A National Vacancy Service

Tomorrow, the DfE is holding a meeting to brief recruiters about its plans around a service publishing vacancies for teachers and school leaders. In the light of the demise of Carillion, is this new service a move based upon foresight by officials of the need to protect services from private sector enterprises or a belief that State operated services can do the job cheaper than private companies?  This is an important issue, since there are many in the government and among its supporters that see nationally operated services, of the type a vacancy service would presumably offer, as little more than a return to recreating nationalised industries.

At this point I must declare an interest for new readers of this blog. Some years ago, I helped form TeachVac to provide a free national vacancy service for teachers and for schools to save money on recruitment advertising, through the use of modern technology to bring together schools with vacancies and those looking to apply for such posts. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk and its offshoot for international schools, TeachVac Global, www.teachvacglobal.com are now the largest since source for teaching posts in England and can help to attract teachers back to work in England. All at no cost to the public purse.

TeachVac also had the added bonus, of providing real time information on the labour market: something the DfE will no doubt also want to play up about their service. This week, TeachVac will have already a recorded record number new vacancies for teachers and school leaders since schools returned from holiday just over a week ago.

As I pointed out recently in the blog post about business studies teacher recruitment – blink and they are gone – a large proportion of vacancies recorded so far in 2018 are in and around London. As of yesterday, 58% of recorded vacancies in 2018 were from schools in London; the East of England or the South East with just 32% located in the other six regions. The percentage was the same for both vacancies in the primary and secondary sectors.

Is this because these areas are seeing the fastest growth in pupil numbers and are already adding new vacancies in expectation of their growing rolls? Is it because teachers in these areas are leaving in larger numbers. TeachVac Global is certainly seeing interest from teachers wanting to consider working overseas. Is it because these schools feel the new National Funding Formula doesn’t hurt as much as it could have done and they now feel more confident on their spending for 2018/19? There are other ways of answering these questions: TeachVac at least points out what to ask.

TeachVac will shortly be publishing two reports on aspects of the teacher labour market during 2017. One reviews primary school leadership and the other considers main scale vacancies in the secondary sector across England. Details of the cost and how to obtain them will be available on the TeachVac web site. As a free service, TeachVac is happy to discuss data provision for teacher trainers, schools, MATs, diocese, local authorities or indeed anyone interested in labour market real time data on teacher vacancies.

 

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Requiem Collegium

So the long journey for teacher recruitment, training and development has finally come full circle. From the establishment of CATE (the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education) and creation of the TASC unit (originally, Teaching as a Second Career- Lucy Kellaway please note this is not a new idea) in the 1980s, to the brave new world of the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) as an NDPB or Quango in the 1990s and then its successor the TDA, through to the NCTL and the return to being an executive agency of the Department in 2012 (with a Chair but no board), to the final announcement of the re-absorption of teacher responsibilities, except regulation, back into what I assume will be the Teacher’s Branch or Unit of the DfE, the  journey has led us finally back where we started.

In practice, the latest change probably won’t really make much of a difference and, even at its height, the TTA didn’t manage all teacher recruitment programmes. For many years, employment-based routes and the short-lived Fast Track Scheme were outside their remint. Teach First has always operated on a different set of governance rules in relation to the DfE. Ministers will now be directly accountable for the success or otherwise of the annual teacher recruitment campaign and the presentation of data about recruitment. Once the writing was on the wall for the General Teaching Council in England, the return of all teacher matters into the Department was probably only a matter of time.

As a one time employee of the Teacher Training Agency, and a long-time monitor of the working of teacher supply, will I shed any tears over the latest announcement: probably not. There are fashions in government delivery mechanisms, as in so many other areas of life, and the trend has been for simpler and more direct reporting arrangements over the past few years.

If I have a concern about the announcement, it is over the responsibility for professional development and the articulation of what a teacher can expect in developing their careers during a working life of 40 years. It is general knowledge that preparation courses of all types in no way cover everything a teacher needs to know to undertake the basic work of a professional successfully.

