Monthly Archives: July 2013

Tut tut Ofsted …

Schools watchdog Ofsted has admitted failings in its inspections at a Hampshire school criticised for its handling of a pupil’s rape claim.

A tribunal in January raised “grave concerns” about safeguarding at the independent Stanbridge Earls School. Last year Ofsted said the school was “outstanding”, but a review of the inspections has found they failed to get “underneath concerns”. The chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has apologised.

Disciplinary action has been taken against a small number of staff, including dismissal.

The tribunal found the school, which caters for pupils aged 10 to 19 with special educational needs and charges up to £40,000-a-year, had failed to protect the “vulnerable” pupil. Her parents started legal action on discrimination grounds after she was excluded following her claim she had been raped twice by other students. The tribunal heard the school believed she had consented and excluded her for breaking rules by having sex on school grounds.

Three Ofsted inspections since the tribunal’s damning findings revealed serious concerns about safeguarding at the school.

The school is now to be closed, and a charity based mainly in Surrey is going to take it over and run a new school on the site.

Today’s apology is probably one of the most embarrassing for Ofsted that I can certainly remember (although I have only existed for just over 21 years, so that’s not saying a great deal). I find it staggering that every year since 2009, this school has been rated ‘outstanding’. Three of these inspections in the last three years identified no concerns, in fact the category concerning pupil safety was rated ‘outstanding’ every time. One of these reports said: “Overall management of behaviour is highly effective and results in a respectful and safe culture throughout the school.” Yeah really sounds like it …

Something clearly needs to be change to prevent catastrophic events like this one happening. Quite whether Ofsted can continue to exist as it is to be honest is questionable. If the regulators are this bad, it puts schools under the pressure of being inspected whilst not actually achieving anything credible, which is a waste of taxpayer’s money and government investment. Sir Wilshaw is planning on bringing in eight regional directors next year which he claims will make for “clearer lines of accountability” and improved technology will give inspectors “better access to joined-up information”. Great … more positions which don’t actually do much, and how much are they going to be paid? Certainly won’t be minimum wage will it?


Teacher training system ‘broken down’ …

The system of planning teacher training in England has broken down and risks a future shortage of teachers, a university think tank says.

The Department for Education has switched about 9,000 teacher training places from universities to schools under its School Direct programme.

But Million+ predicts, with only 45% of places on it filled, there will be 3,000 fewer teachers trained by 2014.

The government said heads were choosing “only the brightest graduates”.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said the programme was “a response to what schools told us they wanted, a greater role in selecting and recruiting trainees with potential to be outstanding teachers”.

The spokeswoman said the programme was proving “extremely popular”. By May some 22,500 people had applied for half as many places.

The Commons Education Select Committee is conducting an inquiry into teacher training and has just published evidence submitted to it.

In her evidence to the committee, Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million+ – a think tank that also represents newer universities – said School Direct, , which is focused around on-the-job, school-based training, had been introduced “without any robust assessment of its impact on teacher supply”.

“Ministers say that schools should lead the commissioning of teacher training, but it is clear that this will not guarantee the number of trained teachers that will be needed by schools across the country in the future.

“Universities that have run very successful programmes to enhance the expertise of prospective teachers in key specialist shortage subjects are not being allocated numbers.”

She added: “The combined impact of the new Ofsted regime under which fewer schools are being classed as outstanding, new rules which debar universities rated as good teacher training providers from having any guarantee of training numbers and the transfer of places to schools which are clearly finding it difficult to recruit suitable applicants has created a triple whammy. As a result the national system for planning and delivering an adequate number of qualified and trained teachers has broken down.”

Ms Tatlow added: “Universities which have been at the heart of high quality teacher training are being side-lined and expected to take all the risks with no guarantee of training numbers. This is clearly untenable. MPs should be very concerned that well-regarded higher education providers will pull the plug on teacher training altogether because of the uncertainty that has been created.”

She said: “Rather than expand the programme, School Direct numbers should be reduced in 2014-15 and a national strategy agreed to bring some stability and common-sense back into the system.”

Kevin Brennan, Labour’s shadow school’s minister, said the government’s “failure and incompetence means there is now a crisis in teacher recruitment”.

“We have already seen 6,000 teachers quit the profession on the Prime Minister’s watch, now it looks like there will be a shortfall of 3,000 teacher trainees on top of that. This is a real risk to standards, and parents will be worried. David Cameron is damaging standards by allowing unqualified teachers into our classrooms. This is not the answer to the recruitment crisis he has created. Pupils deserve better.”

