DfE Vacancy site: Value for money?

Like many company chairman, I read the recent story of the Eurotunnel payment with real interest. As chair of TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk I know that my company wasn’t invited to bid for the DfE’s vacancy web site last year, when the decision was taken to undertake a procurement exercise. I am not sure whether any of the other sites providing vacancies for teachers were invited to tender either?

The government can point to the general rules it has in place for procurement and tendering for starting afresh in the market, but not to explore with existing providers whether they can offer a cheaper service may raise the question about of ‘value for money’ over the cost of starting from scratch.

After all, as the DfE has found out for the third time – Think SRS, a decade ago and the failed attempts to create sites to recruit middle and senior leaders – it is not just designing a piece of software that matters with a recruitment site, but also attracting both schools and teachers to use the site. Providing either a platform for existing sites or asking one to provide a DfE backed service at a specified price would have significantly reduced these marketing costs for the DfE as existing providers would have brought an current base of teachers seeking jobs and a marketing strategy for identifying vacancies already in place.

The fact that the DfE site contained at least once simple design error when it started publishing vacancies, and still has only a fraction of the vacancies to be found on some other sites, such as TeachVac, must raise questions about how much the DFE’s efforts are costing the taxpayer.

The DfE site is still only providing information about a fraction of the available jobs where schools are hiring teachers at the present time, and it completely ignores the needs of both the private schools and other institutions that hire qualified teachers, such as elements of the further education sector where teachers may be looking for jobs. For those reasons, others will have to continue to provide a service to those employers.

I am not sure when the period of ‘beta’ testing for the DfE site comes to an end, but serious questions will need to be asked about why the DfE chose to operate the site from London, where costs are inevitably higher than in the rest of the country.

As TeachVac already provides a free service to schools and teachers, I have offered the DfE either notification of vacancies they are missing or a feed of these missing vacancies in a form that can be uploaded to the DfE site; both for a small fee. This would, at least, solve one issue for the DfE in ensuring teachers weren’t missing vacancies by using the DfE site.

After all, the DfE site will never be successful if it doesn’t offer teachers at least the majority of posts on offer. Teachers only want to register with one universal site to be told of jobs.

At present, TeachVac has the most comprehensive list of teaching jobs across both private and state funded schools in England, and teachers are recognising that fact by registering in ever greater numbers as the 2019 recruitment round gathers pace.

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More evidence that London is different

In a previous post about the DfE’s evidence to the Teachers’ Pay Review Body (STRB) in 2019 I mentioned that the DfE cited that the wastage rate for Inner London schools was 14% in 2017. This was the highest for any area in England.

After reflecting upon this statistic, I went back to the data in the School Workforce Census to see whether high wastage rates were confined to specific schools or a more general matter for concern? The basic data on the Census, as it appears on the DfE’s web site, doesn’t allow that question to be answered. The DfE provides information on vacancies and temporarily filled posts at the school level, but not wastage rates. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017

Percentage of schools in the region reporting a vacancy (%) Percentage of schools in the region reporting either a vacancy or a temporarily filled post (%)
REGION  
 
North East 3.2 9.1
North West 2.6 9.4
Yorkshire and the Humber 3.4 11.0
East Midlands 2.9 8.2
West Midlands 3.4 11.3
East of England 3.2 12.0
Inner London 5.3 22.5
Outer London 4.1 24.8
South East 3.8 12.2
South West 2.2 7.4
 
ENGLAND 3.3 11.9
School Workforce Census 2017    

Looking at the table abstracted above, from the 2017 School Workforce Census, it seems that around twice as many schools in Inner London reported a vacancy in November 2017 as did schools in the North West region. The gap was even wider between those London schools and schools in the South West.

Once the percentage of schools reporting a temporarily filled post in the November Census was added in, the gap between schools in London and the South West was even greater. Now, it just may be that there are more temporary posts in London than other regions because more teachers are on maternity leave in London than elsewhere in England. Since London does tend to attract many teachers at the start of their careers, this is indeed a possibility. However, the size of the gap does seem to call into question whether this is the only reason for such a large difference.

Taken together with the wastage figure, it does seem that schools, and especially a small number of secondary schools in London, were facing a problem with staffing at a time of year when schools would expect to be fully staffed.

