Bad news on closing the gap

The Education Policy Institute’s 2019 Report on Education (EPI Report) has largely been noticed for the comments about social mobility and the stalling of attempts to close the gaps between disadvantaged and other pupils as this is a key feature of its findings  https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/epi-annual-report-2019-the-education-disadvantage-gap-in-your-area/ Reasons for this ending of the reduction in the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and other pupils as noted by EPI are the decline in funding for schools and the challenges some schools face in both recruiting and retaining teachers.

This latter explanation is one that has been regularly championed by this blog as likely to have an adverse effect on outcomes. So, it would seem that money matters, and the idea of just providing cash to under-funded local authorities, as seemingly suggested by the new Prime Minister, might not necessarily be the way forward.

However, I do have some concerns about parts of the methodology used by EPI as it relates to the presentation of the data. A focus on local authorities as the key determinant does tend to ignore areas, whether urban or rural that have wide variations in levels of disadvantage within the same local authority boundary. For the two tier shire and district council areas, it would have been better to use the data at a district council level, but that doesn’t help in cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, and boroughs where there may be wide variations between different parts of the authority. To some extent the data for an authority doesn’t reveal the whole picture and can provide results that might mis-lead the casual reader.

EPI avoids this issue to some extent by producing tables using parliamentary constituencies as the basis for the data. Thus the gap in months at the secondary level relative to non-disadvantaged pupils nationally can differ widely within one authority by looking at data at the level of the parliamentary constituency. For Birmingham, it is 13.6 in Selly Oak, but 19.6 in Ladywood; in Kent it differs between 27.0 for the Dover constituency and 13.8 in Tunbridge Wells.

This is not to say that drawing attention to the gap between where pupils start their education journeys and where they complete them isn’t vitally important at a local authority level. But, providing everyone with equal shares of the cake is not an answer for anyone that wants anything other than administrative simplicity, important though it is to ensure that base funding levels are sufficient for the task in hand.

EPI do make the point in their report that despite no progress in narrowing the disadvantage gap, overall pupil attainment has continued to rise. This suggests that an overall rise in standards does not guarantee a reduction in the disadvantage gap. (Their emphasis).

The Report also highlights the fact that the post-16 education routes taken by young people are becoming increasingly segregated by socio-economic status, with disadvantaged pupils disproportionately represented in certain routes. In particular, the increased segregation is driven by an over-representation of disadvantaged students in further education. These trends may damage the government’s ambition of rectifying imbalances between further and higher education. (Their emphasis).

 

 

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20,000 fewer teachers?

The news that the Home Office are going to oversee the recruitment of either 20,000 new graduate police officers or people capable of earning a vocational degree must prompt the question; in the current labour market, where are these new police officers going to come from? Of course, it might be a preemptive strike by the government against a possible recession and the associated increase in unemployment. This must be on the assumption that any recession will hit the graduate end of the labour market at least as hard as it hits those with no qualifications.

After seven years of a failure to recruit enough new teachers into training – a back door cut – and facing an increasing pupil population, teaching also need more entrants that it has at present. Indeed, it seems likely that when the ITT Census for 2018 is published in November, this will be the eighth year of missed targets in some subjects. I recorded the disturbing decline of design and technology trainee numbers in one of yesterday’s posts, if anyone is interested.

So, might teachers switch to become police officers? I doubt it will be 20,000, but the loss of any experienced teachers will be a blow to the profession that has also seen retention rates worsen for teachers we might have expected to have reached the stage where they had become what one person described to me this week as ‘lifers’.

Potential teachers, especially those keen to be in London and not eligible for Teach First, might well weigh up the starting salary of a constable against the fees to be paid as a trainee teacher and the absence of any guarantee of a teaching post on completion of training.

I certainly think that this move to increase police numbers will reinforce the need for a review of the former training grant for all teachers, and not just payments to those lucky enough to be on Teach First or the School Direct Salaried routes or receiving a bursery. Of course, the government could wait and see, but that must be deemed a risk unless graduate unemployment rises both quickly and fast.

If the new Secretary of State for Defence wants more graduates in the armed forces and the NHS more nurses, then those actions will place more pressure on the teaching profession to be competitive in a labour market where it clearly isn’t competitive at present.

