Thank you Sir Ridley Scott

Teaching is the most important of all professions’. Sir Ridley Scott’ in his BAFTA acceptance speech.

I don’t watch the BAFTAs, so this blog post comes curtesy of my sister emailing me that I need to watch the speech. You can find it on YouTube at

It lasts just over eight minutes and I recommend you watch it if you are at all interested in the power of education to change lives. Sir Ridley attended a secondary modern school, presumably having failed to pass the examination at eleven for a selective school. He wasn’t successful at academic subjects, but enjoyed woodwork and art. He left with one GCE to attend Hartlepool School of Art where he learnt the difference between teaching and learning. His time at art school was the beginning of the journey to last night’s BAFTA lifetime award at the Royal Albert Hall

Could Sir Ridley Scott flourish in the same manner today on leaving school? It seems unlikely that anyone with one GCSE would be considered for Art College? Would he even receive the encouragement in art and design and technology – the modern replacement for woodwork – that allowed him to enjoy these subjects when he was a schoolboy?

Successive governments have failed to understand the importance of the creative industries to our nation. Their worth, especially in the primary schools, has been consistently eroded in favour of more basic skills in literacy and numeracy. Now, we know English and mathematics are important and good teaching of these subjects is especially important. However, that good teaching should be complimented in the primary sector by the space for good teaching in the creative subjects, sport, the sciences and humanities. A full and rounded curriculum is vital for young children. The challenge for the government is how to create learning outcomes in the basics in the most time effective manner for the greatest number so as still to allow time for all the other purposes of schooling.

I have reminded readers before that I probably wouldn’t be allowed into many sixth forms these days, due to a failure to pass English Language and only a scrapped pass in mathematics. Two years later three ‘A’ levels and a merit pass in the geography Special Paper set me on the start of my career. Had I been turned out of school at sixteen, my life would almost certainly have taken a very different route.

Perhaps the government might want to use part of Sir Ridley Scott’s speech as the introduction to their advertising campaign for teaching as a career. It has echoes of the 1997 talking heads campaign where leading celebrities spoke a name to camera and the end strapline was ‘no-one forget a good teacher’. The current campaign isn’t working and for years has concentrated on the excitement of the classroom. Perhaps it is time for a new approach.

Finally, on the day that the government announces a review of tuition fees, it is certainly time to review the cost of becoming a teacher.


Pay flexibilities for teachers

According to the DfE’s evidence to the School Teachers Review Body (STRB) only 64%, just fewer than two out of three schools, pay any of their staff Teaching & Learning Responsibility allowances (TLRs as they are usually known). I guess that most of the remaining nearly 8,000 or so schools are mostly small primary schools, with only a handful of teachers and a head teacher?

Interestingly, some of these schools may be making other payments, as the DfE record that 75.2% of all schools make some form of payment to some of their teaching staff. Indeed, there are more schools making ‘other payments’ than are using the SEN payments allowed under the teacher’s contract. Less than one in five school now make any such SEN payment to teachers.

Even less common, despite all the talk about a recruitment crisis, is the use of recruitment and retention payments to teachers; only one in ten schools across England makes such a payment. However, the percentage does rise to one in five schools in the Inner London area – That’s not technically a region and the DfE evidence doesn’t define what it means by Inner London and whether it is pay area or some other definition. By contrast, only one in twenty schools in the South West makes any payments to a teacher or teachers for recruitment and retention reasons.

Do schools make use of HMRC exemptions from tax for new employees? ( This allowance can be helpful to those teachers and school leaders moving to a new part of the country. Such payments would, presumably, be reported in the ‘other payments’ column of the  DfE’s evidence along with season ticket loans, any health benefits and car allowances to teachers in teaching schools or providing ITT support that have to travel between schools.

None of these extra payments can hide the fact that the teachers’ contract looks increasingly out of line with modern day employment practices. As I pointed out last year, Labour’s idea of more bank holidays might have placed some of the new dates within school holidays so that teachers and others employed in schools wouldn’t have seen any benefit. Regular surveys and diary studies have shown that teachers work very hard during the time children are in school and aren’t paid for that overtime. Should it be counted against school-holidays in a more formal manner than at present in order to allow a meaningful discussion about the feeling of some in the population that teachers still enjoy long holidays?

