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.

 

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900th post: Solar or PV?

I thought I would save this post for something special, but I couldn’t wait, so just noting in passing that today is my birthday, I wanted to comment on the apparent lack of inclusion of schools in Labour’s announcement about renewable energy this morning. After all, climate change and reducing fossil fuel use is something very urgent and special. For everyone

The announcement from Labour talks of solar panels when I think that they mean photovoltaic panels, generating electricity and not just heating water. More concerning to me is that there is no mention of installing such panels on schools or other public buildings in the announcement. Indeed, the announcement reads more like a bribe than an energy policy advocating renewables as a way forward.

Way back in 2007, in a chapter in a book edited by Duncan Brack and called ‘Reinventing the State’, I advocated that ‘schools should take the lead in areas such as renewable energy use.’ In the chapter I wrote in the book, I suggested ’the use of community bonds to fund capital developments associated with both energy saving and the adoption of renewable supplies’. I also suggested that such schemes would also help in the education of future generations about the need for the responsible stewardship of our plant.

Earlier this year, I suggested all governing bodies should be required to undertake an audit to see if they can reduce the carbon footprint of their school and increase the use of renewable energy. I suggested starting by substituting cooking by gas with cooking using electricity in school kitchens. Schools might also encourage more cycling and walking to and from schools and less use of parent’s cars to transport pupils. How about a policy of some school minibuses being electric powered, especially where they are only used for short distance journeys.

Councils that commission home to school transport could require all taxis undertaking journeys of less than a specified distance to be electric powered vehicles and, if operators want to charge more, perhaps councils could offer lease deals to prevent costs spiraling out of control.

I wonder if new schools are being built with grey water recycling facilities and other energy saving specifications. Maybe, like sprinkler systems, the government doesn’t think these type of changes are appropriate for new schools?

As regular readers know, I also have a think about how school playgrounds and other outdoor spaces could be used to help create renewable energy during the long periods of the years when they are not being used for their designated purpose. Someone told me of a road surface being trialed in France that might be used. I will see if I can follow up on this idea.

Finally, has your school introduced a policy to eliminate the use of plastics where possible and how well are you succeeding? Should the DfE being providing more help and encouragement?

 

 

 

 

 

How to advertise a teaching vacancy

Many schools still don’t seem able to work out how to achieve the best results from the changing world of advertising for teaching posts. The concept of ‘free’ adverts for schools is now firmly established as a key part of the marketplace, with the DfE’s site following along in the footsteps of TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk that created the first free site for schools and teachers more than four years ago. Additionally, most schools now also place their vacancies on a specific part of their site.

However, schools don’t seem to have reviewed their policy towards how they make the most use of the changing landscape for recruitment. Take science vacancies as an example. When you are paying to advertise a vacancy it makes sense to create an advert that will maximise the chance of making an appointment, especially if you are paying for each advert individually. Hence, a schools is most likely to advertise for a teacher of science, with some specific indication in the text of any desired skills or subject knowledge, such as physics or chemistry beyond ‘A’ level.

Reviewing vacancies placed by London schools so far in 2019, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has recorded more than 700 ‘advertised vacancies across the sciences by secondary schools in the capital. Of these, 73 are adverts for teachers of chemistry; 98 for teachers of physics and just 60 for teachers of biology, but 487 for science teachers. So, almost overwhelmingly, schools are still advertising for science teachers and nothing else. Many of those with adverts for chemistry and physics teachers are independent schools or schools that have a specific interest in teaching the sciences.

So here are a few suggestions for schools as the 2019 recruitment round reaches its peak. If it costs you nothing, try placing both an advert for a teacher of a specific science, say physics as well as an advert for a science teacher if you really want a teacher of physics. Sure, it makes some people’s task of analysis more challenging, but that’s not your problem. With lots of possible teachers of biology, if that’s what you want, say so.

Putting two different adverts on your web site costs a school nothing. The same with either registering and entering two different science jobs in TeachVac or letting TeachVac deal with them. For maximum effect, it is probably worth placing the vacancies a day apart. In most cases, where a school has a subscription to a paid service that doesn’t limit the number of adverts placed in a given period, the school could use the same tactics. Indeed, between January and the end of April it is worth considering precautionary advertising based upon the experience of previous years in order to build up a register of interested teachers. But, do remember that most teachers are mainly interested in finding a job, not specifically a job in your school, and if one comes up elsewhere, then they could no longer be interested in your vacancies.

Schools should also note that some candidates searching for vacancies may register only for physics, biology or chemistry vacancies and not for science vacancies as a generic term. Some sites create more restrictive matches than others. In those cases, some possible applicants might not see your vacancy.

A word of warning to MATs that use central recruitment sites, are you ensuring this works to the advantage of your schools?

Finally, a plea, do please check your vacancy adverts for simple errors such as out of time closing dates and text that differs between headlines and copy text. You will be surprised how often TeachVac staff either cannot match a vacancy or have to contact a school for clarification if time allows them to do so before the end of the daily routine.

