Too little: too late?

First it was Boris; then Mrs May and finally some of the other leadership contenders. What were they talking about? Not Brexit, although of course all the contenders for the Conservative Party leadership have been trying themselves up in knots of various tightness on that issue, but rather funding for schools.

Reading the runes of what was being outlined, it seems cuts to tuition fees might be some way down the track. If funding for schools and further education is back on the Tory Party agenda, it is difficult to see how the Treasury would be willing to spend more on higher education funding in the immediate future, especially once other Ministers put out their begging bowls. Sure, funding for International Development might be cut to below the level currently agreed to make some savings. This might be justified by citing Donald Trump and the USA level of aid. There might also be some cash to allow higher spending because of better tax revenues, but the police and Ministry of Justice have a real claim on extra cash to fight the rise in certain types of crime, including knife crime and the NHS can always do with more cash.

How much of the suggested increase in funding for education is real, and how much merely determined by the fact that pupil numbers will continue to increase over the next few years, is difficult to determine from the level of the pronouncements made so far, except for Boris’s statement on secondary schools. Not recognising the needs of further education and 16-18 funding might make Boris’s statement about £5,000 per pupil in the secondary sector look like vote catching idea, rather than a serious analysis of where the Tory Party’s current school funding policy has made a mistake. At least in the TV debate, FE, apprenticeships, and skills did receive a mention and, unless I missed, it selective education didn’t.

Any talk about increasing education funding by Conservative may be a case of too little and too late. The warning signs have been there for some time, and the fact that school funding didn’t play much of a part in either of the last two general elections was a bit of a surprise, although the effects on the ground were less obvious than the reductions in school reserves and the consequences of changes to come that are obvious to those that manage budgets, but were not then visible to parents.

For me the funding priorities are: 16-18 funding; early years and children’s centres; SEND funding and protecting rural schools facing falling rolls as the birth rate declines and the housing market stalls. There are other priorities, including metal health, although some cash has been allocated for this, and teacher preparation and career development. All staff will need competitive pay increases if the wider labour market remains as it currently is, but that will be true for the whole of the public sector and might reduce the amount specifically available for education; hence my earlier comment about the challenge in trying to reduce tuition fees.

Unless there is an emergency budget, any changes are not likely to reach schools before April or September 2021 at the earliest.

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Review of Post 18 Education and Funding

The Augar Report was published this morning. When generating a set of principles, this Review manages to be both potentially regressive and progressive at the same time, but for different groups in society.

The better news is mainly on the further education side, and the recognition of the importance of part-time study for some in society. However, even here, the Commission established by Sir Vince cable might have some better proposals for lifelong learning.

On higher education, the mixture of funding changes, wider government interference in planning through extending the range of subjects where government grant will be available, and general tinkering with the system seems likely to please almost nobody. If grant is available for Group 3 subjects, but not Group 4, and universities can only charge £7,500, how will the subjects in Group 4 fare? Will universities cross-subsidise, increase teaching groups, and reduce contact hours or just eliminate these subjects from their offer as uneconomic. I suspect much will depend upon the relative cost to income ratio at present.

As a means of boosting some STEM subjects, these proposals could provide incentives, but assumes there is a pool of potential undergraduates wanting to study these subjects, but not able to secure a place under the present system. One unintended consequence could be a glut of biological scientists, possibly with environmental approaches in their degrees, but no more physical scientists or engineers.

On apprenticeship, I was disappointed that Augar didn’t look at the funding pressure the levy places on small primary schools forced to pay the Levy by a quirk of fate. By suggesting eliminating permission for funding second qualifications, Augar would prevent these schools funding senior staff development through the Levy, as some are now starting to do under present arrangements. This is an area that the DfE needs to take notice of, as councils start repaying unpaid Levy back to The Treasury, including the cash collected from their primary schools.

The part of the report receiving the most attention is that concerning higher education tuition fees and repayments. A cap on total repayments is a good idea, but for public sector workers, subject to pay review bodies, the notion of paying postgraduate training fees is still a burden that Augar didn’t address.

