Notable during 2013

Education politician of the year

Graham Stuart, chair of the Select Committee at Westminster. He has returned strongly to his role after a serious accident. His rebuke to David Laws for being late and taking off his jacket without permission, and his interchanges with the Secretary of State, notably over careers education, stamped his authority on a Committee where often he has had to rely upon the terrier like support of the Labour members in evidence sessions.

PR coup of the year

Nick Clegg’s announcement, on the Tuesday of his Party Conference, that all 5-7 year olds would receive free school lunches. This was a closely kept secret up to that point, known only to a few. Had it been announced as part of his Leader’s speech it wouldn’t have had the same impact. In the 2015 Manifesto the Lib Dems can suggest extending free meals to all primary school pupils at some point in the future. Honourable mention must go to the DfE for the announcement in early December of the new role of School Commissioners through the jobs pages of the TES. Seemingly even the TES didn’t pick up on the implications. Hopefully, that is not a return to the bad old days when journalists at the TES didn’t know what interesting news stories were appearing in the classified pages of their own paper. Finally, but not in the running for coup of the year, was the Labour Party’s well researched press release issued on Christmas Eve highlighting the government’s failures in recruitment to teacher training courses. Whoever at Labour HQ thought education journalists would be working in the run up to Christmas needs some re-education, especially when these journalists have to work throughout the Easter holidays attending the professional association conferences. This was a waste of a good opportunity.

Export of the year

The TES, to a USA company: will the profits from all that recruitment advertising now flow overseas.

Most challenged local authority of the year

There are two main contenders: Norfolk and the Isle of Wight. This proves that size has nothing to do with success. Both were effectively issued with notices to improve by Ofsted. Interestingly, both are experiencing the effects of a move from a 9-13 three tier system to a break at 11+. Oxford City, whose schools at Key Stage 1 were once the worst in the country also experienced such a system change. It is worth looking to see whether sufficient attention was paid to CPD when these changes take place. Unlike Oxford, both Norfolk and the Isle of Wight also have many coastal communities, one of the vogue terms of the year.

Technology of the year

Tablets: these electronic successors to slates seem likely to put the learning firmly in the hands of the learners even more than laptops did. And, for the first time the software to make really useful is starting to emerge. Whether teachers have been trained to make the best use of new technology, or even old technology like interactive whiteboards is another whole debate.

Still waiting at the bus stop award

The DfE pulled guidance on school transport during the early summer, promising a revised set of rules by the autumn. At the year-end this is still awaited. Perhaps the problems in the Prime Minister’s own backyard may be causing some re-thinking. One overdue change is to increase the age for free transport to 18 now the participation age has been raised. This is a real issue for less well off families living in rural areas, including Mr Cameron’s own constituency, as the audience of around 100 at a recent turbulent meeting at Burford School made clear.

Tectonic Plate award

The notion of combining children’s social services with education into a single department looks increasingly passé. With child protection issues taking up more and more of many Director’s time, and schools policy no longer run by councillors or even authorities but School Forums, the idea of marrying all services for children into one department will undoubtedly come under scrutiny as local government cuts begin to really hurt. For many authorities, schooling is now little more than a regulatory activity and an oversight of standards. For that reason it might now better live in the Chief Executive’s domain in many authorities, along with Trading Standards and the lawyers.

Personality of the year

Like him or loath him, it must be the Secretary of State. Although the Chief Inspector made a brave run on the inside rail late in the year nobody else came close to Mr Gove as the public face of education change. However, the run up to the 2015 general election may prove more of a challenge if other Free Schools follow the Discovery School into closure, and his School Direct training route for teachers proves less than a resounding success. However, his Achilles heel is undoubtedly a lack of feeling for numbers. When the Chancellor was accepting the needs of rural areas, including specifically mentioning schools, at his recent visit to the Treasury Select Committee, Mr Gove was continuing a policy of per pupil funding regardless of where the pupils live. This may drive some Tory voters towards UKIP in 2015 if they think their former Party is favouring urban areas.

And finally, in no especial order, the Parliamentary Education debate of the year award

This goes to the debate where the differences between the coalition partners over teacher training were first written into the Order Paper for all to see.

This afternoon the Labour Party at Westminster have an opposition day debate in the main chamber around the topic. This is the sort of debate that normally passes relatively without comment, but what is interesting is the amendment put down by the government in the names of the prime minister and his deputy; and Michael Gove and David Laws. I have reproduced it below with the key section underlined:

Line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and add ‘notes that this Coalition Government is raising the quality of teaching by quadrupling Teach First, increasing bursaries to attract top graduates into teaching, training more teachers in the classroom through School Direct and providing extra funding for disadvantaged pupils through the pupil premium which schools can use to attract and reward great teachers; notes that the part of the Coalition led by the Deputy Prime Minister believes all schools should employ teachers with Qualified Teacher Status, and the part of the Coalition led by the Prime Minister believes free schools and academies should retain the freedom to hire teachers without Qualified Teacher Status; further notes that funding agreements with academies and free schools will not be altered in relation to Qualified Teacher Status prior to the next election; and regrets the findings of the recent OECD skills report which revealed that those young people educated almost entirely under the previous administration have some of the worst levels of literacy and numeracy in the developed world, underlining the need for radical schools reform and demonstrating why nobody can trust the Opposition to protect education standards.’