To move to new levels and different responsibilities needs more development, alongside the general changes caused by both research outcomes and the march of technology, let alone changes in society. The College of Teaching, when it is fully successful will play an important role, but the Department, with its access to the purse strings, must create policy. It could start with ensuring there is adequate preparation for primary leadership across the country. The dual academy and local authority system of governance, complicated as it is by the extra layer in the primary sector of diocesan schools, needs much more careful monitoring and attention than it has generally received over the past few years in respect of this key development priority.

So long as civil servants continue to take advice and discuss with others the approach to the recruitment, training and development of the teaching profession this move won’t harm the profession. But, it is worth reflecting why the journey was commenced more than 30 years ago.

 

School Recruitment Service Mark 2 announced

Yesterday, at the Public Accounts Committee, a senior civil servant announced the date for the DfE’s latest foray into the world of teacher recruitment. The DfE’s version of a vacancy service will go on trial in the spring. Over the past two months, I have written a couple of posts about the development of this service, first mooted in the 2016 White Paper and then, somewhat surprisingly, rating a mention in the 2017 Conservative General Election Manifesto. In the meantime, the DfE has been quietly beavering away designing their service.

With political backing of this nature, such a wasn’t going to be ditched easily, unlike the plans to offer middle leaders for struggling schools, unceremoniously dumped this time last year. So, I am not surprised by the latest announcement.

As regular readers will know, I chair TeachVac, the free service for schools and teachers that has been up and running for the past four years with no government aid and is now the largest platform by number of vacancies for teacher vacancies in England. More recently TeachVac has expanded to handle vacancies in international schools around the world through TeachVac Global www.teachvacglobal.com

As TeachVac is free to everyone using it is England, competition from the DfE doesn’t both us; although I do wonder about the size of the DfE’s budget that will be needed to ensure the new product doesn’t follow the route to oblivion of the School Recruitment Service of a decade ago. Perhaps someone could ask a PQ or submit an FOI to find out how much money they aim to spend on marketing the trial next spring?

For paid providers of recruitment services, whether, either just vacancy advertisements or through recruitment services and teacher placements, the threat to their profits is more real. You only have to look through the accounts posted on the web site of Companies House to see how valuable teacher recruitment has been over the past few years and why the government might have wanted to offer an olive branch to schools by providing a free service at this time so many schools are strapped for cash.

As I pointed out when starting TeachVac, such a service, like TeachVac, also helps satisfy the National Audit Office’s remarks about the lack of data available to the DfE about the teacher labour market. What they will do with the data they will obtain we won’t know until 2020 at the earliest, as 2019 will be the first full year they will be able to obtain data for a whole recruitment cycle. However, by then Ministers won’t be able to fall back on just the data from the School Workforce Census.

TeachVac, now covers all schools state funded and private – I wonder whether the DfE will offer their service to the private sector – as it does with access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme – or restrict it only to state-funded schools thus offering a lifeline to paid services.

I will post more when I have read the transcript of yesterday’s Public Account Committee hearing where the announcement was made.

Nationalise teacher recruitment?

Does the Prime Minister’s speech to the CBI Conference this morning leave us any the wiser about the future for a DfE managed teacher vacancy service? Since there were several mentions of education and in particular T Levels and higher education in the speech, I assume the DfE, and The Secretary of State’s Private Office in particular, will have seen a copy of the speech or even watched the recording on YouTube, assuming that they weren’t following it live as it was delivered.

The Prime Minster was, as you might have expected, looking to the future while at the same time reminding her audience of past successes, including the first industrial revolution and the number of Nobel Prize winners Britain has produced. Here are some of the phrases she used during her speech; ‘back innovation’; ‘support business people’; Invest in key public services’ and ‘deploy infrastructure for the long-term’.

She also said that there were choices to be made and government must learn from past failures. I am sure after the failure of both the Fast Track Scheme and the School Recruitment Service the DfE has been learning from the past. Dumping the scheme to provide middle leaders for challenging schools a year ago also showed a willingness not to take on schemes that won’t work. Indeed, as Yorkshire was one of the regions that scheme was aimed at, it is interesting to read the account in the Yorkshire Post of the success of the teacher recruitment programme run in Bradford over the past three years, although it does seem to have been a tad expensive.

