Leadership Matters

The DfE has just published the latest in a series of working papers based on the 2013 international TALIS Study of teachers. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teachers-in-secondary-schools-evidence-from-talis-2013 The TALIS study covers secondary schools and this working paper is about job satisfaction and teacher retention. Probably not surprisingly, it concludes that leadership matters. The working paper summarises this key fact as follows:

Better school leadership is strongly associated with higher teacher job satisfaction and a reduction in the odds that a teacher wants to move school. More specifically, a one standard deviation (SD) improvement in the quality of leadership is associated with a large, 0.49 SD increase in teacher job satisfaction and a 64% reduction in the odds that a teacher strongly agrees that they want to move to another school.

This comment makes the abolition of a mandatory preparation qualification for headship nearly a decade a go by the then Labour government even more difficult to fathom than it was at the time. A mandatory leadership qualification also allows for greater understanding of the pipeline of potential new head teachers and areas where there may be challenges recruiting a new head teacher.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with the heads of Roman Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Southwark that covers a swathe of south east London and the neighbouring counties. There were many new, young head teachers just embarking on journey as the lead professional of a school. What was interesting and inspiring was the range of new options the Archdiocese and its schools were willing to try; co-heads sharing the role; primary and secondary heads working together in the same primary school, where at the same time the secondary head also retains their leadership role in the secondary school. Also inspiring were the large proportion of new heads that were women.

Church schools, like schools in the larger MATs, are lucky in that they work in an organisational structure that can set funds aside for system leaders to help head teachers and other school leaders develop. Many local authorities no longer have the funds or the support of their remaining maintained school to ensure such support and encouragement for school leaders and also can no longer identify those that will form the next generation of school leaders.

This is a point noted in the main TALIS report on the 2013 data, where the authors made it clear that:

.Schools in England are clearly very autonomous by international standards, or at least are viewed as such by their head teachers. The levels of school responsibility that are reported are so high and the levels of local and national authority responsibility so low that there is little room for much analysis of differences among English schools. Unsurprisingly, the reporting of local or national authority involvement is strongly concentrated among the maintained schools, although we have already noted that it is not nearly as high as might be expected. Within the group of maintained schools, we can find no clear significant differences in level of average GCSE performance, the distribution of Ofsted ratings, or average Free School Meals receipt between schools with heads reporting significant local or national authority involvement ….. and those with heads who did not. (Page 42 paragraph 22, main report).

The TALIS report is a good starting place for any new Minister, should we find reshuffles and changes at Westminster create such an eventuality, even without the enduring possibility of an early general election causing wholesale change.

 

 

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Does local democratic control matter in education?

How far has the education map of England become a picture of two nations growing apart? There are many different ways in which you can consider that question. One is to look at the governance structure of state funded schools. How many are still maintained schools of the various types largely linked to the 1944 Education Act and how many are now the product of the Ball/Gove academy revolution? Among selective schools the answer is that almost all are academies; only 23 remain as maintained schools and 10 of these are in Kent. At the other end of the spectrum, London is the only region where free schools, UTCs and studio schools comprise more than 10% of the total of secondary schools and even there it is still only 11%. This is despite the fact that London has probably seem the greatest demand for new secondary school places since 2010. In the North East and East Midlands areas, just four per cent of secondary schools fall into the category of these new types of nationally administered schools free from local democratic oversight.

However, academies are a group have become the dominant governance form for secondary schools, accounting for almost two out of three secondary schools in England. Nevertheless, the percentage is still lower in the north of England and, perhaps more surprisingly, in London and especially Inner London, where 81 of the 185 secondary schools are still local authority maintained comprehensives than in the rest of England.

Of course, just counting schools is a somewhat imprecise measure, since schools do differ in size from small 11-16 schools to large 2,000+ 11-18 or all-through schools. The same is true in the primary sector, where there as some very large schools coping with recent pupil growth, but still many small schools in rural areas. The percentage of schools that are academies or free schools differs from the secondary sector in some regions.

GO REGION PRIMARY ACADEMIES/FREE SCHOOLS ALL PRIMARY % ACADEMIES/FREE SCHOOLS
SW 632 1870 34%
EM 454 1635 28%
YH 466 1785 26%
WM 437 1776 25%
EE 485 1993 24%
L 363 1816 20%
SE 507 2598 20%
NE 155 861 18%
NW 249 2452 10%
ALL SCHOOLS 3748 16786 22%
 

 

     

However, there are fewer primary academies across much of the north of England and in London. The preponderance of Conservative controlled county councils in the south West many account for the relatively high percentage of primary academies in that regional, although it is still only around one in three primary schools, much lower than the percentage in the secondary sector.

