Free Schools but not Free Education

The report from The Children’s Commission on Poverty saying that the cost of basics, such as uniforms, school trips, materials and computer access can amount to £800 per child each year in state schools raises fundamental questions about what should be paid for by the State in terms of schooling.

I have long been aware of schools identifying specific textbooks and expecting pupils to have access to them and also in some cases in the past even expecting parents to donate to a fund for the school. Over the years these practices seem to have been growing as local democratic control has been eroded by successive central governments of all political persuasions. The Pupil Premium and free school meals for infants are at least a step in recognising there is a balance that needs restoring and these pupils with extra funding should not be asked to pay for items that are part of the basic life of the school.

Of course, different schools have always had access to different fund-raising abilities. When I worked in Haringey, at the start of my career, schools at the Highgate end of the borough made many more times profit at their summer fete than did schools at the Tottenham end of the borough.  Indeed, one school always seemed to be able to pull in a TV personality that guaranteed good attendance regardless of the weather.

I do think schools should be compelled to publish on their web site what they charge for each year. Where schools have reserves above the generally accepted norms then they must explain to parents why they are not providing the items they charge for from school funds. Perhaps someone might like to complain to the Secretary of State that a school is acting unreasonably by not spending its own money on a basic item.

Taking a cut of uniform sales through suppliers puts up the cost to parents as does having uniforms that cannot be easily bought from high street retailers, perhaps because the blazer is an unusual colour or has piping around the edges. Whether or not these are devices designed to exclude certain children from a particular schools, especially once the cost of sports kit has been added to the basic uniform cost, they do create a burden on less well off parents that should be prevented in state-funded schools.

The issue of internet connections at home has been one that has raised concerns ever since IT became so important in homework. Schools need to monitor whether this is a problem and follow best practice in ensuring all pupils can use the internet to complete homework tasks regardless of where they live. This is especially true for less well off families in rural areas where access to broadband may be partial or even non-excitant at reasonable costs.

I hope Lib Dem ministers will take up the cause outlined in the Commission’s report and not shelter behind the notion of schools being free to decide their own policies. I would also like to hear from the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches a clear statement that their schools will be expected to provide an education that doesn’t cause hardship to some families and exclude pupils from some important activities. Free should mean free in all respects and not free, but only if you can afford it.

Youth parliament debates

Yesterday afternoon I attended a debate held by Oxfordshire’s youth parliament. This body is the local arm of a national organisation and eventually elects representative to the national youth parliament that is provided with an opportunity to debate in the House of Commons chamber. The youth parliament creates an opportunity for young people to receive their first taste of that part of the democratic process in action. During the day they discuss topics in groups, creating arguments for and against policies that allow them to see and understand how the debating process operates.

The topic for debate yesterday was around the issue of young carers and the responsibilities schools have to this group of young people.

The debate was surprisingly balanced between those that felt schools had a key role to play in helping young carers and others that felt school was a place to escape the burden of care and be yourself. This group was afraid of the stigma other pupils might attach to young carers if their role was too clearly known at school. Most contributors on both sides of the debate made single points that were rather more in the form of interventions than speeches although the opposition closing argument was an impassioned speech that may have swayed a few votes in his direction.

Four county councillors, including the Council Leader, along with a group of senior officers, turned up to listen to the debate and support the young people.  Each councillor was able to express their support for the scheme and encourage the young people in their actions. After all, the teenagers had taken a day out of their half-term holiday to be at the youth parliament.

It was good to see the level of support and it is important that young people don’t take democracy too lightly, especially if England were to follow Scotland’s actions in the referendum and reduce the voting age for some if not all elections from eighteen to sixteen.

As we approach the 150th anniversary of the introduction of state education in England, in 2020, it is important to remember the part education has played in helping shape our democracy. One important change I have mentioned before is that the emphasis is now on educating children as individuals and not as classes. This makes more work for teachers, but creates more opportunities for children. How the rest of society handles that in terms of its effects on social mobility is another matter. But, we still struggle as a service to help those, whether young carers, pupils suffering from childhood illnesses and diseases, or children with parents that don’t appreciate the importance of school attendance. Unlocking the potential in all is a good phrase for an election slogan on education as it shows what we have still to do, but in a positive manner.

