How do you teach politics today?

One of the more interesting side effects of what is happening in Westminster, Paris and Washington at the present time, is how those staff teaching politics syllabuses prepare candidates for examinations this summer? Do they a] ignore everything happening at present and assume the status quo ante in terms of what they expect in answers to questions and essays, regardless of what they teach in lessons, or b] do they try and provide students with an understanding that they can convey in their essays when by the time the examinations arrive the situation might yet be different again.

Take the following section from a syllabus published on the internet:

 Parliament and government relationships
  • Accountability 
  • Executive dominance 
  • Elective dictatorship 
  • Bicamera

 The roles of the House of Commons and House of Lords in scrutinising legislation and holding the government to account. The influence of backbenchers, frontbenchers, whips and the Opposition.

Answering that section after the events of the past ten days is going to be interesting, let alone what might happen over the next four months leading up to the examination day. The same is true of the section about ‘The role of parliament in the political system’.

I guess the safe way forwards will be to start any answer with something such as ‘Received wisdom and understanding up to the start of 2019 was …. This is expressed by writers such as …’ and then delve into what has changed if the candidate feels comfortable with being able to explain the new reality.

Earlier today I posed this dilemma to a well-known educationalist and former teacher of politics and was reminded by her that there have been occasions in the past, such as a change of Prime Minister between the setting of the exam paper and the date the examination is taken that can make the expected predicable answer no longer accurate, unless it is place in a historical context.

I guess this is the risk with a subject that deals with contemporary life. Fortunately for economics and business studies examiners, stock market crashes has a greater tendency to occur in the autumn, after the harvest has been gathered in, than at other times of year. Although the same cannot be said for inflation or interest rate changes.

Nevertheless, it is politics lessons that must be the most interesting lesson on the curriculum this week. In higher education, students can often attend courses just out of interest and one wonders whether some sixth formers might want to do so for politics lessons at present. Alternatively, for most it might be a big bore, even though it is up there with Peel and reform of The Corn Laws and the decline of the Liberal Party in the 1920s and the effects of the Great Crash of 1929 in terms of its magnitude as a parliamentary event.

Finally, I understood the term bicameral for a parliamentary system of two chambers, but the syllabus quoted above was the first time I had come across the use of ‘bicamera’ to describe such a system.

 

 

 

 

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Is business studies a shortage subject?

On the face of it, business studies isn’t a subject that can be classified as one of the really problem subjects for the government to have to deal with in 2019. The percentage of trainees recruited against the Teacher Supply Model has hovered around the 75-80% mark apart from in 2015/16 when it dropped into the mid-60s. The 80% mark isn’t especially low compared with some other subjects.

However, with Brexit looming in 2019, the government would do well to ensure there are sufficient teachers of the subject to help create future generations of both the managers and leaders of enterprises; not to mention entrepreneurs as well.

In 2018, the ITT census recorded 180 trainees in business studies. If the same rules were applied as in the previous post regarding the shortage of design and technology teachers, then that number is reduced finally from 180 to 128 trainees, after the removal of those on Teach First, School Direct salaried route and a five per cent figure for non-completion or not entering teaching in a school after the end of the course.

How does this figure of 128 possible new entrants to the teaching labour market in September 2019 and required for January 2020 vacancies match up against perceived need over recent years? TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk the free to use job site for teachers and schools, now has data stretching back over more than four years.

Recorded vacancies for business studies teachers – these vacancies may include an element of another subject as well as business studies – were around the 750-850 mark in the three years from 2015-17. However, possibly due to even better recording by TeachVac in 2018, the number of vacancies recorded in 2018 was just over the 1,100 mark.

Interestingly, 29% of the recorded vacancies during 2018 were placed by schools located in the London area. If the schools in the South East region are added in, the percentage of the total vacancies recorded by these two regions reaches 53%. It would be helpful to know how this squares with the distribution of ITT places, especially as the London vacancy total must be reduced by the effects of the Teach First trainees. Without them, the vacancy total would, presumably, have been even greater.

