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.

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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.

Is London leading the teacher job market in 2018?

Will the STRB have to take a long hard look at where teachers are needed when deciding how to make the pay award this year? I ask this question because TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk, the free to use recruitment site that matches vacancies for teachers with applicants, where I am the Chair, can reveal the importance of London in the teacher job market during the first quarter of 2018.

According to DfE statistics, in January 2017, London schools taught some 16% of the nation’s children educated in state-funded schools. The assumption might be that these schools might require a similar proportion of the nation’s teachers.

There are several challenges to this assumption. Firstly, more teachers may be required because pupil rolls are rising faster in London that elsewhere in the country, especially in the secondary sector. Secondly, London, as a region, educates more children in independent schools than other regions. While London accounts for some 16% of children in state-funded schools, it accounts for 26% of those educated privately in recognised independent schools. As such schools generally have smaller classes and larger numbers of post-16 pupils than many comprehensive schools, their presence will probably increase the demand for teachers needed to work in London. TeachVac handles vacancies from both state and private schools. Thirdly, teachers in London may be more prone to either move around or move out of teaching: including going to teach overseas.

So what did TeachVac find during the first quarter of 2018?

Recorded main scale vacancies placed by secondary schools January – end of March 2018

London England % Vacancies in London
Business 110 355 31%
Music 68 244 28%
RE 75 301 25%
Social Sciences 55 227 24%
Geography 142 595 24%
PE 87 382 23%
Science 500 2229 22%
History 92 412 22%
IT 75 358 21%
Languages 195 936 21%
Art 54 278 19%
Total 2379 12423 19%
Mathematics 318 1813 18%
English 274 1566 17%
Design & Technology 62 454 14%
Humanities 16 129 12%

Source TeachVac.co.uk

As far as the levels of vacancies for main scale teaching posts in the secondary sector are concerned, London schools seem to be advertising more vacancies than might be expected, even allowing for the higher than average number of pupils in private sector schools.

The most interesting feature of the table is how it is the smaller subjects where the relative demand is highest in London. In English and mathematics, London’s share of the national vacancy total is possibly even below what might be expected, given the percentage of pupils in the private sector. I think this may be explained by the significant presence of Teach First in London schools and the importance of both these subjects to the Teach First programme. On the other hand, the subjects at the top of the table mostly do not feature so prominently in the Teach First programme: perhaps they should.

April is the key month for recruitment at this grade, and TeachVac has already experienced a bumper start to the post-Easter period, even though many schools are officially on holiday. TeachVac can link every vacancy on its site to a job posted by a school. The TeachVac site contains no vacancies from agencies or other sources, a factor, as the Migration Advisory Committee found some years ago, resulting in an inflation of the figures to a point where they can become almost meaningless. As a ‘closed site’ that only sends jobs to registered applicants TeachVac also cannot be browsed by those wanting to extract a finder fee from schools.

Finally, it seems as if the DfE may launch a trial of their own service later this month. do test TeachVac at the same time and with the same parameters and let me know how TeachVac measures up to the DfE’s millions of pounds of expenditure on the project?

 

 

What are the aims behind a school funding formula?

Last week I attended a conference put on at the LGA’s conference centre in London by the f40 Group of authorities concerned about school funding, and how it is distributed. Despite its location close to Houses of Parliament, no representative from any London authority was listed in the delegate list. I suppose that’s not surprising in view of the relative distribution of funding across the different local authorities in England.

The historical differences between the funding of schooling across local areas in England goes way back into the history of State education and how it was funded. In an article I wrote in the Oxford Review of Education way back in 1982, I said that local government then managed eighty per cent of spending on education. Even then, recognition that monitoring of what was happening, as the education system developed from just a limited scheme of elementary schools into a more elaborate and widespread system, especially after the passing of the 1944 Education Act, was contained in an HMI publication of 1981 entitled Report of HMI on the effects of local authority expenditure policies on the Education Service in England.  (DES, March, 1982).

Over the next thirty-five years power flowed inexorably from local authorities towards central government. During this changeover period, school funding became more centralised, but also increasingly distributed directly to schools, without local government being able to do much more than try to influence what was happening.

