‘Hard, but fun’

I was encouraged by the PGCE student that tweeted yesterday, ‘first week hard, but fun.’ Hopefully, that student will feel the same way at the end of their course. The tweet set me thinking again about the eternal question of the positive effects of good teachers. There’s a body of literature out there that tries to quantify how much value a good teacher adds to pupils’ learning compared with a bad teacher. This sometimes encourages those bright sparks in think tanks to conclude we should sack all teachers that don’t achieve at least average gains over a defined time period for their students or use some such similar measure. Alternatively, and much more seductive, is the thesis that we should award performance related pay, merit pay or bonuses to such teachers.

The trouble with some of these thinkers is that they don’t live in the real world where issues of supply and demand complicate the picture. Physics and history are the two extremes of the supply-demand continuum at present. So, how much more do we pay a poor physics teacher than a poor history teacher just to be there? Alternatively, do we drop the subject for those pupils where we cannot recruit good enough physics teachers? Is a good biology teacher teaching physics better value than a less good physics teacher? In England, apart from entering training, and presumably when selecting middle leaders, subject knowledge is of limited value in some respects because anyone can be required to teach any subject to any pupils.

Leaving aside factors from outside the school, such as absence rates that can affect progress, most obviously in early years, but often throughout a pupil’s schooling where there is not good home support, there are also in-school factors affective performance. ‘I am sorry you have to teach in the temporary classroom or your pupils come straight from PE on a Monday, after drama on a Wednesday and their third lesson of the week is last period on a Friday afternoon’. No doubt really good teachers can overcome each and all of these challenges, but how to encourage the rest of the profession faced with those circumstances is a dilemma. Professional development, both personally inspired and intuitionally formulated can help, and the relative lack of spending despite the lack of experience of much of the teaching profession at the current time must be something of a worry.  Rather than focussing on how to reward teachers differently it might be more effective to help them understand the evidence on what works. Technology exists, and is used by many teachers to ask how to deal with problems. Rather than offering CPD on what we believe is needed perhaps a small fraction should be spend on responding to teachers’ needs.

Nest year, through an adjunct of the Teachvac (www.teachvac.com) web site that collects data on students and jobs, we hope to ask trainees what they need by way of extra training once they have secured their first teaching post and know they type of school where they will be working and exactly what they will be teaching.

In the meantime, best wishes to all that have started their training this autumn; may you enjoy your time in the teaching profession.

Your future their future

Seventeen years ago this October the government of the day launched one of the most famous teacher recruitment campaigns ever with the ‘talking heads’ cinema commercial and an endorsement from Tony Blair. This year the campaign slogan is ‘Your future their future’ and in place of cinema adverts there is a film available to view on YouTube, 4OD and Sky Go as well as milk round events and I am sure posters and other advertising media. In case you missed the announcement from the NCTL it can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/your-future-their-future-new-teacher-recruitment-campaign I confess to being at a round table in the DfE that day, but nobody mentioned the campaign launch, so it wasn’t as high profile as in 1997 when the then TTA hired part of the new British Library building for the launch event. But money was nowhere near as tight then.

The launch of a more high profile – well hopefully more high profile – campaign than in recent years to attract applicants to train as a teacher no doubt reflects the growing anxiety within government about recruitment this year. Starting early for 2015 recruitment at the time when finalists are thinking about their futures makes good sense. The immediate impact of the campaign won’t be known until the new recruitment round opens through UCAS later this autumn. After the last set of UCAS data on the 2014 round are published at the end of this month this blog will discuss its reflections on the process compared with what went before.

There have been many different recruitment campaigns around the world to attract potential teachers into the profession. You can see some of them at https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=teacher+recruitment+campaigns&biw=1280&bih=890&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=7zgcVLCLEfPy7AaHuYHAAQ&ved=0CDIQ7Ak including ones with strap lines such as: ‘work with the most exciting people in the country; ‘there are many perks to being a teacher’ – I wonder what the Advertising regulatory authorities would say of one like that now? My favourite was the poster with the line ‘the dog ate my homework’ that doesn’t seem to feature in the collection displayed.

