Leveling Up will need a new Funding Formula

The current National Funding Formula is fine as far as it goes. However, as I have written before on this blog, it is based upon a notion of equality that resembles the ‘equal slices of the cake’ model of funding distribution. That’s fine if that’s what you want out of the Formula, and the f40 Group of Local authorities have tirelessly campaigned for fair – more- funding for their areas. Again, they are right to do so.

However, if the new agenda has levelling up at its heart, then it is necessary to ask whether the present method of distributing cash to schools and other education establishments will achieve that aim?

As the debate about the High Needs Block of funding for SEND has made very clear, some children cost more to educate than others. If you want all children to achieve a minimum standard of education then some will always cost more to achieve that goal than others. The Pupil Premium recognised this fact. Changing the date of calculation and thus excluding some children from the Premium seems an odd way to start the ‘levelling up’ campaign.

There is a key decision for government to make if they really mean to introduce a ‘levelling up’ campaign in the school sector. Do you hypothecate, as with the Pupil Premium, creating funds only to be used for levelling up purposes or do you distribute more funds generally and leave it to the schools and Trusts to manage the distribution of the cash? This approach leaves maintained schools that are not academies in a bit of a limbo as they don’t have a mechanism to ‘pool’ funds for the common good, as MATs are able to do.

When it works well, the second approach is better, as it is less of a blunt tool than the first method as anyone that has read the history of school funding over the last century will know.

There is a further issue with a Formula tied to geographical areas, as this blog has noted before. Oxfordshire is largely an affluent county, but there are pockets of deprivation in Banbury and parts of Oxford; not to mention the issue of rural poverty as well. Any ‘levelling up’ agenda must tackle these issues in addition to the more obvious areas of underperformance in education achievements.

Overlaying this issue of ‘levelling up’ is the effect on the present Formula of the downturn in the birth rate and its consequences for small primary schools. Do we want them to compete by drawing in parents willing to drive their children to such schools? An alternative is to close them and let council Taxpayers pay the cost of transporting children to other schools. Might work in urban areas, but the Tories would quickly find that save our Schools campaigns can impact more on election chances for Councillors than almost anything else except perhaps closure of a local hospital. There are also implications for the climate change agenda. I would be interested to know where the Green Party stands on this matter.

Doing nothing won’t help the ‘levelling up’ agenda, so if the government is really serious in what it is saying, then action will be needed. Making all schools academies, however repugnant the loss of local democratic control is to people like me, does offer some levers hat MATs can use, but local authorities cannot under the present rules.

It will be interesting to see what plays out over the next few months in a debate where doing nothing will have as many consequences as doing something.

Policy making is not campaigning

This blog is mostly about education. However, after three months of campaigning for last week’s elections, including fighting the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Thames Valley (TV) election for the Liberal Democrats, I felt like a final foray into a reflection on the interesting events of last Thursday.

During the whole of my recent campaign as Liberal Democrat candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Thames Valley (TV) I was never once emailed and asked for a manifesto of my policies. Sure, there were a couple of emails along the lines of we haven’t heard anything from you and what do you stand for. There were also several media events, including an appearance on BBC South Politics show were questions were asked about particular policies.

Despite this lack of voter interest in the details beyond what was available at https://www.choosemypcc.org.uk/ and other similar sites, turnout for the PCC election was 35.9% this time compared with25.6% in the last PCC election in May 2016. Not surprisingly turnout was higher where there were other elections being held on the same day as the PCC election. We won’t know the result until sometime on Monday.

There is an essential lesson to be learnt here. However good your policies, and, as in Education, the Liberal Democrats had devised some really good policies, as they  have for tacking crime and handling policing, it is the campaigning that matters. Know your electorate. The Obama Team in the USA were great at that understanding when helping him first win the US Presidency. The Tories have learnt that lesson: others haven’t.

Here’s an interesting analysis of the Hartlepool by-election from Mark Pack, President of the Lib Dems:

The by-election has simply seen Hartlepool’s politics catch up with elsewhere.

