Teacher Training: Value for Money?

Tomorrow the National Audit Office (NAO) publishes a report into the training of new teachers. We know this because, yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster (PAC) that receives NAO Reports decided to hold an evidence session on the subject on the 7th March. Presumably, the Chair of the PAC had seen a draft of the Report and merited it of sufficient worth to hold an inquiry. As yet, we don’t know who will be called to give evidence, but we can assume the DfE will be there. Hopefully, by then, they will have a new Permanent Secretary.

We can also assume that value for money will feature largely in the NAO Report. I hope that the NAO Report looks at the centralised admissions process for postgraduate courses. This has many advantages, but as currently organised has costs, to UCAS, to course providers and to applicants that are higher than in the previous system.  UCAS can recover any additional costs, so the change from a consecutive to a concurrent system should have been cost neutral to their bottom line.

For applicants in popular subjects applying at the start of the process, they may need to attend three interviews with no guarantee of a place at any of them, but that was the situation under the previous system. For applicants in less popular subjects, unless they know that fact, they may make three applications when only one would be necessary to secure a place; but they have had more choice.

For providers, they no longer know whether applicants have their course as their first preference or even their highest remaining priority. This means potentially interviewing applicants that might turn down a place if offered one somewhere else. UCAS should be able to quantify how often this has happened to providers so an average cost could be determined.

Elsewhere in the Report, I assume the NAO will look into the value for money of the different routes into teaching. I assume that they will assess the relative spends on marketing and admissions and on course delivery. It will be interesting to see if the NAO has delved into how much universities charge as central overheads. This was an issue first raised in the early 1990s when the Teacher Training Agency was created, but providers were often left to battle it out at an institutional level with recharges of deficits by central administrations when they over-charged. The increase to £9,000 fees temporarily put the debate on the back burner. But, I suspect it is still a live issue.

Do larger provider make better use of public money or are small school-based courses nimbler and more efficient in their use of funds? Does the present system ensure a coherent supply of teachers each year of the right quality in the right place and with the right mix of expertise? And does the government know what happens to the new teacher after the State has funded their training up front?

After all, as I have pointed out before, we train more teachers each year than the total personnel in the Royal Navy, so this is not some hole in the corner business, but a large-scale organisation. We will wait for tomorrow to see what the NAO has to say for itself. Since I had a conversation with the officer responsible, I am especially interested in this Report.




London weighting for trainees?

Yesterday, I wrote about my initial views on the latest data about applications for teacher preparation courses starting in 2016. The data excludes Teach First, because that scheme does not report into the central admissions process. I noted that there had been an increase across the board in offers made following an increase in both applications – candidates may make up to three applications – and in applicants for courses in England.

I have now had more time to consider the data and can split the figures provided yesterday into three groups of subjects based on the evidence and trends over the past few years. There are some subjects where I expect it should be possible to recruit enough applicants to meet the number required by the government. These are in;

Physical Education

In the following subjects it is possible that the target will be met, but the data isn’t conclusive either way:

Business studies
In the following subjects, more work will be needed if the target 
is to be reached in 2016 based on the present evidence:
Religious Education
Design & Technology

In Art, the failure to reach the total may not mean a shortage unless vacancy levels pick up in 2017 over the levels seen in 2015 and early 2016. In English, although the target should be met, questions remain about whether the target is high enough to meet demand from all schools: time will tell.

Across both phases and all types of courses there have been increased levels of offers, with double the offer level for School Direct Salaried places in the primary sector over January 2015 and an even larger growth in School Direct fee courses in primary.

However, some of this may be due to higher percentages of offer being made. The most worrying figure is that applications by provider region for London only totalled 11,370 in January, for places in both phases, compared with 12,50 in January 2015. In reality, this means an additional 200 additional applicants in London so far this round across all types of provision except Teach First. On the face of these figures, many of the additional applicants are not making full use of their choices. Is this a sign that not providing extra funds for London trainees is beginning to have an impact on where potential teachers are prepared to train and then to work. In view of the recruitment challenge, I hope not, but it might be worth investigating this issue further. Has the growth been in applications to School Direct Salaried provision in London or for all types of courses?

We now enter the period when final year undergraduates tend to concentrate more on their end of course examinations that applying for teaching courses, so the behaviour of applicants over the next few months will be of especial interest. This is especially the case in those subjects where, unless more applicants are forthcoming, there could still be recruitment issues for schools in 2017.





More or Sooner?

There was some good news for the government today. The publication by UCAS of applications to graduate teacher training courses reveal mcuh higher numbers than in January 2014 or January 2105. I expect Ministers and the DfE to make the most of these numbers. However, before they do say anything, they need to ask are the question: how many more applicants are there likely to be across the whole cycle and to what extent is the increase related to recruitment controls and the publicity associated with the handling of the application process?

Don’t get me wrong, every extra applicant in the process now is to be welcomed as there remains another seven months to reach the targets so often missed in some subjects over recent years.

