Isolation poor use of funding?

Regular readers of this blog will notice there has been something of an absence of posts during the first part of this month. This means that there has been no discussion of interesting reports such as the one by the Institute of Fiscal studies into how the distribution of funding has changed over time. https://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/publications/bns/BN242.pdf That report makes for an interesting read, especially when compared with books about education funding written forty years ago, such as ‘depriving the deprived’ in which Prof Tony Travers took part as one of the team investigating education spending over the course of a year in Newham, in the context of the then government financing of education.

However, the education story that most moved me to return to this blog was the one from the BBC about how children can spend long periods in isolation  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-46044394  There are a group of children that a decade ago would have been locked up under Labour’s draconian policy of the period. This was a policy whether it was articulated or not that took several thousand young people off the streets and out of education and into Young Offenders Institutions.

With fewer young people coming into the criminal justice system these days, despite the increase in knife crime, it stands to reason that schools will retain more of these young people and will find their behaviour challenging. Behaviour management has always been the top concern of many schools and the teachers that work within them, despite the shift in funding. As schools were forced to focus on outputs and achievements and less on their social responsibilities, it seems obvious that some schools will look to the greatest good for the greatest number and methods that will allow teachers to teach as many pupils as possible by removing disruptive influences on the learning process.

What was missing for the BBC article was whether isolation was really a room on the road to exclusion or whether pupils were either rehabilitated back into mainstream education or moved to more appropriate settings.  If I were a youngster forced to face the wall – albeit without the dunce’s cap of Victorian times – I might see rebelling further as a way to liberation and exclusion: anything might be better than such isolation.

With secondary schools often belonging to many different academy trusts or acting alone, it is difficult to see what body can manage the local solution to this problem. Next week at Oxfordshire’s Cabinet, I have a question – put before the BBC story – about how many pupils each secondary school has brought to the local Fair Access Panel over the past few years. This is to see how the balance of permanent exclusions is playing out across the county. I doubt that the measures announced recently by the DfE in relation to under-performing schools https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-sets-out-plans-to-support-underperforming-schools will help tackle this problem: what is needed is concerted local action managed by a body with the long-term interests of all young people in an area. Now, I wonder what they might be.

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Funding issues remain

Yesterday, I received two comments from different parts of the country about issues that this blog has been highlighting over the past few months. I have reproduced these comments below:

The funding issue is key here and seeing all this unfold is quite alarming.  It seems that the government is intent on more MATs forming, though some of the income streams are becoming more uncertain, especially ones that can buoy up emerging MAT central teams.  I think it is crunch time at the moment because the government is essentially funding two systems at the moment—an enlarging academy sector and a diminishing LA sector.  I think this is one of the reasons why money is so tight.  

 There remains the question of small schools, as they will not fit into MATs (put simply, they do not bring in enough cash and are too difficult for most), and the diminishing funds available to LAs  means that small maintained schools are suffering and will continue to do so.  You cannot get rid of many of these schools as they are strategically important in many rural areas, and losing them would just consign many rural communities to being retirement destinations, the economies would lose any vibrancy without families living in them, and there would be potential food security problem if farms cannot pass onto younger families to run.  

 Finally a word about SEND.  The situation is dire, with in effect there being a cut in money for SEND—at a time when there is a massive rise in demand.  For this year, the ** Schools Forum has put 0.5% of the Schools block funding in to the Higher Needs block (though there would still be a £4.5 million deficit), and is consulting on putting 1.0% into the Higher Needs block next year.  

 To my mind the whole system is unsustainable, and clearly shows that the Tories simply do not care about children with SEND.  I reckon that all of our PRUs and current alternative provision in the county will disappear in its current form over the next two years, as the funding is being cut by half next year.  This is a massive crisis as it will just mean that the system as a whole will have to pay more for these hard to place youngsters as they get older, and their problems have not been solved whilst they were children in the education system.

Shortly after I received the above, this note followed:

Another dimension which has not yet been much talked about is the impact of the so-called ‘Hard formula’.  If that means money is allocated direct to every school from London, the scope for the Schools Forum to make minor tweaks is removed for maintained schools, but MATs will still be able to make transfers within their schools, as far as I understand it. This is because the DfE money will, in the case of MATS, go to the MAT and not the individual schools. This potentially puts schools in MATs in a difficult position. The Schools Forum is at least public and democratically observed, whereas the MAT trusts seem to me to be able to do whatever they want.

Both comments are from those with experience in education and whose views I fully respect.

If The Secretary of State is really intending to reduce exclusions, as he said yesterday, then these are the issues he has to ask his civil servants to start to address.

