Free Education does not mean Equality of Education

The Town Mayor of Thame has as her charity this year, Lord Williams’s School Young Carers. I though of this when I read apiece on the BBC about parents making donations to schools. The BBC found that in 2017-18 the average school in London raised some £43,000 from donations. In Yorkshire, it was just £13,000. Although incomes may differ between the two regions, the price of goods the schools purchase probalby doesn’t to anything like the same extent.

This disparity between areas even short distances apart has troubled me ever since I started teaching in Tottenham in the 1970s. Schools in the Highgate and Muswell Hill areas of Haringey regularly used to raise substantial sums even the, both from parents and school activities, whereas those in South Tottenham would be lucky to bring in a fraction of the same amount. Not only did parents not earn the same, but they also didn’t have access to figures in the media and entertainment worlds that could open the summer fete and attract large crowds by doing so.

When I came to Oxford in 1979, I found a similar pattern between parts of the South and East of the City and the North West wards. Such a difference still exists.

One difference from now was that when all schools were under local authority control, local politicians could arrange the funding in ways that might support less well-off schools. An objection to the National Funding Formula is that in its purest form it doesn’t really allow for such differences between schools to be overcome.

Where schools can access support from charities, the addition of Gift Aid tax recovery can make the difference even greater. Now, I think the Mayor of Thame’s Charity is excellent, in that it is clear where within the school the money raised will be used.

Another school I know used its fundraising to benefit the community as a whole by creating an all-weather pitch that could be used outside of school hours.

Despite pressure on school budgets over the past few years, education unlike the NHS, hasn’t really featured in the general election. Possibly because every main Party is promising more for schools; something for post-16s, but whatever happened to higher education?

So, should the National Funding Formula take into account the amounts raised by schools? Such a move might help, but it wouldn’t stop parents supporting their own children: something that troubles the Labour Party in this election, if their plans to abolish private schools are to be believed.

As I have already noted on this blog, in Essex, the Tories take the opposite view, by refusing free transport to selective schools and thus making it a challenge for the less well-off to take up places at such schools where if they live some distance away from the school.

Perhaps we can start a charity to fund the bus fares of children attending selective schools that cannot afford the fare. But, why should they have to rely upon the charity of others, rather than the acknowledgement of the State that if you have a selective system, then every child should be able to attend a school as which they have secured a place.

Regional differences in teacher vacancy levels

By the end of 2019, schools in England will have advertised around 60,000 vacancies for teachers. After removing repeat adverts and re-advertisements, as well as schools now placing rolling adverts on their web sites to attract potential candidates, there will have been somewhere in excess of 50,000 vacancies that schools across England have sought to fill this year. The data comes for TeachVac, the largest free site for both schools and teachers in England.

However, anyone seeking a classroom teacher post this year will have discovered that there are important differences between the different regions of England in terms of how easy it has been to find a teaching post.

Percentage of total vacancies for teachers January-October 2019

Region % of Vacancies % of Schools
London 21 16 More Vacancies
South East 21 17 More Vacancies
East England 13 12 More Vacancies
North West 9 12 Less Vacancies
South West 9 10 Less Vacancies
West Midlands 9 11 Less Vacancies
East Midlands 8 8 Same
Yorkshire & Humber 7 9 Less Vacancies
North East 3 4 Less Vacancies

Less Vacancies

Source: TeachVac (From November onwards vacancies for September 2020 start appearing, as well as a few last minute vacancies for January 2020 as a result of unforeseen events)

There is a clear difference in demand for teachers between London and the Home Counties and the rest of England. London, in particular, has five per cent more of the share of vacancies than its share of schools across England. This is despite London having an above average number of private schools compared with some other parts of England.

How much of the difference in vacancy levels is down to challenges in filling posts leading to higher re-advertisement levels is difficult to quantify without each vacancy having a unique reference number: something this blog has long advocated, and the DfE might want to consider now it has had a year of managing its own vacancy site. Incidentally, the DfE site still only contains a fraction of the number of vacancies found each day on TeachVac. Why the teacher associations haven’t protested at this waste of government money is something I haven’t been able to fathom.

