Accountability and asbestos

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Commons has just published a report into Academy accounts and performance, with a final paragraph about asbestos reporting by schools tacked on the end for some reason. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/1597/159702.htm proving that Brexit is not quite the only game in town at Westminster this week.

The PAC don’t think that accounts for academies are clear enough and provide enough information at the school level for parents and others from the local community interested in the spending of individual schools. Personally, I have found academy trust accounts more forthcoming than financial information about individual maintained schools. However, there are clearly Multi-Academy Trusts where information has not been forthcoming in the views of the PAC.

We can all cite issues of questionable behaviour by the leaders of some Trusts. The DfE spent a lot of time and effort last year trying to deal with the high salaries some CEOs of Mats were paying themselves, with some degree of success.  However, it wasn’t as if everything was fine and dandy before. Head teachers had been known to fiddle the books and use the school credit cards for unacceptable purposes: a few even end up being prosecuted and doing time in prison.

The PAC has set out a list of demands that the DfE must comply with by the end of March, although I expect that deadline will be extended should there be a general election before to date to exit the EU.

Personally, as I have explained in previous post, entitled ‘Does local democratic control matter in education?’ written in August 2017 that someone has viewed earlier today ,I would rather democratic control was exercised where the school is located by democratically elected local authorities and not from London. I suppose, however, if you believe in the Regional School Commissioner role, and I don’t, then they might be the office best placed in the DfE hierarchy to oversee financial transparency of academies.

I am disappointed that the PAC didn’t mention the behaviour of some academies and MATs in respect of in-year admissions and especially the way they deal with children taken into care requiring a school transfer. That is another subject this blog has championed and will continue to so.

Finally, the difficulty in making schools report about asbestos and the importance of this matter is a real concern. The PAC reported that:

The Department originally asked schools to respond to its survey by 31 May 2018. However, due to the poor response rate, it extended the deadline to 25 June 2018 and again to 27 July 2018. Despite this, only 77% of schools responded to the survey. The Department said that it was disappointed with the response rate. We asked the Department what action it had taken with the 23% of schools that had still not provided the information requested. The Department said that it had re-opened the survey and extended the deadline for the third time, to 15 February 2019, to allow the remaining schools to respond. It also told us that those schools that still failed to respond would be picked up in its school condition survey. However, this survey will not be completed until autumn 2019.

Paragraph 30 PAC Report

This really does reveal why we need a governance structure for schools in England that is both accountable and able to act effectively on important issues of whatever description.

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Lollipops and Déjà vu

Yesterday’s budget handout of £400 million to schools reminded me of Gordon Brown’s budget of 2000 after he had stopped following the Tory plans for the economy set out under John Major’s government. Those with long memories will recall both the 1997 decision by Blair and Brown to continue with government spending restraint and the spending spree after the Labour government changed direction.

One of Gordon Brown’s rabbits was to announce from the dispatch box in his 1999 and 2000 budgets extra funding for schools. This was great news for the schools, but less so for the orderly planning of teacher supply. As now, the extra cash came at a point in time when recruiting new entrants into teaching was proving quite a challenge: the cash make the situation far worse as schools went out seeking to hire teachers that just weren’t there. Eventually, the Education Department stopped the rot by upping the salaries of existing teachers in a way that prevented unchecked growth in teacher numbers. The result was a period where teachers were relatively better paid than for a generation. The end only came with the 2008 recession and the freeze on public sector pay.

So, yesterday felt like a sense of Déjà vu, with a Chancellor pulling a rabbit out of his budget red box and handing an average of £10,000 to each primary school and £50,000 to each secondary school: so much for a National Funding Formula. Of course, these numbers aren’t anywhere near the amount Gordon Brown had on offer in real terms in his 2000 budget when he announced that:

To support these reforms in our secondary schools he will now make a payment to every head teacher for books, equipment and staffing.

 Last year he was able to make an extra payment for books and equipment of 2,000 pounds.

 This April every one of these 3,500 secondary schools will receive a minimum payment of 30,000 pounds and the largest schools will receive 50,000 pounds.

 A total of 300 million in new investment through these measures alone, money paid direct to the school and to the head teacher for use in the classroom.   http://www.ukpol.co.uk/gordon-brown-2000-budget-speech/

but if used to recruit extra teachers, the new cash announced yesterday could seriously affect the plans announced only last week by the DfE for the ITT allocations in 2019/20. After 2000, schools went shopping for teachers. Perhaps, this time the cash will be used to pay for the unfunded Leadership pay increases, rather than extra teachers. But, it could distort the distribution of teachers in real shortage subjects, such as teachers of Physics, if some schools decided to offer recruitment and retention allowances to attract such teachers. However, the confusion over the use of the word ‘capital’ alongside ‘little extra’ is budgets where schools can spend money mostly as they see fit and the timescale for the cash arriving in school’s budgets will make understanding of how the cash is spent challenging, even should the DfE really want to know.

