A question for the Cardinals

Why do Roman Catholic schools find more difficulty in recruiting a new headteacher than do other schools? I first posed this question more than thirty years ago, soon after I started looking at trends in vacancies for school leaders in the early 1980s.

After a break of five years, I returned to the subject of vacancies for school leaders in a report published last January. I have just completed the first draft of the 2018 survey into leadership vacancies. The full report will be available from TeachVac at enquiries@oxteachserv.com early in the New Year. You can reserve a copy now.

Once again, in 2018, Roman Catholic schools, and especially those in some diocese, weren’t able to appoint a headteacher after the first advertisement by the school. The data comes from TeachVac, the free job board that costs schools and teachers nothing to use.

(As an aside, I wonder why the DfE didn’t contract with an existing provider such as TeachVac, eteach or even the US owned TES to provide a comprehensive free job site rather than building their own site. Perhaps there are different rules for Brexit and hiring ships from companies still to start their service than for designing government web sites for far more money than it would have cost to buy in the service.)

Anyway, back to the matter in hand, TeachVac recorded that some 57 of the 124 Roman Catholic schools that were recorded as advertising for a primary headteacher during the 2017-18 school year needed to re-advertise the post: a re-advertisement rate of 46%. Other schools had re-advertisement rates for vacancies first advertised during this period in the low 30%s.

Now, some diocese, have reduced re-advertisement rates by appointing deputy heads from secondary schools to run primary schools. I was once sceptical of this as a solution, but can now see that just as a secondary school headteacher isn’t an expert in all subjects taught in the schools, so a primary headteacher needs leadership qualities, backed by experienced middle leaders that understand the different stages of learning and development in the primary sector.

Using a different measure of total re-advertisements to schools advertising a vacancy for a headteacher reveals that a small number of schools have extreme difficulty in recruiting a new headteacher. Some of these schools just start at the wrong time of year.

Overall, almost every primary school of any type that advertised a headship in December 2017 re-advertised the post at some point during 2018. Unless, these schools used a subscription model that allowed for as many advertisements are required to fill the post, the governors were just wasting the school’s money if they used a paid for publication or job board for the December advert. Those that used TeachVac would have not faced that problem, because it wouldn’t have cost them anything.

As Britain becomes a more secular society, all faiths will need to address the question of how to find the next generation of leaders for their schools. With the approach the 150th anniversary of the 1870 Education Act, such schools seem likely to remain a part of the landscape, whatever the feelings and views of those that would prefer an entirely secular state school system.

 

 

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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.

 

 

Deeds not words please, Mr Hinds

So, the new Secretary of State has proclaimed his support for faith schools. Not surprising in view of his own education. Well, here is a challenge to Mr Hinds. Will he separate out schools run by faith groups with public money, but attended by a majority not professing the faith actively, and those schools run by the faith for their adherents?

The Church of England has long operated primary schools as the local schools for the village or community the school serves. As a national church and also the provider of education in many of these areas before the State became involved this has some rationale behind it. Parents in general value these schools, although many may be under threat from the new National Funding Formula unless enough attention is paid to their fortunes.

My question to the Secretary of State can be crystallised around the experiences of the Roman Catholic secondary school in East Oxford: St Gregory the Great. This school, according to the accounts of the Academy Company it is a part of, had only 30% professing Catholic Staff and 37% of its pupils as Catholics at the reporting point for the 2017 accounts. Two years ago, the school was put into financial special measures by the EFSC; last year Ofsted declared it inadequate. Another school run by the same Academy Company has recently also been declared inadequate. This week, when Ofsted paid a monitoring visit to St Gregory the Great, they will have found a school where the head and a deputy were removed at the end of the autumn term and another head placed in executive control from a different Catholic Academy Trust. So, Mr Hinds, how long do you give St Gregory the Great to improve and what are your plans if the Catholic Church cannot improve the school? The parents of non-Catholic pupils have a right to know what you are going to do to improve the education of their children. Will it have access to part of your £45 million fund?

You cannot blame the local authority. Indeed, you can look at the steps the local authority took to deal with another secondary school in the county declared inadequate at the same time as St Gregory the Great (see blog post, https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/a-tale-of-two-schools/) The outcomes seem to be very different. Can the local authority access your fund as part of helping schools improve if no MAT volunteers to do so?

Mr Hinds, St Gregory the Great and the future of the Academy Company it belongs to, provide an early test of whether what you say in The Times newspaper are words not backed by actions or have the force of someone prepared to act on their beliefs.

