Too little: too late?

First it was Boris; then Mrs May and finally some of the other leadership contenders. What were they talking about? Not Brexit, although of course all the contenders for the Conservative Party leadership have been trying themselves up in knots of various tightness on that issue, but rather funding for schools.

Reading the runes of what was being outlined, it seems cuts to tuition fees might be some way down the track. If funding for schools and further education is back on the Tory Party agenda, it is difficult to see how the Treasury would be willing to spend more on higher education funding in the immediate future, especially once other Ministers put out their begging bowls. Sure, funding for International Development might be cut to below the level currently agreed to make some savings. This might be justified by citing Donald Trump and the USA level of aid. There might also be some cash to allow higher spending because of better tax revenues, but the police and Ministry of Justice have a real claim on extra cash to fight the rise in certain types of crime, including knife crime and the NHS can always do with more cash.

How much of the suggested increase in funding for education is real, and how much merely determined by the fact that pupil numbers will continue to increase over the next few years, is difficult to determine from the level of the pronouncements made so far, except for Boris’s statement on secondary schools. Not recognising the needs of further education and 16-18 funding might make Boris’s statement about £5,000 per pupil in the secondary sector look like vote catching idea, rather than a serious analysis of where the Tory Party’s current school funding policy has made a mistake. At least in the TV debate, FE, apprenticeships, and skills did receive a mention and, unless I missed, it selective education didn’t.

Any talk about increasing education funding by Conservative may be a case of too little and too late. The warning signs have been there for some time, and the fact that school funding didn’t play much of a part in either of the last two general elections was a bit of a surprise, although the effects on the ground were less obvious than the reductions in school reserves and the consequences of changes to come that are obvious to those that manage budgets, but were not then visible to parents.

For me the funding priorities are: 16-18 funding; early years and children’s centres; SEND funding and protecting rural schools facing falling rolls as the birth rate declines and the housing market stalls. There are other priorities, including metal health, although some cash has been allocated for this, and teacher preparation and career development. All staff will need competitive pay increases if the wider labour market remains as it currently is, but that will be true for the whole of the public sector and might reduce the amount specifically available for education; hence my earlier comment about the challenge in trying to reduce tuition fees.

Unless there is an emergency budget, any changes are not likely to reach schools before April or September 2021 at the earliest.

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Pressure on school places intensifies

The DfE has published the data on offers made regarding admission to primary and secondary schools for September 2019. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/secondary-and-primary-school-application-and-offers-2019

In view of the growing number of pupils in the transfer age group from primary to secondary school, now almost universally at age eleven, the percentage of pupils receiving their first choice of schools fell again this year to just 80.9%.

Secondary Schools
Entry into academic year % made 1st preference offer
2010/11 83.2
2011/12 84.6
2012/13 85.3
2013/14 86.7
2014/15 85.2
2015/16 84.2
2016/17 84.1
2017/18 83.5
2018/19 82.1
2019/20 80.9

The percentage successful at gaining a place at their first choice schools has now declined every years since 2013/14 when it reach a high of 86.7%. Of course, there are significant regional differences, as well as differences between urban and rural areas.

As the DfE points out in the report: Northumberland (98.4%) and North Somerset (96.9%) achieved the best first preference rates in 2019. Northumberland has been the top performer in this measure for the last four years.

As in previous years, the lowest first preference rates at secondary level are all in London, Lambeth (54.8%), Lewisham (56.9%) and Hammersmith & Fulham (57.3%) achieved the lowest rates in 2019.

Central Bedfordshire is now the only local authority to submit secondary data for year 9 as their largest secondary intake. They had the third best percentage of transfer to secondary school to their middle schools that are classified as secondary schools.

Interestingly, there is no comment by the DfE on the transfer of pupils at age 14 to the UTCs and Studio schools. Presumably, anyone that wants to go to these schools can secure a place.

There was a small fall in first preference rates in the primary sector this year, down from 91.0% last year to 90.6% this year, but this is still well above the 87.7% of 2014/15.

This year there were 608,200 applications for a primary school place, virtually the same as last year, but the 604,500 applications for a secondary place represented an increase of 3.6% over last year, and just over 100,000 more than the lowest year of 2013/14.