With birth rates now lower than a few years ago, the plight of rural schools where there is no now housing in prospect, could be dire, especially if they have any extra costs not catered for in the national formula. Time for some Tory MPs to wake up and smell the milk, so to speak.

Funding still not fair?

Is opposition to the current National Funding Formula for schools growing? There are those that see it as neither national, because it has so many variations, nor a formula, because it carries so many restrictions carried over from what went before. Indeed, the F40 Group of local authorities that campaigns for fairer funding has issued a recent document outlining their concerns about the present state of play.

In one sense the idea of every child having a basic unit of funding tied to the provision of their education has been the Holy Grail of many educationalists ever since the autonomy of local authorities over education funding began to be curbed around the time that local management of schools or LMS began to be introduced in the early 1990s.

At that time there were wide disparities in the funding of schooling across the country. Local business rates meant that Inner London had access to vast resources of income generated from the City of London and the West End. At the other end of the scale were former manufacturing areas and many rural areas where income was insufficient and central government had to provide funds to support an education service. These areas were also joined by many of the shire counties where education competed with social services for a limited amount of resources.

The goal of those seeking a National Funding Formula was to level up less well funded areas, so that all received the same basic level of funding as close to that of the best as possible. Of course, if it wasn’t at the level of the best then there would be losers. The first attempt at a Formula created too many losers. It is now becoming apparent that the current version also has problems associated with it.

As the F40 briefing note says;

One of the key principles set out in the early NFF consultations, supported by f40, was that pupils of similar characteristics should attract similar levels of funding wherever they are in the country (allowing for the area cost adjustment).  Therefore, NFF should be applied to all schools on a consistent basis.  However, the protections applied, such as the 0.5% funding floor, ‘lock in’ some of the historical differences for those schools which have been comparatively well funded for several decades.

Their solution:

The government must continue to develop the national formula so that it is fit for the future i.e. is fairer, more easily understood, transparent and adjustable. Transition to the new formula is sensible but locking in past inequalities is not.

The F40 Group is also seeking continued funding flexibility to support specific local issues or organisational requirements. They assert that no two schools in the country are exactly the same, but the current formula assumes all schools are almost identical.  The F40 say that are good local reasons why some schools have costs that others do not have, and an inflexible national system cannot support these schools equitably.  As a result, some local flexibility is essential in achieving a fair formula that works and stands the test of time.

Here is the nub of the argument, how to manage a national formula with a degree of local flexibility. The government’s solution for academy chains is to allow funds to be moved between schools as necessary, but that approach doesn’t help either stand-alone academies or maintained schools.

With increasing pupil numbers and an under-funded 16-19 sector, the government has limited room for movement in the short-term, even if austerity really does come to an end as a policy objective. Perhaps we might see a return to the separation of funding into two separate funding streams with pay as one funding stream and other costs funded through a different funding stream more open to local flexibility to reflect local circumstances. This might imply a return to rigid national pay scales and limits of promoted posts to control the pay stream.

What is clear is that without more thinking, the present arrangements for school funding are likely to be unfair for many pupils across the country.

 

 

Insufficient funding creates cost pressures

Over the past week the DfE has been using statistics about school spending in the time period from 2002-03 to 2016-17 to try to rebut the challenges from the two head teacher associations about a decline in school funding. This culminated in headteachers walking to Downing Street last Friday.

At the end of August the DfE published a paper on trends in school spending during this period at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/trends-in-school-spending-2002-to-2016 I confess that its publication had passed me by, but it was the Friday of bank holiday week when it first appeared.

The DfE acknowledge some issues with the times series, most notably the creation of a large number of academies in the secondary sector in 2011-12. Academies and maintained schools have different financial years, a complicating factor when compiling data of this type for all schools. The information also comes from two different sources.

However, the headline number was that total spending was 42% higher in 2016-17 compared with 2002-03. Spending on Non staff was 68% higher in 2016-17 than 2002-03. Staff spending was 33% higher.

Total spending per pupil has increased from £4,080 to £5,790 between 2002-03 and 2016-17 at 2016-17 price levels according to the DfE data.

Spending on Teaching Staff was 17% higher in 2016-17 than 2002- 03, whereas spending on Education Support Staff was 138% higher in 2016-17 than 2002-03. This partly reflect the large growth in this sector over the time period that included the introduction of non-contact time in the primary sector through the use of PPA time and the growth in support for pupils with SEN.

