Young carers

What follows is the text of a speech I gave in a debate about Young Carers at the recent Lib Dem Party Conference. You can find how it was delivered on YouTube if you are especially interested. However, the main reason for viewing the YouTube video is to listen to the testimony of the young carers that spoke in the debate. I was humbled by their accounts of experiences that most of us would find challenging as adults, let alone as children.

As a Councillor you are invited to lots of different events. This summer I witnessed a group of young people taking part in the National Citizen Service programme champion the needs of young carers. This is an important motion about an often overlooked group in society. A group that has been hit by the cuts to local government and to schools and especially the social care budgets..

We need to ensure that both academy chains and other schools have plans in place to help young carers and not to treat them as a nuisance. I call on Layla Moran as our Education spokesperson to further the needs of this group of pupils to ensure that their education is not endangered. Please ask schools to support and encourage, not complain and punish young carers for being inconvenient to school procedures.

I was only a young carer for a short period before going to university when my grandmother came out of hospital. That was many years ago and for a short period of time. Now for many young carers it is for years and is also a challenge to their education.

This motion recognises their needs. I would also say to university admissions tutors, including those in the 2 universities in Oxford where I am a councillor, please interview anyone that tells you they are a carer. Their grades may not represent their ability. The same is true for employers: make young carers feel valued.

I hope everyone will fully support this motion.

They did, and it was passed. You can find the text of the motion at: https://www.libdems.org.uk/a19-young-carers

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Better identification or more pupils with SEN?

The DfE data on pupils with special education needs in schools at the January 2019 census data confirms what everyone has been saying about the absolute number of such pupils being on the increase, as might be expected when pupil numbers overall are increasing. However, the percentage of pupils with both SEN and the need for an Education and Health Care plan (EHCP) has also increased. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england-january-2019

As the DfE puts it, across all schools, the number of pupils with special educational needs has risen for the third consecutive year, to 1,318,300 (14.9%) in January 2019. This follows a period of year on year decreases from January 2010 to 2016. Over this period, the overall decrease was driven by decrease in the proportion of pupils with SEN support, while the percentage of pupils with a statement or EHC plan remained stable at 2.8%.

The percentage of pupils with SEN Support, those with identified special educational needs, but no EHC plan, followed a similar pattern rising to 1,047,200 (11.9%).

271,200 school pupils had an EHC plan in place in January 2019. This is an increase of 17,500 since January 2018. The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan has risen to 3.1% of the total pupil population in January 2019, after remaining constant at 2.8% from 2007 to 2017.

These figures show why both the high Needs Block of funding is under such pressure and also why local authority SEN transport budgets are also costing local taxpayers more each year. Moe pupils means more schools and it is to be hoped that in parts of England where there are many small local authorities the forward planning by the ESFA is robust enough to deliver these places at the minimum additional travel costs to taxpayers.

Across all pupils with SEN, Speech, Language and Communications Needs is the most common primary type of need at 22% of pupils. This had previously been Moderate Learning Difficulty, which has decreased to 20%.

Among pupils on SEN support, Speech, Language and Communications Needs is also the most common type of need, at 23%. Of those with an EHC plan, Autistic Spectrum Disorder remains the most common primary type of need with 29% of pupils with an EHC plan having this primary type of need. This has increased from 28% in January 2018.

The number of pupils in state-funded special schools has increased by 6% to over 120,000. This represents 9% of all pupils with SEN. The former trend towards integration now seems to be a feature of the past as numbers of SEN pupils in independent schools has also increased. 7% of all SEN pupils are placed in an independent school.

Special educational needs remain more prevalent in boys than girls, 4.4% of boys and 1.7% of girls had an EHC plan, both small year-on-year increases. Similarly boys were almost twice as likely to be on SEN support – 15% compared to 8% of girls.

SEN is most prevalent among boys at age 9 (23% of all boys), and for girls at age 10 (13% of all girls). SEN support is most prevalent among primary age pupils, before decreasing as age increases through secondary ages.

For EHC plans however, as age increases the percentage of pupils with EHC plans also increases, up to age 16, where nearly 4% of pupils have an EHC plan. However, it is not clear how many pupils with identified needs have been flagged by the NHS before they enter into education. This would save schools both time and resources and ensure early help for some children.

With the new focus on mental health, something schools have always been acutely aware of as an issue, I would not be surprised to see the number of pupils with SEN continue to increase over the next few years. The DfE will also need to consider how to help teachers keep as many of those that can manage their learning in mainstream schools to do so.

 

 

Energy policy for schools

Yesterday, at Oxfordshire’s Cabinet meeting I asked a question about how many maintained schools in the county had renewable energy scheme with either PV or solar panel in place on their roofs? I put this question down a couple of weeks ago before the current protests in London started and I certainly didn’t know that Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old Swedish climate change campaigner would be in London yesterday.

