De Facto if not De Jure

The difference of opinion between the Secretary of State, a lawyer, and the Chief inspector, a former head teacher, over the inspection of academy chains that was played out in front of the Education Select Committee this morning is interesting. In this case I am on the side of the Secretary of State. The post on this blog of 27th March this year showed that Ofsted inspectors didn’t shy away from the issue when the use of Pupil Premium money was concerned. Indeed, Mr Gove’s answer to the PQ detailed in that blog surely offered support to current the Secretary of State’s view. My reading of the legislation on the functions of the HMCI is that he has the power to enter any location relevant to the powers of inspection and he can be directed by the Secretary of State under her own powers.

A long time ago in the early 1990s, when Ofsted be first formed, the issue arose as to whether HMIs had the power to inspect teacher training in pre-1992 universities that were bodies not under government’s direct control being corporations of one type or another in their own right. The universities lost that battle. Academy chains would lose the same battle in my judgement. If necessary it would only need a short clause inserted in a Bill currently before parliament to make the position absolutely clear. However, it would be a brave academy chain that might stand out against a Secretary of State knowing she believes she has the power to inspect either directly or through an inspection of all or some of the schools within the chain.

As this is the exercise of public money it also raises other interesting questions where functions ancillary to the direct provision of education are concerned. How far does the remit of Ofsted run in this increasingly devolved world of education?

Then there is the issue of diocese and academies. Can Ofsted look at the working of the diocesan office where it is partner in an academy trust in the way that it might not have done in the days when church schools were in the voluntary category? If so, it might wish to start by considering the efficiency of leadership appointments in the schools under the control of the Roman Catholic Church and whether there was any room for improvement in some dioceses through learning from the best practice elsewhere in the country.

No doubt the next issue will be who will inspect the work of the regional school commissioners?

Will they, like the local authorities before them, want their own advisory services to complement the work of Ofsted or will they rely upon a mixture of data provided by schools and inspections by Ofsted for the intelligence about the performance of the schools that are their responsibility. Either way, it seems likely that yet another bureaucracy will be established.

In that respect this government is following the path of its predecessors: cut the number of civil servants when entering office and then find reasons for appointing new ones to support the policies it develops.

Was Professor Halsey right after all?

Educational Priority Areas grew out of the desire in the 1960s to improve the quality of education for those children living in the most deprived parts of the country. Now over half a century later we find the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission that is chaired by a Labour politician and includes a former Tory Secretary of State for Education among its members recommending paying teachers 25% more to work in the most deprived schools as an experiment in improving outcomes for disadvantaged children. Well that sounds very like the Schools of Exceptional difficulty payments introduced under Margaret Thatcher’s regime when she was Edward Heath’s Education Secretary. This idea along with the instruction to Teach First to extend to certain coastal fringe areas this seems like another step in the move away from a free-market economics of education solution to a more planned and directed outcome to a problem that has be-devilled this country; the gaps in attainment between different social classes.

The Commission’s idea that the Pay Review Body might designate a new pay category that was non-geographical and thus unlike the present arrangements is really a challenge to the free market and comes remarkably swiftly after the abolition of national pay scales by the previous Secretary of State. The Commission noted that few academies had made use of the powers over pay that had been available to them in the past and this seems to have been one of the reasons for them advocating a more interventionist approach. Elsewhere, the Commission seem to have a somewhat fanciful notion of what local authorities can now achieve. It is all very well using the example of the London Challenge, but that was developed in a timeframe before the wholesale introduction of academies and free schools decimated local authority education departments. Realistically, the Commission needs to pay more attention to how far the complexity of running today’s school system may be adding to the very issue that they are trying to solve. As regular reads know, I would prefer local democratic involvement, especially in the primary school sector, but even more I would prefer a coherent management and leadership regime for the whole system that is dedicated to raising standards for all.

The Commission also discuss parental involvement and the poor quality of career advice that is often linked to low expectations. More must be done to encourage parents that the education system failed not to let the same thing happen with the next generation. Breaking the cycle of hopelessness is a vital component to raising standards as the Commission acknowledges. How to disseminate best practice rather than ritual nods to devolving training to schools and Teach First might have allowed for discussion about the content of both initial training and professional development of teachers.

