Evidence relating to issues in the UK

Lack of a joined-up approach to implementing the SDGs across Government
Lack of social dialogue with unions and civil society organisations
Impact of the Government’s austerity agenda on children’s right to education, including the impact of the cuts to public infrastructure and support for children and families
Marketization of education and the financial impact on children and families
Teacher supply crisis
Privatisation and selection by stealth and wealth
Lack of an ethical framework re ODA
Lack of investment in SEN and AP - increased school exclusions
Brexit (and the paralysis of education and wider policy)
 

Lack of a joined-up approach to implementing the SDGs across Government

In its evidence to the International Development Select Committee, the NASUWT highlighted a number of issues and concerns about the UK’s approach to implementing the SDGs including the lack of a joined up approach across Government. The Union noted that the SDGs should be embedded into single departmental plans (SDPs) and that while there were reference to the SDGs in DfID’s SDP, the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) plan only makes reference to the SDGs under the section on post-16 and skills. This suggests a lack of commitment at strategic level within the DfE and across Government.

DfID is the lead department for implementing the SDGs in the UK. DfID does not have the authority or strategic oversight to challenge departments and ensure that the SDGs are taken seriously across Government. Cabinet Office would be better placed to fulfil this role.

The Westminster Government has not undertaken an analysis of national policies to establish policy gaps and to assess whether policies are contributing to the SDGs or whether they actually undermine progress.

DfE officials with responsibilities for international work are aware of the SDGs but are focusing on teaching linked to target 4.7 – sustainability and global citizenship. They do not have the authority to lead the embedding of the SDGs through domestic education policies – this needs to be led by the most senior staff within the DfE and Government.

The Chair of the International Development Committee, Stephen Twigg MP, has written to the Secretary of State for International Development, the Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt MP, expressing concerns about the UK’s approach to the Voluntary National Review and to implementing the SDGs. His letter, which can be found in the International Development Committee's Publications (pdf) raises concerns about the UK Voluntary National Review (VNR) process to date, including the delay in seeking evidence and the lack of meaningful engagement with stakeholders. It also expresses significant concerns about the intention to maintain and develop meaningful relationships with such stakeholders. The Committee raise concerns about co-ordination of the implementation process across Government and recommend that a specific team within the Cabinet Office should fulfil this role, ensuring leadership from the very top of Government.

The International Development Committee stresses the need for the VNR to include reference to every goal, target and indicators with data, commentary and a plan for future action. They stress the need for this to focus on ‘leave no one behind’. Finally, they stress the need for the VNR to be a catalyst for more effective implementation of the SDGs in the UK, including the creation of a strategy or plan for implementing the SDGs.

Lack of social dialogue with unions and civil society organisations

The International Development Committee’s letter to the Secretary of State for International Development highlights concerns about the lack of meaningful social dialogue with unions and civil society organisations in respect of the VNR and implementation of the SDGs.

The NASUWT shares these concerns which reflect a concern about the lack of meaningful engagement with unions more generally. In contrast to the social partnership arrangements that existed under the former Labour Government up to 2010, the current Conservative Government is very selective about where and how it will consult teacher and education unions. Often meetings focus on providing information about planned Government policy. While unions may be consulted about particular proposals, the terms under which consultations take place often lack transparency and are tightly controlled.

Impact of the Government’s austerity agenda on children’s right to education, including the impact of the cuts to public infrastructure and support for children and families

Evidence from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England reveals that public spending on children has been cut by 12% over the period 2009/10 to 2019/20. Over the period, local authority Children’s Services have been cut by 20%; children’s welfare has been cut by 17% and education by 3%.

While the high needs budget has increased by 8% since 2013/14 (when it was established in its current form), pressure on the budget is increasing – since 2012, there has been a 17,300 increase in the number of children in special schools. This includes an increase of almost 2,800 children with severe learning difficulties. Further, the number of children enrolled in alternative provision (AP) or Pupil Referral Units (PRUs), provision that is also funded from the high needs budget, has increased significantly.

The Children’s Commissioner’s evidence to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee identifies four distinct strands of the children’s services budget and identifies a 60% fall in spending since 2010 in real terms in two of those areas – spending on Children’s Centres/Sure Start, and on ‘young people’ including youth services and youth justice. Real term spending on safeguarding is largely unchanged, and spending on looked after children is up 22%, due to an increase in the population of children in care.

