Working smarter not harder

In a previous post I alluded to the need the government to be put on a war footing in order to fight the present COVID-19 outbreak. Every day, all I hear is ‘we are working flat out’ to deal with the situation.

Well, perhaps, as the headline suggests, we don’t need so much to work flat out, but rather to use our heads a bit more. I am reminded by re-reading Churchill’s wartime memories that he took aircraft production and design away from the Air Ministry in 1940, and passed it to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. He asked Lord Beaverbrook to be the Minister in charge. He added that the air Ministry didn’t like this arrangement but that ‘our life depended upon the flow of new aircraft’. The point was well made.

Do we need to do something similar for testing? There are more than 4,000 school chemistry labs sitting idle at present. Every community in the country has one, with a technician and graduate teachers that could be retrained to undertake the anti-body tests when they are ready. Perhaps some might even be used to test for the virus if suitable cleaned and sterile?

Schools have 3D printers. Can we use them to create parks of face protectors and raid DIY and builders’ merchants for the face covering to fix to them? Task then to produce equipment for front-line pharmacy staff in the first instance since there are suggestions that they are well down the line in the PPE stakes.

This weekend a letter from the PM will be delivered, taking up Post Office resources that might be better used elsewhere. It will be accompanied by a booklet with all the current advice from government. However, I haven’t seen where this is available in large print; braille or even other languages for those not fully conversant in English. Is this a good use of resources at this time, especially if the government changes the rules on things such as business loans? Also, it doesn’t seem to remind those with bus passes of the change in use times during the crisis.

For those without cars and not in the key vulnerable groups, and living alone, this can be a tough time. Should more local stores offer ‘click and collect’ to reduce the numbers needing to browse shelves? Surely, one sanitised volunteer picker may spread less infection than a group of customers to a store, however well-spaced out they are.

I gather than some private schools are asking for either full or part fees for the summer term. It will be interesting to see how parents respond to these requests. I suspect that without fee income and the summer income many schools will struggle to cope with a six month break. We should be planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

Keep safe and well and my best wishes to all readers.


How to advertise a teaching vacancy

Many schools still don’t seem able to work out how to achieve the best results from the changing world of advertising for teaching posts. The concept of ‘free’ adverts for schools is now firmly established as a key part of the marketplace, with the DfE’s site following along in the footsteps of TeachVac that created the first free site for schools and teachers more than four years ago. Additionally, most schools now also place their vacancies on a specific part of their school website.

However, schools don’t seem to have reviewed their policy towards how they make the most use of the changing landscape for recruitment. Take science vacancies as an example: when you are paying to advertise a vacancy it makes sense to create an advert that will maximise the chance of making an appointment, especially if you are paying for each advert individually. Hence, a school is most likely to advertise for a teacher of science, with some specific indication in the text of any desired skills or subject knowledge, such as physics or chemistry beyond ‘A’ level.

Reviewing vacancies placed by London schools so far in 2019, TeachVac has recorded more than 700 ‘advertised vacancies across the sciences by secondary schools in the capital. Of these, 73 are adverts for teachers of chemistry; 98 for teachers of physics and just 60 for teachers of biology, but 487 for science teachers. So, almost overwhelmingly, schools are still advertising for science teachers and nothing else. Many of those with adverts for chemistry and physics teachers are independent schools or schools that have a specific interest in teaching the sciences.

So here are a few suggestions for schools as the 2019 recruitment round reaches its peak. If it costs you nothing, try placing both an advert for a teacher of a specific science, say physics, as well as an advert for a science teacher, if you really want a teacher of physics. Sure, it makes some people’s task of analysis more challenging, but that’s not your problem. With lots of possible teachers of biology, if that’s what you want, say so.

Putting two different adverts on your web site costs a school nothing. The same with either registering and entering two different science jobs in TeachVac or letting TeachVac deal with them. For maximum effect, it is probably worth placing the vacancies a day apart. In most cases, where a school has a subscription to a paid service that doesn’t limit the number of adverts placed in a given period, the school could use the same tactics.

Indeed, between January and the end of April, it is worth considering precautionary advertising based upon the experience of previous years in order to build up a register of interested teachers. But, do remember that most teachers are mainly interested in finding a job, not specifically a job in your school, and if one comes up elsewhere, then they could no longer be interested in your vacancies.

Schools should also note that some candidates searching for vacancies may register only for physics, biology or chemistry vacancies and not for science vacancies as a generic term. Some sites create more restrictive matches than others. In those cases, some possible applicants might not see your vacancy.

A word of warning to MATs that use central recruitment sites, are you ensuring this works to the advantage of your schools?

