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.

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More signs of recruitment concerns

You can tell how serious the teacher recruitment crisis is becoming for the government when you see TV adverts in July encouraging people to sign-up to become a teacher. Now comes news from SchoolsWeek, in an exclusive report on their website, stating that the ‘Skills Tests’ are to be ditched as well. https://schoolsweek.co.uk/qts-skills-tests-set-to-be-scrapped/ apparently, some one in eight of those taking the tests can fail meaning they are lost to the teaching profession even if they have the necessary GCSE grades.

Clearly, it is important to ensure a high standard of both literacy and numeracy in our teaching force, especially in those teaching the fundamentals of these curriculum areas. However, I am sure that the change, if announced by the DfE, will come as a great relief to career changers and those on programmes such as TeachNow that might be a bit rusty in the finer details required in the tests.

Indeed, I doubt whether I would pass either of the tests without a significant degree of additional effort. I can see why some might not want to make that effort, especially when QTS is handed on a plate to teachers qualifying in the USA and some Commonwealth countries.

In the same edition of SchoolsWeek there is another story that Teach First has offered places to 82% of their applicants that made it through the assessment stage, meaning there are likely to be 1,735 Teach First trainees this year, compared with 1,259 last year. This is good news for schools, but may be less good news for trainees on other routes if the increased numbers are in subjects where competition is still relatively strong for jobs and Teach First trainees, by already being in schools, have a head start. It would be interesting to see a breakdown by subject for the increased numbers over last year.

TeachVac, the free national vacancy site, where I am chairman, has data that shows this year to be one where many schools are facing real issues in recruitment in a wide range of subjects. For schools with unexpected vacancies in the autumn there may well be real issues recruiting across the board.

The government’s plans for more sport may also help to soak up the reservoir of physical education teachers created by training far too many for the needs of schools. Indeed, so valuable are some of these teachers to fill in across a range of subjects that this year there are fewer still available than in previous years. Indeed, it is humanities teachers that are probably struggling the most to find a job, and probably history teachers most of all across much of the country.

There are still just under two months to go before most teacher preparation courses commence in the early autumn, so the next few weeks are critical to the government in terms of recruitment and the 2020 labour market. An announcement of a significant pay increase for new entrants might help boost recruitment more than dropping the Skills Tests, but we must await the STRB report to see whether that will be the case.

Better identification or more pupils with SEN?

The DfE data on pupils with special education needs in schools at the January 2019 census data confirms what everyone has been saying about the absolute number of such pupils being on the increase, as might be expected when pupil numbers overall are increasing. However, the percentage of pupils with both SEN and the need for an Education and Health Care plan (EHCP) has also increased. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england-january-2019

As the DfE puts it, across all schools, the number of pupils with special educational needs has risen for the third consecutive year, to 1,318,300 (14.9%) in January 2019. This follows a period of year on year decreases from January 2010 to 2016. Over this period, the overall decrease was driven by decrease in the proportion of pupils with SEN support, while the percentage of pupils with a statement or EHC plan remained stable at 2.8%.

The percentage of pupils with SEN Support, those with identified special educational needs, but no EHC plan, followed a similar pattern rising to 1,047,200 (11.9%).

271,200 school pupils had an EHC plan in place in January 2019. This is an increase of 17,500 since January 2018. The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan has risen to 3.1% of the total pupil population in January 2019, after remaining constant at 2.8% from 2007 to 2017.

These figures show why both the high Needs Block of funding is under such pressure and also why local authority SEN transport budgets are also costing local taxpayers more each year. Moe pupils means more schools and it is to be hoped that in parts of England where there are many small local authorities the forward planning by the ESFA is robust enough to deliver these places at the minimum additional travel costs to taxpayers.

Across all pupils with SEN, Speech, Language and Communications Needs is the most common primary type of need at 22% of pupils. This had previously been Moderate Learning Difficulty, which has decreased to 20%.

Among pupils on SEN support, Speech, Language and Communications Needs is also the most common type of need, at 23%. Of those with an EHC plan, Autistic Spectrum Disorder remains the most common primary type of need with 29% of pupils with an EHC plan having this primary type of need. This has increased from 28% in January 2018.

The number of pupils in state-funded special schools has increased by 6% to over 120,000. This represents 9% of all pupils with SEN. The former trend towards integration now seems to be a feature of the past as numbers of SEN pupils in independent schools has also increased. 7% of all SEN pupils are placed in an independent school.

Special educational needs remain more prevalent in boys than girls, 4.4% of boys and 1.7% of girls had an EHC plan, both small year-on-year increases. Similarly boys were almost twice as likely to be on SEN support – 15% compared to 8% of girls.

SEN is most prevalent among boys at age 9 (23% of all boys), and for girls at age 10 (13% of all girls). SEN support is most prevalent among primary age pupils, before decreasing as age increases through secondary ages.

For EHC plans however, as age increases the percentage of pupils with EHC plans also increases, up to age 16, where nearly 4% of pupils have an EHC plan. However, it is not clear how many pupils with identified needs have been flagged by the NHS before they enter into education. This would save schools both time and resources and ensure early help for some children.

