Queen’s Speech 2017: SCHOOLS NorthEast response

SCHOOLS NorthEast, the representative body for all 1,250 schools in the region, welcomes the Government’s commitment to fairer funding for schools, reform of technical education and a greater emphasis on mental health outlined in today’s Queen’s Speech, but the quality of implementation will be key to their success.

 

School funding

From the very beginning, SCHOOLS NorthEast has backed the concept of a national fair funding formula and have campaigned hard on this issue. Unfortunately there is a large gap between the Government’s view of what is fair and the reality. North East schools are currently significantly underfunded compared to both national and London levels.

Mike Parker, Director of SCHOOLS NorthEast, said: “The Government has made a commitment to fairer funding and will now have to deliver this. To do so, the Government will have to increase funding for all schools to address the drastic state of school finances. But it will also need to rebalance the national schools budget which has for too long seen North East schools underfunded.

“This was a key issue in the general election and people were very clear that they wanted to see more funding going to schools. The Government should give the voters what they have asked for.”

 

Grammar schools

SCHOOLS NorthEast welcomes the omission of the expansion of grammar schools from the Queen’s Speech.

“Evidence has repeatedly shown that grammar schools do not increase social mobility. The plans met universal opposition from school leaders in the North East and it is clear that their reintroduction to our region would be deeply damaging – particularly in our most deprived communities.”

 

Technical education

Reform of technical education is very welcome. It is important that vocational qualifications are valued as highly as academic ones.

“The Government is right to strengthen vocational qualifications. These equip young people with the skills that our regional economy needs. Putting vocational and academic qualifications on the same level is good for both our young people and our businesses. However, the Government’s current focus at GCSE level has had the effect of narrowing curriculum options to the detriment of both pupils and the wider economy.”

 

Mental health

Mental health is one of the uppermost concerns for school leaders in our region, so we strongly support the Government’s proposals to prioritise mental health within the NHS.

“We commend the Government on its efforts to place more emphasis on mental health and urge health officials to make sure that this vision becomes a reality.”

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School leaders urge Government to do more on mental health

At SCHOOLS NorthEast’s inaugural Healthy MindED Conference last week, delegates told us what the government needs to do to improve mental health and wellbeing in schools.

Here are 5 things that schools would like to see the government do:

1. Funding

Schools have identified many different ways in which increased funding could help them deal better with the emotional and mental health needs of their pupils. Not only do schools need more money to provide support to children and young people – perhaps by funding dedicated staff – CAMHS and other services (e.g. social services) that sit around schools also need sufficient funding.

2. Training

Schools are keen to help when their pupils encounter mental health difficulties but do not always feel that they have the appropriate expertise. More training would be welcome, but so too would increased funding to access existing training.

3. Access to services

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) waiting times are far too long in many parts of our region and it is clear that many services are massively over capacity. The Government needs to invest more in CAMHS to ensure that children and young people can access the services that they need when they need them. More also needs to be done to build links and understanding between CAMHS and schools.

4. A better balance between attainment and well-being

Some school leaders feel that the focus on academic attainment – whilst undoubtedly important – can have a detrimental impact on pupil mental health. There are a range of things that the government could do to rebalance this and put a greater priority on mental health and emotional well-being.

5. Reduce pressure on schools

School accountability measures are putting a great deal of pressure on schools and school staff. Unfortunately this pressure is often passed on to pupils and does not create an environment that is conducive to positive mental health.

What can schools expect from a minority government?

The results of yesterday’s general election has caused a lot of uncertainty, not least for schools. Here we outline what schools might expect.

  1. A new Prime Minister? Whilst Theresa May is likely to continue as Prime Minister in the short term, there is a great deal of discontentment within her party about the way that this campaign was conducted. There is a good chance, therefore, that there will be a new Prime Minister relatively soon. Whoever this might be, they will have their own ideas about schools.
  2. An end to the grammar schools project? The drive to reintroduce grammar schools is largely seen as a pet project of Theresa May and her team – particularly Nick Timothy, one of her chiefs of staff – rather than the DfE. With May and Timothy weakened by the election result and the lack of a Conservative majority in the Commons, it looks unlikely that the expansion of selective education will take place.
  3. A new Education Secretary? When it looked likely that the Conservatives would return with an increased majority, there was a strong feeling that Justine Greening might be moved from Education and replaced with someone more favourable to grammar schools. Now that grammar schools look like they may be off the table, it is possible that Greening may stay. Grammars aside, she was seen to be doing a relatively good job and to be committed to rebuilding the profession. However, reshuffles often follow elections so we could be due another new Education Secretary.
  4. The death of the National Funding Formula? The National Funding Formula has proved very unpopular, including among parts of the Conservative Party. It is very likely that the new Government will revisit the formula and either make significant changes or abandon the change altogether.
  5. Schools less of a priority? Brexit will dominate – more now than ever before. We can also expect economic issues to return to the fore and a continued focused on health. It is likely, therefore, that schools will slip down the priority list unless the profession ensures its voice is clearly heard.

