Better news on teacher supply

Whether it is a result of improved marketing; the slowdown in the Chinese economy or the introduction of recruitment controls, offers made this year to graduate applicants for teacher training in England are above the levels seen at this point last year. Total applications – candidates may make up to three applications – are up from 85,500 to just over 88,000; an increase of around three percent. But, this is still well below the 102,000 applications recorded in March 2014.

However, the number of conditional offer for both primary and secondary courses are well up on last March, with only Computing  as a subject having had a poor month. Most of the offers are conditional, only 880 of the 10,800 secondary offer as firm offers; the remainder still require applicants to either pass the skills test; gain a degree or possibly in a few cases do both. As a result, these numbers could alter. What is of more interest is whether the increase in applications will continue or whether it just represents a bringing forward of applications from those that might in the past have been slower in applying but because of the marketing and recruitment controls have been persuaded to apply earlier in the cycle: only time will tell.

What is also interesting is that applications from those aged 23 are still down on last year at the same time, and those from the 24 age group have remained almost static, whereas there are 600 more applicants from among those in the over 40 age group, more than the total increase from the 20-24 old age group combined. This might suggest that the increased fees faced by new graduates are having some effect on turning away younger students from teaching and taking on a greater degree of debt.

While the increase in applications from those in the older age-groups is welcome, it is important to know whether these applicants are more likely to be limited in their choice of location where they will be seeking a teaching job since vacancies are not evenly spread across the country. Fortunately, the increase in applications is spread across the country with London and the South East now accounting for around 29% of applicants compared with 28% this time last year.

If this increase in applications and offer continues, more subjects will meet their Teacher Supply Number including, hopefully, mathematics. However, Physics still seems likely to fall short along with Design & Technology. Such a shortfall will have implications for classroom teacher vacancies in 2017.

Nevertheless, the government will be feeling a lot more cheerful than this time last year which marked the low point in the present cycle. Hopefully, the loss of young graduates can be overcome.

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Is there a teacher recruitment crisis?

I have been asked a lot recently whether there is a teacher recruitment crisis. The answer is, it all depends upon what you mean by a crisis. In the TeachVac evidence to the Select Committee, published on the Committee’s website before Christmas, I attempted to put some numbers to the terms ‘challenge’ and ‘crisis’. So far as I am aware, nobody has offered an alternative scenario. Certainly, nobody has suggested one to me.

Ministers, however, have relied on the November Workforce census vacancies to suggest schools are fully staffed. More recently, during her speech to the NASUWT Conference, the Secretary of State quoted from a TES study that suggested 70% of vacancies were filled within four weeks of being advertised. No bad, but it means that 30% were not filled. As a head teacher I would be worried of around one in three of my vacancies weren’t filled quickly. That figure was presumably the average, so some will have done better, but others worse. Perhaps the DfE can tell schools at what point they should worry? 50% not filled within four weeks; 75%, or should they wait until they reach the position of the Oxford head teacher speaking on the BBC web site whose school attracted no applicants for a number of vacancies advertised?

At TeachVac, the free vacancy web site for schools and teachers, www.teachvac.co.uk we are gearing up for the April vacancy rush. The job market has definitely become more complex and can be divided into a number of different segments. There are probably now three groups of trainees; those on programmes such as Teach First and the School Direct Salaried route that have posts assigned to them and don’t enter the open competition for vacancies; the trainees that sign up with recruitment agencies in the hope of reducing paperwork and securing a better salary. As this group increases, and the government is doing nothing to deter agencies from signing up trainees, or indeed other teachers, and asking schools for a finder’s fee, so the free pool of applicants diminishes. The government’s offer of the DfE’s free website won’t alleviate the drain on school resources by having to pay these fees. However, it might encourage some academy chains and diocese to become more involved in School Direct or SCITTs as part of a ‘grow your own teacher’ scheme.

The third group of trainees form the traditional ‘free pool’ of new entrants competing for the vacancies offered by schools. It is difficult to see how, if the DfE’s Teacher supply model is anywhere near accurate, any substantial under-recruitment into training will not affect the size of this pool to some extent. For that reason, Ministers generalised references to the overall position aren’t helpful. The recent National Audit Office report highlighted the lack of government knowledge of the real position in the teacher labour market nationally, let alone at a sub-national level.