“… and, there’s the important first opinion poll that Survation carried out in the seat. Their final poll, showing a big Conservative lead attracted a lot of scepticism but was right.. However, it is their first poll for the by-election that is important for understanding what happened.

Combined, Conservatives and Brexit Party got 55% in 2019. Survation’s first poll put the Conservatives on 49%. Their second and final one put the party on 50% and the result saw the Conservatives secure 52%. No great drama there. But for Labour it was 38% in 2019, 42% in the first poll and then… 33% in the second poll followed by 29% in the actual result.

The story here is of Labour failure, not of Conservative surgeThat’s a point reinforced by the English local elections. At 36%, the Conservative equivalent national vote share is decent but not stellar. That’s not some new era-defining level of support for Boris Johnson’s party. It’s a fragile result that has brought success this time, but could very plausibly be followed by failure.

It looks like Labour badly messed up its candidate selection and campaign. …I suspect that once more detailed analysis is in, this will turn out to have mattered rather more than the Labour candidate being a previous Remainer who lost his seat in 2019.”

There’s no doubt that a large section of the population of England like an identifiable character; Churchill’s cigar and Wilson’s pip as well as Boris’s hair are visual signals the electorate can see and easily remember. Even Mrs May’s shoes and Mrs T’s handbag are what people remember. It works in local elections, where independents are rarely shrinking violets.

Of course, cash helps. It is no surprise that Liberal Democrats went from no Councillors on Amersham Town Council in Buckinghamhire on Wednesday to taking control later the votes were counted with eight Councillors. The impending by-election and local spending by the national party has made a difference by adding the push that was needed to shift unhappy tory votes into the Lib Dem camp.

Know your electorate is as important as know your class is for a teacher and for candidates and Councillors tailor your material appropriately. But, nothing still works as well as talking to voters on the doorstep and being visible in the high Street.

Governments lose elections more often than oppositions win them. But, sometimes, oppositions lose elections as well producing unexpected outcomes.

Election Day

Today is a busy day for me as I am defending my county council seat and standing for Police and Crime Commissioner in Thames Valley.

This extract from a 2018 post on the blog tells you why I am standing in both these elections

Crime and a lack of learning

Posted on August 28, 2018

During the summer, the Ministry of Justice published a report called ‘A Sporting Chance: An Independent Review of Sport in Youth and Adult Prisons’ by Professor Rosie Meek. You can access the report at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/733184/a-sporting-chance-an-independent-review-sport-in-justice.pdf

I have only just caught up with reading the report, but what struck me forcibly was the following paragraph:

Those in custody are likely to have disrupted and negative experiences of learning prior to incarceration, and to lack confidence in their learning abilities.

A recent data-matching exercise between the Ministry of Justice and Department for Education* showed that of the young people sentenced to custody in 2014, 90% have a previous record of persistent absence from school and almost a quarter of those sentenced to less than 12 months in custody have been permanently excluded from school.

In terms of achievement, only 1% of those sentenced to less than 12 months achieved 5 or more GCSES (or equivalents) graded A* – C including English and Maths.

Furthermore, illustrating the over-representation of people who have been in both the care system and the criminal justice system, 31% of those sentenced to custody for 12 months or longer, and 27% of those sentenced to custody for less than 12 months had been in the care of a local authority.

* MoJ/DfE (2016). Understanding the Educational Background of Young Offenders: Joint Experimental Statistical Report from the Ministry of Justice and Department for Education.

There is a powerful message here to schools that don’t have a credible policy for dealing with their challenging pupils, other than excluding them from school. We need to work together for the good of society. The DfE needs to ensure there is a coherent curriculum, including English and mathematics, but not necessarily the rest of the English Baccalaureate for pupils that can use these subjects to retain their place as learners. There is a space for sport and other non-classroom based subjects in the curriculum.

Thanks for reading

Are schools wasting £30 million pounds of public money?

TES Global, the largest supplier of paid-for teacher recruitment advertising in the field of education has just published their accounts for the year ending 31st August 2020. Those so far published are for TES Global Limited. Those for TES topco are yet to appear. The published accounts can be found on the Companies House page, by searching under TES Global.

