Why is the DfE spending millions inventing a teacher vacancy service?

The DfE is asking for your views about its idea for a new on-line vacancy service for teachers. You can read about it in the DfE’s digital blog – is there any other type of bog? – and the link is https://dfedigital.blog.gov.uk/2017/11/15/how-were-creating-a-national-teacher-vacancy-service/ The blog post was written by Fiona Murray way back in November and could do with a refresh, especially now the Public Accounts Committee has effectively sanctioned the DfE spending the money to develop the service beyond the idea of just a concept to test. The suggestion was in the Tory Manifesto for the general election last year.

As regular readers know, I have a personal and professional interest in the labour market for teachers. Personal, as the unpaid chair of TeachVac, and professional as someone that has studied aspects of the labour market for teachers for nearly 30 years.

If you are a user of TeachVac, the free to schools and teachers vacancy service covering the whole of England that has been operating for the past four years, you might want to use the comment section of the DfE blog to explain your experiences with TeachVac. If you aren’t a user of TeachVac, then register for free on TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk and then read the DfE’s blog and see whether what they are suggesting is worthwhile compared with what already exists.

I don’t know whether or not the DfE will include independent schools in their service as TeachVac does. According to the DfE blog one school leader told the DfE:

 “If I’m being honest, I’d be quite happy with a basic website, that’s as basic as the most basic website I could remember, that was free, where all of the vacancies were. And that’s not very ambitious, but believe me, school leaders will think that’s a miracle.”

Clearly, that person hadn’t seen the TeachVac site. So, if you are like them, do pay TeachVac a visit and don’t forget to tell others. Then head over the DfE blog and leave them a comment as requested.

What will the other providers of platforms used to advertise vacancies think of the government’s move into a new attempt at a vacancy service? Clearly, those that charge for recruitment stand to be affected in a different manner to TeachVac that is a free service.

What will be interesting to discover will be the attitude of groups such as the teacher associations; NASBM; governors; BESA and bodies such as REC that represents many recruiters? There might also be implications for local authorities that operate an extensive system of job boards across the country and play and important part in the recruitment landscape for the primary school sector. All these groups should really evaluate the DfE’s offerings against the present marketplace and identify the solution that offers the best value for money for schools. After all, a Conservative government surely cannot be opposed to the free market offering the best solution.

There is also a risk that the DfE’s latest attempt to enter the vacancy market for teachers ends up as the School Recruitment Service, their previous foray into the market, did nearly a decade ago. What the DfE must not do is unintentionally destabilise the market and then withdraw. Such an outcome would be disastrous for schools and teachers.






Thank you

A big thank you to all readers. Whether you are one of the regulars or just coming across this blog for the first time, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading these posts. Today is the fifth birthday of this blog. It started on the 25th January 2013 with a post about the level of reserves then being held by schools. In the five years I have been writing the blog it has had 50,000 visitors – this landmark was passed earlier this month – and the 100,000 views landmark will be reached early next month as the total currently stands at 98,668 or just fewer than two views per visitor. The day with the most views was the 8th March 2014, when there was a reference to the blog in a national newspaper.

I think it is reasonable to claim that this blog helped lead the way in terms of highlighting the deteriorating situation in relation to the flow of new entrants into the teaching profession. Because much of my working life was spent in and around the area of teacher supply, it is perhaps not surprising that issues about teacher numbers should have remained a prominent theme across the years.

In August 2013 the DfE was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying what I had written in this blog was scaremongering and based upon incomplete evidence (blog post 14th August 2013, if you want to look it up). It wasn’t then and what I say isn’t now. But, I do sympathise with DfE press officers having to try and come up with an answer when the negative stories appear. The media is less interested in the good news, for instance, when applications increase. The easing of the concerns over maths teacher numbers during 2017 also wasn’t really reported, but that may be an issue of quantity not matching the quality needed?

