8,000 computer teachers: Leak, pre-release or pressure on the Chancellor?

These days I am no longer sure what constitutes either a pre-budget announcement or a leak ahead of the speech. The £100 million for 8,000 more computer science teachers included in a Reuters report https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-economy-budget/driverless-cars-set-for-uk-budget-boost-finance-ministry-idUKKBN1DJ003 fall into this category of uncertainty. Is it a response to the recent Royal Society Report and does it cover the whole UK or just England since education is a devolved activity. Is it an inspired pre-release a leak or even just speculation on the part of commentators? It might even be a red herring put up to encourage a response to the recent Royal Society Report. We will all still have to wait until Wednesday to be absolutely certain.

Dividing the sum mentioned by 8,000 brings up a figure of £12,500 per teacher. Nowhere near enough to train that many new teachers, especially if they were all to be offered a bursary. So, perhaps a large number of the 8,000 are either teachers destined for the primary sector and expected to train at their own expense or the money covers the cost of re-training existing less than adequately qualified teachers already working in schools.

What is an absolute certainty is that there will never be 8,000 vacancies for his type of teacher in any one year in the secondary sector without mass redundancies of existing teachers. Even spreading the programme over four years, assuming that enough recruits could be found to enter teacher preparation courses each year, would mean a high risk of unemployment for the newly trained teachers unless schools were mandated to recruit these teachers.

Now the DfE knows how many teachers there are working in state schools and teaching computing in some shape or form through the annual School Workforce Census, and through the annual working of the Teacher Supply Model can estimate demand each year for training places. Indeed, it doesn’t do too bad a job at the estimation bit; recruiting them into training is another story entirely.

When the DfE has its own version of TeachVac’s National Vacancy Service that has been fully operational for a year it should know the demand profile from state funded schools. Whether, like TeachVac, it will know the demand from the private schools sector is another as yet, presumably, unresolved matter.

If the 8,000 number does make it into the budget, then so as not to look as if the Treasury doesn’t talk to the DfE there will have to be some form of explanation. Personally, I would add 10% to the Teacher Supply Model and split the rest between for professional development for existing teachers: spending 40% on those on professional development for secondary school teachers already teaching computer science and not fully qualified; 40% for lead teachers in the primary schools, starting with a programme for MATs and dioceses and the allocated the remaining 20% for programmes for teachers of other subjects to embed areas such as geographical information and other subject-related techniques into curriculum development. I might keep a small pot of cash back for new methods of preparing teachers that don’t rely upon face to face contact.

What isn’t needed is a vast hike in training places.

 

 

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School Recruitment Service Mark 2 announced

Yesterday, at the Public Accounts Committee, a senior civil servant announced the date for the DfE’s latest foray into the world of teacher recruitment. The DfE’s version of a vacancy service will go on trial in the spring. Over the past two months, I have written a couple of posts about the development of this service, first mooted in the 2016 White Paper and then, somewhat surprisingly, rating a mention in the 2017 Conservative General Election Manifesto. In the meantime, the DfE has been quietly beavering away designing their service.

With political backing of this nature, such a wasn’t going to be ditched easily, unlike the plans to offer middle leaders for struggling schools, unceremoniously dumped this time last year. So, I am not surprised by the latest announcement.

As regular readers will know, I chair TeachVac, the free service for schools and teachers that has been up and running for the past four years with no government aid and is now the largest platform by number of vacancies for teacher vacancies in England. More recently TeachVac has expanded to handle vacancies in international schools around the world through TeachVac Global www.teachvacglobal.com

As TeachVac is free to everyone using it is England, competition from the DfE doesn’t both us; although I do wonder about the size of the DfE’s budget that will be needed to ensure the new product doesn’t follow the route to oblivion of the School Recruitment Service of a decade ago. Perhaps someone could ask a PQ or submit an FOI to find out how much money they aim to spend on marketing the trial next spring?

For paid providers of recruitment services, whether, either just vacancy advertisements or through recruitment services and teacher placements, the threat to their profits is more real. You only have to look through the accounts posted on the web site of Companies House to see how valuable teacher recruitment has been over the past few years and why the government might have wanted to offer an olive branch to schools by providing a free service at this time so many schools are strapped for cash.

