Recruitment round enters final stage

The end of May marks the traditional climax of the recruitment round for September appointments in schools. From this point onwards most existing teachers cannot change jobs for September. As a result schools must rely on the remaining trainees, returners and overseas teachers to fill any vacancies still remaining.

At TeachVac, the free recruitment site that is used by an increasing number of schools, teachers and trainees, we have been busy computing the results of the recruitment round so far in 2016 compared with last year.

Secondary schools that post vacancies receive the latest information about the market in that subject every time they post a main scale vacancy. They also receive monthly updates of the overall position in the newsletter posted on the TeachVac website. There is a similar newsletter for teachers.

The more detailed summer review is now being written and will appear by the end of June. It will summarise both our view of the recruitment round to date; prospects for the autumn term and the latest analysis of recruitment into training that will allow early predictions to be made about the recruitment round for September 2018 and January 2018.

TeachVac has always recognised that many primary schools don’t recruit often enough to make it worthwhile having a vacancy page on their website. For that reason TeachVac are launching a vacancy portal that will allow primary schools to use a school specific page within the TeachVac site on which to place their vacancies when they do arise. Simple to use, it will like the other key TeachVac services be free to schools and will provide interested teachers with a link to the school for more information.

At TeachVac we don’t see why anyone should pay for recruitment unless it is absolutely necessary. The basic service should be free. The DfE accepted this view in the recent White Paper, but we still have to see whether they will accept what is already provided in the market or spend public money creating a new system of their own?

Despite the stories of budget cuts and redundancies, TeachVac has recorded more adverts for main scale teachers so far in 2016 than in the first five months of 2015. Some of the vacancies reported early in the year may have been as a result of schools being unable to fill vacancies for January with appropriately qualified teachers. However, it is noticeable that vacancies advertised during May were little changed to the numbers advertised last year, especially the case in subjects where schools might struggle to find a teacher.

Location undoubtedly matters. There are large differences between parts of the north of England and London and the Home Counties in the average number of vacancies advertised per school. These regional differences really do mean that not taking location into account when allocating teacher preparation places can affect some schools’ chances of recruiting appropriately qualified staff with high quality subject knowledge.

 

 

 

Purdah causes more issues for education sector

The Report of the STRB doesn’t seem like the only activity at the DfE caught by the start of the purdah period for the Euro Referendum. I had been expecting the second stage of the consultation over the proposed new National Funding Formula to appear last week: it didn’t. ASCL’s interim general secretary commented in a press notice that ‘The timetable for the new funding formula was already very tight and this delay is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.’

The delay will affect everyone, since a three month consultation launched at the end of June will run to the end of September. Even allowing for a month for the DfE to respond to any consultation, even to say, having read the responses we aren’t taking any notice, it would be late October before action could be taken. That doesn’t leave much time for School Forum to respond and set any limits left to them to administer before the 2017 financial year starts in April. Of course an eight week consultation over the summer holidays and every decision controlled by the DfE might still allow a 2017 start, but it only needs some intervention either through the Administrative Court by way of judicial review from a school that loses out under the proposals or in the House of Commons for the timetable to be derailed.

There are also tenders, such as that for the next stage of the National Teaching Service that seem to have fallen foul of purdah. The delay shouldn’t affect the timetable for a 2017 start, but will reduce the planning time available for the successful bidder.

However, the DfE were able to publish the Wood Report and their observations on it before purdah started. The report suggests significant changes to the manner in which local authorities, the police and NHS, plus the departments at Westminster than oversee these bodies and fund them, will handle serious case reviews. This is another area where the lack of any logical framework for local government is causing problems. On the one hand the government want to re-introduce large urban counties under the guise of the Northern Powerhouse while seemingly sanctioning the continuation of small unitary authorities, such as those that govern the former Berkshire.

In respect of children’s services, there doesn’t yet seem to be a coherent framework that binds together local and regional requirements. Nationally, the arrangements between the Home Office (police) DfE (Children’s Services) Department of Health (NHS) and DCLG (funding of local authorities) seems even more tenuous that the local frameworks in the emerging MASH arrangements  – Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs – being put together in the more forward thinking areas. The lack of common boundaries between services in many localities probably doesn’t help. In education, the overall role of local authorities is sometimes hampered by the presence of large numbers of academies, especially in the secondary sector, where the handling of issues, such as missing episodes by pupils, may reflect the strength of the relationship between individual academies, their MATs whose headquarters may deal with lots of different local authorities and police bodies, and the MASH, if there is one.