The accounts for the year to 31st August 2020 included almost six months of the pandemic, so it is not surprising that turnover from continuing operations fell by around £2 million to £59.2 million. Thanks to interest receivable and other income of £25.3 million, the Group made an overall profit of £22.3 million. Without that income there would have been a loss of around £3 million; this despite cutting the wages and salary bill from just under £14 million to around £9.5 million, and slashing headcount from 235 to 191.

The sale of the TES owned Teacher Supply Business in December 2020, for a total consideration of £27 million including upfront cash of £12.5 million, will no doubt further help to strengthen the balance sheet. However, the income from those businesses were, presumably, included in these accounts.

Of interest to me, as Chair of TeachVac, and no doubt civil servants at the DfE running the DfE teacher vacancy site, was how the TES was doing serving the teacher recruitment market, and how much cash was it securing from state-funded schools for recruitment advertising, all of which is now on-line, like both TeachVac and the DfE sites.

As the TES has been pursuing a policy of persuading schools to pay an annual subscription for several years now, rather than point of sale advertising, the TES Group income has been less affected by the downturn in vacancies during the pandemic than it would have been if each advert had been paid for individually. A quick calculation from the published accounts suggests that while overall revenue fell by 4%, advertising revenue continued to benefit from the switch to subscriptions. Such income rose from £37.6 million the previous year to £42.4 million in 2019-2020. Traditional advertising income fell from £17.7 million to £10.9 million during the same period.

The TES has some 1,000 international schools and presumably schools elsewhere in the United Kingdom, as well as non- state-funded schools that contributed to the £42.4 million of revenue. A generous estimate might suggest perhaps £35 million was paid by state-funded schools in England in subscription income in 2019-2020 to the TES.

It is interesting to compare this with the DfE evidence to the STRB earlier this year, where at paragraph 45 they stated that:

With schools spending in the region of £75m on recruitment advertising and not always filling vacancies, there are very significant gains to be made in this area. Over 75% of schools in England 14 are now signed up to use the service and over half a million jobseekers visited Teaching Vacancies in 2020. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/967761/STRB_Written_Evidence_2021.pdf

According to the latest DfE announcement, some 78% of schools have now signed up to the service https://www.publicsectorexecutive.com/articles/councils-encouraged-sign-dfes-free-teaching-vacancies-service?utm_source=Public%20Sector%20Executive&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=12340062_Newsletter%2027%20Apr&dm_i=IJU,7CHNI,AUR327,TT9F6,1

I wonder where the other £30 million of so is going – surely not to the local press or eteach and The Guardian?

Either way, that is still a lot of cash schools are spending because they don’t have enough confidence in either TeachVac or the DfE sites to allow them to take the risk of not signing up to the TES. Or is it just inertia?

If the government is serious about helping schools save this money spent on recruitment advertising for other purposes, and the cash will surely be needed in the post-pandemic world, however speedy the recovery, given the amount of public cash spent in the past twelve months. There must be a campaign to encourage teachers to use the free sites, and for schools to always ask where applicants either received notice of the vacancy or saw the vacancy that they applied for. This will allow schools to evaluate the effect of paid-for advertising and the TES subscription compared with the use of the free sites instead.

Interestingly, TeachVac reached a new high of 6,000,000 hits in twelve months at the end of April. This was despite the fall in vacancies on the site during the past twelve months as schools cut the number of teaching post advertised.

May 2021 should be the first 1,000,000 hit month for TeachVac, with corresponding highs in visitors and vacancies matched as schools return to a more normal recruitment pattern, as explained in a previous post on this blog.

Teacher Shortages in 2022?

The present satisfactory state of recruitment into teacher training looks likely to be short-lived if the messages from this month’s UCAS data are interpreted in a particular way. After almost 30 years of looking at either weekly or monthly data on applications and acceptances, one can start to discern trends and patterns. Covid threw a spanner in the works of what was an emerging teacher supply crisis. Has that spanner now been retrieved?

