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.

 

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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.

 

Interesting data from ofsted

The Regional Director of ofsted spent just over an hour answering questions at a meeting earlier this week of Oxfordshire’s Education Scrutiny Committee. Sadly, neither the press nor any members of the public turned up to hear this interesting and informative exchange of views.

One of the questions posed by the Committee was about schools ranked ‘outstanding’ on previous criteria and whether the judgement will remain when the new Framework, currently out to consultation, comes into force. There doesn’t seem to be a mechanism to reset the dial when there is a major change in the inspection framework.

This question was thrown into sharp focus later this week by ofsted’s publication of inspection outcomes for the autumn term of 2018. This is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/state-funded-schools-inspections-and-outcomes-as-at-31-december-2018

Of the 102 schools classified as ‘exempt’ under the 2011 legislation, that were subject to a full inspection, 12 schools (12%) remained outstanding, 50 (49%) declined to good, 35 (34%) declined to requires improvement and five (5%) declined to inadequate. The fact that four out ten of these schools declined to either ‘requires improvement’ or the category of ‘inadequate’, in five cases, must be of concern. A further 15 ‘outstanding’ schools had a short inspection and, thus, remained with the same outcome.

Ofsted also commented that the number of schools that had improved from ‘requires improvement’ had declined, compared with previous years. However, ofsted noted that ‘This may be a sign that the remaining schools have more entrenched problems and will be harder to turn around.’

Ofsted has also looked at schools in the government’s opportunity areas that have received extra cash outside of the normal funding arrangements. As might be expected, there was a 10% different between the percentage of schools rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in these areas and the national percentage of such schools. As ofsted observed, ‘The lower percentage of good and outstanding schools in opportunity areas is to be expected, as the areas were chosen on the basis of the problems they were experiencing.’

No doubt, at some point in the future, ofsted will comment on both the use of funding in these areas and the difference it makes to schools outside those areas, but facing similar or even more extreme challenges.

In the present complex structure of governance, the lack of local robust school improvement teams offering help to all schools, whether maintained, standalone academies, small or even large MATs means that ofsted can often only inspect after a school has begun to decline. Good local school improvement teams, funded across all schools, might well be able to prevent some declines from happening. MATs can make this happen as they can top slice their schools, but other schools cannot as easily do so.

When the country finally emerges from its Brexit travails, this is but one of many issues that will need to be addressed. One can but hope that such an outcome will be decided sooner rather than later.

Knife Crime must be tackled

Those readers that have followed this blog since its inception in 2014 will know that I have written sparingly about the issue of knife crime. They will also know that I write from personal experience. In 1977 a pupil excluded from both a mainstream secondary school and then a special school entered my classroom and stabbed me in front of a class of pupils: luckily I survived.

I think my comments on the issue of exclusions and knife crime, today’s current topic for debate in the media, were best summed up in my post of 14th April last year under the heading ‘The responsibility of us all’. https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2018/04/14/the-responsibility-of-us-all/

The most telling paragraph is not about the deaths but that:

NHS data shows a 63% increase over five years in the number of children aged 16 and under who have been treated for stab wounds in England. The largest increase (85%) between 2011/12 and 2016/17 was among 15-year-olds. The overall rise in the number of stabbings across England during the same period was 14%.

Like my experience, most of these could have been near misses. As I pointed out last year, exclusions have always been greatest among 14 and 15 year old boys.

What was also interesting today was to hear the Mayor of London on the BBC’s Today programme apparently recognising the role local authorities used to play in education; not least in coordinating what happens to excluded pupils. The role of local authorities is one, although unfashionable, I have consistently championed through this blog.

I am also interested to know how many local authority scrutiny committees have focused the spotlight on exclusions in recent years: Oxfordshire Education Scrutiny Committee has done so, and you can find link to their report by using the search facility on WordPress.

The reduction in the use of youth custody has been a positive outcome of the change in the approach to penal policy and sentencing in recent years, and I do not think locking up fewer young people has contributed to the rise in knife crime and the associated deaths and serious injuries.

However, I do think the almost complete destruction of youth services and the speed with which ideas can be transmitted through social media may be important factors. Much has been made of gangs, and what happened in Lancashire recently was horrific, but the stabbing of individuals on suburban streets and in other public spaces merits the question as to what was behind these seemingly senseless acts of violence. Were they gratuitous or was there a motive?

Much has also been made of the spread of drugs and the ‘county lines’ that have recreated modern ‘Fagins’, with control over the lives not only of those that run drugs but their families and friends.

