What’s happening to apprenticeships?

This blog doesn’t often venture into the world of further education and training. It is a specialist area that is generally best left to those that know more about it that myself. However, I was struck by the data on apprenticeships published by the DfE yesterday, amid a range of other statistics. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/apprenticeships-and-traineeships-july-2018 We are not, of course at the end of the statistical year for this dataset, but the fourth quarter is usually the quietist. As a result, the August to April data can be regarded as a relatively safe verdict on the direction of travel for apprenticeships.

It might have been thought that the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017 would have provided a boost for the number of new apprentices, as firms and public bodies sought to access their contributions to the Levy and the additional government support on offer. Sadly, that doesn’t seem always to have been the case. I know this from my continual questions to Oxfordshire County Council about the use, or lack of use, of the approaching half a million pounds collected from schools within the county. Sadly, if not used after two years the money goes to the Treasury coffers and not back to the schools from whose budgets it was collected: it is not as if schools have cash to spare and taxing them like this is bad government on a big scale.

Anyway, back to the data. In the period August 2017 to April 2018, some 753,300 apprenticeships were recorded. This is down from the 870,000 recorded in August t2016 to April 2017. The fall in under nineteens was from 689,300 to 592,700. Even accepting the fall in the size of the age cohort, this looks like quite a large fall in the number of young people on apprenticeships since the Levy was first raised in April 2017.

This fall is conformed in the data on new starts to apprenticeship, where the numbers seem even more dramatic, even after allowing for the possible late registration of some apprenticeships. As the DfE Bulletin notes: 290,500 apprenticeship starts have been reported so far in 2017/18, compared with 440,300 and 384,500 at this time in 2016/17 and 2015/16, a decrease of 34.0 and 24.5 per cent respectively. This doesn’t seem like a very good testimony to the creation of the Apprenticeship Levy. Surely, it was designed to increase participation and offer a route for young people that might want to earn and learn rather than pay and study at university. Under 19 starts are down in the nine month period from 122,800 to 90,300 across all of the apprenticeship routes. Even allowing for the change in size of the cohort, this is a disappointing statistic.

The drive to increase apprentice numbers has stalled. The 2017/18 numbers look being the lowest yearly total since the present record set was first collected in 2011/12. At a time when skilled labour is needed across the economy, either young people are turning their backs on apprenticeships in favour of higher education or the new system isn’t working, but is acting as a re-run of the Selective Employment Tax of the 1960s and sucking cash out of employers ad their business to eventually provide a windfall gain for the Treasury. Either way, a rethink seems necessary.

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Buddy, can you spare a job?

On Wednesday, during his appearance in front of the Education Select Committee, the Secretary of State’s attention was drawn to existence of TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk. The Deputy Chairman of the Committee, Gateshead MP, Ian Mearns, asked Mr Hinds about the DfE’s new vacancy site and the number of vacancies posted on it at present. At the same time he also mentioned the free vacancy service for schools and teachers already being provided nationwide by TeachVac. The exchange is at 1108 on the video at https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/58da6df3-da79-4b92-99cb-64a2a96d03de

Regular readers of this blog will know of my involvement with TeachVac, in my capacity as Chair of the company operating TeachVac and TeachVac Global, the site for international schools.

The DfE vacancy site is only accepting jobs at present from schools in Cambridgeshire and the whole of the North East region. Earlier today the DfE site had a total of just nine vacancies listed, and only four of those were teaching posts. Of the teaching posts, three posts had a closing date of today and the fourth closes on Monday. As a result, unless new vacancies are posted, the DfE site will have no vacancies for teachers by Tuesday of next week. All four vacancies are from two areas of the North East: there are already no vacancies posted by Cambridgeshire schools on the site.

By comparison, TeachVac has 5 vacancies for teaching posts in Cambridgeshire and 12 vacancies across the North East; all with closing dates extending into next week or beyond. One of the DfE vacancies had its closing date extended earlier today, but that is not yet apparent on the DfE site; it is on TeachVac. This is the quietist part of the year for vacancies, so the next few weeks will provide little evidence about the working of the DfE site and its capacity to handle the large number of vacancies posted during March, April and May.

The DfE site also has a significant problem with one of the posted vacancies, for a Head of Languages, with the result that most applicants probably wouldn’t find the vacancy. TeachVac uses a ‘defined’ vacancy search system, unlike the DfE’s open system that follows the type of systems used by others such as the TES.

