Missing the point

For the past year I have been drawing attention to the fact that children taken into care during the school year and then placed away from home may well have to change schools at short notice and mid-year. In many cases, schools asked to admit these young people recognise that the Admissions Code provides for priority for looked after children during the admissions round. However, in some cases, schools take an entirely opposite approach to in-year requests for a place and do everything to stall an admission.

Yesterday in parliament, my MP asked a question about this issue:Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)​

Looked-after children in Oxfordshire could have to wait for up to six months to get into the secondary school that they need to, primarily because local authorities do not have the directive powers over academies that they do over maintained schools. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the most vulnerable children do not miss a day of school?

Here is the Minister’s response
Nadhim Zahawi

Those most disadvantaged children, to whom the hon. Lady referred, are actually given priority during the admissions process.

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-05-14/debates/28B7B87C-B33B-4B69-B2D5-16AF519F3309/OralAnswersToQuestions

The exchange shows how it is necessary to be very precise when wording parliamentary questions, as indeed journalists tell me that it does when wording Freedom of Information requests. The Minister is technically correct, but that answer seems to apply more to the normal admission round for the start of the school year than to casual admissions in-year, as happens when a child is taken into care.

The DfE does need to address this issue. I would ask readers to check what is happening in their locality. Are there children in care being tutored away from schools because a school place cannot be found? How closely is the local authority monitoring this issue and what are the large children’s charities doing about the matter?

It is tough being taken into care and, as the admissions code recognises, we should be ensuring priority in the education of these young people at any time of the year. This includes continuity of provision.

I recognise that there are some areas of the country where there are large numbers of such children being placed and so of these are areas in selective systems further reducing the option of schools that can be approached. Should we offer more boarding school places for such children rather than trying to find foster families or is that too much like returning to institutional care – they is still the issue of how to handle school holidays in those cases.

Being taken into care presents a big risk to the education of a young person. At least trying to ensure that they can be found a school place quickly and that schools recognise the need to transition these newcomers into school life effectively and with sympathy is the least we should ask of a civilised society. Please do not allow these children to be forgotten.

 

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Upturn in average number of young people in custody

There has been a small but disappointing increase in the average number of young people up to the age of 18 being held in custody over the past eighteen months. Although the figures from April 2016 to February this year are provisional, they show the first upturn in annual average numbers held in detention since 2007/08. The provisional number for 2017/18 to February was 996 compared with 3,208 in 2007/08 and an all-time high since 2000 of 3,235 reached in 2005/06 at the height of the New Labour Target Culture when young people were being criminalised at an alarming rate. The data is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/youth-custody-data

Sadly, with the increase in knife violence witnessed recently, I suspect that the average number of young people in custody will only continue to increase over the short-term. Youngster from London make up by far the largest number from any one region, accounting for a quarter of the total of young people locked up in February 2018. By contrast, only 25 young people from Wales and 32 from the South West were being held in custody.

The change in policy on remands in custody for young people some years ago means that in February this year only 216, or about 20% of the total population in youth custody, were on remand. That may well still be too high a number, but there are still some serious crimes where custody following charge may be inevitable for public protection. If you add the total serving sentences for serious offences that will likely transfer into the adult prison estate when they are old enough to the remand population this group totals about 500 of the 870 under 18s in custody. There are fewer than 400 of this age group on Detention and Training Orders, almost the lowest number since well before 2000.

Only 28 of the under-18s in custody were classified as female, down from a peak of 241 in August 2007. This is approaching a 90% reduction, a percentage not achieved for the adult female prison population during the same period. Proportionally the number of BAME (Asian, Black, Mixed and Other) young people in custody has not declined in line with the reduction in the number recorded as White, so that in February 2018 there were 470 young people in custody classified as White and 385 as BAME compared with 1,754 White and 778 BAME in custody in August 2008.

The Youth Justice Board had not commissioned any bed space in the Eastern Region and only had nine custody bed spaces in use in the North East Region.  The 137 beds in the London Region are almost certainly not enough to allow young people to be kept in custody close to home. The same will almost certainly be true for the small number of young women in custody. Regular visits are very important to those in custody and their families and this can be a real issue now that numbers in custody are so much lower than a decade ago.

We must aim to ensure numbers in custody are as low as possible and that sentence lengths take into account the mental and physical age of the young person committing the crime as well as the seriousness of the offence. Ensuring their continued education and training and mental well-being are also important factors to take into account while in custody.

