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.

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.

Peak time for vacancies

The period two weeks after Easter usually proves to be the peak of the recruitment cycle for teachers by schools seeking to be fully staffed for September. Vacancies due to promotion have been identified; school rolls for September can be calculated as admission numbers are now known; most teachers deciding to retire or leave the profession for other reasons will have made their decisions known to the leadership of the school and budgets, including Pupil Premium, can be calculated with some degree of certainty.

At TeachVac we are seeing that profile again this year. Indeed, I am somewhat surprised how resilient the job market has been after all the dire pronouncements during the teacher association annual conferences about the lack of funding for schools. However, as I wrote in an earlier post, teaching posts are often the last thing a school will cut when finances are tight. I suspect that the position would also be a lot worse if there hadn’t been such a severe restriction on the growth of the teachers’ salary bill in relation to other costs. Once the line gives way on the 1% per annum pay increase, then that is when teaching posts will come under real pressure, unless there is an injection of more funds.

At least, this year, there are more trainee teachers around than last year and probably than there will be next year, judging by the evidence discussed in a previous post based upon the UCAS data for April. As might be expected, the number of recorded vacancies for business studies teachers has exceeded both the trainee numbers and likely returners, so schools can expect to find that subject difficult to staff for the next twelve months, and probably beyond.

The pool of teachers of English not on preparation courses linked to schools is shrinking rapidly and those schools that have to trawl in the open market, especially in and around London, may increasingly find recruitment a challenge. There should be less of an issue in mathematics, based upon the absolute numbers of trainees, but, of course, there may be issues with quality and depth of knowledge of the subject. At the other end of the scale, there are still plenty of art and PE teachers along with those training to be teachers of IT. Despite the talk of reductions in the amount for time being allocated to design and technology, the supply of trainee teachers has diminished rapidly over the past few weeks, as the pool was not overly large to start with this year.

TeachVac, as the free services to schools and teachers, continues to provide matches on a daily basis to direct teachers to the vacancies, so that schools can know very quickly whether they are receiving expressions of interest. We note at this time of year schools often cut and paste vacancies when placing them on their web sites, and common issues are with out of date closing dates; wrong salary scales and even a mismatch between the headline subject and the details of the vacancy. We advise applicants to check for errors; schools should also mystery shop their vacancy web sites on a regular basis to ensure they aren’t wasting money because of mistakes in the information provided.

Why do head teachers leave?

The Daily Telegraph’s education editor rang me to this evening to ask this question ahead of some research to be published by NfER tomorrow. Normally, the most common reason for the departure of a head teacher is retirement, often after about ten years in post. This stands to reason in view of the age at which most heads are appointed. There are rare examples of heads appointed young staying for a quarter of a century or even longer, but that isn’t the norm.

In the primary sector, another key reason for departure is to move from the headship of a small school to a larger one. That happens as well in the secondary sector, but I suspect less often, although a study I did some years ago suggested that the schools with the highest ratings often appointed existing heads when they had a vacancy, preferring experience over other possible qualifications.

The big change since 2010, and the Academies Act, has been the formation of MATs and the creation of many more executive head or CEO posts filled by existing head teachers moving into these newly created roles. That will have created a temporary increase in departures and probably reduced the average length of service of head teachers. However, I suspect that many converter academies didn’t change heads on becoming an academy, other schools may have parted company with their head when joining a MAT, whether forced to do so or not.

Ofsted, and before that HMI, have always played an important role in determining the fate of a head teacher. A poor inspection outcome has almost always seen the departure of the head. Indeed, before inspections became commonplace, I suspect local authorities sometimes triggered an inspection as a means of removing a head they were concerned about.

I would guess that as concerns about workload and morale have increased across the profession there will have been an increase in heads leaving, just as there have been in classroom teachers. But, head shave always had heavy workloads, especially those that also have a substantial teaching load.

Apart from becoming executive heads, there are other roles heads looking for a new challenge can look undertake, including looking to lead an international school or taking on a consultancy role. However, there will be few moving into local authority administration: a popular route in the past.

What is as important as the departure is when it is announced. The key period for head teacher recruitment is January to March. Outside that period schools can often struggle to find a replacement for a departing head teacher. As this blog has noted before, any schools that differs from the norm is likely to find recruiting a new head teacher a challenge. The greater the number of variables where the school differs from the typical, the greater the recruitment challenge as some diocese have found over the decades I have been studying the labour market for head teachers.

 

 

The dog ate my homework

How much money does it take to persuade a graduate to become a teacher? More than it used to do. For more than three decades it has been known that when the economy is doing well the government finds it more of a challenge to recruit trainee teachers and also to retain those it already has. As a result, the amount of cash spent on marketing soars.

A recent article in PR week http://www.prweek.com/article/1430786/dfe-doubles-campaign-budget-attract-people-teaching suggests that the marketing budget in 2017/18 to encourage new entrants to train as a teacher will be more than £16 million. That’s a fourfold increase on what was spent in 2013/14 just four years ago. Put another way, four years ago, £114 per trainee was spent on advertising; this year, assuming all places are filled, it will cost some £474 per trainee. In reality, it is likely that the actual cost per trainee recruited will be in excess of £500.

Actually, the cost is near £1,000 per additional trainee encouraged into teaching as, even if nothing was spent, there would probably be a sizeable number of people wanting to train as a teacher, especially as a primary school teacher. So, the cost is largely to entice additional Physics, mathematics and languages teachers. The marketing bill needs to be added to the sizeable bursaries these students also attract making the real cost even higher. There are also the marketing costs of individual course providers competing with each other plus the not insignificant budget being spent by Teach First that’s not included in the £16 million.

