A sigh of relief

The UCAS data on postgraduate applications to train as a teacher as recorded for May appeared today. The combination of the arrival of offers affected by the Easter holidays plus the addition of almost an extra week of data compared with last year means the government can breathe a small sigh of relief. On the evidence of this data meltdown has been averted for 2018, except perhaps in music, religious education, design and technology and probably physics.

Overall applicant numbers have recovered to 29,890 in England, still down on last year, despite the extra days and some 10% down on May 2016 applicant numbers, but it could have been worse. The decline is still national in scope, with all regions recording lower applicant numbers than in 2016. The almost 3,000 fewer applicants than last year are also spread across the age groups, although the loss is probably greatest among early career changers in their mid to late 20s. This fact shows up in the further reduction in the number of ‘placed’ applicants compared with those with either ‘conditional firm’ places or ‘holding offers’. By domicile region of applicants, ‘placed’ applicants are down from 2,330 last year to 1,890 this May. In London, ‘placed’ applicants are down from 380 to just 300.  Of course, over the next few months the ‘placed’ number will increase as ‘conditionally placed’ applicants receive their degrees and complete any other requirements needed to move them into the ‘placed’ category.

All routes, apart from applications to secondary SCITTs, have been affected by the reduction in applications. Primary courses have lost more than 6,000 applicants compared with last year and numbers ‘placed’ only just exceed 1,000, with fewer than 10,000 applicants with ‘conditional places’ and a further 700 holding offers. In total, this is barely more than 11,000 potential trainees and marks the continued downward trend for the primary sector.

In the secondary sector, SCITTS have attracted just a couple of hundred more applications than this point last year, but that must be regarded as a success. Applications to School Direct Salaried courses have nearly halved over the past two years, although whether that is a drop in applicants or a decline in interest in this route on the part of schools isn’t clear from this data. At this rate there will be fewer than 1,000 secondary trainees with a salary come September (leaving aside those on Teach First).

Looking at some of the individual secondary subjects, music has just 200 possible applicants with offers of any type, compared with 260 in May 2017. Design and Technology is down to only ten ‘placed’ applicants compared with 30 in May 2017. Even in mathematics, numbers placed or holding offers is little more than 1,500; a new low for May in recent times.

Finishing on a good note, English is doing relatively well, with 1,640 offers, although that still isn’t enough to meet the Teacher Supply Number of just over 2,500 trainees.

Overall, perhaps the sigh of relief might only be a small one at the moment. Let’s hope for better times next month as new graduates that haven’t done anything about a job while studying start to decide how to spend their future.

 

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Why the TSM matters

The TSM, or Teacher Supply Model to use its full name, is the mechanism used by the DfE to identify the changes in the labour market for teachers that will determine how many training places will be needed and thus funded in a future given year. It also provides indicative numbers for other years, mostly assuming current policies and other inputs don’t change during the time period under consideration.

For many years the workings of the TSM under its various iterations were largely concealed from public view. However, over the past few years, the outcome of the process and how the numbers were created has been exposed to public gaze. Not that many members of the public have probably taken the opportunity of open government to work through the DfE’s calculations. If you are interested, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-supply-model and immerse yourself in an interesting read.

Why bring this up now. Well, apart for the fact that the TSM for 2019 to 2020 will appear sometime soon, tomorrow is the last day for resignations for teachers wanting to leave their jobs this summer. At that point in time, it is often possible to see how well the TSM has worked. However, in periods where recruitment into training is a challenge and the TSM or any other figure for trainee numbers set by the DfE isn’t reached, the outcome is more complicated.

Nevertheless, if there are still far more trainees than jobs in the recruitment round by the end of May, then something isn’t working as efficiently as it might. There are two subjects where, based upon the vacancy data collected by TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk where I am the Chair, questions might be asked? These are physical education and history. Both are important because students training to be teachers on these courses bear the whole cost of their training through fees and living costs. Should such students have an expectation that the DfE will not create too many training places resulting in a proportion not being able to secure a teaching post in their subject in either a state or a private school?

The over-supply of physical education trainees has been apparent for some time now and many find jobs in other subjects where they are not fully prepared for their teaching timetable. Potential teachers of physical education presumably do their homework before apply to train as a teacher and decide the risk is manageable, since numbers of applicants hold up very well every year.

