A rose by any other name

One of the interesting things about language is that it has the ability to be both precise and vague at the same time. As a wordsmith, the Secretary of State, who always seems more comfortable within the literacy domain than the numeracy world, has made two interesting statements this week. As already reported in an earlier post on this blog, he told the House of Commons on Monday that Osfted inspected Academy Chains. This fact was news to many who thought that Ofsted inspected only the schools in such chains, and that although the Funding Agency could look at the books of academy chains, Ofsted didn’t have the power to inspect their overall performance as they can with local authority support for school improvement orChildren’s Services.

And then, yesterday, the Secretary of State was interviewed by pupils experiencing the life of reporters as part of the BBC’s annual School Report exercise. http://www.bbc.co.uk/schoolreport/26768138

During the interview the BBC reported that Mr Gove said:

“Teachers should definitely be paid more than they are at the moment,” But he added that his department paid off the debts of some teachers at the start of their careers in the form of bursaries or additional support – particularly those teaching key subjects such as maths, physics or chemistry.

Now the idea of using bursaries to pay off student debt – at the same time as requiring the trainee teachers to take on further student debt as part of their PGCE or Tuition Fee School Direct course – is a curious one. In fact they could only voluntarily pay off existing student debt using the bursary if they were allowed to: it seems pretty unlikely that the Student Loans organisation would be able to offer a new loan with one hand will taking payment on an earlier one with the other. Perhaps the Secretary of State meant that the bursary allowed those trainees not to take out further loans (and thereby increasing their debt) to study to become a teacher.

He may, of course, have been mixing up what happens on Teach First with the situation faced by the much greater number of trainees on the other routes into teaching. In my view, working towards a salary for all trainees, to encourage the best in all subjects to become teachers, would be a positive policy development. After all, graduates that enter most private sector training programmes are now normally paid a salary and don’t have to pay for their training. Most employers recognise that making possible entrants pay for training puts off some applicants.

So, using the phrase ‘paid off the debts of some teachers’, if indeed the transcript shows that those were the words used by the Secretary of State, seems like a somewhat loose use of language. Perhaps Mr Gove could explain both what he actually meant about paying of the student debt of teachers and the inspection of academy chains, so we can all be clear.

He might also like to elucidate on the statement about ‘paying teachers more’, perhaps in his next remit letter to the Pay Review Body.


Concerning, but with some good features

The latest data for applications to postgraduate teacher preparation courses in England was published earlier today. As expected, the rate of applications has slowed over the month from mid-February to mid-March when compared with the previous month. The increase in applications for Primary courses was around 12%, and for Secondary courses, 14%; with School Direct faring better than higher education courses, although the actual numbers were smaller than for higher education. As courses have begun to fill, future applications will be targeted on the remaining providers with places.

Regionally, applications for courses offered by providers in London have held up strongly, registering a 17% increase over last month compared with just a 10% increase for providers in the North East. The national average was a 13% increase. As might be expected at this time of year, applications from older career changers rose faster than from those applicants still at university. Indeed, there was only a 7% increase from those aged 21 or under compared with a 16% increase from those aged over 40. The percentage of older applicants presumably reflected the fact that many final year undergraduates are now concentring on their final assessment examinations, dissertations and coursework rather than making applications for teacher preparation courses.

Applications for Primary courses have now topped the 18,000 mark, similar to the level seen at this point last year for the GTTR Scheme. However, once the School Direct applications are taken into account (there was a separate application scheme for those places last year) then applications are probably still behind where they were at this point last year.

By these set of figures, around 10,300 of the 15,000 or so primary places have been the subject of an offer, although only 940 of these were unconditional offers. The majority of conditional offers will no doubt be subject to the passing of the Skills Tests. Assuming even a modest margin for unsuitable candidates, there will be the need for at least 20,000 applicants to fill all the places on offer. That is around another 4,000 applicants, or probably some 1,000 a month, so the rate of application would need to halve from the level of the past month before worry might turn to concern. Even so, 20,000 applicants require a 75% acceptance rate. Assuming the current 2,000 per month last for the next five months, the maximum time possible that would generate would be some 28,000 applicants. The conversion rate would then reduce down to a healthier figure in the 50-60% range.