As a Lib Dem politician, I wonder whether it is worth testing a campaign in the South West along the lines of ‘return our schools to community democratic oversight’. The membership has never seemingly taken to academies and control from Westminster in the manner that Lib Dem spokespeople and Ministers seem to have done. I am not sure where the present spokesperson stands on this issue?

Such a campaign might also highlight that there is no way back for schools entering MATs. The government may remove them to another MAT and MATs may voluntarily give up or even close a school, but neither the community not the local governors can seemingly force the trustees, those with the real power in a MAT, do so. Like much of the NHS, this is a denial of local democratic involvement in a key public service.

There is, however, one gain from the academy programme, the 140 academies that are selective schools can have their status changed to non-selective schools much more easily than when they were still maintained schools.

 

Plenty still to do for the Education Secretary

So, Justine Greening stays as Education Secretary. This is probably not a great surprise given the hand the Prime Minister had to play with after the general election. Any expansion of selective schools seems likely to disappear from the agenda in fairly short order, except perhaps for allowing grammar school places to increase in areas with selective schools in line with the growth in pupil number.

This may allow some space for other less contentious issues to be moved up the agenda. Here are three of those that matter to me. Firstly, children taken into care that need a new school should be guaranteed a place within 10 working days of arriving in care. It is unacceptable that some in-year admissions can take months for these vulnerable, but often challenging young people.

Secondly, I would iron out all the financial anomalies that have been allow to creep into the system. Whether it is the Apprenticeship Levy; Business Rates or VAT, all schools should be dealt with on the same basis. And as I mentioned in the previous post, the status of school funding should be quickly make explicit. Will no school now lose out under the new formula?

Thirdly, school playgrounds and other outside areas represent some of the most under-used assets in the country. Many are covered in heat retaining black asphalt or acres of green grass. These could be ideal spaces for a low cost renewable energy drive to make use of the space that for 99% of the year isn’t fulfilling its primary purpose.

On an equally big scale, the Secretary of State needs to tackle the teacher supply crisis, by both stemming the rate of departure of existing teachers and finding ways to attract new entrants, such as through a graduated loan forgiveness scheme, although it wasn’t a great success last time it was tried.

A cross-party efficiency drive to seek out areas where schools can save money might help identify cost savings, such as in recruitment through the adoption of free sites such as TeachVac that don’t cost the government or schools anything.

There are no doubt many other areas of procurement where savings can be made to allow the 1% salary cap to be raised, at least for young teachers. Action on workload would also help to make teaching look more attractive as a career. Perhaps the Secretary of State could invite the Local Government Association to take the lead on a cost saving drive as part of a recognition that municipalisation offers better prospects than just leaving decisions to the private sector.

A drive to revitalise professional development for teachers, from new entrants still learning the ropes of the profession to school leaders taking on the most senior roles is something that would gain the Secretary of State much respect and would not be politically controversial.

Finally, looking at how the teaching profession will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the 1970 Education Act and plan for the next 50 years of change would be a potential feel-good and low cost exercise that could create positive headlines. Such headlines will be needed if, as some expect, we might face another general election in the autumn, as in 1974.

Working for success: planning for failure

The news that an academy chain has lost responsibility for 10 schools raises a number of interesting questions. The most obvious is who has the responsibility to find these children an appropriate education? In the present instance, the DfE seems to be doing that by looking for a replacement sponsor or sponsors. How long should they be allowed if it is a question of teaching and learning standards?

No doubt the Laws’ Leaders, as David Laws’ new national leaders are likely to be dubbed, could be sent in to lead individual schools during any interim while new sponsors are brought on board, but what about the ownership of the assets? The situation becomes even more interesting if it were, say, a church group of academies. Would the solution be to change diocese, but who would own the assets if the schools had previously been voluntary aided? Suppose the Trustees decided that they didn’t want anyone else running the school, and just effectively closed it down. Who finds the pupils new schools? Generally, when a private school goes bust, which is often at short notice, and frequently just before a term starts or ends, and the local authority steps in to help find places for the pupils that need them. However, where it is no longer the admissions authority for most schools in a locality, how will it do this if the other academies refuse to cooperate because the in-coming pupils might affect their examination results or their balanced admissions policy?

As with the problem highlighted in my previous post, what happens if any closure affects the transport budget for the local authority? Will the DfE pick up the extra costs or establish some form of insurance scheme?

Presumably, when a new sponsor takes over the running of part of an existing chain there will have to be a financial reckoning as well, especially as academy budgets run to a different cycle than that of local authorities and central government. Will any existing service contracts with the academy chain be automatically continued or regarded as up for renewal as a result of the loss of responsibility?

