Church schools shun poorest pupils

Church schools shun poorest pupils

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd 5 MARCH 2012

st john's primary school in croydon.

St John’s Church of England primary school in Croydon, south London, has 7% of pupils eligible for free meals. The proportion in the borough is 24%. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

England’s faith state schools are failing to mirror their local communities by shunning the poorest pupils in their area, analysis by the Guardian of the latest government figures shows.

The Roman Catholic church, which has repeatedly insisted its schools are inclusive, comes out particularly badly in the examination of data published by the Department for Education (DfE) last month and in December. Three-quarters of Catholic primary and secondary schools have a more affluent mix of pupils than their local area.

The figures also reveal that most Church of England (CofE) primary schools have an intake that is untypically affluent and more middle-class than a year ago. The findings will fuel claims that faith schools have been picking pupils from well-off families by selecting on the basis of religion.

The Guardian analysed the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals – a key indicator of poverty – in each of England’s 19,534 state, non-selective primary and secondary schools. All schools designated for children with special needs were taken out.

The schools have been grouped according to whether they are affiliated to the CofE, the Catholic church or have no religious character. The number of state-funded Muslim and Jewish schools is too small to form a meaningful group – however, the 11 state-funded Muslim schools in England are collectively more reflective of their community, with 67% of primaries and 60% of secondaries having more than the local authority average of free school meal pupils. The 36 Jewish state schools on average have less representation of pupils on free school meals than their local area. There are many Christian schools connected to other denominations, but the data does not specify which denomination.

The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals in each CofE, Catholic or non-religious school was compared with the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals in their local authority and among all the comparable schools in the same postcode area.

It is well-known that the average proportion of deprived pupils in faith schools is lower than it is for all schools in England. However, it has not until now been clear whether this is a facet of the areas they serve. Our analysis shows for the first time the extent to which faith and non-faith schools reflect – or fail to reflect – the proportion of poor pupils in their area.

The vast majority of Catholic primary and secondary schools fail to mirror the proportion of poor pupils living in their community, the data reveals. The Catholic church has fought successful battles to retain control of admissions to its schools.

Some 73% of Catholic primaries and 72% of Catholic secondaries have a lower proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than the average for the local authority.

It is the same for CofE primary and secondary schools. Some 74% of these primaries and 65.5% of secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is average for the local authority.

In contrast, non-religious schools tend to reflect their neighbourhoods. Half (51%) of non-religious primaries and 45% of non-religious secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is representative for their local authority.

Faith schools fared no better when examined at a more local level. We compared the proportion of poor pupils in each postcode with the proportion of poor pupils in faith schools and non-faith schools studying in that postcode. The data shows 76% of Catholic primaries and 65% of Catholic secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is representative of their postcode. This is the case for 63.5% of CofE primaries and 40% of CofE secondaries.

Non-religious primaries and secondaries are far more likely to mirror the proportion of poor pupils in their postcode – just 47% of non-faith primaries and 29% of non-faith secondaries take a smaller proportion of free school meals than is representative for their postcode.

Anna Vignoles, a professor of the economics of education at the Institute of Education, University of London, said the Guardian’s findings could be explained by the fact that faith schools draw their pupils from their faith communities, which are not necessarily located in the same postcode or area as their school.

A study by Dr Rebecca Allen and Professor Anne West of the Institute of Education and the London School of Economics, published in 2011, showed that middle class parents are more likely to apply to faith schools – and that the admissions procedures there are easier for them to navigate.

Our data also shows that CofE primary schools are increasingly serving the better-heeled in their communities.

Whereas this year 74% of the church’s primaries have a smaller proportion of the poorest pupils than their local authority, the year before 72% did.

At a more local level, the same is the case. This year, 63.5% of the church’s primaries have a smaller proportion of the poorest pupils than their postcode, compared to 60% last year.

Maeve McCormack, policy manager at the Catholic Education Service, said Catholic schools appeared not to reflect their communities in our data because their catchment areas were geographically wider than the postcode or local authority where the schools were situated.

She said separate figures from the DfE showed 18.6% of pupils at Catholic primary schools live in the 10% most deprived areas of England, compared with only 14.3% of primary school pupils nationally. Some 17% of pupils at Catholic schools lived in the 10% most deprived areas compared to 12% of pupils nationally.