One the one hand, applicant numbers are still up on last year. The increase is just over 5,000 for those with a domicile in England, from 26,280 in April 2020 to 31,460 this April. Interestingly, there has been virtually no increase in applicants from the North East, but a large increase in applicants domiciled in the London region. This should be good news, as it is in London that there is a strong demand for teachers.

More worrying is the relative lack of interest from new graduates in teaching as a career. There are only around 700 more new young graduates 21 or under this year compared with the same time in 2020, whereas there are 1,300 more in the 25-29 age group. Career changers, perhaps furloughed or made redundant by the pandemic, seem more interested in teaching than young new graduates. Indeed, there are only 60 more male applicants in the youngest new graduate age group than this time last year. A trickle rather than a flood.

The most worrying number is the drop in applications for design and technology, from 970 in April last year to 880 this April. In April 2019 it was 950, so the decline must be of concern. Applications to train as a languages teachers are also weak when compared with previous years. However, the increase in applications to train as a mathematics teachers from 5,390 last April to 7,450 this year is good news, as ARK noted in their recent ITT bulletin.

The bizarre over-recruitment of both history and PE teachers continues, with 1,500 offers in PE and 1,230 in history. This compares with 380 offers in physics, 230 in design and technology and 330 in computing.

School Direct Salaried as a route continues to decline, whereas School Direct non-salaried continues to grow, if not to thrive. Higher Education has done well in attracting applications for primary courses, up from less than 14,000 to over 18,000 this year. The increase is slightly less for secondary phase courses. Apprenticeships have taken up some of the slack from the School Direct Salaried route, but offers in the secondary sector remain derisory at this point in the cycle.

So, there will be problems in 2022 recruiting design and technology teachers, physics teachers and probably business studies teachers as well, but a glut of history and PE teachers in most parts of England.  This blog will look at the likely outcomes in other subjects once the trends of the next couple of months become apparent. We don’t expect a big rush into teaching unless new graduates suddenly discover there are no jobs elsewhere and turn to teaching once their courses have finished and they finally have a degree.

Reverter Clauses and school sites

The Supreme Court only features rarely in posts on this blog. There was the case of the parent from the Isle of Wight that decided the issue of holidays taken in school terms, and the case relating to when criminal offences should be spent that affected both volunteers and employees wanting to work in educational settings.

This month, the Supreme Court has decided a case about the use of the proceeds of a school site at Nettlebed in Oxfordshire. The original site for the school was given to the local authority, not in the Nineteenth Century, when so many sites were, but in the 1920s and early 1930s, when the local Elementary School needed to expand and required more land for new buildings.

Eventually, that site needed to be replaced as well, and the County Council purchased an adjacent site and built new school buildings. The school moved into the new buildings leaving the former site vacant. The County sold the vacant former school site to developers. The successors of the original grantor of the land for use as a school then claimed the proceeds of the sale under the reverter clause, as the land was no longer being used for a school.

The Supreme Court had to decide who benefited from the proceeds of the sale; the County Council or those entitled if the reverter clause came into effect? Lower courts had decided first one way and then the other. You can read the judgement of the Supreme Court at https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2019-0062-judgment.pdf

The court’s conclusion was that:

51. We conclude that, having regard to the purposes of the 1841 Act, Richard Spearman QC, at first instance, was correct to hold that, when section 14 is invoked, it is not necessary for the site to be sold before the school is moved to another site and closed on the site given by the grantor. Accordingly, we would allow this appeal.

In essence, this turned on a decision of how to interpret legislation, albeit in this case a piece of legislation 180 years old. As a young undergraduate in the 1960s at LSE, I took a first year course in constitutional law and I still recall the lecture on the rules of interpretation: in those days, as I recall, it was one of; the Literal Rule, The Golden Rule or the Mischief Rule.

In this case, the Supreme Court seems to have said that a piece of legislation must be read ‘in the round’ and that by doing so it places less weight on the Literal Rule. Applying Clause 2 of the legislation without Clause 14 being taken into account would have returned the land to the heirs of the grantor, but Clause 14 anticipated that there might be a need for a school to be rebuilt on a different site and created situations where to do so did not lead to a reversion of the land to the grantor or their heirs.  

