Nationalise teacher recruitment?

Does the Prime Minister’s speech to the CBI Conference this morning leave us any the wiser about the future for a DfE managed teacher vacancy service? Since there were several mentions of education and in particular T Levels and higher education in the speech, I assume the DfE, and The Secretary of State’s Private Office in particular, will have seen a copy of the speech or even watched the recording on YouTube, assuming that they weren’t following it live as it was delivered.

The Prime Minster was, as you might have expected, looking to the future while at the same time reminding her audience of past successes, including the first industrial revolution and the number of Nobel Prize winners Britain has produced. Here are some of the phrases she used during her speech; ‘back innovation’; ‘support business people’; Invest in key public services’ and ‘deploy infrastructure for the long-term’.

She also said that there were choices to be made and government must learn from past failures. I am sure after the failure of both the Fast Track Scheme and the School Recruitment Service the DfE has been learning from the past. Dumping the scheme to provide middle leaders for challenging schools a year ago also showed a willingness not to take on schemes that won’t work. Indeed, as Yorkshire was one of the regions that scheme was aimed at, it is interesting to read the account in the Yorkshire Post of the success of the teacher recruitment programme run in Bradford over the past three years, although it does seem to have been a tad expensive.

So, should the DfE set up in competition with the free market? The TES, eteach, The Guardian and indeed TeachVac have been doing a good job matching schools offering jobs with teachers seeking vacancies. The TES embraced new technology and the internet almost two decades ago and eteach has always been an on-line platform.

TeachVac created new technology to develop into what is now the largest free site for teaching vacancies in England.

So, is there a place for government in this market place? You might argue that government can operate for the long run. But, the TES has been serving the market for more than 100 years and the others are not fly by night organisations. You might argue that a DfE led service would provide the government with better data about the labour market for teachers than they have had in the past and that’s difficult to deny, but they could obtain that for other providers at less cost.

You might also argue that the DfE can offer the service cheaper than the private sector, but with TeachVac already offering a free service to schools that is a difficult argument to sustain.

The Prime minster talked about government working in partnership with the private sector, even so it is difficult to understand why the DfE has chosen a company with little knowledge of the intricacies of the teacher labour market to undertake their initial work on the vacancy project. No doubt this is something the Public Accounts Committee can explore when they question the DfE on recruitment and retention.

TeachVac has demonstrated that the use of new and innovative technology can drive down the price of teacher recruitment: should the government of the private sector take the rewards?

 

 

 

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Support ‘Looked After’ young people’s education

In my post on 11th June, after the outcome of the general election was known, I suggested some issues that could still be addressed by a government without an overall majority. First among these was the issue of school places for young people taken into care and placed outside of the local authority. They have no guarantee of access to a new school within any given time frame at present. It seemed to me daft that a parent could be fined for taking a child out of school for two weeks to go on holiday but a local authority could wait six months for a school place to be provided for a young person taken into care. (Incidentally, the parent whose case went to the Supreme Court faces a new hearing in his local Magistrates’ Court today following the ruling from the highest court in the land.)

On Tuesday, I asked a question of the Oxfordshire Cabinet members for Education and Children’s Services about the extent of the problem of finding school places for ‘Looked After’ young people. The question and answer are reproduced below.

Question from Councillor Howson to Councillors Harrod and Hibbert Biles

“How many children taken into care over the past three school years and placed ‘out county’ have had to wait for more than two weeks to be taken onto the roll of a school in the area where they have been moved to and what is the longest period of time a child has waited for a place at a school in the area where they have been re-located to during this period?”

Answer: Over the past three years it has been exceptional for a ‘Looked After’ Child to be taken onto the roll of an out of county school in under two weeks. Indeed, of the nine cases of primary age pupils we’ve looked at, the quickest a pupil was placed was 12 days (there were two) and the slowest was 77 days. For the 22 secondary age pupils the picture is even worse, with 3 weeks the quickest placement and a couple taking fully 6 months to get some of our most vulnerable young people into a stable school setting.

he main reason for this completely unacceptable state of affairs is that the Council has no power to direct an academy to admit a ‘Looked After’ Child. The only way we can force an academy’s hand is to get a direction from the Educations & Skills Funding Agency and this, as you can see from the foregoing times, can be a very long winded bureaucratic process. The fact that it takes so long for academies to admit our ‘Looked After’ Children shows how doggedly our officers pursue the matter; I suspect that many other local authorities simply give up when they meet an intransigent academy that doesn’t want to take responsibility for educating their vulnerable young people.

