Have you tried TeachVac yet?

Recently, a head teacher told me he wasn’t using TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk because there must be a catch. I don’t see how you can offer a free service without there being a catch, the head told me. Clearly, this head wasn’t a user of twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or one of the other disruptive new technologies that are free to use. I wonder if this head grumbles about the cost of recruiting staff, but doesn’t do anything about it.

Now let me be absolutely clear, and please do pass this on to others, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk was established to do two things. Firstly, to offer a free recruitment service to schools, teachers, trainees and returners and, secondly, to use the information to collect better data on the working of the labour market for teachers about which in recent years, since the decline of the local government employers surveys, we have known relatively little.

I suppose it is the cynicism of the current age that many in education don’t believe a group of individuals would have set up TeachVac in the way it was just for altruistic reasons. But they did.

Does TeachVac pass on details of those that register to anyone: no it don’t. Does TeachVac bombard users with adverts every time they log on or receive a match; no it doesn’t. Is TeachVac a front for a larger organisation trying to corner the recruitment market that will then charge monopoly prices once it has removed the competition: no it isn’t.

My motivation in gathering a group of like-minded individuals around me to establish TeachVac was based upon putting back something into the education world in the only area where I had some expertise. A decade ago, the government tried to help the recruitment of teachers through the School Recruitment Service: it failed. Why it failed makes for an interesting story and tells us much about the nature of schooling in this country. Happily, most of those that lead our schools are more interested in teaching and learning and the pupils in their charge than worrying about the systems that support them. Unhappily, without a supportive middle tier this can lead to heads relying on those that don’t seem to have an understanding about driving down costs.

Now, it may well have been legitimate to say when we started nearly three years ago; we will wait and see if TeachVac succeeds. After all, nobody wants to sign up for a one-day wonder. But, Teachvac has now into its third recruitment round and hasn’t missed a day of providing matches when there have been new vacancies to match. You cannot do better than that for service.

With the demise of the National Teaching Service, before it even ventured beyond the pilot stage, and the Select Committee today endorsing the need for a national vacancy web site as a way forward, as I mentioned in my previous post, TeachVac is there for the sector to take-over. In another post, I will explain what is stopping that happening.


Making money from schools

Why would anyone want to take the risk of running a ‘for profit’ school when there are so many easier way to make money out of state education? At one time, companies and foundations from the USA and Sweden were going to revolutionise schooling in England, while making a profit at the same time. Seems it didn’t happen quite that way. The academies that both the Erudition Schools Trust and the Learning Schools Trust opened have all been re-brokered away from the groups that originally founded them and now both of the groups are seemingly no more.

Another education experiment originally from the age of new Labour capitalism has bitten the dust. But, that doesn’t mean you cannot make money from schools. Books, furniture, resources, services such as accountancy, human relations, payroll and legal services, as well as construction and the maintenance of school buildings and facilities can all be offered at a profit. Then, as regular readers know, there is the recruitment industry that thrives on helping schools find staff.

Many years ago, in 1999 to be precise, the then Education Select Committee started an inquiry into ‘The role of private companies in the management and supply of state education services’. I don’t think it was ever completed.  I noted in my written submission that J S Mill had taken the view  in his essay  entitled On Liberty that the role of the state was to ensure the education of its citizens and not necessarily to operate the schools. The question was, and still is, how can The State achieve its end of educating its citizens without paying more of taxpayers’ money than is necessary?

The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee are there to see that where possible public funds are used judiciously. I would say wisely, but I am not sure that is always the case. Mill, was convinced that the State should not necessarily run the service of education. But are politicians and these days, educationalists, any better at obtaining value for money if the service is run by others: sometimes not.

In 1999, I pointed out that the CEO of an education company with a turnover of £48 million earned £122,000 whereas a Chief Education Officer, remember them, of an authority with an education budget of more than £150 million didn’t even earn a six figure salary.  Presumably, the difference was the price to be paid for risk. You can find the same differentials today between CEOs of MATs and chief officers in local authorities, but with, in my opinion, less justification.

Some of us do try to challenge the orthodoxy, by taking the disruptive approach allowed by new technology. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk is one such attempt. Like Twitter, Facebook and many other on-line service sit is free to users and makes its money in other ways. In the case of TeachVac, analysing the growing amount of data and using it to provide additional paid services.

