A teacher recruitment crisis in 2015?

Yesterday this blog reported on the ITT census for 2014. Most of the trainees counted in the figures will be looking for teaching posts starting work in September 2015. The fact that there are around 1,300 fewer secondary trainees this autumn than last year is certainly an alarming statistic. However, many subjects are yet to reach the sort of shortages noted at the end of the last century when a severe  staffing crisis developed.

If we compare this year with recruitment into training in 1998/99, then that year only 52% of places for maths trainees were filled, compared with 88% this year. Similarly, in English, 89% of places were filled in 1998/99, compared with 122% this year, although the actual number of places on offer was probably less this year, so that might have made a difference to the percentages. Certainly, recruiting fewer than 1,700 trainee English teachers this year is unlikely to be enough to satisfy the demand for such teachers across England.

At least two subjects fared worse this year than in 1998/99: Religious Education filled 81% of places in 1998/98 compared with 71% this year and in music it was 81% this year compared with 82% in the earlier year. Changes in subject titles mean that direct comparisons aren’t possible for all subjects over time, but the fact is that schools cannot afford another poor recruitment year for trainees in 2014/15 if a real crisis of the level not seen since the early 2000s is not to re-occur.

Clearly, the bursaries and scholarships are helping keep up recruitment in some subjects, but once again the government taking over paying the fees for all graduate trainees would be a simple and clear message to all that there is no extra student debt burden as a result of training to be a teacher through any postgraduate route. Looking to create apprenticeships in subjects like Physics where studying for a degree requires ‘A’ level grades not achieved by some candidates might open a new route into the profession.

As a support to trainees and schools during the recruitment round I have set up a free service at www.teachvac.co.uk to allow schools to notify vacancies suitable for NQTs and for trainees to identify where they want to teach. Trainees will receive details of vacancies as they arise and schools will be kept informed of the size of the potential applicant pool and how it is reducing. The DfE suggest that 50% of main scale posts are taken by NQTs and the figure may be higher in the key January to June recruitment period. Where the 450 D&T trainees and 373 music trainees want to work may be crucial and by registering with TeachVac we will keep schools informed.

Trainees have the added advantage of a newsletter offering advice on recruitment. The December newsletter, out next week, offers trainees advice about interviews following on from the advice n how to fill in an application form in the November edition.

2015 is going to be a challenging year for schools and I hope to make it bit less stressful for heads and for trainees.

Education markets and teacher quality

When I studied economics at the LSE nearly half a century ago markets were relatively simple affairs used to help regulate supply and demand through the mechanism of price. A shortage of supply forced up the price and that resulted in new entrants to the market and eventually the price came down. In labour market economics some saw wicked employers tried to find ways of holding down the price by controlling wages and working conditions and others warned of dastardly trade unions trying to force up wages through all means at their disposal. How times have changed.

Yesterday I listened to a fascinating debate about labour markets and teacher quality. The lecturer’s thesis seemed to be that even though we had difficult ‘ex-ante’ deciding what was a good teacher, good teachers were really the only thing that mattered in improving pupil performance; so all would be well if we could somehow harness market economics to handling the issue of improving teacher quality.

The thesis is interesting, especially in view of the previous post on this blog about teacher supply. The lecturer didn’t discuss whether there is a hierarchy of markets that will address issues in a particular order. If there is, I would content that markets will address any shortage issue before quality issues and only then deal with matters such as equality and other government desired outcomes.

If I am correct, then there is little practical point talking about teacher quality until the market has dealt with the supply problems.  Now the Right in society has an answer to that problem: let anyone become a teacher. In view of the lack of ‘ex-parte’ evidence on what makes a good teacher this is a seductive theme. However, I would argue that the school system in England has been trying that approach for many years by allowing anyone with QTS to teach any subject and, for instance, letting PE and music teachers teach mathematics but overall the policy doesn’t seem to have improved outcomes. But, would say the defenders of the  ‘all may be teachers’ policy, it is because these are poor teachers. The best teachers of PE and music are no doubt teaching PE and music.

In the end the discussion last night about teacher quality came down to the –X- factor. What is it that makes a good teacher rather than how markets can help achieve improved teacher quality? There were some in the audience that no doubt would have been happy with the definition of a teacher from the 1840s offered by the National Society that:

It is not every person who can be fitted for the office of schoolteacher. Good temper and good sense, gentleness coupled with firmness, a certain seriousness of character blended with cheerfulness, and even liveliness of disposition and manner; a love of children, and that sympathy with their feelings which experience alone can never supply – such are the moral requirements which we seek in those to whom we commit the education of the young.

