Do bursaries work?

I have been catching up on some of the reading I have missed from earlier in the summer. One document I hadn’t found time for until now was the Initial teacher training performance profiles: 2014 to 2015 published by the DfE in late July. Although the data deals with trainees, excluding Teach First and any remaining EBITT trainees, granted QTS in 2015, there are some important pointers buried within the data. It seems clear that the high levels of bursary haven’t always worked.

 The number of trainees granted QTS having taken a Physics ITT course appears to have peaked in 2011/12 at 629. In 2014/15 the number granted QTS was just 509, some 120 trainees fewer than in 2011/12, or around 20% less. Even more alarming is the fact that total trainee numbers in 2014/15 had been 614, so apparently 105 trainees didn’t receive QTS. That’s a completion rate of just 83% according to the DfE; the lowest amongst the subjects with a completion rate quoted by the DfE (Table 6 in main tables of Statistical Bulletin 31/2016). In mathematics, the completion rate was a much healthier 94%, but this still meant only 2,082 trainees were awarded QTS, some 400 fewer than in 2011/12.

The mathematics figures show that the number in a teaching post rose over the last three years up to 2014/15, to reach 1,847 in all types of school. This suggests that the bursary for mathematics may have made a difference. However, in Physics, the number recorded as in a teaching post was only 443 in 2014/15, down from a high of 535 in 2011/12, albeit a year during the middle of the recession. As the DfE model estimated need at around 1,000 physics trainees in 2014/15, this would suggest only 50% of potential need was met. The worrying factor is that a high proportion of these new Physics teachers may well have ended up in either an independent school or a grammar school as these are types of school most likely to have advertised for a teacher of physics according to TeachVac data.

One the face of it, the bursary and associated scholarships offered don’t seem to have attracted enough potential teachers of physics into the profession and of these attracted a higher than expected percentage don’t seem to have made it through to QTS. Whether this is due to them leaving courses early or not being judged to have reached an acceptable standard isn’t possible to tell from the data.

With a growing percentage of Physics trainees located in schools on the Salaried or Fee School Direct routes, it seems likely that the ‘free pool’ of trainees has also diminished over the past few years. In that respect, we need to know more about how many of the 440 or so in a teaching post trained in the school where they are now working and how many were in the independent sector? This would make clear the likely number available for maintained schools not participating in the School Direct programme?

Whatever the numbers, there needs to be more Physics trainees to meet the demands of the growing school population over the next decade.

Children on Free School Meals don’t go to selective schools

The following piece appeared in today’s Oxford Mail comment column.

What is the nature of the contract between the State and those parents who entrust their children’s education to the government? As we approach the 150th anniversary of the State’s offer of free education, a right that was originally introduced by the Liberal government after 1870, this question is as real today as it was then.

Indeed, with the local Tory enthusiasm for the re-introduction of grammar schools, as outlined by Oxfordshire’s Cabinet member with responsibility for education in this paper last week, the issue is of real concern to many parents locally. I did wonder whether the enthusiasm with which the local Tories have embraced grammar schools is just a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from other cuts in the education funding and early years’ budgets, including the removal of much of the Children’s Centre work from rural areas and my own division in north Oxford rather than a genuine desire to turn back the clock.

Grammar schools became a core part of Tory Party policy after the passing of the 1944 Education Act, although it was the Labour government of the late 1940s that laid down the basis for the transformation into the system of grammar and secondary modern schools. With many school leavers at that time still destined for field, factory or, for many girls, family life, grammar schools satisfied the needs of a largely muscle-powered economy for a small number of more educated individuals.

Now, fast forward seventy years and we have an entirely different economy; young people are staying in education longer and our economy requires a much better educated workforce. The market porter of yesterday, pushing a barrow, has been replaced by the fork-lift truck driver and even they are increasingly being replaced by computer operatives running automated warehouses staffed by robots such as those seen in the recent BBC TV series on how modern factories operate. Less muscle, more brain power is the key to the modern economy.