I found the answer deeply depressing. However, the good news is that MPs from the three political parties representing Oxfordshire constituencies have agreed to work together to take the matter forward. Thank you to MPs, Victoria Prentice, Layla Moran and Anneliese Dodds, for agreeing to seek action to remedy this state of affairs.

If readers have data about the issue elsewhere in England, I would be delighted to hear from you, so pressure can be put on officials nationally to ensure a rapid change in the rules.

Who would have thought it?

Education has suffered some high profile losses in the general election. Not only has Neil Carmichael, the chair of the Education Select Committee in the last parliament lost his  Gloucestershire seat, but Flick Drummond, another Tory MP with an interest in education, also lost her Portsmouth South seat to a surprise Labour victory. Edward Timpson, the Tory MP with a strong interest in the Children’s Services part of the DfE brief also lost his Cheshire seat to a Labour education activist.

Sarah Olney, given the education brief for the Lib Dems after John Pugh retired from parliament, also narrowly lost the Richmond Park seat she had so recently won in the by-election.  Sir Ed Davey once held the education brief for the Lib Dems, but he may be earmarked for another role this time around. Layla Moran, the new Oxford & Abingdon MP might be a possible Lib Dem spokesperson, but she has little or no experience of the State school system except in relation to the examination system.

Now that the Conservatives have returned as the largest Party at Westminster, to be once again called Conservatives and Unionists after their success in Scotland and with the need to rely upon the Northern Irish DUP for a working majority at Westminster, where does that leave the manifesto? Much, I suspect, will depend upon the make-up of the ministerial team and their preferences and support for different policies.

I have already written about how TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk can cheaply and quickly fulfil the idea of a national vacancy portal and almost certainly at a much lower cost than anyone else can offer. That would be a quick win on savings to offset possible issues of further pay restraint. I suspect that industrial action over pay won’t be far off if the government sticks to the one per cent limit on pay rises.

Although, I suspect, the DUP may favour selective schools, I find it difficult to see the spread of new selective schools really taking hold in such a finely balanced parliament. After all, some Tories were not greatly in favour of axing successful comprehensive schools in their constituencies and can be expected to remain sceptical of the idea that has been so strongly associated with the Prime Minister.

Even more urgent, and top of the new Secretary of State’s agenda, may be sorting out the effect of the -U- turn on funding announced during the election campaign. Is the National Funding Formula dead in the water or will money be found to compensate the losers and still allow the formula to go ahead as planned? This will require some fast footwork between the DfE and The Treasury and it might be that the present arrangements will continue for another year, much to the displeasure of the F40 Group.

Personally, I would like to see the role of the local authority strengthened and a cap on the pay of Chief Executives and other senior staff in MATs in line with the pay of local government officers carrying out similar functions. But, that might be a bit too radical.

We are in a new era, whether it last a full five year parliamentary term looks very doubtful at present, but the Conservative won’t be keen to offer Labour a second chance anytime soon, unless they are forced to by circumstances.

 

Local authorities have a role to play in education

For several decades, successive Labour and tory governments lambasted local authorities for spending too much on central office costs and depriving schools of cash. There were even those in Mr Gove’s time in office that may have believed that all money not handed to schools was money wasted. Now I read in a new report from Ofsted on an Oxfordshire secondary school that:

‘Directors of the multi-academy company have failed to ensure that leaders had enough capacity during and since the subsequent restructuring to bring about necessary improvements at the school.’

Presumably they felt more money should have been spent on additional leadership capacity at the MAT because Ofsted went on to say

The principal of the school is now accountable for six primary schools in the MAT. In the autumn term, she provided interim leadership for one of the schools, following the departure of its headteacher, reducing leadership capacity at the secondary school further. Poor strategic leadership by the MAT has contributed to the decline in the overall effectiveness of the school.

