Is it harder to recruit teachers of English than teachers of mathematics?

I can finally report that TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk the national vacancy site that provides free posting of jobs for schools and uses a defined alert system for teachers seeking to know about vacancies, now shows mathematics as a subject where schools anywhere in England might encounter recruitment challenges, if they are looking for a teacher to fill a vacancy for January 2019.

But, I hear you say, mathematics is a shortage subject and schools already cannot recruit teachers to teach the subject. That’s certainly the message put out by those in the mathematics world. Curiously, their colleagues representing teacher of English make much less noise about the shortages in their subject.

Both English and mathematics are key subjects, recruiting many new teachers each year, although not as many as the sciences overall as a subject area. If mathematics teachers are in really short supply, then a percentage of vacancies will in reality be re-advertisements for posts schools could not fill the first time they advertised them.

So far, in 2018, TeachVac has recorded around 300 more vacancies for teachers of mathematics than for teachers of English. However, with fewer trainees in English than were recruited to mathematics teacher preparation courses in 2017, this gap goes a long way to explaining why the autumn term could have seen some schools struggling to recruit teachers of English even more than they will teachers of mathematics.

Of course, part of the explanation for the level of demand might be that schools have bought into the message of a national shortage of mathematics teachers and not bothered to advertise a vacancy, instead filling it by using existing staff in a creative fashion.

There is another explanation that is linked to the way that schools are now starting to advertise vacancies. A growing number of schools don’t advertise specific posts but request interest from teachers seeking to work at the school or within the Multi-Academy Trust. The school or Trust then, presumably, sifts through these expressions of interest when a vacancy occurs and contacts the most likely candidates to see if they are still interested.

In the past schools may also have used recruitment agencies and one firm in particular still operates some micro-sites for schools. However, I suspect this may not be a cost effective solution, especially with free services such as TeachVac now being available.

Of course, there may be more ‘returners’ in English than in mathematics and that may help explain less concern over recruitment for teachers of English.

Hopefully, better recruitment onto courses preparing teachers of English in 2018 will make for a less challenging labour market in that subject for September 2019 and January 2020 vacancies. For mathematics, we must wait and see how many trainees were recruited and actually started courses this September.

One thing that is certain is that in 2019 there will once again be a shortage of teachers of business studies and probably shortages in a range of other subjects as well.

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Pay physics teachers more than history teachers?

The research report published today by the Education Policy institute (EPI) is an interesting addition to the cannon of literature on the issue of teacher shortages.  https://epi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/EPI-Teacher-Labour-Market_2018.pdf The major new component in ‘The Teacher Labour Market in England shortages, subject expertise and incentives’ is the consideration of where shortages are located on a local authority by local authority basis. The data comes from the 2016 School Workforce Census of 2016, so is now two years out of date.

Much of the basic issues around shortages have been covered by the Migration Advisory Committee, the School Teachers’ Review Body, the Education Select Committee, the National Audit Office and the range of publications from the DfE including their index of teacher shortages as well as previous publications from EPI. In that respect, the lack of a bibliography is something of a shortcoming in this report.

Indeed, missing from any analysis of shortages in the EPI report is a discussion of the relationship between the training market and the demand for teachers by schools. Are we training teachers where they are needed or are we, as a nation, training them where they are not needed? The supply of mathematics teachers is a case in point. As this blog has pointed out, there are more trainees in maths than in English, but the number of vacancies is roughly the same since the amount of curriculum time for each subject is roughly the same.

A quick look at TeachVac’s percentage of advertisements in maths and English for 2018 in just the South East region is revealing in their shares of the overall total.

Eng % maths%
Southampton 15% 21%
Reading 17% 19%
Hampshire 18% 16%
Slough 13% 16%
East Sussex 16% 15%
Medway 15% 15%
Brighton and Hove 11% 15%
Kent 11% 14%
Oxfordshire 9% 14%
Isle of Wight 14% 14%
Windsor and Maidenhead 8% 14%
Buckinghamshire 15% 14%
Milton Keynes 10% 12%
Surrey 10% 11%
Bracknell Forest 12% 11%
West Berkshire 16% 10%
West Sussex 17% 9%
Wokingham 21% 9%
Portsmouth 18% 8%
All South East 13% 13%
     

 

Now these numbers haven’t been corrected for re-advertisements, so there is some over-estimates.

