Teacher vacancies and Free School Meals

Do schools with high percentages of pupils eligible for Free School Meals have higher staff turnover than schools with lower percentages of pupils on Free School Meals?

One of the advantages of TeachVac and the data it collects is that it allows questions such as that to be answered in ‘real time’. As the recruitment round for September is now in effects over, with the start of the summer holidays, it is an appropriate time to ask that question for the 2022 Labour Market.

This blog last considered this question in 2021 Free School Meals and staff turnover | John Howson (wordpress.com) at the end of May 2021.

This year, I have just looked at the data for vacancies from one ‘shire’ county for vacancies recorded by TeachVac between 1st January 2022 and 22nd July 2022, effectively the end of the summer term.

The secondary schools in the selected authority, mostly academies, were split into three groups: those with a Free School Meal (FSM) percentage of pupils up to 10% of roll; those with FSM between 10-20% of their roll and those with FSM over 20% of their pupils as reported by the DfE.

FSM percentageNumber of SchoolsRecorded vacanciesVacancies per school
20%+  628146.0
 Source TeachVac

The table doesn’t take into account school sizes, nor the additional demands of new schools increasing their staffing as pupil numbers increase. Even allowing for these factors, the trend seems clear. Schools with more pupils on Free School Meals as a percentage of all pupils in this local authority during 2022 tended to create more vacancies per school than schools with lower Free School Meal pupils. The DfE doesn’t have a consistent reporting point for FSM percentages, and schools may update their percentage during the school-year.

Also, some secondary schools may be better than others at persuading families to register pupils eligible for Free School Meals, and some schools, such as faith schools, may be more popular with particular types of parents. There might also be a gender effect, as there are both single sex schools and co-educational school with in the authority.

The difference between 16 and 11-18 schools is not an issue in this authority, as most schools are 11-18 schools. However, there are some very large schools, although they do not fall within the highest FSM band. At least one school was constrained to some extent by pupil numbers and budgetary considerations from making appointments, and their vacancy number might be considered low. However, as that school was in the highest FSM band, it might have increased the number for the schools in that band even more if it had needed and been able to recruit more teachers.

This data is based on classroom teacher vacancies. Later, I will look at the much smaller number of leadership vacancies to see whether the same trend is visible at more senior levels.

Depriving the deprived

Levelling up is not just an issue for the north of England. Ahead of their Spring Conference, the Liberal Democrats obtained data about reading levels at Key Stage 2 and the percentage of pupils not achieving the expected standard at Key Stage 2 in 2019, the last set of data because of the pandemic. The most revealing data are that for the parliamentary constituencies in England – education is a devolved activity, so the data only covers constituencies in England – of which there are some 533.

My especial interest is, of course Oxford. The west of the city is in the Oxford West and Abingdon constituency that ranks 91st worst in the list at the same place in the table with Henley constituency. However, the Oxford East constituency is ranked 502nd worst out of the 533 constituencies in England. This is a really significant difference between the two parts of Oxford.

One issue that this brings into sharp focus is the problems associated with a national funding formula model for schools; a formula that is based upon the needs of a random collection of local authorities responsible for special education and although budgets go to schools not divorced from the way the overall formula is calculated. If you level up by authority, then you miss pockets of need, such as those parts of Oxford East contributing to the outcome for the Oxford East constituency as a whole.

To be fair to teachers in Oxford, way back in 2011, the City as a whole ranked as the worst local authority for Key Stage 1 outcomes, so this looks like an improvement, albeit on different data.

Nevertheless, children in East Oxford need to be able to access the required degree of resources to allow them to reach parity with their peers across the city and elsewhere in England.

London boroughs are disproportionally represented in the list of constituencies with the lowest percentages of pupils failing to reach the expected standard, whereas both rural and urban areas outside of London are to be found among those constituencies with the worst outcomes.

Oxford as a university city – with two universities – has a proportion of children with English as their second languages, but it is not clear that these pupils are disproportionally located in the east of the city, since university accommodation can be found across the city as a whole.

The Conservatives adapted from Labour ideas by inventing Opportunity Areas to offer extra support to areas needing it, but I have not seen any analysis of the outcomes for such areas. Oxford East seemingly didn’t qualify.

