Local authorities have a role to play in education

For several decades, successive Labour and tory governments lambasted local authorities for spending too much on central office costs and depriving schools of cash. There were even those in Mr Gove’s time in office that may have believed that all money not handed to schools was money wasted. Now I read in a new report from Ofsted on an Oxfordshire secondary school that:

‘Directors of the multi-academy company have failed to ensure that leaders had enough capacity during and since the subsequent restructuring to bring about necessary improvements at the school.’

Presumably they felt more money should have been spent on additional leadership capacity at the MAT because Ofsted went on to say

The principal of the school is now accountable for six primary schools in the MAT. In the autumn term, she provided interim leadership for one of the schools, following the departure of its headteacher, reducing leadership capacity at the secondary school further. Poor strategic leadership by the MAT has contributed to the decline in the overall effectiveness of the school.

This faces head-on the issue I have raised in this blog before. Can we afford these small MATs with expensive overheads when funding for schools is under pressure and salaries are being held down below inflation for all except those that it is still open to negotiate their own salary increases should they wish to.

Reading the Ofsted report on this secondary school in the MAT is like reading a review of the worst of the former inadequate local authorities. In this case, the worst of the diocesan behaviour also seems to have been present, since it the MAT is entirely comprised of church schools.

It must now be clear that MATs are no longer the guarantee of success that those who dreamed them up believed they would be. They can be costly drains on school resources with insufficient economies of scale and no democratic accountability.

Why did the parents at this school have to wait for Ofsted. In the past they could have lobbied their local councillor and no doubt kicked the councillor out if nothing had happened. I know that there were, and probably still are, ‘rotten boroughs’ where councillors are always certain of election if they belong to the right Party, but most in my experience do a good job for their residents even in those circumstances.

Can we afford to spend millions of pounds on ineffective MATs and some of the other new ideas of the past decade when funding for schools is under pressure? Readers will know of TeachVac, now probably offering more teacher vacancies on one site than any other job board or website, and for free. The success of TeachVac demonstrates what can be achieved in driving down costs to effectively fund teaching and learning. Diseconomies of scale have the opposite effect.

If local authorities retain the oversight of children’s safety, they should also retain the oversight of their education by the State within their local area and the next government should finally recognise that point. At present the system doesn’t work and, as this Ofsted report demonstrated, there are risks that it can even be harmful to children. Such a situation cannot be allowed to continue.





Why do head teachers leave?

The Daily Telegraph’s education editor rang me to this evening to ask this question ahead of some research to be published by NfER tomorrow. Normally, the most common reason for the departure of a head teacher is retirement, often after about ten years in post. This stands to reason in view of the age at which most heads are appointed. There are rare examples of heads appointed young staying for a quarter of a century or even longer, but that isn’t the norm.

In the primary sector, another key reason for departure is to move from the headship of a small school to a larger one. That happens as well in the secondary sector, but I suspect less often, although a study I did some years ago suggested that the schools with the highest ratings often appointed existing heads when they had a vacancy, preferring experience over other possible qualifications.

The big change since 2010, and the Academies Act, has been the formation of MATs and the creation of many more executive head or CEO posts filled by existing head teachers moving into these newly created roles. That will have created a temporary increase in departures and probably reduced the average length of service of head teachers. However, I suspect that many converter academies didn’t change heads on becoming an academy, other schools may have parted company with their head when joining a MAT, whether forced to do so or not.

Ofsted, and before that HMI, have always played an important role in determining the fate of a head teacher. A poor inspection outcome has almost always seen the departure of the head. Indeed, before inspections became commonplace, I suspect local authorities sometimes triggered an inspection as a means of removing a head they were concerned about.

I would guess that as concerns about workload and morale have increased across the profession there will have been an increase in heads leaving, just as there have been in classroom teachers. But, head shave always had heavy workloads, especially those that also have a substantial teaching load.

Apart from becoming executive heads, there are other roles heads looking for a new challenge can look undertake, including looking to lead an international school or taking on a consultancy role. However, there will be few moving into local authority administration: a popular route in the past.

What is as important as the departure is when it is announced. The key period for head teacher recruitment is January to March. Outside that period schools can often struggle to find a replacement for a departing head teacher. As this blog has noted before, any schools that differs from the norm is likely to find recruiting a new head teacher a challenge. The greater the number of variables where the school differs from the typical, the greater the recruitment challenge as some diocese have found over the decades I have been studying the labour market for head teachers.