The Million + study comes after analysis by leading teacher recruitment expert Prof John Howson, of Oxford Brookes University, revealed that by early July schools had accepted only 5,000 trainees on the scheme.

This new School Direct programme is an interesting concept. I’m sure a lot of people would enjoy the idea of on the job training. However, the big concern I have is that people are trying to teach in a classroom without the necessary theoretical understanding of how children learn, meaning that the quality of teaching will be significantly reduced.

This takes the whole topic back to the Theory versus Practical debate, that occurs in most teaching. Where I stand on this is that you need a good level of both sides. You need the practical experience of what happens in a classroom before you can possibly teach in a classroom, but without the underlying theories behind it, you cannot possibly work in a classroom. For me this programme is just destroying the respect of the University courses, which have been at the heart of the teacher training system for a very long time. Undermining this system will produce poorer quality teachers and really cause problems for the profession.

I would be disappointed to see Universities pulling the plug on teacher training courses because of a government initiative that is fundamentally flawed. I’ve been in training for the past 3 years and have 1 more year to go before I fully qualify as a teacher. While I would have liked more time in schools in that time, I’ve still developed a lot of theory and concepts that are put into practice in the lecture theatre which this programme would not be providing. I wouldn’t forgive myself if I let the quality of the profession I’m going into take a massive slide down the negative route.

School’s out for Summer … or not …

School may be out for summer, but a survey suggests many parents are unwilling to let their children have a holiday from studying at all.

More than a quarter plan to hire tutors to help prevent the so-called “summer slide” in academic ability, the poll of 1,000 primary school parents suggests. A fifth hire tutors so their child can be “the best in the class”, the survey for a maths tutoring website adds.

Research has long shown pupils’ grades slip back over the summer break. This is especially the case if they do not engage in educational activities.

Statistics have shown lately that children typically perform weaker in tests set at the end of the summer holiday than if they took the same tests at the beginning. Some argue that this is due to the unequal access to summer learning opportunities.

But the independent survey carried out for, which offers online tutoring courses, suggests more than a third of parents are unaware that their child’s learning may slip back during the holidays. However, most of the parents were planning to undertake some low-cost learning activity with their children over the six-week break. These included reading books (29%), tapping into the latest literacy and numeracy mobile apps (14%), SATs revision (8%) and online courses to keep children’s minds active (7%), according to the online poll. The finding that 27% were planning to hire tutors for their primary-age children, surprised the firm that commissioned the poll, but is in line with earlier estimates of pre-GCSE tutoring.

Many schools do not set much, if any, homework over the summer. However, it is a time when many, especially working parents, have more time to help their children with it. This doesn’t mean though that setting homework should happen surely? Why aren’t kids allowed a holiday? Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said kids should be allowed to be kids during the holidays and children need a break from learning pressure and time to play – which is itself educational. That last part was the key to me. The government were slammed on the lack of inclusion of Play in the EYFS curriculum so, assuming that the new curriculum does indeed come in, the holidays are the only other time that Play as part of education will be available.

Tuition companies at the moment are pointing to summer holidays as their peak times for signing customers up. Heather Garrick, marketing director for Explore Learning states, “July is by far our busiest sign up month. Last year for example, we had 2,600 new members sign up in July compared with 988 in June 2012. As a result we have longer opening hours throughout the summer to deal with this increased demand.”

William Stadler, founder and director of Holland Park Tuition reports an increase in parents with younger children seeking tuition at this time of year. He adds, “It’s a very good opportunity to do some catch-up work because the parents have more time and the children are not at school. If there are a couple of issues that just need to be ironed out, you can go through it in a stress-free way rather than spending five hours struggling. The idea of tuition is to take the stress out of a child’s life – then they can go off and play football or whatever else they would much prefer to be doing.” I’m really sorry Mr Stadler, but what are you talking about? Most children who would need things ‘ironing out’ as you put it that I’ve taught have found learning particularly stressful, so how is more learning stress-free?

