About john howson

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

Yong people being successful

This summer, I have been able to witness some amazing activities by young people from across Oxfordshire. In this blog I would like to mention three groups and the adults that have supported them. All have to a greater or lesser extent funding from official sources, but need to rely upon volunteers as well, including the goodwill of parents. They represent but the tip of an iceberg of what takes place.

At the end of the school summer term I attended various concerts put on by the County Music Service, and at the end of the month I will be attending a welcome back concert by the OSO. This orchestra is considered to be Oxfordshire’s “training” orchestra, with students going on to play in the OSSO, OYWO and OCYO. Next year the most senior of these orchestra is planning on playing Mahler’s First Symphony. That would be a magnificent achievement for the orchestra and the County Music Service. Their other achievement this year, of buddying children with SEND of all descriptions with other young people to create a truly memorable music experience, broke new boundaries.

The National Citizen Service hasn’t always had a good press, but the on the ground activities help create a sense of teamwork and allow young people to achieve more than they thought themselves capable. I was privileged to be asked to judge the projects by five of the teams from among the 700 young people taking part in the five discrete programmes this summer in Oxfordshire. These programmes also involved the use of 200 staff to support the courses. Included in the programme was supporting and fund-raising for charitable activities. Alongside support for the homeless and the local hospital charity were campaigns to support young carers; those with brain injuries and a project to map unisex toilets that can be used by those identifying as of transgender. I witnessed two of the teams staffing a stall in the local market place as a means of raising funds. In 2018, more than £43,000 was raised by NCS group activities. It is still early to say how much will be raised in 2109, but again young people came together to work on a project and learn a range of skills.

Yester, I attended the open day for the Oxfordshire Battalion of the Army Cadet Force summer camp. Despite atrocious weather, youngsters from 13 to 19 were participating in a range of activities albeit with a military theme. The dedication of all concerned was clear to see and the Battalion in Oxfordshire is clearly in good spirits. However, I wonder whether the MoD pays the same attention to the ACF s it does to the Combined Cadet Force or CCF that is mostly located in our independent schools? In this day and age youth activities by the MoD must not be organised so that one is the route for potential officers and the other for other ranks. That might have worked in the days after World War 2 when the tri-partite system of education prevailed, but would look extremely out of date these days. Bringing pupils from both sectors to work together, especially in a county lie Oxfordshire with so many intendent schools, might dispel any such notion. Larger numbers might also help attract those interested in understanding the range of activities of our defence forces and the skills they need.

So, my thanks to all that give up their time for these and other organisations working with young people. We just need to ensure that there is also a proper youth service that can support others, such as young carers that often cannot find the time to join in these types of activities.

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Rods, poles and perches

The announcement of 10,000 new prison places and increased use of stop and search by the Prime Minister made me think about what he might announce for education once he goes beyond the financial carrot necessary to shore up our under-financed education system.

With such an ardent Brexiter in charge, could he direct that the curriculum change on 1st November to throw out any reference to the decimal system and witness a return to imperial weights and measures? Could the government mandate that temperature again be expressed in degrees Fahrenheit rather than Centigrade, and kilometres be banished form the language once again? Any other summer and these might seem silly season stories, but not in 2019.

I have no doubt that schools would rather than spend the £2 billion to build new prison places that this cash was spent on youth services, more cash for special schools and strategies to reduce exclusions and off-rolling by schools. This could include better provision of professional development courses to help teachers educate challenging pupils rather than exclude them. Such measures might obviate the need for building new prisons.

I do not want to return to the dark days of the Labour government, just over a decade ago, when, at any one time, around 4,000 young people were being locked up: the number now is closer to 1,000 despite the issues with knife crime that like drugs issues is now seeping across the country at the very time when it seems to have plateaued in London.

More police and other public service staff are necessary for society to function effectively, but the aim must be on prevention and deterrents not on punitive action and punishment. Criminals that know they are likely to be caught may well think twice: those that know detection rates are abysmal will consider the opportunity worth the risk.

The State also needs to spend money on education and training of prisoners as well as rehabilitation of offenders after the end of their sentence; especially young offenders. The recent report from the Inspector of Prisons makes as depressing reading as the study highlighted in a previous post of the background of many young people that are incarcerated for committing crimes. If we cannot even work to prevent the smaller number of young people imprisoned these days from re-offending what hope is there if society starts to lock up more young people again?

