Can a mean be mean?

When I first moved from teaching in a Tottenham secondary school to higher education in Oxford I brought with me an interest in the disparity of funding for schools. Partly this was because working in Haringey, and having been brought up right on the border with the London County Council – by then the Inner London Education Authority – I was aware of the disparity of funding for schools in Haringey compared with those just across the border in Hackney.

One of the early books I read on the subject was by John Pratt and his co-authors and was entitled ‘Depriving the Deprived’. Published in 1979 by what was then, Kogan Page. The book was based upon research that looked at school funding in one London borough over the course of a single year.

I was reminded of this when looking at the latest Free School Meals data for England, published by the DfE last Thursday. As a measure of potential deprivation it as good as it goes. If you consider Oxfordshire, generally rightly regarded as an affluent part of South East England, by the data on Free School Meals taken on census day for the six parliamentary constituencies, you find the following

% of children on Free School Meals on Census day Oxfordshire’s constituencies ranks

Oxford West

& Abingdon                           8th lowest out of 534 

Henley                                   28th lowest

Witney                                  35th lowest

Wantage                               55th lowest

Banbury                                94th lowest

Oxford East                        237th lowest -.i.e. about halfway 

Within Oxford East, some wards will be even worse ranked than others. Now this shouldn’t matter with a National Funding Formula for schools. But it does, because not all the funding calculations take into account differences between schools, rather than between local authorities. Indeed, if each district council area was a unitary council with education responsibility their funding might be different. But, none of the districts are large enough to ‘go it alone’ in the present funding regime.

As a result of the general affluence of Oxfordshire, the nine most deprived council wards in the county; five of which are in Oxford East constituency; three in Banbury and the other one in Oxford West and Abingdon constituency, probably lose out on funding compared to if they were part of a urban area. Such funding arrangements do not help close the achievement gap between high performing areas and the lowest performing schools in the county.

Now, of course, if all secondary schools in the county were in a single Multi-Academy Trust, the Trust could move funds around to mean the extra need of schools in deprived area, albeit by reducing the amount some schools received. However, with many different Trusts, and one remaining maintained secondary school, this option isn’t possible.

Another option of creating an ‘Opportunity Area’, used by Conservative governments in some other parts of the country, mostly in the North of England, doesn’t seem to be open to East Oxford, even though it has been suggested as an option.

So, taking the mean as a measure of funding may really mean depriving those living in some areas 40 years after the issue was exposed in one London borough.

We cannot ignore those left behind

This post was prompted by two event. Firstly, someone reading my post of the 15th June 2017 on this blog, entitled Class rules: not OK, about a report issued by the Social Mobility Commission, and secondly, by some recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported in the Oxford Mail. That data revealed that in the area of North Oxford I represent on the county council women can expect to live up to eleven years longer than women living in some parts of the east of the City.

Both of these facts reminded me of the issue of deprivation, and the role that education can, could and should play in helping improve the life chances of everyone in society. Over the years, since fresh thinking began to appear after the paralysis of the Second World War, and its aftermath, there have been various schemes aimed at reducing the effects of deprivation on schooling. These have included, Education Priority Areas, Schools of Exceptional Difficulty; Education Action Zones, and currently, Education Opportunity Areas. In the same time period funding for schooling has shifted from a local matter, topped up by grants from Westminster, to a national formula assisted by the Pupil Premium for some children, with different arrangements for those designed as SEND pupils.

Have any of these interventions made much difference? The interesting point about all the schemes listed in the previous paragraph was that they were determined at a national level. There was also a time during the period when the market was seen as the dominant narrative in policy-making when there were few schemes specifically aimed at the disadvantaged areas of England.

So, what would I do if I had the chance? Teachers are important. For without teachers both determined to work in these areas of deprivation and with an understanding of the children and their families that live there, no progress will be made. When there are teacher shortages, challenging schools find staffing difficult and turnover a real problem, as those that do come to work in these schools often don’t stay very long. Well-designed local training programmes crafted between schools and higher education can help, and will certainly reduce the lack of preparation some new teachers feel when joining these schools that are so unfamiliar to them. Good leadership is also very important, and I worry about the development of both middle and senior leadership for these challenging schools in the present climate. But without staff, no changes are possible.

