What happens when there are concerns over the financial management of an academy?
The recent Public Accounts Select Committee report on Academies financial management proved embarrassing to the government. The report describes a system peppered with overspends and errors, but subject to little oversight. Millions of pounds were wasted on the rapidly growing academies programme because of over-complex and inefficient funding systems, according to the report. Financial mismanagement, of course, is by no means the preserve of academy schools, as recent scandals have shown.
Where a chain or multi-academy trust has failed to address financial weaknesses in its operation, a financial notice to improve can be issued, requiring the trust to take action to address the underlying cause(s) of its financial weaknesses. The financial notice to improve is a set of conditions that the Education Funding Agency (EFA) would require the trust to meet. Ultimately, if a chain or multi academy trust fails to address the financial weaknesses the Secretary of State for Education has intervention powers which are set out in the individual funding agreements, and in the most serious circumstances, include the ability to terminate the funding agreement. The Education Funding Agency has issued two financial notices to improve since May 2010 to academy trusts.
The academies financial handbook sets out the duties and obligations on academy trusts and this includes personal responsibility on the academy trusts accounting officer (each trust has to appoint an accounting officer) for ‘high standards of probity in the management of public funds’.
Source-Hansard 25 April 2013
Committee expresses concerns over poor cost controls and financial oversight
A Public Accounts Committee report on the Academies programme describes a system peppered with overspends and errors, but subject to little oversight.
Millions of pounds were wasted on England’s rapidly growing academies programme because of over-complex and inefficient funding systems, according to the Select Committee report.
It urges the Department for Education to tighten its financial grip on these privately run but state-funded schools.
Committee chairman Margaret Hodge, who has gained a reputation for her forthright attacks on government waste, said inefficient funding systems and poor cost control had driven up the cost of the programme.
“Of the £8.3 billion spent on academies from April 2010 to March 2012, some £1 billion was an additional cost which had to be met by diverting money from other departmental budgets.
“Some of this money had previously been earmarked to support schools struggling with difficult challenges and circumstances. £350 million of the extra £1 billion represented extra expenditure that was never recovered from local authorities.”
A DfE spokesman said the report failed to acknowledge “the significant progress that we have made in improving our systems.
“The academies programme has been a huge success. There are now almost 3,000 academy schools – more than 14 times as many as in May 2010 – with more than two million children now enjoying the benefits that academy status brings. The programme is proven to drive up standards. Sponsored academies are improving far faster than maintained schools.
“We make no apology for the fact that so many schools have opted to convert, and no apology for spending money on a programme that is proven to drive up standards and make long-term school improvements.
“The Department for Education has made significant savings in the last two-and-a-half years and has also set aside significant contingencies, which have been set against the growth in academies.”
He added that the costs of converting academies have already fallen by more than half per academy and that further savings were expected in the future.
Conclusions and recommendations
1. The value for money of the Academies Programme will ultimately depend on its impact on educational performance relative to the investment from the taxpayer. The Department has chosen to expand the Programme rapidly, incurring an additional cost of £1 billion since April 2010. While it is too early to assess the impact of the expansion on school performance, the Department will need to be able to demonstrate whether value for money has been achieved. It has yet to state how it will do so, or when. The Department should set out what outcomes it aims to achieve from the expansion of the Programme, and how and when it will demonstrate whether progress is on track and value for money has been achieved.
2. Inefficient funding systems and poor cost control have driven up the cost of the Programme. A large part of the £1 billion additional cost since April 2010 has been caused by the excessively complex and inefficient academy funding system which has reportedly led to overpayments and errors in payments to Academies There was around £350 million extra paid to Academies which was not recovered from local authorities. This system does not operate effectively alongside the local authority system, and makes it hard for the Department to prove that academies are not receiving more money than they should. The Department has not yet brought other types of cost growth under control, for example academy insurance. It should report back to us by the end of 2013-14 on how its funding reforms have reduced systemic problems such as the under-recovery of academy costs from local authorities, and on how far it has brought down other additional costs.