For the full write up read the blog entry for the 30th October 2013.

So, what will 2014 bring? But, perhaps that’s best left to another post.

Christmas presents

Last Friday afternoon the DfE published their evidence to the Teachers’ Pay Review Body: not many noticed. The Sunday Times published something, and indeed rang me last Friday morning to ask about numbers of unqualified teachers. Here’s what I told them:

An unqualified teacher is either a trainee working towards QTS; an overseas trained teacher who has not exceeded the four years they are allowed to teach without having QTS; or an instructor who has a particular skill who can be employed for so long as a qualified teacher is not available.  

As a result it may be that the increased number of School Direct trainees that started in September 2013 are being counted in the totals for the first time. However, as reports from ASCL of staffing pressures do seem to be emerging that may also contribute to the increase. The continued switch of schools from LA to converter academy makes year on year comparisons between types of school challenging. 

2012 Workforce Tables had following for unqualified teachers:
2010   2011   2012
LA Primary                                   4,100 4,200 3,700
Pri Academies                                          100    500
LA secondary                             8,100 5,400  3,400
Academies                                           3,800  4,700
Total non-academies            11,600 10,400 10,600
Academies                                2,200  3,900  5,300
Total publicly
funded education                 17,800 15,800 14,800


Of the 2453 academies in the 2012 Workforce Census 

915 employed 100% QTS teachers

65 data NA

6 suppressed data – too small to disclose

1467 or 59% at least 1 unqualified teacher

Of those with highest %s 2 were special schools, and 1 a post-16 campus. Only 6 schools with below 50% qualified teachers

On free schools

Of the 88 in the census, 37 employed 100% QTS teachers; 12 data suppressed; and 8 NA.

So 31 of the 88 known to employ unqualified teachers. That’s 35%.

So, if the 2013 Workforce Survey conducted in November is showing something different it may well is down to School Direct. If that is the case, then it is time for a new category of ‘trainee teacher’ to distinguish trainees from those employed because a qualified teacher either isn’t wanted or cannot be found. Indeed, there might be two categories, one for intentional use of unqualified staff and the other due to absence of a qualified teacher. The term ‘teacher’ might even become a reserved occupational term reserved for those with QTS.

If the DfE’s evidence to the STRB passed almost without notice, then the Labour Party’s Christmas Eve press release warning of a shortage in trainee teachers under this government seems to have received even less recognition so far despite the DfE going to the trouble of issuing a rebuttal. You can read Labour’s research at Regular readers of this blog will recognise most of the figures, although the number of trainees recruited for 2013/14 is less than in the DfE’s November census for some unexplained reason.

Now normally I wouldn’t quote from a Labour Press release, but as its Christmas, and what it says chimes with what I have been saying both here and with Chris Waterman elsewhere, I am happy to provide the link. I also notice that the release doesn’t offer any policy alternative to the problem: so no responsible alternative government here then.

Trainee teacher recruitment is likely to be a key issue in 2014 with both Michael Wilshaw and the head of NCTL, Mr Taylor, likely to be making speeches in January about teacher training. Both are Gove’s men, so expect School Direct to feature more positively than higher education. But look for the balance of comments between primary and secondary for, in my judgement, it is the former that needs more attention than the latter in terms of reviewing how we prepare teachers for the classroom.

I hope readers enjoy Christmas and the festivities of this time of year through to the start of 2014 and the first anniversary of this blog.

More financial pressures for DfE

In the week that the Minister of State at the DfE announced the final figures for the Pupil Premium in 2013-14, with a £53 Christmas bonus for primary school pupils receiving the cash this year, and an increase to £1,300 for primary age pupils in 2014-15, the government also announced the latest thinking on school rolls until the early 2020s.

At the present time, there is still no end in sight to the growth in the primary school population that will increase from a low point in 2009 of 3.9 million pupils to a predicted 4.8 million by 2022. That is a rise of nearly 850,000 pupils, or an increase in the primary school population of more than a fifth in thirteen years. The secondary school population in years 7-11 is still on schedule to bottom out in 2015, at just over 2.7 million pupils, before recovering to just over 3.0 million by 2022, with more increases to come in the rest of that decade.

