What’s the collective noun for a group of schools?

How many angels can you gather on the head of a pin? How many words can you inscribe on the back of a postage stamp? Along with raffle prizes about how either many sweets there are in the bottle or undergraduates in a phone box – note for younger readers, phone boxes were largely red sites for fixed landline telephones. Unlike police boxes they have yet to be immortalised in a hit TV series, but appear regularly in period drams and old films. The K1 design is an ionic British deign classic of the 1930s.

Anyway, enough of nostalgia and factoids, the purpose of this introduction is to lead into a consideration of how many secondary schools will be located in my County Council division in North Oxford by September 2019? This week, the temporary home for Oxford’s new secondary free school, the Swan School, was announced as being on the south side of the Marston Ferry Road, just inside my division and almost next door to the excising Cherwell School. In 2020, or more likely 2021, the Swan school will move eastwards to it permanent home at the other end of the road, assuming pupil number post-Brexit require an extra school in Oxford.

However, the potential arrival of the Swan School to join the Cherwell School, both part of the River Learning Trust MAT, even on a temporary basis, set me thinking about how many schools with pupils of secondary school age were congregated in the small patch of north Oxford that I represent on the County Council? At the last count, the total for September 2019 will be eight schools, with an ninth just outside the boundary of the division.

In total, according to DfE figures and including the 120 new Swan School pupils, this will mean about 4,000 pupils are educated at schools containing secondary age pupils and located in my Division. Add in the school just outside the boundary and the total is heading towards the 4,500 figure.

Of course, since two are preparatory schools and other of the six private schools have pupils younger than eleven on roll, the actual number of secondary age pupils is lower than the overall total for pupil numbers on roll. At least four of the schools also have boarders, so the number arriving and leaving each day is also somewhat less than the overall total. Still it does create pressure on the road system. This is despite fact that some of the private schools arrange for coaches to pick up some pupils and The Cherwell School is feted as having the largest proportion of pupils of any secondary school that cycle to school each day.

Does eight secondary schools, all located in one county division, count as some sort of record? Would it justify an entry into the record books? I would be interested to hear of anyone that has more secondary schools in one electoral division for a Councillor. Some MPs will have more such schools, but few many have such a diverse range.

Finally, there are also two state primary schools within my division, and also nurseries, childminders and other provision for the under-fives, plus a couple of Oxford Universities colleges. Perhaps it is a good thing that I have such an interest in education.



Reconciling applicants numbers and trainees for ITT

Last September I reviewed the statistics available at that time from UCAS for post-graduate teacher preparation courses. UCAS has now published the end of cycle reports for the 2016-17 cycle. In September, I commented that ‘what is especially worrying is the level of reported ‘conditional placed’ applicants in the September figures; as high as 20% in some subjects.

With the new data now available, it is now possible to track what appears to have happened to these ‘conditional placed applicants’? The good news is that many seem to have migrated into the ‘placed’ column rather than disappeared into the ‘other’ group that includes those rejected. I assume that this means most were able to meet with the conditions placed on their offer, whether the skills test, degree class or some other requirement. Overall, the number of placed applicants increased between September 2017 statistics and the end of cycle report by 3,090. That is about 60% of the conditionally placed applicants in the September statistics.

There are significant differences between the types of providers in how important converting ‘conditional placed offers’ to ‘placed’ applicants is in the overall scheme of things.

Primary Placed Sept 2017 Placed End of Cycle Difference % Increase
HE 5740 6070 330 6%
SCITT 920 1180 260 28%
SCHOOL DIRECT FEE 2970 3350 380 13%
SCHOOL DIRECT SALARY 1330 1610 280 21%
Secondary Placed Sept 2017 Placed End of Cycle Difference % Increase
HE 6820 7400 580 9%
SCITT 1210 1750 540 45%
SCHOOL DIRECT FEE 3180 3760 580 18%
SCHOOL DIRECT SALARY 750 960 210 28%

Source: UCAS September 2017 and End of Cycle Report

What is also interesting is to compare the End of Cycle number with the DfE’s ITT census for 2017 published in November.

Primary Placed End of Cycle ITT Census 2017 Difference
HE 6070 5840 -230
SCITT 1180 1440 260
SCHOOL DIRECT FEE 3350 3410 60
Secondary Placed End of Cycle ITT Census 2017 Difference
HE 7400 7105 -295
SCITT 1750 1970 220
SCHOOL DIRECT FEE 3760 3870 110

Sources: UCAS End of Cycle Report and DfE ITT Census

By the time of the census, higher education appeared to have lost applicants, but all other routes reported more than through UCAS. This discrepancy merits further investigation to understand whether some routes are by-passing the UCAS system, perhaps for late applications?