The numbers in the table also suggest that the government’s policy of rewarding excellence in teacher preparation might be sound in one respect, but isn’t delivering the teachers where they are needed by the schools.

The government might need to rethink a policy that doesn’t provide enough teachers for the fastest growing parts of England. If a London Allowance is available for teachers, why is it not available for trainees? Do new graduates joining the civil service or the police suffer the same fate as trainee teachers in London? Even with bursary payments, rates are set at a national level and there is also the need for most to pay tuition fees while in training as a teacher.


Illness still main reason for pupil absences

The DfE has just published the data about absence rates during the autumn term of 2018 and the spring term of 2019. Some of the figures are slightly better; others slightly worse than the previous year. As ever, illness accounts for the largest single number of absences. Even so, around a million pupils, or some 14% of enrolments seem to have avoided any absences during these two terms.

I guess that to some extent the severity of any flu outbreak will influence annual outcomes. As a result, inoculating all primary school pupils with the flu vaccine should reduce the absence rate this year. But, it measles breaks out again due to mis-placed concerns over vaccination, then that might push up absences in the primary sector.

There has been a continued rise in pupils taking unauthorised holidays in term-time. More than 600,000 pupils took at least one day off for this reason during these two terms, up by around 100,000 in just two years. This is despite the Supreme Court judgement in the Isle of Wight case that took a severe line about children missing school without agreement.

There are still too many medical or dental appointments during the school day, with nearly 2 million pupils losing at least one session for this reason.

The issue of persistent absentees isn’t going away, with more than one in ten pupils classified as a persistent absentee. That’s potentially three pupils in a primary class of 30 pupils. The percentage is higher in secondary schools than in the primary sector, and worst in Years 10 and 11, suggesting some pupils have stopped engaging at that point in their education. There is also a worrying spike in Year 1, where absence rates are the highest in the primary sector. Given that most children start some form of education before year 1 these days, this might be worth looking into as this is a really vital year for establishing basic knowledge foundations.

Pupils eligible for Free School meals and those with SEN are also likely to have higher absence rates. The latter group is understandable, as there are often reasons for the SEN classification that might affect absence.

Generally, absence rates in both the primary and secondary sectors increase in the regions that are further away from London. Both Inner and Outer London have the lowest absence rates and this may partly account for the performance of pupils in the capital’s schools. Both the North East and South West have the highest regional absence rates for these terms.

Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the local authorities with the highest levels of deprivation have some of the highest absence rates in the secondary sector. Why Cornwall has the highest primary rate in 2018-19 might be worth exploring further.

Of concern to me is that Oxfordshire is ranked around the 105th lowest local authority level for primary sector absences, but is ranked 20th for local authorities in the secondary sector. This is a big turnaround between children that attend primary schools, but whose attendance seems to fall away in the secondary sector.

Jam in 2022, but not cream as well

This blog has not so far commented on the largesse being promised to schools and the FE sector by the current government. I prefer to wait for specific proposals rather than broad gestures. As a result, the remit letter to the Teachers’ Pay Review body (STRB) announced today by the Secretary of State is worth considering for its implications for schools.

Is there a risk that the announcement of a £30,000 starting salary in 2022 might be like David Blunkett’s maximum class size initiative for Key Stage 1 classes, something of a Pyrrhic victory for the government? Allowing for increases in teachers’ salaries of between 2-3% in both 2020 and 2021 then perhaps the starting salary will already be expected to be £26,000 by 2022 anyway.

The other question that will interest schools is how many teachers will be affected? It isn’t possible to work out how many full-time teachers are paid less than £30,000 – presumably less than £36,000 in Inner London? The School Workforce Census for 2018 revealed that there were nearly 103,000 teachers paid less than £30,000 at that time. However, this included both full-time and part-time teachers. The Census also revealed that there were 111,000 part-time teachers across the system, so it seems likely that a significant proportion of those earning less than £30,000 at that time might be have been part-time teachers?

If I were the STRB receiving the remit letter for Mr Williamson, I would want to look at the distribution of teacher shortages and ask two questions.  Firstly, is there a regional pattern to shortages and secondly, do we want to pay some teachers more than others in an overt manner by creating not just regional supplements but also supplements for specific subjects and other expertise that might be in short supply?

