Reviewing Ofsted

The National Audit Office Report issued today about the work of Ofsted seems to have received coverage that is slightly unfair to Ofsted. But, as an inspection body, it is an organisation it is easy to regard with distaste or even hate. https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Ofsteds-inspection-of-schools.pdf

Interestingly, in January this year I asked a question at Oxfordshire Cabinet about schools not inspected since 2010.

Could the Cabinet Member please identify those primary schools that have not had an Ofsted inspection since 2010 with the year they were last inspected and whether they are maintained schools or academies – if an academy, which MAT they currently are associated with of if they are a standalone academy.”

Most not inspected were outstanding schools, but two schools had only been rated ‘good’ in their last inspection report. There was confusion among officers when complying the reply to my question, because Ofsted lists on their web site the letter that goes to schools on conversion to an academy and, in some circumstances, this might look as if Ofsted had inspected the school when in practice it hadn’t.

I think the NAO’s overall judgement of Ofsted is fair.

24 Ofsted provides valuable independent assurance about schools’ effectiveness and as such is a vital part of the school system. It has faced significant challenges in recent years, as its budget has reduced and it has struggled to retain staff and deploy enough contracted inspectors…..

25 The Department plays an important part in whether the inspection of schools is value for money. The Department affects Ofsted’s funding, how it uses its resources and what it can inspect. The current inspection model, with some schools exempt from re-inspection, others subject to light-touch inspection and the average time between inspections rising, raises questions about whether there is enough independent assurance about schools’ effectiveness to meet the needs of parents, taxpayers and the Department itself. Although government has protected the overall schools budget, it has reduced Ofsted’s budget every year for over a decade while asking it to do more.

NAO Report, May 2018 page 11

As the DfE now realises, and the NAO acknowledges, the complex governance nature of the education system in England does not effectively work in favour of helping school improvement. The removal of funding for local authority inspection and advisory services across much of the country, in the lemming like desire to push all funds to schools, didn’t help with intelligence gathering and the lack of action at regional school commissioner level also hasn’t helped.

How do you improve an academy declared inadequate by Ofsted and with the worst attendance record of all secondary schools in the county for the autumn term after it declared inadequate if the regional school commissioner won’t take action and the diocese responsible for the MAT of which the school is part has failed to improve the school? Would a former municipal Education Committee have allowed this state of affairs to linger on without resolution?

What can Ofsted do, other than continue to report while children’s education suffers? This is surely a much more important question than why 0.2% of the target for inspections was missed over a five year period.

The most important conclusion of the NAO Report is ‘that Ofsted does not know whether its school inspections are having the intended impact: to raise the standards of education and improve the quality of children’s and young people’s lives.’ (Paragraph 20 of the summary). The government must make clear how that gap can be closed, and provide the funds to ensure that improvement is supported effectively progress monitored and any failure to improve has consequences. Such a system should include a key role for democratically elected local authorities.

 

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Absence rates are still a concern in some schools

Earlier today the DfE published the results of the data collected about pupils’ absence from school during the autumn term of 2017 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-term-2017 Not a lot had changed since the previous autumn term and the overall picture has remained broadly at the same level now for three years. However, as the DfE concede, – levels of authorised absence have decreased, while the levels of unauthorised absence has increased.

For state-funded primary and secondary schools, the authorised absence rate decreased from 3.3 per cent in autumn 2016 to 3.2 per cent in autumn 2017 and the unauthorised absence rate increased from 1 per cent in autumn 2016 to 1.1 per cent in autumn 2017. Part of the increase was down to the fact that that the level of absence among persistent absentees rose slightly from 11.4 per cent in autumn 2016 to 11.5 per cent in autumn 2017.

Illness is the most common reason for absence and heavily influences overall absence rates.  It accounted for 58.3 per cent of all absence in autumn 2017, a lower proportion than seen in previous years; it was 58.4 per cent in autumn 2016 and 58.8 per cent in 2015. This variation from autumn term to autumn term can be the result of winter illness patterns and in particular whether the flu season starts early or not. The level of absence for religious reasons is also variable from year to year; depending upon when major moveable festivals appear in the calendar. In 2017, there were some dates that fell outside of term time and that reduced the number of days pupils were absent.

Authorised family holidays are now very largely a thing of the past, but there is still an upward trend in days lost to unauthorised holidays, albeit the increase from the previous year was relatively slight. For some families the fine can be seen as just another expense as part of the overall holiday costs and if the holiday price is cheaper in term time there may actually be a cash saving even if it can affect a child’s education.

