Death has been a looming presence in education during the past year. From the single death of a teacher in a Leeds classroom to the remembrance of the multitude of deaths in the conflict that started 100 years ago; the Great War; the War to end all wars; the First World War: a conflict with many names and millions of deaths.

All deaths are a tragedy, especially unnecessary deaths from the actions of others. And while we recall these deaths, there have been the others such as those resulting from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and for many other reasons that have passed into memory for all but the family and friends of those who died.

Among those that influenced my career, I celebrate the life and work of Professor Halsey who died in 2014. Although he was a socialist, and I am a Liberal, his work had a powerful influence on many in my generation of educators. I would hope that his view of equality would have espoused the Pupil Premium as a link to the doctrine of ‘to each according to its need’ even if the ‘from each according to their ability to pay’ still seem some way from achievement. However, the universal free school meals for reception and infant pupils introduced in September recognised that sometimes the policy of a universal benefit is better than attempting to define where to draw a line on resource allocation.

The change of Secretary of State from the ideological Michael Gove to his less determined successor slowed the pace of reform, including some rowing back on the timing of parts of the examination reforms, although not yet a recognition of the role of AS levels in the post-16 world of achievements. A rebuke from the head of the government statistical service just before Christmas suggests a Secretary of State that might not yet have the depth of knowledge to challenge the rightward drift of Conservative thinking. It would be a tragedy of the first order if, in a mis-guided moment, grammar schools were allowed to expand; for where one creates a breech others will surely follow.

However, the big news story of 2014 and sadly for 2015 as well, at least as far as I am concerned, and it has been chronicled on this blog, is the worsening state of teacher supply.  A combination of factors has made teaching less attractive to possible entrants to the profession and schools in some parts of the country are already expressing concern about teacher shortages. These will only become worse during the recruiting season for September 2015 that starts in earnest in the new year. I have established to monitor what is happening on a daily basis. The site also allows vacancies to be posted for free and for new teachers to receive notification of jobs as they arise.

The main event of the first half of 2015 will almost certainly be the general election. At present, it looks the most unpredictable election since that of 1974; with more Parties than ever, it may become the defining moment as to whether the two-party state is finally replaced by a mutli-party democracy in Britain. That might be one European import it will be difficult to repudiate. Unless it comes with a change in the voting system, it could produce some interesting times in the future. Perhaps a better educated society no longer accepts the notion of political compromises within Parties, but is prepared to look for them between Parties. 2015 will give us some idea.

Can we afford Carter?

Sometime, probably in January, the Carter Review is likely to publish its report into teacher preparation. There are four possible scenarios the Review might suggest; open the market to competition based either on the present fees or on direct funding from government; return to the option of fee-based higher education as the main provider topped up by employment-based schemes at the margin; require all training to be under the control of employers; abolish the need for qualified teachers and let schools employ anyone they think will be suitable and allow them to arrange what preparation they think will be necessary within possibly some national guidelines.

As the review was established by Michael Gove when he was Secretary of State the last must be a more likely outcome than the second, with the first and third options or variations of them are possibly perhaps the most likely outcomes. The first option might see a wholesale exodus of universities, especially if private companies sought to drive down the price of preparation below the current £9,000 fee level. The government would then have to decide whether price or quality was the main driver for expenditure. For a 40 week course, the £9000 fee equates to £225 per week per trainee or less than £50 per day. So schools might want to consider the real costs of such a scheme especially if they need to use supply cover at times. The income would also need to cover marketing, admissions, administration and other overheads including a contribution to senior staff salaries.

The third option could effectively relieve the DfE of the training costs and let schools hire interns and pay for their training costs from school funds. Schools could choose to do it all themselves; work together in groups as SCITTs have been doing for more than 20 years; or hire outside contractors – including possibly higher education – to provide MOOC courses.

Although superficially an attractive proposition, this third option is risky, especially if many schools decided to try and buy experienced teachers in the market rather than bother to train new ones. We have already seen with School Direct far fewer trainees this year in schools than in HE in several subjects. This option would require someone, presumably the NCTL, to ensure sufficient trainees or risk a recruitment crisis of the levels not seen since the 1960s and early 1970s just as the school population is growing rapidly. Of course, if schools don’t need to follow a National Curriculum, except in English and Mathematics this doesn’t matter. Schools can drop subjects they cannot staff. Is it necessary to teach everyone music or art or computer science? Surely, schools will be able to recruit enough primary teachers locally so as not to need to rely on the remaining undergraduate programmes in universities.

