Revenue balances: a waste of money?

The issue of high salaries paid to top officers by some academy trusts, highlighted in the previous post, isn’t the only financial issue facing the sector.  Now that more of the 2017-18 account are appearing a Companies house, it is possible to see the extent of the revenue balances being held by many academies; together with the occasional deficit.

So far, in Oxfordshire, 20 of the 39 Trusts operating academies or free schools across the county have reported their accounts and had them published on the companies house web site. In aggregate, they reveal around £4.6 million of revenue reserves held by primary schools and £4.3 million held by secondary schools. However, the deficits across both sectors total £1.1 million, mostly from one secondary school that has been in financial special measures for a couple of years and is gradually reducing its deficit.

One multi-academy trust, United Learning, operates six schools in Oxfordshire, but does not reveal revenue balances by school in their accounts. This MAT pools the money centrally for all their schools, and can then presumably use it where it can do the most good. Pooling also allows the total amount held in reserves to match the needs across the MAT in any one year and the amount can be set at a lower level than if the figure is chosen by each school. This was the approach taken in the past by local authorities, before schools gained control of their own budgets nearly 30 years ago.

A MAT operating say, 30 schools can decide that a reserve of five per cent overall might be appropriate to meet the contingencies and future needs in any one year of all schools in the MAT, whereas each school governing body might be more cautious and aim for 10% if setting a level on its own.

There is, however, a risk with pooling across geographical boundaries that schools in one area could be subsidising schools in another area. If parents discovered that a school in a MAT was taking this approach, they might choose not apply to that school, but to a school where the full funds were available for the education of their offspring.

This is an argument that balances are reducing because of the financial pressure that school currently face. There are certainly schools where revenue balances were lower in 2108 than in the 2017 accounts. But it is not yet a universal truth for all schools.

Could all schools in a local area be required to bank either with the local authority or an arm of central government? Such pooling would only work if these balances can be used rather than be treated as a deposit accounts. Pooling balances might also free cash being saved by schools for special projects at some point in the future for more immediate use, including cash being accumulated for capital projects. There seems little other justification for revenue balances of more than £1 million being held by some secondary schools other than future capital projects, especially while other school have insufficient funds.

Funding schools is a tricky business, but money should not be tied up in reserves when it can be released for improving teaching and learning.

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Market forces or national pay scales?

The DfE has announced that the Academies Minister, Lord Agnew, has written to 28 chairs of trustees as part of the Government’s commitment to curb what it feels are ‘excessive’ salaries based on the size, standards, and financial health of trusts. The academies have been asked to provide more details on the pay of executives who earn more than £150,000 – and those earning £100,000 if two or more people in a school earn a six-figure salary. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-minister-calls-on-academies-to-justify-excessive-pay

This issue of six figure salaries has concerned the government for some time now, and comments about their letters to Trusts have featured in previous posts on this blog during the past year, ever since the issue first surfaced as a matter of concern.

Schools Week has publish a full list of the Trusts the DfE has written to at https://schoolsweek.co.uk/holland-park-school-warned-over-heads-260k-salary-as-minister-writes-to-28-trusts/

Interestingly, Holland Park School is one of the Trust to receive a letter. Their accounts lodged at Companies House, for the year to end August 2018, show the highest paid staff member receiving an emolument [sic] in the range of £260,000-£270,000 for the year.

Those with a long memory stretching back into the early 1990s will recall that as a large secondary school Holland Park always paid at the top end of the salary scale. But, how to justify around double the national rate for the job as identified by the School Teachers Review Body and the Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document? Well, ever since a Secretary of State allowed academies to ignore both of those documents, the genii was out of the bottle. Indeed, Holland Park School had three staff earning more than £140,000 in 2017-18.

The school is judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and is a Teaching School. The examination results are excellent, but does any of this justify paying such high salaries to senior staff? As a single school trust the head isn’t managing several schools, so there cannot be that argument for additional pay.

Is there an argument around market forces? Without such pay the school would not attract and keep a head teacher? Research into the turnover of senior staff in school using TeachVac data for 2017-18 suggest that only around 12% of secondary schools failed to appoint a head teacher when seeking to make an appointment. The figure is higher in the primary sector.

After more than 30 years of studying the labour market for senior staff in schools, I would suggest that rarely has there been a period when finding secondary head teachers that been easier than at present.  You can justify a recruitment allowance to help heads settle in a new area, but is a differential of around ten times the pay of a newly qualified teacher acceptable? The government clearly thinks not.

