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In the News

Holiday hunger: Government promises research and pilot projects

The government will not support a draft law to force councils to provide free meals and activities for poor pupils in school holidays, but will carry out research into whether or not government intervention to prevent “holiday hunger” is needed, a minister has announced. Nadhim Zahawi, the children’s minister, told MPs today that research to assess whether government intervention to prevent holiday hunger would be effective will begin “immediately”, with funding available for pilot projects in some areas. But Zahawi said the government opposed a bid by backbench MPs to force town halls to tackle the issue. Frank Field, the Labour MP for Birkenhead who chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on holiday hunger, has put forward a draft bill that, if passed, would have placed a duty on local authorities to make sure disadvantaged pupils are fed during school breaks. Zahawi said he agreed that more needed to be done to help pupils living in poverty, and supported calls in Field’s bill for research and trials, but did not feel that a new law is needed. The research will look into “how best to ensure more children from disadvantaged families benefit from healthy meals and enrichment activities during the...

Second wave of ‘opportunity area’ plans published: What do schools need to know?

The education secretary Damian Hinds has released delivery plans for the government’s next six “opportunity areas”, after publishing the first set three months ago. The plans are for Bradford, Doncaster, Fenland and east Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent, which were named as the second wave last year. Each area will spend £6 million, aimed at improving social mobility over the next three years. A lot of the plans focus on school improvement, particularly for numeracy and literacy, with another common theme being careers advice. They also name the people who will chair each area’s “partnership board”. Here is a summary of what each area plans to do for schools… 1. Bradford The chair of the Bradford opportunity area partnership board is Anne-Marie Canning, who is director of social mobility and student success at King’s College London. A former access officer at the University College Oxford, Canning is also a member of the Universities UK Ministerial Advisory Group, and has served as chair of the Russell Group Widening Participation Association. She also served as a Labour Party councillor on Oxford City Council. She says she grew up in one of the poorest postcodes in Yorkshire and is determined to “make Bradford’s social mobility...

DfE let two free schools rack up £2 million debts over pupil numbers

Two free schools racked up almost £2 million in debt after the Department for Education repeatedly allowed them to over-predict pupil numbers for three years without any plan for dealing with the deficits. Perry Beeches III, part of the now-defunct Perry Beeches Trust in Birmingham, and Robert Owen Academy, a vocational free school in Hereford, consistently predicted they would recruit more pupils than they actually managed between 2014 and 2017. Government rules require free schools to predict how many pupils will attend so per-capita funding can be allocated. If schools over-predict, the government takes back some of the money, or writes it off. Information obtained by Schools Week shows that hundreds of free schools rack up these debts, because over-predicting a few pupil places can amount to thousands of pounds in extra funding, but that the majority return the cash or have a plan to do so. From 2014, Perry Beeches and Robert Owen Academy over-predicted their numbers each year but were only ever listed as “discussing” their recovery plans. Both schools racked up considerable debt: Perry Beeches III had to hand back more than £1 million and Robert Owen academy more than £660,000. But both schools have now hit...

Government tsar calls energy drinks ‘child protection issue’

There are fresh moves afoot to make energy drinks illegal for anyone under 16, as one school resorts to bag searches for caffeinated drinks and sugary snacks to improve pupil behaviour. A public health nutritionist wants to ban the sale of energy drinks, which can have more caffeine than a filter coffee, to pupils, so schools do not have to enforce strict policies. Her words follow celebrity chef Jamie Oliver also urging the government to introduce a ban. Teeside University’s Dr Amelia Lake warned that drinks like Monster and Red Bull have detrimental effects on pupils’ behaviour and sleep patterns, and can be addictive. Children need to be supported in developing healthy lifestyles, as well as protected from exposure to known addictive substances Her words were backed by Tom Bennett, the government’s behaviour tsar, who said the health implications of the high-caffeine content made energy drinks a “child protection issue” as much as a behaviour issue. “Children need to be supported in developing healthy lifestyles, as well as protected from exposure to known addictive substances,” he said. Bennett also applauded the Charles Dickens School in Kent, which faced a backlash from some parents last week after it began confiscating all...