Along with teacher supply, I have tried to keep an eye on the stories behind the numbers in education; or at least some of them. From rural schools in London to the profit companies make from education there is always something to write about and the blog has now reached more than 650 different posts in its five year lifespan. 130 of the posts have drawn comments and again, my thanks to those that comment regularly on what I have written; my especial thanks to Janet Downes for her insightful comments on many different posts.

Regular readers know that I am a Liberal Democrat politician and have fought two general elections (unsuccessfully) and two county elections (both successful) as well as one election for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner, all during the life of this blog. It is good to have some time off this year; assuming that nothing goes wrong and there isn’t another general election.

This blog is now on its fourth Secretary of State and I predicted the change this January in a post at the end of 2017, before the reshuffle was announced.

My one regret is that schools are still not doing enough to share in the challenge to cut Carbon emissions. My one hope is that someone will come up with an energy scheme that can utilise the vast acreage of school playgrounds that lie unused for more than 99% of the year.

Thank you for reading: my best wishes for the future.


Teacher Recruitment; nationalised service or private enterprise?

So the unacceptable face of capitalism has raised its head again, with a Conservative Prime Minister once again facing questions about excesses in the private sector, much as Edward Heath, who coined the phrase,  did in 1973. The other parallels with 1972 are also interesting a rocketing stock market and a decision to be made about Britain’s relationship with Europe. Happily, the other scourge of the 1970s, high inflation, isn’t currently the same worry, although it has been replaced by the high price of housing, where the market has failed to produce enough homes of the right types in the right places to satisfy demand.

In an interesting side line on the debate about the role of the State in the provision of services, last week the DfE talked to an invited audience about the plans for their new vacancy service for schools. Although I wasn’t at the meeting, the idea of such a service has been discussed in a number of the previous posts on this blog ever since it first emerged as a suggestion in the White Paper of 2016. Following the meeting, the whole situation has left me more than a little confused. What the teacher associations make of the DfE’s actions must also be an interesting question.

Held at the same time as PMQ was taking place in the House of Commons chamber, where the demise of Carillion was fresh in the minds of MPs, the DfE meeting saw a Labour peer representing a commercial company at the same time that his leader was expressing views more sympathetic to the State running industries rather than the private sector. And if that weren’t curious enough, the education lead at the right leaning thinktank Policy Exchange must surely be wondering why the DfE is further empire building by moving into devising a recruitment service on top of the growing staff numbers supporting both the EFSC and the offices of the Regional School Commissioners. Better procurement, rather than a replacement state run service, would be what I would expect from John Blake’s analysis of the cost of recruitment to schools and the need to find ways of reducing it.

To some extent, I am not a dis-interested player, as TeachVac, the free national recruitment service for schools and teachers already does what the DfE is seemingly trying to provide for schools and at no cost to the public purse.

TeachVac also collects data about the labour market. TeachVac will publish its first report of 2018 on Wednesday of this week. This report will discuss the labour market for primary leadership posts during 2017. That report won’t be free, but if you want a copy email enquiries@oxteachserv.com For details of the vacancy service visit: www.teachvac.co.uk

More news from TeachVac

As we start a new school year, TeachVac, the national vacancy service for schools and teachers, www.teachvac.co.uk has introduced the first of its new suite of developments that marks its continued growth. TeachVac is now the largest single source of free teaching vacancies for both schools and teachers in England across both state-funded and private schools.

Supporting the public face of the platform, where schools place vacancies for free and teachers can receive daily notification of vacancies meeting their requirements, is an important back office of statistical information. From today, TeachVac has widened the range of subjects where we collect more than the basic data on vacancies, to include both languages and English. These new subjects join mathematics, the sciences, design and technology, and computing in the list of subjects where additional data about every recorded vacancy is now being recorded.

For many of these subjects, such as the design and technology, the sciences and languages, it allows TeachVac to understand the real aims of schools when advertising generically for a teacher of science or languages. What sciences or combination of languages are these schools really seeking? How much are they willing to pay for particular specialisms? Is there really a growing demand for teachers of Mandarin? Up until now such information hasn’t been easily available. TeachVac now codifies the information on a daily basis. If you are interested in knowing more about the project and exactly what data are being collected then contact the team at TeachVac via the web site. Sadly, unlike the free to use basic vacancy matching service, data requests are not provided free of charge, but involve a small fee.

