Hey big spender

This week the DfE released the fact that the total Schools Budget for 2013-14 is in the order of £39 billion, give or take some £200 million*. Now, since academies and other direct grants schools are funded on a school-year basis and the community and voluntary schools that receive income passported through local authorities receive their funding on a financial year basis, the figure for this year isn’t comparable to previous years.

In addition to the Schools Budget, about £10 billion will be spent by local authorities on other children’s services, and education not related directly to schools. Individual schools budgets make up some 87% of the total Schools Budget this year, with central services, and areas such as transport accounting for the remainder of the expenditure. Over the next few years that 13% spent outside schools is likely to be reduced as councils across the country seek savings from back office functions, and also rationalise transport and other services.

Once again the remaining music services are the types of discretionary services likely to come under pressure, with councils transferring their running costs entirely to schools. It would be a great tragedy if Michael Gove’s relentless pursuit of a school-led education service, coupled with the hang-over from the economic crisis, ended one of the real success stories of the post-war education system.

Nationally, the average pupil will cost the government some £4,350 this year, but that appears to range from £6,935 in Tower Hamlets to £2,134 just across the river in Bexley. Although, as that is £1,600 less than the next authority it might be down to some accounting quirk regarding academies or another part of the calculations. London authorities, with their higher staffing costs, account for sixteen of the top 20 authorities in terms of per capita Schools Budgets. Since their secondary students also benefit from free transport under the TfL budget the figure would no doubt be even higher if this element was included.

Currently SEN transport costs an average of £69 per pupil across the country, and other home to school transport £51 per pupil. Given that the latter costs are mostly in the rural authorities, the cost to those authorities is obviously much higher.

Rather than the universal benefit of a limited period ‘cash freeze’ for consumers, the Labour Leader might have designed an energy policy to help reduce these costs to local authorities, perhaps by a national fuel purchasing scheme that allowed school buses and other community transport to run on lower priced fuel.

Whether a Department at Westminster serving both schools and the other functions supporting children’s welfare makes any sense these days is a matter for debate. The spending functions logically sit alongside many other social expenditure functions of councils, and the monitoring of schooling can be subsumed within a regulatory framework that includes services such as trading standards. After all, monitoring performance is soon going to be the only real education function left for local authorities, if the government at Westminster has its way.

* https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/244055/SR35-2013.pdf

MOOCs mark technology shift

MOOCS or Massive Open access On line Courses, to spell the initials out in full, are a recent phenomenon. In one sense they are higher education’s answer to the social media age. For a sector that took over 500 years to recognise that cheap printing had made the lecture a redundant form of knowledge transfer the adaptation of UK higher education to the digital age in just 20 years is nothing short of a miracle.

In the mid-1990s Oxford Brookes University held an alternative learning term based around the theme of new technology. One of the events was version of the ‘hypothetical’ popular at the time where a panel of experts was quizzed by an experienced host, in this case the University’s Chancellor Helena Kennedy QC, about how the future use of technology in higher education might unfold. At that time librarians were still wedded to fixed hours and building more shelves and nobody bothered about power points, plagiarism or even the number of PCs available. The fax machine was high tech and the OHP the height of sophistication, even if few lecturers knew how to use it properly.

What is known as ‘clicks and mortar’ universities were the only option, except for those mature students who decided to travel down the Open University route. Now on-line study for free, is big business. However, like other new technology someone will eventually need to find a means of making money out of the technology if it is to survive. What starts as a means of drawing potential students towards degree courses inevitably develops a life of its own. However, the demand for high quality degree courses, probably taught in English, and with the cache that comes with association with a university known throughout the world, will undoubtedly provide a head start for some institutions.

For me, one of the key questions is when and how this technology revolution in mass knowledge transfer will spread to more basic learning? There must be a defined number of issues with learning even a highly complex language such as English, and if we can use technology to help unlock those blockages perhaps we can really start to think about abolishing illiteracy. Even now, the child who is off school with a cold could join the lessons by web cam if they wanted to, with no worries over spreading germs around the classroom.

Technology also allows for new methods of learning based upon approaches not grounded in the limitations of the printed page. One method has been called the Turing approach after Alan Turing’s pioneer work on computing. I don’t know much about it, but am interested to find out more.

What is clear is that the knowledge revolution is beginning to pick up speed and much of UK higher education is determined not to be left behind in the same manner is it was when it took the decision to create the JANET network. For schools, perhaps it is time for Mr Gove to go back to BETT and announce a Minister for Educational Technology. Closing down BECTA may not have been a mistake, but failing to recognise the importance of what it stood for certainly would be.

