Latest research shows league tables ‘punish and reward wrong schools’

  • A fifth of schools saw their national league table position change by over 500 places using the adjusted Progress 8 measure;
  • In the North East, schools on average were ranked 361 places higher; in the North West, 107 places higher; and in Yorkshire, 82 places higher;
  • Schools with the highest numbers of long-term disadvantaged children in the country including from Yorkshire and the Humber and North West make the top 10 of all schools

Secondary school league tables continue to misrepresent the performance of schools by failing to show the difference when pupil background is taken into account, according to the Fair Secondary School Index published by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership today [29 October].

As the deadline for secondary school applications closes this week, latest research from the University of Bristol shows that once factors such as pupil ethnicity, deprivation and special educational needs are taken into account, a fifth of schools saw their national league table position change by over 500 places.

Critically, more than half [51%] of schools across England currently judged to be ‘underperforming’ would no longer fall into this category. These are the striking findings from the latest study by Dr George Leckie and Professor Harvey Goldstein from the Centre for Multilevel Modelling at the University of Bristol who analysed the 2018 data from all 3,165 state-maintained secondary schools in England.

They looked at ‘Progress 8’, the headline measure used by the Department of Education to assess progress made by pupils during their time at secondary school. It was introduced in 2016 and compares GCSE results to Key Stage 2 test results, which the Government argues takes prior attainment into account when judging progress.

The findings are consistent with previous research published by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership from Education Data Lab which showed many working-class girls and boys from less well-off homes and groups including those from white ethnic backgrounds do worse overall currently.

Whilst many secondary schools in the North are still lagging behind the rest of the country, when taking into account pupil background, many of these schools perform considerably better than the government’s own league tables would suggest. In the North East, for example, schools on average were ranked 361 places higher using the adjusted measure. In the North West, schools of average were ranked 107 places higher.

According to the Fair Secondary School Index, Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford is the best school in England.

It is a significant achievement that schools with high proportions of children from long term disadvantaged backgrounds, identified by previous Education Data Lab research, are among the highest performing, with two in the North achieving top ten positions in the national rankings in the Fair Secondary School Index. These include Kingswood Academy in Hull (up 158 places from its ranking under Progress 8 to 7th) and Ormiston Chadwick Academy in Halton (up 119 places to 8th).

Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central and member of the Education Select Committee commented:  

“The League Tables and data that we use to judge schools are often more a measure of the school’s intake than the quality of teaching, learning and real progress being made in that school. Indeed, Ofsted themselves often reward these same measures, and therefore a school’s intake, when giving their judgements as headteachers and others have warned.  

“This independent Fair Secondary School Index uses much more detailed data and analysis to arrive at fairer and deeper understandings of what makes a good school, often turning League Table standings on their heads. We can see from this that some schools operating in the most challenging contexts are doing an outstanding job. Other schools that may have previously escaped scrutiny actually require support. 

“This is ground-breaking work by the Norther Powerhouse Partnership with Bristol University and I hope it is taken up wholeheartedly by the Department for Education, Ofsted and all those working on improving schools.” 

Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership commented:

“The government hasn’t had a consistent focus on improving education standards in the Northern Powerhouse. Unless we devolve more powers and funding, establishing a new Northern Schools Board to oversee currently unaccountable Schools Commissioners and a centre for what works in schools in disadvantaged areas, we will not be able to close the skills gap even with much more devolution and increased funding for Further Education to our Metro Mayors and combined authorities.”

“Following the publication of this Index, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership  will make recommendations to all parties on what must be done to deal with the underlying causes including in the early years of the disadvantage gap, with commitments for funding education needing to include at least £1 billion each year for five years to support the long term disadvantaged in the North in particular. That must be our priority if we are to close the North-South economic divide, alongside investing in transformational transport infrastructure for instance.”

Virgin Media Christmas Stars 2019

Enter your school Christmas play by Tuesday 19 November and Stephen Mulhern could be coming to your school to be the narrator & your school could win £5,000!

Virgin Media’s magical Christmas Stars competition is back for its second year, giving UK primary schools the incredible opportunity to have their Christmas play televised to the nation – narrated in person by TV’s Stephen Mulhern!

