School Direct in trouble in the secondary sector?

The wider world seems to be receiving the message in the Conservative manifesto. At least as far as graduates looking to train as teachers are concerned. The latest data on applications and offers was published by UCAS earlier today.

Offers in geography and history, EBacc subjects, have reached new highs for this time of year, easily exceeding the numbers reached last year and the year before at the same time. At the other end of the Range, for business studies, chemistry, music and physical education, offers are below both last year and the year before at this point in the cycle. In IT the number of offers is the same as last year, but below the year before. In the other subjects tracked, biology, design and technology, English, mathematics, physics, Religious Education, art and modern languages, the number of offer made so far this year is below this point last year, but still above the figure for two years ago at this point in time, albeit in some subjects only just.

Time is running out, with only three months of the recruitment round left before courses commence and less than two months before school start the summer holiday period. This means how new graduates react to the possibility of a career in teaching once finals are over is key to the outcome of the recruitment round and whether some subjects will confront a sixth year in a row of not meeting the government’s identified trainee numbers needed. Frankly, with the present economic climate and demand for graduates, I don’t currently expect a large rush into teaching, even with a vague promise from the Conservatives of some debt forgiveness for those that stay in teaching.

So, how bad is it looking overall? The crisis, to the extent that there is one, is most severe in School Direct in the secondary sector. Offers made for secondary School Direct Salaried route places are down from 1,130 at this point last year to just 730 this year. Of these, only 100 firm placed students are on this route, compared with 160 at this point last year. Uniquely, there are even fewer potential trainees holding offer than last year. Elsewhere, the increase in applicants holding an offer is the one bright spot in a generally dismal picture for secondary training places. Secondary higher education applications have actually increased from nearly 25,000 last year to 25,260 this year, as have applications to SCITTs. The two School Direct routes have seen a drop of round 4,000 in applications. This is a significant decline by any standards.

This blog has remarked on the decline in applications from recent graduates in previous posts looking at the earlier months of this recruitment round. The trends continues, with more than 1,000 fewer applicants under 22 than last year; a drop almost ten per cent from this age group. As this group cannot apply for the School Direct Salaried route it would seem that older applicants are applying to higher education rather than School Direct, although the reason for this trend cannot be determined from the data.

Overall, the assessment must be that School Direct in the secondary sector needs the attention of the in-coming Secretary of State as a matter of urgency. The ideological battle to take secondary teacher preparation away from higher education seems under challenge from the behaviour of the very applicants it was designed to serve. After so many –U- turns, perhaps this is another one that might be worth considering by the new government.

Job Done Mrs May

We will create a single jobs portal, like NHS Jobs, for schools to advertise vacancies in order to reduce costs and help them find the best teachers.                                                         Conservative Party Manifesto page 51

Good news for the Conservatives: this already exists and is free – TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk is now the largest teacher job site in England and is free to all users; schools to place vacancies and teachers and returners to locate jobs that meet their needs.

So, Mrs May, pick up the phone and call the team in Newport Isle of Wight and we will happily show you how the service operates. We are already saving schools millions of pounds in recruitment advertising and with government support, such as is envisaged for the supply sector, we can channel probably another £50 million into teaching and learning while providing accurate and up to the minute management information for civil servants and ministers.

This is one area where you can say, job done, even before the election.

Hats off to hard working volunteers

One of the privileges of being a parliamentary candidate is the opportunity to meet some amazing groups of people. Shortly after writing the previous post I went to meet a group of parents of children on the autistic spectrum or in the process of being diagnosed. The testimony of each and every one really reinforced the views I expressed in the previous post.

Here are a group of parents battling a dysfunctional education system that is lacking in resources and where many of the primary schools face cuts in funding under the new national funding formula. Light years ago, when common sense prevailed, local authorities had teams of SNASTs working with schools on special needs issues and training. After all, a new teacher cannot learn everything in a 39 week postgraduate course or a three year degree. Indeed, school-based training for teachers may make the exclusion of this type of special need from discussion during training even more likely.

