A National Teaching Service?

How much of the White Paper issued in March is now history? Does a change in government mean a change in policy across the board? Two of the proposals contained in the White Paper were for a National Teaching Service and for the creation of free national vacancy website. Where are we  now with both of these suggestions?

I will confess an interest in that I helped establish TeachVac (www.teachvac.co.uk) as a free national job matching service partly because such a service was missing and because schools were spending ever larger sums on recruitment, in some cases to the detriment of spending on teaching and learning. We are already doing what the White Paper suggested alongside the plethora of different regional and local websites maintained by both local authorities and their commercial brethren. In some cases these sites handle teaching and non-teaching posts together, in others they separate them out and they may or may not include local academies and the various range of free schools.

Teachvac has the added advantage over local authority sites of bringing together both state-funded and private school teaching vacancies in one place. This fact allows a view of the overall demand for teachers. Our analysis suggests that the DfE are better at modelling, through the use of the Teacher Supply Model, the demand in subjects such as mathematics and English than they are in some of the less common subjects such as business studies and in subjects with complex demands for different specialisms, such as in design and technology. However although sometimes the modelling may be accurate, but the lack of recruitment into training then affects the supply that doesn’t meet the modelled need.

A national site like TeachVac allows this kind of discussion in a manner not possible before, when the DfE largely had to rely upon the results from the annual School Workforce Census. While useful in some respects, the census lacks the dynamic up to the minute real-time information of a site such as TeachVac. However, it also allows governments to quite truthfully state an opinion at variance with current outcomes in the labour market. I don’t think that is a good enough reason not to consider the advantages of a national site, especially when one already exists and costs nothing to use.

The other initiative mentioned in the White Paper was the National Teaching Service. This is an attempt to help recruit teachers and middle leaders into underperforming schools that may otherwise struggle to recruit able teachers. The recruits from the first round of the pilot programme should have started work in schools this September. However, the expected tender for the further roll-out of a national programme has not, to my knowledge, yet appeared. The development of this type of service is a complex matter and not one to be rushed, especially as schools are now in many cases free to determine individual terms and conditions of service.

With the postponement of the consultation on the National Funding Formula, it is difficult to see the service making great headway until policy is clearer. The same is true for any similar service to place head teachers in challenging schools. Matching supply and demand by intervening in an open market is possible, but not easy. Some readers will remember the Labour government’s attempt with the Fast Track Scheme that briefly flourished around the time of the millennium.

It will be interesting to see how the DfE, having had the summer to think about these issues, takes them forward this autumn. At TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk the staff are happy to talk to officials about our experience.


Back to school

There was a paragraph buried in the Statistical Bulletin published last week about the new key Stage 2 assessments that set me thinking. Although school level data won’t be available until the end of the year, and the current outcomes cannot be easily related to previous years, the DfE statisticians were able to say:

We have conducted provisional analysis of school level data (which is not ready to be published and remains subject to change) to examine the correlation between the ranked position of all schools on the percentage achieving level 4b or above in 2014 and 2015 and the percentage reaching the expected standard in 2016 (as for the LA comparisons comparing 2014 final data with 2015 provisional data and 2015 final data with 2016 provisional data). This gave correlation coefficients of 0.56 for 2015 and 2016 data and 0.58 for 2014 and 2015 data. This suggests that we are not seeing greater variability in the data at school level. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/549432/SFR39_2016_text.pdf

So, do not expect that schools with poor outcomes have suddenly improved, or that those with previously good results have achieved less well in all cases, even though some schools may have improved or deteriorated on an individual basis.

This raises a number of issues for the new government. After all, during the past quarter of a century much of the focus in education has been about improving standards through changing the organisational structure of schools; sweating the assets – mostly teachers – harder and measuring everything in sight, sometimes it seems as often as possible.

Within the structural muddle we currently have within our school system, especially in the primary sector, with a pedagogic revolution from class teaching to the concerns for the outcomes of every child, and too often a blame game by politicians of staff in schools lacking the tools to do the job properly, some good has emerged. We must not now throw that away.

The acceptance of the importance of the early years of a child’s development; the recognition of the importance of early literacy, numeracy and socialisation and at the other end of the system the opening up of higher education to the many and not just treating higher education as a state-funded privilege for the few. This last point is important because, as I argued in a previous post, the knowledge economy needs more educated individuals that an economy based upon brute force and simple tools. However, it rests upon the foundations of a successful start to the education process.