In Oxfordshire, the demand for educated individuals to staff the wealth-creating and knowledge generating industries cannot be satisfied by selecting a fraction of the school population at age eleven. There is a case for recognising that between 14-16 pupils can make judgements about their future intentions, but even then closing doors too firmly, as grammar schools so often do, isn’t a good idea.

There are far more important ways to spend limited funds on education than introducing grammar schools: better careers advice, ensuring enough teachers for all children to be taught by a properly qualified teacher and creating a curriculum designed for the twenty-first century are just three of the more important uses for education funding.

However, the most important reason many supporters of grammar schools put forward for their re-introduction is the desire to improve social mobility. Too often there is no evidence to support their argument other than anecdotal recollections of individuals who prospered in the so-called golden age of grammar schools. To test the current picture I looked at the percentage of pupils with free school meals in the 163 grammar schools across England in January as a possible proxy measure for social mobility.

Nationally, 14.1% of secondary pupils were eligible for free school meals. No grammar school reached that figure; indeed only six grammar schools had more than 6% of their pupils eligible for free school meals; 66 grammar schools had less than 2% of pupils on Free School Meals.

It is time for us to work together to create an education system that works for the benefit of all, not the advantage of the few: that means a fully comprehensive system with opportunities for all from primary school to post-16 provision.


Keep fire sprinkler systems for new schools

Building Bulletins are somewhat of an esoteric area of education policy. Nonetheless they are an important one and over the years have helped shape policy on school design and architecture. They haven’t always got it right, and there is always a tension between design standards and the cost of building a new school. Indeed, some local authorities have space standards for new schools that are more demanding that those issued by the government. But, they have been an important part of our education policy agenda for as long as I can remember.

Indeed, my first fieldtrip as a lecturer way back in the early 1980s was with a group of MA students, from the now University of Worcester, to interview then then head of Architects and Building Branch at the DES, located as it was in those days in a 1960s office block adjacent to Waterloo Station.

Now, I don’t often pray in aid the Daily Mail or the Mail on Sunday in this blog, but they seem to have unearthed an important story about the government downgrading the need for fire sprinkler systems in new schools to be built in the future This at the end of a week when a secondary school in Sussex was partly gutted by a fire.

Arson of school buildings, although not as prevalent as a few years ago, remains a risk to school, especially as the new school year approaches. Sprinklers, at least to the standard of protect the building, can play an important part in reducing fire damage. There is a higher, and presumably more costly standard of protecting lives that would presumably only apply to boarding premises in schools as most schools can easily be evacuated, and fires, especially arson, often start when the school is empty.

If the change to Building Bulletin 100, issued by the Labour government in 2007, is true and there will be no need for sprinkler systems to be fitted in new schools that seems a short-sighted move to me. However, the government will increasingly have to bear the cost of any fire damage as academies will be their responsibility and not under the oversight of local authorities, so presumably someone has decided that the cost of either higher insurance premiums for the greater risk of a building without a sprinkler system or the re-building cost outweighs the cost of installing systems in all news schools funded by the DfE through the Funding Agency.

Personally, I think this a short-sighted decision that doesn’t take into account the personal costs involved in a fire that destroys a school and all the work of pupils and staff it contains. Water damage, although bad, is half as destructive as a school gutted by a fire. I would urge everyone that reads this blog to follow-up on this story and question the appropriateness of the decision. After all, we don’t want to see arson levels return to where they were in the bad old days.


Come clean on teacher recruitment

The latest data from UCAS on the numbers recruited to most teacher preparation courses starting over the next few weeks show mixed signals. On the first look at the data there is support for the conclusions this blog has been publishing over the past couple of months: IT, mathematics, music, physics and Religious Education won’t meet their target as set by the Teacher Supply Model, after the removal of Teach First numbers, but other subjects ought to do so. So, there is nothing new or very surprising in these figures.

