About john howson

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

How do you teach politics today?

One of the more interesting side effects of what is happening in Westminster, Paris and Washington at the present time, is how those staff teaching politics syllabuses prepare candidates for examinations this summer? Do they a] ignore everything happening at present and assume the status quo ante in terms of what they expect in answers to questions and essays, regardless of what they teach in lessons, or b] do they try and provide students with an understanding that they can convey in their essays when by the time the examinations arrive the situation might yet be different again.

Take the following section from a syllabus published on the internet:

 Parliament and government relationships
  • Accountability 
  • Executive dominance 
  • Elective dictatorship 
  • Bicamera

 The roles of the House of Commons and House of Lords in scrutinising legislation and holding the government to account. The influence of backbenchers, frontbenchers, whips and the Opposition.

Answering that section after the events of the past ten days is going to be interesting, let alone what might happen over the next four months leading up to the examination day. The same is true of the section about ‘The role of parliament in the political system’.

I guess the safe way forwards will be to start any answer with something such as ‘Received wisdom and understanding up to the start of 2019 was …. This is expressed by writers such as …’ and then delve into what has changed if the candidate feels comfortable with being able to explain the new reality.

Earlier today I posed this dilemma to a well-known educationalist and former teacher of politics and was reminded by her that there have been occasions in the past, such as a change of Prime Minister between the setting of the exam paper and the date the examination is taken that can make the expected predicable answer no longer accurate, unless it is place in a historical context.

I guess this is the risk with a subject that deals with contemporary life. Fortunately for economics and business studies examiners, stock market crashes has a greater tendency to occur in the autumn, after the harvest has been gathered in, than at other times of year. Although the same cannot be said for inflation or interest rate changes.

Nevertheless, it is politics lessons that must be the most interesting lesson on the curriculum this week. In higher education, students can often attend courses just out of interest and one wonders whether some sixth formers might want to do so for politics lessons at present. Alternatively, for most it might be a big bore, even though it is up there with Peel and reform of The Corn Laws and the decline of the Liberal Party in the 1920s and the effects of the Great Crash of 1929 in terms of its magnitude as a parliamentary event.

Finally, I understood the term bicameral for a parliamentary system of two chambers, but the syllabus quoted above was the first time I had come across the use of ‘bicamera’ to describe such a system.

 

 

 

 

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Staying put

By a strange quirk of fate I had a meeting in Portcullis House at 6pm on Tuesday. While the Palace of Westminster itself may have been buzzing with excitement, across the road the parliamentary estate was emptier than I have ever seen it on a day when parliament was sitting. Apart from the security team and catering staff looking for customers, the building was largely deserted.

Still, the meeting will allow me to say if asked where were you when the historic vote took place that I was at Westminster. It will join those other two historic ’where were you’ moments’ in my life – JFK’s assassination – at a church sale of work – and the demolition of the Berlin Wall – on the Friday morning telling a group of Year 1 BEd students that they should always remember where they were when they heard the news that the Wall had fallen.

However, the object of this post is really to consider the report today that surveyors and estate agents are gloomier about the housing market over the next three months than at any time for 20 years, albeit due to uncertainty over Brexit.

If the housing market does lock up over the next three months, then there will be implications for schools, given that so much of their income is tied to pupil numbers these days. Some schools may benefit as they will keep pupils that might otherwise have left for pastures new, but if turnover in the housing market really slows down, then there will be losers as households with grown up children stay put and are not replaced by new young families looking for school places.

Some developers may find sales on new estates slow down, and the new school being built will be faced with the choice of either opening with fewer pupils this September or deferring opening for another year and thus helping increase pupil numbers at other local schools. As all such schools are either academies or free schools of one variety of another, it only impacts on local authorities in terms of their ability to manage the overall provision of schooling in their area, something government hasn’t been overly concerned with in recent years.

Of course, we might see some extra spending on marketing and publicity as schools seek to fill empty places using cash better spent on teaching and learning. Ever since the doctrine of parental choice came into being after 1979, the idea of glossier brochures, open days and league tables has come to dominate the annual round of school selection.

Should the DfE follow up on its new free vacancy site by designing a free marketing portal for schools to reduce the cost to schools of recruiting pupils? The DfE could then ban excessive spending by individual schools. However, it would also have to stop practices such as providing free buses for pupils from some locations, something parents would not welcome.

