Hard work ahead on teacher supply

This has been a busy week for statistics about teacher preparation courses in England. Along with the full details of allocations made for 2014, published last Friday afternoon with little or no notice, always an interesting sign when that happens, there has been the census of recruitment to 2013 courses that was published on Tuesday.

The headlines from 2014 allocations are that higher education is still massively involved in teacher preparation, either directly or through validating the offerings of schools places offered via the School Direct scheme. However, many universities find themselves with allocations that are not economic in terms of viable courses, and there may still be other higher education institutions that follow Bath and the OU and either exit teacher preparation completely or withdraw from particular subjects. As the DfE has ensured some 30% more secondary places than might have been allocated if the Teacher Supply Model was followed more closely the risk has been transferred to students should all places be filled. In reality, there will be a tussle between the School Direct route and higher education in many subjects as to which places will be filled if the government cannot attract enough potential applications into teaching.

This is where the evidence from the 2013 ITT Census becomes important. Taken in association with the figures from the previous two years it shows some reduction in places filled. But, this was partly due to the 13% over-allocation the government has now owned up to. However, that does not explain either the massive decline in applications to train as design and technology teachers or the further declines in computer science and physics trainees accepted on to courses. The lack of awareness on the part of ministers as to how important the study of design and technology in schools is to the British economy is extremely worrying. Whether this lack of concern is part of the class system that says since you cannot study the subject at Oxford or Cambridge it cannot be important, or comes from a ministerial team with limited experience manufacturing industry I cannot tell. However, I might have expected the RSA along with other bodies with an interest in the future of design to be alarmed by the figures. The same is true for computing. I doubt whether the government will easily fulfil its desire to improve the skills in programming across the nation unless something is done to overcome a lack of trainees.

On May 8th I posted on this blog my concerns about recruitment for 2013, and that helped spark a debate about both where we train teachers and how many to train. My prediction for 2014 is that the challenge to recruitment may well be even tougher than last year, and the failure of the head of the NCTL to address the issue of teacher supply in his speech yesterday at the Academies Show, at least in the version I have seen, was a missed opportunity. In almost every subject the School Direct scheme under-performed higher education in recruitment, apparently leading one Vice Chancellor to reflect that universities rose to the government’s rescue. I wouldn’t put it quite like that, but how schools handle the significant increase in places allocated to them needs close monitoring. After all, in 2013, School Direct barely recruited more trainees than the former employment-based programmes achieved at the height of their popularity. That’s a long way off the total domination of teacher preparation ministers were championing only a year ago. This will be an interesting twelve months.

100 not out

When I used to write a weekly column for the TES it would have taken me about two and a half years to write 100 columns as a result of holidays and other interruptions. By contrast, I only started this blog in January of 2013, and have reached a century of posts before the year is out, even though I originally aimed at only one post a week. I reckon that’s now about 50,000 words, give or take a few.

Although I started with the intention of just continuing to write about education data, the topics I have covered have broadened somewhat during the past 10 months to encompass other education issues. So, I thought that I would think about my personal top three posts in this the 100th post.

My personal top three posts are:

Sunshine, but political and personal sadness  – posted on 17th July

National Poetry Day  – posted on 3rd October

STEM subjects lead retreat from teachingposted on 7th August

The first, and one of the most viewed, tells of my sorrow at the death of a leading Liberal Democrat education activist and the departure from the Party for other reasons of another former activist. The National Poetry Day poem is one that tried to link together school history and the First World War by starting with the notion of a school trip to the killing grounds of France. Unlike many poems it starts in the third person but switches to the first person as a pupil reflects on what might have happened had he been born a century earlier. The third post was the part of a sequence about initial teacher education that charted the debate about recruitment and the new routes for training teachers. This particular post found me in hot water with some people who didn’t agree with what I wrote.

So, where does the blog go from here? After a period when there has been little data to write about, suddenly it seems much more data is becoming available once again. That should provide me with plenty to write about over the next couple of months providing I can find the time to do so.

