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.


The place of people and technology in learning

Last August I wrote a post called ‘Back to the future’ where I discussed a story then doing the rounds about a possible apprenticeship route into teaching. (blog post 22nd August 2016) In the post I discussed Physics as a subject where recruitment challenges might require a new look at how we recruit and train teachers. If you need a higher point score to study for a physics degree than say for a degree in another subject that then allows for entry into a teacher preparation programme, are we artificially curtailing the possible supply of new physics teachers?

This week the think tank Reform has published a study about the future shape of employment in the public sector up to say 2030. http://www.reform.uk/publication/work-in-progress/ Following on from the publication, the Head of Education at Reform tweeted on a twitter account I used last year during the Police & Crime Commissioner elections asking what the institute of Physics (IoP) response was to the apprenticeship route. Teachvac www.teachvac.co.uk (the free recruitment site) was copied in on the tweet, so it eventually reached me.

The answer, Louis, is that I don’t know what the IoP thought, as they didn’t comment to me. As Louis then noted in a later tweet, there is a site for apprenticeships in schools, but such apprenticeships currently only cover support roles. The article in a recent Schools Week about the a speech by the Secretary of State http://schoolsweek.co.uk/greening-promises-qts-wont-be-scrapped-and-7-key-findings-from-her-college-of-teaching-conference-speech/ suggests that any move to create non-graduate teachers won’t find much support. That doesn’t make the apprenticeship idea a non-starter, but calls for an innovative approach. The issue is partly about the minimum level of knowledge, both academic and practical, you need before you can work in a secondary school classroom and how this has changed over the past fifty years.

As the Reform report mentioned teaching and Teach First, there is more of a debate to be had about teaching. I expect Reform will come back to this issue. In one sense the debate is, as elsewhere in the public sector, and as Reform acknowledge, around the issue of teachers and technology. Reform’s thesis seems to be some work will be replaced by technology and jobs will change their skill levels so the number of workers can be reduced. Seen through the other end of the telescope, the views is of fewer, but more skilled workers each being more productive.  My example is the horde of market porters that have been replaced these days by the software engineers writing the code used in the automated warehouse: far fewer, but far more skilled and locatable anywhere in the world, as a recent BBC story about India showed.

With a largely highly skilled workforce in teaching, the issue at one level is, can the government afford to pay for such numbers of teachers as the 3-18 engagement with education demands? As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Liberal government’s requirement for universal state schooling available to all parents that didn’t provide any other form of education for their children there is a real need to debate both the shape and staffing of the schools during the next 50 years.

This was a point I made in my recent talk to the Merchant Taylor’s Company Education seminar (see blog post January 2017) Think tanks can provide a place to discuss new ideas and stimulate debate as can blogs. Is this a debate worth starting about the relative place of people and technology in the learning landscape?



Can UTCs survive?

Schools Week, the respected education newspaper, is reporting Michael Gove as saying that the UTC programme has failed.  http://schoolsweek.co.uk/michael-gove-utcs-have-failed/ This will be bad news for Lord Baker whose brainchild the idea was in the first place. UTCs were Lord Baker’s second attempt to kick-start a technology sector in schooling in England, after the limited success of his City Technology College programme initiated when he was Secretary of State for Education.

Mr Gove’s comment will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog. A thriving technology sector is probably a good idea for schooling in England, but to create a new type of school for some, but not all, pupils at age 14 was asking for trouble. To compound the recruitment problems facing these new schools by using the market model of either compete and succeed or fail and die was to demonstrate why Tory market economics finds it hard to work in education.

Incidentally, closure is a feature of market economics, as even Waitrose has apparently found out recently, with the announcement of the closure of five of its branches.

So, where does technology education go from here? The easy answer is to let the existing UTCs and their companion Studio Schools limp on, with some making a go of it where there is local support and others failing to recruit sufficient students to be financially viable. A better answer, and one that should be welcomed by the clutch of former accountants currently running the DfE, would be to call in the receivers and see how the assets can be best used for Schools England. Will the current Secretary of State have the courage to take this radical approach? We will see.

With the raising of the learning leaving age to eighteen, the break at fourteen for some pupils was always going to look out of line with the idea of a common curriculum up to the age of sixteen, even with those pupils that would benefit from a fresh start at fourteen. My guess is that the promoters of UTCs and Studio Schools didn’t plan effectively for the type of pupils other schools would encourage to switch in an era where cash rules and pupils come with a price upon their heads.

