Teacher Numbers and the consequences

Earlier today I did the round of several regional BBC radio stations talking about the latest TeachVac data on advertised vacancies for classroom teachers in secondary schools. I think it fair to say that he DfE were not impressed with our data.

Interestingly, the DfE also released the results of the School Workforce Census data for 2015 this morning. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2015

This survey is taken on a day in November each year. I am delighted to see that recorded vacancies and temporary filled posts in November 2015 were below those recorded in 2014, albeit the fall was from 1,730 to 1,430 in secondary schools and this was still the second highest number since 2010. This should mean that schools are finding it easier to recruit staff,

However, of more interest, is the worsening situation in terms of the percentage of teachers with no relevant post A level qualification in the subject that they are teaching that was recorded in several subjects contained in the School Workforce Census. Since schools can employ anyone to teach anything, this isn’t illegal. The change may also partly be down to how trainee teachers on School Direct and Teach First are recorded in the census data. There are also several different means of looking at this data.

Nevertheless, even with those caveats, it is worth noting that between the 2013 and 2015 census days, the percentage of those teaching mathematics with no relevant post A level qualification in the subject increased from 22.4% to 26.3%. In physics, another subject where very attractive bursaries have been available for trainees, the percentage with no relevant post A level qualification in the subject increased from 33.5% to 37.5%, an increase of 4.0% over three years.

In design and technology not only has there been a 4.3% deterioration in overall qualified teachers, this decline is despite a fall of 1,900 in the recorded number of teachers of the subject, so that the smaller workforce of 11,500 is now less well qualified on this measure than the 12,700 teachers recorded in the 2013 census. Not good news for a subject I maintain is vital in creating enthusiasm among the school population for many of our important wealth generating industries.

These figures come against the background where the total number of secondary school teachers was falling between 2014 and 2015, by around 4,000, this despite an increase of 800 in the number of unqualified teachers, many of who are presumably trainees.

There are clear age differences among the teaching force. Teachers under 30 account for 28.4% of FTE teachers in the primary sector but only 23.1% of secondary teachers. However, only 16.95 of primary teachers and 17.7% of secondary teachers were recorded as over the age of 50 when the census was compiled.

There has been some discussion about the growth in part-time working in the teaching profession. The figures for the census were 26.1% of primary and 18.2% of secondary teachers worked part-time. The percentage for the secondary sector may be higher than many imagined and might be worth exploring in more detail.




Schools and their pupils in 2016

Now that purdah is over the DfE can once again start its full range of duties. Earlier today the DfE published the results of the latest school and pupil numbers based upon the January 2016 census. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/532121/SFR20_2016_Main_Text.pdf

Overall, there were 121,000 more pupils in the system than in January 2015; no surprise to anyone there. However, even in the secondary sector there were 8,700 more pupils, reversing the long decline and marking the start of an increase likely to stretch well into the next decade.

There are some interesting statistics buried in the Statistical Bulletin, some of which may point to why the nation voted as it did last Thursday. The proportion of pupils with minority ethnic origins increased in the primary sector from little over 20% in 2006 to more than 31% in 2016; an increase of around a half in just a decade. For the third year in a row, the largest ethnic minority group were White Non-British at 7.1% of primary and 5.4% of the secondary school population and 6.3% of the total school population.

There are a lot more interesting nuggets buried in the tables. For instance, four shire counties each had more independent schools in them than in the whole of the North East region. The four: Surrey, Kent, Hampshire and Oxfordshire together accounted for 309 independent schools. Taken together two regions, London with 551 and the South East with 529, accounted for almost half of the independent schools in England.

Similarly, the three regions of London, The South East and East of England together account for 98 out of the 211 free schools, UTCs and Studio Schools in existence this January. Despite their potential for vocational education there were only six schools classified as free schools, UTCs or studio schools in the whole of the North East region: a truly divided country on these measures.

There is also a sharp divide in terms of free school meals, with regions in the north of England having above average percentages of pupils eligible and claiming and most of London, the Home Counties, East Midlands and South West having below average percentages. Inner London boroughs don’t share in this pattern, with some having amongst the highest levels of free school meals claimed in the country as a percentage of the school population. Tower Hamlets even exceeds the level seen in North East authorities such as Middlesbrough on one of the measures.

There was a slight fall in the number of infant classes with more than 30 pupils in January 2016 compared with last year, but the DfE admit the percentage of such classes still remains above the 2013 level, no doubt reflecting the pressure on school budgets.