So, here are some areas of concern that I think need resolving though research and development in order to help schools more forward. My shopping list includes:

Identifying common factors associated with children that fall behind at the early stages of literacy and numeracy and creating solutions that work to overcome common issues whether they are above average absence rates; moving schools mid-year when learning patterns for the many are set; the digital divide between home and school; staff development and training for a teaching force a large number of whom are in the early stages of their career; leadership preparation and enthusiasm across all sectors and for all types of school or the often turbulent life of a child in care or on the edge of family breakdown.

So, let’s stop playing the blame game and focus on starting the new school year in a sense of hope for a future geared to improving education for all.


Tell it as it is

Earlier this year the DfE employed an eminent Canadian educator, Dr Paul Cappon as a Research Fellow. He looked at the manner in which the education system in England operates and wrote a very interesting report called ‘Preparing English Young People for Work and Life: An International Perspective’. You can use the following link to access it.


Although the origin of the research was probably associated with the skills agenda and the role of schools in academic and vocational education the really interesting part of the paper deals with Dr Cappon’s views of what works in education systems. He are a selection of four extracts from the Executive Summary;

English educational successes appear to occur despite, rather than because of current systems and structures. The rigid pathways that confine students from a young age and throughout their education and training is a notable example. Since fragmentation characterises delivery of education in England, stronger networks must become an intrinsic part of a more coherent and successful delivery.

With regard to primary and secondary education, we find that recent adjustments to national curriculum have generally been sound, and that good GSCEs for all students in any educational/training track must be the goal. We find that careers advice, an acknowledged weakness of English education, requires considerable amendment and accountability.

Chief impediments to evidence-informed policy deliberation have been: few moderating influences on [sic] the political nature of educational policy; insufficient development of partnerships between civil society and policy makers; little structured external advice to government; insufficient deployment of academic researchers in support of research and analysis; and a propensity to set goals for individual schools but not for the system as a whole.

In a successful education system, the desirable attributes of the central authority would be the converse of those that we would hope to find at local level.

It is locally that we would expect and wish to find innovation, experimentation, risk-taking, entrepreneurialism, empiricist methods of trial and error. The principle of subsidiarity applies. Each district or region would be attempting to find creative means of attaining measurable common goals or targets – but do so in keeping with their own specific and particular contexts and challenges. When these attributes are present, experimentation and trial of diverse approaches in pursuit of similar goals may lead to fruitful collaboration and to regional sharing of promising practices and approaches. System-wide improvement occurs.

Conversely, the central authority would impart stability, consistency and a long term perspective. When it engages in changes of policy direction, it would do so carefully and in consultation with a broad array of partners from both the education sector and from other segments of civil society. Its intention would be to work as closely as possible from a convergence of viewpoints of its partners, so that its initiatives would have optimal chances of success. To that purpose, it would construct a sustainable framework of partners that would assist it in considering priorities, goals and means. (In doing so, however, it would refrain from delegating or abandoning its authority to independent bodies or commissions).

In such a system, decisions regarding practice and complementary funding allocations would frequently be made regionally or locally, but in accord with nationally prescribed goals.

What if, in England, just the opposite of this pattern obtained? What if is central government that is empiricist, entrepreneurial, with sudden mutability and frequent changes of direction, trying one approach and then another – often with only short periods allowed for practitioners to adjust and adapt?

In schools, districts and regions, on the other hand emulation, conservatism, rigidity, compliance, harmonisation and risk aversion appear to be the pattern.

In such a dynamic, would it not become difficult to foresee the kinds of creativity and innovation that, when scaled up, may lift a system to enhanced outcomes and to continuous improvement?

The last of these extracts is the one that for me clearly sums up what has been so wrong with the school system in England ever since central government lost faith in local government and started taking power to the centre. The legacy of this decision, taken originally in the 1970s, but never fully worked through, remains with us today with haphazard academisation and un-elected commissioners. Although there is innovation at the level of some schools and inspiring leadership teams, even there the hand of Ofsted looms large.

The message for me from Dr Cappon’s study is that it is time for everyone concerned with education in England to agree a new framework. There is still a willingness to create a workable system for the country as a whole, but time is running out, especially if the political landscape becomes one of polarised views and a breakdown of understanding.

There is not the space for a full essay on policy-making here but, one might look at the functions of policy formation as;

Problem solving;


Priority Fixing and


Perhaps one might add dissemination and implementation as further functions since the agreed system-wide agreement on the latter is a notably lacking feature of the present system. How do we create system-wide improvement in a coherent and constructive manner?

Off with the head

I assume the call for parents to be able to remove heads issued by the New Schools Network in its evidence to the Select Committee inquiry into Regional School Commissioners is either a bit of headline grabbing or an attempt to legislate for what many active parents already do.

