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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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.

Worsening PTRs herald a sign for the future?

The DfE has today published a raft of statistics about schools, their pupils and the workforce. This post will concentrate on the data about the teacher workforce, collected by the DfE in the 2018 School Workforce Census completed by schools during November 2018. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2018

As ever, and as under any government, the DfE highlights what it sees as the positive: more teachers and teaching assistants and fewer leavers, but readers sometimes have to dig down to uncover the nuances behind the numbers However, the time series graphs by themselves are very revealing. For instance, although sixth form numbers aren’t rising yet, the pressure of an increased number of Year 7 pupils may well be behind the increase in Pupil Teacher Ratios in the secondary sector to 1:16.3. This is the fourth increase in a row, and takes the ratio from 1:15 in 2014, to its present level, an increase of 1.3 pupils per teacher and not far short of a 10% increase since 2011. By contrast, the primary sector has only seen PTRs increase from 20.5 in 2015, to 20.9 in 2018, the same level as it was in 2017.

The DfE has produced an interesting one page infographic of the teacher workforce that shows 74% of teachers are women – on a full-time equivalent basis – and that nearly a quarter of teachers are aged under 30. Just over 13% of teachers are BAME and almost a quarter of teachers are part-time. In the year up to 2018, entrants to teaching exceeded leavers, but not by very much, and this followed a relatively good year for recruitment into training in 2016-17.

So, excluding short-term supply teachers, there were 453,411 FTE teachers employed in November 2018, up from 451,968 in 2017. Although the number of teaching assistants also increased, the number of other support staff decreased from 232,031 to 229.949, a sign of the pressure school budgets are now under.

The upward trend in the full-time numbers of ‘teachers’ without QTS continued, possibly as more primary schools have recruited School Direct salaried entrants to the profession, no doubt in some cases converting them after a period as a classroom assistant. Although the number of part-time teachers with QTS increased over the 2017 figure, it was still the second lowest number recorded since 2010. However, the dip in the recorded number of occasional teacher recorded in the 2017 figures was revered in 2018, with an increase to 12,853 such teachers recorded by the DfE.

Technicians, mostly employed in secondary schools, were the support staff group that continue to bear the brunt of cuts, falling to their lowest number since the 2010 Census. By contrast, teaching assistants were at record high numbers in 2018.

Part-time teaching is still dominated by women, with just 8,745 qualified male teachers working part-time, compared with 111,755 qualified women teachers working part-time in 2018. The ratio among unqualified teachers is a slightly lower number.

Over the next few years, as more pupils enter the secondary sector, with its lower PTRs, and assuming post-16 numbers in schools don’t fall, then teacher numbers will probably increase in the secondary sector but fall in the primary sector. I expect that secondary PTRs will continue to worsen for 2019. Beyond that it will depend upon any funding injection schools do or do not receive in the next spending review.

 

Treasury woes

Teacher recruitment crises are not a new phenomenon in England. Indeed, almost 30 years ago, at the start of the 1990s, the country was experiencing a very similar sort of teacher recruitment and retention crisis to that seen now. As a result, it is interesting to revisit the comments made by the then Interim Advisory Committee on Teachers’ Pay and Conditions, the forerunner of the present School Teachers’ Review Body, and the successor to the Burnham Committee.

In Chapter 6 of their 1991 report, at paragraph 7.13 the IAC said:

Our final key principle has been to support the provision of proper rewards for additional responsibilities and high performance. Put, bluntly, the teaching profession is no different from any other in needing to recruit and retain effective and ambitious people. Whatever the details of the pay structure, it seems self-evident to us that if adequate levels of differential rewards are not available, as they increasingly are elsewhere, then there will be serious difficulties in tackling the recruitment and retention problems we have highlighted.

(IAC, 4th Report January 1991 para 7.13 page 49)

I found this comment of interest, as I discovered it when I was trying to determine whether more teachers had access to allowances now than at that time before devolved budgets and the total freedom for schools to decide how to pay their teachers. At that time, in the early 1990s, although the pay scales were different and local management of schools was on the horizon, there was still a national structure for responsibility payments, and schools had little choice over the number of such posts that they could create. School size, as determined by the number and age of the pupils, was the key source factor affecting the chance of promotion for a teacher.