Although they might not be bothered about the need for ‘a love of children’.

I am also reminded of the more recent quote from the Newsom Report previously quoted on this blog that:

“In the primary and secondary modern schools teaching methods and techniques, with all the specialized knowledge that lies behind them, are as essential as mastery of subject matter. The prospect of these schools staffed to an increasing extent by untrained graduates is, in our view, intolerable.”

It is just as intolerable today and I speak as someone that started their teaching career as an untrained graduate in an inner city comprehensive school.

Of course we must strive to identify and improve teacher quality, but no teacher means there is no quality to measure and that is the fundamental problem facing policy makers today.


Earlier today the DfE published the figures for the numbers of new teachers that started training in 2014. The Statistical First Release SFR 48/2014 contains much more information than in previous years, but even so cannot disguise the fact that recruitment has suffered another disappointing year.

In the past three years, overall recruitment numbers when matched against the predicted level of need for trainees from the Teacher Supply Model managed by DfE statisticians was 99% in 2012/13; 95% in 2013/14 and 92% this year in 2014/15. In total, that works out at a shortfall of 5,860 trainee teachers across the three years, or about one per cent of the workforce if you include independent schools that rely upon qualified teachers. However, if you take out the over-recruitment in subjects such as history and PE, the shortfall in numbers are somewhat larger in some subjects. For instance, in design and technology more than whole cohort has been lost over just the past two years. Now although this subject isn’t seen as a core it does have an important role to play in generating interest in a whole range of careers vital to the economy from engineering to catering and fashion.

Possibly even more alarming than the under-recruitment in secondary subjects is the seven per cent shortfall in recruitment to primary courses. Only some 19,213 trainees have started primary courses, although fortunately 14,000 of these are one one-year programme and only 5,400 on undergraduate programmes that won’t feed through to the labour market until 2017. With the rapid rise in the primary school population we can ill afford a teacher shortage in the primary phase.

The DfE figures show that while higher education filled 90% of allocated places, School Direct overall filled only  61% of allocated places with the training route (fee based) recruiting only 57% of its target compared with 71% for the salaried route. (Table 1 SFR 48/2014). SCITTS managed to fill 79% of their places. Hopefully, this does not mean viable potential trainees have been denied a place on a teacher preparation course in a school because the entry bar has been set at an inappropriate level.

Clearly, this under-recruitment cannot be allowed to continue and the government will now have to face the fact that the main recruitment season for vacancies in September 2015 will coincide with the general election.  Head teachers are already complaining of recruitment problems and the chorus is likely to reach a crescendo by April especially for teachers in the key shortage subjects as well as in English where the target for 2014 was probably set too low.

Perhaps it is time to split the TTA off again from the NCTL to allow for a body that can focus entirely on recruiting enough new entrants to the profession and retaining those that we already have brought into teaching. Something certainly needs to be done to prevent a crisis of the proportions last seen just over a decade ago. Otherwise, freeing up salary structures might just look like an expensive folly.

Middle tier in schooling needs democratic input

Shock horror: local councils are back in favour to play a part in education. After around 30 years when local education authorities have been increasingly both emasculated and marginalised in the running of education in their local areas the Schools’ Minister, David Laws, seems to be calling a halt to this sidelining of democratically elected local councils in a speech to the CentreForum think tank later this morning. According to the Local Government Information Unit press summary:

Minister plans to hand back power to councils

Proposals by schools minister David Laws would see councils given more powers to intervene in struggling academy schools, reversing the trend of increasing autonomy. The Liberal Democrat minister is expected to argue in a speech today that the system of school governance introduced by Michael Gove has abandoned schools that converted from local authority control to standalone academy status, leaving them without the resources or support they need to improve. Mr Laws wants responsibility for improvements to be passed from the DfE to a “middle tier” of local authorities and academy chains, backed by successful schools and head teachers. This middle tier would also potentially assist any schools in need of improvement, not just academies. More than 4,000 primary and secondary schools out of 19,000 mainstream schools in England are currently rated as “requires improvement” or “inadequate”. “I think in a good and realistic scenario, where we had an effective middle tier, we would have 2,000 fewer schools in the ‘lowest’ categories of requiring improvement or special measures,” Mr Laws will say.

