Leadership turnover and Free School Meals

Earlier this summer I published a post about vacancies and the Free School Meal percentages of schools. I promised that I would look at headteacher turnover by the percentage of Fee School Meals at those schools advertising for a new headteacher this year.

The data by regions for the period of adverts from 1st January 2022 until last Friday is in the table below

1st JAN TO 19th AUGUST 20220-9.9% on FSM10-19.9% on FSM20%+ on FSM
East Midlands29%32%39%100%
East of England28%40%32%100%
North East21%25%54%100%
North West30%27%43%100%
South East40%32%28%100%
South West24%43%34%100%
West Midlands24%30%46%100%
Yorkshire & Humber24%27%49%100%
Source: TeachVac

Now this is a crude piece of analysis, as it just takes the school and places it in one of three bands for Free School Meals percentage at the school, as recorded by the DfE. The table also incudes both primary and secondary schools, and also does not distinguish between schools that have only advertised one and those that have advertised more than once. There has been a discussion about trends in re-advertising amongst primary schools using data from one authority in another recent post on this blog.

Anyway, urban areas, not surprisingly, have the highest percentages of schools in the 20% plus grouping, with London having 54% of advertised headships from such schools, compared with 32% of headships in the South East and 32% in the East of England falling in this grouping; both areas with high employment and significant areas of affluence. The South East had the largest percentage of schools in the lowest groups of less than 10% of pupils in the school eligible for Free School Meals. This compared with just 21% in London and the North East regions schools that have advertised for a new headteacher.

If I have time, I will look at both re-advertisements and create a standard number based upon the size of the school roll to consider whether this has any effect. Separating out primary and secondary schools, and perhaps schools of a religious character and other schools might also be interesting.

We can expect the current average of 22.5% of pupils eligible for Free School Meals to increase as any recession bites. How much may depend upon how government help with energy bills is counted in a family income total.

Teacher vacancies and Free School Meals

Do schools with high percentages of pupils eligible for Free School Meals have higher staff turnover than schools with lower percentages of pupils on Free School Meals?

One of the advantages of TeachVac and the data it collects is that it allows questions such as that to be answered in ‘real time’. As the recruitment round for September is now in effects over, with the start of the summer holidays, it is an appropriate time to ask that question for the 2022 Labour Market.

This blog last considered this question in 2021 Free School Meals and staff turnover | John Howson (wordpress.com) at the end of May 2021.

This year, I have just looked at the data for vacancies from one ‘shire’ county for vacancies recorded by TeachVac between 1st January 2022 and 22nd July 2022, effectively the end of the summer term.

The secondary schools in the selected authority, mostly academies, were split into three groups: those with a Free School Meal (FSM) percentage of pupils up to 10% of roll; those with FSM between 10-20% of their roll and those with FSM over 20% of their pupils as reported by the DfE.

FSM percentageNumber of SchoolsRecorded vacanciesVacancies per school
20%+  628146.0
 Source TeachVac

The table doesn’t take into account school sizes, nor the additional demands of new schools increasing their staffing as pupil numbers increase. Even allowing for these factors, the trend seems clear. Schools with more pupils on Free School Meals as a percentage of all pupils in this local authority during 2022 tended to create more vacancies per school than schools with lower Free School Meal pupils. The DfE doesn’t have a consistent reporting point for FSM percentages, and schools may update their percentage during the school-year.

Also, some secondary schools may be better than others at persuading families to register pupils eligible for Free School Meals, and some schools, such as faith schools, may be more popular with particular types of parents. There might also be a gender effect, as there are both single sex schools and co-educational school with in the authority.

The difference between 16 and 11-18 schools is not an issue in this authority, as most schools are 11-18 schools. However, there are some very large schools, although they do not fall within the highest FSM band. At least one school was constrained to some extent by pupil numbers and budgetary considerations from making appointments, and their vacancy number might be considered low. However, as that school was in the highest FSM band, it might have increased the number for the schools in that band even more if it had needed and been able to recruit more teachers.

This data is based on classroom teacher vacancies. Later, I will look at the much smaller number of leadership vacancies to see whether the same trend is visible at more senior levels.

Schools and their teachers

Today, the DfE published it annual update of statistics about key features of the school system in England. https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/school-workforce-in-england for the school workforce based upon 2020 census taken last November and https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2021 for school, pupils and their characteristics based upon January returns.

There are a mass of data in the two publications that will take time to work through. One highlight is that the percentage of teachers retained after one year of service continued its downward decline, but retention rates for those with longer service reversed the downward trend of recent years to register improvements. This may, of course, be due to the lack of opportunities for new jobs, both within and outwith schools that was the result of the covid pandemic. The 2021 census will confirm whether this is a reversal of a trend or just a blip.

