Today I was at a conference with lots of other head teachers. I was sat with my local authority group of heads when I spotted a lovely head teacher from another authority, Cathy, who had informed me earlier in the year about how we could use the primary accountability document to help try to make more accurate predictions about progress expected from our current Years 4, 5 and 6 at the end of Key Stage 2 (this was before I knew about @jpembroke’s value added calculator). (https://twitter.com/jpembroke) and value added calculator (http://sigplus.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/va-calculator-and-floor-standards.html)
I made my way over at break time and said hello. I told her that I had told other English leaders in Oldham about how to work out possible expected progress when she told me about her next crusade.
She had realised that in her budget she had a £9,000 deficit which she couldn’t account for it. She looked and looked and looked but she couldn’t find where this money had gone. Then she realised that it was because of the universal free school meals that all infant children receive. Cathy looked at me with her eyebrows raised, clearly expecting me to understand.
I didn’t understand so she explained it simply to me! If you have 90 children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 combined then, theoretically, you should receive £437 for each child to cover a school meal a day for the year. Therefore you should get 90 x 437. Cathy had increased her infants by 6 children this year, but her universal free school meals money had dropped by around £9,000. She couldn’t understand this so she contacted her local authority and they informed her that schools do not receive money for the number of children on roll, but that they only receive money for the number of children IN SCHOOL on census day. They take a mean average of the October and January census and this determines how many children you get funding for, so if you have 5 children off on the October census day and 3 children off on the January census day, your school will not be funded for 4 children to have the universal ‘free’ school meals for the whole year, even though those children will still need to have a lunch. However, school will still have to provide a meal. And where will this money come from, you ask? Why… your school budget of course! So those mean average of four children being absent will cost your school £1,748.
I couldn’t believe it.
My mouth dropped open and I covered it with my hand.
This couldn’t be right, could it?
I’m a new head and I’m sure I must have misunderstood.
Break time finished and I headed back to my Oldham pals. I explained what Cathy had just told me and they were incredulous. They told me that I must have got the wrong end of the stick and I was pretty sure they were right. I occasionally misunderstand things and I was sure that this must have been one of those times, especially as these experienced heads from my own authority were telling me it couldn’t be this way.
But I still texted my office administrator and asked her to check if it was correct. The office administrator got back to me and told me it was actually correct! She had called the finance team and they had confirmed it. My school will have to find £1,300 from our budget to cover the universal ‘free’ school meals because some children were absent on census day.
This is £1,300 that could be spent on:
4 coaches to take kids on school trips;
1,805 bottles of paint;
5 ipad minis;
93 Nike Pitch Premier League Footballs;
137 tickets to Chester Zoo;
10% of a TAs wage;
260 new library books;
108 tickets to see The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the Lowry Theatre.
My point is, that because some children are absent on 2 arbitrary days, the school gets punished. As if budgets weren’t already tight enough, they are being squeezed again but in a very stealthy way. And many heads might not even realise it. I know that the experienced heads who I admire and regard very highly couldn’t believe it. When I told my chair of governors she was aghast.
So this blog post is about spreading the word. Census days are important. I will be sending out a letter to try to ensure that these 2 random days have 100% attendance otherwise we will be punished as a school financially. I will be explaining to parents an outline of this problem and urging them to have their child in school every day but particularly on these days. And your school would be wise to do the same. This is the simple way to save thousands of pounds – have 100% attendance on census days.
Finally, I would love to be completely wrong and I will modify this if someone can tell me that I am wrong. I really hope I am.
Come and Join Us
Three years is a long time and this year #PrimaryRocks will be celebrating three years of non-stop primary focused edchat every Monday on Twitter from 8pm. What started out as a tiny edchat between a few friends has spiralled into one of the most positive, supportive inspirational chats each week that has people actually looking forward to Mondays! These are not my words but the words of the #PrimaryRocks community – have a look at the tweets above.
This is a loyal band of educators join in the chat every Monday and through the week post examples of good work and, in many ways more importantly, ask questions and help each other out. They chat and joke, tease and probe, question and challenge each other to try to develop their own pedagogy and throughout it all, even though they may not agree with everything each other says, there is an unspoken bond and element of respect for what each other is saying. This isn’t to say that there are not disagreements; there are and sometimes quite opposite views and this is very healthy.
