More or less: which way for the future?

The BBC has recently run an interesting piece about the relationship between class sizes and teachers’ salaries, based upon some OECD data. The article headed ‘when class sizes fall so does teachers’ pay’ is an interesting thesis. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47281532 However, how does it relate to the first law of economics that when there is a shortage of supply, and demand remains consistent, either the price will rise or substitution will take place?

The nightmare scenario for government is that facing the secondary sector in England at present. Pupil numbers are on a rising curve, at least until the middle of the next decade. This means more funding will be required, even if the unit of funding per pupil falls in real terms. At the same time, there is a labour shortage that is growing worse in some parts of the curriculum.

Hence, demand for more cash for schooling since, as the BBC pointed out, it is a fact of school life that staffing costs, and especially the cost of teachers, consumes the largest part of any school budget. However, schools are competing with other government services for cash and it seems likely that in England, however hard the teacher associations press their case, the cash needed for the extra pupils will come before any significant uplift in funding per pupil.

So, to that extent, larger classes is one way to fund better pay for teachers. However, most schools, and especially secondary schools, are constrained about how far class sizes can be increased, due to the physical nature of their buildings and the dependence on a classroom based building model.

In England, there may be the space to increase pupil-teacher ratios, perhaps back to where they were around the turn of the century, but that is likely to come from altering contact ratios – the amount of time teachers spend in the classroom – as much as from increasing class sizes. The trade-off of worsening contact ratios will almost certainly be a rethink about workload, since making the job of a teacher look even harder won’t help recruitment into the profession.

There is one helpful point for the government in England, but probably not for parents, and that is the fact that in England children have no right to be taught by anyone with knowledge and training in the subject they are teaching. Indeed, in extremis – nowhere defined except in very vague terms – children can be ‘taught’ by those with no background knowledge or training in what they are asked to teach. So long as there are enough people willing to be teachers, then pay can be kept under control. And, as everyone knows, there are plenty of arts and social science graduates for whom a teaching salary can still look attractive.

Today The Pearson Group published its annual results. Might their experience point to another way forward? The substitution of capital – in the form of IT and AI – for labour? So long as the learner is engaged, as there are in higher education, this may well be part of the way forward. But, for those that see schooling as a struggle between the generations, rather than the development of future wealth and happiness, the physical presence of a teacher overseeing learning has much to recommend it.

Who that teacher might be, and how well they will be paid, will, I am sure, still feature large in the future debates about the economic of education.

 

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More evidence that London is different

In a previous post about the DfE’s evidence to the Teachers’ Pay Review Body (STRB) in 2019 I mentioned that the DfE cited that the wastage rate for Inner London schools was 14% in 2017. This was the highest for any area in England.

After reflecting upon this statistic, I went back to the data in the School Workforce Census to see whether high wastage rates were confined to specific schools or a more general matter for concern? The basic data on the Census, as it appears on the DfE’s web site, doesn’t allow that question to be answered. The DfE provides information on vacancies and temporarily filled posts at the school level, but not wastage rates. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017

Percentage of schools in the region reporting a vacancy (%) Percentage of schools in the region reporting either a vacancy or a temporarily filled post (%)
REGION  
 
North East 3.2 9.1
North West 2.6 9.4
Yorkshire and the Humber 3.4 11.0
East Midlands 2.9 8.2
West Midlands 3.4 11.3
East of England 3.2 12.0
Inner London 5.3 22.5
Outer London 4.1 24.8
South East 3.8 12.2
South West 2.2 7.4
 
ENGLAND 3.3 11.9
School Workforce Census 2017    

Looking at the table abstracted above, from the 2017 School Workforce Census, it seems that around twice as many schools in Inner London reported a vacancy in November 2017 as did schools in the North West region. The gap was even wider between those London schools and schools in the South West.

Once the percentage of schools reporting a temporarily filled post in the November Census was added in, the gap between schools in London and the South West was even greater. Now, it just may be that there are more temporary posts in London than other regions because more teachers are on maternity leave in London than elsewhere in England. Since London does tend to attract many teachers at the start of their careers, this is indeed a possibility. However, the size of the gap does seem to call into question whether this is the only reason for such a large difference.

Taken together with the wastage figure, it does seem that schools, and especially a small number of secondary schools in London, were facing a problem with staffing at a time of year when schools would expect to be fully staffed.

