More absent, but no alarm bells yet

Each year the DfE published data about school attendance and absences for terms 1 & 2 of the school year. The information on 2017/18 appeared yesterday and can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-term-2017-and-spring-term-2018 Sad to say, the data shows a negative change, with most indicators worse than in the previous year. However, levels of attendance are still better than a decade ago.

The DfE note in the text of the Report that the rate of authorised absence has increased from 3.4 per cent to 3.5 per cent in autumn/spring 2017/18. This is due to the percentage of possible sessions missed due to illness increasing since last year from 2.7 to 2.8 per cent, and “other” authorised absence has also increased. Illness remains the most common reason for absence, accounting for 60.0 per cent of all absences. The unauthorised absence rate has also increased across primary and secondary schools since last year, from 1.1 per cent in autumn/spring 2016/17 to 1.2 per cent in autumn/spring 2017/18. This is due to increased levels of unauthorised family holiday and “other” unauthorised absence.

I wonder whether the Beast from the East and other bad weather over the winter may have contributed to the upward tick in the numbers last year. I suspect that many schools will have declared ‘snow days’ in 2017/18 compared to recent years.

However, it was disappointing to see increases in the absence rates for those that are rated as persistent absentees. As the DfE noted:

The percentage of enrolments in state-funded primary and state-funded secondary schools that were classified as persistent absentees in autumn/spring 2017/18 was 11.3 per cent. This is up from the equivalent figure of 10.4 per cent in autumn/spring 2016/17. Secondary schools have the higher rate of persistent absence, 13.6 per cent of enrolments, compared to 9.6 per cent of enrolments in primary schools. The rate of persistent absence has increased in both since last year, when the rate was 12.8 per cent in secondary schools and 8.7 per cent in primary schools.

This is a group where the lack of attendance can seriously affect their educational attainments.

As ever, pupils with disadvantages, as measured by Free School Meals, often have higher absence rates than those pupils not on Free School Meals. There is a wide range of attendance outcomes by ethnic grouping with the highest overall absence rates being for Traveller of Irish Heritage and Gypsy/ Roma pupils at 17.6 per cent and 12.3 per cent respectively. Overall absence rates for pupils of a Chinese and Black African ethnicity were substantially lower than the national average of 4.7 per cent at 2.5 per cent and 2.8 per cent respectively. As the DfE note, a similar pattern is seen in persistent absence rates; Traveller of Irish heritage pupils had the highest rate at 60.7 per cent and Chinese pupils had the lowest rate at 3.7 per cent.

Given the complaints about difficulties obtaining appointments with GPs and a lack of dentists in some part of the country, it is interesting to see that medical/dental appointments were at their lowest recorded percentage of missing session over the past five years.

Overall, a slightly disappointing year, but not one to set alarm bells ringing nationally, even if some governing bodies will have to be asking searching questions about the trend sin their schools.

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Post sixteen outcomes decided by KS2 attainment?

Yesterday, the DfE published a whole raft of statistics about the destinations of KS4 and KS5 pupils in 2016/17. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/destinations-of-ks4-and-ks5-pupils-2017 The raising of the learning leaving age to 18 has been one of the relative success stories of the past decade. However, it has literally come at a price as other data now clearly shows. While the rest of the school sector has suffered at the lower end of government cutbacks, post-16 education has really been badly affected.

There are other financial consequences as well. Families that receive free transport for children up to the age of 16 suddenly find, outside of London, that they must pay for the same seat on the school bus if their offspring enters into the sixth form. That is an anomaly that I have long campaigned to see abolished, especially as some councils are now extending the rule to pupils with SEN.

Government now has data on some 99% of the cohort in 2016/17. Generally, the higher your success rate at KS4 the more likely you are to stay in a school environment, if one is available. Less academic success, greater disadvantage and lower level SEN, without the support of a ‘Statement’ or EHCP means a greater chance of switching from a school into a Further Education College at Sixteen. In some parts of the country, most notably the urban areas in some areas of the North West, the situation is more complicated because of the present of Sixth Form Colleges. In those areas, the legacy of the introduction of comprehensive education some forty years ago still drive where students are education post-16.

Overall, some 86% of young people remained within the education sphere rather than training or employment locations after the age of sixteen. Some 5% of young people didn’t sustain their original choice post-16 for at last two terms. This percentage has remained relatively stable for the past few years, falling from 9% in 2010/11.

Apprenticeships and employment remain at about eight per cent of sixteen year olds. The recovery in the economy and pressure of local labour markets in parts of the South don’t seem to have significantly increased the percentage directly entering employment at sixteen. Indeed, with the fall in the cohort, actual numbers will have reduced and that may be a concern to some employers.

