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NEWS FOCUS SecEd: On Your Side

Schools are not to blame for deficits

As schools across our country brace themselves for a tough year ahead, it is very concerning that a fifth have recorded a deficit at the end of last year. As our front page article this week reports, almost 2,000


Henshaw Editor SecEd

schools are in the red, with the average secondary deficit coming to £192,000. Leadership unions have pointed to the budget cuts and argue that these figures are proof that schools are being hit already. The exact number of schools in deficit (1,968) is only (and

I say only) 120 more when compared with the previous year, but when you consider that end-of-year balances are at their lowest level for 10 years, you are left fearing for what impact this is set to have on the education of our children. It is clear that the current funding system for schools is

simply not effective. Too many schools lose out on per-pupil funding because of their circumstances. SecEd raised the issue of school funding back in September

2009, when a report revealed that per-pupil funding ranges from £3,700 to £7,600 depending on local authority. The revelations led to criticism that some pupils “are worth more than others”. (What is a student worth?, SecEd 224, September 24, 2009). Headteachers from schools that received the worst funding

settlements told SecEd at the time that the lack of money per- pupil led to them running a deficit “almost every year”. The massive differences in pupil funding make it clear that

the current system is in need of change and therefore the new government’s intention to develop a national funding formula represents an opportunity to create a fairer process – I only hope this is taken. The issue that concerns currently is that more than a year

ago schools at the lower end of the funding tables were already running deficits. With the budget cuts coming into play, with the farce that is the pupil premium policy (being as it is not new money at all and having been set at a pathetically low rate), and with the loss of effective and efficient organisations like Becta which saved schools money, these deficit schools will face an even harder challenge in the year ahead. It is clear that the majority of these schools are doing their

utmost to get back to black, but when the education of our children is at stake how far should schools go? The road ahead is incredibly scary. Most schools will face

real-terms cuts in the coming months, staff will be at risk, the standard of education and facilities that schools provide will be threatened (not least through larger class sizes, reduced curriculum options, and reduced teaching resources). We cannot blame schools for this and we must support them rather them lambast them for running into the red. Equally it is difficult, I believe, to criticise the one quarter

of schools that are holding onto too much money. Those secondary schools that have an excess of five per cent are often slammed for holding onto money that should be going towards children’s education. However, it has to be recognised that for some schools where longer-term projects are in the pipeline that will ultimately improve their offer to the community, these working balances are needed. This is even more pointed when you consider the number

of schools which have had Building Schools for the Future funding snatched away from them and who now have to make very tough decisions as to whether they invest in education in the here and now or building work that could have a long- lasting impact into the future. Having said this, the schools which run surpluses could

well find that this simply enables them to temporarily stave off the cuts that the schools settlement will require of other schools. It will help them to tread water if nothing more. What is clear is that schools are in a no-win situation.

With budgets cuts bound to have an impact, with less money available, headteachers who choose to do the right thing by their children are facing the prospect of huge deficits, while those who choose to toe the line know they could be limiting the opportunities they are able to offer their students. It is going to be a very tough year ahead.


THE GOVERNMENT’S free school programme has come under fire again after a survey by a teaching union showed a lack of support and confidence in the proposals. The National Union of Teachers

(NUT) commissioned a YouGov survey of 1,021 parents in the 22 local authorities where the first 25 free schools are scheduled to open in September 2011. Results showed that 46 per cent

of the parents believed there was no need for a new school in their area. Three quarters said their child’s current education was either very good or fairly good. Of the parents who thought there

was a need for a new school, 30 per cent said there were not enough secondary places in their area. Only 14 per cent of parents with children at state secondary schools cited unsatisfactory teaching standards as the reason for supporting a free school. Free schools are a new type

of institution that can be set up by community groups including parents, teachers and other local organisations in response to parental demand in an area. They will be state-funded but operate outside of local authority control. Elsewhere, the survey showed

a lack of awareness of the 25 free schools projects which could be a worry to the government and


A major survey of parents in areas where free schools are being proposed has raised questions over the extent of support for the

programme. Daniel White explains

education secretary Michael Gove. The figures show that 76 per cent of parents were completely unaware that one was planned in their area. Christine Blower, general

secretary of the NUT, said it was time for the government to stop “playing with the educational future” of the country. She added: “This survey

clearly shows that parents are not clamouring to set up free schools, have no issue with schools being accountable to the community through democratically elected local authorities, and absolutely reject the premise of their children’s education being handed over to private companies. “Free schools are not wanted

or needed. They are divisive and unaccountable. The teaching profession and parents know this. It is time the government stopped playing with the educational future of this country based on nothing more than the fact they can.”


