Opinion: How the “extras” of school life can raise attainment

school mealsI recently wrote this article about staffing in our schools. To follow on from that I’m moving on to some elements of school ‘life’. These ‘extras’ to the daily job of educating our children are all too often seen as not important, but in my experience they have a HUGE impact on the achievements and wellbeing of our children. (For info – I personally work in a secondary Academy, years 7-11).

Liberal Democrats need to strive to improve the life chances of our most vulnerable children, this can be done by:

Free hot meals for all 14 year olds & under. The qualifying criteria for Free School Meals (FSM) to be removed and ALL children up to and including year 9 (aged 13 rising to 14) to have a free hot meal available at school.

Any child who’s parent is in receipt of ANY benefit payment to have a free school breakfast as part of a before-school club. The impact that a balanced nutritional breakfast can have on academic attainment is vast and too many of our less privileged children are sent to school with a decent breakfast. I regularly see students arriving to school sipping energy drinks and that’s all they’ve had that morning, others with nothing until their free school meal at lunch time. We run a breakfast club at my academy and the difference it makes to our most vulnerable students is immense, improved attendance, better concentration in class, better behaviour, improved relationships with staff and other students.

All parents/carers to attend ‘parents evening’ (or similar) at least twice per year. Research and experience shows that parental involvement in children’s learning can have a huge impact (up to the equivalent on 2 additional grades upwards, turning E grades into C grades, or C grades into A grades!).  Home/School contracts to be used to ensure parental attendance at a minimum of 2 parents’ evenings per school year. The dates of these need to be set and communicated to all parents at the start of the year. For parents with working arrangements which mean they cannot attend, they must be met by the appropriate school staff separately.

No more Academies or Free Schools to be given permission to be opened or converted from LEA schools. We have seen all too many times academies fall and be passed into new academy trusts, or turned into free schools. Schools should be run by teachers for the good of the local community as part of the local education authority (LEA). Academies were created by Labour, free schools by Tories both are being taken advantage off by business or accountants. There are too many news stories about academy chiefs being paid on a par with the Prime Minister! Schools should be about one thing and one thing alone: The education of our children.


* Barry Holliday Barry Holliday is Lib Dem PPC for Nottingham South, Nottingham City Lib Dems vice-chair & campaigns officer. He is a secondary school teacher of History & PSHCE and Notts County FC fan

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  • Paul Howden 26th Jun '14 - 4:35pm

    These are good policies but I would question why we wouldn’t extend free school meals / Breakfast to years 10 and 11? These are pivotal years in transgression from school life to the next chapter and are equally important. I would also favour free transport for students. I always saw it as an incredibly unfair and inequitable Government scheme to give pensioners non means tested universal free bus travel when the provision for students is lacking. This opens up choice to less affluent families who may be put off a further (distance) school by Transport costs.

    I think forcing parents to attend parents evening is a bit nanny state for a liberal policy. My children’s parents evenings always leave me in despair at how a school can be so badly organised and have such bad time management – which surely it should be encouraging children to have!

  • daft ha'p'orth 26th Jun '14 - 4:49pm

    ” too many of our less privileged children are sent to school with a decent breakfast. ”
    I think you mean without (skipped your Weetabix this morning? 🙂 )

    Offer free hot meals to everyone under fourteen whilst shouting ‘there is no money left’, pushing the Bedroom Tax and messing with disability benefits. Shove free lunches down the gobs of upper middle class kids; pay for it with money you reclaimed from vulnerable adults? Why not. With The Lib Dems, There Is Such A Thing As A Free Lunch*[under 14s only may apply].

  • It is ironic that EMA was abolished on the ground that it was unaffordable – with its more limited replacement supposedly more narrowly targeted to those who needed it, whereas with free primary school meals precisely the opposite is happening.

    What could the reason be? Could it simply be that the beneficiaries of expanding free school meals are middle-class families in leafy Tory and Lib Dem seats, and those who lost out from the abolition of EMA weren’t?

  • Rebecca Hanson 26th Jun '14 - 9:52pm

    Are you a member of the Liberal Democrats Education Association (LDEA) Barry? If you want to have a voice on education policy in the party it’s a good organisation to be part of.

  • Chris,
    No it’s to help ALL children no matter where they live and for reference the school I work in is in a safe labour seat.

    It doesn’t matter what party the local MP is from, what matters is helping our young vulnerable students getting the support they need to achieve all that they can.

  • Peter Watson 26th Jun '14 - 11:42pm

    @Joe Otten “And anyway you’ve been given the reason for the extension of free school meals. It is a good reason.”
    But it costs money that could be spent on other schemes and other interventions. Does extending free school meals deliver the best educational outcomes for that money, or the best political ones?

  • “Chris, no it couldn’t be that. Clearly. Think about it.”

    By all means contribute to the discussion by explaining why you don’t think it could be, rather than posting cryptic little assertions like the one above.

    And, while you’re at it – as for the “good reason” being apparent, I’ll repeat below a comment I made on another thread on this topic. Perhaps you can also answer the questions about whether this is an efficient use of money – though no one on the other thread could.

    Of course, the Department for Education’s Impact Report considered precisely this question, and concluded that:
    “Comparing these figures with those for selected other interventions designed to affect similar outcomes suggests that the universal entitlement pilot delivered better value for money (in terms of higher attainment of pupils on average) than some educational interventions, but worse value for money than others. The evidence suggests that the universal entitlement pilot provides better value for money than the extended entitlement pilot, but raises questions over its value for money compared with some other initiatives.”

    To give a concrete example, the report estimated that the “Literacy Hour’ provided 90% of the benefit of universal free school meals at only 11% of the cost. And Jamie Oliver’s campaign to improve the quality, rather than the quantity, of school meals, provided more than half the benefit at less than a tenth of the cost.

  • Helen Dudden 29th Jun '14 - 5:33pm

    All children should have a fair chance in life. I have experienced a situation on a child access issue that was something my MP did not wish to deal with.

    When I rang the office of Nick Clegg, it was totally a negative the response. Do you feel all children have a right to law and justice? I do. Even though those children are only half British. Well that could be the norm on quite a few children living in our society.

    I went to a meeting, and the Minister for Justice Simon Hughes came along. I made it quite clear what I wished to see fair, in the our society. But your Party is the only party without and MP involvement. I think that is quite sad.

    But this issue is obviously not on your to do list, so it will linger on.

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