Prediction comes true

In December I wrote on this blog in a post headed crocodile tears that: ‘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.

’ According to figures obtained from the DfE and printed in the Guardian today schools are carrying balances of more than £4 billion and, as I predicted, academies had more than £2.4 billion in reserves at the end of March 2014, although one must be slightly careful as that isn’t the end of their financial year as it is for other state funded schools.
Although schooling is big business, with millions of pupils and more than half a million teachers, this is still a sum across all schools equal to half the level of investment it is suggested that the NHS needs in England between now and 2020. The question must therefore be, is this level of reserves necessary at the school level and, if not, what can be done about the situation?
Guidelines suggest reserves of 5% for secondary schools; 8% for primary schools and I would suggest perhaps 10% for the smallest rural primary schools. However, the Minister in his answer to Frank Dobson’s question referred to schools holding one month’s expenditure as the test of solvency. That equates to just over 8% of annual revenue, so probably a bit high for a large secondary school since academy financial years mirror the school year so salaries are secure for the whole of an academic year.
Today Children’s Services Weekly has reported that Cambridgeshire faced a large increase in home to school transport costs due to more staying on after sixteen and increased SEN transport costs. This highlights the dilemma facing our education system: putting the funding where it is most useful. Certainly sitting idle in schools bank accounts because there might be a rainy day at some point in the future, is a waste of public money. As regular readers of this blog know, I dislike revenue spending being saved and turned into building projects for future pupils. The money is, in my opinion, for the education of the present generation not for their younger brothers and sisters.
Personally, I think the government should now publish the revenue balances of all academies in the same manner as they do for other publicly funded schools. They should also measure overheads paid to academy trusts compared with local authority charges for similar services and those bought directly from the private sector. Protecting the education budget is one thing, but obtaining value for money is another and equally important duty.
As regular readers know TeachVac launches today. It was originally an idea to collect data about the labour market but now, like the disruptive retailers, it has been shown to offer significant saving while providing the level of management information any large organisation should possess about the turnover of its workforce. If you haven’t been to http://www.teachvac.co.uk do pay a visit and view the demo videos on both the schools and teachers sections of the web site.

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Ending child illiteracy by 2025

The Liberal Democrat plan to end illiteracy by 2025 announced today would mean that every child born in 2014, ought to leave primary school in 2025 able to read and write at a standard identified to lead to success in secondary school and beyond. To help them meet this commitment to end child illiteracy by 2025 the Lib Dems would boost the early years Pupil Premium to an even higher level than the primary school Pupil Premium thus recognising the vital importance of a child’s early years for learning and development.
The Lib Dems would also overhaul early years teaching qualifications by letting nursery staff work towards Qualified Teacher Status and by 2020 requiring a qualified teacher graduate in every school or nursery delivering the early years curriculum.
As a Lib Dem, I have been fighting for better early years education for decades. This aim is reminiscent of the Millennium Development goals of 2000 that sought to ensure primary education for every child throughout the world by 2015. And what’s the point of primary education if children don’t learn to read, write, count, and lay down the skills to acquire the tools they will need for their future lives as adults.
Despite a focus of attention on the lack of education success among the poor that goes back to work undertaken when Ruth Kelly was Secretary of State in the Labour government, it is still clear, as Nick Clegg pointed out, that it is those less well off in society whose children don’t make the expected levels of progress.
Labour has been hinting about cutting tuition fees if elected. As Labour was the Party that introduced them in the first place in 1997, and then increased them, requiring students to repay the cash borrowed from day one rather than when they started earning, as now, Labour must say if it favours supporting undergraduates ahead of ending illiteracy in the next parliament; it cannot do both and still stick to its spending plans.
To achieve the ambition of ending illiteracy by 2025 means providing the cash for schools and early year settings to achieve this goal. Depriving local authorities of the cash to support pre-school settings where health, welfare and education issues can be dealt with together won’t allow the goal to be achieved. Yes, the bulk of the funds should go to schools and through an early years premium, but the work needs co-ordination and that is where local authorities need funds. By all means make it a ring-fenced grant, but do not force local authorities out of supporting initiatives by cutting their funding.
Schools also need to know how to deal with that small group of parents that are indifferent to their child’s progress and don’t, can’t or won’t work with the school and pre-school setting in helping their children learn. Helping schools know what works rather than everyone re-inventing the wheel will also ensure best use of the money. Does that mean a role for local authorities?

Unqualified Teachers: where next?

