End of pupil boom in sight

The recent pupil projections issued by the DfE  National pupil projections: July 2022 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) show that the secondary school population is likely to peak at around school years 2024 or 2025 for England as whole. For some part of the country, notably the South East the date might be later, depending upon internal migration.

The DfE suggest that primary pupil number, including nursery pupils, will fall between 2022 and 2023, and by 2030 there will be 680,000 fewer pupils in the sector than in 2022; a reduction of approaching 15%. Even in the secondary sector, there is projected to be a small decline overall during the period 2022 to 2030.

Looking at these numbers, it is possible to see why there needs to be some consideration of the number of ITT places in the remainder of the decade. The secondary pupil numbers will decline through much of the second half of the 2020s and even though the primary sector fall is reducing by 2030, and the teaching workforce will likely be older than at present, demand for teachers under normal circumstance should be less than at present. Of course, what is normal and how any change in ITT provision should be managed are policy questions open to debate and alternative views.

But, with, it would seem in the present economic circumstances and the demands of the NHS, government funding unlikely to support any overall improvement in pupil teacher ratios and reductions in class sizes, the outcome is a need for fewer teachers unless some other aspect of the model changes. Factor in a low tax, high wage economy and the demand for teachers looks even less likely to continue at present levels.

The two unknowns are, firstly, whether an economic slowdown drives more teachers to stay put and returner numbers to increase and secondly, whether demand for graduates and for teachers from schools around the world will reduce the teacher workforce in England faster than expected just from the decline in the pupil population.

The DfE notes that the projection model published in 2021 estimated a school population of 7,269,000 in 2032, so the updated model shows a decrease of 354,000 on the total at the end of its projection period. The difference is primarily due to notably lower birth projections in the mid-2020 ONS national population projections, used for the first time in this set of pupil projections, which are the main drivers of the pupil population.

Next year the data from the 2021 Census will be fed into the ONS models, and, as a result, there might be some more significant changes to the outcome totals from 2028 onwards when the data are next published in July 2023. However, it seems unlikely that the changes resulting from the 2021 census will result in the demand for teachers increasing later in the decade. I suspect that there will once again be some regional analysis of school population trends that is missing this year.

8th Birthday

Today, 25th January, is the 8th birthday of this blog. Last year the blog’s 7th birthday was a very special occasion, as it coincided with the 1,000th post. This year, the blog has reached 1,106 posts, including this one. Last year, in the celebration post, I mused about stopping at 1,000 posts as viewer numbers were falling away. Throughout the spring there were relatively few posts, but then came the pandemic and a new impetus to communicate education stories.

The blog has also found a new audience in the USA, were visitors numbers have never been higher than in the past six months. Indeed, the autumn witnessed a resurgence in readership, with views in October 2020 being higher than in any month since January 2018, when the fall off in views started; reaching a low point in February last year, of fewer than 20 views a day that month.

The most read post of the past twelve months was the one about the PISA Study entitled ‘Poverty is not Destiny – OECD PISA Report’ that has had 1,592 views since it appeared on the 30th September 2020. I hope that the most recent post ‘Jacob’s Law’ will do similarly well, as it also deals with a very important issue.

In the past year, the posts have totalled some 63,000 words, for an average of around 550 words per post. That’s close to my aim of creating easy to read posts of around 500 words. There have been 128 likes of the posts, and 75 comments, including my responses to comments from other people.

The past year also witnessed the 50th anniversary, earlier this month, of the start of my teaching career, and I celebrated that event with a special post.

The covid-19 pandemic has shaped all our lives, and the lack of statistics, not least about attainment, has influenced what posts could and could not be scribed. The blog still aims to look at stories behind the numbers, but also now ranges more widely across the education landscape.

Today also makes a special day for TeachVac, the free job board for teachers www.teachvac.co.uk where I am chair of the Board. A significant milestone in registered users was passed today. The platform has retained some 77% of all registered users, a higher figure than this blog. But, then it serves a different purpose.

So, what lies ahead? I hope to keep this blog going for another year, and aim to reach its 10th birthday in January 2024. However, other distractions could always mean a premature end to my writing, especially if viewing figures once again slide away to a level where the effort does not seem worthwhile.

After all, I might have a new career writing travel books, based upon the success of Twin Tracks https://www.facebook.com/twintracksthebook price £12.99 if ordered directly from the Facebook page or web site or by email to me.

Thanks for reading; keep safe and remember that education is a wonderful job, despite what many parents have discovered.

