Archive | August, 2015

Move to establish fairer funding for schools gathers a head of steam

25 Aug

(1)       Historical injustice

It’s been whispered in high places that the government will be issuing another consultation document about creating a fairer funding formula for schools on the basis of which they will be allocating the national budget for education.   The Association of Schools and College Leaders (ASCL) calculated (not so long ago) that the 10 best-funded local authorities received grants of £6,2977 per pupil on average in 2015-16 when compared with an average of £4,208 per pupil in the 10 most poorly funded areas.  Surely, this cannot be fair.

(2)       Attempts to redress the balance

On 13 March 2014, the Education Minister (in the then coalition government) made a statement in parliament acknowledging the unfair funding system the government inherited.  He described the arrangements as “opaque, overly complex and frankly unfair to pupils, parents and teachers”.

Similar schools can have huge funding disparities because they are in different authorities and occasionally disadvantaged pupils end up being funded at levels well below more advantaged pupils in nearby schools in affluent areas.   The minister cited the case of a school in Birmingham which had only 3% of pupils receiving free school meals (FSMs) getting higher funding per pupil than a school in Shropshire with over 30% of pupils eligible for FSMs.

The F40 group – comprising 37 local authorities – has been campaigning long and hard to redress the balance. F40 has made the case for a redistribution of the educational wealth of the nation.  However, successive governments, having acknowledged that the system is inherently unfair, have, notwithstanding, struggled to grasp the nettle of finding a solution. The dilemma with which they have had to grapple is squaring a circle of giving more to the less well-off without damaging the better funded authorities where there is considerable deprivation – while keeping a lid on spending, because of the Chancellor’s determination to reduce the national debt.

Way back in March 2014, the Education Minister tried to alleviate the situation by allocating an extra £350 million in 2015-16 to the worst-funded authorities.  In fact, the government increased this sum to £390 million and set a minimum funding level for the

  • basic amount that all pupils should attract,
  • deprived pupils,
  • pupils with English as an additional language (EAL),
  • pupils with low levels of attainment on entering school, and
  • pupils who have been looked after, i.e. in foster care.

The government also set a minimum level of funding that schools should attract, regardless of size, to assist with fixed costs such as employing a headteacher and additional funding for sparsely populated areas to ensure that rural communities were not unduly disadvantaged.  Higher funding was allocated to areas like Inner-London, where teacher salaries are greater.   No local authority or school received less funding per pupil as a consequence of the arrangements.

Some historical disadvantages were, as a consequence, addressed if not wholly, then partially.   Cambridgeshire, for instance, saw a boost of 7% in its schools’ budget, raising the per pupil funding from £3,950 to £5,225.  The top 15 gainers were Bromley, Cambridgeshire, Brent, Sutton, Northumberland, South Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Merton, Croydon, Bournemouth, Chestershire West and Chester, Leicestershire, Warwickshire and Devon.   Additionally, areas like Norfolk received an extra £16 million, Derbyshire £14 million and Surrey nearly £25 million.

(3)        The future for schools?

Steps to resolve the problem of funding schools equitably are likely to be taken when the Chancellor, Mr George Osbourne, unveils his autumn statement. This is unsurprising because Mr Robin Walker, MP and vice chair of the F40 group, is now the personal private secretary of Ms Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education.

In March 2015, Mr Walker argued for the “speedy implementation” of a new formula describing as “mind-boggling” the gap in funding levels of schools in different parts of the country.  A source in the Department for Education (DfE) close to ministers expected the formula to be phased in over a three-to-five year period with “floors and ceilings” built in to ease the pain of schools that will lose out.

Another source told The Times Educational Supplement (TES) that Labour areas in London, for example, would lose and Conservatives ones gain.  “That is not the purpose of the formula, but that’s what’s going to happen,” the source added.

Writing in the May/June issue of Governing Matters, the voice of the National Governors’ Association, Councillor Ivan Ould, chair of the F40 and lead member for the Children and Young People’s Service in Leicestershire County Council, presented his group’s master-plan.    He submitted that “the proposals would

(i)            introduce a new national formula from 2016-17, phased in over three years, based on a clear rationale and geared towards improving educational standards in the country;

(ii)           include core entitlement at a pupil level, reflecting different needs and costs at various key stages;

(iii)          use factors to reflect pupil level needs beyond the core entitlement, including deprivation and special educational needs, and reflect the needs of small schools that are necessary in a local authority’s (LA’s) structure;

(iv)         continue to use the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) with blocks for mainstream schools, high needs and the Early Years with LAs free to move funding between the blocks.”

