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Giving all children a head-start to their educational experience

19 Apr

I           Catch them young and grow them well

Eons ago, Aristotle said: “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the main.”  Several centuries later, the Jesuits adopted as their maxim: “Give me a child for his first seven years and I will give you the man.” So why is it that the nation continues to spend so much more on pupils on the cusp of leaving school than those who are starting out on their education? Would it not be a much better investment, in the words of the title to a compelling piece written by Helen Ward for The Times Educational Supplement on 24 March 2017 if we “flip the system”?

In 2012, the Sutton Trust found – as reported in its Social Mobility Report – a 19-month gap in school readiness between the richest and the poorest four- and five-year-olds in the UK.  IN 2016, 54% of children entitled to free school meals were at a good level of development by the end of the Reception year.  It was 72% for the rest.  The Sutton Trust suggested unequivocally that we can do much to close the gap with high-quality early years education.

According to Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), “There is emerging evidence that, particularly for disadvantaged children, people giving them a chance to get a flying start in early learning is one of the best ways to close the gap.”

A Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) statement declared that a good quality pre-school experience for a child has a positive impact on her/his results at the age of 15.  The Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) tracked 3,000 children as they entered school to find that at seven those who had attended pre-school did better than those that hadn’t.  This was most pronounced for the poorest pupils.  The report said: “While not eliminating disadvantage, good quality pre-school provision can be seen as an effective means of achieving targets concerning social exclusion and breaking cycles of disadvantage.”

In Michigan, USA, the Perry Pre-school Study, which took off in 1962, found that disadvantaged young people who had attended an educational programme were less likely to show delinquent behaviour by the age of 15 than their peers. In another Chicago study, the Child-Parent Centre followed 1,400 children through to the age of 28 to discover that attending pre-school was linked to higher educational attainment and income and lower rates of imprisonment or drug-use.

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Trusts need to do more to curb the salaries of MAT CEOs

18 Apr

On 15 December 2016, the government launched the second-stage consultation on a National Funding Formula – the same day on which the National Audit Office warned that schools in England were facing a cut of 8% per pupil in real terms by 2019/20 which translates into £3 billion.

The proposed formula – for which consultations have now closed – will result in over 9,000 schools/academies losing out.  Money will disappear from London and other urban areas and moving to schools/academies – mainly in the shire counties – which currently receive less.  However, 11,000 (circa) schools/academies will gain, albeit they will see much lower increases than they had been made to believe because at the 9,000+ schools/academies the reductions will be phased in.

Education has enjoyed more than seven years of plenty with those in the profession drinking deeply from the financial well of generous governments.   Schools/academies that have been spendthrifts will suffer. Those who have been over-careful had been severely berated by their local authorities and the government for not giving their (current) pupils their just financial desserts.   Those that had been judicious and saved enough for a rainy day, will postpone suffering for a few years.

In the long-term, most schools/academies will have to provide more with less simply to survive, if not flourish.

It is, therefore, not with a little surprise and angst that I read the piece written by The Secret CEO (in The Times Educational Supplement of 31 March 2017).  The poor guy (his silhouette at the end of the article suggests that it is a “he”), who leads a multi-academy trust “somewhere in England” is “fed up” (the unfortunate devil) with reading “article after article about the ‘shocking’ salaries CEOs of MATs receive”.  He spends the entire article criticising critics for criticising the Chief Education Officers of Multi-Academy Trusts over the salaries they receive.

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The National Funding Formula – Assessing the Impact of Proposals

18 Apr

I        Introduction

School governors across the country have informed the National Governors’ Association (NGA) in no uncertain terms that funding is the biggest issue they are currently facing and the biggest issue they are likely to face in the near future.   It is true that there will be over 10,000 winners (54%) among schools, in terms of increased funding balanced off by 9,000+ (46%) losers.  However, by 2020, all schools (‘academies’ is used interchangeably for “schools” in the rest of this article) will find they are facing funding reductions by 2020.   The Education Policy Institute (EPI) – a think tank – said in one of its recent reports – The Implications of the National Funding Formula for Schools – that any cash increases awarded to schools via the National Funding Formula (NFF) will be cancelled by cost pressures.

According to the EPI, the redistribution of the basic per pupil sums, the use of wider area-based measures of deprivation and the increased amounts of funding for pupils with low prior attainment will mean that money will move from schools with the most disadvantaged pupils to those with pupils who come from “just about managing” (JAM) families.

Drilling down, the EPI made the following discoveries – based on the proposed NFF.

(1)        Primary schools with fewer than 30% of pupils on free school meals (FSM) are expected to gain around 1% and secondaries 0.9% on average.  The total sum will be £275 million.

(2)        Disadvantaged primary schools (i.e. those with over 30% of FSM pupils) are expected to gain around 0.4% while disadvantaged secondary schools set to lose around 0.3%.  This will amount to a net increase of around £5.6 million for the most disadvantaged primary and secondary schools.  The reality is that many will see reductions to their budgets.

(3)        The most disadvantaged primary and secondary schools in London are expected to lose around £16.1 million by 2019/20.