There are implications in teacher supply for this increase in the secondary school population. The increase has been factored into the Teacher Supply Model by DfE civil servants.

What hasn’t been factored into the real world situation is the shortfall against the Teacher Supply Numbers in many subjects as far as trainee teacher numbers are concerned.

As this blog has pointed out in other posts, even assuming the DfE projections on retention and returner numbers are correct, not recruiting enough trainees can have real implications for schools.

As piece of research in California has demonstrated that it is the schools serving the more deprived neighbourhoods that suffer most when it comes to recruiting teachers when there is an overall shortfall. I fear the same is likely to be true in some parts of London, especially with the bonus on offer to some teachers to go and work in Opportunity Areas.

 

 

 

Education matters

Last evening saw the termly meeting of the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on the Teaching Profession at Westminster. Chris Waterman has continued to do sterling work with this Group that morphed out of a previous ad hoc gathering, primarily established to discuss issues surrounding the teacher labour market as the country moved from surplus to shortage. No doubt those that attended had to ensure they dodged the TV cameras as they made their way through Central Lobby to the committee room for the meeting.

As I had other duties in Oxford, I was unable to attend last evening’s meeting, but did provide Chris will some extracts from recent relevant posts on this blog to distribute to those that were able to attend.

For those with even longer memories that stretch back beyond the creation of SATTAG by Chris and myself, they will recall that this blog started soon after I stopped writing a weekly column for the then TES, now branded as tes. After more than a decade of writing for that paper, I was suffering withdrawal symptoms, and a blog seem a good way to relieve them in a manner that didn’t take up much time.

Of course, the big concern at this present time must be about where the candidates for leadership of the Conservative Party stand on Education? For selection at eleven; complete academisation; more pay for teachers; cash for Children’s Centres? We all have a list of what we would want to ask our next Prime Minister, but are only likely to be able to do so through the professional associations taking a lead and quizzing the eventual finalist on behalf of the profession.

From the candidates’ point of view, they might want to reflect that being too radical can affect what will happen in the real world. Make teaching look too unattractive, and the present teacher supply problem could become even worse, especially if the exodus from the profession were to accelerate. With insufficient numbers entering the profession, losing those already in service at an even greater rate than at present wouldn’t just be unfortunate, but could be disastrous for both our society and the future of the economy.

Teaching is now a global activity and teachers trained in England are able to secure posts in many other countries in the ever-growing private school market of ‘international’ schools, increasingly run by those with the bottom line in mind. With UK higher education an attractive draw for many overseas students and their parents, being taught by teachers that understand the system here can be a help when it is time to apply to university.

So, my key question for Tory Candidates’ is, what support will you provide for your Secretary of State for Education and what will be the key priorities you will ask that person to address? If they don’t mention all of Further Education; funding levels and staffing then education will clearly not be a significant priority for them in the word post October 31st.

 

Review of Post 18 Education and Funding

The Augar Report was published this morning. When generating a set of principles, this Review manages to be both potentially regressive and progressive at the same time, but for different groups in society.

The better news is mainly on the further education side, and the recognition of the importance of part-time study for some in society. However, even here, the Commission established by Sir Vince cable might have some better proposals for lifelong learning.

On higher education, the mixture of funding changes, wider government interference in planning through extending the range of subjects where government grant will be available, and general tinkering with the system seems likely to please almost nobody. If grant is available for Group 3 subjects, but not Group 4, and universities can only charge £7,500, how will the subjects in Group 4 fare? Will universities cross-subsidise, increase teaching groups, and reduce contact hours or just eliminate these subjects from their offer as uneconomic. I suspect much will depend upon the relative cost to income ratio at present.

As a means of boosting some STEM subjects, these proposals could provide incentives, but assumes there is a pool of potential undergraduates wanting to study these subjects, but not able to secure a place under the present system. One unintended consequence could be a glut of biological scientists, possibly with environmental approaches in their degrees, but no more physical scientists or engineers.

