Thank You

Earlier today this blog welcomed its 25,000 visitor in just under three years. The average visitor looks at just fewer than two of the posts meaning that views are very close to the 50,000 mark. As might be expected with a blog of this nature, the majority of visitors are from the United Kingdom; more than 43,000 of the views were by Uk based visitors. The United States comes second, with almost 1,500 views and the EU and Australia are third and fourth in the list.

Overall, someone in each of 117 countries has viewed the blog. I was especially pleased to welcome a recent viewer from Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Africa but a stunning place to visit if you are ever looking for an interesting holiday destination. There have been two visitors from China, one after I mentioned in a previous review that we hadn’t had a visit. Interestingly, the number of visitors from both Macau SAR and Hong Kong SAR has been higher than from mainland China.

At one point there was a flurry of visitors from Kazakhstan, but numbers have fallen away recently, even so they still come sixth in the country list by number of views.

The Middle East, French speaking Africa and some South American countries have still not provided a single visitor to the site, but give language issues that isn’t perhaps surprising. The most popular post attracted over 700 views in a single day after a mention in The Guardian. The post  More on made not born: how teachers are created has been viewed over 2,000 times since it was originally posted; not bad.

For those that like statistics and this blog has a healthy number of those, I write on average about ten posts a month and I aim for around 500 words; some seem to grow a bit beyond that length and a few are much longer for obvious reasons. This one might end up be a bit shorter.

I would like to thank all those that have registered a following; those that re-blog links to what I have written to their own followers and those that send in comments. These are helpful, authoritative and insightful and demonstrate the depth of knowledge out there among the readership of this blog. The internet is a truly wonderful development that has transformed out lives in so many ways.

There are, of course, many errors in the posts, mostly I hope of grammatical and spelling rather than of fact. The posts are often written in a hurry, and rarely take more than half an hour to compose. The exceptions to that rule are obvious, such as the submissions to other sources that I have posted here as well for interest and visibility to a wider audience.

I hope to go on tempting fate and writing for some time to come, especially as my specialist topic of teacher supply in England seems to be the topic of the term, so to speak.

So, once again, thanks for reading.

Teacher Supply in 2017

The National College recently published details of the 2016 entry to teacher preparation courses starting in the autumn of 2017 and I commented on the data in an earlier post. Here are some further thoughts about how the decisions might affect the labour market for teachers in 2017. Now, I know that is a long way off and we still haven’t had the ITT census for 2015, but these numbers matter.

The first big change, as I noted in the previous post, is the inclusion of Teach First in the Teacher supply modelling process. This change cuts around 2,000 entrants from the total but will allow the government to claim that it has provided sufficient teachers if recruitment continues at the level we expect to see when the 2015 figures are published. Now the last time a government did this sort of thing was when it incorporated the old GTTP and other employment-based numbers into the modelling process and provided a single figure. In that respect, Teach First has always been an anomaly. When the numbers were outwith the published planning process there was always a risk that the government would train too many teachers. Indeed, between 2010 and 2014 Teach First may have led to some over-supply of teachers. Since that isn’t the case now, the incorporation of the numbers can save the government’s blushes, and won’t actually reduce the intake into training. It will just remove empty places from the system. The problems will arise when teaching once again becomes a more attractive career for graduates.

As in the past two years, the National College has allow bids for more training places, especially from schools, than the government statisticians seem to think we need. There are higher allocations except in mathematics and design and technology where allocations for 2016 are down on the 2015 figure; this despite there being more mathematics places required by the Teacher Supply Model than last year. Perhaps schools have decided that it isn’t worth making the effort when there just aren’t the quality candidates looking to enter teaching in their area. The following list shows the relationship between the level of allocations and the Teacher Supply Model for secondary subjects. For this list, it is possible to imagine where recruitment controls might be applied first.

allocations as % of TSM
Physical Education 217%
Geography 215%
Physics 215%
Computing 211%
History 210%
Drama 209%
Music 209%
Chemistry 204%
Business Studies 200%
Religious Education 198%
English 165%
Biology 160%
Modern Foreign Languages 158%
Art & Design 157%
Mathematics 135%
Design & Technology 116%
Other 107%
Classics 57%

Interestingly, if anyone wants to start a classics course there still seems to be places unallocated. PE and history course providers on the other hand seem almost certain to be subject to recruitment controls, at least in some parts of the country. On the other hand, those with maths courses seem highly unlikely to be subject to any recruitment controls at these levels.