The £10,000 will certainly make a difference for many small primary schools, especially those losing pupils as the birth rate has slowed down. For some it may make the difference between possible closure and staying open that bit longer.

There must be a question about the purpose of a National Funding Formula if a Chancellor can override it on the one hand and an academy trust can ignore it on the other hand. As ever, it seems like back to the future.

 

Fewer teachers, classroom assistants and technicians

Today is the day that the DfE publishes two important datasets: the results of the 2017 School Workforce Census and the data providing the identification of schools and their characteristics. You can find the details at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics?departments%5B%5D=department-for-education

There are a large number of tables to assimilate, but the DfE helpfully publishes what used to be known as a Statistical Bulletin on the School Workforce data at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/719772/SWFC_MainText.pdf Now it only has a title.

The headline figure is the reduction in staffing levels almost across the board, whether teachers, technicians or classroom assistants. This is the manifestation of the funding issues facing schools that have been well documented both on this blog and elsewhere. As the DfE note states’ ‘The total FTE number of teachers in all schools has fallen by 1.2%’, between November 2016 and November 2017. The note is not totally accurate, because the figure includes centrally employed teachers, but since there are now less than 4,000 of these the latitude in the wording can be overlooked.

There was also a fall in the number of entrants to teaching, meaning that entrants and leavers were both recorded as at 9.9% of the qualified teaching force. This is the first year for some considerable time and probably since the School Workforce Census has been collected at its present November date that entrants into the profession have not exceeded departures as a percentage of the qualified teacher workforce.

As noted in the previous post on this blog, older applicants were taking more training places as younger graduates seem less interested in becoming teachers. The same trend is visible in the workforce data. Table 7b shows a large increase in departures among teachers in the 25-44 age brackets and especially among the key 25-34 age group where just over 14,000 were recorded as leaving compared with just 10,400 of this age group in 2011. Are we losing the leaders of tomorrow and where are they going? Are international schools tempting them overseas with better pay and easier working conditions?

Although much is made of working conditions and workload, teacher absence rates still continue to fall as Table 16 reveals. There was a one per cent rise in the percentage of teachers taking sickness absence, but the total days lost was the lowest for many a year.

After some years when the match between teachers’ qualifications ad subject expertise had been improving, there was something of a setback between 2017 and 2018 in some subjects. This may be due to the increasing challenge in recruitment into training and can be expected to show further declines in key subjects when the next set of data are published next June. In 2017 among EBacc subjects, only German and ‘other’ Modern Languages saw an improvement in the percentage of hours taught by a teacher with a relevant post A level qualification. Spanish and Chemistry recorded no change.

Now that secondary pupil numbers are on the increase and primary numbers are falling among the entry age groups, it is likely that we will see more rebalancing of the teacher workforce over the next few years. Unless funding improves, it also seems likely that more support staff will also lose their jobs as schools strive to protect teaching posts.

More about school funding

How much more should London schools be paid under the new National Funding Formula to compensate for the higher salaries teachers working in the Capital are paid? Interestingly, that issue didn’t appear to have surfaced during last week debate in the House of Commons on a Labour motion about school funding and the new National Funding Formula. https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-04-25/debates/0A24031C-1B47-47DA-9682-5ED62B7AB09C/SchoolFunding

The salary differential is greatest for new teachers and smallest, at least in percentage terms, for the highest paid head teachers – CEOs of Academy Trusts don’t have a pay scale – although in cash terms the difference greatest for senior middle leaders at the top of their scale.

Sep-17 Rest of England Inner London % diff
Bottom Main Scale  £          22,917  £          28,660 20%
Top Main Scale  £          38,633  £          47,298 18%
TMS + TLR top  £          51,660  £          60,325 14%
L1  £          39,374  £          46,814 16%
l20  £          62,863  £          70,310 11%
L43  £        109,366  £        116,738 6%

Assuming schools spend around 60% of their funds on staff with QTS, plus another significant amount on non-teaching staff, where I assume the differential across the country isn’t significantly different, then how much more should a school in challenging circumstances in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets receive compared with a similar school in South East Oxford? If the differential is significantly more than 20% then one might ask how the different components within the NFF are derived. The additional of floors and ceilings only serve to make matters worse.

The DfE data published in the autumn of 2017 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-funding-formula-tables-for-schools-and-high-needs indicates a much greater than 20% difference between those local authorities with the smallest allocations and the London Boroughs with the largest amounts.

