DfE announces support for schools and parents

A series of announcements were made by the Department for Education earlier this week, designed for ‘schools and parents to help cope with Coronavirus’. 

The DfE recognised that schools would not be closed for the Easter holidays and would instead be continuing to provide care for vulnerable students and the children of essential workers, as well as supporting students at home. As such, the support provided includes funding for ‘unforeseen additional costs’, including the costs of cleaning and keeping schools open.

In a recent Schools North East survey, over 90% of school leaders who responded planned to open their school over Easter, either fully or partially, some in conjunction with other local schools. While it is fantastic to see our schools rallying to provide for their students and local communities, the financial impact of this was a concern. The announcements of additional funding will hopefully support our schools in the critical work they are doing during this time. 

The additional funding for schools will be available on top of core funding allocations that will be paid as normal to schools for the 2020-21 financial year. The specific costs schools can claim for are:

  • Additional cleaning required due to confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases; 
  • Increased premises related costs needed to keep schools open during holidays; and 
  • Support for free school meals for eligible children who are not attending school, where those costs are not covered by the national voucher scheme.

However, the guidance published also stated that ‘funding will be available to schools that are unable to meet such additional costs from their existing resources, or which they could only meet by drawing down on reserves and undermining their long-term financial sustainability.

‘While we are not asking schools to draw on existing reserves to meet these costs, we do not expect schools to make a claim against this funding if they are anticipating that they will be able to add to their reserves in the 2020 to 2021 financial year.’ 

42% of schools that responded to our survey stated that they would be using reserves to cover the anticipated cost of providing FSM over Easter.

The guidance advised that further information would be published in June in regards to informing the DfE of additional costs incurred. 

The DfE also confirmed late last week that it will extend financial support to children eligible for free school meals who are not attending school during the Easter holidays. 

While many schools already have local arrangements in place, this funding means that schools which have not made arrangements, are able to order vouchers for families through the national scheme or, where they have alternative arrangements in place, be reimbursed for additional costs. With over two-thirds of North East school leaders who responded to Schools North East’s survey planning to provide some form of meal or food parcel over the break, this will be welcome news to many North East schools. However, the guidance states that for pupils who remain in school, ‘these costs will be met by the school.’

In order to support schools and parents with children at home, the DfE has also published a list of ‘high-quality’ resources. The list includes a wide range of resources for all ages that schools can consider using as part of their planned curriculum and will be updated over time. This follows the BBC announcing that they are working with experts to create a package of education materials for TV and online to support learning at home.

Department for Education links

List of education online resources

School funding

North East Schools fund Easter FSM regardless of the cost

Earlier this week the Department for Education released plans to offer supermarket vouchers where schools are unable to offer their standard Free School Meal (FSM) provision.

However, the guidance released did not cover provision of FSM over the upcoming Easter holiday period, despite many schools remaining open for vulnerable students or children of key workers, leaving schools to pick up the additional costs. While schools would not typically offer FSM over Easter, the current circumstances mean many families are facing increased financial difficulty, with many businesses closed and staff left without income. 

Despite this, North East Head Teachers are rallying round to do what is best for their students during this difficult time. As one North East Head Teacher said ‘the needs of our most disadvantaged and vulnerable must always be put first – whatever the cost . We have a moral duty to ensure our children are fed and safe.’

The Headteacher’s Roundtable highlighted this problem in their article Our Poorest Children Need Help Now #FSM4Easter on Tuesday, and they are campaigning for the Department for Education to provide schools with an allowance for those meals for the Easter holidays. 

We back this campaign and have reached out to North East Head Teachers to explore the impact of this on their schools, including whether they would be able to offer meals and how they would be funding this. 

90% of respondents said their schools would be open during Easter, either fully or partially based on parental need. Over two thirds of those who responded said they would be providing meals in some form, either as standard provision, or by delivering food parcels. 

However, almost all of those who were providing meals said that the additional costs meant they would be taking from other budgets, or that it would mean cuts to other provision, including curriculum, capital spending and potentially even staffing. This will adversely affect schools in disadvantaged areas the most, as these schools, which were already due to lose out in the latest funding announcement, will now have increased spends, stretching their budgets even further. 

