Responsible for NEETs

Despite a general view that local authorities should no longer be in charge of schools, governments are quite happy to burden them with extra responsibilities regarding young people. The announcement of a scorecard of the level of NEETs, the 16-18 year olds not taking advantage of the political desire to see all teenagers up to the age of eighteen in some form of work or training, places yet another duty on local authorities. So far, I haven’t heard of any extra funding to support initiatives to help reduce the size of the NEET group: perhaps government thinks the cash is already there.

While the scorecard may tell us where the NEETs are located, I doubt it will change much else. A much better approach would be to find out what works and help spread good practice around. Does shifting dis-affected fourteen year-olds into UTCs and Studio Schools reduce the NEET problem at sixteen or make it worse. Should we not be looking at the curriculum and recognising that NEETs don’t just become NEETs at sixteen, but realistically drop out much earlier from school. Perhaps the next Sutton Trust review of academy chains can look into their NEET scores and see whether, like local authorities, there is a range of outcomes?

An early area for focus by scrutiny committees across local authorities might be whether there are differential rates of drop out after one year post sixteen between schools and the further education sector locally? This might raise the issue of pastoral care between the two sectors and indeed, whether sixth form colleges operate to different standards than general further education colleges. It is sometimes said that the more open and relaxed attitude of the further education sector serve some young people better than remaining at school. Is this the case or is it just a matter of passing the buck?
Local authorities act as corporate parents for young people in care. How well do they do this in relation to the FE sector? Indeed, how well do FE colleges interact with parents in general? Do they provide the same level of feedback as schools on issues of progress and matters such as careers guidance and can this affect a young person’s chance of becoming a NEET?

The move to a society where learning continues to eighteen has been introduced piecemeal in England without clear sets of responsibilities. If the NEET scorecard sheds light on one part of the policy change to educate all to eighteen that may not be working as well as hoped such exposure will be helpful as a first step. But, it will not be sufficient.

The issue of NEETs is as much a concern for rural areas as it is for our large towns and cities. Indeed, the job opportunities in many rural areas, especially for casual work, can be far less than in towns. It is just as easy for these teenagers to disappear off the official radar in a village as on a housing estate.
There may be fewer NEETs than a generation ago, but they remain an issue; scoring their numbers is a start, but not enough.

Good, bad and indifferent (coasting)

The headline  of this blog sort of sums up my view of the performance of academy chains as I read it in the Sutton trust Report issued today. http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Chain-Effects-2015.pdf

As a local politician, I might be forgiven for saying that such a judgement might have been made about local authorities when they were more directly responsible for schools and not, as now, just the education young people living in their communities receive. Even though that battle for local authorities to be allowed to act as academy chains was lost, at least with the two historically large political parties, some time ago, the need for an understanding of the effects of geography on academy chains and their performance is worth monitoring.

The Sutton Trust report seems somewhat light on the effects of funding. Where chains have schools in different funding bands – Ark has most schools in London, but some in Birmingham and on the south coast – do schools with different funding levels perform differently?  This might suggest that either the Pupil Premium or a national funding formula would be the better policy initiative to support.

The Sutton Trust accepts that generally London schools do better than schools elsewhere and academy chains with a strong London focus seem to do well. Is that because they are better funded; because they are nearer the DfE and can meet officials more often; have better leadership; or some other factor perhaps related to how we measure disadvantage?

I think, as in the days of local authorities there is a clear message about both leadership and purpose in this report. By itself neither is sufficient. Perhaps a score on leadership turnover might be added to a future report. Both Harris and Ark have strong central direction and some continuity of leadership. The best Chief Education Officers ran authorities where they knew what was wanted and set out to do more than just manage their schools. To the extent that hasn’t yet happened with the academy chain model means that governments seem to have replaced one system regarded as failing by another that probably isn’t yet any better overall. Whether the loss of democratic accountability is a price worth paying for the cost of the change is a matter for debate.