If UTCs are going to be a short-term feature of our education scene, could the Secretary of State please now pay attention to the fate of Design and Technology in all our schools? Post BREXIT we will need those with the skills and interest in the whole gamut of design and technology to help create our future wealth. Sadly, the subject has been ignored by the DfE for too long and the limp approach to the D&T teacher shortage adopted in the recent Migration Advisory Committee report didn’t receive the rebuke it deserved from the business community.

We need a thriving design and technology sector in our schools, please will someone now come up with a credible plan to help us achieve that aim?


My talk to a Merchant Taylors’ Company Education Seminar

Yesterday, I  was privileged to be able to deliver a talk at a seminar arranged by the Merchant Taylor’s Company. This is one f the Livery Companies and education has always been a key part of their role ever since their foundation many centuries ago.  Below is the text of my talk.

Finding and keeping teachers: Is there an issue?

In the autumn of 2015, the House of Commons Education Select Committee launched an inquiry into the issue of teacher supply. Some 15 months later we still await their report and a lot has happened in the intervening period. For instance, we have had a report on the provision of new teachers from the National Audit Office and an interesting session of the Public Accounts Committee.

I am not sure whether the audience here today are prepared to await the view of the Select Committee or will rather share the NAO’s view that there is indeed an issue in teacher supply and retention?

That is the question I will attempt to deal with today.

Just over 30 years ago I started my study of the leadership labour market in schools. In the early 1990s, I added, firstly, a study of the trends in entry into teaching, and then a full analysis of the labour market for teachers. I regret that during the recession after 2008, I somewhat took my eye of the ball. However, since 2013 I have once again been studying in detail the teacher labour market in some detail.

The remarks in the remainder of my talk are based upon data collected by TeachVac, (the free job board I co-founded in 2013). I suspect some of you use it as a first port of call for mainscale secondary teacher vacancies and for those of you who don’t, we almost certainly collect the vacancies from your web site on a daily basis, assuming you post them there.

So what is the data from TeachVac telling us?

As far as secondary mainscale posts are concerned, subjects fall into three groups;

Group 1 subjects are easy to recruit throughout the year, such as PE and history;

Group 2 subjects become increasingly challenging later in the recruitment round, especially in London and the Home Counties; these include subjects such as English, IT and music.

Group 3 are the difficult to recruit subjects for most schools from quite early in the recruitment round. Subjects include physics, business studies, design and technology and in 2016, geography. However, we don’t expect geography to be a problem in 2017, largely because of improved recruitment into training in September 2016.

You will notice I haven’t mentioned mathematics. Here the overall numbers in training are at a level where most schools should have little problem filling September vacancies, but may struggle when it comes to an unexpected post to fill for January. However, this says nothing about the quality of trainees – a matter of concern that I often hear expressed.

So what can schools do about this recruitment issue? In one sense the government has taken a hand; well perhaps even two hands in “solving” any problem in the state sector.

  • One the one hand, many state funded schools are seeing budgets coming under pressure, despite the additional funds per pupil created by steadily rising rolls for the next few years, the pressures are as a result of government policies, not all of an educational nature, and may damp down demand for teachers.
  • On the other hand, schools have been encouraged to become teacher trainers and grow their own new teachers: Teach First, for schools in challenging circumstances, and School Direct for other schools, and not to overlook the opportunity to create a SCITT (School Based Teacher Training) group that has provided scope for schools to develop their own teachers for nearly a quarter of a century.

This approach to entry into the profession has created a headache for some schools. The DfE controls the total number of training places it is prepared to fund each year. The greater the number taken by schools likely to employ their trainees, the smaller the number remaining for other schools, including the independent sector and Sixth Form Colleges looking to fill a vacancy.

The issue that arises as a consequence is best exemplified in English. This is a subject where many schools find they have vacancies on a regular basis. As a result, it pays to be involved in the training of new teachers. By doing so, the school can obviate the need for an expensive recruitment round with all the inherent risks associated with such a process.

But, if the DfE accepts its responsibility for training for the sector as a whole, then it needs to ensure that its training approach provides for all, not just the schools directly involved in the training process.

In the autumn of 2016 just over 2,200 English graduates were recorded in the DfE’s ITT census as entering training as a teacher across all routes. Of these, a smaller number were left after removing those on Teach First, the School Direct Salaried route and adding an estimate for non-completers.

Even assuming a drop in recorded vacancies in 2017, due to budget pressures not offset by rising rolls, this number may not be enough across the whole of the recruitment cycle.