Personally, I hope there is also something about both admissions and the creation of new schools. It is daft that academies with spare capacity can deny that space to local councils potentially forcing them to bus pupils elsewhere at public expense. Councils also need more control over who runs news schools and if they select a school or group approved by the DfE then Regional Commissioners should no longer have the power of veto unless there was something at fault with the selection process.

There is an earlier post on this blog outlining in details why I think these issues matter, especially for the primary school sector. Such schools are deeply rooted in their communities and breaking up that link with local authorities, which has generally worked well, has made no sense at all.

The real issue is whether there will be time to implement any of the changes suggested by David Laws before the election; or is it just an attempt to put some distance between the Lib Dems, a Party I represent as a county councillor in Oxfordshire, and the Tory Party ahead of the most interesting general election probably since 1906 and the rise of the Labour vote.

The design of a sensible middle tier is the key issue in education. Academy chains haven’t worked; Regional Commissioners have as much cache as Police and Crime Commissioners and are even less democratic, being appointed; and local authorities have been withering on the vine. I am off to listen to the speech in detail and will report back later about whether the substance was materially different from the press reports.

Today is also ITT census day, so hopefully a post on that topic this afternoon.

Side show attracts more attention than main event

Labour’s thoughts on the subject of private education received more coverage this week than their announcement on teacher supply issues put out the day before. Public fee-paying schools are a part of the political agenda and Labour’s call to remove business rate relief from such schools not prepared to go further in cooperating with schools in the state-funded sector avoided the thorny question of charitable status, but no doubt played well to voters that would prefer to see all children educated by the State.

My view has always been that the State in England lays the obligation on parents to educate their offspring. It has never mandated where or how that should be achieved. In an unequal society some parents can buy schooling. If they were forced to send their child to a local state school they would still buy tutoring, as many parents do at present, to improve the educational outcomes of their children. Preventing parents from spending money on education while allowing them to spend money on cigarettes, gambling and other potentially bad habits would seem illogical. However, we know that private schools produce better results than many state funded schools, just as selective state schools do. Interestingly, Tristram Hunt didn’t appear to say that such schools should share teachers with other state schools.

Labour’s carrot and stick approach to the private schools, ‘either help or pay more tax’ probably does recognise that with a teacher supply crisis looming in some subjects, and some parts of the country, private schools may be in a better position to recruit not just better teachers but actually enough teachers. The fundamental question is, therefore, as ever, how will schools that cannot recruit enough teachers effectively teach their pupils? Sharing a scare resource sounds fine in principle as a solution but is fraught with practical difficulties. I assume that private schools don’t have spare teaching capacity just waiting to be redeployed, so to use their teachers to help state schools they either have to employ more of them, potentially making the situation worse or create larger teaching groups – the very thing some parents are paying to avoid – or perhaps offer spare places in ‘A’ level groups where an additional one or two students might make no difference. But, that is no solution for the small private primary school.

The Conservative Party’s solution to the education problems around improving quality seems to be a discussion of more grammar schools. This suffers from the Oxbridge dilemma. How do you stop parents with money paying to secure entrance by improving the learning opportunities of their children before the test? This takes us back to where this piece started. Do parents have a right to pay for education if by doing so they advantage their children over others?

Finally, as Tristram Hunt failed to acknowledge, private schools are now a large export earning industry.  Id that something we wish to encourage or does it risk educating the children of our competitors in the global market place as the expense of children brought up in England?  Of course, one solution to the teacher shortage is to recruit more teachers from overseas, but how does that play in the present debate over immigration?

Gradgrind was wrong

The peak period for diagnosis of metal health problems is between the ages of about ten and thirty. For the first third of that time schools play an import part in the life of young people. However, whether they are as responsive to mental health issues as to physical health matters is worthy of scrutiny as the Fooks lecture I attended recently in Oxford made clear.