Also, throughout the changeover period, there were calls for a recognition that the existing system was unfair and based upon factors that prevented some areas from funding education as they would have wanted. This was especially the case in the period between the 1944 Education Act and the late 1980s when local government funding, of which most education funding was a part, was not hypothecated and some authorities chose to divide up their spending in less generous ways in terms of funding schools than did others. However, the unfairness resulting from the local retention of business rates always meant some areas had to receive extra funding from central government once it was agreed that a minimum national level of funding was required to operate the school system.

After the Education Reform Act, the idea of curriculum lead funding gathered pace, and calls were increasingly heard for a National Funding Formula for schools. Despite work conducted during both the period of the Labour government between 1997 and 2010, and the period of coalition government, it was only the post 2015 that the DfE and Ministers grasped the nettle and produced the outline of a policy for such a Formula: possibly some Ministers might have wished that they had left well alone. Nevertheless, by 2018, a National Formula existed and was being implemented.

Despite the explicit basis of a formula for schools designed around four basic building blocks: basic pupil funding via an age-weighted pupil unit and a minimum guarantee per pupil; additional needs criteria; a school element including a lump sum and finally an area cost adjustment, the outcomes don’t seem to satisfy many as the f40 conference discussions revealed. Indeed, under the new formula the rank order of high funded and low funded local authority areas remains not totally dissimilar to what was there before.

Perhaps my greatest anxiety arising from the new formula, and expressed by others at the conference, as well as having been expressed before in this blog, is that small rural primary schools have generally not been given sufficient funds to survive the next few years in their present form.

Now, if that is what the government want in order to rationalise spending and cut out waste, so be it. Whether the votes in rural areas will see it in the same way, is entirely another matter. But, it does highlight how values and funding are inextricably linked. At one time Mr Gove, when Secretary of State, wanted to do away with the sump sum completely for all schools: marking certain closure for small schools. The present formula retains a lump sum, but as Peter Downes in Cambridgeshire has worked out, not one especially supportive of small rural schools. The triple weighting of additional needs through a deprivation factor, English as an additional language and prior low attainment of pupils can more than balance out the sparsity and lump sum factors when overlain by the use of a geographical area cost adjustment.

As was once said by commentators of a former system for allocating education funding in the 1970s. ‘..has a deceptive appearance of simplicity. If it is a cost projection of existing policies then there is often disagreement about each element – cost, projection and existing policy all means.

Perhaps not much changes in government.

The Pay of Academy Staff

In the same week that I asked a question of Oxfordshire’s Cabinet Member for Education about the number of employees with salaries over £150,000 in Multi-Academy Trusts operating in Oxfordshire, the Public Accounts Committee has commented on the same issue in a report published today. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/760/76002.htm

The Cabinet member was unable to answer my question as, not surprisingly, the county doesn’t collate the information. However, in my supplementary question, I identified five MATs, all with HQs outside the county, where there was on officer listed in their 2017 accounts as being paid in excess of £150,000. In due course, my list will appear on the county council website and I will publish the link here.

In the Public Accounts Committee Report, issued today, it is clear that the government wrote to all stand-alone academies where in their accounts up to August 2016 there was an officer paid more than £150,000 to ask for an explanation by the 15th December 2017. I haven’t seen an FOI request for the responses. The original letter from the ESFA of 4th December only went to 29 single academy trusts (i.e. academy trusts with only one school in the trust) where the ESFA could identify from the accounts that the trust was paying at least one person over £150,000 and was to ask why such large sums of money had been paid.

In February this year, the Minister wrote to all Chairs of academy trusts in England saying:

 ‘I believe that not all boards are being rigorous enough on this issue. CEO and senior pay should reflect the improvements they make to schools’ performance and how efficiently they run their trusts. I would not expect the pay of a CEO or other non-teaching staff to increase faster than the pay award for teachers. I intend to continue to challenge this area of governance. My view is that we should see a reduction in CEO pay where the educational performance of the schools in the trust declines over several years.’ DfE letter 21st February 2018 reference 35 in the PAC Report.

There has been a history of neglect over senior staff salaries dating back to the Labour government and the emergence of the Executive Head or Principal position soon after the start of the century. Such a grade was never formally recognised in the pay and conditions agreements, and once Mr Gove freed up pay for academies, with no government restraints in place, it was open season for those that wanted to see pay rise to closer to what could be earned in the commercial sector. Buying former DfE officials was also always going to be expensive, but was no doubt one of the justifications used. Using public money to pay related parties is often even less acceptable, as the PAC note in their Report.

