Leadership Matters

The DfE has just published the latest in a series of working papers based on the 2013 international TALIS Study of teachers. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teachers-in-secondary-schools-evidence-from-talis-2013 The TALIS study covers secondary schools and this working paper is about job satisfaction and teacher retention. Probably not surprisingly, it concludes that leadership matters. The working paper summarises this key fact as follows:

Better school leadership is strongly associated with higher teacher job satisfaction and a reduction in the odds that a teacher wants to move school. More specifically, a one standard deviation (SD) improvement in the quality of leadership is associated with a large, 0.49 SD increase in teacher job satisfaction and a 64% reduction in the odds that a teacher strongly agrees that they want to move to another school.

This comment makes the abolition of a mandatory preparation qualification for headship nearly a decade a go by the then Labour government even more difficult to fathom than it was at the time. A mandatory leadership qualification also allows for greater understanding of the pipeline of potential new head teachers and areas where there may be challenges recruiting a new head teacher.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with the heads of Roman Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Southwark that covers a swathe of south east London and the neighbouring counties. There were many new, young head teachers just embarking on journey as the lead professional of a school. What was interesting and inspiring was the range of new options the Archdiocese and its schools were willing to try; co-heads sharing the role; primary and secondary heads working together in the same primary school, where at the same time the secondary head also retains their leadership role in the secondary school. Also inspiring were the large proportion of new heads that were women.

Church schools, like schools in the larger MATs, are lucky in that they work in an organisational structure that can set funds aside for system leaders to help head teachers and other school leaders develop. Many local authorities no longer have the funds or the support of their remaining maintained school to ensure such support and encouragement for school leaders and also can no longer identify those that will form the next generation of school leaders.

This is a point noted in the main TALIS report on the 2013 data, where the authors made it clear that:

.Schools in England are clearly very autonomous by international standards, or at least are viewed as such by their head teachers. The levels of school responsibility that are reported are so high and the levels of local and national authority responsibility so low that there is little room for much analysis of differences among English schools. Unsurprisingly, the reporting of local or national authority involvement is strongly concentrated among the maintained schools, although we have already noted that it is not nearly as high as might be expected. Within the group of maintained schools, we can find no clear significant differences in level of average GCSE performance, the distribution of Ofsted ratings, or average Free School Meals receipt between schools with heads reporting significant local or national authority involvement ….. and those with heads who did not. (Page 42 paragraph 22, main report).

The TALIS report is a good starting place for any new Minister, should we find reshuffles and changes at Westminster create such an eventuality, even without the enduring possibility of an early general election causing wholesale change.

 

 

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Levy or a tax on small schools?

I wonder how the Apprenticeship Levy is working out in your part of England. Many primary schools have had to pay into the Levy because, as maintained schools, their local authority is the ‘de jure’ employer. Academies and voluntary schools, along with free schools, generally escape the Levy, unless part of a Multi Academy Trust with a pay bill of more than £3 million.

In Oxfordshire, the primary schools are likely to pay just short of half a million pounds over the course of the financial year into the Levy. With a Teaching Apprenticeship not up and running in time for this September that leaves either support or other staff apprenticeships or the possibility of using the cash to develop the existing teaching force through advanced apprenticeships as a way of accessing the Levy.

In my book, preparing primary teachers for a leadership position would have been a useful way to spend the Levy. Now, I am not clear whether it can only be spent in the school from where it has been collected or whether, as the ‘employer’, a local authority can aggregate the cash rather than see it not being used.

In former times, this would have been a task for an officer overseen by a director, perhaps after a discussion at a committee meeting. Contrast this with the cabinet system, where, if the Cabinet Member isn’t interested, it is difficult to see how policy is formed unless a particular officer is prepared to make an effort. In constrained financial times, such as local authorities now face that seems unlikely in many authorities: perhaps readers can tell me different in their experience.

There is a further problem thrown up by the cabinet system. When seeking information in public, do you ask a question of cabinet member for finance, as the department collecting the Levy; the cabinet member responsible for education activities, as covering the operational area or the cabinet member responsible for human resources as they should be informing other operating areas about the policy for handling the Levy? With only one question at a Cabinet Meeting, councillors, at least in Oxfordshire, cannot afford to make the wrong choice if they want to be able to ask a supplementary.

