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 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?




Thank you

A big thank you to all readers. Whether you are one of the regulars or just coming across this blog for the first time, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading these posts. Today is the fifth birthday of this blog. It started on the 25th January 2013 with a post about the level of reserves then being held by schools. In the five years I have been writing the blog it has had 50,000 visitors – this landmark was passed earlier this month – and the 100,000 views landmark will be reached early next month as the total currently stands at 98,668 or just fewer than two views per visitor. The day with the most views was the 8th March 2014, when there was a reference to the blog in a national newspaper.

I think it is reasonable to claim that this blog helped lead the way in terms of highlighting the deteriorating situation in relation to the flow of new entrants into the teaching profession. Because much of my working life was spent in and around the area of teacher supply, it is perhaps not surprising that issues about teacher numbers should have remained a prominent theme across the years.

In August 2013 the DfE was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying what I had written in this blog was scaremongering and based upon incomplete evidence (blog post 14th August 2013, if you want to look it up). It wasn’t then and what I say isn’t now. But, I do sympathise with DfE press officers having to try and come up with an answer when the negative stories appear. The media is less interested in the good news, for instance, when applications increase. The easing of the concerns over maths teacher numbers during 2017 also wasn’t really reported, but that may be an issue of quantity not matching the quality needed?

Along with teacher supply, I have tried to keep an eye on the stories behind the numbers in education; or at least some of them. From rural schools in London to the profit companies make from education there is always something to write about and the blog has now reached more than 650 different posts in its five year lifespan. 130 of the posts have drawn comments and again, my thanks to those that comment regularly on what I have written; my especial thanks to Janet Downes for her insightful comments on many different posts.

Regular readers know that I am a Liberal Democrat politician and have fought two general elections (unsuccessfully) and two county elections (both successful) as well as one election for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner, all during the life of this blog. It is good to have some time off this year; assuming that nothing goes wrong and there isn’t another general election.

This blog is now on its fourth Secretary of State and I predicted the change this January in a post at the end of 2017, before the reshuffle was announced.

My one regret is that schools are still not doing enough to share in the challenge to cut Carbon emissions. My one hope is that someone will come up with an energy scheme that can utilise the vast acreage of school playgrounds that lie unused for more than 99% of the year.

Thank you for reading: my best wishes for the future.


Schools need to support not exclude adopted children

Some months ago I raised concerns about children being taken into care having to wait for long periods of time before being offered a school place when their foster placements ws some distance from any previous school. Such treatment of vulnerable children is not a good reflection on our education system. Sadly, this is still happening.

Now the BBC has published the results of a survey by Adoption UK into exclusions of adopted children, another vulnerable group of young people. This report makes for grim reading as well.

Adoption UK’s research estimates adopted children can be up to 20 times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers.

The charity surveyed 2,084 of its members and found that of those with adopted children at school in 2015-16, 12% had had a fixed-term and 1.63% a permanent exclusion.

This compares with a rate of 4.29% for fixed and 0.08% for permanent exclusions across all state schools in England.

Adoption UK says that while its survey is indicative rather than scientific, it raises serious concerns.

Their web site is at:  but I couldn’t find the survey when I looked.

The fact that there is a Minister of State for Children and Families should be a help in terms of government policy, but what is needed is a commitment to take action to support the education of vulnerable children at traumatic stages in their lives and a recognition that the effects can be long-lasting.

The dual and increasingly separate maintained and academy systems aren’t working for these children in many cases, as one group doesn’t have the money needed to offer effective help and the other often doesn’t seem to have the will, even though it has the ability to raise the cash.

I trust schools to do the best for ‘nice’ children supported by their parents, but I want them also to be supported to handle the more challenging of our young people as they set out on their lives. Exclusion and wiping your hands of the problem isn’t the answer.

If Paddington Bear can be thought of as a metaphor for an adopted child and can be falsely accused in the latest film of a crime he didn’t commit, then let us all pause for a moment and reflect upon not just our judgement, but also our treatment of adopted children. Sometimes being excluded must feel like being treated as a criminal and having done something wrong.

The adoption process in England is now being reorganised into larger regional agencies, but local authorities will still have to deal with the on-going responsibilities that result. From April 2018 the Virtual Schools will take on extra responsibilities for adopted children, on top of their already heavy workloads. But, as Adoption UK say, school staff should have better training around the needs of adopted children and for better support for these children throughout their schooling.

There is a further worry that the true extent of problem of exclusion is being masked because schools are regularly asking adoptive parents to take their children home and keep them out of school, without recording them as exclusions.

This is an area that Ofsted needs to inspect across a range of schools to uncover exactly what is happening.



Law rules, OK

Yesterday afternoon I spent engaging in a series of events that skilfully blended the modern with the traditional. Oxford as a city seems quite good at such activities. The afternoon started with the Oxford Law Lecture. This was instituted some 14 years ago by the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire to take place on the same day as the Court Sermon. This year’s lecture was provided by Lord Igor Judge and discussed the ’rule of law’: a very appropriate topic in these times of constitutional upheaval.

