750 not out

After celebrating its 5th birthday in January this year, this blog has now reached another landmark: the 750th post. The administrators tell me that means somewhere close to 450,000 words have appeared so far, with a word count averaging somewhere between 550-600 words per post: slightly shorter in recent years than in 2013 and 214.

Key themes in recent times have included, the place of local democracy in the school system and the recruitment scene for teachers, whether into teacher training or for the labour market for teachers and school leaders. This blog has published an analysis of the monthly figures from UCAS for applicants and applications to teacher preparation courses for graduates almost since the day it started. Those post followed on from a monthly review I wrote during the first decade of the century. It that case, circulation was only to a band of paid subscribers.

My involvement with TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk and its global affiliate www.teachvacglobal.com has allowed me to make comments on the state of the labour market for teachers and school leaders in England. However, since much of the data TeachVac holds is unique to the company and TeachVac is a free to use recruitment site for both schools and teachers it isn’t a good idea to give away everything for free, so the data has been used sparingly on the blog.

How did this blog come about? Between 1998 and 2011 I wrote a series of columns for the Times Education Supplement, the venerable and much respected publication for the teachers and their schools. When I retired from their service, I wrote for Education Journal for a year or so, but was never really satisfied by being tied down again to a publication schedule: hence, eventually in 2013, the blog.

The nature of blogging provides freedom to the creator of the pieces to say what they want when they want. Originally, it was a blog about the numbers in education. To some extent it still is, but it has widened its approach, especially after I became a Liberal Democrat County Councillor in Oxfordshire in May 2013. My experiences with schools in Oxfordshire has resulted in a number of interesting posts since then, some of which have subsequently appeared in print in the Oxford Mail.

Where next for the blog? I suppose the next goal must be to reach 1,000 posts, probably by sometime in 2020. There is certainly enough to write about.

I would like to thank the many people that have added comments to the various posts over the years. There are some regular commentators, such as Janet Downs, and there are those that have just posted a comment about one specific post. Then there are the many people that have liked various posts. Thank you for your votes of support and appreciation.

The blog is mainly read by United Kingdom readers, although recently there have been more readers from the USA than in the early days and there has always been a small number of visitors from locations in different countries around the world.

If you have read this far, thank you for letting me indulge myself and I hope to keep you entertained, informed and possibly sometimes even educated.

 

 

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More secondary age pupils, but fewer pre-school entrants

This is the time of year when the DfE publishes its annual look at pupil projections for the next few years. This year’s output can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/national-pupil-projections-july-2018 There isn’t a lot in the document to surprise those that follow the data about pupil numbers. Secondary school pupil numbers are on the increase, but the downturn in births in 2013 is starting to affect the primary sector and will continue to do so over the next few years.

These numbers are a key component of the Teacher Supply Model that helps determine the number of new teachers needed. Clearly, becoming a secondary school teachers might be seen as a wise career choice, since rising numbers means more teachers to be employed – even if class sizes rise further – and more promoted posts to oversee the larger schools and the new schools that will be built. A yet to be built free secondary school in Oxford has just appointed someone in their early 30s as head designate. However, entering undergraduate training to be a primary school teacher may need slightly more thought. Yes, there will be jobs in 2021, when the class of 2018 emerge with their degrees, but there will be fewer pupils to be taught regardless of what happens to Brexit.

In Oxford, it was revealed this week, we have maintained primary schools with more than 20% of pupils with non-GBR EU citizenship. Of course, some will be Irish citizens and presumably unaffected by Brexit in terms of living and their parents working in Oxford. Some 90 out of the 2,100 teachers employed by the county are from outside the UK, but that includes Commonwealth and USA citizens as well as EU citizens.

Leaving Brexit aside, the future pupil population tables only predict any shift from the private sector to the state sector or, indeed, visa versa on past and current numbers in independent schools. The tables may also have to take into account the effects of home schooling in the future, if that really were to take off in a big way, especially for certain age-groups.

Indeed, this might be why training to be a primary teachers might also offer an alternative job opportunity as a tutor to one of the family’s that look to employ such a staff member. The day of the governess is now dead, but they have been replaced by the term tutor that like the term teacher seems to have become accepted as the term for employees of any gender.  Like the term teacher, it is also a term anyone can use to describe themselves and their occupation.

Disappointingly, there is no sub-national breakdown of future pupil projections in the data published by the DfE to allow for consideration of where might be an interesting place to base a career in teaching and where promotion might be slower in the future, especially in the primary sector.

