Support Staff axed by secondary schools

In the previous post I discussed the changing level of the pupil teacher ratios in schools, following the publication of the 2016 School Workforce Census, conducted last November. Of course, teachers are not the only staff employed in schools and there are a vast number of other staff either employed by the school or by third party suppliers, but working on school premises.

With the increase in pupil numbers, it is perhaps not surprising that the number of teaching assistants increased in the primary sector to 177,700. The number of administrative assistants also increased in primary schools. However, there was a reduction in the admittedly small number of technicians employed in the primary sector. I assume most of these work on IT systems?

In the secondary sector, the position was almost exactly the opposite. The sector employs less than a third of the number of teaching assistant that are found in the primary sector. However, there was a reduction in their numbers to just over 50,000; down by just over 2,000 in one year and more than 4,000 from the high point reached in 2013. By contrast, the secondary sector employs many more technicians than in the primary sector; somewhere between four and five per schools. Even here, the numbers reduced between 2015 and 2016 as they also did for administrative staff.

Third Party employed support staff increased in number in the primary sector, but fell in the secondary sector. Again, the difference in pupil premium cash per pupil between the two sectors may well account for some of the trends. I think it fair to say that secondary school budgets, even when helped by rising rolls from 2016 onwards, will likely cause pressure in many of these areas in years to come.

How the National Funding Formula is introduced, if indeed it is introduced in its present iteration, will undoubtedly shape the future spending patterns, even if there are floors and ceilings introduced. I suspect that teaching jobs will be protected at the expense of other staff in schools, but that the possible reductions in the number of minority subjects on offer may well affect the employment possibilities of teachers in those subjects.

In a latter post, I will examine the trends in qualified teachers employed in different subjects across the last few years, along with trends in entry and departure rates from the profession. But it is worth noting that the average age of teachers in secondary schools is higher than in primary schools, with 605 of secondary school teachers being in the 30-50 age grouping compared with 55% in the primary sector. Only 22.6% of secondary school teachers are aged under 30 compared with 28.4% in the primary sector. This difference may have an impact on employment patterns.

In terms of gender balance, four out of five employees in the school sector as a whole are now women.  With the largest grouping of men being the 37.5% of teachers employed in the secondary sector. This compares with just 15.4% of male teachers in the primary sector. Over 90% of teaching assistants are women.



Pension Fund concerns

No, for once this isn’t about the Teachers’ Pension Fund, partly because there isn’t one: the government pays the difference between receipts paid into the scheme and the pensions payable to pensioners each year. There is an issue about why private schools are in the Scheme, but that may be for another post.

This post is about the report by UHY Hacker Young, the national accountancy group that was released earlier today. According to the authors, the Local Government Pension Scheme fund deficits around the country have increased between 75-100% on average over the last year, following Brexit-related market turbulence. This change affects all academies directly because nearly all non-teaching staff in schools are members of these schemes, unless they have chosen to opt out. As academies publish accounts each year, the scale of their deficit is easy to uncover

I raised concerns about growing deficits among academies in Oxfordshire earlier this year at a meeting of the county council, as they are the body that administers the scheme. Apparently, in 2013 the DfE gave some form of guarantee about under-writing the deficit. However, that seemingly has yet to be challenged, presumably because if an academy changes hands the deficit just passes to the new body running the school. I am not sure what has happened when a school closes completely as happened with at least one UTC in the West Midlands.

Of course, pension deficits are to some extent an a figure on a balance sheet of the type accountancy standards require, but most ordinary mortals pass over very quickly and nod sagely when it is explained to them at the meeting where the annual accounts are presented and discussed. However, with staff costs making up around 75% of the total costs of the average school, according to UHY Hacker Young, something will eventually have to be done to prevent these deficits overwhelming the education budget as a whole, so trustees might want to start asking questions when the accounts are presented to them later this term for sign-off.

As UHY Hacker Young explain:

“Pension deficits fluctuate each year according to market rates and other complex assumptions, however the trend over recent years, even before this latest increase, has been upwards. A deficit means the pension fund does not currently have sufficient assets to pay pensions that will fall due in the future to retired staff, so trustees are rightly questioning how the gap will be funded and where costs can be cut to plug the deficit.”

One option would be for the government to nationalise the fund rather than continue to allow a significant number of different local authority schemes to operate. This would, presumably, reduce the cost of administration, but some well-run schemes might see their returns reduce. However, schools would be secure in knowing that non-teaching staff were now being treated in the same manner as teachers. I assume if this somewhat drastic approach were to be chosen there would have to be a new Scheme, since taking away current assets from the market would be unthinkable.