Heading towards disaster?

The latest UCAS data on the number of trainees offered or holding places for 2017 graduate courses to train as a teacher makes for grim reading. This blog has been warning, without trying to use sensational language, for some months now that all wasn’t going well. The figures issued today, based upon offers recorded up to Easter, show new lows over the last four cycles at this point in the year in terms of offers made and accepted in some subjects. So far, the serious issues are only in Business Studies, Chemistry, IT and music, and in two of these subjects a decline in teaching time over recent years means the Teacher Supply Model may be over-estimating the likely demand for teachers. In Chemistry and Business Studies, the lack of offers so far this year may be more serious for schools in 2018, especially where there are rising rolls.

The one crumb of comfort is the increase in offers in both history and geography. Elsewhere, in Mathematics and English, the trend line look unpropitious for the remainder of the recruitment round, unless there is a major shift in direction. This may be less of an issue in Mathematics than English. There are already shortages in English in 2017 according to TeachVac’s data. In Mathematics, as ever, it is not just the numbers, but also the quality of mathematical knowledge and the teaching ability of trainees that matters to schools. Hopefully, lower numbers don’t mean fewer high quality applicants.

Overall, around 2,000 less offers have been made in this recruitment round across England compared with April last year. Applicant numbers are down in all age groups, but significantly down for the younger age groups. For instance, women 21 and under are down from 3,990 applicants last year to 3,490 this year, with a similar fall of 410 in applicant numbers for those aged 22, but smaller falls among the older age groups. Only 1,100 men age 21 or under have applied so far this year; a drop of around 10% on last year at this point in time. Overall, applications from men are down by just over seven per cent, a greater decline than for applications from women.

In total applications are down to only just over 90,000, meaning most applicants have made full use of all their choices.  The good news is that there are 10 more applicants in the South West than last year; the bad news, 500 fewer in London. Indeed, there are 770 fewer offers to applicants applying to London than this point last year: with rising rolls that is really bad news for 2018.

School Direct Salaried has attracted around 500 fewer applicants for the secondary sector this year, with only 80 confirmed placed applicants so far in 2017. As these are all graduates with work experience, this number is disappointingly low and down on the 120 of April last year. The conditionally placed number is also down, from 790 to 530. Undoubtedly, some of the decline is due to the Easter holidays, but that would also have been true for 2016 figures. The one potentially bright spot is the increase in applicants holding offers, but until these numbers turn into placed applicants they are always at risk of disappearing. On the face of it, and without overall allocation numbers, primary offers seem to be holding up relatively well. It is the secondary sector that remains the key area for concern.

With purdah upon us, we can but hope that the increased DfE marketing budget, the topic of an earlier post, will help to attract more applicants over the summer. However, uncertainty over the future direction of secondary education and selective schools might put off some would-be teachers educated in the comprehensive system. Either way, 2018 looks like being a challenge for schools in London and the South East needing to recruit teachers. You will need TeachVac’s free service more than ever: have you signed up yet? http://www.teachvac.co.uk

Minutiae for manifestoes

Political parties are now frantically writing their manifestoes for June 8th. The headlines are probably obvious: selective schools; funding; workload; testing; standards; teachers, and ensuring that there are enough of them, and possibly something about free schools and academies. But, beneath the surface there is room to include some specific ideas that might help various groups. Special education doesn’t often get a mention, nor do children taken into care, but both are among the most vulnerable in society.

Put the two factors together and make a placement outside of the local authority responsible for taking the child into care and you have a complex situation that the present governance of education regulations don’t really provide for. Hopefully, schools are willing to cooperate and offer a rapid re-assessment for an Education & Health Care Plan, where that is necessary and provide a place. But, what if a school doesn’t want to do so and is an academy, as an increasing number of special schools are becoming. Who has the right to demand that such a child is placed in an appropriate school setting as quickly as possible? It really is unacceptable for the government to worry about pupils that miss a fortnight’s education for a family holiday and fine them, but take no action for a child out of school for several months because no school place can be found for them. The 2016 White Paper suggested that local authorities should once again have the last word on in-year admissions, regardless of the type of school. I hope that all political parties will pledge to look at the issue of school places for children taken into care mid-year, as most are. If a fortnight is too long for a holiday, it is too long for a child taken into care.

At the same time, I would like a review of the school transport arrangements. It is grossly unfair that children in London, regardless of parental income, receive free transport, but those outside the TfL area are subject to archaic rules designed nearly 150 years ago. How many cars could we take off the roads if pupils travelled by bus or train to school for free, as in London? The free transport rule might also help with encouraging parental choice, as well as reducing traffic on the roads.

I would also like to see figures for the percentage of pupils from each primary school that received their first choice of secondary school rather than just figures for the secondary school. This would help to identify areas where there are either significant pressures or unrealistic choices being made by parents.

Finally, I would like to require an academy or free school considering closure to have to go through the same consultation process that a locally authority school is required to undertake. At present, academies and free schools can effectively just hand back the keys at the end of term, rather as sometimes happens in the private sector. However, this should not be allowed with State funded schools even after an unexpected Ofsted visit.