So, should the DfE set up in competition with the free market? The TES, eteach, The Guardian and indeed TeachVac have been doing a good job matching schools offering jobs with teachers seeking vacancies. The TES embraced new technology and the internet almost two decades ago and eteach has always been an on-line platform.

TeachVac created new technology to develop into what is now the largest free site for teaching vacancies in England.

So, is there a place for government in this market place? You might argue that government can operate for the long run. But, the TES has been serving the market for more than 100 years and the others are not fly by night organisations. You might argue that a DfE led service would provide the government with better data about the labour market for teachers than they have had in the past and that’s difficult to deny, but they could obtain that for other providers at less cost.

You might also argue that the DfE can offer the service cheaper than the private sector, but with TeachVac already offering a free service to schools that is a difficult argument to sustain.

The Prime minster talked about government working in partnership with the private sector, even so it is difficult to understand why the DfE has chosen a company with little knowledge of the intricacies of the teacher labour market to undertake their initial work on the vacancy project. No doubt this is something the Public Accounts Committee can explore when they question the DfE on recruitment and retention.

TeachVac has demonstrated that the use of new and innovative technology can drive down the price of teacher recruitment: should the government of the private sector take the rewards?

 

 

 

A National Vacancy Service for Teachers?

The DfE’s explanation of their aim for a national vacancy service mentioned in yesterday’s blog may have partly been provoked by the following parliamentary question answered on the 13th October.

Gloria De Piero: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, when the free national teacher vacancy website announced in the March 2016 White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere will be operational. 

Nick Gibb: The Department is undertaking user research with head teachers, school business managers and recruitment staff and established, returning, aspiring and newly qualified teachers, to strengthen its understanding of the issues schools face when advertising teacher vacancies and the challenges teachers have finding and applying for jobs. It is using this to inform the development and design of a new national teacher vacancy service. We are currently at an early stage of prototyping the new service and testing to ensure the service design is one that best meets the needs of users. Depending on the outcome of this development phase, we would expect to start building a service early in 2018. 

Any teacher vacancy service will aim to reduce the time schools spend on publishing vacancies and the cost of recruiting new teachers; make it easier for aspiring and current teachers to find jobs quickly and easily; and increase the availability and quality of data on teacher recruitment.

So, who might be the winners and losers if the DfE does eventually go ahead with a national vacancy service? Much depends upon the structure and take-up of such a service, and it is too early to tell exactly what it might look like. However, assume a free full service model something like TeachVac already provides, but possibly with a few more bells and whistles in terms of handling applications, offering schools facilities for internal short-listing and the handling of references between schools.

Existing paid for vacancy platforms would either have to win the contract, assuming that the DfE puts the service out to tender; possibly at a much lower income than at present, or try to compete with free to schools government service. That scenario has happened in the past when the School Recruitment Service was launched in around 2009. However, the DfE seems to have learnt something from its past mistakes and will presumably be prepared to back any new service more effectively. Nevertheless, as ever, the issue remains as to whether the DfE service can persuade job seekers to come on-board and use the service as their main source of vacancy information or whether schools will continue to use other services, including paid for platforms?.

There is another issue if the government runs the service and that is access to the data collected. At present, the DfE has little management information on the working of the teacher labour market in real-time. A national vacancy service would change that situation, as we know for the data we collect at TeachVac. Indeed, it is one of the reasons for establishing such a service.

Will the teacher associations, the NGA, teacher educators and others with an interest in this area be willing to cede total control over the data to the government?

An alternative model would be for either some joint arrangements between all the interested parties and the DfE or just among the interested parties that train and recruit teachers. They have access to the teachers and trainee and could operate a ‘not for profit’ model at least as cost effectively as the DfE because they are already more commercially minded than the civil servants in Sanctuary Buildings.

 

Can you trust the data?

How often do government departments have to reissue press notices? Following intervention from the Office for Statistics Regulation, the DfE have been placed in that position. The OSR letter can be read at
https://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/DfE-statistics-Ed-Humpherson-to-Mike-Jones.pdf The revised press notice and the other issue about MAT transfers raised by OSR concern matters dear to the policy objectives of Ministers, so any potentially misleading data are of concern.