I would also like to thank the many readers from this country and around the world that have sent me comments about particular posts. To date, there have been nearly 6,000 views from people on all continents, although South America and Africa are less well presented than Europe and Asia. Perhaps that to be expected because of language and internet issues. As might be expected with a blog of this type, the bulk of the views have come from within the United Kingdom, and I am grateful to those who regularly re-blog my thoughts to others.

I now look forward to the next 100 posts or perhaps the milestone will be 250 rather than 200, with a target date of the end of 2014. But, as government over time have found, targets can be a double-edged sword: so we shall see.


Too late by five: the challenge facing educators

Summer born pupils have a lower outcome score on the early learning goals according to new DfE statistics released last week. Boys also do less well than girls and pupils on free school meals less well than other pupils. Pupils from some ethnic groups performed less well than others and the largest attainment gaps was between pupils with special needs already identified at that age and those with no identified special needs. The evidence can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/eyfsp-attainment-by-pupil-characteristics-2013

Many years ago I worked with a sociologist who was of the view that boys did better at nursery school because they were more demanding. They may still be both more demanding and boisterous, but they don’t do better according to this data. According to the DfE, 49% of all pupils achieve at least the expected level in all early learning goals, but that masks the gap between girls achieving 58% as a group, and boys at 41%. The widest gaps between boys and girls are in writing and exploring and using media where the gap is 16% point. The narrowest gap is in technology, at just one percentage point in favour of girls. In reading the gap is 11 percentage points.

The data are interesting on the term in which a pupil was born.  Some 60% of autumn born children achieved at least the expected level in all early learning goals. This compared with just 38% of summer born children.   Resolving this issue is essential if summer born children are not to be left behind throughout their schooling. How it can be resolved is a matter of judgement. In the first instance it might be interesting to see the outcome of these goals if administered after the same degree of exposure to schooling by children born at different times of year. If a middle class child girl in the autumn significantly outperforms boys on free school meals born in the summer then there is clearly a quality assurance issue that cannot be resolved by holding back the children that perform better. This is especially an issue in school-based activities, since the difference in attainment in writing is a 22% gap, and in numbers the attainment gap between autumn and summer born children overall was 20%. If these figures become widely known they might have an impact on maternity services if families chose to have more autumn born babies and less summer born children.

Perhaps not surprisingly, children where English was not their first language performed less well than native speakers of English, with the widest attainment gap being in speaking at 19% points, and the narrowest in moving and handling where it was just 2%, perhaps because this requires little language knowledge, except presumably to understand the task.

There is much debate about testing children too early in life, but some form of teacher assessment as a baseline seems a sensible approach if we are ever to make progress at removing the inequalities between different groups in society. These figures show the depth of inequality that is already in place by the time children enter formal schooling.

Did the PM see this one coming?

Ofsted put a secondary school in the Prime Minister’s constituency into special measures this week. This was the second secondary school in Oxfordshire to go into special measures in less than a year. Between the two schools they garnered a score of seven out of eight possible Grade 4s, with a clean sweep only being prevented by the Grade 2 in the pupil behaviour and safety category awarded to the latest school to enter special measures . The fact that the latest school to be put into special measures was graded ‘outstanding’ last time Ofsted came to call in 2010 must also be matter for some concern.

In the same week Tory MP Nick Boles said he wanted more freedom for head teachers to employ who they want, and not be told by the State who can teach, so presumably he would not agree with the ban imposed by Ofsted on both these schools employing newly qualified teachers. But that is a sideline to the big question of who is responsible for allowing these two schools in middle England to deteriorate to a point where they are judged inadequate? As I know from personal experience, the lack of a middle tier overseeing schools has proved a problem. Last year, a Report suggested the creation of Education Commissioners along the lines of the Police and Crime Commissioners elected last November across most of England. Rumours in the press now suggest that Michael Gove’s officials are considering going further with the idea of unelected officials to oversee the running, and presumably the improvement, of schools. Apparently, this would be a job for former head teachers. On the basis that each ‘controller’ was responsible for 100 schools, that might require around 200 new appointments, with no doubt nine seniors across the regions, and a chief ‘controller’ of schools.