Tacking these complex problems while also staying alert for the threat of terrorism almost certainly demands more resources for our police. Schools may also need more targeted resources to cope with challenging pupils. Will this mean a move back towards are more hypothecated distribution of funds, thus curbing some of the freedom schools currently enjoy?

 

  

First Swallow?

The Diocese of Bristol must be one of the first multi-academy trusts (MATs) to have posted accounts for the financial year 2017-18 on the Company House web site. At least, it is the first one I have come across. These account cover the year from September 2017 to August 2018, and thus follow the academic year. This is unlike accounts for maintained schools that follow the financial year from April to March.

In the past, this dual system has caused trouble with the government’s auditors for civil servants at the DfE. But, hopefully, that is all in the past.

One interesting feature to note is the five per cent overhead charge levied on schools in this MAT. There are eleven schools in the MAT and the cost to them seemingly increased from £403,000 the previous year to £486,000 in 2017-18. This charge covered physical, human, financial and legal support as well as education support and the classic category of ‘other’. From this, the Diocesan Board of Finance received £150,000 in 2017-18.

Now five per cent seems like a reasonable amount and it will be interesting to compare it with amounts levied by other MATs and paid by standalone academies for these professional services. There is also the question of how maintained schools should access these services? If schools in MATs must contribute to a central services charge, should maintained schools be required to do the same or be allowed to shop around for the best deal?

The Bristol Diocese MAT is coy in its accounts about the senior staff structure, although it has to declare the salary of its highest paid staff. There doesn’t seem anything about the gender pap gap, but I may have missed that bit somewhere during a quick read.

During 2018 the Minister wrote to MATs about excessive pay for some Chief Officers and it will be interesting to read any comments about this from auditors as more accounts are published. Will we see any significant reductions in pay or just an acknowledgement of the government trying to interfere in the running of MATs.

When more accounts emerge it will also be possible to review the amounts schools spend on those areas not covered in the DfE comparisons on the school data and performance indicators published by the DfE.

One area of concern that the accounts do highlight is the Local Government Pension Scheme, since all non-teaching staff in schools are normally entered into these schemes that are run by individual local authorities. Like most pension schemes, these have been in deficit and MATs and standalone academies have had to increase payments into the scheme to help overcome these deficits. Should the DfE now create a national scheme for these workers as they are clearly no longer local government employees? There may be an interesting debate to be had about the pension arrangements for these staff.

Until all schools are once again on a common annual accounting period there will remain two distinct groups that are difficult to compare in terms of income and expenditure. Such duality of approach is not helpful.

 

 

Commuting pupils: are most to be found in London?

How much does the provision of free transport affect the choice of secondary school in London? What is clear from data published recently by the DfE is that pupils in London, and especially those living in Inner London, are among the most mobile in the country, especially at secondary school level when it comes to attending a state school outside the boundaries of the local authority where they live.  https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2018

The percentage of pupils living and attending schools in a local authority, as a percentage of resident population, ranged from almost 100% in Cumbria to just 54.6% in Knowsley in Merseyside. However, along with Reading, at just less than 64% attending schools in the borough, these latter two authorities were very much outliers. Some 26 of the 30 mainland local authorities with the lowest percentage of their resident population attending schools in the authority at secondary school level were London boroughs. I don’t know how much of the explanation in Reading is a combination of the presence of two highly selective schools and a distribution of schools dictated during the twenty years when Reading was part of the County of Berkshire before it was broken up into different unitary authorities.

History, as well as free transport, may also play a part in the reasons why London figures so largely in the authorities with the most movement. For around a century, school building in Inner London was governed by a single agency; first the LCC and then the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority) that was abolished by Mrs Thatcher’s government. In outer London, although the creation of the boroughs dates back more than 50 years, many of the secondary schools in north and west London were built on sites created by the former Middlesex County Council.

The creation of academies, free schools, UTCs and studio Schools will also have help encourage movement of pupils, but, I suspect, to a lesser degree than the historical location of schools.

Although there is cross authority movement at the primary school level, it tends to be at a lower level as most pupils will attend their nearest school except when different demographic pressures put pressure on specific schools in urban areas creating a movement across boundaries. By contrast, the movement across local boundaries for pupils in the special school sector is higher than in either the primary or secondary sectors in many local authority areas. This is not really a surprise, since creating specialist schools is often more cost effective if they can reach a certain size and not every authority wants to provide specialist provision for every type of need.

Outside of London, many of the pupils moving across boundaries will have to pay for their own travel costs, as authorities have modified their travel policies, in an effort to reduce expenditure. However, county council’s expenditure on travel is still a large burden to many authorities, especially for children living in rural areas where the local bus service has now disappeared and either a special bus must be run or a taxi provided at significant cost to the authority.