Hawks, doves and the art of leadership

Watching the TV programme ‘Educating the East End’ on the day that Ofsted published its well trailed views on discipline in schools was illuminating, not so much for what happened on camera as for what was happening around the framed shots. If you put together that evidence with other programmes such as ‘tough young teachers’ and both ‘Educating Essex’ and Educating Yorkshire’ a pattern begins to emerge of what it is like teaching in these schools, especially for some teachers.

Overall one has to say that edited highlights of hours of filming that are needed to fill a brief to entertain, inform and educate in that order may not be entirely reflective of the norms of a school. Nevertheless, the lack of graffiti, clean, mostly litter free corridors, and open spaces and classroom where displays can exist without being totally trashed suggest that there is an overall sense of order in these schools, with leaders having a clear sense of direction and teachers and pupils having an understanding what is expected of them. These are not ‘blackboard jungles’ in the fictional sense of the term or as depicted in the 1960s and 1970s by TV series and films such as ‘Please Sir’ and the St Trinians films. But, they are places with large numbers of adolescents starting the change from childhood to adulthood in a society where respect for authority is rarely a feature of everyday life outside of school.

Each lesson witnesses the battle of the soap opera that exists in many classrooms and this is evident in the TV programmes. The average pupil still too often tunes in at the start, tunes out once they know the plot of the lesson that continues to run in the background and only tunes back in at the end, especially if homework is being set. In the meantime whether they participate effectively or do their own thing depends upon how well the teacher handles the most disaffected elements in the class.

What I hope the Chief Inspector is saying is that time on task, and hence learning, is closely related to the classroom environment and that in turn is set by the level of control over the lesson that the teacher exercises. In a school, the tone is set from the top. This is especially important in those parts of the country where we now have large numbers of relatively inexperienced teachers. The number of such teachers will grow over the next few years as pupil numbers expand and assuming funding remains stable.

Creating learning environments for all pupils took me five years to achieve as an untrained teacher in the 1970s. These days we should expect better results from the preparation courses as we know so much more about learning and society than in the 1970s when teachers were coping with the new world of non-selective secondary schools. My field these days is not teacher preparation, so I don’t feel qualified to say how we should prepare our teachers or even really how we would run schools on a daily basis, but I suspect the moving line between authority and anarchy still exists in many schools. Creating learning for all while not stifling individualism is a tough ask and I respect those leaders that achieve it whether by being hawks or doves.

What’s a trainee teacher worth?

Earlier today the DfE and NCTL announced the bursary arrangements for 2015/16 graduate entrants to teacher training. These arrangements apply to almost all graduate entry routes except Teach First. Interestingly, gone is the uplift in amounts for trainees working in schools with high percentages of free school meals that existed in previous years. On the other hand new subjects are now eligible for bursaries, including religious education. There is still, however, a pecking order with some subjects attracting higher amount than others regardless of where the trainee obtained their degrees. Physics, chemistry, maths and IT/computing graduates with doctorates or first class honours degrees will be paid £25,000, whereas geographers and design and technology trainees with the same level of degree will be paid only £12,000 despite probably being in scarcer supply than either chemists or mathematicians at the present time.

Even worse off will be RE graduates with a 2:2 degree as, despite the shortage of trainees, they won’t receive anything. The same goes for the many primary, history and English trainees with similar degrees. There are some shortage subjects, such as business studies, that once again seem to have been overlooked, whereas it is at least arguable whether there is a shortage of classics teachers in state-funded schools but they qualify under the languages heading. As a result such trainees will receive £15-£25,000 depending upon their degree class.

Once again there is no recognition for trainees on bursaries of the differential cost of living in and around London although those training in adjacent classrooms on the School Direct salaried route do receive such differentials to mark the fact that there are different salary bands for teachers.

One of the risks of this market-based approach, an approach not favoured by the army when deciding whether to pay gunners at Sandhurst more than future armoured regiment officers or those destined for the infantry, is that some candidates may hold off applying in the hope that the amounts paid in future years will be even better. However, hopefully, this is balanced by those for whom the cash makes a difference when deciding whether or not to train as a teacher.

Personally, I would favour paying the fees for all trainees with degrees as to expect those who take a subject degree and train as a primary teacher to pay up to £9,000 more in fees than those that opt to train as part of their first degree seems a bit unfair.

