Gifts may not be the same as presents

As many readers of this blog will know, the DfE is planning a new digital application service for prospective trainee teachers. Apart from being trendy, I am not sure what the word ‘digital’ adds to the title, as surely nobody would create a new paper-based application service these days.

You can read about the service at https://dfedigital.blog.gov.uk/2019/09/05/testing-apply/ The new service will eventually replace the existing service run by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), probably by the start of the application round for 2021 courses, if the trial stages go well.

Now, I have had my differences with UCAS over the present system, introduced when I sat on a Committee representing ITT interests as an independent member. Some of my concerns seems to be being replicated by the DfE in designing their system. However, I have a much more fundamental concern than the design of the system about the DfE’s proposal. UCAS isn’t a government body. Instead, it is owned by its members. The new system will transfer ownership of the postgraduate application process for teaching to the government.

Is that change of ownership a good idea? Certainly, it will directly save both candidates and the providers of courses money as, like the DfE teacher recruitment service, it will be free at the point of delivery. It am sure it will also be well designed.

However, ownership of the process will then be in the hands of politicians and not the providers. Imagine a future government that recognises the need to balance supply and demand for teachers across the country and closes off courses when sufficient applications have been received, but before providers have made their choice of applicants. This could force later applicants to choose from the remaining courses that are short of applicants. Now, in some ways this is similar to the recruitment controls imposed upon the sector a few years ago. Any such regulation might reduce the freedom of providers to select candidates. You could envisage other interventions.

The DfE team running the service will need to know a great deal about the complexities of the teacher preparation market. If it is an in-house set-up at the DfE, what oversight will there be? Is there to be an advisory board or some other form of governance structure or will the system just be run by a changing stream of civil servants, supervised by a senior policy officer and just keeping ‘in contact’ with the providers?

As a government function, the application service will always be subject to Ministerial oversight and direction. Whether that is a ‘good thing’ or not will depend upon your views about services run by government. Certainly, as a public service, there should be more data available than is currently the case with the UCAS service.

It is also worth recalling that the DfE ran the admissions process for School Direct in 2013 and allowed me to comment in May of that year about the state of applications in a post entitled Applications Good: Acceptances better. https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/applications-good-acceptances-better/

As Ed Dorrell of the Tes remarked at the NABTT Conference, during his talk on teacher supply, Ministers don’t like talking about a crisis, and my analysis of the data that year certainly landed me in hot water, as anyone that reads the August 2013 posts on this blog can discover.

Whatever I think, the DfE is presenting the new system to the sector. I just hope it is a gift worth receiving.

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Change and Renewal: NASBTT’s key priorities for the year ahead

Earlier today I was the guest of The National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT) at their annual conference. I suspect the fact that TeachVac sponsored their Administrator of the Year Award in the summer may have had something to do with the invitation. Curiously, the Awards didn’t rate a mention in Emma Hollis the Executive’s Director’s Review of the Year.

Anyway, NASBTT has grown from a small organisation, representing a few SCITTs in an out of favour section of the teacher preparation sector, to a dynamic orgnaisation now commanding a growing influence in the market for training teachers.

At the conference, Emma Hollis outlined five key priorities for 2019-20, which includes NASBTT playing a pivotal role at the forefront of Initial Teacher Training (ITT) policy formation..

Emma Hollis told the more than 150 delegates attending the conference how “the world of education is ever shifting and the wider political upheaval has meant that, perhaps even more so than usual, there has been uncertainty about the future”.

Emma highlighted how NASBTT is represented on the Department for Education (DfE) Initial Teacher Education (ITE) curriculum content advisory group, which has drafted new guidance that will underpin the training programme for new teachers, starting with the core content for ITT and leading into the Early Career Framework (ECF).

Secondly, NASBTT is part of an ITE advisory group which is supporting Ofsted as it designs its new framework for the inspection of ITE, aligning it more closely with the Education Inspection Framework for schools. “

Thirdly, NASBTT is prioritising subject knowledge enhancement for trainee teachers – creating a Subject Knowledge and Curriculum Design toolkit, teaming up with a range of subject specialists including Vretta, and its innovative Elevate My Maths online programme.

