Don’t the Tories care?

Rumours about what might be in the budget regarding education are rife across the media today. We know of more money for T levels in further education but, more grammar school places are also being touted as a likely outcome.

One particularly pernicious suggestion that I have heard mention is that the Chancellor will announce that the rules on home to school transport will be altered. At present, outside the TfL area in London, where transport is free, most pupils only receive free transport if their nearest school with a place is over two miles for children up to eight and three miles for children over eight and up to sixteen. There are exceptions where the route is unsafe and for children whose parents are on certain benefits. The latter normally have a wider range of schools to select from where free travel is available.

The rumour suggests that this provision will be extended to allow all pupils free travel to a selective school up to fifteen miles away from their home. Now, one would have assumed that was the case anyway in selective authorities, but at least one such authority tried to create a ‘nearest school’ policy regardless of whether it was a grammar or a secondary modern, condemning some parents to pay to take up places at grammar schools. Preventing this anomaly seems sensible. Less sensible is applying the rule to any child within say 15 miles offered a place and forcing non-selective local authorities to pay for the transport cost even if it means a taxi at £5,000 per place per year.

More sensible would be for the Chancellor to take a look at the transport rules for post-16 pupils. There is no statutory requirement to provide free transport for this age group despite the raising of the learning leaving age to eighteen. The cost is most keenly felt by parents in Tory controlled rural areas, many of which are fully non-selective. Here there is often little choice except between a single secondary school and a distant further education college offering very different ranges of courses. In some areas, with sixth form or tertiary colleges, there is no choice if a child wants to remain in education. For pupils with special needs the distance can be even greater to attend specialist provision.

In my view, if the Chancellor is trying to do more than clear up the anomaly created by some Tory authorities trying to save money, he should support free transport for all 16-19 pupils on the same basis as for pupils from 8-16 ahead of favouring younger children attending selective schools.

Of course, he could go further and offer the same deal to all pupils across the country as pupils receive in London, free transport to all children regardless of distance travelled within the TfL area, but that would really cause chaos, even if it boosted parental choice. Not much chance of that then.

 

A tale of Two Counties

My attention has been drawn to a publication called: A Tale of Two Counties: Reflections on Secondary Education 50 Years after Circular 10/65. Written by Nuala Burgess from Kings College London for the group Comprehensive Future and published on the 25 January 2017 it is downloadable free from http://comprehensivefuture.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2017-

As one reviewer wrote, this publication is written in an easy to follow style by Kings College researcher Nuala Burgess. It looks at secondary education in two English counties that in socio-economic terms are similar, but in educational terms are poles apart. Both Buckinghamshire and Hampshire have been Conservative controlled since God was a boy. Yet the approach of these two Tory councils is completely different.

As we know Bucks has retained selective schools and has an entry test for its grammar schools, whereas Hants chose a non-selective system mostly based upon 11-16 comprehensives that grew out of the secondary modern schools, with its selective schools mostly becoming sixth form colleges; at that time part of the school system.

It doesn’t pay to be poor in Bucks, where few children on free school meals make it into the county’s 13 grammar schools. Presumably, Conservative in Bucks either think poor children at thick or are prepared to avoid asking the question ‘why do those pupils entering grammar schools largely come from better off families’. Might it be something to do with the private tutor industry that thrives in and around the edges of the county?

In Hampshire, Tory councillors are more likely to be concerned about the education of all pupils. This fact is reflected in the different approaches to converting schools to academy status in the two counties.

In many ways, this is a reflection of the on-going debate about whether schooling is a local or a national service? In Hampshire, even though the County no longer has responsibility for school budgets per se, the County does seem to feel a responsibility for the education of the young people within its boundaries. I wonder whether that is also the view in Bucks, or at least to the same extent. Judging by their recent attempt to change the home to school transport policy, I feel councillors have a different and more hands-off approach.