Should the difference between school and FE be so marked by perceived ability pre-16? Of those categorised as have low attainment at KS2, 58% ended up in general FE with only 13% in school sixth forms and six per cent in Sixth Form Colleges. By contrast, of those shown as high achievers at KS2, 60% remained in school sixth forms; 18% went on to Sixth Form Colleges and only 15% proceeded into general further education settings. Middle achievers were somewhere in between these two sets of figures.

As someone that entered sixth form with 5 ‘O’ levels, not including English, but who gained high grades at ‘A’ level, I worry about too much segregation at sixteen. Whatever the academic merits of specialisation of institution, is it the right approach socially for the future of society?

 

 

Education around the world: but not from an OECD perspective

Last Friday was World Teachers’ Day. Not something you might have noticed in the United Kingdom. To celebrate the occasion a new report was published that reviews the concerns and attitudes of over 400 leaders of teacher unions and associations. The data was gathered in late 2107 and the report was compiled by Prof. Nelly. P Stromquist of the University of Maryland. The Report is entitled, ‘The global Status of Teachers and the Teaching Profession’. It can be accessed on line at: https://eiie.sharepoint.com/sites/researching/Shared%20Documents/Forms/AllItems.aspx?id=%2Fsites%2Fresearching%2FShared%20Documents%2FStatus%20of%20Teachers%2Ffinal%20report%2F2018_EI_Research_StatusOfTeachers_ENG_final%2Epdf&parent=%2Fsites%2Fresearching%2FShared%20Documents%2FStatus%20of%20Teachers%2Ffinal%20report&p=true&slrid=1f9d969e-d00d-7000-f5a8-bc9f11329c8f

Some of the conclusions will be familiar to readers from the United Kingdom; most teachers associated with unions or teacher associations working in schools are some form of civil servant, by which I take it to mean that they are paid and employed by an arm of the State, either a national government or some form of more local administration.

Teachers are seen as middle ranking professionals, behind doctors and engineers but ahead of the police and on a par with nursing. Not all teachers are seen as of the same ranking, with university lecturers accorded a higher ranking than those working with young children. This is despite the really valuable work the educators of young children do in laying the foundations for what comes later.

Dissatisfaction with pay and conditions appears widespread around the world, according to the survey that underpins this report. Some teachers face issues unknown in this country, such as the teachers in Africa that have to travel long distances to collect their pay. One hopes that the development of mobile banking across that continent will help alleviate such an additional chore. Surely something where unions can push for a quick win and, as the report notes, it might help reduce teacher absence as well.

With large numbers of people moving around the world, either voluntarily or because of forced migration, there must be a considerable number of teachers among this group. However, few figures of the occupational history of migrants, and especially forced migrants is known. However the report on page 30 does state that ’UK Unions estimate that there are 34,000 immigrant teachers in their country’.  Can some of these help solve out teacher recruitment issues?

Around the world the picture of teacher supply is a complicated one. Attracting young people to the profession is a global challenge, especially where pay and conditions haven’t kept pace with those elsewhere in a society for positions requiring a similar level of education. However, 2017 was a period when most of the world was in a state of relative economic growth and public services often find recruitment a challenge in such circumstances. Across the world the attrition of maths and science teachers is much greater than for teachers of subjects such as history: something we would recognise in the UK.

There is an interesting section on trends in the privatisation of schooling. Unions still seem wedded to the notion of State education services, although the right of parents to choose is recognised. The concerns are as much about the welfare and service conditions of teachers as anything else: a legitimate concern for teacher unions and associations that work to protect their members as their primary function.

There is a lot more in this report than this piece can do justice to, so do take a look. Personally, I think splitting higher education and schooling into two separate reports might have made for a more focused outcome, but that is a minor criticism of an interesting and thought provoking report.

Commuting pupils: are most to be found in London?

How much does the provision of free transport affect the choice of secondary school in London? What is clear from data published recently by the DfE is that pupils in London, and especially those living in Inner London, are among the most mobile in the country, especially at secondary school level when it comes to attending a state school outside the boundaries of the local authority where they live.  https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2018

The percentage of pupils living and attending schools in a local authority, as a percentage of resident population, ranged from almost 100% in Cumbria to just 54.6% in Knowsley in Merseyside. However, along with Reading, at just less than 64% attending schools in the borough, these latter two authorities were very much outliers. Some 26 of the 30 mainland local authorities with the lowest percentage of their resident population attending schools in the authority at secondary school level were London boroughs. I don’t know how much of the explanation in Reading is a combination of the presence of two highly selective schools and a distribution of schools dictated during the twenty years when Reading was part of the County of Berkshire before it was broken up into different unitary authorities.

