More evidence of funding pressures

The government published data on planned local authority and school expenditure on Children’s Services in 2017-18 as Statistical First Release 48/2017 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/planned-la-and-school-expenditure-2017-to-2018-financial-year

The data provides some further evidence of the pressure on both the education budget and the whole of Children’s Services with funding generally not keeping place with expenditure increases. The differences between academy and local authority financial years still pose problems for the DfE, although, after several years of qualified accounts, there has hopefully been some progress in the direction of transparency across geographical areas with different mixes of schools. Nevertheless in table 4 of the main tables there are a couple of dubious looking sets of data from two authorities.

With all the talk about growing mental health problems in school-age children, it is concerning to see the fall over the four year period shown in the statistics in spending both in total and per capita on the school psychological services. Planned spending is £12 per capita in 2017-18, down from £15 in 2014-15. I do hope that the difference has been picked up from public health or some other budget, but if not, this needs re-visiting.

Spending on SEN transport is, however, going in the opposite direction once the cost- of post-16 transport is taken into account. By contrast, as a result of changes in their policies by many local authorities, spending on general school transport is falling as the cost outside London is being transferred to parents through either expecting more to pay for transport or to change the schools their child attends from a catchment school to the nearest school.

Funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres and early Years funding has been decimated, reducing from £78 per head in 2014-15 to an estimated £48 in 2017-18. This has resulted in many centres closing. The net effects of this closure programme will only be revealed in the next few years.

Other areas to see large per capita reduction over the four year period include school improvement services and regulatory duties. In both cases, time will tell whether this is either a sharpening of efficiency in local authorities that previously spent well above the median amount or a real deterioration in the quality of services across the country? It is certain that a better organised service without the twin track academy and maintained school systems running in parallel might provide the biggest opportunity for savings. However, to tackle the legacy of Mr Gove would take real political courage and probably a more settled House of Commons than currently exists.

The pressure created by the increase in the size of the looked after sector has resulted in a 10% increase in spending over the four years analysed. Sadly, the two areas not to share in this increase are spending on respite care and on education of looked after children. Surely, both are reductions to regret and to try to reverse as soon as possible.

Both substance misuse services and teenage pregnancy services have suffered significant cuts over the past four years; hopefully in some cases because of less demand for these services, but keeping funding might have produced even better results in the future.

On the day that a major credit rating agency downgraded the UK’s Sovereign Nation credit rating again, citing public finances as one reason, these DfE figures must raise questions about whether the poorest in society are being disproportionally affected by austerity and whether that is what we want as a Society.

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Politicians rule: OK?

The recent Select Committee report on Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) raises two significant issues in my mind. https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmeduc/204/20402.htm

These issues are of

Community and,

Democratic control

They are rather neatly summed up by the Select Committee in their executive summary as follows:

We have outlined six characteristics which we believe trusts must possess in order to be successful. These include strong regional structures, robust financial controls, enhanced opportunities for career development and tangible accountability at all levels.

Some of the earliest trusts expanded too quickly over wide geographic regions and the performance of their schools suffered as a result. We are encouraged by the development of a MAT ‘growth check’ and urge the Government to use this to ensure that trusts are only allowed to take on more schools when they have the capacity to grow successfully.

…There is also more work to be done to ensure that MATs are accountable to the communities in which their schools are located. There must be more engagement with parents and clarity around the role of local governing boards.

In my view the Committee could have used this report to go further and to have started to make the case for accountability for schooling to be brought back through the local ballot box. This would have fitted in well with the National Audit Office’s recent report where they highlighted the lack of coherent pupil place planning and the lack of any one body having overall control of the process, although local authorities retained the obligation to ensure sufficient places were available for all pupils that wanted one. And, it was local authorities that sent out the offer letters to parents this week, even where they have no control over the admission arrangements.

After nearly half a century when rampant capitalism has held sway at Westminster, under governments of all political persuasions, and municipalisation gave way to mega deals brokered in Whitehall, is the tide finally turning?

I don’t think BREXIT has yet had the time to change the public consciousness about the role of parliament at Westminster and the possible effects on the delivery of local services. However, it is clear that Westminster will be a much busier place, if it does its job properly, once Article 50 has been triggered.

Alongside the exit management process will be the return to a requirement that the sovereign parliament at Westminster must craft all our laws and not just fill in the gaps from European legislation. This will affect some parts of government more than others. Although education wasn’t as affected by the transfer of powers during our EU sojourn, as some areas of government, it is a moot point whether government will be able to meet the demands of operating a universal education service while still meeting the needs of all local communities.