As readers will know, I would require the government to either pay the fees of all trainee graduate teachers or offer all teachers full debt repayment for a period of service in public sector schools. Until then, I think the Pay Review bodies should comment on the effects of their recommendations on the teacher’s loan repayments under each of the different schemes in operation that year along with any proposed changes.

Aguar has a table suggesting that a modern language trainee teacher with a four year degree and a one-year training fee might amass some £117,000 of debt at the start of their career.

Finally, it would have been helpful for Augar to also have suggested better careers advice for pupils in schools to help them make informed choices

As a closing note, I hope this review, if implemented, doesn’t spell the end for philosophy, sociology and classical studies in our universities.

 

Publishing Augar is only the first step

In more ‘normal’ times we might expect a report of the main features of the Augar Report into FE & HE to appear in the Sunday Times this weekend. However, these are anything but normal times in UK politics, so who knows.

Some of the possible suggestions as to what might be in the Report have been widely rehearsed already, including a possible cut to tuition fees; more cash for adult further education and a minimum point score for access to an honours degree course.

Whatever Augar suggests will have to be accepted by the then government, and then translated into action as part of the discussions on the next Spending Review. Of course, it could go the way of the famous Tomlinson Report and be rejected out of hand by the Prime Minister of the day, whosoever that is. More likely is a battle within the DfE.

Bringing back FE and HE into the DfE makes good education sense, but not good sense for either sector where they inevitably play second fiddle to the vastly larger schools’ sector within the Department.

Imagine the Permanent Secretary from the DfE at The Treasury during negotiations for the Spending Review either this autumn or in early 2020 that we know will be tough, as George Osborne always said it would be in the second half of this decade without tax increases.

So, the Permanent Secretary is asked, what are your funding needs: well we have lots more pupils in secondary schools over the next five years and we cannot recruit and retain enough teachers, so more cash for schools is the immediate reply; but FE funding has taken a hit, and we needs to reskill the labour force and, sadly, the Apprenticeship Levy has flopped, so more cash for FE and especially part-time study.

Is that all, queries the Treasury Mandarin? Of course not, replies the DfE official, there is also higher education, where we need to cut tuition fees and fund research while keeping the sector going through the dip in the number of eighteen year olds for the next few years.

The Treasury might then ask, if you cannot have everything what would be your priority order? Schools must come first, would undoubtedly be the reply. There are more votes in parents than students or employers, and the teacher associations have done a great job in convincing everyone that schools are both underfunded and a special case alongside the NHS. FE might come next, as some of the pain felt by schools could be alleviated by upping the unit of resource for 16-18 year olds across both schools and FE. That leave the university sector in third place.

Fees might be cut, because of misguided belief that it would protect the student vote for the government, especially if Labour campaigned on an end to fees completely. The risk to universities would be that The Treasury would not make up the loss in fee income, except in a few STEM subjects.

Could one of the unintended consequences of such an outcome be universities opting for lower cost, mostly classroom-based courses, while spending more on marketing to attract students? An astute government might suggest the price of lower fees would be fewer separate institutions with campuses linked to a central site with a single set of support services and associated cost savings.

Now we know the departure date for Mrs May, will Augar be published before she goes or not? Either way, the funding issues won’t go away

 

16-19 attainment declining?

Funding cuts in the 16-19 sector may now be starting to affect outcomes. Data from by the DfE at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/791405/L23_attainment_2018_main_text.pdf provides a gloomy picture in terms of many of the outcomes measured. Some of the declines may be due to policy changes, such as the uncoupling of AS levels and changes in GCSE English and mathematics as well as policy changes in the field of vocational qualifications at the lower outcome levels, but others are not as easy to tie into changes.

The most depressing char is that on page 14 that charts the attainment gaps between SEN and non-SEN; FSM and non-FSM and the last and most deprived IDACI areas. Between 2005 and 2014 the gaps were narrowing year on year. Since then, the gaps after flattening in the final years of the coalition have started to widen once again. Is this another example of austerity hitting the most vulnerable?