The lack of a training syllabus for leadership also now means it is hit and miss whether new school leaders are properly prepared for their role and helped to understand the place of EHCPs and how to liaise with the health service. Local authority services are also under strain and the government’s policy towards the creation of new special schools seems lacking in definition and awareness of need.

The growing visibility of mental health issues and a greater understanding of autism has helped in some cases, but I am sure hindered in others as head teachers decide the challenges are too great and seek to offload pupils to special schools where with a little extra support and training they could be educated in community schools.

I know that charities such as MIND provide general training for teachers on the whole spectrum of mental health issues, and also that many issues don’t become apparent until pupils are in secondary school. Autism and its associated conditions need early detection and this is helped where class teachers and the other members of the classroom team, especially of the youngest children, are alert to any signs of a lack of development not fully within the normal parameters. Eyesight and hearing issues need monitoring, but so does the signs of a lack of social interaction and sensory issues that may act as pointers.

For all these reasons, special needs is an area that needs careful coordination and sensible use of resources. Government has decided that adoption services are too important to be left to single local authorities and has regionalised the service. I would argue that special needs is too important to leave to individual schools and MATs and is another function where a democratically elected local authority has a real and effective role to play in creating an excellent service. If a local authority fails, take it out of their hands, but also understand why it has failed and create the support for future success. Measuring failure without creating the opportunity for success is no way forward.

So, my best wishes to the parents I met and all other facing challenges they didn’t expect and the system doesn’t want to know about.

 

Local authorities have a role to play in education

For several decades, successive Labour and tory governments lambasted local authorities for spending too much on central office costs and depriving schools of cash. There were even those in Mr Gove’s time in office that may have believed that all money not handed to schools was money wasted. Now I read in a new report from Ofsted on an Oxfordshire secondary school that:

‘Directors of the multi-academy company have failed to ensure that leaders had enough capacity during and since the subsequent restructuring to bring about necessary improvements at the school.’

Presumably they felt more money should have been spent on additional leadership capacity at the MAT because Ofsted went on to say

The principal of the school is now accountable for six primary schools in the MAT. In the autumn term, she provided interim leadership for one of the schools, following the departure of its headteacher, reducing leadership capacity at the secondary school further. Poor strategic leadership by the MAT has contributed to the decline in the overall effectiveness of the school.

This faces head-on the issue I have raised in this blog before. Can we afford these small MATs with expensive overheads when funding for schools is under pressure and salaries are being held down below inflation for all except those that it is still open to negotiate their own salary increases should they wish to.

Reading the Ofsted report on this secondary school in the MAT is like reading a review of the worst of the former inadequate local authorities. In this case, the worst of the diocesan behaviour also seems to have been present, since it the MAT is entirely comprised of church schools.

It must now be clear that MATs are no longer the guarantee of success that those who dreamed them up believed they would be. They can be costly drains on school resources with insufficient economies of scale and no democratic accountability.

Why did the parents at this school have to wait for Ofsted. In the past they could have lobbied their local councillor and no doubt kicked the councillor out if nothing had happened. I know that there were, and probably still are, ‘rotten boroughs’ where councillors are always certain of election if they belong to the right Party, but most in my experience do a good job for their residents even in those circumstances.

Can we afford to spend millions of pounds on ineffective MATs and some of the other new ideas of the past decade when funding for schools is under pressure? Readers will know of TeachVac, now probably offering more teacher vacancies on one site than any other job board or website, and for free. The success of TeachVac demonstrates what can be achieved in driving down costs to effectively fund teaching and learning. Diseconomies of scale have the opposite effect.

If local authorities retain the oversight of children’s safety, they should also retain the oversight of their education by the State within their local area and the next government should finally recognise that point. At present the system doesn’t work and, as this Ofsted report demonstrated, there are risks that it can even be harmful to children. Such a situation cannot be allowed to continue.

 

 

 

Low cost private schools: any appetite?