Sure, some local authorities were poor at providing education, as some are with all services. Sometimes this comes down to money; other times to leadership and ambition. For instance, using the LAIT tool on the DfE web site, Oxfordshire comes 6th best on percentage of children still being breastfed at six weeks, but 125th on the percentage of pupils with free school meals achieving expected levels of phonics decoding. Public health is now a local government responsibility, whereas for academies and free schools there is little the local authority can do to change the phonics outcomes, regardless of whether you think the approach is the correct one.

So, what to do? A simple solution would be to rethink Schools Forums to include politicians as voting members in proportion to the political balance of the council. A 50:50 balance overall might be the first stage of change. Alongside this to also make clear the relationship between all schools and the local community. Could we see academies as a 21st century form of voluntary added school?

Local democracy may be imperfect, but in my experience communities do care about the local standard of education, even where many parents opt out of the state system. I would ensure a tighter regulation than in the past, so that Commissioners can be called in to run poorly performing authorities for a period. But if there is a patterns to these types of authority requiring commissioners; too small; too poorly funded; not attractive places to work, then central government does need learn the lessons and create reforms. What it doesn’t need to do is to privatise the service. In the modern world profit can take many forms and not just dividends, as the lucky shareholders of Snapchat discovered yesterday.

Post BREXIT we will need a successful education system even more than before if we are to pay our way and fund thriving services for future generations. Bring back education as ‘a local service nationally administered’.

 

Something for everyone

As I reported last week, TeachVac has submitted updated evidence to the House of Commons Education Select Committee Inquiry into ‘the supply of teachers’. Perforce that evidence was of a general and summary nature. However, it does seem to have been the only comment so far on the 2016 recruitment round. There is also little discussion about what 2017 might look like on the evidence of applications to train as a teacher.

Over the weekend, I took the opportunity of looking in more detail at where the secondary and all-through schools with the most number of recorded advertisements for classroom teachers so far in 2016 are located. Now, this first look is very crude, as it doesn’t standardise for the size of a school and it stands to reason that larger schools are likely to have a greater turnover, as are new schools. Other factors affecting the number of adverts a school might place could be the result of an adverse Osfted inspection or a sudden growth in popularity and hence an increase in pupil numbers requiring more teachers to be appointed.

Leaving all these factors aside, a clear national trend stand out for the second year in succession: London dominates the top of the table for schools with the most advertisements so far in 2016.

Top 50 schools for recorded number of advertisements in 2016 by region where the school is located

  • London                  23
  • South East             11
  • East of England     6
  • West Midlands      6
  • South West             2
  • North East               1
  • North West              1

There were no schools in either the East Midlands or Yorkshire & The Humber recorded as in the top 50 schools with the most recorded advertisements.

This pattern backs up the data TeachVac provided exclusively for the BBC regional radio and TV stations in June.

So, for many schools in the north of England, concerns, where they even exist, are often limited to recruitment issues in specific shortage subjects, whereas in London and the Home Counties the problem looks to be more of a general one of finding classroom teachers in many subjects.

This data is confined to secondary school classroom teacher vacancies, as that is the area of greatest concern. The fact that our survey last week also revealed schools in London were still advertising a substantial number of School Direct vacancies on the UCAS web site must be a further cause for concern, and a worry for the 2017 recruitment round.

These numbers also suggest that trialling the National Teaching Service in the North West and Yorkshire might have been sensible, because a smaller number of schools might be looking for teachers, but there might also be fewer teachers looking to move schools in those areas, so the supply of experienced teachers willing to work in challenging schools might indeed be less than elsewhere.

Over the rest of the summer I will drill down into the data and I hope to report some findings at the BERA Conference in Leeds this September. In the meantime, if anyone wants to ask a question do get in touch.

Now there’s a surprise

The new Secretary of State for Education has invented an updated variation of the Jo Moore outcome. This approach, readers will recall, was about issuing bad news on a busy news day so it didn’t receive much coverage. The current variation is to issue an important announcement at the end of a parliamentary term, either because you really need to say something or because it might receive less notice than at another time.

Anyway today’s announcement is the long awaited postponement of the second stage consultation on a National Funding formula for schools. http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statements/commons/?page=2

The gist of the statement in a written answer reads as follows;

I will therefore publish the government’s full response to the first stage of the schools and high needs consultations and set out my proposals for the second stage once Parliament returns in the autumn. We will run a full consultation, and make final decisions early in the new year. Given the importance of consulting widely and fully with the sector and getting implementation right, the new system will apply from 2018-19.

All this is, of course, subject to whether there is a general election in the autumn. So, for 2017-18 and I assume for September 2017 for academies, it is business as usual based on the present funding regimes up to age 16. Presumably Schools Forums around the country will have to agree the formula to be used locally at a meeting early in the autumn term.