Part of the growth in Education Support Staff spending may be a reflection of the devolution of more and more back office functions to schools along with the decline in local authority support services, especially for academies. Whether or not the spending is always good value for money is for the National Audit office to decide. However much of those extra costs will have been absorbed in the extra spending on the back office was 105% higher in 2016-17 than 2002- 03, compared to a 42% increase in Total spending.

There is good news on both exam fees and energy costs. Both peaked at the end of the first decade and have bene reducing in cost since then. Even so, energy costs were some 75% higher in 2016-17 than at the start of the period.

Recent concerns over supply teacher costs are reflected in the fact that spending on agency supply teaching staff was 64% higher in 2016-17 than 2002-03, and no doubt explains why both main political parties have targeted this area of spending to work on reducing costs.

Missing is a breakdown of both recruitment costs across the sector and, a breakdown of leadership pay increases compared with the increase for classroom teachers. Now that might have been interesting to see last Friday. Also missing is a breakdown of transfer to either local authorities or MATs to show how central costs have changed over this period.

 

 

School reserves shrink

The news that the annual survey of school bank balances revealed that a third of schools surveyed were in deficit should come as no surprise. This blog along with many others has been charting the decline in school funds for some time.

Coincidentally, I asked the question at Oxfordshire’s Cabinet meeting this afternoon about school balances across maintained primary schools in Oxfordshire and how they changed between the end of the 2017 and 2018 financial years.

Since I haven’t yet had the data in the form of a spreadsheet, only as a written answer, I have yet to see whether Oxfordshire schools are faring better or worse than the national average. I hope to be able to answer that question later this week. However, there are a lot of minus figures in the table, even taking the effects of double entry bookkeeping into account.

At the Cabinet meeting, I also challenged the Cabinet member – part of the Conservative administration of the County – whether or not she would support the notion that money provided for schools in Oxfordshire should not be allowed to be transferred by Multi-Academy Trusts to support schools in the Trust located elsewhere in England.

I will need to check the minutes for her answer, but I am confident that she agreed with me. Personally, I would go further and not allow MAT or MACs to transfer funds between schools within the group even in Oxfordshire unless the same arrangements were possible for maintained schools and stand-alone academies.

Regular readers of this blog will know auditors of MAT/Macs were written to earlier this year by the Minister in the DfE about the issue of allowing the virement of funds between schools within MAT/MACs. However, schools outside MAT/MACs have no such facility available to them. Whether this should be seen as an invitation to join a MAT or to avoid doing so and keep the cash for the school will be a matter for local decision-making.

However, as I made clear above, if the DfE is going to have a National Funding Formula for schools it cannot, at least in my judgement, be correct for trustees to take money from schools in one area to provide for schools in another area.

Schools Forums up and down the country should take a long look at the issue or virement of monies between schools and consider whether they can draw up local guidelines. After all, the Schools Forum has a key role to play in school finances these days.

The F40 Group of local authorities might also want to have a say if cash were being transferred from their members to poorly performing schools in better funded parts of the country. Such a move would be a case of ‘depriving the deprived’.

After ten years of austerity it is no surprise that schools are running out of reserves. When they do then real cuts start being to be made. With a 3.5% pay rise to fund, expect 2019 balances to be far worse than they were this year.

 

 

Bulk buying back in vogue

When I was a young teacher in London there was a large central buying organisation for schools, called something like Greater London Supplies. I recall that they had a big depot at Tottenham Hale in north London. Purchasing basic supplies on behalf of large numbers of schools made good business sense, even to the most socialist of Labour councils. However, it didn’t make sense to the Thatcher government that believed market competition at a school level was the way forward.

Reading the DfE’s recent announcement on procurement and helping schools with costs, suggests that this is yet another move back in the direction of levering the purchasing power of schools as a combined unit, rather than expecting them to operate as individual business sites. How long will it be before Ofsted is asked to include in their inspection report whether a school is making full use effective purchasing decisions to target as much cash as possible on teaching and learning?

TeachVac, the free vacancy site for schools and teachers, www.teachvac.co.uk  where I am chair of the board, doesn’t yet feature in the DfE list. I am sure that they will find a good reason not to list it, as they don’t yet list any vacancy advertising services, whether they are either paid for services like all the others or free like TeachVac and their own nascent service. Maybe they don’t want competition?

The government’s actions in driving down costs aren’t completely risk free. After all, if prices are driven down too far then suppliers will exit the market and leave just one monopoly provider. At that point, it becomes an issue as to whether the State should regulate the provision of the service or actually take over the running.

As I have suggested in previous posts on this topic, once prices have been reduced by increasing efficiency then it can become very difficult to make a profit. Then there is also the reason why local decision-making was favoured by many: the speed of service delivery. A central maintenance contract may be cheaper, but what is the true cost of waiting several days for a window to be replaced or a leaking toilet mended?

