Funding: the good years and the bad

The well-respected Institute for Fiscal Studies has today published a longitudinal study into the changing levels of education finance.

However, although factually accurate, as local authorities do still ratify the funding formula, the following statement early on in the report might be regarded as potentially mis-leading:

At the moment, it is local authorities that are responsible for determining the level of funding for state-funded schools. Each local authority receives a grant from central government, which it then distributes to schools in its area using its own funding formula.

After all, it is the Schools Forum, assisted by officers that decides on the local formula. Politicians, those that comprise the local authority, realistically now have no say in the matter, unless they are governors and elected through that route to the Schools Forum.

However, what the IFS have reminded us, at least in respect of schools, is that the 1990s were a period of funding constraint that lasted until the Blair/Brown leadership team took the brakes off education funding after their first few years of government when they were endorsing the Tory spending plans they had inherited in 1997: subsequently there was a period of increased funding as the new century unfolded. This allowed the creation of PPA time in primary schools and the growth in support staff numbers as well as generous spending on IT and improvements in pupil teacher ratios.

As this period coincided with the demographic downturn in pupil numbers, schools were relatively well funded, although the long period of decline in 16-19 funding commenced. The coalition supported school funding after 2010, but everyone now agrees that the next few years are likely to see reductions in real terms in school funding that will only be partially masked by increases in pupil numbers and any new national formula.

Even with tight floors and ceiling, there will be winners and losers with the new formula. This is partly because the gaps between the decisions on funding go way back into education history and are frequently associated with the municipal attitude to education and the size of the local tax base. When business rates were collected and spent locally, areas with good levels of industry and commerce often had well-funded education systems. As manufacturing and other industries declined, so did local funding and eventually business rates were nationalised. Successive governments missed opportunities to reform the basis of school funding preferring just to transfer the budgets to schools and away from local authorities and their politicians.

So, what happens now? If there is to be a period of austerity associated with cuts to funding to schools it is imperative that the cash is used wisely. But one person’s saving can easily translate into another’s burden. Close rural primary schools and someone has to pay for the transport of the pupils to another school. The same is true if small sixth forms are axed as no longer affordable. In the commercial world it is clear who takes decisions over cutting branches of banks or supermarkets that don’t pay. Who now decides on where schools are located: parents through the admissions system; the EFA as the national funding agency; MAT; Regional School Commissioners, but not presumably local authorities?

Many of the issues fudged when funding was adequate cannot be ignored when cash is being squeezed out of the system.



Working harder, working smarter and generally longer

The DfE has just published its latest workload survey for teachers in primary and secondary schools. Not sure what happened to the special school sector. The survey was undertaken during the spring term of 2016 in order to make it as comparable as possible to the 2013 TALIS Survey produced by the OECD.

In the 1990s and 2000s, there were a series of dairy studies of workload conducted by the STRB. This report suggests that diary studies had relatively poor response rates because they were time consuming to complete. However, only 3,186 school teachers and leaders completed this easier 2016 survey: a response rate of 34%. In the 2000 diary survey, the response rate was 78% for schools and at 3,394 some 87% of teachers. Although the later series of dairy surveys may have produced lower responses, those in the 1990s seem more robust. Of course, both dairy surveys and other surveys not actually conducted as an activity is taking place, do rely to an extent on perception of time spent on an activity.

The 2016 survey report concluded:

.. some increase in workload has been seen between 2013 and 2016. As per prior workload studies, primary classroom teachers and middle leaders self-reported higher total working hours in the reference week (a mean of 55.5 hours) than teachers in secondary schools (53.5 hours). Primary teachers were also more likely to report total working hours in the reference period of more than 60 hours. As a result, teachers in the primary phase faced more workload pressures.

It is interesting to compare the latest data with those of the 1990 diary studies

PRIMARY 1994 1996 2000 2016
HEAD 55.4 55.7 58.9
DEPUTY 52.4 54.5 56.2
CLASSROOM 48.8 50.8 52.8 55.2
HEAD 61.1 61.7 60.8
DEPUTY 56.9 56.5 58.6
HEAD DEPT 50.7 53 52.9 55.6
CLASSROOM 48.9 50.3 51.3 52.6
CLASSROOM 47.5 50 51.2

Compared with the 1990s, teaching does seem to be a more onerous occupation, with longer hours spent on work during the reference period. That raises the question as to whether this extra workload is spread across the year of just contained in the spring term. I am sure secondary teachers would insist that greater demands are placed upon them throughout the year now they are fully responsible for the learning of every child and not just every class. They also face demands to be present when exam result at A level and GCSE are released during the summer holidays: probably not a task undertaken by as many teachers twenty years ago.

Primary teachers may have initially benefited from the introduction of PPA time and the designation of certain tasks as ‘not for teachers’ during the discussions over workload in the mid-200s, but whether because of greater assessment pressures, or just larger classes, their working hours seem to have increased by the time of the 2016 survey.

