Congratulations to the Education Select Committee

Alongside the unfolding shambles that is Brexit much of the work of parliament at Westminster goes on almost as normal. Next week the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Teaching Profession s its spring meeting, and I have provided them with an update on teacher recruitment along the lines of yesterday’s post on this blog.

However, of more significant to the work of parliament was the meeting yesterday of the Education Select Committee. Details at The minutes haven’t been published yet, but will be well worth reading when the do appear.

When I first started following the work of Select Committees in the 1980s, and then submitting written evidence, and in 1996 being called for the first time to provide oral evidence, these Committees met in rooms at Westminster. They mostly just questioned experts in the field they were discussing. There was no TV channel or live streaming, and I recall astonishing a clerk by requesting that a graph accompanying my evidence needed to be reproduced in colour in the minutes if it was to be understood by readers. Incidentally, guidelines in many organisations for reproducing graphs and charts in both colour and monochrome are still often very lax, making some documents very difficult to understand.

Issues such as concerns about the presentation of data will have been fully understood by those providing evidence to the Education Select Committee yesterday. In three groups, of either two or three, young people with special needs or disabilities provided evidence of their own experience of the education system to the MPs on the Committee. I think this is the first time that the Committee has actually heard at first hand from students with SEND of their experience of our education system.

Schools should not be just exam factories, but pupils with SEND should not lose out in achieving their full potential just because they face additional challenges.  Relegating these pupils to a separate room at lunchtime might be both convenient and help to ensure their safety, but it doesn’t help in making friendship with other pupils. Simple actions such as the wearing of a ‘high vis’ Gillet in the playground can warn other pupils to take care, and reduce the need for isolation and significantly increase opportunities to associate with other classmates.

All new schools should be built with doors and circulation spaces wide enough to take motorised wheelchairs, for even if there are no pupils when the school is being built, who is to say that there won’t be parents, staff, governors or even HMIs making use of such aids to their mobility? For the same reason, lifts must provide access to all upper floors where teaching takes place.

Funding for SEND, and the High Needs Block in general, needs more attention and I hope the Select Committee will consider that issue along with the part the NHS can play in early identification of those that need EHCPs rather than waiting for children to start their education. I hope that yesterday was the start of more conversation between Select Committees and those whose voices are often not heard enough.


Not a surprise?

In my Review of 2017, I wrote that:

‘Although there have been changes in the junior ministerial ranks, the Secretary of State has served throughout the year and is now approaching the point in her tenure when she is in the zone where many politicians find themselves either changing jobs or being removed from office in a reshuffle.’

Lucky guess or just reading the political runes? I note that the TES expressed similar views, so perhaps the departure of Justine Greening wasn’t unexpected. Nevertheless, we must thank the now former Secretary of State for her calming period in office. If it survives, still no means a certainty, the National Funding Formula may be Justine Greening’s legacy from her time in office at Sanctuary Buildings. We now await the possibility of changes in the more junior ministerial ranks.

The new Secretary of State served on the Education Select Committee for a period after 2010 and we had this exchange when I gave oral evidence to the inquiry into attracting, training and retaining the best teachers, when I appeared as one of a panel of witnesses.

 Professor Howson: I can’t imagine that the CBI would be terribly happy if we took the whole of Oxford and Cambridge’s output to fill our 35,000 places. That is part of our dilemma. Yes, we want people who are as well qualified and able as possible, but we are not competing in a vacuum, and society as a whole has to decide where it wants to put teaching in terms of the competition for graduates.

Q149 Damian Hinds: Gosh-most people would say that teaching should be very near the top. McKinsey, BCG and Goldman Sachs can fight their own battles, but in society, we want teaching to be very high up on that list of priorities, don’t we?

Professor Howson: Then this Committee must recommend that the Government take actions to achieve that. As someone has already said, pay may well be one of those actions.

Q148 & Q149

It will be interesting to see how quickly Mr Hinds acts to deal with the problems over teacher training numbers discussed in this blog and elsewhere during the past week. Perhaps he might like to create a specialist group to advise him on possible ways forward. I am sure that with his track record on social mobility including his role in the APPG on social mobility, he will find many willing to offer help.

Apart from teacher supply issues, Mr Hinds will need to look at the governance of the academy sector and how it relates to the remaining maintained schools. Having been educated in a faith school, he will not be unaware of the role such schools play in our system despite the increasingly secular nature of much of modern society. They may offer a model for cooperation that could plot a path to a unified system working towards the goal of greater social mobility that works not only for potential university graduates but for apprentices and everyone else in society.

Who would have thought it?

