Select Committee on Defence Eleventh Report

4  Educating Service children in UK maintained schools

Defining Service children

85. The majority of Service children are educated in LEA maintained schools in the UK. In 2004, Ofsted estimated that there were 90,000 Service children in UK schools.[90] The submission from Mike Curtis, Head Teacher, Carterton Primary School, Oxfordshire and Chairman of the Service Children In State Schools working group (SCISS),[91] put the figure at 186,000.[92] The variance in these estimates can be attributed, at least in part, to the absence of an accepted definition of who is a Service child and the lack of a mechanism by which data on Service children are collected.

86. The submission from the SCISS working group stated that it was important to define Service children broadly because many children, whose parents had left the Services or become divorced, would continue to be affected by many of the issues associated with being a Service child.[93] SCISS also suggested that a robust definition would enable much needed research to be undertaken on the educational attainment of Service children.

87. We asked Ms Sue Garner, Head of the School Admissions and Class Size Unit, DfES, whether the DfES had a definition for a Service child and she told us that if she wanted a definition, she would ask the MoD for it.[94]

88. We were surprised to discover that there does not seem to be a clear working definition of what a Service child is. Without an accepted definition, a reliable figure for the number of Service children cannot be determined and decisions about funding for Service children and the tracking of the educational attainment of Service children, is not possible.

89. We share SCISS's view that defining Service children as a child who currently has one or more parent serving in the UK Armed Forces is too narrow as it would allow no tracking of the educational attainment of children whose parent leaves the Services midway through their school career. On the other hand, including all children who have a parent who was at one time in the Services is probably too broad.

90. We recommend that the MoD and the DfES treat as a Service child any child of school age whose parent has served in the UK Armed Forces during that child's school career.

Identification of Service children

91. Data on all pupils in maintained schools are collected via the Pupil Level Annual School Census (PLASC) commissioned by the DfES every January.[95] The data collected in the PLASC identifies the number of pupils on a school roll and includes information such as the number of free school meals it provides, and the number of pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN). These factors, referred to as Additional Educational Needs, contribute to determining a school's eligibility for funding above the Dedicated Schools Grant.[96]

92. The PLASC does not, at present, require schools to identify Service children.[97] The case for it to do so was presented to us in a wide range of evidence we received including from schools, SCISS, the MoD and Wiltshire County Council.[98] Mike Curtis told us that "one of the first things that needs to be done is find out where these [Service] children are".[99] The SCISS working group maintain that the number of Service children in a school should be considered, alongside the number of free school meals it provides, as an indicator of a school's funding requirement so that a school has the necessary resources to meet its particular needs.[100]

93. Brigadier Brister told us that "it would be hugely useful to have this information and I would very much like to have that information".[101] Wiltshire County Council conducts its own school census, which includes a marker for Service children, to assist it in identifying the particular needs of Service children.[102]

94. The submission from the DfES states that Ministers had provisionally agreed for "a Service children's marker to be included in the census for 2006-07" but that this decision was later rejected because it considered the potential burden of collecting the data would outweigh the benefits of doing so.[103] We were told by Sue Garner that the DfES had decided not to include information on Service children because:

when the matter went to the focus group of head teachers and local authorities they could not see the need for it nationally even though I thought we had made quite a good case for it.[104]

Mike Curtis maintains that "It would be a simple task to add a tick box to the data held in schools which would identify children who had parents in the armed forces".[105]

95. We recognise that many LEAs do not have a significant number of Service children in their schools and would gain little benefit if the PLASC included a requirement for schools to identify Service children. For the DfES to reject the proposal on the ground that a sample focus group was not in favour is simply ridiculous, and a sad reflection of the importance which the DfES attaches to Service children. The collection of data on the number of Service children, through the national PLASC census, would bring benefit to the DfES, the MoD, SCE and LEAs. This information would assist the targeting of resources for Service children more effectively and enable trends in the attainment of Service children to be established.

96. We do not consider its inclusion in the PLASC exercise would prove unduly burdensome for schools and the benefits it would bring are considerable. We recommend strongly that the DfES include a Service children marker in its annual PLASC exercise.

