Exclusions need watching carefully, especially in the primary sector

Recent figures from the DfE* showing data relating to exclusions by schools in 2011/12 reveal a picture where exclusions are happily still lower than a few years ago. Sadly, the downward trend of the past few years has been reversed and, particularly in the primary sector, there has been an increase in exclusions. However, who you are, and where you live, still plays an important part in your risk of being excluded. Boys aged 14, from an Irish Traveller heritage background, and living in one of the most socially deprived parts of the England will face many of the risk factors associated with membership of one of the groups more likely to be excluded: boys are far more likely to be excluded than girls. This isn’t to say that every boy meeting these criteria will be excluded, but for some the risk may well be greater than for others with different profiles. However, by diagnosing the groups most at risk, schools can often put policies in place to minimise the need for exclusions.

For some reason the Hampshire Coast has a reputation for containing special schools with above average rates of fixed term exclusions. This year, The Isle of Wight, Southampton and Portsmouth fill three of the four top spots for fixed term exclusions from special schools. Brighton and Hove comes two places lower. Whether there is something about the sea air, or it is the fact that they are all relatively small authorities with large areas of deprivation isn’t clear from the statistics. The Isle of Wight Council received a stern letter from Ofsted this week for a failure to effect school improvement policies on the island. No doubt Southampton and Portsmouth will also have to convince the inspectors that it isn’t their fault that so many of their most challenging children are disruptive.

Southampton and the Isle of Wight also take the top two places in the secondary school list of authorities where schools have the highest levels of fixed term exclusions, although in this case Portsmouth and Brighton and Hove are lower down the table, but both are still uncomfortably near the top. Hartlepool and South Tyneside, again small coastal authorities, have the lowest levels of fixed term exclusions in both the secondary and special school lists.

Reading, Medway and Portsmouth top the primary sector list, with Tower Hamlets and Richmond upon Thames having the lowest percentages of fixed term exclusions in the primary sector.

As a councillor, I am especially concerned that Oxfordshire is in the top third for secondary school fixed term exclusions, and has above average levels of such exclusions from the special school sector.

Since behaviour management is the topic many new teachers often cite needing more of during their preparation courses some attention might be paid to how they are trained to deal with behaviour leading up to exclusions especially since many of these fixed-term exclusions are for persistent disruptive behaviour. However, it will be interesting to see how the changes to the 14-18 curriculum will affect exclusions among the most numerous group of excludees, boys in that age bracket. Will Science, technology and vocational schools help re-engage these young men with the purpose of education or just add a further stopping point on the road that for too many leads to a life of anti-social behaviour and, too often, crime.

But it is the primary sector, with its rapidly increasing pupil numbers, that should concern policy-makers the most. The reasons for exclusion of these younger children need to be considered, and any feedback on what can help prevent them being excluded should be circulated to all concerned. If necessary, more emphasis on understanding disruptive behaviour will need to become a part of teacher preparation programmes, especially if it is shown that new teachers face unacceptably high levels of disruption without all the skills necessary to deal with them.

*https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/permanent-and-fixed-period-exclusions-from-schools-in-england-2011-to-2012-academic-year

Are academies hoarding their cash?

What’s the use of giving schools money they don’t spend? This has been a theme running through this blog ever since the first entry way back in January. The latest figures for academies and the other esoteric school types funded from Westminster shows that these schools were in some cases no better than their maintained counterparts in using revenue cash to support the learning of their pupils. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/income-and-expenditure-in-academies-in-england-academic-year-2011-to-2012

No doubt the Treasury will eventually ask why school budgets should be protected if the cash handed to them is promptly put in the bank. Mr Clegg might also ask whether schools are really helping in his drive for a million new jobs by sitting on plies of cash.

Anyway a few numbers:

For 2011/12, the median total income (£ Per Pupil) for secondary academies with Key Stage 4 was £6,333, compared with £7,880 in 2010/11. The decline between the two years may indicate exactly how much initial converter academies were funded in excess of what they had previously received as maintained schools.

According to the DfE, the changing composition of secondary academies, with increasing numbers of converters, has narrowed the difference in total income (£ Per Pupil) between academies and maintained schools (secondary with KS4). For 2011/12 the median total income (£ Per Pupil) for academies (secondary with KS4) was £713 higher than maintained schools (secondary with KS4), compared with £2,469 in 2010/11. Many might ask why median total income per pupil in academies is still more than £700 higher than median per pupil income in maintained schools.