DfE announces a bit of history

Last week, the DfE published the annual results of revenue related exports and transactional education activity in 2018. That now seems like a different world. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uk-revenue-from-education-related-exports-and-transnational-education-activity-2018

Still, 2018 was a good year for education experts, with even the Further Education sector reversing the downturn of previous years and experiencing upturns in both fee income and income from living costs: albeit only by small amounts. Still, this was the first upturn in FE exports since 2010, the year when I think the data for the time series was first established.

Overall, across all areas, there was a 10% increase in export activity and a slight fall of 0.8% in transactional education activity in 2018

Higher Education once again earned the lion’s share of the income, accounting for 69% of all exports and transactional education activity in2018.  This was higher education’s largest percentage share, and some 9% more than their share in2010.

Further Education and English Language Training have been the main losers of market share since 2010, although both recorded upturns is 2018. ELT increased its market share by one percent to eight per cent. However, FE still saw its market share remain at one percent in 2018.

Independent schools market share reduced from five to four per cent at the end of 2018, back to their share in 2010. However, this was largely due to the strong showing from the higher education sector during 2018.

Transactional education activity, where the exports are delivered overseas through ventures such as satellite campuses and overseas consultancy lost ground in 2018, falling back to only 9% of total activity.

Among sub-sectors, equipment sales were strong in 2018, but educational publishing failed to maintain the growth witnessed in 2017. Most of the higher education student growth was, perhaps not surprisingly, in the non-EU student sector of the market. The latter remained stable. What will happen to this income stream in 2021 and future years will be interesting to observe, but it might be 2025 before data are published that reveal any trend post Brexit.

These figures may well be the penultimate in a run of good years for exports. There is little reason to believe that 2019 will not have produced further growth, although EU higher education income might have slowed down. Come the 2020 data, the results might be different. Will new income from distance learning have been sufficient to offset losses elsewhere resulting for the covid pandemic affecting the second half of the year?

Perhaps now is the time to remove overseas students from the immigration statistics, at least for those on first degree courses, even if not for sub-degree and postgraduate level courses where monitoring might be more challenging?

Still, let’s congratulate a successful export drive in 2018, and hope that covid and Brexit between them create new opportunities rather than decimate an otherwise successful sector of the British economy, since these are UK numbers and not just for England.

World Statistics Day

Today we recognise the power of statistics for both good and evil. Many years ago, when I was teaching geography in a school, I would ask my A level groups to at least audit, if not actually take, a course in statistics. As well as informing their general education, the course also helped with their understanding of the geography syllabus of the 1970s that was rapidly changing from mere descriptive and clerical tasks to a more analytical approach to the issue of ‘place’.

At the same time I was persuading my Year 7s to play games. The farming game and the railway game were two favourites. Both helped instil collaborative learning skills plus discussion about issues such as risk and probability.

One spin off from this interest in statistics was the ability to help students remember that temperature was continuous and rainfall intermittent, and thus one was represented by a line on the graph and the other by columns. There is an interesting debate to be had about when discrete data becomes continuous because of the length of the time series? Good question for today.

One of the earliest research projects I ever encountered was conducted by a lecturer at LSE who was counting the number of phone calls between different settlements in South Africa and creating some form of density map. The clerical work, pre-computers, took a whole summer. Now it might take just a few minutes. However, working through the data, town by town, created a feeling for ‘rightness’ that can be lost when a computer spills out the results. The ability to estimate when a number is in the right relationship to those around it is still a key skill.

Playing with information, not statistics, led me into the world of teacher supply via the database of leadership vacancies I started in the early 1980s. Later today, I will participate in a call set up by civil servants to discuss the replacement for the Teacher Supply Model. I think this will be the fourth or fifth iteration of such models to decide how many teachers we need to train each year. Watch out for more on this in a later post.

The School Workforce Census is a great improvement on what went before. However, despite the publicity for the new approach to displaying government statistics, I have some reservations. Perhaps, this is just my age showing, and I need to find some YouTube videos to help me learn new skills.

Understanding data in all forms has never been a more important prerequisite for those making decisions about our lives as the present pandemic has clearly demonstrated. A classical Oxbridge education might have been valuable as a foundation of a career in politics during previous generations. Surely, it is not adequate for leaders in the modern world.

Let us celebrate World Statistics Day by counting the number of different statistics we see during the course of the day. More than we might imagine.

Teachers not tutors

Is the DfE helping dumb down the teaching profession? I ask this question, not because I think there is a deliberate policy to do so, but because, having studied the 372 jobs on the DfE vacancy site this morning, I find that 20% of the jobs listed are not for teachers. Now, if the majority of these non-teacher vacancies were administrative posts, I wouldn’t worry, and would just make the point that TeachVac has more than 1,200 teaching posts in England, so why would anyone use the DfE site?

