System autonomy or a system for the future?

Hard on the publication of the report from the social Mobility Commission, headlined in the previous post, comes a report from the Centre for Education Economics, the re-named CMRE or Centre for Market Reform in Education. This is a body that avowedly believes in market solutions to improving education. Their report is entitled ‘Optimising Autonomy; a blueprint [sic] for reform. http://www.cfee.org.uk/sites/default/files/Optimising%20autonomy%20-%20Web%20.pdf?utm_source=CMRE+News+and+Events&utm_campaign=15cd691116-The+Centre+for+Education+Economics&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_9bd023bfaa-15cd691116-92109333

Now, generally I find the former CMRE view often too market orientated for my taste, but this new report by James Croft bears reading as it makes some interesting observations. I remain un-reformed in my view that if the democratic process has a place in education at a national level then it also has at a more local level. This report does at least recognise some role for local authorities, but it might be better if they were to have worked through case studies of what can actually happen. How much might bussing in rural areas cost to achieve greater parental choice and is it worth the expenditure. A key question surely for a centre concerned with economics one would have imagined.

I also conclude that if competition was such a good idea then large retail chains would not impose the discipline that they do on their stores. I think, more important, as I have said at two different conferences this week, is the issue of technological change and our approach to education. The ‘free marketers’ have become too obsessed with the ‘wrong’ question of parental choice and have missed the issue of how education should respond to a changing environment and what the consequences are for the system as a whole.

Before 1870, England assumed that parents that wanted education would seek it out and pay for it. With the advent of greater suffrage and votes for all came the thinking about educating the electorate and a necessity for State intervention; something many other countries had already embarked upon. Parents often now choose to rectify the deficiencies of the State system through paying for private tutoring and home schooling is on the increase.

I think a centre dedicated to education economics might well look beyond the issue of for profit or not in schools and widen the debate into ‘for profit’ activities in education and how we achieve the aims of social mobility discussed in the previous post. Especially, what part will changes in technology play in the future shape of learning for our citizens and their families?

The general election was a good example of backward thinking, with the debate largely about selective education. Why should the State pay for this form of education over any other. Again, an interesting question for economists to discuss. I suspect the return on State investment is much greater with non-selective education across all government services. But such a calculation is notoriously difficult to undertake effectively.

I am interested to know where Labour stand in the debate on the politics and economics of schooling. As a left-winger for most of his career, does Mr Corbyn want to see a return to full State control and is that local or national. After all, Labour nationalised the NHS in the 1940s, so presumably is comfortable in keeping schools out of local democratic control?

 

Another aspect of the funding problem

What happens if a large secondary school at the centre of a multi-academy trust comprising a mix of both primary schools and a secondary school goes bust, perhaps because the original founders made some unwise decisions and there was then a drop in applications from local parents to send their children to the secondary school, aware that teachers were leaving the schools and concerned that standards might slip as a result? Or because there was an outflow of EU nationals from the area now Article 50 has been triggered.

Does the failure of the secondary school bring down all the primary schools in the MAT as well or can they survive on their own. At what point should the trustees decide to cut a financially unviable school adrift and will the Education Funding Agency allow them to do so if there are other assets in the MAT that might keep the school going for longer?

I am sure that there are civil servants in Coventry thinking about these types of scenario and perhaps role-playing them with Regional School Commissioners. How far have they progressed in their thinking should the MAT has a faith base and all the schools within it belong to the same faith or Christian denomination?

Sitting in the wings is the local authority, with whom the ultimate authority for providing every pupil with a school place still resides. What happens if the school that has just become financially unviable is in a rural area and the places at other schools require a large increase in the school transport bill? Who picks up the tab?

Obviously, the ideal solution is for the school buildings to open under a new administration, but will the government allow that to happen if it means writing off the debts of a school. To do so might encourage other schools to run up large deficit budgets, secure in the knowledge that the government will bail them out. One answer might be for the government to replace the trustees. But at what point? As soon as a deficit budget position is reached? When the deficit going forward looks as if it will reach a pre-determined percentage of current turnover after taking any falling rolls and thus falling income into account? If the financially unviable school is a faith school, can a new faith school replace it? To do so might well save on transport costs, but a replacement school that wasn’t faith-based might allow for transport savings. Of course, much will depend upon who has the ownership of the buildings?

With the demise of several UTCs and studio schools, plus a small number of other academies, these scenarios are no longer in the realm of the unthinkable. But, does there need to be a level playing field with some clear and open guidelines that don’t encourage schools to create deficits on their revenue spending.

At present, there is the ‘financial notice to improve’ from the EFA, but, the issue is what happens when the school or MAT doesn’t do so for reasons beyond its control? Time to re-read the Academies Financial handbook.