As the period between now and February is vital in setting the basis for the success of recruitment to training in 2015 it is to be hoped that the announcement about funding taken together with the recently announced recruitment campaign are successful in attracting more applicants of a suitable quality into teaching than in recent years since the prospect of a third year of under-recruitment at a time when pupil numbers are rising is not a prospect that anyone wants to contemplate.

Data points to overall trainee shortage

Figures released by UCAS earlier today suggest that for the second year in succession the government may not hit the targets it set last autumn for the number of trainee teachers it thinks necessary to meet the requirements of schools in 2015. Although we won’t know the final figures until the DfE’s definitive ITT census is published, probably in November, the estimates based upon these figures, even though they come from the first year of the new unified application system, can act as some form of guide. If the final numbers are radically different there will need to be an inquiry into how the discrepancy arose. Hopefully, this won’t be necessary.

There are three measures against which the data can be referenced. They are , the 2013 ITT census  -are we recruiting more this year than last; the estimate of need from the Teacher Supply Model as used to influence the 2014 allocations; the 2014 allocations themselves.

The good news is that among secondary subjects, languages, design and technology, computer science, business studies, biology and art all look to be doing better than last year from these figures in terms of offers made to potential trainees. However, only languages, computer science and chemistry are on track to beat their Teacher Supply Model number. Finally, it seems unlikely that any of the key subjects measured by UCAS will meet their original number allocated for 2014.

The bad news is that physics, music, mathematics, geography, English and religious education may have recruited fewer trainees than last year.

There are key differences between the different routes in turning applicants into trainees with School Direct having a lower applicant to offer ratio than either higher education or SCITTs. The School Direct salaried route had especially low offer to applicant ratios with 13% of applications turning into offers in the secondary phase and 15% in the primary sector compared with 19% for higher education secondary and 22% for higher education primary.

This year it may be touch and go whether enough primary trainees have been recruited. Much may depend upon the numbers that actually start courses, especially among the undergraduates where exam results can affect how candidates view teaching as a possible degree course. The fact that around 60 courses have been in Clearing may not bode well; but we will need to await the ITT census for a final discussion of the outcome.

As in previous years, the period up to February yielded the largest number of offers, with little sign of a late surge after finals. With the news about the rise in graduate employment in 2013 announced earlier today this is perhaps not surprising as the graduate job market may have been even stronger in 2014 than it as last summer. The government’s appreciation of this is reflected in their bursary announcement that will be discussed later in another post.

With School Direct undoubtedly focussing on quality more than quantity and with rising pupil numbers over the next decade the government faces a challenge in managing the supply of adequate numbers of entrants to the profession.

Judgement not a status.

These is the final words from the DfE about Ofsted inspections. They are taken from a statistical release on the judgement of Ofsted about ‘free schools’ released today and follow on from the DfE announcing earlier in the summer that the proportion of free schools rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted was higher than in other state-funded schools inspected. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/357764/Free_schools_-_Ofsted_grades_v3.pdf

The DfE now states that:

there are the differences in the sizes of groups when comparing free schools to all schools. At the time of the press release, Ofsted had inspected and published reports for 62 free schools, but overall around 20,000 schools are subject to Ofsted inspection. These different group sizes should be taken into account when making comparisons. Additionally, given the small number of free schools inspected to date, the percentage of free schools rated outstanding may be subject to some volatility. Just a few additional inspection grades could have a substantial impact either way on the proportion rated outstanding.

Finally, only a minority of open free schools has been inspected to date. At the time of the press statement, 36% of all open free schools had been inspected. Added to this, only free schools which opened in 2011 and 2012 have been subject to inspection so far. Caution should therefore be taken when drawing conclusions about the performance of all open free schools and when comparing free schools to other schools. However Ofsted inspection grades provide a valuable source of information, in the absence of attainment data, to begin to judge the performance of free schools.”

I was interested to read this as I am having issues with the DfE’s announcement over the readiness of schools to cope with the introduction of Universal Infant Free School Meals. In August, the DfE surveyed local authorities about community and voluntary schools preparedness, but didn’t ask about academies and free schools since local authorities aren’t responsible for them and didn’t have anything to do with the capital allocations. I asked the DfE for the position with the academies and the 3 free schools in Oxfordshire; silence was followed by an evasive reply. I still don’t know what the answer is. Were they as well prepared, or better prepared than community and voluntary schools? Does the DfE even know? Did the Funding Agency conduct the same survey as was required of local authorities?

