School Direct in trouble in the secondary sector?

The wider world seems to be receiving the message in the Conservative manifesto. At least as far as graduates looking to train as teachers are concerned. The latest data on applications and offers was published by UCAS earlier today.

Offers in geography and history, EBacc subjects, have reached new highs for this time of year, easily exceeding the numbers reached last year and the year before at the same time. At the other end of the Range, for business studies, chemistry, music and physical education, offers are below both last year and the year before at this point in the cycle. In IT the number of offers is the same as last year, but below the year before. In the other subjects tracked, biology, design and technology, English, mathematics, physics, Religious Education, art and modern languages, the number of offer made so far this year is below this point last year, but still above the figure for two years ago at this point in time, albeit in some subjects only just.

Time is running out, with only three months of the recruitment round left before courses commence and less than two months before school start the summer holiday period. This means how new graduates react to the possibility of a career in teaching once finals are over is key to the outcome of the recruitment round and whether some subjects will confront a sixth year in a row of not meeting the government’s identified trainee numbers needed. Frankly, with the present economic climate and demand for graduates, I don’t currently expect a large rush into teaching, even with a vague promise from the Conservatives of some debt forgiveness for those that stay in teaching.

So, how bad is it looking overall? The crisis, to the extent that there is one, is most severe in School Direct in the secondary sector. Offers made for secondary School Direct Salaried route places are down from 1,130 at this point last year to just 730 this year. Of these, only 100 firm placed students are on this route, compared with 160 at this point last year. Uniquely, there are even fewer potential trainees holding offer than last year. Elsewhere, the increase in applicants holding an offer is the one bright spot in a generally dismal picture for secondary training places. Secondary higher education applications have actually increased from nearly 25,000 last year to 25,260 this year, as have applications to SCITTs. The two School Direct routes have seen a drop of round 4,000 in applications. This is a significant decline by any standards.

This blog has remarked on the decline in applications from recent graduates in previous posts looking at the earlier months of this recruitment round. The trends continues, with more than 1,000 fewer applicants under 22 than last year; a drop almost ten per cent from this age group. As this group cannot apply for the School Direct Salaried route it would seem that older applicants are applying to higher education rather than School Direct, although the reason for this trend cannot be determined from the data.

Overall, the assessment must be that School Direct in the secondary sector needs the attention of the in-coming Secretary of State as a matter of urgency. The ideological battle to take secondary teacher preparation away from higher education seems under challenge from the behaviour of the very applicants it was designed to serve. After so many –U- turns, perhaps this is another one that might be worth considering by the new government.

Job Done Mrs May

We will create a single jobs portal, like NHS Jobs, for schools to advertise vacancies in order to reduce costs and help them find the best teachers.                                                         Conservative Party Manifesto page 51

Good news for the Conservatives: this already exists and is free – TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk is now the largest teacher job site in England and is free to all users; schools to place vacancies and teachers and returners to locate jobs that meet their needs.

So, Mrs May, pick up the phone and call the team in Newport Isle of Wight and we will happily show you how the service operates. We are already saving schools millions of pounds in recruitment advertising and with government support, such as is envisaged for the supply sector, we can channel probably another £50 million into teaching and learning while providing accurate and up to the minute management information for civil servants and ministers.

This is one area where you can say, job done, even before the election.

Peak time for vacancies

The period two weeks after Easter usually proves to be the peak of the recruitment cycle for teachers by schools seeking to be fully staffed for September. Vacancies due to promotion have been identified; school rolls for September can be calculated as admission numbers are now known; most teachers deciding to retire or leave the profession for other reasons will have made their decisions known to the leadership of the school and budgets, including Pupil Premium, can be calculated with some degree of certainty.

At TeachVac we are seeing that profile again this year. Indeed, I am somewhat surprised how resilient the job market has been after all the dire pronouncements during the teacher association annual conferences about the lack of funding for schools. However, as I wrote in an earlier post, teaching posts are often the last thing a school will cut when finances are tight. I suspect that the position would also be a lot worse if there hadn’t been such a severe restriction on the growth of the teachers’ salary bill in relation to other costs. Once the line gives way on the 1% per annum pay increase, then that is when teaching posts will come under real pressure, unless there is an injection of more funds.

At least, this year, there are more trainee teachers around than last year and probably than there will be next year, judging by the evidence discussed in a previous post based upon the UCAS data for April. As might be expected, the number of recorded vacancies for business studies teachers has exceeded both the trainee numbers and likely returners, so schools can expect to find that subject difficult to staff for the next twelve months, and probably beyond.

The pool of teachers of English not on preparation courses linked to schools is shrinking rapidly and those schools that have to trawl in the open market, especially in and around London, may increasingly find recruitment a challenge. There should be less of an issue in mathematics, based upon the absolute numbers of trainees, but, of course, there may be issues with quality and depth of knowledge of the subject. At the other end of the scale, there are still plenty of art and PE teachers along with those training to be teachers of IT. Despite the talk of reductions in the amount for time being allocated to design and technology, the supply of trainee teachers has diminished rapidly over the past few weeks, as the pool was not overly large to start with this year.

