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MPs demand more robust school spending checks

MPs demand more robust school spending checks

BBC |May 11, 2012

By Angela Harrison Education correspondent, BBC News
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A committee of MPs says it fears the system for checking school spending in England is not robust enough.

The Public Accounts Committee says value-for-money checks on education and children’s spending need improving.

And it says it is alarmed by reports of “worrying expenditure”,such as high salaries for staff, in some academies.

The government says it is publishing more data than ever on how schools spend their money and this will improve accountability.

It says it is consulting on further measures, but that there is a balance to be struck between rigorous accountability and burdening schools with bureaucracy.

Last year, the Department for Education distributed more than£56bn to schools, local authorities and other public bodies for education and children’s services in England.

‘Weakness’ concerns

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said it was not clear how responsibility for ensuring value for money was divided up.

The report comes as the government presses ahead with moves to get more schools to become academies.

Almost half of England’s secondary schools are now academies, which are funded directly from central government and are independent of local authorities.

Labour MP Mrs Hodge said: “As the government devolves the delivery of education and children’s services in England, it becomes ever more important for the department to tell us exactly how accountability to Parliament is going to work so that we can properly follow the taxpayer’s pound.

“We remain very concerned at the weakness of the proposed arrangements to ensure accountability for value for money.”

The committee’s report concluded: “The department needs to do more work to clearly define how funding streams will be monitored, audit arrangements, and processes to support whistle-blowers.”

And the committee said it was “alarmed” by reports of “worrying expenditure” in schools, such as high salaries being paid to senior staff in academies.

It highlighted the case of the Priory Academy Trust in Lincolnshire, where the chief executive recently resigned from his£200,000-a-year post after an investigation.

The trust had employed his daughter and his son and he had used its credit card to buy personal items.

The MPs’ report said: “We are concerned that the accountability framework is not sufficiently robust to address operational or financial failure of service providers”.

Governing bodies of schools and academies have responsibility for ensuring there is good financial management and that they achieve value for money.

Local authorities oversee the financial management of non-academy state schools in their areas, while a separate body has this responsibility for academies.

Until April, this body was the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA), but this has now been replaced by the Education Funding Agency (EFA).

The committee said it was concerned that respective responsibilities for value for money between the Department for Education, the YPLA and academies seemed “blurred”.

The Department for Education says it is taking steps to improve accountability – and that by publishing more data on schools, people will be able to see how money is being spent.

“Local authorities are statutorily responsible for ensuring effective financial management in their schools and we are strengthening arrangements for the assurances they provide us with,” a spokesman said.

“Academies have more rigorous financial systems in place than maintained schools, and have a statutory requirement to produce independently audited annual accounts.

“The department and Education Funding Agency challenge academies if they believe funds are being spent inappropriately.”

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Higher education ranking: UK ‘10th best’

Higher education ranking: UK ‘10th best’

BBC |May 10, 2012

By Judith Burns Education reporter, BBC News
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The author of a report on international higher education has questioned whether UK universities can remain world leaders without more funding.

The report for Universitas 21 rated the UK 10th best at providing higher education in a ranking of 48 countries.

The study put the UK second for university research and teaching but 27th for spending on higher education.

Universities UK said other more established global rankings regularly put the UK system second to top.

Ross Williams, lead author of the Universitas 21 study, said the evidence showed the UK system was very efficient.

Professor Ross, of University of Melbourne, told BBC News: “The model is that if you want to maintain high output you must maintain high resource levels.

“Think of all the extra resources that are going to higher education in East Asian countries. You are going to have to put in more resources even to maintain your rankings.”

Universitas 21, an international group of universities, claimed the new ranking was the first to compare the effectiveness of national higher education systems.

‘US tops ranks’

Their analysis put the United States top, followed by Sweden, Canada, Finland and Denmark.

The UK was ranked 10th overall despite coming second only to the United States on the strength of the universities themselves.

It came 27th for the resourcing of universities and 41st out of 48 for government spending on higher education.

The report claims: “The difference in ranking between output and resources is the greatest for all 48 countries and reflects very high productivity.”

Universities UK, which represents all UK universities, said it was difficult to compare international education systems – but other more established compilers of world rankings such as Times Higher, QS and Shanghai Jiaotong consistently rated the UK as second behind the United States.

Chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: “League tables cannot tell the whole story… and positions will vary from one table to the next, depending on the selection of criteria and methodology used.

“Based on measures of output and efficiency, the UK remains the second strongest university system in the world after the US.

“It attracts more overseas students per capita than the majority of major higher education systems, and it remains one of the world’s leading research powers measured by total publications and citations.

“However, we continue to spend less as a percentage of GDP than the average of OECD countries.

“We should remain acutely aware that other countries are investing more than the UK and that our reputation as a world-class provider of higher education is not a foregone conclusion.”

