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.

TeachVac’s intelligence reports

TeachVac has created a new suite of reports on the labour market for teachers. These report on the current state of play in the market for specific areas. However, reports by subjects and phase across wider areas are also available on request to those interested in specific curriculum areas. http://www.teachvac.co.uk

The basic report tracks the vacancies for teachers from classroom to the head’s study across schools in a given area and reports the finding by subjects or the primary phase in three categories:

The reports can be tailored to cover any grouping of schools, although local authorities and dioceses are the most common formats. However, MATs and parliamentary constituency-based report are also possible, along with reports for schools in either Opportunity Areas or the new Education Investment Zones or whatever they are called today.


Maintained schools

 Private Schools

Reports are produced up to the end of the month, with current report for 2022 covering the period from January to the end of May 2022.

The reports are currently useful for those considering the shape of teacher preparation provision in the future by demonstrating the actual need for teachers in specific parts of the country across both the State and private school markets. The DFE’s own evidence doesn’t take into account the private sector demand for teachers and misses out on some school in the TeachVac pool.

TeachVac’s reports can also be useful for those concerned with professional development by identifying middle and senior leader vacancies where the new postholder may need some professional development.

The basic reports on an individual or group of local authorities costs £250 per primary or secondary sector for a 12-month subscription.  Prices for other grouping or for multiple groupings are negotiable depending upon the amount of work required.

Sample reports are available on request from either John Howson at dataforeducation@gmail.com or enquiriies@oxteachserv.com

Reports can be generated for data up to the end of the previous month in a matter of days once an order has been placed.

New Schools Bill published

The Schools Bill, (no apostrophe) foreshadowed in the Queen’s Speech, has now been published as a House of Lords Bill. This means that the legislation starts in the House of Lords before then progressing to the House of Commons rather than the other way around. This isn’t unusual when there is a heavy legislative schedule. For instance, the 2003 Licensing Act started life as House of Lords Bill Schools Bill [HL] (parliament.uk)

The government has issued a set of notes and policy explanations for each section of the Bill Schools Bill: policy statements – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) Key sections are on Academies, funding and attendance. The Bill is very technical, and looks in its initial iteration to be sorting out some oversight issues to ensure a national education system with minimal democratic involvement, just like the NHS.

I especially like Clause 3

3 Academies: power to apply or disapply education legislation

(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide—

(a) for any relevant provision to apply to an Academy (or to a type or 5 description of Academy) as it applies in England to another educational institution, subject to any prescribed modifications;

(b) for any relevant provision which applies in England both to an Academy and to another educational institution not to apply to, or to apply subject to prescribed modifications to, an Academy (or to a type or description of Academy).

There are some exceptions listed, but this is the sort of sweeping power for the Secretary of State that used to worry parliamentarians.

Part Three of the Bill is about School Attendance, and will no doubt carry much of the discussion at the Second Reading next week. The argument revolves around child safeguarding and children’s rights to education versus the right of a parent to decide the education of their child or children. The Bill doesn’t go so far as to require schooling, but it does seek to tighten up knowing what choices parents have made for their children’s education. The establishment of a register may raise questions for the traveller community.  

Sadly, despite appearing in the past two White Papers, I cannot find anything in the Bill about the return on in-year admissions to local authorities. I hope someone may decide to put down an amendment to Section Three to include this provision, not least for the benefit of children taken into care requiring a new school, and those with an EHCP that move into an area with limited special school places.

Even if the government can argue that there are regulations to cover the change, it would still be better on the face of the Bill.

Following the decision on a National Funding Formula, I am not sure what role Schools Forums will play in the future, and whether headteachers will take them seriously anymore?

The Chief Inspector will now be able to ask a Magistrate for an entry warrant in certain circumstances. Along with the provisions for regulation of independent education establishments this continues the theme of protecting children, but some may see it as heavy-handed from a Conservative government. The debate next week will make for interesting reading in Hansard.

