Productivity gain or worsening working conditions?

Ahead of the ASCL Conference in Birmingham this weekend, there is a report in the press today about rising class sizes in secondary schools.

An analysis by teaching unions has suggested 62% of secondary schools have had to expand class sizes between 2014/15 and 2016/17. The study, conducted by the NEU, NAHT and ASCL – as well as non-teaching unions Unison, GMB and Unite – showed that of 150 local authorities, 83% saw a rise in average class sizes across their secondary schools, while 14% have seen a fall and 3% saw no change.

This report should come as no surprise to anyone connected with education. Indeed, I would predict that class sizes will continue to increase in size over the next few years as the secondary school population expands from its low point reached in 2014 and budgets also come under pressure.

However, there is an argument to be had about the usefulness of class sizes as a measure. They can be affected by factors such as the degree of non-contact time allowed to staff; policy over options at GCSE and for post-16 courses as well as space considerations.

An alternative measure is the Pupil Teacher Ratio. Even here there are now problems: how do you define a teacher. Do you only include those with QTS and exclude Teach First and School Direct trainees, as well as any other unqualified teachers or cover supervisors?

Anyway, I have included the changes in PTRs across different types of secondary schools since the School Workforce Census was introduced. The result confirms the findings from the unions and could have been researched without the need to waste valuable time in hard-pressed local authorities. As an added bonus, these are DfE approved numbers, so the government cannot quibble about them.

Changes in Pupil Teacher Ratios in secondary schools
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
All State funded Secondary schools 14.9 14.9 15 15 15.3 15.6
Converter academies 15.2 15.8
Sponsored academies 13.6 15.3
All academies 14.8 15.6
UTCs/Studio Schools 12.9 13.8
Free Schools 12.6 15.3
LA maintained 15 14.9 14.8 14.9 15.1 15.4

The big change has come since 2015 and probably reflects the loss of extra funding academies received in the early days of the Gove period at the DfE. The effect the loss of that extra cash has had on the funding of these schools is now obvious: sadly, once becoming an academy there is normally no way back. For that reason, heads gathering in Birmingham might want to examine the value for money of back offices at MATs.Source DfE SFR 25/2017 Table 17a

After all, it was the heads that complained for decades about the dead hand of local authority expenditure. Having been released from the frying pan of Local Authority spending patterns they must not fall straight into the fire of MATs with high relative overheads.

There are many other issues that secondary heads will need to consider at their conference. Perhaps one of the most pressing is finding the teachers to fill these classes that now have more pupils in them. It may be a productivity gain, but it does impose a greater workload on teachers and may the class size and PTR changes partly explain the growing loss of teachers with 3-5 years’ experience previously discussed on this blog.

In passing, the head teachers might also want to reflect upon the changing nature of the teacher vacancy market that helps provide the teachers. With the TES group reporting a loss of 2016-17 and the DfE working on a new vacancy platform, how teachers are recruited could become an important area for discussion over the next few years.

As one of the instigators of TeachVac, the free platform for vacancies, I am, of course, not an idle by-stander in this debate.


Déjà vu

The traffic light colours of Green, Amber and Red have become a popular method of distinguishing degrees of concern or providing a warning as we saw recently with the Met Office descriptions of the snow and ice events. TeachVac has always used such a system to warn of shortages in the labour market for classroom teachers in the secondary sector.

Today, TeachVac has just issued its first Red warning for a subject this year. It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that the subject concerned is Business Studies. The DfE’s Teacher Supply model seems to consistently underestimate the need for such teachers by schools. Additionally, in 2017, the failure to fill 20% of the places on offer to trainees has only exacerbated the situation.

The Red warning means that in TeachVac’s estimation schools anywhere in England could from now onwards struggle to recruit a teacher of Business Studies. This challenge will extend right through to January 2019 and the start of the new recruitment round. With Business Studies applications for 2018 teacher preparation courses already only tracking the 2017 levels, 2019 isn’t looking any more hopeful at present.

