Steady as you go is not good enough

Overall applications by mid- April through UCAS were almost exactly the same as at mid-April last year, 25,570 this year, compared with 25,550 in 2018. As a result, there is little new to say. I am aware that there are some that suggest I predict a supply crisis every year, presumably on the basis that I will be correct some years and can forget the others. In fact, during the early years of the economic crisis, I actually stopped writing about teacher supply because there wasn’t an issue and only returned when I felt the tide was turning and government should start to take action.

With two thirds of the current recruitment round now over, I feel able to suggest that the outcome for this recruitment cycle for trainees will be very similar to last year and that will impact on teacher supply in 2020, especially in those parts of England where pupil numbers are on the increase.

So here are my predictions:

There will be an adequate supply of biology, English, geography, history and physical education trainees that will match or surpass the numbers the government think are needed.

Modern Languages, design and technology and chemistry trainee numbers are better than last year, but unlikely to be enough to meet government projections of need.

Business Studies, IT and computing, mathematics, music, physics and art will not recruit enough trainees to meet the projected levels of need identified by the government’s Teacher Supply Model.

There are likely to be enough primary trainees to satisfy the demand even if recruitment of trainees is challenging in some parts of the country.

Of the 40,560 applications for places on secondary training courses so far recorded this year, only 2,540 have been for School Direct Salaried scheme places, and there have only been 290 offers, with just 20 actually shown as ‘placed’. The apprenticeship scheme has not taken off in the secondary sector. Higher Education still accounts for almost 50% of applications for secondary places, although its grip on primary is slightly lower. This is somewhat curious given the nature of the course to train to be a primary teachers as a graduate. It leads me to worry about the skills in mathematics and English that can be taught to such trainees let alone their knowledge development of creative and other subjects. But, perhaps there are many classroom assistants converting to become teachers in the primary total of 32,250 applicants.

Of the 7,350 men that have applied to courses in England, almost two thirds have been offered a place.  The percentage for the younger age groups is even higher, with almost three quarters of those age 21 offered a place. However, that percentage is still lower than the 84% of women in this age group that have been offered a place this year.

There is still time to recruit more trainees in the remaining four months before courses start. There is also the contribution from Teach First whose applicants are not included in these figures. Perhaps that Scheme is having a better year than last year.

 

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Energy policy for schools

Yesterday, at Oxfordshire’s Cabinet meeting I asked a question about how many maintained schools in the county had renewable energy scheme with either PV or solar panel in place on their roofs? I put this question down a couple of weeks ago before the current protests in London started and I certainly didn’t know that Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old Swedish climate change campaigner would be in London yesterday.

After some ‘toing and froing’ about who would answer the question, either the Cabinet Member for property or the Cabinet Member for Education, the issue was solved by the absence of the former and the presence of the latter at the meeting.

The formal question and answer are set out below:

Question: “How many maintained schools in Oxfordshire have either solar or photo-voltaic panels on their roofs or elsewhere on school grounds?”

 Answer: ‘The Council does not hold a database with this information, as schools would need to register for the FIT (Feed In Tariff) themselves, information on the installation and/or registration is not readily available. On request at such short notice we have been able to ascertain that 30 of our maintained schools have either solar or photo-voltaic panels on their roofs or elsewhere on school grounds.’

Whether the lack of a database is a result of the collapse of Carillion over a year ago isn’t clear, but I am surprised that the County knows so little about maintained schools. Of course, nobody probably knows about all the secondary schools in the county, as all except one are academies. Then there are a large number of private schools. What their energy policy is, I guess nobody knows as a matter of record.

For this reason, when the school strikes started, I suggested a more positive policy would be for these young people to start an audit of their schools and ask for a policy moving towards cutting carbon emissions. This seemed a more positive approach than missing lessons, even if less dramatic. They could also campaign for more walking and cycling to schools by their fellow students.

My supplementary question yesterday, put at the meeting, was to ask what the Cabinet Member for education would do, especially in encouraging the Anglican and Roman Catholic Diocese to improve the generation of renewable energy by their schools. The Anglican Diocese of Oxford has generally had a very negative attitude to the use of the roofs of their schools to generate electricity. In my view it is time this changed.

