Education matters

Last evening saw the termly meeting of the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on the Teaching Profession at Westminster. Chris Waterman has continued to do sterling work with this Group that morphed out of a previous ad hoc gathering, primarily established to discuss issues surrounding the teacher labour market as the country moved from surplus to shortage. No doubt those that attended had to ensure they dodged the TV cameras as they made their way through Central Lobby to the committee room for the meeting.

As I had other duties in Oxford, I was unable to attend last evening’s meeting, but did provide Chris will some extracts from recent relevant posts on this blog to distribute to those that were able to attend.

For those with even longer memories that stretch back beyond the creation of SATTAG by Chris and myself, they will recall that this blog started soon after I stopped writing a weekly column for the then TES, now branded as tes. After more than a decade of writing for that paper, I was suffering withdrawal symptoms, and a blog seem a good way to relieve them in a manner that didn’t take up much time.

Of course, the big concern at this present time must be about where the candidates for leadership of the Conservative Party stand on Education? For selection at eleven; complete academisation; more pay for teachers; cash for Children’s Centres? We all have a list of what we would want to ask our next Prime Minister, but are only likely to be able to do so through the professional associations taking a lead and quizzing the eventual finalist on behalf of the profession.

From the candidates’ point of view, they might want to reflect that being too radical can affect what will happen in the real world. Make teaching look too unattractive, and the present teacher supply problem could become even worse, especially if the exodus from the profession were to accelerate. With insufficient numbers entering the profession, losing those already in service at an even greater rate than at present wouldn’t just be unfortunate, but could be disastrous for both our society and the future of the economy.

Teaching is now a global activity and teachers trained in England are able to secure posts in many other countries in the ever-growing private school market of ‘international’ schools, increasingly run by those with the bottom line in mind. With UK higher education an attractive draw for many overseas students and their parents, being taught by teachers that understand the system here can be a help when it is time to apply to university.

So, my key question for Tory Candidates’ is, what support will you provide for your Secretary of State for Education and what will be the key priorities you will ask that person to address? If they don’t mention all of Further Education; funding levels and staffing then education will clearly not be a significant priority for them in the word post October 31st.

 

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Shooting the messenger

My sympathies are more with Ofsted than the PAC after the publication today of their Report by the Public Accounts Committee. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/1029/102902.htm

It is disappointing that so few PAC members were able to attend for both the two witness sessions and the subsequent approval of the draft report. How can anyone that didn’t attend the witness session really be expected to vote on the report, especially one so critical?

What really matters, and both the National Audit Office that reports to the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee itself should now focus upon, is how are critical reports from Ofsted are acted upon. There are widely different outcomes, even across the government controlled academy and free school sector, with Regional School Commissioners acting promptly on Ofsted reports in some cases and doing nothing in public in other cases. Even the Secretary of State’s speech in May, promising prompt action, doesn’t seem to have changed the landscape very much, if at all.

Ofsted surely isn’t perfect, but it has had budget cuts far greater than most schools have suffered and seen the local inspection and advisory services that used to provide important intelligence almost completely wiped out across large swathes of the country.

Layla Moran MP, the Lib Dem on the PAC and an opponent of Ofsted since her election to parliament in 2017 has said today that:

… the problems with Ofsted are not just operational. Ofsted’s judgements lack reliability and validity. Their inspections heap pressure on to teachers that far outweighs any benefits they provide.

“Rather than focusing narrowly on results, our education system should value long-term success and the wellbeing of our children and teachers.

“That’s why the Liberal Democrats would abolish Ofsted and replace it with a new system for school inspections which would take into account pupil and parent feedback and teacher workload. We must work with struggling schools to help them improve, rather than simply writing them off.”

Writing schools off after an inspection isn’t the fault of Ofsted, although they could be more forceful in some follow up monitoring visits, by laying the blame on other agencies for not intervening appropriately. The system needs to help schools improve, not just the inspection service. That is why a continued monitoring of schools and action, where necessary at a local level, is important. Since that isn’t possible under the present funding regime, this looks a bit like the PAC trying to shoot the messenger.

Are parents and students not listened to in the course of Ofsted inspections? I frequently read comments inspectors have included from parents and indeed pupils about issue such as bullying and behaviour. No doubt more could be done to increase feedback from just a minority, but as evidence it also needs evaluating against other data and observations.

The issue of teacher workload and an objective measure of whether or not a school is using its staffing resources wisely should be part of the on-going monitoring of schools at a system level. Here Ofsted is still hampered in respect of academy trusts and the oversight of other groups of schools.

We do need a system that is more quality assurance than quality control, but above all we need to ensure enough properly trained and qualified teachers for each and every school, otherwise any inspection regime will always continue to uncover under-performing schools.

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.

 

 

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.