No room in the Inn?

More than 13,000 children taken into care in the last financial year were placed outside of their local authority area. Some will have had relatively short-term placements, but for the majority of school age children taken into care, this can mean some disruption to their schooling. Data on the effects of being taken into care on time away from education isn’t published by the DfE in their tables associated with Statistical First Release 50/2017. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/children-looked-after-in-england-including-adoption-2016-to-2017

I would hope that in the future this issue might be better researched, since these are a highly vulnerable group of young people. Regular readers of this blog will recall that after the general election, all six of Oxfordshire’s MPs wrote to the Minister about the problems of in-year enrolment of children taken into care and requiring a change of school. I would hope that officials and the charities concerned with the welfare of these children will look at what is happening, as only yesterday I heard of a school employing a solicitor to challenge any request from another local authority for a place in the school for a child in care.

This issue needs attention because being taken into care must not be the start of a slippery slope towards a life of crime and marginalisation by Society. It is welcome news that the number of children taken into care and subsequently sentenced to custody fell in the latest year the data are available for from 500 to 410, but this is still way too high, and above the 370 custodial sentence sin 2013.

Sadly, the number of care leavers between 19-21 in custody in the latest figures remains just over the 1,000 mark, with similar numbers in each of the three age groups. Many of these young people will be well on the way to a long period of criminal behaviour and a revolving door syndrome of prison punctuated by short periods of unsuccessful life in the community. There is a growing recognition that these days looking after young people up to the age of 25 is more sensible than casting them adrift at eighteen. However, this does demand more resources and even more investment for these young people that are in a fight for resources with many other groups.

Sadly, only 50% of care leavers are in education, training or employment, leaving the other half of the group either as NEETs or without a known destination. The rate of pregnancy is seven per cent nationally. There are examples of these young mothers subsequently going on to complete their education and flourish where they are provided with care and support; others perpetuate the cycle of mothers with children taken into care. The percentage in higher education is still very low at well under 10% compared to a 40-50% for the age group as a whole.

A shortage of resources must not be allowed to blight the lives of young people taken into care and after they leave as young adults. Schools, especially, must help to play a part in working with this group. As we approach the Christmas season, these children must not find there is no room for them in our schools.

 

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New Job: Careers Person

The news that the DfE is again taking careers education more seriously than it has done in recent years must be welcomed. We still have a long way to go to return to the idea of work experience for all and encouraging primary schools to talk about the world of work, but what is now being proposed is a start. The former programmes cost a lot of money and were of variable quality. At least not much money is being spent this time around, presumably because the government hasn’t actually got it to spend.

The £4 million of funding won’t go very far if spread evenly across all secondary schools; perhaps £250 per year group if a school is lucky. Even if the cash is only going to 500 schools, then that still won’t be enough to buy even half a teacher’s time, let alone other costs.

Curiously, £1 million more is being spent with the private sector on 20 career hubs bringing together a range of partners. What is missing from the announcement by the DfE is the part that IT will play in this new world of support and encouragement.

Inevitably, the term social mobility creeps into the DfE’s announcement. At the rate the term is being used these days it will soon join a former Secretary of State’s observation that ‘everyone must be above average’ as a meaningless terms trotted out at every opportunity to show an awareness of the divide between those at different levels in society.

There wasn’t any mention of entrepreneurship in the announcement that seemed to equate careers advice with obtaining the right qualification. Working life can and should be more than deciding whether you want to work with people, things or numbers. What sort of environment you will be happy in can also be important, especially as young people don’t seem to have the same degree of work experience at weekends and during the holidays as was available to former generations?

Perhaps what is missing is a motivational social media campaign to stir young people into action; not to do more to them, but to inspire them to do things for themselves. What is also missing is the recognition that areas of the curriculum have been decimated by the actions of successive politicians. Design and technology, music and even the other creative arts subjects may play important parts in the lives of our young people if artificial intelligence really does wipe out a whole range of existing careers over the next twenty years.

Because, 20 years ago few of those reading this post would have had an email address; a mobile phone or even a computer capable of much more than word processing. I don’t know what the new jobs will be; games developer is one that didn’t exist when I was young; there weren’t data analysists to the same extent either, and the whole social media revolution has created opportunities for some to make money from blogging, unlike this author that just does it out of interest.

