We live in extraordinary times. Whilst fully aware that much Parliamentary time will be given over to discussions about Europe; there are pressing and substantive issues that need addressing with respect to education.
The current state of schools’ funding is a matter of the greatest concern. The High Needs Block budget is stretched beyond what is reasonable. There is a real concern that many of our most vulnerable children are being failed; they are not being provided with the care and support that will enable them to flourish. We believe that the High Needs budget is under funded by circa £300 million. This is leading to many local authorities top slicing the Schools Block by 0.5-1.0% to meet the requirements of our high needs children. Consequently, a number of schools are potentially being funded below the de minimis amounts guaranteed by the fair funding formula. This matter cannot wait for the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review and we request funding is provided for an in-year uplift.
As well as an urgent and immediate uplift in High Needs funding, we would also ask you to impress upon the Chancellor the benefit of converting the capital funding, announced in the budget, to a one-off revenue payment. This will allow schools to use it for their greatest spending priority. Many schools are struggling to provide for the various pay awards. Governors and school leaders may wish to direct these one off funds towards the retention of teachers and support staff as opposed to equipment or premises.
One aspect of retaining and recruiting teachers to the profession is to ensure that they pay salaries are commensurate with other profession. The lack of funding for the first 1% of the teachers’ pay award is creating difficulty for many schools. This allied with the continued workload pressures within schools need to be rapidly addressed.
The recent report on Workload Advisory Group report, led by Professor Rebecca Allen, has so much to commend within it. We hope you will act rapidly and decisively on its recommendations which we acknowledge you have accepted in full. The longer term work required to fully implement the proposals, by school leaders, will require a thoughtful review of the high stakes, cliff-edged accountability system in England. Accountability needs to be viewed through the lens of a cogent and coherent system wide School Improvement process.
We will await the publication of Ofsted’s full framework in January 2019 but remain unconvinced that a new framework is required. The inevitable increased workload associated with its implementation is known to those of us who have been leading schools for many years; we have been here before. Anecdotal evidence suggests the current framework is already being morphed by inspectors to prioritise the curriculum. It may well be that the changing the emphasis within the current framework is a more appropriate way forward pending a fundamental review of the Department for Education’s School Improvement theory of change. Proposals to inspect multi-academy trusts and whether to remove the exemption to inspection of outstanding schools should not be made in isolation. Identifying what contribution the accountability system should make within a wide theory of change around School Improvement and how best this can be achieved is urgently required. The potential impact on workload and retention of staff could be significant.