Pressure on school places intensifies

The DfE has published the data on offers made regarding admission to primary and secondary schools for September 2019. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/secondary-and-primary-school-application-and-offers-2019

In view of the growing number of pupils in the transfer age group from primary to secondary school, now almost universally at age eleven, the percentage of pupils receiving their first choice of schools fell again this year to just 80.9%.

Secondary Schools
Entry into academic year % made 1st preference offer
2010/11 83.2
2011/12 84.6
2012/13 85.3
2013/14 86.7
2014/15 85.2
2015/16 84.2
2016/17 84.1
2017/18 83.5
2018/19 82.1
2019/20 80.9

The percentage successful at gaining a place at their first choice schools has now declined every years since 2013/14 when it reach a high of 86.7%. Of course, there are significant regional differences, as well as differences between urban and rural areas.

As the DfE points out in the report: Northumberland (98.4%) and North Somerset (96.9%) achieved the best first preference rates in 2019. Northumberland has been the top performer in this measure for the last four years.

As in previous years, the lowest first preference rates at secondary level are all in London, Lambeth (54.8%), Lewisham (56.9%) and Hammersmith & Fulham (57.3%) achieved the lowest rates in 2019.

Central Bedfordshire is now the only local authority to submit secondary data for year 9 as their largest secondary intake. They had the third best percentage of transfer to secondary school to their middle schools that are classified as secondary schools.

Interestingly, there is no comment by the DfE on the transfer of pupils at age 14 to the UTCs and Studio schools. Presumably, anyone that wants to go to these schools can secure a place.

There was a small fall in first preference rates in the primary sector this year, down from 91.0% last year to 90.6% this year, but this is still well above the 87.7% of 2014/15.

This year there were 608,200 applications for a primary school place, virtually the same as last year, but the 604,500 applications for a secondary place represented an increase of 3.6% over last year, and just over 100,000 more than the lowest year of 2013/14.

There are implications in teacher supply for this increase in the secondary school population. The increase has been factored into the Teacher Supply Model by DfE civil servants.

What hasn’t been factored into the real world situation is the shortfall against the Teacher Supply Numbers in many subjects as far as trainee teacher numbers are concerned.

As this blog has pointed out in other posts, even assuming the DfE projections on retention and returner numbers are correct, not recruiting enough trainees can have real implications for schools.

As piece of research in California has demonstrated that it is the schools serving the more deprived neighbourhoods that suffer most when it comes to recruiting teachers when there is an overall shortfall. I fear the same is likely to be true in some parts of London, especially with the bonus on offer to some teachers to go and work in Opportunity Areas.

 

 

 

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As predicted: more pupils than last year

Over 2.3 million pupils are in being taught in academies or one type of another (72.3% of all secondary school pupils) along with over 1.4 million in primary schools (29.7% of all primary school pupils). These numbers were released yesterday by the DfE as part of their annual assessment of schools ad their pupils. This information has appeared somewhat earlier than expect; it was scheduled to appear in June. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/719226/Schools_Pupils_and_their_Characteristics_2018_Main_Text.pdf

The trend towards declining pupil numbers  at the lower end of the primary age range, and growing numbers at Year 7 in the secondary sector, is now clear to see from these figures and will come as no surprise to those that follow the data about schools and their pupils.

Overall, however, the number of pupils in state funded primary schools rose – as it has since 2009 – although at a slower rate than in recent years. There are 26,600 more pupils than in 2017, and 101,100 more since the 2016 census. The number of pupils in state funded secondary schools rose for the fourth year in a row by around 35,000, and in 2018 had a greater increase in population than primary schools.

There was some consolidation in the primary sector resulting in a net decrease of 20 state-funded primary schools, whereas in the secondary sector there was a net increase of 28 state-funded schools.

All-age schools once looked on askance, not least by the 1944 Education Act that outlawed them by requiring a break at eleven, are still on the increase, albeit perhaps at a slower rate than previously. In January 2017 there were 150 such schools, but this figure has increased to 163 state-funded schools in January 2018. Some of these are ‘free schools’, the most misnamed designation ever invented for a type of school.

As the economy has continued to create more jobs, especially for women, the continued fall in the number of registered pupils for free school meals is not a complete surprise. However, there is still anxiety that the universal free school meals policy for infants is affecting registration for free school meals, causing some schools to lose funding through the Pupil Premium. The issue of funding for deprivation and how it is used by schools is now overdue for a review as all schools will shortly feel the full effect of FSM+6 on their budgets. Perhaps the Social Mobility Commission might like to consider this issue.

A third of all pupils in the primary sector now come from what is classified as an ethnic background, although that includes nearly eight per cent from White non-British backgrounds. Just over one in ten pupils are from Asian background, and one in twenty from ‘Black’ backgrounds.  Slightly more than one in twenty are described as, of ‘mixed’ backgrounds, and this category is likely to increase over the coming years.

