Teaching attracts career changers

The data provided today by UCAS about the state of play with applications to the graduate teacher training programmes administered through them provides mixed messages. On the one hand, applications overall continue their upward trend: good news. On the other hand, young graduates, and especially young men, seem to be avoiding teaching as a career. There is a loss of 320 men under the age of 30 compared with the same point last year. However, that is more than compensated for by 420 more men over the age of thirty than applied last year, including 270 in their 40s or 50s., for a net gain of 150, or about 1.5% more than last year. We don’t know how these extra men are split between those applying for primary and secondary courses as that information isn’t provided.

The pattern for women is very similar to that for men, except that it is only the 22 and 23 year olds that are applying in smaller numbers than last year and then only by 180 overall. However, 770, of the just over 800 more applicants than last year, are in their 30s or 40s. The total increase is in the order of four per cent compared with last year.

With a greater number of older applicants than last year, it might be expected that those unconditionally accepted, or ‘placed’ to use the UCAS terminology, would be higher than last year. However, that isn’t the case. ‘Placed’ applicants are 320 down on the 3,340 recorded at this stage last year. There are also fewer holding interview requests and awaiting a provider offer. The good news is that the number of ‘conditional placed’ applicants is up from 19,420 to 22,590, a net gain of 3,150 applicants. I am sure everyone will hope that these applicants can meet the requirements over the next months and move from the ‘conditional placed’ to the ‘placed’ columns of the spreadsheet.

Although the numbers are small, there are fewer ‘placed’ candidates than last year in London, the South East and the South West regions, although all these regions have more ‘conditional placed’ applicants than last year.

In some subjects it is impossible to tell from the published figures how recruitment is faring compared to last year. However, it looks likely that mathematics won’t meet the required target number again this year unless there is a late surge in applicants. The same is true for computing and business studies. After a bad year last year, geography appears to be doing better this year, as is Religious Education. PE and history will rely upon retaining all their applicants with further recruitment closed.

Older applicants are more likely to be limited in where they will seek a job at the end of their training and once courses start it would be helpful to schools to know the age breakdown of applicants in their region or locality. It is also important to know whether more applicants are not lasting the course since the number of withdrawn applications is also up this year.

 

26th STRB Report awaited

You would think that the School Teachers Review Body (STRB) had a relatively easy task this year; set a 1% pay rise and go home. After all, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he of the ‘all schools will become an academy’ budget, has set 1% as the upper limit on public sector pay deals all the way through to the end of this parliament.

The Secretary of State issued her remit letter to the STRB on the 7th October 2015 with a request in the final paragraph that,’ I should be grateful if the STRB could aim to provide a report on this matter before the end of April 2016. I look forward to receiving your recommendations on the 2016 pay award.’

Clearly that aim was met. I apologise to the STRB for previously suggesting otherwise. According to  an email that their secretariat has sent me,  the 26th Report was sent to government on the 28th April.

The Office of Manpower Economics that services other government pay and conditions bodies produced the armed forces, NHS, doctors and dentists and senior civil servants reviews before the end of April and they were also published by government. It is true that it was only on the 12th May that the National Crime Agency Report appeared. That now leaves the STRB somewhat out on a limb, with a report submitted to government, but not seemingly published yet.

For academies, apart from the absence of useful national guidelines, the absence of an updated national pay and conditions document for September may be little more than an inconvenience as they can set their own terms and conditions and pay levels. For community and voluntary schools in England and almost all schools in Wales, the STRB report sets in chain a sequence of events that lead to the publication of the Pay & Conditions document.

Although former requirements, such as an annual increment, have been abolished, pay rates normally change from September and historically that meant advising on pay for the forthcoming years before schools set their budgets. That hasn’t been possible this year for schools funded via the local authority route with an April to March financial year, although it is still possible for academies where there is a budget cycle that matches the school-year. Nevertheless, even here, time is running out if the STRB were to produce anything innovative in their Report, such as addressing the recruitment and retention crisis in London by upping the pay rates by more than 1% and compensating elsewhere.

Hopefully, the report will appear before there is any chance of it being caught by the purdah rules ahead of the referendum next month, but time seems to be running out. It would be good to at least have an expected date so we can know what the STRB’s view is on the current state of recruitment and the suggested solutions to the problem that they have devised.

 

Will climate change improve school attendance?

While the furore about the issue of pupils being taken on holiday during term-time was hitting the media the government published the annual data for overall school attendance during the autumn term of 2015 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-term-2015

Whether it was a direct consequence of the mild autumn last year or due to other factors isn’t possible to determine from the published data, but the percentage of days lost dropped during the autumn term of 2015 in both the primary and secondary sectors. Overall, primary schools averaged 3.6% of sessions missed, with secondary schools averaging 4.6% in the autumn of 2015. This compares with 4.1% and 5.5% of sessions missed during the autumn term of 2011, in primary and secondary schools respectively.

