Are Education exports slowing?

Last August I wrote a piece on this blog about UK Education’s contribution to the export drive under the title ‘Buy British Education’. This followed a research report from the DfE.

Recently, the DfE has updated the figures to include those for 2015. This remains a good news story for UKplc. Our higher education sector accounts for two thirds of the revenue stream in 2015, up from 60% in 2010. Further Education, presumably following the crackdown on colleges and visa infringements, has seen a two thirds drop in income to around £320 million. It had been looking in 2010 as if the FE sector would break the Billion pound barrier.

Happily, the independent school sector has increased income by 44% between 2010 and 2015, and brought in some £900 million in 2015.How they might be affected if further sanctions on are imposed on Russia is an interesting question. Despite a fall in income generated between 2010 and 2015, Language schools still brought in nearly £700 million more than independent schools.

As I predicted last summer, publishing is now being affected as the marketplace adaptation to new technologies gathers pace. Although income has increased by six per cent between 20-10 and 2015, that figure looks derisory compared with achievements elsewhere.  Qualification Awarding Bodies did exceptionally well, increasing revenue by 73% over the period between 2010 and 2015, and brought in £250 million that year.

Taken overall, total education exports and transnational educational activity that earned revenue for the UK saw a 22% growth in revenue between 2010 and 2015 to reach £19,330,000,000.

Of course, all the income flows aren’t in one direction and it would be interesting to assess how much net contribution education makes to UKplc after cash flows in the other direction are taken into account. During the period 2010-2015 that great British institution, the TES, was bought by an American Group and if were it making profits they would presumably be flowing overseas along with some of the company’s contribution to its debt pile.

TeachVac, the company where I am chairman, hope to start making a modest contribution to these export figures through our recruitment site for international schools. As it is based in England, our income can be regarded as part of the export drive.

However, there are some worrying signs behinds the headline numbers. The DfE point out in the latest Bulletin that between 2014 and 2015 total education exports and TNE activity grew by 3.0%, 1.7 percentage points lower than the rate of growth seen between 2013 and 2014. This reflects the slightly lower growth rate in total education related exports which grew at 2.4% between 2014 and 2015, compared to 4.4% in the previous year.

We must now await the outcome of the UK’s departure from the EU to see whether or not it affects income, especially fee and research income received from overseas by our universities. Perhaps, if overseas students had been excluded from the immigration figures, some who voted leave might have felt differently about the referendum: or perhaps not.


Probably none left?

Yesterday, Friday 16th March, Business Studies turned negative on TeachVac’s scale that compares vacancies for main scale teachers with trainee numbers. I wrote on this blog a few weeks ago predicating this would happen soon, and it has duly come to pass. Next to turn negative will be Design and Technology, probably sometime in April, if the present rate of progress is maintained and allowing for the Easter break.

Now, it is interesting to compare the date these subjects effectively ran out of trainees and turned negative in each of the past three years as well as this year.

Date where TeachVac recorded enough vacancies to provide a teaching post for all trainees in the relevant ITT Census

Year Business Studies Design & Technology
2015 15th April 20th May
2016 22nd April 30th September
2017 31st March 2nd June
2018 16th March Before end of April?

Source: TeachVac

Both subjects are likely to have seen enough teaching posts created by schools in England to absorb all trainees at a ratio of two recorded vacancies for every one trainee at an earlier point this year than in any of the previous three years. Of course, Business Studies may be propped up by some schools being prepared to recruit economists to teach Business Studies and TeachVac doesn’t publish data on the number of posts in economics, although the data is collected. However, the warning signs apparent when the DfE ITT census was announced of a failure to fill all training places available has come about.

The position in a portmanteau subject such as Design and Technology is more complex. The ITT Census does not breakdown the categories of specialism with the subject, so there may already have been more vacancies for say, teachers of textiles, than there are trainees, but still relatively more trainees in another aspect of the subject. TeachVac collects the data from advertisements about specific knowledge and skills required, but does not make it public. For anyone with a genuine reason to want the data, TeachVac is willing to discuss what might be made available. But, clearly even with timetables being adjusted downward in the subject, the failure to fill more than a third of training places was always going to have a severe impact upon schools looking to recruit design and technology teachers.

So, what are the effects of this situation? Well, it is likely to mean that some schools will find recruiting teachers in these subjects challenging. As the recruitment round heads towards its conclusion in November and December for January 2019 appointments, any school with an unexpected vacancy might well start by considering it won’t be just a matter of placing an advert and waiting for applications to arrive. The number of returners, for whatever reason, is always unpredictable, as is the wastage rate of teachers leaving the profession. Existing teachers may well see whether other schools are offering incentives for current teachers to smove to them? Whether the new subscription model being operated by the TES makes this more likely is an interesting question. Free services such as TeachVac and the one currently being worked upon by the DfE might face the charge that by reducing recruitment costs they increase opportunities for churn among the teaching force. Such a situation is always possible under a market-based model of teacher recruitment, but is only replacing state planning of where teachers are to be sent with acceptance of the laws of supply and demand.