In passing, it is worth noting that, if the economy were suddenly to turn downward, and the National College didn’t impose the recruitment controls, then the Treasury would be faced with close to £180 million pounds of unnecessary tuition fee costs. That doesn’t seem likely at this point in time.

Too bright for the Pupil Premium?

The government seems to be briefing about possible changes to the Pupil Premium. The suggestion seems to be that bright children need it less than other children (choose an adjective with care here – dim/thick/less able but not SEN – all have implicit value assumptions associated with them). If this mooted alteration to the Pupil Premium is true, then it is the first change since it was agreed that pupils in primary schools needed more help than their secondary brothers and sisters and rates were altered accordingly. At the same time, pupils in care also received even more funding; quite rightly so.

Surely even the Tories wouldn’t want to say that because you are a bright five year-old, according to baseline testing, you don’t qualify for the Pupil Premium even though you are in a single parent household on low income and there is another toddler for your mother to look after, so you don’t receive the sort of attention you need to stimulate your innate ability. But, perhaps that is exactly what they do want to say. Reward the hardworking poor, but punish the children of those that aren’t aspirational for their offspring sounds like a Tory mantra.

Indeed, perhaps this is a change that is aligned to the return to selective school campaign. After all, if the Pupil Premium helps produce more children in primary schools for less well-off households that can pass the entry tests for selective schools then they will displace children from higher income brackets some of whose parents might then have to resort to paying for private education rather than allow then to attend secondary modern schools.

Of course, the concept of equality behind the Pupil Premium is to provide help where it is needed to bring everyone up to the level expected of them by the point at which you take the measurement of attainment; either Key Stage 2 and the move to secondary school or Key Stage 4 and the former school leaving age.

Now, if what the government are saying is that the use of Free School Meals as a proxy for entitlement isn’t the best measure, then we need to know what they are considering replacing it with? No doubt it would be helpful if any debate about changes to the Pupil Premium could also be a part of the discussions on a national funding formula for all schools. The present disparities in school funding levels mean that pupils from low income households in rural areas often receive much less funding than those in similar income households in some urban areas; especially in London. So, could the change to the Pupil Premium help iron out this problem if the government isn’t willing to tackle it in other ways?

One problem is that any degree of extra complexity added in to the Pupil Premium scheme will almost certainly significantly increase the cost of its administration. Sometimes, a universal flat rate programme is the most cost-effective, even if it is something of a blunt instrument. However, until the government reveals its hand, we won’t really know whether this is just an attempt to save money from the education budget or another attack on the low paid by this Tory government.

Incentives Part 2

On the 3rd October I posted a blog about the new bursary rates for 2016 headed ‘Incentives and ageism’. In that post I suggested the DfE would run an advert saying in large letters ‘£30,000 to train as a teacher tax free’. Well today in the Metro newspaper the advert ran with the words ‘Receive up to £30K tax-free to train as a teacher’. Apart from the added, but probably redundant, ‘receive’ I got pretty close with my wording. The DfE advert goes on to say ‘you can earn up to £65K as a great teacher’. The predicted ‘*’ appears at that point in the advert. The asterisk refers readers to the phrase ’conditions apply’ at the foot of the advert. To find out what they are requires a visit to Presumably, this then tells you that unless you are a Physics graduate with a First Class degree or a PhD, you cannot received the £30K tax free sum.

I saw this advert on my way to speak at a Policy Exchange event on the future of the teaching workforce. Details of the event and a speaker list can be found at and I hope an account will be published in due course. As the TES were present, I assume it will also be reported by them.

It was interesting the number of those present that thought the fees of graduates training to be teachers should be paid by government. Fee abatement for graduates is a campaign this blog started way back in January and I am delighted to see it gaining traction. Some present though that we should once again offer to pay off the undergraduate fee debt for teachers that work in state schools for a number of years; perhaps at 20% per year. I suspect that schools could already do that if they so wished to offer it as an incentive to work in their school.