Perhaps the most depressing comment from the document is that ‘54.5% of those with a SEN (as at age 15) achieved Level 2 by the age of 19, compared to 87.6% of those who did not have a SEN. The gap of 33.0% in 2018 represents a widening of 3.8 ppts compared with the previous year.’ Not far behind is the comment that ‘73.4% of those who lived in the 25% most deprived areas according to the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) achieved Level 2 by the age of 19, compared to 90.8% of those who lived in the 25% least deprived areas. The gap of 17.4 ppts in 2018 represents a widening of 1.3 ppts compared with the previous year.’ So what was the outcome for those with SEN in the most deprived areas?

Attainment of Level 2 English and maths fell for both the FSM group and the non-FSM group, with the gap between the two cohorts increasing compared to 2017. This might also be a pointer to funding pressures in the 16-19 sector. Most of the increase was in non-GCSE qualifications, suggesting that vocational qualifications might have been coming under more pressure than classroom subjects?

Still, attainment levels for Level 3 remain above the levels achieved in 2010 for the different groups. However, it is interesting to see that young people with FSM status do better at Level 2 by age 19 in the north East than in the South East, according to the local authority tables. Perhaps the smaller percentages of FSM status young people in some parts of the South East where employment rates are often higher than in the north East means that these can represent some hard to reach young people.

Should the funding of the 16-19 age group pay more attention to the needs of those falling behind, on whatever measure? Would that be better than a general boost to funding for the age group? Much may depend upon your views of hypothecated funding compared with unassigned budgets that institutions can spend as they wish.

 

16 to 19 discretionary bursary fund: allocation methodology consultation

Those readers that live in rural areas might be especially interested in replying to this consultation currently open for responses. https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/16-to-19-discretionary-bursary-fund-allocation-methodology

The closing date is on the 23rd May 2019, unless presumably a general election is called before then, in which case purdah rules might apply.

There is a whole section of the consultation about transport costs for this age group that will allow comments about how unfair the present arrangements are. Indeed, the consultation acknowledges the special position of London, and the TfL provisions for travel in the capital for this age group.

There is also a mention of the Grayling Rail Card that will help student using the remaining rural railways to travel to school or college, but does nothing for those travelling by bus or without any transport links at all.

The first section of the consultation is about replacing the present grant based upon student numbers times a fixed amount with a more nuanced grant based upon deprivation factors. The present arrangements were introduced when the coalition scrapped the Education Maintenance Allowance introduced by the Labour government.

Given the battering that the 16-19 sector has taken over funding, the new arrangements should not be used to further withdraw cash from the sector. If ‘need’ is taken into account, It must be related to courses studies as well as income Why should students using very expensive equipment, as say on engineering courses, be provided with a free education, whereas those on catering courses may be required to buy both specialist clothing and even sets of knives.

With the learning leaving age now at eighteen, the rules should be the same for this age group as for other children in education. Local authorities, if funded, would be much better placed to provide the transport arrangements than individual schools and colleges. But, that would require an acceptance that local authorities are a ‘good thing’, something not universally accepted in government.

 

So, if you have an interest in this area, please do download and reply to the consultation. The more responses about the transport issue the better. Perhaps, we can make a difference for families living in rural areas for a change.

 

FE: too often forgotten

This blog is as guilty as many in education of too often overlooking the further education sector. Despite its status of something of a poor relation to both higher education and the school sector, further education has an important part to play in developing the economic activity of our nation. One of my regrets about the Coalition government was that it allowed the further education sector to be excluded from the funding deal for schools. That deal may not have been perfect, but it has left schools, and especially those secondary schools without 16-18 provision, relatively much better off than the further education sector. The oft quoted number is that a lecturer in the FE sector earns around £7,000 less than a school teacher when teaching the same age group.