Gove attacks low expectations for England’s poor children

Gove attacks low expectations for England’s poor children

BBC |May 10, 2012

By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter
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Education Secretary Michael Gove has attacked an English culture that accepts poverty limits the achievements of poor children.

He told a conference of independent school heads that parentage dictates progress in England more than in any other country.

But there need be no difference in educational performance between pupils from poor and wealthier homes, he said.

Other countries were already closing the achievement gap, he added.

‘Stubborn’ achievement gap

Research suggests children from poor homes are already behind by the the time they start school, and that the achievement gap widens as they progress through their education.

At GCSE there remains a “stubborn and unchanging gap in achievement” between the number of disadvantaged pupils who achieve five good GCSEs – including English and maths – and the rest of the population.

Speaking at a conference at independent Brighton College, in East Sussex, Mr Gove said it did not need to be this way.

He cited evidence of other countries closing and even eradicating the attainment gap.

He said: “Deprived pupils in Hong Kong and Shanghai, who struggle with challenges far greater and more debilitating than any we know here, achieve as highly as their English peers from the most comfortable homes.

“Only 24% of disadvantaged students in the UK perform better than expected compared with 76% in Shanghai, 72% in Hong Kong and 46% in Finland.

“The OECD average is 31% – putting the UK well behind countries like Poland, Greece, Slovenia, Mexico and Chile when it comes to making opportunity more equal.”

‘Unwavering focus’

Mr Gove added: “Despite the evidence that other nations are closing the gap between rich and poor through great state schooling, some in this country still argue that pupil achievement is overwhelmingly dictated by socio-economic factors.

“They say that deprivation means destiny – that schools are essentially impotent in the face of overwhelming force of circumstance – and that we can’t expect children to succeed if they have been born into poverty, disability or disadvantage.”

Mr Gove said he did not accept this, adding that there were a growing number of schools “proving that deprivation need not be destiny – that with the right teaching and the right values they can outperform everyone’s expectations”.

Research has suggested there are more than 440 secondary schools where the average GCSE point score for children on free school meals – a key measure of poverty – is higher than the national average for all children.

Mr Gove said: “What they share is an unwavering, unapologetic focus on standards.

“Led by inspirational heads and teachers, every day these schools are proving the pessimists and fatalists wrong.”

‘Hard work’

He continued: “They show us all that there need be no difference in performance – none whatsoever – between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from wealthier homes.

“They show us that a difficult start in life can be overcome, with hard work and good teaching.”

Mr Gove said the government must stand for “aspiration, ambition, hard work and excellence – for success based on merit and a celebration of those who do succeed”.

He said he knew the government was making progress when he heard opposition from what he described as vested interests in the trade unions and local government.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: “Launching another attack on the teaching profession is not the way to close the gap between poorer and richer pupils.

“The truth is that the government’s key measure – the pupil premium – is not being targeted at the poorest children because many schools are using it to plug holes in their budgets.”

But general secretary of the NASUWT union Chris Keates said:“Coalition ministers are becoming more and more frantic as their flawed ideological policies, which are creating a lost generation of children and young people and plunging millions into poverty, are exposed.”

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: “Michael Gove is right to highlight the fact that the UK has a ‘profoundly unequal society’.

“It is a great shame that the Coalition government’s policies will do nothing to alter this fact, and in many cases will make matters even worse.

“Cutting the Education Maintenance Allowance and raising the cost of university tuition fees has meant that for many poorer pupils further or higher education is not an option.

“This is a decision based not on their educational achievements but on their family’s economic abilities to keep them in education.”

Starkey makes ‘cultural’ link to gang jailed for sexually exploiting girl

Starkey makes ‘cultural’ link to gang jailed for sexually exploiting girl

guardian.co.uk |by Jessica Shepherd on May 10, 2012

David Starkey

David Starkey told a headteachers’ conference that the gang jailed for sexually exploiting girls were ‘acting within their cultural norms’. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe

David Starkey has risked fresh criticism for describing a largely Pakistani gang jailed for sexually exploiting young girls as “acting within their cultural norms”.

Speaking at a conference for private school headteachers in Brighton, the historian said the gang’s actions were evidence of“what happens when [a country like Britain] has no sense of common identity”. “Nobody ever explained [to these men] that the history of women in Britain was once rather similar to that in Pakistan and it had changed,” Starkey told his audience of more than 100 headteachers.

He called on schools to teach English history to ethnic minorities so that “they are … first and foremost English citizens and English men.”

On Wednesday, a gang of nine men, from Rochdale in Greater Manchester, were jailed for a total of 77 years for sexually exploiting girls as young as 13. The men plied the girls with drugs, alcohol, food and presents and then passed them around for sex.

