Pressure on academy budgets in 2015-2016

The DfE has now published the financial data on single academy schools for the year 2015-2016, covering the period to the end of August 2016, almost two years ago now. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/income-and-expenditure-in-academies-in-england-2015-to-2016

What is striking is the similarity with the trends in non-academy school finances for 2016-17 highlighted in my post of the 14th December 2017.

In today’s tables, about this select group of academies, all groups of schools spent more than their income in 2015-2016. For the primary academies, this is the first year where median expenditure exceeded income. In the secondary sector, it is the third year running median expenditure has exceeded median income.

In the year ending August 2016, the total revenue expenditure in this group of academies exceeded income by £280m. This represents 1.5% of income, up from 1.0% in 2014 to 2015. However, as the DfE notes, this does not mean that these academies are inevitably in debt, as they may have had reserve funds from which these costs were able to be met. Nevertheless, it is not a trend that can continue for ever as reserves are eventually exhausted.

There is a strong probability that the gap has widened since then as the funding crisis in schools has intensified. If the next pay rise isn’t fully funded, then some schools may well be in real financial difficulties.

As might be expected when budgets come under pressure, these academies spent a great proportion of their income on teaching staff than in the previous year. Although expenditure on teaching staff as a proportion of total expenditure has fallen by 3.2 percentage points since 2011/12 when the data were first collected. However, it rose by 1.2 percentage points in 2015/16 over the previous year.

Supply staff cost these schools 2.3% of their budgets in 2015-16, so even the recent government announcement about driving down the costs of some supply agency activities, while welcome, is hardly going to make a big difference to most schools’ budgets. The fact that 12% of the 4.3% of other expenditure was spent on PFI costs suggests that for some schools this is a real burden and must affect how they can manage their budgets. It would be helpful if the DfE could have shown this table for schools with PFI costs and those without that burden. Some eleven schools are shown in the detailed tables with expenditure of more than £1,000,000 on PFI costs, with one school in the South West paying more than £2,000,000. Not surprisingly, its expenditure on both teaching staff and resources is not at the upper end of the scale.

The data on supply staff costs looks somewhat suspect, since some schools may have filled the same figure in for both supply teaching staff and agency teaching staff columns, generating an overall total that is twice both amounts. This might be the case in some schools, but seems too common not to be worth investigating further. However, the school that spent £1,700,000 on supply staff doesn’t fall into that category of schools.

With the announcement from the Secretary of State at the NGA Conference, we can now expect more of this information, including for multi-academy trusts.

 

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Vacancy war breaks out

The DfE’s rather muddled announcement earlier today of a service to clampdown on agencies charging schools “excessive” fees to recruit staff and advertise vacancies https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-free-website-for-schools-to-advertise-vacancies was clearly written by a press officer that didn’t understand what was being said. Either that or the government is in more of a mess than I thought. Muddled up in the announcement posted on the DfE’s web page today are two separate and different services.

In one, the DfE announced that:

Mr Hinds will launch a new nationwide deal for headteachers from September 2018 – developed with Crown Commercial Service – providing them with a list of supply agencies that do not charge fees when making supply staff permanent after 12 weeks.

The preferred suppliers on the list will also be required to clearly set out how much they are charging on top of the wages for staff. This will make it easier for schools to avoid being charged excessive fees and reduce the cost burden on schools of recruiting supply teachers through agencies.

Such a service might backfire if it drove some agencies out of business and then allowed the remainder to actually increase their prices to schools.

However, it is the other service, starting now for a limited trail just after the end of the main recruitment round for September vacancies that is of more interest, as it directly competes with TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the free service for vacancies that has been running successfully for the past four years. TeachVac was set up to do exactly what the DfE say they are now trying to do:

 To help combat these costs, the Secretary of State has announced a free website has been launched to advertise vacancies, which currently costs schools up to £75 million a year. This website will include part-time roles and job shares.

Well TeachVac does all of that. Regular readers will know that I am chair of the company that owns and operate TeachVac and its international site Teachval Global. Why should the government want to destroy an already successful free service? Perhaps the teacher associations can tell me what see that will be better in the DfE’s offering?Certainly, the DfE won’t have access to the same level of real time job data as TeachVac that allowed us to comment on the problems facing schools in London and the Home counties that have been trying to recruit teachers for September.

TeachVac will continue, as it is backed by its successful TeachVac Global arm that provides a similar paid service for international schools around the globe. http://www.teachvacglobal.com as well as its extensive data and associated businesses.

In the meantime, paid for vacancy service such as the TES – also a player in the supply agency marketplace- eteach, SchoolsWeek and The Guardian must explain to their investors how they will combat another free service displaying teaching vacancies. Local authorities, don’t have investors to explain to, but could see their job boards affected by the DfE move, especially for posts in primary schools where they are often a key player in the local market.

But, for everyone the key question is, after two failures in this field, will the DfE be successful this time around? Judging by the quality of the announcement, there must be a measure of doubt, especially at the costs involved. Let me know what you think. Is this a service the DfE should provide and do you think that they can for a credible cost?