In defence of some academy chains they have taken on some very challenging schools. There may have been a degree of self-belief in the academy process that verged on naivety among all concerned. Changing the label on the door and upgrading the uniform may be necessary but not sufficient requirements for changing a school, but every academy chain needs to understand what works for the type of schools it is managing. The DfE needs to make sure they do so: hence the need for Ofsted to inspect academy chains in the same way as they do local authorities.

Finally, it would be interesting to rank academy chains on the central costs of running the chain compared with outcomes. I don’t know whether better performing chains are leaner or whether less well preforming chains need higher overheads to manage support for challenging schools? Certainly, salary costs needs looking at when some chains are paying their directors more than Directors of Childrens’ Services that are responsible for both far more schools and a social services arm of their service. Both, after all, are being paid with public money.

MoD should sell Defence Academy to save money

The news that the DfE is to sell the National College headquarters and conference centre in Nottingham is a great shame. The purpose built centre was opened by Tony Blair and marked the culmination of a long campaign to secure a headquarters for leadership research and training in the school sector. The closure shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since the Home Office decided some time ago to close Bramshill, the police leadership training college in Hampshire. Clearly, the trend is against expensive residential centres serving relatively few participants. Courses can be held in hotels without the need for expensive overheads; at least one assume that is the theory. The Civil Service College seems to operate from a small base and no doubt the school sector can provide courses from a base anywhere in the country. However, the MoD still maintains the Defence Academy at Shrivenham and the Fire Services also have a residential college.

Now, maybe there is something different about the uniformed services when compared with education that requires a residential site for postgraduate training, although a look at the courses offered by the Defence Academy shows many in areas such as leadership, equality and diversity, finance, personnel and policy that could have general applicability to a wider range of spheres than just defence.

More importantly, there remains the need to for a strategy to ensure effective leadership development across the whole of the school system. Labour both introduced and then abolished a mandatory qualification for headship – the NPQH – and the coalition further downgraded professional development. A failure to pay attention to the pipeline into school leadership across the country as a whole is partly to blame for the current challenges some schools are facing recruiting senior leaders.

Of course, the main reason for recruitment difficulties is probably the fact that the risk-reward ratio has tipped too far in the direction of headship being a risk. Take a headship on in your early 40s, as many historically have done and failure, as judged by Ofsted, could mean the end to your career 20 years before retirement. At least most football managers that get sacked are hired by another team soon afterwards. Unless that scenario develops in education, where it is recognised that the individual in the head’s study is rarely the sole reason for the outcome of the inspection, nobody will want to take on the risk of a headship unless they are certain it isn’t a failing or coasting school and could never become such a school.

The announcement of the sale of the Nottingham campus would have been an excellent time to split the remaining leadership and training functions for school leaders from the recruitment arm of the business and to re-establish the teacher training and recruitment body as a separate institution.

There will be many that mourn the passing of the Nottingham site into leadership history. There will be many more that will suffer if the government doesn’t do everything possible to ensure the next generation of school leaders are available to take on the jobs as they fall vacant.

 Pool for profit

As we come to the end of another school year I have been reflecting upon the state of teacher supply. TeachVac the recruitment site free to both schools and teachers is now one year old. I seems incredible that the team started only started work on the concept last July.

In September, the TeachVac site will be extended to cover the primary sector, still for free, and will handle vacancies at all levels from classroom teacher to head. Future developments may include a portal for support, administrative and technical staff since they now comprise such a large percentage of the workforce and the addition of vacancies in the many international schools across the world that recruit teachers qualified in England. One of the issues is whether the latter group of schools should benefit from free access to the TeachVac site in the same way as schools across England: discussions are still underway.

There is now widespread acceptance that the teacher recruitment market is becoming more challenging. However, there are still those that see the solution as letting anyone walk in off the street and start teaching. There is another group that believes that anyone with subject knowledge can teach. A read of any Ofsted report of a school with a large number of unqualified teachers would probably provide some cogent reasons why that is not the case. Indeed, Ofsted inspections might usefully report on unqualified teachers as well as how well NQTs have been trained. But, a full discussion of the issues relating to un-qualified teachers will have to wait for another post.