The situation in history is more complicated. The advent of the English Baccalaureate created an expectation in the DfE TSM modelling process that more teachers of history would be required as more pupils studied the subject at Key Stage 4. How far that expectation has come to pass will be revealed next month when the data from the 2017 Teacher Workforce Census is revealed. However, even allowing for post for teachers of Humanities as well as teachers of History, this recruitment round does not seem to have created enough vacancies to absorb anywhere near the number of trainees.  Indeed, the risk to history trainees looking for a teaching post is now little different to that for physical education trainees in some parts of the country.

I don’t think that this means the DfE should no longer model teacher needs through the TSM, but I do wonder whether its regime should be so market orientated in how it deals with those that want to be a teacher.

 

More National Schools

It seems as if the government has decided that the next wave of free schools are going to be created in the worst-performing areas of England, particularly the North East. Officials are apparently to establish the next wave of about 35 new schools in the bottom third of lowest-performing areas, according to the BBC. Since this is a part of England where pupil rolls are generally either static or not rising as much as elsewhere, such a move will have a disproportionate effect on the budgets of other schools now that there is a common funding formula. I am sure that the DfE will take this factor into account in their planning.

In the past few weeks there have been a number of parliamentary questions about both free schools and academies. The government revealed that between 2013/14 and 2017/18 eight free schools had closed and another will close in the summer of 2018. Interestingly, one of the early closures, The Durham Free School, was located in the North East, where the government is now looking to create their new wave of such schools.

Alongside the closed free schools, there are 14 academy sponsors that to use the DfE jargon are ‘paused’. According to the Minister in an answer to a parliamentary question, an academy sponsor is paused if any or all of the following conditions exist:

  • significant concerns with educational impact;
  • serious financial concerns, for example where the Education and Skills Funding Agency has issued a financial notice to improve due to financial non-compliance, breaches of funding agreements; and/or
  • serious concerns about the leadership or governance of the sponsor, which may include due diligence and counter extremism issues.

Academy sponsors remain on pause unless and until the concerns that led to them being paused have been resolved. Just because a sponsor is not on pause does not mean it is automatically allowed to take on more schools. A rigorous process is followed for all sponsorship decisions.                                                                              Answer to PQ 146287

Even though a sponsor has to meet one, two or all of these tests, it seems likely that the outcome may be at the discretion of the Regional School Commissioner. In my view there should be a clear national policy on how these tests are applied, including for faith schools and their diocesan sponsors.

The government has also released the details of the number of academies that have been re-brokered since 2013-14. (Note not 2013/14) In total, 332 academies have moved Trusts during the period 2013/14 to 2016/17, with some more no doubt since then. As the number of academies has increased, and many schools either became academies or at  least started the process of doing so during the period when Mr Gove was Secretary of State, so the number moving Trusts has increased, from just 15 schools in 2013-14 to 165 in 2016-17. The PQ didn’t state the cost of the exercise and how many other schools might be stranded in limbo awaiting a new sponsor.

The governance arrangements for schools across England is now a mess. Schools that stay with a local authority know that they might have a new group of politicians in charge after an election, but in most cases the same group of officers will be in place; although the disruption to schools in Northamptonshire following the collapse of the County Council reminds us what is possible. However, schools joining a MAT can suddenly find their central services provided miles away from a group of staff they have no connections to and that may not understand their concerns. Such schools have no way out and no appeal mechanism against being moved or even traded between Trusts.

A cost to rural living

As a Lib Dem county councillor in Oxfordshire I was interested to read the comments of the County Councils Network spokesman for education and children’s services, about the under-funding of rural counties in relation to home to school transport. Incidentally he is also Conservative Group leader on the Oxfordshire County Council that implemented changes to transport arrangements some years ago for most pupils and has recently consulted on changes to home to school transport for pupils with special educational needs where the transport is not included in their Education and Health Care plan.

Over the past few years, I have continually pointed out in the Council Chamber that parents living in London don’t have to worry about the cost of home to school transport because TfL offers largely free travel to young people living in the capital. We now know something of the cost to local authorities of home to school transport, even after they have transferred as much of the possible costs to parents by retaining only their statutory legal services in regard to the nearest school and in most cases no longer paying for travel to the school of choice. I commented in an earlier post about the effect such a change could have in local authorities in July 2013 with a post entitled ‘Not a transport of delight’ and in October 2016 about transport to selective schools and secondary modern schools located next to each other in a post entitled ‘Tories and Grammar Schools’.

The County Council Network noted today that 29 out of 36 county councils had reduced their expenditure on home to school transport between 2014 and 2017. I expect the other seven will probably be forced to do so in the future. Between 2014 and 2017, services were scaled back, meaning that 22,352 pupils less in 2017 were receiving home to school transport services compared to three years previously.

