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.

 

More lows than highs

Schools are going to have to rely upon reducing wastage rates among serving teachers and encouraging returners back into teaching in order to survive the 2020 recruitment round, if the data released by UCAS today about offers for teacher training courses starting this September don’t show dramatic improvements over the next couple of weeks. The DfE is doing a valiant job fast tracking enquiries received by their ‘get into teaching’ site, but so far it isn’t enough to prevent another potential year of problems for schools.

Let’s start with the good news: history has more offers than ever before, and languages; religious education and design and technology have recorded more offers than in August last year. However, design and technology is still way below target numbers needed to meet the Teacher Supply Model number for this year.

Biology, English, geography and physical education are at similar levels to this time last year in terms of recorded ‘offers’ and should produce sufficient teachers to meet needs next year on a national scale, even if there are local shortages because of where training is located. Chemistry is also at a similar level to last year, but that may not be sufficient to meet demand for teachers of the subject.

Now for the bad news: some subjects are recording lower offer levels than at this point in 2018. Business Studies and art, although lower than last year are not at their lowest levels for August during the past six recruitment rounds. However, IT, mathematics, music and physics are recording offer levels that are lower than at any August during the recruitment rounds since 2013/14. Schools across England are likely to experience recruitment challenges in these subjects in 2020 that could be worse than this year unless supply is boosted in other ways.

This grim news, is backed by a depressing 500 fewer placed applicants in England and slightly fewer ‘conditionally placed’ applicants. The additional 30 applicants ‘holding an offer’ do not make up the difference. Overall, some 72% of applicants domiciled in England have been made an offer (73% at August 2018). The published monthly statistics don’t allow for easy comparison by subject for applicants as opposed to applications which, as I have pointed out in the past, is a disappointment.

Nevertheless, most of the reduction in offers is to male applicants, where ‘placed’ applicants are down from 9,250 in August 2018, to 8,800 this August; a reduction of around 450 or the majority of the reduction in offer numbers. It is career switchers that have disappeared, especially those between the age groups of 22-29. The youngest ‘new’ graduate numbers are very similar to last year, but there are more applicants in their 30s than last year.

The School Direct Salaried route continues to be the big loser in terms of offers, but not in terms of applications. Only 770 applications are shown as with offers of any sort compared to 990 last August for the secondary sector. In the primary sector the number is higher at 1,840, but last August the number was higher at 2,000.

There are still very many offers recorded as ‘conditional’ even at this late point in the cycle. Only in history, Mandarin, PE and Religious Education, among the larger subjects, are ‘placed’ numbers shown as higher this August than in August 2019.

Next month will mark the end of the monthly date for this recruitment round. I wish I could say that I was optimistic, but despite the potential turmoil faced by the country over the political situation, I cannot be anything other than concerned for the teacher labour market in 2020 based upon these data.

 

UCAS Access allowed

Usually at this time of the month I would be commenting on the UCAS data about applications to graduate ITT courses. Curiously, this month access to the monthly data has been hidden behind a password access page on the day the data was released. Even more curiously, the daily updates that contain most of the same data, but in a slightly different format, are still available for all to see: very odd. I have emailed UCAS to ask for an explanation and the data is now available for all to see. I will post the new information after the end of the original post

So, what can be gleaned from the data that is in the public domain? Firstly it is for the state of play on the 25th July, whereas the monthly data only covered data up to 16th July 2018. As a result the 2019 data ought to show higher numbers due to the longer timescale covered.

Allowing for the time difference, and the difference in the data presentation by UCAS, it seems as if the recent TV campaign plus the publicity about the government’s recruitment and retention strategy might have made some difference to the numbers accepting offers of places on ITT courses, but any increase is not of any significant magnitude in many subjects that were on already on track to create an eight year of missed targets: mostly probably will still miss their target unless there is a late surge in applicants. It is probably too early for any change to the Skills Tests to have had any effect on these numbers.

With a new Secretary of State, a pay offer for teachers and a Prime Minister promising more money for schools, not to mention the risks of a recession as a result of the outcome of Brexit, is teaching going to see this rush of late applications? Frankly it is anyone’s guess, but my feeling is that 2020 is still going to be a challenge for schools recruiting classroom teacher, unless there is a drop in numbers leaving the profession and an increase in those seeking to return due to worsening economic conditions.

Those preparing teachers in September might still find themselves with many empty places on their courses across a range of subjects.

Reviewing the monthly data that represented the position at the 15th July, there seems to be good news for Design & Technology, where good news is baldy needed,  and in biology, history and religious education. The first two are not shortage subjects, although the biologists will plug the gaps left by fewer chemists and physicists if those numbers don’t improve. Business Studies, English, geography and Languages are at broadly similar levels to this point last year. Along with the two sciences already mentioned, IT, mathematics, music, art and PE are all below the level for offers at this comparison point last year and, apart from PE are heading for missed targets again.

