About john howson

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

Who builds our schools?

The National Audit office report on Capital Funding for Schools, published earlier today, echoes many of the comments already made in previous posts on this blog. https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Capital-funding-for-schools.pdf

Although the NAO report covers all aspects of school building, the key section that interests me is the relationship between school place planning and the emerging school system. The executive summary contains two key paragraphs reproduced below – with my highlighting of key points – that make most of the issues clear in simple language.

14 Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide enough school places in their areas but they do not control the number of places in academies or free schools. This means that responsibilities and accountabilities for providing school places are not fully aligned. To fulfil their responsibility local authorities work with individual schools to expand existing provision. However, their plans to create new places are affected by, and in some cases dependent on, free schools and academies. Local authorities cannot compel academies to expand or contract. Many local authorities have good relationships with academies. However, where academies do not want to expand or relationships are weaker, local authorities’ options for creating new places are constrained. In the case of free schools, while local authorities can initiate the process, they are dependent on the availability of an appropriate applicant and the Department’s approval. In addition, in the 30% of cases where the opening of a free school has been delayed, local authorities may have had to make alternative arrangements to provide the necessary places. The Department is working increasingly closely with local authorities when opening free schools (paragraphs 1.11, 1.28 and 1.29).

15 In seeking to increase choice, introduce innovation and raise standards free schools often meet a demographic need for new school places, but they are also creating spare capacity, which may have implications for schools’ financial sustainability. By September 2016 the Department had opened 429 new free schools, and plans to open 883 in total by September 2020. The Free Schools Programme aims to give parents more choice and increase competition between schools, and thereby improve the quality of education. Free schools also have a role in meeting local need for new school places. There can be an inherent tension in the extent to which they can meet these aims cost-effectively. The Department estimates that some of the places in 83% of the mainstream free schools approved since September 2013 address a need for more school places. It also estimates that 57,500 of 113,500 new places in mainstream free schools opening between 2015 and 2021 will create spare capacity in some free schools’ immediate area. Spare capacity can affect pupil numbers, and therefore funding, in neighbouring schools. The Department’s data indicate that spare places in 52 free schools opening in 2015 could have a moderate or high impact on the funding of any of 282 neighbouring schools. The financial sustainability of free schools themselves may also be affected if a significant number of their places are not filled. The Department assesses financial viability as part of the process of approving free school applications. It has also sought to assess whether creating free schools is having the intended effect of improving educational standards through competition but the sample size is currently too small to draw meaningful conclusions.

The government does need to show who is responsible in the end: where does the buck stop?

Yesterday, before the publication of this report I addressed Oxfordshire’s Cabinet on the issue of a new free school – The Swan School – the Education Funding Agency has found a site that is not in everyone’s view sited in the best location. My concern is if the school opening is delayed beyond when the places are needed, who bears the costs, especially if there are recurring transport costs should some academies not offer to help with additional places? Hopefully, it won’t come to that and council tax payers won’t have any extra cost to bear.

At least in the case of the Swan School the EFA won’t have overpaid as the site selected is owned by the county council. The NAO did find the government had to pay premium prices for some land. The NAO were also critical of the cost of the former ‘building schools for the future’ scheme and although its replacement has been less costly, it too appears to have exceeded its budget.

School building is a challenging area and we can ill-afford to lose the expertise from local authorities.  No doubt, once gone, the government will have to recreate the knowledge and skills to help us both build sufficient schools and effectively maintain those we already have.

Both Mrs Thatcher and Ted Short, her Labour predecessor, wanted to replace all pre-1906 schools. That ambition has still to be achieved nearly half a century later. Whether we should do so is a matter for debate, even if we could afford to do so.

 

Have you tried TeachVac yet?

Recently, a head teacher told me he wasn’t using TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk because there must be a catch. I don’t see how you can offer a free service without there being a catch, the head told me. Clearly, this head wasn’t a user of twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or one of the other disruptive new technologies that are free to use. I wonder if this head grumbles about the cost of recruiting staff, but doesn’t do anything about it.

Now let me be absolutely clear, and please do pass this on to others, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk was established to do two things. Firstly, to offer a free recruitment service to schools, teachers, trainees and returners and, secondly, to use the information to collect better data on the working of the labour market for teachers about which in recent years, since the decline of the local government employers surveys, we have known relatively little.

I suppose it is the cynicism of the current age that many in education don’t believe a group of individuals would have set up TeachVac in the way it was just for altruistic reasons. But they did.

