Not a bribe, but a gift or Scholarship?

It is difficult to know what to call the payments to teachers of mathematics and physics in parts of the north of England and the Opportunity Areas, announced by the DfE today.

As the DfE make clear in their announcements, these payments are neither part of a teacher’s salary nor an allowance, as they don’t require either the teacher receiving the cash or the employer to pay either National Insurance or tax and presumably are not part of pensionable pay. I am not sure how HM Treasury regards this handout that has similar characteristics to the bounty paid to reservists with the forces.

Paying someone just for teaching specific subjects in particular geographical areas might have unintended consequences. There are some great schools in Harrogate, one of the areas included in the scheme, and I haven’t noticed that the schools in that area have any more challenges recruiting that do schools in London boroughs, so might we see a flight from London to teach mathematics in the Yorkshire Dales and Wolds. Interestingly, the Lake District and deprived Cumbrian Coast is not included in the list of qualifying local authorities. Surely an oversight?

This scheme looks like a blunter form of the Mrs Thatcher’s Schools of Exceptional Difficulty payments of the early 1970s, although that cash went to all teachers in the qualifying schools, but not to other staff.

How biologist and chemists teaching physics at Key Stage 3 will feel about this payment that they won’t receive unless they have the appropriate academic qualification in the subject, even if they have undertaken considerable professional development, is, no doubt, something the teacher associations will have to discuss with their members. Such teachers cannot just stop teaching physics, since head teachers can require staff to teach any subject where timetabling or other reasons require them to do so.

Making this announcement on EU election day does make it seem a bit like a Jo Moore story, one to be buried in the middle of a lot of announcements on a busy news day – the announcements were 12th and 13th down the list issued by the DfE this morning, although The Times newspaper, did carry the story today, so presumably the press was forewarned.

By not making this a salary supplement, the DfE presumably hopes to head off the question of equal pay for work of equal worth from other teachers working alongside the lucky recipients. I suspect head teachers will also want to ensure they can claim for these payments and not have to pay out of existing budgets. There was no mention in either of the government announcements about the mechanics of the scheme other than the statement that ‘details about the application process and the first year payment process will be available soon.’

TeachVac will monitor trends in vacancies for teachers of physics and mathematics and report any changes seen. However, the way the scheme will be organised it should not have much immediate impact on the labour market.



Trainees needed, even in the North East

Yesterday The Guardian carried an article about the impending teacher shortage that was kind enough to quote some figures from the research I have undertaken. You can read the full article at  Various BBC local radio stations have picked up on the story, and I am once again being asked to do interviews down the phone. In preparing for the one on Radio Tess tomorrow morning I thought I would check the position in the North East regarding the number of teacher preparation courses still with vacancies as of today by looking at the UCAS web site. It is irritating that whereas the DfE site last year showed the number of places, and the number still available, UCAS this year only shows whether the provider has a vacancy at present or not.

Anyway, the depressing news for a region that usually has no problem filling its ITT places is that apart from in History, PE, and some modern foreign languages, there are still a considerable number of providers with at least one vacancy in many other subjects. For instance 16/17 providers of places in geography have at least one vacancy: only Newcastle University has the course full sign up in this subject. That’s actually down from both universities offering places in geography that were full last time I looked a couple of weeks ago. In Mathematics, 30 out of the 38 providers still have places, and in Physics it is 23 out of 24! Even in primary, where I would have expected in most years all places to have been long filled, and there to be unofficial waiting lists, this year, 46 of the 95 providers offering graduate training courses for intending primary teachers are still showing vacancies. Of course, that might only be 46 vacancies out of several hundred places, but surely there shouldn’t be any vacancies nine weeks before the courses actually start.

No doubt the review by Sir Peter Carter that is currently under way will take cognisance of this type of data, and want to report on what is hampering recruitment this year, for we really cannot experience another year likes this next year.

Sadly, it is probably too late to do anything about most unfilled places this year as schools approach the start of the long summer break.  Nevertheless, Ministers will have to answer some challenging questions come the autumn if the current figures turn out to be the reality of the recruitment round.

In the past, the DfE has tended to treat a year once over as a disappointment, but no more, if places are not filled. I doubt that commentators will be as forgiving of any shortfall against training numbers this year as we have so many extra pupils to find teachers for during the coming decade, as the Guardian article made clear.

It is too soon to decide whether one type of programme has fared worse than another, but there may well be a debate about this once the final figures are known in the autumn.