We can look forward to exciting times ahead, particularly as it is very unlikely that Mr Osborne will enlarge education’s financial cake.  (The government has safeguarded the funding of education – but only in cash terms – and inflation has begun to rise.)  The DfE consulted on changing the funding formula in 2011 but paused on overhauling it for the good reason: the model “would need refinement and careful implementation”. The real reason was probably because it was too hot a potato to handle.

(4)        Sixth Form Colleges

Meanwhile, while the budgets in schools have been protected since 2010, colleges have had four successive years of funding cuts.  In addition, unlike schools, sixth form colleges are forced to pay VAT. The average VAT annual bill per college stands at £335,000.

Members of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association (SFCA) are eager to align themselves with those in the schools’ sector.   The SFCA is currently exploring the prospect of converting to academies or morphing into Free Schools.

Ms Pauline Hagen, principal of New College Pontefract in West Yorkshire, is overseeing the opening of a 16-19 Free School in Doncaster in September 2016.  An academy trust has been established to oversee the new provision.  However, because New College Pontefract is incorporated it is unable to join the body the trust is creating.

Ms Hagen described the governance system for colleges “clumsy, unnecessarily bureaucratic and counter to (the government’s) aims and ambitions.  Her college population has expanded in the last four years from 1,600 to 2,000 students.   The organisation which is responsible for the college has become a teaching school.   “We’re leading strategic partners, helping challenged schools and colleges at every phase,” said Ms Hagen. “We are driving this phase-wide improvement, which is exactly what the government’s wanting, yet we can’t actually be part of the sector.”

The comments of Mr Paul Ashdown, of the Sixth Form College, Sollihull, chimed in with those of Ms Hagen.  “I think we are schools,” he told the TES.  “Our teachers tend to have the same qualification background as school-teachers; our provision is also largely what is offered in schools.  I started my career in a school.  Most of my staff (members) have worked in schools as well. I think that is where we actually belong and we’re very different from a big FE college.”

The SFCA considered a mass conversion to academies of its 93 colleges in 2012 but was averse to giving up the incorporated status of the colleges.   It could have saved them £30 million in VAT payments and written off the collective debt of £120 million.   One key benefit – which is denied to academies – of being incorporated is that the colleges are able to recruit students from abroad.  The sixth form colleges are also able to offer Higher Education (HE) courses and take out loans without the permission of the Secretary of State.  So, converting to academies has swings and roundabouts.

A DfE spokesperson confirmed to the TES that sixth form colleges were not allowed to convert to academies but added that the situation was under review.

Meanwhile, these colleges feel a bit hard-done-by financially.  Those working in schools would do well to spare a thought for them.

Minimum wage set to rise in October 2015 and then rise again

25 Aug

The current National Minimum Wage (NMW) for a person who is 21 years and over will rise from £6.50 an hour to £6.70 on 1 October 2015.

The rate for the 18-to-20-year-olds will increase from £5.13 an hour to £5.30 and for the 16-to-17-year-olds from £3.79 to £3.87.

In his July 2015 budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced that the new national minimum wage for working people aged 25 years and over will rise to £7.20 an hour.  There is discussion about a National Living Wage (NLW) with the Low Pay Commission (LPC) set to recommend future uplifts.   The government aims to set the rate at £9.00 an hour by 2020.

Mr Osborne stated that the Office for Business Responsibility (OBR) claimed that the NLW would have only a “fractional” negative effect on jobs, with 60,000 fewer posts available as a result but almost one million will be created.   The OBR estimates that the cost to business will amount to 1% of profits.  To offset that cost, the government is cutting corporation tax from 20% to 19% in 2017 and 18% in 2020.  Smaller firms will benefit from a cut in their national insurance contributions.  Continue reading

Is academisation the magic bullet to school improvement ?

25 Aug

I           Government’s aim to convert stagnant schools into academies

The government is convinced that converting failing schools to academies is the panacea to education’s maladies.  Is it?

Mrs Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State, announced that where Ofsted deems a school to be inadequate, requiring improving or coasting/stagnating, it will be converted into an academy and made over to a successful chain such as ARK (Absolutely Return for Kids) or Harris.  The new cadre of school commissioners will be given powers to intervene on behalf of her.   Commissioners will be able to bring in new leadership if required.  However, the government said that schools in trouble will be given time to improve.