3. We are not yet satisfied that individual academies’ expenditure is sufficiently transparent to parents, local communities or Parliament. Despite some improvements, key information on what academies actually spend is still only available at trust, rather than individual academy, level. This limits the ability of parents to scrutinise how their child’s school is spending its money, and of communities to hold their local school to account. The Department must publish data showing school-level expenditure, including per-pupil costs, and with a level of detail comparable to that available for maintained schools, so that proper judgments can be made and comparisons drawn to assess value for money. The Department should state how it will make robust, line-by-line information on individual academies’ expenditure publicly available in the most cost-effective way.
4. New governance, compliance and oversight arrangements for academies remain vulnerable to failure. Some serious cases of governance failure and financial impropriety in academies have gone undetected by the Department’s monitoring, raising concerns that central government may be too distant to oversee individual academies effectively. Irregular expenditure by academies and gaps in the oversight framework led the Comptroller and Auditor General to qualify the 2011-12 accounts of the Department and the Young People’s Learning Agency. Academies’ compliance with mandatory monitoring is not good enough, and it is not yet clear how well revised audit arrangements will address these issues in future. The Department and the Education Funding Agency should review the operation of the new audit and oversight regime put in place this year, and assess whether it is reducing risks to regularity, propriety and good governance.
5. Forthcoming staff cuts at the Department and its agencies may threaten effective oversight as the Programme continues to expand. We are sceptical that the Department has sufficient resources to properly oversee the expanding Programme, especially as schools now joining are less high-performing and may require greater oversight and scrutiny. The Department should review the Programme’s central resource requirements, and the extent to which efficiency savings expected from new IT systems and assurance processes are being realised, and are sufficient to offset the need for further resources.
6. The Department has still not made completely clear the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of different organisations across the changing schools system. Roles previously carried out by local authorities around accountability, performance monitoring and intervention are unlikely to be operating consistently and effectively across different localities and academy structures. We are particularly concerned that interventions in failing academies may be delayed if the respective roles of central and local government, as well as academies and academy trusts, are not clear. The Department should clarify and properly communicate the roles and responsibilities of local authorities, academy sponsors, the Education Funding Agency, the Department, the Office of the Schools Commissioner and Ofsted regarding these aspects of the Programme.
Department for Education: Managing the expansion of the Academies Programme – Public Accounts Committee-April 2013
These are telling criticisms. They suggest the need to rethink the scrutiny and oversight of academies, while preserving the principle of school autonomy. Surveys suggest that around a third of converter schools opted for academy status for financial reasons. As part of the Budget Statement 2013, the Government announced that it would conduct ‘a review of school efficiency’. To inform that review, the government said ‘we have launched a call for evidence to learn more about how schools and academies make financial decisions and the techniques that they find particularly useful. We particularly want to hear your experience of how academies make financial decisions and your opinions/ideas of how academies can improve their efficiency.’ This suggests some concerns in government over the financial management in schools (not just academy schools by the way) and the additional risks that autonomy might bring. There is an on-going debate on the accountability of autonomous schools and whether or not another tier is required to ensure greater accountability, given the reduced role of local authorities.Academies are directly responsible of course to the Secretary of State, through individual funding agreements. Critics say that the Secretary of State , along with a slimmed down education department, cannot possibly hold these schools properly to account , even with Ofsteds support.
The Pupil Premium
Government and Ofsted know that how the Pupil Premium is spent by schools really does matter
Total pupil premium funding will rise from £1.25 billion in 2012-13 to £1.875 billion in 2013-14. This will enable the level of funding for the deprivation and looked after child premium to increase to £900 per pupil and the service child premium to increase to £300 per pupil.
Ministers see the Pupil Premium as the means to improve the performance of the most disadvantaged pupils, to address the long tale of underachievement and to close the achievement gap. The achievement gap is the difference in GCSE achievement between the average for pupils who are eligible for free school meals and the average for those who are not.
Research from the Sutton Trust suggests that given that Pupil Premium funding is not ring-fenced (and in a challenging budgetary climate for schools), in many schools the money is being used to fill budget deficits in other areas rather than being spent directly on the children that generated the funding in the first place. Self -evidently this is worrying. An Ofsted report in 2012 also found that only 10% of school leaders said that the Premium had changed the way they worked. And only half of schools said that it was having any positive effect on pupil achievement. Indeed, many schools were not even disaggregating the Pupil Premium from their main budget and were using it to enhance existing provision, rather than doing anything new with this extra funding. Ministers have been loth to intervene because they champion school autonomy.
