Category Archives: schools

TOWER HAMLETS SCHOOLS’ TURNAROUND-WHATS THE SECRET?

Transformation from area of underperformance and failing schools to one with  some of the best urban schools in the world

But Ofsted concerned about outcomes for 19 year olds

Comment

Tower Hamlets, which was praised by Ofsted for its achievements in its Annual Report , is described as having some of the best urban schools in the world,  by  a new report that charts the local authority’s transformation.

In 1997 Tower Hamlets schools were rated as the worst in the country.

But  a  new report  ‘Transforming Education for All: the Tower Hamlets Story’, by three educational academics, Prof David Woods, Prof Chris Husbands and Dr Chris Brown, looks at  how education in this deprived  borough has been transformed over the last few years.

The report notes that in 1998 only 26 per cent of students achieved five or more high-grade GCSEs – well below the national average of 43 per cent.

In 2012, this was up to 61.8 per cent of students achieving five GCSE grades A* to C including English and maths, above the national average of 59.4 per cent.

The authors said in a statement: “The Tower Hamlets story demonstrates that deprivation is not destiny and is an inspiring example to other schools, local authorities and the education system as a whole of what can be achieved.”

Mayor Lutfur Rahman welcomed the report, saying the transformation of the borough’s schools was “a wonderful success story”.

He said: “This success has been hard won. It is the result of tremendous work by students, parents, head teachers, school staff, council officers and politicians over the past 15 years.”

Mr Rahman added: “All those who have been involved in education in Tower Hamlets since 1998 should feel enormous pride in an achievement that is being held up as a shining example to communities around the world.”

Di Warne, head of secondary learning and achievement there, said the key to success was working in partnership with other schools and high expectations and support from local politicians.

“One of the biggest things has been our focus on monitoring and tracking the progress of young people and we do that really rigorously,” she said.

“I suppose what I would say to them [regions that are struggling] is to raise your aspirations and make your aspirations for your young people really clear and that poverty is no barrier to success and I think that is what London has proved more than anything.”

However, before we get too carried away, Ofsted in its annual report found that   sound GCSE attainment in some boroughs, including Tower Hamlets, is not being converted to good outcomes at age 19.

The academics developed seven explanatory themes that they believe have driven the change and improvement witnessed within the Borough. These are:

• Ambitious leadership at all levels

• Very effective school improvement

• High quality teaching and learning

• High levels of funding

• External integrated services

• Community development and partnerships

• A resilient approach to external government policies and pressure

They also  identify six major factors which explain the Tower Hamlets experience:

• Shared values and beliefs with robust and resilient purpose and professional will. ‘Yes we can…’

• Highly effective and ambitious leadership at all levels – Local Authority and school leadership.

• Schools rising to the standards challenge – improved teaching and learning, enhanced Continuing Professional Development, rigorous pupil tracking and assessment, a relentless focus on school improvement.

• Partnership working – inward and outward facing, external and integrated services, shared responsibility and accountability.

• Community development – building collaborative capacity and community cohesion.

• A professional learning community – building momentum and engagement through and across school communities, high levels of knowledge, trust and professional relationships.

Three respected educational academics, Prof David Woods, Prof Chris Husbands and Dr Chris Brown, have analysed how this turnaround was achieved in a report published on 11 December, called Transforming Education for All: the Tower Hamlets Story (PDF, 2mb).

http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/news__events/news/december_2013/boroughs_schools_praised.aspx

LOCAL AUTHORITIES ROLE IN EDUCATION-THREATS AND OPPORTUNITIES

Adapting  to the new environment

Both threats and opportunities are opening up

Comment

Local authorities have had to adapt and evolve their roles in a diversified mixed economy of schools. Most secondary schools are now academies accountable direct to the Secretary of State through their Funding Agreements. The idea of free schools and academies is that they are ‘free’ from local authority bureaucracy. (although there is a myth still around  that Local authorities actually  ran schools).

