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 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.

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 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. 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.

Three cheers for Open Government

Yesterday the DfE published the most detailed explanation of the Teacher Supply Model (TSM) that underpins decisions about how many new entrants to the teaching profession are needed each year. The new document is the most detailed any government has released to the general public in almost a quarter of a century. Unlike previous publications, this new one is interactive and allows interested parties to interrogate the assumptions used within the Model. It also provides forward assumptions into the 2020s for teacher supply needs. Anyone interested can find the manual and accompanying spreadsheets at

The publication came about as a result of an exchange between David Laws, the Minister of State, and the Education Select Committee during one of their hearings into the issue of teacher supply and training. The Minister agreed to make the Model public and has now made good on his promise. The document is not an easy read, but the general principles are relatively easy to grasp for anyone interested in how the DfE works out the number of teachers required to enter teacher preparation programmes each year. I am sure that there will now be an informed debate on the subject

I am delighted that the current version of the TSM has reverted to calculating separate numbers for all the main curriculum subjects in secondary schools rather than just the EBacc curriculum areas with other lumped together in a composite pool.

The new Model has been used to calculate the ITT allocations for 2015 that were also announced yesterday. (More about them in another post) The good news is that the allocation for English has increased substantially. I had been puzzled, as I think had been others, about why the previous allocation figure was so far adrift of that for mathematics when both took up approximately the same amount of curriculum time in schools. That issue has been rectified for 2015 and will no doubt be welcomed by head teachers that have struggled to recruit teachers of English.

Although the data are somewhat daunting at first glance they do help those that take the time to work through them understand the potential implications of the growth in the school population over the next decade. Teaching is probably going to be a recession-proof occupation for at least the next 20 years in most parts of the country. However, that does mean that the Model shows the continuing need to recruit large numbers of new entrants to the profession. What the Model doesn’t do is identify what happens if recruitment to training falls short of target for a number of years. One solution would be to add in the shortfall to future targets, but that can inflate targets to unsustainable numbers. Such a process also doesn’t take into account of the fact that schools must cover lessons and do so be using various recruitment methods, including in the past hiring teachers from overseas.

In previous versions of the Model changes from year to year were subject to a smoothing process. That prevented too large a change from one year to the next for the benefit of providers of teacher training. That seems to have been removed. The solution still seems to be to over-allocate numbers, so that the risk at the end of the course still lies completely with the trainee that has to find a teaching post. Solving that concern is not something the TSM can do.

More financial pressures for DfE

In the week that the Minister of State at the DfE announced the final figures for the Pupil Premium in 2013-14, with a £53 Christmas bonus for primary school pupils receiving the cash this year, and an increase to £1,300 for primary age pupils in 2014-15, the government also announced the latest thinking on school rolls until the early 2020s.

At the present time, there is still no end in sight to the growth in the primary school population that will increase from a low point in 2009 of 3.9 million pupils to a predicted 4.8 million by 2022. That is a rise of nearly 850,000 pupils, or an increase in the primary school population of more than a fifth in thirteen years. The secondary school population in years 7-11 is still on schedule to bottom out in 2015, at just over 2.7 million pupils, before recovering to just over 3.0 million by 2022, with more increases to come in the rest of that decade.

An extra million or so pupils by 2022 will place considerable strain on education finances that currently cost the nation £27 billion just for the remaining local authority maintained schools, with the costs of academies in addition. (Academies have a different financial year to local authority schools thus making comparisons almost impossible.) In 2012-13 the average cost of a primary school pupil in a maintained school was £4,193, up from £4,099 the previous year. On that basis, the additional 600,000 pupils expected in the primary sector by 2022 will cost £2.5 billion by 2022, even without the compounding effects of inflation during the intervening years. It is difficult to see how the government will be able to protect school budgets throughout the whole of that period since an economic recovery rarely lasts for a decade, and a more likely scenario is that the economy will have traversed through another whole economic cycle during that period. Hopefully, the downturn will not be of the same magnitude as was inflicted on the economy during the Labour government under Gordon Brown’s stewardship.

With around half of primary school expenditure going on teaching staff, and recruitment pressures already emerging, according to the teacher associations, sorting out the wages bill may become even more important in the future if expenditure is not to spiral out of control. However, after so many years of pay restraint that may be easier said than done. The imposition of any national funding formula for schools in 2015 that doesn’t take account of differing labour market pressures is probably doomed to failure, with some potentially dramatic repercussions if the government miscalculates. It will not be enough to say that the decision can be left to schools, as they are too diverse a group to be able to manage any substantial pressures on what amounts to half their budgets.

Mr Gove has not shown himself very good with numbers, but he will surely not want his legacy to be a school system not prepared for the financial challenges that lie ahead.