I don’t think there will be an issue for most schools in finding teachers of English for a September appointment, at least up to the end of the main recruiting season that lasts through into May each year. However, you may not want an unexpected vacancy for a teacher of English for January 2018. Such vacancies may be much harder to fill.

I have used English as a case study, because it is a subject where schools have taken to training the next generation of teachers in significant numbers. As I suggested earlier, there are other subjects, especially in some parts of the country, where schools may struggle to fill vacancies in 2017 and especially for January 2018, even at the present level of school-based training, due to a combination of other reasons.

So, what is to be done? I don’t want to trespass on Alison’s brief, but in an increasingly devolved system of schooling, someone has to take a lead.

  • If you want to treat schools as separate businesses, then each business will have to develop a staffing policy that includes training for new appointments. Such a market will be served by the private sector, but at a cost. That cost takes cash away from teaching and learning, as we have seen with spending on recruitment.
  • The other extreme is a completely managed system. Until the 1970s training, where it was thought necessary, was the responsibility of the employers, whether local authorities or the churches. Robbins, in his famous Report, moved the bulk of teacher training into higher education and pre-entry training became mandatory by the end of the 1970s for teachers in all state-funded schools and not just primary and secondary modern schools.

Well, we don’t have a role for local authorities anymore and the churches have a very different place in society compared with 50 years ago, so do we let schools go it alone on training or find some other model? One solution is for schools to group together in Multi-Academy Trusts that take responsibility for the training for all schools in the Group as one of their functions. After all, a MAT is basically little different to a local authority, unless, of course, you value local democratic accountability.

A local approach does have the merit that it ensures that trainees are roughly in the correct places to meet the demand from schools. After all, what the point of training new teachers in areas where there are a limited number of vacancies, especially if, as with many career changers into teaching, the new teachers are not mobile.

A second solution, currently being tested by the government, is to improve the skills of the existing workforce, especially in terms of subject knowledge. Whether the current programme for improving the skills of those teaching mathematics and science will be dealt a possibly fatal blow by the recent DfE paper on subject expertise and outcomes, only time will tell. Despite the findings of that Report, I have long been an advocate of ending QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) as a passport to teach anything to anyone at any level. It is only one step better than not needing any preparation for teaching at all.

We have a relatively young teaching force at present and as such professional development should be a key to retaining staff. Perhaps the most worrying DfE statistic of 2016 was the increase in wastage rates, not at the end of the first year of teaching, but after 3-5 years. Where these teachers are going and why, is a key question that needs to be answered. Some may be going overseas, into the rapidly expanding international school market, others may be of an age where they are taking a career break and yet more may be affected by pay, workload and morale, the three defining areas any government needs to pay attention to if it wants to avoid a teacher supply crisis.

Before closing, I just want to say a few words about teaching pupils with special needs. I think much has been achieved for such pupils, but in terms of training teachers, especially to work with those pupils with the greater degree of challenge, much still remains to be done. Training for teachers to work and lead our SEN sector seems to me to be far too haphazard at present. I believe such training must come after the acquisition of the basic skills of being a teacher, but in our fragmented, school-based world how that can be funded remains a challenge.

We are on the cusp of an exciting period in education, as we approach the 150th anniversary of state schooling in 2020. For most of the history of education, teaching has meant one teacher to one class. Anyone who has followed the recent debates about driverless cars or watched programmes about the new gadgets at CES in Las Vegas earlier this month will know how pervasive changes in technology are becoming in our lives. It would be irrational to think that in education technology will stop with the inter-active whiteboard. With more processing power in our pockets than ever seemed feasible a decade ago, the very notion of a five-day school week for 40 weeks a year may come into question, along with our accepted notion of one class: one teacher.

Such changes can have profound effects upon the need for labour in our education system. What will the learning team of the future look like? If Rip Van Winkle had gone to sleep when Forster passed his Education Act and then woken up today would schools be one of the few places where he might still recognise his surroundings and even feel at home?

In the later 1980s, the City, where we are today, experienced its ‘big bang’: out went the bowler hats and share dealing by ‘open outcry’, and in came computer trading and the end of the trading floor. Might education witness a similar revolution driven by technology and a spirit of entrepreneurship that Britain is so good at?

I don’t know, but I do know that our aspiration must be to achieve the best education for all our young people that is possible in a world where the market porter of the 19th century trundling his barrow or carrying Billingsgate’s fish on his head was replaced by the fork-lift truck driver in the 20th century. In the 21st century it is the software engineer that writes the programmes for the automated warehouse that companies must now recruit.

I may, perhaps, have strayed slightly from my brief, but at heart, I believe we do need to ensure not only sufficient teachers for today, but also for tomorrow’s world.

