The observer pick up on teacher shortage issue

I thought readers might like to see the full article I wrote for the Observer today before it was cut it down to size. The excellent coverage by the pape rof the issue, including a wide-ranging an authoritative editorial, can be found by visitng:

Way back in February 2011 I addressed a conference on teacher trainers in London. In the course of my presentation I warned that the next teacher supply crisis would appear by 2014. The reasons that I gave that day to a frankly disbelieving audience were based around three premises. Firstly, the government expected the private sector to lead the country out of the recession and into economic growth and would hold down public sector wages making jobs in teaching look less financially attractive than working in the private sector; both of these trends have come about. Secondly, there was a perception around at that time that we had enough teachers because school rolls were falling. That had indeed been the case throughout much of the latter years of the Labour government, but, as everyone knows, were are now in a period when pupil numbers, especially in London and the South East are rising sharply. However, I wasn’t to know that Michael Gove, when Secretary of State, would sometimes be less than supportive of teachers and teaching as a career, going so far as to suggest academies didn’t need to employ qualified teachers at all.

Finally, the government muddied the waters over entry to the teaching profession substituting a clear policy of paying the tuition fees for all graduate trainee teachers with a complicated and frequently changing bursary scheme that has proved difficult to sell. And also required trainees to pay £9,000 in tuition fees. The compares baldy with say the MoD that pays a salary to officer cadets training at Sandhurst.

The DfE also scrapped the well understood Graduate Teacher Training Programme operated by schools and replaced it with the complex School Direct arrangements that also forced some universities to close their teacher training courses. This resulted in a patchy distribution of training places that has not helped the supply of new teachers in some parts of England. Indeed, the government has vacillated between wanting a free-market training system entirely run by schools and accepting some responsibility for the planning of future teacher numbers.

The muddle has resulted in training courses starting this autumn once again having empty places. The worst problems are in likely to be in subject such as physics; design & technology; geography business studies and even English. Only PE, history and languages are likely to be training sufficient teachers for the 2016 job market.

As to what the government can do, I suggest some or all of the following:

  • 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
  • Review how trainees are employed and arrange training where the jobs are to be found
  • 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 in other subjects.
  • 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. After all there are more trainee teachers each year than the total number of sailors in the navy.
  • Look at the NQT year support now that local authorities don’t always have the cash to help. This may be vital in keeping new teachers in the profession
  • Ask the pay body to review pay comparisons and react on the findings.

Without drastic action more head teachers will be forced to employ staff not qualified in the subjects or for the age group they are teaching or cut out subjects from the curriculum. Parents may find they need to reply more on private tutors where schools cannot guarantee the grades pupils will receive. With the restrictions on Tier 2 visa numbers and anxieties about migration schools will also find it more difficult than in the past to recruit overseas teachers, except from Europe. Schools are already importing teachers from Ireland.

The government has acknowledge that they face a challenge, but not a crisis. Unless they act soon it will become the worst teacher supply situation since the dreadful days of the early 2000s. That is no way to create a world class education system.


Grammar schools do not have a monopoly on good order and discipline

The piece by Sir Michael Wilshaw in today’s Daily Telegraph goes a long way to explain why I started life as a Liberal and became a founder member of the Liberal Democrats.

It is not that I am against his basic tenant that schools needed to be places of order and control, where every student is both encouraged and able to develop to the best of their abilities. Indeed, I do think that the degree of order and control expected in schools should be ingrained in pupils so as to extend beyond the school gates to include the manner in which young people go to and from school and I would certainly ban mobile phones from any classroom where I was a teacher.

Rather, my concerns are that the Chief inspector seems to equate the ideal standards of behaviour with grammar schools and by inference at least that teachers in other state schools have lower standards that Ofsted must inspect out of existence.

I am not sure what the business editor the Daily Telegraph thought if he read the piece over his cornflakes, but I wonder if he will get a call from the CBI on Tuesday asking where the skills businesses want such as self-reliance and confidence are to be found in the Wilshaw world of pupils sitting in serried rows and bowing and scraping whenever an adult enters the classroom. As a teacher I never saw the point of that unless the person entering was a really distinguished visitor. As the doors were at the back of the room, any class I was teaching didn’t notice a visitor until they were well into the room anyway, by which time standing up waste just a waste of time. Presumably Michael Wilshaw would make the wearing of academic gowns mandatory to distinguish teachers from teaching assistants and other support staff, even though they are all vital members of the team in a school.

