No room on the bus – unless you pay

What the point of the Conservative Party creating more places in selective schools if pupils cannot get to them? As regular reads know, I am not a fan of selective schooling, but where it exists such schools should be available to all.

After two general elections fighting Banbury for the Lib Dems, I have moved on to fight Castle Point in Essex this time around. This has brought me into contact with the selective system there, and the unfair rules about school transport.

Canvey Island forms a large part of the Castle Point constituency, and pupils living on the island are refused free transport to grammar schools. This is because Essex County Council’s home to school transport policy only pays for travel to a pupil’s nearest school.

As there is no selective school on Canvey Island, parents are forced to pay for transport if their child secures a place at a selective school. Many parents cannot afford to do so.

The rules are that if the journey is more than three miles local authorities must provide free transport to and from school. By restricting the rule to the ‘nearest school’ in a system where selection is in operation Essex County Council discriminates against pupils taking up places at such schools.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that some time ago Southend-on-Sea became a Unitary Authority, separate from Essex County Council, and this is where the nearest selective schools are located. Add in the academy factor, and this is a real mess for parents.

There is no point in the Conservative Party announcing more selective school places and then denying parents and their children the opportunity to attend these schools because of the cost of getting to and from schools.

The approach of Essex County Council to funding home to school transport isn’t unique, but it does demonstrate a callous lack of concern for social mobility as far as many pupils are concerned.

Will the Conservative Party nationally change the rules on transport to make it clear funding should be available to the nearest including any school that offers places following selection test to pupils that the school is the nearest school of that type a pupil could attend?

Of course, making all schools non-selective would be a better option, but that’s not yet on the cards

Who loses in the Education stakes?

Education is likely to play a important role in the sub-plots swirling around Breixt that will underpin any forthcoming general election. The terrible twins of British politics: Labour and the Conservatives, seem keen to make life harder for the many, in favour of policies that affect the few. Both seem keen to inflict damage, one intentionally, the other without thinking, on the private school sector.

Today’s suggestion mooted in parts of the Press of an increase in selective school places in any Conservative manifesto will affect private secondary schools, especially if parents switch from fee-paying schools to fill the additional places in free state-funded selective schools. They can use the savings in fees to ensure success in the entry tests for the selective schools.

Labour’s plan for the abolition of private schools will create extra costs for the state system and seems likely have the same effect as the Tory proposals of driving pupils into state selective schools and state comprehensive schools in the residential areas where parents live. For some, it might also mean a move to a new house, unless the existing private schools were ‘nationalised’ in situ.

Either way, both ‘old’ parties of government seem keen to avoid offering headline policies for the many children in State education at present. What about reducing off-rolling by secondary schools and putting in place policies that confront the reasons why schools have taken that route?

And also abolishing Ofsted in favour of a national light touch oversight of standards and more flexible local quality assurance regimes allied to large-scale professional development of the workforce, including development of future leaders, sadly neglected since the abolition of clear policies and qualifications for headship disappeared under Labour.

To abolish the private sector, Labour will need to revoke the long-held right of parents to choose how to educate their own families. This is a level of state intervention in the lives of everyone, probably not seen outside of wartime. Indeed, Labour haven’t required it of the health service, where private health flourishes in certain sectors of the market.

Will Labour also seek to remove private companies offering after-school tuition and support, lest spending money on an extra maths class gives unfair support to the pupils that can afford it? Presumably, the cathedral choir schools will also disappear if they cannot survive on the National Funding Formula?

All this is of more than passing interest to me as I have been asked to stand as the Lib Dem candidate in Castle Point in Essex if there is a general election in December. Indeed, tomorrow Lib Dems at Westminster will push for one on a Monday early in the month at Westminster. Will Labour support them?

Castle Point includes Canvey Island, where as a youngster from North London, I went on holiday in the 1950s. It is also part of the Essex/Southend Selective School system and less well funded than either of the two Unitary Authorities that split it off from the rest of Essex.

Climate change: proposals for schools

I heard about this report from SSE on energy on the BBC this morning:

There doesn’t seem to be enough of a challenge for education, so I have reworked my earlier post into a series of challenges for schools. Do feel free to share it with others and send me additional challenges to raise with schools.