On the day before the Carter Review is expected to publish its awaited report there has been a flurry of interest in the use of unqualified teachers. Since the data from the DfE is nearly a year old and relates to data collected from schools in November 2013 it might not be expected to be a topic to attract much interest. However, perhaps it has been a slow news day ahead of Carter and at least one post on another bog appeared on the subject this week.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the DfE definition of an ‘unqualified teacher’. Such a person is: ‘a teacher in an LA maintained school is either a trainee working towards qualified teacher status; an overseas trained teacher without QTS or an instructor who has a particular skill who can be employed for so long as a qualified teacher is not available.’ Now an academy may employ such people according to the doctrine of the former Secretary of State. Michael Gove but the DfE definition doesn’t seem to have caught up with that change in their School Workforce Survey, at least in the 2013 edition.
However, it probably doesn’t matter because the total number of unqualified teachers in November 2013 was still below that in the early 2000s during the Labour government’s period in office. In November 2013 there were 17,100 unqualified teachers in all state funded schools in England compared with 18,800 in 2005 and 18,200 in 2006. The 2013 figure will have included both those on the first year of Teach First, a programme introduced by Labour, and probably those on the School Direct salaried route where they are employed by schools. As their predecessors on Labour GTTP Scheme were also included in the totals there is little change methodology there, although the supposed popularity of the scheme might have been expected to boost the numbers. But, this blog has already pointed out that there are fewer School Direct salaried trainees this year than there were GTTP trainees in secondary schools a few years ago.
It would be helpful to know how many instructors are being employed in schools by returning to the separate categories for trainees and ‘instructors and other unqualified teachers’ employed by the DfE until a few years ago. This would allow commentators to check trends in genuinely unqualified staff that had no intention of obtaining a teaching qualification. Such numbers are important to know with a looming teacher supply crisis and mixing up school-based trainees and staff recruited to fill vacancies otherwise unfilled or because a schools doesn’t believe in the present preparation methods for teachers isn’t helpful, but perhaps it wasn’t meant to be.
Tomorrow is the official launch of TeachVac our free service for schools seeking secondary classroom teachers and trainees looking for their first job. http://www.teachvac.co.uk has already attracted sufficient trainees to make over 1,000 matches in the first two weeks of January and provide valuable information about the state of the job market. Do take a look at the video on the site if this is an area of interest.

Worrying reports for teaching

Two new pieces of evidence that support the ‘NO FEES for trainees’ campaign launched by this web site at the beginning of January were published today. High Fliers, the organisation that has been monitoring graduate recruitment since 1995, updated its forecast for 2015 graduate recruitment to suggest the market is still growing and that Teach First will be the largest single employer of new graduates in 2015. But, they don’t count the 30,000 graduates entering training to be teachers in their survey partly because to do so would demonstrate how teaching dominates the graduate labour market.

The second piece of evidence was a research report by Income Data Services for the NASUWT on pay in teaching. This shows pay on entry falling behind. Governments have always been reluctant to accept that by imposing an extra year of unpaid preparation on would-be teachers that affects the decision of some that would become teachers when there are plenty of other graduate job opportunities. Making trainees pay fees just adds insult to injury and further reduces the incentive to teach. It have pointed out before that if the Ministry of Defence can pay trainee officers at Sandhurst, the DfE should be able to pay all trainee teachers rather than impost a levy on training through the fees.

With the labour market for graduates now recognised as buoyant, the fee remission is something that can be achieved quickly and relatively cheaply for government and could make a difference to recruitment. Yes, some individuals would have become teachers and be prepared to pay for the privilege, but the same is true for army, navy and air force officers, not to mention civil servants and many others in the public sector.  We don’t expect them to, so why teachers?

After the recruitment crisis of 2000-2003 teachers’ pay rose in relation to the private sector, partly because Ministers took the brakes off the progression through to the Upper Pay Spine. It may have been reasonable during the recession for public sector pay to be kept down, but once pay starts becoming uncompetitive something has to be done or a teacher recruitment crisis develops. The warning signs have been there since 2012, as readers of this blog know.

With most graduate jobs located in or around London traditionally it is in the capital that pay pressures have been likely to exert the greatest effect. But, with new businesses able to start in bedrooms these days and then turnover many thousands of pounds through a single computer pay and conditions have become a national issue that the government’s broadband strategy will only make worse.

