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.




A shortage of leaders?

Is there a shortage of school leaders that will become even worse over the next few years? This was the gloomy message from the report issued on Friday jointly by Teach First, Teaching Leaders and the Future Leaders Trust. https://www.teachfirst.org.uk/sites/default/files/The%20School%20Leadership%20Challenge%202022.pdf

As someone that has spent more than thirty years looking at leadership turnover, I have read the report, whose analytical support was provided by McKinsey, with interest. The report calls for a range of different interventions under four main headings:

  1. Develop a new generation of school leaders
  2. Expand the pool of candidates for executive roles
  3. Drive system change to support leaders more effectively and provide clear career pathways
  4. Build the brand of school leadership

These required interventions reflect the lack of government action ever since the Labour government abolished the mandatory NPQH qualification for headship and the coalition created many new leadership posts with the development of MATs and executive headships. The latter issue has been dealt with by this blog in previous posts, most notably in July this year with the post headed ‘Can we afford 2,000 MATs?

The figures in Friday’s report, if accurate, are challenging with, it is suggested, a possible shortfall of more than 20,000 leaders in the coming decade. Now that may be the case, but it depends upon all the factors identified by the compilers of the report coming true. As noted, the greatest risk is the uncontrolled expansion of MATs creating a significant number of new posts.

While in the school sector, the growth in pupil numbers may lead to a development of more assistant head roles to recreate those abolished when roles were falling the likelihood of that happening is probably going to be governed by the degree of finance available to schools; a point largely ignored by the writers of the report. The report also misses the extent to which assistant head numbers have been inflated by what are essentially difficult to fill middle leadership posts such as head of mathematics and science departments being paid as assistant headship in order to be able to recruit to those positions.

Where I am with the writers of the report is in the need for creating not so much clear career pathways, they already exist, but in helping young teachers and especially returners develop the necessary skills to be appointed to a leadership post. With teaching increasingly a profession for women in both primary and secondary schools, someone, and it may be the three groups that commissioned this research, has to develop a strategy that allows the very large number of young women now in the profession to take up leadership roles both before and after any career breaks. If the profession doesn’t do that then we truly will have a crisis in a few years’ time.

One solution suggested by the report is to recruit outsiders to senior posts. I doubt that will work for most headships. In the past when asked my view of this solution by journalists, I have always asked if I could become their editor with no knowledge of journalism. You can image their answers.

Where I do think there is a possible direction of travel is for larger MATs. After all, there are example of CEOs of MATs currently without either any or any recent school experience. The larger the organisation the more leadership requires general not specific knowledge. Teaching and learning can be the responsibility of a second tier officer, whereas overall strategy remains the responsibility of the CEO. In effect, CEOs of MATS become very similar to Superintendents of US School districts, some of whom are recruited from the worlds of business and commerce.

Where you cannot recruit easily from outside the profession is where the leadership role requires hands-on experience of teaching and learning.  Despite the comments in the report, the majority of problems in recruitment in the past has been in the primary sector where the ratio of deputies to heads is much smaller than in the secondary sector.  Filling a faith school headship in an inner-city schools seeking a new head teacher in April has always been a challenge. This report doesn’t show whether it as actually any harder than it was twenty-five years ago.

In summary, the report is helpful in reminding everyone of the need for sufficient good leaders for all our schools and some of the risks ahead. The need for action over preparation is also vital, but the report doesn’t deal with who should take on the task? Presumably, the three organisations that put their names to the report would all like to play a part.





Teacher Recruitment – The text of a talk to senior leaders in Birmingham

Earlier today I talked to a workshop for senior school leaders in Birmingham. I have posted the substance of my talk below for anyone interested, whether from Birmingham or elsewhere.

Is there a crisis in teacher recruitment? When I was growing up in the 1950s there was a radio programme called the Brains Trust where one panellist often started his remarks with ‘it all depends upon what you mean by ..’. I guess that is a good starting point here. It all depends upon what you mean by a recruitment crisis.

