High Needs Block

Alongside the consultation on the national funding formula for mainstream schools there is a similar consultation for what is known as the ‘High needs’ group of pupils. This consultation has received far less notice than the mainstream NFF consultation, but is arguably as important for pupils with some of the most challenging of needs.

At the heart of the consultation is the central dilemma facing education in England. Who makes the decisions? The new formula proposes placing a great deal of responsibility with local authorities, as at present. That’s fine, but it ignores the fact that free schools can be established where local authorities might not want them and existing schools can become academies and thus alter their governance structure in relation to the local authority.

The ‘high need’ special education sector has always been a complex area to understand. There are some that think the current proposals out for consultation show that even the government doesn’t fully understand the issues. For example, the government doesn’t seem to have a policy for the use of the often highly expensive independent sector for placements of children where there is a shortage of space or expertise in the state-funded sector. This can be a real burden on some authorities. However, the consultation, in as far as it addresses the issue, seems to opt for the status quo. It might have been helpful to have tried to work out nationally how this expenditure could be reduced without damaging the education of the young people.

The formula has also to grapple with the issue of providing enough places, even if not always filled, and how far to use a methodology where funding follows the pupils, as with pupil unit funding in the mainstream school formula. I am not sure the proposed methodology is going to work as effectively as it might be required to do so. I am concerned that it mustn’t persuade some mainstream academies to ditch existing special provision units leaving the local authority to figure out how to provide a high quality education for these children plus a possible increase in the local transport bill. Local authorities should be able to challenge, if not veto, changes in existing provision not part of a planned and agreed local arrangement, especially where the MAT has its headquarters outside of the authority’s area.

I am worried about the inclusion of IDACI as one of the formula factors. Taken together the total of formula factors seem slanted to special needs caused or exacerbated by deprivation. I understand the concept, but for an authority such as Oxfordshire with limited pockets of urban and rural deprivation, many of our children with high needs don’t live in areas where this factor will be a key determinant. However, those children still need the funding necessary for their education. A review of SEN transport, especially in rural areas and complex non-residential cases, might have raised some issues about planning.

Overall, this looks like a redistribution of the current funding envelope rather than a formula based upon an understanding of the complex needs of this group of young people. It is also a work in progress since the funding of hospital schools isn’t included. I hope when it is a full understanding of the needs of young people with both physical and mental health issues and their relationship with the hospital service is included.

If you haven’t yet looked at this consultation, please do so.

BREXIT and education

Apart from the issues regarding students in higher education recruited from the EU and the matter of research funding for our universities, there are also the matter of recruiting teachers and of whether our exit should affect the school curriculum to consider after today’s speech by the Prime Minister.

If we are to become a world-class trading nation, do we need to up our game over the teaching of languages? If so, does the balance between European languages and say Mandarin need to alter? Despite the former administration’s apparent love for the Chinese language, progress has been patchy, with some schools embracing the teaching of Mandarin and others not being so interested.

With most of South America, apart from Brazil, speaking a form of Spanish, should we increase the teaching of that language and reduce say, German. Should Russian return to the group of languages more widely taught in schools? Then there are the languages of the Indian Sub-continent and of anglophile Africa. Do we need to increase speakers of those tongues or rely upon them learning English to allow us to export to them?

Perhaps more importantly do we need to take another look at the EBacc? The creative arts, design and technology and even business studies have seemingly ranked way down the DfE’s list of concerns ever since Mr Gove entered Sanctuary Buildings. Do we need to reassess the importance of certain subjects? Music, in all its forms, has been a key export industry. Do we need to give it a boost in schools or just rely on television talent shows to increase interest in the subject and a desire to practice it in public? If manufacturing is going to be important, should the government pay more attention to design and technology and assess how the subject can be staffed in our schools. In TeachVac we have seen few advertisements for vacancies in either music or design and technology compared with many other subjects both at the end of 2016 and in the first fortnight of 2017. This may suggest schools are not investing in the teaching of these subjects at present.

