Bumping along the bottom

The alternative title I thought about for this commentary on the February 2019 UCAS data about applications to post-graduate teacher preparation courses was, ‘the Goldilocks effect’; some good; some bad and some results in the middle. Indeed, the final outcome of this year’s recruitment round is more difficult to call than for many years. The outcome is likely to differ by individual subjects.

However, one trend that is becoming apparent is the continued decline in interest from applicants in non-EBacc arts and quasi vocational subjects. Thus, art, music, design and technology; computer studies and business studies are all either recording new lows in the number of offers for February or are bumping along the bottom. The government must look seriously at this problem if it does not want to impoverish a future generation of school students and wreck many important export earning industries by depriving them of home grown talent first nurtured in our schools.  By the same token, the independent schools ought also to be worried about this trend, to the extent that they recruit trained teachers with QTS.

As might be expected, history, geography and biology are performing well in terms of the number of offers that have been made. Biology will help ensure there will be sufficient teachers with a scientific background in 2020, even though chemistry and physics are in a similar position to this point last year. Both these subjects are unlikely to attract enough candidates to meet the Teacher Supply Model requirements on the present trajectory for offers.

Overall, applicant numbers, at 18,510 on the 18th February this year, are similar to the 18,830 recorded on the 19th February 2018, but still well down on the 24,700 of February 2017. It is worth recalling that in February 2012, without the School Direct route applicants, numbers stood at almost 35,000, not far short of double where they currently stand.

There is more detail about applicants than applicants in the data. Applications for primary are down on 2018 at 24,710 compared with 26,430 in 2018, but applications for secondary subjects are higher at 28,380 this year compared with 27,910 in February 2018. That could mean about 200 more applicants spread across all the different subjects.

Looking at the applications in more detail, primary higher education continues to witness a decline in applications, down to 10,680 this year from 12,570 in 2018. On the other hand, School Direct Salaried plus Apprenticeships are up by around 600 applications.

In the secondary sector, higher education still dominates applications, although School Direct fee applications have seen a significant increase, from just over 8,000 applications in 2018 to 9,000 this February. However, applications for School Direct Salaried plus Apprenticeships are still below the February 2018 figure in the secondary sector.

Young graduates and final year undergraduate applicant numbers are almost back to last year’s, level in terms of overall applicants, but young career changes are still behind the number of applicants at this point in 2018. Compared with the 10,671 men that had applied for courses in 2012, the present number of 5,900 male applicants, including the School Direct applicants, is probably little more than half the 2012 total.

Still, Mr Gibb should be pleased that two thirds of applicants have been made an offer, although only 330 have been unconditionally placed. Nevertheless, making offer to two out of every three applicants is a very generous ratio indeed.



FE: too often forgotten

This blog is as guilty as many in education of too often overlooking the further education sector. Despite its status of something of a poor relation to both higher education and the school sector, further education has an important part to play in developing the economic activity of our nation. One of my regrets about the Coalition government was that it allowed the further education sector to be excluded from the funding deal for schools. That deal may not have been perfect, but it has left schools, and especially those secondary schools without 16-18 provision, relatively much better off than the further education sector. The oft quoted number is that a lecturer in the FE sector earns around £7,000 less than a school teacher when teaching the same age group.

One has to ask, is it rational to be thinking of cutting fees for higher education without also considering the funding of further education, where a portion of higher education work also takes place. I suspect that a significant amount of the work on FE funding assumed that further education could subsidise expensive practical subjects from the assumed cheaper to deliver classroom based education. Such a view is both short-sighted and not, I suspect, based on much in the way of evidence. I guess that when general studies was taught to classes 100 or more day release students, such subsidies were possible: but mostly, I suspect, that was a long time ago.

Teaching English and Mathematics, both classroom based subjects, to those that failed to reach a satisfactory level at school cannot be done in large classes. It also cannot be done properly by those without sufficient knowledge and skills of teaching.  Practical subjects whether construction or hairdressing need both small groups and often expensive equipment. The Treasury doesn’t seem to realise this fact. Government also doesn’t seem to realise that students often have to travel significant distances to attend colleges offering subjects they are interested in learning.

We have already seen a couple of universities flirt with financial issues and there must be a risk as the number of 16-18 year olds reduces for the next couple of years that further education as a sector will experience the same sorts of serious financial problems.