First the headlines; There were seemingly 63,390 applications for courses in England this January compared with 60,890 at the same point last year. That’s 2,500 additional applications across both primary and secondary sectors. Interestingly, only 270 extra applications were from men whereas there were just over 1,500 more from women. The difference is probably due to the number of applications allowed in the process and whether all applicants used  every possible choices. Still, these figures might spark a debate about the consequences in a subject such as Physical Education where schools like to employ both men and women.

Also of interest is the fact that in England applications are up from those in both the younger and older age-groups, but down compared with 2015 among 23 and 24 year old graduates.

Among the secondary subjects the numbers placed, conditionally placed or holding offers were pretty much up across the board. In languages it was 1,280 this year compared with 820 in January 2015. For other subjects (with the January 2015 number in brackets) it was; RE 200 (130); PE 1,250 (760); Physics 150 (110); Music 150 (80); Mathematics 610 (500); History 840 (410); Geography 310 (180); English 1,070 (650); Design & Technology 350 (80); IT 140 (100); Chemistry 270 (140); Business Studies 80 (50); Biology 410 (220) and Art 270 (130).

Many of these were the sort of level seen n February 2015 so the flow of applicants over the next month will be important in considering where the outcome for the recruitment round might end up.

There is more to consider, including the changes over the different routes, but that  will have to await another day; hopefully tomorrow.

TeachVac is ahead of the game

Should schools be allowed to appoint staff as a result of vacancies advertised only internally; should MATs or diocese as employers be allowed to appoint staff to a new post anywhere in their organisation without an external advert? The BiS Department in Whitehall is currently carrying out a consultation on this topic entitled. CLOSED RECRUITMENT PRACTICES IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR.

The consultation poses a number of questions about the process that might affect schools, but one that interested me the most was:

Under this option, the Government would ensure that all public sector employers published information on the levels of internal-only recruitment used within their organisation. This might include the number of staff brought in under internal recruitment, and the proportion of all recruitment that took place as a result of internal-only recruitment. This information would be publicly available, and would allow scrutiny and debate over the extent of internal recruitment.

If accepted, this idea would require schools to publish details of the number and percentage of internal appointments. Now TeachVac is ahead of the game here because it provides schools with a list of vacancies advertised and we could easily extend that to include whether it was an internal or external advertisement.

As with other TeachVac recruitment services, this would be free to registered schools and would require only one extra keystroke at time of entry. Posts marked internal only would not be matched with candidates in the TeachVac database but we could provide data on their numbers to help schools justify internal advertising as the best way forward.

An extreme outcome of the consultation would be for the government to require all schools to advertise all vacancies. This might prove interesting in relation to say, the School Direct salaried route if those trainees had to compete with others on alternative routes.

The cost of advertising if schools do not use TeachVac’s free service is another issue. Does the government really want to divert resources into advertising and away from teaching and learning when the school has a perfectly good candidate or must we always be seen to being open with public money? TeachVac allows both options, at no cost to schools

I well recall in an earlier age a vacancy being advertised in a Saturday newspaper because nobody other than the internal candidate would be likely to read it. Such measures are within the rule but not the spirit of open advertising.

Any rule change would apply not only to teaching posts but also to all other vacancies. Schools that hired contractors would not be affected, and the contractors could do what they wished unless their contract specified the schools would only accept staff appointed after an open recruitment competition.

It would certainly make unlikely those cases that crop up from time to time of senior staff employing their relatives. That was something, I seem to recall, worried MPs at one time about who was employed in their own offices.

Social Mobility Index

The government has drawn together a range of evidence about social mobility and come up with an index for each of over 350 local authorities. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/496103/Social_Mobility_Index.pdf The key headlines are the widening north south divide and the fact that London and parts of the Home Counties are the place where social mobility is most apparent. Coastal areas and industrial towns are becoming real social mobility cold spots.

What is interesting are those areas where mobility is high but education performance is poor for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This seems to be areas in the south where the adult labour market is strong. Oxford is one of these places. The education outcomes of schools in some parts of the City are amongst the worst in the country, yet unemployment is amongst the lowest as measured by those on benefit. The two universities, a large health service presence and a major car-making plant all no doubt generate significant employment opportunities servicing their needs that doesn’t yet require significant levels of education. How long that will last is open to question. I recall the adage that the porter of yesterday is the fork-lift truck driver of today and the operator of the robot staffed warehouse of tomorrow. It is clear that a porter may need fewer educational skills than the console operator, although driving robots might need far fewer people to do the same job.

Even more worrying is the statement that ‘Many of the richest places in England are doing worse for their disadvantaged children than places that are much poorer’. Civic pride has been replaced, at least in education, by a governance system devoid of ties to local areas. The report concludes that, ‘It is notable that local areas in the East Midlands and the East of England are significantly are over-represented in areas that do significantly worse than expected given their level of deprivation, together making up half of the lowest performing 10 per cent of areas on this measure.’

I would urge anyone interested in the issue of social mobility to look at the full report and perhaps to challenge some of the assumptions behind the data. For instance, social mobility might seem good in London, but who can afford to live in the city these days and does that affect the outcome of reports of this nature?

