About john howson

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

Steady as you go is not good enough

Overall applications by mid- April through UCAS were almost exactly the same as at mid-April last year, 25,570 this year, compared with 25,550 in 2018. As a result, there is little new to say. I am aware that there are some that suggest I predict a supply crisis every year, presumably on the basis that I will be correct some years and can forget the others. In fact, during the early years of the economic crisis, I actually stopped writing about teacher supply because there wasn’t an issue and only returned when I felt the tide was turning and government should start to take action.

With two thirds of the current recruitment round now over, I feel able to suggest that the outcome for this recruitment cycle for trainees will be very similar to last year and that will impact on teacher supply in 2020, especially in those parts of England where pupil numbers are on the increase.

So here are my predictions:

There will be an adequate supply of biology, English, geography, history and physical education trainees that will match or surpass the numbers the government think are needed.

Modern Languages, design and technology and chemistry trainee numbers are better than last year, but unlikely to be enough to meet government projections of need.

Business Studies, IT and computing, mathematics, music, physics and art will not recruit enough trainees to meet the projected levels of need identified by the government’s Teacher Supply Model.

There are likely to be enough primary trainees to satisfy the demand even if recruitment of trainees is challenging in some parts of the country.

Of the 40,560 applications for places on secondary training courses so far recorded this year, only 2,540 have been for School Direct Salaried scheme places, and there have only been 290 offers, with just 20 actually shown as ‘placed’. The apprenticeship scheme has not taken off in the secondary sector. Higher Education still accounts for almost 50% of applications for secondary places, although its grip on primary is slightly lower. This is somewhat curious given the nature of the course to train to be a primary teachers as a graduate. It leads me to worry about the skills in mathematics and English that can be taught to such trainees let alone their knowledge development of creative and other subjects. But, perhaps there are many classroom assistants converting to become teachers in the primary total of 32,250 applicants.

Of the 7,350 men that have applied to courses in England, almost two thirds have been offered a place.  The percentage for the younger age groups is even higher, with almost three quarters of those age 21 offered a place. However, that percentage is still lower than the 84% of women in this age group that have been offered a place this year.

There is still time to recruit more trainees in the remaining four months before courses start. There is also the contribution from Teach First whose applicants are not included in these figures. Perhaps that Scheme is having a better year than last year.

 

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Energy policy for schools

Yesterday, at Oxfordshire’s Cabinet meeting I asked a question about how many maintained schools in the county had renewable energy scheme with either PV or solar panel in place on their roofs? I put this question down a couple of weeks ago before the current protests in London started and I certainly didn’t know that Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old Swedish climate change campaigner would be in London yesterday.

After some ‘toing and froing’ about who would answer the question, either the Cabinet Member for property or the Cabinet Member for Education, the issue was solved by the absence of the former and the presence of the latter at the meeting.

The formal question and answer are set out below:

Question: “How many maintained schools in Oxfordshire have either solar or photo-voltaic panels on their roofs or elsewhere on school grounds?”

 Answer: ‘The Council does not hold a database with this information, as schools would need to register for the FIT (Feed In Tariff) themselves, information on the installation and/or registration is not readily available. On request at such short notice we have been able to ascertain that 30 of our maintained schools have either solar or photo-voltaic panels on their roofs or elsewhere on school grounds.’

Whether the lack of a database is a result of the collapse of Carillion over a year ago isn’t clear, but I am surprised that the County knows so little about maintained schools. Of course, nobody probably knows about all the secondary schools in the county, as all except one are academies. Then there are a large number of private schools. What their energy policy is, I guess nobody knows as a matter of record.

For this reason, when the school strikes started, I suggested a more positive policy would be for these young people to start an audit of their schools and ask for a policy moving towards cutting carbon emissions. This seemed a more positive approach than missing lessons, even if less dramatic. They could also campaign for more walking and cycling to schools by their fellow students.

My supplementary question yesterday, put at the meeting, was to ask what the Cabinet Member for education would do, especially in encouraging the Anglican and Roman Catholic Diocese to improve the generation of renewable energy by their schools. The Anglican Diocese of Oxford has generally had a very negative attitude to the use of the roofs of their schools to generate electricity. In my view it is time this changed.

I also asked about my own bugbear, school’s playgrounds and outside spaces. For 175 days a year they are largely unused, and for the other 190 days only partly used. Can research help to make them a more productive asset in our quest for cleaner energy?

