How do you teach politics today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Staying put

By a strange quirk of fate I had a meeting in Portcullis House at 6pm on Tuesday. While the Palace of Westminster itself may have been buzzing with excitement, across the road the parliamentary estate was emptier than I have ever seen it on a day when parliament was sitting. Apart from the security team and catering staff looking for customers, the building was largely deserted.

Still, the meeting will allow me to say if asked where were you when the historic vote took place that I was at Westminster. It will join those other two historic ’where were you’ moments’ in my life – JFK’s assassination – at a church sale of work – and the demolition of the Berlin Wall – on the Friday morning telling a group of Year 1 BEd students that they should always remember where they were when they heard the news that the Wall had fallen.

However, the object of this post is really to consider the report today that surveyors and estate agents are gloomier about the housing market over the next three months than at any time for 20 years, albeit due to uncertainty over Brexit.

If the housing market does lock up over the next three months, then there will be implications for schools, given that so much of their income is tied to pupil numbers these days. Some schools may benefit as they will keep pupils that might otherwise have left for pastures new, but if turnover in the housing market really slows down, then there will be losers as households with grown up children stay put and are not replaced by new young families looking for school places.

Some developers may find sales on new estates slow down, and the new school being built will be faced with the choice of either opening with fewer pupils this September or deferring opening for another year and thus helping increase pupil numbers at other local schools. As all such schools are either academies or free schools of one variety of another, it only impacts on local authorities in terms of their ability to manage the overall provision of schooling in their area, something government hasn’t been overly concerned with in recent years.

Of course, we might see some extra spending on marketing and publicity as schools seek to fill empty places using cash better spent on teaching and learning. Ever since the doctrine of parental choice came into being after 1979, the idea of glossier brochures, open days and league tables has come to dominate the annual round of school selection.

Should the DfE follow up on its new free vacancy site by designing a free marketing portal for schools to reduce the cost to schools of recruiting pupils? The DfE could then ban excessive spending by individual schools. However, it would also have to stop practices such as providing free buses for pupils from some locations, something parents would not welcome.

Then there is the other side of ‘staying put’. What might teachers decide to do in the present circumstances. Will they stay as well or will they go, perhaps overseas in even greater numbers?

 

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, new entrants into this market.

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 teacher sin secondary schools: more will follow as the market for September vacancies develops.

 

 

 

School funding – is it ever enough?

The Education Policy Institute, where David Laws, ex-Education Minister is Chair of the Board, published a report on school revenue balances today. The data on school balances discussed in the report in maintained schools comes partly from the same DfE source discussed in a post on this blog on the 12th December 2018.

Simplistic analysis of the report produced comments that the Report showed schools were under-funded. This was because one in ten of the remaining maintained secondary schools had a deficit overall and many others were in deficit in the latest year data was available for from the government. In reality, as the EPI report discussed, the picture is both more nuanced and more complicated than a bald assessment that schools don’t have enough funding, although pressure on 16-19 funding almost certainly does need attention.

What is less clear is the extent to which the former funding formula created winners and losers and whether the new formula will help redress the balance in the future. Personally, I don’t think it will. However, there also needs to be more understanding as to why these one in ten maintained secondary schools cannot live within their means for several years and more schools are now in that position?

As EPI note, academy chains have fewer schools with deficits and are able to move money around between schools. Local Authorities cannot do this to help schools over a temporary crisis. Should the remaining maintained schools now be treated as if they were a Multi-Academy Trust, allowing cash to be moved between schools?  If local financial management means the cash provided for a school is for that school, then MATs should not be allowed to take any cash away from one school to help another and can only charge for services provided.

The EPI report covers this point in their policy recommendations

  1. With increasing financial pressures on schools – particularly in secondaries – the government should consider before the Spending Review whether higher per pupil funding is needed, or whether efficiency savings can make up part of the current shortfalls. It should especially focus on the strains faced by many secondary schools, and assess whether changes in pupil numbers are likely to ease financial pressures, or whether these will prove more enduring.
  2. Further consideration should be given to what extra help or advice can be offered to those schools facing large deficits.
  3. The government should determine the reasons for the lower level of in-year deficits in academy trusts, and whether there are any lessons to learn from this.
  4. The government should also look closely at the level of “excessive”, unallocated, surpluses and consider if existing rules allow for these resources to be used effectively.

