Thank you Sir Ridley Scott

Teaching is the most important of all professions’. Sir Ridley Scott’ in his BAFTA acceptance speech.

I don’t watch the BAFTAs, so this blog post comes curtesy of my sister emailing me that I need to watch the speech. You can find it on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0SZSB_5cO4

It lasts just over eight minutes and I recommend you watch it if you are at all interested in the power of education to change lives. Sir Ridley attended a secondary modern school, presumably having failed to pass the examination at eleven for a selective school. He wasn’t successful at academic subjects, but enjoyed woodwork and art. He left with one GCE to attend Hartlepool School of Art where he learnt the difference between teaching and learning. His time at art school was the beginning of the journey to last night’s BAFTA lifetime award at the Royal Albert Hall

Could Sir Ridley Scott flourish in the same manner today on leaving school? It seems unlikely that anyone with one GCSE would be considered for Art College? Would he even receive the encouragement in art and design and technology – the modern replacement for woodwork – that allowed him to enjoy these subjects when he was a schoolboy?

Successive governments have failed to understand the importance of the creative industries to our nation. Their worth, especially in the primary schools, has been consistently eroded in favour of more basic skills in literacy and numeracy. Now, we know English and mathematics are important and good teaching of these subjects is especially important. However, that good teaching should be complimented in the primary sector by the space for good teaching in the creative subjects, sport, the sciences and humanities. A full and rounded curriculum is vital for young children. The challenge for the government is how to create learning outcomes in the basics in the most time effective manner for the greatest number so as still to allow time for all the other purposes of schooling.

I have reminded readers before that I probably wouldn’t be allowed into many sixth forms these days, due to a failure to pass English Language and only a scrapped pass in mathematics. Two years later three ‘A’ levels and a merit pass in the geography Special Paper set me on the start of my career. Had I been turned out of school at sixteen, my life would almost certainly have taken a very different route.

Perhaps the government might want to use part of Sir Ridley Scott’s speech as the introduction to their advertising campaign for teaching as a career. It has echoes of the 1997 talking heads campaign where leading celebrities spoke a name to camera and the end strapline was ‘no-one forget a good teacher’. The current campaign isn’t working and for years has concentrated on the excitement of the classroom. Perhaps it is time for a new approach.

Finally, on the day that the government announces a review of tuition fees, it is certainly time to review the cost of becoming a teacher.

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Quality Assurance or Quality Control?

Just after 7am this morning I was telephoned by a researcher from BBC 5 Live to ask what I thought about the new ‘tables’ tests for Year 4 pupils? Not a great deal at that time of the morning was my first and honest thought. However, early morning phone calls are an occupational hazard for anyone prepared to make a comment on issues of public interest and that response wouldn’t do. Some calls of this nature develop into big stories and make headlines: others disappear onto the modern equivalent of the editor’s spike, either dumped or relegated to a footnote in a new bulletin.

Sometimes, you don’t get a call back, as promised, but a text message saying that the item isn’t proceeding either due to other stories taking precedence or some similar phrase, as happened this morning and you then wonder whether the point of view you expressed to the researcher was too similar to those everyone else was expressing and what they were looking for was a different view to balance the debate?

On the story about multiplication tests  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43046142 or ‘checks’ as they are being called, my view is that they should be scrutinised through the lens of whether they are a quality control or a quality assurance measure? If the former, then they are likely to be required of all teachers at the same time. The results then tell us on that day how well the age group are doing. We would possibly expect summer born children to do less well than those with a longer exposure to schooling and those that have remained in the same school to do better than those pupils that have already been subject to changing school one or more times. Pupils will a poor attendance record, for whatever reason, might also do less well.

A quality assurance check would allow the DfE to provide both an expected level but also to help teachers diagnose why those pupils that don’t reach the level expected fail to do so. The DfE might them provide some research into what will work with these pupils to help them reach the standard expected of most children at that point in their education. Such an approach, rich in a developmental approach aimed at helping the system, is more expensive than a simple check that will allow Ministers to blame failing schools and by implication their teachers through the medium of the Ofsted inspection.  If I was in charge of Ofsted, I might want to take the DfE to task for making the job of improving our school system a bit harder if it further reduced trust in the inspection system.