Even if 2018 has been a rogue year, then even allowing for re-advertisements of 25% – surely a high percentage – in a total of 800 vacancies – that would mean some 600 teaching posts were advertised in an average year.

Applying a rule of thumb of 50% vacancies being taken by new entrants and the other 50% by returners and teachers moving schools, the requirement would be for 300 trainees or more than double the 128 that might enter the labour market. Even if re-advertisements comprised 50% of the total of advertisements, there would still not be enough trainees to satisfy the demand across the country and London and the South East would continue to face shortages.

Should the CBI, Federation of Small Businesses and other organisations concerned with the health of our economy and the nurturing of enterprise be worried by these numbers? Probably, but it depends upon your view of what should be taught at school? One view is that all we need is EBacc: another that starting an understanding of business early in life can inspire future leaders.

Well, with these number of trainees, even allowing for late entrants, those switching from the further education sector and teachers from overseas, if allowed, then some schools are going to struggle to recruit a business studies teacher during 2019. As I wrote in the post on design and technology teachers; if you have a business studies teacher already, it will pay to look after them.

Road safety campaign to help cut child deaths

The Government has launched a new road safety campaign aimed at teachers and schools to help cut child fatalities. A recent survey revealed that 67% of children get fewer than 2 hours of road safety education in their whole time at school and the aim of the new THINK! Campaign is to help schools and teachers highlight the dangers of roads and encourage best practice for children.

I welcome this announcement as coincidentally I attended the Oxfordshire Sixth Form Road Safety event last week. This takes the form of a hard hitting video of a group of young people involved in a two car road incident that leads to the death of one passenger and the paralysis of another. The video is interspersed with testimony from emergency service personnel; medical staff; a parent that had a child killed in a car crash; someone paralysed as a teenager after a night out and finally, a teenage driver serving a long prison sentence for causing death by dangerous driving. All their testimony is moving and some sixth formers are so affected that they leave in tears. Watching it for the second year was no less moving that the first time around, even though I knew what was to come.

Even if the driver is sober, the combination of a full car of teenagers; rural roads with lots of bends and trees and often loud music is a very high risk situation. A careless shout at the wrong moment or some other distraction and the result is a tragedy that could have been prevented.

The new THINK! Campaign from the Department for transport will feature a wide range of new education resources, including easy to follow lesson plans, 2 new films co-created with school children and a song in a bid to make teaching road safety lessons easier and more accessible. The first documentary-style film follows a group of school children as they act out how to cross the road safely after learning to use the Stop, Look, Listen, Think code. The second film follows another 6 children on their different journeys to school, including walking, cycling and scooting. The children explain their top tips for getting to school safely in the form of a new road safety song. The first phase of resources, aimed at 3 to 6-year-olds, are already on the Think! Web site. The next 2 phases for ages 7 to 12 and 13 to 16 will follow in the New Year. I hope that they will be interactive and make use of modern technology to engage with this tech savvy generation.

The importance of this work means that Ministers at the DfE should be aware of the needs of the whole child and not just their academic requirements. Schooling is for life not for just passing examinations however welcome today’s news on reading levels may be.

Finally, road safety also means training in cycling and, as we encourage more young people to cycle to and from school, we need to ensure that they are especially aware of how to stay safe.

 

To educate: To draw out not to kick out

I am delighted that the governors of St Olaf’s have reversed their policy about those that their school is there to serve. Might this be one case where the diocese has played an important role in changing hearts and minds?

Could this be one of the turning points in education history? Might all state schools now consider the purpose for which they are funded: to educate all and not just promote the seeming best. The quote from C S Lewis, cited in my previous post, really does look like it belongs to a previous age. His Narnia chronicles may still resonate with children and parents, but his views on education certainly shouldn’t. There was an inkling of the national mood last year when the idea of more selective schools was doing the rounds in the more old-fashioned segments of the Conservative Party.