One Head Teacher told us ‘At the moment I’m not really that concerned about the longer term (financial) impact. I will worry about that at a later date. I am currently just worried about my children, ensuring they receive meals. It is our moral duty to provide for our most disadvantaged families in their time of need. I am saddened by the government’s response.’ 

Please help us by filling in our very short survey so we can get a better understanding of the picture in the North East. 

Complete the survey

Schools in England to close, for the majority of pupils

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced earlier this week that all schools in England would close with effect from Friday 20 March. As the country battles coronavirus, the Government clarified that this was the next step in protecting those most at risk. Schools are expected to play a major role in doing this while ensuring children of key workers are supported.

The message from Boris Johnston clearly states that the overriding principle of this measure is to reduce social contact and that we must all play our part in supporting this. In the North East we are slightly behind London in terms of the rate of infections and deaths and if we all work to this guidance we can help protect those living in this region.

However, the announcement that schools would close came with a significant amount of uncertainty and mixed messages from the media. Gavin Williamson and Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised that they would remain staffed for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. The official advice clearly states that children will be safest at home and that whenever possible they should be looked after in their home environment thus reducing social contact. For the most vulnerable children, and the children of those key workers where this is not possible, alternative solutions are to be put in place around the region’s schools.

The announcement left a number of questions and uncertainty around how schools are to move forward. The question of who qualified as a ‘key worker’ and whether one or both parents must qualify was only just clarified earlier this morning when the DfE released – Guidance for schools, colleges and local authorities on maintaining educational provision.

Many school leaders have been concerned that smaller, more isolated schools would close due to staffing issues, but in guidance released for parents the DfE confirmed that they will bus vulnerable and key worker pupils to other schools if theirs can’t stay open.

As part of the announcement it was confirmed that exams would not be going ahead in May/June. Clarification on arrangements has just been release by the DfE: Further details on exams and grades announced

Throughout this crisis, Schools North East will continue to support schools and school staff, and encourage everybody to support the Government guidelines on social distancing. We will work to keep you informed and help to answer the questions you have at this difficult time. In place of our physical events we will be offering a programme of webinars to support school staff in all job roles and levels.

Finally, we will be offering support through our online community ConnectEd  – a completely free online platform where you can connect with other school staff in the North East, whether school leaders, SBMs, Governors or teachers.

This is a place to share advice and resources, to ask questions and to collaborate. We also have ‘Subject Hubs’ which are areas for teachers to connect and discuss specific topics as they work to support students, either in school or remotely in the coming weeks.

ConnectEd is a place to connect with peers; contribute to discussion; add ideas; support and be supported in your role; share case studies, best practice and information; collaborate; engage in and debate research; and unite schools through networks. If you would like to be a part of this please join ConnectEd.

No new spending announcements for schools

No major new spending was announced for schools in Rishi Sunak’s budget earlier this week. Gavin Williamson’s promise to provide every region in the country with specialist 16-to-19 maths schools, was reiterated, as was the Conservative manifesto promise of £25,000 per year on average for every secondary school to invest in arts activities, and £30 million a year to improve PE teaching.

The Chancellor also reiterated spending commitments of £7.1 billion extra for schools by 2022, with plans to increase per-pupil funding next year by an average of 4%. Schools North East’s previous analysis of these figures showed that there will be a regional disparity in funding levels and that fewer North East schools would see benefits, despite our higher levels of disadvantage.  

However, it has also been revealed that the DfE’s capital budget has been cut with £100 million less next year, meaning less money to repair school buildings. 

The bulk of funding was for Further Education with £1.5 billion promised over five years to improve college buildings.

Schools North East Director Chris Zarraga said ‘Schools North East recognises that this budget will focus on responding to the current crisis, and that major announcements for school spending were made last year. However, we reiterate that this funding is not enough to reverse the real time cuts felt by schools. The increases are not spread evenly, and some of the areas which need it the most will lose out. We hope that the next budget will bring a focus on severely underfunded areas such as SEND and high needs.’ 

Funding for SEND and high needs is of particular concern to Schools North East as the North East has the highest proportion of pupils with SEND, with 15.8% of students reporting SEND, compared to a national average of 14.9%. The region also has a higher proportion of students with EHCPs than the rest of the country. We are supporting the WorthLess? Campaign in conducting a survey on SEND and high needs funding. Please complete the survey to help us offer a complete picture which properly represents the North East. 