The data shows some large regional variations in the costs of subsidised school transport, with home to school transport in highly rural North Yorkshire costing £207 per head, significantly more than in such Yorshire urban areas as Leeds (£15), Bradford (£30), and Wakefield (£23); Hampshire’s per head average of £62 is much more than in Portsmouth (£6), Southampton (£12), and Reading (£23). In every region in England, county councils are the ones that are paying significantly more per-head than metropolitan and city councils.

Even more iniquitous, yet not mentioned by the County Council Network press notice, was the fact that when the learning leaving age was raised to eighteen from sixteen the right to free travel wasn’t also altered. I don’t know whether it was an oversight or a piece of mean penny pinching on the part of government, but it is not fair on those living in rural areas, especially where the local school only goes up to the age of sixteen. If the local bus service has been axed as well, then the cost may be significant to families. I know that there is provision for a hardship grant that replaced the Education Maintenance Allowance abolished by the Coalition, but its existence is neither well known nor understood.

With rural primary schools under threat due to budget pressures, home to school transport is an issue that may force its way up the agenda over the coming months.

Frugal innovation

I heard this term used this morning in an interview broadcast on the BBC from the Hay Festival. My first thought was that is exactly what TeachVac has been trying to achieve. The best solution at the lowest price. Next week marks a key point in the 2018 recruitment cycle for schools. Serving teachers must have resigned by the 31st May, in most schools, if they are to leave at the summer and either retire or take up another position. Some may also opt to change to part-time working.

By the end of next week schools will know the shape and size of the challenge facing their staffing arrangements for September. Most will either be fully staffed or perhaps have a last minute vacancy because of the promotion of an existing colleague. A few schools will be facing real challenges in completing their staffing and may be looking to either change the curriculum or find the best fitting person still available in the market.

At TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk we have provided a free service to schools and teachers for the past four years and alerted thousands of teachers to possible job opportunities. All this has cost nothing to anyone.

Since 2016, the DfE has been engaged in a process of establishing a similar service and the £984,000 contract was awarded in February to digital specialists DXW according to a recent article in SchoolsWeek. This sum is far in excess of the total operating costs of TeachVac since its inception. I don’t regard the DfE’s efforts as a frugal innovation even to meet government IT standards.

There has been changes across the recruitment market in the past two years. The TES has launched a subscription service and from next month SchoolsWeek will revise its recruitment advertising rates and stop its print version https://schoolsweek.co.uk/schools-week-is-changing-were-going-digital-first/ Along with other players such as eteach and The Guardian, as well as many local authorities, these services all charge schools for advertising vacancies.

TeachVac is free and up and running successfully. The DfE site doesn’t appear to have made it into BETA testing before the end of the key 2018 recruitment cycle. Ministers really do need to ask whether they are creating a value for money service and whether a joint arrangement between interested parties from across the education scene might create a better and cheaper option that could be operational nationally from September.

Next week TeachVac will be looking to identify the schools with the most vacancies so far in 2018 and comparing them with their profile on free school meals and attendance measures. I was asked about this at the recent APPG on the teaching profession, held last Monday at Westminster. The DfE won’t be able to answer this question before 2020 at the current rate of progress, whereas TeachVac can do so now. TeachVac can also identify the requirements of schools advertising vacancies in composite subjects such as modern languages – is German dying out as a language being studied – and how bad is the crisis in physics – do schools ever mention the word in their adverts for science teachers? TeachVac has already altered schools to teacher shortages in various subjects and expects to publish more alerts next week.

 

 

 

Reviewing Ofsted

The National Audit Office Report issued today about the work of Ofsted seems to have received coverage that is slightly unfair to Ofsted. But, as an inspection body, it is an organisation it is easy to regard with distaste or even hate. https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Ofsteds-inspection-of-schools.pdf

Interestingly, in January this year I asked a question at Oxfordshire Cabinet about schools not inspected since 2010.

Could the Cabinet Member please identify those primary schools that have not had an Ofsted inspection since 2010 with the year they were last inspected and whether they are maintained schools or academies – if an academy, which MAT they currently are associated with of if they are a standalone academy.”

Most not inspected were outstanding schools, but two schools had only been rated ‘good’ in their last inspection report. There was confusion among officers when complying the reply to my question, because Ofsted lists on their web site the letter that goes to schools on conversion to an academy and, in some circumstances, this might look as if Ofsted had inspected the school when in practice it hadn’t.