Safeguarding children is rightly top of the agenda but whether managing from the DfE remains the correct approach is not considered within the Wood Report. There might be a case, either for a Ministry for Children, and not just a Minister or shifting responsibility to the Ministry of Justice to sit alongside the Tribunal Service.

Strikes in Kent?

Who would have though staff in grammar schools would consider strike action? After events in Lincolnshire earlier this year, it is now apparently the turn of grammar schools in Kent to discover that teachers can talk of strike action. According to the Kentnews.co.uk website http://www.kentnews.co.uk/news/strike_plans_at_three_grammar_schools_including_cranbrook_school_1_4543745 as many as three grammar schools in the county have staff considering industrial action. There seem to be two distinct issues; academy status and sixth form funding. The first issue is one all schools face, and it is difficult to see how staff at any one school can do anything more than delay the inevitable if the government still really wants a school system comprised entirely of academies. I suppose they could resign on-mass and take their skills elsewhere, perhaps into a free school working closely with the County Council.

The issue of sixth form funding is an important one for grammar schools, as it is for any school with a large sixth form. If the whole of Year 11 already transfer to the sixth form then there is little opportunity to increase the size of the sixth form except by attracting pupils from other schools, possibly to their detriment. At present, although pupil numbers are rising rapidly among the younger age groups, numbers are still falling among the oldest age groups in schools putting pressure on income from this age group.

Smaller numbers, plus a savage cut in the unit of funding, doesn’t make for a happy environment. School leaders have had to remove uneconomic subjects and increase group sizes with the resulting larger workloads in marking for teachers. And ‘A’ level marking has never been just a matter of ticking boxes. Thus, even where there is a teacher shortage nationally, there are tales of redundancies as a result of the pressure on the unit of funding alongside the increase in National Insurance and pension contributions.

Grammar schools generally don’t have many pupils with either an SEN background of eligible for free school meals. They might want to ponder whether working with local primary schools could help attract more pupils with these backgrounds that also bring more cash than other pupils. Perhaps a ‘fostering for grammar’ campaign in Kent might help more children in care enter selective schools. In Kent, there is also the un-accompanied young asylum seekers group of young people. In my experience many that take this perilous route are keen to achieve. Grammar Schools might want to see whether a first steps course for such individuals could pay dividends.

Essentially, in this market-driven world of education, being business minded can help overcome government policies that adversely affect a school. The alternative is just to implement the cuts and face the consequences.

Of course, in the past, collaboration between schools helped save minority subjects and allowed a broader curriculum to be available. When I was a sixth former, more years ago than I care to recall, the local girls’ school didn’t offer Chemistry at ‘A’ level and those that wanted to study it came to our school. Such collaboration needs a system working for the benefits of all, not the satisfaction of some.

 

Teaching attracts career changers

The data provided today by UCAS about the state of play with applications to the graduate teacher training programmes administered through them provides mixed messages. On the one hand, applications overall continue their upward trend: good news. On the other hand, young graduates, and especially young men, seem to be avoiding teaching as a career. There is a loss of 320 men under the age of 30 compared with the same point last year. However, that is more than compensated for by 420 more men over the age of thirty than applied last year, including 270 in their 40s or 50s., for a net gain of 150, or about 1.5% more than last year. We don’t know how these extra men are split between those applying for primary and secondary courses as that information isn’t provided.

The pattern for women is very similar to that for men, except that it is only the 22 and 23 year olds that are applying in smaller numbers than last year and then only by 180 overall. However, 770, of the just over 800 more applicants than last year, are in their 30s or 40s. The total increase is in the order of four per cent compared with last year.

With a greater number of older applicants than last year, it might be expected that those unconditionally accepted, or ‘placed’ to use the UCAS terminology, would be higher than last year. However, that isn’t the case. ‘Placed’ applicants are 320 down on the 3,340 recorded at this stage last year. There are also fewer holding interview requests and awaiting a provider offer. The good news is that the number of ‘conditional placed’ applicants is up from 19,420 to 22,590, a net gain of 3,150 applicants. I am sure everyone will hope that these applicants can meet the requirements over the next months and move from the ‘conditional placed’ to the ‘placed’ columns of the spreadsheet.