With growing concerns about school funding it is time to develop mechanisms for driving down private sector charges to schools. The government’s recent initiative in IT procurement is a good example of what can be achieved.

Apprenticeship Levy

In the bizarre world that is education under the present Tory government, stand-alone academies with a payroll of less than £3 million are exempt from paying the new Apprenticeship Levy; all schools in any MAT with a payroll of over £3 million across the MAT will pay the levy, even if they are a small primary school; voluntary aided schools are probably exempt as the local authority is the de facto but not de jure employer so long as the school payroll is below £3 million, but all maintained schools will pay the levy regardless of the size of their payroll because the local authority is the employer, even though in these days of delegated budgets it has no control over spending by the schools.

This is a shambles that does a great discredit to the governance of education. If this is currently the position, it should be rectified forthwith. Either it is a tax on all schools or it isn’t. My position is that the government already takes out of education a sum needed to fund the training of new teachers and it should pray that cash in aid to the Treasury in order to have all state-funded schools exempt from the Levy. I don’t mind if the larger private fee-paying schools contribute since they often employ teachers whose training has been paid for initially by the State, but paid back by individuals through the tuition fee repayment schemes in operation since the late 19990s.

If the schools are not exempted from the Levy, then they should make full use of benefits. Sadly, these are by employer, so a large county council with many maintained schools will pay a large sum in levy but receive little back through the pay-out arrangements.

School budgets face enough other pressures at the present time, including for many small primary schools the loss of part of their block grant under the new funding formula arrangements. In Oxfordshire, the loss per schools equates to several thousands of pounds and may make the difference between survival or closure for village schools with less than 150 pupils.

I don’t know whether it is this government’s intention to redraw the map of primary schooling in England, but it could be well on the way to doing so if the combined effect of budget cuts and cost pressures make such schools unable to breakeven financially.

As I have hinted before, one solution is to downgrade the leading professional in small schools from a head teacher to a head of site paid on a lower salary. The risk is that any savings are then spent on a salary for an executive head teachers paid more than value of the savings. Whether deputy head teachers and other experienced teachers would be willing to take on the role of site leader for less money than the current head teacher will, I suspect, depend upon the terms and conditions offered, especially in the smallest of schools. However, unless some savings can be made, I fear for the future of many primary schools. Hopefully, I am being alarmist, but removing the Apprenticeship Levy from all school budgets would be a start.


More about Finance

The well-respected institute for Fiscal Studies has published a document highlighting the effects of the pay freeze on the public sector since the recession hit in 2008. https://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/gb/gb2016/gb2016ch6.pdf

In relation to education, the IFS comments that ‘The Department for Education (DfE) is planned to see a budget cut of 1.9% over the period 2015–16 to 2019–20, a smaller cut than planned for most other departments.’ However, over the whole period since 2010–11, the total DfE budget is expected to be cut by 8.5%. This is still low in comparison to the cuts inflicted on some other government departments where results such as the recent jail riots suggest cutting too far can have serious consequences.

One of the issues for education, with this level of public spending, is around pay. After all, education is still a people intensive activity, with relatively low levels of capital expenditure and technology only recently starting to play a significant role in the delivery of learning.

As the IFS makes clear, part of the real-terms cut to public service spending over the last parliament was achieved by holding down public sector pay. Indeed, as the authors of the IFS document remind readers, pay was frozen in cash terms for all but the lowest-paid public sector workers in 2011–12 and 2012–13, and pay awards were limited to 1% across most of the public sector in 2013–14, 2014–15 and 2015–16.

They note that since private sector wages were also growing slowly over this period, such pay restraint did not have a particularly adverse impact on relative wages. By 2014–15, average pay in the public sector was about the same level relative to the private sector as it had been in 2010–11, and still well above its pre-crisis (2007–08) level.

However, the IFS authors anticipate that going forwards, private sector wages are expected to grow more rapidly. The OBR’s latest forecast is that average earnings across the private sector will grow by around 17% (in cash terms) between 2015–16 and 2019–20. The government’s announced 1% limit on annual pay increases for a further four years from 2016–17 is therefore expected to reduce wages in the public sector to their lowest level relative to private sector wages since at least the 1990s. This could result in difficulties for public sector employers trying to recruit, retain and motivate high quality workers, and the IFS suggests, raises the possibility of industrial relations issues.

