Treasury woes

Teacher recruitment crises are not a new phenomenon in England. Indeed, almost 30 years ago, at the start of the 1990s, the country was experiencing a very similar sort of teacher recruitment and retention crisis to that seen now. As a result, it is interesting to revisit the comments made by the then Interim Advisory Committee on Teachers’ Pay and Conditions, the forerunner of the present School Teachers’ Review Body, and the successor to the Burnham Committee.

In Chapter 6 of their 1991 report, at paragraph 7.13 the IAC said:

Our final key principle has been to support the provision of proper rewards for additional responsibilities and high performance. Put, bluntly, the teaching profession is no different from any other in needing to recruit and retain effective and ambitious people. Whatever the details of the pay structure, it seems self-evident to us that if adequate levels of differential rewards are not available, as they increasingly are elsewhere, then there will be serious difficulties in tackling the recruitment and retention problems we have highlighted.

(IAC, 4th Report January 1991 para 7.13 page 49)

I found this comment of interest, as I discovered it when I was trying to determine whether more teachers had access to allowances now than at that time before devolved budgets and the total freedom for schools to decide how to pay their teachers. At that time, in the early 1990s, although the pay scales were different and local management of schools was on the horizon, there was still a national structure for responsibility payments, and schools had little choice over the number of such posts that they could create. School size, as determined by the number and age of the pupils, was the key source factor affecting the chance of promotion for a teacher.

Interestingly, a quick look at DfE statistics for both 1989 and 2013, suggests that far more teachers in secondary schools than in primary schools had access to payments above their main scale salary in 1989, and that in both sectors the percentage of teachers paid above the main scale was higher in 1989 than in 2013. Additionally, in 2013, you were less likely to receive a TLR if you worked in an academy than if you worked in a maintained school.

Since 2013, the DfE has changed how it reports teachers’ pay, and it now uses cash amounts in bands as the reporting measure that doesn’t allow an easy identification of the percentage of teachers paid a TLR in addition to their main salary.

Of course, a few teachers have benefited from an opening up of extra posts on the Leadership Scale. But, could this lack of incentives, suggested as important by the IAC in 1991, be partly responsible for the problems with retention in years five to seven of a teacher’s career that have become a feature of recent years?

Conservative politicians, as the previous post on this blog has noted, are aware that current funding for schools is not only insufficient to pay support staff their pay award but also to reward and retain teachers in many parts of the country. The problem is, where to find the cash to pay for schools to recruit and retain effective and ambitious people, the same requirement as the IAC pointed out all those years ago.

 

 

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Growing pains, but not for TeachVac

Should the latest American owners of the TES be worried by the DfE’s vacancy site? Probably not in the short-term, but looking on a longer perspective there must be some anxiety. TeachVac, the other free service offering teacher vacancies to trainees, teachers and returners, where I am the chair of the board, monitors how the DfE site is doing compared with TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk on a weekly basis.

Below are our figures for 2019, up to this morning, with one day to go before the end of the first quarter of 2019

04/01/2019 11.26
11/01/2019 13.22
18/01/2019 17.57
25/01/2019 17.69
01/02/2019 21.44
08/02/2019 22.72
15/02/2019 24.46
22/02/2019 11.71
01/03/2019 31.25
08/03/2019 25.11
15/03/2019 25.20
22/03/2019 25.10
29/03/2019 28.20

Source: Oxford Teacher Services Ltd

Apart from the February half-term period, this week is the first time that the DfE site has broken through the 25% barrier in relation to TeachVac. Of course, the two sites aren’t directly comparable, since the DfE site carries non-teaching vacancies, but not vacancies from independent schools, and TeachVac carries the latter, but not the former.

Still, the DfE clearly won’t have a full analysis of the 2019 recruitment round as they will be missing so many vacancies in the first quarter of the year. The interesting time will come in the summer, when schools paying a subscription to advertise their vacancies on paid-for platforms will need to decide whether or not to renew their subscriptions or switch back to using them only when the free site such as TeachVac or the DfE fail to provide enough applicants to make an appointment.

This assumes that the DfE site is still in operation by the summer. With the start of the new government financial year next week, it must be expected that funding has been agreed to operate the DfE’s site for the whole of the financial year. From a point of view of schools, it is to be hoped it doesn’t follow the private sector approach of taking booking, or in this case vacancy adverts, right up to the point where the plug is pulled.

I think that schools have a right to expect a statement from the government that either the DfE site will continue for another year or that if it doesn’t it will be replaced by links to other sites providing details of vacancies, such as TeachVac. The latter would, of course, be a much cheaper option for the DfE, but I assume having spent money on the software for their site they will want to see a return on their expenditure.

TeachVac is breaking new records this year, both on the number of vacancies listed, and on the rate of applicants signing up to receive job matches. This on minimal marketing and in the teeth of indifference from all the teacher associations. Teachers, however, know a good thing when they see it and the fact that a job posted this morning can be matched to a teacher that has requested it by late afternoon shows what can be achieved.

