8,000 computer teachers: Leak, pre-release or pressure on the Chancellor?

These days I am no longer sure what constitutes either a pre-budget announcement or a leak ahead of the speech. The £100 million for 8,000 more computer science teachers included in a Reuters report https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-economy-budget/driverless-cars-set-for-uk-budget-boost-finance-ministry-idUKKBN1DJ003 fall into this category of uncertainty. Is it a response to the recent Royal Society Report and does it cover the whole UK or just England since education is a devolved activity. Is it an inspired pre-release a leak or even just speculation on the part of commentators? It might even be a red herring put up to encourage a response to the recent Royal Society Report. We will all still have to wait until Wednesday to be absolutely certain.

Dividing the sum mentioned by 8,000 brings up a figure of £12,500 per teacher. Nowhere near enough to train that many new teachers, especially if they were all to be offered a bursary. So, perhaps a large number of the 8,000 are either teachers destined for the primary sector and expected to train at their own expense or the money covers the cost of re-training existing less than adequately qualified teachers already working in schools.

What is an absolute certainty is that there will never be 8,000 vacancies for his type of teacher in any one year in the secondary sector without mass redundancies of existing teachers. Even spreading the programme over four years, assuming that enough recruits could be found to enter teacher preparation courses each year, would mean a high risk of unemployment for the newly trained teachers unless schools were mandated to recruit these teachers.

Now the DfE knows how many teachers there are working in state schools and teaching computing in some shape or form through the annual School Workforce Census, and through the annual working of the Teacher Supply Model can estimate demand each year for training places. Indeed, it doesn’t do too bad a job at the estimation bit; recruiting them into training is another story entirely.

When the DfE has its own version of TeachVac’s National Vacancy Service that has been fully operational for a year it should know the demand profile from state funded schools. Whether, like TeachVac, it will know the demand from the private schools sector is another as yet, presumably, unresolved matter.

If the 8,000 number does make it into the budget, then so as not to look as if the Treasury doesn’t talk to the DfE there will have to be some form of explanation. Personally, I would add 10% to the Teacher Supply Model and split the rest between for professional development for existing teachers: spending 40% on those on professional development for secondary school teachers already teaching computer science and not fully qualified; 40% for lead teachers in the primary schools, starting with a programme for MATs and dioceses and the allocated the remaining 20% for programmes for teachers of other subjects to embed areas such as geographical information and other subject-related techniques into curriculum development. I might keep a small pot of cash back for new methods of preparing teachers that don’t rely upon face to face contact.

What isn’t needed is a vast hike in training places.

 

 

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School Recruitment Service Mark 2 announced

Yesterday, at the Public Accounts Committee, a senior civil servant announced the date for the DfE’s latest foray into the world of teacher recruitment. The DfE’s version of a vacancy service will go on trial in the spring. Over the past two months, I have written a couple of posts about the development of this service, first mooted in the 2016 White Paper and then, somewhat surprisingly, rating a mention in the 2017 Conservative General Election Manifesto. In the meantime, the DfE has been quietly beavering away designing their service.

With political backing of this nature, such a wasn’t going to be ditched easily, unlike the plans to offer middle leaders for struggling schools, unceremoniously dumped this time last year. So, I am not surprised by the latest announcement.

As regular readers will know, I chair TeachVac, the free service for schools and teachers that has been up and running for the past four years with no government aid and is now the largest platform by number of vacancies for teacher vacancies in England. More recently TeachVac has expanded to handle vacancies in international schools around the world through TeachVac Global www.teachvacglobal.com

As TeachVac is free to everyone using it is England, competition from the DfE doesn’t both us; although I do wonder about the size of the DfE’s budget that will be needed to ensure the new product doesn’t follow the route to oblivion of the School Recruitment Service of a decade ago. Perhaps someone could ask a PQ or submit an FOI to find out how much money they aim to spend on marketing the trial next spring?

For paid providers of recruitment services, whether, either just vacancy advertisements or through recruitment services and teacher placements, the threat to their profits is more real. You only have to look through the accounts posted on the web site of Companies House to see how valuable teacher recruitment has been over the past few years and why the government might have wanted to offer an olive branch to schools by providing a free service at this time so many schools are strapped for cash.

