School Recruitment Service Mark 2 announced

Yesterday, at the Public Accounts Committee, a senior civil servant announced the date for the DfE’s latest foray into the world of teacher recruitment. The DfE’s version of a vacancy service will go on trial in the spring. Over the past two months, I have written a couple of posts about the development of this service, first mooted in the 2016 White Paper and then, somewhat surprisingly, rating a mention in the 2017 Conservative General Election Manifesto. In the meantime, the DfE has been quietly beavering away designing their service.

With political backing of this nature, such a wasn’t going to be ditched easily, unlike the plans to offer middle leaders for struggling schools, unceremoniously dumped this time last year. So, I am not surprised by the latest announcement.

As regular readers will know, I chair TeachVac, the free service for schools and teachers that has been up and running for the past four years with no government aid and is now the largest platform by number of vacancies for teacher vacancies in England. More recently TeachVac has expanded to handle vacancies in international schools around the world through TeachVac Global www.teachvacglobal.com

As TeachVac is free to everyone using it is England, competition from the DfE doesn’t both us; although I do wonder about the size of the DfE’s budget that will be needed to ensure the new product doesn’t follow the route to oblivion of the School Recruitment Service of a decade ago. Perhaps someone could ask a PQ or submit an FOI to find out how much money they aim to spend on marketing the trial next spring?

For paid providers of recruitment services, whether, either just vacancy advertisements or through recruitment services and teacher placements, the threat to their profits is more real. You only have to look through the accounts posted on the web site of Companies House to see how valuable teacher recruitment has been over the past few years and why the government might have wanted to offer an olive branch to schools by providing a free service at this time so many schools are strapped for cash.

As I pointed out when starting TeachVac, such a service, like TeachVac, also helps satisfy the National Audit Office’s remarks about the lack of data available to the DfE about the teacher labour market. What they will do with the data they will obtain we won’t know until 2020 at the earliest, as 2019 will be the first full year they will be able to obtain data for a whole recruitment cycle. However, by then Ministers won’t be able to fall back on just the data from the School Workforce Census.

TeachVac, now covers all schools state funded and private – I wonder whether the DfE will offer their service to the private sector – as it does with access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme – or restrict it only to state-funded schools thus offering a lifeline to paid services.

I will post more when I have read the transcript of yesterday’s Public Account Committee hearing where the announcement was made.

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Does education planning still matter?

Recently, I attended a meeting where the discussion turned at one point to the notion of education planning and identifying the needs of the service for the future. Planning hasn’t had a good press in recent times, with the market principle sometimes being seen as the dominant approach to outcomes: think, the debate about parental choice.

In the early days of this blog I discussed the issue of planning after the publication of a National Audit Office report into pupil place planning. In the light of the discussion in the meeting this week and the fact that a visitor to this site unearthed the original earlier today and thus reminded me of its existence I thought it was worth a second appearance four and a half years later to see how well it had lasted as a piece. You, reader, must decide.

Planning School Places: More than just about the numbers

Posted on March 18, 2013

On Friday 15th March the National Audit Office issued what can be seen as a critical report about capital funding for primary school places in England http://media.nao.org.uk/uploads/2013/03/10089-001_Capital-funding-for-new-school-places.pdf

The media, as might be expected, latched on to the fact that 250,000 extra places will be needed by September 2014, with a further 400,000 required by 2018, rather than the more technical discussion about the manner in which places are funded, and the value for money associated with the process. The figures for pupil places required are not new, although the shortfall still remains too large, and until recently hasn’t been treated with any degree of urgency at Westminster.

More important than the numbers is what can be read into the Report about the two competing ideologies in British politics – on the one hand, the market as a mechanism for solving all problems; and on the other some form of state planning. The post-war period has been marked in many parts of the public sector by a shift from a planning-based approach to public policy to a more market-based approach. The current generation of think-tank and policy research probably don’t realise that in September 1939 when DORA was introduced overnight (Defence of the Realm Act), using the experiences gained during the first World War, Britain became one of the most controlled and planned societies in the world: today planning is a concept that often seems to have a bad name in public sector policy, especially in education. However, the NAO Report ought to mark a reappraisal if not a turning point in the debate.

In the private sector, future planning is an integral part of every successful business. Just consider the fate of either those retailers that didn’t plan for the effect of the internet on their customers or the train operators who have failed to cope with a record growth in passenger numbers. Without planning comes not just chaos, but also inefficiency and public disappointment that eventually can lead to a sense of dissatisfaction with politicians. Now of course, planning isn’t an exact science, and bad planning can result is poor outcomes for society. But, planning for school places ought to be a basic part of the management of our education service.