Hopefully, these issues will be rare occurrences, but new developments in any field often come with associated failures, so they must not have been unexpected. When a whole local authority is judged unacceptable, it is clear what happens, as it is when a single school fails. However, the failure of a group or part of a group of schools brings these fresh challenges, especially, potentially, in relation to the assets.

All these questions highlight the desperate need for an effective middle tier for state education in England operating within an overall framework that clearly delineates areas of responsibility. The relative functions of the national government at Westminster, local authorities, the churches and other faith groups, and the non-aligned academy chains, plus the large number of independent sponsor academies, all need to be able to operate within some form of secure and understandable framework. At present, especially for the primary sector, the fastest growing area for academy development at present, the rules are still unclear. Approaching four years since the 2010 Academy Act became law this is not an acceptable position of schooling across England to find itself in.

Notable during 2013

Education politician of the year

Graham Stuart, chair of the Select Committee at Westminster. He has returned strongly to his role after a serious accident. His rebuke to David Laws for being late and taking off his jacket without permission, and his interchanges with the Secretary of State, notably over careers education, stamped his authority on a Committee where often he has had to rely upon the terrier like support of the Labour members in evidence sessions.

PR coup of the year

Nick Clegg’s announcement, on the Tuesday of his Party Conference, that all 5-7 year olds would receive free school lunches. This was a closely kept secret up to that point, known only to a few. Had it been announced as part of his Leader’s speech it wouldn’t have had the same impact. In the 2015 Manifesto the Lib Dems can suggest extending free meals to all primary school pupils at some point in the future. Honourable mention must go to the DfE for the announcement in early December of the new role of School Commissioners through the jobs pages of the TES. Seemingly even the TES didn’t pick up on the implications. Hopefully, that is not a return to the bad old days when journalists at the TES didn’t know what interesting news stories were appearing in the classified pages of their own paper. Finally, but not in the running for coup of the year, was the Labour Party’s well researched press release issued on Christmas Eve highlighting the government’s failures in recruitment to teacher training courses. Whoever at Labour HQ thought education journalists would be working in the run up to Christmas needs some re-education, especially when these journalists have to work throughout the Easter holidays attending the professional association conferences. This was a waste of a good opportunity.

Export of the year

The TES, to a USA company: will the profits from all that recruitment advertising now flow overseas.

Most challenged local authority of the year

There are two main contenders: Norfolk and the Isle of Wight. This proves that size has nothing to do with success. Both were effectively issued with notices to improve by Ofsted. Interestingly, both are experiencing the effects of a move from a 9-13 three tier system to a break at 11+. Oxford City, whose schools at Key Stage 1 were once the worst in the country also experienced such a system change. It is worth looking to see whether sufficient attention was paid to CPD when these changes take place. Unlike Oxford, both Norfolk and the Isle of Wight also have many coastal communities, one of the vogue terms of the year.

Technology of the year

Tablets: these electronic successors to slates seem likely to put the learning firmly in the hands of the learners even more than laptops did. And, for the first time the software to make really useful is starting to emerge. Whether teachers have been trained to make the best use of new technology, or even old technology like interactive whiteboards is another whole debate.

Still waiting at the bus stop award

The DfE pulled guidance on school transport during the early summer, promising a revised set of rules by the autumn. At the year-end this is still awaited. Perhaps the problems in the Prime Minister’s own backyard may be causing some re-thinking. One overdue change is to increase the age for free transport to 18 now the participation age has been raised. This is a real issue for less well off families living in rural areas, including Mr Cameron’s own constituency, as the audience of around 100 at a recent turbulent meeting at Burford School made clear.

Tectonic Plate award

The notion of combining children’s social services with education into a single department looks increasingly passé. With child protection issues taking up more and more of many Director’s time, and schools policy no longer run by councillors or even authorities but School Forums, the idea of marrying all services for children into one department will undoubtedly come under scrutiny as local government cuts begin to really hurt. For many authorities, schooling is now little more than a regulatory activity and an oversight of standards. For that reason it might now better live in the Chief Executive’s domain in many authorities, along with Trading Standards and the lawyers.

Personality of the year

Like him or loath him, it must be the Secretary of State. Although the Chief Inspector made a brave run on the inside rail late in the year nobody else came close to Mr Gove as the public face of education change. However, the run up to the 2015 general election may prove more of a challenge if other Free Schools follow the Discovery School into closure, and his School Direct training route for teachers proves less than a resounding success. However, his Achilles heel is undoubtedly a lack of feeling for numbers. When the Chancellor was accepting the needs of rural areas, including specifically mentioning schools, at his recent visit to the Treasury Select Committee, Mr Gove was continuing a policy of per pupil funding regardless of where the pupils live. This may drive some Tory voters towards UKIP in 2015 if they think their former Party is favouring urban areas.