Previous staffing crises have been based upon data that was collected in January, the census date before the School Workforce Census was introduced. However, if the current census covers the whole period from November to November that change of date would not be an issue. Should the data only relate to the situation at the time of the census, it would be or more concern, as the consequences of departures of any staff at the end of December would not be captured in the data.

What are the implications for the STRB if schools in London were finding the staffing situation challenging in 2017. The STRB will certainly want to know whether the early returns from the 2018 Census reflect any improvements or whether the situation has deteriorated further. If the DfE is unable to answer that question, then I am sure that the teacher associations and others providing evidence will be able to do so.

TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has consistently reported that London schools top the list of schools advertising the most vacancies.

With separate London pay scales, will the STRB look to increase them more than the national scale this year? Only time will tell.

At least one alarm bell is ringing

The demands associated with employing new staff for TeachVac means that I have been a little delayed in catching up with the DfE’s latest submission to the Pay Review Body (the STRB).  This document is more than just an instruction on how much teachers working in school probably should be paid according to the government. It also brings together lots of other useful data about the workforce in our schools.

This year, the document can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/evidence-to-the-strb-2019-pay-award-for-school-staff and probably the scariest figure in the document is buried on page 44, where there is a table on wastage rates for the teaching profession. According to the 2017 School Workforce Census wastage at that point was 14% among classroom teachers employed in Inner London schools. I make that one almost one in seven teachers in London quit. If that isn’t including turnover, but just those leaving the School Workforce Census it frightening, but even if it is all departures, including those taking a job in another London school, the figure is still pretty scare, especially since this is the average.

TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has consistently provided data for this blog showing London schools creating the highest percentage of vacancies per school. Indeed, so far in 2019, London schools are averaging around two vacancies per school according to TeachVac. It is worth noting that London is in an area where Teach First supplies a significant number of teachers, without their help the numbers would undoubtedly be even higher.

By contrast, in the rest of the county, wastage among classroom teachers is around the 10% mark. High, but manageable if supply is sufficient. The fact that in the secondary sector, (and the wastage figures aren’t separated into primary and secondary sector figures), recruitment into teacher preparation courses continues to fall short of need, as demonstrated in table 10 on page 48 of the document for EBacc subjects, is a cause for concern.

The figure for entrants into state schools in 2017, shown in the table on page 43, was just 23,300 teachers across both primary and secondary sector. This is 2,800 fewer teachers the peak of 26,100 reached in 2016. Again the DfE don’t break this number down in the STRB submission between those entering the primary and secondary sectors. I assume the STRB can ask for this data?

Much of the rest of the document puts the best possible gloss on a deteriorating situation. DfE officials have been required to undertake that task on many previous occasions and I am sure, having myself appeared before the STRB on several occasions that its members are well equipped to dig beneath the surface if the teacher associations don’t bring the missing data to their attention.

Finally, a little bit of history. In 2002, when wastage rates were collected in January not November, the total wastage rate calculated from the Database of Teacher Records was 9.9%, the second highest level since 1992. The highest wastage rate was 10.1% in 1998, but that may have been artificially inflated by departures ahead of a significant change to the pension scheme. Sadly, the DfE’s evidence to the STRB in 2019 doesn’t provide an overall national figure for the period November 2016 to November 2017, but I am sure that someone will provide the STRB with the figure.

 

 

Teacher Preparation: national policy or local decision?

Schools Week recently broke a story about the STEP Academy Trust wanting to go its own way on teacher training, just at the time when the government seems to want to create a unified approach to recruitment onto courses preparing would-be teachers.

As documented previously on this blog, Mr Gibb has called for providers not to reject possible candidates wanting to become a teachers. According to Schools Week, one of the reasons for The STEP Academy Group wanting to go its own way was in order that they could demand higher standards than currently achieved by primary PGCE courses that operate through UCAS. According to the article in Schools week, the Trust apparently equates attending a Russell Group University as a key selection measure, along with a B and not a C is English and Mathematics at GCSE. Curiously, the Schools Week article didn’t mention a grade required for Science.

The DfE will have to come down hard on any provider wanting to avoid using a central application system if the government believes such a system is a good idea. Certainly, creating lots of different admissions systems, might well put off applicants. After all, that’s why centralised admission systems were invented in the first place; way back in the 1960s for undergraduate courses.