But they still have the following core roles in respect of education:

Ensuring sufficient supply of school places (something of a challenge in the current environment)

Tackling underperformance in schools

Supporting vulnerable children (SEN etc)

They are carrying out these tasks within a self-improving school system. This places a real responsibility on schools to help themselves and to drive improvement (bottom up as opposed to top down) and to enter into partnerships and collaborative ventures with other schools. There is now a recognition that most of the expertise needed to improve schools lies within schools. So, the leaders of successful schools can create and transfer successful practice into less successful schools. The proposition is that you can raise standards and reduce inequities by strong schools helping partners who are struggling. Local authorities can still, of course, play a role as a facilitator or enabler here. But so too can other players. Agents can, in effect, help foment effective collaboration. Robert Hill and Christine Gilbert recently reported on the challenges faced by Thurrock education authority which is seeking to quicken the pace of improvements in its schools. In their report they best summed up the collaborative approach and prevailing orthodoxy  on how to improve a school system. They wrote ‘there is already considerable evidence that suggests that outcomes improve fastest and children and  young people benefit most, when schools work together to lead improvement  and where they share concern  and responsibility for all children and young people in their area , not just their own school’.    This is what Professor Andy Hargreaves means by ‘collective autonomy’ as opposed to  individual autonomy (which leads to an atomised system) 

School partnerships  can come in the form of  teaching school alliances, Federations, Transition groups and subject networks, both formal and informal, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’. The potential for sharing information, innovation and informed practice throughout the system is significant.

A big challenge for local authorities is to match supply with demand for school places. As we have seen from the crisis in Primary places some are struggling to cope. But the task is not an easy one.  Many more schools are now free to set their own admissions numbers and authorities have to cope with the dual challenges of how to create new school places when demand rises within an autonomous school system   and how to cope with the consequences of over-supply. One factor that makes this a particular challenge is that many academies do not wish to expand in size to meet demand. Do not assume that a successful school, in demand, wants to expand, even if it can.

It is sometimes forgotten, in the midst  of these structural changes to the school landscape, that local authorities continue to hold democratic accountability for securing good outcomes for all children and young people in their area.  They have a statutory duty too  in exercising their education and training functions  to do so with a view to promote high standards and to promote the fulfilment of learning potential. So the challenge, in a somewhat fragmented system, is to ensure that every school has access to school to school support and access to informed external support. Secondary schools can, by and large, access support for school improvement, whether from an external source or from the local authority itself, but there are concerns that Primary schools find this more difficult.   Teaching School Alliances could provide the potential route for schools to source support from other schools in their local areas. Some local authorities appear to  be using these alliances to regain some of  the strategic role and influence  they once had.

One overriding concern that many local authorities have is that in future they may not have the capacity to support and challenge maintained schools given the reduction in local authorities’ school improvement teams and the   consequent haemorrhaging of expertise.

Then there is the issue of accountability and a third tier. Schools can support each other but who is there to act as an independent, third party or broker to challenge them? And is there sufficient shared intelligence in the current system to spot early on declining performance in a school before it impacts on its results and it enters a downward spiral. Those schools that are not part of a chain could be most vulnerable, and most schools are not, of course, part of a chain. What is also quite interesting and little known in this respect is that since January 2013, a total of 25 academy chains have agreed to pause and restrict their growth and further expansion. The government wants chains to concentrate on their quality rather than quantity as there is a perception that some chains have expanded too quickly. But a big question is, given the importance attached to chains within the new system in driving improvements and in providing   accountability-what overall effect will this slowdown have?

Certainly local authorities have challenges on their hands but some are more fleet of foot than others and are becoming brokers to ensure school to school partnerships develop and have access to a range of support. They are also providing traded services to schools and refining these traded services to meet demand, as well as providing advice on quality assurance.  Jonathan Carr-West chief executive of the Local Government Information Unit  recently told Christopher Woolfrey of the Key  that “ councils have had to be more entrepreneurial :to sell services to schools rather than offer them automatically and to make sure these services represent good value. Now its much more of a client provider relationship”. As Woolfrey points out, local authorities are reshaping their relationships with schools and given the nature of their historical relationship and the information and data they have on these schools they potentially enjoy a market advantage over private operators. Whether they exploit this fully is another matter.

