Design Matters again

I heard on the Today programme this morning about the initiative by the V&A Museum in London to boost the status of design and technology as a subject in our schools. Looking back over the posts on this blog, it seems several years now since the subject generated a post on its own. Maybe this is because of the overwhelming narrative that the only subjects of worth are those in the EBacc, so beloved of Ministers.

This blog has never accepted the view that the EBAcc represented a broad and balanced curriculum, and has certainly made the point that subjects more related to real life and the working world of many millions of citizens deserves more appreciation in our schools. Can our schools currently help produce the next generation of designers to power future companies that will rise to the heights of Apple?

The recent commemorations of D-Day reminded me both of the part played by Hobart’s funnies in the landings and of the importance of the Bailey bridge, an early example of which can still be found on Port Meadow, just down the road from where I live in Oxford. Both are examples of good design fitting a purpose.

However, there will be a problem teaching design and technology as a subject to everyone in our schools unless there is a real push on recruitment into teacher training.

Design and Technology currently languishes as the subject at the foot of the recruitment table, with the worst record on the percentage of required places on ITT courses being filled. The V&A could help to inspire a scholarship scheme such as for physics, chemistry and some other subjects, as part of the conference it is hosting today. If design and technology is so important, then so are those that teach it.

There is a lot of information around, not least on TeachVac, about where the schools trying to recruit design and technology teachers are located, but it requires more forensic analysis of the School Workforce Census to discover those schools where the subject has either been eliminated from the curriculum or severely curtailed. I also suspect that in some cases art and design and technology have become merged into a single department or faculty with consequent effects on both curriculum areas.

I am sure that toy manufacturers can also play a part in awakening more interest in the subject by creating making toys rather than playing screen-based games. If in order to progress and win a game you needed to demonstrate making skills that might prove an incentive for the learning how to make and mend rather than use and throw that so characterises many areas in our consumer society from fashion to food. If we make our meals, are we less likely to waste the food?

Design and technology needs a series of champions to raise the profile of the subject in our schools. I hope that the conference as the V&A, a wonderful repository and showcase for the applied arts, design and technology will be the start of the revival in the fortunes for the subject in our schools.

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Is business studies a shortage subject?

On the face of it, business studies isn’t a subject that can be classified as one of the really problem subjects for the government to have to deal with in 2019. The percentage of trainees recruited against the Teacher Supply Model has hovered around the 75-80% mark apart from in 2015/16 when it dropped into the mid-60s. The 80% mark isn’t especially low compared with some other subjects.

However, with Brexit looming in 2019, the government would do well to ensure there are sufficient teachers of the subject to help create future generations of both the managers and leaders of enterprises; not to mention entrepreneurs as well.

In 2018, the ITT census recorded 180 trainees in business studies. If the same rules were applied as in the previous post regarding the shortage of design and technology teachers, then that number is reduced finally from 180 to 128 trainees, after the removal of those on Teach First, School Direct salaried route and a five per cent figure for non-completion or not entering teaching in a school after the end of the course.

How does this figure of 128 possible new entrants to the teaching labour market in September 2019 and required for January 2020 vacancies match up against perceived need over recent years? TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk the free to use job site for teachers and schools, now has data stretching back over more than four years.

Recorded vacancies for business studies teachers – these vacancies may include an element of another subject as well as business studies – were around the 750-850 mark in the three years from 2015-17. However, possibly due to even better recording by TeachVac in 2018, the number of vacancies recorded in 2018 was just over the 1,100 mark.

Interestingly, 29% of the recorded vacancies during 2018 were placed by schools located in the London area. If the schools in the South East region are added in, the percentage of the total vacancies recorded by these two regions reaches 53%. It would be helpful to know how this squares with the distribution of ITT places, especially as the London vacancy total must be reduced by the effects of the Teach First trainees. Without them, the vacancy total would, presumably, have been even greater.

Even if 2018 has been a rogue year, then even allowing for re-advertisements of 25% – surely a high percentage – in a total of 800 vacancies – that would mean some 600 teaching posts were advertised in an average year.

Applying a rule of thumb of 50% vacancies being taken by new entrants and the other 50% by returners and teachers moving schools, the requirement would be for 300 trainees or more than double the 128 that might enter the labour market. Even if re-advertisements comprised 50% of the total of advertisements, there would still not be enough trainees to satisfy the demand across the country and London and the South East would continue to face shortages.

Should the CBI, Federation of Small Businesses and other organisations concerned with the health of our economy and the nurturing of enterprise be worried by these numbers? Probably, but it depends upon your view of what should be taught at school? One view is that all we need is EBacc: another that starting an understanding of business early in life can inspire future leaders.

Well, with these number of trainees, even allowing for late entrants, those switching from the further education sector and teachers from overseas, if allowed, then some schools are going to struggle to recruit a business studies teacher during 2019. As I wrote in the post on design and technology teachers; if you have a business studies teacher already, it will pay to look after them.