Virgin Media will film a special recording of the winning school’s festive play and make it available, via On-Demand, to its four million Virgin TV customers in the days leading up to Christmas.

Stephen Mulhern will join the winning school’s cast to help tell the story for a one-off performance. The winning school will unwrap a £5,000 cash prize too!

Plus, thanks to our friends at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit West End show, School of Rock The Musical, a class from the winning school will be invited to the Gillian Lynne Theatre in London for an electric, rip-roaring performance masterclass from the cast.

The children will also be treated to tickets to watch the blockbuster show and see the talented cast in action. Travel is included, and accommodation will be available if needed. The masterclass is open to a class of 28 children and seven chaperones.

To keep the Christmas spirit going, School of Rock The Musical will generously give the winning school 10 ukuleles so they can keep strumming first-class performances well into 2020.

And as it’s the season of goodwill, there are plenty of prizes on offer for the runner up school and 22 regional finalists. The runner up school will win £1,000 plus 15 ukuleles, while 22 regional finalists will win £100 and 2 ukuleles each.

Last year, Pennine Way Primary School in Carlisle scooped the top prize with their Christmas play, ‘Robin Hood Saves Santa’, which was professionally filmed and made available to millions of Virgin TV customers over the festive period. 

Think your red-nosed reindeers, choir of angels and frosty snowmen have what it takes?

Here’s what we’re asking of your little stars and their invaluable teachers!

Your school’s show can be a traditional nativity or a brand new tale with dancing elves and reindeers – or anything in between! You can also enter one of the fantastic festive shows available from Out of the Ark Music.

The production should have a script and be between 30 and 60 minutes long. The winning performance will be filmed at the winning school between Monday 2 December and Friday 13 December 2019. 

Virgin Media is asking primary schools to write no more than 150 words about why your school’s Christmas play should be made available to four million Virgin TV customers this Christmas and to provide a short synopsis of the play. Please also upload an image or photograph promoting your Christmas play. It could be a photo of the cast at first rehearsal, or perhaps a poster designed to promote the production.

You will need to enter via the official online entry form, please see the link below. The competition closes at 11.59pm on Tuesday 19th November 2019.

If you have any questions, please contact (please note, this email is for queries, but all entries must go via the official online entry form below).

Enter here

Good luck!

New Robotics Challenge to focus on the environment

Over 550 schools are set to take part in this year’s Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP Robotics Challenge and have the chance to be crowned UK winners at the competition finals taking place at The Big Bang Fair in March 2020.

The students will build, program and control LEGO robots for a series of environmentally themed missions to discover what engineers can do to create a cleaner, more sustainable world.

As part of the Challenge, the student teams will build a LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 robot and program it to complete a speed and control test and perform a set of environmentally themed tasks such as planting a tree. Students will also work as a team to present an idea of how engineers can help future-proof the world.

Dr Hilary Leevers, CEO of EngineeringUK, said: “We’ve seen young people around the world coming together to demand action over climate change. The next generation can be part of the solution by choosing engineering careers that will be central to generating affordable and sustainable energy, and to solving other global challenges that they care about, like access to clean water and sanitation. We need creative thinkers with a range of skills and perspectives working together to secure our future.

“The new environmental challenge was chosen for the Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP Robotics Challenge to address an issue that many of us are passionate about and inspire students as they discover exciting new skills and careers in engineering, technology, robotics and computing.”

Demand for engineering skills is high and will continue to rise in the future – EngineeringUK estimates that the UK needs tens of thousands more engineers annually.

Dr Leevers adds: “Communicating the breadth and variety of engineering careers to young people is vital for the future of the UK economy, if the engineering community is to keep inspiring the next generation of engineers.”

Now in its fifth year the Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP Robotics Challenge encourages young people to put coding and team work skills to work. The Challenge aims to help students discover exciting new careers allowing schools to achieve some of their Gatsby benchmarks. As well as students, teachers also benefit from taking part in the Challenge and are well-supported through professional development training days and online mentoring.

Marc Fleming, Headteacher of McLaren High School in Callander, Scotland and reoccurring UK finalists, said: “For those teachers who have attended Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP Robotics Challenge competitions, they have all stated that the process has improved wellbeing outcomes, through increased confidence, improved self-esteem and a greater enthusiasm for STEM subjects.