History, as well as free transport, may also play a part in the reasons why London figures so largely in the authorities with the most movement. For around a century, school building in Inner London was governed by a single agency; first the LCC and then the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority) that was abolished by Mrs Thatcher’s government. In outer London, although the creation of the boroughs dates back more than 50 years, many of the secondary schools in north and west London were built on sites created by the former Middlesex County Council.

The creation of academies, free schools, UTCs and studio Schools will also have help encourage movement of pupils, but, I suspect, to a lesser degree than the historical location of schools.

Although there is cross authority movement at the primary school level, it tends to be at a lower level as most pupils will attend their nearest school except when different demographic pressures put pressure on specific schools in urban areas creating a movement across boundaries. By contrast, the movement across local boundaries for pupils in the special school sector is higher than in either the primary or secondary sectors in many local authority areas. This is not really a surprise, since creating specialist schools is often more cost effective if they can reach a certain size and not every authority wants to provide specialist provision for every type of need.

Outside of London, many of the pupils moving across boundaries will have to pay for their own travel costs, as authorities have modified their travel policies, in an effort to reduce expenditure. However, county council’s expenditure on travel is still a large burden to many authorities, especially for children living in rural areas where the local bus service has now disappeared and either a special bus must be run or a taxi provided at significant cost to the authority.

 

Governors warn of teacher recruitment crisis

Tell us something we didn’t know, might be the first reaction to this headline from today’s Times newspaper. Indeed, October is a slightly odd time to publish such a survey, as it is well after the start of the school year and at a point where teacher recruitment is heading towards its autumn low point before picking up again in January.

However, I guess it took the TES some time to put together the answers from the National Governance Association members that completed the survey. Anyway, a survey of this type does help to keep the pressure on government, lest they try and bury concerns about teacher recruitment.

The figure for the extra number of teachers needed by the mid-2020s is also not really news, since the DfE has been publishing the forward planning associated with the Teacher Supply Model for the past couple of years. We have David Laws to thank for opening up this key planning tool to general visibility when he was Minister of State.  The next iteration of the Model is due to be published in a couple of weeks, towards the end of the month and will confirm future needs as the school population increases. No doubt this blog will comment on the DfE’s views at that time.

I was surprised that the NGA/TES Survey didn’t highlight the issues many schools have had this year trying to recruit a teacher of English. Indeed, TeachVac http://www.teachvac.co.uk  where I am the chair of the board, surveys key subjects on a daily basis and across the whole of England and we would rate English as more of a problem subject in 2018 than mathematics. As I pointed out last week on this blog, that might not be the case in 2019.

The report in the Times article didn’t mention regional recruitment issues. At TeachVac, we believe that the recruitment situation is generally at its worst in and around London. That’s not to say school elsewhere don’t face problems for specific reasons, but that a higher proportion of school in London and the Home Counties may expect to find recruitment difficult.

The Times newspaper article also ignored the challenges in vocational subjects such as business studies and parts of the design and technology curriculum. That’s probably not surprising, as the DfE shows a complete lack of interest in these subjects, not even offering a bursary to business studies students despite the real challenges schools face in recruiting these teachers.

With the government’s school-based training scheme, School Direct, having stalled this year, the NGA ought to be asking what can be done to ensure teachers that train through higher education courses end up in the schools where they are needed. It is absolutely no use attracting more mature entrants on the back of the BBC Radio 4 series with Lucy Kellaway, if they are in the wrong place and wrong subjects. The Treasury ought to be asking why so many teachers of history are being trained at £9,250 a head. Wasting money training too many teachers is as much of an issue as not training enough, but receives fewer headlines.

 

Funding still not fair?

Is opposition to the current National Funding Formula for schools growing? There are those that see it as neither national, because it has so many variations, nor a formula, because it carries so many restrictions carried over from what went before. Indeed, the F40 Group of local authorities that campaigns for fairer funding has issued a recent document outlining their concerns about the present state of play.

In one sense the idea of every child having a basic unit of funding tied to the provision of their education has been the Holy Grail of many educationalists ever since the autonomy of local authorities over education funding began to be curbed around the time that local management of schools or LMS began to be introduced in the early 1990s.