Now that all young people have to stay in education or training until eighteen, it is worth asking whether the use of specialist teachers should be delayed in some subjects so that the costs of acquiring new teachers can be reduced. Would the money spent on marketing be better spent on up-skilling the expertise of existing teachers already having to teach subjects where they are under-prepared? How much higher will the marketing budget be allow to rise if the labour market for graduates remains tight over the next few years? Fortunately, compared with the spending from the Ministry of Defence the cost per place of recruiting teachers is probably far less than the marketing budget to recruit personnel for the armed forces.

One thing the DfE has to do is to demonstrate that it has learnt the lessons of history. Although current corporate memory in Sanctuary Buildings may not be very detailed, there are presumably copies of the studies conducted by various market research agencies for the Department during previous recruitment crises around the turn of the century. Discussing whether they are still relevant should, at least, ensure the £16 million is spent wisely and not wasted on campaigns that would never bear fruit in terms of teacher recruitment.

Making the term teacher’ a reserved occupation title would cost little, but raise the status of the profession overnight. It would also gain good press publicity. Good PR is often cheaper than poor marketing, although the reverse is sadly also true.

Bank holidays for teachers?

The Labour Party’s announcement of wanting to introduce four new bank holidays on Saint’s Days (I thought Corby’s Labour didn’t do religion) is either an attempt to lose the education vote or the parents’ vote.

Either way, if implemented, it would likely harm the education system. Drop 4 days from the education year, reducing it down to 186 and school staff including teachers benefit, unless on term-time only contracts and these are seen as not being term-time days. Parents have to find four more days of childcare if they have to work on bank holidays. Since these days move around, they won’t even create long weekend every year.

However, keep the school year at 190 days and teachers and other workers in schools won’t see the benefits of the extra holidays. This reminds me of my previous post about Labour and pay policies in the 1970s and the effects on teachers working conditions and benefits when non-pay benefits were more important than pay rises.

Labour needs to tell the education community what the announcement means for them, apart from more disruption in November, March and sometimes April as well. I wonder why they Labour didn’t go for celebrating the Tolpuddle Martyrs; Annie Besant’s birthday; Emily Pankhurst Day and perhaps Revolutionary Figures (non-sexist) Day to celebrate those that fought against Empire and oppression around the world. Saint’s Days seem just a bit passé and what we might have chosen as a country to take as holidays before the Reformation.

With an economy that doesn’t boast the best productivity record, adding another four days to the paid holiday calendar doesn’t seen a great way to run the economy either. Perhaps Labour is really thinking of the trade union workers that can charge extra pay for working on bank holidays: do they still have a day off as well? For them, it will be a great bribe to vote for Corbyn, especially if the Conservatives really don’t pledge not to raise taxes in the next parliament.

At least none of these Saint’s days fall within the examination system, so there won’t be the disruption there has been in higher education where the summer term bank holidays all on a Monday. But, perhaps Labour has given up on increasing manufacturing as the solution to our nation’s economic problems post a hard BREXIT and sees the way forward as a dance and skylark economy.

Debt hike for teachers

PGCE students to pay 6.1% interest on loans from the day that their courses starts. That’s not what you want to hear, but what the government has announced as likely from September if there isn’t a loud and sustained public outcry starting at the teacher association conferences this Easter. If the same rate of interest also applies to those on the school-based fee routes as well as undergraduates training to be a teacher then BREXIT is seriously bad news for trainee teachers. The reason is the hike in inflation to 3.1% last month, an increase partly fuelled by the post referendum slump in Sterling as a currency. Add to the inflation increase the 3% fee on top that the government charges plus the fact that interest starts accumulating as soon as the loan is taken out and we are talking serious money and an annual rate of 6.1%.

Career changers would almost certainlybe better off raising an extra mortgage on their house than paying these rates and younger intending teachers not eligible for bursaries should probably consult their parents to see whether they will do the same. Those starting work as teachers in September may find that their take home pay is below what it would have been in earlier years due to the rise in interest rates.

Whether intending teachers wanting to work in state funded schools should be expected to pay for their training is a moot point. Readers of this blog will know I don’t believe any trainee teachers should pay for the privilege of training to be a teacher. Few others, except would-be journalists and possibly fashion models pay for their training; until recently nurses also benefited from a scheme created by Frank Dobson when Blair’s Labour government first introduced tuition fees. The scheme for graduate trainee teachers, introduced in the early 2000s, was expensive, but fair to all trainees. The present situation is confusing, and at these rates of interest and a public sector annual pay rise of probably just one per cent, potentially off-putting to trainees in many subjects. Whether it deters the best or just those most likely to find other work, I leave others to judge.

One solution would be to employ all graduate trainees as part of a national trainee pool that also provided for their pension contributions and with an agreement to pay-off their undergraduate students loans at the rate of 25% of the outstanding interest and principle from the end of year two of teaching. They would be employed form the central pool by schools, so that the schools didn’t have the extra cost of writing off the loans for new teachers. This should be a central cost if loans are to continue. By involving the State directly in the employment of teachers it would allow the DfE to understand directly what was happening with both recruitment and retention. It would also make the DfE responsible for the consequences of mistakes with the Teacher Supply Model. Some PE and maths trainees won’t find jobs in teaching this year, but will still be faced by the increase in interest rates on their loans.

For maths trainees, with bursaries, the pain will be slight: for PE teachers this is punishment for choosing the wrong subject to train in as a teacher.