I also asked about my own bugbear, school’s playgrounds and outside spaces. For 175 days a year they are largely unused, and for the other 190 days only partly used. Can research help to make them a more productive asset in our quest for cleaner energy?

Finally, I attended a wonderful concert in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre last evening. Under the beautiful painted ceiling, first the Oxfordshire County Youth Orchestra played three pieces, and then the Sydney Youth Orchestra completed their UK tour by playing Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. Those that know this symphony will be aware of how demanding it is to play.

As I left, I pondered on the growth of the aviation industry that had made their tour possible, but is such a threat to or planet. Tacking fuel emissions from jet engines is a much bigger challenge than using school playgrounds to create energy, but both must surely play a part in tacking climate change.

 

 

Benchmarking

As is usual, the run up to the Easter break brings a clutch of education stories, partly fuelled by the arrival of the conference season for the main teacher associations. Governments of all colours probably always worry about the bad publicity they will expect at this time of year, as much is made of the poor state of health of the school system in England.

This year is proving to be no different to usual, with school funding, teachers’ pay and workload and children’s mental health all taking the headlines, along with testing and its associated consequence of off-rolling, a term unknown to the general public before the last few months, but now probably bidding to be the new word of 2019. What I haven’t heard is anything about education’s contribution to the climate change emergency. Should it feature more in the curriculum and what practical steps ought schools to be taking? In my post headed ‘gas cooking’, I suggested school students might like to conduct an audit of their schools to see what changes should be introduced.

Opposition parties are always quick to say there isn’t enough funding for schools, and I am happy to support their claims. This blog has regularly charted the decline in the level of reserves across maintained schools and the growth in the number of schools with deficits rather than cash balances. However, there are still schools with balances, some quite large in cash terms. How can this be, in an under-funded system? Is the balance between funding based upon pupil numbers, and that designed to cover the cost of ensuring a schools remains open regardless of changes in pupil numbers, right in the new formula now being introduced?

I especially worry about small rural schools, and my concerns have been shared by officials in North Yorkshire as detailed in another recent post on this blog. There needs to be some national benchmarks over finance that governing bodies can measure their schools against on a regular basis. The DfE has already done some good work here, but it needs to do more. At the heart of the debate may be the decision, made way back in the early days of delegated budgets, to fund schools on average salary levels and not actual cash amounts. Thus, schools with young teachers paid less than average benefit, but schools with teachers at the top of the pay scales find funding inadequate to meet their salary bills. The real squeeze on 16-18 funding hasn’t helped either, as many schools deploy their most expensive staff to teach this age-group.

Should we abolish tests in the primary school? There certainly shouldn’t be tests that stress, pupils, teachers and families. However, the data already shows that many disadvantaged pupils fare less well in our system than their more fortunate classmates. I would not want that fact to be lost. We have emerged from a culture when expectations of some children were low, and as a result not much was achieved. Don’t, please let us go back there. Humane, reasonable, tests backed by effective resources and a better use of emerging technologies can create a future golden age as we approach the 150th anniversary of state funded school in in England. Such  a system might be better at attracting and retaining its teachers in what is now a global marketplace.

Install sprinkler systems

This blog discussed the issue of installing sprinkler system in new schools in a post that was dated 28th August 216. At that time, the government was considering relaxing the rules about the installation of such systems.

There was a BBC new report over the weekend https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47923843 citing a study by the Fire Brigades Union using data obtained following a question from Labour MP and former teacher Stephanie Peacock. He found that 105 of the 673 schools built and open by February were fitted with sprinklers. Not surprisingly, the fact that only 15% of new build schools were fitted with sprinkler system has rightly raised concerns.

Some of these schools are likely to be single storey primary schools with good means of evacuation in the event of a fire. However, some will be secondary schools with more than one storey and it is hoped that all of these will have had sprinkler system installed. However, there is no requirement for private schools to install sprinkler systems even when higher risk activities, such as laboratories are located on upper floors.

There are two reasons for installing sprinkler systems, the risk to life and limb and the risk to property.  According to official figures, there were no fatalities from school fires in the eight years up to 2017/18, but there were 244 casualties. The lack of fatalities wouldn’t be used in any other circumstances for scaling back on safety measures, and it shouldn’t be when constructing new school buildings.