The last recommendation from EPI is interesting, especially in view of the concerns over deficits. As I noted in December, some schools have balances equivalent to 20% of their annual income and there are schools with more than £1,000,000 in reserves. My view, as expressed in December, is that revenue income is for spending in the year it is provided ad for the current pupils, although setting a sum aside for depreciation is now acceptable.

Finally, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk was established to help schools cut costs by providing a free vacancy service to schools. I am delighted to record TeachVac handled nearly 55,000 vacancies in 2018 and has a great start to 2019, breaking records. Just why the DfE needs to run a rival scheme isn’t clear.

 

 

Recruiting teachers from overseas post BREXIT

The time left to complete the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) survey on shortage occupations is fast running out. The time limit was extended until the 14th January. The MAC is the government’s advisory body that can determine whether vacancies are sufficiently difficult to fill that in the teaching profession they should be regarded as a shortage subject and eligible for working visa arrangements.

Since the MAC’s last report on the teaching profession, published two years ago in January 2017, the outlook for the labour market for the secondary sector, where pupil rolls are on the increase, has deteriorated markedly. The MAC needs to be persuaded to look at a wider range of subjects than they accepted for their 2017 study. The MAC also needs to confront the issue of regional shortages within a national picture of sufficient supply. Is it realistic to accept shortages in London and the Home Counties just because there are no shortages in the North East or South West?

In the private sector, it can be argued that wages can be altered to encourage movement between regions. Such an argument is more difficult to sustain when there is a national pay review body setting national wage structures, as in the teaching profession. Although academies can pay whatever they like, and other schools can use recruitment incentives, it seems logical that the Treasury will use national pay norms when calculating the funding for schooling allocated to the DfE. The fact that private schools can set fees only makes matters worse, since 50% of such schools are located in and around London, just adding to the demand for teachers in that part of England.

The Data from the DfE in the ITT census of 2018, Table 10, also shows a decline back to the levels of 2012/13 in QTS awards to teachers trained in other EEA countries, with a decline of more than 300 awards to teachers from Spain, a country that has supplied nearly 2,000 teachers each year awarded QTS since 2010/11.

The MAC does need to consider the evidence they use of the demand for teachers. I will declare an interest here as chair of TeachVac. The use of data from an American company, Burning Glass, in the 2017 MAC report may have produced a slightly distorted picture, as Burning Glass seem to have counted not just ‘real’ vacancies, but also apparent vacancies. It is difficult otherwise to explain figure 4.4 of the MAC’s 2017 Report that identified several thousand vacancies being advertised in August of each year from 2014-2016. Any detailed analysis of the labour market for teachers would reveal much lower ‘real’ advertisements during that month, but lots of placed by agencies for ‘a teacher of’ not related to a specific post in a specific school. Since TeachVac only counts jobs attached to a specific school, the evidence is of a better quality. The same will be the case for the DfE’s new site and for publications such as the TES.

Better quality data might reveal a different profile of shortage subjects to those identified by the MAC in 2017, including both design and technology and business studies. The MAC will also have to discuss the fact that schools generally advertise for a teacher of science and the supply of biologists means there is not a shortage of science teachers per se, but of teachers of physics and to some extent chemistry as well.

I look forward to the MAC review and I hope that they will consider the ‘real’ evidence about teacher shortages when conducting their new analysis.

Further reflections

The Daily Mail is apparently carrying a story today of a leaked DfE email revealing a fall in teacher numbers. This is seen as a revelation, even though Table 2a of the DfE’s analysis of the Teacher Workforce, published in June 2018, showed a fall in teacher numbers between the 2016 and 2017 census points. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017

However, I suppose that when a staunchly Tory supporting newspaper starts printing bad news stories about the working of a Conservative government one must anticipate that either the end is nigh or that editorial control is weak over the Christmas and New Year period.

