About john howson

Chairman of TeachVac, the free to use recruitment matching service for schools, teachers and trainees www.teachvac.co.uk

Does Nationalisation always work?

Discussions about State ownership has been a feature of this general election campaign. As a Liberal Democrat (Candidate in Castle Point in Essex including the Canvey Island) I prefer J S Mill’s approach as espoused in his treatise ‘On Liberty’. Writing about the role of the state and education, Mill concluded that generally, it is not the role of the State to educate its citizens, but to see that they are educated. Not a view of liberty that is accepted by Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum.

However, even Tory governments are not afraid of a spot of nationalisation when it suits them. And here I must declare another interest, for the remainder of this blog is about teacher recruitment, and I am both the chair and the largest shareholder in TeachVac, the free on-line job board for teachers and schools.

Over the past year, the DfE has been developing its national vacancy site for those in schools; teachers and non-teachers alike. The genesis was a NAO Report followed closely by a Select Committee report and a Public Accounts Committee session that all highlighted how little the DfE know of the labour market for teachers in real-time. At the same time head teachers were complaining about the cost of advertising vacancies, one reason for the creation of TeachVac and its free service to schools and teachers.

The DfE could have created a portal to existing sites for teacher vacancies that would have cost little by way of public money. Instead, Ministers sanctioned a full frontal attack on the private sector with a government funded site where state-funded schools could place vacancies for free, with only the cost of training their staff to use the site being borne by the school. Fine, if it works and is value for money.

So how is the DfE doing with this use of public money? Taking a day in late November as a snapshot, it would seem not very well.

An analysis across the core platforms revealed the following numbers of vacancies for teaching posts being listed.

TeachVac 2,053
TES 1,808
Eteach 845
Guardian 593
DfE 580

Of course, the DfE is hampered by not accepting vacancies from private schools, and that will always limit the attraction of the DfE site to teachers looking for vacancies in any type of school.

Apart from TeachVac, all other sites mix non-teaching vacancies up with teaching posts to some extent or other on their sites. This makes the numbers even more difficult to calculate. TeachVac only records teacher vacancies.

Then there is the question of how long vacancies are allowed to remain on a site. Best practice is to remove them the day after the closing date specified by the school in the advert. Some adverts don’t have a closing date these days, and TeachVac will generally ignore these as there is a question about whether there is a real current vacancy at the school or these are just attempts, quite legitimate, at talent banking for the future.

So, on this evidence the DfE is not using public money wisely. Might it, perhaps, be cheaper for the new government to buy a feed from either the TES or TeachVac than to continue to operate its own site.

 

 

No Great Flood: ITT data November 2019

November data from UCAS on applications to postgraduate ITT courses, published yesterday, is always the first data from the new cycle; a cycle that will end next September. As such, the numbers already offered places, holding offers or already placed are small. However, we now have four years of data from November, so something might be inferred about trends from even these small numbers.

Suffice to say, in secondary subjects at least, there is no great change, at the offer level, in most subjects areas, with six of those subjects followed showing higher offers than last year; six lower and three the same. Of course, with rounding and such small numbers, the inferences must be limited.

However, modern foreign languages; music; mathematics; geography; computing and chemistry are all lower than last year in terms of all the offer categories. Of these, mathematics, chemistry and computing will be the subjects where even now there should be a watch on what is happening, because the DfE’s ITT Census, published yesterday, revealed lower numbers this year compared with 2018. In mathematics and chemistry, the Teacher Supply Model number for September 2020 is higher than last year: the mountain peak just became a bit further to climb than last year.

So, what about overall applications? Applications for primary phase courses are down this November on both last year and the year before at 7,980 compared with 9,750 two years ago. In the secondary sector, the number at 9,860 is 50 above this point last year and 700 up on two years ago: so that’s good news at the overall level. But, just taking mathematics as an example, the all states number this November is 830 compared with 930 last year: still well above the 640 of November 2017, but heading in the wrong direction.

As with the ITT Census, it seems as if the trend towards older applicants has continued. More over 30s and fewer early applicants from final year undergraduates and those in the 22 year old age bracket. Applications are down from both men and women; women by just under 400 applicants and men by around 80 applicants, to only 1,950. At this stage, we don’t have the gender breakdown by phase or subject in term of applicants.