Linking the lecture and the sermon later in the afternoon is the ceremony of the gloves, where a visiting high court judge is presented with a pair of gloves by representatives of the City of Oxford and the longer-operating of the city’s two universities. The actual ceremony takes place in the Dean of Christ Church’s lodgings, so is not open to the public. Interestingly, the Lord Mayor in full ceremonial robes and chain, preceded by the City mace, walks almost unnoticed from the town hall to Christ Church College along a most undistinguished route, past rows of people queuing at the city’s main conglomeration of bus stops.

All well and good, I hear you saying, but what has this to do with a blog that is about education? Well, I firmly believe that as public institutions schools are required to understand the concept of the rule of law and to apply it wherever possible. My campaign about the time it takes for some looked after children to be offered a school place is a case in point. Are they being denied their right to education for a responsible reason or because of procedures set up to benefit the school? Now, I am sure that the school might argue its procedures are for the benefit of the many and not the individual. But, every individual has the right to access education and to discriminate against those that move into an area mid-year by making it harder for them is to place an unfair burden on children for whom the move may not have been their fault.

I also believe that the draconian discipline measures reported as being introduced by some schools also flout the principle of the rule of law. A detention for reacting to a noise behind you with no right of appeal may be necessary in the short-term to regain control in a school that has descended into chaos, but should never form part of a discipline code that relies upon fear of making a mistake more than on an understanding of the need for order in classrooms as part of a long-term strategy. What sort of citizens are we trying to produce in our schools? Indeed, what type of teacher does such a system also produce? Rules should be kept because they are sensible for all and, thus, accepted by all.

Helping children internalise the understanding of why there are rules and laws is important. Developing an understanding of the purpose of laws, whereby adults don’t need to create rules obeyed just because, I say so, is to help young people to grow and develop. We warn the young child off for knowing the dangers of a hot stove; we expect adults to internalise the dangers. How we in education carry out our rules so that they are fair to all is a mark of a society that understands the rule of law as well as the rules of law.

Support ‘Looked After’ young people’s education

In my post on 11th June, after the outcome of the general election was known, I suggested some issues that could still be addressed by a government without an overall majority. First among these was the issue of school places for young people taken into care and placed outside of the local authority. They have no guarantee of access to a new school within any given time frame at present. It seemed to me daft that a parent could be fined for taking a child out of school for two weeks to go on holiday but a local authority could wait six months for a school place to be provided for a young person taken into care. (Incidentally, the parent whose case went to the Supreme Court faces a new hearing in his local Magistrates’ Court today following the ruling from the highest court in the land.)

On Tuesday, I asked a question of the Oxfordshire Cabinet members for Education and Children’s Services about the extent of the problem of finding school places for ‘Looked After’ young people. The question and answer are reproduced below.

Question from Councillor Howson to Councillors Harrod and Hibbert Biles

“How many children taken into care over the past three school years and placed ‘out county’ have had to wait for more than two weeks to be taken onto the roll of a school in the area where they have been moved to and what is the longest period of time a child has waited for a place at a school in the area where they have been re-located to during this period?”

Answer: Over the past three years it has been exceptional for a ‘Looked After’ Child to be taken onto the roll of an out of county school in under two weeks. Indeed, of the nine cases of primary age pupils we’ve looked at, the quickest a pupil was placed was 12 days (there were two) and the slowest was 77 days. For the 22 secondary age pupils the picture is even worse, with 3 weeks the quickest placement and a couple taking fully 6 months to get some of our most vulnerable young people into a stable school setting.

he main reason for this completely unacceptable state of affairs is that the Council has no power to direct an academy to admit a ‘Looked After’ Child. The only way we can force an academy’s hand is to get a direction from the Educations & Skills Funding Agency and this, as you can see from the foregoing times, can be a very long winded bureaucratic process. The fact that it takes so long for academies to admit our ‘Looked After’ Children shows how doggedly our officers pursue the matter; I suspect that many other local authorities simply give up when they meet an intransigent academy that doesn’t want to take responsibility for educating their vulnerable young people.

I found the answer deeply depressing. However, the good news is that MPs from the three political parties representing Oxfordshire constituencies have agreed to work together to take the matter forward. Thank you to MPs, Victoria Prentice, Layla Moran and Anneliese Dodds, for agreeing to seek action to remedy this state of affairs.

If readers have data about the issue elsewhere in England, I would be delighted to hear from you, so pressure can be put on officials nationally to ensure a rapid change in the rules.

School days mean school days

The judgement of the Supreme Court on the matter of whether term-time holidays are ‘acceptable’ in terms of pupil missing school is interesting. The lower courts clearly sides with the parent, and accepted the decision of the parent. This presumably was based, at least in part, on the contract between parent and State. The parent is required to secure the education of their child, but the State doesn’t prescribe how that is achieved, except in essence by stating a default position of schooling provided by the State. The Supreme Court had to decide the meaning of “fails to attend regularly” in section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.