Had either the Daily Mail or any other media outlet wanted to pick a more up to the minute bad news story about teacher numbers, they could have done no better to use my previous post as the basis for a news item. Readers will recall that based on data released yesterday by UCAS, it appears that fewer graduates want to become primary school teachers than in the past.  The Daily Mail could have run a headline around ‘Who will teach Tiny Tim?’ about this fall in applications to train as a primary teacher.

Delving further into the UCAS data than I had time to do yesterday, it seems as if more career changers were queuing up to apply to train as a teacher in 2019, than were new young graduates. However, the 230 additional graduates in their 30s and 40s compared with December 2017 were not enough to offset the reduction of 400 in those from the 22-22 age group that have not applied this year. Hopefully, they are still weighing up their options.

For the first time in some years, fewer than 1,000 men from the 21-22 age group have applied for a place to train as a teacher on either a primary or secondary course starting in 2019. However, it is the continued relative lack of interest from young female graduates that should concern officials even more. This group in the past has been the bedrock of those applying in the early part of the recruitment round.

Rather than evaluating the overall success or otherwise of the marketing campaign, the DfE should urgently be investigating why this group, of whom there will be fewer emerging from universities over the next few years, are taking longer to think about teaching as a career. Last year, enough came around in the end to ensure all places for primary teachers were filled, but the warning signs are there and need investigation.

Perhaps the DfE has over-emphasised the need for secondary subject teachers and rather taken the primary sector for granted, apart from the need to ensure sufficient teachers with expertise in mathematics. The DfE doesn’t have a policy of ensuring sufficient subject knowledge across the curriculum to ensure that able pupils can be motivated and intellectually stretched either within the primary school or in other ways.

Perhaps it is time to reconstruct those local CDP offering managed by teams of staff than know their schools and teachers. Doing so in a cost effective manner might mean upsetting some MATs and even diocese, but can we afford anything other than the most cost effective system for such CPD?

 

Teacher Shortages in the USA

The issue of teacher supply, and more specifically increases in the number of teachers quitting their jobs, featured in an article in the Wall Street Journal last week https://www.wsj.com/articles/teachers-quit-jobs-at-highest-rate-on-record-11545993052 It seems that the issue of teacher supply isn’t just a problem this side of the Atlantic, but one that has now hit the headlines in the USA. As a result, I am slightly surprised not to have seen a tweet from Donald Trump on the subject, perhaps stating that anyone can be a teacher.

A tight labor market, years of uncompetitive salary increases and a challenging job are all familiar reasons for the departure of experienced teachers cited in the article and known to those of us that study the labour market for teachers in England.

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal didn’t mention a possible move overseas, in order to teach in an international school, as another reason teachers might be quitting. The article also didn’t mention whether there was also an issue of recruiting potential teachers into training courses in parts of the USA. However, it did raise the spectre of an increase in the number of unqualified teachers. I don’t think that the article mentioned Teach for America, one of the original alternative certification programs created during an earlier teacher supply crisis around the turn of the century. It also didn’t reflect upon whether technology might help overcome a shortage of teachers.

Education in the USA is generally a local activity managed by School Boards and largely overseen by the individual States. Some States have traditionally had good teacher planning mechanisms, such as we enjoy in England, but others have been less concerned with planning and more interested in a market-based approach.

One question, if the shortage continues and even worsens, is whether some States might go shopping for teachers overseas in order to help fill their vacancies in the same way that heads in England turn to Canada, Australia and New Zealand for potential recruits when the pipeline dries up at home.

Some US States have turned to the Caribbean countries in the past, but might they look further afield if the supply problem deteriorates further. Could we see competition between US and UK schools for the same teachers and could there even be attempts to entice UK teachers to take up work in the USA? I don’t think that is especially likely, but it is worth recalling that Michael Gove, when Education Secretary, did grant QTS to all teachers in the USA that are qualified, to allow them to teach in England without any need for further qualifications.

I will look at the agenda for this spring’s AERA Conference to see whether teacher supply is once again back on the radar of academics, as well as of journalists. I might just also delve into the archives and dust off some of the articles from conferences 20 years ago to see whether this is a case of history repeating itself or whether there is a new twist to the tale this time around.