 

 

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.

 

Goodbye to the Village School?

The Church of England appears to have accepted the fate of some of its schools will be closure. https://schoolsweek.co.uk/church-of-england-prepares-for-closure-of-village-schools/ As I have been saying for some time on this blog, the new National Funding Formula won’t save many of our small primary schools from closure, and may even hasten their demise. Where rural authorities could once ensure their local funding formula provided for the high overhead costs of these schools, the combination of a lump sum and the manner in which the sparsity factor is to be applied will probably sound the death knell of some small schools. How many, is a matter for debate and someone – the DfE as the national planning body or local authorities that will pick up any additional transport costs resulting from school closures – should probably now be doing some planning ahead to identify the extend of any closure, What is the acceptable time for a five year old to be on a bus or in a taxi across two journeys to and from school? Will the Church of England be lowed to provide the new larger schools to replace those closed as too small for the modern age?

Indeed, the whole issue of home to school transport arrangements should be reviewed so that they don’t fall disproportionally on rural counties and are almost totally avoided by the large urban authorities and London boroughs. Should secondary schools be able to attract pupils be providing free transport to the possible detriment of other schools in their local area as regards pupil numbers and the funding consequences? Is the High Needs Block sufficient to provide for the transport needs of children with SEND needs?

How important are schools to their communities? I note that Barbara Taylor, the secretary of the National Association of Small Schools and chair of governors of an Oxfordshire primary school with less than 50 pupils, accepted in the Schools Week article “that some underperforming small schools may have to close, but argued “most” perform well and are a “focal point of the community”. I would agree with that view, but it isn’t fashionable at Westminster.

Now is the time for those that support small schools, especially in rural areas, to put the pressure on MPs representing rural constituencies? If you want to ensure your local school will survive this unintended national policy outcome then send your MP an email to that effect before anyone has mentioned closure: afterwards may be too late as this requires a policy rethink and isn’t about saving just a single school. Many of these MPs represent traditionally safe Conservative seats, but parents and other family members often form a large part of their electorate. The alternative is to build more house in the village and attract enough new families to make the school secure, but that isn’t always an option.

Without a change of policy, the view of The Reverend Nigel Genders, head of education at the Church of England, as expressed in the Schools Week article, that some schools may have to close might just be an understatement.

More about school funding

How much more should London schools be paid under the new National Funding Formula to compensate for the higher salaries teachers working in the Capital are paid? Interestingly, that issue didn’t appear to have surfaced during last week debate in the House of Commons on a Labour motion about school funding and the new National Funding Formula. https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-04-25/debates/0A24031C-1B47-47DA-9682-5ED62B7AB09C/SchoolFunding

The salary differential is greatest for new teachers and smallest, at least in percentage terms, for the highest paid head teachers – CEOs of Academy Trusts don’t have a pay scale – although in cash terms the difference greatest for senior middle leaders at the top of their scale.

Sep-17 Rest of England Inner London % diff
Bottom Main Scale  £          22,917  £          28,660 20%
Top Main Scale  £          38,633  £          47,298 18%
TMS + TLR top  £          51,660  £          60,325 14%
L1  £          39,374  £          46,814 16%
l20  £          62,863  £          70,310 11%
L43  £        109,366  £        116,738 6%

Assuming schools spend around 60% of their funds on staff with QTS, plus another significant amount on non-teaching staff, where I assume the differential across the country isn’t significantly different, then how much more should a school in challenging circumstances in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets receive compared with a similar school in South East Oxford? If the differential is significantly more than 20% then one might ask how the different components within the NFF are derived. The additional of floors and ceilings only serve to make matters worse.

The DfE data published in the autumn of 2017 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-funding-formula-tables-for-schools-and-high-needs indicates a much greater than 20% difference between those local authorities with the smallest allocations and the London Boroughs with the largest amounts.

In terms of consequences, there is the issue of funding for small schools that this blog has highlighted before, but also the issue of how much extra schools in pockets of severe deprivation receive within local authorities that are generally regarded as affluent. The issue of the f40 group of authorities and the share of the national cake they receive was aired during the House of Commons debate, but not by any of the six MPs representing Oxfordshire constituencies. As there wasn’t a formal division, we don’t know whether they even attended the debate.

Yesterday, the Oxford Mail has a key article about funding for schools in the county, highlighting the concerns that funds are not sufficient. http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/16192951.SCHOOL_FUNDING__Oxfordshire_parents_battle_for_more_classroom_cash/

Much of Oxfordshire has local elections this Thursday, but I don’t sense that school funding is a big issue on the doorsteps, unlike potholes that seem to be the number one concern in many areas.

However, I am concerned that not enough forward planning is currently being undertaken by either Schools Forum or others to identify the position if current NFF trends continue for the next five How far can schools sustain different changes in pay rates for staff and not fall into deficit? There needs to be a debate about the consequences of the new approach to funding, not just in the short-term, but over the longer time period as well.