The DfE would have saved the taxpayer a lot of money if it had just produced a portal with a list of free sites with national coverage, such as TeachVac; free sites with local coverage and paid for job sites. This would have produced a national coverage at minimal cost of time and money. Instead, there is a site that is spending public money competing with the marketplace. But, that’s alright as the Public Accounts Committee gave the DfE the green light. However, the DfE won’t have any useful data about vacancies until at least 2020 at the current rate of progress.

I also wonder how many millions will be spent on marketing their site. Again, there is a low cost solution that has political attractions for the Secretary of State, but he is going to have to ask if he wants to know what it is. Should the Select Committee want to ask me, I am happy to respond I am already updating the professional associations and other key players about TeachVac whose revamped site went live this week handling vacancies in schools across England.

 

 

 

Vacancy war breaks out

The DfE’s rather muddled announcement earlier today of a service to clampdown on agencies charging schools “excessive” fees to recruit staff and advertise vacancies https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-free-website-for-schools-to-advertise-vacancies was clearly written by a press officer that didn’t understand what was being said. Either that or the government is in more of a mess than I thought. Muddled up in the announcement posted on the DfE’s web page today are two separate and different services.

In one, the DfE announced that:

Mr Hinds will launch a new nationwide deal for headteachers from September 2018 – developed with Crown Commercial Service – providing them with a list of supply agencies that do not charge fees when making supply staff permanent after 12 weeks.

The preferred suppliers on the list will also be required to clearly set out how much they are charging on top of the wages for staff. This will make it easier for schools to avoid being charged excessive fees and reduce the cost burden on schools of recruiting supply teachers through agencies.

Such a service might backfire if it drove some agencies out of business and then allowed the remainder to actually increase their prices to schools.

However, it is the other service, starting now for a limited trial just after the end of the main recruitment round for September vacancies that is of more interest, as it directly competes with TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the free national service for vacancies that has been running successfully for the past four years. TeachVac was set up to do exactly what the DfE say they are now trying to do:

 To help combat these costs, the Secretary of State has announced a free website has been launched to advertise vacancies, which currently costs schools up to £75 million a year. This website will include part-time roles and job shares.

Well, TeachVac does all of that. Regular readers will know that I am chair of the company that owns and operate TeachVac and its international site Teachval Global. Why should the government want to destroy an already successful free service? Perhaps the teacher associations can tell me what see that will be better in the DfE’s offering? Certainly, the DfE won’t have access to the same level of real time job data as TeachVac that has already allowed us to comment on the problems facing schools in London and the Home Counties that have been trying to recruit teachers for September.

TeachVac will continue, as it is backed by its successful TeachVac Global arm that provides a similar paid service for international schools around the globe. http://www.teachvacglobal.com as well as its extensive data and associated businesses.

In the meantime, paid for vacancy services, such as the TES – also a player in the supply agency marketplace- eteach, SchoolsWeek and The Guardian must explain to their investors how they will combat another free service displaying teaching vacancies. Local authorities, don’t have investors to explain to, but could see their job boards affected by the DfE move, especially for posts in primary schools where they are often a key player in the local market.

But, for everyone the key question is, after two failures in this field, will the DfE be successful this time around? Judging by the quality of the announcement, there must be a measure of doubt, especially at the costs involved. Let me know what you think. Is this a service the DfE should provide and do you think that they can for a credible cost?

 

 

Frugal innovation

I heard this term used this morning in an interview broadcast on the BBC from the Hay Festival. My first thought was that is exactly what TeachVac has been trying to achieve. The best solution at the lowest price. Next week marks a key point in the 2018 recruitment cycle for schools. Serving teachers must have resigned by the 31st May, in most schools, if they are to leave at the summer and either retire or take up another position. Some may also opt to change to part-time working.

By the end of next week schools will know the shape and size of the challenge facing their staffing arrangements for September. Most will either be fully staffed or perhaps have a last minute vacancy because of the promotion of an existing colleague. A few schools will be facing real challenges in completing their staffing and may be looking to either change the curriculum or find the best fitting person still available in the market.

At TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk we have provided a free service to schools and teachers for the past four years and alerted thousands of teachers to possible job opportunities. All this has cost nothing to anyone.

Since 2016, the DfE has been engaged in a process of establishing a similar service and the £984,000 contract was awarded in February to digital specialists DXW according to a recent article in SchoolsWeek. This sum is far in excess of the total operating costs of TeachVac since its inception. I don’t regard the DfE’s efforts as a frugal innovation even to meet government IT standards.

