Happy 6th Birthday

Phew, this blog has made it through another year. Six years of writing and with this piece the publishing of 850 posts – mostly somewhere around 500 words. The discipline of writing continues to be an interesting experience.  My thanks to all that read my posts, and especially to those that make comments about specific posts. My especially thanks to those that retweet a post, mention it in a newsletter or even a newspaper.

Some posts are seemingly never read by anyone; others attract a lot of attention and yet others are slow burns, starting by creating little interest and then over time acquiring a growing band of readers. ‘Bank holidays for teachers’ is one of these posts. Initially, when the idea was mooted by Labour during the spring of 2107, just before the general election, it attracted little notice. Now, it appears regularly in the list of visited previous posts.

The last year saw about 17,000 visitors to this bog – a bit down on the previous couple of years – with, on average, two reads per visitor. However, I suspect that the mode is actually one read. A few hardy souls read lots of the posts. Overseas visitors were thin on the ground for most of 2018, but have picked up again in 2019. I am not sure whether this is due to how WordPress record visitors, as it is often possible to have several likes for a post, but no record of anyone having read it!

Posts about the labour market for teachers and numbers applying for training tend to attract a band of regular readers, helped by the notice they are awarded by the umbrella organisations supporting those that prepare teachers. Posts about TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk where I am the Chair of the Board, are attracting more interest, especially now that the DfE has a free site for the state-funded sector. TeachVac also covers private schools in the secondary sector, so offers a more comprehensive free service to both teachers and schools than the DfE. The companion site for international schools – TeachVac Global – had a successful first full year of operation.

The aim, for 2019 and into January 2020, is to reach the round number of 1,000 posts by the blog’s seventh birthday, but without compromising either the length or quality of the writing. It would be easy to reach the 1,000 figure with a series of short posts, but I would rather fall short than just hit the target anyhow.

Sometimes, posts are written, but not published. There are some that I deemed too political after writing them, such as my thoughts on Jeremy Corbyn after his appointment as Labour Leader. I first met him during the 1974 general elections, when I was Liberal Agent in Hornsey and he had a similar position for the Labour Party.

As pieces written quickly, there are often mistakes and poor punctuation. I apologise and do try to clean up mistakes later.

Thank you for reading, and I hope finds the posts interesting, and that you will continue to read.




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.


500th post

Today is the fourth anniversary of this blog. The first posting was on 25th January 2013. By a coincidence this is also the 500th post. What a lot has happened since my first two posts that January four years ago. We are on our third Secretary of State for Education; academies were going to be the arrangements for all schools and local authorities would relinquish their role in schooling; then academies were not going to be made mandatory; grammar schools became government policy; there is a new though slightly haphazard arrangement for technical schools; a post BREXIT scheme to bring in teachers from Spain that sits oddly with the current rhetoric and a funding formula that  looks likely to create carnage among rural schools if implemented in its present form.

Then there have been curriculum changes and new assessment rules, plus a new Chief inspector and sundry other new heads of different bodies. The NCTL has a Chair, but no obvious Board for him to chair, and teacher preparation programme has drifted towards a school-based system, but without managing to stem concerns about a supply crisis. Pressures on funding may well solve the teacher supply crisis for many schools, as well as eliminating certain subjects from the curriculum. In passing, we have also had a general election and the BREXIT decision with the result of a new Prime Minister. What interesting times.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the 40,000 or so visitors that have generated 76,000 views of this blog. The main theme started, as I explained in the post at the end of 2016, as a means of replacing various columns about numbers in education that had graced various publications since 1997.

Partly because it has been an interest of mine since the early 1980s, and partly because of the development of TeachVac as a free recruitment site that costs schools and teachers nothing to use, the labour market for teachers has featured in a significant number of posts over the last three years (www.teachvac.co.uk). I am proud that TeachVac has the best data on vacancies in the secondary sector and also now tracks primary as well and is building up its database in that sector to allow for comparisons of trends over time.

I have lost count of the number of countries where at least one visitor to the site has been recorded, although Africa and the Middle East still remain the parts of the world with the least visitors and the United States, the EU and Australia the countries, after the United Kingdom, with the most views over the past four years.

My aim for a general post on this blog is to write around 500 words, although there are specific posts that are longer, including various talks I have presented over the past four years.

Thank you for reading and commenting; the next milestone in 100,000 views and 50,000 visitors. I hope to achieve both of these targets in due course.

Happy Birthday

Today is the third birthday of this blog. When I signed up for a WordPress account and started writing in January 2013 I didn’t image in three years I would have created a blog that had seen more than 27,000 visitors and nearly 55,000 views of the posts. Thank you also to the band of commentators that read and comment on what I say: I appreciate your thoughts and comments.

Originally, the aim was to comment on statistics about education, but since mid-2014 the issue of teacher supply has come to dominate the blog and indeed much of my time. The launch of TeachVac www.teachvac.com as a free recruitment site that costs nothing to schools, teachers and trainees and offers a platform for vacancies in primary, secondary and special schools for teaching posts from the classroom to the head’s study has also taken off much faster than I expected. January 2016 has been a prenominal month and it isn’t over yet.

My thanks especially to the tutors that have encouraged trainees to sign up when looking for their first job and to the head teachers that have signed up their schools. I hope the data on the size of the ‘free pool’ that might apply for classroom posts is useful.

My thanks also to the support from the teacher associations, governors, business managers, subject associations and many others that have supported my view that in TeachVac there was room for a free recruitment site on the Twitter or Facebook model in the new technological age.

