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Cambridge academics elected to British Academy fellowship

Mon, 27/07/2020 - 13:49

They are among 86 distinguished scholars to be elected to the fellowship in recognition of their work in the fields of law, economics, Middle Eastern studies, geography, history of science, art and architecture, classics, and English literature.

The Cambridge academics made Fellows of the Academy this year are:

  • Professor Catherine Barnard (Faculty of Law; Trinity College) has been elected to the fellowship in recognition of her work on European Union law, especially the single market; Brexit and the UK-EU future relationship; employment law, especially equality law, and its European dimension.
  • Professor Giancarlo Corsetti (Faculty of Economics; Clare College) has been elected to the fellowship in recognition of his work in the field of economic policy and international economics, with focus on currency, financial and debt crises, European monetary union and open economy macroeconomics.
  • Professor Khaled Fahmy (Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; King's College) has been elected to the fellowship in recognition of his work on modern Middle Eastern history, history of Islamic law, the Arab-Israeli conflict.
  • Professor Sarah Radcliffe (Department of Geography; Christ's College) has been elected to the fellowship in recognition of her work on critical development and political geography; postcolonial and decolonial geography; indigeneity; intersectionality in socio-spatial inequalities; these themes in relation to Andean lives, contestations and knowledges.
  • Professor James Secord (Department of History and Philosophy of Science; Christ’s College) has been elected to the fellowship in recognition of his work on history of science; science communication; natural history, evolution and geology in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Professor Caroline van Eck (Department of History of Art; King’s College) has been elected to the fellowship in recognition of her work on the history of European art and architecture c. 1800 in a globalising world.
  • Professor Timothy Whitmarsh (Faculty of Classics; St John's College) has been elected to the fellowship in recognition of his work on ancient Mediterranean literature, culture and thought; Greek literature, especially of the Roman Empire; cultural contacts in the ancient world; ancient religion and scepticism; literary and cultural theory.
  • Professor Clair Wills (Faculty of English; Murray Edwards College) has been elected to the fellowship in recognition of her work on 20th-century British and Irish cultural history; contemporary writing; the literature and social history of migration.

The British Academy has also welcomed four new honorary Fellows, among them Bridget Kendall MBE, Master of Peterhouse Cambridge. Kendall is a broadcaster and writer with a particular interest in Russia, international diplomacy and security and promotion of language learning.

The new Fellows join a community of over 1,400 leading minds that make up the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences. Current Fellows include the classicist Professor Dame Mary Beard, the historian Professor Sir Simon Schama and philosopher Professor Baroness Onora O’Neill, while current honorary Fellows include Dame Joan Bakewell, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Baroness Brenda Hale. 

Professor Whitmarsh said: “I have owed much, along the way, to the British Academy, who funded my postgraduate studies and awarded me a Mid-Career Fellowship in 2012-2013, which allowed me to write my book Battling the Gods. I am now greatly honoured, and genuinely humbled, to have been elected a Fellow.”

Professor Sir David Cannadine, President of the British Academy, said: "I would like to extend a warm welcome and hearty congratulations to the individuals who have joined the British Academy Fellowship. This is a time to reflect on the many invaluable contributions these academics have made to their disciplines. It is also a time for celebration, and I hope that, social distancing measures notwithstanding, each of our new Fellows is able to do so in ways great or small."

As well as a fellowship, the British Academy is a funding body for research, nationally and internationally, and a forum for debate and engagement.

Eight academics from the University of Cambridge have been made Fellows of the prestigious British Academy for the humanities and social sciences.

I have owed much, along the way, to the British Academy ... I am now greatly honoured, and genuinely humbled, to have been elected a FellowTimothy WhitmarshThe British AcademyThe British Academy


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Lockdown led to happiness rebound, after wellbeing plunged with onset of pandemic

Mon, 27/07/2020 - 00:03

The coronavirus outbreak caused life satisfaction to fall sharply, but lockdown went a long way to restoring contentment – even reducing the “wellbeing inequality” between well-off professionals and the unemployed, according to a new study.

Researchers from Cambridge’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy used a year’s worth of data taken from weekly YouGov surveys and Google searches to track wellbeing in the British population before and during the pandemic.

They say it is one of the first studies to distinguish the effects of the pandemic from those of lockdown on psychological welfare, as it uses week-by-week data, rather than monthly or annual comparisons.  

The proportion of Britons self-reporting as “happy” halved in just three weeks: from 51% just before the UK’s first COVID-19 fatality, to 25% by the time national lockdown began.  

This reversed under lockdown, with happiness climbing back to almost pre-pandemic levels of 47% by the end of May. Overall life satisfaction saw a similar drop when the pandemic took hold and a rebound during lockdown. 

The study also suggests that while the “wellbeing inequality” gap remained wide, lockdown started to shrink it: some of the most deprived social groups saw a relative rise in life satisfaction, while the wealthy experienced declines. 

“It was the pandemic, not the lockdown, that depressed people’s wellbeing,” said Dr Roberto Foa, from Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies, and Director of the YouGov-Cambridge Centre for Public Opinion Research.

“Mental health concerns are often cited as a reason to avoid lockdown. In fact, when combined with employment and income support, lockdown may be the single most effective action a government can take during a pandemic to maintain psychological welfare.”

Foa had exclusive access to results from the YouGov Weekly Mood Tracker survey, and conducted the study with Bennett Institute colleagues Sam Gilbert and Dr Mark Fabian. The findings are published today on the Institute’s website.

In addition to YouGov data from England, Scotland and Wales, the researchers expanded their study to cover seven other nations – Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa – using the ‘Google Trends’ tool.

“By matching survey data with internet searches for mental health topics such as anxiety, depression, boredom and apathy, we were able to compare the UK to a wider set of countries,” said Sam Gilbert.

“In country after country we saw a sharp rise in negative mood during initial outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, but then a rapid recovery once lockdowns were introduced,” Gilbert said.

The team also used Google Trends to investigate suicide-related search terms. They discovered a significant fall during lockdown months in several countries, including the UK and Ireland, but a rise in nations that implemented lockdowns without extensive income support, such as India and South Africa.

Foa and colleagues suggest that this change in web searches around suicidal ideation may relate to the effect of lockdowns on “underemployed” men: those of working age who are unemployed or clocking very few hours.

This is one of the highest risk groups for suicide, but also the social group that saw the largest relative increase in life satisfaction during lockdown – in Britain, at least – according to YouGov data.

Just before lockdown, 47% of underemployed men reported feeling stressed. After two months, this had fallen to 30% – the lowest level for a year.

By late May, 40% of underemployed men self-reporting as “happy”, above the pre-pandemic average of 36% (June 2019-February 2020), with 15% describing themselves as “inspired” compared to 4% at the start of the year. 

In fact, underemployed men saw a relative gain in life satisfaction during lockdown that was higher than their previous peak of Christmas 2019. 

“During lockdown, welfare schemes were expanded and hardship funds introduced, along with amnesties on overdue rent and bills. This probably reduced stress for people living precariously,” said Roberto Foa.

“In addition, people with little money don’t consume or travel as much, so may have had less to lose and more to gain from lockdown.”

This is in contrast to high social status groups, the managers and top professionals, who saw a small but persistent slump in life satisfaction that lockdown only slightly alleviated.

“Well-paid professionals may have experienced stress through combined work and domestic duties, and an inability to engage in consumption habits that have a social basis, from holidays to dining out,” said Dr Foa.   

The over-65s also saw a fall in life satisfaction that lingered into lockdown, which the study’s authors suggest may result from increased COVID-19 fatality fears.

In general, women experienced a steeper decline in wellbeing than men at the pandemic’s onset. For women co-habiting with partners, family or friends, however, life satisfaction then recovered during lockdown.

For women living alone there was very little rebound. The isolation of single occupancy in lockdown appears to have negatively affected women in particular, say the researchers.

Overall, however, they say that lockdown may have gone a surprisingly long way in ameliorating severe mental health effects of the early pandemic.

Dr Mark Fabian added: “Contrary to widespread concerns, lockdowns seem to improve wellbeing rather than detract from it during a pandemic, not least because they reduce the risk of infection.”

“However, as the initial shock of the pandemic fades into a likely recession, and worries about jobs and income return, the real mental health challenge may just be beginning.”

New study is among the first to distinguish effects of pandemic from effects of lockdown when it comes to wellbeing in Britain.

Lockdown may be the single most effective action a government can take during a pandemic to maintain psychological welfareRoberto FoaBenjamin CooperYoung boy peers out of his bedroom window during the coronavirus lockdown in the UK in April.


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Opening schools – and keeping them open – should be prioritised by Government, report says

Fri, 24/07/2020 - 07:46

The report, Balancing the risks of pupils returning to school, highlights the potential impact on the 13 year-groups of students affected by lockdown. It estimates that, without action, from the mid-2030s and for the 50 years thereafter, around a quarter of the entire workforce will have lower skills.

This could reduce their earning potential by 3% a year and consequently lower the overall economic growth rate. The long-term economic consequences aside, the immediate negative impact on children’s mental and physical health, as well as their safety, will be considerable.

The report has been produced by the Royal Society’s multi-disciplinary Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics (DELVE) group. The lead authors are Professor Anna Vignoles, University of Cambridge, and Professor Simon Burgess, University of Bristol.

Their assessment looks at the difficulties of balancing the significant costs to pupils and parents of school closures against the need to minimise the risks of COVID-19 infection to children, teachers and the wider community.

It concludes that the risk of infection from restarting schools is not high, relative to many other activities, although the authors recognise that the evidence on this still limited. The experience of most other countries which have already taken this step supports this view, the authors say, and by contrast the evidence for the negative impact of closing schools is considerable and robust.

The report also observes that when infection rates rise in some locations, schools may need to close, but such decisions should be determined by objective criteria and made on a school-by-school, or local area basis.

The report calls on the Government to:

  • Suppress the virus in the wider community, as a priority, to reduce the risk of transmission in schools once at full capacity, and to minimise future disruption to learning.
  • Have objective, transparent, criteria for local decision-making about closing and reopening schools, with clear leadership for that decision-making process.
  • Provide realistic guidance and substantial extra resources to ensure that schools can minimise chains of transmission (parental guidance on when to keep their child at home applying the precautionary principle; rigorous hygiene; physical distancing and reduced mixing; extra teachers; PPE – including face coverings for teachers, older children and those with underlying health issues; management of staff rooms; regular testing; and prioritisation for vaccines for teachers).
  • Implement effective surveillance, with a test-trace-isolate system that enables a rapid response to outbreaks, and which allows schools to re-open quickly if they have to close.
  • Establish effective, clear and unified communication with school leaders, teachers and parents to manage opening and closing of schools in response to local conditions.

The report also explores the impact on inequality. Anna Vignoles, Professor of Education at the Faculty of Education and a Fellow of Jesus College, University of Cambridge, said: “Shutting down schools has impacted all children but the worst effects will be felt by those from lower socio-economic groups and with other vulnerabilities, such as a pre-existing mental health condition. Children from low-income households in particular are more likely to lack the resources – space, equipment, home support – to engage fully with remote schooling. Those with pre-existing conditions are more likely to experience a worsening of their mental health. This has to be taken into account in how we come out of this pandemic.”

