Does education planning still matter?

Recently, I attended a meeting where the discussion turned at one point to the notion of education planning and identifying the needs of the service for the future. Planning hasn’t had a good press in recent times, with the market principle sometimes being seen as the dominant approach to outcomes: think, the debate about parental choice.

In the early days of this blog I discussed the issue of planning after the publication of a National Audit Office report into pupil place planning. In the light of the discussion in the meeting this week and the fact that a visitor to this site unearthed the original earlier today and thus reminded me of its existence I thought it was worth a second appearance four and a half years later to see how well it had lasted as a piece. You, reader, must decide.

Planning School Places: More than just about the numbers

Posted on March 18, 2013

On Friday 15th March the National Audit Office issued what can be seen as a critical report about capital funding for primary school places in England

The media, as might be expected, latched on to the fact that 250,000 extra places will be needed by September 2014, with a further 400,000 required by 2018, rather than the more technical discussion about the manner in which places are funded, and the value for money associated with the process. The figures for pupil places required are not new, although the shortfall still remains too large, and until recently hasn’t been treated with any degree of urgency at Westminster.

More important than the numbers is what can be read into the Report about the two competing ideologies in British politics – on the one hand, the market as a mechanism for solving all problems; and on the other some form of state planning. The post-war period has been marked in many parts of the public sector by a shift from a planning-based approach to public policy to a more market-based approach. The current generation of think-tank and policy research probably don’t realise that in September 1939 when DORA was introduced overnight (Defence of the Realm Act), using the experiences gained during the first World War, Britain became one of the most controlled and planned societies in the world: today planning is a concept that often seems to have a bad name in public sector policy, especially in education. However, the NAO Report ought to mark a reappraisal if not a turning point in the debate.

In the private sector, future planning is an integral part of every successful business. Just consider the fate of either those retailers that didn’t plan for the effect of the internet on their customers or the train operators who have failed to cope with a record growth in passenger numbers. Without planning comes not just chaos, but also inefficiency and public disappointment that eventually can lead to a sense of dissatisfaction with politicians. Now of course, planning isn’t an exact science, and bad planning can result is poor outcomes for society. But, planning for school places ought to be a basic part of the management of our education service.

Part of the reason for the failure in dealing with provision for the current upswing in the birth rate is undoubtedly the breakdown of the arrangements for controlling schools that stared a quarter of a century ago with the Education Reform Act, and site-level  management of schools. When the Labour Government invented sponsored academies to take over failing schools they destroyed many of the remaining education planning frameworks without making clear what would replace them. With Westminster and Town Hall both either unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility, there has been a sense of drift and ‘passing the buck’ rather than of co-ordinated planning: hence the NAO’s concerns about both numbers and value for money.

One outcome will be that parents in many areas are now faced with Hobson’s choice over what school they can send their child to, and the notion of parental choice will become, like the red squirrel population, restricted to ever smaller areas of the country, at least for the next decade.

Those parents whose children are starting school in locations where selective education still divides children at eleven might also want to consider how their secondary school system will cope with the increased numbers, and whether a system designed in the Nineteenth century for the few fits the educational needs of the many in the Twenty First century, one where all students will be expected to remain in learning until they are eighteen, irrespective of parental income or status.

From my perspective, however we procure the school places, and that might be through a market based approach, the State has a duty to ensure all pupils have a school place available to them that is not an unreasonable distance away from their home and doesn’t demand they attend a school that has an ideology or teaching methodology objectionable to their parents. To fail in planning for this basic task, while still requiring parents to send children to school, if not educated elsewhere, under pain of the criminal law, is a basic failure of government that is unlikely to go unpunished at the ballot box; although whether the right tier of government will shoulder the blame only time will tell.

If the provision of school places isn’t at the top of Minister’s agendas at present then it ought to be. There may be more fun tasks, but concentrating on the basics must now be top of both Ministers and officials ‘to do’ lists. History will judge a Secretary of State harshly if he or she as steward of our state education system fails to provide enough school places during the next decade.



Free for all in ITT

Yesterday the DfE released the results of the operation of the Teacher Supply Model for 2018/19. These results will underpin the number of new entrants into the teacher labour market in September 2019 and January 2020. The suite of documents about the TSM can be found at: where there is also information about the allocations of the ITT places.

