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Lessons learnt from the demise of Kids Company

25 Aug

Kids Company, the children’s charity, closed on 5 August 2015.  Reactions across the country were mixed because Kids Company was very much an exotic curate’s egg – magically good in parts – but questionable and self-righteous in many of its practices.

The charity’s founder, Ms Camila Batmanghelidjh, established Kids Company in 1996 in Camberwell, South London, providing a range of support for extremely vulnerable children, including runaways, the neglected and those permanently excluded from school.   It had a policy of never turning a child away.

Over the 19 years of its existence, the charismatic Ms Batmanghelidjh raised over £160 million from the good, bad and ugly – individuals, organisations and the government.   In April 2013, it received £9 million from government to cover two years’ work and £30 million over its lifetime.

However, for several years, a number of people expressed serious concerns about the waste of resources, the most recent being Ms Camilla Long, correspondent and feature-writer of The Sunday Times, who in May 2015 visited the Kids Company.  She wrote a semi-satirical piece on her findings on 5 July 2015 stating, in so many words, that she was mystified by what she saw during visits she had made over two days.  Continue reading

All change at Ofsted from September 2015 – again

25 Aug

I           Ofsted under attack

Ofsted is seldom out of the spotlight.  In April 2015, just prior to the general elections, it came under fire from politicians – left and right – teachers, school leaders, the unions  and think tanks, all demanding changes to the watchdog.    At the time, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Schools (HMCI), was recovering from major surgery.  Sir Michael returned to work and plans to stay on till 2017.

The Times Educational Supplement (TES) averred that he has been the most controversial chief inspector since the late Sir Chris Woodhead because of his blunt speaking.  Sir Michael lost the confidence of ministers when he criticised the government for sacking Baroness Morgan as chair of Ofsted.  He was “spitting blood” when he suspected that the Department for Education (DfE) was briefing against him.

Academics have been critical of Ofsted.   In 2012, Professor Dylan Williams of the Institute of Education University College London, said that Ofsted needed to show more “humility and demonstrate ‘integrity’ by allowing school inspections to be properly evaluated for reliability”.   Durham University’s Professor Robert Coe stated a year later that its practice was not research- or evidence-based and needed to demonstrate its lesson evaluations were valid by testing whether different inspection teams produced consistent judgements of schools.

A month later, the then special adviser to the former Secretary of State Michael Gove voiced concerns about Sir Michael’s leadership in an internal memo leaked in October 2014.  Sir Michael was furious but, following reflection, went on a charm-offensive making radical changes by deciding that his inspectors must cease making judgements on the quality of individual lessons.  Following the elections, Ofsted has now gone on to make major reforms to its inspection model.   Continue reading

Sharing the Role of the Chair of Governors

25 Aug

Part 3 of the School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances)(England) Regulations 2013 explains the process of electing the chair and vice chair.   As the role of the chair has become distinctly onerous in recent times, finding a governor who is willing to stand for this position has become daunting.   A solution would be for two governors to share that role.

The Department for Education’s (DfE’s) advice states that “It is possible to appoint more than one person to share the role of chair, or, similarly, the role of vice chair, if the board believes this is …..in the best interests of the school.   The board would need to ensure that any role-sharing arrangement does not lead to a loss of clarity in its leadership.” (Item 18) Continue reading

Publication of Information

25 Aug

From 1 September 2015, it becomes a requirement for every governing body to publish on its school website information about its members.  Minimally, the information should consist of the following:

  • every governor’s name;
  • type of governor – i.e. parent, staff, local authority, partnership, foundation, co-optee;
  • the body that appointed/elected the governor;
  • the length of the term of office;
  • the names of any committee/s on which the governor serves;
  • details of positions of responsibility such as chair or vice chair of the governing body or a committee of the governing body.

The school website must contain similar information for associate members, clarifying her/his voting rights on any of the committees on which they serve.

The governing body will be under a duty to publish on the school website its Register of Interests of its members.  The Register should set out the relevant business interests and details of any other educational establishments they govern.   Employees of banks and other financial institutions, who feel targeted because of the negative publicity they have had to bear in recent times, can state that they are employed in the financial services industry.

However, the Register must set out any relationships between governors and members of school staff – including spouses, partners and relatives.

The governing body must state in its code of conduct that this information on its members will be published.  Where applicable, the information will also cover the associate members.

A governor failing to reveal this information to fulfil the governing body’s statutory responsibilities could be in breach of the code of conduct and, as a result, bring the school into disrepute. In such a case, the governing body should consider suspending the governor.

