To educate: To draw out not to kick out

I am delighted that the governors of St Olaf’s have reversed their policy about those that their school is there to serve. Might this be one case where the diocese has played an important role in changing hearts and minds?

Could this be one of the turning points in education history? Might all state schools now consider the purpose for which they are funded: to educate all and not just promote the seeming best. The quote from C S Lewis, cited in my previous post, really does look like it belongs to a previous age. His Narnia chronicles may still resonate with children and parents, but his views on education certainly shouldn’t. There was an inkling of the national mood last year when the idea of more selective schools was doing the rounds in the more old-fashioned segments of the Conservative Party.

Now is also the time to ditch the culture of league table schooling. Those with a good understanding of the revolution caused by the 1987 Education Reform Act will recall that alongside financial devolution and the National Curriculum ran the concept of ten levels of achievement. This allowed every child to have another level to aspire to achieve. Even a child at level one had a goal and the school could work to help them achieve it. Sadly, somewhere along the line, we ditched the ‘every child has a goal’ for the measure of the gaol achieved by the school as a collective. Naturally, this led to a desire to remove those that weren’t helping the school maximise its potential.

Now, as we approach the 150th anniversary of the 1870 Education Act that helped create schooling for all, it is time to redefine our beliefs in the role of education. We should no longer be looking for reasons to exclude, but for methods to challenge our pupils to succeed. Such a change will reinforce the great work already undertaken by many teachers and could even help to attract more entrants into the profession.

As a next step, the government might like to evaluate whether the over-insistence on the English Baccalaureate is actually hindering the aim of all pupils achieving both personal goals and goals of use to society? As a geographer by background, I welcome pupils studying the subject through to Year 11, but not at the expense of subjects such as design and technology. That subject has been so decimated by government actions that it is suggested that only 315 trainees had taken up offers of places on teacher preparation courses by late August. This is compared with more than 1,100 a few years ago.

Yet, a love of technology, or design and certainly of food can become an important motivator for life after school. Yes, homes and even TV programmes can play their part, but the motivation and support provided by schools remains critical in the development of a child’s education and their future progress as an adult.

The Secretary of State should now reaffirm the purpose of state education as developing the potential of every child entrusted to the State by their families. Those that want to enter a high stakes risk form of education, where lack of success mean exclusion, can still use the private sector.

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Not a good year for ITT

The final set of UCAS numbers for ITT before most course start next month were published today. Earlier in the week, in preparation for the today’s publication, I took a look at the daily figures for a date in late August 2017 and compared them with the same date in 2016. The comparison didn’t make for encouraging reading.

Subject Difference between 2017 on 2016 offers Number of Placed and conditional firm 2017
ART & DESIGN -130 505
BIOLOGY -340 965
BUSINESS STUDIES -40 165
CHEMISTRY -110 855
CLASSICS 5 55
COMPUTING 0 520
DESIGN & TECHNOLOGY -150 315
DRAMA -25 350
ENGLISH 30 1855
GEOGRAPHY 300 1175
HISTORY 215 1135
MATHEMATICS -60 2335
MFL -50 1420
MUSIC -50 310
PHYSICAL EDUCATION 30 1195
PHYSICS -140 690
RELIGIOUS EDUCATION -40 430
OTHERS -95 500

In the table I have reproduced two sets of the data; the difference between the number of ‘placed’ and ‘conditionally firm’ offers made in 2017 compared with on the same date in 2016 and the actual number of place and conditional firm offers recorded across all four types of courses (higher education, SCITTs, and the two School Direct routes).  Now a couple of caveats; numbers are rounded, so are not exact, but indicative, and some people offed places may not turn up or stay when they do start the course. These decisions will affect the number in the published ITT census to be released in November. These changes could be balanced or, we live in hope, exceeded by those still in the system being processed at this time. However, in many subjects, the numbers awaiting offers and otherwise in the process of having their application considered is also lower than in 2016.

The good news is in Geography, history and physical education, where, in these subject, offers are up on 2016. In English and computing there are smaller improvements and certainly not enough to mean these subjects will hit their Teacher Supply Model number. Elsewhere, there is gloom with fewer offers than last year even when the ‘placed’ and ‘conditionally firm’ numbers have been added together.

On the basis of these figures, as this blog has been reporting since the start of the year, 2018 is likely to be a more challenging recruitment round for schools seeking teachers than 2017 has been, unless either funding cuts significantly reduce the demand for teachers or existing teachers receive a pay rise that absorbs more of school funds so reducing recruitment of teachers. TeachVac will report on those trends as the 2018 recruitment round unfolds from January 2018 onwards.