“If you are a school who is thinking of taking part for the first time, do not hesitate in taking up the challenge, your young people will love it.”

To find out more and apply to be a volunteer, visit:  

Empowerment in Employment in STEM

It’s no secret that science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are industries primarily dominated by men. The ratio of women earning jobs in these fields are extremely low compared to men. Statistics from 2017 show that women made up only 23 per cent of the STEM workforce. Although this is low, this is 105,470 higher than the number in 2016.

Data analysis by LinkedIn reported that STEM had more women enter the field over the last four decades than any other. Philanthropist and former general manager at Microsoft, Melinda Gates, said: “Innovation happens when we approach urgent challenges from every different point of view. Bringing women and underrepresented minorities into the field guarantees that we see the full range of solutions to the real problems that people face in the world”.

It seems that attitudes towards STEM-related careers being more appropriate for men are changing. This year has seen some of the biggest names and influential figures in the industry being women, such as Kate Bouman, the woman who engineered the first image of a black hole.

In 2018 however, Fitbit was criticised for the period tracker having a 10-day cycle. If more women were involved in the creation, they would’ve realised this was three days too long. In the States, the tech industry is one of the highest paying fields — yet women are still paid less than their male counterparts.

In this article, we track how more women have entered STEM than any other field in the past four decades…


Philanthropists keen to fix the gender gap in STEM industries have donated towards supporting women in the industry. $25 million has been funded to boost girls’ interest by changing the narrative that they’re masculine careers. It’s expected to inspire other girls to follow other successful women.

Many women have been reported leaving male-dominant work environments like engineering due to a toxic masculine culture. They noted that they had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously and to earn respect.

Women In STEM – The Taboo

Lyda Hill Philanthropies have introduced 125 female ambassadors to represent the different STEM-related careers. Part of the donation will be used to fund grants for women to study STEM courses.

Laura Segal, senior vice president for the American Association of University Women, said: “Teachers and parents provide explicit and implicit messages starting in early childhood that boys and men are ‘better’ at math, and the gaps in the professions reinforce the opportunities, culture and lack of role models that perpetuate male dominance”.

Since 2012, there has been an increase in initiatives from schools, universities and recruitment agencies in the UK to encourage females to pursue STEM-related careers. Previously, female students reported avoiding STEM courses because of a lack of female role models to identify with. If girls were taught about female role models like Marie Curie, for example, who discovered the effects of radiation, perhaps they’d be more inclined to pursue a career in the field.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that we’ve been raised with the idea that men are better suited for certain jobs than women. Charles Darwin described women as intellectual inferiors and universities rejected women up until the 20th century.

To combat this bias, exam boards have introduced more content with famous women in the industry. Rosalind Franklin, a woman central to the understanding of DNA, has been taught across the nation. This has been linked to this year’s A-level results, which saw female students studying STEM courses (50.3%) outnumber male students (49.7%).

Early Development

According to a report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, a lack of skilled STEM workers in the UK is costing the nation £1.5 billion a year. Apprenticeships have an equal gender balance, yet only nine per cent of STEM apprentices are women.

A disappointing statistic, the government is trying to fix this disparity by helping women become more informed about apprenticeships to help them access STEM-related careers.

Lookers, who offer a range of car service plans, launched a female apprenticeship scheme back in 2018. The aim is to double the amount of their female apprenticeships and provide a positive environment to encourage and attract women to STEM. Civil Engineering Consultancy, Patrick Parsons are an example of a company that offer this too.

Positive steps are being taken forward, such as having STEM advertisements use more gender-neutral language. However, there is a lot of progress to be made for women in STEM.

From reporter to robotics engineer: Jenni Falconer takes part in Amazon Future Engineer programme at Tilbury fulfilment centre

London, 25th October 2019. Heart FM radio presenter, Jenni Falconer, was in Tilbury this week learning about robotics in the real world through a new programme called Amazon Future Engineer, which aims to inspire UK school children of all ages topursue careers in computer science and coding.

