Dr Jo Rose, Senior Lecturer in Education, Bristol University
There are many bright young people who come from disadvantaged family or school contexts where university attendance is not the norm.
As part of the High-Potential Learners Project, we investigated how these young people could be supported in making decisions about university. In particular, we wanted to know how to encourage high-achieving young people to consider the highly-selective, research-intensive, Russell Group universities as an option.
Over a period of two years, we worked with a group of 44 sixth-form students from schools across Bristol, to understand how and why they made decisions about university. We also analysed a large-scale, nationally-representative dataset of 2290 high-attaining learners who had turned 18 in 2009/10.
Our project found that school context was highly important with regards to subsequent university attendance, and identified some of the ways in which schools and universities can work together to support students’ decision-making.
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.
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.
Food, Activity and Bodies (FAB) Kids is a school outreach project based on the importance of healthy lifestyles. It’s a free, fun and educational workshop aimed at encouraging children to think critically about their lifestyle choices (with regards to nutrition and physical activity in particular).
The project, led by Dr Mark Edwards, is being delivered by research staff in the University of Bristol’s Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences (ENHS). We do a lot of research into physical activity and nutrition, and much of this research is conducted in primary schools in Bristol and the surrounding counties. FAB Kids is our way of thanking the schools and children who take part in our research.
Last month’s government-commissioned school food review showed that the nutritional quality of school food has improved substantially since 2005, when Jamie Oliver started its campaign to improve the nutritional value of school meals. Nevertheless, take-up of school meals remains low, at 43%. In other words, 57% of children are not eating school lunches, but bring a packed lunch, have snacks, or buy their food elsewhere. The report shows that the majority of these meals are unhealthy. In fact, in contrast to what most parents think, only 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards.
In addition to affecting child health, there is substantial evidence that poor nutrition affects cognitive performance. Michèle Belot and Jonathan James show in their study that the Jamie Oliver campaign led to a significant increase in children’s test scores in primary schools (Key Stage 2), as well as a drop in authorised absences (i.e. those that are mostly linked to illness and health).
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 →