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.



Trade Unionist honoured by Labour

Education will have a new voice in the House of Lords following the announcement of the creation of Christine Blower, the former head of the NUT, as a peer in the dissolution honours list announced today. Christine was proposed by the Labour Party, and will join a distinguished bench of Labour peers with a deep understanding of the state education system. Sadly, the same cannot be said for either of the other two main parties, and there are not enough cross-bench peers with an education background.

The House of Lords has always had more to say about universities and higher education than schools or further education, although some peers have sat on the governing bodies of both colleges and schools.

The Lib Dems Education team in the upper Chamber has been fronted in recent years by Mike Story, an ex-headteacher from Liverpool. Lord Storey has done an excellent job in difficult conditions. Indeed, over the years, despite the Lib Dems being strong on education as a policy area right back to the ’Penny on income Tax’ in the 1990s and the work of Don Foster, Phil Willis, David Laws in government and even Ed Davey for a short period of time, the Party has never had an large team in the Lords. However, for a long while it did have Baroness Williams with her experience as a former Secretary of State, and Margaret Sharp to speak on higher education.

No doubt Baroness Blower will want to address the government’s announcement of the wish to create more free schools, a policy that doesn’t solve the pupil place problem many local authorities are facing and seem more ideological than practical in its nature.

Vision and not just rhetoric needed

As you might expect, Angela Rayner’s speech to the Labour Party Conference was strong on rhetoric, but short on real substance.

Take the following extract:

Our National Education Service will not only reverse the cuts but tackle the inefficiency of the Tories’ school system and take power from corporations and hand it to communities.

Might there be just the hint of an ambiguity there? What will be national and what will be returned to communities?

A promise of a national supply agency to extend the Conservative’s National Vacancy Service that is already competing with the market.

For local authorities, … we will allow them to build schools, create new places and take back control of admissions from academy trusts. But, nothing there about funds for local inspection and advice services and local coordination of teacher training places to ensure sufficient supply. Presumably, that will remain a national function not delegated to local authorities.

Then there is a bit of a muddle

So we’ll allow academies to return to local authority control. We’ll end the scandal of individuals and companies profiting from schools they are involved in, stopping fat cat pay for bosses and restoring fair pay for staff.

And we will use our time in government to bring all publicly funded schools back into the mainstream public sector, with a common rulebook and under local democratic control.

Will Labour create a fully locally governed system of schooling and at what level of government? Why create new cooperative schools, except that it sounds good, when a reshaping of the system with just two classes of state funded schools; maintained and voluntary. The latter being able to form groups of schools, along the model of diocesan schools. What happens to control of post-16 further education. Will colleges remain under national control or be integrated into a more local framework?

Missing was anything about the future of selective schools. Will Labour plan to reform them if it came to power?

Curiously, given the fact that Labour want to offer seats on the board to workers, there was no pledge to ensure staff could sit on governing bodies and no suggestion of how local policy development would need to involve governors, teachers and voluntary school operators. Is the old Education Committee model the way forward, or does Labour have any fresh ideas for local governance of education? Not yet clear, at least from this speech. Presumably, a work in progress?

Where does Labour stand on the curriculum, on testing and on inspection? Or aren’t these important enough matters to highlight in a speech aimed at applause rather than a blueprint for the future.

Missing also was any reference to how education will need to help young people face a world that will be very different from that of today. I know how important structures are, but I want an Education Secretary that can deal with those issues in a paragraph at the start of a speech and then provide a vision for the future that is more than a return to a ‘national service locally administered’ that is what yesterday’s speech seemed to promise.

(For readers that don’t know, it is right that I declare an interest as a Liberal Democrat Councillor on Oxfordshire County Council with the spokesperson role for education.)

EPI’s view of teacher labour market

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) have helpfully pulled a lot of information about teacher supply – some of the data has already appeared on this blog over the past few years – in a new pamphlet. The teacher labour market: a perilous path ahead?

I am not sure that I agree with their conclusions about paying some teachers more than others. However, it is an inevitable solution offered by free market economists, where changing the price offered for labour is the mechanism for dealing with shortages and surpluses. Interestingly, EPI don’t suggest cutting the pay of PE teachers. I assume they believe the millstone of student debt and no guarantee of a teaching post should be enough of a disincentive. However, it would be one way to provide schools with the cash to pay others more.

