Education matters

Last evening saw the termly meeting of the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on the Teaching Profession at Westminster. Chris Waterman has continued to do sterling work with this Group that morphed out of a previous ad hoc gathering, primarily established to discuss issues surrounding the teacher labour market as the country moved from surplus to shortage. No doubt those that attended had to ensure they dodged the TV cameras as they made their way through Central Lobby to the committee room for the meeting.

As I had other duties in Oxford, I was unable to attend last evening’s meeting, but did provide Chris will some extracts from recent relevant posts on this blog to distribute to those that were able to attend.

For those with even longer memories that stretch back beyond the creation of SATTAG by Chris and myself, they will recall that this blog started soon after I stopped writing a weekly column for the then TES, now branded as tes. After more than a decade of writing for that paper, I was suffering withdrawal symptoms, and a blog seem a good way to relieve them in a manner that didn’t take up much time.

Of course, the big concern at this present time must be about where the candidates for leadership of the Conservative Party stand on Education? For selection at eleven; complete academisation; more pay for teachers; cash for Children’s Centres? We all have a list of what we would want to ask our next Prime Minister, but are only likely to be able to do so through the professional associations taking a lead and quizzing the eventual finalist on behalf of the profession.

From the candidates’ point of view, they might want to reflect that being too radical can affect what will happen in the real world. Make teaching look too unattractive, and the present teacher supply problem could become even worse, especially if the exodus from the profession were to accelerate. With insufficient numbers entering the profession, losing those already in service at an even greater rate than at present wouldn’t just be unfortunate, but could be disastrous for both our society and the future of the economy.

Teaching is now a global activity and teachers trained in England are able to secure posts in many other countries in the ever-growing private school market of ‘international’ schools, increasingly run by those with the bottom line in mind. With UK higher education an attractive draw for many overseas students and their parents, being taught by teachers that understand the system here can be a help when it is time to apply to university.

So, my key question for Tory Candidates’ is, what support will you provide for your Secretary of State for Education and what will be the key priorities you will ask that person to address? If they don’t mention all of Further Education; funding levels and staffing then education will clearly not be a significant priority for them in the word post October 31st.

 

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Lower Fees: a threat to teacher education?

Will the promise of a possible cut in tuition fees held out in the recent Augar Review harm applications to teacher preparation courses, especially those courses for postgraduates?

Due to an accident of history, postgraduate teacher preparation courses with a higher education component are still usually linked to the student fee regime, at least in England. This anomaly has worked well for course providers in recent years, as they have mostly been able to charge the full fee or something close to that amount.

Although not generous, in terms of the cost of running these courses, the fee has generated more income than was possible during the period when the fee income meant that it was almost impossible to cover the cost of running a course from the income received and university management would every year have to write off deficits, often amid suggestions that teacher education would not survive.  Apart from in one or two institutions, it did survive, as it has survived the Govian era of regarding higher education as part of ‘the blob’.

Still, Augar poses new threats. In the short-term, probably the 2019-2020 recruitment round, will would-be teachers postpone applying for courses until the issue of a fee cut and changes to the interest rate on student debt are decided.

Any such reduction in applications would be a worry since noises from Whitehall now suggest that the government’s planned spending review may be delayed because of the change of Prime Minister.

Hopefully, those concerned with policy on teacher education will have raised the issue of the effect on recruitment of a possible future cut intuition fees with DfE civil servants. However, until their political bosses (is that a non-sexist word?) take a decision, there may be little that can be done in the short-term, except monitor what happens to applications and even that may be easier said than done next year.

I also hope that those on the teacher education side are talking both to civil servants and to the teacher associations about what happens to funding if fees are reduced to say £7,500? Will the shortfall from current levels of funding be made up by the government, and will that mean closer monitoring of recruitment again?

Course providers will need reassurance that the cost of running their courses will be covered if fees are reduced for students. If not, will we see further changes in the landscape, with some schools unwilling to participate for anything less than the current level of funding, especially with the pressures on school budgets at present?