In the grammar school I attended there were lots of examples of behaviour Michael Wilshaw won’t accept. At one point the sixth form excluded a teacher from a lesson by lining up the desks between the window and the door to prevent him entering; leaving him stranded in the corridor. At another time pupils set fire to waste bins in the playground. On the other hand the school had an outstanding record for drama and sport. I don’t know what HMI thought of the school because in those days reports weren’t made public; publication only started in the 1980s.

In my experience, as a pupil, a teacher and teacher trainer, it is the quality of the staff that makes a school. That is the reason why I spend so much time worrying about teacher supply. We need teaching to be a profession of choice that attracts high quality staff at all levels. It is in schools with poor quality staff that the invisible line between order and chaos edges ever closer to chaos. The same happens when teacher turnover in a school rises too quickly, as often happens when there are teacher shortages and plenty of job opportunities.

Mr Wilshaw is right to remind us that not all learning is fun, but wrong to select the examples he chooses. I recall a great lesson by one of my students teaching tables with a beanbag being thrown around the class. Answer the question and you got the chance to ask the next one to another pupil. I guess you can do the same with computers today and monitor where pupils regularly don’t give the correct answer. It was a stimulating learning experience and the pupils knew their tables.

If the Daily Telegraph piece is part of the Tory attempt to bring back grammar schools, then they should think again. The world has moved a long way from that of the 1940s, even if the Conservatives haven’t. Education is a right for all and not the privilege for the few.

What is a selective school?

The Times newspaper continuing raising issues about education when most of those likely to be interested are away on holiday. Perhaps they think it makes for interesting reading on line when lazing by the pool. Today it points out that one in twenty secondary school pupils educated in state funded schools are in selective schools. Frankly, at this point in the demographic cycle that is not a very surprising fact. But, it begs the question that parents of pupils entering primary schools in those areas this September will no doubt be asking, ‘what does that mean for my offspring when they reach the decision point?’
We know that at present secondary school pupil numbers are low compared with the forecasts for the next decade. To continue with the present percentage in selective schools might require an extra 33,000 places in selective schools to be created by 2024. That number will be even higher once the growth in the secondary school population makes it through to the sixth form.

Assuming you think that the continuation of selective schools is a good idea, I don’t, the schools have two ways forwards. Either they increase the places on offer to cope with the increased school population or they do what has been the case in the past, raise the entry level so only the number of pupils needed to fill the places pass the entry tests. The test is presumably is one reason why many selective schools are single-sex. Separate schools doesn’t make the issue of pass marks between girls and boys anything to worry about. The notion presumably being that equal number of of boys and girls need access to the education provided in selective schools. However, it is interesting to wonder what would happen if a parent discovered it was easier for one sex than the other to enter such schools?

It seems likely that the sixteen or so areas with significant percentages of pupils in selective schools will face pressure from parents to create new schools to keep the percentage where it is at present. As a result, with all new schools having to be an academy of one sort or another, the government will soon have to declare its hand. This is where the issue of satellite schools becomes an interesting legal issue.
In the remaining authorities, with a small number of pupils attending selective schools, it seems likely that these will in some cases see the school as an academy just up the ante on entry levels, especially where they have little or no links to the local authority where they are located and they also serve pupils from a much wider area.
Either way, the lead time for new schools to be built means that the government cannot wait much longer before declaring its hand. Unless something happens soon parents will start to notice entry tests becoming harder and siblings of pupils already in selective schools may discover that they won’t be following their older brothers or sisters into the school.

Those with a knowledge of history will recall that it was the fate of the post-war baby boomers sent to secondary modern schools that fuelled the drive in the 1960s towards non-selective secondary education. This may well be one of the debates of this parliament. For you cannot expand selective schools without expanding secondary moderns as well when pupil number are on the increase.

The cost of schooling

You can tell we are approaching the start of the new school year when education stories start to dominate the front pages of our newspapers once again. Yesterday, The Times; today The Daily Telegraph. The news that DfE data suggests some state schools outperform private fee-paying schools raises the issue of why do so many parents still pay for their children’s education?

There are, of course, some concerns with how the data was used in the comparison. Selective state schools based on choosing their pupils by academic ability should, by their very nature, do better than other schools, especially those where parents have to find around £18,000 per year for tuition alone, as they do in London. Nevertheless, the data does show how well some state school are beginning to preform, albeit in some cases perhaps because of a judicious entry policy for examinations that excludes those not likely to achieve good grades – compare either physics or further mathematics and media studies ‘A’ level outcomes to see what I mean – from taking the examination.