However, Emma emphasised a wider issue. “NASBTT members remain concerned about the difficulty of training teachers ‘in depth’ in all subjects within the timeframe of teacher training,” she said. “It is particularly unclear exactly how much subject knowledge is expected of primary teachers. I would add especially as once QTS is granted a teacher may still be asked to teach anything to anyone regardless of their level of knowledge and expertise.

Fourthly, and linked directly to the need for ongoing professional development for subject knowledge enhancement, and other areas, is the ECF delivery mechanism. To this end, NASBTT has established a professional framework for teacher educators to be launched later this year through their new Teacher Educator Zone.

My thought was about the trainees that don’t take up a job until January, how will the ECF work for them? For, as this blog has pointed out in the past, if the market works properly, the most able trainees are employed before those that fared less well on their preparation courses, and they surely need support the most support, even if they start later in the year.

NASBTT’s fifth – but by no means least important – priority for the next 12 months is in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of trainee teachers. Emma pointed out that “The prominence and importance of mental health and wellbeing is growing in schools – both for pupils and school staff.”

I would add that both teacher preparation courses and the first years of teaching can be very stressful times. The courses demand a degree of concentration and effort not always recognised, and certainly not rewarded in the case of all trainees, especially those preparing to be primary school teachers.

Finally, I have watched NASBTT’s growth over the years, and wish it well for the future. As the organisation grows, so will both its confidence in dealing with government and the range of challenges it will face. I wish it well for the future.

 

Some reduction in workload, but not enough

The DfE has recently published the result of the 2019 Teacher Workload Survey, carried out on its behalf by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NfER). https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/838457/Teacher_workload_survey_2019_report.pdf

From the results, it seems as the high level of publicity given to the term-time workload of teachers has produced results, since teachers and middle leaders report working fewer hours in total in 2019 than they did in 2016. Senior leaders also reported working fewer hours in total in 2019 than they did in 2016.

Primary and secondary teachers and middle leaders reported spending broadly similar amounts of time on teaching in 2019 as they did in 2016. However, most primary and secondary teachers and middle leaders reported spending less time on lesson planning, marking and pupil supervision in 2019 than in 2016, so the reduction hasn’t come in face to face teaching but in all those other activities that make up the task of a teacher.

Primary teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders were less likely than those in the secondary phase to say that workload was a ‘very’ serious problem. I wonder whether this relates to the fact that secondary classroom teachers have to manage interactions with far more pupils than do their primary counterparts and many senior leaders.

Even with the reduced workload from the last survey in 2016, most respondents reported to the NfER that they could not complete their workload within their contracted hours, that they did not have an acceptable workload, and that they did not achieve a good work-life balance. So, the reduction reported is not enough to create a profession satisfied with its term-time workload.

Interestingly, most teachers, middle and senior leaders were positive about the professional development time and support they receive according to the Report. While I am pleased with this outcome, I do find it slightly surprising. Maybe the bar is set very low in the minds of many teachers these days.

Certainly there seems to be much less leadership development than there was in the past, and the abolition of the National College looks like a retrograde step that may still haunt the profession for years to come unless action is taken to properly develop future generations of school and system leaders. To a great extent, the profession is living on investment from the past, and not looking to the future.

As the report concludes:

with about seven out of ten primary respondents and nine out of ten secondary respondents still reporting workload is a ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ serious problem, it is also clear that there is more work to do to reduce unnecessary workload for teachers, middle leaders, and school leaders.

If the government is to solve the recruitment crisis facing schools, then it has to ensure teaching is a profession that offers not only a good salary, but also a satisfactory work-life balance. On the basis of this report, although progress has been made since 2016, the goal of profession satisfied with its lot has not yet been achieved.

Who cares about school leadership and governance?

What’s happening to both the Teaching Schools programme and the idea of National Leaders of Education and of Governance? The DfE faithfully reports the numbers in each of these categories https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teaching-schools-and-system-leadership-monthly-report with reports from September 2019 back to June 2018 on the DfE Website. Earlier reports seems to be archived and are not easy to find.