Of course, the main concern is not calculating the number of teachers needed as a result of these projections, but filling the training places each year. As I have pointed out many times, the government seem unlikely to meet that requirement again this year. Hopefully, it will persuade those that do train to work in state-funded schools.

 

 

What’s happening to apprenticeships?

This blog doesn’t often venture into the world of further education and training. It is a specialist area that is generally best left to those that know more about it that myself. However, I was struck by the data on apprenticeships published by the DfE yesterday, amid a range of other statistics. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/apprenticeships-and-traineeships-july-2018 We are not, of course at the end of the statistical year for this dataset, but the fourth quarter is usually the quietist. As a result, the August to April data can be regarded as a relatively safe verdict on the direction of travel for apprenticeships.

It might have been thought that the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017 would have provided a boost for the number of new apprentices, as firms and public bodies sought to access their contributions to the Levy and the additional government support on offer. Sadly, that doesn’t seem always to have been the case. I know this from my continual questions to Oxfordshire County Council about the use, or lack of use, of the approaching half a million pounds collected from schools within the county. Sadly, if not used after two years the money goes to the Treasury coffers and not back to the schools from whose budgets it was collected: it is not as if schools have cash to spare and taxing them like this is bad government on a big scale.

Anyway, back to the data. In the period August 2017 to April 2018, some 753,300 apprenticeships were recorded. This is down from the 870,000 recorded in August t2016 to April 2017. The fall in under nineteens was from 689,300 to 592,700. Even accepting the fall in the size of the age cohort, this looks like quite a large fall in the number of young people on apprenticeships since the Levy was first raised in April 2017.

This fall is conformed in the data on new starts to apprenticeship, where the numbers seem even more dramatic, even after allowing for the possible late registration of some apprenticeships. As the DfE Bulletin notes: 290,500 apprenticeship starts have been reported so far in 2017/18, compared with 440,300 and 384,500 at this time in 2016/17 and 2015/16, a decrease of 34.0 and 24.5 per cent respectively. This doesn’t seem like a very good testimony to the creation of the Apprenticeship Levy. Surely, it was designed to increase participation and offer a route for young people that might want to earn and learn rather than pay and study at university. Under 19 starts are down in the nine month period from 122,800 to 90,300 across all of the apprenticeship routes. Even allowing for the change in size of the cohort, this is a disappointing statistic.

The drive to increase apprentice numbers has stalled. The 2017/18 numbers look being the lowest yearly total since the present record set was first collected in 2011/12. At a time when skilled labour is needed across the economy, either young people are turning their backs on apprenticeships in favour of higher education or the new system isn’t working, but is acting as a re-run of the Selective Employment Tax of the 1960s and sucking cash out of employers ad their business to eventually provide a windfall gain for the Treasury. Either way, a rethink seems necessary.

More or less local democracy in our school system: who cares?

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) at Westminster has published a short and interesting Report into ‘Converting Schools to Academies’. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/697/69702.htm

There is little to disagree with in the Report. The process has been expensive and has caused problems with the remaining statutory duties of local authorities. The Committee cited pupil place planning as an issue, but could have included SEND issues and the education of children taken into care. They could have also realised that Free Schools and the dalliance with the 14-18 sector that brought us UTCs and Studio Schools also contributed to the problems with pupil place planning.

Oxfordshire is one of the few, (perhaps the only?) local authority to require a regional school commissioner to appear before its Education Scrutiny Committee each year to give an account of progress of academies within his remit. The answers to the Scrutiny Committee’s questions have revealed a weak and probably largely ineffectual system for improving school performance among academies. The PAC were right to comment on the need for better links with the Education and Skills Funding Council and the RSCs.

Of interest to Oxfordshire was the PACs comments about small rural schools and academies. Oxfordshire has a large number of small rural primary schools that are much loved by the county. The PAC said

Small rural schools, particularly primary schools, can face particular difficulties in finding suitable sponsors. Low pupil numbers may make rural schools financially unviable and their geographical isolation can make it more difficult for multi-academy trusts to provide support. The Department told us that, since 2010, 1,379 rural primary schools had registered an interest in becoming an academy. Of those, 984 had gone on to apply to become an academy, including 262 that were small rural primary schools.

 The PAC asked what, particularly for small rural schools, the barriers were to becoming academies and how the barriers could be addressed. The Department told us that, in principle, the opportunity presented by a joining multi-academy trust should be greater for a smaller school than a larger one, because there was the potential to achieve more economies of scale.