For such a scheme to work, local authorities would need to lose their remaining powers over education, as it would be nonsensical to have two competing bodies trying to achieve the same end. As I have said in the past, such a move would effectively be the completion of the process of the nationalisation of schools started by Mrs Thatcher’s government with grant maintained schools that would bring schooling in line with health as a Westminster function. I don’t see why local councillors should have to wrestle with thorny issues such as paying for school transport and policing absence among pupils, as well as deciding how schools admit pupils, if they have no effective powers to manage the system to best effect when balancing education and costs.

Local authorities could, under such a national system, act more effectively in their role as parents, and challenge school ‘controllers when they felt that schools were not being successful. How ‘controllers’ would respond to challenges from either councils or parents if they were unelected appointees is an interesting question. But, it is not one that has ever seemed to bother the health service, or indeed further education in the twenty years since it was divested from local authority oversight. How much freedom would be allowed to the faith groups and others that now operate schools would be an interesting question that no doubt officials are considering at the present time.

For the Prime Minister, the issue is more parochial, will a school going into special measures cost more votes if it is a national school or will it be better if he can still blame the local authority for the shortcomings?

Do we need a Board?

Much fuss is being made this morning over whether the Revd Flowers had the right expertise to chair a bank, and whether the regulators took any action to ensure his fitness for the post. Being chairman of a Board is an important post, arguably as important as the role of Chief Executive, but in a different way. For that reason it is unfortunate that unlike Ofsted or Qfqual the teaching profession no longer has a board to oversee the actions of the full-time officials working in the field of teacher preparation and development.

When the TTA and its successors in title were non-departmental bodies they had a Board to which the Chief Executive nominally reported. That did allow for some debate about issues of teacher preparation and development. It may not always have been the most challenging of Boards, but at least it was there. The same was true for the National College. Since the functions of teacher preparation and development have been taken back into the Department no such balance now exists, and the only checks on what is happening are either through the media or the parliamentary process. The absence of a balance to the Executive may well account for the extra scrutiny that teacher preparation changes have come under this year. However, to the good, there has been much more data published by the Department than in previous years, including the recent profiles of 2011-12 teaching graduates. Used properly, these data can help inform the debate.

It was inevitable that a switch to School Direct as a training route, especially for secondary teachers, would attract attention, as any change where there are winners and losers always does. Might a NCSL Board have aired some of the issues it has been left to the professional associations, politicians and participants in the teacher education process to raise in public? I would have hoped so. That is why I have worked with Chris Waterman to suggest the government establish an Advisory Committee on Teacher Supply and Training in order to bring together those concerned with the long-term development of a world-class teaching profession rather than just leave decisions to politicians and officials whose horizon rarely extends beyond the next funding cycle, and only as an election approaches beyond the end of the present parliament or term of office of the Secretary of State.

Next week sees the publication of the ITT Census for 2013, and the extent to which teaching has retain its glamour as a profession in all subjects and phases will become apparent. This week, the new UCAS application system is to go live, and the first applications by graduates wanting to train in 2014 as teachers will start to be made. Undergraduates have been applying ever since the UCAS system opened.

I hope 2014 will be a good year for recruitment, but I am pessimistic about whether the government has done enough to attract sufficient high quality applicants with the right range of academic knowledge into the profession. After all, social mobility will definitely be hindered if we run into another teacher supply crisis, even in just one part of the country.

Quality Assurance v Quality Control

One of the interesting features of living in Oxford is that although we are known as a city of learning we also have a thriving car industry. We celebrate 100 years of car production in the city this year. Car production locally has mirrored the fate of the industry nationally. When I arrived in Oxford in the late 1970s the car plant was suffering, along with much of British manufacturing industry, from a range of ills. Nowadays, the Cowley plant is producing the world-beating mini, and once again on top form.

One of the changes in production methods, along with the extensive use of robots and just in time ordering during the past 30 years, has been a change from quality control to quality assurance. At one time a car was checked for defects at the end of the line, and those defects were rectified. It was said that in the worst cases the car had to be virtually rebuilt. This was the quality control approach. In the worst cases what it lacked was any feedback to change procedures. With a quality control approach faults still arise from time to time, but the reason for them is investigated and, if possible, preventative measures are put in place to avoid a re-occurrence. As a result, fewer cars need remediation, and more cars go straight to the consumer rather than back to the factory.

