The importance of soft skills and those that miss out

The report from the Social Mobility Commission on extra-curricular activities, soft skills and social mobility published today  https://www.gov.uk/government/news/extra-curricular-activities-soft-skills-and-social-mobility comes a decade after similar research, by the then DCSF, (Department of Children, Schools and Families) about schools that offered extended services, both before and after school. This research was conducted in the period before the age of austerity, and any large-scale use of breakfast clubs and food banks. I reported on the DCSF evidence for the TES in the ‘Stat of the Week’ column of 10th April 2009.

There are some striking similarities between the two reports. Today’s Social Mobility Commission report that is entitled ‘An Unequal Playing field’, and is based upon research conducted by the University of Bath, shows according to the press notice:

huge disparities in children’s participation rates across a wide range of extra-curricular activities depending on their social background. Children aged 10 to 15 from wealthier families are much more likely to take part in every type of activity especially music and sport.

The report looks at activities such as arts, music, sport, dance, voluntary work, and youth clubs. It shows that children’s participation in extra-curricular activities depends on the schools they attend; the area they are growing up and their socio-economic background.

As household income rises so does increased participation. Those from better-off families are also more likely to engage in a greater number of out of school activities. Children from the poorest families are 3 times more likely to not participate in any extra-curricular activities compared to those from wealthier families.

Some classes are expensive but there are other barriers for the less affluent. In some areas there are access difficulties – schools don’t provide the activities and local councils have cut back on their provisions for children and young people. Sometimes, however, children from disadvantaged backgrounds do not take part because they lack confidence or fear they will not fit in.

A decade ago, I wrote of the DCSF research that ‘pupils least likely to be using the facilities provided by extended schools are those from the more deprived groups.’ Seems little has changed here.

A decade ago the majority of activities offered through the extended school programme were after school activities, and I suspect that is this is still the case today. However, where before school activities were offered a decade ago, pupils were more likely to make use of them on more days of the week.

In 2009, I concluded that ‘the activities relating to having fun and socialising are the key activities of out-of-school activities’. The Social Mobility Commission chairman has concluded that

“It is shocking that so many children from poorer backgrounds never get the chance to join a football team, learn to dance or play music. The activity either costs too much, isn’t available or children just feel they won’t fit in. As a result they miss out on important benefits – a sense of belonging, increased confidence and social skills which are invaluable to employers. It is high time to level the playing field.”

But, how to level that playing field will be the challenge for the DfE, just as it was for DCSF a decade ago. Seems like not much progress, if any, has been made during the intervening years, and this is another casualty of austerity.

 

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Out of the shadows

Last evening I went to a truly wonderful concert at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock. Probably best known as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, the Blenheim estate has developed a range of different activities over the past few years including many musical events. Last night’s concert was not staged by some mega-star, in fact none of the musicians, singers and dancers were professionals at all.

In the splendid setting of the Palace’s library, the Oxfordshire County Music Service performed their Buddies at Blenheim concert. Last night’s concert brought a flavour of their show stopping performance delivered in the Royal Albert Hall last November as part of the Schools Prom season.

What make Buddies unique as a concert is the fact that the Buddies Ensemble and heart of the concert features a collaboration between pupils from the special schools across the county and pupils from a range of other schools.

Performing as one choir, the Buddy Ensemble sang three pieces, including one of their own composition. At the Royal Albert Hall there were nearly 600 young singers from Oxfordshire, last night the library could only accommodate some 50 or so to provide a taste of what the experience in London must have been for those lucky enough to witness it.

At the end of the evening the Buddy Ensemble joined many of the other young players, singers and dancers in a finale entitled ‘Love can build a bridge’. Not only was this sung, but it was also signed by the whole choir, and the chorus by the audience as well. A fitting end to a great evening.

Music has been an important part of the cultural life of our education system since at least the end of the Second World War. There have been times when it has been under threat; the early 1990s and during the recent period of austerity and the transfer of funding to schools from local government are just two such periods when it has faced great challenges. Oxfordshire has found a way to navigate these crises, and still flourish as a service under inspiring leadership, as the collaboration between pupils with SEND and others in the Buddy Ensemble so clearly demonstrated.

Apart from the wonderful and ground breaking work of the Buddy Ensemble, there was an excellent rendition of Corelli’s Concerto Grosso op 6 No 2 in F Major that was exactly suited to the setting of the library, especially for those of us fortunate enough to be placed directly in front of the musicians. The Oxfordshire Youth Flute Choir also provided a superb performance of the Overturn to the Barber of Seville by Rossini, played on a range of different flutes. But it is invidious to select these examples from a night of wonderful music and ground-breaking originality that show cased the best of the youth of Britain.

