Charity Walk for children

On Sunday I shall be walking for a charity of which I am a trustee. the charity is called Children Heard and Seen.

The charity was formed in Oxford last year and works specifically with children that have a parent in prison.

In this past this group of young people has under-performed at school and had an above average likelihood of themselves ending up in a life of crime.

Whatever the offence that has led to a custodial sentence, or even a period in prison on remand, these children often suffer bullying at school for something that isn’t their fault. I was happy to support the charity from its inception and tomorrow I will join with volunteers that are walking around Oxford over 24 hours in order to raise funds to continue the work of the charity.

There is an interview on Radio Oxford with the walk organiser at:

It starts 9mins in.

If anyone feels like helping by sending a donation in thanks for the information provided on this blog please text

‘CHAS24 £5’ to 70070 to donate for the 24hr walk”. Or see the Facebook page for other routes to donate.

The organiser feel sure that everyone has £5 they could donate, and it’s very quick and easy to do by text.

For more information the CHaS website is:

and the Facebook page is at;

I will update this post after the walk has taken place.

The walk has now taken place and there are photos of it on the CHaS Facebook page. you can see me with some of the with some of the other walkers going up Headington Hill in the overhead shot. This was just after a very heavy rail shower. Fortunately, it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. Top marks to the 2 nine year olds that walked for five hours. Thanks to Georgia and sarah for organising the event.

There is still time to donate.

Thank you for your generosity.

John Howson


Wrong direction

I pointed out recently that in the recent autumn statement there was a determination to drive down procurement costs in education. This is presumably so that more of the dwindling funding in real terms can be better used to support teaching and learning. It was, therefore, disappointing to read the research issued yesterday by Lucy Powell, the Labour shadow Secretary of State and her excellent team of researchers, that spending on supply teachers had risen to more than £1.3 billion pounds a year in 2013/14.

Now spending on supply often falls into one of two categories; either daily supply expenditure to cover absences and or support over a longer-term for unfilled vacancies. According to the data Labour have used, academies have seen a larger rise in spending on supply teachers than the remaining maintained schools. Without looking more closely at the type of schools that became academies during the period between 2011/12 and 2013/14 and the effect of the changing financial year from April to March to September to August, when a school moves from being maintained to being an academy, it is difficult to do more than note the figures and that the overall increase for all schools is around half of that for academies. Nevertheless, an increase of a fifth across the sector won’t help schools meet the government’s stated intention to drive down procurement costs.

If it can be shown that the majority of the rise is due to staffing difficulties, then this is another piece of evidence of a staffing crisis, a crisis that Mr Gibb, the Minister, was reluctant to acknowledge when he appeared before the Select Committee last week. Even the Chief Inspector recognised the concerns in his recent Annual Report even using the data from the Annual Workforce Census undertaken in November; not a noted time for high levels of vacancies.

Of course, the Treasury will benefit, since presumably 20% of the £1.3 billion spent on supply teachers is VAT and no doubt a large proportion of it finds its way into HMRC coffers. Perhaps this could then be re-cycled back into education spending.

As regular readers know, one way for schools to cut spending on recruitment is to use our free TeachVac site that is now approaching the end of its first full-year. I think it fair to say, even before the final numbers are collated, that Teachvac has posted more main scale secondary vacancies in its first year in operation than any other site achieved when a start-up.

Now, TeachVac offers a full service for all schools, still for free, we are looking to double that number in 2016. Local authorities, dioceses and academy chains with vacancy circulars can post vacancy details also for free and receive tracking data about the state of the job market in 2016. Give the TeachVac team a ring on 01983 550408 to learn more about how to sign up for free or visit the web site and watch the videos.

In a year when teacher supply became headline news, the TeachVac team are helping an increasing number of schools cut the cost of recruitment. If you know a school or teacher not signed up, give them a Christmas present by telling them about TeachVac.

Another market failure

Two studio schools for 14-18 year olds in the midlands are to close because of a failure to recruit enough students. This is how the message was announced by the trust responsible for the schools.

The Midland Academies Trust is to change the learning provision for students at its studio schools in Hinckley and Nuneaton.  Students will now be given the opportunity to continue their studies at other schools within the Trust supported by North Warwickshire and Hinckley College.  They will continue with the specialist CREATE Framework, supported by personal coaches and enjoy work experience arrangements aligned with the key features of the studio school model.

The decision comes as increasing financial pressures due to low pupil recruitment make the economic viability of small schools hugely challenging. The studio schools cater for 300 students each (600 in total) but there are currently a total of 157 pupils on roll across both schools. Year 10 and Year 12 students will be given the opportunity to continue their studies at either The George Eliot School or The William Bradford Academy from January 2016.  Current staff will continue to work with them and they will continue with their work placements and relationships with employers.

The Year 11 and Year 13 students will remain at the studio schools until the end of the academic year. – See more at:

At least the examination year pupils are to be catered for without the need to move school just over a term and a half before their examinations. Hopefully, they won’t experience any serious staff changes.

The Trust responsible for the two schools posted this announcement on the 1st December. As I pointed out when the UTC in the west midlands announced its closure in the spring, local authorities weren’t allowed to just shut down a school at short-notice.

Indeed, it is probably time that the EFA has talks with the government about a protocol on closure procedures, especially where it is due to financial viability. With the first stage of the admissions process now largely finished for 2016, a stress test, like that applied to the banks, should be administered by the EFA to all schools it funds and a list of those at risk published so that parents can decide whether moving their child at 14 is really a sensible idea.

In many ways I think the notion of a 14-18 sector is a good one and some of the schools are already flourishing with good recruitment, but many aren’t. After all, why would a school want to wave goodbye to four years of possible funding by encouraging students to change school at 14 unless by doing so their results improved.