Simon Burgess, Professor of Economics, University of Bristol, said: “We know how damaging it is for children to miss out on school. The amount of school already missed due to the pandemic could impact on their earning potential by around 3% a year throughout their lives and impact on productivity in the UK for decades. While it is still early days, there has been little evidence of surges in infection rates in countries that have opened up schools, including countries where they have fully reopened. While we have to do all that we can to reduce the risk of transmission, we need to get our children back to school.”

One of the challenges highlighted in the report is the lack of data. It calls for a system, including surveillance studies, to be put in place to increase understanding of the risks and provide decision-makers with the local and timely data they need to monitor neighbourhood and school infection rates and to respond accordingly. There is also a call for a programme of anonymous assessment of education achievement and pupil mental health across all age ranges in a sample of schools in mid-September, to gauge the extent and nature of the learning loss and the impact on pupil wellbeing.

Keeping schools open from September should be a Government priority as it manages the COVID-19 pandemic, while closures could have severe social and economic effects that endure for decades, according to a new report.

Children from low-income households in particular are more likely to lack the resources – space, equipment, home support – to engage fully with remote schoolingAnna VignolesMartin Vorel A child writes in his workbook in a school classroom.


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Furlough ‘stemmed the tide’ of poor mental health during UK lockdown, study suggests

Fri, 24/07/2020 - 07:27

Furloughing workers, as well as reducing worker hours, has helped to stem the tide of mental health problems expected to result from the coronavirus crisis, according to a team of sociologists led by the University of Cambridge.

A new study suggests that UK workers who were furloughed or moved from full- to part-time hours during April and May had around the same risk for poor mental health as those who kept working full-time.

However, people who lost all paid work were twice as likely to fall into an “at risk” category for poor mental health, compared to those furloughed or still working any number of hours.

In fact, data from May suggests that well over half of those who lost all work during the Covid-19 crisis are at risk of mental health problems.

Researchers led by the Cambridge-based Employment Dosage Project say the UK government must encourage employers to “cut hours not people” as furlough schemes wrap up, or face significantly worse levels of mental health across the population as unemployment soars.

They argue that the UK should emulate ‘short-time working’ schemes used by many European nations. These schemes reduce and share out working hours to keep far more people in some kind of employment during a crisis.

“Holding on to some paid work is vital to wellbeing during the pandemic,” said Prof Brendan Burchell from Cambridge’s Department of Sociology. “We can see that both short working hours and furlough job retention schemes have helped protect against the deterioration of mental health.”

“Labour market interventions such as short-time working are more affordable than furloughing, and much less likely to cause lasting damage to the UK’s mental health than the all-or-nothing job shedding currently taking place,” Burchell said.

“As well as the individual misery caused, the costs of poor mental health to the UK’s productivity and health service are vast, and cannot be afforded at this critical time. We urge the Chancellor to tell employers to cut hours not people.”

The latest research involved academics from the universities of Cambridge, Salford, Leeds and Manchester, and is now online as a working paper from Cambridge’s Centre for Business Research.

The team analysed data from the Understanding Society COVID-19 Study, looking at the relation between changes in employment status and work hours, furlough scheme involvement, and the likelihood of mental health problems as measured by a 12-item questionnaire.

The study questions covered symptoms of depression and anxiety, such as sleeping problems, and used a point-based scale that enabled researchers to create a “score” for the risk of suffering with mental health problems. A sample of 7,149 people from across the UK featured in the research. 

The researchers used statistical models to take into account factors such as household income, allowing them to see just the effects of employment and work on mental health during lockdown, regardless of wealth or status. 

Using the latest data covering May 2020, the team found that 28% of those who remained in fulltime employment returned scores suggesting they might be at risk of poor mental health. Equally, 27% of those on furlough returned “at risk” scores, and 30% of those whose hours had been reduced from full to part time. 

But for those who lost their jobs during the coronavirus crisis some 58% returned scores suggesting they were in the “at risk” category for mental health problems. The May data has now been added to the working paper along with an initial analysis of data from April, which showed a similar effect.

“The furlough schemes are largely aimed at the financial fallout of the pandemic, but they also appear to have stemmed the tide of mental health problems many experts are anticipating,” said Burchell.

Loss of earnings only explains a small part of the large mental health deficit associated with unemployment, say the researchers. They argue that “incidental” aspects of employment – social connection, structure, shared goals, and so on – are just as important for wellbeing.

Last year, the Employment Dosage Project published a study showing that just one day of paid work a week is all people need to get a major boost to their mental health (with little psychological benefit to working further hours).

“The lesson for government strategy is clear,” added Burchell. “Keep everyone in some paid work where possible, with population health as the priority. Even one day a week will keep more of us psychologically healthier in these volatile times.”

Researchers say the UK government should ask employers to share out reduced hours rather than lose workers, in order to mitigate a looming mental health crisis as furlough is rolled back.

We urge the Chancellor to tell employers to cut hours not peopleBrendan BurchellNumber 10UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak at a Covid-19 press conference. Sunak is credited with instigating the UK's 'furlough' job retention scheme.


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Socio-economic status predicts UK boys’ development of essential thinking skills

Tue, 21/07/2020 - 11:57

The findings emerged from an ongoing project which is exploring contrasts in the development of these skills in Eastern and Western societies and their relationship to academic achievement. Executive functions are cognitive skills that help us to meet goals – such as our ability to ignore distractions or switch between tasks – and they significantly affect children’s performance at school.

Across two linked studies, researchers found that the socio-economic background of British boys is directly connected to these skills. Those from wealthier families typically performed better in tests of their executive functions, while those from less-affluent backgrounds did worse.

The connection was far less direct for British girls, however – and absent altogether among boys or girls from mainland China and Hong Kong, who, despite being generally less affluent than their British peers, consistently outperformed them in the tests.

These results imply that specific cultural factors in children’s lives that shape the acquisition of executive functions, also influence socio-economic gaps in academic outcomes. It is not clear what these cultural ‘drivers’ are, but they may include differences in curriculum, parenting, or attitudes to education.

The research was by a team of academics from the Faculty of Education and the Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge.

Dr Michelle Ellefson, Reader in Cognitive Science at the Faculty of Education, said: “Based on other research, we might have anticipated a direct link between socio-economic status and executive functions; in fact, this existed only for British boys. Pretty much any test pupils do at school requires executive functions, so if we want to reduce the achievement gap between children from different backgrounds, it’s important that we understand the mechanisms behind that relationship.”

Claire Hughes, Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Centre for Family Research, said: “There is concern in the UK that among children from less-advantaged backgrounds, boys in particular often under-perform academically, and the possibility has been raised in some research that features of their home environment play a role in this. What is interesting here is that we saw no relationship between socio-economic status and executive functions for boys in Hong Kong and China. We need to investigate why that might be the case.”

The research was part of the Family Thinking Skills project, which is exploring links between executive functions, school attainment and cultural differences in Britain and Hong Kong by comparing data from children and parents in both countries. Executive functions are mediated by the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which develops into our mid-20s, and this means that they are likely to be shaped in part by cultural influences like upbringing and environment.

The latest pair of studies looked at whether socio-economic status, which is known to influence children’s performance at school, does so because it impacts on their executive functions, or has an effect independent of cognitive skills. They also investigated how consistent the relationship is across genders. “Very little research has looked at this in Asia, and big differences with the UK might point to cultural differences driving attainment,” Ellefson said.

Initially, the researchers used data from 835 children aged 9 to 16 living in Hong Kong and the UK. The participants completed computer-based thinking games to test their executive functions, and various mathematical tests to assess numeracy. Data about socio-economic status was also provided by their parents and through a survey.

Because children in Hong Kong are highly adept with computers from an extremely young age, which might distort the results in the thinking skills tests, a second study was undertaken with 453 children in Shandong, China, led by PhD researcher Chengyi Xu. This deliberately targeted children whose use computers much less.

Overall, British students performed significantly worse in the numeracy tests, and their executive functions were about two years behind the level of their Chinese peers, even though British children tended to be from wealthier backgrounds. Within countries, there was little difference between girls’ and boys’ average test scores, although girls displayed slightly higher cognitive flexibility.

The children’s levels of executive function and socio-economic status were both shown to affect their numeracy scores, but in most cases they did so independently of each other. The exception was British boys, for whom socio-economic status directly predicts executive functions, which in turn affects their numeracy.

The researchers also measured general cognitive skills, beyond executive functions alone. Here, they found that both boys and girls from wealthier backgrounds in the UK tend to have better general cognitive skills than those from less-affluent families, whereas in China and Hong Kong, there was no relationship to socio-economic status.

The data from Shandong also confirmed that computer usage had no effect on the acquisition of executive functions.

The results strongly suggest that cultural distinctions have shaped a gulf between the thinking skills of British and Asian children, with consequences for their relative attainment. More research is needed to establish what these are, but the nature of the school curriculum, teaching styles, parental expectations, or social attitudes to education, may be some of the factors involved.

In addition, the close link between socio-economic background and thinking skills for British boys in particular suggests that understanding more about these cultural drivers may help to narrow the attainment gap within the UK. “A clearer picture of why differences exist in the development of executive functions between children in Britain and Hong Kong would potentially help to inform interventions to reduce that gap,” Hughes said.

Both studies are published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

A comparison of children in Hong Kong, mainland China and the UK has found that British boys’ development of key thinking skills, known as ‘executive functions’, is unusually reliant on their socio-economic status.

Pretty much any test pupils do at school requires executive functions, so if we want to reduce the achievement gap between children from different backgrounds, it’s important that we understand the mechanisms behind that relationship.Michelle EllefsonRobin StottFive lads walk home from school through Myton Fields, Warwick


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Mixed early progress highlights need for sustained support for pupils with English as an additional language

Thu, 16/07/2020 - 00:04

The finding is one of numerous results and recommendations in a new book about the language development of EAL pupils, and its impact on their attainment and social integration. The book, authored by a team of academics from Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin and Durham Universities, examines the complex relationship between language, education and the social integration of newcomer migrant EAL students.

According to the School Census, there are currently over 1.5 million EAL pupils in England, and the proportion is steadily rising. The trend is similar in many other English-speaking countries.

The book builds on three years of research involving over 40 schools across the East of England, funded by the Bell Foundation, and highlights much good practice by teachers working in multilingual classrooms. But it also points to inconsistencies and gaps in support for EAL pupils, stemming from an absence of national guidelines, targeted assessment, and systemic problems in areas such as teacher training and school-parent communication.

EAL pupils themselves were found to make uneven progress during their first two years in English schools. While many became competent English-speakers, their written English frequently lagged behind. The authors suggest this pattern may be further exacerbated by reductions in funding for EAL support.

As well as analysing the progress of EAL pupils, the study proposes a model for a more inclusive approach to teaching EAL students.

Dr Karen Forbes, Lecturer at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, said: “At the moment, it is often left to individual teachers or schools to decide how to handle the challenges of a multilingual classroom. While many do excellent work, EAL pupils inevitably have a variable experience. Teachers and schools should be able to draw on a structured framework and a proper knowledge base so that they can give these pupils the sustained linguistic and educational support they often need.”

The research suggests that while many schools rightly prioritise the integration of EAL learners into mainstream lessons, some will need ongoing, one-to-one support, especially with developing more academic English, long past the point where they appear socially-integrated and able to hold a casual conversation.

This is just one symptom of a wider need to provide schools with a structural basis to give EAL learners individualised, ‘child-centred’ support, the authors argue. They stress that the ‘EAL’ label does not describe one type of pupil, but encompasses a wide range of previous educational experiences, interests and skills.

