Intervening in schools is challenging

Measuring the effect of interventions in schools is a real challenge. The DfE have today issued a research report entitled, Formal school interventions in England: cost and effectiveness. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/formal-school-interventions-in-england-cost-and-effectiveness The report is in response to a recommendation made by the Public Accounts Committee of parliament in 2015.

Reading the report it quickly becomes clear shows how difficult it is to understand what might work to improve schools judged to be at the end of the scale where an intervention is needed. There may be other schools that don’t reach that stage, where local authorities, diocese, MATs of others intervened when there was the first signs of evidence of a deterioration in the learning outcomes for the pupils in the school. Other school may continue without intervention until an Ofsted inspection.

The DfE paper looks at three types of intervention; becoming a sponsored academy; establishing an Interim Executive Board and the issue of a warning notice. The last of these is by far the cheapest and the first, likely to be the most expensive. However, as more MATs have been established, transferring schools into an existing MAT may reduce the cost compared with creating a new sponsored academy, as was the original idea at the time when the Labour government first created academies. This was after their foray into Education Action Zones as a means of school improvement.

Although according to the DfE report, schools with interventions produced improvements in the following year, in terms of headline attainment outcomes for key stages 2 and 4, the DfE report recognises the difficulty of finding comparator schools to compare the improvement with. Do under-performing schools just revert to the mean?

Personally, I think there are two broad groups of under-performing schools: those where standards have slipped for an identifiable reason and those where there are deep-seated underlying issues with the school. To use a sporting analogy. A manager offered a job with a football club with the aim of avoiding relegation has to decide whether the team is fundamentally good, but hasn’t worked together as a unit or just aren’t good enough to play at in their current league.

Now, with schools, is it a good school where something has gone wrong or one with serious issues. The first might react to a notice to improve, the second might need extra funding, new buildings, a new leadership team and a serious analysis of the factors affecting under-performance. In the present governance climate who should carry out this role. I favour a role for local authorities if only because they offer a degree of continuity not available elsewhere at present. But, I suppose Regional School Commissioner’s offices could carry out the same function or delegate it to MATs. However, they wouldn’t have the same links rot other local services that might be important in some cases.

Whatever route one selects, improving schools must still be the aim for our system of education. We cannot rest until every child attends a school that allows them to achieve their full potential.

 

 

Bad news for life-long learning?

As a Liberal Democrat I have always been an advocate of life-long learning. As a result, the data published by UCAS earlier today on applications for higher education undergraduate programmes in 2017 makes disappointing reading. While the percentage of eighteen year olds applying to university for 2017 entry has reached record levels, the trend amongst older applicants is firmly downwards. This is very disappointing.

According to UCAS, in England, the rates in 2017 fell for all age groups aged 20 and older. The magnitude of these decreases in application rates is comparable to the large fall in 2012 for all of these age groups. The largest proportional decrease was for the 30 to 39 age group (-24.6 per cent proportionally), and the smallest decrease in application rates was for 20 year olds, who decreased by 0.4 percentage points to 3.3 per cent (-10.4 per cent proportionally). The one piece of good news is that despite these falls, the application rates in 2017 for these age groups were between 32 and 83 per cent higher than in 2006.

Elsewhere in the UCAS report it appears that applications from pupils living in disadvantaged areas in England continues to increase, especially applications from women. In England, the ratio between application rates from advantaged and disadvantaged areas was 2.3 in 2017, down from 2.4 in 2016 and appreciably smaller than the 3.8 recorded in 2006. Whether a return to selective education would reverse this positive trend is an issue worth debating. It would seem a likely outcome if the staffing of our secondary schools was affected by any reversal of the non-selective secondary school policy.

The other important feature of the UCAS data that is, perhaps, not unexpected relates to applications from EU domiciled applicants, where there was a fall of 3,000 in the total. However, it was still some 2,000 above the number recorded in 2014. Applicants from elsewhere in the world remained steady at around 52,000.

The ending of the bursary system for nursing degrees, originally negotiated by Frank Dobson as Health Secretary,  when Tony Blair’s Labour government introduced tuition fees for the first time has resulted in a drop of about 10,000 in the number of applicants for these degrees to around 33,000. It would have been helpful to know what effect this decline will have had on the ratio of applicants to places. Could it leave places unfilled or was the competition such that most courses will just find themselves with fewer applicants to consider? Much depends upon the quality of the applicants. If the government uses the cash saved from the bursaries to increase the number of training places on offer, as it suggested it might do at one stage, it is possible that fewer applicants could produce more nurses but less choice for providers. At that stage the issue of quality really does matter. We won’t know the final outcome until after ‘clearing’ in the summer when it should become obvious whether all the places available have been filled.