(4)        Funding distribution based on area deprivation – commonly known as Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) – means that pupils living in the least deprived areas will experience the highest relative gains.

(5)        The additional funding for low prior attainment will mean that the lowest-performing schools in the country are set to gain £78.5 million more than the top-performing schools.  This will have a painful effect especially in London, where the net loss to the highest performing primary schools will be around £16.6 million.

(6)        Small primary schools are due to experience an average increase of 3.5% – i.e. £22.7 million overall.  Small secondary schools, on the other hand, are unlikely to see any changes in their budgets.

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Proposal to add VAT to private school fees – a knee-jerk notion

18 Apr

Two politicians at the opposite ends of the spectrum of thinking – Michael Gove, former Education Secretary, and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party –  have come together on a plan to “soak the rich”.

Writing in The Times (Put VAT on school fees and soak the rich) on 24 February 2017 Gove pointed to “group of highly successful enterprises that is pretty much insulated from the present row about business rates” – private schools – because they are charities.  Because private schools are VAT-exempt, writes Gove, “the wealthiest in this country” are able “to buy a prestige service that secures their children a permanent, positional edge in society at an effective 20% discount”.

Turning to the knotty issue of the number of scholarships and bursaries these schools provide, he criticises (with a rhetorical question) the small number of students given educational opportunities from depressed areas of the country such as Knowsley, Sunderland, Merthyr Tydfil and Blyth Valley.

Two months later, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader, and the Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, came up with a not dissimilar proposal to charge parents VAT on the fees they pay to private schools, with a view to using the income to offer free meals to all children in primary schools.

Rayner told the BBC: “There are many private businesses that are paying VAT that are struggling.  I don’t see why the state school system should subsidise the private sector.”

She added: “The evidence from the National Centre for Social Research (NCSR) and the IFS (the Institute of Fiscal Studies) have both been quite clear that actually providing universal school meals at primary level will raise attainment.”

She was backed by Labour’s headquarters which claimed that research had shown that access to free school meals improved educational attainment by two months.

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Planning for the financial year: timetable of activities

18 Apr

Governors’ responsibilities have grown (with their powers) like Topsy.  That 350,000 citizens in this country chose to become governors is amazing, given that they are required to discharge these responsibilities for the love of their schools and the children in them in their spare time.   It is, therefore, critical to plan work annually to ensure that governors do not collapse under the pressures stemming from the responsibilities they must bear.  Set out below (with some help of The Key, a governors’ organisation) are the tasks that governors are required to undertake and suggestions about when precisely they should be tackled.

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The challenge of governance

18 Apr

In the report of the inspectorate, Ofsted, Improving governance: Governance arrangements in complex and challenging circumstances, published in December 2016, a key recommendation was that governors secure clarity of roles, responsibilities and lines of accountability.  This is a bit of a tall order, given that the boundaries between governance and management are blurred.

There are a few things, however, that are clear.

First, no governor – apart from the Chair who can act in an emergency – has powers s/he can exercise and certainly not in school on a normal working day.  These powers are reposed in the Headteacher.  The powers of governors lie with the corporate governing body, which some governors find irksome given individuals’ penchant for control over others.    However, most governors welcome acting in concert and, certainly, no governor would want to be held personally liable if anything goes pear-shaped – especially in finance.

Second, governors are responsible for developing the strategy of a school, i.e. setting out the overarching objectives in the School Development Plan (SDP), determining the overall expenditure for the year in the light of the budget received but giving the Headteacher space to meet the objectives and spend the budget in line with the levels of expenditure agreed with the governors for the different areas of school life.

Thirdly, governors hold the headteacher and her/his senior management team to account – checking out how well the objectives are met and ensuring that the expenditure is in line with the plans made and that senior school staff members operate in an ethical manner.

The third area – the accountability – is daunting because of the requirement for governors to offer “challenge”.  This word has become hackneyed.  As clerk to several governing bodies, I am constantly pressed by governors to ensure that in the minutes I include the word, “challenge” repeatedly to please Ofsted inspectors, whenever they do pay a visit.  At such times, I wince.  Often, the casualty of “challenge” is “support”, i.e. working in collaboration with the headteacher and her/his senior colleagues.   Challenge and support are not exclusive but rather complementary – two sides of the same coin marked “school improvement”.

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The Prevent Strategy: Nagging Dilemmas

18 Apr

Schools have been bombarded with advice on how to deal with preventing the growth of terrorism as part of their Safeguarding duties. This advice has come on the heels of the publication of the Prevent Strategy in 2011.  

However, the strategy has been subject to criticism from several quarters, not least from moderate Muslim leaders.

Dal Babu, chief superintendent of the Metropolitan Police before his retirement in 2013, is on record as stating that many Muslims see the scheme as spying and many involved in promoting it do not understand the communities the strategy is meant to serve.  Having acknowledged that it started off as “a good idea”, Dal Babu remarked that it had become less and less trusted.

Some have criticised Prevent as being counter-productive and promoting unfair discrimination against the rank-and-file of Muslims – and others observed that there was no clear way of measuring how effective it was.

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