Later this week TeachVac will publish its April newsletters for schools and teachers containing our analysis of the vacancy trends during the first three months of 2016. These are free to subscribers to the TeachVac site.

 

Austerity Tory style

In 2011 I discovered that the Key stage 1 results in Oxford City were the worst in the country. I drew this fact to the attention of the press and they alerted the County Council that had oversight for schools across Oxfordshire. In turn the district council, Oxford City, became involved because the schools were all located in their area. There were also two diocese, one Church of England and one Roman Catholic with oversight of some of the schools. That was a total of four bodies concerned with putting together a plan to improve the success of education in the City of Oxford: I am pleased to report that there has been an improvement.

Now fast forward to the present time. If the same circumstances arose, how many bodies would need to be contacted? There are 9 primary academies and one free school in the city at presenti addition to the remaining community and voluntary schools. The academies and the free school are managed by 6 different trusts, including one where a notice to deal with a budget deficit was issued earlier this year. The headquarters of that trust isn’t located in Oxfordshire.

So, were there to be the same need for a concerted effort across the City of Oxford there would now be the original bodies plus six more to deal with. If the diocese manage their MAT schools with the same teams as their voluntary schools that would reduce the number to four new MATs, but one would also need to add in the Regional School Commissioner that didn’t exist in 2011 and probably the Education Funding agency as well, as the funding body, so that takes us back to six more organisations for the 10 primary schools not managed through Oxfordshire County Council.

How many more MATs would there be if all primary schools became academies. The new schools being built in the county are now manged by other MATs, mostly with no geographical links to the county, but just selected from bodies that were on the DfE list of sponsors.

I am not convinced that a MAT managing a random geographical spread of primary schools is the best answer to secure high standards. In the 1980s all Oxfordshire primary schools were grouped into partnerships for some of the very reasons Ministers cite for their conversion into academies.  Before schools gained financial independence, the local authority regularly held meetings with groups of primary heads. After budgets were devolved it was up to the head to decide whether to attend or not. I wonder how many MATs hold meetings of their head teachers, and whether they are regarded as compulsory with regard to attendance.

I saw a comment from a Minister to the effect that creating all primary schools as academies would drive up standards. If so, one wonders why the government has wasted parliamentary time on the recent Act of Parliament requiring coasting schools to convert to academy status.

A free recruitment web site may help schools save money, although as readers know one already exists in TeachVac, but I doubt it will offset the extra costs associated with operating a system where all schools are academies: not my idea of tackling austerity and raising school standards.

 

 

Education not a priority for voters?

The Conservative Party seems to have calculated that because education in general and schools in particular didn’t feature prominently in the 2015 general election campaign parents and voters generally were content with the direction of travel. This means Tory policy-makers think voters support the move towards a school system that deprived local authorities of most of their remaining functions regarding schools and required all schools, including all primary schools, to become academies.

The forthcoming local elections in May are an opportunity for many voters to prove the government spin doctors wrong. As this blog has asserted, primary schools should remain under local support and direction as part of a national system. Schools are an important part of their local community, indeed in many rural areas they are the only manifestation of the community other than a village hall. The pub, shop, church and all other services have disappeared. Many Tory councillors recognise this point. Indeed, I suspect than some even entered active politics in support of their local school.

Announcing the policy that all schools must become academies just before Easter and both the teacher conference season and local election campaigning was either an act of supreme self-confidence on the part of the prime minister – for he must have sanctioned the Chancellor telling the world about the policy in the budget – or a staggering lack of understanding of the feelings of voters for their local school and its place in the community. Why the Tories would want to offer opposition parties a campaign against wholesale nationalisation of schools is beyond my understanding.

So far, despite their important as operators of primary schools, the churches and other faith groups seem to have bene relatively silent on the announcement about academisation. Easter Sunday sermons would be a good time for the Archbishops to convey to the faithful whether they back the government or will support those that want local authorities to retain an interest in schooling.