A tale of Two Counties

My attention has been drawn to a publication called: A Tale of Two Counties: Reflections on Secondary Education 50 Years after Circular 10/65. Written by Nuala Burgess from Kings College London for the group Comprehensive Future and published on the 25 January 2017 it is downloadable free from http://comprehensivefuture.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2017-

As one reviewer wrote, this publication is written in an easy to follow style by Kings College researcher Nuala Burgess. It looks at secondary education in two English counties that in socio-economic terms are similar, but in educational terms are poles apart. Both Buckinghamshire and Hampshire have been Conservative controlled since God was a boy. Yet the approach of these two Tory councils is completely different.

As we know Bucks has retained selective schools and has an entry test for its grammar schools, whereas Hants chose a non-selective system mostly based upon 11-16 comprehensives that grew out of the secondary modern schools, with its selective schools mostly becoming sixth form colleges; at that time part of the school system.

It doesn’t pay to be poor in Bucks, where few children on free school meals make it into the county’s 13 grammar schools. Presumably, Conservative in Bucks either think poor children at thick or are prepared to avoid asking the question ‘why do those pupils entering grammar schools largely come from better off families’. Might it be something to do with the private tutor industry that thrives in and around the edges of the county?

In Hampshire, Tory councillors are more likely to be concerned about the education of all pupils. This fact is reflected in the different approaches to converting schools to academy status in the two counties.

In many ways, this is a reflection of the on-going debate about whether schooling is a local or a national service? In Hampshire, even though the County no longer has responsibility for school budgets per se, the County does seem to feel a responsibility for the education of the young people within its boundaries. I wonder whether that is also the view in Bucks, or at least to the same extent. Judging by their recent attempt to change the home to school transport policy, I feel councillors have a different and more hands-off approach.

Since those that attend the county’s non-selective schools are likely to remain in Bucks after leaving education and will mostly enter the local labour market, it might be thought that in investment terms ensuring the best education of these pupils would be beneficial to the future prosperity of the county. After all, the grammar school pupils mostly go to university and can then end up working anywhere.

Perhaps some of lack of productivity as a nation can be put down to Tory councils such as Buckinghamshire not doing enough to ensure an education system that develops the skills and abilities of all pupils regardless of their background. For a government that wants to improve the national productivity levels to embark on a return to selective education seems odd to say the least.

 

Counting Jobs

The recent report from the Migration Advisory Committee was full of lots of useful data.  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/migration-advisory-committee-mac-report-teacher-shortages-in-the-uk One area of especial interest to me was the analysis the Committee undertook into how the labour market for teachers was functioning. As the Committee has a remit that covers the whole of the United Kingdom and also has to pay especial attention to Scotland, as a result of devolution, it was not a surprise that they commissioned a company that looks at the labour market across all four home nations.

As a result, they used a Boston based company called Burning Glass that studies labour markets across the world. One approach that Burning Glass use is to study the output of job boards as a means of counting vacancies. The results of this for the teacher job market in the United Kingdom can be seen in Figure 4.4 of the Migration Advisory Committee’s report (pages 66 & 67). As the figure notes in the heading, these are figures for teacher job postings.

Now job postings may not be the same as real jobs. There is certainly a possibility that at least some job postings are  actually more of a recruitment tool to attract teachers to sign up to a recruitment agency than the listing of an real vacancy in an actual school, especially when no school is mentioned in the listing. This might be one reason for the apparent uncovering by Burning Glass of what looks like some 4-6,000 job listings in the secondary sector during the August months in both 2015 and 2016, with possibly even higher numbers in the primary sector. I seriously doubt, even across the four nations, whether there were that level of real jobs available in either August 2015 or August 2016.

TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the recruitment matching service I helped found only counts vacancies that can be attached to an actual school. Our numbers for both July and August 2015 and 2016, albeit only for England, but covering both state-funded and private schools, are very much lower than the Burning Glass totals.

As I have said before on this blog, creating a unique job number for every vacancy that was then attached to the vacancy wherever it appeared until the job was filled and allowed identification of whether the vacancy was removed before being filled or filled by a new entrant, a returner, a teacher changing school (part of the churn), a supply teacher or an unqualified person would provide much needed on-going data to improve the discussion about teacher supply. In this day and age it wouldn’t take very long for any school to keep the records up to date. Indeed, TeachVac could already produce lists of vacancies by school that are able to be annotated with the background of the person that filled the vacancy very quickly and easily.

In the Migration Advisory Committee report it is interesting to note that appendix B provides a detailed conversion factor to change the Burning Glass job listing outcomes into to Office of National Statistics equivalent vacancy rates through a two stage process. At TeachVac we measure the flow of real vacancies posted by schools and our only conversion factor is for re-advertisement rates.

Finally, looking through the Migration Advisory Committee report, I note that in Annex D the number of returners in each subject has been estimated. The total for the three subjects used in Annex D comes to 4,800 returners whereas the total for the whole profession, primary, secondary and special is only shown as 14,000 in the preceding Annex C. So, either these three subjects take up nearly a third of the returner totals or one of the sets of numbers may be less than 100% accurate.

At TeachVac we will continue to develop reporting that aims to provide the highest quality data to help understand the workings of the labour market for teachers in England. With sufficient resources we could, like Burning Glass do the same for the whole of the United Kingdom.

