Military Matters

Today, as well as attending the Two Minutes Silence and wreath laying ceremony at County Hall, I also attended some training about the role of the Military Covenant and Military Champions in local government. During the training, Education emerged as a key concern for many service families. Despite the almost complete removal of our forces from family accompanied postings in mainland Europe, many service families are still expected to move location to a new posting, possibly as frequently as every two years.

These moves can play havoc with children’s schooling. Of particular concern, in this age of academies, is the lack of the same degree of oversight of in-year admissions as for the September round of admissions. Indeed, most academies act as their own admission authority for in-year admissions. Most moves within the services do not conform to the school year for obvious operational reasons.

One person said at the training ‘well, if one pupil moves out and another moves in, what is the issue?’ For many in education the answer is obvious in terms of the ages of the children and the schools that they might attend. Unit moves where only the local primary school is affected are now something of a rarity, and even then the ‘march out’ and arrival of the in-coming unit might not coincide. Differing numbers might mean that the school might not immediately receive the appropriate level of funding, depending upon when the move takes place.

One solution would be to return oversight of in-year admissions, at least for service children, to local authorities, with the power to direct academies to admit pupils arriving mid-year. Another person at the training told a story of a senior officer being told there was no place for his son at a secondary school while overhearing the person on the other end of the phone say to someone that the school didn’t want any more service children on roll: how disheartening.

I know that children of service personnel are eligible for the Service Children Premium, but the amount hasn’t been increased and is, therefore, of less value than when introduced, and it is not clear how the spending is monitored.

There are also stories of children being denied free transport to school because they arrived mid-year. I wonder about the legality of such a move by any  local authority, and whether any authority has put such a clause in their Home to School Transport Policy? I also wonder whether service children posted into areas such as Kent and Essex where there is selective education receive a fair deal over access to grammar schools. Indeed, do other children moving mid-year because a parent has been relocated by their employer also suffer if they arrive into selective systems?

One final military gripe is the difference in funding between Cadet Units and Combined Cadet Force Units. The former are community based and the latter school based. However, that should not affect the level of funding each receives for the same tasks.

These are all issued for the new government after the general election.



Firm but understanding

Teachers are graduates, and many that enter the profession come from backgrounds that are comfortable, although not well-off. By dint of being a graduate they have generally been successful at school and college; perhaps even more successful than some of those they have followed as teachers. I wonder, having failed ‘O’ level English and just scrapped maths, whether these day I would be allowed into the sixth form to gain 3Bs at ‘A’ level and a pass in the ‘special paper’ in geography?

Fortunately, not achieving at 16 need not the be all and end all, it was too often in my day, and there are those that become teachers after persevering at learning, sometimes well into adult life: I salute them. Indeed, we need to encourage more such learners as a potential source of new teachers.

Why am I writing this post? Well, for two reasons. Firstly my attention has been drawn to a range of books for new and early career teachers designed to help them navigate through their training year and first two years of teaching. The series has been launched by the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT). This blog recognises the excellent work teacher trainers and groups such as NASBTT undertake in preparing new entrants into the profession and increasingly with their concern for post-entry professional development. The first two books, in what will be a series, are now available to order at

My second reason for this post is not unconnected to the first. In the past week, I have attended presentations by amongst other the CEO of Child Poverty Action Group; The Rees Centre on Children in Care, about exclusions among such children, and the report of the local Safeguarding Board for Children. I was also privileged to attend the local Music Services’ awards evening where more than 50 groups and individuals received awards for various aspects of music and musicality.

What is the significant of these events for new teachers? Many of the problems they face in the classroom come from children with backgrounds different to their own. Understanding that for instance many children in care lack self-esteem and self-confidence, and consequently are not so much ‘naughty’ or ‘ill-disciplined’ as emotionally challenged, and even seeking attention. It’s hard understanding as a teacher what it must be like to come home from school and find your belongings in bin bags and social worker waiting to take you to a new placement. Even if you can remain at the same school it’s tough; changing schools as well mid-term is even harder.

I know that one of the books yet to be published in the NASBTT series is about discipline. I hope another will help new teachers fully understand what some children bring with them to school each day. Whether they are in care; from families facing poverty; confronting safeguarding issues or even acting as a young carer, teachers need to be aware of what this can mean and how they should respond.