 

 

 

Educating children taken into care

Reflecting on my years as a secondary school teacher during the 1970s in Tottenham, I am sure that I taught many of what are now being called the ‘Windrush Generation’. These were the children from the Caribbean that followed their parents that came to Britain to help overcome the labour shortages faced by many public sector and nationalised industries in the 1950s and 1960s; nurses; bus drivers and conductors and railway porters and guards, as well as station staff working on the London Underground. I well recall the passion for the education of their children that was a feature of many of the parents attending open evenings.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my concerns for another group of young people that I view as being ignored by too many policy makers at Whitehall, hopefully not just for the sake of convenience and perhaps not ‘rocking the boat’. These are those children and young people taken into care and placed by a local authority outside of their local area; usually for very good safeguarding reasons, but sometimes because of local shortages of foster homes with appropriate experience.

In some cases, these young people are being denied an education, as schools either refuse admissions in-year or take inordinate lengths of time making up their minds. It is hard enough being taken into care, but to see your education disrupted through no fault of your own is to be punished for something that isn’t your fault. Tutoring isn’t the same as schooling and is often a poor substitute for these young people.

The DfE has a meeting later this week of civil servants and local authority officers that regularly discuss admissions issues, as well as exclusions and home to school transport matters. It is worth reminding the group that two years ago the 2016 White Paper mentioned returning powers over in-year admissions to local authorities. Such powers would go a long way to solving the problems facing these students.

Please will readers of this blog also ask their contacts to take up this issue and secure a decent education for these young people? I know that in some areas there have been concentrations of such children that can cause challenges for certain schools, especially secondary modern schools as the children mostly come from areas with non-selective secondary education and haven’t passed an entrance examination, even if the selective schools had any places in the appropriate year group, which most don’t. These schools may need extra help through a tweak in the Common Funding Formula, both nationally and by the local Schools Forum.

I would hope that Education Scrutiny and Oversight Committees around the country might also like to look at the issue of the educational outcomes of children taken into care and how they could be improved.

These are a group of young people that must not be allowed to become casualties of our system: they deserve better from us all regardless of our political persuasion.

The responsibility of us all

The following item was reported in several newspapers earlier this week, including The Daily Telegraph https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/11/child-stabbings-rise-63pc-amid-disturbing-trend-younger-knife/

NHS data shows a 63% increase over five years in the number of children aged 16 and under who have been treated for stab wounds in England. The largest increase (85%) between 2011/12 and 2016/17 was among 15-year-olds. The overall rise in the number of stabbings across England during the same period was 14%.

Now there may not be a correlation, but 15-year olds, and 15-year old young men in particular, have the highest rate of exclusions from our schools. After falling for many years, exclusions are also on the rise across much of England.

As those that know my life history will understand these two sets of statistics and particularly the one about knife crime have an especial resonance with me, as it was a teenager that stabbed me over 40 years ago in a rare act of serious and unprovoked violence that just happened to take place in a classroom in front of a group of children. As a result, knife crime has always been of special concern to me. I do view the recent upturn as a worrying trend.

Oxfordshire’s Cabinet will be discussing the County’s Education Scrutiny Committee report on exclusions in the county at their meeting next Tuesday. You can read the report in the Cabinet papers for 17th April 2018 at www.oxfordshire.gov.uk at item 6. I always hope that young people engaged fully in education will be less likely to commit these acts of knife crime.

I am also sure that cutbacks in both the Youth Service budget and that of the Youth Offending Teams across the county, along with revisions to Probation, probably haven’t helped in the prevention of such crimes. As ever, cutbacks have consequences further down the line when the money is being well spent.

In this case, changes in the nature of the curriculum probably may also have played a part since practical subjects have also too often been replaced with additional classroom time that can make life more challenging for many teachers working with pupils that don’t appreciate their efforts.

I believe there needs to be a concerted effort on the part of all responsible to once again recognise the need for behaviour management and to do everything to research and investigate the causes of exclusions in their school. Generally, persistent disruptive behaviour is given as the reasons for the largest number of exclusions. Working out how to reduce these exclusions should help allow resources to then be focused on dealing with other reasons why pupils are excluded.

It doesn’t matter whether schools are maintained, voluntary added, academies or free schools, they all have a responsibility to tackle this problem of school children carrying and using knives. Teaching Schools, National Leaders of Education and of Governance and those responsible for both training new entrants into the profession as well as designing continuing professional development will also need to ensure that they continue to make behaviour management strategies a high priority.