Finally, I attended a wonderful concert in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre last evening. Under the beautiful painted ceiling, first the Oxfordshire County Youth Orchestra played three pieces, and then the Sydney Youth Orchestra completed their UK tour by playing Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. Those that know this symphony will be aware of how demanding it is to play.

As I left, I pondered on the growth of the aviation industry that had made their tour possible, but is such a threat to or planet. Tacking fuel emissions from jet engines is a much bigger challenge than using school playgrounds to create energy, but both must surely play a part in tacking climate change.

 

 

Benchmarking

As is usual, the run up to the Easter break brings a clutch of education stories, partly fuelled by the arrival of the conference season for the main teacher associations. Governments of all colours probably always worry about the bad publicity they will expect at this time of year, as much is made of the poor state of health of the school system in England.

This year is proving to be no different to usual, with school funding, teachers’ pay and workload and children’s mental health all taking the headlines, along with testing and its associated consequence of off-rolling, a term unknown to the general public before the last few months, but now probably bidding to be the new word of 2019. What I haven’t heard is anything about education’s contribution to the climate change emergency. Should it feature more in the curriculum and what practical steps ought schools to be taking? In my post headed ‘gas cooking’, I suggested school students might like to conduct an audit of their schools to see what changes should be introduced.

Opposition parties are always quick to say there isn’t enough funding for schools, and I am happy to support their claims. This blog has regularly charted the decline in the level of reserves across maintained schools and the growth in the number of schools with deficits rather than cash balances. However, there are still schools with balances, some quite large in cash terms. How can this be, in an under-funded system? Is the balance between funding based upon pupil numbers, and that designed to cover the cost of ensuring a schools remains open regardless of changes in pupil numbers, right in the new formula now being introduced?

I especially worry about small rural schools, and my concerns have been shared by officials in North Yorkshire as detailed in another recent post on this blog. There needs to be some national benchmarks over finance that governing bodies can measure their schools against on a regular basis. The DfE has already done some good work here, but it needs to do more. At the heart of the debate may be the decision, made way back in the early days of delegated budgets, to fund schools on average salary levels and not actual cash amounts. Thus, schools with young teachers paid less than average benefit, but schools with teachers at the top of the pay scales find funding inadequate to meet their salary bills. The real squeeze on 16-18 funding hasn’t helped either, as many schools deploy their most expensive staff to teach this age-group.

Should we abolish tests in the primary school? There certainly shouldn’t be tests that stress, pupils, teachers and families. However, the data already shows that many disadvantaged pupils fare less well in our system than their more fortunate classmates. I would not want that fact to be lost. We have emerged from a culture when expectations of some children were low, and as a result not much was achieved. Don’t, please let us go back there. Humane, reasonable, tests backed by effective resources and a better use of emerging technologies can create a future golden age as we approach the 150th anniversary of state funded school in in England. Such  a system might be better at attracting and retaining its teachers in what is now a global marketplace.

Install sprinkler systems

This blog discussed the issue of installing sprinkler system in new schools in a post that was dated 28th August 216. At that time, the government was considering relaxing the rules about the installation of such systems.

There was a BBC new report over the weekend https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47923843 citing a study by the Fire Brigades Union using data obtained following a question from Labour MP and former teacher Stephanie Peacock. He found that 105 of the 673 schools built and open by February were fitted with sprinklers. Not surprisingly, the fact that only 15% of new build schools were fitted with sprinkler system has rightly raised concerns.

Some of these schools are likely to be single storey primary schools with good means of evacuation in the event of a fire. However, some will be secondary schools with more than one storey and it is hoped that all of these will have had sprinkler system installed. However, there is no requirement for private schools to install sprinkler systems even when higher risk activities, such as laboratories are located on upper floors.

There are two reasons for installing sprinkler systems, the risk to life and limb and the risk to property.  According to official figures, there were no fatalities from school fires in the eight years up to 2017/18, but there were 244 casualties. The lack of fatalities wouldn’t be used in any other circumstances for scaling back on safety measures, and it shouldn’t be when constructing new school buildings.

However, the risk to property is an equally important reason for installing sprinkler systems in schools of all types. Arson rarely happens when schools are occupied, and often takes place at night. Water damage, although distressing, can be much less costly and disruptive than a building burning down. Even if academies are externally insured for their buildings, the disruption to children’s education is something that should be avoided.

