Is there a headship crisis?

According to a story in The Times today, one in ten schools is losing its head teacher each year. Reading the headlines of the story, outside the pay wall, there are examples of schools advertising up to seven times to find a replacement and of schools without a permanent head for three years. Local authorities, still seemingly worth talking to about schools, even by this Tory supporting newspaper, tell of high turnover of heads and head teachers of small schools being enticed away to larger schools by promises of more money. All this makes for a crisis.

Between the early 1980s and 2012, I studies the labour market for head teachers on a regular basis. I stopped, partly because I didn’t’ think there was a crisis at that time and partly because I left my long-term database with my former employers. Since the establishment of TeachVac, I have gradually started to rebuild the data on leadership turnover and will report fully this time next year when there is sufficient comparative data.

A turnover of ten per cent isn’t, in historical terms, anything out of the ordinary, especially as some of the total will have been made up from head teachers required for new schools due to increasing pupil numbers and the 14-18 UTCs and studio schools as well as genuine ‘free schools’. Although there probably not as many of these as a previous Secretary of State might have wished.

For most of the early part of this century, re-advertisement rates for secondary heads were in the 20%+ range; for primary schools, the rate exceeded 30% in most years between 1997/98 and 2009/10, so re-advertisements are nothing new in the leadership market. Indeed, recruiters have made a tidy sum from encouraging schools to take ever larger and glossier advertisements on the basis of recruitment challenges. As regular readers know, TeachVac challenges this principle by offering a free service.

Any school seeking a new head teacher for September that advertises in January and runs a sensible recruitment round should have no problems recruiting unless it has one or more of the following characteristics:

It is a faith school,

It is located in London,

It is a small or very large school,

If a secondary school, it is single-sex or selective (or a secondary modern in a selective area).

Two or more factors and it needs to consider carefully how to recruit a new head teacher, especially if outside of the normal recruitment season from January to March where around 50% of vacancies are advertised each year.

Advertising outside the first quarter of the year, when fewer candidates are looking to move schools, is also often a waste of money, as is putting off candidates through the content of the advertisement or taking a long time over the process; candidates often apply for several posts and may be hired by another school if the process is too long.

Being a school in challenging circumstances has become more of a handicap as MATs and governing bodies seem to think the head teacher needs changing if there is a poor Ofsted report or a disappointing set of examination or test results. There are cases where a change of leadership is appropriate, but not, in my view, in every case.

Without a mandatory qualification for headship, it is difficult to know in details the size of the talent pool for future head teachers, something that should worry those responsible for the system at the EFA and NCTL, since a lack of supply will always drive up the price of a good or commodity and headship is no different to any other type of job in that respect.

At least some head teachers can look forward to recognition through the honours system, and I was delighted to see Professor John Furlong honoured in the latest list for his lifetime of work in teacher education. John, your OBE is a well-deserved mark of respect.




Unresolved issues

At this time of year, it is usual to look back and consider unfinished business that will stray over into 2017. I can think of a number of different issues where I hope there will be an outcome next year.

Firstly, I look forward to the publication of the ITT training numbers. This is so we can know whether the government has further reduced the targets, even though pupil numbers are set to increase. Any reduction would be a sure sign that times will be harder for schools in the future and that fewer teachers will be expected to be employed by state-funded schools.

Of course, lower training numbers also make it easier for the government to hit their training targets, as we have seen with the 2016 ITT census. Training numbers for 2016 were reduced and also Teach First was consolidated into the targets, reducing overall requirements. As I suggested in a previous post, education funding probably doesn’t yet worry parents as much as NHS funding and the time it takes to make a GP’s appointment. Until that changes, the days of generous spending on education will probably be over.