The DfE calculates the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals based on how many families apply for this benefit. McCormack said that because there was a “cultural stigma” attached to claiming free school meals, fewer than the expected number of pupils were reported to be on the benefit.

A spokesman for the CofE said local authorities controlled the admissions of more than half its schools. The church rejected the idea that those schools that controlled their own admissions were failing to mirror their local communities.

“The current government agenda to narrow the differential attainment between groups was the priority of the founders of church school education 200 years ago, when providing a basic education for the poor was not seen as a state responsibility,” the spokesman said.

“This remains the driver for all that we continue to do today. That is why the church is the largest sponsor of academies, mostly in deprived areas where the schools had a history of under-performance.

“These academies have opened up new opportunities and new life chances for nearly 45,000 young people, all living in disadvantaged areas – a clear example of the outworking of the church’s mission in education.”

Richy Thompson from the British Humanist Associationsaid the data gave “further cause for concern that allowing religious discrimination within our state system exacerbates socioeconomic inequality as well as being religiously and ethnically divisive”.

He said: “We urge the government to end faith-based selection in all state-funded schools.”

Our analysis found some particularly egregious examples of schools – both Catholic and CofE – that take far fewer numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals than is representative of their area.

In St John’s Church of England primary in Croydon, south London, just 7% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, compared with 29% across the postcode and 24% across the local authority.

Meanwhile, at St James’s Catholic primary school in Richmond, south-west London, only 1% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, compared with 10% across the postcode and local authority.

Michael Gove loses ‘private email’ battle

Michael Gove

Michael Gove loses ‘private email’ battle

BBC |March 2, 2012

Emails sent by Education Secretary Michael Gove from a private account should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, it has been ruled.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said Mr Gove’s messages dealt with departmental business and therefore should be covered by the law.

The ruling follows reports Mr Gove used an account named “Mrs Blurt” to discuss government business with advisers.

The Department for Education (DfE) says it is considering an appeal.

Mr Gove has been resisting the release of information on the grounds that ministers’ personal email accounts are not covered by the act.

A spokesman for Mr Graham’s office said: “The commissioner’s decision is that the information amounted to departmental business and so was subject to Freedom of Information laws, being held on behalf of the Department for Education.

“The department is now required either to disclose the requested information – the subject line of the email and the date and time it was sent – or issue a refusal notice in accordance with the FOI Act giving reasons for withholding it.”

‘Industrial scale evasion’In a statement, the Department for Education said: “We are studying the decision notice issued by the information commissioner and considering an appeal.”

It has 28 days to appeal to the Information Tribunal against the decision.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information said the commissioner’s decision had closed off two “potentially vast loopholes” which would have allowed “industrial scale evasion” of the Freedom of Information Act.

“The commissioner has made it clear that government business carried out via private email accounts is subject to FOI -otherwise all departmental business would have switched to Hotmail accounts,” it said, in a statement.

“Information about ‘political’ discussions is also covered by the act, contrary to the department’s claims.”

The allegations surfaced last September in the Financial Times, which claimed information was being kept away from DfE civil servants and the public.

It quoted an email from one of Mr Gove’s special advisers, Dominic Cummings, which reportedly said he would not answer emails to his official department account, but only those sent to a Gmail account and urged the recipients to do likewise.

At the time, the Department for Education responded, saying the emails concerned the 2011 Conservative Party spring conference rather than government business.

Following the newspaper reports, the information commissioner urged Mr Gove to stop his officials using private emails for government business and warned him the use of private emails and texts should be “actively discouraged”.

Children denied joy of nature, says National Trust

Family outdoors

Children denied joy of nature, says National Trust

BBC |March 5, 2012

Children are being denied the enjoyment of the outdoors and nature with consequences for their health, the head of the National Trust has warned.

Dame Fiona Reynolds told the Times the freedom of children to roam unsupervised had shrunk massively since the 1970s.

She blamed nervousness and technology, adding that the creep of urban sprawl had destroyed safe places to play.

She called for children to be taught outside on a weekly basis.

‘Very anxious’Trust chief executive Dame Fiona said: “Children are missing out on the sheer joy and physical and mental well-being of being able to play outside and experience nature in all its messiness.

“It’s partly technology and it’s partly a sort of nervousness. The freedom for children to roam unsupervised has shrunk by 90% since the 1970s.

“The world is a different place and people have become very anxious about the risks – real or perceived.”