One of the dangers of this is being too nice. In an environment where people are very polite, the hazard is that no one wants to ask the difficult question, disagree with others or play the devil’s advocate to stimulate discussion and this is where I see my role. As the facilitator of the chat, my role is to pose questions and then try to press and probe contributors to delve a little deeper than their original answer. I will purposely take a stance that is opposite a contributor so that they have to think a little deeper about what they have said. The tweets I send might not necessarily be what I believe but an alternative view that may be held by others which will challenge the thinking of people who join in the chat. I don’t do this to be a quarrelsome, little twerp who wants to argue every point, but more to make people question what they do, why they do it and more importantly, to question if there is a better way to do something.
At #PrimaryRocks LIVE, when I asked speakers to present, the only brief I gave them was to make people reflect on their current practice and to give them something that will make them either change something in their class the following Monday, or give them something to think about and that will fundamentally change the way they approach their teaching. This is no small order, but it is my one guiding light when I sit down on a Monday night with my ear phones in (to drown out the kids and the TV), with my pint of cordial and with tweetdeck open and ready to roll on #PrimaryRocks.
And the best feeling? The best feeling is that sense when 9pm come and I realise that scores of people have joined in sending hundreds and hundreds of tweets during the hour and how, although we started small, this crazy edchat that was started to support primary teachers on Twitter, is doing just that, but on an even bigger scale than I could have ever imagined. @PrimaryRocks1 now has over 10,000 followers and is growing each day. If you are reading this, the likelihood is that you are one of the wonderful educators that come along and share your good practice with others, and for that I thank you. If you have never joined in or are lurking just watching, search #PrimaryRocks on a Monday between 8-9pm and get ready to speed read if you want to keep up!
And finally, as this community grows, so does the expertise that we can call on. Search #PrimaryRocks during the week and see if you can help someone. Use #PrimaryRocks in your questions and see if anyone can help YOU. And encourage others to use it. Spread the word at your school, at teachmeets and down the pub with teacher friends!
Was it nearly a year ago that we came together in Manchester at the inaugural PrimaryRocks Live Conference?
The PrimaryRocks team were busy doing their best swan impressions (paddling furiously beneath the surface while appearing serenely calm atop it). What had seemed like a great idea a few months earlier now felt VERY real. We were on the verge of pulling of something very special for so many reasons.
We were so lucky to have so many fantastic sponsors who supported us on the day with treats for the delegates and financial backing. The Literacy Shed provided the ice cream van which brought smiles to us all during the day, while providing the sugar boost to help us all get fired up for the afternoon sessions.
The venue was the wonderful Medlock Primary School, which Sophie Merrill had made to look beautiful with her flair for displays.
Keynotes from Hywell Roberts, Stephen Lockyer and Rob Smith, engaged, enthused and entertained. We were also lucky to have Lucy Powell, the then Shadow Minister for Education.
Seasoned trainers, enthusiastic amateurs and abject virgins took to the front of the classroom to share their passions on topics as diverse as physical computing and eTwinning. There was something for everyone on the day. Some sessions were left with standing room only! Michael Tidd and Graham Andre proved to be the biggest draws of the day. This was one of the reasons we have asked Michael back this year to keynote.
PrimaryRocks has always been about the people. The conference was only a success due to the continued support from our wonderful community! Their passion is what creates the buzz. The sheer numbers of the delegates that stayed to enjoy the #primarybeers and a curry shows how the #PrimaryRocks ethos is so much more than what happens within the four walls of a classroom. We are a community who support and inspire each other.
So with the next conference just around the corner, we are deep into the admin and organisation. We are once again doing our best swan impressions. We want it to be the most fantastic day for everyone whether they are veterans from last year or newbies this year. There will be an Ice cream van. The goody bags will be even better than last year (sorry no spoilers). We have a list of wonderful speakers who have been hand picked by the '#PrimaryRocks team for your viewing pleasure. PrimaryBeers will be happening again, so bring your beer money and your dancing shoes!
From all of us at #PrimaryRocks, thank you for making last year a day to remember. See you all in March for #PrimaryRocks Live '17.
Welcome to the inaugural Primary Rocks blog! On this blog we will be highlighting a question each week and asking for comments - a bit like a slow chat over the course of a week. We would love to read comments and suggestions for possible questions to discuss.
The primary focused edchat - Mondays 8-9pm UK time