Rods, poles and perches

The announcement of 10,000 new prison places and increased use of stop and search by the Prime Minister made me think about what he might announce for education once he goes beyond the financial carrot necessary to shore up our under-financed education system.

With such an ardent Brexiter in charge, could he direct that the curriculum change on 1st November to throw out any reference to the decimal system and witness a return to imperial weights and measures? Could the government mandate that temperature again be expressed in degrees Fahrenheit rather than Centigrade, and kilometres be banished form the language once again? Any other summer and these might seem silly season stories, but not in 2019.

I have no doubt that schools would rather than spend the £2 billion to build new prison places that this cash was spent on youth services, more cash for special schools and strategies to reduce exclusions and off-rolling by schools. This could include better provision of professional development courses to help teachers educate challenging pupils rather than exclude them. Such measures might obviate the need for building new prisons.

I do not want to return to the dark days of the Labour government, just over a decade ago, when, at any one time, around 4,000 young people were being locked up: the number now is closer to 1,000 despite the issues with knife crime that like drugs issues is now seeping across the country at the very time when it seems to have plateaued in London.

More police and other public service staff are necessary for society to function effectively, but the aim must be on prevention and deterrents not on punitive action and punishment. Criminals that know they are likely to be caught may well think twice: those that know detection rates are abysmal will consider the opportunity worth the risk.

The State also needs to spend money on education and training of prisoners as well as rehabilitation of offenders after the end of their sentence; especially young offenders. The recent report from the Inspector of Prisons makes as depressing reading as the study highlighted in a previous post of the background of many young people that are incarcerated for committing crimes. If we cannot even work to prevent the smaller number of young people imprisoned these days from re-offending what hope is there if society starts to lock up more young people again?

A recurrent theme of this blog has been about the design of the curriculum for the half of our young people not destined for higher education. Here the new government could do something sensible by recognising that schools have accepted that the EBacc offers too narrow a curriculum to offer to every pupil and to encourage a post-14 offering that provides for the needs of all pupils. This might be achieved by encouraging schools and further education to work together.

A start might be made by increasing the funding for the 16-18 sector and identifying what was good about the idea of University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools and why the experiment has not worked as its promoters had hoped.



Young people in custody: all too depressing

At the beginning of August, the DfE together with the Ministry of Justice, published what is described as ‘a joint experimental statistics report’ on ‘Understanding the educational background of young offenders’. The report makes depressing, but possibly not unexpected reading.

The results are from a data sharing project between the DfE and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), conducted in 2015. The analysis is of those young offenders sentenced in 2014 matched to DfE data.

Not all young people with the observed characteristics either offend or, if offending, are sentenced to one or more periods of custody. There is no causal relationship between any lack of education progress and offending, but those that offend are more likely than not to have below average educational outcomes regardless of their actual ability.

This lack of educational progress, although apparent by the end of Key Stage 2 for the cohort studied in this exercise, is magnified when students reach secondary school. The largest gap between the outcome for all pupils and those that became young offenders was in ‘writing’ at Key Stage 2 and the smallest gap was in ‘reading at this Key Stage.

By Key Stage4, although the majority of young offenders in the study did achieve a pass in something at Key Stage 4, no more than 7%  of young person sent into custody achieved 5 A*-Cs including English and mathematics, using the grading then in place for these subjects. The most depressing figure is that just one per cent of the 399 individuals sent into a short period of custody achieved the 5 A*-Cs outcome including English and mathematics.

A third of young offenders receiving custody of longer than twelve months when age 16 or 17 on their sentence date were ‘looked after children’ on the 31st March 2014.

Even more depressing is the very high percentages of young offenders with a record of persistent absence from school, presumably mostly in their secondary school careers. Apart from those sentenced to Referral Orders and Cautions that are likely to be first time entrants into the criminal justice system, all other categories had more than 90% of the group with a record of persistent absence, peaking at 94% for those with custodial sentences of less than six months. This group also top the percentage that had been subject to a permanent exclusion.

