Can schools cause a housing crisis?

Are academies screwing up the housing market? In the 2016 Education White Paper, it was hinted that in-year admissions might be returned to local authority control as they manage the main admissions round. So far, nothing has happened.

With secondary school rolls now on the increase in many parts of the south of England, and likely to eventually increase across the whole country over the course of the next few years, many more schools are filling up in some of their younger age year groups. They are, therefore becoming more reluctant to offer places to in-year applicants.

I have been campaigning for some time about the effect this can have on children taken into care that are having to experience a long wait before a school is forced to take them in the end; this at a very vulnerable time in their lives when being deprived of social interaction school can offer is a real concern and needs urgent action.

Now, I am also being told of parents moving mid-year for employment reasons that are finding schools reluctant to offer a place to their child. Where most or all secondary schools are academies this leaves the parents in a weak position and their child or children possibly out of school for several months.

I have remarked before that it is a supreme irony that a parent talking a child on holiday for a fortnight can be fined, whereas one taking them across town to a new house can be excluded from schooling for much longer. Something isn’t right here, and the government needs to take action. Firstly, they should determine the size of the problem and what the effects of rising rolls are likely to be on the need for in-year places and spare capacity within the system.

Builders, developers and employers human resources departments need to understand the effects of current policy, since with social media being immediate in nature it could slow down the house market and make employees reluctant to switch jobs mid-school year if they believe schooling will be a problem for their children.

As an aside, many schools could do more for children they admit mid-year and might want to track how well they integrate into the school. Schools with large number of forces children are well aware of this problem and that was one reason the Service Children’s Premium was introduced.

The fact that academies are their own admissions authorities is probably at the heart of the problem. Perhaps head teacher boards could discuss the issue wearing their responsibility for the system and not as heads of individual schools or directors of MATs.

Pupils deserve an education and although inconvenient and sometimes unsettling to schools in-year movement will take place and needs to be handled in both a sensitive and timely manner. If a school has a place in a year group it is difficult to see why the decision isn’t Immediate, especially with the power of information technology.


System autonomy or a system for the future?

Hard on the publication of the report from the social Mobility Commission, headlined in the previous post, comes a report from the Centre for Education Economics, the re-named CMRE or Centre for Market Reform in Education. This is a body that avowedly believes in market solutions to improving education. Their report is entitled ‘Optimising Autonomy; a blueprint [sic] for reform.

Now, generally I find the former CMRE view often too market orientated for my taste, but this new report by James Croft bears reading as it makes some interesting observations. I remain un-reformed in my view that if the democratic process has a place in education at a national level then it also has at a more local level. This report does at least recognise some role for local authorities, but it might be better if they were to have worked through case studies of what can actually happen. How much might bussing in rural areas cost to achieve greater parental choice and is it worth the expenditure. A key question surely for a centre concerned with economics one would have imagined.

I also conclude that if competition was such a good idea then large retail chains would not impose the discipline that they do on their stores. I think, more important, as I have said at two different conferences this week, is the issue of technological change and our approach to education. The ‘free marketers’ have become too obsessed with the ‘wrong’ question of parental choice and have missed the issue of how education should respond to a changing environment and what the consequences are for the system as a whole.

Before 1870, England assumed that parents that wanted education would seek it out and pay for it. With the advent of greater suffrage and votes for all came the thinking about educating the electorate and a necessity for State intervention; something many other countries had already embarked upon. Parents often now choose to rectify the deficiencies of the State system through paying for private tutoring and home schooling is on the increase.

I think a centre dedicated to education economics might well look beyond the issue of for profit or not in schools and widen the debate into ‘for profit’ activities in education and how we achieve the aims of social mobility discussed in the previous post. Especially, what part will changes in technology play in the future shape of learning for our citizens and their families?

The general election was a good example of backward thinking, with the debate largely about selective education. Why should the State pay for this form of education over any other. Again, an interesting question for economists to discuss. I suspect the return on State investment is much greater with non-selective education across all government services. But such a calculation is notoriously difficult to undertake effectively.

I am interested to know where Labour stand in the debate on the politics and economics of schooling. As a left-winger for most of his career, does Mr Corbyn want to see a return to full State control and is that local or national. After all, Labour nationalised the NHS in the 1940s, so presumably is comfortable in keeping schools out of local democratic control?


