4: the smallest recorded national pupil statistic in Education?

You don’t often find numbers below 10 in DfE statistics, as there is usually too much of a risk that individual pupils could be identified. However, such small numbers can and do crop up from time to time. One such is in table 5 of this year’s statistics about schools and their pupils. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2019

The largest number in this Table is 4,716,244 – the number of pupils in state-funded primary schools counted in the January 2019 census. The smallest number is just four (4). This is the number of pupils of the Chinese ethnic group recorded as in Pupil Referral Units. In 2018, the number was five (5).

Apart from in Local Authority Alternative Provision, the percentage of minority Ethnic Pupils is greater in 2019 than it was in 2018. The increase was less in the primary sector, up from 33.1 to 33.5 than in the secondary sector, up from 30.3 to 31.3.

Interestingly, the ‘Black’ group as a whole registered no change in their share of the primary school population; steady at 5.5%, whereas the Asian Group that are mostly from the Indian sub-continent increased from 11.1% to 11.2%. Pupils of any other White background other than White British; Irish and the traveller and the Roma communities, increased from 7.1% to 7.3% making them the second largest sub-group in the primary sector.

With the downturn in admissions at the entry level of the primary school, it is interesting to ask whether birth rates are falling across all ethnic groups. Certainly, the difference in the total percentage of pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds between the primary and secondary sectors that was 2.8 in 2018, is now 2.2 in 2019.

Pupils from the Black ethnic group continue to be over-represented in both special schools and pupil referral units, although not in local authority alternative provision. However, the percentage of Back pupils in PRUs fell from 7.2% of pupils in such units in 2018, to 6.8% in 2019, against a percentage of 6.0% in the secondary sector from where most, but not all, PRU pupils have come from.

In numerical terms, the number of Black pupils in PRUs declined from 1,205 in 2018 to 1,104 in 2019. However, some might now be in alternative provision settings rather than in PRUs. Of course, there is no information about the scale of the off-rolling of pupils over the past year, and thus the ethnic backgrounds of pupils that have been taken off school rolls.

I suspect that the ethnic group labelled as ‘Mixed’ may well see the largest increases over the next few years as society becomes more diverse in nature. There are now around half a million pupil classified as from the ‘Mixed’ ethnic group in schools across England.

Almost one in five pupils in primary schools does not have English as their first language, although the total doesn’t identify the skewed distribution that can be found across England, with some schools teaching pupils that speak many different languages at home. This can be a real challenge to some less well funded primary schools. There is also the question as to whether the State should fund any first language tuition for these pupils or whether that is solely the responsibility of the family?

 

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Class sizes on the increase

Increasing pupil numbers and pressure on funding , it seems, having an effect on class sizes in the secondary sector. Last week’s DfE data https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2019 revealed that the percentage of classes in the secondary sector with more than 30 pupils in them was, at 8.4% of classes, at its highest percentage since before 2006 and the fifth straight year to have recorded an increase. Some 13% of pupils were being taught in classes of more than 30 in January 2019. By comparison, in 2014 it was just 9.4% of pupils.

With more increases in pupil number over the next few years, this percentage of pupils in classes of over 30 pupils seems destined to increase even further, unless more funding can be found from the magic money tree called The Tresury.

Almost the same percentage of pupils in the primary sector were also being taught in these ‘large’ classes. The classes are mostly at Key Stage 2. This is because of the Blunkett limit of 30 pupils that applies to most Key Stage 1 classes. Indeed, the 18.1% of Key Stage 2 pupils in classes of more than 30 is a record percentage since at least 2010 and probably for a longer period as well. Hopefully, these children will find themselves in smaller classes when they move on to a secondary school.

Large numbers of pupils in classes means more time is required for assessment and preparation by teachers if the different needs of every child are to be adequately catered for. This may well be adding to the pressure teachers’ face from workload that must be undertaken during term-time.

The average Key Stage 2 class in England has some 27.9 pupils in it. The range is from Trafford, in Greater Manchester, where the average is 29.7 to Redcar & Cleveland in the North East, where the average is some 5.2 pupils per teacher fewer at 24.2 pupils in the average Key Stage 2 class.

Four of the lowest five areas with the best averages for Key Stage 2 class size are in the North East and the fifth, Cumbria is also in the North of England. Some boroughs in Inner London also manage to achieve among the lowest average class sizes at Key Stage2. By contrast, urban authorities in the North West and the Midlands feature among authorities with the highest average class sizes at Key Stage 2.