Funding for schools experiencing high mobility

97. The funding mechanism for schools is currently undergoing a period of change. From the 2006-07 financial year, the DfES is providing LEAs with a Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) which LEAs are required to transfer to schools according to a locally set formula.[106]

98. The SCISS submission argues that schools with Service children require more resources, over and above the additional funding which an LEA might provide to compensate for mobility.[107] Tina Evans, Head Teacher, Zouch Primary School, Wiltshire, and Mike Curtis, Head Teacher, Carterton Primary School, Oxfordshire, both told us that the DSG should include additional funding for schools with Service children. They argue that this would help schools ensure that "the admin support is done well, funding is available to get the child assessed and on-going support is available for any child with special needs".[108] Tina Evans proposed that an additional £220 per child should be made available by the DfES to fund this extra resource.[109]

99. Some LEAs, such as Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, choose to provide additional funding for schools with significant numbers of Service children, from their own budget, based upon the percentage of Service children in their schools.[110] In Wiltshire, additional funding is provided for primary schools with excess of 25% and Secondary schools with excess of 20% Service children.[111] The submission from Wiltshire County Council states that this extra funding is drawn from locally-raised revenue (Council Tax) and that these allocations are made at the expense of those schools without Service children. The submission from Wiltshire County Council recommended that additional financial support for Service children should form part of the calculation of the DfES-determined Dedicated Schools Grant.[112]

100. In its submission, the DfES states that the LEA is the right level to address funding for schools with significant levels of Service children.[113] The DfES submission also states that it considered, and then rejected, the option of including a Service children element to the DSG.[114] The DfES rejected this option because:

Mobility is very widespread and affects a number of groups—travellers, looked after children, some socially deprived groups as well as Service families. Data show that introducing an extra factor for mobility into the [funding] formula would spread the funding for deprivation more widely.[115]

101. Service children mobility undoubtedly places additional pressures on schools in terms of time needed to undertake administrative tasks and child assessments. On the other hand, mobility is not an issue which affects schools with Service children uniquely and LEAs in Inner London—for example—experience comparable levels of mobility.

102. All LEAs face different challenges and demands on their resources. Significant disparities in the funding needs of individual schools exist within LEAs. We believe that it is appropriate that funding decisions concerning individual schools are made at a local level, by LEAs, through its locally-determined funding formula. We commend to LEAs the example of Wiltshire County Council which provides additional funding for its schools with significant numbers of Service children.

Notice of postings and School Admissions Policy

103. During our inquiry we heard accounts of the difficulties faced by Service families when trying to find a school for their children in advance of a UK posting. A common complaint from Service parents was that the advance notice of postings, and of the address of their new quarters, was insufficient for them to identify a suitable school and make an application within the normal schools admissions timetable which normally requires receipt of applications many months before.

104. The submission from Confed, representing Directors and Managers of Children's Services in local authorities in England and Wales, noted that:

At the point at which all parents are asked to decide on a school for their children, they might not know that they will be moving to a particular area. Even if they do know, it might not be possible to visit local schools because they are abroad or elsewhere at this time.[116]

105. We were told by Brigadier Brister that the Army has a target of "no less than four months' notice [of postings] for 65% of Army people who are posted… that is the minimum target: the Army strives to go beyond the 65%".[117] This means that the Army considers it acceptable that over one third of Army personnel receive less than four months' notice of postings. While we recognise the logistical challenge and the need for occasional unexpected postings, we recommend that the MoD adopt a more rigorous target for notice of postings.

106. Receiving a notice of posting is not the end of the process. We were told by Service parents that LEAs required school applications to be made from a fixed postal address and some Service parents had experience of receiving confirmation of their new address only 28 days before they moved.[118] This invariably means that parents have to experience the potentially stressful experience of appealing to schools to reconsider their decision. This is particularly unfortunate given the number of times Service children have to change schools.