She called on schools to take the initiative and to change the way they teach children.

“The world is changing. It is more recognised now that some of these more innovative ways of teaching are just as effective for literacy and numeracy as sitting in the classroom in a very structured way.”

The trust, which has nearly four million members, believes the cloistered upbringing of children could be harmful.

It cites figures that shows children are three times more likely to hurt themselves falling out of bed than by falling out of a tree.

Dame Fiona added that children needed to take risks and that it was wrong to apply health and safety culture to the countryside.

“It’s a matter of knowing where the risks are but not trying to wipe them away,” she added.

Schools concerned about child neglect

Schools concerned about child neglect

The Guardian World News 5 MARCH 2012

School in south-east London - anonymous

Schools are concerned that cuts to services will mean more children will be vulnerable. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

We are walking across the bright, airy atrium of a newly refurbished Victorian primary in south London. A little girl reading with a parent volunteer looks up and waves enthusiastically; the headteacher, my tour guide, grins and waves back.

The school’s positive atmosphere belies the difficulties that some of its pupils face. Half of students here are eligible for free school meals and 37 languages are spoken – “which I think is incredibly enriching”, says the head.

The headteacher – let’s call him Mr Smith, as he has asked us not to identify his school – is about to introduce me to the manager of the school’s child protection and family services unit. Smith started to fund in-school family support just over two years ago, he explains, because he felt there was not enough intervention by social services. He and his staff felt some of the children were showing signs of neglect that needed to be dealt with here and now, and that the level of need a child had to be experiencing before social services would take action was unacceptably high.

In this school, judged “outstanding” by Ofsted, identifying and dealing with instances of neglect before they escalate is a high priority. The team – whose members have expertise in child protection, family support and early years development –focuses on issues many would think the responsibility of the local authority. This head believes the resource, deployed across his federation of four primaries, is probably still not enough to protect all his pupils from neglect and abuse.

“What frightens me is I think we’re barely scratching the surface here, and that’s with our heightened awareness and due diligence,” he says.

Neglect is hard to define. The school’s deputy head recalls her dismay when a child arrived midway through the year “really struggling with eating”. On investigation, it turned out his mother had never weaned him, instead crushing biscuits into milk and“still bottle-feeding him at four years old”.

Even with the exceptional on-site expertise now in place, she is“always worried that you’ll miss somebody”.

“It can be little things,” says Clare, a reception teacher,“that they’re hungry every time they come into school, or eating crisps again. Very often it’s non-verbal signs – appearance, the way they smell sometimes. We don’t do homework, but if the family activities are never completed; if the reading diary is never filled in; if there’s a stream of different people picking them up, even older siblings; all this stuff would pick up on my radar.”

It’s not just physical signs and symptoms that teachers need to watch out for, however, says Joanne, who manages the special unit.“I spent eight years doing early years before I did family work,”she explains, “and I think teachers need a very strong understanding of early years development because it’s integral to recognising neglect. If a child is not meeting milestones, it’s a sign that they may have experienced neglect in the past.”

The children’s commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson, is so concerned about how abuse and neglect are addressed in schools that she has commissioned research into how primaries are dealing with child protection concerns. New guidelines based on the findings will be published this autumn.

Physical and sexual abuse may have a high profile, but “neglect is not a softer issue”, emphasises Shaun Kelly, head of safeguarding at Action for Children (A4C).

News coverage of the worst cases underlines his point –children who suffer from acute and sustained neglect can die. But even where it doesn’t have such desperate outcomes, neglect can cause profound damage to children as they grow up. An NSPCC study published last year shows that 10% of 11- to 17-year-olds had suffered from severe neglect.

Research carried out by the University of Stirling for A4C shows that although teachers and nursery staff are becoming more aware of neglect, they often feel unsure what to do when they suspect it is happening.

The study, Child Neglect in 2011, found that four out of five professionals in universal services – including primary schoolteachers, pre-school and nursery staff – have suspected children of being neglected, and 55% of primary and 46% of pre-school and nursery staff said “the most helpful improvement in tackling child neglect would be if they were able to report less serious suspicions before they became worse”.

If a child comes into class bruised or with a cigarette burn, it’s easy to see there’s a potential problem. But neglect manifests over time, and often in subtle ways. Teachers may feel reluctant to report the small things that worry them if they don’t feel confident their concerns will be taken seriously at senior level. They can also be anxious about getting it wrong.