Interestingly, a quick look at DfE statistics for both 1989 and 2013, suggests that far more teachers in secondary schools than in primary schools had access to payments above their main scale salary in 1989, and that in both sectors the percentage of teachers paid above the main scale was higher in 1989 than in 2013. Additionally, in 2013, you were less likely to receive a TLR if you worked in an academy than if you worked in a maintained school.

Since 2013, the DfE has changed how it reports teachers’ pay, and it now uses cash amounts in bands as the reporting measure that doesn’t allow an easy identification of the percentage of teachers paid a TLR in addition to their main salary.

Of course, a few teachers have benefited from an opening up of extra posts on the Leadership Scale. But, could this lack of incentives, suggested as important by the IAC in 1991, be partly responsible for the problems with retention in years five to seven of a teacher’s career that have become a feature of recent years?

Conservative politicians, as the previous post on this blog has noted, are aware that current funding for schools is not only insufficient to pay support staff their pay award but also to reward and retain teachers in many parts of the country. The problem is, where to find the cash to pay for schools to recruit and retain effective and ambitious people, the same requirement as the IAC pointed out all those years ago.

 

 

Good news on absence rates

More than a quarter of pupils in primary and secondary schools didn’t take any time off from school during the autumn term of 2018 according to recent DfE figures https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-term-2018

The most common reasons for absence was reported as illness, followed by attendance at medical, dental or presumably opticians appointments (although this last one isn’t specified). Could more be done to look at how these appointments are organised, particularly for certain key year groups? Should receptionists be required to ask the Year Group of a child when booking an appointment and recognise the importance of certain times in a young person’s education and, if possible, take this into account?

Overall absence rates for 2018 were lower than in either of the previous two years, at 71.6% of enrolments, compared with 74.3% in 2016. Of course, last winter was relatively mild and not especially wet across most of England, and the weather may play a part in determining the level of these figures. It must be easier to go to school when the sun is out than on a cold foggy morning if you feel a bit down and are faced with the prospect of wait at the bus stop in the drizzle.

It might be interesting to see if there is any correlation with the weather and days of the week and absence rates?

The dates of specific religious festivals that move around the calendar obviously have an effect upon attendance rates, as these figures show. In 2016, such absences counted for a notable amount of the authorised absences, whereas in 2018 the figure was negligible.

Holidays in term time remain contentious, with the percentage of unauthorised such holiday several times higher than the agreed holidays figure. Such unauthorised holidays are more common in the primary sector, when family structures and children’s ages presumably make the desire for a family holiday greater than during the period when pressure on studying for exams is greater.

However, it would be interesting to see a figure for voluntary attendance on Saturdays to counter balance this negative view of time lost by pupils. I am increasingly overwhelmed by the number of pupils and teachers that take time to attend when they don’t have to do so. This despite the obvious concerns over teacher workload. Again, this voluntary service needs more notice than it receives outside of the profession.

Next time someone talks of the long holidays that teachers have, ask them when they last went into work on a Saturday or did a voluntary extra shift to help their customers?

There is still a worrying percentage of pupils being excluded with no alternative provision being made, even in the autumn term. Regional School Commissioners need to ask academies how much they are contributing to this figure.

Finally, after two years when the number was on the increase, there was a welcome fall in the number of pupils classified as persistent absentees. At 10.9% of enrolments it still marks a waste of talent and is helping to store up problems for the future. But, at least the figure is lower than in both 2016 and 2017.

 

 

Are secondary school PTRs really improving in England?

Earlier today the government, through the DfE, issued the latest UK Education and Training Statistics for 2016/17 in Statistical Release SR64/2017 and its associated tables. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/education-and-training-statistics-for-the-uk-2017

Now, in recent weeks we have often been hearing how secondary schools in England are strapped for cash and also often do not find it easy to recruit teachers. Thus the information contained in Table 1.4 comes as something of a shock.