Now is also the time to ditch the culture of league table schooling. Those with a good understanding of the revolution caused by the 1987 Education Reform Act will recall that alongside financial devolution and the National Curriculum ran the concept of ten levels of achievement. This allowed every child to have another level to aspire to achieve. Even a child at level one had a goal and the school could work to help them achieve it. Sadly, somewhere along the line, we ditched the ‘every child has a goal’ for the measure of the gaol achieved by the school as a collective. Naturally, this led to a desire to remove those that weren’t helping the school maximise its potential.

Now, as we approach the 150th anniversary of the 1870 Education Act that helped create schooling for all, it is time to redefine our beliefs in the role of education. We should no longer be looking for reasons to exclude, but for methods to challenge our pupils to succeed. Such a change will reinforce the great work already undertaken by many teachers and could even help to attract more entrants into the profession.

As a next step, the government might like to evaluate whether the over-insistence on the English Baccalaureate is actually hindering the aim of all pupils achieving both personal goals and goals of use to society? As a geographer by background, I welcome pupils studying the subject through to Year 11, but not at the expense of subjects such as design and technology. That subject has been so decimated by government actions that it is suggested that only 315 trainees had taken up offers of places on teacher preparation courses by late August. This is compared with more than 1,100 a few years ago.

Yet, a love of technology, or design and certainly of food can become an important motivator for life after school. Yes, homes and even TV programmes can play their part, but the motivation and support provided by schools remains critical in the development of a child’s education and their future progress as an adult.

The Secretary of State should now reaffirm the purpose of state education as developing the potential of every child entrusted to the State by their families. Those that want to enter a high stakes risk form of education, where lack of success mean exclusion, can still use the private sector.

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.

Subject expertise

The DfE recently published an interesting document about specialist and non-specialist teaching in schools. The original can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/analysis-of-specialist-and-non-specialist-teaching-in-england

The DfE accepts that data collection methods currently mean it cannot link data about pupil outcomes directly to individual teacher’, as is possible in some jurisdictions, including, I believe, some US School Board districts. As the DfE note:

As a consequence of this data limitation, it is not possible to directly evaluate the impact ‘specialist’ teachers have on pupil outcomes by comparing them to ‘non-specialist’ teachers. This report employs a variety of analytical strategies to estimate the impact indirectly using school level data. New analysis of the impact of ‘non-specialist’ teaching presented in this report is therefore based on the proportion of ‘specialist’ teaching calculated at school level.

Now, there is a further difficulty about what determines a specialist teacher and especially the place of un-reported post-entry professional development. This is a direct consequence of the fact that QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) is not linked throughout a teacher’s career to a subject or even a phase of education. Thus a teacher qualified on a PGCE in physical education and with a sport science degree could take a second degree in say, physics, but this would not necessarily be recorded and they wouldn’t receive access to funding for a new teacher preparation course unless there was a specific government re-training initiative.

Some years ago, I looked into who was teaching mathematics at Key Stage 5. Some successful schools didn’t seem to employ teachers with mathematics degrees, but rather those with degrees in other subjects. This didn’t seem to affect examination results. So, an interest and liking for the subject may be an important ingredient in successful teaching, but in some circumstances it may not be enough as standards are raised. I guess I would struggle to teach English even at Key Stage2 now, because my knowledge of the technical underpinning of our complex language is limited, as this blog regularly displays to its readers. However, even with a degree in economics and geography I happily taught geography, including physical geography, for a number of years in a comprehensive school, although even now I am not sure I could still do so as the subject has move don so much since then.

Anyway, back to this interesting DfE report. Using their definitions ,the authors of the DfE report state that:

The available data show that for a suite of subjects the extent of ‘specialist’ teaching in secondary schools in England is comparable or higher than the international averages. The vast majority of hours taught in England to pupils in years 7-13 in most subjects are taught by teachers with a relevant post A-level qualification. In November 2015, the respective proportions were 88.9% for all subjects, 90.2% for EBacc subjects, 89.2% for Mathematics, 91.5% for English, 91.5% for History, 89.0% for Geography, 79.0% for Modern Foreign Languages, 80.2% for Physics, 88.8% for Chemistry and 95.1% for Biology.

