Bad news on closing the gap

The Education Policy Institute’s 2019 Report on Education (EPI Report) has largely been noticed for the comments about social mobility and the stalling of attempts to close the gaps between disadvantaged and other pupils as this is a key feature of its findings  https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/epi-annual-report-2019-the-education-disadvantage-gap-in-your-area/ Reasons for this ending of the reduction in the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and other pupils as noted by EPI are the decline in funding for schools and the challenges some schools face in both recruiting and retaining teachers.

This latter explanation is one that has been regularly championed by this blog as likely to have an adverse effect on outcomes. So, it would seem that money matters, and the idea of just providing cash to under-funded local authorities, as seemingly suggested by the new Prime Minister, might not necessarily be the way forward.

However, I do have some concerns about parts of the methodology used by EPI as it relates to the presentation of the data. A focus on local authorities as the key determinant does tend to ignore areas, whether urban or rural that have wide variations in levels of disadvantage within the same local authority boundary. For the two tier shire and district council areas, it would have been better to use the data at a district council level, but that doesn’t help in cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, and boroughs where there may be wide variations between different parts of the authority. To some extent the data for an authority doesn’t reveal the whole picture and can provide results that might mis-lead the casual reader.

EPI avoids this issue to some extent by producing tables using parliamentary constituencies as the basis for the data. Thus the gap in months at the secondary level relative to non-disadvantaged pupils nationally can differ widely within one authority by looking at data at the level of the parliamentary constituency. For Birmingham, it is 13.6 in Selly Oak, but 19.6 in Ladywood; in Kent it differs between 27.0 for the Dover constituency and 13.8 in Tunbridge Wells.

This is not to say that drawing attention to the gap between where pupils start their education journeys and where they complete them isn’t vitally important at a local authority level. But, providing everyone with equal shares of the cake is not an answer for anyone that wants anything other than administrative simplicity, important though it is to ensure that base funding levels are sufficient for the task in hand.

EPI do make the point in their report that despite no progress in narrowing the disadvantage gap, overall pupil attainment has continued to rise. This suggests that an overall rise in standards does not guarantee a reduction in the disadvantage gap. (Their emphasis).

The Report also highlights the fact that the post-16 education routes taken by young people are becoming increasingly segregated by socio-economic status, with disadvantaged pupils disproportionately represented in certain routes. In particular, the increased segregation is driven by an over-representation of disadvantaged students in further education. These trends may damage the government’s ambition of rectifying imbalances between further and higher education. (Their emphasis).

 

 

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Equal not fair: the new direction for education?

So Boris wants a ‘superb’ education for all children. His recipe for achieving this is to offer all primary and secondary schools the same cash amount per pupil of some £5,000. No mention of special education, further education or indeed higher education in that part of his speech.

As this blog has recorded in the past, post-16 and further education is seriously in need of a cash injection, probably even more than the schools sector. Although secondary schools will benefit from more cash for their Key Stage 3 & 4 pupils under Boris’s idea, this won’t help fully fund sixth forms and will leave further education colleges still drifting towards financial meltdown in some cases.

What is the future for the High Needs Block of funding and a ‘superb’ education for all our pupils with special educational needs? I guess much will depend upon how Mr Williamson, as the incoming Secretary of State for Education, interprets the words of his boss? Personally, I hope he reminds Boris that Eton doesn’t charge the same fees as many other private schools and asks whether he believes that what is right for public education should be applied to private schooling as well?

More seriously, the idea of the same cash for all is based upon a very simplistic notion of education, where equal means ‘the same’. In 2002, I wrote a paper for the Liberal Democrats espousing the ‘compensatory principle’. This is based upon funding the needs of a child to reach the outcome levels desired by the system: some children need more resources to achieve the desired outcome than others.

Such a principle recognises the need for additional funding for both specific children and particular areas within local government boundaries. The Coalition introduced the Pupil Premium to recognise this need, and the Mrs May’s government created additionally funded ‘Opportunity Areas’. What happens to these modification of £5,000 for all will be a real test of the values of this government.

Extensive research shows all children do not arrive at school with the same degree of development, whatever their innate capabilities. The system should recognise that fact and take it into account in funding. Furthermore, if the State mandates the same funding for all schools, should it allow schools in more affluent areas to top-up the State grant and once again create a funding differential?