Finally, a plea, do please check your vacancy adverts for simple errors, such as out of time closing dates and text that differs between headlines and copy text. You will be surprised how often TeachVac staff either cannot match a vacancy or have to contact a school for clarification, something they can only do if time allows them to do so before the end of the daily routine and the matching of jobs to teachers.


Increasing Science Teacher Capacity

The Gatsby Foundation has continued its contribution to the debate about how to solve the shortage of science teachers with a new pamphlet entitled: ‘Increasing the Quantity and Quality of Science Teachers in Schools: Eight evidence-based principles’. The on-line version can be found at:

Although the document is primarily about science teachers, it has some generally applicable points that can apply to some other subjects as well. However, it is a bit potentially limited in its application in places, in that it doesn’t seemingly put the points into any order and it doesn’t discuss what might be the best scenario if some of the suggestions are impossible to implement. Take the second suggestion of ‘Providing Stable Teaching Assignments’ where the document suggests that:

‘Heads of Science should consider increasing the stability with which teachers are assigned to specific year groups. This may be particularly valuable in science departments that do not have enough staff to specialise across the three sciences. Assignment to specific key-stages is particularly important for early-career teachers, who are still gaining fluency in planning (Ost & Schiman, 2015). Where staffing pressures make it necessary to add new year groups to a teacher’s timetable, departments should provide additional support such as materials and mentoring.’

Ost, B., & Schiman, J. C. (2015). Grade-specific experience, grade reassignments, and teacher turnover. Economics of Education Review, 46, 112-126

There is good sense here, but how do you protect the only qualified physics teacher if that is what the school has?

Teachers in other subjects where staffing levels do not permit this type of approach; religious education, music and often the humanities, for instance, might well ask how any school will compensate for the necessity of teaching across all year groups. Should non-contact time differ by subject and the amount of lesson preparation and marking required of a teacher?

In science, we seem to be returning, if indeed we ever left, to a situation where there are far more teachers in training with a background in biology than in the other sciences. The House of Commons Education Select Committee recently discussed the 4th Industrial Revolution, and the needs for the future of British Society. If there is a lack of balance in the abilities of teachers of science to cover the whole gamut of the science curriculum, how might the needs of the future influence how the skills of those teachers the system does possess are most effectively utilised?

The Gatsby pamphlet also suggests flattening the pay gradient in the early years of a teacher’s career. However, if every school did this it might nullify the effects. There is an argument for looking at pay differentials and calculating the cost of turnover of staff and recruitment challenges against paying part of the recruitment costs to the existing workforce. Recruitment and Retention allowances make this a possible strategy for schools with the available cash. However, many schools would say that at present they do not have the cash to take such an approach to solving their staffing issues.


Some trends for 2019 in teacher recruitment

In two of my recent posts I looked at the prospects facing schools that would seek to recruit either a teacher of design and technology or a teacher of business studies during 2019. These prospects will also apply to schools seeking to make appointments in January 2020, as there will be no new entrants to the labour market to fill such vacancies. If, as happens in both the two subjects already discussed, there are sufficient vacancies for September to absorb the whole output from ITT courses, then schools faced with a January vacancy, for whatever reason, really do face a dilemma. In some cases agencies may help, but in others it is a case of making do until the summer.

As mentioned in the post that initially analysed the ITT census for 2018, the position in physics is once again dire, with less than half of the ITT places filled. Fortunately, there won’t be a shortage of science teachers, since far more biologists were recruited into training that the government estimate of the number required. However, recruitment of chemistry teachers will prove a problem for some schools as 2019 progresses, since one in five ITT places were left unfilled; the highest percentage of unfiled places in recent years. Perhaps some early professional development on increased subject knowledge for biology teachers required to teach the whole science curriculum at Key Stage 3 might be a worthwhile investment.

In 2018, there were not enough trainee teachers of English to meet the demand from schools for such teachers; it 2019 that subject will be less of a problem, but finding a teacher of mathematics might be more of an issue for schools once again, although various CPD initiatives may have helped improve the mathematical knowledge of those teaching the subject and may have helped to reduce demand. Only time will tell whether a shortage of teachers of mathematics will once again be a headline story for 2019.

Although state schools may have reduced their demand for teachers of art, the independent sector still generates a significant demand each year for such teachers. The fact that more than one in five ITT places weren’t filled in 2018 may have some important regional implications for state schools seeking such a teacher, especially where the demand is also strong from the private sector schools. The same issue is also true for teachers of religious education, where demand from the state sector was weak in 2018. Any increase in demand during 2019 would see schools experiencing more problems with recruitment than during 2018.