Minutiae for manifestoes

Political parties are now frantically writing their manifestoes for June 8th. The headlines are probably obvious: selective schools; funding; workload; testing; standards; teachers, and ensuring that there are enough of them, and possibly something about free schools and academies. But, beneath the surface there is room to include some specific ideas that might help various groups. Special education doesn’t often get a mention, nor do children taken into care, but both are among the most vulnerable in society.

Put the two factors together and make a placement outside of the local authority responsible for taking the child into care and you have a complex situation that the present governance of education regulations don’t really provide for. Hopefully, schools are willing to cooperate and offer a rapid re-assessment for an Education & Health Care Plan, where that is necessary and provide a place. But, what if a school doesn’t want to do so and is an academy, as an increasing number of special schools are becoming. Who has the right to demand that such a child is placed in an appropriate school setting as quickly as possible? It really is unacceptable for the government to worry about pupils that miss a fortnight’s education for a family holiday and fine them, but take no action for a child out of school for several months because no school place can be found for them. The 2016 White Paper suggested that local authorities should once again have the last word on in-year admissions, regardless of the type of school. I hope that all political parties will pledge to look at the issue of school places for children taken into care mid-year, as most are. If a fortnight is too long for a holiday, it is too long for a child taken into care.

At the same time, I would like a review of the school transport arrangements. It is grossly unfair that children in London, regardless of parental income, receive free transport, but those outside the TfL area are subject to archaic rules designed nearly 150 years ago. How many cars could we take off the roads if pupils travelled by bus or train to school for free, as in London? The free transport rule might also help with encouraging parental choice, as well as reducing traffic on the roads.

I would also like to see figures for the percentage of pupils from each primary school that received their first choice of secondary school rather than just figures for the secondary school. This would help to identify areas where there are either significant pressures or unrealistic choices being made by parents.

Finally, I would like to require an academy or free school considering closure to have to go through the same consultation process that a locally authority school is required to undertake. At present, academies and free schools can effectively just hand back the keys at the end of term, rather as sometimes happens in the private sector. However, this should not be allowed with State funded schools even after an unexpected Ofsted visit.


Don’t the Tories care?

Rumours about what might be in the budget regarding education are rife across the media today. We know of more money for T levels in further education but, more grammar school places are also being touted as a likely outcome.

One particularly pernicious suggestion that I have heard mention is that the Chancellor will announce that the rules on home to school transport will be altered. At present, outside the TfL area in London, where transport is free, most pupils only receive free transport if their nearest school with a place is over two miles for children up to eight and three miles for children over eight and up to sixteen. There are exceptions where the route is unsafe and for children whose parents are on certain benefits. The latter normally have a wider range of schools to select from where free travel is available.

The rumour suggests that this provision will be extended to allow all pupils free travel to a selective school up to fifteen miles away from their home. Now, one would have assumed that was the case anyway in selective authorities, but at least one such authority tried to create a ‘nearest school’ policy regardless of whether it was a grammar or a secondary modern, condemning some parents to pay to take up places at grammar schools. Preventing this anomaly seems sensible. Less sensible is applying the rule to any child within say 15 miles offered a place and forcing non-selective local authorities to pay for the transport cost even if it means a taxi at £5,000 per place per year.

More sensible would be for the Chancellor to take a look at the transport rules for post-16 pupils. There is no statutory requirement to provide free transport for this age group despite the raising of the learning leaving age to eighteen. The cost is most keenly felt by parents in Tory controlled rural areas, many of which are fully non-selective. Here there is often little choice except between a single secondary school and a distant further education college offering very different ranges of courses. In some areas, with sixth form or tertiary colleges, there is no choice if a child wants to remain in education. For pupils with special needs the distance can be even greater to attend specialist provision.

In my view, if the Chancellor is trying to do more than clear up the anomaly created by some Tory authorities trying to save money, he should support free transport for all 16-19 pupils on the same basis as for pupils from 8-16 ahead of favouring younger children attending selective schools.

Of course, he could go further and offer the same deal to all pupils across the country as pupils receive in London, free transport to all children regardless of distance travelled within the TfL area, but that would really cause chaos, even if it boosted parental choice. Not much chance of that then.