Thank you Sir Ridley Scott

Teaching is the most important of all professions’. Sir Ridley Scott’ in his BAFTA acceptance speech.

I don’t watch the BAFTAs, so this blog post comes curtesy of my sister emailing me that I need to watch the speech. You can find it on YouTube at

It lasts just over eight minutes and I recommend you watch it if you are at all interested in the power of education to change lives. Sir Ridley attended a secondary modern school, presumably having failed to pass the examination at eleven for a selective school. He wasn’t successful at academic subjects, but enjoyed woodwork and art. He left with one GCE to attend Hartlepool School of Art where he learnt the difference between teaching and learning. His time at art school was the beginning of the journey to last night’s BAFTA lifetime award at the Royal Albert Hall

Could Sir Ridley Scott flourish in the same manner today on leaving school? It seems unlikely that anyone with one GCSE would be considered for Art College? Would he even receive the encouragement in art and design and technology – the modern replacement for woodwork – that allowed him to enjoy these subjects when he was a schoolboy?

Successive governments have failed to understand the importance of the creative industries to our nation. Their worth, especially in the primary schools, has been consistently eroded in favour of more basic skills in literacy and numeracy. Now, we know English and mathematics are important and good teaching of these subjects is especially important. However, that good teaching should be complimented in the primary sector by the space for good teaching in the creative subjects, sport, the sciences and humanities. A full and rounded curriculum is vital for young children. The challenge for the government is how to create learning outcomes in the basics in the most time effective manner for the greatest number so as still to allow time for all the other purposes of schooling.

I have reminded readers before that I probably wouldn’t be allowed into many sixth forms these days, due to a failure to pass English Language and only a scrapped pass in mathematics. Two years later three ‘A’ levels and a merit pass in the geography Special Paper set me on the start of my career. Had I been turned out of school at sixteen, my life would almost certainly have taken a very different route.

Perhaps the government might want to use part of Sir Ridley Scott’s speech as the introduction to their advertising campaign for teaching as a career. It has echoes of the 1997 talking heads campaign where leading celebrities spoke a name to camera and the end strapline was ‘no-one forget a good teacher’. The current campaign isn’t working and for years has concentrated on the excitement of the classroom. Perhaps it is time for a new approach.

Finally, on the day that the government announces a review of tuition fees, it is certainly time to review the cost of becoming a teacher.


The importance of keeping teachers

The DfE’s evidence to the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Review Body (the STRB) has been published and, as usual, the document contained some interesting nuggets in the detailed annexes. Two that are of particular interest are the retention rates for teachers over time and the number of schools using different forms of payments on top of the basic salary. This post consider the first of these numbers.

Retention is always shown by the DfE as a percentage of the entry number of teachers for each year. This is helpful in one way in that that it allows a direct comparison for year to year as to the progress of those entering as NQTs, although it isn’t clear if earlier years’ data are amended to take into account late entrants. However, the percentages can mask some very large swings in numbers. For instance only 18,600 NQTs entered service in 2001 compared with 25,700 in 2005 and 25,500 in 2015: the second highest number this century. Lest anyone think that such a large number negates any talk about recruitment crises, it is worth recalling that the figure for entrants covers both primary and secondary sectors and all subjects and specialisms. Thus, some over-recruitment can hide shortages in other areas. However, 2015, 2016 and probably 2017 witnessed more than 24,000 new entrants each year: significant numbers, albeit against a rising tide of pupil numbers and hence a growing demand for teachers. Regular readers of this blog will know my anxiety that the 2018 and probably 2019 entry cohorts will not match up to these numbers and are more likely to be in the range of the 23,000 entrants of 2012 and 2013.

The percentage loss of new teachers during their first year of teaching has remained relatively stable since 2000, at between 12-13% most years, dropping to only 10% in 2003. More alarming is the steady decline in retention rates for teachers in years 3-6 of their careers. The 2011-2014 entry cohorts were all at record percentage lows in 2016, with the 2011 cohort having lost a third of those entering by 2016. The issue is whether this is just accelerated departure of those that would have normally left by year ten of their careers, where the data suggests around 40% of entrants are no longer being tracked as teaching in state funded schools. These leavers may be teaching in the private sector; have moved overseas to teach; be working in FE of Sixth Form Colleges or taking a career break for personal reasons. No doubt some will have decided teaching isn’t for them; but others will have returned after a brief sell in being counted in the data.

