Nourishing beverages

Those with a sense of education history, in this the 150th anniversary year of state schooling, will recall the last time a Conservative government became embroiled in a row over food and drink in schools. During the government of Edward Heath, Mrs Thatcher was Secretary of State for Education. Her term of office in education is generally remembered for two event. As Secretary of State she presided over the conversion of more schools to non-selective education than any other Minister, whilst also raising the school leaving age to sixteen.

However, it was her decision to remove the daily third of a pint of free school milk from pupils that is most often recalled as the defining moment of her term in office at Elizabeth House. The decision gave rise to the great slogan Mrs Thatcher: milk snatcher that was up there with the other food slogans of the era: ‘drink a pint of milk and day’ and ‘beans meanz …’

The milk campaign was brought back to my mind during the present campaign for free school meals to be extended to cover all of the year when schools are not in session. Then, as now, some local authorities decided to intervene. After all, this was time when local government had much more involvement with the day to day running of our schools than is the case now.

At least two authorities, including Hillingdon that is again in the news over free school meals, decided to try and stand out against the decision to remove school milk. They know that they couldn’t provide milk, but lawyers identified that there was nothing in the rules to say that they couldn’t provide other liquids. In one case it was to be orange juice and in the other what was described as a ‘nourishing beverage’. At this distance of time, I cannot recall exactly what was to constitute such a beverage, but I guess it was to be hot in winter and cold in the summer months.

In the end, nothing long-term came of these proposals, and free daily milk during term-time for all except the very youngest pupils disappeared from our schools. Later, as Prime minister, Mrs Thatcher was to preside over the wholesale dismantlement of both the school meal system and the teaching of cookery in the curriculum.

In my earliest days working with trainee teachers, sitting in a double period practical cookery lesson being taken by a 4th Year undergraduate was one of the joys of higher education. Watching Key Stage 4 boys in chef’s whites prepare a buffet for a parent’s evening was another delight. There was a sense of purpose and engagement in a group that might have possibly been disaffected by the Ebacc curriculum.

Although you can now learn to cook using YouTube videos, it isn’t the same as working in a group and is no preparation for a career in catering.

The ingenuity of local government then, as now, knew no bounds. However, far too often today central government is unhappy with such actions. I hope, until the government sees sense on feeding children during the pandemic that local leaders will continue to come up with solutions for their local communities.

More thoughts on school funding

Earlier this week I listened to the head of a leading group representing private schools tell us how much they saved the State, Their assessment of the amount was based upon the fees they received from parents.

Now, of course, the figure quoted was probably an exaggeration as even if it didn’t include income from overseas students, and the sector is a significant export earner in normal times, then the fees received for pupils resident in this country are higher than the State would be prepared to pay to educate these young people, except in the case of SEND places in specialist schools.

Even allowing for these caveats, if the unemployment associated with the pandemic really does slow down the economy, then, inevitably, some parents may decide that private schooling is something they can no longer afford. There will be bursaries and scholarship and grandparents will offer help, but every child that switches from the private sector to the State sector creates winners and losers and is an additional cost to the State.

Schools that gain pupils will receive extra funding in the fullness of time. However, unless the overall pot of cash increases, there will be less for everyone. With school rolls overall still increasing, especially in the more expensive to fund secondary sector, this possible demand for extra cash could not come at a worse point in the demographic cycles. Any switch to funding for vocational skills, and especially for the Further Education sector, will also make finding additional funding for schools more of a challenge for the Secretary of State in his talks with The Treasury. With pressure to pay the least well-off in society more, increasing teachers’ pay rather than that of support staff may well be a real challenge unless class sizes increase and teacher numbers are reduced.

So, how might schools react? Finding saving won’t be easy, but here are a couple of suggestions. Firstly, and not surprisingly, cut back on recruitment costs. The DfE vacancy site isn’t doing the job it was set up to do. As a result, the profession should create a working party to attack the recruitment costs with the aim of saving schools perhaps £20 million a year. A really effective scheme could save even more.