Parents endorse better pay for teachers

Last week, the Varkey Foundation published a report following their Global Parents’ Survey. The report was picked up by the BBC and their take on the results can be found at:

One point to note is that the findings are for the United Kingdom and so, presumably, include parents from all four of the home nations, and those with offspring in both state and private schools. The survey work was conducted by MORI using on-line methods and it refers to countries with limited rural on-line access, including Peru where in my experience access can be quite good even in some rural towns. In view of the broadband problems in parts of the United Kingdom, I wonder whether that caveat should also have been added to the Uk’s findings?

Most heartening for teachers was the 70% of respondents, the second highest behind the 76% of parents in Germany, choosing more pay for teachers as one of their three top choices from a list of options. Buildings featured lowest in the list in terms where parents in the UK placed the item in their top three choices. Generally, the more developed countries in the list had higher percentages of parents selecting more or better pay for teachers as one of their top three picks. Japan and Italy were exceptions, with only around 44% of parents’ selection this item as one of their top three choices. In both countries extracurricular activities scored highest.

As the BBC noted, UK parents didn’t fare well in comparison with their international counterparts in relation to the amount of time they spent helping their children with their education. Interestingly, Finland, lauded for its good school system, had the lowest percentage of parents spending seven hours a week or more with their children and the highest percentage recording no time helping their children at almost one in three parents (31%) that responded to the survey: food for thought there.

Parents across the UK generally rated the quality of teaching at their children’s schools as fairly good or very good (87%) with only four per cent rating teaching as fairly poor or very poor. Such a percentage, if confirmed in other surveys, should inspire the government to lay off teacher bashing and start talking up the profession again to aid teacher recruitment. This is especially the case since 68% also rated government-funded schools as fairly good or very good. Finnish parents that don’t help at home gave their government schools a 90% fairly good or good rating. If the schools are that good, presumably you don’t think you need to help out at home. UK schools scored relatively well in parents’ views on how they were preparing pupils for the future world beyond 2030. Interestingly, parents in India produced the top score on this question, of 88%. If this reflects what is happening in on-line savvy households in India, then the future economic growth of that country may well be interesting to watch.

Finally, the Labour and Conservative Parties having battled over funds for universities might like to know according to the Varkey Survey only 32% of parents in the UK though young people needed to attend university to achieve the most in life. As I have said before, the cash spent on capping tuition fees and raising repayment levels might have been better spent on our schools and early years’ settings.



Blog post supported by EPI Report

Last December this blog published a post headed ‘Figures back heads views on funding pressures’. it was, therefore, interesting to read the report issued by the Education Policy Institute that appeared today and effectively says much the same thing.

You might want to compare Education Policy Institute’s (EPI) key finding with my post last December. EPI have said that:

  • The number of local authority maintained secondary schools in deficit reduced from 14.3 per cent in 2010-11 to 8.8 per cent in 2013-14. Strikingly, however, over the period of four years up until 2016-17, the proportion of local authority secondary schools in deficit nearly trebled, expanding to over a quarter of all such schools – or 26.1 per cent. The average local authority maintained secondary school deficit rose over this 7 year period, from £292,822 in 2010-11 to £374,990 in 2016-17.
  • The number of local authority maintained primary schools in deficit has also risen. In 2010-11, 5.2 per cent of local authority primary schools were in deficit – this reduced in the following year to 3.7 per cent, before staying at a level of around 4 per cent until 2015-16. However, in 2016-17, the proportion of primary schools in deficit increased significantly, to 7.1 per cent. The average primary school deficit also noticeably increased, from £72,042 in 2010-11, to £107,962 in 2016-17.
  • At a regional level, the South West had the highest percentage of local authority maintained secondaries in deficit over this period – with 22.1 per cent of schools in deficit in 2010-11, rising considerably to over a third of schools (34.9 per cent) in 2016-17. The East had the lowest – with 7.5 per cent of local authority maintained secondary schools in deficit in 2010-11, rising to 17.5 per cent in 2016-17.
  • The North East had the highest number of local authority maintained primary schools in deficit in 2016-17 at 10.1 per cent. The East of England consistently had the lowest, with 2.6 per cent in deficit in 2010-11, rising to 3.4 per cent in 2016-17.
  • A large proportion of local authority maintained schools are now spending more than their income. Over two-thirds of local authority maintained secondary schools spent more than their income in 2016-17. Significantly, such events are not just occurring for one year – we find that 40 per cent of local authority maintained secondaries have had balances in decline for at least two years in a row.
  • Similar figures are found for local authority maintained primary schools – in 2016-17, over 60 per cent were spending more than their income. A quarter of local authority maintained primaries have had a falling balance for two years or more.