The big question I would like answered on this topic is: Who makes the decision of summer tutoring: the child or the parents? The sense that I get here is it is more likely to be the parents. Recently on Channel 4 on UK television there was a program called Child Genius, where children of the top 0.1% of the country competed in a competition called Child Genius of the Year. On it was a child called Connor. His mum decided to make his 9 year old son do GCSE Mathematics early in order to impress a school. This meant that Connor was put through studying of 12 hours a day, including school hours and homework from the school. I saw this and thought to myself, does he really want that? Throughout the programme they had shown him with rather distressed looks and his general wellbeing didn’t seem to be that strong. Now I’m not saying all parents are too pushy, and I understand that all parents want the best for their children, but there does need to be a time of year where the children do not feel stressed out by a barrage of learning, especially if the weather has been as hot as the last couple of weeks have been.

If all this tutoring is necessary, why do we not have a 12 month school timetable for our curriculum as opposed to the current 10 months or so? This means that the children are in education and getting the same level of tutoring or maybe even better than what they would get from a private tutor, who incidentally the parents would have to pay for, which is something else Mary Bousted of ATL disagrees with.

Talent Shoutout: My cousin Charlotte

First one of these in quite a while, and this one concerns wonderful little creatures of a different sort to the usual. My cousin Charlotte is looking at building up a profile to help her get into University, so she’s started up a little website making pockets and uggles for small pets, so if you have a little furry friend buy one of these things, definitely useful for the typical British weather that we get (although maybe no so much the past week or so XD)

All delivery is free and every pocket/uggle is made to order so go and get one now or Mr Melaney will get grumpy! (just kidding, but still buy one anyway!!!)

Like their page on Facebook:

Thanks in advance everyone, Charlotte will really appreciate your support!

Exam board seminars were gonna be banned, not now …

England’s exams regulator has rowed back from a decision to ban exam board seminars for teachers because of the pace of change in the exams system.

Ofqual had planned an outright ban on seminars on specific qualifications after a report claimed teachers were unfairly given details of future exams.

It now says seminars can still play a role in supporting teachers prepare students for new exams. But rules governing these face-to-face events will be tightened. Ofqual says no one who has had access to confidential assessment materials can be present at such events.

The seminars themselves should be closely monitored by the exam boards, it says, adding that they could be recorded.

It also says any events should be reasonably available to all teachers and that all training materials used should be published in ways that teachers can access.

Ofqual’s chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: “We had previously decided to stop events taking place for specific qualifications after they start being taught in schools. Since our original decision, the full scale and pace of the programme to reform GCSEs and A-levels has become clear. And exam boards have put in place new approaches for managing confidentiality at these events. After looking at this evidence and listening to the feedback from our recent consultation, we have decided that appropriately run seminars can still play a key role in supporting teachers to prepare their students for the new qualifications.”

She added: “Teachers should be given enough information about new qualifications to be able to plan their teaching and to teach students well, but they should not be given confidential information about future exams. We are making sure that teachers can get the right information about qualifications, and that what happens in seminars is all above board.”

The initial Ofqual inquiry followed reports in the Daily Telegraph newspaper. It found there were problems with some seminars, but these related to limited specific incidents and were not systemic.

An examiner from one of the biggest exam boards, Edexcel, was suspended as a result of the allegations as were two examiners from the smaller Welsh board WJEC, which also had to rewrite and delay one of its exams.

WJEC said in a statement: “As an awarding body, we believe we are in the best position to provide teachers with clear guidance and support as they prepare to introduce new qualifications in the classroom. Today’s confirmation about the scope of what we are able to do will help us prepare for our exciting programme of CPD events in the autumn, including our innovative new online examination review provision.”

There were no complaints against the other major exam boards, OCR and AQA. However, AQA’s chief executive Andrew Hall said:

“We were really concerned when we thought there might be a total ban, as there hadn’t been any problems with our seminars and it looked like Ofqual was going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This would have been very serious at a time when new GCSEs and A-levels are being introduced. So, I am pleased that Ofqual has listened to these concerns and now decided that with the right controls in place across the sector, these events will be able to continue.”

Outstanding? I don’t think so …

More than 100 schools previously rated “outstanding” by Ofsted inspectors have lost their top rankings after changes to the system in England.

The schools have been reinspected since September, after changes aimed at putting more weight on teaching.

In the past, it was possible to be rated outstanding even though inspectors judged teaching and learning were not of the highest standard. But that was changed in September, when other new rules also came in. Now only schools that are rated outstanding for teaching and learning can normally get the highest ranking.

