School places still needed

Pupil place planning is at the core of a successful education system. The DfE has recently published a new Statistical First Release about school capacity 2017: academic year 201/2017. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-capacity-academic-year-2016-to-2017

The headline is that 825,000 places have been added to the school estate since 2010, a net increase of 577,000 primary places and 248,000 secondary places. Between 2016 and 2017, 66,000 primary places and 23,000 secondary places were added. As is generally known, the pupil population has been increasing and that increase has now started to reach  the secondary sector after a period where rolls in secondary schools had been declining: indeed, they still are a the upper end of some schools.

Whether or not new schools are needed to cope with the growth in pupil numbers depends upon the degree of spare capacity in the system: hence the DfE’s capacity surveys. However, that capacity has to be in the places where it will be needed, otherwise it is of little use. During periods of reducing pupil numbers canny local authorities always used to try to close their worst schools whether selected on performance grounds or because of the state of the buildings. They know that when pupil numbers started increasing again someone, usually central government, would have to pay for a new school. The decline in local authorities’ power and influence in education rather put a stop to this practice, but a couple of academy chains have closed schools that were uneconomic because they couldn’t attract enough pupils.

The DfE latest finding was that the number of primary schools that are at or over capacity has remained relatively stable since 2015, following a long term increase. The number of secondary schools that are at or over capacity has increased slightly since 2016, following a long term decrease. This suggests that the growth in the primary school population may be nearing its peak, at least at Key Stage 1. The DfE confirms this, by stating that local authority forecasts suggest primary pupil numbers may begin to plateau beyond 2020/21. Secondary pupil numbers are forecast to continue to rise as the increase seen in primary pupil numbers arrives in the secondary phase. Indeed, secondary school rolls will continue to increase well into the next decade. This is good news for anyone thinking of secondary school teaching as a career.

I have some concerns that the capacity in the secondary sector may not be increasing fast enough to meet the demands of the known increase in the school population. While it is still easy for a local authority to work with a developer over the creation of a new primary school for a housing estate, few estates are large enough to generate a developer provided secondary school. Asa result, the DfE will almost always have a bigger role to play in the development of new secondary schools.

At least in Oxford, the track record of the Education and Skills Funding Council in ensuring enough secondary places is mixed. All new schools must be ‘national’ schools under the free school and academy badges. County place planning identified a need for a new secondary school in Oxford City by 2019. An academy chain offered to sponsor a new school –call it a free school or an academy, it doesn’t really matter – finding a site was always going to challenge the local authority and the EFSC has now reached a position where the school seems unlikely to open in 2019. Such a situation is unacceptable to me. If the local authority had failed, parents could take the feelings out on local councillors at the next election. Civil servants in Coventry are protected from such democratic action, but I suppose might risk their jobs if local MPs felt affected. In this case, there are no Tory MPs in the City of Oxford and indeed, at present no Conservative councillors at any level of government.

If the government cannot take front-line responsibility for school place planning and the delivery of these places, then it should be fully returned to competent local authorities across England.

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Crisis in primary headship?

Last December this blog asked a question about whether there was a crisis in finding leaders for primary schools in England? As a result of new data collected by TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk the free to use job board for teacher and school leader recruitment, we are able to make a first attempt at answering that question.

TeachVac recorded 359 vacancies for head teachers during January 2017, of these 336 were in the primary sector, with 23 advertisements seeking a head teacher for a secondary school. Of the total, some 89 schools had placed a second advert more than 21 days after the original advert and up to the 6th March 2017. That’s a second advertisement rate of 25%. It is possible that the percentage will increase further as schools try to complete their recruitment process and interview the short-listed candidates.

The recorded distribution of schools advertising across the country was:

East Midlands 22
East of England 47
London 37
North East 17
North West 56
South East 84
South West 41
West Midlands 31
Yorkshire & the Humber 24

One school advertised twice in January on the 3rd and 31st

Among the 89 schools that had placed a second advertisement by the 6th March, over half were in either London or the two regions surrounding the capital. In contrast, very few schools in the north have yet re-advertised a headship.

