Who builds our schools?

The National Audit office report on Capital Funding for Schools, published earlier today, echoes many of the comments already made in previous posts on this blog. https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Capital-funding-for-schools.pdf

Although the NAO report covers all aspects of school building, the key section that interests me is the relationship between school place planning and the emerging school system. The executive summary contains two key paragraphs reproduced below – with my highlighting of key points – that make most of the issues clear in simple language.

14 Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide enough school places in their areas but they do not control the number of places in academies or free schools. This means that responsibilities and accountabilities for providing school places are not fully aligned. To fulfil their responsibility local authorities work with individual schools to expand existing provision. However, their plans to create new places are affected by, and in some cases dependent on, free schools and academies. Local authorities cannot compel academies to expand or contract. Many local authorities have good relationships with academies. However, where academies do not want to expand or relationships are weaker, local authorities’ options for creating new places are constrained. In the case of free schools, while local authorities can initiate the process, they are dependent on the availability of an appropriate applicant and the Department’s approval. In addition, in the 30% of cases where the opening of a free school has been delayed, local authorities may have had to make alternative arrangements to provide the necessary places. The Department is working increasingly closely with local authorities when opening free schools (paragraphs 1.11, 1.28 and 1.29).

15 In seeking to increase choice, introduce innovation and raise standards free schools often meet a demographic need for new school places, but they are also creating spare capacity, which may have implications for schools’ financial sustainability. By September 2016 the Department had opened 429 new free schools, and plans to open 883 in total by September 2020. The Free Schools Programme aims to give parents more choice and increase competition between schools, and thereby improve the quality of education. Free schools also have a role in meeting local need for new school places. There can be an inherent tension in the extent to which they can meet these aims cost-effectively. The Department estimates that some of the places in 83% of the mainstream free schools approved since September 2013 address a need for more school places. It also estimates that 57,500 of 113,500 new places in mainstream free schools opening between 2015 and 2021 will create spare capacity in some free schools’ immediate area. Spare capacity can affect pupil numbers, and therefore funding, in neighbouring schools. The Department’s data indicate that spare places in 52 free schools opening in 2015 could have a moderate or high impact on the funding of any of 282 neighbouring schools. The financial sustainability of free schools themselves may also be affected if a significant number of their places are not filled. The Department assesses financial viability as part of the process of approving free school applications. It has also sought to assess whether creating free schools is having the intended effect of improving educational standards through competition but the sample size is currently too small to draw meaningful conclusions.

The government does need to show who is responsible in the end: where does the buck stop?

Yesterday, before the publication of this report I addressed Oxfordshire’s Cabinet on the issue of a new free school – The Swan School – the Education Funding Agency has found a site that is not in everyone’s view sited in the best location. My concern is if the school opening is delayed beyond when the places are needed, who bears the costs, especially if there are recurring transport costs should some academies not offer to help with additional places? Hopefully, it won’t come to that and council tax payers won’t have any extra cost to bear.

At least in the case of the Swan School the EFA won’t have overpaid as the site selected is owned by the county council. The NAO did find the government had to pay premium prices for some land. The NAO were also critical of the cost of the former ‘building schools for the future’ scheme and although its replacement has been less costly, it too appears to have exceeded its budget.

School building is a challenging area and we can ill-afford to lose the expertise from local authorities.  No doubt, once gone, the government will have to recreate the knowledge and skills to help us both build sufficient schools and effectively maintain those we already have.

Both Mrs Thatcher and Ted Short, her Labour predecessor, wanted to replace all pre-1906 schools. That ambition has still to be achieved nearly half a century later. Whether we should do so is a matter for debate, even if we could afford to do so.

 

Have you tried TeachVac yet?

Recently, a head teacher told me he wasn’t using TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk because there must be a catch. I don’t see how you can offer a free service without there being a catch, the head told me. Clearly, this head wasn’t a user of twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or one of the other disruptive new technologies that are free to use. I wonder if this head grumbles about the cost of recruiting staff, but doesn’t do anything about it.

Now let me be absolutely clear, and please do pass this on to others, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk was established to do two things. Firstly, to offer a free recruitment service to schools, teachers, trainees and returners and, secondly, to use the information to collect better data on the working of the labour market for teachers about which in recent years, since the decline of the local government employers surveys, we have known relatively little.

I suppose it is the cynicism of the current age that many in education don’t believe a group of individuals would have set up TeachVac in the way it was just for altruistic reasons. But they did.

