Will it be an ‘ill-wind’?

At the start of half-term, TeachVac has recorded record levels of vacancies for teachers in the first six full weeks of 2020, compared with vacancy levels or the same period in recent years.  A proportion of the increase is no doubt down to the increase in pupil numbers that there will be this coming September. Although National Offer Day for admissions is still a few weeks away, I am sure that schools already have some idea of whether they will be full in Year 7 this autumn.

Indeed, I assume that new schools opening in September have received their Funding Agreement from the ESFA. If not, this is a policy issue the DfE might want to consider, since preventing such schools recruiting at the most opportune of times is not offering them the best start in life.

On the face of it, this is, therefore, going to be a tricky recruitment round f once again or schools seeking teachers. In part this reflects the lack of recruitment into training in some subjects, as well as the increase in pupil numbers. But, is there now a new factor in the equation?

What effect will the ‘coronavirus’ outbreak have on the labour market for teachers in England? Apart from the knock on consequences on the wider economy, and a possible economic slowdown that is always helpful for teacher recruitment, will the outbreak both deter some teachers from seeking overseas jobs, and encourage some of those overseas to return to the United Kingdom, and schools in England in particular? (As an aside, what, if anything, will the outbreak do for the flow of pupils and students from Asia into schools, colleges and universities in England this year?)

Now, it is too early to tell what the outcome might be of a change in attitude to teaching in Asia in general and China – including Hong Kong – in particular, and there are plenty of other parts of the globe where schools are keen to appoint teachers from England. However, even a small downturn in those seeking to work overseas and an upturn in ’returners’ will be a welcome outcome for the local labour market for teachers in England. It is indeed, ‘an ill-wind’.

TeachVac monitors activity on its site by geographical location on a regular basis. This is a somewhat imprecise methodology, since not all users reveal their geographic la location. However, the site has seen an upturn in activity from certain countries, when compared to this point last year.   So, perhaps we might see more ‘returners’ this summer?


1000 and out?

Seven years ago, in January 2013, I started writing this blog. Over the years the number of posts have fluctuated, as the table below reveals.

Year Total Posts Total Words Average Words per Post
2013 108 72,284 669
2014 121 76,579 633
2015 113 66,337 587
2016 146 83,869 574
2017 164 92,350 563
2018 183 107,223 586
2019 161 88,792 552
2020 4 2,073 537
total 1,000 589,507 590

Source WordPress data

Seemingly, I have become less wordy over the years, with 2019 posts containing around 120 fewer words on average than the 2013 posts. There have been more than 1,000 likes for these posts, and slightly more comments from readers. I am especially indebted to Janet Downs for her many and helpful comments over the years.

Since early 2018, visitors numbers to the blog have started to reduce, and although Christmas Day 2019 saw someone view the whole archive of posts, making it highest day for views ever recorded, the trend has been for fewer and fewer views.

If this trend continues, is it worth my making the effort to write this blog? I started it in 2013 because I was concerned that there would be a teacher supply crisis, and I wanted a platform after writing regularly for the TES for over 10 years, and for Education Journal for a couple of years after that. It is interesting to look back at the discussions over teacher supply during the summer of 2013 that so upset some within the DfE. I would like to be able to predict when teacher supply will no longer be an issue, but on present trends that may not be until the second half of this decade for the secondary sector. There should be less of a problem in the primary sector.

Since 2013, I have established TeachVac, the largest free vacancy service for teachers, and also been elected as a county councillor in Oxfordshire – and, incidentally, stood in three general elections as a candidate– and found time for a range of other activities as well.

So I am conflicted as to whether or not either to continue this blog in its current form or just to sign off at this the 1,000 post? TeachVac continues to expand, listing more than 60,000 vacancies last year, and is already on track for more in 2020, and is consuming more and more of my time. Happily, it remains the largest free job site open to both schools and teachers in England, so is well worth the effort.

With the DfE’s move to take over the application process for graduate teacher preparation being trialed with some providers this year, even that monthly update provided by this blog may become impossible, unless the DfE allow access to the data on at least the same basis as UCAS have done over the past few years.

