Social mobility requires teachers

Living and working as I do in Oxford, I am not surprised about the Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility Commission findings, published today, about the importance of private schools in the education of those at the top of many career ladders. These universities, and others in disciplines not addressed by Oxford and Cambridge, will always turn out those likely to become the leaders in their chosen fields.

The debate sparked by this fairly commonplace research, but nevertheless worthwhile as a reminder of the real world, has been mostly about how to create access to these universities for a wider group of students? Both Oxford and Cambridge are now creating schemes to take more pupils from a wider range of backgrounds than when the present leaders in society were heading for university all those years ago.

However, for me, the key issue remains the need to provide enough teachers all of whom are inspiring for all pupils in our schools. To further the Oxford theme, BMW don’t want to produce any sub-standard cars at their Cowley plant, and they put in place quality assurance mechanisms to prevent that happening. Politicians on the other hand don’t view schooling in the same way. Parents are required to educate their children, but if they trust the State to undertake that education, there is no guarantee of quality or even, as recent data about pupils with special education needs has revealed, a guarantee of a school place.

One issue that I have raised consistently over the past two decades is that of the credentials that teachers need in order to teach. For teachers in the secondary sector, subject knowledge, a knowledge of pedagogy, and the ability to marry the two together, are, in my view, vital in allowing teachers to teach their subject, especially as it become more complex to understand and explain.

However, governments of all persuasions have continued to remain satisfied with a minimum standard that allows those with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) to teach anything to anyone of any age in schools. Indeed, thanks to Michael Gove, you don’t even need to have that basic qualification to teach in most state-funded secondary schools these days, and teachers trained in a range of different countries have automatic right to obtain QTS.

Is this minimum standard, with no requirement to keep it up to date during a teacher’s career, still acceptable in the 21st century? Well, it allows Ministers to talk of record teacher numbers, not of record shortages of teachers equipped to teach physics, business studies or many aspects of design and technology.

This lack of respect for parents and children by a state system that is not staffed by teachers knowledgeable in their subject lies behind a large part of why some children, however able, cannot reach our top universities.

A labour market based upon open competition, with schools increasingly setting their own pay rates, favours schools with access to more funds. These nearly always aren’t the schools in the most deprived areas: those schools also lack access to the same degree of parental funding and support, whether through direct monthly cash payments or by parents paying for private tuition that help keep up a school’s outcomes.

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Bumping along the bottom

The alternative title I thought about for this commentary on the February 2019 UCAS data about applications to post-graduate teacher preparation courses was, ‘the Goldilocks effect’; some good; some bad and some results in the middle. Indeed, the final outcome of this year’s recruitment round is more difficult to call than for many years. The outcome is likely to differ by individual subjects.

However, one trend that is becoming apparent is the continued decline in interest from applicants in non-EBacc arts and quasi vocational subjects. Thus, art, music, design and technology; computer studies and business studies are all either recording new lows in the number of offers for February or are bumping along the bottom. The government must look seriously at this problem if it does not want to impoverish a future generation of school students and wreck many important export earning industries by depriving them of home grown talent first nurtured in our schools.  By the same token, the independent schools ought also to be worried about this trend, to the extent that they recruit trained teachers with QTS.

As might be expected, history, geography and biology are performing well in terms of the number of offers that have been made. Biology will help ensure there will be sufficient teachers with a scientific background in 2020, even though chemistry and physics are in a similar position to this point last year. Both these subjects are unlikely to attract enough candidates to meet the Teacher Supply Model requirements on the present trajectory for offers.

Overall, applicant numbers, at 18,510 on the 18th February this year, are similar to the 18,830 recorded on the 19th February 2018, but still well down on the 24,700 of February 2017. It is worth recalling that in February 2012, without the School Direct route applicants, numbers stood at almost 35,000, not far short of double where they currently stand.

There is more detail about applicants than applicants in the data. Applications for primary are down on 2018 at 24,710 compared with 26,430 in 2018, but applications for secondary subjects are higher at 28,380 this year compared with 27,910 in February 2018. That could mean about 200 more applicants spread across all the different subjects.

Looking at the applications in more detail, primary higher education continues to witness a decline in applications, down to 10,680 this year from 12,570 in 2018. On the other hand, School Direct Salaried plus Apprenticeships are up by around 600 applications.

