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Thursday 28 February 2019: University access, early years funding and the 4.5 day week

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Today’s Education in the Media blog looks at university access, two new announcements and schools implementing a shortened week.

Office for Students Report

Today, Thursday 28 February, the Office for Students (OfS) has published new guidance for universities and announced a new policy centre, with the aim to improve access and participation for disadvantaged and under-represented groups in higher education. This has generated coverage from BBC Online, the Mail, the Times and the Telegraph.

We are continuing to challenges universities to address disparities through admission policies and ensuring that people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to attend university.

We are also conducting a review of post-18 education and funding to make sure we have a system that is accessible to all.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

We have introduced reforms to make sure that higher education is open to everyone who has the talent and potential – and there is a record rate of disadvantaged 18-year-olds going to university, but it is important that we build on this progress.

That’s why the guidance I have issued this week challenges the OfS to drive greater and faster progress, not just on the breadth of widening access but on depth to make sure that everyone, no matter their background, has the opportunity to study at the best universities, transform their lives and go on to successful careers.

We set up the OfS to champion the interests of students and have required providers charging higher fees to approve access and participation plans with the OfS. The guidance published today, as well as evidence from the new research centre, will help institutions to ensure their work means all parts of society have fair access.

But participation also has to mean successful participation, which is why I have asked the OfS to drive a focus not just on access but on progression, completion rates and ultimate employment.

To coincide with this news, the Universities Minister Chris Skidmore is delivering a speech today at Nottingham Trent University on widening access to higher education.

Manchester School Readiness Conference

Today, the Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi has been attending the Manchester School Readiness Conference. This has been covered by TES and the Telegraph.

At the conference, the Minister announced improved training for health visitors to support children’s early speech, language and communication needs, and additional funding being provided to protect Maintained Nursery Schools.

Minister for Children and Families, Nadhim Zahawi said:

We want all children to arrive into the reception year confident and ready to learn. That is why our Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework promotes learning and focuses on a broad range of knowledge and skills, including managing basic hygiene and personal needs, so that nurseries and early years providers can work together with parents to support children’s development.

There’s no instruction manual for being a parent. That is why, through our focus on the home learning environment, we are working with a growing number of businesses, charities and experts to make it easier for parents to kickstart early development – helping to take forward our national mission to boost children’s early development.

As part of this focus, just this week I announced that specialist training will be provided for 1,000 health visitors who work in the most deprived communities in England, so they can identify the speech, language and communication needs of children early on, with a new assessment and support package.

Please read more about the announcement today here:

4.5 Day Week

Today, the Guardian ran a piece based on a school which will implement a 4.5 day school week. The piece says that Vale View primary school in Stockport has taken the measure of shortening the school week, and says that at least 25 schools planning to take this measure to cut costs.

Maintained schools are required to be open to educate their pupils for at least 380 sessions (190 days) each school year. Maintained schools cannot lawfully reduce the length of the school week if the school days drop below this, however all schools have the autonomy to make decisions about the duration of their school day.

Academies have full responsibility for determining the length of the day and the number of school days in operation.

In Stockport, schools will receive an increase of 4.3% per pupil in 2019-20, compared to their 2017-18 baseline. This increase is equivalent to £12 million in total, when rising pupil numbers are also taken into account.

Department for Education spokesperson said:

All maintained schools are required to provide at least 380 sessions (190 days) each school year. By law they can’t reduce the length of the school week if this takes the total number of sessions below that.  However, we trust headteachers to decide how the school day should be structured and we would expect that any changes made to this would be done in consultation with parents.

We have protected the core schools budget overall in real terms since 2010, and put an additional £1.3bn into core schools funding across 2018-19 and 2019-20, over and above plans set out at the last Spending Review.

While there is more money going into our schools than ever before, we do recognise the budgeting challenges schools face and that we are asking them to do more. That’s why we’re supporting schools and head teachers, and their local authorities, to make the most of every pound.

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