Part of the reason for the failure in dealing with provision for the current upswing in the birth rate is undoubtedly the breakdown of the arrangements for controlling schools that stared a quarter of a century ago with the Education Reform Act, and site-level  management of schools. When the Labour Government invented sponsored academies to take over failing schools they destroyed many of the remaining education planning frameworks without making clear what would replace them. With Westminster and Town Hall both either unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility, there has been a sense of drift and ‘passing the buck’ rather than of co-ordinated planning: hence the NAO’s concerns about both numbers and value for money.

One outcome will be that parents in many areas are now faced with Hobson’s choice over what school they can send their child to, and the notion of parental choice will become, like the red squirrel population, restricted to ever smaller areas of the country, at least for the next decade.

Those parents whose children are starting school in locations where selective education still divides children at eleven might also want to consider how their secondary school system will cope with the increased numbers, and whether a system designed in the Nineteenth century for the few fits the educational needs of the many in the Twenty First century, one where all students will be expected to remain in learning until they are eighteen, irrespective of parental income or status.

From my perspective, however we procure the school places, and that might be through a market based approach, the State has a duty to ensure all pupils have a school place available to them that is not an unreasonable distance away from their home and doesn’t demand they attend a school that has an ideology or teaching methodology objectionable to their parents. To fail in planning for this basic task, while still requiring parents to send children to school, if not educated elsewhere, under pain of the criminal law, is a basic failure of government that is unlikely to go unpunished at the ballot box; although whether the right tier of government will shoulder the blame only time will tell.

If the provision of school places isn’t at the top of Minister’s agendas at present then it ought to be. There may be more fun tasks, but concentrating on the basics must now be top of both Ministers and officials ‘to do’ lists. History will judge a Secretary of State harshly if he or she as steward of our state education system fails to provide enough school places during the next decade.

 

A tale of two schools

Earlier this year Ofsted rated two secondary schools in the same county as inadequate. Their inspection reports are on the Ofsted website. One school was a community school; the other an academy. What happened next?

As a community school, the local authority was required to undertake an exercise about the future of the school, including the option of closing it. Whatever the outcome, the school would become an academy. As this happened just after the county council elections in May, the new Cabinet Member swung into action, working closely with officers to assist the school with its own recovery plan. There was a rapid change of head teacher and a general tightening up of standards and procedures. At the same time, a search was instigated for a nearby-by school that could partner the school as an academy in a multi-academy trust. With goodwill all round, the school looks set on a good future with the local community and parents backing its continued existence. Whether making the school an academy is helpful only time will tell.

The other secondary school is a faith school that is already an academy. It sits in a multi-academy trust with a number of primary schools of the same faith. Eighteen months ago it was placed into financial special measures as a result of misunderstanding about how much money it would receive ahead of changing to an all-through school and starting a primary department. The rules are different for existing school changing age range than for the creation of a new school. The school has had a high number of permanent exclusions, despite being a faith school, and appears to top the list of schools with the largest number of permanent exclusion in the county over a three-year period. Recently it has logged some of the worst GSCE Mathematics results in the provisional totals for 2017 outcomes that appeared in the local press. The school also has a very high percentage of days lost through persistent absenteeism, sufficiently high to place it well into the upper echelons of the national table for such outcomes. The head teacher has, of course changed. As an academy, it is up to the Regional School Commissioner and his Board to decide what to do with the school. The RSC has guidance from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/640916/SCC_guidance.pdf the DfE’s document on guidance on schools causing concern. Chapter 2 deals with academies causing concern. Between May and July there was no record of the relevant Head Teacher Board discussing any performance issues at any school in the region in the minutes of meetings and they also don’t seem to be note Ofsted decisions about academies rated as inadequate at any of their meetings.  They may be reported to sub-boards, but those minutes appear not to be public documents. The RSC has the power to take drastic action, including re-brokering the academy and in extremis effecting its closure. There was no requirement for a public consultation about the future of the school.

So, here we have the two governance systems dealing with the same problem:  a secondary school deemed inadequate. In one case, what happens next takes place in the full glare of publicity; in the other case, behind closed doors, where it is difficult to see if anything happens? It would be interesting to see how many parents have chosen to withdraw their offspring from each school since the Ofsted judgement?

How transparent should these issues be? In the world of local government, schools can less easily hide: in the case of academies, the new system of governance seems far too slanted towards secrecy and a lack of public accountability, let alone public consultation.

Supporting music for young people

Over the weekend I attended two charity events in the music world. In many ways they were a microcosm of society today and reflected some ofthe wide divisions even in a city such as Oxford. Saturday’s event was in aid of The Young Women’s Music Project (YWMP). This is an  educational charity that is described in their own words as offering twice-monthly free workshops for women aged 14-21, which provide an inclusive and supportive space for young women to make music together, learn new skills, express themselves, and grow in confidence.  In their music workshops, they make and record music, plan and hold gigs and events, and discuss relevant issues affecting young people. YWMP is trans inclusive.