The case sparked a debate about race after Martin Narey, the former chief executive of Barnardo’s children’s charity and the government’s adoption tsar, told the BBC’s Today programme that in northern cities, there was a “very significant over-representation of Asian men, Pakistani men in these terrible crimes”. He also said that child abuse was mainly perpetrated by white men.

“I’m not saying this is just Asian or Pakistani men …[but] street trafficking in the north does appear be overwhelmingly about Pakistani and Afghan men,” Narey said.

Keith Vaz, chair of the home affairs select committee, warned against generalisations and said the criminal justice system“shouldn’t dance to the tune of the BNP”.

Starkey suggested that schools teach pupils the origins of modern feminism and the emancipation of women as part of English history. “The whole history of the 20th century can be written in an utterly fascinating way … we should be focusing on the astonishing record of change without revolution in English history in which the political system of king, Lords and Commons has proved flexible enough to spread from a tiny deeply selective electorate to a wider and wider group who have been incorporated and brought in and made to feel welcome.”

Last year, Starkey triggered controversy after he claimed on BBC’s Newsnight that “whites have become black” during a heated discussion about the summer riots across cities in England. The BBC received almost 700 complaints.

Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw: Teachers not stressed

Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw: Teachers not stressed

BBC |May 10, 2012

By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter
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The outspoken head of Ofsted has hit out at teachers who complain their jobs are “too stressful” and make excuses for poor performance.

Sir Michael Wilshaw suggested head teachers needed reminding what stress really was.

Speaking at an education conference, he said heads were better paid and had more power than ever before.

But the ATL teaching union said official figures demonstrated how stressful teaching can be.

Sir Michael told a conference of independent school heads in East Sussex that in the past, poor teaching and poor performance had gone unchallenged.

‘Struggled’

He went on: “We need to learn from this and challenge those who have power invested in them to make the difference, but too often make excuses for poor performance – it’s just too hard, the children are too difficult, the families are too unsupportive, this job is far too stressful.

“Let me tell you what stress is. Stress is what my father felt, who struggled to find a job in the 1950s and 1960s and who often had to work long hours in three different jobs and at weekends to support a growing family.

“Stress is, I’m sure, what many of the million-and-a-half unemployed young people today feel – unable to get a job because they’ve had a poor experience of school and lack the necessary skills and qualifications to find employment.

“Stress is what I was under when I started as a head in 1985, in the context of widespread industrial action – teachers walking out of class at a moment’s notice; doing lunch duty on my own every day for three years because of colleagues who worked to rule; covering five classes in the sports hall when there was no-one to teach them.

“Stress was, in the days before local management of schools, writing letters in triplicate to the local authority asking for a brick wall to be built in the playground or for a bit of extra money to keep an excellent maths teacher – and not receiving a reply for weeks.”

‘Blame’

Sir Michael said that times had changed and that heads were now in charge, with better pay and more independence, power and resources than before.

“We need heads who know what a privileged position they are in now and who can use their new-found independence well – people who roll up their sleeves and get on with improving their schools, even in the most difficult circumstances.

“What we don’t need are leaders in our schools whose first recourse is to blame someone else – whether it’s Ofsted, the local education authority, the government or a whole host of other people.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said Ofsted should concentrate on helping schools improve and stop criticising teachers and heads.

“It is really not helpful for Michael Wilshaw to rubbish the amount of stress teachers are under.

“The pressures on teaching staff and heads are enormous and growing due to the constant churn of government initiatives, tinkering with the curriculum, introducing new tests, and pressure to get pupils through exams to prove their school is performing well.

“And Ofsted is part of the problem with its continual changing of the inspections goal posts, and ridiculous demands for lessons to be exciting at all times.

“Teaching is the occupation with the third highest amount of work-related stress according to Health and Safety Executive figures.”

School spending on exams doubles to £328m in a decade

School spending on exams doubles to £328m in a decade

BBC |May 9, 2012

By Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondent
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School spending on exams rose to £328m last year – up from £154m less than a decade ago, according to figures from the exam watchdog Ofqual.

The annual report on the exam market in England, Wales and Northern Ireland also shows the number of qualifications has doubled to 18,000 in five years.

This includes 300 different A-levels, 250 AS-levels and 800 GCSE options.

Altogether in 2010-11 there were 16 million separate qualifications awarded, including vocational training.

Ofqual’s report shows the scale and cost of the qualifications market in 2010-11 – with the amount spent on exam fees rising by 8.5% on the previous year.

Rising costs

The report shows that the amount spent by schools on exams has increased above inflation every single year since 2002.

This increase has outstripped the rise in school running costs -and means that exam fees have taken a growing proportion of budgets.

The reasons for the sustained increase are suggested as higher fees, more pupils taking exams, more re-sit fees and a shift to pupils taking more expensive exams.