In terms of overall applications, there has been a modest increase in applications for Teaching Apprenticeships at the postgraduate level, up from 80 applications to 150. Applications to SCITTs are at similar levels to this point last year, but other routes have seen declines in overall applications. In the case of higher education down from 9,230 two years ago to 7,910 this year. For School Direct Salaried, applications are down from 2,760 last year to 2,360 this year; about the same level as two years ago.

I don’t know whether the strikes in the university sector will affect offers being made to candidates over the next month or so, but it shouldn’t make much, if any, difference to applications since UCAS is the first point of entry.

So, no great tidal wave of applicants this year as the recruitment process opened. The increase in the starting salary and the funds for schools being offered as part of the general election campaign have yet to bear any significant fruits, at least in terms of increased applications for teaching as a career by graduates.

However, it is only the start of the cycle and at this point one must remain positive and hopeful.

 

ITT Census 2019: few surprises

The DfE published the ITT Census this morning https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/initial-teacher-training-trainee-number-census-2019-to-2020 I suspect that it escaped the purdah rules as it is an annual publication and the date was announced well in advance.

Regular readers of this column, and especially those that read my post earlier in the autumn predicating the outcome, will find few surprises in the data. Indeed, most of my conclusions for the 2020 labour market for teachers still stand.

The headline news is that only English; PE; Biology; history and geography recruited more trainees across all platforms than the DfE’s Teacher Supply Model suggested would be required at postgraduate level. Design & Technology; Computing; Religious Education and music all had better years than last year, but still failed to pull in enough trainees to meet likely demand from schools in 2020 as measured by the DfE Model.

Mathematics; Modern Foreign Languages; Physics; Chemistry; Art & Design and Business Studies all recruited a lower percentage of those seen as needed than they achieved last year. English and PE were also in that category, but still pulled in more than 100% of identified need. In both cases, this may cause problems in 2020, especially if the DfE number has been pitched too low, as it almost certainly has in English.

Overall, thanks to the 26% increase in history numbers; the 34% increase in geography – where the DfE number was reduced, but a lack of recruitment controls meant a similar number of trainees was recruited to last year – and Religious Education where there was a surge in trainee numbers this year to a level last seen before 2013, overall secondary trainee numbers increased by 2% to 17,098 from 16,327 last year. That’s 85% of target compared with 83% last year.

As predicted by many providers, recruitment to primary postgraduate courses fell below target at 98%, down from 103% last year. The 12,400 recruited is the second lowest number of recruits for primary postgraduate courses in the past five years. .

Undergraduate numbers continued to fall, with 4,777 primary and just 184 secondary students shown as new entrants. Some 75 of the secondary entrants at undergraduate level are on PE degree courses. The only other subject worthy of note is Mathematics, with 59 undergraduates.

So, what else can we glean from the data? Taken together, primary and secondary postgraduate entrants hit a new low in percentage terms this year when compared to the DfE target; only 89% of target. That’s two per cent down on last year, and is due entirely to the fall in the primary percentage against target.

Men accepted onto primary postgraduate courses hit a new six year low, at just 2,153 compared with 2,415 last year and 2,852 in 2014/15. However, there were more men starting secondary courses, up from 6,285 last year to 6,587 this year, the highest number since before 2014/15. However, it still means that men account for only 17% of primary and 39% of secondary trainees this year.

Minority ethic entrants also reached a new high this year at 19% of postgraduate entrants and broke through the 5,000 level for the first time. Numbers were also up at undergraduate level as well.

Under 25s still account for 50% of new postgraduate entrants, but, as predicted earlier this year, numbers for the 25-29 age group were slightly down on last year. This was compensated for by a rise in the number of those over 45 starting ITT postgraduate courses. The 1%increase in those declaring a disability was also a new record.

Non-UK EEA nationals represented 5% of postgraduate recruitment, the same as in recent years. The percentage for ‘other nationals’ increased to three per cent, while UK national fell to 92% of postgraduate trainee numbers.

There is more to mine from this data, but that will form the basis for another post.

 

Secondary Sector PTRs worsen

Government statistics whose dates have already been announced before an election is called generally escape being caught up in Purdah during the run-in to the general election. Thus, it was that the DfE announced its Education and Training Statistics for 2018/19 earlier today, along with some revisions and updates to the 2017/18 data.

Much of the data on education and training are uncontroversial, but there are some tables that may cause ripples. The most notable is the table on Pupil Teacher Ratios and Pupil Adult Ratios.

