Are secondary school PTRs really improving in England?

Earlier today the government, through the DfE, issued the latest UK Education and Training Statistics for 2016/17 in Statistical Release SR64/2017 and its associated tables. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/education-and-training-statistics-for-the-uk-2017

Now, in recent weeks we have often been hearing how secondary schools in England are strapped for cash and also often do not find it easy to recruit teachers. Thus the information contained in Table 1.4 comes as something of a shock.

Pupil Teacher Ratio within Secondary Schools

2012/13                15.5

2013/14                15.7

2014/15                15.8

2015/16                16.1

2016/17                15.6

After four years of steadily worsening ratios there appears to have been a sudden turnaround in 2016/17 and the overall position is back to almost where it was in 2012/13. Curious, to say the least. Footnote 1 explains that Pupil Teacher ratios are calculated by dividing the total full-time equivalent number of pupils on rolls in schools by the total FTE number of qualified teachers. It excludes centrally employed teachers regularly employed in schools. However, another footnote (footnote 13) adds that in England unqualified teachers are included in the figures. The figures for England include free schools and all types of academies.

Had the 2016/17 figure been 16.6, I might have thought it a significant deterioration, but in line with the mood music. An improvement of this magnitude needs some form of explanation. However, the Release confines its text just to changes in the data and offers no analysis as to why any changes might have occurred.

Could the inclusion of unqualified teachers be the answer? It might be if they hadn’t been included in previous releases on this topic. Certainly, there is no mention in the footnotes of the 2015/16 Release of unqualified teachers; indeed, the key footnote refers to ‘qualified’ teachers. So, is this the answer? If so, then the 2016/17 Release ought to make clear the change in methodology especially as the footnote on page 5 of the main release specifically mentions ‘qualified’ teachers and thus might be read as inferring that the improvement in the PTR is due to more qualified teachers being employed in England.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I don’t like the term ‘unqualified’ teacher, as it can cover both trainee teachers and those that used, in former days, to be called Instructors. I think some degree of distinction between those being prepared for QTS by schools and on their staffing list at the time of the census and those filling gaps, either because no teacher with QTS was available or because the school had decided to employ someone without QTS because of their other skills, ought to be made.

If the answer isn’t the inclusion this year of unqualified teachers – a factor that makes comparison with the other home nations impossible on this indicator – then I am at something of a loss to identify why such a large change in the direction of better PTRs has taken place over the past year. Could it be to do with the different financial years of maintained schools and academies and hence the budgetary cycles? I doubt it, but would be interested to hear from readers?

 

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Nationalise teacher recruitment?

Does the Prime Minister’s speech to the CBI Conference this morning leave us any the wiser about the future for a DfE managed teacher vacancy service? Since there were several mentions of education and in particular T Levels and higher education in the speech, I assume the DfE, and The Secretary of State’s Private Office in particular, will have seen a copy of the speech or even watched the recording on YouTube, assuming that they weren’t following it live as it was delivered.

The Prime Minster was, as you might have expected, looking to the future while at the same time reminding her audience of past successes, including the first industrial revolution and the number of Nobel Prize winners Britain has produced. Here are some of the phrases she used during her speech; ‘back innovation’; ‘support business people’; Invest in key public services’ and ‘deploy infrastructure for the long-term’.

She also said that there were choices to be made and government must learn from past failures. I am sure after the failure of both the Fast Track Scheme and the School Recruitment Service the DfE has been learning from the past. Dumping the scheme to provide middle leaders for challenging schools a year ago also showed a willingness not to take on schemes that won’t work. Indeed, as Yorkshire was one of the regions that scheme was aimed at, it is interesting to read the account in the Yorkshire Post of the success of the teacher recruitment programme run in Bradford over the past three years, although it does seem to have been a tad expensive.

So, should the DfE set up in competition with the free market? The TES, eteach, The Guardian and indeed TeachVac have been doing a good job matching schools offering jobs with teachers seeking vacancies. The TES embraced new technology and the internet almost two decades ago and eteach has always been an on-line platform.

TeachVac created new technology to develop into what is now the largest free site for teaching vacancies in England.

So, is there a place for government in this market place? You might argue that government can operate for the long run. But, the TES has been serving the market for more than 100 years and the others are not fly by night organisations. You might argue that a DfE led service would provide the government with better data about the labour market for teachers than they have had in the past and that’s difficult to deny, but they could obtain that for other providers at less cost.

You might also argue that the DfE can offer the service cheaper than the private sector, but with TeachVac already offering a free service to schools that is a difficult argument to sustain.

The Prime minster talked about government working in partnership with the private sector, even so it is difficult to understand why the DfE has chosen a company with little knowledge of the intricacies of the teacher labour market to undertake their initial work on the vacancy project. No doubt this is something the Public Accounts Committee can explore when they question the DfE on recruitment and retention.

TeachVac has demonstrated that the use of new and innovative technology can drive down the price of teacher recruitment: should the government of the private sector take the rewards?