Previous staffing crises have been based upon data that was collected in January, the census date before the School Workforce Census was introduced. However, if the current census covers the whole period from November to November that change of date would not be an issue. Should the data only relate to the situation at the time of the census, it would be or more concern, as the consequences of departures of any staff at the end of December would not be captured in the data.

What are the implications for the STRB if schools in London were finding the staffing situation challenging in 2017. The STRB will certainly want to know whether the early returns from the 2018 Census reflect any improvements or whether the situation has deteriorated further. If the DfE is unable to answer that question, then I am sure that the teacher associations and others providing evidence will be able to do so.

TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has consistently reported that London schools top the list of schools advertising the most vacancies.

With separate London pay scales, will the STRB look to increase them more than the national scale this year? Only time will tell.

At least one alarm bell is ringing

The demands associated with employing new staff for TeachVac means that I have been a little delayed in catching up with the DfE’s latest submission to the Pay Review Body (the STRB).  This document is more than just an instruction on how much teachers working in school probably should be paid according to the government. It also brings together lots of other useful data about the workforce in our schools.

This year, the document can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/evidence-to-the-strb-2019-pay-award-for-school-staff and probably the scariest figure in the document is buried on page 44, where there is a table on wastage rates for the teaching profession. According to the 2017 School Workforce Census wastage at that point was 14% among classroom teachers employed in Inner London schools. I make that one almost one in seven teachers in London quit. If that isn’t including turnover, but just those leaving the School Workforce Census it frightening, but even if it is all departures, including those taking a job in another London school, the figure is still pretty scare, especially since this is the average.

TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has consistently provided data for this blog showing London schools creating the highest percentage of vacancies per school. Indeed, so far in 2019, London schools are averaging around two vacancies per school according to TeachVac. It is worth noting that London is in an area where Teach First supplies a significant number of teachers, without their help the numbers would undoubtedly be even higher.

By contrast, in the rest of the county, wastage among classroom teachers is around the 10% mark. High, but manageable if supply is sufficient. The fact that in the secondary sector, (and the wastage figures aren’t separated into primary and secondary sector figures), recruitment into teacher preparation courses continues to fall short of need, as demonstrated in table 10 on page 48 of the document for EBacc subjects, is a cause for concern.

The figure for entrants into state schools in 2017, shown in the table on page 43, was just 23,300 teachers across both primary and secondary sector. This is 2,800 fewer teachers the peak of 26,100 reached in 2016. Again the DfE don’t break this number down in the STRB submission between those entering the primary and secondary sectors. I assume the STRB can ask for this data?

Much of the rest of the document puts the best possible gloss on a deteriorating situation. DfE officials have been required to undertake that task on many previous occasions and I am sure, having myself appeared before the STRB on several occasions that its members are well equipped to dig beneath the surface if the teacher associations don’t bring the missing data to their attention.

Finally, a little bit of history. In 2002, when wastage rates were collected in January not November, the total wastage rate calculated from the Database of Teacher Records was 9.9%, the second highest level since 1992. The highest wastage rate was 10.1% in 1998, but that may have been artificially inflated by departures ahead of a significant change to the pension scheme. Sadly, the DfE’s evidence to the STRB in 2019 doesn’t provide an overall national figure for the period November 2016 to November 2017, but I am sure that someone will provide the STRB with the figure.

 

 

Teachers rule: OK

Teachers are back in the news. The DfE’s publication of an Early Career Framework, created by a group of the wise, and supported by an advisory panel of experts https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/supporting-early-career-teachers has lots of good ideas and structures within it, but seems to miss two vital matters.

Teachers find their jobs in a free market and some may, therefore have to endure a break between training and employment. Additionally, as QTS isn’t linked to anything other than having undertaken an approved training course and passed it, will any post-entry framework too closely tied to progression put off teachers from being prepared to teach outside the specialism that formed the basis of their training?

Over the weekend, the Secretary of State also revealed that either he or his advisers, whether political or civil servants, have possibly been looking through their history books. I don’t know whether the current Secretary of State is an admirer of Mrs Thatcher’s tenure at the Education Department, but the concept of payments for teachers that remain in schools for three and then five years seems, at least on the face of it, a rehash of the’ Schools of exceptional difficulty’ scheme of the Heath government that paid a salary top-up to teachers after one year and then three years tenure in designated schools. There was lots of dispute about the designation of these schools at the time, and the NASUWT even fought a court case about the scheme.