At that time there were wide disparities in the funding of schooling across the country. Local business rates meant that Inner London had access to vast resources of income generated from the City of London and the West End. At the other end of the scale were former manufacturing areas and many rural areas where income was insufficient and central government had to provide funds to support an education service. These areas were also joined by many of the shire counties where education competed with social services for a limited amount of resources.

The goal of those seeking a National Funding Formula was to level up less well funded areas, so that all received the same basic level of funding as close to that of the best as possible. Of course, if it wasn’t at the level of the best then there would be losers. The first attempt at a Formula created too many losers. It is now becoming apparent that the current version also has problems associated with it.

As the F40 briefing note says;

One of the key principles set out in the early NFF consultations, supported by f40, was that pupils of similar characteristics should attract similar levels of funding wherever they are in the country (allowing for the area cost adjustment).  Therefore, NFF should be applied to all schools on a consistent basis.  However, the protections applied, such as the 0.5% funding floor, ‘lock in’ some of the historical differences for those schools which have been comparatively well funded for several decades.

Their solution:

The government must continue to develop the national formula so that it is fit for the future i.e. is fairer, more easily understood, transparent and adjustable. Transition to the new formula is sensible but locking in past inequalities is not.

The F40 Group is also seeking continued funding flexibility to support specific local issues or organisational requirements. They assert that no two schools in the country are exactly the same, but the current formula assumes all schools are almost identical.  The F40 say that are good local reasons why some schools have costs that others do not have, and an inflexible national system cannot support these schools equitably.  As a result, some local flexibility is essential in achieving a fair formula that works and stands the test of time.

Here is the nub of the argument, how to manage a national formula with a degree of local flexibility. The government’s solution for academy chains is to allow funds to be moved between schools as necessary, but that approach doesn’t help either stand-alone academies or maintained schools.

With increasing pupil numbers and an under-funded 16-19 sector, the government has limited room for movement in the short-term, even if austerity really does come to an end as a policy objective. Perhaps we might see a return to the separation of funding into two separate funding streams with pay as one funding stream and other costs funded through a different funding stream more open to local flexibility to reflect local circumstances. This might imply a return to rigid national pay scales and limits of promoted posts to control the pay stream.

What is clear is that without more thinking, the present arrangements for school funding are likely to be unfair for many pupils across the country.

 

 

Insufficient funding creates cost pressures

Over the past week the DfE has been using statistics about school spending in the time period from 2002-03 to 2016-17 to try to rebut the challenges from the two head teacher associations about a decline in school funding. This culminated in headteachers walking to Downing Street last Friday.

At the end of August the DfE published a paper on trends in school spending during this period at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/trends-in-school-spending-2002-to-2016 I confess that its publication had passed me by, but it was the Friday of bank holiday week when it first appeared.

The DfE acknowledge some issues with the times series, most notably the creation of a large number of academies in the secondary sector in 2011-12. Academies and maintained schools have different financial years, a complicating factor when compiling data of this type for all schools. The information also comes from two different sources.

However, the headline number was that total spending was 42% higher in 2016-17 compared with 2002-03. Spending on Non staff was 68% higher in 2016-17 than 2002-03. Staff spending was 33% higher.

Total spending per pupil has increased from £4,080 to £5,790 between 2002-03 and 2016-17 at 2016-17 price levels according to the DfE data.

Spending on Teaching Staff was 17% higher in 2016-17 than 2002- 03, whereas spending on Education Support Staff was 138% higher in 2016-17 than 2002-03. This partly reflect the large growth in this sector over the time period that included the introduction of non-contact time in the primary sector through the use of PPA time and the growth in support for pupils with SEN.

Part of the growth in Education Support Staff spending may be a reflection of the devolution of more and more back office functions to schools along with the decline in local authority support services, especially for academies. Whether or not the spending is always good value for money is for the National Audit office to decide. However much of those extra costs will have been absorbed in the extra spending on the back office was 105% higher in 2016-17 than 2002- 03, compared to a 42% increase in Total spending.

There is good news on both exam fees and energy costs. Both peaked at the end of the first decade and have bene reducing in cost since then. Even so, energy costs were some 75% higher in 2016-17 than at the start of the period.

Recent concerns over supply teacher costs are reflected in the fact that spending on agency supply teaching staff was 64% higher in 2016-17 than 2002-03, and no doubt explains why both main political parties have targeted this area of spending to work on reducing costs.

Missing is a breakdown of both recruitment costs across the sector and, a breakdown of leadership pay increases compared with the increase for classroom teachers. Now that might have been interesting to see last Friday. Also missing is a breakdown of transfer to either local authorities or MATs to show how central costs have changed over this period.