Schools do now have to publish online information about the amount of pupil premium money the school receives and how it is being spent, as well as its impact. David Laws ,the schools minister, in a speech this month ,also made in very clear that the government will keep an eagle eye on how individual schools, and ,indeed ,chains of schools, are using the pupil premium to help improve outcomes for disadvantaged pupils and to narrow the achievement gap. Most recently Laws said (at the ASCL conference) that schools must focus “relentlessly” on closing the achievement gap. Indeed he ratcheted up the pressure by announcing that schools in England will no longer be rated as “outstanding” by inspectors if they fail to close the attainment gap between poor and affluent children. And Schools must use interventions that are known to work.
This is a sensitive area. When Michael Gove was in opposition he relentlessly attacked the then Labour government for failing to improve the lot of pupils on Free School Meals pointing out that , if anything, their performance, despite significant levels of new investment, had declined and the attainment gap had increased.
Sir Michael Wilshaw is at one with the government in paying greater attention to the premiums use. Inspector’s judgments on schools’ leadership will consider the use of both the premium and other resources to overcome barriers to achievement for their pupils. In his annual report published in November, Sir Michael committed Ofsted to paying particular attention to attainment gaps affecting disadvantaged pupils in schools where they form a minority of less than 20% of all pupils
But not everyone believes that the funds available under the Pupil Premium are sufficient for their purpose. Some critics suggest that the sums allocated for the Premium do not reflect the estimated costs necessary to equalise disadvantaged pupils’ educational needs, with those of their peers (Sibieta, IFS 2009). The OECD (2010) observes that the premium is ‘relatively low in an international perspective and it is not clear that it will cover the extra costs of admitting disadvantaged students. As the OECD notes, this risk of insufficient funding is exacerbated by the counter-incentive of high stakes accountability measures in the UK context.
What does that mean?
In short, League tables and other performance indicators, along with the recently announced rising floor targets, (see David Laws speech) mean that there are very strong potential consequences for schools whose exam achievement dips. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and other vulnerable groups may then be viewed by schools not as a source of much needed extra funding but ,instead ,as a risk. Hence disincentives (driven by accountability measures) may in practice outweigh the pupil premium incentive in admitting such pupils. Indeed, an OECD working paper on reforming education in England (Braconier, 2012,) warns that if the “perceived deprivation funding is lower that schools’ perceived costs, they may engage in ‘cream skimming’, trying to dissuade disadvantaged students and recruit more able students.” This is why some are warning that schools admissions policies, and in particular academies admissions (given their autonomy), should be more carefully monitored. The Government is seeking to improve transparency by publishing data on the progress of individual schools in closing gaps in attainment for FSM pupils; a move welcomed, incidentally, by Braconier (2012).
We know that, historically, there have been some perverse incentives within the accountability framework, particularly league tables. So the government’s efforts to reframe school league tables to mitigate perverse incentives, evident in the current system, is welcomed by many (Laws recent speech was well received). But it remains to be seen what effect this may have on narrowing the achievement gap.
One thing is absolutely clear, though- schools will be held to account for how they use the Pupil Premium and their grade from Ofsted will depend on how much they have managed to close the achievement gap. Empirical evidence about what works is available, and should be used.And there are a number of interventions from which to choose.Rumour has it that technology companies are making big pitches to schools seeking to persuade them that they have what it takes to make a real difference to outcomes . But experts urge caution. Evidence is mixed. Remember use of technology should be driven by learning and teaching goals rather than a specific technology: technology is not an end in itself. And don’t take, at face value, what the salesmen tell you. See past the bells and whistles of a new piece of tech hardware or software and work out exactly what it does to help disadvantaged pupils. And ,crucially, seek independent, ’disinterested’ sources of advice and evidence.
‘Caveat emptor’ ,as Michael Gove might say.
Use Interventions that are known to work
The Pupil Premium was introduced in April 2011 to target support for the most disadvantaged pupils.
