Problem not yet solved

Data from the second monthly report on applications and acceptances for postgraduate teacher preparation courses shows little overall change for last year. The trend is still not good, with 10,270 applicants domiciled in England as at 16th December 2019, compared with 10,820 on the corresponding date in 2018 and 11,430 in 2017. The good news is that there are more applicants this year from London and the surrounding regions, and the fall in numbers is more marked in applicants from the north of England where filling teacher vacancies has been less of an issue.

There are fewer applicants in all of the age groups compared with last year, and those shown as ‘age 22’ numbered just 1,510 this December compared with 1,910 in December two years ago. There are nearly 500 fewer women applicants this December, and 150 fewer male applicants. Male applicants make up less than a third of applicants in December 2019.

Fewer applicants also means fewer applications. Total applications were down in December, from 30,930 in 2018, to 29,330 in 2019. In 2017, the number of applications in December was over 33,000. Although it will concern providers, the fact that the bulk of the reduction in applications is for primary ITT courses; down from 14,720 in 2018 to 13,380 in 2019 will be something of a relief to the DfE, as the falling birth rate means fewer primary teachers are likely to be needed in the next few years that is unless schools receive a large cash injection for more teachers, rather than more pay for existing staff.

Applications for secondary courses at 15,950 were only 150 down on 2018 and very similar to the December 2017 figure of 16,070. Most subjects were at similar levels in terms of offers made by mi-December although art, design & technology, mathematics and Religious Education were slightly ahead of their 2018 position. By contrast, geography was slightly worse than in 2018 and acceptances for modern languages notably so. Is this the first sign of a reaction to Brexit? Certainly overall application levels for languages courses seem well down on last year.

Apprenticeships are the route in primary with more applications in December 2019 than in December 2018. Higher Education seems to be a major loser, with applications down from 6,150 in 2018 to 5,570 in December 2019. In December 2017, Higher Education had recorded 7,870 applications. In the secondary sector, both SCITTs and apprenticeships registered small increases in December 2019 over the previous December figure. All other routes were broadly similar to the previous December.

Hopefully, the government’s recruitment advertising campaign will improve matters in 2020, but compared to the defence forces, I have seen relatively little recruitment advertising for teaching over the festive period. This is despite the massive difference in recruitment needs between teaching and the whole of the armed forces.

If there is not a pickup in early 2020 in the number of applicants into secondary subjects, 2020 will begin to look like another year when training targets are not met and schools will have to make up the shortfall in teachers from other sources. With increasing pupil numbers, the need for more teachers is going to be an on-going challenge for secondary schools.


Stuck Schools

This Report from Ofsted is an important addition to the discussions aound school improvement and deserves to sit alongside other HMI documents on this topic. For those of my generation these include the famous ’10 Good Schools’ report of some 40 years ago.

Using the terms ‘stuck’ and ‘unstuck’ schools, tells it as it is. I was especially struck by the paragraph in the Executive Summary that said:

‘Most stuck and unstuck schools stated that they had received too much school improvement advice from too many different quarters of the school system. Often, the advice was intended to help schools with their improvement strategy. However, this rarely had the intended impact. Leaders perceived that the quality of the advice itself was often lacking. School leaders also commented on a poor match between the problems of the school and the advice on offer. While many were concerned about the lack of support available following inspection, schools often welcomed the fresh thinking and impetus that independent inspection had given them. Schools did not appear to be inhibited from discussing some of the challenges of inspection during this project.’

Ofsted’s suggests that there is enough capacity in the system to move ‘stuck’ schools forward, but that the content of the support, including whether it enables focused may be lacking.  There also needs to be effective action that responds directly to the issues identified. Additionally, is the support for a ‘stuck’ school best provided internally or externally to the school or MAT and there is also a question about the quality of those coordinating or delivering the support?

This last point is important as the fractured governance model for schools sometimes makes it difficult to identify the organisation responsible for taking the lead role in actually improving these schools.

What is the penalty for failure? Obviously, for local authorities and maintained schools, it is a transfer to become an academy. But what of academies? And, especially what of academies that are part of faith-led MATs where the Church doesn’t want to give up running the school, but cannot stop it being a ‘stuck’ school within a reasonable period of time?

Should there be a review of each Office of Regional School Commissioner to establish a baseline of the number of ‘stuck’ schools and a target for improvement that has consequences if not met? Alternatively, should the Office of Regional School Commissioner be abolished and a closer link to local democracy be once again added to our school system?

Finally, there needs to be a discussion about both funding for ‘stuck’ schools and how any extra funding is allocated under a National Funding Formula that clearly doesn’t take fully into account the fact that some pupils need more resources to achieve a desired level of outcome than do others.