The emotional and practical demands on teachers, even with good support, can be considerable. Orla, a year 2 teacher at the school, says she spent much of last year in almost daily contact with the specialist team because of one child who had “lots of issues”. She points out that eliciting information can be more complex when a child reaches an age where “they become aware that if they tell you things, things can happen [to their family]”.

In this school, having expert staff available takes the strain of making a difficult judgment call away from teachers and means the information is shared with experienced people who know what to do.

Stopping neglect from escalating by being “pre-emptive and active” has become the priority, says Joanne. Every new member of staff gets a 90-minute session on safeguarding. “We also do an inset dedicated to safeguarding every year, and we take people through a case scenario, explain how it was handled and then we’ll talk about what might have been done differently.”

A robust reporting system is also vital for prevention and for building an evidence base for referrals. There are pink slips that teachers can fill in and hand to Joanne or her team. Staff feel that it is worth reporting the observations that niggle but don’t necessarily shout “neglect”, explains Clare. “If they are getting five or six or 10 of those pink slips for a child, or for siblings, she can start to build up a picture,” she says.

With deep cuts affecting many services such as breakfast clubs and play schemes that might once have picked up on a family struggling to cope, this school-based resource is all the more crucial, says Joanne’s colleague, Emma. The team offers intensive coaching to adults who may not have experienced good parenting themselves. They also put on sessions open to all, such as Parent Gym and the Family and Schools Together programme, to build trust between staff and parents.

Early intervention, which can be done not just by social workers, but potentially in schools, should be a statutory requirement in cases of neglect, says Kelly. He points out that its cost-effectiveness has been proved, and “with resources reducing rapidly, you’re more likely to resource what your statutory duties are”.

Because of the school’s work, its local authority referral rates have dropped, but both Joanne and Emma are angry that social services are so stretched that the “thresholds” at which any action is taken are continually, they say, being raised.

The A4C research shows that a large number of social workers are worried about how neglect is dealt with – more than 40% felt that the point at which they were able to intervene in cases was too late, and 80% thought that cuts to services would make the situation worse. More than half said that for children whose cases meet current thresholds, lack of resources was a barrier to them being able to act effectively.

“It’s desperate … I’m sure the local authority wouldn’t like me to say that, but desperate, that’s what it is,” says Joanne. She points out that making the case to social services that a child is being neglected can be much harder than reporting other types of abuse, because neglect tends to be a slow-burn, corrosive narrative rather than a single, extreme incident. Having to convince an administrative officer staffing the phones, rather than a qualified social worker, does not, she says, help matters to progress quickly.

At the University of Stirling, Professor Brigid Daniel, who supervised the A4C research, says she was struck by the extent of the safeguarding role teachers take on.

“People are quite clear that they do have responsibility,” she says. “There was a lot of anxiety around neglect … but people also know that underlying it is a bigger concern – you’re trying to stem a tide caused by much bigger issues, such as mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse.”

“I think you should take ultimate responsibility,” says the south London head. “Schools are the frontline, and not just when things go wrong, but all the time, proactively and not just responsively.”

• All names of those working in the primary school have been changed

More than a third of schools judged not good enough

chemistry lesson

More than a third of schools judged not good enough

BBC March 6, 2012

More than a third of schools in England were rated not good enough by the schools watchdog, Ofsted, during the last three months of 2011.

Figures published on Tuesday, showed 6% of the schools inspected were inadequate and 31% were satisfactory.

Ofsted wants to change “satisfactory” to “requires improvement”.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said inspectors visited lower achieving schools more often which skewed the figures.

The figures showed that 46% of the 1,679 state schools inspected late last year were deemed good and 18% were outstanding.

But ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said Ofsted currently does not inspect outstanding schools regularly and only inspects good schools once every five years.

“Given the skewed sample, we should be celebrating the fact that two thirds of these schools are now rated good or outstanding”,said Mr Lightman.

School effectivenessIn its summary of the figures, Ofsted said there was a strong relationship between the overall effectiveness of schools and the inspectors’ judgement on the quality of teaching.

Of the 294 schools rated outstanding, 88% were found to have good or outstanding teaching.

Last month, Ofsted’s new chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said schools should only be rated outstanding if their teaching was outstanding.

