How do you teach politics today?

One of the more interesting side effects of what is happening in Westminster, Paris and Washington at the present time, is how those staff teaching politics syllabuses prepare candidates for examinations this summer? Do they a] ignore everything happening at present and assume the status quo ante in terms of what they expect in answers to questions and essays, regardless of what they teach in lessons, or b] do they try and provide students with an understanding that they can convey in their essays when by the time the examinations arrive the situation might yet be different again.

Take the following section from a syllabus published on the internet:

 Parliament and government relationships
  • Accountability 
  • Executive dominance 
  • Elective dictatorship 
  • Bicamera

 The roles of the House of Commons and House of Lords in scrutinising legislation and holding the government to account. The influence of backbenchers, frontbenchers, whips and the Opposition.

Answering that section after the events of the past ten days is going to be interesting, let alone what might happen over the next four months leading up to the examination day. The same is true of the section about ‘The role of parliament in the political system’.

I guess the safe way forwards will be to start any answer with something such as ‘Received wisdom and understanding up to the start of 2019 was …. This is expressed by writers such as …’ and then delve into what has changed if the candidate feels comfortable with being able to explain the new reality.

Earlier today I posed this dilemma to a well-known educationalist and former teacher of politics and was reminded by her that there have been occasions in the past, such as a change of Prime Minister between the setting of the exam paper and the date the examination is taken that can make the expected predicable answer no longer accurate, unless it is place in a historical context.

I guess this is the risk with a subject that deals with contemporary life. Fortunately for economics and business studies examiners, stock market crashes has a greater tendency to occur in the autumn, after the harvest has been gathered in, than at other times of year. Although the same cannot be said for inflation or interest rate changes.

Nevertheless, it is politics lessons that must be the most interesting lesson on the curriculum this week. In higher education, students can often attend courses just out of interest and one wonders whether some sixth formers might want to do so for politics lessons at present. Alternatively, for most it might be a big bore, even though it is up there with Peel and reform of The Corn Laws and the decline of the Liberal Party in the 1920s and the effects of the Great Crash of 1929 in terms of its magnitude as a parliamentary event.

Finally, I understood the term bicameral for a parliamentary system of two chambers, but the syllabus quoted above was the first time I had come across the use of ‘bicamera’ to describe such a system.

 

 

 

 

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School funding – is it ever enough?

The Education Policy Institute, where David Laws, ex-Education Minister is Chair of the Board, published a report on school revenue balances today. The data on school balances discussed in the report in maintained schools comes partly from the same DfE source discussed in a post on this blog on the 12th December 2018.

Simplistic analysis of the report produced comments that the Report showed schools were under-funded. This was because one in ten of the remaining maintained secondary schools had a deficit overall and many others were in deficit in the latest year data was available for from the government. In reality, as the EPI report discussed, the picture is both more nuanced and more complicated than a bald assessment that schools don’t have enough funding, although pressure on 16-19 funding almost certainly does need attention.

What is less clear is the extent to which the former funding formula created winners and losers and whether the new formula will help redress the balance in the future. Personally, I don’t think it will. However, there also needs to be more understanding as to why these one in ten maintained secondary schools cannot live within their means for several years and more schools are now in that position?

As EPI note, academy chains have fewer schools with deficits and are able to move money around between schools. Local Authorities cannot do this to help schools over a temporary crisis. Should the remaining maintained schools now be treated as if they were a Multi-Academy Trust, allowing cash to be moved between schools?  If local financial management means the cash provided for a school is for that school, then MATs should not be allowed to take any cash away from one school to help another and can only charge for services provided.

The EPI report covers this point in their policy recommendations

  1. With increasing financial pressures on schools – particularly in secondaries – the government should consider before the Spending Review whether higher per pupil funding is needed, or whether efficiency savings can make up part of the current shortfalls. It should especially focus on the strains faced by many secondary schools, and assess whether changes in pupil numbers are likely to ease financial pressures, or whether these will prove more enduring.
  2. Further consideration should be given to what extra help or advice can be offered to those schools facing large deficits.
  3. The government should determine the reasons for the lower level of in-year deficits in academy trusts, and whether there are any lessons to learn from this.
  4. The government should also look closely at the level of “excessive”, unallocated, surpluses and consider if existing rules allow for these resources to be used effectively.

