Can we halve the number of women in prison?

This blog doesn’t often stray away from education but when it does it generally comments on issues relating to the justice system. This morning Simon Hughes, a Lib Dem government minister in the Ministry of Justice suggested he would like to see the number of women in prison halved from around 4,000 to presumably around 2,000. Is this achievable? Well, it has been achieved with young offenders.

Under the last Labour government the number of under-eighteens in custody hit 3,000 in August 2008. By September 2014 the figure was down to just over 1,000 and the number of males in youth custody actually dipped below the 1,000 mark in October 2014. Now even 1,000 may be too many, but there has been a real achievement on the part of the Youth Justice Board and the courts that has produced this dramatic reduction during the life of this parliament. Admittedly, this has been a period when crime has been falling both nationally and internationally, but that shouldn’t diminish the achievement of the criminal justice system.

Reducing the female prison population may be harder to achieve. Of the 4,000 or so women in custody in the autumn of 2014, about 10% were on remand. Only another 10% were on short sentences of six months or less, so even wiping out the sending to prison of this group wouldn’t achieve the 50% drop the Minister is seeking. And, there are those in this group where the sentence would have been greater but for an early guilty plea and perhaps a reduction in the offence charged between arrest and appearance in court.

So, to reduce the female prison population the Crown Court judges are going to have to cooperate since more than 3,000 of the women in custody are there because a Crown Court judge has sent them to prison. Indeed, more than 25% are serving sentences of four years or more or of an indeterminate length. Add in those with a sentence of 1-4 years and that accounts for more than half the total of women in prison.

Why are they there? 900 are there for crimes of violence, the largest single offence group to generate custodial sentences among women these days. Add in robbery – a violent crime and burglary and you probably account for a third of the women in custody. Interestingly, only 10% of women are there for drug offences and a similar percentage are in prison for theft and handling. Perhaps the group that might be looked at for non-custodial sentences are the 12% or so of the prison population incarcerated for a range of other offences. And, just like men, women between 25 and 49 make up the bulk of the prison population.

Stopping re-offending and preventing offending in the first place are likely to be the key factors in reducing the female prison population, just as they are for men and have been with young offenders. As the Minister points out, many in prison have mental health problems and tacking those through the NHS might well bring reductions in the numbers in custody. Whether Crown Court judges should be ordered to treat women found guilty of offences differently to men guilty of the same offence when it comes to sentencing is a debate worth having. It falls into the same category of whether someone that needs to drive for a living should be able to argue exceptional hardship when faced with a driving ban, as they can and do every day in our courts.


Grim news on teacher training

The first figures for applications to teacher preparation courses starting in September 2015 were released by UCAS earlier today. As far as providers in England are concerned, applications overall are down from 71,980 to 60,890 a drop of around 11,000. Assuming every applicant makes the maximum possible of three applications, this would be a drop of more than 3,500 applicants compared with the same point last year. In fact the drop in applicants domiciled in England is actually 4,540 compared with last year. This suggests not all applicants use their full number of possible applications; presumably some are location specific and can only apply to providers in particular areas. The decline in applicants is reflected across the country and in percentage terms is greatest for higher education courses, where applications are down from 43,000 to 32,000 between January last year and January this year. This is despite the application process opening earlier than last year and running more smoothly, so that the number of applicants placed is running about a month ahead of last year in most subjects. However, some of the fall in higher education applications will have been due to reduced government allocations, especially in the popular subjects.

The decline in School Direct is not as marked as for higher education, but with more places allocated to that route any reduction in numbers must be a worry. Applications to SCITTS are actually above where they were last year, but again that reflects greater provision and a significant number of new SCITTs having joined the system.

Any drop of this magnitude must be of concern even at the start of the recruitment round, especially as it reflects a decline in applications from all age groups, with both new graduates and career changers seemingly not applying in such large numbers as in the past.

The January numbers reflect the size of the cohort that knew they wanted to enter teaching and applied in the early stage of the recruitment round. An analysis of more than 20 years of applications to teacher preparation courses by graduates suggests to me that in those years when the economy is doing well it has proved almost impossible to reverse any early decline in applications without significant inducements to train. The exception was the year that the bursary was introduced in the March when applications rose subsequently.

The figures issued today explain why I started the campaign for the government to once again pay the fees of graduates entering training by whatever route. Unless the government either agree to pay the fees or offer some other solution then I fear that we are headed not just for the seven per cent shortfall of last autumn’s training numbers but possibly a shortfall of 10% of even more this year.

The government may point out that offers are up on January last year, but that is only because the system is operating a month ahead of last year.

