A weak economy won’t help school funding

According to information contained in a House of Commons Library research Report on Education Funding, the government is either shooting itself in the foot or presenting statistics in a manner that makes already challenging comparisons difficult, if not impossible.

The Library Research Paper, BRIEFING PAPER Number 1078, 9th October 2019 entitled: Education spending in the UK, states on page 11 that

the Department for Education currently records all spending on academies under secondary education. Secondary schools account for most of the spending on academies, but there are also include large numbers of primary and special academies. They are looking to improve the separation of spending across the education categories in the future. This skews the primary/secondary breakdown somewhat and limits the comparisons of primary and secondary spending between the home countries of the UK.” (Their emphasis, not mine)

As the number of academies in the primary and secondary sector increases, this method or recording allied to the fact that academies and free schools have a different financial year to maintained schools makes comparisons even harder than before.

Nevertheless, the Report is able to demonstrate how closely funding follows two key influences; demography and the state of the economy.  For the past few years, both of these have been negative in the sense that the economy took a hit after the banking crisis at just the time when the birth rate was rising to higher levels than previously. Both factors created an almost perfect storm, not least because rising pupil numbers means a greater percentage of education expenditure has to be used for capital projects rather than revenue spending. Add in the laudable decision to raise the learning leaving age to 18 from 16, and another funding pressure was added to the equation.

The cuts facing schools would undoubtedly have been worse, unless taxes had risen, if the contribution of participants to the funding of higher education had not been increased by the raising of tuition fees and also the manner in which these loans were accounted for on the government’s balance sheet.

The Report also notes that “In 2017 an estimated £23 billion was spent privately on education.” Citing Consumer trends, ONS, as the source of the figure. Now, I assume this will include all the funds parents spend on private tutoring ahead of exams, and on Maths Centres that have sprung up around the country, as well as what the Labour Party includes in its definition of private education that it would seek to abolish.

Apart from probably driving at least part of that provision of schooling offshore, where the export income would be lost to the National Exchequer, there would obviously be the cost of educating such pupils as needed to be educated by the State.  I don’t know how many billions that would cost, but it would have to be found from somewhere.

However, I understand the feeling that education is so important that it cannot be left to personal choice, but only offered by the State. From there it is but a short step to mandating only one type of state school that parents have to send their children to attend. As a Liberal, this is not a road that I would want to go along.

 

Advertisements

Who cares about school leadership and governance?

What’s happening to both the Teaching Schools programme and the idea of National Leaders of Education and of Governance? The DfE faithfully reports the numbers in each of these categories https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teaching-schools-and-system-leadership-monthly-report with reports from September 2019 back to June 2018 on the DfE Website. Earlier reports seems to be archived and are not easy to find.

The DfE notes that Designation rounds for National Leaders of Education and teaching schools closed in May 2018 and designation rounds for National Leaders of Governance closed in May 2017.

The DfE is currently reviewing the current structure of system leadership to ensure the quality of system leadership remains as high as possible. The teaching school hubs test and learn phase, launched in May 2019, builds on the success of the teaching schools programme and is the first part of the department’s plans to review system leadership.

The number of system leaders who are currently designated is actively managed and the department keeps these matters under review.

As a result, it is perhaps not surprising to find that numbers in the different categories have reduced across the board between June 2018 and September 2019 as presumably few new additions have been made to replace those lost for various reasons.

June 2018            September 2019               Change                                 Percentage Change

Teaching

Schools                 668                         618                                         -50                            -7%

Alliance

Teaching

Schools                 835                         734                                         81                           -10%

National

Leaders of           1319                       1087                                  -232                            -17%

Education

National

Leaders of           442                          363                                       -79                         -18%

Governance

Source DfE publications for relevant months

Probably most worrying is the reduction in National Leaders of Governance. With an education system where governance is a muddle and different schools operate under vastly different rules depending upon whether they are Maintained, Voluntary and Maintained, Stand Alone academies or Free Schools or members of Multi-Academy Trusts, there is a need for leadership that NLG can help provide.

Without the backing of the National College, now fading into little more than a memory, there is a need to provide support and development for leadership and career development the system. It is not clear where the impetus is now coming from. Perhaps the Secretary of State might care to make a keynote speech about this? However, I suspect nothing will happen this side of a general election and it will be anyone’s guess who might be occupying the Minister’s Office in Sanctuary Buildings then.

When I started in teaching in the early 1970s, there was little support for leadership, but it became an issue as the decade progressed, so much so that in 1978 I ran my first leadership course for middle leaders in schools. Sometimes it now feels as if the whole of the work undertaken since then has been discarded, and we are back to a free for all with no clear direction of travel for leadership training, development and support.