TeachVac, as the free services to schools and teachers, continues to provide matches on a daily basis to direct teachers to the vacancies, so that schools can know very quickly whether they are receiving expressions of interest. We note at this time of year schools often cut and paste vacancies when placing them on their web sites, and common issues are with out of date closing dates; wrong salary scales and even a mismatch between the headline subject and the details of the vacancy. We advise applicants to check for errors; schools should also mystery shop their vacancy web sites on a regular basis to ensure they aren’t wasting money because of mistakes in the information provided.

Why do head teachers leave?

The Daily Telegraph’s education editor rang me to this evening to ask this question ahead of some research to be published by NfER tomorrow. Normally, the most common reason for the departure of a head teacher is retirement, often after about ten years in post. This stands to reason in view of the age at which most heads are appointed. There are rare examples of heads appointed young staying for a quarter of a century or even longer, but that isn’t the norm.

In the primary sector, another key reason for departure is to move from the headship of a small school to a larger one. That happens as well in the secondary sector, but I suspect less often, although a study I did some years ago suggested that the schools with the highest ratings often appointed existing heads when they had a vacancy, preferring experience over other possible qualifications.

The big change since 2010, and the Academies Act, has been the formation of MATs and the creation of many more executive head or CEO posts filled by existing head teachers moving into these newly created roles. That will have created a temporary increase in departures and probably reduced the average length of service of head teachers. However, I suspect that many converter academies didn’t change heads on becoming an academy, other schools may have parted company with their head when joining a MAT, whether forced to do so or not.

Ofsted, and before that HMI, have always played an important role in determining the fate of a head teacher. A poor inspection outcome has almost always seen the departure of the head. Indeed, before inspections became commonplace, I suspect local authorities sometimes triggered an inspection as a means of removing a head they were concerned about.

I would guess that as concerns about workload and morale have increased across the profession there will have been an increase in heads leaving, just as there have been in classroom teachers. But, head shave always had heavy workloads, especially those that also have a substantial teaching load.

Apart from becoming executive heads, there are other roles heads looking for a new challenge can look undertake, including looking to lead an international school or taking on a consultancy role. However, there will be few moving into local authority administration: a popular route in the past.

What is as important as the departure is when it is announced. The key period for head teacher recruitment is January to March. Outside that period schools can often struggle to find a replacement for a departing head teacher. As this blog has noted before, any schools that differs from the norm is likely to find recruiting a new head teacher a challenge. The greater the number of variables where the school differs from the typical, the greater the recruitment challenge as some diocese have found over the decades I have been studying the labour market for head teachers.

 

 

The dog ate my homework

How much money does it take to persuade a graduate to become a teacher? More than it used to do. For more than three decades it has been known that when the economy is doing well the government finds it more of a challenge to recruit trainee teachers and also to retain those it already has. As a result, the amount of cash spent on marketing soars.

A recent article in PR week http://www.prweek.com/article/1430786/dfe-doubles-campaign-budget-attract-people-teaching suggests that the marketing budget in 2017/18 to encourage new entrants to train as a teacher will be more than £16 million. That’s a fourfold increase on what was spent in 2013/14 just four years ago. Put another way, four years ago, £114 per trainee was spent on advertising; this year, assuming all places are filled, it will cost some £474 per trainee. In reality, it is likely that the actual cost per trainee recruited will be in excess of £500.

Actually, the cost is near £1,000 per additional trainee encouraged into teaching as, even if nothing was spent, there would probably be a sizeable number of people wanting to train as a teacher, especially as a primary school teacher. So, the cost is largely to entice additional Physics, mathematics and languages teachers. The marketing bill needs to be added to the sizeable bursaries these students also attract making the real cost even higher. There are also the marketing costs of individual course providers competing with each other plus the not insignificant budget being spent by Teach First that’s not included in the £16 million.

Now that all young people have to stay in education or training until eighteen, it is worth asking whether the use of specialist teachers should be delayed in some subjects so that the costs of acquiring new teachers can be reduced. Would the money spent on marketing be better spent on up-skilling the expertise of existing teachers already having to teach subjects where they are under-prepared? How much higher will the marketing budget be allow to rise if the labour market for graduates remains tight over the next few years? Fortunately, compared with the spending from the Ministry of Defence the cost per place of recruiting teachers is probably far less than the marketing budget to recruit personnel for the armed forces.

One thing the DfE has to do is to demonstrate that it has learnt the lessons of history. Although current corporate memory in Sanctuary Buildings may not be very detailed, there are presumably copies of the studies conducted by various market research agencies for the Department during previous recruitment crises around the turn of the century. Discussing whether they are still relevant should, at least, ensure the £16 million is spent wisely and not wasted on campaigns that would never bear fruit in terms of teacher recruitment.

