Return to teaching: more needs to be achieved

One of the issues that the DfE’s annual data about the school workforce always revives is that of what happens to those that train to be a teacher and either never teach in state funded schools or leave after a period of service. The data can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2018

One side of this equation is concerned with retention rates, and that has been dealt with in an earlier post. The other side relates to the possibility or indeed probability in statistical terms of those teachers either ‘out of service’ or with ‘no service’ re-entering or teaching for the first time in state-funded schools.

Now this is not as straightforward an issue as some might think. A proportion of these teachers are certainly teaching, but not in state schools. Some are in further education, sixth form colleges, initial teacher education and private schools and are counted in the ‘other’ column where service is pensionable, but not in a state funded school. Others, and this may be a growing number, are teaching overseas in the schools offering fee-based education in countries where those with the cash don’t want to or cannot access the local school system. Occasionally, as in the case of the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, these teachers might also be teaching in the state school system.

The rapid growth of such ‘international’ schools – at least in terms of their staffing – in China remains a concern as a potential drain on teacher numbers in England. Although it isn’t all one-way traffic.

Anyway, returning to the data, about half of ‘out of service’ teachers are older than 45, and thus less likely to return to teaching if still in the labour market. A few might do so, but large numbers of returners from this age grouping are unlikely. Among the younger age groups, some have deliberately decided to take a career break, often to care for young families or elderly parents. With good quality local ‘keep in touch’ schemes, and the sort of bounty paid to armed forces reservists for undertaking a period of professional development each year, this group can be an excellent source of additional teachers.

Although the DfE has managed programmes in the recent past to entice these teachers back into the classroom, the schemes have so far been derisory when compared with those initiated during former staffing crisis.

And what of the 17,000 or so teachers that gained QTS in 2015 and 216, but have no recorded service in state funded schools? How much has the DfE spent on following up what has happened to these potential teachers? Some will be teaching, but not captured in the data. Of those that aren’t teaching, what feedback can we obtain that would either improve their training, if that is the issue, or manage the labour market better to achieve optimum use of a scare resource in our teachers.

It seems daft that location specific career changers cannot be guaranteed a teaching post on successful completion of their training programme. This is surely a disincentive for some to switch careers, especially when they also have to pay tuition fees. Time for a Carter style Review of these issues?

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Carter and after

Launched into the expectant world on the day the World Education Forum opened in London, The Carter Review of Teacher Training seems to have passed by much of the national media largely un-noticed. That’s a shame as a lot of hard work went into the Report even if its recommendations were hardly earth shattering and probably won’t do much to help solve the teacher supply crisis schools are facing.

I don’t see it as my place to critique the Report in detail, but to highlight the bits that interest me. These are; the return of an understanding of child development; subject knowledge and its importance in teaching; the issue of qualification versus certification; and finally the question of a quart into a pint pot – sorry, that shows my age; a litre into an eighth of a litre jug.
But first, Carter reaffirms that those preparing to be a teacher need both practical experience of the task and an under-pinning of theoretical knowledge. This really reasserts the partnership model developed in the 1990s after Kenneth Clarke’s reforms that established the TTA. To that extent there is really not a lot that is new in the Carter Report, only nuances reflecting the manner in which the system has developed over the past 20 years.

However, one new aspect is the mention of child development. Ministers in the Thatcher governments of the 1980s didn’t think that knowledge of the ‘ologies were important for those training to be teachers and sometimes seemed to equate them with views that weren’t acceptable to free market Conservatives. The recognition of the importance of an understanding about child development for trainee teachers is a welcome change. An understanding of their social settings might also be a useful addition to the curriculum. But, adding anything to the overcrowded curriculum and classroom experience for trainee teachers is fraught with difficultly as there is no spare time in the present preparation period on whatever route a trainee takes.

To that end, the discussion about subject knowledge while welcome reflect the concerns raised ever since the 1990s when the Clarke reforms effectively removed subject knowledge development time from most secondary courses in favour of extra time in schools. There just wasn’t time for both within the 38 weeks of a course. To allow for subject knowledge to be re-introduced would mean extending the course, and changing the funding structure. This could allow fees to be replaced with a grant from central funds as was the case before tuition fees were introduced, but would bring new challenges. However, even more important to government is that if subject knowledge is vital during the preparation period it is obviously as important in schools. This raises the question of why Carter didn’t ask whether QTS once gained should continue to allow a teacher to teach anything to anyone as is the case at present. After all, what the point of subject knowledge in geography if you spend two thirds of your timetable teaching history and RE as part of a Humanities programme and you dropped history before GCSE and have no training in RE. Not to address this issue raises questions about how coherent the Carter Review actually was in trying to develop a strategy for the teaching force.