Too often, compared with say attitudes in Scotland, where exclusion rates are much lower, England has official documents couched in punitive language. Perhaps the new government, after the election, will look at this aspect of schooling. More cash is needed, but so is a recognition of what is driving the attitudes of so many children in our schools today.  There is a place for compassion as much as for compulsion.

Regional differences in teacher vacancy levels

By the end of 2019, schools in England will have advertised around 60,000 vacancies for teachers. After removing repeat adverts and re-advertisements, as well as schools now placing rolling adverts on their web sites to attract potential candidates, there will have been somewhere in excess of 50,000 vacancies that schools across England have sought to fill this year. The data comes for TeachVac, the largest free site for both schools and teachers in England.

However, anyone seeking a classroom teacher post this year will have discovered that there are important differences between the different regions of England in terms of how easy it has been to find a teaching post.

Percentage of total vacancies for teachers January-October 2019

Region % of Vacancies % of Schools
London 21 16 More Vacancies
South East 21 17 More Vacancies
East England 13 12 More Vacancies
North West 9 12 Less Vacancies
South West 9 10 Less Vacancies
West Midlands 9 11 Less Vacancies
East Midlands 8 8 Same
Yorkshire & Humber 7 9 Less Vacancies
North East 3 4 Less Vacancies

Less Vacancies

Source: TeachVac (From November onwards vacancies for September 2020 start appearing, as well as a few last minute vacancies for January 2020 as a result of unforeseen events)

There is a clear difference in demand for teachers between London and the Home Counties and the rest of England. London, in particular, has five per cent more of the share of vacancies than its share of schools across England. This is despite London having an above average number of private schools compared with some other parts of England.

How much of the difference in vacancy levels is down to challenges in filling posts leading to higher re-advertisement levels is difficult to quantify without each vacancy having a unique reference number: something this blog has long advocated, and the DfE might want to consider now it has had a year of managing its own vacancy site. Incidentally, the DfE site still only contains a fraction of the number of vacancies found each day on TeachVac. Why the teacher associations haven’t protested at this waste of government money is something I haven’t been able to fathom.

The numbers in the table also suggest that the government’s policy of rewarding excellence in teacher preparation might be sound in one respect, but isn’t delivering the teachers where they are needed by the schools.

The government might need to rethink a policy that doesn’t provide enough teachers for the fastest growing parts of England. If a London Allowance is available for teachers, why is it not available for trainees? Do new graduates joining the civil service or the police suffer the same fate as trainee teachers in London? Even with bursary payments, rates are set at a national level and there is also the need for most to pay tuition fees while in training as a teacher.


APPG paper for cancelled meeting

As a result of the general election, the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Teaching Profession meeting fixed for Monday has been cancelled. Below is the report I would have provided to the meeting about my views on the labour market for teachers in 2020.

APPG on The Teaching Profession – November 2019 meeting

By John Howson

At present, reading the runes of teacher preparation courses starting this September, courses that will provide the bulk of new entrants into the labour market in 2020, especially in the secondary sector, the picture is still one of shortages. The DfE’s ITT Census will be published on Thursday 28th November, (presumably subject to any purdah restrictions as a result of the general election).  The following is based upon an analysis of UCAS offers data published in September 2019. The DfE has unfortunately cancelled an update to the Teacher Compendium that would have provided more data on retention for individual sectors and subjects.

Sadly, many subjects do not appear to have reached the DfE’s estimate of trainee numbers, as set out in their Teach Supply Model (TSM) for 2019. I am especially anxious for both mathematics and physics, where the UCAS data has likely outcomes below the numbers accepted in 2018. In both cases this number was not enough to satisfy demand from schools in 2019, even before the increase in pupil numbers is factored into the equation for 2020. Fortunately, the number of biologists is likely to be at a record level, and this supply line will help offset any shortages of physical scientists.

The lack of mathematics teachers may need to be covered by trainees from subjects such as geography, where trainee numbers remain healthy, as they do in history and physical education. Many history trainees will need to find a second subject, as there is unlikely to be enough vacancies to support the present level of trainee numbers.