I guess that the DfE cannot afford to spend money on diagnostic tests and a simple pen and paper exercise to be marked by teachers in their own time looks more profitable in terms of political capital.

Take this new the test when a pupil is  ready; collect the data electronically and then let the results tell the DfE if their choice of Opportunity Areas is the correct one or whether key areas such as South East Oxford City have been consistently overlooked for intervention and extra resources? In this technological age, we need to harness the resources at our disposal to help both teachers and their pupils to learn effectively not just impose more burdens on everyone.

Why is the DfE spending millions inventing a teacher vacancy service?

The DfE is asking for your views about its idea for a new on-line vacancy service for teachers. You can read about it in the DfE’s digital blog – is there any other type of bog? – and the link is https://dfedigital.blog.gov.uk/2017/11/15/how-were-creating-a-national-teacher-vacancy-service/ The blog post was written by Fiona Murray way back in November and could do with a refresh, especially now the Public Accounts Committee has effectively sanctioned the DfE spending the money to develop the service beyond the idea of just a concept to test. The suggestion was in the Tory Manifesto for the general election last year.

As regular readers know, I have a personal and professional interest in the labour market for teachers. Personal, as the unpaid chair of TeachVac, and professional as someone that has studied aspects of the labour market for teachers for nearly 30 years.

If you are a user of TeachVac, the free to schools and teachers vacancy service covering the whole of England that has been operating for the past four years, you might want to use the comment section of the DfE blog to explain your experiences with TeachVac. If you aren’t a user of TeachVac, then register for free on TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk and then read the DfE’s blog and see whether what they are suggesting is worthwhile compared with what already exists.

I don’t know whether or not the DfE will include independent schools in their service as TeachVac does. According to the DfE blog one school leader told the DfE:

 “If I’m being honest, I’d be quite happy with a basic website, that’s as basic as the most basic website I could remember, that was free, where all of the vacancies were. And that’s not very ambitious, but believe me, school leaders will think that’s a miracle.”

Clearly, that person hadn’t seen the TeachVac site. So, if you are like them, do pay TeachVac a visit and don’t forget to tell others. Then head over the DfE blog and leave them a comment as requested.

What will the other providers of platforms used to advertise vacancies think of the government’s move into a new attempt at a vacancy service? Clearly, those that charge for recruitment stand to be affected in a different manner to TeachVac that is a free service.

What will be interesting to discover will be the attitude of groups such as the teacher associations; NASBM; governors; BESA and bodies such as REC that represents many recruiters? There might also be implications for local authorities that operate an extensive system of job boards across the country and play and important part in the recruitment landscape for the primary school sector. All these groups should really evaluate the DfE’s offerings against the present marketplace and identify the solution that offers the best value for money for schools. After all, a Conservative government surely cannot be opposed to the free market offering the best solution.

There is also a risk that the DfE’s latest attempt to enter the vacancy market for teachers ends up as the School Recruitment Service, their previous foray into the market, did nearly a decade ago. What the DfE must not do is unintentionally destabilise the market and then withdraw. Such an outcome would be disastrous for schools and teachers.

 

 

 

 

Thank you

A big thank you to all readers. Whether you are one of the regulars or just coming across this blog for the first time, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading these posts. Today is the fifth birthday of this blog. It started on the 25th January 2013 with a post about the level of reserves then being held by schools. In the five years I have been writing the blog it has had 50,000 visitors – this landmark was passed earlier this month – and the 100,000 views landmark will be reached early next month as the total currently stands at 98,668 or just fewer than two views per visitor. The day with the most views was the 8th March 2014, when there was a reference to the blog in a national newspaper.

I think it is reasonable to claim that this blog helped lead the way in terms of highlighting the deteriorating situation in relation to the flow of new entrants into the teaching profession. Because much of my working life was spent in and around the area of teacher supply, it is perhaps not surprising that issues about teacher numbers should have remained a prominent theme across the years.

In August 2013 the DfE was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying what I had written in this blog was scaremongering and based upon incomplete evidence (blog post 14th August 2013, if you want to look it up). It wasn’t then and what I say isn’t now. But, I do sympathise with DfE press officers having to try and come up with an answer when the negative stories appear. The media is less interested in the good news, for instance, when applications increase. The easing of the concerns over maths teacher numbers during 2017 also wasn’t really reported, but that may be an issue of quantity not matching the quality needed?