For 2011/12, the median total expenditure (£ Per Pupil) for secondary academies with Key Stage 4 was £6,058, compared with £7,405 in 2010/11. For 2011/12 the median total expenditure (£ Per Pupil) for academies (secondary with KS4) was £556 higher than maintained schools (secondary with KS4), compared with £2,052 in 2010/11. Nevertheless, an academy with median income and expenditure per pupil still banked £275 per pupil. For a school of 1,000 pupils that’s £275,000 just over 4% compared with 6% in the previous year. However, as this is the median figure it may not be as helpful as either the mean or modal class would be.

The trends are similar for secondary schools without Key Stage 4 and for primary and special school academies, although the small numbers make comparisons not really sensible.

A quick bit of arithmetic with the raw data suggests that the overall balance in academy bank accounts might be in the order of £175 million including muli-academy trusts where data is available. Around 100 academies may be sitting on cash pies in excess of £1 million each, and this figure is supposed to exclude any reserves held by the schools before they became an academy. However, there are also a large number of academies that appear to have spent more than their incomes.

We will need to see a few more years of data in order to discover whether these initial figures represent a trend. However, we won’t need to wait to discover whether the portion of grant income spend on teaching costs is similar to that in maintained schools. After all, one of the reasons for providing academies with their freedom was to allow them to spend their funding as they see fit to improve the standard of education of their pupils.

Hard times hit some secondary schools

There was good news for some primary schools this week with the announcement that the Pupil Premium for pupils in the primary sector would increase from £900 per pupil to £1,300 from April 2014 despite the general cutback on government spending. The Premium for secondary school pupils will remain at £900 for another year; the level of the Service Children Premium for 2014/15 has yet to be announced.

In Oxfordshire, the changes will especially benefit schools in the East Oxford constituency which has the highest levels of deprivation in the county. There will also be some schools in Banbury, Didcot and Abingdon that will receive additional cash. The breakdown of the Pupil Premium by Oxfordshire’s parliamentary constituencies is shown in the following table.

Parliamentary Constituency

Pupils included in the Deprivation Pupil Premium allocations

(Jan 13 census)

Total funding for the Deprivation Pupil Premium for 2013-14 at £900 per pupil

Illustrative primary funding totals for the Deprivation Pupil Premium for 2014-15 at £1,300 per pupil

Increase between 2013-14 and 2014-15

Banbury

1675

£1,507,500

£2,177,500

£670,000

Henley

713

£641,700

£926,900

£285,200

Oxford East

2421

£2,178,900

£3,147,300

£968,400

Oxford West and Abingdon

987

£888,300

£1,283,100

£394,800

Wantage

1236

£1,112,400

£1,606,800

£494,400

Witney

1045

£940,500

£1,358,500

£418,000

The government has now taken to calling the Pupil Premium the Deprivation Pupil Premium, presumably to explain to schools exactly what it is intended to be used for. However, the naive attempt to distinguish why the rate has been set higher for the primary sector than for older children by demanding that primary schools make pupils ‘secondary ready’ can only have come from politicians without any real understanding of the education sector.

Commentators have been suggesting for some time now that money spent ensuring pupils make the best progress early on in their schooling pays dividends later. But, to call it making them ‘secondary ready’ was an insult to the real purpose of schooling at both primary and secondary levels. As a cheap sound bite it fell flat, but sadly it did draw attention away from the real purpose of the Pupil Premium that is to help ensure that more pupils are able to achieve higher standards. There is plenty of data to demonstrate that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve less well than those from more favoured homes when at school. Indeed, figures released by the army this week showed the poor literacy and numeracy rates among young trainee soldiers compared with ratings in the navy, and recruits to the Royal Air Force.

The government hopes that the extra Pupil Premium will help whole classes move forward faster together as a unit. Although it admits that Schools will be able to spend this money in ways that they feel helps their pupils best. Evidence shows some schools use it to hire extra staff, reading and maths classes for children who need an extra hand, or to provide appropriate other facilities. The scale of the problem can be seen in the fact that in 2012, only 68 per cent of 11 year olds eligible for the Pupil Premium achieved the expected level in English and Maths despite the fact that 84 per cent of all other pupils aged 11 achieved that level.