 

New faces in education?

There is a vacancy within the Department for Education as Edward Timpson, Minister of State for Vulnerable Children and Families, lost his Crewe and Nantwich seat.

Another influential education figure who has failed to return to Parliament was Neil Carmichael, Conservative chair of the education select committee, who lost Stroud to Labour.

What did the Conservative manifesto say on education?

In the run-up to this year’s General Election, the Conservative Party launched their manifesto “Forward, Together: Our Plan for a Stronger Britain and a Prosperous Future”.

The pledges made to the education sector were listed in a section titled “The world’s great meritocracy”. Below is a summary of their promises and plans:

  1. Deliver more school places by ending the ban on selective schools and continuing the free schools programme, aiming to build 100 new ones each year
  2. Prohibit councils from creating any new places in schools that have been rated either Inadequate or Requires Improvement
  3. Ask universities and independent schools to help run state schools
  4. Increase overall schools budget by £4bn by 2022 and ensure no school is worse off as part of the new funding formula
  5. Open a specialist maths school in every major city in England
  6. Introduce a curriculum fund for developing knowledge-rich materials
  7. Expect 75% of pupils to have entered EBacc subjects by end of next parliament, with 90% by 2025
  8. Offer forgiveness on student loan repayments for teachers to help retain them within the profession
  9. Create a jobs portal for schools to advertise vacancies in order to reduce costs and help with recruitment
  10. Offer free school breakfast to all primary school pupils and scrap universal infant free school meals 
  11. Introduce mental health first aid training for teachers in every school
  12. Replace unfair and ineffective inclusivity rules preventing establishment of new Roman Catholic schools

The Conservative Party also wants to create more nurseries by introducing the presumption that all new primary schools should include one. They promise to deliver a world-class technical education by replacing 13,000 existing technical qualifications with the new T-levels.

Read the 2017 Conservative Manifesto here.

However, it is unclear how much of the manifesto will be implemented if the Conservatives form a minority government. It is worth also looking, therefore, at what the DUP – the Conservatives’ likely partners – have said on education. The main focus on education in their manifesto is funding and resourcing. They have pledged to resolve “the funding crisis facing our schools”. This could potentially place more pressure on the Conservatives to increase the schools’ budget.

 

Schools must ratchet up fight for funding amid chaos of hung parliament

SCHOOLS NorthEast is urging Head Teachers to press the case for the new government to fill the looming black hole in school finances.

SCHOOLS NorthEast has today called on school leaders to intensify their efforts to secure much needed funding to stave off swingeing budgetary cuts that are threatening the quality of education for pupils across the region.

We are urging Head Teachers and staff within schools to press home the case for additional funding as the political parties grapple with the fall out of last night’s election result which left the country without a majority party.

The governing pact formed by the Conservative Party and the DUP has led to speculation that the more controversial elements of the Tory manifesto – the reintroduction of grammar schools and a move to a National Funding Formula for schools – will be abandoned.

The DUP Manifesto included a clear commitment to fight for more schools funding, saying it was committed to “resolving the funding crisis facing our schools thus ensuring that we prioritise frontline funding for our schools so that all our children receive the best educational start in life.”

SCHOOLS NorthEast has called on the teaching profession to write again to all MPs and to the Government to ensure they are aware of the punishing impact of a funding shortfall that will see a real terms cut in school budgets of between 8 and 20 per cent by 2020.

Mike Parker, director of SCHOOLS NorthEast, said: “Funding is the single greatest threat to pupils in the North East getting a high quality education in the coming years. Schools are facing an impossible task in trying to balance the books in the face of a £3bn funding shortfall over the next three years. With staffing costs accounting for 75-90% of a school’s total budget, the depth of cuts required will be devastating if the Government doesn’t move swiftly to properly fund education in this country.”

2017 General Election: main Parties pledge more mental health support in schools

The Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservative Party all promise to help schools improve the mental health support they offer to pupils.

All three manifestos published this week include proposals and plans for better mental health provision to help tackle the growing issue.

The Liberal Democrats pledge to: 

  • Ensure that all teaching staff have the training to identify mental health issues and that schools provide immediate access for pupil support and counselling.
  • Include promoting wellbeing as a statutory duty of a school, to be part of the Ofsted inspection framework.
  • Tackle bullying in schools, including bullying on the basis of gender, sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression.

