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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Incredible, miraculous, life affirming

This blog doesn’t usually comment on football matches, but the dramatic achievements of the two Premier League clubs in defying the odds to win their European Cup semi-finals has left me in something of a quandary: who to support in the final?

Avid readers of this blog, if there are any out there, will know that I was brought up in Tottenham and taught at the long departed Tottenham School in Selby Road for seven years in the 1970s. As a result, it should be a forgone conclusion that I will support Spurs in Madrid. I cannot afford the £500+ for a hotel room, plus the travel and ticket price to actually go to the match, and should not as I am just an armchair supporter.

However, family history demands that I support Liverpool. Work on the family tree has shown that an ancestor play a key role in the events in Liverpool that created Liverpool Football Club and witnessed the creation of Everton on the other side of Stanley Park. I have always been proud to bear the name of Orrell as my middle name.

More importantly, do the events of these two matches tell us something we in education should take to heart? They certainly affirm the importance of leadership of a team, both strategic leadership by the manager and tactical leadership on the field. The support of the owners and the board are also vital. For these could we substitute, the head, the head of department or phase for the team captain and the governing body for the Board? The analogy might not be a perfect one, but you can see where I am coming from.

Do you develop under-performing players or sell them to someone else? Again, not a perfect analogy, but in the week when the Timpson Review was published, there are questions for school leaders.

However, the key message is the same as that from Robert the Bruce with his encounter with a spider: don’t give up.  I wrote a post on this blog on the 25th August 2016 that ended with the message: So, my message is one of hope. Don’t give up. If at first you fail, try, try again. Who knows what you might achieve in the end.

Of course I accept that you don’t have enough resources, we rarely do. And teachers and others working in schools are already giving of their best, no quibbles there, but for the disadvantaged, those with SEND and those facing many of lives other challenges, what messages can we as educators take from the exploits at Anfield and in Amsterdam?

At the very least we can hold our heads a bit higher today and even higher still if Chelsea and the Gunners make it a clean sweep in football’s European Finals. After the battering over Brexit, we all need some good news, and whether you are an avid football fan or not, these two matches have certainly provided that while also creating nail-biting spectacles.

Well, the incredible did happen and four teams from England are in the two finals.

 

Middle Leaders: unsung stars of schools

Good to see some research into attitudes and feelings of middle leaders in schools https://www.teachwire.net/news/3-things-weve-learnt-about-middle-leaders The work was conducted by TeacherTapp http://teachertapp.co.uk/ the excellent web site created by a formidable trio of education authorities with a range of different backgrounds. To discover more about them, visit the TeacherTapp web site and sign up.

Middle leaders were the first area I researched, way back in 1979, now forty years ago! I wrote an article asking whether they were dictators or democrats. Then, as now, they were very much in the middle, not really seen as leadership by some, but no longer just classroom teachers.

Of course their roles differ, from leading a large and complex science or design and technology department with heads of subject and often a head technician as part of the team to the middle leader in music where the leader might be the sole specialist supporting a team of part-time teachers and peripatetic instrument teachers.

Middle leadership is often, at least for many secondary school teachers, their first encounter with responsibility for other adults. Phase and Key Stage leaders in primary schools will often have had responsibility for classroom support staff from the start of their careers. Increasingly, secondary teachers may have encountered support staff for pupils with SEND, but may not have had any responsibility for them as staff.

Facing both ways at the same time is always a challenge. Telling the head that you need more resources for the department, while telling the staff in the department that they cannot have any more resources, requires both skill and tact and can be very wearing. There is still the teaching and marking to do, as well as the planning and administration of the department, phase or other responsibility and usually being a form tutor as well.

In 1979, the heads of department I surveyed leant towards the democratic end of a continuum, whereas more senior leaders, and especially deputy heads, were more inclined to take an authoritarian line on issues presented to them. It is, therefore, interesting to see in the TeacherTapp findings that middle leaders sought to avoid conformations, at least when asked how they would behave on holiday.

One thing that hasn’t changed since 1979 is the general lack of preparedness for middle leader roles. Teachers are expected to step up from the classroom to this new additional role with, in many cases, little or no preparation. I suspect that many middle leaders are keen supporters of their subject or other professional associations as a means of support and training. Teaching Schools also have a role to play in the career development of this vital group of school leaders.

My first head of department role came after just two terms in teaching when the existing head of department was appointed to a deputy headship on the 31st May. Not even secure in my teaching, it was a steep learning curve. Those of you that are middle leaders have my highest regard for the work you undertake in our schools.

 

A question for the Cardinals

Why do Roman Catholic schools find more difficulty in recruiting a new headteacher than do other schools? I first posed this question more than thirty years ago, soon after I started looking at trends in vacancies for school leaders in the early 1980s.

