Lowering the bar?

The government has now published the letter from Nick Gibb, Minister of State, sent last week to teacher training providers, encouraging maximum effort in recruitment this year. I cannot recall such a similar letter being sent by a Minister in any recent recruitment cycle. I think in the mid-1960s a Labour Secretary of State once wrote to Mayors across the country asking them to encourage residents to become teachers or return to teaching during the baby boom of that time.

The text of Mr Gibb’s letter can be found at;

https://www.nationalcollege.org.uk/sites/default/files/sites/default/files/letter_from_minister_gibb_29th_january_2018.pdf

The most interesting paragraph in the letter reads as follows:

‘It is right to reject candidates who are not suitable. However, it is also crucial to support and develop those who have the desire and talent to teach. The emphasis must be on assessing applicants based on their suitability to train to teach, rather than whether they are ready to teach at the point of entry.’

As Ofsted will amend the Inspection handbook, this will presumably mean candidates where quality is of concern will now be offered the possibility of becoming a teacher with the final decision about suitability being deferred until the end of the preparation period. It will be interesting to see how much of a boost this letter provides to recruitment totals during the remainder of the recruitment round. After all, if there are no applicants, you cannot offer them a place.

The notion of civil servants looking at rejection rates and then contacting institutions where they feel too many applicants are being rejected raises some interesting issues. Is it acceptable to reject any marginal quality primary arts and humanities graduate because the provider wants to see if they can recruit more maths and science entrants or will civil servants now tell them to accept on a first come first served basis anyone that meets the new threshold. Presumably, monitoring gender, ethnicity and social mobility outcomes are also now thrown out the window in favour of the new approach?

Will there be a new marketing campaign extolling how easy it is to become a teacher. Just turn up and meet the basic maths and English requirements and you will be offered a place. Might the skills tests be the next brick in the wall to be dismantled, returning to an end of course test rather than the present pre-entry timing. This would allow providers to coach trainees in danger of failure and presumably add a few more on to the list of possible applicants.

Of course, simplifying the complex bursary and fee remission arrangements might help more than exhortations to recruit more of the present pool of applicants, especially if rejection rates are already very low in some subjects After all, only a third of design and technology places were filled on courses starting in September 2017. I guess providers weren’t too anxious to turn many applicants away. Sadly, UCAS data isn’t arranged in a manner so as to easily make it possible to determine the number of applicants as opposed to applications per subject, so one cannot answer that question.

 

 

 

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Urgent action needed

The following are extracts from a Section 8 monitoring report issued today by Ofsted. The school, a secondary school, is part of a multi-academy company and was declared inadequate in May last year by Ofsted. Somewhat surprisingly, Ofsted didn’t return until January 2018.  When they did, they found some good things within the school and some improvements, but to quote for the S8 report:

Although there have been undeniable improvements to safeguarding, behaviour and morale of staff, there are considerable weaknesses at the level of governance and the multi-academy company. These weaknesses have the potential to put the good work of school staff and the pace of improvement in jeopardy.

 However, following the review, the XXMAC and governing body have been slow to improve their effectiveness. It is understandable that directors’ decisions about senior leadership are sensitive, but other statutory duties of the governing body and the company have been neglected (my emphasis)

 Directors and governors have not taken enough responsibility for ensuring that leaders strategically map out the key priorities for iimproving the school. Nor have directors and governors demonstrated how they will evaluate improvements by their impact on pupils’ progress, attendance and behaviour. In short, it is not clear that directors and governors know how to judge what is working in the school and what is not. (my emphasis)

 In addition, XXMAC and governors have not done enough to maintain good levels of communication with parents or involve them more closely in the school’s drive for improvement. In this way, leaders at the highest level are not directly helping to restore the school’s reputation in the local community. 

 This haphazard approach is not helping pupils to achieve their full potential. 

 There is no clear strategy in the school improvement plan for reducing casual and persistent absence. Good attendance is not a high enough priority in the school. 