Staff Development, and especially leadership development, also needs to be looked at afresh by the DfE. Should we re-introduce a qualification for leadership with modules about leading a ‘stuck school’? At least then the system would have a better idea of capacity to support and ‘unstick’ these schools.

We cannot allow the next decade to be wasted as the last one has been in so many cases as far as the education of these young people is concerned.


150th Anniversary 1870 Elementary Education Act

Although the Elementary Education Act didn’t receive the Royal Assent and become law until the 9th august 1870, it is fair to treat the whole of 2020 as the 150th anniversary year of this key piece of education legislation in England.

The 1870 Elementary Education Act stands as the very first piece of legislation to deal specifically with the provision of education in Britain. Most importantly, it demonstrated a commitment to provision of schooling on a national scale rather than the piecemeal provision that had existed before this date.

The 1870 Act allowed existing voluntary schools to carry on unchanged, but established a system of ‘school boards’ to build and manage schools in areas where they were needed. The boards were locally elected bodies which drew their funding from the local rates. Unlike the voluntary schools, religious teaching in the board schools was to be ‘non-denominational’.

This compromise saved the government a great deal of money, as it didn’t have to deal with either buying or replacing the existing schools, many of which were run by the various churches and especially the Church of England. The legacy of that decision is still obvious in the governance of schools in England in 2020.

Although the 1870 Education Act was a start, like many pieces of legislation it didn’t fully achieve the aims of its supporters, and further Acts of Parliament were necessary to ensure that all young children were attending school and not working. However, right up until the 1970s, some children were identified as medically ineducable and not required to attend school, even though the concept of ‘special schools’ had been introduced in 1893.

How will we celebrate this key anniversary in education? Not I suspect in the same way that the government will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the ending of World War 2 in 1945. How many local libraries and museums will arrange exhibitions to record the value of education to Society across the generations since 1870?

Many of the board Schools built as a result of the 1870 Act still exist, and their recognisable brick built outlines, often three stories in height under a pitched roof, can still be seen across the urban areas of England, built where schools in sufficient numbers had not existed in 1870. Some have been converted into flats, but many that survived the bombings of the two world wars still serve their original purpose of providing a building for schooling. Today they are often primary schools and not all-through elementary schools.

According to English Heritage, there are over 5,000 listed school buildings in England Their search mechanism doesn’t make it easy to identify whether there are Board Schools built as a result of the 1870 Act that have been listed. Certainly, many listed school buildings either pre-date the 1870 Act or are of a much more recent construction.

I look forward to hearing of celebrations to mark this important piece of legislation as 2020 unfolds.





What headteachers told PISA about schools in England

The holiday season has provided me with time to read the full PISA Report for England as well as look at the comparisons with the other Home Nations, while they remain a part of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Anyway, buried in the details is a section that looks at the results of questionnaires sent to headteachers. Now one must assume that headteachers are influenced by the current mood at the time that they completed the questionnaire, and that mood may differ from country to country. What might have been the mood in England and how does it compare with the OECD average?

Generally, it seems that headeachers in England were more optimistic than the average headteacher in the OECD in their answers to a range of questions about factors that might hinder student learning.

Table 6.5 Pupil and teacher behaviour for learning, reported by headteachers
Percentage of headteachers who responded “A lot” and “To some extent” to In your school, to what extent is the learning of students hindered by the following?
  England OECD Percentage point difference England-OECD
Pupil behaviours
Students not paying attention 40 59 -19
Student truancy 20 38 -18
Students lacking respect for teachers 11 22 -10
Students skipping classes 9 34 -25
Students intimidating or bullying other students 4 12 -8
Student use of alcohol or illegal drugs 3 10 -7
Teacher behaviours
Teachers not meeting individual students’ needs 28 30 -2
Teacher absenteeism 20 18 2
Staff resisting change 10 29 -19
Teachers not being well prepared for classes 5 13 -8
Teachers being too strict with students 3 12 -10

Source: PISA Report England 2019

Only in teacher absenteeism were headteachers in England gloomier than the OECD average. This seems somewhat surprising given the relatively low level of term-time teacher absence in many schools. Generally, although  lack of attention by students was recognised as an issue, even that concerned head teachers less than the average PECD headteacher.