The last recommendation from EPI is interesting, especially in view of the concerns over deficits. As I noted in December, some schools have balances equivalent to 20% of their annual income and there are schools with more than £1,000,000 in reserves. My view, as expressed in December, is that revenue income is for spending in the year it is provided ad for the current pupils, although setting a sum aside for depreciation is now acceptable.

Finally, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk was established to help schools cut costs by providing a free vacancy service to schools. I am delighted to record TeachVac handled nearly 55,000 vacancies in 2018 and has a great start to 2019, breaking records. Just why the DfE needs to run a rival scheme isn’t clear.

 

 

Further reflections

The Daily Mail is apparently carrying a story today of a leaked DfE email revealing a fall in teacher numbers. This is seen as a revelation, even though Table 2a of the DfE’s analysis of the Teacher Workforce, published in June 2018, showed a fall in teacher numbers between the 2016 and 2017 census points. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017

However, I suppose that when a staunchly Tory supporting newspaper starts printing bad news stories about the working of a Conservative government one must anticipate that either the end is nigh or that editorial control is weak over the Christmas and New Year period.

Had either the Daily Mail or any other media outlet wanted to pick a more up to the minute bad news story about teacher numbers, they could have done no better to use my previous post as the basis for a news item. Readers will recall that based on data released yesterday by UCAS, it appears that fewer graduates want to become primary school teachers than in the past.  The Daily Mail could have run a headline around ‘Who will teach Tiny Tim?’ about this fall in applications to train as a primary teacher.

Delving further into the UCAS data than I had time to do yesterday, it seems as if more career changers were queuing up to apply to train as a teacher in 2019, than were new young graduates. However, the 230 additional graduates in their 30s and 40s compared with December 2017 were not enough to offset the reduction of 400 in those from the 22-22 age group that have not applied this year. Hopefully, they are still weighing up their options.

For the first time in some years, fewer than 1,000 men from the 21-22 age group have applied for a place to train as a teacher on either a primary or secondary course starting in 2019. However, it is the continued relative lack of interest from young female graduates that should concern officials even more. This group in the past has been the bedrock of those applying in the early part of the recruitment round.

Rather than evaluating the overall success or otherwise of the marketing campaign, the DfE should urgently be investigating why this group, of whom there will be fewer emerging from universities over the next few years, are taking longer to think about teaching as a career. Last year, enough came around in the end to ensure all places for primary teachers were filled, but the warning signs are there and need investigation.

Perhaps the DfE has over-emphasised the need for secondary subject teachers and rather taken the primary sector for granted, apart from the need to ensure sufficient teachers with expertise in mathematics. The DfE doesn’t have a policy of ensuring sufficient subject knowledge across the curriculum to ensure that able pupils can be motivated and intellectually stretched either within the primary school or in other ways.

Perhaps it is time to reconstruct those local CDP offering managed by teams of staff than know their schools and teachers. Doing so in a cost effective manner might mean upsetting some MATs and even diocese, but can we afford anything other than the most cost effective system for such CPD?

 

Teacher Shortages in the USA

The issue of teacher supply, and more specifically increases in the number of teachers quitting their jobs, featured in an article in the Wall Street Journal last week https://www.wsj.com/articles/teachers-quit-jobs-at-highest-rate-on-record-11545993052 It seems that the issue of teacher supply isn’t just a problem this side of the Atlantic, but one that has now hit the headlines in the USA. As a result, I am slightly surprised not to have seen a tweet from Donald Trump on the subject, perhaps stating that anyone can be a teacher.

A tight labor market, years of uncompetitive salary increases and a challenging job are all familiar reasons for the departure of experienced teachers cited in the article and known to those of us that study the labour market for teachers in England.

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal didn’t mention a possible move overseas, in order to teach in an international school, as another reason teachers might be quitting. The article also didn’t mention whether there was also an issue of recruiting potential teachers into training courses in parts of the USA. However, it did raise the spectre of an increase in the number of unqualified teachers. I don’t think that the article mentioned Teach for America, one of the original alternative certification programs created during an earlier teacher supply crisis around the turn of the century. It also didn’t reflect upon whether technology might help overcome a shortage of teachers.

Education in the USA is generally a local activity managed by School Boards and largely overseen by the individual States. Some States have traditionally had good teacher planning mechanisms, such as we enjoy in England, but others have been less concerned with planning and more interested in a market-based approach.

One question, if the shortage continues and even worsens, is whether some States might go shopping for teachers overseas in order to help fill their vacancies in the same way that heads in England turn to Canada, Australia and New Zealand for potential recruits when the pipeline dries up at home.