 

Social Mobility Commission

It is not really surprising, to see that the whole of the board of the Social Mobility Commission has followed the lead of their chair and resigned. I commented on the Commission’s most recent report in a previous post. Officials at the Commission have talked to me about teacher recruitment in the past and are clearly aware that good teaching can have an effect on educational outcomes. This was something the Liberal Democrat Education Association discussed at a conference in Oxford yesterday.

So, who might replace Alan Milburn and be handed the responsibility for chairing the Commission, assuming that the Commission retains its present form and function? Perhaps, David Laws, former Education Minister of State and briefly Treasury number 2, in the coalition government might make a good choice? He has spent his time since being ejected by the electorate in 2015, building up the Education Policy Institute as a leading think tank, and is well on the way to making EPI match the Institute of Fiscal Studies as the leader in its area of expertise. However, with experience beyond just education and a wide range of contacts, David would make an excellent chair, with a good head for data and understanding of the machinery of government. He was also heavily involved with the introduction of both the Pupil Premium and the infant free school meals policies, both key measures to help achievement and further the possibility of social mobility during the coalition.

Of course, if he wants to stay where he is and thinks he can do more good at EPI, Nick Clegg, the original architect of the Pupil Premium is another name to conjure with for the role of chair. Andrew Adonis might be another name for the frame were he not presently heavily engaged with trying to develop the national infrastructure.

As an active Liberal Democrat, I make no apologies for suggesting two fellow Liberal Democrats for the exacting role of chairing the Commission. Other members that could sit on the Board might include a senior Labour figure from the Brown government, a Conservative peer and perhaps a well-regarded figure from the charity sector with long experience of social mobility.

We all know that exiting the European club was going to be a full-time job and that it came at a time when George Osborne had predicted that the worst of the effects of the crash would be felt by the weakest in society. Such factors make the work of any Social Mobility Commission more of a challenge, but no less important.

With the IT revolution once again picking up speed, and predications of massive job losses from the growth in Artificial Intelligence awakening the Luddite mentality in many of us, the Commission must act not only as the government’s conscience on social mobility, but also as a source of genuine new policies that are radical and forward thinking. More of the same just won’t work.

We have seen in Germany that the failure to ensure the success of the economy across the whole country has inevitably lead to the rise of the far right in politics. Social mobility is important, but we cannot ignore those left behind. They must not become the poor relations kept, for ever, out of sight.

Industrial revolutions alter a country’s geography

The latest State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility Commission is a bit of a curate’s egg. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/662744/State_of_the_Nation_2017_-_Social_Mobility_in_Great_Britain.pdf

Let me illustrate this in terms of one district in Oxfordshire. On page 161 the report says that; “Three districts in the South East have among the lowest attainment for disadvantaged children at key stage 2 in England: Horsham, South Oxfordshire and Arun. In all three areas, fewer than one in five children achieves the expected standard.” Yet, in the overall ranking of local authorities in Appendix 2, South Oxfordshire is ranked 178 out of 324 local authorities and is the second highest of the five districts in Oxfordshire. Oxford City is ranked 257th out of 324 councils. So, even if the Key State 2 data is correct for South Oxfordshire, how representative is it of the districts overall outcomes in terms of social mobility?

With that question out of the way, it is also worth considering the data from different stages of the education process and especially schooling relates to the data on qualifications as they may represent different groups. In many towns, as the report recognises, those that leave to go to higher education may not return, and in some university towns and cities the influx of students may boost the qualified workforce as graduates may choose to stay put, even if there is no work that makes full use of their degrees.

The data on teacher turnover and retention data is taken from the School Workforce Census and there must be question marks about the how many schools filled in the data comprehensively across all years included in the time frame. At one point the DfE was reporting lower full completion rates from London schools.

In relation to teacher recruitment, I am not sure why Regional School Commissioners should be “given responsibility to work with universities, schools and Teach First to ensure that there is a good supply of teachers in all parts of their regions.” After all, they don’t have responsibility for maintained schools. Perhaps this should read; local authorities, diocese and RSCs should come together to ensure that there is a good supply of teachers in all parts of their regions.