Table 7.14 Hindrances to learning reported by headteachers and principals
Percentage of headteachers who responded “A lot” and “To some extent” to In your school, to what extent is the learning of students hindered by the following?
  England Northern Ireland Scotland Wales
Pupil behaviours
Students not paying attention 40 35 49 30
Student truancy 20 8 35 20
Students lacking respect for teachers 11 19 22 19
Students skipping classes 9 7 31 14
Students intimidating or bullying other students 4 8 13 6
Student use of alcohol or illegal drugs 3 3 5 7
Teacher behaviours
Teachers not meeting individual students’ needs 28 14 29 15
Teacher absenteeism 20 19 30 14
Staff resisting change 10 14 23 12
Teachers not being well prepared for classes 5 3 3 9
Teachers being too strict with students 3 0 6 7

Source: PISA Report England 2019

However, it is interesting to put the views of headteachers in England alongside those of their colleagues in the other Home Nations that completed the PISA questionnaire. On the basis of these responses, one wonder what is going on in some schools in Scotland? The figure for students skipping classes seems difficult to believe if the sample is representative of schools across Scotland and probably also accounts for the high figure for headteachers agreeing that truancy is also seen as an issue by a third of the headteachers compared with a fifth of headteachers in England.

I am not sure what the teacher associations make of the data from these questionnaires, but I am surprised that the government hasn’t made more of it. But, perhaps the views of headteachers looking at schools from their offices isn’t the same as the view from the staffroom?


No room in the school

Last week the Children’s Commissioner for England published a disturbing report about children placed into care and moved away form their local area. Entitled Pass the parcel: children posted around the care system is resonated with concerns raised by this blog in the past about the education of these children.

The report highlighted the fact that 30,000 children are placed in care setting ‘out of their area’. Of these, some 11,000 are more than 20 miles from what they term ‘home’, with 2,000 placed more than 100 miles away. There may be good reasons for such a move. These include safeguarding issues such as avoiding former gangs or groups that were sexually exploiting the child.

However, the Children’s Commissioner Report suggests that often this type of move is because there is nowhere locally for these children to live. Pressure on Children’s Social services was always going to intensify as the number of children taken into care increased.   With local government having experienced a period of significant funding cutbacks from government it is not a surprise that services where need is expanding, such as this, are facing particular challenges, especially as the concept of  a ‘just in time’ economy meant resources could not be funded to be on stand-by if needed..

This blog has highlighted the issue of schooling for these children placed ‘out of area’ in several previous posts. Indeed, all Oxfordshire MPs in 2017 wrote to the Minister about the matter. As a result, it is disturbing that the Children’s Commissioner’s Report highlight this issue as still a matter for concern.

We spoke to children during September and October and many of them had no school place for the beginning of the school year. This was a common occurrence for older children, a number of whom were stuck waiting for decisions from professionals. This waiting game could last weeks or months, despite statutory duties to prioritise education, and in the case of emergency placements to secure suitable education within 20 school days.14 Virtual School professionals responsible for managing education plans for looked after children informed us that when children are placed outside of their local area it can contribute to delays because different areas have different application procedures to be understood and navigated. We were advised that children with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans15 usually suffer further setbacks because their applications must go via Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) teams and because schools take time to assess whether they can meet children’s needs. Page 15 of the Report – my emphasis.

In all, the Report concludes that ‘5% (140 children) of this out of area group missed a term of school or more, compared to 2% of those staying in their home local authority.’ The Report doesn’t identify the reasons why finding a school place should be so time-consuming for these young people whose lives have already been disrupted. Is the issue especially bad in areas where there are clusters of Children’s homes taking in children placed into care?

The Report concludes with the recommendation that:

‘The DfE ensure that its review of the role of virtual school heads looks at education processes in response to out of area placements. This review, which is already in progress, should consider: how virtual school heads can have a greater role in placement decisions; giving local authorities powers to direct academy schools to admit children placed away from their home areas; how delays in school transfers can be minimised for these children, especially unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) and children with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans, including how admissions processes can be simplified; how children can be kept in mainstream schools as far as possible.’   Page 17 of the Report

I would add and also look at what happens when children used to a comprehensive style of schooling are placed in secondary modern schools. These young people deserve better from Society.

If nurses, why not teachers?

When the late Frank Dobson managed to secure bursaries for trainee nurses, David Blunkett failed to do the same for trainee teachers. However, postgraduate trainees did have their fees paid, and undergraduate trainees were no worse off than any other undergraduates under the tuition fee regime introduced by the Labour government.

Come the recruitment crisis of the Millennium, and the training grant appeared, backed by additional payments of Golden Hellos to some trainees. These moves, alongside an expansion of the employment-based routes through the Graduate Teacher Training Programme helped expand trainee numbers for a few years. Whether there would have been a new recruitment crisis had the financial firestorm of 2008 not emerged is an interesting issue for debate.

However, as first predicted by the blog in the early part of 2013, a new crisis of recruitment into teaching did finally emerge, even though some Ministers were reluctant to admit its existence at first. At the same time, the revolution in education in England, started under Labour and prosecuted and extended by Michael Gove when he was Secretary of State for Education, saw not only the development of the academy and free school progamme, but also a determined switch away from higher education institutions the main trainer of teachers towards a school-led model.