At the same time as TeachVac issued a Red warning for Business Studies it is within days of issuing an Amber warning for English classroom teacher recruitment. Here again, with 10% of training places unfilled in 2017, TeachVac will shortly be warning that some schools could start to face challenges in recruitment. There are fewer trainees on school-based preparation courses for English this year. As a result, demand in terms of advertised vacancies may well be greater than in recent years, when some schools employed School Direct trainees without needing to advertise vacancies. TeachVac expects recruitment to be especially challenging in areas where the pupil numbers are on the increase, namely London and the Home Counties.

If this all feels horribly familiar to regular readers of this blog, then they are correct. On the 8th March 2017, budget day last year, I wrote almost exactly the same post about the 2017 situation. Those that haven’t read it might like to compare the two posts.

Already in 2018, TeachVac has already also issued an Amber warning for Design and Technology. This is partly because only a third of places on teacher preparation course in this subject were filled in 2017. This meant total trainee numbers, including forecasts at the time of the DfE’s census, only amounted to some 303 trainees this year. Such a number is less than one trainee per ten secondary schools, even assuming all trainees both complete the preparation year and then want to teach in a state funded secondary school. Within some of the subjects that make up the Design and Technology family, the situation may be even worse: TeachVac is monitoring the spread of expertise requested within adverts, something nobody else even attempts to do to the same degree.

However, in this recruitment round, we do not expect any significant issues recruiting teachers to fill primary school vacancies. But, as the previous post have indicated, 2019 might be more of a problem, unless applications pick up over the next few months.



Pay flexibilities for teachers

According to the DfE’s evidence to the School Teachers Review Body (STRB) only 64%, just fewer than two out of three schools, pay any of their staff Teaching & Learning Responsibility allowances (TLRs as they are usually known). I guess that most of the remaining nearly 8,000 or so schools are mostly small primary schools, with only a handful of teachers and a head teacher?

Interestingly, some of these schools may be making other payments, as the DfE record that 75.2% of all schools make some form of payment to some of their teaching staff. Indeed, there are more schools making ‘other payments’ than are using the SEN payments allowed under the teacher’s contract. Less than one in five school now make any such SEN payment to teachers.

Even less common, despite all the talk about a recruitment crisis, is the use of recruitment and retention payments to teachers; only one in ten schools across England makes such a payment. However, the percentage does rise to one in five schools in the Inner London area – That’s not technically a region and the DfE evidence doesn’t define what it means by Inner London and whether it is pay area or some other definition. By contrast, only one in twenty schools in the South West makes any payments to a teacher or teachers for recruitment and retention reasons.

Do schools make use of HMRC exemptions from tax for new employees? ( This allowance can be helpful to those teachers and school leaders moving to a new part of the country. Such payments would, presumably, be reported in the ‘other payments’ column of the  DfE’s evidence along with season ticket loans, any health benefits and car allowances to teachers in teaching schools or providing ITT support that have to travel between schools.

None of these extra payments can hide the fact that the teachers’ contract looks increasingly out of line with modern day employment practices. As I pointed out last year, Labour’s idea of more bank holidays might have placed some of the new dates within school holidays so that teachers and others employed in schools wouldn’t have seen any benefit. Regular surveys and diary studies have shown that teachers work very hard during the time children are in school and aren’t paid for that overtime. Should it be counted against school-holidays in a more formal manner than at present in order to allow a meaningful discussion about the feeling of some in the population that teachers still enjoy long holidays?

Perhaps the STRB might want to think what their responsibility is in this debate? Do they need to wait to be asked or can they discuss the issue as part of their consideration of recruitment and retention issues? There is lots of evidence for the OECD about teachers working patterns around the world. The issue has resonance because of the growing appreciation that more provision should be made for teachers’ professional development. Adding CPD to the existing workload without considering what might disappear to allow for the extra study would not really be very helpful.



Lowering the bar?