Whether you call it ‘invest to save’ or ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, I am with those that think almost all schools should be sprinkler systems installed. When local authorities carry the risk on their own books, this is an even more important choice as not only are there re-building costs but there may also be significant transport charges moving pupils to other schools.

The most important reasons is that pupil’s education should not be disrupted. Even though coursework is of less importance than it was previously in our examination system, loss of work can affect a child’s progress.

Sprinkler system may not be cheap, but they are a good investment. The government should review the rules over school building to make these system mandatory unless there is a good reason not to install them. They should also ask whether private schools need to be required to take measures when building new schools or extensions above a single storey in height.

 

16-19 attainment declining?

Funding cuts in the 16-19 sector may now be starting to affect outcomes. Data from by the DfE at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/791405/L23_attainment_2018_main_text.pdf provides a gloomy picture in terms of many of the outcomes measured. Some of the declines may be due to policy changes, such as the uncoupling of AS levels and changes in GCSE English and mathematics as well as policy changes in the field of vocational qualifications at the lower outcome levels, but others are not as easy to tie into changes.

The most depressing char is that on page 14 that charts the attainment gaps between SEN and non-SEN; FSM and non-FSM and the last and most deprived IDACI areas. Between 2005 and 2014 the gaps were narrowing year on year. Since then, the gaps after flattening in the final years of the coalition have started to widen once again. Is this another example of austerity hitting the most vulnerable?

Perhaps the most depressing comment from the document is that ‘54.5% of those with a SEN (as at age 15) achieved Level 2 by the age of 19, compared to 87.6% of those who did not have a SEN. The gap of 33.0% in 2018 represents a widening of 3.8 ppts compared with the previous year.’ Not far behind is the comment that ‘73.4% of those who lived in the 25% most deprived areas according to the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) achieved Level 2 by the age of 19, compared to 90.8% of those who lived in the 25% least deprived areas. The gap of 17.4 ppts in 2018 represents a widening of 1.3 ppts compared with the previous year.’ So what was the outcome for those with SEN in the most deprived areas?

Attainment of Level 2 English and maths fell for both the FSM group and the non-FSM group, with the gap between the two cohorts increasing compared to 2017. This might also be a pointer to funding pressures in the 16-19 sector. Most of the increase was in non-GCSE qualifications, suggesting that vocational qualifications might have been coming under more pressure than classroom subjects?

Still, attainment levels for Level 3 remain above the levels achieved in 2010 for the different groups. However, it is interesting to see that young people with FSM status do better at Level 2 by age 19 in the north East than in the South East, according to the local authority tables. Perhaps the smaller percentages of FSM status young people in some parts of the South East where employment rates are often higher than in the north East means that these can represent some hard to reach young people.

Should the funding of the 16-19 age group pay more attention to the needs of those falling behind, on whatever measure? Would that be better than a general boost to funding for the age group? Much may depend upon your views of hypothecated funding compared with unassigned budgets that institutions can spend as they wish.

 

DfE backs free vacancy sites

The Secretary of State has provided a big push for the DfE’s vacancy site and other free job sites such as TeachVac https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-teacher-recruitment-service-set-to-save-schools-millions

It is always interesting to see a Conservative government trying to stifle legitimate competition by using its millions to drive TeachVac out of business www.teachvac.co.uk  However, the government won’t succeed. As the DfE notice acknowledges, only 38% of schools have signed up to the DfE service after nine months of testing. They only cite Cambridgeshire as an authority where all schools have signed up to their service.

As I have written before, the DfE would have saved money, something they urge schools to do, by either working with existing job boards or taking a feed from TeachVac at a much lower cost that designing their own service.

The DfE site has one flaw for teachers looking for posts in a particular area and not bothered whether they work in the private or public sectors: the DfE site only contains state funded schools. TeachVac contain details of vacancies in both sectors.

Will the DfE now instruct local authorities to abandon their own local job boards on the basis that this duplication of service is wasting taxpayer’s money? The DfE could provide a feed for all schools with vacancies in the local authority area, as TeachVac can do. If the DfE doesn’t do this, one must ask why not?

