There are permanent ‘system risks’ in education which need constant oversight, Department for Education (DfE) accounts reveal. If these risks are not not tackled then their impact would be severe, the DfE warned.
Teacher supply In December 2015, schools minister Nick Gibb was asked if teacher supply was ‘now in crisis’. He replied it was ‘an issue of concern’ which was being tacklled but it wasn’t a crisis.
The ‘issue of concern’ has now been upgraded to ‘risk’.
‘There is a risk that the quality and supply of teachers and school leaders, both new teachers and those already in the profession, is insufficient to achieve the government’s vision that all children and young people have access to a high-quality education.’
Teacher training recruitment is ‘challenging’ especially at secondary level and for EBacc subjects, the DfE admitted.
Schools failing financially Schools face ‘pressures from increased pay and pension contributions’ while ‘managing reductions in non-core funding’, the DfE wrote.
No need to worry, however. A ‘key mitigation’ in tackling the funding crisis is the National Funding Formula. This will help schools in ‘greatest need’. That's not every school - just those with ‘historic underfunding’.
But all schools face financial failure. Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary designate, told Schools Week the recent revelation that nearly half of single academy trusts and six in ten multi-academy trusts overspent in 2015/16 was ‘damning’.
‘All schools, across all phases of education, are finding it hard to balance budgets,’ he said.
School funding became a key issue in the general election . Nevertheless, the DfE says the NFE together with ‘a comprehensive school efficiency programme’ (ie buying cheaper photocopiers and switching energy suppliers) will alleviate funding problems. It’s unlikely schools and parents will be convinced.
Not enough good quality early years provision There aren’t sufficient good quality places in childcare, education and children’s centre to meet the 30 hours entitlement. The DfE is at the stage of ‘identifying and determining how to address’ risks. A long way from actually tackling them, then.
Delivering reforms detailed in the Post-16 skills plan. Risks to the Post-16 plan stem from the DfE itself: restructuring the further education sector and reducing 16-19 funding. Added to these is a possible dearth of English and Maths teachers in FE colleges.
Failure of the Post-16 plan, the DfE says, would mean problems such as shortage of skills wouldn’t be solved. But the DfE fails to realise that addressing skill shortages costs money – it can’t be done on the cheap.
Neither does the DfE grasp that school accountability measures lower the status of vocational education. Entrenched snobbery about non-academic subjects is not removed by accountability measures which place more value on the academic and assume university is the best route. Neither is it helpful for ministers to gush over favoured academies and free schools which send pupils to Oxbridge as if Oxbridge is the only fruit.
It’s encouraging the DfE has recognised these risks - it would be irresponsible not to - but it’s a long way from actually tackling them.