Then there is the other side of ‘staying put’. What might teachers decide to do in the present circumstances. Will they stay as well or will they go, perhaps overseas in even greater numbers?

 

TeachVac – saving schools money

The EPI Report published earlier today, about school balances and the use of their income, especially by secondary schools, provides me with an ideal opportunity to beat the drum for TeachVac, the free recruitment site for teachers, where I am chair of the board.

Over the past four years, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has built a brand from a standing start and at no cost to the public purse. Last year it matched nearly 55,000 vacancies for teachers in England with potential applicants from across the country. These teachers included, new entrants from training; teachers seeking promotion or just changing schools and returners, whether from a break in service or from working in a school overseas or in the further education sector that includes Sixth Form Colleges.

2019 has started where last year left off for TeachVac, breaking new records within the first week of January. Already, there have been enough new jobs in the first 10 days of January for teachers of Business Studies listed by TeachVac to absorb more than 10% of the new output from training this summer. This is a subject where the DfE really does need to review the bursary funding for trainees if schools are not going either to have to delete the subject or teach it with unqualified teachers or those with QTS, but no subject expertise.

As the DfE vacancy site, the only national competitor to TeachVac that is also free to schools and teachers, approaches full roll out we would invite detailed comparison between the DfE site and TeachVac on both technical features and cost per vacancy. If the DfE is paying too much for its site, then that is still money not reaching schools, but ending up in the pockets of a private company instead.

The TeachVac view is that the sector should be aiming for the lowest price recruitment site compatible with a level of service agreed as the gold standard by all participants in education. In my role as Chair of the TeachVac board, I have been disappointed about the willingness of those representing schools and teachers to even consider properly, let alone offer support, new entrants into this market.

TeachVac has now established a global site for international schools around the world. With the experience of four years of working across schools in England, I believe that TeachVac Global can create the same market transformation as TeachVac has achieved in England.

One other advantage of handling nearly 55,000 vacancies a year through TeachVac is the research evidence it can provide. TeachVac will be shortly publishing its review of the market for senior staff, and specifically for primary headteachers in England during 2018. This will be the second such review, after that of the 2017 market review published last year.

Later, there will be a general review of the market for teachers during 2018, based upon TeachVac’s data. Some of that work will already have appeared in this blog as trends in the 2018 labour market became apparent during the year. This blog has already published some first thoughts about the 2019 labour market for teacher sin secondary schools: more will follow as the market for September vacancies develops.

 

 

 

School funding – is it ever enough?

The Education Policy Institute, where David Laws, ex-Education Minister is Chair of the Board, published a report on school revenue balances today. The data on school balances discussed in the report in maintained schools comes partly from the same DfE source discussed in a post on this blog on the 12th December 2018.

Simplistic analysis of the report produced comments that the Report showed schools were under-funded. This was because one in ten of the remaining maintained secondary schools had a deficit overall and many others were in deficit in the latest year data was available for from the government. In reality, as the EPI report discussed, the picture is both more nuanced and more complicated than a bald assessment that schools don’t have enough funding, although pressure on 16-19 funding almost certainly does need attention.

What is less clear is the extent to which the former funding formula created winners and losers and whether the new formula will help redress the balance in the future. Personally, I don’t think it will. However, there also needs to be more understanding as to why these one in ten maintained secondary schools cannot live within their means for several years and more schools are now in that position?

As EPI note, academy chains have fewer schools with deficits and are able to move money around between schools. Local Authorities cannot do this to help schools over a temporary crisis. Should the remaining maintained schools now be treated as if they were a Multi-Academy Trust, allowing cash to be moved between schools?  If local financial management means the cash provided for a school is for that school, then MATs should not be allowed to take any cash away from one school to help another and can only charge for services provided.

The EPI report covers this point in their policy recommendations

  1. With increasing financial pressures on schools – particularly in secondaries – the government should consider before the Spending Review whether higher per pupil funding is needed, or whether efficiency savings can make up part of the current shortfalls. It should especially focus on the strains faced by many secondary schools, and assess whether changes in pupil numbers are likely to ease financial pressures, or whether these will prove more enduring.
  2. Further consideration should be given to what extra help or advice can be offered to those schools facing large deficits.
  3. The government should determine the reasons for the lower level of in-year deficits in academy trusts, and whether there are any lessons to learn from this.
  4. The government should also look closely at the level of “excessive”, unallocated, surpluses and consider if existing rules allow for these resources to be used effectively.

