Schools still hoarding cash

Figures released by the DfE yesterday at: suggest that the dwindling band of maintained schools are still not spending all their revenue income. With the revision of the national funding formula yet to see the light of day, these figures might suggest that the current method of funding schools isn’t achieving its key aim of improving teaching and learning as much as possible.

According to the DfE, in 2012-13, the total revenue balance across all Local Authority maintained schools was £2.2 billion, a decrease of £0.1 billion (5.0%) over the 2011-12 revenue balance figure of £2.3 billion. This equates to an average surplus in each maintained school of just over £113,000. However, according to the DfE the total revenue balance of £2.2 billion is 7.5% of the total revenue income across all LA maintained schools. Because of the schools becoming academies that have dropped out of the tables, this is an increase of 0.4 percentage points in revenue balances compared with the 2011-12percentage of 7.1%. So, not only are many maintained schools hording even more cash than last year, but roughly one pound in every £14 the average school receives isn’t spent in the year it is received.

With almost totally devolved budgets, it is legitimate for schools to maintain balances, and the DfE looks at 5% for secondary schools and 8% for other schools as being a reasonable level. There were apparently 464 schools that exceeded this level of reserves. Interestingly, 73 of these schools were in London. Together the London schools were holding in excess of £12 million pounds in reserves above the recommended limit. £2 million of that was apparently held by just four schools in Tower Hamlets: an excess of more than half a million pounds at each school.

By contrast, the average excess reserves in Newham, the next door borough, amounted to just £19,000. Because academies have a different financial year to maintained schools they are excluded from the figures, so comparisons between authorities may not always be helpful, but they do raise questions about what is happening to money lying idle for several years. One Tower Hamlets schools has apparently had over £1 million in uncommitted balances for the past five years since the 2008/09 financial year according to the DfE figures, and appears in the latest table with an uncommitted revenue balance of nearly £1.5 million.

Of course, there are also schools with deficit budgets, but the number has been reducing. According to the DfE, there were 1,111 maintained schools with a revenue balance deficit compared to more than 18,000 schools with a surplus. The total deficit across all LA maintained schools that had a deficit was £81.2 million, a decrease of £28.7 million (26.1%) over the 2011-12 total revenue balance deficit figure of £109.9 million. This equates to an average deficit in each school with a deficit of just over £73,000. The average figure for balances among primary schools in surplus was £93,000 and for secondary schools in surplus it was £405,000.

Last year, I suggested that some of the reserves should be used to create work experience for unemployed young people. In some of the London boroughs with high youth unemployment that might remain a good idea.

Good, but with some worrying features

The February data relating to applications for teaching preparation courses looks, on the surface, like good news for the government. Applications rose between January and February, from just over 81,000 to more than 102,000; an increase of about 20%. Not bad in a month. There was a similar percentage increase in the number of applicants, from just less than 30,000 to 36,600, suggesting that many applicants used all three of their possible choices.

Across the UK, acceptances increased from over 7,000 to more than 17,000, although the bulk of these are conditional offers – presumably awaiting the outcome of the skills tests. More worrying is the 12% of applications withdrawn although some may affect only one application since the number of applicants withdrawing from the scheme is only 390, or barely 1%. More worrying might be the 5,100 applicants where no offer was made. This is 14% of applicants. A further 25% of applicants are waiting an offer from a provider, and there are more than 5,000 interviews pending.

Applications are broadly in line with the share of places on the different routes, with HE receiving 58%, down from a 60% share in January, and School Direct 37% up from 36%. SCITT have attracted 5% of applications. (HE has 56% of places, SCITTs 7%, and School Direct 37%). So, what matters is that acceptances in future are in line with applications on all three routes. As there is considerable over-allocation of places in many secondary subjects, there is still the possibility of over-recruitment in some popular subjects, or subjects where the bursary proves especially popular. However, it is too early to tell exactly what is going on in relation to acceptances by subject, not least because the figures are not presented in a very helpful manner.

As might be expected at this time of year, applications grew at a faster rate from the older age groups of career switchers, with the 29+ groups showing the largest percentage increases in applicants, and the under-21s the smallest percentage increase; presumably as they focused on the final examinations rather than worried about course applications.