More interesting is the debate about whether the recruitment market for teacher is changing? In one respect, the market may just be responding to changing conditions: a move from a glut of teachers to widespread shortages. In another respect, making trainees spend even more time in schools may curtail their enthusiasm for job hunting while in schools, especially if they are aware that their services are in demand and they can afford to wait.

Historically, many local authorities operated ‘pool’ systems on behalf of primary schools in their locality. New entrants filled in a single application form and were interviewed; those successful were offered to schools looking for teachers.  In the days when local authorities had budgets this was a free service, but it always had a cost attached to it even if it was hidden.

These days some recruitment agencies are offering trainees, and indeed all teachers, the chance to complete a single application form and the agency will find them a job that matches their needs. They will then, in some cases, charge the school a fee for finding a teacher. They may also negotiate the best salary possible for the teacher. All right and proper in a market situation. It saves applicants time and effort, although they lose the personal tough in an application tailored to an individual school brings, and it can save schools money where several adverts may be necessary to recruit a teacher.

This approach comes as a shock to secondary schools used to advertising every vacancy in national marketplaces. I would, you will not be surprised to know, advocate that schools do still advertise their vacancy for free on TeachVac and they then decide whether they have received any applications. In easy to recruit subject such as PE recruitment might be straightforward, but those looking for a physics or business studies teacher for January 2016 or even during August for September 2015 might find that using outside help could eventually be a cheaper solution.

Do teachers face a pay cut in real terms?

So much for the School Teachers Review Body. The Chancellor’s announcement of a 1% pay rise, seemingly not just a 1% rise in the pay bill, is bad news for education. What will there be for the STRB to do now it has been told not just its terms of reference but also its outcome for the life of this parliament.

Even more worrying was the absence of news about local government finance in the budget. Even keeping the current threshold on Council Tax increases of 1.9%, when added to general price inflation, may tip teachers and others working in education over the edge into seeing their pay cut, especially now that young teachers have no guarantee of an annual increment. And any removal of the limit on rises could see extra taxes being collected by some localities to fund deficits on social care and other local services, but no schooling of course.

There is some relief in that young teachers sharing a flat, as I did in my early 20s, can no doubt find a way to make use of the increase in tax-free income from the rent a room scheme. But, that’s still likely to be small beer.
I also think the budget strengthens my case for taking teacher preparation courses out of the student loans system and paying the fees for everyone. There is no time to earn anything during the graduate preparation course that is now so intense that for many it leaves little time for anything else except sleep.

In those parts of the country where the graduate labour market is strong, notably London and the Home Counties, the budget may do serious harm to the school system. Could it unwind some or all of the gains achieved over the past decade? It might well do so because many teachers in the age bracket where it is feasibly to look for a change of career. After all, second careers don’t have to be into teaching.

It’s official: no recruitment crisis

The Minister for Schools has told the TES there isn’t a recruitment crisis in schools. However, in the same interview he did admit that there was ‘a challenge’ and that the challenge was ‘being managed’. The on-line report of his interview can be found at: https://www.tes.co.uk/news/school-news/breaking-news/schools-minister-there-no-recruitment-crisis

Now it may be mere sophistry to claim that there isn’t a crisis but to admit to a challenge. After all, we don’t have a definition for what would constitute either a crisis or a challenge in teacher recruitment. So let’s try and crunch a few numbers. According to the DfE Teacher Supply Model the for 2014/15 was a need for 14,295 trainees in the secondary sector. Assuming 10% would drop out during the year that would left just under 13,000 potential completers looking for teaching jobs this year if all places had been filled. However, the ITT census, confirmed in figures re-released this week, showed 13,866 trainees were recruited. Take off the 10%, and the available number of trainees is likely to have been 12,500, including the over-recruitment in physical education and history. As the DfE estimates that 50% of classroom teacher vacancies each year are taken by new entrants that would require 25,000 vacancies for classroom teachers in secondary schools across the whole of 2015 to exhaust the pool of trainees. To date, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has recorded just over 16,000 such vacancies since January, with just the autumn term to come. So, the headline figure might well not yet be at crisis level, although it is obviously challenging.