Along with teacher supply, I have tried to keep an eye on the stories behind the numbers in education; or at least some of them. From rural schools in London to the profit companies make from education there is always something to write about and the blog has now reached more than 650 different posts in its five year lifespan. 130 of the posts have drawn comments and again, my thanks to those that comment regularly on what I have written; my especial thanks to Janet Downes for her insightful comments on many different posts.

Regular readers know that I am a Liberal Democrat politician and have fought two general elections (unsuccessfully) and two county elections (both successful) as well as one election for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner, all during the life of this blog. It is good to have some time off this year; assuming that nothing goes wrong and there isn’t another general election.

This blog is now on its fourth Secretary of State and I predicted the change this January in a post at the end of 2017, before the reshuffle was announced.

My one regret is that schools are still not doing enough to share in the challenge to cut Carbon emissions. My one hope is that someone will come up with an energy scheme that can utilise the vast acreage of school playgrounds that lie unused for more than 99% of the year.

Thank you for reading: my best wishes for the future.

 

A new direction for education?

The speech from the Secretary of State, Mr Hinds, to the world Education Forum was interesting in several respects. This blog will reflect upon two points; technology and teaching and the curriculum.

I have long been an advocate of the use of technology to improve learning. Ever since I was responsible for technology hardware when teaching in the 1970s and bought a Sony video pack to record both PE lessons and rehearsals for the school play I wondered whether the age of didactic memory dependent learning was coming to an end? Of course it isn’t, as children need to learn and internalise the basic of literacy and numeracy as well as survival and communication skills and many other aspects of learning for life. But, I guess we don’t teach logarithms these days and many might no longer know their northings from their eastings yet successfully manage to navigate using their mobile phones: technology has meant changes.

Personally, I think the Secretary of State might want to start any quest for greater understanding of the role of technology in learning in the future of schooling with teacher preparation and the views it inculcates into new entrants. Do preparation course of all types from Teach First to a Russell Group university find space for thinking about the future. Are they helped by the DfE informing them of cutting edge research into learning and the use of technology? Indeed, does the DfE fund enough research projects into this area, especially to help raise the learning achievements of pupils with special educational needs? Can we close the gap for these children and enhance their life chances through a better use of technology?

Mr Hinds mentioned the curriculum in his speech and the recognition in business, where he was previously a junior Minister, of the importance of soft skills. What he didn’t mention is the importance of culture. In that respect, teachers with experience of the world of business can bring invaluable insights into the lives of pupils and the understanding for the many teachers that have progressed from classroom to university and back to the classroom. I don’t in anyway denigrate that pathway but, especially for the school leaders of tomorrow, there is a need to broaden horizons in a way that hasn’t bene possible for much of the past twenty years.

The Secretary of State might want to ask why the DfE has a target of training about 1,000 PE teachers, but only just over 200 business studies teachers. I don’t doubt the PE number is correct, especially if we are to provide the Olympic champions of the future and possibly ever win the football World Cup again as a nation. But, do we need more teachers of business studies in our schools? The sector failed to even meet the low target the DfE set using the Teacher Supply Model for 2017 trainees; it was missed by 20%. Yesterday, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk issued an amber warning for the subject to schools registered with them. Already, in 2018, sufficient vacancies have been advertised to mean there won’t be enough trainees to go around again this year. At this rate of progress, the trainee pool with be exhausted before the end of March, even earlier than last year.

Education needs to take both business and technology seriously: the new Secretary of State might be just the person to help them do so.

 

A National Vacancy Service

Tomorrow, the DfE is holding a meeting to brief recruiters about its plans around a service publishing vacancies for teachers and school leaders. In the light of the demise of Carillion, is this new service a move based upon foresight by officials of the need to protect services from private sector enterprises or a belief that State operated services can do the job cheaper than private companies?  This is an important issue, since there are many in the government and among its supporters that see nationally operated services, of the type a vacancy service would presumably offer, as little more than a return to recreating nationalised industries.

