Funding formula to go?

There are reports that the National Funding formula is to be abandoned. I received this from the Lib Dem press office just a few moments ago.

The Liberal Democrats have responded to reports that the Conservatives are to bow to massive backbench pressure and abandon their proposed shake-up of school funding.
Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson John Pugh said:
Finally, the Conservatives have been forced to re-think their deeply flawed funding formula, which would see savage cuts to schools in most areas of the country. Their proposals were utterly cynical, taking from some areas to give to others, rather than committing to give all schools the additional funding they need.”

I am surprised to hear this even being discussed during purdah as it amounts to a change of policy already under consultation.

Locally, if it proves to be true and not just electioneering, I am both glad for the rural primary schools, 100 of them in Oxfordshire, where the cash for the school was going to be cut (see earlier posts), but sad that Oxfordshire and the other F40 authorities will have to wait longer for a fairer distribution of funds to schools.

However, I am not surprised at the possibility of an announcement. Trying to reform school funding in the middle of the largest increase in pupil numbers in almost half a century was always going to lead to electoral disaster. One wonders why the Tories backbenchers waited until the day before the local elections to put on the pressure as any announcement has surely come too late to influence the voters in the shire counties voting tomorrow.

Then there is the issue of where the Conservatives now stand on funding schools? Unless they can come up with something better than just a U-turn on their formula they will still be leaving school looking at a funding shortfall over the life of the next parliament. Reciting the mantra of strong leadership on school funding just looks silly in the circumstances.

Finally, it doesn’t look like good government to change your mind in their way. There will certainly need to be some clarification of the government’s position. And, what next, a change of mind over selective schools?

 

Peak time for vacancies

The period two weeks after Easter usually proves to be the peak of the recruitment cycle for teachers by schools seeking to be fully staffed for September. Vacancies due to promotion have been identified; school rolls for September can be calculated as admission numbers are now known; most teachers deciding to retire or leave the profession for other reasons will have made their decisions known to the leadership of the school and budgets, including Pupil Premium, can be calculated with some degree of certainty.

At TeachVac we are seeing that profile again this year. Indeed, I am somewhat surprised how resilient the job market has been after all the dire pronouncements during the teacher association annual conferences about the lack of funding for schools. However, as I wrote in an earlier post, teaching posts are often the last thing a school will cut when finances are tight. I suspect that the position would also be a lot worse if there hadn’t been such a severe restriction on the growth of the teachers’ salary bill in relation to other costs. Once the line gives way on the 1% per annum pay increase, then that is when teaching posts will come under real pressure, unless there is an injection of more funds.

At least, this year, there are more trainee teachers around than last year and probably than there will be next year, judging by the evidence discussed in a previous post based upon the UCAS data for April. As might be expected, the number of recorded vacancies for business studies teachers has exceeded both the trainee numbers and likely returners, so schools can expect to find that subject difficult to staff for the next twelve months, and probably beyond.

The pool of teachers of English not on preparation courses linked to schools is shrinking rapidly and those schools that have to trawl in the open market, especially in and around London, may increasingly find recruitment a challenge. There should be less of an issue in mathematics, based upon the absolute numbers of trainees, but, of course, there may be issues with quality and depth of knowledge of the subject. At the other end of the scale, there are still plenty of art and PE teachers along with those training to be teachers of IT. Despite the talk of reductions in the amount for time being allocated to design and technology, the supply of trainee teachers has diminished rapidly over the past few weeks, as the pool was not overly large to start with this year.

TeachVac, as the free services to schools and teachers, continues to provide matches on a daily basis to direct teachers to the vacancies, so that schools can know very quickly whether they are receiving expressions of interest. We note at this time of year schools often cut and paste vacancies when placing them on their web sites, and common issues are with out of date closing dates; wrong salary scales and even a mismatch between the headline subject and the details of the vacancy. We advise applicants to check for errors; schools should also mystery shop their vacancy web sites on a regular basis to ensure they aren’t wasting money because of mistakes in the information provided.

Why do head teachers leave?

The Daily Telegraph’s education editor rang me to this evening to ask this question ahead of some research to be published by NfER tomorrow. Normally, the most common reason for the departure of a head teacher is retirement, often after about ten years in post. This stands to reason in view of the age at which most heads are appointed. There are rare examples of heads appointed young staying for a quarter of a century or even longer, but that isn’t the norm.

In the primary sector, another key reason for departure is to move from the headship of a small school to a larger one. That happens as well in the secondary sector, but I suspect less often, although a study I did some years ago suggested that the schools with the highest ratings often appointed existing heads when they had a vacancy, preferring experience over other possible qualifications.

The big change since 2010, and the Academies Act, has been the formation of MATs and the creation of many more executive head or CEO posts filled by existing head teachers moving into these newly created roles. That will have created a temporary increase in departures and probably reduced the average length of service of head teachers. However, I suspect that many converter academies didn’t change heads on becoming an academy, other schools may have parted company with their head when joining a MAT, whether forced to do so or not.

Ofsted, and before that HMI, have always played an important role in determining the fate of a head teacher. A poor inspection outcome has almost always seen the departure of the head. Indeed, before inspections became commonplace, I suspect local authorities sometimes triggered an inspection as a means of removing a head they were concerned about.