 

 

 

100 days and counting

Mr Hinds has now been in post as Secretary of State of Education just beyond the 100 day point, regarded as the first milestone for a politician by many commentators. During the same period in 2010 Michael Gove had already achieved the passing of the infamous 2010 Academies Act, despite having had to wait for the creation of the Coalition. However much many of us dislike its contents, and the subsequent effect on schooling in England, one must admire the political foresight of Mr Gove and his team of advisers.

As with all Mr Gove’s successors, there has been little sign of the same degree of ambition from the present incumbent of the office at Sanctuary Buildings. Now it is true that a minority government is in an even weaker position with regard to legislation than even a coalition. However, one of Michael Gove’s first acts at Defra this January was to attend both the Oxford Farming Conference and it alternative unofficial counterpart down the road. In doing so, he was making a clear political statement.

So, what has been achieved in the first 100 days by the Secretary of State for Education? Judging by Mr Hind’s speech to the ASCL Conference in March, it is more a matter of emphasis and a nudge here and there, than dealing with the big picture issues. A pause on changes in assessment and testing; more emphasis on reducing workload to calm down the teaching profession and a nod to the importance of technology. A sort of steady as you go regime.

So, what’s still in the Secretary of State’s in-tray? School funding hasn’t gone away as an issue, although it doesn’t seem to be playing very big in local elections across England. Parents haven’t yet seen the real effects of tightening budget. The fact that two of the three remaining maintained secondary schools in Oxfordshire had deficits of more than £1 million each at the end of 2017-18 financial years tells of pain yet to come. School Funding could be a big issue for Whitehall if teachers’ pay increases this year are more than was estimated by the Treasury in its school funding models.

Such an increase seems likely, since the Secretary of State hasn’t managed to tackle the issue of providing an adequate supply of teachers and stemming the outflow of those already in the profession. National teacher shortages are always seen as the responsibility of the government at Westminster, and 2018 is still not looking very healthy on the recruitment into training front. Failure to recruit trainees will impact in 2019 on the ability of schools to recruit new teachers and allows plenty of time for profession to mount any number of campaigns. The joint letter from a number of organisations sent to Mr Hinds earlier this week may be just the first in a veritable salvo of concern about this issue.

For me, the Secretary of State could make his name by regularising the parallel systems of governance between locally overseen maintained schools and nationally managed academies. Although not exactly the same situation, Mr Hinds may recognise, coming from a hospitality industry background that the 2003 Licensing Act did away with the dual system of liquor licences being issued by Magistrates’ Court and entertainment licences by local authorities. Our dual governance system for schools is a mess and, as I have said before, doesn’t help some of our most vulnerable young people such as children taken into care that need a place in a different school.

But then, a concern with social mobility also didn’t seem to feature large in Mr Hind’s first 100 days.

Educating children taken into care

Reflecting on my years as a secondary school teacher during the 1970s in Tottenham, I am sure that I taught many of what are now being called the ‘Windrush Generation’. These were the children from the Caribbean that followed their parents that came to Britain to help overcome the labour shortages faced by many public sector and nationalised industries in the 1950s and 1960s; nurses; bus drivers and conductors and railway porters and guards, as well as station staff working on the London Underground. I well recall the passion for the education of their children that was a feature of many of the parents attending open evenings.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my concerns for another group of young people that I view as being ignored by too many policy makers at Whitehall, hopefully not just for the sake of convenience and perhaps not ‘rocking the boat’. These are those children and young people taken into care and placed by a local authority outside of their local area; usually for very good safeguarding reasons, but sometimes because of local shortages of foster homes with appropriate experience.

In some cases, these young people are being denied an education, as schools either refuse admissions in-year or take inordinate lengths of time making up their minds. It is hard enough being taken into care, but to see your education disrupted through no fault of your own is to be punished for something that isn’t your fault. Tutoring isn’t the same as schooling and is often a poor substitute for these young people.

The DfE has a meeting later this week of civil servants and local authority officers that regularly discuss admissions issues, as well as exclusions and home to school transport matters. It is worth reminding the group that two years ago the 2016 White Paper mentioned returning powers over in-year admissions to local authorities. Such powers would go a long way to solving the problems facing these students.

Please will readers of this blog also ask their contacts to take up this issue and secure a decent education for these young people? I know that in some areas there have been concentrations of such children that can cause challenges for certain schools, especially secondary modern schools as the children mostly come from areas with non-selective secondary education and haven’t passed an entrance examination, even if the selective schools had any places in the appropriate year group, which most don’t. These schools may need extra help through a tweak in the Common Funding Formula, both nationally and by the local Schools Forum.

I would hope that Education Scrutiny and Oversight Committees around the country might also like to look at the issue of the educational outcomes of children taken into care and how they could be improved.

These are a group of young people that must not be allowed to become casualties of our system: they deserve better from us all regardless of our political persuasion.