The government has now published the letter from Nick Gibb, Minister of State, sent last week to teacher training providers, encouraging maximum effort in recruitment this year. I cannot recall such a similar letter being sent by a Minister in any recent recruitment cycle. I think in the mid-1960s a Labour Secretary of State once wrote to Mayors across the country asking them to encourage residents to become teachers or return to teaching during the baby boom of that time.

The text of Mr Gibb’s letter can be found at;

The most interesting paragraph in the letter reads as follows:

‘It is right to reject candidates who are not suitable. However, it is also crucial to support and develop those who have the desire and talent to teach. The emphasis must be on assessing applicants based on their suitability to train to teach, rather than whether they are ready to teach at the point of entry.’

As Ofsted will amend the Inspection handbook, this will presumably mean candidates where quality is of concern will now be offered the possibility of becoming a teacher with the final decision about suitability being deferred until the end of the preparation period. It will be interesting to see how much of a boost this letter provides to recruitment totals during the remainder of the recruitment round. After all, if there are no applicants, you cannot offer them a place.

The notion of civil servants looking at rejection rates and then contacting institutions where they feel too many applicants are being rejected raises some interesting issues. Is it acceptable to reject any marginal quality primary arts and humanities graduate because the provider wants to see if they can recruit more maths and science entrants or will civil servants now tell them to accept on a first come first served basis anyone that meets the new threshold. Presumably, monitoring gender, ethnicity and social mobility outcomes are also now thrown out the window in favour of the new approach?

Will there be a new marketing campaign extolling how easy it is to become a teacher. Just turn up and meet the basic maths and English requirements and you will be offered a place. Might the skills tests be the next brick in the wall to be dismantled, returning to an end of course test rather than the present pre-entry timing. This would allow providers to coach trainees in danger of failure and presumably add a few more on to the list of possible applicants.

Of course, simplifying the complex bursary and fee remission arrangements might help more than exhortations to recruit more of the present pool of applicants, especially if rejection rates are already very low in some subjects After all, only a third of design and technology places were filled on courses starting in September 2017. I guess providers weren’t too anxious to turn many applicants away. Sadly, UCAS data isn’t arranged in a manner so as to easily make it possible to determine the number of applicants as opposed to applications per subject, so one cannot answer that question.





The Politics of Bursaries

Why should some people wanting to become a teacher receive help with their training costs and others not? We don’t discriminate between future tank commanders and those heading for the infantry or entrants to the civil service by the department they are going to be working in. But, teaching is different. Ever since the Coalition put up student fees and withdrew the right for graduates both to have their fees paid and receive a bursary regardless of the subject that they preparing to teach, the government has had to spend cash explaining to potential teachers what they might or n=might not receive by way of cash payments. Of course, the really lucky one receive a salary and a virtual guarantee of a teaching job at the end of training f they are on either a School Direct Salaried placement or Teach First.

I took a look at the current bursaries and how the subjects recruited to the Teacher Supply Model figures last year and then added in the number of entries to GCSE or equivalent by pupils in state funded schools.

PE 113 105,715
History SOME 102 235,396
Languages YES 93 247,375
English YES 90 513,746 Language
Biology YES 86 132,676
Chemistry YES 83 132,238
Geography YES 80 220,506
Business Studies 80 71,055
Mathematics YES 79 515,803
Music SOME 76 34,766
Art 74 143,904
Physics YES 68 131,894
Computer Studies + IT YES 66 127,025
RE SOME 63 105,715
D&T SOME 33 141,568
Any Science YES NA 509,329

Sources: ITT Census 2017; DfE get into teaching and SFR 01/2018 Table S2a

Although I don’t have a Teacher Supply model number for Latin, trainees do receive a bursary, even though only 2,279 pupils were entered for GCSE or an equivalent qualification by state funded schools in 2017.

The logic of excluding Physical Education is obvious, but excluding art and only offering reduced bursaries for Religious Education and Design and Technology seems harder to defend. Personally, I would add Business Studies to the list of bursary subjects because, as regular readers know, I think the DfE has underestimated demand for teachers of the subject. Perhaps, a rethink of the whole of that area of the curriculum and the needs of schools for teachers might be worth considering.

