Increasing Science Teacher Capacity

The Gatsby Foundation has continued its contribution to the debate about how to solve the shortage of science teachers with a new pamphlet entitled: ‘Increasing the Quantity and Quality of Science Teachers in Schools: Eight evidence-based principles’. The on-line version can be found at: http://www.gatsby.org.uk/uploads/education/increasingscienceteachers-web.pdf

Although the document is primarily about science teachers, it has some generally applicable points that can apply to some other subjects as well. However, it is a bit potentially limited in its application in places, in that it doesn’t seemingly put the points into any order and it doesn’t discuss what might be the best scenario if some of the suggestions are impossible to implement. Take the second suggestion of ‘Providing Stable Teaching Assignments’ where the document suggests that:

‘Heads of Science should consider increasing the stability with which teachers are assigned to specific year groups. This may be particularly valuable in science departments that do not have enough staff to specialise across the three sciences. Assignment to specific key-stages is particularly important for early-career teachers, who are still gaining fluency in planning (Ost & Schiman, 2015). Where staffing pressures make it necessary to add new year groups to a teacher’s timetable, departments should provide additional support such as materials and mentoring.’

Ost, B., & Schiman, J. C. (2015). Grade-specific experience, grade reassignments, and teacher turnover. Economics of Education Review, 46, 112-126

There is good sense here, but how do you protect the only qualified physics teacher if that is what the school has?

Teachers in other subjects where staffing levels do not permit this type of approach; religious education, music and often the humanities, for instance, might well ask how any school will compensate for the necessity of teaching across all year groups. Should non-contact time differ by subject and the amount of lesson preparation and marking required of a teacher?

In science, we seem to be returning, if indeed we ever left, to a situation where there are far more teachers in training with a background in biology than in the other sciences. The House of Commons Education Select Committee recently discussed the 4th Industrial Revolution, and the needs for the future of British Society. If there is a lack of balance in the abilities of teachers of science to cover the whole gamut of the science curriculum, how might the needs of the future influence how the skills of those teachers the system does possess are most effectively utilised?

The Gatsby pamphlet also suggests flattening the pay gradient in the early years of a teacher’s career. However, if every school did this it might nullify the effects. There is an argument for looking at pay differentials and calculating the cost of turnover of staff and recruitment challenges against paying part of the recruitment costs to the existing workforce. Recruitment and Retention allowances make this a possible strategy for schools with the available cash. However, many schools would say that at present they do not have the cash to take such an approach to solving their staffing issues.

 

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Some trends for 2019 in teacher recruitment

In two of my recent posts I looked at the prospects facing schools that would seek to recruit either a teacher of design and technology or a teacher of business studies during 2019. These prospects will also apply to schools seeking to make appointments in January 2020, as there will be no new entrants to the labour market to fill such vacancies. If, as happens in both the two subjects already discussed, there are sufficient vacancies for September to absorb the whole output from ITT courses, then schools faced with a January vacancy, for whatever reason, really do face a dilemma. In some cases agencies may help, but in others it is a case of making do until the summer.

As mentioned in the post that initially analysed the ITT census for 2018, the position in physics is once again dire, with less than half of the ITT places filled. Fortunately, there won’t be a shortage of science teachers, since far more biologists were recruited into training that the government estimate of the number required. However, recruitment of chemistry teachers will prove a problem for some schools as 2019 progresses, since one in five ITT places were left unfilled; the highest percentage of unfiled places in recent years. Perhaps some early professional development on increased subject knowledge for biology teachers required to teach the whole science curriculum at Key Stage 3 might be a worthwhile investment.

In 2018, there were not enough trainee teachers of English to meet the demand from schools for such teachers; it 2019 that subject will be less of a problem, but finding a teacher of mathematics might be more of an issue for schools once again, although various CPD initiatives may have helped improve the mathematical knowledge of those teaching the subject and may have helped to reduce demand. Only time will tell whether a shortage of teachers of mathematics will once again be a headline story for 2019.

Although state schools may have reduced their demand for teachers of art, the independent sector still generates a significant demand each year for such teachers. The fact that more than one in five ITT places weren’t filled in 2018 may have some important regional implications for state schools seeking such a teacher, especially where the demand is also strong from the private sector schools. The same issue is also true for teachers of religious education, where demand from the state sector was weak in 2018. Any increase in demand during 2019 would see schools experiencing more problems with recruitment than during 2018.

All these assumptions are predicated on the belief that rising pupil numbers, and the associated funding per pupil, will more than cancel out the pressure on school budgets across the country. Once again, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk expects that London and the surrounding areas to be the focus of most demand for new teachers and the North East, the area where schools will experience the least difficulty in recruiting teachers.

TeachVac will be there throughout 2019 to chart the changing trends, and I would like to extend to all readers of both this blog and users of TeachVac and its international arm, TeachVac Global www.teachvacglobal.com my best wishes for 2019.

 

Fewer younger trainee teachers?