The Children’s Commissioner’s evidence notes that while there is national monitoring of spending on children’s services, it does not capture accurately the different ways in which this money is spent, particularly in relation to support that falls below statutory thresholds, such as early help. The evidence highlights that many local authorities plan to cut early help unless additional funding is made available by 2020. [1]

Many local authority services have been cut or are now offered as traded services that must be paid for from core school budgets.

Respondents to an NASUWT survey of Special Educational Needs (SEN) reported increasing difficulties in obtaining external specialist support. The problems included extremely limited help from external support, including changes to how support was provided with greater expectations on school staff to deliver support; services imposing quotas or raising thresholds to limit or control access to support; and increased costs to the school either because the local authority is operating as a traded service or because the local authority no longer provides the service and a school needs to obtain support from a consultant or private provider. [2]

The statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights following his visit to the UK in November 2018 highlights the levels of poverty experienced by many children in the UK – 14 million people (1/5 of the population) live in poverty with 4 million of these being more than 50% below the poverty line and living in absolute poverty. The statement reports the Institute of Fiscal Studies prediction that there will be a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022 with rates as high as 40%.

The Special Rapporteur’s statement highlights that the social security policies put in place since 2010 are framed under the rubric of austerity. As a result, many children, especially those in the most disadvantaged families are being locked into a cycle of poverty. The statement finds that the uncertainty created by Brexit risks exacerbating the disadvantages that such families face. The Special Rapporteur raises particular concerns about Universal Credit, the Digital Welfare State and the dismantling of the broader social welfare safety net through, for example cuts to legal aid and local authority services. [3]

Marketization of education and the financial impact on children and families

Nearly a quarter of respondents (24%) to the NASUWT’s Cost of Education survey reported that they had been put off sending their child to a school because of the potential costs of sending their child there. Nearly four in ten parents (38%) reported that they had to make a financial contribution to enable their child to participate in extra-curricular activities. Nearly one in five parents (18%) reported that their child’s school had asked them to make a regular donation to the school via direct debit or standing order.

More than two-thirds of respondents to the NASUWT’s Cost of Education survey reported that they were required to purchase the school uniform directly from the school or particular suppliers. Almost one third of parents (32%) reported that they spent between £101 and £200 on their child’s uniform. One respondent commented that, “the cost of uniform that has to be bought from one supplier varies dramatically from school to school because the school is allowed to set the profit they wish to make”. (Sourced form unpublished NASUWT data from the Cost of Education survey.)

Parent Power 2018: How parents use financial and cultural resources to boost their children’s chances of success. (Sutton Trust, March 2018) finds that parents in lower socioeconomic groups were more likely to indicate that the cost of travel and other potential extra financial costs such as uniforms played a significant role in their decision about which school to choose for their child – 65% of working class parents cited travel costs as an issue, compared to 34% in socioeconomic group A. [4]

Teacher supply crisis

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report, Retaining and Developing the Teaching Workforce (January 2018), stated that the Department for Education (DfE) had ‘failed to get a grip on teacher retention’. [5]

DfE data on the number of new entrants who have started, or expect to start, an ITT programme in England confirms that the number of new entrants into training programmes only reached 91% of the central target set for 2017/18, a decline from the 94% of target figure achieved in 2016/17.

Many ITT courses are significantly undersubscribed. Overall recruitment into secondary programmes only met 83% of the total number of applicants identified as necessary by the DfE, down from 115% in 2010/11.

DfE data also confirms that the majority of subjects did not recruit sufficient trainee teachers to meet the recruitment targets set by the DfE. Only recruitment to primary, biology, physical education (PE), English and history exceeded the target: Recruitment to chemistry = 79% of the target; geography = 86%, computing = 73%; art and design = 73%; music = 72%; maths = 71%; physics = 47% and design and technology (D&T) = 25%. [6]

The School Workforce Census (SWC) confirms that between 2011 and 2017, the number of teachers leaving teaching for reasons other than retirement or death-in-service rose from 24,750 to 35,800, the highest recorded annual wastage rate.

