Julian’s York Press Column: Reforming Education
September 27, 2017
I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to the many young people across York who received their GCSE and A-Level results over the summer. I was particularly interested to see the results of those sitting the new English and maths GCSEs and was delighted with provisional results showing that 69 per cent of students had achieved a grade 4 or above in both.
York’s schools have historically performed very strongly whilst at the same time received some of the lowest levels of funding in the entire country. This year, the average student in York will attract £4,162 (the third lowest level in England) from the schools block whereas students in Leeds receive £4,464 and those in Manchester £5,280. The comparison with London is far greater still, with average allocations of £6,180 and £6,847 in Islington and Hackney respectively.
Just think what level of success York could achieve if we received a fairer funding deal. Thankfully, change is coming and this month the Government has set out its proposals for the introduction of a National Funding Formula from next April. Although York will not be catching up overnight this is certainly a positive step in an area many a government dare not tread. Illustrative figures show that a school such as Fulford whose baseline funding for this academic year is £4,893,000 would see an uplift to £5,419,000 under the new National Funding Formula.
Those who have followed this matter closely will be plainly aware of the hurdles and false dawns we have had along the way, including a year’s delay as a result of the Brexit referendum and change of government, but there was one shot at this and it is important that we get it right. I have been part of the campaign for a new funding formula since 2010 and considerable credit must go to the f40 group, comprising representatives from the forty lowest-funded local authorities, who have been particularly encouraged by the Secretary of State’s minimum funding guarantee.
Furthermore, the Government will be implementing the recommendations of the Sainsbury Report and this means that sixteen year-olds will be presented with a choice between an academic route and A-Levels or one of fifteen ‘technical options’ leading to a T-Level qualification. The standards for this latter option will be determined by employer-led panels and will replace the current system where students choose from 13,000 different qualifications.
Whilst there has been a commitment to providing investment for schools and colleges to deliver the new T-Level qualification, this must be matched with sufficient resources for schools to offer excellent post-16 provision across the board. As things stand, there is currently a ‘funding-dip’ between compulsory education and higher education which seems particularly odd given the importance of this crucial juncture.
A number of FE representatives assert that improving the breadth and quality of FE provision can be achieved with a modest uplift in spending per head and assert that funding is available as a result of an underspend over the past two years. I have very recently put this point to the Minister directly and am anticipating a response in the coming days.
The recent local Area Review looked very closely at whether further education and sixth-form colleges in our area are well positioned to serve projected job growth. The conclusions contained in the final report made few recommendations for York College and Askham Bryan College but I was very pleased to see that both were noted for their abilities to meet the needs of employers.
O-Levels, GCEs, GCSEs, A-Levels, BTECs, NVQs, T-Levels: I am not going to pretend that keeping track of these things is easy but we would be doing a disservice to our young people if we stood still for the sake of sentimentality. For too long examination boards competed with one another by dumbing-down and although grade-inflation meant that students were attaining higher grades each year they were increasingly unprepared for university and employment. Michael Gove understood this very clearly and his contribution as Secretary of State for Education will be appreciated in time, I have no doubt about it. However, I am less convinced that he will be given the credit he is owed anytime soon.