Encouragingly, many of the schools surveyed actively encouraged an inclusive and positive environment for EAL pupils. Teachers also employed various tactics that could form part of a wider framework to support them, such as group learning and buddy systems, translated texts and different visual aids.

But the study finds that many such interventions are devised locally, by schools or individual teachers, absent more structured or systematic guidance. This can lead to inconsistencies: for example, teachers varied their approach to when EAL pupils could use their home language, which often left students confused about when to use English.

The researchers argue that other mechanisms are needed to give teachers a more solid foundation for working with EAL pupils. Teachers consistently enthused, for example, about the ‘vital’ support provided by dedicated EAL co-ordinators and bilingual support staff. But many schools that the researchers surveyed have struggled to sustain such services given that funding is no longer ring-fenced for this purpose.

The book also highlights the need for more EAL-specific, specialist training for teachers, both for their professional practice and to help them work successfully with local minority-ethnic and migrant communities, especially those unfamiliar with the English system of education. This is only covered briefly in most teacher-training courses, and rarely forms part of their continuing professional development or ‘on the job’ learning.

Critically, the researchers also suggest that parents of EAL pupils and their communities are an untapped resource of knowledge, strong educational values and expertise.

The researchers found that many parents of EAL children have a high level of interest in their children’s education, but often are not sufficiently supported to understand context-specific curriculum choices, modes of assessment or school expectations. They argue that, as well as providing translated information and induction materials, schools should establish mechanisms such as EAL parents’ networks, empowering parents within school governance structures to inform the way that they support migrant pupils, ensure that they achieve their potential, and promote positive experiences in school.

“Overall, there is a need for a more systematic, whole-school approach to the education of EAL pupils,” Michael Evans, Emeritus Read in Second Language Education at the University of Cambridge, said. “This includes supporting teachers to develop their skills, providing them with a knowledge base on which to draw, and developing an effective communication system to promote parental engagement in schools. If that can be achieved, the benefits will be felt far beyond schools and EAL pupils alone.”

Language Development and Social Integration of Students with English as an Additional Language is published by Cambridge University Press on 16 July.

Newly-arrived pupils who speak English as an additional language (EAL) often make ‘mixed’ linguistic and academic progress during their first years in British schools, which need a proper framework to give them sustained support, a study suggests.

At the moment, it is often left to individual teachers or schools to decide how to handle the challenges of a multilingual classroom. Karen ForbesTaylor Wilcox/UnsplashSchool classroom


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Syphilitic city: One in five Georgian Londoners had syphilis by their mid-30s, study suggests

Mon, 06/07/2020 - 09:01

The same study shows that Georgian Londoners were over twice as likely to be treated for the disease as people living in the much smaller city of Chester at the same time (c.1775), and about 25 times more likely than those living in parts of rural Cheshire and north-east Wales.

The study offers the first robust estimate of the amount of syphilis infection in London’s population in the later eighteenth century.

Following years of painstaking archival research and data analysis, historians Professor Simon Szreter from the University of Cambridge, and Professor Kevin Siena from Canada’s Trent University, have just published their disturbing findings in the journal Economic History Review.

They may not have surprised James Boswell, the celebrated biographer of Samuel Johnson, who recorded up to 19 episodes of venereal disease in his diary between 1760 and 1786. Boswell left a candid record of his many sexual exploits with prostitutes in London in this period, as well as the pain caused by contracting STIs. Today, however, the revelation could help to transform our understanding of the capital’s population structure, sexual habits and wider culture as it became the world’s largest metropolis.

Cambridge’s Simon Szreter said: “It isn’t very surprising that London’s sexual culture differed from that of rural Britain in this period. But now it’s pretty clear that London was in a completely different league to even sizeable provincial cities like Chester.”

The researchers are confident that one-fifth represents a reliable minimum estimate, consistent with the rigorously conservative methodological assumptions they made at every stage. They also point out that a far greater number of Londoners would have contracted gonorrhea (or, indeed, chlamydia) than contracted syphilis in this period.

“The city had an astonishingly high incidence of STIs at that time”, Szreter says. “It no longer seems unreasonable to suggest that a majority of those living in London while young adults in this period contracted an STI at some point in their lives.”

“In an age before prophylaxis or effective treatments, here was a fast-growing city with a continuous influx of young adults, many struggling financially. Georgian London was extremely vulnerable to epidemic STI infection rates on this scale.”

On experiencing initial signs of discomfort, such as a rash or pain in urination, most people in Georgian England hoped that they only had ‘the clap’ (gonorrhea) rather than ‘the pox’ (syphilis), and would have begun by self-medicating with various pills and potions. But for many, the symptoms got worse, leading to debilitating pain and fevers which they couldn’t ignore.

Mercury salivation treatment was considered a reliable and permanent cure for syphilis but it was debilitating and required at least five weeks of residential care. This care was provided, for free, by London’s largest hospitals, at least two specialist hospitals, and many poor law infirmaries, as well as privately for those who could afford it.

To maximise the accuracy of their estimates, Szreter and Siena drew on large quantities of data from hospital admission registers and inspection reports, and other sources to make numerous conservative estimates including for bed occupancy rates and duration of hospital stays. Along the way, they excluded many patients to avoid counting the false positives that arise from syphilis’s notoriously tricky diagnosis.

Of particular value to the researchers were surviving admissions registers from the late 1760s through to the 1780s for St Thomas’s and Guy’s Hospitals which consistently housed 20–30 per cent of their patients in ‘foul’ wards reserved for residential treatment for the pox. But the researchers also drew on evidence for St Bartholomew’s hospital; workhouse infirmaries; and two subscription hospitals, the Lock and the Misericordia, which also cared for ‘Foul’ men and women.

Patients in London’s foul wards often battled their diseases for six months or more before seeking hospitalization. This helped the researchers, making it highly likely that the majority of patients they were counting in the records were suffering from significant protracted symptoms more characteristic of secondary syphilis than of gonorrhea, soft chancre, or chlamydia.

After making careful adjustments, Szreter and Siena reached a final conservative estimate of 2,807 inpatients being treated for pox annually across all institutions c.1775. By dividing this figure by London’s population, falling within the catchment area of the hospitals and workhouses studied, they arrived at a crude annual rate of treatment per capita.

By then comparing this with existing data for Chester – and making further adjustments to account for demographic and social differences between the two cities – they converted London’s crude rate into a comparable cumulative probability rate. This suggested that while about 8% of Chester’s population had been infected by age 35, the figure for London was well over 20%.

A major factor for the syphilis rates is likely to have been the increasing movement of people through London in this period, combined with the financial precarity experienced by young adults aged 15–34. Young women were particularly well represented among new arrivals to the city, and they were often placed in positions of domestic and economic dependence on mostly male employers.

The full 20% chance of infection applies to individuals continuously resident in the capital from age 15 through to age 35. While this applies to most Londoners, among the sizeable mobile minority of the capital’s population, who were probably at most risk, some came and went and so spent only part of that most vulnerable period of their lives exposed to this high level of risk.

The historians emphasise that STIs were particularly rife among young, impoverished, mostly unmarried women, either using commercial sex to support themselves financially or in situations that rendered them vulnerable to sexual predation and assault like domestic service.

They were also rife among two sets of men: poor in-migrant men, many still unmarried and on the margins of London’s economy; and, a range of more established men like James Boswell, who were able to pay for hospital or private treatment.

“Syphilis and other STIs can have a very significant effect on morbidity and mortality, as well as fertility,” Szreter explains. “So infection rates represent a serious gap in our historical knowledge, with significant implications for health, for demography and therefore for economic history. We hope that our work will help to change this.”

“Understanding infection rates is also a crucial way to access one of the most private, and therefore historically hidden, of human activities, sexual practices and behaviours.”

250 years ago, over one-fifth of Londoners had contracted syphilis by their 35th birthday, historians have calculated.

Here was a fast-growing city with a continuous influx of young adults, many struggling financiallySimon SzreterAn Evenings Invitation; with a Wink from the Bagnio, 1773


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Playtime with dad may improve children’s self-control

Tue, 30/06/2020 - 08:58

The study, by academics at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge and the LEGO Foundation, pulled together fragmentary evidence from the past 40 years to understand more about how fathers play with their children when they are very young (ages 0 to 3). The researchers wanted to find out whether father-child play differs from the way children play with their mothers, and its impact on children’s development.

Although there are many similarities between fathers and mothers overall, the findings suggest that fathers engage in more physical play even with the youngest children, opting for activities such as tickling, chasing, and piggy-back rides.

This seems to help children learn to control their feelings. It may also make them better at regulating their own behaviour later on, as they enter settings where those skills are important – especially school.

Paul Ramchandani, Professor of Play in Education, Development and Learning at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, said: “It’s important not to overstate the impact of father-child play as there are limits to what the research can tell us, but it does seem that children who get a reasonable amount of playtime with their father benefit as a group.”

“At a policy level, this suggests we need structures that give fathers, as well as mothers, time and space to play with their children during those critical early years. Even today, it’s not unusual for fathers who take their child to a parent-toddler group, for example, to find that they are the only father there. A culture shift is beginning to happen, but it needs to happen more.”

Parent-child play in the first years of life is known to support essential social, cognitive and communication skills, but most research focuses on mothers and infants. Studies which investigate father-child play are often small, or do so incidentally. “Our research pulled together everything we could find on the subject, to see if we could draw any lessons,” Ramchandani said.

The Cambridge review used data from 78 studies, undertaken between 1977 and 2017 – most of them in Europe or North America. The researchers analysed the combined information for patterns about how often fathers and children play together, the nature of that play, and any possible links with children’s development.

On average, they found that most fathers play with their child every day. Even with the smallest children, however, father-child play tends to be more physical. With babies, that may simply mean picking them up or helping them to gently raise their limbs and exert their strength; with toddlers, fathers typically opt for boisterous, rough-and-tumble play, like chasing games.

In almost all the studies surveyed, there was a consistent correlation between father-child play and children’s subsequent ability to control their feelings. Children who enjoyed high-quality playtime with their fathers were less likely to exhibit hyperactivity, or emotional and behavioural problems. They also appeared to be better at controlling their aggression, and less prone to lash out at other children during disagreements at school.

The reason for this may be that the physical play fathers prefer is particularly well-suited for developing these skills.

“Physical play creates fun, exciting situations in which children have to apply self-regulation,” Ramchandani said. “You might have to control your strength, learn when things have gone too far – or maybe your father steps on your toe by accident and you feel cross!”

“It’s a safe environment in which children can practise how to respond. If they react the wrong way, they might get told off, but it’s not the end of the world – and next time they might remember to behave differently.”

The study also found some evidence that father-child play gradually increases through early childhood, then decreases during ‘middle childhood’ (ages 6 to 12). This, again, may be because physical play is particularly important for helping younger children to negotiate the challenges they encounter when they start to explore the world beyond their own home, in particular at school.

Despite the benefits of father-child play, the authors stress that children who only live with their mother need not be at a disadvantage.

“One of the things that our research points to time and again is the need to vary the types of play children have access to, and mothers can, of course, support physical play with young children as well,” Ramchandani added. “Different parents may have slightly different inclinations when it comes to playing with children, but part of being a parent is stepping outside your comfort zone. Children are likely to benefit most if they are given different ways to play and interact.”

Children whose fathers make time to play with them from a very young age may find it easier to control their behaviour and emotions as they grow up, research suggests.

