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.

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 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 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. 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?



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, 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%


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?



What are the aims behind a school funding formula?

Last week I attended a conference put on at the LGA’s conference centre in London by the f40 Group of authorities concerned about school funding, and how it is distributed. Despite its location close to Houses of Parliament, no representative from any London authority was listed in the delegate list. I suppose that’s not surprising in view of the relative distribution of funding across the different local authorities in England.

The historical differences between the funding of schooling across local areas in England goes way back into the history of State education and how it was funded. In an article I wrote in the Oxford Review of Education way back in 1982, I said that local government then managed eighty per cent of spending on education. Even then, recognition that monitoring of what was happening, as the education system developed from just a limited scheme of elementary schools into a more elaborate and widespread system, especially after the passing of the 1944 Education Act, was contained in an HMI publication of 1981 entitled Report of HMI on the effects of local authority expenditure policies on the Education Service in England.  (DES, March, 1982).

Over the next thirty-five years power flowed inexorably from local authorities towards central government. During this changeover period, school funding became more centralised, but also increasingly distributed directly to schools, without local government being able to do much more than try to influence what was happening.

Also, throughout the changeover period, there were calls for a recognition that the existing system was unfair and based upon factors that prevented some areas from funding education as they would have wanted. This was especially the case in the period between the 1944 Education Act and the late 1980s when local government funding, of which most education funding was a part, was not hypothecated and some authorities chose to divide up their spending in less generous ways in terms of funding schools than did others. However, the unfairness resulting from the local retention of business rates always meant some areas had to receive extra funding from central government once it was agreed that a minimum national level of funding was required to operate the school system.

After the Education Reform Act, the idea of curriculum lead funding gathered pace, and calls were increasingly heard for a National Funding Formula for schools. Despite work conducted during both the period of the Labour government between 1997 and 2010, and the period of coalition government, it was only the post 2015 that the DfE and Ministers grasped the nettle and produced the outline of a policy for such a Formula: possibly some Ministers might have wished that they had left well alone. Nevertheless, by 2018, a National Formula existed and was being implemented.

Despite the explicit basis of a formula for schools designed around four basic building blocks: basic pupil funding via an age-weighted pupil unit and a minimum guarantee per pupil; additional needs criteria; a school element including a lump sum and finally an area cost adjustment, the outcomes don’t seem to satisfy many as the f40 conference discussions revealed. Indeed, under the new formula the rank order of high funded and low funded local authority areas remains not totally dissimilar to what was there before.

Perhaps my greatest anxiety arising from the new formula, and expressed by others at the conference, as well as having been expressed before in this blog, is that small rural primary schools have generally not been given sufficient funds to survive the next few years in their present form.

Now, if that is what the government want in order to rationalise spending and cut out waste, so be it. Whether the votes in rural areas will see it in the same way, is entirely another matter. But, it does highlight how values and funding are inextricably linked. At one time Mr Gove, when Secretary of State, wanted to do away with the sump sum completely for all schools: marking certain closure for small schools. The present formula retains a lump sum, but as Peter Downes in Cambridgeshire has worked out, not one especially supportive of small rural schools. The triple weighting of additional needs through a deprivation factor, English as an additional language and prior low attainment of pupils can more than balance out the sparsity and lump sum factors when overlain by the use of a geographical area cost adjustment.

As was once said by commentators of a former system for allocating education funding in the 1970s. ‘..has a deceptive appearance of simplicity. If it is a cost projection of existing policies then there is often disagreement about each element – cost, projection and existing policy all means.

Perhaps not much changes in government.

Top slice maintained schools?

There are growing reasons to be concerned about how the two systems of school governance; maintained and academy are working. A brief look at the accounts of any multi-academy trust with more than a couple of schools will show a figure for central costs. Assuming that the MAT has no other income, the funding for these costs will normally have had to come from the schools within the MAT. Should the remaining maintained schools, not yet academies, be top-sliced in a similar manner by local authorities rather than just offered the chance to buy back services on a traded basis?

