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.

 

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‘intervene fast… take the serious action necessary’. Promises

Why has the Regional School Commissioner for North West London and the South Central Region not issued any warning notices to any school about poor performance since the end of 2016? The updated DfE list of such notice published earlier this week  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/list-of-letters-to-academy-trusts-about-poor-performance reveals that the last notice issued was in December 2016 and that was to a school issued a pre-warning notice at the start of that year. Indeed, all the schools issued with notices in 2016/17 had previously received an earlier letter, meaning no new school in the region has been added to the list since early 2016.

Is the Office of the RSC not communicating to the DfE or has the RSC decided that the Secretary of State’s words in his speech to the NGA that ‘on those rare occasions when a school is failing – be in no doubt – we will intervene fast and we will take the serious action necessary’ doesn’t apply in the North West London and the South Central Region?

It cannot be that there are no Inadequate schools within the region, although there may not be many. The RSC appears also never to have issued any sort of notice to a school run by any of the faith groups in his region. This may explain why the school I highlighted in my previous blog post hasn’t received any overt indication of concern about performance, except from Ofsted when it declared it Inadequate in the spring of 2017 and received expressions of further concerns in the two follow-up s8 monitoring reports.

Is the RSC for the North West London and the South Central Region trying a new policy, at variance with the words of the Secretary of State, by seeking to improve schools beyond the glare of publicity? Interestingly, the figures for number of notices issued by the North West London and the South Central Region are also matched by some other regions that have also not published any notices in 2017/18, whereas the RSC for the South West has issued five of the 12 notices in 2017/18.

There are clearly Inadequate academies, as rated by Ofsted, in the regions where no notices have been published in 2017/18  as well as previously rated Inadequate schools where progress to return to an effective standard of education has been unsatisfactory. How are RSCs handling these schools now the notices seem to have fallen out of fashion? How will the Secretary of State’s promise to intervene fast be acted upon if the general public do not know what action is being taken by an RSC?

The Secretary of State has also promised more openness from Headteacher Boards and their minutes, so that is one possible way forward. Local politicians might also like to call RSCs before their Education Scrutiny Committee to given an account of how the RSC’s Office is raising standards in their local area among the academies and their Trusts. Oxfordshire’s Education Scrutiny Committee has been holding such meetings for the past three years with the RSC or their Office. Sadly, the ESFC have yet to agree to such a meeting despite two academies being in financial special measures for more than two years.

 

Tackling Academies and Trusts

Dear Secretary of State,

When addressing the NGA recently, you said;

On those rare occasions when a school is failing – be in no doubt – we will intervene fast and we will take the serious action necessary.

In relation to maintained schools you also said that ‘an Ofsted Inadequate judgement alone would lead to hard action to convert a Local Authority maintained school to an academy.’ However, you didn’t say what intervention would mean for an existing academy declared Inadequate by Ofsted?

Can you explain what action will be taken where the school declared Inadequate is already part of a multi-academy trust?

Where the school is also under financial special measures, one might expect some form of obvious action, such as a published notice of intent to close by the Regional School Commissioner. Where the school has well above average absence rates one might expect action to intervene fast, if you mean what you said.

Now, either your words were empty rhetoric in relation to academies or you really do want all schools to be good schools and will take steps to improve inadequate schools. Can you please reassure me that no school in Oxfordshire would be allowed to drift for more than a year after being declared an Inadequate Academy by Ofsted and with a recent monitoring inspection that concluded that ‘Leaders and managers are not taking effective action towards the removal of special measures.’

If this is not a case for the use of your policy of fast intervention, perhaps you can explain why it doesn’t meet your criteria.

You are also going to take action about the transparency of multi academy trusts and the pay of those that work in central offices administering the Trust. This can only be a good thing. In Oxfordshire several of the Trusts with headquarters outside the County pay their CEOs more than the £150,000 level you recently wrote to Trusts about, whereas according to their published accounts, none of the Trusts with its headquarters in Oxfordshire has come close to this limit.

Many primary schools are not now willing to join a Trust or even become an academy because once the decision has been made it is irrevocable. However, a Trust may either broker a school to another trust or in extreme circumstances give up the school altogether, but a school may not leave a Trust, even if the terms on which it agreed to join change dramatically. Such a risk doesn’t seem worth leaving the certainty of their present governance arrangements in the eyes of many governors, especially where the central charge may be little different to that offered for the purchase of traded services by their local authority.

Your speech did little to dispel the fog of uncertainty about how the system of schooling across England works for the benefit of all pupils. Please consider how all schools can work together and where there are many MATs in an area who has the ability to coordinate both their actions, those of academies not in Trusts and the remaining maintained schools whether they are voluntary or community in nature.

Not very ambitious

I understand that the Secretary of State is going to tell the NAHT Conference of another plan for sabbaticals for teachers as part of a retention drive to keep teachers from leaving. Dangling the odd carrot here and there isn’t the same as having a comprehensive policy for the training and development of the teaching profession.