The national announcement seems to suggest that they did and if it didn’t include the data from academies and free schools but didn’t make that clear perhaps we can expect another statistical release along the lines of the one about inspection grades.

Returning to that topic, it is interesting to see that three of the four schools that opened in 2011 that were inspected and were rated outstanding were primary schools and only one was a secondary school. But, many free schools started with the primary age-groups as that is where the pressing need for places was and still is. Overall, it would be interesting to see what the list looked like if inspections of studio schools and university technical colleges were added to the numbers to create a list of non-standard schools for mainstream children.

Finally, it is good to know that Ofsted provides a judgement that applied at the point in time when the judgement was made and related to the provision that was on offer at that point in time. As the DfE release concludes, ‘It is a judgement and not a status’.

‘Hard, but fun’

I was encouraged by the PGCE student that tweeted yesterday, ‘first week hard, but fun.’ Hopefully, that student will feel the same way at the end of their course. The tweet set me thinking again about the eternal question of the positive effects of good teachers. There’s a body of literature out there that tries to quantify how much value a good teacher adds to pupils’ learning compared with a bad teacher. This sometimes encourages those bright sparks in think tanks to conclude we should sack all teachers that don’t achieve at least average gains over a defined time period for their students or use some such similar measure. Alternatively, and much more seductive, is the thesis that we should award performance related pay, merit pay or bonuses to such teachers.

The trouble with some of these thinkers is that they don’t live in the real world where issues of supply and demand complicate the picture. Physics and history are the two extremes of the supply-demand continuum at present. So, how much more do we pay a poor physics teacher than a poor history teacher just to be there? Alternatively, do we drop the subject for those pupils where we cannot recruit good enough physics teachers? Is a good biology teacher teaching physics better value than a less good physics teacher? In England, apart from entering training, and presumably when selecting middle leaders, subject knowledge is of limited value in some respects because anyone can be required to teach any subject to any pupils.

Leaving aside factors from outside the school, such as absence rates that can affect progress, most obviously in early years, but often throughout a pupil’s schooling where there is not good home support, there are also in-school factors affective performance. ‘I am sorry you have to teach in the temporary classroom or your pupils come straight from PE on a Monday, after drama on a Wednesday and their third lesson of the week is last period on a Friday afternoon’. No doubt really good teachers can overcome each and all of these challenges, but how to encourage the rest of the profession faced with those circumstances is a dilemma. Professional development, both personally inspired and intuitionally formulated can help, and the relative lack of spending despite the lack of experience of much of the teaching profession at the current time must be something of a worry.  Rather than focussing on how to reward teachers differently it might be more effective to help them understand the evidence on what works. Technology exists, and is used by many teachers to ask how to deal with problems. Rather than offering CPD on what we believe is needed perhaps a small fraction should be spend on responding to teachers’ needs.

Nest year, through an adjunct of the Teachvac (www.teachvac.com) web site that collects data on students and jobs, we hope to ask trainees what they need by way of extra training once they have secured their first teaching post and know they type of school where they will be working and exactly what they will be teaching.

In the meantime, best wishes to all that have started their training this autumn; may you enjoy your time in the teaching profession.

Your future their future

Seventeen years ago this October the government of the day launched one of the most famous teacher recruitment campaigns ever with the ‘talking heads’ cinema commercial and an endorsement from Tony Blair. This year the campaign slogan is ‘Your future their future’ and in place of cinema adverts there is a film available to view on YouTube, 4OD and Sky Go as well as milk round events and I am sure posters and other advertising media. In case you missed the announcement from the NCTL it can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/your-future-their-future-new-teacher-recruitment-campaign I confess to being at a round table in the DfE that day, but nobody mentioned the campaign launch, so it wasn’t as high profile as in 1997 when the then TTA hired part of the new British Library building for the launch event. But money was nowhere near as tight then.