Does TeachVac pass on details of those that register to anyone: no it don’t. Does TeachVac bombard users with adverts every time they log on or receive a match; no it doesn’t. Is TeachVac a front for a larger organisation trying to corner the recruitment market that will then charge monopoly prices once it has removed the competition: no it isn’t.

My motivation in gathering a group of like-minded individuals around me to establish TeachVac was based upon putting back something into the education world in the only area where I had some expertise. A decade ago, the government tried to help the recruitment of teachers through the School Recruitment Service: it failed. Why it failed makes for an interesting story and tells us much about the nature of schooling in this country. Happily, most of those that lead our schools are more interested in teaching and learning and the pupils in their charge than worrying about the systems that support them. Unhappily, without a supportive middle tier this can lead to heads relying on those that don’t seem to have an understanding about driving down costs.

Now, it may well have been legitimate to say when we started nearly three years ago; we will wait and see if TeachVac succeeds. After all, nobody wants to sign up for a one-day wonder. But, Teachvac has now into its third recruitment round and hasn’t missed a day of providing matches when there have been new vacancies to match. You cannot do better than that for service.

With the demise of the National Teaching Service, before it even ventured beyond the pilot stage, and the Select Committee today endorsing the need for a national vacancy web site as a way forward, as I mentioned in my previous post, TeachVac is there for the sector to take-over. In another post, I will explain what is stopping that happening.

 

TeachVac can offer a solution for free

The House of Commons Select Committee has now produced their report into teacher recruitment and retention. https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmeduc/199/19902.htm

After reports by both the National Audit Office and the Migration Advisory Committee in the past twelve months, the Education Select Committee has wisely opted for a tightly focused report. After all, the evidence is well known to everyone interested in the subject.

However, it is interesting that the Committee has opted for the use of the word ‘challenge’ rather than the more emotive term, ‘crisis’. In their choice of language, the Committee might have offered an analysis of when a challenge might become a crisis? Why does missing the supply target five years in a row not constitute a crisis? Is the problem across the county nowhere a regional crisis: not even in Suffolk and parts of Essex? After all, the Committee took evidence for the head of a Southend Grammar School.

Nevertheless, one must not be too critical, the Committee has put the issue back on the agenda and tasked the government to come up with a plan to tackle the shortages. I am sure that the government will rightly point to their proposals to increase skill levels of those teaching the subjects. I think that is an excellent proposal, but it doesn’t do anything to address the suppressed shortages where subjects have been taken off the timetable or had reduce the amount of teaching time because of a lack of qualified teachers. I was also glad to see a reference to primary specialist teachers: a sector where little is really known about the skills base.

As you might expect, I am happy to discuss with officials both the working of the Teacher Supply Model and the operation of a free national vacancy service. I would hand over TeachVac to the government tomorrow if they agreed to pay its operating costs.

Over the past two years, TeachVac has shown how we can both provide high quality data not currently available to government and cut recruitment costs to schools across the whole of England. The evidence is in the TeachVac submissions to the Select Committee for anyone to judge. https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmeduc/199/19913.htm#_idTextAnchor027 (links 46 and 47) Perhaps the DfE could broker TeachVac as a part of the College of Teaching offering to the profession?

The section on continuing professional development is also to be welcomed. With a relatively young profession there is a need for much more investment than has been the case in recent years. However, the Committee didn’t really discuss the issue between CPD for the needs of the profession and CPD for the needs of an individual’s career. The development of teachers for pupils with special needs can highlight both aspects of this issue. Why would a school invest in developing the skills of a teacher that will then move elsewhere and how does the profession suffer if they don’t?

The government will now, hopefully, provide a formal response to the Committee and Ministers will certainly be asked about their views when they next meet the Committee. Will the DfE produce a long-term plan by the summer? We must wait and see.

 

Making money from schools

Why would anyone want to take the risk of running a ‘for profit’ school when there are so many easier way to make money out of state education? At one time, companies and foundations from the USA and Sweden were going to revolutionise schooling in England, while making a profit at the same time. Seems it didn’t happen quite that way. The academies that both the Erudition Schools Trust and the Learning Schools Trust opened have all been re-brokered away from the groups that originally founded them and now both of the groups are seemingly no more.

Another education experiment originally from the age of new Labour capitalism has bitten the dust. But, that doesn’t mean you cannot make money from schools. Books, furniture, resources, services such as accountancy, human relations, payroll and legal services, as well as construction and the maintenance of school buildings and facilities can all be offered at a profit. Then, as regular readers know, there is the recruitment industry that thrives on helping schools find staff.