Bank holidays for teachers?

The Labour Party’s announcement of wanting to introduce four new bank holidays on Saint’s Days (I thought Corby’s Labour didn’t do religion) is either an attempt to lose the education vote or the parents’ vote.

Either way, if implemented, it would likely harm the education system. Drop 4 days from the education year, reducing it down to 186 and school staff including teachers benefit, unless on term-time only contracts and these are seen as not being term-time days. Parents have to find four more days of childcare if they have to work on bank holidays. Since these days move around, they won’t even create long weekend every year.

However, keep the school year at 190 days and teachers and other workers in schools won’t see the benefits of the extra holidays. This reminds me of my previous post about Labour and pay policies in the 1970s and the effects on teachers working conditions and benefits when non-pay benefits were more important than pay rises.

Labour needs to tell the education community what the announcement means for them, apart from more disruption in November, March and sometimes April as well. I wonder why they Labour didn’t go for celebrating the Tolpuddle Martyrs; Annie Besant’s birthday; Emily Pankhurst Day and perhaps Revolutionary Figures (non-sexist) Day to celebrate those that fought against Empire and oppression around the world. Saint’s Days seem just a bit passé and what we might have chosen as a country to take as holidays before the Reformation.

With an economy that doesn’t boast the best productivity record, adding another four days to the paid holiday calendar doesn’t seen a great way to run the economy either. Perhaps Labour is really thinking of the trade union workers that can charge extra pay for working on bank holidays: do they still have a day off as well? For them, it will be a great bribe to vote for Corbyn, especially if the Conservatives really don’t pledge not to raise taxes in the next parliament.

At least none of these Saint’s days fall within the examination system, so there won’t be the disruption there has been in higher education where the summer term bank holidays all on a Monday. But, perhaps Labour has given up on increasing manufacturing as the solution to our nation’s economic problems post a hard BREXIT and sees the way forward as a dance and skylark economy.

Back to Banbury

So, there’s to be a general election on 8th June. Last time, in 2015, I stood for the Lib Dems in Banbury, winning 6% of the vote and just saving the deposit. I wait to see whether I will be invited to stand there again in June. Coming off the back of a real fight in my county division for this May’s county council elections, another four weeks of campaigning isn’t what I expected.

Still, time to start thinking of some new slogans to go alongside the ‘If you voted remain in 2016 then vote Lib Dem in 2017.’

I think education will play a bigger part in the sub-text of this general election than in 2015, when it barely rated a mention.

Here are two possible slogans for starters

If you want your child to attend;

A secondary modern school; Vote Conservative

A good comprehensive: Vote Liberal Democrat

Another might be

If you think children;

Can be taught by unqualified teachers: Vote Conservative

Need professionally trained teachers: Vote Liberal Democrat

Do let me know of any other such slogans that you can suggest for the campaign.

 

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Grammar Schools: a cunning plot?

We all know the DfE has been told to save money. After the bountiful years under Labour and the coalition governments has come the harsh Tory winter of austerity. However, surely nobody thought of grammar schools as a government economy drive? But, if the Conservatives do succeed in helping the disadvantaged and the just missing groups in society (hang on a minute isn’t there no such thing as society in a Tory world?) find a place a grammar school, then either grammar schools take a bigger share of the pupil population or some pupils has to be displaced.

That’s where the Tories cunning plot comes in. Who better to displace from grammar schools than those that can afford to pay for private education. Each one of these children driven from the state system saves £35-50,000 from the education budget over their lifetime of secondary schooling. Assume 500 grammar schools with 10 children displaced from each: that’s over £25 million saved in the first year alone. Be brave and displace half of grammar school present intakes into the private sector and the saving over the school life of a cohort runs to about a billion pounds after allowing for inflation in a fully selective system. That would certainly help the Treasury fund the growth in pupil numbers that is about to hit the secondary sector. There might also be a fall in primary pupils in state schools as well, as parents sought grammar crammers to help fight for the remaining open access places in selective schools

A fanciful notion? Well we will see what the Secretary of State has to offer displaced parents under her new proposals or whether she will increase the percentage of the year group going to selective schools. Either way, what the Secretary of State says about the rest of the pupils in our schools and their education will be just as important as what she says about grammar schools.

Even at the height of the drive for the three tier system in the 1950s the Conservatives had to issue a little recalled White Paper; Education for all; a new drive, ahead of the 1958 general election, to reassure parents of children attending secondary modern schools or still being educated in the remaining all-through elementary schools. Well, thanks to Labour, all-through schools are flavour of the month again: although not with me.  But, those parents that don’t win places at grammar schools for their children, many of whom vote Conservative, will need reassurance just as much as those the Secretary of State is trying to offer a grammar school place to in her speech.

In Oxfordshire, a well-educated primary population could more than fill traditional grammar school places and still leave many parents disappointed. In such areas it is difficult to see what the benefits of grammar schools are for the majority of the population.

