More absent, but no alarm bells yet

Each year the DfE published data about school attendance and absences for terms 1 & 2 of the school year. The information on 2017/18 appeared yesterday and can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-term-2017-and-spring-term-2018 Sad to say, the data shows a negative change, with most indicators worse than in the previous year. However, levels of attendance are still better than a decade ago.

The DfE note in the text of the Report that the rate of authorised absence has increased from 3.4 per cent to 3.5 per cent in autumn/spring 2017/18. This is due to the percentage of possible sessions missed due to illness increasing since last year from 2.7 to 2.8 per cent, and “other” authorised absence has also increased. Illness remains the most common reason for absence, accounting for 60.0 per cent of all absences. The unauthorised absence rate has also increased across primary and secondary schools since last year, from 1.1 per cent in autumn/spring 2016/17 to 1.2 per cent in autumn/spring 2017/18. This is due to increased levels of unauthorised family holiday and “other” unauthorised absence.

I wonder whether the Beast from the East and other bad weather over the winter may have contributed to the upward tick in the numbers last year. I suspect that many schools will have declared ‘snow days’ in 2017/18 compared to recent years.

However, it was disappointing to see increases in the absence rates for those that are rated as persistent absentees. As the DfE noted:

The percentage of enrolments in state-funded primary and state-funded secondary schools that were classified as persistent absentees in autumn/spring 2017/18 was 11.3 per cent. This is up from the equivalent figure of 10.4 per cent in autumn/spring 2016/17. Secondary schools have the higher rate of persistent absence, 13.6 per cent of enrolments, compared to 9.6 per cent of enrolments in primary schools. The rate of persistent absence has increased in both since last year, when the rate was 12.8 per cent in secondary schools and 8.7 per cent in primary schools.

This is a group where the lack of attendance can seriously affect their educational attainments.

As ever, pupils with disadvantages, as measured by Free School Meals, often have higher absence rates than those pupils not on Free School Meals. There is a wide range of attendance outcomes by ethnic grouping with the highest overall absence rates being for Traveller of Irish Heritage and Gypsy/ Roma pupils at 17.6 per cent and 12.3 per cent respectively. Overall absence rates for pupils of a Chinese and Black African ethnicity were substantially lower than the national average of 4.7 per cent at 2.5 per cent and 2.8 per cent respectively. As the DfE note, a similar pattern is seen in persistent absence rates; Traveller of Irish heritage pupils had the highest rate at 60.7 per cent and Chinese pupils had the lowest rate at 3.7 per cent.

Given the complaints about difficulties obtaining appointments with GPs and a lack of dentists in some part of the country, it is interesting to see that medical/dental appointments were at their lowest recorded percentage of missing session over the past five years.

Overall, a slightly disappointing year, but not one to set alarm bells ringing nationally, even if some governing bodies will have to be asking searching questions about the trend sin their schools.

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Funding issues remain

Yesterday, I received two comments from different parts of the country about issues that this blog has been highlighting over the past few months. I have reproduced these comments below:

The funding issue is key here and seeing all this unfold is quite alarming.  It seems that the government is intent on more MATs forming, though some of the income streams are becoming more uncertain, especially ones that can buoy up emerging MAT central teams.  I think it is crunch time at the moment because the government is essentially funding two systems at the moment—an enlarging academy sector and a diminishing LA sector.  I think this is one of the reasons why money is so tight.  

 There remains the question of small schools, as they will not fit into MATs (put simply, they do not bring in enough cash and are too difficult for most), and the diminishing funds available to LAs  means that small maintained schools are suffering and will continue to do so.  You cannot get rid of many of these schools as they are strategically important in many rural areas, and losing them would just consign many rural communities to being retirement destinations, the economies would lose any vibrancy without families living in them, and there would be potential food security problem if farms cannot pass onto younger families to run.  

 Finally a word about SEND.  The situation is dire, with in effect there being a cut in money for SEND—at a time when there is a massive rise in demand.  For this year, the ** Schools Forum has put 0.5% of the Schools block funding in to the Higher Needs block (though there would still be a £4.5 million deficit), and is consulting on putting 1.0% into the Higher Needs block next year.  

 To my mind the whole system is unsustainable, and clearly shows that the Tories simply do not care about children with SEND.  I reckon that all of our PRUs and current alternative provision in the county will disappear in its current form over the next two years, as the funding is being cut by half next year.  This is a massive crisis as it will just mean that the system as a whole will have to pay more for these hard to place youngsters as they get older, and their problems have not been solved whilst they were children in the education system.