In terms of consequences, there is the issue of funding for small schools that this blog has highlighted before, but also the issue of how much extra schools in pockets of severe deprivation receive within local authorities that are generally regarded as affluent. The issue of the f40 group of authorities and the share of the national cake they receive was aired during the House of Commons debate, but not by any of the six MPs representing Oxfordshire constituencies. As there wasn’t a formal division, we don’t know whether they even attended the debate.

Yesterday, the Oxford Mail has a key article about funding for schools in the county, highlighting the concerns that funds are not sufficient. http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/16192951.SCHOOL_FUNDING__Oxfordshire_parents_battle_for_more_classroom_cash/

Much of Oxfordshire has local elections this Thursday, but I don’t sense that school funding is a big issue on the doorsteps, unlike potholes that seem to be the number one concern in many areas.

However, I am concerned that not enough forward planning is currently being undertaken by either Schools Forum or others to identify the position if current NFF trends continue for the next five How far can schools sustain different changes in pay rates for staff and not fall into deficit? There needs to be a debate about the consequences of the new approach to funding, not just in the short-term, but over the longer time period as well.

 

 

 

Schools’ Costs

At the beginning of February the DfE published a note to help the School Teachers’ Review Body (the STRB) and other interested parties understand about costs for schools in England at the national level over the period2018-19 to 2019-20. You can read the document at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/schools-costs-technical-note

Many school leaders and governing bodies will find the DfE’s analysis reads like something created in a parallel universe. Core funding over the two year period the DfE states is to increase at 3.1%, slightly ahead of government predictions of inflation at a predicted 2.9% over the same period. If these percentages turned out to be correct, then schools overall would find budgets under less pressure than expected. However, the DfE’s analysis doesn’t take into account any variations to local government pension schemes rates for employers, as they were not known at the time the technical note was put together. The analysis cannot also prejudge what the STRB will do about pay rates for teachers as a group. Will they hold the line or recognise the recruitment challenges schools in some parts of the country are facing and the system as a whole is facing in trying to entice graduates to train as teachers in some subjects.

The DfE also helpfully comment in their technical note that their high level analysis indicates that if the 25% of schools spending the highest amounts on each category of non-staff expenditure were instead spending at the level of the rest, this would save these schools an aggregate £1 billion that could be spent on improving teaching.

As regular readers of this blog know, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk was conceived for this very same reason to offer a free recruitment platform for schools that would create savings from recruitment in order to support expenditure on teaching and learning.  We know that TeachVac is saving schools money now, just as the DfE’s own vacancy scheme will if it ever becomes an effective player in the recruitment market.

By 2019-20 the DfE sees academies as bearing the brunt of the cumulative net pressures as a result of the growth in pupil numbers and the fall in protection payments. The maintained sector will have to cope with the effects of local authorities retaining schools block funding for Education Support Grant (ESG) general rate duties over the three year period.

These figures act as a warning to the remaining maintained schools considering becoming academies. They need to consider the financial situation very carefully in the context of their own situation as well as these national figures to see whether they would be better or worse off.

The fact that the DfE has also apparently written to MATs and MACs where the chief officer earns more than £150,000 asking for a justification of the salary is also interesting. I heard one suggestion, not supported by the person making it, that these high salaries were the price the system paid for school leaders taking on the leadership of failing schools. A more insulting argument to the teachers and other staff working in these schools is difficult to envisage.

Might we perhaps be moving away from basic market economics and back to a negotiated national system of pay and conditions there are many that would welcome the better cost control such discipline would bring back into the system. However, the basic rules of supply and demand will always be difficult to ignore.

 

 

Not a rural idyll?

Once Again the DfE has categorised four primary schools within London boroughs as meeting their definition of a rural school. Two are in Enfield and the other two, an infant and junior school with the same name, are in Hillingdon.

I am sure the residents of Theobalds Park Road in Enfield will be delighted to know that they live in a ‘rural village’ according to the DfE. Their school was founded in 1858 as a National School, but it is moot point whether it is really a village school or a small school in in a relatively isolated locality on the fringe of London. On the other hand, Forty Hill Primary School, the other rural school in Enfield is genuinely in an area of isolated dwellings with little in the immediate vicinity other than the church and a few houses. Realistically, these four schools are a statistical anomaly on the fringes of our capital city.

Nationally, the DfE lists 3,806 rural primary schools in this year’s database. This list doesn’t include any rural academies as it only lists local authority schools but, it still contains 1,553 community schools; 2,079 voluntary schools, both aided and controlled, and 174 foundation schools. I don’t see why a full list of state-funded rural primary schools, including academies should not be published by the DfE..

