Don’t forget rural areas

When Chris Grayling was the Secretary of State for Transport he announced a new rail saver card for 16-17 year olds. From September, this group will now have access to some of the cheapest peak time rail fares, not only to travel to and from college and school, but also for leisure use.

The DfT, now under new leadership, recently issued a press notice about the new card https://www.gov.uk/government/news/over-one-million-people-to-save-hundreds-as-new-16-17-saver-launches-cutting-cost-of-rail-travel-for-teenagers There must be questions about the claim of the number of young people that will benefit, especially in the absence of any indication that you don’t need to buy the card if you live in London and just travel to and from school or college. This is thanks to TfL arrangements that have increasingly taken many suburban rail lines into the overground network. The annual saving of an estimated £186 is good news for those that use the train, but not for all young people.

My concern has always been that this initiative does nothing for young people living in rural areas some distance away from rail lines and that cannot sue them to access school or college places. In Oxfordshire, Witney, Burford, Wantage, Farringdon, Chipping Norton, Watlington and Wheatley, along with a host of other towns and villages, don’t have direct access to a railway station. Why hasn’t the government done a similar deal with the privatised bus companies to help these young people?

Alternatively, having raised the learning leaving age to 18, why hasn’t the DfE responded to this initiative by looking to change the home to school transport regulations so the upper age limit for free travel is 18 and not 16. This would come at a price to public finances, and would be more expensive to the public purse than a deal with bus operators, but to do nothing is a slap in the face for young people living in rural areas, especially if the Department for Transport is also interested in making it more difficult for them to use their own transport to reach schools and colleges, and has done nothing to make cycling safer.

This anti-rural area bias is just the sort of issue that might tip the balance in a few rural constituencies, were there to be a general election in the autumn. My Lib Dem colleagues could well mount campaigns along the lines of ‘Tories Take Rural Family vote for Granted’ and see what happens.

I haven’t seen any response from the National Union of Students or any of the teacher associations with members in rural areas. Neither have I seem the Local Government Association take up the cause of young people in rural areas. There is little time to change the situation for September, but I hope schools and colleges, where some pupils can benefit from the new card, will take action to ensure other students don’t drop out of education because of the cost of travel to school and college on top of all the other costs of studying faced by that age group.

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Rods, poles and perches

The announcement of 10,000 new prison places and increased use of stop and search by the Prime Minister made me think about what he might announce for education once he goes beyond the financial carrot necessary to shore up our under-financed education system.

With such an ardent Brexiter in charge, could he direct that the curriculum change on 1st November to throw out any reference to the decimal system and witness a return to imperial weights and measures? Could the government mandate that temperature again be expressed in degrees Fahrenheit rather than Centigrade, and kilometres be banished form the language once again? Any other summer and these might seem silly season stories, but not in 2019.

I have no doubt that schools would rather than spend the £2 billion to build new prison places that this cash was spent on youth services, more cash for special schools and strategies to reduce exclusions and off-rolling by schools. This could include better provision of professional development courses to help teachers educate challenging pupils rather than exclude them. Such measures might obviate the need for building new prisons.

I do not want to return to the dark days of the Labour government, just over a decade ago, when, at any one time, around 4,000 young people were being locked up: the number now is closer to 1,000 despite the issues with knife crime that like drugs issues is now seeping across the country at the very time when it seems to have plateaued in London.

More police and other public service staff are necessary for society to function effectively, but the aim must be on prevention and deterrents not on punitive action and punishment. Criminals that know they are likely to be caught may well think twice: those that know detection rates are abysmal will consider the opportunity worth the risk.

The State also needs to spend money on education and training of prisoners as well as rehabilitation of offenders after the end of their sentence; especially young offenders. The recent report from the Inspector of Prisons makes as depressing reading as the study highlighted in a previous post of the background of many young people that are incarcerated for committing crimes. If we cannot even work to prevent the smaller number of young people imprisoned these days from re-offending what hope is there if society starts to lock up more young people again?

A recurrent theme of this blog has been about the design of the curriculum for the half of our young people not destined for higher education. Here the new government could do something sensible by recognising that schools have accepted that the EBacc offers too narrow a curriculum to offer to every pupil and to encourage a post-14 offering that provides for the needs of all pupils. This might be achieved by encouraging schools and further education to work together.

A start might be made by increasing the funding for the 16-18 sector and identifying what was good about the idea of University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools and why the experiment has not worked as its promoters had hoped.

