Most people who are interested in education are aware that its quality varies quite a bit across the country. London, formerly a laggard, has been doing well over the last decade and more, while “the North” and some other areas have fallen behind. That much is common knowledge.
But when Education Policy Institute researchers looked at this issue in detail for a recent report, the scale of the problem became more apparent. Researchers identified the English secondary schools which consistently perform well—about 30 per cent of them—in “value added terms.” If these schools were spread evenly across the country, then each area might be expected to have around 30 per cent of secondary places in such high performing schools.
But the reality is not that geographic access is merely unequal—the scale of the inequality is huge and it has been growing since 2010, in spite of government promises to improve education outside London and the South East.
EPI research found that while parts of London have almost 70 per cent of local secondary school places available in high quality schools, the comparable figure in Blackpool and Hartlepool is zero. Indeed, researchers found that 20 per cent of all local areas in England did not have access (in terms of travel times) to a high performing school.
As the fact of this unequal access has been known for some time, you might have thought that over recent years governments would have made some progress in closing the gap.
“Of the 20 local authorities with the biggest increases in access to high performing school places, 16 were in London”
But from 2010 to 2015, local authorities with consistently good access to high performing secondary schools saw the proportion of pupils with access to such schools rise further, from 49 per cent in 2010 to 58 per cent in 2015—most of these areas were in London. Meanwhile, in areas with low densities of high performing schools, access to such places fell from 6 per cent in 2010 to just 5 per cent. This includes not just Blackpool and Hartlepool but Barnsley, Redcar, Knowsley and Middlesborough.
Another way of looking at this is to consider the biggest increases and declines in access to high performing school places. Of the 20 local authorities with the biggest increases, 16 were in London. Of the areas with the biggest declines, none were in London—most were in the North, North East, and Midlands.
What is going on to explain these trends? It is impossible to be definitive from the available data, but we know not only that London has benefited from almost every major government improvement initiative over the last 15 years, but that until recently the “theory of change” adopted by the government was one in which top performing schools helped to spread success through both competition and cooperation. But while this could work in areas with plenty of great schools, if might be far less successful where these are in scarce supply.
Third of state schools in cash deficit
“We’re trying to operate on a shoestring,” says Tim Rawling, chair of governors of a South Gloucestershire primary school.
Staple Hill Primary School is expecting to go into budget deficit this year, with fears of cuts and job losses.
It will not be alone as there were more than 9,000 state schools in England in a similar position last year, according to figures revealed by ministers.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said schools would have “the resources they need”.
The figures were revealed in an answer to a parliamentary question about school finances, against a background of warnings about budget cuts.
The government’s figures showed there were more than 9,400 schools which had been in deficit in 2015-16, more than a third of the total.
At Staple Hill, near Bristol, Mr Rawling said there were concerns about whether such budget pressures would lead to staff cuts.
“It’s frustrating, we’re not being given enough money,” he said.
The reply from Mr Gibb said such a deficit within the year was “not an issue in itself unless it is symptomatic of a trend towards a cumulative deficit”.
“Schools may draw on their reserves in a particular year – for example to spend on capital projects,” he added.
But the figures show that almost 4,000 schools have been in deficit for two years, nearly 1,600 for three years, more than 400 for four years and 100 for five years.
The question was put by Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran, who said: “It is shocking to see thousands of schools across the country reporting budget deficits year after year, and perhaps more shocking still that the minister has played down the issue by claiming in-year deficits are not a cause for concern.
“It should be seriously concerning to this government that 4,000 schools have now reported deficits for two years in a row, and that nearly 4,000 more schools have in-year deficits this year than did five years ago.
“We know parents are being asked to contribute to school funds out of their own pockets, that schools are considering closing early and that subjects are being dropped from the curriculum, as they try to make ends meet,” said Ms Moran.
A coalition of teachers’ unions has also warned that funding problems have not been resolved – publishing figures that 88% of individual schools will have lost funding in real terms between 2015 and 2020.
Head teachers’ leader Geoff Barton said ministers needed to “recognise that the overall level of education funding is totally inadequate”.
In his parliamentary answer, schools minister Mr Gibb said the government wanted to ensure schools “have the resources they need to deliver a high quality education for their pupils” and would have an additional £1.3bn up to 2020, as part of a new funding formula.
Top headlines this week
- ‘Proportion of teenagers entering university at record high.’ (Monday)
- ‘Most primary classes get less than two hours of science a week.’ (Tuesday)
- ‘Unions ‘disappointed’ by colleges’ 1% pay offer.’ (Wednesday)
- ’Teaching in England is not ‘interesting’ enough, says PISA boss.’ (Thursday)
- ’Teachers spending hundreds of pounds a year on classroom supplies.’ (Friday).