Then, of equal importance, there is the curriculum. Yes, reading and writing are important, but so is a balanced curriculum, especially in the secondary school. We need a curriculum that increasingly involves the learner in choosing rather than being told what to learn. Of course, you cannot choose to learn to break the law, but you may want to learn a more practical set of skills than the current EBacc permits. To demotivate and even alienate from learning young people both now, and probably in the future, through an inappropriate curriculum is a as great a failure of our politicians than the current shambles over Brexit.

Finally, we need to engage the parents that the system failed. Unless we do, they won’t help break the cycle of deprivation. As an earlier post showed, the relationship between persistent absence and deprivation is stark. If education for all really is important for our future as a society, then we have to break down this cycle that is repeating itself between the generations.

All this takes cash, and with rising pupil numbers and a lack of political will to increase taxation, it is difficult to see where the resources will come from. Perhaps, through greater use of modern technology?

Pay physics teachers more than history teachers?

The research report published today by the Education Policy institute (EPI) is an interesting addition to the cannon of literature on the issue of teacher shortages. The major new component in ‘The Teacher Labour Market in England shortages, subject expertise and incentives’ is the consideration of where shortages are located on a local authority by local authority basis. The data comes from the 2016 School Workforce Census of 2016, so is now two years out of date.

Much of the basic issues around shortages have been covered by the Migration Advisory Committee, the School Teachers’ Review Body, the Education Select Committee, the National Audit Office and the range of publications from the DfE including their index of teacher shortages as well as previous publications from EPI. In that respect, the lack of a bibliography is something of a shortcoming in this report.

Indeed, missing from any analysis of shortages in the EPI report is a discussion of the relationship between the training market and the demand for teachers by schools. Are we training teachers where they are needed or are we, as a nation, training them where they are not needed? The supply of mathematics teachers is a case in point. As this blog has pointed out, there are more trainees in maths than in English, but the number of vacancies is roughly the same since the amount of curriculum time for each subject is roughly the same.

A quick look at TeachVac’s percentage of advertisements in maths and English for 2018 in just the South East region is revealing in their shares of the overall total.

Eng % maths%
Southampton 15% 21%
Reading 17% 19%
Hampshire 18% 16%
Slough 13% 16%
East Sussex 16% 15%
Medway 15% 15%
Brighton and Hove 11% 15%
Kent 11% 14%
Oxfordshire 9% 14%
Isle of Wight 14% 14%
Windsor and Maidenhead 8% 14%
Buckinghamshire 15% 14%
Milton Keynes 10% 12%
Surrey 10% 11%
Bracknell Forest 12% 11%
West Berkshire 16% 10%
West Sussex 17% 9%
Wokingham 21% 9%
Portsmouth 18% 8%
All South East 13% 13%


Now these numbers haven’t been corrected for re-advertisements, so there is some over-estimates.

The EPI conclusion that in many areas schools with a greater degree of deprivation among their school population have fewer teachers with degrees most closely connected to shortage subjects, is revealing, but not surprising. This was a tenant of the former Secondary School Curriculum and Staffing Surveys that the Department for Education and its predecessors used to use before the School Workforce Census to measure expertise among the workforce. How to teach Physics at ‘A’ level in schools where there is no teacher with a Physics degree is a real challenge for a fractured education system, where cooperation between schools is not encouraged. But, it is not a revelation. Indeed, the EPI study might have benefitted from looking at changes over time in the use of under-qualified teachers as the Migration Advisory Committee achieved in Table 4.19 of their 2017 Report.

Finally, the EPI solutions proposed   provide a real sense of deja vue. Salary supplements for working in challenging schools seems very like the ‘Schools of exceptional difficulty’ payments of the Heath government in the 1970s and schools can already pay recruitment and retention allowances to teachers in shortage subjects, but don’t seem to do so. However, they seem more willing to pay heads of department in shortage subjects more either through higher TLRs or offering posts on the Leadership Scale. This is an area EPI might like to investigate at some point in the future.

EPI did not consider the DfE’s CPD programme in mathematics that is trying to improve the qualifications of those already teaching the subject. Such an approach can be more helpful than salary supplements that pay teachers different amounts for performing the same task. There would need to be an index of shortages and although it would be headed by Physics – where the country just doesn’t produce enough graduates – business studies would probably come next; a subject not mentioned by EPI.