Some of you may have come across the magazine that exists for those interested in investing in education. From time to time its journalists ring me up to ask about issues relating to the private sector in education As a business operator, albeit with TeachVac (www.teachvac.co.uk) using disruptive modern technology, I understand their need to assess opportunities and I happily share my thinking with them.

Recently, the magazine hosted a conference in London. Mostly, the topics discussed were in the higher education realm, an area of less direct interest to me at present than schools. However, there was a session about low cost private sectors schools and possible opportunities in England. Now that’s a topic of more direct interest to me, although they may not know that fact. Many years ago I undertook a piece of research for a client about the possible opportunities in the private school market for a low cost model at a time when school fees were rising sharply. My conclusion was that such a school might well struggle as it offered neither exclusivity nor the small classes that were both the trademarks of many private schools.

Has my judgement changed? Well, I haven’t done any in-depth analysis, so this is very much my first thoughts, but my hunch is that if anything the market is less propitious for new entrants than twenty years ago. With an expansion of selective state schools on the horizon, there may be opportunities in the primary sector, but less so in the secondary. Why pay for what you can achieve for nothing? Paying for tuition is also a cheaper option than paying for a school with some parts you won’t need.

Much could depend upon where the bar for entry to selective schools is set if the Conservative were to go down that path where they to be re-elected. Too selective and they will have little overall impact on existing comprehensive schools in most areas. Too low and we really have a return to the two-tier system of yesteryear. In that case, there might be an appetite in urban areas for fee-paying schools for those pupils that just missed out on a selective school, especially in a period of growth in pupil numbers. However, the existing fee-paying schools should be able to cope with that demand, especially if there were the transfer of some traditional entrants from these schools to the selective schools as parents feel they no longer have to shell out on school fees. You only have to look at what happens in areas with sixth form colleges with a high reputation and the distribution of fee-paying schools.

So, I think that I would be wary of thinking the future holds significant opportunities for the low-cost private school market. There might be some specific groups of parents still wanting to exit the state system but, while there is the chance of a free school paid for by the State, surely that would seem like a cheaper option for them.

Where I have always thought there might be a market is in the vocational skills area for the 14-18 age-group, especially if an institution is closely linked to the local job or apprenticeship markets. Even better, if you can persuade employers to subsidise the cost of the school in return for a fast track into the challenging sections of the labour market. The armed forces have historically understood this section of the market with their apprentice training colleges of yesteryear.

A school offering direct entry into the hospitality or travel industries, where the local further education college isn’t doing a good job, is one possibility. This section of the market also comes with less need for expensive building requirements associated with teaching the full range of curriculum subjects. So, find a niche that can be taught in traditional office type accommodation near a park or other outside space and in an urban area with good transport links and it might be worth creating a business plan; especially if the wages for lecturers can be low, but still better than when working as an experienced professional in the sector and you might have something worth taking further. But, there may well be some other opportunities in the education world for many investors.

ITT allocations 2017-18

The government has finally published the ITT allocations and associated Teacher Supply Numbers for 2017-18 recruitment onto UCAS recruited teacher preparation courses. This year they have chosen not to reveal allocations to Teach First, although they do say that they will publish recruitment numbers in the ITT census. At the same time the government has also published the Teacher Supply Model (TSM) outcome and methodology for 2017-18 and forward looking implications for teacher supply into the middle of the next decade based upon present assumptions. More of that in a later post.

As far as the TSM for 2017-18 is concerned, there are reductions in the TSM compared with the previous year in Art & Design (not a surprise); Business Studies (probably a mistake based on TeachVac data) and Design & Technology. There are increases in English; Geography; History; Religious Education and Primary. All other subject areas are probably in line with the previous year.

However, and this may have been the reason for the delay in publication compared with previous years, the overall allocations are often wildly in excess of the TSM number as this table revels.