Now, education isn’t a production line, and pupils aren’t components to be bolted and welded together to create an artefact. However, I do think that we can learn from these two approaches. I have been in two different meetings this week where output measures, and specifically, the GCSE output measure, have been discussed. This felt like a quality control approach, with a focus on improving the output.

My preference is to spend more time on what is happening with much younger children. After nearly 150 years of state involvement with five year olds we have a lot of information about those children that fall behind and often why. But, we may need to be more systematic in our approach to what works. Although I am not a fan of synthetic phonics for all because it was a one size fits all approach, it should have persuaded schools and policy-makers to tackle this question of what works. If a pupil arrives at school from a background where the printed word is largely absent, they may well have a different attitude to books and the alphabet than pupils from homes where both the printed and the spoken word are commonplace parts of daily life. If one group is then absent more often than the other we need to work out as educators how we overcome those disadvantages to allow all children to learn effectively. Early failure is costly to the whole education system, and too often results in a ‘cannot do’ rather than a ‘can do’ attitude to learning on both the part of the learner and those responsible for their learning.

So, a quality assurance approach that asks the question, why are this group not learning, and seeks appropriate approaches to overcome this challenge might move us away from the censorial ‘you failed’ view of both the learner and the teacher towards a more challenging but cooperative approach. The move at both the DfE and Ofsted towards looking at progress of all pupils over time is a start, but we still lack a mechanism for communicating what works, and also for schools to ask for help without seeming to be failures. The best Children’s Services, dioceses, and academy chains do provide this support, but one of the problems of the lack of a effective middle tier to support primary schools in particular is that it is less easy to arrange than before. As holders of the purse strings, this is an issue all Schools Forums might like to consider next year when reflecting on budget priorities for their system as a whole.

Grammar schools to combat ‘elitism’?

Before writing this piece I must declare an interest; I attended a local authority grammar school during the early 1960s.  Indeed, it was one of the first Co-educational grammar schools that were founded after the Balfour’s 1902 Education Act. I then went on to attend the LSE, and only to Oxford University for my advanced degree sometime later.

The recent Sutton Trust research about the social backgrounds of those pupils that win places at grammar schools shows why just increasing the number of such schools would probably have little effect on combating elitism in English society. The middle class would pay through the nose for primary education to secure the prize of a grammar school place knowing that secondary education would then be free. There would be a devastating effect on the secondary private school market, as it would largely be redundant. You have only to look at the distribution of independent days schools in relation to the remaining selective state schools to see how this trend might develop.

It is far better to develop a high quality comprehensive and local state funded school system as the alternative to those parents that want to pay for private education. There are some Conservatives that want to go the other way and force the State to pay for all education, but it is difficult to see how that end could be achieved without a serious hike in general taxation, something these same Conservatives often strenuously oppose.

Still, it is time to return to our discussion about grammar schools. The DfE Performance Tables show that 69% of pupils in Kent, where there are many grammar schools, made the expected progress in English to Key Stage 4, with 70.8% making the expected progress in Mathematics. In total, 61.3% achieved %A*-C GCSEs including English and Maths. By contrast, Hertfordshire that although it has two schools called grammar schools in Watford is technically a county of non-selective secondary schools, achieved 70% progress in English, about the same as in Kent, but 75% in Mathematics, significantly better than in Kent. Overall, 65.8% of Hertfordshire pupils met the 5A*-C target; again better than in Kent.

If we want our schools to work for all pupils, and not just future elites, then perhaps the Sutton Trust shouldn’t give up so quickly on the issue of whether grammar schools should remain. Their advocacy of blind admissions as the solution might ameliorate the situation, but would probably just inspire the middle classes to work harder at finding a way around the system.

The key issue is how to persuade middle class parents that their children will do as well, or possibly even better, in a non-selective secondary system. But, perhaps we cannot, since it isn’t just about academic outcomes but is about many other factors as well. However, I celebrate the fact that the Oxfordshire Orchestra playing at the School’s Prom this week will be largely comprised of pupils from comprehensive schools.