Marketing matters

TeachVac, the free recruitment site for schools and teachers, www.teachvac.co.uk is having a bumper August in terms of visitors. That’s not really a surprise, as Teachvac has upped the marketing budget to widen our reach even further than the record numbers of teachers reached during the recent peak recruitment season. The months between March and June witnessed records being broken every month.

August is a good time to market to teachers as they are often interacting with social media and may have more time than at other points in the year, apart from that week between Christmas and New Year.

TeachVac staff are also busy working away at updating all our information about schools. What was Edubase – now GIAS, ‘Government Information About Schools’ – seems to contain a proportion of errors. Most are trivial, names not yet updated or re-brokered academies were the data hasn’t caught up with the change. But, there are a small number of more serious issues, such as the primary school listed as a post-16 establishment and the multi-academy trusts where all schools are listed under the central office site, making it difficult for parents to know where each school is located and possibly skewing the data associated with the school that can affect the results for several different geographical areas.

Once TeachVac’s staff have completed their update, we will see if the DfE is interested in knowing of these issues? As it is a free service to schools and teachers, should TeachVac make a charge for such a service to the DfE?

On a different but not unrelated front, BERA, the British Education Research Association will publish a blog from 2016 posted on this site that I wrote about school recruitment differences across the country. This will form part of a new series BERA is promoting. I will provide the link to their site on the 5th September when it becomes active. It may also be possible to provide an update on the situation in 2018 to compare with the outcomes in 2016 what I wrote two years’ ago.

Next week will also see the August data from UCAS about recruitment to postgraduate teacher preparation courses starting this September. Although not the final figures, the August numbers do provide a clear direction of travel for the 2019 recruitment round. I hope to publish a three-year comparison of the August figures along with the regular monthly commentary.

 

Advertisements

Courts support the underdog

From time to time the courts become involved in changing the direction of the education system in England. One such occasion, discussed previously on this blog, was the judgement of the Supreme Court on the issue of holidays during term-time. That judgement has redefined the contract for parents that ask or allow the State to educate their children in a more prescriptive manner than many might have thought possible.

Recently, there have been two more important judgements, albeit from lower courts, below the level of the Supreme Court. The Upper Tribunal, a court in all but name, as it interprets the law, has handed down what has been described as a landmark judgement in the treatment of pupils with SEND that involves a degree of aggressive behaviour linked to their disability: in this case autism. The case has been well reported, but you can read about it at https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/our-work/news/landmark-ruling-exclusion-disabled-pupils-schools

The case was brought under Section 28 of the Equality Act 2006 and the implications arising from the judgement should be on the agenda of governing bodies during the autumn term. The issue will turn on what are ‘reasonable adjustments’ that a school can be expected to make in educating these children. Obviously, or I suspect obviously, a special school catering exclusively for children with aggressive tendencies might be expect to make more adjustments than a small rural primary school faced with a five year old with such tendencies. However, if the five year old is living successfully in the community, the school is a part of the community and must now make clear what adjustment sit has made to deal with the education of the child. This might mean more specific training for the class teacher and any classroom assistants encountering the child in the course of their work. It might also mean dinner supervisors; office staff and anyone likely to come into contact with the pupil also receiving training.

The other recent case concerned Bristol City and its role in providing special education. The case was primarily about the issue of consultation over possible cuts to the City’s SEND budget, but the judge strayed into the area of the financing of education. You can read the whole judgement at https://specialneedsjungle.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/KE-others-v-Bristol-City-Council-Approvedjudgment.pdf As with the previous case, fairness for minority groups played a large part in the arguments before the court and in the reasoning of the judge. I can foresee more challenges in this area about cuts to SEND transport, based upon this judgement.

However, there was a rather curious exchange about the funding of education by local authorities that is reported in the judgement that suggests that it is not only in the realm of understanding popular culture and music that some judges and indeed other members of the bar may be slightly out of touch with currently realities.

Take this extract from the judgement from paragraph 98:

  1. Mr Tully explained that ‘The overall principle which the Council is seeking to follow is the principle that, if possible, the DSG (Dedicated Schools Grant) should pay for Schools Budget responsibilities.

However, as Ms Richards Q.C. correctly points out, this a simply a principle which the Defendant has chosen to follow i.e. a political choice and not a statutory requirement. As a consequence, it could be abandoned or varied, most pertinently in light of the results of appropriate consultation.