Pupil Teacher Ratio within Secondary Schools

2012/13                15.5

2013/14                15.7

2014/15                15.8

2015/16                16.1

2016/17                15.6

After four years of steadily worsening ratios there appears to have been a sudden turnaround in 2016/17 and the overall position is back to almost where it was in 2012/13. Curious, to say the least. Footnote 1 explains that Pupil Teacher ratios are calculated by dividing the total full-time equivalent number of pupils on rolls in schools by the total FTE number of qualified teachers. It excludes centrally employed teachers regularly employed in schools. However, another footnote (footnote 13) adds that in England unqualified teachers are included in the figures. The figures for England include free schools and all types of academies.

Had the 2016/17 figure been 16.6, I might have thought it a significant deterioration, but in line with the mood music. An improvement of this magnitude needs some form of explanation. However, the Release confines its text just to changes in the data and offers no analysis as to why any changes might have occurred.

Could the inclusion of unqualified teachers be the answer? It might be if they hadn’t been included in previous releases on this topic. Certainly, there is no mention in the footnotes of the 2015/16 Release of unqualified teachers; indeed, the key footnote refers to ‘qualified’ teachers. So, is this the answer? If so, then the 2016/17 Release ought to make clear the change in methodology especially as the footnote on page 5 of the main release specifically mentions ‘qualified’ teachers and thus might be read as inferring that the improvement in the PTR is due to more qualified teachers being employed in England.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I don’t like the term ‘unqualified’ teacher, as it can cover both trainee teachers and those that used, in former days, to be called Instructors. I think some degree of distinction between those being prepared for QTS by schools and on their staffing list at the time of the census and those filling gaps, either because no teacher with QTS was available or because the school had decided to employ someone without QTS because of their other skills, ought to be made.

If the answer isn’t the inclusion this year of unqualified teachers – a factor that makes comparison with the other home nations impossible on this indicator – then I am at something of a loss to identify why such a large change in the direction of better PTRs has taken place over the past year. Could it be to do with the different financial years of maintained schools and academies and hence the budgetary cycles? I doubt it, but would be interested to hear from readers?

 

Can you trust the data?

How often do government departments have to reissue press notices? Following intervention from the Office for Statistics Regulation, the DfE have been placed in that position. The OSR letter can be read at
https://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/DfE-statistics-Ed-Humpherson-to-Mike-Jones.pdf The revised press notice and the other issue about MAT transfers raised by OSR concern matters dear to the policy objectives of Ministers, so any potentially misleading data are of concern.

However, the DfE statisticians also have to battle with others that don’t always provide data that is of top quality. As reported in an earlier post, about local authority expenditure per pupil, there are a couple of local authorities in one table in that Statistical First Release where the data must be suspect because of the reported level: it both cases, way too low.

Then there is the case of under-reporting by schools in areas such as fixed term exclusions and more specifically for the number of pupils placed on reduced timetables, but not excluded. This is an area where more work is needed to discover what is actually happening, not least in the academy sector. This work is important because of the potential safeguarding aspect.

Local authorities and the local Safeguarding Board may not be in full possession of the facts if academies do not fully report to the DfE. It would be a simple change to add to the funding letter that academies are required to report all statistics via the local authority where they are located unless the Regional School Commissioner has explicitly provided for an alternative system that is as rigorous. At present, this is an issue with one part of the dual system not working as well as the other and creating potential risks for young people.

At least these days, as with the re-issued DfE Press notice mistakes can be rectified when noticed. In the former days before the internet such mistakes could become set in stone. One of my first communications with government was to point out that pupil teacher ratios provided in a written parliamentary answer and reported in Hansard were wrong. I think the first local authority in the list missed the PTR and was allocated that of the next by mistake. It wasn’t picked up before printing and went into the record. An error notice appeared later, but who checks written PQs for later revisions? Nobody, I would hazard a guess. As a result, anyone using that data source would have inaccurate data. It doesn’t matter now, but might have then. One year, the Department had to re-issue a whole Statistical Volume because of the number of printer’s errors.

Today, the record can be set straight quickly and easily, even if the original error is retained as well.

Statistics are important as a source of information under-pinning decision making and debate, hence the need for accuracy. The question of management information that is separate from statistics is one that has always interested me. In some areas, such as the labour market for teachers, I have always believed up to the minute information is important to spot changes in trends as early as possible. However, this data is often in a raw state and not 100% accurate. Where to draw the line between management information and statistics is an interesting and ever changing debate as technology provides ever more exciting tools for data collection and analysis.