Jenni and daughter Ella, eight, visited Amazon’s fulfilment centre on Windrush Road to experience a free robotics workshop, learning to programme palm-size robots that use similar technology to that which is used by the robots that fulfil customer orders across Amazon’s 17 UK fulfilment centres. The training – specifically geared towards primary school pupils – has been devised together with Fire Tech Camp and is accredited by the British Science Association.

Caption: By drawing lines with coloured pens and creating a code on a tablet, Jenni and Ella sent commands to palm-size robots that use similar technology to that used by kiva robots, which fulfil customer orders in Amazon’s fulfilment centres. 

‘Amazon Future Engineer’ is a comprehensive childhood-to-career initiative, with a goal to help more than one million children and young people of all backgrounds to try computer science over the next two years.

Paul Atkins-Barker, an Amazon tour leader running the programme in Tilbury said: “It was privilege to welcome Jenni and her daughter to Essex. We’ve opened our doors to show how coding and robotics are applied in the real world, giving children hands-on demonstrations using miniature robots then taking them on a tour of our fulfilment centre to show how the same kind of technology is applied right here where we work”.

Amazon Future Engineer has been launched as new independent economic research by Capital Economics reveals that the UK needs an additional 38,000 workers with computer science-related skills, including 21,000 computer science graduates, to meet labour demands every year. Without addressing this issue, the economy faces losing out on an estimated £33 billion per year by 2030.

Speaking after the workshop, Jenni Falconer said:

“When I was growing up, I loved computer science and unusually for my generation, I got to try coding at school and really enjoyed it. In saying that, it was a far more basic level then! Things have advanced so much today – the learning opportunities are endless. Now the world has moved forward, it is so important for all children to have computer science lessons, as well as hands-on experience of STEM projects that bring these subjects to life. What’s even more exciting is that today, girls, just as much as boys, are embracing and enjoying learning this information. My daughter has loved every second of today’s robotics workshop and what I’ve also learnt is that coding is really fun and anyone can do it! Thanks to Amazon Future Engineer, even more children will now also have an opportunity to have a go!”

As part of their robotics workshop, Jenni and Ella took part in a tour of Amazon’s Tilbury fulfilment centre which included seeing the Kiva robots in action and seeing how robotics is applied in the real world. 

As well as holding robotics workshops in its fulfilment centres for primary school children, for secondary schools, Amazon is working with the education charity Teach First to support the recruitment and training of 50 secondary school computer science teachers. They will also support with the training of over 200 Teach First ‘Careers Leaders’, a programme run by the charity which supports leaders in schools to develop a long-term school wide careers strategy to improve students’ opportunities. After two years of running Amazon Future Engineer in the UK, this investment in teachers is expected to benefit 50,000 secondary school students.

Part of their fulfilment centre tour took Jenni and Ella to a packing station at Amazon’s Tilbury fulfilment centre. 

In higher education, Amazon is funding 120 STEM apprenticeships in software development engineering, automation and advanced mechatronics – enabling a diverse range of applicants to enter the computer science field. In addition, Amazon is funding 20 bursaries for students studying computer science at UK universities, helping students from lower-income backgrounds to pursue technology careers.

Amazon Future Engineer is part of the Amazon in the Community programme, which aims to ensure more children and young adults have the resources and skills they need to build their best and brightest futures, especially those from lower-income communities in areas where Amazon has a physical presence.

Schools and families wishing to find out more about how Amazon Future Engineer is supporting teacher training, apprenticeships and bursaries, can do so by visiting:  

To find out more more about the Amazon in the Community programme, please visit:


Young adult novel Always Here For You by Miriam Halahmy will be launched by ZunTold Publishing on 11 February 2020, as part of its Fiction as Therapy arm, coinciding with Safer Internet Day.

Drawing from real life accounts, Always Here For You gives voice to important issues in an accessible and compelling read, ideal for fans of Holly Bourne and Alice Oseman. Halahmy brings her rich and varied background to the novel; a former secondary school teacher and special needs educator, the writer also has experience of working with refugees and is most known for her Carnegie-shortlisted novel Hidden.

