Tidying Up

One of the side effects of isolation is the time to do those jobs you have been putting off doing for ages. In my case, this includes tidying up part of my study. However, as I a great believer in ‘creative chaos’ rather than the clean desk method of working, I find it all too easy to become distracted.

The latest distraction has been around two unique books in my collection. Both were given to me as leaving presents. In both cases I had made it clear to colleagues that the normal envelope passed around the staff wasn’t what I wanted. If people wanted to thank me for my time with the organisation, then they need to use their intellectual capital not their cash.

When I left Brookes University in 1996 to join the then Teacher Training Agency as its ‘Chief Professional Adviser on Teacher Supply’ to quote for the press release issued at the time, I asked staff for something that either inspired them in their own education or had been important to them in their career either as a teacher or working in an education establishment. They were kind enough to put the resulting collection to a book, and then to allow me to add some thoughts of my own. I have always wondered whether this might form the basis of an interesting anthology.

The second book was presented to me when I retired from Times Supplements in 2011, just under three years after they had bought my company. My then deputy, crafted a book containing many of the columns that I had written for the TES over the 11 year period when, in one form or another, I churned out a weekly piece, usually about numbers somewhere in the school system. In those days the government produced many more statistics than it seems to do these days.

In the past few years, I have returned to that compendium from time to time, either to check a fact or to reflect how some things have changed and others have stayed the same.

As many regular readers know, I wondered about stopping this blog in January with the 1,000th post. This is the 20th post since then, so that was a New Year resolution that didn’t last. But, looking at the other books, set me thinking whether I should produce two more? Firstly, a collection of the first 1,000 posts on this blog: the good; the bad and the plain indifferent, and secondly a shorter collection of the ‘best’ posts selected by readers?

Do please leave a comment and a suggestion either if you think it a good idea or if you think it a mere vanity project that should be discarded without further ado.

Either way, it is always good to hear from readers and I am still wondering who it was that downloaded every posts on Christmas Day 2019, creating a record score for views on any one day during the history of this blog.

 

1000 and out?

Seven years ago, in January 2013, I started writing this blog. Over the years the number of posts have fluctuated, as the table below reveals.

Year Total Posts Total Words Average Words per Post
2013 108 72,284 669
2014 121 76,579 633
2015 113 66,337 587
2016 146 83,869 574
2017 164 92,350 563
2018 183 107,223 586
2019 161 88,792 552
2020 4 2,073 537
total 1,000 589,507 590

Source WordPress data

Seemingly, I have become less wordy over the years, with 2019 posts containing around 120 fewer words on average than the 2013 posts. There have been more than 1,000 likes for these posts, and slightly more comments from readers. I am especially indebted to Janet Downs for her many and helpful comments over the years.

Since early 2018, visitors numbers to the blog have started to reduce, and although Christmas Day 2019 saw someone view the whole archive of posts, making it highest day for views ever recorded, the trend has been for fewer and fewer views.

If this trend continues, is it worth my making the effort to write this blog? I started it in 2013 because I was concerned that there would be a teacher supply crisis, and I wanted a platform after writing regularly for the TES for over 10 years, and for Education Journal for a couple of years after that. It is interesting to look back at the discussions over teacher supply during the summer of 2013 that so upset some within the DfE. I would like to be able to predict when teacher supply will no longer be an issue, but on present trends that may not be until the second half of this decade for the secondary sector. There should be less of a problem in the primary sector.

Since 2013, I have established TeachVac, the largest free vacancy service for teachers, and also been elected as a county councillor in Oxfordshire – and, incidentally, stood in three general elections as a candidate– and found time for a range of other activities as well.

So I am conflicted as to whether or not either to continue this blog in its current form or just to sign off at this the 1,000 post? TeachVac continues to expand, listing more than 60,000 vacancies last year, and is already on track for more in 2020, and is consuming more and more of my time. Happily, it remains the largest free job site open to both schools and teachers in England, so is well worth the effort.

With the DfE’s move to take over the application process for graduate teacher preparation being trialed with some providers this year, even that monthly update provided by this blog may become impossible, unless the DfE allow access to the data on at least the same basis as UCAS have done over the past few years.

So, perhaps it’s time for a rest and a search for new horizons. Thank you all for your comments and questions.

 

 

750 not out

After celebrating its 5th birthday in January this year, this blog has now reached another landmark: the 750th post. The administrators tell me that means somewhere close to 450,000 words have appeared so far, with a word count averaging somewhere between 550-600 words per post: slightly shorter in recent years than in 2013 and 214.

Key themes in recent times have included, the place of local democracy in the school system and the recruitment scene for teachers, whether into teacher training or for the labour market for teachers and school leaders. This blog has published an analysis of the monthly figures from UCAS for applicants and applications to teacher preparation courses for graduates almost since the day it started. Those post followed on from a monthly review I wrote during the first decade of the century. It that case, circulation was only to a band of paid subscribers.

My involvement with TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk and its global affiliate www.teachvacglobal.com has allowed me to make comments on the state of the labour market for teachers and school leaders in England. However, since much of the data TeachVac holds is unique to the company and TeachVac is a free to use recruitment site for both schools and teachers it isn’t a good idea to give away everything for free, so the data has been used sparingly on the blog.

How did this blog come about? Between 1998 and 2011 I wrote a series of columns for the Times Education Supplement, the venerable and much respected publication for the teachers and their schools. When I retired from their service, I wrote for Education Journal for a year or so, but was never really satisfied by being tied down again to a publication schedule: hence, eventually in 2013, the blog.