The last recommendation from EPI is interesting, especially in view of the concerns over deficits. As I noted in December, some schools have balances equivalent to 20% of their annual income and there are schools with more than £1,000,000 in reserves. My view, as expressed in December, is that revenue income is for spending in the year it is provided ad for the current pupils, although setting a sum aside for depreciation is now acceptable.

Finally, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk was established to help schools cut costs by providing a free vacancy service to schools. I am delighted to record TeachVac handled nearly 55,000 vacancies in 2018 and has a great start to 2019, breaking records. Just why the DfE needs to run a rival scheme isn’t clear.

 

 

Recruiting teachers from overseas post BREXIT

The time left to complete the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) survey on shortage occupations is fast running out. The time limit was extended until the 14th January. The MAC is the government’s advisory body that can determine whether vacancies are sufficiently difficult to fill that in the teaching profession they should be regarded as a shortage subject and eligible for working visa arrangements.

Since the MAC’s last report on the teaching profession, published two years ago in January 2017, the outlook for the labour market for the secondary sector, where pupil rolls are on the increase, has deteriorated markedly. The MAC needs to be persuaded to look at a wider range of subjects than they accepted for their 2017 study. The MAC also needs to confront the issue of regional shortages within a national picture of sufficient supply. Is it realistic to accept shortages in London and the Home Counties just because there are no shortages in the North East or South West?

In the private sector, it can be argued that wages can be altered to encourage movement between regions. Such an argument is more difficult to sustain when there is a national pay review body setting national wage structures, as in the teaching profession. Although academies can pay whatever they like, and other schools can use recruitment incentives, it seems logical that the Treasury will use national pay norms when calculating the funding for schooling allocated to the DfE. The fact that private schools can set fees only makes matters worse, since 50% of such schools are located in and around London, just adding to the demand for teachers in that part of England.

The Data from the DfE in the ITT census of 2018, Table 10, also shows a decline back to the levels of 2012/13 in QTS awards to teachers trained in other EEA countries, with a decline of more than 300 awards to teachers from Spain, a country that has supplied nearly 2,000 teachers each year awarded QTS since 2010/11.

The MAC does need to consider the evidence they use of the demand for teachers. I will declare an interest here as chair of TeachVac. The use of data from an American company, Burning Glass, in the 2017 MAC report may have produced a slightly distorted picture, as Burning Glass seem to have counted not just ‘real’ vacancies, but also apparent vacancies. It is difficult otherwise to explain figure 4.4 of the MAC’s 2017 Report that identified several thousand vacancies being advertised in August of each year from 2014-2016. Any detailed analysis of the labour market for teachers would reveal much lower ‘real’ advertisements during that month, but lots of placed by agencies for ‘a teacher of’ not related to a specific post in a specific school. Since TeachVac only counts jobs attached to a specific school, the evidence is of a better quality. The same will be the case for the DfE’s new site and for publications such as the TES.

Better quality data might reveal a different profile of shortage subjects to those identified by the MAC in 2017, including both design and technology and business studies. The MAC will also have to discuss the fact that schools generally advertise for a teacher of science and the supply of biologists means there is not a shortage of science teachers per se, but of teachers of physics and to some extent chemistry as well.

I look forward to the MAC review and I hope that they will consider the ‘real’ evidence about teacher shortages when conducting their new analysis.

Further reflections

The Daily Mail is apparently carrying a story today of a leaked DfE email revealing a fall in teacher numbers. This is seen as a revelation, even though Table 2a of the DfE’s analysis of the Teacher Workforce, published in June 2018, showed a fall in teacher numbers between the 2016 and 2017 census points. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017

However, I suppose that when a staunchly Tory supporting newspaper starts printing bad news stories about the working of a Conservative government one must anticipate that either the end is nigh or that editorial control is weak over the Christmas and New Year period.

Had either the Daily Mail or any other media outlet wanted to pick a more up to the minute bad news story about teacher numbers, they could have done no better to use my previous post as the basis for a news item. Readers will recall that based on data released yesterday by UCAS, it appears that fewer graduates want to become primary school teachers than in the past.  The Daily Mail could have run a headline around ‘Who will teach Tiny Tim?’ about this fall in applications to train as a primary teacher.