Although the numbers are small, there are fewer ‘placed’ candidates than last year in London, the South East and the South West regions, although all these regions have more ‘conditional placed’ applicants than last year.

In some subjects it is impossible to tell from the published figures how recruitment is faring compared to last year. However, it looks likely that mathematics won’t meet the required target number again this year unless there is a late surge in applicants. The same is true for computing and business studies. After a bad year last year, geography appears to be doing better this year, as is Religious Education. PE and history will rely upon retaining all their applicants with further recruitment closed.

Older applicants are more likely to be limited in where they will seek a job at the end of their training and once courses start it would be helpful to schools to know the age breakdown of applicants in their region or locality. It is also important to know whether more applicants are not lasting the course since the number of withdrawn applications is also up this year.

 

26th STRB Report awaited

You would think that the School Teachers Review Body (STRB) had a relatively easy task this year; set a 1% pay rise and go home. After all, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he of the ‘all schools will become an academy’ budget, has set 1% as the upper limit on public sector pay deals all the way through to the end of this parliament.

The Secretary of State issued her remit letter to the STRB on the 7th October 2015 with a request in the final paragraph that,’ I should be grateful if the STRB could aim to provide a report on this matter before the end of April 2016. I look forward to receiving your recommendations on the 2016 pay award.’

Clearly that aim was met. I apologise to the STRB for previously suggesting otherwise. According to  an email that their secretariat has sent me,  the 26th Report was sent to government on the 28th April.

The Office of Manpower Economics that services other government pay and conditions bodies produced the armed forces, NHS, doctors and dentists and senior civil servants reviews before the end of April and they were also published by government. It is true that it was only on the 12th May that the National Crime Agency Report appeared. That now leaves the STRB somewhat out on a limb, with a report submitted to government, but not seemingly published yet.

For academies, apart from the absence of useful national guidelines, the absence of an updated national pay and conditions document for September may be little more than an inconvenience as they can set their own terms and conditions and pay levels. For community and voluntary schools in England and almost all schools in Wales, the STRB report sets in chain a sequence of events that lead to the publication of the Pay & Conditions document.

Although former requirements, such as an annual increment, have been abolished, pay rates normally change from September and historically that meant advising on pay for the forthcoming years before schools set their budgets. That hasn’t been possible this year for schools funded via the local authority route with an April to March financial year, although it is still possible for academies where there is a budget cycle that matches the school-year. Nevertheless, even here, time is running out if the STRB were to produce anything innovative in their Report, such as addressing the recruitment and retention crisis in London by upping the pay rates by more than 1% and compensating elsewhere.

Hopefully, the report will appear before there is any chance of it being caught by the purdah rules ahead of the referendum next month, but time seems to be running out. It would be good to at least have an expected date so we can know what the STRB’s view is on the current state of recruitment and the suggested solutions to the problem that they have devised.

 

Will climate change improve school attendance?

While the furore about the issue of pupils being taken on holiday during term-time was hitting the media the government published the annual data for overall school attendance during the autumn term of 2015 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-term-2015

Whether it was a direct consequence of the mild autumn last year or due to other factors isn’t possible to determine from the published data, but the percentage of days lost dropped during the autumn term of 2015 in both the primary and secondary sectors. Overall, primary schools averaged 3.6% of sessions missed, with secondary schools averaging 4.6% in the autumn of 2015. This compares with 4.1% and 5.5% of sessions missed during the autumn term of 2011, in primary and secondary schools respectively.

In 2011, 74.8% of pupils missed at least one session due to absence, whereas in 2015 the percentage was 72.3%, the lowest recorded during this period. Just over two thirds of pupils had an authorised absence, whereas it was around one in five that had at least one unauthorised absence during the autumn term. There was little change in the percentage of pupils arriving late over the five year period, with fewer than one in 25 not making it on time. With all the pressures on family life, this seems like a great achievement in meeting deadlines which in some cases involve several different schools for the same family.

