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Theories/Answers please: What accounts for the variations in what state schools offer children.

(39 Posts)
answersonapostcard Thu 30-Jan-14 09:41:04

As it says.

i am increasingly puzzled by the differences between state primary schools - not just the difference between, those, say, in the richer leafier suburbs of London and those in the inner city, but also between two schools within a mile of each other in the same city.

What accounts for these difference?

For example:
- Why do some primary schools have proper specialised language teaching and others have someone who does not even have a GCSE/ability to do a French accent (ie one set of kids will actually have a bash at learning french, the others might get an idea that there are other languages out there, but little more).
- Why do some schools provide swimming for kids either every week throughout primary school (and even have their own pool) while others have it once a term throughout school ...and yet others only two terms out of the kids entire time in primary. Can the requirement to provide swimming really be satisfied by such meagre provision.
- Why do some schools near us provide subsidised or free individual or very small group instrument lessons from Y3 up - and others don't.
- Why do some schools have on sight freshly cooked food, and others have plastic nuked muck sent in.
- Why do some schools have building that are allowed to stay in very poor condition, while others seem to have the funding to build a specialised music or art wing.
- Why do some schools have great playgrounds, and others have horrible playgrounds with no real facilities (and the only way to improve is to somehow lobby for funds from parents).
-Why do some (most in our area) have special extra activities for kids who are ahead of the class average (even if it's only half an hour a week discussing books with another teacher) while others don't make any extra provision at all.
- Why do some schools have full time TA's in each class, while others only have a TA a few hours a day in each class?
- Why do some schools have links with different creative institutions, and others don't.

Possible answers:
- PTA involvement. However, while it's true that PTAs can raise varying degrees of money depending on the richness of the area - this can't account for ALL the differences in money, available, surely?
- Head. I realise that a head can influence how money is spent, but can they have such a major difference in actual provision of services?
- Parental pressure?
- Running costs (but surely the budget depends partly on, say, the number of children and the type of building in which it is housed).

I am just baffled by the differences. And it's not even the difference between a good or outstanding school and a failing one. A school can be outstanding or good and have none of these extra provisions, or none delivered in a really meaningful way.

Explanations really gratefully received.

columngollum Thu 30-Jan-14 09:48:42

Parents who were born in France going into the school and teaching French for free, maybe?

Chocovore Thu 30-Jan-14 09:51:12

I'm not sure either but I have often wondered this too. Is Pupil Premium money something to do with it maybe?

We are a relatively rich school If you go by appearances but hardly any PP money.

answersonapostcard Thu 30-Jan-14 09:52:41

so is it really just down to parental involvement and a good head whether or not the kids get proper language lessons, regular swimming, a nice playground, a properly spruced up building and a special space to do art?

Aelfrith Thu 30-Jan-14 09:56:30

Money, as driven by pupil numbers.

School full....plenty of money. School with a handful of spare places in each money at all for extras.

Margins are very tight indeed in school budgets. Anything up to 95% goes on wages so there isn't a lot of flexibility.

answersonapostcard Thu 30-Jan-14 09:56:31

I don't think it can just be pupil premium.
Our school has high levels of FSM and yet very poor provision.
Another school a mile away has amazing provision, equal numbers of FSM (I checked the OFSTED dashboard last night after a discussion with a mum who was telling me all the glowing details of her school. And I just couldn't work out why their school would have so much more to offer than ours).
They also have a very active, and richer, bunch of middle class parents (same proportion but with higher disposal income).
But it can't be based just on this. Surely? Surely this can't have so much influence.
Plus another local school has far better provision with far less pupil premium (less FSM).

answersonapostcard Thu 30-Jan-14 09:57:18

Not just money.
All schools round here absolutely packed.
Schools with more money (higher FSM etc) do not have the better provisions/structures etc

PenguinsDontEatKale Thu 30-Jan-14 10:00:08

Size can be a factor too. Funding is basically per head but some costs don't directly multiply up for a larger school - eg one school secretary with not much pay differential, certain maintenance and running costs, etc. So often a fully subscribed larger school will seem to have more spare money. Also a bigger pool of parents to potentially have useful skills or connections.