I am sure that there is a unit within the DfE thinking of other areas where schools can either save money or increase their incomes without putting more pressure on parents. They might want to ensure deals there are good deals on school uniforms and sports kit and make schools explain why they are requiring a uniform that is more expensive than the average. Tradition, would not be a good enough answer.

My own suggestion for research is, as mentioned before, school playgrounds. They must be the least used piece of real estate in the country. I don’t suggest they are done away with, as when needed they perform a vital function, but what can we do with them for the other 99% of the year? More all-weather community pitches; a source of generating renewable energy; even vegetable growing spaces areas with a playground on top.

We are spending millions on research into driverless cars; how about a couple of million for more effective playground spaces?

 

 

Courts support the underdog

From time to time the courts become involved in changing the direction of the education system in England. One such occasion, discussed previously on this blog, was the judgement of the Supreme Court on the issue of holidays during term-time. That judgement has redefined the contract for parents that ask or allow the State to educate their children in a more prescriptive manner than many might have thought possible.

Recently, there have been two more important judgements, albeit from lower courts, below the level of the Supreme Court. The Upper Tribunal, a court in all but name, as it interprets the law, has handed down what has been described as a landmark judgement in the treatment of pupils with SEND that involves a degree of aggressive behaviour linked to their disability: in this case autism. The case has been well reported, but you can read about it at https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/our-work/news/landmark-ruling-exclusion-disabled-pupils-schools

The case was brought under Section 28 of the Equality Act 2006 and the implications arising from the judgement should be on the agenda of governing bodies during the autumn term. The issue will turn on what are ‘reasonable adjustments’ that a school can be expected to make in educating these children. Obviously, or I suspect obviously, a special school catering exclusively for children with aggressive tendencies might be expect to make more adjustments than a small rural primary school faced with a five year old with such tendencies. However, if the five year old is living successfully in the community, the school is a part of the community and must now make clear what adjustment sit has made to deal with the education of the child. This might mean more specific training for the class teacher and any classroom assistants encountering the child in the course of their work. It might also mean dinner supervisors; office staff and anyone likely to come into contact with the pupil also receiving training.

The other recent case concerned Bristol City and its role in providing special education. The case was primarily about the issue of consultation over possible cuts to the City’s SEND budget, but the judge strayed into the area of the financing of education. You can read the whole judgement at https://specialneedsjungle.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/KE-others-v-Bristol-City-Council-Approvedjudgment.pdf As with the previous case, fairness for minority groups played a large part in the arguments before the court and in the reasoning of the judge. I can foresee more challenges in this area about cuts to SEND transport, based upon this judgement.

However, there was a rather curious exchange about the funding of education by local authorities that is reported in the judgement that suggests that it is not only in the realm of understanding popular culture and music that some judges and indeed other members of the bar may be slightly out of touch with currently realities.

Take this extract from the judgement from paragraph 98:

  1. Mr Tully explained that ‘The overall principle which the Council is seeking to follow is the principle that, if possible, the DSG (Dedicated Schools Grant) should pay for Schools Budget responsibilities.

However, as Ms Richards Q.C. correctly points out, this a simply a principle which the Defendant has chosen to follow i.e. a political choice and not a statutory requirement. As a consequence, it could be abandoned or varied, most pertinently in light of the results of appropriate consultation.

Surely, the DSG and the High Needs Block isn’t open to virement and by implication also isn’t open to being supplemented should local authorities ever find themselves with an excess of cash or indeed required to make choices about how they spend their income. If this section of the judgement is regarded as ‘obiter’ then it doesn’t matter, as it can be ignored, one would not want to raise the hopes of parents and others that the DSG is just an addition to a local authority overall income stream and not as its says, a ‘Dedicated Schools Grant’. Schools forum need to be consulted about the distribution of the DSG. How far is there also a need to consult the wider public?

The situation is of course complicated by the fact that some education expenditure, including on home to school transport, is provided for not from the DGS and High Needs Block within it, but from the general grant to local authorities and must compete with other services for its share of the cake. Here is issue is a fight for resources subject to the decision of the ruling group on any Council and is clearly subject to the need for consultation with the public and interested groups.

The person on the Clapham Omnibus, or is it in the Uber car these days, must be able to understand the logic behind the funding of our education system, lest they be deceived into thinking some things are possible that are actually not the case.

Despite some politicians feeling about European Courts, the courts and civil law plays an important part in defending liberties. At this time of financial cut backs it is also sometimes the way that minority groups can ensure that they are treated fairly.