Education has suffered some high profile losses in the general election. Not only has Neil Carmichael, the chair of the Education Select Committee in the last parliament lost his  Gloucestershire seat, but Flick Drummond, another Tory MP with an interest in education, also lost her Portsmouth South seat to a surprise Labour victory. Edward Timpson, the Tory MP with a strong interest in the Children’s Services part of the DfE brief also lost his Cheshire seat to a Labour education activist.

Sarah Olney, given the education brief for the Lib Dems after John Pugh retired from parliament, also narrowly lost the Richmond Park seat she had so recently won in the by-election.  Sir Ed Davey once held the education brief for the Lib Dems, but he may be earmarked for another role this time around. Layla Moran, the new Oxford & Abingdon MP might be a possible Lib Dem spokesperson, but she has little or no experience of the State school system except in relation to the examination system.

Now that the Conservatives have returned as the largest Party at Westminster, to be once again called Conservatives and Unionists after their success in Scotland and with the need to rely upon the Northern Irish DUP for a working majority at Westminster, where does that leave the manifesto? Much, I suspect, will depend upon the make-up of the ministerial team and their preferences and support for different policies.

I have already written about how TeachVac can cheaply and quickly fulfil the idea of a national vacancy portal and almost certainly at a much lower cost than anyone else can offer. That would be a quick win on savings to offset possible issues of further pay restraint. I suspect that industrial action over pay won’t be far off if the government sticks to the one per cent limit on pay rises.

Although, I suspect, the DUP may favour selective schools, I find it difficult to see the spread of new selective schools really taking hold in such a finely balanced parliament. After all, some Tories were not greatly in favour of axing successful comprehensive schools in their constituencies and can be expected to remain sceptical of the idea that has been so strongly associated with the Prime Minister.

Even more urgent, and top of the new Secretary of State’s agenda, may be sorting out the effect of the -U- turn on funding announced during the election campaign. Is the National Funding Formula dead in the water or will money be found to compensate the losers and still allow the formula to go ahead as planned? This will require some fast footwork between the DfE and The Treasury and it might be that the present arrangements will continue for another year, much to the displeasure of the F40 Group.

Personally, I would like to see the role of the local authority strengthened and a cap on the pay of Chief Executives and other senior staff in MATs in line with the pay of local government officers carrying out similar functions. But, that might be a bit too radical.

We are in a new era, whether it last a full five year parliamentary term looks very doubtful at present, but the Conservative won’t be keen to offer Labour a second chance anytime soon, unless they are forced to by circumstances.


Recruiting Teachers for September 2018

Next week UCAS opens the recruitment round for ITT courses starting in the autumn of 2017. So far the government seems to have kept those that watch the annual recruitment round in the dark as to the outcome of the Teacher Supply Model and the total number of places allocated to each route for next year. Perhaps the Select Committee can ask the Minister for the figures when he appears before them next Wednesday to talk about teacher supply. It is a slightly odd time for the Minister to appear before the Select Committee as the ITT census for 2016 has yet been published, so he presumably won’t know the final outcome of the number of places filled this autumn and how much better it was then last year?

He will, however, be able to talk about progress on the National Teacher Service in Yorkshire and Lancashire and how successful it has been. He may also be able to announce the date of the national roll-out and when the tendering process will start. If the Committee is really lucky, the Minister might announce what progress there has been on creating a national vacancy portal that was mentioned in the White Paper last March. In the light of the research by the TES, the Committee might also like to ask whether there is any difference in recruitment and retention of teachers and school leaders between grammar schools and secondary modern schools in those areas that still have fully selective systems of education.

If they haven’t already seen the new TV advert, the committee members can do so at and might wish to compare the level of spending on the campaign with that of other government recruitment initiatives. As we know, teaching is by far one of the largest recruiters in the public sector. There has clearly been a stepping up of effort compared with a few years ago, but until the census appears, it isn’t possible to judge the success of last year’s efforts. It is interesting that the new advert seems to focus once again entirely on the secondary sector and doesn’t seem to feature any male teaching role model, always useful to help attract men into teaching as an under-represented group.

Hopefully, the Select Committee might also provide some indication of when it will conclude its inquiry into teacher supply. After all, it is more than six months since the NAO and the Public Accounts Committee considered the issue of teacher training. The Committee might explore how far the government has moved in the direction of meeting regional needs, rather than just the national demand and whether the government tracks in-year recruitment against training numbers. This is, of course, something TeachVac does on a daily basis and it has reported its findings to the Committee both in its original evidence and in the supplementary evidence submitted at the end of the summer term.

Finally, the Committee might ask the Minister what the DfE said to the Migration Advisory Committee on the issue of teacher shortages and the need for visas in light of current government policy about immigration and the use of workers already living in England?