There is far more to a democratic state than the skill of debating, but to make at least that aspect of parliament real to young people might be to awaken the interest of the next generation of politicians.

Owning what is ours

Last week I was sent a copy of this manifesto for education produced by the NAHT in July. It contains a number of eminently sensible recommendations as might be expected from an association whose general secretary was a management consultant before taking up his present role some years ago. Indeed, a longer time ago than I care to remember, we were both part of the same team on a leadership project.

There are a couple of things that I would add to the manifesto. Firstly, what works in the secondary sector might not work in the primary sector; and secondly, there is a crying need to sort out the 16-18 sector including deciding where it belongs: with the skills or the education department of government?

I would also put more emphasis on the need to sort out the control mechanisms while recognising the truth eloquently stated in the manifesto that you cannot really run the detail of education from Whitehall. We do need a Secretary of State that can lift the spirits of the profession and tackle the workload issue if only because the boom in pupil numbers is going to require future Ministers to put recruitment at the top of their agenda for at least the next decade if we are going to maximise the educational opportunities for all children and continue to create a successful economy. I would have liked to have seen a bit more about the relationship between schools and parents and how we motivate the disaffected and disillusioned not to damage the education of their families by failing to make the most of the opportunities on offer.

All the technical issues; qualified teachers based on an agreed preparation programme regardless of how it is delivered; preparation for headship; a Royal College; the re-introduction of a proper professional development programme based upon the needs of both the teachers’ current school and their own career development; local authorities as the admissions appeal body for all publicly funded schools and with the central role in planning pupil places and commissioning both the expansion of existing schools and new schools where necessary all seem sensible policies to me both as a Lib Dem politician and a councillor.

If the NAHT wants a national funding formula then it must ask its members why they so many of them are not spending the money that they already receive. Using some of the reserves to find ways to cut workloads would be a sensible approach to a problem that is now generally acknowledged to be something that needs tackling. I was told yesterday of an experienced teacher whose sleep patterns are disturbed by being unable to switch off from thinking of the workload and I am sure that she is not alone.

The four core priorities of the manifesto; returning the focus and pride to teaching; refining accountability; rebuilding relationships; and strengthening the bonds between schools suggest education as a common purpose rather than a battleground between warring factions. Indeed, it may be that a study of the OECD reports, rather than just a quick look at the numbers, would reveal how important these qualities are for successful systems.

De Facto if not De Jure

The difference of opinion between the Secretary of State, a lawyer, and the Chief inspector, a former head teacher, over the inspection of academy chains that was played out in front of the Education Select Committee this morning is interesting. In this case I am on the side of the Secretary of State. The post on this blog of 27th March this year showed that Ofsted inspectors didn’t shy away from the issue when the use of Pupil Premium money was concerned. Indeed, Mr Gove’s answer to the PQ detailed in that blog surely offered support to current the Secretary of State’s view. My reading of the legislation on the functions of the HMCI is that he has the power to enter any location relevant to the powers of inspection and he can be directed by the Secretary of State under her own powers.

A long time ago in the early 1990s, when Ofsted be first formed, the issue arose as to whether HMIs had the power to inspect teacher training in pre-1992 universities that were bodies not under government’s direct control being corporations of one type or another in their own right. The universities lost that battle. Academy chains would lose the same battle in my judgement. If necessary it would only need a short clause inserted in a Bill currently before parliament to make the position absolutely clear. However, it would be a brave academy chain that might stand out against a Secretary of State knowing she believes she has the power to inspect either directly or through an inspection of all or some of the schools within the chain.

As this is the exercise of public money it also raises other interesting questions where functions ancillary to the direct provision of education are concerned. How far does the remit of Ofsted run in this increasingly devolved world of education?