Interestingly, just over a quarter of pupils had no recorded absence in the autumn term. However, the trend towards not arriving on time is gathering pace, with 266,905 recorded occurrences. Not a huge number, but the highest figure for the past few years.

I fear 14-18 schools frequently seem to appear close to the top of the list of schools with well above average absence rates. In Oxfordshire, three of the eight schools with the worst overall absence rates are 14-18 schools. I need to check whether there are issues about how some pupil activities in these schools are recorded. Otherwise, it seems likely that turning schools into academies hasn’t proved a magic bullet in terms of curing high levels of absence: leadership is, I suspect, much more important than school organisation in bringing down absence rates. It might be worth asking MATs how much of their central funds are aimed at reducing absence rates in schools where it might be an issue?

Red alert for English

TeachVac, the free National Vacancy Service for teachers, trainees and schools today warned of a ‘red’ alert for schools seeking to appoint a teacher of English. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk issues such an alert when the volume of vacancies tracked is sufficient since the 1st January of that year to have absorbed 80% of the total trainee numbers as recorded in the DfE’s annual ITT census. TeachVac has issued red alerts for English in previous recruitment rounds, but never as early in the cycle as mid-May. In 2017 the alert was issued at the end of May and in 2016, not until late into the autumn term.

TeachVac, where I am chair of the Board, says that the situation in English is complicated by the large number of trainees in the DfE’s census on programmes such as Teach First and the School Direct Salaried route. These trainees are not usually available to all schools. If their numbers are removed from the census total, then in some parts of England it is quite possible that all trainees will have been offered jobs by now. That is already the situation in subjects such as Design and Technology and Business Studies. TeachVac is also monitoring the position in science very closely, as a recent upsurge in vacancies has meant the percentage of trainees remaining is likely to be approaching critical levels quite soon. Full details are available to schools registered to use the TeachVac service that has saved schools many millions of pounds in recruitment advertising, at no cost to the public purse.

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised by any of the above, since it was clear at this point last year that not all training places would be filled. The scale of the shortfall was confirmed when the DfE issued the ITT census data late last autumn. In reality, the latest data is just confirming what has been known would be the case for the past twelve months.

As the 2018 recruitment round is looking worse than at this point in 2017, and there will be even more pupils in our secondary schools in September 2019 than in this coming September, the signs are for an even worse situation in 2019 unless a new supply of teachers can be found from somewhere.

With the abolition of external agencies such as the TTA and NSCL of former years, Ministers have nowhere to hide and nobody else to blame if the crisis deepens. Setting up a task group, as has been put in place for workload, might offer Ministers some breathing space, as might a helpful pay settlement that boosted entry pay and provided for a salary for all during training along with pension credits.

The sad thing is that unless something is done, schools in many parts of the country will be paying large sums to recruit for those unavoidable January 2019 vacancies and some private sector companies will be making profits out of the situation.

At least everyone is now talking about teacher workload

DfE press officers were unusually busy yesterday, with several announcements made to coincide with the Secretary of State’s speech at the NAHT conference in Liverpool – not a professional association solely for primary leaders, as some seem to imagine, but for leaders in all schools.

One of the most important announcements was that of the formation of a Workload Advisory Group to be chaired by Professor Becky Allen, the director for new Centre for Education Improvement Science at UCL’s Institute of Education. The appearance of senior representatives from the teacher associations among the membership makes this look like a reformation of the former body that existed under the Labour government. Assuming it produces proposals that are accepted by the DfE, then this Group should help Ministers restore some morale to the teaching profession by signalling that they are taking workload concerns seriously.

Announcements about the treatment of so called ‘coasting’ schools and forced academisation may well sound, if not the death knell, then certainly a slowing of primary schools opting to become academies. Why give up relative independence under local authority administration for the uncertain future as part of an Academy Trust, where the unelected trustees can decide to pillage your reserves and move on your best teachers and there is nothing you can do about the situation. That’s not jumping from the frying pan into the fire, but taking the risk of walking out of your house and leaving the front door wide open.

