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

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?

Time for Jacob’s Law

The naming of a young person in Serious Case Review Report is rare. But this week the Report into the death of Jacob in Oxfordshire contained his name. The family gave permission, and hope it will ensure the report is more widely read and acted upon. If so, it is a brave decision, and one that I applaud.

You can read the Report at Full report link at bottom of the press notice

Three agencies, the Police, Children’s Social Services and Education have learning points to take from the Review. In this blog, I will concentrate on the education aspects, as they contain a message heard before on this blog.

Jacob was born in Oxfordshire, later moved to Northumbria, where I suspect he was educated in a First School, and then a Middle School, before being moved in Year 6 to an ‘alternative education provision’ – presumably a PRU?

In July 2017, note the date, the family returned to Oxfordshire. The Report concludes that:

5.1 He was not on roll at any education provision and was a child missing education for 22 months

Jacob’s mandatory need for education was not provided by Oxfordshire County Council when he lived at home and when he was in the care of the local authority both in and when out of county for 5 months. Four educational settings were asked to take Jacob on roll, however largely due to his perceived behaviours and risks to other students he remained off roll for almost 2 years. Jacob’s family were offered the right of appeal when places were refused. His situation was considered by education panels such as the In Year Fair Access Panel and Children Missing Education to little effect and his needs were overseen and monitored by various professionals, including the Virtual School and the Independent Reviewing Officer Service whilst in local authority care. There were no formal dispute resolutions raised14 by Children’s Social Care and his situation was not escalated to the Education Skills and Funding Agency (ESFA) as it should have been.

Had this been an isolated case then this would be understandable, but a month before Jacob arrived back in Oxfordshire I had had an exchange in public with the Cabinet Member for Education at the June 2017 Cabinet meeting of the County Council. Not all questions are for political gain, and this was one where I genuinely thought that there was an issue to be addressed. The question asked:

Oxfordshire county council CABINET – 20 JUNE 2017 ITEM 4 – QUESTIONS FROM COUNTY COUNCILLORS

Question from Councillor Howson to Councillors Harrod and Hibbert-Biles “How many children taken into care over the past three school years and placed ‘out county’ have had to wait for more than two weeks to be taken onto the roll of a school in the area where they have been moved to and what is the longest period of time a child has waited for a place at a school in the area where they have been re-located to during this period?” 

As you will see, I asked both the Education Cabinet Member and Cllr Harrod for Children’s Social Services and received this answer:

Answer Over the past three years it has been exceptional for a Looked After Child to be taken onto the roll of an out of county school in under two weeks. Indeed, of the nine cases of primary age pupils we’ve looked at, the quickest a pupil was placed was 12 days (there were two) and the slowest was 77 days. For the 22 secondary age pupils the picture is even worse, with 3 weeks the quickest placement and a couple taking fully 6 months to get some of our most vulnerable young people into a stable school setting.

The main reason for this completely unacceptable state of affairs is that the Council has no power to direct an academy to admit a Looked After Child. The only way we can force an academy’s hand is to get a direction from the Educations & Skills Funding Agency and this, as you can see from the foregoing times, can be a very long winded bureaucratic process.

The fact that it takes so long for academies to admit our Looked After Children shows how doggedly our officers pursue the matter; I suspect that many other local authorities simply give up when they meet an intransigent academy that doesn’t want to take responsibility for educating their vulnerable young people.

The minutes of the meeting note my supplementary question and the response as:

Supplementary: In response to an invitation from Councillor Howson for the Cabinet Member to work with Councillor Howson and the labour opposition to see what could be done Councillor Hibbert-Biles recognised that it was a national situation, and she would be asking for a meeting with local MPs and relevant minister.

How distressing to read the national recommendation in the Serious Case Review that:

Recommendation 2: This Review asks the Department for Education to acknowledge the education key learning and findings from Jacob’s Review and provide feedback as to the effectiveness of the Education and Skills Funding Agency process in resolving issues in a timely manner. The Review asks the Department of Education to provide statute and guidance to local areas and their communities on how to manage the Governance arrangements with academy run schools and local education departments who currently cannot be mandated to accept children on roll.

