A matter of trust

The school system in England, and presumably across the rest of the United Kingdom, is essentially based upon trust. Parents trust schools to educate their offspring and schools trust parents to make sure those attending school know the difference between the basics of right and wrong. Is this trust in danger of breaking down?

The Report today from ATL, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, about violence towards teachers and others working in schools makes for uncomfortable reading, at least at the headline level. I wasn’t able to find the details of the report on ATL’s website when I came to write this blog, so cannot comment further on say, the proportions kicked against those shoved around by their pupils.

The implications are that many of the pupils come from homes where parents have not set appropriate boundaries. Are these clustered in specific areas or spread widely across the country; were they primary and secondary pupils or mostly just antagonistic adolescents?

The concerns over metal health are especially worrying. I think it is clear that a high proportion of long-term mental health issues develop during the time a young person should be in education. The cuts to CAMS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) must be reversed and such services must be adequately resourced for an increasing number of young people in the at risk age-groups. Many readers know that I write this having personally experienced violence in a classroom, albeit many years ago now.

The need for schools to have good working behaviour policies is vital if we are to aid retention of teachers in our classrooms. It isn’t about metal detectors at the doors, but about sensible timetabling, vigilant staff from the senior leadership to the contract cleaners and a policy that is enforced.

At the same time, parents and society in general must trust schools are able to find ways of educating everyone in society. Before the ATL Report appeared I was going to write of my concern that some schools seem to be exploiting the fact that schooling is a voluntary activity by asking parents of disruptive Year 11 pupils to withdraw them from school and, as is their right, state that they are educating them at home or otherwise than at school. With a Year 11 student, it is highly likely that nobody is going to investigate what is actually happening and there is a risk that they can fall into anti-social behaviour and even sexual exploitation.

If I tie all this back to the report earlier this week on Regional School Commissioners it is only to make the point that without coherent planning across the whole sector issues such as the development of special education and support services risk becoming fractured and like CAMS unable to deal with the problems thrown at them despite the very high quality of staff working to tackle everything thrown at them.

In the 1990s the Lib Dems recognised that tax cutting had gone too far under the Conservatives and called for a penny on income tax for education. Perhaps we are reaching that point again. Putting up the regressive Council Tax isn’t an answer: putting up the fairest of the taxes we have may be; the trouble is it is also the most visible.

School spends £60,000 on recruitment advertising

Teacher recruitment received a mention in the House of Commons yesterday. During Education Questions two Labour MPs asked the Minister, Mr Gibb, about whether there was a problem? Chris Leslie from Nottingham cited a school that had spent over £60,000 just on advertising costs. The Minister replied that it wasn’t necessary to spend that kind of money as there are many free recruitment sites. He didn’t list any and apart from TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk it isn’t clear what recruitment sites are free to both schools and teachers, apart, perhaps, from some local authority, diocese or academy trust sites.

As I received an email over the weekend from a governor of a primary school that had spent £8,000 on advertising for a headteacher, the sums are mounting up. Our philosophy at TeachVac is simple, cash should be spent on teaching not on recruiting teachers. The more schools, teachers and trainees that use TeachVac, the more functions we can provide alongside our present advice to schools about the size of the current pool of trainees looking for secondary teaching posts.

Expanding the information about recruitment may be vital to schools as the Future leaders Trust have brought out a Report today called ‘Heads Up’ http://www.future-leaders.org.uk/insights-blog/heads-up-challenges-headteacher-recruitment/ about the challenges of recruiting new headteachers. I was privileged to be asked to contribute to the report, and was delighted to do so, since I spent more than a quarter of a century tracking headteacher vacancies.

Being a head can be a great job but, like any leadership position, it has its challenges and it behoves those responsible for schools to recognise that fact and ensure that enough people want to take on the challenge. With more schools and increased numbers of executive heads there will be a demand for even more school leaders. In our increasingly nationalised school system I hope that someone somewhere is ensuring a sufficient supply of new candidates across the country. I commend the work that the Future Leaders Trust is doing to help with finding the next generation of school leaders.

My guess is that we now need between 2,000-2,500 new head teachers each year: that’s a big ask, especially in the primary sector. The DfE and National College have a good tradition of looking backward at what has happened; they now need to be able to project forward to anticipate problems before they arise. It is all very well the Minister saying the DfE isn’t burying its head in the sand and citing overall teacher numbers, but he didn’t, presumably because he couldn’t, state that there was no problem staffing certain subjects or in some parts of the country.