Secondly, take the profit element out of supply teacher costs. Thirty years ago, local authorities were inefficient and uncoordinated in carrying out this function for schools. Costs have been driven down, but market economics has created a business with a profit element. Removing this element by either taking it back in house or creating a fixed price model could again help save cash for schools.

The third, and most radical suggestion, is around the funding of teachers’ salaries. In the education governance revolution of thirty years ago, decisions about salary bills were delegated to individual schools, with each schools funding being based upon a notional average salary bill. Previously, schools had their salary bill paid for by local authorities based around a framework of school Group Sizes that generated numbers of promoted and leadership posts for each school.

These days. MATs can set salary policies for all their schools, but local authorities cannot for maintained schools. Such policies can affect wage bills, and especially the cost of promoted posts and leadership positions. Young teachers are cheap; older more experienced teachers cost more. Do we want our more experienced teachers leading our more challenging schools? Could a more logical system that took the wage bill for teachers away from schools save money? I don’t know the answer. But, the wage bill is the largest cost in education and it is worth asking the question: how can we protect the income of teachers and other school staff in a time when pressure on the public purse is immense and are their efficiencies that can be made? A notional staffing model that school could test themselves against might be a start. Now is surely time for some radical thinking around the goals we want education to achieve for Society. Depriving the deprived is not one of them.

The author is Chair of TeachVac, the job board for teachers

World Statistics Day

Today we recognise the power of statistics for both good and evil. Many years ago, when I was teaching geography in a school, I would ask my A level groups to at least audit, if not actually take, a course in statistics. As well as informing their general education, the course also helped with their understanding of the geography syllabus of the 1970s that was rapidly changing from mere descriptive and clerical tasks to a more analytical approach to the issue of ‘place’.

At the same time I was persuading my Year 7s to play games. The farming game and the railway game were two favourites. Both helped instil collaborative learning skills plus discussion about issues such as risk and probability.

One spin off from this interest in statistics was the ability to help students remember that temperature was continuous and rainfall intermittent, and thus one was represented by a line on the graph and the other by columns. There is an interesting debate to be had about when discrete data becomes continuous because of the length of the time series? Good question for today.

One of the earliest research projects I ever encountered was conducted by a lecturer at LSE who was counting the number of phone calls between different settlements in South Africa and creating some form of density map. The clerical work, pre-computers, took a whole summer. Now it might take just a few minutes. However, working through the data, town by town, created a feeling for ‘rightness’ that can be lost when a computer spills out the results. The ability to estimate when a number is in the right relationship to those around it is still a key skill.

Playing with information, not statistics, led me into the world of teacher supply via the database of leadership vacancies I started in the early 1980s. Later today, I will participate in a call set up by civil servants to discuss the replacement for the Teacher Supply Model. I think this will be the fourth or fifth iteration of such models to decide how many teachers we need to train each year. Watch out for more on this in a later post.

The School Workforce Census is a great improvement on what went before. However, despite the publicity for the new approach to displaying government statistics, I have some reservations. Perhaps, this is just my age showing, and I need to find some YouTube videos to help me learn new skills.

Understanding data in all forms has never been a more important prerequisite for those making decisions about our lives as the present pandemic has clearly demonstrated. A classical Oxbridge education might have been valuable as a foundation of a career in politics during previous generations. Surely, it is not adequate for leaders in the modern world.

Let us celebrate World Statistics Day by counting the number of different statistics we see during the course of the day. More than we might imagine.

Men and teaching: only a career in a recession?

EPI, the Education Policy Institute, has today published a short report entitled ‘Trends in the Diversity of Teachers in England’ that is largely about gender diversity in teaching. The report brings up to date some of the data that can be found in my post on this blog from April this year

Interestingly, although the report does put the issue into the wider context of the attractiveness of teaching as a career, and the lack of women taking degrees in some subjects such as physics, it doesn’t really consider the fact that some of the change may be down to teaching also becoming relatively less attractive to women, especially primary school teaching.

The EPI paper, while revealing the genuine concern about the issue, doesn’t point out that at the end of the 1990s when the economy was also doing well, the percentage of male graduates accepted into teaching through the UCAS graduate entry system (then administered by the GTTR) was as low as it is now, and possibly even lower in the primary sector.