I assume that ASCL and NAHT along with the NGA will come out in support of the DfE’s site, something that haven’t felt able to do with TeachVac, despite it being free for schools and teachers.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

With every school in the country now having access to this completely free site, I am calling on schools to ditch platforms that charge a fee. Why spend £1,000 on a service you can get for free?

Why indeed, and why go to the trouble of placing your vacancy on the DfE web site when TeachVac will collect it from your own web site for free, saving schools even more time and money.

So, will this be bad news for the TES and its new American owners? Much will depend upon how much in the way of resources the DfE is prepared to put into creating a state run monopoly? The vacancy part of the acquisition and its income stream certainly looks more risky this morning than it did on Friday. Will it be worth the £195 million that they seem to have paid for it?

Had I not helped invent TeachVac nearly six years ago, I would no doubt be more enthusiastic about the DfE’s attempt to drive down costs for schools. For now, we shall see what happens, and how schools, MATs and local authorities respond to today’s announcement.

For the sake of interest, I have compiled a table showing the DfE’s vacancy numbers – including non-teaching posts – as a percentage of TeachVac’s numbers. However, TeachVac includes independent secondary schools, but the DfE site sometimes contains non-teaching posts..

04/01/2019 11.26
11/01/2019 13.22
18/01/2019 17.57
25/01/2019 17.69
01/02/2019 21.44
08/02/2019 22.72
15/02/2019 24.46
22/02/2019 11.71
01/03/2019 31.25
08/03/2019 25.11
15/03/2019 25.20
22/03/2019 25.10
29/03/2019 28.20
05/04/2019 29.10

 

Harry Judge: a tribute

Harry Judge was Director of the then Oxford Department of Educational Studies when I arrived in Oxford in September 1979 to read for a higher degree. As a teacher with nearly a decade of teaching in a comprehensive school in Tottenham behind me, Oxford was a culture shock. However, Harry Judge was one of those that both made my time at Norham Gardens memorable. He also inspired much of my interest in both teacher education and the careers of teachers that has continued to this day.

I especially recall his lectures on both the McNair Report and the James Report, where he had been a member of the Committee chaired by Lord James. Although the oil crisis of 1972 scuppered much of what James had recommended for in-service professional development for the teaching profession the need for a sound education before becoming a teacher was accepted, along with the fact that a teacher preparation course was necessary for all by way of both pre-service training and induction. Not for James and Harry Judge the notion of Michael Gove that anyone with a good education can become a teacher.

Although much has changed in the period of approaching half a century since the James Committee was set up, this paragraph can still strike a cord, especially with those trainee not able to find a job immediately after completing their teacher preparation course.

“The probationary teacher, in fact, leaves his [sic] college on the last day of term and never hears of or from it again. Nor does the school to which he goes communicate with the college, even if difficulties arise. He is pleasantly received at his school (as would be any newly appointed member of staff, whether or not in a first appointment) and introduced, formally or informally, to the ways of the place. No one suggests to him that he is in a special situation, or entitled to unusual help. He may be invited by the LEA to attend a tea party but will probably not go and, if he does, that will be his last meeting with its officers or advisers. He teaches a full timetable including one or two of the notoriously difficult groups of pupils. No one goes near him in the mistaken belief that to do so would be to interfere with his professional integrity. At the end of the year he receives a note informing him that the probationary year has been satisfactorily completed, and he is now a fully qualified teacher. This gap between theory and practice reflects an equally alarming gap between the interpretation of the probationary year by colleges and departments on the one hand and schools on the other. Colleges rightly insist that a profession should accept a major responsibility in incorporating its own members and, in any case, they cannot themselves do everything, and cannot produce a standard and universally valid form of training which will enable everyone to do everything everywhere. The schools rightly insist that ‘the system’ does in fact presuppose that a new teacher is fully trained, and they are given neither resources nor encouragement to become effective partners in the training.”   James Report paragraph 3.9

School-based training, SCITTs and partnerships have helped eradicate the worst of the problems mentioned above, but a market system and a weakened third cycle of professional development still can leave too many new teachers without an ideal introduction to the profession: hence the unnecessary wastage rates for new teachers.

Harry Judge helped pioneer the successful partnership model for the PGCE at Oxford as well as inspiring many teachers and leaders in the field of education. I am glad to have known and studied on courses that he taught. He was a major influence on my life in the field of education. Thank you Harry.