LABOUR PARTY POLICY ON FREE SCHOOLS

Labour will support Free schools open or in the pipeline in 2015

Comment

For those  confused about Labours attitude to Free schools,  and there are a few,here is some recent clarification. In his speech to the RSA on 17 June the shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said that Labour  “will not continue with Michael Gove’s Free Schools policy. Existing free schools and those in the pipeline will continue. But in future we need a better framework for creating new schools..”  He continued “There will be no bias for or against a school type- so new academies, new maintained schools, new trust schools- all options. A school system based on evidence not dogma.That is what a One Nation schools system is about.”

Andrew Adonis, the architect of the academies scheme, and still very much involved with Labour policymaking,  writes ‘ Free schools are academies without a predecessor school, like Mossbourne and School21 (Hyman, de Botton etc).  Stephen rightly pledged to support all such schools open or in the pipeline in 2015. Labour will enable more parent-led academies, like the West London Free School, to be established where there is a local demand for places.Where we differ fundamentally from the Conservatives is that they are allowing ‘free schools’ to be established anywhere, whether or not there is a need for additional places, whereas Labour will rightly locate new academies in areas – and there are plenty of them – where there is a shortage of good quality school places.  Pressure on public spending is intense; in 2010 Michael Gove cancelled 715 priority building projects for academies and community schools in desperate need of new or modernised facilities.  It cannot be a priority to establish new academies in areas where there are sufficient good quality places while existing academies and community schools lack the facilities they need to do a good job.’

http://andrewadonis.com/2013/06/17/academies-apprenticeships-and-one-nation-labour/

Note: Goves reaction

Michael Gove, the education secretary, reacting to Twiggs speech   said: “Labour’s policy on free schools is so tortured they should send in the UN to end the suffering. On the one hand Stephen Twigg says he will end the free school programme, but on the other he says he would set up ‘parent-led’ and ‘teacher-led academies’ – free schools under a different name.”

A LATE QUARTET-USEFUL METAPHOR FOR SCHOOLS?

New film focused on a Quartet struggling to stay together  might provide a metaphor for schools

Comment 

The film  ‘A  Late Quartet’ , directed by Yaron Zilberman, sees a Quartet begin to disintegrate following a life changing diagnosis for one its  members  (the cellist-played by Christopher Walken). The main work  in the film is Beethoven’s Opus 131 in C -sharp minor a notoriously demanding  piece for even the most technically gifted  musicians, mainly because Beethoven indicated that it should be played “attacca”, so  without pause between its seven movements. It was regarded by   Beethoven’s contemporaries as a masterpiece   and Schubert asked for  it to  be played  for him on his deathbed.

The Director Zilberman says “When playing a piece for almost 40 minutes without a break the instruments are bound to go out of tune, each in a different way. What should the musician do? Stop and tune, or struggle to adapt, individually and as a group until the  end. I feel it is a perfect metaphor for long term relationships” ( Zilberman draws from Walkens speech at the beginning of the film-Zilberman also co-wrote the screenplay)

It could also be a metaphor for a school  . Teachers  have to adjust individually and  collectively  (through collaboration etc) to ensure that their performance remains  in tune, is sustained  and doesn’t suffer  in quality, over time.( disciplined practice also helps)

Just a thought!

ps Its a beautifully crafted  and  well observed film  without falling into the trap of  being too sentimental . It also  avoids  a corny end .

GROUPING BY ABILITY -EVIDENCE MIXED

GROUPING BY ABILITY -EVIDENCE MIXED

Does it help the equity agenda? Look at international practice.

Comment

Grouping by ability means that pupils with similar attainment levels are grouped together either for specific lessons on a regular basis (setting or regrouping) or as a class (streaming or tracking). The assumption is that it will be possible to teach more effectively or more efficiently with a narrower range of attainment in a class.