Percentage of men accepted onto graduate teacher preparation courses

1998       31%

1999       30%

2000       29%

Source GTTR annual Report for 2000

The EPI paper is also correct to draw attention to the fact that men generally decide to apply later in the recruitment round than women, suggesting possibly that the attraction of teaching as a career is less strong for some male applicants. This is possibly also borne out by the higher departure rates from teaching for men, although some may remain in teaching, just outside of state-funded schools.

Linking the evidence to wage rates, where public sector workers have not fared well compared to other graduates in the South East, is interesting but doesn’t explain why Inner London schools have the second highest percentage of male teachers. Perhaps, this is the Teach First effect?

I also wrote about this issue during my period as a TES commentator. There was a Hot Data column in April 1999 entitled ‘Male primary teachers still elusive’ and in one of my final On the Map pieces for the TES, headed ‘Female Teachers, schools remain a woman’s domain’, published in July 2010, I looked at some international evidence. (Incidentally, at the TES, I never wrote the headlines for my pieces).

In September this year, I again headlined the issue of gender in a wider post considering the evidence from the recent OECD Education Indicators at a Glance publication

So what might be done? EPI have some good suggestions. In taking over the admissions to teacher preparation courses, the DfE might want to look at how the process across the year might be more neutral in terms of encouraging diversity among both applicants and those placed.

However, one issue has always been that some course providers attract a disproportionately high percentage of applicants from certain groups. Male Black African applicants at one time largely only applied for places on four courses, and some early years courses rarely if ever saw a male applicant.

Finally, the media has a role to play in stereotyping certain careers. The anguish of those that suffered child abuse, mostly at the hands of men, may have deterred some men from choosing careers such as teaching.

But, that’s not something just looking at statistics, as both EPI and my blog does, can tell you.  As the EPI paper concludes, ‘it is important to understand the root cause of why more male graduates don’t choose teaching.’

School Funding webinar: some thoughts

Last evening I listened in on a webinar about school funding. There are three points that arise from the webinar I found interesting.

Firstly, schools regularly claim to have made all efficiencies possible. However, despite the efforts of the DfE to establish a recruitment web site, and of my own company TeachVac to provide a free service, recruitment spending by schools still runs into many millions of pounds each year.

The problems with the DfE vacancy site are that it requires action on behalf of schools to post vacancies and that it is unattractive to teachers. This is because it does not include both state funded and private schools, and teachers may want a site where they can find all vacancies, such as TeachVac, especially when job hunting is a challenge.

In March, after lockdown, I offered the DfE a free feed of vacancies for three months to include all the vacancies that they didn’t carry on their site found by TeachVac, but was rebuffed. I have heard nothing since.

According to my analysis, the DfE site is still only carrying a proportion of all teaching vacancies, and about 3-4% of vacancies on the DfE site at any one time are vacancies that are not for teachers. The teacher associations seem to have little or no interest in persuading their members to switch to a free site.

Secondly, there is the issue of small primary schools and falling rolls. The current Funding Formula may adversely affect such schools where the loss of only a small number of pupils will impact upon the bottom line of their budget. Closing such schools means children cannot walk or cycle to school, but must be transported by car or bus and this can impact on Council Budgets if free transport is required for the youngest pupils required to travel more than two miles to the next school. In Oxfordshire, there are a large number of small village schools and any closure might have an effect on transport costs for the County. Transporting pupils also adds to climate change issues.

Thirdly, Luke from the IFS mentioned the loss of relative funding for the schools serving deprived areas. He queried whether local government re-organisation might be part of the cause. This seems odd since, apart from Cornwall and Wiltshire, most unitary authorities are smaller than the shire counties they replaced.

In Oxfordshire, one issue is around a small concentrated area of severe deprivation in South East Oxford that is masked within a generally affluent County. As a result, the Funding Formula does not take account of the need of these schools, and there is little by way of mechanisms other than the Pupil Premium to assist with further funding.