A text for Holy Week

Matthew Chapter 25 verses 31-46

This blog doesn’t make a habit of straying into the realm of theology, but a recent comment about the availability of school places for children taken into care together with the post on this blog about the recent research report published by the DfE on vulnerable children and admissions did set me thinking about school admissions policies.

There is a post from a couple of years ago on this blog entitled Jacob’s Law that discussed some aspects of the issue, but not the question as to how faith schools can behave. The wider issues on admissions are discussed in What is the role of a school in its community? | John Howson (wordpress.com).

I have now discovered that some faith schools do not put all children in care in the top priority group for admission. Instead, they prioritise practicing members of their faith community. Some faith schools go some way to helping admit children in care, but only if the child in question or their carers can be considered ‘of the faith’ using a similar test to other children.

As these are state schools, using taxpayers’ money, I wonder whether it is appropriate for some children in care not to be provided with a top priority position in the admissions criteria? After all, many of these children will have been moved from their family home to live with relatives or foster families and forced to seek a new school through no actions of their own.

However, perhaps the greater argument in asking the Christian churches and other faith schools to reflect upon their admissions policy, and especially the Roman Catholic Church, where the downgrading of children in care seems to be most prevalent in admission criteria, to consider placing all children in care at the top of the list of criteria for admission is the sentiments expressed in Matthew Chapter 25 verses 31-46.

Now I know that the passage does not explicitly mention schooling or education. Indeed, learning, per se doesn’t feature a great deal in the gospels, as opposed to children that do receive mentions, presumably as like health services, they weren’t of much concern about schooling in Roman controlled provinces at that time. However, the sentiment of public service expressed in Matthew’s Gospel must surely be thought to include schooling. After all, it is in line with a gospel of love for one another?

More than a century ago, around the time the 1902 Education Act was being discussed, the Wesleyan Church debated whether their teachers were teachers of Methodists or teachers of children, and decided their purpose was to teach children, not just to teach Methodist children. Hence, there are no state-funded Methodist secondary schools, although there remain a few primary schools around the country under the auspices of the Methodist Church.

I would hope, at least in terms of children taken into care, whose vulnerability and need for support is obvious, that the leaders of faiths whose schools don’t put such children at the top of their admissions policy would reconsider that decision this Easter. Please put children in care as top priority for admissions in every state-funded school in England.

What is the role of a school in its community?

For everyone interested in either the role of a middle tier in our school system in England or in how pupil place planning and support for vulnerable children is handled in the current shambles around the arrangements for schools in England, this is an important report to read. Local authority provision for school places and support for vulnerable children – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) The recent White Paper on Education was the second one to pledge to change in-year Admissions and this Report indicates why Ministers should act swiftly to make the necessary changes to the current system.

At the heart of the debate about the middle tier is the role of local authorities and the role of academies and the Trusts that run them. The following two quotes from the report sum up current situation nicely in relation to these important issues for the management of our schooling system:

‘Nevertheless, our research also suggested that there are two ways in which academisation can affect local education systems. First, because there are different processes for making decisions and resolving disputes about place-planning and placements of vulnerable pupils for academies and maintained schools, where an “isolationist” school is an academy, it can be more difficult, complex, and time-consuming to resolve issues. Second, while not generalising, school, trust and LA leaders and parents/carers reported that, among the minority of schools that took an “isolationist” approach, these were more likely to be schools that were part of larger regional or national academy trusts.’

‘Furthermore, there was broad agreement among school, trust and LA leaders and parents/carers that LAs were uniquely placed to play this role [place planning]. (In relation to place-planning, a minority of trust leaders and national stakeholders argued that the RSC should be wholly or partially responsible for delivering place-planning.) Whichever way roles and responsibilities are configured, there was consensus about the need for clarity, alignment of responsibilities and decision-making authority, for reciprocal expectations of schools, trusts and LAs around participating in local partnership-based approaches to place-planning and support for vulnerable pupils, and a renewed, more collaborative relationship between local and central government.’