As this blog has reported consistently over the past few months, the key loss is from women in the 21-22 age groups, where offers are down by several hundred compared with recorded numbers last year. This is a very worrying trend and needs further investigation to see which subjects are especially affected as the increases in history and geography offers may be masking some quite large declines in other subjects. The DfE may wish to ask their advertising agency why the marketing campaign is not attracting this age group in the same numbers as in the past.

The other policy issue for the DfE to consider is where School Direct is heading? There are fewer offers for both the fee and salaried routes in secondary subjects this year, with English particularly badly affected. The decline in numbers on these routes will mean more schools competing for the trainees prepared through the higher education and SCITT routes where offers seem to have held up much better.

Now it may be that schools are switching from School Direct to consider an apprenticeship approach. If so, that change cannot be captured in this data but does need to be monitored somehow. If not, then the future direction of allocations will need consideration as to how to maximise entrants into the profession for 2019 onwards when secondary pupil numbers will be rising rapidly.

 

‘Freedom is more than a word’

Congratulations to Leora Cruddas on her appointment as the new Chief Executive of FASNA, Freedom and Autonomy for Schools – National Association. Leora has joined FASNA from ASCL, another of the alphabet soup of initials that is the fate of any policy area in the modern age. Leora was very supportive of TeachVac this time last year and I was grateful for her kind words. I wish her well in her new appointment.

I will watch the development of FASNA with interest. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a view about local accountability of schools, especially primary schools and the feedback that active local politicians can bring to the education scene. This can be lost with remote Regional Commissioners and Chief Executives of MATs that don’t understand the importance of customer care and working for the better education of the local community

However, I am encouraged that Freedom is linked to Autonomy in the title of the organisation. Freedom to innovate can be a good think; freedom to ignore the place of local schools in society isn’t, as my campaign for places for looked after children demonstrates. Freedom over admissions must not be used to discriminate against certain groups in society: especially the most vulnerable. Public money is to be used for public benefit, not for some, but for all, however uncomfortable a challenge that may sometimes be.

The issue is raised today in terms of whether a school can refuse to accept a pupil on roll into the next year group because of inadequate performance or likely poor performance in the future. In the old days, it was clear that a pupil could only be taken off roll in certain limited circumstances. I think this was regardless of whether or not they were over the school leaving age. The issue was the roll not the leaving age. I am sure that there is case law on this point. I assume that a school could refuse to enter a pupil in a public examination if it felt that they wouldn’t achieve the grade a school wants, but again, the issue is who is the school working for? Does it have a duty to pupils on roll to educate them to the best of its ability unless it formally excludes them and can it exclude for academic reasons associated with a minimum standard of performance?

With its connections to the Church of England, the relevant diocese ought to take an interest in this school’s approach to selection. How free should a state funded school be to decide this sort of policy? No doubt these are able pupils, they passed the entry exam to the school, so the standard is relative and they would be welcome elsewhere, but why should their education be interrupted in this way?

Where are the boundaries of freedom. I don’t agree with C S Lewis, the Christian apologist who wrote in 1944 the following that seems very close to the position being taken by the school trying to exclude its own pupils.

A truly democratic education—one which will preserve democracy—must be, in its own field, ruthlessly aristocratic, shamelessly “high-brow.” In drawing up its curriculum it should always have chiefly in view the interests of the boy who wants to know and who can know … It must, in a certain sense subordinate the interests of the many to those of the few, and it must subordinate the school to the university. Only thus can it be a nursery of those first-class intellects without which neither a democracy nor any other State can thrive.  C. S. Lewis, “Notes on the Way,” Time and Tide 25 (29 April 1944), 369–70. Lewis’ own title for this essay was “Democratic Education.” From https://tifwe.org/resource/c-s-lewis-and-the-meaning-of-freedom/ by Steven Gillen

 

 

More news from TeachVac

As we start a new school year, TeachVac, the national vacancy service for schools and teachers, www.teachvac.co.uk has introduced the first of its new suite of developments that marks its continued growth. TeachVac is now the largest single source of free teaching vacancies for both schools and teachers in England across both state-funded and private schools.

Supporting the public face of the platform, where schools place vacancies for free and teachers can receive daily notification of vacancies meeting their requirements, is an important back office of statistical information. From today, TeachVac has widened the range of subjects where we collect more than the basic data on vacancies, to include both languages and English. These new subjects join mathematics, the sciences, design and technology, and computing in the list of subjects where additional data about every recorded vacancy is now being recorded.