Aelfrith Thu 30-Jan-14 10:01:33

Also which LA you are in and how much money they keep centrally and how much they devolve to the individual schools. If it's all devolved (which it is pretty much now), how much they charge for Central services like HR, payroll, buildings maintenance etc.

Also in general the money a PTA raises (unless it's 100k type money), is very incidental. Probably less than 1% of the school's budget.

If your buildings can be let in the evenings and weekends that can be a good earner. But it depends on location and facilities. And local competition.

Chocovore Thu 30-Jan-14 10:02:44

The pupil numbers makes sense. We are pretty much full, always waiting lists and the Head is always keen to get 30 in a class. It will be interesting what happens to our Reception intake in September - we dropped from Outstanding to Special Measures at the end if the summer term. That might have a huge effect on our income.

Our next closest state school has its own swimming pool - always undersubscribed - I think they only have around 15 in Reception this year with a max of 30. They must be struggling surely?

Starballbunny Thu 30-Jan-14 10:03:38

Accidents of history and numbers on roll, now and in the past.

There are a large number of different ways primaries are funded now and there were far more in the past. Church school, CofE and Catholic, county schools, voulentry aided schools etc.

DDs old school has just had a grant for building work from the diocese (it's had an extension in the past from non county council money too).

My old primary had stunning grounds and facilities because it was a relatively new secondary school (built in the grounds of a mansion that burnt down) that wasn't need when the area went comprehensive.

Rural schools often have playing fields and space and city schools don't.

DCs at my old secondary have much nicer buildings than we did, because the council eventually have up and demolished the old ones with the permanently leaky roof.

answersonapostcard Thu 30-Jan-14 10:06:44

Thanks. But I don't think it is just money (I know our school, for e.g. is in good financial shape).
It must be more. Is it just the head and their commitment and imagination?

Also: why is it ok that in some schools the children have enough lessons to actually learn to swim and even improve and, if they show talent, excel (swimming every year, say) and others don't (swimming for two terms in only one year)? Or why is it ok to have language lessons which won't actually result in the children learning any of the language? Is it just a paper excercise? Ditto instruments.

Starballbunny Thu 30-Jan-14 10:07:34

Special measures is shit, we have just come out, but it's cost the school numbers last year and it will again next and possibly into the future as siblings will tend to follow each other.

FiveHoursSleep Thu 30-Jan-14 10:26:21

Local Authority makes a difference. The LA our school is under has a very good music service; the kids learn a string instrument as a whole class in Y2, then the recorder in Y3. From Y3 they are offered small or large group subsidised instrument lessons and there are a number of music festivals to take part in.
The next door LA has a very poor music service in comparison.

MadamNoo Thu 30-Jan-14 10:26:55

I don't know how the system works, but from observation the head seems to have a lot to do with extras. For example, ours is mad keen on drama and music so they have tons of clubs, subsidised lessons, speech and drama qualifications etc... but the PE is rubbish and there is hardly any sport.
How do you go from oustanding to special measures in a term by the way, that seems quite dramatic

PastSellByDate Thu 30-Jan-14 10:37:27

Hi answers:

interesting post - but most interestingly you have left out 'TEACHERS' in this.

So my DD1 goes to our local school and two great pals from nursery, who are still close friends, go to schools 1 mile away either direction. There schools have all sorts of things going on:

School A: has optional homework scheme. Each child is expected to do at least one homework of 3 possible homeworks in maths/ science/ English - they have 95% uptake on all 3 homework possibilities. Parents don't expect detailed marking - but teachers do check over all work, record who is doing it and generally check for effort and about once a month might go through a piece of homework (usually in child's weakest area) in detail, giving feedback/ hints on how to improve work next time. Oh a reading is just presumed to be going on - often writing work will feed into what the child is currently reading - but is so loosely general that it will apply to any book at all.

Our School: there is a homework policy - in theory KS2 upper have 2.5 hours of homework a week. 2 hours of which is independent reading. KS2 upper does not send home guided reading books (issues over lost books) and library books are not regularly sent home - so to achieve this many parents have to use local library or buy in books. 1 photocopied (usually Heinemann maths) worksheet (maybe 10 minutes), a short grammar/ punctuation worksheet (again maybe 10 minutes) and a short writing task related to reading (find happy/ sad words; write about favourite character; draw a new cover illustration, etc....).