 

 

 

Leadership Matters

The DfE has just published the latest in a series of working papers based on the 2013 international TALIS Study of teachers. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teachers-in-secondary-schools-evidence-from-talis-2013 The TALIS study covers secondary schools and this working paper is about job satisfaction and teacher retention. Probably not surprisingly, it concludes that leadership matters. The working paper summarises this key fact as follows:

Better school leadership is strongly associated with higher teacher job satisfaction and a reduction in the odds that a teacher wants to move school. More specifically, a one standard deviation (SD) improvement in the quality of leadership is associated with a large, 0.49 SD increase in teacher job satisfaction and a 64% reduction in the odds that a teacher strongly agrees that they want to move to another school.

This comment makes the abolition of a mandatory preparation qualification for headship nearly a decade a go by the then Labour government even more difficult to fathom than it was at the time. A mandatory leadership qualification also allows for greater understanding of the pipeline of potential new head teachers and areas where there may be challenges recruiting a new head teacher.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with the heads of Roman Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Southwark that covers a swathe of south east London and the neighbouring counties. There were many new, young head teachers just embarking on journey as the lead professional of a school. What was interesting and inspiring was the range of new options the Archdiocese and its schools were willing to try; co-heads sharing the role; primary and secondary heads working together in the same primary school, where at the same time the secondary head also retains their leadership role in the secondary school. Also inspiring were the large proportion of new heads that were women.

Church schools, like schools in the larger MATs, are lucky in that they work in an organisational structure that can set funds aside for system leaders to help head teachers and other school leaders develop. Many local authorities no longer have the funds or the support of their remaining maintained school to ensure such support and encouragement for school leaders and also can no longer identify those that will form the next generation of school leaders.

This is a point noted in the main TALIS report on the 2013 data, where the authors made it clear that:

.Schools in England are clearly very autonomous by international standards, or at least are viewed as such by their head teachers. The levels of school responsibility that are reported are so high and the levels of local and national authority responsibility so low that there is little room for much analysis of differences among English schools. Unsurprisingly, the reporting of local or national authority involvement is strongly concentrated among the maintained schools, although we have already noted that it is not nearly as high as might be expected. Within the group of maintained schools, we can find no clear significant differences in level of average GCSE performance, the distribution of Ofsted ratings, or average Free School Meals receipt between schools with heads reporting significant local or national authority involvement ….. and those with heads who did not. (Page 42 paragraph 22, main report).

The TALIS report is a good starting place for any new Minister, should we find reshuffles and changes at Westminster create such an eventuality, even without the enduring possibility of an early general election causing wholesale change.

 

 

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.

Does education planning still matter?

Recently, I attended a meeting where the discussion turned at one point to the notion of education planning and identifying the needs of the service for the future. Planning hasn’t had a good press in recent times, with the market principle sometimes being seen as the dominant approach to outcomes: think, the debate about parental choice.

In the early days of this blog I discussed the issue of planning after the publication of a National Audit Office report into pupil place planning. In the light of the discussion in the meeting this week and the fact that a visitor to this site unearthed the original earlier today and thus reminded me of its existence I thought it was worth a second appearance four and a half years later to see how well it had lasted as a piece. You, reader, must decide.

Planning School Places: More than just about the numbers

Posted on March 18, 2013

On Friday 15th March the National Audit Office issued what can be seen as a critical report about capital funding for primary school places in England http://media.nao.org.uk/uploads/2013/03/10089-001_Capital-funding-for-new-school-places.pdf

The media, as might be expected, latched on to the fact that 250,000 extra places will be needed by September 2014, with a further 400,000 required by 2018, rather than the more technical discussion about the manner in which places are funded, and the value for money associated with the process. The figures for pupil places required are not new, although the shortfall still remains too large, and until recently hasn’t been treated with any degree of urgency at Westminster.

More important than the numbers is what can be read into the Report about the two competing ideologies in British politics – on the one hand, the market as a mechanism for solving all problems; and on the other some form of state planning. The post-war period has been marked in many parts of the public sector by a shift from a planning-based approach to public policy to a more market-based approach. The current generation of think-tank and policy research probably don’t realise that in September 1939 when DORA was introduced overnight (Defence of the Realm Act), using the experiences gained during the first World War, Britain became one of the most controlled and planned societies in the world: today planning is a concept that often seems to have a bad name in public sector policy, especially in education. However, the NAO Report ought to mark a reappraisal if not a turning point in the debate.

In the private sector, future planning is an integral part of every successful business. Just consider the fate of either those retailers that didn’t plan for the effect of the internet on their customers or the train operators who have failed to cope with a record growth in passenger numbers. Without planning comes not just chaos, but also inefficiency and public disappointment that eventually can lead to a sense of dissatisfaction with politicians. Now of course, planning isn’t an exact science, and bad planning can result is poor outcomes for society. But, planning for school places ought to be a basic part of the management of our education service.

Part of the reason for the failure in dealing with provision for the current upswing in the birth rate is undoubtedly the breakdown of the arrangements for controlling schools that stared a quarter of a century ago with the Education Reform Act, and site-level  management of schools. When the Labour Government invented sponsored academies to take over failing schools they destroyed many of the remaining education planning frameworks without making clear what would replace them. With Westminster and Town Hall both either unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility, there has been a sense of drift and ‘passing the buck’ rather than of co-ordinated planning: hence the NAO’s concerns about both numbers and value for money.