Should all public sector schools be brought back within a national pay framework and was it a mistake to allow schools to go their own way? Perhaps the real mistake lies with a refusal a decade or so ago to set rules for what was an Executive Head Teacher and how much they should be paid.

 

Trends shaping Education

In a recent post, I wrote about the effect of the housing market on schools and what might happen if there was a slowdown in transactions. Interestingly, the OECD yesterday published a much more high level approach to the same sort of question. Entitled, ‘Trends shaping education 2019’ it looks at some key trends the authors feels will affect and shape education policy. https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/trends-shaping-education-2019_trends_edu-2019-en#page1

Previous editions of the book appeared in 2008, the first edition, and then in 2010, 2013 and 2016.

This time the authors have identified a number of key themes; shifting global gravity towards Asia and China in particular; public matters; security; living longer and living better and finally, modern cultures.

Some of these trends have already had an impact on education on England. Michael Gove tried to kickstart the learning of Mandarin in schools. However, in terms of what is being taught, it is still way behind common EU languages spoken by our neighbours, but few others around the world.

Security in schools became a big issue in England after the classroom shooting at Dumblane in the 1990s, where the concern was about intruders entering schools. In more recent times, the concerns have been about ensuring pupils, especially very young ones, cannot leave without permission. How far should schools be fortresses?

With the increase in school shootings across the USA it often seems that arrival and departure times are the greatest risks for schools, certainly in the USA, rather than planned meetings with the head teacher. Total security is probably almost impossible to achieve without a huge investment in time, effort and resources. I recall visiting a high school in New York almost 20 years ago where there were metal detectors for all to pass through. Yet, there had been a shooting the previous day, with the weapon having been passed through an open window to avoid the detection system.

As we are living longer, we are also creating fewer children, despite the current bulge hitting the secondary school sector. Schools are often seeing older parents than a couple of generations ago and that may mean these parents know more about life and are more prepared to stand up for their perceived rights. This can make the job of being a head more demanding and reduce the number of teachers willing to take on the role.

Living longer means some teachers are happy to retire later, thus helping the teacher supply situation. Should the DfE run an ad campaign along the lines of ‘one year more’ and provide a bonus for those taking later rather than early retirement?

I think the current technological revolution will impact very heavily on schools and education. One year the big CES exhibition held in Las Vegas every January will major on technology and education not widescreen TVs or health devices. Not sure when, but it will happen and will challenge our whole notion of schooling and education and the link between the student, their family and educators.

 

A question for the Cardinals

Why do Roman Catholic schools find more difficulty in recruiting a new headteacher than do other schools? I first posed this question more than thirty years ago, soon after I started looking at trends in vacancies for school leaders in the early 1980s.

After a break of five years, I returned to the subject of vacancies for school leaders in a report published last January. I have just completed the first draft of the 2018 survey into leadership vacancies. The full report will be available from TeachVac at enquiries@oxteachserv.com early in the New Year. You can reserve a copy now.

Once again, in 2018, Roman Catholic schools, and especially those in some diocese, weren’t able to appoint a headteacher after the first advertisement by the school. The data comes from TeachVac, the free job board that costs schools and teachers nothing to use.

(As an aside, I wonder why the DfE didn’t contract with an existing provider such as TeachVac, eteach or even the US owned TES to provide a comprehensive free job site rather than building their own site. Perhaps there are different rules for Brexit and hiring ships from companies still to start their service than for designing government web sites for far more money than it would have cost to buy in the service.)

Anyway, back to the matter in hand, TeachVac recorded that some 57 of the 124 Roman Catholic schools that were recorded as advertising for a primary headteacher during the 2017-18 school year needed to re-advertise the post: a re-advertisement rate of 46%. Other schools had re-advertisement rates for vacancies first advertised during this period in the low 30%s.

Now, some diocese, have reduced re-advertisement rates by appointing deputy heads from secondary schools to run primary schools. I was once sceptical of this as a solution, but can now see that just as a secondary school headteacher isn’t an expert in all subjects taught in the schools, so a primary headteacher needs leadership qualities, backed by experienced middle leaders that understand the different stages of learning and development in the primary sector.