The teacher associations have calculated that the headline £5,000 for all is relatively cheap to implement, costing only about £50 million a year according to the BBC. However, to restore funding levels to where the teacher associations would like them to be might cost close to £13 Billion rather than a few million pounds. Such a sum, even without the demands of the further education sector, is a different order of magnitude.

Sadly, for a Prime minister that likes headlines, the £5,000 is a good headline figure and seems like a lot of money: these days it isn’t. How schools are treated will reveal the true values off the new government.

Small schools: what’s their future?

Last Thursday, the DfE issued a raft of statistical information. The data about teachers has been covered by this blog in a number of different posts. As a result, the data from the January School Census that covers schools and their pupils has had to wait its turn. Happily, there is now time to reflect upon the data.  https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2019

In terms of public expenditure implications, the important news is that there are more pupils to be funded, as the rise in the birth rate of a few years ago starts to work its way through the system. Overall, there were 84,700 more pupils in education in England in January 2019 than in the previous January. This is despite any trend towards home schooling or off-rolling.

The bulk of the increase, 69,500, came in the secondary sector.  Assuming more of the increase to be in Year 7, then this probably required some 3,500 more teachers. Not all will have been recruited, as some schools will have falling rolls at sixteen and in a few cases still, at fourteen due to movement of pupils to UTCs and Studio Schools.

The number of primary pupils increased by 10,800; an insignificant increase on a pupil population of 4,730,000 pupils. This levelling off in the primary school population, and its possible reduction in a few years’ time, has implications for the system that will be discussed later.

It’s worth noting the increase in the number of pupils in special schools, of some 6,500. How far this is an awareness of extra need and how far schools looking to place pupils that cost more to educate than a school normally receives cannot be identified from the data. However, by January 2019, almost all pupils should have converted from a Statement of SEN to an EHCP.

It is worth noting the fall of 900 pupils in independent schools. It isn’t easy to identify where that trend is coming from, but some of it might be as a result of local authorities reassessing the cost of placing SEN pupils in such schools, and instead now using cheaper state funded provision and thus contributing to the increase in numbers in special schools.

The most concern in policy terms arising from this data are the future shape of the primary school system. While there are 13 primary schools with over 1,000 pupils, there are almost 2,000 primary schools with 100 or fewer pupils. Together these latter schools account for approaching one in eight primary schools. Some will be infant schools, where a merger with a junior school could create a primary school, as has already happened in many instances. However, where these small schools are already primary schools, how will their future be assessed? Does the present funding arrangements permit local authorities and academy chains to retain such schools, both for the good of their communities and to prevent very young children having to take bus journeys to and from school each day? Some counties with small communities that are widely distributed will certainly face this problem, even if they aren’t already doing so. So far, I haven’t heard anything from the Leadership contenders about this matter.

Worsening PTRs herald a sign for the future?

The DfE has today published a raft of statistics about schools, their pupils and the workforce. This post will concentrate on the data about the teacher workforce, collected by the DfE in the 2018 School Workforce Census completed by schools during November 2018. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2018

As ever, and as under any government, the DfE highlights what it sees as the positive: more teachers and teaching assistants and fewer leavers, but readers sometimes have to dig down to uncover the nuances behind the numbers However, the time series graphs by themselves are very revealing. For instance, although sixth form numbers aren’t rising yet, the pressure of an increased number of Year 7 pupils may well be behind the increase in Pupil Teacher Ratios in the secondary sector to 1:16.3. This is the fourth increase in a row, and takes the ratio from 1:15 in 2014, to its present level, an increase of 1.3 pupils per teacher and not far short of a 10% increase since 2011. By contrast, the primary sector has only seen PTRs increase from 20.5 in 2015, to 20.9 in 2018, the same level as it was in 2017.

The DfE has produced an interesting one page infographic of the teacher workforce that shows 74% of teachers are women – on a full-time equivalent basis – and that nearly a quarter of teachers are aged under 30. Just over 13% of teachers are BAME and almost a quarter of teachers are part-time. In the year up to 2018, entrants to teaching exceeded leavers, but not by very much, and this followed a relatively good year for recruitment into training in 2016-17.