An extra million or so pupils by 2022 will place considerable strain on education finances that currently cost the nation £27 billion just for the remaining local authority maintained schools, with the costs of academies in addition. (Academies have a different financial year to local authority schools thus making comparisons almost impossible.) In 2012-13 the average cost of a primary school pupil in a maintained school was £4,193, up from £4,099 the previous year. On that basis, the additional 600,000 pupils expected in the primary sector by 2022 will cost £2.5 billion by 2022, even without the compounding effects of inflation during the intervening years. It is difficult to see how the government will be able to protect school budgets throughout the whole of that period since an economic recovery rarely lasts for a decade, and a more likely scenario is that the economy will have traversed through another whole economic cycle during that period. Hopefully, the downturn will not be of the same magnitude as was inflicted on the economy during the Labour government under Gordon Brown’s stewardship.

With around half of primary school expenditure going on teaching staff, and recruitment pressures already emerging, according to the teacher associations, sorting out the wages bill may become even more important in the future if expenditure is not to spiral out of control. However, after so many years of pay restraint that may be easier said than done. The imposition of any national funding formula for schools in 2015 that doesn’t take account of differing labour market pressures is probably doomed to failure, with some potentially dramatic repercussions if the government miscalculates. It will not be enough to say that the decision can be left to schools, as they are too diverse a group to be able to manage any substantial pressures on what amounts to half their budgets.

Mr Gove has not shown himself very good with numbers, but he will surely not want his legacy to be a school system not prepared for the financial challenges that lie ahead.

Should the State fund more schools?

Last week wasn’t a very good one for Free Schools that are effectively independent schools funded from general taxation. Firstly, there was the closure of the Discovery School in Crawley after an Osfted Inspection, then there was the National Audit Office Report that gave the whole Free School project something of a mixed blessing and led me to ask why, when governments local and national are busy cutting services because of a lack of funding, some Free Schools have been allowed to open in areas where there is no shortage of places for pupils at present. Finally, in a largely un-noticed Table in the Statistical Bulletin on Phonics testing published last week by the DfE it appeared that the 423 pupils tested in the 15 Free Schools did less well than pupils in any other type of school except for pupils in sponsored mainstream academies. The latter are probably in many cases schools in special measures that have been forced to become an academy with a sponsor. Interestingly, there was no difference in outcomes between pupils educated in infant and primary schools, with in both types of school 85% of pupils meeting the standard by the end of Year 2 compared with 82% in the Free Schools.

The Free School movement is entirely the opposite of the Gladstonian approach to State Education espoused by the Liberals in the Nineteenth Century. To Gladstone, the State was the default position and as a result if you wanted a different type of education, you had to pay for it. The only exception was that the revenue costs of existing schools that joined the state system were paid, but apart from on religious matters they then followed what the state demanded. To modern day Conservatives, including the Centre for Market Reform of Education and the Adam Smith Institute that jointly published a paper last week entitled School Vouchers: for greater equality and quality in English education it appears that the State should pay for any type of education parents want. As I have mentioned in a previous post, this is economic madness when the State is trying to cut back on expenditure. Those with even a limited knowledge of the history of education only have to consider the financial consequences if those former Direct Grant schools that left the state system in the 1970s over comprehensive schooling all applied to return to the state sector and ceased being private fee-paying schools.

There is a real debate to be had here about what the State should provide by way of education, and whether it should be encouraging more parents to move away from a private sector that is also busy becoming a significant export industry in its own right. If technology is about to play an important part in re-defining schooling, as some now claim, it may be worth considering both the purpose of schooling, and the role that the modern state should play in delivering a service. After nearly 150 years of one model, it might be time for a change. Whether that reform means extending the offer of free schooling to more pupils or restricting it to only those that cannot pay is an interesting issue we might need to debate as a society.

Another nail in the coffin

The first Friday in December is a strange time to advertise eight top jobs in education. At this time of year either the employer is in a tearing hurry to make the appointments or the likely candidates have already been handpicked and by advertising when few candidates are job hunting the field can be appropriately small. I assume the DfE’s adverts for eight School Commissioners, each responsible for a region of the country, falls into the former category of advert.

The creation of these School Commissioner posts, and that of the overall national school commissioner, is the next step on the road to the full ‘nationalisation’ of the school system in England. Although these Commissioners are initially only to have oversight of academies and free schools, and presumably UTCS and Studio Schools as forms of academy, it would be an easy step for parliament to add maintained schools to their brief, thus finally depriving local authorities of any oversight of the school system after more than a century in some form of control.

I wrote earlier this year that I could understand such a system for the secondary school sector, but am apprehensive once central government control is extended to the primary sector. Most primary schools are essentially local in nature serving their local communities, and remote decision-making is not a good idea. The region that contains all the primary schools in Oxfordshire also stretches to include primary schools in Hackney and Haringey. The needs of schools such as Bruce Grove Primary in Tottenham and Buckland Primary in Oxfordshire would test any organisation, as we have seen when Oxfordshire managed to apparently overlook the poor performance of Oxford City’s primary schools a few years ago.