Preparation for school teachers is good or outstanding

Ofsted’s latest assessment of the provision of preparation courses for teachers of children of compulsory school age has rated the providers inspected as either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/initial-teacher-education-inspections-and-outcomes-as-at-30-june-2016 Only one primary ITT course, in its final stages of operation, was rated less well on an initial inspect, but had improved when re-inspected later in the year.

Of the primary courses inspected, 45% were rated as ‘outstanding’ and 55% as ‘good’. Secondary courses were rated, 33% outstanding and 67% ‘good. Joint primary/secondary courses were 53% ‘outstanding’ and 47% ‘good’. In view of the challenges some secondary courses face with recruiting trainees, and the consequent issues over funding, this must be regarded as a very satisfactory outcome for the sector.

The data only covers HEIs, SCITTS and for the first time, Teach First. This report doesn’t cover trainees not in a partnership. However, the message for Ministers is that courses preparing primary school teachers are performing well and those preparing secondary teachers are god with some outstanding provision. With the low numbers now on so many secondary courses, this finding is not surprising as it is challenging to create an outstanding provision on limited resources. To that extent, a base number of places larger than allocated to many providers would probably push up the number of outstanding outcomes. Nevertheless, five HEIs, 3 SCITTs and 3 Teach First regions inspected did manage to achieve an ‘outstanding’ rating for their secondary provision. The remainder were rates as ‘good’. The overall classification doesn’t identify the classification for individual secondary subjects so, without drilling down into the inspection reports, it is impossible to discover whether certain subjects were more likely to receive ‘outstanding’ ratings than others and, thus, whether the mix of provision affected the outcome for some of the secondary provision.

I am sure that Teach First will be very pleased with the mostly ‘outstanding’ gradings they received this year. However, as a programme it has to demonstrate not only high quality preparation but also rates of retention that do not require additional trainees to be hired to meet a greater than average loss to the profession in the years after obtaining QTS.

The outcomes for the Early Years and FE provision inspected in the past year by Ofsted were more mixed. Apart from one FE provider there was little evidence of ‘outstanding’ provision in these two sectors and some providers were of concern when first inspected, although no inadequate provision was seen in these inspections.

To move any more of the training away from HEIs or SCITTs into other forms of provision really does now need evidence that the provision is not just as good, but is also superior in outcomes to that which it replaces. The limited nature of some HEI and SCITT provision that now remains means that to locate more places away from these providers into schools must only be on the back of evidence that the provision will not be materially affected by any reduction in places available.


As some readers may know, TeachVac, the free to use recruitment site for schools, teachers, trainees and returners to teaching, has its operational base on the Isle of Wight. I was, therefore, disgusted to read of the comments by the Chair of Ofsted about the islanders. The comments themselves don’t dignify with repeating, but I am firmly of the opinion that Mr Hoare, the Ofsted chairman, having made the remarks at a public event should now do the decent thing and resign in line with the principles of public life he presumably accepted when offered his appointment.

This does not mean that there should be an unwillingness to confront some of the deep-seated issues within schooling on the Island that go back many years. The Tory government in the early 1970s was probably wrong to create a single unitary council for the Island and not instead to enforce closer working with Hampshire or even Dorset. The island may have made an unfortunate choice in opting for the three tier school system when creating a comprehensive school system. It probably fitted the use of buildings best of any system but, along with other councils that opted for such systems, they weren’t to know that changes in the way teachers were trained for secondary schools, away from undergraduate courses and towards a one-year PGCE, may not have helped provide sufficient teachers willing, able, properly trained and motived to work in ‘middle schools’, especially the 9-13 middle schools in use on the Isle of Wight.

These middle schools eventually also faced challenges finding head teachers willing to run what were increasingly isolated pockets of such schools, a fact pointed  out in some of the annual reports that I complied about the leadership market for NAHT and from time to time ASCL as well.

Then there is the issue of location. Much has been made in recent years of the challenges of coastal schools. In practice, this really means more isolated schools wherever they are, but the issue was first noticed in relation to coastal schools with a more limited hinterland than other schools. The Island has a limited travel to work area and that can restrict recruitment as can the very nature of being an island and the extra time it takes to reach the mainland.

