Time to listen

Why do children with hearing loss, but no other impediment to their learning, fare so much worse than children of a similar ability but with normal hearing patterns? You could ask the same question of children with other disabilities. Later this month the DfE should publish outcome figures for the 2015 GCSE results for these pupils.

Last year, the National Deaf Children’s Society a key campaigner in the field of education for children with hearing impairment, published a chilling report on the state of their education http://www.ndcs.org.uk/for_the_media/press_releases/deaf_children_slip.html only 36% of these children achieved the %A-Cs at GCSE compared with more than 60% of their hearing classmates. Even more concerning was the decline in specialist teachers of hearing impaired children.

It is this latter point that concerns me at this time. Does our fractured governance system which fails to rate professional development of teachers properly now allow for a system to ensure the training of sufficient teachers of hearing impaired pupils or indeed or other pupils that need specialist training. Is there any obligation on multi-academy trusts or single converter academies to ever consider this type of issue? Local authorities certainly won’t these days and, I guess, it hasn’t featured on the agenda of many of the School Forums responsible for setting policy on funding distribution across school in an area. Funding is ever more weighted towards pupils and their immediate needs and rarely takes into account the longer-term strategic needs of the school system.

One implication of more pupils overall is that the number with impaired hearing is also likely to rise in proportion. This means that more teachers should be trained. How will this happen? Could such teachers be incorporated into the National Teaching Service or will we expect enthusiastic teachers to take out one of the new career loans for higher degrees on top of their existing student debt to provide out cadre of qualified teachers of hearing impaired pupils in the future, let alone the leaders in the special schools where some of these children are located. Who is going to employ the advisers to help classroom teachers with a child with mild hearing loss in their class to perform to the best of their ability and help close the performance gap?

These pupils and their compatriots with other special needs deserve a high quality schooling system not to be pushed to the margins of policy-making. I am sure that they aren’t seen as a nuisance, but perhaps they aren’t seen enough or even at all by those that consider these issues. There are only around 20,000 pupils with recognised hearing impairment in our school system, but each and every one deserves the best possible education. As, indeed, do all other pupils with special needs.




Do we want to bring back the Sheriff?

This is the pantomime season and the tale of Robin Hood is a well-known part of that of that cannon. Indeed, the Sheriff of Nottingham is well-established in folklore as an authoritarian baddy on the side of the State against the common people of England.

In the period after King John and the signing of Magna Carta local democracy came slowly to England, probably reaching a high point in the 1960s when the voting age was lowered to eighteen from twenty-one. Since then the State has rowed back on local democracy with more and more services being taken over by Westminster. Utilities and the health service departed local government in the post-war Labour nationalisation spree, even though public health found its way back in recent years. Police and the lower tiers of the court service largely disappeared although councils were handed power over alcohol licensing, if not licensing hours. Since Labour started the academies programme, based on the Tory Grant Maintained School model, schools have also been also been coming under direct control from Westminster.

Children’s Services seem to be the latest function of local government likely to be removed from local democratic control. The Prime Minister’s announcement just before Christmas presages what might be a two stage process, where firstly, poorly performing children’s services are taken away from democratic control and then, no doubt in the name of effectiveness, the remaining effective services are nationalised and boundaries rationalised to meet some new criteria of efficiency. The plans for adoption services seem to suggest the way forward.

Does it matter whether services are the responsibility of local councils? In a piece on this blog in March 2013, I argued that it did in relation to schools.  I think it does even more in respect of children’s services. These services deal with some of our most challenging and challenged young people that need the help of others. Do those services need democratic oversight? I believe that they do. Part of the problem is that local government now lacks a coherent rationale. There are cities with elected mayors; areas with one principle tier of government; other areas with two tiers and sometimes a third locality tier as well in the form of parish or town councils.

The lack of understanding of the need to manage and develop services locally is also hampered by a government that doesn’t understand about funding. Business Rates and Council Tax supported by government redistribution grants to deal with areas of low income has always been a challenge to get right. However, capping income without allowing local areas to manage local services is a recipe for the death of effective local government, especially when placed alongside the creeping centralisation of services.

Local councils had one big advantage, the discipline of the ballot box made for regular rethinks in all but those authorities where the present electoral system has created single-party states. Whether you call them commissioners, commissars or sheriffs, they are un-elected officials whose responsibility to the services sometimes risks coming before responsibility to the locality. I would change the electoral system to retain democracy rather than create services where decisions are taken far from the point of operation; but maybe I am just old-fashioned and a relic of a former age.


Geopolitics and macroeconomics

Whether the world is a more dangerous place this January isn’t for me to say. However, to balance my short-term views about teacher supply problems I thought it worth thinking about what the combined effects of a downturn in China; tensions in the Middle East; falling oil prices and the possibility of rising interest rates might do to the longer-term teacher supply position.