Outcomes for secondary subjects remain challenging to determine from the data as published. However, it seems likely that at least some of the subjects that failed to fill all their places last year are heading in the same direction this year as well. Physics and design & technology are the two subjects where there must be the most concern, whereas history and physical education will again be over-subscribed; possibly significantly. In the middle are a range of subjects where the outcome on these figures is too difficult to tell. Some will recruit sufficient trainees; others might not.  Much will depend upon how the schools offering School Direct places respond to the applications they receive. By the next set of data in May the position will be much clearer, but there will be little time to take any action to deal with a shortfall.

Ofsted inspects academy chains

Until Monday afternoon I was under the illusion that Ofsted didn’t inspect academy chains. I knew that it did inspect the schools that were under the control of academy chains, but not, I believed, the management of the chain responsible for the schools. This was unlike the situation with local authorities, where Ofsted has the power to inspect, and has exercised it regularly over recent years.

However, the Hansard record of Education Questions in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon shows how wrong I was. In answer to a question from a Labour member, as to whether it was time to inspect academy chains, Mr Gove, our literary mastermind masquerading as Secretary of State for Education, replied with the statement that:

Michael Gove: Ofsted already inspects academy chains. It has inspected both E-ACT and AET.’

Now assuredly, Mr Gove already knew when taking Education Questions that Ofsted would be publishing a damming report the following day on the standard of education at many schools in the E-ACT chain; and would put several of the chain’s schools into special measures. Possibly the most damming feature of the Ofsted report was the assertion by the heads of at least some of the schools inspected said that the academy chain had required them to top-slice their Pupil Premium cash and remit the top-slice to the administration. This was the very policy that local authorities were castigated for and the reason why budgets were taken away from them and handed directly to schools. In this instance, it wasn’t even apparent to the school leaders how the cash top-sliced had been used to further the aims behind the Pupil Premium scheme of helping with the improvement of the education of disadvantaged pupils.

As Ofsted put the fact in their letter to E-ACT that: During the inspections, senior staff informed inspectors that E-ACT had, until 1 September 2013, deducted a proportion of the pupil premium funding from each academy. It is unclear how these deducted funds are being used to improve outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.

You can read the Ofsted letter to E-Act here: file:///C:/Users/John/Downloads/E-ACT%20Multi-Academy%20Trust%20inspection%20outcome%20letter.pdf

If Ofsted has also inspected the academy chain, as the Secretary of State said, then no doubt there is another report waiting to be published that will clear up the issue of what happened to this Pupil Premium money, and how large the transfer of cash actually was over what might have been a two or three year period. Should the chain be expected to repay this cash to the schools concerned, and also, in this present litigious culture, are lawyers already looking to see whether pupils whose education was regarded as unsatisfactory have a legal case against the chain under some aspect of the civil law that they might not have against a public authority undertaking the same duty?

Creative thinking needed on teacher supply issues

Vince Cable apparently wants degree-level apprenticeships to become the ‘new norm’ according to recent a headline in the Independent newspaper. As a result, it appears he was thinking about earmarking an extra £20 million to support degree-level and postgraduate apprenticeships in subjects like engineering and construction. Perhaps, he should start nearer home by discussing with his Education counterparts a government sponsored apprenticeships scheme for teacher training. Although to some it might look like the re-invention of the pupil- teacher scheme of yesteryear, could such apprenticeships encourage bright school and college leavers into training as a teacher, and be a part of the solution to the looming teacher supply crisis in our schools.

Take a pupil studying physics who may not achieve an A* or A grade at A level, but is interested in continuing in the subject. At present, unless he, and sadly it is still mostly young men, can find a place on a physics degree course he cannot continue with the subject except perhaps as part of another degree. Is it worth exploring whether by creating a degree level apprenticeship in physics, teaching with a salary attached, we might encourage some of these young people to develop their expertise in the subject and become a teacher without the need for schools being required to compete in the graduate labour market. The apprenticeship can be just as rigorous as a degree, and must leave time for reflection and the other essentials of a successful university education, but might do away with some of the less useful rites of passage of a university education. In addition, it might include a period working in a successful school system overseas, such as say Singapore or Shanghai – today’s government favourite – that would allow the graduate-level apprentices to judge how well students do in their education in other countries.

These apprenticeships could be managed either by the new University Technical Colleges or by training schools already involved in School Direct. With a four year course, starting at eighteen, the new teachers could be awarded a degree after converting their apprenticeship with a final summative module, thus avoiding the need for the payment of tuition fees. The university elements of the course, such as additional subject knowledge, could be bought by the scheme’s providers at cost like any other business buying professional development services.

