Talk to APPG for the Teaching Profession


MARCH 2017 Meeting

Teacher Supply, the current position, an update by Professor John Howson, Chairman TeachVac

There are three issues that I want to touch on in these brief remarks:

Vacancy rates for September 2017

The supply of new entrants for 2017

Applications for teacher preparation courses starting in September 2017 and consequences for 2018 labour market.

In passing, I will say something about the labour market for head teachers in the primary sector so far in 2017.

Vacancy rates for September 2017

Over the first two months advertised vacancies for secondary school classroom teachers have exceeded the numbers identified during the same period as in 2016 and are closer to the levels seen in 2015.

The largest demand has once again been in London and the counties and unitary authorities surrounding the capital. Demand has been lowest in the north of England and parts of the Midlands.

With so much discussion about funding pressures, the reasons for the increased demand in some regions might include, the upturn in pupil numbers creating a demand for more teachers; increased losses to the profession from wastage of teachers early in their careers; a buoyant independent sector following the drop in the value of Sterling and a re-balancing of the curriculum in favour of EBacc subjects, notably Geography.

The supply of new entrants for 2017

This is largely dependent on the intake last September to teacher preparation courses. With some teachers on these courses likely to fill vacancies in the schools where they are currently working (Teach First and School Direct Salaried trainees) the overall number in training is not the ‘free pool’ of trainees available to the remaining schools seeking to make an appointment. This divergence between the overall trainee numbers and the ‘free pool’ can be significant and is one of the risks associated with a move to an overwhelmingly school-based teacher preparation regime.

At this stage of the 2017 recruitment round that covers September 2017 and January 2018 vacancies, TeachVac has already issued a red alert for business studies. A read alert means that on the current number of recorded vacancies we do not expect there to be enough trainees to fill all vacancies during the recruitment round. In business studies, a non-bursary subject largely ignored by the DfE, we expect the trainee pool to be exhausted before the summer.

The other subject where TeachVac data reveals the potential risk of a shortage is English. We expect to issue a red alert sometime in late April or early May, but it could be sooner if present trends persist. Apart from in art, PE and Music the other core subjects of the secondary curriculum are flagged as ‘amber’ by TeachVac, based upon the current vacancy levels. This means later in the recruitment round some schools in certain locations may experience recruitment challenges and may have to rely more upon returners or teachers moving schools. For schools and MATs that use TeachVac, we update the data on a daily basis so they receive the most up to date assessment when posting a vacancy.

Posting vacancies to TeachVac is free for schools.

The remainder of the talk is available on request from Teachvac 

First red alert from TeachVac in 2017

There is a certain irony that on budget day TeachVac has issued its first red warning of teacher shortages in 2017 . After matching the demand for teachers as measured by vacancies recorded against the supply of trainees not already working in a classroom, Business Studies as a subject, today reached the 20% level of remaining trainees available for employment. At this point, TeachVac suggests that there will not be enough trainees to fill their share of vacancies during the remainder of the recruitment round until December 2017, for January 2018 appointments and codes the subject red. At the level of a red alert, a school anywhere in England may experience recruitment difficulties in this subject from now onwards. Such has been the number of vacancies recorded since January that it is entirely possible that the stock of trainees in Business Studies will be exhausted before the end of April this year.

The next subject on the radar is English. Although currently at an amber warning, meaning schools in some areas may face a degree of challenge in making an appointment, we are watching the number of vacancies posted every day with great attention in order to see how quickly the trainee pool is being reduced. Schools that use TeachVac’s free service are told the latest position when they input a vacancy and they can also find out the state of the local job market should Ofsted come calling and ask for this information. Teachvac’s monthly newsletters also provide useful updates on the overall situation

Teachvac staff will also be delighted to talk with Sir Michael Barber about his new role improving public sector efficiency for the government that was announced in the budget, especially since TeachVac offers schools a free service in a manner that can save both the government and schools considerable amounts of money and provide much needed rea-time data about the working of the labour market for teachers.

The other budget announcements regarding education were fairly predictable, subject to anything in the small print not revealed in the Chancellor’s speech. I would have liked to see the situation regarding the levying of the apprenticeship levy on schools tidied up, so all pay the same if they have to pay anything. The wording on free transport to grammar schools for pupils on free school meals is frankly perplexing. I am sure the situation will be clarified over the coming days. The capital for refurbishing schools, spread a sit is over several years, isn’t going to go very far once urgent problems have been attended to.

The big loser in education are the self-employed tutors that will now pay more in National Insurance and face big penalties if they don’t declare their income for tax. The same may apply to supply teachers, depending upon how they arrange their affairs.


