Top slice maintained schools?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Thank you Sir Ridley Scott

Teaching is the most important of all professions’. Sir Ridley Scott’ in his BAFTA acceptance speech.

I don’t watch the BAFTAs, so this blog post comes curtesy of my sister emailing me that I need to watch the speech. You can find it on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0SZSB_5cO4

It lasts just over eight minutes and I recommend you watch it if you are at all interested in the power of education to change lives. Sir Ridley attended a secondary modern school, presumably having failed to pass the examination at eleven for a selective school. He wasn’t successful at academic subjects, but enjoyed woodwork and art. He left with one GCE to attend Hartlepool School of Art where he learnt the difference between teaching and learning. His time at art school was the beginning of the journey to last night’s BAFTA lifetime award at the Royal Albert Hall

Could Sir Ridley Scott flourish in the same manner today on leaving school? It seems unlikely that anyone with one GCSE would be considered for Art College? Would he even receive the encouragement in art and design and technology – the modern replacement for woodwork – that allowed him to enjoy these subjects when he was a schoolboy?

Successive governments have failed to understand the importance of the creative industries to our nation. Their worth, especially in the primary schools, has been consistently eroded in favour of more basic skills in literacy and numeracy. Now, we know English and mathematics are important and good teaching of these subjects is especially important. However, that good teaching should be complimented in the primary sector by the space for good teaching in the creative subjects, sport, the sciences and humanities. A full and rounded curriculum is vital for young children. The challenge for the government is how to create learning outcomes in the basics in the most time effective manner for the greatest number so as still to allow time for all the other purposes of schooling.

I have reminded readers before that I probably wouldn’t be allowed into many sixth forms these days, due to a failure to pass English Language and only a scrapped pass in mathematics. Two years later three ‘A’ levels and a merit pass in the geography Special Paper set me on the start of my career. Had I been turned out of school at sixteen, my life would almost certainly have taken a very different route.

Perhaps the government might want to use part of Sir Ridley Scott’s speech as the introduction to their advertising campaign for teaching as a career. It has echoes of the 1997 talking heads campaign where leading celebrities spoke a name to camera and the end strapline was ‘no-one forget a good teacher’. The current campaign isn’t working and for years has concentrated on the excitement of the classroom. Perhaps it is time for a new approach.

Finally, on the day that the government announces a review of tuition fees, it is certainly time to review the cost of becoming a teacher.

Quality Assurance or Quality Control?

Just after 7am this morning I was telephoned by a researcher from BBC 5 Live to ask what I thought about the new ‘tables’ tests for Year 4 pupils? Not a great deal at that time of the morning was my first and honest thought. However, early morning phone calls are an occupational hazard for anyone prepared to make a comment on issues of public interest and that response wouldn’t do. Some calls of this nature develop into big stories and make headlines: others disappear onto the modern equivalent of the editor’s spike, either dumped or relegated to a footnote in a new bulletin.

Sometimes, you don’t get a call back, as promised, but a text message saying that the item isn’t proceeding either due to other stories taking precedence or some similar phrase, as happened this morning and you then wonder whether the point of view you expressed to the researcher was too similar to those everyone else was expressing and what they were looking for was a different view to balance the debate?

On the story about multiplication tests  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43046142 or ‘checks’ as they are being called, my view is that they should be scrutinised through the lens of whether they are a quality control or a quality assurance measure? If the former, then they are likely to be required of all teachers at the same time. The results then tell us on that day how well the age group are doing. We would possibly expect summer born children to do less well than those with a longer exposure to schooling and those that have remained in the same school to do better than those pupils that have already been subject to changing school one or more times. Pupils will a poor attendance record, for whatever reason, might also do less well.

A quality assurance check would allow the DfE to provide both an expected level but also to help teachers diagnose why those pupils that don’t reach the level expected fail to do so. The DfE might them provide some research into what will work with these pupils to help them reach the standard expected of most children at that point in their education. Such an approach, rich in a developmental approach aimed at helping the system, is more expensive than a simple check that will allow Ministers to blame failing schools and by implication their teachers through the medium of the Ofsted inspection.  If I was in charge of Ofsted, I might want to take the DfE to task for making the job of improving our school system a bit harder if it further reduced trust in the inspection system.

