TeachVac expands its free service into the Primary Sector

Teaching and schools have featured strongly in the news today with the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show covering the issue of possible teacher shortages and most other news media featuring the opening of new free schools at the start of term. The Victoria Derbyshire piece is at 30 minutes into the show and can be seen on BBC i-player for anyone interested. The head from Educating Essex and the President of ATL were joined in the discussion on the show by a Teach First primary teacher and the chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, with a small contribution from myself.

A little earlier, just before 0830 the Secretary of State for Education was interviewed on BBC Breakfast News about the new Free Schools. Not I think her finest hour in front of the TV cameras, but sadly you cannot judge for yourself because BBC Breakfast doesn’t appear on the BBC i-player. If anyone recorded the interview, hopefully it might turn up on youtube or somewhere else.

It was disappointing to hear a Secretary of State that didn’t know how many free schools weren’t opening today due to problems and even worse, what was going to happen to the children affected by schools not opening on time. In the days before cabinet government, could you imagine an Education Committee that would let such a thing happen? Most had far more civic pride in the service they provided regardless of their political background.

TeachVac launched its expansion into the primary sector yesterday and also welcomed another of the large academy chains to the site. As more schools and applicants register for free, so the quality of the data collected improves and more and more vacancies can be matched with teachers. I am delighted to see we are beginning to understand in ‘real time’ what is happening in the labour market for teachers. There are still issues about measuring quality, especially in mathematics where trainee numbers at the ITT census last November looked as if they might have been sufficient to meet demand but clearly haven’t been.

I suppose the trips to Canada and South Africa recruiting maths teachers are about as welcome to deputy heads as taking a press gang out during the Napoleonic Wars was to naval officers of the day. The only difference is that ship’s captains didn’t lead press gangs, but some heads might lead the recruitment team on overseas visits. However, in my experience work trips are never the fun others think they were, despite what sometimes sound like exotic locations.

There have been concerns about the pre-entry skills tests affecting recruitment. I thought it was a good idea to move them to before entry, but I may need to re-think my view if it appears that the change is reducing the intake of possible trainees that might have passed the tests at the end of a PGCE or School Direct year when they could have had some coaching in areas they found challenging. After all, we cannot afford to lose would-be teachers. The alternative would be for the government to pay potential teachers to attend courses that improve their knowledge and skills to the standard required. About as likely as paying trainees fees, I fear.


The observer pick up on teacher shortage issue

I thought readers might like to see the full article I wrote for the Observer today before it was cut it down to size. The excellent coverage by the pape rof the issue, including a wide-ranging an authoritative editorial, can be found by visitng:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/30/observer-view-on-teaching-shortage

Way back in February 2011 I addressed a conference on teacher trainers in London. In the course of my presentation I warned that the next teacher supply crisis would appear by 2014. The reasons that I gave that day to a frankly disbelieving audience were based around three premises. Firstly, the government expected the private sector to lead the country out of the recession and into economic growth and would hold down public sector wages making jobs in teaching look less financially attractive than working in the private sector; both of these trends have come about. Secondly, there was a perception around at that time that we had enough teachers because school rolls were falling. That had indeed been the case throughout much of the latter years of the Labour government, but, as everyone knows, were are now in a period when pupil numbers, especially in London and the South East are rising sharply. However, I wasn’t to know that Michael Gove, when Secretary of State, would sometimes be less than supportive of teachers and teaching as a career, going so far as to suggest academies didn’t need to employ qualified teachers at all.

Finally, the government muddied the waters over entry to the teaching profession substituting a clear policy of paying the tuition fees for all graduate trainee teachers with a complicated and frequently changing bursary scheme that has proved difficult to sell. And also required trainees to pay £9,000 in tuition fees. The compares baldy with say the MoD that pays a salary to officer cadets training at Sandhurst.

The DfE also scrapped the well understood Graduate Teacher Training Programme operated by schools and replaced it with the complex School Direct arrangements that also forced some universities to close their teacher training courses. This resulted in a patchy distribution of training places that has not helped the supply of new teachers in some parts of England. Indeed, the government has vacillated between wanting a free-market training system entirely run by schools and accepting some responsibility for the planning of future teacher numbers.

The muddle has resulted in training courses starting this autumn once again having empty places. The worst problems are in likely to be in subject such as physics; design & technology; geography business studies and even English. Only PE, history and languages are likely to be training sufficient teachers for the 2016 job market.

