Teacher Supply news from the seaside

The news from Brighton that the policy area of teachers and teacher supply is one of the key issues for Labour’s new Shadow Secretary of State for Education is clearly to be welcomed by this blog. Hopefully, Ms Powell and her advisers will be more adept at keeping the subject in the headlines than her predecessor, one of whose best briefing on teacher shortages appeared on the Monday of a Christmas week when all the press had just gone on holiday. As a result, it was entirely wasted.

Clearly, Ms Powell has also been listening to the teacher associations about retention problems. However, she will need to come up with some data on the matter if she is going to convince the government to take the issue seriously, especially as some schools would probably be shedding teachers next year if costs continue to increase faster than income.

I am not sure what labour’s position is about academies and why they singled out free schools for specific mention? Do they include UTCs and studio schools in the group of schools to be curtailed or are they happy with them?

More importantly, who do they really want to manage the oversight of all state-funded schools? Will they retain the un-elected Regional Commissioners, having now as a Party accepted a role for the Police & Crime Commissioners?

The key issue in education is that of governance and whether schools and education policy is decided locally, regionally or nationally. Place planning and the effective use of resources is at the heart of the matter. If individual schools can dictate how many pupils they can take, then local authorities in rural areas face an open expenditure line on home to school transport that they cannot control. The same is true where schools can exclude pupils without having to take a corresponding number of such pupils from other schools. Allowing all nationally funded schools to set their admission criteria also doesn’t help local planning and the efficient use of taxpayer funds. However, that doesn’t matter if parental choice is more important than providing a good school for every pupil. Do the Labour Party want to channel funds to achieve the best outcomes for the largest number of pupils or do they just want to satisfy just the parents concerned that their offspring can attend an excellent school?

I haven’t heard anything about the curriculum and examinations from Labour, so presumably this is a policy work in progress area. I had hoped to hear that Ms Powell would call for fees to be paid for trainee teachers, but perhaps the new shadow Chancellor isn’t up to allowing spending promises from other colleagues around the shadow cabinet table.

I hope that Labour will support the continuation of universal infant free school meals and the Pupil Premium both of which can help with the vital early years of education where closing the gap can make a real difference as I am sure that Ms Powell knows from her former role in the Party during the last government.

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University numbers still increasing

The first look at 2015-16 recruitment to undergraduate higher education courses four weeks after the start of clearing has been published by UCAS. https://www.ucas.com/sites/default/files/ucas-entry-year-acceptances-day28-2015.pdf According to the data in the report, acceptances to the 2015-16 entry year at this point are 511,730. Across the UK This is an increase of 12,610 (3 per cent) compared to the 2014-15 entry year (at the equivalent point in the 2014 cycle).  Acceptances to the 2015-16 entry year were 7 per cent more than to 2013-14 and 16 per cent more than to 2012-13. The total increase of 12,610 to the 2015-16 entry year (compared to the 2014-15 entry year) was split between an increase of 10,800 in acceptances to enter HE immediately and an increase of 1,810 in deferred entry (from the previous cycle).

Even more interesting was the breakdown of qualifications of those accepted. For acceptances recorded as holding entry qualifications in the ABB+ set: 90,160 were holding GCE A levels, -150 (no change to the nearest per cent); 46,330 were holding BTECs, +3,430 (+8 per cent);13,960 were holding SQA Highers or Advanced Highers, +270 (+2 per cent) and 3,930 holding an International Baccalaureate, +310 (+8 per cent)

For acceptances not recorded as holding entry qualifications in the ABB+ set: 156,420 were holding GCE A levels, -440 (no change to the nearest per cent; 53,610 were holding BTECs, +1,040 (+2 per cent); 10,580 were holding SQA Highers or Advanced Highers, -200 (-2 per cent) and 1,710 were holding an International Baccalaureate, +60 (+3 per cent).

So, in both the upper and lower qualification band sets ABB+/not ABB+ the number with GCE A levels effectively remained static and the increase in student numbers came from other qualifications including both the BTEC vocational qualification set and the IB. In percentage increase the BTEC set showed the largest percentage increase. This is despite the presumed attractiveness of the growing apprenticeship opportunities for this group.