I looked back through this blog and saw what I wrote in a post on the 17th April 2013 – it is still there and readable https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/mrs-thatcher-as-education-secretary/ The post was written following the death of Mrs Thatcher. Her time as Education Secretary, best known for ending school milk also contained the excellent 1972 White Paper from which the following extract is taken:

Teacher Training and Professional Development

The Government propose to work towards the achievement of a graduate teaching profession. During probation teachers should receive the kind of help and support needed to make the induction process both more effective and less daunting than it has been in the past. Also they should be released for not less than one-fifth of their time for in-service training. For the remainder of their time probationer teachers would be serving in schools, but with a somewhat lightened timetable, so that altogether they might be expected to undertake three-quarters of a full teaching load. The Government propose to give effect to the James Committee’s recommendation that teachers should be released for in-service training for periods equivalent to one term in every 7 years of service. It is their aim that a substantial expansion of such training should begin in the school year 1974–75 and should continue progressively so that by 1981 3 per cent of teachers could be released on secondment at any one time. This involves a four-fold increase in present opportunity.

(my emphasis in bold)

Of course apart from the first point it didn’t happen as planned, because the Oil Crisis at the end of 1972 plunged the country into recession and the hamstrung Labour government of 1974-79 wasn’t able to move the ideas forward. But, there were ambitious targets for the whole profession. For much of this century, successive governments have neglected the professional development of the teaching force and much more is need that is currently on offer from Mr Hinds.

I gather that Bath Spa University has also decided to pay a scholarship of £500 to all its students joining teacher preparation courses next September in recognition of the costs of such courses. I applaud this action, but would rather the government returned to a training grant for all postgraduates in training as a teacher. Stand up to the Treasury Mr Hinds and point out that we need teachers and present policies aren’t working. A thriving modern economy depends upon a successful education service and you cannot achieve that end if you fail to recruit enough teachers.

Scap the work on a new vacancy service for teachers and use the cash saved for more support for trainee teachers. Then use the power of the profession and the many organisations within it to create the free service TeachVac has pioneered at no cost to the DfE. That way ‘all could be winners’.

 

100 days and counting

Mr Hinds has now been in post as Secretary of State of Education just beyond the 100 day point, regarded as the first milestone for a politician by many commentators. During the same period in 2010 Michael Gove had already achieved the passing of the infamous 2010 Academies Act, despite having had to wait for the creation of the Coalition. However much many of us dislike its contents, and the subsequent effect on schooling in England, one must admire the political foresight of Mr Gove and his team of advisers.

As with all Mr Gove’s successors, there has been little sign of the same degree of ambition from the present incumbent of the office at Sanctuary Buildings. Now it is true that a minority government is in an even weaker position with regard to legislation than even a coalition. However, one of Michael Gove’s first acts at Defra this January was to attend both the Oxford Farming Conference and it alternative unofficial counterpart down the road. In doing so, he was making a clear political statement.

So, what has been achieved in the first 100 days by the Secretary of State for Education? Judging by Mr Hind’s speech to the ASCL Conference in March, it is more a matter of emphasis and a nudge here and there, than dealing with the big picture issues. A pause on changes in assessment and testing; more emphasis on reducing workload to calm down the teaching profession and a nod to the importance of technology. A sort of steady as you go regime.

So, what’s still in the Secretary of State’s in-tray? School funding hasn’t gone away as an issue, although it doesn’t seem to be playing very big in local elections across England. Parents haven’t yet seen the real effects of tightening budget. The fact that two of the three remaining maintained secondary schools in Oxfordshire had deficits of more than £1 million each at the end of 2017-18 financial years tells of pain yet to come. School Funding could be a big issue for Whitehall if teachers’ pay increases this year are more than was estimated by the Treasury in its school funding models.

Such an increase seems likely, since the Secretary of State hasn’t managed to tackle the issue of providing an adequate supply of teachers and stemming the outflow of those already in the profession. National teacher shortages are always seen as the responsibility of the government at Westminster, and 2018 is still not looking very healthy on the recruitment into training front. Failure to recruit trainees will impact in 2019 on the ability of schools to recruit new teachers and allows plenty of time for profession to mount any number of campaigns. The joint letter from a number of organisations sent to Mr Hinds earlier this week may be just the first in a veritable salvo of concern about this issue.

For me, the Secretary of State could make his name by regularising the parallel systems of governance between locally overseen maintained schools and nationally managed academies. Although not exactly the same situation, Mr Hinds may recognise, coming from a hospitality industry background that the 2003 Licensing Act did away with the dual system of liquor licences being issued by Magistrates’ Court and entertainment licences by local authorities. Our dual governance system for schools is a mess and, as I have said before, doesn’t help some of our most vulnerable young people such as children taken into care that need a place in a different school.