The delay in taking the concept of a national funding formula forward is frustrating to those authorities that might see an increase, but a reprieve for areas such as London that could be losers under the new arrangements. How schools will react is difficult to tell, but I suspect that where budgets are under pressure already, despite the guarantees for pre-16 funding, schools will take a cautious line, especially while post-16 numbers are still in decline.

So, is this a new Secretary of State acting responsibly or admitting defeat because it is just too difficult a challenge in the present economic climate where there won’t be enough money to buy off potential losers? Who knows, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens in the autumn.

By 2018-19 the growth in the school population will mean that for there to be any winners the Treasury is going to have to find more money for education. The Treasury is also going to have to accept that universities are already factoring in increases in student fees to £9,250 for 2017 and one step the DfE might take is to review why universities are charging the same amount for classroom-based subjects as for science and technology subjects. Anything they learn from that investigation might helpfully be considered in the light of the needs of UTCs that are funded at the same rate as other schools despite higher revenue expenditure, as I have pointed out before in this blog.

So should we thank the Secretary of State for putting everyone out of their misery for another year or attack her lack of willingness to move a challenging issue forward? Tough call, but not for under-funded schools in areas such as Oxfordshire.

Can we afford 2,000 MATs?

Earlier today the Regional School Commissioner (RSC) for the area that covers Oxfordshire appeared in front of the county’s Education Scrutiny Committee. This was his second annual visit since taking up the post of RSC. He brought along his new deputy to listen to the exchanges.  The discussion was robust at times. The RSC revealed that he now has a staff of around 50 people in his office and has established three sub-regional boards because the area he covers is so large. However, he didn’t know what his total budget for the office of RSC was, but promised to write to the Committee with the figure.

Two other interesting facts that came out during the discussion were, first, that the chairs a committee that includes civil servants from other bodies such as the EFA and Ofsted so that he can co-ordinate ‘soft intelligence’ about schools. Chairing such a committee places an RSC in a very important position with regard to all the academies in his area. He also revealed that he thought multi-academy trusts should probably normally range from 1-15 schools depending upon location. He also wasn’t seemingly in favour of clusters of secondary schools in the same MAT, as in the ARK and Harris models. This is despite his view that the reinvention of advisory teachers for those that want to stay in their subject and not more into general leadership seem an attractive idea to him. Without some degree of local groupings of secondary schools the travel involved, apart from being wasteful of resources, might also dissuade some good candidates from applying for such a post.

Taking the point about wasting of resources in a time of austerity and tax cuts for business further, an average size of a MAT of ten schools might require around 2,000 extra schools leaders if replaced across the county, once the post of CEO of a MAT replaced the former Executive Head role. With on-costs this might cost around £200 million a year, as this blog has pointed out before. Even an average size of 20 schools in a MAT might cost upwards of £100 million. That figure would cost the equivalent of more than 3,000 classroom teachers across the sector. That seems a high price to pay for ditching local democracy and imposing an NHS style direct rule system on the school sector.

The RSC agreed that local authorities have the duty to provide education for pupils in academies where the plug is pulled for either financial reasons or persistent poor performance, if a transfer to another MAT cannot be organised. Why would a MAT want to take on a school with a financial deficit even if the MAT was prepared to try to overcome a long-standing period of under-performance against expectations?

In answer to a question the RSC seemed to accept announcing a school closure for September any time after Easter would place a burden on a local authority with regard to finding alternative school places. With reduced resources in local government, such a burden could probably only be met by taking staff off of other work. The Committee didn’t ask about the effects of closing a school in a rural area if it meant increased transport cost to local council Tax payers.

All in all the RSC must have felt the session was good preparation in case he is ever asked to appear in front of a parliamentary Select Committee, but it left this member of the Committee wondering whether the benefits of the system really outweigh the costs?

Purdah causes more issues for education sector

The Report of the STRB doesn’t seem like the only activity at the DfE caught by the start of the purdah period for the Euro Referendum. I had been expecting the second stage of the consultation over the proposed new National Funding Formula to appear last week: it didn’t. ASCL’s interim general secretary commented in a press notice that ‘The timetable for the new funding formula was already very tight and this delay is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.’

The delay will affect everyone, since a three month consultation launched at the end of June will run to the end of September. Even allowing for a month for the DfE to respond to any consultation, even to say, having read the responses we aren’t taking any notice, it would be late October before action could be taken. That doesn’t leave much time for School Forum to respond and set any limits left to them to administer before the 2017 financial year starts in April. Of course an eight week consultation over the summer holidays and every decision controlled by the DfE might still allow a 2017 start, but it only needs some intervention either through the Administrative Court by way of judicial review from a school that loses out under the proposals or in the House of Commons for the timetable to be derailed.