Climate Change is a challenge for the education sector as a whole, not just for state schools. Climate change challenges all education providers, from primary schools to higher education, and from small village schools to our chains of international private schools with campuses across the globe.

My proposals:

  1. Ensuring that by the end of this school-year every school has at least one charging point for an electric vehicle. This should be simple to achieve as it needs no new technology and a network of suppliers is in place to fit these points, either wall or column mounted. Of course, more than one point would be better, but let’s start the ball rolling with a simple and achievable target.
  2. To supply the electricity of these charging points, schools need a new incentive to use their roof space for the installation of photo-voltaic panels. Such a scheme would also provide a boost to this industry as it suffers from the ending of government schemes for domestic properties,
  3. School playgrounds are the most under-used of our public spaces. How can we make better use of them during the hours of daylight when they are empty of children and achieving nothing? Ingenuity in respect of playgrounds can create panels that are vertical when playgrounds are in use, but spread out horizontally to generate electricity when children are not about.
  4. This technology can be allied to the desire by the current government to create a world-leading battery technology industry. Schools are at the hub of their communities, so local generation of energy, stored when created and released when needed, can help challenge the traditional notion of power creation and distribution we are all familiar with.
  5. Many of our schools are still badly insulated. So we need a scheme to use a portion of the cash for education to reduce heat loss in schools through an insulation scheme for walls and ceilings.
  6. Require schools to replace all gas cooking in their kitchen by electric ovens, hobs and other appliances. I would also ask the design and technology departments to consider the use of gas in their home economics departments.
  7. On a bigger scale is the replacement of gas-fired boilers by other forms of heating. This is a big ask and we need to discuss with industry leaders how this might be achieved for all schools.
  8. Address the journey pupils take every day to and from school. We should aim to promote and reward such actions and discuss how to incentivise both schools and pupils to achieve a significant reduction in car journeys to and from school. I especially challenge the independent school sector to work with us on this task, as I know it is a real issue for many of those schools that draw pupils from a wide distance.

1,336 Physics trainees in 2020/21: wishful thinking or realistic target?

Yesterday, the DfE released the Teacher Supply Model (TSM) information for England covering the academic year 2020 to 2021. There was also information on the methodology underlying the TSM that continues the trend towards more open government set by David Laws when he was Minister of State at the DfE.

Perhaps one of the strangest lines ever to appear in a government publication can be found on page 3 of yesterday’s key DfE publication, where it states reassuringly for ITT providers that ‘in reducing the 2020/21 TSM target, this does not mean there will necessarily be fewer trainees’. This is because the DfE has continued to uncap ITT recruitment in most secondary subjects, except PE, but has continued to cap primary numbers.

The DfE’s rationale for reducing targets, most of which haven’t been reached in recent years, are improvements in the methodology of the TSM, including the fact that NQTs entering through the assessment only route are now included in the calculations. Put simply, the DfE have found some more teachers not counted in previous versions of the TSM, and that has reduced the requirement for new teachers to be trained in 2020/21.

The problem the DfE civil servants face is that each September schools must be fully staffed, otherwise children would be sent home. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to carry forward unfilled places from previous years, as there are not vacancies in the system. Also, carrying forward unfilled places would eventually lead to targets that were ludicrous in size. Better to start afresh each year.

Rising pupil numbers, teacher retention rates and curriculum changes are among the key drivers of the targets that are set at a national level. Interestingly, business studies and physics are two subjects where targets have increased for 2020/2021. In the case of the latter, from 1,265 to 1,336, an increase of 71 possible trainees. As in 2018/19 only 575 physics trainees were recorded outside of Teach First, this increase might raise something of a hollow laugh among providers.

One might wonder why recruitment in Biology (reduction of 76 trainee numbers), history (291 fewer trainees) and geography (187 fewer trainees) isn’t capped in view of their over-recruitment in 2018. Could it be that by recruiting in these subjects the overall deficit will be smaller than it would otherwise be? Surely not, but trainees need to consider their job opportunities before undertaking training to become a teachers in some of these subjects. By 2020, the DfE should be able to tell them about job chances as part of the new DfE Apply System that ought to be operating at that time.

