My talk to a Merchant Taylors’ Company Education Seminar

Yesterday, I  was privileged to be able to deliver a talk at a seminar arranged by the Merchant Taylor’s Company. This is one f the Livery Companies and education has always been a key part of their role ever since their foundation many centuries ago.  Below is the text of my talk.

Finding and keeping teachers: Is there an issue?

In the autumn of 2015, the House of Commons Education Select Committee launched an inquiry into the issue of teacher supply. Some 15 months later we still await their report and a lot has happened in the intervening period. For instance, we have had a report on the provision of new teachers from the National Audit Office and an interesting session of the Public Accounts Committee.

I am not sure whether the audience here today are prepared to await the view of the Select Committee or will rather share the NAO’s view that there is indeed an issue in teacher supply and retention?

That is the question I will attempt to deal with today.

Just over 30 years ago I started my study of the leadership labour market in schools. In the early 1990s, I added, firstly, a study of the trends in entry into teaching, and then a full analysis of the labour market for teachers. I regret that during the recession after 2008, I somewhat took my eye of the ball. However, since 2013 I have once again been studying in detail the teacher labour market in some detail.

The remarks in the remainder of my talk are based upon data collected by TeachVac, (the free job board I co-founded in 2013). I suspect some of you use it as a first port of call for mainscale secondary teacher vacancies and for those of you who don’t, we almost certainly collect the vacancies from your web site on a daily basis, assuming you post them there.

So what is the data from TeachVac telling us?

As far as secondary mainscale posts are concerned, subjects fall into three groups;

Group 1 subjects are easy to recruit throughout the year, such as PE and history;

Group 2 subjects become increasingly challenging later in the recruitment round, especially in London and the Home Counties; these include subjects such as English, IT and music.

Group 3 are the difficult to recruit subjects for most schools from quite early in the recruitment round. Subjects include physics, business studies, design and technology and in 2016, geography. However, we don’t expect geography to be a problem in 2017, largely because of improved recruitment into training in September 2016.

You will notice I haven’t mentioned mathematics. Here the overall numbers in training are at a level where most schools should have little problem filling September vacancies, but may struggle when it comes to an unexpected post to fill for January. However, this says nothing about the quality of trainees – a matter of concern that I often hear expressed.

So what can schools do about this recruitment issue? In one sense the government has taken a hand; well perhaps even two hands in “solving” any problem in the state sector.

  • One the one hand, many state funded schools are seeing budgets coming under pressure, despite the additional funds per pupil created by steadily rising rolls for the next few years, the pressures are as a result of government policies, not all of an educational nature, and may damp down demand for teachers.
  • On the other hand, schools have been encouraged to become teacher trainers and grow their own new teachers: Teach First, for schools in challenging circumstances, and School Direct for other schools, and not to overlook the opportunity to create a SCITT (School Based Teacher Training) group that has provided scope for schools to develop their own teachers for nearly a quarter of a century.

This approach to entry into the profession has created a headache for some schools. The DfE controls the total number of training places it is prepared to fund each year. The greater the number taken by schools likely to employ their trainees, the smaller the number remaining for other schools, including the independent sector and Sixth Form Colleges looking to fill a vacancy.

The issue that arises as a consequence is best exemplified in English. This is a subject where many schools find they have vacancies on a regular basis. As a result, it pays to be involved in the training of new teachers. By doing so, the school can obviate the need for an expensive recruitment round with all the inherent risks associated with such a process.

But, if the DfE accepts its responsibility for training for the sector as a whole, then it needs to ensure that its training approach provides for all, not just the schools directly involved in the training process.

In the autumn of 2016 just over 2,200 English graduates were recorded in the DfE’s ITT census as entering training as a teacher across all routes. Of these, a smaller number were left after removing those on Teach First, the School Direct Salaried route and adding an estimate for non-completers.

Even assuming a drop in recorded vacancies in 2017, due to budget pressures not offset by rising rolls, this number may not be enough across the whole of the recruitment cycle.

I don’t think there will be an issue for most schools in finding teachers of English for a September appointment, at least up to the end of the main recruiting season that lasts through into May each year. However, you may not want an unexpected vacancy for a teacher of English for January 2018. Such vacancies may be much harder to fill.