Surely, the DSG and the High Needs Block isn’t open to virement and by implication also isn’t open to being supplemented should local authorities ever find themselves with an excess of cash or indeed required to make choices about how they spend their income. If this section of the judgement is regarded as ‘obiter’ then it doesn’t matter, as it can be ignored, one would not want to raise the hopes of parents and others that the DSG is just an addition to a local authority overall income stream and not as its says, a ‘Dedicated Schools Grant’. Schools forum need to be consulted about the distribution of the DSG. How far is there also a need to consult the wider public?

The situation is of course complicated by the fact that some education expenditure, including on home to school transport, is provided for not from the DGS and High Needs Block within it, but from the general grant to local authorities and must compete with other services for its share of the cake. Here is issue is a fight for resources subject to the decision of the ruling group on any Council and is clearly subject to the need for consultation with the public and interested groups.

The person on the Clapham Omnibus, or is it in the Uber car these days, must be able to understand the logic behind the funding of our education system, lest they be deceived into thinking some things are possible that are actually not the case.

Despite some politicians feeling about European Courts, the courts and civil law plays an important part in defending liberties. At this time of financial cut backs it is also sometimes the way that minority groups can ensure that they are treated fairly.

 

 

CEOs pay: what’s happening?

A recent Chartered Institute of Personnel Development survey found that median pay for bosses of the UK’s biggest companies hit almost £4m last year – up from about £3.5m in 2016. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45183881

That set me thinking about the work the DfE undertook earlier this year in relation to the pay of CEOs of Multi Academy Trusts and whether or not the findings had been published anywhere?

Readers will recall that Eileen Milner, the chief executive of the Education and Skills Funding Agency, wrote in February to the chairs of 87 MATs employing individuals earning more than £150,000, asking them to explain their rationale for doing so by early March and to justify paying these salaries.

The intervention comes two days after the Department for Education minister, Lord Agnew, said that no MAT boss should receive a larger pay increase than their teaching staff and that CEOs should have their pay cut if there is a downturn in the performance of their schools. It follows a similar letter sent in December 2016 to single-academy trusts paying leaders more than £150,000. Lord Agnew’s February letter can be accessed at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/683075/Lord_Theodore_Agnew_letter_to_chairs_of_academy_trusts.pdf

Further letters appear to have been written to some MATs in April and July seeking more information. These can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/letters-to-academy-trusts-about-levels-of-executive-pay 28 letters were sent in December 2017; 88 in February 2018 and a further 96 letters in either April or July 2018. With a final return date of 20th July, the EFSC should now have sufficient information to publish a report on the state of the most highly paid staff in the public education service.

There may be an issue relating to pensions should those not undertaking any teaching or direct site leadership of a school remain in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. In the past, when becoming local authority staff most would have moved out of the TPS into the relevant LGPS for their authority. I don’t’ know how LGPS scheme managers and trustees, of which I am one for Oxfordshire’s scheme, would approach the arrival of such highly paid staff so near pensionable age, but the DfE does need to make clear the boundary for who can belong to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme even if they aren’t actually in a school?

The level of salaries paid to senior staff in the school system is clearly a matter that won’t go away. After all, perhaps 100 MATs paying more than most local authorities pay their Director of Children’s Services must be of concern in term of expenditure, especially once pension and other on-costs are added to the basic salary.

The problem really dates back to the Labour government and the development of Executive Headteacher roles without the government making it clear how such professionals should be paid. However, the seeds of that confusion date even further back into the early 1990s and the refusal to police the upper end of the Leadership Pay Scale for large schools facing recruitment difficulties. Failure to deal with a problem doesn’t always make it go away; sometimes it allows it to grow into a serious issue that is much harder to tackle as is now the case with the pay of CEOs of MATs.

 

 

 

What happens if EU pupils disappear from schools post Brexit?

Tomorrow marks one of the final acts of the 2017-18 school year, the publication of examination results and the opening on the university ‘clearing’ round. Next week will see the publication of the examinations normally taken at 16+. From that point onwards, the 2018-19 school year might be said to have commenced.

One of the interesting challenges for the next year will be how well the new National Funding Formula copes with the unexpected changes that will emerge and have not been pre-programmed into the formula. One such, is the extent to which some schools will be affected financially if the movement of EU citizens out of England continues.

There has always been an ebb and flow of such citizens, but the balance until recently has been on the positive side of the equation. Should the flow turn negative over the next few quarters, while Brexit is sorted out, it seems likely that some schools, and probably some primary schools in particular, could lose a proportion of their pupil population, not to mention a few teachers and support staff as well. Losing the staff may help reduce expenditure, if they don’t need to be replaced, although many will I suspect need replacing.