Where I do agree with the Commission is in the vital role played by primary schools and the need to focus more attention on success in the early years. Regular attendance and strategies to help pupils that miss school are important moves in helping all pupils achieve success as last week’s publication of the EYFS profiles showed.

For anyone interested in the issue of social mobility this is an important but at times challenging and even depressing Report to read. It can be found at





Good news for English

On Tuesday the National College published the allocation for teacher preparation courses starting in 2015 ahead of the opening of the recruitment round through UCAS next month. The good news is that after several years of concern that the allocation for English was below what might be expected the allocation for 2015 entry has increased by around 600 to 2,348 while the underlying estimate of need has increased by almost 1,000 to 2,253. This increase is as a result of changes to the Teacher Supply model highlighted in the previous post on this blog.

Overall, the allocations show a continued drift towards school-led provision although the direction of travel in the secondary sector wasn’t as great as it might have been because of an increase of more than 4,000 in the total of places allocated.  The Salaried Route on School Direct hasn’t seen a large expansion, with 4,589 of the 4,712 bids being accepted. The growth has mainly been in the tuition fee route where 8,437 secondary and 4,623 primary places have been allocated. SCITTs account for 3,663 places, and HEIs of all descriptions 22,244 or almost half of the 43,516 places allocated.

Schools have more places than HE in Art, Chemistry, computing, design & technology, drama, English, geography, history, mathematics, music when SCITT numbers are included, PE and Physics. HE has more places than schools in Biology, business studies, classics, other subjects and Religious Education. The last is despite the large number of faith-based secondary schools.

Of course, everyone has to recruit to these places and the concern must be with so many more places to fill some parts of the country will fill places all their places whereas others won’t. In those circumstances the mobility of future trainees will be of vital importance. Through the TeachVac system I am pioneering a means of collecting that information starting with the current secondary trainees. More information can be found at  and current trainees can already register job preferences for where they will be looking for jobs when recruitment starts in the New Year. More details in a future post, including our first view of the current job market using our new recording system.

Along with allocations to schools and higher education, the NCTL have also published figures for Teach First allocations for the 2015 to 2016 academic year. They have been allocated 2,000 places; three-quarter in the secondary sector with numbers ranging from 430 in English and 308 places in mathematics down to 15 in design and technology.

Primary allocations nationally total 20,072 for 2015, slightly less than the 21,870 that were the total allocations last year. With half the primary allocations in HE going to undergraduate places there will be around 14,000 trainees on one-year courses in schools and HE plus the 2012 entrants to undergraduate courses that will have amount to around another 6,000 trainees making around 20,000 new primary teachers in 2016.

The next key data will be the ITT census in November when we will know the full extent of recruitment for this year. By then we will have started to analyse the state of the job market and can begin to make forecasts for recruitment into schools in 2015.

Three cheers for Open Government

Yesterday the DfE published the most detailed explanation of the Teacher Supply Model (TSM) that underpins decisions about how many new entrants to the teaching profession are needed each year. The new document is the most detailed any government has released to the general public in almost a quarter of a century. Unlike previous publication the new one is interactive and allows interested parties to interrogate the assumptions used within the Model. It also provides forward assumptions into the 2020s for teacher supply needs. Anyone interested can find the manual and accompanying spreadsheets at

The publication came about as a result of an exchange between David Laws, the Minister of State, and the Education Select Committee during one of their hearings into the issue of teacher supply and training. The Minister agreed to make the Model public and has now made good on his promise. The document is not an easy read, but the general principles are relatively easy to grasp for anyone interested in how the DfE works out the number of teachers required to enter teacher preparation programmes each year. I am sure that there will now be an informed debate on the subject

I am delighted that the current version of the TSM has reverted to calculating separate numbers for all the main curriculum subjects in secondary schools rather than just the EBacc curriculum areas with other lumped together in a composite pool.

