Linked data – there’s more … (as Jimmy Cricket used to say)

Ingrid Koehler recently posted a nice blog on Linked Data. Most of it I was aware of and subscribed to but there was one point which had never struck me. As I read it I had a DOH! moment thinking “… that’s so obvious, whay hadn’t I thought of it before!”.

It was her point 5:

Linked data does not have to be open data. Public services would benefit tremendously from using linked data formats. It means that we could stop spending resources on data aggregation and start spending it on analysis and action. Linked data can be used in secure settings to help partners share personal, sensitive or commercial information on performance and resources and help better target those in need or areas for improvement.

I just wonder if we can create tools to make it easier to convert data TO linked data formats, whether we would find more people publishing in those formats? You still need to be a bit of a geek to get data into Linked Data formats.

Amnesty vs FT and Shell

What a great ad from Amnesty Intl

Pity the FT wouldn’t run it!

Ensuring Accountability

Checklist

1. Governors know stakeholders’ views of the school

Governors ensure that the school regularly seeks the views of all stakeholders and is seen to act upon them. They are able to evidence where the views of parents’, pupils’ and staff (and other stakeholders’) have changed school policy.

2. The Governing Body holds the school to account and is accountable for its performance to stakeholders

Governors can demonstrate challenge in their minutes from committee and full governing body meetings. Governors know what actions the school has taken to bring about improvement and be able to justify these to stakeholders. Governors regularly communicate with stakeholders.

3. Governors know their school is at the heart of community

Governors recognise the importance of schools being at the heart of their communities and this is reflected in their work. They will know how their school’s facilities are used for community use and what links the school has with its local community (including other schools and colleges). Governors have plans in place to further develop this aspect of the school’s work.

4. Governors are good advocates for the school

Governors take every opportunity to promote the school and its interests to all stakeholders and the wider community. Governors participate in school events and are visible in and around the school. Governors make themselves available to meet with external visitors where appropriate.

5. Governors own the school’s aims and objectives

Governors take full ownership of the school aims and objectives. These are regularly and rigorously reviewed and care is taken to ensure they reflect the school’s position within its community.

Being a Critical Friend

Checklist

1. Governors know their school well

Governors are not strangers to their school. They visit the school when it is in session and take time to speak with staff and pupils, to get first hand knowledge of their perspective.

2. The Governing Body challenges and supports the school

Governors can demonstrate challenge in their minutes from committee and full governing body meetings. Governors understand that challenge is about knowing the school better and asking the “why” and “what if” questions that pupils cannot ask. Governors support the work of the school and balance this with challenge to drive standards forward.

3. The Governing Body monitors and evaluates the work of the school

Governor monitoring plans are closely matched to the school’s priorities for improvement. Governors understand that it is not their job to directly monitor teaching or learning, though passive monitoring is recognised as a vital part of their work. Visits to school do form a vital part of governor monitoring. Governors decide which major decisions will be evaluated and this is part of the regular work programme.

4. The Governing Body has a good understanding of the school’s strengths and weaknesses

Governors have a balanced view of their school brought about through involvement in and understanding of the self evaluation process: they know the school’s strengths both in terms of standards and other aspects of its work. This is balanced with an informed view of those areas of the school’s work, including standards, where improvement is needed.

5. Governors respect confidentiality

Governors understand collective responsibility and the need to stand by corporate decisions. Governors fully understand why confidentiality must be maintained in order to protect staff, pupils and the interests of the school.

The Revenue Balances FAQ

It’s always fun to see the silly Revenue Balances argument raising it’s ugly head again. The DCSF are obsessed with what they see as a huge wastage in devolved funding, where schools don’t spend every brass farthing that is devolved to them. Some schools have, over the years, managed to underspend the money that the government allocate to them, via the loacl authorities. And because the ministers are under pressure from the treasury to reduce spending, they find all sorts of red herrings and excuses to maintain their argument for ever larger budgets.

So I decided it was necessary to explode some of the myths, and put everyone straight. These FAQs are the result. Enjoy.

What’s a Revenue Balance when it’s at home?

Good first question, but unfortunately it’s at the heart of the myths around the subject. There seems to be a modicum of disagreement about the definitive definition. In general terms, a Revenue Balance (in English schools terminology) is the amount left over in a school’s budget at the end of a financial year.

What is so complicated about that?

Well, lets look at an example. Suppose an average sized primary school receives £500,000 for its annual budget, and during the year spends £500,000, what would be it’s Revenue Balance?

Thats easy. It’s £0 isn’t it?

You would think so wouldn’t you. Actually, it depends on how much they started with. Suppose they carried forward a balance of £50,000 from the previous year, then the Revenue Balance would be £50,000.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?