This year, yet another methodology is being tried to fill as many of the 19,674 secondary and 12,552 primary postgraduate places the TSM has identified as being required to maintain the overall stock of teachers in the 2019/20 labour market. Firstly, subjects have been protected in the TSM at no less than the number in the previous TSM. This affects biology, chemistry, classics, computing, geography and religious education. In all other subjects there has been an increase in numbers, albeit in the case of history, just an additional 20 places.

The second change has the potential to be more daring and far reaching. Overall the government received 73,100 bids for allocations, including from Teach First, for the 32,226 places identified as needed in the postgraduate sector by the TSM. The government has allowed providers not only to recruit to these places but, as mentioned in an earlier post about the allocations methodology published in September, to recruit beyond the number of places they have been allocated in all except primary and physical education. Even in physical education, where the TSM had an indicative number of 1,078, an increase of 79 places, the cap has been set at 1,300 places. I was provided with a rationale for this state of affairs, but as it was an off the record meeting, I cannot provide that explanation here. Suffice it to say, schools should still be able to use surplus PE teachers to fill vacancies in other subjects for September 2019.

This open enrolment policy is radically different from the rigid recruitment controls policy of a couple of years ago, and marks yet another attempt to fill as many ITT places in as many subjects as possible by trying a new approach. Should either Brexit suddenly cause a hiccup in the economy or a recession appear for any other reason, the government does retain reserve powers to intervene. While I would like the need for intervention to be required, as it would mean sufficient teachers were being for the needs of schools, intervening in the middle of a cycle might have other unintended consequences.

Interestingly, although Teach First can presumably recruit as many entrants as it wants and is able to, its allocations are only for 1,750 places, including 354 primary and 90 early years.

The 4,554 secondary School Direct Salaried places allocated looks an especially ambitious number if the number recruited this year turns out to be little more than 1,000. Generally, higher education and SCITT providers seem to have been more realistic in their application for places, with schools again being enthusiastic about how many places they can fill. Whether applicants will share the same enthusiasm for schools we will start to know from now onward, as applications through UCAS open. This should be another interesting recruitment round.

Talk to APPG October 2017

Recruitment and Retention of Teachers – the current position


This paper covers three areas

  1. 2017 recruitment round and January 2018
  2. First thoughts on 2018 recruitment round
  3. DfE Vacancy Service as foreshadowed in the 2016 White Paper and the 2017 Conservative Party election manifesto
  4. 2017 recruitment round and January 2018 appointments

In the period between January 2017 and the 20th October TeachVac has recorded some 3,000 more vacancies for classroom teaching posts from secondary schools in 2017. We don’t have the resources to delve into whether there were more re-advertisements or more vacancies placed by independent schools or whether the majority of the increase were from schools in areas where school rolls have started to increase.

Apart from Religious education, where a small fall was recorded, other subjects were all the subject of increases with art rebounding from a low level in 2016. Design and Technology, business and IT recorded relatively small below overall average increases, whereas some EBacc subjects recorded above average increases.

There is an interesting question around mathematics and the science subjects where the increase in both subjects was just under the overall average. TeachVac collects extra data in both these subjects as well as in design and technology and languages that allow further understanding of the labour market across England.

The remainder of this paper is available on request from TeachVac


A tale of two schools

Earlier this year Ofsted rated two secondary schools in the same county as inadequate. Their inspection reports are on the Ofsted website. One school was a community school; the other an academy. What happened next?

As a community school, the local authority was required to undertake an exercise about the future of the school, including the option of closing it. Whatever the outcome, the school would become an academy. As this happened just after the county council elections in May, the new Cabinet Member swung into action, working closely with officers to assist the school with its own recovery plan. There was a rapid change of head teacher and a general tightening up of standards and procedures. At the same time, a search was instigated for a nearby-by school that could partner the school as an academy in a multi-academy trust. With goodwill all round, the school looks set on a good future with the local community and parents backing its continued existence. Whether making the school an academy is helpful only time will tell.

