What are the biggest challenges faced by schools today?

By Amreen Pathan

  1. Lost schooling and recovery

According to a survey carried out by the National Foundational for Educational Research, teachers estimate that 44% of their pupils are in need of intensive catch-up support. These findings were reported after the first school closures in March 2020 which begs the question of the extent of support required one year down the line after schools were forced to close their doors again in January. This report also confirmed the most vulnerable victims of school closures to be disadvantaged pupils with 61% of teachers estimating, on average, a gap increase of 46% between disadvantaged pupils and their peers

There are of course various factors at play here. Inadequate curriculum coverage compared to pre-pandemic days, limitations on the quality of pedagogy, restricted access to basic resources necessary for remote learning and lack of teacher training for designing and adapting a curriculum suitable for online learning.

It would be naïve to assume a quick fix as the ultimate tool for recovery. Long-term intervention is imperative. The government, schools and educational organisations must work together to address disrupted learning with a particular focus on children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

2. Cyberbullying

Having recently written about this here, I know too well, how daunting the statistics are. The Annual Bullying Survey highlighted a 25% year-on-year increase in young people being bullied based on data collected in 2019.

Bullying is not a new problem of course, but it is one in which constantly developing technology has increased avenues for virtual operations. In November 2020, The Office of National Statistics reported around 1 in 5 children between the ages of 10-15 experiencing some form of cyberbullying in the past year alone.  Essentially, bullying can now follow a child anywhere thereby increasing its occurrence, especially in the virtual world with social media outlets. The various forms of cyberbullying can be found here.

Interestingly, 52% of the children who experienced online bullying did not consider their experience to be bullying. This highlights the challenge of addressing cyberbullying with many reported incidents of teasing, name-calling and subtle nastiness falling under the threshold of the technical definition of bullying.  The challenge is exacerbated by the anonymity cyberbullying provides and the difficulty in policing it in comparison to traditional forms of bullying.

Government legislation gives schools the authority to investigate instances of bullying not perpetrated on school ground and naturally, this extends to cyberbullying.

Policy is one thing however and proactivity is another. Is enough being done to tackle the minefield that is the internet and the challenges it poses?

3. Cuts in budget

Does money matter in education?

In 2020, schools in England were estimated to be £2bn poorer than in 2015. The difference is dire and so are the consequences:

  • Increased class sizes:  primary school classes are the largest they have ever been since 2000
  • Reduced school week to four and a half days
  • Longer hours for teachers and support staff
  • Additional job duties for teachers i.e. supervising at lunchtime and cleaning
  • Narrowed curriculum with subjects within the humanities and the arts being cut
  • Restricted access to educational technology and extra-curricular activities
  • Forced prioritisation of children with higher levels of disabilities over SEN pupils

The short answer to my question above is yes. Yes, money matters in education. There is a socioeconomic correlation between education and positive outcomes. When budgets are cut, children with special educational needs and disadvantaged pupils are left to bear the brunt of a burden, which conveys no mercy to its casualties.

You canread more about this charity here, which is dedicated to taking action against spending cuts in education.

4. Attainment gap

Disadvantaged pupils in England are 18.1 months of learning behind their peers by the time they finish their GCSEs – the same gap as five years ago according to the Educational Policy Institute, which published its report in 2020.

The education and attainment gap is surely to have been compounded even more nearly one year on with another COVID wave forcing school closures for a second time.

Whilst the statistic above highlights the disparity in attainment in secondary education, the figures for primary are even more troubling. Whilst the gap between poorer pupils and their peers in primary schools is 9.3 months, the data is troubling precisely because this is the first time the gap has increased since 2007.

I mentioned earlier that money matters in education. The data above is testament to this because if left unresolved, primary school children become secondary school children with the gap becoming even more gaping and unforgiving. A mere 21% of pupils from low–income families enter university compared with 85% of pupils from private schools. This highlights the relentlessness of the disparity not only in further education, the job market and earning potential but also in issues pertinent to life and welfare such as relationships and health outcomes.

With limited financing and the outbreak of COVID, the pressure on schools to narrow attainment gaps is tough. Long term and effective intervention must rely on a combination of factors including using pupil premium to:

  • Recognise the compound nature of the cause
  • Personalise an approach based on pupils’ needs
  • Create an organic whole-school cultural capital policy
  • Collate necessary data and take subsequent action

5. Assessment

Assessment is vital at any stage of education of course but in practice, how fair and meaningful is it truly?

The removal of National Curriculum Levels as mandatory assessment measures has made judging mastery of knowledge and concepts challenging. The accuracy and extendibility of traditional assessment methods have been called into question anyway with remote learning restricting such opportunities. In other words, how transferable are the skills being assessed, to real life, real jobs and real relationships?

I found this article particularly helpful in presenting solutions to the type of challenge I think schools must address in line with the expectations of the Department of Education. In short, however, the author categorises progress as follows:  

  1. Progression in skills
  2. Progress in knowledge
  3. Progress inaccuracy 
  4. Progress in resilience
  5. Progress in independent learning

By compartmentalising progress as such, assessment can be meaningful, effective and most importantly, progressive.

What are your thoughts on the challenges schools face today?

#ChallengesInSchools #nationalcurriculum #accurateassessments #cyberbullying #attainmentgap

Tags: curriculum; cyberbullying; attainment; funding; budget; assessment; progress; education; challenges; school; bullying; SEND; disadvantaged; pupil premium; skills; knowledge; COVID; cultural capital; government; policy;  intervention; long term

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