With the new focus on mental health, something schools have always been acutely aware of as an issue, I would not be surprised to see the number of pupils with SEN continue to increase over the next few years. The DfE will also need to consider how to help teachers keep as many of those that can manage their learning in mainstream schools to do so.

 

 

Small schools: what’s their future?

Last Thursday, the DfE issued a raft of statistical information. The data about teachers has been covered by this blog in a number of different posts. As a result, the data from the January School Census that covers schools and their pupils has had to wait its turn. Happily, there is now time to reflect upon the data.  https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2019

In terms of public expenditure implications, the important news is that there are more pupils to be funded, as the rise in the birth rate of a few years ago starts to work its way through the system. Overall, there were 84,700 more pupils in education in England in January 2019 than in the previous January. This is despite any trend towards home schooling or off-rolling.

The bulk of the increase, 69,500, came in the secondary sector.  Assuming more of the increase to be in Year 7, then this probably required some 3,500 more teachers. Not all will have been recruited, as some schools will have falling rolls at sixteen and in a few cases still, at fourteen due to movement of pupils to UTCs and Studio Schools.

The number of primary pupils increased by 10,800; an insignificant increase on a pupil population of 4,730,000 pupils. This levelling off in the primary school population, and its possible reduction in a few years’ time, has implications for the system that will be discussed later.

It’s worth noting the increase in the number of pupils in special schools, of some 6,500. How far this is an awareness of extra need and how far schools looking to place pupils that cost more to educate than a school normally receives cannot be identified from the data. However, by January 2019, almost all pupils should have converted from a Statement of SEN to an EHCP.

It is worth noting the fall of 900 pupils in independent schools. It isn’t easy to identify where that trend is coming from, but some of it might be as a result of local authorities reassessing the cost of placing SEN pupils in such schools, and instead now using cheaper state funded provision and thus contributing to the increase in numbers in special schools.

The most concern in policy terms arising from this data are the future shape of the primary school system. While there are 13 primary schools with over 1,000 pupils, there are almost 2,000 primary schools with 100 or fewer pupils. Together these latter schools account for approaching one in eight primary schools. Some will be infant schools, where a merger with a junior school could create a primary school, as has already happened in many instances. However, where these small schools are already primary schools, how will their future be assessed? Does the present funding arrangements permit local authorities and academy chains to retain such schools, both for the good of their communities and to prevent very young children having to take bus journeys to and from school each day? Some counties with small communities that are widely distributed will certainly face this problem, even if they aren’t already doing so. So far, I haven’t heard anything from the Leadership contenders about this matter.

London is a different country

Among the more detailed numbers published yesterday by the DfE in the plethora of statistics about the school workforce in November 2018 was a breakdowns of the data by individual school; by local authority and by region of the country, with London further subdivided into Inner and Outer London, thus making ten regions in all.

In many respects the teacher workforce in London, and especially Inner London, is very different to the workforce in the rest of England. London is often regarded, along with New York, and a few other places, as a mega-city that is substantially different to its surrounding areas. To allow for comparison purposes, I have included data on the teacher workforce for Oxfordshire and the average for England as a whole in a table shown below.

  Inner London Inner London rank Outer London Outer London

rank

England

(Average)

Oxfordshire
% Male teachers 28.2% 1 25.6% 6 25.9% 24.3%
% Ethnic minority teachers 44.4% 1 37.8% 2 14.0% 9.6%
PTR (Overall) 15.7 1 17.7 =2 18.0 18.3
% part-time teachers 15.2% 10 19.8 8 23.7% 33.3%
% teachers 50+ 15.8% 10 18.2% 8 17.6% 20.7%
Average salary £45,285 1 £42,647 2 £39,504 £38,372
% of teachers with an allowance 43.6% 1 40.% 2 35.8% 31.7%
% teachers with one period of sickness 57.8% 1 56.4% 2 54.4% 52.3%
% schools reporting a vacancy 20.7% 2 23.1% 1 11.1% 10.7%

Source: DfE School Workforce Census tables. Note there are ten region including two for London.

Inner London is at the extreme in all aspect considered in the table, only ceding first or last place to Outer London in respect of the percentage of schools reporting a vacancy. With separate distinct pay rates, it is not surprising to find London toping the average salary figures, but it is perhaps more surprising to find it the top region for male teachers, with more than a quarter of teachers being men, compared to only just over 24% in Oxfordshire.

The other outstanding percentage is for the percentage of non-White teachers employed. Approaching one in two teachers in Inner London, and more than a third in Outer London, are from ethnic minority non-white backgrounds. This compares to less than 10% of teachers with such backgrounds in Oxfordshire.

Despite paying higher salaries, London schools also manage to have the most favourable Pupil Teacher Ratios in England, some three pupils per teacher better in Inner London than in Oxfordshire. This is despite the many small schools in Oxfordshire, and does indicate the funding difference between London schools and those in much of the rest of England.

