2022/23: the year past and the year ahead, by Ian Koxvold

Would you like to gain insight in to one of the biggest challenges schools are facing today?

January 13, 2023

Each year over the Christmas / holiday period I try to collect my thoughts about the last twelve months. 2022 has definitely been an interesting period to try to internalise, much less synthesise.

I’ll leave the politics aside – apart from observing that the record turnover of Prime Ministers and Secretaries of Education has probably had more apparent than real impact. In some respects the level of volatility in leadership has slowed down the rate of policy change implementation.

The economic impacts have been more substantial. The twin horsemen of energy prices and wider inflation have been partly offset by the £2.3bn announced funding support, but who knows where educator wage increases will land as the year goes on? School and MAT surveys – ours as well as others – tell a story of excruciating pain in schools and MATs (over 95% of LA schools and SATs expected in September to drain all reserves or fail to reach financial sustainability this year, compared to 30% of MAT schools). The greater resilience of MATs is part of the reason that the conversion march continues; another important factor is of course Local Authorities being unleashed to set up their own MATs.

In practice the economic disruption has some way to go – so long as funding is allocated per pupil the demographic turn that is landing on primary schools now (secondary schools still have 4-5 years to prepare) will be difficult to manage. This makes it all the more important that finance leaders can make clear-sighted choices to navigate the short-term and set themselves up for the long term. I was interested but not surprised to see that academies with a specialist budget tool were 48% likely to score their confidence in setting and managing a budget at 5 out of 5, compared to 29% of those using the budgeting tool in their finance package and 23% of schools using an excel template. On top of their budgeting tool, one of the benefits of School Business Services is that they don’t just provide software, but also the expert finance advice (and if necessary outsourced staff) to get to the right answer!

In terms of MAT central services, I’ve been extremely impressed (again) by the set of 8 recent blogs from Chris Kirk, covering a broad range of challenges and how to meet them. My colleagues talk about very similar work and challenges in serving MATs, but Chris has articulated this much better than I can: https://www.cjkassociates.co/blog

We’ve done some interesting research over the year, and have published several summaries of this. For me the most interesting insights have been as follows.

On tutoring:

  • We carried out some quite detailed work on the tutoring space. Among other things, this showed that the K-12 private-pay market, while large at c.£1.2bn of total spend, is quite a bit smaller than many estimates. We’re pretty confident that this is correct – we combined the usual “top-down” work (survey of parents etc.) with “bottom-up” work (following the money to commercial and individual providers).
  • We also saw that the greatest reason for parents not to use tutoring (c.40% of parents, and no doubt going up this year) was due to affordability, which makes the National Tutoring Programme (and associated School-Led, Academic Mentoring versions) really encouraging. We know that, used well, tutoring is powerful – that’s part of why parents spend over a billion out of their own pocket. I think we do a good job on the NTP – when I read the Ofsted report on tutoring I was reassured that we were already addressing the risk factors. Separately, we surveyed our NTP tutors (via Teaching Personnel) and 93% of them could point to observable progress made by their learners.
  • I do know that many leaders find it difficult to roster and schedule in-school tutoring, and to measure / demonstrate the effectiveness of this. Our team have a compelling set of supports for that (not least in the collaboration between Fleet Tutors / TP Tutors / Protocol Education and EdPlace). If you haven’t deployed the ring-fenced tutoring funding yet, or if you want to talk through how to organise tutoring to maximise the impact on learners and on the overall school then you might contact Scott Kelly at TP Tutors (scott.kelly@tp-tutors.com); we can cover all regions either face-to-face or online, and we can make it very straightforward (and resilient against any potential ESFA funding audit or clawbacks…!).

On HR & Talent:

I think it would be imprudent to assume that teacher workforce constraints (especially in secondary schools) are about to improve. We keep hearing the drumbeat of how important the staffing challenge is for schools and for the sector – we’ve recently done a lot of work on the topic of how schools can recruit, retain, develop and manage their staff, which we come at from several different angles within SEG:

  • Teaching Personnel continues to do excellent work with the Future Teachers programme (https://www.teachingpersonnel.com/future-teachers) – we have a great case study on this with United Learning). We can help schools to move interested candidates from being entirely inexperienced, to functioning as a teaching assistant, towards full teacher qualification.
  • Best Practice Network has won an Initial Teacher Training licence and so has the full golden thread through ITT, ECF, NPQs, …
  • Teaching Personnel and Protocol Education continue to invest heavily in developing the skills of their roster of c.20,000 flexible educators – most recently we welcome Lizzy Mawson to work with our educators.
  • Strictly Education has developed EduPeople which is a really strong HR & Payroll system.
  • Judicium Education and Neo People also work on supporting schools in serving their educators’ needs.

Some of the things that really stood out in our research were:

  • How reliant most schools were on increasing pay as a lever for rewarding and retaining staff (considered to be the most effective lever for recruitment and retention, and the 2nd most effective for development and management); clearly this may be more difficult over the next couple of years
  • That there were several basic HR hygiene issues to be addressed (for example, over a quarter of schools didn’t promote regular 1:1 sessions with line managers, or specific objectives). A decent HR system can really help with these sort of things
  • How critical staff qualifications and formal development programmes are becoming. Only 41% of school leaders reported using NPQs, but they swore by them. Starting to offer NPQs (especially given the universal full bursaries available from the DfE), signing up with a SCITT, and apprenticeship programmes were some of the highest impact / fastest growing initiatives.