At this point I must declare an interest for new readers of this blog. Some years ago, I helped form TeachVac to provide a free national vacancy service for teachers and for schools to save money on recruitment advertising, through the use of modern technology to bring together schools with vacancies and those looking to apply for such posts. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk and its offshoot for international schools, TeachVac Global, www.teachvacglobal.com are now the largest since source for teaching posts in England and can help to attract teachers back to work in England. All at no cost to the public purse.

TeachVac also had the added bonus, of providing real time information on the labour market: something the DfE will no doubt also want to play up about their service. This week, TeachVac will have already a recorded record number new vacancies for teachers and school leaders since schools returned from holiday just over a week ago.

As I pointed out recently in the blog post about business studies teacher recruitment – blink and they are gone – a large proportion of vacancies recorded so far in 2018 are in and around London. As of yesterday, 58% of recorded vacancies in 2018 were from schools in London; the East of England or the South East with just 32% located in the other six regions. The percentage was the same for both vacancies in the primary and secondary sectors.

Is this because these areas are seeing the fastest growth in pupil numbers and are already adding new vacancies in expectation of their growing rolls? Is it because teachers in these areas are leaving in larger numbers. TeachVac Global is certainly seeing interest from teachers wanting to consider working overseas. Is it because these schools feel the new National Funding Formula doesn’t hurt as much as it could have done and they now feel more confident on their spending for 2018/19? There are other ways of answering these questions: TeachVac at least points out what to ask.

TeachVac will shortly be publishing two reports on aspects of the teacher labour market during 2017. One reviews primary school leadership and the other considers main scale vacancies in the secondary sector across England. Details of the cost and how to obtain them will be available on the TeachVac web site. As a free service, TeachVac is happy to discuss data provision for teacher trainers, schools, MATs, diocese, local authorities or indeed anyone interested in labour market real time data on teacher vacancies.

 

Not Full Circle?

In the early 1990s, I sat on Oxfordshire’s Education Committee. At that time, we were forced to outsource the county’s school meal service. The contract went to an offshoot of what was then CfBT,. After several changes of direction and contractor, the one constant was the need to outsource such services. With the coming of local management by schools, first grant maintained schools, then academies and finally all schools were allowed to do their own thing and decide either who to appoint or even to provide the meals service themselves. With the collapse of Carillion, the question is whether the wheel is now turning again and creating a climate for a politically controlled in-house delivery of services once again?  Of course, while schools retain the purchasing decisions, as the budget holder, there will never be a return to the previous system of a centrally imposed system.

In the early days of this blog, in 2014, I wrote about some of the issues facing councils and contractors, especially over the savings in staff costs -see https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/private-or-public/ and I wonder whether another stage in the cycle of government contracting is starting to emerge. In the immediate post-war period of central planning, public bodies often ran most services. There was no profit element to consider, but cost controls were of variable quality. The Thatcher era saw a mass transfer of services to private companies, with an expectation that costs would fall. Maybe some did, but others didn’t and some benefitted from the proceeds of technological change that drove down costs, but didn’t create competition and didn’t always drive down prices.

However, when costs have been reduced, it is clear that the profit element in a contract is often paying for more than the risk involved in the enterprise, especially where it is services that are being provided. I recognised this when I set up TeachVac and the DfE presumably recognise it with their latest attempt to establish a vacancy service for schools and teachers. In education, the problem is that many of the budget holders, schools, are too small to gain purchasing power, except where they can purchase locally.

Can and should democratically elected local authorities play a part in providing services to schools? We shall see. There are clearly those on the right of politics that see State provided services as an anathema. Presumably, they are not happy with the DfE creating a publically operated vacancy service for teachers?  I have yet to see any opinion from them, but it is an interesting test of where they see the limits of state action?

Finally, back to the Carillion saga. Fortunately, Oxfordshire had been in the process of recovering the contracts for both construction and facilities management services outsourced in 2012 to Carillion. This is as a result of pressure from councillors of all political parties. From 2014, issues about school construction projects not meeting deadlines were regularly raised at political group briefings. Oxfordshire’s residents are fortunate that the County has no Party with a large majority and every incentive for opposition parties to hold the ruling group’s feet to the fire over the management of services. But, in education none of this solves the bigger governance issues around the two parallel systems of academies and maintained schools.