Cut tuition fees?

Should University Tuition Fees either be reduced to £6,500 as some think a Tory working group might suggest or even abolished at Jeremy Corbyn hinted at during the last election campaign? Whatever happen, it is true that ever since Labour introduced fees in 1997 they have been a source of debate and controversy.

The hike to £9,000 by the Coalition didn’t stop the number of eighteen year olds flocking to higher education and the removal of maintenance grants also didn’t seem to make much of a different in numbers applying.  Even punitive interest rates of more than six per cent haven’t proved a deterrent to would-be graduates.

Now it appears the government might be re-thinking their policy on fees and recognising the fact that arts and humanities students are paying more for their degree courses than universities are spending on their education.

When the hike in fees to £9,000 was proposed, I suggested a fee of around £6,500 might be more appropriate, with the government topping up the cost of STEM courses to encourage students to study those subjects, if there were going to be fees at all. I am less certain that is the direction to go now. Reintroducing a cap on numbers that would inevitably follow government intervention in the fee market would risk disadvantaging those with the least social capital to game the system. When the number of university places were limited, fewer teenagers for disadvantaged backgrounds went to university than at present.

I recall the late Prof. Halsey once saying that the gap in higher education entry rates between different groups would only be reduced once all middle class children that wanted to go to university were able to do so and there were still places available. Reintroducing a cap on places might seriously affect the opportunities for higher education in some communities.

However, there is evidence that attending a university and studying some subjects in the arts and humanities categories doesn’t bring significant financial benefits and many graduates don’t work in occupations that either pay well or use their graduate skills. Nevertheless, the alternative for the government might be having to pay out similar levels of cash, if youth unemployment rates increased and present undergraduate frozen out of higher education swelled the ranks of the unemployed. That would have a direct effect on government expenditure, unlike tuition fees that both have the possibility of clawing some of the expenditure back and also having a less direct effect upon government accounts.

Now that might be a risk worth taking in a tight labour market, and where some would-be undergraduates could be channeled into apprenticeships at a lower cost to the government. But, it would undoubtedly come at a price with regard to social mobility. Such a price might not be worth paying, especially if there is a downturn in the economy.

Better, to try to make degrees more beneficial for society while recognising that some courses may be high quality, but will lack high earning capacity. Such is the nature of higher education.

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Improve teacher retention, but that’s not the whole solution

The NfER has produced its final comprehensive report into teacher supply and retention entitled, ‘Teacher Workforce Dynamics in England’. http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/news/government-mustnt-lose-focus-tackling-teacher-supply-shortage

I have to confess that, as noted in the acknowledgements, I acted as a consultant to the team working on this project at NfER. During the various stages of the project the team issued research reports and the final documents brings all these together and amplifies them in a number of different ways not possible in the shorter documents. The Nuffield Foundation must be recognised for their help in funding the project.

At the launch last evening there were some interesting issues raised that may merit further analysis should funds be available. Firstly, the data on retention is presented in terms of the percentage of staff leaving the profession. This raises two issues: what is meant in terms of leaving the teaching profession is leaving maintained state funded schools as teachers – they may still be working in state funded Sixth Form Colleges or further education or as a teacher in the private sector. When comparing leaving rates with nursing it isn’t clear whether registration of nurses includes those working in non-NHS settings such as the private sector and as school nurse and thus affects how leaving rates are calculated. Additionally, for the police, there was a period where most police forces stopped recruitment, so departure rates may be depressed when there were no new entrants to create a pool of early leavers during part of the survey period.

However, the other issue with the data are the use of percentages of staff leaving. This can be problematic. Thus, in 2015, 20,700 leavers from the secondary sector were detected by the School Workforce Census – a rate of 9.2% for secondary teachers; in 2017 the rate increased to 10.4%, but the actual number decreased to 20,170.  There is no suggestion that the data used by NfER experienced this situation, but it highlights why I often prefer to use real numbers.

Leavers do so at different times in their careers in teaching. Much has been made by the National Audit Office in their study and in this NfER report on the advantages of retaining more teachers in state funded schools. To that end, there is an interesting chart on page 24 of the NfER Report showing where leavers typically may be going. Again, percentages are used, so let’s assume a hypothetical example based upon 40,000 leavers and how many might be persuaded to return at any point.

