Growing pains, but not for TeachVac

Should the latest American owners of the TES be worried by the DfE’s vacancy site? Probably not in the short-term, but looking on a longer perspective there must be some anxiety. TeachVac, the other free service offering teacher vacancies to trainees, teachers and returners, where I am the chair of the board, monitors how the DfE site is doing compared with TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk on a weekly basis.

Below are our figures for 2019, up to this morning, with one day to go before the end of the first quarter of 2019

04/01/2019 11.26
11/01/2019 13.22
18/01/2019 17.57
25/01/2019 17.69
01/02/2019 21.44
08/02/2019 22.72
15/02/2019 24.46
22/02/2019 11.71
01/03/2019 31.25
08/03/2019 25.11
15/03/2019 25.20
22/03/2019 25.10
29/03/2019 28.20

Source: Oxford Teacher Services Ltd

Apart from the February half-term period, this week is the first time that the DfE site has broken through the 25% barrier in relation to TeachVac. Of course, the two sites aren’t directly comparable, since the DfE site carries non-teaching vacancies, but not vacancies from independent schools, and TeachVac carries the latter, but not the former.

Still, the DfE clearly won’t have a full analysis of the 2019 recruitment round as they will be missing so many vacancies in the first quarter of the year. The interesting time will come in the summer, when schools paying a subscription to advertise their vacancies on paid-for platforms will need to decide whether or not to renew their subscriptions or switch back to using them only when the free site such as TeachVac or the DfE fail to provide enough applicants to make an appointment.

This assumes that the DfE site is still in operation by the summer. With the start of the new government financial year next week, it must be expected that funding has been agreed to operate the DfE’s site for the whole of the financial year. From a point of view of schools, it is to be hoped it doesn’t follow the private sector approach of taking booking, or in this case vacancy adverts, right up to the point where the plug is pulled.

I think that schools have a right to expect a statement from the government that either the DfE site will continue for another year or that if it doesn’t it will be replaced by links to other sites providing details of vacancies, such as TeachVac. The latter would, of course, be a much cheaper option for the DfE, but I assume having spent money on the software for their site they will want to see a return on their expenditure.

TeachVac is breaking new records this year, both on the number of vacancies listed, and on the rate of applicants signing up to receive job matches. This on minimal marketing and in the teeth of indifference from all the teacher associations. Teachers, however, know a good thing when they see it and the fact that a job posted this morning can be matched to a teacher that has requested it by late afternoon shows what can be achieved.

 

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Bumping along the bottom mark 2

Today’s data from UCAS revealing the latest data about applications for postgraduate ITT courses shows a picture very similar to that of March last year. Applications for courses in England were 22,100 by the 18th March this year, compared with 22,430 on the 19th March 2018. Really little changed. By the end of the recruitment round last year not enough applicants were recruited in a range of subjects and, unless the Brexit fiasco causes an upset of significant proportions, the same result seems likely again this year.

Casting around for items of good news, it seems as if applications from those 21 or younger is the same as last year at this point in time, and applications from those above the age of 30 are higher than last year, by around 500 applicants. But, applications from the other age groups are down on last year. Chemistry, Biology and Religious Education are doing well for applications this year, but many other subjects are only around the same level as in March last year and in a few cases hitting new lows.

The decline in applications is greater for men than for women, with men now only accounting for 29% of applicants to ITT postgraduate courses. Overall numbers placed are still down on this point in 2018, at 570, compared with 750 in 2018, and although conditionally placed numbers are up, those holding offers are at a similar level to last year.

There must be serious concerns about Business Studies, with just 360 applications, of which just 70 have been placed; all conditionally. Similarly, in design and technology, there are only 730 applications across all aspects of the subject, with just 150 of these having been placed; again all conditionally. both these subjects are already in short supply in the teacher labour market.

Never fear, 1,140 physical education applications have resulted in places being accepted along with 670 in history and 560 in geography. 690 of the 3,180 applications for Biology have resulted in applicants being placed. However, for Physics, the number is just 190 out of 960.

Can the School Direct Salaried route survive? So far only 220 applications have resulted in either a place or an applicant holding one or more offers out of 2,070 applications in the secondary sector. Things are a bit better in the primary sector, with 1,190 placed or holding offers, out of 6,140 applications. However, neither sector seems to be attracting many applications for postgraduate teaching apprenticeships. So far, there have only been 330 applications for these course across both sectors.

The loss of interest among applicants is still mainly in the primary sector, but the figures for applications to courses to train in the secondary sector are affected by the few subjects where there has been growth in the number of applications.

As noted earlier, most shortage subjects are still bumping along the bottom, and with pupil numbers increasing again in 2020 when these applicants will enter the labour market for teachers that is not good news.

 

 

We cannot ignore those left behind

This post was prompted by two event. Firstly, someone reading my post of the 15th June 2017 on this blog, entitled Class rules: not OK, about a report issued by the Social Mobility Commission, and secondly, by some recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported in the Oxford Mail. That data revealed that in the area of North Oxford I represent on the county council women can expect to live up to eleven years longer than women living in some parts of the east of the City.