Many years ago, in 1999 to be precise, the then Education Select Committee started an inquiry into ‘The role of private companies in the management and supply of state education services’. I don’t think it was ever completed.  I noted in my written submission that J S Mill had taken the view  in his essay  entitled On Liberty that the role of the state was to ensure the education of its citizens and not necessarily to operate the schools. The question was, and still is, how can The State achieve its end of educating its citizens without paying more of taxpayers’ money than is necessary?

The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee are there to see that where possible public funds are used judiciously. I would say wisely, but I am not sure that is always the case. Mill, was convinced that the State should not necessarily run the service of education. But are politicians and these days, educationalists, any better at obtaining value for money if the service is run by others: sometimes not.

In 1999, I pointed out that the CEO of an education company with a turnover of £48 million earned £122,000 whereas a Chief Education Officer, remember them, of an authority with an education budget of more than £150 million didn’t even earn a six figure salary.  Presumably, the difference was the price to be paid for risk. You can find the same differentials today between CEOs of MATs and chief officers in local authorities, but with, in my opinion, less justification.

Some of us do try to challenge the orthodoxy, by taking the disruptive approach allowed by new technology. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk is one such attempt. Like Twitter, Facebook and many other on-line service sit is free to users and makes its money in other ways. In the case of TeachVac, analysing the growing amount of data and using it to provide additional paid services.

With growing concerns about school funding it is time to develop mechanisms for driving down private sector charges to schools. The government’s recent initiative in IT procurement is a good example of what can be achieved.

A tale of Two Counties

My attention has been drawn to a publication called: A Tale of Two Counties: Reflections on Secondary Education 50 Years after Circular 10/65. Written by Nuala Burgess from Kings College London for the group Comprehensive Future and published on the 25 January 2017 it is downloadable free from http://comprehensivefuture.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2017-

As one reviewer wrote, this publication is written in an easy to follow style by Kings College researcher Nuala Burgess. It looks at secondary education in two English counties that in socio-economic terms are similar, but in educational terms are poles apart. Both Buckinghamshire and Hampshire have been Conservative controlled since God was a boy. Yet the approach of these two Tory councils is completely different.

As we know Bucks has retained selective schools and has an entry test for its grammar schools, whereas Hants chose a non-selective system mostly based upon 11-16 comprehensives that grew out of the secondary modern schools, with its selective schools mostly becoming sixth form colleges; at that time part of the school system.

It doesn’t pay to be poor in Bucks, where few children on free school meals make it into the county’s 13 grammar schools. Presumably, Conservative in Bucks either think poor children at thick or are prepared to avoid asking the question ‘why do those pupils entering grammar schools largely come from better off families’. Might it be something to do with the private tutor industry that thrives in and around the edges of the county?

In Hampshire, Tory councillors are more likely to be concerned about the education of all pupils. This fact is reflected in the different approaches to converting schools to academy status in the two counties.

In many ways, this is a reflection of the on-going debate about whether schooling is a local or a national service? In Hampshire, even though the County no longer has responsibility for school budgets per se, the County does seem to feel a responsibility for the education of the young people within its boundaries. I wonder whether that is also the view in Bucks, or at least to the same extent. Judging by their recent attempt to change the home to school transport policy, I feel councillors have a different and more hands-off approach.

Since those that attend the county’s non-selective schools are likely to remain in Bucks after leaving education and will mostly enter the local labour market, it might be thought that in investment terms ensuring the best education of these pupils would be beneficial to the future prosperity of the county. After all, the grammar school pupils mostly go to university and can then end up working anywhere.

Perhaps some of lack of productivity as a nation can be put down to Tory councils such as Buckinghamshire not doing enough to ensure an education system that develops the skills and abilities of all pupils regardless of their background. For a government that wants to improve the national productivity levels to embark on a return to selective education seems odd to say the least.

 

Counting Jobs

The recent report from the Migration Advisory Committee was full of lots of useful data.  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/migration-advisory-committee-mac-report-teacher-shortages-in-the-uk One area of especial interest to me was the analysis the Committee undertook into how the labour market for teachers was functioning. As the Committee has a remit that covers the whole of the United Kingdom and also has to pay especial attention to Scotland, as a result of devolution, it was not a surprise that they commissioned a company that looks at the labour market across all four home nations.

As a result, they used a Boston based company called Burning Glass that studies labour markets across the world. One approach that Burning Glass use is to study the output of job boards as a means of counting vacancies. The results of this for the teacher job market in the United Kingdom can be seen in Figure 4.4 of the Migration Advisory Committee’s report (pages 66 & 67). As the figure notes in the heading, these are figures for teacher job postings.