Then there is the issue of diocese and academies. Can Ofsted look at the working of the diocesan office where it is partner in an academy trust in the way that it might not have done in the days when church schools were in the voluntary category? If so, it might wish to start by considering the efficiency of leadership appointments in the schools under the control of the Roman Catholic Church and whether there was any room for improvement in some dioceses through learning from the best practice elsewhere in the country.

No doubt the next issue will be who will inspect the work of the regional school commissioners?

Will they, like the local authorities before them, want their own advisory services to complement the work of Ofsted or will they rely upon a mixture of data provided by schools and inspections by Ofsted for the intelligence about the performance of the schools that are their responsibility. Either way, it seems likely that yet another bureaucracy will be established.

In that respect this government is following the path of its predecessors: cut the number of civil servants when entering office and then find reasons for appointing new ones to support the policies it develops.

Was Professor Halsey right after all?

Educational Priority Areas grew out of the desire in the 1960s to improve the quality of education for those children living in the most deprived parts of the country. Now over half a century later we find the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission that is chaired by a Labour politician and includes a former Tory Secretary of State for Education among its members recommending paying teachers 25% more to work in the most deprived schools as an experiment in improving outcomes for disadvantaged children. Well that sounds very like the Schools of Exceptional difficulty payments introduced under Margaret Thatcher’s regime when she was Edward Heath’s Education Secretary. This idea along with the instruction to Teach First to extend to certain coastal fringe areas this seems like another step in the move away from a free-market economics of education solution to a more planned and directed outcome to a problem that has be-devilled this country; the gaps in attainment between different social classes.

The Commission’s idea that the Pay Review Body might designate a new pay category that was non-geographical and thus unlike the present arrangements is really a challenge to the free market and comes remarkably swiftly after the abolition of national pay scales by the previous Secretary of State. The Commission noted that few academies had made use of the powers over pay that had been available to them in the past and this seems to have been one of the reasons for them advocating a more interventionist approach. Elsewhere, the Commission seem to have a somewhat fanciful notion of what local authorities can now achieve. It is all very well using the example of the London Challenge, but that was developed in a timeframe before the wholesale introduction of academies and free schools decimated local authority education departments. Realistically, the Commission needs to pay more attention to how far the complexity of running today’s school system may be adding to the very issue that they are trying to solve. As regular reads know, I would prefer local democratic involvement, especially in the primary school sector, but even more I would prefer a coherent management and leadership regime for the whole system that is dedicated to raising standards for all.

The Commission also discuss parental involvement and the poor quality of career advice that is often linked to low expectations. More must be done to encourage parents that the education system failed not to let the same thing happen with the next generation. Breaking the cycle of hopelessness is a vital component to raising standards as the Commission acknowledges. How to disseminate best practice rather than ritual nods to devolving training to schools and Teach First might have allowed for discussion about the content of both initial training and professional development of teachers.

Where I do agree with the Commission is in the vital role played by primary schools and the need to focus more attention on success in the early years. Regular attendance and strategies to help pupils that miss school are important moves in helping all pupils achieve success as last week’s publication of the EYFS profiles showed.

For anyone interested in the issue of social mobility this is an important but at times challenging and even depressing Report to read. It can be found at





Good news for English

On Tuesday the National College published the allocation for teacher preparation courses starting in 2015 ahead of the opening of the recruitment round through UCAS next month. The good news is that after several years of concern that the allocation for English was below what might be expected the allocation for 2015 entry has increased by around 600 to 2,348 while the underlying estimate of need has increased by almost 1,000 to 2,253. This increase is as a result of changes to the Teacher Supply model highlighted in the previous post on this blog.

Overall, the allocations show a continued drift towards school-led provision although the direction of travel in the secondary sector wasn’t as great as it might have been because of an increase of more than 4,000 in the total of places allocated.  The Salaried Route on School Direct hasn’t seen a large expansion, with 4,589 of the 4,712 bids being accepted. The growth has mainly been in the tuition fee route where 8,437 secondary and 4,623 primary places have been allocated. SCITTs account for 3,663 places, and HEIs of all descriptions 22,244 or almost half of the 43,516 places allocated.