All this is, of course, mere speculation at this stage, but it would be surprising if the Carter Review didn’t come up with some radical proposals given its genesis. The option that cuts government funding, thus making the DfE look virtuous with the Treasury, might seem attractive but it will need to be tested against the wider government policy initiative of narrowing the gap between educational outcomes of the more wealthy in society and those living in poverty, especially on the large social housing estates in our cities and town.

Three Secondary Moderns for Sevenoaks

Is this the prospect being held out to local people by campaigners for a new grammar school in the town? They might not be saying so, but it is difficult to see what the credible alternative would be if a grammar school took the 20% of local pupils that passed the entrance exam. Sean Coughlan the BBC correspondent has written a piece along these lines that is well worth reading at

What Sean doesn’t say it that unless the number of selective school places is fixed at a ratio to the overall school population successful entry to a grammar school can depend upon whether a child is born in a bulge year or at the bottom of the demographic cycle. Add to that distance from the school and house prices and a child from a family that cannot afford a house near enough to the school that was also born in a bulge year has less chance of gaining a place than other children, especially if the entry test is susceptible to coaching by private tutors. It is no accident that when selective schools were at their peak, a period of history when the bulge years of the 1945-47 post-war baby boom period were approaching secondary school age, prep schools and private primary schools enjoyed a boom period. Their secondary colleagues were less well favoured. After all, why pay for something you can have for free?

Selecting children at eleven is a risky and inefficient business. Offering different courses at fourteen makes more sense, but if the leaving age is now eighteen a common curriculum until sixteen might be even more sensible for most young people. If the purpose of an education system is to obtain the best education for every child, then supporters of selective education for a minority have to show that areas without a break at eleven fared worse overall in terms of education outcomes than areas with selection, however outcomes are measured, at sixteen. After that comparisons aren’t as easy because there is a degree of pupil movement between schools and colleges.

In a recent poll on the subject of grammar schools it seemed that the older generations were more supportive of selective education than the younger generations that had experienced comprehensive schooling. It has also always been the norm in the primary sector for those that don’t or cannot pay for exclusivity.

As a Lib Dem councillor in Oxfordshire I would be extremely unhappy if the Coalition government sanctioned an expansion of grammar schools, even if it was by allowing an existing school to create a new site. At the very least such a proposal should be subject to a vote in parliament.

Grammar schools were a product of the nineteenth century that lingered into the twentieth and have no place in the modern world. We do not ensure the effective education of those gifted and talented in some areas by separating them from the rest of society at an early age. Even where their education is fundamentally different, whether for future ballet dancers, musicians, footballers or choristers some degree of integration with others less skilled should be the norm. Since intellectual ability isn’t fully developed at eleven, the grounds for grammar schools seem more social than educational even when cloaked in the guise of meritocracy. Scare resources are best employed developing better education for all, not in keeping a few Tory voters in Kent happy.

Crocodile Tears?

This is the time of year when the DfE reports the revenue details about the dwindling band of maintained schools. Dwindling, because state-funded academies and free schools report differently and also have a different financial year to Maintained Schools that would make comparisons difficult, even were the data easily available. The information on spending both by the maintained school system and by individual schools for 2013/14 can be found at

Total expenditure by Maintained Schools was some £30 billion pounds in 213/14. It cannot be compared to the previous years because of the academy conversion programme and the development of free schools. However, remaining maintained schools on average had reserves of some £117,000 each, with the 93% of such schools with positive balances averaging around £130,000 each. Staffing was the largest item of expenditure by schools.

Although most schools spent more money per pupil in 2013/14, some £150 per pupil in the primary schools; £185per pupil in the secondary schools; £442 in the special schools; nursery schools spend £201 less per pupil than in the previous year.  The development of an Early Years Pupil Premium may see this decline reversed in future years.

