What do we mean by equality of opportunity?

There is a lot of vacuous talk about the advantages of grammar schools, but I have yet to hear any advantages put forward for the non-grammar schools other children would attend. The general line is that they aren’t the same as secondary moderns of the 1950s.

For those that see Education Journal, there is an excellent deconstruction of Mrs May’s speech in the latest edition. It shows how she laced non-controversial points all could support with rhetoric about what she feels grammar schools do well. For an even more devastating demolition of her policy by a leading Conservative education thinker and former adviser to Mr Gove one could do better than read Sam Freeman’s piece at http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2016/09/sam-freeman-selective-schools-destroy-choice-and-competition-why-conservatives-should-oppose-mays-plans.html it is worth noting where it first appeared.

On Tuesday, several Conservative councillors in Oxfordshire voted with the opposition parties on the county to support a motion opposed to the return of grammar schools. It will be interesting to hear whether that happens elsewhere in the country and, indeed, whether education will play a large part in the Witney by-election?

I think much of Mrs May’s approach to grammar schools is founded on a notion of equality that differs from that now accepted by many others. This was clear during the exchanges at PMQs in the House of Commons yesterday. Mrs May appears to believe we should use state resources to strive to allow everyone to achieve their best. Actually, this normally means allowing a few to achieve their best and many others to under-achieve unless you get the funding and organisation right. That’s certainly the history of selective systems.

Elsewhere the notion of equality has tended towards one where the State recognises the right of everyone to reach at least a minimum standard and that some pupils require more resources than others to achieve this goal; hence the Pupil Premium that Mrs May’s seems to support, although not perhaps as enthusiastically as her predecessor.

Many years ago Baroness Warnock discussed these different notions of education equality in a seminal article in the first edition of the Oxford Review of Education. How you allocate resources to an education system is as important as the structure of the system. A National Funding Formula probably won’t work with a grammar school system because these schools often have higher cost structures than comprehensive schools for a variety of reasons. If the grammar school policy is not quietly shelved at the end of the consultation period then I fear for under-funded schools in Oxfordshire. They are never likely to see the extra funds that they deserve.

Finally, on grammar schools, the issue of selection by house prices. I was sent the following by Chris Waterman that well known commentator on the education scene.

One of the hackneyed arguments being put forward in favour of the expansion of grammar schools is that selection by ability is fairer than selection by house price. On face value alone it’s a silly argument – it’s replacing one form of social selection with another form of social selection, and institutionalising it.

 However, it’s interesting to look at which schools command the biggest house price premium. The most recent report was published last week by Lloyds Bank. It looked at the house price premium for the top 30 state schools in England. And of course because the top 30 schools are mostly grammar schools, the schools attracting the highest house price premiums are all grammar schools. Three of the top five are Bucks grammars with Sir William Borlase among them.

 http://www.lloydsbankinggroup.com/globalassets/documents/media/press-releases/lloyds-bank/2016/160905-house-prices-and-schools-final.pdf

 In other words, it is grammar schools that create the worst problems around house price inflation – contributing to social exclusivity in our communities. So, surely far from addressing the problem of selection by house price, more grammar schools will extend and entrench the problem?

For me, the aim is to create every school as a good school as the London Challenge strived to do, but that is not possible if we don’t recruit sufficient teachers. Perhaps the real impetus behind the move to more grammar schools isn’t to select pupils, but to select teachers.

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The economic cost of grammar schools

Much of the Tory argument in favour or a return to a selective school system, with both grammar schools and secondary modern schools – whatever name you give them –  has centred on the  possible social mobility benefits of allowing children good at academic subjects to be socially segregated from their peers at age eleven. Those parents with the money have always been able to achieve this result by opting for private schools.

Now, I cannot oppose private schools, because how you spend your cash is up to you. How the government taxes it is up to the government. But, I do wonder what will be the fate of private day schools under a revamped selective system? Unless the Tories can come up with a regime that allows children from dis-advantaged backgrounds to be selected for grammar schools places the selective schools will become havens for parents that can afford to pay for testing to pass the entrance exams, as happens at present. Using the test of Free School Meals, existing grammar school almost universally do not admit children on free school meals, even allowing for the fact that many selective schools are in areas of relatively low unemployment.