Next week will see the publication of the first figures for recruitment into teacher preparation course for 2016. As this is the third year of the current admissions system we will have a good idea of how recruitment is going this year, especially in the subjects where recruitment controls have not yet been activated. I am hoping for an improvement over last year and the year before partly because of increased marketing activity, but the recent Income Data Services report on pay might put off some would-be teachers with large loans to repay.

Happy Birthday

Today is the third birthday of this blog. When I signed up for a WordPress account and started writing in January 2013 I didn’t image in three years I would have created a blog that had seen more than 27,000 visitors and nearly 55,000 views of the posts. Thank you also to the band of commentators that read and comment on what I say: I appreciate your thoughts and comments.

Originally, the aim was to comment on statistics about education, but since mid-2014 the issue of teacher supply has come to dominate the blog and indeed much of my time. The launch of TeachVac www.teachvac.com as a free recruitment site that costs nothing to schools, teachers and trainees and offers a platform for vacancies in primary, secondary and special schools for teaching posts from the classroom to the head’s study has also taken off much faster than I expected. January 2016 has been a prenominal month and it isn’t over yet.

My thanks especially to the tutors that have encouraged trainees to sign up when looking for their first job and to the head teachers that have signed up their schools. I hope the data on the size of the ‘free pool’ that might apply for classroom posts is useful.

My thanks also to the support from the teacher associations, governors, business managers, subject associations and many others that have supported my view that in TeachVac there was room for a free recruitment site on the Twitter or Facebook model in the new technological age.

As far as the blog is concerned, the aim is for a post of about 500 words; some are longer, and a few are shorter, but 500 words is about the average. That’s somewhere around 175,000 words to date for anyone that has read the whole lot. I do try to remove the most obvious of the typos and language issues, but editing one’s own writing is, I find, a challenge. I rarely alter a post substantially once written unless there is a factual error on my part.

I hope you enjoy reading the posts, and I will continue writing as long as I feel I have something I want to say. I owe a debt of appreciation to those at the TES that allowed me to write a column for them between 1998 and 2011. It was those pieces that helped me develop my style and appreciate the importance of brevity in communication.

The education world in England is undergoing a period of transformation from a local service nationally administered to a national service that is trying to establish how it can best operate locally. The change is painful to many, myself included that grew up and spent our careers in a public service that was defined by the involvement of local government. What the world will look like if this blog reaches its fourth birthday next year is difficult to predict. However, teacher supply transcends school organisation; teachers matter.

Thank you for reading.


School Commissioners and the purpose of education

How much democratic control over schools should there be? In the past week one academy chain has announced plans to do away with local governing bodies for its schools and the House of Commons Education Select Committee has produced a report into the role of Regional School Commissioners.

Historically, after the passing of the 1902 Education Act, local authorities took over control of schooling, although for quite a while some schools remained as direct-grants schools funded from Westminster. Between 1944 and the 1990s local government, albeit in some cases partly funded by central government funding through support for local rates and taxes, was responsible for schooling with some oversight through legislation by parliament at Westminster.

The Tories started the breakdown of this arrangement with the creation of grant maintained schools in the 1990s, to be followed by Labour’s academy model of centrally funded schools. And so the slippery slope towards a national school service began to be built. Even before grant maintained schools took hold, the further education sector and public higher education were removed from local control and effectively placed under national direction.

With the drive towards academisation seemingly having stalled, it surely cannot be long before all remaining schools are required to become an academy whether coasting, failing or successful. At that point the role of unelected regional School Commissioners and their supporting headteacher boards become vital the management and leadership of our school service.

It was therefore worrying to read in the Select Committee report last week that:

We welcome the Government’s plans to increase the amount of information provided in Headteacher Board minutes, but there is currently confusion about the role of the Board itself, and this must be addressed. Without attention to these issues, the RSC system will be seen as undemocratic and opaque, and the Government must ensure that such concerns are acted on.


How much involvement should local people and their locally elected representatives have in the running of our school system in a twenty-first century democracy? No doubt this is one question the Select Committee will hopefully tackle in their next inquiry into the Purpose and quality of education in England. For it is difficult to discuss the purpose without understanding who is and should be in control.

The purpose of education must be more than just creating all schools as academies. The Select Committee also said of School Commissioners that:

The impact of RSCs should be measured in terms of improvements in outcomes for young people, rather than merely the volume of activity. We welcome the Government’s intention to review the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the RSCs. This should be done to ensure that potential conflicts of interest are eliminated, and to provide assurance that RSC decisions are made in the interests of school improvement rather than to fulfil specific targets for the number of academies.


