School funding and outcomes

After the pomp and ceremony of Tuesday afternoon in Oxford, yesterday afternoon was devoted to attendance at a seminar arranged by the Centre for Education Economics around the topic of ‘school funding and outcomes’. The seminar was chaired by the Chief Executive of NfER and they also contributed one of the speakers. Other speakers included, an academic from the University of Surrey; a speaker from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and a civil servant from the National Audit office.

Data presented on the international evidence about funding and output used OECD data is probably affected by the presence of so many different variables as to provide no clear signal, we need to know a lot more before any conclusions about direct causal relationship between funding levels and outcomes can be drawn. Teacher quality has featured as an important variable in some studies, especially in the USA, but even here it isn’t clear whether parental support and direct investment has been taken into account when looking at teacher outcomes.

The private spend by parents and the effects of such income on school outcomes needs further research and CfEE, the sponsors of the seminar, might like to look into how such influence might be researched. As long ago as 1986, I recorded a state school in Weybridge as including in its prospectus that ‘a donation of £14 requested from new pupils towards the school fund’. (Schools in London’s Commuterland). These days that same school now provides a list of support materials, including some that look like textbooks, parents may wish to provide for their offspring on arrival at the school. As an off-balance sheet expenditure it is difficult to measure the effects of such purchases on school outcomes, but the research community should try to do so.

Leaving aside the complexities of measuring teacher quality as a key variable in determining output levels, the seminar speakers and the audience, when asked to project forward how funding might change over time, were almost universally gloomy on the levels of school funding likely between now and the mid-2020s. Even beyond 2020, there is no clear picture, but rising pupil numbers and the prospect of a slowdown in the world economy at some point from present levels all seem to suggest continued funding challenges are likely, even if there isn’t any rebalancing of funds towards either or both of early years and further education.

The nightmare scenario of repaying student debt from existing government funding suggested by Labour must not be at the expense of other parts of the education system, including schools. Nevertheless, channelling funds to early years or technical education may require schools to make further economies unless new money can be found. This may, of course, reduce the teacher supply problem by creating fewer teaching posts, but if it increased the departure rate for existing teachers it could perversely make matters worse.

As the setter of policy for the school system, the DfE must take these issues into account. Whether it has done sufficiently we will hear some clues today when officials from the DfE appear in front of the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster.

 

Advertisements

Law rules, OK

Yesterday afternoon I spent engaging in a series of events that skilfully blended the modern with the traditional. Oxford as a city seems quite good at such activities. The afternoon started with the Oxford Law Lecture. This was instituted some 14 years ago by the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire to take place on the same day as the Court Sermon. This year’s lecture was provided by Lord Igor Judge and discussed the ’rule of law’: a very appropriate topic in these times of constitutional upheaval.

Linking the lecture and the sermon later in the afternoon is the ceremony of the gloves, where a visiting high court judge is presented with a pair of gloves by representatives of the City of Oxford and the longer-operating of the city’s two universities. The actual ceremony takes place in the Dean of Christ Church’s lodgings, so is not open to the public. Interestingly, the Lord Mayor in full ceremonial robes and chain, preceded by the City mace, walks almost unnoticed from the town hall to Christ Church College along a most undistinguished route, past rows of people queuing at the city’s main conglomeration of bus stops.

All well and good, I hear you saying, but what has this to do with a blog that is about education? Well, I firmly believe that as public institutions schools are required to understand the concept of the rule of law and to apply it wherever possible. My campaign about the time it takes for some looked after children to be offered a school place is a case in point. Are they being denied their right to education for a responsible reason or because of procedures set up to benefit the school? Now, I am sure that the school might argue its procedures are for the benefit of the many and not the individual. But, every individual has the right to access education and to discriminate against those that move into an area mid-year by making it harder for them is to place an unfair burden on children for whom the move may not have been their fault.

I also believe that the draconian discipline measures reported as being introduced by some schools also flout the principle of the rule of law. A detention for reacting to a noise behind you with no right of appeal may be necessary in the short-term to regain control in a school that has descended into chaos, but should never form part of a discipline code that relies upon fear of making a mistake more than on an understanding of the need for order in classrooms as part of a long-term strategy. What sort of citizens are we trying to produce in our schools? Indeed, what type of teacher does such a system also produce? Rules should be kept because they are sensible for all and, thus, accepted by all.

