Home Schooling

I apologise for not posting much recently, but, like last year, I am busy with elections. This year I am the Lib Dem candidate for Police & Crime Commissioner in the Thames Valley.  This post covers the three areas of Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. The present PCC is a Tory.

If you live in the area or want to know more about my campaign, visit jh4pccblog.wordpress.com where there are my thoughts on the role.

As part of my campaign I am investigating whether there is a growing trend on the part of a few schools to suggest the perfectly legitimate policy of home schooling to parents of a small number of Year 11 students.

Home schooling, where there are the resources and desire to do, so can work effectively. However, I am worried that some schools might see it as an option rather than to exclude a pupil and I want to know whether this is the case?

Could you please let me know if you have come across this happening by leaving a comment? There is no need to name the school, but an indication of the geographical region and whether it is an academy would be helpful.

Thank you for your help.


Better news on teacher supply

Whether it is a result of improved marketing; the slowdown in the Chinese economy or the introduction of recruitment controls, offers made this year to graduate applicants for teacher training in England are above the levels seen at this point last year. Total applications – candidates may make up to three applications – are up from 85,500 to just over 88,000; an increase of around three percent. But, this is still well below the 102,000 applications recorded in March 2014.

However, the number of conditional offer for both primary and secondary courses are well up on last March, with only Computing  as a subject having had a poor month. Most of the offers are conditional, only 880 of the 10,800 secondary offer as firm offers; the remainder still require applicants to either pass the skills test; gain a degree or possibly in a few cases do both. As a result, these numbers could alter. What is of more interest is whether the increase in applications will continue or whether it just represents a bringing forward of applications from those that might in the past have been slower in applying but because of the marketing and recruitment controls have been persuaded to apply earlier in the cycle: only time will tell.

What is also interesting is that applications from those aged 23 are still down on last year at the same time, and those from the 24 age group have remained almost static, whereas there are 600 more applicants from among those in the over 40 age group, more than the total increase from the 20-24 old age group combined. This might suggest that the increased fees faced by new graduates are having some effect on turning away younger students from teaching and taking on a greater degree of debt.

While the increase in applications from those in the older age-groups is welcome, it is important to know whether these applicants are more likely to be limited in their choice of location where they will be seeking a teaching job since vacancies are not evenly spread across the country. Fortunately, the increase in applications is spread across the country with London and the South East now accounting for around 29% of applicants compared with 28% this time last year.

If this increase in applications and offer continues, more subjects will meet their Teacher Supply Number including, hopefully, mathematics. However, Physics still seems likely to fall short along with Design & Technology. Such a shortfall will have implications for classroom teacher vacancies in 2017.

Nevertheless, the government will be feeling a lot more cheerful than this time last year which marked the low point in the present cycle. Hopefully, the loss of young graduates can be overcome.

Is there a teacher recruitment crisis?

I have been asked a lot recently whether there is a teacher recruitment crisis. The answer is, it all depends upon what you mean by a crisis. In the TeachVac evidence to the Select Committee, published on the Committee’s website before Christmas, I attempted to put some numbers to the terms ‘challenge’ and ‘crisis’. So far as I am aware, nobody has offered an alternative scenario. Certainly, nobody has suggested one to me.

Minister, however, have relied on the November Workforce census vacancies to suggest schools are fully staffed. More recently, during her speech to the NASUWT Conference, the Secretary of State quoted from a TES study that suggested 70% of vacancies were filled within four weeks of being advertised. No bad, but it means that 30% were not filled. As a head teacher I would be worried of around one in three of my vacancies weren’t filled quickly. That figure was presumably the average, so some will have done better, but others worse. Perhaps the DfE can tell schools at what point they should worry? 50% not filled within four weeks; 75%, or should they wait until they reach the position of the Oxford head teacher speaking on the BBC web site whose school attracted no applicants for a number of vacancies advertised?

