Reflections

There were two interesting stories this past week that in other circumstances might have gained more attention; the report into the future of work from PwC and the report to the DfE on behaviour in schools. However, along with the UCAS end of cycle report on ITT recruitment in 2015/16, the year of recruitment controls, they were overshadowed by the terrible events at Westminster.

The report on the future of work was good news for education and those that choose to educate future generations. However, I am not sure that I fully subscribe to the notion of a largely unchanged balance between people and capital in the form of technology in the learning process, but education, at least at the school level, will continue to be a people centred area of work. The understanding that further education has a key role to play post BREXIT is really good news but, after years of funding cuts, it will need to see a serious resource boost. No doubt the new Apprenticeship Ley will help, even as it sucks money out of schools in a merry-go-round of government money that does little for anyone, except the accountants.

The Bennett Report on behaviour says many sensible things, as I would expect from someone I once hired as a seminar presenter on the topic of managing behaviour. My own experience, many years ago, of teaching in a school where discipline needed firm management for learning to take place, is that creating order out of potential chaos is a prerequisite for any formal learning to take place. Informal learning takes place whatever the state of the environment, but it may not be what society wants and expects of its schools. I recall when Mike Tomlinson was sent into take control of a West Yorkshire school in the 1990s, he started by suspending a large number of pupils for a short time. Once control was regained, learning could restart effectively.

If we are moving away from the era of naked competition between schools, where it could be assumed at Westminster that schools with poor behaviour would be shunned by parents and eventually close, to a more realistic appraisal of the use of public assets, then investing in overcoming problems such a schools with challenging behaviour and lots of exclusions, as we now term suspensions, is a sensible way forward. How these funds are managed is still an interesting debate. How long before someone suggests funding local behaviour consultants? Could we start to see the re-birth of advisory and support services for local schools? Of course, MATs can provide these services, but many are too small and lack geographical coherence to tackle the issues in any one locality. Someone needs to coordinate the advice from good quality research with the training and development for teachers at all levels from classroom to the head’s study and the governor’s meeting.

This is a far more important issue that grammar schools. If the Prime Minister wanted to create a real and lasting legacy for herself in education, she would recognise the need to create a school system where all can learn together at all ages in an environment that meets the need of a post BREXIT world, where technology is changing the life chances of future generations.

 

More on the financing of education

One of the joys of moving house is unearthing long lost papers. One such that came to light during my recent house move was a paper on the finance of education I wrote way back in 1981. I think it was in preparation for a talk to students at the then Chelmer Institute of Higher Education where many teachers for schools in Essex and the surrounding area were still being trained at that time.

Anyway, the significance of the paper today is not its purpose, but rather in its contents. At that time, the Thatcher government was wrestling with an economic crisis that everyone thought was dire. It is true that one of its consequences was the collapse of large parts of the manufacturing sector, especially in areas such as the West Midlands, where, for instance, glass making in Stourbridge was replaced by new activities such as shopping centres and the car industry went into a long period of decline that seriously affected the western side of the West Midlands.

Education wasn’t protected during the economic turmoil of that period and there was the added complication that school rolls were generally in a period of decline. As a result, school budgets came under severe pressure. Just as now, local government spending bore the brunt of public expenditure cuts and at that time schools was a locally provided service. A survey of 31 local education authorities, as they were then, conducted by ‘Education’ magazine during May 1981 revealed where the cuts in expenditure were being made.

Expenditure item London Met Districts Shire Counties  
7 LEAs 8 LEAs 16 LEAs Total
Meals & Milk 3 1 12 16
Central Admin 1 2 8 11
Non-teaching staff 2 0 5 7
transport 2 2 1 5
Buildings & Playing fields 1 2 2 5
Capitation 2 1 1 4
Pupil Teacher Ratios 0 1 2 3

The first point to notice is how much the funding of schools has changed over the past 35 years. The second point is that teaching staff, as measured by worsening the Pupil Teacher Ratio (PTR) was only recorded by three LEAs out of the 31 surveyed as an option for cuts. Of course, some LEAs might have made cuts in previous years, and those authorities with elections in 1981 might have tried to protect the more obvious front-line aspects of education that parents would notice, such as increases in class sizes. But, despite falling rolls teaching staff as measured through the PTR was largely being protected in these LEAs.