Since 30% are retiring, the pool can be reduced to 28,000 straightaway, assuming there aren’t a large pool of teacher taking early retirement. The 400 taking maternity leave, a somewhat low figure given the age profile of the profession, takes another 400 out of the total. Another 800 are removed because they are studying as students. I assume this will include future Educational Psychologists and those seeking extra qualifications, such as to teach children with special education needs. However, the biggest category of leavers are those teaching in the private sector; some 33% or another 13,200 off the total.

So, how many of the remaining 13,600 might be persuaded to return?  4,000 are employed in schools as teaching assistants or other non-teaching roles. Some of these might have decided teaching is not for them, but others may have left for other reasons and might be persuadable back into the classroom as a teacher: let’s say 50% or 2,000 could fit into that category, perhaps if better part-time teaching opportunities were available.

Of the remaining 9,600, the 1,200 unemployed might offer some possibilities if teaching didn’t run on a market based recruitment system. After all, if there are teacher shortages, and these teachers wanted to work, there must be an assumption that they are in areas where teaching posts are not available for those with their skills. The other big group worth exploring further are the 4,400 in our example listed as self-employed. Are they working as tutors or using their skills as musicians, artists, historians or scientists for positive reasons or because they gave up on teaching?

Let’s assume half might tempted back, at last part-time if offered better terms. We now have possibly 4,000 that might be enticed back. Add another 1,000 for all the other smaller categories NfER identified, and the total is some 12.5% of leavers. However, many might only be interested in part-time work, so that might only be half that in terms of full-time equivalent teachers, say 2.500. Working trying to recruit, but still not the absolute answer to the teacher shortage issue. Certainly it is worth exploring whether some of these leavers might have been persuaded to remain in the profession.

 

 

Lollipops and Déjà vu

Yesterday’s budget handout of £400 million to schools reminded me of Gordon Brown’s budget of 2000 after he had stopped following the Tory plans for the economy set out under John Major’s government. Those with long memories will recall both the 1997 decision by Blair and Brown to continue with government spending restraint and the spending spree after the Labour government changed direction.

One of Gordon Brown’s rabbits was to announce from the dispatch box in his 1999 and 2000 budgets extra funding for schools. This was great news for the schools, but less so for the orderly planning of teacher supply. As now, the extra cash came at a point in time when recruiting new entrants into teaching was proving quite a challenge: the cash make the situation far worse as schools went out seeking to hire teachers that just weren’t there. Eventually, the Education Department stopped the rot by upping the salaries of existing teachers in a way that prevented unchecked growth in teacher numbers. The result was a period where teachers were relatively better paid than for a generation. The end only came with the 2008 recession and the freeze on public sector pay.

So, yesterday felt like a sense of Déjà vu, with a Chancellor pulling a rabbit out of his budget red box and handing an average of £10,000 to each primary school and £50,000 to each secondary school: so much for a National Funding Formula. Of course, these numbers aren’t anywhere near the amount Gordon Brown had on offer in real terms in his 2000 budget when he announced that:

To support these reforms in our secondary schools he will now make a payment to every head teacher for books, equipment and staffing.

 Last year he was able to make an extra payment for books and equipment of 2,000 pounds.

 This April every one of these 3,500 secondary schools will receive a minimum payment of 30,000 pounds and the largest schools will receive 50,000 pounds.

 A total of 300 million in new investment through these measures alone, money paid direct to the school and to the head teacher for use in the classroom.   http://www.ukpol.co.uk/gordon-brown-2000-budget-speech/

but if used to recruit extra teachers, the new cash announced yesterday could seriously affect the plans announced only last week by the DfE for the ITT allocations in 2019/20. After 2000, schools went shopping for teachers. Perhaps, this time the cash will be used to pay for the unfunded Leadership pay increases, rather than extra teachers. But, it could distort the distribution of teachers in real shortage subjects, such as teachers of Physics, if some schools decided to offer recruitment and retention allowances to attract such teachers. However, the confusion over the use of the word ‘capital’ alongside ‘little extra’ is budgets where schools can spend money mostly as they see fit and the timescale for the cash arriving in school’s budgets will make understanding of how the cash is spent challenging, even should the DfE really want to know.