Redbridge and Harrow had the largest average key Stage 1 class sizes at 29.5 each, closely followed by Slough, Richmond upon Thames, Birmingham and Sandwell. Rural areas in the north of England had some of the smallest average class sizes at Key Stage 1. As many of these have some of the smallest average class sizes at key Stage 2 as well it may pose interesting questions for the National Funding Formula, should the consultation still go ahead.





Hard Facts

Some things won’t change following last Thursday’s vote. The school population across most of England will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. Schools will come under more financial pressure, especially so if there is an economic downturn. Whether a new funding formula for schools will still be on the agenda in the short-term is a matter of ‘wait and see’. In a period of uncertainty, will Ministers want to provoke possible losers into action, especially if among the winners most will probably have voted overwhelmingly for a Tory government in 2015.

There is far more uncertainty over the direction of teacher supply. One the one hand, should there be a downturn in the economy and a resultant reduction in demand for graduates, teaching as a career should benefit, as it has done in the past during any downturn in the economy. On the other hand, teaching has depended in recent years on an increasing number of women choosing it as a career. Since many of them have partners that aren’t in education, how these significant others react to the economic and political scenes will be as important as how the teachers themselves react.

With a significant portion of the profession under the age of 40, we will know the exact proportion in a couple of weeks’ time when the 2015 School Workforce Census results are made public, it is the actions of the younger age groups of teachers that will be of most significance. Will they go or will they stay? To some extent this may depend upon whether the economic fallout from the referendum vote only has local implications for the economy of the United Kingdom or whether it helps trigger a wider slowdown across the world. My betting is on the former, with a crisis similar to that seen in South East Asia in 1997, but I might be wrong.

As part of the School Workforce Census data it would be helpful if the DfE could release the number of EU teachers granted QTS over the past five years. What countries they came from, what phase and the subject they are teaching and also where would also be useful information for those of us thinking about the future. ITT providers are making requests for 2017 allocations at this time, a process TeachVac www.teachvac.com is helping with for those that have requested data, but it would also help to know what other factors might affect the labour market in 2018 and through to January 2019 when the 2017 trainees are required to fill their share of vacancies.

There is also the question of how to handle the shortfall in expertise generated by up to four years of under-recruitment into training in some subjects. Does the DfE just leave it to schools to sort out, a favoured policy in the past by governments of all complexions, or does it look to a policy of CPD to improve the skills of those teaching subjects where they lack appropriate knowledge and expertise? Not to do so might be to abandon the challenge laid down by the retiring Chief Inspector of helping to close the attainment gap between the different sections of our nation. I support that aim and would not want it lost if education comes off badly in any turmoil during the next few years.


A new future

Waking up to the news that the United Kingdom has voted to leave the EU is a disappointment. Oxford, along with cities such as Cambridge and Bristol, was one of the few places outside London to vote strongly in favour of remaining. However, I am not surprised by the overall result. My previous post, on the speech by The Chief Inspector about the failure of our education system to provide an education for all, recognised the deep gulf that has opened up in England and parts of Wales between those that have gained the most across the board from the past half century and those that feel impoverished by the direction of travel the country has taken. This feeling of impoverishment and associated alienation has nothing to do with any economic benefits the region where they live may have received.

The irony is that those voting to leave the EU could in some measure be dependent upon those that voted to remain if the economic miracle those advocating leave believe can happen is now to come about. The entrepreneurial success of parts of the country must be broadened and deepened. To that extent the aim of a northern powerhouse is a good move, but 20 years too late.

On the more narrow focus that is of direct interest to me, I wonder what the outcome of the referendum will mean for the staffing of our schools. One scenario has lots of young graduates, the group that voted mostly strongly to remain in the EU, looking for teaching posts overseas. At the same time, the unknown number of EU trained teachers working in schools across England may re-consider their position here and also look either to return home or seek another post overseas. On the other hand, those from EU countries where unemployment is still high and where teaching pays less than it does here may wish to remain, if allowed to do so. In any teacher shortage that might develop it must not be the least advantaged that suffer the most, for access to a high quality education remains a universal right regardless of the political grouping to which we belong as a country.

A fall in sterling will be good news for independent boarding schools offering an education to those from across the globe, as it will become cheaper to study in Britain. For the same reason, universities may find attracting students from overseas slightly easier, although presumably once Britain leaves the EU all students from overseas will pay the same in fees.

