Some good news

The May data for applications through the UCAS system by graduates seeking to become a teacher was published earlier today. There is some qualified good news for the government, but it is heavily qualified. Overall, the gap between applicant numbers has narrowed since April by some 640 applicants. However, it still stands at 4,640 and the clock is ticking down towards the end of the recruitment round.

That’s the sum of the good news. Total offers of all types for secondary courses in England, and all these figures are for courses in England, total around 11,100 against a DfE number set through the Teacher Supply Model of just under 18,000 graduates required to enter training as a secondary teacher in 2015, after allowing for the small number of remaining undergraduate places. So, we are about 6,500 trainees short of what is required or just under 40%. As a result, the secondary share of the 9,000 applications currently awaiting interview or a decision by a provider, will need to come up trumps if the gap is to reduce much further.

Secondary subjects fall into three groups. There are the three subjects: Languages, History and Physical Education where the DfE number of trainees required will be met easily, and there will probably be too many trainees for all the vacancies in 2016. The second group of subjects are those where offers are better than at this point last year but are still likely to be insufficient to meet the DfE number as identified by the Teach Supply Model. These include subjects such as Physics, Mathematics, English, Design & Technology, Chemistry, Biology and Art. Finally, there are five subjects where the DfE number required to enter training almost certainly won’t be reached and the current position over the number of offers appears worse than at this stage last year. These subjects are: Religious Education, Music, Geography, IT/Computer Science and Business Studies.

So, unless far more applicants can be converted into trainees in the period between May and the start of courses in the autumn than was the case last year, the training shortfall in the secondary sector is heading into a third year of under-recruitment against need. This begs the question of what happens to those shortfalls in reality. Returners or overseas teachers are the obvious alternatives along with re-designing the timetable to reduce teaching time in shortage subjects or ask less well qualified teachers to step into the breach and hope that Ofsted doesn’t come calling.

Schools with unexpected vacancies for September and especially for January 2016 are going to find recruiting qualified teachers of some subjects a real challenge. As schools that register classroom teacher vacancies through TeachVac already know from the update they receive when registering a vacancy, the 2015 pool of Business Studies, Social Studies and Design & Technology trainees has effectively been exhausted already. Subjects such as English, Geography and IT/Computer Science are likely to have only small numbers of trainees currently still looking for teaching vacancies; many in specific locations.

The position in relation to primary recruitment for 2015 is more complicated, not least because of the larger number of undergraduate places. There are around a 1,000 fewer places being held by graduate applicants but, as the DfE original number required was exceeded by a substantial amount in the allocations, this may be more of a problem for course providers struggling to operate financially viable courses than for trainees when they come to seek work in 2016.

There is still time for these numbers to change with an influx of late applicants wanting to train as a teacher. That would be more good news. The potential bad news would be if some of those holding offers were also chasing other careers and decided not to take up their place. Next month the picture will be much clearer, whether or not it is rosier.

Statesmen and Politicians

The Education Bill announced today in the Queen’s Speech to parliament is first and foremost a politician’s Bill. It will probably lack the grandeur of spirit to be a Bill associated with a statesman – this word needs a gender free equivalent; suggestions please – as was say the 1944 Act or even the Education Reform Act of the Thatcher government that introduced the National Curriculum and local management of schools. Nevertheless, by accident, its outcome might be monumental in re-shaping the landscape of school governance.

Much will depend upon how rigorous the DfE and its henchmen the Regional Commissioners are at taking over coasting schools. (How redolent with male gendered words education still is despite such a large proportion of those that work in schools being of the female gender.) Where will the threshold be set? What will be the attitude of the voluntary controlled sector be to forced academisation? Will the churches and other faith groups feel they have enough control over their schools taken over in such a way that when they stop coasting control once again rests with the diocese? Frankly, on the basis of the academy programme to date that looks unlikely. Even though the Roman Catholics have been adapt in some diocese in establishing multi-academy trusts of Roman Catholic schools what happens if one schools is regarded as coasting; will it be taken out of the Trust and nationalised with leaders with no experience of faith schools put in charge?