In the secondary sector, higher education still dominates applications, although School Direct fee applications have seen a significant increase, from just over 8,000 applications in 2018 to 9,000 this February. However, applications for School Direct Salaried plus Apprenticeships are still below the February 2018 figure in the secondary sector.

Young graduates and final year undergraduate applicant numbers are almost back to last year’s, level in terms of overall applicants, but young career changes are still behind the number of applicants at this point in 2018. Compared with the 10,671 men that had applied for courses in 2012, the present number of 5,900 male applicants, including the School Direct applicants, is probably little more than half the 2012 total.

Still, Mr Gibb should be pleased that two thirds of applicants have been made an offer, although only 330 have been unconditionally placed. Nevertheless, making offer to two out of every three applicants is a very generous ratio indeed.

 

Trends shaping Education

In a recent post, I wrote about the effect of the housing market on schools and what might happen if there was a slowdown in transactions. Interestingly, the OECD yesterday published a much more high level approach to the same sort of question. Entitled, ‘Trends shaping education 2019’ it looks at some key trends the authors feels will affect and shape education policy. https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/trends-shaping-education-2019_trends_edu-2019-en#page1

Previous editions of the book appeared in 2008, the first edition, and then in 2010, 2013 and 2016.

This time the authors have identified a number of key themes; shifting global gravity towards Asia and China in particular; public matters; security; living longer and living better and finally, modern cultures.

Some of these trends have already had an impact on education on England. Michael Gove tried to kickstart the learning of Mandarin in schools. However, in terms of what is being taught, it is still way behind common EU languages spoken by our neighbours, but few others around the world.

Security in schools became a big issue in England after the classroom shooting at Dumblane in the 1990s, where the concern was about intruders entering schools. In more recent times, the concerns have been about ensuring pupils, especially very young ones, cannot leave without permission. How far should schools be fortresses?

With the increase in school shootings across the USA it often seems that arrival and departure times are the greatest risks for schools, certainly in the USA, rather than planned meetings with the head teacher. Total security is probably almost impossible to achieve without a huge investment in time, effort and resources. I recall visiting a high school in New York almost 20 years ago where there were metal detectors for all to pass through. Yet, there had been a shooting the previous day, with the weapon having been passed through an open window to avoid the detection system.

As we are living longer, we are also creating fewer children, despite the current bulge hitting the secondary school sector. Schools are often seeing older parents than a couple of generations ago and that may mean these parents know more about life and are more prepared to stand up for their perceived rights. This can make the job of being a head more demanding and reduce the number of teachers willing to take on the role.

Living longer means some teachers are happy to retire later, thus helping the teacher supply situation. Should the DfE run an ad campaign along the lines of ‘one year more’ and provide a bonus for those taking later rather than early retirement?

I think the current technological revolution will impact very heavily on schools and education. One year the big CES exhibition held in Las Vegas every January will major on technology and education not widescreen TVs or health devices. Not sure when, but it will happen and will challenge our whole notion of schooling and education and the link between the student, their family and educators.

 

Bursary concerns

At the end of yesterday’s post I mentioned the data on bursary outcomes the DfE had published earlier in the day as a part of the raft of information about teacher supply matters. The Times newspaper has picked up on this aspect of the data published and made a calculation that some £44 million was spend on bursaries for those that either didn’t enter teaching or went on to teach elsewhere than in state funded schools. Some might have secured posts in Sixth Form College or Further Education; some might well be working in the independent sector and some might not have been able to find a teaching post in the area where they currently live, but the DfE doesn’t know how many fall into each category.

The DfE data is based on bursaries paid under a range of different schemes operating between 2009/10 and 2015/16. At the start of the period, in 2009/10, the training bursary was available to all postgraduate trainees; albeit at different rate. This was essentially the scheme announced in March 2000 during the recruitment problems teaching faced at that time. Some details of the scheme can be found at http://escalate.ac.uk/downloads/6588.pdf

During the recession and when fees were increased to £9,000, the original scheme was replaced by a more nuanced set of payments totrainees. The DfE time series used in their latest publication might have been better if it had either taken data only from the start of the scheme that replaced a universal bursary or detailed the percentages teaching by each year of training.  Allowing The Times to claim that £44 million could have been wasted is a bit of an own goal for the DfE. A better explanation of the way the schemes operated might have deflected this criticism. After all, I don’t read of concerns over the salary paid to trainee army officers at Sandhurst if they don’t continue their careers after training. The same concerns might be levied at other public servants that draw a salary during training. In that respect, it is unfair to highlight just the teaching profession.