Without this sort of creative thinking it is unlikely that we will be able to provide sufficient new teachers to meet the demands of the growing school population well into the next decade. There are other schemes, such as the ‘Keep in Touch’ programme for those that leave the profession that might merit revisiting as well as re-training for arts and PE teachers unable to find work at present due to an ‘over-supply’ in these subjects. This might then allow for Qualified Teacher Status to be refined so as not to continue as a qualification that allows any teacher to teach any subject.

Are school leaders happy?

On the day that The Association of School & College Leaders (ASCL) revealed a survey that said two thirds of senior leavers were thinking of quitting the profession, the BBC published details of a survey by the Cabinet Office on job and life satisfaction that cranked some 274 different occupations by their satisfaction ratio alongside the average salary for the occupation. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26671221   Surprisingly, in view of the ASCL Survey, senior professionals of education establishments topped the satisfaction rankings for the eleven education occupations listed, with a score of 7.789 that put them in 11th place overall, just ahead of primary and nursery education professionals in 13th place on 7.786 some 0.003 points behind. Secondary education professionals were placed 34th on 7.637, just ahead of inspectors and advisers in 36th place. Support staff in school generally had a lower satisfaction rating than the professionals, with teaching assistants in 50th place, and midday supervisors and crossing patrol staff in 145 position, with a score of 7.308. School secretaries fared much better, achieving 17th place on 7.711 a score just 0.078 lower than that of their bosses.

SEN teaching professionals had a ranking placing them in 99th place, worse than the 61st place of Higher Education professionals and the 79th place of Further Education professionals. However, a category of ‘Teaching and other education professionals’ that presumably includes supply teachers ranked 106th in the satisfaction stakes, with a score of just 7.413. If you think the civil servants at Westminster are any happier, think again. National Government Administrative Staff has a satisfaction ranking that placed them in 187th place out of the 274 occupations. Clearly, not everyone is happy in the home of democracy.

Whether these two surveys support the jaundiced view that there are lies, damm lies and statistics, I am not sure. After all, I would expect heads to answer in large numbers that there were going to quit in the next five years because many are that close to retirement. I would be more concerned if the ASCL Survey showed younger head teachers as more likely to quit than those nearest to retirement. As to the Cabinet Office survey, I have no idea how many people we questioned in each category, and the methods used, but it is interesting that clergy came top of the 274 occupations with a satisfaction score of 8.291 whereas publicans cam bottom with a score of just 6.38. This really does seem to put God and mammon at opposite ends of the spectrum.

No doubt the scores for teachers will allow the DfE to take a more relaxed attitude to next week’s strikes by teachers, although BiS might need to pay more attention to unrest in FE & HE institutions. But, with the advent of free meals for infant pupils, the relative lack of satisfaction among meal supervisors that placed them in 145th place is probably the score for the group where the greatest attention needs to be focussed. Without the help of this group the introduction of the policy will face a significant challenge in many schools. Even more than the head, they have the capability to derail the policy if their lack of job satisfaction deteriorates even further.

Academies: the DfE charm offensive starts here

Now it may be entirely coincidental, but over the past couple of weeks there has been discussion on the internet about the powers of academies, and specifically about their control of the assets in the Trust deed, and then yesterday the DfE have published a paper entitled Academies; a myth buster. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/academies-a-myth-buster Hopefully, this document will survive in the public domain longer than the last DfE publication reviewed on this blog.

The DfE document addresses the land point as follows:

When a community school becomes an academy, the new academy trust takes on the legal title to the land from the council, doesn’t it?

Wrong. When a community school becomes an academy, legal title is not transferred from the council to the academy trust. The freehold is retained by the council and a lease is granted to the trust.

Note, that the DfE only mentions community schools. My understanding is that if a school is a Foundation School the situation over the title to the land may be different. Indeed, there have been suggestions that some schools have looked into a two stage process of becoming a Foundation School, and then becoming an academy specifically because of the land issue. If there is a loophole with regard to ownership of the land and buildings that must remain public assets, then it should be closed forthwith.

There is another part of the document that reads rather clumsily in the present world of Commissioners and the central control of all schools from Westminster.