Subject TSM number UG allocations PG allocations Overall Allocation as at 19th February 2017 Allocation as % of TSM
Art & Design 577 0 1216 1216 211%
Biology 1188 15 2339 2354 198%
Business Studies 218 0 762 762 350%
Chemistry 1053 27 2468 2495 237%
Classics 69 0 91 91 132%
Computing 723 139 1924 2083 288%
Design & Technology 917 65 1622 1687 184%
Drama 345 0 440 440 128%
English 2426 75 3763 3838 158%
Geography 1531 12 422 2434 159%
History 1160 0 1393 1393 120%
Mathematics 3102 258 4879 5164 166%
Languages 1514 128 3070 3198 211%
Music 393 20 922 942 240%
Other Subjects 812 0 1404 1404 173%
Physical Education 999 137 1157 1294 130%
Physics 1055 84 3124 3208 304%
Religious Education 643 45 1552 1597 248%
Secondary All 18726 1005 34548 35600 190%
Primary 12121 5667 15468 21135 174%
All 30847 6672 50016 56735 184%

Source DfE allocations published 9th May 2017

As the regional breakdown isn’t easy to determine by subject, it isn’t clear whether the Public Accounts Committee view about regional need has been met in the overall allocations or whether some areas will do better than others.

As we know, the 2017-18 recruitment round is proving challenging, so the over allocations in many subjects are likely to be of little overall importance whatever their regional effects, except that is to the trainees paying out £9000+ for their fees and then competing for jobs next spring.

The 6,335 trainees offered a salaried place with no doubt be alright, as will those with the generous bursaries, but those in the other subjects ought to look long and hard at the cost of training to be a teacher compared with the likelihood of finding a teaching post in 2018 or 2020 for those offered an undergraduate place. Of course, without the Teach First or High Potential Teacher Training route as we must now seemingly call the scheme data, they cannot really know how well the odds of finding a teaching post will stack up next year.

Transfer at 14; good idea, badly executed?

Schools Week has been running a story about the failure of many UTCs and Studio Schools to attract pupils for September. Their latest news is that Plymouth UTC will now not take any pupils at 14 this coming September http://schoolsweek.co.uk/troubled-utc-plymouth-pauses-recruitment-at-14/ Here in Oxfordshire the news on that front is better, with two of the three UTC/Studio schools fully subscribed. Indeed, the Didcot UTC has made 120 offer for 120 places equal to its Planned Admission Number and the Studio School in Bicester exceeded its PAN of 50 with 53 offers to the 60 applicants. Now, whether or not they all turn up is another matter, and we won’t know until parents have considered issues such as how much it will cost to transport their child to the school.

The Space Studio School in Banbury follows the trend identified by Schools Week, with 16 offer for the 75 places available. But, located as it is in the grounds of the town’s largest academy it has always seemed to me to be a bit of an oddity.

Despite these good recruitment numbers, there remain for the schools in Oxfordshire the same issues rehearsed before in this column. Existing Oxfordshire secondary schools will lose the funding of 173 pupils if all those offered places move to the Didcot and Bicester schools. That’s the best part of £700,000 in one year. Over four years it would amount to not far short of £3 million pounds after allowing for inflation. Put this drain on income on top of the 8% the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested might be the cuts to school budgets over the rest of this decade and you have the potential for financial problems at other schools.

To make the most of a system, you need a degree of planning or unlimited funds. We don’t have either at present and we don’t seem to have a government that understands that in times of austerity you need to make the most of the resources that you do have available.

The issue in Oxfordshire is, what will be the consequences for schools losing pupils at 14 and 16, whereas elsewhere the consequence is the opposite. What happens to the schools that don’t attract enough pupils to pay their bills? The silence from the Regional Schools Commissioners and the National Commissioner on the need for a rational approach is of concern. These civil servants must not be high priced rubber stamps approving new academies without understanding the consequences.

In the end, it will be the much maligned local authorities that will have to sort out ant mess. It may be no surprise that the Plymouth UTC operates in a selective school system. In such a system, few pupils will leave a selective school at 14 making it even harder to recruit from the remaining schools with the pupils that didn’t take or pass the selection process.

It is probably time to look at how the transfer of pupils at 14 is going to work in the longer-term: leaving it to the market isn’t really an option.