However, I think the table may provide some pointers about what is likely to happen over the next few years to those schools whose budgets come under pressure. Of course, in the present world of devolved budgets, it won’t be councillors in the 152 local authorities worried about re-election taking the decisions on budgets these days, but heads and governors and the CEOs of MATs.

Nevertheless, I would be surprised if protecting teaching posts wasn’t still in a similar position in any table constructed in 2017. However, it might not be seen as quite as well protected as in the 1980s, since schools may be more prepared to cut optional subjects, especially at 16-19 than LEAs were in the 1980s.

It will be instructive to see how far MATs are prepared to trim back on central administration costs; surely an area for efficiency saving as LEAs identified in 1981. Do we need an index of central costs to school-based spending as was commonplace in the period when local authorities were being pilloried for retaining too much of the funding for schools.

Might we also see a return to hypothecated funding in areas such a professional development and IT spending as we have with the provision of free lunches to infant age pupils and funding for aspects of deprivation through the Pupil Premium and extra funding for children in care. This may be the only way to ensure any degree of uniformity of provision across a devolved funding system. Whether we should is another issue for another day.

 

 

School funding: Oxfordshire as a case study

A version of this article appear in the Oxford Times  newspaper of the 23rd March 2017

Why, when it has been generally acknowledged that state schools in Oxfordshire are poorly funded, has the government decided some Oxfordshire schools should lose even more of their income?  This was the conundrum facing those of us concerned about education in Oxfordshire just before Christmas when the government at Westminster announced the second stage of their consultation around a new fairer funding formula for schools.

Most of the secondary schools in the county stand to see an increase in their funding under the new proposals. That’s the good news, although it doesn’t extend to all the secondary schools in the county and the increase may not be enough to cope with the rising costs all schools face.

The really shocking news is the cuts to funding faced by the majority of the small rural primary schools across the county, especially those in the Chilterns, Cotswolds and across the downs. Although the cut is only a percentage point or two, it may be enough to create havoc with the budgets for these schools, especially as they too face general cost pressures through inflation and rising prices. Even the schools promised more cash, mainly schools in Oxford and the other towns across the county, won’t in many cases see all the extra money the government formula has assessed them as being entitled to receive. This is because the government has proposed a ceiling to the percentage increase any school can receive. A bit like saying, ‘we know we are paying you less than you deserve, but we cannot afford the full amount’.

I had anticipated the new formula was likely to bring problems, so tabled a motion at the November meeting of the county council to allow all councillors to discuss the matter. Sadly, the meeting ran over time and my motion wasn’t reached. Hopefully, it will be debated in March*, although that is just a day before the consultation ends. There has been no other opportunity for councillors to discuss the funding proposals. Parents and governors of schools should respond to the government’s proposals

I support the retention of small local primary schools where children can walk or cycle to school and the school can be a focal point for the community. It seems this model isn’t fashionable at Westminster, where larger more remote schools serving several neighbourhoods seem to be what is wanted. I know that retaining small local schools looks like an expensive option, but there are also benefits to family and community life by educating young children in their localities.

Were the local authority still the key policy maker for education, I am sure there would be a local initiative to the preserve the present distribution of schools by driving down costs. In a recent piece in this paper, the head teacher of Oxford Spires Academy specifically complained of the cost of recruitment advertising. Three years ago, I helped a group found a new free job board for schools that uses the disruptive power of new technology to drive down recruitment costs for schools. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk now matches jobs and teachers throughout the country for free at no cost to teachers or schools. We need innovative thinking outside the box of this sort in all areas to help sustain our schools in the face of government policies that threaten their very existence.

Across the county, all schools, whether academies or not could collaborate to purchase goods and services needed, whether regularly or only once a year.  This common procurement idea is much easier when academy trusts are headquartered locally. It becomes more difficult when their central administration has no loyalty to Oxfordshire. May be that’s why local academy chains have been more restrained in their executive pay than some trusts with a more limited local affiliation.

Cllr John Howson is the Lib Dem spokesperson on education on Oxfordshire County Council and a founding director of TeachVac http://www.teachvac.co.uk. He is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University. 

*The motion was debated and passed without the need for a formal vote. Councillors from all Parties expressing assent.