We heard of related party transactions where the rules were not properly followed, or where there were doubts about the propriety of the transactions. For example, Wakefield City Academies Trust purchased IT services worth £316,000 from a company owned by the Chief Executive of the Trust, and paid a further £123,000 for clerking services provided by a company owned by the Chief Executive’s daughter. We similarly heard that the founder of Bradford Academy, who was a former teacher, was ordered to repay £35,000 after being sentenced to prison for defrauding the school. The founder and other former members of staff at Kings Science Academy paid £69,000 of Government grants into their own bank accounts. There have also been problems with related party transactions at the Bright Tribe Academy Trust, which resulted in schools being removed from the Trust.

Academy trusts are required to demonstrate to the satisfaction of their own auditors that related parties have not made a profit from the relationship (i.e. that transactions are at cost or below). We were concerned that determining whether a service has been delivered at cost is dependent on information from the supplier, who may have a vested interest in manipulating or inflating this information and is in a position to do so. We questioned whether there were incentives for trustees to take advantage of the system, due to the weaknesses in the system of oversight. The Department, noting our dissatisfaction with the current processes, committed to reflect on the adequacy of the current arrangements. Following our evidence session, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System wrote to all Chairs of academy trusts to remind them of the need to scrutinise any related party transactions, and to ensure that a full and proper procurement process is following and the trust is able to demonstrate that the services have been provided at cost.

Paragraphs 10 and 11 of the PAC Report: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/760/76002.htm

Should local authorities be required either to provide audit services for all academies or at least to review the accounts of those academies with responsibility for schools within their locality? The LGA could apportion responsibility for MATs that cross boundaries in order to ensure that all are looked at by at least one authority that could then report to the appropriate local scrutiny committee.

Public money, especially in a time of austerity, should be spent in the most effective way. TeachVac has cost the government nothing, but demonstrate how a low cost recruitment site works for the benefit of all. The notion of ‘public service’ and not ‘profit from public funds’ must once again be to the fore.

 

 

 

 

Blog post supported by EPI Report

Last December this blog published a post headed ‘Figures back heads views on funding pressures’. https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2017/12/14/figures-back-heads-views-on-funding-pressures/ it was, therefore, interesting to read the report issued by the Education Policy Institute that appeared today and effectively says much the same thing.

You might want to compare Education Policy Institute’s (EPI) key finding with my post last December. EPI have said that:

  • The number of local authority maintained secondary schools in deficit reduced from 14.3 per cent in 2010-11 to 8.8 per cent in 2013-14. Strikingly, however, over the period of four years up until 2016-17, the proportion of local authority secondary schools in deficit nearly trebled, expanding to over a quarter of all such schools – or 26.1 per cent. The average local authority maintained secondary school deficit rose over this 7 year period, from £292,822 in 2010-11 to £374,990 in 2016-17.
  • The number of local authority maintained primary schools in deficit has also risen. In 2010-11, 5.2 per cent of local authority primary schools were in deficit – this reduced in the following year to 3.7 per cent, before staying at a level of around 4 per cent until 2015-16. However, in 2016-17, the proportion of primary schools in deficit increased significantly, to 7.1 per cent. The average primary school deficit also noticeably increased, from £72,042 in 2010-11, to £107,962 in 2016-17.
  • At a regional level, the South West had the highest percentage of local authority maintained secondaries in deficit over this period – with 22.1 per cent of schools in deficit in 2010-11, rising considerably to over a third of schools (34.9 per cent) in 2016-17. The East had the lowest – with 7.5 per cent of local authority maintained secondary schools in deficit in 2010-11, rising to 17.5 per cent in 2016-17.
  • The North East had the highest number of local authority maintained primary schools in deficit in 2016-17 at 10.1 per cent. The East of England consistently had the lowest, with 2.6 per cent in deficit in 2010-11, rising to 3.4 per cent in 2016-17.
  • A large proportion of local authority maintained schools are now spending more than their income. Over two-thirds of local authority maintained secondary schools spent more than their income in 2016-17. Significantly, such events are not just occurring for one year – we find that 40 per cent of local authority maintained secondaries have had balances in decline for at least two years in a row.
  • Similar figures are found for local authority maintained primary schools – in 2016-17, over 60 per cent were spending more than their income. A quarter of local authority maintained primaries have had a falling balance for two years or more.