As far as the blog is concerned, the aim is for a post of about 500 words; some are longer, and a few are shorter, but 500 words is about the average. That’s somewhere around 175,000 words to date for anyone that has read the whole lot. I do try to remove the most obvious of the typos and language issues, but editing one’s own writing is, I find, a challenge. I rarely alter a post substantially once written unless there is a factual error on my part.

I hope you enjoy reading the posts, and I will continue writing as long as I feel I have something I want to say. I owe a debt of appreciation to those at the TES that allowed me to write a column for them between 1998 and 2011. It was those pieces that helped me develop my style and appreciate the importance of brevity in communication.

The education world in England is undergoing a period of transformation from a local service nationally administered to a national service that is trying to establish how it can best operate locally. The change is painful to many, myself included that grew up and spent our careers in a public service that was defined by the involvement of local government. What the world will look like if this blog reaches its fourth birthday next year is difficult to predict. However, teacher supply transcends school organisation; teachers matter.

Thank you for reading.


Happy 2nd birthday

240 posts in 24 months: more than 30,000 views: visitors from across the globe. Little did I think when I posted my first entry to this blog in January 2013 that it would reach such an audience only two years later.

My thanks to those of you that read the postings regularly. I fear that the blog has strayed slightly from its original purpose of re-telling the stories behind the numbers into a wider range of topics.  Perhaps that was inevitable given the range of issues arising out of education policy over the past two years. However, the topic that has come to the front, especially during the past eighteen months, is that of teacher supply, and recruitment into both training and employment.

I started my career in teaching in January 1971 in the middle of a recruitment crisis, being hired as a supply teacher to cover parts of two vacancies the school couldn’t fill. The school was a challenging one and a place some teachers came to look, but didn’t bother to stay even for the interview as they know there were other vacancies they could apply for in easier schools. I don’t want to see this situation again. We came close to it in 2003, and the risks are once again in plain sight.

By the time the general election campaign is in full swing in April the situation both regarding recruitment for September and for recruitment into training for 2016 employment will be well known and the government will have nowhere to hide if the situation has deteriorated compared with last year, especially for entry into training.

As a Lib Dem county councillor I am still aware that the issue left over from the Labour government of a well defined and engaged middle tier to sit between Westminster and the schools still hasn’t been properly solved. Academies, as the recent events over their accounts show, are not part of a unified system working for the good of all. Competition hasn’t yet been fully replaced by cooperation, and the notion of good schools for all with choice between good schools and not between a good school and a less good one is still little more than an aspiration on parts of the country.

So, we now wait to see what will happen after the general election. Will there be another whirlwind, as there was in 2010 with the Academies Act arriving on the statute book less than three months after the election. I would be surprised if that turns out to be the case. Much, as ever, will depend upon the personality of the Secretary of State and what they want to achieve. Gove wanted to be Education Secretary: does either of the current Labour or Conservative politicians with the brief really want the job after May?

This year I have helped create TeachVac as a new and free matching service for schools looking for teachers and applicants looking for teaching posts. Full details are at www.teachvac.co.uk. This may take more of my time, so I cannot guarantee to continue ten posts per month in the next year: but I will see what can be done. Once again, thanks for reading.



Happy birthday

The first post on this blog was exactly one year ago today. Since then there have been more than 8,500 views of the 114 posts. Some 86 people have identified themselves as following the blog, and there are a number that repost to their own followers. Interestingly, the last two days have been the best two for views, with more than 650 views on Friday alone, after the link to the blog was posted on a national site.

During the past year, several issues about education in England have become clearer. Schools remain the focus of much of government policy, but how they are managed is still not clear. The differing roles of mutli-academy trusts, academy chains, and School Commissioners, let alone dioceses and local authorities are still to be fully determined, especially in the primary sector.

Schools are expected to play the key role in preparing the next generation of teachers, but whether they do so won’t become clear until this summer. If they fail to recruit enough trainees over the next few months there might be a real crisis in teacher supply by 2015, especially in the subjects that don’t interest the Secretary of State, but may be vital to the economic well-being of the country. Over-allocating training places is fine, but ensuring the required numbers are recruited is even more important.

The good news is that schools are performing better probably than at any stage in the past fifty years, at least for their most able pupils. There is still some way to go in many schools with helping their less able pupils reach their full potential. However, the government, at least at official level, seems to be more willing to consider progress measures rather than a focus on just outcomes. After all, we don’t know how much of the GCSE and A level success is due to schools, and how much to the investment in private tuition many parents are willing to fund.

Despite the rapid strides in new technology that are occurring almost on a daily basis, with open access courses probably being the triumph of 2013, schooling is still a very labour intensive activity. For that reason the morale of the workforce is vital to pupil achievement. The government seems to recognise that in relation to school leaders, but might be more understanding of the support needed for classroom teachers. Educating Yorkshire and the travails of the Teach First trainees have shown TV viewers across the country what working in real school is like on a day to day basis, and made teacher bashing by ministers less believable. Between now and the general election the government has to think about recovering from its short-sighted abolition of the GTCE, the professional body for teachers. Supporting a College of Teachers might be a sensible option.

Looking back across the past year, if this blog has achieved anything other than to allow me the pleasure of writing a weekly column, as I did for the TES for more than a decade, it has been to highlight the issue of teacher supply. There is more discussion, and more data available, than for many years. If that helps prevent a teacher supply crisis in the future then I will be more than content. In the meantime, I will continue to write at roughly weekly intervals with the aim of discussing the numbers around the school system in England. Thank you for reading, and a big thank you to those who have sent me comments during the past year.