Schools can offer what salaries they like these days, and we will try to monitor this trend. Schools may seek to use their reserves to offer higher salaries and savvy trainees will undoubtedly use the evidence from today’s reports to negotiate higher starting salaries, especially if they know that they are in a shortage subject. Schools that register their vacancies with www.teachvac.co.uk will be told about the size of the market and can respond accordingly.

At the end of this month we will know the initial recruitment figures for 2015 training places and can compare the situation with January 2014. Any deterioration will be bad news. Cut tuition fees now.

First data from matching

www.teachvac.com the data information system for teachers that monitors the job market for trainee teachers* wanting to work in the secondary sector has made its first matches after going live on Monday. With trainee teachers, schools, SCITTs and local authorities all registering and the system monitoring more than 3,000 secondary schools http://www.teachvac.com is creating a real-time database of the labour market for teachers.

Schools, local authorities, dioceses and others that register jobs will receive updates of the changing state of the market as part of the registration process. This provides participants with information on how the market for classroom teachers is developing for September 2015 appointments when they register jobs.

Take the example of design and technology as a subject where the ITT census last November revealed around 420 students on one-year preparation courses. Allowing for non-completion, there are likely to be around 400 possible trainees looking for jobs for September 2015. However, as a proportion of these trainees are in schools working on the School Direct salaried scheme they may be expected to be employed by the school where they are currently training. This reduces the ‘free’ pool to less than 350 trainees likely to be job hunting. The DfE estimates that 50% of main scale vacancies are taken by trainees. If that proves the case, then after we have recorded vacancy 700 in the subject there is a risk that the trainee pool will have been exhausted.

Using data from trainee notification of where they are seeking to work we can also identify both hot spots and areas where there may be shortages even before the ‘pool’ has been exhausted. The TeachVac team are able to create reports for interested parties on request, but at a cost as the basic service is free to both schools and trainees. For information can be obtained from enquiries@oxteachserv.com

Trainees also receive a helpful monthly newsletter about recruitment and tips on how to make the most of their application. Later we hope to offer a catch-up seminar programme for trainees once they have secured their first teaching job and can identify areas where they feel they need more preparation to cover issues and topics that they didn’t expect to be teaching.

If you know a trainee or secondary teacher looking for a classroom teacher vacancy for September 2015 please invite them to register at www.teachvac.com The same goes for schools wanting to publicise vacancies. As it is free to both schools and trainees they will be helping develop an entirely new system that tracks the changing labour market for teachers on a daily basis. Sadly, at present it is only England and just secondary. If anyone wants to extend it to primary schools then I know that the team at TeachVac would be delighted to talk with them.

* I am involved with the TeachVac project especially on the data and information side so declare an interest in the contents of the post. As the service is free to users they aren’t being asked to buy anything but encouraged to use the service for free.

Figures don’t add up

The big news story this week has been the Conservative Party’s attack on Labour’s plans for education in the next government. Specifically, the Tories have attacked the costings for three of Labour’s policies: that all teachers should be qualified; the creation of 100 University Technical Colleges; a Director of School Standards in every local authority. Of course, if you ask the Treasury mandarins to cost a policy, they will do just that. What they won’t do is ask the wider questions, such as how does this match your own policy so we can factor in those cost as well?

Nowhere is this more evident than in the costing of the UTC policy. The government paper has estimated Labour’s policy as having capital costs over the parliament of around £1.4 billion and staffing of £75 million. But, it hasn’t identified whether the present government, if re-elected, would cease to open any new UTCS or Studio Schools for 14-18 year olds and then taken those costs into account. It also doesn’t seem to have assumed any staff cost saving resulting from the transfer of these students from existing schools. If there isn’t any savings, then the present UTC policy is extremely wasteful of resources and Labour are just copying the Tories in the same manner as the Tories copied Labour over spending on academies. These figures also don’t taken into account the need for any new spending on secondary school places resulting for the birth rate increase over the past decade that will have filtered through to secondary schools by the end of this parliament. It would be legitimate to assign some of those places to UTCs if that we what was wanted.

The valuation of the Director of School standards policy is another area where the government document has assumed a worst case scenario. I am sure all local authorities already have an officer responsible for monitoring standards. The issue is whether the new Directors would be at a higher pay grade? The Tories seem to have assumed that they will be not just responsible for standards but effectively new-style Chief Education Officers and paid appropriately.  As Labour’s Blunkett Commission suggested regional commissioners, and the idea was then taken up by the Tories, it seems unlikely that Labour want to recreate split between education and social services, especially as they introduced the merger of the two departments. Personally, I think there is something to be said for a return to separate departments, but that isn’t what the costing should have been based upon.