Working harder, working smarter and generally longer

The DfE has just published its latest workload survey for teachers in primary and secondary schools. Not sure what happened to the special school sector. The survey was undertaken during the spring term of 2016 in order to make it as comparable as possible to the 2013 TALIS Survey produced by the OECD.

In the 1990s and 2000s, there were a series of dairy studies of workload conducted by the STRB. This report suggests that diary studies had relatively poor response rates because they were time consuming to complete. However, only 3,186 school teachers and leaders completed this easier 2016 survey: a response rate of 34%. In the 2000 diary survey, the response rate was 78% for schools and at 3,394 some 87% of teachers. Although the later series of dairy surveys may have produced lower responses, those in the 1990s seem more robust. Of course, both dairy surveys and other surveys not actually conducted as an activity is taking place, do rely to an extent on perception of time spent on an activity.

The 2016 survey report concluded:

.. some increase in workload has been seen between 2013 and 2016. As per prior workload studies, primary classroom teachers and middle leaders self-reported higher total working hours in the reference week (a mean of 55.5 hours) than teachers in secondary schools (53.5 hours). Primary teachers were also more likely to report total working hours in the reference period of more than 60 hours. As a result, teachers in the primary phase faced more workload pressures.

It is interesting to compare the latest data with those of the 1990 diary studies

PRIMARY 1994 1996 2000 2016
HEAD 55.4 55.7 58.9
DEPUTY 52.4 54.5 56.2
CLASSROOM 48.8 50.8 52.8 55.2
HEAD 61.1 61.7 60.8
DEPUTY 56.9 56.5 58.6
HEAD DEPT 50.7 53 52.9 55.6
CLASSROOM 48.9 50.3 51.3 52.6
CLASSROOM 47.5 50 51.2

Compared with the 1990s, teaching does seem to be a more onerous occupation, with longer hours spent on work during the reference period. That raises the question as to whether this extra workload is spread across the year of just contained in the spring term. I am sure secondary teachers would insist that greater demands are placed upon them throughout the year now they are fully responsible for the learning of every child and not just every class. They also face demands to be present when exam result at A level and GCSE are released during the summer holidays: probably not a task undertaken by as many teachers twenty years ago.

Primary teachers may have initially benefited from the introduction of PPA time and the designation of certain tasks as ‘not for teachers’ during the discussions over workload in the mid-200s, but whether because of greater assessment pressures, or just larger classes, their working hours seem to have increased by the time of the 2016 survey.

Interestingly, when comparing the 2000 and 2016 studies, primary classroom teachers now spend more time teaching than in 2000. This is despite the introduction of PPA time and accounts for most of the difference in working hours as non-teaching activities have only increased from 32.3 hours to 33.2 hours during the reference weeks; probably within the margin of error.

For secondary teachers the greater increase is in non-teaching hours. This is not surprising, as the pupil-teacher ratio overall in the secondary sector is still generally more favourable than in the late 1990s. The planning, preparation and assessment are probably the areas where more is now demanded of secondary teachers and these tasks cannot be achieved in teaching time.

On the face of these results, teachers are working harder than twenty years ago. If this is generally the case throughout the year, and these doesn’t seem to be anything to make the reference weeks look atypical, then the government will have to consider whether the curious form of employer-drive flexi-time teachers work is now making the job unattractive with regard to both recruiting and, even more importantly, retaining teachers at the classroom level. This is especially true in a period when overall remuneration levels in teaching are probably no longer keeping pace with comparable private sector graduate jobs in all except the least well paid sectors.

Finally, the study should give pay to the canard about long holidays. Indeed, it would be interesting to do a diary study for a so-called holiday period to see on how many days a committed teaching professional actually managed to ignore the demands of the job.

With pressure on funding at the national level, and increasing pupil numbers, this report on workload is not good news for the government. It is also one what they cannot ignore.



TeachVac can offer a solution for free

The House of Commons Select Committee has now produced their report into teacher recruitment and retention.

After reports by both the National Audit Office and the Migration Advisory Committee in the past twelve months, the Education Select Committee has wisely opted for a tightly focused report. After all, the evidence is well known to everyone interested in the subject.

However, it is interesting that the Committee has opted for the use of the word ‘challenge’ rather than the more emotive term, ‘crisis’. In their choice of language, the Committee might have offered an analysis of when a challenge might become a crisis? Why does missing the supply target five years in a row not constitute a crisis? Is the problem across the county nowhere a regional crisis: not even in Suffolk and parts of Essex? After all, the Committee took evidence for the head of a Southend Grammar School.