Select Committee: more questions about teacher supply they might want to ask

Tomorrow the House of Commons Education Select Committee resumes its hearings into the question of teacher supply. This inquiry started in the autumn, so it is two days short of six months since the last public evidence session. Much has happened in that time, as readers of this blog with know; not least the NAO report and the White Paper, where Chapter 2 concentrates on the question of teachers without really providing much that was new in policy terms.

If, as I expect, the Committee members are on the ball, to use a footballing metaphor ahead of Euro 2016, they will ask the witnesses, some from the subject associations and others from higher education, the school sector and Ofsted, how much of an understanding the DfE really has of the issue of teacher supply?

Some possible questions the might ask could include:

Why are there too many PE teachers and too few business studies teachers being trained if the Teacher Supply Model is doing its job properly?

Given that by the Workforce Census date in November all pupils are being taught for the correct amount of time each week, how do we deal with the consequences of accumulated teacher shortages in a particular subject.

For the representative of DATA, how are possible shortages spread out among the different component parts of the D&T curriculum. Are there greater shortages of say food technology teachers than those with expertise in resistant materials? The same question might be applied to a representative from the languages area, but as there isn’t one it might as well be addressed to the Ofsted witness about the data they collect on subject knowledge and how teachers actually spend their time teaching.

Is the present squeeze on budgets affecting the demand for teachers and who would know if it was? How long would any slowdown in demand take to affect the supply side of the equation and could it leave more trainees with an extra £9,000 of fee debt, but no teaching job in England? If they took a teaching job overseas presumably the Treasury wouldn’t see any repayments during the period of time a teacher was outside the country.

There are lots more questions the Committee could, and no doubt will, ask tomorrow. I hope they do dis cuss the issue of primary teachers and subject knowledge as this is often overlooked. There was a useful APPG report on RE teaching a few years ago now that showed how little time a PGCE student had on developing their subject knowledge. This may also be true in other subjects and is a concern for those teaching at Key Stage 2. Are MATs, with an exchange of teachers between primary and secondary schools, a possible way forward? Will technology help with the brightest pupils or is it off-putting?

The Committee could also ask about part-time working in the secondary sector since that has risen up the agenda recently, but I doubt any of the witnesses will have much evidence on the matter, even if they have an opinion.

Finally, I hope someone will ask about the government’s idea of a national vacancy web site mentioned in the White Paper and whether TeachVac is not already providing such a service to schools, trainees and teachers at no cost as a public service, especially now TeachVac has launched its free job portal for schools.

Minister hides his light under a Select Committee

I needs must start this post with an apology, and a confession. Despite my interest in teacher supply and training, I missed the Minister for Schools announcement about the changes to the Teacher Supply Model. By way of mitigation, I would point out that the announcement appeared in a reply to the Education Select Committee following his appearance in front of the Committee in February to talk about underachievement by white working class children, and has seemingly been documented as DfE supplementary evidence to that inquiry. For those of you having difficulty finding what he said, the link is

What is of interest is David Laws updating of the Committee about the Teacher Supply Model. After all the usual platitudes about how well the Department and NCTL are doing on teacher recruitment and retention, and that School Direct is proving popular on the basis that schools have been signing up for places, David Laws confirmed to the Committee that the Teacher Supply Model was being redeveloped, and that the replacement is expected to be ready by autumn 2014; presumably in time to run the numbers for teacher preparation courses starting in 2016. The Minister didn’t say whether the work on the Model was being done entirely in-house or whether the DfE had convened a group of experts to help with the necessary changes.

However, that may not matter because the Minster also told the Committee that the new Model would be available online, as previously recommended by the Committee, and advocated by myself since I first appeared in front of a Select Committee to discuss the modelling of teacher supply in 1996.

David Laws went further by stating that publication of the Model will enable public examination of the assumptions and working of the Model to help estimations of future teacher demand and projected ITT recruitment. Furthermore, he told the Committee, worked up examples will be included in the online model. This is good news, as it will help the current debate about why so few teachers of English are needed when fewer pupils are being taught by teachers qualified in the subject.

However, the fact that David Laws then went on to offer the Committee data from as far back as 2009-10 about teacher stocks and flows as if this is the latest available to the DfE raises considerable concern in my mind about his understanding of the function of planning. And there may be revealed one of the serious issues in the debate about whether we should be planning teacher training or leaving it to the market as Mr Taylor of the NCTL would seem to prefer. As I have pointed out in the past, information gleaned at one stage of an economic cycle may not be helpful in planning for another stage, so using information about teacher flows during a recession, and the deepest post-war recession there has been, may not be helpful in projecting training numbers needed in 2016, when the economy is still hopefully motoring forward, unless that is teacher supply is entirely disconnected from the wider economy.