Perhaps the STRB might want to think what their responsibility is in this debate? Do they need to wait to be asked or can they discuss the issue as part of their consideration of recruitment and retention issues? There is lots of evidence for the OECD about teachers working patterns around the world. The issue has resonance because of the growing appreciation that more provision should be made for teachers’ professional development. Adding CPD to the existing workload without considering what might disappear to allow for the extra study would not really be very helpful.


Thank you

A big thank you to all readers. Whether you are one of the regulars or just coming across this blog for the first time, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading these posts. Today is the fifth birthday of this blog. It started on the 25th January 2013 with a post about the level of reserves then being held by schools. In the five years I have been writing the blog it has had 50,000 visitors – this landmark was passed earlier this month – and the 100,000 views landmark will be reached early next month as the total currently stands at 98,668 or just fewer than two views per visitor. The day with the most views was the 8th March 2014, when there was a reference to the blog in a national newspaper.

I think it is reasonable to claim that this blog helped lead the way in terms of highlighting the deteriorating situation in relation to the flow of new entrants into the teaching profession. Because much of my working life was spent in and around the area of teacher supply, it is perhaps not surprising that issues about teacher numbers should have remained a prominent theme across the years.

In August 2013 the DfE was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying what I had written in this blog was scaremongering and based upon incomplete evidence (blog post 14th August 2013, if you want to look it up). It wasn’t then and what I say isn’t now. But, I do sympathise with DfE press officers having to try and come up with an answer when the negative stories appear. The media is less interested in the good news, for instance, when applications increase. The easing of the concerns over maths teacher numbers during 2017 also wasn’t really reported, but that may be an issue of quantity not matching the quality needed?

Along with teacher supply, I have tried to keep an eye on the stories behind the numbers in education; or at least some of them. From rural schools in London to the profit companies make from education there is always something to write about and the blog has now reached more than 650 different posts in its five year lifespan. 130 of the posts have drawn comments and again, my thanks to those that comment regularly on what I have written; my especial thanks to Janet Downes for her insightful comments on many different posts.

Regular readers know that I am a Liberal Democrat politician and have fought two general elections (unsuccessfully) and two county elections (both successful) as well as one election for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner, all during the life of this blog. It is good to have some time off this year; assuming that nothing goes wrong and there isn’t another general election.

This blog is now on its fourth Secretary of State and I predicted the change this January in a post at the end of 2017, before the reshuffle was announced.

My one regret is that schools are still not doing enough to share in the challenge to cut Carbon emissions. My one hope is that someone will come up with an energy scheme that can utilise the vast acreage of school playgrounds that lie unused for more than 99% of the year.

Thank you for reading: my best wishes for the future.


Do we need to attract an increased number of older entrants into teaching?

Yesterday, I commented on one aspect of the new Secretary of State’s interview with The Times newspaper. Today, I would like to look at another area he talked about; recruiting older people into teaching. Although recruits into teaching have largely been thought of in the context of young new graduates, there have always been a stream of older entrants into the profession. These older entrants probably fell into two main groups: staff working in schools, either as volunteers or paid staff and those changing careers. The former were probably more numerous in the primary sector, in the past they often consisted of those entering through access courses and a first degree in teaching. Most career changers will have entered either through the PGCE route or via the various employment based routes that once recruited outside the main recruitment envelope, much as Teach First and Troops for teachers still do today. In 2006, there was also the Open University PGCE course that didn’t recruit through UCAS, but was entirely comprised of mature entrants to teaching.

The multiplicity of routes into teaching makes exact comparison over a period of time something of a challenge, as does the fact that UCAS reports the age profile of applicants to the current scheme in a different way to the predecessor GTTR scheme run by the same organisation.

Nevertheless, it is possible to make some broad comparison between say, the 2006 entry onto the GTTR Scheme; a year when applications to train as a teacher were still healthy, and before the crash of 2008, and 2017 applicant numbers for September via the UCAS ITT Scheme. These are not the final figures for 2017, but close enough to be possible to use for comparison purposes, based upon past trends.

Applicants to postgraduate centrally administered courses – actual numbers

UCAS/GTTR applicants
2017 2006
20-22 11080 15798
23-24 8570 12699
25-29 9900 15454
30-39 6750 9848
40+ 5400 5095
41700 58894

Sources: GTTR Annual Report 2006, Table A4 and UCAS Report A, Applicants September 2017.