The £10,000 will certainly make a difference for many small primary schools, especially those losing pupils as the birth rate has slowed down. For some it may make the difference between possible closure and staying open that bit longer.

There must be a question about the purpose of a National Funding Formula if a Chancellor can override it on the one hand and an academy trust can ignore it on the other hand. As ever, it seems like back to the future.

 

Should you train to be a teacher?

This is the time of year when final year undergraduates; recent graduates unhappy with their current lot in life and career changers often start to consider teaching as a possible career.

Teaching in England requires more than half a million graduates to provide an education to all children. Even a low departure rate of around five per cent would require more than 25,000 replacement teachers each year, either through new entrants or by those return9gn to teaching. So, even if the economy goes downhill thanks to trade wars and Brexit, there will still be lots of children to educate.

If you are a potential teacher reading this blog, you can visit the DfE’s advice service for potential teachers at https://getintoteaching.education.gov.uk/

One of the questions you might want to ask the advice line is, will I find a teaching post where I want to teach and doing what I want to do when I qualify? May, I suggest that if the person answers ‘yes’ to that question, you press them for some hard evidence. After all, the DfE is now running a vacancy web site for teaching posts, so should be able to answer a simple question such as ‘what are my chances of finding a teaching post?’

Unlike many graduate training programmes, only some teacher preparation courses will guarantee those that complete the course successfully a teaching job. Most, however, will require you to take on extra student debt to pay for the course: in some cases this is ameliorated by a bursary payment made tax-free. In other subjects, where the government considers the supply of entrants is sufficient then there is no bursary available. This fact might be a warning sign about job prospects.

Even where there are bursaries, do you want to commit a year of your life to training to become a teacher only to find there are not enough jobs to meet the supply of teachers where you want to teach? Hence the need to quiz the government’s recruitment advisers about vacancies.

If the government cannot answer your question, then local authority might be able to do so, as many still have teacher recruitment services or at least operate job boards and should know something about the local demand for teachers. However, they may not know what is happening in academies in their area, with regard to job prospects for teachers.

You can also ask course providers during any interviews how successful their trainees are at finding jobs and where they find them?

Finally, I recommend you sign up with a job board that can tell you about real vacancies. Beware vacancies not tied to a specific school: the job might not exist. Some schools these days operate talent pools and collect applications even when they don’t have a vacancy. The best make this clear; some don’t.  You can often spot these apparent vacancies by a lack of any starting date and a long period to the closing date with a comment that appointments may be made before the closing date if a suitable candidate appears.

If you want a job board that is free to both schools and teachers and tries to only match real vacancies with teachers looking for those jobs in specific parts of England, then may I recommend TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk This free national vacancy service was established more than four years ago and currently handles more vacancies than any other free service, including that operated by the DfE.  I am happy to be the Chair of its Board.

If you are considering becoming a history teacher, a teacher of PE or of Modern Languages or indeed a teacher of any subject or a teacher working in the primary sector, then signing up when you are considering teaching as a career can provide evidence of the job market that may help you assess the risk of training to be a teacher.

As the Chair of TeachVac, I would be delighted to welcome you to join with many other teachers, trainees and returners already making use of our free service.

Should you have a wish to teacher overseas, then our global site www.teachvacglobal.com  may be able to help you find a teaching post almost anywhere in the world.

 

 

 

Allocations for teacher preparation courses in 2019/20

The previous two posts on this blog have highlighted the fact that the DfE has recently published its annual datasets about teacher preparation in the coming years and specifically numbers for 2019/20, where recruitment is already underway. The DfE’s information can be accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/tsm-and-initial-teacher-training-allocations-2019-to-2020

Normally, the number of places allocated to each sector and the separate subjects in the secondary sector would be of great concern to those operating courses. However, with recruitment having been challenging over the past couple of years and no bar placed on numbers that can be recruited in most subjects, providers will be much more relaxed about these numbers. Whether schools should be is another matter.

Of greatest concern for the labour market in September 2020 will be the geographical distribution of recruitment into preparation courses. This is because there is considerable difference in retention rates across England. Teacher retention is high in the North and at its lowest in London and the Home Counties. That’s neither a new fact nor one that has suddenly been discovered. Old hands at this business have known it for many years and I well recall presenting the information to a House of Lords Committee investigating aspects of science teaching in the early years of this century.