And in the local recommendations that:

Action Plan 2: The Education System

The key learning set out below is fully addressed in this action plan for children in the education system in Oxfordshire, overseen by the Chair of the OSCB Safeguarding in Education Sub-Group Key Learning:

An education system that ensures:

1. The paramount importance of the role of schools in keeping children safe

2. An education package is put in place in a timely manner for those children who may show challenging behaviours

3. Those children missing education are known and action is swift

This Action Plan should pay particular attention to ensuring: – Restorative work to resolve the fragmented arrangements between academy schools, alternative provisions and the local authority to ensure collective ownership – Policy and procedures to track when children are not on roll – The function of Education Panels in Oxfordshire (In Year Fair Access and Children Missing Education) – The local application of the Education Skills Funding Agency intervention – Education packages for children who may be at risk of exploitation and also present a risk to others.

For those that read the whole Report, there is further evidence on page 31 and footnote 56 of other issues about school admissions around the same time.

Here’s what I wrote on this blog on the 23rd June 2017:

In my post on 11th June, after the outcome of the general election was known, I suggested some issues that could still be addressed by a government without an overall majority. First among these was the issue of school places for young people taken into care and placed outside of the local authority. They have no guarantee of access to a new school within any given time frame at present. It seemed to me daft that a parent could be fined for taking a child out of school for two weeks to go on holiday but a local authority could wait six months for a school place to be provided for a young person taken into care.

The Cabinet Question reproduced above then appears followed by:

I found the answer deeply depressing. However, the good news is that MPs from the three political parties representing Oxfordshire constituencies have agreed to work together to take the matter forward. Thank you to MPs, Victoria Prentice, Layla Moran and Anneliese Dodds, for agreeing to seek action to remedy this state of affairs.

If readers have data about the issue elsewhere in England, I would be delighted to hear from you, so pressure can be put on officials nationally to ensure a rapid change in the rules.

I had forgotten that unique letter signed by every Oxfordshire MP after I had made my suggestion.

Nothing happened. Jacob died. We cannot wait any longer.

The DfE must act now to ensure all children have a school place within a specified time frame, whether they move to a new area or are excluded by a school. There must be a register of unplaced children of school age that is regularly reviewed by a senior officer and a politician in each local authority, and Ofsted should update the Secretary of State each year about the national picture.

It is time for a Jacob’s Law. His death will not then have been for nothing.

Read more on this BBC Report into the case

Will you find a teaching post in 2021?

How easy will trainees find job hunting in 2021? The following predictions are based upon an analysis of vacancies for teaching posts recorded by TeachVac over the past four years. The raw vacancy data is then linked to the ITT census of trainee numbers produced by the DfE and based upon returns from providers.

As noted in another post on this blog, there are fewer trainees on classroom-based courses than a few years ago. This pushes up demand for trainees and returners to fill posts these trainees would have occupied. Assuming similar completion rates for trainees as in the past, and that with rising rolls in the secondary sector, if total vacancies are no worse than in 2020, and hopefully closer to the 2019 total it is possible to estimate the shape of the labour market in different subjects during 2021. However, much will depend upon how many teachers retire or leave the classroom for other jobs. If teacher stay put in larger numbers than usual, vacancies will be lower than in the past.

So, before I list some my predictions it is worth reminding those looking for teaching posts to register with the platform that provides the best opportunity for them to be pointed towards possible vacancies. I am, of course biased in favour of TeachVac, but there is the DfE site that also contains non-teaching posts, and the TES, as well as local authority job boards. Candidates might want to register with agencies and let them take the strain, but it is worth asking about their success in the geographical area where you are likely to be looking for a job.

So what might the picture for 2021 look like? Physics, design and technology and business studies teachers should still have little problem find a teaching post either during 2021 or for January 2022.

On the other hand, history and PE teachers will continue to find that there are more candidates than there are vacancies across much of England. The ability to offer a second subject might be worth thinking about in any application.  Teachers of geography will also likely to find job hunting challenging later in the year.

This year, teachers of art may struggle to find teaching posts, especially as the year progresses, as there are considerably more trainees than in recent years. Teachers of RE and biology may also face similar challenges in job hunting as 2021 progresses towards the start of the new school term in September.

The outlook for teachers of sciences, other than physics, is likely to be similar to the situation in 2020, with teachers of biology unable to offer other sciences at most risk of finding a teaching post challenging as the progresses.

Mathematics and IT/Computing teachers should find plenty of choice of jobs early in the year, but possibly not as much choice as in recent years.