But then, a concern with social mobility also didn’t seem to feature large in Mr Hind’s first 100 days.

Urgent action needed

The following are extracts from a Section 8 monitoring report issued today by Ofsted. The school, a secondary school, is part of a multi-academy company and was declared inadequate in May last year by Ofsted. Somewhat surprisingly, Ofsted didn’t return until January 2018.  When they did, they found some good things within the school and some improvements, but to quote for the S8 report:

Although there have been undeniable improvements to safeguarding, behaviour and morale of staff, there are considerable weaknesses at the level of governance and the multi-academy company. These weaknesses have the potential to put the good work of school staff and the pace of improvement in jeopardy.

 However, following the review, the XXMAC and governing body have been slow to improve their effectiveness. It is understandable that directors’ decisions about senior leadership are sensitive, but other statutory duties of the governing body and the company have been neglected (my emphasis)

 Directors and governors have not taken enough responsibility for ensuring that leaders strategically map out the key priorities for iimproving the school. Nor have directors and governors demonstrated how they will evaluate improvements by their impact on pupils’ progress, attendance and behaviour. In short, it is not clear that directors and governors know how to judge what is working in the school and what is not. (my emphasis)

 In addition, XXMAC and governors have not done enough to maintain good levels of communication with parents or involve them more closely in the school’s drive for improvement. In this way, leaders at the highest level are not directly helping to restore the school’s reputation in the local community. 

 This haphazard approach is not helping pupils to achieve their full potential. 

 There is no clear strategy in the school improvement plan for reducing casual and persistent absence. Good attendance is not a high enough priority in the school. 

 However, the support commissioned by the XXMAC is not sufficient to build capacity and establish a common sense of purpose for the school. For example, important decisions about leaders’ roles and the priorities for the future are not being made on the basis of a thorough review of the school’s performance. Instead, decisions are being made on an ad hoc basis, relying upon the goodwill and integrity of current school leaders.

 So, where do we go from here? The previous Chief Inspector was right to argue for inspection of MATs and MACs. Who now takes responsibility for acting upon this damming report; The Regional School Commissioner; the Funding and Skills Council; Ofsted or the Secretary of State? The local authority cannot do so, but someone should be take action by Monday, especially as the school is also still in financial special measures and there were issues raised in the 2017 accounts about the management of financial matters.

If ‘it is not clear that directors and governors know how to judge what is working in the school and what is not.’ Then such a situation must not be allowed to continue. Action this day please.

 

A new direction for education?

The speech from the Secretary of State, Mr Hinds, to the world Education Forum was interesting in several respects. This blog will reflect upon two points; technology and teaching and the curriculum.

I have long been an advocate of the use of technology to improve learning. Ever since I was responsible for technology hardware when teaching in the 1970s and bought a Sony video pack to record both PE lessons and rehearsals for the school play I wondered whether the age of didactic memory dependent learning was coming to an end? Of course it isn’t, as children need to learn and internalise the basic of literacy and numeracy as well as survival and communication skills and many other aspects of learning for life. But, I guess we don’t teach logarithms these days and many might no longer know their northings from their eastings yet successfully manage to navigate using their mobile phones: technology has meant changes.

Personally, I think the Secretary of State might want to start any quest for greater understanding of the role of technology in learning in the future of schooling with teacher preparation and the views it inculcates into new entrants. Do preparation course of all types from Teach First to a Russell Group university find space for thinking about the future. Are they helped by the DfE informing them of cutting edge research into learning and the use of technology? Indeed, does the DfE fund enough research projects into this area, especially to help raise the learning achievements of pupils with special educational needs? Can we close the gap for these children and enhance their life chances through a better use of technology?

Mr Hinds mentioned the curriculum in his speech and the recognition in business, where he was previously a junior Minister, of the importance of soft skills. What he didn’t mention is the importance of culture. In that respect, teachers with experience of the world of business can bring invaluable insights into the lives of pupils and the understanding for the many teachers that have progressed from classroom to university and back to the classroom. I don’t in anyway denigrate that pathway but, especially for the school leaders of tomorrow, there is a need to broaden horizons in a way that hasn’t bene possible for much of the past twenty years.

The Secretary of State might want to ask why the DfE has a target of training about 1,000 PE teachers, but only just over 200 business studies teachers. I don’t doubt the PE number is correct, especially if we are to provide the Olympic champions of the future and possibly ever win the football World Cup again as a nation. But, do we need more teachers of business studies in our schools? The sector failed to even meet the low target the DfE set using the Teacher Supply Model for 2017 trainees; it was missed by 20%. Yesterday, TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk issued an amber warning for the subject to schools registered with them. Already, in 2018, sufficient vacancies have been advertised to mean there won’t be enough trainees to go around again this year. At this rate of progress, the trainee pool with be exhausted before the end of March, even earlier than last year.

Education needs to take both business and technology seriously: the new Secretary of State might be just the person to help them do so.