School funding: Oxfordshire as a case study

A version of this article appear in the Oxford Times  newspaper of the 23rd March 2017

Why, when it has been generally acknowledged that state schools in Oxfordshire are poorly funded, has the government decided some Oxfordshire schools should lose even more of their income?  This was the conundrum facing those of us concerned about education in Oxfordshire just before Christmas when the government at Westminster announced the second stage of their consultation around a new fairer funding formula for schools.

Most of the secondary schools in the county stand to see an increase in their funding under the new proposals. That’s the good news, although it doesn’t extend to all the secondary schools in the county and the increase may not be enough to cope with the rising costs all schools face.

The really shocking news is the cuts to funding faced by the majority of the small rural primary schools across the county, especially those in the Chilterns, Cotswolds and across the downs. Although the cut is only a percentage point or two, it may be enough to create havoc with the budgets for these schools, especially as they too face general cost pressures through inflation and rising prices. Even the schools promised more cash, mainly schools in Oxford and the other towns across the county, won’t in many cases see all the extra money the government formula has assessed them as being entitled to receive. This is because the government has proposed a ceiling to the percentage increase any school can receive. A bit like saying, ‘we know we are paying you less than you deserve, but we cannot afford the full amount’.

I had anticipated the new formula was likely to bring problems, so tabled a motion at the November meeting of the county council to allow all councillors to discuss the matter. Sadly, the meeting ran over time and my motion wasn’t reached. Hopefully, it will be debated in March*, although that is just a day before the consultation ends. There has been no other opportunity for councillors to discuss the funding proposals. Parents and governors of schools should respond to the government’s proposals

I support the retention of small local primary schools where children can walk or cycle to school and the school can be a focal point for the community. It seems this model isn’t fashionable at Westminster, where larger more remote schools serving several neighbourhoods seem to be what is wanted. I know that retaining small local schools looks like an expensive option, but there are also benefits to family and community life by educating young children in their localities.

Were the local authority still the key policy maker for education, I am sure there would be a local initiative to the preserve the present distribution of schools by driving down costs. In a recent piece in this paper, the head teacher of Oxford Spires Academy specifically complained of the cost of recruitment advertising. Three years ago, I helped a group found a new free job board for schools that uses the disruptive power of new technology to drive down recruitment costs for schools. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk now matches jobs and teachers throughout the country for free at no cost to teachers or schools. We need innovative thinking outside the box of this sort in all areas to help sustain our schools in the face of government policies that threaten their very existence.

Across the county, all schools, whether academies or not could collaborate to purchase goods and services needed, whether regularly or only once a year.  This common procurement idea is much easier when academy trusts are headquartered locally. It becomes more difficult when their central administration has no loyalty to Oxfordshire. May be that’s why local academy chains have been more restrained in their executive pay than some trusts with a more limited local affiliation.

Cllr John Howson is the Lib Dem spokesperson on education on Oxfordshire County Council and a founding director of TeachVac http://www.teachvac.co.uk. He is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University. 

*The motion was debated and passed without the need for a formal vote. Councillors from all Parties expressing assent.

Talk to APPG for the Teaching Profession

ALL PARTY PARLIAMENTARY GROUP FOR THE TEACHING PROFESSION

MARCH 2017 Meeting

Teacher Supply, the current position, an update by Professor John Howson, Chairman TeachVac

There are three issues that I want to touch on in these brief remarks:

Vacancy rates for September 2017

The supply of new entrants for 2017

Applications for teacher preparation courses starting in September 2017 and consequences for 2018 labour market.

In passing, I will say something about the labour market for head teachers in the primary sector so far in 2017.

Vacancy rates for September 2017

Over the first two months advertised vacancies for secondary school classroom teachers have exceeded the numbers identified during the same period as in 2016 and are closer to the levels seen in 2015.

The largest demand has once again been in London and the counties and unitary authorities surrounding the capital. Demand has been lowest in the north of England and parts of the Midlands.

With so much discussion about funding pressures, the reasons for the increased demand in some regions might include, the upturn in pupil numbers creating a demand for more teachers; increased losses to the profession from wastage of teachers early in their careers; a buoyant independent sector following the drop in the value of Sterling and a re-balancing of the curriculum in favour of EBacc subjects, notably Geography.

The supply of new entrants for 2017

This is largely dependent on the intake last September to teacher preparation courses. With some teachers on these courses likely to fill vacancies in the schools where they are currently working (Teach First and School Direct Salaried trainees) the overall number in training is not the ‘free pool’ of trainees available to the remaining schools seeking to make an appointment. This divergence between the overall trainee numbers and the ‘free pool’ can be significant and is one of the risks associated with a move to an overwhelmingly school-based teacher preparation regime.