Since every child must have a teacher for every lesson on the timetable and we don’t send large numbers away untaught, the government is right to say, ‘crisis, what crisis’ in absolute terms. But, dig a little deeper and the certainty of that statement looks a little less secure.

How can we measure the possibility of a crisis?

There are two key indicators;

  • The intake into teacher preparation courses compared with determined need
  • The percentage of pupils or lessons taught by appropriately qualified teachers.

Another indicator, developed by TeachVac, is to consider whether different types of school have different recruitment experiences? Interestingly, the DfE has recently started to look at the evidence on this point in relation to retention and they recently published their first paper looking at the results from the School Workforce Census over the past 5 years.

But, let’s start at the beginning.

The DfE decides on training numbers using the Teacher Supply Model. After years of secrecy, this is now published each year, although not many people seem to make use of it. From the Model’s output the NCTL/DfE allocate places to providers on Teach First, the 2 School Direct routes, on SCITTs and to higher education and other providers.

Each November, the DfE publishes the ITT census that reveals the numbers on preparation courses and hence the likely number of new teachers that will enter the labour market the following year because the vast majority of those training to become teachers in secondary schools are on one-year programmes – Teach First is the main exception and until last year was outwith the TSM calculations.

Thus, intending teachers fall into 2 key groups; firstly, those on programmes where they enter the classroom almost straight away – Teach First and SD salaried – and where many will presumably stay at the school where they are working after completing training, assuming that they stay in teaching.

The remainder of trainees are what might be called the ‘free pool’ of possible new entrants since their preparation course doesn’t tie them in any way to a particular school, although some will be offered a teaching post in the schools where they are placed during their course.

This distinction is important because in some subjects, English is a good example, the difference between the ‘free pool’ and the trainee total number can now be quite significant. The total trainee number in the 2015 census for English was 2,283 trainees, but the free pool – after allowing for non-completers – was just under 1,400 trainees; a difference of around 900. This is a substantial number potentially not available to all schools. After all, schools with trainees outside the ‘free pool’ can also fish in that pool if they need to, but it may be harder for schools that rely on the ’free pool’ to tempt other trainees away to their school from the other routes.

In this way the re-orientation of the teacher preparation market may be having consequences the government has yet to fully understand. We will be discussing the possible apprenticeship model later: but where those numbers come from will affect the size of the ‘free pool’; quite dramatically so if they reduce new entrants in Year 1 of the other routes in some subjects.

So, let’s go back to the beginning again. Is there a recruitment into training crisis?

We can classify secondary subjects into three groups

Those where the national answer is No; PE, history, Art and languages, plus probably the biological sciences are in this group

Those where the answer is YES: design & technology, business studies, physics

Finally, those where there are problems in some years: effectively all other subjects. Based on the 2015 numbers, RE, IT, geography and English fall into that group. Next year, we expect geography and possibly English to be much better placed based on our analysis of applications to train in 2016/17, but it won’t be until the census is published in November that we can be certain of our predictions.

Nevertheless, there will be recruitment issues in 2017 in design & technology, business studies, physics: of that fact we can be pretty sure even now. For some subjects, this will be the 5th year the TSM figure hasn’t been reached.

There isn’t time here to go into how the TSM figure is calculated and why, for instance, in English it under-estimated need for a couple of years and has consistently over-estimated training need in PE in recent years.

So, a quick word about demand. TeachVac receives data about job vacancies from over 3,500 secondary schools every day. It’s a free service to schools, teachers and trainees and schools that directly enter vacancies receive our latest update about the current size of the trainee market.

Because we monitor real vacancies linked to real schools we can drill down to regional data on a daily basis. I can tell you that the West Midlands was 5th in the regional list for vacancies per school.

In Birmingham, between January and the end of August this year, TeachVac has recorded a 30% increase in vacancies compared with the same period in 2015, up from 351 to 456 with all subjects except IT, business studies and art recording either an increase or no change. Although there isn’t time to go into the details, maths and the sciences were the top two recruiting subjects. When I looked last evening, it was still 29% ahead of last year by28th September.