The latest figures show that out of 155 schools inspected since last September which had previously been rated outstanding overall but not for teaching and learning, fewer than a third – 44 schools – kept that ranking. Of the others, 91 schools were rated “good”, while 20 were told they needed to improve. Two of this last group were given the lowest rating of “inadequate”.

Ofsted says parents expect that outstanding schools should have outstanding teaching.

A spokeswoman said: “The inspection framework introduced from September 2012 raised expectations. Teaching is, of course, central to the life of every school. That is why there should be a close link between Ofsted’s overall effectiveness judgement and the quality of teaching. It makes sense that outstanding schools should have outstanding teaching – parents expect that. This doesn’t mean that every lesson needs to be outstanding but, over time, schools must show outstanding teaching is helping pupils make excellent progress.”

However, the spokeswoman added that other factors, apart from the quality of teaching, may have contributed to the downgrading of the 111 schools.

Outstanding schools no longer have to be inspected regularly, while schools categorised as “good” are checked at least every five years.

For outstanding schools, Ofsted says it carries out a risk assessment which includes checks on schools’ exam or test results, and if there are any causes for concern, inspectors are sent in. A change such as the addition of a sixth form would also lead to a new check.

Overall, 70% of schools in England are rated either good or outstanding. One in five of all schools was rated outstanding in August last year – about 4,400. Of those, one in four does not have the top ranking for teaching and learning.

Jan Webber, inspection specialist for the head teachers’ group ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders), said Ofsted had made it clear that there was to be a greater focus on teaching quality, so the loss of some outstanding rankings was “not surprising”.

“When Ofsted do the risk assessments, it could be that if a school graded outstanding has a two for teaching, they will then dig deeper into pupils’ progress and results,” she said. “If there has been a dip in achievement overall or key groups are underachieving, such as students with special needs or on free school meals, that could trigger an inspection.”

At its Easter conference, the National Union of Teachers called for Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw to resign, saying he was demoralising the profession. It also pledged to continue a campaign for the abolition of Ofsted. The teaching unions have questioned the quality of inspection teams.

Christine Blower, the general secretary of the NUT said: “By constantly changing the goal posts of what constitutes a good or outstanding school it makes it very difficult for schools to reach the targets imposed by Ofsted and government. This is especially the case for schools if they serve in challenging communities as less and less attention is given by Ofsted to the value schools add to their pupil achievements in relation to their low starting point.”

Justine Roberts, the co-founder of the Mumsnet website told BBC News: “Many Mumsnet users welcomed the planned Ofsted changes when they were announced last year, hoping it would encourage more competition and loosen the stranglehold of consistently top-ranking ‘outstanding’ schools in each area. That said, others have expressed concern that the new rating system puts too much stress on already hard-pressed teachers.”

It is apparent that these changes, whilst originally may have been welcomed, have had an effect which both Unions and members of Mumsnet had anticipated. I’m not quite sure what they were expecting to be perfectly honest. It was obvious that some schools that were previously rated as ‘outstanding’ may lose that rating. I actually welcome the shorter notice as it makes it a lot harder for schools to window dress their performance. I also welcome Ofsted choosing random names of work from a list as opposed to letting the schools choose 2 people from each class as was done before. I remember when my old middle school was inspected, my work and the work of one other higher ability girl was always chosen, which doesn’t provide an accurate image across the board. I do however think that Ofsted should in fact be looking more specifically at those with special educational needs or on free school meals a bit more closely, which I understand is part of the changes being made. I do understand the argument that it’s more stress on teachers, well my answer to that is simply that teaching is a stressful job, but it’s the most rewarding job out there if you can handle the stress and put the work in. I must be one of the few that I know who don’t seem to find it as stressful as others, but I guess I’m still an undergraduate so as I get into full time work more and more I’ll end up with the same stress as everyone else. Oh the joys of looking forward to that …

Exclusion rate on the up in both primary and secondary schools!

More children were permanently excluded from primary schools in England last year, 45% of them for physical assault.

In 2011-12 690 were expelled – 80 up on the previous year – 230 for persistent disruptive behaviour, 200 for assaults on adults and 120 for attacking pupils.

At secondary schools, 4,390 pupils were expelled – 20 up on the previous year – 1,050 for physical assault and 1,700 for persistent disruptive behaviour.

The rise follows a steady decline in the numbers and rate over recent years.

With about 8.2m pupils in England’s schools, the number of exclusions are are small.