The situation is summed up by a quote from a local authority officer:

‘Nobody wants to roll back the clock. But if we have MATs not working for the best interests of young people in the community, we don’t have any direct levers. We would have to go through the RSC, and not sure they have many levers. A lot of accountability sits with the LA, but the responsibility of delivery sits with schools. Doesn’t feel appropriate. We need some accountabilities placed on academy trusts and schools to deliver expectations [for vulnerable children].’ (LA officer page 106)

We need a system that works for the children seeking an education, and not primarily for those that provide that schooling. This is especially true for our most vulnerable young people and I hope that Ministers will spend time over easter reading this report and then acting upon its findings. State schooling is a public service and must be managed as such.

33,000 in three months

How are we to interpret the record number of teacher vacancies logged during the first three months of 2022 by TeachVac?

Subject20202022Percentage +/- (The nearest whole %)
Design & Technology1089164351%
Creative Arts33442327%
Source www.teachvac.co.uk

There is little point comparing 2022 with 2021, as the covid pandemic resulted in very little activity in the teacher job market during the first three months of 2021.

So, how to explain this year’s surge in vacancies, and what might be the consequences?

Is the surge down to schools catching up vacancies not advertised last year; is it – at least in the secondary sector – down to increased pupil numbers; might private schools be recruiting more pupils from overseas and, hence need more teachers; could TeachVac be better are recording or even over-recording vacancies than in the past? I asked the team to check on the last point, and since most of them have been entering vacancies for several years, and we haven’t changed their way of working, it seems unlikely as a reason for the large increase in vacancies.  

On the other side of the equation, could the increase in recorded vacancies be down to more teachers quitting schools in England, either to take up tutoring; to teach overseas or to either reduce their hours or even retire completely? Since we don’t have exit interviews, we will have to wait for the DfE to match teacher identify numbers for those moving within the state system and retiring with a pension and then conjecture what has happened to the remainder of leavers?

As to the consequences, regular readers of this blog will know what will come next because various posts since the ITT Census appeared in December have already been discussing the nature of the recruitment round for September 2022 and January 2023.

The table earlier in this post shows English and mathematics with relatively low increases. Perhaps schools feel that with the change in Ministerial team last autumn the focus on the EBacc subjects might have reduced. If so, might the White Paper provisions see an increase in vacancies in these subjects after Easter?

The increase in leadership vacancies needs further investigation in order to see which sector, and which of the leadership posts; head, deputy or assistant head are most affected by the increase or whether it is a general increase.

Design and technology, business, and to some extent computing are subjects that the government has under-played in its various attempts to increase interest in teaching as a career. Schools still want teachers in these subjects, and the government must help them fill the vacancies.

With many subjects not even meeting the DfE’s indicative target for the need for teachers on teacher preparation routes in 2022, the remainder of the recruitment round may well be a real challenge for many schools.

There is one other possibility, and that is the notion of schools bringing forward recruitment this year, so the peak will have been in March rather than in late April, as has been the normal practice in past years. If so, April will be a lean month for those that put off job hunting until then, unless schools have been unable to fill some of the 33,000 vacancies, and there is a string of re-advertisements this month and next.

TeachVac has a number of different reports to allow schools, local authorities, recruitment agencies and anyone else interested in trends in the labour market in real-time to track the behaviour of the market in anything for real-time to monthly. Email the staff using enquiries@oxteachserv.com for details.

White flag or shifting the blame

There is a saying that one should beware of unexpected guests. For reasons obvious to those that know the saying, it is clear why I prefer to compare it with the other saying of ‘not looking a gift horse in the mouth’ – should that be looking an electric car in the battery these days – but without using the actual expression. No matter, what does matter is whether or not local authorities will be able to form and run Multi Academy Trusts/Committees?

Ever since Mr Gove raced the 2010 Academies Act through parliament in the period before the summer break that year, and less than three months after the 2010 General Election, the Conservatives have wanted all schools to become academies. At that time, local authorities were beyond the pale, and a model with no local democratic involvement, similar to that of the NHS, seemed on the cards for education. Peter Downes a former Cambridgeshire Lib Dem councillor and long time secondary head led the Lib Dem charge at their 2010 September Conference, an event where delegates made their support for local democratic involvement in education very clear to Nick Clegg and David Laws.