We have already seen academies closing without consultation; operating illegal admission arrangements and generally behaving in a manner that ignores the need for any understanding of local priorities. A badly worded Bill could finally spell the end of local government’s involvement in formal schooling. Indeed, after reading Ofsted’s recent letter to Suffolk, I wonder what, apart from a loss of civic pride, is now the consequence for a Council of an inadequate rating for its education section of Children’s Services? With even more cuts to come in local government many Tory authorities will no doubt see the abandonment of responsibility for schools as a means of saving money, assuming that they can hand over pupil place planning and home to school transport to the Regional Commissioner’s Office once all their schools are academies; and why not?

A Bill designed by a Statesman with an eye on history will tackle the governance issues head on and craft a piece of legislation that will shape the landscape of schools for a generation. However, a rushed Bill, designed mainly to satisfy a manifesto pledge, will lead to a further decline in the state of education.

The OECD pointed out today how poor many graduates from universities in England are at maths. Taking a stand on the 16-19 curriculum and making maths and a language compulsory for all ought to find its way into the Bill ahead of worrying about coasting schools that don’t need legislation to improve, but rather good teachers and effective leaders. Sadly, I fear politics will win the day.

New class of challenging schools?

The DfE today released the latest data for absence during the autumn term of the current school-year. As ever, there is a mass of interesting data in the figures that those with responsibility for school outcomes will want to consider in detail.

When the data for the same term last year was published I commented about the relatively large number of UTCs and Studio Schools with significant numbers of pupils that past the threshold where they would be considered as persistent absentees. This year, the threshold is set at 10% absence – for whatever reason, down from a previous level of 15%. It is interesting to see that 19 of the 50 secondary schools with the largest percentages either at or above the 10% level are UTCs (7) or Studio Schools (12). A further three are Free Schools. So, almost half the schools filling the top 50 places are new categories of schools. The next largest group are sponsored academies (16), followed by maintained schools (8) and convertor academies (4).

Some 40 local authority areas are represented by these 50 schools. Liverpool, has the largest number with 5 schools in the list. Other authority areas with more than one include, Middlesbrough, Leeds, Essex and, a surprise to me, Oxfordshire which has two schools in the list – an academy and a maintained school currently seeking to become an academy. Both are in the north of the county.

Another surprising fact is the relative absence of London schools from the list. There are only two London schools in the 50, and one is a UTC. There are also relatively few schools located in the Home Counties, so that makes the Oxfordshire schools stand out even more.

From the data it seems that around a quarter of local authority areas have at least one school where absence is potentially a serious issue for some reason. Some of the UTCs and studio Schools are relatively new and it may be that local schools used the opportunity of their opening to steer some of their challenging Year 9 pupils towards the new provision in the hope that a new environment would provide a new start for the teenagers. Seemingly this works in some cases, but not in all.

I am not sure whether the Secretary of State will want to investigate the leadership at these 50 schools, and those just below them in the rankings, ahead of coasting schools or whether they should be offered more time to improve attendance. Certainly, if Ofsted aren’t monitoring the situation already, then I am sure that the schools can expect a visit in the near future.

The publication earlier this week of Ofsted’s letter to Suffolk means that local authority officers and members need to accept some responsibility for challenging schools as a part of their responsibility for all pupils, regardless of the type of school that they attend. A failure to do so might well lead to the Authority being regarded as inadequate. Perhaps the new Education Bill will recognise this duty and offer new powers to local government; perhaps it won’t, preferring instead to hand responsibility to regional commissioners.