The EPI conclusion that in many areas schools with a greater degree of deprivation among their school population have fewer teachers with degrees most closely connected to shortage subjects, is revealing, but not surprising. This was a tenant of the former Secondary School Curriculum and Staffing Surveys that the Department for Education and its predecessors used to use before the School Workforce Census to measure expertise among the workforce. How to teach Physics at ‘A’ level in schools where there is no teacher with a Physics degree is a real challenge for a fractured education system, where cooperation between schools is not encouraged. But, it is not a revelation. Indeed, the EPI study might have benefitted from looking at changes over time in the use of under-qualified teachers as the Migration Advisory Committee achieved in Table 4.19 of their 2017 Report.

Finally, the EPI solutions proposed   provide a real sense of deja vue. Salary supplements for working in challenging schools seems very like the ‘Schools of exceptional difficulty’ payments of the Heath government in the 1970s and schools can already pay recruitment and retention allowances to teachers in shortage subjects, but don’t seem to do so. However, they seem more willing to pay heads of department in shortage subjects more either through TLRs of offering posts on the Leadership Scale. This is an area EPI might like to investigate at some point in the future.

EPI did not consider the DfE’s CPD programme in mathematics that is trying to improve the qualifications of those already teaching the subject. Such an approach can be more helpful than salary supplements that pay teachers different amounts for performing the same subject. There would need to be an index of shortages and although it would be headed by Physics – where the country just doesn’t produce enough graduates – business studies would probably come next; a subject not mentioned by EPI.

 

 

 

 

Applications to train as a teacher still far too low for comfort

Let’s start with the good news: there isn’t going to be a shortage of PE teachers in 2019. Last month also saw some applications and acceptances for graduate teacher training courses. But, that’s about the good news that I can find from the latest UCAS data on applications and acceptances processed by mid-February 2018.

On the downside, a group of subjects are recording either new lows for February when compared with any cycle since the 2013/14 recruitment round or an equal joint low with the figure for February acceptances in the 2013/14 cycle that was the last really poor recruitment round. The list of subjects bumping along the bottom includes: Chemistry; IT; design & technology; mathematics; music; physics, religious education and art.

Applications for primary courses still remain a matter for serious concern, with just 26,430 applications compared with 39,240 in February 2016. Assuming around 2.5 applications per applicants that translates into less than 11,000 applicants for primary places. Acceptance rates amount to 7,320 for primary this February, compared with 10,910 at the same point two years ago in 2016. (Based upon place; conditionally placed and those holding an offer). The only spot of good news is that the number of offers being held is 1,020 this year for primary compared with 990 at this point in 2016. Nevertheless, with around 12,500 primary places to be filled by postgraduates, the current situation isn’t looking good.

Across the secondary courses, total applications of 27,910 are relatively in better shape than primary, since the fall from 2016 is only from 36,560 applications. As a result, applications for secondary courses continue to be above the total of applications for primary courses. However, there is little room for complacency as the following table relating to placed candidates and those holding offers in February and March of recent recruitment rounds for mathematics demonstrates.

Mathematics – the number of candidates accepted or holding offers in recent recruitment rounds

Recruitment round February March
2013/14 920 1140
2014/15 940 1110
2015/16 980 1290
2016/17 900 1160
2017/18 700

Source; UCAS monthly Statistics

In the 2011/12 recruitment cycle, before School Direct had been included in the UCAS process, applications totalled some 34,936 candidates at the February measuring point. This compares with 18,830 applicants domiciled in England recorded this February by UCAS; down from 24,700 in February 2017. Compared with recent years, applications are down from both men and women; all age-groups and from across the country. If there is a glimmer of hope, as noted earlier, it is in the fact that across both primary and secondary sectors the number of offers being held by applicants is above the level of February 2016, although not by any great number.

The DfE’s new TV campaign has now kicked in and, if targeted properly by the agency, this should help to attract some more applicants. However, between now and June, most final year undergraduates will be concentrating on their degrees and not filling in application forms. Hopefully, with the wider economy slowing, some older graduates might start to think teaching is once again a career to consider. This week’s bad news on the retail sector employment front could be good news for teaching, but I wonder how many store assistant are actually graduates?

 

Quality Assurance or Quality Control?

Just after 7am this morning I was telephoned by a researcher from BBC 5 Live to ask what I thought about the new ‘tables’ tests for Year 4 pupils? Not a great deal at that time of the morning was my first and honest thought. However, early morning phone calls are an occupational hazard for anyone prepared to make a comment on issues of public interest and that response wouldn’t do. Some calls of this nature develop into big stories and make headlines: others disappear onto the modern equivalent of the editor’s spike, either dumped or relegated to a footnote in a news bulletin.

Sometimes, you don’t get a call back, as promised, but a text message saying that the item isn’t proceeding either due to other stories taking precedence or some similar phrase, as happened this morning and you then wonder whether the point of view you expressed to the researcher was too similar to those everyone else was expressing and what they were looking for was a different view to balance the debate?