So, excluding short-term supply teachers, there were 453,411 FTE teachers employed in November 2018, up from 451,968 in 2017. Although the number of teaching assistants also increased, the number of other support staff decreased from 232,031 to 229.949, a sign of the pressure school budgets are now under.

The upward trend in the full-time numbers of ‘teachers’ without QTS continued, possibly as more primary schools have recruited School Direct salaried entrants to the profession, no doubt in some cases converting them after a period as a classroom assistant. Although the number of part-time teachers with QTS increased over the 2017 figure, it was still the second lowest number recorded since 2010. However, the dip in the recorded number of occasional teacher recorded in the 2017 figures was revered in 2018, with an increase to 12,853 such teachers recorded by the DfE.

Technicians, mostly employed in secondary schools, were the support staff group that continue to bear the brunt of cuts, falling to their lowest number since the 2010 Census. By contrast, teaching assistants were at record high numbers in 2018.

Part-time teaching is still dominated by women, with just 8,745 qualified male teachers working part-time, compared with 111,755 qualified women teachers working part-time in 2018. The ratio among unqualified teachers is a slightly lower number.

Over the next few years, as more pupils enter the secondary sector, with its lower PTRs, and assuming post-16 numbers in schools don’t fall, then teacher numbers will probably increase in the secondary sector but fall in the primary sector. I expect that secondary PTRs will continue to worsen for 2019. Beyond that it will depend upon any funding injection schools do or do not receive in the next spending review.

 

Too little: too late?

First it was Boris; then Mrs May and finally some of the other leadership contenders. What were they talking about? Not Brexit, although of course all the contenders for the Conservative Party leadership have been trying themselves up in knots of various tightness on that issue, but rather funding for schools.

Reading the runes of what was being outlined, it seems cuts to tuition fees might be some way down the track. If funding for schools and further education is back on the Tory Party agenda, it is difficult to see how the Treasury would be willing to spend more on higher education funding in the immediate future, especially once other Ministers put out their begging bowls. Sure, funding for International Development might be cut to below the level currently agreed to make some savings. This might be justified by citing Donald Trump and the USA level of aid. There might also be some cash to allow higher spending because of better tax revenues, but the police and Ministry of Justice have a real claim on extra cash to fight the rise in certain types of crime, including knife crime and the NHS can always do with more cash.

How much of the suggested increase in funding for education is real, and how much merely determined by the fact that pupil numbers will continue to increase over the next few years, is difficult to determine from the level of the pronouncements made so far, except for Boris’s statement on secondary schools. Not recognising the needs of further education and 16-18 funding might make Boris’s statement about £5,000 per pupil in the secondary sector look like vote catching idea, rather than a serious analysis of where the Tory Party’s current school funding policy has made a mistake. At least in the TV debate, FE, apprenticeships, and skills did receive a mention and, unless I missed, it selective education didn’t.

Any talk about increasing education funding by Conservative may be a case of too little and too late. The warning signs have been there for some time, and the fact that school funding didn’t play much of a part in either of the last two general elections was a bit of a surprise, although the effects on the ground were less obvious than the reductions in school reserves and the consequences of changes to come that are obvious to those that manage budgets, but were not then visible to parents.

For me the funding priorities are: 16-18 funding; early years and children’s centres; SEND funding and protecting rural schools facing falling rolls as the birth rate declines and the housing market stalls. There are other priorities, including metal health, although some cash has been allocated for this, and teacher preparation and career development. All staff will need competitive pay increases if the wider labour market remains as it currently is, but that will be true for the whole of the public sector and might reduce the amount specifically available for education; hence my earlier comment about the challenge in trying to reduce tuition fees.

Unless there is an emergency budget, any changes are not likely to reach schools before April or September 2021 at the earliest.

Benchmarking

As is usual, the run up to the Easter break brings a clutch of education stories, partly fuelled by the arrival of the conference season for the main teacher associations. Governments of all colours probably always worry about the bad publicity they will expect at this time of year, as much is made of the poor state of health of the school system in England.

