School days mean school days

The judgement of the Supreme Court on the matter of whether term-time holidays are ‘acceptable’ in terms of pupil missing school is interesting. The lower courts clearly sides with the parent, and accepted the decision of the parent. This presumably was based, at least in part, on the contract between parent and State. The parent is required to secure the education of their child, but the State doesn’t prescribe how that is achieved, except in essence by stating a default position of schooling provided by the State. The Supreme Court had to decide the meaning of “fails to attend regularly” in section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.

The Supreme Court would now seem to have very clearly reaffirmed that if you enter into that contract with the State for the State to educate your child, it is binding in terms of the requirement to deliver your child to school when the school is in session; illness and other specified unavoidable events apart being allowed as reasons for non-attendance.

Interestingly, the parent or child has historically had no come-back on the school or its overall operator if for any reason the school cannot open. Hence the residual duty remaining with local authorities to step in and ‘secure’ the education of a child if something happens to an academy or free school. Hence, also why the State has never guaranteed the level of teaching or the qualifications of those required to teach any particular child anything.

I have read the judgement of the Supreme Court, and Lady Hale in particular with interest and was struck by the following paragraph in what was an excellent summary of education history and the law on attendance that is well worth reading and largely free of legal jargon.

Finally, given the strictness of the previous law, Parliament is unlikely to have found it acceptable that parents could take their children out of school in blatant disregard of the school rules, either without having asked for permission at all or, having asked for it, been refused. This is not an approach to rule-keeping which any educational system can be expected to find acceptable. It is a slap in the face to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the cost or inconvenience to themselves.

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We are now, it seems, much closer to the pre-1944 Education Act position where even a single day of missed school could be regarded as unacceptable and the commission of an offence. Parents will now need to take heed of the rules of the school.

However, I foresee some future questions over the legitimacy of absence by ‘illnesses where the illness is self-certified by the parent. Taking a Friday and the following Monday off ‘sick’ may be especially risky is a school creates a rule requiring a doctor’s note in such circumstances. The absence of a note might be an unreasonable absence.

The case still leaves un-resolved the twin problems of the price of holidays for families with children at school and the issue of families that work in holiday areas. The original Victorian legislation recognised we were in part an agricultural nation and that affected attendance at school. The current legislation doesn’t recognise we are now a service-based economy. For good measure, it also doesn’t recognise that the Victorian legislation on home to school transport provision needs bringing up to date as well.


Uphill task, but not yet panic mode?

At the end of January, when that month’s UCAS data on applications to ITT postgraduate programmes was published, I wrote in a blog ‘The next four weeks are vital ones for teacher supply and the number of teachers entering the labour market in 2018.’ So, it has turned out to be.

The February data was published earlier today. It is worth noting that it is data up to 20th February this year, whereas the comparative data for 2016 was up to the 15th February. On that basis there are several more days for applications included in this year’s figures.

As a result, the fact that applicants with a domicile in England are down from 26,130 last year to 24,720 this year is disappointing to say the least. Applications aren’t just down in one region, but across most of the country. In London, a key area of need for teachers, applicants are down by around 200 and in the usually buoyant North West, numbers are down by around 300.

Most alarming is the haemorrhaging of applications form those under 22. Compared with 2016, there have been around 1,000 fewer applicants from this age-group, to just 7,850.

The loss of keen bright new graduates has not been fully offset by additional applications for career changers and other older applicants. It is worth recalling that in February 2012, before the School Direct programmes were included in the process, there were 34,936 applicants at this point in the cycle. So in five years, teaching has seen around 10,000 fewer applicants by February As that month marks the half-way point in the application cycle, time is already slipping away to make up this deficit.

Of course, if the smaller number of applicants are of high quality, this may not matter. But, assuming no change in the profile or even that fewer doesn’t mean better, this poses a problem for providers. Do they lower the quality mark when offering places?

Interestingly, this is a dilemma for higher education as much as for school-based providers thus year since applications to higher education are holding up better than for school-based training. HE institutions have attracted 36,260 of the 73,440 applications. School Direct salaried has only attracted 10,350 compared with 11,680 last February. This is despite the greater proportion of older applications that would be eligible for the School Direct Salaried route. Of course, there may be fewer places on offer, but that fact remains a mystery since government won’t publish the national targets.

In terms of subjects, geography and history are doing well, several other subjects are holding their own and schools might well start making room for PSHE by axing business studies since there are likely to be few teachers. After all, it isn’t a subject we are going to need post BREXIT anyway.