By next month there should be a much clearer picture about acceptances, since many of the 25,000 or so applicants to courses in England noted in January should have been processed by then. At that point, and certainly by the May 1st data, it should be possible to see what is happening across the different subjects sufficiently clearly to make some predictions. Hopefully, it will be good news for the government, and eventually for schools looking to employ these would-be teachers in September 2015.

Working for success: planning for failure

The news that an academy chain has lost responsibility for 10 schools raises a number of interesting questions. The most obvious is who has the responsibility to find these children an appropriate education? In the present instance, the DfE seems to be doing that by looking for a replacement sponsor or sponsors. How long should they be allowed if it is a question of teaching and learning standards?

No doubt the Laws’ Leaders, as David Laws’ new national leaders are likely to be dubbed, could be sent in to lead individual schools during any interim while new sponsors are brought on board, but what about the ownership of the assets? The situation becomes even more interesting if it were, say, a church group of academies. Would the solution be to change diocese, but who would own the assets if the schools had previously been voluntary aided? Suppose the Trustees decided that they didn’t want anyone else running the school, and just effectively closed it down. Who finds the pupils new schools? Generally, when a private school goes bust, which is often at short notice, and frequently just before a term starts or ends, and the local authority steps in to help find places for the pupils that need them. However, where it is no longer the admissions authority for most schools in a locality, how will it do this if the other academies refuse to cooperate because the in-coming pupils might affect their examination results or their balanced admissions policy?

As with the problem highlighted in my previous post, what happens if any closure affects the transport budget for the local authority? Will the DfE pick up the extra costs or establish some form of insurance scheme?

Presumably, when a new sponsor takes over the running of part of an existing chain there will have to be a financial reckoning as well, especially as academy budgets run to a different cycle than that of local authorities and central government. Will any existing service contracts with the academy chain be automatically continued or regarded as up for renewal as a result of the loss of responsibility?

Hopefully, these issues will be rare occurrences, but new developments in any field often come with associated failures, so they must not have been unexpected. When a whole local authority is judged unacceptable, it is clear what happens, as it is when a single school fails. However, the failure of a group or part of a group of schools brings these fresh challenges, especially, potentially, in relation to the assets.

All these questions highlight the desperate need for an effective middle tier for state education in England operating within an overall framework that clearly delineates areas of responsibility. The relative functions of the national government at Westminster, local authorities, the churches and other faith groups, and the non-aligned academy chains, plus the large number of independent sponsor academies, all need to be able to operate within some form of secure and understandable framework. At present, especially for the primary sector, the fastest growing area for academy development at present, the rules are still unclear. Approaching four years since the 2010 Academy Act became law this is not an acceptable position of schooling across England to find itself in.

Playing the school place lottery

In the 1970s, when I started teaching, the issue of banding was seen as contentious by many educationalists as it felt like social engineering. Nowadays, some academies, and other schools, have not only adopted the practice but have also, in some cases, gone further and turned admission into a straightforward lottery. In a few cases they have combined the two approaches and created lotteries for each group. For parents in those rural areas where there is in reality only one school their children can attend this must seem like some form of fantasy world.

When lotteries were first mooted local authorities still managed the admissions process for almost all schools. Now over half of secondary schools are their own admissions authorities. That probably doesn’t pose a problem at present as we are close to the bottom of the demographic cycle and pressure on secondary school places is not yet intense across mush of England. However, in five years time things will be different. Imagine a world where all secondary schools are their own admissions authorities, and use a banded lottery system. You are a parent of a child in the middle band – an average kind of Jo(e) – What happens if your first choice school is over-subscribed and you lose the lottery? Suppose the same is true of your second and third schools. No problem, the local authority must find you a school for Jo(e), and if it is more than the statutory walking distance they must pick up the travel bill as well under present arrangements.

So, the middle class parent that once might have bid up the price of houses in the catchment area of a local school they wanted their child to attend could now become a burden on the taxpayer as the taxi arrives every morning for the school-run to a distant school. Now that won’t happen in London because there is free travel across the Capital for secondary school pupils, so parents wouldn’t have to pay as they would elsewhere.

