16 to 19 discretionary bursary fund: allocation methodology consultation

Those readers that live in rural areas might be especially interested in replying to this consultation currently open for responses. https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/16-to-19-discretionary-bursary-fund-allocation-methodology

The closing date is on the 23rd May 2019, unless presumably a general election is called before then, in which case purdah rules might apply.

There is a whole section of the consultation about transport costs for this age group that will allow comments about how unfair the present arrangements are. Indeed, the consultation acknowledges the special position of London, and the TfL provisions for travel in the capital for this age group.

There is also a mention of the Grayling Rail Card that will help student using the remaining rural railways to travel to school or college, but does nothing for those travelling by bus or without any transport links at all.

The first section of the consultation is about replacing the present grant based upon student numbers times a fixed amount with a more nuanced grant based upon deprivation factors. The present arrangements were introduced when the coalition scrapped the Education Maintenance Allowance introduced by the Labour government.

Given the battering that the 16-19 sector has taken over funding, the new arrangements should not be used to further withdraw cash from the sector. If ‘need’ is taken into account, It must be related to courses studies as well as income Why should students using very expensive equipment, as say on engineering courses, be provided with a free education, whereas those on catering courses may be required to buy both specialist clothing and even sets of knives.

With the learning leaving age now at eighteen, the rules should be the same for this age group as for other children in education. Local authorities, if funded, would be much better placed to provide the transport arrangements than individual schools and colleges. But, that would require an acceptance that local authorities are a ‘good thing’, something not universally accepted in government.


So, if you have an interest in this area, please do download and reply to the consultation. The more responses about the transport issue the better. Perhaps, we can make a difference for families living in rural areas for a change.



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.


A cost to rural living

As a Lib Dem county councillor in Oxfordshire I was interested to read the comments of the County Councils Network spokesman for education and children’s services, about the under-funding of rural counties in relation to home to school transport. Incidentally he is also Conservative Group leader on the Oxfordshire County Council that implemented changes to transport arrangements some years ago for most pupils and has recently consulted on changes to home to school transport for pupils with special educational needs where the transport is not included in their Education and Health Care plan.

Over the past few years, I have continually pointed out in the Council Chamber that parents living in London don’t have to worry about the cost of home to school transport because TfL offers largely free travel to young people living in the capital. We now know something of the cost to local authorities of home to school transport, even after they have transferred as much of the possible costs to parents by retaining only their statutory legal services in regard to the nearest school and in most cases no longer paying for travel to the school of choice. I commented in an earlier post about the effect such a change could have in local authorities in July 2013 with a post entitled ‘Not a transport of delight’ and in October 2016 about transport to selective schools and secondary modern schools located next to each other in a post entitled ‘Tories and Grammar Schools’.

The County Council Network noted today that 29 out of 36 county councils had reduced their expenditure on home to school transport between 2014 and 2017. I expect the other seven will probably be forced to do so in the future. Between 2014 and 2017, services were scaled back, meaning that 22,352 pupils less in 2017 were receiving home to school transport services compared to three years previously.

The data shows some large regional variations in the costs of subsidised school transport, with home to school transport in highly rural North Yorkshire costing £207 per head, significantly more than in such Yorshire urban areas as Leeds (£15), Bradford (£30), and Wakefield (£23); Hampshire’s per head average of £62 is much more than in Portsmouth (£6), Southampton (£12), and Reading (£23). In every region in England, county councils are the ones that are paying significantly more per-head than metropolitan and city councils.

Even more iniquitous, yet not mentioned by the County Council Network press notice, was the fact that when the learning leaving age was raised to eighteen from sixteen the right to free travel wasn’t also altered. I don’t know whether it was an oversight or a piece of mean penny pinching on the part of government, but it is not fair on those living in rural areas, especially where the local school only goes up to the age of sixteen. If the local bus service has been axed as well, then the cost may be significant to families. I know that there is provision for a hardship grant that replaced the Education Maintenance Allowance abolished by the Coalition, but its existence is neither well known nor understood.

With rural primary schools under threat due to budget pressures, home to school transport is an issue that may force its way up the agenda over the coming months.