Physical play creates fun, exciting situations in which children have to apply self-regulationPaul Ramchandani Family Equality via Flickr Portrait of playful girl covering fathers eyes in park


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People in England’s poorest towns ‘lose over a decade of good health’, research finds

Wed, 17/06/2020 - 09:28

Populations in England’s poorest towns have on average 12 fewer years of good health than those in the country’s richest towns, according to new research from the University of Cambridge’s Bennett Institute.

The study shows that the number of hospital admissions for self-harm in the most deprived towns is – on average – almost double that of the most affluent, with alcohol-related admissions over 75% higher than in the least deprived towns.  

Lung cancer is twice as prevalent in the most deprived towns, and child obesity in the poorest towns stands at an average of 23% by the end of primary school, compared to around 12% in the wealthiest. 

In fact, researchers say the overall life expectancy of town-based populations is “moving in a worse direction” compared to cities – with female life expectancy now higher in English cities than towns for the first time this century.

“The previous pattern of rising life expectancy has stalled or gone into reverse in many English towns,” said Prof Mike Kenny, report coauthor and Director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy. “Declining fortunes and debates over Brexit have highlighted the chasm that divides many town inhabitants from those in cities.

“However, on some key health measures, inequalities between towns are much greater than the average difference between towns and cities. People in England’s most deprived towns lose over a decade of good health compared to the populations of wealthy towns.”

“There is an overriding need for policies to address the large and widening gaps in the health and opportunities of many towns. These policies should be integral to post-pandemic economic recovery agendas,” Kenny said.

The team found a “strong geographical context”: most of the healthiest towns are in the South East, while most of the unhealthiest towns are situated in former industrial areas of Northern England.

Towns with the longest life expectancy include Frimley in Sussex and Filton, near Bristol. Populations with the shortest lives, on average, were found in Thurnscoe, near Barnsley, and Oldham.

Two seaside towns at either end of the country, Blackpool in the Northwest and Jaywick in East Anglia, had the highest levels of self-harm. Another coastal town, Newbiggin-by-the-sea, near the former collieries north of Newcastle, had the highest child obesity rates. Eccles and Salford on the outskirts of Manchester are the towns with most alcohol-related hospital admissions.

Hertforshire contains a number of England’s healthiest and wealthiest towns, such as Radlett and Harpenden, while many of the country’s unhealthiest towns – scattered across the north – are also those with the largest populations.

The provision of public green spaces – so important for physical and mental health, and never more so than during the recent coronavirus lockdown – was another dividing line between wealthy and unhealthy towns.

The most affluent towns are on average twice as likely as the most deprived towns to have a common or municipal park within their “built-up area boundary”, according to researchers.

They also found that the most deprived towns had – on average, per capita – 50% more fast food shops than the most affluent towns.

“More deprived towns are much less likely to have a green town centre and much more likely to have high numbers of fast food outlets than their wealthier counterparts,” said Ben Goodair, the report’s lead researcher. “Both these factors contribute significantly to the widening of geographic health inequalities in England.”

“There is every chance that the coronavirus pandemic will make the inequalities we see in our research even worse,” said Goodair. “Many deprived towns have an older age profile, and are more susceptible to the worst effects of the virus, as well as low employment prospects that will be reduced even further by the economic consequences of lockdown.” 

The report only looked at COVID-19 data up to mid-April, but found a slightly higher death rate was already visible in the more deprived towns during the early phase of the pandemic.

Added Kenny: “The current government has said it is committed to ‘levelling up’ England’s regions. Tackling the factors damaging the health of the poorest towns will have to go much further than the hospital walls, including boosting skill levels, promoting local employment and building community resilience.” 

Cambridge researchers find major health inequalities – as well as a geographic divide – between the most and least deprived English towns. They say that life expectancy in cities is now overtaking towns for the first time.

The previous pattern of rising life expectancy has stalled or gone into reverse in many English townsMike KennyClive VarleyAbingdon street in central Blackpool, the English town with the highest rate of hospital admissions for self-harm.


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Professor David Abulafia awarded Wolfson History Prize 2020

Tue, 16/06/2020 - 08:56

This year’s Wolfson History Prize has been awarded to David Abulafia, Emeritus Professor of Mediterranean History and Fellow of Gonville and Cauis College, for his book The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans, published last autumn.

The book traces the history of human movement, trade and communication around and across the world's greatest bodies of water, charting our relationship with the oceans from the time of the earliest seafaring societies to the maritime networks of today’s container ships.

The award was announced on Monday night at the Wolfson Prize’s first virtual ceremony, which featured guest appearances from previous winners, including Professor Mary Beard from the University’s Faculty of Classics. The ceremony can be viewed below.

The Chair of the Wolfson Prize judging panel, Professor David Cannadine, described the book as one of “deep scholarship” and said it was brilliantly written.

“The Boundless Sea tackles a world encompassing subject: humanity’s constantly changing relationship with the seas that cover most of our planet and on which our very lives depend,” Cannadine said.   

In The Boundless Sea, Abulafia follows merchants, explorers, pirates, cartographers and travellers in their quests for spices, gold, ivory, slaves, lands for settlement and knowledge of what lay beyond. It builds on Abulafia’s previous book The Great Sea, a human history of the Mediterranean.

The Boundless Sea aims to go beyond “Eurocentric” approaches, examining the Atlantic waters before Columbus, and showing how lucrative trade routes were created that carried goods and ideas along the ‘Silk Route of the Sea’ well before the Europeans burst into the Indian Ocean around 1500.

“Winning the Wolfson History Prize I see as a tribute to all of us who have been trying to communicate history to the public, writing in an accessible way without jargon, and making sure that people see the past as an essential part of our human experience,” said Abulafia, a former Chair of Cambridge’s Faculty of History.

The Wolfson History Prize is run and awarded by the Wolfson Foundation, an independent charity that awards grants in the fields of science, health, heritage, humanities, and the arts.  

Paul Ramsbottom, chief executive at the Wolfson Foundation, said that the Prize celebrates “the importance to society of outstanding and accessible history writing”.

“David Abulafia’s book is magnificently ambitious, brilliantly examining the changing, extraordinary connections between the vast oceans and humanity,” said Ramsbottom. “While broad in chronological sweep, this clearly has a strong contemporary resonance – as our relationship with the natural world (including the oceans) is under scrutiny as never before.”

Professor David Abulafia is a maritime historian who has spent his career teaching and researching in the History Faculty at Cambridge University. He is the Papathomas Professorial Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, and a Fellow of the British Academy.

Abulafia wins for his epic history of humanity’s relationship with the world’s oceans, The Boundless Sea.

A remarkable book which through immense and impeccable research helps us to understand humanity’s relationship with the waters on which our future depends.Wolfson History Prize judgesThe Holberg PrizeDavid Abulafia speaking at the Holberg Prize symposium.


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Supporting people who are homeless during COVID-19, notes from Cambridge

Mon, 08/06/2020 - 09:39
Shorthand Story: jIV0JPwqDgShorthand Story Head: Supporting people who are homeless during COVID-19, notes from Cambridge " + "ipt>"); } })(navigator, 'userAgent', 'appVersion', 'script', document); //--> */ Shorthand Story Body:  TwitterFacebook Supporting people who are homeless during COVID-19, notes from Cambridge

Cambridge during lockdown. Image credit: Judith Greenwood

Cambridge during lockdown. Image credit: Judith Greenwood

Dr Johannes Lenhard, from the Max Planck Cambridge Centre (Max Cam) in the Department of Social Anthropology, has conducted years of research on the economies of homeless people in Paris and London. He has started a new project with homeless people and those who support them in Cambridge during the pandemic.

Frontline NHS staff have been widely lauded, celebrated with rainbows in windows and weekly clapping. And rightly so. The healthcare system is the backbone of the fight against this pandemic in the UK and elsewhere. However, less has been written about another group of essential workers, the ones supporting people in situations of homelessness. In fact, so far even the government has not provided explicit guidance for people like Mark Allan and his team at Jimmy’s Cambridge, or Jon Canessa, Chaplain to Homeless People and Bishop’s Officer for Homeless (Ely Diocese). Both are working hard to help people in emergency accommodation, shelters and move-on houses in Cambridge.

Support initiatives, new rules, structures and routines constantly have to be thought up and adopted on the spot. How do you continue providing housing for up to 26 people in an emergency hostel, like Jimmy’s? Shared rooms were quickly turned into singles, and rules designed to make people spend most of their time active in the outside world were flipped upside down.

When people were only allowed out within the strict limits of government guidelines, new problems quickly arose: how to keep people that were used to being outside all day busy in the confines of a hostel? Volunteers, usually around to spend time with residents and lead activities were – for safety reasons – not coming in as frequently anymore. A donation of Kindles and a ping pong and pool table helped. But physical distancing remains challenging at Jimmy’s hostel in particular.

Jimmy's night shelter in Cambridge. Image: Graham Knott.

Jimmy's night shelter in Cambridge. Image: Graham Knott.

Obviously, staff are under enormous pressure to support everyone, particularly people struggling with complex needs, such as addiction and mental health issues. Specialists services were not accessible until recently, however. All that on top of reduced income from rent (due to housing fewer residents) and not being able to hold crucial charity events. Mark Allan summed it up to me:

We have had to react quickly, and it’s been challenging. We are lucky to have a great team of staff and volunteers, and have remained open throughout. Our residents have been trying really hard – people are with us because life has been tough, and the sudden threat to life, and new rules to follow, has made life even tougher. We have adapted as best we could to keep people safe. Mark Allen, Chief Executive of Jimmy's Cambridge

The situation in the hotels that have been refunctioned to house people sleeping rough under the government-financed scheme continues to be strenuous. Jon Canessa, who is involved in support for homeless people all year round, has been one of the (voluntary) frontline supporters there. While the government has made £3.2m of emergency COVID funding available to house people sleeping rough, what proved to be just as crucial at the hotels was providing sustained support.

Those in the hotels tend to be ‘entrenched rough sleepers’, people who have been staying outside for a prolonged period, and require even more support. Around 110 people that were formerly sleeping rough have been housed. Canessa, together with other volunteers and organizations such as WinterComfort and again Jimmy’s, provides the much-needed support to the people accommodated in hotels such as the Travelodge and also housing provided by King’s College.

The encampment of some people sleeping rough in Cambridge’. Image credit: Johannes Lenhard

The encampment of some people sleeping rough in Cambridge’. Image credit: Johannes Lenhard

Three days a week, Canessa spends several hours around lunchtime with people at the Travelodge: “That is what is needed, the daily personal comfort and checking in what people need.” Mostly, Canessa listens to people’s stories and tries to support with everyday necessities – a nail clipper here, a pair of shoes there – often in liaison with other services that aren’t fully back in the field yet. Overall, Canessa was most positive about what has already been achieved: “Staff [in the hotel] have been terrific, they have a great attitude of wanting to help, which helps people to feel safe and supported.”

Slowly, it feels, things are becoming slightly more normal, more under control. Most importantly for the people at Jimmy’s and in the hotels, specialized care services are increasingly returning to normal: move-on houses are re-opening for more long-term accommodation, drug tests – an important means for people to keep on top of their addictions – have restarted. The ongoing support from the public – particularly with food donations – has been an important pillar throughout. Obviously, the residents are itching to understand what comes next; like everyone else, they are keen to return to some sort of normality, and escape the uncertainty Covid-19 brought with it.

“Are we really going to put 110 people back on the street?”

