School Direct in trouble in the secondary sector?

The wider world seems to be receiving the message in the Conservative manifesto. At least as far as graduates looking to train as teachers are concerned. The latest data on applications and offers was published by UCAS earlier today.

Offers in geography and history, EBacc subjects, have reached new highs for this time of year, easily exceeding the numbers reached last year and the year before at the same time. At the other end of the Range, for business studies, chemistry, music and physical education, offers are below both last year and the year before at this point in the cycle. In IT the number of offers is the same as last year, but below the year before. In the other subjects tracked, biology, design and technology, English, mathematics, physics, Religious Education, art and modern languages, the number of offer made so far this year is below this point last year, but still above the figure for two years ago at this point in time, albeit in some subjects only just.

Time is running out, with only three months of the recruitment round left before courses commence and less than two months before school start the summer holiday period. This means how new graduates react to the possibility of a career in teaching once finals are over is key to the outcome of the recruitment round and whether some subjects will confront a sixth year in a row of not meeting the government’s identified trainee numbers needed. Frankly, with the present economic climate and demand for graduates, I don’t currently expect a large rush into teaching, even with a vague promise from the Conservatives of some debt forgiveness for those that stay in teaching.

So, how bad is it looking overall? The crisis, to the extent that there is one, is most severe in School Direct in the secondary sector. Offers made for secondary School Direct Salaried route places are down from 1,130 at this point last year to just 730 this year. Of these, only 100 firm placed students are on this route, compared with 160 at this point last year. Uniquely, there are even fewer potential trainees holding offer than last year. Elsewhere, the increase in applicants holding an offer is the one bright spot in a generally dismal picture for secondary training places. Secondary higher education applications have actually increased from nearly 25,000 last year to 25,260 this year, as have applications to SCITTs. The two School Direct routes have seen a drop of round 4,000 in applications. This is a significant decline by any standards.

This blog has remarked on the decline in applications from recent graduates in previous posts looking at the earlier months of this recruitment round. The trends continues, with more than 1,000 fewer applicants under 22 than last year; a drop almost ten per cent from this age group. As this group cannot apply for the School Direct Salaried route it would seem that older applicants are applying to higher education rather than School Direct, although the reason for this trend cannot be determined from the data.

Overall, the assessment must be that School Direct in the secondary sector needs the attention of the in-coming Secretary of State as a matter of urgency. The ideological battle to take secondary teacher preparation away from higher education seems under challenge from the behaviour of the very applicants it was designed to serve. After so many –U- turns, perhaps this is another one that might be worth considering by the new government.

Job Done Mrs May

We will create a single jobs portal, like NHS Jobs, for schools to advertise vacancies in order to reduce costs and help them find the best teachers.                                                         Conservative Party Manifesto page 51

Good news for the Conservatives: this already exists and is free – TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk is now the largest teacher job site in England and is free to all users; schools to place vacancies and teachers and returners to locate jobs that meet their needs.

So, Mrs May, pick up the phone and call the team in Newport Isle of Wight and we will happily show you how the service operates. We are already saving schools millions of pounds in recruitment advertising and with government support, such as is envisaged for the supply sector, we can channel probably another £50 million into teaching and learning while providing accurate and up to the minute management information for civil servants and ministers.

This is one area where you can say, job done, even before the election.

Hats off to hard working volunteers

One of the privileges of being a parliamentary candidate is the opportunity to meet some amazing groups of people. Shortly after writing the previous post I went to meet a group of parents of children on the autistic spectrum or in the process of being diagnosed. The testimony of each and every one really reinforced the views I expressed in the previous post.

Here are a group of parents battling a dysfunctional education system that is lacking in resources and where many of the primary schools face cuts in funding under the new national funding formula. Light years ago, when common sense prevailed, local authorities had teams of SNASTs working with schools on special needs issues and training. After all, a new teacher cannot learn everything in a 39 week postgraduate course or a three year degree. Indeed, school-based training for teachers may make the exclusion of this type of special need from discussion during training even more likely.

The lack of a training syllabus for leadership also now means it is hit and miss whether new school leaders are properly prepared for their role and helped to understand the place of EHCPs and how to liaise with the health service. Local authority services are also under strain and the government’s policy towards the creation of new special schools seems lacking in definition and awareness of need.

The growing visibility of mental health issues and a greater understanding of autism has helped in some cases, but I am sure hindered in others as head teachers decide the challenges are too great and seek to offload pupils to special schools where with a little extra support and training they could be educated in community schools.

I know that charities such as MIND provide general training for teachers on the whole spectrum of mental health issues, and also that many issues don’t become apparent until pupils are in secondary school. Autism and its associated conditions need early detection and this is helped where class teachers and the other members of the classroom team, especially of the youngest children, are alert to any signs of a lack of development not fully within the normal parameters. Eyesight and hearing issues need monitoring, but so does the signs of a lack of social interaction and sensory issues that may act as pointers.