 

Teachers always needed in London

Four out of every ten teaching vacancies in England, advertised between January and the end of July this year, were placed by schools located either in London or the South East. Add in vacancies from the northern and eastern Home Counties, including Essex, Hertfordshire and schools located in a clutch of unitary local authorities and the figure for vacancies comes close to half of all teaching posts. This data come from TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk, the company where I am Chair of the Board.

By contrast, the North East and North West together account for only 12% of vacancies. This increases to 20% if the Yorkshire and The Humber Region is added into the total. Of course, these are smaller regions than London and the South East, but that doesn’t account for all of the difference.

Undoubtedly, the school population is rising faster in London and the Home Counties than elsewhere, both because of the birth rate increase a few years ago and also because of the amount of house building, especially in parts of the South East. Oxfordshire has had three new secondary schools over the past few years, with more to come. This after a period when no new secondary schools were built in the county.

Although Teach First is now a programme spread across England, its influence in London can still be seen. Schools in the Capital generally topped the list for percentage of vacancies recorded by region, but were in second place in terms of the percentage of demand for teachers of English and only in joint first place with the South East in demand for teachers of mathematics, both accounting for 19% of the national total of advertised vacancies.

Another reason demand may be high in London and the South East is the significant number of private schools located in these regions.

Interestingly, ‘business’ in is various forms was the subject where London was further ahead of the rest of the country; accounting for a third of all vacancies advertised so far in 2019. Add in the percentage for the South East and the total for the two regions is more than half the total for the whole of England.

In business, as in a range of other subjects, schools needing to recruit for vacancies that arise for January 2020 are going to find filing those vacancies something of a challenge. Regardless of the outcome of Brexit and the state of the world economy, there won’t be a reserve of newly qualified teachers still looking for work in many subjects. Languages, history and geography within the EBacc being exceptions, although even here there are likely to be local shortages, regardless of the national picture.

Recruiting returners and persuading teachers to switch schools may be the best options for schools suddenly faced with a vacancy, for whatever reason. There will be some teachers coming back from overseas and TeachVac has seen more ‘hits’ on the web site from Southern Hemisphere counties over the past few weeks. But such numbers may only be of marginal help unless there is a really deep global recession.

One option the government might consider is offering teacher preparation courses starting and ending in January as well as September. The Open University used to be very good at offering courses that graduate teachers in time to meet the needs of schools looking to fill their January vacancies.  It might be worth considering such an option again.

Bad news on closing the gap

The Education Policy Institute’s 2019 Report on Education (EPI Report) has largely been noticed for the comments about social mobility and the stalling of attempts to close the gaps between disadvantaged and other pupils as this is a key feature of its findings  https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/epi-annual-report-2019-the-education-disadvantage-gap-in-your-area/ Reasons for this ending of the reduction in the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and other pupils as noted by EPI are the decline in funding for schools and the challenges some schools face in both recruiting and retaining teachers.

This latter explanation is one that has been regularly championed by this blog as likely to have an adverse effect on outcomes. So, it would seem that money matters, and the idea of just providing cash to under-funded local authorities, as seemingly suggested by the new Prime Minister, might not necessarily be the way forward.

However, I do have some concerns about parts of the methodology used by EPI as it relates to the presentation of the data. A focus on local authorities as the key determinant does tend to ignore areas, whether urban or rural that have wide variations in levels of disadvantage within the same local authority boundary. For the two tier shire and district council areas, it would have been better to use the data at a district council level, but that doesn’t help in cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, and boroughs where there may be wide variations between different parts of the authority. To some extent the data for an authority doesn’t reveal the whole picture and can provide results that might mis-lead the casual reader.

EPI avoids this issue to some extent by producing tables using parliamentary constituencies as the basis for the data. Thus the gap in months at the secondary level relative to non-disadvantaged pupils nationally can differ widely within one authority by looking at data at the level of the parliamentary constituency. For Birmingham, it is 13.6 in Selly Oak, but 19.6 in Ladywood; in Kent it differs between 27.0 for the Dover constituency and 13.8 in Tunbridge Wells.

This is not to say that drawing attention to the gap between where pupils start their education journeys and where they complete them isn’t vitally important at a local authority level. But, providing everyone with equal shares of the cake is not an answer for anyone that wants anything other than administrative simplicity, important though it is to ensure that base funding levels are sufficient for the task in hand.

EPI do make the point in their report that despite no progress in narrowing the disadvantage gap, overall pupil attainment has continued to rise. This suggests that an overall rise in standards does not guarantee a reduction in the disadvantage gap. (Their emphasis).

