Bad news on closing the gap

The Education Policy Institute’s 2019 Report on Education (EPI Report) has largely been noticed for the comments about social mobility and the stalling of attempts to close the gaps between disadvantaged and other pupils as this is a key feature of its findings  https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/epi-annual-report-2019-the-education-disadvantage-gap-in-your-area/ Reasons for this ending of the reduction in the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and other pupils as noted by EPI are the decline in funding for schools and the challenges some schools face in both recruiting and retaining teachers.

This latter explanation is one that has been regularly championed by this blog as likely to have an adverse effect on outcomes. So, it would seem that money matters, and the idea of just providing cash to under-funded local authorities, as seemingly suggested by the new Prime Minister, might not necessarily be the way forward.

However, I do have some concerns about parts of the methodology used by EPI as it relates to the presentation of the data. A focus on local authorities as the key determinant does tend to ignore areas, whether urban or rural that have wide variations in levels of disadvantage within the same local authority boundary. For the two tier shire and district council areas, it would have been better to use the data at a district council level, but that doesn’t help in cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, and boroughs where there may be wide variations between different parts of the authority. To some extent the data for an authority doesn’t reveal the whole picture and can provide results that might mis-lead the casual reader.

EPI avoids this issue to some extent by producing tables using parliamentary constituencies as the basis for the data. Thus the gap in months at the secondary level relative to non-disadvantaged pupils nationally can differ widely within one authority by looking at data at the level of the parliamentary constituency. For Birmingham, it is 13.6 in Selly Oak, but 19.6 in Ladywood; in Kent it differs between 27.0 for the Dover constituency and 13.8 in Tunbridge Wells.

This is not to say that drawing attention to the gap between where pupils start their education journeys and where they complete them isn’t vitally important at a local authority level. But, providing everyone with equal shares of the cake is not an answer for anyone that wants anything other than administrative simplicity, important though it is to ensure that base funding levels are sufficient for the task in hand.

EPI do make the point in their report that despite no progress in narrowing the disadvantage gap, overall pupil attainment has continued to rise. This suggests that an overall rise in standards does not guarantee a reduction in the disadvantage gap. (Their emphasis).

The Report also highlights the fact that the post-16 education routes taken by young people are becoming increasingly segregated by socio-economic status, with disadvantaged pupils disproportionately represented in certain routes. In particular, the increased segregation is driven by an over-representation of disadvantaged students in further education. These trends may damage the government’s ambition of rectifying imbalances between further and higher education. (Their emphasis).

 

 

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More wasted cash?

The DfE has today updated the list of academies (SATs and MATs, but possibly not MACs) where there has been a change in overall responsibility, either from a standalone academy (SAT) into a multi-academy Trust (MAT) or between MATs. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/academy-transfers-and-funding-england-financial-year-2018-to-2019

These changes are generally not cost free. They can take place for a variety of reasons including, ‘due to intervention’, usually after an inadequate rating by Ofsted; ‘initiated by the Trust’ and as a result of the fact that the Trust ‘sponsor closed’. The last of these reasons seems to have incurred costs of around £3 million in the 14 months from January 2018 to February 2019. The DfE can offset such costs against any balances held within the Trust, but that cash cannot then be spent on educating the pupils.

Now it has to be recognised that in the past costs were incurred in dealing with failing local authorities. Hackney in the early years of the Labour government was one example, and I think that Bradford was another. Indeed Commissioners are still sent into Children’s Services rated as ‘inadequate’. However, the ability of trustees to effectively close their Trust brings a new dimension to this issue. I suppose that some of these Trusts might have, so to speak, fallen on their sword before they were the subject of intervention by the Regional School Commissioner’s Office.

Nevertheless, the fact that trustee can voluntarily decide to abandon one or all of their schools at a cost to the system does raise questions about the best use of scarce resources, an issue highlighted in the previous post on this blog.

There also doesn’t seem to be any requirement on trustees to think of others when making decisions to close a SAT or a MAT. There are times of year when such actions might be allowed, but others where it should be banned. I recall a few years ago a MAT announcing the closure of a school a couple of weeks before the notification of places for the following September was to be relayed to parents. The local authority had to re-run the whole exercise for that area, with a waste of time and money. Those costs would presumably not be included in the figures provided by the DfE, and I suspect the local authority were not reimbursed for the time an effort of their officers in ensuring every pupil had a place at secondary school that September.

The DfE might also like to publish a list of ‘orphan’ schools, declared ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and requiring conversion to academy status but finding it a challenge to secure a MAT willing to embrace them.

I don’t know whether the Select Committee in their Inquiry into school funding looked into this sort of cost to the system, if not, then they might like to put such a study on their list for the future.

As I have written in previous blogs, there are some areas, such as pupil numbers increases, where costs cannot be avoided. There are other areas where reducing waste should be a real priority for the system. This looks like an example of the latter.

