University is not for you?

Why do more children that have been in care in London go on to higher education compared with those have been taken into care in the shire counties? Last week, the DfE published the latest data about such children and young people, for the year ending March 2018. I assume that this will cover higher education entry in the autumn of 2017. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/children-looked-after-in-england-including-adoption-2017-to-2018

Haringey, a London borough recorded 29 young people from care in higher education, whereas for Oxfordshire the number is shown as just three (Table LAT2a). So what might the reasons be? It could just simply be a lack of tracking of care leavers. Haringey had no information on 18 young people at that stage of their lives, whereas the number for Oxfordshire where their outcome was not known was 44, or a third of the group.

Another alternative is that children in Oxfordshire are taken into care at an older age than in Haringey and at a point where their education journey has already started on a downward spiral. The data doesn’t tell us this. No can it be determined the reasons why a child was taken into care.

In a small borough such as Haringey, a child may stay at the same school even if fostered within the borough. In a shire county there is a greater change of children having to change schools. I have written before of the challenges finding school places for children taken into care places on local authority officers. The DfE really ought to do something about putting a time limit in place for a school or college place to be made available after a child is taken into care or moves to a different placement.

Is there any difference in the innate ability levels between the children taken into care in the two authorities? I would be surprised if that was the case.

So, could we ask whether the funding of the Virtual School and indeed of all schools in the authority may partly account for the difference in outcomes in terms of those transferring into higher education? It is true that Oxfordshire is a member of the f40 Group of local authorities and feels especially keenly that its High Needs block is under-funded.  Haringey, is a London borough, usually seen as one of the group of Inner London boroughs, although it is a borough of extreme contrast from Highgate and Muswell Hill at one end to South Tottenham and Northumberland Park at the other.

Could funding account for at least a part of the difference in outcomes? Certainly London boroughs are more generally found at the end of the scale with high percentages of care leavers going on the higher education and several shire counties can be found at the other end of the list, so it is at least a plausible argument.

Raising education aspirations and attainments among those taken into care and building their self-confidence remains a key task for our Children’s Services around the country. After all, it was one reason why the two separate services were brought under one roof, so to speak, by the Labour government a decade or so ago.

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School reserves shrink

The news that the annual survey of school bank balances revealed that a third of schools surveyed were in deficit should come as no surprise. This blog along with many others has been charting the decline in school funds for some time.

Coincidentally, I asked the question at Oxfordshire’s Cabinet meeting this afternoon about school balances across maintained primary schools in Oxfordshire and how they changed between the end of the 2017 and 2018 financial years.

Since I haven’t yet had the data in the form of a spreadsheet, only as a written answer, I have yet to see whether Oxfordshire schools are faring better or worse than the national average. I hope to be able to answer that question later this week. However, there are a lot of minus figures in the table, even taking the effects of double entry bookkeeping into account.

At the Cabinet meeting, I also challenged the Cabinet member – part of the Conservative administration of the County – whether or not she would support the notion that money provided for schools in Oxfordshire should not be allowed to be transferred by Multi-Academy Trusts to support schools in the Trust located elsewhere in England.

I will need to check the minutes for her answer, but I am confident that she agreed with me. Personally, I would go further and not allow MAT or MACs to transfer funds between schools within the group even in Oxfordshire unless the same arrangements were possible for maintained schools and stand-alone academies.

Regular readers of this blog will know auditors of MAT/Macs were written to earlier this year by the Minister in the DfE about the issue of allowing the virement of funds between schools within MAT/MACs. However, schools outside MAT/MACs have no such facility available to them. Whether this should be seen as an invitation to join a MAT or to avoid doing so and keep the cash for the school will be a matter for local decision-making.

However, as I made clear above, if the DfE is going to have a National Funding Formula for schools it cannot, at least in my judgement, be correct for trustees to take money from schools in one area to provide for schools in another area.

Schools Forums up and down the country should take a long look at the issue or virement of monies between schools and consider whether they can draw up local guidelines. After all, the Schools Forum has a key role to play in school finances these days.

The F40 Group of local authorities might also want to have a say if cash were being transferred from their members to poorly performing schools in better funded parts of the country. Such a move would be a case of ‘depriving the deprived’.

After ten years of austerity it is no surprise that schools are running out of reserves. When they do then real cuts start being to be made. With a 3.5% pay rise to fund, expect 2019 balances to be far worse than they were this year.

 

 

Courts support the underdog

From time to time the courts become involved in changing the direction of the education system in England. One such occasion, discussed previously on this blog, was the judgement of the Supreme Court on the issue of holidays during term-time. That judgement has redefined the contract for parents that ask or allow the State to educate their children in a more prescriptive manner than many might have thought possible.