I guess that the DfE cannot afford to spend money on diagnostic tests and a simple pen and paper exercise to be marked by teachers in their own time looks more profitable in terms of political capital.

Take this new the test when a pupil is  ready; collect the data electronically and then let the results tell the DfE if their choice of Opportunity Areas is the correct one or whether key areas such as South East Oxford City have been consistently overlooked for intervention and extra resources? In this technological age, we need to harness the resources at our disposal to help both teachers and their pupils to learn effectively not just impose more burdens on everyone.

Urgent action needed

The following are extracts from a Section 8 monitoring report issued today by Ofsted. The school, a secondary school, is part of a multi-academy company and was declared inadequate in May last year by Ofsted. Somewhat surprisingly, Ofsted didn’t return until January 2018.  When they did, they found some good things within the school and some improvements, but to quote for the S8 report:

Although there have been undeniable improvements to safeguarding, behaviour and morale of staff, there are considerable weaknesses at the level of governance and the multi-academy company. These weaknesses have the potential to put the good work of school staff and the pace of improvement in jeopardy.

 However, following the review, the XXMAC and governing body have been slow to improve their effectiveness. It is understandable that directors’ decisions about senior leadership are sensitive, but other statutory duties of the governing body and the company have been neglected (my emphasis)

 Directors and governors have not taken enough responsibility for ensuring that leaders strategically map out the key priorities for iimproving the school. Nor have directors and governors demonstrated how they will evaluate improvements by their impact on pupils’ progress, attendance and behaviour. In short, it is not clear that directors and governors know how to judge what is working in the school and what is not. (my emphasis)

 In addition, XXMAC and governors have not done enough to maintain good levels of communication with parents or involve them more closely in the school’s drive for improvement. In this way, leaders at the highest level are not directly helping to restore the school’s reputation in the local community. 

 This haphazard approach is not helping pupils to achieve their full potential. 

 There is no clear strategy in the school improvement plan for reducing casual and persistent absence. Good attendance is not a high enough priority in the school. 

 However, the support commissioned by the XXMAC is not sufficient to build capacity and establish a common sense of purpose for the school. For example, important decisions about leaders’ roles and the priorities for the future are not being made on the basis of a thorough review of the school’s performance. Instead, decisions are being made on an ad hoc basis, relying upon the goodwill and integrity of current school leaders.

 So, where do we go from here? The previous Chief Inspector was right to argue for inspection of MATs and MACs. Who now takes responsibility for acting upon this damming report; The Regional School Commissioner; the Funding and Skills Council; Ofsted or the Secretary of State? The local authority cannot do so, but someone should be take action by Monday, especially as the school is also still in financial special measures and there were issues raised in the 2017 accounts about the management of financial matters.

If ‘it is not clear that directors and governors know how to judge what is working in the school and what is not.’ Then such a situation must not be allowed to continue. Action this day please.

 

Teacher Recruitment

The Public Accounts Committee has today published a report in to teacher recruitment and retention. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/460/46002.htm Associated with the report they have published a letter from the Tes about their recruitment and CPD services. It may well be that the letter from the Tes was published because it corrected a perceived inaccuracy in the oral evidence as to advertising rates.

The PAC has asked the DfE to continue its work on a vacancy service, so I thought, for the sake of completeness, I would share the letter that TeachVac sent to the Committee via its Clerk last November. the letter has now been published by the PAC as part of the evidence relating to this inquiry: better late than never.


