Figures back heads views on funding pressures

Most commentators will be focusing on the primary performance data published today. I am sure that is not why the DfE also chose to publish the annual update on maintained school finances for 2016-17 today. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/la-and-school-expenditure-2016-to-2017-financial-year

Although this is time series data, comparisons from year to year are handicapped by the conversion of schools to academy status and their removal from these tables. Nevertheless, at the national level, some pointers do become clear, especially as the funding between academies and maintained schools is now roughly the same for most of their government funded revenue income. They do, of course have different accounting years, and this can affect issues such as spend on salaries and the payment of increments.

If the average percentage of revenue income held as balances by maintained schools  is considered, this has now started reducing after a long period when the percentage was on the increase in both the primary and secondary sectors.

Maintained  Schools:

Total revenue balance as a % of total revenue income

Primary Secondary
2009-10 5.9% 3.2%
2010-11 6.6% 3.9%
2011-12 7.9% 5.6%
2012-13 7.9% 6.2%
2013-14 7.9% 6.4%
2014-15 8.2% 5.0%
2015-16 8.4% 4.6%
2016-17 7.4% 3.0%

This is the first year that the primary sector has recorded a decline in balances as a percentage of revenue income. In the secondary sector, the decline started in 2014-15 and there has now been three years of declining revenue balances overall.

For schools with a deficit, overall the aggregate position is also deteriorating:

Primary Secondary
2009-10 (3.5)% (4.0)%
2010-11 (3.6)% (4.8)%
2011-12 (3.7)% (5.7)%
2012-13 (3.1)% (5.2)%
2013-14 (2.9)% (5.8)%
2014-15 (3.3)% (7.3)%
2015-16 (3.0)% (7.7)%
2016-17 (3.5)% (8.4)%

Again, the position is worse in the secondary sector. This may be partly due to the remaining secondary schools that haven’t converted to academy status being more likely to be in deficit. Of the remaining maintained secondary schools included in the data for 2016-17, 26% had a deficit budget compared with just 7% of primary schools. This may also reflect the fact that rolls have been rising across the primary sector but falling until this year across the secondary sector.

The average spend on teaching staff increased in the primary sector by £68 per pupil and in the secondary sector by £58 per pupil over the two years 2015-16 and 2016-17. In the same period, the primary sector reduced running costs by £30 per pupil and secondary sector by £25 per pupil.

Schools overall increased non-government revenue income by £25 per pupil in the primary sector and £13 in the secondary sector in this period. Some of this is just income taken in to cover the costs of trips, meals and other expenses, but it also includes parental contributions and donations.

Overall, the figures show that the squeeze on income is now really beginning to affect schools, especially in the secondary sector. These figures back up the complaints of secondary head teachers about their funding levels. With general inflation now over three per cent and the  need to offer recruitment and retention payments to counteract below inflation pay increases, the next few years are going to be challenging times for maintained schools, and almost certainly for academies as well.

Schools can no longer rely on dipping into their saving for a rainy day: that day has now arrived and the cash is being used up.

 

 

 

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Time for action

Burnt out teachers in struggling schools where nobody has the long-term strategic responsibility for improvement. That’s what I take from the headlines about the Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman’s first annual report. Apparently, there are about 100 schools which have not reached “good” status in inspections since 2005.

None of this is news; none of it is unknown. Indeed, one might ask whether politicians of all Parties have created barriers to overcoming this situation. The two parallel systems of maintained schools and academies, created since Mr Gove’s revolution, have not led to a system of oversight that allows meaningful discussion on how to deal with the schools that need the most support.

Labour now plans a National Education Service, on the lines of the National Health Service, without explaining where any extra funding for improvement will come from. As readers of this blog know, the cost of just the minor changes the government are making to student funding is going to cost £800 million according to the Budget Red Book. That doesn’t leave much for schools and early years. The Conservatives having failed with a system to encourage teachers to work in challenging schools are now trying Opportunity Areas, a scheme seemingly not dis-similar to Labour’s Education Action Zones of the late 1990s.

