School Funding heads for the long grass?

Efficiency saving all round are being used to camouflage the lack of significant extra cash for schools during a period of rising school rolls. The Secretary of State’s statement to parliament, made earlier this afternoon, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/justine-greening-statement-to-parliament-on-school-funding has to be read very carefully to disentangle the rhetoric from the reality.

There will be a national funding formula, but not fully until post 2019-20 when a new spending round will be in place. Until then there will be the following;

  • Increase the basic amount that every pupil will attract in 2018-19 and 2019-20;
  • For the next two years, provide for up to 3% gains a year per pupil for underfunded schools, and a 0.5% a year per pupil cash increase for every school;
  • Continue to protect funding for pupils with additional needs, as we proposed in December.

So, 0.5% will be the basic increase per pupil; will it even cover inflation? What are underfunded schools? Will the increases be enough to offset the inevitable pay increase that will be necessary at some point to stop the loss of teachers from the profession and under-recruitment of new entrants into training? Why set a minimum of £4,800 for secondary school pupils, but no minimum for primary schools? What will this mean for small rural primary schools, are they to be abandoned to their fate?

In their manifesto the Conservatives said no school would lose out as had been proposed in the national funding formula, but it is not clear if the final decision on that point is now being handed to local School Forums and whether this manifesto pledge is being honoured in terms of the primary sector other than through the 0.5% per pupil increase and the up to 3% for under-funded schools? Since there might have been an expectation of a cost of living increase anyway has the 0.5% replaced the cost of living increase? Is it 0.5% per year or across the two years? Some winner now don’t look like seeing the gains that they had expected.

However, primary schools are to receive more cash through their PE and sports premium funding. This may be good news for unemployed PE teachers in some parts of the country, but not for secondary schools that might want to have employed them as maths or science teachers.

The Secretary of State made clear that the £1.3 billion additional investment in core schools funding which she announced today will be funded in full from efficiencies and savings She said,  ‘I have identified from within my Department’s existing budget, rather than higher taxes or more debt’. By making savings and efficiencies, the Secretary of State said that she is ‘maximising the proportion of my Department’s budget which is allocated directly to frontline head teachers – who can then use their professional expertise to ensure that it is spent where it will have the greatest possible impact.’

At TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk we are happy to help by promoting the free national job board that costs schools nothing to place adverts for teachers. We will even extend it to handle support staff for a relatively small further investment.

A wise Secretary of State would have established a joint commission with the teacher associations to work on these central efficiency gains and in doing so help to neutralise the inevitable complaints from those who projects are being cut, especially if they include spending on professional development. Will, I wonder, the £10 million tender to recruit overseas teachers still go ahead and what will happen to the campaigns to encourage new entrants into teaching?

Finally, I am interested to read that one group of consultants will be retained; those to trawl over the budgets of schools in deficit.

Abolish tuition fees?

When I wrote back in April about the iniquity of the hike in repayments rates on student fee debt to 6.1% hardly anyone noticed https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/debt-hike-for-teachers/ That’s the price you pay for being ahead of the game. Then came Labour’s abolish fees pledge during the general election and there is now a growing groundswell on the issue, further fuelled by the fall in applicant numbers reported by UCAS this week.

So far, few have tried to put the debate in even the wider education funding agenda, let along government funding policy as a whole. As I argued in my earlier piece, cutting student fees might mean losing or postponing some other project either in education or society more widely unless the funds can be generated from an increase in taxation somewhere else. There might also be the unintended, or I assume unintended, consequence of reducing further social mobility if the abolition of fees and their replacement with direct payment for university places by the government led to a cap on places. Those that could afford to pay for extra tuition might scoop the bulk of available places, leaving others less well-off to claim only any reserved places under government mandated schemes or unfashionable subjects in unpopular universities.

Earlier in the century there were schemes to help young people save for expenses like tuition fees so that they would not be the burden they now are seen to be. I am not sure what happened to them? It is interesting that the insurance market also never saw saving for tuition fees as a necessary product, presumably because parents with young children were seen as not having the level of disposable income to fund such schemes in advance. As I said in April, at the present time it would be more cost effective for families to increase their mortgages than to incur student debt in terms of current repayment levels.

The risk is that in the present political climate judgements will be made on votes to be won rather than sound economic or social policy. But, then fees were increased to £9,000 probably without much thought for either issue and certainly no rationale as to why a classroom subject would cost that sum to deliver. Anyway, the concern must be that a Conservative strategist sees abolishing fees as spiking Labour’s guns with young voters and so worth doing ahead of sorting out the mess with funding social care or even the NHS.

Although there are many worthy articles written about the rationality of government financing, in the end it comes down to plain old horse trading and what works politically. With the number of eighteen year olds set to fall, part-time students numbers already having been decimated and no EU students to pay for, the government could well explore a deal with universities of fees paid for home students, but higher full-cost fees for overseas and non-government funded students. The government could also rebalance the subject offering so as to demonstrate to Conservative voters that they have wiped out subject that shouldn’t be degrees and moved them into the new apprenticeship sector. That might play well with those that think there are too many students wasting three years at university. So, whether fees survive looks increasingly like a political decision based on electoral strategy and the date of the next general election.

