From Covid absenteeism, and new approaches to exams to improving outcomes for disadvantaged and reviewing careers education – make use of our monthly news digest to choose which headlines to explore further


Covid absenteeism ‘struggle for schools’

  • DfE figures have revealed a record high pupil absentee rate due to Covid – with one in 25 students off, as the month drew to a close. One-quarter of state schools had 15% of their teachers and leaders absent. Use of Oak Academy’s online remote learning lessons had returned to levels not seen since last March.  At the start of the month, five education unions said they would challenge schools who combined classes to keep as many pupils as possible in school during the Omicron outbreak. This would only ‘increase virus transmission’ and cause ‘further disruption’, said the unions. Meanwhile, as schools struggled to keep their sites as Covid safe as possible, the DfE rejected one in five requests for a free air-cleaning unit for classrooms. This was because these schools ‘did not meet the eligibility criteria’, said the DfE.


New approaches to exams under trial

  • Ofqual is to evaluate the effect of giving students advance information on exam topics to aid their revision. This is to help mitigate disruption to learning caused by Covid. Its findings will be used to ‘inform thinking for future years’. One of the exam boards, AQA, this month announced it would be trialling the use of on-screen tests early this year. Chief Executive Colin Hughes said moving to digital assessment was ‘only a matter of time’, as Covid had highlighted the need for the exam system to be more resilient.


‘Do more for disadvantaged’

  • Disadvantaged Year 11 students lost more than six times the amount of learning time due to Covid than their peers, revealed new data from Education Datalab. Government plans to mitigate this for this year’s exams are not enough said the NAHT, as they were drawn up before the arrival of Omicron. ‘If the government doesn’t do more to acknowledge this, trust in the fairness of the examination process will falter,’ said General Secretary Paul Whiteman. Earlier in the month, the NFER published a report revealing that outcomes for disadvantaged pupils were becoming more difficult to measure. ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton called for an urgent review of the system. The ability to track these pupils’ progress was ‘a key element in boosting social justice, and the government’s oft-repeated phrase “levelling up”’, he said.


Academies see record cash surplus

  • Plans are afoot to allow local councils to run academies, as government states it is ‘open to slightly different models of partnerships’. The move could see maintained schools become academies while retaining a link to their local authority.  Meanwhile, the Academies Benchmark Report out this month revealed that multi-academy trusts (MATs) had seen a record boost in their finances this last year during the pandemic, as they continued to expand. Their average surplus of £467k was up 94% on last year’s then record surplus. The number of standalone academies continued to fall.


Curriculum matters

  • BBC Bitesize has launched more than 100 new Key Stage 3 resources for teachers and pupils to support learning, homework and revision. The structured content aims to aid progression, and be more interactive to engage learners. Meanwhile, controversial reforms to modern foreign language (MFL) GCSEs have been given the go ahead – but implementation has been delayed by one year.


Unis shun T-levels

  • Universities have shunned T-levels as part of the UCAS tariff system of allocating new places. Less than half have said they will accept the government’s flagship new qualification as part of an entry offer this year. Out of the 24 Russell Group ‘elite’ universities, 10 have said they would not be counting T-levels.


DfE ‘cracks down on attendance’

  • A new automated attendance system is being trialled by the DfE to give real-time data on pupil absences. The department is also considering more prescriptive measures on tackling attendance, including new duties on schools to publish improvement plans. A new ‘regulatory framework’ for fixed penalty notices is also being considered.


‘Use inclusion as school benchmark’

  • Schools should be judged on their pupil inclusion rates – not just on exam results. This new research from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has put forward some inclusion measures that could be used by schools to benchmark their progress against others and to identify areas for improvements. EPI has asked for your feedback on these measures by email to by 14 March.


National Tutoring ‘well off target’

  • Take-up of the national tutoring programme (NTP) is 85% off target, revealed new DfE data. Its research into preferred school recovery strategies revealed that most favoured using their own tutors for catch-up provision. Only one in three schools said they had used the NTP scheme.


Careers education under review

  • A new inquiry is to look into whether there is enough funding to provide the careers provision that young people need. The Education Select Committee will also look at how services could better support disadvantaged students.


Photo credit: Pexels 

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