In the primary sector, there was no change in PTRs nationally at 22.9 pupils per teacher. However, this is still way worse than the 15.7 pupils per teacher of 2000/01. In the secondary sector, ratios worsened over the last year from 16.0 in 2017/18 to 16.3 in 2018/19. Again these ratios were well adrift of the 14.0:1 of the millennium.

The secondary school ratio almost certainly reflects the fact that sixth form numbers are either static or still falling, while the number of pupils at Key Stage 3 is on the increase. The latter are, of course, taught in larger class for the most part. The fact that the adult to pupil ratio also worsened in the secondary sector is a testimony to the financial pressure schools have found themselves under and why, in the new post-austerity world, political parties of all colours, including my own (the Liberal Democrats) are announcing more cash for schools.

The pressure on education spending is best illustrated in the table that shows education spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. This equates to a spending of some £88.6 billion in 2018/19.

Education Expenditure as % of GDP
2012/13 4.90%
2013/14 4.70%
2014/15 4.50%
2015/16 4.40%
2016/17 4.20%
2017/18 4.20%
2018/19 4.10%

There is a long way to go just to return to the levels under the Coalition. Much of the increase, when it finally appears in schools’ bank accounts, is likely to be absorbed in higher staffing costs.

This is especially likely to be the case in those parts of England where house prices are high and private sector graduate wages for many professionals have risen to recognise the competitive state of the labour market. Teachers’ wages will have to increase to allow teaching to remain competitive. How far and how fast may become obvious next week, when the ITT Census for 2019 is slated for publication.

More pupils means a demand for more teachers, and anything less than an improvement on the figures for trainee numbers in 2018 will make uncomfortable reading for Ministers, especially if mathematics and physics were to record reductions on the 2018 numbers.

Further improvements in workload will also come at a price, but may be necessary to retain teachers overloaded with unnecessary busy work driven by a culture based around quality control rather than one of quality assurance and professional development.

Ministers might also reflect that improving the morale of the school workforce is probably the least expensive route to greater satisfaction, and should be used alongside improvements to pay and conditions.

 

Technology and Education

A recent event I attended, ahead of BETT 2020, led me to think about the place of technology in education. A simple typology would be to look at teaching, learning and support as three different areas where technology can be involved in schools. Of course, the first two are an arbitrary distinction, and technology can cover both teaching and learning at the same time.

I was interested to see the use of the term AI by many exhibitors at the HMC deputy heads conference I addressed last Friday about teacher supply matters. After all, TeachVac uses sophisticated and proprietary AI to handle job vacancies much more efficiently that say the DfE vacancy site that requires schools to upload every vacancy they have created.

AI is still at an early stage, and as a phrase can raise false hope of a new era for learning that are generally not yet justified. However, one only has to think of the rise of ‘contactless’ in the payment field to see the speed of change.

Contactless, as with smart phones and especially their cameras, demonstrates the problems of technology and inter-generational use. How many heads use contactless payments; how many teachers above 40, and how many teachers below the age of 40 don’t? The same can be asked about any photos taken during the summer break, and also how they were swapped; displayed or generally archived.

The speed of change has an important relationship to the power structure in schools. Are head teachers aware of what is happening and what represent good investment for the future and are they prepared to delegate downwards to those that understand technology and can make the case?

My first job as a teacher involved responsibility for hard technology in the school – 16mm and slide projectors, plus reel to reel tape recorders – and I recall asking for a video tape recorder to help both the drama and PE departments with their work. The first time the kit was used, the 6th form group entering the local one act paly festivals swept the board. They were a great group, but I hope seeing their rehearsals played back made them even better.

In the 1990s, I wrote that we were on the cusp of a revolution as profound as the introduction of printing in the 15th century. Looking back to the changes in the past quarter century, and how it has affected power relationships across the globe, I don’t think I was wrong. You only have to compare what is going on with Extinction Rebellion now with the CND protest of the 1950s and 1960s.

Scrapping BECTA in the Tory bonfire of the Quangos was probably the right thing to do; not replacing it with an advisory body on technology and education was a serious mistake.

I suspect that unless this blog post attracts attention, technology and the role of big tech and start-ups in education won’t feature in the general election: it should do so. Will 5 days a week and 40 weeks a year be the norm for schools for another 10 years, let alone for another 150 years it has been the framework for learning in this country?

Military Matters

Today, as well as attending the Two Minutes Silence and wreath laying ceremony at County Hall, I also attended some training about the role of the Military Covenant and Military Champions in local government. During the training, Education emerged as a key concern for many service families. Despite the almost complete removal of our forces from family accompanied postings in mainland Europe, many service families are still expected to move location to a new posting, possibly as frequently as every two years.