My second issue is the lack of a report by the Education Select Committee into teacher supply. The Committee opened an Inquiry in the autumn of 2015, but has yet to produce a report. An early report in the spring of 2016 probably became unlikely when the National Audit Office published their report on teacher training. The subsequent evidence session with civil servants in front of the Public Accounts Committee still sends shivers down my spine every time I think of it. That evidence session can be read from Question 50 onwards at and viewed at (7th March 2016 – use accounts as a search term on Parliament TV if the link doesn’t work).

Any report from the Education Select Committee in 2017 may well be different from one produced sooner, not least because of the changes in membership of the Committee. Many of the present membership may not have been on the Committee during the main evidence gathering period. This leads me to wonder whether there should be a finite timescale for any Inquiry by a Select Committee and how this Inquiry is placed in terms of long-running inquiries by such Committees where there hasn’t even been an interim report.

Finally, we are still awaiting the outcome of the deliberations of the Migration Advisory Committee on the status of teaching and Tier 2 visa status. The call for evidence closed in September and the Committee has now had more than three months to deliberate the evidence, much of which was in its possession well ahead of the closing date for submissions from outside bodies. As the 2017 recruitment round for September appointments starts early in 2017, agencies, schools and even possible applicants will be keen to know when they can expect a decision. In the light of improved recruitment into training in both science and mathematics and the probably tightening of school budgets, this will be a difficult call for the Committee.

Economic matters

An American President once said ‘the economy, stupid.’ Often that seems to be the case. Indeed, the austerity facing public services in Britain at present can partly be put down to the management of the economy in the first decade of this century. If governments cannot or will not raise revenue from either wealth or income and discount land taxes, then, unless the economy is growing strongly, they will be unable to expand public services, should they even wish to do so. There is also the argument that the State should not provide services for the many, but just a basic lifeline for the few, but we won’t go there in this post.

All this matters to education, as we have seen with the relatively parsimonious new funding formula announced by the government in the run up to Christmas. With adult social care, the NHS and other services probably ahead of education in the minds of many voters, it was always going to be a challenge to secure more funds for schools: especially, when rising pupil numbers mean more is needed in any case just to stand still. Finding even more cash for enhanced services did seem a bit like ‘pie in the sky’ at the present time.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how parents react to news that their children’s school might be having its budget cut, even by no more than a couple of per cent.  With no elections in London in 2017, save for by-elections, the government can probably weather the storm of protest in the capital.

Of more interest is the situation in the countryside where many small rural schools look like being losers. Indeed, a quick survey of primary schools in the Henley constituency, Boris’s old stamping ground, revealed that 35 primary schools might be losers under the new formula, while just ten would gain funds. Now, I am sure that the good burghers of the Chilterns and adjacent clay lowlands can afford to support their local primary school through some backhanded giving. But, I am not sure that was what they expected as the outcome from the new formula.

The alternative is to see a redrawing of the map of primary education in rural areas, with fewer larger and more efficient units based around market towns. To achieve this outcome, more pupils would be required to travel longer distances to school. The cost of this happily falls, not on the government, but on local council tax payers. Conservative County Councillors defending their seats in May 2017 will no doubt hope that school funding and the survival of village primary schools doesn’t become an election issue, along with grammar schools. For a revolt by parents in the Shires would be bad news for a government with a small majority at Westminster.

Watch for signs that the consultation on the funding formula isn’t going to plan and that the timescale for introduction is amended. If not, following on from cuts to rural buses, mobile library service, road mending, grass cutting and a host of other services, might 2017 be another year where the political map is redrawn?

Subject expertise

The DfE recently published an interesting document about specialist and non-specialist teaching in schools. The original can be found at

The DfE accepts that data collection methods currently mean it cannot link data about pupil outcomes directly to individual teacher’, as is possible in some jurisdictions, including, I believe, some US School Board districts. As the DfE note:

As a consequence of this data limitation, it is not possible to directly evaluate the impact ‘specialist’ teachers have on pupil outcomes by comparing them to ‘non-specialist’ teachers. This report employs a variety of analytical strategies to estimate the impact indirectly using school level data. New analysis of the impact of ‘non-specialist’ teaching presented in this report is therefore based on the proportion of ‘specialist’ teaching calculated at school level.