Of course, I favour a return to the situation where all fees for post-graduate courses are paid by the government, and training to be a teachers doesn’t require an increase in the level of debt to the individual, especially if the length of time repayments must be made is also increased by ten years as Augar suggested.

With probably another five years of increased secondary training targets to come before the bulge of pupils passing through secondary schools can be provided with sufficient teachers, even if not the right mix of subjects, anything that deters new entrants should be avoided. A delay by applicants awaiting a decision on lower fees might end up as a loss of a number of potential teachers to the system.

Good news on absence rates

More than a quarter of pupils in primary and secondary schools didn’t take any time off from school during the autumn term of 2018 according to recent DfE figures https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-term-2018

The most common reasons for absence was reported as illness, followed by attendance at medical, dental or presumably opticians appointments (although this last one isn’t specified). Could more be done to look at how these appointments are organised, particularly for certain key year groups? Should receptionists be required to ask the Year Group of a child when booking an appointment and recognise the importance of certain times in a young person’s education and, if possible, take this into account?

Overall absence rates for 2018 were lower than in either of the previous two years, at 71.6% of enrolments, compared with 74.3% in 2016. Of course, last winter was relatively mild and not especially wet across most of England, and the weather may play a part in determining the level of these figures. It must be easier to go to school when the sun is out than on a cold foggy morning if you feel a bit down and are faced with the prospect of wait at the bus stop in the drizzle.

It might be interesting to see if there is any correlation with the weather and days of the week and absence rates?

The dates of specific religious festivals that move around the calendar obviously have an effect upon attendance rates, as these figures show. In 2016, such absences counted for a notable amount of the authorised absences, whereas in 2018 the figure was negligible.

Holidays in term time remain contentious, with the percentage of unauthorised such holiday several times higher than the agreed holidays figure. Such unauthorised holidays are more common in the primary sector, when family structures and children’s ages presumably make the desire for a family holiday greater than during the period when pressure on studying for exams is greater.

However, it would be interesting to see a figure for voluntary attendance on Saturdays to counter balance this negative view of time lost by pupils. I am increasingly overwhelmed by the number of pupils and teachers that take time to attend when they don’t have to do so. This despite the obvious concerns over teacher workload. Again, this voluntary service needs more notice than it receives outside of the profession.

Next time someone talks of the long holidays that teachers have, ask them when they last went into work on a Saturday or did a voluntary extra shift to help their customers?

There is still a worrying percentage of pupils being excluded with no alternative provision being made, even in the autumn term. Regional School Commissioners need to ask academies how much they are contributing to this figure.

Finally, after two years when the number was on the increase, there was a welcome fall in the number of pupils classified as persistent absentees. At 10.9% of enrolments it still marks a waste of talent and is helping to store up problems for the future. But, at least the figure is lower than in both 2016 and 2017.

 

 

Focus is now on September

When schools re-open tomorrow, they should know the extent of any challenges they face to ensure a fully staffed curriculum for this September, barring any last minute accidents. Although unusual in nature, the long lead time for resignations does allow for schools to have the best part of three months to fill any last minute vacancies. Compare this with say, the NHS, where officials told a meeting I was at last week of staff only required to provide a month’s notice, but recruitment taking as long as three month. Even for January vacancies, schools generally have two months to find a replacement.

By the end of May, TeachVac http://www.teachvac.co.uk had recorded an average of 7 advertisements per secondary school in England for main grade teachers. For schools in London, the average was even higher, at just over 9 advertisements per school. To balance this, in the North West, the average was a little under 4.5 advertisements per school.

Add in the primary sector and promoted posts and the overall total so far in 2019 for vacancies has already exceeded the 40,000 mark.

As already recorded on this blog, a number of subjects are classified by TeachVac as carrying a ‘Red’ warning. This means schools anywhere in England can expect increasing difficulties in recruiting a teachers for either September 2019 or January 2020.

Based upon the latest recruitment data from UCAS, for graduate teacher preparation courses starting in September 2019, and discussed in a previous post on this blog, it seems likely that the 2020 recruitment round in many subjects in the secondary school curriculum is not going to be any easier than the 2019 round, especially as pupil numbers will be higher than this year.