Nevertheless, one must not be too critical, the Committee has put the issue back on the agenda and tasked the government to come up with a plan to tackle the shortages. I am sure that the government will rightly point to their proposals to increase skill levels of those teaching the subjects. I think that is an excellent proposal, but it doesn’t do anything to address the suppressed shortages where subjects have been taken off the timetable or had reduce the amount of teaching time because of a lack of qualified teachers. I was also glad to see a reference to primary specialist teachers: a sector where little is really known about the skills base.

As you might expect, I am happy to discuss with officials both the working of the Teacher Supply Model and the operation of a free national vacancy service. I would hand over TeachVac to the government tomorrow if they agreed to pay its operating costs.

Over the past two years, TeachVac has shown how we can both provide high quality data not currently available to government and cut recruitment costs to schools across the whole of England. The evidence is in the TeachVac submissions to the Select Committee for anyone to judge. (links 46 and 47) Perhaps the DfE could broker TeachVac as a part of the College of Teaching offering to the profession?

The section on continuing professional development is also to be welcomed. With a relatively young profession there is a need for much more investment than has been the case in recent years. However, the Committee didn’t really discuss the issue between CPD for the needs of the profession and CPD for the needs of an individual’s career. The development of teachers for pupils with special needs can highlight both aspects of this issue. Why would a school invest in developing the skills of a teacher that will then move elsewhere and how does the profession suffer if they don’t?

The government will now, hopefully, provide a formal response to the Committee and Ministers will certainly be asked about their views when they next meet the Committee. Will the DfE produce a long-term plan by the summer? We must wait and see.


The place of people and technology in learning

Last August I wrote a post called ‘Back to the future’ where I discussed a story then doing the rounds about a possible apprenticeship route into teaching. (blog post 22nd August 2016) In the post I discussed Physics as a subject where recruitment challenges might require a new look at how we recruit and train teachers. If you need a higher point score to study for a physics degree than say for a degree in another subject that then allows for entry into a teacher preparation programme, are we artificially curtailing the possible supply of new physics teachers?

This week the think tank Reform has published a study about the future shape of employment in the public sector up to say 2030. Following on from the publication, the Head of Education at Reform tweeted on a twitter account I used last year during the Police & Crime Commissioner elections asking what the institute of Physics (IoP) response was to the apprenticeship route. Teachvac (the free recruitment site) was copied in on the tweet, so it eventually reached me.

The answer, Louis, is that I don’t know what the IoP thought, as they didn’t comment to me. As Louis then noted in a later tweet, there is a site for apprenticeships in schools, but such apprenticeships currently only cover support roles. The article in a recent Schools Week about the a speech by the Secretary of State suggests that any move to create non-graduate teachers won’t find much support. That doesn’t make the apprenticeship idea a non-starter, but calls for an innovative approach. The issue is partly about the minimum level of knowledge, both academic and practical, you need before you can work in a secondary school classroom and how this has changed over the past fifty years.

As the Reform report mentioned teaching and Teach First, there is more of a debate to be had about teaching. I expect Reform will come back to this issue. In one sense the debate is, as elsewhere in the public sector, and as Reform acknowledge, around the issue of teachers and technology. Reform’s thesis seems to be some work will be replaced by technology and jobs will change their skill levels so the number of workers can be reduced. Seen through the other end of the telescope, the views is of fewer, but more skilled workers each being more productive.  My example is the horde of market porters that have been replaced these days by the software engineers writing the code used in the automated warehouse: far fewer, but far more skilled and locatable anywhere in the world, as a recent BBC story about India showed.

With a largely highly skilled workforce in teaching, the issue at one level is, can the government afford to pay for such numbers of teachers as the 3-18 engagement with education demands? As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Liberal government’s requirement for universal state schooling available to all parents that didn’t provide any other form of education for their children there is a real need to debate both the shape and staffing of the schools during the next 50 years.

This was a point I made in my recent talk to the Merchant Taylor’s Company Education seminar (see blog post January 2017) Think tanks can provide a place to discuss new ideas and stimulate debate as can blogs. Is this a debate worth starting about the relative place of people and technology in the learning landscape?



Marketing teaching vacancies

Many years ago I used to write a column called ‘job facts’ for the TES. Later, wrote the ‘Hot Data’ column that covered far more than jobs, but that is another story.

In another sphere, the ‘job facts’ column had an influence on the short-lived experiment of TeachersTV, started and ended by the Labour government of the early years of this century. Every Friday on TeachersTV there was a programme about the jobs on offer that week to teachers. These were mostly culled from the pages of the TES, but on some weeks the vacancies were taken from the eteach job board. The programme was mostly recorded on a Wednesday and comprised three segments. A pre-record of what it was like to live and teach in a particular town or area; a discussion of trends in the job market and the highlighting of particular vacancies that had caught the eye that week.