A recurrent theme of this blog has been about the design of the curriculum for the half of our young people not destined for higher education. Here the new government could do something sensible by recognising that schools have accepted that the EBacc offers too narrow a curriculum to offer to every pupil and to encourage a post-14 offering that provides for the needs of all pupils. This might be achieved by encouraging schools and further education to work together.

A start might be made by increasing the funding for the 16-18 sector and identifying what was good about the idea of University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools and why the experiment has not worked as its promoters had hoped.

 

Teachers always needed in London

Four out of every ten teaching vacancies in England, advertised between January and the end of July this year, were placed by schools located either in London or the South East. Add in vacancies from the northern and eastern Home Counties, including Essex, Hertfordshire and schools located in a clutch of unitary local authorities and the figure for vacancies comes close to half of all teaching posts. This data come from TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk, the company where I am Chair of the Board.

By contrast, the North East and North West together account for only 12% of vacancies. This increases to 20% if the Yorkshire and The Humber Region is added into the total. Of course, these are smaller regions than London and the South East, but that doesn’t account for all of the difference.

Undoubtedly, the school population is rising faster in London and the Home Counties than elsewhere, both because of the birth rate increase a few years ago and also because of the amount of house building, especially in parts of the South East. Oxfordshire has had three new secondary schools over the past few years, with more to come. This after a period when no new secondary schools were built in the county.

Although Teach First is now a programme spread across England, its influence in London can still be seen. Schools in the Capital generally topped the list for percentage of vacancies recorded by region, but were in second place in terms of the percentage of demand for teachers of English and only in joint first place with the South East in demand for teachers of mathematics, both accounting for 19% of the national total of advertised vacancies.

Another reason demand may be high in London and the South East is the significant number of private schools located in these regions.

Interestingly, ‘business’ in is various forms was the subject where London was further ahead of the rest of the country; accounting for a third of all vacancies advertised so far in 2019. Add in the percentage for the South East and the total for the two regions is more than half the total for the whole of England.

In business, as in a range of other subjects, schools needing to recruit for vacancies that arise for January 2020 are going to find filing those vacancies something of a challenge. Regardless of the outcome of Brexit and the state of the world economy, there won’t be a reserve of newly qualified teachers still looking for work in many subjects. Languages, history and geography within the EBacc being exceptions, although even here there are likely to be local shortages, regardless of the national picture.

Recruiting returners and persuading teachers to switch schools may be the best options for schools suddenly faced with a vacancy, for whatever reason. There will be some teachers coming back from overseas and TeachVac has seen more ‘hits’ on the web site from Southern Hemisphere counties over the past few weeks. But such numbers may only be of marginal help unless there is a really deep global recession.

One option the government might consider is offering teacher preparation courses starting and ending in January as well as September. The Open University used to be very good at offering courses that graduate teachers in time to meet the needs of schools looking to fill their January vacancies.  It might be worth considering such an option again.

Young people in custody: all too depressing

At the beginning of August, the DfE together with the Ministry of Justice, published what is described as ‘a joint experimental statistics report’ on ‘Understanding the educational background of young offenders’. The report makes depressing, but possibly not unexpected reading. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/understanding-the-educational-background-of-young-offenders-summary-report

The results are from a data sharing project between the DfE and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), conducted in 2015. The analysis is of those young offenders sentenced in 2014 matched to DfE data.

Not all young people with the observed characteristics either offend or, if offending, are sentenced to one or more periods of custody. There is no causal relationship between any lack of education progress and offending, but those that offend are more likely than not to have below average educational outcomes regardless of their actual ability.

This lack of educational progress, although apparent by the end of Key Stage 2 for the cohort studied in this exercise, is magnified when students reach secondary school. The largest gap between the outcome for all pupils and those that became young offenders was in ‘writing’ at Key Stage 2 and the smallest gap was in ‘reading at this Key Stage.

By Key Stage4, although the majority of young offenders in the study did achieve a pass in something at Key Stage 4, no more than 7%  of young person sent into custody achieved 5 A*-Cs including English and mathematics, using the grading then in place for these subjects. The most depressing figure is that just one per cent of the 399 individuals sent into a short period of custody achieved the 5 A*-Cs outcome including English and mathematics.