These moves can play havoc with children’s schooling. Of particular concern, in this age of academies, is the lack of the same degree of oversight of in-year admissions as for the September round of admissions. Indeed, most academies act as their own admission authority for in-year admissions. Most moves within the services do not conform to the school year for obvious operational reasons.

One person said at the training ‘well, if one pupil moves out and another moves in, what is the issue?’ For many in education the answer is obvious in terms of the ages of the children and the schools that they might attend. Unit moves where only the local primary school is affected are now something of a rarity, and even then the ‘march out’ and arrival of the in-coming unit might not coincide. Differing numbers might mean that the school might not immediately receive the appropriate level of funding, depending upon when the move takes place.

One solution would be to return oversight of in-year admissions, at least for service children, to local authorities, with the power to direct academies to admit pupils arriving mid-year. Another person at the training told a story of a senior officer being told there was no place for his son at a secondary school while overhearing the person on the other end of the phone say to someone that the school didn’t want any more service children on roll: how disheartening.

I know that children of service personnel are eligible for the Service Children Premium, but the amount hasn’t been increased and is, therefore, of less value than when introduced, and it is not clear how the spending is monitored.

There are also stories of children being denied free transport to school because they arrived mid-year. I wonder about the legality of such a move by any  local authority, and whether any authority has put such a clause in their Home to School Transport Policy? I also wonder whether service children posted into areas such as Kent and Essex where there is selective education receive a fair deal over access to grammar schools. Indeed, do other children moving mid-year because a parent has been relocated by their employer also suffer if they arrive into selective systems?

One final military gripe is the difference in funding between Cadet Units and Combined Cadet Force Units. The former are community based and the latter school based. However, that should not affect the level of funding each receives for the same tasks.

These are all issued for the new government after the general election.

 

 

Firm but understanding

Teachers are graduates, and many that enter the profession come from backgrounds that are comfortable, although not well-off. By dint of being a graduate they have generally been successful at school and college; perhaps even more successful than some of those they have followed as teachers. I wonder, having failed ‘O’ level English and just scrapped maths, whether these day I would be allowed into the sixth form to gain 3Bs at ‘A’ level and a pass in the ‘special paper’ in geography?

Fortunately, not achieving at 16 need not the be all and end all, it was too often in my day, and there are those that become teachers after persevering at learning, sometimes well into adult life: I salute them. Indeed, we need to encourage more such learners as a potential source of new teachers.

Why am I writing this post? Well, for two reasons. Firstly my attention has been drawn to a range of books for new and early career teachers designed to help them navigate through their training year and first two years of teaching. The series has been launched by the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT). This blog recognises the excellent work teacher trainers and groups such as NASBTT undertake in preparing new entrants into the profession and increasingly with their concern for post-entry professional development. The first two books, in what will be a series, are now available to order at https://www.nasbtt.org.uk/essential-guides-early-career-teachers/

My second reason for this post is not unconnected to the first. In the past week, I have attended presentations by amongst other the CEO of Child Poverty Action Group; The Rees Centre on Children in Care, about exclusions among such children, and the report of the local Safeguarding Board for Children. I was also privileged to attend the local Music Services’ awards evening where more than 50 groups and individuals received awards for various aspects of music and musicality.

What is the significant of these events for new teachers? Many of the problems they face in the classroom come from children with backgrounds different to their own. Understanding that for instance many children in care lack self-esteem and self-confidence, and consequently are not so much ‘naughty’ or ‘ill-disciplined’ as emotionally challenged, and even seeking attention. It’s hard understanding as a teacher what it must be like to come home from school and find your belongings in bin bags and social worker waiting to take you to a new placement. Even if you can remain at the same school it’s tough; changing schools as well mid-term is even harder.

I know that one of the books yet to be published in the NASBTT series is about discipline. I hope another will help new teachers fully understand what some children bring with them to school each day. Whether they are in care; from families facing poverty; confronting safeguarding issues or even acting as a young carer, teachers need to be aware of what this can mean and how they should respond.

Too often, compared with say attitudes in Scotland, where exclusion rates are much lower, England has official documents couched in punitive language. Perhaps the new government, after the election, will look at this aspect of schooling. More cash is needed, but so is a recognition of what is driving the attitudes of so many children in our schools today.  There is a place for compassion as much as for compulsion.