 

Welcome: Teaching Regulation Agency

Welcome to the Teaching Regulation Agency. I mentioned part of its role in my recent post about Induction. Those interested can now read this new Agency’s Corporate Plan at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/696833/teaching-regulation-agency-corporate-plan.pdf I am delighted to see that Alan Meryick has become its first Chief Executive. He has two female deputies, but, perhaps, it was a missed opportunity to have a women at the top of the organisation. Alan’s name will be familiar to anyone that has read the outcomes of teacher misconduct panel decisions, where his name has regularly appeared as the civil servant that acted on behalf of the Secretary of State in exercising the final judgement on the decision – subject of course to either a Judicial review or an appeal to an upper tier court.

We now know, thanks to this Corporate Plan, that the budget for the TRA for 2018-19 is just under £9 million. This money is needed not just to administer not just the misconduct section, but also all the other work of the Agency. This work includes a whole raft of administrative tasks involved in managing the State teaching workforce qualification and registration system. For example, the Teacher Qualification Unit operational delivery will include:

  • the award of QTS and EYTS to approximately 34,000 teachers who complete either a course of ITT or EYITT in England
  • processing approximately 9,000 applications from overseas trained teachers requesting recognition as a qualified teacher in England
  • delivery of up to 75,000 new online certificates to teachers through the teacher self -service portal (TSS)
  • processing more than 380,000 pre-employment checks through the online employer access service
  • recording approximately 32,000 NQT induction passes onto the database of qualified teachers
  • issuing up to 35,000 teacher reference numbers (TRN)
  • answering up to 30,000 telephone and responding to approximately 35,000 email helpdesk enquiries.

The Agency will also deal with around 1,000 referrals of serious misconduct and hold around 150 hearing of misconduct panels that can lead to a teacher being barred for the profession, but not from being able to use the title teacher.

It is interesting to see that the TRA has a vision statement as I thought that they were now somewhat tout of fashion. The TRA vision is:

We will strive to achieve excellence in all that we do, delivering a fair and consistent regulatory system for the teaching profession on behalf of the Secretary of State. We will assess applications for recognition of professional status fairly and efficiently. We will support the teaching profession by ensuring high standards of conduct are maintained, by fair, rigorous and timely teacher misconduct investigations, that where appropriate, prohibit teachers guilty of serious misconduct. We will work to maintain the high quality standards of the profession, allowing every child access to high quality education.

Sadly, nothing there about protecting who can use the title ‘teacher’.

The tasks of this new Agency are vital in securing a workforce for schools, but it cannot do anything about the shortfall of trainee numbers. The DfE is now fully responsible for any shortcomings in that direction.

Finally, the Agency still has work to do to purge the references to NCTL that still litter its information documents about teacher misconduct hearings. The Agency might also wish to consider whether it is appropriate for the panel’s legal adviser to sit alongside panel members at hearings, in case it makes them look as if they are a member of the panel itself. But, maybe their diagram doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation.

 

The Pay of Academy Staff

In the same week that I asked a question of Oxfordshire’s Cabinet Member for Education about the number of employees with salaries over £150,000 in Multi-Academy Trusts operating in Oxfordshire, the Public Accounts Committee has commented on the same issue in a report published today. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/760/76002.htm

The Cabinet member was unable to answer my question as, not surprisingly, the county doesn’t collate the information. However, in my supplementary question, I identified five MATs, all with HQs outside the county, where there was on officer listed in their 2017 accounts as being paid in excess of £150,000. In due course, my list will appear on the county council website and I will publish the link here.

In the Public Accounts Committee Report, issued today, it is clear that the government wrote to all stand-alone academies where in their accounts up to August 2016 there was an officer paid more than £150,000 to ask for an explanation by the 15th December 2017. I haven’t seen an FOI request for the responses. The original letter from the ESFA of 4th December only went to 29 single academy trusts (i.e. academy trusts with only one school in the trust) where the ESFA could identify from the accounts that the trust was paying at least one person over £150,000 and was to ask why such large sums of money had been paid.

In February this year, the Minister wrote to all Chairs of academy trusts in England saying:

 ‘I believe that not all boards are being rigorous enough on this issue. CEO and senior pay should reflect the improvements they make to schools’ performance and how efficiently they run their trusts. I would not expect the pay of a CEO or other non-teaching staff to increase faster than the pay award for teachers. I intend to continue to challenge this area of governance. My view is that we should see a reduction in CEO pay where the educational performance of the schools in the trust declines over several years.’ DfE letter 21st February 2018 reference 35 in the PAC Report.

There has been a history of neglect over senior staff salaries dating back to the Labour government and the emergence of the Executive Head or Principal position soon after the start of the century. Such a grade was never formally recognised in the pay and conditions agreements, and once Mr Gove freed up pay for academies, with no government restraints in place, it was open season for those that wanted to see pay rise to closer to what could be earned in the commercial sector. Buying former DfE officials was also always going to be expensive, but was no doubt one of the justifications used. Using public money to pay related parties is often even less acceptable, as the PAC note in their Report.