Teaching seems to be looking less attractive as a career to women. In February 2012, some 24,265 women has applied for courses in England. This year, the number was just 17,360. Down by nearly 7,000 or more than a quarter. In the same period applications from men fell from 10,600 to around 7,400: some 3,200 fewer.

With the exam season approaching and no obvious reason for career switchers to increase their level of applications, the remainder of the recruitment round looks like being a real challenge. Not yet a crisis, but the problem of recruiting the next generation of teachers certainly hasn’t been solved despite three reports in the past twelve months.


Pause for thought on rural schools

The number of rural primary schools appears to be falling. In the 2015 list published by the DfE there were 4,906 such schools. This year there are just 4,151. However, before anyone rushes to the barricades to defend the remaining rural primary schools against a policy of wholesale closure it is worth remembering that the 2006 Education and Inspections Act that required the government to keep the list of such schools was passed before the programme of mass transformation of our schools to academy status was dreamed up by Mr Gove and more recently seemingly ratified by the White Paper issued this March. Regular readers will recall the resulting furore the idea of compulsory academisation caused, including within the ranks of the Tory party.

With rising rolls in the primary sector, I speculated in my post of the 6th October 2014 on this blog whether it was worth the expenditure on the part of the DfE to continue to produce this list, but so far there hasn’t been any attempt to repeal the relevant section of the 2006 Act. I suppose it was because officials thought once all schools became academies it would automatically fall by the wayside. Now it won’t, at least for a few more years, so it might be worth either bringing all rural schools into the compass of the section or removing it from the statue book since it may offer one more reason why a school shouldn’t become an academy if in doing so it loses this protection against a review against closure.

Scanning the list I am glad to see the two Enfield primary schools remain among the five rural schools within Greater London; two in Enfield; two in Hillingdon and one in Bromley. The location of these schools in the Green Belt does stretch the definition of rural a bit, but I can quite see why they are included.

In am not sure whether Kielder First School in Northumberland is still one of the smallest primary schools in England, but with just 15 pupils according to Edubase it probably remains one of the most expensive on a per pupil basis and shows the challenge facing those wanting to introduce a National Funding Formula. Without a significant block grant element to such a formula, an element Mr Gove once wanted to abolish, such schools as this would close because they would not be financially viable. The cost of transporting the pupils to school each day would then fall on Northumberland County Council. With 78 such rural schools, this cost could be significant but would have to be met by cuts elsewhere in the County’s budget, even without adding in any academies not counted in this list.  However, North Yorkshire, with 227 rural primary schools in the DfE’s list would be hit even more if their schools were affected by a National Funding Formula that didn’t somehow take account of their importance of our rural primary schools for many small isolated communities.

The complex inter-relationships between the government at Westminster and local authorities over the supply of education really does need to be thoroughly considered before and policy changes are made. Not to do so, risk unintended consequences not just for pupils but also for their parents as council tax payers.

Small fall in applicant numbers for graduate teacher preparation courses

Preliminary figures for applicants to postgraduate teacher preparation courses handled through UCAS show a fall in applicants domiciled in England of around 1,000 when compared with September 2015 figures. As a result, the number placed decreased from 21,710 in September 2015 to 21,150 this September. However, the number conditionally placed increased to 4,980 compared with 4,740 in 2015. Overall, this meant the decline was just over 300 in total compared with last year.

As this blog has reported already this year, the main reduction in applicants is among the 22-25 year olds, with part of the decline in applicants from these age groups being masked by an increase in career changers over the age of 30 having applied.

Overall, it looks as if the percentage accepted rose slightly from 62% of applicants to 63% this year. There was a further, albeit small, decline in the number of men applying, from 15,900 in 2015 to 15,570 this year.

London remains the most popular place to become a teacher, despite the additional costs associated with living in the city, with 27,530 applications for courses in London. However, this was down from 29,530 in 2015, whereas applications increased in the North East, East Midlands and in Wales.

Although there were more applicants placed on secondary courses in 2016 compared with 2015, up from 14,600 to 15,750 (including those conditionally placed and holding offers) the number placed on primary courses has fallen by over 1,000 from 12,970 to 11,510. This must be a matter for concern as it may well lead to shortages of new entrants in some areas for primary main scale vacancies in September 2017.

There seems to have been little change in numbers on the the School Direct Salaried route, at around 3,300, possibly because of small fall in applications for this route despite the general increase in applications from older graduates.