The concern over differential retention rates has been at the heart of the debate about quality of course versus location of training providers that was important when recruitment was likely to be buoyant. Even so, training too many new teachers in the wrong parts of the country, and especially training those not flexible in where they can work, is at least as wasteful as the money spent on bursaries highlighted in The Times today and discussed in the previous post on this blog.

To reasons for the lower retention rates in and around London are probably the present of about 50% of the independent sector schools in England in this area, together with the fact that London represents the largest graduate labour market in the country. For almost all teachers there are other jobs they can apply for even if it means ditching their hard won expertise in teaching. After all, the transferable skill of managing the learning of young people and making many rapid decisions reinforced only by the strength of your personality is a set of skills many businesses are keen to pay good money to acquire in their staff.  This is a point government should not overlook when considering pay rates and teacher associations might want to press more ruthlessly while teachers are in short supply.

Anyway, back to the allocations for 2019/20 and the changes from the previous years. In the Teacher Supply Model outputs, Classics, Computing, Religious Education and Geography have seen drops in the number of places as have Design & Technology, Drama, Music, Food Technology and ‘Others’ although that is partly be down to a reallocation of Dance into PE for TSM purposes. These changes, plus the increases in other subjects, are reflected in Figure 1 of the DfE’s note on ITT allocations.  Of most concern is the increase from 1,600 to 2,241 in places for Modern Foreign Languages. This is to meet the expected increase in pupils studying a language at KS4 in line with the government’s aspirations of a 75% take-up by 2024.

Will the lack of restrictions on recruitment for all secondary subjects, except PE last? As I write this blog, stock markets around the world are following a well-trodden path downwards that has been seen in October many times before. Were the downward trend to affect the economy along with Brexit, not having any restrictions on applications might seem unwise in hindsight.

 

The message to potential applicants; apply now and don’t take the risk of waiting until the spring.

 

Post sixteen outcomes decided by KS2 attainment?

Yesterday, the DfE published a whole raft of statistics about the destinations of KS4 and KS5 pupils in 2016/17. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/destinations-of-ks4-and-ks5-pupils-2017 The raising of the learning leaving age to 18 has been one of the relative success stories of the past decade. However, it has literally come at a price as other data now clearly shows. While the rest of the school sector has suffered at the lower end of government cutbacks, post-16 education has really been badly affected.

There are other financial consequences as well. Families that receive free transport for children up to the age of 16 suddenly find, outside of London, that they must pay for the same seat on the school bus if their offspring enters into the sixth form. That is an anomaly that I have long campaigned to see abolished, especially as some councils are now extending the rule to pupils with SEN.

Government now has data on some 99% of the cohort in 2016/17. Generally, the higher your success rate at KS4 the more likely you are to stay in a school environment, if one is available. Less academic success, greater disadvantage and lower level SEN, without the support of a ‘Statement’ or EHCP means a greater chance of switching from a school into a Further Education College at Sixteen. In some parts of the country, most notably the urban areas in some areas of the North West, the situation is more complicated because of the present of Sixth Form Colleges. In those areas, the legacy of the introduction of comprehensive education some forty years ago still drive where students are education post-16.

Overall, some 86% of young people remained within the education sphere rather than training or employment locations after the age of sixteen. Some 5% of young people didn’t sustain their original choice post-16 for at last two terms. This percentage has remained relatively stable for the past few years, falling from 9% in 2010/11.

Apprenticeships and employment remain at about eight per cent of sixteen year olds. The recovery in the economy and pressure of local labour markets in parts of the South don’t seem to have significantly increased the percentage directly entering employment at sixteen. Indeed, with the fall in the cohort, actual numbers will have reduced and that may be a concern to some employers.

Should the difference between school and FE be so marked by perceived ability pre-16? Of those categorised as have low attainment at KS2, 58% ended up in general FE with only 13% in school sixth forms and six per cent in Sixth Form Colleges. By contrast, of those shown as high achievers at KS2, 60% remained in school sixth forms; 18% went on to Sixth Form Colleges and only 15% proceeded into general further education settings. Middle achievers were somewhere in between these two sets of figures.

As someone that entered sixth form with 5 ‘O’ levels, not including English, but who gained high grades at ‘A’ level, I worry about too much segregation at sixteen. Whatever the academic merits of specialisation of institution, is it the right approach socially for the future of society?