There are also tenders, such as that for the next stage of the National Teaching Service that seem to have fallen foul of purdah. The delay shouldn’t affect the timetable for a 2017 start, but will reduce the planning time available for the successful bidder.

However, the DfE were able to publish the Wood Report and their observations on it before purdah started. The report suggests significant changes to the manner in which local authorities, the police and NHS, plus the departments at Westminster than oversee these bodies and fund them, will handle serious case reviews. This is another area where the lack of any logical framework for local government is causing problems. On the one hand the government want to re-introduce large urban counties under the guise of the Northern Powerhouse while seemingly sanctioning the continuation of small unitary authorities, such as those that govern the former Berkshire.

In respect of children’s services, there doesn’t yet seem to be a coherent framework that binds together local and regional requirements. Nationally, the arrangements between the Home Office (police) DfE (Children’s Services) Department of Health (NHS) and DCLG (funding of local authorities) seems even more tenuous that the local frameworks in the emerging MASH arrangements  – Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs – being put together in the more forward thinking areas. The lack of common boundaries between services in many localities probably doesn’t help. In education, the overall role of local authorities is sometimes hampered by the presence of large numbers of academies, especially in the secondary sector, where the handling of issues, such as missing episodes by pupils, may reflect the strength of the relationship between individual academies, their MATs whose headquarters may deal with lots of different local authorities and police bodies, and the MASH, if there is one.

Safeguarding children is rightly top of the agenda but whether managing from the DfE remains the correct approach is not considered within the Wood Report. There might be a case, either for a Ministry for Children, and not just a Minister or shifting responsibility to the Ministry of Justice to sit alongside the Tribunal Service.

Bring back local democracy for schools

At the last county council meeting in Oxfordshire we discussed school organisation and the government’s proposals for making all schools academies. During the debate one Tory councillor said he didn’t believe in the need for trained teachers. As he is the Tory representative on the committee overseeing the Police & Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley I asked him bluntly whether I could enrol as a police officer without training and, if so, could I be issued with a firearm? Not surprisingly, he said the two jobs were different.

In the past I have asked journalists that question me on the need for teacher training whether I could become their editor without having been a journalist; most say that’s not how it works. Of course, it is the way it worked in the past as Lord Adonis will tell you if you ask what training he received before becoming the education reporter at the Financial Times.

With this background of establishment belief that anyone can be a teacher, and indeed run a school, I read this week’s Profile interview in Schools Week with interest. This is a regular series that I was proud to be part of when it first started and they were looking volunteers to interview. This week the interviewee was Toby Young, http://schoolsweek.co.uk/toby-young-free-school-chief-executive/ He was the man that helped start the free school movement and has more recently been paid £50,000 a year as CEO of the Trust, according to the last accounts of the MAT that now runs three schools in West London and is about to open a fourth (visit https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/07493696/filing-history and click on accounts for details).

According to Toby Young in his Schools Week interview he said;

“I was very critical of England’s public education system under the last Labour government, and I hadn’t grasped how difficult it is to do better, and to bring about system-wide improvement.

“The last government and this government have achieved a remarkable amount, and I do think the direction of travel is the right direction, but there is no question that it was arrogant of me to believe that just having high expectations and believing in the benefits of a knowledge-based education for all, that those things alone would be enough to create successful schools.”

 “As someone coming into education from the outside, the bits you see of other schools are only the tip of the iceberg. You’re not aware of everything that is going on beneath the surface. You think, ‘well, I could do better than that’, as you are pointing to the tip of the iceberg, without realising how much more there is to it.”

He sighs. “If I could rewind six years, and know then what I know now, I would have been much less critical of other schools, local authorities, and England’s public education system in general.”

At this point I might rest my case for a return to local democratic control after the Thatcher/Blair assault on local government’s role in education. Sure, there were bad local authorities and taking control of them for a period has been a good idea, but throwing the baby out with the bath water was plain daft.

If Toby Young had seen free schools as a new type of voluntary school for the 21st century then much of the grief of the past few years might have been avoided and the government wouldn’t have been faced with having to make Friday’s –U- turn.

However, the job is only half done. We still need a governance system for schools that is credible, reliable and is geared to improving outcomes for all young people at every stage of the education process. Personally, I believe that should involve democratically elected local representatives in mutli-service authorities responsible to a single government department at Westminster.

A first step would be to identify how many system leaders we need and where we are going to find them? We also need to train them in a first-class education leadership academy led by professionals but supported by those with a wide range of skills. Something like the concept I mentioned in a recent post. Toby Young may have good ideas, but perhaps he has now discovered that good intentions are not enough.

Oh, and by the way, his MAT has been looking for a chief finance officer http://www.wlfsat.org/vacancies although the vacancy for a CEO has yet to appear on their web site.