Pupil premium funding is provided to schools which have on roll pupils known to be eligible for free school meals (the deprivation premium); children in care who have been continuously looked after for at least six months (the looked after child premium); and children whose parents are serving in the armed forces (the service child premium).In 2012–13 schools were allocated a total of £1.25 billion funding. In 2012-13 the pupil premium has been worth £600 per child, rising to £900 next year and by 2014-15 this is expected to rise to approximately £1,200 per child. From this September, schools have to publish details of how they use their premium. The DFE also publishes in the school performances tables information about disadvantaged pupils’ achievement. Ofsted has a closer focus on how the premium is used and on how it benefits pupils. The principle the government is adopting generally, in introducing the pupil premium, is to leave discretion on how it is spent as much as possible to individual heads because they will know the circumstances of the children for whom they are responsible. But there are concerns that some schools are simply using the premium to fill shortfalls in school funding or are using interventions that are ineffective. The Education Endowment Foundation, which was set up specifically to spread good practice and help other schools learn the most effective ways of tackling disadvantage has published a tool kit which provides evidence of the types of intervention that work. An Ofsted survey this year based on the views of 262 school leaders found most said that the introduction of the Pupil Premium had had some impact on the way that they did things. However, school leaders in only one in 10 schools said that it had ‘significantly’ changed the way they worked – all of whom were in more deprived areas. Very few schools said that it had had any impact on their approach to admissions or exclusions. Around half of the schools that responded to the additional inspection questions thought that it was having a positive impact on raising pupils’ achievement, but relatively few could as yet provide evidence to substantiate this. Clearly it is disappointing that so many school don’t at this early stage believe that it is having much impact.
Unions have warned that some schools are using the Premium to meet perceived funding shortfalls-which is clearly not how the Premium should be used.
The Education Endowment Foundation stresses how important it is to apply approaches that are known to work. The research summarised in their Toolkit suggests that different ways of using the premium are likely to have very different impacts on attainment.
The Government has commissioned two evaluations of the Pupil Premium — from Ofsted and its own external evaluation of the premium’s first year. The findings of both reviews will be available next spring
WHATS HAPPENING WITH ACADEMY FUNDING?
Academies have been getting extra funding-so why the smoke and mirrors?
Half of all secondary schools in England are either Academies or in the process of converting- over 1400 in all.
Last September Chris Cook of the Financial Times asked one school Headmaster why his school was converting to Academy status. He said: “A conservatory”.
This is not an apocryphal story and manages to sum up why some schools have converted to Academy status. Extra money. This was confirmed by a recent survey conducted by the Reform think tank and published in March this year. It found that more than one-third of schools in the government’s academy converter programme have cited additional money as their primary reason for taking part. Also, in a survey of almost 1,500 schools carried out last year by the Association of School and College Leaders, seven out of 10 cited financial gain as a reason for converting.
The stated purpose of the Academy scheme has never been to grant schools additional funds. It has been to give them new freedoms and real autonomy, so they can manage their own affairs, free from Local authority bureaucracy, to help raise performance. (and not to disadvantage other neighbouring schools through a two tier funding system)
The findings are in marked contrast to the government’s claims that schools were not converting to academy status to receive this extra funding. Academy institutions, funded directly by the central government as opposed to local authorities, are supposed to be financed at the same level as other local schools. The principle behind academy funding is pretty straightforward: every child gets the same spending, whether they attend an LA school or an academy. But Heads and governing bodies know that this has simply not been the case. Many who support the Academy scheme and who believe that academies really do represent a lever to bring about systemic change and improvement , fear that schools which jumped to become academies for the cash windfall may not have the strength or depth of leadership required to stand alone and so may serve to undermine the whole reform programme.
Chris Cook , of the FT ,explains the funding system as follows:
‘LAs spend money on things for LA schools, like pupil transport: so-called “central services”. If you are an academy, however, you have to provide some of these services yourself. So you get grants in lieu of those services which should equal the amount paid for those services: the Local Authority Central Services Equivalent Grant – or Lacseg. The problem arises because, for reasons that are unclear, the DfE sets these totals months before it knows how much LAs will actually spend in each area .Then, even if it discovers that its estimates are clearly wrong, it refuses to correct them’
Cook gives an example. Islington. He writes ‘So we know that the DfE estimated the Lacseg should be £551 for a pupil in Islington in 2011-12. But, in truth, the LA was only spending £219. This means a 1,000 pupil secondary would enjoys a £332,000 overpayment from converting to become an academy.’
