Gifts may not be the same as presents

As many readers of this blog will know, the DfE is planning a new digital application service for prospective trainee teachers. Apart from being trendy, I am not sure what the word ‘digital’ adds to the title, as surely nobody would create a new paper-based application service these days.

You can read about the service at https://dfedigital.blog.gov.uk/2019/09/05/testing-apply/ The new service will eventually replace the existing service run by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), probably by the start of the application round for 2021 courses, if the trial stages go well.

Now, I have had my differences with UCAS over the present system, introduced when I sat on a Committee representing ITT interests as an independent member. Some of my concerns seems to be being replicated by the DfE in designing their system. However, I have a much more fundamental concern than the design of the system about the DfE’s proposal. UCAS isn’t a government body. Instead, it is owned by its members. The new system will transfer ownership of the postgraduate application process for teaching to the government.

Is that change of ownership a good idea? Certainly, it will directly save both candidates and the providers of courses money as, like the DfE teacher recruitment service, it will be free at the point of delivery. It am sure it will also be well designed.

However, ownership of the process will then be in the hands of politicians and not the providers. Imagine a future government that recognises the need to balance supply and demand for teachers across the country and closes off courses when sufficient applications have been received, but before providers have made their choice of applicants. This could force later applicants to choose from the remaining courses that are short of applicants. Now, in some ways this is similar to the recruitment controls imposed upon the sector a few years ago. Any such regulation might reduce the freedom of providers to select candidates. You could envisage other interventions.

The DfE team running the service will need to know a great deal about the complexities of the teacher preparation market. If it is an in-house set-up at the DfE, what oversight will there be? Is there to be an advisory board or some other form of governance structure or will the system just be run by a changing stream of civil servants, supervised by a senior policy officer and just keeping ‘in contact’ with the providers?

As a government function, the application service will always be subject to Ministerial oversight and direction. Whether that is a ‘good thing’ or not will depend upon your views about services run by government. Certainly, as a public service, there should be more data available than is currently the case with the UCAS service.

It is also worth recalling that the DfE ran the admissions process for School Direct in 2013 and allowed me to comment in May of that year about the state of applications in a post entitled Applications Good: Acceptances better. https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/applications-good-acceptances-better/

As Ed Dorrell of the Tes remarked at the NABTT Conference, during his talk on teacher supply, Ministers don’t like talking about a crisis, and my analysis of the data that year certainly landed me in hot water, as anyone that reads the August 2013 posts on this blog can discover.

Whatever I think, the DfE is presenting the new system to the sector. I just hope it is a gift worth receiving.

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Change and Renewal: NASBTT’s key priorities for the year ahead

Earlier today I was the guest of The National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT) at their annual conference. I suspect the fact that TeachVac sponsored their Administrator of the Year Award in the summer may have had something to do with the invitation. Curiously, the Awards didn’t rate a mention in Emma Hollis the Executive’s Director’s Review of the Year.

Anyway, NASBTT has grown from a small organisation, representing a few SCITTs in an out of favour section of the teacher preparation sector, to a dynamic orgnaisation now commanding a growing influence in the market for training teachers.

At the conference, Emma Hollis outlined five key priorities for 2019-20, which includes NASBTT playing a pivotal role at the forefront of Initial Teacher Training (ITT) policy formation..

Emma Hollis told the more than 150 delegates attending the conference how “the world of education is ever shifting and the wider political upheaval has meant that, perhaps even more so than usual, there has been uncertainty about the future”.

Emma highlighted how NASBTT is represented on the Department for Education (DfE) Initial Teacher Education (ITE) curriculum content advisory group, which has drafted new guidance that will underpin the training programme for new teachers, starting with the core content for ITT and leading into the Early Career Framework (ECF).

Secondly, NASBTT is part of an ITE advisory group which is supporting Ofsted as it designs its new framework for the inspection of ITE, aligning it more closely with the Education Inspection Framework for schools. “

Thirdly, NASBTT is prioritising subject knowledge enhancement for trainee teachers – creating a Subject Knowledge and Curriculum Design toolkit, teaming up with a range of subject specialists including Vretta, and its innovative Elevate My Maths online programme.

However, Emma emphasised a wider issue. “NASBTT members remain concerned about the difficulty of training teachers ‘in depth’ in all subjects within the timeframe of teacher training,” she said. “It is particularly unclear exactly how much subject knowledge is expected of primary teachers. I would add especially as once QTS is granted a teacher may still be asked to teach anything to anyone regardless of their level of knowledge and expertise.