The Education Endowment Foundation ,which has reviewed evidence on grouping by ability, found that while there is some evidence that there can be benefits for high attaining pupils these benefits are outweighed by  the direct and indirect negative effects  for mid range and lower performing pupils, with low attaining learners falling behind on average  by  one or two months a year compared to progress in their  class without segregation .The EEF also found  ‘research shows a clear longer term negative effect on the attitude and engagement of low attaining and disadvantaged pupils’.However, and this is important,  the exception  is the impact that separate teaching can have on gifted and talented pupils ‘who benefit from a range of different kinds of   ability grouping’

Jo Boaler, a  Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University  in her paper  ‘The ‘Psychological Prisons’ from which they never escaped: The role of ability grouping in reproducing social class inequalities’ (2005)asserted that the ability grouping policies that the last Labour government had  encouraged  in schools would not be entertained in most other countries in the world and goes some way to explaining the inequities in the UK system.  She writes ‘England strides forward, encouraging extensive ability grouping practices at the youngest possible age. It is only the rarest and bravest of teachers who have managed to resist the pressures to group by ‘ability’ from the current Labour government, thereby maintaining a vision of schooling that promotes equity and high attainment for all.   ‘ In Sweden ability grouping is illegal because it is known to produce inequities. In the US parents have brought law-suits against school districts that have denied high level curricula to students at high school age; the idea that such selectivity in ‘opportunity to learn’ (Porter, 1994) could happen at elementary school is inconceivable for most Americans.   In Japan (Yiu, 2001) students are believed to have equal potential and the aim of schools is to encourage students to attain at equally high levels. Japanese educators are bemused by the Western goal of sorting students into high and low ‘abilities’.

Boaler suggests that one of the most important goals of schools is to provide stimulating environments for all children; environments in which children’s interest can be peaked and nurtured, with teachers who are ready to recognize, cultivate and develop the potential that children show at different times and in different areas. It is difficult to support a child’s development and nurture their potential if they are placed into a low group at a very early age, told that they are achieving at lower levels than others, given less challenging and interesting work, taught by less qualified and experienced teachers, and separated from peers who would stimulate their thinking. Yet the predictability of performance in English schools seems not to trouble policy makers who support early and extensive ability grouping (Carvel, 1996). This is one of the reasons that the UK scores at the bottom of the scale on PISA’s measures of equality (OECD, 2000; Green, 2003) she claims. It is an interesting point. How many children are identified early on as weak in a particular subject and placed in a low ability grouping normally with the worst teacher, and stay there, so reinforcing their sense of underachievement and failure? Quite a few I would suggest.  Large scale analyses of school effectiveness, conducted with international datasets, such as PISA and SIMS, conclude that ‘schools that group students the latest and the least have the highest outcomes.’ Research on ability grouping has persistently shown high correlations between social class and setting (Ball, 1981, Boaler, 1997a), with social class working as a subtle filter that results in the over-representation of working class children in low groups.

Boaler conducted a longitudinal study of two schools, one of which set by ability early on, the other had mixed ability classes and then set by ability just before exams. Cohorts of students in the two schools, who were similar in terms of social class and prior attainment, were monitored for three years (Boaler, 1997a, 2002).. The one that left setting to the last moment had much better results. Indeed, many of the students in the setting school reported that they gave up on their learning when they were placed into any set from 2 downwards.  Boaler was particularly worried about how keen the Governments was to introduce ability grouping in Primary schools.  Her conclusion was that  if the Government ( then Labour) cares about promoting ‘social justice’ then an important part of their agenda for the future must be to learn about equitable and effective grouping policies that promote high achievement for all and reduce rather than reproduce social inequalities.

This is all very interesting given how strongly some educationalists and politicians feel about the positive impact of setting.One experienced teacher, and consultant, Joe Nutt,  commenting on this issue and the Boaler research wrote  ”Taking primary education out of the equation, then any research on setting which doesn’t show an acute awareness of its relevance in different subject disciplines through its design, isn’t worth a great deal. I’d argue that setting in those subjects where knowledge gain is heavily sequential, is almost a necessity. The risk of under-performance works at both ends of the scale and is equally costly’

Politicians shouldn’t be telling schools whether they should set by ability or not, that is called micro-management from the centre and self-evidently undermines school autonomy. It is precisely the kind of decision that should be left to schools themselves, informed by evidence of what works best in practice, in particular contexts.

COLLABORATION AND INTERDEPENDENCE-IS THIS THE KEY TO IMPROVING OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM?