I am not a fan of the present UCAS system, as it is expensive for both candidates and providers, whilst being cost neutral for UCAS. The former GTTR system of sequential applications also allowed for better monitoring of applicants progress and also provided better data about rejections than the present Apply 1 and Apply 2 system, but it is what we have in place. There was room for improvement, as there still is. The number of places on offer and the number of offers made might help candidates assess where to apply, especially later in the recruitment round when courses are on the cusp of closing.

I assume the STEP Academy will want to operate a form of School Direct salaried training scheme, paid for by the Trust. Neither the Trust nor their suggested university partner have any allocation from the DfE for 2019-20 training places. This raises the interesting question of whether or not those on training courses need to be on courses with allocated places in order to obtain QTS? Maybe because the recruitment cap has been abolished that rule doesn’t matter, but has the cap been abolished for primary courses?

Alternatively, these could be regarded as assessment only candidates, to be presented at the end of the period of teaching in the classroom? There doesn’t seem to be any cap for the number of such people granted QTS each year.

But, none of this probably matters to the school since, under the Govian rule change, they don’t need to employ teachers with QTS; anyone will do, presumably so long as they meet the Trust’s entry requirements.

However, candidates might want to reflect upon the usefulness for a career in teaching of a non-standard entry qualification. Will schools outside of the Trust recognise their qualification? Who knows?

Finally, it may be a bit late for 2019 entry to be thinking of starting a course in September, unless the Trust have applicants knocking on their door as a result of the Schools week article.

I am also surprised that under the National Funding Formula schools in East Sussex have enough income to create such a course. Perhaps it will all be paid for by the Trust’s South London schools?

 

 

Market forces or national pay scales?

The DfE has announced that the Academies Minister, Lord Agnew, has written to 28 chairs of trustees as part of the Government’s commitment to curb what it feels are ‘excessive’ salaries based on the size, standards, and financial health of trusts. The academies have been asked to provide more details on the pay of executives who earn more than £150,000 – and those earning £100,000 if two or more people in a school earn a six-figure salary. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-minister-calls-on-academies-to-justify-excessive-pay

This issue of six figure salaries has concerned the government for some time now, and comments about their letters to Trusts have featured in previous posts on this blog during the past year, ever since the issue first surfaced as a matter of concern.

Schools Week has publish a full list of the Trusts the DfE has written to at https://schoolsweek.co.uk/holland-park-school-warned-over-heads-260k-salary-as-minister-writes-to-28-trusts/

Interestingly, Holland Park School is one of the Trust to receive a letter. Their accounts lodged at Companies House, for the year to end August 2018, show the highest paid staff member receiving an emolument [sic] in the range of £260,000-£270,000 for the year.

Those with a long memory stretching back into the early 1990s will recall that as a large secondary school Holland Park always paid at the top end of the salary scale. But, how to justify around double the national rate for the job as identified by the School Teachers Review Body and the Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document? Well, ever since a Secretary of State allowed academies to ignore both of those documents, the genii was out of the bottle. Indeed, Holland Park School had three staff earning more than £140,000 in 2017-18.

The school is judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and is a Teaching School. The examination results are excellent, but does any of this justify paying such high salaries to senior staff? As a single school trust the head isn’t managing several schools, so there cannot be that argument for additional pay.

Is there an argument around market forces? Without such pay the school would not attract and keep a head teacher? Research into the turnover of senior staff in school using TeachVac data for 2017-18 suggest that only around 12% of secondary schools failed to appoint a head teacher when seeking to make an appointment. The figure is higher in the primary sector.

After more than 30 years of studying the labour market for senior staff in schools, I would suggest that rarely has there been a period when finding secondary head teachers that been easier than at present.  You can justify a recruitment allowance to help heads settle in a new area, but is a differential of around ten times the pay of a newly qualified teacher acceptable? The government clearly thinks not.

Should all public sector schools be brought back within a national pay framework and was it a mistake to allow schools to go their own way? Perhaps the real mistake lies with a refusal a decade or so ago to set rules for what was an Executive Head Teacher and how much they should be paid.

 

Accountability and asbestos

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Commons has just published a report into Academy accounts and performance, with a final paragraph about asbestos reporting by schools tacked on the end for some reason. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/1597/159702.htm proving that Brexit is not quite the only game in town at Westminster this week.

The PAC don’t think that accounts for academies are clear enough and provide enough information at the school level for parents and others from the local community interested in the spending of individual schools. Personally, I have found academy trust accounts more forthcoming than financial information about individual maintained schools. However, there are clearly Multi-Academy Trusts where information has not been forthcoming in the views of the PAC.