Now, there is a further difficulty about what determines a specialist teacher and especially the place of un-reported post-entry professional development. This is a direct consequence of the fact that QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) is not linked throughout a teacher’s career to a subject or even a phase of education. Thus a teacher qualified on a PGCE in physical education and with a sport science degree could take a second degree in say, physics, but this would not necessarily be recorded and they wouldn’t receive access to funding for a new teacher preparation course unless there was a specific government re-training initiative.

Some years ago, I looked into who was teaching mathematics at Key Stage 5. Some successful schools didn’t seem to employ teachers with mathematics degrees, but rather those with degrees in other subjects. This didn’t seem to affect examination results. So, an interest and liking for the subject may be an important ingredient in successful teaching, but in some circumstances it may not be enough as standards are raised. I guess I would struggle to teach English even at Key Stage2 now, because my knowledge of the technical underpinning of our complex language is limited, as this blog regularly displays to its readers. However, even with a degree in economics and geography I happily taught geography, including physical geography, for a number of years in a comprehensive school, although even now I am not sure I could still do so as the subject has move don so much since then.

Anyway, back to this interesting DfE report. Using their definitions ,the authors of the DfE report state that:

The available data show that for a suite of subjects the extent of ‘specialist’ teaching in secondary schools in England is comparable or higher than the international averages. The vast majority of hours taught in England to pupils in years 7-13 in most subjects are taught by teachers with a relevant post A-level qualification. In November 2015, the respective proportions were 88.9% for all subjects, 90.2% for EBacc subjects, 89.2% for Mathematics, 91.5% for English, 91.5% for History, 89.0% for Geography, 79.0% for Modern Foreign Languages, 80.2% for Physics, 88.8% for Chemistry and 95.1% for Biology.

This, of course, raises the question, why then don’t we do better at international tests such as PISA? Is it because we do different things. Or, is it that the 10% of teaching not taught be specialists has a disproportionate effect on outcomes?

Table 2 on page 23 of the report provides a useful timeline of changes in percentages of specialist teaching in a typical week. It confirms that in the aftermath of the recession most subjects reached their peak of percentages taught by a specialist. Since 2013/14, possibly due to the start of increased pupil numbers and the falling interest in teaching as a profession, percentages have started to decline in key subjects, most notably in Physics, where, form a peak of 83.3% in 2010/11 there had been a decline to 80.2% in 2015/16.

Table 4 is worth reproducing here in part, as it shows the proportion of hours taught in a typical week in November 2015 to pupils in years 7 to 13 by the highest relevant post A-level qualification of teacher using a matched database of teacher qualifications and the TSM subject mapping.

Subject Degree  BEd PGCE Other None Total
Mathematics 60.6 3.9 20.1 4.7 10.8 100
English 78.2 2.0 7.7 3.7 8.5 100
Any Science 87.3 1.9 5.1 1.1 4.6 100
Physics 66.9 1.8 10.4 1.2 19.8 100
Chemistry 79.2 1.2 7.8 0.6 11.2 100
Biology 86.9 1.3 5.8 1.2 4.9 100
Comb/General Science 90.8 2.1 4.0 1.2 1.9 100

The low percentage for Physics is especially noticeable. Presumably, it is even higher at Key Stage 3. The significant percentage of teachers of mathematics with a degree in a different subject is also worthy of note.

This post cannot do justice to the wealth of information in the report and I would urge those interested in the topic to read the full report as it repays the time taken, but not on Christmas Day.

We all do phonics now

An understanding of the place of phonics in early teaching seems to have become accepted practice among teachers.