 

Making money from schools

Why would anyone want to take the risk of running a ‘for profit’ school when there are so many easier way to make money out of state education? At one time, companies and foundations from the USA and Sweden were going to revolutionise schooling in England, while making a profit at the same time. Seems it didn’t happen quite that way. The academies that both the Erudition Schools Trust and the Learning Schools Trust opened have all been re-brokered away from the groups that originally founded them and now both of the groups are seemingly no more.

Another education experiment originally from the age of new Labour capitalism has bitten the dust. But, that doesn’t mean you cannot make money from schools. Books, furniture, resources, services such as accountancy, human relations, payroll and legal services, as well as construction and the maintenance of school buildings and facilities can all be offered at a profit. Then, as regular readers know, there is the recruitment industry that thrives on helping schools find staff.

Many years ago, in 1999 to be precise, the then Education Select Committee started an inquiry into ‘The role of private companies in the management and supply of state education services’. I don’t think it was ever completed.  I noted in my written submission that J S Mill had taken the view  in his essay  entitled On Liberty that the role of the state was to ensure the education of its citizens and not necessarily to operate the schools. The question was, and still is, how can The State achieve its end of educating its citizens without paying more of taxpayers’ money than is necessary?

The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee are there to see that where possible public funds are used judiciously. I would say wisely, but I am not sure that is always the case. Mill, was convinced that the State should not necessarily run the service of education. But are politicians and these days, educationalists, any better at obtaining value for money if the service is run by others: sometimes not.

In 1999, I pointed out that the CEO of an education company with a turnover of £48 million earned £122,000 whereas a Chief Education Officer, remember them, of an authority with an education budget of more than £150 million didn’t even earn a six figure salary.  Presumably, the difference was the price to be paid for risk. You can find the same differentials today between CEOs of MATs and chief officers in local authorities, but with, in my opinion, less justification.

Some of us do try to challenge the orthodoxy, by taking the disruptive approach allowed by new technology. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk is one such attempt. Like Twitter, Facebook and many other on-line service sit is free to users and makes its money in other ways. In the case of TeachVac, analysing the growing amount of data and using it to provide additional paid services.

With growing concerns about school funding it is time to develop mechanisms for driving down private sector charges to schools. The government’s recent initiative in IT procurement is a good example of what can be achieved.

Is there a headship crisis?

According to a story in The Times today, one in ten schools is losing its head teacher each year. Reading the headlines of the story, outside the pay wall, there are examples of schools advertising up to seven times to find a replacement and of schools without a permanent head for three years. Local authorities, still seemingly worth talking to about schools, even by this Tory supporting newspaper, tell of high turnover of heads and head teachers of small schools being enticed away to larger schools by promises of more money. All this makes for a crisis.

Between the early 1980s and 2012, I studies the labour market for head teachers on a regular basis. I stopped, partly because I didn’t’ think there was a crisis at that time and partly because I left my long-term database with my former employers. Since the establishment of TeachVac, I have gradually started to rebuild the data on leadership turnover and will report fully this time next year when there is sufficient comparative data.

A turnover of ten per cent isn’t, in historical terms, anything out of the ordinary, especially as some of the total will have been made up from head teachers required for new schools due to increasing pupil numbers and the 14-18 UTCs and studio schools as well as genuine ‘free schools’. Although there probably not as many of these as a previous Secretary of State might have wished.

For most of the early part of this century, re-advertisement rates for secondary heads were in the 20%+ range; for primary schools, the rate exceeded 30% in most years between 1997/98 and 2009/10, so re-advertisements are nothing new in the leadership market. Indeed, recruiters have made a tidy sum from encouraging schools to take ever larger and glossier advertisements on the basis of recruitment challenges. As regular readers know, TeachVac challenges this principle by offering a free service.

Any school seeking a new head teacher for September that advertises in January and runs a sensible recruitment round should have no problems recruiting unless it has one or more of the following characteristics:

It is a faith school,

It is located in London,

It is a small or very large school,

If a secondary school, it is single-sex or selective (or a secondary modern in a selective area).

Two or more factors and it needs to consider carefully how to recruit a new head teacher, especially if outside of the normal recruitment season from January to March where around 50% of vacancies are advertised each year.

Advertising outside the first quarter of the year, when fewer candidates are looking to move schools, is also often a waste of money, as is putting off candidates through the content of the advertisement or taking a long time over the process; candidates often apply for several posts and may be hired by another school if the process is too long.