In a speech marking the end of the first 100 days in power following the May 2015 elections, the Prime Minister signalled he would give all schools the chance to become academies as part of a Conservative drive to “extend opportunity to all”.  And then he added: “I want every school in the country to have the opportunity to become an academy and to benefit from the freedoms this brings. So we will make it a priority to recruit more academy sponsors and support more great headteachers in coming together in academy chains.” Continue reading

The Battle of Bohunt: a clash of Chinese and Anglo-Saxon cultures

25 Aug

A unique experiment was conducted at Bohunt School in Liphook, Hampsire, in the Summer Term 2015 when five teachers from China were transplanted into Bohunt School to teach 50 year 9 (13- and 14-year-olds) students for a period of four weeks. The rest of the year 9 students continued to receive the curriculum diet from their usual teachers in accordance with the national curriculum and pedagogical methods in this country.  (Ofsted described Bohunt as outstanding.)

At the end of the process, both groups were tested by the Institute of London University College London to see which set of students performed better in mathematics, science and Mandarin.  (At the time of writing, I had viewed only one of the four episodes so am unsure about what the outcome was.  However, there was much that I learnt from the experience of watching the first instalment.)

The five visiting teachers were filmed by the BBC working in conjunction with the Open University (OU) while teaching the Chinese way to see how well English children learnt through those methods.  The first instalment of the series, Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School, was, in a number of ways, a revelation and in other ways unsurprising.  Continue reading

Sir Chris Woodhead bids farewell

25 Aug

Sir Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools, died at the age of 68 on 23 June 2015, nine years after being diagnosed with motor neuron disease.

He was the first chief of Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) when it was created in 1994 and reigned supreme until 2000, resigning after a series of rows with Mr David Blunkett, the then education secretary.  Sir Chris was a bluntly spoken, controversial figure, remaining active in the education world as chair of Cognita, which runs schools in seven countries.  He resigned in 2013 because of his deteriorating physical condition.

An ex-student of Wallington Grammar School in Surrey, Sir Chris started his teaching career at Priory School in Shrewsbury, Shropshire (1969-72).   He became deputy head of English at Newent School, Gloucester (1972-74), and then head of English Gordano School, Bristol (1974-76). He switched to training teachers at Oxford University (1976-82) and followed this up by taking an advisory post in Shropshire (1982-88) before being appointed deputy chief education officer in Devon (1988-1990) and then deputy chief officer in Cornwall (1990-91).   When the National Curriculum Council (NCC) was established, he was appointed its deputy chief executive in 1991 and chief executive in 1991 for the next two years.    He continued in the same role when the NCC morphed into the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (1993-94).

Sir Chris had fierce clashes with teaching unions during his tenure as chief inspector. He infuriated them by saying that 15,000 teachers were incompetent. He became renowned for supporting traditional teaching methods and said that he was paid to challenge mediocrity, failure and complacency.

After resigning from Ofsted he said opportunities had been missed because of the focus on the “many initiatives in schools, the vast majority of them in my view untested, often fanciful, at best distracting teachers from their proper job”. He added: “I couldn’t stomach what I saw as a proliferation of untried initiatives, a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

In his post-Ofsted days, he became a columnist for The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times, where he freely dispensed advice to parents, the most recent of which was published on Sunday.

He wrote two books on education and was appointed visiting professor at the University of Buckingham, the sole private university in the UK, where he helped Anthony O’Hear, editor of the journal, Philosophy, to establish an education department.   His public persona appeared to be in sharp contrast to how he behaved privately.   In public, he tended to get up people’s (especially the educational establishment’s) noses but a friend and colleague said that privately he was warm and generous.

In 2011, Woodhead was knighted, which greatly cheered him at a time when his (motor neurone) disease was advancing.

In 2014, he discovered he had colon cancer which had spread to his liver. A campaigner for a change in the law on assisted dying, he said that when he was diagnosed with cancer he considered starving himself to death, but added: “You get used to it. My reaction when I was told about the motor neurone disease was fatalistic. This is the pack of cards I’ve been dealt. I’ve got to play them as best I can.”

Previously “doctors realised that there could come a point in somebody’s life that somebody who was terminally ill – where the pain and suffering was too great and the thing that the doctor should do would be to ease the passage from life to death”, he commented, speaking before the first reading of Lord Falconer’s assisted dying bill.

The motor neurone disease left the former, keen rock climber a quadriplegic in need of constant care from his second wife, Christine. He said that, even then, life had plenty of value and importance for him but that that would end if he lost the power to speak or breathe unaided, both common stages of the disease.

Sir Chris said that he, his wife and daughter would “all recognise the line has been crossed” when his suffering became too great, and know that the time had come for him to end his life.  He would love to be pushed off a cliff in his wheelchair at that point, he hinted.  Later, he considered travelling to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end his life.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Chris Woodhead started a crucial debate on school standards and reform. Meetings with him were never dull. My thoughts are with his family.”

Former chief inspector of schools: Sir Chris Woodhead had motor neurone disease