Goodbye to the Village School?

The Church of England appears to have accepted the fate of some of its schools will be closure. https://schoolsweek.co.uk/church-of-england-prepares-for-closure-of-village-schools/ As I have been saying for some time on this blog, the new National Funding Formula won’t save many of our small primary schools from closure, and may even hasten their demise. Where rural authorities could once ensure their local funding formula provided for the high overhead costs of these schools, the combination of a lump sum and the manner in which the sparsity factor is to be applied will probably sound the death knell of some small schools. How many, is a matter for debate and someone – the DfE as the national planning body or local authorities that will pick up any additional transport costs resulting from school closures – should probably now be doing some planning ahead to identify the extend of any closure, What is the acceptable time for a five year old to be on a bus or in a taxi across two journeys to and from school? Will the Church of England be lowed to provide the new larger schools to replace those closed as too small for the modern age?

Indeed, the whole issue of home to school transport arrangements should be reviewed so that they don’t fall disproportionally on rural counties and are almost totally avoided by the large urban authorities and London boroughs. Should secondary schools be able to attract pupils be providing free transport to the possible detriment of other schools in their local area as regards pupil numbers and the funding consequences? Is the High Needs Block sufficient to provide for the transport needs of children with SEND needs?

How important are schools to their communities? I note that Barbara Taylor, the secretary of the National Association of Small Schools and chair of governors of an Oxfordshire primary school with less than 50 pupils, accepted in the Schools Week article “that some underperforming small schools may have to close, but argued “most” perform well and are a “focal point of the community”. I would agree with that view, but it isn’t fashionable at Westminster.

Now is the time for those that support small schools, especially in rural areas, to put the pressure on MPs representing rural constituencies? If you want to ensure your local school will survive this unintended national policy outcome then send your MP an email to that effect before anyone has mentioned closure: afterwards may be too late as this requires a policy rethink and isn’t about saving just a single school. Many of these MPs represent traditionally safe Conservative seats, but parents and other family members often form a large part of their electorate. The alternative is to build more house in the village and attract enough new families to make the school secure, but that isn’t always an option.

Without a change of policy, the view of The Reverend Nigel Genders, head of education at the Church of England, as expressed in the Schools Week article, that some schools may have to close might just be an understatement.

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More about school funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

What are the aims behind a school funding formula?

Last week I attended a conference put on at the LGA’s conference centre in London by the f40 Group of authorities concerned about school funding, and how it is distributed. Despite its location close to Houses of Parliament, no representative from any London authority was listed in the delegate list. I suppose that’s not surprising in view of the relative distribution of funding across the different local authorities in England.

The historical differences between the funding of schooling across local areas in England goes way back into the history of State education and how it was funded. In an article I wrote in the Oxford Review of Education way back in 1982, I said that local government then managed eighty per cent of spending on education. Even then, recognition that monitoring of what was happening, as the education system developed from just a limited scheme of elementary schools into a more elaborate and widespread system, especially after the passing of the 1944 Education Act, was contained in an HMI publication of 1981 entitled Report of HMI on the effects of local authority expenditure policies on the Education Service in England.  (DES, March, 1982).

Over the next thirty-five years power flowed inexorably from local authorities towards central government. During this changeover period, school funding became more centralised, but also increasingly distributed directly to schools, without local government being able to do much more than try to influence what was happening.

Also, throughout the changeover period, there were calls for a recognition that the existing system was unfair and based upon factors that prevented some areas from funding education as they would have wanted. This was especially the case in the period between the 1944 Education Act and the late 1980s when local government funding, of which most education funding was a part, was not hypothecated and some authorities chose to divide up their spending in less generous ways in terms of funding schools than did others. However, the unfairness resulting from the local retention of business rates always meant some areas had to receive extra funding from central government once it was agreed that a minimum national level of funding was required to operate the school system.

After the Education Reform Act, the idea of curriculum lead funding gathered pace, and calls were increasingly heard for a National Funding Formula for schools. Despite work conducted during both the period of the Labour government between 1997 and 2010, and the period of coalition government, it was only the post 2015 that the DfE and Ministers grasped the nettle and produced the outline of a policy for such a Formula: possibly some Ministers might have wished that they had left well alone. Nevertheless, by 2018, a National Formula existed and was being implemented.

Despite the explicit basis of a formula for schools designed around four basic building blocks: basic pupil funding via an age-weighted pupil unit and a minimum guarantee per pupil; additional needs criteria; a school element including a lump sum and finally an area cost adjustment, the outcomes don’t seem to satisfy many as the f40 conference discussions revealed. Indeed, under the new formula the rank order of high funded and low funded local authority areas remains not totally dissimilar to what was there before.

