Too little: too late?

First it was Boris; then Mrs May and finally some of the other leadership contenders. What were they talking about? Not Brexit, although of course all the contenders for the Conservative Party leadership have been trying themselves up in knots of various tightness on that issue, but rather funding for schools.

Reading the runes of what was being outlined, it seems cuts to tuition fees might be some way down the track. If funding for schools and further education is back on the Tory Party agenda, it is difficult to see how the Treasury would be willing to spend more on higher education funding in the immediate future, especially once other Ministers put out their begging bowls. Sure, funding for International Development might be cut to below the level currently agreed to make some savings. This might be justified by citing Donald Trump and the USA level of aid. There might also be some cash to allow higher spending because of better tax revenues, but the police and Ministry of Justice have a real claim on extra cash to fight the rise in certain types of crime, including knife crime and the NHS can always do with more cash.

How much of the suggested increase in funding for education is real, and how much merely determined by the fact that pupil numbers will continue to increase over the next few years, is difficult to determine from the level of the pronouncements made so far, except for Boris’s statement on secondary schools. Not recognising the needs of further education and 16-18 funding might make Boris’s statement about £5,000 per pupil in the secondary sector look like vote catching idea, rather than a serious analysis of where the Tory Party’s current school funding policy has made a mistake. At least in the TV debate, FE, apprenticeships, and skills did receive a mention and, unless I missed, it selective education didn’t.

Any talk about increasing education funding by Conservative may be a case of too little and too late. The warning signs have been there for some time, and the fact that school funding didn’t play much of a part in either of the last two general elections was a bit of a surprise, although the effects on the ground were less obvious than the reductions in school reserves and the consequences of changes to come that are obvious to those that manage budgets, but were not then visible to parents.

For me the funding priorities are: 16-18 funding; early years and children’s centres; SEND funding and protecting rural schools facing falling rolls as the birth rate declines and the housing market stalls. There are other priorities, including metal health, although some cash has been allocated for this, and teacher preparation and career development. All staff will need competitive pay increases if the wider labour market remains as it currently is, but that will be true for the whole of the public sector and might reduce the amount specifically available for education; hence my earlier comment about the challenge in trying to reduce tuition fees.

Unless there is an emergency budget, any changes are not likely to reach schools before April or September 2021 at the earliest.

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Lower Fees: a threat to teacher education?

Will the promise of a possible cut in tuition fees held out in the recent Augar Review harm applications to teacher preparation courses, especially those courses for postgraduates?

Due to an accident of history, postgraduate teacher preparation courses with a higher education component are still usually linked to the student fee regime, at least in England. This anomaly has worked well for course providers in recent years, as they have mostly been able to charge the full fee or something close to that amount.

Although not generous, in terms of the cost of running these courses, the fee has generated more income than was possible during the period when the fee income meant that it was almost impossible to cover the cost of running a course from the income received and university management would every year have to write off deficits, often amid suggestions that teacher education would not survive.  Apart from in one or two institutions, it did survive, as it has survived the Govian era of regarding higher education as part of ‘the blob’.

Still, Augar poses new threats. In the short-term, probably the 2019-2020 recruitment round, will would-be teachers postpone applying for courses until the issue of a fee cut and changes to the interest rate on student debt are decided.

Any such reduction in applications would be a worry since noises from Whitehall now suggest that the government’s planned spending review may be delayed because of the change of Prime Minister.

Hopefully, those concerned with policy on teacher education will have raised the issue of the effect on recruitment of a possible future cut intuition fees with DfE civil servants. However, until their political bosses (is that a non-sexist word?) take a decision, there may be little that can be done in the short-term, except monitor what happens to applications and even that may be easier said than done next year.

I also hope that those on the teacher education side are talking both to civil servants and to the teacher associations about what happens to funding if fees are reduced to say £7,500? Will the shortfall from current levels of funding be made up by the government, and will that mean closer monitoring of recruitment again?

Course providers will need reassurance that the cost of running their courses will be covered if fees are reduced for students. If not, will we see further changes in the landscape, with some schools unwilling to participate for anything less than the current level of funding, especially with the pressures on school budgets at present?

Of course, I favour a return to the situation where all fees for post-graduate courses are paid by the government, and training to be a teachers doesn’t require an increase in the level of debt to the individual, especially if the length of time repayments must be made is also increased by ten years as Augar suggested.