More concern will be over the financial effects by 2020 of any reduced pupil numbers and hence lower income for the school. Successful schools that are over-subscribed will just let it be known that there are now places in particular classes and, hey presto, applications will materialise, as if by magic. But what happens to schools either thought to be less attractive to parents or in areas where they may be the only school?

In the past, local authorities could cope with the unforeseen changes in pupil numbers. Indeed, multi-academy trust can still do so by viring cash between schools in the Trust. Stand-alone academy trusts, with a single school, and maintained schools don’t have the ability to take that route. Cash cannot be moved around these schools. This might be a reason for schools in a weak financial situation to join a MAT, if they think they will receive help and not later be closed s uneconomic anyway.

How much of a concern might this issue of a potential pupil exodus be? A recent answer at the July meeting of Oxfordshire County Council revealed 11 maintained primary schools with more than 10% of current pupil numbers with non GBR EU citizenship. Now, some may either have parents with dual nationality or be unconcerned by Brexit, but a school of 250 losing just two percent might see a budget reduction of more than £20,000 in a full year: a not insubstantial sum to lose from a tight budget.

Should the DfE publish a full list of areas mostly at risk of losing pupils if there is an outflow of EU workers from England? No doubt the devolved administrations are also taking note of this issue and its implications for their schools?

Hopefully, there won’t be an issue, but, if there is, should schools muddle through or expect some anticipation of the problem and a solution within the National Funding Formula?

Keep older teachers in the profession?

Most of the discussion about issues relating to the supply of teachers revolves around the need to bring in more new entrants. Attention is then generally next focused on stemming the exit of teachers early in their careers, often at the point where they might be moving into middle leadership roles. Scant attention is ever paid to the idea of ‘keep in touch’ schemes for those leaving for caring reasons, whether because they have started their own family or are caring for elderly relatives to help retain their interest and understanding of the profession. Indeed, the DfE’s specific attempt at an approach to helping those seeking to return to the profession wasn’t an outstanding success, if you read the evaluation report published earlier this year.  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/evaluation-of-the-return-to-teaching-programme

Probably, the least attention has been paid to altering the age at which teachers retire from the profession. I don’t mean the formal age of retirement as, indeed, there isn’t one these days, although working for more than 40 years probably doesn’t bring any extra benefits from a pension point of view. However, could encouraging teachers to remain in either full-time or part-time service for a year or two longer help reduce the staffing crisis faced by some schools?

Sadly, the answer is probably not. The School Workforce Census suggests that the number of teachers leaving over the age of 55 have been falling in recent years

Year Teachers Leaving
2013 11,470
2014 11,420
2015 10,430
2016   9,430
2017   8,570

DfE 2017 School Workforce Census Table 7b

Whether this is because either the cohort size has been falling or more are staying needs further work to determine. However, the Census does also record around 1,600 entrants from this age group each year, so the net departure rate may be less than shown in the table. Overall, in the 2017 School Workforce Census, there were some 25,800 teacher in service between the ages of 55-59 and a further 9,700 over the age of 60 still in service.

Providing more part-time opportunities could be one way to attract more of the leavers to stay, but it could carry the risk of persuading more teachers to consider switching to part-time work and supplementing their income through tutoring and other uses of their talents and experience. Indeed, the shift from a final salary pension scheme to one based upon average salary, however calculated, makes early departure less of a risk than in the past, even though the Teachers’ Pension Scheme remains an attractive scheme to its members compared with some other schemes.

Bringing in more over 50s to spend a decade or so in teaching is worth considering. Some 4,840 new entrants from the 45-54 age grouping were recorded in the 2017 School Workforce Census, but there needs to be sufficient new entrants to fill future leadership vacancies even after the inevitable wastage of teachers in their early years of service. In some subjects future head of department recruits are already looking few and far between and a high percentage of primary teachers that survive more than 20 years of service are likely to become a head or at least a deputy head.

So, we cannot escape the need to ensure new entrants to training meet the levels specified by the DfE if an optimum level for the teacher workforce is to be achieved.

TeachVac celebrates success

One of the questions I am regularly asked as chair of the company behind TeachVac (www.teachvac.co.uk), the free to schools and teachers job matching service for teachers, is ‘why does TeachVac use a defined system of matching teachers to vacancies?’ It is a good question. Unlike most system that have either evolved from print backgrounds or been based upon the same browsing concept of allowing everything to be seen by everyone, TeachVac evolved with a very different philosophy in mind.