As I pointed out when starting TeachVac, such a service, like TeachVac, also helps satisfy the National Audit Office’s remarks about the lack of data available to the DfE about the teacher labour market. What they will do with the data they will obtain we won’t know until 2020 at the earliest, as 2019 will be the first full year they will be able to obtain data for a whole recruitment cycle. However, by then Ministers won’t be able to fall back on just the data from the School Workforce Census.

TeachVac, now covers all schools state funded and private – I wonder whether the DfE will offer their service to the private sector – as it does with access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme – or restrict it only to state-funded schools thus offering a lifeline to paid services.

I will post more when I have read the transcript of yesterday’s Public Account Committee hearing where the announcement was made.

First thoughts on ITT recruitment for 2018

Half-way through the first month of applications by graduates to train as a teacher on courses recruiting through the UCAS system and starting in the autumn of 2018, I thought that I would have a look at what was happening? At the end of the month it will be possible make a comparison with previous years, but as there is a new allocation regime in place, I wondered whether this year might have seen a shift in behaviour by the early applicants.

Sadly, the regional information isn’t detailed enough to identify any trends. Higher Education providers still seem to be favoured amongst many of the early applicants, although it is impossible to tell whether there is also a degree of mix and match going on by applicants between school and higher education providers in the same location.

What is clear is that it was correct to treat physical education differently to other subjects. The nearly 4,000 applications for physical education received by the count point today is little short of 80% of the total for all applications for other secondary subjects. Depending upon how the applications are spread regionally, almost all courses could now have received enough applications, should applicants have used their maximum of three choices.

English is the second most popular secondary subject, followed by history, although taken together they only account for the equivalent of half the physical education applications. Mathematics is in third place, with the sciences in fourth place if you amalgamate the numbers across the three sciences: physics, sadly, contributes very little to the total and has the fourth lowest number of applications in the list. Only, business studies, classics and design and technology have lower totals.

Overall, there is very little to surprise in the rank order, although I might have expected a higher figure for primary even this early in the cycle, so that number will need watching over the next couple of months to see how it compares with previous recruitment rounds.

Although it is early days, indeed very early days, in the recruitment round, there is clearly not a large number of applicants that were awaiting the opening of the recruitment cycle except in physical education. That does not bode well for the recruitment round as a whole, unless the pattern changes to that seen in previous years. Although late applications, especially in mathematics and physics have been a feature of recent years, such behaviour cannot be relied upon. However, as the Brexit date draws nearer that may influence the view of teaching as a safe haven, especially should the wider economy and the graduate job market start to turn sour. If, however, it booms, as some would have us believe, that might be less good news for teaching: certainly we might expect fewer applications for EU nationals, unless that is there is a last minute rush to beat any deadline.

So far, just under 200 applicants have been accepted with conditional firm offers. The largest number is in primary, with just under half as many conditional firm offers in physical education and a handful in history, English and languages. But, it is early days.

 

 

Schools need to support not exclude adopted children

Some months ago I raised concerns about children being taken into care having to wait for long periods of time before being offered a school place when their foster placements ws some distance from any previous school. Such treatment of vulnerable children is not a good reflection on our education system. Sadly, this is still happening.

Now the BBC has published the results of a survey by Adoption UK into exclusions of adopted children, another vulnerable group of young people. This report makes for grim reading as well. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-41915775

Adoption UK’s research estimates adopted children can be up to 20 times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers.

The charity surveyed 2,084 of its members and found that of those with adopted children at school in 2015-16, 12% had had a fixed-term and 1.63% a permanent exclusion.

This compares with a rate of 4.29% for fixed and 0.08% for permanent exclusions across all state schools in England.

Adoption UK says that while its survey is indicative rather than scientific, it raises serious concerns.

Their web site is at: https://www.adoptionuk.org/  but I couldn’t find the survey when I looked.

The fact that there is a Minister of State for Children and Families should be a help in terms of government policy, but what is needed is a commitment to take action to support the education of vulnerable children at traumatic stages in their lives and a recognition that the effects can be long-lasting.

The dual and increasingly separate maintained and academy systems aren’t working for these children in many cases, as one group doesn’t have the money needed to offer effective help and the other often doesn’t seem to have the will, even though it has the ability to raise the cash.

I trust schools to do the best for ‘nice’ children supported by their parents, but I want them also to be supported to handle the more challenging of our young people as they set out on their lives. Exclusion and wiping your hands of the problem isn’t the answer.