I assume that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party would eschew the free market approach and go for the alternative strategy of state controlled rationing. Such a strategy was popular after Second World War, when the Ministry of Education used to issue an annual circular telling local authorities how many newly trained teachers they could employ. In those days, the issue of subject expertise was less of a concern as, apart form in the selective and independent sectors, most schools employed class teachers rather than subject specialists.

The problem with the free market approach, as suggested by EPI, is the assumption that teaching can outbid the private sector when it comes to pay. This was presumably also behind the thinking of the Gatsby Foundation paper of March this year that said ‘a data simulation to measure what the impact of a 5% pay increase for early years maths and science teachers in England would have been, had it been introduced as policy in 2010. The report reveals such a policy would have eliminated the shortage of science teachers experienced since 2010.’ I wonder whether that would have been the case or whether private sector employers would have matched the pay increases and offered better non-pay conditions of service.

Where EPI is correct is to cite a perilous path ahead for the teacher labour market. Tomorrow should see the latest UCAS data on applications and acceptances for 2018 teacher preparation programmes. I doubt we can expect much good news. As the EPI pamphlet points out, and in doing so reinforces a point made on this blog, ‘there is still a chance training providers will be able to get close to meeting DfE’s recruitment targets, but they might need to accept nearly all applicants.’ As I have said before, what does that mean for the quality of applicants being offered places if almost anyone that applies can be taken onto a teacher preparation course?

Increasing the time spent on sports and PE in our secondary schools and reducing the time on separate sciences taught by specialists before Key Stage 4 might upset some departments in Russell Group universities, but it might also make for a healthier school population. Looking at the curriculum that can be staffed might be a better use of limited resources than trying to decide each year how much to pay teachers with different skills and expertise. But, if the government does go down that path, they might need to pay the highest salaries to teachers of business studies.


Teacher Recruitment; nationalised service or private enterprise?

So the unacceptable face of capitalism has raised its head again, with a Conservative Prime Minister once again facing questions about excesses in the private sector, much as Edward Heath, who coined the phrase,  did in 1973. The other parallels with 1972 are also interesting a rocketing stock market and a decision to be made about Britain’s relationship with Europe. Happily, the other scourge of the 1970s, high inflation, isn’t currently the same worry, although it has been replaced by the high price of housing, where the market has failed to produce enough homes of the right types in the right places to satisfy demand.

In an interesting side line on the debate about the role of the State in the provision of services, last week the DfE talked to an invited audience about the plans for their new vacancy service for schools. Although I wasn’t at the meeting, the idea of such a service has been discussed in a number of the previous posts on this blog ever since it first emerged as a suggestion in the White Paper of 2016. Following the meeting, the whole situation has left me more than a little confused. What the teacher associations make of the DfE’s actions must also be an interesting question.

Held at the same time as PMQ was taking place in the House of Commons chamber, where the demise of Carillion was fresh in the minds of MPs, the DfE meeting saw a Labour peer representing a commercial company at the same time that his leader was expressing views more sympathetic to the State running industries rather than the private sector. And if that weren’t curious enough, the education lead at the right leaning thinktank Policy Exchange must surely be wondering why the DfE is further empire building by moving into devising a recruitment service on top of the growing staff numbers supporting both the EFSC and the offices of the Regional School Commissioners. Better procurement, rather than a replacement state run service, would be what I would expect from John Blake’s analysis of the cost of recruitment to schools and the need to find ways of reducing it.

To some extent, I am not a dis-interested player, as TeachVac, the free national recruitment service for schools and teachers already does what the DfE is seemingly trying to provide for schools and at no cost to the public purse.

TeachVac also collects data about the labour market. TeachVac will publish its first report of 2018 on Wednesday of this week. This report will discuss the labour market for primary leadership posts during 2017. That report won’t be free, but if you want a copy email For details of the vacancy service visit:

Teacher Supply news from the seaside

The news from Brighton that the policy area of teachers and teacher supply is one of the key issues for Labour’s new Shadow Secretary of State for Education is clearly to be welcomed by this blog. Hopefully, Ms Powell and her advisers will be more adept at keeping the subject in the headlines than her predecessor, one of whose best briefing on teacher shortages appeared on the Monday of a Christmas week when all the press had just gone on holiday. As a result, it was entirely wasted.

Clearly, Ms Powell has also been listening to the teacher associations about retention problems. However, she will need to come up with some data on the matter if she is going to convince the government to take the issue seriously, especially as some schools would probably be shedding teachers next year if costs continue to increase faster than income.

I am not sure what labour’s position is about academies and why they singled out free schools for specific mention? Do they include UTCs and studio schools in the group of schools to be curtailed or are they happy with them?