The House of Commons Education Select Committee are now taking evidence on the state of teacher supply following a letter they have received from the Secretary of State after her latest appearance in front of the Committee. It is interesting to try to define the difference between a ‘challenge’ and a crisis’ in both training and recruitment into the profession. It might be possible to have one without the other.

There was an acknowledgement at the Policy Exchangeevent of the regional nature of the problem of recruiting teachers and that, as this blog has commented on several occasions, the solutions are also likely to be regional or even local. New entrants to the profession don’t often travel far, although according the NCTL Annual Report more than 6,000 have come from overseas: more about this in another post, I suspect, once I have chased up the data.

On the regional note, it looks as if the situation on parts of the East of England is now almost as bad as in London in terms of recruitment. TeachVac now has an average for 2015 of more than seven classroom teacher vacancies per school in both these regions.

Living next to the school

Last week the TES invited me to write a guest blog  for them. I have reproduced it below for anyone that doesn’t read the TES on-line

When I went to school more than half a century ago, most schools had caretaker’s houses. Even earlier, in Victorian times, it was not unusual for elementary schools in some parts of the country to be built with a house for the headteacher and his family; the head was usually male in those days, as is still too often the case.

New schools were certainly still being built with caretaker’s houses attached until the late 1960s, even if houses for heads had stopped being built by then. However, with the advent of the property-owning democracy during the Thatcher era and the right to buy, the idea of “tied” homes fell out of fashion.

There is a case for saying that certain key workers need to be located near to schools. I don’t know whether a caretaker living on site (or “building facility management team leader”, as they are probably known today) helps to reduce cases of burglary and arson at schools, but I am sure that they can be a deterrent.

Perhaps all new schools might once again be built with such a house. Indeed, as a part of the drive to build new homes in high-cost areas, schools might consider adding a property to their site if there is room. This would help with the supply of affordable houses for rent in areas where buying at present prices is impossible for most people.

When the London Docklands Development Corporation was established, it built rented flats for young teachers who could not afford to live in the area. Not all local authorities in high-cost areas seem to understand that schooling, and especially primary and nursery provision, is not a service that can be moved out of the area. As a result, teachers and other staff need to be attracted to live locally, because not everyone wants a long commute at the start and end of the school day.

With the fragmentation of the school system into academy chains, voluntary and community schools and free schools, the development of policies to ensure staff can work in local schools and retain a sensible work-life balance no longer has an obvious champion. Indeed, in areas where the planning authority is not the same as that responsible for education, there may not be an understanding of the need for key-worker homes for teachers.

The position regarding housing for headteachers is obviously different. By that stage of their career, most school leaders are probably home-owners and might not want to live in school accommodation. The generous relocation allowances some schools have offered in the past are only useful if the headteacher can afford to move house while maintaining or improving their standard of living. Otherwise, governing bodies might like to think about how the life of weekly commuting heads can be made bearable.

The School Teachers’ Review Body has been asked by education secretary Nicky Morgan – in her recently issued remit letter – to consider “evidence of the national state of teacher and school leader supply, including rates of recruitment and retention, vacancy rates and the quality of candidates entering the profession”. They will also have to take into account the overall limit of 1 per cent on public sector pay, so finding innovative ways to help with housing costs that don’t upset the Treasury might perform a useful public service. After all, if the Department for Education can control funding, surely they can find a way to help schools in high-cost housing areas to recruit and retain sufficient staff in the present economic climate.

The DfE now sets school budgets and controls the growing number of academies and free schools: that must mean it has responsibility for ensuring sufficient staff to operate those schools. And that, of course, includes caretakers.

Big Brother

The announcement earlier in the week of the Teacher Supply Model numbers and recruitment thresholds for teacher training in 2016/17 was rather overshadowed by the decision on a selective school expansion programme in Kent. That is an issue I have written about previously on this blog and may well return to again. However, others have already made the case eloquently about how backward a move this is in reality.

But, to return to teacher training because, despite Michael Gove’s assertion that teaching doesn’t need any preparation for the job, most of us think it isn’t as easy to walk into a classroom as in to a job in either of the Houses of Parliament.

The key message from this week’s announcement is; more maths training places; a similar number of places to this year’s training numbers in other EBacc subjects and fewer places in the non-EBacc subjects. In primary, the big growth period is now over unless there is a change in teacher numbers in employment, perhaps through more departures from the profession among young women that make up a sizable proportion of the primary school teaching force these days.