Indeed, when schools were responsible to local authorities there were parent and local authority governors that could and did act as a conduit for dissatisfaction among the parent and staff bodies if a school was under-performing. What the New Teacher Network seems to fail to understand, if I read the press reports correctly, is that it is the management of the school and not necessarily the head that may need to be changed when a school is failing. That’s why governments sack governing bodies in failing schools. Did they also consider the issue highlighted in the Bill presently before parliament of what to do with a ‘coasting’ academy or free school? The assumption that only the remaining community or voluntary schools ‘coast’, and academies and free school don’t, seems either naïve or politically motivated.

Now I have no objection to a single system of schools. I would prefer them to have local democratic oversight, but frankly, in a time of austerity, it is a waste of money to create two systems in parallel.

By the way, middle class parents that are anxious about whether their children’s schools are under-performing do take action and have done so for years. I know of two schools in the past year where groups of parents have put pressure on the governors and the head because they were worried about standards falling.

However, they, along with the New Schools Network, do have to consider that the post of head teacher must be attractive enough to encourage the next generation of teachers to want to take on the role. Indeed, the New Schools Network might do well to consider whether offering support to prevent problems becoming more serious is usually better than changing the leadership team. The decline in advisory services to schools into a traded option bought by schools may fit the market agenda but it makes early intervention before problems increase beyond the point of no return more challenging. Would a free school advisory board agree to support a head that indicated the need to spend money on staff development over a project that they favoured?

The current risk is that many schools will find improving performance more challenging if the recruitment and retention of teachers becomes yet more of a challenge into 2016.

There is also the pressure to prevent schools seeming to under-perform by parents paying for private tuition. I heard of one, I hope extreme case, where the parents of a pupil entering the sixth form with an A at GCSE were told to look for a private tutor by other parents in order for the child to be able to keep up with the A level pace. This was because, the lessons were pitched on the basis that parents would be doing so and anyone that didn’t would find themselves outpaced. Now, I hope that is a rare example, but it does demonstrate what a parent driven system can create. Is that the aim of the New Schools Network?

Back to the Future Part II

There is a sense of déjà vu around this August. Will Labour opt for a return to Clause 4 and the re-nationalisation of key industries rather than a regulatory regime if Jeremy Corbyn becomes their new leader? If so, will they go the whole hog and re-nationalise freight services under the British Road Services logo, or is white van driver safe for now?

Even the Tories are getting in on the act, David Cameron wants to nationalise schools under the banner of creating freedom from local authority control by allowing all schools to become an academy controlled from Westminster. If he really believes this is the way forward, why doesn’t he add a clause into the Bill currently before parliament requiring all schools to become academies and create an orderly transfer of control? Does he lack the courage of his convictions or is this suggestion just a piece of political posturing?

If you believe in something then at least have the strength of will to seek to achieve it. The Tories in Oxfordshire are apparently set to do this by I believe proposing to encourage all schools – these days that effectively means primary schools – to become academies. At least this would stop the wasteful parallel systems that could emerge under the Prime Minister’s approach. A nation where Tory authorities are full of academies, but Labour authorities aren’t won’t be a national education system but a national muddle.

Personally, as those who have followed this blog for some time know, I am content to see all secondary schools as academies but not am not sure it is the correct approach for the primary sector. With local authorities now responsible for public health and most children attending a local primary schools there is much to be said for the same authority operating both services along with libraries and other services that support families and young children. Only a politician with no experience of local government could think primary schools operate in isolation from their communities.

The Tories other backward looking policy is talk of a revival of selective schools. Designed to meet a nineteenth century need these schools have no place in forging a modern inclusive society. Once again, if it happens, it will be interesting to see whether the Tories will mandate a national programme, thus effectively interfering with the very freedom of the academies they espouse or just let the areas with selective education increase the numbers of pupils in such schools. At what level will pupils be sent to secondary modern schools and with the expansion in pupil numbers to come over the next decade will the percentage of pupils allowed to pass the selection test remain constant or reduce as pupil numbers increase? Will selective free schools be permitted in areas that haven’t seen a selective school for nearly half a century and, if so, will local authorities have to pay the cost of transporting pupils to them or will parents have to pay?  Will places be kept for pupils that move into these areas during the year or will they be sent to secondary modern schools regardless of whether they would have passed the test?

We won’t achieve a world class education system by accident, but by design. That means proper national funding and a coherent and rational system. Such a policy would need a really courageous approach to policy.