 

 

How to build a new school

WHAT a mess the process of creating a new secondary school for pupils in Oxford has become.

Way back when government know what it was doing and how to conduct itself properly, the creation of new schools for an expanding population was a partnership between the relevant local authority and the government department in London.

Then came Labour’s academy programme and then Michael Gove’s desire to promote so-called ‘free schools’.

Especially in respect of the latter, local authorities became side-lined once they had identified a need or even if they had not done so, if a promoter want to create a ’free school’ in a particular area. The same was also true for UTCs (university technical colleges) and studio schools.

Oxfordshire’s identification of the need for new secondary school in Oxford in their Pupil Place Plan in 2015 attracted the interest of Toby Young, the promoter of a free school in West London.

As a result, a second proposal for a free school was launched by what is now the River Learning Trust – a multi-academy trust based in Oxfordshire.

This trust was successful in being granted permission to operate the new ‘free school’ in September 2015.

Local authorities can oversee the development of new academies and Oxfordshire has successfully done so for several new schools, including the new secondary school in Didcot, which opened on time.

However, the development of free schools is the responsibility of the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

In July 2016, I asked a question at the county council about the possible site for the new school and was told: “The sponsor’s and EFA’s current preferred location for The Swan School remains The Harlow Centre.”

The cabinet member who answered did not know when the school might open and how it would be linked to the annual school admissions.

Fast-forward two years until 2018, and at county council in March 2018 I was told in answer to another question that ‘the completion for the Swan School may not be ready until 2021’ and a planning application should be submitted by the end of May.

I was told that in summer 2019 Meadowbrook College, on the proposed Swan School site, should start to be demolished and its new build would complete by September 2020.

In early 2021 the Swan School should be complete but until then the school will probably be in temporary accommodation for two years, the answer added.

So, by March 2018, it was already known that the school would be two years late and have to open in temporary accommodation.

At county council in July, I asked more questions about progress, including if we had absolute assurance that the Education and Skills Funding Agency would not pull the Swan School given the delay in receiving planning permission.

The cabinet member undertook to ask the agency for an answer.

We can assume that the trust still wish to go ahead with the scheme, as there is still a need for a new school. With the appointment of a headteacher, this must still be the intention.

However, it seems increasingly unlikely that it will open in 2021, and temporary accommodation will need to be found if the first round of pupil is to arrive in 2019.

It is assumed that planning permission will be required for any temporary buildings needed from September 2019.

In July 2018, I asked at county council whether, in view of the very large number of children from within the EU that are within city primary schools, who would be transferring into the secondary sector in the next few years’, the school might not be built as a result of Brexit.

I have not received an answer to that question.

The city council’s East Area Planning Committee turned down the planning application for the school at their meeting in September – a decision that was called in and will be reconsidered today.

The county council’s cabinet will discuss the Swan School in an exempt session tomorrow.

The whole saga from start to the current uncertain situation shows the lack of coherence in our present education system.

Under the former rules, it seems certain that the county council, having identified the need for a secondary school, would have designed and built it in time for a 2019 opening, possibly even 2018.

Even had the school been designated an academy, this might have been achieved.

The creation of the school as a ‘free school’ has created delay and allowed concerns about the site to create the present high degree of uncertainty.

The situation for parents in the city of Oxford is now complicated with respect to admissions to secondary school for 2019.

Parents in Oxfordshire have been short-changed by this shambolic process and county council taxpayers stand to lose out for up to three years if the temporary accommodation requires pupils to be offered free transport to school.

Should the new school not be built, the ongoing cost to council taxpayers in additional transport costs could be considerable, depending upon how many of the 1,260 pupils would be eligible for free transport.

In the present financial climate, this cost could probably only be met by cutting other council services.

Were Oxford part of a unitary council structure, then school place planning would have been a function of the council deciding the planning application.

Under the two-tier system currently in operation across Oxfordshire, the city council is the planning authority, but the county council has the responsibility for pupil place planning and the number of schools.

However, the county has lost control over the building of these new schools.

This article first appeared in the Oxford Mail on 15th October 2018. As many readers know, I am an Oxfordshire County Councillor and the Lib Dem spokesperson on education on the county.