There has been changes across the recruitment market in the past two years. The TES has launched a subscription service and from next month SchoolsWeek will revise its recruitment advertising rates and stop its print version https://schoolsweek.co.uk/schools-week-is-changing-were-going-digital-first/ Along with other players such as eteach and The Guardian, as well as many local authorities, these services all charge schools for advertising vacancies.

TeachVac is free and up and running successfully. The DfE site doesn’t appear to have made it into BETA testing before the end of the key 2018 recruitment cycle. Ministers really do need to ask whether they are creating a value for money service and whether a joint arrangement between interested parties from across the education scene might create a better and cheaper option that could be operational nationally from September.

Next week TeachVac will be looking to identify the schools with the most vacancies so far in 2018 and comparing them with their profile on free school meals and attendance measures. I was asked about this at the recent APPG on the teaching profession, held last Monday at Westminster. The DfE won’t be able to answer this question before 2020 at the current rate of progress, whereas TeachVac can do so now. TeachVac can also identify the requirements of schools advertising vacancies in composite subjects such as modern languages – is German dying out as a language being studied – and how bad is the crisis in physics – do schools ever mention the word in their adverts for science teachers? TeachVac has already altered schools to teacher shortages in various subjects and expects to publish more alerts next week.

 

 

 

Job listings for teachers

There was an interesting meeting/workshop at the DfE yesterday. The focus was on their embryonic (and expensive to produce) ‘job listing service’, to use its current working title. There were more DfE representatives in the room – were they being paid London salaries – than the whole workforce of TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk that is located on the Isle of Wight. This is surely the sort of project that could have been outsourced to an area of high unemployment to boost a local economy, maybe it is and I am doing the DfE an injustice?

Anyway, private BETA testing is now taking place in part of Cambridgeshire and the North East of England. The aims include providing better data for the DfE. They won’t have any for this recruitment round, so they might like to view this post https://wordpress.com/post/johnohowson.wordpress.com/2542 where I commented on the situation in London.

Those of us attending the event were told not to take photographs of the slides of the entry screens to be used by schools to log jobs. However, anyone that wants to see what the system might look like has only to log on to https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/job-profiles/secondary-school-teacher to have some sort of idea of what the site might look like, as the DfE team are using the gov.uk standards and templates from ‘scheme.org’.

In her introduction, the deputy director at the DfE responsible for this work area said the goals included:

  • reducing the time and cost to schools – TeachVac does both of these already and
  • making finding jobs easier – but no evidence was provided as to what was wrong with current job boards and other means of finding vacancies for teaching posts.

However, the Deputy Director did say that job seekers had told them that poor quality listings make finding jobs difficult. I challenged her to publish the evidence on this point, as TeachVac welcomes feedback and the team in Newport want to know if the DfE has evidence from users about TeachVac. Sadly, I didn’t receive an answer to the direct question.

There is a hunger out there for a vacancy listing service from schools and I believe TeachVac offers the best free national vacancy service currently in operation. TeachVac hasn’t required a penny of public money. If you agree there is a need, go to https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/214287 and add your name to the petition. But also go to www.teachvac.co.uk and register as a teacher and make a free search. Then ask yourself what more do I need to know when looking for a teaching post? Let the team know your thoughts.

TeachVac may not look like a wonderful up to the minute site, but it works and you only see the front end screen when you register or change your preferences, so all the investment goes on making the system work for you.

TeachVac is a closed system – you cannot view all the jobs on offer and that is deliberate. No agency can download all the jobs. The risk of the DfE’s ‘open’ system is it provides an incentive for commercial companies to capture applicants – especially new entrants from training – and sell them to schools for a finders’ fee.

An outcome where the DfE destroyed the present market, only to create new commercial opportunities in the recruitment market at even greater cost to schools than the present system would not be a sensible or desirable outcome. But, it is a risk of the present approach using an ‘open’ system.

Is the DfE work value for public money/ That’s for others to judge, but if you haven’t tried TeachVac yet, www.teachvac.co.uk then please do so before making up your mind.

As expected: a bumper week for teaching posts

Well, as I expected, this week is shaping up to be the week with the largest number of vacancies for teachers and school leaders so far in 2018. TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk the free National Vacancy Service already operating across the whole of England, has looked at more 4,000 vacancies this week. This included repeat advertisements, re-advertisements and new vacancies.

We had expected this level of activity this week for the reasons Laura McInerney listed in her recent article in Schools Week https://schoolsweek.co.uk/fixing-the-madness-of-the-teacher-transfer-window/ She might have added the issue of school budgets and when schools are told how much cash they will have to spend in the next year or can estimate the direction of travel on the basis of pupil numbers. Secondary schools across much of the country are now looking at rising intakes and can plan forward on that basis for several years to come. On the other hand, primary schools, in many parts of the country are seeing reduced intakes, with the inevitable effect of reducing their income for the next few years, unless mergers and closures lead to some realignment of schools in the sector. Regular readers will know of my concerns for the future of small, and especially small rural, primary schools.

