School Funding heads for the long grass?

Efficiency saving all round are being used to camouflage the lack of significant extra cash for schools during a period of rising school rolls. The Secretary of State’s statement to parliament, made earlier this afternoon, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/justine-greening-statement-to-parliament-on-school-funding has to be read very carefully to disentangle the rhetoric from the reality.

There will be a national funding formula, but not fully until post 2019-20 when a new spending round will be in place. Until then there will be the following;

  • Increase the basic amount that every pupil will attract in 2018-19 and 2019-20;
  • For the next two years, provide for up to 3% gains a year per pupil for underfunded schools, and a 0.5% a year per pupil cash increase for every school;
  • Continue to protect funding for pupils with additional needs, as we proposed in December.

So, 0.5% will be the basic increase per pupil; will it even cover inflation? What are underfunded schools? Will the increases be enough to offset the inevitable pay increase that will be necessary at some point to stop the loss of teachers from the profession and under-recruitment of new entrants into training? Why set a minimum of £4,800 for secondary school pupils, but no minimum for primary schools? What will this mean for small rural primary schools, are they to be abandoned to their fate?

In their manifesto the Conservatives said no school would lose out as had been proposed in the national funding formula, but it is not clear if the final decision on that point is now being handed to local School Forums and whether this manifesto pledge is being honoured in terms of the primary sector other than through the 0.5% per pupil increase and the up to 3% for under-funded schools? Since there might have been an expectation of a cost of living increase anyway has the 0.5% replaced the cost of living increase? Is it 0.5% per year or across the two years? Some winner now don’t look like seeing the gains that they had expected.

However, primary schools are to receive more cash through their PE and sports premium funding. This may be good news for unemployed PE teachers in some parts of the country, but not for secondary schools that might want to have employed them as maths or science teachers.

The Secretary of State made clear that the £1.3 billion additional investment in core schools funding which she announced today will be funded in full from efficiencies and savings She said,  ‘I have identified from within my Department’s existing budget, rather than higher taxes or more debt’. By making savings and efficiencies, the Secretary of State said that she is ‘maximising the proportion of my Department’s budget which is allocated directly to frontline head teachers – who can then use their professional expertise to ensure that it is spent where it will have the greatest possible impact.’

At TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk we are happy to help by promoting the free national job board that costs schools nothing to place adverts for teachers. We will even extend it to handle support staff for a relatively small further investment.

A wise Secretary of State would have established a joint commission with the teacher associations to work on these central efficiency gains and in doing so help to neutralise the inevitable complaints from those who projects are being cut, especially if they include spending on professional development. Will, I wonder, the £10 million tender to recruit overseas teachers still go ahead and what will happen to the campaigns to encourage new entrants into teaching?

Finally, I am interested to read that one group of consultants will be retained; those to trawl over the budgets of schools in deficit.

Abolish tuition fees?

When I wrote back in April about the iniquity of the hike in repayments rates on student fee debt to 6.1% hardly anyone noticed https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/debt-hike-for-teachers/ That’s the price you pay for being ahead of the game. Then came Labour’s abolish fees pledge during the general election and there is now a growing groundswell on the issue, further fuelled by the fall in applicant numbers reported by UCAS this week.

So far, few have tried to put the debate in even the wider education funding agenda, let along government funding policy as a whole. As I argued in my earlier piece, cutting student fees might mean losing or postponing some other project either in education or society more widely unless the funds can be generated from an increase in taxation somewhere else. There might also be the unintended, or I assume unintended, consequence of reducing further social mobility if the abolition of fees and their replacement with direct payment for university places by the government led to a cap on places. Those that could afford to pay for extra tuition might scoop the bulk of available places, leaving others less well-off to claim only any reserved places under government mandated schemes or unfashionable subjects in unpopular universities.

Earlier in the century there were schemes to help young people save for expenses like tuition fees so that they would not be the burden they now are seen to be. I am not sure what happened to them? It is interesting that the insurance market also never saw saving for tuition fees as a necessary product, presumably because parents with young children were seen as not having the level of disposable income to fund such schemes in advance. As I said in April, at the present time it would be more cost effective for families to increase their mortgages than to incur student debt in terms of current repayment levels.