A gripping story, Always Here For You focuses on how 14-year-old protagonist Holly is groomed via a social media app as she becomes more and more isolated from her family and friends. Shedding light on this current and significant issue, Halahmy drew from teenagers’ first-hand accounts before writing the novel.

Published by the Manchester-based publishing house ZunTold, Always Here For You is the second novel in the publisher’s Fiction as Therapy division, following the release of Samuel Pollen’s The Year I Didn’t Eat. Working closely with mental health professionals, ZunTold is publishing a tranche of new titles with therapeutic value, with an aim of supporting young people and their mental health.

Underpinning the serious message behind the novel, online mental health services provider Kooth will be supporting the launch by publishing online excerpts on its content channels accompanied by comments and advice from counsellors.

ZunTold founder and MD Elaine Bousfield has a strong background in supporting young people’s mental health; she is the founder of XenZone, the organisation that delivers the Kooth service. She said: “I’m thrilled to be bringing Miriam’s book to the YA market. She covers a vital topic for young people today and is a fantastic writer.

“Online grooming continues to be a serious issue affecting a huge range of families in the UK, and so we hope Always Here For You will help to raise awareness of this, especially in conjunction with Safer Internet Day.

“I’m especially pleased to have Kooth’s support on this book launch, who carry out invaluable work with young people and children via their online platforms. I’m confident that as part of our Fiction as Therapy branch Miriam’s book will be a valuable tool for ZunTold’s young readers, as well as an engrossing read.”

Always Here For You will launch 11February 2020, ISBN 9781916204218.

Gardener Schools Group invest in fourth school site

An independent school group will launch a new private secondary school in Maida Vale after securing seven-figure bank funding.

Gardener Schools Group has used the multi-million-pound funding from NatWest to purchase the former Westminster College campus building on Saltram Crescent, which has lain unused for the last seven years.

The funding has also enabled a 12-month fit out programme, which is currently underway and will transform the space into a fully functional school. The new facility will be able to accommodate up to 600 pupils, aged between 11 and 18 from the local area.

The space will feature 40 classrooms, recreational spaces and a roof terrace for the school’s sixth form students.

Maida Vale School will welcome its first pupils in September 2020 and is in the process of accepting applications for the spaces available.

Gardener Schools Group was established and founded by head mistress Maria Gardener in 1991, who recognised a need for private schooling for mixed ability children in her local area. The group pursues excellence and innovation while establishing strong family communities at each of its four schools.

Sophie Hill, business development manager for the group said: “Six years ago we opened the first senior school for 11-18-year-olds in London. There was such a high demand for more, we knew we needed to invest in a second site and the former college campus in Maida Vale was perfect for this.

“With the help of NatWest we’ve secured the funds needed to purchase the building and invest in an extensive refurbishment programme to turn what is currently a traditional school building into a state of the art learning environment for our pupils. At Gardener Schools Group, we look at education differently and go above and beyond what is seen as the usual teaching model, ensuring our pupils get the best teaching and facilities on offer and help prepare them for the real world beyond the school walls.”

Steve Rengger, Relationship Manager at NatWest said: “The funding we have provided has enabled the Gardeners School Group to grow and welcome more pupils. We will continue to support the group as it establishes itself in London and expands over the coming years.”

Edtech charity LGfL and the National Cyber Security Centre (part of GCHQ) reveal an urgent need for more cyber security training within schools

In a growing and sophisticated threat landscape, 2019 Cyber Security Schools Audit reveals only 35% of schools provide non-IT staff with cyber security training.

Edtech charity LGfL is highlighting the need for more cyber security training in schools, following the publication of its Cyber Security Schools Audit. Working in partnership with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a part of GCHQ, 430 schools across the UK were surveyed to gain a better understanding of future technology and training needs within the education sector.