Of course the downside is that some secondary schools, still losing older pupils as their rolls continue to decline at the upper end, won’t see this extra cash just as their intake of pupils from the primary sector that hadn’t benefited from the Pupil Premium at the start of their school careers begins to increase. Only time will tell if Ofsted will take this factor into account when judging secondary school performance.

Sunshine, but political and personal sadness

Political parties are like large extended families. And, like families, every member has their own way of looking at the world even as they join together in confronting it. This week I have lost two good political friends from the Liberal Democrat family; one by choice, the other by sudden death. My memories of both are connected through education. In the case of Richard Grayson, who has publicly made it known that he has allowed his Party membership to lapse, it was initially as the author of the first ever pamphlet produced by the Centre for Reform, produced soon after Richard became its founding director in the late 1990s. Discipline in Schools, which he authored, and to which I lent my name as the joint author, was a short pamphlet about an issue that has plagued schools throughout history. Richard went on to much greater heights within the Party, including helping to write the 2001 general election manifesto, and now holds a senior academic post at Goldsmiths in London. He taught me much about the art of politics.

I am sad to see Richard leave the Lib Dem Party, but I think I know why he has reached his decision, one that was not, I am sure, reached lightly. Andrew Bridgwater’s sudden death that I leant about last weekend has robbed the Party of one if its key champions for education in general, and special education in particular. Andrew was no happier with the current direction of the Lib Dems than Richard was, and made that fact clear on many different occasions during his period of office as Chair of the Liberal Democrat Education Association, an office that only ended as recently as this year’s spring conference. He was delighted to have joined me as a Vice President of the Association. Andrew was at one time a councillor in Hackney, and I first got to know him when I joined the small group that met Don Foster regularly in the late 1990s to discuss education policy when Don was the Party’s shadow spokesperson on Education.

In recent years Andrew would often ring me up for a conversation about the state of education policy, and I knew I was in for a long and thorough discussion.  Andrew was a strong supporter of the motion Peter Downes and I put to the 2010 Liverpool Conference about academies and free schools. His most recent successes included work on the role of governing bodies and the wider need for the strong governance of schools to prevent the community being excluded from the decision-making process; a policy he was passionate about.

Despite his move a few years ago to Devon, Andrew still regularly made the long journey to Birmingham for the LDEA Executive meetings, and frequently to London for meetings of the parliamentary group. Andrew’s plain speaking was not to everyone’s liking, but that is the nature of families. He was also a strong supporter of the LDEA annual conference in Nottingham. Within the wider Party, he was recently the regional Vice-Chairman and fought the Totnes Division in this year’s county council elections, losing to the Green Candidate, and thus forming another bond, since I once lost a by-election in Oxford to a Green Party Candidate.  

I will miss Andrew’s boundless energy and determined view of the direction Liberal Democrat education policy should take, and I am especially sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to say good-bye. Andrew, thank you for everything you did for Lib Dem politics: especially for your contribution to my own thinking, particularly in the area of special needs.  I will miss you.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws. 

From Tennyson’s In Memoriam

Not a transport of delight

As a teenager 50 years ago I used to listen to the BBC’s Round Britain Quiz and puzzle over the cryptic questions set for the teams. So I thought that I would set one of my own for this blog. What links together the representation of Downton Abbey, the RAF, and a school established over 600 years ago? And how might the Prime Minster have needed to keep an eye on the outcome?

Anyone who sat through the Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon will have had no difficulty answering the question set above. But, for everyone else, I have added an explanation at the end of this piece.

Home to school transport has always proved a contentious issue in time of government spending cuts, as the rules, although seemingly simple, are often challenging to enforce fairly. Basically, the principle established many years ago is that children under eight don’t have any access to free transport if the distance to school is less than two miles unless the route is unsafe. For those between the ages of 8 and 16 the distance increases to three miles by a safe route. Changes to existing policy can have significant implications for those who live in rural counties such as Oxfordshire. Since the passing of the 1980 Education Act the issue of parental choice, and the ‘duty’ of authorities to do their best to meet parental preferences, has caused significant issues as it has made the status of ‘catchment areas’ or ‘designated schools’ much less rigid in meaning. Additionally, local authorities are still charged to do nothing that is ‘prejudicial to the efficient use of resources’.