This confirms what the view this blog has taken ever since the four year deal on a one per cent per annum rise was announced, that where alternative graduate jobs exist in the private sector, teaching looks less enticing as an area of work than in the past. However, with the cuts in budgets, this may matter less if schools cannot afford to offer the same number of jobs.

As mentioned in earlier posts, what happens to the numbers leaving the profession will be the key to whether the recruitment crisis of recent years either eases or remains a problem in a range of subjects across much of the country? I expect English to be the subject to provide an early steer as the free pool of trainees is relatively smaller as a proportion of overall trainee numbers than in many subjects, so schools not involved in training new teachers may struggle to recruit in 2017.

Finance comes centre stage

Up until 2017, education, and specifically the schools sector, has been a relatively easy ride for the government on the back of some historic funding levels that originated during the last Labour government and were largely protected under the coalition. Is 2017 the year when all this is set to change? Will parents start noticing the arrival of austerity in the nation’s schools or will they be persuaded that the new funding formula is actually providing additional funding for schools, especially in the more rural tory heartlands?

The Rural Services Network clearly subscribes to the latter view with a headline in their latest bulletin, Government plans will see small rural schools protected by a ‘sparsity’ funding factor’. http://www.rsnonline.org.uk/services/sparsity-funding-to-protect-rural-schools On the other hand, the NUT/ATL collaboration of teacher associations thinks differently according to their press release that combines the new funding formula with the recent National Audit Office publication to come to the conclusion that ‘school funding cuts [are] worse than predicted. JAMs [Just about Managing] hit hardest as school budgets plummet’. Clearly, this group remain a key target for those concerned with policy-makers.

The NUT/ATL press notice cites the following as average cuts for different groups.

Primary pupils

Cut for every pupil between 2015/16 and 2019/20

Schools with the least number of JAMs: £297 a year

Schools with the most number of JAMs: £447 a year

Secondary pupils

Cut for every pupil between 2015/16 and 2019/20

Schools with the least JAMs: £489 a year

Schools with the most JAMs: £658 a year

JAMs are calculated by NUT/ATL in the following manner: Our metric for JAMs at a school is the number of pupils who are currently not receiving free school meals but have done at some point in the last six years. We then put the schools in 10 groups based on the percentage of JAMs on the school register, and found funding averages for each group.

Now this assumes that those that come off the free school meals register move into work at the JAM level. But if they found work six years ago they might now be earning more. However, the analysis does seem to reflect that some schools are worse off than others.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, cutbacks of this magnitude are likely to affect staffing levels in schools. Whether schools will concentrate on keeping teachers and reviewing staffing levels for non-teaching staff will be a factor TeachVac will be monitoring during 2017. The number of entry level leadership posts may also come under scrutiny if schools are trying to save money. Other areas of the budget likely to be affected are, repairs and maintenance and spending on professional development. MATs may well want to ask  whether a better deal is possible on professional fees and staff in schools may query whether their executive head should earn more that the local Director of Children’s services?

Finally, for schools looking for saving, TeachVac remains the free recruitment site that costs schools, teachers and trainees nothing to use; visit www.teachvac.co.uk to try it out in 201.




Unresolved issues

At this time of year, it is usual to look back and consider unfinished business that will stray over into 2017. I can think of a number of different issues where I hope there will be an outcome next year.

Firstly, I look forward to the publication of the ITT training numbers. This is so we can know whether the government has further reduced the targets, even though pupil numbers are set to increase. Any reduction would be a sure sign that times will be harder for schools in the future and that fewer teachers will be expected to be employed by state-funded schools.

Of course, lower training numbers also make it easier for the government to hit their training targets, as we have seen with the 2016 ITT census. Training numbers for 2016 were reduced and also Teach First was consolidated into the targets, reducing overall requirements. As I suggested in a previous post, education funding probably doesn’t yet worry parents as much as NHS funding and the time it takes to make a GP’s appointment. Until that changes, the days of generous spending on education will probably be over.