The growth of 16% between 2012-13 and 2015-16 entry periods, despite the increase in the fees to around £9,000, shows the continued resilience in the attractiveness of a university degree to potential students. Once more detailed tables are published it will be possible to see how the increase has bene distributed across the different universities. Have the Russell Group taken more students overall, leaving other newer universities to fill places with these extra applicants or has the increase been seen across all institutions. It will also be interesting to see how the numbers of students attracted to different subjects has changed over the past few years as acceptances have increased. Presumably, a large percentage of the increase in home student is among those from families with no previous family member having attended a higher education institution. This would mean a continued widening of the social base of those going attending higher education, despite the increase in fees.

What, I wonder would Labour do about the repayments from these and other students paying back fees if they were to offer to re-introduce free university education to all, including the wealthy? After all, a university education is still much cheaper than many sixth form courses in the private sector.

Belt tightening in evidence

Life is beginning to return to normal after the summer break. The final figures on teacher training offers will appear later this week. However, last week the government published the last data of education spending under the coalition with the figures from the Section 251 budgets for planned expenditure by schools and local authorities’ services for this financial year.

With the split between academies and maintained schools comparing between authorities on schoolings remains a bit of a challenge. In other children’s services it is still relatively clear what is spent by local authorities on say, youth justice or fostering. However, now that the majority of academies are what is known as ‘recoupment academies’ this means some comparison between per capita spending across the country is once again possible.

Overall spend per capita on the individual school budget at local authority levels has seen an increase in expected expenditure from £4,361 to £4,408 per capita, up by £47 or a little over one per cent. This may well help to explain why schools feel that their budgets have effectively been cut, since increased government take back through pension contributions and increased National Insurance contributions have been greater than the increase in income. To some extent this has also reduced the recruitment crisis in some places by diverting funds away from employing staff.

The local authority per capita expected spend doesn’t distinguish between spending in the primary and secondary sectors in the government’s aggregate figures, so it is impossible to tell whether the authorities where spending per capita is expected to be lower in 2015-16 than in 2014-15 is across the board or in only one of the sectors. What is interesting, however, is that five of the bottom ten ranked authorities, or five of nine if Middlesbrough is excluded on the basis that the figures don’t look credible, have selective secondary schools across the authority. Additionally, three of these authorities appear to have a lower per capita spend in 2015—16 than in the previous year. Now, as academies have a different financial year to maintained schools, that may account for some of the difference, but it isn’t clear whether or not that is the case form the data as presented.

Another interesting feature is that per capita spend in Inner London has also declined from £5,842 to £5,759 per capita in 2015-16. The drop isn’t across the board, but is greatest in Camden and Kensington and Chelsea. Tower Hamlets still tops the list with a spend of £6,842 per capita, down by some nine pounds per capita, but still some £350 ahead of Hackney, the next highest. (These figures exclude the single school in the City of London and on the Isles of Scilly where figures are much higher. However, it isn’t clear why the primary school in the City of London should receive £600 per pupil more than the average for schools in Tower Hamlets.)

Indications are that with increasing pupil numbers and the government’s commitment to austerity the 2016-17 budgets now being assembled at the macro level aren’t likely to be any more generous than this year, and might put schools under even more pressure at the per capita level. That will make free services like our TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk more valuable to schools than spending money on services that often increase in price every year regardless of inflation levels and technological changes.

Government sees history as more important than design & technology

The new scheme to fund courses to attract returners to teaching in Ebacc subjects, but not in other shortage subjects such as design and technology and business studies, shows a government that values history more than encouraging the next generation to see the importance of the fashion, catering, engineering, electronics and many other industries. After all, design and technology as  asubject is facing a far greater teacher shortage problem than is history. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/461490/SRT_Pilot_Guidance_final.pdf

There is really no shortage of history teachers, at least in the State Sector, although I suppose they could be expected to teach Key Stage 3 humanities to relieve the looming shortage of geography teachers. But, what of Religious Education, IT and music, all other non-Ebacc subjects where there have been, are, or will be shortages. Don’t these subjects count in the curriculum any more to the Tories in government?

There is also an argument that the programme may be too late. The main recruitment cycle is between March and the end of May each year, but these courses might not finish until July. This means some taking the course might have to wait until January 2017 before finding a teaching post.