Nevertheless it is clear that schools in many parts of the country still have some way to go to ensure that they achieve the best possible outcomes for all of their pupils. The report, rightly, mentions transport tissues in rural areas, but doesn’t, as far as I can tell, look at what effect free travel offered to those in education by TfL may have had on education outcomes in the nation’s capital city. It certainly should be taken into account when looking at living costs in different areas.

There are those that say none of this matters for the country as a whole so long as jobs are being created somewhere in the country. They would say that no settlement has a right to exist and government attempts from the 1930s to the 1980s to support declining industrial areas have had mixed and often poor results. When Durham County classified its settlements from A to D, it didn’t try to develop the ‘D’ settlements. This report in a sense asks the same question of government; move people to economically successful area of the country or try and create economic success where present there is poverty and a lack of social mobility.  Building 100,000 new houses in Oxfordshire by 2031, and a creating a new ‘expressway’ between Oxford and Cambridge shows the thinking of the present government. I don’t think this report will change that approach.

 

 

 

Action needed, not more words

The Royal Society has published a new report into the state of computer education in schools across the United Kingdom; After the Reboot – Computing Education in UK Schools. This follows on from their earlier report, published in 2012 and entitled, ‘Shut down or restart? The way forward for computing in UK schools – a review of computing education in the UK’. The latest report and its annexes can be access at https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/computing-education/

As might be expected from the UK’s premier learned society, the new report is both authoritative and wide ranging. However, the recommendations do read like something of a compromise between what is desirable and what is achievable in the present climate. The report is no doubt correct in focusing on the fact that improving the skills of those teaching the subject is a sensible way forward and adds to the growing clamour for a rethink of the consequences of the slash and burn approach to CPD and local advisory and inspection services that took place during the early years of the Coalition government.

The report is also right to point out that between 2012 and 2017(sic) computing only met 68% of the Teacher Supply Model identified teacher preparation numbers for the subject. Sadly, the Report doesn’t consider whether there might have been the vacancies for any more to be employed had they been trained. TeachVac, the job site I chair, does recognise that trainee numbers were insufficient in both 2015 and 2016 and are heading that way for 2017, although to a lesser degree than in the past two years. However, 2018 might be a very challenging year for schools looking to act on this report and recruit more teachers with computing skills.

Not surprisingly, most of the press comment has concentrated on the lack of availability of examination courses in many schools, including those just down the road from Teach City in Shoreditch. This misses the point that often it is not the number taking A level that matters for the local labour market, since many if not most of those taking A levels will head off to university, but the access of those entering the labour market at eighteen to computing knowledge and skills, for they are far more likely to remain in their local labour markets. To that extent, more might have been made of provision in the further education sector, especially where there are Sixth Form Colleges, as they seem to have the highest update at A level.

The report is right to recognise the gender gap among those studying the subject and the potential for a loss of talent that such an imbalance creates. This is but one of many differences in provision highlighted in the annexes. The lack of consideration of how the independent school sector is handling the issue of computing, other than in examinations, causes some distortions, such as the City of London, with no state funded secondary schools, appearing in the bottom five local authorities for Key Stage 4 level take-up.

The other disappointment is the lack of creative solutions. In this area, more than any other, the Royal Society could have harnessed the power of creative thinking to suggest new ways to reach the many pupils currently missing out on computing; through on-line courses, summer schools and even daily feeds to mobile phones. Creating the demand from pupils for more computing would be more likely to achieve results than another report that may share the fate of its predecessor.

After all, the DfE’s response that there were more students taking computing was hardly helpful or even properly considered. I also haven’t seen any response from the governments of the other home nations, but they may have been confined to the regional press.

Can schools cause a housing crisis?

Are academies screwing up the housing market? In the 2016 Education White Paper, it was hinted that in-year admissions might be returned to local authority control as they manage the main admissions round. So far, nothing has happened.

With secondary school rolls now on the increase in many parts of the south of England, and likely to eventually increase across the whole country over the course of the next few years, many more schools are filling up in some of their younger age year groups. They are, therefore becoming more reluctant to offer places to in-year applicants.