Once the agony of the Brexit saga is finally resolved, one way or another, then British industry and commerce must step in to support the development of the further education sector as a means of creating talent for our wealth generating industries, whether old manufacturing skills or modern IT related skills or those that have yet to be fully understood around the applications of AI across the workplace.

Now is the time to review the economics of the whole 16-18 sector. Schools are able to support small sixth forms, especially where pupil numbers are growing at Key Stage 3. Colleges don’t have this luxury and it is a false economy to under-fund them when we need a more productive and skilled workforce at all levels. Those that don’t go to university are as important in our economy as those that do and much less of a burden on the public purse.  They deserve a better deal.



Gas cooking?

According to the BBC new this morning, the Prime Minister addressed a gathering of Tory activists in Oxford yesterday, at their National Conservative Convention. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-47346630

At the same time as the Conservatives were gathering in the City, I was attending the spring meeting of the Liberal Democrat Education Association also being held in Oxford. Now it is worth pointing out that the Lib Dem meeting was attended by the Lib Dem MP for part of the City and some of the county and city councillors elected as Liberal Democrats for wards and divisions across the City. On the other hand, the Conservatives currently only have an elected MEP to represent the City; irony or irony. There are no Conservative MPs, County or city councillors elected anywhere in the City of Oxford, and their lack isn’t due to any defections, recent or otherwise.

Anyway, enough of political facts and on to campaigns. At the Lib Dem education conference, I proposed that we build on the report of the Committee on Climate Change issued last week that stated as an aim that, ‘From 2025 at the latest, no new homes should be connected to the gas grid.’ https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/UK-housing-Fit-for-the-future-CCC-2019.pdf The same aim should be true for new public buildings, including new schools, of which there are likely to many built in Oxfordshire over the next decade to cope with the 100,000 new homes to be constructed across the county.

However, I would go further than just eradicating gas from the design of new buildings, and I proposed a campaign to start by looking at school and college kitchens in both state and private schools and colleges, as well as our universities and asking, ‘are you cooking with gas?’

There should then be a operation, if necessary backed either with funds culled from excessive school balances or some other source of funding, to replace existing gas cookers with alternatives, such as induction hobs. Once gas cooking has been removed from education establishments, whether used for cooking meals or in food technology (home economics for those of my generation, and domestic science for those with even longer memories) lessons, where they still exist, we can then move on to the bigger task of asking how schools and colleges are heated and what can be done to reduce their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by changing from gas heating systems?

I also wonder whether those pupils that went on strike over climate change could start an audit of climate performance in their schools, working along with their School Councils and governing bodies. After all, Strikes demonstrate concern: actions demonstrates commitment to change. From such small acorns in individual schools, might the mighty oak or real change start to grow.

Of course the biggest resource in schools that could help climate change is the playground. As I have pointed out before, playgrounds are used for their intended purpose for a fraction of the year. Could some clever researcher help turn them into a source of power for heating and light as well as where children can gather and play?


More or less: which way for the future?

The BBC has recently run an interesting piece about the relationship between class sizes and teachers’ salaries, based upon some OECD data. The article headed ‘when class sizes fall so does teachers’ pay’ is an interesting thesis. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47281532 However, how does it relate to the first law of economics that when there is a shortage of supply, and demand remains consistent, either the price will rise or substitution will take place?

The nightmare scenario for government is that facing the secondary sector in England at present. Pupil numbers are on a rising curve, at least until the middle of the next decade. This means more funding will be required, even if the unit of funding per pupil falls in real terms. At the same time, there is a labour shortage that is growing worse in some parts of the curriculum.

Hence, demand for more cash for schooling since, as the BBC pointed out, it is a fact of school life that staffing costs, and especially the cost of teachers, consumes the largest part of any school budget. However, schools are competing with other government services for cash and it seems likely that in England, however hard the teacher associations press their case, the cash needed for the extra pupils will come before any significant uplift in funding per pupil.

So, to that extent, larger classes is one way to fund better pay for teachers. However, most schools, and especially secondary schools, are constrained about how far class sizes can be increased, due to the physical nature of their buildings and the dependence on a classroom based building model.

In England, there may be the space to increase pupil-teacher ratios, perhaps back to where they were around the turn of the century, but that is likely to come from altering contact ratios – the amount of time teachers spend in the classroom – as much as from increasing class sizes. The trade-off of worsening contact ratios will almost certainly be a rethink about workload, since making the job of a teacher look even harder won’t help recruitment into the profession.