Industrial revolutions alter a country’s geography

The latest State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility Commission is a bit of a curate’s egg. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/662744/State_of_the_Nation_2017_-_Social_Mobility_in_Great_Britain.pdf

Let me illustrate this in terms of one district in Oxfordshire. On page 161 the report says that; “Three districts in the South East have among the lowest attainment for disadvantaged children at key stage 2 in England: Horsham, South Oxfordshire and Arun. In all three areas, fewer than one in five children achieves the expected standard.” Yet, in the overall ranking of local authorities in Appendix 2, South Oxfordshire is ranked 178 out of 324 local authorities and is the second highest of the five districts in Oxfordshire. Oxford City is ranked 257th out of 324 councils. So, even if the Key State 2 data is correct for South Oxfordshire, how representative is it of the districts overall outcomes in terms of social mobility?

With that question out of the way, it is also worth considering the data from different stages of the education process and especially schooling relates to the data on qualifications as they may represent different groups. In many towns, as the report recognises, those that leave to go to higher education may not return, and in some university towns and cities the influx of students may boost the qualified workforce as graduates may choose to stay put, even if there is no work that makes full use of their degrees.

The data on teacher turnover and retention data is taken from the School Workforce Census and there must be question marks about the how many schools filled in the data comprehensively across all years included in the time frame. At one point the DfE was reporting lower full completion rates from London schools.

In relation to teacher recruitment, I am not sure why Regional School Commissioners should be “given responsibility to work with universities, schools and Teach First to ensure that there is a good supply of teachers in all parts of their regions.” After all, they don’t have responsibility for maintained schools. Perhaps this should read; local authorities, diocese and RSCs should come together to ensure that there is a good supply of teachers in all parts of their regions.

Nevertheless it is clear that schools in many parts of the country still have some way to go to ensure that they achieve the best possible outcomes for all of their pupils. The report, rightly, mentions transport tissues in rural areas, but doesn’t, as far as I can tell, look at what effect free travel offered to those in education by TfL may have had on education outcomes in the nation’s capital city. It certainly should be taken into account when looking at living costs in different areas.

There are those that say none of this matters for the country as a whole so long as jobs are being created somewhere in the country. They would say that no settlement has a right to exist and government attempts from the 1930s to the 1980s to support declining industrial areas have had mixed and often poor results. When Durham County classified its settlements from A to D, it didn’t try to develop the ‘D’ settlements. This report in a sense asks the same question of government; move people to economically successful area of the country or try and create economic success where present there is poverty and a lack of social mobility.  Building 100,000 new houses in Oxfordshire by 2031, and a creating a new ‘expressway’ between Oxford and Cambridge shows the thinking of the present government. I don’t think this report will change that approach.




New data on schools and their pupils

Unless there is a dramatic change in the birth rate over the next few years, the peak in the primary school population is probably very close to being reached. Data on schools and pupil numbers published by the DfE today https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2017 reveal a slight decline in the number of Key State 1 infant classes above the nationally agreed limit of 30 pupils per class. The decline is only 0.1% from 11.9 to 11.8% of these classes and is still way above the 10.4% achieved in 2011 and 2012. Still, it remains below the 13.8% of 2006, and should fall further over the next few years.

There is still pressure at Key Stage 2, with average class sizes increasing from 20.4 to 20.8 across England. It seems likely that this average will continue to increase for the next couple of years that is unless Brexit results in a mass emigration of young families to other European countries. This seems less likely, although still possible, after the discussions last week on allowing existing migrants from the EU to remain in England.

There was a big jump in the average size of secondary classes, from 20.4 to 20.8, their highest level since 2008. With the increase in pupil numbers over the next few years, this average seems set to increase still further, perhaps towards the 21.5 reached in 2006.

The implications of the National Funding formula will probably be most keenly felt in the 5,400 primary schools and nearly 130 secondary schools with fewer than 200 pupils. Some of the latter may be UTCs and Studio schools with the chance to grow, but many of the primary schools could face an uncertain future with the costs of closure affecting local authority transport bills in rural areas.

On average, 12% of primary schools have less than 100 pupils. However, the average hides a wide range, from just 2% of schools in London to 19% in the East Midlands and 22% of primary sector schools in the South West. I am sure the travel implications have been taken into account by those reviewing the effects of school funding and the new formula.

The Church of England will certainly be interested in what happens to small schools under the new funding formula since more than a quarter of their primary schools have fewer than 100 pupils. In five regions the percentage of their schools with less than 100 pupils is more than 30% with the East Midlands having more than a third of Church of England primary schools being of this size. However, the Church of England has only 2% of its schools in London with less than 100 pupils, the same as the average for all schools. By contrast, London has the largest Church of England primary schools with one having more than 800 pupils. Still, by that is small compared with the largest primary school in London that has more than 1,500 pupils.