I wonder what Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to the story would be. Is he in favour of closing down all private schools or letting parents use their income to continue to pay for them? No doubt someone will ask him at some point? After all, he want to give these parents and their offspring free university education. Closing all private schools would probably cost the tax payer several billions of pounds in educating the children not currently funded by the State. It would poses questions of whether the State would pay for specialist schools for foreign nationals and in areas such as sports, music, drama and the rest of the arts.
Private schools, especially boarding schools and some 16-19 colleges are now important export earners, both bringing in money to the country through the fees of overseas students and by exporting their brands overseas.

I am sure That the Daily Telegraph didn’t want to demolish this source of national wealth, but parents will no doubt start to question whether using the local state school plus topping up with private tutorial support and revision classes where that school is perhaps weaker than it could be might be a cheaper alternative to outright school fees. This might especially become the case if universities were school-blind in reviewing applications and looked just at the pupil and their profile.

No doubt there are those that use the private school sector to avoid mixing their offspring with children that attend state schools or because they think the non-academic facilities and outcomes are better at such schools. Those are the parents that also move house to find the best state school that suits their tastes.

Although the effectiveness of private education is an interesting issue for Daily Telegraph readers, the main concern for most of us in education must be to continue reducing the gap between the worst achieving and their peers in schools. Those under-achieving are frequently from the least well off sections of society. Living in poor housing or even bed and breakfast accommodation doesn’t aid learning and often leads to fractured schooling patterns. As we know this frequently means starting school at a disadvantage. The Pupil Premium has started to help close that gap in society. The present government needs to continue with that work. I am sure it can leave the value for money arguments about private schooling to the parents to decide what to do with their cash.

Maths teacher shortage

The Association of Teachers of Mathematics has reported a shortage of qualified teachers of mathematics. According to some news reports they mention schools with several vacancies and schools drafting in teachers of subjects such as PE and geography to teach the subject. I couldn’t find any evidence on their web site when I looked this morning so I cannot check out the evidence base.
When I looked at the TeachVac data the number of trainees recorded by the DfE ITT census last November was 2,186 in 2014/15. This number was below the DfE Teacher Supply Model indicative number for trainees required, but not alarmingly so. However, that tells us nothing about the quality of those accepted into training through either school-based or higher education routes. A minimum level of mathematics in a degree, say two years of subject study post ‘A’ level, might help here.
As of yesterday, TeachVac had identified 2,538 advertisements for classroom teachers of mathematics. Two further pieces of data are key to understanding this number. Firstly, the number of adverts that either on the one hand contain multiple vacancies or on the other hand were re-advertisements because a vacancy could not be filled. Secondly, the percentage of vacancies filled by new entrants to the profession. The DfE rule of thumb over a recruitment cycle appears to be 50%, as discussed in other earlier posts on this blog.
Taking all this into account the 2,386 trainees, this translates into just under 5,000 vacancies across a whole year. The recruitment cycle can be considered to run from January to December. The TeachVac advert figure is still well short of that level. Now it may be that there are more multiple vacancies being advertised that we are picking up. Schools that enter vacancies directly can indicate the number of posts on offer. There may also be regional differences. London and the two regions adjacent to the capital have accounted for 52% of the recorded advertisements, so it is likely that any problem is greatest in and around London despite the higher pay rates on offer and the presence of Teach First in the capital. There are also vacancies for January to consider.
There are also some early murmuring in the media today about mathematics GCSE pass rates that are also out today. I don’t know whether there is a link between these two stories, but it might seem likely if qualifications matter in the teaching of a subject. In any event, we do need good management information on the recruitment cycle so that in future recruitment problems can be dealt with as they arise and not ducked by government. In addition, if there are two thirds of graduates in sub-optima careers and maths is the most popular’ A’ level, why are we having difficulty recruiting trainees into teaching? As regular readers know, I have suggested how we can make teaching as a career more attractive in several earlier posts.
One thing is certain is that if there are issues in teacher supply in mathematics now, then there are more severe problems in other subjects. Next week will see the publication by UCAS of applications for courses starting in less than month for the 2016 output of teachers. Any further shortfall against places will mean more problems in 2016, and not just in mathematics.

Back to the Future Part II

There is a sense of déjà vu around this August. Will Labour opt for a return to Clause 4 and the re-nationalisation of key industries rather than a regulatory regime if Jeremy Corbyn becomes their new leader? If so, will they go the whole hog and re-nationalise freight services under the British Road Services logo, or is white van driver safe for now?