Personally, I will continue to fight to ensure that Britain continues as an outward looking, tolerant and liberal society where Human Rights remain important. Education plays a large part in achieving this goal and it must be protected in any of the possible hard times ahead. I do not want to become a member of a vassal state of either the USA or China, instead of a full-member of the EU, should these superpowers use any period of economic uncertainty to harvest UK assets at a bargain price.



Education failure brings consequences

Sir Michael Wilshaw’s savage attack on the failure of the school system, and especially secondary schools failure to provide an effective education for children from disadvantaged backgrounds is not surprising in the light of some of his previous statements. Whether the government will take any notice is another matter: they should do so.

The Chief Inspector concluded his talk to the Festival of Education, held in the leafy glades of Wellington College, with the following comment;

“I came into teaching, above all, to make a difference to the lives of our poorest children. As Chief Inspector, I have attempted to show how the educational underperformance that blights the lives of disadvantaged pupils in reality beggars us all. Of course, the poor suffer the worst consequences. But we are all the poorer for their missed opportunities and wasted potential.”


I have every sympathy with that view, as indeed do the many hard working teachers that struggle on a daily basis to achieve miracles in many schools. It is interesting that in picking out his five reasons for failure he didn’t mention the changes made by the coalition government, such as the Pupil Premium and the introduction of free school meals for infant pupils that have tried to start reducing the gap.

His reasons for failure were distilled under five separate headings;

The political ideologies of both left and right

What he called the structural vandals

The constraining curriculum

And both poor teaching and poor leadership


I think the first, second and third reasons have similar elements to them as the final two are also related. But, the 1980s and 1990s were a long-time ago, indeed before most of the children in schools were even born. However, I think he is correct in saying that politicians too often concentrate on how to do things rather than a simple goal to achieve.


In Oxfordshire, after the dreadful Key state 1 results of 2011, the ‘every child a reader’ campaign had a simple aim; ensure every child could read. It didn’t matter what sort of school they went to or how it was organised, what mattered was that children were taught to read.  The campaign started by the Evening Standard in London had a similar aim.


Whatever the turmoil of the next few years may bring we must not lose sight of the need to reduce the education gap between different groups in society. Uneducated, unemployed and feeling unloved by their country is a recipe for disaster if it affects a large group of those living in England. Sir Michael is right, “educational underperformance that blights the lives of disadvantaged pupils in reality beggars us all”. We now have to live with the consequences.



Changing the Guard

One of the last vestiges of the coalition government is disappearing from the DfE. Sir Paul Marshall, the recently knighted Lib Dem donor and chairman of ARK, has announced his resignation from the DfE Board. Should you wish to apply for the £20,000 a year post – 24 days of work officially required, but probably more expected – you have until the 4th July. The advert is on the Cabinet office website at https://publicappointments.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/appointment/lead-non-executive-director-department-for-education/ I am sure you will need experience at a high level and need to be in sympathy with government proposals for education.

With a new Permanent Secretary, a new Chief Inspector and relatively new Head of OfQual, the Secretary of State will have a relatively new team around her. Of course, after Thursday and the resulting fallout, whatever the outcome of the referendum, there might also be a new ministerial team as well.

All these changes can mean the start of a new era for education in England, especially if they are accompanied by changes in personnel in the leadership of some of the associations representing staff working in the sector. Or, they could mean a period of uncertainty as the new team takes up the reins.

Nowhere may change be needed more than in the supply and training of teachers. The fig leaf of the NCTL, with its chairman without a Board; the recent unfavourable reports from the NAO and Public Accounts Committee about the training and recruitment of teachers; not mention a White Paper with lots of ideas, but short on detail, means this is an area that needs urgent attention.

The creation of the long-awaited National Teaching Service and a decision on what to do about a national recruitment site as well as a consideration of the future shape of the teacher preparation market all require urgent attention in Whitehall. It is interesting to note that in asking for bids from providers for the 2017 teacher trainee cohort the NCTL has required bidders, whether schools, higher education or private providers, to include evidence of local demand in support of their bids. TeachVac is offering a service to providers to help with the evidence they need. (Interested organisations should email data@teachvac.com).