Food, glorious food

By sheer happenstance I was being interviewed by a BBC local radio station at 5pm on Tuesday when the story about free school lunches for all 4-7 year olds was released. The news that 16-17 year olds studying in further education will also be eligible for free meals on the same terms as their colleagues in schools was rather lost in the bigger announcement.

As a result of being in the BBC’s Glasgow conference set up I received a full briefing just by listening to those around me reciting their pieces to the different radio channels and stations news bulletins around the country. Consequently, I was able to respond to my interview’s questions with rather more fluency that might otherwise have been the case, and indeed with more fluency than on the story about reading that was the reason I was ‘on air’ in the first place.

But, enough about me: this is a policy that is a game changer. No creating sheep and goats in the primary schools of the future; no worry for those parents who dip in and out of poverty about whether they qualify for free meals if they take a particular job; no rows about packed lunches and what might be in them today, and where to find the time to shop for them and then put them together. And, on the positive side, children will be learning social habit together; children being introduced to new types of food; less exposure to unhealthy food; better concentration in the afternoon; and every child with at least one hot meal a day.

The way the policy is to be paid for is yet to be announced, and local authorities will be asking about the capital costs for kitchens, and the delivery expenses for rural schools where meals are prepared centrally. These are important consideration to be overcome, but small in proportion to the good that the policy can deliver.

There are those who decry the use of universal benefits even when, as  in this case, the benefit is both financially and socially useful to society as a whole, but better off parents can choose to donate the cost of the meals to charities such as Children in Need or their local food bank. For others is is like an annual cash boost of around £500 per child on the wage packet.

Eventually, I hope that the cash can be found to extend the policy to all at the junior stage of education, up to age 11. Habits are reinforced at that stage, and the link between the endless TV programmes on food and the reality of lunches can be made even more apparent as children begin to question what is put before them.

One other question that will inevitably arise is whether teachers will be expected to eat with the pupils or to be allowed a clear break at lunch-time? Many may choose the compromise of eating the actual meal together, but then retiring to the staffroom for a deserved bit of ‘me’ time. So, there may be some extra staffing costs in lunch-time supervision as all children stay on site.

Nevertheless, this to me is one of the best achievement for the whole of our school system in many a long year. I cannot recall the last time I felt so good in front of a BBC microphone. It was a strange feeling.

New retreat from East of Suez

The Geography Key Stages 1-3 programmes of study published this week rightly starts with an appreciation of the local area. Although requiring all seven year olds to know the names of all seven continents and five oceans seems a bit like setting them up for participation in a pub quiz team or TV quiz game. Perhaps the BBC will revive ‘Top of the Form’. Personally, I would be happy if a child by the age of seven knew what the earth looked like, and that there were masses of land and lots of water. Drilling a seven year old to spell Antarctica doesn’t seem very useful in this day and age.

At Key Stage 2, the opening phrase seems telling; Pupils should extend their knowledge and understanding beyond the local area to include the United Kingdom and Europe, North and South America. So, having learnt of Asia and Oceania by name at Key Stage 1 they can be cheerfully ignored for the next four years with all examples taken from the Western Hemisphere. Hopefully it fits in with a study of the Maya and Aztec civilizations in history. By eleven, every child will no doubt know of Lake Titicaca and volcanoes such as Mauna Loa. They will also know about biomes. I confess that beat me, but fortunately there is a very good entry on Wikipedia including the main classifications. I think I will go with either the Walter or WWF classifications.

So, how will China, Japan, and the commonwealth countries of Africa, Asia and Oceania react to this geopolitical determinism that seemingly ignores them completely during the first six years of schooling in geography across England? Of course, teachers can draw in examples from beyond North & South America, but there seems little incentive to do so. At least Africa and Asia receive a mention at Key Stage 3. Oceania doesn’t seem to, so perhaps it’s not good news for the tourist industry of Australia, as pupils won’t be coming home full of the Barrier reef, the outback or the wonders of the west coast.

Fortunately, I trust teachers together with the powers of modern technology now available to schools and pupils to widen geographical horizons well beyond the narrow confines of these programmes of study. At Key Stage 3, I would have the interactive volcano and earthquake maps always available on my whiteboard or classroom computer. I would encourage pupils to tell me if they saw an interesting event and then the class could discuss it in real time.