Farewell Mr Taylor

So, Mr Taylor is following his mentor Michael Gove to the Ministry of Justice, presumably to head up the Youth Justice Board. The YJB was one of the success stories of the coalition, presiding over a dramatic fall in both the numbers in youth custody and in offending rates among young people. I hope that Mr Taylor, if indeed that is his new role, will help continue the trend towards both further reducing offending and the rehabilitation of those that do commit crimes. He might start by looking at the staffing challenges faced by the schools that produce the greatest numbers of young offenders.

Meanwhile The Secretary of State has the task of either finding a replacement or reorganising the whole training and professional development unit within the DfE. Could the name of the National College now disappear from sight as Mr Taylor’s job is handed to one or more civil servants to manage? This would take us back to the position last seen in the early 1990s before the Teacher Training Agency was created to oversee the reform of teacher training that took place under Kenneth Clarke.

Personally, I hope that there will still be an identifiable lead on teacher training and development. Sir Andrew Carter must be an obvious choice for the job after his report earlier this year. But, it might be good to have a woman in a senior position. Perhaps either an executive head or one of the CEOs of an academy chain might fit the bill, especially if it is a chain with a good record on both recruitment and professional development. Alternatively, someone running an organisation such as Teach First might be considered.

However, the salary level could be unattractive to many if the post falls within the new strict guidelines on public sector senior pay. No doubt a secondment could overcome even that problem.

Whoever takes over, whether an outsider or a career civil servant, will have less money to play with and will no doubt be expected to focus more on the recruitment and initial training part of the brief than on professional development that will no doubt be devolved to schools as a means of cutting costs? Such a dangerous move might really affect middle and senior leadership development over the next few years but probably won’t have any immediate impact on the political landscape.

Regular readers of this blog with know what my agenda is for whoever takes on the role. Convincing the Treasury that expecting trainee teachers to pay fees is not helpful would be my number one ambition for anyone taking on the job.

It’s official: no recruitment crisis

The Minister for Schools has told the TES there isn’t a recruitment crisis in schools. However, in the same interview he did admit that there was ‘a challenge’ and that the challenge was ‘being managed’. The on-line report of his interview can be found at: https://www.tes.co.uk/news/school-news/breaking-news/schools-minister-there-no-recruitment-crisis

Now it may be mere sophistry to claim that there isn’t a crisis but to admit to a challenge. After all, we don’t have a definition for what would constitute either a crisis or a challenge in teacher recruitment. So let’s try and crunch a few numbers. According to the DfE Teacher Supply Model the for 2014/15 was a need for 14,295 trainees in the secondary sector. Assuming 10% would drop out during the year that would left just under 13,000 potential completers looking for teaching jobs this year if all places had been filled. However, the ITT census, confirmed in figures re-released this week, showed 13,866 trainees were recruited. Take off the 10%, and the available number of trainees is likely to have been 12,500, including the over-recruitment in physical education and history. As the DfE estimates that 50% of classroom teacher vacancies each year are taken by new entrants that would require 25,000 vacancies for classroom teachers in secondary schools across the whole of 2015 to exhaust the pool of trainees. To date, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has recorded just over 16,000 such vacancies since January, with just the autumn term to come. So, the headline figure might well not yet be at crisis level, although it is obviously challenging.

However, the DfE has a responsibility not just to worry about the overall numbers, but the component parts as well. Here the TeachVac data reveals a different story. Applying the 50% rule to the ITT pool and setting the number against recorded vacancies since January 2015 reveals that business studies, social studies and design and technology already have more vacancies recorded than trainees. In English, IT and geography the remaining ‘pool’ of trainees is below 10% and in most other subjects the pool is between 20-30%. This latter number should be sufficient, if evenly distributed across the country; but that almost certainly isn’t the case. As a result, some areas of the country will have concerns about recruitment across a wider range of subjects.

It is also worth noting that comparing the School Workforce Census for 2014 with that of 2013, vacancies had increased, albeit as the census is taken in November the absolute numbers were still very low; the percentage of teachers teaching English and mathematics despite not having any post ‘A’ level qualification in the subject had increased and the number of temporary and unqualified teachers had also increased.

Taking all this together, the Minister is definitely correct to accept that there is a challenge. I think he ought to spell out at what level it would become a crisis? He also told the TES that he was ‘managing the challenge’.  Now managing isn’t synonymous with tacking, so I wonder exactly what he meant by managing. I guess, making sure pupils aren’t sent home because a school cannot find a teacher and reminding everyone that not only do academies not need to employ a teacher with qualifications in the subject they don’t even need a qualified teacher: any suitable person will do.