If you can do: if you can’t teach.

ImageLast August I published a report for the Pearson Think Tank[1] concerning teacher supply issues.  Although there is not a present crisis, I warned of the coming together of a number of factors that might produce a perfect storm. These are increasing school rolls that will deliver around 800,000 more pupils to be educated by the end of the decade; falling interest in some areas of teaching that may be associated with the increase in tuition fees; and worryingly low morale in a profession that is facing a pay freeze.

Now long-term forecasting is not an exact science, but as the US National Hurricane Center demonstrates, it can have its uses. Hurricane Isaac was first noted over a week before it hit New Orleans, and the discussions of its possible effects were available for all to see. By contrast, the DfE response to my report was along the lines of, everything is fine and recruitment this year is actually up on last year. Indeed, for many years regular monitoring of trends in applications was suppressed in case it ‘might worry the horses’.

Of course, Mr Gove has done much to prevent a crisis emerging, not least by his announcement after the start of the parliamentary recess that academies along with free schools could employ anyone as a teacher. Well academies always could, if they couldn’t find a qualified teacher, but now they don’t even have to worry about fulfilling that test. Anyone can be a teacher. It was the last Labour government that first hoodwinked parents by reclassifying what had been termed instructors as unqualified teachers. On top of Mr Gove’s earlier changes, to allow certified teachers from anywhere in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand automatic Qualified Teacher Status, and granting QTS to many who have qualified in the FE sector, this latest move, unheralded and never discussed in public, should mean enough bodies on the ground to prevent any teacher supply crisis in terms of numbers.  My anxiety is that teaching in the twenty first century isn’t the same as it was in single-sex selective schools half a century ago. Teaching will now join politics as one of the few areas where no training is necessary before employment. Indeed, I shortly expect to hear claims that businessmen should be brought in to become heads. As I always say to journalists who ask my view about this issue, if you will let me be your editor, no doubt you can become a head. Curiously, most want someone who has been a journalist as their editor: I can’t think why.

However, I do now expect to see schools starting to list the qualifications, and training routes of their staff in their brochures or prospectus. Imagine cameos such as ‘fresh from a PhD on the Higgs Boson’ or ‘degree from a leading university, teacher trained at Cambridge and with a higher degree from Manchester’.

Of course, we are going to need more teachers if schooling becomes an export industry. Marlborough’s new campus in Malaysia is just the latest in a growing trend of overseas schools exporting UK education overseas. It will be interesting to see whether they use unqualified teachers?

Professor John Howson runs a company called DataforEducation.info. His collection of columns from 2011-12 can be found as an e-book on Amazon under the title: Please Miss. “Do pigs have wings?”

[1] The Future Teacher Workforce: Quality and Quantity

Cash not much use in the bank

School balances continued to increase as publicly funded schools across England ignored the  need to help the economy grow and added around a billion pounds sterling to their bank accounts in the 2011/12 financial year. Reserves now top the equivalent of 7% of revenue income.

Taking taxpayers hard earned pounds and putting the cash into school banks accounts seems a dumb thing to do when the economy is headed for a triple dip recession.

Here’s what I wrote when the figures appeared last year, and it still holds good.

Use school reserves to help the economy grow

Should any school be sitting on uncommitted reserves of over £1mn? Should schools be allowed to convert their income designed to be spent on present pupils into funding for capital projects to benefit future generations?  If so, over what time period should the accumulation of such funds be allowed? Should there be a claw back of Pupil Premium from schools that have revenue reserves that remain at over £1mn for more than two years, or alternatively whose reserves exceed a predefined proportion of their revenue income each year?

Ever since the arrival of ‘local management of schools’, around 20 years ago, there have been concerns about how some schools handle their money. By the end of the 2010-11 financial year some £1.95* billion of real money was located in the reserves of maintained schools, with presumably a further unidentifiable sum sitting in the bank accounts of academies.


The figure  for reserves rose by £300 million between the end of the 2009-10 financial year and March 2011, boosting the average revenue balance for maintained school from £77,000 to £91,000 in just one year. The average revenue balance for a primary school in the maintained sector was £87,000 in March 2011, whilst it was £208,000 for the average secondary school, and £132,000 for the average special school. Overall, a sum equivalent to more than 5% of revenue income was sitting in school reserves at the end of the 2010-11 financial year. The 92.4% of schools with cash reserves represented the largest percentage of schools this century with reserves.

Part of the reason for the rise in balances was the reduction in the number of schools with deficit budgets. The number fell from 1,968 in 2009-10 to 1,511 at the end of 2010-11. Of course, it may be that some of this reduction was the result of schools with deficits being closed and re-opening as academies whose data are not included and not traceable despite being pubic money. Amongst the 1,511 schools with deficit budgets in March 2011, the average amount of the deficit had increased from £82,000 in March 2010 to almost £95,000 in March 2011. Given that during the same period the average for schools with a surplus increased from almost £93,000 to over £105,000 per school, the gap between the schools at either end of Mr Micawber’s scale widened to an average figure of £200,000.

As increases in staff salaries are capped for the next few years, there ought to be no reason why schools should not start to release the cash they are holding onto as a contribution to the growth strategy the government so urgently needs to boost the general economy. Injecting even a quarter of the reserves would add £500 million to public spending without the need to justify raising it through taxation. If used to offer temporary teaching posts, it would both help to reduce unemployment and cut spending on benefits. Used to create a government funded intern scheme for new graduates it might allow 20,000 young people to enter the labour market for a year. But, how you would force schools to spend the money is another matter.

*In 2011-12 the total revenue balance across all  LA maintained schools was £2.3 billion, an increase of £0.4 billion (18.8%) over the 2010-11 revenue balance figure of £2.0 billion. This equates to an average surplus in each school of almost £111,000.. The total revenue balance of £2.3 billion is  7.1% of the  total revenue income across all  LA maintained schools. This is an increase of  1.7 percentage points compared with the 2010-11 figure of 5.4%. source http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/adminandfinance/financialmanagement/schoolsrevenuefunding/section251/a0068022/school-balances