One wonders why, if the point on economies of scale is true, it is secondary schools that have rushed to become academies while these small primary schools have held back, even in many diocese where they already had links outside of the local authority. It may be that under the 2010 Act many original converters became stand-alone academies and only now are they joining together into multi academy trusts.

This means that there are now three separate governance systems for our schools, often running alongside each other; maintained schools, mostly primary schools; standalone academies, mostly secondary schools and Trusts that can be either primary, secondary or a mixture of both with a smattering of all-through schools as well.

These separate systems are expensive to operate and can cause problems as the PAC Report demonstrated. The DfE will, at some point, have to think how to re-join the parts into a whole. For me, one key question with be the place of local democratic accountability in the system. Do we want an NHS style school system with little local accountability or one more akin to what there was between 1944 and the early 2000s, with a significant role for a democratically elected local body aligned to the rest of local government? Regular readers of this blog will know where I stand.

Recruitment – an end of term report

As schools start winding down for the start of the summer break, it is a good time to assess the current recruitment round for teachers. There clearly isn’t just one market for teachers. Rather there is a complex web of interlocking markets based on geography; phase and specialism, both in terms of subject expertise and other knowledge and experience. House prices matter, as does the reputation of schools and the willingness of applicants to travel any distance outside either their current travel to work comfort zone or to move their location either for a first job or a promotion.

Then there is the issue of retention and where those leaving are going. Frankly, that doesn’t matter to a school seeking to make an appointment. In the short-term, if they aren’t applying for your job or a quitting your school you can face a recruitment problem. Although exit interviews aren’t totally reliable, they can offer some insights if conducted by an independent company with experience in that field. The DfE might like to conduct some sample interviews and also put in place ‘keep in touch’ schemes for those that leave for a career break and are in the age-bracket most likely to want to return after a few years away from the classroom.

With so many curriculum changes in the offing, now is not the time to allow leavers that might return to feel de-skilled. You can read more about returners in the recently published study the NfER conducted some time ago for the DfE about their programme to encourage returners to teaching. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/evaluation-of-the-return-to-teaching-programme

Anyway, back to the current recruitment round. Comparing the number of trainees that qualified this summer with the vacancies on offer across England, it is clear to those of us with access to the TeachVac data that Design and Technology; Business Studies; English and music are the subjects where recruitment is likely to have been most challenging across the country. In Religious Education, the Sciences overall, and IT, the situation is a little better, but not much. Generally, the best supply situation nationally is in the EBacc subjects other than English and the Sciences. However, as this blog as stated in the past, numbers and quality are not always synonymous.

The position in the primary sector is more of a challenge to unravel, partly because of the manner in which vacancies are advertised. However, across most of the country, supply is probably more than adequate, although there may be local shortages of specific skills and expertise.

These numbers matter most to schools if they are faced with unexpected vacancies for January 2019. In the most critical subjects, where vacancies have already exceeded trainee numbers, schools would be best advised to either revamp the curriculum or offer to pay a fee to an agency if they can do the heavy lifting of finding a teacher should they be confronted by an unexpected vacancy.

Finally, it is worth recalling that these shortages come at a time when the Daily Mail is lamenting the fact that selective schools are making teachers redundant. How much worse would it be if schools were still hiring across the board, including to teach sixth form students.

 

 

Funding dilemma

There is an interesting story on the BBC web site today about a school with 300 holes in its roof. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-44456241 Now this is not a crumbling Victorian pile that ought to be knocked, down but a modern building recently re-built – with shiny design features and a landscaped setting. Unfortunately there appears to be a substantial issue with the roof.

Under the regime initiated by Labour and continued by the Coalition and the recent Conservative governments, education budgets have been devolved to schools and increasingly taken away from democratically elected local authorities. The professional association that represents most secondary head teachers, the ASCL, has supported school-led financing for ever and a day.

The Common Funding Formula now being introduced is a direct result of this line of thinking. I well recall when head teachers couldn’t even authorise the change of a light bulb without an order number from their local authority and that was obviously as crazy in education as it has been elsewhere in the public sector where I have encountered such rigid rules controlling expenditure. There has to be a degree of trust of those in authority at all levels. Heads know this when allowing heads of department latitude in how the spend money on their subject or age group.