After the county elections this May, Oxfordshire County Council embarked on a consultation to change their present travel arrangements. The consequence of that process came to a head at the cabinet meeting yesterday where the decision was taken to start the whole process again in the autumn after the level of opposition from schools, parents, and the community proved overwhelming. The actual reason given was that the DfE, who had placed new ‘guidance’ on their web site in March – and thus triggered the local review and consultation, had announced a –U- turn and dumped the March guidance and returned to the status quo ante by restoring the 2007 guidance. Interestingly, nobody challenged whether the 2007 guidance affected the consultation in any way, but I suspect that there was great relief among the ruling Conservative and Independent Alliance Group or CIA that currently governs Oxfordshire.

Much of the challenge to the consultation is centred on a small number of schools, many within the Prime Minister’s own constituency, where one secondary school was in favour and another against the changes. There are certainly anomalies that have grown up over the years across the county, and it will be interesting to see whether the new consultation goes back to first principles or tries to bury the problem.

Looming in the background is the issue of how the County deals with free schools, academies, studio schools and UTCs. I am reminded that the 2007 Guidance said:

The Secretary of State expects that local authorities may wish to exercise this discretionary power to ensure that pupils whose parents had expressed a preference for a vocational education at a 14-19 vocational academy were not denied the opportunity to do so by the lack of, or the cost of transport arrangements to such a school. Local authorities should use this power to facilitate attendance at a vocational academy where the school’s catchment area included all, or part of the local authority’s area. Where such pupils were from low income backgrounds, then such arrangements should be free of charge.

This part of the guidance has implications for the cost of transport to the new UTC in Didcot and the Studio School in Banbury, and may cause other schools to ponder whether it might affect their post 14 numbers if free transport was offered.

Perhaps, with the raising of the statutory learning age to 18, it is time for central government to review the whole set of principles behind home to school transport in an age of parental and even student choice. What worked in the uncomplicated state school system of the Nineteenth Century may not be appropriate for the Twenty First. Perhaps, travelling costs could be free for all, as in London, or be added to tax credits of Child Benefit? There is certainly, time for a wider debate than just what happens in Oxfordshire.

The answer to the question set above. Bampton features as the village in the TV series Downton Abbey. Many families from the RAF at Brize Norton send their children to secondary school in either Carterton or Burford. The secondary school in Burford traces its history back many centuries. All these towns are in the Prime minister’s Witney constituency. And the school bus from Bampton effectively goes past Carterton Secondary School on its way to Burford School. The former is an 11-16 school; the latter an 11-18 school. One or other might be affected depending on whether Oxfordshire changes the rules or not.

Quality comes at a price

Teach First have recently filed their accounts with the Charity Commission for the year ended 31st August 2012. Anyone interested can read them at http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/Accounts/Ends94/0001098294_AC_20120831_E_C.pdf

There is no doubt a lot to be said for the school-based approach to converting graduates into teachers for two years in the hope that some will remain in the profession. 89% of those who started the programme in 2010 completed their two years in teaching. Curiously, although 80% became ambassadors for the programme after two years, the review accompanying the accounts seemingly doesn’t say how many remained in teaching for a third year. As numbers on the programme grow that performance indicator assumes more importance because if it is below the figure for other types of teacher preparation programme, such as School Direct or the higher education routes, it will be a hidden cost because it will require extra numbers to be trained as teachers. Of course, if it is lower than wastage through other routes Teach First can claim to be more cost effective.

Located in an expensive part of London, even though it is now a national programme, the accounts reveal a cost base that many teacher trainers can only view with awe. The average salary with on-costs for the 216 employees in 2011-12 was £48,000, with the Chief Executive earning a salary similar to one of the best paid secondary heads in a London Academy. Although the trustees weren’t paid, one did claim the equivalent of £400 per week in travel, subsistence and office costs for the second year in a row. That’s over £40,000 across the two years. No doubt their experience is unique and cannot be replicated for less.

Still you would have thought a programme that has trainees placed in schools wouldn’t need to spend much money on rent for offices. Teach First appears to have spent around £750 per trainee on premises costs and rent, although since they also run other programmes it might be better to halve that figure to £375 per trainee. Similarly, the £1,450 staff costs might be better reduced to £700 to allow for the other programmes. Whether it is possible to reduce the £4,600,000 spent on graduate recruitment by spreading it across other programmes may be more of a moot point. Using the 7,000 applications received in 2012 that works out at around £650 per applicant. If you just look at how much it cost per successfully recruited participant the figure is nearer £4,500. This is the equivalent of the DfE spending £46 million on recruitment for School Direct or universities more than £80 million on attracting students to PGCE programmes. It would be nice to see these figures benchmarked both against other graduate recruitment programmes and against the less well-funded teacher preparation programmes. In their 2008 accounts the Charity spend £1.1 million to recruit 373 new trainees, so there doesn’t yet seem to be any economies of scale in the recruitment process. Undoubtedly the assessment centre process used by Teach First is expensive, but I well remember being told it couldn’t be afforded for trainee head teachers, so should it be part of selecting new teachers?