Hopefully, the Secretary of State is starting to move towards resolving the twin track governance system that has emerged since Labour and the Conservatives jointly decided to have a fit of collective amnesia about the key importance of place in schooling and also demonstrated a complete lack of the need for any democratic oversight of local education systems. My Liberal Democrat colleagues that demonstrated no opposition to academisation during the coalition government are, in my view, almost as equally to blame as the members of the other two main political parties for not recognising the need for significant local democratic involvement in our school system.

The Secretary of State might now be asked to go further and adopt the 2016 White Paper view that in-year admissions for all schools should be coordinated by local authorities; a local politician with responsibility for schools should also once again have a voting position on schools forum rather than just an observer role, especially as the NAHT have pointed out the growing importance of the High Needs Block and SEND education where links between mainstream schools and the special school sector is a key local authority responsibility. http://www.naht.org.uk/news-and-opinion/news/funding-news/naht-analysis-of-high-needs-funding/

The idea of a sabbatical mentioned by the Secretary of State was discussed in an earlier post on this blog, but there was little else on teacher recruitment in his speech.

If you want to listen to my thoughts on the present state of teacher recruitment, then Bath Spa University have just published a podcast in their Staffroom series where I answer a series of questions. You can access the podcast at https://soundcloud.com/user-513936641/the-staff-room-episode-10-crisis-in-recruitment and my interview is followed by a discussion between leading staff at the university on the same topic.

 

Not very ambitious

I understand that the Secretary of State is going to tell the NAHT Conference of another plan for sabbaticals for teachers as part of a retention drive to keep teachers from leaving. Dangling the odd carrot here and there isn’t the same as having a comprehensive policy for the training and development of the teaching profession.

I looked back through this blog and saw what I wrote in a post on the 17th April 2013 – it is still there and readable https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/mrs-thatcher-as-education-secretary/ The post was written following the death of Mrs Thatcher. Her time as Education Secretary, best known for ending school milk also contained the excellent 1972 White Paper from which the following extract is taken:

Teacher Training and Professional Development

The Government propose to work towards the achievement of a graduate teaching profession. During probation teachers should receive the kind of help and support needed to make the induction process both more effective and less daunting than it has been in the past. Also they should be released for not less than one-fifth of their time for in-service training. For the remainder of their time probationer teachers would be serving in schools, but with a somewhat lightened timetable, so that altogether they might be expected to undertake three-quarters of a full teaching load. The Government propose to give effect to the James Committee’s recommendation that teachers should be released for in-service training for periods equivalent to one term in every 7 years of service. It is their aim that a substantial expansion of such training should begin in the school year 1974–75 and should continue progressively so that by 1981 3 per cent of teachers could be released on secondment at any one time. This involves a four-fold increase in present opportunity.

(my emphasis in bold)

Of course apart from the first point it didn’t happen as planned, because the Oil Crisis at the end of 1972 plunged the country into recession and the hamstrung Labour government of 1974-79 wasn’t able to move the ideas forward. But, there were ambitious targets for the whole profession. For much of this century, successive governments have neglected the professional development of the teaching force and much more is need that is currently on offer from Mr Hinds.

I gather that Bath Spa University has also decided to pay a scholarship of £500 to all its students joining teacher preparation courses next September in recognition of the costs of such courses. I applaud this action, but would rather the government returned to a training grant for all postgraduates in training as a teacher. Stand up to the Treasury Mr Hinds and point out that we need teachers and present policies aren’t working. A thriving modern economy depends upon a successful education service and you cannot achieve that end if you fail to recruit enough teachers.

Scap the work on a new vacancy service for teachers and use the cash saved for more support for trainee teachers. Then use the power of the profession and the many organisations within it to create the free service TeachVac has pioneered at no cost to the DfE. That way ‘all could be winners’.

 

Update on Leadership trends in the primary sector

Some primary schools are still finding it difficult to recruit a new head teacher. Around half of the 151 local authority areas in England have at least one primary school that has had to pace a second advert so far this year in their quest for a new head. In total more than 170 primary schools across England have not been successful at the first attempt, when looking for a new head teacher.

As some schools are still working through the recruitment process for the first time, following an advertisement placed in April, the number of schools affected is likely to increase beyond the current number as the end of term approaches. Some 25 schools have had to place more than one re-advertisements in their quest for a new head teacher. London schools seem to be faring better than those in parts of the North West when it comes to making an appointment after the first advertisement.

As expected, some faith schools and schools with special circumstances: small school; infant or junior schools and those with other issues feature among the school with more than one advertisement.