There is one helpful point for the government in England, but probably not for parents, and that is the fact that in England children have no right to be taught by anyone with knowledge and training in the subject they are teaching. Indeed, in extremis – nowhere defined except in very vague terms – children can be ‘taught’ by those with no background knowledge or training in what they are asked to teach. So long as there are enough people willing to be teachers, then pay can be kept under control. And, as everyone knows, there are plenty of arts and social science graduates for whom a teaching salary can still look attractive.

Today The Pearson Group published its annual results. Might their experience point to another way forward? The substitution of capital – in the form of IT and AI – for labour? So long as the learner is engaged, as there are in higher education, this may well be part of the way forward. But, for those that see schooling as a struggle between the generations, rather than the development of future wealth and happiness, the physical presence of a teacher overseeing learning has much to recommend it.

Who that teacher might be, and how well they will be paid, will, I am sure, still feature large in the future debates about the economic of education.


Both women and men needed in teaching

The government’s evidence to the Teachers’ Pay Review body (STRB) is a mine of useful information, as this blog has already pointed out, especially in respect of the teacher supply situation in London.

There was one other paragraph in the DfE’s evidence that caught my eye. The second half of paragraph 83 of the DfE’s evidence reads as follows;

“We have also worked with the sector to revise recruitment guidance for schools and have appointed nine Women Leading in Education (WLE) regional networks to raise the profile of women in education and to support career progression.” DfE Evidence to STRB, 2019, para 83.

This paragraph appears in the section about headteachers and other teachers in leadership positions and there is a helpful chart later in the section, which I have reproduced as the following Table.

Percentage of the workforce Female Male
Head Teachers 66 34
Deputy Head Teachers 70 30
Assistant Head Teachers 68 32
Classroom Teachers 75 25
Unqualified Teachers 69 31
All Teachers 74 26

Source: School Workforce Census 2017

The percentage of classroom teachers that are women is higher than for the three leadership grades. However, unfortunately, in their evidence, the DfE don’t further breakdown the data between the different sectors. And that breakdown may be important in understanding more about where the difference between the percentage of classroom teachers and heads is greatest, I suspect it is in the secondary sector.

Clearly, more remains to be done to achieve parity. I looked back at the first ever report of the STRB in 1992 where there is a table about the gender breakdown of the teaching profession as a whole.

Based upon what was then DES data, from the Database of Teacher Records in March 1990, the split overall in the profession was 67% female: 37% male. So, in the following 27 years, women have increased their share of the overall teacher workforce from 67% to 74%.

Interestingly, in 1990, the split among those under 25 at that time was 84% women and 16% male – (STRB 1992 1st Report Table 2). So, probably, disproportionally more of the men that were teachers in this age group in 1990 have become heads than have the women. Thus, the DfE are correct to try “to raise the profile of women in education and to support career progression.”

However, it is harder to find any comment in the DfE’s evidence this year to the STRB about the overall balance in the profession between men and women. Now what can and cannot be done by government is defined, as paragraph 83 of the evidence noted, by the Equality Act of 2010.

Promoting women’s career progression, where they are an under-represented group, is what the 2010 Act was about. Should there also be a duty to the DfE to try to even up the balance between the genders in teaching? In the past 27 years the percentage of men in the teaching force has declined by around a third from 37% to 26%. The opposite would not have passed unnoticed.

My concern about this issue, as anyone that reads this blog regularly will understand, comes from the fact that, in the past two years interest in teaching among women graduates has wavered, at best, or declined at worst. If the teaching profession loses the interest of women in any numbers, without attracting more men, then there really might be a supply crisis.







More evidence that London is different

In a previous post about the DfE’s evidence to the Teachers’ Pay Review Body (STRB) in 2019 I mentioned that the DfE cited that the wastage rate for Inner London schools was 14% in 2017. This was the highest for any area in England.

