STRB: good summary, not much new

Regular readers of this blog will find little to surprise them when they read the latest report from the STRB (School Teachers Review Body) Much of the data has already been discussed on this blog when it first appeared. Nevertheless, it is good to see the information all in one place.

The key issues are nicely summed up by the STRB as follows:

This year the evidence shows that the teacher supply situation has continued to deteriorate, particularly for secondary schools. This has affected teachers at all stages of their careers:

  • The Government’s target for recruitment to postgraduate Initial Teacher Training (ITT) was missed in 2018/19 for the seventh successive year. There has also been a marked decline in the number of overseas teachers being awarded Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).
  • Retention rates for teachers in the early years of their careers have continued to worsen, a trend that we have noted for several years now.
  • There is also evidence that retention rates are starting to deteriorate for experienced teachers, and there has been a marked increase in the number of teachers aged over 50 leaving the profession.
  • Retention rates for head teachers have fallen in recent years and our consultees report that it is increasingly difficult to attract good quality applicants to fill leadership posts at all levels. We have heard similar concerns from some of those we spoke to during our school visit programme.

Taken together, these trends paint a worrying picture. This is all the more concerning as increasing pupil numbers mean that there will be a need for more teachers in coming years, particularly in the secondary phase and for English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects.

The last comment is one I would take issue with in relation to languages, history and geography, subjects where TeachVac data doesn’t reveal significant shortages and the DfE data published last week also doesn’t suggest a rising demand for MFL teachers.

I am also slightly surprised that more isn’t made of regional disparities in both demand for teachers and in terms of the data about recruitment and retention. Matching age and experience with regional trends might have been helpful in understanding the degree that the teacher supply crisis affects the whole country and not just London and the Home Counties.

More information on the primary sector, and some understanding of the special school and alternative education sectors would also have been helpful.

I fully agree that the Report should be published much earlier in the year. Why cannot the timetable revert to a publication date in either February or March?The comments on challenges in leadership recruitment aren’t really backed by good levels of evidence in the Report, and that’s a pity since at TeachVac we have seen fewer re-advertisements for primary headships in some places this year. I am sure that the NAHT and ASCL have this data available. Compared with say a decade ago, are there really fewer applicants for headships. This is an important measure of possible challenge going forward.

Finally, I wonder what happened on page 32 where there is a mention of Figure 7 that bears no relation to point under discussion. I think it should be a reference to Figure 5? Is this a proof-reading issue or does it reflect some re-writing of this section?


DfE backs free vacancy sites

The Secretary of State has provided a big push for the DfE’s vacancy site and other free job sites such as TeachVac

It is always interesting to see a Conservative government trying to stifle legitimate competition by using its millions to drive TeachVac out of business  However, the government won’t succeed. As the DfE notice acknowledges, only 38% of schools have signed up to the DfE service after nine months of testing. They only cite Cambridgeshire as an authority where all schools have signed up to their service.

As I have written before, the DfE would have saved money, something they urge schools to do, by either working with existing job boards or taking a feed from TeachVac at a much lower cost that designing their own service.

The DfE site has one flaw for teachers looking for posts in a particular area and not bothered whether they work in the private or public sectors: the DfE site only contains state funded schools. TeachVac contain details of vacancies in both sectors.

Will the DfE now instruct local authorities to abandon their own local job boards on the basis that this duplication of service is wasting taxpayer’s money? The DfE could provide a feed for all schools with vacancies in the local authority area, as TeachVac can do. If the DfE doesn’t do this, one must ask why not?

I assume that ASCL and NAHT along with the NGA will come out in support of the DfE’s site, something that haven’t felt able to do with TeachVac, despite it being free for schools and teachers.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

With every school in the country now having access to this completely free site, I am calling on schools to ditch platforms that charge a fee. Why spend £1,000 on a service you can get for free?

Why indeed, and why go to the trouble of placing your vacancy on the DfE web site when TeachVac will collect it from your own web site for free, saving schools even more time and money.

So, will this be bad news for the TES and its new American owners? Much will depend upon how much in the way of resources the DfE is prepared to put into creating a state run monopoly? The vacancy part of the acquisition and its income stream certainly looks more risky this morning than it did on Friday. Will it be worth the £195 million that they seem to have paid for it?

Had I not helped invent TeachVac nearly six years ago, I would no doubt be more enthusiastic about the DfE’s attempt to drive down costs for schools. For now, we shall see what happens, and how schools, MATs and local authorities respond to today’s announcement.

For the sake of interest, I have compiled a table showing the DfE’s vacancy numbers – including non-teaching posts – as a percentage of TeachVac’s numbers. However, TeachVac includes independent secondary schools, but the DfE site sometimes contains non-teaching posts..

