Good news on absence rates

More than a quarter of pupils in primary and secondary schools didn’t take any time off from school during the autumn term of 2018 according to recent DfE figures

The most common reasons for absence was reported as illness, followed by attendance at medical, dental or presumably opticians appointments (although this last one isn’t specified). Could more be done to look at how these appointments are organised, particularly for certain key year groups? Should receptionists be required to ask the Year Group of a child when booking an appointment and recognise the importance of certain times in a young person’s education and, if possible, take this into account?

Overall absence rates for 2018 were lower than in either of the previous two years, at 71.6% of enrolments, compared with 74.3% in 2016. Of course, last winter was relatively mild and not especially wet across most of England, and the weather may play a part in determining the level of these figures. It must be easier to go to school when the sun is out than on a cold foggy morning if you feel a bit down and are faced with the prospect of wait at the bus stop in the drizzle.

It might be interesting to see if there is any correlation with the weather and days of the week and absence rates?

The dates of specific religious festivals that move around the calendar obviously have an effect upon attendance rates, as these figures show. In 2016, such absences counted for a notable amount of the authorised absences, whereas in 2018 the figure was negligible.

Holidays in term time remain contentious, with the percentage of unauthorised such holiday several times higher than the agreed holidays figure. Such unauthorised holidays are more common in the primary sector, when family structures and children’s ages presumably make the desire for a family holiday greater than during the period when pressure on studying for exams is greater.

However, it would be interesting to see a figure for voluntary attendance on Saturdays to counter balance this negative view of time lost by pupils. I am increasingly overwhelmed by the number of pupils and teachers that take time to attend when they don’t have to do so. This despite the obvious concerns over teacher workload. Again, this voluntary service needs more notice than it receives outside of the profession.

Next time someone talks of the long holidays that teachers have, ask them when they last went into work on a Saturday or did a voluntary extra shift to help their customers?

There is still a worrying percentage of pupils being excluded with no alternative provision being made, even in the autumn term. Regional School Commissioners need to ask academies how much they are contributing to this figure.

Finally, after two years when the number was on the increase, there was a welcome fall in the number of pupils classified as persistent absentees. At 10.9% of enrolments it still marks a waste of talent and is helping to store up problems for the future. But, at least the figure is lower than in both 2016 and 2017.




Are secondary school PTRs really improving in England?

Earlier today the government, through the DfE, issued the latest UK Education and Training Statistics for 2016/17 in Statistical Release SR64/2017 and its associated tables.

Now, in recent weeks we have often been hearing how secondary schools in England are strapped for cash and also often do not find it easy to recruit teachers. Thus the information contained in Table 1.4 comes as something of a shock.

Pupil Teacher Ratio within Secondary Schools

2012/13                15.5

2013/14                15.7

2014/15                15.8

2015/16                16.1

2016/17                15.6

After four years of steadily worsening ratios there appears to have been a sudden turnaround in 2016/17 and the overall position is back to almost where it was in 2012/13. Curious, to say the least. Footnote 1 explains that Pupil Teacher ratios are calculated by dividing the total full-time equivalent number of pupils on rolls in schools by the total FTE number of qualified teachers. It excludes centrally employed teachers regularly employed in schools. However, another footnote (footnote 13) adds that in England unqualified teachers are included in the figures. The figures for England include free schools and all types of academies.

Had the 2016/17 figure been 16.6, I might have thought it a significant deterioration, but in line with the mood music. An improvement of this magnitude needs some form of explanation. However, the Release confines its text just to changes in the data and offers no analysis as to why any changes might have occurred.

Could the inclusion of unqualified teachers be the answer? It might be if they hadn’t been included in previous releases on this topic. Certainly, there is no mention in the footnotes of the 2015/16 Release of unqualified teachers; indeed, the key footnote refers to ‘qualified’ teachers. So, is this the answer? If so, then the 2016/17 Release ought to make clear the change in methodology especially as the footnote on page 5 of the main release specifically mentions ‘qualified’ teachers and thus might be read as inferring that the improvement in the PTR is due to more qualified teachers being employed in England.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I don’t like the term ‘unqualified’ teacher, as it can cover both trainee teachers and those that used, in former days, to be called Instructors. I think some degree of distinction between those being prepared for QTS by schools and on their staffing list at the time of the census and those filling gaps, either because no teacher with QTS was available or because the school had decided to employ someone without QTS because of their other skills, ought to be made.