I would guess that as concerns about workload and morale have increased across the profession there will have been an increase in heads leaving, just as there have been in classroom teachers. But, head shave always had heavy workloads, especially those that also have a substantial teaching load.

Apart from becoming executive heads, there are other roles heads looking for a new challenge can look undertake, including looking to lead an international school or taking on a consultancy role. However, there will be few moving into local authority administration: a popular route in the past.

What is as important as the departure is when it is announced. The key period for head teacher recruitment is January to March. Outside that period schools can often struggle to find a replacement for a departing head teacher. As this blog has noted before, any schools that differs from the norm is likely to find recruiting a new head teacher a challenge. The greater the number of variables where the school differs from the typical, the greater the recruitment challenge as some diocese have found over the decades I have been studying the labour market for head teachers.

 

 

Heading towards disaster?

The latest UCAS data on the number of trainees offered or holding places for 2017 graduate courses to train as a teacher makes for grim reading. This blog has been warning, without trying to use sensational language, for some months now that all wasn’t going well. The figures issued today, based upon offers recorded up to Easter, show new lows over the last four cycles at this point in the year in terms of offers made and accepted in some subjects. So far, the serious issues are only in Business Studies, Chemistry, IT and music, and in two of these subjects a decline in teaching time over recent years means the Teacher Supply Model may be over-estimating the likely demand for teachers. In Chemistry and Business Studies, the lack of offers so far this year may be more serious for schools in 2018, especially where there are rising rolls.

The one crumb of comfort is the increase in offers in both history and geography. Elsewhere, in Mathematics and English, the trend line look unpropitious for the remainder of the recruitment round, unless there is a major shift in direction. This may be less of an issue in Mathematics than English. There are already shortages in English in 2017 according to TeachVac’s data. In Mathematics, as ever, it is not just the numbers, but also the quality of mathematical knowledge and the teaching ability of trainees that matters to schools. Hopefully, lower numbers don’t mean fewer high quality applicants.

Overall, around 2,000 less offers have been made in this recruitment round across England compared with April last year. Applicant numbers are down in all age groups, but significantly down for the younger age groups. For instance, women 21 and under are down from 3,990 applicants last year to 3,490 this year, with a similar fall of 410 in applicant numbers for those aged 22, but smaller falls among the older age groups. Only 1,100 men age 21 or under have applied so far this year; a drop of around 10% on last year at this point in time. Overall, applications from men are down by just over seven per cent, a greater decline than for applications from women.

In total applications are down to only just over 90,000, meaning most applicants have made full use of all their choices.  The good news is that there are 10 more applicants in the South West than last year; the bad news, 500 fewer in London. Indeed, there are 770 fewer offers to applicants applying to London than this point last year: with rising rolls that is really bad news for 2018.

School Direct Salaried has attracted around 500 fewer applicants for the secondary sector this year, with only 80 confirmed placed applicants so far in 2017. As these are all graduates with work experience, this number is disappointingly low and down on the 120 of April last year. The conditionally placed number is also down, from 790 to 530. Undoubtedly, some of the decline is due to the Easter holidays, but that would also have been true for 2016 figures. The one potentially bright spot is the increase in applicants holding offers, but until these numbers turn into placed applicants they are always at risk of disappearing. On the face of it, and without overall allocation numbers, primary offers seem to be holding up relatively well. It is the secondary sector that remains the key area for concern.

With purdah upon us, we can but hope that the increased DfE marketing budget, the topic of an earlier post, will help to attract more applicants over the summer. However, uncertainty over the future direction of secondary education and selective schools might put off some would-be teachers educated in the comprehensive system. Either way, 2018 looks like being a challenge for schools in London and the South East needing to recruit teachers. You will need TeachVac’s free service more than ever: have you signed up yet? http://www.teachvac.co.uk

Minutiae for manifestoes

Political parties are now frantically writing their manifestoes for June 8th. The headlines are probably obvious: selective schools; funding; workload; testing; standards; teachers, and ensuring that there are enough of them, and possibly something about free schools and academies. But, beneath the surface there is room to include some specific ideas that might help various groups. Special education doesn’t often get a mention, nor do children taken into care, but both are among the most vulnerable in society.

Put the two factors together and make a placement outside of the local authority responsible for taking the child into care and you have a complex situation that the present governance of education regulations don’t really provide for. Hopefully, schools are willing to cooperate and offer a rapid re-assessment for an Education & Health Care Plan, where that is necessary and provide a place. But, what if a school doesn’t want to do so and is an academy, as an increasing number of special schools are becoming. Who has the right to demand that such a child is placed in an appropriate school setting as quickly as possible? It really is unacceptable for the government to worry about pupils that miss a fortnight’s education for a family holiday and fine them, but take no action for a child out of school for several months because no school place can be found for them. The 2016 White Paper suggested that local authorities should once again have the last word on in-year admissions, regardless of the type of school. I hope that all political parties will pledge to look at the issue of school places for children taken into care mid-year, as most are. If a fortnight is too long for a holiday, it is too long for a child taken into care.