With probably another five years of increased secondary training targets to come before the bulge of pupils passing through secondary schools can be provided with sufficient teachers, even if not the right mix of subjects, anything that deters new entrants should be avoided. A delay by applicants awaiting a decision on lower fees might end up as a loss of a number of potential teachers to the system.

Review of Post 18 Education and Funding

The Augar Report was published this morning. When generating a set of principles, this Review manages to be both potentially regressive and progressive at the same time, but for different groups in society.

The better news is mainly on the further education side, and the recognition of the importance of part-time study for some in society. However, even here, the Commission established by Sir Vince cable might have some better proposals for lifelong learning.

On higher education, the mixture of funding changes, wider government interference in planning through extending the range of subjects where government grant will be available, and general tinkering with the system seems likely to please almost nobody. If grant is available for Group 3 subjects, but not Group 4, and universities can only charge £7,500, how will the subjects in Group 4 fare? Will universities cross-subsidise, increase teaching groups, and reduce contact hours or just eliminate these subjects from their offer as uneconomic. I suspect much will depend upon the relative cost to income ratio at present.

As a means of boosting some STEM subjects, these proposals could provide incentives, but assumes there is a pool of potential undergraduates wanting to study these subjects, but not able to secure a place under the present system. One unintended consequence could be a glut of biological scientists, possibly with environmental approaches in their degrees, but no more physical scientists or engineers.

On apprenticeship, I was disappointed that Augar didn’t look at the funding pressure the levy places on small primary schools forced to pay the Levy by a quirk of fate. By suggesting eliminating permission for funding second qualifications, Augar would prevent these schools funding senior staff development through the Levy, as some are now starting to do under present arrangements. This is an area that the DfE needs to take notice of, as councils start repaying unpaid Levy back to The Treasury, including the cash collected from their primary schools.

The part of the report receiving the most attention is that concerning higher education tuition fees and repayments. A cap on total repayments is a good idea, but for public sector workers, subject to pay review bodies, the notion of paying postgraduate training fees is still a burden that Augar didn’t address.

As readers will know, I would require the government to either pay the fees of all trainee graduate teachers or offer all teachers full debt repayment for a period of service in public sector schools. Until then, I think the Pay Review bodies should comment on the effects of their recommendations on the teacher’s loan repayments under each of the different schemes in operation that year along with any proposed changes.

Aguar has a table suggesting that a modern language trainee teacher with a four year degree and a one-year training fee might amass some £117,000 of debt at the start of their career.

Finally, it would have been helpful for Augar to also have suggested better careers advice for pupils in schools to help them make informed choices

As a closing note, I hope this review, if implemented, doesn’t spell the end for philosophy, sociology and classical studies in our universities.

 

Publishing Augar is only the first step

In more ‘normal’ times we might expect a report of the main features of the Augar Report into FE & HE to appear in the Sunday Times this weekend. However, these are anything but normal times in UK politics, so who knows.

Some of the possible suggestions as to what might be in the Report have been widely rehearsed already, including a possible cut to tuition fees; more cash for adult further education and a minimum point score for access to an honours degree course.

Whatever Augar suggests will have to be accepted by the then government, and then translated into action as part of the discussions on the next Spending Review. Of course, it could go the way of the famous Tomlinson Report and be rejected out of hand by the Prime Minister of the day, whosoever that is. More likely is a battle within the DfE.

Bringing back FE and HE into the DfE makes good education sense, but not good sense for either sector where they inevitably play second fiddle to the vastly larger schools’ sector within the Department.

Imagine the Permanent Secretary from the DfE at The Treasury during negotiations for the Spending Review either this autumn or in early 2020 that we know will be tough, as George Osborne always said it would be in the second half of this decade without tax increases.

So, the Permanent Secretary is asked, what are your funding needs: well we have lots more pupils in secondary schools over the next five years and we cannot recruit and retain enough teachers, so more cash for schools is the immediate reply; but FE funding has taken a hit, and we needs to reskill the labour force and, sadly, the Apprenticeship Levy has flopped, so more cash for FE and especially part-time study.

Is that all, queries the Treasury Mandarin? Of course not, replies the DfE official, there is also higher education, where we need to cut tuition fees and fund research while keeping the sector going through the dip in the number of eighteen year olds for the next few years.

