Education Bulletin Brief Alerts - February 2019

T Level Introduction For Real

T Levels are becoming a reality as the expression of interest for providers who are interested in delivering T Levels in the academic year 2021 to 2022 closes on Thursday, 28 February 2019. Full details of T levels and the timeline can be found here. T levels are intended to provide an alternative route post-16 and the government hopes that they will prove a foundation for ‘up-skilling Britain in the future.’ In a linked development, the government has announced that higher apprenticeships (Level 4 or above) will in future be included in higher education destination data.

Top-Slicing and Other Cuts

It has been revealed that thirty-six local authorities have top-sliced more than £22.4 million in total from school budgets to make up for the loss of the education services grant. In at least one case this has equalled over £60 per pupil. At the same time, the Local Government Ombudsman has censured Norfolk County Council for its lack of SEN provision in two cases. He pointed out that he had upheld nine similar complaints in Norfolk.

In a slightly different situation a multi-academy trust has top-sliced its schools’ budgets to appoint advisers on the curriculum in anticipation of the new Ofsted framework. A further indication of the pressures on schools was the fall in CPD spending by up to 12% in secondary school and 7% in primary. Some schools have also calculated that the funding formula has not been adjusted to allow for the change to Universal Credit and that this is likely to result in a fall in their funding.

Home Schooling?

There has been further concern about home schooling, with a discovery that more than 2,200 pupils in Birmingham and the West Midlands are 'disappearing' from the school roll just before they sit their GCSEs. The pattern of increasing home schooling in Key Stage 4 appears to be significant across local authorities. The Office of the Schools Adjudicator has reported that more than 52,000 children are registered as ‘home educated’ but believes that because there is no duty to register the true number is much greater. The overall increase in the number being home-educated has risen between 40% to 70% in some areas and at least one local authority felt able to claim that ‘many of these are instantly identifiable as inappropriate.’ While the media have seized on these figures as further evidence of cynical efforts by schools to improve their results, it is important to note that a significant driver in at least one local authority was failure to get a child into a preferred school: up to 9%. It seems that despite home-educating parent pressure groups’ representations, greater supervision of home education is likely at some point in the future. Ironically, the European Court of Human rights has recently ruled that it was reasonable for officials in Darmstadt, near Frankfurt, to assume that Christian parents who insisted on home educating their children had "endangered their children by not sending them to school", and to take the children into care. The court concluded that "Based on the information available at the time, the domestic authorities had reasonably assumed that the children were isolated, had had no contact with anyone outside of the family, and that a risk to their physical integrity had existed’.

Public Accounts Committee Report

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has published a report on the running of academies; and some other issues affecting all schools. It is concerned about accountability. In its view, academy trusts do not make enough information available to help parents and local communities understand what is happening in individual academy schools. The Department is not adequately meeting the needs of users in presenting financial information about academy trusts. It is not clear to whom parents can turn when they need to escalate concerns about the running of academy schools and academy trusts. Where there have been serious failings at academy trusts the Department has not had an effective regime to sanction the academy trustees and leaders who were responsible. The ESFA is not sufficiently transparent about the results of inquiries into concerns about the financial management and governance of academy trusts. In addition, more generally, neither Ofsted nor the Education and Skills Funding Agency assesses the impact of funding pressures on the quality of education and the outcomes schools achieve; and nearly a quarter of schools have still not provided the information that the Department needs to understand fully the extent of asbestos in school buildings and how the risks are being managed.

In response to the report, the DfE spokesperson disagreed: “We do not accept the PAC’s negative characterisation of academies, in which standards of education have risen for thousands of pupils.

The majority of academies are delivering a great education and - as recognised by the PAC - we are taking robust action in the small minority of cases where they are not meeting the high standards expected. Academies are subject to higher levels of accountability and transparency than local authority schools. Academies must publish their annual accounts and this year we added new requirements on related party transactions. We have also taken steps to increase accountability by publishing lists of trusts who do not return accounts on time; and by challenging trusts who pay high executive salaries.”

Given this difference of view between the PAC and DfE, it might be prudent for schools to examine whether any of the strictures of the PAC might apply in some respects to their own local arrangements.

Asbestos Again

Two construction companies have been fined after sub-contractors working under their control were exposed to asbestos fibres during school refurbishment work. Two of their subcontractors, who were removing suspended ceiling tiles from rooms in a school, entered a storage room which had a suspended ceiling made from asbestos containing ceiling tiles. They started to remove the tiles, unaware that they contained asbestos, potentially exposing themselves to harmful asbestos fibres. A licensed asbestos removal company working on site alerted management to the situation and action was taken to stop the work and deal with the contamination.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the principal contractor for the project, failed to effectively plan, manage and monitor the work to prevent the accidental removal of the asbestos containing tiles. The HSE investigation also found the contractor appointed to carry out the suspended ceiling removal work, also failed to effectively plan, manage and monitor the work. It provided only a generic risk assessment and method statement which failed to identify important information, including the asbestos risk.   

