16 to 19 discretionary bursary fund: allocation methodology consultation

Those readers that live in rural areas might be especially interested in replying to this consultation currently open for responses. https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/16-to-19-discretionary-bursary-fund-allocation-methodology

The closing date is on the 23rd May 2019, unless presumably a general election is called before then, in which case purdah rules might apply.

There is a whole section of the consultation about transport costs for this age group that will allow comments about how unfair the present arrangements are. Indeed, the consultation acknowledges the special position of London, and the TfL provisions for travel in the capital for this age group.

There is also a mention of the Grayling Rail Card that will help student using the remaining rural railways to travel to school or college, but does nothing for those travelling by bus or without any transport links at all.

The first section of the consultation is about replacing the present grant based upon student numbers times a fixed amount with a more nuanced grant based upon deprivation factors. The present arrangements were introduced when the coalition scrapped the Education Maintenance Allowance introduced by the Labour government.

Given the battering that the 16-19 sector has taken over funding, the new arrangements should not be used to further withdraw cash from the sector. If ‘need’ is taken into account, It must be related to courses studies as well as income Why should students using very expensive equipment, as say on engineering courses, be provided with a free education, whereas those on catering courses may be required to buy both specialist clothing and even sets of knives.

With the learning leaving age now at eighteen, the rules should be the same for this age group as for other children in education. Local authorities, if funded, would be much better placed to provide the transport arrangements than individual schools and colleges. But, that would require an acceptance that local authorities are a ‘good thing’, something not universally accepted in government.


So, if you have an interest in this area, please do download and reply to the consultation. The more responses about the transport issue the better. Perhaps, we can make a difference for families living in rural areas for a change.



Growing pains, but not for TeachVac

Should the latest American owners of the TES be worried by the DfE’s vacancy site? Probably not in the short-term, but looking on a longer perspective there must be some anxiety. TeachVac, the other free service offering teacher vacancies to trainees, teachers and returners, where I am the chair of the board, monitors how the DfE site is doing compared with TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk on a weekly basis.

Below are our figures for 2019, up to this morning, with one day to go before the end of the first quarter of 2019

04/01/2019 11.26
11/01/2019 13.22
18/01/2019 17.57
25/01/2019 17.69
01/02/2019 21.44
08/02/2019 22.72
15/02/2019 24.46
22/02/2019 11.71
01/03/2019 31.25
08/03/2019 25.11
15/03/2019 25.20
22/03/2019 25.10
29/03/2019 28.20

Source: Oxford Teacher Services Ltd

Apart from the February half-term period, this week is the first time that the DfE site has broken through the 25% barrier in relation to TeachVac. Of course, the two sites aren’t directly comparable, since the DfE site carries non-teaching vacancies, but not vacancies from independent schools, and TeachVac carries the latter, but not the former.

Still, the DfE clearly won’t have a full analysis of the 2019 recruitment round as they will be missing so many vacancies in the first quarter of the year. The interesting time will come in the summer, when schools paying a subscription to advertise their vacancies on paid-for platforms will need to decide whether or not to renew their subscriptions or switch back to using them only when the free site such as TeachVac or the DfE fail to provide enough applicants to make an appointment.

This assumes that the DfE site is still in operation by the summer. With the start of the new government financial year next week, it must be expected that funding has been agreed to operate the DfE’s site for the whole of the financial year. From a point of view of schools, it is to be hoped it doesn’t follow the private sector approach of taking booking, or in this case vacancy adverts, right up to the point where the plug is pulled.

I think that schools have a right to expect a statement from the government that either the DfE site will continue for another year or that if it doesn’t it will be replaced by links to other sites providing details of vacancies, such as TeachVac. The latter would, of course, be a much cheaper option for the DfE, but I assume having spent money on the software for their site they will want to see a return on their expenditure.

TeachVac is breaking new records this year, both on the number of vacancies listed, and on the rate of applicants signing up to receive job matches. This on minimal marketing and in the teeth of indifference from all the teacher associations. Teachers, however, know a good thing when they see it and the fact that a job posted this morning can be matched to a teacher that has requested it by late afternoon shows what can be achieved.