The Treasury might then ask, if you cannot have everything what would be your priority order? Schools must come first, would undoubtedly be the reply. There are more votes in parents than students or employers, and the teacher associations have done a great job in convincing everyone that schools are both underfunded and a special case alongside the NHS. FE might come next, as some of the pain felt by schools could be alleviated by upping the unit of resource for 16-18 year olds across both schools and FE. That leave the university sector in third place.

Fees might be cut, because of misguided belief that it would protect the student vote for the government, especially if Labour campaigned on an end to fees completely. The risk to universities would be that The Treasury would not make up the loss in fee income, except in a few STEM subjects.

Could one of the unintended consequences of such an outcome be universities opting for lower cost, mostly classroom-based courses, while spending more on marketing to attract students? An astute government might suggest the price of lower fees would be fewer separate institutions with campuses linked to a central site with a single set of support services and associated cost savings.

Now we know the departure date for Mrs May, will Augar be published before she goes or not? Either way, the funding issues won’t go away

 

FE: too often forgotten

This blog is as guilty as many in education of too often overlooking the further education sector. Despite its status of something of a poor relation to both higher education and the school sector, further education has an important part to play in developing the economic activity of our nation. One of my regrets about the Coalition government was that it allowed the further education sector to be excluded from the funding deal for schools. That deal may not have been perfect, but it has left schools, and especially those secondary schools without 16-18 provision, relatively much better off than the further education sector. The oft quoted number is that a lecturer in the FE sector earns around £7,000 less than a school teacher when teaching the same age group.

One has to ask, is it rational to be thinking of cutting fees for higher education without also considering the funding of further education, where a portion of higher education work also takes place. I suspect that a significant amount of the work on FE funding assumed that further education could subsidise expensive practical subjects from the assumed cheaper to deliver classroom based education. Such a view is both short-sighted and not, I suspect, based on much in the way of evidence. I guess that when general studies was taught to classes 100 or more day release students, such subsidies were possible: but mostly, I suspect, that was a long time ago.

Teaching English and Mathematics, both classroom based subjects, to those that failed to reach a satisfactory level at school cannot be done in large classes. It also cannot be done properly by those without sufficient knowledge and skills of teaching.  Practical subjects whether construction or hairdressing need both small groups and often expensive equipment. The Treasury doesn’t seem to realise this fact. Government also doesn’t seem to realise that students often have to travel significant distances to attend colleges offering subjects they are interested in learning.

We have already seen a couple of universities flirt with financial issues and there must be a risk as the number of 16-18 year olds reduces for the next couple of years that further education as a sector will experience the same sorts of serious financial problems.

Once the agony of the Brexit saga is finally resolved, one way or another, then British industry and commerce must step in to support the development of the further education sector as a means of creating talent for our wealth generating industries, whether old manufacturing skills or modern IT related skills or those that have yet to be fully understood around the applications of AI across the workplace.

Now is the time to review the economics of the whole 16-18 sector. Schools are able to support small sixth forms, especially where pupil numbers are growing at Key Stage 3. Colleges don’t have this luxury and it is a false economy to under-fund them when we need a more productive and skilled workforce at all levels. Those that don’t go to university are as important in our economy as those that do and much less of a burden on the public purse.  They deserve a better deal.

 

 

A decline is still a decline even if the rate of decline has slowed down

For most of the 25 years I have been tracking applications by graduates to enter teacher preparation courses, there has been no need to worry about the number of applicants seeking to train as a primary school teacher; the issue has always been finding enough trainees in a range of secondary subjects.

The latest data from UCAS on applications for postgraduate teacher training in the period up to just before Christmas 2018 showed that there were 10,820 applicants domiciled in England by mid-December 2018, compared with 17,420 at the December 2016 measuring point and 18,880 in 2015. Although the decline has slowed compared with previous years in 2018, it has not stopped, and makes even more of mockery of the statement quoted in the previous blog post from the LSE team’s evaluation of the DfE’s marketing campaign for teaching.

UCAS don’t provide information about the split between applicants looking at primary courses and those seeking secondary subjects. However, the nature of the decline can be determined by looking at the number of applications in the different sectors.