This, of course, raises the question, why then don’t we do better at international tests such as PISA? Is it because we do different things. Or, is it that the 10% of teaching not taught be specialists has a disproportionate effect on outcomes?

Table 2 on page 23 of the report provides a useful timeline of changes in percentages of specialist teaching in a typical week. It confirms that in the aftermath of the recession most subjects reached their peak of percentages taught by a specialist. Since 2013/14, possibly due to the start of increased pupil numbers and the falling interest in teaching as a profession, percentages have started to decline in key subjects, most notably in Physics, where, form a peak of 83.3% in 2010/11 there had been a decline to 80.2% in 2015/16.

Table 4 is worth reproducing here in part, as it shows the proportion of hours taught in a typical week in November 2015 to pupils in years 7 to 13 by the highest relevant post A-level qualification of teacher using a matched database of teacher qualifications and the TSM subject mapping.

Subject Degree  BEd PGCE Other None Total
Mathematics 60.6 3.9 20.1 4.7 10.8 100
English 78.2 2.0 7.7 3.7 8.5 100
Any Science 87.3 1.9 5.1 1.1 4.6 100
Physics 66.9 1.8 10.4 1.2 19.8 100
Chemistry 79.2 1.2 7.8 0.6 11.2 100
Biology 86.9 1.3 5.8 1.2 4.9 100
Comb/General Science 90.8 2.1 4.0 1.2 1.9 100

The low percentage for Physics is especially noticeable. Presumably, it is even higher at Key Stage 3. The significant percentage of teachers of mathematics with a degree in a different subject is also worthy of note.

This post cannot do justice to the wealth of information in the report and I would urge those interested in the topic to read the full report as it repays the time taken, but not on Christmas Day.

Government sees history as more important than design & technology

The new scheme to fund courses to attract returners to teaching in Ebacc subjects, but not in other shortage subjects such as design and technology and business studies, shows a government that values history more than encouraging the next generation to see the importance of the fashion, catering, engineering, electronics and many other industries. After all, design and technology as  asubject is facing a far greater teacher shortage problem than is history. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/461490/SRT_Pilot_Guidance_final.pdf

There is really no shortage of history teachers, at least in the State Sector, although I suppose they could be expected to teach Key Stage 3 humanities to relieve the looming shortage of geography teachers. But, what of Religious Education, IT and music, all other non-Ebacc subjects where there have been, are, or will be shortages. Don’t these subjects count in the curriculum any more to the Tories in government?

There is also an argument that the programme may be too late. The main recruitment cycle is between March and the end of May each year, but these courses might not finish until July. This means some taking the course might have to wait until January 2017 before finding a teaching post.

However, it marks a step in the right direction. Will training schools, the new orthodoxy for the location of training, have the space and resources at the price offered to run such courses? With no London price differential it seems likely schools in the capital will have to balance their recruitment needs with their ability to subsidise a course.

I am sure the intention of this programme is to increase returners, but it isn’t clear what market testing the National College has undertaken. Please could it not just be a ‘hit and hope’ activity where someone has identified returners as a possible group where supply could be increased, but not even bothered to look at JSA claimant counts for teachers across the country. I also hope that alongside this scheme there will be funds and encouragement for a return of KIT or Keep in Touch schemes for teachers on maternity leave. Yesterday, by chance, I met a teachers working on a national peer to peer self-development site that looks very interesting and innovative. It is just the sort of scheme the government might set up an innovation fund to help get off the ground. But that would be directly the opposite of the micro-managed approach taken with the Returner Scheme.

Keen readers of Hansard will also have noticed that the Labour opposition used the debate on Wednesday on the post-committee stage of the Bill to introduce the theme of teacher shortages and their effect on schools being cited as coasting. It is always gratifying when data one has produced is prayed in aid in the Chamber as part of the debate.

As ever, it is by the opposition, but hopefully there will also be a mention of TeachVac and its contribution to understanding the teacher supply situation sometime soon as it gains credibility as a free recruitment site to schools and teachers. Indeed, TeachVac can also help those returners the government scheme attracts to find their teaching post.