Nowhere yet at Westminster does there seem to be a recognition of the need to re-energise local democracy into taking an interest in developing and improving education services. If you believe services such as schooling should be subject to democratic oversight, then that surely requires a coherent form of local government backed by Westminster retaining oversight for strategic matters and with the power to intervene should local government prove not up to the task. Central government will also have to bear the funding of schools, but must recognise that sending all the cash to schools is not the right way to either create economies of scale or aid schools that need help from time to time.

What the government at Westminster can do is end the era of schools competing with one another. All state funded schools are part of the same enterprise: the development of learning for all our children. We do need to work together for the common good and not just for the good of the school. If burnout is a real issue for those working in some schools then managed moves for teachers and periods away from the classroom may be necessary. This is challenging when schools in MATs are spread geographically long distances apart and downright impossible when maintained schools cannot fund such a system under the present rules.

Then there is the growing practice of putting secondary deputies into primary schools, either directly as heads or to work alongside heads. Dioceses can do this with their schools, as can MATs, but it is difficult to see how maintained schools can create effective systems without overall control. These are but two examples of why the present system won’t tackle the concerns of the Chief Inspector.

The time has come to end the present unworkable governance system in schools and return to a common framework with a single purpose: every school a good school.

No room in the Inn?

More than 13,000 children taken into care in the last financial year were placed outside of their local authority area. Some will have had relatively short-term placements, but for the majority of school age children taken into care, this can mean some disruption to their schooling. Data on the effects of being taken into care on time away from education isn’t published by the DfE in their tables associated with Statistical First Release 50/2017. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/children-looked-after-in-england-including-adoption-2016-to-2017

I would hope that in the future this issue might be better researched, since these are a highly vulnerable group of young people. Regular readers of this blog will recall that after the general election, all six of Oxfordshire’s MPs wrote to the Minister about the problems of in-year enrolment of children taken into care and requiring a change of school. I would hope that officials and the charities concerned with the welfare of these children will look at what is happening, as only yesterday I heard of a school employing a solicitor to challenge any request from another local authority for a place in the school for a child in care.

This issue needs attention because being taken into care must not be the start of a slippery slope towards a life of crime and marginalisation by Society. It is welcome news that the number of children taken into care and subsequently sentenced to custody fell in the latest year the data are available for from 500 to 410, but this is still way too high, and above the 370 custodial sentence sin 2013.

Sadly, the number of care leavers between 19-21 in custody in the latest figures remains just over the 1,000 mark, with similar numbers in each of the three age groups. Many of these young people will be well on the way to a long period of criminal behaviour and a revolving door syndrome of prison punctuated by short periods of unsuccessful life in the community. There is a growing recognition that these days looking after young people up to the age of 25 is more sensible than casting them adrift at eighteen. However, this does demand more resources and even more investment for these young people that are in a fight for resources with many other groups.

Sadly, only 50% of care leavers are in education, training or employment, leaving the other half of the group either as NEETs or without a known destination. The rate of pregnancy is seven per cent nationally. There are examples of these young mothers subsequently going on to complete their education and flourish where they are provided with care and support; others perpetuate the cycle of mothers with children taken into care. The percentage in higher education is still very low at well under 10% compared to a 40-50% for the age group as a whole.

A shortage of resources must not be allowed to blight the lives of young people taken into care and after they leave as young adults. Schools, especially, must help to play a part in working with this group. As we approach the Christmas season, these children must not find there is no room for them in our schools.

 

Workload matters

The NfER has issued the third in their series of research updates on teacher recruitment and retention https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/NUFS04/ – scroll down the page for the download of the report.

The headline finding is that ‘on average, teachers’ pay doesn’t increase after they leave’. The authors suggest that this means leavers are not primarily motivated by increased pay. ‘Teachers appear to be more motivated by improved job satisfaction, reduced working hours and more opportunities for flexible working’. This research chimes with my long-held view that there are three key factors in ensuring sufficiency in the teacher workforce: pay; conditions and morale. A government might be able to underplay one element, but to affect all three is to ensure a teacher supply crisis by increasing departure rates to a level where numbers leaving cannot be replaced by new entrants.

Looking deeper into the NfER research, it is interesting to see the three groups used on page 5 of the report as the main outcomes for departure. 43% of leavers from state schools remain in schools, with the bulk switching to teach in the private sector. Only 1.6% in the NfER study become teaching assistants. This is low compared to the 15% NfER found in another study using a different cohort of interviewees.