Boys are about three times more likely to receive an exclusion, either temporary or permanent, than girls. And pupils with a special educational need are about eight times more likely to be excluded than those without.

In September 2012, the government strengthened head teachers’ powers over exclusions by replacing the independent appeal panel with a review panel.

The independent appeal panel could overturn decisions to exclude – but the new review panel can only recommend that head teachers take a pupil back.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Heads now have more power than ever before to ensure strong discipline in the classroom.

“We have introduced new search powers, no-notice detentions, and have ensured heads’ decisions on expulsions cannot be overruled.

“The government is tackling the causes of exclusion by improving the quality of teaching, raising standards in literacy and numeracy, tackling disadvantage through the pupil premium, overhauling the special educational needs system and making radical improvements to alternative provision.”

I’m not particularly concerned with the number of exclusions, although I do believe that removing a child out of school on a permanent basis isn’t always the way forward. My concern with this primary lies with who is being excluded. As someone who was worked with children with signs of depression, MLD, ADHD amongst others in a mainstream setting, I have seen how difficult it is to provide for them. Recently I worked in a school in Torquay where we had a child with ADHD, who frequently spent time out of the classroom due to his disruptive behaviour, but he wasn’t excluded for it. I have seen schools in the past exclude children with SEN just to improve their school statistics, which is absolutely disgraceful. Fortunately that seems to be a minimum now.

The last concern I have is the reasons for exclusion. It is alarming to see 200 children being expelled in 2011-12 for assaulting an adult. But there are times when I think that the exclusion may not be the way forward, but obviously this is entirely dependent on circumstances. The statistics don’t show the severity of these assaults, but you would assume that because the children were excluded the nature was quite serious. I personally think exclusion is sometimes seen as the ‘safe way out’ when dealing with these incidents, instead of looking at the underlying causes. What if the child has serious home issues such as parents who perhaps aren’t exactly role models? Should we be providing more support to that particular child and family rather than simply tossing them aside?

Primary places shortfall not being dealt with, says Labour

Labour has accused the government of not doing enough to combat a shortfall in primary school places in England predicted for September.

Despite increases in school capacity there will be 120,000 fewer places than there are pupils, according to the party’s analysis of government figures.

Thousands of parents “face a summer of worry” said shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg.

The government said Labour’s calculation was “simplistic”.

Labour’s analysis compares the figure of more than 230,000 extra primary places which the National Audit Office has said will be needed by September with the 110,000 places which the government has said will have been created by local authorities.

This leaves a shortfall of 120,000 says Labour which will mean many parents “will have to scramble for a place”.

“When schools start again in September, parents will see more overcrowded classes and temporary classrooms on playgrounds,” said Mr Twigg.

“In some cases even the school library and music room may have shut to create new classrooms.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “The claim that there will be a shortfall of 120,000 places is based on a simplistic and totally flawed calculation that does not take into account existing surplus places.

“In fact, our latest survey shows that there are around 400,000 surplus primary school places across the country and we expect a further 110,000 extra places to be created by September.”

The spokeswoman said the government would spend £5bn by 2015 on new school places, “more than double the amount spent by the previous government in the same time frame.

“In addition nine out of 10 primary free schools approved last month are in areas of basic need, and last week we announced a further £820m to create 74,000 extra places where they are most needed.”

Labour said the government’s free schools programme was failing to provide places in areas of shortage.

“Labour would sort out this mess by ensuring primary schools are built where they’re needed, instead of wasting hundreds of millions building free schools in areas where there are already enough places”, said Mr Twigg.

Natalie Evans of the New Schools Network, which represents free schools, said: “Nearly 70% of all open or approved free schools have been set up in areas where there is a need for places.

“At this rate by 2015 free schools will have created an additional 250,000 places, an important contribution to tackling the current shortfall in school places.”

The squeeze on primary places stems from a rising birth-rate and increased immigration.

In March, the National Audit Office said in excess of 230,000 primary places would be needed in time for the next academic year, with one in five primaries full or near capacity amid signs of “real strain” on places.

The report also warned that although all regions would need more primary places, the shortage was not evenly spread. The greatest pressure is in London which accounts for a third of the places needed, it said.

Labour has a good point here I think. What the government don’t realise is the fact that the alleged ‘existing surplus places’ will be in areas that are more likely to be highly populated, meaning smaller towns and villages etc won’t necessarily have access to their local school. This means that it is important, as Labour suggest, to make sure these schools that have millions of pounds invested in them are built in these lesser areas to give smaller areas a local school to attend. The last thing we want as primary teachers is for our classes to be overcrowded and unmanageable.