One has to ask, is it rational to be thinking of cutting fees for higher education without also considering the funding of further education, where a portion of higher education work also takes place. I suspect that a significant amount of the work on FE funding assumed that further education could subsidise expensive practical subjects from the assumed cheaper to deliver classroom based education. Such a view is both short-sighted and not, I suspect, based on much in the way of evidence. I guess that when general studies was taught to classes 100 or more day release students, such subsidies were possible: but mostly, I suspect, that was a long time ago.

Teaching English and Mathematics, both classroom based subjects, to those that failed to reach a satisfactory level at school cannot be done in large classes. It also cannot be done properly by those without sufficient knowledge and skills of teaching.  Practical subjects whether construction or hairdressing need both small groups and often expensive equipment. The Treasury doesn’t seem to realise this fact. Government also doesn’t seem to realise that students often have to travel significant distances to attend colleges offering subjects they are interested in learning.

We have already seen a couple of universities flirt with financial issues and there must be a risk as the number of 16-18 year olds reduces for the next couple of years that further education as a sector will experience the same sorts of serious financial problems.

Once the agony of the Brexit saga is finally resolved, one way or another, then British industry and commerce must step in to support the development of the further education sector as a means of creating talent for our wealth generating industries, whether old manufacturing skills or modern IT related skills or those that have yet to be fully understood around the applications of AI across the workplace.

Now is the time to review the economics of the whole 16-18 sector. Schools are able to support small sixth forms, especially where pupil numbers are growing at Key Stage 3. Colleges don’t have this luxury and it is a false economy to under-fund them when we need a more productive and skilled workforce at all levels. Those that don’t go to university are as important in our economy as those that do and much less of a burden on the public purse.  They deserve a better deal.

 

 

Post sixteen outcomes decided by KS2 attainment?

Yesterday, the DfE published a whole raft of statistics about the destinations of KS4 and KS5 pupils in 2016/17. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/destinations-of-ks4-and-ks5-pupils-2017 The raising of the learning leaving age to 18 has been one of the relative success stories of the past decade. However, it has literally come at a price as other data now clearly shows. While the rest of the school sector has suffered at the lower end of government cutbacks, post-16 education has really been badly affected.

There are other financial consequences as well. Families that receive free transport for children up to the age of 16 suddenly find, outside of London, that they must pay for the same seat on the school bus if their offspring enters into the sixth form. That is an anomaly that I have long campaigned to see abolished, especially as some councils are now extending the rule to pupils with SEN.

Government now has data on some 99% of the cohort in 2016/17. Generally, the higher your success rate at KS4 the more likely you are to stay in a school environment, if one is available. Less academic success, greater disadvantage and lower level SEN, without the support of a ‘Statement’ or EHCP means a greater chance of switching from a school into a Further Education College at Sixteen. In some parts of the country, most notably the urban areas in some areas of the North West, the situation is more complicated because of the present of Sixth Form Colleges. In those areas, the legacy of the introduction of comprehensive education some forty years ago still drive where students are education post-16.

Overall, some 86% of young people remained within the education sphere rather than training or employment locations after the age of sixteen. Some 5% of young people didn’t sustain their original choice post-16 for at last two terms. This percentage has remained relatively stable for the past few years, falling from 9% in 2010/11.

Apprenticeships and employment remain at about eight per cent of sixteen year olds. The recovery in the economy and pressure of local labour markets in parts of the South don’t seem to have significantly increased the percentage directly entering employment at sixteen. Indeed, with the fall in the cohort, actual numbers will have reduced and that may be a concern to some employers.

Should the difference between school and FE be so marked by perceived ability pre-16? Of those categorised as have low attainment at KS2, 58% ended up in general FE with only 13% in school sixth forms and six per cent in Sixth Form Colleges. By contrast, of those shown as high achievers at KS2, 60% remained in school sixth forms; 18% went on to Sixth Form Colleges and only 15% proceeded into general further education settings. Middle achievers were somewhere in between these two sets of figures.

As someone that entered sixth form with 5 ‘O’ levels, not including English, but who gained high grades at ‘A’ level, I worry about too much segregation at sixteen. Whatever the academic merits of specialisation of institution, is it the right approach socially for the future of society?