It is difficult to predict the market for teachers of languages other than English in Britain’s new post-EU membership world. At present, it looks as if across England there is a good balance between supply and demand, but there may be regional shortages if vacancy levels increase. On the other hand, if vacancies decline, there could be a surplus of teachers of some languages, notably Spanish.

Teachers of music are likely to find enough vacancies for trainees unless there is an inflow of ‘returners’ from outside of the profession as a result of changes in the wider labour market for those with music qualifications and a teaching background.

Each month TeachVac updates information about overall vacancies in the monthly newsletter. Details can be found at:

Leadership trends in schools- 2020

TeachVac the free to use teacher vacancy site is putting together its annual reviews of the labour market for teachers in England. The first of these is on leadership turnover in schools.

Here are some of the headlines from the draft report.

  • More leadership vacancies were recorded in the primary sector during 2020, while vacancies recorded in the secondary sector during 2020 remained at a similar level to 2019.
  • In the primary sector some 1,497 head teacher vacancies were recorded. The number for the secondary sector was 387 vacancies during 2020.
  • For schools advertising during the 2019-20 school year, there was a re-advertisement rate for primary schools of 28%: for secondary school headteacher vacancies, the re-advertisement rate was lower at 23%.
  • Schools in certain regions and with other characteristics that differentiates the school from the commonplace are more likely to experience issues with headteacher recruitment.
  • There were a similar number of vacancies for deputy heads in the secondary sector during 2020 than 2019. Fewer vacancies were recorded for the primary sector.
  • Secondary schools advertised slightly more assistant head teacher vacancies during 2020 than during 2019. There were fewer vacancies recorded in the primary sector during 2020 than in 2019. 
  • Tracking leadership vacancies has become more challenging as the means of recruitment have become more diversified in nature.
  • The covid-19 pandemic had a significant effect on the senior staff labour market from April 2020 until the end of the year.

What might be the outcome of the new lockdown? As the majority of vacancies at all levels in education are for September starts in a new job the later the more senior vacancies are advertised the more pressure on vacancies for other posts. Normally, half the annual volume of headteacher adverts appear in the first three months of the year. Will that pattern be replicated this year? Perhaps it is too early to tell. Will headteachers, and especially headteachers in primary schools faced with more problems than normal and lacking the level of administrative support that their secondary school colleagues enjoy just decide enough is enough and take early retirement? Will the pay freeze make matters worse, especially if pensions still rise in line with RPI?

TeachVac will be watching these trends for senior staff turnover, along with others in the labour market. Often in the past, a rising level of house prices has been bad for senior staff recruitment in high cost housing areas as staff can move to lower cost areas, but it is challenging for staff to move into those areas without incentives. The Stamp Duty relaxation has pushed up housing prices, at least in the short-term. Will these increases have an impact on leadership turnover?

The current age profile of the teaching profession should be favourable to the appointment of senior leaders but, as this blog has pointed out in the past, there may not be enough deputy heads in the primary sector with sufficient experience to want to move onto headship at the present time.

All these trends will need monitoring carefully as 2021 unfolds.

If you want the full report or data for specific areas, please contact

Bring back the Star Chamber?

Bring back the Star Chamber? Head teachers retuned to schools on Monday to find that the simple form the DfE had be asking schools to complete about pupil attendance during lockdown had suddenly, and without warning, ballooned to one of over 19 pages in length.

Now, as someone that has made a career out of management information, I expect the required information is very useful to help Ministers answer the inevitable barrage of questions about their handling of the extension of the opening of schools. I nearly wrote re-opening, but of course, most schools never closed, and in some cases remained open during the Easter holiday period. As a result, it is wrong to talk of re-opening.

Anyway, in the past, it sometimes took up to two years to achieve a very small change in any data being collected from schools. I well recall the lead up to the introduction of the School Workforce Census, and the debates about what could and could not be collected.

Of course, the net result of imposing additional data collection on schools is that probably more schools will have thrown up their hands in horror and not returned anything, not even what they were returning by way of management information up to Friday of last week.

In one sense, I don’t suppose that Ministers will mind, assuming the demands originated from the political end of the DfE, since so long as they have some returns they can say ‘evidence suggests that …’ and nobody can gainsay the quality of the evidence, then they are satisfied. What ONS might make of this could be another matter.