So, perhaps it’s time for a rest and a search for new horizons. Thank you all for your comments and questions.



Stuck Schools

This Report from Ofsted is an important addition to the discussions aound school improvement and deserves to sit alongside other HMI documents on this topic. For those of my generation these include the famous ’10 Good Schools’ report of some 40 years ago.


Using the terms ‘stuck’ and ‘unstuck’ schools, tells it as it is. I was especially struck by the paragraph in the Executive Summary that said:

‘Most stuck and unstuck schools stated that they had received too much school improvement advice from too many different quarters of the school system. Often, the advice was intended to help schools with their improvement strategy. However, this rarely had the intended impact. Leaders perceived that the quality of the advice itself was often lacking. School leaders also commented on a poor match between the problems of the school and the advice on offer. While many were concerned about the lack of support available following inspection, schools often welcomed the fresh thinking and impetus that independent inspection had given them. Schools did not appear to be inhibited from discussing some of the challenges of inspection during this project.’

Ofsted’s suggests that there is enough capacity in the system to move ‘stuck’ schools forward, but that the content of the support, including whether it enables focused may be lacking.  There also needs to be effective action that responds directly to the issues identified. Additionally, is the support for a ‘stuck’ school best provided internally or externally to the school or MAT and there is also a question about the quality of those coordinating or delivering the support?

This last point is important as the fractured governance model for schools sometimes makes it difficult to identify the organisation responsible for taking the lead role in actually improving these schools.

What is the penalty for failure? Obviously, for local authorities and maintained schools, it is a transfer to become an academy. But what of academies? And, especially what of academies that are part of faith-led MATs where the Church doesn’t want to give up running the school, but cannot stop it being a ‘stuck’ school within a reasonable period of time?

Should there be a review of each Office of Regional School Commissioner to establish a baseline of the number of ‘stuck’ schools and a target for improvement that has consequences if not met? Alternatively, should the Office of Regional School Commissioner be abolished and a closer link to local democracy be once again added to our school system?

Finally, there needs to be a discussion about both funding for ‘stuck’ schools and how any extra funding is allocated under a National Funding Formula that clearly doesn’t take fully into account the fact that some pupils need more resources to achieve a desired level of outcome than do others.

Staff Development, and especially leadership development, also needs to be looked at afresh by the DfE. Should we re-introduce a qualification for leadership with modules about leading a ‘stuck school’? At least then the system would have a better idea of capacity to support and ‘unstick’ these schools.

We cannot allow the next decade to be wasted as the last one has been in so many cases as far as the education of these young people is concerned.


150th Anniversary 1870 Elementary Education Act

Although the Elementary Education Act didn’t receive the Royal Assent and become law until the 9th August 1870, it is fair to treat the whole of 2020 as the 150th anniversary year of this key piece of education legislation in England.

The 1870 Elementary Education Act stands as the very first piece of legislation to deal specifically with the provision of education in Britain. Most importantly, it demonstrated a commitment to provision of schooling on a national scale rather than the piecemeal provision that had existed before this date.

The 1870 Act allowed existing voluntary schools to carry on unchanged, but established a system of ‘school boards’ to build and manage schools in areas where they were needed. The boards were locally elected bodies which drew their funding from the local rates. Unlike the voluntary schools, religious teaching in the board schools was to be ‘non-denominational’.

This compromise saved the government a great deal of money, as it didn’t have to deal with either buying or replacing the existing schools, many of which were run by the various churches and especially the Church of England. The legacy of that decision is still obvious in the governance of schools in England in 2020.

Although the 1870 Education Act was a start, like many pieces of legislation it didn’t fully achieve the aims of its supporters, and further Acts of Parliament were necessary to ensure that all young children were attending school and not working. However, right up until the 1970s, some children were identified as medically ineducable and not required to attend school, even though the concept of ‘special schools’ had been introduced in 1893.

How will we celebrate this key anniversary in education? Not I suspect in the same way that the government will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the ending of World War 2 in 1945. How many local libraries and museums will arrange exhibitions to record the value of education to Society across the generations since 1870?