School C: this school goes in for projects. So Y6 are doing WW2 and they're asked to interview family/ friends about their WW2 experiences or their parents experiences. They can then create a web page or poster about the war in XXXXX city - they had 2 weeks to do this. The school also had residents of a nearby old folks home come and talk to the kids about life in XXXX city during the war - children in care/ without family were allowed to further interview the visitors about WW2 for their homework. Y6 field trip to Bletchley Park. One homework included inventing a code - shifted alphabet code for a particular sentence given by the teacher (there were 4 possible sentences). Children then formed teams and were asked to try and crack the codes (knowing these 4 possible sentences). They also used the Bletchley Park visit to explore binary code & had maths homework working out what a number was in binary code. children were reading Goodnight Mr. Tom for guided reading during WW2 unit & went to see it performed at local theatre.

Now of course the HT has general oversight of curriculum - but what seems to be going on here is the two other schools (School A is outstanding and School C is rated GOOD) - give their teachers a lot of leeway in delivery of curriculum. There also seems to be a lot of cross-fertilisation: visit/ special events link in well with current curriculum which feeds into writing/ reading/ maths.

So personally - I don't think parents have a lot to do with this - they support it, encourage their children to work hard/ do homework, but they aren't dictating this or that is delivered. They are praising the school & giving lots of positive feedback of course. The PTA at School C is dire - it keeps collapsing - but the school gets round it with dress up days, class bake sales, etc... and doesn't sweat it if they can't organize a summer fair. Doesn't seem to affect things.

In terms of your issues:

playground: often schools can't really control size/ quality of playground - depends when it was built/ if the council sold of land/ what funds they have access to as a school for improvements (and if they have other higher priorities - leaky flat roof for example).

swimming: our school goes in for 5 full afternoons of swimming for two weeks - kids are exhausted but really enjoy it. Easier because pool is off site - so a bit of a logistical issue for the school - traffic problems mean getting back for 3:30 can be a struggle.

special activities for high ability children: I think this is feeding through. I get the impression that OFSTED are big on differentiated learning and showing more than expected progress in all achievers - not just low achievers. In other words - previously schools may have seen improving low achievers performance was a priority because they were rewarded in a number of ways (OFSTED/ good KS2 SATs results/ good CVA score/ etc...) - now OFSTED is checking by each band of ability: low ability/ average ability/ high ability.

One problem I do find with this is that often our school is approached about some special event: science competition/ writing workshop/ theatre production - but there are only 5-6 places per school. I know that parents have complained that no boys were asked or that their child is on top table but wasn't asked, etc.... I think limited numbers often puts schools in a difficult situation. Certainly my DD is going to an event solely because the bright sparks who normally go were off taking a private school entrance exam, so she was asked at the last minute. We're glad she was asked - and are sure it will be of benefit.

Our school seriously suffers from a mentality of only 5 or 6 pupils are 'top table'/ highest ability. Often leaving out one or two who clearly are as able as the 'top table' group. I really think it's these children - often quieter, possibly with less pushy parents - who are losing out at our school.

In terms of staffing - full-time TA's or not - I think this is down to the HT and their budget. If they're spending a lot on tutors for FSM pupils (to close the gap) which can be as much at £50 an hour - they may be really struggling to afford 1 TA per class. Also I think the benefits of TAs are somewhat questionable - our school has all shads: former teachers who want less stress but are fantastic and achieve great things to former dinner ladies - lovely, helpful but taught DD1 to say 'ain't' and have marked maths work wrong, when it was correct.

Personally I think what schools achieve is down to how they function as a team. If it's a team where SMT plays individuals to their strengths and where staff feel they can input on planning/ curriculum/ etc... and make changes - tends to be effective school. If it's a team (like our school) where a select few hold the reigns of power and the rest are marginalized/ overlooked - it can lead to a very bad atmosphere - and higher teacher turnover - we've lost 8 teachers in as many years - single form school.