Since those that attend the county’s non-selective schools are likely to remain in Bucks after leaving education and will mostly enter the local labour market, it might be thought that in investment terms ensuring the best education of these pupils would be beneficial to the future prosperity of the county. After all, the grammar school pupils mostly go to university and can then end up working anywhere.

Perhaps some of lack of productivity as a nation can be put down to Tory councils such as Buckinghamshire not doing enough to ensure an education system that develops the skills and abilities of all pupils regardless of their background. For a government that wants to improve the national productivity levels to embark on a return to selective education seems odd to say the least.

 

More south coast woes?

What is it about the south coast of England that seems to affect the learning of a disproportionate percentage of children? Today’s data from the DfE on coasting schools at Key Stage 2 contains a higher than expected number of south coast local authorities with a high than the national average percentage of their schools seen as coasting.  Five of the top ten local authorities in terms of percentage of coasting schools are on the south coast. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/national-curriculum-assessments-key-stage-2-2016-revised

Poole 24% – worst in England as a percentage of schools

Southampton 14% – 4th

Bournemouth 13% – equal 5th

Dorset 13% – equal 5th

Portsmouth 9% – equal 9th.

Of the three South East local authorities with no coasting schools at Key Stage2, only East Sussex is a coastal county. By contrast, 24 London boroughs are recorded as having no coasting schools at key Stage2. Whether these schools will be able to keep up this enviable record once the new National Funding Formula kicks in, only time will tell.

Not all coastal locations have large percentages of coasting schools, Torbay, The Wirral and Sefton are three with no such schools. Across all local authorities, the average is three per cent of schools that were recorded as coasting.

One interesting aspect of the distribution, especially in the light of the new Chief inspector’s remarks, in the Daily Telegraph three days ago, is the presence of authorities with grammar schools at both ends of the table. How do parents in the coasting schools in both Poole and Bournemouth feel about the effects on the chances of their offspring passing the selection examination for grammar school if the school could be doing better? In our more litigious society might the fact that a school is coasting at Key Stage 2 be a matter for litigation if a pupil just missed a place at a grammar school? We shall no doubt see in due course.

There are a couple of caveats in terms of the data. Small schools are excluded from the dataset, so some authorities may have fewer schools included than others. Secondly, authorities are of different sizes so the Pole result is due to just four schools, whereas there are 12 coasting schools in Dorset. Norfolk, another county with a lot of coastline has the most coasting schools of any authority, 20 in number.

What will happen to coasting schools? Originally, the intention was to turn them into academies, assuming they weren’t already a school of that type. However, Oxfordshire is still waiting for a sponsor to be found for one of the first group of coasting schools identified last year. It will be up to the Regional School Commissioner to decide the governance fate of these schools. I suspect those schools that are also below the ‘floor’ in outcome terms are most likely to see the swiftest intervention. What happens if they are already academies will be interesting. A change of MAT, seems on the cards in those circumstances. At least, it is now difficult to blame the local authority for these outcomes.

 

 

More money for grammar schools

What’s the point of a consultation if you know the outcome before you start? Opponents of grammar schools, myself included, must be asking themselves this question after yesterday’s Autumn Statement. The Chancellor announced:

5.13 Grammar schools capital – As part of the government’s ambitious plans to ensure every child has access to a good school place, the Prime Minister has announced plans to allow the expansion of selective education in England. The government will provide £50 million of new capital funding to support the expansion of existing grammar schools in each year from 2017-18, and has set out proposals for further reforms in the consultation document ‘Schools that Work for Everyone’

So, even if the response to the consultation was unanimous, the government has made provision to spend actually not £50 million a year as in the text, but £60 million a year over 4 years if you take the figures in the data tables. But, what’s £10 million pounds a year in a government budget of trillions.

Spend 0 -60 -60 -60 -60

Source: policy decisions document HM Treasury 2016.