The challenge for campaigns recruiting people to the teaching profession is that they have to appeal to potential undergraduates, new graduates, finalists and career changers. While younger age groups might respond well to a social marketing campaign using twitter, facebook, and other social media sites I probably haven’t heard of, career changers may relate better to campaigns in more conventional media sources. 4OD and Sky Go are interesting new locations to place a film about teaching. Using a high profile teacher from a TV series about Educating Yorkshire will help with those that remember the series, but how many undergraduates watched it last year?

I hope that the new campaign not only goes on to win awards but also helps remind everyone that teaching is a great career. If it doesn’t, then this time next year we will still be discussing the recruitment problems facing schools and the profession. Good luck.

Return FE to the DfE?

Despite not having direct responsibility for the further education sector the DfE has published a statistical bulletin about progress by 16-18 year olds in all key settings. There is still much work to be undertaken to ensure that those young people that don’t achieve a satisfactory standard in English and maths by sixteen are able to do so by the time they reach eighteen and leave formal education.

The bulletin can be accessed at:https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/352498/SFR32_2014_Main_Text.pdf It makes dispiriting reading in some parts. Seemingly, there is much for the general further education sector to do to ensure it adds value to every young person studying in these colleges. 50% of those that did not achieve a A*-C grade were studying in an FE college between 16-19.

Sixth form colleges had the highest proportion of students achieving grades A* to C in English at 16-18 compared to other institution types. The majority of students at FE colleges achieveda lower level of learning than they did previously. This is likely to be due to the majority of their students being entered for and achieving English qualifications at entry level and level 1 when they have already achieved a GCSE at grades D to G. The picture in maths was broadly similar.

Would it help if the further education sector was controlled from the same department at Westminster as schools? In the past, the fact that further education only dealt with students above the school leaving age may have meant that placing it in a department such as BiS allowed for a greater focus on the vocational work. Now that the learning leaving age has been raised to eighteen it might make more sense for the DfE to be responsible directly for all learning up to the age of eighteen. Adult learning and lifelong learning could be the responsibility of a minister shared between the DfE and BiS.

At present, as this blog has noted, competition for teachers and lecturers between further education and schools has lead to different policies of bursaries, golden hellos and other means of attracting staff. This is not helpful to ensure the right supply of staff across the country. Allowing small school sixth forms is difficult to justify in cost effectiveness, especially when resources are tight, as they are at present. With one department in overall control there would be room for more coherent planning, if such a term isn’t regarded as one of abuse in the present climate.

A greater focus on the vocational offering post-16 might also help with the development of effective careers advice to younger pupils. However, with the internet and so many resources now on line it might well be that young people should be encouraged to do more research about careers themselves so that they can enter into a debate about what type of life they would like after education, especially in those parts of the country where employment is still not abundant, particularly for young people.

Schools for Profit

Just before the announcement of the GEMS Report on efficiency and education spending, discussed on this blog yesterday, Conservative Ministers at the DfE were apparently once again toying with the notion of ‘for profit’ schools. My own Party, the Lib Dems were quick to rule out such an idea but, as this blog has discussed before, what is really meant by a ‘for profit’ school? In its pure form, a contractor would offer to educate a fixed number of children for a price, presumably the same price as other schools in the area, and if it could do so for less money it could keep the difference as the profit element in return for the risk run. Now there would presumably have to be set outcomes to prevent a contractor taking the money and providing sub-standard education. An immediate question is: if they can achireve the current standard for less, why not improve standards for the same amount of public money? However, if in other government contracts there is a fixed price to a contract with no requirement to improve service levels with any saving that can be made why should education be different? An interesting question, but perhaps the question should be why the State lets contractors achieve less than is possible from the same amount of public money anywhere?

On the other hand we already supply many services to schools that generate a profit. Resources, IT equipment, temporary and even permanent teachers, transport, cleaning, catering and building services not to mention HR, financial, and legal services. So, if someone is making a profit out of all of these activities, what’s left?