ACADEMIES COMMISSION

Autonomy important but so is collaboration and interdependence

Comment

Andreas Schleicher, from the OECD, was at the public launch last week of the Academies Commission report and for a subsequent academic seminar. Schleicher sought to place  the report into an international context. Yes, he said, the world’s best school systems are those with high levels of school autonomy. But he also pointed out, some of the world’s worst school systems are those with high levels of school autonomy. Autonomy, in short, is no guarantee of success. Autonomy delivers quality only where independence is accompanied by an incentive system and a culture which embeds collaboration and so engenders school inter-dependence.

Professor Chris Husbands, one of the report’s authors,  remarked on  a striking phrase at the launch from Schleicher  who said ‘ “knowledge in education is sticky” – it does not move around the system. So arguably the challenge posed by the Academies Commission is how an autonomous school system can build knowledge about success.  Husbands says “We will not achieve the vision success for all if academisation simply produced archipelagos of excellence. One of the report’s recommendations is that no school should be eligible for an Ofsted “outstanding” rating for leadership unless it can demonstrate success in helping other schools to improve. This, at least, would incentivise collaboration.”

The importance of schools helping each other to improve is not, of course, a new idea. Academies and new Free schools are supposed to demonstrate how they will work with other schools to improve outcomes.This is whats termed a self-improving school system. Back in 2010, Steve Munby, then head of the National College for School Leadership, (now the Chief Executive of CFBT Education Trust) said  “ I believe that school to school support is central to the future of school improvement. We have clear evidence that this approach not only achieves improvement where it is needed but also raises the bar at all levels of our system”

On the autonomy issue Harry Patrinos, the lead education economist at the World Bank group has some interesting observations.  In a blog on the  OECD findings  last year  he wrote:

‘students tend to perform better in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed. Similarly, schools that enjoy greater autonomy in resource allocation tend to show better student performance than those with less autonomy. However, interestingly enough, in countries where there are no such accountability arrangements, schools with greater autonomy in resource allocation tend to perform worse.’  So Patrinos is stressing that autonomous schools must be embedded within a meaningful accountability framework to improve outcomes. He continued ‘ We find that it is the alignment between autonomy and accountability that is important, and not necessarily the levels of education system development that are important in explaining superior academic performance,.. It is not autonomy on its own – or in any way accountability on its own – that produces superior results’.

We have written  before  about the Finnish education system , and why it is so  successful. Finnish schools  receive full autonomy in developing the daily delivery of education services. The ministry of education  believes  that teachers, together with principals, parents and their communities know how to provide the best possible education for their children and youth. Except for guidelines for learning goals and assessment criteria, The National Board of Education (taking care of curriculum development, evaluation of education and professional support for teachers) doesn’t dictate lesson plans or standardized tests. School can plan their own curricula to reflect local concerns. But they also  collaborate closely too.Finnish educators  have been keen to   find ways to help schools and teachers come together and share what they have learned about productive teaching techniques and effective schools. This has resulted in the  creation of multi-level, professional  ‘learning communities’ of schools sharing locally tested practices and enriching ideas, and matching the needs for local economic development

PERCENTAGE OF PUPILS ELIGIBLE FOR FREE SCHOOL MEALS-PRIMARY 19%-SECONDARY 16%

Free school meals

16% of pupils in secondary schools eligible for Free School Meals-19% in Primaries

Comment

Research from the DfE on the take-up of free school meals will be published shortly.  Information on the number of pupils known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals as at January 2012 is published in the Statistical First Release ‘Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics, January 2012′ available at:

http://www.education.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s001071/index.shtml

Free school meal eligibility

• In maintained nursery, state-funded primary, state-funded secondary, special  schools and pupil referral units 18.2 per cent of pupils were known to be  eligible for and claiming free school meals, compared to 18.0 per cent in 2011.