Even that figure could be revised upwards. Now £60 million a year won’t buy you very many new grammar schools. Perhaps 5 a year for each of the four years funded, assuming the sites already exist and it costs £10,000 per pupil place for a 1200 pupil school. As most selective schools are in the South East, costs might be higher. It would be cheaper for a MAT to close an existing school and re-open it as a selective school, presumably something some MATs will already be thinking about. However, the statement specifically mentions support to expand existing grammar schools. Is this a smokescreen or won’t the money be enough to do more than add places to cope with the growth in pupil numbers and keep the percentage of the local population attending grammar schools stable rather than declining as pupil numbers increase? The answer isn’t clear.

The EFA already has a budget for new buildings, so presumably some of that could be diverted into building more selective schools instead of UTCs and Studio Schools that frequently don’t seem find themselves seen as successful schools on some performance criteria and aren’t always very popular with parents.

Those schools in poor quality buildings will rightly say that the £60 million could have been used to help far more pupils achieve a good standard of education through repairs than by spending it on encouraging switching from the private sector to a free grammar school place, as may well be the outcome of creating new grammar school places.

Despite the public statements about the economy, there seemed to be little new spending on education to help economic development in the FE sector in the Autumn Statement. Presumably, this will be left to un-elected LEPs (Local Enterprise partnerships) to bid for funds based upon the outcomes of the reviews held earlier this year.

 

 

Tories & Grammar Schools

As most followers of education know, Buckinghamshire was one of the counties that refused to fall into line with the 1976 Education Act and produce a programme for the removal of their grammar schools. As a result, it retains a selective system across the county after having seen Milton Keynes and its comprehensives split off in the 1990s to become a unitary council.

One might think that as a result of being a selective county, parents in Buckinghamshire wouldn’t be very interested in the present Tory inspired debate on the topic of more selective schools. Not a bit of it. While Mrs May, as Prime Minister, is talking about increasing the number of pupils from deprived backgrounds attending selective schools, or at least I think that is what she is saying, Bucks County Council has consulted on a proposal that would make it even more difficult for such pupils to attend grammar schools, especially if they lived in the rural parts of the county.

In a consultation on changing the home to school transport policy earlier this year, the county said;

This potential change would mean that free school transport would only be provided to the nearest secondary school to your home address.  The school could be located in Buckinghamshire or in a neighbouring county and could be an Upper, Grammar (for qualified children only) or Comprehensive.

As I read the paragraph above, if the nearest school is a secondary modern, even if the grammar school is next door to it, you won’t be provided in the future  with free transport to the grammar school unless it is the nearest school, even if you pass the entrance test and are offered a place. This is interesting in the town of Buckingham, where the grammar and secondary modern schools are adjacent to each other: those coming from the north could have the secondary modern as their nearest schools and those from the south, the grammar school. That is frankly madness if it is the case as a result of the consultation being accepted.

If this view is also accepted by government, it would seem to fly in the face of helping more children from deprived backgrounds to attend selective schools, if on top of uniform and other costs their parents also had to pay the transport cost of attending a grammar school, but not a secondary modern.

Personally, as regular reads know, I would do away with selective schools and make all schools achieve the very best for all pupils in an inclusive social setting. How schools are organised internally to achieve that aim is a different matter.

Perhaps, because transport to school is free for all in London, Mrs May, an MP whose constituency abuts Buckinghamshire to the south, hasn’t picked up on how her party is behaving with regard to grammar schools and widening participation. The solution of free transport to school of choice for all, as in London.

Right issue: wrong solution

Mrs May clearly identified some of the key issues facing the school system of this country in her speech to the Tory faithful in Birmingham. Ethnic minorities, white working class boys, house prices near popular schools, the issues are well known. Her solution; more selective schools. Nothing I have read yet about solving the teacher supply crisis and whether more selective schools would make that worse. Nothing either about the curriculum or ensuring enough schools in the right places.

Readers of this blog will know I don’t want a return to a selective school system. Interestingly, the TES has been looking at indicators from schools across Kent and Medway where there are grammar schools, secondary moderns and some comprehensives, including some faith schools. Do secondary moderns as a group have more vacancies per school than grammar schools and, because the census is in November when vacancies are low anyway, do they also have more temporary filled posts than selective schools, indicating a possible greater challenge in recruiting staff with the qualifications the school is seeking?