 

Energy policy for schools

Yesterday, at Oxfordshire’s Cabinet meeting I asked a question about how many maintained schools in the county had renewable energy scheme with either PV or solar panel in place on their roofs? I put this question down a couple of weeks ago before the current protests in London started and I certainly didn’t know that Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old Swedish climate change campaigner would be in London yesterday.

After some ‘toing and froing’ about who would answer the question, either the Cabinet Member for property or the Cabinet Member for Education, the issue was solved by the absence of the former and the presence of the latter at the meeting.

The formal question and answer are set out below:

Question: “How many maintained schools in Oxfordshire have either solar or photo-voltaic panels on their roofs or elsewhere on school grounds?”

 Answer: ‘The Council does not hold a database with this information, as schools would need to register for the FIT (Feed In Tariff) themselves, information on the installation and/or registration is not readily available. On request at such short notice we have been able to ascertain that 30 of our maintained schools have either solar or photo-voltaic panels on their roofs or elsewhere on school grounds.’

Whether the lack of a database is a result of the collapse of Carillion over a year ago isn’t clear, but I am surprised that the County knows so little about maintained schools. Of course, nobody probably knows about all the secondary schools in the county, as all except one are academies. Then there are a large number of private schools. What their energy policy is, I guess nobody knows as a matter of record.

For this reason, when the school strikes started, I suggested a more positive policy would be for these young people to start an audit of their schools and ask for a policy moving towards cutting carbon emissions. This seemed a more positive approach than missing lessons, even if less dramatic. They could also campaign for more walking and cycling to schools by their fellow students.

My supplementary question yesterday, put at the meeting, was to ask what the Cabinet Member for education would do, especially in encouraging the Anglican and Roman Catholic Diocese to improve the generation of renewable energy by their schools. The Anglican Diocese of Oxford has generally had a very negative attitude to the use of the roofs of their schools to generate electricity. In my view it is time this changed.

I also asked about my own bugbear, school’s playgrounds and outside spaces. For 175 days a year they are largely unused, and for the other 190 days only partly used. Can research help to make them a more productive asset in our quest for cleaner energy?

Finally, I attended a wonderful concert in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre last evening. Under the beautiful painted ceiling, first the Oxfordshire County Youth Orchestra played three pieces, and then the Sydney Youth Orchestra completed their UK tour by playing Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. Those that know this symphony will be aware of how demanding it is to play.

As I left, I pondered on the growth of the aviation industry that had made their tour possible, but is such a threat to or planet. Tacking fuel emissions from jet engines is a much bigger challenge than using school playgrounds to create energy, but both must surely play a part in tacking climate change.

 

 

Benchmarking

As is usual, the run up to the Easter break brings a clutch of education stories, partly fuelled by the arrival of the conference season for the main teacher associations. Governments of all colours probably always worry about the bad publicity they will expect at this time of year, as much is made of the poor state of health of the school system in England.

This year is proving to be no different to usual, with school funding, teachers’ pay and workload and children’s mental health all taking the headlines, along with testing and its associated consequence of off-rolling, a term unknown to the general public before the last few months, but now probably bidding to be the new word of 2019. What I haven’t heard is anything about education’s contribution to the climate change emergency. Should it feature more in the curriculum and what practical steps ought schools to be taking? In my post headed ‘gas cooking’, I suggested school students might like to conduct an audit of their schools to see what changes should be introduced.

Opposition parties are always quick to say there isn’t enough funding for schools, and I am happy to support their claims. This blog has regularly charted the decline in the level of reserves across maintained schools and the growth in the number of schools with deficits rather than cash balances. However, there are still schools with balances, some quite large in cash terms. How can this be, in an under-funded system? Is the balance between funding based upon pupil numbers, and that designed to cover the cost of ensuring a schools remains open regardless of changes in pupil numbers, right in the new formula now being introduced?

I especially worry about small rural schools, and my concerns have been shared by officials in North Yorkshire as detailed in another recent post on this blog. There needs to be some national benchmarks over finance that governing bodies can measure their schools against on a regular basis. The DfE has already done some good work here, but it needs to do more. At the heart of the debate may be the decision, made way back in the early days of delegated budgets, to fund schools on average salary levels and not actual cash amounts. Thus, schools with young teachers paid less than average benefit, but schools with teachers at the top of the pay scales find funding inadequate to meet their salary bills. The real squeeze on 16-18 funding hasn’t helped either, as many schools deploy their most expensive staff to teach this age-group.

Should we abolish tests in the primary school? There certainly shouldn’t be tests that stress, pupils, teachers and families. However, the data already shows that many disadvantaged pupils fare less well in our system than their more fortunate classmates. I would not want that fact to be lost. We have emerged from a culture when expectations of some children were low, and as a result not much was achieved. Don’t, please let us go back there. Humane, reasonable, tests backed by effective resources and a better use of emerging technologies can create a future golden age as we approach the 150th anniversary of state funded school in in England. Such  a system might be better at attracting and retaining its teachers in what is now a global marketplace.

