Jan 23 2017

Meeting on the Financial Efficacy of MATs

On Thursday 12th January, the APPG for Education hosted Jason Gould from The Education Company, to present his research on the financial efficacy of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs).

Danny Kinahan MP opened the floor, and introduced Caroline Wright, Director General of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), who gave a brief background on the importance of the MAT procurement landscape and why BESA commissioned the research. With the influence of local authorities receding and MATs continuing to grow, an examination was required into the financial efficacy and sustainability of MATs.

Jason began his presentation with a short summary of Academies and Trusts, and how they came to fruition. He then explained how the research was drawn from a quantitative analysis of all “true” MAT websites and interviews with 455 MATs, examining their current situation and likely future financial trends. He observed that without political intervention, it is likely that in 3 years, 70% of secondary schools and 30% of primary schools will become Academies.

Jason then explored the debate surrounding the optimum geographical size of a MAT, and described how some of the larger MATs have begun to set up regional hubs to better facilitate the movement of staff and facilities. Another key concern is growth and the pressure on high-performing Trusts to accommodate new schools. The research shows that the optimum size of a MAT is between 8 and 12 schools, [as this provides the best level of financial security and stability].

Next, Jason described the way MATs are currently funded. This is done through a process known as ‘top-slicing’. Academies receive money directly from the State and pay either a fixed or variable percentage to their MAT, usually of around 10%, in order to cover the school’s running costs and services.

With this in mind, Jason discussed the research’s findings on procurement practices in MATs. He discovered that Trusts overseeing 2 or 3 schools saw greater centralised purchasing which dropped with MATs of 4-9 schools, and increased again with significantly larger Trusts. This is attributed to the difficulty in which very small and larger groups find sharing and distributing resources. The study demonstrated that utilities and ICT equipment are areas most likely to be centralised, whereas the curriculum and teaching supplies are the least. It appears that schools prefer to set their own learning agenda and curriculum resource providers but find it useful for the MAT to manage some of their other facilities.

Finally, Jason spoke about the areas in which academies are targeting to save schools’ money. With staffing taking up 80-90% of a school’s budget, this is the area most Chief Financial Officers target. With the increase of centralised teaching contracts, and the establishment of ‘Teacher-Training Solutions ’and in-house CPD, academies have the potential to drastically reduce their expenditure.

Danny then opened the floor to questions.

In response to a question on academies’ focus for the next 5 years, Jason talked about the growing centralisation of areas such as SEN, IT and STEM teachers of which there is a serious shortage. He stressed that whilst most teachers were content with the idea of sharing certain facilities, there was a strong desire to remain in control of particular areas, such as the choice of exam boards and core teaching staff, which was unlikely to change.

Lastly, Jason talked about the ‘revolution’ that is surfacing in teacher recruitment. He warned that, with the commission costs taken by recruitment agencies denting schools’ budgets, CFO’s incentive toward centralisation of staffing is on the rise.

With this final thought, Danny thanked the speaker and all the attendees, and brought the meeting to a close.

Nov 24 2016

APPG for Education hosts third inquiry roundtable

On 22nd November 2016, the APPG for Education hosted the third and final discussion in a series of roundtable events as part of its inquiry in to how well British schools are preparing young people for their future careers.

The roundtable focused on what is required to increase the uptake of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, the so called STEM subjects, as well as how to increase the number and quality of STEM teachers and possible ways to transform the gendered nature of STEM subjects to encourage more female uptake. The discussion was chaired by Carol Monaghan MP, a former physics teacher and the SNP’s Westminster Education Spokesperson.  It followed two roundtables in October that featured discussions examining where the focus should lie in schools between teaching academic subject knowledge and soft skills, and the availability, quality and effectiveness of current careers advice and guidance students receive from their schools. The APPG welcomed guests from industry, assessment boards and the teaching profession.

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One of the main focuses of debate was the role that early specialisation plays in children prioritising other subjects ahead of STEM. It was argued that many nations across the world do not require young students to take as many examinations as the British and that their examinations are less narrowly focussed. However, this was countered by members of examination boards and Ofqual, who stated emphatically that this was not the case; it was stressed that A Levels are far from atypical. This was generally accepted but many still emphasised the issue of specialisation at younger ages, with the Key Stage One and Two examinations referenced most often. It was recommended by various members that the Key Stage examinations should include an element of science that they currently lack.

The perceived gendered nature of STEM subjects was anticipated to be a catalyst for enthusiastic debate and this proved to be the case. It was advanced that women and girls self-deselect from STEM subjects and that a way to alleviate this is to open up students’ eyes to the possible career options that go far beyond stereotypical images of engineering. However, it was argued that this was not necessarily just a school problem but more of a societal one that requires wider solutions. This was evidenced by the fact that the uptake of physics by females has remained constant over the last thirty years, despite many policy and curriculum changes.

The final issue that attracted considerable debate was that of the lack of teachers.  It was suggested that only forty percent of the required number of STEM subject teachers were available and that was a root cause of the issues the country faces when it comes to STEM. Currently, unqualified teachers fill those gaps and the students suffer as a result, leading to less enthusiasm for STEM. Some participants suggested that teachers take night-time training on one of a number of free courses but those within schools responded by stating that teachers are already operating on limited schedules. Others suggested that academies must pay the teachers what they deserve to correct this. It was also recommended that STEM subjects should be taught more widely at primary school level.

This concluded the debate and the series of roundtable in general. Having already collected written evidence, the APPG will now produce a report and recommendations to government, for publication early in 2017.

Oct 26 2016

APPG for Education hosts second inquiry roundtable

On the 19th October, the APPG for Education hosted the second in a series of roundtable events as part of its inquiry in to how well British schools are preparing young people for their future careers. The roundtable focused on the availability, quality and effectiveness of current careers advice and guidance students receive from their schools. The debate was chaired by Andrea Jenkyns MP and followed an event on 13th October which examined where the focus should lie in schools between teaching academic subject knowledge and soft skills. The guests ranged from leaders in industry, to teachers and principals, Ofsted and career guidance counsellors.

The debate began with a focus on how businesses can align with schools to ensure that pupils are presented with the widest and highest quality selection of work experience placements.  An initial assertion was that more should be done to create relationships between schools and businesses. It was suggested that many companies and schools can form a relationship and then see it disappear due to something as simple as a change of staff in either side.  Some even commented that for businesses to gain access to schools the levels of bureaucracy must be eased; too many do not want to jump through hoops when they are already doing something to help. Others recommended that schools could offer businesses something in return, such as certificates or even have the students aid businesses in simple tasks year round.

Many answered with the fact that schools need specialists to play their part but they simply cannot afford full-time careers counsellors and the role is often fulfilled by a librarian or even kitchen staff.  Schools no longer have to offer careers guidance and so many have prioritised other areas – it was suggested that compulsory work experience should return but some queried how this would be funded. Another issue was that of geography; for schools in London finding a partner business is much easier than those in less metropolitan areas.

The debate then moved on to the effectiveness of career guidance in its current form.  It was suggested that the introduction of careers guidance in regular lessons has been to the detriment of the pupils and careers guidance in general, but this was met with strong rebuke by other participants who argued that having separate careers guidance left students confused as to how to apply it to what they were learning.  Many suggested testing and quantifying the success of work experience placements, to determine how well young people benefited from different experiences.

The debate concluded with a series of concrete recommendations from the guests, which will now form part of the final report of the inquiry. The third, and final, roundtable will be held on 22nd November and will examine Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education and how well our education system is equipping young people for careers in these key fields.

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