Fig leaf look a bit threadbare

It didn’t take long for the national press to take up the issue of teacher supply in 2016. The Observer, a paper that has carried several stories about teacher supply over the past few months, including covering my evidence to the Select Committee in last Sunday’s edition, has highlighted the concerns of Sir Michael Wilshaw about recruitment in coastal and deprived areas expressed in his annual report. The reporters also highlight Labour’s issues with the DfE statistics, including both the inclusion of Teach First numbers being included in the annual census of trainees and the presentation of vacancy numbers based on data collected in November.

As Sir Michael Wilshaw demonstrated in his last annual report, even the DfE figures, collected at the most favourable time of the year, have been going in the wrong direction over the past few years. It is not the fault of civil servants that the only data they collect comes from a census taken in November, but the fig leaf that this provides Ministers with now looks ever more threadbare.

How can you operate a National Teaching Service if you do not know the annual demand from schools for teachers? I am interested to know if anyone has yet seen the parameters for the working of this service. As schools are already recruiting for September 2016, if the government doesn’t enable the service soon it will have an even more challenging first year of operation than might be necessary.

Who does the government have that is capable of running such a service anyway? How much will they pay the teachers; will they only recruit existing teachers, perhaps from Teach First; will it just be secondary schools offered such teachers or will primary and special schools be included; will such teachers be offered only to academies or will all schools be able to bid for such teachers? Who knows, if you do please let me know where I can find out the details.

If the Observer didn’t actually talk to Sir Michael before writing their story, but just based it on comments in his annual report, they might want to ask him about progress at GCSE in areas where recruitment is challenging. TeachVac’s preliminary investigation of 2015 GCSE 5A*-Cs results including English and mathematics, compared with 2014, suggest that in London more schools performed less well in 2015 than 2014 than did better. Now, nationally, there was an overall decline of half a per cent in this figures, so some schools doing worse than last year was to be expected. The fact that overall more schools did in London worse raises questions about whether teacher supply problems might have contributed to the outcomes, even if schools have tried to protect examination classes.

Of course, since the DfE don’t believe there is a crisis in teacher supply anywhere in the country they will have to come up with a different explanation if it is true school performance in London has faltered compared with some other parts of England.


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