Being a school in challenging circumstances has become more of a handicap as MATs and governing bodies seem to think the head teacher needs changing if there is a poor Ofsted report or a disappointing set of examination or test results. There are cases where a change of leadership is appropriate, but not, in my view, in every case.

Without a mandatory qualification for headship, it is difficult to know in details the size of the talent pool for future head teachers, something that should worry those responsible for the system at the EFA and NCTL, since a lack of supply will always drive up the price of a good or commodity and headship is no different to any other type of job in that respect.

At least some head teachers can look forward to recognition through the honours system, and I was delighted to see Professor John Furlong honoured in the latest list for his lifetime of work in teacher education. John, your OBE is a well-deserved mark of respect.

 

 

 

Bring back local democracy for schools

At the last county council meeting in Oxfordshire we discussed school organisation and the government’s proposals for making all schools academies. During the debate one Tory councillor said he didn’t believe in the need for trained teachers. As he is the Tory representative on the committee overseeing the Police & Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley I asked him bluntly whether I could enrol as a police officer without training and, if so, could I be issued with a firearm? Not surprisingly, he said the two jobs were different.

In the past I have asked journalists that question me on the need for teacher training whether I could become their editor without having been a journalist; most say that’s not how it works. Of course, it is the way it worked in the past as Lord Adonis will tell you if you ask what training he received before becoming the education reporter at the Financial Times.

With this background of establishment belief that anyone can be a teacher, and indeed run a school, I read this week’s Profile interview in Schools Week with interest. This is a regular series that I was proud to be part of when it first started and they were looking volunteers to interview. This week the interviewee was Toby Young, http://schoolsweek.co.uk/toby-young-free-school-chief-executive/ He was the man that helped start the free school movement and has more recently been paid £50,000 a year as CEO of the Trust, according to the last accounts of the MAT that now runs three schools in West London and is about to open a fourth (visit https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/07493696/filing-history and click on accounts for details).

According to Toby Young in his Schools Week interview he said;

“I was very critical of England’s public education system under the last Labour government, and I hadn’t grasped how difficult it is to do better, and to bring about system-wide improvement.

“The last government and this government have achieved a remarkable amount, and I do think the direction of travel is the right direction, but there is no question that it was arrogant of me to believe that just having high expectations and believing in the benefits of a knowledge-based education for all, that those things alone would be enough to create successful schools.”

 “As someone coming into education from the outside, the bits you see of other schools are only the tip of the iceberg. You’re not aware of everything that is going on beneath the surface. You think, ‘well, I could do better than that’, as you are pointing to the tip of the iceberg, without realising how much more there is to it.”

He sighs. “If I could rewind six years, and know then what I know now, I would have been much less critical of other schools, local authorities, and England’s public education system in general.”

At this point I might rest my case for a return to local democratic control after the Thatcher/Blair assault on local government’s role in education. Sure, there were bad local authorities and taking control of them for a period has been a good idea, but throwing the baby out with the bath water was plain daft.

If Toby Young had seen free schools as a new type of voluntary school for the 21st century then much of the grief of the past few years might have been avoided and the government wouldn’t have been faced with having to make Friday’s –U- turn.

However, the job is only half done. We still need a governance system for schools that is credible, reliable and is geared to improving outcomes for all young people at every stage of the education process. Personally, I believe that should involve democratically elected local representatives in mutli-service authorities responsible to a single government department at Westminster.

A first step would be to identify how many system leaders we need and where we are going to find them? We also need to train them in a first-class education leadership academy led by professionals but supported by those with a wide range of skills. Something like the concept I mentioned in a recent post. Toby Young may have good ideas, but perhaps he has now discovered that good intentions are not enough.

Oh, and by the way, his MAT has been looking for a chief finance officer http://www.wlfsat.org/vacancies although the vacancy for a CEO has yet to appear on their web site.

Another market failure

Two studio schools for 14-18 year olds in the midlands are to close because of a failure to recruit enough students. This is how the message was announced by the trust responsible for the schools.

The Midland Academies Trust is to change the learning provision for students at its studio schools in Hinckley and Nuneaton.  Students will now be given the opportunity to continue their studies at other schools within the Trust supported by North Warwickshire and Hinckley College.  They will continue with the specialist CREATE Framework, supported by personal coaches and enjoy work experience arrangements aligned with the key features of the studio school model.

The decision comes as increasing financial pressures due to low pupil recruitment make the economic viability of small schools hugely challenging. The studio schools cater for 300 students each (600 in total) but there are currently a total of 157 pupils on roll across both schools. Year 10 and Year 12 students will be given the opportunity to continue their studies at either The George Eliot School or The William Bradford Academy from January 2016.  Current staff will continue to work with them and they will continue with their work placements and relationships with employers.