The labour market for primary classroom teachers looks to be more stable than for secondary classroom teachers, although there are still issues with particular posts in certain locations.

Even if the EU is no longer a source of teacher supply, and some other countries have stopped training far more teachers than they need, it seems likely that attracting teachers from overseas will be a key route to filling January vacancies. However, competition in what is now a global teaching market is much greater than in the past, so teaching will need to be a competitive career or risk not only recruitment issues but also problems with retention levels as well, especially for middle leadership posts in expensive areas of the country.

 

Mixed messages on ITT

The data on those placed either firmly or conditionally together with those holding offers for post-graduate teacher preparation courses starting this autumn was published earlier today by UCAS.

Overall, the level of applications is down again at 83,560 on 20th May compared with 85,370 on 21st May last year. However, that overall total marks a downward shift in applications for primary, by just over 2,000 and an upward move in applications for secondary subjects, by about 600 applications. This is where the picture starts to become more complicated

Record levels of applications in biology; English; RE and history have more than offset declines in PE – by a substantial number to only 6,000 – mathematics – some 300 fewer applications – and Art – 200 fewer applications. In each case, divide by three to estimate the change in applicants, as UCAS don’t provide that data in the monthly numbers.

In terms of placed applicants and those holding offer, Computer Studies; mathematics; physics and art are all at record lows for the recruitment rounds since 2013/14 for this month of the cycle.

Next month’s figures should start to record how new graduates feel about teaching; especially those that have so far done nothing about finding a career. The good news is that applicant numbers in the youngest age group; these will be new graduates, are holding up at similar levels to last year.

However, those in their Twenties are still not looking to teaching as either a first or second career choice. Numbers aged 22-29 are seemingly down in all age groupings. However, those, mainly career switches over 30 are still showing an increasing interest in teaching.

Applicant numbers are down from applicants domiciled in most regions of England. Those domiciled in London, where pupil numbers are growing fast in the secondary sector, number only just over 5,000, with around 300 fewer placed or conditionally placed applicants this year. Staffing the capital’s state schools should really be an issue for the STRB when considering teachers’ pay and conditions.

In the secondary sector, School Direct is still losing ground to higher education and SCITTs in terms of its share of applications. How the Augar Report, published today, plays out for postgraduate teacher preparation courses may well affect these figures in the next few years.

A languages teacher with five years of fees (four year degree plus one year teacher preparation course) could be faced with debts of £117,000 according to a chart in the Augar Report. With no difference in repayments between those earning Inner London salary and those in high cost areas on the national salary scale this is an issue the STRB needs to confront in their discussions on teacher supply.

Applications from m n are declining at a faster rate than form women, with around 240 fewer applications from men compared with only a decline of 170 in applications from women. UCAS only report gender as a binary choice. In England, the decline is from 8,910 male applicants in May 2018 to just 8,650 this year, of whom there has been a welcome increase in the number of those 21 and under conditionally placed, from 680 to 750.

Review of Post 18 Education and Funding

The Augar Report was published this morning. When generating a set of principles, this Review manages to be both potentially regressive and progressive at the same time, but for different groups in society.

The better news is mainly on the further education side, and the recognition of the importance of part-time study for some in society. However, even here, the Commission established by Sir Vince cable might have some better proposals for lifelong learning.

On higher education, the mixture of funding changes, wider government interference in planning through extending the range of subjects where government grant will be available, and general tinkering with the system seems likely to please almost nobody. If grant is available for Group 3 subjects, but not Group 4, and universities can only charge £7,500, how will the subjects in Group 4 fare? Will universities cross-subsidise, increase teaching groups, and reduce contact hours or just eliminate these subjects from their offer as uneconomic. I suspect much will depend upon the relative cost to income ratio at present.

As a means of boosting some STEM subjects, these proposals could provide incentives, but assumes there is a pool of potential undergraduates wanting to study these subjects, but not able to secure a place under the present system. One unintended consequence could be a glut of biological scientists, possibly with environmental approaches in their degrees, but no more physical scientists or engineers.