So what happens if parents decide to switch from paying for secondary education to taking advantage of free schooling in grammar schools provided by the state? Well, someone has to pay for the cost of these extra pupils. Might the cost be as much as a billion pounds extra on the education budget once the legislation permitting grammar schools is enacted? After all, I am sure parents will see the economic benefits of not having to pay out school fees and will be pushing for such schools everywhere. It would surely be difficult for the government to win a court case that schooling was still a local service when so many decisions are taken nationally, including who has the right to open a new school and thus to try to deny a demand from a group of parents for a selective school whatever the local community as a whole wants.

Transferring the cost of educating a group of secondary pupils from the private sector to the state might be balanced by an increase in private primary schools just concerned with coaching pupils for entry to grammar schools. I have already alluded to the possible effects on recruitment to teaching in the secondary sector of re-creating a selective system, but it might also affect recruitment to primary school teaching.

There are poor schools in the present system, but the answer is to strive to improve them, as has happened in parts of London and not to turn back the clock to a system that clearly doesn’t work for the benefit of all children.

Perhaps Mrs May sees grammar schools in the same light that Mrs Thatcher saw the sale of council houses, a vote winner for the Tories and hang the consequences for society as a whole. If so, she should test the support through a general election sooner rather than later.

Grammar Schools -percentage of pupils on Free School Meals in rank order from highest % to lowest (from Edubase January 2016)

FSM %
12.4
9.6
8.5
7
6.8
6.3
6
5.8
5.4
5.4
5.4
5.2
5.2
5
5
4.9
4.8
4.5
4.5
4.4
4.3
4.3
4.3
4.3
4.3
4.2
4.2
4.2
4.1
4.1
4
4
4
3.8
3.7
3.7
3.7
3.7
3.6
3.5
3.5
3.5
3.4
3.4
3.2
3.2
3.1
3.1
3
3
2.9
2.9
2.9
2.9
2.9
2.9
2.9
2.9
2.9
2.9
2.8
2.8
2.8
2.8
2.6
2.6
2.6
2.6
2.6
2.5
2.5
2.4
2.4
2.4
2.3
2.3
2.3
2.3
2.3
2.3
2.2
2.2
2.2
2.2
2.1
2.1
2.1
2.1
2.1
2.1
2.1
2.1
2.1
2.1
2.1
2
2
2
2
2
2
1.9
1.9
1.9
1.9
1.9
1.9
1.8
1.8
1.8
1.8
1.8
1.8
1.8
1.7
1.7
1.7
1.7
1.7
1.7
1.6
1.6
1.5
1.5
1.5
1.5
1.4
1.4
1.4
1.4
1.4
1.4
1.4
1.4
1.3
1.3
1.3
1.2
1.2
1.2
1.1
1.1
1.1
1
1
1
0.8
0.8
0.8
0.8
0.8
0.8
0.8
0.8
0.7
0.6
0.6
0.5
0.5
0.3
0.3
0.2
0

 

The responsibility of government

In a previous post on this blog, I argued that what matters in education is the contract between parents and the State for those families that take up the offer of free schooling. This makes the present debate about selective education very important. I have yet to hear either a Minister or indeed any Tory MP talk about anything other than grammar schools. What is the likely effect of creating more grammar schools for the system as a whole?

Here are some questions to ask supporters of more grammar schools

Which other school systems across the world select at age 11 and are any in the top 10 PISA rankings?

What percentage of pupils should go to grammar schools in any area and is this fixed by pupil numbers or pupil places? This matters in a period of rapidly rising pupil numbers such as we will see over the next decade.

There are a higher proportion of single sex schools amongst grammar schools than secondary schools as a whole. This may be because otherwise girls might take a large proportion of the places available. How would you address this issue?