For many of these subjects, such as the design and technology, the sciences and languages, it allows TeachVac to understand the real aims of schools when advertising generically for a teacher of science or languages. What sciences or combination of languages are these schools really seeking? How much are they willing to pay for particular specialisms? Is there really a growing demand for teachers of Mandarin? Up until now such information hasn’t been easily available. TeachVac now codifies the information on a daily basis. If you are interested in knowing more about the project and exactly what data are being collected then contact the team at TeachVac via the web site. Sadly, unlike the free to use basic vacancy matching service, data requests are not provided free of charge, but involve a small fee.

In addition to data about teaching vacancies at all levels, and in both primary and secondary schools, TeachVac also collects data about technician posts in secondary schools. This can be a good guide to how funding issues are affecting schools, since turnover among these posts tends to be higher than for teachers and resignations are not fixed to the same termly cycle as for most teaching vacancies. This can make them more sensitive to changes in funding an act as a barometer for the market.

As August is the holiday month, TeachVac is delighted to have welcomed visitors from more than 70 countries to the site so far this month; another new record. Overall visits to the TeachVac site have once again doubled over the past year and the trend continues to be upward. In January 2018, TeachVac will publish its first look at trends in the labour market for head teachers. This will continue a trend of such reports first started in the mid-1980s.

Over recent months there has been intense interest in how vacancies are communicated to teachers by schools and how the cost of recruitment can be reduced. TeachVac has a credible free service that costs both schools and teachers nothing to use and has the capacity to save millions of pounds for schools, especially those with large recruitment budgets as a result of both the growth in pupil numbers or increasing teacher turnover as recorded by the DfE in their annual School Workforce Censuses.

 

A grade or a pass?

There has been much discussion, not least on the BBC’s Today programme this morning, about gaining a pass at GCSE with only 17% correct answers. Now is it a pass or a grade? The concept of a pass implies a minimum standard, whereas the grade shows what candidates know. If you make the exam harder, candidates may well do less well, unless the top end wasn’t stretching the most able sufficiently.

Now it appears that a clean grade system linked to what pupils have demonstrated they know in the form of examination administered this year in English and maths might have produced significant changes to outcomes if early murmurings are correct. How you allow for comparisons over time then becomes a challenge for the authorities.

I wonder whether Ministers originally thought of a simple solution; Grade 9 = 90%, down to Grade 1 =10% in 10% groupings allied to the number grade? Such a system would have been a radical change and meant comparisons with previous years were no longer possible. But, that has happened in the past, and as I made clear in the previous post, grades are a relatively recent invention, introduced only after examinations at sixteen became commonplace for all.

I was also interested in the quote from the secondary school heads association, ASCL that ‘GCSE exams are putting pupils’ mental health at risk, Young people taking a typical set of the reformed GCSEs will sit about eight hours more of exams than under the old system’. Such a comment doesn’t surprise me. However, if we are going to return to the degree of difficulty in examinations set for previous generations, do we also need to look at the number of public examinations those pupils sat and how the school timetable was arranged.

One of the trends ever since Matriculation and School Certificate disappeared in 1951 to become first GCEs and then GCSEs has been for students to take more subjects. This is allied to the debate about whether we want our young people to know more about less or less about more? A wider curriculum inevitably means many will struggle to obtain good grades across the board on the timings allowed within the school week if exams are made harder and comparable with when fewer subjects were studied; hence the possible growth in private tutoring to supplement the work of schools and the social disparity in achievement this creates. All this without any discussion on the competence of teachers in teaching their subject, a key discussion point in mathematics where there has been a teacher shortage.

Should we have say five hard GCSEs or nine relatively easier ones allowing time for physical activities and other non-examined subjects? This is a societal decision, but we may well be damaging our young people if we try to achieve both by making content harder and keeping the number of subjects the same. After all, there are still the same number of hours in a week.

What is the correct approach for twenty first century England. I suspect that secondary schools will eventually follow the primary sector in narrowing the curriculum to allow more time for the basics, especially English and mathematics. As a result, standards will rise in these subjects, but the curriculum will narrow. Will a narrower curriculum be welcome for many pupils or will they react in a manner that sees them become more disaffected? We shall see.