The new Model has been used to calculate the ITT allocations for 2015 that were also announced yesterday. (More about them in another post) The good news is that the allocation for English has increased substantially. I had been puzzled, as I think had been others, about why the previous allocation figure was so far adrift of that for mathematics when both took up approximately the same amount of curriculum time in schools. That issue has been rectified for 2015 and will no doubt be welcomed by head teachers that have struggled to recruit teachers of English.

Although the data are somewhat daunting at first glance they do help those that take the time to work through them understand the potential implications of the growth in the school population over the next decade. Teaching is probably going to be a recession-proof occupation for at least the next 20 years in most parts of the country. However, that does mean that the Model shows the continuing need to recruit large numbers of new entrants to the profession. What the Model doesn’t do is identify what happens if recruitment to training falls short of target for a number of years. One solution would be to add in the shortfall to future targets but that can inflate then to unsustainable numbers. Such a process also doesn’t take into account the fact that schools must cover lessons and do so be various recruitment methods including in the past hiring teachers from overseas.

In previous versions of the Model changes from year to year were subject to a smoothing process. That prevented too large a change from one year to the next for the benefit of providers of teacher training. That seems to have been removed. The solution still seems to be to over-allocate so that the risk at the end of the course still lies completely with the trainee that has to find a teaching post. Solving that concern is not something the TSM can do.

25,000 not out

My thanks to everyone that helped this blog reach the total of 25,000 views in less than two years and with just over 200 posts. It took just one year eight months and eighteen days to be precise to reach the 25,000 figure if anyone other than me is interested. There has been at least one visitor from each of around 100 different countries during that time, although the bulk of visitors, over 22,000 views, have been from the United Kingdom. Still thank you to my local followers in Kazakhstan, Australia, Thailand, Canada, and across much of Europe as well as the rest of the world. I guess that the power of the State is the reason I am still waiting for my first viewing from the People’s Republic of China and from Tibet. Much of Francophile Africa is another area where there have been no views, but that may be less surprising given the language barrier and internet penetration in the region. My especial thanks to the more than 150 regular followers and to those that re-blog the most interesting posts to others.

Over the course of the last year the issue of teacher supply and the associated issue of training have together come to be a dominant theme in the posts on this blog. In view of the changes to training with the government in England preferring school-based preparation to higher education courses this is probably not a surprise. What started as a continuation of my column about facts and issues behind the numbers has progressed to consider some wider educational issues. No doubt that trend will continue as the UK general election looms ever larger. Indeed, the 2015 general election looks like joining those of 1906; 1945; 1979 and 1997 in the annuls of political history as one when seismic changes takes place at Westminster.

I originally started writing about education statistics in the Times Educational Supplement in 1998 in a column called ‘hot data’. In one form or another that run until 2011 when I retired from the TES. For a period it then ran in the on-line Education Journal, and many those columns can still be accessed on Amazon in the e-book ‘Please Miss- can pigs fly?’ For various reasons I eventually became attracted to the greater freedom that a blog can provide where editorial decisions and what to write are entirely within the compass of the author: hence this blog.

Do I have a favourite post? I am not sure that I do. As I only write what I want to, in one sense every post is a favourite. Certainly the post of early August 2013 on School Direct and teacher training recruitment generated the most consequences at the time. One of the most distressing to have to write was my tribute to Andrew Bridgwater after his untimely death; liberalism and special education lost a great friend that day. My submission to the Carter Review has been one of the most viewed of recent posts.

Most posts aim for around the 500 word mark, but as usual this one is slightly over-length as I am not good with the red pen. So, let me close by once again thanking everyone for reading and for the many comments I have received. The next challenges, 50,000 views and 500 posts.

All or nothing

According to the press this morning David Cameron is set to announce the creation of a squad of high-quality teachers, to be employed centrally that will be sent out to assist poorly performing schools. The National Teaching Service (NTS) will be made up of up to 1,500 ‘super teachers funded by central government, and will be deployed to so-called failing schools.