North Yorkshire has the largest number of designated rural primary schools, with just over 200 such schools. Cumbria is second with 168; Devon and Lancashire are in joint third place with 157 each. Overall, 92 of the local authorities in England have at least one designated rural primary school within their boundaries.

648 of these primary schools are designated as in isolated hamlets or hamlets and sparse dwellings whereas 1,786 are located in or around rural villages, with a further 1,310 in a rural town or on its fringe. The remaining schools are close enough to rural towns to be regarded as in a sparse setting near the town.

These schools represent both the history of education in England and the country’s complex geography. Whether all will survive the new National Funding Formula is a moot point. Many are small, often one form entry or less schools. Although they all will probably receive more cash under the new settlement it is unlikely that the increase will be enough to meet the ever growing expenditure pressures faced by schools, especially when the pay cap is finally removed.

If these schools are going to be expected to meet pay pressures from a national funding settlement then many may find themselves unable to make ends meet. Such a situation is not one where it is easy to recruit a new head teachers, so it may be alright while the present incumbent remains in post, but finding a successor could be more of a challenge.

We know relatively little about how difficult this type of school finds it to recruit classroom teachers. Are there still a cadre of teacher willing to work in such schools? I suspect that the answer is in the affirmative for the school that is rural, but not isolated, as are many in the south of England, but not as much the case where such schools are really isolated. There was a story recently from Scotland of a school in the Highlands that has had to close because both teachers were leaving at Christmas and no replacements could be found for January.

I do hope that these schools survive, but they won’t without some serious campaigning. With the present weak state of the government there has never been a better time to put pressure on MPs with such schools in their constituency.

 

Figures back heads views on funding pressures

Most commentators will be focusing on the primary performance data published today. I am sure that is not why the DfE also chose to publish the annual update on maintained school finances for 2016-17 today. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/la-and-school-expenditure-2016-to-2017-financial-year

Although this is time series data, comparisons from year to year are handicapped by the conversion of schools to academy status and their removal from these tables. Nevertheless, at the national level, some pointers do become clear, especially as the funding between academies and maintained schools is now roughly the same for most of their government funded revenue income. They do, of course have different accounting years, and this can affect issues such as spend on salaries and the payment of increments.

If the average percentage of revenue income held as balances by maintained schools  is considered, this has now started reducing after a long period when the percentage was on the increase in both the primary and secondary sectors.

Maintained  Schools:

Total revenue balance as a % of total revenue income

Primary Secondary
2009-10 5.9% 3.2%
2010-11 6.6% 3.9%
2011-12 7.9% 5.6%
2012-13 7.9% 6.2%
2013-14 7.9% 6.4%
2014-15 8.2% 5.0%
2015-16 8.4% 4.6%
2016-17 7.4% 3.0%

This is the first year that the primary sector has recorded a decline in balances as a percentage of revenue income. In the secondary sector, the decline started in 2014-15 and there has now been three years of declining revenue balances overall.

For schools with a deficit, overall the aggregate position is also deteriorating:

Primary Secondary
2009-10 (3.5)% (4.0)%
2010-11 (3.6)% (4.8)%
2011-12 (3.7)% (5.7)%
2012-13 (3.1)% (5.2)%
2013-14 (2.9)% (5.8)%
2014-15 (3.3)% (7.3)%
2015-16 (3.0)% (7.7)%
2016-17 (3.5)% (8.4)%

Again, the position is worse in the secondary sector. This may be partly due to the remaining secondary schools that haven’t converted to academy status being more likely to be in deficit. Of the remaining maintained secondary schools included in the data for 2016-17, 26% had a deficit budget compared with just 7% of primary schools. This may also reflect the fact that rolls have been rising across the primary sector but falling until this year across the secondary sector.

The average spend on teaching staff increased in the primary sector by £68 per pupil and in the secondary sector by £58 per pupil over the two years 2015-16 and 2016-17. In the same period, the primary sector reduced running costs by £30 per pupil and secondary sector by £25 per pupil.

Schools overall increased non-government revenue income by £25 per pupil in the primary sector and £13 in the secondary sector in this period. Some of this is just income taken in to cover the costs of trips, meals and other expenses, but it also includes parental contributions and donations.

Overall, the figures show that the squeeze on income is now really beginning to affect schools, especially in the secondary sector. These figures back up the complaints of secondary head teachers about their funding levels. With general inflation now over three per cent and the  need to offer recruitment and retention payments to counteract below inflation pay increases, the next few years are going to be challenging times for maintained schools, and almost certainly for academies as well.

Schools can no longer rely on dipping into their saving for a rainy day: that day has now arrived and the cash is being used up.