Applying to uni? Some interesting trends emerging …

Today we have news that UCAS has found some interesting trends in those applying to universities, including: Black and Asian teenagers are more likely to apply to university than white youngsters in England.

The analysis of applications also shows big differences within the UK, with Northern Ireland youngsters the most likely to aspire to university.

Within England, teenagers in London are the most likely to seek places.

There are “eye-catching regional variations in demand”, says UCAS chief Mary Curnock Cook.

The big picture shows an across-the-board, long-term rise in young people seeking places on undergraduate courses, which seems to be recovering from a dip following the increase in tuition fees.

But the figures from UCAS, based on 20 million applications between 2004 and 2013, show sharp differences behind the overall upward trend.

Around half of young people now apply for university places – in England this rose from 36% to 44% between 2006 and 2010. Bodes well for the government’s idea that more people should be going to university.

But whether a young person applies to university is heavily influenced by a number of factors, including social background, gender, ethnicity and where they live. I find gender rather surprising here personally. It’s not clear on precisely how gender has any influence, whilst the others whilst they shouldn’t necessarily be factors, in particular where they live, would understandably influence some children.

There has been a big increase in applications from ethnic minority youngsters in England, particularly black teenagers, rising from 20% to 34% between 2006 and 2013. Chinese teenagers are the most likely to apply, followed by other Asian youngsters, with white teenagers the least likely to apply, with 29% seeking places.

“Our new analysis of demand by ethnic group shows that white pupils at English schools now have the lowest application rate of any ethnic group. There has been significant growth in demand from black pupils,” says Ms Curnock Cook.

Nicola Dandridge, head of Universities UK, said the figures raised questions about “why young white men from disadvantaged backgrounds are increasingly unlikely to apply to university”.

“It is critical that universities continue their outreach work to ensure that anyone who has the ability and potential to benefit from a university education should have the opportunity to do so,” she said.

More youngsters from the poorest income groups are applying, but there are still significant gaps in terms of social background.

Teenagers from the richest areas are more than four times as likely to apply to the most selective universities than youngsters from the poorest areas. Youngsters who were on free school meals are only half as likely to apply to university compared with the rest of their cohort.

There are big geographical divides. In England, 42% of 18-year-olds in London apply to university, compared with 31% in the north east. What I’m curious to know is the actual numbers of young people applying, rather than percentages due to differences in the populations of these areas.

London state schools have been commended for having the best results in England.

Across the UK, Northern Ireland has a significantly higher level of applications than elsewhere, with 48% of 18-year-olds applying, compared with 31% in Wales.

Gender remains one of the biggest factors in application rates, with females remaining substantially more likely to apply. In 2012 in England, 49% of women applied compared with 38% of men.

All of these factors overlap, so that a woman from Northern Ireland is much more likely to seek a university place than a man from Wales and a white youngster from the north east of England is less likely to apply than a black teenager in London.

Les Ebdon, director of the Office of Fair Access, welcomed the fact that the gap in applications between richest and poorest was narrowing.

But Universities UK warned that the figures did not show applications from mature and part-time students, which have been hit by the increase in tuition fees. This is also true for those who transfer between unis as well.

“Numbers of mature and part-time students have decreased considerably since 2010 and any further drop may have significant implications for potential students and the country as a whole,” said Universities UK chief, Nicola Dandridge.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokeswoman said: “These figures confirm that the desire to study at university remains strong, with application rates for 18-year-olds at near record levels.

“Some challenges remain but no one should be put off going to university for financial reasons. Our reforms mean students do not have to pay fees upfront, there is more financial support for those from poorer families and everyone faces lower loan repayments once they are in well-paid jobs.”

Children becoming more miserable?

The happiness of children in the UK is in decline, with 15% of young teenagers reporting low well-being, a report from a children’s charity says.

The Children’s Society’s Good Childhood Report says well-being has dipped since 2008 after a period of improvement from 1994.

Teenagers aged 14 and 15 are said to have the lowest self-satisfaction, with 15% reporting low well-being.

The charity says the drop should not be dismissed as normal early-teen angst.

About 42,000 eight to 17-year-olds were quizzed about their well-being using a mix of extensively trialled questions.