I think the NAO’s overall judgement of Ofsted is fair.

24 Ofsted provides valuable independent assurance about schools’ effectiveness and as such is a vital part of the school system. It has faced significant challenges in recent years, as its budget has reduced and it has struggled to retain staff and deploy enough contracted inspectors…..

25 The Department plays an important part in whether the inspection of schools is value for money. The Department affects Ofsted’s funding, how it uses its resources and what it can inspect. The current inspection model, with some schools exempt from re-inspection, others subject to light-touch inspection and the average time between inspections rising, raises questions about whether there is enough independent assurance about schools’ effectiveness to meet the needs of parents, taxpayers and the Department itself. Although government has protected the overall schools budget, it has reduced Ofsted’s budget every year for over a decade while asking it to do more.

NAO Report, May 2018 page 11

As the DfE now realises, and the NAO acknowledges, the complex governance nature of the education system in England does not effectively work in favour of helping school improvement. The removal of funding for local authority inspection and advisory services across much of the country, in the lemming like desire to push all funds to schools, didn’t help with intelligence gathering and the lack of action at regional school commissioner level also hasn’t helped.

How do you improve an academy declared inadequate by Ofsted and with the worst attendance record of all secondary schools in the county for the autumn term after it declared inadequate if the regional school commissioner won’t take action and the diocese responsible for the MAT of which the school is part has failed to improve the school? Would a former municipal Education Committee have allowed this state of affairs to linger on without resolution?

What can Ofsted do, other than continue to report while children’s education suffers? This is surely a much more important question than why 0.2% of the target for inspections was missed over a five year period.

The most important conclusion of the NAO Report is ‘that Ofsted does not know whether its school inspections are having the intended impact: to raise the standards of education and improve the quality of children’s and young people’s lives.’ (Paragraph 20 of the summary). The government must make clear how that gap can be closed, and provide the funds to ensure that improvement is supported effectively progress monitored and any failure to improve has consequences. Such a system should include a key role for democratically elected local authorities.

 

Headteacher Boards: Value for money?

Last week, the Minister, Nick Gibb, was asked by Labour’s Angela Rayer about the cost of Headteacher Boards. There are the Boards set up to help the DFE over the issues relating to academies, by providing support to their Regional School Commissioner. The Board has a mixture of elected and appointed members. The Minister’s answer, reproduced below, is illuminating.

The compensation paid to elected, co-opted and appointed members of the eight English Headteacher Boards (HTBs) was £472,530 for 2017/18. For 2018/19 that cost is expected to be approximately £450,000. The Department has not yet profiled the budget for years beyond 2018/19. The schools/trusts of each HTB member are paid £500 per day when head teachers attend HTB meetings, plus in some cases, £250 for half-day reading/prep time. If HTB members are not serving head teachers, this money is paid directly to them.

Written Answer: 142872 15th May 2018

On top of this there are the secretariat costs associated with serving the purpose of the Boards. At present, Readers can find the minutes of decisions from these Boards and other information about their roles at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/schools-commissioners-group/about including the register of interests of both commissioners and board members. The government has announced that there will be greater transparency

On the day following the written answer quoted above, another Minister, Nadhim Zahawi provided more information about the government’s thinking on these Headteacher Boards.

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State said in his recent speech to the National Association of Head Teachers conference that he wants greater transparency about the workings of Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) and Head Teacher Boards (HTBs) that advise and challenge RSCs. The department will work with the sector over the coming months to develop proposals, for consultation in the Autumn, to support a clear and simple accountability system. This will build on the information already available regarding RSCs and their work, including academy transfers. We currently publish records of HTB meetings. In July 2017, we produced updated Terms of Reference for HTBs as part of the summer HTB elections. We publish conflicts of interest registers for HTB members and RSCs, as well as information on the roles and responsibilities of the RSCs and criteria for all relevant types of RSC decisions

Written Answer: [143140 16th May 2018

In Oxfordshire, where I am a county councillor, the Education Scrutiny Committee has held an annual meeting with the Regional School Commissioner for our area or a member of his staff if he could not attend. The Committee regards such meetings as part of their function in monitoring and understanding the policies behind the operation of academies of all types educating children in the county.

Personally, I have not always felt that there is enough transparency or urgency when academies face problems. Spending nearly half a million on a set of Boards that process information may provide some legitimacy for the process, but whether or not it is good value for money is another matter. Could the cash be better spent elsewhere?