On Friday evening, in another wonderful setting of Dorchester Abbey, there will be an end of term concert. But both before then and for long after the bringing of the pupils in our special schools out of the shadows and into the light must be the abiding memory of what education can achieve.

 

More about Middle Leaders

In the previous post, I discussed the issue of how many new entrants to teaching this September were likely to end up as a middle leader, and whether the supply pipeline was sufficient to meet the likely needs of schools. Since the DfE now provide a useful compendium of statistics from the Teacher Workforce Census, it is possible to look back and compare the data in the previous post with what might be happening this year, based upon the number of NQTs entering service from the 2014 cohort, including late entrants.

ITT 2014 ITT 2018
Subject Revised % as HoDs Revised % as HoDs
Design & Technology 16% 75%
Art & Design 28% 57%
Business Studies 33% 153%
Drama 38% 72%
Religious Education 53% 85%
Computing 72% 89%
Music 83% 126%

Source: TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk

The cohort of 2014 were the first cohort where real evidence of a potential teacher supply crisis was beginning to emerge during the period when they were applying for teacher preparation courses , during 2013 and the first nine months of 2014.

As the table reveals, the number of new entrants in 2104 was generally sufficient to provide for a pipeline of middle leaders for 2019. However, even in music and to a certain extent in computing, that had a poor year for recruitment that year, there would have been signs of possible difficulties, had anyone wanted to look for them. Music is an interesting subject, since most departments are small and many teachers are forced into leadership roles as middle leaders quite early in their careers, as well as conducting orchestras, managing jazz ensembles and probably handling one or more choirs.

The real turnaround is in the vocational subject areas, such as business studies and design and technology, where recruitment into teaching has really fallen away since the end of the recession and the downward trend in unemployment rates. Whereas just 16% of the 2014 design and technology NQTs might be expected to be a middle leader after five years, this has increased to 75% of the 2018 trainees that are likely to be expected to take on middle leadership roles.

Fortunately, there were a few years of good to adequate recruitment that will allow some slack from which to provide the necessary supply of heads of department. However, the longer the crisis in ITT recruitment continues, the more there will be a crisis in middle leadership at some point in the 2020s.

As the IAC said in 1991, and I quoted in an earlier post, remuneration in teaching does need to keep pace with the rest of the economy if there are to be enough teachers. It is not good enough just for some head teachers and officers in some MATs to pay themselves market competitive salaries and for the government to ignore the pay and conditions of everyone else in teaching and other jobs in schools.

Also, as I warned in an earlier post, if potential applicants expect lower tuition fees, and don’t see that happening in the autumn, will they hold back their application this autumn in an expectation of lower fees at some point in the future?

UK Music Talent pipeline concerns

UK Music, is the industry-funded body established in October 2008 to represent the collective interests of the recorded, published and live arms of the British music industry.

To quote from their website, UK Music promotes the interests of record labels and music publishers (major and independent), songwriters, composers, lyricists, musicians, managers, producers, promoters, venues and collection societies through collective representation. https://www.ukmusic.org/about/

At the Liberal Democrat Conference this week UK Music published a pamphlet entitled ‘Securing our talent pipeline’ https://www.ukmusic.org/news/securing-our-talent-pipeline

As they acknowledge, the UK music industry is doing well at present. It grew by 6 per cent last year and is now worth £4.4 billion to the economy with the live music industry contributing around £1 billion. However, that is exactly the time to reflect on the future.

UK Music say that while the immediate outlook is promising, there is growing evidence of a looming crisis in the music industry’s talent pipeline – a pipeline that they rely on for future stars and one that is a vital part of their industry’s eco-system.

Schools form an important part of developing that talent pipeline, so I thought I would take a look at the evidence from TeachVac, the vacancy site for teachers where I am chair of the board. www.teachvac.co.uk about recruitment and the supply of teachers of music.

The headline statistic is that music in our schools, as a classroom taught subject, is more of a shortage subject than mathematics. Sadly, TeachVac doesn’t keep data on instrumental and other specialist music teaching at this point in time.

Despite cuts to the curriculum in state funded schools, there have been more than 600 vacancies for main scale classroom teachers recorded so far in 2018 by TeachVac. This is slightly down on the 632 vacancies recorded by this point in 2017, but not significantly so. The previous two years, 2015 and 2016 recorded around the 550 vacancies mark by this point in September.

