The importance of soft skills and those that miss out

The report from the Social Mobility Commission on extra-curricular activities, soft skills and social mobility published today  https://www.gov.uk/government/news/extra-curricular-activities-soft-skills-and-social-mobility comes a decade after similar research, by the then DCSF, (Department of Children, Schools and Families) about schools that offered extended services, both before and after school. This research was conducted in the period before the age of austerity, and any large-scale use of breakfast clubs and food banks. I reported on the DCSF evidence for the TES in the ‘Stat of the Week’ column of 10th April 2009.

There are some striking similarities between the two reports. Today’s Social Mobility Commission report that is entitled ‘An Unequal Playing field’, and is based upon research conducted by the University of Bath, shows according to the press notice:

huge disparities in children’s participation rates across a wide range of extra-curricular activities depending on their social background. Children aged 10 to 15 from wealthier families are much more likely to take part in every type of activity especially music and sport.

The report looks at activities such as arts, music, sport, dance, voluntary work, and youth clubs. It shows that children’s participation in extra-curricular activities depends on the schools they attend; the area they are growing up and their socio-economic background.

As household income rises so does increased participation. Those from better-off families are also more likely to engage in a greater number of out of school activities. Children from the poorest families are 3 times more likely to not participate in any extra-curricular activities compared to those from wealthier families.

Some classes are expensive but there are other barriers for the less affluent. In some areas there are access difficulties – schools don’t provide the activities and local councils have cut back on their provisions for children and young people. Sometimes, however, children from disadvantaged backgrounds do not take part because they lack confidence or fear they will not fit in.

A decade ago, I wrote of the DCSF research that ‘pupils least likely to be using the facilities provided by extended schools are those from the more deprived groups.’ Seems little has changed here.

A decade ago the majority of activities offered through the extended school programme were after school activities, and I suspect that is this is still the case today. However, where before school activities were offered a decade ago, pupils were more likely to make use of them on more days of the week.

In 2009, I concluded that ‘the activities relating to having fun and socialising are the key activities of out-of-school activities’. The Social Mobility Commission chairman has concluded that

“It is shocking that so many children from poorer backgrounds never get the chance to join a football team, learn to dance or play music. The activity either costs too much, isn’t available or children just feel they won’t fit in. As a result they miss out on important benefits – a sense of belonging, increased confidence and social skills which are invaluable to employers. It is high time to level the playing field.”

But, how to level that playing field will be the challenge for the DfE, just as it was for DCSF a decade ago. Seems like not much progress, if any, has been made during the intervening years, and this is another casualty of austerity.

 

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More wasted cash?

The DfE has today updated the list of academies (SATs and MATs, but possibly not MACs) where there has been a change in overall responsibility, either from a standalone academy (SAT) into a multi-academy Trust (MAT) or between MATs. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/academy-transfers-and-funding-england-financial-year-2018-to-2019

These changes are generally not cost free. They can take place for a variety of reasons including, ‘due to intervention’, usually after an inadequate rating by Ofsted; ‘initiated by the Trust’ and as a result of the fact that the Trust ‘sponsor closed’. The last of these reasons seems to have incurred costs of around £3 million in the 14 months from January 2018 to February 2019. The DfE can offset such costs against any balances held within the Trust, but that cash cannot then be spent on educating the pupils.

Now it has to be recognised that in the past costs were incurred in dealing with failing local authorities. Hackney in the early years of the Labour government was one example, and I think that Bradford was another. Indeed Commissioners are still sent into Children’s Services rated as ‘inadequate’. However, the ability of trustees to effectively close their Trust brings a new dimension to this issue. I suppose that some of these Trusts might have, so to speak, fallen on their sword before they were the subject of intervention by the Regional School Commissioner’s Office.

Nevertheless, the fact that trustee can voluntarily decide to abandon one or all of their schools at a cost to the system does raise questions about the best use of scarce resources, an issue highlighted in the previous post on this blog.

There also doesn’t seem to be any requirement on trustees to think of others when making decisions to close a SAT or a MAT. There are times of year when such actions might be allowed, but others where it should be banned. I recall a few years ago a MAT announcing the closure of a school a couple of weeks before the notification of places for the following September was to be relayed to parents. The local authority had to re-run the whole exercise for that area, with a waste of time and money. Those costs would presumably not be included in the figures provided by the DfE, and I suspect the local authority were not reimbursed for the time an effort of their officers in ensuring every pupil had a place at secondary school that September.

