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Welcome to the new year, let’s remind ourselves what is topical at the moment:
The Department for Education (DfE) has now published new guidance for teachers. In England, children can’t obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate so their legal sex will always be the same as their biological sex. There is also no general duty that says schools and colleges must support a child to take steps that are part of ‘social transition’ – such as agreeing to change their name or pronouns. The guidance is clear that schools and colleges have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children, which means that a cautious approach should be taken when responding to requests to social transition. Schools and colleges should create an environment that is respectful of all beliefs. This means no one should be expected to use preferred pronouns and they should not be sanctioned for making honest mistakes. In all cases, bullying must not be tolerated.
While the guidance is there to help teachers, parents’ views should be at the centre of every decision schools make about their child. This is draft guidance for consultation and the DfE would like to encourage schools, colleges, parents and the education sector to share their feedback. The consultation will run until 12 March 2024.
Boards to consider: Do we support a school culture which celebrates diversity and champions equality and inclusion and where is the evidence?
There have been plenty of headlines generated by school funding recently, so it is worth noting what will have an impact on our budgets as we all look towards budget setting later this term.
Teachers Pay: The DfE are providing schools with an additional £525 million in the 2023-24 financial year and £900 million in the 2024-25 financial year, with the expectation that all schools will use these additional funds for teacher pay. The grant will be allocated on the basis of the number of pupils in a school, with different per-pupil rates depending on age and other characteristics. Schools will be expected to fund 3.5 per cent from their own budgets, with the remaining 3 per cent provided as a DfE grant generated by non ‘frontline’ cuts to the DfE’s budget.
Recovery Premium. Recovery Premium will be in place until the end of this academic year and is funding that builds on the pupil premium eligibility. Schools must show how they are using it effectively by reporting on its use as part of their pupil premium strategy statement.
The National Tutoring Programme. This is designed to support schools to address the impact of COVID-19 on pupils’ progress and attainment with a ring-fenced school led tutoring grant. It is intended to cover 50% of the unit cost of tuition (was 60% in the last academic year), with schools targeting the tutoring offer towards their pupil premium cohort and making up the remainder of the cost using pupil premium or from other core school budgets. Funds cannot be rolled over to use in the next academic year and any unspent funding will need to be returned by schools at the end of the academic year, accompanied by the year-end statement.
Increase to educational spend. The increase will provide extra money for schools in 2023-24 and 2024-25, £4.6 billion in total. The announcement means that core schools budget will rise by four per cent this year and next.
Trust reserves. Whilst trusts with large levels of reserves will not be told by government they have to spend the cash, nor face having it clawed back, government guidance has warned those sitting on reserves worth a fifth or more of their income that they will be asked to show they have sufficient plans in place for the cash to meet pupils’ needs. The Department for Education published Academy trust reserves guidance back in November. The National Audit Office indicated that 22 per cent of trusts had reserves amounting to one-fifth or more of their annual income in 2019-20. Perhaps more relevant here in Devon, the guidance also states that where Trusts have low reserves “… the ESFA will contact the trust to understand its position and discuss any potential support that may be appropriate. Most recently, the threshold for those conversations is reserves of 5% of total income or less.”
Energy usage. A few schools will continue to get energy support, but only those paying the highest rates. Financial support has been vastly scaled back and fewer schools are eligible under the new Energy Bills Discount Scheme, which runs until April 1 2024. Under the latest scheme, only those paying above £107 per megawatt hour for gas or £302/MWh for electricity will receive help, automatically applied to bills.
Nursery. The government has increased the funding rates to local authorities for both three- and four-year-olds and two year olds. The additional £204 million of funding is providing an uplift for local authorities to increase hourly rates paid to early years providers for delivering the government funded hours to parents. Funding rates per child are increasing from an average of £5.29 to £5.62 for three and four-year-olds and from an average of £6.00 to £7.95 for two-year-olds. There will be a further increase in funding to come later this year.
Pupil Premium. This funding is due to rise by 1.9 per cent in April 2024. Schools and councils receive pupil premium funding for every pupil who has been eligible for free school meals at some point in the last six years and also receive a higher amount for looked-after and previously looked-after children. This year, the basic rate for primary schools will rise by 1.7 per cent from £1,455 to £1,480, and the rate for secondary schools will rise 1.4 per cent from £1,035 to £1,050. The rate paid to schools and councils for looked-after and previously looked-after children at both phases will increase by 1.6 per cent from £2,530 to £2,570.