More interestingly, despite the increase in spending per pupil, schools on average still managed to increase the size of their reserves. Primary schools with a surplus added £5,500 to create average balances of £98,000 and the remaining maintained secondary schools added on average £16,600 to create an average reserve per school of £422,000. In total, the declining maintained school sector still managed to amass reserves of £2.2 Billion pounds sitting dormant in bank accounts. One must assume that since the majority of academies are secondary schools the overall figure for school balances might be in excess of £4 billion and possibly even higher across the system.

How large should school reserve be? The DfE recommends 5% for secondary schools and 8% for primary schools. I personally think 10% for smaller primary schools might be a safer margin but, even so, there are many schools that exceed these limits as the DfE’s detailed tables reveal. Like rising house prices, the number of schools with revenue balances in excess of a million pounds also seems to increase each year. Despite the transfers to academies of some of the schools with large reserves last year there were still more than 100 schools with balances in excess of £1 million at the end of March 2104 and 14 of these had more than £2 million in revenue reserves. One can only assume that they are converting revenue to capital, an acceptable practice now, but one that deprives current pupils of some possible expenditure on their education.

Whether saved for a purpose or just saved these figures do call into account the issue of how well schools are being funded and why the teacher associations keep saying schools are under-funded? Possibly they are, and an increase in salaries could easily change the position overnight, but on the evidence schools still weren’t being squeezed anything like as tightly as many other parts of government spending during 2013/14. But, maybe it was the academies that were suffering.

Where is the quality control on School Direct?

Two things struck me about the section of the Chief Inspectors Annual Report that dealt with the preparation of teachers and I have reproduced the relevant paragraph below.

Standards of initial teacher education (ITE) in England are high. Ofsted inspects two types of ITE partnership: higher education institutions (HEIs) and school-centred initial teacher training (SCITTs). Ofsted does not inspect the School Direct training programme for new teachers, although visits to schools involved in School Direct often form part of the inspection of HEIs or SCITTs. At their most recent inspection, 98% of ITE partnerships were judged good or outstanding.                                        Report of Chief Inspector 2014

Firstly, HMCI doesn’t inspect School Direct although his inspectors obviously come across trainees on both the fee-based and salaried routes in the courses of their inspections. This raises the obvious question, if not the responsibility of HMCI then who does have responsibility for quality control over both of the School Direct routes and how is such quality control administered? However, the HMCI did comment in the summary part of his Report that ‘inspectors saw much good practice but highlighted some concerns about the quality of training, particularly on the secondary School Direct (Salaried) route.’

The second interesting point is that in the areas of teacher preparation where HMCI does have responsibility for inspection some ‘98% of active partnerships were judged good or outstanding. ‘ This includes the provision led by higher education institutions that are so out of favour with the government.

The HMCI also joined the chorus of concern about teacher supply, noting the fall of 17% between 2009/10 and 2014/15 in entrants into teacher training and especially the seven per cent shortfall this year that this blog has already commented upon when the ITT census appeared at the end of November.

In addition to the comments about teacher preparation, the HMCI Report also has two interesting maps showing on one the distribution of Teaching Schools and on the other the index of multiple deprivation by decile of deprivation. The two maps make clear the problem of rural deprivation and the relative lack of Teaching Schools in parts of the north of England and the South West. Even more striking is the fact that there are less than a dozen such schools in an area bounded by the A1 to the west and the Wash and Humber to the north and south. The greatest concentration of such schools appears to be in London and the South East. This raises the question of why, if London schools are doing so well are those in the South East performing less well, with the highest placed authority only ranked 60th out of 150 local authorities on the Percentage of primary pupils attending either good or outstanding schools. Secondary schools did better, with seven authorities in the top 50 nationally, albeit that three of these had selective secondary systems.

Of course, one must be a little cautious about the statistics in any HMCI Report because the sample of schools inspected may not correspond to the population overall. This can especially be true where atypical schools in small unitary authorities are inspected. We will have to wait until next year, and the new government, to see what the effect, if any, of the introduction of ‘no notice’ inspections has on outcomes.

17,500; 1,313; 3,500; 10; what’s the next number in the sequence?

According to the Number 10 website:

17,500 maths and physics teachers will be trained over the next 5 years over and above current levels, with schemes to attract more postgraduates, researchers and career-changers, and extensive retraining for non-specialist teachers.

The scheme will cost £67 million and will include a programme to offer school leavers a bursary to help pay for university, in return for a commitment to become a teacher when they graduate with a maths or physics degree.