I took part in a conference call on Tuesday with a hardworking set of local government officers, many of whom had been sending me emails over the weekend as they helped schools prepare for their new world order. So, this is the time and place to pay tribute to both the officers and the staff and governors of schools that have all worked so hard to keep the teaching and learning show on the road since lockdown was introduced.

Local authorities have had a hard time of it over the past thirty years, but those that have preserved a functioning education section have shown the value of a tier at this level to help the DfE manage the system. I don’t see all academies or MATs working with their Regional School Commissioners, but I do hear of them joining in with the local authority. And, as a politician, I know that parents turn to local politicians if they have any questions about what is happening. I wonder how many contact either RSCs or the DfE.

Issues of the span of control dominate structures in all organisations, and in the review of how the pandemic has been handled, the role of local authorities and education should be properly assessed and compared with the NHS and social care sectors, one of which has little or no local accountability these days and the other is a hybrid. Which works well and for what tasks?

Recruiting Teachers – the cost effective option

I am delighted to announce that TeachVac will be adding the small number of vacancies from the DfE site that TeachVac doesn’t already carry to the TeachVac site. These vacancies are mostly either in new schools recruiting for the first time or primary schools in small MATs with a central recruitment page.

As TeachVac also includes vacancies from independent schools, this will make it the most comprehensive site for anyone interested in either applying for a teaching vacancy or interested in what is happening in the labour market for teachers.

As a result, I have written the following piece as an overview of recruitment in what remains a challenging labour market for teachers. You can sign up to Teachvac at; it free and easy to do.

There are a number of different options for schools and academy trusts seeking to recruit teachers and school leaders. Put briefly, these are:

  • Free sites such as the DfE site and TeachVac (national coverage) and local authority job boards (local and in some cases regional coverage)
  • Traditional national paid for advertising sites such as The TES, eteach and The Guardian.
  • Local paid for advertising via local newspapers and their websites.
  • Recruitment Agencies of various types, including agencies focused on the supply teacher market.
  • Direct marketing to universities and other providers of teacher preparation courses as well as offering vacancies to teachers in schools during preparation courses.
  • School web sites, including the use of talent banking.

Each of these comes with different costs and benefits.

A single point of contact for free advertising of vacancies for teachers and school leaders has been identified by the National Audit Office; the Education Select Committee and in the 2017 Conservative Party election manifesto as the best way forward.

During 2018 and early 2019 the DfE developed and implemented such a product to operate alongside the already existing TeachVac site designed and operated by a company where Professor John Howson, a long-time authority on the labour market for teachers is the chair of the board.

The advantage of the DfE site is that it has the backing of the government. Potential disadvantages include the fact that it requires schools to upload vacancies and that it only handles vacancies from state funded schools and colleges. A minor distraction is that the site also handles non-teaching vacancies mixed in with the teaching posts. Requiring schools to upload vacancies can be both time consuming and also requires training for new staff to ensure that they can operate the system. The information is limited to that required by the site and isn’t easy to alter without informing all schools of the change.

TeachVac uses technology to collect vacancies every day from school websites and then eyeballing to verify their accuracy. The amount of information collected is greater than on the DfE web site.  A potential disadvantage of TeachVac is that it does not allow users to browse vacancies, but requires specification of a set of requirements for the vacancy sought. This approach has the advantage of also collecting data about the level of interest in specific types of vacancies in specific parts of the country. TeachVac covers both state funded and private schools so provides a one-stop shop for teachers seeking vacancies.

Both sites have the advantage of being free to use for both schools and teachers. The DfE site is subject to the need for government funding and TeachVac must fund itself.

All other approaches, save for schools own web sites and direct marketing by schools to teacher preparation courses, are subject to the profit motive and thus have a cost to schools.

The use of modern technology allows for the combination of approaches by schools, starting with the free options and allowing for the best paid-for alternative should the free option not provide an adequate response to a generated vacancy within a short period of time.

Do let me have your thoughts on how you see the future for the market? Will free sites reduce the ability of paid-for sites to attract vacancies? Will the DfE site become the default site or does it lack of breadth mean teachers will want a site offering all teaching vacancies in one place? Will recruitment agencies become the normal route for entry into the profession for newly qualified teachers and returners? Do the Local government Association and the teacher associations have a role to play in the marketing of vacancies to teachers and monitoring the labour market independent of government?

Let me know what you think?