Overall, only 10% of teacher leavers went into other employment, with a further 5% becoming self-employed. This latter group are rather confusingly included in the economically inactive group of outcomes in this study. If anything, this whole group may be a smaller proportion than in the past when there were more active local advisory and inspection teams and more money was being spend on supporting professional development and research creating more job opportunities. However, there will always be a need for some people with a teaching background to move into other careers. As with the switch to teaching in private schools, it would have been helpful to try to assess whether the percentages discovered in this survey were increasing or declining over recent times?

Finally, the percentage leaving the labour market and becoming economically inactive amounted to 49% of the total, with retirement account for 29% of the total for this group. Perhaps more significant was the 4% that reported being unemployed. Was this due to a partner’s move to an area where there were fewer teaching opportunities or down to having had enough of teaching as a career and taking stock before moving on? More analysis of this group would be illuminating, especially their profile and locations.

What is clear, as the National Audit Office reported earlier this year in their report, is that reducing departures from the profession helps alleviate the need to train more new entrants. The NfER research might have made it clearer that their study used data from a period when secondary school rolls were falling; it is interesting that they don’t have a category for ‘made redundant’, perhaps these teachers are in the ‘unemployed’ group.

With school rolls now on the increase, the messages from this research takes on a greater urgency and, as others have said, the use of part-time working opportunities for an increasingly female dominate classroom teacher workforce in secondary schools is becoming an area where schools now need to pay particular attention to what they can offer staff as it may help to retain some teachers. But, on the evidence of this study, the gain won’t be large. Even so, it is a necessary move.

 

 

Road safety campaign to help cut child deaths

The Government has launched a new road safety campaign aimed at teachers and schools to help cut child fatalities. A recent survey revealed that 67% of children get fewer than 2 hours of road safety education in their whole time at school and the aim of the new THINK! Campaign is to help schools and teachers highlight the dangers of roads and encourage best practice for children.

I welcome this announcement as coincidentally I attended the Oxfordshire Sixth Form Road Safety event last week. This takes the form of a hard hitting video of a group of young people involved in a two car road incident that leads to the death of one passenger and the paralysis of another. The video is interspersed with testimony from emergency service personnel; medical staff; a parent that had a child killed in a car crash; someone paralysed as a teenager after a night out and finally, a teenage driver serving a long prison sentence for causing death by dangerous driving. All their testimony is moving and some sixth formers are so affected that they leave in tears. Watching it for the second year was no less moving that the first time around, even though I knew what was to come.

Even if the driver is sober, the combination of a full car of teenagers; rural roads with lots of bends and trees and often loud music is a very high risk situation. A careless shout at the wrong moment or some other distraction and the result is a tragedy that could have been prevented.

The new THINK! Campaign from the Department for transport will feature a wide range of new education resources, including easy to follow lesson plans, 2 new films co-created with school children and a song in a bid to make teaching road safety lessons easier and more accessible. The first documentary-style film follows a group of school children as they act out how to cross the road safely after learning to use the Stop, Look, Listen, Think code. The second film follows another 6 children on their different journeys to school, including walking, cycling and scooting. The children explain their top tips for getting to school safely in the form of a new road safety song. The first phase of resources, aimed at 3 to 6-year-olds, are already on the Think! Web site. The next 2 phases for ages 7 to 12 and 13 to 16 will follow in the New Year. I hope that they will be interactive and make use of modern technology to engage with this tech savvy generation.

The importance of this work means that Ministers at the DfE should be aware of the needs of the whole child and not just their academic requirements. Schooling is for life not for just passing examinations however welcome today’s news on reading levels may be.

Finally, road safety also means training in cycling and, as we encourage more young people to cycle to and from school, we need to ensure that they are especially aware of how to stay safe.

 

New Job: Careers Person

The news that the DfE is again taking careers education more seriously than it has done in recent years must be welcomed. We still have a long way to go to return to the idea of work experience for all and encouraging primary schools to talk about the world of work, but what is now being proposed is a start. The former programmes cost a lot of money and were of variable quality. At least not much money is being spent this time around, presumably because the government hasn’t actually got it to spend.