Stop wasting money

A new report commissioned, and part funded by the Local Government Association, has found that ‘middle tier’ oversight functions for academies cost some 44% more than for local authority maintained schools. The research was carried out by Sara Bubb Associates, and the team conducting the study involved some senior figures from the world of academia. The full report can be accessed from: http://sarabubb.com/middle-tier/4594671314

This study published shortly after the call for evidence by the Confederation of School Trusts (see earlier post) shows that the overall costs for middle tier functions within the academy system in 2016/17 was £167.05 per pupil compared to £115.71 for the local authority system. It is worth pointing out that the two do not share a common financial year, and that some of the disbanded local advisory and professional development functions may have been taken up by MATs. However, neither of these points would be likely to fully explain the difference between the two amounts.

By my calculations the figures in this report suggest that saving of some £300 million might be made if the ‘middle tier’ was rationalised and local authorities were charged with oversight of all schools; perhaps with regional boards to allow for the economies of scale that this report points out are missing from the current academy sector at present.

The authors of the report call for an urgent review of the middle tier system in the light of international best practice. It is generally acknowledged that England has some of the most centralised public services; schooling is no exception to that state of affairs. The authors also recommend an evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of the multi-academy trust model, and I would add of standalone academies as well. The authors also want to see greater efficiency, fairness and transparency in funding the oversight of England’s school system. The DfE has gone some way since the data used in this report on at least facing up to the high salaries that were being paid in some parts of the academy system, but have not yet tackled the underlying issues identified in this report.

The DfE has also undertaken some work to drive down costs for schools, emulating, for instance, TeachVac’s free national vacancy site with a version of their own. However, the have failed to take on board advice in the 2016 White Paper that might have clarified some of the ‘middle tier’ functions, such as in-year admissions once again becoming the responsibility of local authorities. That isn’t just a cost matter, but also one of fairness for pupils compelled to change school during the school-year. As I have pointed out in the past, children taken into care and moved away for their own safety from their previous home often find some schools reluctant to admit them, even if they have places available.

Perhaps any new regime at Sanctuary Buildings after the new Prime Minister enters into office will use this report as the basis for a fresh start. However, I am not holding my breath. In the meantime, reports such as this one that highlight the amount of money being spent unnecessarily are to be welcomed.

 

 

 

How to manage schooling in England?

The Confederation of School Trusts, led by their able chief Executive, Leora Cruddas, don’t often rate a mention on this blog.  However, their latest attempt to cut through the Gordian knot left by Michael Gove’s half completed reform of the school system in England does at least offer an opportunity for those interested in the matter to once again state their views and why they hold them?

As an elected Councillor, Deputy Chair of an Education Scrutiny Committee, and a long-time supporter of a school system with local democratic involvement, unlike the NHS where most decisions are driven either from Whitehall or by professionals, I might be thought to be miles apart from CST’s view: we shall see.

The CST introduction to their latest survey focuses on five key areas for their White Paper:

  • One system – as opposed to the current “expensive and confusing” two-tier system, one of standalone schools maintained by local authorities and one of legally autonomous schools, many operating as part of a group or school trust
  • Teacher professionalism – the CST is proposing to establish a body of knowledge which supports initial teacher education, induction and post-qualifying professional development
  • Curriculum – the CST proposes that school trusts have clearly articulated education philosophies and harness the best evidence on curriculum design and implementation so that every pupil is able to access an ambitious curriculum
  • Funding – the CST is today launching an online tool to help schools and school trusts strategically plan, and is also publishing a paper highlighting where strategic additional investment is needed
  • Accountability – the CST believes there should be a single regulator and, separately, an independent inspectorate, each with clearly understand authority, decision-making powers, legitimacy and accountability

On the first bullet point, I would add that in my view is really 3 systems, with standalone academies and free schools being different to MAT/MACs.

Can Academies and Free schools be like the voluntary school sector of the past and MAT/MACs act like diocese in relation to local authorities?

How many organisations do we need? There are 150+ local authorities of varying sizes: how many do we need at that tier, 200, 250? Certainly not the wasteful and expensive arrangements that currently exist across the country. The fact that the government has had to clamp down on top salaries in MATs, this at a time when schools are strapped for cash, makes the point more eloquently that any diatribe about CEOs pay packets.

Pupil place planning and in-year admissions are key tasks needed in a properly managed system. Someone needs to guarantee children taken into care for their own safety and moved away from the parental home can secure a new school place quickly, and also ensure in-year admissions for pupils whose parents move home are not left for long periods of time without a school place, especially if they have special needs and an EHCP.

Perhaps a national fund to help ensure rapid transfers for pupils with an EHC plan or needing SEN support might help. Local Authorities could draw on the fund without it affecting their High Needs block funding.

The CST also needs to reflect how school transport is to be managed in any changed system.

On teacher professionalism, will the CST support my view on the need for QTS to be defined more closely than anyone with QTS can teach anything to any pupil in any type of school?

If you are interested in the governance of our school system as it approaches its 150th anniversary year, do please visit https://cstuk.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Future-shape-white-paper-call-for-evidence-June-2019.pdf and complete the CST survey.

