A National Vacancy Service for Teachers?

The DfE’s explanation of their aim for a national vacancy service mentioned in yesterday’s blog may have partly been provoked by the following parliamentary question answered on the 13th October.

Gloria De Piero: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, when the free national teacher vacancy website announced in the March 2016 White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere will be operational. 

Nick Gibb: The Department is undertaking user research with head teachers, school business managers and recruitment staff and established, returning, aspiring and newly qualified teachers, to strengthen its understanding of the issues schools face when advertising teacher vacancies and the challenges teachers have finding and applying for jobs. It is using this to inform the development and design of a new national teacher vacancy service. We are currently at an early stage of prototyping the new service and testing to ensure the service design is one that best meets the needs of users. Depending on the outcome of this development phase, we would expect to start building a service early in 2018. 

Any teacher vacancy service will aim to reduce the time schools spend on publishing vacancies and the cost of recruiting new teachers; make it easier for aspiring and current teachers to find jobs quickly and easily; and increase the availability and quality of data on teacher recruitment.

So, who might be the winners and losers if the DfE does eventually go ahead with a national vacancy service? Much depends upon the structure and take-up of such a service, and it is too early to tell exactly what it might look like. However, assume a free full service model something like TeachVac already provides, but possibly with a few more bells and whistles in terms of handling applications, offering schools facilities for internal short-listing and the handling of references between schools.

Existing paid for vacancy platforms would either have to win the contract, assuming that the DfE puts the service out to tender; possibly at a much lower income than at present, or try to compete with free to schools government service. That scenario has happened in the past when the School Recruitment Service was launched in around 2009. However, the DfE seems to have learnt something from its past mistakes and will presumably be prepared to back any new service more effectively. Nevertheless, as ever, the issue remains as to whether the DfE service can persuade job seekers to come on-board and use the service as their main source of vacancy information or whether schools will continue to use other services, including paid for platforms?.

There is another issue if the government runs the service and that is access to the data collected. At present, the DfE has little management information on the working of the teacher labour market in real-time. A national vacancy service would change that situation, as we know for the data we collect at TeachVac. Indeed, it is one of the reasons for establishing such a service.

Will the teacher associations, the NGA, teacher educators and others with an interest in this area be willing to cede total control over the data to the government?

An alternative model would be for either some joint arrangements between all the interested parties and the DfE or just among the interested parties that train and recruit teachers. They have access to the teachers and trainee and could operate a ‘not for profit’ model at least as cost effectively as the DfE because they are already more commercially minded than the civil servants in Sanctuary Buildings.

 

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Winds of change

Congratulations to NASBTT (National Association of School Based Teacher Trainers) and UCET (The University Council for the Education of Teachers) for setting up a joint venture. I am sure nobody will ask about whether they are now trainers or educators of new teachers, or perhaps a bit of both?

Anyway, closer working between these two bodies is to be welcomed, as was the speech by Emma Hollis, the new Executive Director of NASBTT. Addressing a reception this afternoon in the Thames Pavilion of the House of Commons, under an eerie sky clouded with dust dragged in by ex-hurricane Ophelia, Emma announced the formation of AATEP – The Association of Accredited Teacher Education Providers, the joint venture between NASBTT and UCT- so perhaps it is education after all. Both organisations are dedicated to quality provision and that’s what matters most. I wish the new organisation well and Emma a long and successful time as NABTT’s Executive Director.

Both when going to and on the way home from the NASBTT event, I came across the new advert of teaching as a career put out by the DfE. I wonder what you think of the text that reads as follows: ‘My bursary was actually like a salary. It covered things like living costs and childcare for my daughter.’

Leaving aside the use of the word ‘things’ when outgoings might have been more appropriate and in line with the government’s view of the use of English, I wonder what the message is to those that don’t qualify for a bursary? Your living costs don’t matter; you don’t deserve a salary during your training as a teacher – unless that is you are on Teach First. Perhaps it is that only trainees in bursary subjects have childcare costs?

In this advert there is no attempt at depicting teaching as a profession for anyone, regardless of race or gender. Rather it reinforced the view of the profession as dominated, as it, is by white females. Now there may be other advertisements, but this is the one I saw twice today in different newspapers. There also aren’t any pupils in the advert either, so I am also not sure what that says about encouraging new entrants into the profession.

All this on the day when the DfE came clean about their work on a new National Vacancy Service for teachers that could change the face of teacher recruitment for ever. The DfE’s approach so far seems methodical and in line with the government’s digital strategy. I wonder, how much it will worry those organisations offering the bulk of the paid for advertisements for teacher vacancies?

