Why the TSM matters

The TSM, or Teacher Supply Model to use its full name, is the mechanism used by the DfE to identify the changes in the labour market for teachers that will determine how many training places will be needed and thus funded in a future given year. It also provides indicative numbers for other years, mostly assuming current policies and other inputs don’t change during the time period under consideration.

For many years the workings of the TSM under its various iterations were largely concealed from public view. However, over the past few years, the outcome of the process and how the numbers were created has been exposed to public gaze. Not that many members of the public have probably taken the opportunity of open government to work through the DfE’s calculations. If you are interested, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-supply-model and immerse yourself in an interesting read.

Why bring this up now. Well, apart for the fact that the TSM for 2019 to 2020 will appear sometime soon, tomorrow is the last day for resignations for teachers wanting to leave their jobs this summer. At that point in time, it is often possible to see how well the TSM has worked. However, in periods where recruitment into training is a challenge and the TSM or any other figure for trainee numbers set by the DfE isn’t reached, the outcome is more complicated.

Nevertheless, if there are still far more trainees than jobs in the recruitment round by the end of May, then something isn’t working as efficiently as it might. There are two subjects where, based upon the vacancy data collected by TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk where I am the Chair, questions might be asked? These are physical education and history. Both are important because students training to be teachers on these courses bear the whole cost of their training through fees and living costs. Should such students have an expectation that the DfE will not create too many training places resulting in a proportion not being able to secure a teaching post in their subject in either a state or a private school?

The over-supply of physical education trainees has been apparent for some time now and many find jobs in other subjects where they are not fully prepared for their teaching timetable. Potential teachers of physical education presumably do their homework before apply to train as a teacher and decide the risk is manageable, since numbers of applicants hold up very well every year.

The situation in history is more complicated. The advent of the English Baccalaureate created an expectation in the DfE TSM modelling process that more teachers of history would be required as more pupils studied the subject at Key Stage 4. How far that expectation has come to pass will be revealed next month when the data from the 2017 Teacher Workforce Census is revealed. However, even allowing for post for teachers of Humanities as well as teachers of History, this recruitment round does not seem to have created enough vacancies to absorb anywhere near the number of trainees.  Indeed, the risk to history trainees looking for a teaching post is now little different to that for physical education trainees in some parts of the country.

I don’t think that this means the DfE should no longer model teacher needs through the TSM, but I do wonder whether its regime should be so market orientated in how it deals with those that want to be a teacher.



Trenches and Destruction

It isn’t the usual function of this blog to recommend possible curriculum material for teachers, but this new book is an exception. The book, which is an edited collection of letters written by a women whose home at the start of the First World War was in a North Oxford Road, is interesting in several ways. Her then home is now part of the Department for Education in Norham Gardens and contains the room where I was interviewed in 1978 for a place on their MSc course.

The author, Pleasance Walker, herself, is unusual because she became a volunteer nurse not for the British Red Cross but for the French Red Cross Society and served in French hospitals from 1915 to early in 1919. Her letters home span this period and this book is an edited collection of those letters. The collection has been skilfully edited by Caroline Roaf, herself a former teacher and someone familiar with the Education Department in Norham Gardens.

So, this book is interesting as original text because it is a collection of letters by a women – there aren’t many of those; it is from a women serving in France – there are even less of those and it is from a women serving in a range of different French hospitals, and it that respect, if not unique, it certainly joins a very small and distinguished cannon of letters about the 1914-18 war.

Along with domestic issues, about what to buy as Christmas presents, there are accounts of the wounds her patients, including at one point an English soldier, suffered, as well as those struck down by illness and disease: not all in hospital are battle casualties. It the latter part of the war and the months after the Armistice, Pleasance moved around as her unit transferred to different locations when the front advanced during the hectic last 100 days of warfare during the autumn of 1918.

The letters by Pleasance reveal the sheer drudgery of life as the war entered its latter years and privations grew, even in France were the need to import food was less significant than in Britain. They are also full of intimate details as well as thoughts about the progress of the war and when it might end.

Whether for history at GCSE or even PSHE this book can be a valuable addition to a library as a source of primary reference from a source that parallels so many already in existence.

The book is published by Oxfordfolio Publications and the full title is Trenches and Destruction Letters from the Front 1915-1919 by Pleasance Walker Edited by Caroline Roaf. The ISBN is 978-0-9956794-4-3 and it costs only £10, so it isn’t going to break the bank and proceeds go to support the Museum of Oxford. More details and the publisher’s notes can be found at: http://oxfordfolio.co.uk/Untitled-project The full collection of letters is now preserved in Oxford and can be consulted by researchers interested in the field.

Does education planning still matter?

Recently, I attended a meeting where the discussion turned at one point to the notion of education planning and identifying the needs of the service for the future. Planning hasn’t had a good press in recent times, with the market principle sometimes being seen as the dominant approach to outcomes: think, the debate about parental choice.

