Class sizes on the increase

Increasing pupil numbers and pressure on funding , it seems, having an effect on class sizes in the secondary sector. Last week’s DfE data https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2019 revealed that the percentage of classes in the secondary sector with more than 30 pupils in them was, at 8.4% of classes, at its highest percentage since before 2006 and the fifth straight year to have recorded an increase. Some 13% of pupils were being taught in classes of more than 30 in January 2019. By comparison, in 2014 it was just 9.4% of pupils.

With more increases in pupil number over the next few years, this percentage of pupils in classes of over 30 pupils seems destined to increase even further, unless more funding can be found from the magic money tree called The Tresury.

Almost the same percentage of pupils in the primary sector were also being taught in these ‘large’ classes. The classes are mostly at Key Stage 2. This is because of the Blunkett limit of 30 pupils that applies to most Key Stage 1 classes. Indeed, the 18.1% of Key Stage 2 pupils in classes of more than 30 is a record percentage since at least 2010 and probably for a longer period as well. Hopefully, these children will find themselves in smaller classes when they move on to a secondary school.

Large numbers of pupils in classes means more time is required for assessment and preparation by teachers if the different needs of every child are to be adequately catered for. This may well be adding to the pressure teachers’ face from workload that must be undertaken during term-time.

The average Key Stage 2 class in England has some 27.9 pupils in it. The range is from Trafford, in Greater Manchester, where the average is 29.7 to Redcar & Cleveland in the North East, where the average is some 5.2 pupils per teacher fewer at 24.2 pupils in the average Key Stage 2 class.

Four of the lowest five areas with the best averages for Key Stage 2 class size are in the North East and the fifth, Cumbria is also in the North of England. Some boroughs in Inner London also manage to achieve among the lowest average class sizes at Key Stage2. By contrast, urban authorities in the North West and the Midlands feature among authorities with the highest average class sizes at Key Stage 2.

Some local authority areas in the North West have always had large classes and some of the worst pupil teacher ratios in the primary sector ever since I first started looking at such statistics in the mid-1970s, when the present pattern of local government in the urban areas outside of London was established. Hopefully, the new funding formula will help to further reduce the disparity between the best and the worst authorities, although other factors may intervene to prevent an entirely level playing field, such as the age and experience of the teaching staff.

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Further reflections

The Daily Mail is apparently carrying a story today of a leaked DfE email revealing a fall in teacher numbers. This is seen as a revelation, even though Table 2a of the DfE’s analysis of the Teacher Workforce, published in June 2018, showed a fall in teacher numbers between the 2016 and 2017 census points. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017

However, I suppose that when a staunchly Tory supporting newspaper starts printing bad news stories about the working of a Conservative government one must anticipate that either the end is nigh or that editorial control is weak over the Christmas and New Year period.

Had either the Daily Mail or any other media outlet wanted to pick a more up to the minute bad news story about teacher numbers, they could have done no better to use my previous post as the basis for a news item. Readers will recall that based on data released yesterday by UCAS, it appears that fewer graduates want to become primary school teachers than in the past.  The Daily Mail could have run a headline around ‘Who will teach Tiny Tim?’ about this fall in applications to train as a primary teacher.

Delving further into the UCAS data than I had time to do yesterday, it seems as if more career changers were queuing up to apply to train as a teacher in 2019, than were new young graduates. However, the 230 additional graduates in their 30s and 40s compared with December 2017 were not enough to offset the reduction of 400 in those from the 22-22 age group that have not applied this year. Hopefully, they are still weighing up their options.

For the first time in some years, fewer than 1,000 men from the 21-22 age group have applied for a place to train as a teacher on either a primary or secondary course starting in 2019. However, it is the continued relative lack of interest from young female graduates that should concern officials even more. This group in the past has been the bedrock of those applying in the early part of the recruitment round.

Rather than evaluating the overall success or otherwise of the marketing campaign, the DfE should urgently be investigating why this group, of whom there will be fewer emerging from universities over the next few years, are taking longer to think about teaching as a career. Last year, enough came around in the end to ensure all places for primary teachers were filled, but the warning signs are there and need investigation.

Perhaps the DfE has over-emphasised the need for secondary subject teachers and rather taken the primary sector for granted, apart from the need to ensure sufficient teachers with expertise in mathematics. The DfE doesn’t have a policy of ensuring sufficient subject knowledge across the curriculum to ensure that able pupils can be motivated and intellectually stretched either within the primary school or in other ways.

Perhaps it is time to reconstruct those local CDP offering managed by teams of staff than know their schools and teachers. Doing so in a cost effective manner might mean upsetting some MATs and even diocese, but can we afford anything other than the most cost effective system for such CPD?

 

A National Vacancy Service

Tomorrow, the DfE is holding a meeting to brief recruiters about its plans around a service publishing vacancies for teachers and school leaders. In the light of the demise of Carillion, is this new service a move based upon foresight by officials of the need to protect services from private sector enterprises or a belief that State operated services can do the job cheaper than private companies?  This is an important issue, since there are many in the government and among its supporters that see nationally operated services, of the type a vacancy service would presumably offer, as little more than a return to recreating nationalised industries.

At this point I must declare an interest for new readers of this blog. Some years ago, I helped form TeachVac to provide a free national vacancy service for teachers and for schools to save money on recruitment advertising, through the use of modern technology to bring together schools with vacancies and those looking to apply for such posts. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk and its offshoot for international schools, TeachVac Global, www.teachvacglobal.com are now the largest since source for teaching posts in England and can help to attract teachers back to work in England. All at no cost to the public purse.

TeachVac also had the added bonus, of providing real time information on the labour market: something the DfE will no doubt also want to play up about their service. This week, TeachVac will have already a recorded record number new vacancies for teachers and school leaders since schools returned from holiday just over a week ago.

As I pointed out recently in the blog post about business studies teacher recruitment – blink and they are gone – a large proportion of vacancies recorded so far in 2018 are in and around London. As of yesterday, 58% of recorded vacancies in 2018 were from schools in London; the East of England or the South East with just 32% located in the other six regions. The percentage was the same for both vacancies in the primary and secondary sectors.

Is this because these areas are seeing the fastest growth in pupil numbers and are already adding new vacancies in expectation of their growing rolls? Is it because teachers in these areas are leaving in larger numbers. TeachVac Global is certainly seeing interest from teachers wanting to consider working overseas. Is it because these schools feel the new National Funding Formula doesn’t hurt as much as it could have done and they now feel more confident on their spending for 2018/19? There are other ways of answering these questions: TeachVac at least points out what to ask.

TeachVac will shortly be publishing two reports on aspects of the teacher labour market during 2017. One reviews primary school leadership and the other considers main scale vacancies in the secondary sector across England. Details of the cost and how to obtain them will be available on the TeachVac web site. As a free service, TeachVac is happy to discuss data provision for teacher trainers, schools, MATs, diocese, local authorities or indeed anyone interested in labour market real time data on teacher vacancies.