Some US States have turned to the Caribbean countries in the past, but might they look further afield if the supply problem deteriorates further. Could we see competition between US and UK schools for the same teachers and could there even be attempts to entice UK teachers to take up work in the USA? I don’t think that is especially likely, but it is worth recalling that Michael Gove, when Education Secretary, did grant QTS to all teachers in the USA that are qualified, to allow them to teach in England without any need for further qualifications.

I will look at the agenda for this spring’s AERA Conference to see whether teacher supply is once again back on the radar of academics, as well as of journalists. I might just also delve into the archives and dust off some of the articles from conferences 20 years ago to see whether this is a case of history repeating itself or whether there is a new twist to the tale this time around.

 

Your Future: Their Future – an assessment

Is it worth advertising on TV to recruit people into teaching as a career? The DfE clearly wanted to know the answer to this question and commissioned some research to look at their marketing campaign over a number of years. The result has been published at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-training-marketing-campaign-initial-report

I wonder about the approach used, as it is a very econometric based approach and I have questions about such an approach. I also have concerns about the lack of knowledge on the part of the authors about the history of teacher recruitment. There is no evidence in the bibliography provided that they have read, ‘Teacher workforce planning: the interplay of market forces and government polices during a period of economic uncertainty’ that I co-authored with Olwen McNamara in 2012 and that appeared in Volume 54 of Education Research. This article would have provided some historical context to the issue of recruitment into training. Had they also contacted me, I could probably have filled in the gaps in their datasets as they related to applications and acceptance into training. They might also have looked at my 2008 publication for the think tank Policy Exchange, about trends in teacher supply.

There are also some questionable statements in the report. Perhaps the most obvious of these is on page 27 of the report, where it comments about the UCAS application process that:

As might be expected, applications are high as soon as the applications process opens, after which there is an on-going decay until the applications process closes. This pattern repeats every year. The data series is currently too short (two and a half years of data) to calculate seasonal indices. Historic data on UCAS applications over a longer span of time would lead to better models of UCAS applications and calculating seasonal indices could be attempted in the future when additional comparable data is available.

The first statement is only party true. It holds true for applications for primary, PE and history courses, not least because places in these subjects are filled quickly and are finite in number – see numerous posts on this blog about the application cycle over the past five years. However, that pattern is not true for many other secondary subjects,

In reality there are three parts to a typical application cycle: initial interest; a mid-cycle dominated by career changers and end cycle phase, where new graduates form an important part of the applicant numbers. This is obvious from the data I hold covering the past 20 years.

To my mind there is no doubt that marketing does draw attention to teaching as a career and the National Audit Office (NAO) might want to compare the DfE spend with that of the Ministry of Defence, where recruitment targets are a fraction of those for teaching, but TV advertising is a key part of the budget.

This report doesn’t really look into how well designed the campaigns were, and uses an approach that can ignore the various design element. Is the catch phrase ‘Your Future: Their Future’ any more memorable than ‘Nobody forgets a Good Teacher’? To me it is less memorable than ‘I was born in Carlisle, but the Navy made me a man’. How important is the cumulative effect of a campaign as opposed to its individual elements is also worth discussing?

This was an initial report, perhaps the NAO should now take the research on to answer the question about the value for money the DfE has obtained through its marketing campaigns for teaching as a career.

Was the best campaign ever that based around the poster ‘The dog ate my homework?’

 

 

 

 

Happy Texans?

So the TES now has new owners. Once again they are an American Group. The new owners are Providence Equity Partners. https://www.tes.com/tesglobal/articles/tes-announces-new-owners

At least, being headquartered on the East Coast of the USA, they are nearer the TES HQ than the former owners in Texas. Providence as a Group also invest in Autotrader that made a successful transition from print to on-line advertising and Burning Glass, a company that provided data for the Home Office’s Migration Advisory Committee study into teaching and subjects that should be eligible for Tier 2 visas in January 2017. Both may be able to provide helpful advice and expertise to the TES brand under Providence’s guidance.

Hopefully, Providence did more due diligence on the teacher recruitment market in England than just to rely upon the data Burning Glass, presented to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) that then appeared as Figure 4.4 of the MAC Report in January 2017. The manner in which Burning Glass counted job postings was very inclusive and over-estimated actual demand for teachers. You only have to look at the data for August in Figure 4.4 to recognise the difference between postings and vacancies.