At the present time one purpose not being fully met is the provision of teachers able to meet the challenge of helping every child achieve their maximum performance at school. That must be a goal for government.




Don’t Panic?

This has been a good week for TeachVac (www.teachvac.com) the free to use recruitment site that I helped establish. Not only did it receive a mention in The Guardian on Tuesday – in Fiona Millar’s piece about recruitment challenges – but it also featured on BBC Breakfast TV on Wednesday morning. As a result, I have been on a number of local radio stations at various times this week following their picking up on one or other of the pieces in the national media.

So, what is the situation for September 2016? A trend we at TeachVac noted in December and have seen continuing in January is a larger than expected number of advertisements in the three key EBacc subjects; English, mathematics and the sciences. One of the problems of pre-recording media interviews several days in advance is that percentages change and it is important not to over-estimate. Thus the 40% increase that is being used in some quarters was actually an under-representation of the change between this year and last during the first two weeks of January. Of course what we will not know for several months is whether the increase is a genuine increase in demand or just a change in behaviour on the part of some schools that have brought forward recruitment, perhaps on the basis of anticipated need rather than an actual vacancy in order to start the process early. Now that some academy chains have changed their dates for resignation to the start of term that may also be an influencing factor.

Whatever the reason, or reasons, we are still seeing more advertisements than in 2015. This makes the fact that TeachVac is free to schools, teachers and trainees ever more important. After all, TeachVac was established to help reduce the cost of recruitment. If the free to use model works for Twitter, why not for teacher recruitment?

The team at Teachvac regularly has schools phoning us and asking, ‘can the process of advertising a vacancy really be that simple and free as well?’ The answer, of course is yes. If you don’t believe it and haven’t  yetseen the demonstration video on the site, then I urge you to have a look and tell the remaining schools, teachers and trainees that still haven’t signed up to do so.

Schools that enter vacancies into TeachVac for secondary main scale teachers are told the current state of the ‘free pool’ of possible applicants. TeachVac issued its first alert of 2016 this week when the ‘free pool’ in English slipped below the two thirds level. If advertisements continue at this rate there won’t be enough new entrants to ensure all vacancies can be easily filled throughout the year. Not a problem yet, but it could become the autumn for schools looking at vacancies in January 2017.

At TeachVac, we believe this early warning can help when timetables are constructed as it provides early warning of potential challenges. The changing position is updated regularly in the TeachVac monthly newsletters and other Reviews we publish. Schools, local authorities and other interested parties, such as subject associations and teaching schools, can access more detailed information for a small fee.

My assessment of the 2016 recruitment round, at least for secondary main scale teachers, where the data is richest, is that the increasing school population is starting to affect demand and the under-recruitment into preparation last September will cause issues for some schools in some subjects. Perhaps that’s why the train to be a teacher advert made an appearance on Channel 4 last evening. But, more about recruitment for 2016 at the end of the month when new figures will appear from UCAS.

The end of the beginning

Next week this blog celebrates its third birthday. I would like to be more upbeat at this time, but many of the values that brought me into public service are now being eroded, seemingly faster than ever.

Yesterday I heard Sir Andrew Carter tell a conference on teacher recruitment that ‘all schools will become academies’. Later in the afternoon I had the same view that schools will be forcibly taken away from local authorities at some point in this parliament confirmed from two different sources: both said it was an open secret at Westminster. Such may be the consequence for the electorate of electing a Conservative government last year. We now await a White Paper on the future of schools that will precede a Bill, probably pencilled in for the autumn.

Whether schools become academies or some new form of organisation doesn’t really matter. What will be a consequence will be the ending the link between local government and the running of schools that has existed since 1902. I have written in the past that I can just about accept that for the secondary sector, but need to be convinced that a credible governance and planning structure, and reasonable funding model, has been devised for the primary sector and especially many of our small rural schools.

I am not sure what the consequences for the Tory party would be of any wholesale merger of village schools to save money, especially if the transport costs associated with busing pupils to the next village were left with the local authorities as part of a botched arrangement over who does what in the brave new world devised by Michael Gove and now implemented by Nick Gibb. Who will handle admissions if local authorities cannot force schools to take extra pupils and what is the future for pupils with special educational needs or children that are vulnerable in other ways?