There isn’t much financial accountability around academies though, is there?

Wrong: the financial accountability systems in place for academies are more rigorous than those for local authority-run schools and they mean that not only do any problems get uncovered but also that there can be swift resolution of any issues. The spotlight of this accountability system demonstrates that academies cannot hide from their responsibilities and are held to account for their actions. There have been almost 200 detected cases of fraud in council-run schools.

By locally-authority run schools the DfE author presumably means community and voluntary schools. But, to describe then as locally-authority run is an insult to reality. Perhaps that’s why they are later called council-run schools, a quaintly archaic term. Interestingly, although in 200 of these schools, that set and control their own budgets, there have been cases of fraud over an undefined period of time the document doesn’t say how many cases of fraud, if any, there have been in academies during the same period, thus perhaps creating a new myth that academies don’t have any cases of detected fraud.

Finally, the DfE is categorical about profit answering that:

Oh right – but academy trusts are private companies and can make a profit.

That’s not true either: all academy trusts are charitable trusts and they cannot make a profit.

But, the DfE doesn’t say anything about either academies accumulating surpluses or the need for arm’s length contracting, especially where the academy is part of a chain that may encourage individual schools towards particular contractors.

One myth that isn’t addressed in the DfE document is that councils cannot force academies to help when pupil numbers in an area increase and the academy has spare places. Perhaps because academies can behave in that way, so it isn’t a myth, even if it could cost the council thousands of pounds in extra transport charges finding other schools for the pupils further away from the academy with spare places.

GTTR: The Final Report


UCAS have now published the final statistical report on the 2013 applications for the GTTR teacher preparation scheme. This was the scheme that operated for nearly two decades across England, Wales and Scotland. As from the 2014 entry, the GTTR scheme has been replaced by the new, and in England, vastly more complex scheme designed to allow more choice to applicants.

The GTTR Report allows us to put some flesh on the bare bones of the DfE’s ITT November 2013 census, especially in the secondary sector where there are relatively few undergraduate places and most providers’ applications, except the lamented OU course , were handled by GTTR. The first point to note is the confirmation of the continued decline in applications that peaked at more than 67,000 for the 2010 entry. By the 2013 round, applications were down to 52,254; below the pre-recession figure of 53,931, achieved in the 2007 round. Both the number of men and of women applying was below the 2007 levels in 2013, although applications from men to primary courses seemed to have held up better than for applications to secondary courses.

Because of changes in allocations, the ratio of acceptances to applications actually fell by one point to 44% in 2013. This is still some way below the 49% acceptance rate of 2008, achieved in the run up to the recession. If allocations have reached their nadir, then it seems likely that the acceptance ratio will move higher unless either more applicants can be attracted to teaching or places are left unfilled. Much will depend upon the attitude of schools in the School Direct programme to marginal candidates, and whether they sense that enough progress can be made during the preparation to make it worth trying to help them become acceptable teachers.

Within the data are some worrying figures. Some 49% of women, but 56% of men that applied were not accepted. Sadly, the report doesn’t make clear how many could not find a course because they left their application too late, and how many were considered not good enough. Even more worrying is the data on ethnicity. While 40,897 of the more than 52,000 applicants classified themselves as White, leaving around 10,000 from a defined ethnic group other than White, the percentages accepted differ sharply between the groups. Some 46.7% of White applicants were accepted, compared with just 17.2% of Black African applicants, and 28.7 of Black Caribbean applicants. At the subject level the figures are even starker. In history, curiously seen as an Arts subject by GTTR rather than a social science or humanity subject, perhaps no more than three Black African or Black Caribbean applicant or those shown as White and Black Caribbean were accepted anywhere in the country out of the 30 or so that applied compared with a better than one in four chance for the White group. As in the past this may reflect the relatively narrow range of institutions applicants from some ethnic groups apply to, and the issues that this causes. For instance of the 4,708 applications generated by the 1,510 Black African applicants, some 1,664 were made to just six providers in the London area. In one case, 344 applications yielded 23 acceptances.

One other trend worthy of note was that applicants over the age of 30, the classic career changers, declined as a proportion of all applicants from 22% in 2012 to 19% in 2013. This makes the current attitudes of new graduates towards teaching as a career even more important than during the recession. At least, the number of mature applicants is holding up so far for the 2014 entry, accounting for 22% of those that had applied by February.