Allowing for better coverage in 2017 and 2018 by TeachVac, there doesn’t seem yet to have been a collapse in demand for classroom teachers of music. However, there are significant regional differences. Around half of the vacancies recorded in 2018 were from secondary schools in either London or the South East, the regions with the largest concentration of independent schools and the best funded state schools. Relatively few vacancies have been recorded from schools in the North East so far in 2018.

The real cause of any shortage of teachers of music is the failure of the DfE to attract enough trainee teachers of music over the past few years, and especially for entry into teacher preparation courses in 2017. Last September, the DfE estimate in the Teacher Supply Model was for 409 music teachers; 295 were recruited according to their census of trainees. This year, by the middle of August, potential trainee numbers were slightly below the same period in 2017 and on target for around 280 trainees overall.

Allowing for failure to complete for various reasons, this means the number of new entrants in 2019 could be in the range of 250-275 for the 4,000 or so secondary schools across England. Turnover would need to be as low as five per cent to ensure sufficient new entrants, even assuming the distribution across the country was as required: an unlikely situation.

So, music may well be a subject of concern in 2019 and UK Music are right to worry about the long-term consequences for their industry and the UK Economy.

 

 

 

A sigh of relief

The UCAS data on postgraduate applications to train as a teacher as recorded for May appeared today. The combination of the arrival of offers affected by the Easter holidays plus the addition of almost an extra week of data compared with last year means the government can breathe a small sigh of relief. On the evidence of this data meltdown has been averted for 2018, except perhaps in music, religious education, design and technology and probably physics.

Overall applicant numbers have recovered to 29,890 in England, still down on last year, despite the extra days and some 10% down on May 2016 applicant numbers, but it could have been worse. The decline is still national in scope, with all regions recording lower applicant numbers than in 2016. The almost 3,000 fewer applicants than last year are also spread across the age groups, although the loss is probably greatest among early career changers in their mid to late 20s. This fact shows up in the further reduction in the number of ‘placed’ applicants compared with those with either ‘conditional firm’ places or ‘holding offers’. By domicile region of applicants, ‘placed’ applicants are down from 2,330 last year to 1,890 this May. In London, ‘placed’ applicants are down from 380 to just 300.  Of course, over the next few months the ‘placed’ number will increase as ‘conditionally placed’ applicants receive their degrees and complete any other requirements needed to move them into the ‘placed’ category.

All routes, apart from applications to secondary SCITTs, have been affected by the reduction in applications. Primary courses have lost more than 6,000 applicants compared with last year and numbers ‘placed’ only just exceed 1,000, with fewer than 10,000 applicants with ‘conditional places’ and a further 700 holding offers. In total, this is barely more than 11,000 potential trainees and marks the continued downward trend for the primary sector.

In the secondary sector, SCITTS have attracted just a couple of hundred more applications than this point last year, but that must be regarded as a success. Applications to School Direct Salaried courses have nearly halved over the past two years, although whether that is a drop in applicants or a decline in interest in this route on the part of schools isn’t clear from this data. At this rate there will be fewer than 1,000 secondary trainees with a salary come September (leaving aside those on Teach First).

Looking at some of the individual secondary subjects, music has just 200 possible applicants with offers of any type, compared with 260 in May 2017. Design and Technology is down to only ten ‘placed’ applicants compared with 30 in May 2017. Even in mathematics, numbers placed or holding offers is little more than 1,500; a new low for May in recent times.

Finishing on a good note, English is doing relatively well, with 1,640 offers, although that still isn’t enough to meet the Teacher Supply Number of just over 2,500 trainees.

Overall, perhaps the sigh of relief might only be a small one at the moment. Let’s hope for better times next month as new graduates that haven’t done anything about a job while studying start to decide how to spend their future.

 

Hymns and Schools

What better way for a writer of an education blog to spend Christmas Day than to recall some of the Victorian hymns that feature schools and education, either in their title or the actual words. However, research hasn’t yet yield up a ‘carol’ with a direct school reference.

In 1829 there appeared in the USA, ‘Hark, the infant school bell’s ringing’ by a Miss M. J. and composed for Infant school Number 1. This appeared in the aptly named ‘The infant School and Nursery Hymn Book, published in New York as long ago as 1831.

Of course, it is necessary to winnow out the much larger collection of hymns about Sunday, or as the Americans seem to call them Sabbath Schools, when seeking for those hymns about schools as more general education establishments. However, it is worth recalling the debt that the development of education has paid to those that started the ‘Sunday School’ movement more than two centuries ago.