This faces head-on the issue I have raised in this blog before. Can we afford these small MATs with expensive overheads when funding for schools is under pressure and salaries are being held down below inflation for all except those that it is still open to negotiate their own salary increases should they wish to.

Reading the Ofsted report on this secondary school in the MAT is like reading a review of the worst of the former inadequate local authorities. In this case, the worst of the diocesan behaviour also seems to have been present, since it the MAT is entirely comprised of church schools.

It must now be clear that MATs are no longer the guarantee of success that those who dreamed them up believed they would be. They can be costly drains on school resources with insufficient economies of scale and no democratic accountability.

Why did the parents at this school have to wait for Ofsted. In the past they could have lobbied their local councillor and no doubt kicked the councillor out if nothing had happened. I know that there were, and probably still are, ‘rotten boroughs’ where councillors are always certain of election if they belong to the right Party, but most in my experience do a good job for their residents even in those circumstances.

Can we afford to spend millions of pounds on ineffective MATs and some of the other new ideas of the past decade when funding for schools is under pressure? Readers will know of TeachVac, now probably offering more teacher vacancies on one site than any other job board or website, and for free. The success of TeachVac demonstrates what can be achieved in driving down costs to effectively fund teaching and learning. Diseconomies of scale have the opposite effect.

If local authorities retain the oversight of children’s safety, they should also retain the oversight of their education by the State within their local area and the next government should finally recognise that point. At present the system doesn’t work and, as this Ofsted report demonstrated, there are risks that it can even be harmful to children. Such a situation cannot be allowed to continue.

 

 

 

Another aspect of the funding problem

What happens if a large secondary school at the centre of a multi-academy trust comprising a mix of both primary schools and a secondary school goes bust, perhaps because the original founders made some unwise decisions and there was then a drop in applications from local parents to send their children to the secondary school, aware that teachers were leaving the schools and concerned that standards might slip as a result? Or because there was an outflow of EU nationals from the area now Article 50 has been triggered.

Does the failure of the secondary school bring down all the primary schools in the MAT as well or can they survive on their own. At what point should the trustees decide to cut a financially unviable school adrift and will the Education Funding Agency allow them to do so if there are other assets in the MAT that might keep the school going for longer?

I am sure that there are civil servants in Coventry thinking about these types of scenario and perhaps role-playing them with Regional School Commissioners. How far have they progressed in their thinking should the MAT has a faith base and all the schools within it belong to the same faith or Christian denomination?

Sitting in the wings is the local authority, with whom the ultimate authority for providing every pupil with a school place still resides. What happens if the school that has just become financially unviable is in a rural area and the places at other schools require a large increase in the school transport bill? Who picks up the tab?

Obviously, the ideal solution is for the school buildings to open under a new administration, but will the government allow that to happen if it means writing off the debts of a school. To do so might encourage other schools to run up large deficit budgets, secure in the knowledge that the government will bail them out. One answer might be for the government to replace the trustees. But at what point? As soon as a deficit budget position is reached? When the deficit going forward looks as if it will reach a pre-determined percentage of current turnover after taking any falling rolls and thus falling income into account? If the financially unviable school is a faith school, can a new faith school replace it? To do so might well save on transport costs, but a replacement school that wasn’t faith-based might allow for transport savings. Of course, much will depend upon who has the ownership of the buildings?

With the demise of several UTCs and studio schools, plus a small number of other academies, these scenarios are no longer in the realm of the unthinkable. But, does there need to be a level playing field with some clear and open guidelines that don’t encourage schools to create deficits on their revenue spending.

At present, there is the ‘financial notice to improve’ from the EFA, but, the issue is what happens when the school or MAT doesn’t do so for reasons beyond its control? Time to re-read the Academies Financial handbook.

 

Finance comes centre stage

Up until 2017, education, and specifically the schools sector, has been a relatively easy ride for the government on the back of some historic funding levels that originated during the last Labour government and were largely protected under the coalition. Is 2017 the year when all this is set to change? Will parents start noticing the arrival of austerity in the nation’s schools or will they be persuaded that the new funding formula is actually providing additional funding for schools, especially in the more rural tory heartlands?