If the answer isn’t the inclusion this year of unqualified teachers – a factor that makes comparison with the other home nations impossible on this indicator – then I am at something of a loss to identify why such a large change in the direction of better PTRs has taken place over the past year. Could it be to do with the different financial years of maintained schools and academies and hence the budgetary cycles? I doubt it, but would be interested to hear from readers?


Can you trust the data?

How often do government departments have to reissue press notices? Following intervention from the Office for Statistics Regulation, the DfE have been placed in that position. The OSR letter can be read at The revised press notice and the other issue about MAT transfers raised by OSR concern matters dear to the policy objectives of Ministers, so any potentially misleading data are of concern.

However, the DfE statisticians also have to battle with others that don’t always provide data that is of top quality. As reported in an earlier post, about local authority expenditure per pupil, there are a couple of local authorities in one table in that Statistical First Release where the data must be suspect because of the reported level: it both cases, way too low.

Then there is the case of under-reporting by schools in areas such as fixed term exclusions and more specifically for the number of pupils placed on reduced timetables, but not excluded. This is an area where more work is needed to discover what is actually happening, not least in the academy sector. This work is important because of the potential safeguarding aspect.

Local authorities and the local Safeguarding Board may not be in full possession of the facts if academies do not fully report to the DfE. It would be a simple change to add to the funding letter that academies are required to report all statistics via the local authority where they are located unless the Regional School Commissioner has explicitly provided for an alternative system that is as rigorous. At present, this is an issue with one part of the dual system not working as well as the other and creating potential risks for young people.

At least these days, as with the re-issued DfE Press notice mistakes can be rectified when noticed. In the former days before the internet such mistakes could become set in stone. One of my first communications with government was to point out that pupil teacher ratios provided in a written parliamentary answer and reported in Hansard were wrong. I think the first local authority in the list missed the PTR and was allocated that of the next by mistake. It wasn’t picked up before printing and went into the record. An error notice appeared later, but who checks written PQs for later revisions? Nobody, I would hazard a guess. As a result, anyone using that data source would have inaccurate data. It doesn’t matter now, but might have then. One year, the Department had to re-issue a whole Statistical Volume because of the number of printer’s errors.

Today, the record can be set straight quickly and easily, even if the original error is retained as well.

Statistics are important as a source of information under-pinning decision making and debate, hence the need for accuracy. The question of management information that is separate from statistics is one that has always interested me. In some areas, such as the labour market for teachers, I have always believed up to the minute information is important to spot changes in trends as early as possible. However, this data is often in a raw state and not 100% accurate. Where to draw the line between management information and statistics is an interesting and ever changing debate as technology provides ever more exciting tools for data collection and analysis.

Management Information and Statistics

The session of the Education Select Committee held this morning was an interesting one. Clearly, the mention of TeachVac  as a data source in both a question and answer will help draw attention to the team’s  aim of creating a free vacancy web site for schools that helps free-up cash for teaching and learning. To that end, the TeachVac team are delighted with early take-up of the new free Vacancy Portal announced last Friday (see earlier post). This is especially useful to primary schools that have no place on their school web site to list any vacancies.

However, to return to the issue behind the title of this post, the difference between management information and statistics. The DfE is very good at collecting statistics and there was much discussion among the witnesses at the Select Committee about the data in the School Workforce Census, completed every November by all schools. Much of it is available to everyone and the 2015 data should be published next month. However, the data down to individual teacher level is rightly only available to bone fide researchers. By its very nature this data is of historical interest in terms of the labour market because, by the time it is published, schools are well into a further recruitment round. By comparison, management information seeks to identify what is happening in the here and know. For example, it is useful for shops to know what they sold a year ago, but to reorder they need to know what is happening to sales now. Most have sophisticated point off sale information systems.