Applicant numbers are marginally down on last July last year, on the most favourable measure, by around 600 to some 36,210. However, that’s some 2,000 below the number two years ago.  Younger career changes seem to be the group moving away from considering teaching as a career. There is a slight increase in applications from those 21 or under; new graduates. The other increase, of around 250, is in the age-group above the age of 40. The risk, as the performance profiles issued earlier this week demonstrated, is that this group has a lower success rate at reaching QTS than trainees from the youngest age group.

The trend towards fewer women applying is also evident in the figures for this month when compared with both last year and the year before. After a large decline between two years age and last year, the decline in male applicants is relatively modest this year, some 250 down from last year, to 12,430 of whom 8,200 have either been placed or are holding an offer.

Although there are more applications to providers in London than for any other region, the number has slipped below 20,000, about 750 applications below this point last year. The good news is that there are 800 ‘placed’ trainees in London compared with 750 in July last year. The less good news is that the number ‘conditionally placed’ is down on last year and the number ‘holding an offer’ is similar to last year.

Applications for primary courses continue to decline, down to 41,790 this July compared with 44,310 in July last year. Applications overall for secondary courses are up, from 58,830 to 59,440. However, these may not be in the subjects where they are most needed. Higher Education has seen the brunt in reductions of applicants, down from 52,350 to 47,700. Salaried School Direct courses and apprenticeships still seem out of favour with secondary schools, with only 710 placed or holding offers for such routes in the secondary sector this year, compared to 900 last year.

Overall, my comment at the end of the blog yesterday that Those preparing teachers in September might still find themselves with many empty places on their courses across a range of subjects still seems to hold good after reviewing the monthly published data from UCAS.

More signs of recruitment concerns

You can tell how serious the teacher recruitment crisis is becoming for the government when you see TV adverts in July encouraging people to sign-up to become a teacher. Now comes news from SchoolsWeek, in an exclusive report on their website, stating that the ‘Skills Tests’ are to be ditched as well. https://schoolsweek.co.uk/qts-skills-tests-set-to-be-scrapped/ apparently, some one in eight of those taking the tests can fail meaning they are lost to the teaching profession even if they have the necessary GCSE grades.

Clearly, it is important to ensure a high standard of both literacy and numeracy in our teaching force, especially in those teaching the fundamentals of these curriculum areas. However, I am sure that the change, if announced by the DfE, will come as a great relief to career changers and those on programmes such as TeachNow that might be a bit rusty in the finer details required in the tests.

Indeed, I doubt whether I would pass either of the tests without a significant degree of additional effort. I can see why some might not want to make that effort, especially when QTS is handed on a plate to teachers qualifying in the USA and some Commonwealth countries.

In the same edition of SchoolsWeek there is another story that Teach First has offered places to 82% of their applicants that made it through the assessment stage, meaning there are likely to be 1,735 Teach First trainees this year, compared with 1,259 last year. This is good news for schools, but may be less good news for trainees on other routes if the increased numbers are in subjects where competition is still relatively strong for jobs and Teach First trainees, by already being in schools, have a head start. It would be interesting to see a breakdown by subject for the increased numbers over last year.

TeachVac, the free national vacancy site, where I am chairman, has data that shows this year to be one where many schools are facing real issues in recruitment in a wide range of subjects. For schools with unexpected vacancies in the autumn there may well be real issues recruiting across the board.

The government’s plans for more sport may also help to soak up the reservoir of physical education teachers created by training far too many for the needs of schools. Indeed, so valuable are some of these teachers to fill in across a range of subjects that this year there are fewer still available than in previous years. Indeed, it is humanities teachers that are probably struggling the most to find a job, and probably history teachers most of all across much of the country.

There are still just under two months to go before most teacher preparation courses commence in the early autumn, so the next few weeks are critical to the government in terms of recruitment and the 2020 labour market. An announcement of a significant pay increase for new entrants might help boost recruitment more than dropping the Skills Tests, but we must await the STRB report to see whether that will be the case.

An Auger effect already?

The publication of the data on ITT applications for June 2019 coincided today with the DfE’s date for publishing its annual raft of statistics on teachers and schools. The DfE data is, of course, backward facing, whereas the UCAS data tells us what to expect in the teacher labour market in 2020.

With only three months left in the current recruitment round, it is usually easy to predict the actual outcome of the recruitment round. However, with the current levels of uncertainty over issues such as the funding of schools after the new Prime Minister is elected by Conservative Party members, and assuming there isn’t a general election in the autumn, as well as what happens to tuition fees in the short-term, the past may not be a guide to the future. Nevertheless, this blog will try and made some inferences from the data as it currently stands.