We heard of related party transactions where the rules were not properly followed, or where there were doubts about the propriety of the transactions. For example, Wakefield City Academies Trust purchased IT services worth £316,000 from a company owned by the Chief Executive of the Trust, and paid a further £123,000 for clerking services provided by a company owned by the Chief Executive’s daughter. We similarly heard that the founder of Bradford Academy, who was a former teacher, was ordered to repay £35,000 after being sentenced to prison for defrauding the school. The founder and other former members of staff at Kings Science Academy paid £69,000 of Government grants into their own bank accounts. There have also been problems with related party transactions at the Bright Tribe Academy Trust, which resulted in schools being removed from the Trust.

Academy trusts are required to demonstrate to the satisfaction of their own auditors that related parties have not made a profit from the relationship (i.e. that transactions are at cost or below). We were concerned that determining whether a service has been delivered at cost is dependent on information from the supplier, who may have a vested interest in manipulating or inflating this information and is in a position to do so. We questioned whether there were incentives for trustees to take advantage of the system, due to the weaknesses in the system of oversight. The Department, noting our dissatisfaction with the current processes, committed to reflect on the adequacy of the current arrangements. Following our evidence session, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System wrote to all Chairs of academy trusts to remind them of the need to scrutinise any related party transactions, and to ensure that a full and proper procurement process is following and the trust is able to demonstrate that the services have been provided at cost.

Paragraphs 10 and 11 of the PAC Report: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/760/76002.htm

Should local authorities be required either to provide audit services for all academies or at least to review the accounts of those academies with responsibility for schools within their locality? The LGA could apportion responsibility for MATs that cross boundaries in order to ensure that all are looked at by at least one authority that could then report to the appropriate local scrutiny committee.

Public money, especially in a time of austerity, should be spent in the most effective way. TeachVac has cost the government nothing, but demonstrate how a low cost recruitment site works for the benefit of all. The notion of ‘public service’ and not ‘profit from public funds’ must once again be to the fore.

 

 

 

 

Top slice maintained schools?

There are growing reasons to be concerned about how the two systems of school governance; maintained and academy are working. A brief look at the accounts of any multi-academy trust with more than a couple of schools will show a figure for central costs. Assuming that the MAT has no other income, the funding for these costs will normally have had to come from the schools within the MAT. Should the remaining maintained schools, not yet academies, be top-sliced in a similar manner by local authorities rather than just offered the chance to buy back services on a traded basis?

This issue has once again surfaced because in a report published this week, Ofsted said of Newham Council in London, following an Ofsted a visit to a primary school that wasn’t a normal inspection visit:

‘The local authority has provided some support to the school in managing the manipulative and sometimes abusive correspondence and comments made by email and across social media. However, considering the position the school found itself in, and the fact that some correspondence appears to have been coordinated, the local authority’s approach has been perfunctory at best, stopping short of supporting the school in its policy position. Instead, the local authority has positioned itself as a moderator to manage relationships between the school, councillors and community groups. The expected level of emotional care and public support for school staff from the local authority has been too limited and, as a result, ineffective.’

Now this school had faced a high pressure campaign around a particular set of issues. Should the local authority have had the funds to offer the school its full support as they would have done in the past? The alternative view presumably, is that schools, whether academies or not are now funded as if they were on their own and if they want that support they can buy it.

This question follows on neatly from the Ofsted monitoring report on St Gregory the Great School in Oxford mentioned here in the post on 19th January https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2018/01/page/2/ in which Ofsted criticised the multi-academy company for the manner they were handling the improvement of the school from its rating as inadequate. Clearly, the MAC can use central costs obtained from its schools to offer support. Indeed, the local Anglican MAT in Oxfordshire has appointed a primary adviser from central funds.

Should we treat the remaining maintained schools as if they were a local authority MAT or not bother with the issues of governance and support for these schools? In passing, there is a third group of converter standalone academies that raise another set of issues over the question of support.

With the common funding formula starting to be implemented from April, some schools may be top-sliced where their neighbour down the road isn’t yet receive the same level of funding. Indeed, why should schools hand over part of their declining income to cover central costs, if maintained schools aren’t required to do so?

How should local authorities react? They are even more strapped for cash than schools, having borne the brunt of government cuts over the past eight years: you only have to look at Northamptonshire’s financial situation to see the depth of the problems councils face.

Ofsted cannot expect more from local authorities without recognising that someone, either the school or the government will have to pay for that support. If MATs can top-slice, should local authorities also be allowed to do so?