Indeed, the concern over the freedom schools have to impose financial burdens on local authorities through their admissions policies is no doubt behind the rapid move to a ‘nearest school’ transport policy by many local authorities. In Oxfordshire that has not gone down well with some parents whose school will be altered as a result of the new policy.

In the end the question for the Treasury may well be whether it is cheaper to let schools picks pupils on a basis or ‘fairness’ or for parents to exercise parental choice regardless of their child’s ability. What may not be acceptable will be each individual school creating a burden on local authorities through admissions policies that push up transport bills paid for from Council Tax just so that they can say they have a fair spread of pupils.

Shanghaied but not qualified: the fate of too many maths teachers?

In their recent evidence to the School Teachers’ Review body (STRB) the government admitted that it would need an extra 5,000 or so qualified mathematics teachers for every child in a secondary school to be taught be a ‘specialist’ mathematics teacher as defined by the Department for Education. It will, therefore, be interesting to see whether the ministerial led delegation going to Shanghai to study maths teaching asks the question how many of the teachers in Shanghai are fully qualified?

With nearly one in six teachers not fully qualified in England, what gain in the OECD’s PISA tests could be achieved just by improving the quality of the teaching even to the standard where the percentage of pupils achieving the expected progress between Key Stages 2 and 4 reached the same level as for English as a subject. Of course, if the government delegation comes back clambering for more hours of mathematics teaching to match the 138 hours of teaching common across much of South East Asia, then each class will need an extra 20-22 hours of teaching per week; and that will need yet more mathematics teachers. Add in an increase required for post-16 maths teaching if all students had to study maths to eighteen and the number of extra teachers required rises still further.

On the back of this demand, the 30 schools funded to act as mathematics hubs looks like small beer given the size of the problem. The ratio is something like 100 secondary schools and 600 primary schools per hub. At that rate any individual teacher might have as much chance of attending a hub as a flood victim had of seeing the army arriving bearing a supply of sandbags. In the 1970s, almost all of the 150 or so local authorities had a dedicated professional development centre with trained maths staff, including advisers and advisory teachers. The dismantling of this infrastructure by successive governments no doubt ensured the quality of maths teaching would suffer, as it probably did in other subjects as well. If not, why are the hubs being established?

If the delegation returns from Shanghai with the message that improving maths teaching is more important that establishing free schools and wasting money on brokers trying to persuade primary schools to become an academy it will have been taxpayers money well spent.

Tackling the primary sector teaching of maths to children of all abilities is an even more challenging task than dealing with the teaching of maths in secondary schools, and I doubt whether the hub secondary schools will have the necessary expertise to tackle the challenge. However, the teaching of maths in the primary sector is part of a much larger issue in relation to how teachers for that sector are prepared.

Overall, it would help parents to know who was teaching their offspring if Qualified Teacher Status was not a universal qualification, but was limited to those subjects and phases where a teacher had been appropriately prepared. But, since the Secretary of State doesn’t believe preparation is necessary for teaching there is little chance of that happening this side of the general election.

Progress, but not enough where it really matters

How much difference is the Pupil Premium cash making for secondary school pupils? Not a lot so far if the latest DfE Statistics on GCSE outcomes are right.  On the wider measure, the attainment gap for the percentage achieving 5 or more GCSEs at grade A* to C or equivalent has narrowed by 8.0 percentage points between 2008/09 and 2012/13, with 69.3 per cent of pupils eligible for FSM achieving this indicator in 2012/13, compared with 85.3 per cent of all other pupils. However, the attainment gap between the percentage achieving 5 or more GCSEs at grade A* to C or equivalent including English and mathematics has narrowed by only 1.0 percentage point between 2008/09 and 2012/13 with 37.9 per cent of pupils known to be eligible for FSM achieving this indicator compared with 64.6 per cent of all other pupils. White boys are still faring badly, with just27.9% gaining the key 5A*-Cs measure including English and Mathematics. This compares with 43.1 of Black boys with similar characteristics, and 39.6% of black Caribbean boys with FSM.