After some ‘toing and froing’ about who would answer the question, either the Cabinet Member for property or the Cabinet Member for Education, the issue was solved by the absence of the former and the presence of the latter at the meeting.

The formal question and answer are set out below:

Question: “How many maintained schools in Oxfordshire have either solar or photo-voltaic panels on their roofs or elsewhere on school grounds?”

 Answer: ‘The Council does not hold a database with this information, as schools would need to register for the FIT (Feed In Tariff) themselves, information on the installation and/or registration is not readily available. On request at such short notice we have been able to ascertain that 30 of our maintained schools have either solar or photo-voltaic panels on their roofs or elsewhere on school grounds.’

Whether the lack of a database is a result of the collapse of Carillion over a year ago isn’t clear, but I am surprised that the County knows so little about maintained schools. Of course, nobody probably knows about all the secondary schools in the county, as all except one are academies. Then there are a large number of private schools. What their energy policy is, I guess nobody knows as a matter of record.

For this reason, when the school strikes started, I suggested a more positive policy would be for these young people to start an audit of their schools and ask for a policy moving towards cutting carbon emissions. This seemed a more positive approach than missing lessons, even if less dramatic. They could also campaign for more walking and cycling to schools by their fellow students.

My supplementary question yesterday, put at the meeting, was to ask what the Cabinet Member for education would do, especially in encouraging the Anglican and Roman Catholic Diocese to improve the generation of renewable energy by their schools. The Anglican Diocese of Oxford has generally had a very negative attitude to the use of the roofs of their schools to generate electricity. In my view it is time this changed.

I also asked about my own bugbear, school’s playgrounds and outside spaces. For 175 days a year they are largely unused, and for the other 190 days only partly used. Can research help to make them a more productive asset in our quest for cleaner energy?

Finally, I attended a wonderful concert in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre last evening. Under the beautiful painted ceiling, first the Oxfordshire County Youth Orchestra played three pieces, and then the Sydney Youth Orchestra completed their UK tour by playing Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. Those that know this symphony will be aware of how demanding it is to play.

As I left, I pondered on the growth of the aviation industry that had made their tour possible, but is such a threat to or planet. Tacking fuel emissions from jet engines is a much bigger challenge than using school playgrounds to create energy, but both must surely play a part in tacking climate change.

 

 

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.

SEND on the agenda again

Until recently, the difference between the High Needs Block and remainder of the Dedicated Schools Grant that funds schooling in England was known only to a few officers and civil servants and those headteachers and governors serving on School Forum. The advent of a National Funding Formula for schools outside the special school sector and a growing demand for spending on children with additional needs has brought the issues with the High Needs Block into sharp relief.

The Local Government Association has published the outcomes of the research they commissioned earlier this year. A key paragraph sets out the issues and reflects two of the key issues, the ability of local authorities to ensure all schools act in ‘the common good’ instead of ‘their own good’ and the effects on the school funding of an extension of support to young people up to the age of twenty five from the High Needs budget, not originally designed for that age range.   The report can be found at: https://www.local.gov.uk/have-we-reached-tipping-point-trends-spending-children-and-young-people-send-england

Addressing the points raised in paragraph 17 of the Report would go a long way to creating a sustainable and successful system for young people with SEND.

  1. To create a more sustainable funding settlement going forward there may be merit in considering some key questions around how incentives in the system might be better aligned to support inclusion, meet needs within the local community of schools, and corral partners to use the high needs block to support all young people with SEND as a collective endeavour. These might include
  2. setting much clearer national expectations for mainstream schools;
  3. rethinking how high stakes accountability measures reflect the achievements of schools which make good progress with children and young people with SEND or at risk of exclusion;
  4. correcting the perverse funding incentives that mean that it can be cheaper to pass the cost of an EHCP or a permanent exclusion onto the high needs block than making good quality preventative support available in-school;
  5. looking again at the focus and content of EHCPs to afford greater flexibility to schools in how they arrange and deliver the support needed;
  6. providing ring-fenced investment from government designed explicitly to support new and evidence-based approaches to early intervention and prevention at scale;
  7. providing additional capital investment and flexibility about how that can be deployed by local government;
  8. issuing a national call for evidence in what works for educating children and young people with these needs, backed up by sufficient funding to then take successful approaches to scale and a new focus for teacher training and ongoing professional development;
  9. more specific advice for Tribunals, parents and local authorities on how the test on efficient use of resources can be applied fairly when comparing state and non-state special school placements; and
  10. reaffirming the principle around the equitable sharing of costs between health and education where these are driven by the health needs of the child or young person.

At present, there are perverse incentives for schools to look first to their needs and only then to the needs of children with SEND. The extension of the age range to twenty five brought many more young people into scope without necessarily providing the resource.