The fact that all of these issues are well known makes Mr Hoare’s comments even more unforgivable, if he said what has been reported.

TeachVac is proud to be located on the Isle of Wight and has employed some excellent staff since we started operations just over two years ago. The company will continue to put its faith in the Island as a location and I join in on the call on Mr Hoare to resign. Whatever the reason for his remarks, they were uncalled for and should not have been made.


Mr Hoare resigned on the 23rd August 2016 just over two weeks after his remarks became public knowledge.

What is a CEO worth?

Are salaries paid to the heads of some multi-academy trusts too high, as Sir Michael Wilshaw might seem to think  from the tone of his letter to the Secretary of State or perhaps actually too low for the level of responsibility that they have to undertake. What is clear is that executive heads and chief executives of MATS do seem to think they deserve to earn more than those they manage. This seems like a sound business principle, but is it really?

There is another principle that relates pay to the nature of the work. Is taking the strategic lead in an organisation more important than running an operating unit such as a school? This is a moot point. Perhaps, the justification is that you need good talent and such individuals won’t be prepared to step up from headship without a pay rise. I would have some sympathy if the job had been offered at a lower salary first, but all too often it isn’t: in some cases it isn’t even put out to open competition just decided internally within the MAT. Can that ever be the right thing to do with public money?

With head teachers often subject to dismissal if a school fails an Ofsted inspection, does the same happen to executive heads and CEOs of MATs? If not, why not? We shall no doubt see what happens in response to this Ofsted Report.

Now the alternative view is that in London, at least, middle managers in businesses not much larger than the average primary school in staffing terms can earn six figure salaries and their CEOs even higher amounts and both groups can have bonus payments and share options on top that will pay out handsomely if the company does well. Should schools be competing with these salary levels?

I note that in response to Sir Michaels’ letter to the Secretary of State he pulls no punches. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/506718/HMCI__advice__note_MAT_inspections____10_March_2016.pdf The letter to Mrs Morgan says:

“This poor use of public money is compounded by some trusts holding very large cash reserves that are not being spent on raising standards.

“For example, at the end of August 2015, these seven trusts had total cash in the bank of £111m.

“Furthermore, some of these trusts are spending money on expensive consultants or advisers to compensate for deficits in leadership. Put together, these seven trusts spent at least £8.5m on education consultancy in 2014-15 alone.”

Now, this blog has complained in the past about schools holding large cash reserves that should be spent on teaching and learning. One might also ask, what the Regional School Commissioners have been doing in holding academies to account.

Finally, there are currently 151 local authorities in England with a Director responsible for education. In most cases they have other responsibilities as well. If each were paid £200,000 – more than they actually are – the bill would be just over £30 million before overheads. If 18,000 schools were formed into MATs of 20 schools that would be 900 CEOs. If they were paid only £100,000 each the bill would be £90 million. You can do the maths if there are more MATs and higher salaries.

Personally, I thought we were in an age of austerity and I set up TeachVac to offer a low cost option for recruitment to allow more money to be spent on teaching and learning. Frankly, this Report is disappointing news and I hope that there is an urgent review of salaries in education outside of those set by the STRB for teachers and school leaders. We need some clarity of purpose in the use of public funds.


Fig leaf look a bit threadbare

It didn’t take long for the national press to take up the issue of teacher supply in 2016. The Observer, a paper that has carried several stories about teacher supply over the past few months, including covering my evidence to the Select Committee in last Sunday’s edition, has highlighted the concerns of Sir Michael Wilshaw about recruitment in coastal and deprived areas expressed in his annual report. The reporters also highlight Labour’s issues with the DfE statistics, including both the inclusion of Teach First numbers being included in the annual census of trainees and the presentation of vacancy numbers based on data collected in November. http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/02/ofsted-row-ministers-extent-teacher-shortages-michael-wilshaw

As Sir Michael Wilshaw demonstrated in his last annual report, even the DfE figures, collected at the most favourable time of the year, have been going in the wrong direction over the past few years. It is not the fault of civil servants that the only data they collect comes from a census taken in November, but the fig leaf that this provides Ministers with now looks ever more threadbare.