The governing body must operate in accord with the School Governance (Constitution)(England) Regulations 2007 when suspending the governor – in particular, Regulation 27.

Registering and/or declaring a conflict of interests

25 Aug

Governors, like all public servants, are subject to the seven principles of the Nolan Committee which are as follows.

  • Selflessness, where governors take decisions solely in terms of pupils’ best interests rather than discussing and making decisions to gain financially or for other material benefit to themselves, their families and their friends.
  • They should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to external individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their duties.
  • In discharging their functions, including appointing other governors and staff and awarding contracts, governors should make choices based on merit.
  • Governors are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public – i.e. the pupils, parents, staff of their schools/academies, local authorities, Ofsted and the DfE, and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate.
  • Governors should be open as much as possible about all the decisions and actions they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands this.
  • Governors have a duty to declare any public interest relating to their duties and take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the interests of all those who work in and benefit from their schools/academies.
  • Governors should promote and support the above (six) principles by leadership and example.

Continue reading

Vacancies for governors and teachers

25 Aug

(1)       Governors

A survey commissioned by the National Governors’ Association (NGA) and carried out by the researchers of Bath University discovered that 67% of governing bodies found it difficult recruiting members.  Half of all chairs put in enormous time and effort to do so.  The schools most in need of knowledgeable and skilled governors found the greatest difficulty filling in their vacancies.   However, these schools expended the least energy and devoted little time to recruiting governors.   Continue reading

Number of young people not in education, employment and training rises

25 Aug

In June 2013 it became a statutory requirement for young people to remain in education and/or training up to the age of 17.  The education/employment-training compulsory age was raised (again) in the summer of 2015 to 18.   However, the law does not make arrangements for any one particular body to police the system leave alone take sanctions against the young people to flout the law.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that there is a substantial number of 16-18-year-olds not in education, employment and training (NEETs).  The number of NEETs, in fact, rose in England from 6.8% in 2014 to 7.1% in 2015.   However, the number of 16-year-olds remaining in education rose.

In the years leading up to 2008, the year of “financial bust” the percentage of NEETs fell but from 2008 to the current year it has risen.

It is anticipated that with the economy becoming increasingly buoyant and government supporting employers who hire apprentices, the picture of young people in education and/or employment will improve over the coming years.

Meanwhile, a senior Cabinet Office source informed The Times that the government will be announcing plans to require all 18-to-21-year-olds to attend 71 hours of training classes at Job Centres in the first three weeks of claiming out-of-work benefits.   The scheme will begin in April 2017,

The training will include practising job applications and interview techniques. Those attending will undertake extensive job searches alongside dedicated coaches with whom they will continue to work throughout the first six months of unemployment.

Teacher and columnist appointed Behaviour Supremo

25 Aug

In mid-June 2015, Mr Tom Bennett, a former nightclub bouncer, who retrained to become a teacher and is teaching at a secondary school in East London, was appointed by Mrs Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, to carry out a study of pupil behaviour and advise the nation on how teachers could be “better prepared to deal with the realities of the classroom”.  He has been asked to form a working party to assist him in this task.

Mr Bennett plans to work with people who have substantial experience of handling poor behaviour in schools, i.e. teachers.  Writing in The Times Educational Supplement, he said: “Together, we hope to come up with recommendations that can offer new and old teachers the tools they need to do what they were trained to do.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled to be doing this.  Just don’t call me ‘Tsar’, for God’s sake.”

Mr Bennett intends to draw up plans to help staff members deal with “low-level disruption”, a beta noire of the teaching profession and something onto which Ofsted inspectors constantly latch.  He will lead a group created by the Department for Education to develop better training for teachers to tackle pupil misbehaviour.

Teachers are turning in increasing numbers to the tips that he provides on the internet, to deal with difficult school situations.

Mr Bennett is a Teacher Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and the director of ReserachED. Since 2008, he has been writing for the TES and has written four books on teacher-training, behaviour management and educational research.

Writer attacks government plans for the new baseline tests

25 Aug

Mr Michael Morpurgo, the Children’s Laureate from 2003-5, has described the new baseline tests for reception pupils, which will take effect from September 2016, as “completely absurd”.   The reason for its introduction is to assess children’s level of development at the start of their formal education so that their progress can be measured at the age of 11, thus statistically holding schools to account for children’s progress in literacy (reading and writing), cognition (how children understand and act in the world), reasoning and mathematics.   Children are already being assessed at the end of their reception year.  However, the (new) tests will now be used as measures for determining the progress they make six years later.   Schools will be able to choose from a number of approved assessments.  Continue reading

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.