Another slice of fudge?

Congratulations to the civil servant that worked out it was possible to circumvent the cap on faith-based admissions placed upon new free schools by reviving the concept of voluntary schools, where there has never been any such cap on admissions. The proposals are contained in the government’s response to the 2016 Schools that Work for Everyone Consultation. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/706243/Schools_that_work_for_everyone-Government_consultation_response.pdf

The determining paragraph is on page 14:

To enable the creation of these places, we will be establishing a capital scheme to support the creation of new voluntary aided schools for faith and other providers. Schools created through this scheme will have the same freedoms as existing voluntary aided schools, including over their admissions which will enable them to select up to 100% of pupils on the basis of faith. There has never been a general route for any faith group to receive 100% state funding for a school with 100% faith-based admissions. In line with this, and our longstanding approach to funding of voluntary aided schools, the Department for Education expects those groups establishing voluntary aided schools to contribute 10% of the capital costs relating to their schools. Local authorities will play a key role in supporting and approving any new voluntary aided school, to ensure it fits well with our integration and community cohesion objectives. They will be well placed to consider how new proposals will meet demand from, and potential impact on, the local community. The Department for Education will develop the details of this scheme over the coming months and will set out the arrangements by which proposer groups can apply for capital funding later this year.

It is interesting that new voluntary aided schools don’t seem to be restricted to faith providers. However, anyone contemplating such schools is going to have to raise 10% of the capital costs, so best to start with a small school and then expand it later if successful. These schools will, presumably, have to be built under the ‘presumption’ route, as otherwise they would need to be free schools and hence capped as to faith limits.

This may well provoke some interesting discussions where a small local authority such as a London borough or a unitary council needs a single new primary school. How is the evidence of demand going to be assessed? It may well be challenging to believe the data from parish priests and diocese. I well recall the demand for a Catholic secondary school when Oxfordshire replaced its three tier system with primary and secondary schools and the Catholic diocese wanted to break up the existing Ecumenical Upper School and establish a wholly Catholic secondary school. They sent a procession of parish priests along to explain the demand for such a school. They got their way, but the school now has less than 40% of its pupils as Catholics.

There is a strong case for granting voluntary aided status for a set period of time. If the school roll falls below the 50% of pupil numbers of the free school threshold for the faith at the end of a set time period then, unless it can regain that threshold within a set period, the school should revert to being a community school.

The challenge, of course remains that discussed by the Wesleyan Methodists before the 1902 Education Act was passed. Are teachers that are Methodists called to be teachers of children or of Methodists? Faith groups demanding voluntary aided schools need to have an answer to that question.

 

 

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A fudge with no teeth

Today’s political announcements about the shape of new school places in England might mark a turning point. Conversely, it might just be a neat solution to two problems that needed a resolution. First on grammar schools, and the £50 million funding for the expansion of places. Let me state at the outset that I am opposed to selective education, especially at age eleven. I believe that the Liberal Democrats should campaign to remove these schools even though the Lib Dems run councils in Sutton and now Kingston upon Thames in London that have such schools within the council boundaries.

The BBC has an interesting chart showing what has happened to the size of grammar schools between 2009-10 and 2015-16. Of the 20 such schools shown, all have expanded. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-44067719 Whether this means that the remaining 140 or so grammar schools haven’t changed their intakes isn’t mentioned. As I have remarked before, the government faced a dilemma. With pupil numbers rising sharply in many of the areas in the Home Counties and outer London where a disproportionate percentage of grammar schools are to be found, doing nothing would effectively decrease the percentage of pupils in these areas able to attend a selective school. Such a policy risked creating the worst of all worlds; not pleasing those that want the abolition of grammar schools, but also upsetting parents who would find it difficult to secure a place for their offspring in an increasingly competitive application process. Today’s announcement will, the Secretary of State no doubt hopes, placate the latter while doing no more than enrage the former, but without lasting political damage, and be seen as the best compromise on offer.

Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran has said in a press statement: “Grammar schools are the wrong answer to the wrong question. This money should be spent on local schools so that every young person across the country can get the education they need to prepare for the future.” But has stopped short of calling for the removal of these schools. Perhaps this is because such a policy is already implicit in the Lib Dems approach to education. I summed much of that approach as I see it in a recent chapter in a book by the Social Liberal Forum that I co-authored with Helen Flynn. A review of the book can be seen at https://www.libdemvoice.org/a-21st-century-liberal-approach-to-education-57473.html albeit written by a committed Liberal Democrat.