As to what the government can do, I suggest some or all of the following:

  • Pay the fees of all graduate trainees from 2015 entry onwards – this will be especially helpful to career changers that have paid off previous fees and will need to repay the £9,000 as soon as they start teaching
  • Review how trainees are employed and arrange training where the jobs are to be found
  • Look at trainees that cannot find a job because we trained too many of them and see whether with some minimal re-training they might be useful teachers in other subjects.
  • Ramp up the 2015 autumn advertising campaign spend, including an early TV and social media advertising spend that at least matches that of the MoD. After all there are more trainee teachers each year than the total number of sailors in the navy.
  • Look at the NQT year support now that local authorities don’t always have the cash to help. This may be vital in keeping new teachers in the profession
  • Ask the pay body to review pay comparisons and react on the findings.

Without drastic action more head teachers will be forced to employ staff not qualified in the subjects or for the age group they are teaching or cut out subjects from the curriculum. Parents may find they need to reply more on private tutors where schools cannot guarantee the grades pupils will receive. With the restrictions on Tier 2 visa numbers and anxieties about migration schools will also find it more difficult than in the past to recruit overseas teachers, except from Europe. Schools are already importing teachers from Ireland.

The government has acknowledge that they face a challenge, but not a crisis. Unless they act soon it will become the worst teacher supply situation since the dreadful days of the early 2000s. That is no way to create a world class education system.


Maths teacher shortage

The Association of Teachers of Mathematics has reported a shortage of qualified teachers of mathematics. According to some news reports they mention schools with several vacancies and schools drafting in teachers of subjects such as PE and geography to teach the subject. I couldn’t find any evidence on their web site http://www.atm.org.uk/ when I looked this morning so I cannot check out the evidence base.
When I looked at the TeachVac data http://www.teachvac.co.uk the number of trainees recorded by the DfE ITT census last November was 2,186 in 2014/15. This number was below the DfE Teacher Supply Model indicative number for trainees required, but not alarmingly so. However, that tells us nothing about the quality of those accepted into training through either school-based or higher education routes. A minimum level of mathematics in a degree, say two years of subject study post ‘A’ level, might help here.
As of yesterday, TeachVac had identified 2,538 advertisements for classroom teachers of mathematics. Two further pieces of data are key to understanding this number. Firstly, the number of adverts that either on the one hand contain multiple vacancies or on the other hand were re-advertisements because a vacancy could not be filled. Secondly, the percentage of vacancies filled by new entrants to the profession. The DfE rule of thumb over a recruitment cycle appears to be 50%, as discussed in other earlier posts on this blog.
Taking all this into account the 2,386 trainees, this translates into just under 5,000 vacancies across a whole year. The recruitment cycle can be considered to run from January to December. The TeachVac advert figure is still well short of that level. Now it may be that there are more multiple vacancies being advertised that we are picking up. Schools that enter vacancies directly can indicate the number of posts on offer. There may also be regional differences. London and the two regions adjacent to the capital have accounted for 52% of the recorded advertisements, so it is likely that any problem is greatest in and around London despite the higher pay rates on offer and the presence of Teach First in the capital. There are also vacancies for January to consider.
There are also some early murmuring in the media today about mathematics GCSE pass rates that are also out today. I don’t know whether there is a link between these two stories, but it might seem likely if qualifications matter in the teaching of a subject. In any event, we do need good management information on the recruitment cycle so that in future recruitment problems can be dealt with as they arise and not ducked by government. In addition, if there are two thirds of graduates in sub-optima careers and maths is the most popular’ A’ level, why are we having difficulty recruiting trainees into teaching? As regular readers know, I have suggested how we can make teaching as a career more attractive in several earlier posts.
One thing is certain is that if there are issues in teacher supply in mathematics now, then there are more severe problems in other subjects. Next week will see the publication by UCAS of applications for courses starting in less than month for the 2016 output of teachers. Any further shortfall against places will mean more problems in 2016, and not just in mathematics.

Farewell Mr Taylor

So, Mr Taylor is following his mentor Michael Gove to the Ministry of Justice, presumably to head up the Youth Justice Board. The YJB was one of the success stories of the coalition, presiding over a dramatic fall in both the numbers in youth custody and in offending rates among young people. I hope that Mr Taylor, if indeed that is his new role, will help continue the trend towards both further reducing offending and the rehabilitation of those that do commit crimes. He might start by looking at the staffing challenges faced by the schools that produce the greatest numbers of young offenders.