04/01/2019 11.26
11/01/2019 13.22
18/01/2019 17.57
25/01/2019 17.69
01/02/2019 21.44
08/02/2019 22.72
15/02/2019 24.46
22/02/2019 11.71
01/03/2019 31.25
08/03/2019 25.11
15/03/2019 25.20
22/03/2019 25.10
29/03/2019 28.20
05/04/2019 29.10


Productivity gain or worsening working conditions?

Ahead of the ASCL Conference in Birmingham this weekend, there is a report in the press today about rising class sizes in secondary schools.

An analysis by teaching unions has suggested 62% of secondary schools have had to expand class sizes between 2014/15 and 2016/17. The study, conducted by the NEU, NAHT and ASCL – as well as non-teaching unions Unison, GMB and Unite – showed that of 150 local authorities, 83% saw a rise in average class sizes across their secondary schools, while 14% have seen a fall and 3% saw no change.

This report should come as no surprise to anyone connected with education. Indeed, I would predict that class sizes will continue to increase in size over the next few years as the secondary school population expands from its low point reached in 2014 and budgets also come under pressure.

However, there is an argument to be had about the usefulness of class sizes as a measure. They can be affected by factors such as the degree of non-contact time allowed to staff; policy over options at GCSE and for post-16 courses as well as space considerations.

An alternative measure is the Pupil Teacher Ratio. Even here there are now problems: how do you define a teacher. Do you only include those with QTS and exclude Teach First and School Direct trainees, as well as any other unqualified teachers or cover supervisors?

Anyway, I have included the changes in PTRs across different types of secondary schools since the School Workforce Census was introduced. The result confirms the findings from the unions and could have been researched without the need to waste valuable time in hard-pressed local authorities. As an added bonus, these are DfE approved numbers, so the government cannot quibble about them.

Changes in Pupil Teacher Ratios in secondary schools
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
All State funded Secondary schools 14.9 14.9 15 15 15.3 15.6
Converter academies 15.2 15.8
Sponsored academies 13.6 15.3
All academies 14.8 15.6
UTCs/Studio Schools 12.9 13.8
Free Schools 12.6 15.3
LA maintained 15 14.9 14.8 14.9 15.1 15.4

The big change has come since 2015 and probably reflects the loss of extra funding academies received in the early days of the Gove period at the DfE. The effect the loss of that extra cash has had on the funding of these schools is now obvious: sadly, once becoming an academy there is normally no way back. For that reason, heads gathering in Birmingham might want to examine the value for money of back offices at MATs.Source DfE SFR 25/2017 Table 17a

After all, it was the heads that complained for decades about the dead hand of local authority expenditure. Having been released from the frying pan of Local Authority spending patterns they must not fall straight into the fire of MATs with high relative overheads.

There are many other issues that secondary heads will need to consider at their conference. Perhaps one of the most pressing is finding the teachers to fill these classes that now have more pupils in them. It may be a productivity gain, but it does impose a greater workload on teachers and may the class size and PTR changes partly explain the growing loss of teachers with 3-5 years’ experience previously discussed on this blog.

In passing, the head teachers might also want to reflect upon the changing nature of the teacher vacancy market that helps provide the teachers. With the TES group reporting a loss of 2016-17 and the DfE working on a new vacancy platform, how teachers are recruited could become an important area for discussion over the next few years.

As one of the instigators of TeachVac, the free platform for vacancies, I am, of course, not an idle by-stander in this debate.

Why is the DfE spending millions inventing a teacher vacancy service?

The DfE is asking for your views about its idea for a new on-line vacancy service for teachers. You can read about it in the DfE’s digital blog – is there any other type of bog? – and the link is The blog post was written by Fiona Murray way back in November and could do with a refresh, especially now the Public Accounts Committee has effectively sanctioned the DfE spending the money to develop the service beyond the idea of just a concept to test. The suggestion was in the Tory Manifesto for the general election last year.

As regular readers know, I have a personal and professional interest in the labour market for teachers. Personal, as the unpaid chair of TeachVac, and professional as someone that has studied aspects of the labour market for teachers for nearly 30 years.

If you are a user of TeachVac, the free to schools and teachers vacancy service covering the whole of England that has been operating for the past four years, you might want to use the comment section of the DfE blog to explain your experiences with TeachVac. If you aren’t a user of TeachVac, then register for free on TeachVac and then read the DfE’s blog and see whether what they are suggesting is worthwhile compared with what already exists.

I don’t know whether or not the DfE will include independent schools in their service as TeachVac does. According to the DfE blog one school leader told the DfE:

 “If I’m being honest, I’d be quite happy with a basic website, that’s as basic as the most basic website I could remember, that was free, where all of the vacancies were. And that’s not very ambitious, but believe me, school leaders will think that’s a miracle.”

Clearly, that person hadn’t seen the TeachVac site. So, if you are like them, do pay TeachVac a visit and don’t forget to tell others. Then head over the DfE blog and leave them a comment as requested.