107. The MoD submission notes that:

Service families are almost exclusively outside the normal admissions process and are what is known as Casual or Additional admissions. This means that in order to gain a place in their preferred or any popular school they must always go through the appeals process.[119]

We have heard from parents that the appeals process is stressful and the uncertainty for their children can add to the anxiety of a move. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence told us that he "recognised there was a problem with admissions" and that his officials were working with the DfES to address them.[120]

108. We put these concerns to the Minister for Schools. We were pleased to receive his undertaking that he would issue guidance to local education authorities that they should accept a unit postal address from Servicemen when applying to schools and that this guidance would be incorporated in the DfES Schools Admission Code of Practice, due to be revised and issued to LEAs in the Autumn of 2006.[121]

109. The difficulty in finding a school can be heightened when applying while based overseas. In Germany we were told by a Service wife of the difficulties she was experiencing in finding a UK school while her husband was deployed in Iraq. She received no assistance, financial or practical, to visit the UK to look for a school. We recommend that the MoD consider how parents living abroad can be assisted better to find schools in the UK, particularly when their spouse is away on an operational deployment.

110. We welcome the commitment by the Minister for Schools that the DfES would advise local authorities to accept unit postal addresses from which to apply to new schools.

Communication between the MoD and schools

111. We were told by Head Teachers of English schools that they would appreciate better communication with the MoD particularly regarding notice of significant postings of Service personnel to local garrisons. Mike Curtis told us that he received his best information about planned MoD postings to RAF Brize Norton (located near Carterton Primary School) from chatting to friends in his local village pub.[122]

112. The submission from Zouch Primary School Board of Governors illustrated the importance that prior notice of postings and defective communication between the MoD and schools can have on a school's ability to plan and budget effectively.[123] Following a recent re-deployment of a unit based at Tidworth, 45 children left the school roll. When the replacement unit arrived it was based elsewhere in the county. As a result, the school had two more teachers than it needed and experienced a year-end budget deficit.[124]

113. During our visit to Montgomery Junior School, we heard a similar account of the disruptive effect on the school of large movements of Service personnel in the lead up to Operation Telic. Mike Curtis told us that Carterton School did not experience the effects of large movements of Service children, but suffered from the "trickle postings": the small but regular flow of children in and out of the school.[125]

114. Teachers told us that effective communication between the MoD and schools could help schools plan ahead for the impact of postings. Although Brigadier Brister noted that there was a "Tri-Service schools liaison policy" which set out the appropriate degree of liaison between the MoD and individual schools and LEAs, he recognised that the system was not working perfectly.[126] This view was reinforced by the Minister who described the quality of communication between the MoD and schools located near Service bases as "patchy".[127]

115. We note the difficulties that Head Teachers of schools located near Service bases have experienced owing to poor communication with the MoD about planned postings. Postings to, and away from, military bases can have a profound effect on a school's ability to budget and plan effectively. It is vital that the MoD informs schools and LEAs as early as possible about its intended postings. There is an urgent need to improve this aspect of MoD's performance.

116. Significant movements of Service Children in and out of schools located near Service bases can result directly from decisions by the MoD about the basing of units. The DfES funding formula should be sufficiently flexible to cope with the impact of significant numbers of Service children joining or leaving a school throughout the academic year.

Transfer of student records between LEAs

117. A recurring theme in our inquiry, raised by both parents and teachers in evidence and postings to our web forum, has been the inadequacy of procedures in place for the transfer of student records particularly from UK schools to SCE schools abroad, but also between UK schools. During our visit to Montgomery Junior School, Colchester, we heard of instances of children arriving at their new school with only their latest exercise books as a guide to their educational attainment, with formal records regarding a student's aptitude arriving weeks, or months later, if at all. We were told that the delay in transferring records could hinder a teacher's assessment of a child making a pupil's first few days more unsettled than necessary, particularly if the pupil had special needs.