Fourthly, and linked directly to the need for ongoing professional development for subject knowledge enhancement, and other areas, is the ECF delivery mechanism. To this end, NASBTT has established a professional framework for teacher educators to be launched later this year through their new Teacher Educator Zone.

My thought was about the trainees that don’t take up a job until January, how will the ECF work for them? For, as this blog has pointed out in the past, if the market works properly, the most able trainees are employed before those that fared less well on their preparation courses, and they surely need support the most support, even if they start later in the year.

NASBTT’s fifth – but by no means least important – priority for the next 12 months is in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of trainee teachers. Emma pointed out that “The prominence and importance of mental health and wellbeing is growing in schools – both for pupils and school staff.”

I would add that both teacher preparation courses and the first years of teaching can be very stressful times. The courses demand a degree of concentration and effort not always recognised, and certainly not rewarded in the case of all trainees, especially those preparing to be primary school teachers.

Finally, I have watched NASBTT’s growth over the years, and wish it well for the future. As the organisation grows, so will both its confidence in dealing with government and the range of challenges it will face. I wish it well for the future.

 

Lower Fees: a threat to teacher education?

Will the promise of a possible cut in tuition fees held out in the recent Augar Review harm applications to teacher preparation courses, especially those courses for postgraduates?

Due to an accident of history, postgraduate teacher preparation courses with a higher education component are still usually linked to the student fee regime, at least in England. This anomaly has worked well for course providers in recent years, as they have mostly been able to charge the full fee or something close to that amount.

Although not generous, in terms of the cost of running these courses, the fee has generated more income than was possible during the period when the fee income meant that it was almost impossible to cover the cost of running a course from the income received and university management would every year have to write off deficits, often amid suggestions that teacher education would not survive.  Apart from in one or two institutions, it did survive, as it has survived the Govian era of regarding higher education as part of ‘the blob’.

Still, Augar poses new threats. In the short-term, probably the 2019-2020 recruitment round, will would-be teachers postpone applying for courses until the issue of a fee cut and changes to the interest rate on student debt are decided.

Any such reduction in applications would be a worry since noises from Whitehall now suggest that the government’s planned spending review may be delayed because of the change of Prime Minister.

Hopefully, those concerned with policy on teacher education will have raised the issue of the effect on recruitment of a possible future cut intuition fees with DfE civil servants. However, until their political bosses (is that a non-sexist word?) take a decision, there may be little that can be done in the short-term, except monitor what happens to applications and even that may be easier said than done next year.

I also hope that those on the teacher education side are talking both to civil servants and to the teacher associations about what happens to funding if fees are reduced to say £7,500? Will the shortfall from current levels of funding be made up by the government, and will that mean closer monitoring of recruitment again?

Course providers will need reassurance that the cost of running their courses will be covered if fees are reduced for students. If not, will we see further changes in the landscape, with some schools unwilling to participate for anything less than the current level of funding, especially with the pressures on school budgets at present?

Of course, I favour a return to the situation where all fees for post-graduate courses are paid by the government, and training to be a teachers doesn’t require an increase in the level of debt to the individual, especially if the length of time repayments must be made is also increased by ten years as Augar suggested.

With probably another five years of increased secondary training targets to come before the bulge of pupils passing through secondary schools can be provided with sufficient teachers, even if not the right mix of subjects, anything that deters new entrants should be avoided. A delay by applicants awaiting a decision on lower fees might end up as a loss of a number of potential teachers to the system.

Mixed messages on ITT

The data on those placed either firmly or conditionally together with those holding offers for post-graduate teacher preparation courses starting this autumn was published earlier today by UCAS.

Overall, the level of applications is down again at 83,560 on 20th May compared with 85,370 on 21st May last year. However, that overall total marks a downward shift in applications for primary, by just over 2,000 and an upward move in applications for secondary subjects, by about 600 applications. This is where the picture starts to become more complicated

Record levels of applications in biology; English; RE and history have more than offset declines in PE – by a substantial number to only 6,000 – mathematics – some 300 fewer applications – and Art – 200 fewer applications. In each case, divide by three to estimate the change in applicants, as UCAS don’t provide that data in the monthly numbers.

In terms of placed applicants and those holding offer, Computer Studies; mathematics; physics and art are all at record lows for the recruitment rounds since 2013/14 for this month of the cycle.

Next month’s figures should start to record how new graduates feel about teaching; especially those that have so far done nothing about finding a career. The good news is that applicant numbers in the youngest age group; these will be new graduates, are holding up at similar levels to last year.