The importance of communications is one of the features that can affect social mobility. It is interesting to look at Banbury in North Oxfordshire as a case study. Not only does the M40 run pas the town with a junction handily placed for commuters but the rail link to London now takes less than an hour. As a result, the town has relatively low unemployment, but still has areas of disadvantage second only to Oxfordshire in the county. As the town grows so it attracts more affluent incomers, but at the risk if leaving behind a group of under-performing long-term residents that have received some benefit from the growth, but not as measured by this Social Mobility Index. .

Should politicians lead by example?

This blog starts with not one but two ethical issues. Firstly, should we discuss politician’s children and specifically their education and secondly, should politicians send their children to state funded schools? These questions arise after media speculation that the Prime Minister is to send his son to a private school, thus saving the State several thousands of pounds a year on his education.

I would normally regard this as a private matter and fully support the right of parents to educate their children as they see fit. However, the Prime Minister has form in this regard since the discussions as to where his daughter would go to secondary school were all over the media in 2014. Indeed, according to the Daily Mail on line, in October 2014 he was in favour of the state sector. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2796964/cameron-set-tory-pm-send-children-state-secondary-viewing-three-four-schools-wife-samantha.html Part of the headline read: No one should need to go to a private school, says Eton-educated PM.

The article went on to say

In an interview with Good Housekeeping magazine, the Prime Minister suggested the Government’s education reforms were designed to make private education redundant.

‘If you pay your taxes you shouldn’t have to pay all over again. There is no reason why our state schools can’t be among the best in the world, and some of them are,’ he said.

‘What is exciting is there this change not only in practice but also in culture which is all about excellence and wanting to be the best and wanting to get the best out of every child, and you are now seeing that in more and more schools.
Well that seemed pretty clear. So perhaps he can tell us why he has changed his mind? It cannot be as a result of the social mobility index the government published yesterday, as that rates London very highly for social mobility compared with say many seaside resorts. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/496103/Social_Mobility_Index.pdf

If the Prime Minister does opt out of state education for his son, what does this say about the government’s own academy programme?

Is it a slap in the face for hardworking teachers and other staff in our state schools that the person leading our public services doesn’t want to use them for his own family? Of course, London state schools might lose out under the funding review coming up shortly and their performance, which has improved dramatically over the last few years, might deteriorate over the next few years, especially if they have difficulty recruiting staff due to the pay cap in the public sector. We these the factors that help change Mr Cameron’s mind from eighteen months ago? We don’t know and, as I said, at the beginning, all parents have the right to decide how to educate their children. The State is the default position if you don’t, won’t or cannot take a decision yourself. But one cannot help but feel that leading by example is good for the morale of those that work in the public sector.

A matter of trust

The school system in England, and presumably across the rest of the United Kingdom, is essentially based upon trust. Parents trust schools to educate their offspring and schools trust parents to make sure those attending school know the difference between the basics of right and wrong. Is this trust in danger of breaking down?

The Report today from ATL, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, about violence towards teachers and others working in schools makes for uncomfortable reading, at least at the headline level. I wasn’t able to find the details of the report on ATL’s website when I came to write this blog, so cannot comment further on say, the proportions kicked against those shoved around by their pupils.

The implications are that many of the pupils come from homes where parents have not set appropriate boundaries. Are these clustered in specific areas or spread widely across the country; were they primary and secondary pupils or mostly just antagonistic adolescents?

The concerns over metal health are especially worrying. I think it is clear that a high proportion of long-term mental health issues develop during the time a young person should be in education. The cuts to CAMS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) must be reversed and such services must be adequately resourced for an increasing number of young people in the at risk age-groups. Many readers know that I write this having personally experienced violence in a classroom, albeit many years ago now.

The need for schools to have good working behaviour policies is vital if we are to aid retention of teachers in our classrooms. It isn’t about metal detectors at the doors, but about sensible timetabling, vigilant staff from the senior leadership to the contract cleaners and a policy that is enforced.

At the same time, parents and society in general must trust schools are able to find ways of educating everyone in society. Before the ATL Report appeared I was going to write of my concern that some schools seem to be exploiting the fact that schooling is a voluntary activity by asking parents of disruptive Year 11 pupils to withdraw them from school and, as is their right, state that they are educating them at home or otherwise than at school. With a Year 11 student, it is highly likely that nobody is going to investigate what is actually happening and there is a risk that they can fall into anti-social behaviour and even sexual exploitation.

If I tie all this back to the report earlier this week on Regional School Commissioners it is only to make the point that without coherent planning across the whole sector issues such as the development of special education and support services risk becoming fractured and like CAMS unable to deal with the problems thrown at them despite the very high quality of staff working to tackle everything thrown at them.

In the 1990s the Lib Dems recognised that tax cutting had gone too far under the Conservatives and called for a penny on income tax for education. Perhaps we are reaching that point again. Putting up the regressive Council Tax isn’t an answer: putting up the fairest of the taxes we have may be; the trouble is it is also the most visible.