However, one might well ask about a subject like Classics, where the DfE data identified 120 trainees were paid a bursary, but only 40 have been located as teaching in a state school. With no link between training and employment on most routes into teaching – Teach First and School Direct Salaried route are exceptions – the leakage from training at public expense to the private sector is almost inevitable. Maybe the same happens in the NHS where there is a much more direct relationship between training and employment, since staff can always resign after appointment.

One solution is a return to a golden Hello type arrangements, where payments are made after entry into the profession and a tailored to the type of school a teacher is prepared to teach at. A challenging school, such as those supported by Teach First would attract more payment than a teacher working in a selective school in an area where there are no teacher supply issues. Such a scheme would need careful consideration, not least for possible effects on Teach First candidates remaining in the school after completing the Teach First programme.

Was the government wise to abolish a special unit dealing with teacher training and recruitment and to lose the expertise and knowledge contained within its staff? It’s not for me to say, but the presentation of the data on the bursary scheme might have been handled differently in the past.

Teacher Analysis Compendium 4

In my last blog post I drew attention to the Teacher Analysis Compendium 4 – subtitled Analysis of teacher supply, retention and mobility, and recently published by the DfE at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/teachers-analysis-compendium-4 in my last post I reviewed the application the DfE has also created for this work, although unlike most apps this is largely designed around on-line use and might be a challenge for mobile phone users if not for those with larger size tablets.

Anyway, the Compendium contains useful and often unique insights into the following areas of the teacher workforce:

Subject Knowledge Enhancement courses for potential trainees (SKE);

Teacher Subject Specialism Training (TSST);

Time series analysis of teachers in England using Teachers’ Pensions Scheme data;

Teachers returning to the profession;

The pool of qualified teachers who are not currently teaching in the state-funded sector;

Entrants and leavers to the teaching profession;

Retention of Newly Qualified Teachers;

Annex –missing teachers’ characteristics.

In times past, these type of statistics would have appeared in the annual Volume of Statistics on Teachers that were part of a series of education statistics put out by the Department each year. Whether either ad hoc compendiums of this nature or a regular series of volume of statistics is the best way for data of this type to be presented to the outside world is not for me to judge.

One area of debate that is likely to emerge from the consideration of the data in the Compendium is whether there ought now to be a more regional approach to the provision of teacher preparation places to meet the growing demand over the next few years, especially in and around the London area? This was something the National Audit Office raised in their Report of a couple of years ago.

The compendium might have usefully contained a table showing where completers obtained their first job in terms of whether it was within the same region or a different region from where they trained. Using the northings and eastings available it might also be possible to determine the relative distance from the training base the first job was obtained. Tracking the movements of these teachers might also be illustrative of how mobile the teaching force is and at what stages in their careers?

The work on Subject Knowledge Enhancement courses for potential trainees (SKE) is particularly interesting, as this is a growing area of the market for potential teachers. Such courses have the capacity to bridge the gap between an increasingly diversified higher education system, where degrees no longer match the needs of subjects taught in schools, if they ever really did, and the desire for specific subject knowledge from those that enter the teaching profession.

In a future Compendium, a look at the degrees of these that enter our primary schools might merit a section. Are primary schools still too heavily dominated by Arts and Humanities graduates that lack in-depth knowledge of science and mathematics and are the preparation course able to remedy any deficiencies to an acceptable level without sacrificing the knowledge and skills of trainees in other subject areas they may not have studies for several years?

 

 

Possible improvements in Key Stage 2 outcomes?

The DfE has today published the provisional Key Stage 2 assessments. There are some in the Liberal Democrats that would do away with these measures. I think there is a need to make them less stressful for both pupils and teachers but equally there is a need to demonstrate an informed understanding of how our education system is performing. The data and DfE’s comments can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/national-curriculum-assessments-key-stage-2-2018-provisional The data are provisional at this stage. In December more finalised data will be published. However, I suspect the overall figures will remain broadly the same.