Do we really want a system that produces just enough qualified teachers of Physics to meet the needs of private schools, Sixth Form Colleges and the selective schools? Do we want a system that fails to produce enough teachers of design and technology; of music; even of art? According to head teachers that I meet, this isn’t even the complete list of subjects where recruitment is currently a challenge.

The other salvation is that a slowing down of the global economy might reduce demand from ‘overseas schools’ for teachers trained in England. Such a situation is possible, but with the switch of many of these schools to educating not the children of expat business families, but locals dissatisfied with their State system or unable to access it, not too much hope should be placed on this solution, at least for now.

STRB: good summary, not much new

Regular readers of this blog will find little to surprise them when they read the latest report from the STRB (School Teachers Review Body) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-teachers-review-body-29th-report-2019 Much of the data has already been discussed on this blog when it first appeared. Nevertheless, it is good to see the information all in one place.

The key issues are nicely summed up by the STRB as follows:

This year the evidence shows that the teacher supply situation has continued to deteriorate, particularly for secondary schools. This has affected teachers at all stages of their careers:

  • The Government’s target for recruitment to postgraduate Initial Teacher Training (ITT) was missed in 2018/19 for the seventh successive year. There has also been a marked decline in the number of overseas teachers being awarded Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).
  • Retention rates for teachers in the early years of their careers have continued to worsen, a trend that we have noted for several years now.
  • There is also evidence that retention rates are starting to deteriorate for experienced teachers, and there has been a marked increase in the number of teachers aged over 50 leaving the profession.
  • Retention rates for head teachers have fallen in recent years and our consultees report that it is increasingly difficult to attract good quality applicants to fill leadership posts at all levels. We have heard similar concerns from some of those we spoke to during our school visit programme.

Taken together, these trends paint a worrying picture. This is all the more concerning as increasing pupil numbers mean that there will be a need for more teachers in coming years, particularly in the secondary phase and for English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects.

The last comment is one I would take issue with in relation to languages, history and geography, subjects where TeachVac data doesn’t reveal significant shortages and the DfE data published last week also doesn’t suggest a rising demand for MFL teachers.

I am also slightly surprised that more isn’t made of regional disparities in both demand for teachers and in terms of the data about recruitment and retention. Matching age and experience with regional trends might have been helpful in understanding the degree that the teacher supply crisis affects the whole country and not just London and the Home Counties.

More information on the primary sector, and some understanding of the special school and alternative education sectors would also have been helpful.

I fully agree that the Report should be published much earlier in the year. Why cannot the timetable revert to a publication date in either February or March?The comments on challenges in leadership recruitment aren’t really backed by good levels of evidence in the Report, and that’s a pity since at TeachVac we have seen fewer re-advertisements for primary headships in some places this year. I am sure that the NAHT and ASCL have this data available. Compared with say a decade ago, are there really fewer applicants for headships. This is an important measure of possible challenge going forward.

Finally, I wonder what happened on page 32 where there is a mention of Figure 7 that bears no relation to point under discussion. I think it should be a reference to Figure 5? Is this a proof-reading issue or does it reflect some re-writing of this section?

Return to teaching: more needs to be achieved

One of the issues that the DfE’s annual data about the school workforce always revives is that of what happens to those that train to be a teacher and either never teach in state funded schools or leave after a period of service. The data can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2018

One side of this equation is concerned with retention rates, and that has been dealt with in an earlier post. The other side relates to the possibility or indeed probability in statistical terms of those teachers either ‘out of service’ or with ‘no service’ re-entering or teaching for the first time in state-funded schools.

Now this is not as straightforward an issue as some might think. A proportion of these teachers are certainly teaching, but not in state schools. Some are in further education, sixth form colleges, initial teacher education and private schools and are counted in the ‘other’ column where service is pensionable, but not in a state funded school. Others, and this may be a growing number, are teaching overseas in the schools offering fee-based education in countries where those with the cash don’t want to or cannot access the local school system. Occasionally, as in the case of the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, these teachers might also be teaching in the state school system.

The rapid growth of such ‘international’ schools – at least in terms of their staffing – in China remains a concern as a potential drain on teacher numbers in England. Although it isn’t all one-way traffic.

Anyway, returning to the data, about half of ‘out of service’ teachers are older than 45, and thus less likely to return to teaching if still in the labour market. A few might do so, but large numbers of returners from this age grouping are unlikely. Among the younger age groups, some have deliberately decided to take a career break, often to care for young families or elderly parents. With good quality local ‘keep in touch’ schemes, and the sort of bounty paid to armed forces reservists for undertaking a period of professional development each year, this group can be an excellent source of additional teachers.