Message to schools: please don’t close down teacher training yet

I don’t normally pay as much attention to the state of primary intakes to teacher training as perhaps I should. This is because the main focus has been on shortages in secondary. However, the latest National College newsletter for those involved in School Direct – is there such as publication for other routes – contains the following:

‘If you have filled, or are close to filling, your allocation in English, and you have evidence from your application data that you have sufficient demand to take on more trainees, you can now request additional places. Additionally, if you have filled your primary cohort, then you can now request additional primary places.

We can also confirm that we are accepting requests for new courses (where there was no initial allocation) in all subjects apart from English, primary, PE and history.’ Publication date 19th May 2015

This seems to suggest that there are still primary places available as well as places in English. The second paragraph doesn’t make it clear whether the new courses can be for 2015 entry or are in anticipation of 2016 allocations. If the former, then some higher education providers will no doubt be asking whether they can also open new courses.

Of interest, is whether the places available are as a result of schools returning allocated School Direct places and, if so, whether they are salaried or training places? With so many vacancies located in and around London I am not sure of the wisdom of spending money re-allocating places from that part of the country to say either the North West or South West where, at least in the secondary sector, vacancies for main scale teachers are at a much lower level.

Elsewhere in this bulletin the National College acknowledges that schools may close down the application process as early as the end of May and reminds those schools to let UCAS know so that others can handle any late applications. The implications are that the system lost some of the 2,000 plus applicants arriving over the summer last year because they applied to schools that had stopped recruiting but handn’t made that fact clear. Personally, as we need as many applicants as possible, I believe that the funding agreement for School Direct should require schools to recruit throughout the summer, as higher education courses have always sought to do when there are unfilled places.

In a period of teacher shortage those operating teacher preparation programmes should all be doing everything possible to fill as many of the available places as possible, especially when these places are in areas of high need for teachers. The alternative will be to deepen the teacher recruitment crisis in 2016; surely that cannot be government policy?

The UCAS web site should also identify separately courses closed because they are full and those courses closed because the provider has decided not to accept any more applications, but has places still available. It may be that this information is already available to Ministers, but it should also be available to others so that the use of public money can be scrutinised.

Careless Talk

The Secretary of State’s first media outing of this parliament might not have had the outcome planned. A visit to the Andrew Marr shown and an article in the Sunday Times guaranteed plenty of media exposure, plus comment elsewhere. Tackling coasting schools may play well with the Tory faithful, but might be guaranteed to upset the teacher associations, even were it to be a valid argument.

Just imagine a company with 20,000 branches that announces on national television that every branch where sales don’t increase by the national average will be taken over by a manager working in a branch with above average sales. Now the branch in leafy Surrey where the fall in sales is due to customers switching to the internet to make their purchases rather than driving to the shop might still find plenty of people wanting to be a manager. But, the branch in a rundown shopping mall in an area of relatively high unemployment might seem less attractive, especially if it was finding it difficult to recruit staff despite the high unemployment. Of course, the company could offer incentives to relocate staff as it is one big organisation and any employee keen for promotion would recognise the need to relocate.

Schooling in England isn’t yet like that. It suffers from a chronic lack of attention to governance and management that sees local authorities clinging on to their remnants of their former power in some areas; more successfully in some places than others. Then there are the churches, with lots of schools, but for too long no obvious plan for improving standards across all their schools, but a loyal workforce. Since many teachers, especially primary school teachers, train in their local area and aim to work there for their whole careers, the idea of a mobile leadership force, especially in the primary sector is quite possibly fanciful. Indeed, one wonders if the DfE has undertaken any research into the mobility of the teaching force and its leadership, let alone into how many school leaders would need to relocate to tackle the coasting school issue. If none, then the Secretary of State really was guilty of careless talk.

Perhaps it was just a shot across the bows. After all both Nick Clegg and David Laws had proposed plans when in government to create a national cadre of school leaders – see previous posts discussing the idea – so may be this was just an extension of those ideas, but less well articulated. For there are schools that need encouragement to do better, if not for all their pupils, but for some groups whether the least able or the middle attainers or even the most able if their results are being supported by the parents that pay for private tuition and revision classes.