Meanwhile The Secretary of State has the task of either finding a replacement or reorganising the whole training and professional development unit within the DfE. Could the name of the National College now disappear from sight as Mr Taylor’s job is handed to one or more civil servants to manage? This would take us back to the position last seen in the early 1990s before the Teacher Training Agency was created to oversee the reform of teacher training that took place under Kenneth Clarke.

Personally, I hope that there will still be an identifiable lead on teacher training and development. Sir Andrew Carter must be an obvious choice for the job after his report earlier this year. But, it might be good to have a woman in a senior position. Perhaps either an executive head or one of the CEOs of an academy chain might fit the bill, especially if it is a chain with a good record on both recruitment and professional development. Alternatively, someone running an organisation such as Teach First might be considered.

However, the salary level could be unattractive to many if the post falls within the new strict guidelines on public sector senior pay. No doubt a secondment could overcome even that problem.

Whoever takes over, whether an outsider or a career civil servant, will have less money to play with and will no doubt be expected to focus more on the recruitment and initial training part of the brief than on professional development that will no doubt be devolved to schools as a means of cutting costs? Such a dangerous move might really affect middle and senior leadership development over the next few years but probably won’t have any immediate impact on the political landscape.

Regular readers of this blog with know what my agenda is for whoever takes on the role. Convincing the Treasury that expecting trainee teachers to pay fees is not helpful would be my number one ambition for anyone taking on the job.

Please Keep Recruiting

The latest data on applications by graduates to train as a teacher was published earlier today by UCAS. The good news is the gap between the total number of applicants this year and the number recruited at this point last year is still being closed; it is down to just under 3,400. The gap closed by around 15% in the last month, but time is running out to eradicate it completely by the time courses start in just over a month from now and the total is still some eight per cent below the 2014 figure.

The more depressing news is that only physical education, history and languages among secondary subjects will probably manage to meet their target as set by the DfE’s Teacher Supply Model. All other subjects will probably fail to make the target number unless there are a significant number of last minute offers. In geography, music and business studies it looks as if the position is even worse than at this time last year. In several other subjects, an increase in the TSM number for last year means even with the improved offers the shortfall may be greater than experienced last year.

Of as much concern is that there are still a large number of conditional offers in the system. As most graduates should now know their degree class it may be that health, criminal checks or skill test results are still awaited. Even in history, the majority of offers are conditional, so the level of possible dropout is crucial.

The DfE has today also updated is key messages for School Direct – not please note for teacher preparation courses – to entice more graduates to be trainees. I thought that I would share the messages with readers;

Messages to use to recruit to School Direct Updated 30 July 2015

1. A great teacher can earn up to £65,000 as a leading practitioner
2. Get £25,000 tax-free to train to teach
3. Teachers start on a salary of between £22k and £27k
4. Teaching is a career for achievers. Three-quarters of new teachers now have a 1st or 2:1 degree
5. Teacher training is better than ever before
6. Good teachers are in demand, and there are excellent employment prospects
7. Get young people inspired by the subject you love
8. Inspire young people to fulfil their potential
9. Change a young person’s life for the better
10. Help young people to realise their ambitions
11. Go home each day knowing you’ve made a difference

All worthy sentiments, although I was told to avoid ‘get’ as it was considered slang. May be it isn’t so offensive nowadays.

The other interesting figure is the fate of the salaried route in School Direct where conversion rates remain much lower than for other routes into teaching. Indeed, the secondary salaried route may yield fewer trainees than the former Graduate Teacher Training Programme that it replaced did in some of the years when it was in operation.

Applications are still down in all regions and all age groups, with London some 600 applicants down on this point last year. Applicants from the over-40s seem to be holding up better than from any other age group.

So, please carry on recruiting through the holiday period: we need the applicants.

It’s official: no recruitment crisis

The Minister for Schools has told the TES there isn’t a recruitment crisis in schools. However, in the same interview he did admit that there was ‘a challenge’ and that the challenge was ‘being managed’. The on-line report of his interview can be found at: https://www.tes.co.uk/news/school-news/breaking-news/schools-minister-there-no-recruitment-crisis

Now it may be mere sophistry to claim that there isn’t a crisis but to admit to a challenge. After all, we don’t have a definition for what would constitute either a crisis or a challenge in teacher recruitment. So let’s try and crunch a few numbers. According to the DfE Teacher Supply Model the for 2014/15 was a need for 14,295 trainees in the secondary sector. Assuming 10% would drop out during the year that would left just under 13,000 potential completers looking for teaching jobs this year if all places had been filled. However, the ITT census, confirmed in figures re-released this week, showed 13,866 trainees were recruited. Take off the 10%, and the available number of trainees is likely to have been 12,500, including the over-recruitment in physical education and history. As the DfE estimates that 50% of classroom teacher vacancies each year are taken by new entrants that would require 25,000 vacancies for classroom teachers in secondary schools across the whole of 2015 to exhaust the pool of trainees. To date, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has recorded just over 16,000 such vacancies since January, with just the autumn term to come. So, the headline figure might well not yet be at crisis level, although it is obviously challenging.