On apprenticeship, I was disappointed that Augar didn’t look at the funding pressure the levy places on small primary schools forced to pay the Levy by a quirk of fate. By suggesting eliminating permission for funding second qualifications, Augar would prevent these schools funding senior staff development through the Levy, as some are now starting to do under present arrangements. This is an area that the DfE needs to take notice of, as councils start repaying unpaid Levy back to The Treasury, including the cash collected from their primary schools.

The part of the report receiving the most attention is that concerning higher education tuition fees and repayments. A cap on total repayments is a good idea, but for public sector workers, subject to pay review bodies, the notion of paying postgraduate training fees is still a burden that Augar didn’t address.

As readers will know, I would require the government to either pay the fees of all trainee graduate teachers or offer all teachers full debt repayment for a period of service in public sector schools. Until then, I think the Pay Review bodies should comment on the effects of their recommendations on the teacher’s loan repayments under each of the different schemes in operation that year along with any proposed changes.

Aguar has a table suggesting that a modern language trainee teacher with a four year degree and a one-year training fee might amass some £117,000 of debt at the start of their career.

Finally, it would have been helpful for Augar to also have suggested better careers advice for pupils in schools to help them make informed choices

As a closing note, I hope this review, if implemented, doesn’t spell the end for philosophy, sociology and classical studies in our universities.

 

Publishing Augar is only the first step

In more ‘normal’ times we might expect a report of the main features of the Augar Report into FE & HE to appear in the Sunday Times this weekend. However, these are anything but normal times in UK politics, so who knows.

Some of the possible suggestions as to what might be in the Report have been widely rehearsed already, including a possible cut to tuition fees; more cash for adult further education and a minimum point score for access to an honours degree course.

Whatever Augar suggests will have to be accepted by the then government, and then translated into action as part of the discussions on the next Spending Review. Of course, it could go the way of the famous Tomlinson Report and be rejected out of hand by the Prime Minister of the day, whosoever that is. More likely is a battle within the DfE.

Bringing back FE and HE into the DfE makes good education sense, but not good sense for either sector where they inevitably play second fiddle to the vastly larger schools’ sector within the Department.

Imagine the Permanent Secretary from the DfE at The Treasury during negotiations for the Spending Review either this autumn or in early 2020 that we know will be tough, as George Osborne always said it would be in the second half of this decade without tax increases.

So, the Permanent Secretary is asked, what are your funding needs: well we have lots more pupils in secondary schools over the next five years and we cannot recruit and retain enough teachers, so more cash for schools is the immediate reply; but FE funding has taken a hit, and we needs to reskill the labour force and, sadly, the Apprenticeship Levy has flopped, so more cash for FE and especially part-time study.

Is that all, queries the Treasury Mandarin? Of course not, replies the DfE official, there is also higher education, where we need to cut tuition fees and fund research while keeping the sector going through the dip in the number of eighteen year olds for the next few years.

The Treasury might then ask, if you cannot have everything what would be your priority order? Schools must come first, would undoubtedly be the reply. There are more votes in parents than students or employers, and the teacher associations have done a great job in convincing everyone that schools are both underfunded and a special case alongside the NHS. FE might come next, as some of the pain felt by schools could be alleviated by upping the unit of resource for 16-18 year olds across both schools and FE. That leave the university sector in third place.

Fees might be cut, because of misguided belief that it would protect the student vote for the government, especially if Labour campaigned on an end to fees completely. The risk to universities would be that The Treasury would not make up the loss in fee income, except in a few STEM subjects.

Could one of the unintended consequences of such an outcome be universities opting for lower cost, mostly classroom-based courses, while spending more on marketing to attract students? An astute government might suggest the price of lower fees would be fewer separate institutions with campuses linked to a central site with a single set of support services and associated cost savings.

Now we know the departure date for Mrs May, will Augar be published before she goes or not? Either way, the funding issues won’t go away

 

Not a bribe, but a gift or Scholarship?

It is difficult to know what to call the payments to teachers of mathematics and physics in parts of the north of England and the Opportunity Areas, announced by the DfE today. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-mathematics-and-physics-teacher-retention-payments

As the DfE make clear in their announcements, these payments are neither part of a teacher’s salary nor an allowance, as they don’t require either the teacher receiving the cash or the employer to pay either National Insurance or tax and presumably are not part of pensionable pay. I am not sure how HM Treasury regards this handout that has similar characteristics to the bounty paid to reservists with the forces.