Nationally, I wonder whether the teacher associations have been as ‘on the ball’ about the consequences of the Levy as they could have been. The last thing I want to see is financially hard-pressed primary schools paying into a fund that isn’t then spent for their benefit. I still wonder why there wasn’t more of a fuss about taxing the smallest schools while letting off some of the larger schools. This doesn’t seem equitable to me, especially when funding is so tight. Added to all the other cost pressures on schools, this is another nail in the coffin for the small village primary schools. Is that something the present government wants to achieve: surely not?

 

 

More news from TeachVac

As we start a new school year, TeachVac, the national vacancy service for schools and teachers, www.teachvac.co.uk has introduced the first of its new suite of developments that marks its continued growth. TeachVac is now the largest single source of free teaching vacancies for both schools and teachers in England across both state-funded and private schools.

Supporting the public face of the platform, where schools place vacancies for free and teachers can receive daily notification of vacancies meeting their requirements, is an important back office of statistical information. From today, TeachVac has widened the range of subjects where we collect more than the basic data on vacancies, to include both languages and English. These new subjects join mathematics, the sciences, design and technology, and computing in the list of subjects where additional data about every recorded vacancy is now being recorded.

For many of these subjects, such as the design and technology, the sciences and languages, it allows TeachVac to understand the real aims of schools when advertising generically for a teacher of science or languages. What sciences or combination of languages are these schools really seeking? How much are they willing to pay for particular specialisms? Is there really a growing demand for teachers of Mandarin? Up until now such information hasn’t been easily available. TeachVac now codifies the information on a daily basis. If you are interested in knowing more about the project and exactly what data are being collected then contact the team at TeachVac via the web site. Sadly, unlike the free to use basic vacancy matching service, data requests are not provided free of charge, but involve a small fee.

In addition to data about teaching vacancies at all levels, and in both primary and secondary schools, TeachVac also collects data about technician posts in secondary schools. This can be a good guide to how funding issues are affecting schools, since turnover among these posts tends to be higher than for teachers and resignations are not fixed to the same termly cycle as for most teaching vacancies. This can make them more sensitive to changes in funding an act as a barometer for the market.

As August is the holiday month, TeachVac is delighted to have welcomed visitors from more than 70 countries to the site so far this month; another new record. Overall visits to the TeachVac site have once again doubled over the past year and the trend continues to be upward. In January 2018, TeachVac will publish its first look at trends in the labour market for head teachers. This will continue a trend of such reports first started in the mid-1980s.

Over recent months there has been intense interest in how vacancies are communicated to teachers by schools and how the cost of recruitment can be reduced. TeachVac has a credible free service that costs both schools and teachers nothing to use and has the capacity to save millions of pounds for schools, especially those with large recruitment budgets as a result of both the growth in pupil numbers or increasing teacher turnover as recorded by the DfE in their annual School Workforce Censuses.

 

Hats off to hard working volunteers

One of the privileges of being a parliamentary candidate is the opportunity to meet some amazing groups of people. Shortly after writing the previous post I went to meet a group of parents of children on the autistic spectrum or in the process of being diagnosed. The testimony of each and every one really reinforced the views I expressed in the previous post.

Here are a group of parents battling a dysfunctional education system that is lacking in resources and where many of the primary schools face cuts in funding under the new national funding formula. Light years ago, when common sense prevailed, local authorities had teams of SNASTs working with schools on special needs issues and training. After all, a new teacher cannot learn everything in a 39 week postgraduate course or a three year degree. Indeed, school-based training for teachers may make the exclusion of this type of special need from discussion during training even more likely.

The lack of a training syllabus for leadership also now means it is hit and miss whether new school leaders are properly prepared for their role and helped to understand the place of EHCPs and how to liaise with the health service. Local authority services are also under strain and the government’s policy towards the creation of new special schools seems lacking in definition and awareness of need.

The growing visibility of mental health issues and a greater understanding of autism has helped in some cases, but I am sure hindered in others as head teachers decide the challenges are too great and seek to offload pupils to special schools where with a little extra support and training they could be educated in community schools.