The launch of a more high profile – well hopefully more high profile – campaign than in recent years to attract applicants to train as a teacher no doubt reflects the growing anxiety within government about recruitment this year. Starting early for 2015 recruitment at the time when finalists are thinking about their futures makes good sense. The immediate impact of the campaign won’t be known until the new recruitment round opens through UCAS later this autumn. After the last set of UCAS data on the 2014 round are published at the end of this month this blog will discuss its reflections on the process compared with what went before.

There have been many different recruitment campaigns around the world to attract potential teachers into the profession. You can see some of them at https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=teacher+recruitment+campaigns&biw=1280&bih=890&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=7zgcVLCLEfPy7AaHuYHAAQ&ved=0CDIQ7Ak including ones with strap lines such as: ‘work with the most exciting people in the country; ‘there are many perks to being a teacher’ – I wonder what the Advertising regulatory authorities would say of one like that now? My favourite was the poster with the line ‘the dog ate my homework’ that doesn’t seem to feature in the collection displayed.

The challenge for campaigns recruiting people to the teaching profession is that they have to appeal to potential undergraduates, new graduates, finalists and career changers. While younger age groups might respond well to a social marketing campaign using twitter, facebook, and other social media sites I probably haven’t heard of, career changers may relate better to campaigns in more conventional media sources. 4OD and Sky Go are interesting new locations to place a film about teaching. Using a high profile teacher from a TV series about Educating Yorkshire will help with those that remember the series, but how many undergraduates watched it last year?

I hope that the new campaign not only goes on to win awards but also helps remind everyone that teaching is a great career. If it doesn’t, then this time next year we will still be discussing the recruitment problems facing schools and the profession. Good luck.

Return FE to the DfE?

Despite not having direct responsibility for the further education sector the DfE has published a statistical bulletin about progress by 16-18 year olds in all key settings. There is still much work to be undertaken to ensure that those young people that don’t achieve a satisfactory standard in English and maths by sixteen are able to do so by the time they reach eighteen and leave formal education.

The bulletin can be accessed at:https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/352498/SFR32_2014_Main_Text.pdf It makes dispiriting reading in some parts. Seemingly, there is much for the general further education sector to do to ensure it adds value to every young person studying in these colleges. 50% of those that did not achieve a A*-C grade were studying in an FE college between 16-19.

Sixth form colleges had the highest proportion of students achieving grades A* to C in English at 16-18 compared to other institution types. The majority of students at FE colleges achieveda lower level of learning than they did previously. This is likely to be due to the majority of their students being entered for and achieving English qualifications at entry level and level 1 when they have already achieved a GCSE at grades D to G. The picture in maths was broadly similar.

Would it help if the further education sector was controlled from the same department at Westminster as schools? In the past, the fact that further education only dealt with students above the school leaving age may have meant that placing it in a department such as BiS allowed for a greater focus on the vocational work. Now that the learning leaving age has been raised to eighteen it might make more sense for the DfE to be responsible directly for all learning up to the age of eighteen. Adult learning and lifelong learning could be the responsibility of a minister shared between the DfE and BiS.

At present, as this blog has noted, competition for teachers and lecturers between further education and schools has lead to different policies of bursaries, golden hellos and other means of attracting staff. This is not helpful to ensure the right supply of staff across the country. Allowing small school sixth forms is difficult to justify in cost effectiveness, especially when resources are tight, as they are at present. With one department in overall control there would be room for more coherent planning, if such a term isn’t regarded as one of abuse in the present climate.

A greater focus on the vocational offering post-16 might also help with the development of effective careers advice to younger pupils. However, with the internet and so many resources now on line it might well be that young people should be encouraged to do more research about careers themselves so that they can enter into a debate about what type of life they would like after education, especially in those parts of the country where employment is still not abundant, particularly for young people.

Schools for Profit

Just before the announcement of the GEMS Report on efficiency and education spending, discussed on this blog yesterday, Conservative Ministers at the DfE were apparently once again toying with the notion of ‘for profit’ schools. My own Party, the Lib Dems were quick to rule out such an idea but, as this blog has discussed before, what is really meant by a ‘for profit’ school? In its pure form, a contractor would offer to educate a fixed number of children for a price, presumably the same price as other schools in the area, and if it could do so for less money it could keep the difference as the profit element in return for the risk run. Now there would presumably have to be set outcomes to prevent a contractor taking the money and providing sub-standard education. An immediate question is: if they can achireve the current standard for less, why not improve standards for the same amount of public money? However, if in other government contracts there is a fixed price to a contract with no requirement to improve service levels with any saving that can be made why should education be different? An interesting question, but perhaps the question should be why the State lets contractors achieve less than is possible from the same amount of public money anywhere?

