Ship no longer looks as steady

The publication today by UCAS of the end of cycle report for the 2014 teacher training admissions scheme has produced some interesting new data that raises questions about some of the assumptions in my previous post. You can find the report in full at:

As this was the first round of the new system it may be dangerous to read too much into the data, and there is no guarantee that this round will be exactly the same as the last one, but if it is then we really do have to start taking the matter of teacher supply seriously.

One key statistic from the UCAS Report was that over the whole cycle 52% of applicants secured a place. As we know, acceptance rates were higher for university courses than for school-based provision. What we didn’t know was that acceptance rates declined the later a person applied in the cycle. Now some of that may be due to courses becoming full between an application and consideration by the course provider. However, I doubt that was responsible for acceptance rates as low as 46% towards the end of the cycle. UCAS note in the report that the former GTTR Scheme had a 43% acceptance rate in 2013, so despite the lower acceptance rate on school-based courses universities do seem to have either had better quality applicants or been willing to take more risks with those that did apply to prevent a greater shortfall in new teacher numbers.

The report also notes that by the end of February, 71% of applications had been received. On that basis the 28,000 or so applicants in the system by mid-March 2015 this year might be joined by another 8,500-9,000 applicants this year during the remainder of the cycle. That would mean more than 4,500 acceptances still to come once all the 28,000 had been processed.

As a result, the missing 5,000 applicants by mid-March 2015 compared with mid-March 2014 may mean a drop of 2,500 in numbers recruited through the admissions process. That’s a scary number and might possibly take recruitment down to no more than 26,000 Trainees. For those that really want to worry, and feel like sleepless nights, I recommend a look at Figure 39 on page 46 of the UCAS report. This shows that acceptance rates fell away sharply after May last year. Now some of that may be due to courses becoming full, but if so there is a need to devise a trading system of spare places to be able to offer candidates in subjects where the overall total won’t be met a place. Just over allocating, the system used by NCTL at present, doesn’t seem to be working.

Whether some courses would remain viable at current levels is a matter for consideration. I wonder whether the NCSL ITT group that met earlier this week have yet discussed safety measures for ensuring providers can stay in the market or whether they are just prepared to let market forces decide where provision is delivered.

Because the admissions system is new, comparisons with previous years are not really possible except on the overall number of applicants. UCAS recorded 54,015 applicants. That is probably the lowest number of graduates applying for teacher training since 2008 when the number was 51,616 through GTTR. Realistically, the overall number was higher that year because the employment-based routes didn’t recruit through UCAS. The last time the number dropped below 50,000 was probably early this century.

Has the ship steadied?

Data released from UCAS this morning shows that total applications for postgraduate teacher preparation courses still lags behind the same point in 2014. By mid-March 2014 there had been over 102,000 applications from more than 33,500 applicants. This year at roughly the same mid-moth point in March applications were around 85,500 and applicant numbers were approaching the 28,000 mark. In terms of applicants, the gap has widened by around a further 200 applicants during the mid-February to mid-March period. With around 34,000 places on offer there are still not enough applicants to fill every place, even if all were suitable.

Higher education seems to be bearing the brunt of the reduction, with applications down from more than 53,000 in 2014 to fewer than 40,000 in March 2015. That said, although applications to SCITTs have risen, but there are more of them this year, applications to School Direct are down in both categories. The reduction is not a localised issue, but appears in all age groups and across all regions of England. This will make the downward trend more of a challenge to reverse in the remaining period of the recruitment round as it is difficult to know where to focus advertising to gain the most effect. We must just hope that the TV advertising campaign makes a difference by next month.

Although at this stage of the year interpreting ‘offers’ under the system that allows multiple offers to be made is more difficult than in the past, it does seem that in the primary sector the total number of ‘offers’ currently in the system is down on the same point last year by  possibly as many as 400 candidates.

The situation in the secondary sector is more challenging to unravel because of the manner in which UCAS present the statistics. However, it seems likely that there may be slightly more ‘offers’ in the system than at this point last year. The anxiety is that they may not be in the traditional ‘shortage’ subjects but in languages, where there seems to have been a large increase in applications, and possibly in physical education. Physics and mathematics have probably reached a level that is sustainable with present bursary and scholarship arrangements if applications continue at the current rate, but the numbers won’t be high enough to meet the level of training places allocated. In many other subjects, demand still remains at levels that are worryingly low and will be insufficient to improve on recruitment totals from last year unless the ratio of acceptances to applicants is altered, especially on School Direct where relatively more applicants weren’t offered places than on other types of course in 2014.