I know that charities such as MIND provide general training for teachers on the whole spectrum of mental health issues, and also that many issues don’t become apparent until pupils are in secondary school. Autism and its associated conditions need early detection and this is helped where class teachers and the other members of the classroom team, especially of the youngest children, are alert to any signs of a lack of development not fully within the normal parameters. Eyesight and hearing issues need monitoring, but so does the signs of a lack of social interaction and sensory issues that may act as pointers.

For all these reasons, special needs is an area that needs careful coordination and sensible use of resources. Government has decided that adoption services are too important to be left to single local authorities and has regionalised the service. I would argue that special needs is too important to leave to individual schools and MATs and is another function where a democratically elected local authority has a real and effective role to play in creating an excellent service. If a local authority fails, take it out of their hands, but also understand why it has failed and create the support for future success. Measuring failure without creating the opportunity for success is no way forward.

So, my best wishes to the parents I met and all other facing challenges they didn’t expect and the system doesn’t want to know about.

 

Headship Concerns

Now that we are into April, it is possible to look in more detail about the progress of headship appointments during the first quarter of the year. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has identified just over 800 schools seeking a new head teachers during the first three months of 2017. The majority are schools in the primary sector. Indeed, of the 52 secondary schools identified as seeking a new head teacher, only five have so far been recorded as re-advertising; a percentage rate of 10% for re-advertisements. This suggests little real difficult for most secondary schools that are seeking a new head teacher. Or, maybe, that some MATs are managing this process internally rather than resorting to outside advertising.

The position in the primary sector is much less satisfactory. Of the 336 schools that were tracked as advertising in January by TeachVac, 25% had re-advertised by the end of March. Of these schools re-advertising, 16 have already placed 2 further rounds of advertisements after their initial January advertisement.  The overall position for the 239 schools recorded as advertising in February is little better, with 21% have re-advertised by the end of March.

There are significant regional differences, as well as differences between faith schools and other schools, with rural schools also being much more likely to have re-advertised as are separate infant and junior and first schools. Indeed, as in the past, any factor that makes a school stand out as different from the majority of its peers seems to make finding a new head teacher more of a challenge. This is something that governors need to be aware of when constructing their advertisements and setting out a recruitment timetable.

Interestingly, Hampshire seems to be faring less well than many other parts of the country, with a significant re-advertisement rate for schools originally advertising in January:  a trend that seems to have continued into February. This is in stark contrast to some of the more northern parts of England where there are much lower rates of re-advertisement, even for schools of a similar background.

With the lack of any mandatory qualification for headship, it is always difficult to be certain what the size of the potential pool of new school leaders is in any given year. This lack of knowledge and pre-planning is a real handicap in helping ensure schools with be able to recruit the next generation of school leaders.

Whether the new funding formula has affected where applicants will apply is too soon to say, but other factors such as house prices and the availability of work for a partner have always been an issue for some schools when seeking a new head teacher. In that respect, is interesting to see that schools across most of London are not yet re-advertising headships in any significant numbers. However, TeachVac will be watching to see this is really the case of it is rather that re-advertisements are slower to appear than in some other parts of the country.

For anyone seeking more details, do make contact with TeachVac.

 

Enough primary leaders?

The DfE has now published the answers to their spring 2016 survey of teachers and school leaders. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-voice-omnibus-may-to-july-2016-survey-dfe-questions among the interesting questions asked was one about aspirations to leadership. Since the abolition of a mandatory qualification for headship, this sort of survey is the only real way of knowing whether there will be sufficient candidates for senior posts that fall vacant in future years.

Personally, I doubt there will ever be a serious problem in the secondary sector since the ratio of deputies to head teachers should allow for sufficient aspiring senior leaders, especially as headship is no longer the end point of a career for many in the secondary sector.

If there is going to be an issue with leadership numbers it will be in the primary and special school sectors. Sadly, we don’t have information about the special school sector. That is an oversight needing correction in future surveys, as it is too often overlooked and the issue of leadership is critical for the schools education our young people with special needs.

As far as the primary sector is concerned, the DfE’s 2015 School Workforce Census identified 23,800 deputy and assistant heads in post in the primary sector in England in November 2015. We can assume most were still there when the 2016 survey was conducted by NfER for the DfE. Thus, the 26% of senior leaders not already a head teacher likely to look for a headship within the next three years equates to just under 6,000 teachers. What the survey didn’t ask, was how many were likely to be looking in the next year?