However, the DfE has a responsibility not just to worry about the overall numbers, but the component parts as well. Here the TeachVac data reveals a different story. Applying the 50% rule to the ITT pool and setting the number against recorded vacancies since January 2015 reveals that business studies, social studies and design and technology already have more vacancies recorded than trainees. In English, IT and geography the remaining ‘pool’ of trainees is below 10% and in most other subjects the pool is between 20-30%. This latter number should be sufficient, if evenly distributed across the country; but that almost certainly isn’t the case. As a result, some areas of the country will have concerns about recruitment across a wider range of subjects.

It is also worth noting that comparing the School Workforce Census for 2014 with that of 2013, vacancies had increased, albeit as the census is taken in November the absolute numbers were still very low; the percentage of teachers teaching English and mathematics despite not having any post ‘A’ level qualification in the subject had increased and the number of temporary and unqualified teachers had also increased.

Taking all this together, the Minister is definitely correct to accept that there is a challenge. I think he ought to spell out at what level it would become a crisis? He also told the TES that he was ‘managing the challenge’.  Now managing isn’t synonymous with tacking, so I wonder exactly what he meant by managing. I guess, making sure pupils aren’t sent home because a school cannot find a teacher and reminding everyone that not only do academies not need to employ a teacher with qualifications in the subject they don’t even need a qualified teacher: any suitable person will do.

Counting the Pounds

In a couple of weeks the Cabinet member with responsibility for schools in Oxfordshire will be asked to revoke a decision by a maintained school to open a sixth form. Had the school been an academy it could just have decided not to run any post-16 courses. The reason given for the application to revoke the change of status is that the school cannot operate a viable sixth form with the present level of income it would generate from likely pupil numbers. Presumably the school didn’t want to cross-subsidise a sixth form from revenue received for younger pupils: a position I applaud. Assuming the decision is approved, pupils will still face the need to change schools at sixteen and will continue to have to pay for their transport that has up to now been free because they either walked to school or were bussed by the county council.

This change of heart for financial reasons set me wondering about the economics of School Direct in London. With income for next year fixed at £9,000 per trainee on fee based routes, how likely is it that schools are going to be able to cover their costs?
A cohort of 20 trainees paying fees would bring in £180,000 to run the course, but let’s assume a school has recruited three trainees in each of five subjects bringing in £135,000. Now how you spend that money is critical. But, assuming that a head of department in each subject provides 20% of their working week (about 20% of teaching time per week) in each subject to work with trainees. This would come to just over £60,000 if the heads of department are on the top of the upper pay band and also receive a middling TRL and taking into account the recent increases in National insurance and pension contributions schools have faced . In some subjects the TRL will be less, but in Science, mathematics and English it would be more. Now, also assume there is a course leader to do all the recruitment and the rest of the teaching and administration for the course on a similar salary of £60,000 including on-costs. This takes the teaching staff costs to £120,000. Add in £20,000 for administrative staff. After all, it is not economic to use a teacher to do the paperwork. Then there is another £10,000 for marketing, resources and miscellaneous costs and the total comes to around £150,000.

Now, I suppose you could reduce the time for the course leader and farm out some of the teaching to a university with lower salary costs because they are located outside of inner London and can spread their overheads across a larger number of trainees. However, university central overheads can be higher than those in schools – Vice Chancellors earn more than head teachers – so there may not be as much of a saving as would be hoped for by taking this option.

Possibly the course doesn’t need a full-time admin person and the marketing budget can go. Perhaps, you can reduce expenditure to around £120,000, but what sort of preparation would you be offering trainees? Even so, there is little margin for error. If even one trainee either doesn’t turn up or leaves very soon after the start of the course, then the school might have a shortfall to cover from its other income.

I should be interested to hear from schools how they are managing in London on this level of income? Clearly, outside of London, the lower salary costs might make it more likely schools can operate effectively at this level of income, even with smaller numbers of trainees. However, as London needs the largest number of new teachers each year, despite Teach First, the economics of teacher preparation in the capital must be a matter for concern.