Next month the figures will be affected by the Easter break and, although this is less of an issue in these days of electronic applications, it is still a factor to be taken into account. Thus, the next set of data that can form a realistic comparison between 2014 and 2015 will come in May, after the election. The data will no doubt be an early headache for the new Secretary of State, assuming we have one by then.

London needs teachers

An analysis of the first 5,600 vacancies recorded in TeachVac the free service for schools and teachers that allows schools to place job announcements and those vacancies to be matched with trainees, teachers and returners looking for a classroom teaching post in a secondary school, has thrown up some interesting information.

Firstly, it looks likely that any secondary school looking for a teacher in the autumn term will have to rely either upon returners or using the services of agencies of others prepared to search for applicants. The trainee pool in most subjects is likely to be exhausted by the summer if the current level of advertisements continues, especially if April is the peak month for recruitment advertising, as it has been in past years.

Of course, the rumblings from the ASCL conference about schools budgets may mean that schools have fewer vacancies to advertise than they would wish. But that may be counter-acted by above average wastage from the profession if other surveys from the teacher associations are correct.

Anyway, what is clear from TeachVac is that around half the vacancies in many subjects recorded so far this year are in just three regions of England; London; the South East; the East of England. This is despite the over-representation of Teach First in London compared with the rest of the country even though it now has a role across the country.

The presence of above average numbers of private schools in and around London may account for the higher levels of posts in the separate sciences and in many vacancies for teachers of specific languages in this part of the country. Elsewhere, the tendency is still to advertise ‘science’ vacancies and for ‘language’ teachers. Although numbers are small, London and the South East account for two thirds of recorded vacancies for teachers of classics.

Unless they are just advertising locally, and not using their own web sites, schools in the North West of England have advertised around 25% fewer vacancies than schools in London so far during 2015. It may be that the large number of trainees in that part of the country means that more schools can offer more posts directly to trainees without needing to advertise a vacancy. Before the advent of academies such behaviour might have been regarded askance in some quarters.

Teachers of PE may struggle the most to find a new job for September unless vacancies increase sharply in the remainder of the year, as may teachers of RE looking for a teaching post in the south West.

Next week will see the publication of the March data on applications through the UCAS unified admissions system for teacher preparation courses starting this autumn. These courses will provide the bulk of new entrants to fill secondary classroom teacher vacancies in 2016. Hopefully, the new TV campaign will have boosted applications, although it may be April before any effect can really be noticed. Without more applicants 2016 looks likely to be an even more challenging recruitment round than this year, especially if dropout rates from preparation courses are also on the increase, as has been suggested to me.

Can a leopard change its spots?

It was interesting to see Michael Gove, he of the Academies Act 2010 and comments about blobs, launch the new ‘Conservative Right’ think tank recently. Students of the history of the past two hundred years will enjoy his selective pickings from the past. Here are a few about education;

Arthur Balfour introduced an Education Act which dramatically extended state support for schooling and helped emancipate working class children from the prison house of ignorance.

No mention of the 1870 Act that first introduced State Education presumably because that was an outcome of Gladstone’s Liberal government

In Churchill’s Wartime Government it was Rab Butler who extended yet further the reach, and liberating power, of state education.

Of course, the government that introduced the 1944 Education Act was a grand coalition. That fact doesn’t rate a mention either.

Here is Michael Gove’s summing up of his stewardship in of education.

But now, thanks to this Government, there are new schools – academies and free schools – based in our poorest neighbourhoods which are sending more children to top universities than some of our most famous private schools.

The academies programme has ensured the country’s best head teachers have been given responsibility for our most challenging schools. The free schools programme has meant that some of the best primary schools in this country have been set up in just the last few years – and in some of our toughest areas. Alongside these new schools a new curriculum that sets high standards for all and the investment of more than two and a half billion pounds in the pupil premium have helped raise achievement for all children. And that is a progressive achievement of which we can all be proud.

Not a piece of data on his achievements anywhere in site in this bit of his speech apart from the figure for the Pupil Premium. But, then numbers and statistics were never Mr Gove’s strong point. You can judge for yourself whether he can really take responsibility for the Pupil Premium and its extension to the early years. The introduction of the Service Children’s Premium was, I suspect something that came from the Prime Minister and so doesn’t rate a mention here..

I will leave readers to decide whether Mr Gove is a different type of Tory than many had thought he was or whether, just perhaps, this might be an attempt to broaden his appeal ahead of a leadership challenge if the Tories lose the general election.

Teachvac moves forward

Teachvac the free site where schools and trainee teachers can register and be told about vacancies for classroom teachers in secondary schools has taken the first step towards enlarging its scope while remaining a free service to both schools and teachers.