• In maintained nursery and state-funded primary schools 19.3 per cent of  pupils were known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals, an  increase from 19.2 per cent in 2011. (Table 3b)

• In state-funded secondary schools 16.0 per cent of pupils were known to be  eligible for and claiming free school meals, an increase from 15.9 per cent in 2011. (Table 3b)

• In special schools 37.5 per cent of pupils were known to be eligible for and  claiming free school meals, an increase from 36.5 per cent in 2011. (Table

3b)

• In pupil referral units 36.7 per cent of pupils were known to be eligible for and  claiming free school meals, an increase from 34.6 per cent in 2011. (Table

3b)

 

Note- Students who meet eligibility requirements can claim free school meals if they attend school sixth forms, academies, university technical colleges or free schools, but their contemporaries at sixth-form colleges and further education colleges cannot. Fair? Not really.

 

Deposited Paper- 2012-1607 -Department for Education    

Table showing the number of boys known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals in Read more

http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/business-papers/commons/deposited-papers/#toggle-1607

OFSTED; REPORT ON NEW FRAMEWORK FOR THE INSPECTION OF NON-ASSOCIATION INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS

New regime next year

Some concerns over no-notice inspections

Ofsted has published an evaluation report that summarises the responses to Ofsted’s consultation on its proposals for the revision to the framework for inspecting non-association independent schools from 1 January 2013.  The consultation proposed that, in future, key inspection judgements in independent school inspections will be made about: pupils’ achievement; pupils’ behaviour and safety; quality of teaching; quality of curriculum; spiritual, moral, social and cultural development; welfare, health and safety; and leadership and management. Other proposals included inspecting schools without prior notice; amending the inspection judgement ‘satisfactory’ to ‘adequate’; and introducing a different way of inspecting the education provided by children’s homes which are part of a group.  The following inspection proposals will be implemented from 1 January 2013. Ofsted will:

‘Revise the key inspection judgements

There was very strong support for the proposals for the revised key inspection judgements. We plan to implement these, with some minor revisions to those proposed for pupils’ behaviour and safety, and pupils’ moral, social and cultural development following feedback from trial inspections.

 Introduce a leadership and management judgement

There was very strong support for this proposal. We will implement this from January 2013.

Introduce a judgement for behaviour and personal development

This will include the school’s provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and its impact on pupils.

Retain the judgement on provision for pupils’ welfare, health and safety

There was strong support for retaining this judgement from the current framework.

 Introduce a judgement on pupils’ achievement

There was strong support for a judgement that enables inspectors to report both on the standards achieved by pupils in the school alongside the amount of progress pupils make relative to their starting points. This will be implemented from January 2013.

Change satisfactory to adequate

In maintained schools the grade ‘satisfactory’ is to become ‘requires improvement’. In the independent sector we will replace ‘satisfactory’ with ‘adequate’. This reflects the regulatory requirements for independent schools. The judgement of ‘adequate’ will apply to a school that is meeting minimum standards, but that is not good enough to be judged good. Inspection reports will be clear about why these schools are not yet good, what these schools need to do to improve, but will also reflect their strengths. This proposal was supported by consultation responses and will be implemented from January 2013.

Shorten the notice we give of an inspection

We will reduce the notice period to half a day in order to see schools as they really are, while ensuring that schools can make the necessary practical arrangements. We reserve the right to inspect without notice when required.

Improve the way we inspect children’s homes which provide education for a small number of looked after children, particularlythose which are part of a group .Although we received a number of neutral responses to this proposal, therewas strong support from providers to which it applies. We have recentlycarried out the first pilot inspection of education in a group of children’shomes and we will continue to work with the Department for Education(DfE) and with group providers to implement this change from January2013.  The responses to the consultation were strongly in favour of most of Ofsted’s proposals. However, responses varied considerably by respondent type in relation to no-notice inspections. The majority of parents agreed with proposals, but teachers and head teachers were against its introduction for practical reasons. The majority of those who replied – 47% – rejected no-notice inspections, 12% neither agreed nor disagreed and 40% supported the proposal. While most parents and carers – 64% – agreed with the idea, many teachers and ,head teachers – 59% – disagreed.

SHORTAGE OF PRIMARY PLACES

Crisis looms due to funding shortage

A Freedom of Information request revealed that from May 2007, government projections showed a rapidly increasing primary school population in each year from 2009 to 2015.