Until recently, grammar schools received more funding than secondary moderns in many authorities. Age weighted pupil funding and Pupil Premium altered that. Will new grammar schools be funded in the same way as existing schools?

What appends to schools that currently select by aptitude?

Who pays the transport costs in rural areas for pupils going to grammar schools?

With the county council elections along with some other urban areas in 2017 should parental appetite for grammar schools be tested at the ballot box?

Where do UTCs and Studio Schools fit into the new scheme of schools? Isn’t it better to provide specialisms from 14 onwards rather than at age 11?

What responsibility does the government have to all pupils it educates?

How does the government intend to ensure disadvantaged pupils, late developers and pupils with SEN will be able to gain a place at the new selective schools?

Who will bear the cost of setting up any new system?

What will be the effect on teacher supply if some teachers are excluded from teaching a section of the school population?

Why wait until 11 to select, why not do so at the primary school level based on potential?

It goes without saying that this muddled approach to our school system serves nobody very well. What is must not do is put off potential teachers wondering whether to sign-up for a teacher preparation courses starting next year. Indications are that my post of 25th August worrying about 2016 recruitment may have been close to the mark in some subjects and I don’t want 2017 to be even worse.

The government must declare how far we have a national system and how far local areas can still decide their own style of education. Our economy in the 21st century needs an education system fit for purpose note one just for vote winning.

 

 

 

A National Teaching Service?

How much of the White Paper issued in March is now history? Does a change in government mean a change in policy across the board? Two of the proposals contained in the White Paper were for a National Teaching Service and for the creation of free national vacancy website. Where are we  now with both of these suggestions?

I will confess an interest in that I helped establish TeachVac (www.teachvac.co.uk) as a free national job matching service partly because such a service was missing and because schools were spending ever larger sums on recruitment, in some cases to the detriment of spending on teaching and learning. We are already doing what the White Paper suggested alongside the plethora of different regional and local websites maintained by both local authorities and their commercial brethren. In some cases these sites handle teaching and non-teaching posts together, in others they separate them out and they may or may not include local academies and the various range of free schools.

Teachvac has the added advantage over local authority sites of bringing together both state-funded and private school teaching vacancies in one place. This fact allows a view of the overall demand for teachers. Our analysis suggests that the DfE are better at modelling, through the use of the Teacher Supply Model, the demand in subjects such as mathematics and English than they are in some of the less common subjects such as business studies and in subjects with complex demands for different specialisms, such as in design and technology. However although sometimes the modelling may be accurate, but the lack of recruitment into training then affects the supply that doesn’t meet the modelled need.

A national site like TeachVac allows this kind of discussion in a manner not possible before, when the DfE largely had to rely upon the results from the annual School Workforce Census. While useful in some respects, the census lacks the dynamic up to the minute real-time information of a site such as TeachVac. However, it also allows governments to quite truthfully state an opinion at variance with current outcomes in the labour market. I don’t think that is a good enough reason not to consider the advantages of a national site, especially when one already exists and costs nothing to use.

The other initiative mentioned in the White Paper was the National Teaching Service. This is an attempt to help recruit teachers and middle leaders into underperforming schools that may otherwise struggle to recruit able teachers. The recruits from the first round of the pilot programme should have started work in schools this September. However, the expected tender for the further roll-out of a national programme has not, to my knowledge, yet appeared. The development of this type of service is a complex matter and not one to be rushed, especially as schools are now in many cases free to determine individual terms and conditions of service.

With the postponement of the consultation on the National Funding Formula, it is difficult to see the service making great headway until policy is clearer. The same is true for any similar service to place head teachers in challenging schools. Matching supply and demand by intervening in an open market is possible, but not easy. Some readers will remember the Labour government’s attempt with the Fast Track Scheme that briefly flourished around the time of the millennium.

It will be interesting to see how the DfE, having had the summer to think about these issues, takes them forward this autumn. At TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk the staff are happy to talk to officials about our experience.