Originally launched this January, Teachvac developed to understand the market for trainees both by tracking vacancies and by recording where trainees were looking for vacancies. The site is now able to handle registrations from any teacher looking for a mainstream classroom post in a secondary school across both the maintained and private sectors. The TeachVac site will still track the requirements of trainees, but will also consider the characteristics of other teachers seeking this type of vacancy. In the future, the site will expand to include promoted posts and take in both the primary and special school sectors.

For those curious about how the site works, there are demonstration videos on both the teacher and school registration pages. The Teachvac site is now gearing up to handle the large increase in vacancies expected between now and the end of April. Schools that register receive notification of the state of the market in the subject where they post a vacancy. Each month a review of the trends over the previous month is published.

There is a growing body of data  from Teachvac about the trends in this part of the Labour market that will be of interest in the debate about teacher recruitment. Why, for instance, are so many PE teachers being trained and why did the Teacher Supply Model seemingly underestimate the need for teachers of English for a number of years? There is currently no formal mechanism to discuss these issues with government in any formal sense. I hope that after May the new government will rectify this deficiency.

News on the pay front

The latest report from the School Teacher Review Body was published today. The report is useful in that it brings all the data about pay and teacher supply issues together in one place. Whether teachers will find it helpful will depend very much on how schools respond to the recommended changes that amount to a 1% uplift on most salary scale minima and maxima, but a 2% uplift on the top of the main scale.

Teachers looking for jobs can now bargain over salary and schools that have signed up to TeachVac are being told our view of the current status of the subject in terms of the market for classroom teachers in secondary schools every time the upload a vacancy. Yesterday, both sciences and mathematics reached the level of vacancies that suggest there have been enough jobs to remove a third of trainees from the market. Today is shaping up to be the largest since day for vacancies in some subjects so far in 2015.

But, to return to the STRB Report. What is clear is that even without taking into account the fact that teachers entering the labour market are one year older than most other new graduate entrants, pay is slipping outside London compared to other graduates. Perhaps next time the STRB will look at what graduate entrants to large firms earn after their first year and compare that salary with the rate paid to teachers after training. However, using the longer lens going back to before the recession, there is still some evidence that those teachers that joined in the early 2000s are only now starting to see their salary advantages whittled away. For me, the message seems to be; this year the 2% may just about see the government through as a pay increase, but next year, if the economy continues to grow and teaching doesn’t respond, the recruitment situation will probably become worse. The message sent out by this report from the STRB will affect the 2016 labour market if it doesn’t help recruit more teachers into training for this coming September, as the 2015 entrants are the new teachers of 2016.

Now that the TV advertising campaign has finally started, it will be interesting to see what effect it has upon recruitment. Personally, I think it is a bit late in the year and I hope that next time it runs during the autumn term when many more undergraduates are thinking about what future career to choose. Still, I suspect it may be better value for money that the banner advertising School Direct I saw outside one secondary school recently. Personally, I would have though the money spend might have had a better reach either using a social media campaign or good old fashioned press advertising. Relying on the motorists that drive by to take their eyes off the road as means of recruitment seems a risky strategy to me in more ways than one.

Jam tomorrow

Even assuming the first entrants into David Cameron’s new maths scholarship programme that he announced today start their degrees this September, they won’t be available to teach until either September 2018 if they are allowed on TeachFirst or 2019 if they follow a traditional one-year teacher preparation programme.

Even though we might need more maths teachers by then, especially if the next government goes for a requirement that all 16-18 year olds study a maths course of some description, it is still a curious choice of subject to highlight for extra support. At present, mathematics isn’t anywhere near the worst subject in terms of teacher supply. Indeed, in TeachVac it probably won’t be flagged as an amber warning subject until today. That’s well behind, business studies, IT, design and technology, geography, English and social studies; all subjects where we have been warning schools of shortages in 2015 for some time now. See for more details.

As the government is also in the process of re-training other teachers to become maths specialists it isn’t clear why there is this focus only on mathematics. There is even a risk that if it forces some physics teachers to have to teach other sciences rather than maths alongside physics it could have a negative effect on recruitment into physics. If the government intends to introduce a compulsory course in English for 16-18 year olds then monitoring teacher numbers in that subject is equally vital to monitoring maths  teacher numbers as shortages of teachers of English may be as severe in some parts of the country as they are for maths teachers.

Teacher supply will be the number one crisis facing whoever is Secretary of State after the election and a piecemeal approach to the problem may attract headlines but won’t produce enough teachers in every subject to allow schools to make progress on the Attainment8 measure.

In two weeks we will see the current recruitment figures for trainees for graduate courses starting in September. They will be the last numbers likely to feed into the general election debate. If they remain poor, as seems likely, teacher supply may be the only issue in education to make waves during the campaign despite the many other policies that need discussion.