What will the other providers of platforms used to advertise vacancies think of the government’s move into a new attempt at a vacancy service? Clearly, those that charge for recruitment stand to be affected in a different manner to TeachVac that is a free service.

What will be interesting to discover will be the attitude of groups such as the teacher associations; NASBM; governors; BESA and bodies such as REC that represents many recruiters? There might also be implications for local authorities that operate an extensive system of job boards across the country and play and important part in the recruitment landscape for the primary school sector. All these groups should really evaluate the DfE’s offerings against the present marketplace and identify the solution that offers the best value for money for schools. After all, a Conservative government surely cannot be opposed to the free market offering the best solution.

There is also a risk that the DfE’s latest attempt to enter the vacancy market for teachers ends up as the School Recruitment Service, their previous foray into the market, did nearly a decade ago. What the DfE must not do is unintentionally destabilise the market and then withdraw. Such an outcome would be disastrous for schools and teachers.





Are small schools doomed?

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) clearly worries that they will be. They have raised their concerns and the story was picked up by the BBC. although I couldn’t find any press release on the ASCL web site that prompted the BBC story. Perhaps it is part of a campaign by teacher associations about the funding of schools?

As regular readers of this blog know, I have expressed concerns before about the future of small schools, especially if the block grant that underpins their finances is removed, possibly as part of a funding formula based on an amount per pupil. Such a funding system, perhaps topped up by sum for deprivation in a similar manner to the present Pupil Premium, has a beguiling simplicity about it; easy to understand and easy to administer: job well done.

However, such a top-down approach does have other ramifications. The most obvious is that for as long as anyone living has been in teaching higher salaries have been paid to teachers in London and the surrounding area. This is a policy decision that could be ratified in a new formula through an area cost adjustment as Mr Gibb said during his recent visit to the Select Committee when he appeared to talk about teacher supply. So, if a policy to support London, but not other high cost areas is acceptable, what about rural schools? As I mentioned in a recent post, on the 3rd October, some shire counties have a large number of small schools in their villages. Northumberland has some of the most expensive. Oxfordshire has a third of its primary schools with fewer than 150 pupils and the removal of any block grant would undoubtedly mean their closure, as ASCL pointed out.

Does a Tory government that has already upset some of its supporters in the shires over re-introducing selection to secondary education now want to risk their wrath over shutting the bulk of the 5,000 or so rural primary schools, not to mention small schools in urban areas? As many of the latter are faith schools this might also upset both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic churches, especially if pupils were transferred to non-faith based schools.

Councils might also be upset if the cost of transporting pupils to the new larger and financially viable primary schools fell on their council tax payers. After all, as I have pointed out in the past, children in London receive free transport to schools anywhere in the capital within the TfL area; this despite London being classified as a high cost area in which to live.

There is a possible solution, return to local funding models where communities can decide whether to keep small school open. Of course, it won’t be decided democratically through the ballot box, since local authorities still are regarded as not being capable of this sort of decision, even when run by Tory councillors. But, a grouping of academies in a Multi-Academy Trust could take such a decision or they could assume government policy on school size was reflected in the funding formula and close schools that cannot pay their way.

If you believe in the need for small schools linked to their community, now is the time to say so. To await any consultation on a funding formula may be to wait too long.



More or less

A longer version of this blog post appeared first in the September/October edition of ‘Leader’, the ASCL magazine for school leaders.

Deciding how many new teachers to train each year is a tough job. Train too many and the Treasury wants to know why public money has been wasted; train too few and some schools won’t be able to recruit all the staff that they need. Officials also have to undertake the task several years ahead of time.

This summer, the government has been assessing how many teachers to train in the academic year 2017-18. These trainees will mostly enter the labour market in September 2018 with a small number needed for January 2019 vacancies.

Civil servants started this year’s exercise knowing that the school population was on the increase. They also knew more teachers were leaving the profession in recent years as the wider economy recovered from recession and also that public sector pay remained heavily regulated, especially with regard to annual increases.

Referendum effect

What they didn’t know was the outcome of the referendum on Europe and its possible consequences for the economy and on population movement, both inward and outward. As a result, even if the places allocated by the government are fully taken up by prospective trainees when trainee recruitment opens later in the autumn, the numbers may well still be wrong. Such is, too often, the fate of planners.

Because the teacher supply model essentially uses data that can be up to several years old, its outcomes ought to be subject to review by a group of knowledgeable individuals, including people from ASCL, who can question any obvious anomalies arising from the planning process. For the past two recruitment rounds, based on evidence collected through TeachVac, our free-to-schools vacancy matching service, we have queried the shortage of business studies places for trainees as well as the over-supply of training places for teachers of physical education trainees compared with recorded demand from schools across the country.