The £4 million of funding won’t go very far if spread evenly across all secondary schools; perhaps £250 per year group if a school is lucky. Even if the cash is only going to 500 schools, then that still won’t be enough to buy even half a teacher’s time, let alone other costs.

Curiously, £1 million more is being spent with the private sector on 20 career hubs bringing together a range of partners. What is missing from the announcement by the DfE is the part that IT will play in this new world of support and encouragement.

Inevitably, the term social mobility creeps into the DfE’s announcement. At the rate the term is being used these days it will soon join a former Secretary of State’s observation that ‘everyone must be above average’ as a meaningless terms trotted out at every opportunity to show an awareness of the divide between those at different levels in society.

There wasn’t any mention of entrepreneurship in the announcement that seemed to equate careers advice with obtaining the right qualification. Working life can and should be more than deciding whether you want to work with people, things or numbers. What sort of environment you will be happy in can also be important, especially as young people don’t seem to have the same degree of work experience at weekends and during the holidays as was available to former generations?

Perhaps what is missing is a motivational social media campaign to stir young people into action; not to do more to them, but to inspire them to do things for themselves. What is also missing is the recognition that areas of the curriculum have been decimated by the actions of successive politicians. Design and technology, music and even the other creative arts subjects may play important parts in the lives of our young people if artificial intelligence really does wipe out a whole range of existing careers over the next twenty years.

Because, 20 years ago few of those reading this post would have had an email address; a mobile phone or even a computer capable of much more than word processing. I don’t know what the new jobs will be; games developer is one that didn’t exist when I was young; there weren’t data analysists to the same extent either, and the whole social media revolution has created opportunities for some to make money from blogging, unlike this author that just does it out of interest.

 

Social Mobility Commission

It is not really surprising, to see that the whole of the board of the Social Mobility Commission has followed the lead of their chair and resigned. I commented on the Commission’s most recent report in a previous post. Officials at the Commission have talked to me about teacher recruitment in the past and are clearly aware that good teaching can have an effect on educational outcomes. This was something the Liberal Democrat Education Association discussed at a conference in Oxford yesterday.

So, who might replace Alan Milburn and be handed the responsibility for chairing the Commission, assuming that the Commission retains its present form and function? Perhaps, David Laws, former Education Minister of State and briefly Treasury number 2, in the coalition government might make a good choice? He has spent his time since being ejected by the electorate in 2015, building up the Education Policy Institute as a leading think tank, and is well on the way to making EPI match the Institute of Fiscal Studies as the leader in its area of expertise. However, with experience beyond just education and a wide range of contacts, David would make an excellent chair, with a good head for data and understanding of the machinery of government. He was also heavily involved with the introduction of both the Pupil Premium and the infant free school meals policies, both key measures to help achievement and further the possibility of social mobility during the coalition.

Of course, if he wants to stay where he is and thinks he can do more good at EPI, Nick Clegg, the original architect of the Pupil Premium is another name to conjure with for the role of chair. Andrew Adonis might be another name for the frame were he not presently heavily engaged with trying to develop the national infrastructure.

As an active Liberal Democrat, I make no apologies for suggesting two fellow Liberal Democrats for the exacting role of chairing the Commission. Other members that could sit on the Board might include a senior Labour figure from the Brown government, a Conservative peer and perhaps a well-regarded figure from the charity sector with long experience of social mobility.

We all know that exiting the European club was going to be a full-time job and that it came at a time when George Osborne had predicted that the worst of the effects of the crash would be felt by the weakest in society. Such factors make the work of any Social Mobility Commission more of a challenge, but no less important.

With the IT revolution once again picking up speed, and predications of massive job losses from the growth in Artificial Intelligence awakening the Luddite mentality in many of us, the Commission must act not only as the government’s conscience on social mobility, but also as a source of genuine new policies that are radical and forward thinking. More of the same just won’t work.

We have seen in Germany that the failure to ensure the success of the economy across the whole country has inevitably lead to the rise of the far right in politics. Social mobility is important, but we cannot ignore those left behind. They must not become the poor relations kept, for ever, out of sight.