Interesting data from ofsted

The Regional Director of ofsted spent just over an hour answering questions at a meeting earlier this week of Oxfordshire’s Education Scrutiny Committee. Sadly, neither the press nor any members of the public turned up to hear this interesting and informative exchange of views.

One of the questions posed by the Committee was about schools ranked ‘outstanding’ on previous criteria and whether the judgement will remain when the new Framework, currently out to consultation, comes into force. There doesn’t seem to be a mechanism to reset the dial when there is a major change in the inspection framework.

This question was thrown into sharp focus later this week by ofsted’s publication of inspection outcomes for the autumn term of 2018. This is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/state-funded-schools-inspections-and-outcomes-as-at-31-december-2018

Of the 102 schools classified as ‘exempt’ under the 2011 legislation, that were subject to a full inspection, 12 schools (12%) remained outstanding, 50 (49%) declined to good, 35 (34%) declined to requires improvement and five (5%) declined to inadequate. The fact that four out ten of these schools declined to either ‘requires improvement’ or the category of ‘inadequate’, in five cases, must be of concern. A further 15 ‘outstanding’ schools had a short inspection and, thus, remained with the same outcome.

Ofsted also commented that the number of schools that had improved from ‘requires improvement’ had declined, compared with previous years. However, ofsted noted that ‘This may be a sign that the remaining schools have more entrenched problems and will be harder to turn around.’

Ofsted has also looked at schools in the government’s opportunity areas that have received extra cash outside of the normal funding arrangements. As might be expected, there was a 10% different between the percentage of schools rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in these areas and the national percentage of such schools. As ofsted observed, ‘The lower percentage of good and outstanding schools in opportunity areas is to be expected, as the areas were chosen on the basis of the problems they were experiencing.’

No doubt, at some point in the future, ofsted will comment on both the use of funding in these areas and the difference it makes to schools outside those areas, but facing similar or even more extreme challenges.

In the present complex structure of governance, the lack of local robust school improvement teams offering help to all schools, whether maintained, standalone academies, small or even large MATs means that ofsted can often only inspect after a school has begun to decline. Good local school improvement teams, funded across all schools, might well be able to prevent some declines from happening. MATs can make this happen as they can top slice their schools, but other schools cannot as easily do so.

When the country finally emerges from its Brexit travails, this is but one of many issues that will need to be addressed. One can but hope that such an outcome will be decided sooner rather than later.

Bumping along the bottom mark 2

Today’s data from UCAS revealing the latest data about applications for postgraduate ITT courses shows a picture very similar to that of March last year. Applications for courses in England were 22,100 by the 18th March this year, compared with 22,430 on the 19th March 2018. Really little changed. By the end of the recruitment round last year not enough applicants were recruited in a range of subjects and, unless the Brexit fiasco causes an upset of significant proportions, the same result seems likely again this year.

Casting around for items of good news, it seems as if applications from those 21 or younger is the same as last year at this point in time, and applications from those above the age of 30 are higher than last year, by around 500 applicants. But, applications from the other age groups are down on last year. Chemistry, Biology and Religious Education are doing well for applications this year, but many other subjects are only around the same level as in March last year and in a few cases hitting new lows.

The decline in applications is greater for men than for women, with men now only accounting for 29% of applicants to ITT postgraduate courses. Overall numbers placed are still down on this point in 2018, at 570, compared with 750 in 2018, and although conditionally placed numbers are up, those holding offers are at a similar level to last year.

There must be serious concerns about Business Studies, with just 360 applications, of which just 70 have been placed; all conditionally. Similarly, in design and technology, there are only 730 applications across all aspects of the subject, with just 150 of these having been placed; again all conditionally. both these subjects are already in short supply in the teacher labour market.

Never fear, 1,140 physical education applications have resulted in places being accepted along with 670 in history and 560 in geography. 690 of the 3,180 applications for Biology have resulted in applicants being placed. However, for Physics, the number is just 190 out of 960.