Our school seems to be endlessly on their back foot - behind with the times on what best practice is and unclear what to do in regard to new initiatives (i.e. have yet to adopt new curriculum - only announced Y6 SPAG test in April 2013 for Y6 that year, claiming it had only just been announced, which definitely wasn't the case and many parents were asking the school what preparation they were making for it).

Basketofchocolate Thu 30-Jan-14 10:53:05




Where are these schools?

answersonapostcard Thu 30-Jan-14 11:03:39

Thanks for that pastsellbydate.

In a way, although you mention teachers, this is mainly the headteacher: an an inspirational/good manager head teacher will also allow his or her staff creative freedom - which will feed down to the pupils. We had a good HT followed by a poor HT and this had a direct impact on the teachers in the classroom (they were professional and managed not to let it filter down to kids - but the mood in the school changed overnight and the teachers eventually resigned). The new head is making an effort to rebuild the team, and the staff are definitely happier.

There is another element. Although parents don't have a direct influence (re PTA) they clearly have some influence. Take Islington, north London. When I was growing up the schools were really poor. Now it's an affluent part of London with schools that have even made it onto the Tatler goods school list (including William Tyndale which no one would have gone near in the seventies). Surely parents do make a difference, even it is in the amorphorous way of attracting heads who want to serve the interests of that community? So if the parents are perceived as being the kind who want art and instruments that's what the head - if s/he is responsive - decides to give them.

answersonapostcard Thu 30-Jan-14 11:04:43

by 'no one' - I mean no one with a choice.

Elibean Thu 30-Jan-14 11:08:42

Swimming: in our local schools' case, availability of only local pools makes a big difference. So eg kids from Y2 onwards get half a term of swimming, each term, but not more because the local school that has a pool can only give that much time.

And to get to the nearest public swimming pool would take an entire morning out of the curriculum.

PastSellByDate Thu 30-Jan-14 11:15:49

Hi basket:

swimming is part of the national curriculum - and all schools in England are required to teach children to swim safely a minimum of 25 metres (

Languages: this is current guidance on MFL (modern foreign languages) KS1/2:


From Sept 2014 - modern foreign languages (and dead languages - e.g. latin/ greek) will be part of KS2 national curriculum:

So basket of chocolate maybe you need to ask your school some hard questions - as certainly if they aren't teaching swimming but are in the state sector they are currently not meeting statutory requirement.

Now if you were asking about a swimming pool - I have to agree - no school around here has a swimming pool. Very unusual. But mrz who posts here frequently is apparently at a state school & there is a swimming pool there (said her Y6 take a swim before SATs - sounds a great!).

answersonapostcard Thu 30-Jan-14 11:18:37

I can see that in the cases of sport accessibility might make a difference.
on the other hand: it doesn't seem fair that children in different parts of the country access the 'sports' curriculum differently because of different availability of swimming pools. surely pools should be built say in the centre of a five mile radius of a group of schools to make sure there is access. Or provide transport to schools where there isn't a pool. Otherwise it's not equitable?

Furthermore, while some schools ability to go swimming depends on locality and access, for others it's more about choice. My kids local pool is a twenty minute walk away. Which isn't so bad. And yet the schoolkids barely go at all. Someone made that decision, and other local schools made other decisions which mean their kids go far more often.

Why IS there so much freedom re swimming?

answersonapostcard Thu 30-Jan-14 11:22:03

sorry. replied before pastsellbydates post appeared.

Basketofchocolate Thu 30-Jan-14 12:19:16

So far DS is in R so maybe this doesn't start until Yr1 and Yr 2? No idea what KS1/2 are I'm afraid - is that the same as years?

I know that R are not allowed to do any of the school offered after school clubs, tho not sure why, so maybe it's to do with that.

Would love DS to be learning French right now - sadly can't find any classes at all anywhere in local area. Not a thing.

Never heard of swimming at the school but don't know parents in years above.

Dromedary Thu 30-Jan-14 12:40:27

I was told that every time the Head Teacher is replaced the new head gets a sum of money given to them to make changes. So if you change heads a lot you get substantially more money.

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