At TeachVac, the free vacancy web site for schools and teachers, www.teachvac.co.uk we are gearing up for the April vacancy rush. The job market has definitely become more complex and can be divided into a number of different segments. There are probably now three groups of trainees; those on programmes such as Teach First and the School Direct Salaried route that have posts assigned to them and don’t enter the open competition for vacancies; the trainees that sign up with recruitment agencies in the hope of reducing paperwork and securing a better salary. As this group increases, and the government is doing nothing to deter agencies from signing up trainees, or indeed other teachers, and asking schools for a finder’s fee so the free pool of applicants diminishes. The government’s offer of the DfE’s free website won’t alleviate the drain on school resources by having to pay these fees. However, it might encourage some academy chains and diocese to become more involved in School Direct or SCITTs as part of a ‘grow your own teacher’ scheme.

The third group of trainees form the traditional ‘free pool’ of new entrants competing for the vacancies offered by schools. It is difficult to see how, if the DfE’s Teacher supply model is anywhere near accurate, any substantial under-recruitment into training will not affect the size of this pool to some extent. For that reason, Ministers generalised references to the overall position aren’t helpful. The recent National Audit Office report highlighted the lack of government knowledge of the real position in the teacher labour market nationally, let alone at a sub-national level.

Later this week TeachVac will publish its April newsletters for schools and teachers containing our analysis of the vacancy trends during the first three months of 2016. These are free to subscribers to the TeachVac site.


Austerity Tory style

In 2011 I discovered that the Key stage 1 results in Oxford City were the worst in the country. I drew this fact to the attention of the press and they alerted the County Council that had oversight for schools across Oxfordshire. In turn the district council, Oxford City, became involved because the schools were all located in their area. There were also two diocese, one Church of England and one Roman Catholic with oversight of some of the schools. That was a total of four bodies concerned with putting together a plan to improve the success of education in the City of Oxford: I am pleased to report that there has been an improvement.

Now fast forward to the present time. If the same circumstances arose, how many bodies would need to be contacted? There are 9 primary academies and one free school in the city at presenti addition to the remaining community and voluntary schools. The academies and the free school are managed by 6 different trusts, including one where a notice to deal with a budget deficit was issued earlier this year. The headquarters of that trust isn’t located in Oxfordshire.

So, were there to be the same need for a concerted effort across the City of Oxford there would now be the original bodies plus six more to deal with. If the diocese manage their MAT schools with the same teams as their voluntary schools that would reduce the number to four new MATs, but one would also need to add in the Regional School Commissioner that didn’t exist in 2011 and probably the Education Funding agency as well, as the funding body, so that takes us back to six more organisations for the 10 primary schools not managed through Oxfordshire County Council.

How many more MATs would there be if all primary schools became academies. The new schools being built in the county are now manged by other MATs, mostly with no geographical links to the county, but just selected from bodies that were on the DfE list of sponsors.

I am not convinced that a MAT managing a random geographical spread of primary schools is the best answer to secure high standards. In the 1980s all Oxfordshire primary schools were grouped into partnerships for some of the very reasons Ministers cite for their conversion into academies.  Before schools gained financial independence, the local authority regularly held meetings with groups of primary heads. After budgets were devolved it was up to the head to decide whether to attend or not. I wonder how many MATs hold meetings of their head teachers, and whether they are regarded as compulsory with regard to attendance.

I saw a comment from a Minister to the effect that creating all primary schools as academies would drive up standards. If so, one wonders why the government has wasted parliamentary time on the recent Act of Parliament requiring coasting schools to convert to academy status.

A free recruitment web site may help schools save money, although as readers know one already exists in TeachVac, but I doubt it will offset the extra costs associated with operating a system where all schools are academies: not my idea of tackling austerity and raising school standards.



Education not a priority for voters?

The Conservative Party seems to have calculated that because education in general and schools in particular didn’t feature prominently in the 2015 general election campaign parents and voters generally were content with the direction of travel. This means Tory policy-makers think voters support the move towards a school system that deprived local authorities of most of their remaining functions regarding schools and required all schools, including all primary schools, to become academies.