Despite this, in 2007, Ed Balls then Education Secretary  told councils to remove surplus primary places or risk losing capital funding. Mr Balls issued guidance telling them: ‘The Department has made clear its view that maintaining surplus places represents a poor use of resources – resources that can be used more effectively to support schools in raising standards’. The guidance went on: ‘The Department expects local authorities to make the removal of surplus places a priority’. Local authorities were told they would not receive capital funding if they failed to cut surplus primary school places. ‘Strategies that fail to commit to addressing surplus capacity at local authority or individual school level will not be approved’. The big problem is the baby boom. In 2010, there were four million children in English primary schools; by 2018, there’ll be 4.5 million.  So if Ed Balls blundered, has the Coalition got this covered? No, not really. Although some elements of the education budget were protected, which produced encouraging headlines, there have been swingeing cuts to the capital available for new schools-new schools will be needed to cope with the demand as expanding existing schools is often not possible. And indeed some of the new Free schools are proving to be relatively expensive which also means that this initiative will not have the funding to expand in the way the government would wish (ie there is not enough capital available to fund the demand for Free schools-so bids are being rejected not because they fail to satisfy the criteria-the official stance-  but because there is no money available).  As Jonn Elledge has pointed out in the Guardian the biggest story in education won’t be about academies, or grade inflation, or international league tables: it’ll be about parents petrified they can’t find a school place for their child. The Department for Education’s core resources budget had, of course,  been protected, although there have been allegations that perceived funding shortfalls mean that Heads and governors are dipping in to the Pupil Premium to make up shortfalls . (funding that is supposed to go to disadvantaged pupils).  But its capital budget – the bit that pays for buildings and so forth –  is to fall by 60% over four years. Gove squeezed another £1.2bn out of the Treasury last autumn but nobody thinks that this will be enough to cover the additional Primary places that will be required over the medium term.  The Government may be forced to turn to the private sector for capital , but that is the more expensive option.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE PRIMARY PLACES SHORTFALL?

WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE PRIMARY PLACES SHORTFALL

Where is the funding to create new capacity?

Comment

The Government will have to do something about the chronic shortage of Primary school places.In Greater London alone, primary schools are at an average of 110% of capacity.  The problem has crept up on the DFE and it has only belatedly acknowledged the extent and scale of the problem. Figures show that more than 800,000 extra places will be needed in state-funded nursery and primary schools by the end of the decade. Demand for primary places is projected to increase by 434,000 by 2018, with acute shortages projected in cities such as London, Manchester and Bristol. According to official forecasts, the number of under-11s in the education system will rise from 4m to 4.82m by 2020 – taking the primary school population to its highest level since the early 70s. New free schools (so far just  24 are up and running)aren’t always located where demand is greatest.

Significantly increasing capacity over the medium term is not something that can be avoided. But public funding for this is in short supply.  There are three options in terms of funding the new capacity. Public capital, PFI and straight private capital. The Government looks likely to exhaust the first two options before they move onto the third, because of the perceived political risks associated with it.  But how long will they take in holding out against straight private cash, not least because PFI is  now showing  up on the books?  Clearly accessing private capital is politically problematic, but with other options limited   and so long as its seen as funding for additional schools, then maybe its manageable. One thing is for sure much more thought has got to go in to working out where new Free schools need to be established to meet surging demand. Establishing them in areas where demand is not greatest will not make much sense and will look wasteful.

Note 

In the Autumn Statement 2011, the Treasury announced an additional £600 million of capital basic need funding for schools in England. On 11 April 2012, the Secretary of State announced the allocation of this funding for local authorities. The £600m will be allocated to those authorities that show a shortfall in places as at 2013/14. 110 authorities will have a proportionate share of the £600m, based on data from the 2011 schools capacity forecast. Some  experts  believe that government funding  plans fall far short of what will be  needed  to cover the additional places that will be required. There are also concerns that many  Primary schools will increase very significantly in size, which will be unpopular with parents.Independent schools may see this as a marketing  opportunity as small class size and good pupil teacher ratios  are seen as   key attractions of  the independent sector.