My second issue is the lack of a report by the Education Select Committee into teacher supply. The Committee opened an Inquiry in the autumn of 2015, but has yet to produce a report. An early report in the spring of 2016 probably became unlikely when the National Audit Office published their report on teacher training. The subsequent evidence session with civil servants in front of the Public Accounts Committee still sends shivers down my spine every time I think of it. That evidence session can be read from Question 50 onwards at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmpubacc/73/7310.htm#_idTextAnchor020 and viewed at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/541b77b2-3cfd-4ba5-bd32-b6dd02dd6f5d (7th March 2016 – use accounts as a search term on Parliament TV if the link doesn’t work).

Any report from the Education Select Committee in 2017 may well be different from one produced sooner, not least because of the changes in membership of the Committee. Many of the present membership may not have been on the Committee during the main evidence gathering period. This leads me to wonder whether there should be a finite timescale for any Inquiry by a Select Committee and how this Inquiry is placed in terms of long-running inquiries by such Committees where there hasn’t even been an interim report.

Finally, we are still awaiting the outcome of the deliberations of the Migration Advisory Committee on the status of teaching and Tier 2 visa status. The call for evidence closed in September and the Committee has now had more than three months to deliberate the evidence, much of which was in its possession well ahead of the closing date for submissions from outside bodies. As the 2017 recruitment round for September appointments starts early in 2017, agencies, schools and even possible applicants will be keen to know when they can expect a decision. In the light of improved recruitment into training in both science and mathematics and the probably tightening of school budgets, this will be a difficult call for the Committee.

Scrooge or Santa: It depends upon where you live

My favourite line from the DfE’s consultation document on the new funding formula for schools is:

5,500 schools will benefit from the minus 3% per pupil funding floor protection.

I think that this is a line that the late, great, author George Orwell might have penned in either 1984 or Animal Farm. The real outcome of the government’s deliberations is definitely buried in the small print. An analysis of Oxfordshire primary schools shows an almost equal split between those schools likely to benefit and those that will be worse off. The division is stark between urban schools, especially those serving communities with high degrees of under-performance that will see more money, although some may be capped by the use of floor and ceiling mechanisms, and the small, usually rural schools that are almost universally losers. Of course, I welcome the extra cash for the schools that benefit.

In the secondary sector, around two thirds of Oxfordshire schools see gains, whereas the other third, again mostly the more rural schools, will see their income drop unless they can recruit more pupils to compensate for the reduced formula funding. As secondary schools are close to the bottom of the demographic cycle in many parts of the country the loss will be to some extent mitigated by opportunities to expand as pupil numbers increase. However, rural secondary schools, and popular schools already bursting at the seams won’t be able to increase pupil numbers. The same is likely to be the case for selective schools in some of the less well funded shire counties, where they are facing reductions in the examples presented by the DfE. As these schools often have little room for expansion, cuts to already poor funding levels won’t seem like a great Christmas present.

Overall, it looks as if the gains will largely be achieved by smoothing out the historical anomalies in authorities where the long-terml average has covered a wide range of different localities from those in the top decile of deprivation to those in the lowest decile. To achieve sufficient transfer of funds, there has also had to be internal transfers leading to the losses faced my many schools in the less well-funded authorities such as Oxfordshire. To some extent the use of floors will prevent the cuts affecting individual schools from being too great, but the use of ceilings may deprive some schools of the full amount indicated by the new Formula.

Of course, this isn’t a good time to be conducting this exercise. It would have been better for the Labour government to have undertaken the exercise a decade ago, when pupil numbers were in decline and funds were more generous. At that time all might have been winners and the government wouldn’t in some cases be looking like Ebenezer Scrooge..

Funding schools has always been a contentious issue, and this consultation may affect some Conservative County Council candidates next year if it looks as if a well-liked local school is losing funds and might even have to close. One can image the number of opposition candidates already looking out the ‘Save our Schools’ posters ready for the New Year.

A small tweak on the block grant might go a long way to protect many small primary schools where the expense of preserving them might be worth not having to pay the cost of providing transport to pupils required to relocate even before looking at the cost of building new school place sin the remaining hub schools in the market towns.

However, before the final step of either a local authority closing a school or a MAT throwing in the towel, there will be amalgamations and reductions in the number of head teachers, with one head probalby leading several schools in a cluster. That might work, but the NAO report earlier this week showed that it isn’t just the outcome of the funding formula that will determine the survival of lots of schools, it is also the many other cost pressures that they face. For a start, schools could be exempt from the apprenticeship Levy on the grounds that ITT costs already mean education is paying for the training of its professional workforce.