Happily, Religious Education has had a good year, with offers coming close to its projected need identified by the TSM, assuming all those offered places actually turned up at the start of their courses. Design and Technology fared slightly better this year than last year’s disastrous recruitment round, but will still fall far short of requirements, as will Business Studies. IT also appears to have suffered from a poor recruitment round into courses in 2019.  Elsewhere, outcomes may be close to last year’s, so there should be enough teachers of modern languages overall, although whether with the combination of languages needed is not known. Similarly, the number of trainee teachers of English may cause problems in some parts of the country in 2020, most notably London and the Home Counties and any other areas where the school population is growing.

As a result of this analysis, there could be three possible scenarios for 2020:

Continuing shortages

Assuming no changes to the supply situation, and a cash injection into schools that is not entirely absorbed by increased salaries for the existing workforce, then the present supply crisis will continue and could intensify in some subjects and the parts of the country already most challenged by teacher shortages and increases in the secondary school population.

A return to normal market conditions

As the supply of new entrants will be less than required to meet the demands of schools in 2020, this state of affairs is only likely to occur if both the rate of departure by the present workforce slows down and there is an increase in teachers seeking to return to work in state schools. In the short-term for 2020, any pay increase would likely attract returners in greater numbers if accompanied by improvements in workload and pupil behaviour initiatives. The recent decline in the birth rate may start to affect teacher vacancy levels in the primary sector in 2020, as some schools consider the effect of declining rolls on future budgets and start to take steps to avoid creating deficit budgets.

More teachers than vacancies

This situation usually only occurs during a significant recession, such as that experienced ten years ago after the financial meltdown. It is an extremely unlikely scenario for 2020 unless EU teachers also opt to remain teaching in England post-Brexit rather than return home, and there is a flood of returners to teaching concerned about redundancies elsewhere in the economy and a lack of other job opportunities. Such a scenario would also lead to increased applications for teacher preparation courses making it a more likely prospect for the labour market of 2021 than in 2020.

Data regarding vacancies can be supplied for a small fee by TeachVac:

Data are available down to local authority level and by subject and phase for primary and secondary sectors.

No room on the bus – unless you pay

What the point of the Conservative Party creating more places in selective schools if pupils cannot get to them? As regular reads know, I am not a fan of selective schooling, but where it exists such schools should be available to all.

After two general elections fighting Banbury for the Lib Dems, I have moved on to fight Castle Point in Essex this time around. This has brought me into contact with the selective system there, and the unfair rules about school transport.

Canvey Island forms a large part of the Castle Point constituency, and pupils living on the island are refused free transport to grammar schools. This is because Essex County Council’s home to school transport policy only pays for travel to a pupil’s nearest school.

As there is no selective school on Canvey Island, parents are forced to pay for transport if their child secures a place at a selective school. Many parents cannot afford to do so.

The rules are that if the journey is more than three miles local authorities must provide free transport to and from school. By restricting the rule to the ‘nearest school’ in a system where selection is in operation Essex County Council discriminates against pupils taking up places at such schools.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that some time ago Southend-on-Sea became a Unitary Authority, separate from Essex County Council, and this is where the nearest selective schools are located. Add in the academy factor, and this is a real mess for parents.

There is no point in the Conservative Party announcing more selective school places and then denying parents and their children the opportunity to attend these schools because of the cost of getting to and from schools.

The approach of Essex County Council to funding home to school transport isn’t unique, but it does demonstrate a callous lack of concern for social mobility as far as many pupils are concerned.

Will the Conservative Party nationally change the rules on transport to make it clear funding should be available to the nearest including any school that offers places following selection test to pupils that the school is the nearest school of that type a pupil could attend?

Of course, making all schools non-selective would be a better option, but that’s not yet on the cards

Who loses in the Education stakes?

Education is likely to play a important role in the sub-plots swirling around Breixt that will underpin any forthcoming general election. The terrible twins of British politics: Labour and the Conservatives, seem keen to make life harder for the many, in favour of policies that affect the few. Both seem keen to inflict damage, one intentionally, the other without thinking, on the private school sector.