Many of the board Schools built as a result of the 1870 Act still exist, and their recognisable brick built outlines, often three stories in height under a pitched roof, can still be seen across the urban areas of England, built where schools in sufficient numbers had not existed in 1870. Some have been converted into flats, but many that survived the bombings of the two world wars still serve their original purpose of providing a building for schooling. Today they are often primary schools and not all-through elementary schools.

According to English Heritage, there are over 5,000 listed school buildings in England https://historicengland.org.uk/advice/planning/local-heritage/historic-school-buildings/ Their search mechanism doesn’t make it easy to identify whether there are Board Schools built as a result of the 1870 Act that have been listed. Certainly, many listed school buildings either pre-date the 1870 Act or are of a much more recent construction.

I look forward to hearing of celebrations to mark this important piece of legislation as 2020 unfolds.





No room in the school

Last week the Children’s Commissioner for England published a disturbing report about children placed into care and moved away form their local area. Entitled Pass the parcel: children posted around the care system is resonated with concerns raised by this blog in the past about the education of these children. https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/cco-pass-the-parcel-children-posted-around-the-care-system.pdf

The report highlighted the fact that 30,000 children are placed in care setting ‘out of their area’. Of these, some 11,000 are more than 20 miles from what they term ‘home’, with 2,000 placed more than 100 miles away. There may be good reasons for such a move. These include safeguarding issues such as avoiding former gangs or groups that were sexually exploiting the child.

However, the Children’s Commissioner Report suggests that often this type of move is because there is nowhere locally for these children to live. Pressure on Children’s Social services was always going to intensify as the number of children taken into care increased.   With local government having experienced a period of significant funding cutbacks from government it is not a surprise that services where need is expanding, such as this, are facing particular challenges, especially as the concept of  a ‘just in time’ economy meant resources could not be funded to be on stand-by if needed..

This blog has highlighted the issue of schooling for these children placed ‘out of area’ in several previous posts. Indeed, all Oxfordshire MPs in 2017 wrote to the Minister about the matter. As a result, it is disturbing that the Children’s Commissioner’s Report highlight this issue as still a matter for concern.

We spoke to children during September and October and many of them had no school place for the beginning of the school year. This was a common occurrence for older children, a number of whom were stuck waiting for decisions from professionals. This waiting game could last weeks or months, despite statutory duties to prioritise education, and in the case of emergency placements to secure suitable education within 20 school days.14 Virtual School professionals responsible for managing education plans for looked after children informed us that when children are placed outside of their local area it can contribute to delays because different areas have different application procedures to be understood and navigated. We were advised that children with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans15 usually suffer further setbacks because their applications must go via Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) teams and because schools take time to assess whether they can meet children’s needs. Page 15 of the Report – my emphasis.

In all, the Report concludes that ‘5% (140 children) of this out of area group missed a term of school or more, compared to 2% of those staying in their home local authority.’ The Report doesn’t identify the reasons why finding a school place should be so time-consuming for these young people whose lives have already been disrupted. Is the issue especially bad in areas where there are clusters of Children’s homes taking in children placed into care?

The Report concludes with the recommendation that:

‘The DfE ensure that its review of the role of virtual school heads looks at education processes in response to out of area placements. This review, which is already in progress, should consider: how virtual school heads can have a greater role in placement decisions; giving local authorities powers to direct academy schools to admit children placed away from their home areas; how delays in school transfers can be minimised for these children, especially unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) and children with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans, including how admissions processes can be simplified; how children can be kept in mainstream schools as far as possible.’   Page 17 of the Report

I would add and also look at what happens when children used to a comprehensive style of schooling are placed in secondary modern schools. These young people deserve better from Society.

10 Adverts per school in 2019

The average secondary school has placed 10 adverts for teachers during 2019. The figure is higher for most schools in London and the Home Counties and lower for many schools in the north of England.

The data are from TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the leading job boards for teachers looking for posts anywhere in England.

Of course, the average is a crude measure, as it isn’t related to the size of the school in terms of its pupil population. There are schools with more than 2,000 pupils and also at the opposite end of the scale there are those with only a few hundred pupils.