The DfE notes that Designation rounds for National Leaders of Education and teaching schools closed in May 2018 and designation rounds for National Leaders of Governance closed in May 2017.

The DfE is currently reviewing the current structure of system leadership to ensure the quality of system leadership remains as high as possible. The teaching school hubs test and learn phase, launched in May 2019, builds on the success of the teaching schools programme and is the first part of the department’s plans to review system leadership.

The number of system leaders who are currently designated is actively managed and the department keeps these matters under review.

As a result, it is perhaps not surprising to find that numbers in the different categories have reduced across the board between June 2018 and September 2019 as presumably few new additions have been made to replace those lost for various reasons.

June 2018            September 2019               Change                                 Percentage Change

Teaching

Schools                 668                         618                                         -50                            -7%

Alliance

Teaching

Schools                 835                         734                                         81                           -10%

National

Leaders of           1319                       1087                                  -232                            -17%

Education

National

Leaders of           442                          363                                       -79                         -18%

Governance

Source DfE publications for relevant months

Probably most worrying is the reduction in National Leaders of Governance. With an education system where governance is a muddle and different schools operate under vastly different rules depending upon whether they are Maintained, Voluntary and Maintained, Stand Alone academies or Free Schools or members of Multi-Academy Trusts, there is a need for leadership that NLG can help provide.

Without the backing of the National College, now fading into little more than a memory, there is a need to provide support and development for leadership and career development the system. It is not clear where the impetus is now coming from. Perhaps the Secretary of State might care to make a keynote speech about this? However, I suspect nothing will happen this side of a general election and it will be anyone’s guess who might be occupying the Minister’s Office in Sanctuary Buildings then.

When I started in teaching in the early 1970s, there was little support for leadership, but it became an issue as the decade progressed, so much so that in 1978 I ran my first leadership course for middle leaders in schools. Sometimes it now feels as if the whole of the work undertaken since then has been discarded, and we are back to a free for all with no clear direction of travel for leadership training, development and support.

No doubt the review of the present structure will make suggestions: they cannot come soon enough in my opinion.

 

Recruiting Teachers – the cost effective option

I am delighted to announce that TeachVac will be adding the small number of vacancies from the DfE site that TeachVac doesn’t already carry to the TeachVac site. These vacancies are mostly either in new schools recruiting for the first time or primary schools in small MATs with a central recruitment page.

As TeachVac also includes vacancies from independent schools, this will make it the most comprehensive site for anyone interested in either applying for a teaching vacancy or interested in what is happening in the labour market for teachers.

As a result, I have written the following piece as an overview of recruitment in what remains a challenging labour market for teachers. You can sign up to Teachvac at http://www.teachvac.co.uk; it free and easy to do.

There are a number of different options for schools and academy trusts seeking to recruit teachers and school leaders. Put briefly, these are:

  • Free sites such as the DfE site and TeachVac (national coverage) and local authority job boards (local and in some cases regional coverage)
  • Traditional national paid for advertising sites such as The TES, eteach and The Guardian.
  • Local paid for advertising via local newspapers and their websites.
  • Recruitment Agencies of various types, including agencies focused on the supply teacher market.
  • Direct marketing to universities and other providers of teacher preparation courses as well as offering vacancies to teachers in schools during preparation courses.
  • School web sites, including the use of talent banking.

Each of these comes with different costs and benefits.

A single point of contact for free advertising of vacancies for teachers and school leaders has been identified by the National Audit Office; the Education Select Committee and in the 2017 Conservative Party election manifesto as the best way forward.

During 2018 and early 2019 the DfE developed and implemented such a product to operate alongside the already existing TeachVac site designed and operated by a company where Professor John Howson, a long-time authority on the labour market for teachers is the chair of the board.

The advantage of the DfE site is that it has the backing of the government. Potential disadvantages include the fact that it requires schools to upload vacancies and that it only handles vacancies from state funded schools and colleges. A minor distraction is that the site also handles non-teaching vacancies mixed in with the teaching posts. Requiring schools to upload vacancies can be both time consuming and also requires training for new staff to ensure that they can operate the system. The information is limited to that required by the site and isn’t easy to alter without informing all schools of the change.