Next month, the ITT Census for 2019 will be published, and it will be possible to see whether, as I hope, the shortfall this year is smaller than the number of missing trainees last year.

Overall, the drop of 602 in secondary targets won’t have much effect on the ground. The reduction of more than 1,500 in the primary postgraduate target to just 11,467, may have more implications for some providers and their future, especially if this is not the end of the reductions resulting from the recent decline in the birth-rate.

Gifts may not be the same as presents

As many readers of this blog will know, the DfE is planning a new digital application service for prospective trainee teachers. Apart from being trendy, I am not sure what the word ‘digital’ adds to the title, as surely nobody would create a new paper-based application service these days.

You can read about the service at The new service will eventually replace the existing service run by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), probably by the start of the application round for 2021 courses, if the trial stages go well.

Now, I have had my differences with UCAS over the present system, introduced when I sat on a Committee representing ITT interests as an independent member. Some of my concerns seems to be being replicated by the DfE in designing their system. However, I have a much more fundamental concern than the design of the system about the DfE’s proposal. UCAS isn’t a government body. Instead, it is owned by its members. The new system will transfer ownership of the postgraduate application process for teaching to the government.

Is that change of ownership a good idea? Certainly, it will directly save both candidates and the providers of courses money as, like the DfE teacher recruitment service, it will be free at the point of delivery. It am sure it will also be well designed.

However, ownership of the process will then be in the hands of politicians and not the providers. Imagine a future government that recognises the need to balance supply and demand for teachers across the country and closes off courses when sufficient applications have been received, but before providers have made their choice of applicants. This could force later applicants to choose from the remaining courses that are short of applicants. Now, in some ways this is similar to the recruitment controls imposed upon the sector a few years ago. Any such regulation might reduce the freedom of providers to select candidates. You could envisage other interventions.

The DfE team running the service will need to know a great deal about the complexities of the teacher preparation market. If it is an in-house set-up at the DfE, what oversight will there be? Is there to be an advisory board or some other form of governance structure or will the system just be run by a changing stream of civil servants, supervised by a senior policy officer and just keeping ‘in contact’ with the providers?

As a government function, the application service will always be subject to Ministerial oversight and direction. Whether that is a ‘good thing’ or not will depend upon your views about services run by government. Certainly, as a public service, there should be more data available than is currently the case with the UCAS service.

It is also worth recalling that the DfE ran the admissions process for School Direct in 2013 and allowed me to comment in May of that year about the state of applications in a post entitled Applications Good: Acceptances better.

As Ed Dorrell of the Tes remarked at the NABTT Conference, during his talk on teacher supply, Ministers don’t like talking about a crisis, and my analysis of the data that year certainly landed me in hot water, as anyone that reads the August 2013 posts on this blog can discover.

Whatever I think, the DfE is presenting the new system to the sector. I just hope it is a gift worth receiving.

Change and Renewal: NASBTT’s key priorities for the year ahead

Earlier today I was the guest of The National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT) at their annual conference. I suspect the fact that TeachVac sponsored their Administrator of the Year Award in the summer may have had something to do with the invitation. Curiously, the Awards didn’t rate a mention in Emma Hollis the Executive’s Director’s Review of the Year.

Anyway, NASBTT has grown from a small organisation, representing a few SCITTs in an out of favour section of the teacher preparation sector, to a dynamic orgnaisation now commanding a growing influence in the market for training teachers.

At the conference, Emma Hollis outlined five key priorities for 2019-20, which includes NASBTT playing a pivotal role at the forefront of Initial Teacher Training (ITT) policy formation..

Emma Hollis told the more than 150 delegates attending the conference how “the world of education is ever shifting and the wider political upheaval has meant that, perhaps even more so than usual, there has been uncertainty about the future”.

Emma highlighted how NASBTT is represented on the Department for Education (DfE) Initial Teacher Education (ITE) curriculum content advisory group, which has drafted new guidance that will underpin the training programme for new teachers, starting with the core content for ITT and leading into the Early Career Framework (ECF).

