Pressure on academy budgets in 2015-2016

The DfE has now published the financial data on single academy schools for the year 2015-2016, covering the period to the end of August 2016, almost two years ago now. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/income-and-expenditure-in-academies-in-england-2015-to-2016

What is striking is the similarity with the trends in non-academy school finances for 2016-17 highlighted in my post of the 14th December 2017.

In today’s tables, about this select group of academies, all groups of schools spent more than their income in 2015-2016. For the primary academies, this is the first year where median expenditure exceeded income. In the secondary sector, it is the third year running median expenditure has exceeded median income.

In the year ending August 2016, the total revenue expenditure in this group of academies exceeded income by £280m. This represents 1.5% of income, up from 1.0% in 2014 to 2015. However, as the DfE notes, this does not mean that these academies are inevitably in debt, as they may have had reserve funds from which these costs were able to be met. Nevertheless, it is not a trend that can continue for ever as reserves are eventually exhausted.

There is a strong probability that the gap has widened since then as the funding crisis in schools has intensified. If the next pay rise isn’t fully funded, then some schools may well be in real financial difficulties.

As might be expected when budgets come under pressure, these academies spent a great proportion of their income on teaching staff than in the previous year. Although expenditure on teaching staff as a proportion of total expenditure has fallen by 3.2 percentage points since 2011/12 when the data were first collected. However, it rose by 1.2 percentage points in 2015/16 over the previous year.

Supply staff cost these schools 2.3% of their budgets in 2015-16, so even the recent government announcement about driving down the costs of some supply agency activities, while welcome, is hardly going to make a big difference to most schools’ budgets. The fact that 12% of the 4.3% of other expenditure was spent on PFI costs suggests that for some schools this is a real burden and must affect how they can manage their budgets. It would be helpful if the DfE could have shown this table for schools with PFI costs and those without that burden. Some eleven schools are shown in the detailed tables with expenditure of more than £1,000,000 on PFI costs, with one school in the South West paying more than £2,000,000. Not surprisingly, its expenditure on both teaching staff and resources is not at the upper end of the scale.

The data on supply staff costs looks somewhat suspect, since some schools may have filled the same figure in for both supply teaching staff and agency teaching staff columns, generating an overall total that is twice both amounts. This might be the case in some schools, but seems too common not to be worth investigating further. However, the school that spent £1,700,000 on supply staff doesn’t fall into that category of schools.

With the announcement from the Secretary of State at the NGA Conference, we can now expect more of this information, including for multi-academy trusts.

 

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‘intervene fast… take the serious action necessary’. Promises

Why has the Regional School Commissioner for North West London and the South Central Region not issued any warning notices to any school about poor performance since the end of 2016? The updated DfE list of such notice published earlier this week  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/list-of-letters-to-academy-trusts-about-poor-performance reveals that the last notice issued was in December 2016 and that was to a school issued a pre-warning notice at the start of that year. Indeed, all the schools issued with notices in 2016/17 had previously received an earlier letter, meaning no new school in the region has been added to the list since early 2016.

Is the Office of the RSC not communicating to the DfE or has the RSC decided that the Secretary of State’s words in his speech to the NGA that ‘on those rare occasions when a school is failing – be in no doubt – we will intervene fast and we will take the serious action necessary’ doesn’t apply in the North West London and the South Central Region?

It cannot be that there are no Inadequate schools within the region, although there may not be many. The RSC appears also never to have issued any sort of notice to a school run by any of the faith groups in his region. This may explain why the school I highlighted in my previous blog post hasn’t received any overt indication of concern about performance, except from Ofsted when it declared it Inadequate in the spring of 2017 and received expressions of further concerns in the two follow-up s8 monitoring reports.

Is the RSC for the North West London and the South Central Region trying a new policy, at variance with the words of the Secretary of State, by seeking to improve schools beyond the glare of publicity? Interestingly, the figures for number of notices issued by the North West London and the South Central Region are also matched by some other regions that have also not published any notices in 2017/18, whereas the RSC for the South West has issued five of the 12 notices in 2017/18.

There are clearly Inadequate academies, as rated by Ofsted, in the regions where no notices have been published in 2017/18  as well as previously rated Inadequate schools where progress to return to an effective standard of education has been unsatisfactory. How are RSCs handling these schools now the notices seem to have fallen out of fashion? How will the Secretary of State’s promise to intervene fast be acted upon if the general public do not know what action is being taken by an RSC?