And finally, in no especial order, the Parliamentary Education debate of the year award

This goes to the debate where the differences between the coalition partners over teacher training were first written into the Order Paper for all to see.

This afternoon the Labour Party at Westminster have an opposition day debate in the main chamber around the topic. This is the sort of debate that normally passes relatively without comment, but what is interesting is the amendment put down by the government in the names of the prime minister and his deputy; and Michael Gove and David Laws. I have reproduced it below with the key section underlined:

Line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and add ‘notes that this Coalition Government is raising the quality of teaching by quadrupling Teach First, increasing bursaries to attract top graduates into teaching, training more teachers in the classroom through School Direct and providing extra funding for disadvantaged pupils through the pupil premium which schools can use to attract and reward great teachers; notes that the part of the Coalition led by the Deputy Prime Minister believes all schools should employ teachers with Qualified Teacher Status, and the part of the Coalition led by the Prime Minister believes free schools and academies should retain the freedom to hire teachers without Qualified Teacher Status; further notes that funding agreements with academies and free schools will not be altered in relation to Qualified Teacher Status prior to the next election; and regrets the findings of the recent OECD skills report which revealed that those young people educated almost entirely under the previous administration have some of the worst levels of literacy and numeracy in the developed world, underlining the need for radical schools reform and demonstrating why nobody can trust the Opposition to protect education standards.’

For the full write up read the blog entry for the 30th October 2013.

So, what will 2014 bring? But, perhaps that’s best left to another post.

The real issue is not QTS, but how it is achieved

There is clear water developing between the three main political parties at Westminster over the need for teachers in state funded schools to be qualified only after a period of training. Regular readers of this blog will know where I stand on the issue as I have made clear my belief in the need for QTS to be backed by a preparation course – see my last blog ‘Teachers are made not born’.

This afternoon the Labour Party at Westminster have an opposition day debate in the main chamber around the topic. This is the sort of debate that normally passes relatively without comment, but what is interesting is the amendment put down by the government in the names of the prime minister and his deputy; and Michael Gove and David Laws. I have reproduced it below with the key section underlined:

Line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and add ‘notes that this Coalition Government is raising the quality of teaching by quadrupling Teach First, increasing bursaries to attract top graduates into teaching, training more teachers in the classroom through School Direct and providing extra funding for disadvantaged pupils through the pupil premium which schools can use to attract and reward great teachers; notes that the part of the Coalition led by the Deputy Prime Minister believes all schools should employ teachers with Qualified Teacher Status, and the part of the Coalition led by the Prime Minister believes free schools and academies should retain the freedom to hire teachers without Qualified Teacher Status; further notes that funding agreements with academies and free schools will not be altered in relation to Qualified Teacher Status prior to the next election; and regrets the findings of the recent OECD skills report which revealed that those young people educated almost entirely under the previous administration have some of the worst levels of literacy and numeracy in the developed world, underlining the need for radical schools reform and demonstrating why nobody can trust the Opposition to protect education standards.’

Of course, the really disingenuous of you may reflect that QTS could be awarded after a period of service in the classroom untrained, and that period, as in the past when it was the route into teaching I used, could be two years. The subtle change to the Staffing Regulations in 2012 allowed for schools to confirm that there had been no competency proceedings against a teacher in the past two years. This might permit an unqualified person to be granted QTS as in the past after two years of successful service or at least develop a career in different schools. So long as QTS can only be granted after a period of prescribed training, by an approved route, this is not an issue, but as ever the devil is always in the detail. The real issue is not QTS, but how it is achieved.

There are also matters for those in favour of QTS needing to be backed by training to resolve, especially around training for specific types of school now funded by the State that follow a particular philosophy of education not covered in the present training arrangements. But that should be possible to resolve once the key principle of mandatory preparation has been agreed.

Finally, the Liberal Democrat position on Qualified Teacher Status owes much to the motion passed at their Spring Conference that David Laws thought last week he had proposed – actually it was Lord Storey that proposed it, and Baroness Brinton who seconded it – that had its genesis in the work of Liberal Democrat education activists including the late Andrew Bridgwater who had a hand in the drafting of the motion’s wording. It would be a nice gesture, and a fitting memorial, if a Lib Dem MP recognised that fact during the debate this afternoon.