Data confirm that retention rates among those who have recently acquired QTS have deteriorated significantly. Between 2009 and 2014, the proportion of Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) still in service after two years of qualification fell from 80% to 73%. [7]  

The NASUWT’s annual Big Question Survey (2018) of teacher opinion, which found that:

  • 56% of teachers felt that their job satisfaction had declined over the past 12 months;
  • 59% of teachers indicated that they did not think that they were empowered professionally to deliver the best outcomes for their pupils;
  • 42% had not received the pay progression to which they were entitled over the past 12 months;
  • 46% were not paid for the full range of responsibilities they undertake;
  • 71% would not recommend teaching as a career; and
  • 65% had considered quitting the profession altogether in the last 12 months. [8]

DfE data confirms that the overall wastage rate for secondary schools increased from 1.2% to 1.4% between 2015 and 2017 compared with a recorded equivalent rate of 0.3% in 2011. [9]

Evidence of increasing barriers to filling vacancies is confirmed by the rise in the number of FTE unqualified teachers working in teaching roles in schools from 16,620 to 24,400 between 2013/14 and 2016/17.

Increasingly, schools are deploying teachers to teach in subject areas which are not their first specialism or for which they do not possess appropriate academic qualifications. The School Workforce Census (SWC) confirms that only 78% of mathematics lessons in year groups 7-13 in 2017 were taught by teachers with a relevant post-A-level qualification in the subject, a decrease from the 84% of lessons taught by such teachers in 2013. The SWC further confirms that only 62% of physics lessons across these year groups were taught by staff with relevant post-A-level qualifications.

Pupil/teacher ratios have also been affected by the recruitment and retention crisis. Across all state-funded schools, the pupil/teacher ratio rose from 17.2% in 2011 to 17.9% in 2017. [10] 

Privatisation and selection by stealth and wealth

Selective Comprehensives: Great Britain - Access to top performing schools for disadvantaged pupils in Scotland, Wales and England (Sutton Trust, March 2019) provides evidence to show that the top performing comprehensive schools across Great Britain take disproportionately fewer pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report finds that in England and Wales around half of the disadvantage gap is due to the schools being in more affluent neighbourhoods. However, the underrepresentation of disadvantaged pupils is also as a result of the top performing schools exercising covert selection and admitting lower rates of disadvantaged pupils than live in their catchment areas. (In Scotland the difference is almost entirely due to the schools being located in affluent neighbourhoods.) [11]

Fair access to schools? published by the Education Policy Institute in April 2019 looks at the issue of school choice and finds that parents from more affluent backgrounds are twice as likely as parents of children from the most deprived backgrounds to succeed in getting their child into their first choice school through the appeals and waiting list system.

The report also finds that children from Black (10%) or Asian (12%) backgrounds are less likely get their first choice through the appeals and waiting list route than children from White British (21%) and Chinese backgrounds (17%). Low attaining pupils are also less likely to be successful in gaining admission to their first choice school compared to high attaining pupils (15% v 23%). The study finds that these inequalities persist even after controlling for location. The report states that poor data hampers understanding why these gaps arise. [12]

Academies, the school system in England and a Vision for the future (Professor Alison West and Dr David Wolfe QC) examines the impact of academisation on the school system in England. The report identifies the system in England as highly fragmented and highly opaque. It also describes the system of part-locally administered and part-centrally controlled as complex and lacking legal clarity (for example, multi academy trusts (MATs) operate in very different ways and under very different structures).

West and Wolfe raise concerns about the role of Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs), appointed by the Secretary of State for Education to approve new academies and intervene to address under-performance in academies. They identify this as a massive centralisation and shift from public scrutiny or democratic oversight of power.

The report argues for a system that reduces fragmentation, increases transparency, restores autonomy for schools, and restores local democratic oversight. [13]

Lack of an ethical framework re ODA

At the SDG VNR engagement event for the private sector, DfID officials made reference to the ‘funding gap’ and the £2.5 trillion that is needed for the SDGs to be implemented effectively. DfID officials said that the private sector has an important role to play in implementing the SDGs, including helping to fill the funding gap.

A number of DfID funded education development projects are being delivered by private sector organisations. For example, Ark EPG, PEAS and Cambridge Education are delivering programme components for the Strengthening Education Systems for Improved Learning programme in Uganda. PEAS and Ark EPG are involved with Component 3 of the programme – ‘supporting cost-effective education expansion, including by supporting GoU to work effectively with non-state providers of education’. In other words, this element of the programme focuses on strengthening private sector involvement in education.