On the story about multiplication tests  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43046142 or ‘checks’ as they are being called, my view is that they should be scrutinised through the lens of whether they are a quality control or a quality assurance measure? If the former, then they are likely to be required of all teachers at the same time. The results then tell us on that day how well the age group are doing. We would possibly expect summer born children to do less well than those with a longer exposure to schooling and those that have remained in the same school to do better than those pupils that have already been subject to changing school one or more times. Pupils will a poor attendance record, for whatever reason, might also do less well.

A quality assurance check would allow the DfE to provide both an expected level but also to help teachers diagnose why those pupils that don’t reach the level expected fail to do so. The DfE might them provide some research into what will work with these pupils to help them reach the standard expected of most children at that point in their education. Such an approach, rich in a developmental approach aimed at helping the system, is more expensive than a simple check that will allow Ministers to blame failing schools and by implication their teachers through the medium of the Ofsted inspection.  If I was in charge of Ofsted, I might want to take the DfE to task for making the job of improving our school system a bit harder if it further reduced trust in the inspection system.

I guess that the DfE cannot afford to spend money on diagnostic tests and a simple pen and paper exercise to be marked by teachers in their own time looks more profitable in terms of political capital.

Take this new the test when a pupil is  ready; collect the data electronically and then let the results tell the DfE if their choice of Opportunity Areas is the correct one or whether key areas such as South East Oxford City have been consistently overlooked for intervention and extra resources? In this technological age, we need to harness the resources at our disposal to help both teachers and their pupils to learn effectively not just impose more burdens on everyone.

Thin gruel

With not much cash to give away plus an increasing school population to fund over the next few years, schools and education were always going to have to whistle for much more than a few handouts from the Chancellor’s budget. Especially after more than three-quarters of a billion pounds had been guaranteed to win the battle with Labour for the undergraduate student vote.

So, as predicted here over the weekend, re-training for 8,000 IT teachers was one of the education headlines. How the money is to be spent will affect recruitment from September 2018, with the bulk of the cash being spent between September 2019 and the summer of 2020. £85 million, not the £100million mentioned over the weekend, has been included in the Treasury Red Book. The mathematics bonus won’t come into effect until autumn 2019 and is so arranged that it is of no help to the funds of 11-16 schools. I wonder whether it will be paid on registrations or numbers taking and passing examinations, in which case it won’t be paid until the summer of 2021. The devil will be in the detail, but don’t start spending the cash anytime soon.

The other proposals for maths schools look embryonic and a bit last minute. The CPD bonus for some teachers is interesting, but will only buy around 3-4 days of input, unless some special deals can be arranged. If cover has to be included as well, then it will not even buy that amount of professional development: perhaps it will be on-line in a teacher’s spare time. In that case, will the teacher associations veto involvement as it would be seen as adding to a teacher’s workload? Will teaching schools; MATs; providers or the private sector administer the Scheme?

Personally, I would have placed an emphasis on adding to the maths knowledge and skills of primary school teachers where I think this extra money could have achieved the most good. But, at this level of funding it looks like mere window dressing whatever use is made of it.

The real disappointment is the lack of any further increase in school funding. I am surprised the Chancellor didn’t mention the School Vacancy Service as a means of saving school’s money: missed a trick there. Perhaps he didn’t believe that the ‘fingers crossed’ reference by the Permanent Secretary at The Public Accounts Committee was a strong enough commitment to actually achieving something really workable in 2018. Not to worry, TeachVac’s free service to schools and teachers is already doing the job for the government and at no cost to the Exchequer.

The lack of progress on pay needs to be remedied by an early Pay Review Report, because when the budget was in the spring it was late in the recruitment season for announcements to affect decision-making by teachers. A November budget may well prompt teachers ahead of the 2018 recruitment round to consider their future career moves. My advice to head teachers is to dust off the rules about recruitment and retention allowances as they offer a way around the pay problems for schools that have the cash.

 

 

TeachVac issues end of term warning

Schools across England will find recruiting staff for unexpected vacancies in January 2018 challenging. This is the message from TeachVac, the free to use job board for teacher vacancies across all schools in England that is already saving schools large sums of money in line with the DfE policy of reducing unnecessary expenditure by schools.

TeachVac is celebrating entering its fourth year of operation. At the end of the summer term of 2017, TeachVac have rated 7 of the 13 secondary subjects it tracks as in a critical state for recruitment. This means that TeachVac is warning schools of recruitment difficulties in these subjects that might occur anywhere in the country and not just in the traditional high risk areas for recruitment.