However, it marks a step in the right direction. Will training schools, the new orthodoxy for the location of training, have the space and resources at the price offered to run such courses? With no London price differential it seems likely schools in the capital will have to balance their recruitment needs with their ability to subsidise a course.

I am sure the intention of this programme is to increase returners, but it isn’t clear what market testing the National College has undertaken. Please could it not just be a ‘hit and hope’ activity where someone has identified returners as a possible group where supply could be increased, but not even bothered to look at JSA claimant counts for teachers across the country. I also hope that alongside this scheme there will be funds and encouragement for a return of KIT or Keep in Touch schemes for teachers on maternity leave. Yesterday, by chance, I met a teachers working on a national peer to peer self-development site that looks very interesting and innovative. It is just the sort of scheme the government might set up an innovation fund to help get off the ground. But that would be directly the opposite of the micro-managed approach taken with the Returner Scheme.

Keen readers of Hansard will also have noticed that the Labour opposition used the debate on Wednesday on the post-committee stage of the Bill to introduce the theme of teacher shortages and their effect on schools being cited as coasting. It is always gratifying when data one has produced is prayed in aid in the Chamber as part of the debate.

As ever, it is by the opposition, but hopefully there will also be a mention of TeachVac and its contribution to understanding the teacher supply situation sometime soon as it gains credibility as a free recruitment site to schools and teachers. Indeed, TeachVac can also help those returners the government scheme attracts to find their teaching post.

Off with the head

I assume the call for parents to be able to remove heads issued by the New Schools Network in its evidence to the Select Committee inquiry into Regional School Commissioners is either a bit of headline grabbing or an attempt to legislate for what many active parents already do.

Indeed, when schools were responsible to local authorities there were parent and local authority governors that could and did act as a conduit for dissatisfaction among the parent and staff bodies if a school was under-performing. What the New Teacher Network seems to fail to understand, if I read the press reports correctly, is that it is the management of the school and not necessarily the head that may need to be changed when a school is failing. That’s why governments sack governing bodies in failing schools. Did they also consider the issue highlighted in the Bill presently before parliament of what to do with a ‘coasting’ academy or free school? The assumption that only the remaining community or voluntary schools ‘coast’, and academies and free school don’t, seems either naïve or politically motivated.

Now I have no objection to a single system of schools. I would prefer them to have local democratic oversight, but frankly, in a time of austerity, it is a waste of money to create two systems in parallel.

By the way, middle class parents that are anxious about whether their children’s schools are under-performing do take action and have done so for years. I know of two schools in the past year where groups of parents have put pressure on the governors and the head because they were worried about standards falling.

However, they, along with the New Schools Network, do have to consider that the post of head teacher must be attractive enough to encourage the next generation of teachers to want to take on the role. Indeed, the New Schools Network might do well to consider whether offering support to prevent problems becoming more serious is usually better than changing the leadership team. The decline in advisory services to schools into a traded option bought by schools may fit the market agenda but it makes early intervention before problems increase beyond the point of no return more challenging. Would a free school advisory board agree to support a head that indicated the need to spend money on staff development over a project that they favoured?

The current risk is that many schools will find improving performance more challenging if the recruitment and retention of teachers becomes yet more of a challenge into 2016.

There is also the pressure to prevent schools seeming to under-perform by parents paying for private tuition. I heard of one, I hope extreme case, where the parents of a pupil entering the sixth form with an A at GCSE were told to look for a private tutor by other parents in order for the child to be able to keep up with the A level pace. This was because, the lessons were pitched on the basis that parents would be doing so and anyone that didn’t would find themselves outpaced. Now, I hope that is a rare example, but it does demonstrate what a parent driven system can create. Is that the aim of the New Schools Network?

Admissions cause some concerns

Now the website of the School Adjudicators isn’t high on my regular websites to visit. However, I recently paid it a visit to read the decision about admissions to Banbury Academy in Oxfordshire. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/banbury-academy The Adjudicator partially upheld the complains from another school in the town and the Conservative controlled county council in a detailed 23 page decision covering a whole range of admissions issues.