At this stage of the 2017 recruitment round that covers September 2017 and January 2018 vacancies, TeachVac has already issued a red alert for business studies. A read alert means that on the current number of recorded vacancies we do not expect there to be enough trainees to fill all vacancies during the recruitment round. In business studies, a non-bursary subject largely ignored by the DfE, we expect the trainee pool to be exhausted before the summer.

The other subject where TeachVac data reveals the potential risk of a shortage is English. We expect to issue a red alert sometime in late April or early May, but it could be sooner if present trends persist. Apart from in art, PE and Music the other core subjects of the secondary curriculum are flagged as ‘amber’ by TeachVac, based upon the current vacancy levels. This means later in the recruitment round some schools in certain locations may experience recruitment challenges and may have to rely more upon returners or teachers moving schools. For schools and MATs that use TeachVac, we update the data on a daily basis so they receive the most up to date assessment when posting a vacancy.

Posting vacancies to TeachVac is free for schools.

The remainder of the talk is available on request from Teachvac 

Crisis in primary headship?

Last December this blog asked a question about whether there was a crisis in finding leaders for primary schools in England? As a result of new data collected by TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk the free to use job board for teacher and school leader recruitment, we are able to make a first attempt at answering that question.

TeachVac recorded 359 vacancies for head teachers during January 2017, of these 336 were in the primary sector, with 23 advertisements seeking a head teacher for a secondary school. Of the total, some 89 schools had placed a second advert more than 21 days after the original advert and up to the 6th March 2017. That’s a second advertisement rate of 25%. It is possible that the percentage will increase further as schools try to complete their recruitment process and interview the short-listed candidates.

The recorded distribution of schools advertising across the country was:

East Midlands 22
East of England 47
London 37
North East 17
North West 56
South East 84
South West 41
West Midlands 31
Yorkshire & the Humber 24

One school advertised twice in January on the 3rd and 31st

Among the 89 schools that had placed a second advertisement by the 6th March, over half were in either London or the two regions surrounding the capital. In contrast, very few schools in the north have yet re-advertised a headship.

As has been common when I studied trends in the labour market for senior staff in schools for almost 30 years, between 1983 and 2011, church schools, feature prominently in the list of schools that have re-advertised a head teacher vacancy. There are also a disproportionate number of infant and junior schools, as I suggested might be the case in the December blog. Any factor that makes a school different for the average school increase the risk of the need for a re-advertisement.

TeachVac has a growing amount of data on the schools advertising, in many case including the salary on offer where stated and the background to the school. This allows cross-checking on Ofsted inspections; free school meal percentages and pupil outcomes.

First red alert from TeachVac in 2017

There is a certain irony that on budget day TeachVac has issued its first red warning of teacher shortages in 2017 www.teachvac.co.uk . After matching the demand for teachers as measured by vacancies recorded against the supply of trainees not already working in a classroom, Business Studies as a subject, today reached the 20% level of remaining trainees available for employment. At this point, TeachVac suggests that there will not be enough trainees to fill their share of vacancies during the remainder of the recruitment round until December 2017, for January 2018 appointments and codes the subject red. At the level of a red alert, a school anywhere in England may experience recruitment difficulties in this subject from now onwards. Such has been the number of vacancies recorded since January that it is entirely possible that the stock of trainees in Business Studies will be exhausted before the end of April this year.

The next subject on the radar is English. Although currently at an amber warning, meaning schools in some areas may face a degree of challenge in making an appointment, we are watching the number of vacancies posted every day with great attention in order to see how quickly the trainee pool is being reduced. Schools that use TeachVac’s free service are told the latest position when they input a vacancy and they can also find out the state of the local job market should Ofsted come calling and ask for this information. Teachvac’s monthly newsletters also provide useful updates on the overall situation

Teachvac staff will also be delighted to talk with Sir Michael Barber about his new role improving public sector efficiency for the government that was announced in the budget, especially since TeachVac offers schools a free service in a manner that can save both the government and schools considerable amounts of money and provide much needed rea-time data about the working of the labour market for teachers.

The other budget announcements regarding education were fairly predictable, subject to anything in the small print not revealed in the Chancellor’s speech. I would have liked to see the situation regarding the levying of the apprenticeship levy on schools tidied up, so all pay the same if they have to pay anything. The wording on free transport to grammar schools for pupils on free school meals is frankly perplexing. I am sure the situation will be clarified over the coming days. The capital for refurbishing schools, spread a sit is over several years, isn’t going to go very far once urgent problems have been attended to.