TeachVac uses technology to collect vacancies every day from school websites and then eyeballing to verify their accuracy. The amount of information collected is greater than on the DfE web site.  A potential disadvantage of TeachVac is that it does not allow users to browse vacancies, but requires specification of a set of requirements for the vacancy sought. This approach has the advantage of also collecting data about the level of interest in specific types of vacancies in specific parts of the country. TeachVac covers both state funded and private schools so provides a one-stop shop for teachers seeking vacancies.

Both sites have the advantage of being free to use for both schools and teachers. The DfE site is subject to the need for government funding and TeachVac must fund itself.

All other approaches, save for schools own web sites and direct marketing by schools to teacher preparation courses, are subject to the profit motive and thus have a cost to schools.

The use of modern technology allows for the combination of approaches by schools, starting with the free options and allowing for the best paid-for alternative should the free option not provide an adequate response to a generated vacancy within a short period of time.

Do let me have your thoughts on how you see the future for the market? Will free sites reduce the ability of paid-for sites to attract vacancies? Will the DfE site become the default site or does it lack of breadth mean teachers will want a site offering all teaching vacancies in one place? Will recruitment agencies become the normal route for entry into the profession for newly qualified teachers and returners? Do the Local government Association and the teacher associations have a role to play in the marketing of vacancies to teachers and monitoring the labour market independent of government?

Let me know what you think?

Yong people being successful

This summer, I have been able to witness some amazing activities by young people from across Oxfordshire. In this blog I would like to mention three groups and the adults that have supported them. All have to a greater or lesser extent funding from official sources, but need to rely upon volunteers as well, including the goodwill of parents. They represent but the tip of an iceberg of what takes place.

At the end of the school summer term I attended various concerts put on by the County Music Service, and at the end of the month I will be attending a welcome back concert by the OSO. This orchestra is considered to be Oxfordshire’s “training” orchestra, with students going on to play in the OSSO, OYWO and OCYO. Next year the most senior of these orchestra is planning on playing Mahler’s First Symphony. That would be a magnificent achievement for the orchestra and the County Music Service. Their other achievement this year, of buddying children with SEND of all descriptions with other young people to create a truly memorable music experience, broke new boundaries.

The National Citizen Service hasn’t always had a good press, but the on the ground activities help create a sense of teamwork and allow young people to achieve more than they thought themselves capable. I was privileged to be asked to judge the projects by five of the teams from among the 700 young people taking part in the five discrete programmes this summer in Oxfordshire. These programmes also involved the use of 200 staff to support the courses. Included in the programme was supporting and fund-raising for charitable activities. Alongside support for the homeless and the local hospital charity were campaigns to support young carers; those with brain injuries and a project to map unisex toilets that can be used by those identifying as of transgender. I witnessed two of the teams staffing a stall in the local market place as a means of raising funds. In 2018, more than £43,000 was raised by NCS group activities. It is still early to say how much will be raised in 2109, but again young people came together to work on a project and learn a range of skills.

Yester, I attended the open day for the Oxfordshire Battalion of the Army Cadet Force summer camp. Despite atrocious weather, youngsters from 13 to 19 were participating in a range of activities albeit with a military theme. The dedication of all concerned was clear to see and the Battalion in Oxfordshire is clearly in good spirits. However, I wonder whether the MoD pays the same attention to the ACF s it does to the Combined Cadet Force or CCF that is mostly located in our independent schools? In this day and age youth activities by the MoD must not be organised so that one is the route for potential officers and the other for other ranks. That might have worked in the days after World War 2 when the tri-partite system of education prevailed, but would look extremely out of date these days. Bringing pupils from both sectors to work together, especially in a county lie Oxfordshire with so many intendent schools, might dispel any such notion. Larger numbers might also help attract those interested in understanding the range of activities of our defence forces and the skills they need.

So, my thanks to all that give up their time for these and other organisations working with young people. We just need to ensure that there is also a proper youth service that can support others, such as young carers that often cannot find the time to join in these types of activities.

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.