Once the year is over, TeachVac will link the number of vacancies to the pupil roll of the school, as supplied by the DfE in its data, and compare the outcome with indicators such as the percentage of pupils with Free School Meals. As TeachVac has data for several years, it will be possible to start to identify trends and whether there are certain types of school where staff turnover is more common.

Of course, now that the number of pupils entering secondary schools is on the increase, and there are also new schools being established, the picture is not as clear cut as if it were a steady state in relation to the size of the secondary school population.

The data also reveals how the demand for teachers corresponds to the supply, at least for new entrants. Data on returners seeing work is still patchy, and a national register might be a useful tool for the new government to consider.

After all, what is the point of training teachers if there are also returners willing to work as teachers? As I have said before on this blog, enticing mature entrants into teaching and then not offering them work is a wasteful misuse of human resources. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the Humanities.

There are far more history and geography trainees than required by schools. History trainees, unless lucky to be on Teach First or School Direct Salaried Scheme, have to pay fees and find the cost of looking after themselves during their training, all this expenditure with no guarantee of a job.

This year, 2019-2020, according to DfE figures, some 178 history trainees are being supported by public funds (65 on School Direct Salaried Scheme and 113 on Teach First). By comparison, some 1400+ trainees are using student loans and other funds to train as a teacher.

With such over-recruitment into training, it isn’t clear why the government allowed spending on 178 history trainees at a cost of perhaps £400,000 of public money? That’s unnecessary public expenditure. Add in those 130 geography and PE trainees also on salary schemes, subjects where supply of trainees also exceeds demand for teachers, and the cost to the public purse is well over half a million pounds.

The current hybrid system of training teachers looks overdue for a re-think. Whether it will get one from the next government is probably unlikely while planning for Brexit continues to dominate the agenda.


Does Nationalisation always work?

Discussions about State ownership has been a feature of this general election campaign. As a Liberal Democrat (Candidate in Castle Point in Essex including the Canvey Island) I prefer J S Mill’s approach as espoused in his treatise ‘On Liberty’. Writing about the role of the state and education, Mill concluded that generally, it is not the role of the State to educate its citizens, but to see that they are educated. Not a view of liberty that is accepted by Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum.

However, even Tory governments are not afraid of a spot of nationalisation when it suits them. And here I must declare another interest, for the remainder of this blog is about teacher recruitment, and I am both the chair and the largest shareholder in TeachVac, the free on-line job board for teachers and schools.

Over the past year, the DfE has been developing its national vacancy site for those in schools; teachers and non-teachers alike. The genesis was a NAO Report followed closely by a Select Committee report and a Public Accounts Committee session that all highlighted how little the DfE know of the labour market for teachers in real-time. At the same time head teachers were complaining about the cost of advertising vacancies, one reason for the creation of TeachVac and its free service to schools and teachers.

The DfE could have created a portal to existing sites for teacher vacancies that would have cost little by way of public money. Instead, Ministers sanctioned a full frontal attack on the private sector with a government funded site where state-funded schools could place vacancies for free, with only the cost of training their staff to use the site being borne by the school. Fine, if it works and is value for money.

So how is the DfE doing with this use of public money? Taking a day in late November as a snapshot, it would seem not very well.

An analysis across the core platforms revealed the following numbers of vacancies for teaching posts being listed.

TeachVac 2,053
TES 1,808
Eteach 845
Guardian 593
DfE 580

Of course, the DfE is hampered by not accepting vacancies from private schools, and that will always limit the attraction of the DfE site to teachers looking for vacancies in any type of school.

Apart from TeachVac, all other sites mix non-teaching vacancies up with teaching posts to some extent or other on their sites. This makes the numbers even more difficult to calculate. TeachVac only records teacher vacancies.

Then there is the question of how long vacancies are allowed to remain on a site. Best practice is to remove them the day after the closing date specified by the school in the advert. Some adverts don’t have a closing date these days, and TeachVac will generally ignore these as there is a question about whether there is a real current vacancy at the school or these are just attempts, quite legitimate, at talent banking for the future.

So, on this evidence the DfE is not using public money wisely. Might it, perhaps, be cheaper for the new government to buy a feed from either the TES or TeachVac than to continue to operate its own site.