This issue has once again surfaced because in a report published this week, Ofsted said of Newham Council in London, following an Ofsted a visit to a primary school that wasn’t a normal inspection visit:

‘The local authority has provided some support to the school in managing the manipulative and sometimes abusive correspondence and comments made by email and across social media. However, considering the position the school found itself in, and the fact that some correspondence appears to have been coordinated, the local authority’s approach has been perfunctory at best, stopping short of supporting the school in its policy position. Instead, the local authority has positioned itself as a moderator to manage relationships between the school, councillors and community groups. The expected level of emotional care and public support for school staff from the local authority has been too limited and, as a result, ineffective.’

Now this school had faced a high pressure campaign around a particular set of issues. Should the local authority have had the funds to offer the school its full support as they would have done in the past? The alternative view presumably, is that schools, whether academies or not are now funded as if they were on their own and if they want that support they can buy it.

This question follows on neatly from the Ofsted monitoring report on St Gregory the Great School in Oxford mentioned here in the post on 19th January in which Ofsted criticised the multi-academy company for the manner they were handling the improvement of the school from its rating as inadequate. Clearly, the MAC can use central costs obtained from its schools to offer support. Indeed, the local Anglican MAT in Oxfordshire has appointed a primary adviser from central funds.

Should we treat the remaining maintained schools as if they were a local authority MAT or not bother with the issues of governance and support for these schools? In passing, there is a third group of converter standalone academies that raise another set of issues over the question of support.

With the common funding formula starting to be implemented from April, some schools may be top-sliced where their neighbour down the road isn’t yet receive the same level of funding. Indeed, why should schools hand over part of their declining income to cover central costs, if maintained schools aren’t required to do so?

How should local authorities react? They are even more strapped for cash than schools, having borne the brunt of government cuts over the past eight years: you only have to look at Northamptonshire’s financial situation to see the depth of the problems councils face.

Ofsted cannot expect more from local authorities without recognising that someone, either the school or the government will have to pay for that support. If MATs can top-slice, should local authorities also be allowed to do so?



Support Staff axed by secondary schools

In the previous post I discussed the changing level of the pupil teacher ratio in schools, following the publication of the 2016 School Workforce Census, conducted last November. Of course, teachers are not the only staff employed in schools and there are a vast number of other staff either employed by the school or by third party suppliers, but working on school premises.

With the increase in pupil numbers, it is perhaps not surprising that the number of teaching assistants increased in the primary sector to 177,700. The number of administrative assistants also increased in primary schools. However, there was a reduction in the admittedly small number of technicians employed in the primary sector. I assume most of these work on IT systems?

In the secondary sector, the position was almost exactly the opposite. The sector employs less than a third of the number of teaching assistant that are found in the primary sector. However, there was a reduction in their numbers to just over 50,000; down by just over 2,000 in one year and more than 4,000 from the high point reached in 2013. By contrast, the secondary sector employs many more technicians than in the primary sector; somewhere between four and five per schools. Even here, the numbers reduced between 2015 and 2016 as they also did for administrative staff.

Third Party employed support staff increased in number in the primary sector, but fell in the secondary sector. Again, the difference in pupil premium cash per pupil between the two sectors may well account for some of the trends. I think it fair to say that secondary school budgets, even when helped by rising rolls from 2016 onwards, will likely cause pressure in many of these areas in years to come.

How the National Funding Formula is introduced, if indeed it is introduced in its present iteration, will undoubtedly shape the future spending patterns, even if there are floors and ceilings introduced. I suspect that teaching jobs will be protected at the expense of other staff in schools, but that the possible reductions in the number of minority subjects on offer may well affect the employment possibilities of teachers in those subjects.

In a latter post, I will examine the trends in qualified teachers employed in different subjects across the last few years, along with trends in entry and departure rates from the profession. But it is worth noting that the average age of teachers in secondary schools is higher than in primary schools, with 605 of secondary school teachers being in the 30-50 age grouping compared with 55% in the primary sector. Only 22.6% of secondary school teachers are aged under 30 compared with 28.4% in the primary sector. This difference may have an impact on employment patterns.

In terms of gender balance, four out of five employees in the school sector as a whole are now women.  With the largest grouping of men being the 37.5% of teachers employed in the secondary sector. This compares with just 15.4% of male teachers in the primary sector. Over 90% of teaching assistants are women.