Questions remain, however. What is going to happen to the people currently, and temporarily, in hotels? Their housing is going to run out just as the government’s furlough schemes will. Jon Canessa is unsure about what is to come: “Are we really going to put 110 people back on the street?” The Council is currently assessing each person in the hotels to work out what their options are.

For Canessa, it would be disappointing to lose contact with many people that have often just started to engage with support services: “There is something important and significant about this parallel accommodation together with the support! You could think about it as a little bit of a live experiment – and it works.” Canessa told me about some people in the hotels who are now in sustained touch with support services for the first time; the accommodation and the helpful experience provided by everyone involved might have taken away some of the suspicion.

People sleeping rough for long periods often have a certain frustration with support services, sometimes based on experience, sometimes on rumors. At times, it can feel that support is conditional on fulfilling certain milestones, often connected to being abstinent. What could be perceived as a burden, and what some scholars call ‘welfare conditionality’, has temporarily disappeared amid the urgency of the pandemic response. As a result, what we are seeing is a large, live trial of many of the Housing First principles.

In contrast to the historic ‘treatment first’ approaches, Housing First starts with providing accommodation as a stabilizing basis, then builds on it with support for ‘complex needs’ such as mental health issues, alcohol or substance use. While other countries, such as Canada and the US have trialed and rolled out Housing First more widely, the UK has been slower in its deployment. If Covid-19 has any silver lining for homeless people it may be this: showing that quick and more-or-less unconditional access to housing can indeed have enormous longer-term effects. Let us hope these early hints at some positive outcomes continue in the coming months, and something that politicians will take seriously.

Johannes Lenhard is supported by the Max Planck Cambridge Centre (Max Cam) and a grant provided under the urgent Covid-19 response scheme at the University of Cambridge.

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Dr Johannes Lenhard from the Department of Social Anthropology has started a new project with homeless people and those who support them in Cambridge during the pandemic. 

Image: Affiliation (schools and institutions): Department of Social AnthropologySchool of the Humanities and Social SciencesPeople (our academics and staff): Johannes LenhardSubject (including Spotlight on ... where applicable): homelessnessCOVID-19CambridgeSection: ResearchNews type: Discussion

School segregation by wealth is creating unequal learning outcomes for children in the Global South

Wed, 27/05/2020 - 10:16

The University of Cambridge-led study shows that children from the very poorest families, in what are already some of the lowest-income countries in the world, consistently perform worse in basic literacy and numeracy tests than those from more affluent backgrounds.

The overwhelming reason, the study found, is that poorer children are disproportionately clustered in the lowest-quality schools, which often lack even basic resources – such as textbooks, electricity, or toilets.

The researchers say that there is an urgent need to ‘raise the floor’ in global education, by focusing both national-level efforts and international aid on students from the most disadvantaged communities.

Institutions like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the World Bank have long referred to a ‘learning crisis’ in the Global South. While growing numbers of children in low-income countries now attend school compared with previous generations, many still lack basic literacy or numeracy skills.

Until now, most analyses have looked at the factors that explain low learning outcomes in general, rather than differentiating between groups of children. But the new study suggests that there is a huge gulf between the quality of education that children from the poorest families receive compared with wealthier children, and that this is directly linked to their ability to read, write, add, or subtract, by Grade 6.

Dr Rob Gruijters, from the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, who led the research, said: “There is a high level of social segregation in many of these countries’ education systems. The pattern is similar to the UK, where rich children tend to go to better-resourced schools. But the differences in school quality are much more pronounced, and they are strongly linked to family background”

“Global reporting on the learning crisis often pays little attention to these inequalities, focusing instead on average differences between countries. But if we really want to fix things, there needs to be a commitment not only to investing in education, but to raising the floor: to ensuring that every school has a minimum level of support, in staffing, training, and resources.”

The study analysed data from the Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems (PASEC), a survey managed by the association of education ministries in francophone Africa. The survey assessed more than 30,000 Grade 6 students in more than 1,800 schools in 10 countries: Benin, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Ivory Coast, Niger, Senegal and Togo. All 10 have ‘received scant attention’ in previous analyses of the learning crisis, the study says.

The data provides the pupils’ scores in basic maths and reading tests. The researchers cross-referred this with additional information about their socio-economic backgrounds, their health, and the quality of their schools; dividing each country’s sample group into fifths based on their families’ relative wealth.

Overall, pupils from the poorest 20% of families consistently performed worst in the tests, while those children who – although often poor by international standards – fell into the wealthiest 20%, consistently had the highest test scores.

Poorer students also tended to fail to reach PASEC’s Grade 6 ‘proficiency threshold’, meaning that by the time they leave primary school, many still struggle with basic sums and reading.

The researchers then explored possible reasons why this link between household wealth and performance exists. They found that differences in the quality of schooling explained almost the entire learning gap between poor and wealthier children.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds were consistently found to be clustered in educational settings that scored low for school quality in the dataset – meaning that teachers’ own education levels were often poor, classrooms overcrowded, and critical resources and facilities, from textbooks to running water, often unavailable. Wealthier children, on the other hand, were much more likely to attend better-resourced private schools.

Importantly, in cases where children from the wealthiest 20% and poorest 20% of families attended the same school, there was almost no difference in their test results.

“The problem is that most of them are not attending the same schools, and that’s why we are seeing these learning gaps" said Dr Julia Behrman of Northwestern University, who co-authored the study. “Wealthier children learn more largely because they are going to better schools, with better resources.”

The researchers say that their assessment of the impact of socioeconomic status on learning outcomes is almost certainly conservative, as the PASEC data only covers children who reach Grade 6. In countries like Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, where fewer than half of all children finish primary school and many never attend, the poorest children face a ‘double hurdle’: first, getting to school; and second, finding a school that is sufficiently equipped to give them a basic education.

The study therefore argues that policy initiatives and aid efforts aimed at solving the global learning crisis should focus on equalising access to learning opportunities for all children.

“One silver lining is that our research emphasises there is nothing inherent in being poor that stops children from learning,” Gruijters added. “Give them a better place to learn, with better resources, and they can do just as well as children from the wealthiest end of the scale.”

Millions of the world’s poorest children are leaving school without mastering even basic levels of reading or maths because of an overlooked pattern of widespread, wealth-based inequalities in their countries’ education systems, new research suggests.

One silver lining is that our research emphasises there is nothing inherent in being poor that stops children from learningRob GruijtersGlobal Partnership for Education Students in class in Burkina Faso


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Healthcare rationing could see ‘unlawful deaths' from COVID-19, researchers claim

Thu, 21/05/2020 - 11:49

While the initial coronavirus peak is starting to pass – in Europe, at least – without the ventilator shortages many feared, the spectre of a second wave or future outbreak means questions of medical rationing still hold sway.

New research suggests that current ICU protocols and ethical guidelines lack detail, and leave doctors exposed to legal liability if another contagion surge forces them to make painful snap decisions due to insufficient resources.

While the latest analysis focuses on ventilators, University of Cambridge researchers say that many of their arguments apply to other potential medical shortages e.g. a lack of properly staffed ICU beds, dialysis machines or related supplies or equipment.

If shortages lead to denial of treatment based on disability – including ‘chronic illness’ – or age, or treatment withdrawal during sedation, it could violate patient rights and cause unlawful death, argue the Cambridge lawyers.   

They say that legal liability could extend to the UK Government if it is required to defend failures to purchase more medical supplies or publish ICU rationing guidance, despite knowledge of risks to life posed by the pandemic.

The study, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, is based on UK law, but researchers say it is relevant to other European nations.

“We’re definitely not out of the woods,” said Dr Kathy Liddell, Director of the Cambridge Centre for Law, Medicine and Life Sciences. “With lockdown easing, we might well see a second Covid-19 spike in intensive care units, and health services should be prepared legally as well as medically.”

“The law requires more of hospitals, doctors and clinical commissioning groups than is currently set out in the guidelines provided by the British Medical Association, the Intensive Care Society and medical ethicists.”

“The legal rights of patients matter, and they are not being given the attention they deserve,” she said.

Around 2.5% of Covid-19 patients require mechanical ventilation to live while they fight the virus, and a patient can need assisted breathing for up to three weeks.

Early concerns that the virus would see patient demand overwhelm ventilator supply prompted researchers to investigate the legal limits of ventilator allocation.

They found “little concrete guidance” centrally in the UK, and argue that a shortage could see “postcode lotteries” of patient rights to life saving treatment – as decisions are taken at a local level by hospitals and doctors.

“The guidelines we reviewed differed in many ways,” said co-author Dr Jeff Skopek, from Cambridge’s Faculty of Law. “But they generally had the same goal:  save as many lives as possible. While this is of course a worthy goal, it can lead to the violation of patients’ rights – rights are not suspended merely because we are in a crisis.”

The researchers argue that a ventilator cannot be denied on the grounds that a patient has a disability. “Denying treatment because of a disability, which includes chronic illness, violates the Equalities Act 2010. Denying treatment based on age may also do so,” said Liddell.

“In fact, the Equalities Act requires efforts be taken not to disadvantage disabled people. This may mean giving people with disabilities longer assessment periods on ventilation, or actually not de-prioritising them,” she said.

The analysis points out that if an initial trial of treatment is proposed, it must not be too short. No one should be taken off a ventilator for reallocation purposes until the trial has been long enough to generate reliable evidence for predicting the patient’s outcome.

Any decision to withhold or remove ventilation must involve consultation with the patient or their family. Moreover, withdrawing a ventilator without bringing the patient out of sedation risks unlawful killing.

“Even though returning to consciousness would be deeply distressing, all patients must be given a chance to breathe independently if they have a meaningful chance of surviving until another ventilator is available,” said Liddell.

If some of these scenarios occur during another virus spike, the researchers say doctors could be directly liable under criminal law for charges such as gross negligence manslaughter, criminal battery or willful neglect.

Even the UK Government could be held responsible. As Skopek highlights, the decision taken by government in April 2020 not to provide a national policy on handling ICU shortages – despite recommendations from its Moral and Ethical Advisory group – could result in a violation of its obligations under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Without a national policy, the task of drawing up ICU rationing guidelines was left to individual CCGs and hospitals, and many lacked support to ensure their guidelines were legal and ethically sound,” he said.  

Added Skopek: “If we end up with another surge in patients that overwhelms our critical care infrastructure, hospitals and doctors may end up acting unlawfully – and worse, patients may end up dying unlawfully.”

Current medical guidelines risk unlawful deaths of patients – with doctors, hospitals, and even the government potentially liable – if a second peak forces hard choices due to shortages of ventilators and other critical care resources.     

Hospitals and doctors may end up acting unlawfully – and worse, patients may end up dying unlawfullyJeff SkopekPublic Health Image LibraryHealthcare workers checking each other’s personal protective equipment


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Surging numbers of first-generation learners at risk of being left behind in education systems worldwide

Thu, 21/05/2020 - 10:24

Research by academics at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, Addis Ababa University and the Ethiopian Policy Studies Institute, examined the progress of thousands of students in Ethiopia, including a large number of ‘first-generation learners’: children whose parents never went to school.

The numbers of such pupils have soared in many low and middle-income countries in recent decades, as access to education has widened. Primary school enrolment in Ethiopia, for example, has more than doubled since 2000, thanks to a wave of government education investment and reforms.

But the new study found that first-generation learners are much more likely to underperform in Maths and English, and that many struggle to progress through the school system.