If true, this development poses a number of issues for trainee teachers, schools, and indeed parents. Historically, apart for the ill-fated and short-lived Fast Track Scheme introduced by Labour over a decade ago to recruit and place the best new teachers, recruitment has been a discussion between an individual teacher and a school or in a few cases a group of schools. Even in the latter case, except in the primary sector, posts advertised have usually been associated with working in a particular school. In the primary sector, pooling arrangements for the first stage of recruitment were popular when local authorities managed schools even though they sometimes might have discriminated against ‘returners’ in favour of newly qualified teachers.

Any announcement of an NTS has implications for current trainees if it is to start in 2015. More likely it will not commence before September 2016. However, savvy trainees on PGCE or School Direct courses, especially in shortage subjects, may decide to avoid working in schools likely to be targeted by NTS flying squads on the basis that they might need to be replaced by the in-coming teachers. Teachers already working in these schools now have an extra incentive to find another job just in case the alternative is redundancy or dismissal on other grounds when the NTS arrive.

Announcing the NTS in October is probably the most stupid move in the teacher labour market made by a government since the 1996 announcement of changes to the pension scheme drove an unprecedented number of head teachers to quit by the following summer. Even though 1,500 NTS staff, and it is not clear whether they will encompass all grades of teacher or just say, middle leaders, need to be recruited it is not clear how many schools will be targetted. That issue alone will be interesting as presumably there will need to be incentives to secure the NTS staff away from their present posts.

Now, as someone who working for seven years in a school likely these days to be a top target for an NTS squad to replace existing staff, I fully accept that there are under-performing schools. I also accept that some staff drafted in may make a difference. The famous arrival of Mike Tomlinson at The Ridings School in Yorkshire in the late 1990s had an immediate impact but longer-term change proved more elusive.

At the heart of this announcement is the issue raised before in this blog of whether schooling has now been nationalised in England. The very term NTS suggests the answer, but in a typically British manner it may be being handled in a cack-handed manner. However, it probably explains Labour’s announcement of the idea of a teacher’s oath yesterday. As usual, I am left wondering what is the position of my own Party, the Lib Dems on the idea of who is responsible for teachers and their employment

An oath for teachers?

Labour’s suggestion of teachers taking an oath on entering profession is an interesting idea. One reason to embrace it is that it would mean the word teacher would became a reserved term that could only be used by those prepared to take the oath unlike at present when anyone can call themselves a teacher regardless of their qualification, lack of them. However, taking an oath guarantees nothing as the history of medical and legal malpractice cases testifies. While it may be useful to help those that haven’t thought of the professionalism and associated values of being a teacher it can be ignored by anyone with predetermined intentions to misbehave. But, I cannot be too negative. I took an oath on becoming a magistrate and it was a solemn occasion.  Similarly, I have witnessed the oath taking of police officers at attestation ceremonies and explained to them why it was so important.

If there is to be an oath who is to administer it? Police, army, even medics all work for organisations with a national structure and with other professional bodies there are organisations, whether Inns of court, the Law Society or other professional bodies, but the General Teaching Council for England was abolished by this government in a short-sighted move allegedly linked to a supposed bonfire of Quangos. Without a professional body it seems unlikely that teachers would be prepared to swear an oath of professional virtue to the State, especially if they were working in the private sector.

The situation may well be different in Singapore where the oath-taking procedure was apparently spotted by Labour. Realistically, if it is about enhancing the status of teachers and making them more professional then returning power to the profession in return for enhanced status may not be enough. Professions don’t generally go on strike, so is Labour also signalling that teachers should sign away any rights to industrial action with no corresponding control over their earnings that would still be set either by the government of the management of individual schools?

I think most teachers already have a strong sense of public duty and a wish to serve the young people that they teach. After all, there may well be easier ways of earning a living for many graduates than the long hours and relentless term-time working life where the pace of teaching doesn’t differ from day to day as patterns of working do in most other professions.

On balance, I think the oath idea probably won’t fly unless Labour’s friends in the trade unions are prepared to endorse it. I am sure that they won’t do so without testing the strength of feeling among their members. Now a Queen’s Medal and long-service awards might be another matter. And while we are at it, perhaps the creation of some Regis Professors of Education might enhance the status of the profession in higher education.