 

Celebrating school music services

Last evening I attended the Oxfordshire Music Service annual end of year concert. The setting was the lovely one of Dorchester Abbey, although the pews do seem rather harder than a few years ago. Music has played a large part in the post-war education scene. This is despite successive governments from the 1980s onwards often seeing it as a dispensable extra activity. The fact that this was the 75th year the Oxfordshire Music Service has been in operation and it is now working at arm’s length from the local authority is a tribute to all who care about what this type of service can bring to the life of our young people.

Earlier in the afternoon I had been reading the latest briefing note on school funding from the Education Policy Institute. David Laws, the former Schools Minister and sometime Lib Dem MP makes no secret that he doesn’t believe in local democratically elected councils having a role in education funding. The briefing note laments that there was no legislative proposal in the Queen’s Speech to allow a ‘hard’ national funding formula. However, the EPI note suggests that the DfE could still significantly reduce the role of local authorities by the use of secondary legislation.

Now, regular readers will knows that both as a councillor and philosophically I believe locally democratically elected councils have an important role to play in education. I am not opposed to a national funding formula, but it throws up interesting issues if implemented as a ’hard’ national formula. An academy in the North West is to close as it is uneconomic and in deficit. The Multi Academy Trust will hand the lease back to the council that owns the freehold. All well and good, but the school was built by a PFI deal and those payments will presumably continue whether it operates as a school or not. Who should bear the cost, the local council taxpayers or the government? At present, it will be the local taxpayers, probably without any ability to recoup the costs, just as they cannot for additional transport costs that could result from a school closure. Would the government keep activities such as school music services going or be content to just leave them to market forces? I wonder.

The lack of a rational plan for the governance of our schools have been a worrying feature of the past thirty years, ever since central government really started the process of nationalising the schools with the Conservative Grant Maintained Schools.  Sadly, no government has had the courage to do what David Laws would like and fully remove all education from democratically elected councils. Such an outcome would at least have the merit of clear-cut solution.

You really cannot have a system with responsibility but no power. This fact is highlighted by the plight of children taken into care who have no right to a school place if moved to another area for their safety. I am delighted that all Oxfordshire MPs from the three Parties have signed a letter to the Minister highlighting this issue. Our most vulnerable children deserve better than to be not only be taken from their homes but also have their education disrupted, sometimes for months on end.

New data on schools and their pupils

Unless there is a dramatic change in the birth rate over the next few years, the peak in the primary school population is probably very close to being reached. Data on schools and pupil numbers published by the DfE today https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2017 reveal a slight decline in the number of Key State 1 infant classes above the nationally agreed limit of 30 pupils per class. The decline is only 0.1% from 11.9 to 11.8% of these classes and is still way above the 10.4% achieved in 2011 and 2012. Still, it remains below the 13.8% of 2006, and should fall further over the next few years.

There is still pressure at Key Stage 2, with average class sizes increasing from 20.4 to 20.8 across England. It seems likely that this average will continue to increase for the next couple of years that is unless Brexit results in a mass emigration of young families to other European countries. This seems less likely, although still possible, after the discussions last week on allowing existing migrants from the EU to remain in England.

There was a big jump in the average size of secondary classes, from 20.4 to 20.8, their highest level since 2008. With the increase in pupil numbers over the next few years, this average seems set to increase still further, perhaps towards the 21.5 reached in 2006.

The implications of the National Funding formula will probably be most keenly felt in the 5,400 primary schools and nearly 130 secondary schools with fewer than 200 pupils. Some of the latter may be UTCs and Studio schools with the chance to grow, but many of the primary schools could face an uncertain future with the costs of closure affecting local authority transport bills in rural areas.

On average, 12% of primary schools have less than 100 pupils. However, the average hides a wide range, from just 2% of schools in London to 19% in the East Midlands and 22% of primary sector schools in the South West. I am sure the travel implications have been taken into account by those reviewing the effects of school funding and the new formula.

The Church of England will certainly be interested in what happens to small schools under the new funding formula since more than a quarter of their primary schools have fewer than 100 pupils. In five regions the percentage of their schools with less than 100 pupils is more than 30% with the East Midlands having more than a third of Church of England primary schools being of this size. However, the Church of England has only 2% of its schools in London with less than 100 pupils, the same as the average for all schools. By contrast, London has the largest Church of England primary schools with one having more than 800 pupils. Still, by that is small compared with the largest primary school in London that has more than 1,500 pupils.

 

 

 

Confusion over future pay

The confusion over the future of the public sector 1% pay cap that apparently highlighted differences between the Treasury and other ministers yesterday is but one symptom of the malaise at the heart of the present government. We are used to hearing of –U- turns, but what do we call a double reversal of intent since the term spin has already been appropriated in the political landscape?