Interestingly, when comparing the 2000 and 2016 studies, primary classroom teachers now spend more time teaching than in 2000. This is despite the introduction of PPA time and accounts for most of the difference in working hours as non-teaching activities have only increased from 32.3 hours to 33.2 hours during the reference weeks; probably within the margin of error.

For secondary teachers the greater increase is in non-teaching hours. This is not surprising, as the pupil-teacher ratio overall in the secondary sector is still generally more favourable than in the late 1990s. The planning, preparation and assessment are probably the areas where more is now demanded of secondary teachers and these tasks cannot be achieved in teaching time.

On the face of these results, teachers are working harder than twenty years ago. If this is generally the case throughout the year, and these doesn’t seem to be anything to make the reference weeks look atypical, then the government will have to consider whether the curious form of employer-drive flexi-time teachers work is now making the job unattractive with regard to both recruiting and, even more importantly, retaining teachers at the classroom level. This is especially true in a period when overall remuneration levels in teaching are probably no longer keeping pace with comparable private sector graduate jobs in all except the least well paid sectors.

Finally, the study should give pay to the canard about long holidays. Indeed, it would be interesting to do a diary study for a so-called holiday period to see on how many days a committed teaching professional actually managed to ignore the demands of the job.

With pressure on funding at the national level, and increasing pupil numbers, this report on workload is not good news for the government. It is also one what they cannot ignore.



Who builds our schools?

The National Audit office report on Capital Funding for Schools, published earlier today, echoes many of the comments already made in previous posts on this blog.

Although the NAO report covers all aspects of school building, the key section that interests me is the relationship between school place planning and the emerging school system. The executive summary contains two key paragraphs reproduced below – with my highlighting of key points – that make most of the issues clear in simple language.

14 Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide enough school places in their areas but they do not control the number of places in academies or free schools. This means that responsibilities and accountabilities for providing school places are not fully aligned. To fulfil their responsibility local authorities work with individual schools to expand existing provision. However, their plans to create new places are affected by, and in some cases dependent on, free schools and academies. Local authorities cannot compel academies to expand or contract. Many local authorities have good relationships with academies. However, where academies do not want to expand or relationships are weaker, local authorities’ options for creating new places are constrained. In the case of free schools, while local authorities can initiate the process, they are dependent on the availability of an appropriate applicant and the Department’s approval. In addition, in the 30% of cases where the opening of a free school has been delayed, local authorities may have had to make alternative arrangements to provide the necessary places. The Department is working increasingly closely with local authorities when opening free schools (paragraphs 1.11, 1.28 and 1.29).

15 In seeking to increase choice, introduce innovation and raise standards free schools often meet a demographic need for new school places, but they are also creating spare capacity, which may have implications for schools’ financial sustainability. By September 2016 the Department had opened 429 new free schools, and plans to open 883 in total by September 2020. The Free Schools Programme aims to give parents more choice and increase competition between schools, and thereby improve the quality of education. Free schools also have a role in meeting local need for new school places. There can be an inherent tension in the extent to which they can meet these aims cost-effectively. The Department estimates that some of the places in 83% of the mainstream free schools approved since September 2013 address a need for more school places. It also estimates that 57,500 of 113,500 new places in mainstream free schools opening between 2015 and 2021 will create spare capacity in some free schools’ immediate area. Spare capacity can affect pupil numbers, and therefore funding, in neighbouring schools. The Department’s data indicate that spare places in 52 free schools opening in 2015 could have a moderate or high impact on the funding of any of 282 neighbouring schools. The financial sustainability of free schools themselves may also be affected if a significant number of their places are not filled. The Department assesses financial viability as part of the process of approving free school applications. It has also sought to assess whether creating free schools is having the intended effect of improving educational standards through competition but the sample size is currently too small to draw meaningful conclusions.

The government does need to show who is responsible in the end: where does the buck stop?

Yesterday, before the publication of this report I addressed Oxfordshire’s Cabinet on the issue of a new free school – The Swan School – the Education Funding Agency has found a site that is not in everyone’s view sited in the best location. My concern is if the school opening is delayed beyond when the places are needed, who bears the costs, especially if there are recurring transport costs should some academies not offer to help with additional places? Hopefully, it won’t come to that and council tax payers won’t have any extra cost to bear.

At least in the case of the Swan School the EFA won’t have overpaid as the site selected is owned by the county council. The NAO did find the government had to pay premium prices for some land. The NAO were also critical of the cost of the former ‘building schools for the future’ scheme and although its replacement has been less costly, it too appears to have exceeded its budget.

School building is a challenging area and we can ill-afford to lose the expertise from local authorities.  No doubt, once gone, the government will have to recreate the knowledge and skills to help us both build sufficient schools and effectively maintain those we already have.