STEM subjects as a whole are also important, especially where they help develop new technologies. However, developing a spirit of entrepreneurship in our schools may be equally important. In a post some time ago, I noted that more innovators came from independent schools than from state schools. Clearly, post BREXIT, we need a generation of exporters educated in all our schools and this might mean re-evaluating the staffing of business studies. At present, this a subject the DfE largely ignores, despite the past two years of TeachVac data showing how under-staffed it is becoming.

Finally, what happens if we cannot maintain a common travel area with the Irish republic? Although not as great a source of teachers as some would imagine, teachers from Ireland do help swell the ranks of the teaching profession in times of shortage. Will they need visas, along with their Spanish and other EU compatriots, in a few years’ time? On that front, schools must be wondering when the Migration Advisory Committee will report on the tier 2 visa rules for 2017-18.





More south coast woes?

What is it about the south coast of England that seems to affect the learning of a disproportionate percentage of children? Today’s data from the DfE on coasting schools at Key Stage 2 contains a higher than expected number of south coast local authorities with a high than the national average percentage of their schools seen as coasting.  Five of the top ten local authorities in terms of percentage of coasting schools are on the south coast. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/national-curriculum-assessments-key-stage-2-2016-revised

Poole 24% – worst in England as a percentage of schools

Southampton 14% – 4th

Bournemouth 13% – equal 5th

Dorset 13% – equal 5th

Portsmouth 9% – equal 9th.

Of the three South East local authorities with no coasting schools at Key Stage2, only East Sussex is a coastal county. By contrast, 24 London boroughs are recorded as having no coasting schools at key Stage2. Whether these schools will be able to keep up this enviable record once the new National Funding Formula kicks in, only time will tell.

Not all coastal locations have large percentages of coasting schools, Torbay, The Wirral and Sefton are three with no such schools. Across all local authorities, the average is three per cent of schools that were recorded as coasting.

One interesting aspect of the distribution, especially in the light of the new Chief inspector’s remarks, in the Daily Telegraph three days ago, is the presence of authorities with grammar schools at both ends of the table. How do parents in the coasting schools in both Poole and Bournemouth feel about the effects on the chances of their offspring passing the selection examination for grammar school if the school could be doing better? In our more litigious society might the fact that a school is coasting at Key Stage 2 be a matter for litigation if a pupil just missed a place at a grammar school? We shall no doubt see in due course.

There are a couple of caveats in terms of the data. Small schools are excluded from the dataset, so some authorities may have fewer schools included than others. Secondly, authorities are of different sizes so the Pole result is due to just four schools, whereas there are 12 coasting schools in Dorset. Norfolk, another county with a lot of coastline has the most coasting schools of any authority, 20 in number.

What will happen to coasting schools? Originally, the intention was to turn them into academies, assuming they weren’t already a school of that type. However, Oxfordshire is still waiting for a sponsor to be found for one of the first group of coasting schools identified last year. It will be up to the Regional School Commissioner to decide the governance fate of these schools. I suspect those schools that are also below the ‘floor’ in outcome terms are most likely to see the swiftest intervention. What happens if they are already academies will be interesting. A change of MAT, seems on the cards in those circumstances. At least, it is now difficult to blame the local authority for these outcomes.



Apprenticeship Levy

In the bizarre world that is education under the present Tory government, stand-alone academies with a payroll of less than £3 million are exempt from paying the new Apprenticeship Levy; all schools in any MAT with a payroll of over £3 million across the MAT will pay the levy, even if they are a small primary school; voluntary aided schools are probably exempt as the local authority is the de facto but not de jure employer so long as the school payroll is below £3 million, but all maintained schools will pay the levy regardless of the size of their payroll because the local authority is the employer, even though in these days of delegated budgets it has no control over spending by the schools.

This is a shambles that does a great discredit to the governance of education. If this is currently the position, it should be rectified forthwith. Either it is a tax on all schools or it isn’t. My position is that the government already takes out of education a sum needed to fund the training of new teachers and it should pray that cash in aid to the Treasury in order to have all state-funded schools exempt from the Levy. I don’t mind if the larger private fee-paying schools contribute since they often employ teachers whose training has been paid for initially by the State, but paid back by individuals through the tuition fee repayment schemes in operation since the late 19990s.