The number of departing teachers is of concern because from the remaining teachers must come, first the middle leaders and then the senior leaders and overall leaders of the profession. Obviously, the best scenario is one of high entry numbers and low wastage by year ten: the worst outcome is low entry numbers and higher than average departures. By year ten, this can mean a difference of several thousand teachers. By the time any cohort reaches headship level, this differential in numbers probably doesn’t matter a great deal in the secondary sector, but it can seriously affect the supply of new head teacher in the primary sector, especially if it coincides with an above average retirements, as happened at the end of the first decade of this century.

Thank you

A big thank you to all readers. Whether you are one of the regulars or just coming across this blog for the first time, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading these posts. Today is the fifth birthday of this blog. It started on the 25th January 2013 with a post about the level of reserves then being held by schools. In the five years I have been writing the blog it has had 50,000 visitors – this landmark was passed earlier this month – and the 100,000 views landmark will be reached early next month as the total currently stands at 98,668 or just fewer than two views per visitor. The day with the most views was the 8th March 2014, when there was a reference to the blog in a national newspaper.

I think it is reasonable to claim that this blog helped lead the way in terms of highlighting the deteriorating situation in relation to the flow of new entrants into the teaching profession. Because much of my working life was spent in and around the area of teacher supply, it is perhaps not surprising that issues about teacher numbers should have remained a prominent theme across the years.

In August 2013 the DfE was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying what I had written in this blog was scaremongering and based upon incomplete evidence (blog post 14th August 2013, if you want to look it up). It wasn’t then and what I say isn’t now. But, I do sympathise with DfE press officers having to try and come up with an answer when the negative stories appear. The media is less interested in the good news, for instance, when applications increase. The easing of the concerns over maths teacher numbers during 2017 also wasn’t really reported, but that may be an issue of quantity not matching the quality needed?

Along with teacher supply, I have tried to keep an eye on the stories behind the numbers in education; or at least some of them. From rural schools in London to the profit companies make from education there is always something to write about and the blog has now reached more than 650 different posts in its five year lifespan. 130 of the posts have drawn comments and again, my thanks to those that comment regularly on what I have written; my especial thanks to Janet Downes for her insightful comments on many different posts.

Regular readers know that I am a Liberal Democrat politician and have fought two general elections (unsuccessfully) and two county elections (both successful) as well as one election for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner, all during the life of this blog. It is good to have some time off this year; assuming that nothing goes wrong and there isn’t another general election.

This blog is now on its fourth Secretary of State and I predicted the change this January in a post at the end of 2017, before the reshuffle was announced.

My one regret is that schools are still not doing enough to share in the challenge to cut Carbon emissions. My one hope is that someone will come up with an energy scheme that can utilise the vast acreage of school playgrounds that lie unused for more than 99% of the year.

Thank you for reading: my best wishes for the future.


Reflections on 2017

This has been an interesting year in education. 2017 started with great anxiety over the proposed new common funding formula for schools. The government’s original version left many rural and small schools out of pocket and losing actual cash. The revised version just left them out of pocket. Indeed, from government data released in December, it seems secondary schools have been dipping into their reserves for the past three years; many primary schools are now having to do so as well.

The other key topic of interest a year ago, the creation of new selective schools, has fallen victim to the unexpected outcome of the general election. Apart from Brexit, it seems any contentious reform is not now being contemplated.

Selection as a topic has been replaced by social mobility as the key goal of government. Unfortunately for many areas, the funds are largely being targeted at key ‘opportunity areas’ that look suspiciously like the Education Action Zones once championed by the Blair government in the 1990s. Smaller pockets of deprivation, as can be found in many parts of the country, seem less likely to attract much if any additional funding above the Pupil Premium and free school meals.