As I pointed out when starting TeachVac, such a service, like TeachVac, also helps satisfy the National Audit Office’s remarks about the lack of data available to the DfE about the teacher labour market. What they will do with the data they will obtain we won’t know until 2020 at the earliest, as 2019 will be the first full year they will be able to obtain data for a whole recruitment cycle. However, by then Ministers won’t be able to fall back on just the data from the School Workforce Census.

TeachVac, now covers all schools state funded and private – I wonder whether the DfE will offer their service to the private sector – as it does with access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme – or restrict it only to state-funded schools thus offering a lifeline to paid services.

I will post more when I have read the transcript of yesterday’s Public Account Committee hearing where the announcement was made.

Action needed, not more words

The Royal Society has published a new report into the state of computer education in schools across the United Kingdom; After the Reboot – Computing Education in UK Schools. This follows on from their earlier report, published in 2012 and entitled, ‘Shut down or restart? The way forward for computing in UK schools – a review of computing education in the UK’. The latest report and its annexes can be access at https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/computing-education/

As might be expected from the UK’s premier learned society, the new report is both authoritative and wide ranging. However, the recommendations do read like something of a compromise between what is desirable and what is achievable in the present climate. The report is no doubt correct in focusing on the fact that improving the skills of those teaching the subject is a sensible way forward and adds to the growing clamour for a rethink of the consequences of the slash and burn approach to CPD and local advisory and inspection services that took place during the early years of the Coalition government.

The report is also right to point out that between 2012 and 2017(sic) computing only met 68% of the Teacher Supply Model identified teacher preparation numbers for the subject. Sadly, the Report doesn’t consider whether there might have been the vacancies for any more to be employed had they been trained. TeachVac, the job site I chair, does recognise that trainee numbers were insufficient in both 2015 and 2016 and are heading that way for 2017, although to a lesser degree than in the past two years. However, 2018 might be a very challenging year for schools looking to act on this report and recruit more teachers with computing skills.

Not surprisingly, most of the press comment has concentrated on the lack of availability of examination courses in many schools, including those just down the road from Teach City in Shoreditch. This misses the point that often it is not the number taking A level that matters for the local labour market, since many if not most of those taking A levels will head off to university, but the access of those entering the labour market at eighteen to computing knowledge and skills, for they are far more likely to remain in their local labour markets. To that extent, more might have been made of provision in the further education sector, especially where there are Sixth Form Colleges, as they seem to have the highest update at A level.

The report is right to recognise the gender gap among those studying the subject and the potential for a loss of talent that such an imbalance creates. This is but one of many differences in provision highlighted in the annexes. The lack of consideration of how the independent school sector is handling the issue of computing, other than in examinations, causes some distortions, such as the City of London, with no state funded secondary schools, appearing in the bottom five local authorities for Key Stage 4 level take-up.

The other disappointment is the lack of creative solutions. In this area, more than any other, the Royal Society could have harnessed the power of creative thinking to suggest new ways to reach the many pupils currently missing out on computing; through on-line courses, summer schools and even daily feeds to mobile phones. Creating the demand from pupils for more computing would be more likely to achieve results than another report that may share the fate of its predecessor.

After all, the DfE’s response that there were more students taking computing was hardly helpful or even properly considered. I also haven’t seen any response from the governments of the other home nations, but they may have been confined to the regional press.

Can schools cause a housing crisis?

Are academies screwing up the housing market? In the 2016 Education White Paper, it was hinted that in-year admissions might be returned to local authority control as they manage the main admissions round. So far, nothing has happened.

With secondary school rolls now on the increase in many parts of the south of England, and likely to eventually increase across the whole country over the course of the next few years, many more schools are filling up in some of their younger age year groups. They are, therefore becoming more reluctant to offer places to in-year applicants.

I have been campaigning for some time about the effect this can have on children taken into care that are having to experience a long wait before a school is forced to take them in the end; this at a very vulnerable time in their lives when being deprived of social interaction school can offer is a real concern and needs urgent action.

Now, I am also being told of parents moving mid-year for employment reasons that are finding schools reluctant to offer a place to their child. Where most or all secondary schools are academies this leaves the parents in a weak position and their child or children possibly out of school for several months.