The report revealed that only 35% of schools train non-IT staff in cyber security. In light of the fact that 83% of schools have experienced at least one cyber security incident, schools should take this revelation seriously to meet the challenge of a growing and increasingly sophisticated threat landscape

Further key findings:

  • Nearly all schools (97%) said that losing access to network-connected IT services would cause considerable disruption
  • Less than half of schools (49%) were confident that they were adequately prepared in the event of a cyber-attack
  • 85% of schools had a cyber security policy or plan, but only 45% included core IT services in their risk register and only 41% had a business continuity plan
  • Schools were aware of data breaches in only 3% of cases

Breakdown of cyber security incidents:

  • 69% of schools had suffered a phishing attack (fraudulent emails sent to staff or staff directed to fraudulent websites)
  • 35% had experienced periods with no access to important information
  • 30% had suffered malware infection, including virus or ransomware
  • 20% reported spoofing attacks (where a malicious party poses as a member of  staff)
  • 11% had suffered attempted attacks to take down a website or online services
  • 21% had documented unauthorised pupil use of computers, networks or servers
  • 11% reported unauthorised staff use of computers, networks or servers

Preparation and defence:

  • 8% of schools had been significantly disrupted by a cyber-attack or incident
  • 99% of schools had firewalls in place and 98% had antivirus protection
  • 17% escaped all cyber security incidents listed in the survey


  • 92% of schools would welcome more cyber security awareness training for staff.

Commenting on the results Mark Bentley Safeguarding and Cyber Security Manager at LGfL DigiSafe said, “The Cyber Security Audit provides an invaluable insight into current protection available in schools and the realities of online threats. With ever-increasing accountability, squeezed budgets and a demanding curriculum, cyber security preparedness can sometimes fall to the bottom of the school agenda.  It’s vitally important that schools offer cyber security training to their staff and have basic technical protections in place.”

Sarah Lyons, Deputy Director for Economy and Society at the NCSC, said, “Schools should seek access to the right types of information to help them protect their networks against the cyber threats they face. We work closely with the education sector to raise cyber security awareness across schools, whilst signposting clear actionable advice to help schools mitigate against common cyber incidents. It’s never been more important for schools to be aware of the cyber risks and know that free resources are available to help them prepare and respond to a cyber incident.”

To download a full copy of the report and view LGfL’s further analysis of the findings and recommendations for next steps – Top of the Class? A Report into Cyber Security Maturity in UK Schools – please visit

Thousands of pupils join campaign to cut single-use plastic in UK schools

• On average in the UK we each throw away over 34kg of plastic packaging every year – nearly the weight of 5,000 pencils 

• More than 8 in 10 of us are actively trying to reduce the amount of plastic we throw away

Thousands of primary and secondary school pupils have joined a major new campaign to drastically cut the consumption of single-use plastic in UK schools. 

More than 7,000 pupils, across 12 schools, have signed up to Plastic Pioneers – a campaign led by environmental charity Hubbub, and sponsored by retailers TK Maxx and Homesense. 

The schools benefit from being part of a community stretching from Scotland to the south coast, sharing ideas on how to reduce their consumption of single-use plastic. 

As part of the campaign, pupils form a Plastic Pioneers committee and audit their school’s consumption of single-use plastic. They then advise on – and experiment with – ways to reduce single-use plastic, coming up with their own initiatives including replacing plastic bottles with reusable ones, banning yoghurt pots and rethinking lunchtime packaging. 

Committee members wear Plastic Pioneers badges to encourage their classmates to think carefully about their consumption of single-use plastic. 

They have also scheduled workshops with expert guest speakers, including Dan Webb, who last week launched the Everyday Plastic Survey – a nationwide campaign to enable participants to discover more about their plastic footprint; TEDx teen speaker, Amy Meek, from Kids Against Plastic and Mel Fisher, who runs Christmas markets with zero waste brands. 

Researchers have found that on average in the UK we each throw away over 34kg of plastic packaging every year – nearly the weight of 5,000 pencils. Much of this cannot be recycled and ends up in landfill, floating around in our rivers and oceans. 

In December, the government urged schools to stop using single-use plastic items such as bags, straws, bottles and plastic food packaging by 2022, and to consider environmentally friendly alternatives instead. 

Natalie Bayliss, Creative Partner at Hubbub, who is leading the Plastic Pioneers campaign, said each school involved in the campaign has been coming up with different, innovative ways to cut down on single-use plastic.

“Pupils up and down the country have devised some brilliant ideas – from cutting out plastic in canteens to experimenting with alternatives to plastic prizes at school events,” she said. 