 

Job listings for teachers

There was an interesting meeting/workshop at the DfE yesterday. The focus was on their embryonic (and expensive to produce) ‘job listing service’, to use its current working title. There were more DfE representatives in the room – were they being paid London salaries – than the whole workforce of TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk that is located on the Isle of Wight. This is surely the sort of project that could have been outsourced to an area of high unemployment to boost a local economy, maybe it is and I am doing the DfE an injustice?

Anyway, private BETA testing is now taking place in part of Cambridgeshire and the North East of England. The aims include providing better data for the DfE. They won’t have any for this recruitment round, so they might like to view this post https://wordpress.com/post/johnohowson.wordpress.com/2542 where I commented on the situation in London.

Those of us attending the event were told not to take photographs of the slides of the entry screens to be used by schools to log jobs. However, anyone that wants to see what the system might look like has only to log on to https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/job-profiles/secondary-school-teacher to have some sort of idea of what the site might look like, as the DfE team are using the gov.uk standards and templates from ‘scheme.org’.

In her introduction, the deputy director at the DfE responsible for this work area said the goals included:

  • reducing the time and cost to schools – TeachVac does both of these already and
  • making finding jobs easier – but no evidence was provided as to what was wrong with current job boards and other means of finding vacancies for teaching posts.

However, the Deputy Director did say that job seekers had told them that poor quality listings make finding jobs difficult. I challenged her to publish the evidence on this point, as TeachVac welcomes feedback and the team in Newport want to know if the DfE has evidence from users about TeachVac. Sadly, I didn’t receive an answer to the direct question.

There is a hunger out there for a vacancy listing service from schools and I believe TeachVac offers the best free national vacancy service currently in operation. TeachVac hasn’t required a penny of public money. If you agree there is a need, go to https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/214287 and add your name to the petition. But also go to www.teachvac.co.uk and register as a teacher and make a free search. Then ask yourself what more do I need to know when looking for a teaching post? Let the team know your thoughts.

TeachVac may not look like a wonderful up to the minute site, but it works and you only see the front end screen when you register or change your preferences, so all the investment goes on making the system work for you.

TeachVac is a closed system – you cannot view all the jobs on offer and that is deliberate. No agency can download all the jobs. The risk of the DfE’s ‘open’ system is it provides an incentive for commercial companies to capture applicants – especially new entrants from training – and sell them to schools for a finders’ fee.

An outcome where the DfE destroyed the present market, only to create new commercial opportunities in the recruitment market at even greater cost to schools than the present system would not be a sensible or desirable outcome. But, it is a risk of the present approach using an ‘open’ system.

Is the DfE work value for public money/ That’s for others to judge, but if you haven’t tried TeachVac yet, www.teachvac.co.uk then please do so before making up your mind.

The importance of keeping teachers

The DfE’s evidence to the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Review Body (the STRB) has been published and, as usual, the document contained some interesting nuggets in the detailed annexes. Two that are of particular interest are the retention rates for teachers over time and the number of schools using different forms of payments on top of the basic salary. This post consider the first of these numbers.

Retention is always shown by the DfE as a percentage of the entry number of teachers for each year. This is helpful in one way in that that it allows a direct comparison for year to year as to the progress of those entering as NQTs, although it isn’t clear if earlier years’ data are amended to take into account late entrants. However, the percentages can mask some very large swings in numbers. For instance only 18,600 NQTs entered service in 2001 compared with 25,700 in 2005 and 25,500 in 2015: the second highest number this century. Lest anyone think that such a large number negates any talk about recruitment crises, it is worth recalling that the figure for entrants covers both primary and secondary sectors and all subjects and specialisms. Thus, some over-recruitment can hide shortages in other areas. However, 2015, 2016 and probably 2017 witnessed more than 24,000 new entrants each year: significant numbers, albeit against a rising tide of pupil numbers and hence a growing demand for teachers. Regular readers of this blog will know my anxiety that the 2018 and probably 2019 entry cohorts will not match up to these numbers and are more likely to be in the range of the 23,000 entrants of 2012 and 2013.

The percentage loss of new teachers during their first year of teaching has remained relatively stable since 2000, at between 12-13% most years, dropping to only 10% in 2003. More alarming is the steady decline in retention rates for teachers in years 3-6 of their careers. The 2011-2014 entry cohorts were all at record percentage lows in 2016, with the 2011 cohort having lost a third of those entering by 2016. The issue is whether this is just accelerated departure of those that would have normally left by year ten of their careers, where the data suggests around 40% of entrants are no longer being tracked as teaching in state funded schools. These leavers may be teaching in the private sector; have moved overseas to teach; be working in FE of Sixth Form Colleges or taking a career break for personal reasons. No doubt some will have decided teaching isn’t for them; but others will have returned after a brief sell in being counted in the data.