What is more alarming is that there has been little or no discussion about the change in control of schools with those most involved. At present, Oxfordshire is deep into a consultation, its second this year, on changes to home to school transport policy. But, the DfE doesn’t seem to have consulted before creating these new posts. Indeed, it doesn’t even seem to have bothered to tell MPs at Westminster.

There is also an assumption in the adverts that heads, assisted by a board of six other heads elected by their peers, will create the best management tier. Now there are many other capable people in and around the education scene that might want to apply, and I hope that they won’t be excluded if these posts do go ahead. Fortunately, being past current pensionable age, I can rule out self-interest in making that comment.

I don’t know what the churches will make of this change since many faith schools are now academies. Will they want one of the six person board to be from a faith-based schools. And what of the governors: how will they relate to the activities? Governors are key players on School Forums – will the power of that body now be diminished in favour of dictats from the Commissioner’s Office. The Daily Mail reported today that Bob Russell, a Lib Dem MP, held a surgery that lasted twelve hours: a record. Add in responsibility for schools, and who knows how long it might last?

Winds of change in Manchester

The last two days I have been in Manchester for the SSAT Annual Conference. This is a celebration of many of the good things in school leadership. The delegates here are anything but average in their approach to education. The conference started with Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves talking about their new book: Professional Capital. In this increasingly secular age, where many head teachers are probably agnostics, it was interesting to hear Andy Hargreaves take the example of the parable of the master that leaves his servants a sum of money to use wisely in his absence and finds that two have invested while the third had just kept the money safe by burying the cash in the ground. The message of invest for progress was an interesting one.

At the same conference I participated in a panel debate about preparing teachers, and led a workshop on professional development. The following ten phrases are the ones that provided me with a framework for discussion in the workshop.

Hire exceptional people: add value.

Seek heroines and heroes: not villains and scapegoats.

Dump portmanteau careers: welcome career changers

Look for leaders of every age.

Education is a business not a market.

Sell the brand

Engage the family

Cash balances don’t educate children.

Quality assurance before quality control.

know the facts: tell the truth.

I had a good example of the last one of these while I was composing this post. I received an email that a Minister had confirmed the over allocation of ITT places was 9% this year. The fact is true, but disguises the more important information that the over allocation was in the order of 18% for secondary places, but only 6% in the primary sector.

Many of the other statements can generate discussion and some have already been aired in posts on this site. Hopefully, the remained will feature at some time in the future.

Happy and successful: Education’s holy grail

There has been a great deal written about the PISA results, so there is a temptation on my part not to add to the discussion. However, the dataset does represent one of the few international time series views of education performance around the world. The most elusive combination, and perhaps the holy grail of education systems, is performance and happiness. Children in Peru are happy, but don’t yet have a universally high quality education system. In some of the South East Asian entrants to PISA, performance seems to be bought at the price of a reduction in happiness among the young people, and higher levels of anxiety, especially among girls and the study of mathematics.

It is worth noting that the gap between boys and girls in narrower in England than in some other countries. Whether this is because our education system is finally starting to crack the problem of motivating boys or because girls don’t reach their full potential or a combination of both is not clear.

Using the quality assurance model, discussed in earlier posts, policymakers will want to drill down into the data to see where attention needs to be paid if performance is to improve. It seems sad that Blair’s children, those born in 1996/97 that sat the tests in 2012, still faced issues related to deprivation and achievement. The Pupil Premium will only help if head teachers and chairs of governing bodies recognise their responsibility to educate all children using all available resources open to them.

Personally, I would take a serious look at how primary teachers are trained in England. Can we really convert a lawyer in their 30s that hasn’t done any maths for 16 or more years into a fully qualified teacher in 39 weeks, and then offer them a job with a completely different school setup to where they trained, and minimal support during this first few years, and still expect all our pupils to achieve to the best of their abilities? Good teachers can achieve this, but it will be interesting to see as the economy improves, and graduate recruitment becomes more challenging, whether we can still attract these people into teaching.

Finally, as the Prime Minister makes his way home from China he might reflect on why, if our education system is only average, British schools have become a key export industry in their own right. How do we as a nation ensure that educating foreign children isn’t at the expense of not properly educating children in England? And how do we ensure that companies relocating to London don’t recruit too many of our maths and science graduates thus depriving schools of the necessary high quality teachers? Striking that balance won’t be easy, especially with a ban of recruiting teachers from overseas.

As a footnote, it was worth reflecting that across the OECD the class of 2012 seemed less disruptive than their predecessors. Recession’s silver lining for teachers?