If Paddington Bear can be thought of as a metaphor for an adopted child and can be falsely accused in the latest film of a crime he didn’t commit, then let us all pause for a moment and reflect upon not just our judgement, but also our treatment of adopted children. Sometimes being excluded must feel like being treated as a criminal and having done something wrong.

The adoption process in England is now being reorganised into larger regional agencies, but local authorities will still have to deal with the on-going responsibilities that result. From April 2018 the Virtual Schools will take on extra responsibilities for adopted children, on top of their already heavy workloads. But, as Adoption UK say, school staff should have better training around the needs of adopted children and for better support for these children throughout their schooling.

There is a further worry that the true extent of problem of exclusion is being masked because schools are regularly asking adoptive parents to take their children home and keep them out of school, without recording them as exclusions.

This is an area that Ofsted needs to inspect across a range of schools to uncover exactly what is happening.

 

 

Action needed, not more words

The Royal Society has published a new report into the state of computer education in schools across the United Kingdom; After the Reboot – Computing Education in UK Schools. This follows on from their earlier report, published in 2012 and entitled, ‘Shut down or restart? The way forward for computing in UK schools – a review of computing education in the UK’. The latest report and its annexes can be access at https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/computing-education/

As might be expected from the UK’s premier learned society, the new report is both authoritative and wide ranging. However, the recommendations do read like something of a compromise between what is desirable and what is achievable in the present climate. The report is no doubt correct in focusing on the fact that improving the skills of those teaching the subject is a sensible way forward and adds to the growing clamour for a rethink of the consequences of the slash and burn approach to CPD and local advisory and inspection services that took place during the early years of the Coalition government.

The report is also right to point out that between 2012 and 2017(sic) computing only met 68% of the Teacher Supply Model identified teacher preparation numbers for the subject. Sadly, the Report doesn’t consider whether there might have been the vacancies for any more to be employed had they been trained. TeachVac, the job site I chair, does recognise that trainee numbers were insufficient in both 2015 and 2016 and are heading that way for 2017, although to a lesser degree than in the past two years. However, 2018 might be a very challenging year for schools looking to act on this report and recruit more teachers with computing skills.

Not surprisingly, most of the press comment has concentrated on the lack of availability of examination courses in many schools, including those just down the road from Teach City in Shoreditch. This misses the point that often it is not the number taking A level that matters for the local labour market, since many if not most of those taking A levels will head off to university, but the access of those entering the labour market at eighteen to computing knowledge and skills, for they are far more likely to remain in their local labour markets. To that extent, more might have been made of provision in the further education sector, especially where there are Sixth Form Colleges, as they seem to have the highest update at A level.

The report is right to recognise the gender gap among those studying the subject and the potential for a loss of talent that such an imbalance creates. This is but one of many differences in provision highlighted in the annexes. The lack of consideration of how the independent school sector is handling the issue of computing, other than in examinations, causes some distortions, such as the City of London, with no state funded secondary schools, appearing in the bottom five local authorities for Key Stage 4 level take-up.

The other disappointment is the lack of creative solutions. In this area, more than any other, the Royal Society could have harnessed the power of creative thinking to suggest new ways to reach the many pupils currently missing out on computing; through on-line courses, summer schools and even daily feeds to mobile phones. Creating the demand from pupils for more computing would be more likely to achieve results than another report that may share the fate of its predecessor.

After all, the DfE’s response that there were more students taking computing was hardly helpful or even properly considered. I also haven’t seen any response from the governments of the other home nations, but they may have been confined to the regional press.

Are secondary school PTRs really improving in England?

Earlier today the government, through the DfE, issued the latest UK Education and Training Statistics for 2016/17 in Statistical Release SR64/2017 and its associated tables. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/education-and-training-statistics-for-the-uk-2017

Now, in recent weeks we have often been hearing how secondary schools in England are strapped for cash and also often do not find it easy to recruit teachers. Thus the information contained in Table 1.4 comes as something of a shock.