A failure to recruit trainees in 2015 will mean an even greater job crisis in 2016. With more pupils in schools by then that must not be allowed to happen.

The myth of teacher wastage

Many years ago Mike Tomlinson gave an interview with The Guardian. It was soon after he became Chief Inspector. In it he referred to a figure of about 40% of new teachers not entering the profession. Like Chris Woodhead’s earlier claim of 15,000 incompetent teachers this figure has entered the mythology of education. Helpfully, in the additional data now published with the 2013 Workforce Census tables the DfE unpick the latest data on what happens to trainees after they qualify to help us understand whether this view is correct.

At this stage it is worth setting the ground rules for understanding the data. Most trainees have to compete for teaching jobs with ‘returners’ and those existing teachers changing schools for whatever reason. There is no logic to the use of teacher resources, so a trainee in their 30s with a house and a partner with a job might not secure a teaching job near where they live, but a footloose graduate in their early 20s might take that job even though they could work anywhere. As training numbers are established some years in advance, although not as far advance as in the past, changes in economic circumstances can radically affect the labour market. The new DfE figures go up to 2011 and concentrate on the early years of the recession when secondary school rolls were also falling.

Overall, the DfE calculate there were 106,000 trainees still under the age of 60 who had never worked as a teacher in circumstances where their employment would have been recorded by the DfE in March 2012. Interestingly, 24,300, or approaching a quarter of the total, emerged from training in the years 2009-2011 after the recession hit in late 2008. Some of these will have started undergraduate degrees way back in 2006 in an entirely different economic climate. The recession matters because the GTCE that still existed then identified a large number of teachers that re-registered with them in 2009. Presumably, some were casualties of the recession and looked to re-enter teaching and were competing with newly qualified teachers for the available jobs. The three years from 2005-2008 only have around 12,000 not recorded as entering teaching, about half the number in the later years. This suggests that it might not have been from a disinterest in teaching that the numbers were higher, but that there were more candidates than jobs.

A second table produced by the DfE confirms that those NQTs that enter teaching are likely to stay. The percentage in regular service after one year has never been below 90% since 1997 and after five years generally around 75% remain in teaching. Even after ten years two thirds of entrants are still teaching. For a profession with so many young women in it, some of whom might be expected to take a career break, this is an impressive percentage. The fact that 55% of those that entered teaching in 1997 were still there 17 years later raises interesting questions about the perception of the profession as a quick in and quick out area of work. But then the DfE made this all clear some years ago in the chapter on teacher wastage in their detailed review of the 2010 workforce Census that can be found at The charts on pages 77-79 are especially helpful in understanding what happens.


Schools rebuff call to use unqualified teachers

The DfE tables in the 2013 Teacher Workforce Survey that reveals the changes in pupil teacher ratios over time. The data also says something about the use of qualified and unqualified teachers by the different types of school. Despite the increase in pupil numbers, PTRs in the maintained primary sector appeared to have improved between 2012 and 2013. However, they worsened in primary academies. This may well be down to the mix of schools in the two groups and it is more instructive to note that PTRs across the whole primary sector remained unchanged for the second year in a row at 20.5 for teachers of all descriptions, despite schools adding to their cash reserves during this period.

In the secondary sector, where more schools are academies of one sort or another, PTRs for qualified teachers worsened from 15.5 to 15.7 after improving in the previous year. The overall PTR for the secondary sector is still 1.5 pupils per teacher better than in 2000, so the support for funding in schools during this parliament seems to have helped, at least with staffing levels.

The DfE also published data on the difference in the ratio between qualified teachers in schools and all teachers, qualified and unqualified. As the latter include Teach First and probably some School Direct trainees on the salaried route ‘unqualified’ isn’t the same as the former ‘instructor’ category. As this data is two recruitment rounds after Michael Gove freed academies to employ anyone as a teacher it is interesting to see what signs there have been of any change in the balance between qualified and unqualified teachers being employed.

In primary maintained schools the difference between qualified and all teachers remained at 0.4 of a pupil between 2012 and 2013. In primary academies it reduced from a gap of 0.8 to 0.7 of a pupil; so no dramatic swing towards unqualified teachers there. In the remaining maintained secondary schools the gap between qualified teachers and all teachers widened from 0.5 of a pupil to 0.6. In academies it also widened by 0.1 of a pupil from 0.7 to 0.8.

Among the different types of secondary academies, in free schools the ratio between qualified and all teachers widened from 1.3 to 2.3, a noticeable change in the ratio in a single year. However, in converter academies there was little change in difference between the PTR for all teachers and for just qualified teachers increasing by just 0.1 of a pupil.

