8,000 computer teachers: Leak, pre-release or pressure on the Chancellor?

These days I am no longer sure what constitutes either a pre-budget announcement or a leak ahead of the speech. The £100 million for 8,000 more computer science teachers included in a Reuters report https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-economy-budget/driverless-cars-set-for-uk-budget-boost-finance-ministry-idUKKBN1DJ003 fall into this category of uncertainty. Is it a response to the recent Royal Society Report and does it cover the whole UK or just England since education is a devolved activity. Is it an inspired pre-release a leak or even just speculation on the part of commentators? It might even be a red herring put up to encourage a response to the recent Royal Society Report. We will all still have to wait until Wednesday to be absolutely certain.

Dividing the sum mentioned by 8,000 brings up a figure of £12,500 per teacher. Nowhere near enough to train that many new teachers, especially if they were all to be offered a bursary. So, perhaps a large number of the 8,000 are either teachers destined for the primary sector and expected to train at their own expense or the money covers the cost of re-training existing less than adequately qualified teachers already working in schools.

What is an absolute certainty is that there will never be 8,000 vacancies for his type of teacher in any one year in the secondary sector without mass redundancies of existing teachers. Even spreading the programme over four years, assuming that enough recruits could be found to enter teacher preparation courses each year, would mean a high risk of unemployment for the newly trained teachers unless schools were mandated to recruit these teachers.

Now the DfE knows how many teachers there are working in state schools and teaching computing in some shape or form through the annual School Workforce Census, and through the annual working of the Teacher Supply Model can estimate demand each year for training places. Indeed, it doesn’t do too bad a job at the estimation bit; recruiting them into training is another story entirely.

When the DfE has its own version of TeachVac’s National Vacancy Service that has been fully operational for a year it should know the demand profile from state funded schools. Whether, like TeachVac, it will know the demand from the private schools sector is another as yet, presumably, unresolved matter.

If the 8,000 number does make it into the budget, then so as not to look as if the Treasury doesn’t talk to the DfE there will have to be some form of explanation. Personally, I would add 10% to the Teacher Supply Model and split the rest between for professional development for existing teachers: spending 40% on those on professional development for secondary school teachers already teaching computer science and not fully qualified; 40% for lead teachers in the primary schools, starting with a programme for MATs and dioceses and the allocated the remaining 20% for programmes for teachers of other subjects to embed areas such as geographical information and other subject-related techniques into curriculum development. I might keep a small pot of cash back for new methods of preparing teachers that don’t rely upon face to face contact.

What isn’t needed is a vast hike in training places.

 

 

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New measures merely sticking plaster

Over the weekend the Secretary of State announced new measures to deal with the growing unease about the costs of higher education. She capped fees; adjusted the level at which repayments commence and made some technical changes to support for trainee teachers as well as espousing the apprenticeship route to trained employment and the development of skills. However, she didn’t do anything about the 3.1% management free on the tuition debt charged to students and displayed a somewhat limited knowledge of economics by trying to blame universities for not introducing lower cost courses for some degrees. As this blog has pointed out in the past, why would any provider cuts income when supply exceeded demand? With the number of eighteen year olds falling over the next few years, universities might well offer lower priced degree courses, but will they be shunned as possibly of a lower quality by potential students: we shall see.

The announcements about help for schools, some teachers and trainee teachers seems to be just tinkering at the edges of the recruitment crisis and based on some dubious assumptions in areas where the DfE lacks credible up to date data, as the NAO recently pointed out in their Report on teacher supply issues.

The series of measures announced by the Secretary of State, include:

  • Piloting a new student loan reimbursement programme for science and Modern Foreign Language (MFL) teachers in the early years of their career, targeted in the areas of the country that need them most. The pilot scheme will benefit around 800 MFL and 1,700 science teachers a year. A typical teacher in their fifth year of work would benefit by around £540 through reimbursement, and this would be more for teachers with additional responsibilities. This is in addition to the benefit that teachers will get from the newly-announced student loan repayment threshold rise.
  • New style bursaries in maths will also be piloted, with generous upfront payments of £20,000 and early retention payments of £5,000 in the third and fifth year of a teacher’s career. Increased amounts of £7,500 will also be available to encourage the best maths teachers to teach in more challenging schools.
  • £30 million investment in tailored support for schools that struggle the most with recruitment and retention, including investment in professional development training so that these schools can benefit from great teaching.
  • Supporting our best teacher trainer providers, including top Multi Academy Trusts, with Northern Powerhouse funding to expand their reach in to challenging areas in the north that do not currently have enough provision so more areas benefit from excellent teacher training, and help increase the supply of great teachers to the schools that need them the most.