I have remarked before that it is a supreme irony that a parent talking a child on holiday for a fortnight can be fined, whereas one taking them across town to a new house can be excluded from schooling for much longer. Something isn’t right here, and the government needs to take action. Firstly, they should determine the size of the problem and what the effects of rising rolls are likely to be on the need for in-year places and spare capacity within the system.

Builders, developers and employers human resources departments need to understand the effects of current policy, since with social media being immediate in nature it could slow down the house market and make employees reluctant to switch jobs mid-school year if they believe schooling will be a problem for their children.

As an aside, many schools could do more for children they admit mid-year and might want to track how well they integrate into the school. Schools with large number of forces children are well aware of this problem and that was one reason the Service Children’s Premium was introduced.

The fact that academies are their own admissions authorities is probably at the heart of the problem. Perhaps head teacher boards could discuss the issue wearing their responsibility for the system and not as heads of individual schools or directors of MATs.

Pupils deserve an education and although inconvenient and sometimes unsettling to schools in-year movement will take place and needs to be handled in both a sensitive and timely manner. If a school has a place in a year group it is difficult to see why the decision isn’t Immediate, especially with the power of information technology.

A National Vacancy Service for Teachers?

The DfE’s explanation of their aim for a national vacancy service mentioned in yesterday’s blog may have partly been provoked by the following parliamentary question answered on the 13th October.

Gloria De Piero: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, when the free national teacher vacancy website announced in the March 2016 White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere will be operational. 

Nick Gibb: The Department is undertaking user research with head teachers, school business managers and recruitment staff and established, returning, aspiring and newly qualified teachers, to strengthen its understanding of the issues schools face when advertising teacher vacancies and the challenges teachers have finding and applying for jobs. It is using this to inform the development and design of a new national teacher vacancy service. We are currently at an early stage of prototyping the new service and testing to ensure the service design is one that best meets the needs of users. Depending on the outcome of this development phase, we would expect to start building a service early in 2018. 

Any teacher vacancy service will aim to reduce the time schools spend on publishing vacancies and the cost of recruiting new teachers; make it easier for aspiring and current teachers to find jobs quickly and easily; and increase the availability and quality of data on teacher recruitment.

So, who might be the winners and losers if the DfE does eventually go ahead with a national vacancy service? Much depends upon the structure and take-up of such a service, and it is too early to tell exactly what it might look like. However, assume a free full service model something like TeachVac already provides, but possibly with a few more bells and whistles in terms of handling applications, offering schools facilities for internal short-listing and the handling of references between schools.

Existing paid for vacancy platforms would either have to win the contract, assuming that the DfE puts the service out to tender; possibly at a much lower income than at present, or try to compete with free to schools government service. That scenario has happened in the past when the School Recruitment Service was launched in around 2009. However, the DfE seems to have learnt something from its past mistakes and will presumably be prepared to back any new service more effectively. Nevertheless, as ever, the issue remains as to whether the DfE service can persuade job seekers to come on-board and use the service as their main source of vacancy information or whether schools will continue to use other services, including paid for platforms?.

There is another issue if the government runs the service and that is access to the data collected. At present, the DfE has little management information on the working of the teacher labour market in real-time. A national vacancy service would change that situation, as we know for the data we collect at TeachVac. Indeed, it is one of the reasons for establishing such a service.

Will the teacher associations, the NGA, teacher educators and others with an interest in this area be willing to cede total control over the data to the government?

An alternative model would be for either some joint arrangements between all the interested parties and the DfE or just among the interested parties that train and recruit teachers. They have access to the teachers and trainee and could operate a ‘not for profit’ model at least as cost effectively as the DfE because they are already more commercially minded than the civil servants in Sanctuary Buildings.

 

Can you trust the data?

How often do government departments have to reissue press notices? Following intervention from the Office for Statistics Regulation, the DfE have been placed in that position. The OSR letter can be read at
https://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/DfE-statistics-Ed-Humpherson-to-Mike-Jones.pdf The revised press notice and the other issue about MAT transfers raised by OSR concern matters dear to the policy objectives of Ministers, so any potentially misleading data are of concern.