Paying someone just for teaching specific subjects in particular geographical areas might have unintended consequences. There are some great schools in Harrogate, one of the areas included in the scheme, and I haven’t noticed that the schools in that area have any more challenges recruiting that do schools in London boroughs, so might we see a flight from London to teach mathematics in the Yorkshire Dales and Wolds. Interestingly, the Lake District and deprived Cumbrian Coast is not included in the list of qualifying local authorities. Surely an oversight?

This scheme looks like a blunter form of the Mrs Thatcher’s Schools of Exceptional Difficulty payments of the early 1970s, although that cash went to all teachers in the qualifying schools, but not to other staff.

How biologist and chemists teaching physics at Key Stage 3 will feel about this payment that they won’t receive unless they have the appropriate academic qualification in the subject, even if they have undertaken considerable professional development, is, no doubt, something the teacher associations will have to discuss with their members. Such teachers cannot just stop teaching physics, since head teachers can require staff to teach any subject where timetabling or other reasons require them to do so.

Making this announcement on EU election day does make it seem a bit like a Jo Moore story, one to be buried in the middle of a lot of announcements on a busy news day – the announcements were 12th and 13th down the list issued by the DfE this morning, although The Times newspaper, did carry the story today, so presumably the press was forewarned.

By not making this a salary supplement, the DfE presumably hopes to head off the question of equal pay for work of equal worth from other teachers working alongside the lucky recipients. I suspect head teachers will also want to ensure they can claim for these payments and not have to pay out of existing budgets. There was no mention in either of the government announcements about the mechanics of the scheme other than the statement that ‘details about the application process and the first year payment process will be available soon.’

TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk will monitor trends in vacancies for teachers of physics and mathematics and report any changes seen. However, the way the scheme will be organised it should not have much immediate impact on the labour market.

 

Non to EBacc recruitment?

Schools don’t want EBacc teachers. Apart from mathematics, where recruitment into training was poor for last September (as has already been noted), schools seeking to fill vacancies in the other main Ebacc subjects aren’t having the same issues as they are with recruitment in some non-Ebacc subjects.

Computer Science will be the next Ebacc subject to see a Red Warning posted on TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk but it will be a close run thing with Religious Education as to which subject reaches the level of a red warning first.

The Ebacc subjects of history, geography and modern languages are still a long way away from seeing any posting of a red warning, and even English and the Sciences overall still have a distance to go before we reach that level of concern. However, schools looking for specific curriculum experience will always find the pool smaller than the overall total.

As ever, in determining the outcome of this recruitment round, much depends upon the numbers seeking to return to teaching after a career break and the rate of departure from the profession.

The DfE could do far more with ‘Keep in Touch‘ schemes for those leaving and the STRB might want to look at reversing the rule that a salary on departure for a career break isn’t protected. Schools can look at offering other less demanding roles for those on a career break to earn some money once maternity leave has finished, such as invigilating, lesson planning or even help with marking. Some of these tasks can be undertaken at home and can provide extra cash, as might helping with one to one tuition. Helping teachers keep in touch and stay up to date is a certain way of ensuring a greater rate of return to the profession probably earlier than in some other circumstances.

The balance between small sixth form numbers and growing KS3 numbers is also causing headaches for some schools, and no doubt adding to the financial problems some schools are facing. In a more cooperative age, schools might pool timetables in minority subjects. This is another area where competition and devolved budgets make sensible arrangements more of a challenge to organise than when there was a great willingness to make the best use of limited resources. Now the demand is for more resources as the only way forward.

How are schemes to recruit and retain teachers from the EU faring? It might be worth a PQ or two from some MP to ascertain what the DfE think is happening compared with recent recruitment rounds? And how are overseas teachers from what one might call the Gove countries reacting to the need for teachers in England? Are we seeing more Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and US teachers than in recent years flooding to our shores?

This week looks set to be the peak of the 2109 recruitment round with probably 6-7,000 new vacancies posted by schools during the course of the week.