The Secretary of State has also promised more openness from Headteacher Boards and their minutes, so that is one possible way forward. Local politicians might also like to call RSCs before their Education Scrutiny Committee to given an account of how the RSC’s Office is raising standards in their local area among the academies and their Trusts. Oxfordshire’s Education Scrutiny Committee has been holding such meetings for the past three years with the RSC or their Office. Sadly, the ESFC have yet to agree to such a meeting despite two academies being in financial special measures for more than two years.

 

Tackling Academies and Trusts

Dear Secretary of State,

When addressing the NGA recently, you said;

On those rare occasions when a school is failing – be in no doubt – we will intervene fast and we will take the serious action necessary.

In relation to maintained schools you also said that ‘an Ofsted Inadequate judgement alone would lead to hard action to convert a Local Authority maintained school to an academy.’ However, you didn’t say what intervention would mean for an existing academy declared Inadequate by Ofsted?

Can you explain what action will be taken where the school declared Inadequate is already part of a multi-academy trust?

Where the school is also under financial special measures, one might expect some form of obvious action, such as a published notice of intent to close by the Regional School Commissioner. Where the school has well above average absence rates one might expect action to intervene fast, if you mean what you said.

Now, either your words were empty rhetoric in relation to academies or you really do want all schools to be good schools and will take steps to improve inadequate schools. Can you please reassure me that no school in Oxfordshire would be allowed to drift for more than a year after being declared an Inadequate Academy by Ofsted and with a recent monitoring inspection that concluded that ‘Leaders and managers are not taking effective action towards the removal of special measures.’

If this is not a case for the use of your policy of fast intervention, perhaps you can explain why it doesn’t meet your criteria.

You are also going to take action about the transparency of multi academy trusts and the pay of those that work in central offices administering the Trust. This can only be a good thing. In Oxfordshire several of the Trusts with headquarters outside the County pay their CEOs more than the £150,000 level you recently wrote to Trusts about, whereas according to their published accounts, none of the Trusts with its headquarters in Oxfordshire has come close to this limit.

Many primary schools are not now willing to join a Trust or even become an academy because once the decision has been made it is irrevocable. However, a Trust may either broker a school to another trust or in extreme circumstances give up the school altogether, but a school may not leave a Trust, even if the terms on which it agreed to join change dramatically. Such a risk doesn’t seem worth leaving the certainty of their present governance arrangements in the eyes of many governors, especially where the central charge may be little different to that offered for the purchase of traded services by their local authority.

Your speech did little to dispel the fog of uncertainty about how the system of schooling across England works for the benefit of all pupils. Please consider how all schools can work together and where there are many MATs in an area who has the ability to coordinate both their actions, those of academies not in Trusts and the remaining maintained schools whether they are voluntary or community in nature.

Notice to ITT providers, both existing and potential new providers

I would be grateful if readers of this blog could alert those that either provide ITT places or are seeking to do so in 2019 to the following.

In the DfE’s Requesting initial teacher training places for 2019 to 2020 document issued yesterday https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/initial-teacher-training-itt-requesting-places-2019-to-2020 There is mention of:

.. a realistic assessment of employment need in the local area in submissions (Section 3, page 6)

TeachVac is able to offer providers an independent set of figures showing the number of vacancies advertised in Jan – Dec 2017 and from Jan – Jun 2018 in a range of secondary subjects and for primary teacher posts. There is a small fee providing this information. TeachVac will also add some summary information about the national vacancy situation at the end of 2017. The information provided can be used to justify data include din submissions to the DfE

TeachVac’s normal turnaround for this service would be three working days from receipt of both an official order and details of the secondary subjects needed, whether primary teacher vacancies are required, and local authority areas to be covered. A one working day turnaround is available for an extra fee.

TeachVac can offer the following list of secondary subjects for which data is readily available:

PE, Art, History, Languages, Mathematics, All sciences, Music, Geography, English, Computing /IT, D&T, Business Studies as well as primary teaching vacancies.

Other secondary subjects on the DfE may well be available – if you would like data on these, please ask about the specific the subject required.

