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.

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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.

 

Changing the Guard

One of the last vestiges of the coalition government is disappearing from the DfE. Sir Paul Marshall, the recently knighted Lib Dem donor and chairman of ARK, has announced his resignation from the DfE Board. Should you wish to apply for the £20,000 a year post – 24 days of work officially required, but probably more expected – you have until the 4th July. The advert is on the Cabinet office website at https://publicappointments.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/appointment/lead-non-executive-director-department-for-education/ I am sure you will need experience at a high level and need to be in sympathy with government proposals for education.

With a new Permanent Secretary, a new Chief Inspector and relatively new Head of OfQual, the Secretary of State will have a relatively new team around her. Of course, after Thursday and the resulting fallout, whatever the outcome of the referendum, there might also be a new ministerial team as well.

All these changes can mean the start of a new era for education in England, especially if they are accompanied by changes in personnel in the leadership of some of the associations representing staff working in the sector. Or, they could mean a period of uncertainty as the new team takes up the reins.

Nowhere may change be needed more than in the supply and training of teachers. The fig leaf of the NCTL, with its chairman without a Board; the recent unfavourable reports from the NAO and Public Accounts Committee about the training and recruitment of teachers; not mention a White Paper with lots of ideas, but short on detail, means this is an area that needs urgent attention.

The creation of the long-awaited National Teaching Service and a decision on what to do about a national recruitment site as well as a consideration of the future shape of the teacher preparation market all require urgent attention in Whitehall. It is interesting to note that in asking for bids from providers for the 2017 teacher trainee cohort the NCTL has required bidders, whether schools, higher education or private providers, to include evidence of local demand in support of their bids. TeachVac is offering a service to providers to help with the evidence they need. (Interested organisations should email data@teachvac.com).

An announcement on the next stage of the National Teaching Service must surely follow quickly after the ending of purdah if timescales for the service to be any use in 2017 are to be met. Of course, the cutting of funds for schools through increased NI and pension costs may reduce the need for teachers, as many any slowdown in the economy, should it arise for any reason, with the possible effect of making recruitment less of an issue than it has been over the past two years.

However, the fact that Ofsted are now apparently looking at recruitment issues in their inspections http://schoolsweek.co.uk/ofsted-judging-schools-negatively-for-teacher-shortages/ suggests action is being taken to consider what schools and MATs are doing about recruitment. As a result, schools being inspected will be in need of comparative data for their area and they should contact data@teachvac.com about what is on offer.

Needless to say, one defence must be: we could have recruited if the government had met its target in Design & Technology (or insert appropriate subject or phase), so it is not entirely our fault. But it will help to have the evidence.

 

Good, bad and indifferent (coasting)

The headline  of this blog sort of sums up my view of the performance of academy chains as I read it in the Sutton trust Report issued today. http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Chain-Effects-2015.pdf

As a local politician, I might be forgiven for saying that such a judgement might have been made about local authorities when they were more directly responsible for schools and not, as now, just the education young people living in their communities receive. Even though that battle for local authorities to be allowed to act as academy chains was lost, at least with the two historically large political parties, some time ago, the need for an understanding of the effects of geography on academy chains and their performance is worth monitoring.

The Sutton Trust report seems somewhat light on the effects of funding. Where chains have schools in different funding bands – Ark has most schools in London, but some in Birmingham and on the south coast – do schools with different funding levels perform differently?  This might suggest that either the Pupil Premium or a national funding formula would be the better policy initiative to support.

The Sutton Trust accepts that generally London schools do better than schools elsewhere and academy chains with a strong London focus seem to do well. Is that because they are better funded; because they are nearer the DfE and can meet officials more often; have better leadership; or some other factor perhaps related to how we measure disadvantage?

I think, as in the days of local authorities there is a clear message about both leadership and purpose in this report. By itself neither is sufficient. Perhaps a score on leadership turnover might be added to a future report. Both Harris and Ark have strong central direction and some continuity of leadership. The best Chief Education Officers ran authorities where they knew what was wanted and set out to do more than just manage their schools. To the extent that hasn’t yet happened with the academy chain model means that governments seem to have replaced one system regarded as failing by another that probably isn’t yet any better overall. Whether the loss of democratic accountability is a price worth paying for the cost of the change is a matter for debate.

In defence of some academy chains they have taken on some very challenging schools. There may have been a degree of self-belief in the academy process that verged on naivety among all concerned. Changing the label on the door and upgrading the uniform may be necessary but not sufficient requirements for changing a school, but every academy chain needs to understand what works for the type of schools it is managing. The DfE needs to make sure they do so: hence the need for Ofsted to inspect academy chains in the same way as they do local authorities.

Finally, it would be interesting to rank academy chains on the central costs of running the chain compared with outcomes. I don’t know whether better performing chains are leaner or whether less well preforming chains need higher overheads to manage support for challenging schools? Certainly, salary costs needs looking at when some chains are paying their directors more than Directors of Childrens’ Services that are responsible for both far more schools and a social services arm of their service. Both, after all, are being paid with public money.