In his first major speech, Sir Michael pledged to review the status of the quarter of outstanding schools where teaching did not reach the highest standard.

He said there needed to be “clear and demanding criteria” for a school to be judged outstanding or good and added: “We have tolerated mediocrity for too long”.

Teaching unions accused him of “trashing the school system”.

More graduates in low skilled jobs, figures suggest

Mortar boards

More graduates in low skilled jobs, figures suggest

BBC 7 MARCH 2012

By Judith  Burns Education reporter, BBC News

Mr Barber said a lack of quality jobs had forced people with degrees into lower-skilled jobs. He said the government should focus on boosting high value industries such as manufacturing.

“Otherwise public investment in education and the talents of graduates will continue to be wasted,” he added.

Best paid

The study also calculates the typical wage of graduates aged between 21 and 64 to be just over £15 an hour – easily outstripping the average earnings of just under £9 an hour for non-graduates.

The figures  suggest that the best-paid graduates of all ages are those with degrees in medicine and dentistry, earning an average of more than £21 an hour.

The lowest-paid graduates are those with degrees in the arts and humanities, who earn on average around £12 an hour.

The figures indicate that graduates are less likely to be unemployed than the rest of the available workforce.

At the end of 2011, the proportion of graduates of all ages who were in work stood at 86%, compared with 72.3% for non-graduates.

But the report says that since the recession began in 2008, the employment prospects of recent graduates have become more limited.

Twice as many new graduates were out of work at the end of last year as in 2008.

But the figures suggest that the employment prospects of new graduates may be improving slowly.

At the end of last year 18.9% of new graduates were out of work, compared with 20.5% at the peak of the recent recession.

The figures are also better than in the recession in the 1990s, when unemployment for new graduates peaked at 26.9% in 1993.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: “A degree remains a good investment in the long term and is one of the best pathways to a good job and a rewarding career.

“Graduates, like everybody else, are facing tough times but the evidence shows they fare better than non-graduates and their prospects tend to pick up quicker during the recovery.”

Carl Gilleard of the Association of Graduate Recruiters advised graduates to see any experience in the workplace as a valuable stepping stone towards their longer-term career goals.

Libby Hackett, director of University Alliance, called for universities to make the case for more higher education places as, despite the recession, the number of graduate vacancies continues to grow as a proportion of the total workforce

Further education colleges awarded 10,000 degree student places – Education

Further education colleges awarded 10,000 degree student places – Education

The Guardian World News by Jeevan Vasagar 7 March 2012

Newham College

Newham College was among those awarded undergraduate student places. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

More than 10,000 undergraduate student places for this autumn have been awarded to further education colleges under government reforms that are encouraging the growth of a low-cost alternative to traditional universities.

A total of 20,000 places have been stripped from higher education institutions in England and auctioned off to universities and colleges charging average tuition feesof £7,500 or less this year.

About 9,600 have gone to 35 universities, of which the biggest winners were Anglia Ruskin, London Met, Nottingham Trent and Staffordshire. But more than half of the places have gone to further education colleges, including Hartpury College in Gloucester, Newham College, east London, and Newcastle College.

Universities can charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 from this September. The creation of a margin of 20,000 student places open only to cheaper institutions was intended to create pressure to bring fees down.

In December, 24 universities and one FE college brought down their average fees in order to bid for student places from the margin.

Announcing the reforms last year, the universities minister, David Willetts, said there would be “pressure for quality and value for money” on universities.

Nick Davy, higher education policymanager with the Association of Colleges, said: “The quality of college bids through the core and margin system has led to an allocation of around 10,500 additional full-time student numbers for the sector – an increase of 25% on present numbers.”

However, Davy said a number of universities had also withdrawn undergraduate places they had previously extended on a franchise basis to local FE colleges.

He said: “This figure is brought down substantially by the practice of universities withdrawing indirect student numbers from the sector. AoC estimates that the growth in entrant numbers actually is nearer to 7%, a long way from the government’s intention to significantly support degree-level growth in the college sector.

“There needs to be a considerable increase in margin places to achieve the government aim of creating a more cost-effective and accessible HE sector.”

The coalition’s higher education reforms also allow institutions to expand to take on more students who achieve grades AAB or higher at A-level. The government estimates this will cover about 65,000 students in this summer’s exam season. This is expected mainly to benefit elite universities.

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