That deals with the first and last numbers in the heading. The second number is the shortfall against the Teacher Supply Model number across both mathematics and physics over the past three years. 3,500 is the number required each year above the existing levels to reach 17,500. Perhaps 2,500 more mathematics teachers and a 1,000 extra physics teachers or about double the present training targets for schools. Of course, some of the additional numbers will work in the further education sector and some might be trained as leaders in maths and science in the primary sector. Even so, this looks like a big ask along the same lines as Labour’s famous plan in the late 1990s to expand maths and science teacher numbers using the expertise of a leading supply and recruitment agency. However, perhaps the clue to success lies elsewhere in the press release with the slightly different wording of:

New programmes will retrain 15,000 existing teachers, and recruit up to 2,500 additional specialist maths and physics teachers over the next Parliament, on top of existing plans.

If the government is going to offer new undergraduate bursaries to physics and maths students without increasing the number of degree places specifically for students whose ‘A’ levels fall just short of current entry requirements it might just set up a bidding war between education as a career and the other employers that are seeking such graduates. Expanding the number of degree places is absolutely essential. An alternative would be an apprenticeship model for would be teachers that want to earn a salary from the age of 18 with a degree as part of the package but that would involve using university education departments as well as subject departments and as such might not meet current attitudes to teacher preparation.

The rest of the Prime Minister’s announcement was about computing and technology, including the new GCSE, and the rightful return of coding to the school curriculum. No doubt we have moved on from turtles hurtling around the floor of primary school classrooms to scenes of six year olds flying drones above the school playgrounds to take Arial photographs of the school in its setting with all the programming coded by the pupils. That might need some updating of primary teachers qualifications, but I didn’t see anything about that in the announcement.

I hope we can find ways of improving both maths skills for the millions and physics for the masses, but the muddled nature of this press release not even announced jointly with the DfE doesn’t fill me with any certainty about a successful outcome. Reflecting on Labour’s attempts more than 15 years ago, I fear history may be about to repeat itself.


As a geographer by background, I am always intrigued to see where the readers of this blog come from? Overwhelmingly, as might be expected for a parochial blog of this nature, the readers come from the United Kingdom. However, views from Kazakhstan have now topped the 100 mark over the past twelve months, making it the third ranked country by number of views of this blog: Thailand is ranked fourth during the same period, with the USA in second places, as might be expected. The People’s Republic of China notched up one visit the day after I commented that I hadn’t seen any views from that country: will the same thing happen again after this post, I wonder?

I am not sure who reads this blog in Kazakhstan and whether they are in Astana, Almaty – the largest city – or out on the Steppes of Central Asia, but I send them all best wishes for the celebration of their Independence Day in a couple of weeks time.

This musing about the geographical distribution of readers naturally followed on from writing the previous post about the likelihood of the need for the recruitment of overseas teachers to work in schools in England finding it challenging to recruitment enough home-based teachers. I doubt many Kazakhstan teachers will be headed for the bright lights of London just yet, but teachers from the Irish Republic do seem to be likely to face a publicity blitz trying to entice them to teach in London and other parts of the country.

Teaching is increasingly becoming a global profession with opportunities to practice across the globe. I first visited international schools in Dubai in 1991, coincidentally taking the first digital pictures on the trip – long since lost – with a Canon camera. The past half century has marked profound technological changes, the tablet might one day rival the original word processor as a change of monumental magnitude, a development rivalled only by the development of the internet that has made the communication of this blog possible. Or, it might, like the fax machine and overhead projector, become little more than a footnote in the history of technology and communications. Either way, I think that a teaching and education approach based upon a nineteenth century model of learning has eventually to succumb to new approaches. What that will mean for teachers and their relationships with pupils isn’t clear.

Such changes will also affect the State and its relationship with its citizens. Transferring the cost of education back to parents might be seen by some governments an alternative to raising taxes, especially as governments may think that such an approach has been working in higher education where tuition fees have been introduced. Although here, pressure to reduce fees through competition has yet to really manifest itself; probably because demand still exceeds supply in most countries.

For us, in England, the core is how to deliver effective learning to those that don’t see the value of schooling? Does that require us to do things better, or to do better things?