The number of departing teachers is of concern because from the remaining teachers must come, first the middle leaders and then the senior leaders and overall leaders of the profession. Obviously, the best scenario is one of high entry numbers and low wastage by year ten: the worst outcome is low entry numbers and higher than average departures. By year ten, this can mean a difference of several thousand teachers. By the time any cohort reaches headship level, this differential in numbers probably doesn’t matter a great deal in the secondary sector, but it can seriously affect the supply of new head teacher in the primary sector, especially if it coincides with an above average retirements, as happened at the end of the first decade of this century.

TeachVac can offer a solution for free

The House of Commons Select Committee has now produced their report into teacher recruitment and retention. https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmeduc/199/19902.htm

After reports by both the National Audit Office and the Migration Advisory Committee in the past twelve months, the Education Select Committee has wisely opted for a tightly focused report. After all, the evidence is well known to everyone interested in the subject.

However, it is interesting that the Committee has opted for the use of the word ‘challenge’ rather than the more emotive term, ‘crisis’. In their choice of language, the Committee might have offered an analysis of when a challenge might become a crisis? Why does missing the supply target five years in a row not constitute a crisis? Is the problem across the county nowhere a regional crisis: not even in Suffolk and parts of Essex? After all, the Committee took evidence for the head of a Southend Grammar School.

Nevertheless, one must not be too critical, the Committee has put the issue back on the agenda and tasked the government to come up with a plan to tackle the shortages. I am sure that the government will rightly point to their proposals to increase skill levels of those teaching the subjects. I think that is an excellent proposal, but it doesn’t do anything to address the suppressed shortages where subjects have been taken off the timetable or had reduce the amount of teaching time because of a lack of qualified teachers. I was also glad to see a reference to primary specialist teachers: a sector where little is really known about the skills base.

As you might expect, I am happy to discuss with officials both the working of the Teacher Supply Model and the operation of a free national vacancy service. I would hand over TeachVac to the government tomorrow if they agreed to pay its operating costs.

Over the past two years, TeachVac has shown how we can both provide high quality data not currently available to government and cut recruitment costs to schools across the whole of England. The evidence is in the TeachVac submissions to the Select Committee for anyone to judge. https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmeduc/199/19913.htm#_idTextAnchor027 (links 46 and 47) Perhaps the DfE could broker TeachVac as a part of the College of Teaching offering to the profession?

The section on continuing professional development is also to be welcomed. With a relatively young profession there is a need for much more investment than has been the case in recent years. However, the Committee didn’t really discuss the issue between CPD for the needs of the profession and CPD for the needs of an individual’s career. The development of teachers for pupils with special needs can highlight both aspects of this issue. Why would a school invest in developing the skills of a teacher that will then move elsewhere and how does the profession suffer if they don’t?

The government will now, hopefully, provide a formal response to the Committee and Ministers will certainly be asked about their views when they next meet the Committee. Will the DfE produce a long-term plan by the summer? We must wait and see.

 

Government sees history as more important than design & technology

The new scheme to fund courses to attract returners to teaching in Ebacc subjects, but not in other shortage subjects such as design and technology and business studies, shows a government that values history more than encouraging the next generation to see the importance of the fashion, catering, engineering, electronics and many other industries. After all, design and technology as  asubject is facing a far greater teacher shortage problem than is history. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/461490/SRT_Pilot_Guidance_final.pdf

There is really no shortage of history teachers, at least in the State Sector, although I suppose they could be expected to teach Key Stage 3 humanities to relieve the looming shortage of geography teachers. But, what of Religious Education, IT and music, all other non-Ebacc subjects where there have been, are, or will be shortages. Don’t these subjects count in the curriculum any more to the Tories in government?

There is also an argument that the programme may be too late. The main recruitment cycle is between March and the end of May each year, but these courses might not finish until July. This means some taking the course might have to wait until January 2017 before finding a teaching post.

However, it marks a step in the right direction. Will training schools, the new orthodoxy for the location of training, have the space and resources at the price offered to run such courses? With no London price differential it seems likely schools in the capital will have to balance their recruitment needs with their ability to subsidise a course.

I am sure the intention of this programme is to increase returners, but it isn’t clear what market testing the National College has undertaken. Please could it not just be a ‘hit and hope’ activity where someone has identified returners as a possible group where supply could be increased, but not even bothered to look at JSA claimant counts for teachers across the country. I also hope that alongside this scheme there will be funds and encouragement for a return of KIT or Keep in Touch schemes for teachers on maternity leave. Yesterday, by chance, I met a teachers working on a national peer to peer self-development site that looks very interesting and innovative. It is just the sort of scheme the government might set up an innovation fund to help get off the ground. But that would be directly the opposite of the micro-managed approach taken with the Returner Scheme.

Keen readers of Hansard will also have noticed that the Labour opposition used the debate on Wednesday on the post-committee stage of the Bill to introduce the theme of teacher shortages and their effect on schools being cited as coasting. It is always gratifying when data one has produced is prayed in aid in the Chamber as part of the debate.

As ever, it is by the opposition, but hopefully there will also be a mention of TeachVac and its contribution to understanding the teacher supply situation sometime soon as it gains credibility as a free recruitment site to schools and teachers. Indeed, TeachVac can also help those returners the government scheme attracts to find their teaching post.