However, the DfE statisticians also have to battle with others that don’t always provide data that is of top quality. As reported in an earlier post, about local authority expenditure per pupil, there are a couple of local authorities in one table in that Statistical First Release where the data must be suspect because of the reported level: it both cases, way too low.

Then there is the case of under-reporting by schools in areas such as fixed term exclusions and more specifically for the number of pupils placed on reduced timetables, but not excluded. This is an area where more work is needed to discover what is actually happening, not least in the academy sector. This work is important because of the potential safeguarding aspect.

Local authorities and the local Safeguarding Board may not be in full possession of the facts if academies do not fully report to the DfE. It would be a simple change to add to the funding letter that academies are required to report all statistics via the local authority where they are located unless the Regional School Commissioner has explicitly provided for an alternative system that is as rigorous. At present, this is an issue with one part of the dual system not working as well as the other and creating potential risks for young people.

At least these days, as with the re-issued DfE Press notice mistakes can be rectified when noticed. In the former days before the internet such mistakes could become set in stone. One of my first communications with government was to point out that pupil teacher ratios provided in a written parliamentary answer and reported in Hansard were wrong. I think the first local authority in the list missed the PTR and was allocated that of the next by mistake. It wasn’t picked up before printing and went into the record. An error notice appeared later, but who checks written PQs for later revisions? Nobody, I would hazard a guess. As a result, anyone using that data source would have inaccurate data. It doesn’t matter now, but might have then. One year, the Department had to re-issue a whole Statistical Volume because of the number of printer’s errors.

Today, the record can be set straight quickly and easily, even if the original error is retained as well.

Statistics are important as a source of information under-pinning decision making and debate, hence the need for accuracy. The question of management information that is separate from statistics is one that has always interested me. In some areas, such as the labour market for teachers, I have always believed up to the minute information is important to spot changes in trends as early as possible. However, this data is often in a raw state and not 100% accurate. Where to draw the line between management information and statistics is an interesting and ever changing debate as technology provides ever more exciting tools for data collection and analysis.

The eye of the recruitment storm?

The National Governance Association (NGA) published its latest survey last Friday https://www.nga.org.uk/News/NGA-News/Key-findings-of-NGA-TES-annual-school-governance-s.aspx Carried out in association with the TES, it not surprisingly reveals governors worried about funding pressures and thus supports the view taken by this blog over the past twelve months.

The DfE has now published the individual school by school potential outcomes of the Mark 2 National Funding Formula. I have had a quick look at the Oxfordshire schools and the change in the method of calculation has produced some improvements, in that no school is now forecast to be facing a reduction in funding.

However, the bulk of the primary schools seemingly only face a per pupil increase of around 1%. This is not enough to fend off rising costs and will be a real problem when the pay rise eventually kicks in if it isn’t fully funded. With all the promises Labour is making at their conference, it is difficult to see how they can fund a public sector pay rise with additional cash. A Conservative government might not find it much easier either unless they can identify some new sources of funding.

Funding pressures two to three years out means that the future for small schools is still in doubt under NFF Mark 2 and the two main churches with schools across the country may face a real challenge if the present distribution of primary schools is no longer sustainable.

I was interested to see that the governors questioned thought this year had been easier in terms of recruitment, but not by much. In view of the better recruitment in 2016 to teacher preparation courses and the record numbers on School Direct and Teach First courses such a finding probably wasn’t a great surprise.  2018 may not be as easy a recruitment if the predictions already aired by this blog are accurate in terms of trainee numbers, unless the squeeze on funding really does mean schools reducing their staffing levels as some governors questioned suggested will be the outcome.

Towards the end of next month the DfE expects to reveal the Teacher Supply Model data that will underpin the allocations to 2018 preparation courses and hence numbers likely to be available to fill teaching positions in September 2019 and January 2020. By that year, the increase in secondary school rolls should really be underway, so the funding debate will really be starting to make a difference.

Should school-based training numbers reduce, as may happen this year, then more schools will be recruiting in the open market. That at least would be good news for those providing recruitment services, unless the DfE has stepped in by then with its own service. Taking recruitment away from the private sector clearly fits in with labour’s narrative, but seems less easy to sell to Conservatives stepped in the tradition of the free market.

Either way, the price of recruitment should be on the way down: good news for hard pressed schools and another win for modern technology.