Education for All

The new Report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) about exclusions, building on their work earlier this year, is deeply worrying. https://epi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Unexplained-pupil-moves_LAs-MATs_EPI-2019.pdf

Among the most concerning of EPI’s new findings are;

Amongst the 2017 cohort of pupils, we also found that approximately 24,000 children who exit to an unknown destination do not return to a state-funded school by the spring term of year 11.

The vast majority of unexplained exits do not appear to be a managed move.

51.9 per cent of all unexplained exits are to an unknown destination in the term following the exit.

Both LAs and MATs among the school groups with higher than average rates of unexplained exits, i.e. this is not a problem that is most prevalent amongst a particular structure of school governance. However larger MATs (those with at least ten schools with secondary pupils) all have above average rates of unexplained exits.

These snippets, taken from the Key Findings of a long and detailed report, suggest a system that is not operating to educate all children. Some teenagers have never been easy to educate. Indeed, challenging though schools are today most are not the same as they were up to the 1990s.

There is undoubtedly a trade-off to be had between the cost of educating challenging pupils and the funding a school receives. This trade-off may be starker in areas where Pupil Premium and High Needs Block funds are lower because of high employment and government funding calculations.

Nevertheless, the issue cannot and should not be solved by schools excluding pupils with nowhere to for them to go. EPI might also like to look at pupils that move into an area mid-year and the extent to which some of those with challenging problems are not offered school places.

The education of all our children is an issue for government to tackle. In the present governance hiatus, only central government can identify and tackle both the root causes of the problem and those schools and MATs that are the worst offenders. Ministers have been willing to take on academy trusts over the issue of high pay for Chief Executives. This is another issue for action by central government, with Ofsted, Regional School Commissioners and the Education and Skills Funding Council all acting together.

There is little local authorities can do except identify the size of the problem in their area and ensure missing children are identified and then put pressure on schools. But, with budgets largely in the hands of schools, there is little authorities can do even with maintained schools, and virtually nothing with these academy chains, often with headquarters located far away in another part of the country.

Sadly, one casualty of any intervention might be the right of genuine home schoolers to educate their children as they see fit without the need to keep the authorities informed. This principle goes back to 1870 and the start of state education. However, it must be at risk if it allows for a system that lets so many young people disappear from sight before the end of their statutory education. Out of sight must not mean out of mind.

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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

Admissions still a headache for everyone

The DfE has recently published data about appeals for admission to primary and secondary schools. The data relates to admissions for the start of the 2018-19 school year; mostly for September 2018, but some schools may start their year in August. Although the data relates to admissions to any year group at the start of the school year, it seemingly doesn’t cover in-year admissions from parents moving into an area during the school year. There also doesn’t seem to be any mention of special schools and the evidence appeals could provide about the pressure on places in that sector. The basic information is available at  https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/admissions-appeals-in-england-academic-year-2018-to-2019

As pressure on primary places has eased, with the downward trend in births, so the percentage of appeals lodged in relation to admissions to infant classes in the primary sector has also reduced; from 3.3% of admissions in 2015/16 to 2.0% for the 2018/19 admission round. There has been a similar, but smaller percentage, decline in appeals for places in other years in the primary sector.

By contrast, in the secondary sector, where pupil numbers are on the increase, appeals are on the increase, up from 29,000 in 2015/16 to nearly 38,500 for the 2018/19 admission round. The percentage of these appeals decided in the parents’ favour has also been in decline during this time period as pressure on places has intensified.

This data is important to parents that will soon be struggling with the admission process for 2020. Local Authorities must publish their admission booklets by the 12th September, in order to allow parents to express their preference for schools by the end of October, for the secondary sector, and by early 2020 for the primary sector.

Last year, parents in Oxfordshire faced the problem of deciding whether or not to apply for a place at a school that didn’t exist. Some parents in the London borough of Enfield face the same prospect this autumn. Wren Academy want to open a new school and have created a set of admission criteria, including:

The remaining places will be allocated equally between Foundation and Community applicants as follows:

  1. a. Faith places (up to a maximum of 92) allocated in the following order: i. Up to 55 places for Church of England applicants ii. Up to 37 places for other Christian faith applicants b. Community Places (up to a maximum of 92) for all other children 
  1. Where there are places available in either category 3 or 4 above,these will be filled from the other category.

Leaving aside the issues parents will have about whether they can apply for both a Foundation category faith place and a community place as well, and whether both parents need to be of the Christian faith for a Foundation place or just one will do, there is the issue surrounding the fact that the school hasn’t yet been created by the DfE, and thus no Funding Agreement has been signed.

The DfE really needs to update the Admissions Code to deal with this situation and make explicit that any school included in the admissions booklet is guaranteed to open the following September.

 

 

 

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. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/understanding-the-educational-background-of-young-offenders-summary-report

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  https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/epi-annual-report-2019-the-education-disadvantage-gap-in-your-area/ 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 https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2018/04/17/educating-children-taken-into-care/

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.

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/human-rights-act/article-2-first-protocol-right-education

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.

https://www.lgo.org.uk/information-centre/news/2019/jul/oxfordshire-teen-left-out-of-school-for-14-months-because-of-council-delay

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.