Funding takes centre stage

The launch of a report by the Education Policy Institute about the new government funding formula seems the have unleashed a renewed interest in the proposals, at least the proposals for schools, if not for the SEND High Needs block. https://epi.org.uk/report/national-funding-formula/ Even the, soon to be Osborne edited, Evening Standard had an editorial about the funding of schools in yesterday’s edition.

The issue about school funding breaks down into two quite separate parts. Firstly, is the formula an improvement on what has gone before and secondly, is there enough money for schools and education in general. The answer to the latter is a resounding NO from almost everyone.  Hamstrung as it is by the-U- turn on increase in tax on the self-employed the government could have found a fig leaf to offer schools, such as abolishing the apprenticeship levy as the education budget already pays for teacher trainees; they could be re-badged as apprentices and it would at least help reduce taxation on schools facing NI and pension increases this year. The government also look guilty of breaking another manifesto promise. The 2015 General Election Conservative Party manifesto said:

“Under a future Conservative Government, the amount of money following your child into school will be protected. As the number of pupils increases, so will the amount of money in our schools. On current pupil number forecasts, there will be a real-terms increase in the schools budget in the next Parliament.” (Bold added by me)

On the first question about the new formula, the answer you receive will depend upon who you ask. Most of London loses and is unhappy, many urban areas outside London see gains, but these are capped and the picture in the rural areas is confusing: some win, others such as Oxfordshire have many schools that are losers. Thus, few feel really satisfied, especially when looking at the overall financial situation for their school over the remainder of this parliament

Part of the problem might be that civil servants don’t seem to have fully road tested the formula. Did Ministers allow them to? But, can we afford to close small secondary schools in the Yorkshire Dales; in Shropshire and no doubt in some other rural counties? The notion of rural seems different when decided at Westminster than when viewed from a county hall. In this lies the dilemma: in a national service, how much local discretion do you allow? Apart from rural schools, separate infant and junior schools will largely become a thing of the past under this new formula, as will small faith schools, many in urban areas on restricted sites that don’t allow them to expand. Is this what the government wants? Are large schools regardless of distance from a pupil’s home what is needed for efficiency in a time of austerity?

Why is the proposed formula slanted towards secondary schools when the Pupil Premium is primarily aimed at primary and early years’ pupils? What is the point of such a weighting for deprivation being different between the two funding streams? The period between now and the close of the consultation and what happens afterwards will be an interesting time.

 

Talk to APPG for the Teaching Profession

ALL PARTY PARLIAMENTARY GROUP FOR THE TEACHING PROFESSION

MARCH 2017 Meeting

Teacher Supply, the current position, an update by Professor John Howson, Chairman TeachVac

There are three issues that I want to touch on in these brief remarks:

Vacancy rates for September 2017

The supply of new entrants for 2017

Applications for teacher preparation courses starting in September 2017 and consequences for 2018 labour market.

In passing, I will say something about the labour market for head teachers in the primary sector so far in 2017.

Vacancy rates for September 2017

Over the first two months advertised vacancies for secondary school classroom teachers have exceeded the numbers identified during the same period as in 2016 and are closer to the levels seen in 2015.

The largest demand has once again been in London and the counties and unitary authorities surrounding the capital. Demand has been lowest in the north of England and parts of the Midlands.

With so much discussion about funding pressures, the reasons for the increased demand in some regions might include, the upturn in pupil numbers creating a demand for more teachers; increased losses to the profession from wastage of teachers early in their careers; a buoyant independent sector following the drop in the value of Sterling and a re-balancing of the curriculum in favour of EBacc subjects, notably Geography.

The supply of new entrants for 2017

This is largely dependent on the intake last September to teacher preparation courses. With some teachers on these courses likely to fill vacancies in the schools where they are currently working (Teach First and School Direct Salaried trainees) the overall number in training is not the ‘free pool’ of trainees available to the remaining schools seeking to make an appointment. This divergence between the overall trainee numbers and the ‘free pool’ can be significant and is one of the risks associated with a move to an overwhelmingly school-based teacher preparation regime.

At this stage of the 2017 recruitment round that covers September 2017 and January 2018 vacancies, TeachVac has already issued a red alert for business studies. A read alert means that on the current number of recorded vacancies we do not expect there to be enough trainees to fill all vacancies during the recruitment round. In business studies, a non-bursary subject largely ignored by the DfE, we expect the trainee pool to be exhausted before the summer.