Does TeachVac pass on details of those that register to anyone: no it don’t. Does TeachVac bombard users with adverts every time they log on or receive a match; no it doesn’t. Is TeachVac a front for a larger organisation trying to corner the recruitment market that will then charge monopoly prices once it has removed the competition: no it isn’t.

My motivation in gathering a group of like-minded individuals around me to establish TeachVac was based upon putting back something into the education world in the only area where I had some expertise. A decade ago, the government tried to help the recruitment of teachers through the School Recruitment Service: it failed. Why it failed makes for an interesting story and tells us much about the nature of schooling in this country. Happily, most of those that lead our schools are more interested in teaching and learning and the pupils in their charge than worrying about the systems that support them. Unhappily, without a supportive middle tier this can lead to heads relying on those that don’t seem to have an understanding about driving down costs.

Now, it may well have been legitimate to say when we started nearly three years ago; we will wait and see if TeachVac succeeds. After all, nobody wants to sign up for a one-day wonder. But, Teachvac has now into its third recruitment round and hasn’t missed a day of providing matches when there have been new vacancies to match. You cannot do better than that for service.

With the demise of the National Teaching Service, before it even ventured beyond the pilot stage, and the Select Committee today endorsing the need for a national vacancy web site as a way forward, as I mentioned in my previous post, TeachVac is there for the sector to take-over. In another post, I will explain what is stopping that happening.

 

TeachVac can offer a solution for free

The House of Commons Select Committee has now produced their report into teacher recruitment and retention. https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmeduc/199/19902.htm

After reports by both the National Audit Office and the Migration Advisory Committee in the past twelve months, the Education Select Committee has wisely opted for a tightly focused report. After all, the evidence is well known to everyone interested in the subject.

However, it is interesting that the Committee has opted for the use of the word ‘challenge’ rather than the more emotive term, ‘crisis’. In their choice of language, the Committee might have offered an analysis of when a challenge might become a crisis? Why does missing the supply target five years in a row not constitute a crisis? Is the problem across the county nowhere a regional crisis: not even in Suffolk and parts of Essex? After all, the Committee took evidence for the head of a Southend Grammar School.

Nevertheless, one must not be too critical, the Committee has put the issue back on the agenda and tasked the government to come up with a plan to tackle the shortages. I am sure that the government will rightly point to their proposals to increase skill levels of those teaching the subjects. I think that is an excellent proposal, but it doesn’t do anything to address the suppressed shortages where subjects have been taken off the timetable or had reduce the amount of teaching time because of a lack of qualified teachers. I was also glad to see a reference to primary specialist teachers: a sector where little is really known about the skills base.

As you might expect, I am happy to discuss with officials both the working of the Teacher Supply Model and the operation of a free national vacancy service. I would hand over TeachVac to the government tomorrow if they agreed to pay its operating costs.

Over the past two years, TeachVac has shown how we can both provide high quality data not currently available to government and cut recruitment costs to schools across the whole of England. The evidence is in the TeachVac submissions to the Select Committee for anyone to judge. https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmeduc/199/19913.htm#_idTextAnchor027 (links 46 and 47) Perhaps the DfE could broker TeachVac as a part of the College of Teaching offering to the profession?

The section on continuing professional development is also to be welcomed. With a relatively young profession there is a need for much more investment than has been the case in recent years. However, the Committee didn’t really discuss the issue between CPD for the needs of the profession and CPD for the needs of an individual’s career. The development of teachers for pupils with special needs can highlight both aspects of this issue. Why would a school invest in developing the skills of a teacher that will then move elsewhere and how does the profession suffer if they don’t?

The government will now, hopefully, provide a formal response to the Committee and Ministers will certainly be asked about their views when they next meet the Committee. Will the DfE produce a long-term plan by the summer? We must wait and see.

 

The place of people and technology in learning

Last August I wrote a post called ‘Back to the future’ where I discussed a story then doing the rounds about a possible apprenticeship route into teaching. (blog post 22nd August 2016) In the post I discussed Physics as a subject where recruitment challenges might require a new look at how we recruit and train teachers. If you need a higher point score to study for a physics degree than say for a degree in another subject that then allows for entry into a teacher preparation programme, are we artificially curtailing the possible supply of new physics teachers?