This legislation is of especial interest to the Church of England as many of their schools were built on land granted under transfers, with a reverter clause attached if the site was not used for specific purposes, such as education. If the current downturn in the birth rate and a National Funding formula that makes small rural primary schools no longer viable over the next few years, then there might be more cases coming to court to settle who receives the proceeds of the land on which a school once operated.

New readers start here

There are a bumper set of local elections across England on 6th May. Some people are finding their way to this site as a result of the fact that I am defending my county council seat in Oxfordshire and also standing as the Lib Dem candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner in Thames Valley – as I did in the previous two elections for this post.

To help those reaching the site as a result of wanting to know more about my published views on this blog, I have brought together some links to posts over the years. Some are more personal than others.

Over time views may also alter as circumstances alter. Thus schools becoming academies is now a different matter to the situation when this blog first started.

Any way here are links to some posts you might want to read first:

There are rather more than I remembered writing, but with more than 1,100p posts I guess that isn’t really a surprise.

What about Middle leaders? Is there a concern about recruitment?

When there is a mis-match between the numbers of teachers required in certain subjects to meet the identified need by schools to staff a curriculum area various strategies are used to ensure that schools can deliver their timetables. One such strategy is using teachers with less than ideal subject knowledge until a better qualified teacher can be recruited.

However, if there is a shortfall in training, what are the consequences some years later for the recruitment of middle leaders in the subject? Design and Technology makes an interesting case study that I have used before. As a subject, it regularly fails to recruit sufficient trainees to meet the government’s target, especially since the demise of most of the undergraduate routes some years ago.

The UCAS data for the end of the 2020 cycle (discussed in an earlier post) provides data on the number of trainees recruited. (I could use the DfE’s ITT Census, but as this is not a subject that features much in Teach First numbers, the UCAS data covers most trainees).

Design & TechnologyRecruited into training*After 5% wastage

*Source: UCAS end of cycle for trainee numbers

The table shows the changes in recruitment over the past seven years with the figure for an assumed 5% non-completion of the course.

So how many middle leaders might be required in this subject? Using the TeachVac database, it was possible to identify some 390 promoted posts in the subject advertised by schools across England in 2020. After removing those linked to specific parts of the subject, especially food technology, where the promoted post may be as much a recruitment incentive as a real middle leadership position, there were 300 posts for middle leaders in the subject. After allowing for re-advertisements, of which it can be estimated that there were about 60 during the year, this meant around 240 likely vacancies for middle leaders of design and technology.

How long does a teacher need before being ready for middle leadership? This is not an easy question to answer. For the sake of this exercise, let’s start by assuming 5 years. Thus the training cohort of 2014 might have been in the market for middle leadership positions in 2020. Assuming 450 entered teaching, (447 rounded up), and demand was 240, this would mean nearly two teachers from that cohort for each vacancy for a middle leader.

Now followers of the labour market for teachers will know that retention is an issue. After five years of service, perhaps a third of those entering teaching are no longer teaching in state schools. So, we need to discount the 450 by a third. The new total is 315 for 240 vacancies; a much less healthier pool from which to draw middle leaders.

Fortunately, 2014 was a relatively good year for recruitment into training. What will happen when the 2017 cohort reach five years of service in 2023? Assuming the same level of wastage, there might be only around 200 teachers left from that cohort. Hopefully, demand for middle leaders will be lower, but if it is similar to the estimate of 240-250 vacancies for 2020, then looking down the road a bit, some schools are going to have a real recruitment problem in the middle years of the decade.

Solutions include persuading more from earlier cohorts to take on middle leadership, even if they were previously reluctant to do so; accelerating the newer cohorts into leadership – not possible until the 2019 and 2020 cohorts come through; merging design and technology with say, art and design where supply of middle leaders is better, into larger faculties offering a better career prospect.

Different schools will adopt different tactics, and some may also offer better salaries than in the past through larger TLR payments.

So, should there be concerns about the supply of middle leaders? I think there ought at the very least, to be some discussion about the issue, and which schools might be most affected by any possible shortages?