I have yet to see the details of Mr Hind’s scheme, but in normal times the Treasury would be anxious about the dead hand effect of any scheme that paid money to the bulk of teachers that would remain in the profession. Presumably, Mr Hinds has reassured the Chancellor that no new money is involved, since schools can pay for the scheme out of their devolved budgets and the saving they make by not having to recruit as many teachers as they would have had to do if the scheme wasn’t in place.

Of course, if there aren’t enough teachers to fill all the teaching posts on offer, those schools with the cash and other advantages may still win out over schools that are more challenging places for teachers. After all, it was a recognition of that fact in the 1970s that limited the schools where staff received these additional payments.

The scrapping of ‘failing’ and ‘coasting’ schools, unless recognised as such by Ofsted, also shows how the tide is turning away from the payment by results regimes of the past quarter century since Ofsted replaced HMI.

How often schools are inspected will be a key issue, especially as in the past government inspection was backed by a functioning local network of advisers and inspectors at local authority level. In many places these school improvement and support teams no longer exist. The irony is that to recreate them would require even more teachers to leave the classroom in the short-term, thus risking an even worse staffing situation.

The alternative is fewer Ofsted inspections, especially of primary schools, and all sorts of associated risks.

 

Portents on pay

Will today’s announcement on teachers’ pay end the shortage of teachers in some of our schools? Not this year, as the announcement has come too late to affect recruitment on to teacher preparation courses, except possibly at the margins. The latest UCAS data should appear on Thursday and will provide a good guide to the supply side of the teacher labour market in 2019, at least as far as new entrants are concerned. A decent pay settlement may tempt back some leavers from the profession, but, again, probably not enough to make any real difference.

The big change in response to the pay settlement may come on the demand side of the labour market equation. Let’s assume that the Treasury won’t fully fund the pay settlement, leaving either the DfE to find more cash or schools to decide how to make use of the cash they have. This could mean a reduction in demand for teachers next year as a funds are directed towards paying the remaining staff more and those leaving are not replaced.

In passing, it is worth noting that leaving the outcome of the Review Bodies Reports until July is really unhelpful in terms of making meaningful budgets for both academies with their new financial year starting with the new school term and even local authorities where maintained schools still operate their budgets on the April to March financial year.

Since academies and free schools can set their own pay and conditions, it is entirely possible that some schools or MATs might choose to ignore the Pay Review Body Report and try to go it alone, by not paying the proposed increase. The Secretary of State has to approve the recommendation of the Pay Review Body – not doing so seems highly unlikely, especially if the pain can be passed to schools to deal with in human terms.

However, this will be the first big test of the Secretary of State. How far will he be able to stand up to the Treasury and gain any extra cash for schools? It is worth recalling that he was a member of the Education Select Committee that published the report: Great Teachers: attracting, training and retaining and best, so he is fully aware of the arguments about teacher supply. Indeed, I recall providing both written and oral evidence to the Committee during their deliberations on the subject.

Indeed, it is worth recalling this exchange I had with Mr Hinds during the oral questioning in November 2011 when teacher supply was less of a concern than it is now.

Howson … society as a whole has to decide where it wants to put teaching in terms of competition for graduates. (Q148 answer)

Q149 Damian Hind: Gosh – most people would say that teaching should be very near the top. McKinsey, BCG and Goldman Sachs can fight their own battles, but in society we want teaching to be very high up the list of priorities, don’t we?

Professor Howson: Then this Committee must recommend the Government takes actions to achieve that. As someone has already said, pay may well be one of those actions.

HC 1515-11 published 25th April 2012

Regular readers of this blog will know what has happened to both teachers’ pay and teacher supply since 2012.

 

More talk about money

There was an interesting slot on the BBC’s Today Programme just before 0800 this morning. The Presenter plus a head teacher of an Oxfordshire Secondary School and the education researcher from Policy Exchange, the right leaning think tank, exchanged words about the state of school funding. This sort of early morning interview ritual on that programme follows set lines, two interviewees with different perspectives on the same matter and an interviewer introducing the issue and setting a hare running. When verbal exchanges are either too intense or nothing happens, the interviewer will step in and act accordingly, otherwise the two interviewees trade words.