In the 21st century, the Secretary of State has a responsibility to achieve a good school for every child. Putting the clock back is no way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Forster’s Education Act in 2020.

Debt hike for teachers

PGCE students to pay 6.1% interest on loans from the day that their courses starts. That’s not what you want to hear, but what the government has announced as likely from September if there isn’t a loud and sustained public outcry starting at the teacher association conferences this Easter. If the same rate of interest also applies to those on the school-based fee routes as well as undergraduates training to be a teacher then BREXIT is seriously bad news for trainee teachers. The reason is the hike in inflation to 3.1% last month, an increase partly fuelled by the post referendum slump in Sterling as a currency. Add to the inflation increase the 3% fee on top that the government charges plus the fact that interest starts accumulating as soon as the loan is taken out and we are talking serious money and an annual rate of 6.1%.

Career changers would almost certainlybe better off raising an extra mortgage on their house than paying these rates and younger intending teachers not eligible for bursaries should probably consult their parents to see whether they will do the same. Those starting work as teachers in September may find that their take home pay is below what it would have been in earlier years due to the rise in interest rates.

Whether intending teachers wanting to work in state funded schools should be expected to pay for their training is a moot point. Readers of this blog will know I don’t believe any trainee teachers should pay for the privilege of training to be a teacher. Few others, except would-be journalists and possibly fashion models pay for their training; until recently nurses also benefited from a scheme created by Frank Dobson when Blair’s Labour government first introduced tuition fees. The scheme for graduate trainee teachers, introduced in the early 2000s, was expensive, but fair to all trainees. The present situation is confusing, and at these rates of interest and a public sector annual pay rise of probably just one per cent, potentially off-putting to trainees in many subjects. Whether it deters the best or just those most likely to find other work, I leave others to judge.

One solution would be to employ all graduate trainees as part of a national trainee pool that also provided for their pension contributions and with an agreement to pay-off their undergraduate students loans at the rate of 25% of the outstanding interest and principle from the end of year two of teaching. They would be employed form the central pool by schools, so that the schools didn’t have the extra cost of writing off the loans for new teachers. This should be a central cost if loans are to continue. By involving the State directly in the employment of teachers it would allow the DfE to understand directly what was happening with both recruitment and retention. It would also make the DfE responsible for the consequences of mistakes with the Teacher Supply Model. Some PE and maths trainees won’t find jobs in teaching this year, but will still be faced by the increase in interest rates on their loans.

For maths trainees, with bursaries, the pain will be slight: for PE teachers this is punishment for choosing the wrong subject to train in as a teacher.

 

 

School days mean school days

The judgement of the Supreme Court on the matter of whether term-time holidays are ‘acceptable’ in terms of pupil missing school is interesting. The lower courts clearly sides with the parent, and accepted the decision of the parent. This presumably was based, at least in part, on the contract between parent and State. The parent is required to secure the education of their child, but the State doesn’t prescribe how that is achieved, except in essence by stating a default position of schooling provided by the State. The Supreme Court had to decide the meaning of “fails to attend regularly” in section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.

The Supreme Court would now seem to have very clearly reaffirmed that if you enter into that contract with the State for the State to educate your child, it is binding in terms of the requirement to deliver your child to school when the school is in session; illness and other specified unavoidable events apart being allowed as reasons for non-attendance.

Interestingly, the parent or child has historically had no come-back on the school or its overall operator if for any reason the school cannot open. Hence the residual duty remaining with local authorities to step in and ‘secure’ the education of a child if something happens to an academy or free school. Hence, also why the State has never guaranteed the level of teaching or the qualifications of those required to teach any particular child anything.

I have read the judgement of the Supreme Court, and Lady Hale in particular with interest and was struck by the following paragraph in what was an excellent summary of education history and the law on attendance that is well worth reading and largely free of legal jargon.

Finally, given the strictness of the previous law, Parliament is unlikely to have found it acceptable that parents could take their children out of school in blatant disregard of the school rules, either without having asked for permission at all or, having asked for it, been refused. This is not an approach to rule-keeping which any educational system can be expected to find acceptable. It is a slap in the face to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the cost or inconvenience to themselves.

Copied from: https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2016-0155-judgment.pdf

We are now, it seems, much closer to the pre-1944 Education Act position where even a single day of missed school could be regarded as unacceptable and the commission of an offence. Parents will now need to take heed of the rules of the school.

However, I foresee some future questions over the legitimacy of absence by ‘illnesses where the illness is self-certified by the parent. Taking a Friday and the following Monday off ‘sick’ may be especially risky is a school creates a rule requiring a doctor’s note in such circumstances. The absence of a note might be an unreasonable absence.

The case still leaves un-resolved the twin problems of the price of holidays for families with children at school and the issue of families that work in holiday areas. The original Victorian legislation recognised we were in part an agricultural nation and that affected attendance at school. The current legislation doesn’t recognise we are now a service-based economy. For good measure, it also doesn’t recognise that the Victorian legislation on home to school transport provision needs bringing up to date as well.