In UTCs and Studio Schools serving the post-14 age-group the gap was largest of any group of schools, with a difference of 3.4 pupils per teacher between the all teacher PTR and the qualified teacher PTR. This was up from 1.7 in a year, possibly because of the number of these schools opening had increased.

Overall, there doesn’t seem to have been a large swing towards the use of unqualified teachers and much of the change may be down to the expansion of Teach First and School Direct between 2012 and 2103. Rejecting the unprincipled use of unqualified teachers is sensible. Whether, as a recruitment crisis develops, there will be enough qualified teachers to go around is another matter. As regular readers know, we are tracking that situation in secondary schools through TeachVac at if you are interested. The February newsletter to be issued next week will reflect our latest finding.

Happy 2nd birthday

240 posts in 24 months: more than 30,000 views: visitors from across the globe. Little did I think when I posted my first entry to this blog in January 2013 that it would reach such an audience only two years later.

My thanks to those of you that read the postings regularly. I fear that the blog has strayed slightly from its original purpose of re-telling the stories behind the numbers into a wider range of topics.  Perhaps that was inevitable given the range of issues arising out of education policy over the past two years. However, the topic that has come to the front, especially during the past eighteen months, is that of teacher supply, and recruitment into both training and employment.

I started my career in teaching in January 1971 in the middle of a recruitment crisis, being hired as a supply teacher to cover parts of two vacancies the school couldn’t fill. The school was a challenging one and a place some teachers came to look, but didn’t bother to stay even for the interview as they know there were other vacancies they could apply for in easier schools. I don’t want to see this situation again. We came close to it in 2003, and the risks are once again in plain sight.

By the time the general election campaign is in full swing in April the situation both regarding recruitment for September and for recruitment into training for 2016 employment will be well known and the government will have nowhere to hide if the situation has deteriorated compared with last year, especially for entry into training.

As a Lib Dem county councillor I am still aware that the issue left over from the Labour government of a well defined and engaged middle tier to sit between Westminster and the schools still hasn’t been properly solved. Academies, as the recent events over their accounts show, are not part of a unified system working for the good of all. Competition hasn’t yet been fully replaced by cooperation, and the notion of good schools for all with choice between good schools and not between a good school and a less good one is still little more than an aspiration on parts of the country.

So, we now wait to see what will happen after the general election. Will there be another whirlwind, as there was in 2010 with the Academies Act arriving on the statute book less than three months after the election. I would be surprised if that turns out to be the case. Much, as ever, will depend upon the personality of the Secretary of State and what they want to achieve. Gove wanted to be Education Secretary: does either of the current Labour or Conservative politicians with the brief really want the job after May?

This year I have helped create TeachVac as a new and free matching service for schools looking for teachers and applicants looking for teaching posts. Full details are at This may take more of my time, so I cannot guarantee to continue ten posts per month in the next year: but I will see what can be done. Once again, thanks for reading.



No good with numbers

This blog has always contented that numeracy wasn’t Michael Gove’s strong point during his time as Secretary of State for Education. Today the National Audit Office seemed to affirm that view when it produced an adverse opinion on the financial handling of Mr Gove’s flagship academy schools policy. The NAO concluded that the DfE failed to meet Parliament’s accountability requirements on academy spending. The NAO said that ‘the inability of the Department for Education to prepare financial statements providing a true and fair view of financial activity by its group of bodies means that it is not meeting the accountability requirements of Parliament.’ Their analysis continued, ‘In particular, if the challenge posed by consolidating the accounts of so many bodies and the fact that so many have a different reporting period is to be surmounted, the department and Treasury need to work together to find a solution.’

Much of the problem stems around the fact that academies have the same financial year as their academic year but the department reports on a government financial year to end of March so don’t know the absolute state of finances at the end of the financial year in academy trusts, but must make some assumptions. This isn’t a new problem for government since universities have had academic years as their financial years for a long time and the department could no doubt have learnt from that experience. But, as universities are now in the business department and not the DfE, perhaps they didn’t think to ask for advice in the headlong rush to get the 2010 Academies Act on to the statute book.

A Secretary of State interested in the finances of the department might have seen this issue coming. His hedge fund managers and others on the department’s board must also answer as to why they either hadn’t noticed or weren’t bothered by the reporting arrangements for academy trusts’ use of public money. As the following extract from the department’s consolidated accounts shows, there was in fact an awareness of the issue.

Followings discussion with Ministers, the Group has chosen not to compel ATs to adopt its 31 March financial year end, both to avoid misalignment of ATs’ financial and academic years, and on the principle of giving ATs as much operational independence as reasonably possible. This allows synchronisation of both their business and financial decision making: alignment of an AT financial year to the academic year enables the accounts to be more useful at a local level, as factors such as budgeting, recruiting and funding are usually based on the academic year.