The findings, published in the Oxford Review of Education, suggest that systems like Ethiopia’s – which a generation ago catered mainly to the children of an elite minority – urgently need to adapt to prioritise the needs of first-generation learners, who often face greater disadvantages than their contemporaries.

Professor Pauline Rose, Director of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre in the Faculty of Education, and one of the paper’s authors, said: “The experience of first-generation learners has largely gone under the radar. We know that high levels of parental education often benefit children, but we have considered far less how its absence is a disadvantage.”

“Children from these backgrounds may, for example, have grown up without reading materials at home. Our research indicates that being a first-generation learner puts you at a disadvantage over and above being poor. New strategies are needed to prioritise these students if we really want to promote quality education for all.”

The study used data from Young Lives, an international project studying childhood poverty, to assess whether there was a measurable relationship between being a first-generation learner and children’s learning outcomes.

In particular, they drew on two data sets: One, from 2012/13, covered the progress of more than 13,700 Grade 4 and 5 students in various Ethiopian regions; the other, from 2016/17, covered roughly the same number and mix at Grades 7 and 8. They also drew on a sub-set of those who participated in both surveys, comprising around 3,000 students in total.

Around 12% of the entire dataset that includes those in school were first-generation learners. The researchers found that first-generation learners often come from more disadvantaged backgrounds than other pupils: for example, they are more likely to live further from school, come from poorer families, or lack access to a home computer. Regardless of their wider circumstances, however, first-generation learners were also consistently more likely to underperform at school.

For example: the research compiled the start-of-year test scores of students in Grades 7 and 8. These were standardised (or ‘scaled’) so that 500 represented a mean test score. Using this measure, the average test score of first-generation learners in Maths was 470, compared with 504 for non-first-generation pupils. In English, first-generation learners averaged 451, compared with 507 for their non-first-generation peers.

The attainment gap between first-generation learners and their peers was also shown to widen over time: first-generation learners from the Grade 4/5 cohort in the study, for example, were further behind their peers by the end of Grade 4 than when they began.

The authors argue that a widespread failure to consider the disadvantages faced by first-generation learners may, in part, explain why many low and middle-income countries are experiencing a so-called ‘learning crisis’ in which attainment in literacy and numeracy remains poor, despite widening access to education.

While this is often blamed on issues such as large class sizes or poor-quality teaching, the researchers say that it may have more to do with a surge of disadvantaged children into systems that, until recently, did not have to teach as many pupils from these backgrounds.

They suggest that many teachers may need extra training to help these pupils, who are often less well-prepared for school than those from more educated (and often wealthier) families. Curricula, assessment systems and attainment strategies may also need to be adapted to account for the fact that, in many parts of the world, the mix of students at primary school is now far more diverse than a generation ago.

Professor Tassew Woldehanna, President of Addis Ababa University and one of the paper’s authors, said: “It is already widely acknowledged that when children around the world start to go back to school after the COVID-19 lockdowns, many of those from less-advantaged backgrounds will almost certainly have fallen further behind in their education compared with their peers. This data suggests that in low and middle-income countries, first-generation learners should be the target of urgent attention, given the disadvantages they already face.”

“It is likely that, at the very least, a similar situation to the one we have seen in Ethiopia exists in other sub-Saharan African countries, where many of today’s parents and caregivers similarly never went to school,” Rose added.

“These findings show that schooling in its current form is not helping these children to catch up: if anything, it’s making things slightly worse. There are ways to structure education differently, so that all children learn at an appropriate pace. But we start by accepting that as access to education widens, it is inevitable that some children will need more attention than others. That may not be due to a lack of quality in the system, but because their parents never had the same opportunities.”

‘First-generation learners’ – a substantial number of pupils around the world who represent the first generation in their families to receive an education – are also significantly more likely to leave school without basic literacy or numeracy skills, a study suggests.

Our research indicates that being a first-generation learner puts you at a disadvantage over and above being poorPauline RoseUNICEFA classroom in Ethiopia


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Opinion: Employers should cut hours not people during the pandemic

Wed, 13/05/2020 - 09:25

Millions of UK lives have been changed significantly in the last few weeks, even those who have not been infected by the virus. Three of the most widespread changes for many working age adults have been:

1. The loss of a job or a large reduction in working hours
2. A shift in the place of work from the employer’s premises to homeworking
3. Living in social isolation alone or with other members of one’s household (adults and children) who are also spending more time at home. 

We know from past research that any one of these can have negative mental health consequences, but the combined effects of these changes is unprecedented and unexplored. There are already media reports of the strain that this is putting on individuals and families. It is likely that many of these problems will be exacerbated over the coming months. 

Deteriorating levels of mental health in the population will not just cause individual misery - for instance through increased symptoms of anxiety and depression - but the research to date on unemployment suggests that this will likely lead to knock on effects on the family, particularly a spouse. It may also lead to increased breaches of social distancing rules or civil unrest.

The Chancellor’s plans to save jobs through the furlough scheme are largely aimed at the financial fallout of the pandemic: the desire to avoid widespread hunger, destitution and financial insecurity, while also recognising the importance to society’s overall wellbeing of the ability for businesses to recover quickly.

Why employment matters beyond income

As social scientists have found repeatedly, in different countries and different demographic groups, the loss of the wage only explains a small fraction of the very large mental health deficit associated with unemployment and economic inactivity.  

We now know that the ‘incidental’ aspects of having a job – e.g. time structure, social contact, shared goals, sense of achievement, enforced activity – are hugely important for our wellbeing. In our new short video, Lil Woods, a freelance arts charity worker, discusses how the lockdown has left her missing a sense of purpose: “When my work disappeared, I felt like part of my identity, my place in the world, went with it.”

It has proven almost impossible to find substitutes for jobs that fulfil the same functions: leisure activities, voluntary work or workfare just don’t provide us with the same levels of wellbeing through feeling valued.  While some post-work utopians dream of a world where work is largely eliminated, there is little evidence that it could exist as a reality. In fact, recent ONS data shows work has become a coping mechanism in this crisis.

So, it seems, we have an impossible situation – for most people good mental health requires a job, but there simply aren’t enough jobs in the right sectors or with the right skill sets to go around, and this situation is likely to last for many more months of the current pandemic.

A possible solution: short-time working

Fortunately there’s a solution to this paradox, and one that’s being taken seriously in other countries: short-time working. The hastily-introduced measures to protect jobs in the UK encourage employers to retain some or all staff where:

• there is essential work to be done, for example health and emergency workers
• the work can be done at home, as with many office workers
• the work can be done while maintaining safe distancing, such as some agricultural jobs.

Other employees and self-employed workers will be stopped from working, and either be paid to stay at home or lose their wage too. How does it work? Other European countries, such as Germany and Austria, have traditionally used short-time work programmes to deal with economic crises. Employers can reduce the hours of employees, typically with some compensation from public funds to mitigate some of the loss of hours. This has several benefits over the all-or-nothing job shedding being used in the UK. 

• Employees retain their attachment to an employer and have more certainty over their future.  
• It is easier for employers to vary their volume and type of labour power as the pandemic peaks and then we start an exit strategy.  
• Employees can be redeployed depending on their skills, adaptability of the job to homeworking or safe-distancing, or the pre-existing health conditions of the employee.

Recent research by economists from the universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Zurich suggest that, by early April 2020, 15% of people in the UK had lost their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak compared to only 5% in Germany. 

Turning back to the psychological functions of paid work, just how much employment is needed each week to preserve the mental health of employees, and at what point does their wellbeing drop to be closer to those who are unemployed? 

Could it work in the UK?

The surprising finding from our research using UK and EU datasets is that increasing individuals’ hours of work from zero to just eight hours a week provides a large boost to their mental health, and there is little or no further psychological benefit as weekly hours are increased from eight to 40. The lesson for government strategy is clear: where possible (and with population health being the priority) keep everyone in paid work; even one day a week will keep more of us sane in these volatile times.

The Employment Dosage research team is led by Dr Brendan Burchell from the Department of Sociology, with co-investigators Dr Daiga Kamerade, Dr Adam Coutts, Dr Ursula Balderson and Dr Senhu Wang.  
 

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If the UK emulated short-time working programmes in countries like Germany it would help mitigate the mental health as well as economic crises caused by the coronavirus, argue researchers from the Employment Dosage project.    

When my work disappeared, I felt like part of my identity, my place in the world, went with itLil Woods Tim DennellSheffield's Women of Steel statue during the pandemic


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Opinion: Coronavirus has intensified the UK’s digital divide

Wed, 06/05/2020 - 12:54
Shorthand Story: hnQ1mOP230Shorthand Story Head: Coronavirus has intensified the UK’s digital divide " + "ipt>"); } })(navigator, 'userAgent', 'appVersion', 'script', document); //--> Shorthand Story Body:  TwitterFacebook "Pay the wi-fi or feed the children": Coronavirus has intensified the UK’s digital divide The coronavirus lockdown risks turning the problem of digital exclusion into a catastrophe of lost education and opportunity for the UK’s poorest and most vulnerable, write researchers Hannah Holmes and Dr Gemma Burgess. 

For the past four years, the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research (CCHPR) at the University of Cambridge has been researching digital exclusion. While it is a well-known fact that many elderly people are not online, the Centre’s research highlights that digital exclusion is not just a generational issue.

Digital exclusion is another facet of the deep inequalities which run through the social fabric of the UK, and is more widespread than many people are aware of. One thing is clear: the public health crisis currently gripping the UK stands to make the impacts of digital exclusion worse for the millions of people affected, and the poorest will be hit the hardest.

Since the onset of social distancing in the UK, some semblance of normality – or at least of productivity – has been possible to maintain only because of the networks of digital technologies and platforms already in place. Lockdown has certainly served to highlight our reliance on virtual means of staying in touch. Critically, it has also thrown into sharp definition the issue of digital exclusion, which has been a reality for the 22% of the UK’s population who lack basic digital skills since long before the Covid-19 outbreak.

As an aspect of deprivation in the UK, digital exclusion cannot be overlooked. The likelihood of having access to the internet from home increases along with income, such that only 51% of households earning between £6000-10,000 had home internet access compared with 99% of households with an income of over £40,001. The link between poverty and digital exclusion is clear: if you are poor, you have less chance of being online.

Children living in poverty are already significantly disadvantaged compared to their wealthier peers. Of those who have been eligible for free school meals, or who have been in care or adopted from care, only 25% achieved grades 9-5 in GCSE English and Maths in 2019, compared with 50% of all other pupils.

Now that many disadvantaged children are tasked with picking up all of their learning from home as part of coronavirus social distancing measures, and are unable to access the same online learning resources as children whose parents have access to IT, this gap is surely only set to grow further.

We spoke to five primary school head teachers working in Manchester recently, who shared their experiences of childhood digital exclusion. Several reported that only a handful of children are engaging in the online learning set by their teachers in recent weeks. For some households, wi-fi is just too expensive, as one head teacher explained.

“I was talking to one family on Friday, when I was delivering free meals, and I did take them a paper pack of work, because Mum said it was pay the wi-fi or feed the children this month… Sometimes people simply can’t afford to pay for wi-fi,” he said.

Lack of access to suitable devices is also causing problems for some children.

“The majority of children in school aren’t accessing any of the online learning that we’ve set them. I know that some of them don’t have reliable internet. Most of them who have anything have phones or tablets. They’re often shared with siblings, so their access to something appropriate to work on is quite limited,” said another head teacher.