The big loser in education are the self-employed tutors that will now pay more in National Insurance and face big penalties if they don’t declare their income for tax. The same may apply to supply teachers, depending upon how they arrange their affairs.

 

Trying to succeed is not failing

The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme has been looking at pupils stuck in the cycle of multiple resits as the government tries to ensure everyone, or as many young people as possible, reach the established milestone of Grades C in English and mathematics.

Now, I can see both sides of the debate on this issue after a lifetime in education and also from personal experience. The three years of my sixth form career was punctuated by the regular visit to the examination hall to try and pass English Language ‘O’ level. While my ‘A’ level studies were progressing well, and much better than my progress during the previous five years at secondary school, I carried the millstone around my neck of not having passed English Language ‘O’ level. In passing, regular readers of this blog will have noticed the longer-term effects of a poor start in our native tongue on my writing style.

Anyway, in the third year of the sixth form, I eventually passed, but only after nine months without any additional teaching. As a result, I was able to go to university, but my UCCA application, as it was in those ways, was heavily dependent upon universities and courses that didn’t require either Latin or English at ‘O’ level, since at that point I had neither. I would probably have ended up at LSE anyway – required neither – as I did, but the choice might have been wider.

I do understand the motivation of governments to ensure higher attainment in literacy and numeracy skills for our population as a whole, but I sat on a panel discussion in Abingdon on Friday night last week and listened to a FE lecturer calling for greater understanding of the range of examinations and functional skills we could accept from those for whom the traditional examination isn’t a good test. I have a lot of sympathy for that view. One size probably doesn’t fit all in this case. A range of skills test linked to the new investment in technical qualifications might be a helpful way forward.

So, my message to these young people forced to re-sit is, don’t give up and don’t regard it as an imposition. But, my message to government is, do consider the appropriate nature of the examination and one size and shape probably doesn’t fit all.

What we must never do is deter either young people or indeed learners of any age by making them think learning is just a chore to be endured. In later life, I have written many thousands of words and I am grateful that the school made me continue to re-take English language. Now, English literature was a different matter: that subject I passed first time.

 

 

Uphill task, but not yet panic mode?

At the end of January, when that month’s UCAS data on applications to ITT postgraduate programmes was published, I wrote in a blog ‘The next four weeks are vital ones for teacher supply and the number of teachers entering the labour market in 2018.’ So, it has turned out to be.

The February data was published earlier today. It is worth noting that it is data up to 20th February this year, whereas the comparative data for 2016 was up to the 15th February. On that basis there are several more days for applications included in this year’s figures.

As a result, the fact that applicants with a domicile in England are down from 26,130 last year to 24,720 this year is disappointing to say the least. Applications aren’t just down in one region, but across most of the country. In London, a key area of need for teachers, applicants are down by around 200 and in the usually buoyant North West, numbers are down by around 300.

Most alarming is the haemorrhaging of applications form those under 22. Compared with 2016, there have been around 1,000 fewer applicants from this age-group, to just 7,850.

The loss of keen bright new graduates has not been fully offset by additional applications for career changers and other older applicants. It is worth recalling that in February 2012, before the School Direct programmes were included in the process, there were 34,936 applicants at this point in the cycle. So in five years, teaching has seen around 10,000 fewer applicants by February As that month marks the half-way point in the application cycle, time is already slipping away to make up this deficit.

Of course, if the smaller number of applicants are of high quality, this may not matter. But, assuming no change in the profile or even that fewer doesn’t mean better, this poses a problem for providers. Do they lower the quality mark when offering places?

Interestingly, this is a dilemma for higher education as much as for school-based providers thus year since applications to higher education are holding up better than for school-based training. HE institutions have attracted 36,260 of the 73,440 applications. School Direct salaried has only attracted 10,350 compared with 11,680 last February. This is despite the greater proportion of older applications that would be eligible for the School Direct Salaried route. Of course, there may be fewer places on offer, but that fact remains a mystery since government won’t publish the national targets.

In terms of subjects, geography and history are doing well, several other subjects are holding their own and schools might well start making room for PSHE by axing business studies since there are likely to be few teachers. After all, it isn’t a subject we are going to need post BREXIT anyway.

Teaching seems to be looking less attractive as a career to women. In February 2012, some 24,265 women has applied for courses in England. This year, the number was just 17,360. Down by nearly 7,000 or more than a quarter. In the same period applications from men fell from 10,600 to around 7,400: some 3,200 fewer.