The data for this blog comes from TeachVac, the no cost to schools and applicants National Vacancy Listing Service for teaching posts in schools anywhere in England that is already demonstrating what the DfE is spending cash on trying to provide. See for yourself at www.teachvac.co.uk  but you will have to register as TeachVac is a closed system. Such a system prevents commercial organisations cherry picking vacancies and offering candidates to schools for a fee. (TeachVac published a full report on the primary leadership sector in 2017 in January 2018.)

Time was, when appointing a deputy head teachers in the primary sector wasn’t regarded as a problem. Are candidates now being more circumspect when it comes to applying for deputy head teacher vacancies? Certainly, so far in 2018, a third of local authorities have at least one school that has had to re-advertise a deputy head teacher vacancy. The same parts of the county where headship are not easy to fill also applies to deputy head vacancies. This is an especially worrying aspect, since the deputy of today is the head teacher of tomorrow.

Assistant head teacher vacancies are still relatively rare in the primary sector, so it is of concern that 37 local authority areas have recorded at least one vacancy that has been re-advertised so far in 2018. London boroughs that have fared well at the other levels of leadership, seem to be struggling rather more at this level of appointment.

Is this data useful? What should be done with it if it is useful? The DfE have cited data as one of their reasons for creating their own vacancy service, but it will be 2019 at the earliest and possibly not until 2020 that they will have full access to this type of essential management data.

If there is a valid concern about filling leadership positions in the primary sector at all grades then, at least for academies, the government needs to understand what is happening and arrange for strategies to overcome any problem. That’s what strategic leadership of the academy programme is all about. As Labour backed academies in last week’s funding debate, they should work with the government to ensure all academies can appoint a new head teacher when they first advertise. The government should also recognise the role of local authorities in helping with finding new school leaders for the maintained school sector.

More about school funding

How much more should London schools be paid under the new National Funding Formula to compensate for the higher salaries teachers working in the Capital are paid? Interestingly, that issue didn’t appear to have surfaced during last week debate in the House of Commons on a Labour motion about school funding and the new National Funding Formula. https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-04-25/debates/0A24031C-1B47-47DA-9682-5ED62B7AB09C/SchoolFunding

The salary differential is greatest for new teachers and smallest, at least in percentage terms, for the highest paid head teachers – CEOs of Academy Trusts don’t have a pay scale – although in cash terms the difference greatest for senior middle leaders at the top of their scale.

Sep-17 Rest of England Inner London % diff
Bottom Main Scale  £          22,917  £          28,660 20%
Top Main Scale  £          38,633  £          47,298 18%
TMS + TLR top  £          51,660  £          60,325 14%
L1  £          39,374  £          46,814 16%
l20  £          62,863  £          70,310 11%
L43  £        109,366  £        116,738 6%

Assuming schools spend around 60% of their funds on staff with QTS, plus another significant amount on non-teaching staff, where I assume the differential across the country isn’t significantly different, then how much more should a school in challenging circumstances in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets receive compared with a similar school in South East Oxford? If the differential is significantly more than 20% then one might ask how the different components within the NFF are derived. The additional of floors and ceilings only serve to make matters worse.

The DfE data published in the autumn of 2017 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-funding-formula-tables-for-schools-and-high-needs indicates a much greater than 20% difference between those local authorities with the smallest allocations and the London Boroughs with the largest amounts.

In terms of consequences, there is the issue of funding for small schools that this blog has highlighted before, but also the issue of how much extra schools in pockets of severe deprivation receive within local authorities that are generally regarded as affluent. The issue of the f40 group of authorities and the share of the national cake they receive was aired during the House of Commons debate, but not by any of the six MPs representing Oxfordshire constituencies. As there wasn’t a formal division, we don’t know whether they even attended the debate.

Yesterday, the Oxford Mail has a key article about funding for schools in the county, highlighting the concerns that funds are not sufficient. http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/16192951.SCHOOL_FUNDING__Oxfordshire_parents_battle_for_more_classroom_cash/

Much of Oxfordshire has local elections this Thursday, but I don’t sense that school funding is a big issue on the doorsteps, unlike potholes that seem to be the number one concern in many areas.

However, I am concerned that not enough forward planning is currently being undertaken by either Schools Forum or others to identify the position if current NFF trends continue for the next five How far can schools sustain different changes in pay rates for staff and not fall into deficit? There needs to be a debate about the consequences of the new approach to funding, not just in the short-term, but over the longer time period as well.