Both of these facts reminded me of the issue of deprivation, and the role that education can, could and should play in helping improve the life chances of everyone in society. Over the years, since fresh thinking began to appear after the paralysis of the Second World War, and its aftermath, there have been various schemes aimed at reducing the effects of deprivation on schooling. These have included, Education Priority Areas, Schools of Exceptional Difficulty; Education Action Zones, and currently, Education Opportunity Areas. In the same time period funding for schooling has shifted from a local matter, topped up by grants from Westminster, to a national formula assisted by the Pupil Premium for some children, with different arrangements for those designed as SEND pupils.

Have any of these interventions made much difference? The interesting point about all the schemes listed in the previous paragraph was that they were determined at a national level. There was also a time during the period when the market was seen as the dominant narrative in policy-making when there were few schemes specifically aimed at the disadvantaged areas of England.

So, what would I do if I had the chance? Teachers are important. For without teachers both determined to work in these areas of deprivation and with an understanding of the children and their families that live there, no progress will be made. When there are teacher shortages, challenging schools find staffing difficult and turnover a real problem, as those that do come to work in these schools often don’t stay very long. Well-designed local training programmes crafted between schools and higher education can help, and will certainly reduce the lack of preparation some new teachers feel when joining these schools that are so unfamiliar to them. Good leadership is also very important, and I worry about the development of both middle and senior leadership for these challenging schools in the present climate. But without staff, no changes are possible.

Then, of equal importance, there is the curriculum. Yes, reading and writing are important, but so is a balanced curriculum, especially in the secondary school. We need a curriculum that increasingly involves the learner in choosing rather than being told what to learn. Of course, you cannot choose to learn to break the law, but you may want to learn a more practical set of skills than the current EBacc permits. To demotivate and even alienate from learning young people both now, and probably in the future, through an inappropriate curriculum is a as great a failure of our politicians than the current shambles over Brexit.

Finally, we need to engage the parents that the system failed. Unless we do, they won’t help break the cycle of deprivation. As an earlier post showed, the relationship between persistent absence and deprivation is stark. If education for all really is important for our future as a society, then we have to break down this cycle that is repeating itself between the generations.

All this takes cash, and with rising pupil numbers and a lack of political will to increase taxation, it is difficult to see where the resources will come from. Perhaps, through greater use of modern technology?

Teacher recruitment update

The question of school and college funding may have driven the issue of teacher recruitment from the top of the education agenda, but that does not mean that the concerns about staffing have one away. They have just been buried under more topical concerns.

Whether it a sign of the growing number of secondary pupils for September or that the funding crisis isn’t as bad everywhere as it obviously is in some schools, but advertised vacancies are ahead of this point last year in the TeachVac system www.teachvac.co.uk That’s good news for teachers and trainees looking for a job for September, but less good news for some schools trying to recruit a new staff member.

As in the past, the main secondary subjects fall into three groups. Firstly, there are the quasi-vocational subjects of business studies and design and technology where there has already been more vacancies recorded in 2019 than the market can cope with and schools anywhere in England could find recruiting a teacher challenging. Schools seeking a teacher of physics can also face recruitment issues regardless of where the school is located.

The second group of subjects are those where local recruitment challenges may now be apparent, but recruitment problems are most likely to affect schools in London and the Home Counties. These subjects include, mathematics, English, computing, religious education and music. Most of these subjects may well migrate into the first group before the May resignation deadline.

Finally, in the third group are three EBacc subjects, modern languages, geography and history as well as physical education. At present, there is no sign that there won’t be enough of teachers in these subjects to meet needs. However, as noted in the past, this doesn’t address either the issue of the quality of applicants or the possibility that some schools may find attracting candidates a challenge for a variety of reasons.

In the primary sector, vacancies seem to be appearing more slowly than last year, perhaps reflecting the slowdown in the birth rate that is affecting intake numbers quite dramatically in some areas.

It is worth noting that you still wouldn’t be able to obtain this information from the DfE’s vacancy site. As of last Friday, the DfE site had only around 25% of the live vacancies being carried by TeachVac, so teachers looking for a job might use the DfE site if it was a vacancy in the first group of subjects listed above, as applicants may well be few and far between, but for subjects in the other groups they might well be missing some possible opportunities if they stick to just the DfE site.

I don’t know how much the DfE has spent on their site so far, but, as I have comments before, a simple site linking to other free vacancy sites such as TeachVac would achieve a better outcome for far less expenditure of public money.  This takes us back to school funding and why the DfE chose to compete in a marketplace already well served in this manner?

1p on Income Tax for Education?

Are school underfunded? To politicians the question is probably more one of, ‘do parents perceive schools as being underfunded and will that affect how they vote?’ Despite a campaign ahead of the 2017 general election on this topic, my sense was that education wasn’t a major topic during that election. Would it be now? Has the growing campaign by some schools to ask parents for cash to fund their running costs pushed the issue up the political agenda for any post-Brexit era?