With the exam season approaching and no obvious reason for career switchers to increase their level of applications, the remainder of the recruitment round looks like being a real challenge. Not yet a crisis, but the problem of recruiting the next generation of teachers certainly hasn’t been solved despite three reports in the past twelve months.

 

Working harder, working smarter and generally longer

The DfE has just published its latest workload survey for teachers in primary and secondary schools. Not sure what happened to the special school sector. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-workload-survey-2016 The survey was undertaken during the spring term of 2016 in order to make it as comparable as possible to the 2013 TALIS Survey produced by the OECD.

In the 1990s and 2000s, there were a series of dairy studies of workload conducted by the STRB. This report suggests that diary studies had relatively poor response rates because they were time consuming to complete. However, only 3,186 school teachers and leaders completed this easier 2016 survey: a response rate of 34%. In the 2000 diary survey, the response rate was 78% for schools and at 3,394 some 87% of teachers. Although the later series of dairy surveys may have produced lower responses, those in the 1990s seem more robust. Of course, both dairy surveys and other surveys not actually conducted as an activity is taking place, do rely to an extent on perception of time spent on an activity.

The 2016 survey report concluded:

.. some increase in workload has been seen between 2013 and 2016. As per prior workload studies, primary classroom teachers and middle leaders self-reported higher total working hours in the reference week (a mean of 55.5 hours) than teachers in secondary schools (53.5 hours). Primary teachers were also more likely to report total working hours in the reference period of more than 60 hours. As a result, teachers in the primary phase faced more workload pressures.

It is interesting to compare the latest data with those of the 1990 diary studies

WORKING HOURS OF TEACHERS
PRIMARY 1994 1996 2000 2016
HEAD 55.4 55.7 58.9
DEPUTY 52.4 54.5 56.2
SENIOR LEADERS 59.8
MIDDLE LEADERS 57.7
CLASSROOM 48.8 50.8 52.8 55.2
SECONDARY
HEAD 61.1 61.7 60.8
DEPUTY 56.9 56.5 58.6
SENIOR LEADERS 62.1
HEAD DEPT 50.7 53 52.9 55.6
CLASSROOM 48.9 50.3 51.3 52.6
SPECIAL
CLASSROOM 47.5 50 51.2
SOURCES STRB DIARY SURVEYS 1994; 1996; 2000
DfE 2017 WORKLOAD SURVEY

Compared with the 1990s, teaching does seem to be a more onerous occupation, with longer hours spent on work during the reference period. That raises the question as to whether this extra workload is spread across the year of just contained in the spring term. I am sure secondary teachers would insist that greater demands are placed upon them throughout the year now they are fully responsible for the learning of every child and not just every class. They also face demands to be present when exam result at A level and GCSE are released during the summer holidays: probably not a task undertaken by as many teachers twenty years ago.

Primary teachers may have initially benefited from the introduction of PPA time and the designation of certain tasks as ‘not for teachers’ during the discussions over workload in the mid-200s, but whether because of greater assessment pressures, or just larger classes, their working hours seem to have increased by the time of the 2016 survey.

Interestingly, when comparing the 2000 and 2016 studies, primary classroom teachers now spend more time teaching than in 2000. This is despite the introduction of PPA time and accounts for most of the difference in working hours as non-teaching activities have only increased from 32.3 hours to 33.2 hours during the reference weeks; probably within the margin of error.

For secondary teachers the greater increase is in non-teaching hours. This is not surprising, as the pupil-teacher ratio overall in the secondary sector is still generally more favourable than in the late 1990s. The planning, preparation and assessment are probably the areas where more is now demanded of secondary teachers and these tasks cannot be achieved in teaching time.

On the face of these results, teachers are working harder than twenty years ago. If this is generally the case throughout the year, and these doesn’t seem to be anything to make the reference weeks look atypical, then the government will have to consider whether the curious form of employer-drive flexi-time teachers work is now making the job unattractive with regard to both recruiting and, even more importantly, retaining teachers at the classroom level. This is especially true in a period when overall remuneration levels in teaching are probably no longer keeping pace with comparable private sector graduate jobs in all except the least well paid sectors.

Finally, the study should give pay to the canard about long holidays. Indeed, it would be interesting to do a diary study for a so-called holiday period to see on how many days a committed teaching professional actually managed to ignore the demands of the job.

With pressure on funding at the national level, and increasing pupil numbers, this report on workload is not good news for the government. It is also one what they cannot ignore.