The Labour Party pledges to: 

  • Extend schools-based counselling to all schools to improve children’s mental health, at a cost of £90 million per year.

The Conservative Party pledges to: 

  • Introduce mental health first aid training for teachers in every primary and secondary school by the end of the parliament.
  • Ensure that every school has a single point of contact with mental health services.
  • Include mental wellbeing and the mental health risks of internet harms in the curriculum.

SCHOOLS NorthEast welcomes the Parties’ focus on improving the mental health support available for children and young people in schools across the country. This has been a major concern for Head Teachers in the North East, which resulted in the launch of Healthy MindED – SCHOOLS NorthEast’s schools-led commission into pupils’ mental health.

Find out more about how to improve pupils’ wellbeing and mental health in your school – book your place today for our full-day Healthy MindED Conference.

Taking place on Thursday 8th of June, the event will hear from leading experts as well as schools and health services sharing examples of best practice. Visit the event website for more information. 

SCHOOLS NorthEast analysis brought up in Parliament funding debate

School funding in the North East of England was the topic of a House of Commons Debate led by Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson on Wednesday.

Figures published by SCHOOLS NorthEast as part of a campaign to drive positive change in funding allocation for the region were mentioned, as well as some of our recent comments on changes to education policy.

Mrs Hodgson looked at the national situation, how the funding arrangements are affecting schools in the region and how the Government’s approach to the education system is affecting “the very nature of our schools, whose purpose is to educate our children and address societal issues, such as child poverty and social mobility”.

She gave Rickleton Primary School in her constituency as an example of schools which will see dramatic cuts, theirs nearing the £150,000 mark. Mrs Hodgson added:

The Head Teacher of Rickleton Primary School, Mr Lofthouse, set out clearly in an email to me, which I have sent on to the Secretary of State for Education, what those funding pressures will mean for his school, from potential staff redundancies to the impact on his pupils’ education, and it is not only Mr Lofthouse.

Many other headteachers across Sunderland have expressed similarly grave concerns. Those concerns were reflected in a meeting I held in Sunderland recently with around 30 headteachers and school governors, who all agreed that our schools were at a crisis point. That led me to securing this debate today.

Continue reading “SCHOOLS NorthEast analysis brought up in Parliament funding debate”

Frequent changes to education policy are school governors’ biggest challenge

Keeping up with the numerous education policy changes and effective time management are the main issues school governors are faced with,  according to delegates at the first SCHOOLS NorthEast Regional Governance Conference .DSC_0392.JPG

Over 300 school governors in the region attended the Regional Governance Conference today, coming together under one roof to hear from sector experts and bring their own input.

When asked what the biggest challenges are for one of the largest volunteering forces in the country, the attendees listed multiple factors but agreed that the many changes in education policy are hard to keep up with, and managing their time effectively can also be problematic.

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Fears over school budgets and funding, as well as the recruitment and retention of senior staff in their schools, were amongst the challenges listed at the top.

But delegates were also keen to share what their greatest achievements were, with a significant majority quoting the improvement of their school and seeing pupils’ lives being transformed.

Continue reading “Frequent changes to education policy are school governors’ biggest challenge”

SCHOOLS NorthEast responds to stage 2 of the NFF consultation

In December 2016, the Department for Education announced it was seeking views on the detailed design of the schools national funding formula, as part of the second stage of its consultation.

SCHOOLS NorthEast has submitted a response on behalf of schools in our region. Changes to the funding structure will have an impact on all of our schools and we are concerned that the proposed formula does not give North East schools a fair deal. In particular, the Government has included an Area Cost Adjustment multiplier which takes money away from our region on the basis of low house prices.

Even schools that look like they will gain from the national funding formula are likely to experience cuts as a result of the under-funding of the schools system. We have urged the Government to increase the size of the budget.

You can read our response in full below. We also urged school leaders across the region to submit their own response, either individually or as part of a cluster or local authority.

Continue reading “SCHOOLS NorthEast responds to stage 2 of the NFF consultation”

North East schools forced to ask parents to help fill funding blackhole

The Head Teachers of two schools in the region have written to parents with a plea for donations, as both schools face losing hundreds of thousands of pounds in the next few years.

Dozens of school leaders in Darlington also reached out to parents, urging them to lobby the Government over the funding crisis by writing to the Education Secretary and the Schools Minister.

New research conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says the proposed national funding formula could leave 1,000 schools across the country facing additional cuts of 7% beyond 2019-20. The National Audit Office forecast a £3bn shortfall in school budgets in the next couple of years.