I have used English as a case study, because it is a subject where schools have taken to training the next generation of teachers in significant numbers. As I suggested earlier, there are other subjects, especially in some parts of the country, where schools may struggle to fill vacancies in 2017 and especially for January 2018, even at the present level of school-based training, due to a combination of other reasons.

So, what is to be done? I don’t want to trespass on Alison’s brief, but in an increasingly devolved system of schooling, someone has to take a lead.

  • If you want to treat schools as separate businesses, then each business will have to develop a staffing policy that includes training for new appointments. Such a market will be served by the private sector, but at a cost. That cost takes cash away from teaching and learning, as we have seen with spending on recruitment.
  • The other extreme is a completely managed system. Until the 1970s training, where it was thought necessary, was the responsibility of the employers, whether local authorities or the churches. Robbins, in his famous Report, moved the bulk of teacher training into higher education and pre-entry training became mandatory by the end of the 1970s for teachers in all state-funded schools and not just primary and secondary modern schools.

Well, we don’t have a role for local authorities anymore and the churches have a very different place in society compared with 50 years ago, so do we let schools go it alone on training or find some other model? One solution is for schools to group together in Multi-Academy Trusts that take responsibility for the training for all schools in the Group as one of their functions. After all, a MAT is basically little different to a local authority, unless, of course, you value local democratic accountability.

A local approach does have the merit that it ensures that trainees are roughly in the correct places to meet the demand from schools. After all, what the point of training new teachers in areas where there are a limited number of vacancies, especially if, as with many career changers into teaching, the new teachers are not mobile.

A second solution, currently being tested by the government, is to improve the skills of the existing workforce, especially in terms of subject knowledge. Whether the current programme for improving the skills of those teaching mathematics and science will be dealt a possibly fatal blow by the recent DfE paper on subject expertise and outcomes, only time will tell. Despite the findings of that Report, I have long been an advocate of ending QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) as a passport to teach anything to anyone at any level. It is only one step better than not needing any preparation for teaching at all.

We have a relatively young teaching force at present and as such professional development should be a key to retaining staff. Perhaps the most worrying DfE statistic of 2016 was the increase in wastage rates, not at the end of the first year of teaching, but after 3-5 years. Where these teachers are going and why, is a key question that needs to be answered. Some may be going overseas, into the rapidly expanding international school market, others may be of an age where they are taking a career break and yet more may be affected by pay, workload and morale, the three defining areas any government needs to pay attention to if it wants to avoid a teacher supply crisis.

Before closing, I just want to say a few words about teaching pupils with special needs. I think much has been achieved for such pupils, but in terms of training teachers, especially to work with those pupils with the greater degree of challenge, much still remains to be done. Training for teachers to work and lead our SEN sector seems to me to be far too haphazard at present. I believe such training must come after the acquisition of the basic skills of being a teacher, but in our fragmented, school-based world how that can be funded remains a challenge.

We are on the cusp of an exciting period in education, as we approach the 150th anniversary of state schooling in 2020. For most of the history of education, teaching has meant one teacher to one class. Anyone who has followed the recent debates about driverless cars or watched programmes about the new gadgets at CES in Las Vegas earlier this month will know how pervasive changes in technology are becoming in our lives. It would be irrational to think that in education technology will stop with the inter-active whiteboard. With more processing power in our pockets than ever seemed feasible a decade ago, the very notion of a five-day school week for 40 weeks a year may come into question, along with our accepted notion of one class: one teacher.

Such changes can have profound effects upon the need for labour in our education system. What will the learning team of the future look like? If Rip Van Winkle had gone to sleep when Forster passed his Education Act and then woken up today would schools be one of the few places where he might still recognise his surroundings and even feel at home?

In the later 1980s, the City, where we are today, experienced its ‘big bang’: out went the bowler hats and share dealing by ‘open outcry’, and in came computer trading and the end of the trading floor. Might education witness a similar revolution driven by technology and a spirit of entrepreneurship that Britain is so good at?

I don’t know, but I do know that our aspiration must be to achieve the best education for all our young people that is possible in a world where the market porter of the 19th century trundling his barrow or carrying Billingsgate’s fish on his head was replaced by the fork-lift truck driver in the 20th century. In the 21st century it is the software engineer that writes the programmes for the automated warehouse that companies must now recruit.

I may, perhaps, have strayed slightly from my brief, but at heart, I believe we do need to ensure not only sufficient teachers for today, but also for tomorrow’s world.

Thank you for listening.

 

 

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