Applications for all secondary courses in England were stable at 16,100 in December 2018 compared with 16,070 in December 2017. However, primary, applications are down from 16,870 in 2017 to just 14,770 in December 2018. If everyone has made three applications that would be less than 5,000 applicants so far for primary courses.

Last year, the numbers required to fill all primary places were made up later in the cycle, and by the ITT census in November 103% of placed had been filled. But, gone, it seems, are the days when I needed to advocate a closing date to ensure anyone applying later than November would be considered for a place. With around primary 13,000 places to fill for autumn 2019, we need around a lot more applications if providers are going to have any choice in candidates they can offer a place to on their courses.

The good news is that applications are higher for most secondary subjects compared to December 2017. Art, history and physical education are the exceptions. The decline of nearly 1,000 in applications for physical education courses is noteworthy, as it is the first time such a decline in this subject has been seen in recent years.

Looking at applications by the region of provider, applications are down across most of England, with those applying for courses in London down from 2,570 in December 2016 to 1,540 in December 2018. The West Midlands is the only region not to record a fall. Applicant numbers there were the same in December 2018 as in the previous December.

In the primary sector, all types of provider have suffered from a decline in applications, with higher education reducing by more than 1,700 applications. By contrast in the secondary sector, School Direct Fee courses registered an increase in applications compared with last year, whereas other providers all recorded falls in applications. School Direct salaried applications in the secondary sector were around the 900 mark in December 2018. This might mean only 300 applicants, if each had made three applications. In reality, the number of applicants is likely to be higher, but is still probably around 10% down on last year’s figure for December.

December is still early in the annual recruitment cycle to panic, but unless there is a pickup early in 2019, schools faced with a growing secondary school population in September 2020 might find recruiting teachers in some subjects a real challenge. Let us hope that the same won’t be true for their colleagues leading primary schools.

Phew, what a relief!

The ITT Census published by the DfE today, along with the accompanying set of notes – what used to be called Statistical Bulletins or First Releases in former times- will come as a welcome relief to Ministers, at least a the headline level. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/initial-teacher-training-trainee-number-census-2018-to-2019

The total number of trainee teachers, including Teach First, preparing for life in secondary schools in 2019 was measured by the census as 16,280. This is an increase of 1,285 or around nine per cent higher than last year. In primary, where recruitment controls exist, there was an increase of only 70 extra trainees, from 12,905 last year to 12,975 this year.

These numbers will come as a great relief to everyone, because, with rising rolls in the secondary sector, there will be a significant demand for new teachers over the next few years unless leakage out of the profession can be reduced. With the growth in the demand for teachers from the international school market keeping teachers at home will remain a challenge.

I guess a combination of the better pay award, albeit only slightly better, plus the security of a teaching job post BREXIT may have contributed to the upturn in trainee numbers. However, once the headline numbers are disaggregated it is not all good news.

Still, let’s start with the good news. In 2019, schools won’t have any difficulty finding a biologist: trainee numbers are up by around 800 to over 1,800. The same is true in English, were trainee numbers have increased from just under 2,200 to more than 2,800. Tutors in both subjects could have headaches finding enough school placements for these students, but it is headache worth having. The other subjects where numbers are significant higher are geography, up from 1,225 to 1,300; computing up from 475 to 530 and Physical Education where 1,250 trainees are on course this year compared with 1,125 last year. For both PE and geography trainees, I would suggest an early registration with TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk since there will almost certainly be more trainees than jobs available for them in 2019.

Now for the less good news. Not all subjects have recruited more trainees. There are few trainees this year in mathematics (2,195 compared with 2,450 last year); Physics (575 compared with 720); Chemistry (835 compared with 875); and Religious Education (375 compared with 405). In Design & Technology last year’s enrolment of 305 has fallen to a new historic low or just 295. Apart from anything else, this will hasten the amalgamation of art and design departments with D&T departments in schools since the figure of 295 trainees is nowhere near enough to provide middle leaders in a few years’ time for D&T as a subject.

Underlying the data on the overall numbers is their distribution around the country and it already looks as if schools in London and the south East may face a challenging labour market in 2019, especially since state schools will be competing with the independent sector where funds often allow for higher salaries.

In another blog, I will examine how the number of trainees recruited compares with the DfE’s estimate of need for teachers, as measured by the Teacher Supply Model.

So, good news overall, but not for all.