This decision makes operational sense for ATs but it means that the Group accounts now have to be constructed through the application of a number of significant and material adjustments. This is to cope with problems that arise from having different financial year ends within the Group, and from ATs and the rest of the Group preparing financial statements using different accounting standards. As the number of Academies increase, there is a growing risk that this will give rise to material error or uncertainty within the financial statements. This risk has been realised for both the Group’s 2012-13 and 2013-14 accounts, as set out in the C&AG’s audit certificates and reports, which issued a qualified audit opinion for 2012-13 and an adverse audit opinion for 2013-14.

One wonders what those schools that are not academies make of this justification since their budgeting and funding would also be more usefully based upon an academic year as is most of their recruitment. The operation of two different sets of reporting years is surely not a long-term solution for a government that claims to want to reduce costs. A process of harmonization should be high on the agenda of the department after the general election.

Finally, buried in the depth of the report, is the fact that spending on international air travel has increased from £30,000 in 2010-11 to £234,000 in 2013-14. Even more worrying is the associated comment that ‘reasons for this are being investigated.’ This seems to be another area where financial controls don’t allow for immediate explanations.

Carter and after

Launched into the expectant world on the day the World Education Forum opened in London, The Carter Review of Teacher Training seems to have passed by much of the national media largely un-noticed. That’s a shame as a lot of hard work went into the Report even if its recommendations were hardly earth shattering and probably won’t do much to help solve the teacher supply crisis schools are facing.

I don’t see it as my place to critique the Report in detail, but to highlight the bits that interest me. These are; the return of an understanding of child development; subject knowledge and its importance in teaching; the issue of qualification versus certification; and finally the question of a quart into a pint pot – sorry, that shows my age; a litre into an eighth of a litre jug.
But first, Carter reaffirms that those preparing to be a teacher need both practical experience of the task and an under-pinning of theoretical knowledge. This really reasserts the partnership model developed in the 1990s after Kenneth Clarke’s reforms that established the TTA. To that extent there is really not a lot that is new in the Carter Report, only nuances reflecting the manner in which the system has developed over the past 20 years.

However, one new aspect is the mention of child development. Ministers in the Thatcher governments of the 1980s didn’t think that knowledge of the ‘ologies were important for those training to be teachers and sometimes seemed to equate them with views that weren’t acceptable to free market Conservatives. The recognition of the importance of an understanding about child development for trainee teachers is a welcome change. An understanding of their social settings might also be a useful addition to the curriculum. But, adding anything to the overcrowded curriculum and classroom experience for trainee teachers is fraught with difficultly as there is no spare time in the present preparation period on whatever route a trainee takes.

To that end, the discussion about subject knowledge while welcome reflect the concerns raised ever since the 1990s when the Clarke reforms effectively removed subject knowledge development time from most secondary courses in favour of extra time in schools. There just wasn’t time for both within the 38 weeks of a course. To allow for subject knowledge to be re-introduced would mean extending the course, and changing the funding structure. This could allow fees to be replaced with a grant from central funds as was the case before tuition fees were introduced, but would bring new challenges. However, even more important to government is that if subject knowledge is vital during the preparation period it is obviously as important in schools. This raises the question of why Carter didn’t ask whether QTS once gained should continue to allow a teacher to teach anything to anyone as is the case at present. After all, what the point of subject knowledge in geography if you spend two thirds of your timetable teaching history and RE as part of a Humanities programme and you dropped history before GCSE and have no training in RE. Not to address this issue raises questions about how coherent the Carter Review actually was in trying to develop a strategy for the teaching force.

Finally there remain the issues around certification and accreditation. Again, this is not new a new debate. In the original Bill establishing the TTA in 1994, the famous Clause 13 was about whether trainees would be required to have a higher education qualification as well as QTS. It was accepted that QTS was the licence to teach and the issue, as today, was whether or not it required a university qualification as well. In those days, it was just about SCITTs, as employment based routes were in their infancy. Realistically what matters is, if government is going to control the supply of places on training routes, how those places are allocated, and to what type of providers, rather than qualifications. As I have suggested before, uncapping university numbers means that if teacher training is within that same fee regime as other university fee programmes then the government has to establish why the removal of the cap doesn’t apply to teacher preparation courses as well.
Carter could have been more radical, but seems to have chosen a path where most can agree with many of the recommendations while leaving something for everyone to take forward. Sadly, his terms of reference didn’t allow him to explore the real question of the day, how to recruit enough trainees of the right quality in the right places. The next government won’t be able to duck that question quite so easily.