Leaving aside the fact that there are far greater shortages in some other subjects than MFL and the sciences, such as design and technology and ICT, and in places even English, there is no obvious shortage of biology teachers and the government has little or no idea of whether suspected shortage of languages teachers is in certain languages or across the board?

The new arrangement for maths teachers looks like a return to golden handcuffs, tried before and abandoned. I assume the £7,500 payments will be in the form of payments to certain schools to pay recruitment and retention allowances of perhaps £2,500 per year for a three year period?

The £30 in tailored support might mean a return of recruitment staff, although they are best employed at a local authority level. Providing extra funding for CPD won’t go very far and it isn’t clear whether this is a single payment or designed to be continued for several years.

In a DfE strapped for cash, changes were never going to be very generous. However, these look poorly thought out and are likely to make little difference to the teacher supply crisis in the subjects they target and none in the other subjects where schools are struggling to recruit teachers.

Enough primary leaders?

The DfE has now published the answers to their spring 2016 survey of teachers and school leaders. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-voice-omnibus-may-to-july-2016-survey-dfe-questions among the interesting questions asked was one about aspirations to leadership. Since the abolition of a mandatory qualification for headship, this sort of survey is the only real way of knowing whether there will be sufficient candidates for senior posts that fall vacant in future years.

Personally, I doubt there will ever be a serious problem in the secondary sector since the ratio of deputies to head teachers should allow for sufficient aspiring senior leaders, especially as headship is no longer the end point of a career for many in the secondary sector.

If there is going to be an issue with leadership numbers it will be in the primary and special school sectors. Sadly, we don’t have information about the special school sector. That is an oversight needing correction in future surveys, as it is too often overlooked and the issue of leadership is critical for the schools education our young people with special needs.

As far as the primary sector is concerned, the DfE’s 2015 School Workforce Census identified 23,800 deputy and assistant heads in post in the primary sector in England in November 2015. We can assume most were still there when the 2016 survey was conducted by NfER for the DfE. Thus, the 26% of senior leaders not already a head teacher likely to look for a headship within the next three years equates to just under 6,000 teachers. What the survey didn’t ask, was how many were likely to be looking in the next year?

Assuming equal numbers over each of the three years would mean some 2,000 aspiring head teachers across England each year. Now, the next question is, how many vacancies are there likely to be? TeachVac is now collecting that data, so in time we will have up to date information. However, looking back over past trends, head teacher vacancies fluctuated around 1,800 to 2,000 during the first decade of this century. Now, if we assume the lower number, since amalgamations have reduced the number of schools over time, we could still need to conclude that virtually all the 2,000 aspirant deputies and assistant heads would all have to be suitable to be appointed as a head teacher for supply to be sufficient. However, some vacancies will be filled by existing head teachers changing schools; perhaps 20-25% of vacancies are filled in this way. This would reduce demand for non-head teachers to be appointed as ahead teacher to around 1,500 per year.

We also must assume that the applicants are either in the right places for the jobs or prepared to be mobile to move to where the vacancies arise. As the primary sector contains a significant number of faith schools, especially Church of England and Roman Catholic schools, we must also assume that there are sufficient numbers within the total to meet the needs of these schools for specific types of applicants, including adherents to the particular faith.

Without answers to these questions, it is difficult to know whether the 1,500 will be sufficient, but it won’t be if the role of being a head teacher looks unattractive for whatever reason. No doubt the NCTL understand this issue and are planning for the consequences of what the survey tells us about the future supply of school leaders.

 

MoD should sell Defence Academy to save money

The news that the DfE is to sell the National College headquarters and conference centre in Nottingham is a great shame. The purpose built centre was opened by Tony Blair and marked the culmination of a long campaign to secure a headquarters for leadership research and training in the school sector. The closure shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since the Home Office decided some time ago to close Bramshill, the police leadership training college in Hampshire. Clearly, the trend is against expensive residential centres serving relatively few participants. Courses can be held in hotels without the need for expensive overheads; at least one assume that is the theory. The Civil Service College seems to operate from a small base and no doubt the school sector can provide courses from a base anywhere in the country. However, the MoD still maintains the Defence Academy at Shrivenham and the Fire Services also have a residential college.

Now, maybe there is something different about the uniformed services when compared with education that requires a residential site for postgraduate training, although a look at the courses offered by the Defence Academy shows many in areas such as leadership, equality and diversity, finance, personnel and policy that could have general applicability to a wider range of spheres than just defence.