For all these reasons, special needs is an area that needs careful coordination and sensible use of resources. Government has decided that adoption services are too important to be left to single local authorities and has regionalised the service. I would argue that special needs is too important to leave to individual schools and MATs and is another function where a democratically elected local authority has a real and effective role to play in creating an excellent service. If a local authority fails, take it out of their hands, but also understand why it has failed and create the support for future success. Measuring failure without creating the opportunity for success is no way forward.

So, my best wishes to the parents I met and all other facing challenges they didn’t expect and the system doesn’t want to know about.

 

Transfer at 14; good idea, badly executed?

Schools Week has been running a story about the failure of many UTCs and Studio Schools to attract pupils for September. Their latest news is that Plymouth UTC will now not take any pupils at 14 this coming September http://schoolsweek.co.uk/troubled-utc-plymouth-pauses-recruitment-at-14/ Here in Oxfordshire the news on that front is better, with two of the three UTC/Studio schools fully subscribed. Indeed, the Didcot UTC has made 120 offer for 120 places equal to its Planned Admission Number and the Studio School in Bicester exceeded its PAN of 50 with 53 offers to the 60 applicants. Now, whether or not they all turn up is another matter, and we won’t know until parents have considered issues such as how much it will cost to transport their child to the school.

The Space Studio School in Banbury follows the trend identified by Schools Week, with 16 offer for the 75 places available. But, located as it is in the grounds of the town’s largest academy it has always seemed to me to be a bit of an oddity.

Despite these good recruitment numbers, there remain for the schools in Oxfordshire the same issues rehearsed before in this column. Existing Oxfordshire secondary schools will lose the funding of 173 pupils if all those offered places move to the Didcot and Bicester schools. That’s the best part of £700,000 in one year. Over four years it would amount to not far short of £3 million pounds after allowing for inflation. Put this drain on income on top of the 8% the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested might be the cuts to school budgets over the rest of this decade and you have the potential for financial problems at other schools.

To make the most of a system, you need a degree of planning or unlimited funds. We don’t have either at present and we don’t seem to have a government that understands that in times of austerity you need to make the most of the resources that you do have available.

The issue in Oxfordshire is, what will be the consequences for schools losing pupils at 14 and 16, whereas elsewhere the consequence is the opposite. What happens to the schools that don’t attract enough pupils to pay their bills? The silence from the Regional Schools Commissioners and the National Commissioner on the need for a rational approach is of concern. These civil servants must not be high priced rubber stamps approving new academies without understanding the consequences.

In the end, it will be the much maligned local authorities that will have to sort out ant mess. It may be no surprise that the Plymouth UTC operates in a selective school system. In such a system, few pupils will leave a selective school at 14 making it even harder to recruit from the remaining schools with the pupils that didn’t take or pass the selection process.

It is probably time to look at how the transfer of pupils at 14 is going to work in the longer-term: leaving it to the market isn’t really an option.

Funding formula to go?

There are reports that the National Funding formula is to be abandoned. I received this from the Lib Dem press office just a few moments ago.

The Liberal Democrats have responded to reports that the Conservatives are to bow to massive backbench pressure and abandon their proposed shake-up of school funding.
Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson John Pugh said:
Finally, the Conservatives have been forced to re-think their deeply flawed funding formula, which would see savage cuts to schools in most areas of the country. Their proposals were utterly cynical, taking from some areas to give to others, rather than committing to give all schools the additional funding they need.”

I am surprised to hear this even being discussed during purdah as it amounts to a change of policy already under consultation.

Locally, if it proves to be true and not just electioneering, I am both glad for the rural primary schools, 100 of them in Oxfordshire, where the cash for the school was going to be cut (see earlier posts), but sad that Oxfordshire and the other F40 authorities will have to wait longer for a fairer distribution of funds to schools.

However, I am not surprised at the possibility of an announcement. Trying to reform school funding in the middle of the largest increase in pupil numbers in almost half a century was always going to lead to electoral disaster. One wonders why the Tories backbenchers waited until the day before the local elections to put on the pressure as any announcement has surely come too late to influence the voters in the shire counties voting tomorrow.

Then there is the issue of where the Conservatives now stand on funding schools? Unless they can come up with something better than just a U-turn on their formula they will still be leaving school looking at a funding shortfall over the life of the next parliament. Reciting the mantra of strong leadership on school funding just looks silly in the circumstances.

Finally, it doesn’t look like good government to change your mind in their way. There will certainly need to be some clarification of the government’s position. And, what next, a change of mind over selective schools?

 

Why do head teachers leave?

The Daily Telegraph’s education editor rang me to this evening to ask this question ahead of some research to be published by NfER tomorrow. Normally, the most common reason for the departure of a head teacher is retirement, often after about ten years in post. This stands to reason in view of the age at which most heads are appointed. There are rare examples of heads appointed young staying for a quarter of a century or even longer, but that isn’t the norm.