However, the risk to property is an equally important reason for installing sprinkler systems in schools of all types. Arson rarely happens when schools are occupied, and often takes place at night. Water damage, although distressing, can be much less costly and disruptive than a building burning down. Even if academies are externally insured for their buildings, the disruption to children’s education is something that should be avoided.

Whether you call it ‘invest to save’ or ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, I am with those that think almost all schools should be sprinkler systems installed. When local authorities carry the risk on their own books, this is an even more important choice as not only are there re-building costs but there may also be significant transport charges moving pupils to other schools.

The most important reasons is that pupil’s education should not be disrupted. Even though coursework is of less importance than it was previously in our examination system, loss of work can affect a child’s progress.

Sprinkler system may not be cheap, but they are a good investment. The government should review the rules over school building to make these system mandatory unless there is a good reason not to install them. They should also ask whether private schools need to be required to take measures when building new schools or extensions above a single storey in height.

 

A parent in prison is not a crime

Although this blog is mostly about educatio, it does from time to time mention other issues. For the past five years I have been a trustee of the charity Children Heard and Seen, founded in Oxford by an inspirational former social worker, Sarah Burrows. http://childrenheardandseen.co.uk/ This charity works to mitigate the effects of parental imprisonment on children, young people and their families, aiming to provide quality services for children with a family member in prison.

For far too long these children have been ignored. Next month, a new book will be published by the Waterside Press https://www.watersidepress.co.uk/acatalog/Seen-Heard-Poems-Prisons-9781909976429.html#SID=34

The book is a collection of poems and drawings by parents and children affected by imprisonment in the UK and abroad. The poems and images are all original and from open competitions begun in 2018. They address the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of the authors as they express themselves concerning their emotions and experiences. Over a million children and family members are affected by imprisonment in the UK alone and the poems seek to emphasise the sense of loss, deprivation and isolation involved. They also show resilience—and how enforced separation impacts each and every day of the writer’s life.

The joint editors of the collection are, Lucy Baldwin is Senior Lecturer in Criminology at De Montfort University Leicester. She specialises in research surrounding mothering in and after prison and families affected by imprisonment. Ben Raikes is a Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Huddersfield University. He also works at the Centre for Applied Childhood, Youth and Family Research. Ben has experience as a social worker and probation officer. He runs writing groups in prisons and is a co-founder of the International Coalition for Children with Incarcerated Parents (INCCIP).

The book will cost just £14.95 and comes with free delivery in the United Kingdom.

Latest research suggests that there may be more than 300,000 children of prisoners across the United Kingdom. Earlier this year, Children Heard and Seen was mentioned in evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights at Westminster. The mention is at: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/human-rights-committee/the-right-to-family-life-children-whose-mothers-are-in-prison/oral/96667.html as part of Q3.

Sarah from Children Heard and Seen used to be a social worker, and I will ring her up and panic, when I have nothing to panic over. I honestly believe it has stemmed from that.

 Back then, if I had had a charity like Children Heard and Seen, I would not be suffering as I am now. I can give you an example. Unfortunately, my children have recently gone through a similar situation with the father receiving a custodial. Because of Children Heard and Seen, my children were not alienated. They did not know the difference. They did not know that he had gone. They were with a bunch of other children and it felt normal—not that it was normal for a parent to go to prison, but it was normal to feel human and be accepted as a human. It was not so taboo. You are not living their punishment, really. I honestly believe that I and my brother served a bigger sentence than my mum ever received.

I believe these children need support that Society has not offered them. Should you wish to help with the work of the charity, please visit its web site and donate either cash or your time.

 

 

Funding thoughts

In an ofsted report published this week I found the following paragraph

Only a very small proportion of pupils benefit from routinely good teaching. Senior leaders’ attempts to improve the quality of teaching have been hampered by the school’s difficult financial situation. Most significantly, this means that too many pupils are being taught by non-specialist subject teachers.

Now, I am not sure why non-specialist can cost less than specialists, and ofsted don’t elaborate further.