I am passionate to see good education for all children in Oxfordshire. I hope you will help me achieve this aim by acting swiftly to raise standards at St Gregory the Great. By your actions shall you be known. A Minister of Education in the 1940s once intervened because a school wasn’t holding a daily assembly, despite its hall having been bombed and out of use. Intervene in St Gregory and reassure everyone the plan for improvement is workable. You can have the Ofsted report on your desk by Monday if you ask for it following their monitoring visit this week.

 

 

Another Oxford issue

Earlier this week the eyes of the country were on Oxford because of the story about issues with cancer treatments at the Churchill Hospital, the regional oncology centre. Locally, the Oxford Mail, the City’s daily newspaper, had at front page lead with concerns around one of the secondary schools in the city, St Gregory the Great.

Regular readers of this blog will recall a post about ‘a tale of two schools’ from last autumn. St Gregory the Great is a an all-through school under the auspices of a Roman Catholic Multi Academy Company, called the Dominic Barberi MAC. This is a group of Roman Catholic academies in Oxfordshire, of which St Gregory is the only secondary school. It might be described as the classic pyramid model of a MAT.

St Gregory the Great came into being when Oxfordshire remodelled the previous three tier system in the city into a conventional two-tier system in the late 1990s. A ecumenical upper school, St Augustine, was replaced, after heavy lobbying of the then School Organisation Committee by the Roman Catholic Church, with a Roman Catholic secondary school; St Gregory the Great.

For the first decade, the school lived an untroubled life, serving both Roman Catholics pupils and local children whose parents were willing to send them to the school. Problems started with the move towards academisation. The need for more primary provision in that part of Oxford meant a decision to create an all-through school with a new primary department. This resulted in a financial disaster when the school overestimated the funds it would receive from changing its age range. At the same time, absence rates in the secondary school were on the increase, and during a period of falling rolls, the school was not the top choice of schools within Oxford for many parents.

Eventually, in 2016, the government’s Funding Agency put the school in special measures and required a plan to eradicate the deficit. The head teacher was replaced. Eighteen months later the school was declared inadequate by Ofsted. Since then further problems have emerged. Many are of a longstanding nature.

In June 2014, I received the following response to a question at Oxfordshire’s Cabinet about attendance cross the county.

Supplementary:  Responding to a question on whether the Cabinet member would make representations to the school commissioner and Ofsted as to the very high non-attendance at St. Gregory the great school, Councillor Tilley replied that the School Improvement officer had been sent into the school to try and establish the underlying cause of the high absence rate.  She had further requested that an analysis of poor attendance be undertaken on a class by class and year by year basis. This has been successful in improving attendance in the past.  Should this not improve attendance, she would then consider contacting Ofsted?

Attendance fell in 2016-17 (Trust Annual Accounts, page 23) and remains a key issue for the school.

I want to see this school succeed, because it is needed for the pupils of East Oxford, whether Roman Catholics, pupils of other faiths or those of no faith.

However, it isn’t clear that the present system of governance is working. Who has the lead responsibility of turning around academies that are failing?

The regional School Commissioner – no obvious action on his part or interest from the Headteacher Board; the EFSC – since putting the school in special measures it hasn’t cured the ills of the Trust, just cut the deficit at the school and possibly imperilled the education of many pupils as a result?  Indeed the Trust accounts for 2017 point to procurement issues; lack of supporting receipts on credit card expenditure and a lack of timely bank reconciliations and insufficient evidence of review. (Trust Annual Accounts, page 32)

Ofsted – a second school in the Trust has now been declared inadequate, but Ofsted is powerless to act against the Trust as a whole. The Roman Catholic Church – the Church needs to prove it is concerned for the welfare and education of all pupils and is not trying to create a school only for Roman Catholic pupils with no concerns for the other pupils in the area leaving someone else to pick up the pieces. The recent removal of the head and deputy of the school over the Christmas holidays needs to be justified and an explanation as to the experience and expertise of their replacements to deal with the problems facing the school needs to be made clear.

The DfE has issued a statement to the media today saying that they are taking action, but it isn’t clear what they are doing or how they are operating, other than presumably some behind closed door discussions with the Academy Company and presumably the Diocese of Birmingham.

At the heart of this mess is the governance structure for academies and the ability of a Trust to act appropriately for the good of all. After all, only 37% of pupils and 30% of staff at St Gregory the Great are declared Roman Catholics according to the Trust annual accounts (page 21).

I declare an interest as a councillor in Oxfordshire, but one only has to look at the fortunes of the two secondary schools declared inadequate in 2017 by Ofsted for the issues to become glaringly apparent.

As the new Secretary of State was educated in a Roman Catholic school, he needs to tell his officials to sort out the problems at St Gregory the Great and across the school group. Otherwise, Oxford will have two national disaster stories about public service failures at the same time: not a record to be proud of for any government.

