Top slice maintained schools?

There are growing reasons to be concerned about how the two systems of school governance; maintained and academy are working. A brief look at the accounts of any multi-academy trust with more than a couple of schools will show a figure for central costs. Assuming that the MAT has no other income, the funding for these costs will normally have had to come from the schools within the MAT. Should the remaining maintained schools, not yet academies, be top-sliced in a similar manner by local authorities rather than just offered the chance to buy back services on a traded basis?

This issue has once again surfaced because in a report published this week, Ofsted said of Newham Council in London, following an Ofsted a visit to a primary school that wasn’t a normal inspection visit:

‘The local authority has provided some support to the school in managing the manipulative and sometimes abusive correspondence and comments made by email and across social media. However, considering the position the school found itself in, and the fact that some correspondence appears to have been coordinated, the local authority’s approach has been perfunctory at best, stopping short of supporting the school in its policy position. Instead, the local authority has positioned itself as a moderator to manage relationships between the school, councillors and community groups. The expected level of emotional care and public support for school staff from the local authority has been too limited and, as a result, ineffective.’

Now this school had faced a high pressure campaign around a particular set of issues. Should the local authority have had the funds to offer the school its full support as they would have done in the past? The alternative view presumably, is that schools, whether academies or not are now funded as if they were on their own and if they want that support they can buy it.

This question follows on neatly from the Ofsted monitoring report on St Gregory the Great School in Oxford mentioned here in the post on 19th January https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2018/01/page/2/ in which Ofsted criticised the multi-academy company for the manner they were handling the improvement of the school from its rating as inadequate. Clearly, the MAC can use central costs obtained from its schools to offer support. Indeed, the local Anglican MAT in Oxfordshire has appointed a primary adviser from central funds.

Should we treat the remaining maintained schools as if they were a local authority MAT or not bother with the issues of governance and support for these schools? In passing, there is a third group of converter standalone academies that raise another set of issues over the question of support.

With the common funding formula starting to be implemented from April, some schools may be top-sliced where their neighbour down the road isn’t yet receive the same level of funding. Indeed, why should schools hand over part of their declining income to cover central costs, if maintained schools aren’t required to do so?

How should local authorities react? They are even more strapped for cash than schools, having borne the brunt of government cuts over the past eight years: you only have to look at Northamptonshire’s financial situation to see the depth of the problems councils face.

Ofsted cannot expect more from local authorities without recognising that someone, either the school or the government will have to pay for that support. If MATs can top-slice, should local authorities also be allowed to do so?

 

 

Advertisements

Not Full Circle?

In the early 1990s, I sat on Oxfordshire’s Education Committee. At that time, we were forced to outsource the county’s school meal service. The contract went to an offshoot of what was then CfBT,. After several changes of direction and contractor, the one constant was the need to outsource such services. With the coming of local management by schools, first grant maintained schools, then academies and finally all schools were allowed to do their own thing and decide either who to appoint or even to provide the meals service themselves. With the collapse of Carillion, the question is whether the wheel is now turning again and creating a climate for a politically controlled in-house delivery of services once again?  Of course, while schools retain the purchasing decisions, as the budget holder, there will never be a return to the previous system of a centrally imposed system.

In the early days of this blog, in 2014, I wrote about some of the issues facing councils and contractors, especially over the savings in staff costs -see https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/private-or-public/ and I wonder whether another stage in the cycle of government contracting is starting to emerge. In the immediate post-war period of central planning, public bodies often ran most services. There was no profit element to consider, but cost controls were of variable quality. The Thatcher era saw a mass transfer of services to private companies, with an expectation that costs would fall. Maybe some did, but others didn’t and some benefitted from the proceeds of technological change that drove down costs, but didn’t create competition and didn’t always drive down prices.

However, when costs have been reduced, it is clear that the profit element in a contract is often paying for more than the risk involved in the enterprise, especially where it is services that are being provided. I recognised this when I set up TeachVac and the DfE presumably recognise it with their latest attempt to establish a vacancy service for schools and teachers. In education, the problem is that many of the budget holders, schools, are too small to gain purchasing power, except where they can purchase locally.

Can and should democratically elected local authorities play a part in providing services to schools? We shall see. There are clearly those on the right of politics that see State provided services as an anathema. Presumably, they are not happy with the DfE creating a publically operated vacancy service for teachers?  I have yet to see any opinion from them, but it is an interesting test of where they see the limits of state action?