Baroness Williams of Crosby

I am saddened to hear of the death earlier today of Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby.

Baroness Williams was one of the founders of the SDP and had previously been an education secretary during the Labour government of the late 1970s. Created a Life peer in 1993, Baroness Williams played an important background role in education for the Party in her role as a senior politician of wide experience. Her great speaking ability motivated many audiences in both the conference hall and at fringe meetings during many Liberal Democrat conferences over the years. She finally retired from the House of Lords in 2016, but remained an inspiring figure for many in the Liberal Democrats.

In a blog post when another Liberal Democrats stalwart of the House of Lords, Baroness Sharp of Guildford retired, I paid tribute to these two Peers along with Annette Brooke the former MP. All were important for the Liberal Democrats in the field of education, from early years to higher education.

I first encountered Shirley Williams when she was Secretary of State for Education. She initiated The Great Debate in Education on the back of the Prime minister’s famous Ruskin College speech. This was the start of the shift from a national service locally administered to a nationally driven education service that we now have in England. I had achieved some notoriety after appearing in the national press and was invited to several media events where Shirley Williams was the speaker. I especially recall one such event in the Royal Institution where she was opposed Norman St John Stevas, possibly one of the best Secretaries of State we never had.

It was Shirley William’s misfortune to be secretary of State when the government of Jim Callaghan was teetering on the edge of collapse. She had to endure the ‘winter of discontent’ and during that period she failed to stop the caretaker’s strike in Haringey that lead to several weeks of school closures.

Although successful in taking North Yorkshire County Council to court over the need to create non-selective education in Ripon, it was too late in the parliament and the life of the Labour government for any action to be taken on the result that backed the government’s view of the 1976 Education Act, and so, along with the other selective schools that she tried to convert to comprehensive education, selective education still remains in that part of Yorkshire, helped by Mrs thatcher’s prompt repealing of the 19766 Act as one of her first actions as Prime Minister.  

Shirley Williams was an inspiring orator and a joy to listen to when speaking at Liberal Democrat events, either extempore or from a prepared speech. She was not a good timekeeper and was often late, but nobody ever seemed to mind. She was also a great European and had the courage to from a new political party. Along with many other, I will miss her.

UCAS end of 2020 cycle ITT data

UCAS has today published the end of cycle data for courses that started last autumn. Regular readers that follow this blog will know that much of what is contained in the data has been commented upon in posts on this blog la the August and October.

However, ‘The End of Cycle’ (EoC) report contains much more information than the regular monthly updates published during the cycle. One area is in that of the ethnicity of applicants and the percentages accepted. Why gender is seen as capable of being revealed each month and ethnicity is not is an interesting question. I assume it is down to the fact that numbers in some categories would be too small to make publication viable or appropriate.

Regardless of the reason, the EoC report contains some interesting data.

Accepted percentages 2020 from UCAS PG ITT data
Not Stated55%57%56%
Mixed [sic]58%62%61%

Source: UCAS

Black male applicants had less than a four in ten chance of being accepted on to a course compared with 74% of white females that were accepted. It would be interesting to drill down into these figures to see whether there are regional and subject/phase differences within the categories.  

My assumption would be that London courses perform well in terms of acceptance of ethnic minority candidates and those courses in regions furthest from the capital may attract few applicants from ethnic groups other than the White group. This can pose another issue if a few courses receive the bulk of say Black African Male applicants. The policy should be to take the most suitable applicants.

I don’t know how much effort the DfE puts into monitoring these statistics and how they respond to the outcomes? Are civil servants content with the disparity between the different groups or should more work be undertaken to reduce the differences across gender and ethnicity?

Male applicants domiciled in London had one of the lowest acceptance rates overall for me of just 50% of applicants. It would be interesting to cross-tab the domicile by region with ethnicity. By contrast, 86% of women applicants domiciled in the north east appear to have been accepted That seems like a high figure to me and it would be interesting to see how many of these were accepted before say, Christmas. Providers that fill courses quickly can save time and money but such a practice begs the question about whether there should be a closing date for applications to allow more equal chances not determined by how quickly you decide upon teaching as a career.