Figures back heads views on funding pressures

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

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

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

Maintained  Schools:

Total revenue balance as a % of total revenue income

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Time for action

Burnt out teachers in struggling schools where nobody has the long-term strategic responsibility for improvement. That’s what I take from the headlines about the Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman’s first annual report. Apparently, there are about 100 schools which have not reached “good” status in inspections since 2005.

None of this is news; none of it is unknown. Indeed, one might ask whether politicians of all Parties have created barriers to overcoming this situation. The two parallel systems of maintained schools and academies, created since Mr Gove’s revolution, have not led to a system of oversight that allows meaningful discussion on how to deal with the schools that need the most support.

Labour now plans a National Education Service, on the lines of the National Health Service, without explaining where any extra funding for improvement will come from. As readers of this blog know, the cost of just the minor changes the government are making to student funding is going to cost £800 million according to the Budget Red Book. That doesn’t leave much for schools and early years. The Conservatives having failed with a system to encourage teachers to work in challenging schools are now trying Opportunity Areas, a scheme seemingly not dis-similar to Labour’s Education Action Zones of the late 1990s.

Nowhere yet at Westminster does there seem to be a recognition of the need to re-energise local democracy into taking an interest in developing and improving education services. If you believe services such as schooling should be subject to democratic oversight, then that surely requires a coherent form of local government backed by Westminster retaining oversight for strategic matters and with the power to intervene should local government prove not up to the task. Central government will also have to bear the funding of schools, but must recognise that sending all the cash to schools is not the right way to either create economies of scale or aid schools that need help from time to time.

What the government at Westminster can do is end the era of schools competing with one another. All state funded schools are part of the same enterprise: the development of learning for all our children. We do need to work together for the common good and not just for the good of the school. If burnout is a real issue for those working in some schools then managed moves for teachers and periods away from the classroom may be necessary. This is challenging when schools in MATs are spread geographically long distances apart and downright impossible when maintained schools cannot fund such a system under the present rules.

Then there is the growing practice of putting secondary deputies into primary schools, either directly as heads or to work alongside heads. Dioceses can do this with their schools, as can MATs, but it is difficult to see how maintained schools can create effective systems without overall control. These are but two examples of why the present system won’t tackle the concerns of the Chief Inspector.

The time has come to end the present unworkable governance system in schools and return to a common framework with a single purpose: every school a good school.

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.

 

Road safety campaign to help cut child deaths

The Government has launched a new road safety campaign aimed at teachers and schools to help cut child fatalities. A recent survey revealed that 67% of children get fewer than 2 hours of road safety education in their whole time at school and the aim of the new THINK! Campaign is to help schools and teachers highlight the dangers of roads and encourage best practice for children.

I welcome this announcement as coincidentally I attended the Oxfordshire Sixth Form Road Safety event last week. This takes the form of a hard hitting video of a group of young people involved in a two car road incident that leads to the death of one passenger and the paralysis of another. The video is interspersed with testimony from emergency service personnel; medical staff; a parent that had a child killed in a car crash; someone paralysed as a teenager after a night out and finally, a teenage driver serving a long prison sentence for causing death by dangerous driving. All their testimony is moving and some sixth formers are so affected that they leave in tears. Watching it for the second year was no less moving that the first time around, even though I knew what was to come.

Even if the driver is sober, the combination of a full car of teenagers; rural roads with lots of bends and trees and often loud music is a very high risk situation. A careless shout at the wrong moment or some other distraction and the result is a tragedy that could have been prevented.

The new THINK! Campaign from the Department for transport will feature a wide range of new education resources, including easy to follow lesson plans, 2 new films co-created with school children and a song in a bid to make teaching road safety lessons easier and more accessible. The first documentary-style film follows a group of school children as they act out how to cross the road safely after learning to use the Stop, Look, Listen, Think code. The second film follows another 6 children on their different journeys to school, including walking, cycling and scooting. The children explain their top tips for getting to school safely in the form of a new road safety song. The first phase of resources, aimed at 3 to 6-year-olds, are already on the Think! Web site. The next 2 phases for ages 7 to 12 and 13 to 16 will follow in the New Year. I hope that they will be interactive and make use of modern technology to engage with this tech savvy generation.

The importance of this work means that Ministers at the DfE should be aware of the needs of the whole child and not just their academic requirements. Schooling is for life not for just passing examinations however welcome today’s news on reading levels may be.

Finally, road safety also means training in cycling and, as we encourage more young people to cycle to and from school, we need to ensure that they are especially aware of how to stay safe.

 

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.

 

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.