Now, if the labour market for teachers is stable from year to year using statistics to help decide how many teachers to train next year is fine. It doesn’t matter if the data is out of date so long as it is accurate. But, if the market is changing, it might help to know what is happening in the current recruitment round. Hence my question in yesterday’s post about the business studies and PE trainee numbers providing a shortage and an over-supply. You cannot easily aswer those questions from the Workforce Census data, but you could from the ITT destinations data. Joining up the information still seems to be something of an issue between different parts of the DfE.

Without the data, you often don’t know the questions to ask. It wasn’t until I started monitoring leadership vacancies that I discovered the difference in re-advertisement rates between Roman Catholic schools and community schools. Similarly, TeachVac has brought into sharp focus the regional differences in adverts placed per school during the recruitment round. Turnover could be deduced from the Workforce Census, but did anyone every bother to do so and then match need to regional allocations even though, as the witnesses accepted this morning, much of the teacher supply market is very local in nature. Incidentally, I don’t think head of department posts are a sub-regional market, but are mostly constrained within a travel to work area. It is only for leadership vacancies at the more senior levels that I think significant numbers of teachers are prepared for the upheaval of a house move.

So, both statistics and management information have their place and their uses. It just seems to me we have lots of the former but not enough of the latter in education.


In the 1990s when Chris Woodhead became head of Ofsted he mentioned a figure of 15,000 poor quality teachers that needed removing in an early interview. That figure became stuck in the minds of journalists and was trotted out for many years even though it wasn’t often supported by any evidence. We now have a similar situation with the 40% of teachers that allegedly quit the profession in their first year of teaching. This figure goes right back to an interview Mike Tomlinson gave, I think but haven’t checked, to The Guardian when he took over from Mr Woodhead. Recently, it gained a new lease of life when used by ATL’s general secretary at their annual conference this spring. Here’s what I wrote on May 8th

Teacher supply was an area of interest following the teacher associations annual conferences. I was surprised, and not a little disappointed, to see the General Secretary of ATL use data from 2011 – data from during the height of the recession – to discuss recruitment and staying-on rates for teachers in 2015. It may well be that in London and the South East more teachers will leave during their first year, but in 2011 the problem for many teachers was finding a job in the first place. This year the problem for some schools has been finding a teacher at all.

Although Sam Freedman and I don’t share the same political views we do share a regard for the accurate use of data and his comments at say what I think, although the statistics he mentions for secondary trainees are in Table 6 with table 5 covering undergraduate courses.

That at least two leading recruitment agencies have used the 40% statistic to support their promotional campaigns is disappointing, as I would have hoped for a little more maturity from them.  Anyhow the figure is now firmly in the public consciousness and will reappear from time to time when thoughtless commentators discuss teacher supply problems. as this is an issue likely to remain in the headlines we can expect to see the figure used regularly.

But, there is no use just moaning. We need an agenda for action on teacher supply. Here are some suggestions;

– Pay the fees of all graduate trainees from 2015 entry onwards – this will be especially helpful to career changers that have paid off previous fees and will need to repay the £9,000 as soon as they start teaching

– Look to how those training to be teachers that have links to communities can be employed in those communities and more mobile students can be encouraged to move to where they are needed.

– Make sure teacher preparation places are more closely linked to where the jobs will be. This means reviewing places in London and the Home counties – not enough – and the north West – probably too many in some subjects and sectors.

– look at trainees that cannot find a job because we trained too many of them and see whether with some minimal re-training they might be useful teachers. This applies especially to PE teachers this year – some might re-train as science teachers or primary PE specialists and art teachers if they can work in design part of D&T.

– ramp up the 2015 autumn advertising campaign spend, including an early TV and social media advertising spend that at least matches that of the MoD.

– split the teacher preparation part of the National College away from the Leadership and professional development elements and put someone in charge that understands the issues- Sir Andrew Carter springs to mind as an obvious choice.

– look at the NQT year support now that local authorities don’t have the cash to help. This may be vital in keeping primary teachers in the profession, especially if anything goes wrong at the school where they are working.

None of these are new idea, and many were in my submission to the Carter Review that can be found in an earlier post. What is clear is that the new government cannot continue with an amateurish approach that marked some of the tactics towards teacher supply during the last few years. With many thousands more pupils entering schools over the next few years we cannot create a world class school system with fewer teachers.

First data from matching 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 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

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 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.