Secondly, NASBTT is part of an ITE advisory group which is supporting Ofsted as it designs its new framework for the inspection of ITE, aligning it more closely with the Education Inspection Framework for schools. “

Thirdly, NASBTT is prioritising subject knowledge enhancement for trainee teachers – creating a Subject Knowledge and Curriculum Design toolkit, teaming up with a range of subject specialists including Vretta, and its innovative Elevate My Maths online programme.

However, Emma emphasised a wider issue. “NASBTT members remain concerned about the difficulty of training teachers ‘in depth’ in all subjects within the timeframe of teacher training,” she said. “It is particularly unclear exactly how much subject knowledge is expected of primary teachers. I would add especially as once QTS is granted a teacher may still be asked to teach anything to anyone regardless of their level of knowledge and expertise.

Fourthly, and linked directly to the need for ongoing professional development for subject knowledge enhancement, and other areas, is the ECF delivery mechanism. To this end, NASBTT has established a professional framework for teacher educators to be launched later this year through their new Teacher Educator Zone.

My thought was about the trainees that don’t take up a job until January, how will the ECF work for them? For, as this blog has pointed out in the past, if the market works properly, the most able trainees are employed before those that fared less well on their preparation courses, and they surely need support the most support, even if they start later in the year.

NASBTT’s fifth – but by no means least important – priority for the next 12 months is in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of trainee teachers. Emma pointed out that “The prominence and importance of mental health and wellbeing is growing in schools – both for pupils and school staff.”

I would add that both teacher preparation courses and the first years of teaching can be very stressful times. The courses demand a degree of concentration and effort not always recognised, and certainly not rewarded in the case of all trainees, especially those preparing to be primary school teachers.

Finally, I have watched NASBTT’s growth over the years, and wish it well for the future. As the organisation grows, so will both its confidence in dealing with government and the range of challenges it will face. I wish it well for the future.


A weak economy won’t help school funding

According to information contained in a House of Commons Library research Report on Education Funding, the government is either shooting itself in the foot or presenting statistics in a manner that makes already challenging comparisons difficult, if not impossible.

The Library Research Paper, BRIEFING PAPER Number 1078, 9th October 2019 entitled: Education spending in the UK, states on page 11 that

the Department for Education currently records all spending on academies under secondary education. Secondary schools account for most of the spending on academies, but there are also include large numbers of primary and special academies. They are looking to improve the separation of spending across the education categories in the future. This skews the primary/secondary breakdown somewhat and limits the comparisons of primary and secondary spending between the home countries of the UK.” (Their emphasis, not mine)

As the number of academies in the primary and secondary sector increases, this method or recording allied to the fact that academies and free schools have a different financial year to maintained schools makes comparisons even harder than before.

Nevertheless, the Report is able to demonstrate how closely funding follows two key influences; demography and the state of the economy.  For the past few years, both of these have been negative in the sense that the economy took a hit after the banking crisis at just the time when the birth rate was rising to higher levels than previously. Both factors created an almost perfect storm, not least because rising pupil numbers means a greater percentage of education expenditure has to be used for capital projects rather than revenue spending. Add in the laudable decision to raise the learning leaving age to 18 from 16, and another funding pressure was added to the equation.

The cuts facing schools would undoubtedly have been worse, unless taxes had risen, if the contribution of participants to the funding of higher education had not been increased by the raising of tuition fees and also the manner in which these loans were accounted for on the government’s balance sheet.

The Report also notes that “In 2017 an estimated £23 billion was spent privately on education.” Citing Consumer trends, ONS, as the source of the figure. Now, I assume this will include all the funds parents spend on private tutoring ahead of exams, and on Maths Centres that have sprung up around the country, as well as what the Labour Party includes in its definition of private education that it would seek to abolish.

Apart from probably driving at least part of that provision of schooling offshore, where the export income would be lost to the National Exchequer, there would obviously be the cost of educating such pupils as needed to be educated by the State.  I don’t know how many billions that would cost, but it would have to be found from somewhere.

However, I understand the feeling that education is so important that it cannot be left to personal choice, but only offered by the State. From there it is but a short step to mandating only one type of state school that parents have to send their children to attend. As a Liberal, this is not a road that I would want to go along.