Digging down into the details of yesterday’s DfE publication of the ITT census it seems as if the drift away from teaching as a career by young first time graduates has continued this year. The percentage change isn’t significant by itself, but if it forms part of a trend, then it will be worrying since new graduates have been in the past been a very important source of new entrants into the profession: those that remain also provide the bedrock of future leaders in ten to fifteen years.

This year, the percentage of postgraduate entrants under 25 fell to 50% of the total, while those over 30 increased to 24%. The latter are mostly career switchers and likely to be location specific when it comes to looking for teaching posts. Now, the percentage of older trainees has been higher during the dark days of some of the previous recruitment crisis periods, and losing under-25 is not unexpected as the cohort falls in size. However, it is a bit early in the demographic cycle affecting higher education to see a decline at the new graduate level at this stage. If it were to continue, then in three to four years’ time there might be a real issue if planning for how these missing entrants could be replaced has not taken place. To this end, last week’s announcement of funds to attract career changers is a welcome move. However, it is not just classroom teachers we need, but also the leaders of tomorrow.

There is mixed news on the gender profile of new entrants this year. Some secondary subjects have attracted more men, notably mathematics, where the percentage of males topped the 50% mark again, after falling to 49% last year. Overall men accounted for only 39% of secondary applicants this year although there were more, due to the overall rise in trainee numbers: 6,270 this year compared with 5,945 last year. In the primary sector, men accounted for 19% of trainee numbers, down from 20% last year, meaning 185 fewer men this year than last. Worrying, but nowhere near as bad as it was in the late 1990s when I think that the percentage was heading towards single figures. Still, it is not a good gender balance.

Perhaps not surprisingly, computing had one of the largest percentages of men in the cohort: some 68% of trainees, although that was down two per cent on last year. However, that was topped by Physics, where 71% of the 575 trainees were men this year. This means there were only around 170 women on teacher preparation courses to teach Physics this year. If there is sufficient demand from single sex girls’ schools, then a female NQT in physics might be a rare sighting in a co-educational school next September.

There is better news about the ethnic background of new entrants into teacher preparation courses, with 18% of postgraduate trainees and 12% of undergraduate new entrants being recorded as from any minority ethnic group. These are the highest percentages in recent years, and possibly since records were first collected about ethnicity. However, the DfE doesn’t reveal how many trainees did not provide this information.

In my next blog I will discuss trends across the different types of providers and the balance between school based courses and the more established partnership arrangements led by higher education and most SCITTs.

 

Now for the bad news

In my previous post I highlighted how Ministers might be pleased with the overall figure in the ITT Census released this morning by the DfE. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/initial-teacher-training-trainee-number-census-2018-to-2019 However, once the numbers are analysed in more detail, a picture of two worlds moving further apart beings to emerge.

First the good news: English, as a subject, passed its Teacher Supply Model figure and registered 110% recruitment against the ‘target’. Biology did even better, hitting 153% of target, and history managed 101%, virtually the same as last year. Physical Education, despite recruitment controls, registered 116% of target, slightly up on last year’s 113% figure. Computing also had a better year than last year, reaching 73% of target, the best level since 2014 for the subject. Geography recorded a figure of 85% of target, Classics and drama also recorded higher percentages again the TSM target.

Sadly, that’s where the good news stops. The remaining secondary subjects largely missed their TSM target by a greater percentage than last year. This means a more challenging recruitment round in 2019 for schools looking for teachers in the following subjects:

Mathematics census number down to 71% from 79% of the TSM figure

Modern Languages 88% from 93%

Physics 47% from 68%

Chemistry 79% from 83%

Design and Technology just 25% from 33%

– it would be interesting to see a breakdown across the different elements within this subject group

Religious Education 58% from 63%

Music 72% from 76%

Business Studies 75% from 80%

 

Apart from Physics, where the decline is of alarming proportions, in the other subjects the percentage decline is just part of a steady and continuing decline seen over the past two years. With demand for secondary teacher likely to be around the 30,000 mark across both state and private school in England, if 2019 is anything like 2018 has been then, many of these subjects will not be providing enough trainee to fill the vacancies likely to be on offer. Encouraging retention and managing returners, especially for those working overseas, will be key initiatives for the government if we are not to see some schools struggling to recruit appropriately qualified teachers. I am sure it won’t be the successful schools that face recruitment challenges; it also won’t be private schools free to charge what they like in order to pay attractive salaries to teachers in shortage subjects.

The government has done relatively well recruiting in EBacc subjects, although science is only doing well because of the surfeit of biologists, many of whom may find themselves teaching other sciences, at least at Key Stage 3.

However, the CBI and the IoD might look at these percentages in the other subjects with more concern, if not even alarm. Wealth generating subjects either need more support from government or a clear statement that they don’t matter. The same is true of the arts and the social sciences beyond just history and geography.

As chair of TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk I will ensure that our site continues to monitor trends in the labour market for teachers throughout 2019 and reports on the pressures we see emerging.