At the same time, I would like a review of the school transport arrangements. It is grossly unfair that children in London, regardless of parental income, receive free transport, but those outside the TfL area are subject to archaic rules designed nearly 150 years ago. How many cars could we take off the roads if pupils travelled by bus or train to school for free, as in London? The free transport rule might also help with encouraging parental choice, as well as reducing traffic on the roads.

I would also like to see figures for the percentage of pupils from each primary school that received their first choice of secondary school rather than just figures for the secondary school. This would help to identify areas where there are either significant pressures or unrealistic choices being made by parents.

Finally, I would like to require an academy or free school considering closure to have to go through the same consultation process that a locally authority school is required to undertake. At present, academies and free schools can effectively just hand back the keys at the end of term, rather as sometimes happens in the private sector. However, this should not be allowed with State funded schools even after an unexpected Ofsted visit.

The dog ate my homework

How much money does it take to persuade a graduate to become a teacher? More than it used to do. For more than three decades it has been known that when the economy is doing well the government finds it more of a challenge to recruit trainee teachers and also to retain those it already has. As a result, the amount of cash spent on marketing soars.

A recent article in PR week http://www.prweek.com/article/1430786/dfe-doubles-campaign-budget-attract-people-teaching suggests that the marketing budget in 2017/18 to encourage new entrants to train as a teacher will be more than £16 million. That’s a fourfold increase on what was spent in 2013/14 just four years ago. Put another way, four years ago, £114 per trainee was spent on advertising; this year, assuming all places are filled, it will cost some £474 per trainee. In reality, it is likely that the actual cost per trainee recruited will be in excess of £500.

Actually, the cost is near £1,000 per additional trainee encouraged into teaching as, even if nothing was spent, there would probably be a sizeable number of people wanting to train as a teacher, especially as a primary school teacher. So, the cost is largely to entice additional Physics, mathematics and languages teachers. The marketing bill needs to be added to the sizeable bursaries these students also attract making the real cost even higher. There are also the marketing costs of individual course providers competing with each other plus the not insignificant budget being spent by Teach First that’s not included in the £16 million.

Now that all young people have to stay in education or training until eighteen, it is worth asking whether the use of specialist teachers should be delayed in some subjects so that the costs of acquiring new teachers can be reduced. Would the money spent on marketing be better spent on up-skilling the expertise of existing teachers already having to teach subjects where they are under-prepared? How much higher will the marketing budget be allow to rise if the labour market for graduates remains tight over the next few years? Fortunately, compared with the spending from the Ministry of Defence the cost per place of recruiting teachers is probably far less than the marketing budget to recruit personnel for the armed forces.

One thing the DfE has to do is to demonstrate that it has learnt the lessons of history. Although current corporate memory in Sanctuary Buildings may not be very detailed, there are presumably copies of the studies conducted by various market research agencies for the Department during previous recruitment crises around the turn of the century. Discussing whether they are still relevant should, at least, ensure the £16 million is spent wisely and not wasted on campaigns that would never bear fruit in terms of teacher recruitment.

Making the term teacher’ a reserved occupation title would cost little, but raise the status of the profession overnight. It would also gain good press publicity. Good PR is often cheaper than poor marketing, although the reverse is sadly also true.

Bank holidays for teachers?

The Labour Party’s announcement of wanting to introduce four new bank holidays on Saint’s Days (I thought Corby’s Labour didn’t do religion) is either an attempt to lose the education vote or the parents’ vote.

Either way, if implemented, it would likely harm the education system. Drop 4 days from the education year, reducing it down to 186 and school staff including teachers benefit, unless on term-time only contracts and these are seen as not being term-time days. Parents have to find four more days of childcare if they have to work on bank holidays. Since these days move around, they won’t even create long weekend every year.

However, keep the school year at 190 days and teachers and other workers in schools won’t see the benefits of the extra holidays. This reminds me of my previous post about Labour and pay policies in the 1970s and the effects on teachers working conditions and benefits when non-pay benefits were more important than pay rises.

Labour needs to tell the education community what the announcement means for them, apart from more disruption in November, March and sometimes April as well. I wonder why they Labour didn’t go for celebrating the Tolpuddle Martyrs; Annie Besant’s birthday; Emily Pankhurst Day and perhaps Revolutionary Figures (non-sexist) Day to celebrate those that fought against Empire and oppression around the world. Saint’s Days seem just a bit passé and what we might have chosen as a country to take as holidays before the Reformation.

With an economy that doesn’t boast the best productivity record, adding another four days to the paid holiday calendar doesn’t seen a great way to run the economy either. Perhaps Labour is really thinking of the trade union workers that can charge extra pay for working on bank holidays: do they still have a day off as well? For them, it will be a great bribe to vote for Corbyn, especially if the Conservatives really don’t pledge not to raise taxes in the next parliament.

At least none of these Saint’s days fall within the examination system, so there won’t be the disruption there has been in higher education where the summer term bank holidays all on a Monday. But, perhaps Labour has given up on increasing manufacturing as the solution to our nation’s economic problems post a hard BREXIT and sees the way forward as a dance and skylark economy.