A Simple scheme for all graduate entrants, including to the primary sector where yesterday’s blog post revealed the decline in applications, would be both easier to administer and easier to sell to would-be teachers. The present arrangements appear both haphazard and unjust.


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 For details of the vacancy service visit:


Do we need to attract an increased number of older entrants into teaching?

Yesterday, I commented on one aspect of the new Secretary of State’s interview with The Times newspaper. Today, I would like to look at another area he talked about; recruiting older people into teaching. Although recruits into teaching have largely been thought of in the context of young new graduates, there have always been a stream of older entrants into the profession. These older entrants probably fell into two main groups: staff working in schools, either as volunteers or paid staff and those changing careers. The former were probably more numerous in the primary sector, in the past they often consisted of those entering through access courses and a first degree in teaching. Most career changers will have entered either through the PGCE route or via the various employment based routes that once recruited outside the main recruitment envelope, much as Teach First and Troops for teachers still do today. In 2006, there was also the Open University PGCE course that didn’t recruit through UCAS, but was entirely comprised of mature entrants to teaching.

The multiplicity of routes into teaching makes exact comparison over a period of time something of a challenge, as does the fact that UCAS reports the age profile of applicants to the current scheme in a different way to the predecessor GTTR scheme run by the same organisation.

Nevertheless, it is possible to make some broad comparison between say, the 2006 entry onto the GTTR Scheme; a year when applications to train as a teacher were still healthy, and before the crash of 2008, and 2017 applicant numbers for September via the UCAS ITT Scheme. These are not the final figures for 2017, but close enough to be possible to use for comparison purposes, based upon past trends.

Applicants to postgraduate centrally administered courses – actual numbers

UCAS/GTTR applicants
2017 2006
20-22 11080 15798
23-24 8570 12699
25-29 9900 15454
30-39 6750 9848
40+ 5400 5095
41700 58894

Sources: GTTR Annual Report 2006, Table A4 and UCAS Report A, Applicants September 2017.

The first obvious point to make is that despite the school-based routes (except Teach First and Troops to Teachers) now being included and the Open University no longer offering a PGCE, there has been a drop of just over 17,000 in applicants wanting to train as a teacher. This decline is across all age groupings.

Applicants to postgraduate centrally administered courses – percentages

UCAS/GTTR applicants
2017 2006
20-22 27% 27%
23-24 21% 22%
25-29 24% 26%
30-39 16% 17%
40+ 13% 9%
100% 100%

Sources: GTTR Annual Report 2006, Table A4 and UCAS Report A, Applicants September 2017.

The other interesting point to make is that with UCAS being responsible for entry to a greater part of the training market in 2017 than in 2006 and especially the part most likely to attract older applicants their share of the total made up of applicants over 40 has increased from 9% in 2006 13% in 2017. The percentage of those in their 30s has remained broadly the same. Teaching has lost more than 9,000 new graduates in their early 20s wanting to be teachers. In a previous post, I commented that so far this year teaching appeared to be seeing fewer young women applying to be primary school teachers. The loss of that group could have serious implications for teaching in future years, especially as younger teachers usually go on to provide the bulk of the leadership candidates in fifteen to twenty years’ time.

So, Mr Hinds, you many well want to attract older candidates to Teach Next and to the core programmes, but you must not neglect what is happening among new graduates saddled with more than £27,000 of possible debt, even before they enter training. In the case of primary teachers there is little chance of support during training and the debt on another £9,000+ to fund when they start teaching. This is not an attractive deal.

If the UCAS data, to be published next Thursday, shows a dismal January for applications then, now your predecessors have decided to take teacher supply fully into the DfE from April, the buck will stop at your desk. Spending £14 million by the NCTL on publicity and advertising didn’t work last year, so looking for older applicants could be a good idea, because you do need to find something that works.