In addition to data about teaching vacancies at all levels, and in both primary and secondary schools, TeachVac also collects data about technician posts in secondary schools. This can be a good guide to how funding issues are affecting schools, since turnover among these posts tends to be higher than for teachers and resignations are not fixed to the same termly cycle as for most teaching vacancies. This can make them more sensitive to changes in funding an act as a barometer for the market.

As August is the holiday month, TeachVac is delighted to have welcomed visitors from more than 70 countries to the site so far this month; another new record. Overall visits to the TeachVac site have once again doubled over the past year and the trend continues to be upward. In January 2018, TeachVac will publish its first look at trends in the labour market for head teachers. This will continue a trend of such reports first started in the mid-1980s.

Over recent months there has been intense interest in how vacancies are communicated to teachers by schools and how the cost of recruitment can be reduced. TeachVac has a credible free service that costs both schools and teachers nothing to use and has the capacity to save millions of pounds for schools, especially those with large recruitment budgets as a result of both the growth in pupil numbers or increasing teacher turnover as recorded by the DfE in their annual School Workforce Censuses.


2% for all main scale teachers

Yesterday, the School Teachers Pay Review Body published its report and recommendations to the government. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/626156/59497_School_Teachers_Review_Accessible.pdf as expected, the STRB felt bound by the remit letter it had received from government. As a result, its conclusions didn’t breech the government’s stated policy of a one per cent cap on public sector pay: no real surprise there. However, the STRB’s recommendations did contain one suggestion for higher pay to the maximum and minimum of the main pay range.

STRB’s 2017 Recommendations

For September 2017, we recommend:

  • A 2% uplift to the minimum and maximum of the main pay range (MPR);
  • A 1% uplift to the minima and maxima of the upper pay range (UPR), the unqualified teacher pay range and the leading practitioner pay range;
  • A 1% uplift to the minima and maxima of the leadership group pay range and all head teacher group pay ranges; and,
  • A 1% uplift to the minima and maxima of the Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) and Special Educational Needs (SEN) allowance ranges.

If accepted, these recommendations will lead to some teachers receiving a higher pay rise than others, notably those on the top of the main scale, but not having progressed through to the higher pay scales. Now since many, if not most academies don’t have to stick to the national pay scales, this provides an interesting opportunity for the teacher associations to flex their muscle and demand a 2% rise on the main scale for all teachers not covered by the mandatory national pay scales. If achieved, it would put pressure on the government either to offer the same deal to other teachers across the sector or risk teacher recruitment and retention issues becoming worse outside the academy sector.

The data in the STRB Report suggests that most schools can carry an extra one per cent on their main scale teacher’s pay bill by dipping into reserves. Yes, a hoped for building project might be delayed by a year, but many teachers would feel that their financial situation is being taken seriously.

Is it in the interests of the teacher associations to take this line or to hold out for more for everyone at some point in the future? That’s their judgement call, but I think the two per cent for all main scale teachers demonstrates that they do more on the pay front than just argue the case with the STRB and are indeed prepared to take on a weak government playing a poor hand on public sector pay.

To compensate, I would argue for bringing MAT chief officers pay within the overall cap. It is surely wrong to cap the pay of workers but let the bosses set their own take from public money, albeit sanctioned by their boards.

There is plenty of evidence within the STRB report of recruitment problems, but having waited so long to publish the STRB might have updated some charts with the evidence from the 2016 School Workforce Census rather than relying on 2015 that charted the recruitment round for September two years ago.

School budget under pressure: use TeachVac

The BBC are running a story today about school budgets being under pressure http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-37860682 although I cannot find under link to new evidence to suggest why the story should suddenly have emerged again today. After all, it isn’t news, but maybe the joint NUT/ATL launch of the website on school funding cuts at http://www.schoolcuts.org.uk/#/ is what has prompted the renewed interest in the issue.