Should the DfE decide to develop a fully functional recruitment site in house, such a move could have a real effect on several organisations that make some of their profits from advertising teacher vacancies. At this stage, the DfE is still working through the process of where to go and I am sure the issue of cost will be important, especially after the admission last week that the DfE still has further savings to make to meet the announced funding for schools that both the two associations of heads and school leaders don’t think is enough.

 

School funding and outcomes

After the pomp and ceremony of Tuesday afternoon in Oxford, yesterday afternoon was devoted to attendance at a seminar arranged by the Centre for Education Economics around the topic of ‘school funding and outcomes’. The seminar was chaired by the Chief Executive of NfER and they also contributed one of the speakers. Other speakers included, an academic from the University of Surrey; a speaker from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and a civil servant from the National Audit office.

Data presented on the international evidence about funding and output used OECD data is probably affected by the presence of so many different variables as to provide no clear signal, we need to know a lot more before any conclusions about direct causal relationship between funding levels and outcomes can be drawn. Teacher quality has featured as an important variable in some studies, especially in the USA, but even here it isn’t clear whether parental support and direct investment has been taken into account when looking at teacher outcomes.

The private spend by parents and the effects of such income on school outcomes needs further research and CfEE, the sponsors of the seminar, might like to look into how such influence might be researched. As long ago as 1986, I recorded a state school in Weybridge as including in its prospectus that ‘a donation of £14 requested from new pupils towards the school fund’. (Schools in London’s Commuterland). These days that same school now provides a list of support materials, including some that look like textbooks, parents may wish to provide for their offspring on arrival at the school. As an off-balance sheet expenditure it is difficult to measure the effects of such purchases on school outcomes, but the research community should try to do so.

Leaving aside the complexities of measuring teacher quality as a key variable in determining output levels, the seminar speakers and the audience, when asked to project forward how funding might change over time, were almost universally gloomy on the levels of school funding likely between now and the mid-2020s. Even beyond 2020, there is no clear picture, but rising pupil numbers and the prospect of a slowdown in the world economy at some point from present levels all seem to suggest continued funding challenges are likely, even if there isn’t any rebalancing of funds towards either or both of early years and further education.

The nightmare scenario of repaying student debt from existing government funding suggested by Labour must not be at the expense of other parts of the education system, including schools. Nevertheless, channelling funds to early years or technical education may require schools to make further economies unless new money can be found. This may, of course, reduce the teacher supply problem by creating fewer teaching posts, but if it increased the departure rate for existing teachers it could perversely make matters worse.

As the setter of policy for the school system, the DfE must take these issues into account. Whether it has done sufficiently we will hear some clues today when officials from the DfE appear in front of the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster.

 

Law rules, OK

Yesterday afternoon I spent engaging in a series of events that skilfully blended the modern with the traditional. Oxford as a city seems quite good at such activities. The afternoon started with the Oxford Law Lecture. This was instituted some 14 years ago by the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire to take place on the same day as the Court Sermon. This year’s lecture was provided by Lord Igor Judge and discussed the ’rule of law’: a very appropriate topic in these times of constitutional upheaval.

Linking the lecture and the sermon later in the afternoon is the ceremony of the gloves, where a visiting high court judge is presented with a pair of gloves by representatives of the City of Oxford and the longer-operating of the city’s two universities. The actual ceremony takes place in the Dean of Christ Church’s lodgings, so is not open to the public. Interestingly, the Lord Mayor in full ceremonial robes and chain, preceded by the City mace, walks almost unnoticed from the town hall to Christ Church College along a most undistinguished route, past rows of people queuing at the city’s main conglomeration of bus stops.

All well and good, I hear you saying, but what has this to do with a blog that is about education? Well, I firmly believe that as public institutions schools are required to understand the concept of the rule of law and to apply it wherever possible. My campaign about the time it takes for some looked after children to be offered a school place is a case in point. Are they being denied their right to education for a responsible reason or because of procedures set up to benefit the school? Now, I am sure that the school might argue its procedures are for the benefit of the many and not the individual. But, every individual has the right to access education and to discriminate against those that move into an area mid-year by making it harder for them is to place an unfair burden on children for whom the move may not have been their fault.