In the early days of this blog I discussed the issue of planning after the publication of a National Audit Office report into pupil place planning. In the light of the discussion in the meeting this week and the fact that a visitor to this site unearthed the original earlier today and thus reminded me of its existence I thought it was worth a second appearance four and a half years later to see how well it had lasted as a piece. You, reader, must decide.

Planning School Places: More than just about the numbers

Posted on March 18, 2013

On Friday 15th March the National Audit Office issued what can be seen as a critical report about capital funding for primary school places in England http://media.nao.org.uk/uploads/2013/03/10089-001_Capital-funding-for-new-school-places.pdf

The media, as might be expected, latched on to the fact that 250,000 extra places will be needed by September 2014, with a further 400,000 required by 2018, rather than the more technical discussion about the manner in which places are funded, and the value for money associated with the process. The figures for pupil places required are not new, although the shortfall still remains too large, and until recently hasn’t been treated with any degree of urgency at Westminster.

More important than the numbers is what can be read into the Report about the two competing ideologies in British politics – on the one hand, the market as a mechanism for solving all problems; and on the other some form of state planning. The post-war period has been marked in many parts of the public sector by a shift from a planning-based approach to public policy to a more market-based approach. The current generation of think-tank and policy research probably don’t realise that in September 1939 when DORA was introduced overnight (Defence of the Realm Act), using the experiences gained during the first World War, Britain became one of the most controlled and planned societies in the world: today planning is a concept that often seems to have a bad name in public sector policy, especially in education. However, the NAO Report ought to mark a reappraisal if not a turning point in the debate.

In the private sector, future planning is an integral part of every successful business. Just consider the fate of either those retailers that didn’t plan for the effect of the internet on their customers or the train operators who have failed to cope with a record growth in passenger numbers. Without planning comes not just chaos, but also inefficiency and public disappointment that eventually can lead to a sense of dissatisfaction with politicians. Now of course, planning isn’t an exact science, and bad planning can result is poor outcomes for society. But, planning for school places ought to be a basic part of the management of our education service.

Part of the reason for the failure in dealing with provision for the current upswing in the birth rate is undoubtedly the breakdown of the arrangements for controlling schools that stared a quarter of a century ago with the Education Reform Act, and site-level  management of schools. When the Labour Government invented sponsored academies to take over failing schools they destroyed many of the remaining education planning frameworks without making clear what would replace them. With Westminster and Town Hall both either unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility, there has been a sense of drift and ‘passing the buck’ rather than of co-ordinated planning: hence the NAO’s concerns about both numbers and value for money.

One outcome will be that parents in many areas are now faced with Hobson’s choice over what school they can send their child to, and the notion of parental choice will become, like the red squirrel population, restricted to ever smaller areas of the country, at least for the next decade.

Those parents whose children are starting school in locations where selective education still divides children at eleven might also want to consider how their secondary school system will cope with the increased numbers, and whether a system designed in the Nineteenth century for the few fits the educational needs of the many in the Twenty First century, one where all students will be expected to remain in learning until they are eighteen, irrespective of parental income or status.

From my perspective, however we procure the school places, and that might be through a market based approach, the State has a duty to ensure all pupils have a school place available to them that is not an unreasonable distance away from their home and doesn’t demand they attend a school that has an ideology or teaching methodology objectionable to their parents. To fail in planning for this basic task, while still requiring parents to send children to school, if not educated elsewhere, under pain of the criminal law, is a basic failure of government that is unlikely to go unpunished at the ballot box; although whether the right tier of government will shoulder the blame only time will tell.

If the provision of school places isn’t at the top of Minister’s agendas at present then it ought to be. There may be more fun tasks, but concentrating on the basics must now be top of both Ministers and officials ‘to do’ lists. History will judge a Secretary of State harshly if he or she as steward of our state education system fails to provide enough school places during the next decade.


All change

One of the problems of living beyond a certain age is an awareness that certain things happen more than once. This Thursday is another example of such an event. GCSE grade change from letters to numbers and there are more grades available. Well, I recall when the London University Board went the other way in 1963. Numbers in 1962; letter grades in 1963. Actually, a universal grading system across all Examination Boards didn’t materialise until well into the 1970s as candidate numbers taking the exams mushroomed, after comprehensive re-organisation did away with most of the selective systems of the 1944 Education Act. Part of the universal grading need may also have been to ensure comparability between GCE and CSE, the other examination that had sprung up.

Changing the grades from letters into numbers this week will undoubtedly upset Human Resource departments across the country as they will have to explain to those hiring youngsters from this year onwards that the old norms they are familiar with have changed. But, to an educated population that should be manageable. There is a useful table on Wkipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GCE_Ordinary_Level_(United_Kingdom) identify the changed and relative standards between grades.

A far bigger change took place in 1984 when norm referencing was replaced by criterion referencing. Previously, the percentage of top grades was limited and did not identify the ability of specific candidates. It was as if, of the 100 candidates taking their driving test today, only 10% could pass regardless of how well all candidates had been prepared. There may well be situations where that sort of ranking is appropriate, but the Secondary Examinations Council clearly recognised that public examinations were not one of them. One of the results of the change to the system was a more ruthless attitude to entry policies in some subjects, and wide differences between the percentage of A* and A grades between subjects, as this blog has pointed out in the past. Where schools only enter candidates that are expected to do well and need the subject for their next course of study, grades are likely to be higher on average. Where there is open access, there is likely to be less of a bunching at the top grades.