At the period this study was undertaken ‘off-rolling’ and home educating of Key Stage 4 pupils was not a significant feature of secondary schools. However, it would be interesting to know the percentage of young people ‘off-rolled’ that enter the criminal justice system at the present time.

Schools and colleges are currently facing financial challenges, and it is worrying that the figures in this report come from a period when schools were better, even if not adequately, funded.

Interestingly, this report does not include either regional data or data about the ethnicity of the offenders. One can assume, however, that most are young men as the number of young women sent into custody is generally very low.

Hopefully, this report will inspire the new Ministerial team in the DfE to address how the education of this group of young people can be improved and the use of custody reduced.





Bad news on closing the gap

The Education Policy Institute’s 2019 Report on Education (EPI Report) has largely been noticed for the comments about social mobility and the stalling of attempts to close the gaps between disadvantaged and other pupils as this is a key feature of its findings Reasons for this ending of the reduction in the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and other pupils as noted by EPI are the decline in funding for schools and the challenges some schools face in both recruiting and retaining teachers.

This latter explanation is one that has been regularly championed by this blog as likely to have an adverse effect on outcomes. So, it would seem that money matters, and the idea of just providing cash to under-funded local authorities, as seemingly suggested by the new Prime Minister, might not necessarily be the way forward.

However, I do have some concerns about parts of the methodology used by EPI as it relates to the presentation of the data. A focus on local authorities as the key determinant does tend to ignore areas, whether urban or rural that have wide variations in levels of disadvantage within the same local authority boundary. For the two tier shire and district council areas, it would have been better to use the data at a district council level, but that doesn’t help in cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, and boroughs where there may be wide variations between different parts of the authority. To some extent the data for an authority doesn’t reveal the whole picture and can provide results that might mis-lead the casual reader.

EPI avoids this issue to some extent by producing tables using parliamentary constituencies as the basis for the data. Thus the gap in months at the secondary level relative to non-disadvantaged pupils nationally can differ widely within one authority by looking at data at the level of the parliamentary constituency. For Birmingham, it is 13.6 in Selly Oak, but 19.6 in Ladywood; in Kent it differs between 27.0 for the Dover constituency and 13.8 in Tunbridge Wells.

This is not to say that drawing attention to the gap between where pupils start their education journeys and where they complete them isn’t vitally important at a local authority level. But, providing everyone with equal shares of the cake is not an answer for anyone that wants anything other than administrative simplicity, important though it is to ensure that base funding levels are sufficient for the task in hand.

EPI do make the point in their report that despite no progress in narrowing the disadvantage gap, overall pupil attainment has continued to rise. This suggests that an overall rise in standards does not guarantee a reduction in the disadvantage gap. (Their emphasis).

The Report also highlights the fact that the post-16 education routes taken by young people are becoming increasingly segregated by socio-economic status, with disadvantaged pupils disproportionately represented in certain routes. In particular, the increased segregation is driven by an over-representation of disadvantaged students in further education. These trends may damage the government’s ambition of rectifying imbalances between further and higher education. (Their emphasis).



Education is a fundamental Human Right

Last week there was a report from the Ombudsman (sic) about the management of the process of to the admission of a pupil to a school. This report was of especial interest to me as it involved Oxfordshire, where I am a county councillor.

Long-time readers of this blog will know of my concerns over the time required for some children taken into care to be offered a school place, despite their vulnerability. I have written about that issue several times, but probably most tellingly in April last year at

The fact that other children are also being affected is very disappointing, and disheartening when it is happening so close to home.

I firmly believe this is a basic right of children to be provided with education by the State, if asked to do so. To leave a child for 14 months, as in the case highlighted in the report from the Ombudsman, with either less than full-time education or no education at all is unacceptable.