I also believe that the draconian discipline measures reported as being introduced by some schools also flout the principle of the rule of law. A detention for reacting to a noise behind you with no right of appeal may be necessary in the short-term to regain control in a school that has descended into chaos, but should never form part of a discipline code that relies upon fear of making a mistake more than on an understanding of the need for order in classrooms as part of a long-term strategy. What sort of citizens are we trying to produce in our schools? Indeed, what type of teacher does such a system also produce? Rules should be kept because they are sensible for all and, thus, accepted by all.

Helping children internalise the understanding of why there are rules and laws is important. Developing an understanding of the purpose of laws, whereby adults don’t need to create rules obeyed just because, I say so, is to help young people to grow and develop. We warn the young child off for knowing the dangers of a hot stove; we expect adults to internalise the dangers. How we in education carry out our rules so that they are fair to all is a mark of a society that understands the rule of law as well as the rules of law.

Apprenticeships and schools

The government has published some experimental statistics around the use of apprenticeship by those providers registered with the central service for administration. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/apprenticeship-service-registrations-and-commitments-august-2017 The most interesting feature of the numbers is the fact that there were more apprenticeships registered for those over the age of twenty five than in either of the other two younger age groups. Under nineteens were the smallest numerical grouping. If this reflects the overall pattern, then apprenticeships are not reaching young people who might previously have left school at sixteen. These numbers also don’t suggest a wholesale flight from higher education into apprenticeships, at least in the first year of the apprenticeship levy for centrally registered employers.

Locally, in Oxfordshire, I have asked for information about the amount of cash collected by the local authority from the maintained school sector. There is a silly system whereby academies and voluntary schools only pay the apprenticeship levy if their pay bill is over £3miliion per year whereas all maintained schools will pay, except perhaps in the smallest local authorities, as the collective authority pay bill will almost certainly be over £3million even when many services have been contracted out.

I am keen to see how much of the cash collected is being spent on apprenticeships and what happens if the fund is underspent this year? I would hate for the cash to be lost either into the general budget or returned to government as unspent: effectively representing a tax on hard pressed schools.

Looking at school web sites, the apprentice learning assistant seems the most common type of school-based apprenticeship on offer. I worry, in a few cases, whether this is really an apprenticeship leading to a qualification or a cheap way of paying just £3.40 an hour to someone to do the job for most of the week. I don’t know who is monitoring the provision of apprenticeship and where an apprentice can complain if they think they are just being exploited: although I am sure that wouldn’t be the case by a school.

I have seen science and IT technical type apprenticeship offered by schools and MATs that seem obvious areas for providing skill based training. There are also some in the area of supporting physical education in schools. This is another area where the job description risks creating quasi-teachers.

Then there is the issue of teacher apprentices, as discussed in an earlier post, will they replace the School Direct Salaried route as a more cost effective approach for schools and, if so, will they be attractive to adult career changers on the one hand and the teaching profession on the other? Will professional associations embrace them or tell their members not to support such trainees as they undermine the notion of an all graduate profession let alone the dream of a Masters level profession for the future?

As I suggested before, could such apprenticeships could also lead to the return of the In-service BEd degree. I well recall teaching Certificate teachers on this course in the 1980s and 1990s and a great experience it was. But, it shouldn’t be necessary again.

 

 

New measures merely sticking plaster

Over the weekend the Secretary of State announced new measures to deal with the growing unease about the costs of higher education. She capped fees; adjusted the level at which repayments commence and made some technical changes to support for trainee teachers as well as espousing the apprenticeship route to trained employment and the development of skills. However, she didn’t do anything about the 3.1% management free on the tuition debt charged to students and displayed a somewhat limited knowledge of economics by trying to blame universities for not introducing lower cost courses for some degrees. As this blog has pointed out in the past, why would any provider cuts income when supply exceeded demand? With the number of eighteen year olds falling over the next few years, universities might well offer lower priced degree courses, but will they be shunned as possibly of a lower quality by potential students: we shall see.

The announcements about help for schools, some teachers and trainee teachers seems to be just tinkering at the edges of the recruitment crisis and based on some dubious assumptions in areas where the DfE lacks credible up to date data, as the NAO recently pointed out in their Report on teacher supply issues.