The Report also highlights the fact that the post-16 education routes taken by young people are becoming increasingly segregated by socio-economic status, with disadvantaged pupils disproportionately represented in certain routes. In particular, the increased segregation is driven by an over-representation of disadvantaged students in further education. These trends may damage the government’s ambition of rectifying imbalances between further and higher education. (Their emphasis).

 

 

20,000 fewer teachers?

The news that the Home Office are going to oversee the recruitment of either 20,000 new graduate police officers or people capable of earning a vocational degree must prompt the question; in the current labour market, where are these new police officers going to come from? Of course, it might be a preemptive strike by the government against a possible recession and the associated increase in unemployment. This must be on the assumption that any recession will hit the graduate end of the labour market at least as hard as it hits those with no qualifications.

After seven years of a failure to recruit enough new teachers into training – a back door cut – and facing an increasing pupil population, teaching also need more entrants than it has at present. Indeed, it seems likely that when the ITT Census for 2019 is published in November, this will be the eighth year of missed targets in some subjects. I recorded the disturbing decline of design and technology trainee numbers in one of yesterday’s posts, if anyone is interested.

So, might teachers switch to become police officers? I doubt it will be 20,000, but the loss of any experienced teachers will be a blow to the profession that has also seen retention rates worsen for teachers we might have expected to have reached the stage where they had become what one person described to me this week as ‘lifers’.

Potential teachers, especially those keen to be in London and not eligible for Teach First, might well weigh up the starting salary of a constable against the fees to be paid as a trainee teacher and the absence of any guarantee of a teaching post on completion of training.

I certainly think that this move to increase police numbers will reinforce the need for a review of the former training grant for all teachers, and not just payments to those lucky enough to be on Teach First or the School Direct Salaried routes or receiving a bursary. Of course, the government could wait and see, but that must be deemed a risk unless graduate unemployment rises both quickly and fast.

If the new Secretary of State for Defence wants more graduates in the armed forces and the NHS more nurses, then those actions will place more pressure on the teaching profession to be competitive in a labour market where it clearly isn’t competitive at present.

Do we really want a system that produces just enough qualified teachers of Physics to meet the needs of private schools, Sixth Form Colleges and the selective schools? Do we want a system that fails to produce enough teachers of design and technology; of music; even of art? According to head teachers that I meet, this isn’t even the complete list of subjects where recruitment is currently a challenge.

The other salvation is that a slowing down of the global economy might reduce demand from ‘overseas schools’ for teachers trained in England. Such a situation is possible, but with the switch of many of these schools to educating not the children of expat business families, but locals dissatisfied with their State system or unable to access it, not too much hope should be placed on this solution, at least for now.

Are marginal trainee teachers more likely to fail?

The latest ITT performance profiles were published this morning by the DfE. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/initial-teacher-training-performance-profiles-2017-to-2018 These include data for individual providers as well as general figures for the whole undergraduate and postgraduate cohorts gaining QTS in 2017/18 – last summer’s output of new teachers.

Generally, the picture isn’t much changed from the previous year. Headline percentage gaining QTS for the postgraduate cohort remained at 91%, with happily some 734 more trainees that gained QTS for a total of 25,490, up from 24,764 the previous year. Sadly, these were not always in the subjects where there was the most needed.

The total of those on undergraduate courses continued to fall; down by nearly 300 to just 4,733 gaining QTS. The new Secretary of State might care to reflect that the 30,000 new teachers last summer isn’t far short of the whole establishment of the Royal Navy he was responsible for as Defence Secretary. Imagine if ITT had the same revenue budget as the Royal Navy to train teachers. Hopefully, some of the new cash promised by Boris will come in the direction of both teacher preparation and CPD.

It is interesting that Physics, where recruitment onto teacher preparation courses has been challenging for a number of years, is bottom of the list of secondary subjects in terms of trainees awarded QTS. Some of this may be down to early departure from the course, and clearly some did not complete the course to QTS in time, with some 5% ‘yet to complete’ when the numbers were compiled.

Physical Education, a non-bursary subject, and one where demand for places exceed supply, turned in a percentage of 97% of trainees being awarded QTS. However, not all bursary subjects with few recruitment challenges managed to turn out such a high level of trainees with QTS. History and English both only managed to see 95% and 93% respectively of their trainees awarded QTS.