The honourable way out might be for Mrs Morgan to announce that in the first stage all secondary schools will become academies and that the policy will then be reviewed in the light of how MATs are working before moving on to the primary sector if the policy has proved successful. After all, we live in an age of austerity, as the government keeps telling us, and creating academies for the sake of it uses money that could be better spent protecting children’s centres, rural bus subsidies, disability benefits or a host of other more useful projects.

The Perry Beeches warning letter from the Education Funding Agency published on Maundy Thursday will just add fuel to the fire of those that worry about how MATs operate. Of course there were schools that broke financial regulations under local control, and even heads that went to prison for mis-appropriating public or parents’ funds. But, it would be interesting to know whether the trend towards financial mis-management is more likely in MATs with no geographical basis than those where they work closely with local authorities?

Who runs our schools could become the key battle of the 2016 local elections. If it does, there is no guarantee that the Tory programme for all schools to become academies will meet with universal voter approval.

 

Keep Primary Schools Local

Now is the time for all those that believe primary schools are best kept under local democratic control to take action.

Please email or write to your MP asking them to defend the present position and to stop the government forcing all schools to become nationally controlled academies.

If you go to church this weekend, lobby your priest, vicar, minister or other faith leader, since the Churches, and to a much lesser extent other faiths, have a large interest in primary schools. Contact your local councillor and find out their views.

This is not a new campaign on my part to keep primary schools under local democratic control. Before the budget announcement I wrote on this blog about the BBC announcement foreshadowing the nationalisation of all schools that:

The interesting question is whether there is enough unity in the Conservative Party at Westminster to agree to ditch their chums in local government and fully nationalise the school system. Local government won’t enjoy being left with schools places, annual admissions and transport plus, presumably, special needs.

As I have pointed out in previous posts it is difficult to see how a fully academy structure built around MATs can save the government money to spend on the front-line. It is also an open question whether there is enough leadership capacity to staff such a system. I predicted this outcome way back in a post in February 2013https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2013/02/ when I wrote that:

“a National School Service is quietly emerging, with Whitehall connecting directly to schools. Localism it may be, but not democratically elected localism. A national funding formula, administered by schools where the Secretary of State determines who will be able to be a governor, and whether or not new schools are needed, and who will operate them, seems more like a NHS model than a local school system.”

So, I welcome the support of a number of Tory local cabinet members from across the country for the view that local authorities should still to decide how local education works and retain a general oversight of education, rather than transferring such powers to Westminster; especially for primary schools.

I heard Melinda Tilley, the Tory cabinet member for Education in Oxfordshire, where I have been a Lib Dem county councillor since May 2103, calling the government’s move to academisation a ‘diktat’. This contrast sharply with the silence from Labour on the issue, but then it was Labour that invented the academy programme.

Primary schools are an essential part of local communities, some face immense challenges in serving those communities, and not all may achieve their best every year for a whole host of reasons. There will always be a need for a school improvement service, and primary schools have worked in partnerships for years before governments at Westminster decided a free for all market approach was better than cooperation. The fact that the market approach failed wasn’t the fault of local authorities; nationalisation isn’t the answer.

 

Regional recruitment patterns are still largely an unknown quantity

Easter is early this year, so, although the teacher conference season will undoubtedly discuss the issue of teacher recruitment and retention, the full implications for September 2016 won’t be known. This is because the main recruitment period for September vacancies is during April, and that is the period immediately after Easter this year.

No doubt, when the government has its free recruitment site up and running, as foreshadowed in the White Paper, they will be able to tell schools what the current position is regarding the state of play in the recruitment cycle.

Until then, schools and journalists may have to rely upon the data from TeachVac. One of the drawbacks with the current version of TeachVac is that the government has continually refused to provide data on a sub-national basis for the ITT census. As a result, TeachVac has only been able to provide a national figure for the rate of decline in the trainee pool. This lack of regional data in all but a few subjects has continued in the recently DfE’s published methodology document that accompanied the White Paper.