And even where internet access is available, some parents don’t have the necessary skills to help their children use the most appropriate learning platforms. These children may have to resort to using simple websites which they can access without help. As one head teacher said, some children whose parents aren’t able to use interactive platforms have to access their tasks from the school website instead. These children miss out on valuable learning opportunities.

“We’ve already had children on the interactive platforms just clarifying things with their teachers about their learning, asking them quick questions, so that they can have feedback from their teachers. So the children that can’t access that are going to have a bigger gap in their learning, because they’re not going to have had the opportunity to interact with their teacher.”

Providing children with paper-based alternatives is itself fraught with difficulty in the current circumstances. And while digital exclusion is always prevalent, the closures mean that some measures that schools usually take to compensate for lack of internet access at home are no longer feasible. Disadvantaged children are losing out on their already limited chances to make up lost ground.

“If you can’t get on the online platform, you’re stuck with some sort of paper pack,” said another head teacher. “And now the rules are you’re not allowed out of the house other than for essential journeys, and I’m not entirely sure that coming to a school to pick up a pack of work is an essential journey... So they’re just basically cut off really, other than the fact we have made either physical or phone contact with them, but that’s all”.

“Ordinarily, digital exclusion is not an issue here, because everything we set during normal school working we would run homework clubs for... So everything we do when school’s running normally, the kids can usually do in after school clubs, so that everyone can do their homework.”

For now, there are measures which can be taken to mitigate the impact of digital exclusion on children’s learning. For instance, schools can keep in touch with digitally excluded families via phone calls or text messages to ensure they don’t miss important updates. A vast array of educational resources and ideas for home learning have been made available online in recent weeks, many of which are listed on the gov.uk website. Collating those ideas into a short printed guidance sheet to be posted to those families known to be struggling to access online resources may help to fill the gap.

“They’re not on internet banking at all. If their building society decides to close for the coronavirus, they’ll have no money."

Given that digital exclusion is ultimately a feature of poverty, many affected families will be facing financial strain. There have recently been calls to increase child benefit to help families through the crisis. Such an increase may help to ease pressures on many families, who could be facing difficulty paying for their children’s digital access.

In the long term, strategies to close the digital divide, both through widening access and improving digital skills, will be required in order to build a more equitable society. Right now, measures taken in response to coronavirus are disrupting schemes which attempt to reduce digital exclusion, as people are unable to meet digital skills tutors for guidance, and cannot join courses in person to learn essential skills.

For adults facing digital exclusion, the challenges of social distancing are many. Our research with New Horizons, a one-to-one coaching programme for people experiencing financial issues in the East of England, reveals that digital exclusion creates additional problems for people already experiencing poverty: putting together a CV, applying for jobs, managing and keeping track of money, and applying for Universal Credit are just some of the essential activities made that much harder for the digitally excluded. As one New Horizons coach explained, in the context of coronavirus, the tasks that were once difficult for the digitally excluded are now closer to impossible.

“Some of my clients are so digitally excluded it’s unbelievable,” he said. “In one couple that I work with, one of them has mobility issues so physically can’t use a keyboard, there’s no wi-fi, the 4G is weak.

“They’re not on internet banking at all. If their building society decides to close for the coronavirus, they’ll have no money. They’d have to get a bus to central Cambridge, and she can’t leave him that long because of his disabilities.

“And this isn’t new. Digital exclusion was a problem before coronavirus, but this is compounding it.”

Even where a person has access to IT equipment at home, along with the necessary skills to use it, financial concerns can be prohibitive. As another New Horizons coach explained, for many digitally excluded adults, public libraries offer the opportunity to get online without placing additional strain on already stretched finances.

The public library in Bourne, Lincolnshire. Credit: Rex Needle.

The public library in Bourne, Lincolnshire. Credit: Rex Needle.

Libraries are, of course, closed until further notice, with many offering reassurances that resources are still available to their users online. But such online provision is of no use to those digitally excluded adults that depend on access to library facilities for their already limited online activities. For these people, it will be impossible to check emails, to order groceries, to apply for jobs, or even to access essential health guidance and benefits information online until the facilities reopen.

Digital exclusion is yet another manifestation of the profound inequality which casts its shadow over the UK. For the people on the wrong side of the digital divide, the disadvantages associated with being unable to access or use IT have never been more pronounced. The pandemic has already changed the way we interact: it looks set to have a lasting effect on the way we communicate. Unless digital exclusion is taken seriously and addressed, millions of the poorest people in the UK will yet again suffer the consequences.

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The coronavirus lockdown risks turning the problem of digital exclusion into a catastrophe of lost education and opportunity for the UK’s poorest and most vulnerable, write researchers Hannah Holmes and Dr Gemma Burgess.

Image: Affiliation (schools and institutions): Centre for Housing and Planning ResearchSchool of the Humanities and Social SciencesPeople (our academics and staff): Hannah HolmesGemma BurgessSubject (including Spotlight on ... where applicable): COVID-19Digital societyinequalitySection: ResearchNews type: News

Green COVID-19 recovery packages can boost economic growth and tackle climate change, researchers say

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 09:59

An analysis of possible COVID-19 economic recovery packages shows the potential for strong alignment between the economy and the environment. The direction of these measures over the next six months will largely determine whether the worst impacts of global warming can be avoided, and research published today reveals that climate-friendly policies can deliver a better result for the economy – and the environment.

Drawing on a global survey of senior central bank and finance ministry officials, as well as learnings from the 2008 financial crisis, economists found that green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spent and lead to increased long-term cost savings, by comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus.

“The COVID-19-initiated emissions reduction could be short-lived,” said lead author Cameron Hepburn from the University of Oxford. “But this report shows we can choose to build back better, keeping many of the recent improvements we’ve seen in cleaner air, returning nature and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”

“The markets are not unduly worried about UK public debt and neither should we be,” said co-author Dimitri Zenghelis, Special Advisor to the Wealth Economy Project, Bennett Institute, University of Cambridge. “The key is that new borrowing is invested wisely to generate productivity-enhancing innovation, resilient output and a sustainable expansion of capacity. We cannot go back to the old model of business as usual, instead we should confront the economic threat posed by ‘fear’ through investment in building back better.”

A team of internationally-recognised experts came together to assess the economic and climate impact of taking a green route out of the crisis. They catalogued more than 700 stimulus policies into 25 broad groups, and conducted a global survey of 231 experts from 53 countries, including from finance ministries and central banks.

Noting that ‘green’ policies could be widely defined, the study focused on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as the key environmentally-beneficial criteria. The paper, to be published in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, observes that desirable policies have a large return on investment, can be enacted quickly and have a strongly positive impact on climate. Examples include investment in renewable energy production, such as wind or solar. As previous research has shown, in the short term, clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments, as well as being less susceptible to off-shoring.

Other desirable policies included building efficiency retrofit spending, clean research and development spending, natural capital investment for ecosystem resilience and regeneration, and investment in education and training to address immediate unemployment from COVID-19 alongside unemployment from decarbonisation. For developing countries, rural support scheme spending, such as on sustainable agriculture, was also highly ranked. Meanwhile, non-conditional airline bailouts performed the most poorly on both economic impact and climate metrics.

Most G20 governments have implemented significant relief measures as a result of the pandemic. But, as yet, none has introduced any significant fiscal recovery measures. The study authors hope that countries will seize this generational opportunity to take account of these criteria into national plans – for their economies and the environment.

In addition, the COP26 Universities Network has drawn on this research and other analyses to create a briefing for policymakers outlining a path to net-zero emissions economic recovery from COVID-19. The network, a growing group of more than 30 UK-based universities, including the University of Cambridge, was formed to help deliver climate change outcomes at the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow and beyond.

They have put together a briefing that identifies nine fiscal recovery policies that promise to bring both short-term high economic impact and long-term structural change to ensure the UK meets its 2050 climate goals.

“Shaping the national and global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a way that supports the response to climate change and other environmental threats simply makes sense – not only does analysis suggest that green recovery packages deliver greater economic benefit, but investing appropriately in research, innovation, infrastructure and skills training, and matching that with robust institutional structures, will help create a fairer, more resilient, sustainable world with benefits for all,” said Dr Emily Shuckburgh, Director of Cambridge Zero. “As ever, good can be extracted from even the darkest hour, but it requires clear thinking, imagination and bold leadership.”

Among the policies emphasised are: renewable energy, reducing industrial emissions through carbon capture and storage, investment in broadband internet to increase coverage, electric vehicles and nature-based solutions. The group further called for the Cabinet Committee on Climate Change to be renamed the Climate Change Emergency Committee to reflect the urgent need for action.

“Currently, the UK directs €10.5bn in subsidies to fossil fuels. Reallocating this capital to jobs-rich renewable energy projects would be a win-win for the economy and environment,” said Brian O’Callaghan, economist at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, University of Oxford. 

The briefing highlights the leadership role of the UK in the leadup to COP26, as well as the opportunity to lead by example with a green recovery package. But the universities warned that the specific designs of any policy would ultimately determine its effectiveness.

References: 
Hepburn, C., O’Callaghan, B., Stern, N., Stiglitz, J., and Zenghelis, D. 2020. “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change? (PDF)” Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 36(S1), forthcoming.
Allan, J., Donovan, C., Ekins, P., Gambhir, A., Hepburn, C., Reay, D., Robins, N., Shuckburgh E., and Zenghelis, D. (2020). A net-zero emissions economic recovery from COVID-19. COP26 Universities Network Briefing.

Adapted from a University of Oxford press release.

 

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Researchers find long-term, climate-friendly stimulus policies are often superior in overall economic impact – not just in slowing global warming.

As ever, good can be extracted from even the darkest hour, but it requires clear thinking, imagination and bold leadership.Emily ShuckburghPhoto by Andrew Roberts on UnsplashElectric car charging in Birmingham city centre


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Bolsonaro’s attitude to coronavirus increases ‘risky behaviour’ in Brazil

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 09:44

Jair Bolsonaro’s public undermining of pandemic prevention efforts reduces social distancing in the parts of Brazil where his voter base is strongest, according to a new study using location data from over 60 million phones.

Economists used electoral data and anonymised geo-location from devices across Brazil to investigate whether the president’s outspoken anti-quarantine attitude influenced numbers of citizens staying at home to stop coronavirus spread.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Sao Paolo School of Economics-FGV found that municipalities which came out strongly for Bolsonaro in the last election have seen much higher levels of movement and travel among the population during February and March.

Additionally, in the days immediately after Bolsonaro’s televised dismissals of COVID-19 mitigation – e.g. publicly defying quarantine guidance or calling for schools to reopen – Brazil’s social distancing fell in general, and fell much more sharply in pro-Bolsonaro areas.           

“Our research suggests that statements on public health behaviour from political leaders are taken seriously by their followers, regardless of how scientifically accurate they are, or how damaging they might be,” said Dr Tiago Cavalcanti, study author from Cambridge’s Faculty of Economics.

“Bolsonaro actively challenges the regulations imposed by sub-national governments to stem the coronavirus tide. He dismisses WHO recommendations and even those of his own minister of health, who he has recently fired.”

“Using big data research, we see the president’s attitude play out at a population level. Brazil is a polarized nation with a populist leader. The patterns we see in Brazil could be echoed in nations with a similar political situation, such as the United States,” he said.