Nevertheless, it is clear that pay and associated conditions of service for teachers cannot for ever avoid the effects of competition in a labour market while we live in a society where the State doesn’t direct the job you have to take.

While the labour market remains buoyant, and especially the graduate labour market, it does seem inevitable that any ceiling on pay will have adverse effects. Later today, the June data on recruitment to teacher preparation courses starting this autumn will be published and that will be another straw in the wind. Regular readers will know that I don’t expect the data to be very encouraging in terms of meeting the government’s modelling over numbers needed to be recruited.

Eventually, the pay cap in education will have to go. The government can fudge the change by making changes to the overall structure through, for instance, initiatives such as loan forgiveness schemes that reduce a new entrant’s monthly outgoings by taking over their student debt. However, that won’t help older teachers and encouraging experienced teachers to remain in the profession may be as important as attracting new entrants, if you want a balanced age profile in the profession reflecting both experience and new ideas.

Then there is the question of regional pay. Should London pay rates go up faster than those elsewhere in the country because the London area is where the problem of recruitment is most severe? The data in a previous post about percentages of unqualified teachers might support this thesis, but it could also be down to academies in London looking for a different mix of skills not adequately provided by the subjects identified in the Teacher Supply Model? Should we pay more to secondary school teachers than those that work in primary schools? Traditionally that hasn’t been the case and there seems little evidence that freeing academies form national pay rates has altered the pay landscape very much, except in one specific area.

Senior staff pay in schools, as much as elsewhere in society, doesn’t seem to have been subject to the same degree of pay restraint as classroom teachers have experienced over the past decade. I don’t buy the view that adding one or two schools to a Multi Academy Trust requires the Chief Executive to receive a pay rise to compensate for extra responsibilities.

Since academies are national schools, the government should look at whether chief officer pay in MATs is governed by any specific restrictions and whether there is at least a moral obligation to follow the government’s line on pay restraint while it is still in force.

Perhaps a learned body or a university research team could produce some pay guidelines for chief officers of MATs that relate their pay and conditions to those of chief officers in local authority Children’s Services? They might even be included in the Top Salaries Review Body since these staff in MATs are paid from government funds.

 

 

International Study on school funding by OECD

The DfE has a new benchmark by which to assess the National Funding formula for Schools. The OECD has just published a thematic review of school funding ‘The Funding of School Education: Connecting Resources and Learning’. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264276147-en

This is an ambitious report into the issues relating to funding schools across just under 20 of the economies that make up the OECD block. In one sense the issues raised here aren’t new. Funding, and the relationship between funding and the aims of an education system, has always been a matter for debate. Indeed, ever since the governments first became involved in funding education, the key questions around how and to whom have never been far from the surface of political debate. At the most basic level, this is characterised by two of the issues discussed in the OECD report. How much funding is raised locally and where that isn’t sufficient how is it topped up, and secondly, how is the success of any funding model measured and what happens when schools fall short of successful outcomes? This includes the debate about what is meant by equality and equal opportunities. Providing every learner with the same opportunity is not the same as providing them with the same funding as something as simple as the payment of a London salary weighting in England clearly demonstrated well before the notion of Pupil and Service Children Premiums were ever considered. Finally, there is the issue of the governance, where those that raise the money often don’t actually spend it on education. This involves the quality and quantity of data necessary for this task to be effective without overwhelming the system.

The OECD Review notes that as school systems have become more complex and characterised by multi-level governance, a growing set of actors including different levels of the school administration, schools themselves and private providers are involved in school funding in many OECD countries.

The Review notes that :

While on average across OECD countries, central governments continue to provide the majority of financial resources for schools, the responsibility for spending these funds is shared among an increasingly wide range of actors. In many countries, the governance of school funding is characterised by increasing fiscal decentralisation, considerable responsibility of schools over budgetary matters and growing public funding of private school providers. These developments generate new opportunities and challenges for school funding policies and need to be accompanied by adequate institutional arrangements.

The OCED authors consider that to ‘support effective school funding and avoid adverse effects on equity in changing governance contexts, funding reforms should seek to: ensure that roles and responsibilities in decentralised funding systems are well aligned; provide the necessary conditions for effective budget management at the school level; and develop adequate regulatory frameworks for the public funding of private providers.’

It is disappointing that the home nations don’t form part of the review group of nations, although reference to issues and the literature arising from the Uk are to be found throughout the document, if the reader knows where to look., including  Dolton and Marcenaro-Gutierrez 2011 article in the journal Economic Policy, “If you pay peanuts do you get monkeys?

While this Review will be a mine of information to scholars researching the issue of funding, always recognising that some decisions are context bound and that, for instance, more rural economies may have different priorities than more urban and mixed economies, where the needs of the two groups compete with each other.

It is to be hoped that work will be undertaken to consider the differing actions of the four home nations with respect to funding against the issues raised in this review: the outcomes might be very illuminating.

 

 

 

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.