Friday insights round-up (15 Feb)

15 February 2019

Welcome to this week’s Friday insights round-up where Big Change Impact Manager, Caitlin, considers the backlash on GCSEs and A levels that has appeared in the media this week, the importance of geographical diversity in grant giving, and the increased impact of ‘bad behaviour policies’ on vulnerable SEND students.

Exams get a reckoning

Both GCSEs and A levels were challenged in the press this week. Former Skills Minister and current Chair of the parliamentary committee on education, Robert Halfon, called for both GCSEs and A levels to be scrapped in favour of a European international baccelaureate (IB)-style program.

He also called for schools to be measured not just on the results of exams, but the destinations of their students after leaving school at 18.

Halfon says he will call on government to “take the opportunity to fundamentally reimagine this phase of education”, and carry out a simple data-led “progress check” at 16, instead of high-stakes exams that “drive so much perverse behaviour”.

The call for GCSEs to be scrapped was backed by Lord Baker, who introduced the GCSEs during his time as Education Secretary in the 1980s. In a speech at an event at the Edge Foundation Lord Baker was quoted as saying that GCSEs have had their day and should be ‘quietly put to sleep’. Similarly, A levels came under fire from Nobel Prize winner Prof Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, who said that A levels are not helping young people learn the skills they will need for the world of work.   Testing and assessment can be a barrier to further development and access to opportunities for young people, or it can be a way for them to develop the capabilities that are most important to thriving in life (a previous Friday insights we shared this particularly joyful example of assessments being used well). We look forward to seeing how this dialogue challenging the status quo of exams progresses – and hope it yields results that can help bring about more equitable outcomes for young people. INEQUALITY OF ACCESS IN RURAL AND COASTAL COMMUNITIES A SchoolsWeek article has highlighted the lack of government and funding agency support felt by rural and coastal areas in the UK. Despite efforts to target initiatives in these ‘opportunity areas’ such as Blackpool, West Somerset and Hastings, recent research shows that these same areas feel isolated from government social mobility, research and improvement initiatives. We’re bearing this in mind as we kick off our grant giving this year. Caitlin is working to make sure our request for proposals process is inclusive of under represented groups, including those from under-served geographic regions. We look forward to sharing these learnings with you as we go. This research is just another reminder that we as grant givers need to take extra care in making sure that those who most need our resources can get access to them. WHY EDUCATION GETS LEFT OUT OF SOCIAL INVESTMENT An article in Bright Magazine this week points out that education has been largely under represented in the growing social investment space – education investment gets only 4% of impact investing dollars worldwide. When investigating the reasons behind this, Bright Magazine Editor in Chief, Sarika Bansal, found that some of the barriers to investment are the level of complexity involved in education as a sector, the extent to which education is perceived as the domain of government, regulatory restrictions on scale, the requirement for patient capital, and the perception of schools as difficult customers.  While we are not a social investment organisation (we give grants, not loans), we recognise that these barriers are all the more reason to fund early stage, systems changing ideas in the education and learning space. We pride ourselves in backing ventures that have the potential for high impact, and providing organisations and social entrepreneurs with the support they need to prove their impact,build demand for their interventions and build a wide network of support. Watch this space as we kick off our search for our 2019 project partners. EXCLUSIONS HIT SEND STUDENTS THE HARDEST We know from backing organisations such as The Difference, that tackle school exclusions is crucial. Excluded students go on to make up nearly half of the prison population and face barriers to opportunities that those who are allowed to remain in school don’t. However, a recent TES article highlights the extent to which ‘no tolerance’ behaviuor policies affect SEND students in particular. According to a Commons Education Select Committee inquiry on special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision, some schools are taking an “overly macho” approach to excluding pupils with SEND, particularly those who are trying to recover from a difficult Ofsted position. This is linked to the pressures put on schools to focus on attainment as opposed to inclusivity.  The inquiry comes amid growing concerns about “off-rolling” – unofficially excluding pupils. Recent data from the charity Ambitious about Autism has found that the number of children with autism being excluded from English schools has increased by 60 per cent since 2011, while the overall number of pupils being excluded from school has risen by 4 per cent. We look forward to continuing to back interventions such as The Difference, who are using innovative approaches to make sure that education is inclusive for all young people.