Additionally, it may well be that as a result of better funding teachers in London are more likely to receive an allowance than those elsewhere in England. However, this may also be part of a drive to ensure schools are fully staffed. If so, it is only working to some degree, as London schools, and especially those in Outer London, are more likely to report a vacancy than schools anywhere else in England.

Based upon these figures, it is imperative that Ministers and civil servants look beyond London when assessing information about the teacher workforce, and especially when reviewing claims about the funding of schools.

Return to teaching: more needs to be achieved

One of the issues that the DfE’s annual data about the school workforce always revives is that of what happens to those that train to be a teacher and either never teach in state funded schools or leave after a period of service. The data can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2018

One side of this equation is concerned with retention rates, and that has been dealt with in an earlier post. The other side relates to the possibility or indeed probability in statistical terms of those teachers either ‘out of service’ or with ‘no service’ re-entering or teaching for the first time in state-funded schools.

Now this is not as straightforward an issue as some might think. A proportion of these teachers are certainly teaching, but not in state schools. Some are in further education, sixth form colleges, initial teacher education and private schools and are counted in the ‘other’ column where service is pensionable, but not in a state funded school. Others, and this may be a growing number, are teaching overseas in the schools offering fee-based education in countries where those with the cash don’t want to or cannot access the local school system. Occasionally, as in the case of the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, these teachers might also be teaching in the state school system.

The rapid growth of such ‘international’ schools – at least in terms of their staffing – in China remains a concern as a potential drain on teacher numbers in England. Although it isn’t all one-way traffic.

Anyway, returning to the data, about half of ‘out of service’ teachers are older than 45, and thus less likely to return to teaching if still in the labour market. A few might do so, but large numbers of returners from this age grouping are unlikely. Among the younger age groups, some have deliberately decided to take a career break, often to care for young families or elderly parents. With good quality local ‘keep in touch’ schemes, and the sort of bounty paid to armed forces reservists for undertaking a period of professional development each year, this group can be an excellent source of additional teachers.

Although the DfE has managed programmes in the recent past to entice these teachers back into the classroom, the schemes have so far been derisory when compared with those initiated during former staffing crisis.

And what of the 17,000 or so teachers that gained QTS in 2015 and 216, but have no recorded service in state funded schools? How much has the DfE spent on following up what has happened to these potential teachers? Some will be teaching, but not captured in the data. Of those that aren’t teaching, what feedback can we obtain that would either improve their training, if that is the issue, or manage the labour market better to achieve optimum use of a scare resource in our teachers.

It seems daft that location specific career changers cannot be guaranteed a teaching post on successful completion of their training programme. This is surely a disincentive for some to switch careers, especially when they also have to pay tuition fees. Time for a Carter style Review of these issues?

Vacancies still a concern

The recent data on the workforce in state schools at the time of the 2018 School Workforce Census conducted by the DfE shows vacancies rates overall at similar levels to the previous year in percentage terms, but on the increase in terms of absolute numbers. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2018

Given that the data is collected in November, when schools ought to be fully staffed, any vacancy is of concern. Data from before 2010 was collected each January, when vacancy levels might be expected to be affected by those teachers that departed at the end of December and how easy it was to replace them.

Nevertheless, the 1,725 recorded vacancies in the secondary sector in November 2018 was the highest number since 2014, and more than three times the level recorded in 2011, after the financial crisis. Vacancy levels fell in mathematics between 2017 and 2018. This can partly be attributed to the subject having a relatively good year in terms of ITT recruitment in 2015-15 that fed through to recruitment for teaching posts in September 2018. I expect the ground gained between 2017 and 2018 in mathematics to be lost in the 2019 census, with little indication of any improvement in 2020.

Business studies has the largest percentage vacancy level. The subject includes both commercial studies and economics.  It remain a mystery to me why this important subject group for the British Economy does not attract more help for trainee teachers through the scholarship/bursary scheme. Mr Hunt’s idea of paying off student loans for young entrepreneurs seems only likely to make the situation worse if it was implemented. Indeed, I have yet to hear about a solution to the teacher recruitment problem from either of the candidates for the Troy Party leadership.

The other measure of concern is that of the percentage of hours taught in a typical week to pupils in Years 7 to 13 by teachers with no relevant post-A Level qualification. The trend in many secondary subjects continues to worsen, even among EBacc subjects, where recruitment into ITT is buoyant. However, that may be due to changes in teaching methods as much as to a shortage of teachers in history and geography. Where schools employ a classroom teacher approach to some or all of their pupils, generally either Year 7 pupils or those having trouble learning in large classes, these teachers may not be specialists, and this can cause the number of hours taught be a non-specialist in a subject to increase for perfectly sensible reasons.

Of more concern, and not provided in the Tables, would be any evidence of increasing levels of teachers lacking subject knowledge teaching groups in Years 11 to13. Although even here a case can sometimes be made on the basis of teaching experience and non-formally acquired subject knowledge, such as through high quality Professional Development activities.

Within the detailed tables, there is far more data on these matters, but it will take a little more time to work through the data. However, there is no room for complacency over retention and every reason, as the school population increase over the next few years to continue to express serious concern at the trends emerging in relation to mid-career retention of teachers.