The first obvious point to make is that despite the school-based routes (except Teach First and Troops to Teachers) now being included and the Open University no longer offering a PGCE, there has been a drop of just over 17,000 in applicants wanting to train as a teacher. This decline is across all age groupings.

Applicants to postgraduate centrally administered courses – percentages

UCAS/GTTR applicants
2017 2006
20-22 27% 27%
23-24 21% 22%
25-29 24% 26%
30-39 16% 17%
40+ 13% 9%
100% 100%

Sources: GTTR Annual Report 2006, Table A4 and UCAS Report A, Applicants September 2017.

The other interesting point to make is that with UCAS being responsible for entry to a greater part of the training market in 2017 than in 2006 and especially the part most likely to attract older applicants their share of the total made up of applicants over 40 has increased from 9% in 2006 13% in 2017. The percentage of those in their 30s has remained broadly the same. Teaching has lost more than 9,000 new graduates in their early 20s wanting to be teachers. In a previous post, I commented that so far this year teaching appeared to be seeing fewer young women applying to be primary school teachers. The loss of that group could have serious implications for teaching in future years, especially as younger teachers usually go on to provide the bulk of the leadership candidates in fifteen to twenty years’ time.

So, Mr Hinds, you many well want to attract older candidates to Teach Next and to the core programmes, but you must not neglect what is happening among new graduates saddled with more than £27,000 of possible debt, even before they enter training. In the case of primary teachers there is little chance of support during training and the debt on another £9,000+ to fund when they start teaching. This is not an attractive deal.

If the UCAS data, to be published next Thursday, shows a dismal January for applications then, now your predecessors have decided to take teacher supply fully into the DfE from April, the buck will stop at your desk. Spending £14 million by the NCTL on publicity and advertising didn’t work last year, so looking for older applicants could be a good idea, because you do need to find something that works.

Not a surprise?

In my Review of 2017, I wrote that:

‘Although there have been changes in the junior ministerial ranks, the Secretary of State has served throughout the year and is now approaching the point in her tenure when she is in the zone where many politicians find themselves either changing jobs or being removed from office in a reshuffle.’

Lucky guess or just reading the political runes? I note that the TES expressed similar views, so perhaps the departure of Justine Greening wasn’t unexpected. Nevertheless, we must thank the now former Secretary of State for her calming period in office. If it survives, still no means a certainty, the National Funding Formula may be Justine Greening’s legacy from her time in office at Sanctuary Buildings. We now await the possibility of changes in the more junior ministerial ranks.

The new Secretary of State served on the Education Select Committee for a period after 2010 and we had this exchange when I gave oral evidence to the inquiry into attracting, training and retaining the best teachers, when I appeared as one of a panel of witnesses.

 Professor Howson: I can’t imagine that the CBI would be terribly happy if we took the whole of Oxford and Cambridge’s output to fill our 35,000 places. That is part of our dilemma. Yes, we want people who are as well qualified and able as possible, but we are not competing in a vacuum, and society as a whole has to decide where it wants to put teaching in terms of the competition for graduates.

Q149 Damian Hinds: 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 on that list of priorities, don’t we?

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

Q148 & Q149

It will be interesting to see how quickly Mr Hinds acts to deal with the problems over teacher training numbers discussed in this blog and elsewhere during the past week. Perhaps he might like to create a specialist group to advise him on possible ways forward. I am sure that with his track record on social mobility including his role in the APPG on social mobility, he will find many willing to offer help.

Apart from teacher supply issues, Mr Hinds will need to look at the governance of the academy sector and how it relates to the remaining maintained schools. Having been educated in a faith school, he will not be unaware of the role such schools play in our system despite the increasingly secular nature of much of modern society. They may offer a model for cooperation that could plot a path to a unified system working towards the goal of greater social mobility that works not only for potential university graduates but for apprentices and everyone else in society.

