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Friday, November 27, 2015

We need to start telling the truth about education funding

Having had a little more than 24 hours to reflect upon the chancellor's autumn budget statement for 2015, I thought I would let off a little steam here.

You cannot claim (as they do in section 11.8) to be,

"protecting the schools' budget in real terms"

when in the next line you are, 

"making around £600 million savings from the Education Services Grant (ESG) and supporting schools to realise efficiencies"

That is the same as saying that you are protecting the NHS and ensuring that staff salaries rise with inflation... but henceforward doctors and nurses and patients will have to pay for their own scalpels, dressings, medicines, training, management, financial control, audit etc. etc.

You see there is a lot of detail in those three little letters E, S & G which currently represent about 2.5% of the budget of all of the academy trusts in the country.  It's the money that LAs and MATs get over and above the School Budget Share which is supposed to pay for the school-led system that we are all building.  It works out at £87 per pupil per year and in return for it people like me are personally and criminally liable for keeping children and schools: safe, solvent, legally complaint, structurally sound and educationally improving.  It compares with approx £18-34 per child per day (between £3,500 and £6,500 per year) that we are funded to actually teach children and run primary schools. So it is a very small sum but an important one.

The statement goes on to say that the DfE will consult on reducing, 

 "the local authority role in running schools and remove a number of statutory duties. "

But I notice they are not going to look at a significant reduction in the obligations upon academies.

It's not that we didn't know that austerity was coming.  It would just be nice to be told openly.  If we have to take 8-10% out of education over this parliament then say so and don't dress it up as an increase.

We seem to be heading from a school-led system to a school-funded system...

Friday, June 5, 2015

Can we stop looking at the bloody trees please and concentrate on the wood?!

A thought is starting to bubble up in my conversations with Caroline (the originator of the Elliot Foundation) about our education system.

The centre of focus in the education debate has (nearly always) been on the individual child and the individual school and its individual teacher.  Because, of course, this is what the individual voter actually cares about... As a result the debate becomes how can you improve the outcomes for the individual child in the individual school?  Which in turn leads to the identification of 'failing' schools and what can be done to 'turn them around' 

But the child and the family, the teacher and the school don't actually exist in isolation.  Children and families can move between schools.  As can teachers and headteachers. They are part of a system.  And no-one is talking about the system.

I don't care if you have taken one primary school from special measures to outstanding in an alarmingly short period of time.  Well done! You are amazing and thank you!  But we can't build a system upon you or the very very small number of people like you.

The question is how do you take 2,917  primary schools (or 18%) that are currently R.I. or Inadequate and get them to Good or better and keep them there for a sustained period of time? 

And can you do it without those schools that are currently judged good or outstanding slipping back down the pole through neglect and lack of support?

[Just to establish some credibility in this debate, the Elliot Foundation's 18 primary schools have gone from 66% sponsored academies (below floor, vulnerable or in category) to 83% good or outstanding in under three years despite being in the most deprived quintile (bottom 20%) demographically.  But this is not about us]

Perhaps you are of the opinion that 100% of the country's primary schools being judged good or better by OfSTED is an absurd ambition... Then what is an acceptable percentage?  And how long should it take for 'the system' to help these schools out of these judgements? 

This then gets us into the real questions:
  • What is an acceptable failure rate as a percentage for the system as a whole?
  • What is a reasonable funding point? (i.e. what is the point at which the law of diminishing returns really kicks in...?)
  • What is a school? Is it a collection of classrooms? What in turn is a classroom?  Could a classroom exist in multiple places at the same time (think rural schools)
  • What is a teacher?
  • What is a learner and how do we know when we have built one?
Just thinking...






Friday, May 1, 2015

Towards a congruent education system


On Wednesday this week I was invited to make a presentation at the Academies Show at ExCel, to which I have had a genuinely surprising and flattering response.  So I thought I would repeat here, one of the ideas I shared that seemed to resonate.



First up I admit that this is a false dichotomy.  But it has been my general experience that schools are systems that function by identifying success.  At its simplest we want teachers in classrooms who can spot when a child is learning... and ideally get out of the way and move on to another child.  Intervention in inverse proportion to success is hardly a new idea.  The thing about systems like these is that they tend to enable.

Unfortunately, the wider education system functions by identifying and, where possible, avoiding failure.  By wider education system I mean Ofsted, the DfE, the EFA, the NAO, the Public Accounts Committee, HMRC et al.  The trouble with systems like this is that they tend to control and when you add the context of fiscal constraint they tend to control even more.