The Rural Services Network clearly subscribes to the latter view with a headline in their latest bulletin, Government plans will see small rural schools protected by a ‘sparsity’ funding factor’. http://www.rsnonline.org.uk/services/sparsity-funding-to-protect-rural-schools On the other hand, the NUT/ATL collaboration of teacher associations thinks differently according to their press release that combines the new funding formula with the recent National Audit Office publication to come to the conclusion that ‘school funding cuts [are] worse than predicted. JAMs [Just about Managing] hit hardest as school budgets plummet’. Clearly, this group remain a key target for those concerned with policy-makers.

The NUT/ATL press notice cites the following as average cuts for different groups.

Primary pupils

Cut for every pupil between 2015/16 and 2019/20

Schools with the least number of JAMs: £297 a year

Schools with the most number of JAMs: £447 a year

Secondary pupils

Cut for every pupil between 2015/16 and 2019/20

Schools with the least JAMs: £489 a year

Schools with the most JAMs: £658 a year

JAMs are calculated by NUT/ATL in the following manner: Our metric for JAMs at a school is the number of pupils who are currently not receiving free school meals but have done at some point in the last six years. We then put the schools in 10 groups based on the percentage of JAMs on the school register, and found funding averages for each group.

Now this assumes that those that come off the free school meals register move into work at the JAM level. But if they found work six years ago they might now be earning more. However, the analysis does seem to reflect that some schools are worse off than others.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, cutbacks of this magnitude are likely to affect staffing levels in schools. Whether schools will concentrate on keeping teachers and reviewing staffing levels for non-teaching staff will be a factor TeachVac will be monitoring during 2017. The number of entry level leadership posts may also come under scrutiny if schools are trying to save money. Other areas of the budget likely to be affected are, repairs and maintenance and spending on professional development. MATs may well want to ask  whether a better deal is possible on professional fees and staff in schools may query whether their executive head should earn more that the local Director of Children’s services?

Finally, for schools looking for saving, TeachVac remains the free recruitment site that costs schools, teachers and trainees nothing to use; visit www.teachvac.co.uk to try it out in 201.

 

 

 

Economic matters

An American President once said ‘the economy, stupid.’ Often that seems to be the case. Indeed, the austerity facing public services in Britain at present can partly be put down to the management of the economy in the first decade of this century. If governments cannot or will not raise revenue from either wealth or income and discount land taxes, then, unless the economy is growing strongly, they will be unable to expand public services, should they even wish to do so. There is also the argument that the State should not provide services for the many, but just a basic lifeline for the few, but we won’t go there in this post.

All this matters to education, as we have seen with the relatively parsimonious new funding formula announced by the government in the run up to Christmas. With adult social care, the NHS and other services probably ahead of education in the minds of many voters, it was always going to be a challenge to secure more funds for schools: especially, when rising pupil numbers mean more is needed in any case just to stand still. Finding even more cash for enhanced services did seem a bit like ‘pie in the sky’ at the present time.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how parents react to news that their children’s school might be having its budget cut, even by no more than a couple of per cent.  With no elections in London in 2017, save for by-elections, the government can probably weather the storm of protest in the capital.

Of more interest is the situation in the countryside where many small rural schools look like being losers. Indeed, a quick survey of primary schools in the Henley constituency, Boris’s old stamping ground, revealed that 35 primary schools might be losers under the new formula, while just ten would gain funds. Now, I am sure that the good burghers of the Chilterns and adjacent clay lowlands can afford to support their local primary school through some backhanded giving. But, I am not sure that was what they expected as the outcome from the new formula.

The alternative is to see a redrawing of the map of primary education in rural areas, with fewer larger and more efficient units based around market towns. To achieve this outcome, more pupils would be required to travel longer distances to school. The cost of this happily falls, not on the government, but on local council tax payers. Conservative County Councillors defending their seats in May 2017 will no doubt hope that school funding and the survival of village primary schools doesn’t become an election issue, along with grammar schools. For a revolt by parents in the Shires would be bad news for a government with a small majority at Westminster.

Watch for signs that the consultation on the funding formula isn’t going to plan and that the timescale for introduction is amended. If not, following on from cuts to rural buses, mobile library service, road mending, grass cutting and a host of other services, might 2017 be another year where the political map is redrawn?