An announcement on the next stage of the National Teaching Service must surely follow quickly after the ending of purdah if timescales for the service to be any use in 2017 are to be met. Of course, the cutting of funds for schools through increased NI and pension costs may reduce the need for teachers, as many any slowdown in the economy, should it arise for any reason, with the possible effect of making recruitment less of an issue than it has been over the past two years.

However, the fact that Ofsted are now apparently looking at recruitment issues in their inspections http://schoolsweek.co.uk/ofsted-judging-schools-negatively-for-teacher-shortages/ suggests action is being taken to consider what schools and MATs are doing about recruitment. As a result, schools being inspected will be in need of comparative data for their area and they should contact data@teachvac.com about what is on offer.

Needless to say, one defence must be: we could have recruited if the government had met its target in Design & Technology (or insert appropriate subject or phase), so it is not entirely our fault. But it will help to have the evidence.


Ministers and the Rule of law

The judgement of the High Court in the recent case concerning term-time holidays is now available for all to read at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2016/1283.html The issue itself is on the way to the Supreme Court, where it seems likely that they DfE may be joined as an ‘interested party’ to the case. That makes the remarks by the Minister of State, Mr Gibb, quoted by the Guardian on the 9th June that “schools should continue applying the current regulations that allow parents to be fined” all the more interesting.

The recent case turned on whether the pupil had ‘regular attendance’ as that is what primary legislation requires from parents that entrust their offspring to the state school system for their education. Parents, it must be noted, are not required to send children to school to be educated, but if they do so it must be ‘regularly’. There seems to be no similar legal penalty that appears to be enforced for those that decide to home school or educate their children in some other way than sending them to school and that issue may need to be looked at if the government loses in the Supreme Court and reconsiders the current legal position.

Under the ‘rule of law’ governments are bound by the actions of the courts. In England, our common law system is founded on the judgements of the courts, and especially the superior courts, and these decisions change legislation enacted by parliament, usually by clarifying them. This is often because the way parliament legislates can mean Acts of Parliament are badly drafted and not enough time is spent at the Committee Stage picking over the Bill during the discussions. Interestingly, the House of Lords generally does a much better job of scrutinising legislation that starts there than does the other chamber.

So, should a Minister tell schools to ignore the decision of the High Court? He certainly won’t be able to tell them to ignore the judgement of the Supreme Court even if he doesn’t like it and even if he intends to try and change the law in a new Act of Parliament. I wonder if it was ill-judged on his part to so strongly support the government’s current position on term-time holidays, especially as it is only backed by secondary legislation, when LORD JUSTICE LLOYD JONES at the High Court had said in the judgement on the recent case at paragraph 19 that, “the regulation does not have the effect of amending the statute. In my view, the nature and scope of the offence created by section 444(1) remain unchanged. In particular I would reject the suggestion that Regulation 2 has the effect that any absence without statutory excuse necessarily constitutes an offence under section 444(1).”[of the relevant Education Act]. On that basis, perhaps most parents who have felt hard done by where a fine has been issued will now take their case to the Magistrates’ Court and plead ‘not guilty’, at least until the Supreme Court has ruled in the matter.

Realistically, it seems to me that ‘regular attendance’ has to be looked at in the round. The common sense view would seem to be that where a pupil has a good attendance record and the time off for holidays doesn’t impinge on important learning activities it could be treated no differently to the similar outcome if a pupil suffered a common childhood illness or a severe bout of flu. Where a child has a poor attendance record, then the holiday might just tip the balance between regular attendance and a failure to maintain regular attendance. In this case because it seems from the judgement that the child’s parents were no longer together and the other parent had already taken the child out of school that year, one can understand why the Council acted as it did, even where the child had an otherwise apparently very good and regular attendance record.

It is important that any revision of the primary legislation must define what is meant by ‘regular’. That will be a challenge. However, with home to school transport there has been a clear distance definition for very many years, so, about attendance, it should be possible to say something like, unless the pupil is unwell or attending a medical or dental appointment the parent of a child where the parent has asked the State to educate the child will need to ensure the attendance at school of the child by the required time every day that the school is open for the provision of schooling.

Finally, I support the view that where an offence is one of strict liability, as attendance at school is deemed to be, then it needs to be clear exactly what is required; it isn’t at present. I also dislike fixed penalty notices as a punishment because they take no account of parental circumstances and bear down more heavily on those that are less well off.

Surely, the real solution is for parents to accept the need for pupils to attend all the time and for travel companies to seek out vacations that cost no more in school holidays than during term-time. But, that is easier said than done.