Using a different measure of total re-advertisements to schools advertising a vacancy for a headteacher reveals that a small number of schools have extreme difficulty in recruiting a new headteacher. Some of these schools just start at the wrong time of year.

Overall, almost every primary school of any type that advertised a headship in December 2017 re-advertised the post at some point during 2018. Unless, these schools used a subscription model that allowed for as many advertisements are required to fill the post, the governors were just wasting the school’s money if they used a paid for publication or job board for the December advert. Those that used TeachVac would have not faced that problem, because it wouldn’t have cost them anything.

As Britain becomes a more secular society, all faiths will need to address the question of how to find the next generation of leaders for their schools. With the approach the 150th anniversary of the 1870 Education Act, such schools seem likely to remain a part of the landscape, whatever the feelings and views of those that would prefer an entirely secular state school system.

 

 

Some trends for 2019 in teacher recruitment

In two of my recent posts I looked at the prospects facing schools that would seek to recruit either a teacher of design and technology or a teacher of business studies during 2019. These prospects will also apply to schools seeking to make appointments in January 2020, as there will be no new entrants to the labour market to fill such vacancies. If, as happens in both the two subjects already discussed, there are sufficient vacancies for September to absorb the whole output from ITT courses, then schools faced with a January vacancy, for whatever reason, really do face a dilemma. In some cases agencies may help, but in others it is a case of making do until the summer.

As mentioned in the post that initially analysed the ITT census for 2018, the position in physics is once again dire, with less than half of the ITT places filled. Fortunately, there won’t be a shortage of science teachers, since far more biologists were recruited into training that the government estimate of the number required. However, recruitment of chemistry teachers will prove a problem for some schools as 2019 progresses, since one in five ITT places were left unfilled; the highest percentage of unfiled places in recent years. Perhaps some early professional development on increased subject knowledge for biology teachers required to teach the whole science curriculum at Key Stage 3 might be a worthwhile investment.

In 2018, there were not enough trainee teachers of English to meet the demand from schools for such teachers; it 2019 that subject will be less of a problem, but finding a teacher of mathematics might be more of an issue for schools once again, although various CPD initiatives may have helped improve the mathematical knowledge of those teaching the subject and may have helped to reduce demand. Only time will tell whether a shortage of teachers of mathematics will once again be a headline story for 2019.

Although state schools may have reduced their demand for teachers of art, the independent sector still generates a significant demand each year for such teachers. The fact that more than one in five ITT places weren’t filled in 2018 may have some important regional implications for state schools seeking such a teacher, especially where the demand is also strong from the private sector schools. The same issue is also true for teachers of religious education, where demand from the state sector was weak in 2018. Any increase in demand during 2019 would see schools experiencing more problems with recruitment than during 2018.

All these assumptions are predicated on the belief that rising pupil numbers, and the associated funding per pupil, will more than cancel out the pressure on school budgets across the country. Once again, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk expects that London and the surrounding areas to be the focus of most demand for new teachers and the North East, the area where schools will experience the least difficulty in recruiting teachers.

TeachVac will be there throughout 2019 to chart the changing trends, and I would like to extend to all readers of both this blog and users of TeachVac and its international arm, TeachVac Global www.teachvacglobal.com my best wishes for 2019.

 

Is business studies a shortage subject?

On the face of it, business studies isn’t a subject that can be classified as one of the really problem subjects for the government to have to deal with in 2019. The percentage of trainees recruited against the Teacher Supply Model has hovered around the 75-80% mark apart from in 2015/16 when it dropped into the mid-60s. The 80% mark isn’t especially low compared with some other subjects.

However, with Brexit looming in 2019, the government would do well to ensure there are sufficient teachers of the subject to help create future generations of both the managers and leaders of enterprises; not to mention entrepreneurs as well.

In 2018, the ITT census recorded 180 trainees in business studies. If the same rules were applied as in the previous post regarding the shortage of design and technology teachers, then that number is reduced finally from 180 to 128 trainees, after the removal of those on Teach First, School Direct salaried route and a five per cent figure for non-completion or not entering teaching in a school after the end of the course.

How does this figure of 128 possible new entrants to the teaching labour market in September 2019 and required for January 2020 vacancies match up against perceived need over recent years? TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk the free to use job site for teachers and schools, now has data stretching back over more than four years.