Perhaps my greatest anxiety arising from the new formula, and expressed by others at the conference, as well as having been expressed before in this blog, is that small rural primary schools have generally not been given sufficient funds to survive the next few years in their present form.

Now, if that is what the government want in order to rationalise spending and cut out waste, so be it. Whether the votes in rural areas will see it in the same way, is entirely another matter. But, it does highlight how values and funding are inextricably linked. At one time Mr Gove, when Secretary of State, wanted to do away with the sump sum completely for all schools: marking certain closure for small schools. The present formula retains a lump sum, but as Peter Downes in Cambridgeshire has worked out, not one especially supportive of small rural schools. The triple weighting of additional needs through a deprivation factor, English as an additional language and prior low attainment of pupils can more than balance out the sparsity and lump sum factors when overlain by the use of a geographical area cost adjustment.

As was once said by commentators of a former system for allocating education funding in the 1970s. ‘..has a deceptive appearance of simplicity. If it is a cost projection of existing policies then there is often disagreement about each element – cost, projection and existing policy all means.

Perhaps not much changes in government.

Blog post supported by EPI Report

Last December this blog published a post headed ‘Figures back heads views on funding pressures’. https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2017/12/14/figures-back-heads-views-on-funding-pressures/ it was, therefore, interesting to read the report issued by the Education Policy Institute that appeared today and effectively says much the same thing.

You might want to compare Education Policy Institute’s (EPI) key finding with my post last December. EPI have said that:

  • The number of local authority maintained secondary schools in deficit reduced from 14.3 per cent in 2010-11 to 8.8 per cent in 2013-14. Strikingly, however, over the period of four years up until 2016-17, the proportion of local authority secondary schools in deficit nearly trebled, expanding to over a quarter of all such schools – or 26.1 per cent. The average local authority maintained secondary school deficit rose over this 7 year period, from £292,822 in 2010-11 to £374,990 in 2016-17.
  • The number of local authority maintained primary schools in deficit has also risen. In 2010-11, 5.2 per cent of local authority primary schools were in deficit – this reduced in the following year to 3.7 per cent, before staying at a level of around 4 per cent until 2015-16. However, in 2016-17, the proportion of primary schools in deficit increased significantly, to 7.1 per cent. The average primary school deficit also noticeably increased, from £72,042 in 2010-11, to £107,962 in 2016-17.
  • At a regional level, the South West had the highest percentage of local authority maintained secondaries in deficit over this period – with 22.1 per cent of schools in deficit in 2010-11, rising considerably to over a third of schools (34.9 per cent) in 2016-17. The East had the lowest – with 7.5 per cent of local authority maintained secondary schools in deficit in 2010-11, rising to 17.5 per cent in 2016-17.
  • The North East had the highest number of local authority maintained primary schools in deficit in 2016-17 at 10.1 per cent. The East of England consistently had the lowest, with 2.6 per cent in deficit in 2010-11, rising to 3.4 per cent in 2016-17.
  • A large proportion of local authority maintained schools are now spending more than their income. Over two-thirds of local authority maintained secondary schools spent more than their income in 2016-17. Significantly, such events are not just occurring for one year – we find that 40 per cent of local authority maintained secondaries have had balances in decline for at least two years in a row.
  • Similar figures are found for local authority maintained primary schools – in 2016-17, over 60 per cent were spending more than their income. A quarter of local authority maintained primaries have had a falling balance for two years or more.

Where the EPI report does go further than I did last December is in looking at implications as well as the regional breakdown of schools for concern. However, the latter points may be affected by the asymmetric distribution of academies across England.

Implications for schools: financial pressures and deficits – EPI report

  • For a significant proportion of schools in England, being able to meet the cost of annual staff pay increases from a combination of government funding and their own reserves looks highly unlikely, even in the short term.
  • In response to pressures, schools have undertaken various efficiency measures to deliver cost savings, such as switching suppliers, reducing energy usage and reducing the size of leadership teams.
  • However, education staff account for the majority of spending by schools – around two-thirds. It is likely that schools will find it difficult to achieve the scale of savings necessary without also cutting back on staff. Many schools will face the challenge of containing budget pressures and reducing staffing numbers without impacting on education standards.

Either way, the outlook for schools and their pupils is bleak, but so it is across the whole of the public sector just as George Osborne warned it would be in the second half of this decade when he became Chancellor. It was just that few wanted to believe him.