The real debate is about what vocabulary of the subject children need to learn in order to help them progress? The capes and bays of Victorian schooling have been replaced by the continents and oceans, and capitals and countries, at a stage when children should be made excited about the subject. The challenge for the non-specialist primary teacher will be how to make geography exciting in this modern age, but still meet the programmes of study. But, if they are not assessed who will care anyway?

Teacher training: The final word until November

Time for a final word on the teacher training issue until the ITT census is published in November. At the end of June this year I conducted a full review of the availability of places as shown on the School Direct web site. This has led me to consider on this blog the likely outcome for different subjects. I grouped the subjects into three categories:

Those subjects where all places are likely to be taken up in 2013

Primary

Art

Business Studies

Those subjects where there is some risk in one route of not all places being filled

English – both routes

Music – training route

Physical Education – training route

History – training route

Those subjects where there is a substantial risk of a serious shortfall against places available (33%+) in one or both routes

Modern Languages

Biology

Design & Technology

Chemistry

Religious Education

Mathematics

Computer Science

Physics

Geography

So how did I do in my predictions? Well I got one right in the first group. Art met its target. Primary got to 98%, so that was nearly there, although we await any late drop outs after failure in the pre-entry tests. Business Studies only filled 84% of their places, but to be fair to them there was a late increase in the target, so it is not really a strict comparison with my prediction.

In the second group, Music missed its target, but the other three subjects were fine. In the last group, Chemistry was the only subject to meet the target, but the target was lower than in recent years, and well below the published allocation. All the other subjects fell short according to NCTL figures published this week except for Design & Technology that has disappeared into the ‘other’ category for some reason, so the specific outcome isn’t known.

Now, if I could predict this outcome at the end of June, I must assume the NCTL know what was likely in terms of outcomes at the same time, especially as they knew the ‘real’ targets as opposed to the inflated ‘allocations’ the rest of us were using.  It would be legitimate to ask what steps they took at that point to try to improve the situation. Did any provider hear from them about the risk of a shortfall or were they silent until Monday of this week? Why was a DfE spokesperson, helpfully anonymous, quoted by the Daily Mail on the 14th August as saying of my delving into the current teacher training position that there was no teacher shortage, adding: ‘This is scaremongering and based on incomplete evidence.’ This was despite the fact that I hadn’t said that there was going to be a teacher shortage, just that training places were not being filled: not the same thing.

I sincerely hope that we can have more transparency next year. Ministers may not like my message, but I resent being called a ‘scaremonger’ for exposing the real position. I believe in open government, and I am disappointed when Ministers don’t support that view. This was not an issue of national security, but it may well be an issue of national success if we cannot find and train enough teachers over the next few years. I suggest the Minister sets up a review panel to consider the data on a regular basis. He might even invite UCAS to ask the GTTR Advisory Board to perform that function since two of its members appeared in front of the Select Committee this morning to give evidence. They are clearly knowledgeable about the topic.

Select Committee poses challenging questions

The Education Select Committee spent just over two hours this morning quizzing both a panel of witnesses and the Minister of State, David Laws about School Direct and issues relating to teacher supply more generally. The Minister was accompanied at the table by the head of the National College, with other civil servants sitting in the row behind and occasionally passing notes forward.

As one might expect the Minister’s performance, like that of the Chairman of the Committee, was accomplished. Both were on top of their briefs, and some of the numbers that have appeared in earlier posts on this blog were exchanged during the session. Indeed, this blog even rated a mention in one interchange between the Committee’s Chairman and the Minister.

We learnt a lot about the difference between ‘allocations’ and ‘targets’ during the session, but little about how either is derived. A replacement for the 1998 document on Teacher Supply and Demand Modelling, published after a previous Select Committee Report, now looks overdue, and I hope David Laws isn’t told by the DfE that it would not be helpful to publish it. The veil of secrecy over numbers has been a real issue in hampering effective discussions this year.

If the Minister is correct, and more schools want to take part in School Direct in 2014 then, unless targets are increased, either some schools won’t be allocated places or HE will come under more pressure as more places are removed. The Select Committee didn’t press on this particular point; a pity.

Nobody reminded the head of the NCTL that he had said in January at the North of England Conference:

In the future I would like to see local areas deciding on the numbers of teachers they will need each year rather than a fairly arbitrary figure passed down from the Department for Education. I have asked my officials at the TA to work with schools, academy chains and local authorities to help them to devise their own local teacher supply model. I don’t think Whitehall should be deciding that nationally we need 843 geography teachers, when a more accurate figure can be worked out locally.