Recorded vacancies for business studies teachers – these vacancies may include an element of another subject as well as business studies – were around the 750-850 mark in the three years from 2015-17. However, possibly due to even better recording by TeachVac in 2018, the number of vacancies recorded in 2018 was just over the 1,100 mark.

Interestingly, 29% of the recorded vacancies during 2018 were placed by schools located in the London area. If the schools in the South East region are added in, the percentage of the total vacancies recorded by these two regions reaches 53%. It would be helpful to know how this squares with the distribution of ITT places, especially as the London vacancy total must be reduced by the effects of the Teach First trainees. Without them, the vacancy total would, presumably, have been even greater.

Even if 2018 has been a rogue year, then even allowing for re-advertisements of 25% – surely a high percentage – in a total of 800 vacancies – that would mean some 600 teaching posts were advertised in an average year.

Applying a rule of thumb of 50% vacancies being taken by new entrants and the other 50% by returners and teachers moving schools, the requirement would be for 300 trainees or more than double the 128 that might enter the labour market. Even if re-advertisements comprised 50% of the total of advertisements, there would still not be enough trainees to satisfy the demand across the country and London and the South East would continue to face shortages.

Should the CBI, Federation of Small Businesses and other organisations concerned with the health of our economy and the nurturing of enterprise be worried by these numbers? Probably, but it depends upon your view of what should be taught at school? One view is that all we need is EBacc: another that starting an understanding of business early in life can inspire future leaders.

Well, with these number of trainees, even allowing for late entrants, those switching from the further education sector and teachers from overseas, if allowed, then some schools are going to struggle to recruit a business studies teacher during 2019. As I wrote in the post on design and technology teachers; if you have a business studies teacher already, it will pay to look after them.

SEND on the agenda again

Until recently, the difference between the High Needs Block and remainder of the Dedicated Schools Grant that funds schooling in England was known only to a few officers and civil servants and those headteachers and governors serving on School Forum. The advent of a National Funding Formula for schools outside the special school sector and a growing demand for spending on children with additional needs has brought the issues with the High Needs Block into sharp relief.

The Local Government Association has published the outcomes of the research they commissioned earlier this year. A key paragraph sets out the issues and reflects two of the key issues, the ability of local authorities to ensure all schools act in ‘the common good’ instead of ‘their own good’ and the effects on the school funding of an extension of support to young people up to the age of twenty five from the High Needs budget, not originally designed for that age range.   The report can be found at: https://www.local.gov.uk/have-we-reached-tipping-point-trends-spending-children-and-young-people-send-england

Addressing the points raised in paragraph 17 of the Report would go a long way to creating a sustainable and successful system for young people with SEND.

  1. To create a more sustainable funding settlement going forward there may be merit in considering some key questions around how incentives in the system might be better aligned to support inclusion, meet needs within the local community of schools, and corral partners to use the high needs block to support all young people with SEND as a collective endeavour. These might include
  2. setting much clearer national expectations for mainstream schools;
  3. rethinking how high stakes accountability measures reflect the achievements of schools which make good progress with children and young people with SEND or at risk of exclusion;
  4. correcting the perverse funding incentives that mean that it can be cheaper to pass the cost of an EHCP or a permanent exclusion onto the high needs block than making good quality preventative support available in-school;
  5. looking again at the focus and content of EHCPs to afford greater flexibility to schools in how they arrange and deliver the support needed;
  6. providing ring-fenced investment from government designed explicitly to support new and evidence-based approaches to early intervention and prevention at scale;
  7. providing additional capital investment and flexibility about how that can be deployed by local government;
  8. issuing a national call for evidence in what works for educating children and young people with these needs, backed up by sufficient funding to then take successful approaches to scale and a new focus for teacher training and ongoing professional development;
  9. more specific advice for Tribunals, parents and local authorities on how the test on efficient use of resources can be applied fairly when comparing state and non-state special school placements; and
  10. reaffirming the principle around the equitable sharing of costs between health and education where these are driven by the health needs of the child or young person.

At present, there are perverse incentives for schools to look first to their needs and only then to the needs of children with SEND. The extension of the age range to twenty five brought many more young people into scope without necessarily providing the resource.

The announcement of more cash by the Secretary of State will help, but is almost certainly not enough to solve the problems being faced within many local authorities. At the heart of this is broken system for governance of our schools. In the post Brexit world, whatever it looks like, creating a coherent education system with democratic accountability across the board should be a high priority for the Education Department and its Ministers at Westminster.