Finally there remain the issues around certification and accreditation. Again, this is not new a new debate. In the original Bill establishing the TTA in 1994, the famous Clause 13 was about whether trainees would be required to have a higher education qualification as well as QTS. It was accepted that QTS was the licence to teach and the issue, as today, was whether or not it required a university qualification as well. In those days, it was just about SCITTs, as employment based routes were in their infancy. Realistically what matters is, if government is going to control the supply of places on training routes, how those places are allocated, and to what type of providers, rather than qualifications. As I have suggested before, uncapping university numbers means that if teacher training is within that same fee regime as other university fee programmes then the government has to establish why the removal of the cap doesn’t apply to teacher preparation courses as well.
Carter could have been more radical, but seems to have chosen a path where most can agree with many of the recommendations while leaving something for everyone to take forward. Sadly, his terms of reference didn’t allow him to explore the real question of the day, how to recruit enough trainees of the right quality in the right places. The next government won’t be able to duck that question quite so easily.

Unqualified Teachers: where next?

On the day before the Carter Review is expected to publish its awaited report there has been a flurry of interest in the use of unqualified teachers. Since the data from the DfE is nearly a year old and relates to data collected from schools in November 2013 it might not be expected to be a topic to attract much interest. However, perhaps it has been a slow news day ahead of Carter and at least one post on another bog appeared on the subject this week.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the DfE definition of an ‘unqualified teacher’. Such a person is: ‘a teacher in an LA maintained school is either a trainee working towards qualified teacher status; an overseas trained teacher without QTS or an instructor who has a particular skill who can be employed for so long as a qualified teacher is not available.’ Now an academy may employ such people according to the doctrine of the former Secretary of State. Michael Gove but the DfE definition doesn’t seem to have caught up with that change in their School Workforce Survey, at least in the 2013 edition.
However, it probably doesn’t matter because the total number of unqualified teachers in November 2013 was still below that in the early 2000s during the Labour government’s period in office. In November 2013 there were 17,100 unqualified teachers in all state funded schools in England compared with 18,800 in 2005 and 18,200 in 2006. The 2013 figure will have included both those on the first year of Teach First, a programme introduced by Labour, and probably those on the School Direct salaried route where they are employed by schools. As their predecessors on Labour GTTP Scheme were also included in the totals there is little change methodology there, although the supposed popularity of the scheme might have been expected to boost the numbers. But, this blog has already pointed out that there are fewer School Direct salaried trainees this year than there were GTTP trainees in secondary schools a few years ago.
It would be helpful to know how many instructors are being employed in schools by returning to the separate categories for trainees and ‘instructors and other unqualified teachers’ employed by the DfE until a few years ago. This would allow commentators to check trends in genuinely unqualified staff that had no intention of obtaining a teaching qualification. Such numbers are important to know with a looming teacher supply crisis and mixing up school-based trainees and staff recruited to fill vacancies otherwise unfilled or because a schools doesn’t believe in the present preparation methods for teachers isn’t helpful, but perhaps it wasn’t meant to be.
Tomorrow is the official launch of TeachVac our free service for schools seeking secondary classroom teachers and trainees looking for their first job. http://www.teachvac.co.uk has already attracted sufficient trainees to make over 1,000 matches in the first two weeks of January and provide valuable information about the state of the job market. Do take a look at the video on the site if this is an area of interest.

Still looking for teachers

As of Sunday three-quarters of the undergraduate teacher training courses in England were still in ‘clearing’. That was just over 30 courses. What was interesting was the large number of church universities that weren’t in clearing. Indeed, even if you exclude the University of Durham from the list of church universities, despite the historical association between its teacher education college and the Church of England, more than half the list of institutions not in clearing were church universities, with Reading, Leeds and London Metropolitan Universities being the three exceptions.

From a quick look through the clearing courses, secondary design and technology and some of the sports Science courses related to teaching, as well as primary teacher training courses are looking to fill their remaining places. Of course, the clearing lists don’t tell anything about how many places are still available. Is it one at each institution, a tiny percentage of the overall total, or a more substantial number? Perhaps how many courses are still in clearing in a couple of weeks time will provide a better indication of what is happening?

With the skills tests to pass, and most courses starting around the 15th of September, although one or two start at the beginning of the month, there is little time to spare, especially  with the bank holiday to be taken account of as well.

How far the switch of numbers resulting from some providers returning places, and the National College having had to reallocate them in the early summer to different providers, has led to so many institutions offering at least one teacher training place in clearing cannot be ascertain from the raw figures. However, as I have constantly said in the past, we need to ensure the best possible candidates are recruited into teaching.

The DfE is undertaking a study into recruitment and retention, and it might be helpful if they evaluate as a part of that study whether there are differential retention rates from the different types of training. We do need to know the true costs of all training routes if some have a lower retention rate than others.

If we assume a training cost of £10,000 per student per year allowing for expenditure not currently recovered through fees, then a five per cent difference in retention rates might cost several million pounds extra in training. For this reason alone, it is worth monitoring the different routes. However, since one route is never likely to be able to supply all the need for new entrants, it may be necessary to accept some differential wastage rates; but work to reduce them.

Nevertheless, if the main reasons for leaving the profession are retirement and for family reasons, it is worth looking hard at those other cases where some malfunction in the system has caused a person to quit the profession that they trained for. Teachers are a precious resource; we cannot afford to discard them lightly.