There are worrying signs, including in the Report of the Chief Inspector, that some schools may be actually frustrating social mobility by offering challenging pupils the opportunity to be home educated or on a reduced timetable. Many of the parents do not have the background to challenge these decisions that can blight a child’s possible future almost as much as the alternative of a permanent exclusion.

Although there have been changes in the junior ministerial ranks, the Secretary of State has served throughout the year and is now approaching the point in her tenure when she is in the zone where many politicians find themselves either changing jobs or being removed from office in a reshuffle.

Teacher workload, pay and recruitment have once again dominated the teacher associations concerns during the year that has also seen the creation of a new association, with the coming together of the NUT and ATL.

The dead hand of the revolution initiated by Mr Gove, when he was Secretary of State, still affects schools, especially in the design of the curriculum and examinations where reforms take several years to reach full implementation.

The most worrying outcome of 2017 for schools was that following the general election spat between Labour and the Tories over university tuition fees, some £800 million appeared in the budget Red Book for student fee initiatives. That’s money that could have been spent in schools, FE or early years now diverted to the already most highly funded part of our education system.

So, what of 2018? Might we see a resolution of the academy and maintained school divide? Will the DfE really launch a free vacancy service in time for September 2018 and what will be the response of existing players if they do? How will the DfE save money to pay for social mobility programmes?

Above all, will the teacher supply crisis reach its zenith in 2018 and will the depressing numbers entering teacher preparation courses in September 2017, coupled with increases in school rolls, create a real sense of urgency to do something about the problem?  Perhaps the pressure on school budgets will finally mean secondary schools are really forced to cut teaching posts and the shortage of trainees won’t matter. Time will tell.

Thank you Laura

Buried in the opinion section of Schools Week is the news that Laura McInerney has stepped down as editor of that publication after a three year stint in the role. During her time at the publication it has become a leading publication for news and opinion on the education scene. It has especially helped sharpen up the use of data and statistics with some compelling on-line graphs and other representational methods. I much appreciate the work Schools Week has achieved in this field.

Despite a small staff at Schools Week, I have always considered the level of journalism to be exceptionally high, and I read the on-line version most days, often before choosing what to write in this blog. Sadly, that means I don’t pay for what I read.

As a regular blogger, as well as the founder of the free recruitment site for schools and teachers, TeachVac, I know how frustrating the freedom of the web can be to those trying to make money from publishing. I am sure that Schools Week is not a philanthropic publication, but trying to make money must be a real challenge.

One of the early staff at Schools Week, along with Laura, was Sophie Scott. She interviewed me for one of the first dozen Profile pieces, even before Laura had become editor. I had first known Sophie when she had worked for the Oxford Mail and Times, a paper that has created many fine education journalists that have subsequently worked on national titles. The link with Sophie helped create an excuse for Schools Week to ring me up from time to time to ask for my opinion and sometimes just to take note of what I had written in my blog.

Laura had a great interest in the lives of those who have been Ministers of Education or Secretary of State for Education. Indeed, I think she may be one of the few people that has read Ellen Wilkinson’s book, ‘The town that was murdered’ about Jarrow in the 1930s. She has also, I know, read Fred Blackburn’s biography of that other post-war Labour Minister of Education, George Tomlinson, Eileen Wilkinson’ successor after her untimely death. No doubt she has also read all the books of the lives of all other holders of the top ranking education post at Westminster.

Laura doesn’t say what she will be going on to do now she has relinquished the editor’s chair, but I am sure she has a great career ahead of her in whatever field she chooses to work. I note that she hasn’t entirely severed her connection with Schools Week, but will write for them from time to time.

Laura, thank you for everything you have achieved over the past three years at Schools Week, and I am sure you will be enjoying your first Christmas without having to worry about either the next story you have to write or editorial decision you have to make. Thank you for your tenure at Schools Week; you will be missed.


New Job: Careers Person

The news that the DfE is again taking careers education more seriously than it has done in recent years must be welcomed. We still have a long way to go to return to the idea of work experience for all and encouraging primary schools to talk about the world of work, but what is now being proposed is a start. The former programmes cost a lot of money and were of variable quality. At least not much money is being spent this time around, presumably because the government hasn’t actually got it to spend.