I have been campaigning for some time about the effect this can have on children taken into care that are having to experience a long wait before a school is forced to take them in the end; this at a very vulnerable time in their lives when being deprived of social interaction school can offer is a real concern and needs urgent action.

Now, I am also being told of parents moving mid-year for employment reasons that are finding schools reluctant to offer a place to their child. Where most or all secondary schools are academies this leaves the parents in a weak position and their child or children possibly out of school for several months.

I have remarked before that it is a supreme irony that a parent talking a child on holiday for a fortnight can be fined, whereas one taking them across town to a new house can be excluded from schooling for much longer. Something isn’t right here, and the government needs to take action. Firstly, they should determine the size of the problem and what the effects of rising rolls are likely to be on the need for in-year places and spare capacity within the system.

Builders, developers and employers human resources departments need to understand the effects of current policy, since with social media being immediate in nature it could slow down the house market and make employees reluctant to switch jobs mid-school year if they believe schooling will be a problem for their children.

As an aside, many schools could do more for children they admit mid-year and might want to track how well they integrate into the school. Schools with large number of forces children are well aware of this problem and that was one reason the Service Children’s Premium was introduced.

The fact that academies are their own admissions authorities is probably at the heart of the problem. Perhaps head teacher boards could discuss the issue wearing their responsibility for the system and not as heads of individual schools or directors of MATs.

Pupils deserve an education and although inconvenient and sometimes unsettling to schools in-year movement will take place and needs to be handled in both a sensitive and timely manner. If a school has a place in a year group it is difficult to see why the decision isn’t Immediate, especially with the power of information technology.

A tale of two schools

Earlier this year Ofsted rated two secondary schools in the same county as inadequate. Their inspection reports are on the Ofsted website. One school was a community school; the other an academy. What happened next?

As a community school, the local authority was required to undertake an exercise about the future of the school, including the option of closing it. Whatever the outcome, the school would become an academy. As this happened just after the county council elections in May, the new Cabinet Member swung into action, working closely with officers to assist the school with its own recovery plan. There was a rapid change of head teacher and a general tightening up of standards and procedures. At the same time, a search was instigated for a nearby-by school that could partner the school as an academy in a multi-academy trust. With goodwill all round, the school looks set on a good future with the local community and parents backing its continued existence. Whether making the school an academy is helpful only time will tell.

The other secondary school is a faith school that is already an academy. It sits in a multi-academy trust with a number of primary schools of the same faith. Eighteen months ago it was placed into financial special measures as a result of misunderstanding about how much money it would receive ahead of changing to an all-through school and starting a primary department. The rules are different for existing school changing age range than for the creation of a new school. The school has had a high number of permanent exclusions, despite being a faith school, and appears to top the list of schools with the largest number of permanent exclusion in the county over a three-year period. Recently it has logged some of the worst GSCE Mathematics results in the provisional totals for 2017 outcomes that appeared in the local press. The school also has a very high percentage of days lost through persistent absenteeism, sufficiently high to place it well into the upper echelons of the national table for such outcomes. The head teacher has, of course changed. As an academy, it is up to the Regional School Commissioner and his Board to decide what to do with the school. The RSC has guidance from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/640916/SCC_guidance.pdf the DfE’s document on guidance on schools causing concern. Chapter 2 deals with academies causing concern. Between May and July there was no record of the relevant Head Teacher Board discussing any performance issues at any school in the region in the minutes of meetings and they also don’t seem to be note Ofsted decisions about academies rated as inadequate at any of their meetings.  They may be reported to sub-boards, but those minutes appear not to be public documents. The RSC has the power to take drastic action, including re-brokering the academy and in extremis effecting its closure. There was no requirement for a public consultation about the future of the school.

So, here we have the two governance systems dealing with the same problem:  a secondary school deemed inadequate. In one case, what happens next takes place in the full glare of publicity; in the other case, behind closed doors, where it is difficult to see if anything happens? It would be interesting to see how many parents have chosen to withdraw their offspring from each school since the Ofsted judgement?

How transparent should these issues be? In the world of local government, schools can less easily hide: in the case of academies, the new system of governance seems far too slanted towards secrecy and a lack of public accountability, let alone public consultation.