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.


Notable during 2013

Education politician of the year

Graham Stuart, chair of the Select Committee at Westminster. He has returned strongly to his role after a serious accident. His rebuke to David Laws for being late and taking off his jacket without permission, and his interchanges with the Secretary of State, notably over careers education, stamped his authority on a Committee where often he has had to rely upon the terrier like support of the Labour members in evidence sessions.

PR coup of the year

Nick Clegg’s announcement, on the Tuesday of his Party Conference, that all 5-7 year olds would receive free school lunches. This was a closely kept secret up to that point, known only to a few. Had it been announced as part of his Leader’s speech it wouldn’t have had the same impact. In the 2015 Manifesto the Lib Dems can suggest extending free meals to all primary school pupils at some point in the future. Honourable mention must go to the DfE for the announcement in early December of the new role of School Commissioners through the jobs pages of the TES. Seemingly even the TES didn’t pick up on the implications. Hopefully, that is not a return to the bad old days when journalists at the TES didn’t know what interesting news stories were appearing in the classified pages of their own paper. Finally, but not in the running for coup of the year, was the Labour Party’s well researched press release issued on Christmas Eve highlighting the government’s failures in recruitment to teacher training courses. Whoever at Labour HQ thought education journalists would be working in the run up to Christmas needs some re-education, especially when these journalists have to work throughout the Easter holidays attending the professional association conferences. This was a waste of a good opportunity.

Export of the year

The TES, to a USA company: will the profits from all that recruitment advertising now flow overseas.

Most challenged local authority of the year

There are two main contenders: Norfolk and the Isle of Wight. This proves that size has nothing to do with success. Both were effectively issued with notices to improve by Ofsted. Interestingly, both are experiencing the effects of a move from a 9-13 three tier system to a break at 11+. Oxford City, whose schools at Key Stage 1 were once the worst in the country also experienced such a system change. It is worth looking to see whether sufficient attention was paid to CPD when these changes take place. Unlike Oxford, both Norfolk and the Isle of Wight also have many coastal communities, one of the vogue terms of the year.

Technology of the year

Tablets: these electronic successors to slates seem likely to put the learning firmly in the hands of the learners even more than laptops did. And, for the first time the software to make really useful is starting to emerge. Whether teachers have been trained to make the best use of new technology, or even old technology like interactive whiteboards is another whole debate.

Still waiting at the bus stop award

The DfE pulled guidance on school transport during the early summer, promising a revised set of rules by the autumn. At the year-end this is still awaited. Perhaps the problems in the Prime Minister’s own backyard may be causing some re-thinking. One overdue change is to increase the age for free transport to 18 now the participation age has been raised. This is a real issue for less well off families living in rural areas, including Mr Cameron’s own constituency, as the audience of around 100 at a recent turbulent meeting at Burford School made clear.

Tectonic Plate award

The notion of combining children’s social services with education into a single department looks increasingly passé. With child protection issues taking up more and more of many Director’s time, and schools policy no longer run by councillors or even authorities but School Forums, the idea of marrying all services for children into one department will undoubtedly come under scrutiny as local government cuts begin to really hurt. For many authorities, schooling is now little more than a regulatory activity and an oversight of standards. For that reason it might now better live in the Chief Executive’s domain in many authorities, along with Trading Standards and the lawyers.

Personality of the year

Like him or loath him, it must be the Secretary of State. Although the Chief Inspector made a brave run on the inside rail late in the year nobody else came close to Mr Gove as the public face of education change. However, the run up to the 2015 general election may prove more of a challenge if other Free Schools follow the Discovery School into closure, and his School Direct training route for teachers proves less than a resounding success. However, his Achilles heel is undoubtedly a lack of feeling for numbers. When the Chancellor was accepting the needs of rural areas, including specifically mentioning schools, at his recent visit to the Treasury Select Committee, Mr Gove was continuing a policy of per pupil funding regardless of where the pupils live. This may drive some Tory voters towards UKIP in 2015 if they think their former Party is favouring urban areas.

And finally, in no especial order, the Parliamentary Education debate of the year award

This goes to the debate where the differences between the coalition partners over teacher training were first written into the Order Paper for all to see.

This afternoon the Labour Party at Westminster have an opposition day debate in the main chamber around the topic. This is the sort of debate that normally passes relatively without comment, but what is interesting is the amendment put down by the government in the names of the prime minister and his deputy; and Michael Gove and David Laws. I have reproduced it below with the key section underlined:

Line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and add ‘notes that this Coalition Government is raising the quality of teaching by quadrupling Teach First, increasing bursaries to attract top graduates into teaching, training more teachers in the classroom through School Direct and providing extra funding for disadvantaged pupils through the pupil premium which schools can use to attract and reward great teachers; notes that the part of the Coalition led by the Deputy Prime Minister believes all schools should employ teachers with Qualified Teacher Status, and the part of the Coalition led by the Prime Minister believes free schools and academies should retain the freedom to hire teachers without Qualified Teacher Status; further notes that funding agreements with academies and free schools will not be altered in relation to Qualified Teacher Status prior to the next election; and regrets the findings of the recent OECD skills report which revealed that those young people educated almost entirely under the previous administration have some of the worst levels of literacy and numeracy in the developed world, underlining the need for radical schools reform and demonstrating why nobody can trust the Opposition to protect education standards.’

For the full write up read the blog entry for the 30th October 2013.

So, what will 2014 bring? But, perhaps that’s best left to another post.