We now fine parents for taking children on holiday in term time, so we cannot accept, even in these times of cuts to public services, a child facing long periods without education as a result of administrative issues.

Indeed, I am reminded that the first Protocol of Article 2 of the 1998 Human Rights Act reads as follows:

Right to education

No person shall be denied a right to an education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

The fault is not entirely that of Oxfordshire, the power of academies to dictate their own in-year admissions and the failure of government to act quickly when asked to rule on the issue don’t help.

Indeed, the 2016 White Paper that suggested that in-year admissions be returned to local authority control would be a good start.

If Mr Williamson wanted an early win for parents, pending time for legislation, he could gain voluntary acceptance for academies and their Trusts to agree to work with local authorities on admissions and not to opt out of local arrangements.

However, all Oxfordshire’s children already have Oxfordshire County Council as their first line of defence when there are problems, as the Ombudsman pointed out at paragraph 60 of their Report:

Section 19 of the Education Act 1996 states councils have a duty to make arrangements to ensure the provision of suitable education at school or otherwise for each child of compulsory school age who for reasons of illness, exclusion or otherwise may not for any period receive suitable education unless arrangements are made for them. This duty is binding.

Young people only have one chance of education alongside their peers, and we have to provide the resources to take care of challenging cases as much as for the majority of pupils that cause no issues for the State, and the schools it funds.



Children with a parent in prison

Sir Cliff Richard and the broadcaster Paul Gambaccini have recently raised the issue of anonymity for those under investigation for historic sex crime, but not at that point either arrested or charged. Without entering into that debate, it is worth pointing out that there are other groups affected by the criminal justice system where a lack of anonymity can cause them problems in society.

One such group is the children of offenders. Those offenders under the age of eighteen are provided with anonymity in almost all cases. However, that protection does not really apply to children of adult offenders. Communities can read in their local press, where it still exists, or on social media of a father of a family of four living in such and such a location and easily identify the children. These children can then be easily identified by their peers at school and become subject to bullying and other torments.

Children Heard and Seen is a charity started in Oxfordshire and where, until my term of office ended, I was a trustee. The charity works with the children with adults in prison, often fathers, but not always, and in a few cases both parents. Until recently these children were the forgotten sufferers from the workings of the criminal justice system: many, especially boys, went on to commit crimes in later life.

I have written about the work of the charity before on this blog, but I thought it helpful to provide it with another mention, especially since they have this summer been awarded Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, one of six groups in Oxfordshire so recognised.

You can find out more about the charity and its work either on its Facebook page at or by visiting its website at

The following has been taken from the web site of Children Hears and Seen.

On Friday 14th June 2019, Children Heard and Seen and MyTime jointly hosted the first children’s voice conference for children with a parent in prison, ‘Our Time To Be Heard‘. The conference was held in the iconic Churchill Rooms at Westminster, and was attended by MPs, policy makers, Peers, academics and journalists. It was entirely devised by the children, who wrote and presented their own speeches, and read out poetry they had written.

The children got the chance to interview HMP Staffordshire’s governor with insightful questions such as “Why aren’t there more family visits?”. Also the opportunity to interview two journalists from the BBC with grilling questions such as “Why does a person’s face, address, second name need to be in the papers? Why does it have to backfire on the children and everyone who knows the person?”. The conference was a great success and brought together children from around the UK who have a parent in prison,

At the end of the conference, the children announced seven calls to action. They identified that they need to be supported, they need to be heard, seen, and have their voices reflected in policy.

There is currently no policy in place which supports children with a parent in prison, even on remand. This conference allowed the children to discuss what should be enforced in national policy to increase their mental health, wellbeing and generally benefit their lives and the lives of other children with a parent in prison. These are seven calls to action decided by children. They are ready for change.

1: Currently when people are sent to prison and it is reported in the media, they print the person’s street name and town. This leaves the remaining family and children extremely vulnerable. We know of families who have had to move due to the abuse they have received after their addresses were published in local and sometimes national press. In Norway, the press are not allowed to print the addresses of offenders if they have children, why can we not do the same in the UK?