The number of sessions lost through illness was the lowest recorded during any autumn term during the past five years, even so it amounted to 3,664,030 sessions. This compared with a peak of 4,100,750 sessions lost to illness during the autumn term of 2012. Dental and medical appointments accounted for the second highest percentage of lost sessions. I wonder whether a seven day NHS will help reduce this lost schooling even further as it remains stubbornly high at nearly 19% of absences.

Authorised family holidays have fallen between 2011 and 2015, from 6.4% to just 1.1% of absences, whereas unauthorised holidays have increased from 2.9% to 4.2%. Overall, the number of pupils losing time through holidays dropped from 571,260 in 2011 to 343,625 in 2015, with the largest drop in the number of pupils allowed to be absent for an agreed family holiday.

The timing of certain religious events can affect the figures and the number of pupils with at least one day lost for religious observance increased from 78,000 in 2014 to more than 467,000 in 2015 beating the 427,000 total reached in 2013.

If warm dry weather improves school attendance, then this argues for a longer winter break and a shorter summer holidays. Such a pattern might also save schools money on heating bills, but would certainly put pressure on family holidays if more children were trying to go on holiday over a shorter period of time. Perhaps more cruise ships is one answer, with family cruises during the summer holidays using ships from the southern hemisphere that might otherwise be under-filled during their winter months.

W(h)ither UTCs?

This month the Education Funding Agency has issued financial notices to improve to two University Technical Colleges; Daventry and Buckinghamshire. Interestingly, both are cited in a recent House of Commons Library briefing paper on UTCs (No 07250 issued 15th March 2016) as having relatively low recruitment figures in their early years of operation. Indeed, Daventry, according to the local newspaper, is currently considering moving from its current 14-18 UTC model to become an 11-18 school, presumably to boost numbers and help with school places in the area.  Nationally, three of the first 41 UTCs have either closed or are in the process of doing so, as are also some of the other 14-18 Studio Schools. However, a further 20 UTCs are in the planning stage.

So, might UTCs be set to become the ‘De Lorean’ of the education world; a good idea, but not financially viable? Having visited the Didcot UTC recently, I can see the attraction of the concept as supported by Lord Baker. But, they do run into a number of challenges. Firstly, changing school at 14 isn’t a normal part of the school scene, so the UTCs have to persuade young people and their parents that the change is worthwhile. Secondly, the schools that they are departing from will lose cash for every pupil that transfers. After four years a school losing ten pupils a year could be £200,000 down on income, but still be trying to offer the same curriculum to its remaining pupils. Lose twenty pupils a year and the cash burn is even more concerning. Some schools might fight to keep their pupils or only be interested in losing those that cost more to educate than they generate in revenue.

As each UTC has its own brand, there isn’t even a coherent national offering and some UTCs may look more attractive to pupils with an interest in vocational courses rather than academic prowess. This raises the question as to whether or not these pupils could have been more cost effectively educated by the further education sector. Certainly, a school that gains a reputation for only educating part of the ability range is less likely to flourish, especially if that part is the less able group. UTCs are also probably not helped, especially in rural areas, by the fact that there is no support with transport costs unless the UTC is able to provide assistance. This isn’t an issue in London, where TfL provides free transport for all school pupils, but it is in the rest of the country where the cost of attending a UTC may run into several hundred pounds a year compared with staying put at the school you joined at eleven.

The government will need to work out how to make UTCs a success if they want the concept to flourish in the manner that Lord Baker intended. This will be a challenge while the government continues to believe in the market approach to education. Funding these schools differently to other schools would result in cries of ‘foul’ from the school losing pupils at 14, but as we have seen with Daventry and Buckinghamshire, the risk of not doing so is that the UTCs will struggle to maintain financial solvency, especially as they are operating in areas of the curriculum with above average teaching costs in both revenue and capital terms compared with say an arts based curriculum.  ln a school offering the full curriculum, expensive subjects can be balanced with less costly ones. Alternatively, if you are a free school, you can opt only for a cheap languages and arts subject curriculum and eschew the expensive science and technology areas, however useful they might be to the national economy.

Unless there is a real desire by government to make the UTC idea work for the 14-18 age group the concept seems potentially at risk of becoming like Lord Baker’s earlier foray into this area, City Technology Colleges, doomed to be little more than a sideshow in the educational fairground.