Now job postings may not be the same as real jobs. There is certainly a possibility that at least some job postings are  actually more of a recruitment tool to attract teachers to sign up to a recruitment agency than the listing of an real vacancy in an actual school, especially when no school is mentioned in the listing. This might be one reason for the apparent uncovering by Burning Glass of what looks like some 4-6,000 job listings in the secondary sector during the August months in both 2015 and 2016, with possibly even higher numbers in the primary sector. I seriously doubt, even across the four nations, whether there were that level of real jobs available in either August 2015 or August 2016.

TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the recruitment matching service I helped found only counts vacancies that can be attached to an actual school. Our numbers for both July and August 2015 and 2016, albeit only for England, but covering both state-funded and private schools, are very much lower than the Burning Glass totals.

As I have said before on this blog, creating a unique job number for every vacancy that was then attached to the vacancy wherever it appeared until the job was filled and allowed identification of whether the vacancy was removed before being filled or filled by a new entrant, a returner, a teacher changing school (part of the churn), a supply teacher or an unqualified person would provide much needed on-going data to improve the discussion about teacher supply. In this day and age it wouldn’t take very long for any school to keep the records up to date. Indeed, TeachVac could already produce lists of vacancies by school that are able to be annotated with the background of the person that filled the vacancy very quickly and easily.

In the Migration Advisory Committee report it is interesting to note that appendix B provides a detailed conversion factor to change the Burning Glass job listing outcomes into to Office of National Statistics equivalent vacancy rates through a two stage process. At TeachVac we measure the flow of real vacancies posted by schools and our only conversion factor is for re-advertisement rates.

Finally, looking through the Migration Advisory Committee report, I note that in Annex D the number of returners in each subject has been estimated. The total for the three subjects used in Annex D comes to 4,800 returners whereas the total for the whole profession, primary, secondary and special is only shown as 14,000 in the preceding Annex C. So, either these three subjects take up nearly a third of the returner totals or one of the sets of numbers may be less than 100% accurate.

At TeachVac we will continue to develop reporting that aims to provide the highest quality data to help understand the workings of the labour market for teachers in England. With sufficient resources we could, like Burning Glass do the same for the whole of the United Kingdom.

 

More on BREXIT

Tomorrow, the Home Office’s Migration Advisory Committee reports on its review of teaching. This follows a consultation that closed in September. At present, mathematics and some science teachers are covered by the current Tier2 visa scheme. It will be interesting to see what the report says tomorrow. Although physics is a shortage subject and the ITT targets have been missed ever since science was dis-aggregated into the three subject areas, the issue is less clear cut in mathematics, especially if vacancies are related to the number of trainees. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk submitted evidence to the consultation.

As I have noted before, there is the matter of design and technology and possibly business studies. Both are subjects where training targets have been missed in recent years and the supply of teachers doesn’t seem able to keep up with the demand. This was even in the years when the subjects were unfashionable with Ministers. Presumably, that isn’t the case now the government has an Industrial Strategy. It will be interesting to see if these subjects are mentioned in the MAC’s Report.

On a similar topic of recruiting teachers from overseas, in December the DfE issued tender RFX159 – Supply of teachers qualified outside of England. This specified within the terms:

‘The Contractor must work in consultation with the Client Organisation to prepare a Business Brief, which may include, but not be exclusive to, the following: a. scoping of the work required by the business area in respect of; i) single or multiple recruitment campaigns targeting qualified maths and physics teachers primarily from Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and USA. Further high performing countries subject to agreement. Ii) Any other recruitment and supply of teachers to English schools.’

Now I thought we were about to trigger Article 50 to leave the EU, so it is rather surprising to see the government offering to fund a recruitment campaign in these EU countries. One wonders what France, The Netherlands, Spain and probably several other EU countries may think about not being specifically mentioned. I am sure it isn’t because of any view of the quality of their teachers. Perhaps the DfE just thought there might be a pool of unemployed teachers of these subjects in say the Czech Republic, but not in neighbouring Slovakia or Austria or even Hungary.

The inclusion of the USA is interesting as, unless they have a right to work here, they will need Tier 2 visas.  Presumably, the DfE either knew what the MAC was going to say or assumed the MAC would still be including these two subjects in the Tier 2 scheme. We will know tomorrow. The USA was a country where the qualified teachers were granted the right to QTS by Mr Gove during his period as Secretary of State. In recent years, several hundred teachers from the USA have been granted QTS on the basis of their qualifications according to NCTL data.

Finally, it is worth noting the contractor can be paid ‘for any other recruitment and supply of teachers to English schools.’ This is a very wide brief and can be open to lots of different interpretations.