Now to be absolutely clear, I am not advocating a return to some wild, unregulated summer of love.  But the size of the arrows in my diagram above are indicative;  the downward pressure is often stifling.  This is a waste of money and more importantly a waste of opportunities and lives.

The focus of any new government ought to be on balancing the forces or reversing the polarity of the top arrow so that the system becomes congruous.

Just a thought...


Election thoughts

Given that I run a government funded charity, blogging about politics is not wise. It's silly to bite the hand that feeds you. And during an election it's advisable to avoid chomping on the mitt that doesn't currently feed you...

As in just a few weeks the roles might be reversed.

But there have been some spectacularly stupid points that keep getting repeated without challenge in all the media and it's driving me nuts!  And as the representatives of all parties are annoying me almost equally I shall break cover and vent my spleen

1. "Labour broke the economy and the Tories fixed it..."
Piffle!  Labour didn't break the global financial system.  We all did.  Some probably bear more responsibility than others (Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, RBS etc.) but those of us who took on more debt than we could probably afford are about as culpable as those who were in government when the proverbial ordure hit the fan.  In fact it's possible that Gordon Brown did quite a lot to prevent the damage from being any worse.

Does this allow Labour to get off the charge? Well, no because Labour clearly overspent for a period of time without demonstrable benefit in some areas. But that is the problem with left wing governments they tend to overspend, to centralise and to waste.

Equally the Tories shouldn't be allowed to crow about any financial miracle.  Most of the improvement is the, slower than expected, turn of the financial cycle.  But we're far from out of the mess.  What financial recovery there has been has come from low income jobs done by migrants.  Society hasn't improved.  The Tories wanted to make the state smaller anyway; the deficit was simply an excuse.

And the Lib Dems... Well who cares what the Lib Dems think because I don't think even they know at the moment.

But last night Nick Clegg actually parroted the Conservative line that in 2010 the UK was teetering on the brink of Greece style collapse. This sort of misrepresentation ought to be banned.  In 2010 the UK's GDP was 2,208 $US bn while Greece's was 321 $US bn (source).  So our economy was 7 times the size of Greece's.  It is ludicrous to compare the UK debt to the Greek debt in absolute terms. The UK's budget deficit was -11.4% in 2010 and in 2015 it will be -5.7%.  So the coalition is half as crap at balancing the books as it was when it took power.

But I don't blame them either.  I just get really annoyed when they claim credit for things they haven't done and dodge responsibility for things they have done. The economy isn't fixed. It wasn't broken, just depressed, for longer than average.

2. We need to crack down on immigration
No. We don't.

Why? As mentioned above any economic improvement over the last five years has largely been driven by immigrants, population growth and low paid work. Stop immigration and the recovery will come to a grinding halt.  And just because some affable rogue who claims to be anti-establishment in a terrifyingly transparent appeal to the masses tries to frighten shouldn't make this one of the centre pieces of the election.  That some cretin in the Labour party saw fit to approve a coffee mug advocating immigration controls is one of the low points so far.

Lovely article here with real figures on the economic impact of migration

In straightened economic times it is common to find the rise of nationalism.  It's human. We need to find someone to blame... other than ourselves of course.  Think Weimar republic and the rise of Hitler. Think Stalin and the purges. But it is simple posturing.  As Samuel Johnson said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel".  But after the stomach churning nonsense on social media on St. George's day last week I'm more inclined to go with Oscar Wilde... "Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious".

3. We need to get out of the EU
Well aside from the fact that the EU has successfully avoided a major war between major powers since 1945 and could be argued to be more successful than any other supra-national institution ever... Feel free to leave.  It will destroy the economy and make us even more inward looking, arrogant and small minded.  The Empire has gone. We are not that important any more.  Get over it.

In the EU but out of the Euro has been almost like winning an economic lottery.  London will not remain the heart of the global finance system because of its geographical location its language and its architecture.

See above finding someone other than yourself to blame for problems...

4. Crime is still an issue
Fear gets more votes than aspiration so this one will probably never go away.  But still there is scaremongering despite crime being at an almost all time low. There was a lovely piece in the news yesterday which I can't find just now about politicians making absurd claims about Justice policy when there was little or no evidence to support their assertions.  And that, apparently, more bobbies on the beat appears to raise the fear of crime...

There are others but those are the ones that really annoy me at the moment.

I feel better already...