The Church of England and, to a lesser extent, the Roman Catholic Church and other faiths responsible for schools will be under intense pressure if schooling is nationalised under the control of un-elected Regional Commissioners with no remit to support the historical pattern of primary education in England. There are no ‘voluntary’ academies as there are voluntary aided and controlled schools. Will the government allow single-faith multi-academy trusts in the new order along diocesan boundaries or compel different arrangements so that the faith schools will have to fight to retain their ethos?

I will be a real irony that the nationalisation of schools will take place under a Tory government in the name of, presumably, freedom.  But, such is the world in which we live these days. I also wonder whether the days of governing bodies are numbered after an academy chain announced it was going to dispense with such local governance. This from a Tory government whose predecessors were once exercised about the fact that infant and junior schools were served by a single governing body.

I suppose one outcome will be that there won’t be any need for a national teaching force because all teachers, like schools, will be part of the national service.



1% pay rise for most teachers likely in 2016

The main teacher associations have now submitted their joint evidence to the School Teachers Review Body (STRB). This follows the publication of the DfE’s evidence to the STRB just before Christmas, although it is dated November 2015. The date is significant, since it presumably allows the DfE to ignore the evidence from the 2015 ITT census and instead rely upon the School Workforce Census taken in 2014 along with the 2014 ITT census as the most up to date information they have on the workforce in schools and in training.

I assume that the STRB could ask for supplementary evidence or commission their own secretariat to update the DfE’s data if it isn’t in the associations’ evidence. The STRB can also look further at the vacancy figures, as they have done in the past.

Nevertheless, the trends and pressures in the system are visible from the evidence that is available and have largely also been rehearsed in front of the Select Committee over the past couple of months.

One chart that struck me in the DfE’s evidence was Figure 10 on page 43. It may be no accident that the East of England and the South East were the two regions with the largest mean and median negative salary differences between classroom teacher salaries and private sector graduate professional salaries. As TeachVac www.teachvac.com has revealed, along with London, these are the two regions where teacher recruitment is at its most challenging.

If the net effect of high pay overall for graduates is to drive up the cost of services in these areas then a one per cent pay rise for teachers will have the most effect on recruitment in these areas. One solution would be to review the boundaries of the extra-national pay areas to extend them out beyond London. It is worth noting that the mean difference was negative across all regions in 2014/15 and it was only the median that was positive for teachers, and in just four regions, the North East, North West, Yorkshire & the Humber and the West Midlands. In the other five regions both the mean and median were negative for teachers’ salaried when compared with the private sector. Apparently, this is due to some graduates earning very high salaries, although this seems less likely in the Home Counties than in Inner London.

It is also not clear why the DfE had to resort to using resignation and early retirement data from the whole of the public sector in Figure 4 rather than using data from the School Workforce Census just for the teaching profession? Could it be that the resignations data looks more favourable across the whole of the public sector than just for the teaching profession? However, with so many young women in teaching – Figure 6 suggest around 30% of the classroom teacher workforce was below 30 in November 2013 (sic) and 74% of these were women – resignations as a result of starting a family are likely to be above the long-term average.

What is also clear from the DfE evidence is the concentration on the EBacc subjects, in some cases to the complete exclusion of data on other subjects. The STRB might like to ask the DfE to remedy this short-comings since they are responsible for the pay of all teachers and not just those in the EBacc subjects.

One relatively new idea from the DfE is to allow schools to extend the concept of a season ticket loan to also cover a loan to teachers for a deposit on rental properties through what is known as a salary sacrifice scheme. This might help attract new teachers into some areas providing the cost of repayments plus the monthly rent wasn’t so high as to still be off-putting at current salary levels. Indeed, the government might put pressure on landlords to reduce the level of deposits required.

The DfE on behalf of the government make much of the need for public sector pay restraint all the way through the remainder of this parliament and their view that overall pay increases should be capped at 1% until 2020.

The associations may well be worried by Figures 8 & 9 in the DfE evidence that show academies with lower median salaries than maintained schools. This is headed average salaries although the DfE haven’t used the mean as the measure of central tendency. Could it be that academies use more unqualified teachers and Teach first trainees and this is bringing down their median salary or is their retention rate worse than I maintained schools? This evidence is contained in the School Workforce Census and the STRB might like to ask more about what the evidence reveals.

Overall, there isn’t much new data since the DfE has used mostly data already in the public domain. However, I would be surprised if the STRB did more than warn about teacher supply on this evidence unless the associations have made a much stronger case. Expect the one per cent overall to be announced for 2016, even if it is nuanced in favour of some groups.