Even the Tories are getting in on the act, David Cameron wants to nationalise schools under the banner of creating freedom from local authority control by allowing all schools to become an academy controlled from Westminster. If he really believes this is the way forward, why doesn’t he add a clause into the Bill currently before parliament requiring all schools to become academies and create an orderly transfer of control? Does he lack the courage of his convictions or is this suggestion just a piece of political posturing?

If you believe in something then at least have the strength of will to seek to achieve it. The Tories in Oxfordshire are apparently set to do this by I believe proposing to encourage all schools – these days that effectively means primary schools – to become academies. At least this would stop the wasteful parallel systems that could emerge under the Prime Minister’s approach. A nation where Tory authorities are full of academies, but Labour authorities aren’t won’t be a national education system but a national muddle.

Personally, as those who have followed this blog for some time know, I am content to see all secondary schools as academies but not am not sure it is the correct approach for the primary sector. With local authorities now responsible for public health and most children attending a local primary schools there is much to be said for the same authority operating both services along with libraries and other services that support families and young children. Only a politician with no experience of local government could think primary schools operate in isolation from their communities.

The Tories other backward looking policy is talk of a revival of selective schools. Designed to meet a nineteenth century need these schools have no place in forging a modern inclusive society. Once again, if it happens, it will be interesting to see whether the Tories will mandate a national programme, thus effectively interfering with the very freedom of the academies they espouse or just let the areas with selective education increase the numbers of pupils in such schools. At what level will pupils be sent to secondary modern schools and with the expansion in pupil numbers to come over the next decade will the percentage of pupils allowed to pass the selection test remain constant or reduce as pupil numbers increase? Will selective free schools be permitted in areas that haven’t seen a selective school for nearly half a century and, if so, will local authorities have to pay the cost of transporting pupils to them or will parents have to pay?  Will places be kept for pupils that move into these areas during the year or will they be sent to secondary modern schools regardless of whether they would have passed the test?

We won’t achieve a world class education system by accident, but by design. That means proper national funding and a coherent and rational system. Such a policy would need a really courageous approach to policy.

A holiday tax

The news from the Ministry of Justice, obtained be the Press Association under a FoI request, that there has been a steep rise in prosecutions for non-attendance at school is concerning. The increase has been linked variously to the increase in pupil numbers and to the stricter rules introduced last year about taking pupils away from school during term time to go on a family holiday. Commentators have noted that the current level of the fixed penalty fine is less than the savings a family can obtain by going on holiday in term time. To that extent it amounts to a tax on those earners who can afford to pay yet still make the savings.

However, there is a deeper issue here that relates to many of the rules established in order to run our school system; some still dating from the nineteenth century. For instance, the rules about pupils eligible for free transport and the nature of ‘safe routes’ pupils can walk date back into the mists of time. They are also not applied uniformly across the country, with parents in London receiving a much more generous deal that their rural counterparts. Maybe, the DfE should set up a Commission to review all these rules and how they help create an effective school system for the twenty-first century.

On the vexed question of holidays in term time, I have two suggestions to make. Firstly, no holiday should be allowed during the first year a pupil is at school. Based upon attendance during that year, pupils will good attendance records can be allowed up to two weeks in the following year. This provides an incentive for attendance and recognises that a child going on holiday one year would not be eligible the following year and would need to earn the opportunity in the subsequent year through continued good attendance.

Secondly, I would suggest to Mr Gove that trials for non-attendance are just the sort of cases that could be used to try out a scheme for magistrates’ court hearings in local buildings. The closure of so many courts, and the proposed closure of many more, mean both parents and officers prosecuting cases often now have to travel considerable distances and then wait around for the case to be heard. I am sure that this encourages ‘no shows’ on the part of parents that hope to drag out the proceedings for as long as possible.

As an incentive, trails for non-attendance held locally, in say town council offices, could be exempt from the bizarre Criminal Court Charge that apparently imposes a fee of £520 on a parent that turns up and pleads ‘not guilty’ but only imposes a fee of £150 if they don’t bother to attend and the prosecutions still has to prove the case in absence. This Charge is on top of court fines and costs.

There is no more risk in dealing with these cases in local public buildings that in hearing transport to school appeals. The alternative would be to removal the criminal sanction from a failure to send children to school, but since the courts apparently sent 18 parents to prison for the offence such a move might spark a wider debate about the use of custody.