 However, the support commissioned by the XXMAC is not sufficient to build capacity and establish a common sense of purpose for the school. For example, important decisions about leaders’ roles and the priorities for the future are not being made on the basis of a thorough review of the school’s performance. Instead, decisions are being made on an ad hoc basis, relying upon the goodwill and integrity of current school leaders.

 So, where do we go from here? The previous Chief Inspector was right to argue for inspection of MATs and MACs. Who now takes responsibility for acting upon this damming report; The Regional School Commissioner; the Funding and Skills Council; Ofsted or the Secretary of State? The local authority cannot do so, but someone should be take action by Monday, especially as the school is also still in financial special measures and there were issues raised in the 2017 accounts about the management of financial matters.

If ‘it is not clear that directors and governors know how to judge what is working in the school and what is not.’ Then such a situation must not be allowed to continue. Action this day please.

 

Using TeachVac data to understand the market for science teachers

The Gatsby Foundation today published an interesting report that shows how TeachVac’s detailed data on the labour market for teachers can be used to illustrate a range of different points about the recruitment of science teachers during 2016 and 2017.

http://www.gatsby.org.uk/uploads/education/specialist-science-teacher-recruitment-2016-2017-310118.pdf

TeachVac can provide similar data across other composite subject areas such as languages and design and technology. TeachVac has recently published a report into the leadership market in the primary school sector during 2017. The data from TeachVac is much more recent than that provided through the School wWorkforce Census and may well be more accurate given the percentage of schools that complete the census in full. TeachVac will be publishing a report into the labour market for secondary school classroom teachers during 2017 sometime in February.

TeachVac Global, the site for international schools, is preparing a report on recruiting teachers from England in 2018. This will be provided free to participating international schools.

TeachVac’s ITT index tells schools how easy they may find it to recruit a trainee to fill a classroom teacher vacancy. The index is updated daily. As regular readers know, Business Studies has already been coded amber for September 2017 vacancies, meaning some schools will face difficulties recruiting such teachers. Some may already being facing challenges in other subjects, but that may be because trainees don’t want to work in their area rather than because of an overall shortage. However, TeachVac staff are watching design and technology and English to see how soon these subjects will switch from green to amber.

 

 

Teacher Recruitment

The Public Accounts Committee has today published a report in to teacher recruitment and retention. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/460/46002.htm Associated with the report they have published a letter from the Tes about their recruitment and CPD services. It may well be that the letter from the Tes was published because it corrected a perceived inaccuracy in the oral evidence as to advertising rates.

The PAC has asked the DfE to continue its work on a vacancy service, so I thought, for the sake of completeness, I would share the letter that TeachVac sent to the Committee via its Clerk last November. the letter has now been published by the PAC as part of the evidence relating to this inquiry: better late than never.


Meg Hillier MP

Chair, Public Accounts Committee

House of Commons London SW1A 1AA

21st November 2017

Dear Ms Hillier,

Retaining and developing the teaching workforce

I refer to the recent meeting of the Public Accounts Committee on the above subject. It was concerning to see the Department for Education is planning on spending significant money on developing a system for teacher recruitment that already exists and successfully meets their defined objectives. Their stated objectives were to provide a free service for recruiting teachers to schools which at the same time produced useful data about the teacher vacancy marketplace. A system that does just this has been extant since 2014 and now has more teaching jobs in England than any other service including the paid for recruitment providers. TeachVac produces daily data which is unavailable elsewhere and is completely free to schools and teachers. We have attempted to interact with the DfE team but the conversations about both the data we could make available to them and any modifications to the system they would wish to see have met with a desultory response at best. Considering that this system has cost the government nothing, meets their stated objectives and was developed by a team with some 60 years combined experience of this market, we wondered why the committee didn’t ask the DfE representatives about alternatives that would not impact the already strained education budget. I understand the work undertaken by the DfE so far has been using a third party company that has no experience of the rather different education recruitment market. It appears to have SRS written all over it, but I suppose the DfE will consider that it is ‘their’ system not someone else’s. At TeachVac, the development of another free to use service will not affect our revenues so our concerns are related to the waste of the education budget not our own finances. I would be happy to brief you or your Committee about how TeachVac provides an extensive and free service and the copious and detailed data we collect. I have attached two examples of this data, the first is a look at the problem one county’s primary schools are experiencing in appointing Head teachers and the second is comparative recruitment data for two schools in the same town an issue discussed during your hearing.