Parents of children attending Queen Elizabeth High School in Hexham and Hexham Middle school were told the quality of provision is at “genuine risk”, as the school leaders of both institutions expressed their worry at the impact the funding cuts will have on pupils.

Two teaching unions warned that Queen Elizabeth High School could lose £521,172 by 2019, while Hexham Middle School would see a dent of £176,258 in its budget over the next two years.

The Chronicle reported that one of the letters reads:

We do not undertake this step lightly. However, the reduction in funding over the next few years in the face of rising costs puts at genuine risk the quality of provision to which we have become accustomed at both our schools.

We appreciate that some families are hard pressed and will not be able to make a financial contribution, which is absolutely fine.

However, for those who are able – be it parents of existing students, former students or indeed members of the wider community – it will help enormously.

According to the paper, parents are being asked to donate voluntarily by a single payment or setting up a regular standing order.

While not wanting to “cause panic”, the letters from Darlington Heads expressed worries at the “lack of regard for the next generation”.

This comes after Head Teachers representing around 3,000 schools in England wrote to their local MPs and ministers calling for a rethink of school funding plans.

Around 4,000 school governors recently surveyed by the BBC called the prospects for schools under the proposed arrangements as “diabolical”, “devastating” and “catastrophic”, with some respondents describing their “desperate” attempts at fundraising to fill gaps.

Whilst SCHOOLS NorthEast welcomed the decision to create a new National Funding Formula, we have been campaigning against certain aspects of the proposed plans, particularly the Area Cost Adjustment which will give additional money to schools in more expensive areas than the NE.

The deadline for responses to the Government’s second stage of the National Funding Formula consultation was yesterday. SCHOOLS NorthEast responded on behalf of Head Teachers in our region – you can read our views here.

BUDGET 2017: the key points

Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his first Budget yesterday, making a series of education-related announcements. Below is a breakdown of the key points he made during his speech, along with comments from SCHOOLS NorthEast.

Free schools and grammar schools expansion

The Government will extend the free schools programme with investment of £320m in this Parliament to help fund up to 140 schools, including independent-led, faith, selective, university-led and specialist maths schools.

Of these, 30 were announced to open in September 2020 and the new free schools “will be located where they are most needed to improve the choice of schools available to parents, following a rigorous assessment of local factors”.

The Government has also expanded the current ‘extended rights’ entitlement for children aged 11-16 who receive free school meals or whose parents claim Maximum Working Tax Credit. Under these conditions, they will now get free transport to attend the nearest selective school in their area.

In Autumn Statement 2016 the Government also pledged £50m per year of new funding towards the expansion of existing grammar schools.

Mr Parker commented: “Demand for school places, particularly in secondary schools, is rising sharply so additional funding to increase capacity is welcome. The argument that grammar schools is the solution has yet to be proven. In fact, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) found that, in areas where grammar schools are in operation, pupils who do not attend selective schools ‘make less progress in partially-selective and wholly-selective areas than in areas without selection’.

“The fixation on school structure gets in the way of the real issue which is that we need to make sure we’ve got sufficient places at good quality schools across the country.”

T-levels: funding technical education 

The Government pledged to increase the number of programme hours of training for 16-19 year olds on technical routes by more than 50%, to over 900 hours a year on average, including the completion of a high quality industry work placement during the programme.

The routes will be introduced from 2019-20 and £500m of additional funding per year invested once routes are fully implemented.

The new T-levels were announced by the Chancellor as “game-changing” reforms to technical qualifications.

Director Mike Parker said: “Giving vocational qualifications an equal standing to academic ones is a positive step and efforts to streamline the system will make it easier for pupils and parents to make the right choice.

“However, if the Government does not focus on funding 0-16 education adequately, it risks harming the ability of children deciding to study for these T-level qualifications. We must ensure children don’t miss out on the strong educational grounding that is essential to give them the skills and ability to go on to achieve advanced qualifications – both vocational and academic.”

 

Funding for school maintenance 

The Chancellor announced a further £216m investment in school maintenance, to help rebuild and refurbish existing schools. The money will be allocated over the course of two academic years, with half spent in 2018-19 and the other half in 2019-20.

Mike Parker commented: “Funding to help rebuild and refurbish existing schools is much needed. However, it doesn’t fill the operational blackhole in schools across England.”

£1bn for school sports from the sugar tax 

The Chancellor announced that the sugar tax revenue was lower than initially forecast, as manufacturers reduced the sugar content in some products. Despite the shortfall, the Treasury will give the Department for Education £1bn over the rest of this parliament to spend on sports activities in schools and to help promote healthy lifestyles amongst pupils.