It is worth comparing Oxford with Blackpool for reading outcomes, as both are areas with two different parliamentary constituencies. Blackpool’s constituencies are ranked 73rd and 340th while Oxford’s rank 91st and 502nd. Blackpool is, of course, an Opportunity Area: Oxford isn’t. One might well ask why Oxford is not an opportunity Area on the basis of these figures?

Perhaps it is a matter of perception rather than hard evidence. Blackpool isn’t a wealthy university town and has high levels of unemployment. Oxford is viewed as affluent and successful, and a great place to live. To live, but not, at least as far as the East of the City is concerned, to learn.

Levelling out

Under the government’s latest plans, I might not have gone to university. This was because I struggled to pass what was then ‘O’ level English. Fortunately, I found six different degree courses that didn’t make English ‘O’ level a requirement of entry. Even in the 1960s that was a bit of a struggle. However, LSE, with a large number of mature and non-standard entry students, was happy to review the person and not the exams that they had passed when considering who to accept.

My experience, more than half a century ago, made me think about today’s announcement that might be seen to threaten the autonomy of higher education institutions, if government funding is restricted to universities only accepting those with certain qualifications. Of course, there will need to be exemptions for young people with special educational needs. Hopefully, mature entrants also won’t be put off returning to learning by an overly difficult access programme, especially if they don’t have English and maths qualifications.

There are good reasons to expect a degree of literacy and numeracy of our graduates, even in subjects where, say, mathematical knowledge, might not be of any obvious use. With developments in technology, who knows what will be needed in the future in terms of skills.

More pernicious would be the reintroduction of student number limits just at the point the number of eighteen-year-olds is starting to increase once again. I titled this post ‘levelling out’ because any cap on student numbers will undoubtedly hit the most deprived hardest. UCAS recently reported that applications from those living in deprived areas, for university places in 2022, was on the increase. Disadvantaged students show confidence in applications as they approach exams | Undergraduate | UCAS “28% of young people from the most disadvantaged areas (quintile 1 using the POLAR4 measure) have applied – up from 17.8% nine years ago in 2013” according the UCAS Press Release.

Surely, the government doesn’t want to slam the door in the face of this growth in interest in higher education. Restricting the number of places at universities will increase the required criteria for admissions and that will certainly work against pupils in schools that are struggling to recruit teachers, either across the board or in certain subjects. Do we want to deprive these young people of the chance to attend a university just because an accident of birth?

A well-developed apprenticeship route is a necessary part of the education and skills offering, but a lack of money should not deprive anyone of a university education. It is bad enough being saddled with debt with punitive interest rates, but to be excluded from life chances because of the school you attended seems to be turning the clock back a long way further than is acceptable.

There are those that think too many already go too university and that they waste their three years partying and drinking, before starting a life on the dole. But, who would have thought studying a degree in video games a decade ago would have been the start of a billion-dollar industry?

Military families missing out

Neither Oxfordshire nor Wiltshire were included in the published list of Education Investment Areas designated as part of the government’s levelling up programme. Package to transform education and opportunities for most disadvantaged – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) This may be important because these are two of the local authorities with large concentrations of military families attending schools within their areas.

The RAF will generally benefit because the whole of East Anglia and Lincolnshire are included in the list of authorities and that is where many RAF bases are located. The inclusion of Plymouth and Portsmouth will cover many naval families. However, the families of troops based on Salisbury plain at Tidworth and many other barracks in Wiltshire will still need to rely just upon the Service Children’s Premium and the Pupil Premium for extra support. The same is true for garrisons in Oxfordshire at Bicester, Abingdon and Didcot, and the RAF bases at Benson and Brize Norton.   

Troops moving from Catterick in North Yorkshire or RAF bases in Lincolnshire to Wessex will find the support for their children’s education may reduce under these plans.

Now, our armed forces may be a small part of pupil population, but they do serve to highlight the fact that there are children that don’t stay in one place for their school life. Levelling up probably needs to be more than just about geography and picking areas off a map.

A geographical strategy is anyway easier to achieve when there is a coherent basis for local government areas. Sadly, that is not the case at the present time. Cambridgeshire includes the successful parts of Cambridge, although I acknowledge that like Oxford the whole of the city is neither affluent not without need for extra funding. Was Cambridgeshire included because it is part of a combined authority with a mayor, whereas Oxfordshire is one of the few remaining two-tier local government setups, with no unitary authority.  