This week the think tank Reform has published a study about the future shape of employment in the public sector up to say 2030. http://www.reform.uk/publication/work-in-progress/ Following on from the publication, the Head of Education at Reform tweeted on a twitter account I used last year during the Police & Crime Commissioner elections asking what the institute of Physics (IoP) response was to the apprenticeship route. Teachvac www.teachvac.co.uk (the free recruitment site) was copied in on the tweet, so it eventually reached me.

The answer, Louis, is that I don’t know what the IoP thought, as they didn’t comment to me. As Louis then noted in a later tweet, there is a site for apprenticeships in schools, but such apprenticeships currently only cover support roles. The article in a recent Schools Week about the a speech by the Secretary of State http://schoolsweek.co.uk/greening-promises-qts-wont-be-scrapped-and-7-key-findings-from-her-college-of-teaching-conference-speech/ suggests that any move to create non-graduate teachers won’t find much support. That doesn’t make the apprenticeship idea a non-starter, but calls for an innovative approach. The issue is partly about the minimum level of knowledge, both academic and practical, you need before you can work in a secondary school classroom and how this has changed over the past fifty years.

As the Reform report mentioned teaching and Teach First, there is more of a debate to be had about teaching. I expect Reform will come back to this issue. In one sense the debate is, as elsewhere in the public sector, and as Reform acknowledge, around the issue of teachers and technology. Reform’s thesis seems to be some work will be replaced by technology and jobs will change their skill levels so the number of workers can be reduced. Seen through the other end of the telescope, the views is of fewer, but more skilled workers each being more productive.  My example is the horde of market porters that have been replaced these days by the software engineers writing the code used in the automated warehouse: far fewer, but far more skilled and locatable anywhere in the world, as a recent BBC story about India showed.

With a largely highly skilled workforce in teaching, the issue at one level is, can the government afford to pay for such numbers of teachers as the 3-18 engagement with education demands? As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Liberal government’s requirement for universal state schooling available to all parents that didn’t provide any other form of education for their children there is a real need to debate both the shape and staffing of the schools during the next 50 years.

This was a point I made in my recent talk to the Merchant Taylor’s Company Education seminar (see blog post January 2017) Think tanks can provide a place to discuss new ideas and stimulate debate as can blogs. Is this a debate worth starting about the relative place of people and technology in the learning landscape?

 

 

Making money from schools

Why would anyone want to take the risk of running a ‘for profit’ school when there are so many easier way to make money out of state education? At one time, companies and foundations from the USA and Sweden were going to revolutionise schooling in England, while making a profit at the same time. Seems it didn’t happen quite that way. The academies that both the Erudition Schools Trust and the Learning Schools Trust opened have all been re-brokered away from the groups that originally founded them and now both of the groups are seemingly no more.

Another education experiment originally from the age of new Labour capitalism has bitten the dust. But, that doesn’t mean you cannot make money from schools. Books, furniture, resources, services such as accountancy, human relations, payroll and legal services, as well as construction and the maintenance of school buildings and facilities can all be offered at a profit. Then, as regular readers know, there is the recruitment industry that thrives on helping schools find staff.

Many years ago, in 1999 to be precise, the then Education Select Committee started an inquiry into ‘The role of private companies in the management and supply of state education services’. I don’t think it was ever completed.  I noted in my written submission that J S Mill had taken the view  in his essay  entitled On Liberty that the role of the state was to ensure the education of its citizens and not necessarily to operate the schools. The question was, and still is, how can The State achieve its end of educating its citizens without paying more of taxpayers’ money than is necessary?

The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee are there to see that where possible public funds are used judiciously. I would say wisely, but I am not sure that is always the case. Mill, was convinced that the State should not necessarily run the service of education. But are politicians and these days, educationalists, any better at obtaining value for money if the service is run by others: sometimes not.

In 1999, I pointed out that the CEO of an education company with a turnover of £48 million earned £122,000 whereas a Chief Education Officer, remember them, of an authority with an education budget of more than £150 million didn’t even earn a six figure salary.  Presumably, the difference was the price to be paid for risk. You can find the same differentials today between CEOs of MATs and chief officers in local authorities, but with, in my opinion, less justification.

Some of us do try to challenge the orthodoxy, by taking the disruptive approach allowed by new technology. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk is one such attempt. Like Twitter, Facebook and many other on-line service sit is free to users and makes its money in other ways. In the case of TeachVac, analysing the growing amount of data and using it to provide additional paid services.

With growing concerns about school funding it is time to develop mechanisms for driving down private sector charges to schools. The government’s recent initiative in IT procurement is a good example of what can be achieved.