However, until we have an understanding of the shape and lines of control of our school system and whether it is a collaborative or competitive system, it is difficult to see how parachuting leaders into schools on the basis of external assessments will bring improvement to the system as a whole.

Indeed, it might make matters worse if it both dissuades teachers from taking on leadership roles and makes teaching look an unattractive career to new entrants, where the rewards don’t match the risks. We need to get the best from those that work in schools, Michael Gove didn’t, and it is unlikely Nicky Morgan will if she doesn’t balance the waved stick with some sensible use of the carrot.


In the 1990s when Chris Woodhead became head of Ofsted he mentioned a figure of 15,000 poor quality teachers that needed removing in an early interview. That figure became stuck in the minds of journalists and was trotted out for many years even though it wasn’t often supported by any evidence. We now have a similar situation with the 40% of teachers that allegedly quit the profession in their first year of teaching. This figure goes right back to an interview Mike Tomlinson gave, I think but haven’t checked, to The Guardian when he took over from Mr Woodhead. Recently, it gained a new lease of life when used by ATL’s general secretary at their annual conference this spring. Here’s what I wrote on May 8th

Teacher supply was an area of interest following the teacher associations annual conferences. I was surprised, and not a little disappointed, to see the General Secretary of ATL use data from 2011 – data from during the height of the recession – to discuss recruitment and staying-on rates for teachers in 2015. It may well be that in London and the South East more teachers will leave during their first year, but in 2011 the problem for many teachers was finding a job in the first place. This year the problem for some schools has been finding a teacher at all.

Although Sam Freedman and I don’t share the same political views we do share a regard for the accurate use of data and his comments at say what I think, although the statistics he mentions for secondary trainees are in Table 6 with table 5 covering undergraduate courses.

That at least two leading recruitment agencies have used the 40% statistic to support their promotional campaigns is disappointing, as I would have hoped for a little more maturity from them.  Anyhow the figure is now firmly in the public consciousness and will reappear from time to time when thoughtless commentators discuss teacher supply problems. as this is an issue likely to remain in the headlines we can expect to see the figure used regularly.

But, there is no use just moaning. We need an agenda for action on teacher supply. Here are some suggestions;

– Pay the fees of all graduate trainees from 2015 entry onwards – this will be especially helpful to career changers that have paid off previous fees and will need to repay the £9,000 as soon as they start teaching

– Look to how those training to be teachers that have links to communities can be employed in those communities and more mobile students can be encouraged to move to where they are needed.

– Make sure teacher preparation places are more closely linked to where the jobs will be. This means reviewing places in London and the Home counties – not enough – and the north West – probably too many in some subjects and sectors.

– look at trainees that cannot find a job because we trained too many of them and see whether with some minimal re-training they might be useful teachers. This applies especially to PE teachers this year – some might re-train as science teachers or primary PE specialists and art teachers if they can work in design part of D&T.

– ramp up the 2015 autumn advertising campaign spend, including an early TV and social media advertising spend that at least matches that of the MoD.

– split the teacher preparation part of the National College away from the Leadership and professional development elements and put someone in charge that understands the issues- Sir Andrew Carter springs to mind as an obvious choice.

– look at the NQT year support now that local authorities don’t have the cash to help. This may be vital in keeping primary teachers in the profession, especially if anything goes wrong at the school where they are working.

None of these are new idea, and many were in my submission to the Carter Review that can be found in an earlier post. What is clear is that the new government cannot continue with an amateurish approach that marked some of the tactics towards teacher supply during the last few years. With many thousands more pupils entering schools over the next few years we cannot create a world class school system with fewer teachers.

National Funding Formula

I have been reminded that my last post didn’t explicitly mention the need for a new funding formula for schools. This has been such a long-running saga, started under the Labour government and not brought to a conclusion during the coalition that I confess it slipped my mind.  My apologies to the F40 Group of local authorities that have long campaigned for better funding for their parts of England.