The series of measures announced by the Secretary of State, include:

  • Piloting a new student loan reimbursement programme for science and Modern Foreign Language (MFL) teachers in the early years of their career, targeted in the areas of the country that need them most. The pilot scheme will benefit around 800 MFL and 1,700 science teachers a year. A typical teacher in their fifth year of work would benefit by around £540 through reimbursement, and this would be more for teachers with additional responsibilities. This is in addition to the benefit that teachers will get from the newly-announced student loan repayment threshold rise.
  • New style bursaries in maths will also be piloted, with generous upfront payments of £20,000 and early retention payments of £5,000 in the third and fifth year of a teacher’s career. Increased amounts of £7,500 will also be available to encourage the best maths teachers to teach in more challenging schools.
  • £30 million investment in tailored support for schools that struggle the most with recruitment and retention, including investment in professional development training so that these schools can benefit from great teaching.
  • Supporting our best teacher trainer providers, including top Multi Academy Trusts, with Northern Powerhouse funding to expand their reach in to challenging areas in the north that do not currently have enough provision so more areas benefit from excellent teacher training, and help increase the supply of great teachers to the schools that need them the most.

Leaving aside the fact that there are far greater shortages in some other subjects than MFL and the sciences, such as design and technology and ICT, and in places even English, there is no obvious shortage of biology teachers and the government has little or no idea of whether suspected shortage of languages teachers is in certain languages or across the board?

The new arrangement for maths teachers looks like a return to golden handcuffs, tried before and abandoned. I assume the £7,500 payments will be in the form of payments to certain schools to pay recruitment and retention allowances of perhaps £2,500 per year for a three year period?

The £30 in tailored support might mean a return of recruitment staff, although they are best employed at a local authority level. Providing extra funding for CPD won’t go very far and it isn’t clear whether this is a single payment or designed to be continued for several years.

In a DfE strapped for cash, changes were never going to be very generous. However, these look poorly thought out and are likely to make little difference to the teacher supply crisis in the subjects they target and none in the other subjects where schools are struggling to recruit teachers.

Supporting music for young people

Over the weekend I attended two charity events in the music world. In many ways they were a microcosm of society today and reflected some ofthe wide divisions even in a city such as Oxford. Saturday’s event was in aid of The Young Women’s Music Project (YWMP). This is an  educational charity that is described in their own words as offering twice-monthly free workshops for women aged 14-21, which provide an inclusive and supportive space for young women to make music together, learn new skills, express themselves, and grow in confidence.  In their music workshops, they make and record music, plan and hold gigs and events, and discuss relevant issues affecting young people. YWMP is trans inclusive.

YWMP also brings cutting-edge projects, gigs, exhibitions and talks to Oxford in high profile institutions such as Modern Art Oxford, the Ashmolean Museum, and the Pitt Rivers Museum, in partnerships with hospitals, schools, and organizations for vulnerable young people such as VIP+ and Readipop. The projects helps young people to challenge issues affecting them in a creative and productive way, such as class, race, sexuality, gender, mental health, and consent. Their web site can be found at: http://www.ywmp.org.uk/about

YWMP’s event was a supper evening in Silvie, a bakery café on Oxford’s Iffley Road. (https://www.facebook.com/Silvie-1089930287738590/) and included poetry and music from some of the young women the charity has helped. This is a small scale charity working with many young women for whom music can matter, where creating performing or supporting on the technical side. The last is a space still mainly occupied by men.

Sunday night’s venue was on the other side of the city at Lincoln College. The college were hosts of a concert by young, and in one case very young, musicians sponsored by the charity, Awards for Young Musicians. This charity aims to help by supporting those with a talent for music, but not the financial wherewithal to be able to develop their potential. Three musicians with a collective age of just 37 and supported by the charity entertained the invited audience with a variety of classical music pieces. One of the players lives on the Isle of Wight and travels every Saturday to the Royal College of Music, a roundtrip of seven hours every Saturday, and this on top of his practice time. (www.a-y-m.org.uk). A different audience, two very different settings, but a common theme.

Both charities are well worthy of support and are trying to keep alive the great tradition of music for all our young people and not to restrict it just to those whose families can afford it. Music was one of the great success stories of the post 1944 Education Act world in which I received my education. However, ever since the 1990s, music in schools has been under an increasing threat of being marginalised. This is despite the recognition of the importance of the arts in schools that occurred when the National Curriculum was first introduced.

The present utilitarian Philistines of Sanctuary Buildings that have devised the EBacc seemingly have no real feeling for the arts in schools. The loss of cash to local authorities in favour of schools and academies has also not done music any favours, as disorganised MATs and stand- alone academies are more of challenge to persuade to work together on developing extra-curricular activities in areas such as music than in the days when the value of central funding for music services was fully recognised as a valuable part of State education in England. Hence, today, the importance of charities such as the two highlighted here. There are, of course, many others. But, if you are interested in supporting music for young people these are two I am happy to commend to your attention.