Delving further into the UCAS data than I had time to do yesterday, it seems as if more career changers were queuing up to apply to train as a teacher in 2019, than were new young graduates. However, the 230 additional graduates in their 30s and 40s compared with December 2017 were not enough to offset the reduction of 400 in those from the 22-22 age group that have not applied this year. Hopefully, they are still weighing up their options.

For the first time in some years, fewer than 1,000 men from the 21-22 age group have applied for a place to train as a teacher on either a primary or secondary course starting in 2019. However, it is the continued relative lack of interest from young female graduates that should concern officials even more. This group in the past has been the bedrock of those applying in the early part of the recruitment round.

Rather than evaluating the overall success or otherwise of the marketing campaign, the DfE should urgently be investigating why this group, of whom there will be fewer emerging from universities over the next few years, are taking longer to think about teaching as a career. Last year, enough came around in the end to ensure all places for primary teachers were filled, but the warning signs are there and need investigation.

Perhaps the DfE has over-emphasised the need for secondary subject teachers and rather taken the primary sector for granted, apart from the need to ensure sufficient teachers with expertise in mathematics. The DfE doesn’t have a policy of ensuring sufficient subject knowledge across the curriculum to ensure that able pupils can be motivated and intellectually stretched either within the primary school or in other ways.

Perhaps it is time to reconstruct those local CDP offering managed by teams of staff than know their schools and teachers. Doing so in a cost effective manner might mean upsetting some MATs and even diocese, but can we afford anything other than the most cost effective system for such CPD?

 

A decline is still a decline even if the rate of decline has slowed down

For most of the 25 years I have been tracking applications by graduates to enter teacher preparation courses, there has been no need to worry about the number of applicants seeking to train as a primary school teacher; the issue has always been finding enough trainees in a range of secondary subjects.

The latest data from UCAS on applications for postgraduate teacher training in the period up to just before Christmas 2018 showed that there were 10,820 applicants domiciled in England by mid-December 2018, compared with 17,420 at the December 2016 measuring point and 18,880 in 2015. Although the decline has slowed compared with previous years in 2018, it has not stopped, and makes even more of mockery of the statement quoted in the previous blog post from the LSE team’s evaluation of the DfE’s marketing campaign for teaching.

UCAS don’t provide information about the split between applicants looking at primary courses and those seeking secondary subjects. However, the nature of the decline can be determined by looking at the number of applications in the different sectors.

Applications for all secondary courses in England were stable at 16,100 in December 2018 compared with 16,070 in December 2017. However, primary, applications are down from 16,870 in 2017 to just 14,770 in December 2018. If everyone has made three applications that would be less than 5,000 applicants so far for primary courses.

Last year, the numbers required to fill all primary places were made up later in the cycle, and by the ITT census in November 103% of placed had been filled. But, gone, it seems, are the days when I needed to advocate a closing date to ensure anyone applying later than November would be considered for a place. With around primary 13,000 places to fill for autumn 2019, we need around a lot more applications if providers are going to have any choice in candidates they can offer a place to on their courses.

The good news is that applications are higher for most secondary subjects compared to December 2017. Art, history and physical education are the exceptions. The decline of nearly 1,000 in applications for physical education courses is noteworthy, as it is the first time such a decline in this subject has been seen in recent years.

Looking at applications by the region of provider, applications are down across most of England, with those applying for courses in London down from 2,570 in December 2016 to 1,540 in December 2018. The West Midlands is the only region not to record a fall. Applicant numbers there were the same in December 2018 as in the previous December.

In the primary sector, all types of provider have suffered from a decline in applications, with higher education reducing by more than 1,700 applications. By contrast in the secondary sector, School Direct Fee courses registered an increase in applications compared with last year, whereas other providers all recorded falls in applications. School Direct salaried applications in the secondary sector were around the 900 mark in December 2018. This might mean only 300 applicants, if each had made three applications. In reality, the number of applicants is likely to be higher, but is still probably around 10% down on last year’s figure for December.

December is still early in the annual recruitment cycle to panic, but unless there is a pickup early in 2019, schools faced with a growing secondary school population in September 2020 might find recruiting teachers in some subjects a real challenge. Let us hope that the same won’t be true for their colleagues leading primary schools.