If the schools are not exempted from the Levy, then they should make full use of benefits. Sadly, these are by employer, so a large county council with many maintained schools will pay a large sum in levy but receive little back through the pay-out arrangements.

School budgets face enough other pressures at the present time, including for many small primary schools the loss of part of their block grant under the new funding formula arrangements. In Oxfordshire, the loss per schools equates to several thousands of pounds and may make the difference between survival or closure for village schools with less than 150 pupils.

I don’t know whether it is this government’s intention to redraw the map of primary schooling in England, but it could be well on the way to doing so if the combined effect of budget cuts and cost pressures make such schools unable to breakeven financially.

As I have hinted before, one solution is to downgrade the leading professional in small schools from a head teacher to a head of site paid on a lower salary. The risk is that any savings are then spent on a salary for an executive head teachers paid more than value of the savings. Whether deputy head teachers and other experienced teachers would be willing to take on the role of site leader for less money than the current head teacher will, I suspect, depend upon the terms and conditions offered, especially in the smallest of schools. However, unless some savings can be made, I fear for the future of many primary schools. Hopefully, I am being alarmist, but removing the Apprenticeship Levy from all school budgets would be a start.


English: early warning

This is a message for schools not involved in either the School Direct Scheme or Teach First. The number of candidates likely to be available for appointment this September to teach English is already showing signs of being insufficient in number, if vacancies continue at their present rate.

Schools directly entering vacancies into TeachVac receive this information for free every time they enter their vacancy. They can also monitor the wider situation through the TeachVac monthly briefing, sent to all schools that have registered.

Registration and posting of all vacancies are free www.teachvac.co.uk for all schools all the time and it is a free job service to teachers and trainees as well.

The situation in English is largely caused by the large number of the total trainees either on the School Direct Salaried program or on Teach First. A significant proportion of both these groups of trainees are likely to continue working in the schools where they train. This reduces what I call the ‘free pool’, training on the higher education, SCITT and School Direct fee routes that may be available to all schools seeking to fill a vacancy. As is acknowledged by the DfE, at least half of classroom teacher vacancies go to new entrants, these numbers matter.

After taking out Teach First, School Direct salaried and recorded vacancies gathered by TeachVac since 1st January, the number of trainees left in the free pool was just over 1,200 on the 6th January. That probably not enough to fill a vacancy in every secondary school, epsecially if you include the independent sector and Sixth Form Colleges, even applying the 50% rule.

Schools looking for particular types of teachers of English, say with degrees in specific characteristics of English Literature, may well find the numbers available even fewer in total. We also don’t know how evenly spread across England the trainees are, although we do know London and the Home counties are likely to account for more than a third of all nationally advertised vacancies, if 2017 is anything like the last two recruitment rounds.

So far, maths and science are less of an issue in 2017 than English because of better recruitment into training than in recent years, but business studies is already on our radar as likely to also cause problems for schools in 2017. Post BREXIT, we need students of business even more than in the past; Ministers please note.

There is a debate to be had about the balance of training places between different routes and different parts of the country, but the DfE seems reluctant to open that issue up. The Select Committee has an opportunity to do so when it finally writes its report on teacher supply and the Migration Advisory Committee will need to address some aspects when they consider whether maths and science teachers should still qualify for Tier 2 visas?

This year, more information will be channelled through TeachVac, so if you are in a school as a teacher, trainee, leader or are a returner to teaching, do sign up. It is free service and will remain so.




Bursaries Matter?

Yesterday, UCAS published the December 2016 data for applications to teacher training courses starting in the autumn of this year. The figures are for graduate courses. The data shows that compared with December 2015, applications for courses to train as a primary teachers were very similar this year to levels seen in December 2015. However, there has been a worrying dip in applications from those under the age of 22 for some secondary subjects. Applications from older graduates are much closer to the figures for December 2015; indeed, applicant numbers from those over the age of 40 were exactly the same as in December 2015.

The worry is around the fact that those under the age of 22 make up around a third of applicants, even at these reduced levels. Now it may be that this is a one month dip that will be rectified next month when the January data is published but, if it isn’t, then there is more concern going forward. This is because we we traditionally see final year undergraduates being more concerned in the February to June period in completing their studies and graduating than in filling in applications forms for life after university.