You’re quick, you are. And that’s not the only thing that doesn’t make sense. What the DCSF are getting stressed about is not that schools are not spending the money devolved to them each year. They’re also peeved if schools don’t spend everything left over from last year. And that’s the economics of the madhouse.

The economics of the madhouse? What on earth do you mean?

Let’s look at what has been going on with the total Revenue Balance figures per year (see table below). In his ministerial statement, Vernon Coaker suggest that about £500 million of that is excessive.

2000 £740,691,354
2001 £1,085,602,004
2002 £1,256,776,093
2003 £1,192,864,397
2004 £1,325,397,369
2005 £1,532,855,786
2006 £1,570,348,360
2007 £1,670,198,878
2008 £1,918,768,630
2009 £1,781,973,700

But surely Vernon and his colleagues really don’t know how that balance got there in the first place. Looking at those annual figures, most of it could be leftover from previous years. If we go back to our average school (School A) above, with a budget of £500K, assuming they are a primary school, they are allowed 8% (£40K) as abalance before it becomes excessive. Let’s also assume that there is a neighbouring school – School B – which has exactly the same budget, the same staffing structure, the same pupil profile, and that coincidentally it is identical to School A in every respect except one.

Lets suppose School A has a very nice parent who has 3 businesses; one which does grounds maintenance, another which does boiler maintenance and the last which does ICT support. And this parent gives the school a really good deal in those 3 areas, saving them £10,000 per annum. In 5 years School A will have an’ excessive’ balance, at least in DCSF terms, because they have a kind and helpful parent.

I guess Vernon Coaker’s response would be that the school should have a set of optional priorities in it’s School Development Plan to spend the money on, and he’s right. Unfortunately he doesn’t have a copy of the SDP and doesn’t know what the school’s priorities are. But here is a group of people who do. They are the school’s governors. I’ll bet they know what the £50K is being kept for.

How can you be so sure?

I can’t, but I’m willing to bet my own money that in most schools I’d be right. And anyway, if the governors don’t know what the money is being saved for, then they should. It’s an indication that this school is not being managed/governed very well. But that’s a different problem, and the answer to it is not clawing back some of the excess. Instead it’s about taking back the whole delegated budget. But (un)fortunately that’s unlikely to happen.

Why?

Because that’s a response usually reserved for failing schools that tend to overspend.

Are you suggesting that there is a link between revenue balances and school performance?

Yes I am. Because I was sick and tired of hearing this uninformed nonsense coming from the DCSF, I decided this year to see if I could make a link. And I suceeded.
Using the Revenue Balance figures recently released, and all the Ofsted Inspection judgements for the last 5 years, I was able to correlate the overall Ofsted judgement against the revenue balance of the school that year.

But first I Xtabulated school phase against school type and averaged the Revenue Balance %age. Interesting to see that it is foundation schools – most of them old GM schools – which retains the lowest percentage. But there is not much in that analysis.

Phase Community Foundation VA VC Average
Middle deemed primary 7.26% 6.43% 6.52% 5.77% 6.99%
Middle deemed Secondary 5.02% 5.32% 5.00% 4.92% 5.03%
Primary 7.28% 7.48% 7.52% 8.32% 7.49%
Secondary 3.40% 3.98% 3.46% 2.75% 3.51%
Grand Total 6.70% 5.34% 7.03% 8.10% 6.88%

So then I added the Ofsted Inspection judgements to the mix and I Xtabulated Ofsted grade against school type and averaged the Revenue Balance %age. This was much more interesting. While there is not much difference between and amongst Outsanding, Good and Satisfactory schools, those schools deemed Unsatisfactory by Ofsted tend to have much lower Revenue Balances.

Outstanding Good Satisfactory Unsatisfactory Grand Total
Community 6.80% 6.82% 6.53% 5.55% 6.64%
Foundation 5.07% 4.78% 5.18% 3.23% 4.84%
Voluntary aided 7.16% 7.07% 6.33% 4.50% 6.79%
Voluntary controlled 7.88% 7.86% 7.41% 5.79% 7.66%
Grand Total 6.92% 6.98% 6.59% 5.29% 6.76%

Are you saying that those schools which retain the least are the worst schools?

No I am not. What I am saying is that there is a statistical correlation between unsatisfactory Ofsted judgements and low retained balances. And it seems a bit silly to me for the DCSF to be encouraging schools to make their retained balances lower.

Please feel free to disagree or dispute any of this. I’m not a professional statistician. Prove me wrong and let me know when you have.

SATS boycott – NGA update

The NGA have posted an update to their SATS Q&A.