I wonder how Medway and parts of Cumbria feel looking at the list of Education Investment Areas? Do they feel that they have missed out?

As I wrote, in the previous post on this blog, the education measures will need to be backed up by hard cash to have any real effect. In terms of teaching staff turnover, TeachVac has provided a number of the Opportunity Areas with data about their local teacher labour markets and can do so for the new Education Investment Areas.

One thing is certain is that teaching cooking and healthy eating to secondary school pupils is going to need a rethink about staffing as within design and technology – a subject that attracts few to teaching these days – food technology is the most challenging discipline in terms of finding teachers anywhere in England.

Levelling up is as important today as ever for our schooling system. How far these moves will help is a matter for debate.

Levelling down?

There are suggestions of a policy towards limiting access to higher education for those without traditional qualifications. For a government that proclaims its belief in levelling up, this would seem a strange policy to even consider. Minimum entry requirements would do the opposite of levelling up | Wonkhe

Such a policy must not be allowed to drive a coach and horses through the policy of ‘life long learning’. Many that come to higher education later in life than through the traditional route had a fractured schooling, with poor outcomes. Any change in policy must not damage their ability to return to learning, especially at the level of higher education.

However, more seriously, while the government has continued to operate a policy of not providing enough qualified teachers in some subjects, notably mathematics and physics, but also design and technology and languages, the young people on the receiving end of teaching from less than ideally qualified teachers much not have their ability to attend a university jeopardised by a failure in government policy.   

By now, the government should have some indications as to whether its idea for ‘Opportunity Areas’ has borne any fruit in terms of levelling up in some of the northern areas where the scheme was trailed.

A market-based approach to teacher supply may encourage teachers to work in schools where pupils have less struggles with learning and more support from home. These schools usually have less trouble attracting teachers as the study of vacancies and free school meals reported earlier this year by this blog demonstrated.  

With the world starting to open up again for both travel and work opportunities, there must not be a large outflow of teachers from England to schools overseas. The ending of the pay freeze is welcome news, as is the recognition of the importance of professional development. However, the government does need to pay more attention to the distribution of teachers and the locations where there are shortages of fully qualified teachers.

Using professional development approaches to improve the qualifications of teachers is one route to overcoming shortages; stemming losses must be another action. The National Audit Office make it clear some years ago that improving teacher retention was a cost-effective route to solving the recruitment issue. However, it doesn’t always solve the issue of the distribution of teachers.

It will be interesting to see whether there is any correlation in Ofsted ITT reports between programmes that are deemed either ‘inadequate’ or’ requiring improvement’ and the schools used to prepare teachers?

If levelling up is to make a difference in education outcomes, then among the many strands needing to be woven together for a successful outcome is the approach to teacher supply and distribution.

Free School Meals and staff turnover

Is the level of Free School Meals (FSM) recorded by a school reflected in the level of staff turnover? Do secondary schools with the highest FSM percentages record more staff turnover than schools with relatively low percentage of pupils on Free School Meals?

TeachVac can compare its data on vacancies to date in 2021 with the DfE’s published information on Free School Meals. The end of May normally marks the point where most schools have completed their staffing for September, and existing staff have reached the point where they may resign at the endo of this school year.

As a result, it was relatively easy to look at TeachVac’s vacancy data for the period form 1st January up to Friday 28th May and compare staff turnover against the percentage of pupils on Free School Meals. However, staff turnover is affected by a number of features. A new school may have relatively few pupils, but be adding staff as the school grows in size. Schools in different areas vary in size, with some schools of over 2,000 pupils and some schools in rural areas with only around 500 pupils, and no post-16 provision.

In order to take account of school size, the number of pupils on roll was divided by the recorded number of vacancies recorded by TeachVac. Thus, a school with 1,000 pupils and 5 vacancies between January and May would create an index figure of 200, whereas a similar size school with 10 vacancies would have recorded an index figure of 100. The lower the index number, the greater the turnover of staff.

This method doesn’t take account of growing schools, so it could be possible for a school with few pupils on Free School meals to still record a low index score if it was growing in size. The absence of a vacancy identifying number also complicated the issue because repeat advertisements may possibly being recorded. TeachVac does its best to eliminate such adverts.