The other secondary school is a faith school that is already an academy. It sits in a multi-academy trust with a number of primary schools of the same faith. Eighteen months ago it was placed into financial special measures as a result of misunderstanding about how much money it would receive ahead of changing to an all-through school and starting a primary department. The rules are different for existing school changing age range than for the creation of a new school. The school has had a high number of permanent exclusions, despite being a faith school, and appears to top the list of schools with the largest number of permanent exclusion in the county over a three-year period. Recently it has logged some of the worst GSCE Mathematics results in the provisional totals for 2017 outcomes that appeared in the local press. The school also has a very high percentage of days lost through persistent absenteeism, sufficiently high to place it well into the upper echelons of the national table for such outcomes. The head teacher has, of course changed. As an academy, it is up to the Regional School Commissioner and his Board to decide what to do with the school. The RSC has guidance from the DfE’s document on guidance on schools causing concern. Chapter 2 deals with academies causing concern. Between May and July there was no record of the relevant Head Teacher Board discussing any performance issues at any school in the region in the minutes of meetings and they also don’t seem to be note Ofsted decisions about academies rated as inadequate at any of their meetings.  They may be reported to sub-boards, but those minutes appear not to be public documents. The RSC has the power to take drastic action, including re-brokering the academy and in extremis effecting its closure. There was no requirement for a public consultation about the future of the school.

So, here we have the two governance systems dealing with the same problem:  a secondary school deemed inadequate. In one case, what happens next takes place in the full glare of publicity; in the other case, behind closed doors, where it is difficult to see if anything happens? It would be interesting to see how many parents have chosen to withdraw their offspring from each school since the Ofsted judgement?

How transparent should these issues be? In the world of local government, schools can less easily hide: in the case of academies, the new system of governance seems far too slanted towards secrecy and a lack of public accountability, let alone public consultation.


Absence rates

The moveable feast that is Easter might have caused the end to the downward trend of pupil absences during the first two terms of last year. In 2017 Easter was a couple of weeks later than in 2016. A date in April, when the weather is better, might well have caused part of the upward movement in unauthorised absences, due to family holidays. No doubt going a week before Easter would be cheaper for families and might be worth the risk of a fine across the whole cost to the family. The uncertainty earlier in the year, before the Supreme Court ruled in the Isle of Wight case might also have persuaded some families to take an autumn break during term time.

Nevertheless, it is worth wondering whether the downward trend that started in the mid-2000s might well be levelling off. The increase in secondary pupil rolls over the next few years could well contribute to an upward trend, especially if schools struggle to keep all these extra pupils in lessons. No doubt, better recording of absences and missing episodes during the school day, will also contribute to the overall figures.

The DfE continues to make it harder to pinpoint actual schools in the data, by no longer publishing their names in the tables: researchers have to use the URN or other identified to work out where schools are placed in the tables. Undoubtedly, 14-18 schools, such as studio Schools and UTCs often come out badly as they have the year groups where unauthorised absence is often at its highest.  It is worth looking at their trends over a period of two to three years to see if there has been any improvement.

Perhaps the most worrying fact in the DfE Statistical Bulletin is that the percentage of enrolments in state-funded primary and state-funded secondary schools that were classified as persistent absentees in autumn/spring 2016/17 was 10.4 per cent. This is slightly higher than the equivalent figure of 10.3 per cent in autumn and spring 2015/16. Again, the upward movement might partly be down to the different Easter dates. Nevertheless, one in ten pupils classified as persistent absentees must be a concern even though the definition was changed a couple of years ago. In some schools, the figures is much higher. Interestingly, the schools with the greater percentage of unauthorised absence doesn’t seem to be an inner city school but one located in a large market town: the sort of town one might expect to have relatively low levels of such absence.

As the DfE Statistical Bulletin points out, Illness remains the most common reason for absence, accounting for 60.1 per cent of all absences. The percentage of possible sessions missed due to illness has remained the same since last year at 2.7 per cent. But, it was a relatively mild winter. Pupils in national curriculum year groups 10 and 11 had the highest overall absence rate at 5.8 per cent. This trend is repeated for persistent absence.

Pupils with a statement of special educational needs (SEN) or education healthcare plan (EHC) had an overall absence rate of 7.1 per cent compared to 4.2 per cent for those with no identified SEN. The percentage of pupils with a statement of SEN or an EHC plan that are persistent absentees is more than two times higher than the percentage for pupils with no identified SEN.



Big week for the outcome of 2018 teacher labour market

The All Party Parliamentary Group for the Teaching Profession holds its autumn meeting and AGM at Westminster tomorrow afternoon. Among topics on the agenda are an update from Dame Alison Peacock, head of the College of Teachers a discussion of the state of recruitment and retention of teachers and the progress made by the DfE on the idea for a National Vacancy Service, as reported in a previous post on this blog.

This week the DfE should publish the overall ITT numbers for 2018 entry into teacher preparation programmes, as identified by the Teacher Supply model and UCAS opens the 2018 application round for graduate courses – except Teach First – on Thursday 26th.