Another explanation might be that the referees of these students are more dilatory in completing their comments than those from older applicants; but why especially in this round, this year? That theory would have more credibility if all subjects were affected. However, applications are actually up in Physical Education and geography. Both were strong subjects in recruitment terms last year and easily met their national recruitment levels.

More worrying are the declines in applications to courses in business studies, design and technology and even English, some of these are subjects where recruitment has been insufficient for some years. It is interesting that the decline in applications for mathematics, where there are generous bursaries available, is very small, with just a few less applications in 2016 than last year. In physics, the numbers seem lower, but that is complicated by the manner in which UCAS report applications for science courses.

Apart from the observed decline in applications from younger candidates, there seems to be an issue in London where the number of offers made is down by around 30% on December 2015. Now, were are only talking of just over 1,000 compared with 1,400 at the same point last year, but with primary numbers probably holding up, this may mean greater issues with secondary numbers in London.

Could it be that the higher costs associated with studying in the capital, plus the requirement to pay another year of fees at around the £9,000 level with no bursary, is finally having an impact on undergraduate thinking and that the class of 2017 are thinking twice about entering training to be a secondary school teacher where there are obvious alternative careers in the private sector?

One shouldn’t make too much from two months data, but a quarter of a century of studying the numbers does make me uneasy. If the January data revels a three month downward trend, then I will be more concerned.

More about Finance

The well-respected institute for Fiscal Studies has published a document highlighting the effects of the pay freeze on the public sector since the recession hit in 2008. https://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/gb/gb2016/gb2016ch6.pdf

In relation to education, the IFS comments that ‘The Department for Education (DfE) is planned to see a budget cut of 1.9% over the period 2015–16 to 2019–20, a smaller cut than planned for most other departments.’ However, over the whole period since 2010–11, the total DfE budget is expected to be cut by 8.5%. This is still low in comparison to the cuts inflicted on some other government departments where results such as the recent jail riots suggest cutting too far can have serious consequences.

One of the issues for education, with this level of public spending, is around pay. After all, education is still a people intensive activity, with relatively low levels of capital expenditure and technology only recently starting to play a significant role in the delivery of learning.

As the IFS makes clear, part of the real-terms cut to public service spending over the last parliament was achieved by holding down public sector pay. Indeed, as the authors of the IFS document remind readers, pay was frozen in cash terms for all but the lowest-paid public sector workers in 2011–12 and 2012–13, and pay awards were limited to 1% across most of the public sector in 2013–14, 2014–15 and 2015–16.

They note that since private sector wages were also growing slowly over this period, such pay restraint did not have a particularly adverse impact on relative wages. By 2014–15, average pay in the public sector was about the same level relative to the private sector as it had been in 2010–11, and still well above its pre-crisis (2007–08) level.

However, the IFS authors anticipate that going forwards, private sector wages are expected to grow more rapidly. The OBR’s latest forecast is that average earnings across the private sector will grow by around 17% (in cash terms) between 2015–16 and 2019–20. The government’s announced 1% limit on annual pay increases for a further four years from 2016–17 is therefore expected to reduce wages in the public sector to their lowest level relative to private sector wages since at least the 1990s. This could result in difficulties for public sector employers trying to recruit, retain and motivate high quality workers, and the IFS suggests, raises the possibility of industrial relations issues.

This confirms what the view this blog has taken ever since the four year deal on a one per cent per annum rise was announced, that where alternative graduate jobs exist in the private sector, teaching looks less enticing as an area of work than in the past. However, with the cuts in budgets, this may matter less if schools cannot afford to offer the same number of jobs.

As mentioned in earlier posts, what happens to the numbers leaving the profession will be the key to whether the recruitment crisis of recent years either eases or remains a problem in a range of subjects across much of the country? I expect English to be the subject to provide an early steer as the free pool of trainees is relatively smaller as a proportion of overall trainee numbers than in many subjects, so schools not involved in training new teachers may struggle to recruit in 2017.