YWMP also brings cutting-edge projects, gigs, exhibitions and talks to Oxford in high profile institutions such as Modern Art Oxford, the Ashmolean Museum, and the Pitt Rivers Museum, in partnerships with hospitals, schools, and organizations for vulnerable young people such as VIP+ and Readipop. The projects helps young people to challenge issues affecting them in a creative and productive way, such as class, race, sexuality, gender, mental health, and consent. Their web site can be found at: http://www.ywmp.org.uk/about

YWMP’s event was a supper evening in Silvie, a bakery café on Oxford’s Iffley Road. (https://www.facebook.com/Silvie-1089930287738590/) and included poetry and music from some of the young women the charity has helped. This is a small scale charity working with many young women for whom music can matter, where creating performing or supporting on the technical side. The last is a space still mainly occupied by men.

Sunday night’s venue was on the other side of the city at Lincoln College. The college were hosts of a concert by young, and in one case very young, musicians sponsored by the charity, Awards for Young Musicians. This charity aims to help by supporting those with a talent for music, but not the financial wherewithal to be able to develop their potential. Three musicians with a collective age of just 37 and supported by the charity entertained the invited audience with a variety of classical music pieces. One of the players lives on the Isle of Wight and travels every Saturday to the Royal College of Music, a roundtrip of seven hours every Saturday, and this on top of his practice time. (www.a-y-m.org.uk). A different audience, two very different settings, but a common theme.

Both charities are well worthy of support and are trying to keep alive the great tradition of music for all our young people and not to restrict it just to those whose families can afford it. Music was one of the great success stories of the post 1944 Education Act world in which I received my education. However, ever since the 1990s, music in schools has been under an increasing threat of being marginalised. This is despite the recognition of the importance of the arts in schools that occurred when the National Curriculum was first introduced.

The present utilitarian Philistines of Sanctuary Buildings that have devised the EBacc seemingly have no real feeling for the arts in schools. The loss of cash to local authorities in favour of schools and academies has also not done music any favours, as disorganised MATs and stand- alone academies are more of challenge to persuade to work together on developing extra-curricular activities in areas such as music than in the days when the value of central funding for music services was fully recognised as a valuable part of State education in England. Hence, today, the importance of charities such as the two highlighted here. There are, of course, many others. But, if you are interested in supporting music for young people these are two I am happy to commend to your attention.

 

 

New London ITT problem

Yesterday, I wrote in this blog about the headline data that has emerged from the UCAS ITT data for September 2017 that tracks postgraduate ITT applications. There is, of course, a lot more detail in the data that is of interest, partly because it provides the first look at what are likely to be numbers close to the end of cycle report when it appears sometime in 2018.

In a post on 27th March 2015, I wrote about the outcome of 2013-14 cycle, details of which had just then been published. In that cycle there had been 54,015 applicants and I noted the number hadn’t fallen below 50,000 since well before the low of just over 51,000 recorded in 2008. Now the September 2017 number of total applicants is 46,190 for the whole of England and Wales. Any number below 50,000 should start ringing serious alarm bells in the DfE.

In the previous cycle I discussed, 52% of applicants were offered a place through UCAS. This year, the figure looks likely to be around 64% of all applicants. So, almost two out of three applicants to teaching has been offered a place in this round. This is despite the drive towards school-based training and away from high education as the main provider of places. Of applicants domiciled in England, the offer rate was closer to 65%.

Geographically, London remains an anomaly, as only 57% of applicants were offered a place. The reasons for this low figure also need to be teased out. Are London applicants of a lower standard than those from elsewhere; by comparison, 67% of applicants domiciled in the North East were offered a place, a ten per cent difference.  The data currently available doesn’t allow for comparisons between phase and different subject mixes of applicants between geographical areas. Those from London may favour English, PE and history all subjects where applicants significantly exceed places available. However, as applicant usually apply within their local area, the low conversion rate for London must be of concern and worthy of further re-investigation.

It is also worth noting that the last time total applications were below the 50,000 mark the employment-based routes were not part of the UCAS system in the way that School Direct is now a part of the UCAS process. It is difficult to make a direct comparison between the former employment-based routes and say, School Direct, but even assuming only 5,000 applications for employment based routes in their heyday, then the present 46,000 applicant number looks even more alarming in the face of the DfE’s projected demand for trainees of somewhere in the mid to upper 30,000s.

Interestingly, the timing of applications seems to be changing, with more applications later in the cycle. This may prove the success of the various advertising campaigns, but also puts a strain on everyone having to recruit through the summer. By mid-February this year only around 58% of the September total figure of applicants were registered in the system, compared with closer to three quarter in the previous cycle considered. The current percentage can only fall further as late applicants are included in the system. The implications for any change in recruitment timings should also be considered in details for possible wider outcomes on the system.