Shortly after I received the above, this note followed:

Another dimension which has not yet been much talked about is the impact of the so-called ‘Hard formula’.  If that means money is allocated direct to every school from London, the scope for the Schools Forum to make minor tweaks is removed for maintained schools, but MATs will still be able to make transfers within their schools, as far as I understand it. This is because the DfE money will, in the case of MATS, go to the MAT and not the individual schools. This potentially puts schools in MATs in a difficult position. The Schools Forum is at least public and democratically observed, whereas the MAT trusts seem to me to be able to do whatever they want.

Both comments are from those with experience in education and whose views I fully respect.

If The Secretary of State is really intending to reduce exclusions, as he said yesterday, then these are the issues he has to ask his civil servants to start to address.

With birth rates now lower than a few years ago, the plight of rural schools where there is no now housing in prospect, could be dire, especially if they have any extra costs not catered for in the national formula. Time for some Tory MPs to wake up and smell the milk, so to speak.

Insufficient funding creates cost pressures

Over the past week the DfE has been using statistics about school spending in the time period from 2002-03 to 2016-17 to try to rebut the challenges from the two head teacher associations about a decline in school funding. This culminated in headteachers walking to Downing Street last Friday.

At the end of August the DfE published a paper on trends in school spending during this period at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/trends-in-school-spending-2002-to-2016 I confess that its publication had passed me by, but it was the Friday of bank holiday week when it first appeared.

The DfE acknowledge some issues with the times series, most notably the creation of a large number of academies in the secondary sector in 2011-12. Academies and maintained schools have different financial years, a complicating factor when compiling data of this type for all schools. The information also comes from two different sources.

However, the headline number was that total spending was 42% higher in 2016-17 compared with 2002-03. Spending on Non staff was 68% higher in 2016-17 than 2002-03. Staff spending was 33% higher.

Total spending per pupil has increased from £4,080 to £5,790 between 2002-03 and 2016-17 at 2016-17 price levels according to the DfE data.

Spending on Teaching Staff was 17% higher in 2016-17 than 2002- 03, whereas spending on Education Support Staff was 138% higher in 2016-17 than 2002-03. This partly reflect the large growth in this sector over the time period that included the introduction of non-contact time in the primary sector through the use of PPA time and the growth in support for pupils with SEN.

Part of the growth in Education Support Staff spending may be a reflection of the devolution of more and more back office functions to schools along with the decline in local authority support services, especially for academies. Whether or not the spending is always good value for money is for the National Audit office to decide. However much of those extra costs will have been absorbed in the extra spending on the back office was 105% higher in 2016-17 than 2002- 03, compared to a 42% increase in Total spending.

There is good news on both exam fees and energy costs. Both peaked at the end of the first decade and have bene reducing in cost since then. Even so, energy costs were some 75% higher in 2016-17 than at the start of the period.

Recent concerns over supply teacher costs are reflected in the fact that spending on agency supply teaching staff was 64% higher in 2016-17 than 2002-03, and no doubt explains why both main political parties have targeted this area of spending to work on reducing costs.

Missing is a breakdown of both recruitment costs across the sector and, a breakdown of leadership pay increases compared with the increase for classroom teachers. Now that might have been interesting to see last Friday. Also missing is a breakdown of transfer to either local authorities or MATs to show how central costs have changed over this period.

 

 

Teacher Analysis Compendium 4

In my last blog post I drew attention to the Teacher Analysis Compendium 4 – subtitled Analysis of teacher supply, retention and mobility, and recently published by the DfE at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/teachers-analysis-compendium-4 in my last post I reviewed the application the DfE has also created for this work, although unlike most apps this is largely designed around on-line use and might be a challenge for mobile phone users if not for those with larger size tablets.

Anyway, the Compendium contains useful and often unique insights into the following areas of the teacher workforce:

Subject Knowledge Enhancement courses for potential trainees (SKE);

Teacher Subject Specialism Training (TSST);

Time series analysis of teachers in England using Teachers’ Pensions Scheme data;

Teachers returning to the profession;

The pool of qualified teachers who are not currently teaching in the state-funded sector;

Entrants and leavers to the teaching profession;

Retention of Newly Qualified Teachers;

Annex –missing teachers’ characteristics.

In times past, these type of statistics would have appeared in the annual Volume of Statistics on Teachers that were part of a series of education statistics put out by the Department each year. Whether either ad hoc compendiums of this nature or a regular series of volume of statistics is the best way for data of this type to be presented to the outside world is not for me to judge.