The other subject where TeachVac data reveals the potential risk of a shortage is English. We expect to issue a red alert sometime in late April or early May, but it could be sooner if present trends persist. Apart from in art, PE and Music the other core subjects of the secondary curriculum are flagged as ‘amber’ by TeachVac, based upon the current vacancy levels. This means later in the recruitment round some schools in certain locations may experience recruitment challenges and may have to rely more upon returners or teachers moving schools. For schools and MATs that use TeachVac, we update the data on a daily basis so they receive the most up to date assessment when posting a vacancy.

Posting vacancies to TeachVac is free for schools.

The remainder of the talk is available on request from Teachvac 

Crisis in primary headship?

Last December this blog asked a question about whether there was a crisis in finding leaders for primary schools in England? As a result of new data collected by TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk the free to use job board for teacher and school leader recruitment, we are able to make a first attempt at answering that question.

TeachVac recorded 359 vacancies for head teachers during January 2017, of these 336 were in the primary sector, with 23 advertisements seeking a head teacher for a secondary school. Of the total, some 89 schools had placed a second advert more than 21 days after the original advert and up to the 6th March 2017. That’s a second advertisement rate of 25%. It is possible that the percentage will increase further as schools try to complete their recruitment process and interview the short-listed candidates.

The recorded distribution of schools advertising across the country was:

East Midlands 22
East of England 47
London 37
North East 17
North West 56
South East 84
South West 41
West Midlands 31
Yorkshire & the Humber 24

One school advertised twice in January on the 3rd and 31st

Among the 89 schools that had placed a second advertisement by the 6th March, over half were in either London or the two regions surrounding the capital. In contrast, very few schools in the north have yet re-advertised a headship.

As has been common when I studied trends in the labour market for senior staff in schools for almost 30 years, between 1983 and 2011, church schools, feature prominently in the list of schools that have re-advertised a head teacher vacancy. There are also a disproportionate number of infant and junior schools, as I suggested might be the case in the December blog. Any factor that makes a school different for the average school increase the risk of the need for a re-advertisement.

TeachVac has a growing amount of data on the schools advertising, in many case including the salary on offer where stated and the background to the school. This allows cross-checking on Ofsted inspections; free school meal percentages and pupil outcomes.

First red alert from TeachVac in 2017

There is a certain irony that on budget day TeachVac has issued its first red warning of teacher shortages in 2017 www.teachvac.co.uk . After matching the demand for teachers as measured by vacancies recorded against the supply of trainees not already working in a classroom, Business Studies as a subject, today reached the 20% level of remaining trainees available for employment. At this point, TeachVac suggests that there will not be enough trainees to fill their share of vacancies during the remainder of the recruitment round until December 2017, for January 2018 appointments and codes the subject red. At the level of a red alert, a school anywhere in England may experience recruitment difficulties in this subject from now onwards. Such has been the number of vacancies recorded since January that it is entirely possible that the stock of trainees in Business Studies will be exhausted before the end of April this year.

The next subject on the radar is English. Although currently at an amber warning, meaning schools in some areas may face a degree of challenge in making an appointment, we are watching the number of vacancies posted every day with great attention in order to see how quickly the trainee pool is being reduced. Schools that use TeachVac’s free service are told the latest position when they input a vacancy and they can also find out the state of the local job market should Ofsted come calling and ask for this information. Teachvac’s monthly newsletters also provide useful updates on the overall situation

Teachvac staff will also be delighted to talk with Sir Michael Barber about his new role improving public sector efficiency for the government that was announced in the budget, especially since TeachVac offers schools a free service in a manner that can save both the government and schools considerable amounts of money and provide much needed rea-time data about the working of the labour market for teachers.

The other budget announcements regarding education were fairly predictable, subject to anything in the small print not revealed in the Chancellor’s speech. I would have liked to see the situation regarding the levying of the apprenticeship levy on schools tidied up, so all pay the same if they have to pay anything. The wording on free transport to grammar schools for pupils on free school meals is frankly perplexing. I am sure the situation will be clarified over the coming days. The capital for refurbishing schools, spread a sit is over several years, isn’t going to go very far once urgent problems have been attended to.

The big loser in education are the self-employed tutors that will now pay more in National Insurance and face big penalties if they don’t declare their income for tax. The same may apply to supply teachers, depending upon how they arrange their affairs.