Some good advice in there (especially the bits I don’t agree with).

What is obvious now is that someone needs to test if this dispute is lawful. Someone needs to ask a court to rule.

Ed Ball’s letter to governors regarding the SATS boycott

Ed Balls has written (belatedly in my humble opinion) to school governors regarding the NAHT boycott of the SATS. Unfortunately the pdf of the letter on the governornet site is a scan, and the text of the letter isn’t available anywhere. I think the actual text needs to be indexed and made available, so I have included it below.

Dear Colleague

You will be aware of the NAHT and NUT decision to take industrial action to frustrate the administration of this year’s Key Stage 2 National Curriculum Tests. We are deeply disappointed that they are pursuing this action when the clear majority of heads and deputy heads do not back this action – over two-thirds of union members did not vote to support disrupting the tests.

The unions have been clear they have no problem with testing, but they do not want to see the results being made public. While we have proposed different ways in which information about school performance is made public in the future, including the report card, we believe it is unacceptable to deny parents a full picture of the progress their child is making and information about their local schools. Schools should be fully accountable to the public and communities they serve.

We are also introducing changes to KS2 tests following discussions with NAHT in order to place more emphasis on teachers’ own assessments of pupils’ progress, which is an objective we know heads and teachers share. From this year, teachers’ assessments of pupils’ progress will be published alongside KS2 test data and we will introduce locally based, light touch moderation from 2011 to ensure that standards are applied consistently. But we know that the great majority of parents value the information currently provided by the tests and that Governors of both primary and secondary schools, and local authorities use externally validated test data for planning and accountability purposes.

It is not simply that heads have a legal duty to oversee the tests: even more importantly, they have a professional and moral duty to pupils and parents. Pupils and teachers have been working hard all year, have been preparing for the tests and pupils are now expecting to sit them. They should all be given the opportunity to demonstrate their achievements in tests which are set and marked properly. It would be very unfair if some children were prevented from doing so at the last minute. Parents will also be concerned about the effect of any test boycott on the information that secondary schools will be expecting to receive for their children this year. We hope that those head teachers who voted for action will think hard before disrupting children’s learning, confusing and inconveniencing parents, and damaging the profession’s reputation. We believe that it is vital that this year’s tests take place as planned between the 10th to 13th May, as children and parents are expecting.

Advice to Governors

As you will know, alongside the head teacher’s statutory duty to administer the tests, Governing Bodies have a statutory duty to ensure that the tests take place. We recognise that you will be placed in a very difficult position if your head wishes to frustrate the administration of the tests and this advice is designed to help you.

Firstly, you should of course find out whether the head teacher intends to administer the tests. If a head does not intend to do so, you should remind them of their statutory duty to administer the tests.

If a head teacher still does not intend to administer the tests themselves, it would be wrong for them to frustrate another competent person from administering the tests, and you should establish that they would not do so.

When you have established this, we recommend that you speak to your local authority and/or diocesan authority about next steps. If necessary, you may consider whether to instruct the head teacher to remain absent from school at times when the tests are due to take place, while another person administers the tests.

You should be aware that staff belonging to other trade unions and those members of NUT who are not in leadership positions are not part of the industrial action, and should be carrying out their duties normally, including in relation to supervising tests or handling test papers. However, those staff cannot be expected to take on any duties which heads are specifically responsible for but are refusing to take on.

In addition to ensuring that parents understand whether the tests will be taking place, Governing bodies should ensure that the QCDA’s National Curriculum assessments help line on 0300 303 3013 is informed of any instances where it is known that tests will not be administered.

Further advice, including Frequently Asked Questions can be found on the GovernorNet website: http://www.governornet.co.uk and you can also speak to
Governorline, the national governor helpline on 08000 722 181.

Where to now?

This is an amazing turn up. Ed Balls has admitted that what these teaching unions want is to turn back the clock.Gorbals Mick Brookes ‘Gorbals’ Mick Brookes is making the same mistake as his namesake did as speaker. Ed Balls has candidly admitted – for the first time as far as I’m aware – that the NAHT are okay about the tests themselves. They just want the results hidden from the public which pays for them. This recidivist attitude just won’t wash in the 21st century, no matter how much lobbying Mick Brookes and Co. does over beer and sandwiches at Great Smith Street. Has Mick never heard of Freedom of Information or the Information Commissioner? Ed Balls recognises that parents want this information.  He hasn’t talked about parents’ right to information, although undoubtedly they have serious rights.

If Mick Brookes isn’t careful, he’ll find his members don’t have time to administer SATS for answering FoI requests from parents for things like the SEF, SDP, SIP Reports, etc, all of which ARE public documents and should be available to all as public documents.

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