Boards to consider: Does our school have well trained finance governors/trustees and does the board provide full accountability for the funding it receives as evidenced by up to date statements on the school website?
3.Attendance. Attendance continues to be one of the key issues schools face. Many parents no longer believe it is their responsibility to ensure their children are in school every day, and the idea that every day in school matters has been abandoned by some. School closures during the pandemic had shifted this attitude in an unprecedented way.
The figures for academic year 2022/23 had an absence rate for all pupils of 7.9% and a persistent absence rate of 22.3%, this compares to 2018/19 when the overall absence rate was 4.7% and the persistent absence rate was 19.1%. Working together to improve school attendance has a useful summary table for governors and trustees on what their responsibilities are from September 2023. All trusts and governing bodies should provide support and challenge to their schools around current trends on attendance by regularly reviewing attendance data at board meetings. This should include thorough examination of recent and historic trends at a school level, benchmarking to comparator schools within the trust, local authority area, region and nationwide and paying particular attention to attendance of pupil cohorts within their school(s) that have historically had poor attendance or that face entrenched barriers to attendance. See the DfE School Attendance Guidance Training Webinar, Effective governance that supports stronger attendance. Note the difference between children absent from education (registered at a school) and children missing education (not registered at a school and not receiving suitable education otherwise.)
Boards will need to be aware that the inspection data summary report (IDSR) was updated mid-December for the latest absence data for each school for 2022/23.
Board to consider: Does your board regularly review attendance data and help school leaders focus support on the pupils who need it?
As we continue to await new national SEND standards for the provision that children and young people should expect to receive, Devon Local Authority is still running with a very significant overspend of the SEND High Needs Block. The government intends to increase core school funding by £3.5 billion in this academic year compared to the year before, of which almost £1 billion of that increase will go towards high needs. The most recent Ofsted visit reported that Devon had not made sufficient progress in tackling issues around SEND provision.
The county council is reported to be submitting an application to the government’s ‘safety valve’ support scheme, aimed at helping local authorities tackle SEND deficits. As Devon’s deficit is likely to exceed £150m by the end of this financial year, the government may be considering providing between £70 and £100 million as part of the support scheme, Devon would need to have its own fund of around £10m to support their application to release the government funding.
Devon schools should expect SEND provision to continue to be in the spotlight this academic year. DAG has produced a DAG Busy Governor Guide to SEND to bring together all the key information boards need in one document.
Boards to consider: How does the number of SEND children in my school compare with the National average and the Devon average? (noting that Devon has higher rates than National) and are all SEND children within my school supported by a plan for additional provision and do we use the Devon Graduated Response Tool or other appropriate plan throughout our organisation?
Working together to safeguard children, was published on 15 December. This guidance is for “multi-agency working” around child safeguarding and the actual legal requirements on schools and school leaders have not been changed. There are, however, several important points in the update for schools to note for the coming year. One update makes it clear that schools are a central part of multi-agency safeguarding and that better information sharing between education settings and other safeguarding professionals in other agencies is needed, noting that other agencies like social services and the police have often been less good at sharing information with schools. There is also a greater emphasis on engaging positively with parents with regard to safeguarding issues.
A lot of safeguarding policy and practice treats children as people to whom safeguarding is “done” and it is likely that schools will need to be looking to do more to give children information and explanation about safeguarding, both in general as part of personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education and also in specific cases of safeguarding concerns, so that children feel that they fully understand what is happening. It is likely that many of the above points will be included in Keeping Children Safe in Education 2024 version.
DAG is in to its 30th year of supporting governance in Devon and publishes over 150 articles each year for more informed governance, all free to DAG members. Please ensure that your board is accessing all the support it can to deliver better governance leading to better outcomes for all Devon pupils. See more on the DAG website www.dagdevon.uk.
DAG Community Networks – Chairs: Support for chairs each term from across the Devon local authority to come together in a free interactive session to discuss the latest issues affecting governance. Those who attend are chairs of governing boards, chairs of academy trusts and chairs of local academy bodies. Next forum will be held on 6th February at 6pm.