On the other hand we already supply many services to schools that generate a profit. Resources, IT equipment, temporary and even permanent teachers, transport, cleaning, catering and building services not to mention HR, financial, and legal services. So, if someone is making a profit out of all of these activities, what’s left?

Realistically, it is the core activity of teaching and learning and the ethos of ‘free at the point of delivery’ that we associate with both education and the health service in this country, even though opticians are as much a fashion retailer as a dispenser of eye services these days and school trips cost hundreds of pounds and schools often bend the rules on books and equipment let alone what they see retailers charge for uniforms – an area of profit from schooling for someone, but one where competition has driven down the price of the basic uniform to a level where questions about low paid workers in developing countries might be just as much an issue for some as profit levels.

The State, as corporate parents, has a duty to offer schooling for all, and parents may or may not wish to take up the option. If they do, they expect the best possible education money can buy them and they expect the State to achieve that for their children.

There is probably a lot of muddled and emotive thinking associated with the discussion over profit, but we might start by looking at the point that GEMS were making, can schools make better use of their resources? Anyone who hasn’t done so could do worse than start by reading the DfE publication from 2012 entitled, Understanding Schools Financial Decisions https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/understanding-school-financial-decisions As the authors of that Report concluded: ‘The results show that even many of the important operational financial decisions of schools are largely idiosyncratic.’

More may be better in the classroom?

Many years ago I was travelling back from a conference in the USA on an Air New Zealand flight where the newspapers handed out to passengers were New Zealand daily papers a couple of days old. Among the articles in one paper was a review of an education conference at which a DfES official – I think it was during that period of initials – had noted that many Asian countries had larger classes than in England and perhaps we might want to consider whether or not to copy them. I passed the item on to the education press when I reached England. The resulting piece in the now long gone weekly Education duly appeared under the headline that appears at the top of this blog. I was reminded of that episode, and the unfortunate civil servant who no doubt thought going all the way round the world he would be safe to speculate on such issues without anyone back home noticing – note for younger readers, this was in TDBI, the days before the internet, when it was normally safe to say things at conferences down under without any comeback in London – on reading about a report on the BBC Education page. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-29063679

All this is by way of introduction to the new research published today by GEMS Education Solutions, but not yet seemingly available on their web site. According to the BBC Report, the researchers looked at education indicators from around the world and raked the UK – note it was the UK and not England – in 11th place. Two of the indicators were class sizes and teachers’ pay. Assuming that smaller class sizes don’t bring better results is, as I have shown above, not a new discussion and neither is teachers’ pay and remuneration. Outside of Helsinki, I don’t know what the demand for graduates is like in the rest of Finland compared with the output of new graduates. Wages may be relatively low because demand isn’t strong or because the national labour market has narrower differentials between jobs requiring a higher degree of education and those that don’t. There is evidence here that in the past depressing the pay of teachers reduces interest in the profession. Indeed, teachers are one of the few groups that have not benefited from the extra holidays most workers now receive. Fourteen weeks without pupils does not equate to 14 weeks of holiday whatever some of the press think. Add in INSET days, the days before and after term, parents’ evenings, the hours it is generally agreed teachers work during term-time, and it soon dips below the 8 weeks many professionals receive after holiday entitlement, bank holidays and the Christmas closures.

The main argument against bigger classes is that the classrooms simply wouldn’t accommodate them in many schools. Also at the start of schooling there are already wide differences between the stages of development of many children. Making them learn in larger groups won’t reduce that gap. As the statistics show, and has been reported on this blog, average class sizes have reduced in the secondary sector over the past few years while results have improved. Does that fact counter evidence of larger classes elsewhere? How do the researchers account for the behaviour of the private sector in this respect? I believe that GEMS did have schools with different class sizes in The Gulf, but I have no knowledge of them trying such an idea here. Perhaps they might experiment with offering a school with larger classes, but lower fees than is normal in the private sector, in a UK city and examine the results. My hunch is that there wouldn’t be many takers, but I am willing to be proved wrong.