Install sprinkler systems

This blog discussed the issue of installing sprinkler system in new schools in a post that was dated 28th August 2016. At that time, the government was considering relaxing the rules about the installation of such systems.

There was a BBC new report over the weekend https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47923843 citing a study by the Fire Brigades Union using data obtained following a question from Labour MP and former teacher Stephanie Peacock. She found that 105 of the 673 schools built and open by February were fitted with sprinklers. Not surprisingly, the fact that only 15% of new build schools were fitted with sprinkler system has rightly raised concerns.

Some of these schools are likely to be single storey primary schools with good means of evacuation in the event of a fire. However, some will be secondary schools with more than one storey and it is hoped that all of these will have had sprinkler system installed. However, there is no requirement for private schools to install sprinkler systems even when higher risk activities, such as laboratories are located on upper floors.

There are two reasons for installing sprinkler systems, the risk to life and limb and the risk to property.  According to official figures, there were no fatalities from school fires in the eight years up to 2017/18, but there were 244 casualties. The lack of fatalities wouldn’t be used in any other circumstances for scaling back on safety measures, and it shouldn’t be when constructing new school buildings.

However, the risk to property is an equally important reason for installing sprinkler systems in schools of all types. Arson rarely happens when schools are occupied, and often takes place at night. Water damage, although distressing, can be much less costly and disruptive than a building burning down. Even if academies are externally insured for their buildings, the disruption to children’s education is something that should be avoided.

Whether you call it ‘invest to save’ or ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, I am with those that think almost all schools should have sprinkler systems installed. When local authorities carry the risk on their own books, this is an even more important choice as not only are there re-building costs but there may also be significant transport charges moving pupils to other schools.

The most important reasons is that pupil’s education should not be disrupted. Even though coursework is of less importance than it was previously in our examination system, loss of work can affect a child’s progress.

Sprinkler system may not be cheap, but they are a good investment. The government should review the rules over school building to make these system mandatory unless there is a good reason not to install them. They should also ask whether private schools need to be required to take measures when building new schools or extensions above a single storey in height.

 

DfE backs free vacancy sites

The Secretary of State has provided a big push for the DfE’s vacancy site and other free job sites such as TeachVac https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-teacher-recruitment-service-set-to-save-schools-millions

It is always interesting to see a Conservative government trying to stifle legitimate competition by using its millions to drive TeachVac out of business www.teachvac.co.uk  However, the government won’t succeed. As the DfE notice acknowledges, only 38% of schools have signed up to the DfE service after nine months of testing. They only cite Cambridgeshire as an authority where all schools have signed up to their service.

As I have written before, the DfE would have saved money, something they urge schools to do, by either working with existing job boards or taking a feed from TeachVac at a much lower cost that designing their own service.

The DfE site has one flaw for teachers looking for posts in a particular area and not bothered whether they work in the private or public sectors: the DfE site only contains state funded schools. TeachVac contain details of vacancies in both sectors.

Will the DfE now instruct local authorities to abandon their own local job boards on the basis that this duplication of service is wasting taxpayer’s money? The DfE could provide a feed for all schools with vacancies in the local authority area, as TeachVac can do. If the DfE doesn’t do this, one must ask why not?

I assume that ASCL and NAHT along with the NGA will come out in support of the DfE’s site, something that haven’t felt able to do with TeachVac, despite it being free for schools and teachers.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

With every school in the country now having access to this completely free site, I am calling on schools to ditch platforms that charge a fee. Why spend £1,000 on a service you can get for free?

Why indeed, and why go to the trouble of placing your vacancy on the DfE web site when TeachVac will collect it from your own web site for free, saving schools even more time and money.

So, will this be bad news for the TES and its new American owners? Much will depend upon how much in the way of resources the DfE is prepared to put into creating a state run monopoly? The vacancy part of the acquisition and its income stream certainly looks more risky this morning than it did on Friday. Will it be worth the £195 million that they seem to have paid for it?

Had I not helped invent TeachVac nearly six years ago, I would no doubt be more enthusiastic about the DfE’s attempt to drive down costs for schools. For now, we shall see what happens, and how schools, MATs and local authorities respond to today’s announcement.

For the sake of interest, I have compiled a table showing the DfE’s vacancy numbers – including non-teaching posts – as a percentage of TeachVac’s numbers. However, TeachVac includes independent secondary schools, but the DfE site sometimes contains non-teaching posts..

04/01/2019 11.26
11/01/2019 13.22
18/01/2019 17.57
25/01/2019 17.69
01/02/2019 21.44
08/02/2019 22.72
15/02/2019 24.46
22/02/2019 11.71
01/03/2019 31.25
08/03/2019 25.11
15/03/2019 25.20
22/03/2019 25.10
29/03/2019 28.20
05/04/2019 29.10