Recently, there have been two more important judgements, albeit from lower courts, below the level of the Supreme Court. The Upper Tribunal, a court in all but name, as it interprets the law, has handed down what has been described as a landmark judgement in the treatment of pupils with SEND that involves a degree of aggressive behaviour linked to their disability: in this case autism. The case has been well reported, but you can read about it at https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/our-work/news/landmark-ruling-exclusion-disabled-pupils-schools

The case was brought under Section 28 of the Equality Act 2006 and the implications arising from the judgement should be on the agenda of governing bodies during the autumn term. The issue will turn on what are ‘reasonable adjustments’ that a school can be expected to make in educating these children. Obviously, or I suspect obviously, a special school catering exclusively for children with aggressive tendencies might be expect to make more adjustments than a small rural primary school faced with a five year old with such tendencies. However, if the five year old is living successfully in the community, the school is a part of the community and must now make clear what adjustment sit has made to deal with the education of the child. This might mean more specific training for the class teacher and any classroom assistants encountering the child in the course of their work. It might also mean dinner supervisors; office staff and anyone likely to come into contact with the pupil also receiving training.

The other recent case concerned Bristol City and its role in providing special education. The case was primarily about the issue of consultation over possible cuts to the City’s SEND budget, but the judge strayed into the area of the financing of education. You can read the whole judgement at https://specialneedsjungle.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/KE-others-v-Bristol-City-Council-Approvedjudgment.pdf As with the previous case, fairness for minority groups played a large part in the arguments before the court and in the reasoning of the judge. I can foresee more challenges in this area about cuts to SEND transport, based upon this judgement.

However, there was a rather curious exchange about the funding of education by local authorities that is reported in the judgement that suggests that it is not only in the realm of understanding popular culture and music that some judges and indeed other members of the bar may be slightly out of touch with currently realities.

Take this extract from the judgement from paragraph 98:

  1. Mr Tully explained that ‘The overall principle which the Council is seeking to follow is the principle that, if possible, the DSG (Dedicated Schools Grant) should pay for Schools Budget responsibilities.

However, as Ms Richards Q.C. correctly points out, this a simply a principle which the Defendant has chosen to follow i.e. a political choice and not a statutory requirement. As a consequence, it could be abandoned or varied, most pertinently in light of the results of appropriate consultation.

Surely, the DSG and the High Needs Block isn’t open to virement and by implication also isn’t open to being supplemented should local authorities ever find themselves with an excess of cash or indeed required to make choices about how they spend their income. If this section of the judgement is regarded as ‘obiter’ then it doesn’t matter, as it can be ignored, one would not want to raise the hopes of parents and others that the DSG is just an addition to a local authority overall income stream and not as its says, a ‘Dedicated Schools Grant’. Schools forum need to be consulted about the distribution of the DSG. How far is there also a need to consult the wider public?

The situation is of course complicated by the fact that some education expenditure, including on home to school transport, is provided for not from the DGS and High Needs Block within it, but from the general grant to local authorities and must compete with other services for its share of the cake. Here is issue is a fight for resources subject to the decision of the ruling group on any Council and is clearly subject to the need for consultation with the public and interested groups.

The person on the Clapham Omnibus, or is it in the Uber car these days, must be able to understand the logic behind the funding of our education system, lest they be deceived into thinking some things are possible that are actually not the case.

Despite some politicians feeling about European Courts, the courts and civil law plays an important part in defending liberties. At this time of financial cut backs it is also sometimes the way that minority groups can ensure that they are treated fairly.

 

 

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.

 

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 trial 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 national 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 has already 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 services, 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?

 

 

A cost to rural living

As a Lib Dem county councillor in Oxfordshire I was interested to read the comments of the County Councils Network spokesman for education and children’s services, about the under-funding of rural counties in relation to home to school transport. Incidentally he is also Conservative Group leader on the Oxfordshire County Council that implemented changes to transport arrangements some years ago for most pupils and has recently consulted on changes to home to school transport for pupils with special educational needs where the transport is not included in their Education and Health Care plan.

Over the past few years, I have continually pointed out in the Council Chamber that parents living in London don’t have to worry about the cost of home to school transport because TfL offers largely free travel to young people living in the capital. We now know something of the cost to local authorities of home to school transport, even after they have transferred as much of the possible costs to parents by retaining only their statutory legal services in regard to the nearest school and in most cases no longer paying for travel to the school of choice. I commented in an earlier post about the effect such a change could have in local authorities in July 2013 with a post entitled ‘Not a transport of delight’ and in October 2016 about transport to selective schools and secondary modern schools located next to each other in a post entitled ‘Tories and Grammar Schools’.

