Education is a fundamental Human Right

Last week there was a report from the Ombudsman (sic) about the management of the process of to the admission of a pupil to a school. This report was of especial interest to me as it involved Oxfordshire, where I am a county councillor.

Long-time readers of this blog will know of my concerns over the time required for some children taken into care to be offered a school place, despite their vulnerability. I have written about that issue several times, but probably most tellingly in April last year at https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2018/04/17/educating-children-taken-into-care/

The fact that other children are also being affected is very disappointing, and disheartening when it is happening so close to home.

I firmly believe this is a basic right of children to be provided with education by the State, if asked to do so. To leave a child for 14 months, as in the case highlighted in the report from the Ombudsman, with either less than full-time education or no education at all is unacceptable.

We now fine parents for taking children on holiday in term time, so we cannot accept, even in these times of cuts to public services, a child facing long periods without education as a result of administrative issues.

Indeed, I am reminded that the first Protocol of Article 2 of the 1998 Human Rights Act reads as follows:

Right to education

No person shall be denied a right to an education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/human-rights-act/article-2-first-protocol-right-education

The fault is not entirely that of Oxfordshire, the power of academies to dictate their own in-year admissions and the failure of government to act quickly when asked to rule on the issue don’t help.

Indeed, the 2016 White Paper that suggested that in-year admissions be returned to local authority control would be a good start.

If Mr Williamson wanted an early win for parents, pending time for legislation, he could gain voluntary acceptance for academies and their Trusts to agree to work with local authorities on admissions and not to opt out of local arrangements.

However, all Oxfordshire’s children already have Oxfordshire County Council as their first line of defence when there are problems, as the Ombudsman pointed out at paragraph 60 of their Report:

Section 19 of the Education Act 1996 states councils have a duty to make arrangements to ensure the provision of suitable education at school or otherwise for each child of compulsory school age who for reasons of illness, exclusion or otherwise may not for any period receive suitable education unless arrangements are made for them. This duty is binding.

https://www.lgo.org.uk/information-centre/news/2019/jul/oxfordshire-teen-left-out-of-school-for-14-months-because-of-council-delay

Young people only have one chance of education alongside their peers, and we have to provide the resources to take care of challenging cases as much as for the majority of pupils that cause no issues for the State, and the schools it funds.

 

 

Advertisements

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.

 

 

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?