As has been common when I studied trends in the labour market for senior staff in schools for almost 30 years, between 1983 and 2011, church schools, feature prominently in the list of schools that have re-advertised a head teacher vacancy. There are also a disproportionate number of infant and junior schools, as I suggested might be the case in the December blog. Any factor that makes a school different for the average school increase the risk of the need for a re-advertisement.

TeachVac has a growing amount of data on the schools advertising, in many case including the salary on offer where stated and the background to the school. This allows cross-checking on Ofsted inspections; free school meal percentages and pupil outcomes.

Enough primary leaders?

The DfE has now published the answers to their spring 2016 survey of teachers and school leaders. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-voice-omnibus-may-to-july-2016-survey-dfe-questions among the interesting questions asked was one about aspirations to leadership. Since the abolition of a mandatory qualification for headship, this sort of survey is the only real way of knowing whether there will be sufficient candidates for senior posts that fall vacant in future years.

Personally, I doubt there will ever be a serious problem in the secondary sector since the ratio of deputies to head teachers should allow for sufficient aspiring senior leaders, especially as headship is no longer the end point of a career for many in the secondary sector.

If there is going to be an issue with leadership numbers it will be in the primary and special school sectors. Sadly, we don’t have information about the special school sector. That is an oversight needing correction in future surveys, as it is too often overlooked and the issue of leadership is critical for the schools education our young people with special needs.

As far as the primary sector is concerned, the DfE’s 2015 School Workforce Census identified 23,800 deputy and assistant heads in post in the primary sector in England in November 2015. We can assume most were still there when the 2016 survey was conducted by NfER for the DfE. Thus, the 26% of senior leaders not already a head teacher likely to look for a headship within the next three years equates to just under 6,000 teachers. What the survey didn’t ask, was how many were likely to be looking in the next year?

Assuming equal numbers over each of the three years would mean some 2,000 aspiring head teachers across England each year. Now, the next question is, how many vacancies are there likely to be? TeachVac is now collecting that data, so in time we will have up to date information. However, looking back over past trends, head teacher vacancies fluctuated around 1,800 to 2,000 during the first decade of this century. Now, if we assume the lower number, since amalgamations have reduced the number of schools over time, we could still need to conclude that virtually all the 2,000 aspirant deputies and assistant heads would all have to be suitable to be appointed as a head teacher for supply to be sufficient. However, some vacancies will be filled by existing head teachers changing schools; perhaps 20-25% of vacancies are filled in this way. This would reduce demand for non-head teachers to be appointed as ahead teacher to around 1,500 per year.

We also must assume that the applicants are either in the right places for the jobs or prepared to be mobile to move to where the vacancies arise. As the primary sector contains a significant number of faith schools, especially Church of England and Roman Catholic schools, we must also assume that there are sufficient numbers within the total to meet the needs of these schools for specific types of applicants, including adherents to the particular faith.

Without answers to these questions, it is difficult to know whether the 1,500 will be sufficient, but it won’t be if the role of being a head teacher looks unattractive for whatever reason. No doubt the NCTL understand this issue and are planning for the consequences of what the survey tells us about the future supply of school leaders.

 

More south coast woes?

What is it about the south coast of England that seems to affect the learning of a disproportionate percentage of children? Today’s data from the DfE on coasting schools at Key Stage 2 contains a higher than expected number of south coast local authorities with a high than the national average percentage of their schools seen as coasting.  Five of the top ten local authorities in terms of percentage of coasting schools are on the south coast. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/national-curriculum-assessments-key-stage-2-2016-revised

Poole 24% – worst in England as a percentage of schools

Southampton 14% – 4th

Bournemouth 13% – equal 5th

Dorset 13% – equal 5th

Portsmouth 9% – equal 9th.

Of the three South East local authorities with no coasting schools at Key Stage2, only East Sussex is a coastal county. By contrast, 24 London boroughs are recorded as having no coasting schools at key Stage2. Whether these schools will be able to keep up this enviable record once the new National Funding Formula kicks in, only time will tell.