It would be necessary to see the actual numbers and not percentages and the balance between the primary sector and secondary schools before commenting in detail on the one-year retention rate decline. The start of the reduction in primary rolls might have meant some temporary posts weren’t replaced, but the data in its present form cannot answer that question.

England is increasingly being divided into two nations in terms of the ethnicity of its teaching force. The North East still has 99% of its primary, and 98% of its secondary teachers classified as White, whereas Inner London has 27% of its primary and 35% of its secondary school teachers classified as from minority groupings. These percentages in Inner London have been increasing steadily over the past five years. There are policy implications behind the percentages, especially when the percentages are disaggregated to local authority levels. What are the consequences for Society as a whole if this uneven distribution continues?

One outcome arising from the pandemic has been the increase in pupils claiming Free School Meals – up from 17.3% in 2020 to20.8% in 2021. This represents some 1.74 million pupils. Over 420,000 pupils have become eligible for free school meals since the first lockdown on 23 March 2020. This compares to 292,000 for the same period (March 2019 to Jan 2020) before the pandemic. However, due to the change in Pupil Premium rules schools will not fully benefit from the funding through the Pupil Premium and Catch-up funds that are linked to Free School Meal numbers. As the Jon Andrews of the Education Policy Institute notes:

“Today’s figures are a further indication that the government’s change to how the pupil premium is allocated means that pupils and schools are now missing out on vital funding. These losses are found not only in the pupil premium itself but in other areas such as catch-up funding for disadvantaged pupils, which is closely linked to it.

“The Department for Education should now publish its analysis of the impact of this decision on pupil premium allocations and clarify whether any savings from this have been redistributed.”

The number of unqualified teachers has remained broadly stable across primary, secondary and special schools for both male and female teachers with a slight downward trend in the primary sector for the number of unqualified female teachers.

There is much more to explore in the detail of the time series, and I hope to write a few more blogs over the coming days.

Free School Meals and staff turnover

Is the level of Free School Meals (FSM) recorded by a school reflected in the level of staff turnover? Do secondary schools with the highest FSM percentages record more staff turnover than schools with relatively low percentage of pupils on Free School Meals?

TeachVac can compare its data on vacancies to date in 2021 with the DfE’s published information on Free School Meals. The end of May normally marks the point where most schools have completed their staffing for September, and existing staff have reached the point where they may resign at the endo of this school year.

As a result, it was relatively easy to look at TeachVac’s vacancy data for the period form 1st January up to Friday 28th May and compare staff turnover against the percentage of pupils on Free School Meals. However, staff turnover is affected by a number of features. A new school may have relatively few pupils, but be adding staff as the school grows in size. Schools in different areas vary in size, with some schools of over 2,000 pupils and some schools in rural areas with only around 500 pupils, and no post-16 provision.

In order to take account of school size, the number of pupils on roll was divided by the recorded number of vacancies recorded by TeachVac. Thus, a school with 1,000 pupils and 5 vacancies between January and May would create an index figure of 200, whereas a similar size school with 10 vacancies would have recorded an index figure of 100. The lower the index number, the greater the turnover of staff.

This method doesn’t take account of growing schools, so it could be possible for a school with few pupils on Free School meals to still record a low index score if it was growing in size. The absence of a vacancy identifying number also complicated the issue because repeat advertisements may possibly being recorded. TeachVac does its best to eliminate such adverts.

An analysis was conducted into the outcomes in terms of recorded vacancies during the first five months of 2021 for secondary schools across the West Midlands region whose data was captured by TeachVac. The region contains rural areas such as most of the county of Herefordshire and urban areas such as Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry.

The first look at the TeachVac data suggests that for schools with a Free School Meal percentage of less than 20% there is little difference in the index score. The majority of schools had a score of 300 or less, suggesting relatively high levels of vacancies regardless of the percentage of pupils on Free School Meals.

For schools with Free School Meals above 20% of the school population there was a trend towards schools with higher FSM percentages having a higher turnover index score. 16 of the 20 schools recorded with a FSM percentage above 40% had turnover indexes below 250 per pupil, and most of these schools had an index of below 200 per pupil.

One caveat must be that 2021 is not a ‘normal’ recruitment cycle. In some schools there has been an element of ‘catch-up’ in recruitment following the period between March and September 2020 when most teacher recruitment slowed to almost a complete halt. It would be possible to compare the 2021 data with that for 2018 and 2019 in order to see whether there has been a ‘covid’ effect and if certain schools have been more affected? There may also be both a rural and small school effect. As some parts of the West Midlands still have selective schools that is another variable that needs consideration.

Nevertheless, this quick first look at the data from one region does raise questions about teacher supply and the issue of policy towards ‘leveling up’. Can a market-based approach to teacher supply create the improvements in outcomes for pupils if schools with high levels of Free School Meals if such schools are finding staff recruitment more of a challenge than their neighbours with lower percentages of Free School Meals?