A third of young offenders receiving custody of longer than twelve months when age 16 or 17 on their sentence date were ‘looked after children’ on the 31st March 2014.

Even more depressing is the very high percentages of young offenders with a record of persistent absence from school, presumably mostly in their secondary school careers. Apart from those sentenced to Referral Orders and Cautions that are likely to be first time entrants into the criminal justice system, all other categories had more than 90% of the group with a record of persistent absence, peaking at 94% for those with custodial sentences of less than six months. This group also top the percentage that had been subject to a permanent exclusion.

At the period this study was undertaken ‘off-rolling’ and home educating of Key Stage 4 pupils was not a significant feature of secondary schools. However, it would be interesting to know the percentage of young people ‘off-rolled’ that enter the criminal justice system at the present time.

Schools and colleges are currently facing financial challenges, and it is worrying that the figures in this report come from a period when schools were better, even if not adequately, funded.

Interestingly, this report does not include either regional data or data about the ethnicity of the offenders. One can assume, however, that most are young men as the number of young women sent into custody is generally very low.

Hopefully, this report will inspire the new Ministerial team in the DfE to address how the education of this group of young people can be improved and the use of custody reduced.

 

 

 

 

Bad news on closing the gap

The Education Policy Institute’s 2019 Report on Education (EPI Report) has largely been noticed for the comments about social mobility and the stalling of attempts to close the gaps between disadvantaged and other pupils as this is a key feature of its findings  https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/epi-annual-report-2019-the-education-disadvantage-gap-in-your-area/ Reasons for this ending of the reduction in the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and other pupils as noted by EPI are the decline in funding for schools and the challenges some schools face in both recruiting and retaining teachers.

This latter explanation is one that has been regularly championed by this blog as likely to have an adverse effect on outcomes. So, it would seem that money matters, and the idea of just providing cash to under-funded local authorities, as seemingly suggested by the new Prime Minister, might not necessarily be the way forward.

However, I do have some concerns about parts of the methodology used by EPI as it relates to the presentation of the data. A focus on local authorities as the key determinant does tend to ignore areas, whether urban or rural that have wide variations in levels of disadvantage within the same local authority boundary. For the two tier shire and district council areas, it would have been better to use the data at a district council level, but that doesn’t help in cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, and boroughs where there may be wide variations between different parts of the authority. To some extent the data for an authority doesn’t reveal the whole picture and can provide results that might mis-lead the casual reader.

EPI avoids this issue to some extent by producing tables using parliamentary constituencies as the basis for the data. Thus the gap in months at the secondary level relative to non-disadvantaged pupils nationally can differ widely within one authority by looking at data at the level of the parliamentary constituency. For Birmingham, it is 13.6 in Selly Oak, but 19.6 in Ladywood; in Kent it differs between 27.0 for the Dover constituency and 13.8 in Tunbridge Wells.

This is not to say that drawing attention to the gap between where pupils start their education journeys and where they complete them isn’t vitally important at a local authority level. But, providing everyone with equal shares of the cake is not an answer for anyone that wants anything other than administrative simplicity, important though it is to ensure that base funding levels are sufficient for the task in hand.

EPI do make the point in their report that despite no progress in narrowing the disadvantage gap, overall pupil attainment has continued to rise. This suggests that an overall rise in standards does not guarantee a reduction in the disadvantage gap. (Their emphasis).

The Report also highlights the fact that the post-16 education routes taken by young people are becoming increasingly segregated by socio-economic status, with disadvantaged pupils disproportionately represented in certain routes. In particular, the increased segregation is driven by an over-representation of disadvantaged students in further education. These trends may damage the government’s ambition of rectifying imbalances between further and higher education. (Their emphasis).

 

 

Education is a fundamental Human Right

Last week there was a report from the Ombudsman (sic) about the management of the process of to the admission of a pupil to a school. This report was of especial interest to me as it involved Oxfordshire, where I am a county councillor.

Long-time readers of this blog will know of my concerns over the time required for some children taken into care to be offered a school place, despite their vulnerability. I have written about that issue several times, but probably most tellingly in April last year at https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2018/04/17/educating-children-taken-into-care/

The fact that other children are also being affected is very disappointing, and disheartening when it is happening so close to home.