No doubt the review of the present structure will make suggestions: they cannot come soon enough in my opinion.

 

Education is a fundamental Human Right

Last week there was a report from the Ombudsman (sic) about the management of the process of to the admission of a pupil to a school. This report was of especial interest to me as it involved Oxfordshire, where I am a county councillor.

Long-time readers of this blog will know of my concerns over the time required for some children taken into care to be offered a school place, despite their vulnerability. I have written about that issue several times, but probably most tellingly in April last year at https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2018/04/17/educating-children-taken-into-care/

The fact that other children are also being affected is very disappointing, and disheartening when it is happening so close to home.

I firmly believe this is a basic right of children to be provided with education by the State, if asked to do so. To leave a child for 14 months, as in the case highlighted in the report from the Ombudsman, with either less than full-time education or no education at all is unacceptable.

We now fine parents for taking children on holiday in term time, so we cannot accept, even in these times of cuts to public services, a child facing long periods without education as a result of administrative issues.

Indeed, I am reminded that the first Protocol of Article 2 of the 1998 Human Rights Act reads as follows:

Right to education

No person shall be denied a right to an education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/human-rights-act/article-2-first-protocol-right-education

The fault is not entirely that of Oxfordshire, the power of academies to dictate their own in-year admissions and the failure of government to act quickly when asked to rule on the issue don’t help.

Indeed, the 2016 White Paper that suggested that in-year admissions be returned to local authority control would be a good start.

If Mr Williamson wanted an early win for parents, pending time for legislation, he could gain voluntary acceptance for academies and their Trusts to agree to work with local authorities on admissions and not to opt out of local arrangements.

However, all Oxfordshire’s children already have Oxfordshire County Council as their first line of defence when there are problems, as the Ombudsman pointed out at paragraph 60 of their Report:

Section 19 of the Education Act 1996 states councils have a duty to make arrangements to ensure the provision of suitable education at school or otherwise for each child of compulsory school age who for reasons of illness, exclusion or otherwise may not for any period receive suitable education unless arrangements are made for them. This duty is binding.

https://www.lgo.org.uk/information-centre/news/2019/jul/oxfordshire-teen-left-out-of-school-for-14-months-because-of-council-delay

Young people only have one chance of education alongside their peers, and we have to provide the resources to take care of challenging cases as much as for the majority of pupils that cause no issues for the State, and the schools it funds.

 

 

More wasted cash?

The DfE has today updated the list of academies (SATs and MATs, but possibly not MACs) where there has been a change in overall responsibility, either from a standalone academy (SAT) into a multi-academy Trust (MAT) or between MATs. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/academy-transfers-and-funding-england-financial-year-2018-to-2019

These changes are generally not cost free. They can take place for a variety of reasons including, ‘due to intervention’, usually after an inadequate rating by Ofsted; ‘initiated by the Trust’ and as a result of the fact that the Trust ‘sponsor closed’. The last of these reasons seems to have incurred costs of around £3 million in the 14 months from January 2018 to February 2019. The DfE can offset such costs against any balances held within the Trust, but that cash cannot then be spent on educating the pupils.

Now it has to be recognised that in the past costs were incurred in dealing with failing local authorities. Hackney in the early years of the Labour government was one example, and I think that Bradford was another. Indeed Commissioners are still sent into Children’s Services rated as ‘inadequate’. However, the ability of trustees to effectively close their Trust brings a new dimension to this issue. I suppose that some of these Trusts might have, so to speak, fallen on their sword before they were the subject of intervention by the Regional School Commissioner’s Office.

Nevertheless, the fact that trustee can voluntarily decide to abandon one or all of their schools at a cost to the system does raise questions about the best use of scarce resources, an issue highlighted in the previous post on this blog.

There also doesn’t seem to be any requirement on trustees to think of others when making decisions to close a SAT or a MAT. There are times of year when such actions might be allowed, but others where it should be banned. I recall a few years ago a MAT announcing the closure of a school a couple of weeks before the notification of places for the following September was to be relayed to parents. The local authority had to re-run the whole exercise for that area, with a waste of time and money. Those costs would presumably not be included in the figures provided by the DfE, and I suspect the local authority were not reimbursed for the time an effort of their officers in ensuring every pupil had a place at secondary school that September.

The DfE might also like to publish a list of ‘orphan’ schools, declared ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and requiring conversion to academy status but finding it a challenge to secure a MAT willing to embrace them.

I don’t know whether the Select Committee in their Inquiry into school funding looked into this sort of cost to the system, if not, then they might like to put such a study on their list for the future.