Thank you for listening.



500th post

Today is the fourth anniversary of this blog. The first posting was on 25th January 2013. By a coincidence this is also the 500th post. What a lot has happened since my first two posts that January four years ago. We are on our third Secretary of State for Education; academies were going to be the arrangements for all schools and local authorities would relinquish their role in schooling; then academies were not going to be made mandatory; grammar schools became government policy; there is a new though slightly haphazard arrangement for technical schools; a post BREXIT scheme to bring in teachers from Spain that sits oddly with the current rhetoric and a funding formula that  looks likely to create carnage among rural schools if implemented in its present form.

Then there have been curriculum changes and new assessment rules, plus a new Chief inspector and sundry other new heads of different bodies. The NCTL has a Chair, but no obvious Board for him to chair, and teacher preparation programme has drifted towards a school-based system, but without managing to stem concerns about a supply crisis. Pressures on funding may well solve the teacher supply crisis for many schools, as well as eliminating certain subjects from the curriculum. In passing, we have also had a general election and the BREXIT decision with the result of a new Prime Minister. What interesting times.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the 40,000 or so visitors that have generated 76,000 views of this blog. The main theme started, as I explained in the post at the end of 2016, as a means of replacing various columns about numbers in education that had graced various publications since 1997.

Partly because it has been an interest of mine since the early 1980s, and partly because of the development of TeachVac as a free recruitment site that costs schools and teachers nothing to use, the labour market for teachers has featured in a significant number of posts over the last three years (www.teachvac.co.uk). I am proud that TeachVac has the best data on vacancies in the secondary sector and also now tracks primary as well and is building up its database in that sector to allow for comparisons of trends over time.

I have lost count of the number of countries where at least one visitor to the site has been recorded, although Africa and the Middle East still remain the parts of the world with the least visitors and the United States, the EU and Australia the countries, after the United Kingdom, with the most views over the past four years.

My aim for a general post on this blog is to write around 500 words, although there are specific posts that are longer, including various talks I have presented over the past four years.

Thank you for reading and commenting; the next milestone in 100,000 views and 50,000 visitors. I hope to achieve both of these targets in due course.

BREXIT and education

Apart from the issues regarding students in higher education recruited from the EU and the matter of research funding for our universities, there are also the matter of recruiting teachers and of whether our exit should affect the school curriculum to consider after today’s speech by the Prime Minister.

If we are to become a world-class trading nation, do we need to up our game over the teaching of languages? If so, does the balance between European languages and say Mandarin need to alter? Despite the former administration’s apparent love for the Chinese language, progress has been patchy, with some schools embracing the teaching of Mandarin and others not being so interested.

With most of South America, apart from Brazil, speaking a form of Spanish, should we increase the teaching of that language and reduce say, German. Should Russian return to the group of languages more widely taught in schools? Then there are the languages of the Indian Sub-continent and of anglophile Africa. Do we need to increase speakers of those tongues or rely upon them learning English to allow us to export to them?

Perhaps more importantly do we need to take another look at the EBacc? The creative arts, design and technology and even business studies have seemingly ranked way down the DfE’s list of concerns ever since Mr Gove entered Sanctuary Buildings. Do we need to reassess the importance of certain subjects? Music, in all its forms, has been a key export industry. Do we need to give it a boost in schools or just rely on television talent shows to increase interest in the subject and a desire to practice it in public? If manufacturing is going to be important, should the government pay more attention to design and technology and assess how the subject can be staffed in our schools. In TeachVac we have seen few advertisements for vacancies in either music or design and technology compared with many other subjects both at the end of 2016 and in the first fortnight of 2017. This may suggest schools are not investing in the teaching of these subjects at present.

STEM subjects as a whole are also important, especially where they help develop new technologies. However, developing a spirit of entrepreneurship in our schools may be equally important. In a post some time ago, I noted that more innovators came from independent schools than from state schools. Clearly, post BREXIT, we need a generation of exporters educated in all our schools and this might mean re-evaluating the staffing of business studies. At present, this a subject the DfE largely ignores, despite the past two years of TeachVac data showing how under-staffed it is becoming.

Finally, what happens if we cannot maintain a common travel area with the Irish republic? Although not as great a source of teachers as some would imagine, teachers from Ireland do help swell the ranks of the teaching profession in times of shortage. Will they need visas, along with their Spanish and other EU compatriots, in a few years’ time? On that front, schools must be wondering when the Migration Advisory Committee will report on the tier 2 visa rules for 2017-18.