Realistically, it is the core activity of teaching and learning and the ethos of ‘free at the point of delivery’ that we associate with both education and the health service in this country, even though opticians are as much a fashion retailer as a dispenser of eye services these days and school trips cost hundreds of pounds and schools often bend the rules on books and equipment let alone what they see retailers charge for uniforms – an area of profit from schooling for someone, but one where competition has driven down the price of the basic uniform to a level where questions about low paid workers in developing countries might be just as much an issue for some as profit levels.

The State, as corporate parents, has a duty to offer schooling for all, and parents may or may not wish to take up the option. If they do, they expect the best possible education money can buy them and they expect the State to achieve that for their children.

There is probably a lot of muddled and emotive thinking associated with the discussion over profit, but we might start by looking at the point that GEMS were making, can schools make better use of their resources? Anyone who hasn’t done so could do worse than start by reading the DfE publication from 2012 entitled, Understanding Schools Financial Decisions https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/understanding-school-financial-decisions As the authors of that Report concluded: ‘The results show that even many of the important operational financial decisions of schools are largely idiosyncratic.’

More may be better in the classroom?

Many years ago I was travelling back from a conference in the USA on an Air New Zealand flight where the newspapers handed out to passengers were New Zealand daily papers a couple of days old. Among the articles in one paper was a review of an education conference at which a DfES official – I think it was during that period of initials – had noted that many Asian countries had larger classes than in England and perhaps we might want to consider whether or not to copy them. I passed the item on to the education press when I reached England. The resulting piece in the now long gone weekly Education duly appeared under the headline that appears at the top of this blog. I was reminded of that episode, and the unfortunate civil servant who no doubt thought going all the way round the world he would be safe to speculate on such issues without anyone back home noticing – note for younger readers, this was in TDBI, the days before the internet, when it was normally safe to say things at conferences down under without any comeback in London – on reading about a report on the BBC Education page. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-29063679

All this is by way of introduction to the new research published today by GEMS Education Solutions, but not yet seemingly available on their web site. According to the BBC Report, the researchers looked at education indicators from around the world and raked the UK – note it was the UK and not England – in 11th place. Two of the indicators were class sizes and teachers’ pay. Assuming that smaller class sizes don’t bring better results is, as I have shown above, not a new discussion and neither is teachers’ pay and remuneration. Outside of Helsinki, I don’t know what the demand for graduates is like in the rest of Finland compared with the output of new graduates. Wages may be relatively low because demand isn’t strong or because the national labour market has narrower differentials between jobs requiring a higher degree of education and those that don’t. There is evidence here that in the past depressing the pay of teachers reduces interest in the profession. Indeed, teachers are one of the few groups that have not benefited from the extra holidays most workers now receive. Fourteen weeks without pupils does not equate to 14 weeks of holiday whatever some of the press think. Add in INSET days, the days before and after term, parents’ evenings, the hours it is generally agreed teachers work during term-time, and it soon dips below the 8 weeks many professionals receive after holiday entitlement, bank holidays and the Christmas closures.

The main argument against bigger classes is that the classrooms simply wouldn’t accommodate them in many schools. Also at the start of schooling there are already wide differences between the stages of development of many children. Making them learn in larger groups won’t reduce that gap. As the statistics show, and has been reported on this blog, average class sizes have reduced in the secondary sector over the past few years while results have improved. Does that fact counter evidence of larger classes elsewhere? How do the researchers account for the behaviour of the private sector in this respect? I believe that GEMS did have schools with different class sizes in The Gulf, but I have no knowledge of them trying such an idea here. Perhaps they might experiment with offering a school with larger classes, but lower fees than is normal in the private sector, in a UK city and examine the results. My hunch is that there wouldn’t be many takers, but I am willing to be proved wrong.

Falling Foul of Fees?

Following on from yesterday’s post about current levels of recruitment into teacher training among graduates, I have been delving further into the data. One interesting aspect is the data provided about the age of applicants. Overall, the number of applicants increased from some 23,000 to almost 44,000; an increase of around 80% between January and mid-August. However, the increase among younger candidates has been somewhat smaller at just 42% for the youngest group of new graduates; up from around four and a half thousand in January to some six and a half thousand in mid-August.  By contrast, the increase in applications from potential trainees in their thirties has been from just over three thousand to more than six and a half thousand; an increase of more than 100%. While it is good to have a mix of ages entering the profession, those that join as teachers in their 30s, and especially their late 30s, have traditionally struggled to have their previous work experience recognised and to progress in their new career, although there have been some notable exceptions to this rule.