Can the School Direct Salaried route survive? So far only 220 applications have resulted in either a place or an applicant holding one or more offers out of 2,070 applications in the secondary sector. Things are a bit better in the primary sector, with 1,190 placed or holding offers, out of 6,140 applications. However, neither sector seems to be attracting many applications for postgraduate teaching apprenticeships. So far, there have only been 330 applications for these course across both sectors.

The loss of interest among applicants is still mainly in the primary sector, but the figures for applications to courses to train in the secondary sector are affected by the few subjects where there has been growth in the number of applications.

As noted earlier, most shortage subjects are still bumping along the bottom, and with pupil numbers increasing again in 2020 when these applicants will enter the labour market for teachers that is not good news.



We cannot ignore those left behind

This post was prompted by two event. Firstly, someone reading my post of the 15th June 2017 on this blog, entitled Class rules: not OK, about a report issued by the Social Mobility Commission, and secondly, by some recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported in the Oxford Mail. That data revealed that in the area of North Oxford I represent on the county council women can expect to live up to eleven years longer than women living in some parts of the east of the City.

Both of these facts reminded me of the issue of deprivation, and the role that education can, could and should play in helping improve the life chances of everyone in society. Over the years, since fresh thinking began to appear after the paralysis of the Second World War, and its aftermath, there have been various schemes aimed at reducing the effects of deprivation on schooling. These have included, Education Priority Areas, Schools of Exceptional Difficulty; Education Action Zones, and currently, Education Opportunity Areas. In the same time period funding for schooling has shifted from a local matter, topped up by grants from Westminster, to a national formula assisted by the Pupil Premium for some children, with different arrangements for those designed as SEND pupils.

Have any of these interventions made much difference? The interesting point about all the schemes listed in the previous paragraph was that they were determined at a national level. There was also a time during the period when the market was seen as the dominant narrative in policy-making when there were few schemes specifically aimed at the disadvantaged areas of England.

So, what would I do if I had the chance? Teachers are important. For without teachers both determined to work in these areas of deprivation and with an understanding of the children and their families that live there, no progress will be made. When there are teacher shortages, challenging schools find staffing difficult and turnover a real problem, as those that do come to work in these schools often don’t stay very long. Well-designed local training programmes crafted between schools and higher education can help, and will certainly reduce the lack of preparation some new teachers feel when joining these schools that are so unfamiliar to them. Good leadership is also very important, and I worry about the development of both middle and senior leadership for these challenging schools in the present climate. But without staff, no changes are possible.

Then, of equal importance, there is the curriculum. Yes, reading and writing are important, but so is a balanced curriculum, especially in the secondary school. We need a curriculum that increasingly involves the learner in choosing rather than being told what to learn. Of course, you cannot choose to learn to break the law, but you may want to learn a more practical set of skills than the current EBacc permits. To demotivate and even alienate from learning young people both now, and probably in the future, through an inappropriate curriculum is a as great a failure of our politicians than the current shambles over Brexit.

Finally, we need to engage the parents that the system failed. Unless we do, they won’t help break the cycle of deprivation. As an earlier post showed, the relationship between persistent absence and deprivation is stark. If education for all really is important for our future as a society, then we have to break down this cycle that is repeating itself between the generations.

All this takes cash, and with rising pupil numbers and a lack of political will to increase taxation, it is difficult to see where the resources will come from. Perhaps, through greater use of modern technology?

Fines for parents: not main story on absences

Yesterday, both politicians and the media were quick to latch onto the significant increase in the number of parents being fined for taking their offspring out of school during term-time to go on holiday in the data about absences published by the DfE.

Now, I won’t argue that this makes for good headlines, and is an interesting issue to discuss, and I will say more at a later point in this blog, if space allows. However, I don’t think it is the main story to emerge from the DfE’s data https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-2017-to-2018

For me, the story that should feature in the headlines is that almost one in six pupils living in the most deprived IDACI areas were classified last year as persistent absentees. (The Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) measures the proportion of all children aged 0 to 15 living in income deprived families. IDACI bands are based on 2015 IDACI scores. Further information on IDACI scores may be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/english-indices-of-deprivation) that’s some 150,000 pupils out of 936,975 pupils. The percentage has been worsening each year since the new definition was introduced for persistent absentees some three years ago.