Some local authority areas in the North West have always had large classes and some of the worst pupil teacher ratios in the primary sector ever since I first started looking at such statistics in the mid-1970s, when the present pattern of local government in the urban areas outside of London was established. Hopefully, the new funding formula will help to further reduce the disparity between the best and the worst authorities, although other factors may intervene to prevent an entirely level playing field, such as the age and experience of the teaching staff.

Small schools: what’s their future?

Last Thursday, the DfE issued a raft of statistical information. The data about teachers has been covered by this blog in a number of different posts. As a result, the data from the January School Census that covers schools and their pupils has had to wait its turn. Happily, there is now time to reflect upon the data.  https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2019

In terms of public expenditure implications, the important news is that there are more pupils to be funded, as the rise in the birth rate of a few years ago starts to work its way through the system. Overall, there were 84,700 more pupils in education in England in January 2019 than in the previous January. This is despite any trend towards home schooling or off-rolling.

The bulk of the increase, 69,500, came in the secondary sector.  Assuming more of the increase to be in Year 7, then this probably required some 3,500 more teachers. Not all will have been recruited, as some schools will have falling rolls at sixteen and in a few cases still, at fourteen due to movement of pupils to UTCs and Studio Schools.

The number of primary pupils increased by 10,800; an insignificant increase on a pupil population of 4,730,000 pupils. This levelling off in the primary school population, and its possible reduction in a few years’ time, has implications for the system that will be discussed later.

It’s worth noting the increase in the number of pupils in special schools, of some 6,500. How far this is an awareness of extra need and how far schools looking to place pupils that cost more to educate than a school normally receives cannot be identified from the data. However, by January 2019, almost all pupils should have converted from a Statement of SEN to an EHCP.

It is worth noting the fall of 900 pupils in independent schools. It isn’t easy to identify where that trend is coming from, but some of it might be as a result of local authorities reassessing the cost of placing SEN pupils in such schools, and instead now using cheaper state funded provision and thus contributing to the increase in numbers in special schools.

The most concern in policy terms arising from this data are the future shape of the primary school system. While there are 13 primary schools with over 1,000 pupils, there are almost 2,000 primary schools with 100 or fewer pupils. Together these latter schools account for approaching one in eight primary schools. Some will be infant schools, where a merger with a junior school could create a primary school, as has already happened in many instances. However, where these small schools are already primary schools, how will their future be assessed? Does the present funding arrangements permit local authorities and academy chains to retain such schools, both for the good of their communities and to prevent very young children having to take bus journeys to and from school each day? Some counties with small communities that are widely distributed will certainly face this problem, even if they aren’t already doing so. So far, I haven’t heard anything from the Leadership contenders about this matter.

Pressure on school places intensifies

The DfE has published the data on offers made regarding admission to primary and secondary schools for September 2019. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/secondary-and-primary-school-application-and-offers-2019

In view of the growing number of pupils in the transfer age group from primary to secondary school, now almost universally at age eleven, the percentage of pupils receiving their first choice of schools fell again this year to just 80.9%.

Secondary Schools
Entry into academic year % made 1st preference offer
2010/11 83.2
2011/12 84.6
2012/13 85.3
2013/14 86.7
2014/15 85.2
2015/16 84.2
2016/17 84.1
2017/18 83.5
2018/19 82.1
2019/20 80.9

The percentage successful at gaining a place at their first choice schools has now declined every years since 2013/14 when it reach a high of 86.7%. Of course, there are significant regional differences, as well as differences between urban and rural areas.

As the DfE points out in the report: Northumberland (98.4%) and North Somerset (96.9%) achieved the best first preference rates in 2019. Northumberland has been the top performer in this measure for the last four years.

As in previous years, the lowest first preference rates at secondary level are all in London, Lambeth (54.8%), Lewisham (56.9%) and Hammersmith & Fulham (57.3%) achieved the lowest rates in 2019.

Central Bedfordshire is now the only local authority to submit secondary data for year 9 as their largest secondary intake. They had the third best percentage of transfer to secondary school to their middle schools that are classified as secondary schools.

Interestingly, there is no comment by the DfE on the transfer of pupils at age 14 to the UTCs and Studio schools. Presumably, anyone that wants to go to these schools can secure a place.

There was a small fall in first preference rates in the primary sector this year, down from 91.0% last year to 90.6% this year, but this is still well above the 87.7% of 2014/15.

This year there were 608,200 applications for a primary school place, virtually the same as last year, but the 604,500 applications for a secondary place represented an increase of 3.6% over last year, and just over 100,000 more than the lowest year of 2013/14.