I firmly believe this is a basic right of children to be provided with education by the State, if asked to do so. To leave a child for 14 months, as in the case highlighted in the report from the Ombudsman, with either less than full-time education or no education at all is unacceptable.

We now fine parents for taking children on holiday in term time, so we cannot accept, even in these times of cuts to public services, a child facing long periods without education as a result of administrative issues.

Indeed, I am reminded that the first Protocol of Article 2 of the 1998 Human Rights Act reads as follows:

Right to education

No person shall be denied a right to an education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/human-rights-act/article-2-first-protocol-right-education

The fault is not entirely that of Oxfordshire, the power of academies to dictate their own in-year admissions and the failure of government to act quickly when asked to rule on the issue don’t help.

Indeed, the 2016 White Paper that suggested that in-year admissions be returned to local authority control would be a good start.

If Mr Williamson wanted an early win for parents, pending time for legislation, he could gain voluntary acceptance for academies and their Trusts to agree to work with local authorities on admissions and not to opt out of local arrangements.

However, all Oxfordshire’s children already have Oxfordshire County Council as their first line of defence when there are problems, as the Ombudsman pointed out at paragraph 60 of their Report:

Section 19 of the Education Act 1996 states councils have a duty to make arrangements to ensure the provision of suitable education at school or otherwise for each child of compulsory school age who for reasons of illness, exclusion or otherwise may not for any period receive suitable education unless arrangements are made for them. This duty is binding.

https://www.lgo.org.uk/information-centre/news/2019/jul/oxfordshire-teen-left-out-of-school-for-14-months-because-of-council-delay

Young people only have one chance of education alongside their peers, and we have to provide the resources to take care of challenging cases as much as for the majority of pupils that cause no issues for the State, and the schools it funds.

 

 

20,000 fewer teachers?

The news that the Home Office are going to oversee the recruitment of either 20,000 new graduate police officers or people capable of earning a vocational degree must prompt the question; in the current labour market, where are these new police officers going to come from? Of course, it might be a preemptive strike by the government against a possible recession and the associated increase in unemployment. This must be on the assumption that any recession will hit the graduate end of the labour market at least as hard as it hits those with no qualifications.

After seven years of a failure to recruit enough new teachers into training – a back door cut – and facing an increasing pupil population, teaching also need more entrants that it has at present. Indeed, it seems likely that when the ITT Census for 2018 is published in November, this will be the eighth year of missed targets in some subjects. I recorded the disturbing decline of design and technology trainee numbers in one of yesterday’s posts, if anyone is interested.

So, might teachers switch to become police officers? I doubt it will be 20,000, but the loss of any experienced teachers will be a blow to the profession that has also seen retention rates worsen for teachers we might have expected to have reached the stage where they had become what one person described to me this week as ‘lifers’.

Potential teachers, especially those keen to be in London and not eligible for Teach First, might well weigh up the starting salary of a constable against the fees to be paid as a trainee teacher and the absence of any guarantee of a teaching post on completion of training.

I certainly think that this move to increase police numbers will reinforce the need for a review of the former training grant for all teachers, and not just payments to those lucky enough to be on Teach First or the School Direct Salaried routes or receiving a bursery. Of course, the government could wait and see, but that must be deemed a risk unless graduate unemployment rises both quickly and fast.

If the new Secretary of State for Defence wants more graduates in the armed forces and the NHS more nurses, then those actions will place more pressure on the teaching profession to be competitive in a labour market where it clearly isn’t competitive at present.

Do we really want a system that produces just enough qualified teachers of Physics to meet the needs of private schools, Sixth Form Colleges and the selective schools? Do we want a system that fails to produce enough teachers of design and technology; of music; even of art? According to head teachers that I meet, this isn’t even the complete list of subjects where recruitment is currently a challenge.

The other salvation is that a slowing down of the global economy might reduce demand from ‘overseas schools’ for teachers trained in England. Such a situation is possible, but with the switch of many of these schools to educating not the children of expat business families, but locals dissatisfied with their State system or unable to access it, not too much hope should be placed on this solution, at least for now.