As readers will know, I have long worried about the fate of small schools in the tightening funding climate. These schools saw off the Gove decision to remove any block grant that is needed to help with overheads. A straight per pupil formula would wipe out many remaining village schools and also small infant schools in urban areas. Church schools would be especially badly affected.

However, if the teacher associations are serious about the need for more funding they should also be serious about ensuring schools use the cash they already have as cost effectively as possible. What follows is as near as a rant as you will read on this blog so, if that worries you, don’t read on.

More than two years ago I did the round of teacher associations with my concept of the free vacancy matching service for schools based upon the advances in technology. I was listened to politely by all of them, but that was as far as any interest went, despite the fact that I explicitly made it clear that the aim was to save schools money.

Fast forward to November 2016 and TeachVac has been operating on a daily basis for more than two years, matching teachers and vacancies, all for no cost to either the schools or the teachers. Have the developers of TeachVac seen the teacher associations beating a path to their door to see how their members can save on the millions of pounds they spend on recruitment advertising? Well no, not really, although I did have the first meeting instigated by a teacher association on this issue less than two weeks ago. I understand the caution, after all nobody wants to be associated with a shooting star or a one-day wonder, and they have followed Teachvac’s progress through its regular reports to groups such as SATTAG and its evidence to the Select Committee. But, this is such a major drain on some schools budgets that it might have been something where options could have been explored.

The same can be said for the DfE, although they had more justification to say it wasn’t their concern about how schools spent their money, at least until the White Paper in March expressed an opinion that more should be achieved in the recruitment field by government. The NCTL, Education Funding Agency and Regional School Commissioners, as a group, have also seemingly shown no interest in how schools can save money on recruitment. MATs, on the other hand, have recognised the value of a service such as TeachVac and many of the largest ones have signed up.

If budgets really are coming under pressure, then by all means campaign for more money, but also look to use the existing funds as wisely as possible.

26th STRB Report awaited

You would think that the School Teachers Review Body (STRB) had a relatively easy task this year; set a 1% pay rise and go home. After all, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he of the ‘all schools will become an academy’ budget, has set 1% as the upper limit on public sector pay deals all the way through to the end of this parliament.

The Secretary of State issued her remit letter to the STRB on the 7th October 2015 with a request in the final paragraph that,’ I should be grateful if the STRB could aim to provide a report on this matter before the end of April 2016. I look forward to receiving your recommendations on the 2016 pay award.’

Clearly that aim was met. I apologise to the STRB for previously suggesting otherwise. According to  an email that their secretariat has sent me,  the 26th Report was sent to government on the 28th April.

The Office of Manpower Economics that services other government pay and conditions bodies produced the armed forces, NHS, doctors and dentists and senior civil servants reviews before the end of April and they were also published by government. It is true that it was only on the 12th May that the National Crime Agency Report appeared. That now leaves the STRB somewhat out on a limb, with a report submitted to government, but not seemingly published yet.

For academies, apart from the absence of useful national guidelines, the absence of an updated national pay and conditions document for September may be little more than an inconvenience as they can set their own terms and conditions and pay levels. For community and voluntary schools in England and almost all schools in Wales, the STRB report sets in chain a sequence of events that lead to the publication of the Pay & Conditions document.

Although former requirements, such as an annual increment, have been abolished, pay rates normally change from September and historically that meant advising on pay for the forthcoming years before schools set their budgets. That hasn’t been possible this year for schools funded via the local authority route with an April to March financial year, although it is still possible for academies where there is a budget cycle that matches the school-year. Nevertheless, even here, time is running out if the STRB were to produce anything innovative in their Report, such as addressing the recruitment and retention crisis in London by upping the pay rates by more than 1% and compensating elsewhere.

Hopefully, the report will appear before there is any chance of it being caught by the purdah rules ahead of the referendum next month, but time seems to be running out. It would be good to at least have an expected date so we can know what the STRB’s view is on the current state of recruitment and the suggested solutions to the problem that they have devised.