However, the DfE statisticians also have to battle with others that don’t always provide data that is of top quality. As reported in an earlier post, about local authority expenditure per pupil, there are a couple of local authorities in one table in that Statistical First Release where the data must be suspect because of the reported level: it both cases, way too low.

Then there is the case of under-reporting by schools in areas such as fixed term exclusions and more specifically for the number of pupils placed on reduced timetables, but not excluded. This is an area where more work is needed to discover what is actually happening, not least in the academy sector. This work is important because of the potential safeguarding aspect.

Local authorities and the local Safeguarding Board may not be in full possession of the facts if academies do not fully report to the DfE. It would be a simple change to add to the funding letter that academies are required to report all statistics via the local authority where they are located unless the Regional School Commissioner has explicitly provided for an alternative system that is as rigorous. At present, this is an issue with one part of the dual system not working as well as the other and creating potential risks for young people.

At least these days, as with the re-issued DfE Press notice mistakes can be rectified when noticed. In the former days before the internet such mistakes could become set in stone. One of my first communications with government was to point out that pupil teacher ratios provided in a written parliamentary answer and reported in Hansard were wrong. I think the first local authority in the list missed the PTR and was allocated that of the next by mistake. It wasn’t picked up before printing and went into the record. An error notice appeared later, but who checks written PQs for later revisions? Nobody, I would hazard a guess. As a result, anyone using that data source would have inaccurate data. It doesn’t matter now, but might have then. One year, the Department had to re-issue a whole Statistical Volume because of the number of printer’s errors.

Today, the record can be set straight quickly and easily, even if the original error is retained as well.

Statistics are important as a source of information under-pinning decision making and debate, hence the need for accuracy. The question of management information that is separate from statistics is one that has always interested me. In some areas, such as the labour market for teachers, I have always believed up to the minute information is important to spot changes in trends as early as possible. However, this data is often in a raw state and not 100% accurate. Where to draw the line between management information and statistics is an interesting and ever changing debate as technology provides ever more exciting tools for data collection and analysis.

A new Teacher Supply index from the DfE

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s report form the National Audit Office comes the DfE’s Analysis of school and teacher level factors relating to teacher supply. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/643974/SFR86_2017_Main_Text.pdf

So hot off the press that the early on-line version still had formatting errors in the table of contents. There is now far more statistical information around about the teacher labour market than at any time since the 1980s although most is about teachers and we need more on leadership turnover. However, as in the 1980s, it is still largely statistics and not management information that is available from the DfE.

I have sent the last forty years, ever since I began counting head teacher turnover in the early 1980s, arguing that management information, what is happening in the labour market now, is at least as important and in some case more important than what happened in the past. This is especially important when trends are changing. If the relaxation of the pay cap attracts more teachers to remain or return in the 2018 recruitment cycle for September 2018 vacancies then we should not have to wait until spring 2019 to discover that fact when the results of the 2018 School Workforce Census will first appear; too late to influence recruitment in 2019.

TeachVac, the free national vacancy service was created to cut the cost of recruitment to schools in a period of austerity, but also to develop tools in real time that the DfE has provided historical data about in today’s report. If for 2017, the DfE publishes the outcome of the ITT census in line with the information in Figures 2.1-2.3 of today’s report, then TeachVac can translate that data into an analysis of the 2018 recruitment round and provide guidance to schools on the local labour market.

The lack of complete data in the School Workforce Census of 2016 from almost a third of secondary schools in London must raise issues with the quality of the data for the capital. TeachVac records more secondary vacancies in London than elsewhere. TeachVac has the data to update the DfE’s supply index for the 2018 recruitment round as a further reams of verification. The supply index needs to take into account future pupil growth and the effects of major policy changes such as the introduction of a National Funding formula and changes to the Pupil Premium. Not to do so makes it less of a policy tool and more of a historical record of what has been happened. In creating TeachVac, the decision was that there was a need for information in real time. That said, the factors identified are not by themselves a surprise, what matters is the need to be aware of what is happening now. The tools are available, as TeachVac has demonstrated, the DfE should not shy away from recognising that now local authorities cannot as easily provide information to all local schools there is a need for someone else to be able to do so. The focus should switch from a statistical unit to one that handles both statistics and management information.