2: Allow children to say a proper goodbye to their parent before the end of a visit by providing a ten minute warning of the end of visiting time, as this would reduce stress and trauma not only for the child, but also the prisoner.

3: Family Days are used as a reward for people in prison who have an ‘enhanced status’, meaning people who obey the prison rules. This means that not all children are offered family day visits, and are further punished by not being allowed to have contact with their parent as a result of their parents’ behaviour. These are often held back as punishment to the prisoner, resulting in more punishment for the children. This approach focuses on the parent in prison, punishing children further for actions that are out of their control.

4: Consideration should always be given to the needs of children when a parent is arrested r a search warrant is executed.

5: Pupil Premium was set up to improve the attainment of disadvantaged children. In addition to the rules on free school meals eligibility, all Looked After children and children with a parent in the armed forces are eligible for Pupil Premium or Service Children Premiums. We feel that children with a parent in prison are as disadvantaged as these groups and should therefore be eligible, regardless of income. Changing this would give schools more money to support children with a parent in prison.

6: There are an estimated 312,000 children in the UK with a parent in prison. However there is no record of these children or where they live. Maybe placing them in the same category as ‘looked after children’ for school admissions would make it easier to identify this invisible group and give them support.

7: The last call to action is something all the young people at the conference felt strongly about. They feel fortunate to be supported by Children Heard and Seen, and by MyTime, Families Outside and Nepacs. We all want all children with a parent in prison to have support in their community. There is a desperate lack of funding in this area and very little specialised support available. We believe supporting children affected by parental imprisonment is key to breaking inter-generational offending.

Here are some quotes from our children, talking about what Children Heard and Seen means to them:

  • I love Children Heard and Seen because we do really fun things and I feel good talking about it in the group because it helps me with how I feel. The good thing about it is the places we go to and the things we do together.Kayim, aged 9.
  • This is why we need support like the support from Children Heard and Seen to be happy. Every child should have the support we get from Children Heard and Seen. Leah, aged 8.
  • The charity Children Heard and Seen has helped me realise I am not the only one going through these experiences. Luke, aged 12.
  • I like coming to Children Heard and Seen because when I come here I feel supported and that I can discuss anything with them! Khizr, aged 12.
  • I like Children Heard and Seen because I can talk to other people in the same situation or who had the same situation as me. I feel like I can express my feelings better now than I could before. Thanks to Children Heard and Seen I’m glad that I can be heard and understood. Jasmyn, aged 12.





Social mobility requires teachers

Living and working as I do in Oxford, I am not surprised about the Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility Commission findings, published today, about the importance of private schools in the education of those at the top of many career ladders. These universities, and others in disciplines not addressed by Oxford and Cambridge, will always turn out those likely to become the leaders in their chosen fields.

The debate sparked by this fairly commonplace research, but nevertheless worthwhile as a reminder of the real world, has been mostly about how to create access to these universities for a wider group of students? Both Oxford and Cambridge are now creating schemes to take more pupils from a wider range of backgrounds than when the present leaders in society were heading for university all those years ago.

However, for me, the key issue remains the need to provide enough teachers all of whom are inspiring for all pupils in our schools. To further the Oxford theme, BMW don’t want to produce any sub-standard cars at their Cowley plant, and they put in place quality assurance mechanisms to prevent that happening. Politicians on the other hand don’t view schooling in the same way. Parents are required to educate their children, but if they trust the State to undertake that education, there is no guarantee of quality or even, as recent data about pupils with special education needs has revealed, a guarantee of a school place.

One issue that I have raised consistently over the past two decades is that of the credentials that teachers need in order to teach. For teachers in the secondary sector, subject knowledge, a knowledge of pedagogy, and the ability to marry the two together, are, in my view, vital in allowing teachers to teach their subject, especially as it become more complex to understand and explain.

