Foster children, especially, rely on an education system that will, hopefully, address the serious disadvantages that they face. This would be a hard task at the best of times – even assuming we had an education system that was one of the best in the world. And it is very far from being that. Consider the Pisa rankings from 2016: in mathematics, the UK is ranked in 27th place overall – slipping from 26th place three years ago. It is the lowest ranking since the country first took part in Pisa in 2000. In ‘The Times’ it has just been reported that around half the maths and physics teachers needed are just not there – bright graduates in these disciplines are it seems headed to the City for big salary packages.
Research now indicates that secondary school pupils being taught in the most disadvantaged schools are bearing the brunt of the shortage of maths teachers. This means the best and most experienced maths teachers are being rationed to teach the most able pupils. This is revealed from data from England’s School Workforce Census. Hardly surprising, as schools are under pressure to deliver results – so success matters. The effect is to leave other children to be taught by inexperienced teachers, many of whom do not have a degree in the subject. The result: around nineteen per cent of Key Stage 3 mathematics teachers is experienced compared with seven per cent teaching Key Stage 5. The risk is that when children are exposed to inexperienced teachers in the subject, they can be “switched off”. And this can have a huge effect – if their later choices become limited – on their future career options. Research fellow, Sam Sims, at FFT Education Datalab, stated –
“Ofsted have questioned whether the first half of secondary school are ‘wasted years’ for pupils. Our research shows that teacher shortages mean schools are increasingly saving their experienced, appropriately qualified maths teachers for the crucial GCSE years.”
Of course, such uncomfortable facts are not going to be engaged with in a credible way by the government. Consider what the general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, Paul Whitman, said recently:
“Despite four years of warnings by NAHT the recruitment crisis continues unabated. The government is still failing to provide enough teachers for our growing school population. And –
“The recruitment pipeline is leaking at both ends, with insufficient numbers of newly qualified teachers coming into the system and too many experienced teachers leaving prematurely.”
The frustration of those involved in the education system is understandably wearing thin – especially when the only response are platitudes from the Department for Education which close the door on any kind of debate. An example being:
“We are taking action to recruit talented teachers across the country – including a £30 million investment in tailored support for those schools that have greater issues with recruitment and retention than others.”
Well, it seems the action being taken; if is current – which isn’t made clear – is at least four years after The NAHT were warning there would be a recruitment crisis. The sums of money that are expended on education are enormous so blithely mentioning £30 million means nothing as there is nothing to compare the sum to in relative terms. Perhaps worth noting again the recent criticism of the chancellor for allocating a sum of money in a knee-jerk fashion, that was lower than that earmarked for repairing potholes.
The government is now beginning to come under another very real pressure that could adversely affect future recruitment and retention of staff in schools – whatever subject they teach. Schools are coming under intense pressure being expected to deal with the social ills society is burdening them with. Teachers are paid to teach. Teachers are not social workers, but they are dealing with the abdication of responsibility by growing numbers of parents who seem unabashed their offspring arrives inadequately toilet trained or being able to hold a person – far less ever having been given a book. This is the view of Ofsted chief, Amanda Spielman, schools “cannot be a panacea” in relation to problems in society. Why not, one has to ask the police are now increasingly having to deal with large numbers of people with mental health “issues’ rather than detecting crime. What is of course going to become impossible for the government to deal with in the not too
distant future is a very tangible educational “apartheid” that will become more evident in this country. For a government that lauds market forces, they are now on the rack: schools in the independent sector can rely on the offspring of the well to do to arrive at school having been cosseted and nurtured – except in the rarest of cases. Furthermore, the independent sector with its purchasing power will be able to attract what maths and science teachers there are by being able to pay them more. Whatever blandishments the government issues to face down each fresh controversy, they will cut no ice as the system implodes. As the Ofsted supremo has also observed: “knife crime will be singled out as one of the most recent issues to place an additional burden on schools.” So we are now in the world of Alice in Wonderland. Teachers, before they can even think about being inspirational and challenging and shaping young minds, have to mull over the potentially lethal risks of sharing a building with knife wielding youngsters. The silence of those on the Left, with all their arguments for trendy educational theories and a softly softly approach to discipline are, paradoxically, collectively responsible for the heightened risks teachers, pupils and ultimately all of us face when the idea of discipline is effectively abandoned. The theorists have had their day and, as uncomfortable as it is for them, the consequences surround us.
There is another time bomb ticking which will have a huge impact in the near future: childhood obesity. It appears significant numbers of parents are abrogating any responsibility for ensuring their children don’t eat far too much junk food – which in combination with a lack exercise can lead to diabetes. The government shopped now be taking decisive action to use whatever means at its disposal to alter patterns of behaviour in the general population. There are always objections from certain quarters when the government attempts this with the cry going up of ‘the nanny state’ interfering. Given how serious the situation is becoming, this reaction can be ignored. And it must be remembered that the costs of Brexit alone could run into billions. A recent report, produced by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research has speculated the Brexit deal could cost the UK 100 billion pounds annually by 2030. Put another way as the BBC have reported from the NIESR: “A key finding is that if the governments proposed Brexit deal is implemented so that the UK leaves the EU customs union and single market in 2021, then by 2030 GDP will be around 4 per cent lower than it would have been had the UK stayed in the EU.” Or as has also been reported this would equate to losing the total economic output of Wales or the indeed the City of London.