Assuming equal numbers over each of the three years would mean some 2,000 aspiring head teachers across England each year. Now, the next question is, how many vacancies are there likely to be? TeachVac is now collecting that data, so in time we will have up to date information. However, looking back over past trends, head teacher vacancies fluctuated around 1,800 to 2,000 during the first decade of this century. Now, if we assume the lower number, since amalgamations have reduced the number of schools over time, we could still need to conclude that virtually all the 2,000 aspirant deputies and assistant heads would all have to be suitable to be appointed as a head teacher for supply to be sufficient. However, some vacancies will be filled by existing head teachers changing schools; perhaps 20-25% of vacancies are filled in this way. This would reduce demand for non-head teachers to be appointed as ahead teacher to around 1,500 per year.

We also must assume that the applicants are either in the right places for the jobs or prepared to be mobile to move to where the vacancies arise. As the primary sector contains a significant number of faith schools, especially Church of England and Roman Catholic schools, we must also assume that there are sufficient numbers within the total to meet the needs of these schools for specific types of applicants, including adherents to the particular faith.

Without answers to these questions, it is difficult to know whether the 1,500 will be sufficient, but it won’t be if the role of being a head teacher looks unattractive for whatever reason. No doubt the NCTL understand this issue and are planning for the consequences of what the survey tells us about the future supply of school leaders.

 

Is there a headship crisis?

According to a story in The Times today, one in ten schools is losing its head teacher each year. Reading the headlines of the story, outside the pay wall, there are examples of schools advertising up to seven times to find a replacement and of schools without a permanent head for three years. Local authorities, still seemingly worth talking to about schools, even by this Tory supporting newspaper, tell of high turnover of heads and head teachers of small schools being enticed away to larger schools by promises of more money. All this makes for a crisis.

Between the early 1980s and 2012, I studies the labour market for head teachers on a regular basis. I stopped, partly because I didn’t’ think there was a crisis at that time and partly because I left my long-term database with my former employers. Since the establishment of TeachVac, I have gradually started to rebuild the data on leadership turnover and will report fully this time next year when there is sufficient comparative data.

A turnover of ten per cent isn’t, in historical terms, anything out of the ordinary, especially as some of the total will have been made up from head teachers required for new schools due to increasing pupil numbers and the 14-18 UTCs and studio schools as well as genuine ‘free schools’. Although there probably not as many of these as a previous Secretary of State might have wished.

For most of the early part of this century, re-advertisement rates for secondary heads were in the 20%+ range; for primary schools, the rate exceeded 30% in most years between 1997/98 and 2009/10, so re-advertisements are nothing new in the leadership market. Indeed, recruiters have made a tidy sum from encouraging schools to take ever larger and glossier advertisements on the basis of recruitment challenges. As regular readers know, TeachVac challenges this principle by offering a free service.

Any school seeking a new head teacher for September that advertises in January and runs a sensible recruitment round should have no problems recruiting unless it has one or more of the following characteristics:

It is a faith school,

It is located in London,

It is a small or very large school,

If a secondary school, it is single-sex or selective (or a secondary modern in a selective area).

Two or more factors and it needs to consider carefully how to recruit a new head teacher, especially if outside of the normal recruitment season from January to March where around 50% of vacancies are advertised each year.

Advertising outside the first quarter of the year, when fewer candidates are looking to move schools, is also often a waste of money, as is putting off candidates through the content of the advertisement or taking a long time over the process; candidates often apply for several posts and may be hired by another school if the process is too long.

Being a school in challenging circumstances has become more of a handicap as MATs and governing bodies seem to think the head teacher needs changing if there is a poor Ofsted report or a disappointing set of examination or test results. There are cases where a change of leadership is appropriate, but not, in my view, in every case.

Without a mandatory qualification for headship, it is difficult to know in details the size of the talent pool for future head teachers, something that should worry those responsible for the system at the EFA and NCTL, since a lack of supply will always drive up the price of a good or commodity and headship is no different to any other type of job in that respect.

At least some head teachers can look forward to recognition through the honours system, and I was delighted to see Professor John Furlong honoured in the latest list for his lifetime of work in teacher education. John, your OBE is a well-deserved mark of respect.