However, I am more troubled that in a buyer’s market, schools may be creating tutoring, mentoring and other roles, at either hourly rates or below the main scale for teachers, and seeking to recruit teachers to these positions. Now, I accept that a job is better than no job in the present climate, and that schools must not waste public money, but is this the way forward?

In a post on the blog on 19th May, I suggested the idea of using newly qualified teachers without posts for September as supernumerary teachers under a government scheme that ensured schools would be fully staffed and both have spare capacity to cope with a second wave of the virus and also high rick staff not working directly with pupils. This still seems to me a better idea than hiring coaches at £20 per hour, with no national determination of standards and experience.

The two big associations of teacher preparation provides, NASBTT and UCET should by now have an idea of how many trainees are currently unemployed for September. With the job market having ground to a halt, not many are likely to find jobs in England now for the autumn. Do we want to risk them going overseas in large numbers as their only source of teaching jobs? I hope not.

The DfE issued its annual teacher workforce data for 2019 last week. As it is in a new form, I have taken time to consider the data before posting any blogs about the latest data, but retention in teaching was still a big issue up to last November’s census point.

The new form the DfE is using to present the data marks a radical rethink of the presentation of data that up to now was only just the transfer of the print based approach on-line with little by way of search capacity. This new approach is more helpful for the casual user, but less so for those looking at a range of the data collected.

Note: The author of this blog is the Chair at TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the largest free vacancy site for teachers and schools.

Tidying Up

One of the side effects of isolation is the time to do those jobs you have been putting off doing for ages. In my case, this includes tidying up part of my study. However, as I a great believer in ‘creative chaos’ rather than the clean desk method of working, I find it all too easy to become distracted.

The latest distraction has been around two unique books in my collection. Both were given to me as leaving presents. In both cases I had made it clear to colleagues that the normal envelope passed around the staff wasn’t what I wanted. If people wanted to thank me for my time with the organisation, then they need to use their intellectual capital not their cash.

When I left Brookes University in 1996 to join the then Teacher Training Agency as its ‘Chief Professional Adviser on Teacher Supply’ to quote for the press release issued at the time, I asked staff for something that either inspired them in their own education or had been important to them in their career either as a teacher or working in an education establishment. They were kind enough to put the resulting collection to a book, and then to allow me to add some thoughts of my own. I have always wondered whether this might form the basis of an interesting anthology.

The second book was presented to me when I retired from Times Supplements in 2011, just under three years after they had bought my company. My then deputy, crafted a book containing many of the columns that I had written for the TES over the 11 year period when, in one form or another, I churned out a weekly piece, usually about numbers somewhere in the school system. In those days the government produced many more statistics than it seems to do these days.

In the past few years, I have returned to that compendium from time to time, either to check a fact or to reflect how some things have changed and others have stayed the same.

As many regular readers know, I wondered about stopping this blog in January with the 1,000th post. This is the 20th post since then, so that was a New Year resolution that didn’t last. But, looking at the other books, set me thinking whether I should produce two more? Firstly, a collection of the first 1,000 posts on this blog: the good; the bad and the plain indifferent, and secondly a shorter collection of the ‘best’ posts selected by readers?

Do please leave a comment and a suggestion either if you think it a good idea or if you think it a mere vanity project that should be discarded without further ado.

Either way, it is always good to hear from readers and I am still wondering who it was that downloaded every posts on Christmas Day 2019, creating a record score for views on any one day during the history of this blog.


4: the smallest recorded national pupil statistic in Education?

You don’t often find numbers below 10 in DfE statistics, as there is usually too much of a risk that individual pupils could be identified. However, such small numbers can and do crop up from time to time. One such is in table 5 of this year’s statistics about schools and their pupils. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2019

The largest number in this Table is 4,716,244 – the number of pupils in state-funded primary schools counted in the January 2019 census. The smallest number is just four (4). This is the number of pupils of the Chinese ethnic group recorded as in Pupil Referral Units. In 2018, the number was five (5).

Apart from in Local Authority Alternative Provision, the percentage of minority Ethnic Pupils is greater in 2019 than it was in 2018. The increase was less in the primary sector, up from 33.1 to 33.5 than in the secondary sector, up from 30.3 to 31.3.

Interestingly, the ‘Black’ group as a whole registered no change in their share of the primary school population; steady at 5.5%, whereas the Asian Group that are mostly from the Indian sub-continent increased from 11.1% to 11.2%. Pupils of any other White background other than White British; Irish and the traveller and the Roma communities, increased from 7.1% to 7.3% making them the second largest sub-group in the primary sector.