There are implications in teacher supply for this increase in the secondary school population. The increase has been factored into the Teacher Supply Model by DfE civil servants.

What hasn’t been factored into the real world situation is the shortfall against the Teacher Supply Numbers in many subjects as far as trainee teacher numbers are concerned.

As this blog has pointed out in other posts, even assuming the DfE projections on retention and returner numbers are correct, not recruiting enough trainees can have real implications for schools.

As piece of research in California has demonstrated that it is the schools serving the more deprived neighbourhoods that suffer most when it comes to recruiting teachers when there is an overall shortfall. I fear the same is likely to be true in some parts of London, especially with the bonus on offer to some teachers to go and work in Opportunity Areas.

 

 

 

Allocations for teacher preparation courses in 2019/20

The previous two posts on this blog have highlighted the fact that the DfE has recently published its annual datasets about teacher preparation in the coming years and specifically numbers for 2019/20, where recruitment is already underway. The DfE’s information can be accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/tsm-and-initial-teacher-training-allocations-2019-to-2020

Normally, the number of places allocated to each sector and the separate subjects in the secondary sector would be of great concern to those operating courses. However, with recruitment having been challenging over the past couple of years and no bar placed on numbers that can be recruited in most subjects, providers will be much more relaxed about these numbers. Whether schools should be is another matter.

Of greatest concern for the labour market in September 2020 will be the geographical distribution of recruitment into preparation courses. This is because there is considerable difference in retention rates across England. Teacher retention is high in the North and at its lowest in London and the Home Counties. That’s neither a new fact nor one that has suddenly been discovered. Old hands at this business have known it for many years and I well recall presenting the information to a House of Lords Committee investigating aspects of science teaching in the early years of this century.

The concern over differential retention rates has been at the heart of the debate about quality of course versus location of training providers that was important when recruitment was likely to be buoyant. Even so, training too many new teachers in the wrong parts of the country, and especially training those not flexible in where they can work, is at least as wasteful as the money spent on bursaries highlighted in The Times today and discussed in the previous post on this blog.

To reasons for the lower retention rates in and around London are probably the present of about 50% of the independent sector schools in England in this area, together with the fact that London represents the largest graduate labour market in the country. For almost all teachers there are other jobs they can apply for even if it means ditching their hard won expertise in teaching. After all, the transferable skill of managing the learning of young people and making many rapid decisions reinforced only by the strength of your personality is a set of skills many businesses are keen to pay good money to acquire in their staff.  This is a point government should not overlook when considering pay rates and teacher associations might want to press more ruthlessly while teachers are in short supply.

Anyway, back to the allocations for 2019/20 and the changes from the previous years. In the Teacher Supply Model outputs, Classics, Computing, Religious Education and Geography have seen drops in the number of places as have Design & Technology, Drama, Music, Food Technology and ‘Others’ although that is partly be down to a reallocation of Dance into PE for TSM purposes. These changes, plus the increases in other subjects, are reflected in Figure 1 of the DfE’s note on ITT allocations.  Of most concern is the increase from 1,600 to 2,241 in places for Modern Foreign Languages. This is to meet the expected increase in pupils studying a language at KS4 in line with the government’s aspirations of a 75% take-up by 2024.

Will the lack of restrictions on recruitment for all secondary subjects, except PE last? As I write this blog, stock markets around the world are following a well-trodden path downwards that has been seen in October many times before. Were the downward trend to affect the economy along with Brexit, not having any restrictions on applications might seem unwise in hindsight.

 

The message to potential applicants; apply now and don’t take the risk of waiting until the spring.

 

More secondary age pupils, but fewer pre-school entrants

This is the time of year when the DfE publishes its annual look at pupil projections for the next few years. This year’s output can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/national-pupil-projections-july-2018 There isn’t a lot in the document to surprise those that follow the data about pupil numbers. Secondary school pupil numbers are on the increase, but the downturn in births in 2013 is starting to affect the primary sector and will continue to do so over the next few years.

These numbers are a key component of the Teacher Supply Model that helps determine the number of new teachers needed. Clearly, becoming a secondary school teachers might be seen as a wise career choice, since rising numbers means more teachers to be employed – even if class sizes rise further – and more promoted posts to oversee the larger schools and the new schools that will be built. A yet to be built free secondary school in Oxford has just appointed someone in their early 30s as head designate. However, entering undergraduate training to be a primary school teacher may need slightly more thought. Yes, there will be jobs in 2021, when the class of 2018 emerge with their degrees, but there will be fewer pupils to be taught regardless of what happens to Brexit.