Dr Ian Goodyer from Cambridge suggested in the lecture that we all have a checklist of what to do if we encounter a cut finger; stop the bleeding, prevent infection and find a sticking plaster. But, there isn’t the same level of immediate in-house steps to dealing with mental health matters. Of course, if the cut is deep or otherwise problematic, you seek expert help. The same is true for diseases of the mind. But, how much do we offer simple suggestions to teachers and others to look for signs of an unwell mind? Thirty years ago Sir Keith Joseph as Secretary of State for Education started the assault on universities rather than schools preparing teachers with an attack on the study of the ‘ologies. I think he especially disliked sociology, but psychology became caught up in the general attack along with philosophy and the history and governance of education. He may have had a point. However, taken to extreme the cure is sometimes perhaps worse than the disease.

As we now teach children in classes, not just the class as a whole, there is a need to know pupils as individuals and not just en-masse. This is challenging for secondary school teachers with many different groups to teach each week. I am sure that trying to do the best for every child has added to stress levels of teachers, as it is much more demanding than teaching to the average of the class.

Teachers are the only group in society working day in and day out with young people going through profound physical, emotional and psychological changes, especially during their teenage years, yet how well do we prepare them for this task?

It would be interesting to see how the different routes into the profession deal with these challenges at the present time? How far do trainees meet with school nurses and counsellors to discuss the challenges young people face during adolescence and how they respond to them. Do we tell teachers to look for self-harming, for eating disorders, and for isolation and failure to engage in class? These are arguably as important as other child safety issues, but while these receive headline attention Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services have languished as the poor relation of an under-funded part of the National Health Service. Fortunately, the Health Select Committee at Westminster has recently illuminated this dark space and Ministers in the Health Department, if not yet in education, have taken some notice.

As a man interested in numbers, I could look at the loss of productivity or the absence figures cited by Ian Goodyer in his lecture, but as a human being I see the tragedy behind the numbers and some of the effects on individuals and their families. If restoring the ‘ologies to teacher preparation saved one young person from self-harm, an eating disorder or a suicide it will have been well worth doing.

And one for the lawyers

The recent IFS Report, discussed in the previous post on this blog, raised a number of interesting questions. It is essential that someone, whether the IFS team or another group doesn’t matter, looks into issues such as recruitment and retention and how the nation can ensure a sufficient supply of appropriately prepared teachers in the right places and willing to teach in all types of schools. Then, and only then, is it really possible to look at whether the government is paying too much to achieve that necessary aim.

However, one thought that was provoked by the fact that most new teachers won’t pay back their fees plus interest because their lifetime earnings in teaching won’t be sufficient is that they are better off than those under the former fee structure that started paying back as soon as the loan was drawn down. In effect, new teachers are paying a graduate tax for a set number of years and then the rest of the debt is cancelled. Of course, by teaching overseas they can reduce the impact of the tax even further, but potentially lose other benefits such as the chance to build up a pension fund.

However, the other thought that occurred to me after reading the IFS report, is the one where the lawyers might get involved. This is whether the government can now actually cap university recruitment to fee-paying courses? In the days when government paid fees for teachers and indeed contributed to other university funding it was easy for them to set a cap on both undergraduate and post-graduate teaching numbers. However after David Willets removed the ceiling on undergraduate numbers it is possible to wonder whether universities can actually recruit as many undergraduates to teacher preparation courses as they like: if not, why are they different to other courses pad for by the students using government loans?

In the case of PGCE allocations the legal question is even more interesting. Before fees were introduced PGCE type courses were within the ‘Mandatory Awards Funding’ even though not a first degree course because this allowed for government funding, unlike other post-first degree courses and provided funding for students that had already received student support for an undergraduate degree. By keeping post-graduate teacher preparation within the same sort of fee regime it is interesting to ask whether the removal of the cap on numbers also applies to these students. If so, could universities ignore the NCTL allocations and recruit as many PGCE students as they wanted: an interesting idea.

The government view would undoubtedly be that they couldn’t do so and the NCTL has the power to allocate places. But with no power over money, the only sanction might be to refuse QTS to some students not on allocated places – but since you now don’t need QTS to teach in an academy of any description that is somewhat of an empty threat. Of course, the Treasury might have something to say, but as it seems to have agreed to uncapped undergraduate numbers how can it treat teacher education differently if it falls within the same fee regime?

As the government has exceeded the Teacher Supply Model suggested numbers with its level of allocations in many subjects, it has effectively acceded to the principle of more trainees than needed, but is trying to control where they are located through the allocations process.

Could we see a battle for the hearts and minds of future teachers by universities ignoring allocations and offering a choice to potential teachers as to where they want to train: a school or a university?