As the National College has bowed to the inevitable and is allowing unrestricted applications in all graduate recruitment areas except for primary and physical education, the closeness of the two dates shouldn’t matter. However, some primary providers will need to watch that they don’t exceed their allocation, especially if overwhelmed by an early rush of applicants.

Re-reading the NCTL 14th September document on the methodology behind the allocation of ITT places, two things struck me. Firstly, unrestricted allocations are a tacit admission that it will be challenging at best to meet the Teacher Supply Model suggested numbers and secondly, the battle between awarding quality and matching regional need has been resolved by the government abandoning either position in favour of a ‘free for all’. Whether this will help areas like Suffolk, and the East of England generally, train more teachers is a moot point. The National Audit Office Report of 2016 identified the East of England former government region as having the lowest number of training places per 100,000 pupils. In some subjects there have been no training places in the south of the region. will that change now?

This new approach might seem like a complete turnaround from the brave new world of the Gove era when the then head of the NCTL, Mr Taylor, said at one of the last North of England Education conferences in January 2013 that:

In the future I would like to see local areas deciding on the numbers of teachers they will need each year rather than a fairly arbitrary figure passed down from the Department for Education. I have asked my officials at the TA to work with schools, academy chains and local authorities to help them to devise their own local teacher supply model. I don’t think Whitehall should be deciding that nationally we need 843 geography teachers, when a more accurate figure can be worked out locally.

(DfE, 2103)

Now, it seems that would-be teachers will decide by selecting where they would like to train and providers can accept them. In reality, the number of schools willing to take trainees on placements, especially if School Direct continues to decline, will be one limiting factor. The other will be the willingness of providers to risk allocating staffing to create extra places above what they have planned. Nevertheless, to make both history and biology unrestricted across all routes is, at least in the case of history, to risk candidates paying out lots of money to train as a teacher without the opportunity of a teaching post, especially if schools’ interest in EBacc is reaching its peak.

I am also unsure about the PE plus programme, although it may be bowing to the inevitable. Where a provider will find time to add subject knowledge in a second subject in the present arrangements of a 39 week course is an interesting question. But, presumably, something is better than the nothing they presently receive before being asked to teach another subject. What is needed is controls over what QTS means and tighter restrictions on unqualified teachers.




Levy or a tax on small schools?

I wonder how the Apprenticeship Levy is working out in your part of England. Many primary schools have had to pay into the Levy because, as maintained schools, their local authority is the ‘de jure’ employer. Academies and voluntary schools, along with free schools, generally escape the Levy, unless part of a Multi Academy Trust with a pay bill of more than £3 million.

In Oxfordshire, the primary schools are likely to pay just short of half a million pounds over the course of the financial year into the Levy. With a Teaching Apprenticeship not up and running in time for this September that leaves either support or other staff apprenticeships or the possibility of using the cash to develop the existing teaching force through advanced apprenticeships as a way of accessing the Levy.

In my book, preparing primary teachers for a leadership position would have been a useful way to spend the Levy. Now, I am not clear whether it can only be spent in the school from where it has been collected or whether, as the ‘employer’, a local authority can aggregate the cash rather than see it not being used.

In former times, this would have been a task for an officer overseen by a director, perhaps after a discussion at a committee meeting. Contrast this with the cabinet system, where, if the Cabinet Member isn’t interested, it is difficult to see how policy is formed unless a particular officer is prepared to make an effort. In constrained financial times, such as local authorities now face that seems unlikely in many authorities: perhaps readers can tell me different in their experience.

There is a further problem thrown up by the cabinet system. When seeking information in public, do you ask a question of cabinet member for finance, as the department collecting the Levy; the cabinet member responsible for education activities, as covering the operational area or the cabinet member responsible for human resources as they should be informing other operating areas about the policy for handling the Levy? With only one question at a Cabinet Meeting, councillors, at least in Oxfordshire, cannot afford to make the wrong choice if they want to be able to ask a supplementary.

Nationally, I wonder whether the teacher associations have been as ‘on the ball’ about the consequences of the Levy as they could have been. The last thing I want to see is financially hard-pressed primary schools paying into a fund that isn’t then spent for their benefit. I still wonder why there wasn’t more of a fuss about taxing the smallest schools while letting off some of the larger schools. This doesn’t seem equitable to me, especially when funding is so tight. Added to all the other cost pressures on schools, this is another nail in the coffin for the small village primary schools. Is that something the present government wants to achieve: surely not?