Pupil absence by Income Deprivation –percentages of persistent absentees (number of persistent absentees expressed as a percentage of the total number of enrolments.
2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 Change 2015/2016 to 2017/18 % change
0-10% Most deprived 15.3 15.7 16.0 0.7 5%
10-20% 13.6 13.9 14.3 0.7 5%
20-30% 12.4 12.8 13.1 0.7 6%
30-40% 11.4 11.7 12.0 0.6 5%
40-50% 10.4 10.6 11.0 0.6 6%
50-60% 9.1 9.4 9.8 0.7 8%
60-70% 8.2 8.5 8.8 0.6 7%
70-80% 7.2 7.4 7.9 0.7 10%
80-90% 6.4 6.6 7.1 0.7 11%
90-100% Least deprived 5.3 5.5 5.8 0.5 9%
Data uses IDACI decile of pupil residence


Now, it is true that the percentage of persistent absentees has increased in all IDACI deciles over the three years, but the relationship between the percentages of persistent absentees to IDACI band has remained constant.

The least deprived communities have always had the lowest percentage of persistent absentees, and the most deprived communities the highest figures. Now, it would be interesting to see these figures by year group, especially with the discussions about knife crime and its relationship to both exclusions and truancy. If that one in six overall in our most deprived communities is say, one in four in years 10 and 11, the government really ought to rethink the secondary school curriculum and its effects on the 50% of pupils not destined for higher education at age eighteen. Do we really want to alienate so many young people from our education system?

On the issue of term-time holidays, and the response to the Supreme Court judgement that altered the terms of the contract between the State and parents, there is a political decision to be made as to whether to accept the Court’s ruling or change the law?

In the table above it is obvious that although still small percentages, the percentages have been rising fasted among the least deprived groups, presumably as a result, at least in part, of more term-time holidays.


Congratulations to the Education Select Committee

Alongside the unfolding shambles that is Brexit much of the work of parliament at Westminster goes on almost as normal. Next week the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Teaching Profession s its spring meeting, and I have provided them with an update on teacher recruitment along the lines of yesterday’s post on this blog.

However, of more significant to the work of parliament was the meeting yesterday of the Education Select Committee. Details at https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/education-committee/news-parliament-2017/send-evidence-17-193/ The minutes haven’t been published yet, but will be well worth reading when the do appear.

When I first started following the work of Select Committees in the 1980s, and then submitting written evidence, and in 1996 being called for the first time to provide oral evidence, these Committees met in rooms at Westminster. They mostly just questioned experts in the field they were discussing. There was no TV channel or live streaming, and I recall astonishing a clerk by requesting that a graph accompanying my evidence needed to be reproduced in colour in the minutes if it was to be understood by readers. Incidentally, guidelines in many organisations for reproducing graphs and charts in both colour and monochrome are still often very lax, making some documents very difficult to understand.

Issues such as concerns about the presentation of data will have been fully understood by those providing evidence to the Education Select Committee yesterday. In three groups, of either two or three, young people with special needs or disabilities provided evidence of their own experience of the education system to the MPs on the Committee. I think this is the first time that the Committee has actually heard at first hand from students with SEND of their experience of our education system.

Schools should not be just exam factories, but pupils with SEND should not lose out in achieving their full potential just because they face additional challenges.  Relegating these pupils to a separate room at lunchtime might be both convenient and help to ensure their safety, but it doesn’t help in making friendship with other pupils. Simple actions such as the wearing of a ‘high vis’ Gillet in the playground can warn other pupils to take care, and reduce the need for isolation and significantly increase opportunities to associate with other classmates.

All new schools should be built with doors and circulation spaces wide enough to take motorised wheelchairs, for even if there are no pupils when the school is being built, who is to say that there won’t be parents, staff, governors or even HMIs making use of such aids to their mobility? For the same reason, lifts must provide access to all upper floors where teaching takes place.

Funding for SEND, and the High Needs Block in general, needs more attention and I hope the Select Committee will consider that issue along with the part the NHS can play in early identification of those that need EHCPs rather than waiting for children to start their education. I hope that yesterday was the start of more conversation between Select Committees and those whose voices are often not heard enough.