Cook adds that the uplifts were bigger generally for schools that converted in 2010-11 — and were sometimes so large that the DfE decided it could not correct them in one go. Those schools are continuing to be overpaid. Cook suggests that this is ‘daft’ and if the DfE paid a flat fee of about £200 to all academies, it would be a more accurate mechanism with smaller errors than their attempts at localised estimates.
This, of course, raises a number of issues. First, the reality is that if you convert to Academy status, you get more funds, and that has been the case until now . Secondly the the funding system is very complex, unfair and wasteful, at a time when funding is particularly tight. Some schools feel rather hard done by.
Most worrying perhaps, for reformers at least, is what motivates schools to convert. If it really is just about getting access to more funds, rather than winning and using new freedoms and autonomy, then isn’t there a danger that schools will simply continue as usual rather than bring in changes and innovative approaches that might serve to improve their schools and the system as a whole?
And the funding system seems already to be changing. Academies look unlikely to receive, in the future, as much as they have in the past. Local authorities have changed the way they do their annual spending returns – known as ‘section 251′ returns. As Fran Abrams writes in the Guardian this week ‘councils have quickly adapted to this new use of their existing data, and have started to make their calculations differently. Broadly, what they have done is to remove money from the central, catch-all pot and label it instead as being for a specific purpose, thereby reducing the total amount from which academies get their cut.’ So it may well be the case that the financial benefits of converting to Academy status are already on a downward trajectory.
But , crucially, they will still have their new freedoms. And, by the end of this Parliament, a substantial majority of secondary schools will be Academies.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS ON FREE SCHOOLS
Slow take- up hampered by shortages of capital and sites
Its been apparent for some time that the Government is managing expectations down on Free schools. For a combination of reasons the Free schools initiative (as opposed to the Academies initiative) is not taking off in the way that was anticipated. There are two main problems. Shortage of capital, and shortage of sites. As the Times Educational Supplement reported last week , around half free school bidders are still seeking sites. Katherine Birbalsingh is just one of many who has failed to find a site for her south London bid, and has had to delay opening until next year. Gove once spoke of a “superb new school in every community”. But last year, the department for education – approved just 79. DFE briefed journalists that this was because they had tight vetting procedures, to ensure that only strong bids that could be justified were getting approved. For example before entering into a funding agreement, each proposal for a new free school is subject to an analysis of what the likely impact of establishing the additional school would be on maintained schools, academies, etc in the area in which the additional school is (or is proposed to be) situated. And ,of course, there have been some wacky organisations making bids who have to be vetted out. But this is only part of the story. A more prosaic reason was that there was just not enough capital around and some of the first Free schools were rather expensive to set up. Lisa Nandy the Labour MP and Select Committee member, says that the West London Free School, for example, received £12,416 per pupil in its first year, compared to an average of £7,064. The WLFS, among the most high profile of the institutions, and the first Free school to sign a funding agreement, has cost the DfE £15m. Setting up free schools requires upfront capital expenditure, but the education department has taken a 60 per cent cut to its capital budget. The DfE expected building costs for the first 24 schools to come to £124m. But as Chris Cook pointed out in the FT ‘this is a poor guide to the costs of further free schools. For example, many of the first wave have been subsidised by local authorities. Furthermore, several are private schools that have become state schools, so have only small building requirements.’ Cook added, probably correctly that ‘ Insiders believe the only way to achieve significant numbers of new schools is to find a way to increase the capital budget using private finance – perhaps by letting free schools borrow to pay for their buildings or permitting profit-making companies to enter the market.’ This low number anticipated for opening this year was even less impressive than it first seemed – as the department counted 16 University Technical Colleges towards the total. It appears that the department is planning for around 50 openings of free schools this September. And this is when there is a shortfall of Primary places in London and many other areas of the country, so the demand for new school places is clearly there, if not the capital and sites. So the funding shortage is not just about Free schools but has become a major issue for the Primary sector too. The £600m extra set aside this year to help local authorities deal with the shortfall in Primary places will need topping up sooner rather than later, and it looks as if the Government will have to turn to the private sector for help here too.