However, there was some ITT data at a regional level for mathematics in the methodology document. However, the data was only in the form of overall regional totals, so it hasn’t been possible to remove either Teach First numbers or School Direct Salaried trainees as TeachVac does in its other modelling processes. As a result, the data is less than helpful in respect of some regions, especially London, where the bulk of Teach First trainees are still located. Nevertheless, the rankings are interesting

MATHEMATICS  % LEFT
Yorkshire & The Humber 82
London 77
North West 75
West Midlands 72
ALL ENGLAND 69
South West 67
South East 63
East Midlands 59
North East 59
East of England 22

The 77% remaining in the pool figure in London is obviously an over-estimate, it might be closer to a percentage in the high 50% range once Teach First and School Direct Salaried trainees have been removed.

However the dramatic figure in the table is the fact that the trainee pool in the East of England might be down as low as 22%. This is even before a figure for School Direct Salaried and non-completers has been factored in to the dataset. The 22% might be an over-estimate because, in a few cases, a school uses the terms mathematics and maths in the same vacancy advert and where the school hasn’t directly entered the vacancy there is a small risk of double counting these vacancies. This just illustrates how complicated the government will find it to create their own version of TeachVac.

Since the publication of the White Paper, TeachVac has seen an increase in registrations from both schools, trainees and teachers. The more directly entered vacancies there are, the more accurate TeachVac becomes.

If you read this and know anyone that is either responsible for teacher recruitment or interested in the topic please do draw their attention to TeachVac. www.teachvac.co.uk There are helpful videos of how to register and, yes, it really is as simple as it sounds.

 

 

Try TeachVac: don’t waste money reinventing the wheel

For me, the most interesting paragraph in the White Paper issued today by the Secretary of State at

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/508501/430653_WL_GOVT_Educational_Excellence_Everywhere_-_print_ready.PDF

is paragraph 1.36 that I have reproduced below

Recruitment: we will reform the National College for Teaching and Leadership, ensuring that in addition to delivering our leadership remit, we are better able to design and deliver well-targeted incentives, teacher recruitment campaigns and opportunities that attract sufficient, high quality new entrants to the profession, including those who are looking to return to the classroom. To reduce the costs of recruitment for schools in a more challenging labour market, we will create simple web tools that enable schools to advertise vacancies for free and a new national teacher vacancy website so that aspiring and current teachers can find posts quickly and easily

The text in bold has been highlighted by me. This is because, as many readers know, I helped establish TeachVac last year to do this very thing.

Indeed, on the 7th March, during a visit to the DfE, I handed a civil servant a letter for the Secretary of State drawing her attention to TeachVac and asking that it be passed to Mrs Morgan’s via her Private Office. I have heard nothing since, presumably because to have replied might have compromised the White Paper. However, the fact that previous letters on this subject also went unanswered suggests the DfE wants to develop its own scheme. It is worth remembering that the last time they tried, it didn’t last very long.

As Chairman of TeachVac, I am happy to discuss saving the government money by demonstrating TeachVac to the DfE, NCTL, College of Teachers or indeed any other body that is to be charged with meeting the DfE’s aim in the White Paper. There really is no need to re-invent the wheel or waste money on something that already exists.

TeachVac has been growing rapidly this year and secondary schools using the system already receive information on the state of the market; this can be expanded to cover all schools very easily.

Our latest assessment of the trainee pool depletion rates for 2016 are reproduced below.

ITT pool numbers as of 17/03/16

Group ITT Number left % left
Art 503 404 80.32
Science 2604 1158 44.49
English 1940 913 47.09
Mathematics 2197 1205 54.87
Languages 1226 826 67.41
IT 498 316 63.45
Design & Technology 518 273 52.80
Business 174 61 35.34
RE 386 217 56.35
PE 1230 1004 81.63
Music 358 224 62.71
Geography 580 309 53.36
History 847 580 68.48

Now is the time for the remaining schools to sign up to TeachVac for nothing and show the government that this isn’t something that they need to re-invent from scratch.

As I have been monitoring trends in vacancies in schools at all levels since I started counting headships in 1983, I would be delighted to see schools able to save substantial sums of money on recruitment. After all, that was the aim of TeachVac and why is was free to use from Day 1.