Helping children internalise the understanding of why there are rules and laws is important. Developing an understanding of the purpose of laws, whereby adults don’t need to create rules obeyed just because, I say so, is to help young people to grow and develop. We warn the young child off for knowing the dangers of a hot stove; we expect adults to internalise the dangers. How we in education carry out our rules so that they are fair to all is a mark of a society that understands the rule of law as well as the rules of law.

Apprenticeships and schools

The government has published some experimental statistics around the use of apprenticeship by those providers registered with the central service for administration. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/apprenticeship-service-registrations-and-commitments-august-2017 The most interesting feature of the numbers is the fact that there were more apprenticeships registered for those over the age of twenty five than in either of the other two younger age groups. Under nineteens were the smallest numerical grouping. If this reflects the overall pattern, then apprenticeships are not reaching young people who might previously have left school at sixteen. These numbers also don’t suggest a wholesale flight from higher education into apprenticeships, at least in the first year of the apprenticeship levy for centrally registered employers.

Locally, in Oxfordshire, I have asked for information about the amount of cash collected by the local authority from the maintained school sector. There is a silly system whereby academies and voluntary schools only pay the apprenticeship levy if their pay bill is over £3miliion per year whereas all maintained schools will pay, except perhaps in the smallest local authorities, as the collective authority pay bill will almost certainly be over £3million even when many services have been contracted out.

I am keen to see how much of the cash collected is being spent on apprenticeships and what happens if the fund is underspent this year? I would hate for the cash to be lost either into the general budget or returned to government as unspent: effectively representing a tax on hard pressed schools.

Looking at school web sites, the apprentice learning assistant seems the most common type of school-based apprenticeship on offer. I worry, in a few cases, whether this is really an apprenticeship leading to a qualification or a cheap way of paying just £3.40 an hour to someone to do the job for most of the week. I don’t know who is monitoring the provision of apprenticeship and where an apprentice can complain if they think they are just being exploited: although I am sure that wouldn’t be the case by a school.

I have seen science and IT technical type apprenticeship offered by schools and MATs that seem obvious areas for providing skill based training. There are also some in the area of supporting physical education in schools. This is another area where the job description risks creating quasi-teachers.

Then there is the issue of teacher apprentices, as discussed in an earlier post, will they replace the School Direct Salaried route as a more cost effective approach for schools and, if so, will they be attractive to adult career changers on the one hand and the teaching profession on the other? Will professional associations embrace them or tell their members not to support such trainees as they undermine the notion of an all graduate profession let alone the dream of a Masters level profession for the future?

As I suggested before, could such apprenticeships could also lead to the return of the In-service BEd degree. I well recall teaching Certificate teachers on this course in the 1980s and 1990s and a great experience it was. But, it shouldn’t be necessary again.

 

 

New measures merely sticking plaster

Over the weekend the Secretary of State announced new measures to deal with the growing unease about the costs of higher education. She capped fees; adjusted the level at which repayments commence and made some technical changes to support for trainee teachers as well as espousing the apprenticeship route to trained employment and the development of skills. However, she didn’t do anything about the 3.1% management free on the tuition debt charged to students and displayed a somewhat limited knowledge of economics by trying to blame universities for not introducing lower cost courses for some degrees. As this blog has pointed out in the past, why would any provider cuts income when supply exceeded demand? With the number of eighteen year olds falling over the next few years, universities might well offer lower priced degree courses, but will they be shunned as possibly of a lower quality by potential students: we shall see.

The announcements about help for schools, some teachers and trainee teachers seems to be just tinkering at the edges of the recruitment crisis and based on some dubious assumptions in areas where the DfE lacks credible up to date data, as the NAO recently pointed out in their Report on teacher supply issues.

The series of measures announced by the Secretary of State, include:

  • Piloting a new student loan reimbursement programme for science and Modern Foreign Language (MFL) teachers in the early years of their career, targeted in the areas of the country that need them most. The pilot scheme will benefit around 800 MFL and 1,700 science teachers a year. A typical teacher in their fifth year of work would benefit by around £540 through reimbursement, and this would be more for teachers with additional responsibilities. This is in addition to the benefit that teachers will get from the newly-announced student loan repayment threshold rise.
  • New style bursaries in maths will also be piloted, with generous upfront payments of £20,000 and early retention payments of £5,000 in the third and fifth year of a teacher’s career. Increased amounts of £7,500 will also be available to encourage the best maths teachers to teach in more challenging schools.
  • £30 million investment in tailored support for schools that struggle the most with recruitment and retention, including investment in professional development training so that these schools can benefit from great teaching.
  • Supporting our best teacher trainer providers, including top Multi Academy Trusts, with Northern Powerhouse funding to expand their reach in to challenging areas in the north that do not currently have enough provision so more areas benefit from excellent teacher training, and help increase the supply of great teachers to the schools that need them the most.