If you don’t pass the 11+, you probably won’t study Physics as a subject by KS4

Last week the DfE published a whole raft of data about the outcomes for GCSE and other examinations taken at Key Stage 4. Most commentators have looked at outcomes. However, there is also some interesting data in the tables about entries by different types of school and the subjects that their students are entered for at the end of KS4. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/gcse-and-equivalent-results-2017-to-2018-provisional (and in particular the subject tables and within that file, tables S8 and S9.)

GCSE entries in selected subjects of pupils at the end of key stage 4 by school admission basis of state-funded mainstream schools (as a percentage of pupils at the end of key stage 4 in each school type) Selective schools Non-selective schools in highly selective areas Other non-selective schools
English, Mathematics & Science 100 98 98
Combined Science   18 80 71
Computer Science   20 12 13
Any Design & Technology   24 17 21
Information Technology     4   6   9
Business Studies   17 12 14
Geography   56 42 43
History   51 43 46
Any Modern Language   89 35 46
Art and Design   22 29 27
Music   11   4   6
Physical Education   16 13 16
Religious Studies   47 35 39

As might be expected, almost all pupils study English, mathematics and some form of science to the end of KS4. The type of science differs between schools, with selective schools highly likely to put the majority of their students in for separate sciences, whereas non-selective schools are much more likely to opt for combined science. Indeed, in Physics, the figures are 82% for pupils in selective schools; 26% for pupils in non-selective systems and just 18% for pupils in nonselective schools in areas with selective schools. Much of this disparity may be due to the lack of teachers of Physics with sufficient subject knowledge to sustain examination groups at KS4. This lack of Physics in non-selective schools no doubt has an impact on ’A’ level numbers and thus university entrants.

There is also a disparity in modern languages between the percentage studying the subject at the end of KS4 in selective schools and non-selective schools. French still remains the most popular language although Spanish is not far behind. The teaching of German at this level now seems largely confined to selective schools in the state sector.

Although non-selective schools produce higher percentages of candidates in art than do selective schools, the same is not the case with music, where selective schools have a higher percentage still taking the subject at the end of KS4. Selective schools also have higher percentages studying business studies and design and technology than non-selective schools.

There must be a suspicion that pupils in selective schools study more subjects than their counterparts in many non-selective schools.

How far it is easier for selective schools to recruit staff in the subjects where training numbers don’t meet DfE projections cannot be determined from these percentages. However, it might be a fair assumption that selective schools may generally find recruitment less of a challenge even in high costs areas. Such schools may also find retention of staff less of an issue.

 

Law of unintended consequences

The news that Prof Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell has been awarded a Breakthrough Prize for the discovery of radio pulsars is long overdue recognition for her part in this research. Her decision to use the award to donate her £2.3m winnings is a noble gesture, to be applauded and hopefully recognised in other ways by a grateful nation.

The money will go to fund women, under-represented ethnic minority and refugee students to become physics researchers. Such a use for a scheme, to be administered by the Institute of Physics, is also an inspiring use of the cash from the award, especially if it attracts additional funds from other sources, since by itself even £2.3 million won’t go very far these days. If it generates £150,000 of annual interest at current rates it will be doing well.

So a good idea but, if the scheme is to fund undergraduates in Physics to conduct graduate research that they currently cannot afford to undertake, who will be the loser. Keen readers of this blog can anticipate what will come next. Assuming the stock of undergraduates remains the same, at least in the short-term, and the number undertaking research increases, rather than just substituting under-represented groups for existing entrants into research, then some other post-degree employment routes will find a reduction in the supply of Physics graduates. Might this affect the numbers going into teaching? Of course, if the pool of research places remains the same and we substitute under-represented groups for those currently taking the places that won’t be the outcome.

Much may come down to how the Institute of Physics designs the scheme and works with providers of research places to implement it, especially in the early days of the scheme.

There is a need for more undergraduate places in Physics, again to facilitate more entrants from under-represented groups in society, and from those where the teaching they receive isn’t at the highest level.

The DfE calculates that the state-funded school sector will need around 1300-1350 new entrants in each of the next few years, to maintain the required teaching stock of teachers of Physics. Fortunately, the age distribution of the present Physics teacher workforce seems unlikely to create a retirement boom anytime soon.

However, the last few years have seen insufficient new entrants to meet the DfE number for the expressed need. As a result, any further diversion away from teaching and into research would potentially affect some schools ability to recruit teachers of Physics, even if only for a few years, if these researchers then chose to enter teaching at a later date. If they didn’t, having been provided the opportunity to conduct research, then there would be further pressure on teacher supply. Of course, a recession either resulting for problems in emerging markets of because of Breixt might create a new cadre of potential Physics teachers. However, is that a risk worth taking? The DfE could try to import Physics teachers, but it is not clear how well such schemes have progressed in the recent past. Creating more university undergraduate places linked to teaching as a career might well be worth exploring further. The only other suggestion on the table seems to be paying Physics teachers more than those in subjects where there is no shortage. I discussed that idea in an earlier post.

 

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 higher TLRs or 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 task. 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.