 

 

Off-rolling and the state of education governance

Earlier this month The Education Policy Institute published a report into unexplained pupil exits from schools https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/unexplained-pupil-exits/ Their paper raised the question about whether this was a growing problem? A good survey of the background to the issue, and how it has gained prominence, can be found in a House of Commons briefing paper at https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8444#fullreport first published last December. For those with access to the Local Government Information Unit publications, John Fowler has also written a helpful policy briefing on the subject.

The House of Commons paper starts with a helpful explanation of the issue and why it is important.

What is ‘off-rolling’ and why are concerns being raised?

There are many reasons that children may be removed from the school roll. For example, children may legitimately be excluded from schools, move to another school that is more suitable for them, or simply move home. Parents also have the right to educate their child at home if they wish. Recent years, however, have seen concerns being raised that children are leaving school rolls in rising numbers, in particular as they approach GCSE level, because of pressures within the school system. It has been suggested that increased ‘off-rolling’ is taking place because of the impact of pupils who are likely to perform relatively poorly in their examinations on school performance measures, and because schools may be struggling to support children who need high levels of support, for example pupils with special educational needs. Off-rolling of this kind might involve children being excluded for reasons that are not legitimate, or parents being encouraged to home educate a child where they would not otherwise have chosen to do so. Excluding children from school for non-disciplinary reasons is unlawful. Children who are off-rolled may move to another school, into alternative provision, or into home education.

In the present muddled state of education governance, local authorities may no longer operate schools, but they retain residual responsibilities, not least where schooling intersects with child safety concerns. Thus, as John Fowler points out, the DfE is reviewing its statutory guidance on Children Missing Education and the requirement in the Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations 2006, as amended in 2016, in order to publish a review by 30 September 2019 of regulation 5. This is the regulation that covers the contents of the admission register, along with regulation 8 that deals with deletions from the admission register, and regulation 12 that covers information to be provided to the local authority.

In Oxfordshire, all but one of our secondary schools are now academies. What sanctions does the local authority have if schools do not comply with the requirement to notify an exit from school by a pupil, especially by a pupil at the start of Year Eleven where they still would not count towards a school’s results the following summer? A rule that has no sanctions attached is a rule that can be broken with impunity.

In an earlier post on this blog about youth justice I suggested that ‘any secondary school with more than 8% of its current annual revenue grant held in reserves and also with an above average figure for permanent exclusions across years 10 and 11 and any off-rolling of pupils in those years for pupils with SEND should have 50% of the excess of their reserves above the 8% level removed by the government and reallocated to the local Youth Offending Team.’ (March 11th 2019 post headed youth Justice)

If it is more cost effective for schools to remove challenging pupils than to retain them on roll, then there is little incentive, especially when funds are tight, to keep to either the letter or the spirit of the law. At the next Cabinet meeting in Oxfordshire I will be probing this matter further through a tabled question.

 

Register your child’s education

As we approach the 150th anniversary of the State requiring parents to educate their children new proposals are emerging for consultation that would potentially alter the nature of the contract between individuals and the State over the education of children between the ages of five and sixteen (and possibly eighteen).

As I noted in a post in June 2016

Parents are not required to send children to school to be educated, but if they do so it must be ‘regularly’. There seems to be no similar legal penalty that appears to be enforced for those that decide to home school or educate their children in some other way than sending them to school.

So, the requirement on parents has been to ‘educate’ their children, and the state school was always the default option if no other action has been taken by parents. I suspect that parliament either thought schooling generally a ‘good thing’, so most would take up the option or that it didn’t want to interfere in family life any more than necessary. As stated, the law also allowed private schools to continue with minimal state interference.

Fast forward 150 years and we live in a different set of circumstances, where family rights can be challenged by the rights of individual members of the family. In these circumstances, the right of the child to a ‘good’, ‘satisfactory’ and even’ appropriate’ education may top the right of a family to educate their children as they see fit. At some point the courts will have to rule on this issue.

In order to reach a decision on the education a child is receiving the state needs to know about that education and that the child is indeed being educated. This latter point is, I think, the reasoning behind the current move by the DfE to consult on a register of all children’s education.

Is this a sledgehammer to crack a nut? Realistically, the State wants to know children at risk either because parents are deliberately hiding them from the State or because state providers have made attendance at a school so challenging parents have withdrawn their offspring with no other adequate education in place.

A compromise might be that if a child is entered into a school, and receives a unique pupil number, it becomes eligible for tracking until the end of compulsory schooling. This would allow parents of genuine home schooling that never interact with the State to continue unhindered in their way of life. But, pupils excluded, off-rolled or otherwise removed, perhaps because of bullying or poor SEND provision, would remain open to checking on their education.

Apart from anything else, this might help local authorities recognise where provision has broken down for some children and argue for better resources. The risk is that, at least in the short-term, some schools might exclude more pupils since they would no longer disappear from the system. However, that risk is part of the debate society must have about schools and their place in communities: exam factories or education for whole communities?

This proposal doesn’t deal with those that want a different form of education. But, rules about what is a ‘school’ and the inspection of all schools with severe penalties for unregistered schools might deal with that issue.

 

 

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.