My genuine answer is that I am not sure. We have been here before. As this blog has pointed out in the past, the post-1979 period was one of financial hardship for public services that last through most of the 1980s. Indeed, I have looked back at my 1986 book on ‘Schools in London’s Commuterland’ to find that even then some schools in Surrey were asking parents for sum like £5 per term or £14 for new pupils.

Throughout the early 1990s the Liberal Democrats had a well-known policy of ‘1p on Income Tax for education’. The policy attracted voters, and was based upon a feeling that schools were under-funded. Could it be revived on the basis that the government has pledged more cash for the NHS, but not for education, and it seems likely that the present financial support from the public purse will not be sufficient to fund increases in all public services at present levels of taxation.

The alternative to public funding, schools going cap in hand to parents, lacks any real support for a social justice agenda. Parents in my Division in North Oxford, where I am the county councillor, can certainly afford to part with a small sum from their disposable income for the school their child attends. The same isn’t true for many other parts of the city, where parents live on much narrow margins between income and expenditure.

If you believe, as I do, in the philosophy that a state education system should provide a standard of education necessary to create a high level of outcomes for all pupils, encouraging parents to pay towards a school’s funds creates an unfair advantage for those with the cash to help.

The funding debate is often mentioned in relation to the issue of staffing. Ever since schools gained control of their budgets in the 1990s, head teachers and governing bodies have been free to decide how to reward teachers in a system where central direction and control has become increasingly weaker.

Few now understand that the Group Size of a school once controlled not only the head teacher’s salary, but also the number of promoted posts a school could deploy. As a result, since school control of budgets came into force, the government has only ever funded schools on the average cost of a teachers: schools with lots of young teachers often did well, but those with lots of teachers on the top of the pay spine and with TLRs had a salary bill in excess of what their funding would be each year. Should these schools be allowed to top up their funding from parents? Then there is the question of reserves. Any parent asked for cash should require the school to display their latest set of accounts so the actual financial position can be determined.  Finally, ought there to be benchmarks in terms of issues such as pupil-teacher ratios and class sizes that identify funding levels. But, there is still the issue of how to compensate for the fact that older more experienced teachers cost more than younger less experienced ones?

One solution is to even out the costs by increasing the CPD allocation to young teachers so the actual cost of a teacher to a school is the same wherever they are in their career.

Bumping along the bottom

The alternative title I thought about for this commentary on the February 2019 UCAS data about applications to post-graduate teacher preparation courses was, ‘the Goldilocks effect’; some good; some bad and some results in the middle. Indeed, the final outcome of this year’s recruitment round is more difficult to call than for many years. The outcome is likely to differ by individual subjects.

However, one trend that is becoming apparent is the continued decline in interest from applicants in non-EBacc arts and quasi vocational subjects. Thus, art, music, design and technology; computer studies and business studies are all either recording new lows in the number of offers for February or are bumping along the bottom. The government must look seriously at this problem if it does not want to impoverish a future generation of school students and wreck many important export earning industries by depriving them of home grown talent first nurtured in our schools.  By the same token, the independent schools ought also to be worried about this trend, to the extent that they recruit trained teachers with QTS.

As might be expected, history, geography and biology are performing well in terms of the number of offers that have been made. Biology will help ensure there will be sufficient teachers with a scientific background in 2020, even though chemistry and physics are in a similar position to this point last year. Both these subjects are unlikely to attract enough candidates to meet the Teacher Supply Model requirements on the present trajectory for offers.

Overall, applicant numbers, at 18,510 on the 18th February this year, are similar to the 18,830 recorded on the 19th February 2018, but still well down on the 24,700 of February 2017. It is worth recalling that in February 2012, without the School Direct route applicants, numbers stood at almost 35,000, not far short of double where they currently stand.

There is more detail about applicants than applicants in the data. Applications for primary are down on 2018 at 24,710 compared with 26,430 in 2018, but applications for secondary subjects are higher at 28,380 this year compared with 27,910 in February 2018. That could mean about 200 more applicants spread across all the different subjects.

Looking at the applications in more detail, primary higher education continues to witness a decline in applications, down to 10,680 this year from 12,570 in 2018. On the other hand, School Direct Salaried plus Apprenticeships are up by around 600 applications.

In the secondary sector, higher education still dominates applications, although School Direct fee applications have seen a significant increase, from just over 8,000 applications in 2018 to 9,000 this February. However, applications for School Direct Salaried plus Apprenticeships are still below the February 2018 figure in the secondary sector.

Young graduates and final year undergraduate applicant numbers are almost back to last year’s, level in terms of overall applicants, but young career changes are still behind the number of applicants at this point in 2018. Compared with the 10,671 men that had applied for courses in 2012, the present number of 5,900 male applicants, including the School Direct applicants, is probably little more than half the 2012 total.

Still, Mr Gibb should be pleased that two thirds of applicants have been made an offer, although only 330 have been unconditionally placed. Nevertheless, making offer to two out of every three applicants is a very generous ratio indeed.

 

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.