As far as individual secondary subjects are concerned, this has been a better year for applications in many subjects than 2015, although the increase has not be universal. The actual outcome won’t be known until the ITT census in November, but on the basis of this UCAS data it appears that the following might be the outcome in relation to the government’s Teacher Supply Model number (minus the Teach First allocation, where applications are not handled by UCAS).

Art & Design – acceptances above 2015, but not likely to be enough to meet the TSM number.

Biology – acceptances above 2015 and should meet TSM number

Business Studies – acceptances above 2015, close to TSM, but the TSM isn’t large enough to meet demand from schools for these teachers.

Chemistry – acceptances above 2015 and should meet TSM number.

IT/computing – acceptances below last year and not enough to meet TSM.

Design & Technology – the position is unclear from the UCAS data but TSM may not be met.

English – acceptances similar to last year and should meet TSM number.

Geography – acceptances above 2015 and should meet TSM number.

History – acceptances above 2015 and should meet TSM number.

Mathematics – acceptances above last year, but probably still not enough to meet the TSM number.

Music – acceptances above 2015 and should meet TSM number.

Physics – acceptances above 2015, but probably still not enough to meet the TSM number.

Physical Education – acceptances below last year due to the effects of the recruitment controls, but should be enough to meet TSM.

Religious Education – acceptances below last year and not enough to meet TSM.

Languages – difficult to determine exact position from the UCAS data, but should easily meet TSM number on the basis of acceptances.

On the basis of the above, we can already express concern about the supply of business studies, design and technology and physics teachers for 2017. Schools needing to look for a teacher of English that aren’t either linked to Teach First or with a School Direct salaried trainee may be potentially facing problems, especially in those areas where there is keen competition for teachers between the private and state sectors.

The government may be able to anticipate the ITT census with a degree of relief this year, assuming that a sufficiently large number of those still shown as conditionally placed actually turned up when courses started. If they didn’t, for whatever reasons, then this relatively optimistic assessment will have proved meaningless.

Select Committee: more questions about teacher supply they might want to ask

Tomorrow the House of Commons Education Select Committee resumes its hearings into the question of teacher supply. This inquiry started in the autumn, so it is two days short of six months since the last public evidence session. Much has happened in that time, as readers of this blog with know; not least the NAO report and the White Paper, where Chapter 2 concentrates on the question of teachers without really providing much that was new in policy terms.

If, as I expect, the Committee members are on the ball, to use a footballing metaphor ahead of Euro 2016, they will ask the witnesses, some from the subject associations and others from higher education, the school sector and Ofsted, how much of an understanding the DfE really has of the issue of teacher supply?

Some possible questions the might ask could include:

Why are there too many PE teachers and too few business studies teachers being trained if the Teacher Supply Model is doing its job properly?

Given that by the Workforce Census date in November all pupils are being taught for the correct amount of time each week, how do we deal with the consequences of accumulated teacher shortages in a particular subject.

For the representative of DATA, how are possible shortages spread out among the different component parts of the D&T curriculum. Are there greater shortages of say food technology teachers than those with expertise in resistant materials? The same question might be applied to a representative from the languages area, but as there isn’t one it might as well be addressed to the Ofsted witness about the data they collect on subject knowledge and how teachers actually spend their time teaching.

Is the present squeeze on budgets affecting the demand for teachers and who would know if it was? How long would any slowdown in demand take to affect the supply side of the equation and could it leave more trainees with an extra £9,000 of fee debt, but no teaching job in England? If they took a teaching job overseas presumably the Treasury wouldn’t see any repayments during the period of time a teacher was outside the country.

There are lots more questions the Committee could, and no doubt will, ask tomorrow. I hope they do dis cuss the issue of primary teachers and subject knowledge as this is often overlooked. There was a useful APPG report on RE teaching a few years ago now that showed how little time a PGCE student had on developing their subject knowledge. This may also be true in other subjects and is a concern for those teaching at Key Stage 2. Are MATs, with an exchange of teachers between primary and secondary schools, a possible way forward? Will technology help with the brightest pupils or is it off-putting?

The Committee could also ask about part-time working in the secondary sector since that has risen up the agenda recently, but I doubt any of the witnesses will have much evidence on the matter, even if they have an opinion.

Finally, I hope someone will ask about the government’s idea of a national vacancy web site mentioned in the White Paper and whether TeachVac is not already providing such a service to schools, trainees and teachers at no cost as a public service, especially now TeachVac has launched its free job portal for schools.