Anyway, the consequences of our funding model for schools when pupil numbers go up and down is an issue for another day. This week, we can discuss the consequences for schools that need to start searching for staff later in the recruitment cycle. TeachVac has been tracking the relationship between new entrants from teacher preparation courses and the demand for teachers from schools across four recruitment cycles, so we have a good idea of what the consequences of the under-performance into teacher preparation courses last September will mean for schools.

Earlier this month, on behalf of TeachVac, I provided both the DfE and ASCL with evidence from the TeachVac data that clearly identifies those subjects where the 2018 recruitment round is already showing signs of putting schools seeking to make appointments under strain. Until the DfE launches its own vacancy service across the country, it generally has no data of its own about the current recruitment round and must rely upon third party information.

Thirty years ago, I identified the government’s reliance on statistics – which they are generally good at collecting, although not perfect – with their lack of knowledge about management information on the day to day and up to the minute position in the teacher labour market. When central government didn’t manage schools such a lack was unhelpful, but not critical. Now with academies, free schools and the like, not knowing what is happening is a major failure.

TeachVac also supplies schools and those preparing teachers with up to the minute data on their local area, for use either when Ofsted comes calling and asks about the local labour market or when bids for teacher training places need to be justified on the basis of local needs.

Here is just one example of how policy may be affecting the labour market. TeachVac has recorded more vacancies this year in mathematics than in any of the last three years: is the spending on CPD for those already in post not working or is this a consequence of increasing pupil numbers or even changes in retention rates?

100 days and counting

Mr Hinds has now been in post as Secretary of State of Education just beyond the 100 day point, regarded as the first milestone for a politician by many commentators. During the same period in 2010 Michael Gove had already achieved the passing of the infamous 2010 Academies Act, despite having had to wait for the creation of the Coalition. However much many of us dislike its contents, and the subsequent effect on schooling in England, one must admire the political foresight of Mr Gove and his team of advisers.

As with all Mr Gove’s successors, there has been little sign of the same degree of ambition from the present incumbent of the office at Sanctuary Buildings. Now it is true that a minority government is in an even weaker position with regard to legislation than even a coalition. However, one of Michael Gove’s first acts at Defra this January was to attend both the Oxford Farming Conference and it alternative unofficial counterpart down the road. In doing so, he was making a clear political statement.

So, what has been achieved in the first 100 days by the Secretary of State for Education? Judging by Mr Hind’s speech to the ASCL Conference in March, it is more a matter of emphasis and a nudge here and there, than dealing with the big picture issues. A pause on changes in assessment and testing; more emphasis on reducing workload to calm down the teaching profession and a nod to the importance of technology. A sort of steady as you go regime.

So, what’s still in the Secretary of State’s in-tray? School funding hasn’t gone away as an issue, although it doesn’t seem to be playing very big in local elections across England. Parents haven’t yet seen the real effects of tightening budget. The fact that two of the three remaining maintained secondary schools in Oxfordshire had deficits of more than £1 million each at the end of 2017-18 financial years tells of pain yet to come. School Funding could be a big issue for Whitehall if teachers’ pay increases this year are more than was estimated by the Treasury in its school funding models.

Such an increase seems likely, since the Secretary of State hasn’t managed to tackle the issue of providing an adequate supply of teachers and stemming the outflow of those already in the profession. National teacher shortages are always seen as the responsibility of the government at Westminster, and 2018 is still not looking very healthy on the recruitment into training front. Failure to recruit trainees will impact in 2019 on the ability of schools to recruit new teachers and allows plenty of time for profession to mount any number of campaigns. The joint letter from a number of organisations sent to Mr Hinds earlier this week may be just the first in a veritable salvo of concern about this issue.

For me, the Secretary of State could make his name by regularising the parallel systems of governance between locally overseen maintained schools and nationally managed academies. Although not exactly the same situation, Mr Hinds may recognise, coming from a hospitality industry background that the 2003 Licensing Act did away with the dual system of liquor licences being issued by Magistrates’ Court and entertainment licences by local authorities. Our dual governance system for schools is a mess and, as I have said before, doesn’t help some of our most vulnerable young people such as children taken into care that need a place in a different school.

But then, a concern with social mobility also didn’t seem to feature large in Mr Hind’s first 100 days.