However, governments of all persuasions have continued to remain satisfied with a minimum standard that allows those with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) to teach anything to anyone of any age in schools. Indeed, thanks to Michael Gove, you don’t even need to have that basic qualification to teach in most state-funded secondary schools these days, and teachers trained in a range of different countries have automatic right to obtain QTS.

Is this minimum standard, with no requirement to keep it up to date during a teacher’s career, still acceptable in the 21st century? Well, it allows Ministers to talk of record teacher numbers, not of record shortages of teachers equipped to teach physics, business studies or many aspects of design and technology.

This lack of respect for parents and children by a state system that is not staffed by teachers knowledgeable in their subject lies behind a large part of why some children, however able, cannot reach our top universities.

A labour market based upon open competition, with schools increasingly setting their own pay rates, favours schools with access to more funds. These nearly always aren’t the schools in the most deprived areas: those schools also lack access to the same degree of parental funding and support, whether through direct monthly cash payments or by parents paying for private tuition that help keep up a school’s outcomes.

Off-rolling and the state of education governance

Earlier this month The Education Policy Institute published a report into unexplained pupil exits from schools Their paper raised the question about whether this was a growing problem? A good survey of the background to the issue, and how it has gained prominence, can be found in a House of Commons briefing paper at first published last December. For those with access to the Local Government Information Unit publications, John Fowler has also written a helpful policy briefing on the subject.

The House of Commons paper starts with a helpful explanation of the issue and why it is important.

What is ‘off-rolling’ and why are concerns being raised?

There are many reasons that children may be removed from the school roll. For example, children may legitimately be excluded from schools, move to another school that is more suitable for them, or simply move home. Parents also have the right to educate their child at home if they wish. Recent years, however, have seen concerns being raised that children are leaving school rolls in rising numbers, in particular as they approach GCSE level, because of pressures within the school system. It has been suggested that increased ‘off-rolling’ is taking place because of the impact of pupils who are likely to perform relatively poorly in their examinations on school performance measures, and because schools may be struggling to support children who need high levels of support, for example pupils with special educational needs. Off-rolling of this kind might involve children being excluded for reasons that are not legitimate, or parents being encouraged to home educate a child where they would not otherwise have chosen to do so. Excluding children from school for non-disciplinary reasons is unlawful. Children who are off-rolled may move to another school, into alternative provision, or into home education.

In the present muddled state of education governance, local authorities may no longer operate schools, but they retain residual responsibilities, not least where schooling intersects with child safety concerns. Thus, as John Fowler points out, the DfE is reviewing its statutory guidance on Children Missing Education and the requirement in the Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations 2006, as amended in 2016, in order to publish a review by 30 September 2019 of regulation 5. This is the regulation that covers the contents of the admission register, along with regulation 8 that deals with deletions from the admission register, and regulation 12 that covers information to be provided to the local authority.

In Oxfordshire, all but one of our secondary schools are now academies. What sanctions does the local authority have if schools do not comply with the requirement to notify an exit from school by a pupil, especially by a pupil at the start of Year Eleven where they still would not count towards a school’s results the following summer? A rule that has no sanctions attached is a rule that can be broken with impunity.

In an earlier post on this blog about youth justice I suggested that ‘any secondary school with more than 8% of its current annual revenue grant held in reserves and also with an above average figure for permanent exclusions across years 10 and 11 and any off-rolling of pupils in those years for pupils with SEND should have 50% of the excess of their reserves above the 8% level removed by the government and reallocated to the local Youth Offending Team.’ (March 11th 2019 post headed youth Justice)

If it is more cost effective for schools to remove challenging pupils than to retain them on roll, then there is little incentive, especially when funds are tight, to keep to either the letter or the spirit of the law. At the next Cabinet meeting in Oxfordshire I will be probing this matter further through a tabled question.