Finally, back to the Carillion saga. Fortunately, Oxfordshire had been in the process of recovering the contracts for both construction and facilities management services outsourced in 2012 to Carillion. This is as a result of pressure from councillors of all political parties. From 2014, issues about school construction projects not meeting deadlines were regularly raised at political group briefings. Oxfordshire’s residents are fortunate that the County has no Party with a large majority and every incentive for opposition parties to hold the ruling group’s feet to the fire over the management of services. But, in education none of this solves the bigger governance issues around the two parallel systems of academies and maintained schools.

Reflections on 2017

This has been an interesting year in education. 2017 started with great anxiety over the proposed new common funding formula for schools. The government’s original version left many rural and small schools out of pocket and losing actual cash. The revised version just left them out of pocket. Indeed, from government data released in December, it seems secondary schools have been dipping into their reserves for the past three years; many primary schools are now having to do so as well.

The other key topic of interest a year ago, the creation of new selective schools, has fallen victim to the unexpected outcome of the general election. Apart from Brexit, it seems any contentious reform is not now being contemplated.

Selection as a topic has been replaced by social mobility as the key goal of government. Unfortunately for many areas, the funds are largely being targeted at key ‘opportunity areas’ that look suspiciously like the Education Action Zones once championed by the Blair government in the 1990s. Smaller pockets of deprivation, as can be found in many parts of the country, seem less likely to attract much if any additional funding above the Pupil Premium and free school meals.

There are worrying signs, including in the Report of the Chief Inspector, that some schools may be actually frustrating social mobility by offering challenging pupils the opportunity to be home educated or on a reduced timetable. Many of the parents do not have the background to challenge these decisions that can blight a child’s possible future almost as much as the alternative of a permanent exclusion.

Although there have been changes in the junior ministerial ranks, the Secretary of State has served throughout the year and is now approaching the point in her tenure when she is in the zone where many politicians find themselves either changing jobs or being removed from office in a reshuffle.

Teacher workload, pay and recruitment have once again dominated the teacher associations concerns during the year that has also seen the creation of a new association, with the coming together of the NUT and ATL.

The dead hand of the revolution initiated by Mr Gove, when he was Secretary of State, still affects schools, especially in the design of the curriculum and examinations where reforms take several years to reach full implementation.

The most worrying outcome of 2017 for schools was that following the general election spat between Labour and the Tories over university tuition fees, some £800 million appeared in the budget Red Book for student fee initiatives. That’s money that could have been spent in schools, FE or early years now diverted to the already most highly funded part of our education system.

So, what of 2018? Might we see a resolution of the academy and maintained school divide? Will the DfE really launch a free vacancy service in time for September 2018 and what will be the response of existing players if they do? How will the DfE save money to pay for social mobility programmes?

Above all, will the teacher supply crisis reach its zenith in 2018 and will the depressing numbers entering teacher preparation courses in September 2017, coupled with increases in school rolls, create a real sense of urgency to do something about the problem?  Perhaps the pressure on school budgets will finally mean secondary schools are really forced to cut teaching posts and the shortage of trainees won’t matter. Time will tell.

Not a rural idyll?

Once Again the DfE has categorised four primary schools within London boroughs as meeting their definition of a rural school. Two are in Enfield and the other two, an infant and junior school with the same name, are in Hillingdon.

I am sure the residents of Theobalds Park Road in Enfield will be delighted to know that they live in a ‘rural village’ according to the DfE. Their school was founded in 1858 as a National School, but it is moot point whether it is really a village school or a small school in in a relatively isolated locality on the fringe of London. On the other hand, Forty Hill Primary School, the other rural school in Enfield is genuinely in an area of isolated dwellings with little in the immediate vicinity other than the church and a few houses. Realistically, these four schools are a statistical anomaly on the fringes of our capital city.

Nationally, the DfE lists 3,806 rural primary schools in this year’s database. This list doesn’t include any rural academies as it only lists local authority schools but, it still contains 1,553 community schools; 2,079 voluntary schools, both aided and controlled, and 174 foundation schools. I don’t see why a full list of state-funded rural primary schools, including academies should not be published by the DfE..

North Yorkshire has the largest number of designated rural primary schools, with just over 200 such schools. Cumbria is second with 168; Devon and Lancashire are in joint third place with 157 each. Overall, 92 of the local authorities in England have at least one designated rural primary school within their boundaries.