Both Mrs Thatcher and Ted Short, her Labour predecessor, wanted to replace all pre-1906 schools. That ambition has still to be achieved nearly half a century later. Whether we should do so is a matter for debate, even if we could afford to do so.


Have you tried TeachVac yet?

Recently, a head teacher told me he wasn’t using TeachVac because there must be a catch. I don’t see how you can offer a free service without there being a catch, the head told me. Clearly, this head wasn’t a user of twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or one of the other disruptive new technologies that are free to use. I wonder if this head grumbles about the cost of recruiting staff, but doesn’t do anything about it.

Now let me be absolutely clear, and please do pass this on to others, TeachVac was established to do two things. Firstly, to offer a free recruitment service to schools, teachers, trainees and returners and, secondly, to use the information to collect better data on the working of the labour market for teachers about which in recent years, since the decline of the local government employers surveys, we have known relatively little.

I suppose it is the cynicism of the current age that many in education don’t believe a group of individuals would have set up TeachVac in the way it was just for altruistic reasons. But they did.

Does TeachVac pass on details of those that register to anyone: no it don’t. Does TeachVac bombard users with adverts every time they log on or receive a match; no it doesn’t. Is TeachVac a front for a larger organisation trying to corner the recruitment market that will then charge monopoly prices once it has removed the competition: no it isn’t.

My motivation in gathering a group of like-minded individuals around me to establish TeachVac was based upon putting back something into the education world in the only area where I had some expertise. A decade ago, the government tried to help the recruitment of teachers through the School Recruitment Service: it failed. Why it failed makes for an interesting story and tells us much about the nature of schooling in this country. Happily, most of those that lead our schools are more interested in teaching and learning and the pupils in their charge than worrying about the systems that support them. Unhappily, without a supportive middle tier this can lead to heads relying on those that don’t seem to have an understanding about driving down costs.

Now, it may well have been legitimate to say when we started nearly three years ago; we will wait and see if TeachVac succeeds. After all, nobody wants to sign up for a one-day wonder. But, Teachvac has now into its third recruitment round and hasn’t missed a day of providing matches when there have been new vacancies to match. You cannot do better than that for service.

With the demise of the National Teaching Service, before it even ventured beyond the pilot stage, and the Select Committee today endorsing the need for a national vacancy web site as a way forward, as I mentioned in my previous post, TeachVac is there for the sector to take-over. In another post, I will explain what is stopping that happening.


TeachVac can offer a solution for free

The House of Commons Select Committee has now produced their report into teacher recruitment and retention.

After reports by both the National Audit Office and the Migration Advisory Committee in the past twelve months, the Education Select Committee has wisely opted for a tightly focused report. After all, the evidence is well known to everyone interested in the subject.

However, it is interesting that the Committee has opted for the use of the word ‘challenge’ rather than the more emotive term, ‘crisis’. In their choice of language, the Committee might have offered an analysis of when a challenge might become a crisis? Why does missing the supply target five years in a row not constitute a crisis? Is the problem across the county nowhere a regional crisis: not even in Suffolk and parts of Essex? After all, the Committee took evidence for the head of a Southend Grammar School.

Nevertheless, one must not be too critical, the Committee has put the issue back on the agenda and tasked the government to come up with a plan to tackle the shortages. I am sure that the government will rightly point to their proposals to increase skill levels of those teaching the subjects. I think that is an excellent proposal, but it doesn’t do anything to address the suppressed shortages where subjects have been taken off the timetable or had reduce the amount of teaching time because of a lack of qualified teachers. I was also glad to see a reference to primary specialist teachers: a sector where little is really known about the skills base.

As you might expect, I am happy to discuss with officials both the working of the Teacher Supply Model and the operation of a free national vacancy service. I would hand over TeachVac to the government tomorrow if they agreed to pay its operating costs.

Over the past two years, TeachVac has shown how we can both provide high quality data not currently available to government and cut recruitment costs to schools across the whole of England. The evidence is in the TeachVac submissions to the Select Committee for anyone to judge. (links 46 and 47) Perhaps the DfE could broker TeachVac as a part of the College of Teaching offering to the profession?

The section on continuing professional development is also to be welcomed. With a relatively young profession there is a need for much more investment than has been the case in recent years. However, the Committee didn’t really discuss the issue between CPD for the needs of the profession and CPD for the needs of an individual’s career. The development of teachers for pupils with special needs can highlight both aspects of this issue. Why would a school invest in developing the skills of a teacher that will then move elsewhere and how does the profession suffer if they don’t?

The government will now, hopefully, provide a formal response to the Committee and Ministers will certainly be asked about their views when they next meet the Committee. Will the DfE produce a long-term plan by the summer? We must wait and see.