The announcement of more cash by the Secretary of State will help, but is almost certainly not enough to solve the problems being faced within many local authorities. At the heart of this is broken system for governance of our schools. In the post Brexit world, whatever it looks like, creating a coherent education system with democratic accountability across the board should be a high priority for the Education Department and its Ministers at Westminster.

 

Road safety campaign to help cut child deaths

The Government has launched a new road safety campaign aimed at teachers and schools to help cut child fatalities. A recent survey revealed that 67% of children get fewer than 2 hours of road safety education in their whole time at school and the aim of the new THINK! Campaign is to help schools and teachers highlight the dangers of roads and encourage best practice for children.

I welcome this announcement as coincidentally I attended the Oxfordshire Sixth Form Road Safety event last week. This takes the form of a hard hitting video of a group of young people involved in a two car road incident that leads to the death of one passenger and the paralysis of another. The video is interspersed with testimony from emergency service personnel; medical staff; a parent that had a child killed in a car crash; someone paralysed as a teenager after a night out and finally, a teenage driver serving a long prison sentence for causing death by dangerous driving. All their testimony is moving and some sixth formers are so affected that they leave in tears. Watching it for the second year was no less moving that the first time around, even though I knew what was to come.

Even if the driver is sober, the combination of a full car of teenagers; rural roads with lots of bends and trees and often loud music is a very high risk situation. A careless shout at the wrong moment or some other distraction and the result is a tragedy that could have been prevented.

The new THINK! Campaign from the Department for transport will feature a wide range of new education resources, including easy to follow lesson plans, 2 new films co-created with school children and a song in a bid to make teaching road safety lessons easier and more accessible. The first documentary-style film follows a group of school children as they act out how to cross the road safely after learning to use the Stop, Look, Listen, Think code. The second film follows another 6 children on their different journeys to school, including walking, cycling and scooting. The children explain their top tips for getting to school safely in the form of a new road safety song. The first phase of resources, aimed at 3 to 6-year-olds, are already on the Think! Web site. The next 2 phases for ages 7 to 12 and 13 to 16 will follow in the New Year. I hope that they will be interactive and make use of modern technology to engage with this tech savvy generation.

The importance of this work means that Ministers at the DfE should be aware of the needs of the whole child and not just their academic requirements. Schooling is for life not for just passing examinations however welcome today’s news on reading levels may be.

Finally, road safety also means training in cycling and, as we encourage more young people to cycle to and from school, we need to ensure that they are especially aware of how to stay safe.

 

More evidence of funding pressures

The government published data on planned local authority and school expenditure on Children’s Services in 2017-18 as Statistical First Release 48/2017 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/planned-la-and-school-expenditure-2017-to-2018-financial-year

The data provides some further evidence of the pressure on both the education budget and the whole of Children’s Services with funding generally not keeping place with expenditure increases. The differences between academy and local authority financial years still pose problems for the DfE, although, after several years of qualified accounts, there has hopefully been some progress in the direction of transparency across geographical areas with different mixes of schools. Nevertheless in table 4 of the main tables there are a couple of dubious looking sets of data from two authorities.

With all the talk about growing mental health problems in school-age children, it is concerning to see the fall over the four year period shown in the statistics in spending both in total and per capita on the school psychological services. Planned spending is £12 per capita in 2017-18, down from £15 in 2014-15. I do hope that the difference has been picked up from public health or some other budget, but if not, this needs re-visiting.

Spending on SEN transport is, however, going in the opposite direction once the cost- of post-16 transport is taken into account. By contrast, as a result of changes in their policies by many local authorities, spending on general school transport is falling as the cost outside London is being transferred to parents through either expecting more to pay for transport or to change the schools their child attends from a catchment school to the nearest school.

Funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres and early Years funding has been decimated, reducing from £78 per head in 2014-15 to an estimated £48 in 2017-18. This has resulted in many centres closing. The net effects of this closure programme will only be revealed in the next few years.

Other areas to see large per capita reduction over the four year period include school improvement services and regulatory duties. In both cases, time will tell whether this is either a sharpening of efficiency in local authorities that previously spent well above the median amount or a real deterioration in the quality of services across the country? It is certain that a better organised service without the twin track academy and maintained school systems running in parallel might provide the biggest opportunity for savings. However, to tackle the legacy of Mr Gove would take real political courage and probably a more settled House of Commons than currently exists.

The pressure created by the increase in the size of the looked after sector has resulted in a 10% increase in spending over the four years analysed. Sadly, the two areas not to share in this increase are spending on respite care and on education of looked after children. Surely, both are reductions to regret and to try to reverse as soon as possible.

Both substance misuse services and teenage pregnancy services have suffered significant cuts over the past four years; hopefully in some cases because of less demand for these services, but keeping funding might have produced even better results in the future.

On the day that a major credit rating agency downgraded the UK’s Sovereign Nation credit rating again, citing public finances as one reason, these DfE figures must raise questions about whether the poorest in society are being disproportionally affected by austerity and whether that is what we want as a Society.