The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has produced a new briefing on trends in compulsory education across the whole of the UK, as well as the factors shaping these trends.
Using a broad raft of data, combined with previous research, they identified five trends.
Changes in the attainment gap between different pupil groups. Although comparing data from different nations within the UK is problematic, the authors conclude that the largest attainment gap is between pupils from different socio-economic backgrounds – bigger than both the largest ethnic minority gap and gender gap.
Rising pupil numbers. Pupil numbers have increased across the UK as a whole in recent years, although they are falling in secondary schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Decreasing numbers of people entering initial teacher training. The number of people entering training has been declining at secondary level in England, Scotland, and Wales since 2005/06 (data could not be identified for Northern Ireland). However, with the exception of Wales, the ratio of pupils to teachers has remained constant across the UK at all levels.
The growing use of technology. Although technology is increasingly being adopted in classroom, research has shown that this does not in itself improve learning. The authors suggest one of the most promising ways in which technology could benefit teaching and learning is through changes to assessment.
Changing levels of school autonomy and diversity. Schools in England have more autonomy from local authorities than in other UK nations, and there is a greater diversity of types of school.
The report also identified three key factors shaping these trends: population growth, inequality, and the changing labour market (particularly in terms of concerns about whether schools are providing children with the right knowledge and skills for the labour market of the future).
Source: Trends in Compulsory Education (2015), Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.