An analysis was conducted into the outcomes in terms of recorded vacancies during the first five months of 2021 for secondary schools across the West Midlands region whose data was captured by TeachVac. The region contains rural areas such as most of the county of Herefordshire and urban areas such as Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry.

The first look at the TeachVac data suggests that for schools with a Free School Meal percentage of less than 20% there is little difference in the index score. The majority of schools had a score of 300 or less, suggesting relatively high levels of vacancies regardless of the percentage of pupils on Free School Meals.

For schools with Free School Meals above 20% of the school population there was a trend towards schools with higher FSM percentages having a higher turnover index score. 16 of the 20 schools recorded with a FSM percentage above 40% had turnover indexes below 250 per pupil, and most of these schools had an index of below 200 per pupil.

One caveat must be that 2021 is not a ‘normal’ recruitment cycle. In some schools there has been an element of ‘catch-up’ in recruitment following the period between March and September 2020 when most teacher recruitment slowed to almost a complete halt. It would be possible to compare the 2021 data with that for 2018 and 2019 in order to see whether there has been a ‘covid’ effect and if certain schools have been more affected? There may also be both a rural and small school effect. As some parts of the West Midlands still have selective schools that is another variable that needs consideration.

Nevertheless, this quick first look at the data from one region does raise questions about teacher supply and the issue of policy towards ‘leveling up’. Can a market-based approach to teacher supply create the improvements in outcomes for pupils if schools with high levels of Free School Meals if such schools are finding staff recruitment more of a challenge than their neighbours with lower percentages of Free School Meals?

Leveling Up will need a new Funding Formula

The current National Funding Formula is fine as far as it goes. However, as I have written before on this blog, it is based upon a notion of equality that resembles the ‘equal slices of the cake’ model of funding distribution. That’s fine if that’s what you want out of the Formula, and the f40 Group of Local authorities have tirelessly campaigned for fair – more- funding for their areas. Again, they are right to do so.

However, if the new agenda has levelling up at its heart, then it is necessary to ask whether the present method of distributing cash to schools and other education establishments will achieve that aim?

As the debate about the High Needs Block of funding for SEND has made very clear, some children cost more to educate than others. If you want all children to achieve a minimum standard of education then some will always cost more to achieve that goal than others. The Pupil Premium recognised this fact. Changing the date of calculation and thus excluding some children from the Premium seems an odd way to start the ‘levelling up’ campaign.

There is a key decision for government to make if they really mean to introduce a ‘levelling up’ campaign in the school sector. Do you hypothecate, as with the Pupil Premium, creating funds only to be used for levelling up purposes or do you distribute more funds generally and leave it to the schools and Trusts to manage the distribution of the cash? This approach leaves maintained schools that are not academies in a bit of a limbo as they don’t have a mechanism to ‘pool’ funds for the common good, as MATs are able to do.

When it works well, the second approach is better, as it is less of a blunt tool than the first method as anyone that has read the history of school funding over the last century will know.

There is a further issue with a Formula tied to geographical areas, as this blog has noted before. Oxfordshire is largely an affluent county, but there are pockets of deprivation in Banbury and parts of Oxford; not to mention the issue of rural poverty as well. Any ‘levelling up’ agenda must tackle these issues in addition to the more obvious areas of underperformance in education achievements.

Overlaying this issue of ‘levelling up’ is the effect on the present Formula of the downturn in the birth rate and its consequences for small primary schools. Do we want them to compete by drawing in parents willing to drive their children to such schools? An alternative is to close them and let council Taxpayers pay the cost of transporting children to other schools. Might work in urban areas, but the Tories would quickly find that save our Schools campaigns can impact more on election chances for Councillors than almost anything else except perhaps closure of a local hospital. There are also implications for the climate change agenda. I would be interested to know where the Green Party stands on this matter.

Doing nothing won’t help the ‘levelling up’ agenda, so if the government is really serious in what it is saying, then action will be needed. Making all schools academies, however repugnant the loss of local democratic control is to people like me, does offer some levers hat MATs can use, but local authorities cannot under the present rules.

It will be interesting to see what plays out over the next few months in a debate where doing nothing will have as many consequences as doing something.