However, those in their Twenties are still not looking to teaching as either a first or second career choice. Numbers aged 22-29 are seemingly down in all age groupings. However, those, mainly career switches over 30 are still showing an increasing interest in teaching.

Applicant numbers are down from applicants domiciled in most regions of England. Those domiciled in London, where pupil numbers are growing fast in the secondary sector, number only just over 5,000, with around 300 fewer placed or conditionally placed applicants this year. Staffing the capital’s state schools should really be an issue for the STRB when considering teachers’ pay and conditions.

In the secondary sector, School Direct is still losing ground to higher education and SCITTs in terms of its share of applications. How the Augar Report, published today, plays out for postgraduate teacher preparation courses may well affect these figures in the next few years.

A languages teacher with five years of fees (four year degree plus one year teacher preparation course) could be faced with debts of £117,000 according to a chart in the Augar Report. With no difference in repayments between those earning Inner London salary and those in high cost areas on the national salary scale this is an issue the STRB needs to confront in their discussions on teacher supply.

Applications from m n are declining at a faster rate than form women, with around 240 fewer applications from men compared with only a decline of 170 in applications from women. UCAS only report gender as a binary choice. In England, the decline is from 8,910 male applicants in May 2018 to just 8,650 this year, of whom there has been a welcome increase in the number of those 21 and under conditionally placed, from 680 to 750.

Harry Judge: a tribute

Harry Judge was Director of the then Oxford Department of Educational Studies when I arrived in Oxford in September 1979 to read for a higher degree. As a teacher with nearly a decade of teaching in a comprehensive school in Tottenham behind me, Oxford was a culture shock. However, Harry Judge was one of those that helped make my time at Norham Gardens memorable. He also inspired much of my interest in both teacher education and the careers of teachers that has continued to this day.

I especially recall his lectures on both the McNair Report and the James Report, where he had been a member of the Committee chaired by Lord James. Although the oil crisis of 1972 scuppered much of what James had recommended for in-service professional development for the teaching profession, the need for a sound education before becoming a teacher was accepted, along with the fact that a teacher preparation course was necessary for all by way of both pre-service training and induction. Not for James and Harry Judge the notion of Michael Gove that anyone with a good education can become a teacher.

Although much has changed in the period of approaching half a century since the James Committee was set up, this paragraph can still strike a cord, especially with those trainees not able to find a job immediately after completing their teacher preparation course.

“The probationary teacher, in fact, leaves his [sic] college on the last day of term and never hears of or from it again. Nor does the school to which he goes communicate with the college, even if difficulties arise. He is pleasantly received at his school (as would be any newly appointed member of staff, whether or not in a first appointment) and introduced, formally or informally, to the ways of the place. No one suggests to him that he is in a special situation, or entitled to unusual help. He may be invited by the LEA to attend a tea party but will probably not go and, if he does, that will be his last meeting with its officers or advisers. He teaches a full timetable including one or two of the notoriously difficult groups of pupils. No one goes near him in the mistaken belief that to do so would be to interfere with his professional integrity. At the end of the year he receives a note informing him that the probationary year has been satisfactorily completed, and he is now a fully qualified teacher. This gap between theory and practice reflects an equally alarming gap between the interpretation of the probationary year by colleges and departments on the one hand and schools on the other. Colleges rightly insist that a profession should accept a major responsibility in incorporating its own members and, in any case, they cannot themselves do everything, and cannot produce a standard and universally valid form of training which will enable everyone to do everything everywhere. The schools rightly insist that ‘the system’ does in fact presuppose that a new teacher is fully trained, and they are given neither resources nor encouragement to become effective partners in the training.”   James Report paragraph 3.9

School-based training, SCITTs and partnerships have helped eradicate the worst of the problems mentioned above, but a market system and a weakened third cycle of professional development can still leave too many new teachers without an ideal introduction to the profession: hence the unnecessary wastage rates for new teachers.

Harry Judge helped pioneer the successful partnership model for the PGCE at Oxford, as well as inspiring many teachers and leaders in the field of education. I am glad to have known and studied on courses that he taught. He was a major influence on my life in the field of education. Thank you Harry.

 

 

 

Further reflections

The Daily Mail is apparently carrying a story today of a leaked DfE email revealing a fall in teacher numbers. This is seen as a revelation, even though Table 2a of the DfE’s analysis of the Teacher Workforce, published in June 2018, showed a fall in teacher numbers between the 2016 and 2017 census points. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017

However, I suppose that when a staunchly Tory supporting newspaper starts printing bad news stories about the working of a Conservative government one must anticipate that either the end is nigh or that editorial control is weak over the Christmas and New Year period.