Not surprisingly, this morning, the head teacher was full of woe about the state of funding, especially in Oxfordshire and the researcher thought either everything should be rosy or if that wasn’t the case it was all the fault of schools for employing too many staff; paying them too much or not belonging to a multi-academy trust that could produce economies of scale for back office costs. I am sure this last point had many listeners chucking over their lessons plans or marking that excessive workloads force them to undertake, even at that early hour of a Saturday morning.

Frankly, the level of exchange was disappointing for those that probably know better, but live radio is, and especially on a show such as the Today Programme, where you need to make your point in headline terms if it is to have any impact, a challenging experience, as I know from the couple of times I have taken part in such discussions over the years. On this occasion the head teacher had the better of the exchanges in my view

As I reported in my last post, ‘Thin Gruel’, schools were never likely to do well out of the budget and the two protagonists skirted about the issue of what effect any rise in pay that was not properly funded would have on school budgets by next September and especially in 2019. The strongest point schools have in the funding debate: falling interest in teaching as a career and levels of exit from the profession that are not as low as they were a few years ago should have been centre stage. As it wasn’t the Policy Exchange researcher never really had to address the macroeconomic point about paying more to boost the supply of teachers and what might need to be cut to find the cash? The head was probably too polite to point out the £800 million going to support students in higher education might have been as well used in schools and early years. However, as I pointed out in the previous post, this cash was needed to deal with the political fight between Labour and the conservatives for the undergraduate vote.

What is needed now is some research looking forward at school budgets for the next three to four years and identifying how many schools will be in deficit budgets by then unless action is taken. The government should then be firmly asked for a list of where cuts should be made. The electorate will then decide and schools that followed the government’s advice will know where to send complaining parents.

 

Thin gruel

With not much cash to give away plus an increasing school population to fund over the next few years, schools and education were always going to have to whistle for much more than a few handouts from the Chancellor’s budget. Especially after more than three-quarters of a billion pounds had been guaranteed to win the battle with Labour for the undergraduate student vote.

So, as predicted here over the weekend, re-training for 8,000 IT teachers was one of the education headlines. How the money is to be spent will affect recruitment from September 2018, with the bulk of the cash being spent between September 2019 and the summer of 2020. £85 million, not the £100million mentioned over the weekend, has been included in the Treasury Red Book. The mathematics bonus won’t come into effect until autumn 2019 and is so arranged that it is of no help to the funds of 11-16 schools. I wonder whether it will be paid on registrations or numbers taking and passing examinations, in which case it won’t be paid until the summer of 2021. The devil will be in the detail, but don’t start spending the cash anytime soon.

The other proposals for maths schools look embryonic and a bit last minute. The CPD bonus for some teachers is interesting, but will only buy around 3-4 days of input, unless some special deals can be arranged. If cover has to be included as well, then it will not even buy that amount of professional development: perhaps it will be on-line in a teacher’s spare time. In that case, will the teacher associations veto involvement as it would be seen as adding to a teacher’s workload? Will teaching schools; MATs; providers or the private sector administer the Scheme?

Personally, I would have placed an emphasis on adding to the maths knowledge and skills of primary school teachers where I think this extra money could have achieved the most good. But, at this level of funding it looks like mere window dressing whatever use is made of it.

The real disappointment is the lack of any further increase in school funding. I am surprised the Chancellor didn’t mention the School Vacancy Service as a means of saving school’s money: missed a trick there. Perhaps he didn’t believe that the ‘fingers crossed’ reference by the Permanent Secretary at The Public Accounts Committee was a strong enough commitment to actually achieving something really workable in 2018. Not to worry, TeachVac’s free service to schools and teachers is already doing the job for the government and at no cost to the Exchequer.

The lack of progress on pay needs to be remedied by an early Pay Review Report, because when the budget was in the spring it was late in the recruitment season for announcements to affect decision-making by teachers. A November budget may well prompt teachers ahead of the 2018 recruitment round to consider their future career moves. My advice to head teachers is to dust off the rules about recruitment and retention allowances as they offer a way around the pay problems for schools that have the cash.