How the government will enforce the rules on selection, offered as a sop to opponents of selective schools and a fig leaf to make the policy more attractive overall, is an interesting question. I assume it is to be just a fig leaf. After all, will any new rules apply to applications for all the places at the schools that take the money or only to applicants for the additional places funded through the new cash for the extra places? This would potentially create two admission rounds: one for existing places and the other for the new Hinds’ places. The latter might perhaps only be open to pupils from certain primary schools with, say, a history of not sending any pupils or only very small numbers to the selective school sector. Alternatively, the rules might stipulate only pupils on Free School Meals in the year they apply for a place. One might envisage some other such permutations. All would need monitoring, plus a clear set of sanctions, especially where the selective schools are not co-educational schools, but the primary schools in the area are co-educational.

The other announcement today, about faith schools, is potentially more momentous and deserves a blog post of its own.

 

Transfer at 14; good idea, badly executed?

Schools Week has been running a story about the failure of many UTCs and Studio Schools to attract pupils for September. Their latest news is that Plymouth UTC will now not take any pupils at 14 this coming September http://schoolsweek.co.uk/troubled-utc-plymouth-pauses-recruitment-at-14/ Here in Oxfordshire the news on that front is better, with two of the three UTC/Studio schools fully subscribed. Indeed, the Didcot UTC has made 120 offer for 120 places equal to its Planned Admission Number and the Studio School in Bicester exceeded its PAN of 50 with 53 offers to the 60 applicants. Now, whether or not they all turn up is another matter, and we won’t know until parents have considered issues such as how much it will cost to transport their child to the school.

The Space Studio School in Banbury follows the trend identified by Schools Week, with 16 offer for the 75 places available. But, located as it is in the grounds of the town’s largest academy it has always seemed to me to be a bit of an oddity.

Despite these good recruitment numbers, there remain for the schools in Oxfordshire the same issues rehearsed before in this column. Existing Oxfordshire secondary schools will lose the funding of 173 pupils if all those offered places move to the Didcot and Bicester schools. That’s the best part of £700,000 in one year. Over four years it would amount to not far short of £3 million pounds after allowing for inflation. Put this drain on income on top of the 8% the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested might be the cuts to school budgets over the rest of this decade and you have the potential for financial problems at other schools.

To make the most of a system, you need a degree of planning or unlimited funds. We don’t have either at present and we don’t seem to have a government that understands that in times of austerity you need to make the most of the resources that you do have available.

The issue in Oxfordshire is, what will be the consequences for schools losing pupils at 14 and 16, whereas elsewhere the consequence is the opposite. What happens to the schools that don’t attract enough pupils to pay their bills? The silence from the Regional Schools Commissioners and the National Commissioner on the need for a rational approach is of concern. These civil servants must not be high priced rubber stamps approving new academies without understanding the consequences.

In the end, it will be the much maligned local authorities that will have to sort out ant mess. It may be no surprise that the Plymouth UTC operates in a selective school system. In such a system, few pupils will leave a selective school at 14 making it even harder to recruit from the remaining schools with the pupils that didn’t take or pass the selection process.

It is probably time to look at how the transfer of pupils at 14 is going to work in the longer-term: leaving it to the market isn’t really an option.

Schools and their pupils in 2016

Now that purdah is over the DfE can once again start its full range of duties. Earlier today the DfE published the results of the latest school and pupil numbers based upon the January 2016 census. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/532121/SFR20_2016_Main_Text.pdf

Overall, there were 121,000 more pupils in the system than in January 2015; no surprise to anyone there. However, even in the secondary sector there were 8,700 more pupils, reversing the long decline and marking the start of an increase likely to stretch well into the next decade.

There are some interesting statistics buried in the Statistical Bulletin, some of which may point to why the nation voted as it did last Thursday. The proportion of pupils with minority ethnic origins increased in the primary sector from little over 20% in 2006 to more than 31% in 2016; an increase of around a half in just a decade. For the third year in a row, the largest ethnic minority group were White Non-British at 7.1% of primary and 5.4% of the secondary school population and 6.3% of the total school population.

