Vacancy war breaks out

The DfE’s rather muddled announcement earlier today of a service to clampdown on agencies charging schools “excessive” fees to recruit staff and advertise vacancies https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-free-website-for-schools-to-advertise-vacancies was clearly written by a press officer that didn’t understand what was being said. Either that or the government is in more of a mess than I thought. Muddled up in the announcement posted on the DfE’s web page today are two separate and different services.

In one, the DfE announced that:

Mr Hinds will launch a new nationwide deal for headteachers from September 2018 – developed with Crown Commercial Service – providing them with a list of supply agencies that do not charge fees when making supply staff permanent after 12 weeks.

The preferred suppliers on the list will also be required to clearly set out how much they are charging on top of the wages for staff. This will make it easier for schools to avoid being charged excessive fees and reduce the cost burden on schools of recruiting supply teachers through agencies.

Such a service might backfire if it drove some agencies out of business and then allowed the remainder to actually increase their prices to schools.

However, it is the other service, starting now for a limited trail just after the end of the main recruitment round for September vacancies that is of more interest, as it directly competes with TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the free service for vacancies that has been running successfully for the past four years. TeachVac was set up to do exactly what the DfE say they are now trying to do:

 To help combat these costs, the Secretary of State has announced a free website has been launched to advertise vacancies, which currently costs schools up to £75 million a year. This website will include part-time roles and job shares.

Well TeachVac does all of that. Regular readers will know that I am chair of the company that owns and operate TeachVac and its international site Teachval Global. Why should the government want to destroy an already successful free service? Perhaps the teacher associations can tell me what see that will be better in the DfE’s offering?Certainly, the DfE won’t have access to the same level of real time job data as TeachVac that allowed us to comment on the problems facing schools in London and the Home counties that have been trying to recruit teachers for September.

TeachVac will continue, as it is backed by its successful TeachVac Global arm that provides a similar paid service for international schools around the globe. http://www.teachvacglobal.com as well as its extensive data and associated businesses.

In the meantime, paid for vacancy service such as the TES – also a player in the supply agency marketplace- eteach, SchoolsWeek and The Guardian must explain to their investors how they will combat another free service displaying teaching vacancies. Local authorities, don’t have investors to explain to, but could see their job boards affected by the DfE move, especially for posts in primary schools where they are often a key player in the local market.

But, for everyone the key question is, after two failures in this field, will the DfE be successful this time around? Judging by the quality of the announcement, there must be a measure of doubt, especially at the costs involved. Let me know what you think. Is this a service the DfE should provide and do you think that they can for a credible cost?

 

 

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Why the TSM matters

The TSM, or Teacher Supply Model to use its full name, is the mechanism used by the DfE to identify the changes in the labour market for teachers that will determine how many training places will be needed and thus funded in a future given year. It also provides indicative numbers for other years, mostly assuming current policies and other inputs don’t change during the time period under consideration.

For many years the workings of the TSM under its various iterations were largely concealed from public view. However, over the past few years, the outcome of the process and how the numbers were created has been exposed to public gaze. Not that many members of the public have probably taken the opportunity of open government to work through the DfE’s calculations. If you are interested, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-supply-model and immerse yourself in an interesting read.

Why bring this up now. Well, apart for the fact that the TSM for 2019 to 2020 will appear sometime soon, tomorrow is the last day for resignations for teachers wanting to leave their jobs this summer. At that point in time, it is often possible to see how well the TSM has worked. However, in periods where recruitment into training is a challenge and the TSM or any other figure for trainee numbers set by the DfE isn’t reached, the outcome is more complicated.

Nevertheless, if there are still far more trainees than jobs in the recruitment round by the end of May, then something isn’t working as efficiently as it might. There are two subjects where, based upon the vacancy data collected by TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk where I am the Chair, questions might be asked? These are physical education and history. Both are important because students training to be teachers on these courses bear the whole cost of their training through fees and living costs. Should such students have an expectation that the DfE will not create too many training places resulting in a proportion not being able to secure a teaching post in their subject in either a state or a private school?

The over-supply of physical education trainees has been apparent for some time now and many find jobs in other subjects where they are not fully prepared for their teaching timetable. Potential teachers of physical education presumably do their homework before apply to train as a teacher and decide the risk is manageable, since numbers of applicants hold up very well every year.