It should be noted that the first Annual Review report for the Strengthening Education System programme actually makes reference to local political concerns about Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and a desire to phase them out. Therefore, the DfID-funded project undermines local attempts to end PPPs. Further, there is no evidence of a framework for directing or limiting how private providers engage with the Ugandan system in the future.

It is possible that PEAS, Ark EPG and Cambridge Education will be able to use their involvement with the DfID-funded programme to gain intelligence and access to networks that will enable them to play an even greater role in delivering education in Uganda. There is no ethical framework to ensure that in the long term, those who design and deliver education in Uganda are democratically accountable to the people of Uganda. There is no ethical framework to ensure that decisions about how the Ugandan education system is developed and delivered serves the interests of the people of Uganda rather than the interests of those companies and their subsidiaries. [14]

Lack of investment in SEN and AP - increased school exclusions

Official data reveals that the number of fixed term and permanent exclusions is rising in schools in England. The percentage of pupils permanently excluded from primary, secondary or special schools increased from 0.08 in 2015/16 to 0.10 in 2016/17. Over the same period, the percentage of fixed term exclusions increased from 4.29 to 4.76.

Pupils special educational needs (SEN) accounted for almost half (46.7%) of all permanent exclusions and 44.9% of all fixed term exclusions. Pupils identified as SEN Support were six times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers without SEN and pupils with an education, health and Care (EHC) plan were 5 times more likely to be excluded for a fixed period than their peers with no SEN. The data also reveals that Black Caribbean pupils are three times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers. [15]

Almost two thirds of respondents (62%) to the NASUWT’s SEN survey reported that support for learners with SEN had decreased over the last 5 years. More than two-thirds of respondents (68%) reported that teachers never, rarely or sometimes receive the support that they need to teach learners with SEN, with almost one third (30%) reporting that they rarely or never receive the support that they need.

Respondents to the NASUWT survey provided examples of the growing challenges that class teachers face in securing support for learners, for instance,. ‘staff work longer hours, e.g. lunchtimes to ensure that children have their needs met’ and the barriers that schools face in accessing specialist external support, for example, services rationing access to support, increasing thresholds for accessing support or imposing deterrents such as hugely burdensome application processes.

Respondents to the NASUWT’s SEN survey drew attention to the impact of austerity on support for SEN at school and local levels. Staff posts have been cuts and services have been pared to the core. [16]

Evidence from the Children’s Commissioner for England to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee Inquiry in to funding and provision of children’s services cited above raises specific concerns about the pressures on the high needs budget. The evidence states that the majority of local authorities identified financial pressures on maintaining the high needs budget citing increasing numbers of children with complex needs and the cost of extending EHC plans to 25 year olds as particular issues. [17]

Research commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) finds that demand for services for children and young people with SEND has increased significantly. For example, the number of young people requiring a statement or EHC plan has risen by 35% since 2014 (when the SEND reforms were introduced). The number of children and young people permanently excluded from school rose by 67% over the same period. Responses to the survey indicated that the gap between local authority high needs funding allocations and high needs expenditure role from £123 million in 2015/16 to a projected £287 million by the end of 2018/19.

The LGA report finds that national policy does not create an environment to incentivise or reward mainstream schools that are inclusive and that accountability measures and curriculum reforms incentivise schools to be less inclusive.

The LGA report highlights that the impact of funding pressures across the system and the demands for high needs funding mean that services that support prevention and early intervention are being lost. [18]

Public Spending on Children in England: 2000 to 2020 provides an analysis of public spending across a range of areas that impact on children and children’s wellbeing, including education. The report includes an analysis of spending on high needs. The report notes that the proportion on pupils with statements of SEN or EHC plans increased from 230,000 in 2007 to 240,000 in 2017.

The report also notes that the number of pupils with statements/plans in primary schools remained stable over this period at around 60,000 but that the number of pupils in maintained special schools has grown from 80,000 in 2007 to over 100,000 in 2017. At the same time, the number of pupils with statements/EHC plans in secondary schools fell by about 10,000. The report makes a link to increasing financial pressures on schools stating that the change coincides with the growing financial pressures on schools. [19]

Brexit (and the paralysis of education and wider policy)

Media reports indicate how Brexit is impacting on other Government responsibilities. For example, Lord Kerslake, former head of the civil service was reported in The Guardian as saying: “What is making it extremely difficult for civil servants is the paralysis of politicians. They do not know what they are preparing for.”