Market failure, especially in new products, isn’t unusual. These schools do represent a new type of schooling that may need more marketing to parents. Whether we should be experimenting in an age of austerity where the government wants to take a billion pounds out of education procurement – presumably including spending on marketing – is an interesting question.

Could the same result have been achieved just by general further education colleges widening their offering to the 14-16 age-group? What are the real costs of each of these new UTCs and studio schools? As I have said elsewhere, each school needs a head teacher and other leadership staff. This puts pressure on the pool of leaders that isn’t an inexhaustible supply, making it more difficult for every school looking for a new leader.

However, the biggest question for debate is that of how far our education system should be organised on market principles?

The Select Committee and teacher supply

Yesterday morning was an interesting experience. I spend forty minutes alongside three other leading authorities on teacher preparation and supply appearing in front of the House of Commons Education Select Committee. This august body was taking evidence about the current state of recruitment into the profession and employment opportunities for teachers.

As might be expected, the general tone from everyone, except the Minister in the final session, was gloomy with the emphasis on targets not met and the challenges schools face when looking for new teaching staff. The Minister was right to emphasise the increased number of teachers in the profession, but along with the data on entrants to training he must ensure civil servants provide clarity on the basis for the figures. Did his comparison with last year exclude or include Teach First numbers in both sets of numbers he quoted. It would be unhelpful if 2014 data didn’t include Teach First but 2015 did, since the comparison wouldn’t have been based on a similar measure. This can be checked when the transcript appears.

What is also interesting is the data revealed in an answer Lord Nash gave on the 7th December to a written question in the House of Lords. From that information it is possible to identify success against target for the four key routes into teaching; higher education; SCITTs; School Direct fee and School Direct salaried. The rates are important because some of the routes into teaching provide more trainees for the free pool of job hunters that aren’t necessarily going to be snapped up by those responsible for preparing them for the profession than do other routes.

There is an interesting debate to be had around any route that is especially selective in its entry standards and then offers employment to all those on that route into teaching. This would leave others schools not so fortunate with a much more limited access to the trainee market. One solution would be for all schools to become involved in training. However, it only matters if some routes are better at filling the places allocated.

The table shows the percentage of allocated places filled in 2015 as reported in the answer to the PQ

  HEI SCITT SD – Fee SD – Salaried
Total 88 65 54 70
Primary 104 77 71 89
Secondary 77 57 45 56
English 142 57 60 82
Mathematics 72 51 34 47
D&T 42 47 31 77
History 108 82 85 79
Geography 93 40 38 45

On the basis of the figures in the table, there is a risk that recruitment controls in history and English might create a shortfall in 2016 with knock-on effects on the teacher labour market in 2017 if the same pattern were to develop as last year.

The effects of the controls will need to be watched very carefully in case school recruitment doesn’t take over from higher education courses once they have been capped. Recruitment controls rely upon applicants wanting to enter teaching by any route and not being wedded to a university course. Should that not prove the case, and there was a discussion about how far trainees were now prepared to travel to study to enter the profession during the Select Committee session, further action might need to be taken quickly.

Of course, allocations aren’t the TSM number and are set high in some subjects, but why did schools only manage to fill a third of their allocations in design & technology. In mathematics, might the bursary provide a better return to some candidates than the salaried route in terms of effort and cash on offer?

Hopefully, as the recruitment round for 2016 unfolds there will be room for dialogue between the DfE and other partners, even if it might have to be managed through the Select Committee.

My evidence to the Select Committee can be read on their page devoted to the inquiry at: rs/written/24299.html

Recruitment Controls 4

They say that there is nothing like a bit of publicity to help the marketing along. Recruitment to teaching preparation courses hasn’t been short of that this autumn. First, there was the furore, anxiety, concern – insert your own choice of word – over the salary quoted in the television advert. Although the salary isn’t the main concern for many would-be teachers there are no doubt some that do need to be reminded that it isn’t a reason to ignore a career in teaching, even if the squeeze on public sector pay does make it a less attractive reason that a few years ago. This is despite what the DfE says about the still attractive pension arrangements for teachers.

The second area where there has been some publicity has been over the issue of recruitment controls. On October the 27th, when the allocations were announced, this blog pointed out that far too many places had been allocated to PE providers and that “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.” And so, despite the government denial of early November, it has come to pass. And to that list must be added English and primary phase courses for postgraduates.

Now, the oxygen of publicity may have brought new applicants or it may just have inspired potential applicants to hurry up with their application and, no doubt, to bombard their referee with a request to fill in the reference forthwith. Indeed, I wonder if a dilatory tutor and their institution might find at least a grievance, if not something more serious, filed against them if a student missed the opportunity of being considered for a place on a course because the reference was delayed without due reason.

I think some universities may have been slow to take on board the implications of recruitment controls as laid out by the NCTL in their original explanation and may now be facing the consequences. My anxiety, despite what some DfE and NCTL officials may think, was never with the universities, but for applicants.

As the government is the purchaser of teacher preparation courses, they have the right to determine what method they use to purchase places. After all, it is QTS they are purchasing and to that universities offer their own establishment based qualification.  For applicants, it is more of a challenge, especially if they don’t know from one day to the next whether a course will be even able to interview them.

This state of affairs could have been prevented by creating a closing date by which all applicants that had applied would have been considered and any recruitment controls applied at that stage.  That would have prevented a first come first served approach that neither encourages quality in selection nor accepts that some applicants may have legitimate reasons for applying later in the recruitment round.

Still, we must not forget that beyond the subjects with recruitment controls there are a whole host of other subjects where recruitment remains a challenge. How much of a challenge would be easier to assess if the daily UCAS figures had a number for the total of applicants disaggregated from their number of applications. It is important to know whether recruitment controls are affecting the number of choices applicants make at the start of the process.