DAG Community Networks – Clerks: DAG also supports clerks and governance professionals each term to come together in a free interactive hour-long session recognising the key role clerks have in delivering effective governance. Next forum will be held on 31st January at 5pm.
*NEW* DAG Community Networks – Governors: DAG will be supporting all governors and trustees to come together in a free interactive hour-long session to consider key responsibilities. First forum will be held on Wednesday 21st February at 6pm.
Each forum has a theme and is facilitated by DAG board members or associate members with considerable governance experience. Please register in advance via [email protected]
Questions for the board to consider: Are all opportunities being taken to upskill the board, share experiences and concerns and support all board members and the clerk?
7.Change on the horizon:
Leadership of Ofsted: Sir Martyn Oliver has now taken over from Amanda Spielman as His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education and inspections will not restart until mid-way through January as he launches an internal inquiry prior to the Department for Education responding to the coroner on Headteacher Ruth Perry’s death.
Changes at Devon County Council: Devon County Council are in the process of appointing a new Head of Education and Learning . There has been considerable disruption to leadership at Devon County Council over the last year, new appointments last year:
Changes at the Regional Director’s Office (South West). Hannah Woodhouse, the Department for Education’s regional director for the south west, will leave the role early this year after almost seven years in post. No indication as yet as to who will replace her.
Primary KS2 Statistics Published
Revised attainment and progress statistics for Key Stage 2 national curriculum assessments in England have been published and provide an update to the provisional statistics published on 12 September 2023. This performance data is now in the public domain and Primary governors and trustees will want to benchmark their school/trust data against National benchmarks and challenge under-performance, especially noting that the South West Region performed poorly against all other national regions for this assessment.
Digital GCSEs. Subject to Ofqual approval, the first students will be able to take their exams on-screen in the summer of 2025, more information will be available this year and by 2030, all GCSEs are likely to have both paper-based and on-screen formats according to Pearson Edexcel. For many, it will be a choice to take an exam on-screen, but it is stressed that it is not either/or and for some they may prefer to write it by hand.
ABS. Over the next decade, The Department for Education is seeking to introduce the Advanced British Standard (ABS), a new Baccalaureate-style qualification framework for 16 to 19 year-olds. The ABS will, bring together technical and academic routes into a single framework, taking the best of A levels and T Levels, increase the number of taught hours for all students and require students to study maths and English to the age of 18. The consultation document contains policy proposals to support the aims outlined above. This consultation closes on 20 March 2024.
British Sign Language. The Department for Education has announced that it is aiming to approve exam board syllabuses so the subject can be taught from September 2025.
Pupils across the country will soon be able to take the British Sign Language (BSL) GCSE as the subject content has been published, providing pupils with an important life skill and advancing inclusivity within education.
Excess primary school places. The number of surplus primary school places is set to soar in some areas of England as the population bulge created by the early 2000s baby boom moves into secondaries. The number of excess places in primary schools has doubled over 10 years to its highest level since records began. Secondary and primary school applications and offers statistics show that there were 130,776 excess primary school places recorded for the 2023-24 academic year. This is almost double the 65,649 excess places recorded for 2014-15. Many of the highest rises in excess primary places are in cities, but this problem is affecting schools in Devon too. Falling primary pupil rolls lead to falling primary budgets and comes at a time when school budgets are already under pressure.
Wraparound. The government set out an ambition that the parents of all primary-age children will be provided with ‘wraparound’ childcare in school by September 2026 to ensure all parents of school-age children can drop their children off between 8am and 6pm. The government will provide £289 million of start-up funding to councils and schools for this ambition to be achieved through a ‘national rollout’ over 2024-25 and 2025-26 with a view that most schools would be able to deliver provision self-sufficiently, funded by charging parents.
The state of governance. There have been more articles recently about the strain placed on volunteers who govern, have a look at two recent articles in Schools Week: The quiet crisis facing education’s governance heroes and 2023 in review: Exhaustion has reached the boardroom.
…and of course the Election?
Boards to consider:
How do we ensure that we stay up to date and aware of what is happening within the education sector both locally and nationally that will have a direct impact on our school?