IFS highlight what was expected

It is interesting to look back at what I wrote on this blog on the 29th February, using my experiences of other school closures, especially that of Haringey’s schools in 1979, during the Winter of Discontent.

All this is ‘obiter’ by way of approaching the main question as to what schools should do now, and is there anything we can learn from 1979? Two things standout; some schools, usually those subject to most parental pressure, were better organised than others, especially in respect of examination groups, and we live in a vastly changed world in relation to technology.

Schools that don’t already do so can explore the use of uploaded video lesson segments for revision classes, where limited new material remains to be introduced. Skype or video conferencing software might even allow virtual lessons in some subjects where teachers are available. Indeed, a pandemic, as it would likely affect teachers as well as other school staff, should be the final nail in the coffin of schools competing with each other, rather than collaborating for the good of all learners.

Specific thought will also need to be given to pupils, especially those in special schools that are transported to schools. Will there be sufficient taxis and other vehicles to bring them to school?

These thoughts chime with the report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies about who has lost out from the lockdown, in terms of learning. I haven’t had time to read their research in full yet, but I wonder whether they also computed the attendance rates in normal times for the different groups they identified? There is also differential rates of private tutoring even in normal times

None of this invalidates the IFS’s verdict, with which I agree, and was supported by the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission on the radio yesterday. Social Class and access to both funds for technology and space to learn can make a big difference.

Should we be looking to press new spaces into use as schools? Church and community halls as extra classroom; theatres; cinemas and even places of worship? Because, if we cut class sizes we won’t have enough space to bring everyone back in the present buildings.

We certainly need cooperation and not conflict between those responsible for the education of the nation’s children and young people.

Whatever the strategies finally deployed, we do need to see how we can work with parents to ensure children falling behind can make-up the essentials of learning without being stigmatised as either failures or willful for not having the resources and space at home that makes such a difference to learning. This will not be an easy task, but one we must aspire to achieve as a Society.




Webinar for Job Seekers

TeachVac is collaborating with Marketing Advice for Schools to offer a webinar for teaching either currently job hunting or thinking of doing so. You can find the details at https://www.careeradviceforteachers.co.uk/ With a new section on on-line interviews and how to deal with them, this webinar is based around a successful seminar created for teachers during the last recession when there were more teachers than jobs.

The first webinar will be next Monday evening.

Places are limited and participants will receive a copy of the sides. If you know someone that might find the webinar useful, please do pass this on to them.

Give us the data

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has produced a set of papers about deaths of those with COVID-19 and their occupational grouping. https://www.ons.gov.uk/releases/covid19relateddeathsbyoccupationenglandandwalesdeathsregistereduptoandincluding20thapril2020

Teachers are seen as a group with a high possible exposure to any disease, presumably as they work close to large groups of children. In that respect, secondary school teachers interacting with many different pupils in the course of a day might been thought to have a higher potential risk factor than primary school teachers who are largely interacting with a smaller group of children each day. Of course, this is too simplistic, as it ignores the many other settings in schools from playgrounds, assemblies and meal times where all teachers can interact with large numbers of children. Primary teachers, and especially school leaders may have the added factor of interaction with parents that bring children to school and cluster at the school gate at the end of the day.

This data will no doubt have some bearing on the decisions about –reopening schools. The most useful table in the ONS data is Table 5 helpfully entitled ‘Deaths involving COVID-19 and all causes among minor occupation groups by sex (those aged 20-64 years), England and Wales, deaths registered up to and including 20th April 2020.

ONS use SOC minor occupation Code 231 for Teaching and Educational Professionals. This Group includes HE, FE primary and secondary teachers and school lead, as well as SEN teachers, advisors and a catch-all group not classified under any of the other categories. Although men have more representation in some of the groups, women almost certainly dominate the group as a whole.

ONS recorded that 22 of the 95 recorded deaths for men in Group 231 were deaths involving COVID-19, as were 25 of the 143 recorded deaths among women in the Group. Of course, there may be other deaths not signified as COVID-19 related, perhaps due to a lack of testing or other underlying causes, especially early in the notification period that might make these underestimates. However, on this data ONS show males in the Group having a death rate of 6.7 per 100,000 (range 4.1 to 10.3) and women 3.3 (range 2.0 to 4.9) for COVID-19 related deaths. For women it may be important since many occupation groups don’t have enough data to provide a figure for COVID-19 related deaths. Group 231 for women has COVID-9 related deaths per 100,000 of the population at about half the rate for all Nursing and Midwifery professionals. For men, the figure of 6.7 compares to 10.5 for Construction and Building Trade Group 531.

Secondary teachers account for half the male COVID-19 total for Group 231, whereas women they account for only a quarter of the total for female COVID-19 deaths in the Group. However, six of the seven COVID-19 related deaths in the primary sector were women, so that across the two sectors the deaths were similar in total at twelve men and twelve women. However, with far more women in classroom teaching than men, this might suggest that as elsewhere, men are most likely to become a casualty of the pandemic.