The DfE might also like to publish a list of ‘orphan’ schools, declared ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and requiring conversion to academy status but finding it a challenge to secure a MAT willing to embrace them.

I don’t know whether the Select Committee in their Inquiry into school funding looked into this sort of cost to the system, if not, then they might like to put such a study on their list for the future.

As I have written in previous blogs, there are some areas, such as pupil numbers increases, where costs cannot be avoided. There are other areas where reducing waste should be a real priority for the system. This looks like an example of the latter.

More signs of recruitment concerns

You can tell how serious the teacher recruitment crisis is becoming for the government when you see TV adverts in July encouraging people to sign-up to become a teacher. Now comes news from SchoolsWeek, in an exclusive report on their website, stating that the ‘Skills Tests’ are to be ditched as well. https://schoolsweek.co.uk/qts-skills-tests-set-to-be-scrapped/ apparently, some one in eight of those taking the tests can fail meaning they are lost to the teaching profession even if they have the necessary GCSE grades.

Clearly, it is important to ensure a high standard of both literacy and numeracy in our teaching force, especially in those teaching the fundamentals of these curriculum areas. However, I am sure that the change, if announced by the DfE, will come as a great relief to career changers and those on programmes such as TeachNow that might be a bit rusty in the finer details required in the tests.

Indeed, I doubt whether I would pass either of the tests without a significant degree of additional effort. I can see why some might not want to make that effort, especially when QTS is handed on a plate to teachers qualifying in the USA and some Commonwealth countries.

In the same edition of SchoolsWeek there is another story that Teach First has offered places to 82% of their applicants that made it through the assessment stage, meaning there are likely to be 1,735 Teach First trainees this year, compared with 1,259 last year. This is good news for schools, but may be less good news for trainees on other routes if the increased numbers are in subjects where competition is still relatively strong for jobs and Teach First trainees, by already being in schools, have a head start. It would be interesting to see a breakdown by subject for the increased numbers over last year.

TeachVac, the free national vacancy site, where I am chairman, has data that shows this year to be one where many schools are facing real issues in recruitment in a wide range of subjects. For schools with unexpected vacancies in the autumn there may well be real issues recruiting across the board.

The government’s plans for more sport may also help to soak up the reservoir of physical education teachers created by training far too many for the needs of schools. Indeed, so valuable are some of these teachers to fill in across a range of subjects that this year there are fewer still available than in previous years. Indeed, it is humanities teachers that are probably struggling the most to find a job, and probably history teachers most of all across much of the country.

There are still just under two months to go before most teacher preparation courses commence in the early autumn, so the next few weeks are critical to the government in terms of recruitment and the 2020 labour market. An announcement of a significant pay increase for new entrants might help boost recruitment more than dropping the Skills Tests, but we must await the STRB report to see whether that will be the case.

How to manage schooling in England?

The Confederation of School Trusts, led by their able chief Executive, Leora Cruddas, don’t often rate a mention on this blog.  However, their latest attempt to cut through the Gordian knot left by Michael Gove’s half completed reform of the school system in England does at least offer an opportunity for those interested in the matter to once again state their views and why they hold them?

As an elected Councillor, Deputy Chair of an Education Scrutiny Committee, and a long-time supporter of a school system with local democratic involvement, unlike the NHS where most decisions are driven either from Whitehall or by professionals, I might be thought to be miles apart from CST’s view: we shall see.

The CST introduction to their latest survey focuses on five key areas for their White Paper:

  • One system – as opposed to the current “expensive and confusing” two-tier system, one of standalone schools maintained by local authorities and one of legally autonomous schools, many operating as part of a group or school trust
  • Teacher professionalism – the CST is proposing to establish a body of knowledge which supports initial teacher education, induction and post-qualifying professional development
  • Curriculum – the CST proposes that school trusts have clearly articulated education philosophies and harness the best evidence on curriculum design and implementation so that every pupil is able to access an ambitious curriculum
  • Funding – the CST is today launching an online tool to help schools and school trusts strategically plan, and is also publishing a paper highlighting where strategic additional investment is needed
  • Accountability – the CST believes there should be a single regulator and, separately, an independent inspectorate, each with clearly understand authority, decision-making powers, legitimacy and accountability

On the first bullet point, I would add that in my view is really 3 systems, with standalone academies and free schools being different to MAT/MACs.