The publication of Lord Browne’s Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance marked the beginning of an intense period of policy debate about higher education which is not yet concluded. The Government is shortly to launch its delayed White Paper (probably this week ) amid concerns that the current funding model, with most universities charging the top rate for tuition fees, is unsustainable and cannot be covered by the Treasury .
The introduction, then raising of Tuition fees was always going to bring a spotlight onto the educational offer at our universities. Middle Class parents often support their children financially, either fully or in part, at university to stop them getting into debt and therefore take more interest in what their children actually do at these institutions. Recent research from Edge, the charity dedicated to raising the status of practical education, found that Britain’s middle income parents of children aged 11-18 years old have changed their education aspirations for their child, with many saying university doesn’t provide the best return on investment. Short terms, ‘reading weeks’, (a modern trend that sees Departments effectively closing for a week mid-term) reduced teaching time ,less one to one tuition, along with fewer seminars , assignments and lectures leave the impression of a poorer overall offer and some parents and students clearly perceive declining standards . Certainly parents who have been to university compare their experiences with those of their children and can spot the glaring differences.The focus on research and the funding tied to research has meant that most universities see teaching students as a second order priority. Liberal Arts and other more flexible courses in US universities are attracting more of our best home grown students. Yale has seen UK student enrolments double in five years, with other Ivy League colleges seeing similar increases. Rapid Expansion in university places in the 1980s and 1990s has not been matched over time by funding, the effects of which cannot be concealed. Some students have demonstrated against this perceived decline and the quality of their courses. Student complaints against universities in England and Wales have reached record levels according to the higher education ombudsman’s (Office of the Independent Adjudicator) annual report. The independent adjudicator’s office says complaints rose by 33 % last year. The OIA received more than 2,000 enquiries last year and a record 1,341 complaints . Around half were found not be justified, although there has been a small increase in justified complaints. The OIA found that two universities-Southampton and Westminster were non-compliant ie they failed to comply with the adjudicators rulings.
It is clear that the some universities are finding it difficult to adjust to a changing environment and pay too little attention to the teaching and support they give to their students. The goal posts have shifted. and they are now operating in a world that requires greater transparency and accountability, both in terms of admissions policy , the quality of teaching and course content and the employability of their students.
Seeks to rationalise and streamline Capital
School Planning system too complex and hostile
Sebastian James of Dixons has just completed the Review of Capital Funding for the Government
In July 2010, the Government launched a comprehensive review of all capital investment funded by the Department for Education (the James Review). The purpose of the Review was to consider, in the context of the Government’s fiscal consolidation plans and emerging policy, the Department for Education’s existing capital expenditure and make recommendations on the future delivery models for capital investment for 2011-12 onwards. The overall aim of the Review was to ensure that future capital investment will provide good value for money and strongly support the Government’s ambitions to reduce the deficit, raise standards, tackle disadvantage, address building condition and meet the requirement for school places resulting from an increase in the birth rate.
The main issues identified are:
i. The capital allocation process is complex, time consuming, expensive and opaque. In most cases, decisions are not based on objective criteria which are consistently applied and do not succeed in targeting money efficiently to where it is needed. There are too many different approaches across the various programmes and keynote programmes such as Building Schools for the Future had an approach that, with hindsight, was expensive and did not get to schools with the greatest need fast enough.
ii. The design and procurement process for the Building Schools for the Future programme (and other strategic programmes) was not designed to create either high and consistent quality or low cost. Procurement starts with a sum of money rather than with a specification, designs are far too bespoke, and there is no evidence of an effective way of learning from mistakes (or successes).
iii. A lack of expertise on the client side meant that there was little opportunity to improve building methods in order to lower costs over time, especially for very large and complex Building Schools for the Future projects. The main clients for contracting companies were Local Authorities and head teachers. As a result, despite many hundreds of schools being addressed by the Building Schools for the Future programme, central mechanisms to engineer better solutions were too weak and Partnerships for Schools did not have enough authority to make this happen effectively.