However, delve a little deeper and the anxiety of the increase in ‘conditional placed’ numbers over ‘placed’ candidates that this blog has been worrying for the about for the past few months may still be a cause for concern. Take English as an example. Last August, there were 990 placed candidates and also 990 conditional placed candidates. In mid-August 2016, there are 860 ‘placed’ and 1,180 ‘conditional placed’ candidates. That represents a loss of 130 or so (due to rounding we cannot know the exact difference from year to year) in placed candidates, but an increase of 190 in conditional placed applicants. This is all well and good if those conditional placed candidates convert to placed candidates and turn up on the first day of the course. But, why are they still listed as conditional placed as late as mid-August? Is the system of reporting a change of status not working properly? There must be similar concerns about the difference between placed and conditional placed applicants in other subjects, including geography and mathematics.

The difference is even more interesting when the numbers on the different routes into teaching are considered. Higher Education, as expected, has seen a decline of 280 in placed applicants for secondary subjects as places have moved to other routes. However, SCITTS have taken up just 100 of these and the School Direct Fee route only 50. There appear to be 90 fewer School Direct Salaried route ‘placed’ candidates than in mid-August last year. As a result, the fate of the ‘conditional placed’ and the conditions they need to meet before starting their courses will be critical in determining the outcome of this recruitment round and the numbers of new teachers available to schools looking for teaching staff for September 2017. The number ‘holding offers’ and awaiting decisions on places across all routes is basically the same as at this point last year and will make no meaningful difference to the eventual outcome.

The number of men ‘placed’ is also down on last August by some 220, with fewer numbers in the youngest age groups not entirely offset by an increase in men over the age of 30 offered a place. There are more ‘conditional placed’ men in most age groups, with 250 more over the age of thirty. However, total applications from men are down by a couple of hundred.

In November, when the DfE publish their ITT census, these figures will be able to be put into perspective and that will help with interpretation of the same data next year, assuming the rules of the game don’t change in the meantime. we will also be monitoring the effect by tacking vacancies thorugh TeachVac the free recruitment service for schools,teachers and trainees


Robert the Bruce Day

I call today Robert the Bruce Day after the Scottish King who endured a number of failures and, so the tale goes, was inspired to carry on campaigning when all seemed lost by watching a spider fail to complete is web. Despite several failures, the story goes, the spider didn’t give up and continued trying until it eventually succeeded.

There will be some pupils that receive their GCSE results today that won’t have made the required grades in either or both of English and mathematics. Now we can argue long and hard about the suitability of the curriculum for all sixteen year olds studying these subjects, but we are where we are. The government has decreed that every person in learning or education should continue to study these subjects until they are at the required standard.

I can sympathise. Back in the golden age of grammar schools I failed what was then ‘O’ level English at age 16. Indeed, I failed it at age 17 and age 18 as well. In total, I failed the subject some five times before finally achieving a pass in not one but two different Examination Boards at the same time; the January of my third year in the Sixth Form.

Fortunately, I was inspired by the Robert the Bruce story when in primary school. It may have had something to do with Bruce Castle Park in Tottenham, just down the road from where I went to primary school. Just as likely, was the way, W W Ashton, the head teacher, told the story. Any way the notion of not giving up stuck. This helped me through the slog of repeating the same examination following yet more tuition throughout the first two years of the Sixth Form. Curiously, in the term before the final examinations I passed, I didn’t have any more tuition, but time to think and assimilate what was needed.

I guess my basic failings in spelling and grammar that regular readers of this blog may have noticed from time to time may not have helped my cause. They certainly meant I never expected either to have written a column in a national education publication for over a decade or to have been a regular writer of a blog. In that respect, technology has been a great help: this would not have been possible with the development of the microchip.

So, my message is one of hope. Don’t give up. If at first you fail, try, try again. Who knows what you might achieve in the end.


Back to the future?

According to a report in the Daily Mail, as quoted by the LGiU at the weekend, the Teaching Schools Council wants to see the first teaching apprenticeship scheme for 18-year-olds, which would see these youngsters go straight into the classroom as trainee teachers. Now if you are not familiar with the Teaching Schools Council, a government backed organisation, Schools Week did a good background story on the organisation in June this year that can be found at:

The Daily Mail story, coming as it does in August, looks a bit like government kite flying. However, is it worth considering further? Take Physics as a subject where schools struggle to recruit enough teachers. Even though most of the degree courses are no longer concentrated in Russell Group universities, many other curses are four years in length necessitating extra tuition fee debt. There are also a very small number of undergraduate QTS courses in Physics or Physics with mathematics on offer for 2017. All this means that students missing the points score necessary to attend most Russell Group universities do have opportunities to Physics at university. However, whether there are enough places to satisfy demand outside of the teaching profession is something that needs to be considered.