Failing to address the first of these questions could create a situation where the Secretary of State made matters worse by making teaching in lower cost housing areas more attractive than teaching in London and the Home Counties, just as David Blunkett made teaching in the suburbs more attractive than teaching in the inner cities by reducing class sizes in the suburbs, but not in the inner cities where they were already below 30 pupils per class in most Key Stage 1 classes.

All the evidence points to the teacher shortage being worse in London and the Home Counties and that these areas are also finding it more difficult to attract graduates onto teacher preparation courses. Personally, I would uplift the London salary rates more than those elsewhere. (See pages 36 onward of the 29th Report of the STRB for why I say this.)

The government also needs to remember that teachers start earning a year later than most graduates, including those being trained in other public sector graduate roles. For this reason, they might also consider returning to a training salary for all postgraduates and not just those on Teach First and the diminishing numbers on the School Direct Salaried route.


Teachers always needed in London

Four out of every ten teaching vacancies in England, advertised between January and the end of July this year, were placed by schools located either in London or the South East. Add in vacancies from the northern and eastern Home Counties, including Essex, Hertfordshire and schools located in a clutch of unitary local authorities and the figure for vacancies comes close to half of all teaching posts. This data come from TeachVac, the company where I am Chair of the Board.

By contrast, the North East and North West together account for only 12% of vacancies. This increases to 20% if the Yorkshire and The Humber Region is added into the total. Of course, these are smaller regions than London and the South East, but that doesn’t account for all of the difference.

Undoubtedly, the school population is rising faster in London and the Home Counties than elsewhere, both because of the birth rate increase a few years ago and also because of the amount of house building, especially in parts of the South East. Oxfordshire has had three new secondary schools over the past few years, with more to come. This after a period when no new secondary schools were built in the county.

Although Teach First is now a programme spread across England, its influence in London can still be seen. Schools in the Capital generally topped the list for percentage of vacancies recorded by region, but were in second place in terms of the percentage of demand for teachers of English and only in joint first place with the South East in demand for teachers of mathematics, both accounting for 19% of the national total of advertised vacancies.

Another reason demand may be high in London and the South East is the significant number of private schools located in these regions.

Interestingly, ‘business’ in is various forms was the subject where London was further ahead of the rest of the country; accounting for a third of all vacancies advertised so far in 2019. Add in the percentage for the South East and the total for the two regions is more than half the total for the whole of England.

In business, as in a range of other subjects, schools needing to recruit for vacancies that arise for January 2020 are going to find filing those vacancies something of a challenge. Regardless of the outcome of Brexit and the state of the world economy, there won’t be a reserve of newly qualified teachers still looking for work in many subjects. Languages, history and geography within the EBacc being exceptions, although even here there are likely to be local shortages, regardless of the national picture.

Recruiting returners and persuading teachers to switch schools may be the best options for schools suddenly faced with a vacancy, for whatever reason. There will be some teachers coming back from overseas and TeachVac has seen more ‘hits’ on the web site from Southern Hemisphere counties over the past few weeks. But such numbers may only be of marginal help unless there is a really deep global recession.

One option the government might consider is offering teacher preparation courses starting and ending in January as well as September. The Open University used to be very good at offering courses that graduate teachers in time to meet the needs of schools looking to fill their January vacancies.  It might be worth considering such an option again.

20,000 fewer teachers?

The news that the Home Office are going to oversee the recruitment of either 20,000 new graduate police officers or people capable of earning a vocational degree must prompt the question; in the current labour market, where are these new police officers going to come from? Of course, it might be a preemptive strike by the government against a possible recession and the associated increase in unemployment. This must be on the assumption that any recession will hit the graduate end of the labour market at least as hard as it hits those with no qualifications.

After seven years of a failure to recruit enough new teachers into training – a back door cut – and facing an increasing pupil population, teaching also need more entrants than it has at present. Indeed, it seems likely that when the ITT Census for 2019 is published in November, this will be the eighth year of missed targets in some subjects. I recorded the disturbing decline of design and technology trainee numbers in one of yesterday’s posts, if anyone is interested.