Where the EPI report does go further than I did last December is in looking at implications as well as the regional breakdown of schools for concern. However, the latter points may be affected by the asymmetric distribution of academies across England.

Implications for schools: financial pressures and deficits – EPI report

  • For a significant proportion of schools in England, being able to meet the cost of annual staff pay increases from a combination of government funding and their own reserves looks highly unlikely, even in the short term.
  • In response to pressures, schools have undertaken various efficiency measures to deliver cost savings, such as switching suppliers, reducing energy usage and reducing the size of leadership teams.
  • However, education staff account for the majority of spending by schools – around two-thirds. It is likely that schools will find it difficult to achieve the scale of savings necessary without also cutting back on staff. Many schools will face the challenge of containing budget pressures and reducing staffing numbers without impacting on education standards.

Either way, the outlook for schools and their pupils is bleak, but so it is across the whole of the public sector just as George Osborne warned it would be in the second half of this decade when he became Chancellor. It was just that few wanted to believe him.





Productivity gain or worsening working conditions?

Ahead of the ASCL Conference in Birmingham this weekend, there is a report in the press today about rising class sizes in secondary schools.

An analysis by teaching unions has suggested 62% of secondary schools have had to expand class sizes between 2014/15 and 2016/17. The study, conducted by the NEU, NAHT and ASCL – as well as non-teaching unions Unison, GMB and Unite – showed that of 150 local authorities, 83% saw a rise in average class sizes across their secondary schools, while 14% have seen a fall and 3% saw no change.

This report should come as no surprise to anyone connected with education. Indeed, I would predict that class sizes will continue to increase in size over the next few years as the secondary school population expands from its low point reached in 2014 and budgets also come under pressure.

However, there is an argument to be had about the usefulness of class sizes as a measure. They can be affected by factors such as the degree of non-contact time allowed to staff; policy over options at GCSE and for post-16 courses as well as space considerations.

An alternative measure is the Pupil Teacher Ratio. Even here there are now problems: how do you define a teacher. Do you only include those with QTS and exclude Teach First and School Direct trainees, as well as any other unqualified teachers or cover supervisors?

Anyway, I have included the changes in PTRs across different types of secondary schools since the School Workforce Census was introduced. The result confirms the findings from the unions and could have been researched without the need to waste valuable time in hard-pressed local authorities. As an added bonus, these are DfE approved numbers, so the government cannot quibble about them.

Changes in Pupil Teacher Ratios in secondary schools
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
All State funded Secondary schools 14.9 14.9 15 15 15.3 15.6
Converter academies 15.2 15.8
Sponsored academies 13.6 15.3
All academies 14.8 15.6
UTCs/Studio Schools 12.9 13.8
Free Schools 12.6 15.3
LA maintained 15 14.9 14.8 14.9 15.1 15.4

The big change has come since 2015 and probably reflects the loss of extra funding academies received in the early days of the Gove period at the DfE. The effect the loss of that extra cash has had on the funding of these schools is now obvious: sadly, once becoming an academy there is normally no way back. For that reason, heads gathering in Birmingham might want to examine the value for money of back offices at MATs.Source DfE SFR 25/2017 Table 17a

After all, it was the heads that complained for decades about the dead hand of local authority expenditure. Having been released from the frying pan of Local Authority spending patterns they must not fall straight into the fire of MATs with high relative overheads.

There are many other issues that secondary heads will need to consider at their conference. Perhaps one of the most pressing is finding the teachers to fill these classes that now have more pupils in them. It may be a productivity gain, but it does impose a greater workload on teachers and may the class size and PTR changes partly explain the growing loss of teachers with 3-5 years’ experience previously discussed on this blog.

In passing, the head teachers might also want to reflect upon the changing nature of the teacher vacancy market that helps provide the teachers. With the TES group reporting a loss of 2016-17 and the DfE working on a new vacancy platform, how teachers are recruited could become an important area for discussion over the next few years.

As one of the instigators of TeachVac, the free platform for vacancies, I am, of course, not an idle by-stander in this debate.