Stop wasting money

A new report commissioned, and part funded by the Local Government Association, has found that ‘middle tier’ oversight functions for academies cost some 44% more than for local authority maintained schools. The research was carried out by Sara Bubb Associates, and the team conducting the study involved some senior figures from the world of academia. The full report can be accessed from:

This study published shortly after the call for evidence by the Confederation of School Trusts (see earlier post) shows that the overall costs for middle tier functions within the academy system in 2016/17 was £167.05 per pupil compared to £115.71 for the local authority system. It is worth pointing out that the two do not share a common financial year, and that some of the disbanded local advisory and professional development functions may have been taken up by MATs. However, neither of these points would be likely to fully explain the difference between the two amounts.

By my calculations the figures in this report suggest that saving of some £300 million might be made if the ‘middle tier’ was rationalised and local authorities were charged with oversight of all schools; perhaps with regional boards to allow for the economies of scale that this report points out are missing from the current academy sector at present.

The authors of the report call for an urgent review of the middle tier system in the light of international best practice. It is generally acknowledged that England has some of the most centralised public services; schooling is no exception to that state of affairs. The authors also recommend an evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of the multi-academy trust model, and I would add of standalone academies as well. The authors also want to see greater efficiency, fairness and transparency in funding the oversight of England’s school system. The DfE has gone some way since the data used in this report on at least facing up to the high salaries that were being paid in some parts of the academy system, but have not yet tackled the underlying issues identified in this report.

The DfE has also undertaken some work to drive down costs for schools, emulating, for instance, TeachVac’s free national vacancy site with a version of their own. However, the have failed to take on board advice in the 2016 White Paper that might have clarified some of the ‘middle tier’ functions, such as in-year admissions once again becoming the responsibility of local authorities. That isn’t just a cost matter, but also one of fairness for pupils compelled to change school during the school-year. As I have pointed out in the past, children taken into care and moved away for their own safety from their previous home often find some schools reluctant to admit them, even if they have places available.

Perhaps any new regime at Sanctuary Buildings after the new Prime Minister enters into office will use this report as the basis for a fresh start. However, I am not holding my breath. In the meantime, reports such as this one that highlight the amount of money being spent unnecessarily are to be welcomed.




Support Youth Justice

One of the success stories of the past decade has been the reduction in the number of young people held in custody, both on remand and after sentencing. Sadly, with the present increase in ‘knife’ crime that trend may well be reversed over the coming few months.

Perhaps the increase in violent crime might have been reduced in scale had the Funding to help local authorities keep young people away from crime and re-offending not been halved since 2010. Youth justice grants, which fund council youth offending teams, have been reduced from £145m in 2010-11 to £71.5m in 2018-19, according to the Local Government Association. Furthermore, even though councils have already set their budgets for 2019-20, they are still awaiting their allocations for youth justice grants, thus, according to the Local Government Association, making it “extremely difficult” to plan services aimed at preventing gangs and violent crime.

Now it stands to reason that although the number of young people entering the youth Justice system is sharply down on the terrible days of the Labour government – by some 86% for the drop in first time entrants to the youth justice system – again according to the Local Government Association, many already in the system may be continuing to reoffend. .

Cutting the grant for Youth Justice Services seems like another short-sighted attempt to save cash, where it may have actually had the opposite result in practice. Youth offending teams cannot devise schemes to held reduce re-offing, especially among what used to be termed ‘persistent young offenders’ if they no longer have the funds to do their work.

So, here is a suggestion. Any secondary school with more than 8% of its current annual revenue grant held in reserves and also with an above average figure for permanent exclusions across years 10 and 11 and any off-rolling of pupils in those years for pupils with SEND should have 50% of the excess of their reserves above the 8% level removed by the government and reallocated to the local Youth Offending Team.

Yes, the suggestion is crude, and if it catches any genuine cases, then the local Youth Offending Team can work with those schools to reallocate the funds to appropriate programmes.

This is a one-off short-term solution to allow government, in this time of policy paralysis, to find a better long-term solution to the increase in crime among teenagers and the cash to support new programmes over the longer-term.

At present, although more schools are reporting deficits, some have put money aside for a rainy day in a prudent manner, these latter group of schools would only be affected under these proposals if they had also shifted the burden of educating some challenging pupils onto others.

Cash in reserves is sterile public money, and with a need to deal with the present increase in violent crime, something needs to be done and quickly. Of course, if the government can find new cash in the Spring Statement my solution won’t be necessary.