On apprenticeship, I was disappointed that Augar didn’t look at the funding pressure the levy places on small primary schools forced to pay the Levy by a quirk of fate. By suggesting eliminating permission for funding second qualifications, Augar would prevent these schools funding senior staff development through the Levy, as some are now starting to do under present arrangements. This is an area that the DfE needs to take notice of, as councils start repaying unpaid Levy back to The Treasury, including the cash collected from their primary schools.

The part of the report receiving the most attention is that concerning higher education tuition fees and repayments. A cap on total repayments is a good idea, but for public sector workers, subject to pay review bodies, the notion of paying postgraduate training fees is still a burden that Augar didn’t address.

As readers will know, I would require the government to either pay the fees of all trainee graduate teachers or offer all teachers full debt repayment for a period of service in public sector schools. Until then, I think the Pay Review bodies should comment on the effects of their recommendations on the teacher’s loan repayments under each of the different schemes in operation that year along with any proposed changes.

Aguar has a table suggesting that a modern language trainee teacher with a four year degree and a one-year training fee might amass some £117,000 of debt at the start of their career.

Finally, it would have been helpful for Augar to also have suggested better careers advice for pupils in schools to help them make informed choices

As a closing note, I hope this review, if implemented, doesn’t spell the end for philosophy, sociology and classical studies in our universities.

 

Publishing Augar is only the first step

In more ‘normal’ times we might expect a report of the main features of the Augar Report into FE & HE to appear in the Sunday Times this weekend. However, these are anything but normal times in UK politics, so who knows.

Some of the possible suggestions as to what might be in the Report have been widely rehearsed already, including a possible cut to tuition fees; more cash for adult further education and a minimum point score for access to an honours degree course.

Whatever Augar suggests will have to be accepted by the then government, and then translated into action as part of the discussions on the next Spending Review. Of course, it could go the way of the famous Tomlinson Report and be rejected out of hand by the Prime Minister of the day, whosoever that is. More likely is a battle within the DfE.

Bringing back FE and HE into the DfE makes good education sense, but not good sense for either sector where they inevitably play second fiddle to the vastly larger schools’ sector within the Department.

Imagine the Permanent Secretary from the DfE at The Treasury during negotiations for the Spending Review either this autumn or in early 2020 that we know will be tough, as George Osborne always said it would be in the second half of this decade without tax increases.

So, the Permanent Secretary is asked, what are your funding needs: well we have lots more pupils in secondary schools over the next five years and we cannot recruit and retain enough teachers, so more cash for schools is the immediate reply; but FE funding has taken a hit, and we needs to reskill the labour force and, sadly, the Apprenticeship Levy has flopped, so more cash for FE and especially part-time study.

Is that all, queries the Treasury Mandarin? Of course not, replies the DfE official, there is also higher education, where we need to cut tuition fees and fund research while keeping the sector going through the dip in the number of eighteen year olds for the next few years.

The Treasury might then ask, if you cannot have everything what would be your priority order? Schools must come first, would undoubtedly be the reply. There are more votes in parents than students or employers, and the teacher associations have done a great job in convincing everyone that schools are both underfunded and a special case alongside the NHS. FE might come next, as some of the pain felt by schools could be alleviated by upping the unit of resource for 16-18 year olds across both schools and FE. That leave the university sector in third place.

Fees might be cut, because of misguided belief that it would protect the student vote for the government, especially if Labour campaigned on an end to fees completely. The risk to universities would be that The Treasury would not make up the loss in fee income, except in a few STEM subjects.

Could one of the unintended consequences of such an outcome be universities opting for lower cost, mostly classroom-based courses, while spending more on marketing to attract students? An astute government might suggest the price of lower fees would be fewer separate institutions with campuses linked to a central site with a single set of support services and associated cost savings.

Now we know the departure date for Mrs May, will Augar be published before she goes or not? Either way, the funding issues won’t go away