One interesting observation in the DfE’s comments on page 18 of their analysis is that local authorities with lower attainment levels tended to see the biggest changes in attainment since 2017. This is both good news and not unexpected. If 80% of children are reaching the expected standard, then the other 20% may require significant resources to help them achieve what is expected. Whereas, where it is less than 60% of pupils there are probably easier gains. It would be interesting when the final figures appear to see how pupils receiving the Pupil Premium have fared in term s of improvements.

Cartographers might question the selection of grade boundaries used in the DfE’s map as they provide a representational view that focuses on local authorities in the middle of the range. (Incidentally, the map is difficult to read as far as local authority names are concerned and could be improved). There isn’t anything wrong with this approach, but the range between the bottom of the light blue and the top of the darker blue is only six points, whereas the range in the outliers is much greater. Tough on a local authority with a score of 61 such as West Sussex that is the same colour as Peterborough with 52%. Incidentally, I am not clear why the scale starts at 42%? But, perhaps the DfE aren’t using the data from Table L1 for the map. They don’t provide a link to the data.

As in the past, girls generally outperform boys, except in mathematics, where in the scaled score, boys have a higher score than girls, as is also the case for those performing at the higher ability level. For detailed data about other characteristics we must wait until December. The data for middle schools can largely be regarded as being based upon so few schools as not to be really representative, unless you live in an area with these schools and might want to question their future.

The data won’t help the Humanists that want to see an end to faith schools as, the more specific the faith, the better the outcome in their schools with; Jewish, Muslim and Sikh schools all performing better than other schools and especially better than schools with no religious character.  This may well tell us more about parental choice and support by parents that make a positive choice of school than about anything else.

Finally, as the DfE helpfully points out, attainment in all of reading, writing and maths is not directly comparable to previous years because of changes to writing TA frameworks. That doesn’t stop the DfE producing some comparisons.

School transfer costs

Once you move from a placed base system for the governance of schools, to one where a market model is the preferred choice, it is probably inevitable that each year schools will move between Multi- Academy Trusts for a variety of different reasons. Today, the DfE has published a note on their statistic pages about the number of such moves and the financial implications. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/academy-transfers-and-funding-england-financial-year-2017-to-2018

In the five years between 2013-14 and 2017-18, some 628 academies moved between MATs or MACs or moved from being single entities into a multi-school trust. Even though the overall number of academies managed as national schools has been increasing year by year, the percentage of academies moving has also been increasing. In 2013-14 the percentage of academies moving between or into Trusts was 0.5% of the overall total. By 2017-18, schools moving or joining Trusts accounted for 3.3% of the overall total of academies. It would have been helpful if the term financial year had been defined in the document. It must be assumed that it refers to the DfE’s financial year and not that of academies: they are not the same, and that has caused issues with the DfE’s accounts in the past.

In the days before the academy programme it is difficult to think of any local authority school being moved to another authority’s control, although whole authorities were broken up for a variety of reasons. Northamptonshire will be the next authority to see its remaining maintained schools split between two new unitary councils, after the financial problems that beset the county council earlier this yar. The DfE might like to publish data on the costs of such restructuring alongside these costs in the academy sector, just for comparison.

2017-18 was the first year that the number of schools receiving grant funding on moving between Trusts fell; from 60 schools the previous year to 49 in 2017-18. However, the savings were proportionally not as significant, as the bill over the two years such cash payments may be spread was only £370,000 less. Hopefully, there will be a larger decline in such expenditure in 2018-19.

Over the five year period, the cost to the system has been some £22 million. The DfE note explains what has been covered by this grant funding.

As the DfE explains, an academy can change trust arrangements only on the agreement of the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) acting on behalf of the Secretary of State (prior to 2014 decisions were taken by the Secretary of State).  It may apply to do so voluntarily – for example, a single academy may apply because it wants to benefit from the greater capacity (eg school improvement) from being part of a multi-academy trust; or the transfer may be initiated by the RSC because of concerns about the performance of the academy or the trust responsible for it.  The latter scenario is sometimes referred to as re-brokerage and is similar to intervention in local authority maintained schools, which sees them transformed into sponsored academies. Of course, before academies the local authority either had to solve the problems with the school or opt to close or amalgamate it with another school.

The largest sum identified in 2017-18 was for an academy in Stockport, where the cost identified was in excess of half a million pounds. Think what that cash might have done if used in other ways.