648 of these primary schools are designated as in isolated hamlets or hamlets and sparse dwellings whereas 1,786 are located in or around rural villages, with a further 1,310 in a rural town or on its fringe. The remaining schools are close enough to rural towns to be regarded as in a sparse setting near the town.

These schools represent both the history of education in England and the country’s complex geography. Whether all will survive the new National Funding Formula is a moot point. Many are small, often one form entry or less schools. Although they all will probably receive more cash under the new settlement it is unlikely that the increase will be enough to meet the ever growing expenditure pressures faced by schools, especially when the pay cap is finally removed.

If these schools are going to be expected to meet pay pressures from a national funding settlement then many may find themselves unable to make ends meet. Such a situation is not one where it is easy to recruit a new head teachers, so it may be alright while the present incumbent remains in post, but finding a successor could be more of a challenge.

We know relatively little about how difficult this type of school finds it to recruit classroom teachers. Are there still a cadre of teacher willing to work in such schools? I suspect that the answer is in the affirmative for the school that is rural, but not isolated, as are many in the south of England, but not as much the case where such schools are really isolated. There was a story recently from Scotland of a school in the Highlands that has had to close because both teachers were leaving at Christmas and no replacements could be found for January.

I do hope that these schools survive, but they won’t without some serious campaigning. With the present weak state of the government there has never been a better time to put pressure on MPs with such schools in their constituency.

 

Figures back heads views on funding pressures

Most commentators will be focusing on the primary performance data published today. I am sure that is not why the DfE also chose to publish the annual update on maintained school finances for 2016-17 today. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/la-and-school-expenditure-2016-to-2017-financial-year

Although this is time series data, comparisons from year to year are handicapped by the conversion of schools to academy status and their removal from these tables. Nevertheless, at the national level, some pointers do become clear, especially as the funding between academies and maintained schools is now roughly the same for most of their government funded revenue income. They do, of course have different accounting years, and this can affect issues such as spend on salaries and the payment of increments.

If the average percentage of revenue income held as balances by maintained schools  is considered, this has now started reducing after a long period when the percentage was on the increase in both the primary and secondary sectors.

Maintained  Schools:

Total revenue balance as a % of total revenue income

Primary Secondary
2009-10 5.9% 3.2%
2010-11 6.6% 3.9%
2011-12 7.9% 5.6%
2012-13 7.9% 6.2%
2013-14 7.9% 6.4%
2014-15 8.2% 5.0%
2015-16 8.4% 4.6%
2016-17 7.4% 3.0%

This is the first year that the primary sector has recorded a decline in balances as a percentage of revenue income. In the secondary sector, the decline started in 2014-15 and there has now been three years of declining revenue balances overall.

For schools with a deficit, overall the aggregate position is also deteriorating:

Primary Secondary
2009-10 (3.5)% (4.0)%
2010-11 (3.6)% (4.8)%
2011-12 (3.7)% (5.7)%
2012-13 (3.1)% (5.2)%
2013-14 (2.9)% (5.8)%
2014-15 (3.3)% (7.3)%
2015-16 (3.0)% (7.7)%
2016-17 (3.5)% (8.4)%

Again, the position is worse in the secondary sector. This may be partly due to the remaining secondary schools that haven’t converted to academy status being more likely to be in deficit. Of the remaining maintained secondary schools included in the data for 2016-17, 26% had a deficit budget compared with just 7% of primary schools. This may also reflect the fact that rolls have been rising across the primary sector but falling until this year across the secondary sector.

The average spend on teaching staff increased in the primary sector by £68 per pupil and in the secondary sector by £58 per pupil over the two years 2015-16 and 2016-17. In the same period, the primary sector reduced running costs by £30 per pupil and secondary sector by £25 per pupil.

Schools overall increased non-government revenue income by £25 per pupil in the primary sector and £13 in the secondary sector in this period. Some of this is just income taken in to cover the costs of trips, meals and other expenses, but it also includes parental contributions and donations.

Overall, the figures show that the squeeze on income is now really beginning to affect schools, especially in the secondary sector. These figures back up the complaints of secondary head teachers about their funding levels. With general inflation now over three per cent and the  need to offer recruitment and retention payments to counteract below inflation pay increases, the next few years are going to be challenging times for maintained schools, and almost certainly for academies as well.

Schools can no longer rely on dipping into their saving for a rainy day: that day has now arrived and the cash is being used up.