This is the sort of data that the government and teacher associations will have to discuss when considering how to restart the education system. No doubt they will also use similar data for across the world, where it is available. On the face of it, there is a risk that is less than in some occupational groups, but possibly higher than in others. What level of risk is acceptable will be the key question.

A new world in recruitment

There is a saying that ‘necessity is the parent of invention’. So it has proved to be during this pandemic. Video conferencing may come to be the next big breakthrough. Not perhaps on the scale of email or mobile phones, but, as the technology is refined, becoming something that will alter both our private and public lives in a way society wouldn’t have believed just two months ago. For instance, how soon before clothes retailers ensure garments will fit the wearer when viewed on-line and cannot then be returned as ‘the wrong size’?

There will also be profound effects on teaching and learning at all levels. In England, the responsibility for education has always remained with the parent or parents, and schooling by the State has been the default offering if a parent chose no other method of education. How that contract between the State and its citizens will develop in this, the 150th year of state supplied schooling, is yet to be determined, but a heck of a lot of invention has been taking place very rapidly.

All this came to mind as I reflected upon the future for TeachVac, the free matching service for teaching jobs and those looking for such a vacancy. Launched six years ago next month, the aim was then, as it still is, to demonstrate that technology could create a viable and low cost platform to bring together schools wanting teachers and teachers looking for jobs.

Well, TeachVac has proved that it can be done for little more than £2 per vacancy. Of course, schools still don’t believe that is possible and spend large amount of money with paid for platforms because they have offered the largest number of visitors to their sites. During a period of teacher shortages, such an approach made some sense, although it would probably have been cheaper to persuade those looking for jobs to move to the free platform that required the least amount of effort on the part of schools.

However, we are now in a different world. With predictions of mass unemployment and future funding for public services unlikely to be as generous as we would wish, especially if the government has to bail out the economy, schools may see a rush of applicants for any vacancy. So, why pay for an advert that attracts so many applicants that it wastes time and costs money short-listing?

A premium site, in terms of quality that is free at the point of use and requires as little efforts as possible, at least for a first advert is a much better proposition. Schools that have the cash to spare can continue to use paid-for services, but others might choose between sites such as the DfE’s, where some effort is required to upload a job, and those, such as TeachVac, where all that is required is to put the vacancy on the school’s own web site.

Of course, teachers and, especially trainees are now in a different position. Instead of having the pick of jobs, they might be competing with many more candidates for fewer vacancies, especially if teachers in post stay put. TeachVac can be tailored to meet the needs of the training sector. Perhaps by offering a 24 hour period of exclusivity for classroom teacher posts before matching them all potential candidates?

As a bonus, we are also dusting off our course on how to apply for a job’ and turning it into an on-line version ready for those that need a bit of support in this new world. Watch out for details of our first webinar next week.


Government response to crisis predicted?

The Insight team’s article about the handling of the present emergency, written up in yesterday’s Sunday Times, must have made uncomfortable reading for some. However, a visitor to this blog this morning also reminded me of Dominic Cumming’s famous essay in the autumn of 2013 about the education system in England.

To quote just one paragraph:

The education of the majority even in rich countries is between awful and mediocre. A tiny number, less than 1 percent, are educated in the basics of how the ‘unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics’ provides the ‘language of nature’ and a foundation for our scientific civilisation and  only a small subset of that <1% then study trans-disciplinary issues concerning the understanding, prediction and control of complex nonlinear systems. Unavoidably, the level of one’s mathematical understanding imposes limits on the depth to which one can explore many subjects. For example, it is impossible to follow academic debates about IQ unless one knows roughly what ‘normal distribution’ and ‘standard deviation’ mean, and many political decisions, concerning issues such as risk, cannot be wisely taken without at least knowing of the existence of mathematical tools such as conditional probability. Only a few aspects of this problem will be mentioned.

I first used this in a blog post on the 13th October 2013. I especially wonder whether the comment that

…. and many political decisions, concerning issues such as risk, cannot be wisely taken without at least knowing of the existence of mathematical tools such as conditional probability …

Might have come home to roost as the present outbreak bites ever deeper into national life? Why, for instance, is the government not commissioning the BBC to create a single on-line learning tool instead of setting up a competing organisation? All it needed was to ensure the BBC used UK technology to create the platform rather than to waste scare resources when we should be saving every penny we can.

On the same subject, those that have viewed my LinkedIn page will know of the graph demonstrating TeachVac is still well ahead of the DfE vacancy site in terms of teaching posts on offer. Why waste school staff time uploading to the DfE site when we can offer a more comprehensive solution.

Indeed, as Chair of TeachVac’s parent company, I would be willing to approve a free feed to the DfE site for the summer term to show what can be done.

