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.

 

 

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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.

Why are some pupils missing out on a free lunch?

Why are families in the South East, along with some others from across the country, ignoring the chance to increase their spending power by not taking up the free infant lunch programme on offer in schools? Many of the authorities with the lowest take up in the latest DfE statistics of census day are located in the South East. They include unitary authorities, such as Brighton & Hove, Slough, Reading, Medway and Milton Keynes and counties such as East Sussex and Oxfordshire. All these authorities had a take-up of less than 81% of pupils eating lunch on census day.

At the other end of the scale, Inner London averaged a nearly 91% take-up and Solihull managed to achieve just over 96% take-up. Now, I guess there may be some parents that regard the food on offer as not acceptable for culinary, cultural or dietary reasons, but it is difficult to see why so many parents in some authorities not only forgo an extra £400 or spending money, but presumably also shell out hard cash on creating meals for their children to eat instead. If they don’t think that the food on offer is good enough then they should be lobbying the governing body or MAT trustees for an improvement.

Now, I am sure some of the difference could be a result of how important the local authority still sees its role in education and thus in encouraging schools to provide meals that are attractive and nutritional. This may be less of a concern in areas with lots of academies and free schools.

It could also be that some of these families have children in schools where more emphasis is placed on the breakfast club than on lunch to ensure a healthy start to the day. Of course, locally high incidences of sickness in specific schools may also have played a part in an authority’s position in the rankings. However, it does seem that the further north you travel in England, the higher the take-up was, with London, and specifically the inner London boroughs, being the main exception to this rule of thumb analysis.

The should be sufficient data now available to identify whether pupils in schools with low take-up fare any differently at the end of Key State 1 than pupils in schools where take-up is much higher once  researchers have standardised for all other possible variables; a tough ask.

I guess, with the present funding problems facing schools, there won’t be any real pressure from government for a scheme to extend the free lunch arrangements to Key Stage 2 pupils and, no doubt, some politicians may see the whole exercise as an ineffective use of money, forgetting the benefits to both parents and children achieved by the was the scheme is resourced. The initiative to roll out the scheme for Key Stage 1 pupils was a Coalition government action with some parts of the Labour strongly supporting and other being either lukewarm or downright hostile to the idea.

 

Hats off to hard working volunteers

One of the privileges of being a parliamentary candidate is the opportunity to meet some amazing groups of people. Shortly after writing the previous post I went to meet a group of parents of children on the autistic spectrum or in the process of being diagnosed. The testimony of each and every one really reinforced the views I expressed in the previous post.

Here are a group of parents battling a dysfunctional education system that is lacking in resources and where many of the primary schools face cuts in funding under the new national funding formula. Light years ago, when common sense prevailed, local authorities had teams of SNASTs working with schools on special needs issues and training. After all, a new teacher cannot learn everything in a 39 week postgraduate course or a three year degree. Indeed, school-based training for teachers may make the exclusion of this type of special need from discussion during training even more likely.

The lack of a training syllabus for leadership also now means it is hit and miss whether new school leaders are properly prepared for their role and helped to understand the place of EHCPs and how to liaise with the health service. Local authority services are also under strain and the government’s policy towards the creation of new special schools seems lacking in definition and awareness of need.

The growing visibility of mental health issues and a greater understanding of autism has helped in some cases, but I am sure hindered in others as head teachers decide the challenges are too great and seek to offload pupils to special schools where with a little extra support and training they could be educated in community schools.

I know that charities such as MIND provide general training for teachers on the whole spectrum of mental health issues, and also that many issues don’t become apparent until pupils are in secondary school. Autism and its associated conditions need early detection and this is helped where class teachers and the other members of the classroom team, especially of the youngest children, are alert to any signs of a lack of development not fully within the normal parameters. Eyesight and hearing issues need monitoring, but so does the signs of a lack of social interaction and sensory issues that may act as pointers.

For all these reasons, special needs is an area that needs careful coordination and sensible use of resources. Government has decided that adoption services are too important to be left to single local authorities and has regionalised the service. I would argue that special needs is too important to leave to individual schools and MATs and is another function where a democratically elected local authority has a real and effective role to play in creating an excellent service. If a local authority fails, take it out of their hands, but also understand why it has failed and create the support for future success. Measuring failure without creating the opportunity for success is no way forward.

So, my best wishes to the parents I met and all other facing challenges they didn’t expect and the system doesn’t want to know about.