I suppose one good thing to emerge from the coalition was that both the Pupil Premium and Universal Infant Free School Meals were funded at the same rate across the whole country and not pro-rata to authorities on their other funding levels for education. There are those that might argue that the funding wasn’t enough, but it was the same for all. However, that doesn’t obviate the need for a coherent plan for education funding that can be justified on a rational basis. Any reforms must accept the consequences of the raising of the learning leaving age to eighteen. In rural areas the continuation of the old transport rules that assumed staying in education post sixteen was an option need urgent reform.

During the election campaign I met sixth formers of all abilities in both further education and schools that had faced considerable challenges to be able to continue their education. With subsidies to rural bus services under renewed threat this is an unfair burden on young people living in the countryside. If we tried to take away the free travel enjoyed in London there would no doubt be a great outcry.

There is no doubt that what funding there is will increasingly be taken up by increased pay. In those parts of the country, notably London and the Home Counties, where recruitment is at its most challenging it won’t take long for teachers to recognise that the new pay freedoms mean they can ask for more in their pay packets and leave it up to school leaders and governing bodies to decide how to manage the consequences of saying ‘no’.

One outcome is likely to be larger classes, especially in the secondary sector. However, judging by the downward trend in pupil-teacher ratios seen in recent years the system should be able to handle some worsening in ratios and larger class sizes. But, that makes planning teacher supply just that bit more difficult, as trainee PE teachers are no doubt finding out to their cost this year.

Schools will have to look for ways to cut costs, and recruitment advertising is one obvious source of savings as we have shown with TeachVac. By providing a free service to secondary schools that now covers promoted posts as well as main scale vacancies we have created a platform that could save school many millions of pounds as well as providing them with more information about the state of the labour market. If you haven’t visited they pay a visit and register. The site will shortly be extending to cover leadership vacancies directly input by schools and I will announce that development on this blog as I will our future plans for extending into the primary sector.

Welcome Back

So we have the same Secretary of State. Will it be the same Department or will the Prime Minister seek to abolish the Business department and return FE and HE to Education, while sending Children’s Services to Health or somewhere else?

Regardless of any organisational change, there are a number of policy issues to be resolved over the next few years.

As I hinted in my last post, teacher supply and probably training, need urgent ministerial attention. Splitting the teacher training part of the NCTL away from CPD and Leadership might be a smart move, even if in the short-term it means bringing it back in-house in London. At least it would be close to Ministers.

Then there is the future governance of education. The small band of Commissioners aren’t enough to deal with all the issues in both the primary and secondary sectors. So, further reform will be needed here. As many Labour councils won’t embrace the academy programme, primary schools in these areas will grow larger as Councils strive to prevent a loss of control. A firm hand is needed, not least because in those Tory authorities that did embrace the academy agenda and created Trusts over which they have no control, are still left holding the blame when anything goes wrong. I suspect Kent will have something to say on this matter after the arbitrary closure of an academy in the west of the county just before the announcement of the allocation of places to pupils.

If the Conservatives want more UTCs and Studio Schools for 14-18s then they will have to solve the leadership issue. In recent weeks I have had several journalists and researchers contacting me about how bad the leadership crisis is at the present time? Since I gave up that research some time ago I don’t really know, but it seems sensible to ask the question; if we create more schools, do we have enough leaders in waiting? There may be more of an issue in the primary sector where lack of career direction and encouragement, as local authorities saw the cash for this disappear into schools, may have lasting effects until the governance issue is sorted out and a new middle-tier can take responsibility for the career development issues schools aren’t interested in.

Pay and conditions will remain a concern, as the Liberal Democrats were prepared to recognise during the election campaign. Motivating the workforce may also be a major concern for the Secretary of State in the coming months; here a good appointment of Schools Minister will be vital as someone the profession can work with on a day to day basis.