In Oxford, it was revealed this week, we have maintained primary schools with more than 20% of pupils with non-GBR EU citizenship. Of course, some will be Irish citizens and presumably unaffected by Brexit in terms of living and their parents working in Oxford. Some 90 out of the 2,100 teachers employed by the county are from outside the UK, but that includes Commonwealth and USA citizens as well as EU citizens.

Leaving Brexit aside, the future pupil population tables only predict any shift from the private sector to the state sector or, indeed, visa versa on past and current numbers in independent schools. The tables may also have to take into account the effects of home schooling in the future, if that really were to take off in a big way, especially for certain age-groups.

Indeed, this might be why training to be a primary teachers might also offer an alternative job opportunity as a tutor to one of the family’s that look to employ such a staff member. The day of the governess is now dead, but they have been replaced by the term tutor that like the term teacher seems to have become accepted as the term for employees of any gender.  Like the term teacher, it is also a term anyone can use to describe themselves and their occupation.

Disappointingly, there is no sub-national breakdown of future pupil projections in the data published by the DfE to allow for consideration of where might be an interesting place to base a career in teaching and where promotion might be slower in the future, especially in the primary sector.

Of course, the main concern is not calculating the number of teachers needed as a result of these projections, but filling the training places each year. As I have pointed out many times, the government seem unlikely to meet that requirement again this year. Hopefully, it will persuade those that do train to work in state-funded schools.

 

 

School places still needed

Pupil place planning is at the core of a successful education system. The DfE has recently published a new Statistical First Release about school capacity 2017: academic year 201/2017. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-capacity-academic-year-2016-to-2017

The headline is that 825,000 places have been added to the school estate since 2010, a net increase of 577,000 primary places and 248,000 secondary places. Between 2016 and 2017, 66,000 primary places and 23,000 secondary places were added. As is generally known, the pupil population has been increasing and that increase has now started to reach  the secondary sector after a period where rolls in secondary schools had been declining: indeed, they still are a the upper end of some schools.

Whether or not new schools are needed to cope with the growth in pupil numbers depends upon the degree of spare capacity in the system: hence the DfE’s capacity surveys. However, that capacity has to be in the places where it will be needed, otherwise it is of little use. During periods of reducing pupil numbers canny local authorities always used to try to close their worst schools whether selected on performance grounds or because of the state of the buildings. They know that when pupil numbers started increasing again someone, usually central government, would have to pay for a new school. The decline in local authorities’ power and influence in education rather put a stop to this practice, but a couple of academy chains have closed schools that were uneconomic because they couldn’t attract enough pupils.

The DfE latest finding was that the number of primary schools that are at or over capacity has remained relatively stable since 2015, following a long term increase. The number of secondary schools that are at or over capacity has increased slightly since 2016, following a long term decrease. This suggests that the growth in the primary school population may be nearing its peak, at least at Key Stage 1. The DfE confirms this, by stating that local authority forecasts suggest primary pupil numbers may begin to plateau beyond 2020/21. Secondary pupil numbers are forecast to continue to rise as the increase seen in primary pupil numbers arrives in the secondary phase. Indeed, secondary school rolls will continue to increase well into the next decade. This is good news for anyone thinking of secondary school teaching as a career.

I have some concerns that the capacity in the secondary sector may not be increasing fast enough to meet the demands of the known increase in the school population. While it is still easy for a local authority to work with a developer over the creation of a new primary school for a housing estate, few estates are large enough to generate a developer provided secondary school. Asa result, the DfE will almost always have a bigger role to play in the development of new secondary schools.

At least in Oxford, the track record of the Education and Skills Funding Council in ensuring enough secondary places is mixed. All new schools must be ‘national’ schools under the free school and academy badges. County place planning identified a need for a new secondary school in Oxford City by 2019. An academy chain offered to sponsor a new school –call it a free school or an academy, it doesn’t really matter – finding a site was always going to challenge the local authority and the EFSC has now reached a position where the school seems unlikely to open in 2019. Such a situation is unacceptable to me. If the local authority had failed, parents could take the feelings out on local councillors at the next election. Civil servants in Coventry are protected from such democratic action, but I suppose might risk their jobs if local MPs felt affected. In this case, there are no Tory MPs in the City of Oxford and indeed, at present no Conservative councillors at any level of government.

If the government cannot take front-line responsibility for school place planning and the delivery of these places, then it should be fully returned to competent local authorities across England.