The report found that around four-fifths of children could be said to be “flourishing”. This was defined as having scored on or above the mid-point for questions about their life satisfaction and psychological well-being.

But one in 10 children could be said to have low well-being, defined as scoring below the mid-point for the same questions.

Such children are several times more likely than those with average to high well-being to experience family conflict, bullying, problems in their friendships and other negative experiences.

The researchers said previous research had consistently found that well-being declined between the age of eight and 15.

It added that the new findings showed this age-related downward trend reversed at 16 or 17 for life satisfaction, psychological well-being and choice.

The areas with the greatest falls between eight and 15 concerned school, appearance, money/possessions and the future, the researchers said. Those with the greatest increases among teenagers aged 15 and 17 are choice, family and appearance.

The researchers added: “Appearance seems to be an aspect of life that is a particular issue for children in their early teenage years. There is a large drop in happiness with appearance between the ages of eight and 12, which continues at a low level for 13, 14 and 15-year-olds, and then increases again at 16 and 17 years old.”

Children said that having loving and supportive family relationships was important. Having a reasonable level of choice and autonomy – particularly for teenagers – was vital.

Chief executive of the Children’s Society Matthew Reed said: “The well-being of our future generation in the UK is critical, so it is incredibly worrying that any improvements this country has seen in children’s well-being over the last two decades appear to have stalled.

“These startling findings show that we should be paying particular attention to improving the happiness of this country’s teenagers. These findings clearly show that we can’t simply dismiss their low well-being as inevitable ‘teen grumpiness’.

“They are facing very real problems we can all work to solve, such as not feeling safe at home, being exposed to family conflict or being bullied.”

The charity said it did not know why well-being appeared to have stalled but indicated that issues such as poverty and unemployment that could be connected with the economic downturn might be part of the cause.

Psychologist Linda Papadopoulos said it was important not to dismiss this dip in well-being among 14 and 15-year-olds as inevitable and “just teenagers being teenagers”.

“We really must talk to this generation and listen to what they have to say. Children and teenagers deserve proper support, choices and a decent say in their own lives. Being unhappy is definitely not an inevitable part of growing up. We owe it to our children to help them flourish as much as possible.”

Dr Carol Fuller, associate professor of education and assistant director of research at the University of Reading’s Institute of Education, said: “That children’s wellbeing is on the decline, particularly amongst those aged 14-15, is hardly surprising given the huge amount of stresses placed on them. For example, at this age we are asking them to make educational choices that will have consequences for the rest of their lives. We also live in a society that makes judgements about you based on your level of educational ‘success’, so the pressure to achieve is extraordinary as they enter this period of their lives.”

I sure know what I make of all of this. If our current generation of young people are feeling down, what is the pressure of the new proposed curriculum going to do? Is that going to have any impact? We also need to look at role models for young people when we look at appearance. As the report states, it’s not just teenagers who prioritise appearance these days. I’ve worked in a Year 6 class where a girl came in plastered in makeup dressed like Tulisa (hardly a role model is she?), and other children being isolated because they wear glasses. I don’t remember a lot of appearance bullying when I was a kid, perhaps with the exception of the glasses and the fact that I looked like the Milky Bar Kid when I was younger (strange really, I went from the Milky Bar Kid to Harry Potter, all I need now is a lightning scar on my forehead and I’d be perfect). We certainly didn’t have girls wearing makeup in primary. This implies that these days, children appear to grow up too fast, making them teenagers before they even hit 13.

Choices that teenagers have to make now appear to be too early as well, unless you can find a way round that. I remember not having any idea what I wanted to be when I was 16, but A level choices have to be made then, so I had to try and find a wide range of subjects that covers everything apart from subjects that I wasn’t interested in. Fortunately for me I managed to find a few subjects and dealt with it that way. It can also be the case that you may decide at 16 that you want to do one career, then as soon as you go into A levels, you might end up wanting to do something else, meaning that your A levels may not fit the requirements for you new career path, causing you to end up holding back a year or in some cases 2 years to gain the correct A levels.

I find it rather interesting that supportive families came up in this report. I know from personal experience what not having one can do to you, and have seen it happen even in the early primary days, let alone the early teenage years. It does seem to imply to me that family issues are becoming more and more common, which may be a significant cause of this shift in well-being. This means that perhaps we should be providing more support for families as a whole, rather than simply just the teenagers themselves.