None of this is to denigrate in any way the work of students, teachers and their families in the preparation for the examination season. As ever, I pay tribute to those that have undergone the experience. Regular readers of this blog will also know that in the 1960s, I had to take English Language GCE some six times before achieving a pass. At that point I fully understood the purpose behind the motivational tale of Robert the Bruce watching a spider trying to spin its web.

So, as ever, my thanks to the education community for their work and to parents for their support, but above all my best wishes and thanks to the candidates that either already have or will receive their results this week. I hope you go on to a recognition that learning should a lifelong activity and not just a stage to be endured at school, even if how we measure it can be a movable feast.

TeachVac issues end of term warning

Schools across England will find recruiting staff for unexpected vacancies in January 2018 challenging. This is the message from TeachVac, the free to use job board for teacher vacancies across all schools in England that is already saving schools large sums of money in line with the DfE policy of reducing unnecessary expenditure by schools.

TeachVac is celebrating entering its fourth year of operation. At the end of the summer term of 2017, TeachVac have rated 7 of the 13 secondary subjects it tracks as in a critical state for recruitment. This means that TeachVac is warning schools of recruitment difficulties in these subjects that might occur anywhere in the country and not just in the traditional high risk areas for recruitment.

The high risk subjects are:



Design & Technology

Business Studies

Religious Education



In the other six subjects tracked in detail by TeachVac, most schools will still find recruitment easier, although any specific demands such as subject knowledge in, for example, a specific period of history will always make recruitment more of a challenge. On the basis of current evidence, TeachVac expects schools will face the least problems in Physical Education and Art where, if anything, there is still some local over-supply against need in some parts of the country.

In Science overall, – but not in Physics and possible Chemistry – Mathematics; Modern Languages overall, but not in certain language combinations, and in History, supply should still be adequate to meet expected demand between now and January 2018.  Because most schools still advertise for teachers of languages and science and only specify within the advert the more detailed requirements it takes longer to analyse the data on vacancies in these subjects and that information is not yet fully available beyond the headline figures.

TeachVac can provide the data in a form useful to schools facing Ofsted inspection where recruitment may be an issue for the inspection team. For local authorities and others interested in the recruitment patterns over the past three years in specific locations and between different types of school such as academies and free schools, TeachVac now has a wealth of data available. TeachVac is also now looking in detail as senior staff appointments and especially leadership posts in the primary sector and the challenges some schools face in replacing a head teacher when they leave. The outcome of that research will form the basis of a further detailed report to follow the posts already written on the topic.

With recruitment to training for courses starting this September still below the level achieved last year, 2018 is also beginning to look as if it will be a challenging recruitment round, especially for schools not involved in training teachers either directly or through tie-ins with other training providers. This blog will update the situation regarding numbers offered places for September at the end of this month and again at the end of August.



100 not out

When I used to write a weekly column for the TES it would have taken me about two and a half years to write 100 columns as a result of holidays and other interruptions. By contrast, I only started this blog in January of 2013, and have reached a century of posts before the year is out, even though I originally aimed at only one post a week. I reckon that’s now about 50,000 words, give or take a few.

Although I started with the intention of just continuing to write about education data, the topics I have covered have broadened somewhat during the past 10 months to encompass other education issues. So, I thought that I would think about my personal top three posts in this the 100th post.

My personal top three posts are:

Sunshine, but political and personal sadness  – posted on 17th July

National Poetry Day  – posted on 3rd October

STEM subjects lead retreat from teachingposted on 7th August

The first, and one of the most viewed, tells of my sorrow at the death of a leading Liberal Democrat education activist and the departure from the Party for other reasons of another former activist. The National Poetry Day poem is one that tried to link together school history and the First World War by starting with the notion of a school trip to the killing grounds of France. Unlike many poems it starts in the third person but switches to the first person as a pupil reflects on what might have happened had he been born a century earlier. The third post was the part of a sequence about initial teacher education that charted the debate about recruitment and the new routes for training teachers. This particular post found me in hot water with some people who didn’t agree with what I wrote.

So, where does the blog go from here? After a period when there has been little data to write about, suddenly it seems much more data is becoming available once again. That should provide me with plenty to write about over the next couple of months providing I can find the time to do so.

I would also like to thank the many readers from this country and around the world that have sent me comments about particular posts. To date, there have been nearly 6,000 views from people on all continents, although South America and Africa are less well presented than Europe and Asia. Perhaps that to be expected because of language and internet issues. As might be expected with a blog of this type, the bulk of the views have come from within the United Kingdom, and I am grateful to those who regularly re-blog my thoughts to others.

I now look forward to the next 100 posts or perhaps the milestone will be 250 rather than 200, with a target date of the end of 2014. But, as government over time have found, targets can be a double-edged sword: so we shall see.