What isn’t present in these figures is a breakdown by subject of acceptance rates. However we do know that of the 41,700 applicants with a domicile in England, 24,870 or 60% were accepted.

There were some interesting questions to be asked about regional acceptance rates

By UK domicile region PLACED ALL % PLACED
WALES 1300 2020 64%
SOUTH WEST 2380 3710 64%
EAST ENGLAND 2580 4140 62%
NORTH EAST 1270 2050 62%
EAST MIDLANDS 2080 3360 62%
SOUTH EAST 3650 5900 62%
NORTH WEST 3460 5630 61%
WEST MIDLANDS 2760 4520 61%
ALL UK 26800 44750 60%
YORKSHIRE & THE HUMBER 2490 4320 58%
LONDON 4200 8090 52%

Source: UCAS End of Cycle Report

Why was the percentage so high in the South West and so low in London, where teachers are really needed?

It would be really helpful if more of this data was made widely available, especially on a subject by subject basis for applicants and not just applications as the different number of applications that applicants may make can distort the data.

However, with the current cycle looking worse than the 2017 cycle, what happens over the next six months is going to be of great interest to everyone interested in teacher supply.


Oops there goes …

Earlier this year I reported on the summary closure of a state funded school. In that case it was an academy in Kent. That event followed closely the demise of an academy chain, but not the closure of its schools. Now we learn of the summary closure of another state funded school; The Black County UTC.

Following a second Ofsted inspection the school has decided to close at the end of this term.

Here’s the message on their web site;

Planned closure of Black Country University Technical College

The Governors of the Black Country University Technical College (BCUTC) based in Bloxwich, Walsall, regret to announce that it will close on August 31 2015.

The wellbeing and success of the students at the school is the priority for the Governors and sponsors and full support and guidance is being given to them all, in particular those undertaking exams this term.
This outcome has been reached following a recent disappointing inspection, a thorough assessment of actual and projected student numbers, financial challenges, staffing capacity and the impact these will have on standards of teaching and learning.

“This has been a difficult decision for all concerned. Our primary focus remains the wellbeing and success of the students at the school, not least of all those due to sit exams this term. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that all of our students can continue with their chosen learning outcomes.

“Support and guidance is being provided to students and their parents and carers both internally and through our local partners including the Walsall Connexions Centre, Walsall Council and our neighbouring authorities of Sandwell, Dudley, Wolverhampton and South Staffordshire, and our sponsors at Walsall College and the University of Wolverhampton.

“BCUTC will work closely with the Department for Education, Walsall College and other local education institutions over the coming months to ensure a smooth transition for all students.”

Now it was always the case that private schools could summarily close, in bad times some did the day after the end of the summer term, but state funded schools had to go through a process of consultation and approval. Indeed, a school in Oxfordshire having gained approval for a sixth form is now going through the consultation process to revert to its former 11-16 status because it believes a sixth form won’t be economically viable. Had it been an academy it could seemingly just have closed that part of the school down.

As I reported in an earlier post, there are some UTCs and studio schools that appear to be struggling. Whether closing them down is the answer is a moot point, but it does beg the question of who is really in charge of the education system in England. Presumably, since the Prime Minister was prepared to extol the virtues of UTCs in parliament last week, his Education Secretary hadn’t told him of the impending closure in Walsall. With so many UTCs and studio school heading the table of schools with high absence rates something needs to done; and quickly. Rules about closure also need to be made clear to academies, free schools and others in receipt of public money.

Some good news

The May data for applications through the UCAS system by graduates seeking to become a teacher was published earlier today. There is some qualified good news for the government, but it is heavily qualified. Overall, the gap between applicant numbers has narrowed since April by some 640 applicants. However, it still stands at 4,640 and the clock is ticking down towards the end of the recruitment round.

That’s the sum of the good news. Total offers of all types for secondary courses in England, and all these figures are for courses in England, total around 11,100 against a DfE number set through the Teacher Supply Model of just under 18,000 graduates required to enter training as a secondary teacher in 2015, after allowing for the small number of remaining undergraduate places. So, we are about 6,500 trainees short of what is required or just under 40%. As a result, the secondary share of the 9,000 applications currently awaiting interview or a decision by a provider, will need to come up trumps if the gap is to reduce much further.