Marketing teaching vacancies

Many years ago I used to write a column called ‘job facts’ for the TES. Later, wrote the ‘Hot Data’ column that covered far more than jobs, but that is another story.

In another sphere, the ‘job facts’ column had an influence on the short-lived experiment of TeachersTV, started and ended by the Labour government of the early years of this century. Every Friday on TeachersTV there was a programme about the jobs on offer that week to teachers. These were mostly culled from the pages of the TES, but on some weeks the vacancies were taken from the eteach job board. The programme was mostly recorded on a Wednesday and comprised three segments. A pre-record of what it was like to live and teach in a particular town or area; a discussion of trends in the job market and the highlighting of particular vacancies that had caught the eye that week.

Why is all this relevant now? Well, as the leadership vacancy season builds towards its peak and the classroom teacher job market comes alive with early vacancies, before reaching a peak in the spring, it is interesting to ask the question; are the cuts to school funding everyone is talking about showing up in the job market for teachers? For a few more weeks, the government will have to rely upon the 2015 School Workforce Census data on vacancies when asked the question about trends in the labour market: however, 2015 may not be a very reliable guide to 2017. Even the 2016 data, when it appears, will be of interest in terms of the trends it reveals in context to previous years, but not what is actually happening in the current recruitment round in 2017.

Does it matter? Well it is always useful to have reliable evidence to back assertions with. Are there fewer teaching posts available for this September than there were last year? At TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk we are, of course, monitoring the trends on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and can now compare what is happening with past years. By the end of this month TeachVac will have some interesting data for 2017.

Unlike the basic free service, designed to save schools money our data analysis, except at the overall level revealed in this blog, Teachvac’s data is not free. There is a limit to any generosity. But, for anyone interested in say, the make-up of design and technology vacancies: do we need more food than electronics teachers, or of language teachers: is Spanish still the language most in demand and how many posts teaching Mandarin are there on offer, TeachVac can provide the answer.

TeachVac regularly works with researchers as we can link our vacancy data to information about location, background, outcomes and other characteristics of schools. If at the heart of good decision-making is good data, then I am working with the team to strive to make TeachVac the best source of real-time data on the labour market for teachers and other staff in schools across England. That’s a long way from ‘job facts’, but thanks to improvements in technology one that has become a realistic possibility.

 

Can UTCs survive?

Schools Week, the respected education newspaper, is reporting Michael Gove as saying that the UTC programme has failed.  http://schoolsweek.co.uk/michael-gove-utcs-have-failed/ This will be bad news for Lord Baker whose brainchild the idea was in the first place. UTCs were Lord Baker’s second attempt to kick-start a technology sector in schooling in England, after the limited success of his City Technology College programme initiated when he was Secretary of State for Education.

Mr Gove’s comment will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog. A thriving technology sector is probably a good idea for schooling in England, but to create a new type of school for some, but not all, pupils at age 14 was asking for trouble. To compound the recruitment problems facing these new schools by using the market model of either compete and succeed or fail and die was to demonstrate why Tory market economics finds it hard to work in education.

Incidentally, closure is a feature of market economics, as even Waitrose has apparently found out recently, with the announcement of the closure of five of its branches.

So, where does technology education go from here? The easy answer is to let the existing UTCs and their companion Studio Schools limp on, with some making a go of it where there is local support and others failing to recruit sufficient students to be financially viable. A better answer, and one that should be welcomed by the clutch of former accountants currently running the DfE, would be to call in the receivers and see how the assets can be best used for Schools England. Will the current Secretary of State have the courage to take this radical approach? We will see.

With the raising of the learning leaving age to eighteen, the break at fourteen for some pupils was always going to look out of line with the idea of a common curriculum up to the age of sixteen, even with those pupils that would benefit from a fresh start at fourteen. My guess is that the promoters of UTCs and Studio Schools didn’t plan effectively for the type of pupils other schools would encourage to switch in an era where cash rules and pupils come with a price upon their heads.

If UTCs are going to be a short-term feature of our education scene, could the Secretary of State please now pay attention to the fate of Design and Technology in all our schools? Post BREXIT we will need those with the skills and interest in the whole gamut of design and technology to help create our future wealth. Sadly, the subject has been ignored by the DfE for too long and the limp approach to the D&T teacher shortage adopted in the recent Migration Advisory Committee report didn’t receive the rebuke it deserved from the business community.

We need a thriving design and technology sector in our schools, please will someone now come up with a credible plan to help us achieve that aim?