Pupil Teacher Ratio within Secondary Schools

2012/13                15.5

2013/14                15.7

2014/15                15.8

2015/16                16.1

2016/17                15.6

After four years of steadily worsening ratios there appears to have been a sudden turnaround in 2016/17 and the overall position is back to almost where it was in 2012/13. Curious, to say the least. Footnote 1 explains that Pupil Teacher ratios are calculated by dividing the total full-time equivalent number of pupils on rolls in schools by the total FTE number of qualified teachers. It excludes centrally employed teachers regularly employed in schools. However, another footnote (footnote 13) adds that in England unqualified teachers are included in the figures. The figures for England include free schools and all types of academies.

Had the 2016/17 figure been 16.6, I might have thought it a significant deterioration, but in line with the mood music. An improvement of this magnitude needs some form of explanation. However, the Release confines its text just to changes in the data and offers no analysis as to why any changes might have occurred.

Could the inclusion of unqualified teachers be the answer? It might be if they hadn’t been included in previous releases on this topic. Certainly, there is no mention in the footnotes of the 2015/16 Release of unqualified teachers; indeed, the key footnote refers to ‘qualified’ teachers. So, is this the answer? If so, then the 2016/17 Release ought to make clear the change in methodology especially as the footnote on page 5 of the main release specifically mentions ‘qualified’ teachers and thus might be read as inferring that the improvement in the PTR is due to more qualified teachers being employed in England.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I don’t like the term ‘unqualified’ teacher, as it can cover both trainee teachers and those that used, in former days, to be called Instructors. I think some degree of distinction between those being prepared for QTS by schools and on their staffing list at the time of the census and those filling gaps, either because no teacher with QTS was available or because the school had decided to employ someone without QTS because of their other skills, ought to be made.

If the answer isn’t the inclusion this year of unqualified teachers – a factor that makes comparison with the other home nations impossible on this indicator – then I am at something of a loss to identify why such a large change in the direction of better PTRs has taken place over the past year. Could it be to do with the different financial years of maintained schools and academies and hence the budgetary cycles? I doubt it, but would be interested to hear from readers?

 

Nationalise teacher recruitment?

Does the Prime Minister’s speech to the CBI Conference this morning leave us any the wiser about the future for a DfE managed teacher vacancy service? Since there were several mentions of education and in particular T Levels and higher education in the speech, I assume the DfE, and The Secretary of State’s Private Office in particular, will have seen a copy of the speech or even watched the recording on YouTube, assuming that they weren’t following it live as it was delivered.

The Prime Minster was, as you might have expected, looking to the future while at the same time reminding her audience of past successes, including the first industrial revolution and the number of Nobel Prize winners Britain has produced. Here are some of the phrases she used during her speech; ‘back innovation’; ‘support business people’; Invest in key public services’ and ‘deploy infrastructure for the long-term’.

She also said that there were choices to be made and government must learn from past failures. I am sure after the failure of both the Fast Track Scheme and the School Recruitment Service the DfE has been learning from the past. Dumping the scheme to provide middle leaders for challenging schools a year ago also showed a willingness not to take on schemes that won’t work. Indeed, as Yorkshire was one of the regions that scheme was aimed at, it is interesting to read the account in the Yorkshire Post of the success of the teacher recruitment programme run in Bradford over the past three years, although it does seem to have been a tad expensive.

So, should the DfE set up in competition with the free market? The TES, eteach, The Guardian and indeed TeachVac have been doing a good job matching schools offering jobs with teachers seeking vacancies. The TES embraced new technology and the internet almost two decades ago and eteach has always been an on-line platform.

TeachVac created new technology to develop into what is now the largest free site for teaching vacancies in England.

So, is there a place for government in this market place? You might argue that government can operate for the long run. But, the TES has been serving the market for more than 100 years and the others are not fly by night organisations. You might argue that a DfE led service would provide the government with better data about the labour market for teachers than they have had in the past and that’s difficult to deny, but they could obtain that for other providers at less cost.

You might also argue that the DfE can offer the service cheaper than the private sector, but with TeachVac already offering a free service to schools that is a difficult argument to sustain.

The Prime minster talked about government working in partnership with the private sector, even so it is difficult to understand why the DfE has chosen a company with little knowledge of the intricacies of the teacher labour market to undertake their initial work on the vacancy project. No doubt this is something the Public Accounts Committee can explore when they question the DfE on recruitment and retention.

TeachVac has demonstrated that the use of new and innovative technology can drive down the price of teacher recruitment: should the government of the private sector take the rewards?