The groups with lower than hoped for percentages being awarded QTS against the overall postgraduate average of 91% included men (88%); those from an ethnic minority background (88%) – although 13% did not declare on this measure and that may have affected the outcome. Those with a declared disability and with lower academic performance as measured by degree class were also groups with lower than average percentages gaining QTS as were older trainees that were switching careers. The highest identified percentage (94%) was for those with First Class degrees

The saddest statistic is the number of trainees gaining QTS in design and technology:

2009/10                1159

2010/11                1118

2011/12                  808

2012/13                  500

2013/14                  383

2014/15                  433

2015/16                  493

2016/17                  399

2017/18                  288

This is not enough to provide for future middle leaders in the subject, let alone to staff the subject effectively. This is something else for the new team in Sanctuary Building to discuss.

I hope in future posts to discuss the differences between the different postgraduate routes. However, they can be small and accounted for in terms of attitudes to recruiting groups that achieve lower rates of QTS.

UCAS Access allowed

Usually at this time of the month I would be commenting on the UCAS data about applications to graduate ITT courses. Curiously, this month access to the monthly data has been hidden behind a password access page on the day the data was released. Even more curiously, the daily updates that contain most of the same data, but in a slightly different format, are still available for all to see: very odd. I have emailed UCAS to ask for an explanation and the data is now available for all to see. I will post the new information after the end of the original post

So, what can be gleaned from the data that is in the public domain? Firstly it is for the state of play on the 25th July, whereas the monthly data only covered data up to 16th July 2018. As a result the 2019 data ought to show higher numbers due to the longer timescale covered.

Allowing for the time difference, and the difference in the data presentation by UCAS, it seems as if the recent TV campaign plus the publicity about the government’s recruitment and retention strategy might have made some difference to the numbers accepting offers of places on ITT courses, but any increase is not of any significant magnitude in many subjects that were on already on track to create an eight year of missed targets: mostly probably will still miss their target unless there is a late surge in applicants. It is probably too early for any change to the Skills Tests to have had any effect on these numbers.

With a new Secretary of State, a pay offer for teachers and a Prime Minister promising more money for schools, not to mention the risks of a recession as a result of the outcome of Brexit, is teaching going to see this rush of late applications? Frankly it is anyone’s guess, but my feeling is that 2020 is still going to be a challenge for schools recruiting classroom teacher, unless there is a drop in numbers leaving the profession and an increase in those seeking to return due to worsening economic conditions.

Those preparing teachers in September might still find themselves with many empty places on their courses across a range of subjects.

Reviewing the monthly data that represented the position at the 15th July, there seems to be good news for Design & Technology, where good news is baldy needed,  and in biology, history and religious education. The first two are not shortage subjects, although the biologists will plug the gaps left by fewer chemists and physicists if those numbers don’t improve. Business Studies, English, geography and Languages are at broadly similar levels to this point last year. Along with the two sciences already mentioned, IT, mathematics, music, art and PE are all below the level for offers at this comparison point last year and, apart from PE are heading for missed targets again.

Applicant numbers are marginally down on last July last year, on the most favourable measure, by around 600 to some 36,210. However, that’s some 2,000 below the number two years ago.  Younger career changes seem to be the group moving away from considering teaching as a career. There is a slight increase in applications from those 21 or under; new graduates. The other increase, of around 250, is in the age-group above the age of 40. The risk, as the performance profiles issued earlier this week demonstrated, is that this group has a lower success rate at reaching QTS than trainees from the youngest age group.

The trend towards fewer women applying is also evident in the figures for this month when compared with both last year and the year before. After a large decline between two years age and last year, the decline in male applicants is relatively modest this year, some 250 down from last year, to 12,430 of whom 8,200 have either been placed or are holding an offer.

Although there are more applications to providers in London than for any other region, the number has slipped below 20,000, about 750 applications below this point last year. The good news is that there are 800 ‘placed’ trainees in London compared with 750 in July last year. The less good news is that the number ‘conditionally placed’ is down on last year and the number ‘holding an offer’ is similar to last year.

Applications for primary courses continue to decline, down to 41,790 this July compared with 44,310 in July last year. Applications overall for secondary courses are up, from 58,830 to 59,440. However, these may not be in the subjects where they are most needed. Higher Education has seen the brunt in reductions of applicants, down from 52,350 to 47,700. Salaried School Direct courses and apprenticeships still seem out of favour with secondary schools, with only 710 placed or holding offers for such routes in the secondary sector this year, compared to 900 last year.

Overall, my comment at the end of the blog yesterday that Those preparing teachers in September might still find themselves with many empty places on their courses across a range of subjects still seems to hold good after reviewing the monthly published data from UCAS.