Nourishing beverages

Those with a sense of education history, in this the 150th anniversary year of state schooling, will recall the last time a Conservative government became embroiled in a row over food and drink in schools. During the government of Edward Heath, Mrs Thatcher was Secretary of State for Education. Her term of office in education is generally remembered for two event. As Secretary of State she presided over the conversion of more schools to non-selective education than any other Minister, whilst also raising the school leaving age to sixteen.

However, it was her decision to remove the daily third of a pint of free school milk from pupils that is most often recalled as the defining moment of her term in office at Elizabeth House. The decision gave rise to the great slogan Mrs Thatcher: milk snatcher that was up there with the other food slogans of the era: ‘drink a pint of milk and day’ and ‘beans meanz …’

The milk campaign was brought back to my mind during the present campaign for free school meals to be extended to cover all of the year when schools are not in session. Then, as now, some local authorities decided to intervene. After all, this was time when local government had much more involvement with the day to day running of our schools than is the case now.

At least two authorities, including Hillingdon that is again in the news over free school meals, decided to try and stand out against the decision to remove school milk. They know that they couldn’t provide milk, but lawyers identified that there was nothing in the rules to say that they couldn’t provide other liquids. In one case it was to be orange juice and in the other what was described as a ‘nourishing beverage’. At this distance of time, I cannot recall exactly what was to constitute such a beverage, but I guess it was to be hot in winter and cold in the summer months.

In the end, nothing long-term came of these proposals, and free daily milk during term-time for all except the very youngest pupils disappeared from our schools. Later, as Prime minister, Mrs Thatcher was to preside over the wholesale dismantlement of both the school meal system and the teaching of cookery in the curriculum.

In my earliest days working with trainee teachers, sitting in a double period practical cookery lesson being taken by a 4th Year undergraduate was one of the joys of higher education. Watching Key Stage 4 boys in chef’s whites prepare a buffet for a parent’s evening was another delight. There was a sense of purpose and engagement in a group that might have possibly been disaffected by the Ebacc curriculum.

Although you can now learn to cook using YouTube videos, it isn’t the same as working in a group and is no preparation for a career in catering.

The ingenuity of local government then, as now, knew no bounds. However, far too often today central government is unhappy with such actions. I hope, until the government sees sense on feeding children during the pandemic that local leaders will continue to come up with solutions for their local communities.

Can a mean be mean?

When I first moved from teaching in a Tottenham secondary school to higher education in Oxford I brought with me an interest in the disparity of funding for schools. Partly this was because working in Haringey, and having been brought up right on the border with the London County Council – by then the Inner London Education Authority – I was aware of the disparity of funding for schools in Haringey compared with those just across the border in Hackney.

One of the early books I read on the subject was by John Pratt and his co-authors and was entitled ‘Depriving the Deprived’. Published in 1979 by what was then, Kogan Page. The book was based upon research that looked at school funding in one London borough over the course of a single year.

I was reminded of this when looking at the latest Free School Meals data for England, published by the DfE last Thursday. As a measure of potential deprivation it as good as it goes. If you consider Oxfordshire, generally rightly regarded as an affluent part of South East England, by the data on Free School Meals taken on census day for the six parliamentary constituencies, you find the following

% of children on Free School Meals on Census day Oxfordshire’s constituencies ranks

Oxford West

& Abingdon                           8th lowest out of 534 

Henley                                   28th lowest

Witney                                  35th lowest

Wantage                               55th lowest

Banbury                                94th lowest

Oxford East                        237th lowest -.i.e. about halfway 

Within Oxford East, some wards will be even worse ranked than others. Now this shouldn’t matter with a National Funding Formula for schools. But it does, because not all the funding calculations take into account differences between schools, rather than between local authorities. Indeed, if each district council area was a unitary council with education responsibility their funding might be different. But, none of the districts are large enough to ‘go it alone’ in the present funding regime.

As a result of the general affluence of Oxfordshire, the nine most deprived council wards in the county; five of which are in Oxford East constituency; three in Banbury and the other one in Oxford West and Abingdon constituency, probably lose out on funding compared to if they were part of a urban area. Such funding arrangements do not help close the achievement gap between high performing areas and the lowest performing schools in the county.

Now, of course, if all secondary schools in the county were in a single Multi-Academy Trust, the Trust could move funds around to mean the extra need of schools in deprived area, albeit by reducing the amount some schools received. However, with many different Trusts, and one remaining maintained secondary school, this option isn’t possible.

Another option of creating an ‘Opportunity Area’, used by Conservative governments in some other parts of the country, mostly in the North of England, doesn’t seem to be open to East Oxford, even though it has been suggested as an option.

So, taking the mean as a measure of funding may really mean depriving those living in some areas 40 years after the issue was exposed in one London borough.