Although the DfE has managed programmes in the recent past to entice these teachers back into the classroom, the schemes have so far been derisory when compared with those initiated during former staffing crisis.

And what of the 17,000 or so teachers that gained QTS in 2015 and 216, but have no recorded service in state funded schools? How much has the DfE spent on following up what has happened to these potential teachers? Some will be teaching, but not captured in the data. Of those that aren’t teaching, what feedback can we obtain that would either improve their training, if that is the issue, or manage the labour market better to achieve optimum use of a scare resource in our teachers.

It seems daft that location specific career changers cannot be guaranteed a teaching post on successful completion of their training programme. This is surely a disincentive for some to switch careers, especially when they also have to pay tuition fees. Time for a Carter style Review of these issues?

Vacancies still a concern

The recent data on the workforce in state schools at the time of the 2018 School Workforce Census conducted by the DfE shows vacancies rates overall at similar levels to the previous year in percentage terms, but on the increase in terms of absolute numbers. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2018

Given that the data is collected in November, when schools ought to be fully staffed, any vacancy is of concern. Data from before 2010 was collected each January, when vacancy levels might be expected to be affected by those teachers that departed at the end of December and how easy it was to replace them.

Nevertheless, the 1,725 recorded vacancies in the secondary sector in November 2018 was the highest number since 2014, and more than three times the level recorded in 2011, after the financial crisis. Vacancy levels fell in mathematics between 2017 and 2018. This can partly be attributed to the subject having a relatively good year in terms of ITT recruitment in 2015-15 that fed through to recruitment for teaching posts in September 2018. I expect the ground gained between 2017 and 2018 in mathematics to be lost in the 2019 census, with little indication of any improvement in 2020.

Business studies has the largest percentage vacancy level. The subject includes both commercial studies and economics.  It remain a mystery to me why this important subject group for the British Economy does not attract more help for trainee teachers through the scholarship/bursary scheme. Mr Hunt’s idea of paying off student loans for young entrepreneurs seems only likely to make the situation worse if it was implemented. Indeed, I have yet to hear about a solution to the teacher recruitment problem from either of the candidates for the Troy Party leadership.

The other measure of concern is that of the percentage of hours taught in a typical week to pupils in Years 7 to 13 by teachers with no relevant post-A Level qualification. The trend in many secondary subjects continues to worsen, even among EBacc subjects, where recruitment into ITT is buoyant. However, that may be due to changes in teaching methods as much as to a shortage of teachers in history and geography. Where schools employ a classroom teacher approach to some or all of their pupils, generally either Year 7 pupils or those having trouble learning in large classes, these teachers may not be specialists, and this can cause the number of hours taught be a non-specialist in a subject to increase for perfectly sensible reasons.

Of more concern, and not provided in the Tables, would be any evidence of increasing levels of teachers lacking subject knowledge teaching groups in Years 11 to13. Although even here a case can sometimes be made on the basis of teaching experience and non-formally acquired subject knowledge, such as through high quality Professional Development activities.

Within the detailed tables, there is far more data on these matters, but it will take a little more time to work through the data. However, there is no room for complacency over retention and every reason, as the school population increase over the next few years to continue to express serious concern at the trends emerging in relation to mid-career retention of teachers.

 

 

 

Retention still an issue?

The School Workforce data for 2108 published yesterday is always worthy of several posts on this blog. Indeed, this is the third in the series so for about the 2018 data. You can find the data at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2018

Slightly fewer teachers left the profession in the year up to the 2018 census than in the previous year, 42,073 compared with 44,376. This was a reduction in the percentage of the teaching force departing, from 10.2% to 9.8%, the lowest percentage since 2013. However, apparently, only among the over-55s did the percentage of the age group leaving decline. This suggests that more teachers may be remaining in service longer and the number retiring early may be falling. Certainly, the number of recorded retirements reduced from 8,188 in 2017 to 6,294 in 2018.

This blog has raised concerns about the growing loss to the state school system of teachers with five to seven years of experience, those that might be expected to take up the middle leadership vacancies. In the data released, the DfE have updated the table of the percentage of the cohort starting in a particular year remaining in each subsequent year. This Table has data that stretches back to the 1996 entry cohort, of whom 45.9% were still teaching in state schools some 22 years later. The notes to the Table suggest there may be some under-recording of part-time teachers, by about 10%.