The £4 million of funding won’t go very far if spread evenly across all secondary schools; perhaps £250 per year group if a school is lucky. Even if the cash is only going to 500 schools, then that still won’t be enough to buy even half a teacher’s time, let alone other costs.

Curiously, £1 million more is being spent with the private sector on 20 career hubs bringing together a range of partners. What is missing from the announcement by the DfE is the part that IT will play in this new world of support and encouragement.

Inevitably, the term social mobility creeps into the DfE’s announcement. At the rate the term is being used these days it will soon join a former Secretary of State’s observation that ‘everyone must be above average’ as a meaningless terms trotted out at every opportunity to show an awareness of the divide between those at different levels in society.

There wasn’t any mention of entrepreneurship in the announcement that seemed to equate careers advice with obtaining the right qualification. Working life can and should be more than deciding whether you want to work with people, things or numbers. What sort of environment you will be happy in can also be important, especially as young people don’t seem to have the same degree of work experience at weekends and during the holidays as was available to former generations?

Perhaps what is missing is a motivational social media campaign to stir young people into action; not to do more to them, but to inspire them to do things for themselves. What is also missing is the recognition that areas of the curriculum have been decimated by the actions of successive politicians. Design and technology, music and even the other creative arts subjects may play important parts in the lives of our young people if artificial intelligence really does wipe out a whole range of existing careers over the next twenty years.

Because, 20 years ago few of those reading this post would have had an email address; a mobile phone or even a computer capable of much more than word processing. I don’t know what the new jobs will be; games developer is one that didn’t exist when I was young; there weren’t data analysists to the same extent either, and the whole social media revolution has created opportunities for some to make money from blogging, unlike this author that just does it out of interest.


Social Mobility Commission

It is not really surprising, to see that the whole of the board of the Social Mobility Commission has followed the lead of their chair and resigned. I commented on the Commission’s most recent report in a previous post. Officials at the Commission have talked to me about teacher recruitment in the past and are clearly aware that good teaching can have an effect on educational outcomes. This was something the Liberal Democrat Education Association discussed at a conference in Oxford yesterday.

So, who might replace Alan Milburn and be handed the responsibility for chairing the Commission, assuming that the Commission retains its present form and function? Perhaps, David Laws, former Education Minister of State and briefly Treasury number 2, in the coalition government might make a good choice? He has spent his time since being ejected by the electorate in 2015, building up the Education Policy Institute as a leading think tank, and is well on the way to making EPI match the Institute of Fiscal Studies as the leader in its area of expertise. However, with experience beyond just education and a wide range of contacts, David would make an excellent chair, with a good head for data and understanding of the machinery of government. He was also heavily involved with the introduction of both the Pupil Premium and the infant free school meals policies, both key measures to help achievement and further the possibility of social mobility during the coalition.

Of course, if he wants to stay where he is and thinks he can do more good at EPI, Nick Clegg, the original architect of the Pupil Premium is another name to conjure with for the role of chair. Andrew Adonis might be another name for the frame were he not presently heavily engaged with trying to develop the national infrastructure.

As an active Liberal Democrat, I make no apologies for suggesting two fellow Liberal Democrats for the exacting role of chairing the Commission. Other members that could sit on the Board might include a senior Labour figure from the Brown government, a Conservative peer and perhaps a well-regarded figure from the charity sector with long experience of social mobility.

We all know that exiting the European club was going to be a full-time job and that it came at a time when George Osborne had predicted that the worst of the effects of the crash would be felt by the weakest in society. Such factors make the work of any Social Mobility Commission more of a challenge, but no less important.

With the IT revolution once again picking up speed, and predications of massive job losses from the growth in Artificial Intelligence awakening the Luddite mentality in many of us, the Commission must act not only as the government’s conscience on social mobility, but also as a source of genuine new policies that are radical and forward thinking. More of the same just won’t work.

We have seen in Germany that the failure to ensure the success of the economy across the whole country has inevitably lead to the rise of the far right in politics. Social mobility is important, but we cannot ignore those left behind. They must not become the poor relations kept, for ever, out of sight.