TeachVac believed that those seeking a teaching post, whether new entrants finishing their training; existing teachers wanting to change jobs or seek promotion and returners looking to re-enter the world of teaching in a school somewhere in England all had similar needs in terms of looking for a teaching post. These can be summed up as; what phase; secondary or primary; where in a defined geographical area and at what grade or salary? Provide answers to these three questions and applicants can be presented with a range of vacancies that meet their needs from which to choose the ones they want to follow up through the application process.

As I was writing the above piece, the DfE published an update on their thoughts on vacancy information. Unlike TeachVac, the DfE doesn’t seem to place as high value on alerting teachers exclusively to vacancies that meet their needs. Undefined systems allow for very wide searches. Such an approach can swamp applicants for say, English vacancies in London during April. However, the alerts that are the foundation of a defined system help focus teachers on what type of vacancy, and where, they are seeking.

The defined request approach has two other benefits. Firstly, it makes it difficult for anyone wanting to offer candidates to schools with vacancies to easily track down the bulk of vacancies. Secondly, defined searches can provide better data about where candidates are looking for vacancies that can more open searching. Such data can help identify ‘cold’ spots where candidates are less interested in the vacancies as well as the more obvious hot spots.

Although TeachVac doesn’t do so, defined tracking can also help identify the schools within an area that receive the most interested through hits on the vacancy from the search. There is also a lot more that can be learned about candidate behaviour in terms of timings of both initial market research and actual applications. Should TeachVac provide annual profiles of vacancies by month for different parts of the country and different types of school?

TeachVac has just completed its fourth and most successful recruitment round. Staff are currently spending the summer sorting out queries about the DfE’s list of schools, a service we shouldn’t have to undertake at TeachVac, but one that is vital to ensure that candidates find the correct vacancies. How much quality control does the DfE exert over it supplier when a School clearly identified in its name as a Church of England Primary School can be mis-coded as a post-16 establishment?

TeachVac Global, (www.teachvacglobal.com) the companion site to TeachVac for vacancies in international schools, has also had a successful first year of operation, establishing its name across the globe.

Welcome -U- turn on EdTech

Readers with long memories, or at least those who were around in 2010, will recall the Tories famous bonfire of the QUANGOs. Michael Gove was an enthusiastic supporter of the movement, axing the GTCE and BECTA and starting the process that lead to the disappearance of the NCTL and all the good work it had undertaken in both leadership and initial teacher education. There were other less visible casualties of which some survived in the private sector whilst others disappeared.

Axing rather than reforming BECTA, the long-standing QUANGO (Quasi Autonomous Non-Government Organisation) on EdTech was a short-sighted move that has back fired on the government. As a result, I welcome today’s announcement that the government has once again recognised the importance of technology in education.

Throughout my career, this is an area I have championed, from the early use of video cameras to record both PE lessons for skills development and rehearsals of plays to improve the schools’ entry into one-act play festivals in the 1970s, through both my time at a teachers’ centre – sadly missed professional development hubs much more engaging that the teaching schools of today – to my time in a School of Education in the 1980s where student were required to create a tape-slide presentation for one of their assignments.

Even during my brief stay at the TTA in the 1990s, I helped commission the famous internet café stand at careers’ fairs that replaced the coffee table and a couple of armchairs plus a few posters that was the staple fare before then as the main means of selling teaching to graduates..

Sadly, as the whiteboard programme showed, there has often been a tendency to put the phone before the mast (to update the cart before the horse metaphor) when it came to new technology in education. How many boring presentations on OHPs in the old days and PowerPoint these days have you say through by educators that ought to know they needed a bit of training to make best use of the technology. Still, this was the profession that axed voice coaching as not academic enough for education degree courses, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of understanding of technology in teaching and learning by policy makers.

I would start with requiring all those that work with teachers in training to have a qualification in the use and development of education technology. As a geographer, I would have interactive earthquake and volcano sites open on a whiteboard in my classroom and challenge pupils to indicate anything unusual. Do that with Key Stage 2 pupils, and I guess many would soon know more about earthquakes and volcanoes than their teachers.

I think that Caroline Wright, Director General at the British Educational Suppliers Association summed my view up perfectly when she said:

I am delighted that the Department for Education’s plans place teacher training and support at the heart and soul of their future approach to EdTech and recognises that EdTech, when introduced as part of a whole school strategy, has the power to help improve pupil outcomes, save teacher time and reduce workload burdens.

As TeachVac has demonstrated in the field of teacher vacancies, technology can be very disruptive to existing orthodoxies, but that is not an excuse to do nothing and cling on to the past. –U- turns are never easy, but this one is both necessary and long overdue.