Had either the Daily Mail or any other media outlet wanted to pick a more up to the minute bad news story about teacher numbers, they could have done no better to use my previous post as the basis for a news item. Readers will recall that based on data released yesterday by UCAS, it appears that fewer graduates want to become primary school teachers than in the past.  The Daily Mail could have run a headline around ‘Who will teach Tiny Tim?’ about this fall in applications to train as a primary teacher.

Delving further into the UCAS data than I had time to do yesterday, it seems as if more career changers were queuing up to apply to train as a teacher in 2019, than were new young graduates. However, the 230 additional graduates in their 30s and 40s compared with December 2017 were not enough to offset the reduction of 400 in those from the 22-22 age group that have not applied this year. Hopefully, they are still weighing up their options.

For the first time in some years, fewer than 1,000 men from the 21-22 age group have applied for a place to train as a teacher on either a primary or secondary course starting in 2019. However, it is the continued relative lack of interest from young female graduates that should concern officials even more. This group in the past has been the bedrock of those applying in the early part of the recruitment round.

Rather than evaluating the overall success or otherwise of the marketing campaign, the DfE should urgently be investigating why this group, of whom there will be fewer emerging from universities over the next few years, are taking longer to think about teaching as a career. Last year, enough came around in the end to ensure all places for primary teachers were filled, but the warning signs are there and need investigation.

Perhaps the DfE has over-emphasised the need for secondary subject teachers and rather taken the primary sector for granted, apart from the need to ensure sufficient teachers with expertise in mathematics. The DfE doesn’t have a policy of ensuring sufficient subject knowledge across the curriculum to ensure that able pupils can be motivated and intellectually stretched either within the primary school or in other ways.

Perhaps it is time to reconstruct those local CDP offering managed by teams of staff than know their schools and teachers. Doing so in a cost effective manner might mean upsetting some MATs and even diocese, but can we afford anything other than the most cost effective system for such CPD?

 

Requiem for an Agency

This week saw the final rites for the National College of Teaching and Leadership with the publication on the 5TH December of their final annual report and accounts before the College disappeared from the scene and its functions were re-absorbed into the Department for Education. You can read the report at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/nctl-annual-report-and-accounts-2017-to-2018

Thus ends an era that started with the Teacher Training Agency in the mid-1990s, when QUANGOs were fashionable (Quasi Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations for those that don’t remember the initials). Tony Blair created a National College and for a period of time mandated that all new head teachers should hold the National Professional Qualification for headship (NPQH). Then came a period of amalgamation and eventually a change in attitude to how government is run. While Regional School Commissions became fashionable, the arm’s length body for the teaching profession that the NCTL was becoming after the demise of the General Teaching Council didn’t fit in with the emerging agenda of the control of schools from Westminster.

As someone that worked at the then Teacher Training Agency for 1997-1998, I can see that the relationship between the Department and its satellite bodies was always fraught with problems. Teach First was a Department creation and for many years the employment-based routes were administered from Sanctuary Buildings or its Manchester outpost rather than by the TTA or its successors.

The quasi arm’s length functions that remain are now under the auspices of the Teacher Regulation Agency. However, even that agency has to see its decisions on disciplining teachers signed-off by a civil servant on behalf of the Secretary of State.

So what did the NCTL do in its final year? The list of tasks in the annual report covered:

  • provided over £286 million funding in the form of bursaries and grants, in order to incentivise recruitment to initial teacher training;
  • ensured that most of the teacher trainees required to meet the needs of schools in England were recruited;
  • delivered a national teacher recruitment marketing campaign;
  • developed and funded a range of routes into teaching;
  • improved National Professional Qualification (NPQ) provision;
  • continued to support participants still to be assessed on the previous NPQ programmes;
  • provided targeted support for continuing leadership professional development;
  • increased the number of teaching schools and system leaders;
  • managed the awarding of Qualified Teacher Status to individuals following an accredited ITT course in England & Wales and overseas; and
  • managed referrals of allegations of serious misconduct against teachers to consider whether individuals should be prohibited from teaching in any school in England.

On all these task, Minister will now have nowhere to hide. This will be especially true if recruitment into the profession falls short of targets set by the Teacher Supply Model. Ministers will now have nobody else to blame but themselves for any shortfall.

In the accounts at the back of the report is the figure spent on advertising and publicity by the NCTL. In the 2016/17 financial year, this was £14.4 million. In 2017/18, the expenditure had increased to £20.4 million, and increase almost £6 million. So, at least one industry is benefiting from the teacher recruitment crisis.