The place of people and technology in learning

Last August I wrote a post called ‘Back to the future’ where I discussed a story then doing the rounds about a possible apprenticeship route into teaching. (blog post 22nd August 2016) In the post I discussed Physics as a subject where recruitment challenges might require a new look at how we recruit and train teachers. If you need a higher point score to study for a physics degree than say for a degree in another subject that then allows for entry into a teacher preparation programme, are we artificially curtailing the possible supply of new physics teachers?

This week the think tank Reform has published a study about the future shape of employment in the public sector up to say 2030. Following on from the publication, the Head of Education at Reform tweeted on a twitter account I used last year during the Police & Crime Commissioner elections asking what the institute of Physics (IoP) response was to the apprenticeship route. Teachvac (the free recruitment site) was copied in on the tweet, so it eventually reached me.

The answer, Louis, is that I don’t know what the IoP thought, as they didn’t comment to me. As Louis then noted in a later tweet, there is a site for apprenticeships in schools, but such apprenticeships currently only cover support roles. The article in a recent Schools Week about the a speech by the Secretary of State suggests that any move to create non-graduate teachers won’t find much support. That doesn’t make the apprenticeship idea a non-starter, but calls for an innovative approach. The issue is partly about the minimum level of knowledge, both academic and practical, you need before you can work in a secondary school classroom and how this has changed over the past fifty years.

As the Reform report mentioned teaching and Teach First, there is more of a debate to be had about teaching. I expect Reform will come back to this issue. In one sense the debate is, as elsewhere in the public sector, and as Reform acknowledge, around the issue of teachers and technology. Reform’s thesis seems to be some work will be replaced by technology and jobs will change their skill levels so the number of workers can be reduced. Seen through the other end of the telescope, the views is of fewer, but more skilled workers each being more productive.  My example is the horde of market porters that have been replaced these days by the software engineers writing the code used in the automated warehouse: far fewer, but far more skilled and locatable anywhere in the world, as a recent BBC story about India showed.

With a largely highly skilled workforce in teaching, the issue at one level is, can the government afford to pay for such numbers of teachers as the 3-18 engagement with education demands? As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Liberal government’s requirement for universal state schooling available to all parents that didn’t provide any other form of education for their children there is a real need to debate both the shape and staffing of the schools during the next 50 years.

This was a point I made in my recent talk to the Merchant Taylor’s Company Education seminar (see blog post January 2017) Think tanks can provide a place to discuss new ideas and stimulate debate as can blogs. Is this a debate worth starting about the relative place of people and technology in the learning landscape?



Making money from schools

Why would anyone want to take the risk of running a ‘for profit’ school when there are so many easier way to make money out of state education? At one time, companies and foundations from the USA and Sweden were going to revolutionise schooling in England, while making a profit at the same time. Seems it didn’t happen quite that way. The academies that both the Erudition Schools Trust and the Learning Schools Trust opened have all been re-brokered away from the groups that originally founded them and now both of the groups are seemingly no more.

Another education experiment originally from the age of new Labour capitalism has bitten the dust. But, that doesn’t mean you cannot make money from schools. Books, furniture, resources, services such as accountancy, human relations, payroll and legal services, as well as construction and the maintenance of school buildings and facilities can all be offered at a profit. Then, as regular readers know, there is the recruitment industry that thrives on helping schools find staff.

Many years ago, in 1999 to be precise, the then Education Select Committee started an inquiry into ‘The role of private companies in the management and supply of state education services’. I don’t think it was ever completed.  I noted in my written submission that J S Mill had taken the view  in his essay  entitled On Liberty that the role of the state was to ensure the education of its citizens and not necessarily to operate the schools. The question was, and still is, how can The State achieve its end of educating its citizens without paying more of taxpayers’ money than is necessary?

The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee are there to see that where possible public funds are used judiciously. I would say wisely, but I am not sure that is always the case. Mill, was convinced that the State should not necessarily run the service of education. But are politicians and these days, educationalists, any better at obtaining value for money if the service is run by others: sometimes not.

In 1999, I pointed out that the CEO of an education company with a turnover of £48 million earned £122,000 whereas a Chief Education Officer, remember them, of an authority with an education budget of more than £150 million didn’t even earn a six figure salary.  Presumably, the difference was the price to be paid for risk. You can find the same differentials today between CEOs of MATs and chief officers in local authorities, but with, in my opinion, less justification.

Some of us do try to challenge the orthodoxy, by taking the disruptive approach allowed by new technology. TeachVac is one such attempt. Like Twitter, Facebook and many other on-line service sit is free to users and makes its money in other ways. In the case of TeachVac, analysing the growing amount of data and using it to provide additional paid services.

With growing concerns about school funding it is time to develop mechanisms for driving down private sector charges to schools. The government’s recent initiative in IT procurement is a good example of what can be achieved.