The risk is that in the present political climate judgements will be made on votes to be won rather than sound economic or social policy. But, then fees were increased to £9,000 probably without much thought for either issue and certainly no rationale as to why a classroom subject would cost that sum to deliver. Anyway, the concern must be that a Conservative strategist sees abolishing fees as spiking Labour’s guns with young voters and so worth doing ahead of sorting out the mess with funding social care or even the NHS.

Although there are many worthy articles written about the rationality of government financing, in the end it comes down to plain old horse trading and what works politically. With the number of eighteen year olds set to fall, part-time students numbers already having been decimated and no EU students to pay for, the government could well explore a deal with universities of fees paid for home students, but higher full-cost fees for overseas and non-government funded students. The government could also rebalance the subject offering so as to demonstrate to Conservative voters that they have wiped out subject that shouldn’t be degrees and moved them into the new apprenticeship sector. That might play well with those that think there are too many students wasting three years at university. So, whether fees survive looks increasingly like a political decision based on electoral strategy and the date of the next general election.

 

2% for all main scale teachers

Yesterday, the School Teachers Pay Review Body published its report and recommendations to the government. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/626156/59497_School_Teachers_Review_Accessible.pdf as expected, the STRB felt bound by the remit letter it had received from government. As a result, its conclusions didn’t breech the government’s stated policy of a one per cent cap on public sector pay: no real surprise there. However, the STRB’s recommendations did contain one suggestion for higher pay to the maximum and minimum of the main pay range.

STRB’s 2017 Recommendations

For September 2017, we recommend:

  • A 2% uplift to the minimum and maximum of the main pay range (MPR);
  • A 1% uplift to the minima and maxima of the upper pay range (UPR), the unqualified teacher pay range and the leading practitioner pay range;
  • A 1% uplift to the minima and maxima of the leadership group pay range and all head teacher group pay ranges; and,
  • A 1% uplift to the minima and maxima of the Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) and Special Educational Needs (SEN) allowance ranges.

If accepted, these recommendations will lead to some teachers receiving a higher pay rise than others, notably those on the top of the main scale, but not having progressed through to the higher pay scales. Now since many, if not most academies don’t have to stick to the national pay scales, this provides an interesting opportunity for the teacher associations to flex their muscle and demand a 2% rise on the main scale for all teachers not covered by the mandatory national pay scales. If achieved, it would put pressure on the government either to offer the same deal to other teachers across the sector or risk teacher recruitment and retention issues becoming worse outside the academy sector.

The data in the STRB Report suggests that most schools can carry an extra one per cent on their main scale teacher’s pay bill by dipping into reserves. Yes, a hoped for building project might be delayed by a year, but many teachers would feel that their financial situation is being taken seriously.

Is it in the interests of the teacher associations to take this line or to hold out for more for everyone at some point in the future? That’s their judgement call, but I think the two per cent for all main scale teachers demonstrates that they do more on the pay front than just argue the case with the STRB and are indeed prepared to take on a weak government playing a poor hand on public sector pay.

To compensate, I would argue for bringing MAT chief officers pay within the overall cap. It is surely wrong to cap the pay of workers but let the bosses set their own take from public money, albeit sanctioned by their boards.

There is plenty of evidence within the STRB report of recruitment problems, but having waited so long to publish the STRB might have updated some charts with the evidence from the 2016 School Workforce Census rather than relying on 2015 that charted the recruitment round for September two years ago.

Celebrating school music services

Last evening I attended the Oxfordshire Music Service annual end of year concert. The setting was the lovely one of Dorchester Abbey, although the pews do seem rather harder than a few years ago. Music has played a large part in the post-war education scene. This is despite successive governments from the 1980s onwards often seeing it as a dispensable extra activity. The fact that this was the 75th year the Oxfordshire Music Service has been in operation and it is now working at arm’s length from the local authority is a tribute to all who care about what this type of service can bring to the life of our young people.

Earlier in the afternoon I had been reading the latest briefing note on school funding from the Education Policy Institute. David Laws, the former Schools Minister and sometime Lib Dem MP makes no secret that he doesn’t believe in local democratically elected councils having a role in education funding. The briefing note laments that there was no legislative proposal in the Queen’s Speech to allow a ‘hard’ national funding formula. However, the EPI note suggests that the DfE could still significantly reduce the role of local authorities by the use of secondary legislation.