The question for Providence that will have undoubtedly considered before they made their offer is, can the recruitment side of the TES be made profitable, in the face of the DfE’s new free job site and the development of the TeachVac brand (where I am chair of the Board), with the help it can receive from other Providence investments?  In addition, can the resources side of the TES business be made more profitable as part of a larger global enterprise? It might also be worth adding, can the education journalism side be development into a global platform providing information and news to other Providence media investments?

What will happen to the TES team? Will Lord Jim Knight become chairman or even President of the company? Alternatively, has Providence already lined up a new team to take over the helm from the existing management team, as is sometimes the case when a company changes owners after a sale?

In the past, the recruitment income has been a key source of income for the TES, especially once subscription income started to disappear, as print was replaced by the move on-line. However, the TES is a significant provider of initial teacher training. Will the new owners see this as a distraction or a possible avenue on which to develop a significant CPD business with a global reach? It goes without saying that the recruitment business will be developed into one with a significant presence in the global market for teachers. This is, after all a large and growing market.

As a former employee of the Times Supplements, after they bought my company just as the recession hit world stock markets, I am interested in seeing how the new owners will develop the title. As a competitor in the recruitment market though TeachVac, I am interested to see how quickly the new owners will move and whether there will be developments in time for the 2019 recruitment round that will peak in the spring. But, maybe Providence’s pockets are deep enough to not worry about 2019 and start to focus on 2020 and beyond.

Read and reflect

The news this morning that Johnston Press might collapse, carried on the BBC web site, is a further sign of the changes being wrought by technological innovations on our world. Both the retailing and publishing industries have been badly affected by the arrival of the internet. Nobody cannot say that they didn’t see the changes coming, especially in publishing. I recall, about the time that Rupert Murdoch sold the Times educational supplements, seeking out a book he had mentioned in a speech to a gathering of the great and the good of the world’s press. In the book was a chart showing changes in the readership of newspapers by different age-groups after the arrival on the scene of first radio and then television. A third line suggested what the arrival of the internet might also do to print news readership.

Interestingly, a couple of years before that speech, in the autumn of 1997, just after I quit being the government’s Adviser on Teacher Supply, I had written a report for the management at the TES about the possible effects of the internet on teacher recruitment advertising in print publications. The reason I recall this was because it was the first commission that Education Data Surveys ever received. Even at that time, some school districts in the USA were already looking at on-line recruitment possibilities and the New Zealand Government was already featuring vacancies in the government’s Education Gazette, as it still does today.

So, twenty years ago, the writing was already on the wall for those that wanted to read about the future. The TES wisely set up an on-line site for teacher vacancies and ran it in parallel with the print edition of the paper for many years. When News International sold the supplements, it was probable that recruitment advertising could cover the debt created on the purchase of the company. The key question was, how long could print advertising service the debt?

So long as the government at Westminster stayed away from the market, the TES always had a sporting chance to create a strategy to move its monopoly position with schools for recruitment advertising into the new world by offering great service at a price that reflected the lower costs of the new technology. But, if it squandered that brand loyalty, then its future would always be more challenging.

TeachVac was established as a free vacancy service more than four years ago to show how a low cost service could embrace the best of the new technology. Far cheaper to operate than either the TES or the government’s latest foray into vacancy advertising for teaching posts, TeachVac still demonstrates how existing paid for teacher vacancy platforms need to keep ahead of the curve.

I have no doubt that over the next few months we could see something happen at the TES. After all, it was put up for sale by its US owners in June, see https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2018/06/21/interesting-news/ after the 2017 annual results recorded a loss for possibly the first time in its history. There has been no public news of a sale almost six months on. Could the TES possibly go the way of the Johnston Press? I have no way of knowing. However, over the next few weeks as the owners evaluate both the 2018 draft accounts, plus the management reports from this term’s business, they will presumably be looking to what the future will hold. The Johnston Press restructuring came only a month after an attempt to find a buyer.

Even in this modern world, I firmly believe that there is a space for a successful and profitable on-line news, features and recruitment vehicle for the education world, operating in the private sector. How that will emerge may be as interesting and as uncomfortable a journey as British politics is today.  Top class journalism, a top class understanding of the on-line environment and where it is heading, plus a real awareness of the education scene and the labour market that creates so much of the potential revenue even today, will, I believe, be absolute necessities for success.