This could mean that resources that are already strained, will simply be unavailable to meet such escalating health and education costs. And that is without even allowing for social care costs needed to cope with the needs of an ageing population.
What much of this points to, is that many children are being ‘raised’ in homes where precious little thought is being given to their being properly nurtured or cared for – even on the most basic level – such as toilet training. If the government is not careful, failing to grasp some painful nettles will result in the arrival in the near future of a dystopian world where inequality of wealth, health and opportunity is all pervasive. Think it couldn’t happen? The fault line is already discernible and widening. Paradoxically, it is not all about money and resources. Rather, it is what our society deems acceptable. And clearly, it is not acceptable for children to be carrying knives to school – but it is happening. Youngsters argue they need to carry them to defend themselves – so to them it makes sense. Is it acceptable that we have reached a point where this is now happening in our communities on a daily basis. What point has to be reached before the government takes robust action to sort out the problem. If a six figure salary is within easy reach in the City for our brightest STEM subject graduates, should we be surprised they choose that option rather than trying to disarm knife carrying youngsters – even before they start to explain quadratic equations. Very clearly, this is a career option most, if not all politicians would be less than enthused by.
But for the more imaginative amongst us, there is an opportunity to be seized. If significant numbers of parents seem unable to look after their offspring properly, its clear society needs to send out some important messages – and quickly. Trying to recruit more foster carers – itself an urgent need – is very highborn the agenda. A public awareness campaign aimed at attracting new foster carers would be an excellent vehicle for educating those in need of it about the responsibilities of being a parent. To some, this might sound high handed, but it should be realised that we now have a situation where some children face a daily risk from knives, and others the insidious long term risk of obesity. Are we to do nothing? Such a campaign could open up a debate about what the responsibilities of becoming a parent are. And that done properly, it is always going to be a tough, challenging job – but ultimately one that is rewarding a unique and personally defining way. This would be a way of drawing attention to the important and vital work that foster carers do. Such an emphasis would be excellent for raising morale.
For far too long, the government has relied upon foster carers without really highlighting their achievements and importance. Platitudes don’t wash any more. All the better if a public awareness campaign is costly – that alone will underline the value of our current foster carers and the urgent need we have to find more. A prime opportunity for virtue signalling if ever there was one. It looks more and more like the foster care stocktake really was the missed opportunity The Fostering Network described it as being. With more imagination, the exercise could have been seen as making possible a nationwide debate about the very nature of parenting itself. This is because there are so many contemporary strands of modern life that feed into the role of foster parents: nutrition, discipline, the risks of the online world – cyber bullying and CSE, the over use of smart phones, the fitness and levels of physical activity of our children in a world of digital distractions and easy gratification. Perhaps the opportunity has not been missed – the sanguinary blandishments of the foster stock take could be replaced by a programme publicly funded campaign to extol the qualities of the nation’s foster carers and the work they do on all our behalf. The one thing that could be gleaned from the foster care stock take was a distinct lack of urgency. If there are mounting problems in schools in terms of recruiting enough teachers for STEM subjects, foster children who are already disadvantaged are inevitably going to be struggling even more. We already have a situation where only around six per cent of children who have been in the care system go on to higher education. This is bad enough and hardly likely to improve if the shortage of teachers on key subject areas continues. This is not, as the government seems to think, a problem that can be sorted out over time as it will be affecting every year group passing through school – meaning large numbers of children will never be given the opportunity of being taught by appropriately qualified staff. The foster care stocktake failed to ‘join the dots’ and take account of all these factors and their impacts on foster children: Paul Whitman of NAHT was warning about the recruitment crisis four years ago. One presumes that those involved in the foster care stocktake would have first identified such wider – and clearly significant factors – likely to affect outcomes for foster children. After all, a stocktake should set its parameters in the broadest terms. It is perhaps significant that both the children’s commissioner and now the Ofsted chief are appearing in print flagging their concerns.
Team Rainbow is looking for more foster carers in 2019 and beyond
We are a highly successful independent fostering agency – now in operation for over twenty-one years – with a presence in London, Birmingham, Manchester and the South Coast. We work alongside local authorities in these areas to find foster families for children unable to date with their own families. This could be for a wide variety of reasons.
So be special. Be a foster carer. Be one of us! At Rainbow, over the years, we have trained and supported a large community of committed foster carers made up of people from all sorts of backgrounds and life experiences. Whilst with Rainbow, each of them has made a profound difference in the lives and future prospects of vulnerable children and youngsters.
We particularly need people interested in becoming therapeutic foster carers. You can find out more about how you can become a therapeutic foster carer with Rainbow at https://bit.ly/2OkgCzS If you are already fostering therapeutically and would like to find out more about the excellent benefits available if you transfer to Rainbow – visit https://bit.ly/2RnQrdd
You can get in touch with us right now on 020 8427 3355 or our special National Foster Care Line is 0330 311 2845.
Rainbow Fostering also regularly provide interesting news and general features at https://bit.ly/2kJHpsO