Indeed, at one point it seemed as if the Coalition government might create a situation where universities, and especially the Russell Group universities involved in teacher education, ceased to have direct responsibility for the preparation of future generations of teachers. The issue of recruitment controls and the fate of the history preparation programme at the University of Cambridge probably marked a watershed moment.

Anyway, Mr Gove moved on, to be succeeded by a succession of relatively short-term holders of the officer of Secretary of State for Education. None seemed to have an abiding passion for the future shape of the school system and its teachers.

So, what has happened to the different routes for preparing graduates to become secondary school teachers?

Secondary PG 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 2019/2020
HE 7318 7193 7105 7965 7913
SCITT 1270 1794 1970 2435 2452
SD Fee 2646 3181 3822 4307 3870 4170 4678
SD Salaried 1244 1197 1475 1409 1080 905 677
Teach First 1107 953 895 760 1215
Grad Apprentice 0 0 0 20 43

The move towards a school-led system has continued, but not at any great pace. Indeed, numbers on the School Direct Salaried route, the de facto successor the GTTP programme has fallen away by this year to only around half of the peak level reached in 2015/16. The new Graduate Apprenticeship Route has yet to make any real impact on numbers, and even SCITTs have failed to recruit many more recruits after their growth spurt up to 2018/19. Only the School Direct fee route seems to be in good health, although even on this route the growth has not been spectacular. Indeed, higher education is still the one dominant route.

Does this plethora of routes make it more difficult to attract new entrants to teaching or perhaps offer choices? I debated this in my evidence to the Carter Review, posted elsewhere on this blog. However, it seems more likely that singling out graduate trainee teachers for financial punishment makes teaching seem the least desirable public sector employment opportunity.

This blog has been resolute in calling for the return of a training grant for all graduate trainee teachers: I see no reason for changing that view now, especially since nurses are once again receiving financial help from the government.


Update on rural schools

In December 2017, I wrote a post on this blog about the DfE’s list of rural primary schools. At that point there were four such schools within the Greater London boroughs that were designated by the DfE as ‘rural’.  In the 2019 list, published today there are now five such schools.

The two each in Hillingdon and Enfield have been joined at some point in time by Downe Primary School in Bromley, classified as being in an area of ‘Rural hamlet and isolated dwellings’. For those living in truly rural areas, the notion that somewhere within Greater London can be categorised as ‘rural’ might seem a bit of a joke. But, I am sure that for the residents using these schools that are located in what is presumably ‘green belt’ locations, the designation as ‘rural’ seems accurate. However, it is still within the TfL transport area, so pupils attending the schools from within the Greater London area can have free travel on the 146 bus, or presumably the R8 as well.

Across England, this year, the DfE has classified 3,353 primary schools as being in ‘rural’ .locations. The designation is important, as with school rolls in the primary sector now falling, and the absurdities of the National Funding Formula view of equality not yet fully understood, the added protection from closure being a ‘rural’ school provides may still be useful in the future.

However, it won’t stop closures happening. Culham Parochial Church of England School in Oxfordshire is shown in the table as, ‘open, and proposed to close’ and the County Council has now agreed that the school should close as it is no longer a viable education establishment in its own right. This follows a series of battles over its future, stretching back into at least the late 1980s. This fate also hangs over another 26 primary schools in the list, including five schools in Nottinghamshire and three in Staffordshire.

Fifteen of the 26 schools proposed for closure are designated as Church of England schools. This reveals something of the heritage of schooling in England as we approach the 150th anniversary of State Funded Schools next year. It would be interesting to know the date when these schools, now up for closure, were first opened. There is fertile ground here for those interested in the history of education in England. I gather that this subject is being considered as a topic for an optional module in a Masters’ level degree currently being put together by the University of Buckingham.  Such units or modules already exist in some other programmes.

There are many interesting stories contained within this list of schools. Picking just two at random. The Bliss Charity School in Northamptonshire was first opened several centuries ago, and the Charity still owns the former school house built for a head teacher in the Nineteenth Century. The rent from the house is used to fund extras at the school. Holy island Church of England First School in Northumberland is federated with a school on the mainland and is shown in some DfE tables as currently having just one pupil. The school web site says that ‘Holy Island and Lowick C of E First Schools are a federation – the children study together at Lowick with the children who live on the island coming to Lowick when the tide allows.’

There are many more interesting stories within the rich tapestry of our school system. Will these be lost because of a rigid financial system that takes little or no account of communities and their needs? I hope not.