The lead firm was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,759.76. The sub-contractor was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £47,184.48. Fortunately this work was being done in the holidays but it is a reminder that schools need to make sure that contractors they employ are informed of asbestos in the school and it is made clear that the school expects the very highest standards to be observed.

Danger at Work

Following a request by Scotland’s first Minister that teachers should write to her detailing their experience of working in schools, an alarming degree of violence was revealed. One of the more distressing letters read:

“The class teacher was hit, I was kicked and punched. My amazing support staff were subject to repeated kicks to the stomach and were bitten." The Opposition suggested that the Scottish Government’s policy of ‘mainstreaming’ is partly responsible for this.

It is important for all schools to recognise that there is a duty to ensure the safety of staff. In an analogous case a National Health Trust was recently fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £28,000. The case involved an attack in a psychiatric hospital but while recognising the extreme situation, the HSE Inspector Joanne Williams said, “the Trust nevertheless had a duty to ensure the safety of its staff and its patients so far as was reasonably practicable. In this case there were relatively straightforward steps that could have been taken prior to the incident to prevent it happening.“ Where schools have potentially violent pupils the same duty applies to them. Clear plans to minimise risk should be developed and procedures laid down and checked on.

Adult Education

Schools and colleges would claim to be in the business of encouraging life-long learning, yet  AXA Insurance last year published a report that warns that British people face a future of ‘impoverished opportunity’ if the current decline in adult education continues. National data published last year revealed a steady decline from the high point of 2001, when 46 per cent of respondents reported taking part in some form of learning, to a record low of just 36 per cent last year. According to AXA:

  • Generations of British people feel priced out of adult education, leaving an estimated 18 million adults without the courses they need. This is despite three quarters of people under 30 thinking that requalifying will be a necessity in the future.
  • Shaky lifelong learning culture: the average British adult last studied in any form 11-20 years ago; a quarter – more than three decades ago

Now universities and educational charities have joined forces to form a Centenary Commission as part of the ‘Adult Education 100’ campaign, to mark 100 years since the Ministry of Reconstruction – created towards the end of the First World War – published its ‘Report on Adult Education’ and argued lifelong education was vital for the future of the country. The Commission is ‘to consider what education is required in the face of longer lives, changing work needs and global challenges including the growth of technology, and address the role of adult education in globalisation, civic engagement and democracy, social mobility and communities.’

Corporate Credit Cards and ESFA Guide on Fraud

As the financial situation becomes tighter it is worthwhile checking on corporate credit cards and their use. While they have many advantages, their use may attract unwelcome attention. In rare situations they may give the opportunity for inappropriate use or even fraud. The ESFA has published a guide to how it expects allegations of fraud to be handled. It is available here.

Mental Health Services for Children

Mental health has become a significant issue for schools. Stories of pupils waiting for months for help from CAMHS, even leading to attempted suicide, have been rife. Proposals for the new school mental health teams form a strand of the government’s green paper on children and young people’s mental health. In its NHS Long Term Plan the government said that by 2023-24, an extra 345,000 children will be able to access mental health support via local health services and new school-based mental health support teams. Although a pilot programme will start this year it will only reach up to one in four schools by 2023.The parliamentary education and health committees last year criticised the government’s plans, warning they “lack any ambition” and will put additional pressure on teachers without providing schools with extra resources.

Now the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has recommended that since the plan “only covers a minority of children and young people”, the Department of Health and NHS England “should provide annual updates to the committee on progress in implementing and evaluating the pilot schemes for the mental health support teams in schools”.

And Finally...

League tables

The annual performance data publication has produced the annual conflicting interpretations, reinforcing the view that ‘the numbers’ are most use to individual schools in their pursuit of improvement, rather than giving a clear indication of the relative quality of education of different types of school. And, as always, the numbers are indicative rather than determinative. As someone said, “Statistical information is like geophysical results in archeology. They tell you something is there underground; but you have to dig to find out whether it is a Victorian field drain or a Roman villa.” In the 2018 to 2019 academic year, the Department for Education (DfE) won’t use ‘coasting’ and ‘floor standards’ for intervention. It will only intervene on the grounds of educational underperformance if Ofsted has judged a school as ‘inadequate’.

DfE will consult on a new way to identify schools eligible for future DfE-funded support.

It Could Happen on Your School Trip

Recently a school party returning from a trip discovered a migrant stowaway in the coach’s luggage compartment. The individual concerned was arrested by a parent who by an extraordinary coincidence happened to be a special constable. You never know...

Diversion of Resources

It has been announced that substantial numbers of civil servants have been redeployed from Ofsted and the DfE to help the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and HM Revenue and Customs with plans for a No Deal Brexit. It is not clear whether this might limit new initiatives from the DfE.

And...

“It is clear that we have reached the limits of using data alone as a proxy for educational quality. Inspection should capture the things that no data measure can, no matter how well constructed. We need to look at how a school has achieved results, not just take them at face value, and at the things that aren’t and often can’t be measured.”
Amanda Spielman (HMCI)

The law and practice referred to in this article has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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