Of more interest is the fact that the 2018 entry cohort was the smallest since 2011, and, at 23,820, almost exactly the same as last year’s 23,829 entrants. Only among teachers with 10 years’ service was the percentage remaining in 2018 above the percentage reported last year, at 62% compared with 61.7%.

Record lows abound across the Table, with the 70% level now being breached after just four years and the 60% level after 11 years of service. Of course, there was a data collection change in 2010, when the School Workforce Census was introduced, although the Database of Teacher Records is still used to help provide a complete picture where schools do not fully complete the Census each November.

The DfE is yet to update the Teacher Compendium that put real numbers to the percentages and allows for analysis by different phases and secondary subjects https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/teachers-analysis-compendium-4 and although the overall picture is helpful to know, it is the data relating to certain subjects and teacher retention that is of even more interest, as would be data on geographical trends in retention. Do more teachers in London leave teaching in state schools earlier than those in the north of England and in the South West?

Interestingly, young women teachers under the age of 30 earn more than young men in both the primary and secondary sectors and also across both maintained schools and academies. However, the effect or differential promotion rates and greater numbers of women taking a break in service for caring responsibilities means that as a whole male teachers on average earn £1,400 more than their female compatriots. However, there are more women in the primary sector earning more than £100,000 than there are men. The same cannot be said for the secondary sector.

Retention deserves more attention

The issue of teacher retention has been steadily climbing up the agenda, so that for many observers it now ranks alongside worries about recruitment into the teaching profession as a major area of concern. Taken together, the two factors are set to leave a lasting legacy in our schools that will have an effect, not only classroom teaching, but also middle leadership, for many years to come. A shortage of teachers, and especially of middle leaders, also hampers actions towards improving the schools were staff need both stable and high quality teachers to ensure the best outcomes for their pupils.

So, how bad might middle leadership recruitment become over the next few years? In theory, since the required number of middle leaders is a fairly fixed quantity, each school needs roughly similar numbers regardless of size, it is only the creation of new schools that should increase demand for middle leaders. The other reason for increased demand is as a result of greater departure rates than normal. The demographic upturn currently working its way through the secondary sector is creating new schools across many parts of the country: so that is a concern as more posts are being created.

On the demand side, the growing loss of teachers with five to seven years of experience from employment in state schools, as revealed by the School Workforce Census data that will be updated for 2018 later this week, is a major worry, as these are the very teachers the system might expect to be taking on middle leadership positions at that stage of their careers.

Finally, of course, the relationship between the number of new entrants to the profession and the indicative Teacher Supply Model figure for supply requirements is an important predictor of trouble ahead, especially where the ITT census number is substantially below the indicative TSM figure, as it has been for some years now in certain subjects.

Subject ITT census 2018 TLR vacancies 2019 to end June % ITT census 50% remain after 5 years Revised % as HoDs
Business Studies 175 134 77% 87.5 153%
Music 295 186 63% 147.5 126%
Computing 530 237 45% 265 89%
Religious Education 375 160 43% 187.5 85%
Design & Technology 285 107 38% 142.5 75%
Drama 300 108 36% 150 72%
Art & Design 475 135 28% 237.5 57%

Source TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk

This table takes some subjects where the award of a TLR is likely to mean a substantial degree of middle leadership responsibilities, due to the size of the subject department. Mathematics, English and the Sciences are not included, as they often offer TLR posts below head of department level.  While science departments may struggle to recruit particular types of scientists to offer a broad curriculum, they should be less of an issue finding sufficient candidates to lead science as an overall subject.

Assuming that only 50% of those identified in the ITT census last November are still in teaching in five years, i.e. September 2024, and the TLRs on offer are similar to the situation so far in 2019, up to 21st June, then even in art and design, half of remaining teachers in the cohort entering teaching this year might expect to become middle leaders. For business studies and music, either there will need to be a drop in demand from schools, or teachers are likely to be promoted earlier in their careers to become middle leaders, sometimes before they are ready to do so.

This issue, and the concerns about ensuring middle leaders have the appropriate preparation for the role, deserves more attention than it has received. Indeed, this is one cogent reason why abolishing the National College was a strategic mistake, and detrimental to the progress of school improvement across all schools in England.