BREXIT and education

Apart from the issues regarding students in higher education recruited from the EU and the matter of research funding for our universities, there are also the matter of recruiting teachers and of whether our exit should affect the school curriculum to consider after today’s speech by the Prime Minister.

If we are to become a world-class trading nation, do we need to up our game over the teaching of languages? If so, does the balance between European languages and say Mandarin need to alter? Despite the former administration’s apparent love for the Chinese language, progress has been patchy, with some schools embracing the teaching of Mandarin and others not being so interested.

With most of South America, apart from Brazil, speaking a form of Spanish, should we increase the teaching of that language and reduce say, German. Should Russian return to the group of languages more widely taught in schools? Then there are the languages of the Indian Sub-continent and of anglophile Africa. Do we need to increase speakers of those tongues or rely upon them learning English to allow us to export to them?

Perhaps more importantly do we need to take another look at the EBacc? The creative arts, design and technology and even business studies have seemingly ranked way down the DfE’s list of concerns ever since Mr Gove entered Sanctuary Buildings. Do we need to reassess the importance of certain subjects? Music, in all its forms, has been a key export industry. Do we need to give it a boost in schools or just rely on television talent shows to increase interest in the subject and a desire to practice it in public? If manufacturing is going to be important, should the government pay more attention to design and technology and assess how the subject can be staffed in our schools. In TeachVac we have seen few advertisements for vacancies in either music or design and technology compared with many other subjects both at the end of 2016 and in the first fortnight of 2017. This may suggest schools are not investing in the teaching of these subjects at present.

STEM subjects as a whole are also important, especially where they help develop new technologies. However, developing a spirit of entrepreneurship in our schools may be equally important. In a post some time ago, I noted that more innovators came from independent schools than from state schools. Clearly, post BREXIT, we need a generation of exporters educated in all our schools and this might mean re-evaluating the staffing of business studies. At present, this a subject the DfE largely ignores, despite the past two years of TeachVac data showing how under-staffed it is becoming.

Finally, what happens if we cannot maintain a common travel area with the Irish republic? Although not as great a source of teachers as some would imagine, teachers from Ireland do help swell the ranks of the teaching profession in times of shortage. Will they need visas, along with their Spanish and other EU compatriots, in a few years’ time? On that front, schools must be wondering when the Migration Advisory Committee will report on the tier 2 visa rules for 2017-18.

 

 

 

 

Do entrepreneurs go to state schools?

I ask this question on the basis of a BBC magazine story that successful app creators have tended to be ex-public school pupils. (Public in the sense of fee-paying schools for those not from the UK). Now the BBC article didn’t have any real research data, just a few observations on the part of the writer . It is certainly true that some recent high profile success stories of young men in the IT world, and it often seems to be men – Baroness Lane-Fox apart – that have sold apps for mobile phones for a healthy profit were educated at such schools.

It is also true that the one app company where I have an investment stake was started by three young men who all went to public schools, so many be there is something in the idea that such schools are the breeding grounds for risk-taking business tycoons. May be it is also that to start a business of this type needs time funded by someone, and parents who can afford school fees may be able to subsidise the business needs of their creative offspring. Those who have a more pressing need for money to support the family have always encouraged their children to ‘get a job and start earning’. Indeed, one of the reasons the school leaving age was raised twice after world War II was to ensure working-class children stayed at school long enough to gain qualifications. Even in the 1950s some pupils at the grammar school I attended left at 15 because the family could or wouldn’t continue to support their education.

Innovators, and entrepreneurs who are often also innovators in new fields such as mobile phone apps, are often non-conformists; school sometimes don’t like those who won’t conform because it makes the task of running the establishment that much harder.  Indeed, some schools are also often anti-risk, despite the fact that an appreciation of risk is an essential requirement for any budding entrepreneur. Occasionally, I think that working in state schools offers a job in an environment where risk has essentially be almost completely removed despite the ever-looming presence of Ofsted. One of the good things to come out of the drive for higher standards in schools is an acceptance of trying new ideas, although paradoxically that notion clashes with the opposing view of enforcing uniformity, whether in curriculum or teaching style. Nowhere is this better articulated in the debate about whether each generation should discover its own heroes and heroines or accept the choice handed down by their ancestors. I wrote in an earlier piece how this particular circle might be closed to the satisfaction of all through the sensible use of new technology, and the encouragement of public-speaking that would boast self-confidence, something else of use to entrepreneurs, and also something some state schools have not always been good at encouraging.

If our economy is to thrive again, it needs entrepreneurs, and they need to come from all walks of society, and that means all schools must play their part in encouraging entrepreneurship for the sake of the common good. In the 1980s film ‘Gregory’s Girl two cameos have remained with me; the penguins on the way to nowhere, and the boy who is forever selling things to his school mates. There is no doubt that he was a budding entrepreneur. As this was a Scottish film it seems apt to remember the travail of Robert the Brue who motto might have been ‘the only failure is to give up trying’, an apt encouragement for everyone, and especially entrepreneurs not all of whom will have the initial success of our recent young mobile phone app developers.