The Year 11 and Year 13 students will remain at the studio schools until the end of the academic year. – See more at: http://www.msc.leics.sch.uk/news?story=47#sthash.Ho3nB2FV.dpuf

At least the examination year pupils are to be catered for without the need to move school just over a term and a half before their examinations. Hopefully, they won’t experience any serious staff changes.

The Trust responsible for the two schools posted this announcement on the 1st December. As I pointed out when the UTC in the west midlands announced its closure in the spring, local authorities weren’t allowed to just shut down a school at short-notice.

Indeed, it is probably time that the EFA has talks with the government about a protocol on closure procedures, especially where it is due to financial viability. With the first stage of the admissions process now largely finished for 2016, a stress test, like that applied to the banks, should be administered by the EFA to all schools it funds and a list of those at risk published so that parents can decide whether moving their child at 14 is really a sensible idea.

In many ways I think the notion of a 14-18 sector is a good one and some of the schools are already flourishing with good recruitment, but many aren’t. After all, why would a school want to wave goodbye to four years of possible funding by encouraging students to change school at 14 unless by doing so their results improved.

Market failure, especially in new products, isn’t unusual. These schools do represent a new type of schooling that may need more marketing to parents. Whether we should be experimenting in an age of austerity where the government wants to take a billion pounds out of education procurement – presumably including spending on marketing – is an interesting question.

Could the same result have been achieved just by general further education colleges widening their offering to the 14-16 age-group? What are the real costs of each of these new UTCs and studio schools? As I have said elsewhere, each school needs a head teacher and other leadership staff. This puts pressure on the pool of leaders that isn’t an inexhaustible supply, making it more difficult for every school looking for a new leader.

However, the biggest question for debate is that of how far our education system should be organised on market principles?

No more free market for teachers

The North of England Education Conference may have diminished in status over the years, but it hasn’t completely lost its role as a major source of policy announcements, especially in relation to teachers and school leaders. This year, both the Chief Inspector, Michael Wilshaw, and Minister of State, David Laws, used their speeches to the conference to hammer very hefty nails into the long-held doctrine of the market as the solution to all public sector problems by suggesting that teachers – and heads – should be matched to schools where their services are most needed. This is a radical break from the practice of the last 50 years when schools have become used to advertising vacancies, and teachers have been free to choose which ones to apply for.

HMCI talked of a “national strategy” to ensure we place ‘good teachers in schools that face the greatest challenges’, while the Minister announced a ‘pool of top talent within the profession, a champions league of head teachers, made up of heads and deputy heads, who will stand ready to move to schools in challenging circumstances that need outstanding leaders’.

From the policy of matching initial appointments of trainees to schools for their first appointment it is but a short step to the idea of then moving teachers between schools. To do this most effectively schools need to be grouped geographically in a manner that most academy chains, with the possible exception of Harris and some ARK schools, clearly are not. No doubt this will be a point the new school Commissioners will not be slow in making to their boss as they waste large amounts of time travelling around their bailiwicks.

However, the idea of assigning more senior “champions league” head teachers to schools, and possibly moving them long distances, as might happen under David Laws’ plans for heads to be parachuted into failing schools, must come with  terms and conditions that are attractive enough to encourage staff to sign up to the proposals. As we know, most heads, especially in the primary sector, only apply for posts within their existing travel to work areas: this is hopefully something that has been researched properly before the Minister made his announcement.

Now, I have always thought it daft that the weakest NQTs had to wait to find a teaching job, and in some cases were left without a teaching post for some time so that when they did eventually find a vacancy (after term had started) they were even more in need of further help than if they had been hired at the start of term. Of course, if there are more than enough teachers of good quality to go around that isn’t an issue. However since teacher supply is already under pressure in some subjects, and at risk of becoming even worse in 2014, the debate threatens to become academic as some schools will just need a teacher to fill their vacancy. David Laws has no doubt taken advice about the outcome of Labour’s Fast Track Scheme of the early 2000s before launching another national staffing initiative.

Linking training and employment will also help identify whether I was correct in 2008 in coining the phrase, admittedly about the primary sector, of ‘training in cathedral cities to teach in inner cities’ to characterise those who trained in one sort of environment, but found employment in an entirely different setting. Not everyone agreed with me, and there are those that think you can train anywhere to teach in any school. The new HMI inspection evidence will help clarify the situation.

Finally, it will be interesting to see what Mr. Taylor, has to say on Friday morning at the conference. Last year in Sheffield he proclaimed the end to central planning for teacher supply. However, this year, the message now seems to be that the new NSS (National School Service) will look increasingly like the NHS – and be equally devoid of democratic accountability.