Why is all this relevant now? Well, as the leadership vacancy season builds towards its peak and the classroom teacher job market comes alive with early vacancies, before reaching a peak in the spring, it is interesting to ask the question; are the cuts to school funding everyone is talking about showing up in the job market for teachers? For a few more weeks, the government will have to rely upon the 2015 School Workforce Census data on vacancies when asked the question about trends in the labour market: however, 2015 may not be a very reliable guide to 2017. Even the 2016 data, when it appears, will be of interest in terms of the trends it reveals in context to previous years, but not what is actually happening in the current recruitment round in 2017.

Does it matter? Well it is always useful to have reliable evidence to back assertions with. Are there fewer teaching posts available for this September than there were last year? At TeachVac we are, of course, monitoring the trends on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and can now compare what is happening with past years. By the end of this month TeachVac will have some interesting data for 2017.

Unlike the basic free service, designed to save schools money our data analysis, except at the overall level revealed in this blog, Teachvac’s data is not free. There is a limit to any generosity. But, for anyone interested in say, the make-up of design and technology vacancies: do we need more food than electronics teachers, or of language teachers: is Spanish still the language most in demand and how many posts teaching Mandarin are there on offer, TeachVac can provide the answer.

TeachVac regularly works with researchers as we can link our vacancy data to information about location, background, outcomes and other characteristics of schools. If at the heart of good decision-making is good data, then I am working with the team to strive to make TeachVac the best source of real-time data on the labour market for teachers and other staff in schools across England. That’s a long way from ‘job facts’, but thanks to improvements in technology one that has become a realistic possibility.


Counting Jobs

The recent report from the Migration Advisory Committee was full of lots of useful data. One area of especial interest to me was the analysis the Committee undertook into how the labour market for teachers was functioning. As the Committee has a remit that covers the whole of the United Kingdom and also has to pay especial attention to Scotland, as a result of devolution, it was not a surprise that they commissioned a company that looks at the labour market across all four home nations.

As a result, they used a Boston based company called Burning Glass that studies labour markets across the world. One approach that Burning Glass use is to study the output of job boards as a means of counting vacancies. The results of this for the teacher job market in the United Kingdom can be seen in Figure 4.4 of the Migration Advisory Committee’s report (pages 66 & 67). As the figure notes in the heading, these are figures for teacher job postings.

Now job postings may not be the same as real jobs. There is certainly a possibility that at least some job postings are  actually more of a recruitment tool to attract teachers to sign up to a recruitment agency than the listing of an real vacancy in an actual school, especially when no school is mentioned in the listing. This might be one reason for the apparent uncovering by Burning Glass of what looks like some 4-6,000 job listings in the secondary sector during the August months in both 2015 and 2016, with possibly even higher numbers in the primary sector. I seriously doubt, even across the four nations, whether there were that level of real jobs available in either August 2015 or August 2016.

TeachVac the recruitment matching service I helped found only counts vacancies that can be attached to an actual school. Our numbers for both July and August 2015 and 2016, albeit only for England, but covering both state-funded and private schools, are very much lower than the Burning Glass totals.

As I have said before on this blog, creating a unique job number for every vacancy that was then attached to the vacancy wherever it appeared until the job was filled and allowed identification of whether the vacancy was removed before being filled or filled by a new entrant, a returner, a teacher changing school (part of the churn), a supply teacher or an unqualified person would provide much needed on-going data to improve the discussion about teacher supply. In this day and age it wouldn’t take very long for any school to keep the records up to date. Indeed, TeachVac could already produce lists of vacancies by school that are able to be annotated with the background of the person that filled the vacancy very quickly and easily.

In the Migration Advisory Committee report it is interesting to note that appendix B provides a detailed conversion factor to change the Burning Glass job listing outcomes into to Office of National Statistics equivalent vacancy rates through a two stage process. At TeachVac we measure the flow of real vacancies posted by schools and our only conversion factor is for re-advertisement rates.

Finally, looking through the Migration Advisory Committee report, I note that in Annex D the number of returners in each subject has been estimated. The total for the three subjects used in Annex D comes to 4,800 returners whereas the total for the whole profession, primary, secondary and special is only shown as 14,000 in the preceding Annex C. So, either these three subjects take up nearly a third of the returner totals or one of the sets of numbers may be less than 100% accurate.

At TeachVac we will continue to develop reporting that aims to provide the highest quality data to help understand the workings of the labour market for teachers in England. With sufficient resources we could, like Burning Glass do the same for the whole of the United Kingdom.