 

 

 

Schools’ Costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Another Oxford issue

Earlier this week the eyes of the country were on Oxford because of the story about issues with cancer treatments at the Churchill Hospital, the regional oncology centre. Locally, the Oxford Mail, the City’s daily newspaper, had at front page lead with concerns around one of the secondary schools in the city, St Gregory the Great.

Regular readers of this blog will recall a post about ‘a tale of two schools’ from last autumn. St Gregory the Great is a an all-through school under the auspices of a Roman Catholic Multi Academy Company, called the Dominic Barberi MAC. This is a group of Roman Catholic academies in Oxfordshire, of which St Gregory is the only secondary school. It might be described as the classic pyramid model of a MAT.

St Gregory the Great came into being when Oxfordshire remodelled the previous three tier system in the city into a conventional two-tier system in the late 1990s. A ecumenical upper school, St Augustine, was replaced, after heavy lobbying of the then School Organisation Committee by the Roman Catholic Church, with a Roman Catholic secondary school; St Gregory the Great.

For the first decade, the school lived an untroubled life, serving both Roman Catholics pupils and local children whose parents were willing to send them to the school. Problems started with the move towards academisation. The need for more primary provision in that part of Oxford meant a decision to create an all-through school with a new primary department. This resulted in a financial disaster when the school overestimated the funds it would receive from changing its age range. At the same time, absence rates in the secondary school were on the increase, and during a period of falling rolls, the school was not the top choice of schools within Oxford for many parents.

Eventually, in 2016, the government’s Funding Agency put the school in special measures and required a plan to eradicate the deficit. The head teacher was replaced. Eighteen months later the school was declared inadequate by Ofsted. Since then further problems have emerged. Many are of a longstanding nature.

In June 2014, I received the following response to a question at Oxfordshire’s Cabinet about attendance cross the county.

Supplementary:  Responding to a question on whether the Cabinet member would make representations to the school commissioner and Ofsted as to the very high non-attendance at St. Gregory the great school, Councillor Tilley replied that the School Improvement officer had been sent into the school to try and establish the underlying cause of the high absence rate.  She had further requested that an analysis of poor attendance be undertaken on a class by class and year by year basis. This has been successful in improving attendance in the past.  Should this not improve attendance, she would then consider contacting Ofsted?

Attendance fell in 2016-17 (Trust Annual Accounts, page 23) and remains a key issue for the school.

I want to see this school succeed, because it is needed for the pupils of East Oxford, whether Roman Catholics, pupils of other faiths or those of no faith.

However, it isn’t clear that the present system of governance is working. Who has the lead responsibility of turning around academies that are failing?

The regional School Commissioner – no obvious action on his part or interest from the Headteacher Board; the EFSC – since putting the school in special measures it hasn’t cured the ills of the Trust, just cut the deficit at the school and possibly imperilled the education of many pupils as a result?  Indeed the Trust accounts for 2017 point to procurement issues; lack of supporting receipts on credit card expenditure and a lack of timely bank reconciliations and insufficient evidence of review. (Trust Annual Accounts, page 32)

Ofsted – a second school in the Trust has now been declared inadequate, but Ofsted is powerless to act against the Trust as a whole. The Roman Catholic Church – the Church needs to prove it is concerned for the welfare and education of all pupils and is not trying to create a school only for Roman Catholic pupils with no concerns for the other pupils in the area leaving someone else to pick up the pieces. The recent removal of the head and deputy of the school over the Christmas holidays needs to be justified and an explanation as to the experience and expertise of their replacements to deal with the problems facing the school needs to be made clear.

The DfE has issued a statement to the media today saying that they are taking action, but it isn’t clear what they are doing or how they are operating, other than presumably some behind closed door discussions with the Academy Company and presumably the Diocese of Birmingham.

At the heart of this mess is the governance structure for academies and the ability of a Trust to act appropriately for the good of all. After all, only 37% of pupils and 30% of staff at St Gregory the Great are declared Roman Catholics according to the Trust annual accounts (page 21).

I declare an interest as a councillor in Oxfordshire, but one only has to look at the fortunes of the two secondary schools declared inadequate in 2017 by Ofsted for the issues to become glaringly apparent.

As the new Secretary of State was educated in a Roman Catholic school, he needs to tell his officials to sort out the problems at St Gregory the Great and across the school group. Otherwise, Oxford will have two national disaster stories about public service failures at the same time: not a record to be proud of for any government.

 

 

 

Figures back heads views on funding pressures

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

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

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

Maintained  Schools:

Total revenue balance as a % of total revenue income

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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