Secondary subjects fall into three groups. There are the three subjects: Languages, History and Physical Education where the DfE number of trainees required will be met easily, and there will probably be too many trainees for all the vacancies in 2016. The second group of subjects are those where offers are better than at this point last year but are still likely to be insufficient to meet the DfE number as identified by the Teach Supply Model. These include subjects such as Physics, Mathematics, English, Design & Technology, Chemistry, Biology and Art. Finally, there are five subjects where the DfE number required to enter training almost certainly won’t be reached and the current position over the number of offers appears worse than at this stage last year. These subjects are: Religious Education, Music, Geography, IT/Computer Science and Business Studies.

So, unless far more applicants can be converted into trainees in the period between May and the start of courses in the autumn than was the case last year, the training shortfall in the secondary sector is heading into a third year of under-recruitment against need. This begs the question of what happens to those shortfalls in reality. Returners or overseas teachers are the obvious alternatives along with re-designing the timetable to reduce teaching time in shortage subjects or ask less well qualified teachers to step into the breach and hope that Ofsted doesn’t come calling.

Schools with unexpected vacancies for September and especially for January 2016 are going to find recruiting qualified teachers of some subjects a real challenge. As schools that register classroom teacher vacancies through TeachVac http://www.teachvac.co.uk already know from the update they receive when registering a vacancy, the 2015 pool of Business Studies, Social Studies and Design & Technology trainees has effectively been exhausted already. Subjects such as English, Geography and IT/Computer Science are likely to have only small numbers of trainees currently still looking for teaching vacancies; many in specific locations.

The position in relation to primary recruitment for 2015 is more complicated, not least because of the larger number of undergraduate places. There are around a 1,000 fewer places being held by graduate applicants but, as the DfE original number required was exceeded by a substantial amount in the allocations, this may be more of a problem for course providers struggling to operate financially viable courses than for trainees when they come to seek work in 2016.

There is still time for these numbers to change with an influx of late applicants wanting to train as a teacher. That would be more good news. The potential bad news would be if some of those holding offers were also chasing other careers and decided not to take up their place. Next month the picture will be much clearer, whether or not it is rosier.

Careless Talk

The Secretary of State’s first media outing of this parliament might not have had the outcome planned. A visit to the Andrew Marr shown and an article in the Sunday Times guaranteed plenty of media exposure, plus comment elsewhere. Tackling coasting schools may play well with the Tory faithful, but might be guaranteed to upset the teacher associations, even were it to be a valid argument.

Just imagine a company with 20,000 branches that announces on national television that every branch where sales don’t increase by the national average will be taken over by a manager working in a branch with above average sales. Now the branch in leafy Surrey where the fall in sales is due to customers switching to the internet to make their purchases rather than driving to the shop might still find plenty of people wanting to be a manager. But, the branch in a rundown shopping mall in an area of relatively high unemployment might seem less attractive, especially if it was finding it difficult to recruit staff despite the high unemployment. Of course, the company could offer incentives to relocate staff as it is one big organisation and any employee keen for promotion would recognise the need to relocate.

Schooling in England isn’t yet like that. It suffers from a chronic lack of attention to governance and management that sees local authorities clinging on to their remnants of their former power in some areas; more successfully in some places than others. Then there are the churches, with lots of schools, but for too long no obvious plan for improving standards across all their schools, but a loyal workforce. Since many teachers, especially primary school teachers, train in their local area and aim to work there for their whole careers, the idea of a mobile leadership force, especially in the primary sector is quite possibly fanciful. Indeed, one wonders if the DfE has undertaken any research into the mobility of the teaching force and its leadership, let alone into how many school leaders would need to relocate to tackle the coasting school issue. If none, then the Secretary of State really was guilty of careless talk.

Perhaps it was just a shot across the bows. After all both Nick Clegg and David Laws had proposed plans when in government to create a national cadre of school leaders – see previous posts discussing the idea – so may be this was just an extension of those ideas, but less well articulated. For there are schools that need encouragement to do better, if not for all their pupils, but for some groups whether the least able or the middle attainers or even the most able if their results are being supported by the parents that pay for private tuition and revision classes.

However, until we have an understanding of the shape and lines of control of our school system and whether it is a collaborative or competitive system, it is difficult to see how parachuting leaders into schools on the basis of external assessments will bring improvement to the system as a whole.

Indeed, it might make matters worse if it both dissuades teachers from taking on leadership roles and makes teaching look an unattractive career to new entrants, where the rewards don’t match the risks. We need to get the best from those that work in schools, Michael Gove didn’t, and it is unlikely Nicky Morgan will if she doesn’t balance the waved stick with some sensible use of the carrot.