Back to school

There was a paragraph buried in the Statistical Bulletin published last week about the new key Stage 2 assessments that set me thinking. Although school level data won’t be available until the end of the year, and the current outcomes cannot be easily related to previous years, the DfE statisticians were able to say:

We have conducted provisional analysis of school level data (which is not ready to be published and remains subject to change) to examine the correlation between the ranked position of all schools on the percentage achieving level 4b or above in 2014 and 2015 and the percentage reaching the expected standard in 2016 (as for the LA comparisons comparing 2014 final data with 2015 provisional data and 2015 final data with 2016 provisional data). This gave correlation coefficients of 0.56 for 2015 and 2016 data and 0.58 for 2014 and 2015 data. This suggests that we are not seeing greater variability in the data at school level. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/549432/SFR39_2016_text.pdf

So, do not expect that schools with poor outcomes have suddenly improved, or that those with previously good results have achieved less well in all cases, even though some schools may have improved or deteriorated on an individual basis.

This raises a number of issues for the new government. After all, during the past quarter of a century much of the focus in education has been about improving standards through changing the organisational structure of schools; sweating the assets – mostly teachers – harder and measuring everything in sight, sometimes it seems as often as possible.

Within the structural muddle we currently have within our school system, especially in the primary sector, with a pedagogic revolution from class teaching to the concerns for the outcomes of every child, and too often a blame game by politicians of staff in schools lacking the tools to do the job properly, some good has emerged. We must not now throw that away.

The acceptance of the importance of the early years of a child’s development; the recognition of the importance of early literacy, numeracy and socialisation and at the other end of the system the opening up of higher education to the many and not just treating higher education as a state-funded privilege for the few. This last point is important because, as I argued in a previous post, the knowledge economy needs more educated individuals that an economy based upon brute force and simple tools. However, it rests upon the foundations of a successful start to the education process.

So, here are some areas of concern that I think need resolving though research and development in order to help schools more forward. My shopping list includes:

Identifying common factors associated with children that fall behind at the early stages of literacy and numeracy and creating solutions that work to overcome common issues whether they are above average absence rates; moving schools mid-year when learning patterns for the many are set; the digital divide between home and school; staff development and training for a teaching force a large number of whom are in the early stages of their career; leadership preparation and enthusiasm across all sectors and for all types of school or the often turbulent life of a child in care or on the edge of family breakdown.

So, let’s stop playing the blame game and focus on starting the new school year in a sense of hope for a future geared to improving education for all.

 

TeachSted launched by TeachVac

A new service for school facing an Ofsted inspection has been launched by TeachVac. Entitled TeachSted. www.teachsted.com  offers schools, although at present only secondary schools, the opportunity to receive a report about vacancies in the school’s locality or across the local authority they are located within for key curriculum subjects when they are faced with an Ofsted inspection. The report will help schools show they are aware of any recruitment issues locally and provide the evidence about recruitment in the local area when faced with questions about recruitment during an inspection.

Schools can pre-register for the service for a small fee. This means when a report is requested it can be sent to the school within an hour of the request being received.  There is a fee for the generation of the report. Any further reports are issued at a lower cost to the school. Schools not pre-registering may have to wait a little longer for their report to be created.

A sample report is shown below and the report issued to a school is up to date for the current year to the end of the previous working day.

Sample School

Local Authority: Somewhere – could also be for a specified distance around a school rather than a local authority

Below are the number of adverts found by TeachSted in the local authority stated above.

Subject Jan to Aug 2016 Jan to Aug 2015 Calendar Year 2015
Art 3 3 3
Business Studies 2 3 3
Design & Technology 1 6 8
English 5 10 12
Geography 6 5 7
History 4 1 3
IT 1 1 1
Languages 9 12 14
Mathematics 10 15 18
PE 3 1 1
Science 6 14 15

For more details visit www.teachsted.com to find out more details and to register for the service.

Those schools registering will receive registration until 31st December 2017 and access to the one hour report service.

Schools using TeachSted will also receive free use of TeachVac including the monthly newsletter.

Multi-Academy Trusts wanting to register all schools should contact:  enquiries@oxteachserv.com