The situation in history is more complicated. The advent of the English Baccalaureate created an expectation in the DfE TSM modelling process that more teachers of history would be required as more pupils studied the subject at Key Stage 4. How far that expectation has come to pass will be revealed next month when the data from the 2017 Teacher Workforce Census is revealed. However, even allowing for post for teachers of Humanities as well as teachers of History, this recruitment round does not seem to have created enough vacancies to absorb anywhere near the number of trainees.  Indeed, the risk to history trainees looking for a teaching post is now little different to that for physical education trainees in some parts of the country.

I don’t think that this means the DfE should no longer model teacher needs through the TSM, but I do wonder whether its regime should be so market orientated in how it deals with those that want to be a teacher.

 

Frugal innovation

I heard this term used this morning in an interview broadcast on the BBC from the Hay Festival. My first thought was that is exactly what TeachVac has been trying to achieve. The best solution at the lowest price. Next week marks a key point in the 2018 recruitment cycle for schools. Serving teachers must have resigned by the 31st May, in most schools, if they are to leave at the summer and either retire or take up another position. Some may also opt to change to part-time working.

By the end of next week schools will know the shape and size of the challenge facing their staffing arrangements for September. Most will either be fully staffed or perhaps have a last minute vacancy because of the promotion of an existing colleague. A few schools will be facing real challenges in completing their staffing and may be looking to either change the curriculum or find the best fitting person still available in the market.

At TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk we have provided a free service to schools and teachers for the past four years and alerted thousands of teachers to possible job opportunities. All this has cost nothing to anyone.

Since 2016, the DfE has been engaged in a process of establishing a similar service and the £984,000 contract was awarded in February to digital specialists DXW according to a recent article in SchoolsWeek. This sum is far in excess of the total operating costs of TeachVac since its inception. I don’t regard the DfE’s efforts as a frugal innovation even to meet government IT standards.

There has been changes across the recruitment market in the past two years. The TES has launched a subscription service and from next month SchoolsWeek will revise its recruitment advertising rates and stop its print version https://schoolsweek.co.uk/schools-week-is-changing-were-going-digital-first/ Along with other players such as eteach and The Guardian, as well as many local authorities, these services all charge schools for advertising vacancies.

TeachVac is free and up and running successfully. The DfE site doesn’t appear to have made it into BETA testing before the end of the key 2018 recruitment cycle. Ministers really do need to ask whether they are creating a value for money service and whether a joint arrangement between interested parties from across the education scene might create a better and cheaper option that could be operational nationally from September.

Next week TeachVac will be looking to identify the schools with the most vacancies so far in 2018 and comparing them with their profile on free school meals and attendance measures. I was asked about this at the recent APPG on the teaching profession, held last Monday at Westminster. The DfE won’t be able to answer this question before 2020 at the current rate of progress, whereas TeachVac can do so now. TeachVac can also identify the requirements of schools advertising vacancies in composite subjects such as modern languages – is German dying out as a language being studied – and how bad is the crisis in physics – do schools ever mention the word in their adverts for science teachers? TeachVac has already altered schools to teacher shortages in various subjects and expects to publish more alerts next week.

 

 

 

Red alert for English

TeachVac, the free National Vacancy Service for teachers, trainees and schools today warned of a ‘red’ alert for schools seeking to appoint a teacher of English. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk issues such an alert when the volume of vacancies tracked is sufficient since the 1st January of that year to have absorbed 80% of the total trainee numbers as recorded in the DfE’s annual ITT census. TeachVac has issued red alerts for English in previous recruitment rounds, but never as early in the cycle as mid-May. In 2017 the alert was issued at the end of May and in 2016, not until late into the autumn term.

TeachVac, where I am chair of the Board, says that the situation in English is complicated by the large number of trainees in the DfE’s census on programmes such as Teach First and the School Direct Salaried route. These trainees are not usually available to all schools. If their numbers are removed from the census total, then in some parts of England it is quite possible that all trainees will have been offered jobs by now. That is already the situation in subjects such as Design and Technology and Business Studies. TeachVac is also monitoring the position in science very closely, as a recent upsurge in vacancies has meant the percentage of trainees remaining is likely to be approaching critical levels quite soon. Full details are available to schools registered to use the TeachVac service that has saved schools many millions of pounds in recruitment advertising, at no cost to the public purse.

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised by any of the above, since it was clear at this point last year that not all training places would be filled. The scale of the shortfall was confirmed when the DfE issued the ITT census data late last autumn. In reality, the latest data is just confirming what has been known would be the case for the past twelve months.