So why has this lack of young recruits come about? Could it be that the new fee levels are something of a deterrent? After all, older entrants may have paid off their previous student debts, and be prepared to take on one year of new debt as the cost of changing careers whereas new graduates are looking forward to a fourth year of debt that may seem less attractive than a salary. As a result, the School Direct Salaried route looks a bit like a perverse incentive, aimed as it is at the career changer with at least three years of work experience. However since there have been only 2,700 of these recruited among the potential 29,000 graduate entrants they clearly aren’t making a huge difference to the total.

At present, we don’t know whether older applicants are being discriminated against in terms of the numbers being made offers. However, they are more likely to have a stake in the community and want to teach close to where they train. From that respect, it is interesting that London has attracted the largest number of applicants of ant region in England; over eight and a half thousand, compared with six thousand each in the South East and North West regions.  The lack of any London supplement in funding doesn’t seem to be putting off applicants from applying to train with providers in the capital. It would be helpful to know more about the age profile of those applying in the different regions, but that will have to wait until the annual report is published by UCAS, probably next year.

Before then, I hope that there will have been a review of the first year of the new application system. It had an inauspicious start last November, and I don’t think offering three choices through the Apply 1 route right up to August helps either candidates or providers fill the places still available just before courses start. I would add the number of training places and the number still available to the information provided to candidates, as the DfE did last year when they managed the School Direct application site.

Perhaps the Carter Review Team can have a think about the application process or UCET, NASBITT, the professional associations and the NCTL can get together with the DfE and have a frank discussion about how we can best recruit candidates into training for 2015.

Good news and bad news

First the bad news: teacher training won’t hit its target for 2014 entry. To do so the figures issued today by UCAS must turn out to be very different from the eventual ITT census conducted by the DfE in the autumn. The good news, such as it is, centres around the fact that subjects unlikely to fill all their required places identified by the DfE’s Teacher Supply Model targets haven’t changed much since last month. Computer Science/IT may reach its target, although the varied classification doesn’t help here. However, the roll call of subjects unlikely to meet targets includes, business studies, design & technology, geography, mathematics, music, physics and religious education. Primary might just make it, but there does seem to be some weakness in applications for early years courses.

In the secondary sector, higher education providers have added 370 offers to their totals since last month, compared with 20 additional recruits for SCITT courses, 70 for School Direct, and just 20 for the School Direct Salaried route. Higher education will still comfortably be training more than 50% of secondary recruits again this year, assuming that they all turn up when courses start. In the primary sector, School Direct added 150 recruits compared with 130 by higher education providers, and 40 by SCITTs. There was no change in the School Direct salaried route numbers compared with last month. Despite the good performance over the last month, School Direct will still only account for around 40% of postgraduate primary training, and a far smaller percentage of primary training overall once the undergraduate numbers have been taken into account.

At the time thesefigures were complied there were still 600 applicants with interviews outstanding and 2,320 applicants awaitng the result of an offer. To make a real difference all of these applicants would need to be accepted. Realistically, as these are UK figures, the total for England might end up around 28,000 or somewhere near 1,000 short of target by the time that courses start. Where there needs to be real concern, and rapid action by government, is in physics and design and technology. Both are vital to the national economy and both are facing a second year where recruitment will fall far short of target. The government will need to put in place credible solutions ahead of the general election or face charges that it doesn’t care about the teaching of these subjects in secondary schools.  Altohugh physics may be helped by the Teach First numbers not included in these figures or the Teacher Supply Model calculations, design and technology won’t receive any real boost from that source of entrants to the profession.

With courses commencing over the next three weeks and the need to take the Skills Tests before entry it seems unlikely that many more trainees will be recruited. The big concern now is to ensure all those with offers turn up when the course starts.