On my visit, I couldn’t help but notice that the Adjudicator had been a series of decisions through the summer. Indeed, since the end of July, the Adjudicator has upheld 13 complains and partially upheld a further nine, making 22 complaints upheld in full or part compared with 13 where complaints were not upheld. The majority of complaints not upheld were against admission arrangements in the primary sector. These were either for individual schools or in three cases arrangements made by local authorities. A complaint was upheld against one authority and partially upheld against another.
Academies were concerned in twelve of the complaints upheld either in full or in part and only in four cases were such complaints not upheld among the decisions reported upon since the end of July. There was a complaint against one ‘free’ school reported during this period, but it was not upheld.

Reading the decisions shows just what a minefield school admissions have become. They are set to become even worse if the rule about siblings is changed by the government to give them priority over children living near to a school. I recall a case of a popular village school where families would move in a rent a property, secure a place for their first child and then move to a cheaper location to buy a house secure in the knowledge they would be able to send other children to the school. The case was drawn to my attention when a five-year old living opposite the school gates had to be transported by taxi to another school as there was no place available at the local school. Now, the Conservative view seems to be that these schools can just expand. However, unless the rules on funding are changed, primary schools will be faced with either larger classes or cutting expenditure elsewhere to fund the places for siblings. The third alternative is for the local authority to find an alternative school and, if necessary, pay the transport costs to taxi young children around to satisfy the needs of other parents.

However, there are a group of parents that aren’t catered for in the present handling of the parental choice rules. These are families where one parent, and especially the mother, is not fully fit and has limited mobility for whatever reason. There is often no way in the admissions arrangements to handle such a situation because appeal panels aren’t not allowed discretion. In some other circumstances the use of the word ‘normally’ would provide room for manoeuvre, as it also would in handling sibling requests where parents don’t live as close to the school as other pupils unable to access the school. Providing panels gave reasons that could be tested this might help deal with some of the anomalies in the present system, as happens with transport appeals.

This problem is that when the number of pupils is on the increase not everyone will be satisfied with the outcome, whatever system is adopted.

Acceptances increase to meet recruitment challenge

Many years ago I wondered what would happen if women stopped applying to become teachers. The policy aim over the past has witnessed attempts to reverse the decline in applications from men while no doubt hoping that applications from women continue to underpin the total number of applications.

Over the past few years, and especially during the recession, the numbers of both women and men applying for teacher training as graduates increased. Now they are both back on the downward path.

Compare three years – applications from graduates to train as teachers

Men      Women          All applicants

2001                       12,906   27,989             40,895

2005                       18,822   40,321              60,143

2015                       15,170   30,290              45,460 * To 17th August

Now the 2015 number will increase a bit and it doesn’t include applications just for Teach First, but then the earlier numbers didn’t include GTTP, Fast Track and any other schemes that didn’t recruit through the central admissions system, including the Open University.

So, it seems that this year we are not yet back to the level of 2001, but applications are down by close to a quarter on a decade ago. That means there are 10,000 fewer women applying and three thousand fewer men. In percentage terms applications from men a down by close to a fifth on a decade ago whereas those from women are down by a quarter.

But, someone reading this is bound to ask, didn’t you say there were more acceptances in some subjects this year than last? How can that be?

The answer is, of course, that the offer to application ratio has increased. At the August data point last year, across the system as a whole, some 60% of applicants had received an offer of one kind or another. At the same point this year, the percentage had increased to 64% of applicants being made an offer. Interestingly in London, the area where the labour market is at its most challenging for schools, only 57% of applicants were shown with an offer. However, this increases to 67% for offers made by providers in the South East. In the North East it is 65%.

It would be interesting to know whether the additional costs factors associated with living in London have meant applicants have turned down a chance to train in the capital’s schools or whether it possibly the effect of Teach First taking the best of possible candidates as they can offer a salary? Either way, it is noticeable in a search yesterday on the UCAS system showed that the UCL-Institute of Education still posted vacancies in more secondary subjects than were full. Incidentally, 28 universities were still in Clearing yesterday for undergraduate primary teacher training and 40 of the 149 postgraduate courses training primary school teachers in London still showed vacancies.

Now it is possible that this year will mark the turning point of the economic cycle, with the slowdown in the Chinese economy putting the brake on graduate recruitment in 2016. However, it still leaves schools to weather the 2016 recruitment challenge and, based upon these figures, together with the growing school population, that is not likely to be easy for schools unless an economic collapse brings in a flood of returners.  However, it seems the DfE has a plan – recruit overseas.