The third policy of all teachers being qualified is one I heartily agree with and have argued for in this blog. Sadly, the government costing document is the slightest of the three, with no background information on how the costs identified were arrived at. Indeed, so shabby may be the calculations that it is possible that Teach First trainees have been counted as requiring training even though the government already funds the training for these trainees, but describes them as unqualified teachers. Indeed, the 17,000 or so unqualified teachers identified in the 2013 School Census may also have included some School Direct salaried trainees and those completing their GTP programmes that were already being funded creating more double counting.

As Labour’s policy is for new teachers, I assume that existing unqualified teachers – formerly called instructors – would not be sacked but rather allowed to acquire their qualification part-time. This would be far cheaper than any assumption the paper might have made about full-time costs. However, as we don’t know what criteria were used in reaching the nearly £400 million over the life-time of the next parliament assumed as the cost by the government  paper it is impossible to take these figures seriously at all. They could either be totally spurious or might have some meaning to them. Either way, the policy of requiring all teachers to be trained is one that should be debated. If the training is pre-entry in future, then the costs are no more than for other teachers required in the numbers agreed by the government. It may be legitimate to recognise that qualified teachers earn more than unqualified ones, but what assumptions have been made about this cost aren’t clear. With training places being regulated, and many left unfilled at present, the comment about increased numbers is training is just silly.  The real issue is, if there is a teacher recruitment crisis, who is going to teach in our schools?

These three policy documents do not do the Conservatives or The Treasury credit and sadly don’t say how much they cost the government to produce? This would be worth knowing as we can then debate whether it was a useful expenditure of scarce public resources.

This idea won’t solve the current problem in teacher supply

Mr Taylor, the head of the National College for Teaching and Leadership is given to New Year suggestions that can sometimes seem extreme. A few years ago he advocated the abolition of the Teacher Supply Model process and its replacement with local decisions about recruitment into the profession. This year he appears to be suggesting some form of talent spotting of youngsters as a means of overcoming a teacher shortage that he still isn’t apparently prepared to admit has occurred on his watch. This is despite plenty of warning from those that understand the labour market for teachers.

Although a scheme, whether called cadetships, apprenticeships or even a taster scheme, won’t help alleviate the current teacher shortage, and it is naive to suggest anything to the contrary, the idea has been tried before. I recall going to visit such a scheme in North Carolina nearly 20 years ago whereby schools offered cadetship to those possibly interested in a career as a teacher. The problem was that although many potential primary school teachers identified teaching as a possible career when at high school, possible secondary subject teachers were often still more interested in their subject than in how they would use their knowledge after university. Offering tasters at university to this group is probably better than trying something at school where subject enjoyment is often seen as correlated with teacher enthusiasm and likeability. Nevertheless, helping pupils identify the positives of teaching can be useful in counteracting their over-exposure to schooling compared with their understanding of other potential careers.

As teaching is an occupation, schemes to attract youngsters mustn’t either fall foul of employment law or look like cheap alternative to fill gaps where there are insufficient numbers of trained teachers. In the 1960s, scholarship pupils where I went to school often spent two terms as class teachers in local secondary modern schools helping to fill vacancies before going on to university. I am sure that isn’t what Mr Taylor had in mind, but his Daily Telegraph interview does seem to veer towards re-introducing pupil teachers or monitors in classrooms when he refers to such children as classroom assistants. Perhaps he has modelled his idea on the football talent spotting schemes that try to identify future stars while they are still at primary school.

In the past, many young people received their first taste of teaching as Sunday School Teachers or similar roles in other faith communities and many still help younger siblings at home. Uniform organisations were also a route to learning about working with people and helping others to develop new skills. How primary pupils would act as teaching assistants without affecting their own education isn’t covered by Mr Taylor in his interview. Perhaps he just has visions of them as monitors handing out resources, although some might have opportunities to lead baffled teachers through the intricacies of computer coding that is now part of the curriculum.

Putting in place schemes to attract sufficient teachers in ten years time is a long-term project. What Mr Taylor doesn’t seem to accept, perhaps because he would need to admit his own part in bringing it about, is that we have a teacher supply crisis now. I suggested in my post yesterday that fees be abated for trainee teachers and that they all be paid a bursary. That would produce results now, which is when we need more trainee teachers.