As the 2018 recruitment round is looking worse than at this point in 2017, and there will be even more pupils in our secondary schools in September 2019 than in this coming September, the signs are for an even worse situation in 2019 unless a new supply of teachers can be found from somewhere.

With the abolition of external agencies such as the TTA and NSCL of former years, Ministers have nowhere to hide and nobody else to blame if the crisis deepens. Setting up a task group, as has been put in place for workload, might offer Ministers some breathing space, as might a helpful pay settlement that boosted entry pay and provided for a salary for all during training along with pension credits.

The sad thing is that unless something is done, schools in many parts of the country will be paying large sums to recruit for those unavoidable January 2019 vacancies and some private sector companies will be making profits out of the situation.

Update on Leadership trends in the primary sector

Some primary schools are still finding it difficult to recruit a new head teacher. Around half of the 151 local authority areas in England have at least one primary school that has had to pace a second advert so far this year in their quest for a new head. In total more than 170 primary schools across England have not been successful at the first attempt, when looking for a new head teacher.

As some schools are still working through the recruitment process for the first time, following an advertisement placed in April, the number of schools affected is likely to increase beyond the current number as the end of term approaches. Some 25 schools have had to place more than one re-advertisements in their quest for a new head teacher. London schools seem to be faring better than those in parts of the North West when it comes to making an appointment after the first advertisement.

As expected, some faith schools and schools with special circumstances: small school; infant or junior schools and those with other issues feature among the school with more than one advertisement.

The data for this blog comes from TeachVac, the no cost to schools and applicants National Vacancy Listing Service for teaching posts in schools anywhere in England that is already demonstrating what the DfE is spending cash on trying to provide. See for yourself at www.teachvac.co.uk  but you will have to register as TeachVac is a closed system. Such a system prevents commercial organisations cherry picking vacancies and offering candidates to schools for a fee. (TeachVac published a full report on the primary leadership sector in 2017 in January 2018.)

Time was, when appointing a deputy head teachers in the primary sector wasn’t regarded as a problem. Are candidates now being more circumspect when it comes to applying for deputy head teacher vacancies? Certainly, so far in 2018, a third of local authorities have at least one school that has had to re-advertise a deputy head teacher vacancy. The same parts of the county where headship are not easy to fill also applies to deputy head vacancies. This is an especially worrying aspect, since the deputy of today is the head teacher of tomorrow.

Assistant head teacher vacancies are still relatively rare in the primary sector, so it is of concern that 37 local authority areas have recorded at least one vacancy that has been re-advertised so far in 2018. London boroughs that have fared well at the other levels of leadership, seem to be struggling rather more at this level of appointment.

Is this data useful? What should be done with it if it is useful? The DfE have cited data as one of their reasons for creating their own vacancy service, but it will be 2019 at the earliest and possibly not until 2020 that they will have full access to this type of essential management data.

If there is a valid concern about filling leadership positions in the primary sector at all grades then, at least for academies, the government needs to understand what is happening and arrange for strategies to overcome any problem. That’s what strategic leadership of the academy programme is all about. As Labour backed academies in last week’s funding debate, they should work with the government to ensure all academies can appoint a new head teacher when they first advertise. The government should also recognise the role of local authorities in helping with finding new school leaders for the maintained school sector.

Probably none left?

Yesterday, Friday 16th March, Business Studies turned negative on TeachVac’s scale that compares vacancies for main scale teachers with trainee numbers. I wrote on this blog a few weeks ago predicating this would happen soon, and it has duly come to pass. Next to turn negative will be Design and Technology, probably sometime in April, if the present rate of progress is maintained and allowing for the Easter break.

Now, it is interesting to compare the date these subjects effectively ran out of trainees and turned negative in each of the past three years as well as this year.

Date where TeachVac recorded enough vacancies to provide a teaching post for all trainees in the relevant ITT Census

Year Business Studies Design & Technology
2015 15th April 20th May
2016 22nd April 30th September
2017 31st March 2nd June
2018 16th March Before end of April?

Source: TeachVac

Both subjects are likely to have seen enough teaching posts created by schools in England to absorb all trainees at a ratio of two recorded vacancies for every one trainee at an earlier point this year than in any of the previous three years. Of course, Business Studies may be propped up by some schools being prepared to recruit economists to teach Business Studies and TeachVac doesn’t publish data on the number of posts in economics, although the data is collected. However, the warning signs apparent when the DfE ITT census was announced of a failure to fill all training places available has come about.