In 2011, 74.8% of pupils missed at least one session due to absence, whereas in 2015 the percentage was 72.3%, the lowest recorded during this period. Just over two thirds of pupils had an authorised absence, whereas it was around one in five that had at least one unauthorised absence during the autumn term. There was little change in the percentage of pupils arriving late over the five year period, with fewer than one in 25 not making it on time. With all the pressures on family life, this seems like a great achievement in meeting deadlines which in some cases involve several different schools for the same family.

The number of sessions lost through illness was the lowest recorded during any autumn term during the past five years, even so it amounted to 3,664,030 sessions. This compared with a peak of 4,100,750 sessions lost to illness during the autumn term of 2012. Dental and medical appointments accounted for the second highest percentage of lost sessions. I wonder whether a seven day NHS will help reduce this lost schooling even further as it remains stubbornly high at nearly 19% of absences.

Authorised family holidays have fallen between 2011 and 2015, from 6.4% to just 1.1% of absences, whereas unauthorised holidays have increased from 2.9% to 4.2%. Overall, the number of pupils losing time through holidays dropped from 571,260 in 2011 to 343,625 in 2015, with the largest drop in the number of pupils allowed to be absent for an agreed family holiday.

The timing of certain religious events can affect the figures and the number of pupils with at least one day lost for religious observance increased from 78,000 in 2014 to more than 467,000 in 2015 beating the 427,000 total reached in 2013.

If warm dry weather improves school attendance, then this argues for a longer winter break and a shorter summer holidays. Such a pattern might also save schools money on heating bills, but would certainly put pressure on family holidays if more children were trying to go on holiday over a shorter period of time. Perhaps more cruise ships is one answer, with family cruises during the summer holidays using ships from the southern hemisphere that might otherwise be under-filled during their winter months.

W(h)ither UTCs?

This month the Education Funding Agency has issued financial notices to improve to two University Technical Colleges; Daventry and Buckinghamshire. Interestingly, both are cited in a recent House of Commons Library briefing paper on UTCs (No 07250 issued 15th March 2016) as having relatively low recruitment figures in their early years of operation. Indeed, Daventry, according to the local newspaper, is currently considering moving from its current 14-18 UTC model to become an 11-18 school, presumably to boost numbers and help with school places in the area.  Nationally, three of the first 41 UTCs have either closed or are in the process of doing so, as are also some of the other 14-18 Studio Schools. However, a further 20 UTCs are in the planning stage.

So, might UTCs be set to become the ‘De Lorean’ of the education world; a good idea, but not financially viable? Having visited the Didcot UTC recently, I can see the attraction of the concept as supported by Lord Baker. But, they do run into a number of challenges. Firstly, changing school at 14 isn’t a normal part of the school scene, so the UTCs have to persuade young people and their parents that the change is worthwhile. Secondly, the schools that they are departing from will lose cash for every pupil that transfers. After four years a school losing ten pupils a year could be £200,000 down on income, but still be trying to offer the same curriculum to its remaining pupils. Lose twenty pupils a year and the cash burn is even more concerning. Some schools might fight to keep their pupils or only be interested in losing those that cost more to educate than they generate in revenue.

As each UTC has its own brand, there isn’t even a coherent national offering and some UTCs may look more attractive to pupils with an interest in vocational courses rather than academic prowess. This raises the question as to whether or not these pupils could have been more cost effectively educated by the further education sector. Certainly, a school that gains a reputation for only educating part of the ability range is less likely to flourish, especially if that part is the less able group. UTCs are also probably not helped, especially in rural areas, by the fact that there is no support with transport costs unless the UTC is able to provide assistance. This isn’t an issue in London, where TfL provides free transport for all school pupils, but it is in the rest of the country where the cost of attending a UTC may run into several hundred pounds a year compared with staying put at the school you joined at eleven.

The government will need to work out how to make UTCs a success if they want the concept to flourish in the manner that Lord Baker intended. This will be a challenge while the government continues to believe in the market approach to education. Funding these schools differently to other schools would result in cries of ‘foul’ from the school losing pupils at 14, but as we have seen with Daventry and Buckinghamshire, the risk of not doing so is that the UTCs will struggle to maintain financial solvency, especially as they are operating in areas of the curriculum with above average teaching costs in both revenue and capital terms compared with say an arts based curriculum.  ln a school offering the full curriculum, expensive subjects can be balanced with less costly ones. Alternatively, if you are a free school, you can opt only for a cheap languages and arts subject curriculum and eschew the expensive science and technology areas, however useful they might be to the national economy.