If the aim is to ensure achievement for all, the government will have to ask whether a National Funding Formula will be crafted in such a way as to assist in helping all those that currently don’t achieve as well as could be expected of them. The risk is that the Tories don’t really want to help everyone, but only to help those with aspirations they cannot currently fulfil. Listening to the Secretary of State on the radio talking about how well the three per cent of pupils in selective schools on free school meals do, when the average school has 14% of such pupils, didn’t fill me with hope. I have yet to hear anything from the Tories about those that don’t go to grammar school and how their aspirations will be met: enough teachers to go around would be a good start.

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, the organisation of our schools is a probably a key issue for many parents in the Witney Constituency where the Woodstock and Chipping Norton localities have the highest Key Stage 2 performance in Oxfordshire.  This means that if some places in a new selective system are reserved for pupils on free school meals and the competition for the other places is heightened by the addition of many pupils currently destined for the independent sector some children would end up not in selective schools, whereas if they lived in another part of the country they might have passed the selection test. Such a system probably won’t be good for the local economy, as it might make Oxfordshire a less attractive place to live and educate your children if the lottery of location was replaced by the gamble around the selection cut-off level each year. It seems likely that even if primary schools improve their results, the same number of children will fail to gain a place at a selective school each year, but just at a higher level of education.

We must improve the school system for those it currently fails, but not at the risk of failing some that currently succeed.

 

Witney’s voters can decide the fate of grammar schools

The Education Policy Institute, of which David Laws is the Executive director, have lent their expertise to the debate about grammar schools with a new report about grammar schools and social mobility.  http://epi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Grammar-schools-and-social-mobility_.pdf

The EPI Report’s executive summary starts with the following:

International evidence (PISA 2012) shows that academic selection in school systems is associated negatively with equity; and students in highly stratified systems tend to be less motivated than those in less stratified systems. This international evidence suggests that schools which select students on academic performance tend to show better school average performance, even accounting for the socio-economic status and demographic background of students and schools, on average, across OECD countries. However, a school system’s performance overall is not better if it has a greater proportion of academically selective schools. And in systems with more academic selection, the impact of socio-economic status on student performance is greater.

The Report backs up what you have already read on this blog since the government started down the road of turning the education clock back to sometime in the late nineteenth Century. Hopefully, the consultation period between now and December will provide the government with time for reflection.

The good voters of Witney can help that process by trouncing the Conservative candidate in the by-election, making it clear, as the Oxfordshire’s county councillors did when discussing the issue last week that they don’t want a return to a selective secondary school system.

Nick Gibb, the junior DfE Minister, as might be expected, when speaking recently at the Academy Ambassador’s Trust event extolled the growth of selective schools saying; ‘Your trust may consider establishing a new selective free school or you may look to expand using the routes that are already available.’ He didn’t say what happens to the other children educated by the Trust. He also ignored the importance of vocational qualifications whilst lauding the EBacc.

The DfE’s lack of understanding about system-wide planning, for which presumably Mr Gibb has responsibility, is alarming in this time of growing pupil numbers across much of the country. The lack of co-ordination between the Free School programme and the remaining place planning function retained by local authorities is unhelpful, to put it at its mildest. Local authorities will be blamed when there are not enough school places for parents to obtain their first choice of school. In the end this will mean councillors losing their seats as parents express their annoyance through the ballot box. No doubt if this happens to any significant degree in the county council elections next May there will be repercussions for Mrs May and her education team at the DfE.

However, should the voters of Witney decide to send the Conservatives a message next month, they can do worse than wrap it in a bottle marked education and schools. The north of the constituency was especially upset about the changes to free home to school transport and the restrictions on choice of school they imposed, so those parents will have found Mr Gibb’s mention of parental choice ironic. Perhaps the DfE still isn’t aware that parents outside London don’t enjoy the same free home to school travel TfL them offers in London.