An analysis of data over the past fifty years suggests teacher supply problems ease when the economy is subdued or in recession. Whether there is a direct link between these two facts may be arguable, but while there is a need to educate children there will be a need for teachers. Again, over the past fifty years, there have been massive strides in technology since the famous BBC programme of the late 1970s ‘The chips are down’ about the microprocessor revolution. Classrooms have adapted to make use of the new technology, but there has been no seismic shift away from traditional patterns of pupil teacher numbers. Indeed, in secondary schools over the past decade, pupil-teacher ratios have even improved, according to DfE data.

The recently reported growth in home schooling may be the first signs of a coming revolution, driven by parents no longer satisfied with the current model of schooling. Tablets, TVs and computers can provide more learning power than any school library of a couple of decades ago. What is needed is the means of instruction and the method of motivation to keep youngsters on task. How much more likely is that in a home environment than when youngsters are faced with the distractions caused by 25 or 30 other children: could learning me more focused and take less time in the home than the classroom?

No doubt, parents would still want children to socialise in order to learn team games, sing together and undertake risky science experiments under the control of a qualified person. However, that might mean only sending your child to school for a couple of days a week. Such a shift might also boost the market for tutors as parents just buy in specific skills where their offspring are facing issues with learning.

As the BBC recently highlighted, the spirit of enterprise is abroad in Britain at the present time. I am sure that there are many developers in both large companies and small start-ups eying what could be a lucrative market that has world-wide potential; some of which will be on display at BETT.

Such a shift in technology from a labour intensive to a technology driven learning process could have a profound effect on both the need for teachers and the spending by the State on education. However, in the short-term, the geopolitical and macroeconomic signals might suggest that if a downturn is coming then teaching might benefit from renewed interest as a career choice.

As I have said at several conferences recently, I am one of the only people that might see benefits from a slowdown in China, even if it only reduces the inflow to that country of UK teachers to work in the growing international school market.

However, with the allocations for 2016 entry into teacher preparation courses set and fewer places available on non-EBacc subjects than in 2015, none of this will matter before 2017 unless, as in 2009, any downturn in the world’s economy bring back greater numbers of returners into teaching: such an effect could dramatically alter the picture of teacher supply, even for 2016, were it to come about.

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. http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/02/ofsted-row-ministers-extent-teacher-shortages-michael-wilshaw

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.

Teacher recruitment in 2016

How will schools looking for teachers in 2016 fare? Teacher supply was a common theme of discussions in the autumn term of 2016, so I thought I would share some preliminary analysis regarding the start of the 2016 recruitment round. Schools signed up to TeachVac, our free recruitment site that costs schools nothing to post vacancies, receive more detailed information thorough our monthly newsletter. To find out more visit http://www.teachvac.co.uk

In addition, secondary schools receive the unique update on the size of the remaining ‘free pool’ of trainees every time they upload details of a main scale vacancy. At present, this is the national picture since the NCTL seem reluctant to reveal regional data in any meaningful form, despite in 2014 telling me that they had hoped to do so in 2015. The data on regional provision in the priority subjects that they have produced is challenging to map against the actual census numbers in some subjects. As the key census table also has gaps that appear to be filled in another table, I have a word of caution about the data in the public domain. No doubt some enterprising MP will ask questions or the Select Committee will elicit the actual data from the DfE as part of their inquiry. If so, we will update the information in TeachVac.

Anyway, using the data that is available we can assume that Teach First trainees will be in classrooms and unavailable to fill vacancies, other than as qualified teachers at the end of their programme, and that School Direct Salaried trainees are also likely to be hired either by the school where they are training or another local school without an advert appearing.  As a result, these trainees can be discarded from the pool of trainees available to schools unable to access these programmes. In addition, it is worth reducing the remaining number by five per cent to allow for those that don’t complete their training programme on the higher education, SCITT and School direct fee routes.

Taking all these variables into account, the picture is broadly similar to this point in 2015. There are unlikely to be enough trainees in the ‘free pool’ to satisfy demand in business studies; design and technology – despite slightly better recruitment than last year; English – where we have concerns that the distortion produced by both Teach First and the School Direct Salaried numbers may make it difficult for schools in some parts of the country to recruit a teacher –this is a subject where the regional breakdown of recruitment into training would be especially helpful. Although the mix of science teachers may not be what schools need, the total of trainees may be sufficient across the country, even if not regionally. The same is true in mathematics.

In PE, art and probably languages, there should be sufficient trainees to meet demand. In other subjects, we need to see how schools will schools respond to curriculum changes and funding pressures before making a judgement. However, geography, music, IT and RE schools seeking teachers may struggle towards the end of the year, if 2016 follows the pattern of 2016.

Regionally, despite the presence of Teach First together with the School Direct Salaried places, we expect schools outside these programmes to struggle in London and the Home Counties when it comes to recruitment of main scale teachers. As these are the parts of the country with the greatest concentration of independent schools, the demand for teachers from these schools is an additional pressure in the marketplace.

Teachvac has a new service this year that allows us to provide advice on salary levels offered in the marketplace. This is not yet a free service, but the team are happy to discuss details with anyone interested. 2016 looks like being another interesting and challenging year for teacher recruitment.