Unless there is a real desire by government to make the UTC idea work for the 14-18 age group the concept seems potentially at risk of becoming like Lord Baker’s earlier foray into this area, City Technology Colleges, doomed to be little more than a sideshow in the educational fairground.

What is reasonable?

Until we see the full judgement in the recent case we won’t know what the judges in the High Court were thinking when they seemed to deemed it ‘reasonable’ for a parent to be able to take a child on holiday for a week during school term-time.

It is worth recalling that the overarching responsibility of parents is to see that their children receive an education when they are of compulsory school-age (there is a grey area for young people between the ages of 16-18 that will need clarification at some point.)

For young people between 5-16 the law says:

Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age.

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—

(a)to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b)to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise

The issue turns on the definition of ‘regular attendance.’ If the parent, as most do, hands over the responsibility to the State, what is the nature of the contract between the parent and the State?  The State agrees to provide the child with 190 days of schooling per year. It is accepted that children may be off sick and there may be other reasons for a child not to be present, but these will require ‘leave’ to be absent.

In the 1990s two things happened, Ofsted started reporting regularly on attendance levels at schools and the State wanted to drive up standards of education that were thought to be falling. As a result, the law was tightened to ensure regular attendance, with two defences; ‘sickness or unavoidable cause’ or ’with leave’. Historically, schools could grant up to 10 days leave, but that right was removed over time.

The government explained the basis for this change in relation to family holidays in the background to the secondary legislation making the change.

 The 2006 Regulations refer to parents applying for family holiday in “special circumstances” and to schools having discretion to grant up to ten school days of holiday per year. Many parents and some schools have interpreted this law as an automatic entitlement to an annual two-week term time holiday. The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 amend the 2006 Regulations to clarify that leave of absence during term time shall not be granted unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.

They further explained that;

For pupils to benefit from education and achieve their full potential they must attend school regularly. School attendance data from 2010/11 showed that 90 per cent of pupils with an absence rate of less than 4 per cent achieved 5 or more A*- C grades at GCSE or equivalent. In primary schools, 4 out of 5 pupils with an absence rate of less than 4 per cent achieved level 4 or above in both English and mathematics.

As Oxfordshire County Council’s document on the subject for parents notes;

90% attendance means that your child is absent from lessons for the equivalent of one half day per week.

So how draconian should the State be? Personally, I think in the first year of schooling  when routines are being set and key topics may be being learnt for the first time every effort should be made to attend and taking time out may not be helpful either for the child or their classmates if it disrupts the teaching. As a rule of thumb after that I think where pupils are rarely or never off sick, the guidelines in the old 10-day rule probably provided a sensible rule of thumb for head teachers. After all, some parents cannot take holidays during school holiday period because of the nature of their jobs. However, if a child has missed a lot of time through sickness, taking time off turning term-time that year for a holiday isn’t a good idea and I would expect a head teacher to refuse ‘leave’.

Essentially, the legislation should encourage parents to make the most of the education on offer for their children without seriously affecting either their education or that of their classmates.

My parents only ever took me out of school for one week at the start of my third year in junior school and I never really understood the work on fractions that was introduced during that week. Had it been the last week of the summer term it might have been a different matter.

However, what is clear is that major changes to legislation really ought to be part of primary legislation and not created by secondary legislation and Ministerial fiat. Had that been the case here, Parliament could have discussed in committee what it meant by the phrase ‘attend school regularly’ and the acceptable reasons not to do so.

Perhaps, as a result of this parent’s action it will now have a chance to do so. They might also ask whether if the State isn’t able to fulfil its part of the contract it should make up the missing days? Lord Denning did discuss this in Meade v Haringey in 1979 at the end of the Winter of Discontent, but it never came to trial and a decision.

 

 

 

 

Recruitment a key issue for school leaders

Earlier this week I attended the launch of The Key’s ‘State of the Nation’ Report. The Key’s Report http://www.joomag.com/magazine/state-of-education-survey-report-2016/0604114001462451154?short looks at what is of interest and concern to school leaders. Perhaps not surprisingly, recruitment and retention off staff figure highly, although not in top spot. The analysis by The Key backs up TeachVac’s analysis in relation to the regional picture of where the greatest recruitment challenges are to be found: London and the Home Counties.

At the launch, Fergal Roche was kind enough to mention the expertise that the writer of this blog has built up in understanding the workings of the labour market for teachers. I am grateful for the public endorsement.