- Entries to arts subjects at KS4. The Education Policy Institute (EPI) investigated the take-up of arts subjects at GCSE and concluded that entries had fallen to their lowest level in ten years and that the pressures of funding, the EBacc and Progress 8 were largely to blame
- Funding primer. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) issued a helpful little explainer on the funding reforms announced last week by the Secretary of State
- Thumbs up. John Blake, Head of Education at the Policy Exchange think tank reflected on the government’s recent announcement on primary assessment suggesting that it amounted to good news for most teachers and schools
- Short inspections. Osted reported back on its summer consultation on short inspections confirming an improved conversion process and launching consultation on three further proposals
- Dear head teacher. Ofqual confirmed that the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is about to start sending out letters to participating schools about next year’s National Reference Test which will take place between 19 Feb and 2 March 2018
- Cutting down on waste. Ofqual announced that it was working to reduce paper and excessive regulation as part of the work on its new handbook due out in preview form next month
- Mental health and wellbeing. The Education Support Partnership, a charity providing support and guidance to education professionals, published the results of its latest research, using evidence supplied by YouGov, and highlighting a fairly bleak picture of stress and pressure in the profession
- Bring back Becta? EdTech ‘expert’ Tony Parkin called for a return to some kind of overseeing body to help guide edtech developments given the current rapid pace of change and the need for strategic planning
- Appliance of science. The Wellcome Trust launched Explorify, a new free digital resource to help teachers and pupils alike with all things scientific, as their latest survey revealed that many primary schools struggled to provide more than two hours of science a week
- More maths. The Director of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Maths (NCETM) urged schools to re-consider their entry requirements for their A’ level maths courses so as to encourage more students to take up post-16 maths courses in a blog on this summer’s maths performance.
The most important set of numbers for many working in schools at least came in the Education Secretary’s Statement yesterday on school funding. The Statement rounds off the long-running consultation on fair funding, outlines the transition arrangements to the new formula over the next two years, confirms the minimum per pupil funding level for both primary and secondary as well as additional needs, and throws in some additional money in the form of a £110,000 lump sum for every school and £26m for rural schools.
Responses have so far have been mixed. The new National Education Union complained that there was no new money and no long term guarantees while ASCL welcomed the commitment to minimum funding levels but feared there still wasn’t enough going into the pot overall. And, of course, it still leaves 16-19 provision exposed and uneasy.
Elsewhere, the biggest batch of numbers this week was to be found in the 2017 Education at a Glance publication, the OECD’s annual report on how education systems across 35 member countries are performing.
The TES and Schools Week as ever have useful summaries of the whole thing but key messages that stand out for the UK include that we (the UK) spend more on education than other member countries though it’s a different picture for higher education for which the report offers a cautious welcome to the current fee regime. Also we have high class sizes, falling teacher salaries and high teacher workloads along with low investment and numbers in vocational education, high numbers of graduates and apparently, “greater proportions of both men and women suffering from depression than other countries with available data.”
Top headlines this week
- ‘Average teacher received ‘paltry’ 0.6% pay rise last year.’ (Monday)
- ‘Teacher retention efforts not working.’ (Tuesday)
- ‘Education’s big beasts to be grilled by Education Select Committee.’ (Wednesday)
- ’Historic schools funding change confirmed.’ (Thursday)
- ’Apprentices used as cheap, subsidized labour, survey suggests.’ (Friday)
Quotes of the week
- “We are finally making the decisive and historic move towards fair funding” – the Education Secretary reminds MPs of the importance of the school funding changes
- “These changes will free up teachers to educate and inspire young children while holding schools to account in a proportionate and effective way” – The Education Secretary spells out new plans for primary assessment
- “I don’t think it would be helpful to look only at the financing side of the equation – we need to look more broadly at the range of products offered to students” – the Chancellor indicates that he’s looking at HE financing ahead of this year’s Autumn Budget
- “Increasingly flexible employment is sold to us as a benefit … They call it the gig economy – and who doesn’t like going to a gig?” – Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn on the nature of gigs
- “So let’s throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the harbor. And catch the trade winds in our sails” – Jean-Claude Junker casts off in his annual State of the Union speech to the European Commission
- “Our main focus this year is the curriculum which is especially important for people from disadvantaged backgrounds” – Chief inspector Amanda Spielman highlights the importance of Ofsted’s emerging curriculum review
- “It is most certainly not untouchable, we have the learners’ interests at heart” – the Skills Minister defends government actions over Learndirect
- “I was never allowed to call them ‘vocational’ diplomas because the ‘v-word’ was associated with low aspiration and blue overalls” – former Education Minister Lord Jim Knight reflects on the previous Labour government’s Diploma programme ahead of further work on T-Levels
- “I’m expecting this to happen in the next ten years” – Sir Anthony Seldon spies automated teaching on the horizon as part of a new book on the subject next year
- “Bring back National Service for our jobless youth – and send them abroad as a hurricane relief force” – Norman Tebbit kills two birds
We are an education consultancy business based in the South East of the UK. Over the past 5 years, we have supported many schools including some who have been facing serious challenges. We have had a high success rate in working with and empowering those staff who would remain in the school.
Recently, we have made some changes and have started to work with University of Buckingham and are helping on the tutoring of Trainee Teachers.