This year is proving to be no different to usual, with school funding, teachers’ pay and workload and children’s mental health all taking the headlines, along with testing and its associated consequence of off-rolling, a term unknown to the general public before the last few months, but now probably bidding to be the new word of 2019. What I haven’t heard is anything about education’s contribution to the climate change emergency. Should it feature more in the curriculum and what practical steps ought schools to be taking? In my post headed ‘gas cooking’, I suggested school students might like to conduct an audit of their schools to see what changes should be introduced.

Opposition parties are always quick to say there isn’t enough funding for schools, and I am happy to support their claims. This blog has regularly charted the decline in the level of reserves across maintained schools and the growth in the number of schools with deficits rather than cash balances. However, there are still schools with balances, some quite large in cash terms. How can this be, in an under-funded system? Is the balance between funding based upon pupil numbers, and that designed to cover the cost of ensuring a schools remains open regardless of changes in pupil numbers, right in the new formula now being introduced?

I especially worry about small rural schools, and my concerns have been shared by officials in North Yorkshire as detailed in another recent post on this blog. There needs to be some national benchmarks over finance that governing bodies can measure their schools against on a regular basis. The DfE has already done some good work here, but it needs to do more. At the heart of the debate may be the decision, made way back in the early days of delegated budgets, to fund schools on average salary levels and not actual cash amounts. Thus, schools with young teachers paid less than average benefit, but schools with teachers at the top of the pay scales find funding inadequate to meet their salary bills. The real squeeze on 16-18 funding hasn’t helped either, as many schools deploy their most expensive staff to teach this age-group.

Should we abolish tests in the primary school? There certainly shouldn’t be tests that stress, pupils, teachers and families. However, the data already shows that many disadvantaged pupils fare less well in our system than their more fortunate classmates. I would not want that fact to be lost. We have emerged from a culture when expectations of some children were low, and as a result not much was achieved. Don’t, please let us go back there. Humane, reasonable, tests backed by effective resources and a better use of emerging technologies can create a future golden age as we approach the 150th anniversary of state funded school in in England. Such  a system might be better at attracting and retaining its teachers in what is now a global marketplace.

Teacher recruitment update

The question of school and college funding may have driven the issue of teacher recruitment from the top of the education agenda, but that does not mean that the concerns about staffing have one away. They have just been buried under more topical concerns.

Whether it a sign of the growing number of secondary pupils for September or that the funding crisis isn’t as bad everywhere as it obviously is in some schools, but advertised vacancies are ahead of this point last year in the TeachVac system www.teachvac.co.uk That’s good news for teachers and trainees looking for a job for September, but less good news for some schools trying to recruit a new staff member.

As in the past, the main secondary subjects fall into three groups. Firstly, there are the quasi-vocational subjects of business studies and design and technology where there has already been more vacancies recorded in 2019 than the market can cope with and schools anywhere in England could find recruiting a teacher challenging. Schools seeking a teacher of physics can also face recruitment issues regardless of where the school is located.

The second group of subjects are those where local recruitment challenges may now be apparent, but recruitment problems are most likely to affect schools in London and the Home Counties. These subjects include, mathematics, English, computing, religious education and music. Most of these subjects may well migrate into the first group before the May resignation deadline.

Finally, in the third group are three EBacc subjects, modern languages, geography and history as well as physical education. At present, there is no sign that there won’t be enough of teachers in these subjects to meet needs. However, as noted in the past, this doesn’t address either the issue of the quality of applicants or the possibility that some schools may find attracting candidates a challenge for a variety of reasons.

In the primary sector, vacancies seem to be appearing more slowly than last year, perhaps reflecting the slowdown in the birth rate that is affecting intake numbers quite dramatically in some areas.

It is worth noting that you still wouldn’t be able to obtain this information from the DfE’s vacancy site. As of last Friday, the DfE site had only around 25% of the live vacancies being carried by TeachVac, so teachers looking for a job might use the DfE site if it was a vacancy in the first group of subjects listed above, as applicants may well be few and far between, but for subjects in the other groups they might well be missing some possible opportunities if they stick to just the DfE site.

I don’t know how much the DfE has spent on their site so far, but, as I have comments before, a simple site linking to other free vacancy sites such as TeachVac would achieve a better outcome for far less expenditure of public money.  This takes us back to school funding and why the DfE chose to compete in a marketplace already well served in this manner?