Girls continue to outperform boys at all the main attainment indicators at key stage 4. The gap between the percentage of girls and boys making expected progress in English is 12.4 percentage points. This gap has narrowed slightly by 0.6 percentage points since 2011/12. The gap between the percentage of girls and boys making expected progress in mathematics is narrower than for expected progress in English at 4.7 percentage points, which has remained broadly the same since 2011/12.

All ethnic groups have made progress between 2008/98 and 2012/13in terms of the percentage of pupils obtaining 5A*-Cs including English and mathematics, although the Traveller of Irish Heritage, gypsy and Roma group still remain a long way adrift of other groups despite the small improvement in their performance on this measure. Pupils from a black background remain among the lowest performing groups, although they have shown the largest improvement. The percentage of black pupils achieving 5 or more GCSEs at grade A* to C or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs or iGCSEs is 2.5 percentage points below the national average. This gap has narrowed by 1.7 percentage points since 2011/12 but over the longer term has narrowed by 3.7 percentage points since 2008/09.

Outcomes for pupils with SEN remain disappointing. The attainment gap between the percentage of pupils with and without any identified SEN achieving 5 or more GCSEs at grade A* to C or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs or iGCSEs is 47.0 percentage points – 70.4 per cent of pupils with no identified SEN achieved this compared with 23.4 per cent of pupils with SEN. This gap has widened by 2.1 percentage points since 2008/09 but has remained broadly unchanged since 2011/12. A lower percentage of pupils with SEN made expected progress in both English and mathematics. The gap is wider for mathematics at 37.0 percentage points, compared to a gap of 30.9 percentage points for English. Both gaps have widened slightly between 2011/12 and 2012/13 (by 0.6 percentage points for mathematics and 0.7 percentage points for English).

On these measures there is still much to be achieved with the target groups. It is to be hoped that by increasing the level of the Pupil Premium more for primary pupils than their secondary compatriots fewer children will enter the secondary phase of schooling unable to access the teaching made available to them through a lack of the basic skills.

Education Quiz

Regular readers of this blog will know that each year I set an education quiz for the Liberal Democrat Education Association annual conference. As the conference is taking place this weekend, and delegates were offered the opportunity to take the quiz last night I am happy to post it here for anyone that wants to have a go. Good luck, and most answers can be found with a half-decent search engine.

1 How much will the Pupil Premium be for

A] primary

B] secondary school pupils from September 2014?

2 Who was the Chief Inspector before Sir Michael Wilshaw?

3 Name the Lib Dem that sits on the DfE Board

4 What % of pupils gained A*-C GCSE grades in science in 2013?

5 Mr Gove has talked of some educationalists as blobs. Where did the term blob come from?

6 Apart from charming coastlines popular with holidaymakers, what linked Norfolk and the Isle of Wight last year?

7 Why might 5 that used to follow 10 now possibly come after 4?

8 What continent doesn’t feature in the new geography curriculum after Key Stage 1?

9 A new teacher in London could earn more than £36,000 on appointment?

10 Who said ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’

11 How much money will schools receive for every infant meal served?

12 Which former permanent secretary at the DfE resigned from the board of an academy sponsor after links between the sponsor and its parent organisation in Turkey were revealed in the national press? Bonus mark – where was the school seeking to become an academy using that sponsor?

13 True or false – only 410 trainee design & technology teachers were in training at the November 2013 DfE census date.

14 Although the participation age for education has been raised councils still only have to provide free transport for pupils to the end of the academic year in which their 16th birthday falls. True or false?

15 Name the 2 Free Schools that closed in 2013

16 Who said:

‘I’m pleased to announce today that the Government will be setting up a programme to get outstanding leaders into the schools that need them the most. …. But what I can say is that there will be a pool of top talent within the profession, a Champions League of Head Teachers, made up of Heads and Deputy Heads, who will stand ready to move to schools in challenging circumstances that need outstanding leaders.’ Bonus mark where?

17 Who thought he had proposed a motion to the 2013 Lib Dem Spring conference, but actually hadn’t?

18 What placed West Berkshire in the same group as Enfield in December and Cumbria with Sunderland?

19 All new state-funded schools have to be academies. True or false?

20 In the PISA rankings for mathematics Eire was ranked ahead of the UK but Sweden was below. True or false?