The latest DfE publication of outcomes of phonic testing reveals that;

More than 4 in 5 (81%) pupils met the expected phonics standard in year 1 (6 year olds) in 2016, a 4 percentage point increase from 2015 when 77% of pupils achieved the expected standard. By the end of year 2 (age 7), more than 9 in 10 pupils (91%) met the standard in 2016, a 1 percentage point increase from 2015.

At the same time, under the new teacher assessment rules, there has been a fall in reported outcomes for the skill of writing. I suspect over the next few years there will be a real debate about the place of writing in early education. There is a role in helping to form and understand letters and also to develop the skill of communication. Will that last for the first ‘tablet’ generation? I suspect that children don’t see writing as an essential tool any more. It isn’t a skill they often see demonstrated in the home. Apart from writing your signature, when, reader, did you last pen a piece of script: possibly on your Christmas cards? This leads me to wonder about the future for written examinations? Not only will the memory test part be of less value, but if the handwriting skill isn’t seen as useful, what Twenty First century skills are we trying to test?

According to the DfE figures for England as a whole, being in small class at KS1 may help with reading, doesn’t seem to help with writing and makes no difference in mathematics skills achieved. Of course, none of this allows for parental help and the support of siblings. However, all the other features we know from past experience are repeated in the 2016 outcomes. Girls achieve higher scores overall than boys; pupils on free school meals achieve lower scores than other pupils, as do pupils with identified special needs at KS1. At this stage, those with English as a second language don’t do as well as native speakers, although we know that they can outperform as a group by later key stages.

The small sliver of good news for boys is that among pupils outperforming the expected standard in mathematics, boys outperform girls, but by a smaller margin than girls outperform boys in reading and writing. The other good news is that the gap between pupils on free school meals and other pupils continues to close, but at a slow rate of around a percentage point a year. With the living wage and assuming unemployment remains low, the number of children assessed at KS1 on free meals may well fall, making further reductions in the gap more of a challenge.

But, back to phonics. The gap between the best and worst local authorities, by end of year 2, is just eight percentage, points compared at a gap of 25% between the best and worst in writing. Sadly, Oxford, where I live, continues to perform badly, this despite five years of various interventions. The fact that these less well performing schools in Oxford will for the most part receive more funding under the new formula can only be good news, but not is the funds come from robbing cash from rural primary schools.





Banning teachers from work

In the light of the NCTL still seemingly not having published the overall targets for ITT numbers to be recruited for the 2017 entry into the profession, I thought would look at what was on their web site. The ITT data will, I assume, eventually have to come from a parliamentary question at some point in 2017.

Another aspect of the NCTL’s work is to conduct the hearings into misconduct by teachers and report the findings on their web site. If you like, the potential for ending a teacher’s professional life, at least in the United Kingdom. I estimate that there were just over 130 hearings reported so far for 2016; not bad for a profession with 500,000+ active members and a lot more with the right to teach in state funded schools. As a percentage of the profession, the figure is so small as to not be worth calculating.

However, one aspect worth recording is a large discrepancy in the gender of those facing misconduct hearings. Although the teaching profession is now predominantly female, in terms of the active population, misconduct hearings in 2016 related to close to three men for every women summonded in front of a panel. Many hearings are in absentia as the teacher doesn’t bother to attend to learn their fate. In these cases, they often seem to have left the profession, at least in this country. There have been some worryingly ill-prepared statements of facts in a small number of cases. In one case, even a court record didn’t really make sense, although whether that was the fault of the Magistrates’ Court or the case officer wasn’t clear from the judgement.

In two cases, both relating to male teachers, no finding was made as the facts were not proved. In the case of 14 male teachers and 5 women teachers where cases were taken out, the facts were proved, but no Prohibition order was made. In all other case Prohibition Orders were made. Sexual conduct or the viewing of pornography amounted to over a third of the reasons for issuing a Prohibition Order, although in a small number of cases, some historical in nature, no Order was made. The second most frequent reason for issuing a Prohibition Order was as a result of a successful conviction in a criminal case of a teacher. In some instances, this related to matters taking place at a school, in other not. There were a small number of cases resulting from actions to do with tests or examinations, that breached the standards required of teachers. The remaining cases were accounted for as a result of a variety of matters, including misuse of school funds.