iv. Devolved funding processes did not deliver efficiently the objectives that they were established to achieve. Multiple funding streams diverted funds to those most adept at winning bids rather than necessarily to those in most need. There was little tracking of how money was spent and wide variations in outcome for the same money invested in similar projects.
v. Maintenance is critical to controlling the lifetime cost of schools and the quality of maintenance across the estate is extremely variable. This is exacerbated by the fact that no good quality data is collected on the condition of the estate.
vi. The regulatory and planning environment is far too complex and hostile for building schools. The individual nature of the buildings that have been built historically also meant that every project had to run the gauntlet of these regulations.
The report highlighted five key points
i. There should be a clear and agreed goal for capital expenditure in England: to create enough fit-for-purpose school places to meet the needs of every child. Currently there is considerable ambiguity as to the goals of capital spend.
ii. Capital allocation should be determined using objective information on need for pupil places and on the condition of the local estate. At a local level this notional budget should be turned into a light-touch local plan to achieve the overall goals of the investment. Currently, there is no information held centrally on the condition of the estate and different Responsible Bodies receive capital in different ways.
iii. New buildings should be based on a clear set of standardised drawings and specifications that will incorporate the latest thinking on educational requirements and the bulk of regulatory needs. This will allow for continuous learning to improve quality and reduce cost. Currently the bulk of new schools are designed from scratch with significant negative consequences on time, cost and quality.
iv. There must be a single, strong, expert, intelligent ‘client’ acting for the public sector in its relationships with the construction industry and responsible for both the design and the delivery of larger projects. This body must be accountable for the delivery of buildings on time and to the right budget and quality standards. This is a philosophical shift in approach as it would mean that the Department for Education will deliver not money, but rather a building to meet local needs. Currently, the Department for Education supplies money to the Responsible Body and the principal accountability for delivery lies with them.
v. Responsible Bodies should be accountable for the maintenance of the facilities they own and manage, as these facilities are their tools to use in support of education and the provision of services. That means they have a long-term responsibility to maintain their own facilities as well as to work together in a local area to ensure the education estate meets or exceeds the needs of local children. Currently there is no explicit obligation to maintain buildings and no agreed standard. Funds are wholly devolved to school level making it impossible for Responsible Bodies to prioritise their needs at a local level.
A Summary of the reports main recommendations are included in Appendix A of the report
Among its Recommendations
The review suggests that savings in both time and money of up to 30 per cent could be made in the schools capital funding process.
The review calls for a centralised approach to capital funding and an end to multiple funding streams of investment. It says that allocations should be based on objective facts and data, and that a single capital budget be allocated to local authorities on the basis of local need. These priorities should be agreed on the basis of a Local Investment Plan, which should be based on a template supplied by the Government. It also recommends that the process be significantly flexible to allow several local authorities to work together to create a Local Investment Plan.
Capital funding may be allocated directly to academy chains rather than to the local authority. It is recommended that devolved formula capital allocations are aggregated and given to local authorities or academy chains rather than individual schools, however, for individual academies (converting or not in a chain) funding would be devolved directly to the school.
If this recommendation was to be approved it would probably encourage even more schools to seek academy status as a way of ensuring future capital funding. For Free Schools, the review recommends that they are funded from the centre and that a centrally retained budget should be set aside for them. So funding will be handed out at the government’s discretion. It is unclear how much of the total DFE capital building budget will be allocated, for Free schools or indeed how the decisions to spend it will be taken.. A shortage of funding for Free schools is acting as a significant obstacle to their expansion.
For future new build programmes the review recommends that a set of standardised drawings and specifications is used as a way of reducing costs, stating that it is their belief that best practice can be codified. It is recommended that these specifications are continuously improved through post occupancy evaluation. (not supported by RIBA)
The review also calls for the establishment of a Central Body for school procurement, who would be responsible for negotiating and monitoring contracts. The model would allow for other bodies, such as local authorities and academy chains to earn the ability to procure independently.