The forthcoming local elections in May are an opportunity for many voters to prove the government spin doctors wrong. As this blog has asserted, primary schools should remain under local support and direction as part of a national system. Schools are an important part of their local community, indeed in many rural areas they are the only manifestation of the community other than a village hall. The pub, shop, church and all other services have disappeared. Many Tory councillors recognise this point. Indeed, I suspect than some even entered active politics in support of their local school.

Announcing the policy that all schools must become academies just before Easter and both the teacher conference season and local election campaigning was either an act of supreme self-confidence on the part of the prime minister – for he must have sanctioned the Chancellor telling the world about the policy in the budget – or a staggering lack of understanding of the feelings of voters for their local school and its place in the community. Why the Tories would want to offer opposition parties a campaign against wholesale nationalisation of schools is beyond my understanding.

So far, despite their important as operators of primary schools, the churches and other faith groups seem to have bene relatively silent on the announcement about academisation. Easter Sunday sermons would be a good time for the Archbishops to convey to the faithful whether they back the government or will support those that want local authorities to retain an interest in schooling.

The honourable way out might be for Mrs Morgan to announce that in the first stage all secondary schools will become academies and that the policy will then be reviewed in the light of how MATs are working before moving on to the primary sector if the policy has proved successful. After all, we live in an age of austerity, as the government keeps telling us, and creating academies for the sake of it uses money that could be better spent protecting children’s centres, rural bus subsidies, disability benefits or a host of other more useful projects.

The Perry Beeches warning letter from the Education Funding Agency published on Maundy Thursday will just add fuel to the fire of those that worry about how MATs operate. Of course there were schools that broke financial regulations under local control, and even heads that went to prison for mis-appropriating public or parents’ funds. But, it would be interesting to know whether the trend towards financial mis-management is more likely in MATs with no geographical basis than those where they work closely with local authorities?

Who runs our schools could become the key battle of the 2016 local elections. If it does, there is no guarantee that the Tory programme for all schools to become academies will meet with universal voter approval.


Keep Primary Schools Local

Now is the time for all those that believe primary schools are best kept under local democratic control to take action.

Please email or write to your MP asking them to defend the present position and to stop the government forcing all schools to become nationally controlled academies.

If you go to church this weekend, lobby your priest, vicar, minister or other faith leader, since the Churches, and to a much lesser extent other faiths, have a large interest in primary schools. Contact your local councillor and find out their views.

This is not a new campaign on my part to keep primary schools under local democratic control. Before the budget announcement I wrote on this blog about the BBC announcement foreshadowing the nationalisation of all schools that:

The interesting question is whether there is enough unity in the Conservative Party at Westminster to agree to ditch their chums in local government and fully nationalise the school system. Local government won’t enjoy being left with schools places, annual admissions and transport plus, presumably, special needs.

As I have pointed out in previous posts it is difficult to see how a fully academy structure built around MATs can save the government money to spend on the front-line. It is also an open question whether there is enough leadership capacity to staff such a system. I predicted this outcome way back in a post in February 2013https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2013/02/ when I wrote that:

“a National School Service is quietly emerging, with Whitehall connecting directly to schools. Localism it may be, but not democratically elected localism. A national funding formula, administered by schools where the Secretary of State determines who will be able to be a governor, and whether or not new schools are needed, and who will operate them, seems more like a NHS model than a local school system.”

So, I welcome the support of a number of Tory local cabinet members from across the country for the view that local authorities should still to decide how local education works and retain a general oversight of education, rather than transferring such powers to Westminster; especially for primary schools.

I heard Melinda Tilley, the Tory cabinet member for Education in Oxfordshire, where I have been a Lib Dem county councillor since May 2103, calling the government’s move to academisation a ‘diktat’. This contrast sharply with the silence from Labour on the issue, but then it was Labour that invented the academy programme.

Primary schools are an essential part of local communities, some face immense challenges in serving those communities, and not all may achieve their best every year for a whole host of reasons. There will always be a need for a school improvement service, and primary schools have worked in partnerships for years before governments at Westminster decided a free for all market approach was better than cooperation. The fact that the market approach failed wasn’t the fault of local authorities; nationalisation isn’t the answer.