How can you operate a National Teaching Service if you do not know the annual demand from schools for teachers? I am interested to know if anyone has yet seen the parameters for the working of this service. As schools are already recruiting for September 2016, if the government doesn’t enable the service soon it will have an even more challenging first year of operation than might be necessary.

Who does the government have that is capable of running such a service anyway? How much will they pay the teachers; will they only recruit existing teachers, perhaps from Teach First; will it just be secondary schools offered such teachers or will primary and special schools be included; will such teachers be offered only to academies or will all schools be able to bid for such teachers? Who knows, if you do please let me know where I can find out the details.

If the Observer didn’t actually talk to Sir Michael before writing their story, but just based it on comments in his annual report, they might want to ask him about progress at GCSE in areas where recruitment is challenging. TeachVac’s preliminary investigation of 2015 GCSE 5A*-Cs results including English and mathematics, compared with 2014, suggest that in London more schools performed less well in 2015 than 2014 than did better. Now, nationally, there was an overall decline of half a per cent in this figures, so some schools doing worse than last year was to be expected. The fact that overall more schools did in London worse raises questions about whether teacher supply problems might have contributed to the outcomes, even if schools have tried to protect examination classes.

Of course, since the DfE don’t believe there is a crisis in teacher supply anywhere in the country they will have to come up with a different explanation if it is true school performance in London has faltered compared with some other parts of England.

Grammar schools do not have a monopoly on good order and discipline

The piece by Sir Michael Wilshaw in today’s Daily telegraph goes a long way to explain why I started life as a Liberal and became a founder member of the Liberal Democrats. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11828052/Sir-Michael-Wilshaw-Any-head-worth-their-salt-should-stand-up-and-ban-mobiles.html

It is not that I am against his basic tenant that schools needed to be places of order and control, where every student is both encouraged and able to develop to the best of their abilities. Indeed, I do think that the degree of order and control expected in schools should be ingrained in pupils so as to extend beyond the school gates to include the manner in which young people go to and from school and I would certainly ban mobile phones from any classroom where I was a teacher.

Rather my concerns are that the Chief inspector seems to equate the ideal standards of behaviour with grammar schools and by inference at least that teachers in other state schools have lower standards that Ofsted must inspect out of existence.

I am not sure what the business editor the Daily telegraph thought if he read the piece over his cornflakes, but I wonder if he will get a call from the CBI on Tuesday asking where the skills businesses want such as self-reliance and confidence sit in the Wilshaw world of pupils sitting in serried rows and bowing and scraping whenever an adult enters the classroom. As a teacher I never say the point of that unless the person entering was a really distinguished visitor. As the doors were at the back of the room, any class I was teaching didn’t notice a visitor until they were well into the room anyway, by which time standing up waste just a waste of time. Presumably Michael Wilshaw would make the wearing of academic gowns mandatory to distinguish teachers from teaching assistants and other support staff, even though they are all vital members of the team in a school.

In the grammar school I attended there were lots of examples of behaviour Michael Wilshaw won’t accept. At one point the sixth form excluded a teacher from a lesson by lining up the desks between the window and the door to prevent him entering; leaving him stranded in the corridor. At another time pupils set fire to waste bins in the playground. On the other hand the school had an outstanding record for drama and sport. I don’t know what HMI thought of the school because in those days reports weren’t made public; publication only started in the 1980s.

In my experience, as a pupil, a teacher and teacher trainer, it is the quality of the staff that makes a school. That is the reason why I spend so much time worrying about teacher supply. We need teaching to be a profession of choice that attracts high quality staff at all levels. It is in schools with poor quality staff that the invisible line between order and chaos edges ever closer to chaos. The same happens when teacher turnover in a school rises too quickly, as often happens when there are teacher shortages and plenty of job opportunities.

Mr Wilshaw is right to remind us that not all learning is fun, but wrong to select the examples he chooses. I recall a great lesson by one of my students teaching tables with a beanbag being thrown around the class. Answer the question and you got the chance to ask the next one to another pupil. I guess you can do the same with computers today and monitor where pupils regularly don’t give the correct answer. It was a stimulating learning experience and the pupils knew their tables.

If the Daily Telegraph piece is part of the Tory attempt to bring back grammar schools, then they should think again. The world has moved a long way from that of the 1940s even if the Conservatives haven’t. Education is a right for all and not the privilege for the few.