Qualified relief for the government

So far this week I have spoken at two events on the subject of teacher supply and recruitment into training. The first was in Manchester, to the North West group of suppliers of teacher preparation programmes, the second, today, was at a conference in London. As a result, I am a little late in analysing the UCAS data that came out earlier today. Tomorrow, I am off to talk to a group of NASUWT members for my third engagement of the week on the topic.

The data that emerged from UCAS today has to be compared with the really dreadful figures for February last year, at least in terms of offers made. Thus, it is not surprising that offers are generally above the level of February 2015, except it appears in computing where there has been a slight dip. Nevertheless, despite the improvements, mathematics and physics look set to miss their Teacher Supply Model target for 2016 unless there is a very sharp pickup in recruitment in the remainder of the cycle. This is despite the relatively generous bursaries on offer. If these bursaries are not working, it is a real challenge to see how the government can increase them further without distorting starting salaries in a manner that might lead to questions about equal pay for jobs of equal worth.

More interesting is the difference in offers made so far this year between SCITTs, where 30% of applications are shown as placed or had an offer made, and 21% with offers on the School Direct Salaried route, where 79% are shown as ‘other’ including presumably those turned down. Of course, we don’t know whether some of those refused a place on a salaried course may have been offered a place on another type of course.

In England, there are about 1,500 more applicants than at the same point in February last year. Just over 100 of these are men, with the remainder of the increase being women. In subjects where recruitment controls have been imposed this may further affect the imbalance in the profession between men and women. Interestingly, there were 160 fewer men between the ages of 23 and 24 that have applied this year compared with the same point last year. This was compensated for by 240 more men over the age of 39 that had applied this year. The number of new young graduate males was almost the same as at this point last year. Among the women, there was the same drop in the 23 and 24 age group, albeit a smaller decline that from men. There were increases in all other age groups. UCAS doesn’t provide data either on ethnicity or on the split between primary and secondary.

By the time the March data appears the picture should be starting to become clearer for the likely outcome of the whole recruitment round, although the large number of conditional offers still means that even in subjects where recruitment controls have been imposed there could be a falling away of those holding offers.

Generally, at both events I have attended this week, the issue of recruitment controls has not received a good press or even a sympathetic understanding. I hope that the authorities will review the situation in time for a more resilient system to be introduced next year that will encourage providers to plan for the longer-term once again. With rising pupil rolls we cannot risk an unstable teacher preparation system.


Happy Birthday

Today is the third birthday of this blog. When I signed up for a WordPress account and started writing in January 2013 I didn’t image in three years I would have created a blog that had seen more than 27,000 visitors and nearly 55,000 views of the posts. Thank you also to the band of commentators that read and comment on what I say: I appreciate your thoughts and comments.

Originally, the aim was to comment on statistics about education, but since mid-2014 the issue of teacher supply has come to dominate the blog and indeed much of my time. The launch of TeachVac as a free recruitment site that costs nothing to schools, teachers and trainees and offers a platform for vacancies in primary, secondary and special schools for teaching posts from the classroom to the head’s study has also taken off much faster than I expected. January 2016 has been a prenominal month and it isn’t over yet.

My thanks especially to the tutors that have encouraged trainees to sign up when looking for their first job and to the head teachers that have signed up their schools. I hope the data on the size of the ‘free pool’ that might apply for classroom posts is useful.

My thanks also to the support from the teacher associations, governors, business managers, subject associations and many others that have supported my view that in TeachVac there was room for a free recruitment site on the Twitter or Facebook model in the new technological age.

As far as the blog is concerned, the aim is for a post of about 500 words; some are longer, and a few are shorter, but 500 words is about the average. That’s somewhere around 175,000 words to date for anyone that has read the whole lot. I do try to remove the most obvious of the typos and language issues, but editing one’s own writing is, I find, a challenge. I rarely alter a post substantially once written unless there is a factual error on my part.

I hope you enjoy reading the posts, and I will continue writing as long as I feel I have something I want to say. I owe a debt of appreciation to those at the TES that allowed me to write a column for them between 1998 and 2011. It was those pieces that helped me develop my style and appreciate the importance of brevity in communication.

The education world in England is undergoing a period of transformation from a local service nationally administered to a national service that is trying to establish how it can best operate locally. The change is painful to many, myself included that grew up and spent our careers in a public service that was defined by the involvement of local government. What the world will look like if this blog reaches its fourth birthday next year is difficult to predict. However, teacher supply transcends school organisation; teachers matter.

Thank you for reading.