TeachVac continues to grow

As many readers of this blog know, I am chair of the company that operates TeachVac – the National Vacancy Service for Schools and Teachers. Once seen by some as a concept that wouldn’t survive, TeachVac is now starting its fourth cycle of free, unpaid, recruitment advertising for teaching posts. Covering teaching vacancies across the whole of England, with plans to expand further in the autumn, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk offers a free service to both schools and applicants looking for a teaching post and has doubled in size yet again over the last twelve months.

In addition to handling vacancies for individual schools, TeachVac also handles organisations placing multiple vacancies at the same time and has special arrangements for both dioceses and MATs that help those with decentralised recruitment policies track what is happening in their schools.

With coverage of all 151 local authority areas in England, TeachVac includes vacancies in both state-funded schools of all descriptions as well as private schools and from the start of 2017, state funded-primary schools throughout the whole of England. TeachVac is now the largest site for teaching vacancies in England and, of course is free to both schools posting vacancies as well as those seeking a teaching post.

Vacancies are shown to registered job seekers at one of three different levels, classroom teacher; promoted post and leadership positions. Job seekers may specify either a geographical area based a radius of a postcode or a specific local authority area for the larger rural counties. New matches are sent to candidates every day and allow the potential applicant to decide whether to apply for the vacancy. TeachVac makes it possible to track how many applicants are interested in each vacancy.

Over the course of a year, new entrants to the profession can see something of the frequency of vacancies in the subject they are preparing to teach and the location where they wish to teach. This also applies to teachers overseas wishing to return to England to teach and, indeed, any teacher considering either a change of school or a promotion. TeachVac regularly receives visits from those located in over 100 countries around the world each year.

With its wealth of real-time data, TeachVac monitors the recruitment round as it is taking place. This, along with saving money for schools was the reason for creating TeachVac in the first place.

TeachVac is also uniquely placed to match numbers in training with vacancies across the recruitment cycle providing early warnings of shortages both in specific subjects or geographical areas so that schools can make the necessary adjustments to their recruitment campaigns. As hinted in previous posts, although 2017 was not the worst recruitment round of recent years, 2018 is shaping up to be a real challenge for many schools.

If you want to recruit a teacher, find a new teaching post or understand what is actually happening the teacher recruitment marketplace then visit www.teachvac.co.uk  – the National Vacancy Service for Schools and Teachers.

All change

One of the problems of living beyond a certain age is an awareness that certain things happen more than once. This Thursday is another example of such an event. GCSE grade change from letters to numbers and there are more grades available. Well, I recall when the London University Board went the other way in 1963. Numbers in 1962; letter grades in 1963. Actually, a universal grading system across all Examination Boards didn’t materialise until well into the 1970s as candidate numbers taking the exams mushroomed, after comprehensive re-organisation did away with most of the selective systems of the 1944 Education Act. Part of the universal grading need may also have been to ensure comparability between GCE and CSE, the other examination that had sprung up.

Changing the grades from letters into numbers this week will undoubtedly upset Human Resource departments across the country as they will have to explain to those hiring youngsters from this year onwards that the old norms they are familiar with have changed. But, to an educated population that should be manageable. There is a useful table on Wkipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GCE_Ordinary_Level_(United_Kingdom) identify the changed and relative standards between grades.

A far bigger change took place in 1984 when norm referencing was replaced by criterion referencing. Previously, the percentage of top grades was limited and did not identify the ability of specific candidates. It was as if, of the 100 candidates taking their driving test today, only 10% could pass regardless of how well all candidates had been prepared. There may well be situations where that sort of ranking is appropriate, but the Secondary Examinations Council clearly recognised that public examinations were not one of them. One of the results of the change to the system was a more ruthless attitude to entry policies in some subjects, and wide differences between the percentage of A* and A grades between subjects, as this blog has pointed out in the past. Where schools only enter candidates that are expected to do well and need the subject for their next course of study, grades are likely to be higher on average. Where there is open access, there is likely to be less of a bunching at the top grades.

None of this is to denigrate in any way the work of students, teachers and their families in the preparation for the examination season. As ever, I pay tribute to those that have undergone the experience. Regular readers of this blog will also know that in the 1960s, I had to take English Language GCE some six times before achieving a pass. At that point I fully understood the purpose behind the motivational tale of Robert the Bruce watching a spider trying to spin its web.

So, as ever, my thanks to the education community for their work and to parents for their support, but above all my best wishes and thanks to the candidates that either already have or will receive their results this week. I hope you go on to a recognition that learning should a lifelong activity and not just a stage to be endured at school, even if how we measure it can be a movable feast.