More importantly, who do they really want to manage the oversight of all state-funded schools? Will they retain the un-elected Regional Commissioners, having now as a Party accepted a role for the Police & Crime Commissioners?

The key issue in education is that of governance and whether schools and education policy is decided locally, regionally or nationally. Place planning and the effective use of resources is at the heart of the matter. If individual schools can dictate how many pupils they can take, then local authorities in rural areas face an open expenditure line on home to school transport that they cannot control. The same is true where schools can exclude pupils without having to take a corresponding number of such pupils from other schools. Allowing all nationally funded schools to set their admission criteria also doesn’t help local planning and the efficient use of taxpayer funds. However, that doesn’t matter if parental choice is more important than providing a good school for every pupil. Do the Labour Party want to channel funds to achieve the best outcomes for the largest number of pupils or do they just want to satisfy just the parents concerned that their offspring can attend an excellent school?

I haven’t heard anything about the curriculum and examinations from Labour, so presumably this is a policy work in progress area. I had hoped to hear that Ms Powell would call for fees to be paid for trainee teachers, but perhaps the new shadow Chancellor isn’t up to allowing spending promises from other colleagues around the shadow cabinet table.

I hope that Labour will support the continuation of universal infant free school meals and the Pupil Premium both of which can help with the vital early years of education where closing the gap can make a real difference as I am sure that Ms Powell knows from her former role in the Party during the last government.

Bureaucratic and undemocratic: just what you expect from Labour

David Blunkett’s blueprint (interestingly this the colour of the cover of his report, a colour once associated with the Tories and not Labour)  published yesterday has little to say in favour of local democracy. The Party that made sure the NHS was established on a national basis now seems determined to do the same for schooling. I have to declare that I am not unbiased in this debate as I am a Lib Dem County Councillor in Oxfordshire, and I firmly believe, at the very least, that primary education should remain a local democratic function whatever the fate of secondary and further education.

At the heart of David Blunkett’s proposals lies a new post of Director of School Standards (DSS):in reality a local commissioner for education reporting to a boss in Whitehall. However, with multi-borough and sub-regional officials, even “local” will mean many different things.

This new cadre of Labour bureaucrats will effectively remove any meaningful control over schooling from elected local authorities. The DSS, it is proposed, will monitor standards, and intervene where necessary; decide on new schools; and would have an un-elected panel to turn to for advice. The analogy with public health is used in the document, although, interestingly, public health was returned to local councils last year, with the director of Public Health making  an annual report to the Council.

Indeed, Oxfordshire has decided to provide a school nurse for every secondary school from September, something presumably Mr Blunkett would not think it was the local authority’s job to decide.

The fact that some local authorities have been less good at providing schooling for some children is not, in my judgment, a reason to take education away from local authorities as a whole, and to reduce them to toothless husks of their former selves.

In Oxfordshire, there is an Education Scrutiny Committee that has an attainment working party reporting to it; and officers monitor standards and report progress. Councillors are concerned about standards – the same is true elsewhere. Councillors need the ability to intervene if things are going wrong. Most of the powers suggested in the Blunkett review can be provided to existing local authority directors without the need for a new bureaucracy, and the inevitable costs associated with it.

Furthermore the Blunkett Review flies in the face of what Labour said before Christmas about Police and Crime Commissioners: then  their review, led by ex-Met Police Commissioner Lord Stevens, said PCCs, introduced in 2012, should be scrapped in 2016 and more power given to local councillors and local authorities. So, more power for councils over the police, but no power over schools now seems to be Labour’s inconsistent line.

Labour may understand the problem, and in part it was a problem created during their government, but their anti-democratic, centralist approach – under the guise of extending school-based, or in practice, groups of school based management – is not, in my judgment, the way forward. Providing a new ‘duty’ on local government to inform and support the interests of pupils and parents merely rubs salt in the wound.

There are, of course, good things in the other parts of the Review. The support for qualified and properly-trained teachers, improved careers advice, and a strengthening of the admissions code are all welcome. However, in the scale of things, you cannot escape the fact that at the heart of the Blunkett philosophy for schooling is a disregard for local democracy and an admiration for a managerialist approach.

Local councillors are much more accessible to parents that a Director of School Standards that may well be responsible for a sub-region. If the proposals in this blueprint make it into the election manifesto, it is Labour candidates that will have the biggest challenge in selling their party as interested in keeping education local come the general election next May.