There are a lot more interesting nuggets buried in the tables. For instance, four shire counties each had more independent schools in them than in the whole of the North East region. The four: Surrey, Kent, Hampshire and Oxfordshire together accounted for 309 independent schools. Taken together two regions, London with 551 and the South East with 529, accounted for almost half of the independent schools in England.

Similarly, the three regions of London, The South East and East of England together account for 98 out of the 211 free schools, UTCs and Studio Schools in existence this January. Despite their potential for vocational education there were only six schools classified as free schools, UTCs or studio schools in the whole of the North East region: a truly divided country on these measures.

There is also a sharp divide in terms of free school meals, with regions in the north of England having above average percentages of pupils eligible and claiming and most of London, the Home Counties, East Midlands and South West having below average percentages. Inner London boroughs don’t share in this pattern, with some having amongst the highest levels of free school meals claimed in the country as a percentage of the school population. Tower Hamlets even exceeds the level seen in North East authorities such as Middlesbrough on one of the measures.

There was a slight fall in the number of infant classes with more than 30 pupils in January 2016 compared with last year, but the DfE admit the percentage of such classes still remains above the 2013 level, no doubt reflecting the pressure on school budgets.

Redbridge and Harrow had the largest average key Stage 1 class sizes at 29.5 each, closely followed by Slough, Richmond upon Thames, Birmingham and Sandwell. Rural areas in the north of England had some of the smallest average class sizes at Key Stage 1. As many of these have some of the smallest average class sizes at key Stage 2 as well it may pose interesting questions for the National Funding Formula, should the consultation still go ahead.

 

 

 

 

Teacher Supply, a longer-term issue

According to a Local Government Information Unit bulletin issued on Saturday, and citing a report in the Birmingham Post that was apparently based upon Office of National Statistics data, the number of people aged 0-14 in England will increase by 951,200 between 2014 and 2039. This will take the number from 9.7 million to 10.6 million. If anywhere near accurate, these figures will mean that there is likely to be no let-up in the demand for more teachers for most of the next quarter century.

The ONS will release some more data at the end of June but, whatever happens, the demand for more teachers is not likely to be spread evenly across the country. At present, ONS projects the following increases for the different regions of England.

Percentage increase in population 2024 on 2014

Region 0 to 15 years old
England 8.7
London 14.9
South East 8.8
East Midlands 7.7
East 10.9
South West 9.2
North East 4.0
Yorkshire and The Humber 4.9
West Midlands 6.9
North West 5.3

This table is very much in line with the findings of our TeachVac www.teachvac.com vacancy tracking. Both in 2015 and so far in 2016, London has had the largest percentage of vacancies per school for classroom teachers of any region, followed by the South East and East of England regions. There have been far fewer vacancies registered in the regions of the north of England.

If the population of London and the Home Counties is going to continue to increase, then governments, whatever their political complexion, will need to solve the staffing crisis in these regions as well as finding sufficient space for the extra pupils. Finding locations for new schools will be a real challenge and it might in extremis require building on existing playgrounds, with new outdoor space being located on the roof. There are precedents for such schools in inner city locations, although they probably aren’t ideal. I recall visiting one such inner city high school in New York located in a former office building that had no windows on several of the upper floors where the classrooms were located.

But, the longer-term strategy for teaching such large numbers of pupils also needs to be addressed by government. The issue is not, will they be taught, because somehow they will be. But, will it be to a standard we require to maintain our position in an evolving world economy? Schools in London have made great strides in achievements this century, it would disappointing to see that progress stall and even worse to see it go into reverse with falling standards just because there were insufficient appropriately trained and qualified teachers.

Whether the solution is a longer working life, more late entrants into teaching as career changers living in London already won’t face a problem of where to live or the more advanced use of technology and private study for older students is all open for discussion.

What is not a matter for debate is the need to take action for the longer-term in a strategic fashion. The first step might be identify a regional commissioner group for London and the surrounding areas.

 

 

Admissions cause some concerns

Now the website of the School Adjudicators isn’t high on my regular websites to visit. However, I recently paid it a visit to read the decision about admissions to Banbury Academy in Oxfordshire. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/banbury-academy The Adjudicator partially upheld the complains from another school in the town and the Conservative controlled county council in a detailed 23 page decision covering a whole range of admissions issues.