 

 

 

More talk about money

There was an interesting slot on the BBC’s Today Programme just before 0800 this morning. The Presenter plus a head teacher of an Oxfordshire Secondary School and the education researcher from Policy Exchange, the right leaning think tank, exchanged words about the state of school funding. This sort of early morning interview ritual on that programme follows set lines, two interviewees with different perspectives on the same matter and an interviewer introducing the issue and setting a hare running. When verbal exchanges are either too intense or nothing happens, the interviewer will step in and act accordingly, otherwise the two interviewees trade words.

Not surprisingly, this morning, the head teacher was full of woe about the state of funding, especially in Oxfordshire and the researcher thought either everything should be rosy or if that wasn’t the case it was all the fault of schools for employing too many staff; paying them too much or not belonging to a multi-academy trust that could produce economies of scale for back office costs. I am sure this last point had many listeners chucking over their lessons plans or marking that excessive workloads force them to undertake, even at that early hour of a Saturday morning.

Frankly, the level of exchange was disappointing for those that probably know better, but live radio is, and especially on a show such as the Today Programme, where you need to make your point in headline terms if it is to have any impact, a challenging experience, as I know from the couple of times I have taken part in such discussions over the years. On this occasion the head teacher had the better of the exchanges in my view

As I reported in my last post, ‘Thin Gruel’, schools were never likely to do well out of the budget and the two protagonists skirted about the issue of what effect any rise in pay that was not properly funded would have on school budgets by next September and especially in 2019. The strongest point schools have in the funding debate: falling interest in teaching as a career and levels of exit from the profession that are not as low as they were a few years ago should have been centre stage. As it wasn’t the Policy Exchange researcher never really had to address the macroeconomic point about paying more to boost the supply of teachers and what might need to be cut to find the cash? The head was probably too polite to point out the £800 million going to support students in higher education might have been as well used in schools and early years. However, as I pointed out in the previous post, this cash was needed to deal with the political fight between Labour and the conservatives for the undergraduate vote.

What is needed now is some research looking forward at school budgets for the next three to four years and identifying how many schools will be in deficit budgets by then unless action is taken. The government should then be firmly asked for a list of where cuts should be made. The electorate will then decide and schools that followed the government’s advice will know where to send complaining parents.

 

Thin gruel

With not much cash to give away plus an increasing school population to fund over the next few years, schools and education were always going to have to whistle for much more than a few handouts from the Chancellor’s budget. Especially after more than three-quarters of a billion pounds had been guaranteed to win the battle with Labour for the undergraduate student vote.

So, as predicted here over the weekend, re-training for 8,000 IT teachers was one of the education headlines. How the money is to be spent will affect recruitment from September 2018, with the bulk of the cash being spent between September 2019 and the summer of 2020. £85 million, not the £100million mentioned over the weekend, has been included in the Treasury Red Book. The mathematics bonus won’t come into effect until autumn 2019 and is so arranged that it is of no help to the funds of 11-16 schools. I wonder whether it will be paid on registrations or numbers taking and passing examinations, in which case it won’t be paid until the summer of 2021. The devil will be in the detail, but don’t start spending the cash anytime soon.

The other proposals for maths schools look embryonic and a bit last minute. The CPD bonus for some teachers is interesting, but will only buy around 3-4 days of input, unless some special deals can be arranged. If cover has to be included as well, then it will not even buy that amount of professional development: perhaps it will be on-line in a teacher’s spare time. In that case, will the teacher associations veto involvement as it would be seen as adding to a teacher’s workload? Will teaching schools; MATs; providers or the private sector administer the Scheme?

Personally, I would have placed an emphasis on adding to the maths knowledge and skills of primary school teachers where I think this extra money could have achieved the most good. But, at this level of funding it looks like mere window dressing whatever use is made of it.

The real disappointment is the lack of any further increase in school funding. I am surprised the Chancellor didn’t mention the School Vacancy Service as a means of saving school’s money: missed a trick there. Perhaps he didn’t believe that the ‘fingers crossed’ reference by the Permanent Secretary at The Public Accounts Committee was a strong enough commitment to actually achieving something really workable in 2018. Not to worry, TeachVac’s free service to schools and teachers is already doing the job for the government and at no cost to the Exchequer.

The lack of progress on pay needs to be remedied by an early Pay Review Report, because when the budget was in the spring it was late in the recruitment season for announcements to affect decision-making by teachers. A November budget may well prompt teachers ahead of the 2018 recruitment round to consider their future career moves. My advice to head teachers is to dust off the rules about recruitment and retention allowances as they offer a way around the pay problems for schools that have the cash.