Dunkirk was a defeat, but it didn’t stop the ultimate victory

Two new reports appeared today, and both were essentially negative about aspects of the school system in England. The Report by the charity Save the Children looked at the 2012 KS1 results, and concluded that the poorest pupils are less likely to have made good progress than their better-off peers. Almost a quarter (24%) of children eligible for free meals did not reach the expected level in Reading in 2012, compared with only 10% of children from better-off families.

Another Report from the OECD stated that young adults in England scored among the lowest results in the industrialised world in international literacy and numeracy tests. Now these 18-24 year olds started their education during the 1990s in the early days of the National Curriculum. From one perspective they were the group of pupils that started school during the transition from the ancient regime of post-war consensus to the new regime that followed the Education Reform Act, but their early schooling was before the focus on numeracy and literacy really took hold.

The outcomes for pupils on Free School Meals in the Save the Children Report uses much more up to date data, and shows how far we may still have to go in delivering our understanding of the notion of equality. There are many purposes of education, but one is to prove all pupils with the basic skills to thrive as adults. Reading and numeracy are two of these skills. Some pupils require more help to achieve these goals, and that is the recognised purpose of programmes such as the Pupil Premium. However, it is for individual schools to identify how each pupils’ needs can be met in order to allow them to attain the required standards to become functional readers and competent in their use of numbers.

The child with English as a second language is now widely recognised as requiring help. What of the child with irregular attendance habits whose parents or parent doesn’t bother to attend school events and avoids discussing their progress, perhaps because they themselves failed at school, and don’t want to admit that they cannot read. The extra resources must break this cycle to prevent the creation of another generation of adults who are functionally illiterate. As the Save the Children Report reminds us, if a child drops off the normal learning curve by age seven they are unlikely ever to recover to become effective learners despite the £50,000 or so the State will spend on their remaining education.

The recognition recently by the government that children in care need even more help with their education than other children is another sign that the Coalition is not just concerned with the well-off in society. A decade ago, when the TES ran their campaign about the need to improve schooling for this group, they were the castoffs of the education system with few to champion their needs. It is good to see that the turnaround that started under the last government has continued. Now every child should receive extra help with their education from the day that they enter care. However, this will only really work if the schools recognise the needs of these and other children the system has failed in the past. For that to bear fruit the research evidence of what works needs to be widely shared. This is not an area where schools should work in isolation. And in some schools and Ofsted inspectors it may require a fundamental change in attitude.

Challenging schools find difficulty recruiting new leaders

Each year more than 2,000 schools in England advertise for a new head teacher. Most are successful at their first attempt. However, regular surveys have revealed that a proportion does not achieve success at their first attempt, and a small number require more than two attempts to find a new leader for their school. Recent research by the National College (Earley et al, 2012) has emphasised the importance of good leadership to the success of a school.

An analysis of primary and secondary schools advertising for a head teacher during the 2011/2012 school year revealed that the schools needing to re-advertise were likely to present several factors that possibly made them unattractive to some candidates. Understanding the factors affecting a school’s likely success in recruiting a new leader is of importance in the present market-led recruitment system for school leaders. Such knowledge may also help in determining whether preparation for headship embodies the appropriate skills and practices necessary for leading such schools.

Some 335 primary schools and 85 secondary schools that placed a first advertisement for a head teacher during the period between the end of August 2011 and the end of August 2012, and where there was at least one re-advertisement during the period up to the end of December 2012, were assessed as part of the study. Generally, secondary schools experience fewer challenges in recruiting a new head teacher, possibly because the ratio of potential candidates to vacancies is much higher than it is in the primary sector.

The research assessed three different aspects of each school:

  • Schools that were not straightforward primary schools, including junior and combined schools were assigned a score of 1.
  • Faith schools of any denomination were assigned a score of 1
  • Schools with KS2 results below the national average in 2012 were assigned a score of 1 as were secondary schools where the % of A*-Cs at GCSE including English and Mathematics were below the national average.
  • Schools with Free School Meals above the national average for the past six years were assigned a score of 1
  • A score of 1 was awarded for each re-advertisement. A re-advertisement was a second or subsequent advertisement more than 21 days after the original advertisement, but no more than 365 days after the original advert. The same rules were applied to each re-advertisement. The maximum score on this count was 6 for the primary sector and three for the secondary sector. In the primary sector, there were 72 schools with two re-advertisements; 23 with three; four with four; two with five and the one school with six re-advertisements. Since the re-advertisements included those during the period between September and December 2012 a small number of schools may have had their score affected by one point because they commenced their search for a new head teacher early in the 2011-12 school year compared with those that started the process latter. Hover, as 50% of head teacher initial advertisements appear between the start of January and the end of March each year the number affected is likely to be small.