After a break of five years, I returned to the subject of vacancies for school leaders in a report published last January. I have just completed the first draft of the 2018 survey into leadership vacancies. The full report will be available from TeachVac at enquiries@oxteachserv.com early in the New Year. You can reserve a copy now.

Once again, in 2018, Roman Catholic schools, and especially those in some diocese, weren’t able to appoint a headteacher after the first advertisement by the school. The data comes from TeachVac, the free job board that costs schools and teachers nothing to use.

(As an aside, I wonder why the DfE didn’t contract with an existing provider such as TeachVac, eteach or even the US owned TES to provide a comprehensive free job site rather than building their own site. Perhaps there are different rules for Brexit and hiring ships from companies still to start their service than for designing government web sites for far more money than it would have cost to buy in the service.)

Anyway, back to the matter in hand, TeachVac recorded that some 57 of the 124 Roman Catholic schools that were recorded as advertising for a primary headteacher during the 2017-18 school year needed to re-advertise the post: a re-advertisement rate of 46%. Other schools had re-advertisement rates for vacancies first advertised during this period in the low 30%s.

Now, some diocese, have reduced re-advertisement rates by appointing deputy heads from secondary schools to run primary schools. I was once sceptical of this as a solution, but can now see that just as a secondary school headteacher isn’t an expert in all subjects taught in the schools, so a primary headteacher needs leadership qualities, backed by experienced middle leaders that understand the different stages of learning and development in the primary sector.

Using a different measure of total re-advertisements to schools advertising a vacancy for a headteacher reveals that a small number of schools have extreme difficulty in recruiting a new headteacher. Some of these schools just start at the wrong time of year.

Overall, almost every primary school of any type that advertised a headship in December 2017 re-advertised the post at some point during 2018. Unless, these schools used a subscription model that allowed for as many advertisements are required to fill the post, the governors were just wasting the school’s money if they used a paid for publication or job board for the December advert. Those that used TeachVac would have not faced that problem, because it wouldn’t have cost them anything.

As Britain becomes a more secular society, all faiths will need to address the question of how to find the next generation of leaders for their schools. With the approach the 150th anniversary of the 1870 Education Act, such schools seem likely to remain a part of the landscape, whatever the feelings and views of those that would prefer an entirely secular state school system.

 

 

Welcome for BERA Bites series

BERA, The British Educational Research Association today publishes the second in its series of BERA Bites https://www.bera.ac.uk/researchers-resources/publications/issue-2-educational-leadership-are-our-schools-fit-for-the-future

The BERA Bites series presents selected articles from the BERA Blog on key topics in education, presented in an easily printable and digestible format to serve as teaching and learning resources for students and professionals in education. Each collection features an introduction by editors with expertise in the field, and each article includes questions for discussion, composed by the authors, prompting readers to further explore the ideas and arguments put forward in the original articles.

This second BERA Bite is especially of interest to this blog as it contains a post from almost exactly two years ago. The post appeared on this blog on the 7th September 2016 and you can read it be either downloading the BERA bits of searching the archive on this blog for September 2016. The post was entitledRecruitment, Retention and Region The three ‘R’s’ challenging school performance in England’.

I am grateful to BERA for putting this series together. It is a new form of peer review to have blog posts reviewed as well as more formal articles and the BITES series can become useful teaching aids for particular topics if kept regularly up to date. The issue of relevance is key. I turned to writing a blog, partly because for 11 years I wrote a variety of weekly columns for the TES and partly because, in a fast moving area such as the labour marker for teachers, writing academic articles is fine and dandy, but by the time they appear they are often only of historical interest in terms of policy development.

This is best seen in the series of posts on this blog during August 2013, when I wrote a post on the 7th August predicting a teacher supply crisis in London starting in 2014. The subsequent posts show the government reacted to my conclusions. Had I written an article for an academic journal about a possible teacher supply crisis and submitted it in August 2013, some reviewers might have rejected it as lacking sufficient evidence and, even if sufficiently articulate and scholarly, neither outcomes I can guarantee to produce, it would have been sometime in 2014 before it saw the light of day.

This is not to argue for the demise of academic journals, their place is firmly established in the academic discourses but to welcome the move BERA and others are making to recognise that some areas of education policy move at a different pace to others and may need different forms of discourse and that there is a need for teaching materials prompting readers to further explore the discussions put forward in the original articles.

So, please do read the BERA Bites both 1 & 2 and let BERA know what you think of the new series. If you are not a BERA member, but a regular reader of this blog, then you might want to consider whether it would be worth joining BERA, even if only for the access to the range research and information it provides to those interested in education.