Teachers from across the country were issued with Prohibition Orders, although relatively few from the midlands. All the cases relating to alcohol concerned teachers from the same region. Although most cases were of teachers that had worked in state-funded schools, some cases involved teachers that had worked in the private sector.

Clearly, head teachers under pressure and in charge of challenging schools need to be mindful of the extra risks associated with their role, as it is too easy to let the paperwork and attention to detail slip.

Young teachers, need to be aware of the need for appropriate professional boundaries with any pupil, of any age, especially in high risk situations. Beware the School Prom.

No doubt, these cases heard in public are the most extreme in nature and there may be others where a teacher has been warned of their conduct and it has stopped. By publishing the cases, the NCTL allows a body of case law to emerge and also a debate about issues such as where boundaries should be drawn. In all cases the Secretary of State, through a civil servant, has the final say in the outcome.


More Exclusions in 2014/15

The government has just published the latest data on exclusions, both fixed term and permanent. The evidence covers the year 2014/15. Sadly, it shows a rising trend in permanent exclusions in both the secondary and special school sectors. Secondary schools also had an increased rate of fixed term exclusions. These figures are disappointing for both these sectors.

As the Statistical Release comments:

The greatest increase in the number of permanent exclusions was in secondary schools, where there were 4,790 permanent exclusions in 2014/15 compared to 4,000 in 2013/14. This corresponded to an increase in the rate of permanent exclusions from 0.13 per cent in 2013/14 to 0.15 per cent (15 pupils per 10,000) in 2014/15. The rate of permanent exclusions in special schools also increased between 2013/14 and 2014/15, from 0.07 per cent to 0.09 per cent but remained the same in primary schools at 0.02 per cent.

The number of fixed period exclusions in state-funded primary, secondary and special schools has increased from 269,480 in 2013/14 to 302,980 in 2014/15. This corresponds to an average of around 1,590 fixed period exclusions per day in 2014/15, up from an average of 1,420 per day in 2013/14.

This means 170 more pupils per day excluded on fixed term removal from school, mostly for a day and 790 more permanent exclusions. So, around 1,000 more pupils weren’t being taught on any one day by the end of the 2014/15 school-year.

As to the reasons for exclusions, the Bulletin comments;

Persistent disruptive behaviour remained the most common reason for permanent exclusions in state funded primary, secondary and special schools – accounting for 1,900 (32.8 per cent) of all permanent exclusions in 2014/15. This is equivalent to two permanent exclusions per 10,000 pupils. It is also the most common reason for fixed period exclusions. The 79,590 fixed period exclusions for persistent disruptive behaviour in state-funded primary, secondary and special schools made up 26.3 per cent of all fixed period exclusions, up from 25.3 per cent in 2013/14. This is equivalent to around one fixed period exclusion per 100 pupils. Physical assault against an adult is the most common reason for fixed period exclusion from special schools – accounting for around a third of permanent exclusions and a quarter of fixed period exclusions in 2014/15.

It might be worth looking at whether better training might help in the special school sector, especially if a large number of the exclusions for assaults were on relatively new and inexperienced staff. The high level of’ persistent disruptive behaviour’ is also worrying. As school rolls increase and class sizes become larger, what might have been containable in a smaller class become unmanageable in the new larger group? Nevertheless, many primary schools do still manage not to exclude any pupils all year.

It is slightly surprising that Yorkshire & the Humber region that doesn’t generally have teacher recruitment problems should feature amongst the regions with the highest percentage of fixed term exclusions, whereas Outer London, beset by recruitment challenges, is amongst the lowest, but it schools are also among the most successful at GCSE. There are issues to unravel in these figures.