118. SCE witnesses expressed dissatisfaction with the existing process for transferring student records between UK maintained schools and SCE and the quality of the information contained in them. Kathryn Forsyth told us:

the information is insufficient in terms of understanding where children are at with their learning. At the moment we are looking to devise our own records system that gives good detailed knowledge of not just whether the child has been assessed but targets for learning as well. What we rely on are parents taking records to school for us.[128]

119. The Minister for Schools told us that DfES regulations required that student records should be transferred between schools within 15 days of a move being made.[129] The DfES is introducing a "common transfer file", which can be processed in paper or electronic form, and the Minister expected this to facilitate the transfer of records between schools.[130] The Minister said that the failure of schools to transfer student records within the 15 day limit should be identified in a school's Ofsted report:

The 15-day rule is set out in regulation so that it is a requirement that it be fulfilled. That would be part of Ofsted's inspection of schools and it would want to see that schools fulfilled their obligations in regulation and law.[131]

The Minister for Schools undertook to raise this matter with the Chief Inspector for Schools.[132]

120. We are concerned that the records of Service children are frequently transferred between schools well beyond the 15 day requirement set by DfES regulation. In the age of e-mail and instant electronic communication, there can be no excuse for not transferring records within the 15 day regulation. Delays in the transfer of student records mean that the new teacher has to take additional time to assess a child and specify suitable learning plans. In extreme cases delays could harm a child's learning development. We call on the DfES to take steps to enforce the 15 day requirement for the transfer of student records.

Pre-school provision

121. We received a submission from Nick Bennett, Naval Area Community Officer, Personal Family Service (West), highlighting the importance of pre-school provision for Service families in the UK. This argues for publicly funded pre-school buildings near Service estates.[133] We recognise the importance of pre-school provision for Service families in the UK and recommend that the MoD give consideration to this.

Experience of teaching Service children

122. Despite the many challenges involved in teaching Service children, we have been told throughout our inquiry of the many positive aspects for schools with a significant number of Service children. The positive aspects of being a Service child were referred to by Mrs Michelle Titcombe, a Service wife, who told us that her daughter "makes friends easily, she is flexible and enjoys meeting people. These are positives to her personality which I can see with a lot of Service children".[134]

123. During our visit to Montgomery Junior School, Colchester, we were told about the excellent support that the local garrison gave to the school, including sponsorship of school sports teams. They also emphasised the generally supportive nature of Service parents for school teaching staff.

Posting to our web forum: Experience of educating Service children
"Leading a school with 98% of its pupils coming from Service backgrounds is highly rewarding, never dull, mutually beneficial and always great fun." (Head Teacher of a UK school)

124. Educating Service children is often referred to in terms of the difficulties it presents and obstacles to overcome. We note that during our inquiry we have been told about many of the positive aspects of educating Service children, which for many teachers proves to be a satisfying experience.

90   Ofsted Inspection Report, Service Children's Education Headquarters, June 2004, para 15 Back

91   SCISS was established in 2004 and comprises Head teachers of Service schools, DfES and MoD officials  Back

92   Ev 57, para C.1 Back

93   Ibid., para C.3 Back

94   Q 326 Back

95   Ev 80, para 13 Back

96   Ibid., para 9 Back

97   Ibid., para 13 Back

98   Ev 56, Ev 58, Ev 96 Back

99   Q 180 Back

100   Ev 57, para B16  Back

101   Q 272 Back

102   Ev 97, para 6 Back

103   Ev 80, para 14 Back

104   Q 321 Back

105   Ev 57, para C.1 Back

106   HC Library Standard Note, SNSP/03740 Back

107   Ev 58, para C.6 Back

108   Q 170 Back

109   Q 171 Back

110   Q 180 Back

111   Ev 97, para 5 Back

112   Ev 97, para 5 Back

113   Ev 80, para 11 Back

114   Ibid., para 14 Back

115   Ibid., para 11  Back

116   Ev 92, para 3.1 Back

117   Q 205 Back

118   Q 130 Back

119   Ev 70, para 3  Back

120   Q 215 Back

121   Q 369 Back

122   Q 162 Back

123   Ev 109  Back

124   Ibid. Back

125   Q 166 Back

126   Q 216 Back

127   Ibid. Back

128   Q 280 Back

129   Q 359 Back

130   Ibid. Back

131   Q 361 Back

132   Q 362 Back

133   Ev 114 Back

134   Q 123 Back

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