Now, regular readers will knows that both as a councillor and philosophically I believe locally democratically elected councils have an important role to play in education. I am not opposed to a national funding formula, but it throws up interesting issues if implemented as a ’hard’ national formula. An academy in the North West is to close as it is uneconomic and in deficit. The Multi Academy Trust will hand the lease back to the council that owns the freehold. All well and good, but the school was built by a PFI deal and those payments will presumably continue whether it operates as a school or not. Who should bear the cost, the local council taxpayers or the government? At present, it will be the local taxpayers, probably without any ability to recoup the costs, just as they cannot for additional transport costs that could result from a school closure. Would the government keep activities such as school music services going or be content to just leave them to market forces? I wonder.

The lack of a rational plan for the governance of our schools have been a worrying feature of the past thirty years, ever since central government really started the process of nationalising the schools with the Conservative Grant Maintained Schools.  Sadly, no government has had the courage to do what David Laws would like and fully remove all education from democratically elected councils. Such an outcome would at least have the merit of clear-cut solution.

You really cannot have a system with responsibility but no power. This fact is highlighted by the plight of children taken into care who have no right to a school place if moved to another area for their safety. I am delighted that all Oxfordshire MPs from the three Parties have signed a letter to the Minister highlighting this issue. Our most vulnerable children deserve better than to be not only be taken from their homes but also have their education disrupted, sometimes for months on end.

Who remembers the OHP now?

The Centre for Education Economics has produced an interesting research digest on the ‘Evidence on uses of technology in education’.  http://www.cfee.org.uk/sites/default/files/CfEE%20Annual%20Research%20Digest%202016-17%20-%20web%20version.pdf?mc_cid=9c5c208670&mc_eid=11bc2206a8

Now, the use of technology isn’t new in education and much technology, such as the cassette tape-recorder, banda copiers and the OHP has come, gone and faded into the memories of those of us of certain ages. Throughout the whole of my life, the problem all too often isn’t the technology, but rather the way teachers and others are taught to make use of it in helping the learning process.

If I was still teaching geography, I guess I would have a string of web sites open on my interactive whiteboard to let pupils watch for a magnitude 6 earthquake; a volcanic eruption and at this time of year the development of hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean, all so as to engage all my classes in knowing the dynamics of these natural events and possibly encouraging them to find out more. Today, I would have a web cam streaming live from somewhere in the USA celebrating the 4th July. All this is low level motivational use of technology.

I am convinced that data recording can help play an important part in pinpointing where resources are needed, although all too often teachers are required to create and input the data. The next generation of learning technology should address that issue. Indeed, I wonder whether we should be spending the cash currently expended on research into driverless cars into improving the learning process for those we fail at present in our education system. I always wonder whether, with the development of technology we need, those preparing the next generation of teachers are as open to new possibilities and to enthusing the next generation of teachers to be aware of the way the world is changing as I would like them to be.

I first used a word processor in 1979; it revolutionised the work I could undertake for the dissertation I was researching and eventually writing at that time. From mail merging the letters accompanying my questionnaire, to changing spelling mistakes the day before submission, there were lots of small advantages. However, the real benefit was longer to arrange and rearrange my thoughts and analysis to produce a higher standard of writing that would have been much more challenging to achieve with just pen and ink or that other disappeared piece of technology, the typewriter.

This blog would be possible without the developments in technology and I would only be able to communicate with the outside world if someone, as the TES did in 1998, offered me the opportunity to write a column for their magazine.

Indeed, TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk our free to schools and teachers job board is the product of disruptive new technology that has driven down the cost of communicating teaching posts to the audience seeking them out.

As we approach the 150th anniversary of the 1870 Education act, I remain an optimist that technology can improve our lives for the better and reduce the learning deficit some many children still experience, especially at the start of their formal education.

Immediately after writing this post I came across the following BBC video posted today that raises many of the same issues about technology and learning

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/magazine-40485293/the-futuristic-school-where-you-re-always-on-camera

Well worth a view.

Tuition Fees rethink

One of the most spectacular policy announcements of the recent general election campaign was Labour’s offer to scrap tuition fees for new students and abolish outstanding repayments for graduates. There was no attempt to link this to the NHS and social care funding crisis as the other great funding need. There was also no real vision for how this would sit alongside the need to remove the cap on public sector pay. However, it seems to have worked, like most much announcements, in this case attracting many young voters that would benefit from any removal of fees.