One outcome will be that parents in many areas are now faced with Hobson’s choice over what school they can send their child to, and the notion of parental choice will become, like the red squirrel population, restricted to ever smaller areas of the country, at least for the next decade.

Those parents whose children are starting school in locations where selective education still divides children at eleven might also want to consider how their secondary school system will cope with the increased numbers, and whether a system designed in the Nineteenth century for the few fits the educational needs of the many in the Twenty First century, one where all students will be expected to remain in learning until they are eighteen, irrespective of parental income or status.

From my perspective, however we procure the school places, and that might be through a market based approach, the State has a duty to ensure all pupils have a school place available to them that is not an unreasonable distance away from their home and doesn’t demand they attend a school that has an ideology or teaching methodology objectionable to their parents. To fail in planning for this basic task, while still requiring parents to send children to school, if not educated elsewhere, under pain of the criminal law, is a basic failure of government that is unlikely to go unpunished at the ballot box; although whether the right tier of government will shoulder the blame only time will tell.

If the provision of school places isn’t at the top of Minister’s agendas at present then it ought to be. There may be more fun tasks, but concentrating on the basics must now be top of both Ministers and officials ‘to do’ lists. History will judge a Secretary of State harshly if he or she as steward of our state education system fails to provide enough school places during the next decade.

 

Free for all in ITT

Yesterday the DfE released the results of the operation of the Teacher Supply Model for 2018/19. These results will underpin the number of new entrants into the teacher labour market in September 2019 and January 2020. The suite of documents about the TSM can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/tsm-and-initial-teacher-training-allocations-2018-to-2019 where there is also information about the allocations of the ITT places.

This year, yet another methodology is being tried to fill as many of the 19,674 secondary and 12,552 primary postgraduate places the TSM has identified as being required to maintain the overall stock of teachers in the 2019/20 labour market. Firstly, subjects have been protected in the TSM at no less than the number in the previous TSM. This affects biology, chemistry, classics, computing, geography and religious education. In all other subjects there has been an increase in numbers, albeit in the case of history, just an additional 20 places.

The second change has the potential to be more daring and far reaching. Overall the government received 73,100 bids for allocations, including from Teach First, for the 32,226 places identified as needed in the postgraduate sector by the TSM. The government has allowed providers not only to recruit to these places but, as mentioned in an earlier post about the allocations methodology published in September, to recruit beyond the number of places they have been allocated in all except primary and physical education. Even in physical education, where the TSM had an indicative number of 1,078, an increase of 79 places, the cap has been set at 1,300 places. I was provided with a rationale for this state of affairs, but as it was an off the record meeting, I cannot provide that explanation here. Suffice it to say, schools should still be able to use surplus PE teachers to fill vacancies in other subjects for September 2019.

This open enrolment policy is radically different from the rigid recruitment controls policy of a couple of years ago, and marks yet another attempt to fill as many ITT places in as many subjects as possible by trying a new approach. Should either Brexit suddenly cause a hiccup in the economy or a recession appear for any other reason, the government does retain reserve powers to intervene. While I would like the need for intervention to be required, as it would mean sufficient teachers were being for the needs of schools, intervening in the middle of a cycle might have other unintended consequences.

Interestingly, although Teach First can presumably recruit as many entrants as it wants and is able to, its allocations are only for 1,750 places, including 354 primary and 90 early years.

The 4,554 secondary School Direct Salaried places allocated looks an especially ambitious number if the number recruited this year turns out to be little more than 1,000. Generally, higher education and SCITT providers seem to have been more realistic in their application for places, with schools again being enthusiastic about how many places they can fill. Whether applicants will share the same enthusiasm for schools we will start to know from now onward, as applications through UCAS open. This should be another interesting recruitment round.

Talk to APPG October 2017

Recruitment and Retention of Teachers – the current position

 

This paper covers three areas

  1. 2017 recruitment round and January 2018
  2. First thoughts on 2018 recruitment round
  3. DfE Vacancy Service as foreshadowed in the 2016 White Paper and the 2017 Conservative Party election manifesto
  4. 2017 recruitment round and January 2018 appointments

In the period between January 2017 and the 20th October TeachVac has recorded some 3,000 more vacancies for classroom teaching posts from secondary schools in 2017. We don’t have the resources to delve into whether there were more re-advertisements or more vacancies placed by independent schools or whether the majority of the increase were from schools in areas where school rolls have started to increase.

Apart from Religious education, where a small fall was recorded, other subjects were all the subject of increases with art rebounding from a low level in 2016. Design and Technology, business and IT recorded relatively small below overall average increases, whereas some EBacc subjects recorded above average increases.

There is an interesting question around mathematics and the science subjects where the increase in both subjects was just under the overall average. TeachVac collects extra data in both these subjects as well as in design and technology and languages that allow further understanding of the labour market across England.

The remainder of this paper is available on request from TeachVac