For ICT the review recommends that the Government ensures a clear broadband service for schools and says that their needs to be a clear ICT funding allocation model for new build or refurbishment projects. It suggests the use of an ICT Services Framework, the introduction of a web-based price comparison catalogue to enable “virtual aggregation” (which sounds similar to the former Government’s OPEN system) and that the Government should procure a central framework for school MIS.
Funding cuts, lack of investment and unrealistic timescales are all damaging prospects for reform
Careers England commissioned Professor Tony Watts, an international authority on Careers Education Information Advice and Guidance, to deliver a Policy Commentary ‘The Coalition’s Emerging Policies on Career Guidance’ which was published on 18 April
Careers England has expressed the professions deep concern ‘that over the past few months very little progress has been made in turning the Government’s vision for a world-class all-age strategic careers service into reality’ and there has been a failure to address ‘ the urgent issues of transition from current arrangements and statutory duties to the new proposals for careers services for all age groups, alongside the need for absolute clarity about the support to be available to young people in schools in the future.’
Recent Government announcements, in CEs view, have served to clarify some issues, but raised alarm on others. There has also been, despite Ministers claims, very little substantive consultation on the future of Careers guidance with professional bodies and indeed no discussion of detailed plans.
The views in this commentary are those of the author. However, the Careers England Board ‘commends this careful and thorough analysis to all who care for the future of careers services for all age groups in England.’
The current Government has affirmed its intention to strengthen career guidance services in England. Its main rationales are two-fold: promoting social mobility; and moving towards a user-led skills system. In pursuit of this intention, the Government has made three commitments, all of which have been widely welcomed: to establish an all-age National Careers Service (NCS); to revitalise the professional status of career guidance; and, in respect of support for young people, to safeguard the partnership model between schools and external career guidance providers.
The main sources of significant tensions lie between these policies and the Government’s policies relating to school autonomy. Schools will in future have a statutory duty to secure careers guidance services either from the NCS or from other providers (a contractor-supplier relationship); but they may also appoint their own ,careers adviser, so long as they provide, at a minimum, access to online resources (which they could not realistically deny). This undermines the partnership model; it raises issues about how quality is to be assured; and the minimalist option offered as fulfilling the new requirements effectively renders the statutory duty meaningless.
Veiled by these changes and confusions, there are also fears that much or all of the existing funding for face-to-face career guidance services for young people may well be allowed to vanish without trace, without any public announcement to this effect.
Such a dramatic erosion of services for young people would seriously undermine the potential to build better services for adults as well.
There are many issues on which clarification is urgently needed. These include:
The DfE funding contribution to the new all-age National Careers Service.
The structure of the NCS, and the extent to which it is viewed as a strategic body.
The quality standards to be applied to the NCS, and also to other providers within the market in career guidance provision (including suppliers from whom schools can purchase such services).
The proposed new kite-mark and other quality arrangements to encourage and help schools to develop high-quality careers programmes.
How the data for the proposed destinations measure in schools are to be collected; how “added value‟ is to be demonstrated; and what other accountability measures and procedures are to be introduced alongside it.
The role of and relationships between current consultative mechanisms on the emerging policies.
Meanwhile, amidst these uncertainties, many existing Connexions career guidance services for young people are being eroded or dismantled by Local Authority cuts.
If the main elements of the Government’s policies are to be implemented as planned, in a way which improves rather than damages services, there are a number of steps that need to be taken. These include not only establishing the NCS, but also persuading schools to pay for services they have previously received free of charge.
There are grave doubts about whether these steps are achievable within the timetable Ministers have set.
There are also concerns that:
By the time the new market is established, much of the expertise for its professional base will have disappeared.
In the meantime, there will have been a widespread collapse of careers help for young people.
The original BIS vision for the all-age service will have been fatally eroded by lack of serious engagement from DfE, with adverse impact on the services for adults too
There is a real danger that a combination of funding cuts, lack of investment for the future, policy contradictions and a lack of detail, aswell as a lack of consultation and unrealistic timetables will leave this policy in tatters damaging the interests and opportunities of our young people while undermining the governments social mobility agenda. Urgent intervention is required by senior Ministers to address this crisis.
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