With the downturn in admissions at the entry level of the primary school, it is interesting to ask whether birth rates are falling across all ethnic groups. Certainly, the difference in the total percentage of pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds between the primary and secondary sectors that was 2.8 in 2018, is now 2.2 in 2019.

Pupils from the Black ethnic group continue to be over-represented in both special schools and pupil referral units, although not in local authority alternative provision. However, the percentage of Back pupils in PRUs fell from 7.2% of pupils in such units in 2018, to 6.8% in 2019, against a percentage of 6.0% in the secondary sector from where most, but not all, PRU pupils have come from.

In numerical terms, the number of Black pupils in PRUs declined from 1,205 in 2018 to 1,104 in 2019. However, some might now be in alternative provision settings rather than in PRUs. Of course, there is no information about the scale of the off-rolling of pupils over the past year, and thus the ethnic backgrounds of pupils that have been taken off school rolls.

I suspect that the ethnic group labelled as ‘Mixed’ may well see the largest increases over the next few years as society becomes more diverse in nature. There are now around half a million pupil classified as from the ‘Mixed’ ethnic group in schools across England.

Almost one in five pupils in primary schools does not have English as their first language, although the total doesn’t identify the skewed distribution that can be found across England, with some schools teaching pupils that speak many different languages at home. This can be a real challenge to some less well funded primary schools. There is also the question as to whether the State should fund any first language tuition for these pupils or whether that is solely the responsibility of the family?


Small schools: what’s their future?

Last Thursday, the DfE issued a raft of statistical information. The data about teachers has been covered by this blog in a number of different posts. As a result, the data from the January School Census that covers schools and their pupils has had to wait its turn. Happily, there is now time to reflect upon the data.  https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2019

In terms of public expenditure implications, the important news is that there are more pupils to be funded, as the rise in the birth rate of a few years ago starts to work its way through the system. Overall, there were 84,700 more pupils in education in England in January 2019 than in the previous January. This is despite any trend towards home schooling or off-rolling.

The bulk of the increase, 69,500, came in the secondary sector.  Assuming more of the increase to be in Year 7, then this probably required some 3,500 more teachers. Not all will have been recruited, as some schools will have falling rolls at sixteen and in a few cases still, at fourteen due to movement of pupils to UTCs and Studio Schools.

The number of primary pupils increased by 10,800; an insignificant increase on a pupil population of 4,730,000 pupils. This levelling off in the primary school population, and its possible reduction in a few years’ time, has implications for the system that will be discussed later.

It’s worth noting the increase in the number of pupils in special schools, of some 6,500. How far this is an awareness of extra need and how far schools looking to place pupils that cost more to educate than a school normally receives cannot be identified from the data. However, by January 2019, almost all pupils should have converted from a Statement of SEN to an EHCP.

It is worth noting the fall of 900 pupils in independent schools. It isn’t easy to identify where that trend is coming from, but some of it might be as a result of local authorities reassessing the cost of placing SEN pupils in such schools, and instead now using cheaper state funded provision and thus contributing to the increase in numbers in special schools.

The most concern in policy terms arising from this data are the future shape of the primary school system. While there are 13 primary schools with over 1,000 pupils, there are almost 2,000 primary schools with 100 or fewer pupils. Together these latter schools account for approaching one in eight primary schools. Some will be infant schools, where a merger with a junior school could create a primary school, as has already happened in many instances. However, where these small schools are already primary schools, how will their future be assessed? Does the present funding arrangements permit local authorities and academy chains to retain such schools, both for the good of their communities and to prevent very young children having to take bus journeys to and from school each day? Some counties with small communities that are widely distributed will certainly face this problem, even if they aren’t already doing so. So far, I haven’t heard anything from the Leadership contenders about this matter.

Worsening PTRs herald a sign for the future?

The DfE has today published a raft of statistics about schools, their pupils and the workforce. This post will concentrate on the data about the teacher workforce, collected by the DfE in the 2018 School Workforce Census completed by schools during November 2018. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2018

As ever, and as under any government, the DfE highlights what it sees as the positive: more teachers and teaching assistants and fewer leavers, but readers sometimes have to dig down to uncover the nuances behind the numbers However, the time series graphs by themselves are very revealing. For instance, although sixth form numbers aren’t rising yet, the pressure of an increased number of Year 7 pupils may well be behind the increase in Pupil Teacher Ratios in the secondary sector to 1:16.3. This is the fourth increase in a row, and takes the ratio from 1:15 in 2014, to its present level, an increase of 1.3 pupils per teacher and not far short of a 10% increase since 2011. By contrast, the primary sector has only seen PTRs increase from 20.5 in 2015, to 20.9 in 2018, the same level as it was in 2017.