Schools will need to cut costs in the future, and recruitment is not one that they should be expecting to spend lots of money on from now onward. However, until there is a single site carrying most teaching vacancies, schools will still want to try other methods.

The full text of Dominic Cummings essay was located at:   http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/804396/some-thoughts-on-education-and-political.pdf




Is the Sunday Times correct on schools re-opening?

What seems like a lifetime ago; but in reality was just a month ago on the 20th March, I published a piece on this blog with the following first paragraph:

COVID-19 PM’s Suez?

How a Prime minister deals with a crisis sometimes seals their fate. Chamberlain did not survive the switch from phoney war to Blitzkrieg, and Eden paid for the shambles of Suez with his job. How our current Prime Minister handles the next few weeks will seal his fate.  I never thought I would be writing these lines, especially in a situation where the current government has such a large majority. But even a large majority cannot protect someone in Number 10 Downing Street if both the opposition and significant parts of his own Party want a change of leadership.

Since then our prime Minister has caught the virus; been in hospital and is now recovering. During the past month, schools have managed a rapid re-assessment of their role and the manner in which pupils can learn. This wasn’t the way anyone envisaged celebrating the 150th anniversary of state schooling, but it has fundamentally challenged the traditional classroom-based method of learning.

However, it has also revealed that whatever method of instruction or learning is in operation,  some pupils won’t or cannot benefit from the basic structure that works for the majority. Some have special needs and some are disadvantaged socially; some have both challenges. How a Society deals with this issue is, for me, a mark of its inclusiveness. I would also add that the present situation in which we find ourselves gives the lie to those that thought there was no such thing as Society any more.

Strategic thinking is still in short supply. There are group of Year 13 students, now to be assessed on their work before the outbreak that could form a useful coordinated volunteer force organised by their Sixth Form Tutor and reporting to the local hubs.

Apart from the obvious use of their talents to produce PPE on the schools’ 3D printers; sowing machines and other D&T resources they could be reducing the traffic jam of delivery vehicles clogging up suburban streets by trialing last mile cycle delivery from transshipment points to see how this would work. If petrol pumps are a transfer risk for the virus, we could use some as pump attendants, at least for vulnerable customers so that they could avoid touching the pumps and know that only the person serving them had handled the filling mechanism.

I am sure that readers could think of other such tasks that might then be offered to unemployed workers as the school system re-opens, and these Year 13 students head for higher education in the autumn.

The talents of the population are not in doubt, but what is to me challenging is how effectively the government is managing the strategy. At least, here in Oxfordshire, the reports of the functioning of the school system under lockdown are good. But there may still be looming challenges around the future of some schools within the private school sector if the forthcoming economic winter is as harsh as we are being told that it might become.


Should trainee teachers be job hunting?

Laura MCInerney the teacher turned editor turned commentator, and also a successful businesswoman has been discussing the question of whether trainee teachers will want to apply for jobs since their training having been so disturbed?

As a former teacher trainer, and someone that has spent many years studying trends in teacher supply I have two observations on this question. Firstly, by the end of Term 2 of their preparation most graduates fall into one of three categories; those that can be told that providing that they keep up their momentum they will pass the course and can apply for jobs if they haven’t been snapped up by the schools where they have already been working; secondly, the small group where either the selection process failed or some other factor has intervened to ensure the trainee is highly unlikely to successfully complete the course. Clearly, even in normal circumstances this group won’t be expect to be applying for teaching posts, or if they do, then their reference might not be fully supportive and draw attention to the challenges they have faced. Finally there is a small group not yet ready to be told that they ‘not yet ready to be on track to complete the course successfully’. This group might be helped to identify their needs by a supportive final term , whether to develop those classroom skills or hone their planning or assessment abilities. This group might want to defer applying for a job, but then they would in any other year be likely to be advised to do so.

The anxiety is no doubt over whether the third term learning will take place, but I don’t see why the manner in which trainees adapt to the changed , and the work currently being undertaken, should not be regarded as just as valuable as the normal curriculum of teacher preparation.

No doubt of more concern in the minds of trainees is whether the job market for teachers, that is still operating, albeit at a much reduced pace than normal for late April, will be swamped with returners to teaching that have lost their current source of income? Such is the normal pattern of events in a recession, and schools have to weigh up the value of trainees over the experience either former teachers or teachers returning from abroad can offer.

Because of the risk of an avalanche of returning teachers seeking a teaching post, I would suggest trainees don’t delay making applications and that they cast their net as wide as possible, especially if they are training for the primary sector or are history or PE teachers. Such vacancies may be in short supply and competition will be fierce.

As ever, I suggest using TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk where I am Chairman to search for vacancies. It’s free and as far as England is concerned more comprehensive that the DfE site, as TeachVac contains both state and private school vacancies.

Good luck with job hunting whether you are a trainee looking for your first job; a current teacher seeking to change jobs or a returner for whatever reason.