Can Academies and Free schools be like the voluntary school sector of the past and MAT/MACs act like diocese in relation to local authorities?

How many organisations do we need? There are 150+ local authorities of varying sizes: how many do we need at that tier, 200, 250? Certainly not the wasteful and expensive arrangements that currently exist across the country. The fact that the government has had to clamp down on top salaries in MATs, this at a time when schools are strapped for cash, makes the point more eloquently that any diatribe about CEOs pay packets.

Pupil place planning and in-year admissions are key tasks needed in a properly managed system. Someone needs to guarantee children taken into care for their own safety and moved away from the parental home can secure a new school place quickly, and also ensure in-year admissions for pupils whose parents move home are not left for long periods of time without a school place, especially if they have special needs and an EHCP.

Perhaps a national fund to help ensure rapid transfers for pupils with an EHC plan or needing SEN support might help. Local Authorities could draw on the fund without it affecting their High Needs block funding.

The CST also needs to reflect how school transport is to be managed in any changed system.

On teacher professionalism, will the CST support my view on the need for QTS to be defined more closely than anyone with QTS can teach anything to any pupil in any type of school?

If you are interested in the governance of our school system as it approaches its 150th anniversary year, do please visit https://cstuk.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Future-shape-white-paper-call-for-evidence-June-2019.pdf and complete the CST survey.

 

 

NASBTT Awards 2019

Last evening I attended the first ever awards ceremony to celebrate excellence in school-based teacher education and to recognise the exceptionally hard-working and talented staff that make school-based teacher education a success.

This was an evening of meetings with old friends, including someone who I help tutor on their Master course more than twenty years ago and who is now a senior education official. Such meetings are just as joyful as when teachers meet former pupils. There was also the opportunity for great conversations about education and, hopefully, the start of new friendship within the education community.

Much of my career in education since the 1980s has been involved with teacher preparation in one way or another, and it is wonderful to see how NASBTT has developed and flourished into the important organisation it has now become.

TeachVac, the organisation where I am chairman, was especially delighted to be able to sponsor the award for the Administrator of the Year at last night’s ceremony, as throughout my career I have been lucky to work with some splendid administrative staff at all levels. Entrepreneurs probably miss the support of a good administrator more than anything else when starting up a new business: well, I know that I certainly have.

Below is an extract of the short speech I gave when introducing the finalists and then presenting the award.

Full details of this award and all the others, including the successful nominees can be found at https://www.nasbtt.org.uk/nasbtt-awards-2019/

“As many of you know, we started TeachVac five years ago to save schools time and money by using the best that modern technology can offer, coupled with an extensive understanding of the education scene.

TeachVac has listed 47,000 jobs since the start of January, well 47,003 to be precise up to when the office closed this afternoon, all at no cost to schools in either money or time.

TeachVac doesn’t want to waste administrator’s time, but please do ask your teachers to check when they cut and paste information about jobs. The number of times either a maths job contains the word English all the way through the job description or the closing date is after the starting date: well TeachVac’s staff have stopped counting.

Administrators are busy people, indeed I salute their ability to multi-task; dealing with the panic on the phone while at the same time reassuring the student about an assignment date, and simultaneously filling in that DfE form requiring the number of left-handed trainees over the age of thirty and with naturally curly hair; while thinking, whatever next.

When I set up a SCITT in 1995, I appointed the administrator before the course leader. Good teachers are not yet commonplace, but they can be found; good administrators are like gold dust.

I was reminded of all this when reading through the excellent submissions for this award: hardworking, sensitive, forward thinking, tea and tissues were just some of the terms that would feature in a wordle of the description of the qualities of an administrator. I would add, approachable, friendly and all-knowing to that list

As a result, it is with really genuine pleasure that TeachVac sponsors this award.”

NASBTT has come a long way from its early days to its current format as a leading player in the teacher training, education and development market. Good luck for the future

 

Design Matters again

I heard on the Today programme this morning about the initiative by the V&A Museum in London to boost the status of design and technology as a subject in our schools. Looking back over the posts on this blog, it seems several years now since the subject generated a post on its own. Maybe this is because of the overwhelming narrative that the only subjects of worth are those in the EBacc, so beloved of Ministers.