Schools’ Costs

At the beginning of February the DfE published a note to help the School Teachers’ Review Body (the STRB) and other interested parties understand about costs for schools in England at the national level over the period2018-19 to 2019-20. You can read the document at

Many school leaders and governing bodies will find the DfE’s analysis reads like something created in a parallel universe. Core funding over the two year period the DfE states is to increase at 3.1%, slightly ahead of government predictions of inflation at a predicted 2.9% over the same period. If these percentages turned out to be correct, then schools overall would find budgets under less pressure than expected. However, the DfE’s analysis doesn’t take into account any variations to local government pension schemes rates for employers, as they were not known at the time the technical note was put together. The analysis cannot also prejudge what the STRB will do about pay rates for teachers as a group. Will they hold the line or recognise the recruitment challenges schools in some parts of the country are facing and the system as a whole is facing in trying to entice graduates to train as teachers in some subjects.

The DfE also helpfully comment in their technical note that their high level analysis indicates that if the 25% of schools spending the highest amounts on each category of non-staff expenditure were instead spending at the level of the rest, this would save these schools an aggregate £1 billion that could be spent on improving teaching.

As regular readers of this blog know, TeachVac was conceived for this very same reason to offer a free recruitment platform for schools that would create savings from recruitment in order to support expenditure on teaching and learning.  We know that TeachVac is saving schools money now, just as the DfE’s own vacancy scheme will if it ever becomes an effective player in the recruitment market.

By 2019-20 the DfE sees academies as bearing the brunt of the cumulative net pressures as a result of the growth in pupil numbers and the fall in protection payments. The maintained sector will have to cope with the effects of local authorities retaining schools block funding for Education Support Grant (ESG) general rate duties over the three year period.

These figures act as a warning to the remaining maintained schools considering becoming academies. They need to consider the financial situation very carefully in the context of their own situation as well as these national figures to see whether they would be better or worse off.

The fact that the DfE has also apparently written to MATs and MACs where the chief officer earns more than £150,000 asking for a justification of the salary is also interesting. I heard one suggestion, not supported by the person making it, that these high salaries were the price the system paid for school leaders taking on the leadership of failing schools. A more insulting argument to the teachers and other staff working in these schools is difficult to envisage.

Might we perhaps be moving away from basic market economics and back to a negotiated national system of pay and conditions there are many that would welcome the better cost control such discipline would bring back into the system. However, the basic rules of supply and demand will always be difficult to ignore.




Déjà vu

The traffic light colours of Green, Amber and Red have become a popular method of distinguishing degrees of concern or providing a warning as we saw recently with the Met Office descriptions of the snow and ice events. TeachVac has always used such a system to warn of shortages in the labour market for classroom teachers in the secondary sector.

Today, TeachVac has just issued its first Red warning for a subject this year. It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that the subject concerned is Business Studies. The DfE’s Teacher Supply model seems to consistently underestimate the need for such teachers by schools. Additionally, in 2017, the failure to fill 20% of the places on offer to trainees has only exacerbated the situation.

The Red warning means that in TeachVac’s estimation schools anywhere in England could from now onwards struggle to recruit a teacher of Business Studies. This challenge will extend right through to January 2019 and the start of the new recruitment round. With Business Studies applications for 2018 teacher preparation courses already only tracking the 2017 levels, 2019 isn’t looking any more hopeful at present.

At the same time as TeachVac issued a Red warning for Business Studies it is within days of issuing an Amber warning for English classroom teacher recruitment. Here again, with 10% of training places unfilled in 2017, TeachVac will shortly be warning that some schools could start to face challenges in recruitment. There are fewer trainees on school-based preparation courses for English this year. As a result, demand in terms of advertised vacancies may well be greater than in recent years, when some schools employed School Direct trainees without needing to advertise vacancies. TeachVac expects recruitment to be especially challenging in areas where the pupil numbers are on the increase, namely London and the Home Counties.

If this all feels horribly familiar to regular readers of this blog, then they are correct. On the 8th March 2017, budget day last year, I wrote almost exactly the same post about the 2017 situation. Those that haven’t read it might like to compare the two posts.

Already in 2018, TeachVac has already also issued an Amber warning for Design and Technology. This is partly because only a third of places on teacher preparation course in this subject were filled in 2017. This meant total trainee numbers, including forecasts at the time of the DfE’s census, only amounted to some 303 trainees this year. Such a number is less than one trainee per ten secondary schools, even assuming all trainees both complete the preparation year and then want to teach in a state funded secondary school. Within some of the subjects that make up the Design and Technology family, the situation may be even worse: TeachVac is monitoring the spread of expertise requested within adverts, something nobody else even attempts to do to the same degree.

However, in this recruitment round, we do not expect any significant issues recruiting teachers to fill primary school vacancies. But, as the previous post have indicated, 2019 might be more of a problem, unless applications pick up over the next few months.