Meg Hillier MP

Chair, Public Accounts Committee

House of Commons London SW1A 1AA

21st November 2017

Dear Ms Hillier,

Retaining and developing the teaching workforce

I refer to the recent meeting of the Public Accounts Committee on the above subject. It was concerning to see the Department for Education is planning on spending significant money on developing a system for teacher recruitment that already exists and successfully meets their defined objectives. Their stated objectives were to provide a free service for recruiting teachers to schools which at the same time produced useful data about the teacher vacancy marketplace. A system that does just this has been extant since 2014 and now has more teaching jobs in England than any other service including the paid for recruitment providers. TeachVac produces daily data which is unavailable elsewhere and is completely free to schools and teachers. We have attempted to interact with the DfE team but the conversations about both the data we could make available to them and any modifications to the system they would wish to see have met with a desultory response at best. Considering that this system has cost the government nothing, meets their stated objectives and was developed by a team with some 60 years combined experience of this market, we wondered why the committee didn’t ask the DfE representatives about alternatives that would not impact the already strained education budget. I understand the work undertaken by the DfE so far has been using a third party company that has no experience of the rather different education recruitment market. It appears to have SRS written all over it, but I suppose the DfE will consider that it is ‘their’ system not someone else’s. At TeachVac, the development of another free to use service will not affect our revenues so our concerns are related to the waste of the education budget not our own finances. I would be happy to brief you or your Committee about how TeachVac provides an extensive and free service and the copious and detailed data we collect. I have attached two examples of this data, the first is a look at the problem one county’s primary schools are experiencing in appointing Head teachers and the second is comparative recruitment data for two schools in the same town an issue discussed during your hearing.

Yours sincerely,

The DfE is now sifting through the responses it has received to the bids to develop a service. However, the service will miss the 2018 recruitment round and could have a profound effect on the stability of the whole market for teacher recruitment and, unless mandatory, the quality of the data collected will depend upon the degree of take-up by schools.

 

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.

 

Deeds not words please, Mr Hinds

So, the new Secretary of State has proclaimed his support for faith schools. Not surprising in view of his own education. Well, here is a challenge to Mr Hinds. Will he separate out schools run by faith groups with public money, but attended by a majority not professing the faith actively, and those schools run by the faith for their adherents?

The Church of England has long operated primary schools as the local schools for the village or community the school serves. As a national church and also the provider of education in many of these areas before the State became involved this has some rationale behind it. Parents in general value these schools, although many may be under threat from the new National Funding Formula unless enough attention is paid to their fortunes.

My question to the Secretary of State can be crystallised around the experiences of the Roman Catholic secondary school in East Oxford: St Gregory the Great. This school, according to the accounts of the Academy Company it is a part of, had only 30% professing Catholic Staff and 37% of its pupils as Catholics at the reporting point for the 2017 accounts. Two years ago, the school was put into financial special measures by the EFSC; last year Ofsted declared it inadequate. Another school run by the same Academy Company has recently also been declared inadequate. This week, when Ofsted paid a monitoring visit to St Gregory the Great, they will have found a school where the head and a deputy were removed at the end of the autumn term and another head placed in executive control from a different Catholic Academy Trust. So, Mr Hinds, how long do you give St Gregory the Great to improve and what are your plans if the Catholic Church cannot improve the school? The parents of non-Catholic pupils have a right to know what you are going to do to improve the education of their children. Will it have access to part of your £45 million fund?

You cannot blame the local authority. Indeed, you can look at the steps the local authority took to deal with another secondary school in the county declared inadequate at the same time as St Gregory the Great (see blog post, https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/a-tale-of-two-schools/) The outcomes seem to be very different. Can the local authority access your fund as part of helping schools improve if no MAT volunteers to do so?

Mr Hinds, St Gregory the Great and the future of the Academy Company it belongs to, provide an early test of whether what you say in The Times newspaper are words not backed by actions or have the force of someone prepared to act on their beliefs.

I am passionate to see good education for all children in Oxfordshire. I hope you will help me achieve this aim by acting swiftly to raise standards at St Gregory the Great. By your actions shall you be known. A Minister of Education in the 1940s once intervened because a school wasn’t holding a daily assembly, despite its hall having been bombed and out of use. Intervene in St Gregory and reassure everyone the plan for improvement is workable. You can have the Ofsted report on your desk by Monday if you ask for it following their monitoring visit this week.