According to today’s Yorkshire Post the Head of Education at North Yorkshire County Council, has urged the Government to “wake up to the plight of rural communities, and to the costs of delivering education in sparse rural areas.”
https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/education/financial-danger-mounting-for-yorkshire-dales-secondary-schools-amid-primary-clo

He also added that “We have real worries about small rural secondary schools. We aren’t, at the moment, looking at any closures, but we are seriously concerned about their financial position. There are no alternatives for these areas. We cannot afford for these schools to close because of the sheer distances pupils would have to travel.”

No doubt North Yorkshire will be responding to the government’s consultation on post-16 bursary funding and rural travel costs, highlighted in my previous post on Friday.

Both these reports highlight the shortcomings of an entirely pupil driven funding system, with little room for local flexibility. The F40 Group of local authorities remain concerned about how the funding system for schools is working.

Tomorrow, at 4pm the NEU and partners campaigning for fairer school funding will present a letter to the Department for Education at Sanctuary Buildings. The letter was signed by 1,115 councillors from authorities across the country.

Hopefully, funding will be one of the issues Layla Moran’s independent commission on education will consider. It does now seem that driving the school bus from Westminster may have unintended financial consequences for some parts of the country that traditionally elect Conservative Party MPs and councillors.

Closing rural schools was made more difficult during the time of the Blair government, so local authorities, academies and MATs with rural schools are between a rock and a hard place. For instance, heating costs may be higher than in city schools that especially in London can benefit from the heat island created by large urban areas.

But, the real issue is still, how we fund schools where costs may be very different, and in rural areas pupil numbers may just not be sufficient to ensure that funds are sufficient to cover outgoings. At least, schools don’t have to meet the travel costs as that cost still falls upon the local authority and the council tax payers.

Realistically, local authorities may need to be able to vire some cash between schools in the same way that MATs are allowed to do.

But, if the overall amount is insufficient to fund quality education, then the system needs to be looked at again. For a start, schools with historic deficits that are impeding good teaching might have them written off for the benefit of the present school population.

 

Interesting data from ofsted

The Regional Director of ofsted spent just over an hour answering questions at a meeting earlier this week of Oxfordshire’s Education Scrutiny Committee. Sadly, neither the press nor any members of the public turned up to hear this interesting and informative exchange of views.

One of the questions posed by the Committee was about schools ranked ‘outstanding’ on previous criteria and whether the judgement will remain when the new Framework, currently out to consultation, comes into force. There doesn’t seem to be a mechanism to reset the dial when there is a major change in the inspection framework.

This question was thrown into sharp focus later this week by ofsted’s publication of inspection outcomes for the autumn term of 2018. This is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/state-funded-schools-inspections-and-outcomes-as-at-31-december-2018

Of the 102 schools classified as ‘exempt’ under the 2011 legislation, that were subject to a full inspection, 12 schools (12%) remained outstanding, 50 (49%) declined to good, 35 (34%) declined to requires improvement and five (5%) declined to inadequate. The fact that four out ten of these schools declined to either ‘requires improvement’ or the category of ‘inadequate’, in five cases, must be of concern. A further 15 ‘outstanding’ schools had a short inspection and, thus, remained with the same outcome.

Ofsted also commented that the number of schools that had improved from ‘requires improvement’ had declined, compared with previous years. However, ofsted noted that ‘This may be a sign that the remaining schools have more entrenched problems and will be harder to turn around.’

Ofsted has also looked at schools in the government’s opportunity areas that have received extra cash outside of the normal funding arrangements. As might be expected, there was a 10% different between the percentage of schools rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in these areas and the national percentage of such schools. As ofsted observed, ‘The lower percentage of good and outstanding schools in opportunity areas is to be expected, as the areas were chosen on the basis of the problems they were experiencing.’

No doubt, at some point in the future, ofsted will comment on both the use of funding in these areas and the difference it makes to schools outside those areas, but facing similar or even more extreme challenges.

In the present complex structure of governance, the lack of local robust school improvement teams offering help to all schools, whether maintained, standalone academies, small or even large MATs means that ofsted can often only inspect after a school has begun to decline. Good local school improvement teams, funded across all schools, might well be able to prevent some declines from happening. MATs can make this happen as they can top slice their schools, but other schools cannot as easily do so.

When the country finally emerges from its Brexit travails, this is but one of many issues that will need to be addressed. One can but hope that such an outcome will be decided sooner rather than later.