Yours sincerely,

The DfE is now sifting through the responses it has received to the bids to develop a service. However, the service will miss the 2018 recruitment round and could have a profound effect on the stability of the whole market for teacher recruitment and, unless mandatory, the quality of the data collected will depend upon the degree of take-up by schools.

 

The Politics of Bursaries

Why should some people wanting to become a teacher receive help with their training costs and others not? We don’t discriminate between future tank commanders and those heading for the infantry or entrants to the civil service by the department they are going to be working in. But, teaching is different. Ever since the Coalition put up student fees and withdrew the right for graduates both to have their fees paid and receive a bursary regardless of the subject that they preparing to teach, the government has had to spend cash explaining to potential teachers what they might or n=might not receive by way of cash payments. Of course, the really lucky one receive a salary and a virtual guarantee of a teaching job at the end of training f they are on either a School Direct Salaried placement or Teach First.

I took a look at the current bursaries and how the subjects recruited to the Teacher Supply Model figures last year and then added in the number of entries to GCSE or equivalent by pupils in state funded schools.

BURSARY ITT %  RECRUITED PUPILS ENTERED GCSE & EQUIVALENTS
PE 113 105,715
History SOME 102 235,396
Languages YES 93 247,375
English YES 90 513,746 Language
Biology YES 86 132,676
Chemistry YES 83 132,238
Geography YES 80 220,506
Business Studies 80 71,055
Mathematics YES 79 515,803
Music SOME 76 34,766
Art 74 143,904
Physics YES 68 131,894
Computer Studies + IT YES 66 127,025
RE SOME 63 105,715
D&T SOME 33 141,568
Any Science YES NA 509,329

Sources: ITT Census 2017; DfE get into teaching and SFR 01/2018 Table S2a

Although I don’t have a Teacher Supply model number for Latin, trainees do receive a bursary, even though only 2,279 pupils were entered for GCSE or an equivalent qualification by state funded schools in 2017.

The logic of excluding Physical Education is obvious, but excluding art and only offering reduced bursaries for Religious Education and Design and Technology seems harder to defend. Personally, I would add Business Studies to the list of bursary subjects because, as regular readers know, I think the DfE has underestimated demand for teachers of the subject. Perhaps, a rethink of the whole of that area of the curriculum and the needs of schools for teachers might be worth considering.

A Simple scheme for all graduate entrants, including to the primary sector where yesterday’s blog post revealed the decline in applications, would be both easier to administer and easier to sell to would-be teachers. The present arrangements appear both haphazard and unjust.

Primary ITT: a matter for concern?

On the 16th January 2011, the GTTR part of UCAS recorded the fact that there were 37,016 applicants to graduate teacher training programmes in England run through their scheme. These figures didn’t include any employment based programmes or the Open University PGCE, although the numbers did include most of the SCITTs operating at the time. It is worth remembering that in January 2011 the economy was not yet recovering from the crash of 2008.

Fast forward seven years to the 15th January 2018 and the number of applicants through UCAS for the expanded programme of teacher preparation routes is 14,210; a drop of just over 22,000 graduates or would-be graduates. Now the drop would not be of concern if it was just the excess attracted to teaching when the economy was doing badly that had disappeared. But, I don’t think that is the case. In January 2011, there were 21,326 applicants for courses to train as a primary school teacher. In January 2018, there have only been 20,590 applications for such courses even with the School Direct courses now being handled through UCAS. As each applicant can make up to three applications, there could be as few as 7,000 applicants so far this year for primary teacher preparation courses.