Finally, it will be interesting to see how the teacher supply model copes with shortfalls in recruitment to training. Exposing this issue, and making sure it is debated, is a key feature that will make the current discussion about creating sufficient teacher numbers different from past periods of teacher shortage. This letter to the Select Committee has placed one more brick in the wall.


Teacher Supply Model: a technical description

This week the DfE issued its response to the Select Committee request for an explanation of how the Teacher Supply Modelling (TSM) process works. It took the DfE just 20 pages of lightly argued text to explain the principles to those unfamiliar with the process. This is the third such Report in response to Select Committee inquiries into teacher supply over the past 25 years. The first, issued in 1990, and entitled Projecting the Supply and Demand of Teacher – A Technical description, ran to some 78 pages in length. The second, issued in 1998, and entitled Teacher Supply and Demand Modelling – A technical description – was even longer, at 85 pages. Both received Ministerial endorsements. The first was endorsed by The Secretary of State at the time, Kenneth Clarke, and the second by Estelle Morris, the PUS of the day. The new document is seemingly devoid of any ministerial endorsement or support.

What is clear after looking at the three documents is they manner in which the TSM process has been pared down and simplified over the years. The fact that the TSM is now only run for five secondary subjects and primary (page 23) plus a catch-all is used for other secondary subjects where the numbers are then ‘divided between other subjects proportionally according to data from recent years’ must be worthy of debate by the Select Committee. What data sources are used to establish the distribution? Is it the number of teachers in the subjects as measured by the School Workforce Survey or the amount of curriculum time allotted to each subject? The absence any overall modelling for the sciences, and a concentration on just Physics and Chemistry, is also worrying.

However, the most concerning part of the document is the single paragraph on page 20 entitled Ensuring the robustness of the TSM. The paragraph is worth quoting in full.

‘The estimates in the TSM are based closely on data trends from recent years with adjustments made from known policy changes. The robustness of the TSM is assured by sensitivity testing the model against variations in all the assumptions.’

Now the earlier documents did at least identify what some of the assumptions might be. In the new document we are told of completion rates for ITT routes in the past, but not the assumption used for School Direct that has replaced the former employment based routes into teaching. We are also told of pupil growth, and of retirements, and the outcome assumption for wastage rates of teachers leaving the profession, and for those joining both from ITT and from outside the state-funded sector. However, the comments about the success of these teachers in returning as contained in section 2.3 are somewhat opaque to say the least. Here, as elsewhere, worked examples might have added to the understanding of the process.

The modelling of wastage really identifies the whole issue with the methodology: it is essentially backward looking for its inputs. This may not matter when economic and other societal trends are relatively unchanged from year to year but it risks failing to capture major shifts in the labour market until well after they have occurred. This is why the failure to discuss the outcomes of the TSM and a range of options with the wider education community always puts the government at risk of catastrophic failure in teacher supply. The situation hasn’t been helped by the lack of a desire on the part of the wider community to systematically try to replicate the TSM for its own benefits.

The section on page 19 of the new paper dealing with stability in the ITT market and the calculation of the optimum number of ITT places seems at odds with the reality of the 2014 allocation where if Table 5 is correct the estimate of places required was 34,890, but the number allocated was  some 41,000. Now either this means that the government believed that only allocating the estimated number wouldn’t produce enough trainees or it was prepared to put the Treasury in hoc for extra fee for some 6,000 students at £9,000 a throw. What happens between now and August will be of great interest, not least to the 130 history graduates likely to be recruited above estimated need.

Missing from the document are a number of areas of importance: the policy assumptions about school budgets and the effects of the minimum funding guarantee, the  consequences of the Pupil Premium; and the possible new funding formula; the presence of Teach First, and any likely increase in the use of teachers not put through the training process informed by the TSM; the effects of shortfall in recruitment into training from year to year .This last point is covered on page 1, where it is stated, ‘undersupply is double-weighted to reflect that a future shortage of state-funded teachers would be less desirable than a future surplus’: a sensible policy option. However, it is not clear how this works in practice.

Novices to the TSM process may find the document helpful at a basic level, but, by ignoring any debate about how effective the past is as a guide to the future, and also avoiding discussions about whether the TSM is part of the process in defining ITT numbers that Ministers can then change on the advice of others, the document provides little insight to the decisions taken during the past two years about how many teachers to train. Possibly, we will learn more when Mr Taylor speaks at the North of England Education Conference next week, but a lingering doubt must remain that as he said at the same conference last year:

In the future I would like to see local areas deciding on the numbers of teachers they will need each year rather than a fairly arbitrary figure passed down from the Department for Education. … I don’t think Whitehall should be deciding that nationally we need 843 geography teachers, when a more accurate figure can be worked out locally.