Anyway, we are now approaching the endgame for the normal recruitment round for vacancies to be filled at the start of the school-year in September. As we report regularly to schools that are signed up to TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk there are going to be problems again in September, this despite the government taking cash out of schools through increased pension and National Insurance contributions. As an aside, governments really cannot claim schools are fully funded if they do not recompense them for adverse changes in taxation since they are just paying money with one hand and taking it away with another. Unless that is this is an attempt to either force schools to employ less well paid staff or to substitute technology for people in the learning process.

But, back to the recruitment situation. Vacancies continue to run at a higher rate in London and the Home Counties than further north and west in England. For the second year in succession, Business Studies is the first subject to effectively run out of trainees across much of the country and school looking to appoint teachers in this subject may well need recourse to returners or the use of expensive agencies. Later this month we expect to warn that in both Geography and English there will be unlikely to be sufficient trainees to meet demand across the whole recruitment round. Design & Technology, or at least some aspects of the subject, will likely follow soon afterwards. These issues are, of course, on top of the perennial problems in subjects such as Physics, problems that are masked by schools advertising for teachers of ‘science’ rather than a specific scientific discipline.

Even though most schools will make it to September fully staffed, vacancies in January 2017 will be much more of a challenge to fill and schools may face the full effects of market forces and the inevitable rising price of acquiring teachers in shortage subjects. Schools that use TeachVac will, at least, know how bad the situation is when they post their vacancies. And, just a reminder, TeachVac is free to schools and operates a daily matching service.

 

 

 

Bring back local democracy for schools

At the last county council meeting in Oxfordshire we discussed school organisation and the government’s proposals for making all schools academies. During the debate one Tory councillor said he didn’t believe in the need for trained teachers. As he is the Tory representative on the committee overseeing the Police & Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley I asked him bluntly whether I could enrol as a police officer without training and, if so, could I be issued with a firearm? Not surprisingly, he said the two jobs were different.

In the past I have asked journalists that question me on the need for teacher training whether I could become their editor without having been a journalist; most say that’s not how it works. Of course, it is the way it worked in the past as Lord Adonis will tell you if you ask what training he received before becoming the education reporter at the Financial Times.

With this background of establishment belief that anyone can be a teacher, and indeed run a school, I read this week’s Profile interview in Schools Week with interest. This is a regular series that I was proud to be part of when it first started and they were looking volunteers to interview. This week the interviewee was Toby Young, http://schoolsweek.co.uk/toby-young-free-school-chief-executive/ He was the man that helped start the free school movement and has more recently been paid £50,000 a year as CEO of the Trust, according to the last accounts of the MAT that now runs three schools in West London and is about to open a fourth (visit https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/07493696/filing-history and click on accounts for details).

According to Toby Young in his Schools Week interview he said;

“I was very critical of England’s public education system under the last Labour government, and I hadn’t grasped how difficult it is to do better, and to bring about system-wide improvement.

“The last government and this government have achieved a remarkable amount, and I do think the direction of travel is the right direction, but there is no question that it was arrogant of me to believe that just having high expectations and believing in the benefits of a knowledge-based education for all, that those things alone would be enough to create successful schools.”

 “As someone coming into education from the outside, the bits you see of other schools are only the tip of the iceberg. You’re not aware of everything that is going on beneath the surface. You think, ‘well, I could do better than that’, as you are pointing to the tip of the iceberg, without realising how much more there is to it.”

He sighs. “If I could rewind six years, and know then what I know now, I would have been much less critical of other schools, local authorities, and England’s public education system in general.”

At this point I might rest my case for a return to local democratic control after the Thatcher/Blair assault on local government’s role in education. Sure, there were bad local authorities and taking control of them for a period has been a good idea, but throwing the baby out with the bath water was plain daft.

If Toby Young had seen free schools as a new type of voluntary school for the 21st century then much of the grief of the past few years might have been avoided and the government wouldn’t have been faced with having to make Friday’s –U- turn.

However, the job is only half done. We still need a governance system for schools that is credible, reliable and is geared to improving outcomes for all young people at every stage of the education process. Personally, I believe that should involve democratically elected local representatives in mutli-service authorities responsible to a single government department at Westminster.

A first step would be to identify how many system leaders we need and where we are going to find them? We also need to train them in a first-class education leadership academy led by professionals but supported by those with a wide range of skills. Something like the concept I mentioned in a recent post. Toby Young may have good ideas, but perhaps he has now discovered that good intentions are not enough.

Oh, and by the way, his MAT has been looking for a chief finance officer http://www.wlfsat.org/vacancies although the vacancy for a CEO has yet to appear on their web site.