The position in a portmanteau subject such as Design and Technology is more complex. The ITT Census does not breakdown the categories of specialism with the subject, so there may already have been more vacancies for say, teachers of textiles, than there are trainees, but still relatively more trainees in another aspect of the subject. TeachVac collects the data from advertisements about specific knowledge and skills required, but does not make it public. For anyone with a genuine reason to want the data, TeachVac is willing to discuss what might be made available. But, clearly even with timetables being adjusted downward in the subject, the failure to fill more than a third of training places was always going to have a severe impact upon schools looking to recruit design and technology teachers.

So, what are the effects of this situation? Well, it is likely to mean that some schools will find recruiting teachers in these subjects challenging. As the recruitment round heads towards its conclusion in November and December for January 2019 appointments, any school with an unexpected vacancy might well start by considering it won’t be just a matter of placing an advert and waiting for applications to arrive. The number of returners, for whatever reason, is always unpredictable, as is the wastage rate of teachers leaving the profession. Existing teachers may well see whether other schools are offering incentives for current teachers to move to them? Whether the new subscription model being operated by the TES makes this more likely is an interesting question. Free services such as TeachVac and the one currently being worked upon by the DfE might face the charge that by reducing recruitment costs they increase opportunities for churn among the teaching force. Such a situation is always possible under a market-based model of teacher recruitment, but is only replacing state planning of where teachers are to be sent with acceptance of the laws of supply and demand.

 

 

Productivity gain or worsening working conditions?

Ahead of the ASCL Conference in Birmingham this weekend, there is a report in the press today about rising class sizes in secondary schools.

An analysis by teaching unions has suggested 62% of secondary schools have had to expand class sizes between 2014/15 and 2016/17. The study, conducted by the NEU, NAHT and ASCL – as well as non-teaching unions Unison, GMB and Unite – showed that of 150 local authorities, 83% saw a rise in average class sizes across their secondary schools, while 14% have seen a fall and 3% saw no change.

This report should come as no surprise to anyone connected with education. Indeed, I would predict that class sizes will continue to increase in size over the next few years as the secondary school population expands from its low point reached in 2014 and budgets also come under pressure.

However, there is an argument to be had about the usefulness of class sizes as a measure. They can be affected by factors such as the degree of non-contact time allowed to staff; policy over options at GCSE and for post-16 courses as well as space considerations.

An alternative measure is the Pupil Teacher Ratio. Even here there are now problems: how do you define a teacher. Do you only include those with QTS and exclude Teach First and School Direct trainees, as well as any other unqualified teachers or cover supervisors?

Anyway, I have included the changes in PTRs across different types of secondary schools since the School Workforce Census was introduced. The result confirms the findings from the unions and could have been researched without the need to waste valuable time in hard-pressed local authorities. As an added bonus, these are DfE approved numbers, so the government cannot quibble about them.

Changes in Pupil Teacher Ratios in secondary schools
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
All State funded Secondary schools 14.9 14.9 15 15 15.3 15.6
Converter academies 15.2 15.8
Sponsored academies 13.6 15.3
All academies 14.8 15.6
UTCs/Studio Schools 12.9 13.8
Free Schools 12.6 15.3
LA maintained 15 14.9 14.8 14.9 15.1 15.4

The big change has come since 2015 and probably reflects the loss of extra funding academies received in the early days of the Gove period at the DfE. The effect the loss of that extra cash has had on the funding of these schools is now obvious: sadly, once becoming an academy there is normally no way back. For that reason, heads gathering in Birmingham might want to examine the value for money of back offices at MATs.Source DfE SFR 25/2017 Table 17a

After all, it was the heads that complained for decades about the dead hand of local authority expenditure. Having been released from the frying pan of Local Authority spending patterns they must not fall straight into the fire of MATs with high relative overheads.

There are many other issues that secondary heads will need to consider at their conference. Perhaps one of the most pressing is finding the teachers to fill these classes that now have more pupils in them. It may be a productivity gain, but it does impose a greater workload on teachers and may the class size and PTR changes partly explain the growing loss of teachers with 3-5 years’ experience previously discussed on this blog.

In passing, the head teachers might also want to reflect upon the changing nature of the teacher vacancy market that helps provide the teachers. With the TES group reporting a loss of 2016-17 and the DfE working on a new vacancy platform, how teachers are recruited could become an important area for discussion over the next few years.

As one of the instigators of TeachVac, the free platform for vacancies, I am, of course, not an idle by-stander in this debate.