 

January blues for secondary ITT?

The next four weeks are vital one for teacher supply and the number of teachers entering the labour market in 2018. As that date will see the start of the real rise in secondary school rolls what happens this year is of real concern. While the idea of apprenticeships sound great for the future, what matter for 2018 is the state of the current recruitment round for September this year.

As I hinted, when the UCAS data was published for December, there were concerns about a slowdown in applicant numbers for secondary courses. The January 2017 number for applicants, revealed this week, is 20,360, down from 21,790 or just over 1,400 fewer applicants than last year at this time. Looking back at the former GTTR scheme in January 2011, on the 16th January that year there were 37.016 applicants. Of those, 10,864 were men and 26,152 were women. This compares with 6,550 men across all UK countries this year and 15,600 women, of whom 14,390 were domiciled in England. Non-UK domiciled totalled 500 this January, so can largely be ignored in any comparison figures.

In the early years of this century, when I was following the applications data on a weekly basis, the number of women applying to teaching was on a rising curve. The loss of some 10,000 women by this point in the application cycle compared with 2011 is worrying. Yes, 2011 was when graduate recruitment was low across the labour market because of the after-effects of the recession, and by 2012 the number had dropped to just below 22,000, but even so, a figure of around 15,000 female applicants must be concerning. Happily, it was even worse two years ago, so that may offer some comfort, but not much.

Last month, I reported on the decline in applications from those under the age of 22. That trend continues, but this month there are also fewer 30 somethings than last year although applications form the 40+ group are holding up.

Each applicant can make up to three applications, so any reductions in applications could be down to applicants making fewer applications. However, the reduction is applicants must account for some of the reduction in applications. The greatest reduction in applications seems to be for school-based programmes whether the fee or salaried routes. SCITTs and higher education seem to be holding up better in terms of applications. This trend, if it continues, needs further investigation by NCTL.

Geography, Mandarin and PE are some of the areas where there are more applications this year than last year at this date. Design & Technology seems to have suffered a larger than average decline, but some of that may be due to the way the data is presented by UCAS each year. Generally, in terms of the offers made, the position is similar to this point in 2015, so that 2016 is looking as if the effect of recruitment controls did affect the pattern of early offers as providers raced to fill courses lest they be closed before they were full. Even in history and PE, offers this year are lower than last year, so over-recruitment might also be lower come the end of the cycle.

More on BREXIT

Tomorrow, the Home Office’s Migration Advisory Committee reports on its review of teaching. This follows a consultation that closed in September. At present, mathematics and some science teachers are covered by the current Tier2 visa scheme. It will be interesting to see what the report says tomorrow. Although physics is a shortage subject and the ITT targets have been missed ever since science was dis-aggregated into the three subject areas, the issue is less clear cut in mathematics, especially if vacancies are related to the number of trainees. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk submitted evidence to the consultation.

As I have noted before, there is the matter of design and technology and possibly business studies. Both are subjects where training targets have been missed in recent years and the supply of teachers doesn’t seem able to keep up with the demand. This was even in the years when the subjects were unfashionable with Ministers. Presumably, that isn’t the case now the government has an Industrial Strategy. It will be interesting to see if these subjects are mentioned in the MAC’s Report.

On a similar topic of recruiting teachers from overseas, in December the DfE issued tender RFX159 – Supply of teachers qualified outside of England. This specified within the terms:

‘The Contractor must work in consultation with the Client Organisation to prepare a Business Brief, which may include, but not be exclusive to, the following: a. scoping of the work required by the business area in respect of; i) single or multiple recruitment campaigns targeting qualified maths and physics teachers primarily from Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and USA. Further high performing countries subject to agreement. Ii) Any other recruitment and supply of teachers to English schools.’

Now I thought we were about to trigger Article 50 to leave the EU, so it is rather surprising to see the government offering to fund a recruitment campaign in these EU countries. One wonders what France, The Netherlands, Spain and probably several other EU countries may think about not being specifically mentioned. I am sure it isn’t because of any view of the quality of their teachers. Perhaps the DfE just thought there might be a pool of unemployed teachers of these subjects in say the Czech Republic, but not in neighbouring Slovakia or Austria or even Hungary.

The inclusion of the USA is interesting as, unless they have a right to work here, they will need Tier 2 visas.  Presumably, the DfE either knew what the MAC was going to say or assumed the MAC would still be including these two subjects in the Tier 2 scheme. We will know tomorrow. The USA was a country where the qualified teachers were granted the right to QTS by Mr Gove during his period as Secretary of State. In recent years, several hundred teachers from the USA have been granted QTS on the basis of their qualifications according to NCTL data.

Finally, it is worth noting the contractor can be paid ‘for any other recruitment and supply of teachers to English schools.’ This is a very wide brief and can be open to lots of different interpretations.

My talk to a Merchant Taylors’ Company Education Seminar

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

Finding and keeping teachers: Is there an issue?

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

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

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

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

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

So what is the data from TeachVac telling us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for listening.