However, the DfE has a responsibility not just to worry about the overall numbers, but the component parts as well. Here the TeachVac data reveals a different story. Applying the 50% rule to the ITT pool and setting the number against recorded vacancies since January 2015 reveals that business studies, social studies and design and technology already have more vacancies recorded than trainees. In English, IT and geography the remaining ‘pool’ of trainees is below 10% and in most other subjects the pool is between 20-30%. This latter number should be sufficient, if evenly distributed across the country; but that almost certainly isn’t the case. As a result, some areas of the country will have concerns about recruitment across a wider range of subjects.

It is also worth noting that comparing the School Workforce Census for 2014 with that of 2013, vacancies had increased, albeit as the census is taken in November the absolute numbers were still very low; the percentage of teachers teaching English and mathematics despite not having any post ‘A’ level qualification in the subject had increased and the number of temporary and unqualified teachers had also increased.

Taking all this together, the Minister is definitely correct to accept that there is a challenge. I think he ought to spell out at what level it would become a crisis? He also told the TES that he was ‘managing the challenge’.  Now managing isn’t synonymous with tacking, so I wonder exactly what he meant by managing. I guess, making sure pupils aren’t sent home because a school cannot find a teacher and reminding everyone that not only do academies not need to employ a teacher with qualifications in the subject they don’t even need a qualified teacher: any suitable person will do.

Counting the Pounds

In a couple of weeks the Cabinet member with responsibility for schools in Oxfordshire will be asked to revoke a decision by a maintained school to open a sixth form. Had the school been an academy it could just have decided not to run any post-16 courses. The reason given for the application to revoke the change of status is that the school cannot operate a viable sixth form with the present level of income it would generate from likely pupil numbers. Presumably the school didn’t want to cross-subsidise a sixth form from revenue received for younger pupils: a position I applaud. Assuming the decision is approved, pupils will still face the need to change schools at sixteen and will continue to have to pay for their transport that has up to now been free because they either walked to school or were bussed by the county council.

This change of heart for financial reasons set me wondering about the economics of School Direct in London. With income for next year fixed at £9,000 per trainee on fee based routes, how likely is it that schools are going to be able to cover their costs?
A cohort of 20 trainees paying fees would bring in £180,000 to run the course, but let’s assume a school has recruited three trainees in each of five subjects bringing in £135,000. Now how you spend that money is critical. But, assuming that a head of department in each subject provides 20% of their working week (about 20% of teaching time per week) in each subject to work with trainees. This would come to just over £60,000 if the heads of department are on the top of the upper pay band and also receive a middling TRL and taking into account the recent increases in National insurance and pension contributions schools have faced . In some subjects the TRL will be less, but in Science, mathematics and English it would be more. Now, also assume there is a course leader to do all the recruitment and the rest of the teaching and administration for the course on a similar salary of £60,000 including on-costs. This takes the teaching staff costs to £120,000. Add in £20,000 for administrative staff. After all, it is not economic to use a teacher to do the paperwork. Then there is another £10,000 for marketing, resources and miscellaneous costs and the total comes to around £150,000.

Now, I suppose you could reduce the time for the course leader and farm out some of the teaching to a university with lower salary costs because they are located outside of inner London and can spread their overheads across a larger number of trainees. However, university central overheads can be higher than those in schools – Vice Chancellors earn more than head teachers – so there may not be as much of a saving as would be hoped for by taking this option.

Possibly the course doesn’t need a full-time admin person and the marketing budget can go. Perhaps, you can reduce expenditure to around £120,000, but what sort of preparation would you be offering trainees? Even so, there is little margin for error. If even one trainee either doesn’t turn up or leaves very soon after the start of the course, then the school might have a shortfall to cover from its other income.

I should be interested to hear from schools how they are managing in London on this level of income? Clearly, outside of London, the lower salary costs might make it more likely schools can operate effectively at this level of income, even with smaller numbers of trainees. However, as London needs the largest number of new teachers each year, despite Teach First, the economics of teacher preparation in the capital must be a matter for concern.