I notice that the Tory press has taken to blaming the Lib Dems for the present university student fee levels, this despite the fact that it was a decision of the coalition government, albeit taken by a Tory minister and presumably approved by both a Lib Dem Secretary of State and the Cabinet as a whole.

One of things that riled me at the time of the fee hike was the lack of any discussion on why classroom subjects should be assumed to cost the same as laboratory and practical subjects? I wonder if ministers thought the market would drive down prices but, as I have pointed out before, with demand far exceeding supply, there was no incentive for any university to anything other than tinker at the edges with the £9,000 fee levels.

So, are such fees justified for arts and humanities subjects? Well, much depends upon the size of the group and the number of hours taught. Fees at this level should allow for minority subjects cross-subsidised by more popular courses and lots of options within courses, even if only 25% of the fee income goes directly to teaching and the rest to legitimate university and departmental overheads. Of course the level of salary and the mix of experience of teaching staff also play a part, as they do in school finances. One cannot help feeling that universities are possibly also possibly funding future capital programmes and increasing their surplus funds from the fees being paid by current students. Both seem to me good reasons for re-assessing the balance between the price paid by students and the eventual cost to government.

I think university accounts should be much more transparent on how fee income is spent, especially between different types of course. Many years ago, I conducted research into the funding of teacher education courses and it was clear that at the £3,000 fee level universities that paid a fee to schools could not cover their costs and had them written off each year by the central administration. It would be interesting to repeat that exercise on the £9,000 fee level.

Personally, I think that there is a case for fees to be in the £6,000 range, to allow for funding of free nursery education that might be a casualty if fees were to be abolished, with a direct government top-up for specified STEM and other more expensive subjects that universities might need encouragement to develop. I certainly don’t want undergraduates subsidising either the summer conference trade or in most cases either research programmes or postgraduate taught courses.

 

Young graduates still not attracted to teaching in large enough numbers

The good news is that offers for secondary teacher preparation courses aren’t generally any worse than last month. Indeed, in the humanities, the loosening of recruitment targets have probably helped propel offers in history and geography to new high levels. Whether it is fair to  offer places to students to train as a history teacher and take on the extra debt involved when there are likely to be far more trainees than vacancies available in 2018 is a question that presumably everyone involved with teacher preparation is happy to answer in the affirmative. After all, the students know the risk they are running and aren’t callow eighteen year olds fresh from school.

Generally, there must be concern about what is happening to recruitment in the sciences and in particular Chemistry. After several good years recruiting, offers are back to the level last seen in 2013/14, although even that represent an improvement on the situation earlier this year. Hopefully, a significant proportion of those in the unspecified science category are really looking to be Chemistry teachers. We won’t know until the ITT census in the autumn whether or not it is actually the case.

It is undoubtedly the fact that the figure for offers to secondary courses would be far worse if all routes had the same offer to application ratio of School Direct Salaried. This year, just 17% of applicants are currently shown as placed or holding an offer. Last year, the figure at this point in the cycle was 18%. In numerical terms that means a drop from 1,310 last year to just 900 this year, with 740 of those only conditionally placed. By contrast, the School Direct Fee route has a ratio of 22% and SCITTs and higher education have placed or made offers to 28% of their applicants. Indeed, the much maligned university sector has accounted for 6,930 of the 13,150 offers made so far this year: that’s 53% of the total in a sector that was supposed to have been removed from teacher preparation by now under Mr Gove’s school-based training plans. In the primary sector, higher education accounts for just about half of the places and there are more offers for School Direct salaried places than in the secondary sector. However, we don’t know how many of these may be already working in schools in another capacity before transferring onto a teacher preparation programme.

Last month, I raised concerns about the situation in London where offers across both primary and secondary courses now total 4,370 compared with 4,800 at this point last year. Total applicant numbers in England are still below the 36,000 mark, more than 1,000 down on this point last year.

Although there are more 23 year olds applying this year than last, applications from younger graduates  of 21 or 22 still remain below last year and there are fewer career changers in their 30s this year. Last night, I saw two of the Royal Navy TV adverts, but I cannot recall when I last saw a TV advert for teaching: perhaps I am looking at the wrong channels.

With many schools being less likely to recruit applicants over the summer months, despite incentives to do so, the next month is likely to represent the final opportunity to improve on the predicted outcome for this year and a resulting challenging job market in 2018.