Why I have headed this blog ‘big brother’ is because, although there are no allocations this year, there are recruitment control thresholds that protect Teach First -included in the Teacher Supply Model number for the first time, at least publicly – and School Direct plus SCITT routes. As there are no published thresholds for higher education providers, they are at risk if the school routes recruit quickly above the minimum recruitment level. This is only likely to be a possibility in history, PE, primary and according to the government English – although I think that less likely.

In order to monitor what is happening and prevent over-recruitment that might stop schools reaching their minimum threshold the National College can issue compulsory stop notices on further offers to providers. This effectively bans future offers being made, although presumably allowing replacements for anyone that drops out? The College will also monitor the UCAS system on a daily basis for the number of offers being made and may also step in if regional patterns are distorted in such a manner as to risk leaving parts of the country short of teachers in certain subjects.

Interestingly, there seems little concern for the applicants in this process. I would advise applicants against booking tickets to interviews until the day before in case the provider is suddenly capped, especially if it is a university PGCE course. Indeed, it might not be fanciful to suggest that even during an interview a candidate could be told by the provider that they no longer have any places left because it has been ‘capped’.

However, for this to happen, even in most of the non-EBacc subjects recruitment in 2016-17 is likely to have to improve on that expected to be recorded in the 2015 ITT census that is to be published next month, so it will only really worry those applying in the subjects listed above where providers are likely to find it easy to recruit to the TSM number.

Finally, I have concerns about whether we really need to train 999 PE teachers in 2016-17 and only 252 business studies teachers. This is based upon the TeachVac vacancy data were have recorded this year, but that may well be something to discuss with the statisticians.

Tell it as is it – Part 2

The Public Accounts Committee has just issued its latest report entitled the ‘The Funding for Disadvantaged Pupils’.

In the summary it concludes that ‘… the Department for Education needs to be better at supporting schools to share and use best practice more consistently so that more schools use the Pupil Premium effectively. In addition, there remain inequalities in the core funding received by schools with very similar levels of disadvantage. As the impact of the Pupil Premium will take a long time to be fully realised, the Department needs to do more to demonstrate its emerging benefits in the meantime. We also urge the Department to carry out an early review of the effectiveness of the Early Years Pupil Premium.’

This seems to me to reinforce the point make in the study of the DfE by Dr Cappon, mentioned earlier this week by this blog in another post. Perhaps politicians have confused the concept of a market with the role of players within it. When I did Economics 101, or ‘O’ level as it was in the UK in those days, the first two lessons were on markets and effective demand. We were all told that we might like a sports car, but most of us would not be able to afford one. Our latent demand wasn’t the same as our effective demand for a second hand old banger as our first car. On markets, it was seen as the mechanism for determining the price of a good. Indeed, in areas such as the Stock Market, it still is. However, markets usually have winners and losers and losers react in different ways, such as by reducing supply or quitting the market.

Now the best thing to come out of the past twenty years in education is a recognition that there is more than one type of meaning to the term ‘equality’. It was a sharper focus on the recognition that spending on some pupils needs to be greater if they are to achieve a minimum standard of education that led to the Pupil Premium. I would argue that the Lib Dems were the first to articulate this concept under Phil Willis and Richard Grayson when he was at CentreForum as it then was. Indeed, Nick Clegg also brought an understanding of this notion of equality from his experience as an MEP to this debate.

The challenge, as the Public Accounts Committee and Dr Cappon make clear is, in a department of state where an idealistic notion of the market as a means of solving problems holds sway, how do you get consumers – the schools in this case – to use their resources to the end you seek: reducing the learning gap between the disadvantaged and others in society. Do you use a carrot – the equivalent of lowering prices – or a stick, send in Ofsted to create effective use of funds such as the Pupil Premium? The problem with the market model is that consumers -schools – have to want the same thing as the DfE, and that might not be their focus.

Is a ‘special offer this week – funds for disadvantaged pupils – buy here’ really the best way to eradicate the learning gap and increase social mobility? Clearly, the Public Accounts Committee don’t seem to think so. That they also think there are issues with the core funding of schools is another worry for another blog post.