In both cases, the modelling process is correct, uses authentic and reliable data, but produces the wrong answer. Of course, you can still have the right answer, as in physics and design and technology, but not recruit enough trainees. That isn’t the fault of the planners, but of another group of civil servants.

While planners might not have been able to foresee the result of the referendum, they can model the effects of the introduction of any national funding formula on the demand for teachers. However, to do so might indicate, ahead of any consultation, the thinking of government. This relationship between policy change and future consequences on the ground goes a long way to explain why, for so many years, the teacher supply model wasn’t shared with anyone outside of government.

Unexpected vacancies?

Putting aside all of this background, schools and head teachers really want to know where they are if faced with unexpected vacancies for January 2017. After all, there are no more trainees entering the labour market until next summer and the recent School Teachers’ Review Body report identified new entrants as taking 55% of main scale vacancies, up from 50% a few years ago.

At TeachVac, we track the number of trainees, as recorded by the government’s annual ITT census against recorded vacancies. We discount those trainees on Teach First, now included in the census, and those on the School Direct salaried route as these two groups are likely to be employed either in the school where they train or another local school if they prove to be suitable entrants into the profession. We also take off a percentage for those unlikely to complete their teacher preparation programme, for whatever reason. Schools that use TeachVac to register vacancies receive an update on the current position in the subject where they have a vacancy when they post that job on TeachVac.

The original article then discusses the position in the summer of 2016 as reported using TeachVac data- That section of the article has been omitted here as it is now out of date.

The picture for 2017

Finally, a brief first look at the recruitment situation for 2017. At the time of writing, recruitment to courses is still in progress. However, based on past experiences, we believe that there will be insufficient trainees in subjects such as physics, design and technology, maths, business studies and IT entering training, unless there is a last minute rush.

A survey of School Direct salaried courses shown as having vacancies on the UCAS web site at the end of July revealed more than 600 listed vacancies, although some may have been duplicates advertised under more than one heading. Nevertheless, there were only two vacancies in the North East, compared with more than 100 in London schools. This reinforces concerns for the labour market in London.

Although schools may have found the 2016 recruitment round easier in some aspects than the 2015 recruitment round turned out to be, the staffing challenge facing schools is not yet over and much uncertainty surrounds the 2017 recruitment round that starts in January.

TeachVac will continue to monitor the situation and offer schools a free platform to place vacancies at no cost to themselves, teachers or trainees.

Note: now offers a service to schools facing an ofsted inspection and offers a tailored report on the local job market for secondary schools


Time to move on?

As the ASCL members meet for their annual conference, the topic of teacher supply is likely to be raised frequently by delegates, both in formal sessions and in more informal discussions around the conference bars and restaurants. Indeed, Policy Exchange, the Tory think tank Mr Gove had a hand in establishing and various key players in education have worked for in the past, published a pamphlet today of a conference organised in the autumn by both Policy Exchange and  ASCL on the topic of teachers and their recruitment entitled; “The importance of teachers”.

Now, I don’t often give Tory Think Tanks much of an airing on this blog, but as I was asked to contribute to the conference and my paper appears in the collection of published essays, I will make an exception this time. Two ideas that have been gaining in credibility, are the possibility of secondary schools offering more part-time jobs in recognition of the changing composition of the teaching workforce in terms of both age and gender. Compared with the primary sector, there is much less part-time working in secondary schools at present. This idea also received a mention yesterday at a seminar organised by the Guardian to promote its research into the views of teachers about their work and work-life balance.

Policy Exchange also mentions a revival of the Keep in Touch schemes run by some local authorities, most notably Buckinghamshire, in the 1980s as a means of not losing touch with those that take career breaks. Once senses that even the idea of sabbaticals would be attractive, but have been ruled out on the grounds of cost. Interestingly, as I pointed out in my blog about Margaret Thatcher, she was the Secretary of State for Education that proposed teacher sabbaticals in a White Paper, only to see the idea scuppered by the oil price hikes after 1972: could the fall in oil prices bring the dead back? It seems unlikely since falling oil prices these days also mean lost government revenue.

Anyway, all this is a long way from the title of this piece. But, in reality, there now seems to be an acceptance that there is an issue with teacher supply whether it is couched in recruitment terms or absolute numbers. The discussion is now moving on to how to either solve or at least alleviate the issue? KIT and more offers of part-time working; forgiveness of loans; a review of QTS to ensure subject knowledge is sufficient and if not to develop SKE post-entry – similar to Chris Waterman’s Teach Next idea – and making sure location specific trainees don’t lose out in the job market are all ideas that have been floated recently, along with Sir Andrew Carter grow your own from TAs to teachers concept of QTS -2 and QTS -1.  Although I don’t think that idea will work well in the secondary sector. Addressing the housing issue and workload also seem to be high on the agenda, so it will be interesting to see what emerges as the recruitment round grinds on towards its grim conclusion in January 2017.