As you would expect, March to May is the peak recruitment season. But it is worth recalling that January 2017 vacancies will need to recruit from the same pool as September vacancies since there are few new trainees entering the market outside of the September starting point. By now most trainees that want a teaching post have found one and schools need to rely more heavily for January on movers, returners and re-entrants to fill basic grade vacancies where there aren’t enough new entrants. The DfE currently suggest between 50-55% of main scale vacancies across a recruitment cycle go to new entrants to teaching in state schools.

Looking at Birmingham schools, using TeachVac data, we could detect a sight tendency for schools with more pupils on Free School Meals as a percentage of the school roll to advertise more vacancies, but we need to do some more work on this issue over a longer-time period and at present we don’t have the funds to do so.

I mentioned at the start a second indicator of the percentage of qualified teachers in each subject. Nationally, these figures are going in the wrong direction, but as QTS allows anyone to teach anything to anyone at any level we don’t know what this actually tells us about the recruitment problem.

To conclude, there is a recruitment issue, it is not universal, but will become worse as pupil numbers increase over the next decade unless the government recruits sufficient teachers into the profession. This is a challenge it has never been able to meet when the wider economy is doing well, especially with the demand for graduates increasing. More graduate level jobs means more pressure on teaching as a career and the recruitment messages have to be better and more sophisticated.

In 1997, I recall launching the TTA’s internet café exhibition stand at a career’s fair in Birmingham putting teaching at the forefront of new technology. If you look at TV advertising today which can you recall of the 2016 campaigns, the Royal Navy, I was born in … but made in the Royal Navy, or the latest train as a teacher campaign?

The fact that there are fewer Royal Navy personnel in total than the number of trainees we need to see enter teacher preparation courses every year for at least the next decade makes you think.

Thank you for listening.


As some readers may know, TeachVac, the free to use recruitment site for schools, teachers, trainees and returners to teaching, has its operational base on the Isle of Wight. I was, therefore, disgusted to read of the comments by the Chair of Ofsted about the islanders. The comments themselves don’t dignify with repeating, but I am firmly of the opinion that Mr Hoare, the Ofsted chairman, having made the remarks at a public event should now do the decent thing and resign in line with the principles of public life he presumably accepted when offered his appointment.

This does not mean that there should be an unwillingness to confront some of the deep-seated issues within schooling on the Island that go back many years. The Tory government in the early 1970s was probably wrong to create a single unitary council for the Island and not instead to enforce closer working with Hampshire or even Dorset. The island may have made an unfortunate choice in opting for the three tier school system when creating a comprehensive school system. It probably fitted the use of buildings best of any system but, along with other councils that opted for such systems, they weren’t to know that changes in the way teachers were trained for secondary schools, away from undergraduate courses and towards a one-year PGCE, may not have helped provide sufficient teachers willing, able, properly trained and motived to work in ‘middle schools’, especially the 9-13 middle schools in use on the Isle of Wight.

These middle schools eventually also faced challenges finding head teachers willing to run what were increasingly isolated pockets of such schools, a fact pointed  out in some of the annual reports that I complied about the leadership market for NAHT and from time to time ASCL as well.

Then there is the issue of location. Much has been made in recent years of the challenges of coastal schools. In practice, this really means more isolated schools wherever they are, but the issue was first noticed in relation to coastal schools with a more limited hinterland than other schools. The Island has a limited travel to work area and that can restrict recruitment as can the very nature of being an island and the extra time it takes to reach the mainland.

The fact that all of these issues are well known makes Mr Hoare’s comments even more unforgivable, if he said what has been reported.

TeachVac is proud to be located on the Isle of Wight and has employed some excellent staff since we started operations just over two years ago. The company will continue to put its faith in the Island as a location and I join in on the call on Mr Hoare to resign. Whatever the reason for his remarks, they were uncalled for and should not have been made.



Mr Hoare resigned on the 23rd August 2106 just over two weeks after his remarks became public knowledge.