Today’s news review looks at coverage about grammar schools, mentors for children in care, sex crimes in schools and a new body image resource.
On Sunday, 7 August, the Sunday Telegraph ran a front page story suggesting that the Prime Minister is considering reversing the current legislation that prevents new grammar schools and speculating that an announcement could be made this autumn during the Conservative Party Conference.
In response Number 10 issued this statement:
The Prime Minister has been clear that we need to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. Every child should be allowed to rise as far as their talents will take them and birth should never be a barrier. Policies on education will be set out in due course.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show on the 17 July, Education Secretary, Justine Greening, said:
The setting which schools find themselves has actually changed quite dramatically. It's gone from really being a binary world in many respects to being an education world where there are many different schools now that have many different offers. So I think we need to be prepared to be open minded.
Mentors for children in care
The children’s charity Barnardo’s has claimed today that children in care are missing out on mentors. The story is based on old figures from April 2015 obtained by a Freedom of Information to all local authorities, which suggest that 97% of children in care do not have independent mentors. Barnardo’s also calls for all children in England to be offered ‘independent visitors’ where it is in their interests.
The story has been covered by BBC Online and BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.
What Banardo's fails to highlight is that the law is clear that local authorities must appoint an independent visitor where it’s in a child’s interest and they want one. Furthermore, not all children in care will need or want an independent visitor. We are also clear that this should be kept under review by the child’s social worker and Independent Reviewing Officer.
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
We provide billions of pounds to local authorities so they can provide essential services, including for looking after children in care. We trust councils to manage their budgets and to know which services to provide to best meet the needs of the children in their care.
Independent visitors can make a significant contribution to the wellbeing of children in care and the law is clear that local authorities must appoint an independent visitor where it’s in a child’s interest and they want one. Not all children in care will need or want an independent visitor but this should be kept under review by the child’s social worker and Independent Reviewing Officer.
Sex crimes in schools
Plan International UK issued a story today based on a Freedom of Information request to all police forces which claims to show the number of sex crimes in schools. The data is reported to show that these crimes have risen from 719 in 2011-12 to around 2,000 in 2014. As a result, Plan International UK is calling for compulsory sex and relationship education in schools.
It remains the case that incidents of this type in schools are very rare, when compared with the school population as a whole. What has improved is the reporting of these crimes. However, we are clear that no young person should feel unsafe at school and any offence must be reported to the police.
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
Schools are safe places and crime is very rare but any offence must be reported to the police. No young person should feel unsafe or suffer harassment in any circumstance.
Sex and relationship education is already compulsory in all maintained secondary schools and many academies and free schools teach it as part of the curriculum. We are looking at all options to raise the quality of personal, social and health education (PSHE) teaching.
Media Smart launch
Today, Media Smart, a not-for-profit company that creates free educational materials, has launched a new toolkit for teachers and parents aimed at tackling sensitive issues relating to body image and the media among children aged 9 to 11.
Sky News and the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show ran the story focusing on the issue of boys struggling with body image. The Times also runs the story suggesting that more than 50% of secondary school boys believe eating disorders, dieting and extreme exercising should be gender-neutral issues.
The Government is supporting the launch of the toolkit which can help both teachers and parents talk about these concerns. We are clear that these discussions can help young people to grow up with a positive view of themselves.
Caroline Dinenage, Women and Equalities Minister, said:
We live in a world where advertising surrounds us – on billboards, on our TV screens and on our smartphones. Those images can have a big impact on young minds, so it’s important we make sure children understand how the industry works.
This toolkit is a fantastic resource that can support teachers and parents to talk about body image and gender stereotypes in relation to the adverts we see every day. Through these conversations we can help young people to grow up with a positive view of themselves and empower them to take a more critical view of the world around them.