The high risk subjects are:

English

IT/Computing

Design & Technology

Business Studies

Religious Education

Music

Geography

In the other six subjects tracked in detail by TeachVac, most schools will still find recruitment easier, although any specific demands such as subject knowledge in, for example, a specific period of history will always make recruitment more of a challenge. On the basis of current evidence, TeachVac expects schools will face the least problems in Physical Education and Art where, if anything, there is still some local over-supply against need in some parts of the country.

In Science overall, – but not in Physics and possible Chemistry – Mathematics; Modern Languages overall, but not in certain language combinations, and in History, supply should still be adequate to meet expected demand between now and January 2018.  Because most schools still advertise for teachers of languages and science and only specify within the advert the more detailed requirements it takes longer to analyse the data on vacancies in these subjects and that information is not yet fully available beyond the headline figures.

TeachVac can provide the data in a form useful to schools facing Ofsted inspection where recruitment may be an issue for the inspection team. For local authorities and others interested in the recruitment patterns over the past three years in specific locations and between different types of school such as academies and free schools, TeachVac now has a wealth of data available. TeachVac is also now looking in detail as senior staff appointments and especially leadership posts in the primary sector and the challenges some schools face in replacing a head teacher when they leave. The outcome of that research will form the basis of a further detailed report to follow the posts already written on the topic.

With recruitment to training for courses starting this September still below the level achieved last year, 2018 is also beginning to look as if it will be a challenging recruitment round, especially for schools not involved in training teachers either directly or through tie-ins with other training providers. This blog will update the situation regarding numbers offered places for September at the end of this month and again at the end of August.

 

 

Good news on Mathematics teaching

Is the crisis in mathematics teaching over? According to the data in the 2016 School Workforce Census, if not over, then the problem is at least well on the way to being solved, if you use two important measures for the teaching workforce.

On the basis of the percentage of teachers with no relevant post A -Level qualification teaching the subject, the data for mathematics is the best for many years

2013 22.4%

2014 24.2%

2015 26.3%

2016 22.2%

The 2016 figure is a remarkable turnaround on the 2015 percentage and probably the largest single year change ever recorded. There are similar improvements across many other subjects, with only physics not really following the general trend.

2013 33.5%

2014 36.5%

2015 37.5%

2016 37.3%

The improvement in Physics is only a marginal 0.2% over last year and still far worse than in 2013, although the number of teachers has increased from 6,300 to 6,500, the best level for many years.

To triangulate the data it is worth also looking at the hours taught in a typical week to pupils in years 7 to 13 by teachers with no subject relevant post A-level qualification. This is the measure used last year by the Migration Advisory Committee in their seminal report. The data can be found in Table 13 of this year’s School Workforce Census.

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Maths 16 16 18 17 20 18 12.8
Physics 21 24 26 26 28 25 24.6
D&T 11 15 18 17 19 17 14.2
ICT 48 4 41 39 44 38 30.6
English 12 13 15 15 17 13 9.6
Geography 11 16 18 18 17 14 12.5
History 10 13 15 15 15 11 8.6
PE 9 11 12 11 11 7 4

Figures are percentages and come from Table 4.19 of the MAC Report and Table 13 of the 2016 School Workforce Census

So, apart from in Physics, not only has the percentage of teachers with minimal qualifications been reduced, but the percentage of hours taught by such teachers is also down.

However, before everyone becomes too euphoric and proclaims the end of the teacher supply crisis, it is worth noting these are for Qualified Teachers only. It is not clear what impact both the School Direct Salaried and Teach First schemes have on these numbers. The ability of schools to correctly complete the School Workforce Census must also be taken into consideration. Recruitment into training in 2016 and the job market in 2017 may have played a part in helping the improvement as may the work undertaken by the government in mathematics in upgrading the knowledge and skills base of those teaching mathematics.

Whatever the reasons, these figures show an improving trend, although one in eight hours in mathematics taught be a Qualified Teacher with not even an A-Level in the subject is still not good enough. The fact that almost a quarter of Physics lessons are taught by such teachers, let along the hours taught by unqualified and trainee teachers in the subject even after several years of generous bursaries is not a happy situation. It also raises the question of whether the government is paying generous training bursaries to teachers that end up outside of the State school system. If that is the case, a loan forgiveness scheme or even better salaries for teachers in the State system might be better alternatives.

The concern about recruitment into training in 2017 together with the rising secondary school population means that even if the 2017 School Workforce Census produces similar results to the 2016, the 2018 Census may show a return to more concerning outcomes. But, since that won’t be published until 2019 that’s a world away in politics.