To add insult to injury, such schools cannot raise funds from parents as is the case in the more well-off parts of the City of Oxford. The government has experimented with Opportunity Areas, and Oxfordshire’s Education Scrutiny Committee has wondered whether such a scheme might be useful locally. However, there seems to be no mechanism to recognise this issue and provide for additional funding for schools in these areas. I am reminded of the book written in the 1970s about school funding called ‘depriving the deprived’. Seemingly we have headed back in that direction despite talk of leveling up.

BA fly last passenger 747

Why is the news that BA has retired their remaining passenger fleet of Boeing’s iconic 747 ‘Jumbo’ jets worth a post on an education blog? Mainly because I have often used this plane as an example of technological change.

Children born in the era of the first powered flights made by aviation pioneers at the start of the last century retired from work at about the time when the 747 started flying. From canvas and wood planes held together by glue and cords to a passenger plane with two decks and a range unimaginable to those early pioneers, all in less than one lifetime.

Using this example has always prompted me to ask educationalists what changes succeeding generations will experience in their lifetimes. The generation born when the BBC was broadcasting the programme ‘The chips are down’, a TV documentary that brought the concept of semi-conductors to a mass audience and heralded the move of commuters from air-conditioned rooms into homes, and eventually our pockets as well, are now parents whose own children are often well advanced along their own path to adulthood. What changes will they experience in their lifetimes?

Today, there is a news story that the next generation of mobile devices we used to call phones will have inside them chips based upon 5nm technology. Nm refers to nanometres, each of which is one billionth of a metre. According to the BBC a nanometre is roughly the speed a human hair grows every second.

Education has not been known for the speed of its changes. However, this year, the response to the pandemic has seen more change than perhaps at any time since slates were replaced by paper.

Hopefully, think tanks and politicians are now thinking about the future shape of education and the extent to which change will continue to be driven both by the decisions of individual schools and even teachers to the level of thinking about decision-making that needs to be taken at a national level in order to ensure all children can participate in the same education journey through schooling. Access to technology has become a real issue again for the education sector.

Technology ought also to help everyone work to make a planet that continues to be habitable. If it doesn’t, then the future for those being educated today may be very different.

The 747 was a noisy, dirty and expensive plane to fly. Those issues weren’t a concern when it was designed. Today, they are very much an issue.

Let me finish by asking how much greener is your school than it was a generation ago?

Teaching School Hubs

If you are involved .din bidding to become a Teaching School Hub and require data about the local teacher labour market over the past three years do make contact.

Teachvac, where I am the Chair of the board, has extensive data covering up to 30 secondary subjects and the primary sector for main scale; posts with TLRs and leadership scale vacancies. Data for 2018-2020 available on request at local authority level.

email or contact me personally on

Not the party we expected

Follow this link to an article I have written for the Church Times on schools and the pandemic. It was written in early September.

Teacher Shortage over: well almost

The latest data from UCA about postgraduate ITT numbers for September provides a first view of what the outlook for the year is likely to be. The September data will provide the basis for the likely supply of teachers into the labour market for September 2021 and January 2022 vacancies.

In view of the shock to the economy administered by the covid-19 pandemic, it is not surprising that there were nearly 7,000 more applicants in 2020 than in 2019. Up from 40,560 to 47,260 for those in domiciled in England. The number placed or ‘conditionally placed’ increased from 28,500 to 33,800. This is an increase of around 20% on last year.

The number of applicants placed increased across the country, although in the East of England the increase of only 120 was smaller than in the other regions. In London, the increase was in the order of an extra 1,000 trainees placed on courses compared with 2019.

More applicants from all age groups were placed this year, although the increase was smaller among the youngest age group of new graduates. This might be a matter for concern. Over, 2,000 more men were placed this year, compared to 4,500 more women. This is proportionally a greater increase in the number of men placed.

There was much more interest in secondary courses, where applications increased by nearly 14,000 to more than 81,000. For primary courses, the increase was near 6,000 to just over 53,000. The difference may be down to the date the pandemic struck home, and the availability of courses with places still available at that point in the cycle. Many primary courses will already have been full by March.