On my visit, I couldn’t help but notice that the Adjudicator had been a series of decisions through the summer. Indeed, since the end of July, the Adjudicator has upheld 13 complains and partially upheld a further nine, making 22 complaints upheld in full or part compared with 13 where complaints were not upheld. The majority of complaints not upheld were against admission arrangements in the primary sector. These were either for individual schools or in three cases arrangements made by local authorities. A complaint was upheld against one authority and partially upheld against another.
Academies were concerned in twelve of the complaints upheld either in full or in part and only in four cases were such complaints not upheld among the decisions reported upon since the end of July. There was a complaint against one ‘free’ school reported during this period, but it was not upheld.

Reading the decisions shows just what a minefield school admissions have become. They are set to become even worse if the rule about siblings is changed by the government to give them priority over children living near to a school. I recall a case of a popular village school where families would move in a rent a property, secure a place for their first child and then move to a cheaper location to buy a house secure in the knowledge they would be able to send other children to the school. The case was drawn to my attention when a five-year old living opposite the school gates had to be transported by taxi to another school as there was no place available at the local school. Now, the Conservative view seems to be that these schools can just expand. However, unless the rules on funding are changed, primary schools will be faced with either larger classes or cutting expenditure elsewhere to fund the places for siblings. The third alternative is for the local authority to find an alternative school and, if necessary, pay the transport costs to taxi young children around to satisfy the needs of other parents.

However, there are a group of parents that aren’t catered for in the present handling of the parental choice rules. These are families where one parent, and especially the mother, is not fully fit and has limited mobility for whatever reason. There is often no way in the admissions arrangements to handle such a situation because appeal panels aren’t not allowed discretion. In some other circumstances the use of the word ‘normally’ would provide room for manoeuvre, as it also would in handling sibling requests where parents don’t live as close to the school as other pupils unable to access the school. Providing panels gave reasons that could be tested this might help deal with some of the anomalies in the present system, as happens with transport appeals.

This problem is that when the number of pupils is on the increase not everyone will be satisfied with the outcome, whatever system is adopted.

What is a selective school?

The Times newspaper continuing raising issues about education when most of those likely to be interested are away on holiday. Perhaps they think it makes for interesting reading on line when lazing by the pool. Today it points out that one in twenty secondary school pupils educated in state funded schools are in selective schools. Frankly, at this point in the demographic cycle that is not a very surprising fact. But, it begs the question that parents of pupils entering primary schools in those areas this September will no doubt be asking, ‘what does that mean for my offspring when they reach the decision point?’
We know that at present secondary school pupil numbers are low compared with the forecasts for the next decade. To continue with the present percentage in selective schools might require an extra 33,000 places in selective schools to be created by 2024. That number will be even higher once the growth in the secondary school population makes it through to the sixth form.

Assuming you think that the continuation of selective schools is a good idea, I don’t, the schools have two ways forwards. Either they increase the places on offer to cope with the increased school population or they do what has been the case in the past, raise the entry level so only the number of pupils needed to fill the places pass the entry tests. The test is presumably is one reason why many selective schools are single-sex. Separate schools doesn’t make the issue of pass marks between girls and boys anything to worry about. The notion presumably being that equal number of of boys and girls need access to the education provided in selective schools. However, it is interesting to wonder what would happen if a parent discovered it was easier for one sex than the other to enter such schools?

It seems likely that the sixteen or so areas with significant percentages of pupils in selective schools will face pressure from parents to create new schools to keep the percentage where it is at present. As a result, with all new schools having to be an academy of one sort or another, the government will soon have to declare its hand. This is where the issue of satellite schools becomes an interesting legal issue.
In the remaining authorities, with a small number of pupils attending selective schools, it seems likely that these will in some cases see the school as an academy just up the ante on entry levels, especially where they have little or no links to the local authority where they are located and they also serve pupils from a much wider area.
Either way, the lead time for new schools to be built means that the government cannot wait much longer before declaring its hand. Unless something happens soon parents will start to notice entry tests becoming harder and siblings of pupils already in selective schools may discover that they won’t be following their older brothers or sisters into the school.

Those with a knowledge of history will recall that it was the fate of the post-war baby boomers sent to secondary modern schools that fuelled the drive in the 1960s towards non-selective secondary education. This may well be one of the debates of this parliament. For you cannot expand selective schools without expanding secondary moderns as well when pupil number are on the increase.