Who was right?

Four years ago, in August 2013, I wrote a blog post entitled ‘STEM subjects lead retreat from teaching’. Shortly afterwards a DfE spokesperson, helpfully anonymous, was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying of my delving into the then current teacher training position that there was no teacher shortage, adding ‘This is scaremongering and based on incomplete evidence.’ Well, four years on and the sixth year some training numbers are going to be missed, I wonder how we might view that exchange in the light of subsequent events.

Of course, in some ways, the newspaper article said more about journalists and the need to identify both sides of a story than about the real situation regarding recruitment into training at that time. Did the Daily Mail journalist check whether the DfE spokesperson was doing anything more than trying to put the government in a good light? Did they ask what the complete evidence showed or did they just print the DfE line? I cannot now recall exactly what happened, but I don’t remember being presented with any DfE evidence and asked how it challenged my thoughts and comments.

Making statements about teacher supply that show governments up in anything but a perfect light is never going to make one popular, even with the Party you belong to, and especially when it is in a coalition government. However, to be fair to officials at the DfE, the press office line was replaced by the only Statistical Bulletin ever issued in August containing the final allocations into training through the various routes, although at that time Teach First was still being excluded from the overall totals, much as employment based routes had been earlier in the century. Happily, Teach First totals now appear in the national data sources with regard to numbers being prepared to achieve qualified teacher status. I hesitate to say, prepared to teach since they are in classroom from September, albeit after an extensive and demanding summer school. The publication of those allocations allowed a debate about the number of offers identified through the recruitment process and the decisions about how the training place totals were reached that probably helped David Laws to agree to publish the DfE’s Teacher Supply Model and its working for debate when he was the Minister responsible for that aspect of the DfE’s work. We now live in a much more open culture, although the UCAS data is still being presented in what might be regarded as a less than helpful manner.

As I write this blog, a second journalist has been in contact with me this summer about the position schools will face this September with regard to staffing: editors are clearly looking for the start of term story for 2017 after the examination outcomes have been fully discussed. As I have made clear for some time, 2017 is likely to have been an easier recruitment round than last year, partly due to funding pressures, but also because recruitment into training was higher than in the previous year.

As I have also made clear, 2018 looks as if it will be a more challenging recruitment round for schools if teacher preparation numbers turn out as I expect this autumn. Of course, the current advertising campaign and the millions of pounds being invested in recruiting teachers from overseas might tip the balance and, suddenly, there will be a surfeit of Physics teachers, but then teachers might also be paid more than 1% in a pay rise. We can always hope.





2 thoughts on “Who was right?

  1. Your point about journalists checking statements from the DfE (or any other gov department) is pertinent. When the 2009 PISA results came out in Dec 2010, none of the national media (including the BBC) checked the DfE claim that the UK had plummeted down international league tables in ten years. This wasn’t true – the OECD expressly warned that NO comparison could be made between results published in 2010 and those published in 2000 because the latter were flawed. This warning appeared in the second paragraph and footnote of the UK briefing paper ‘Viewing the UK through the prism of PISA’ https://www.oecd.org/pisa/46624007.pdf The DfE couldn’t claim ignorance because its press release quoted from the briefing.

    The Daily Mail’s coverage of the 2009 PISA tests was the subject of my first Local Schools Network article. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2010/12/state-education-suffers-from-biased-media-coverage I wrote:

    ‘Mr Gove is using these discredited [PISA] figures to push through his radical reforms. The attempt to change our education system is based on distortion and lies.’

    It took two years before the UK Stats watchdog criticised DfE use of the data. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/10/statistics-watchdog-expresses-concern-about-dfe-use-of-the-pisa-2000-figures By then it was too late – Gove’s reforms were well underway. The ‘plummeting down league tables’ myth had taken root and used to justify these reforms. And the myth hasn’t died. Nick Gibb repeated it in the Commons in July 2016. The DfE claimed he had used the data ‘inadvertently’. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2016/08/exclusive-schools-minister-inadvertently-gave-faulty-data-to-mps-dfe-says

    I am not convinced.

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