Walk or ride to school?

I had been wondering what had happened to the data on journeys to school that the DfE has produced at various times in the past. Thanks to a recent parliamentary question I now know the information is included in the Department for Transport’s travel survey. Their latest report on 2015 can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/551437/national-travel-survey-2015.pdf This not the reference cited in the PQ, and Hansard should note that the link in the PQ doesn’t appear to work.

Perhaps the least surprising finding is that fewer older children walk to school. The survey found 48% of 5-10 years olds, compared with 37% of 11-16 year olds, walked to school. However, for journeys of under one mile only 78% of 5-10s walked compared with 87% of 11-16s, so the overall figure may reflect the longer journeys faced by some secondary age pupils, especially in rural areas. In both age groups the percentage walking had declined between 1995/97 and 2015 with, perhaps inevitably, more car journeys taking the place of walking. This may partly be the exercise of parental choice leading to the selection of schools further away from home and partly an anxiety about safety. Indeed, journey distances to education setting have increased by 15% between 1995/97 and 2015. Journey times as a result have also increased by an average of 21 minutes.

The survey also found 59% of 7-13 year olds that walk to school are usually accompanied by an adult. That would have been unthinkable 60 years ago when I started at secondary school. The main reason cited for accompanying a child is the issue of traffic danger. Sadly, apart from accompanying children to school, walking seems to become a less common activity as people become older.

There appears to have been a small increase between the two surveys in journeys by ‘other’ means that include rail and cycling. These ‘other’ forms of transport play a larger part in the journeys of secondary school pupils compared with primary school pupils. I have a secondary school in my councillor division that has a significant number of pupils that cycle to school: indeed, it may have more than any other school in the country, As a result, I am delighted to see any trend back towards cycling.

However, since the unweighted sample since in 2015 was 2,941 made up of 1,475 primary and 1,466 secondary age pupils the outcomes depend heavily on the statisticians have created a valid and reliable sample of the school population. There is some risk of error in the less common forms of transport with, for instance, cycling accounting for 4% in 2009 but only 1% in 2013.

However, as noted earlier, the main trend appears to be for walking to be replaced by a ride in a car to school. This isn’t a healthy trend for either the children concerned or for the air quality around schools where parents drive-up to drop their offspring off in large numbers. The notes to the survey do acknowledge the risk of sampling error.



Tories & Grammar Schools

As most followers of education know, Buckinghamshire was one of the counties that refused to fall into line with the 1976 Education Act and produce a programme for the removal of their grammar schools. As a result, it retains a selective system across the county after having seen Milton Keynes and its comprehensives split off in the 1990s to become a unitary council.

One might think that as a result of being a selective county, parents in Buckinghamshire wouldn’t be very interested in the present Tory inspired debate on the topic of more selective schools. Not a bit of it. While Mrs May, as Prime Minister, is talking about increasing the number of pupils from deprived backgrounds attending selective schools, or at least I think that is what she is saying, Bucks County Council has consulted on a proposal that would make it even more difficult for such pupils to attend grammar schools, especially if they lived in the rural parts of the county.

In a consultation on changing the home to school transport policy earlier this year, the county said;

This potential change would mean that free school transport would only be provided to the nearest secondary school to your home address.  The school could be located in Buckinghamshire or in a neighbouring county and could be an Upper, Grammar (for qualified children only) or Comprehensive.

As I read the paragraph above, if the nearest school is a secondary modern, even if the grammar school is next door to it, you won’t be provided in the future  with free transport to the grammar school unless it is the nearest school, even if you pass the entrance test and are offered a place. This is interesting in the town of Buckingham, where the grammar and secondary modern schools are adjacent to each other: those coming from the north could have the secondary modern as their nearest schools and those from the south, the grammar school. That is frankly madness if it is the case as a result of the consultation being accepted.

If this view is also accepted by government, it would seem to fly in the face of helping more children from deprived backgrounds to attend selective schools, if on top of uniform and other costs their parents also had to pay the transport cost of attending a grammar school, but not a secondary modern.

Personally, as regular reads know, I would do away with selective schools and make all schools achieve the very best for all pupils in an inclusive social setting. How schools are organised internally to achieve that aim is a different matter.

Perhaps, because transport to school is free for all in London, Mrs May, an MP whose constituency abuts Buckinghamshire to the south, hasn’t picked up on how her party is behaving with regard to grammar schools and widening participation. The solution of free transport to school of choice for all, as in London.