SecEd’s Teach it Like Torno! column last week (A new year’s epiphany, SecEd 269, Thursday, January 6, 2011), penned by David Torn, a teacher in east London, raised questions over those entering the profession through the Teach First programme. Teach First this week has responded to the article.

Dear sir, SecEd

• Pete Henshaw is publisher and editor of SecEd. Email, visit and follow us at

Teach First works in partnership with schools in low-income communities and with leading initial teacher training providers to train excellent teachers who have the ability and drive to unlock the potential of their students, enabling them to achieve regardless of the circumstances into which they were born. Young people from areas of high income deprivation

continuously attain well below their more advantaged peers. Just 16 per cent of youngsters eligible for free school meals progress to university, in comparison to 96 per cent of young people educated in independent schools (The Sutton Trust, 2010). Thousands of graduates each

year apply to Teach First, driven by the desire to tackle the injustice of educational disadvantage. In addition to achieving a PGCE in their first year, participants on the Teach First Leadership Development Programme also have the opportunity to complete a master's course. In order to secure a place on

the Leadership Development Programme, applicants not only have to demonstrate their academic credentials, but also a range of other competencies necessary to be an excellent teacher and,

crucially, a passion for education and for transforming the lives of young people. They are not “experts” when they embark on the programme. They begin with excellent subject knowledge and evidence shows that they quickly become among the most effective of teachers. An external evaluation by the

University of Manchester into the impact of our teachers has found that against international standards second-year participants were rated from good to excellent, on a par with or ahead of more experienced teachers. Schools which employ Teach

First teachers have also seen a greater increase in their GCSE results than comparable schools. The success of our work has meant that Teach First has been supported since its inception by the three main political parties, hundreds of

headteachers, and a broad range of stakeholders. As with the PGCE or GTP,

some participants choose to leave teaching having completed their training and graduated to become Teach First Ambassadors. However, since our first

cohort graduated in 2005, almost 70 per cent of teachers who have completed our programme are still working in education. Many of those who move on to work in other areas remain connected to the Teach First mission of tackling educational disadvantage through a number of initiatives, for example as a school governor or by mentoring 6th-formers from low-income households through the university application process.

James Westhead Director, external relations Teach First

Once opened, free schools will

receive state funding but they will not be part of a local authority family of schools and not subject to oversight or inspection by the local authority. However, 52 per cent of parents believed that the local authority was an appropriate organisation to run a new school. Late last year, Mr Gove said

that teachers in free schools would not have to hold pedagogical qualifications, but of the parents questioned 78 per cent believe their children should be taught by qualified teachers. There was also concern from

the parents at a lack of consultation on the various free school plans, with 75 per cent of state secondary children’s parents saying that they have had no opportunity to comment on the proposals in their area. The survey also highlights the

difference in opinion between state and private secondary parents, with

38 per cent of those with children at private schools being in favour of free schools compared to only 20 per cent of state secondary parents. A Department for Education

spokeswoman hit back this week, arguing that free schools will provide parents with the option of a “good local school with great teaching, strong discipline and small class sizes”. She added: “It’s disappointing to

see the NUT continuing to blindly oppose free schools before one has even opened its doors just as they are blindly opposed to academies – schools which have proved incredibly popular with parents and pupils and have turned around underperformance in deprived areas. “As well as teachers and charities

it’s also parents themselves who are behind many of the free school proposals – parents who want something better for their children. And even where parents are not the lead proposers, each proposal has to show there is demand locally for the type of education they plan to offer. “Christine Blower’s own survey

says that 47 per cent of parents say there is a need for a new school in their area – over half of whom say there aren’t enough school places available. She also states that around half of parents want schools run by the local authority, again that means around half don’t want them run by the local authority.”



SecEd • January 13 2011

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