12 Nov 2019

Five hot topics to be aware of in UK education

Five hot topics to be aware of in UK education

Education, much like technology, continues to evolve to adapt to an ever-changing world.

Some big trends, from primary and secondary school learning, through to further and higher education, have emerged, affecting how UK teachers and learners interact, teach and study.

Let’s take a look at five big topics from across the board you need to be aware of.

 5 must-see trends from the UK education sector

Number of state school educated pupils going to university drops

The number of first year students at UK universities from state schools has dropped, the Guardian reports.

Quoting data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the newspaper says that state-educated students accounted for 89.8% of entrants in 2017/18. This is below the 90% rate from the previous year.

This is the first drop in eight years. Only 11.6% of students in the review period came from “low participation neighbourhoods”, i.e. those considered disadvantaged and from areas of “low education attainment.”

Luke Heselwood, a researcher at the Reform thinktank who has studied disadvantaged participation, said: “If ministers want to do better, they should do three things: find a better measure for assessing disadvantage, evaluate universities’ spending on widening participation, and campaign to encourage applications from disadvantaged students.”

Sixth form funding shrinks

A report from the Education Policy Institute reveals that funding per student for UK sixth forms, sixth form colleges and HE colleges has dropped 16% between 2010/11 and 2018/19 - twice the rate that overall school budgets have fallen in the same period.

This is a fairly worrying trend, especially with the UK government pushing education technology to the forefront of its education strategy. Will colleges, in-school sixth form departments, and sixth form institutes have the cash to spend on new equipment and innovations?

In-school sixth forms have been hit hardest. Funding for these departments has falling 26% per fall time student.

On the whole, funding has dropped from £5,900 per pupil to £4,960 across the last decade.

EPI executive chairman David Laws said: “It is not clear why successive governments have chosen to squeeze 16-19 funding, and there is a strong case for reviewing the adequacy of funding before the upcoming spending review.”

An education spending review is due in 2020.

Strong government-led emphasis on EdTech

In April 2019, the Department for Education launched its new EdTech strategy, prioritising a new tech-led future for UK schools, colleges, and universities.

Speaking at the time, then Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “This strategy is just the first step in making sure the education sector is able to take advantage of all of the opportunities available through EdTech. We now call on schools, businesses and technology developers to realise the huge potential of technology to transform our schools so that teachers have the time to focus on teaching, their own professional development, and – crucially – are able to cater to the needs of every single one of their pupils.”

Only £10m has been released to schools for implementation support of this new strategy, which is interesting given education budgets are being squeezed throughout the UK. Will this be enough? The Guardian reported in 2017 that UK schools spend roughly $900m a year on education technology, suggesting government support falls way short of what’s actually needed.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Investment in education technology provides some huge benefits for education institutes from all sectors including:

  • Reduced teacher workload
  • Increased training and CPD opportunities for educators
  • A level playing field for SEND students & pupils through innovative technologies
  • Higher student engagement rates from primary school to FE

Digital preparedness

Providing impetus for the DFE’s new strategy is the rising need to display digital preparedness from students at all levels. Technology is already everywhere in the modern world, and its influence and proliferation is only going to spread as the 21st century continues.

It’s up to teachers and educators to ensure their charges’ digital skills are adequate from the earliest stages of education.

BESA research suggest that only 33% of secondary and 60% of primary schools’ ICT infrastructure and devices are adequate enough for the future. Annual spending on such equipment is £7m for primary schools and £9m for secondaries.

This is very much a pan-educational trend and basically an essential requirement.

A survey of 37,000 university students conducted by Jisc reveals that only 41% believe their courses prepare them for life in a digital workforce. Further research from CBI states 44% of UK employers feel that nationwide school leavers and college or university graduates are not “work ready”.

Government estimates suggest 90% of jobs will be will require digital proficiency within 20 years. The onus is now on getting students familiar with tech and digital technologies now to prepare them for the future.

Luckily, younger students are already fairly tech savvy, but educators still hold a responsibility to support them so their skills can develop further.

Pupil numbers are rising

According to government forecasts, the number of pupils will surge into the coming decade. Some 8.7% more students will need primary and secondary school places by 2026.

That represents 534,000 new secondary school pupils, and approximately 100,000 new primary school starters.

That would mean 8.1m new students in full time education.

Part of this is down to a high birth rate between 2002 and 2008. It is also down to a 60% rise in the level of home-schooled children returning the mainstream education in 2017, compared with the start of the decade.

Research from Scape Group, a public sector procurement specialist, suggests an additional 14,500 secondary classrooms will be needed to cope with rising student numbers. That equates to 400 brand new, 1050-pupil schools requiring construction over the next seven years.

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