Poor transport links connected to underperforming schools

A recent report has highlighted a significant overlap in those places with slow public transport and struggling secondary schools. The analysis from School Dash identified the North East as having a cluster of poor transport and underachieving schools. 

Overall the report found that badly connected places were more likely to have low achieving secondary schools. Even in areas without much deprivation, schools which are more isolated are more likely to be underperforming and less likely to be judged outstanding. When comparing travel times, 31% of schools with fast transport links were judged as outstanding, while only 17% of those with slow links achieved this grade. 

Redcar, South Shields and Jarrow were all identified as areas of deprivation and slow transport. The research highlights the importance of addressing wider contextual factors to improve school performance, an issue Schools North East has highlighted in our Manifesto for North East Education

Any analysis of ‘school performance’ should look at contextualised data, in order to properly represent the impact of deprivation in the North East. Equally, measures relying on judgements made under the previous Ofsted framework, did not take into account this context as it heavily focused on ‘raw’ school data. The new Ofsted framework has shown a more promising move towards taking school context into account. 

Policy Roundtable builds on Manifesto for North East Education

Yesterday, Schools North East held the first in its new series of policy roundtable events. We invited Head Teachers and educational professionals from across the region to discuss our Manifesto for North East Education, published last year in response to the general election, and put detail behind the recommendations contained within the Manifesto.

The discussions focused particularly on the first recommendation: Recognise the regional context. We were delighted to welcome Anthony Conlin from the Schools Data Company and Professor Stephen Gorard from the Durham University Evidence Centre for Education, who spoke about the contextual issues in the North East, and the implications of this on educational outcomes and practice.

When the contextual issues discussed by both Anthony Conlin and Stephen Gorard are taken into account, educational performance in the North East is not worse than anywhere else in the country, which is the prevailing media narrative.  This only reinforced the ambition of Schools North East to influence policy and ensure that it enables our schools to provide the very best outcomes possible for the region’s children

The roundtable discussions explored the everyday issues of deprivation facing our schools at the chalkface, as well as other regional issues such as access to transport links, and employment opportunities in the North East, with a need for a more joined up approach to addressing these contextual challenges rather than treating schools as the only solution.

Alongside this focus on the first recommendation, we looked into recommendation 2 (promote a positive narrative) and recommendation 4 (evidence-based policy making).

While the North East faces many challenges when it comes to education, there are also many success stories that need to be celebrated more widely.  The debate highlighted the need to shine a light on these positive news stories to help raise aspirations and encourage teachers to stay in the profession in the region.

Evidence-based education was seen as crucial to properly understanding the true situation of education in the North East.  Moving forward, we will use the issues discussed to put more detailed recommendations into the Manifesto and increase our efforts to ensure that policymakers, as well as politicians of all political stripes, create policy ‘fit for purpose’ across the North East.  Our next policy roundtable event, coming soon, will further explore the other recommendations in the Manifesto.

Lord Agnew to leave the DfE

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System Lord Agnew is expected to leave the Department for Education according to reports from Schools Week.

Confirmation of his departure is expected today.

A cabinet reshuffle this week saw Education Secretary Gavin Williamson reappointed, alongside Schools Minister Nick Gibb. It is unclear whether Lord Agnew’s departure is part of this reshuffle or whether he has resigned.

Lord Agnew has championed the Academies system and promoted efficiency and cost saving schemes which proved controversial. Lord Agnew is also leading on the Opportunity North East programme.

Whether the move is the result of a change in policy focus, or the intention of reinvigorating the academies programme is uncertain.

In other news Baroness Elizabeth Berridge has been appointed parliamentary under secretary of state in the Department for Education.

DfE reports falling teacher numbers

Employment in the education sector is expected to continue to fall for at least the next two years according to The Working Futures 2017-2027 report.

The report suggests falls of 0.3% annually which is equivalent to around 13,000 teachers leaving each year. This is compared to the 9,000 more teachers the DfE claimed it would need to recruit by 2025 to deal with rising pupil numbers in secondary schools.