Leaving aside the fact that there are far greater shortages in some other subjects than MFL and the sciences, such as design and technology and ICT, and in places even English, there is no obvious shortage of biology teachers and the government has little or no idea of whether suspected shortage of languages teachers is in certain languages or across the board?

The new arrangement for maths teachers looks like a return to golden handcuffs, tried before and abandoned. I assume the £7,500 payments will be in the form of payments to certain schools to pay recruitment and retention allowances of perhaps £2,500 per year for a three year period?

The £30 in tailored support might mean a return of recruitment staff, although they are best employed at a local authority level. Providing extra funding for CPD won’t go very far and it isn’t clear whether this is a single payment or designed to be continued for several years.

In a DfE strapped for cash, changes were never going to be very generous. However, these look poorly thought out and are likely to make little difference to the teacher supply crisis in the subjects they target and none in the other subjects where schools are struggling to recruit teachers.

Public service and public pay

As schools across the country return for the start of their new school year, and all that is associated with that annual event: the end of summer and often the return of good weather; increased traffic congestion on the roads and the ending of the seemingly endless adverts for school uniforms, the issue of pay is dominating the headlines once again.

Earlier today I was on BBC radio Kent in a discussion with the County NUT branch secretary (or should that now be The EU Secretary for the Education Union?) about why the county has so many vacant headship positions. Salary came up as one possible reason. In days of yore, whether Arthur Jarman was a senior officer for the NUT, he always used to remind me that the NUT had more head teacher members than any other association. I don’t know whether that is still the case as a result of many teachers retaining membership of both the teacher association that they joined on entering the profession and also joining one of the associations for school leaders when they reached their first leadership post.

During our discussion on-air we disagreed about how well paid primary head teachers are today. I don’t think many of the heads, especially heads of smaller primary schools, are well paid for what is required of them. Those that have to teach and well as lead the school have two very distinct jobs for which they are often not well rewarded.

We did agree on the question of the pay of some CEOs of MATs, something I have commented on before on this blog. We didn’t have time to discuss whether the one per cent pay cap may finally be on the way out. It will be interesting to see what the Secretary of State will say in the remit letter to the STRB in relation to their consideration of a pay award for 2018? The past two STRB Reports have been expressing issues with the continued effect of the pay cap but have remained faithful to their remit.

At the school level, I am surprised that more use hasn’t been made of recruitment and retention payments that were popular in London during earlier recruitment crises. Golden hellos were also used in the past, along with relocation funding for those moving into an area and requiring to set up a new home.

These days, we can no longer track just the 151 local authority recruitment offers, but must also look at what MATs are offering. Do Regional School Commissioners have a role in making sure potential staff know what is on offer? TeachVac is happy to provide a space for this on its website and has started by identifying Suffolk’s recruitment link on TeachVac’s new blog (www.teachvac.wordpress.com).  Why Suffolk, just because they asked me last year to come and talk about recruitment challenges to their head teacher conference.

In the short-term, offering to pay the fees of all graduate trainees and paying a training bursary to all might aid recruitment even if the Treasury cavilled about the deadweight cost of such a move.

 

‘Freedom is more than a word’

Congratulations to Leora Cruddas on her appointment as the new Chief Executive of FASNA, Freedom and Autonomy for Schools – National Association. Leora has joined FASNA from ASCL, another of the alphabet soup of initials that is the fate of any policy area in the modern age. Leora was very supportive of TeachVac this time last year and I was grateful for her kind words. I wish her well in her new appointment.

I will watch the development of FASNA with interest. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a view about local accountability of schools, especially primary schools and the feedback that active local politicians can bring to the education scene. This can be lost with remote Regional Commissioners and Chief Executives of MATs that don’t understand the importance of customer care and working for the better education of the local community

However, I am encouraged that Freedom is linked to Autonomy in the title of the organisation. Freedom to innovate can be a good think; freedom to ignore the place of local schools in society isn’t, as my campaign for places for looked after children demonstrates. Freedom over admissions must not be used to discriminate against certain groups in society: especially the most vulnerable. Public money is to be used for public benefit, not for some, but for all, however uncomfortable a challenge that may sometimes be.

