By Elise Vipond on 29 Jul 2022
Catch up with the latest developments in education with Your Weekly Sector News. This week, we are reminded of the difficult decisions facing leaders in education, as we reflect on school financial pressures, the complexity of inclusion, and the emergence of a fully trust-led system.
LAs can run academy trusts beyond their borders
In the Schools White Paper, the government laid out plans to allow local authorities (LAs) to establish multi-academy trusts (MATs) in places where ‘too few strong trusts exist.’ When asked whether LA-established MATs would be able to form across local authority boundaries, academies minister Baroness Barran confirmed this would be permitted, ‘subject to each local authority being in agreement and the proposer being able to demonstrate a clear need for a new trust in each local authority.’
Whilst some have voiced concerns that this could ‘create a power struggle,’ other experts argue it is important for LA-established MATs to have the same opportunities as other trusts, which are allowed to operate across LA boundaries in multiple areas.
Still, questions remain about the advantages of LA-established MATs. Recently, Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST), explained there are ‘more strategic roles that I think local government should play [...] it is easier to perform these roles if local authorities are not conflicted by the provider role.’ Similarly, Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of National Education Union (NEU), argued that local authorities would have limited control over the trusts they set up, and ultimately ‘schools would be split off from the wider range of services and support for children, young people and families that councils deliver.’
The decline of permanent exclusions
Permanent exclusions fell significantly in 2020/21, as schools switched to remote learning and the majority of pupils stayed home during large parts of the Spring term. Overall, less than four thousand pupils were excluded, the lowest level in fifteen years.
In the same time frame, suspensions increased by thirteen percent, rising to 352,500 from 310,700 in the previous academic year. Of these, 12,888 were suspended for ‘wilful and repeated transgression of protective measures in place to protect public health.’ However, the most commonly cited reason was ‘persistent disruptive behaviour.’ Notedly, figures were not as high as they were prior to the pandemic, when there were over four-hundred thousand suspensions.
This comes after the Commission on Young Lives called for permanent exclusions to be banned in primary schools by 2026, explaining that ‘it is hard for us to understand how exclusion is the only resource a small number of primary schools believe they have to respond to young children who are not settling in school.’ This sparked fierce debate over exclusion in schools and what it means to ensure all children have equity of opportunity. Tom Bennett, lead behaviour advisor to the DfE argues that ‘all children have got the right to a safe, dignified learning,’ explaining that choosing not to exclude a pupil could expose others to ‘days and days of indignity and harassment.’
Whilst both exclusions and suspensions have decreased since the pandemic first began, the Department for Education (DfE) reiterates that ‘[Covid] restrictions will have had an impact on the numbers presented and caution should be taken when comparing across years.’ It remains to be seen whether exclusions will continue to fall as schools move forward from the pandemic.
Pay rise for support staff in schools
Local authorities have offered a flat pay rise of £1,925 to school support staff, amounting to a 10.5 percent increase for the lowest-paid employees, but only a 4.04 percent increase for those on the highest salaries. As part of the offer, the lowest point on the pay scale will be scrapped from 1 April 2023, and staff will also receive an additional day in their annual leave entitlement.
In a letter to unions, National Employers write that they ‘hope this final offer can quickly form the basis of an agreement between the two sides so that employees, who continue to provide such critical support to their communities, can receive a pay rise as soon as practicable.’
Unite, Unison and the GMB had originally called for a pay rise of £2,000, or the current rate of inflation as measured by the retail price index (RPI), which currently stands at 11.8 percent. They also demanded a one-off Covid-19 recognition payment as well as a staff retention payment scheme, however both of these were rejected. Union leaders now plan to meet with members and representatives to discuss the next steps. Whilst conceding that the offer is better than expected, Unison head of education and local government, Mike Short, says ‘it’s not enough to make up for a decade and more of lost wages.’
Leaders are also concerned that, without additional funding from the government, the pay rise will add another burden to school budgets. Louise Hatswell, pay and conditions specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), calls for the government to support schools better financially, explaining that ‘school leaders are likely to be left in a position of having to make extremely difficult decisions, which may include having to cut educational provision in order to be able to meet the cost of pay awards.’
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