As I have written in previous blogs, there are some areas, such as pupil numbers increases, where costs cannot be avoided. There are other areas where reducing waste should be a real priority for the system. This looks like an example of the latter.

Stop wasting money

A new report commissioned, and part funded by the Local Government Association, has found that ‘middle tier’ oversight functions for academies cost some 44% more than for local authority maintained schools. The research was carried out by Sara Bubb Associates, and the team conducting the study involved some senior figures from the world of academia. The full report can be accessed from: http://sarabubb.com/middle-tier/4594671314

This study published shortly after the call for evidence by the Confederation of School Trusts (see earlier post) shows that the overall costs for middle tier functions within the academy system in 2016/17 was £167.05 per pupil compared to £115.71 for the local authority system. It is worth pointing out that the two do not share a common financial year, and that some of the disbanded local advisory and professional development functions may have been taken up by MATs. However, neither of these points would be likely to fully explain the difference between the two amounts.

By my calculations the figures in this report suggest that saving of some £300 million might be made if the ‘middle tier’ was rationalised and local authorities were charged with oversight of all schools; perhaps with regional boards to allow for the economies of scale that this report points out are missing from the current academy sector at present.

The authors of the report call for an urgent review of the middle tier system in the light of international best practice. It is generally acknowledged that England has some of the most centralised public services; schooling is no exception to that state of affairs. The authors also recommend an evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of the multi-academy trust model, and I would add of standalone academies as well. The authors also want to see greater efficiency, fairness and transparency in funding the oversight of England’s school system. The DfE has gone some way since the data used in this report on at least facing up to the high salaries that were being paid in some parts of the academy system, but have not yet tackled the underlying issues identified in this report.

The DfE has also undertaken some work to drive down costs for schools, emulating, for instance, TeachVac’s free national vacancy site with a version of their own. However, the have failed to take on board advice in the 2016 White Paper that might have clarified some of the ‘middle tier’ functions, such as in-year admissions once again becoming the responsibility of local authorities. That isn’t just a cost matter, but also one of fairness for pupils compelled to change school during the school-year. As I have pointed out in the past, children taken into care and moved away for their own safety from their previous home often find some schools reluctant to admit them, even if they have places available.

Perhaps any new regime at Sanctuary Buildings after the new Prime Minister enters into office will use this report as the basis for a fresh start. However, I am not holding my breath. In the meantime, reports such as this one that highlight the amount of money being spent unnecessarily are to be welcomed.

 

 

 

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.

 

Schools for the future?

In the first segment of the BBC’s Today programme this morning, sometime in the run up to the seven o’clock news, I heard a representative from a Free School in the North West saying that control over the money was one reason the school had been established. Regular readers of this blog will probably know what comes next. True, if you are a standalone academy of free school or a local authority maintained school you have total control over your funds, but not if you are a school in a group of academies. There your Trustees can shift money between schools with impunity: so much for the free to control your finances.

Last Tuesday, at Oxfordshire’s Cabinet meeting, I raised this issue with the Cabinet member in the Conservative led administration whose portfolio includes schools. I asked for a commitment to fight for cash allocated to Oxfordshire schools to be spent at that school and not, when the school is part of a group of academies that cross the county boundary, used to secure the education of children in another part of the country. After all, Oxfordshire is a member of the F40 group of local authorities that see themselves as under-funded. It would be grossly unfair to transfer cash from an Oxfordshire school to another school in a better funded area. The minutes have yet to be published, but I expect them to show she wasn’t happy with this possibility.

Of course, under the Common Funding Formula, all schools should be funded at a similar basic level, but the principle of devolved budgets remains. Over the past two decades, once a budget was handed to a school it was sacrosanct and could not be touched by anyone else. Now, that principle has been broken for some schools, why should it apply to any?

The answer to this question is important, especially as the Labour Party continues its journey away from competition as a panacea of all evils in education and back towards the possible municipal control of schooling model.

Both my own Party, the Liberal Democrats and Labour have the courage to see that reforms started under Ed Balls and enthusiastically taken up by Michael Gove haven’t produced the solution that they wanted. Improvements in outcomes there have been, but the system is now too weighted against the disadvantaged in society. If your child is taken into care and moved away, there is a high risk that their education will be severely damaged. The growth in home education starting at the end of Key Stage 3 isn’t always a good sign and pupil place planning during a period of rising school rolls has been a nightmare in many areas and cost the country money wasted on travel costs that were not really necessary.

There really isn’t the need for a new form of cooperative school proposed by the Labour Party this week. Updating the voluntary school sector rules for the twenty first century would be quicker and simpler to achieve as a way forward.

Good schools for all remains the aim: can it be achieved without a degree of overall local control and planning for the future?