This blog has never accepted the view that the EBAcc represented a broad and balanced curriculum, and has certainly made the point that subjects more related to real life and the working world of many millions of citizens deserves more appreciation in our schools. Can our schools currently help produce the next generation of designers to power future companies that will rise to the heights of Apple?

The recent commemorations of D-Day reminded me both of the part played by Hobart’s funnies in the landings and of the importance of the Bailey bridge, an early example of which can still be found on Port Meadow, just down the road from where I live in Oxford. Both are examples of good design fitting a purpose.

However, there will be a problem teaching design and technology as a subject to everyone in our schools unless there is a real push on recruitment into teacher training.

Design and Technology currently languishes as the subject at the foot of the recruitment table, with the worst record on the percentage of required places on ITT courses being filled. The V&A could help to inspire a scholarship scheme such as for physics, chemistry and some other subjects, as part of the conference it is hosting today. If design and technology is so important, then so are those that teach it.

There is a lot of information around, not least on TeachVac, about where the schools trying to recruit design and technology teachers are located, but it requires more forensic analysis of the School Workforce Census to discover those schools where the subject has either been eliminated from the curriculum or severely curtailed. I also suspect that in some cases art and design and technology have become merged into a single department or faculty with consequent effects on both curriculum areas.

I am sure that toy manufacturers can also play a part in awakening more interest in the subject by creating making toys rather than playing screen-based games. If in order to progress and win a game you needed to demonstrate making skills that might prove an incentive for the learning how to make and mend rather than use and throw that so characterises many areas in our consumer society from fashion to food. If we make our meals, are we less likely to waste the food?

Design and technology needs a series of champions to raise the profile of the subject in our schools. I hope that the conference as the V&A, a wonderful repository and showcase for the applied arts, design and technology will be the start of the revival in the fortunes for the subject in our schools.

Class sizes on the increase

Increasing pupil numbers and pressure on funding , it seems, having an effect on class sizes in the secondary sector. Last week’s DfE data https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2019 revealed that the percentage of classes in the secondary sector with more than 30 pupils in them was, at 8.4% of classes, at its highest percentage since before 2006 and the fifth straight year to have recorded an increase. Some 13% of pupils were being taught in classes of more than 30 in January 2019. By comparison, in 2014 it was just 9.4% of pupils.

With more increases in pupil number over the next few years, this percentage of pupils in classes of over 30 pupils seems destined to increase even further, unless more funding can be found from the magic money tree called The Tresury.

Almost the same percentage of pupils in the primary sector were also being taught in these ‘large’ classes. The classes are mostly at Key Stage 2. This is because of the Blunkett limit of 30 pupils that applies to most Key Stage 1 classes. Indeed, the 18.1% of Key Stage 2 pupils in classes of more than 30 is a record percentage since at least 2010 and probably for a longer period as well. Hopefully, these children will find themselves in smaller classes when they move on to a secondary school.

Large numbers of pupils in classes means more time is required for assessment and preparation by teachers if the different needs of every child are to be adequately catered for. This may well be adding to the pressure teachers’ face from workload that must be undertaken during term-time.

The average Key Stage 2 class in England has some 27.9 pupils in it. The range is from Trafford, in Greater Manchester, where the average is 29.7 to Redcar & Cleveland in the North East, where the average is some 5.2 pupils per teacher fewer at 24.2 pupils in the average Key Stage 2 class.

Four of the lowest five areas with the best averages for Key Stage 2 class size are in the North East and the fifth, Cumbria is also in the North of England. Some boroughs in Inner London also manage to achieve among the lowest average class sizes at Key Stage2. By contrast, urban authorities in the North West and the Midlands feature among authorities with the highest average class sizes at Key Stage 2.

Some local authority areas in the North West have always had large classes and some of the worst pupil teacher ratios in the primary sector ever since I first started looking at such statistics in the mid-1970s, when the present pattern of local government in the urban areas outside of London was established. Hopefully, the new funding formula will help to further reduce the disparity between the best and the worst authorities, although other factors may intervene to prevent an entirely level playing field, such as the age and experience of the teaching staff.