More importantly, there remains the need to for a strategy to ensure effective leadership development across the whole of the school system. Labour both introduced and then abolished a mandatory qualification for headship – the NPQH – and the coalition further downgraded professional development. A failure to pay attention to the pipeline into school leadership across the country as a whole is partly to blame for the current challenges some schools are facing recruiting senior leaders.

Of course, the main reason for recruitment difficulties is probably the fact that the risk-reward ratio has tipped too far in the direction of headship being a risk. Take a headship on in your early 40s, as many historically have done and failure, as judged by Ofsted, could mean the end to your career 20 years before retirement. At least most football managers that get sacked are hired by another team soon afterwards. Unless that scenario develops in education, where it is recognised that the individual in the head’s study is rarely the sole reason for the outcome of the inspection, nobody will want to take on the risk of a headship unless they are certain it isn’t a failing or coasting school and could never become such a school.

The announcement of the sale of the Nottingham campus would have been an excellent time to split the remaining leadership and training functions for school leaders from the recruitment arm of the business and to re-establish the teacher training and recruitment body as a separate institution.

There will be many that mourn the passing of the Nottingham site into leadership history. There will be many more that will suffer if the government doesn’t do everything possible to ensure the next generation of school leaders are available to take on the jobs as they fall vacant.

‘Hard, but fun’

I was encouraged by the PGCE student that tweeted yesterday, ‘first week hard, but fun.’ Hopefully, that student will feel the same way at the end of their course. The tweet set me thinking again about the eternal question of the positive effects of good teachers. There’s a body of literature out there that tries to quantify how much value a good teacher adds to pupils’ learning compared with a bad teacher. This sometimes encourages those bright sparks in think tanks to conclude we should sack all teachers that don’t achieve at least average gains over a defined time period for their students or use some such similar measure. Alternatively, and much more seductive, is the thesis that we should award performance related pay, merit pay or bonuses to such teachers.

The trouble with some of these thinkers is that they don’t live in the real world where issues of supply and demand complicate the picture. Physics and history are the two extremes of the supply-demand continuum at present. So, how much more do we pay a poor physics teacher than a poor history teacher just to be there? Alternatively, do we drop the subject for those pupils where we cannot recruit good enough physics teachers? Is a good biology teacher teaching physics better value than a less good physics teacher? In England, apart from entering training, and presumably when selecting middle leaders, subject knowledge is of limited value in some respects because anyone can be required to teach any subject to any pupils.

Leaving aside factors from outside the school, such as absence rates that can affect progress, most obviously in early years, but often throughout a pupil’s schooling where there is not good home support, there are also in-school factors affective performance. ‘I am sorry you have to teach in the temporary classroom or your pupils come straight from PE on a Monday, after drama on a Wednesday and their third lesson of the week is last period on a Friday afternoon’. No doubt really good teachers can overcome each and all of these challenges, but how to encourage the rest of the profession faced with those circumstances is a dilemma. Professional development, both personally inspired and intuitionally formulated can help, and the relative lack of spending despite the lack of experience of much of the teaching profession at the current time must be something of a worry.  Rather than focussing on how to reward teachers differently it might be more effective to help them understand the evidence on what works. Technology exists, and is used by many teachers to ask how to deal with problems. Rather than offering CPD on what we believe is needed perhaps a small fraction should be spend on responding to teachers’ needs.

Nest year, through an adjunct of the Teachvac (www.teachvac.com) web site that collects data on students and jobs, we hope to ask trainees what they need by way of extra training once they have secured their first teaching post and know they type of school where they will be working and exactly what they will be teaching.

In the meantime, best wishes to all that have started their training this autumn; may you enjoy your time in the teaching profession.

Better Maths for the Millions: well that’s the aim

Schools have four weeks to express an interest in becoming a Mathematics Hub. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/288817/DRAFT_Maths_hubs_guidance_doc_v10.pdf The aim of providing professional development through some 30 hubs that in the first instance will both host the visiting teachers from Shanghai and identify those teachers from schools across England that will be offered a visit to China’s booming port city is a laudable idea. However, 30 hubs for even 20,000 schools means that, on average, each hub will have more than 600 schools that could associate with it. Put it another way, if there are 4 hubs in each of London, the North West, South East and Yorkshire & the Humber Regions, and three in all other regions except the North East, where there might be just two, you get an idea of how thinly spread the resources will be.