The issue is raised today in terms of whether a school can refuse to accept a pupil on roll into the next year group because of inadequate performance or likely poor performance in the future. In the old days, it was clear that a pupil could only be taken off roll in certain limited circumstances. I think this was regardless of whether or not they were over the school leaving age. The issue was the roll not the leaving age. I am sure that there is case law on this point. I assume that a school could refuse to enter a pupil in a public examination if it felt that they wouldn’t achieve the grade a school wants, but again, the issue is who is the school working for? Does it have a duty to pupils on roll to educate them to the best of its ability unless it formally excludes them and can it exclude for academic reasons associated with a minimum standard of performance?

With its connections to the Church of England, the relevant diocese ought to take an interest in this school’s approach to selection. How free should a state funded school be to decide this sort of policy? No doubt these are able pupils, they passed the entry exam to the school, so the standard is relative and they would be welcome elsewhere, but why should their education be interrupted in this way?

Where are the boundaries of freedom. I don’t agree with C S Lewis, the Christian apologist who wrote in 1944 the following that seems very close to the position being taken by the school trying to exclude its own pupils.

A truly democratic education—one which will preserve democracy—must be, in its own field, ruthlessly aristocratic, shamelessly “high-brow.” In drawing up its curriculum it should always have chiefly in view the interests of the boy who wants to know and who can know … It must, in a certain sense subordinate the interests of the many to those of the few, and it must subordinate the school to the university. Only thus can it be a nursery of those first-class intellects without which neither a democracy nor any other State can thrive.  C. S. Lewis, “Notes on the Way,” Time and Tide 25 (29 April 1944), 369–70. Lewis’ own title for this essay was “Democratic Education.” From https://tifwe.org/resource/c-s-lewis-and-the-meaning-of-freedom/ by Steven Gillen

 

 

More news from TeachVac

As we start a new school year, TeachVac, the national vacancy service for schools and teachers, www.teachvac.co.uk has introduced the first of its new suite of developments that marks its continued growth. TeachVac is now the largest single source of free teaching vacancies for both schools and teachers in England across both state-funded and private schools.

Supporting the public face of the platform, where schools place vacancies for free and teachers can receive daily notification of vacancies meeting their requirements, is an important back office of statistical information. From today, TeachVac has widened the range of subjects where we collect more than the basic data on vacancies, to include both languages and English. These new subjects join mathematics, the sciences, design and technology, and computing in the list of subjects where additional data about every recorded vacancy is now being recorded.

For many of these subjects, such as the design and technology, the sciences and languages, it allows TeachVac to understand the real aims of schools when advertising generically for a teacher of science or languages. What sciences or combination of languages are these schools really seeking? How much are they willing to pay for particular specialisms? Is there really a growing demand for teachers of Mandarin? Up until now such information hasn’t been easily available. TeachVac now codifies the information on a daily basis. If you are interested in knowing more about the project and exactly what data are being collected then contact the team at TeachVac via the web site. Sadly, unlike the free to use basic vacancy matching service, data requests are not provided free of charge, but involve a small fee.

In addition to data about teaching vacancies at all levels, and in both primary and secondary schools, TeachVac also collects data about technician posts in secondary schools. This can be a good guide to how funding issues are affecting schools, since turnover among these posts tends to be higher than for teachers and resignations are not fixed to the same termly cycle as for most teaching vacancies. This can make them more sensitive to changes in funding an act as a barometer for the market.

As August is the holiday month, TeachVac is delighted to have welcomed visitors from more than 70 countries to the site so far this month; another new record. Overall visits to the TeachVac site have once again doubled over the past year and the trend continues to be upward. In January 2018, TeachVac will publish its first look at trends in the labour market for head teachers. This will continue a trend of such reports first started in the mid-1980s.

Over recent months there has been intense interest in how vacancies are communicated to teachers by schools and how the cost of recruitment can be reduced. TeachVac has a credible free service that costs both schools and teachers nothing to use and has the capacity to save millions of pounds for schools, especially those with large recruitment budgets as a result of both the growth in pupil numbers or increasing teacher turnover as recorded by the DfE in their annual School Workforce Censuses.