In the primary sector, another key reason for departure is to move from the headship of a small school to a larger one. That happens as well in the secondary sector, but I suspect less often, although a study I did some years ago suggested that the schools with the highest ratings often appointed existing heads when they had a vacancy, preferring experience over other possible qualifications.

The big change since 2010, and the Academies Act, has been the formation of MATs and the creation of many more executive head or CEO posts filled by existing head teachers moving into these newly created roles. That will have created a temporary increase in departures and probably reduced the average length of service of head teachers. However, I suspect that many converter academies didn’t change heads on becoming an academy, other schools may have parted company with their head when joining a MAT, whether forced to do so or not.

Ofsted, and before that HMI, have always played an important role in determining the fate of a head teacher. A poor inspection outcome has almost always seen the departure of the head. Indeed, before inspections became commonplace, I suspect local authorities sometimes triggered an inspection as a means of removing a head they were concerned about.

I would guess that as concerns about workload and morale have increased across the profession there will have been an increase in heads leaving, just as there have been in classroom teachers. But, head shave always had heavy workloads, especially those that also have a substantial teaching load.

Apart from becoming executive heads, there are other roles heads looking for a new challenge can look undertake, including looking to lead an international school or taking on a consultancy role. However, there will be few moving into local authority administration: a popular route in the past.

What is as important as the departure is when it is announced. The key period for head teacher recruitment is January to March. Outside that period schools can often struggle to find a replacement for a departing head teacher. As this blog has noted before, any schools that differs from the norm is likely to find recruiting a new head teacher a challenge. The greater the number of variables where the school differs from the typical, the greater the recruitment challenge as some diocese have found over the decades I have been studying the labour market for head teachers.

 

 

Heading towards disaster?

The latest UCAS data on the number of trainees offered or holding places for 2017 graduate courses to train as a teacher makes for grim reading. This blog has been warning, without trying to use sensational language, for some months now that all wasn’t going well. The figures issued today, based upon offers recorded up to Easter, show new lows over the last four cycles at this point in the year in terms of offers made and accepted in some subjects. So far, the serious issues are only in Business Studies, Chemistry, IT and music, and in two of these subjects a decline in teaching time over recent years means the Teacher Supply Model may be over-estimating the likely demand for teachers. In Chemistry and Business Studies, the lack of offers so far this year may be more serious for schools in 2018, especially where there are rising rolls.

The one crumb of comfort is the increase in offers in both history and geography. Elsewhere, in Mathematics and English, the trend line look unpropitious for the remainder of the recruitment round, unless there is a major shift in direction. This may be less of an issue in Mathematics than English. There are already shortages in English in 2017 according to TeachVac’s data. In Mathematics, as ever, it is not just the numbers, but also the quality of mathematical knowledge and the teaching ability of trainees that matters to schools. Hopefully, lower numbers don’t mean fewer high quality applicants.

Overall, around 2,000 less offers have been made in this recruitment round across England compared with April last year. Applicant numbers are down in all age groups, but significantly down for the younger age groups. For instance, women 21 and under are down from 3,990 applicants last year to 3,490 this year, with a similar fall of 410 in applicant numbers for those aged 22, but smaller falls among the older age groups. Only 1,100 men age 21 or under have applied so far this year; a drop of around 10% on last year at this point in time. Overall, applications from men are down by just over seven per cent, a greater decline than for applications from women.

In total applications are down to only just over 90,000, meaning most applicants have made full use of all their choices.  The good news is that there are 10 more applicants in the South West than last year; the bad news, 500 fewer in London. Indeed, there are 770 fewer offers to applicants applying to London than this point last year: with rising rolls that is really bad news for 2018.

School Direct Salaried has attracted around 500 fewer applicants for the secondary sector this year, with only 80 confirmed placed applicants so far in 2017. As these are all graduates with work experience, this number is disappointingly low and down on the 120 of April last year. The conditionally placed number is also down, from 790 to 530. Undoubtedly, some of the decline is due to the Easter holidays, but that would also have been true for 2016 figures. The one potentially bright spot is the increase in applicants holding offers, but until these numbers turn into placed applicants they are always at risk of disappearing. On the face of it, and without overall allocation numbers, primary offers seem to be holding up relatively well. It is the secondary sector that remains the key area for concern.

With purdah upon us, we can but hope that the increased DfE marketing budget, the topic of an earlier post, will help to attract more applicants over the summer. However, uncertainty over the future direction of secondary education and selective schools might put off some would-be teachers educated in the comprehensive system. Either way, 2018 looks like being a challenge for schools in London and the South East needing to recruit teachers. You will need TeachVac’s free service more than ever: have you signed up yet? http://www.teachvac.co.uk