Update on head teacher recruitment

Way back at the beginning of May this year, I reported on trends in primary leadership recruitment. The data came from TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the free to use recruitment site that costs both schools and teachers nothing to use, and where I am chair of the company.

With a miserably wet day yesterday, I thought I would take a second look at the data for 2018 in the area of primary head teacher recruitment. So far, it I seems to be turning out to be a pretty average year. TeachVac has records of more than 1,200 advertisements for a head teacher, placed by primary schools. Of these, around 22% are re-advertisements placed more than a month after the original advert appeared. In May, I reported some 175 schools had been forced to re-advertise a headship; by last week that number had risen to close to 225.

The number of schools placing multiple re-advertisements, each at least four week apart, had also increased; from 25 recorded in May, to a current number of around 40 schools. This includes one school with an original advert plus four re-advertisements. I do hope each one didn’t come with a separate bill for advertising.

As in the past, schools associated with the various faiths seem to be more likely to have to re-advertise than non-faith schools.  Of course, it might not be the faith aspect that is causing the re-advertisement, although I think that may be part of the issue. Size, geography and type of schools, whether or not it is an academy, for instance, can all play a part.

In the past Roman Catholic run schools in the North West rarely featured in the list of schools challenged when seeking a new head teacher. This year they account for more than 40% of such schools that have re-advertised.

TeachVac could also investigate the effects of other variables such as size of school; ofsted grades and timing of any inspection report along with output measures such as Key Stage results and progress of pupils over time. However, we don’t have the research funds for such analysis at this point in time. Nearly a decade ago, the then National College sponsored an investigation into ‘hard to fill headships’. I am not sure it was ever published, and assume that it is now buried somewhere deep in the archives of Sanctuary Buildings, if it hasn’t already been consigned to the National Archives at Kew.

Overall, the message to chairs of governors, and governing bodies as a whole, remains the same as it always has been. If your head teacher announces that they are leaving, either to retire or to take on a new challenge, the two most likely reasons for a change of headship, then ask three questions; is their someone in the school we could appoint either directly or after some professional development; are there likely to be candidates from within travelling distance of the school; if neither of these can be answered in the affirmative, how are we going to ensure a smooth succession that doesn’t affect the pupils and staff at the school?

There is plenty of good advice out there along with lots of high quality candidates. Hopefully, schools will experience a great term recruiting heads to their vacancies: good luck.

More pay: fewer teachers: worse PTRs?

The 28th Report of the School Teachers Pay Review Body, published earlier today, provides a great summary of many of the points made on this blog over the past year. There are some good tables and graphs that summarise the situation regarding pay, recruitment and retention very well overall. However, the STRB might have looked at the primary sector in more detail, rather than just regarding it as a sector with a uniform set of issues. Data on leadership trends is also a bit on the thin side, which is surprising given that both associations representing school leaders are consultees and commented on concerns about recruitment.

The big issue arising from the Report is the extent to which schools will be able to afford the pay rise both for teachers and that to support and ancillary staff as well. As I suggested in my earlier post, before the report appeared, the settlement is going to cost schools real money. A secondary school with 60 teachers can expect an increase of perhaps between £70,000- £100,000 on its pay bill once on-costs have been taken into account. That’s a couple of classroom teachers or a review of the senior management team and perhaps one fewer deputy head and more reliance on assistant heads and teachers with TLRs?

I note that the STRB made the point, as I did earlier today, about the timing of their reports and the budgetary cycle in schools. How much did business managers put in the budget for this pay increase? Judging by the number of vacancies in the secondary sector so far this year, probably not as much as has been awarded in at least some schools.

How will the independent sector respond to this increase? This year saw the first reported decline in enrolments in their schools in the published DfE data on schools and pupils. Will it be possible to raise fees to cover the increases or might those schools be constrained in the increases on offer?

As I suggested in the earlier post, changes in recruitment on to teacher preparation courses as a result of the pay increase won’t be apparent until the 2020 recruitment round for new teachers. By then, secondary schools will be well into their growth cycle.

There is a very interesting chart on page 47 of the STRB Report showing the proportion of postgraduate entrants by different routes into teaching for 2016/17 and 2017/18. The DfE in their evidence stated that  2017/18 was the third successive year in which over half of recruitment to postgraduate ITT was to school-led routes, with such routes accounting for 53% of ITT recruitment in that year. (Para 2.13) The chart shows that although true, there was a decline in 2017/18 compared with the previous year in the percentage of trainees on school-led routes.

Finally, it is always difficult to proof read documents prepared at the last minute, as some of the posts on this blog bear testimony. However, the footnote 3 on page 12 suggests a degree of wishful thinking.