Fewer than one in twenty infants were in over-size classes of more than 30, with the majority being in classes of 31. As intakes have reduced in size, so has the issue of over-size classes for infants. Over the next few years, large classes are more likely to be a growing problem for secondary schools unless funding, especially for 16-18 improves.

 

Staying put

By a strange quirk of fate I had a meeting in Portcullis House at 6pm on Tuesday. While the Palace of Westminster itself may have been buzzing with excitement, across the road the parliamentary estate was emptier than I have ever seen it on a day when parliament was sitting. Apart from the security team and catering staff looking for customers, the building was largely deserted.

Still, the meeting will allow me to say if asked where were you when the historic vote took place that I was at Westminster. It will join those other two historic ’where were you’ moments’ in my life – JFK’s assassination – at a church sale of work – and the demolition of the Berlin Wall – on the Friday morning telling a group of Year 1 BEd students that they should always remember where they were when they heard the news that the Wall had fallen.

However, the object of this post is really to consider the report today that surveyors and estate agents are gloomier about the housing market over the next three months than at any time for 20 years, albeit due to uncertainty over Brexit.

If the housing market does lock up over the next three months, then there will be implications for schools, given that so much of their income is tied to pupil numbers these days. Some schools may benefit as they will keep pupils that might otherwise have left for pastures new, but if turnover in the housing market really slows down, then there will be losers as households with grown up children stay put and are not replaced by new young families looking for school places.

Some developers may find sales on new estates slow down, and the new school being built will be faced with the choice of either opening with fewer pupils this September or deferring opening for another year and thus helping increase pupil numbers at other local schools. As all such schools are either academies or free schools of one variety of another, it only impacts on local authorities in terms of their ability to manage the overall provision of schooling in their area, something government hasn’t been overly concerned with in recent years.

Of course, we might see some extra spending on marketing and publicity as schools seek to fill empty places using cash better spent on teaching and learning. Ever since the doctrine of parental choice came into being after 1979, the idea of glossier brochures, open days and league tables has come to dominate the annual round of school selection.

Should the DfE follow up on its new free vacancy site by designing a free marketing portal for schools to reduce the cost to schools of recruiting pupils? The DfE could then ban excessive spending by individual schools. However, it would also have to stop practices such as providing free buses for pupils from some locations, something parents would not welcome.

Then there is the other side of ‘staying put’. What might teachers decide to do in the present circumstances. Will they stay as well or will they go, perhaps overseas in even greater numbers?

 

More secondary age pupils, but fewer pre-school entrants

This is the time of year when the DfE publishes its annual look at pupil projections for the next few years. This year’s output can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/national-pupil-projections-july-2018 There isn’t a lot in the document to surprise those that follow the data about pupil numbers. Secondary school pupil numbers are on the increase, but the downturn in births in 2013 is starting to affect the primary sector and will continue to do so over the next few years.

These numbers are a key component of the Teacher Supply Model that helps determine the number of new teachers needed. Clearly, becoming a secondary school teachers might be seen as a wise career choice, since rising numbers means more teachers to be employed – even if class sizes rise further – and more promoted posts to oversee the larger schools and the new schools that will be built. A yet to be built free secondary school in Oxford has just appointed someone in their early 30s as head designate. However, entering undergraduate training to be a primary school teacher may need slightly more thought. Yes, there will be jobs in 2021, when the class of 2018 emerge with their degrees, but there will be fewer pupils to be taught regardless of what happens to Brexit.

In Oxford, it was revealed this week, we have maintained primary schools with more than 20% of pupils with non-GBR EU citizenship. Of course, some will be Irish citizens and presumably unaffected by Brexit in terms of living and their parents working in Oxford. Some 90 out of the 2,100 teachers employed by the county are from outside the UK, but that includes Commonwealth and USA citizens as well as EU citizens.

Leaving Brexit aside, the future pupil population tables only predict any shift from the private sector to the state sector or, indeed, visa versa on past and current numbers in independent schools. The tables may also have to take into account the effects of home schooling in the future, if that really were to take off in a big way, especially for certain age-groups.

Indeed, this might be why training to be a primary teachers might also offer an alternative job opportunity as a tutor to one of the family’s that look to employ such a staff member. The day of the governess is now dead, but they have been replaced by the term tutor that like the term teacher seems to have become accepted as the term for employees of any gender.  Like the term teacher, it is also a term anyone can use to describe themselves and their occupation.

Disappointingly, there is no sub-national breakdown of future pupil projections in the data published by the DfE to allow for consideration of where might be an interesting place to base a career in teaching and where promotion might be slower in the future, especially in the primary sector.

Of course, the main concern is not calculating the number of teachers needed as a result of these projections, but filling the training places each year. As I have pointed out many times, the government seem unlikely to meet that requirement again this year. Hopefully, it will persuade those that do train to work in state-funded schools.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.