One area of debate that is likely to emerge from the consideration of the data in the Compendium is whether there ought now to be a more regional approach to the provision of teacher preparation places to meet the growing demand over the next few years, especially in and around the London area? This was something the National Audit Office raised in their Report of a couple of years ago.

The compendium might have usefully contained a table showing where completers obtained their first job in terms of whether it was within the same region or a different region from where they trained. Using the northings and eastings available it might also be possible to determine the relative distance from the training base the first job was obtained. Tracking the movements of these teachers might also be illustrative of how mobile the teaching force is and at what stages in their careers?

The work on Subject Knowledge Enhancement courses for potential trainees (SKE) is particularly interesting, as this is a growing area of the market for potential teachers. Such courses have the capacity to bridge the gap between an increasingly diversified higher education system, where degrees no longer match the needs of subjects taught in schools, if they ever really did, and the desire for specific subject knowledge from those that enter the teaching profession.

In a future Compendium, a look at the degrees of these that enter our primary schools might merit a section. Are primary schools still too heavily dominated by Arts and Humanities graduates that lack in-depth knowledge of science and mathematics and are the preparation course able to remedy any deficiencies to an acceptable level without sacrificing the knowledge and skills of trainees in other subject areas they may not have studies for several years?

 

 

Possible improvements in Key Stage 2 outcomes?

The DfE has today published the provisional Key Stage 2 assessments. There are some in the Liberal Democrats that would do away with these measures. I think there is a need to make them less stressful for both pupils and teachers but equally there is a need to demonstrate an informed understanding of how our education system is performing. The data and DfE’s comments can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/national-curriculum-assessments-key-stage-2-2018-provisional The data are provisional at this stage. In December more finalised data will be published. However, I suspect the overall figures will remain broadly the same.

One interesting observation in the DfE’s comments on page 18 of their analysis is that local authorities with lower attainment levels tended to see the biggest changes in attainment since 2017. This is both good news and not unexpected. If 80% of children are reaching the expected standard, then the other 20% may require significant resources to help them achieve what is expected. Whereas, where it is less than 60% of pupils there are probably easier gains. It would be interesting when the final figures appear to see how pupils receiving the Pupil Premium have fared in term s of improvements.

Cartographers might question the selection of grade boundaries used in the DfE’s map as they provide a representational view that focuses on local authorities in the middle of the range. (Incidentally, the map is difficult to read as far as local authority names are concerned and could be improved). There isn’t anything wrong with this approach, but the range between the bottom of the light blue and the top of the darker blue is only six points, whereas the range in the outliers is much greater. Tough on a local authority with a score of 61 such as West Sussex that is the same colour as Peterborough with 52%. Incidentally, I am not clear why the scale starts at 42%? But, perhaps the DfE aren’t using the data from Table L1 for the map. They don’t provide a link to the data.

As in the past, girls generally outperform boys, except in mathematics, where in the scaled score, boys have a higher score than girls, as is also the case for those performing at the higher ability level. For detailed data about other characteristics we must wait until December. The data for middle schools can largely be regarded as being based upon so few schools as not to be really representative, unless you live in an area with these schools and might want to question their future.

The data won’t help the Humanists that want to see an end to faith schools as, the more specific the faith, the better the outcome in their schools with; Jewish, Muslim and Sikh schools all performing better than other schools and especially better than schools with no religious character.  This may well tell us more about parental choice and support by parents that make a positive choice of school than about anything else.

Finally, as the DfE helpfully points out, attainment in all of reading, writing and maths is not directly comparable to previous years because of changes to writing TA frameworks. That doesn’t stop the DfE producing some comparisons.

Am MIS system for teachers?

Does the government need a Management Information System (MIS) for teachers? In the past the answer was obviously no, as teachers were employed by schools operated by local authorities, diocese or various charities, including some London livery company foundations. The government needed a register of Qualified Teachers, not least so it has something to bar miscreants from that prevented them working as teachers, but presumably not as always calling themselves teachers, since ‘teacher’ isn’t a reserved occupation term that can be only used by appropriately qualified professionals. However, a barred teacher might still be guilty of an offence, such as ‘obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception’, if they held themselves out to be a teacher when on the barred list.

But, I digress from the question of whether the government needs an MIS system? It clearly also need to know who are members of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and their service record, but again, that isn’t an MIS system.

