Firm but understanding

Teachers are graduates, and many that enter the profession come from backgrounds that are comfortable, although not well-off. By dint of being a graduate they have generally been successful at school and college; perhaps even more successful than some of those they have followed as teachers. I wonder, having failed ‘O’ level English and just scrapped maths, whether these day I would be allowed into the sixth form to gain 3Bs at ‘A’ level and a pass in the ‘special paper’ in geography?

Fortunately, not achieving at 16 need not the be all and end all, it was too often in my day, and there are those that become teachers after persevering at learning, sometimes well into adult life: I salute them. Indeed, we need to encourage more such learners as a potential source of new teachers.

Why am I writing this post? Well, for two reasons. Firstly my attention has been drawn to a range of books for new and early career teachers designed to help them navigate through their training year and first two years of teaching. The series has been launched by the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT). This blog recognises the excellent work teacher trainers and groups such as NASBTT undertake in preparing new entrants into the profession and increasingly with their concern for post-entry professional development. The first two books, in what will be a series, are now available to order at https://www.nasbtt.org.uk/essential-guides-early-career-teachers/

My second reason for this post is not unconnected to the first. In the past week, I have attended presentations by amongst other the CEO of Child Poverty Action Group; The Rees Centre on Children in Care, about exclusions among such children, and the report of the local Safeguarding Board for Children. I was also privileged to attend the local Music Services’ awards evening where more than 50 groups and individuals received awards for various aspects of music and musicality.

What is the significant of these events for new teachers? Many of the problems they face in the classroom come from children with backgrounds different to their own. Understanding that for instance many children in care lack self-esteem and self-confidence, and consequently are not so much ‘naughty’ or ‘ill-disciplined’ as emotionally challenged, and even seeking attention. It’s hard understanding as a teacher what it must be like to come home from school and find your belongings in bin bags and social worker waiting to take you to a new placement. Even if you can remain at the same school it’s tough; changing schools as well mid-term is even harder.

I know that one of the books yet to be published in the NASBTT series is about discipline. I hope another will help new teachers fully understand what some children bring with them to school each day. Whether they are in care; from families facing poverty; confronting safeguarding issues or even acting as a young carer, teachers need to be aware of what this can mean and how they should respond.

Too often, compared with say attitudes in Scotland, where exclusion rates are much lower, England has official documents couched in punitive language. Perhaps the new government, after the election, will look at this aspect of schooling. More cash is needed, but so is a recognition of what is driving the attitudes of so many children in our schools today.  There is a place for compassion as much as for compulsion.

Some reduction in workload, but not enough

The DfE has recently published the result of the 2019 Teacher Workload Survey, carried out on its behalf by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NfER). https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/838457/Teacher_workload_survey_2019_report.pdf

From the results, it seems as the high level of publicity given to the term-time workload of teachers has produced results, since teachers and middle leaders report working fewer hours in total in 2019 than they did in 2016. Senior leaders also reported working fewer hours in total in 2019 than they did in 2016.

Primary and secondary teachers and middle leaders reported spending broadly similar amounts of time on teaching in 2019 as they did in 2016. However, most primary and secondary teachers and middle leaders reported spending less time on lesson planning, marking and pupil supervision in 2019 than in 2016, so the reduction hasn’t come in face to face teaching but in all those other activities that make up the task of a teacher.

Primary teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders were less likely than those in the secondary phase to say that workload was a ‘very’ serious problem. I wonder whether this relates to the fact that secondary classroom teachers have to manage interactions with far more pupils than do their primary counterparts and many senior leaders.

Even with the reduced workload from the last survey in 2016, most respondents reported to the NfER that they could not complete their workload within their contracted hours, that they did not have an acceptable workload, and that they did not achieve a good work-life balance. So, the reduction reported is not enough to create a profession satisfied with its term-time workload.

Interestingly, most teachers, middle and senior leaders were positive about the professional development time and support they receive according to the Report. While I am pleased with this outcome, I do find it slightly surprising. Maybe the bar is set very low in the minds of many teachers these days.

Certainly there seems to be much less leadership development than there was in the past, and the abolition of the National College looks like a retrograde step that may still haunt the profession for years to come unless action is taken to properly develop future generations of school and system leaders. To a great extent, the profession is living on investment from the past, and not looking to the future.

As the report concludes:

with about seven out of ten primary respondents and nine out of ten secondary respondents still reporting workload is a ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ serious problem, it is also clear that there is more work to do to reduce unnecessary workload for teachers, middle leaders, and school leaders.

If the government is to solve the recruitment crisis facing schools, then it has to ensure teaching is a profession that offers not only a good salary, but also a satisfactory work-life balance. On the basis of this report, although progress has been made since 2016, the goal of profession satisfied with its lot has not yet been achieved.

Harry Judge: a tribute

Harry Judge was Director of the then Oxford Department of Educational Studies when I arrived in Oxford in September 1979 to read for a higher degree. As a teacher with nearly a decade of teaching in a comprehensive school in Tottenham behind me, Oxford was a culture shock. However, Harry Judge was one of those that helped make my time at Norham Gardens memorable. He also inspired much of my interest in both teacher education and the careers of teachers that has continued to this day.

I especially recall his lectures on both the McNair Report and the James Report, where he had been a member of the Committee chaired by Lord James. Although the oil crisis of 1972 scuppered much of what James had recommended for in-service professional development for the teaching profession, the need for a sound education before becoming a teacher was accepted, along with the fact that a teacher preparation course was necessary for all by way of both pre-service training and induction. Not for James and Harry Judge the notion of Michael Gove that anyone with a good education can become a teacher.

Although much has changed in the period of approaching half a century since the James Committee was set up, this paragraph can still strike a cord, especially with those trainees not able to find a job immediately after completing their teacher preparation course.

“The probationary teacher, in fact, leaves his [sic] college on the last day of term and never hears of or from it again. Nor does the school to which he goes communicate with the college, even if difficulties arise. He is pleasantly received at his school (as would be any newly appointed member of staff, whether or not in a first appointment) and introduced, formally or informally, to the ways of the place. No one suggests to him that he is in a special situation, or entitled to unusual help. He may be invited by the LEA to attend a tea party but will probably not go and, if he does, that will be his last meeting with its officers or advisers. He teaches a full timetable including one or two of the notoriously difficult groups of pupils. No one goes near him in the mistaken belief that to do so would be to interfere with his professional integrity. At the end of the year he receives a note informing him that the probationary year has been satisfactorily completed, and he is now a fully qualified teacher. This gap between theory and practice reflects an equally alarming gap between the interpretation of the probationary year by colleges and departments on the one hand and schools on the other. Colleges rightly insist that a profession should accept a major responsibility in incorporating its own members and, in any case, they cannot themselves do everything, and cannot produce a standard and universally valid form of training which will enable everyone to do everything everywhere. The schools rightly insist that ‘the system’ does in fact presuppose that a new teacher is fully trained, and they are given neither resources nor encouragement to become effective partners in the training.”   James Report paragraph 3.9

School-based training, SCITTs and partnerships have helped eradicate the worst of the problems mentioned above, but a market system and a weakened third cycle of professional development can still leave too many new teachers without an ideal introduction to the profession: hence the unnecessary wastage rates for new teachers.

Harry Judge helped pioneer the successful partnership model for the PGCE at Oxford, as well as inspiring many teachers and leaders in the field of education. I am glad to have known and studied on courses that he taught. He was a major influence on my life in the field of education. Thank you Harry.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.