All these assumptions are predicated on the belief that rising pupil numbers, and the associated funding per pupil, will more than cancel out the pressure on school budgets across the country. Once again, TeachVac expects that London and the surrounding areas to be the focus of most demand for new teachers and the North East, the area where schools will experience the least difficulty in recruiting teachers.

TeachVac will be there throughout 2019 to chart the changing trends, and I would like to extend to all readers of both this blog and users of TeachVac and its international arm, TeachVac Global my best wishes for 2019.


TeachVac issues end of term warning

Schools across England will find recruiting staff for unexpected vacancies in January 2018 challenging. This is the message from TeachVac, the free to use job board for teacher vacancies across all schools in England that is already saving schools large sums of money in line with the DfE policy of reducing unnecessary expenditure by schools.

TeachVac is celebrating entering its fourth year of operation. At the end of the summer term of 2017, TeachVac have rated 7 of the 13 secondary subjects it tracks as in a critical state for recruitment. This means that TeachVac is warning schools of recruitment difficulties in these subjects that might occur anywhere in the country and not just in the traditional high risk areas for recruitment.

The high risk subjects are:



Design & Technology

Business Studies

Religious Education



In the other six subjects tracked in detail by TeachVac, most schools will still find recruitment easier, although any specific demands such as subject knowledge in, for example, a specific period of history will always make recruitment more of a challenge. On the basis of current evidence, TeachVac expects schools will face the least problems in Physical Education and Art where, if anything, there is still some local over-supply against need in some parts of the country.

In Science overall, – but not in Physics and possible Chemistry – Mathematics; Modern Languages overall, but not in certain language combinations, and in History, supply should still be adequate to meet expected demand between now and January 2018.  Because most schools still advertise for teachers of languages and science and only specify within the advert the more detailed requirements it takes longer to analyse the data on vacancies in these subjects and that information is not yet fully available beyond the headline figures.

TeachVac can provide the data in a form useful to schools facing Ofsted inspection where recruitment may be an issue for the inspection team. For local authorities and others interested in the recruitment patterns over the past three years in specific locations and between different types of school such as academies and free schools, TeachVac now has a wealth of data available. TeachVac is also now looking in detail as senior staff appointments and especially leadership posts in the primary sector and the challenges some schools face in replacing a head teacher when they leave. The outcome of that research will form the basis of a further detailed report to follow the posts already written on the topic.

With recruitment to training for courses starting this September still below the level achieved last year, 2018 is also beginning to look as if it will be a challenging recruitment round, especially for schools not involved in training teachers either directly or through tie-ins with other training providers. This blog will update the situation regarding numbers offered places for September at the end of this month and again at the end of August.



More from the land of the White Rabbit

Yesterday The Guardian newspaper published some figures about recruitment to teacher training for this September. I am not sure whether this was based upon a leak or data provided by the DfE BUT given solely to The Guardian newspaper as I have not been able to locate the figures anywhere on the DfE web site. Either way the numbers, as they appeared in the newspaper, are a challenge to interpret.

Take the total shown as accepted for Physics, the subject of a recent post on this blog. According to The Guardian some 560 people have been accepted to study as Physics teachers. This it is claimed fills 57% of the target of 990 places. Eagle eyed readers will already be wondering about the use of the term target as the DfE has recently been using the alternative word ‘allocation’ to account for the number of training places available. Anyway, leaving that matter aside, according to the Statistical Bulletin published by the DfE on the 13th August, there were 1,143 Physics places issued to providers. That’s 153 more than the number quoted in The Guardian. So is the real number 560 of 1,143? This would be 49% filled, not 57% as quoted in the paper. Either way it is a big fall from the 925 Physics and Physics with Mathematics entrants recorded in the ITT census last November.

There are similar issues with the numbers quoted in other subjects. Mathematics is cited as having 1,910 accepted candidates for 2,460 places when the DfE Statistical Bulletin showed 3,054 places or 2,929 if undergraduate numbers are excluded. Last November, 2,635 trainees were recruited, so we have apparently lost 700 possible Mathematics teachers in one year; that’s about one for every five schools.

The claim that 90% of secondary places have been filled is dubious in the extreme. I am very curious that Chemistry apparently has a bumper crop of applicants as that is not what I am hearing. Even in primary, where there should be no issue in filling places, word is reaching me of anxiety in some quarters about the outcome of the pre-entry tests. It is to be hoped that the Select Committee will be able to sort the numbers issue out on Wednesday when they quiz the Minister. But, the definitive point of reference will be the ITT Census in November. By then we will also know how enthusiastic schools are about taking up all the places in School Direct for 2014.