After reflecting upon this statistic, I went back to the data in the School Workforce Census to see whether high wastage rates were confined to specific schools or a more general matter for concern? The basic data on the Census, as it appears on the DfE’s web site, doesn’t allow that question to be answered. The DfE provides information on vacancies and temporarily filled posts at the school level, but not wastage rates. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017

Percentage of schools in the region reporting a vacancy (%) Percentage of schools in the region reporting either a vacancy or a temporarily filled post (%)
North East 3.2 9.1
North West 2.6 9.4
Yorkshire and the Humber 3.4 11.0
East Midlands 2.9 8.2
West Midlands 3.4 11.3
East of England 3.2 12.0
Inner London 5.3 22.5
Outer London 4.1 24.8
South East 3.8 12.2
South West 2.2 7.4
ENGLAND 3.3 11.9
School Workforce Census 2017    

Looking at the table abstracted above, from the 2017 School Workforce Census, it seems that around twice as many schools in Inner London reported a vacancy in November 2017 as did schools in the North West region. The gap was even wider between those London schools and schools in the South West.

Once the percentage of schools reporting a temporarily filled post in the November Census was added in, the gap between schools in London and the South West was even greater. Now, it just may be that there are more temporary posts in London than other regions because more teachers are on maternity leave in London than elsewhere in England. Since London does tend to attract many teachers at the start of their careers, this is indeed a possibility. However, the size of the gap does seem to call into question whether this is the only reason for such a large difference.

Taken together with the wastage figure, it does seem that schools, and especially a small number of secondary schools in London, were facing a problem with staffing at a time of year when schools would expect to be fully staffed.

Previous staffing crises have been based upon data that was collected in January, the census date before the School Workforce Census was introduced. However, if the current census covers the whole period from November to November that change of date would not be an issue. Should the data only relate to the situation at the time of the census, it would be or more concern, as the consequences of departures of any staff at the end of December would not be captured in the data.

What are the implications for the STRB if schools in London were finding the staffing situation challenging in 2017. The STRB will certainly want to know whether the early returns from the 2018 Census reflect any improvements or whether the situation has deteriorated further. If the DfE is unable to answer that question, then I am sure that the teacher associations and others providing evidence will be able to do so.

TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has consistently reported that London schools top the list of schools advertising the most vacancies.

With separate London pay scales, will the STRB look to increase them more than the national scale this year? Only time will tell.

Business Studies: from amber to red in four weeks

TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has today reported that the status of Business Studies as a subject has changed from Amber to a Red warning. Essentially, this means that there have been enough vacancies recorded so far in 2019 to mean that more than three quarters of identified trainee numbers, as shown in the DfE’s ITT census last December, could have been absorbed by the vacancies already advertised during 2019.

This is by far the earliest TeachVac ever issued a Red warning notice for any subject. However, in view of the level of recruitment to teacher preparation courses and the failure to meet he desired number of trainees for the past six recruitment rounds this outcome is, perhaps, not totally unexpected. The Amber warning was issued just four weeks ago based upon figures collected on the 18th January 2019.

Business Studies is not the only subject with an Amber warning already in place this year. Design and Technology, again predictably, also has an Amber warning and TeachVac could issue a Red warning within the next two to three weeks, if the advertising of vacancies in the subject doesn’t slow down as much as expected during the half-term period.

An Amber warning means that schools in areas where recruitment can be challenging, such as London and the surrounding areas may encounter challenges recruiting a teacher in the subject: such schools might want to put in place additional recruitment measures.

A Red warning widens this advice to schools across the whole of the country, as recruitment issues may no longer be localised to areas where recruitment is challenging.

TeachVac is closely monitoring mathematics this year, as it is possible that an Amber warning may be issued before the end of March, if vacancies continue to be posted at the same rate they have been already in 2019.

Indeed, whether it is due to pupil numbers being on the increase, more teachers leaving the profession, or better than expected funding for secondary schools, the result has been that more vacancies are being advertised earlier in the year in 2019 than in the previous couple of years.

The same pattern of a rising number of vacancies cannot be said for the primary sector so far this year, and some secondary schools may well find that there are well qualified teachers prepared for the primary sector that would usefully fit into their gaps in the timetable come the summer months.

Nothing in this blog should be news to regular readers, although the speed at which the first Red warning has been issued has taken even me by surprise. Looking back at periods of previous teacher supply problems over the past fifty years, the present state of affairs could build into a really serious problem for secondary schools unless pupil teacher ratios are worsened back to where they were at the turn of the century, some adjustments in the curriculum are made in favour of the arts subjects in the EBacc, where there are generally plenty of teachers available or schools are prepared to see classes taught by teachers with little or no preparation in the subject that they are teaching. None of these is a sign of an excellent education system.