Education Bulletin Brief Alerts - June 2019

GDPR

A recent spate of academy trust consensual audits has indicated that the ICO expects a very high standard of good practice. This is strongly linked to a new GDPR Data Protection Principle called the ‘Accountability Principle’. 

Academy Trusts should make sure they are prepared.

A recent report based on a limited survey, found that 50% of schools surveyed were not fully compliant with the General Data Protection Regulations. Although 79 per cent said financial fines for non-compliance would “significantly impact” them, 14 per cent admitted they did not have a clear plan to become GDPR compliant. Stone King’s Kate Grimley Evans, Head of Information Law, has produced an ‘Audit Readiness Pack’ for academy trusts which covers the main risks identified by recent ICO education sector audits. This is practical guidance about how to embed the accountability principle in the Trust’s governance and operational practices, to help get you ready for an ICO data protection audit.

Mental Health

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Psychology examined a briefing paper from the British Psychological Society on children’s mental health. Just under two years ago the government pledged £200,000 to pay for the training of 3,000 mental health first-aiders in every secondary school, including how to deal with issues such as depression, anxiety, suicide and self-harm. The Chair stated of the group stated “One person [per school] being trained in mental health first aid is not enough. One person can’t do it all”. The report noted that, in the last year, almost all teachers had taught a child they believed was experiencing anxiety, while 60 per cent had taught a child they believed was self-harming and just over 40 per cent had taught a child who they thought was a victim of cyber-bullying or who had had suicidal thoughts.

The “rapidly deteriorating situation” for support for young people’s mental health is exemplified by a report from one area that the number of clinical psychologists has been cut from 25 to just 1.5 in the last five years, and by a report that, in one northern county, pupils who were referred to CAMHS for self-harm had attempted suicide after waiting at least 10 months to be seen.

One interesting positive note was sounded by researchers in the USA, who found that engaging in team sports increased volume in the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with memory and response to stress. This suggests that increasing hippocampal volume through sport leads to better memory consolidation and improves the ability to cope with stress. They also found that team sports reduced depressive symptoms in adolescent boys, but not girls (although why this might be isn’t fully understood).

Further positive news is that the Department of Work and Pensions has allocated £ 2million funding for projects to reduce parental conflict among disadvantaged families; which is a major cause of mental health problems among young people.

Academy Trusts

The option of becoming an academy has been returned to Sixth Form Colleges. There have been calls for increased transparency in the running of academy trusts in funding and management and the DfE’s handling of academy financial affairs. It has emerged that there is increasing discussion initiated by RSCs with smaller trusts to encourage them to merge into larger units. Two more career civil servants have appointed to the post of Regional Commissioner. This DfE policy move away from leadership by school professionals towards ‘a national system, locally administered’ may have considerable implications going forward. We are also seeing former RSCs returning to ‘active service’ within trusts. Meanwhile the Labour Party has said that they have no intention to abolish academy CEO posts.

Special Needs

The limits on available school funding are producing a number of problems and distortions in the area of Special Educational Needs. An estimate by the National Education Union is that special needs provision in England has ‘lost out’ on £1.2 billion because of shortfalls in funding increases from central government since 2015. It is reported that the number of children and young people granted an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) has risen from 240,000 to 320,000 in that time. There have been several consequences. Some Local Authorities have been accused of exercising their ‘gatekeeping’ role too energetically to prevent access to ECHPs and to encourage their termination where children have shown improvement. The government is also reported as being concerned that there is ‘a drift to special schools’ fearing that decisions about the education of SEND pupils are being taken “primarily to avoid financial pressures from falling on a particular institution, by transferring costs elsewhere”.There are also concerns about “disproportionate pressure falling on some mainstream schools and colleges, especially if they get a reputation for providing good SEN support”. A consultation has been launched on financial arrangements for SEN and Alternative Provision. The suggestion is that this will not affect the quantum of support but whose budget is should come from.

Allergies

The comments of the coroner, in the case of tragic death of a child from an allergic reaction to a piece of cheese thrown at him by another pupil, raises serious questions for any school that is notified of allergies by parents. The criticisms include: not educating pupils on the dangers of allergies; failing to have an effective system to inform staff of appropriate treatment in this individual case; and having an out of date Epipen for treating the pupil.

Teachers

The Government has announced that maths and physics teachers are to receive two £2,000 bonuses, in addition to existing bursaries, to encourage them to stay in the profession in Opportunity Areas and the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, during the first five years of their careers.

The leader of the group revising the Early Career Framework has expressed the view that new teachers should be trained in curriculum thinking. This seems to be a departure from the previously dominant view that teaching is merely a craft and thinking should be left to the DfE and Ofsted.

Cap public sector payments

The government launched a consultation on the regulations for the implementation of a cap of £95,000 on exit payments in the public sector, including education, legislated for in 2016. Launching the consultation, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, said it was time to “crack down on public sector waste”. The consultation closes on 3 July.

The proposed regulations are complex and once implemented it will be important to take advice when making an exit payment to a member of staff.

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