Schools have more places than HE in Art, Chemistry, computing, design & technology, drama, English, geography, history, mathematics, music when SCITT numbers are included, PE and Physics. HE has more places than schools in Biology, business studies, classics, other subjects and Religious Education. The last is despite the large number of faith-based secondary schools.

Of course, everyone has to recruit to these places and the concern must be with so many more places to fill some parts of the country will fill places all their places whereas others won’t. In those circumstances the mobility of future trainees will be of vital importance. Through the TeachVac system I am pioneering a means of collecting that information starting with the current secondary trainees. More information can be found at  and current trainees can already register job preferences for where they will be looking for jobs when recruitment starts in the New Year. More details in a future post, including our first view of the current job market using our new recording system.

Along with allocations to schools and higher education, the NCTL have also published figures for Teach First allocations for the 2015 to 2016 academic year. They have been allocated 2,000 places; three-quarter in the secondary sector with numbers ranging from 430 in English and 308 places in mathematics down to 15 in design and technology.

Primary allocations nationally total 20,072 for 2015, slightly less than the 21,870 that were the total allocations last year. With half the primary allocations in HE going to undergraduate places there will be around 14,000 trainees on one-year courses in schools and HE plus the 2012 entrants to undergraduate courses that will have amount to around another 6,000 trainees making around 20,000 new primary teachers in 2016.

The next key data will be the ITT census in November when we will know the full extent of recruitment for this year. By then we will have started to analyse the state of the job market and can begin to make forecasts for recruitment into schools in 2015.

Three cheers for Open Government

Yesterday the DfE published the most detailed explanation of the Teacher Supply Model (TSM) that underpins decisions about how many new entrants to the teaching profession are needed each year. The new document is the most detailed any government has released to the general public in almost a quarter of a century. Unlike previous publications, this new one is interactive and allows interested parties to interrogate the assumptions used within the Model. It also provides forward assumptions into the 2020s for teacher supply needs. Anyone interested can find the manual and accompanying spreadsheets at

The publication came about as a result of an exchange between David Laws, the Minister of State, and the Education Select Committee during one of their hearings into the issue of teacher supply and training. The Minister agreed to make the Model public and has now made good on his promise. The document is not an easy read, but the general principles are relatively easy to grasp for anyone interested in how the DfE works out the number of teachers required to enter teacher preparation programmes each year. I am sure that there will now be an informed debate on the subject

I am delighted that the current version of the TSM has reverted to calculating separate numbers for all the main curriculum subjects in secondary schools rather than just the EBacc curriculum areas with other lumped together in a composite pool.

The new Model has been used to calculate the ITT allocations for 2015 that were also announced yesterday. (More about them in another post) The good news is that the allocation for English has increased substantially. I had been puzzled, as I think had been others, about why the previous allocation figure was so far adrift of that for mathematics when both took up approximately the same amount of curriculum time in schools. That issue has been rectified for 2015 and will no doubt be welcomed by head teachers that have struggled to recruit teachers of English.

Although the data are somewhat daunting at first glance they do help those that take the time to work through them understand the potential implications of the growth in the school population over the next decade. Teaching is probably going to be a recession-proof occupation for at least the next 20 years in most parts of the country. However, that does mean that the Model shows the continuing need to recruit large numbers of new entrants to the profession. What the Model doesn’t do is identify what happens if recruitment to training falls short of target for a number of years. One solution would be to add in the shortfall to future targets, but that can inflate targets to unsustainable numbers. Such a process also doesn’t take into account of the fact that schools must cover lessons and do so be using various recruitment methods, including in the past hiring teachers from overseas.

In previous versions of the Model changes from year to year were subject to a smoothing process. That prevented too large a change from one year to the next for the benefit of providers of teacher training. That seems to have been removed. The solution still seems to be to over-allocate numbers, so that the risk at the end of the course still lies completely with the trainee that has to find a teaching post. Solving that concern is not something the TSM can do.