 

 

 

Hymns and Schools

What better way for a writer of an education blog to spend Christmas Day than to recall some of the Victorian hymns that feature schools and education, either in their title or the actual words. However, research hasn’t yet yield up a ‘carol’ with a direct school reference.

In 1829 there appeared in the USA, ‘Hark, the infant school bell’s ringing’ by a Miss M. J. and composed for Infant school Number 1. This appeared in the aptly named ‘The infant School and Nursery Hymn Book, published in New York as long ago as 1831.

Of course, it is necessary to winnow out the much larger collection of hymns about Sunday, or as the Americans seem to call them Sabbath Schools, when seeking for those hymns about schools as more general education establishments. However, it is worth recalling the debt that the development of education has paid to those that started the ‘Sunday School’ movement more than two centuries ago.

Hymns about schools in general, and especially schools for younger children capable of instruction, appeared throughout the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, especially in the USA. Some of their first lines included:

Lord and Saviour, true and kind

We build our school on thee, O Lord

To infant school. To infant school

Dear God, a school day

Gracious God, our heavenly father, meet and bless our school

How we love our infant school

The bell rings for school

Our youthful hearts for learning burn – with the third verse starting ‘Our teachers are so very kind, We love to go to school.’ This hymn appeared in hymn books up to the 1930s.

Henry James Buckoll an assistant master at Rugby School was responsible for two of the more enduring hymns relating to the school year: ‘Lord dismiss us with thy blessing’ and ‘Lord, behold us with Thy blessing, Once again assembled here’. I am not sure what new pupils made of the reference to ‘once again’, but perhaps it was the schools as an entity and not the pupil as a person Buckoll was writing about.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the large number of Church of England and Roman Catholic primary schools in England, not to mention the remaining few Methodist primary schools around the country, there appears to be little specifically written hymns for these pupils to sing in modern hymn books.

Like other popular songs, hymns appear to go out of fashion, although at Christmas the staples of O Cone all ye Faithful; Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Silent Night; O little town of Bethlehem; Away in a manger and while shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seem to come around every year.

So, festive best wishes to both regular readers of this blog and those that have alighted on this festive post. May 2018 be a wonderful year for you wherever you are reading this Christmas epistle.

 

 

 

 

 

Leadership Matters

The DfE has just published the latest in a series of working papers based on the 2013 international TALIS Study of teachers. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teachers-in-secondary-schools-evidence-from-talis-2013 The TALIS study covers secondary schools and this working paper is about job satisfaction and teacher retention. Probably not surprisingly, it concludes that leadership matters. The working paper summarises this key fact as follows:

Better school leadership is strongly associated with higher teacher job satisfaction and a reduction in the odds that a teacher wants to move school. More specifically, a one standard deviation (SD) improvement in the quality of leadership is associated with a large, 0.49 SD increase in teacher job satisfaction and a 64% reduction in the odds that a teacher strongly agrees that they want to move to another school.

This comment makes the abolition of a mandatory preparation qualification for headship nearly a decade a go by the then Labour government even more difficult to fathom than it was at the time. A mandatory leadership qualification also allows for greater understanding of the pipeline of potential new head teachers and areas where there may be challenges recruiting a new head teacher.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with the heads of Roman Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Southwark that covers a swathe of south east London and the neighbouring counties. There were many new, young head teachers just embarking on journey as the lead professional of a school. What was interesting and inspiring was the range of new options the Archdiocese and its schools were willing to try; co-heads sharing the role; primary and secondary heads working together in the same primary school, where at the same time the secondary head also retains their leadership role in the secondary school. Also inspiring were the large proportion of new heads that were women.

Church schools, like schools in the larger MATs, are lucky in that they work in an organisational structure that can set funds aside for system leaders to help head teachers and other school leaders develop. Many local authorities no longer have the funds or the support of their remaining maintained school to ensure such support and encouragement for school leaders and also can no longer identify those that will form the next generation of school leaders.

This is a point noted in the main TALIS report on the 2013 data, where the authors made it clear that:

.Schools in England are clearly very autonomous by international standards, or at least are viewed as such by their head teachers. The levels of school responsibility that are reported are so high and the levels of local and national authority responsibility so low that there is little room for much analysis of differences among English schools. Unsurprisingly, the reporting of local or national authority involvement is strongly concentrated among the maintained schools, although we have already noted that it is not nearly as high as might be expected. Within the group of maintained schools, we can find no clear significant differences in level of average GCSE performance, the distribution of Ofsted ratings, or average Free School Meals receipt between schools with heads reporting significant local or national authority involvement ….. and those with heads who did not. (Page 42 paragraph 22, main report).

The TALIS report is a good starting place for any new Minister, should we find reshuffles and changes at Westminster create such an eventuality, even without the enduring possibility of an early general election causing wholesale change.