For the first time, possibly in living memory, the number of applications for primary courses is virtually the same as the number of secondary courses in January. There are 20,450 applications for secondary course compared with 20,590 for primary courses, and 170 other applications.

Secondary courses seem to be reaching the level where those that know they want to be a teacher account for the bulk of applicants. That says little about the success of DfE’s advertising campaign and the millions that have been spent on it. The most concerning figure in the secondary sector is that School Direct Salaried applications have nearly halved from last January; down from 2,460 to just 1,330. That could mean less than 500 applicants. This number could be a third of the number of applicants for primary School Direct Salaried places.

Applications are down across the country and from all age groups. Most secondary subjects are at levels last seen in January 2013, and that proved to be a challenging year for recruitment.

The DfE can rightly say that January is a funny month, as the data covers a shorter period than in other months because the December figures aren’t published until early January. However, that’s the same problem every year. Nevertheless, even if we allow the DfE the benefit of the doubt for January, if there is no upturn by the publication of the February data then it will be possible to ask serious questions.

One might be, was it sensible to wind down the NCTL and take Teacher Recruitment fully in-house for the first time in a quarter of a century. The second might be, is Teach First experiencing the same challenges as the UCAS system or can something be learnt from their recruitment methods? Finally, what are course organisers saying about quality of applicants this year? Is it fewer, but better or is there an issue there as well?

Thank you

A big thank you to all readers. Whether you are one of the regulars or just coming across this blog for the first time, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading these posts. Today is the fifth birthday of this blog. It started on the 25th January 2013 with a post about the level of reserves then being held by schools. In the five years I have been writing the blog it has had 50,000 visitors – this landmark was passed earlier this month – and the 100,000 views landmark will be reached early next month as the total currently stands at 98,668 or just fewer than two views per visitor. The day with the most views was the 8th March 2014, when there was a reference to the blog in a national newspaper.

I think it is reasonable to claim that this blog helped lead the way in terms of highlighting the deteriorating situation in relation to the flow of new entrants into the teaching profession. Because much of my working life was spent in and around the area of teacher supply, it is perhaps not surprising that issues about teacher numbers should have remained a prominent theme across the years.

In August 2013 the DfE was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying what I had written in this blog was scaremongering and based upon incomplete evidence (blog post 14th August 2013, if you want to look it up). It wasn’t then and what I say isn’t now. But, I do sympathise with DfE press officers having to try and come up with an answer when the negative stories appear. The media is less interested in the good news, for instance, when applications increase. The easing of the concerns over maths teacher numbers during 2017 also wasn’t really reported, but that may be an issue of quantity not matching the quality needed?

Along with teacher supply, I have tried to keep an eye on the stories behind the numbers in education; or at least some of them. From rural schools in London to the profit companies make from education there is always something to write about and the blog has now reached more than 650 different posts in its five year lifespan. 130 of the posts have drawn comments and again, my thanks to those that comment regularly on what I have written; my especial thanks to Janet Downes for her insightful comments on many different posts.

Regular readers know that I am a Liberal Democrat politician and have fought two general elections (unsuccessfully) and two county elections (both successful) as well as one election for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner, all during the life of this blog. It is good to have some time off this year; assuming that nothing goes wrong and there isn’t another general election.

This blog is now on its fourth Secretary of State and I predicted the change this January in a post at the end of 2017, before the reshuffle was announced.

My one regret is that schools are still not doing enough to share in the challenge to cut Carbon emissions. My one hope is that someone will come up with an energy scheme that can utilise the vast acreage of school playgrounds that lie unused for more than 99% of the year.

Thank you for reading: my best wishes for the future.