“Single-use plastic is everywhere and our schools are no exception. It’s so ubiquitous, we often don’t even register it’s there. “And yet it’s having an extremely damaging impact on our wildlife and environment. This campaign helps empower young people to challenge whether single-use plastic really needs to be used and to come up with alternatives.” 

A YouGov survey in April showed just under half of us – 46% – feel guilty about the amount of plastic we use, while more than eight in 10 of us are actively trying to reduce the amount we throw away. 

At Westhoughton High School in Bolton, 35 pupils are on the Plastic Pioneers Committee. They presuaded the school to stop selling bottled water and through the campaign, have provided classmates with reusable bottles, which Plastic Pioneers pupils helped design. They have also removed plastic packaging from their canteen. 

At Saint Gabriel’s College in Lambeth, the Plastic Pioneers campaign has helped put sustainability at the top of the school’s agenda. Hazel Millar, Head of Key Stage 3 Science and Plastic Pioneers Coordinator, Saint Gabriel’s College, said: “The crucial thing about this campaign is that it is student-led. It has shown my students that they have a voice. Their ideas on how to reduce single-use plastic have been taken up by the whole of the school with huge enthusiasm.” 

Just as the schools are looking at ways to cut consumption of single-use plastic, Plastic Pioneers sponsors TK Maxx and Homesense have so far removed the nine biggest contributors to ocean waste plastic from their stores and offices. These include plastic drink bottles, single use carrier bags, straws, plastic cups and non-biodegradable wipes. 

Next year, all the schools involved in the Plastic Pioneers campaign will report back on the single initiative that has made the biggest difference to cutting the consumption of single-use plastic in their school. 

For more information on Plastic Pioneers, contact Natalie Bayliss at 

Free Key Stage 4 classroom resources which use real-world examples, such as going to university and running a festival stall, to bring maths to life are now available for teachers to download.

Chartered accountancy body ICAEW has designed the resources to help GCSE maths students tackle context-based questions.

Around a quarter of questions in GCSE maths exams involve applying maths to real-world contexts, but analysis of past papers showed that many pupils struggled with this.

The new teaching resources use financial examples to provide real-world context and engage pupils in understanding mathematical concepts. They have been designed to help teachers make maths more accessible, engaging, and relevant, while preparing students for exams.

The content is set to the new GCSE syllabus, and has been written to cover a range of abilities and fit within existing teaching plans.

Content includes:

  • Relating algebra to running a festival stall
  • Interpreting and representing data by identifying the costs of going to university, such as paying rent and student fees
  • Linking linear graphs with wages, salaries and earnings
  • Connecting fractions, ratios and percentages with the costs of going on holiday, such as managing holiday payment options and currency conversion
  • Using managing savings, loans and credit to teach multiplicative reasoning.

Mathematician and teacher Bobby Seagull, who appeared on University Challenge and hosts the Maths Appeal podcast said: “As a school maths teacher, I welcome these new resources from the ICAEW. Around a quarter of GCSE maths questions ask our students to apply maths to real-world contexts. Students often struggled with context-based problems. So these ICAEW materials link well to the examined syllabus and gives me an additional, excellent set of resources to help prepare my students.”

Rebecca Bolton, ICAEW Financial Capability Manager, said: “It’s important that we engage young people in maths with a financial context, to give them experience of dealing with situations they may face in real life. ICAEW operates under a royal charter to act in the public interest and it’s in the public interest that people know how to manage finances in situations such as applying for loans or paying rent.

“We hope that by using these resources teachers and schools can improve their students’ maths performance.”

The resources have been piloted in colleges over the past six months. David Smeath, maths teacher and Head of Year 12 at Stantonbury School in Milton Keynes, said: “Maths should drive a context, so if you can get the students to work on a topic and maths drives that topic, which may be a social or financial topic, then it gives students a better way to learn and relate when answering exam questions.

“The material was flexible to work on with my current lesson plan, and if students see a question phrased using something like savings or loans or banks, they are more likely to achieve.”

Each unit of the new resources consists of:

  • A teaching plan
  • A PowerPoint presentation
  • Task questions and answers for teachers to hand out
  • A supporting spreadsheet, as an additional resource for teachers

The resources are available for teachers to download for free at