schools are managed and run, the length of the school week, the standards pupils should achieve in English and maths, and many other areas

Just over half of all pupils now attend academies rather than maintained schools. According to the white paper, the Government now wants all schools to be part of a “strong trust” by 2030, or be in the process of forming, or joining one, by then.

Academisation has always attracted strong views, with some seeing opportunities for autonomy and school-led collaboration, while others question whether it improves standards. Under the current plans, the Government says local authorities would be able to establish MATs in areas where there’s a shortage of strong ones – albeit with limits on their level of involvement in trust boards.

By 2030, the Government wants 90% of children to achieve expected standards in English reading, writing and maths by the end of primary school. Children in year six (aged 10 or 11) are tested and assessed on these subjects via SATs. In 2019, the last year when SATs took place owing to the pandemic, 65% of pupils achieved the expected standard. 90% would therefore be a significant increase – especially given pandemic-related disruption to education. There will also be other measures, including a new parent pledge to ensure parents whose children are falling behind receive information, and the pupils get targeted help.

The Government also wants the average grade in English language and maths GCSE to rise to 5, a ‘strong pass’ – according to the Department for Education (DfE), it was 4.5 in 2019, the last year in which exams were held. Under the new numeric grading system for GCSEs in England introduced for pupils taking exams from summer 2017, 9 is the highest grade, and 1, is the lowest.

The white paper foresees a “richer, longer” school week, with an expectation that all mainstream state-funded schools are open for a minimum of 32.5 hours per week by September 2023. This equates to six hours and 30 minutes per day, on average. Some evidence suggests a longer school day may lead to more learning, but DfE surveys estimate most schools are already open, on average, for six hours and 15 minutes per day, or longer. Some have therefore questioned whether this ambition will lead to much real change.

The white paper also covers several other areas, including school admissions; behaviour, attendance and absence; oversight, accountability, and intervention; curriculum support; and teacher and school leader development. In the same week, the Government also published a long-awaited review of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). These proposals are not covered in this paper but will be explored in another Library publication.

This briefing doesn’t aim to cover all schools' white paper proposals in equal detail. It highlights key areas and those that have generated the most debate, so far.

To fund implementation, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has pointed to the recent DfE Spending Review settlement, which has increased core school funding through to 2024/25, and dedicated education recovery funding now standing at around £5 billion.

Inevitably, there have been questions about whether this is enough, especially given inflation rates, and expected increases to newly qualified teacher starting salaries. There are also ongoing debates about whether education recovery funding is being targeted and spent appropriately.

Read the full report here.

Police Issue Alert About 'Huggy Wuggy' TikTok Craze Sweeping Schools

Dorset police reported that Year 1 children, after watching terrifying TikTok videos of a creepy killer teddy bear named 'Huggy Wuggy', had been seen acting out the razor-toothed bear's actions in the school playground. In the popular TikTok videos, the blue bear-like character sings about "hugging and killing" and invites viewers to "take their last breath".

Dorset Police said '"the blue bear-like character has long arms and rows of razor sharp teeth. Set in an abandoned toy factory, Huggy is a villain in the game who stalks the players from vents and unreachable places. Videos of the game are available to watch on YouTube, with other clips dedicated to Huggy in songs. One song includes the lyrics "I could hug you here forever, till you breathe your last breath together."

Chris Conroy, cyber protection officer for Dorset Police said: "There are videos people have made, songs people have made, and it's popping up all over YouTube and Tik Tok using this quite graphic imagery of this bear-like character with razor sharp teeth. It's based around jump scares and things you certainly wouldn't want children exposed to. If you were to use even YouTube Kids for example, it may slip through because there is nothing obviously sinister about the name of a video."

Rhia Fearn, a 35-year-old mother of two, from Etwall, Derbyshire, said "I was asking him questions about whether he was a goodie, and he was adamant "no he's a baddie and he kills people". That was really contradictory for me because I thought "that can't be right - he's called Huggy Wuggy. He said children at school had been talking about it and one of his friends has been watching it. He told me Huggy Wuggy kills everyone he meets and he's not nice, he's a baddie and he's very mean. I believe it's accessible on Youtube and it's really frightening that this Huggy Wuggy has snuck in under my radar as a parent and infiltrated my child's mind without me even being aware. It's really frightening as a lot of parents will be oblivious to this level of violence our children are being exposed to."

In 2019, the viral 'Momo challenge' led to warnings that children were being encouraged to kill themselves or commit violent acts after receiving messages on the messaging service WhatsApp from users with a profile picture of a distorted image of a woman with bulging eyes.

Justine Brown, headteacher at Deal Parochial Church of England Primary School in Walmer, Kent, has also warned parents to stay vigilant. She said "We are seeing children recreating a game on the playground with hugging and whispering nasty things. It is a very deceiving character, as hugs should be seen as something kind and loving, and because of its cute name, it can infiltrate firewalls and filters. Please be vigilant about what your children are watching.'"