Today’s suggestion mooted in parts of the Press of an increase in selective school places in any Conservative manifesto will affect private secondary schools, especially if parents switch from fee-paying schools to fill the additional places in free state-funded selective schools. They can use the savings in fees to ensure success in the entry tests for the selective schools.

Labour’s plan for the abolition of private schools will create extra costs for the state system and seems likely have the same effect as the Tory proposals of driving pupils into state selective schools and state comprehensive schools in the residential areas where parents live. For some, it might also mean a move to a new house, unless the existing private schools were ‘nationalised’ in situ.

Either way, both ‘old’ parties of government seem keen to avoid offering headline policies for the many children in State education at present. What about reducing off-rolling by secondary schools and putting in place policies that confront the reasons why schools have taken that route?

And also abolishing Ofsted in favour of a national light touch oversight of standards and more flexible local quality assurance regimes allied to large-scale professional development of the workforce, including development of future leaders, sadly neglected since the abolition of clear policies and qualifications for headship disappeared under Labour.

To abolish the private sector, Labour will need to revoke the long-held right of parents to choose how to educate their own families. This is a level of state intervention in the lives of everyone, probably not seen outside of wartime. Indeed, Labour haven’t required it of the health service, where private health flourishes in certain sectors of the market.

Will Labour also seek to remove private companies offering after-school tuition and support, lest spending money on an extra maths class gives unfair support to the pupils that can afford it? Presumably, the cathedral choir schools will also disappear if they cannot survive on the National Funding Formula?

All this is of more than passing interest to me as I have been asked to stand as the Lib Dem candidate in Castle Point in Essex if there is a general election in December. Indeed, tomorrow Lib Dems at Westminster will push for one on a Monday early in the month at Westminster. Will Labour support them?

Castle Point includes Canvey Island, where as a youngster from North London, I went on holiday in the 1950s. It is also part of the Essex/Southend Selective School system and less well funded than either of the two Unitary Authorities that split it off from the rest of Essex.

Climate change: proposals for schools

I heard about this report from SSE on energy on the BBC this morning:

There doesn’t seem to be enough of a challenge for education, so I have reworked my earlier post into a series of challenges for schools. Do feel free to share it with others and send me additional challenges to raise with schools.

Climate Change is a challenge for the education sector as a whole, not just for state schools. Climate change challenges all education providers, from primary schools to higher education, and from small village schools to our chains of international private schools with campuses across the globe.

My proposals:

  1. Ensuring that by the end of this school-year every school has at least one charging point for an electric vehicle. This should be simple to achieve as it needs no new technology and a network of suppliers is in place to fit these points, either wall or column mounted. Of course, more than one point would be better, but let’s start the ball rolling with a simple and achievable target.
  2. To supply the electricity of these charging points, schools need a new incentive to use their roof space for the installation of photo-voltaic panels. Such a scheme would also provide a boost to this industry as it suffers from the ending of government schemes for domestic properties,
  3. School playgrounds are the most under-used of our public spaces. How can we make better use of them during the hours of daylight when they are empty of children and achieving nothing? Ingenuity in respect of playgrounds can create panels that are vertical when playgrounds are in use, but spread out horizontally to generate electricity when children are not about.
  4. This technology can be allied to the desire by the current government to create a world-leading battery technology industry. Schools are at the hub of their communities, so local generation of energy, stored when created and released when needed, can help challenge the traditional notion of power creation and distribution we are all familiar with.
  5. Many of our schools are still badly insulated. So we need a scheme to use a portion of the cash for education to reduce heat loss in schools through an insulation scheme for walls and ceilings.
  6. Require schools to replace all gas cooking in their kitchen by electric ovens, hobs and other appliances. I would also ask the design and technology departments to consider the use of gas in their home economics departments.
  7. On a bigger scale is the replacement of gas-fired boilers by other forms of heating. This is a big ask and we need to discuss with industry leaders how this might be achieved for all schools.
  8. Address the journey pupils take every day to and from school. We should aim to promote and reward such actions and discuss how to incentivise both schools and pupils to achieve a significant reduction in car journeys to and from school. I especially challenge the independent school sector to work with us on this task, as I know it is a real issue for many of those schools that draw pupils from a wide distance.