The average A-level fee, the report says, is now about £81 for maths and £93 for French.

Within the total of 16 million qualifications awarded there were 5.5 million GCSEs – drifting downwards from a high point of 6.2m in 2007.

The report suggests that this might be because schools are offering more non-GCSE qualifications.

The number of A-levels awarded has remained a small proportion of the overall total – 880,000, the same as the previous year.

Among the biggest areas of business for the qualifications industry is the wide range of vocational, training and basic skills awards, with eight million qualifications awarded.

There has been a continuing growth in the number of bodies awarding qualifications – rising to 179 from about 100 a decade ago.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Our reforms to league tables mean that while GCSEs will continue to count, low-quality qualifications that don’t help young people into further study or jobs will be stripped out.”

“We are concerned about the scale of school spending on exams -this is money that could otherwise be spent on teaching.

“Expenditure on exams, including exam fees, is one of the most significant calls on school and college budgets, and has been growing in real terms, as has the percentage of budgets that this represents.”

‘Time-wasting’ accusation over school buildings

‘Time-wasting’ accusation over school buildings

BBC |May 9, 2012

By Sanchia Berg BBC News, Today programme
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Richard Lee Primary School
Richard Lee Primary in Coventry, built in the 1950s, has a leaking roof and rising damp
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The government has been accused of “wasting precious time” with school building plans, by the shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg.

The Department for Education has pushed converting schools into academies and creating new Free Schools.

But it has been accused of taking its time over rebuilding the dilapidated premises of existing schools.

The Department for Education said that these were important decisions and should not be rushed.

Education Secretary Michael Gove cancelled Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme in summer 2010.

Hundreds of secondary schools, which had planned for rebuilding, were disappointed.

‘Over-subscribed’

Mr Gove then set up a review of all school building plans, which reported in April 2011. One key recommendation was a new survey of the condition of all schools in England.

In July 2011, Michael Gove announced the Priority School Building Programme, £2bn of private finance to rebuild the most dilapidated schools.

Applications had to be in by mid-October 2011 and schools were told they would hear in December.

It was to be a five-year programme. The scheme has been oversubscribed, and no decision has been announced, although one is now expected by the end of May 2012.

However, the school survey was only commissioned at the end of March 2012.

According to Davis Langdon, one of three project management companies doing it, this will allow the education department to compare buildings directly, allowing for “true prioritisation” of the programme.

Darren Talbot, Head of Schools at Davis Langdon, said he would expect the department to announce only the first of five waves of building this year – that would be 30-35 secondary schools.

Once the survey data is available, in about 15 months’ time, the department, he believed, would use that to help decide the rest of the programme.

Leaking roof

Without the full survey, he said, the department would be relying on “assumptions” and data provided by local authorities.

However the Department for Education said the survey and the Priority Schools Building Programme were entirely separate.

A spokeswoman said the survey would be used to help decide future funding. Priority schools would be decided by the department’s internal funding agency.

For the schools waiting to hear any delay is difficult. Richard Lee Primary in Coventry was built in 1953, and only expected to last about 30 years.

The head teacher Nicola Harwood showed how the roof leaks in many places, the windows don’t fit, there is rising damp. Cracks have recently appeared in the dining room and on the stairs.

A structural survey has indicated that by 2015 the steel frame may be unsafe. A nearby school of similar age had to be evacuated recently when a ceiling collapsed.

The children are very aware of the problems. Ten year olds told how the ill-fitting windows, and the damp, meant children often got ill, and had to miss school.

Nicola Harwood explained that without knowing when rebuilding might start, it was hard to know what should be done – fixing the roof, for instance, would cost around a million pounds.

The local authority has cut the money allowed for repairs – this year she has only £9,000 in the budget.

Pressure on places

Priority School Building is not the only capital available for schools. But the local authority, Coventry, said they have spent their capital allowance on providing new primary places: even though the government did provide some additional funding for this. Here, as in many parts of England, the population is growing.

David Simmonds, head of the Children’s Board at the Local Government Association said that phasing the school building announcements could be difficult – because authorities and head teachers needed to plan, and because the demand is high and urgent. A survey by the LGA, of 103 authoirties, showed at least 476 schools had applied for the funding.

Mr Simmonds said schools and parents were telling local authorities that the condition of some schools was so poor it was getting in the way of providing a good education. He said the situation was now “unacceptable”.

Whenever new schools are built, they will be far cheaper than under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future Programme. Davis Langdon has been working on new ways of building to cut costs, using standardised designs, and new techniques.

Whilst a BSF school would cost about £25m, the new secondary schools will be far cheaper. One new secondary, in Doncaster, cost just £10.7m.

The builders Wilmot Dixon are working with a consortium of local authorities to devise new ways of building primary schools. Their first, Oakfield in Rugby, will cost just over £2m.

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