So, might teachers switch to become police officers? I doubt it will be 20,000, but the loss of any experienced teachers will be a blow to the profession that has also seen retention rates worsen for teachers we might have expected to have reached the stage where they had become what one person described to me this week as ‘lifers’.

Potential teachers, especially those keen to be in London and not eligible for Teach First, might well weigh up the starting salary of a constable against the fees to be paid as a trainee teacher and the absence of any guarantee of a teaching post on completion of training.

I certainly think that this move to increase police numbers will reinforce the need for a review of the former training grant for all teachers, and not just payments to those lucky enough to be on Teach First or the School Direct Salaried routes or receiving a bursary. Of course, the government could wait and see, but that must be deemed a risk unless graduate unemployment rises both quickly and fast.

If the new Secretary of State for Defence wants more graduates in the armed forces and the NHS more nurses, then those actions will place more pressure on the teaching profession to be competitive in a labour market where it clearly isn’t competitive at present.

Do we really want a system that produces just enough qualified teachers of Physics to meet the needs of private schools, Sixth Form Colleges and the selective schools? Do we want a system that fails to produce enough teachers of design and technology; of music; even of art? According to head teachers that I meet, this isn’t even the complete list of subjects where recruitment is currently a challenge.

The other salvation is that a slowing down of the global economy might reduce demand from ‘overseas schools’ for teachers trained in England. Such a situation is possible, but with the switch of many of these schools to educating not the children of expat business families, but locals dissatisfied with their State system or unable to access it, not too much hope should be placed on this solution, at least for now.

STRB: good summary, not much new

Regular readers of this blog will find little to surprise them when they read the latest report from the STRB (School Teachers Review Body) Much of the data has already been discussed on this blog when it first appeared. Nevertheless, it is good to see the information all in one place.

The key issues are nicely summed up by the STRB as follows:

This year the evidence shows that the teacher supply situation has continued to deteriorate, particularly for secondary schools. This has affected teachers at all stages of their careers:

  • The Government’s target for recruitment to postgraduate Initial Teacher Training (ITT) was missed in 2018/19 for the seventh successive year. There has also been a marked decline in the number of overseas teachers being awarded Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).
  • Retention rates for teachers in the early years of their careers have continued to worsen, a trend that we have noted for several years now.
  • There is also evidence that retention rates are starting to deteriorate for experienced teachers, and there has been a marked increase in the number of teachers aged over 50 leaving the profession.
  • Retention rates for head teachers have fallen in recent years and our consultees report that it is increasingly difficult to attract good quality applicants to fill leadership posts at all levels. We have heard similar concerns from some of those we spoke to during our school visit programme.

Taken together, these trends paint a worrying picture. This is all the more concerning as increasing pupil numbers mean that there will be a need for more teachers in coming years, particularly in the secondary phase and for English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects.

The last comment is one I would take issue with in relation to languages, history and geography, subjects where TeachVac data doesn’t reveal significant shortages and the DfE data published last week also doesn’t suggest a rising demand for MFL teachers.

I am also slightly surprised that more isn’t made of regional disparities in both demand for teachers and in terms of the data about recruitment and retention. Matching age and experience with regional trends might have been helpful in understanding the degree that the teacher supply crisis affects the whole country and not just London and the Home Counties.

More information on the primary sector, and some understanding of the special school and alternative education sectors would also have been helpful.

I fully agree that the Report should be published much earlier in the year. Why cannot the timetable revert to a publication date in either February or March?The comments on challenges in leadership recruitment aren’t really backed by good levels of evidence in the Report, and that’s a pity since at TeachVac we have seen fewer re-advertisements for primary headships in some places this year. I am sure that the NAHT and ASCL have this data available. Compared with say a decade ago, are there really fewer applicants for headships. This is an important measure of possible challenge going forward.

Finally, I wonder what happened on page 32 where there is a mention of Figure 7 that bears no relation to point under discussion. I think it should be a reference to Figure 5? Is this a proof-reading issue or does it reflect some re-writing of this section?