First data from matching

www.teachvac.com the data information system for teachers that monitors the job market for trainee teachers* wanting to work in the secondary sector has made its first matches after going live on Monday. With trainee teachers, schools, SCITTs and local authorities all registering and the system monitoring more than 3,000 secondary schools http://www.teachvac.com is creating a real-time database of the labour market for teachers.

Schools, local authorities, dioceses and others that register jobs will receive updates of the changing state of the market as part of the registration process. This provides participants with information on how the market for classroom teachers is developing for September 2015 appointments when they register jobs.

Take the example of design and technology as a subject where the ITT census last November revealed around 420 students on one-year preparation courses. Allowing for non-completion, there are likely to be around 400 possible trainees looking for jobs for September 2015. However, as a proportion of these trainees are in schools working on the School Direct salaried scheme they may be expected to be employed by the school where they are currently training. This reduces the ‘free’ pool to less than 350 trainees likely to be job hunting. The DfE estimates that 50% of main scale vacancies are taken by trainees. If that proves the case, then after we have recorded vacancy 700 in the subject there is a risk that the trainee pool will have been exhausted.

Using data from trainee notification of where they are seeking to work we can also identify both hot spots and areas where there may be shortages even before the ‘pool’ has been exhausted. The TeachVac team are able to create reports for interested parties on request, but at a cost as the basic service is free to both schools and trainees. For information can be obtained from enquiries@oxteachserv.com

Trainees also receive a helpful monthly newsletter about recruitment and tips on how to make the most of their application. Later we hope to offer a catch-up seminar programme for trainees once they have secured their first teaching job and can identify areas where they feel they need more preparation to cover issues and topics that they didn’t expect to be teaching.

If you know a trainee or secondary teacher looking for a classroom teacher vacancy for September 2015 please invite them to register at www.teachvac.com The same goes for schools wanting to publicise vacancies. As it is free to both schools and trainees they will be helping develop an entirely new system that tracks the changing labour market for teachers on a daily basis. Sadly, at present it is only England and just secondary. If anyone wants to extend it to primary schools then I know that the team at TeachVac would be delighted to talk with them.

* I am involved with the TeachVac project especially on the data and information side so declare an interest in the contents of the post. As the service is free to users they aren’t being asked to buy anything but encouraged to use the service for free.

Pay primary teachers more?

Should we pay primary teachers more than their secondary colleagues? Figures published today by the DfE show that the average primary class, mostly taught by one teacher, but often with assistance from a teaching assistant, is now 26.9 pupils in size, up from 26.3 in 2006; an increase of 3.6 pupils per teacher over the period. During the same time period the average class faced by a secondary teacher declined in size from 21.5 to 20.1; a reduction of 1.4 pupils per teacher. Thus, overall, primary teachers on average face classes 6.8 pupils larger than their secondary colleagues. Put another way, in July a Year 6 teacher has around a third more pupils to cope with than a Year 7 teacher with the same children the following September.

Of course, older children demand more attention, have more behaviour issues with adults, require teachers with more specialist knowledge, sometimes have a longer teaching week, and there are no doubt a whole host of other reasons that could be advanced why secondary teachers should be paid the same as their primary counterparts despite teaching smaller classes. However, on sheer productivity grounds, the average primary teacher now has far more contact with pupils than their secondary colleagues even allowing for non-contact time during the school week.

Disaggregated by Key Stage, the figures look even worse; with Key Stage 1 teachers faced with an average of 27.4 pupils compared with 25.6 pupils in 2006; and Key Stage 2 teachers facing an average of 27.2; actually down on the 27.3 of 2006. These figures are taken from the DfE’s Schools and their Pupils Statistical Bulletin https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2014 that clearly show the pressure primary schools are under as rolls rise while their secondary colleagues enjoy the final years of declining numbers before the avalanche of rising rolls hits them in a couple of year time.

As the Teachers’ Pay Review body Report referred to in my previous post on this blog makes clear, the issue of how to calculate pay for teachers is complicated. However, for many years it has been agreed that the same basic scale applies to both primary and secondary teachers. Now pay is open to a free for all should this basic tenet of pay over the past three quarters of a century be open to discussion? With pupil numbers being a key component of a school’s funding, many primary teachers will no doubt want to know where the £15-£20,000 extra per class implied by the increase in class sizes since 2006 have gone in the school budget? For those schools that have just added to their reserves, there might be some challenging questions for the head and governing body to answer from their class teachers.