Regardless of whether the Department is re-structured, Ofsted will need reform. If there are no advisory services to do the positive things in changing schools a totally negative inspection regime, or even one that looks that way, risks not only resentment but also loss of authority if the profession refuses to take it seriously.

Then there is the issue of selective schools.  The Secretary of State will need to make it clear whether she agrees with selection at eleven or whether she considers that is an idea that has passed its sell-by date now everyone stays-on to eighteen. At the same time she will need to make clear where she draws the line with regard to the profit motive? Can schools now be run for profit; if so, should she signal that she expects the fee-paying schools to all be run for profit and to abandon their charitable status. It would, seemingly be odd to have three classes of schools; for profit state funded schools; non-for profit state funded schools; state supported charitable institutions that can also charge fees for the education component of their work.

Now that apprenticeships are firmly back on the agenda, there are issues to resolve in the curriculum and in examinations. The arts, so long a success story of education in England, are being squeezed out along with sport if trends in advertised vacancies mean anything. Other subjects will disappear if teachers cannot be recruited. What is the future for CGSE now all will be in education or work related training until eighteen? Was Labour prescient in suggesting GCSEs might become unnecessary in the future?

There is much to do with early years as well, especially around those families that don’t see the value of education. That they are holding back the life chances of many of their children is accepted by many of us, but needs to be better communicated. This should be something politicians of all parties can agree upon. Then there are groups such as Travellers that all too often fall below the radar of politicians, but deserve better from society. The same is true for other groups whether young carers, those with SEN not severe enough to be really appreciated and those on the wrong side of the digital divide. Hopefully, the next five years will still be a time when government recognises their need for improved education.

But, my main message remains that, if we cannot recruit enough teachers, then we cannot create a world-class education system.

Normal service has now been resumed

Regular readers will have noticed the absence of posts on this blog during the past few weeks. This is mainly because I have been involved in the general election as the Lib Dem candidate for the Banbury Constituency. This was an interesting exercise, and will probably be the subject of a discussion in more depth in another post.

Compared with previous elections education didn’t really hit the headlines very much during the campaign; although I am pleased that it featured on the front of the Lib Dem manifesto and that public sector pay increases and extending free school meals to all primary pupils were on offer as part of the Lib Dem campaign announcements. Even tuition fees didn’t really feature all that much in the debates.

So what else has been happening? The DfE stopped publishing statistics after 31st March when parliament was dissolved. The last to appear showed the continued improvement in attendance levels by pupils. However, buried in the numbers was a possible interesting issue of rural attendance and also data that could initiate the need for a discussion as to why school attendance is so poor in parts of the relatively affluent South East of England? If there’s time, I will discuss that concern in more detail in another post.

Teacher supply was an area of interest following the teacher associations annual conferences. I was surprised, and not a little disappointed, to see the General Secretary of ATL use data from 2011 – data from during the height of the recession – to discuss recruitment and staying-on rates for teachers in 2015. It may well be that in London and the South East more teachers will leave during their first year, but in 2011 the problem for many teachers was finding a job in the first place. This year the problem for some schools has been finding a teacher at all.

TeachVac, our free recruitment site for schools, trainees and now all secondary school teachers, has tracked sufficient vacancies in business studies and social studies to have exhausted the 2014/15 cohort of trainees. Design & Technology might well see its trainee pool eliminated next week. If you want to know the details for other subjects then register at either as a school or a teacher and then download the full report.

Even more worrying is the fact that applications to train for 2015 through the UCAS graduate process remain stubbornly some 5,000 below the end of April last year. Even on a 20% conversion rate that would put acceptances at 1,000 below last year: and there weren’t enough trainees in many subjects last year. In my mind, the teacher supply issue is the number one problem facing the new Secretary of State and it is time for some radical thinking. This is especially the case as Teach First, the government supported charity also seems to be struggling to attract applicants into teaching in some subject areas; at least at levels compared with recent years.

So, now it is back to business and it will be interesting to see how quickly the last few weeks are relegated to the history books.