The DfE has produced an interesting one page infographic of the teacher workforce that shows 74% of teachers are women – on a full-time equivalent basis – and that nearly a quarter of teachers are aged under 30. Just over 13% of teachers are BAME and almost a quarter of teachers are part-time. In the year up to 2018, entrants to teaching exceeded leavers, but not by very much, and this followed a relatively good year for recruitment into training in 2016-17.

So, excluding short-term supply teachers, there were 453,411 FTE teachers employed in November 2018, up from 451,968 in 2017. Although the number of teaching assistants also increased, the number of other support staff decreased from 232,031 to 229.949, a sign of the pressure school budgets are now under.

The upward trend in the full-time numbers of ‘teachers’ without QTS continued, possibly as more primary schools have recruited School Direct salaried entrants to the profession, no doubt in some cases converting them after a period as a classroom assistant. Although the number of part-time teachers with QTS increased over the 2017 figure, it was still the second lowest number recorded since 2010. However, the dip in the recorded number of occasional teacher recorded in the 2017 figures was revered in 2018, with an increase to 12,853 such teachers recorded by the DfE.

Technicians, mostly employed in secondary schools, were the support staff group that continue to bear the brunt of cuts, falling to their lowest number since the 2010 Census. By contrast, teaching assistants were at record high numbers in 2018.

Part-time teaching is still dominated by women, with just 8,745 qualified male teachers working part-time, compared with 111,755 qualified women teachers working part-time in 2018. The ratio among unqualified teachers is a slightly lower number.

Over the next few years, as more pupils enter the secondary sector, with its lower PTRs, and assuming post-16 numbers in schools don’t fall, then teacher numbers will probably increase in the secondary sector but fall in the primary sector. I expect that secondary PTRs will continue to worsen for 2019. Beyond that it will depend upon any funding injection schools do or do not receive in the next spending review.


Treasury woes

Teacher recruitment crises are not a new phenomenon in England. Indeed, almost 30 years ago, at the start of the 1990s, the country was experiencing a very similar sort of teacher recruitment and retention crisis to that seen now. As a result, it is interesting to revisit the comments made by the then Interim Advisory Committee on Teachers’ Pay and Conditions, the forerunner of the present School Teachers’ Review Body, and the successor to the Burnham Committee.

In Chapter 6 of their 1991 report, at paragraph 7.13 the IAC said:

Our final key principle has been to support the provision of proper rewards for additional responsibilities and high performance. Put, bluntly, the teaching profession is no different from any other in needing to recruit and retain effective and ambitious people. Whatever the details of the pay structure, it seems self-evident to us that if adequate levels of differential rewards are not available, as they increasingly are elsewhere, then there will be serious difficulties in tackling the recruitment and retention problems we have highlighted.

(IAC, 4th Report January 1991 para 7.13 page 49)

I found this comment of interest, as I discovered it when I was trying to determine whether more teachers had access to allowances now than at that time before devolved budgets and the total freedom for schools to decide how to pay their teachers. At that time, in the early 1990s, although the pay scales were different and local management of schools was on the horizon, there was still a national structure for responsibility payments, and schools had little choice over the number of such posts that they could create. School size, as determined by the number and age of the pupils, was the key source factor affecting the chance of promotion for a teacher.

Interestingly, a quick look at DfE statistics for both 1989 and 2013, suggests that far more teachers in secondary schools than in primary schools had access to payments above their main scale salary in 1989, and that in both sectors the percentage of teachers paid above the main scale was higher in 1989 than in 2013. Additionally, in 2013, you were less likely to receive a TLR if you worked in an academy than if you worked in a maintained school.

Since 2013, the DfE has changed how it reports teachers’ pay, and it now uses cash amounts in bands as the reporting measure that doesn’t allow an easy identification of the percentage of teachers paid a TLR in addition to their main salary.

Of course, a few teachers have benefited from an opening up of extra posts on the Leadership Scale. But, could this lack of incentives, suggested as important by the IAC in 1991, be partly responsible for the problems with retention in years five to seven of a teacher’s career that have become a feature of recent years?

Conservative politicians, as the previous post on this blog has noted, are aware that current funding for schools is not only insufficient to pay support staff their pay award but also to reward and retain teachers in many parts of the country. The problem is, where to find the cash to pay for schools to recruit and retain effective and ambitious people, the same requirement as the IAC pointed out all those years ago.