Higher education seems to have been the main beneficiary of the wave of additional applications. Applications to high education courses increased from 55,000 last year to nearly 65,000 this year. Applications for apprenticeships reached nearly 1,600 and there were 1,800 more applications to SCITT courses. The School Direct fee route attracted nearly 6,500 more applications. However, the School Direct Salaried route only attracted 200 more applicants this year, and the number placed actually fell this year, by around 300 to just 1,470. Does this route have a future?

In most secondary subjects, more applications are recorded as placed this year than last. Geography, languages (where classifications have changed) are the key exceptions, with fewer recorded as placed than last year. Even in physics, there has been a small increase on last year. However, the increase in design and technology is not enough to ensure the DfE’s Teacher Supply Model (TSM) number will be reached. This is also likely to be the case in physics, chemistry and mathematics. Fortunately, in the sciences, there are far more biology students than required by the TSM number.

I am also sceptical as to whether all the history and physical education trainees will find teaching posts in their subjects next year, because the excess of students placed to the TSM number is such that it is difficult to see sufficient vacancies been generated even in  a normal year. If fewer teachers laves than normal, then the excess may be significant and these trainees might well want to look to any possible second subjects they could teach.

At this point in time, it looks as if 20202/21 round will start with a significant increase in applications over the numbers at the start of the last few years: we shall see.

Poverty is not destiny – OECD PISA Report

OECD published the latest of its PISA studies today. This is a long and complex report and I am grateful to those that have already pointed the way to some of the key points. Generally, the data is for the United Kingdom and not just England.

As in previous studies, the urban regions of China entered plus some other Asian economies provide outstanding outcomes among fifteen years olds taking the survey tests, especially in maths and reading. The report can be found at:

What follows are some of the comments that caught my eye at a first glance. The most significant challenge, especially in the light of the Prime Minister’s comments on parity of esteem is whether selective secondary education is good for the economy? Such schools are certainly good for those that attend them. But, for the nation as a whole?

The OECD believes that “it remains necessary for many countries to promote equity with much greater urgency.” While students from well-off families will often find a path to success in life, those from disadvantaged families have generally only one single chance in life, and that is “a great teacher and a good school. If they miss that boat, subsequent education opportunities will tend to reinforce, rather than mitigate, initial differences in learning outcomes.

One in ten disadvantaged students was able to score in the top quarter of reading performance in their country/economy, indicating that poverty is not destiny. The data also show that the world is no longer divided between rich and well educated nations and poor and badly educated ones. The level of economic development explains just 28% of the variation in learning outcomes across countries if a linear relationship is assumed between the two.

In over half of the PISA participating countries and economies, principals of disadvantaged schools were significantly more likely than those of advantaged schools to report that their school’s capacity to provide instruction is hindered by either a lack of or inadequacy of educational material; and in 31 countries and economies, principals of disadvantaged schools were more likely than those of advantaged ones to report that a lack of teaching staff hinders instruction. In these systems, students face a double disadvantage: one that comes from their home background and another that is created by the school system. The report concludes: “There can be numerous reasons why some students perform better than others, but those performance differences should never be related to the social background of students and schools.”

Many students, especially disadvantaged students, hold lower ambitions than would be expected given their academic achievement. In the United Kingdom, about one in three high-achieving disadvantaged students – but fewer than one in ten high-achieving advantaged students – do not expect to complete tertiary education.

Some 81% of students in the United Kingdom (OECD average: 74%) agreed or strongly agreed that their teacher shows enjoyment in teaching. In most countries and economies, including in the United Kingdom, students scored higher in reading when they perceived their teacher as more enthusiastic, especially when students said their teachers are interested in the subject.

The OECD findings also reveal how the foundations for education success are laid early. Students who had attended pre-primary education for longer scored better in PISA than students who had not attended pre-primary education. Between 2015 and 2018, the share of 15-year-old students who had attended pre-primary school for three years increased in 28 countries. Despite this advantage, in 68 out of 78 education systems with comparable data, students who had not attended pre-primary education were much more likely to be socio-economically disadvantaged and enrolled in more disadvantaged schools at the age of 15. This highlights how access to pre-primary education often reinforces educational disparities