“For every task in hand there are at least two streams – the deal and the no deal – and with it a duplication of tasks. What I am getting from them is a desire to serve the government but they cannot do so without instruction and time is running out to prepare properly, one way or the other.

“This is really getting close to mission impossible now.” [20]

The Institute for Government report The Brexit Effect: How Government Has Changed Since the EU Referendum (March 2019) reports that 20,000 more civil servants have been employed since the EU referendum with those departments most affected by Brexit seeing the biggest increases in staff. For example, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the department with the most work streams has grown by 40%. Many existing civil servants have been redeployed to work on Brexit. For example, the report states that roughly one third of Treasury staff are working on Brexit. The report says that to date approximately £4 billion has been set aside for leaving the EU. [21]

While the Institute for Government report does not make specific reference to the Department for Education, through the NASUWT’s contact with DfE officials, it is clear that DfE civil servants have been redeployed to work on Brexit and that many policy reforms have been delayed or put on hold because of Brexit. A TES article from January 2019 suggests that around one sixth of the DfE workforce (1,000 out of just over 6,000 DfE civil servants) were being deployed to work on Brexit. [22]

It should be noted that an article in The Guardian on 11 April 2019 suggests that civil servants working on Brexit are now being stood down to return to their normal duties. The underlying issue, however, is that their substantive work will not have been done and/or will be subject to considerable delays. [23]

 


  1. Children’s Commissioner – Evidence to Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee. Available at: www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/evidence-submitted-to-the-hclg-inquiry-into-childrens-services.pdf
  2. NASUWT (April 2018) Special Educational Needs (SEN), Additional Learning Needs (ALN) and Additional Support Needs (ASN): Survey Report. Available at: www.nasuwt.org.uk/uploads/assets/uploaded/525e2166-6bf1-4b7c-be067062f8ead91c.pdf
  3. Available at: www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23881&LangID=E
  4. www.suttontrust.com/research-paper/parent-power-2018-schools
  5. publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/460/460.pdf
  6. Department for Education (DfE) Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Census for the academic year 2018 to 2019, England. Available at: www.gov.uk/government/statistics/initial-teacher-training-trainee-number-census-2018-to-2019
  7. DfE (2018). School Workforce in England: November 2017. Available at: www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017
  8. NASUWT 2018 Big Question Survey Report 2018. Available at: www.nasuwt.org.uk/uploads/assets/uploaded/6c7508a4-9051-4d1d-8cdedb297ed7170a.pdf
  9. DfE (2018). Analysis of teacher supply, retention and mobility. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/615729/SFR33_2017_Text.pdf
  10. DfE (2018). School Workforce in England: November 2017. Available at: www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017
  11. www.suttontrust.com/research-paper/selective-comprehensives-great-britain
  12. Available at: https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/appeals-and-waiting-lists
  13. Available at: www.lse.ac.uk/social-policy/Assets/Documents/PDF/Research-reports/Academies-Vision-Report.pdf
  14. Further information available on the Development Tracker: https://devtracker.fcdo.gov.uk/projects/GB-1-204641/summary
  15. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/726741/text_exc1617.pdf
  16. NASUWT (April 2018) Special Educational Needs (SEN), Additional Learning Needs (ALN) and Additional Support Needs (ASN): Survey Report. Available at: www.nasuwt.org.uk/uploads/assets/uploaded/525e2166-6bf1-4b7c-be067062f8ead91c.pdf
  17. Children’s Commissioner – Evidence to Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee. Available at: www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/evidence-submitted-to-the-hclg-inquiry-into-childrens-services.pdf
  18. LGA and ISOS (2019) Have we reached a ‘tipping point’? Trends in spending for children and young people with SEND in England. Available at: www.local.gov.uk/have-we-reached-tipping-point-trends-spending-children-and-young-people-send-england
  19. Available at: www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Public-Spending-on-Children-in-England-CCO-JUNE-2018.pdf
  20. The Guardian online, retrieved Wednesday 13 March 2019, www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/mar/13/civil-service-stressed-and-floundering-amid-brexit-paralysis
  21. www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/brexit-snapshot-final-web-vc.pdf
  22. www.tes.com/news/exclusive-dfe-could-lose-1000-staff-no-deal-brexit-planning
  23. www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/apr/11/uk-stands-down-6000-no-deal-brexit-staff-after-spending-15bn