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English Education in the Aftermath: A Round-Up of the 2023-2024 Academic Year

The 2023-2024 academic year certainly was one to remember and it presented a fair few challenges to the school sector. Join us for recap of some of the stories and issues to have made an impact this year. 

  1. Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC)

Some schools got off to a difficult start to the year, when the Department for Education issued new guidance and warnings over the safety of RAAC. There are over 22,000 schools and colleges in England with the concrete; however, not all were impacted. Some schools were forced to close entirely, whilst others had to move teaching to other buildings and close off areas of the setting. As of February 2024, 119 settings needed one or more building rebuilt or refurbished and 110 schools or colleges needed RAAC removed on a smaller scale.  

  1. Teacher Workforce Crisis

Teacher shortages continue to be a major concern. According to the NFER’s ‘Teacher Labour Market Annual Report’, there was a 44% increase in the number of teachers considering leaving the profession from 2021/22 to 2022/23. This may be due to the increase in teacher workloads or the fact that salaries have failed to keep up with average earnings in real terms. Worryingly, 10 out of 17 secondary subjects are forecast to under-recruit for the year 2024/25. This shortage adds to the workload of remaining educators, and potentially contributes to a cycle of burnout. 

  1. A Growing Focus on Mental Health

There's a silver lining, however. The past year has seen a positive shift towards prioritising mental health. The ongoing impact of the pandemic, and the pressures of standardised testing, have highlighted the need for robust mental health support systems in schools - for both students and teachers - according to the EPI’s ‘Children and young people’s mental health services: Targets, progress and barriers to improvement Report’. Initiatives aimed at promoting well-being can foster a more positive learning environment for all, and we will keep abreast of how this develops over the next academic year. 

  1. Funding Continues to Present a Challenge 

Schools are still very much feeling the real-term 9% cut to per pupil funding from 2009 to 2020. Whilst school funding has increased, it has not kept up with the spending of the 2010s. Furthermore, pupil numbers have risen and there are rising costs. New pay deals and inflation have presented some serious financial challenges - 66% of maintained primary schools and 88% of secondary schools have been affected by real terms cuts according to the campaign group Stop School Cuts.  

  1. Change At the Top of Ofsted 

In January, Sir Martyn Oliver began his term as Chief Inspector of Ofsted. He was quick to show that the culture and attitude of the inspectorate had changed. Establishing the ‘Big Listen’ consultation, he sought to understand the sector’s concerns with the inspectorate. In light of the tragic death of Ruth Perry, mandatory mental health awareness training was introduced for inspectors, as were changes to the way complaints about inspections were handled.         

The Road Ahead 

The sector faces a challenging path forward. Yet, the continued collaboration, innovation and determination displayed day in, day out across our sector means that schools are able to deliver on their core missions. As we start to see the direction of travel the new government takes with regards to the changes they intend to make, and what this will mean for the day to day running of schools, it is clear that the 2024/2025 academic year will hold yet more developments in an ever-evolving English education sector. 

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