Making the term teacher’ a reserved occupation title would cost little, but raise the status of the profession overnight. It would also gain good press publicity. Good PR is often cheaper than poor marketing, although the reverse is sadly also true.

More worrying signs on teacher preparation applications

The already challenging news about applications to train as a teacher in England for the 2017 recruitment round has in no way been offset by the appearance of the data for March 2017 from UCAS. Applications from those with a domicile in England were 2,450 below the same date in 2016. Of more concern is the fact that there are now fewer applicants from all age-groups. This suggests a widespread reluctance to train as a teacher under present circumstances than just amongst new graduates. However, over the past month only 640 applicants under the age of 22 have registered. This has widened the gap to just over 1,200 fewer from this age-group compared with this point last year from the 1,000 missing applicants mark reported last month.

The net effect has been to reduce the overall numbers placed, conditionally placed or holding offers from just over 21,000 to around 18,600. This is a loss of nearly 2,500 trainees offered a place compared with March 2016. The only bright spot is that the number holding an offer is 1,080 this March compared with 910 in March 2016; a gain of 170.

Differences are beginning to be seen across the secondary subjects. It is difficult to see why geography retains its position as a priority subject when business studies doesn’t qualify for such status. This is because geography has the highest level of offer at this point in the cycle for four years and should easily meet its target for the second year. On the other hand, business studies has little chance of meeting its target, at whatever level it has been set. The same failure to meet the target is to be expected of computing/IT and possibly chemistry that looks to be having a relatively bad year so far, although the science total may disguise some chemistry applicants. Although the majority of other subjects may be able to come close to target if the trend of the first part of the recruitment cycle are replicated, the slowdown over the past two months continues to provide worrying signs of what might be to come in some parts of the country unless applications pick up.

Despite the government’s attempts to move teacher preparation into schools, applicants continue to seem attracted more to higher education courses, especially in the secondary sector where there have been more than 20,000 applications to high education courses compared with a similar number of all school-based routes. So far, only 540 offers have been made to the School Direct Salaried route in all secondary subjects.

With almost 11,000 offers, primary courses may well be on their way to meeting the target, if anyone knew what it was. But, with little more than 9,000 offers across all secondary subjects, there must be concerns for meeting some targets as identified above. Fortunately, there are still 9,000 applications (and upwards of 3,000 applicants) with either interview requests or pending provider offers. We will look at this group in more detail next month.

The overall analysis must be that the gains of last year’s recruitment round look unlikely to be substantiated this year and the overall picture may be like that of 2015: a year most did not want to see repeated

 

 

Headship Concerns

Now that we are into April, it is possible to look in more detail about the progress of headship appointments during the first quarter of the year. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has identified just over 800 schools seeking a new head teachers during the first three months of 2017. The majority are schools in the primary sector. Indeed, of the 52 secondary schools identified as seeking a new head teacher, only five have so far been recorded as re-advertising; a percentage rate of 10% for re-advertisements. This suggests little real difficult for most secondary schools that are seeking a new head teacher. Or, maybe, that some MATs are managing this process internally rather than resorting to outside advertising.

The position in the primary sector is much less satisfactory. Of the 336 schools that were tracked as advertising in January by TeachVac, 25% had re-advertised by the end of March. Of these schools re-advertising, 16 have already placed 2 further rounds of advertisements after their initial January advertisement.  The overall position for the 239 schools recorded as advertising in February is little better, with 21% have re-advertised by the end of March.

There are significant regional differences, as well as differences between faith schools and other schools, with rural schools also being much more likely to have re-advertised as are separate infant and junior and first schools. Indeed, as in the past, any factor that makes a school stand out as different from the majority of its peers seems to make finding a new head teacher more of a challenge. This is something that governors need to be aware of when constructing their advertisements and setting out a recruitment timetable.

Interestingly, Hampshire seems to be faring less well than many other parts of the country, with a significant re-advertisement rate for schools originally advertising in January:  a trend that seems to have continued into February. This is in stark contrast to some of the more northern parts of England where there are much lower rates of re-advertisement, even for schools of a similar background.

With the lack of any mandatory qualification for headship, it is always difficult to be certain what the size of the potential pool of new school leaders is in any given year. This lack of knowledge and pre-planning is a real handicap in helping ensure schools with be able to recruit the next generation of school leaders.

Whether the new funding formula has affected where applicants will apply is too soon to say, but other factors such as house prices and the availability of work for a partner have always been an issue for some schools when seeking a new head teacher. In that respect, is interesting to see that schools across most of London are not yet re-advertising headships in any significant numbers. However, TeachVac will be watching to see this is really the case of it is rather that re-advertisements are slower to appear than in some other parts of the country.

For anyone seeking more details, do make contact with TeachVac.