Costs:

For many providers the costs are likely to be £55 + VAT, but larger providers requiring more data, a provider could pay around £110 + VAT. This is made up as:

Up to 5 subjects across up to 5 LEA’s – £55 + VAT (this is the minimum cost)

If you need more subjects / local authorities then TeachVac will charge £28 + VAT for each group of up to 10 subject-LEA’s (1 subject in 10 LEA’s or 2 subjects in 5 LEA’s etc).

Expedite fee (1 day turn around) – £85 + VAT

Sub division of science into Combined / Physics / Chemistry / Biology specialisms as requested in the job adverts – £11 + VAT per LEA. This service is also available on request for design and technology and modern languages for an extra fee.

Those providers who recommend TeachVac to their trainees and or registered schools are entitled to a 10% discount on these costs.

How to proceed:

Email data@teachvac.com with details of who you are, a list of subjects, a list of LEA’s, any special requirements and whether you recommend TeachVac to your trainees and or registered schools.

TeachVac will email back a total cost and action the request upon receipt of an official order / order number.

TeachVac is a totally free national vacancy service to schools and teachers.

If you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact TeachVac.

 

Vacancy war breaks out

The DfE’s rather muddled announcement earlier today of a service to clampdown on agencies charging schools “excessive” fees to recruit staff and advertise vacancies https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-free-website-for-schools-to-advertise-vacancies was clearly written by a press officer that didn’t understand what was being said. Either that or the government is in more of a mess than I thought. Muddled up in the announcement posted on the DfE’s web page today are two separate and different services.

In one, the DfE announced that:

Mr Hinds will launch a new nationwide deal for headteachers from September 2018 – developed with Crown Commercial Service – providing them with a list of supply agencies that do not charge fees when making supply staff permanent after 12 weeks.

The preferred suppliers on the list will also be required to clearly set out how much they are charging on top of the wages for staff. This will make it easier for schools to avoid being charged excessive fees and reduce the cost burden on schools of recruiting supply teachers through agencies.

Such a service might backfire if it drove some agencies out of business and then allowed the remainder to actually increase their prices to schools.

However, it is the other service, starting now for a limited trail just after the end of the main recruitment round for September vacancies that is of more interest, as it directly competes with TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the free service for vacancies that has been running successfully for the past four years. TeachVac was set up to do exactly what the DfE say they are now trying to do:

 To help combat these costs, the Secretary of State has announced a free website has been launched to advertise vacancies, which currently costs schools up to £75 million a year. This website will include part-time roles and job shares.

Well TeachVac does all of that. Regular readers will know that I am chair of the company that owns and operate TeachVac and its international site Teachval Global. Why should the government want to destroy an already successful free service? Perhaps the teacher associations can tell me what see that will be better in the DfE’s offering?Certainly, the DfE won’t have access to the same level of real time job data as TeachVac that allowed us to comment on the problems facing schools in London and the Home counties that have been trying to recruit teachers for September.

TeachVac will continue, as it is backed by its successful TeachVac Global arm that provides a similar paid service for international schools around the globe. http://www.teachvacglobal.com as well as its extensive data and associated businesses.

In the meantime, paid for vacancy service such as the TES – also a player in the supply agency marketplace- eteach, SchoolsWeek and The Guardian must explain to their investors how they will combat another free service displaying teaching vacancies. Local authorities, don’t have investors to explain to, but could see their job boards affected by the DfE move, especially for posts in primary schools where they are often a key player in the local market.

But, for everyone the key question is, after two failures in this field, will the DfE be successful this time around? Judging by the quality of the announcement, there must be a measure of doubt, especially at the costs involved. Let me know what you think. Is this a service the DfE should provide and do you think that they can for a credible cost?

 

 

Frugal innovation

I heard this term used this morning in an interview broadcast on the BBC from the Hay Festival. My first thought was that is exactly what TeachVac has been trying to achieve. The best solution at the lowest price. Next week marks a key point in the 2018 recruitment cycle for schools. Serving teachers must have resigned by the 31st May, in most schools, if they are to leave at the summer and either retire or take up another position. Some may also opt to change to part-time working.

By the end of next week schools will know the shape and size of the challenge facing their staffing arrangements for September. Most will either be fully staffed or perhaps have a last minute vacancy because of the promotion of an existing colleague. A few schools will be facing real challenges in completing their staffing and may be looking to either change the curriculum or find the best fitting person still available in the market.

At TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk we have provided a free service to schools and teachers for the past four years and alerted thousands of teachers to possible job opportunities. All this has cost nothing to anyone.

Since 2016, the DfE has been engaged in a process of establishing a similar service and the £984,000 contract was awarded in February to digital specialists DXW according to a recent article in SchoolsWeek. This sum is far in excess of the total operating costs of TeachVac since its inception. I don’t regard the DfE’s efforts as a frugal innovation even to meet government IT standards.

There has been changes across the recruitment market in the past two years. The TES has launched a subscription service and from next month SchoolsWeek will revise its recruitment advertising rates and stop its print version https://schoolsweek.co.uk/schools-week-is-changing-were-going-digital-first/ Along with other players such as eteach and The Guardian, as well as many local authorities, these services all charge schools for advertising vacancies.

TeachVac is free and up and running successfully. The DfE site doesn’t appear to have made it into BETA testing before the end of the key 2018 recruitment cycle. Ministers really do need to ask whether they are creating a value for money service and whether a joint arrangement between interested parties from across the education scene might create a better and cheaper option that could be operational nationally from September.

Next week TeachVac will be looking to identify the schools with the most vacancies so far in 2018 and comparing them with their profile on free school meals and attendance measures. I was asked about this at the recent APPG on the teaching profession, held last Monday at Westminster. The DfE won’t be able to answer this question before 2020 at the current rate of progress, whereas TeachVac can do so now. TeachVac can also identify the requirements of schools advertising vacancies in composite subjects such as modern languages – is German dying out as a language being studied – and how bad is the crisis in physics – do schools ever mention the word in their adverts for science teachers? TeachVac has already altered schools to teacher shortages in various subjects and expects to publish more alerts next week.

 

 

 

Headteacher Boards: Value for money?

Last week, the Minister, Nick Gibb, was asked by Labour’s Angela Rayer about the cost of Headteacher Boards. There are the Boards set up to help the DFE over the issues relating to academies, by providing support to their Regional School Commissioner. The Board has a mixture of elected and appointed members. The Minister’s answer, reproduced below, is illuminating.

The compensation paid to elected, co-opted and appointed members of the eight English Headteacher Boards (HTBs) was £472,530 for 2017/18. For 2018/19 that cost is expected to be approximately £450,000. The Department has not yet profiled the budget for years beyond 2018/19. The schools/trusts of each HTB member are paid £500 per day when head teachers attend HTB meetings, plus in some cases, £250 for half-day reading/prep time. If HTB members are not serving head teachers, this money is paid directly to them.

Written Answer: 142872 15th May 2018

On top of this there are the secretariat costs associated with serving the purpose of the Boards. At present, Readers can find the minutes of decisions from these Boards and other information about their roles at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/schools-commissioners-group/about including the register of interests of both commissioners and board members. The government has announced that there will be greater transparency

On the day following the written answer quoted above, another Minister, Nadhim Zahawi provided more information about the government’s thinking on these Headteacher Boards.

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State said in his recent speech to the National Association of Head Teachers conference that he wants greater transparency about the workings of Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) and Head Teacher Boards (HTBs) that advise and challenge RSCs. The department will work with the sector over the coming months to develop proposals, for consultation in the Autumn, to support a clear and simple accountability system. This will build on the information already available regarding RSCs and their work, including academy transfers. We currently publish records of HTB meetings. In July 2017, we produced updated Terms of Reference for HTBs as part of the summer HTB elections. We publish conflicts of interest registers for HTB members and RSCs, as well as information on the roles and responsibilities of the RSCs and criteria for all relevant types of RSC decisions

Written Answer: [143140 16th May 2018

In Oxfordshire, where I am a county councillor, the Education Scrutiny Committee has held an annual meeting with the Regional School Commissioner for our area or a member of his staff if he could not attend. The Committee regards such meetings as part of their function in monitoring and understanding the policies behind the operation of academies of all types educating children in the county.

Personally, I have not always felt that there is enough transparency or urgency when academies face problems. Spending nearly half a million on a set of Boards that process information may provide some legitimacy for the process, but whether or not it is good value for money is another matter. Could the cash be better spent elsewhere?