Weekly education news roundup: literacy success and new initiatives for free schools and careers advice


The best education news this week has revealed that Northern Ireland and England make the top 10 (out of 50) of the world's best primary school readers in PIRLS global rankings. Northern Ireland came sixth, with England in joint eighth place. We know parent reading volunteers in schools help towards these achievements! Read on to see what else has happened this week across the UK.


Government targets underperforming areas for free schools expansion

Most free schools (state-funded schools independent of local authority control over their budget/curriculum) are based in London and the South East, but as part of the government’s Social Mobility Action Plan - expected to be published in the next few weeks - areas of poor performance are to be targeted for the expansion of the free schools programme. The new schools will be set up directly by the government. The aim is to improve outcomes for children in specific underachieving areas where opportunities are low.

Dedicated careers leader for every school

The DfE has allocated £4 million to provide every school and college with a dedicated careers leader by the start of the 2018/19 academic year. This is in part a response to concerns being raised during Education Committee meetings about the poor or absent careers advice provided to children entering the job market. Further funding will also establish career hubs to connect schools with local universities and businesses to help better prepare children for the workplace.

Academies, MATs and how parents have their say discussed in Westminster

The Education Committee assembled to talk about the accountability of MATs – the organisations that govern groups of academies – and the Regional Schools Commissioners responsible for overseeing them. Parents were mentioned frequently throughout the discussion, especially regarding how MATs can be more answerable to them and better take their views into account, as stakeholders in the education of their child. There had been anger that parents were not informed about a trust’s failure until two weeks into the start of a new academic year. See our summary.


Parents: help shape the future of Estyn

As education is reformed and a new curriculum developed, feedback is welcomed on schools inspectorate Estyn. Parents and other stakeholders can help with an independent review of the role of Estyn and how it can continue to contribute to improving the quality of education. The Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD), who are running the survey, have an online form.

GCSE performance gap widens

Exam results between the best- and worst-performing areas of Wales are at the widest point for five years. However, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has said that, with recent changes to GCSEs, which made the exams harder, a direct comparison is unfair, and pointed to the Pupil Development Grant which is helping to "break the link between poverty and attainment that has dogged our education system". This means the best means of comparison over a five-year period will be the 2021 results. The reforms to GCSEs saw A* to C pass rates fall to the lowest level in over a decade.

School budgets have fallen by around £370 per pupil in real terms in six years

Research by BBC Wales has estimated a 6.2% reduction in real terms in school budgets. Although they have risen since 2010/11, inflation and other factors mean that schools are now operating on lower finances. The per-pupil funding figure takes into account additional funding from the government for the Pupil Development Grant and other initiatives aimed at achieving greater social mobility.

Northern Ireland

Primary pupils among the best readers in the world

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which assesses children's "reading literacy" as they reach the end of primary school, takes place across fifty countries, involving around 320,000 school children, every five years. The results published this week reveal pupils in Northern Ireland have performed best in the UK, and are ranked sixth internationally, behind only Russia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland and Finland. 134 primary schools took part in the study which incorporates parental input. The results show that a child performs best when they can access books and have parents who read to them at home. 85% of parents said that they enjoyed reading with their child. Separate research by the National Literacy Trust has shown that children without books are 15 times less likely to be good readers than peers who have ready access to reading materials.

DE issues guidance for schools seeking integrated status

The Department of Education has responded to a recent increase in integrated education by producing guidance to help schools seeking to transform. Integrated schools see children from different religious backgrounds co-educated, where the schools maintain an ethos of religious balance and diversity. “Transformation” is the legal name given to the process whereby schools can become integrated.

Disadvantaged background affects outcomes even before school

Children from poor economic backgrounds, totalling around 100,000, already have an attainment gap between them and their better-off peers by the time they start school, research from Save the Children reveals. Not only that, but children struggle to catch up and bridge the gap once they are in education. However, half of children from low-income households in the lowest-performing groups at age five were able to improve, showing that interventions can improve life chances for the most disadvantaged. The charity is calling for action on early intervention to give disadvantaged children better learning opportunities.











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