Not all coastal locations have large percentages of coasting schools, Torbay, The Wirral and Sefton are three with no such schools. Across all local authorities, the average is three per cent of schools that were recorded as coasting.

One interesting aspect of the distribution, especially in the light of the new Chief inspector’s remarks, in the Daily Telegraph three days ago, is the presence of authorities with grammar schools at both ends of the table. How do parents in the coasting schools in both Poole and Bournemouth feel about the effects on the chances of their offspring passing the selection examination for grammar school if the school could be doing better? In our more litigious society might the fact that a school is coasting at Key Stage 2 be a matter for litigation if a pupil just missed a place at a grammar school? We shall no doubt see in due course.

There are a couple of caveats in terms of the data. Small schools are excluded from the dataset, so some authorities may have fewer schools included than others. Secondly, authorities are of different sizes so the Poole result is due to just four schools, whereas there are 12 coasting schools in Dorset. Norfolk, another county with a lot of coastline has the most coasting schools of any authority, 20 in number.

What will happen to coasting schools? Originally, the intention was to turn them into academies, assuming they weren’t already a school of that type. However, Oxfordshire is still waiting for a sponsor to be found for one of the first group of coasting schools identified last year. It will be up to the Regional School Commissioner to decide the governance fate of these schools. I suspect those schools that are also below the ‘floor’ in outcome terms are most likely to see the swiftest intervention. What happens if they are already academies will be interesting. A change of MAT, seems on the cards in those circumstances. At least, it is now difficult to blame the local authority for these outcomes.

 

 

Apprenticeship Levy

In the bizarre world that is education under the present Tory government, stand-alone academies with a payroll of less than £3 million are exempt from paying the new Apprenticeship Levy; all schools in any MAT with a payroll of over £3 million across the MAT will pay the levy, even if they are a small primary school; voluntary aided schools are probably exempt as the local authority is the de facto but not de jure employer so long as the school payroll is below £3 million, but all maintained schools will pay the levy regardless of the size of their payroll because the local authority is the employer, even though in these days of delegated budgets it has no control over spending by the schools.

This is a shambles that does a great discredit to the governance of education. If this is currently the position, it should be rectified forthwith. Either it is a tax on all schools or it isn’t. My position is that the government already takes out of education a sum needed to fund the training of new teachers and it should pray that cash in aid to the Treasury in order to have all state-funded schools exempt from the Levy. I don’t mind if the larger private fee-paying schools contribute since they often employ teachers whose training has been paid for initially by the State, but paid back by individuals through the tuition fee repayment schemes in operation since the late 1990s.

If schools are not exempted from the Levy, then they should make full use of benefits. Sadly, these are by employer, so a large county council with many maintained schools will pay a large sum in levy, but receive little back through the pay-out arrangements.

School budgets face enough other pressures at the present time, including for many small primary schools the loss of part of their block grant under the new funding formula arrangements. In Oxfordshire, the loss per schools equates to several thousands of pounds and may make the difference between survival or closure for village schools with less than 150 pupils.

I don’t know whether it is this government’s intention to redraw the map of primary schooling in England, but it could be well on the way to doing so if the combined effect of budget cuts and cost pressures make such schools unable to breakeven financially.

As I have hinted before, one solution is to downgrade the leading professional in small schools from a head teacher to a head of site paid on a lower salary. The risk is that any savings are then spent on a salary for an executive head teacher paid more than value of the savings. Whether deputy head teachers and other experienced teachers would be willing to take on the role of site leader for less money than the current head teacher will, I suspect, depend upon the terms and conditions offered, especially in the smallest of schools. However, unless some savings can be made, I fear for the future of many primary schools. Hopefully, I am being alarmist, but removing the Apprenticeship Levy from all school budgets would be a start.

 

Economic matters

An American President once said ‘the economy, stupid.’ Often that seems to be the case. Indeed, the austerity facing public services in Britain at present can partly be put down to the management of the economy in the first decade of this century. If governments cannot or will not raise revenue from either wealth or income and discount land taxes, then, unless the economy is growing strongly, they will be unable to expand public services, should they even wish to do so. There is also the argument that the State should not provide services for the many, but just a basic lifeline for the few, but we won’t go there in this post.