What the government does have, in place of an MIS system, is the School Workforce Census, taken annually in November that records teachers currently in service. Since the mistaken abolition of the General Teaching Council for England, in the bonfire of the QUANGOs that also saw several other useful bodies disappear for little good reason, it hasn’t had a registration scheme to track both current teachers and those that might possibly be available at some point in the future to the profession, although it knows the number of ‘out of service’ teachers not working in state-funded schools.

Now, as can be seen by the manner in which the DfE’s Teacher Supply Model uses the School Workforce Census data for planning purposes, what data there is can be helpful to government in managing the future shape of the workforce. However, it is always out of date and backward looking. As a result, unlike a good MIS system, it cannot spot changes that might be vital for future planning as they happen in real time, and certainly not as early as the end of the recruitment round for September of any year.

Just to provide one example; how is the battle between tighter resources for schools and the growth in secondary school pupil numbers at Key Stage 3 while they are still falling or level at Key Stage 5 playing out in the labour market for teachers in 2018? And, is the fall in pupil numbers at Key Stage 1 already affecting the demand for teachers?

If a curious MP asks a question in September of the DfE about the recruitment round for 2018 they will be referred to the 2017 School Workforce Census that provides the most recent data available to the DfE. Is that good enough in this day and age?

The School Workforce Census has been amended and is likely to be further amended in 2019 to ask questions both about recruitment and why vacancies have arisen, thus making it more like a MIS system.

Schools already have complex databases about their staff and TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk already tracks the majority of vacancies in state-funded schools across England as they arise. To create a MIS system would be to create a dynamic system that recorded changes in the workforce as they happen.

For instance, how many NQTs will leave their first jobs in the autumn term and is there anything similar about the characteristics of the schools, the new teachers, or the type of school in which they were working?

In 1991, I visited Pakistan to help with some CPD for school leaders. At that time the government’s MIS system for teachers, provided by an aid package could have answered that question. Ministers here, still won’t be able to answer it until spring 2020, and the results of the 2019 School Workforce Census are published. Not good enough?

 

 

CEOs pay: what’s happening?

A recent Chartered Institute of Personnel Development survey found that median pay for bosses of the UK’s biggest companies hit almost £4m last year – up from about £3.5m in 2016. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45183881

That set me thinking about the work the DfE undertook earlier this year in relation to the pay of CEOs of Multi Academy Trusts and whether or not the findings had been published anywhere?

Readers will recall that Eileen Milner, the chief executive of the Education and Skills Funding Agency, wrote in February to the chairs of 87 MATs employing individuals earning more than £150,000, asking them to explain their rationale for doing so by early March and to justify paying these salaries.

The intervention comes two days after the Department for Education minister, Lord Agnew, said that no MAT boss should receive a larger pay increase than their teaching staff and that CEOs should have their pay cut if there is a downturn in the performance of their schools. It follows a similar letter sent in December 2016 to single-academy trusts paying leaders more than £150,000. Lord Agnew’s February letter can be accessed at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/683075/Lord_Theodore_Agnew_letter_to_chairs_of_academy_trusts.pdf

Further letters appear to have been written to some MATs in April and July seeking more information. These can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/letters-to-academy-trusts-about-levels-of-executive-pay 28 letters were sent in December 2017; 88 in February 2018 and a further 96 letters in either April or July 2018. With a final return date of 20th July, the EFSC should now have sufficient information to publish a report on the state of the most highly paid staff in the public education service.

There may be an issue relating to pensions should those not undertaking any teaching or direct site leadership of a school remain in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. In the past, when becoming local authority staff most would have moved out of the TPS into the relevant LGPS for their authority. I don’t’ know how LGPS scheme managers and trustees, of which I am one for Oxfordshire’s scheme, would approach the arrival of such highly paid staff so near pensionable age, but the DfE does need to make clear the boundary for who can belong to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme even if they aren’t actually in a school?

The level of salaries paid to senior staff in the school system is clearly a matter that won’t go away. After all, perhaps 100 MATs paying more than most local authorities pay their Director of Children’s Services must be of concern in term of expenditure, especially once pension and other on-costs are added to the basic salary.

The problem really dates back to the Labour government and the development of Executive Headteacher roles without the government making it clear how such professionals should be paid. However, the seeds of that confusion date even further back into the early 1990s and the refusal to police the upper end of the Leadership Pay Scale for large schools facing recruitment difficulties. Failure to deal with a problem doesn’t always make it go away; sometimes it allows it to grow into a serious issue that is much harder to tackle as is now the case with the pay of CEOs of MATs.