The nature of blogging provides freedom to the creator of the pieces to say what they want when they want. Originally, it was a blog about the numbers in education. To some extent it still is, but it has widened its approach, especially after I became a Liberal Democrat County Councillor in Oxfordshire in May 2013. My experiences with schools in Oxfordshire has resulted in a number of interesting posts since then, some of which have subsequently appeared in print in the Oxford Mail.

Where next for the blog? I suppose the next goal must be to reach 1,000 posts, probably by sometime in 2020. There is certainly enough to write about.

I would like to thank the many people that have added comments to the various posts over the years. There are some regular commentators, such as Janet Downs, and there are those that have just posted a comment about one specific post. Then there are the many people that have liked various posts. Thank you for your votes of support and appreciation.

The blog is mainly read by United Kingdom readers, although recently there have been more readers from the USA than in the early days and there has always been a small number of visitors from locations in different countries around the world.

If you have read this far, thank you for letting me indulge myself and I hope to keep you entertained, informed and possibly sometimes even educated.

 

 

Thank you Laura

Buried in the opinion section of Schools Week is the news that Laura McInerney has stepped down as editor of that publication after a three year stint in the role. During her time at the publication it has become a leading publication for news and opinion on the education scene. It has especially helped sharpen up the use of data and statistics with some compelling on-line graphs and other representational methods. I much appreciate the work Schools Week has achieved in this field.

Despite a small staff at Schools Week, I have always considered the level of journalism to be exceptionally high, and I read the on-line version most days, often before choosing what to write in this blog. Sadly, that means I don’t pay for what I read.

As a regular blogger, as well as the founder of the free recruitment site for schools and teachers, TeachVac, I know how frustrating the freedom of the web can be to those trying to make money from publishing. I am sure that Schools Week is not a philanthropic publication, but trying to make money must be a real challenge.

One of the early staff at Schools Week, along with Laura, was Sophie Scott. She interviewed me for one of the first dozen Profile pieces, even before Laura had become editor. I had first known Sophie when she had worked for the Oxford Mail and Times, a paper that has created many fine education journalists that have subsequently worked on national titles. The link with Sophie helped create an excuse for Schools Week to ring me up from time to time to ask for my opinion and sometimes just to take note of what I had written in my blog.

Laura had a great interest in the lives of those who have been Ministers of Education or Secretary of State for Education. Indeed, I think she may be one of the few people that has read Ellen Wilkinson’s book, ‘The town that was murdered’ about Jarrow in the 1930s. She has also, I know, read Fred Blackburn’s biography of that other post-war Labour Minister of Education, George Tomlinson, Eileen Wilkinson’ successor after her untimely death. No doubt she has also read all the books of the lives of all other holders of the top ranking education post at Westminster.

Laura doesn’t say what she will be going on to do now she has relinquished the editor’s chair, but I am sure she has a great career ahead of her in whatever field she chooses to work. I note that she hasn’t entirely severed her connection with Schools Week, but will write for them from time to time.

Laura, thank you for everything you have achieved over the past three years at Schools Week, and I am sure you will be enjoying your first Christmas without having to worry about either the next story you have to write or editorial decision you have to make. Thank you for your tenure at Schools Week; you will be missed.

 

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.

 

A Second Thank You

Recently I thanked readers of this blog for helping me reach the 25,000 visitors mark in the two years and nine months I had been writing the blog. Today, the blog had its 50,000 view and passed the 26,000 visitor mark this morning while I was talking to an audience at the Academies Show.

So, another big thank you to readers and those that recommend the blog to others. I know that 25,000 and 50,000 are small beer in the blogosphere, but they are important milestones to me as when I wrote my various columns in the TES I rarely know how many people were reading them. New technology makes for so much more data.

In celebrating these milestones, I also celebrate the growth of TeachVac, the free recruitment site for teachers established at the start of the year. I will reveal its success in more detail at the end of the year when it has been in operation for a full twelve months, but it is fair to say that it has exceeded our expectations in its first year.

In the autumn statement today the Chancellor said of education:

2.65 The government will help schools to make savings on procurement, including by exploiting economies of scale. In 2016 the government will publish a set of specific actions to support school leaders target over £1 billion a year in procurement savings by the end of the parliament through benchmarking, guidance and improved framework contracts.

If anyone knows how to convince the government that TeachVac is already starting to do just that and has so far cost the government, schools and teachers nothing, not a single pound, then could they please let me know?

For those of you that don’t know the site it is at www.teachvac.co.uk and there are simple demonstration videos of how to use the site if you are a school or a teacher or trainee. We also have facilities for local authorities – possibly coming back into favour again despite the cut in the Education Support Grant today – and academy chains and others responsible for groups of schools to upload vacancies in batches.

A unique feature of TeachVac is that schools posting main scale vacancies in most secondary subjects are told what we thing the market is like at the point when they post the vacancy. We think that is a unique feature. TeachVac staff can also provide other data and analysis of the labour market in schools for interested bodies and we gather this together in our monthly newsletters and regular Reviews.

This blog is now well on the way to its third milestone of 360 posts in 36 months. There are 24 to go by the end of January 2016. I hope that will be achievable.

It is always good to receive comment and encouragement because writing anything can be something of a lonely process. So, many thanks to those that comment and especially the small band of regular commentators.