All this matters to education, as we have seen with the relatively parsimonious new funding formula announced by the government in the run up to Christmas. With adult social care, the NHS and other services probably ahead of education in the minds of many voters, it was always going to be a challenge to secure more funds for schools: especially, when rising pupil numbers mean more is needed in any case just to stand still. Finding even more cash for enhanced services did seem a bit like ‘pie in the sky’ at the present time.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how parents react to news that their children’s school might be having its budget cut, even by no more than a couple of per cent.  With no elections in London in 2017, save for by-elections, the government can probably weather the storm of protest in the capital.

Of more interest is the situation in the countryside where many small rural schools look like being losers. Indeed, a quick survey of primary schools in the Henley constituency, Boris’s old stamping ground, revealed that 35 primary schools might be losers under the new formula, while just ten would gain funds. Now, I am sure that the good burghers of the Chilterns and adjacent clay lowlands can afford to support their local primary school through some backhanded giving. But, I am not sure that was what they expected as the outcome from the new formula.

The alternative is to see a redrawing of the map of primary education in rural areas, with fewer larger and more efficient units based around market towns. To achieve this outcome, more pupils would be required to travel longer distances to school. The cost of this happily falls, not on the government, but on local council tax payers. Conservative County Councillors defending their seats in May 2017 will no doubt hope that school funding and the survival of village primary schools doesn’t become an election issue, along with grammar schools. For a revolt by parents in the Shires would be bad news for a government with a small majority at Westminster.

Watch for signs that the consultation on the funding formula isn’t going to plan and that the timescale for introduction is amended. If not, following on from cuts to rural buses, mobile library service, road mending, grass cutting and a host of other services, might 2017 be another year where the political map is redrawn?

Austerity Tory style

In 2011 I discovered that the Key stage 1 results in Oxford City were the worst in the country. I drew this fact to the attention of the press and they alerted the County Council that had oversight for schools across Oxfordshire. In turn the district council, Oxford City, became involved because the schools were all located in their area. There were also two diocese, one Church of England and one Roman Catholic with oversight of some of the schools. That was a total of four bodies concerned with putting together a plan to improve the success of education in the City of Oxford: I am pleased to report that there has been an improvement.

Now fast forward to the present time. If the same circumstances arose, how many bodies would need to be contacted? There are 9 primary academies and one free school in the city at presenti addition to the remaining community and voluntary schools. The academies and the free school are managed by 6 different trusts, including one where a notice to deal with a budget deficit was issued earlier this year. The headquarters of that trust isn’t located in Oxfordshire.

So, were there to be the same need for a concerted effort across the City of Oxford there would now be the original bodies plus six more to deal with. If the diocese manage their MAT schools with the same teams as their voluntary schools that would reduce the number to four new MATs, but one would also need to add in the Regional School Commissioner that didn’t exist in 2011 and probably the Education Funding agency as well, as the funding body, so that takes us back to six more organisations for the 10 primary schools not managed through Oxfordshire County Council.

How many more MATs would there be if all primary schools became academies. The new schools being built in the county are now manged by other MATs, mostly with no geographical links to the county, but just selected from bodies that were on the DfE list of sponsors.

I am not convinced that a MAT managing a random geographical spread of primary schools is the best answer to secure high standards. In the 1980s all Oxfordshire primary schools were grouped into partnerships for some of the very reasons Ministers cite for their conversion into academies.  Before schools gained financial independence, the local authority regularly held meetings with groups of primary heads. After budgets were devolved it was up to the head to decide whether to attend or not. I wonder how many MATs hold meetings of their head teachers, and whether they are regarded as compulsory with regard to attendance.

I saw a comment from a Minister to the effect that creating all primary schools as academies would drive up standards. If so, one wonders why the government has wasted parliamentary time on the recent Act of Parliament requiring coasting schools to convert to academy status.

A free recruitment web site may help schools save money, although as readers know one already exists in TeachVac, but I doubt it will offset the extra costs associated with operating a system where all schools are academies: not my idea of tackling austerity and raising school standards.