The County Council Network noted today that 29 out of 36 county councils had reduced their expenditure on home to school transport between 2014 and 2017. I expect the other seven will probably be forced to do so in the future. Between 2014 and 2017, services were scaled back, meaning that 22,352 pupils less in 2017 were receiving home to school transport services compared to three years previously.

The data shows some large regional variations in the costs of subsidised school transport, with home to school transport in highly rural North Yorkshire costing £207 per head, significantly more than in such Yorshire urban areas as Leeds (£15), Bradford (£30), and Wakefield (£23); Hampshire’s per head average of £62 is much more than in Portsmouth (£6), Southampton (£12), and Reading (£23). In every region in England, county councils are the ones that are paying significantly more per-head than metropolitan and city councils.

Even more iniquitous, yet not mentioned by the County Council Network press notice, was the fact that when the learning leaving age was raised to eighteen from sixteen the right to free travel wasn’t also altered. I don’t know whether it was an oversight or a piece of mean penny pinching on the part of government, but it is not fair on those living in rural areas, especially where the local school only goes up to the age of sixteen. If the local bus service has been axed as well, then the cost may be significant to families. I know that there is provision for a hardship grant that replaced the Education Maintenance Allowance abolished by the Coalition, but its existence is neither well known nor understood.

With rural primary schools under threat due to budget pressures, home to school transport is an issue that may force its way up the agenda over the coming months.

Is London leading the teacher job market in 2018?

Will the STRB have to take a long hard look at where teachers are needed when deciding how to make the pay award this year? I ask this question because TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk, the free to use recruitment site that matches vacancies for teachers with applicants, where I am the Chair, can reveal the importance of London in the teacher job market during the first quarter of 2018.

According to DfE statistics, in January 2017, London schools taught some 16% of the nation’s children educated in state-funded schools. The assumption might be that these schools might require a similar proportion of the nation’s teachers.

There are several challenges to this assumption. Firstly, more teachers may be required because pupil rolls are rising faster in London that elsewhere in the country, especially in the secondary sector. Secondly, London, as a region, educates more children in independent schools than other regions. While London accounts for some 16% of children in state-funded schools, it accounts for 26% of those educated privately in recognised independent schools. As such schools generally have smaller classes and larger numbers of post-16 pupils than many comprehensive schools, their presence will probably increase the demand for teachers needed to work in London. TeachVac handles vacancies from both state and private schools. Thirdly, teachers in London may be more prone to either move around or move out of teaching: including going to teach overseas.

So what did TeachVac find during the first quarter of 2018?

Recorded main scale vacancies placed by secondary schools January – end of March 2018

London England % Vacancies in London
Business 110 355 31%
Music 68 244 28%
RE 75 301 25%
Social Sciences 55 227 24%
Geography 142 595 24%
PE 87 382 23%
Science 500 2229 22%
History 92 412 22%
IT 75 358 21%
Languages 195 936 21%
Art 54 278 19%
Total 2379 12423 19%
Mathematics 318 1813 18%
English 274 1566 17%
Design & Technology 62 454 14%
Humanities 16 129 12%

Source TeachVac.co.uk

As far as the levels of vacancies for main scale teaching posts in the secondary sector are concerned, London schools seem to be advertising more vacancies than might be expected, even allowing for the higher than average number of pupils in private sector schools.

The most interesting feature of the table is how it is the smaller subjects where the relative demand is highest in London. In English and mathematics, London’s share of the national vacancy total is possibly even below what might be expected, given the percentage of pupils in the private sector. I think this may be explained by the significant presence of Teach First in London schools and the importance of both these subjects to the Teach First programme. On the other hand, the subjects at the top of the table mostly do not feature so prominently in the Teach First programme: perhaps they should.

April is the key month for recruitment at this grade, and TeachVac has already experienced a bumper start to the post-Easter period, even though many schools are officially on holiday. TeachVac can link every vacancy on its site to a job posted by a school. The TeachVac site contains no vacancies from agencies or other sources, a factor, as the Migration Advisory Committee found some years ago, resulting in an inflation of the figures to a point where they can become almost meaningless. As a ‘closed site’ that only sends jobs to registered applicants TeachVac also cannot be browsed by those wanting to extract a finder fee from schools.

Finally, it seems as if the DfE may launch a trial of their own service later this month. do test TeachVac at the same time and with the same parameters and let me know how TeachVac measures up to the DfE’s millions of pounds of expenditure on the project?