The long list of tasks the Hubs are eventually going to have to manage includes supporting wider partnerships on:

  • leading on national innovation projects such as the Shanghai Teacher Exchange Programme

•     recruitment of maths specialists into teaching;

•     initial training of maths teachers and supporting existing teachers of other subjects wanting

to change to maths teaching;

•     co-ordinating and delivering a wide range of maths continuing professional development

(CPD) and school-to-school support;

•     ensuring maths leadership is developed, for example by coordinating programmes for aspiring        and new heads of maths departments;

•     helping maths enrichment programmes to reach a large number of pupils from primary school onwards.

Interestingly, the development of Subject Knowledge Courses for would-be mathematics teachers is not specifically mentioned in the list, but would no doubt be just as important as helping existing teachers of other subjects convert to become competent maths teachers.

On the basis that you have to invest to achieve progress, the Hubs will no doubt initially take some of the scare maths teachers away from classrooms and department leadership to run the programmes. I worry that the initiative is too secondary orientated when what may be required is a national scheme for upgrading the maths capability of primary school teachers. If they can gain confidence is delivering the subject, then a higher proportion of pupils will achieve the expected level at Key Stage 2, and maths teaching in secondary schools will be more interesting for more teachers. It is not enrichment after primary school that is needed as much as the ability of pupils to achieve their full potential before they move on to secondary schools.

I hope that while the DfE has opened the scheme to ‘expressions of interest’ there will be attempts to ensure national coverage rather than leaving schools in some parts of England devoid of any support. Market-based schemes may have their place, but ensuring national coverage must take precedence over other factors. I am also not sure whether a programme developing maths leader solely alongside other maths teachers is a good idea. Personally, I think groups of teachers from different subjects undertaking leadership development together is a better model, and helps those eventually going forward to senior leadership to start to understand whole school issues as well as those relating to their own subject. No doubt the National College has a view on middle leadership development but, despite having been taken into the DfE, they don’t seem to rate a mention in this document. Hopefully, that is only a temporary oversight in the rush to produce a programme to coincide with the Minister’s visit to Shanghai.

Shanghaied but not qualified: the fate of too many maths teachers?

In their recent evidence to the School Teachers’ Review body (STRB) the government admitted that it would need an extra 5,000 or so qualified mathematics teachers for every child in a secondary school to be taught be a ‘specialist’ mathematics teacher as defined by the Department for Education. It will, therefore, be interesting to see whether the ministerial led delegation going to Shanghai to study maths teaching asks the question how many of the teachers in Shanghai are fully qualified?

With nearly one in six teachers not fully qualified in England, what gain in the OECD’s PISA tests could be achieved just by improving the quality of the teaching even to the standard where the percentage of pupils achieving the expected progress between Key Stages 2 and 4 reached the same level as for English as a subject. Of course, if the government delegation comes back clambering for more hours of mathematics teaching to match the 138 hours of teaching common across much of South East Asia, then each class will need an extra 20-22 hours of teaching per week; and that will need yet more mathematics teachers. Add in an increase required for post-16 maths teaching if all students had to study maths to eighteen and the number of extra teachers required rises still further.

On the back of this demand, the 30 schools funded to act as mathematics hubs looks like small beer given the size of the problem. The ratio is something like 100 secondary schools and 600 primary schools per hub. At that rate any individual teacher might have as much chance of attending a hub as a flood victim had of seeing the army arriving bearing a supply of sandbags. In the 1970s, almost all of the 150 or so local authorities had a dedicated professional development centre with trained maths staff, including advisers and advisory teachers. The dismantling of this infrastructure by successive governments no doubt ensured the quality of maths teaching would suffer, as it probably did in other subjects as well. If not, why are the hubs being established?

If the delegation returns from Shanghai with the message that improving maths teaching is more important that establishing free schools and wasting money on brokers trying to persuade primary schools to become an academy it will have been taxpayers money well spent.

Tackling the primary sector teaching of maths to children of all abilities is an even more challenging task than dealing with the teaching of maths in secondary schools, and I doubt whether the hub secondary schools will have the necessary expertise to tackle the challenge. However, the teaching of maths in the primary sector is part of a much larger issue in relation to how teachers for that sector are prepared.

Overall, it would help parents to know who was teaching their offspring if Qualified Teacher Status was not a universal qualification, but was limited to those subjects and phases where a teacher had been appropriately prepared. But, since the Secretary of State doesn’t believe preparation is necessary for teaching there is little chance of that happening this side of the general election.