(DfE, 2103)

However, the Minister did make plain that he saw that there was a responsibility to ensure that there were enough teachers. Sadly, nobody asked him whether that meant it was alright if the extra history and PE teachers recruited above the target set ended up teaching mathematics where there might be a shortfall.

Although the issue whether School Direct was an urban model was mentioned several times, the issue of whether it will work in the primary sector was not really explored properly. Neither did anyone really put the trainee’s needs at the heart of the debate, although the discussion on subject knowledge did make some attempts to go in that direction, but without much success.

The unified portal will do away with many of the issues around admissions that featured in the recruitment process this year, but it was worrying that both school and HE representatives said that the timescales set by UCAS might be too tight; that is a factor that will need watching.

At the end of the day, we still have too few trainees in mathematics, physics and computer science this year, and no statement about what the consequences of this shortfall might be. The next steps will be the census in November and the 2014 allocations and targets. My bet is that 2014 will be even more of a challenge than 2013, however recruitment to ITT is handled. By Easter, we will know whether or not I am right in making that claim.

Clarity ahead of Select Committee – but still not good news

What has become clear this afternoon is that the DfE may have faced a dilemma last autumn. With the national roll-out of School Direct being enthusiastically taken up by schools, it could either have effectively wiped-out the university-based PGCE courses by meeting the demands of schools or it could have denied schools the places they were asking for in School Direct. The DfE targets for secondary subjects did not allow the third option of satisfying both schools applying for School Direct places and keeping the PGCE going and still keeping within the targets. The extent of the problem can be seen by comparing Table 2b in the underlying data of Statistical Bulletin 32/2013 issued by the DfE on the 13th August and Figure 1 of the School Direct management information published this afternoon by the National College for Teaching and Leadership. In practice, the DfE seems to have chosen a third way by creating inflated ‘allocations’ to try to keep higher education going, but still to satisfy the demands from schools for places. This exercise risked substantial over-recruitment against the real targets.

So what happened? Looking just at the STEM subjects, Chemistry had an allocation of 1,327 in the Statistical Bulletin, but a target of 820 places in Figure 1 of today’s document – a difference of 507. To date, recruitment has been 900 according to Figure 1, so the subject is over-recruited against target, but significantly under-recruited against allocations. School Direct, where bids totalled 422 places last November, and reached around 500 by the time all bids had been collected, apparently recruited just 260 trainees, leaving higher education to recruit the other 640.

Sadly, in Mathematics, Physics, and Biology, despite the target being well below the allocation figure, the target has not been met. In Physics the shortfall is 43% against the target; and in Mathematics, 22%. In Biology it is just 6%. However, these percentages do not reflect the actual numbers who have started courses; that number may be greater or smaller than those released today.

Indeed, in no subject was the allocation met, although in business studies it was missed by just one recruit. However, the target in this subject is apparently higher than the allocation in August, although that may have something to do with classification. Less clear is the Religious Education position where the target is shown as 450, but the allocation in August was 434 for postgraduate courses. Somewhere another 16 places have been added since August when they have been subtracted in most other subjects.

I have suspected for some time that the allocations were above the level required by the DfE’s model, and have hinted as much in earlier posts. More than 40,000 trainees did seem an excessive number to train.

More interesting is how successful School Direct has been.

SUBJECT Target School Direct School Direct % of Target
ENGLISH

1500

850

57%

HIST

540

290

54%

PE

780

350

45%

CHEMISTRY

820

260

32%

MUSIC

390

90

23%

GEOG

620

140

23%

MATHS

2460

510

21%

MFL

1550

320

21%

BIOLOGY

740

150

20%

ART

340

60

18%

OTHER SUBJECTS

1200

200

17%

PHYSICS

990

130

13%

IT/CS

570

70

12%

RE

450

50

11%

BUS STUD

230

20

9%

SOC STUD

180

10

6%

School Direct works in subjects where there are lots of high quality applicants looking to train as a teacher. At the other end of the scale are subjects where either the schools didn’t bid for many places, as in Art & Design or recruitment is a real challenge, as in Physics.

These are the subjects where School Direct faces it greatest challenges for 2014, and where the DfE/NCSL seemingly still cannot do without higher education.

What is also clear is that the DfE cannot repeat this same exercise this autumn for 2014 recruitment. It will have to make it clear how many trainees are needed according to the model. Otherwise students will be paying £9,000 in fees without knowing whether they are a target or an allocation, and totally uncertain about their chance of securing a teaching post. That won’t attract many takers in an improving graduate job market as the risks are too high.