Finally a minus score was applied for advertisements placed during most of the month of August and the whole of December as these are times when fewer candidates may be looking for a new post than at other times of year.

A total score was then created for each school, and the schools were ranked in descending score order. Schools with missing data were excluded from the ranking at this stage. Three schools scored six out of a possible maximum score of 10 for primary schools and one secondary school scored five out of six.



Of the schools ranked in the top 100, there were only three community primary schools including St Meryl a community primary school in Watford that topped the list. Although it has the name of a saint, according to the school brochure this referred to the name of the builder’s wife when the school was built in the early 1950s. If so, then this successful school might be well advised to consider a change of name to one less suggestive of a religious affiliation on a casual glance.  The other two community primary schools in the top 100 with below average numbers of Free School Meal pupils and above average KS2 results included another primary school in Hertfordshire, and one in Bracknell Forest.  The latter had been under-performing at KS2 for the three years before 2012.

Of the remaining 12 schools in the top 100 with below average numbers of Free School Meal pupils and above average KS2 results 10 were faith schools including three Roman Catholic, six Church of England, and one Jewish School. The two community schools were a combined school in Buckinghamshire and a junior school in Kent. Of the faith schools, one Church of England school was a combined school and three schools were junior schools, (two Church of England schools and one Roman Catholic school).

The geographical distribution of the 100 primary schools at the top of the list included 45 schools in the south East; 20 in London and nine in the counties of the East of England adjacent to London that are similar in many ways to many of the authorities in the South East. Thus, 74 schools in the top 100 were located in or around London.


Because of the large number of academies and recent academy converters full details are only available for 69 of the 84 secondary schools with re-advertisements. The missing data relates to either Free School Meals or KS4 results data. Of the 84 school with full or partial data 10 are in London, including seven of the 37 schools with a score of three or above, some 19%. Fifteen of the schools in the top 37 are faith schools, including 12 of the top 20.

Some 20 of the schools have above average KS4 results and below average scores for Free School Meals. Of these schools, ten are faith schools. However, there are only four such schools in the top 37. Three are Roman Catholic schools, and the fourth is an 11-18 boys’ school that is converting to become an academy.


The presence of a significant number of faith schools in our results is perhaps not a surprise since it has been reported for many years that such schools, and especially, but not exclusively, Roman Catholic schools have experienced difficulties in recruiting new head teachers.

The extension of the work to consider whether there might be other factors affecting recruitment, and specifically whether a combination of higher than average numbers of pupils with access to Free School Meals and lower than average Key Stage outcomes for the sector might affect recruitment is a new departure. Seemingly, such a combination does affect the market, with higher numbers of such schools re-advertising, with the South East and counties to the north of London being noticeable among the schools in the primary sector, with secondary schools in London probably also being over-represented. Clearly, where these schools are faith schools, the issues are obviously compounded.

It is clear that as Free School Meal levels increase, so there are a greater number of schools performing less well. While this may be understandable for secondary schools, where many are coping with the effects of under performance by their pupils since the start of their education it is less so in the primary sector where the importance of the early years of education has been known for some time. Those schools with high levels of Free School Meals are now being helped with the additional funding through the Pupil Premium scheme. However, the considerable number of primary schools with relatively few pupils who will benefit from that scheme, but still currently under perform  in some cases quite markedly so, must be of concern.

An analysis of schools in the primary sector where the Free School Meals index was below 20 revealed no real difference between the performance of faith and non-faith schools

There may well be other factors, such as the size of the school that need to be taken into account when considering the challenges facing school seeking a new leader, but it seems likely that the interplay of factors relating to deprivation and control of the school are still key factors in how easy a school will find it to recruit a new leader. The location of a school in London or the counties and authorities surrounding the capital may be a further subsidiary factor that can affect some schools.

How the future governance of schools will affect leadership recruitment and development in the future is clearly something that will need watching with interest.


Earley, et al. (2012). Review of the school leadership landscape. Nottingham; National College for School Leadership.