Hymns about schools in general, and especially schools for younger children capable of instruction, appeared throughout the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, especially in the USA. Some of their first lines included:

Lord and Saviour, true and kind

We build our school on thee, O Lord

To infant school. To infant school

Dear God, a school day

Gracious God, our heavenly father, meet and bless our school

How we love our infant school

The bell rings for school

Our youthful hearts for learning burn – with the third verse starting ‘Our teachers are so very kind, We love to go to school.’ This hymn appeared in hymn books up to the 1930s.

Henry James Buckoll an assistant master at Rugby School was responsible for two of the more enduring hymns relating to the school year: ‘Lord dismiss us with thy blessing’ and ‘Lord, behold us with Thy blessing, Once again assembled here’. I am not sure what new pupils made of the reference to ‘once again’, but perhaps it was the schools as an entity and not the pupil as a person Buckoll was writing about.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the large number of Church of England and Roman Catholic primary schools in England, not to mention the remaining few Methodist primary schools around the country, there appears to be little specifically written hymns for these pupils to sing in modern hymn books.

Like other popular songs, hymns appear to go out of fashion, although at Christmas the staples of O Cone all ye Faithful; Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Silent Night; O little town of Bethlehem; Away in a manger and while shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seem to come around every year.

So, festive best wishes to both regular readers of this blog and those that have alighted on this festive post. May 2018 be a wonderful year for you wherever you are reading this Christmas epistle.

 

 

 

 

 

Supporting music for young people

Over the weekend I attended two charity events in the music world. In many ways they were a microcosm of society today and reflected some ofthe wide divisions even in a city such as Oxford. Saturday’s event was in aid of The Young Women’s Music Project (YWMP). This is an  educational charity that is described in their own words as offering twice-monthly free workshops for women aged 14-21, which provide an inclusive and supportive space for young women to make music together, learn new skills, express themselves, and grow in confidence.  In their music workshops, they make and record music, plan and hold gigs and events, and discuss relevant issues affecting young people. YWMP is trans inclusive.

YWMP also brings cutting-edge projects, gigs, exhibitions and talks to Oxford in high profile institutions such as Modern Art Oxford, the Ashmolean Museum, and the Pitt Rivers Museum, in partnerships with hospitals, schools, and organizations for vulnerable young people such as VIP+ and Readipop. The projects helps young people to challenge issues affecting them in a creative and productive way, such as class, race, sexuality, gender, mental health, and consent. Their web site can be found at: http://www.ywmp.org.uk/about

YWMP’s event was a supper evening in Silvie, a bakery café on Oxford’s Iffley Road. (https://www.facebook.com/Silvie-1089930287738590/) and included poetry and music from some of the young women the charity has helped. This is a small scale charity working with many young women for whom music can matter, where creating performing or supporting on the technical side. The last is a space still mainly occupied by men.

Sunday night’s venue was on the other side of the city at Lincoln College. The college were hosts of a concert by young, and in one case very young, musicians sponsored by the charity, Awards for Young Musicians. This charity aims to help by supporting those with a talent for music, but not the financial wherewithal to be able to develop their potential. Three musicians with a collective age of just 37 and supported by the charity entertained the invited audience with a variety of classical music pieces. One of the players lives on the Isle of Wight and travels every Saturday to the Royal College of Music, a roundtrip of seven hours every Saturday, and this on top of his practice time. (www.a-y-m.org.uk). A different audience, two very different settings, but a common theme.

Both charities are well worthy of support and are trying to keep alive the great tradition of music for all our young people and not to restrict it just to those whose families can afford it. Music was one of the great success stories of the post 1944 Education Act world in which I received my education. However, ever since the 1990s, music in schools has been under an increasing threat of being marginalised. This is despite the recognition of the importance of the arts in schools that occurred when the National Curriculum was first introduced.

The present utilitarian Philistines of Sanctuary Buildings that have devised the EBacc seemingly have no real feeling for the arts in schools. The loss of cash to local authorities in favour of schools and academies has also not done music any favours, as disorganised MATs and stand- alone academies are more of challenge to persuade to work together on developing extra-curricular activities in areas such as music than in the days when the value of central funding for music services was fully recognised as a valuable part of State education in England. Hence, today, the importance of charities such as the two highlighted here. There are, of course, many others. But, if you are interested in supporting music for young people these are two I am happy to commend to your attention.