We can all cite issues of questionable behaviour by the leaders of some Trusts. The DfE spent a lot of time and effort last year trying to deal with the high salaries some CEOs of Mats were paying themselves, with some degree of success.  However, it wasn’t as if everything was fine and dandy before. Head teachers had been known to fiddle the books and use the school credit cards for unacceptable purposes: a few even end up being prosecuted and doing time in prison.

The PAC has set out a list of demands that the DfE must comply with by the end of March, although I expect that deadline will be extended should there be a general election before to date to exit the EU.

Personally, as I have explained in previous post, entitled ‘Does local democratic control matter in education?’ written in August 2017 that someone has viewed earlier today ,I would rather democratic control was exercised where the school is located by democratically elected local authorities and not from London. I suppose, however, if you believe in the Regional School Commissioner role, and I don’t, then they might be the office best placed in the DfE hierarchy to oversee financial transparency of academies.

I am disappointed that the PAC didn’t mention the behaviour of some academies and MATs in respect of in-year admissions and especially the way they deal with children taken into care requiring a school transfer. That is another subject this blog has championed and will continue to so.

Finally, the difficulty in making schools report about asbestos and the importance of this matter is a real concern. The PAC reported that:

The Department originally asked schools to respond to its survey by 31 May 2018. However, due to the poor response rate, it extended the deadline to 25 June 2018 and again to 27 July 2018. Despite this, only 77% of schools responded to the survey. The Department said that it was disappointed with the response rate. We asked the Department what action it had taken with the 23% of schools that had still not provided the information requested. The Department said that it had re-opened the survey and extended the deadline for the third time, to 15 February 2019, to allow the remaining schools to respond. It also told us that those schools that still failed to respond would be picked up in its school condition survey. However, this survey will not be completed until autumn 2019.

Paragraph 30 PAC Report

This really does reveal why we need a governance structure for schools in England that is both accountable and able to act effectively on important issues of whatever description.

TeachVac – saving schools money

The EPI Report published earlier today, about school balances and the use of their income, especially by secondary schools, provides me with an ideal opportunity to beat the drum for TeachVac, the free recruitment site for teachers, where I am chair of the board.

Over the past four years, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has built a brand from a standing start and at no cost to the public purse. Last year it matched nearly 55,000 vacancies for teachers in England with potential applicants from across the country. These teachers included, new entrants from training; teachers seeking promotion or just changing schools and returners, whether from a break in service or from working in a school overseas or in the further education sector that includes Sixth Form Colleges.

2019 has started where last year left off for TeachVac, breaking new records within the first week of January. Already, there have been enough new jobs in the first 10 days of January for teachers of Business Studies listed by TeachVac to absorb more than 10% of the new output from training this summer. This is a subject where the DfE really does need to review the bursary funding for trainees if schools are not going either to have to delete the subject or teach it with unqualified teachers or those with QTS, but no subject expertise.

As the DfE vacancy site, the only national competitor to TeachVac that is also free to schools and teachers, approaches full roll out we would invite detailed comparison between the DfE site and TeachVac on both technical features and cost per vacancy. If the DfE is paying too much for its site, then that is still money not reaching schools, but ending up in the pockets of a private company instead.

The TeachVac view is that the sector should be aiming for the lowest price recruitment site compatible with a level of service agreed as the gold standard by all participants in education. In my role as Chair of the TeachVac board, I have been disappointed about the willingness of those representing schools and teachers to even consider properly, let alone offer support, to initiatives by new entrants into this market aimed at saving their member money.

TeachVac has now established a global site for international schools around the world. With the experience of four years of working across schools in England, I believe that TeachVac Global can create the same market transformation as TeachVac has achieved in England.

One other advantage of handling nearly 55,000 vacancies a year through TeachVac is the research evidence it can provide. TeachVac will be shortly publishing its review of the market for senior staff, and specifically for primary headteachers in England during 2018. This will be the second such review, after that of the 2017 market review published last year.

Later, there will be a general review of the market for teachers during 2018, based upon TeachVac’s data. Some of that work will already have appeared in this blog as trends in the 2018 labour market became apparent during the year. This blog has already published some first thoughts about the 2019 labour market for teachers in secondary schools: more will follow as the market for September vacancies develops.