British society is in serious need of higher levels of religious literacy. The potential for misunderstanding, stereotyping and oversimplification based on ignorance is huge – and schools have a big part to play in putting this right.
Religion has dramatically changed in Britain. Fewer people profess Christianity, more profess a post-Christian spirituality, humanism or atheism, while Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish communities assert themselves in public and seek to play a role in shaping policies.
Yet the degree of understanding of these faith actors and of religion in general is low. The need for investment in religious literacy is one of the main themes of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life (CORAB), which has just published a report called Living With Difference – in which I was involved as a member of the steering group. As religious literacy and experience of diversity begins at school, we have recommended some changes to the place of religion in state education.
We now have the education policies of all the main parties in this election. Some of them have been summarised for The Conversation: Tories, Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, and Plaid Cymru. How do they compare? Which policies, if any, provide the best hope for better schools?
A full comparison of all the policy components is obviously not possible in about 600 words, so I have picked three key aspects here: school funding, school turnaround, and teachers. This leaves out admissions, accountability, curriculum and qualifications, pay, provision for the 16-19 age bracket and many other important issues.
In most public services, perhaps the key issue is the level of funding. In schools, that over-riding emphasis is absent. The basic facts are that Labour and Tories promise about the same, around a 9% – 10% cut in real per-pupil terms over the parliament. The Lib Dems promise a bit more funding , and the Greens a whole lot more. Does money matter for schools? In one sense, obviously it does – people’s jobs are at risk with budget cuts, and tight budgets make life a lot harder for Headteachers. And yet whether money matters for pupil attainment is much less clear. While there is evidence on both sides, possibly the majority of researchers in this field would agree that increases in a school’s resources are unlikely to have a major effect on attainment. So some difference in policy but maybe not much that will hugely affect attainment.
Justin Dillon, Professor of Science and Environmental Education, Head of Graduate School of Education
Ed Miliband’s pledge that Labour, if elected, would limit school classes for five, six and seven-year-olds to 30 pupils reignites a core question about how best to spend money to improve education.
In making this a plank of Labour’s emerging manifesto, Miliband blames the coalition government and, in particular, the former education secretary Michael Gove, for a trebling of the number of primary pupils in classes with more than 30 children from 31,265 in 2010 to 93,345 in 2014.
Labour’s policy – which echoes a pledge by Tony Blair in 1997 – might appeal to parents and teachers, but it is also backed by evidence that smaller class sizes do help push up attainment in the first years of primary school.
Being able to communicate effectively in a foreign language is a challenge faced by many of us. If you’re a newcomer to a country, conveying a message in a language that is not your mother tongue is often necessary to access vital services, perform well on the job, achieve good grades and integrate into society. But it’s possible that speakers of different native languages face different challenges in making themselves easily understood.
It will get easier. Shrug via PathDoc/shutterstock
In new research comparing the speaking performances of 60 adult learners of English from four different language groups: Chinese, Hindi/Urdu, Romance languages (French/Spanish) and Farsi, we found dramatic differences between how their use of language determines how understandable they are.
There is increasing interest in the role of bystanders in preventing gender-based violence. You the Man is a 35 minute theatre- production combined with workshop that promotes bystander engagement addressing the themes of: promoting equal and respectful relationships between men and women; promoting non-violent social norms and reducing the effects of prior exposure to violence (especially on children); and improving access to resources and systems of support. The project has been used internationally in the fields of education, workplaces, local government, health and community services and the community.
Michael Gove and David Laws justified their decision to restructure A-level examinations on the basis of a flawed piece of statistical research, claiming that the absence of AS-level grades for university applicants would not harm the admissions process. Ron Johnston, Richard Harris, Tony Hoare, Kelvyn Jones and David Manley of the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol have re-examined the data and reached a contrary conclusion: without AS-Levels, late developers – which may include many from educationally-disadvantaged backgrounds – could well have their potential to succeed on a degree course at a prestigious university not recognised.
In 2013 the former UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove, and his Minister of State, David Laws, decided to change the A-Level qualifications taken by English and Welsh post-16 students with academic aspirations. Most of those students currently take GCSE examinations at age 16, in eight or more subjects. In the first post-compulsory year they are examined in four subjects leading to the award of AS-level grades followed, a year later, by exams in three or all four of them for A2 qualifications. The AS and A2 marks are combined to form an A-Level grade.
A body of evidence has shown that screen-viewing (watching TV, using the internet, playing games consoles) is associated with adverse health effects such as increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity among adults. Recent research has also shown that screen-viewing is associated with adverse health effects among children and adolescents such as increased risk of obesity, higher cholesterol levels and poorer mental well-being. Collectively these findings indicate that there is a need to understand children and adolescent’s levels and patterns of screen-viewing among children and adolescents and identify ways in which the screen-viewing levels of children can be reduced. To date the bulk of this work has focussed on older-aged primary school aged children and adolescents with a lack of information about the screen-viewing patterns of younger children. This gap is important because previous work has shown that screen-viewing patterns are established in early life and then track through childhood into adulthood. Thus, there is a need to examine levels of screen-viewing among children at the start of primary school and the key factors that are associated with these patterns.
Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are quickly finding themselves at the sharp end of global climate change, yet they often get overlooked when it comes to international policy deliberations and decisions. So, why should we listen, and what can we learn?
At the Education in Small States Research Group in the Graduate School of Education (GSoE), our recent research focuses upon the educational policy priorities of Commonwealth small states, and others with populations of up to 1.5 million. There are 32 of these states within the Commonwealth alone, generally concentrated in the Caribbean and Pacific regions, but with some additional members such as Botswana and Namibia. These states often share common factors such as isolation, remoteness, and susceptibility to natural disaster shock, but they are extremely diverse in terms of their cultures, languages, human development indicators and gross domestic product (GDP).
Emma Bent, Visiting Fellow, Graduate School of Education
Educational policy and documentation concerned with reading and literacy over the last 40 years has altered dramatically. The Bullock Report, a comprehensive review of reading and the use of English in the 1970s, recognised the linguistic diversity that exists within the English language. Crucially, it also recognised the strong sense of identity and belonging, both geographically and socially, that such dialects provide their speakers with. More recently, The Cox Report and The National Curriculum have moved away from such a sociolinguistic perspective and prioritised Standard English over other dialects.
Simon Burgess, Professor of Economics & Director of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation
In these hard times, spending government money effectively is more important than ever. Last week Fraser Nelson challenged the effectiveness of spending in schools, one of the areas relatively protected from Coalition cuts. He said: “The biggest surprise, though, was the money: no matter how you split the figures, the amount spent didn’t seem to make the blindest bit of difference”, his reading of a report by Deloitte commissioned by the Department for Education.
What is the evidence? In fact, it is surprisingly difficult to establish the impact of spending more money on student achievement. This is partly due to shortage of data (researchers always want more data), but there is a more fundamental reason too. Continue reading →