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.

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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 www.teachvac.co.uk 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.