I find it very interesting and exciting to try and tease apart how different HR and Talent services can be aligned to best support a school or MAT’s specific challenges. Each of our businesses does a great job in its own area, but we are increasingly working to help MATs in bespoke ways – to help them transform their capability and way of working. I’m looking to host a workshop for MAT leaders on this topic later in the year– please do let me know if you are interested in joining. This is a hugely important area and I’d love to have more challenge and input; my email is ian.koxvold@supportingeducation.com.

On safeguarding and wellbeing:

Our former lead at the Judicium Safeguarding Service, Hannah Glossop (now moved to Ofsted) did some really interesting research on the linkage between safeguarding issues and Ofsted-Inadequate results. The very short version is that inadequate safeguarding was a factor in about 45% of Ofsted-4s. Some longer analysis is here: https://www.judiciumeducation.co.uk/news/safeguarding-what-can-we-learn-from-schools-where-it-was-judged-not-effective. Helen King has now taken over from Hannah and is leading the service – worth getting in touch with her (helen.king@judicium.com) if you are looking for a genuine expert to help work through the minefield of issues. We’ve done some work on the components of safeguarding, and how they link together, and link to wellbeing & behaviour, and to other school systems and processes.

We’ve also carried out a survey on safeguarding of over 600 school leaders and DSLs, looking at the challenges they face and the tools they use. Some of the findings that I thought most interesting:

  • Very few respondents were really pleased with where they were. At the top of the list of 14 activities / challenges, about half of respondents thought that drafting policies and liaising with parents and other professionals were working about as well as they could (although DSLs had a markedly more positive view of policies, and headteachers had a markedly more positive view of liaising…). At the bottom of the list about 5-10% of respondents thought that updating safeguarding records, the Single Central Record and transferring safeguarding files were up to scratch.
  • When we asked what were the greatest current challenges filtering & monitoring ICT usage was called out by 59% of respondents (and DSLs much more aware of the challenge here than headteachers), planning and delivering safeguarding training by 43%, and updating safeguarding records by 30%.

We are about to kick off more detailed work on the learner wellbeing landscape, in association with Thrive Approach (which won the Digital Health and Wellbeing Learning Product of the Year at the Digital Education awards in December). More to come here!

On environmental responsibility and educational impact:

We’re working towards publishing our first group Impact / ESG report in a couple of months, and surveyed 600 school leaders on their views on this before Christmas – for some really interesting responses. I won’t list out everything but:

  • About 50% of school leaders are very focused on providers who can show that they are committed to environmental sustainability (which means about 50% are not very focused on this!). Interestingly chairs of governors were most likely to push for this to be reason to select providers. 13% of school leaders felt that most of their providers have met this commitment (and a brave 1% felt that all their providers did)
  • We asked about the level of impact that different categories of goods and services could have. From greatest to least: curriculum content @ 72% thinking it can deliver significant impact, teacher development @ 63%, classroom hardware @ 49%, school operations support @ 47%, online learning tools @ 42%, teacher recruitment @ 37%, and (surprisingly to me, since the case for good tutoring having an impact is very strong) tutoring @ 32%.
  • The vast majority of respondents reckoned that in terms of delivering against this potential impact there are good and bad providers – but only 52% felt confident or very confident that they could successfully pick the good providers.
  • In terms of the highest priority impacts – improving outcomes for pupils, pupil wellbeing, staff workload, reducing safeguarding risks and saving money led the pack. All of these are “now” challenges that have to be maintained – and interestingly the longer-term goals (building capability to run the school well, staff satisfaction & wellbeing, educator skill qualifications, and streamlined systems were all considered expendable by comparison. In one sense this is obvious – you’ve got to keep the wheels on. In another sense it’s worth remembering that if schools can’t create the space to invest in capability then it’s easy to be stuck in perma-crisis; this is one of the things that “strong MATS” should be able to create space for.

We’re really looking forward to publishing our impact report, assessing how we as a group affect learners, educators, schools, parents and the overall ecosystem. We’ve been working with ImpactEd to develop our Theory of Change and to do some preliminary validation of impact. This is definitely a journey – I think we are taking a robust approach, but one that will become much stronger over the next couple of years. Today we are measuring the quantum of impact across our group, but over time we’ll get better at measuring the quality of each unit of it. Sam Raven is leading the charge with me and Caroline Cheale on this and we’re happy to compare notes with others who are on this journey (samantha.raven@supportingeducation.com).

Thank you very much to Cairneagle Associates, CIL Management Consultants, Tyton Partners, ImpactEd, C3 Education, CJK Associates, Schoolzone, Meissa and EY-Parthenon for the support they provided to us in our research and analysis last year.

We were very pleased to invest into two excellent businesses in 2022, and we continue to build our capability to help each of our businesses without distracting them. The key to our value as Supporting Education Group is to really support each of our specialist businesses to be fantastic at what they do, rather than trying to mash them all together. We can see huge power in small expert teams who are free to play to their strengths in pursuing their passion to address the challenges faced by schools.

Thank you to my colleagues and to friends and associates across the education sector – I continue to learn so much from all of you.