The Supreme Court would now seem to have very clearly reaffirmed that if you enter into that contract with the State for the State to educate your child, it is binding in terms of the requirement to deliver your child to school when the school is in session; illness and other specified unavoidable events apart being allowed as reasons for non-attendance.

Interestingly, the parent or child has historically had no come-back on the school or its overall operator if for any reason the school cannot open. Hence the residual duty remaining with local authorities to step in and ‘secure’ the education of a child if something happens to an academy or free school. Hence, also why the State has never guaranteed the level of teaching or the qualifications of those required to teach any particular child anything.

I have read the judgement of the Supreme Court, and Lady Hale in particular with interest and was struck by the following paragraph in what was an excellent summary of education history and the law on attendance that is well worth reading and largely free of legal jargon.

Finally, given the strictness of the previous law, Parliament is unlikely to have found it acceptable that parents could take their children out of school in blatant disregard of the school rules, either without having asked for permission at all or, having asked for it, been refused. This is not an approach to rule-keeping which any educational system can be expected to find acceptable. It is a slap in the face to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the cost or inconvenience to themselves.

Copied from:

We are now, it seems, much closer to the pre-1944 Education Act position where even a single day of missed school could be regarded as unacceptable and the commission of an offence. Parents will now need to take heed of the rules of the school.

However, I foresee some future questions over the legitimacy of absence by ‘illnesses where the illness is self-certified by the parent. Taking a Friday and the following Monday off ‘sick’ may be especially risky is a school creates a rule requiring a doctor’s note in such circumstances. The absence of a note might be an unreasonable absence.

The case still leaves un-resolved the twin problems of the price of holidays for families with children at school and the issue of families that work in holiday areas. The original Victorian legislation recognised we were in part an agricultural nation and that affected attendance at school. The current legislation doesn’t recognise we are now a service-based economy. For good measure, it also doesn’t recognise that the Victorian legislation on home to school transport provision needs bringing up to date as well.


Banning teachers from work

In the light of the NCTL still seemingly not having published the overall targets for ITT numbers to be recruited for the 2017 entry into the profession, I thought would look at what was on their web site. The ITT data will, I assume, eventually have to come from a parliamentary question at some point in 2017.

Another aspect of the NCTL’s work is to conduct the hearings into misconduct by teachers and report the findings on their web site. If you like, the potential for ending a teacher’s professional life, at least in the United Kingdom. I estimate that there were just over 130 hearings reported so far for 2016; not bad for a profession with 500,000+ active members and a lot more with the right to teach in state funded schools. As a percentage of the profession, the figure is so small as to not be worth calculating.

However, one aspect worth recording is a large discrepancy in the gender of those facing misconduct hearings. Although the teaching profession is now predominantly female, in terms of the active population, misconduct hearings in 2016 related to close to three men for every women summonded in front of a panel. Many hearings are in absentia as the teacher doesn’t bother to attend to learn their fate. In these cases, they often seem to have left the profession, at least in this country. There have been some worryingly ill-prepared statements of facts in a small number of cases. In one case, even a court record didn’t really make sense, although whether that was the fault of the Magistrates’ Court or the case officer wasn’t clear from the judgement.

In two cases, both relating to male teachers, no finding was made as the facts were not proved. In the case of 14 male teachers and 5 women teachers where cases were taken out, the facts were proved, but no Prohibition order was made. In all other case Prohibition Orders were made. Sexual conduct or the viewing of pornography amounted to over a third of the reasons for issuing a Prohibition Order, although in a small number of cases, some historical in nature, no Order was made. The second most frequent reason for issuing a Prohibition Order was as a result of a successful conviction in a criminal case of a teacher. In some instances, this related to matters taking place at a school, in other not. There were a small number of cases resulting from actions to do with tests or examinations, that breached the standards required of teachers. The remaining cases were accounted for as a result of a variety of matters, including misuse of school funds.

Teachers from across the country were issued with Prohibition Orders, although relatively few from the midlands. All the cases relating to alcohol concerned teachers from the same region. Although most cases were of teachers that had worked in state-funded schools, some cases involved teachers that had worked in the private sector.

Clearly, head teachers under pressure and in charge of challenging schools need to be mindful of the extra risks associated with their role, as it is too easy to let the paperwork and attention to detail slip.

Young teachers, need to be aware of the need for appropriate professional boundaries with any pupil, of any age, especially in high risk situations. Beware the School Prom.

No doubt, these cases heard in public are the most extreme in nature and there may be others where a teacher has been warned of their conduct and it has stopped. By publishing the cases, the NCTL allows a body of case law to emerge and also a debate about issues such as where boundaries should be drawn. In all cases the Secretary of State, through a civil servant, has the final say in the outcome.