Overall applications are down on last year. The current total of 32,720 applicants is some 490 below the figure for June 2018. Perhaps of most concern is the decline in ‘placed’ applicants in London and the South East, where the figure is down from 900 last year to 710 this year. There has also been a decline in ‘conditionally placed’ numbers in these two regions, although numbers ‘holding offers’ are similar to last year at this point.

There has been a reversal in the recent trend in age profile of applicants, with fewer applicants than last year in all age groups, except for new graduates 21 or under, where the number is up from 4,630 last year to 4,670 this year. ‘Placed’ applicants over the age of 25 are down this year by 130 to some 1,440. In the past, this age group has help keep applicant numbers up as younger applicants have fallen away.

The number of applications are down from both men and women, mostly as a result of fewer applicants being ‘placed’. As degree results are confirmed over the next month or so, the number of ‘placed’ applicants should increase rapidly over the next two months. This is a number that will need watching very carefully.

The data on application status by provider region (Table B6 of the UCAS monthly data) confirms that there needs to be a focus on what is happening in London. Placed numbers are down by 100, and ‘conditionally placed’ by 160, with only those ‘holding offers’ up by 50, for a net change across the three categories of around 200. Application numbers to providers in London are down by around 600. With London schools seeing growth in pupil numbers, and so far in 2019 having advertised 10 vacancies per secondary school (www.teachvac.co.uk data) these numbers must be of concern.

So far it is primary courses that have borne the brunt of reduced applications, down from 41,180 in 2018, to 38,880 in 2019, whereas applications for secondary courses are up from 52,530 to 53,250. But, before anyone hangs out the bunting and declares a ‘dance and skylark’, it is worth delving deeper into the statistics for individual subjects. History, English and biology al doing extremely well, and could recruit their largest numbers of trainees in recent years.

On the other hand, art, chemistry, IT, mathematics, music and physics are recording new lows for June in terms of those ‘placed’ and either ‘conditionally placed’ or ‘holding an offer’. Based on the evidence of previous years, none of these subjects will hit the required Teacher Supply Model number in 2019.  That’s bad news for the 2020 recruitment market for teachers.

Has the Auger Report with its suggestion for lower fees already had an effect on recruitment onto UCAS courses for this September? If so, the government must react sooner rather than later to stem any further losses ad protect teacher supply.

 

 

 

 

Chickens coming home to roost

Actually, the fact that there aren’t the chickens to come home to roost is the real story. Looking back at the numbers of those registered on the DfE’s ITT Census of graduate training courses to become teachers collected last autumn goes a long way to explain the present challenges in the recruitment market for September 2020 currently faced by schools. The annual recruitment season reaches its peak over the next few weeks.

Schools can recruit classroom teachers from one of four sources; newly minted teachers from one of several routes; teachers switching posts; returners from outside the school sector or returning to employment and in extremis, unqualified staff that can be trained on the job. Some routes, such as Teach First and the School Direct Salaried route put teachers in the classroom and probably don’t provide candidates to help fill advertised vacancies to the same degree as higher education and SCITT courses. Nevertheless, the numbers on these courses were included in the ITT Census. However TeachVac excludes those not likely to be seeking a post in the recruitment market when calculating the size of the likely remaining pool of trainees.

There are also regional differences, but trying to add those in makes the picture even more complicated.

As the table below complied by TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk reveals, at the end of April 2019, subjects that failed to recruit sufficient trainees to meet the DfE’s suggested number needed that was derived from the Teacher Supply Model are facing recruitment challenges.

2018/19
Percentage of Target at census date % left end April
Business Studies 75 -134
Design & Technology 25 -89
Music 72 20
Mathematics 71 30
Computing 73 34
Religious Education 58 41
Science 93 45
English 110 48
Art & Design 73 48
Modern Languages 88 59
Geography 85 69
History 101 70
Physical Education 116 74

Business Studies only had 25% empty places, but demand has far exceeded the supply and the shortfall must come from the routes other than new entrants. So great has been the demand in both business studies and design and technology that TeachVac has logged more vacancies than trainees. Design and technology hasn’t been helped by the fact that only 25% of training places were filled last September. Within the subject it may be that schools seeking food technology teachers are  experiencing even greater problems with recruitment than the subject as a whole. Mathematics an English have been affected by the growth in the growth in the secondary school population that has pushed up demand for teachers in these subjects.

Demand in some of the government’s favoured Ebacc subjects such as languages, history and geography has been weaker than in some other subjects and, like PE, these are subjects where all training places were filled.

Finally, the situation I the sciences is complicated. There is a shortage of teachers of physics, but more biologists in training than the government thinks were needed. As a result, schools may find a teacher of science, but not with an idea set of qualifications.