The problem comes, as with the school in the BBC story, when there are special needs in terms of problems facing a school. I wrote about this issue in terms of UTCs with extra equipment needs because they specialised in high cost areas such as engineering or manufacturing. A common formula doesn’t take this aspect into account.

The stark dilemma is either a common formula that hurts those on the extreme of spending demands or a formula plus add-ons decided by someone either nationally or locally. The government has solved the dilemma in Multi-Academy Chains by suggesting, in Lord Agnew’s recent letter, a return to the status quo ante whereby money can be vired between schools at the behest of the MAT governing group.

So, the solution for this school may be to join a MAT rather than remain as a single academy or a sin this case a Voluntary Aided school that presumably had to pay for part of the rebuilding cost?. The problem for these schools is that no self-respecting MAT would want a school with such horrendous building problems that affects their budget. This can leave such schools in limbo until someone somewhere finds the cash to solve the problem.

More than century ago, Sidney Webb considered the issue of school funding in a chapter in one of his books. He discussed the issue of a non-specific grant versus the totally hypothecated funding stream of the time: his preference was for the former rather than the latter.

This debate comes on top of the wider debate about the funding of schools and the need for more cash. It is disingenuous of anyone to try and mix up the two problems. The former will remain even if there is more cash overall, unless the system of distribution is altered.

Of course the system can also make economics, as I have demonstrated by backing TeachVac, the free vacancy web site for schools and teachers. www.teachvac.co.uk So far TeachVac seems to be doing much better than the DfE site in the North East, but that’s a story for another day.

Good news for Didcot

Well done to the Oxfordshire UTC. The 14-19 school received a ‘Good’ rating from Ofsted this week, after its first ever inspection. In the same week the UTC in Derby was placed in special measures.

You can read the Ofsted report on the Oxfordshire UTC at  https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/ELS/141111 Schools week had some interesting statistics on UTCs recently. https://schoolsweek.co.uk/derby-manufacturing-utc-placed-in-special-measures/ Apparently, according to the report by Schools Week

almost a quarter of the 33 UTCs inspected so far have received Ofsted’s bottom grade.

Sixty-one per cent of all UTCs inspected have been rated less than ‘good’.  Six, all grade three or four, have since closed.

 Of the remaining 27 that are still open, 14 are rated either ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.

Most UTCs have struggled since they were established in 2010, mainly because of problems attracting enough pupils to stay financially viable. Eight have so far closed.

 In January, Schools Week revealed that almost every UTC missed its recruitment targets last year, leaving them with combined debts of over £11 million.”

The UTC in Didcot is clearly bucking the trend for UTCs as a whole and I am grateful to the person that emailed me last night after the Ofsted Report had appeared to draw it to my attention. However, I still have anxieties over its long-term future if it cannot fill all the places it has on offer.

What Ofsted have revealed is that although the Oxfordshire UTC is still a work in progress it has strong leadership and a clear vision of what it is seeking to achieve.  The school and its staff are also aware that a proportion of their pupils come to them at fourteen with a less than successful record of achievement in the school system. Unlike some 14-18 schools they are not only aware of this but also set out to change the relationship with these pupils and the education system. That’s a tough job, but like Meadowbrook, the alternative provision in Oxfordshire, where Ofsted also commented on the work with teenagers that have reacted against schooling, the Oxfordshire UTC is also winning the hearts and minds of these young people. As Ofsted commented in their summary:

Pupils, including some who had previously struggled to engage with education, are inspired by the UTC’s ethos.

The Inspector went on to add that:

Since the UTC opened, some pupils have arrived in Year 10 having had negative experiences of schooling. Staff quickly get to know the pupils well, and support and reassure any experiencing stress or anxiety. Pupils gain a sense of community, security and pride during their time at UTC Oxfordshire. This equips them with great confidence and maturity.

Inspection report: UTC Oxfordshire, 22–23 May 2018

Schools cannot succeed without strong and purposeful leadership and the Oxfordshire UTC certainly has a leader creating a successful school back by a strong team and supportive sponsors.

My more general anxiety is how the next generation of leaders for the school system will be developed? Some Mats will ensure that they create leadership pathways, but how will the stand alone academies and the remaining maintained schools ensure a leadership pipeline that is sufficient to meet the needs of all schools. This question is especially pertinent at a time when the need for career pathways for teachers that doesn’t involve whole school leadership is once again being discussed.

There are other reasons why I have concerns about 14-18 schools, but in this case I am delighted to offer my congratulations to the Oxfordshire UTC.