Cavalcanti and his colleagues Dr Nicholas Ajzenman and Dr Daniel Da Mata looked at the percentage of mobile phones that remained within a 450-metre radius of their home location between February 4 and April 7 2020.

They compared this “social distancing index” with the voting record of each of Brazil’s 5,570 municipalities, in particular whether Bolsanaro received more or less than 50% of the vote in the first round of the 2018 election.

Social distancing has gone up across Brazil since the contagion began. In the top 3% of cities with the highest Bolsonaro vote counts*, such as Ascurra in Santa Catarina and Nova Santa Rosa in Parana, this increase was an average of 24 percentage points.

However, in cities at the bottom of Bolsonaro’s support spectrum*, such as Paricoa in Alagoas and Irapuan Pinheiro in Ceara, social distancing was much higher: a 31 percentage point increase.

The study suggests that, on average during February and March, the cities where support for Bolsonaro is highest had levels of social distancing that were almost 30% lower than cities where Bolsonaro has very little support.

The economists also analysed two key televised appearances by Bolsonaro in March, during which he openly disparaged efforts to control the pandemic.

The first was on March 15, when Bolsonaro – who was suspected at the time of carrying COVID-19 – appeared at a supporters rally in Brazilia, flaunting public health guidelines by taking selfies and doling out fist bumps in the throng.

The second was on March 24. In an official presidential pronouncement he called for schools to reopen nationwide, and criticized Brazilian media for too much reporting on the pandemic in Italy, suggesting he would only get “a little flu” at worst from COVID-19.

The research shows how both these appearances caused social distancing levels to drop in the ten days after each event when compared to the ten days leading up them. The drop was particularly significant in municipalities with high numbers of Bolsonaro voters.

In fact, Cavalcanti suggests that, based on their data, a rough calculation for the effects of the March 24 appearance sees approximately one million additional Brazilians across the nation straying more than 450 metres from their home on each of the ten days following the televised speech. 

“Leadership matters,” said Cavalcanti. “The attitude of a leader can have a significant and possibly devastating impact on individual health and the healthcare systems of a nation.”

“When Bolsonaro minimises the pandemic, we see significant increases in what is now risky behaviour within large sections of the Brazilian population.”

“As coronavirus cases and fatalities continue to rise across Brazil, the behaviour of its leader may be having a very real and dangerous effect,” he said. 

The researchers also found that Bolsonaro’s televised appearances, and the press coverage that ensued, much of it negative, was linked to a more significant drop in social distancing in areas with “high media access”*.

The team calculated the overall change in Brazil’s social distancing during the period for which they have data. In early February, before the pandemic took hold, around 20% of the Brazilian population stayed within 450 metres of their house. By early April, this had increased to around 53%.   

The researchers worked with technology company In Loco to produce the phone data analysis, and the complete findings are published as a Cambridge-INET working paper here: http://covid.econ.cam.ac.uk/

Study suggests that TV appearances by Bolsonaro led to millions more Brazilians ignoring social distancing in the days following broadcast.

The attitude of a leader can have a significant and possibly devastating impact on individual health and the healthcare systems of a nationTiago CavalcantiJeso CarneiroJair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil


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Economic damage could be worse without lockdown and social distancing – study

Wed, 29/04/2020 - 09:21

There is much debate over the economic costs of our lockdown lives: whether the price of disease mitigation is worth the risk of an enduring financial crisis.

New research from the University of Cambridge suggests that there is no absolute trade-off between the economy and human health – and that the economic price of inaction could be twice as high as that of a “structured lockdown”.

A Cambridge economist, together with researchers at the US Federal Reserve Board, has combined macroeconomics with aspects of epidemiology to develop a model for the economic consequences of social distancing.

The study uses US economic and population data, but the researchers say their findings have implications for most developed economies.

It divides the working population into “core workers” – those in healthcare as well as food and transportation, sanitation and energy supply, among others – and then everyone else, and models the spread of the virus if no action is taken.

“Without public health restrictions, the random spread of the disease will inevitably hit sectors and industries that are essential for the economy to run,” said co-author Prof Giancarlo Corsetti, from Cambridge’s Faculty of Economics.

“Labour shortfalls among core workers in particular strip more value from the economy. As essential team members within this core sector drop out of the workforce, it impairs production far more than losing those in other areas of the economy.”

By separating the core and non-core workers, the study suggests that the economy would shrink by 30% or more without lockdown and social distancing. “By ignoring this division in the workforce, we may badly underestimate the true depth of economic damage,” Corsetti said.

Using data from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the researchers then quantified the share of workers who could “reasonably keep performing occupational tasks at home”: 15% of those in core sectors, and 40% of everyone else currently working – along with 30% of all non-working age people, from children to the retired. This puts a third of the entire population on lockdown.   

In this scenario, the infection curve is smoothed out through social distancing, and the rate of loss in economic output is around 15%, just half the level of damage if no action is taken to prevent disease spread.

Sickness rates for core workers would be the same as the rest of the population, the high levels of social distancing elsewhere act as a shield.  

“This overarching policy flattens the curve,” said Corsetti. “The peak of the infected share of the population drops from 40% to about 15%. However, this is still far too high given the capacities of healthcare systems.”

So the researchers also modelled a scenario where infection rates are kept to a manageable level for healthcare services of under 1.5% of the population for 18 months – the length of time many believe it will take for a vaccine to arrive. 

This would mean lockdown shares of 25% of core workers, 60% of workers outside of core, and 47% of non-working age people. Under this scenario, the economy contracts by 20%.

The study also looked at a very strict lockdown – 40% of core workers and 90% each of non-working age and everyone else – that lasts for just three months. Such a scenario simply delays the infection rates but prevents “herd immunity”, creating an economic drop comparable to that of taking no action in the first place.

“As well as containing the loss of life, committing to long-term social distancing structured to keep core workers active can significantly smooth the economic costs of the disease,” said Corsetti. 

“The more we can target lockdown policies toward sections of the population who are not active in the labour market, or who work outside of the core sector, the greater the benefit to the economy,” he said.

“What seems clear to us is that taking no action is unacceptable from public health perspective, and extremely risky from an economic perspective.” 

However, Corsetti and colleagues caution that the lingering uncertainties around just how the coronavirus spreads means their scenarios are not forecasts, but should be taken as a “blueprint” for further analysis.

The research is published as a Cambridge-INET working paper: https://www.inet.econ.cam.ac.uk/working-paper-pdfs/wp2017.pdf
 

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The worst thing for the economy would be not acting at all to prevent disease spread, followed by too short a lockdown, according to research based on US data.

Taking no action is unacceptable from public health perspective, and extremely risky from an economic perspectiveGiancarlo CorsettiWhite HouseA reporter takes a photo of Donald Trump during a White House coronavirus briefing in April


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UK and US firms ‘lag’ in race to commercialise COVID-19 diagnostic tests

Wed, 22/04/2020 - 11:47

Nations with high rates of coronavirus testing such as South Korea and Germany are also leading the world in commercialising COVID-19 diagnostic tests – far outstripping the domestic UK and US diagnostic industries, new research shows.

Researchers also argue that lax EU regulations for diagnostic devices could make the region a “dumping ground for poor quality tests”.

A team from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Sociology has produced what they say may be the most comprehensive global dataset of companies developing molecular diagnostic tests for COVID-19.

They found that 88% of South Korean firms working on COVID-19, and 80% of those in Germany, now have tests either on the market or ready to be rolled out. In the UK, just 54% of firms developing COVID-19 tests have a commercialised product. The US also lags behind at 67%.

China has 93 diagnostic firms working on COVID-19, the overall highest number, 90% of which have commercialised tests.

The latest analysis is available on a website set up by CancerScreen, a Cambridge research project funded by the European Research Council on the political economy of diagnostic innovation.

 “The COVID-19 testing strategies adopted by different countries are now under intense public scrutiny,” said Dr Stuart Hogarth, who leads the research.

“The UK and US have been criticised for failing to ramp up capacity compared to places such as Germany and South Korea. We can see this playing out in the global molecular diagnostics industry.”

Building on previous work, the CancerScreen team have trawled media coverage and drawn on lists of COVID-19 tests from organisations such as the Foundation for Innovative Diagnostics (FIND) and the UK National Institutes for Health Research (NIHR) Innovation Lab.

They now have 303 firms in their dataset of COVID-19 molecular diagnostics firms and their main database has increased to 830 firms.

The Asia Pacific region already dominated the global industry, with 40% of all molecular diagnostics manufacturers, compared to 29% in the US and 28% in Europe. In terms of the COVID-19 market, Asia Pacific is even more dominant, with 55% of all firms.

The region is also ahead when it comes to commercialising COVID-19 tests. In Asia Pacific 90% of firms have a test on the market, compared to 78% in Europe and 67% in the US.

“The lag is striking because it mirrors the spread of the pandemic, starting in Asia Pacific and then moving to Europe and North America,” said Hogarth. “It suggests that firms in the US and Europe could have responded more quickly when the pandemic began.”

He points out that some of the countries with an effective commercialisation response to COVID-19 diagnostic testing needs are those where there is a strong relationship between the state and manufacturing sector.

“A country like South Korea exemplifies a pattern of industrialisation in which the state directs economic development,” said Hogarth.

“Our data suggests that strong leadership by the national government plays a role in industry responsiveness, at least at the extremes of leaders and laggards,” he said.

There are also important distinctions between regions and nations when it comes to the pace and nature of regulatory approval, says Hogarth: “Although most countries have put in place fast-track emergency approval mechanisms, the European Union already had a very low barrier to market entry.”

He points out that the ‘CE-mark’ – indicating a test complies with EU regulations – is self-certified by nearly all types of diagnostic tests manufacturers: the firm simply awards itself a CE-mark.

“The lack of regulatory scrutiny makes the EU an attractive market for firms,” said Hogarth. The CancerScreen research shows there are 50% more Chinese firms with CE-mark for EU market than actually have approval in China itself, a pattern that is almost identical in South Korea.

Some 62 firms across China, South Korea and Singapore, as well as the US, currently export CE-marked COVID-19 tests to the EU. In China, South Korea and the US, the position is reversed: most firms with approved tests are domestic.

Meanwhile, only South Korean firms have approval in South Korea, very few firms that are not Chinese have approval in China, and this trend is replicated in the US.

Last week, the New York Times reported that the UK government bought two million kits for detecting antibodies for the coronavirus from two Chinese companies, only to find them ineffective.

“If the EU is to avoid becoming a dumping ground for poor quality tests, then further action must be taken,” said Hogarth. “That is already happening at a national level, as individual member states are forced to undertake post-market evaluation to assess the quality of tests to inform their procurement decisions.”

“Over the last few days the European Commission has begun to establish a more active role as a coordinating body and I welcome that very important development.”

The CancerScreen team is now working in collaboration with FIND to gather more data on the industry response to COVID-19 and Hogarth hopes to build links with the NIHR Innovation Lab for future work.

Added Hogarth: “It is important to share resources and expertise. FIND and NIHR have the definitive lists because they have data on immunoassays, as well as molecular diagnostics, but our strength is our broader understanding of the molecular diagnostics sector that we have developed over many years.”

The diagnostic industry in countries such as Germany, South Korea and China lead the pack on getting coronavirus tests ready for market. Researchers warn that lax EU regulations could see it become a “dumping ground” for bad tests.

The lag is striking because it mirrors the spread of the pandemicStuart HogarthSenior Airman Rhett IsbellCOVID-19 testing at Kadena Air Base, Japan


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