This comes after last week’s statement from the Education Secretary at the Schools North East Academies Conference, that ‘in many schools one of the big problems school leaders face, particularly here in the North East, is that they do not have enough teachers, especially in certain subjects.’

Mr Williamson went on to mention some of the recruitment and retention strategies for the region such as piloting the Early Career Framework, as well as incentives for STEM teachers.

Support for teachers at every level of the profession is recommendation #8 of the Manifesto for North East Education. Schools North East will continue to call on policymakers and politicians to appropriately support recruitment and retention in the region.

What do the School Performance tables show?

The revised Key Stage 4 performance tables for 2019 have sparked a number of different headlines in terms of what the results claim to show. 

The most important takeaway for schools in the region is that the tables continue to use Progress 8 as a measure, contributing to the ongoing and pervasive false narrative around under-performing schools in the region. There continues to be a lack of nuance in the conversations around school performance, and the use of reporting measures which do not look at the context schools are working in.

FFT Datalab has highlighted how the data continues to show a North-South divide, as it uses Progress 8 rather than Contextualised Progress 8 scores, which take into account the percentage of pupils with a first language other than English, the percentage of pupils eligible for Pupil Premium, and the average Key Stage 2 point score of the cohort.

Using Progress 8 alone as a measure fails to take into account pupil characteristics such as the level of deprivation students in the North East face. When looking at Progress 8 without this context, the North continues to underperform in comparison to other regions. 

However, FFT Datalab shows when deprivation is taken into account using Contextualised Progress 8 scores, the North East performs at least as well the rest of the country, if not better. 

Furthermore, using the DfEs ‘attainment gap index’, the data shows that the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has increased for the second year. Though this is marginal, it does show a stall over the last few years in what had previously been a steady rate of decline.

Chris Zarraga, Director of Schools North East said ‘the latest figures continue to contribute to a pervasive myth that schools and students in the north, and the North East in particular, are underperforming and this is simply not true. School Performance tables should be based on contextualised data in order to better see how students and schools are performing in line with their context.’ 

Once again, girls outperform boys, a trend that has now continued for 30 years. This year saw 64% of girls passing GCSE English and Maths while only 56% of boys do so.

In other headlines, figures have suggested that MATs achieve on average lower Progress 8 scores than other school types. However, due to the eligibility of inclusion in the data, this only takes into account 24% of secondary academies and 36% of primary academies. The national Progress 8 score for those eligible was -0.02, compared to 0.01 for maintained schools. The tendency for academies to take on struggling schools may go towards explaining this small difference.

Opportunity North East delivery plan released

A year after the initial announcement of the Opportunity North East programme, the delivery plan for the £24 million investment in the region has been finalised. 

The Secretary of State for Education chose the Schools North East Academies Conference at St James Park to publish the Opportunity North East (ONE) delivery plan setting out a series of ambitions to deliver on the programme’s long-term commitment to boost social mobility and tap into the potential of young people in the region.

Alongside bespoke improvement plans for the 28 ONE Vision schools, and structured training and support for teachers at the start of their careers through the Early Career Framework, schools will benefit from:

  • funding transition projects to ensure pupils are supported when they move from primary to secondary school, so that more pupils continue to achieve well into secondary school. Projects include implementing a consistent evidence-based approach to reading comprehension and joining up the curriculum across phases. 
  • offering professional development for maths teachers and support to maths departments to improve the quality of maths teaching in the region
  • funding the region’s Local Enterprise Partnerships to deliver an enhanced offer of careers and business engagement support for ONE Vision schools
  • expanding the work of the North East Collaborative Outreach Programme to more schools to deliver a targeted programme of interventions for young people to help them explore their future options.

Targets for the project have also been developed, to be delivered before 2022. In the next two years the aim is to see:

  • pupils involved in transition projects to make greater progress during year 7 and 8
  • all ONE Vision schools meeting the national average Progress 8 score and are on the path to be judged at least ‘Good’ by Ofsted
  • all ONE Vision schools meeting all 8 Gatsby ‘Good Career Guidance Benchmarks’
  • an increase in the rate of North East applicants and entry to Higher Education Institutions beyond the national rate of increase.

Director of Schools North East, Chris Zarraga is a member of the ONE Strategic Board, ensuring that the views of North East school leaders are represented on the programme.