So, does the Teaching School Council’s idea have merit? It certainly seems worth discussing further. However, an apprenticeship not linked to a degree as an outcome isn’t likely to find much favour across a profession that struggled so long and hard to move away from the pupil-teacher apprentice model that operated for so long in the elementary school sector that was the main type of schooling for the masses before the 1994 Education Act created the break at eleven.

The academic content issue of an apprenticeship must be dealt with to satisfy organisations such as the Institute of Physics. If they allowed student membership for these apprentices that might go a long way to guarantee standards and reassure the profession as a whole. However, there may well be other objections. Does the single apprentice model work or are apprenticeships more likely to succeed where there are a group of young people studying together, helping each other and challenging themselves to continue with the programme when they feel down, as inevitably happens from time to time.

If you start putting groups of these apprentices together in a teaching school, does that start to look like the old monotechnic training colleges that the Robbins Report was so concerned about in the 1960s and that led to the policy of moving employer-controlled training into higher education and away from the local authorities and the churches? The roots of that system can still be seen in the heritage of universities such as Worcester and Lincoln’s Bishop Grosseteste university.

So, is it ‘back to the future’ as with grammar schools? It is worth noting that sir Andrew Carter is, according to the Schools Week article, on the Council of the Teaching Schools Council. He is certainly an advocate of the ‘grow you own style’ of teacher preparation, so the suggestion needs to be taken seriously. Perhaps it marks a new direction for School Direct and a new role for Teaching Schools?

Do you want to work in a grammar school?

Grammar schools were a product of the nineteenth century that lingered overlong into the twentieth and have no place in the modern world. We should not ensure the effective education of those gifted and talented in some areas by separating them from the rest of society at an early age. Even where their education is fundamentally different, whether for future ballet dancers, musicians, footballers or choristers, some degree of integration with others less skilled in these areas should be the norm.

Since intellectual ability isn’t fully developed at eleven, the grounds for grammar schools seem more social than educational, even when cloaked in the guise of meritocracy. Scare resources are best employed developing better education for all, not in keeping a few Tory voters in the fold.

Before any decision is taken, and this wasn’t a manifesto pledge, the government should undertake some polling on the effect of the introduction of new selective schools across the country on both the current teacher workforce as well as the views of those that might want to become a teacher.

For existing secondary school teachers, the question is simple: If your school were to lose 30% of its most able pupils, would you continue to teach here?

For potential teachers the question is: would you be willing to teach in a school where 30% of the age range didn’t attend?

For primary school teachers, the question has to be whether they would prepare children for the selection process?

Making a teacher supply crisis worse won’t help the education of those not selected form a grammar school place.

To introduce grammar schools without a comprehensive education plan for every child the State has been entrusted with educating is unbelievably short-sighted: something only a narrow-minded government would contemplate. To cloak the introduction of grammar schools in the social mobility agenda without offering any evidence that such schools create more mobility than the alternative is to pander to the views of the few and to disregard the needs of the many.

What plans do the government have for those left out of a grammar school in a bulge year because grammar school places cannot be turned on an off? Will the government create a system to cope with 30% of the peak pupil numbers in the mid-2020s and allow either a less rigorous selection procedure until then or will it leave places empty? The alternative seems to me to be that it will set the limit on places now and see more parents denied places as pupil numbers increase?

What is certain is that the present per pupil funding formula cannot work within a two-tier system as the redundancies in Kent have already shown. Perhaps this is the real reason why the National Funding Formula consultation has been delayed, to allow for the incorporation of a different method of funding of grammar schools to non-selective schools within the new system?

Will Council taxpayers in areas that don’t want selective education be forced to pay the transport costs of pupils attending such schools and will the government reimburse them or expect them to take the cash away from other hard pressed services?

I am all in favour of local democracy in education, but not in a government sponsored free-for-all.