Over the ensuing decade, most secondary schools have either opted or been forced to become an academy. All new schools are required to become an academy. However, except in a few parts of the country, academisation of the primary sector schools has been slow and patchy. Many primary schools only became academies are a visit from ofsted resulted in compulsory academisation.

The picture that has emerged around the county is of an expensive mess that could make the reputation of a Secretary of State if change is handled properly with a view to the longer-term effectiveness of the school sector.

There are now noises in the press suggesting that the next White Paper from the DfE might allow local authorities to establish and run Multi Academy Trusts or Committees or some new structure such as a Multi Academy Board might be created. Such a suggestion would effectively be a change of direction on the part of central government. Is it either a white flag or preparing the ground to shift the blame for a period of challenge that will face the primary sector where most maintained schools are still to be found?

There is a third possibility. This is that civil servants have been so impressed by how some local authorities have handled the covid crisis that they now recognise their value as part of the middle tier, especially in handling the large number of small primary schools spread across rural England. Certainly, the work by the local authority team in Oxfordshire, where I am a county councillor, has resulted in an email from a headteacher of a private school expressing thanks for the work of local authority staff. Not something you receive every day.

Allowing or even forcing local authorities to take all schools not already academies into a LAB or Local Academy Board would allow the government to tell the public that all schools were now academies. It would allow local authorities to feel that they might be back in the game of education politics and it would allow for more coherent planning for the primary sector less hampered by the legislation on closing rural schools. This may be important should the National Funding Formula create the need to rationalise the school estate.

Pupil Teacher Ratios (PTRs): An update

The publication last week by the DfE of the school census discussed in the previous post on this blog means that a time series analysis of changes in PTRs can be undertaken using the DfE’s new ‘construct your own table’ tool.

PTRs are useful as a guide because they can provide evidence of changes in the trends of school funding, especially when most of that funding comes from pupil numbers. The measure is not perfect. Older teachers cost more than younger one, so schools where staff stay put after being employed at NQTs cost schools more each year until they reach the top of their scale. This extra cost isn’t recognised in the funding formula.

When schools are gaining pupils, you might expect PTRs to improve, and when rolls start falling then PTRs might worsen, although there is likely to be a time lag to that effect as schools come to terms with lower numbers of pupils going forward. After all, no school likes to make staff redundant.

Incidentally, the fall in the birth rate and the exodus of overseas citizens will mean some tough decisions on ITT numbers may need to be made, possibly as early as this autumn for 2022 entry.

An analysis of changes in PTRs between 2016/17 and 2020/21 for the secondary sector shows only seven authorities, including the Isles of Scilly, where PTRs improved. In 13 local authorities the secondary PTR for schools across the Authority worsened by at least two pupils per teacher, with Slough unitary authority and the City of Nottingham having the largest changes in PTRS for the worse in the secondary sector. Most local authorities witnessed overall secondary PTRS deteriorate by between one and two teachers per pupil during this five year period. Historically that is quite a significant level of change for so many authorities. Now, some of that deterioration might have been due to keeping option groups going in the sixth form as pupil numbers in that age-group continued to fall but some could well be down to funding pressures across the sector.

In the primary sector, the position is more complex. Schools tend to be smaller and areas with new housing may be gaining pupils, even as other areas are being affected by the fall in the birth rate. Changes in PTRS have generally been in the range of plus one to minus one across most authorities, although during the five year period there are some outliers, notably, the City of Derby, where it is possible that the 2016/17 data point in the DfE database is a mistake. Such mistakes do happen from time to time.

It may also be a coincidence that both North Yorkshire and York unitary authority have recorded significant improvements during the five year period. A number of London boroughs south of the Thames also appear to have done relatively well during this five year period.

The longer that the National Funding Formula is in existence, it will be interesting to see what, if any effect it has on PTRs across the different authorities. Of course, if boundaries continue to be redrawn it will be impossible to tell. Happily, Outer London boroughs have had the same boundaries for more than half a century now.