The next few years may be testing times for the Teacher First programme as it has to compete with both a recovery in the wider graduate recruitment market and the growing School Direct programme that seemingly offers many of the same benefits to would-be career teachers without the need to work in a challenging school. Hopefully, they those managing the programme will be able to rise to the task without having to spend even more money to achieve their goals.

Has Teach First had to rely on the ‘redbricks’ for growth?

Teach First is the premier teacher preparation programme when it comes to publicity. This week it managed to convince the world it recruits more graduates than any other employer. The DfE as the ultimate paymaster for School Direct, let alone the higher education route into teaching, must has managed a wry smile at the hyperbole created by Teach First’s marketing department.

However, there is something of a more complex picture when you look more closely at the data on applications for Teach First across the first decade of the programme that were revealed in a parliamentary answer recently. In order to compare the original applicants to Teach First back in 2003 with those applying in 2012 you have to strip out the four universities that only joined the Russell Group in 2012, after transferring from the 1994 Group. Between 2003 and 2012 the number of applicants from the original Russell Group of universities for the Teach First programme increased from 873 to 3,563, or an increase of just over four times. The bulk of the increase came after 2009, and the 2012 cohort of applicants will largely have applied for Teach First in the autumn of 2011 when the graduate labour market was still feeling the full effect of the economic recession.

Nevertheless, not all Russell Group universities have seen the same level of increased interest in the programme. Although Oxford and Cambridge attracted applications from 11% and 10% of their average finalist classes in 2012, and could have filled a sizeable percentage of Teach First positions, their shares of total Teach First applications fell by 8% in the case of Oxford and 7% for Cambridge between 2003 and 2012 to just 7% each of the total of original Russell Group applications in 2012 as the programme expanded and sought more applicants. Manchester University took top spot in 2012, accounting for 10% of all applicants from the original Russell Group universities.

However, it is the behaviour of students at the London institutions of Imperial, LSE, University College and Kings College that is possibly the most interesting. Of these four institutions, only Kings College has a School of Education, so undergraduates at the other three institutions are not affected by any loyalty to their alma mater when it comes to deciding where to train as a teacher.

% share of applications to Teach First

2003                       2012

Imperial College                               8%                          2%

University College                            8%                          5%

LSE                                                  4%                          2%

Kings College                                   5%                         3%

In the case of Imperial College, although there were 106 applicants as recently as 2010, the number had declined to 68 in 2012, just one more than the 2003 total. At the other three institutions in London the actual growth in the number of applicants has been healthy between 2003 and 2012, but it was still only around six per cent of the average finalist class size at each institution. The importance of Imperial College as a source of future science teachers probably cannot be overstated, so the relatively poor figures from that institution that mean only one in 20 graduates at Imperial choose to apply for teaching as a career in 2012 through the Teach First route may be worth further consideration. If it reflects the fact that overseas students have not been excluded from the figures for finalists then, on the one hand, the picture may not be as bad as presented here; on the other hand it might raise other issues about the future supply of science teachers.

Outside of Oxbridge the largest percentages of Teach First applicants now come from two of the Russell Group’s newest members: York and Durham Universities. As might be expected, three of the four Russell Group universities outside of England have the lowest percentages of finalists heading to Teach First, although Edinburgh University had six per cent applying to Teach First in 2012 compared with only two per cent from Glasgow University.

Seemingly, if Teach First is to grow much further it will need to either refine its marketing to some Russell Group students or start to cast its net even wider. Perhaps we will soon see Russell Group applicants accounting for around half of all applicants to Teach First rather than 60% of the total as in 2012.

The figures for Teach First applications for 2013 will also be especially interesting to see whether these trends have continued in the face of the wider introduction of School Direct that also offers school-based training, and in some cases is closely modelled on the Teach First approach, but reduced to one year of training.