Where the EPI report does go further than I did last December is in looking at implications as well as the regional breakdown of schools for concern. However, the latter points may be affected by the asymmetric distribution of academies across England.

Implications for schools: financial pressures and deficits – EPI report

  • For a significant proportion of schools in England, being able to meet the cost of annual staff pay increases from a combination of government funding and their own reserves looks highly unlikely, even in the short term.
  • In response to pressures, schools have undertaken various efficiency measures to deliver cost savings, such as switching suppliers, reducing energy usage and reducing the size of leadership teams.
  • However, education staff account for the majority of spending by schools – around two-thirds. It is likely that schools will find it difficult to achieve the scale of savings necessary without also cutting back on staff. Many schools will face the challenge of containing budget pressures and reducing staffing numbers without impacting on education standards.

Either way, the outlook for schools and their pupils is bleak, but so it is across the whole of the public sector just as George Osborne warned it would be in the second half of this decade when he became Chancellor. It was just that few wanted to believe him.

 

 

 

Productivity gain or worsening working conditions?

Ahead of the ASCL Conference in Birmingham this weekend, there is a report in the press today about rising class sizes in secondary schools.

An analysis by teaching unions has suggested 62% of secondary schools have had to expand class sizes between 2014/15 and 2016/17. The study, conducted by the NEU, NAHT and ASCL – as well as non-teaching unions Unison, GMB and Unite – showed that of 150 local authorities, 83% saw a rise in average class sizes across their secondary schools, while 14% have seen a fall and 3% saw no change.

This report should come as no surprise to anyone connected with education. Indeed, I would predict that class sizes will continue to increase in size over the next few years as the secondary school population expands from its low point reached in 2014 and budgets also come under pressure.

However, there is an argument to be had about the usefulness of class sizes as a measure. They can be affected by factors such as the degree of non-contact time allowed to staff; policy over options at GCSE and for post-16 courses as well as space considerations.

An alternative measure is the Pupil Teacher Ratio. Even here there are now problems: how do you define a teacher. Do you only include those with QTS and exclude Teach First and School Direct trainees, as well as any other unqualified teachers or cover supervisors?

Anyway, I have included the changes in PTRs across different types of secondary schools since the School Workforce Census was introduced. The result confirms the findings from the unions and could have been researched without the need to waste valuable time in hard-pressed local authorities. As an added bonus, these are DfE approved numbers, so the government cannot quibble about them.

Changes in Pupil Teacher Ratios in secondary schools
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
All State funded Secondary schools 14.9 14.9 15 15 15.3 15.6
Converter academies 15.2 15.8
Sponsored academies 13.6 15.3
All academies 14.8 15.6
UTCs/Studio Schools 12.9 13.8
Free Schools 12.6 15.3
LA maintained 15 14.9 14.8 14.9 15.1 15.4

The big change has come since 2015 and probably reflects the loss of extra funding academies received in the early days of the Gove period at the DfE. The effect the loss of that extra cash has had on the funding of these schools is now obvious: sadly, once becoming an academy there is normally no way back. For that reason, heads gathering in Birmingham might want to examine the value for money of back offices at MATs.Source DfE SFR 25/2017 Table 17a

After all, it was the heads that complained for decades about the dead hand of local authority expenditure. Having been released from the frying pan of Local Authority spending patterns they must not fall straight into the fire of MATs with high relative overheads.

There are many other issues that secondary heads will need to consider at their conference. Perhaps one of the most pressing is finding the teachers to fill these classes that now have more pupils in them. It may be a productivity gain, but it does impose a greater workload on teachers and may the class size and PTR changes partly explain the growing loss of teachers with 3-5 years’ experience previously discussed on this blog.

In passing, the head teachers might also want to reflect upon the changing nature of the teacher vacancy market that helps provide the teachers. With the TES group reporting a loss of 2016-17 and the DfE working on a new vacancy platform, how teachers are recruited could become an important area for discussion over the next few years.

As one of the instigators of TeachVac, the free platform for vacancies, I am, of course, not an idle by-stander in this debate.