Fire Chiefs support school sprinkler system for new schools

Those readers that have been following this blog for some years will know that one of the few matters that The Daily Mail and I both agree upon is the need to fit sprinkler systems in new schools.

On the 15th April 2019 this blog carried a post headed ‘Install Sprinkler Systems’. This followed a call to ensure all new schools had sprinkler system built into them during construction.

Zurich Insurance, a major insurer for local government risks has now come out in support of this suggestion in a new report. A review of their view can be found in this link to pbctoday https://www.pbctoday.co.uk/news/health-safety-news/fire-risk-in-schools/81974/

I fully support the recommendation that all schools should be built with sprinkler systems for the reasons cited in my blog post of April 2019.

Zurich found that the average school posed a fire risk 1.7 times greater than non-residential buildings. When compared to 2.9 million non-household properties, school buildings were also three times more likely to fall into the ‘high’ fire risk category (58% vs 20%).

Now the National Fire Chiefs Council has added their voice to those calling for the compulsory fitting of sprinklers in schools.

Over the last five years, 1,100 classrooms have been gutted by fire, with 47 schools destroyed among a total of 2,300 fire incidents – while just 2% of buildings were fitted with sprinklers. The National Fire Chiefs Council is calling for sprinklers to be mandatory in all new schools, in line with Scotland and Wales.

This is a powerful new ally in the campaign to fit sprinklers.

Those concerned about climate change might also add that an unnecessary fire in a school, as in any building, releases gases from the burring materials into the atmosphere that could be prevented by having installed sprinklers.

The removal of the requirement for sprinklers in new schools was a short-sighted measure that ought to have been changed already. Better some water damage than the destruction of a whole school and the disruption to the education of many children.

Schooling also needs a shake up

The news, in a leaked document, stating that the government is considering the way that the NHS operates, prompts me to remind readers that I have long felt that the arrangements devised under Labour for schools that were enthusiastically espoused by Michael Gove in 2010, in terms of how schooling is arranged, also need urgent review.

Some, including myself, have always maintained the importance of ‘place’ in our education system, and especially the school system. A sense of location is often weakest in relation to higher education and the university sector. However, even there, a place name, such as Oxford, has always worked well, grounding a university in a particular location. For schools, the link to a locality is generally much stronger than for higher education, and parents normally want their children to attend a good local school.

The academy programme dealt a severe blow to the locality based school system that was already under threat as local government fell out of favour at Westminster and institution level decision-making became the favoured approach. The 1988 Education Reform Act, with the move to local financial management and placing power in the hands of head teachers and governors, wrecked any chance of creating a locally managed system across England.

The arrival of multi-academy trusts in 2010, sometimes with headquarters many miles away for the location of the school for which it had responsibility failed to build upon the experience of the diocesan school model, where large diocese, especially in the Roman Catholic Church, often had responsibility for schools in several different local authority areas. Sometimes this worked well, but not always.

Crippling the funding for local authorities wrecked features such as staff development across a local area and the ability to talent spot future leaders, especially middle leaders, where most teachers don’t want to move house for promotion. It may be no coincidence that wastage rates for teachers of five to seven years of experience have increased as local frameworks for teacher support have been eroded.

You only have to read the recent post on this blog about Jacob’s Law, to see the important role local authorities play in the admission and management of pupils across a local area. To allow individual schools to frustrate the ability to find a place for a pupil is poor government, as anyone reading that Serious Case Review can easily understand.

The recent problems with the supply of laptops and internet access to those without, would have been better handled locally, with strategic support from government. Managing it from Westminster showed how this central model for operation rather than strategy just didn’t really work.

One question remains, should schooling, like the NHS, be largely run by professionals, with little local democratic involvement or should schooling have a strong local democratic element in the way it operates, in view of both the number of families involved and its role in the local economy. I have made my view known on this blog over the past eight years.

When I started in education, two phrases were in regular use: ‘a local service nationally administered’ or a ‘partnership’. Is it now time to work out what type of school system we want for the rest of the twenty first century?