Finally, I remain as opposed to the current expensive and wasteful concurrent system that replaced the former consecutive application process. Both have their shortcomings, but one is much cheaper than the other.

Can you trust the data?

How often do government departments have to reissue press notices? Following intervention from the Office for Statistics Regulation, the DfE have been placed in that position. The OSR letter can be read at
https://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/DfE-statistics-Ed-Humpherson-to-Mike-Jones.pdf The revised press notice and the other issue about MAT transfers raised by OSR concern matters dear to the policy objectives of Ministers, so any potentially misleading data are of concern.

However, the DfE statisticians also have to battle with others that don’t always provide data that is of top quality. As reported in an earlier post, about local authority expenditure per pupil, there are a couple of local authorities in one table in that Statistical First Release where the data must be suspect because of the reported level: it both cases, way too low.

Then there is the case of under-reporting by schools in areas such as fixed term exclusions and more specifically for the number of pupils placed on reduced timetables, but not excluded. This is an area where more work is needed to discover what is actually happening, not least in the academy sector. This work is important because of the potential safeguarding aspect.

Local authorities and the local Safeguarding Board may not be in full possession of the facts if academies do not fully report to the DfE. It would be a simple change to add to the funding letter that academies are required to report all statistics via the local authority where they are located unless the Regional School Commissioner has explicitly provided for an alternative system that is as rigorous. At present, this is an issue with one part of the dual system not working as well as the other and creating potential risks for young people.

At least these days, as with the re-issued DfE Press notice mistakes can be rectified when noticed. In the former days before the internet such mistakes could become set in stone. One of my first communications with government was to point out that pupil teacher ratios provided in a written parliamentary answer and reported in Hansard were wrong. I think the first local authority in the list missed the PTR and was allocated that of the next by mistake. It wasn’t picked up before printing and went into the record. An error notice appeared later, but who checks written PQs for later revisions? Nobody, I would hazard a guess. As a result, anyone using that data source would have inaccurate data. It doesn’t matter now, but might have then. One year, the Department had to re-issue a whole Statistical Volume because of the number of printer’s errors.

Today, the record can be set straight quickly and easily, even if the original error is retained as well.

Statistics are important as a source of information under-pinning decision making and debate, hence the need for accuracy. The question of management information that is separate from statistics is one that has always interested me. In some areas, such as the labour market for teachers, I have always believed up to the minute information is important to spot changes in trends as early as possible. However, this data is often in a raw state and not 100% accurate. Where to draw the line between management information and statistics is an interesting and ever changing debate as technology provides ever more exciting tools for data collection and analysis.

To educate: To draw out not to kick out

I am delighted that the governors of St Olaf’s have reversed their policy about those that their school is there to serve. Might this be one case where the diocese has played an important role in changing hearts and minds?

Could this be one of the turning points in education history? Might all state schools now consider the purpose for which they are funded: to educate all and not just promote the seeming best. The quote from C S Lewis, cited in my previous post, really does look like it belongs to a previous age. His Narnia chronicles may still resonate with children and parents, but his views on education certainly shouldn’t. There was an inkling of the national mood last year when the idea of more selective schools was doing the rounds in the more old-fashioned segments of the Conservative Party.

Now is also the time to ditch the culture of league table schooling. Those with a good understanding of the revolution caused by the 1987 Education Reform Act will recall that alongside financial devolution and the National Curriculum ran the concept of ten levels of achievement. This allowed every child to have another level to aspire to achieve. Even a child at level one had a goal and the school could work to help them achieve it. Sadly, somewhere along the line, we ditched the ‘every child has a goal’ for the measure of the gaol achieved by the school as a collective. Naturally, this led to a desire to remove those that weren’t helping the school maximise its potential.

Now, as we approach the 150th anniversary of the 1870 Education Act that helped create schooling for all, it is time to redefine our beliefs in the role of education. We should no longer be looking for reasons to exclude, but for methods to challenge our pupils to succeed. Such a change will reinforce the great work already undertaken by many teachers and could even help to attract more entrants into the profession.

As a next step, the government might like to evaluate whether the over-insistence on the English Baccalaureate is actually hindering the aim of all pupils achieving both personal goals and goals of use to society? As a geographer by background, I welcome pupils studying the subject through to Year 11, but not at the expense of subjects such as design and technology. That subject has been so decimated by government actions that it is suggested that only 315 trainees had taken up offers of places on teacher preparation courses by late August. This is compared with more than 1,100 a few years ago.

Yet, a love of technology, or design and certainly of food can become an important motivator for life after school. Yes, homes and even TV programmes can play their part, but the motivation and support provided by schools remains critical in the development of a child’s education and their future progress as an adult.

The Secretary of State should now reaffirm the purpose of state education as developing the potential of every child entrusted to the State by their families. Those that want to enter a high stakes risk form of education, where lack of success mean exclusion, can still use the private sector.