Solutions needed to ITT crisis

In the early days of the think tank, Policy Exchange, I once wrote a pamphlet for them entitled ‘The labour market for teachers’. This was way back, a decade ago, in 2008 when I was less active for the Liberal Democrats than I am today as a councillor. As a result of this background, I was interested to read the latest piece by John Blake, Policy Exchange’s current head of education and social reform. The piece is entitled ‘The challenges behind the figures on teacher recruitment’. You can read it by following this link

Mr Blake doesn’t dispute the figures highlighted in my previous post that emerged from UCAS last Thursday. However, he claims that teaching is still a well-paid profession commenting that ‘given teaching is relatively well-paid on entry and has generous increment increases in the first few years to nearly £40,000 without having to take on any additional management responsibility, it seems unlikely it is the issue for recruitment either. This view stands in stark contrast to the Pay Review Body comments in their 2017 Report that ‘teacher’ earnings have undergone a further deterioration … continue to trail those of other professional occupations in all regions except the North East.’ (STRB, 2017 Report, page 31).

However, Mr Blake isn’t really interested in defending the pay structure, but in raising the oft asked question as to why so many show and interest in teaching, but don’t follow that interest through. For good measure, Mr Blake also attacks the profession for not producing enough teachers from those that do apply. This latter point needs careful attention. But, as to the former, he hasn’t been able to find any numbers and he doesn’t mention whether this is a general trend for other graduate occupations? By focussing on this narrow point, he misses the issues of more concern raised in my last blog that applications are down across the country; across all age groups and from both men and women and even more seriously, by a far larger amount for applicants to train as a primary teachers than as secondary teacher. By all means let us create an index of interest in teaching and see whether it is waxing or waning at the present time. We could also create an expected conversion rate, but that might mean recreating an agency to handle teacher recruitment, something Mr Blake doesn’t even consider.

But, let’s consider the key points Mr Blake makes about not converting applicants into teachers and then not doing enough to help those going through the process. We would benefit from UCAS providing more data on secondary subjects by applicants than just by applications as at present, since applicants can make up to three applications, but we have to manage with what there is available.

In the previous post, I pointed out that ‘So far, ‘placed and applicants holding offers, account for the same percentage of applicants [as in December 2016] at around 58%. Where accepting more than one in two applicants would be acceptable to most Human Resource departments is a matter for conjecture, but it seems a high percentage.’ What percentage does Mr Blake thinks schools and higher education should be aiming for and does he think it wrong for schools to turn down more applicants than higher education?

As to support during their courses, Mr Blake doesn’t offer any evidence either on the scale of loss of trainees in-course or what might be put in place to reduce such wastage? Personally, I would once again pay all tuition fees for all graduates training to be a teacher and pay them all a training grant. If that doesn’t work, then we really will have a problem.

Finally, I would be happy to join Mr Blake in researching just why applications are down for primary school teachers by such a large amount?




Worrying signals on ITT applications

A happy New Year. Well, I am afraid that it isn’t if you take a look at the latest data from UCAS on applications for postgraduate teacher training in the period up to just before Christmas. Overall, there were 11,430 applicants domiciled in England by mid-December 2017, compared with 17,420 at the December 2016 measuring point and 18,880 in 2015. That’s a loss effectively, 6,000 applicants in a year; effectively a reduction of a third in just a year! Perhaps even more worrying is that the gap has widened compared with last year by a thousand or so, even though it represent a smaller percentage of the total.

Of as much concern to those that follow the data, the loss in the number of applicants is across all age groups: so it is not just young new graduates not yet applying to teaching, but also career switchers and other older applicants. If there is any crumb of comfort, it is that applications, as opposed to applicants (where the data aren’t published), are holding up better for secondary courses overall than for primary. Applications for all secondary courses in England are down from 23,260 to 16,070 whereas for primary for primary, applications are down from 27,590 to just 16,870. If everyone has made three applications that would be less than 6,000 applicants so far for primary courses.

Applications are down for all types of course. Higher Education establishments account for just over 48% of applications, similar in percentage terms to this point last year. The number of applications for the School Direct Salaried/Apprenticeship route has dwindled from 7,350 in December 2016 to 4,270 in December 2017. That could mean as few as 1,450 applicants overall for this latter route.

Applications for secondary Salaried courses are down from almost 2,000 to little more than 1,000 this year, whereas for primary, applications via this route have declined from 5,370 to 3,260; potentially, a loss of 700 or so applicants.

The number of male applicants domiciled in England is down to 3,150 from 5,060 last year and the number of female applicants is down from 12,360 to 8,270. Many years ago, I wrote that if graduate women in large numbers ever turned away from teaching as a career then there would be real problems filling the places on offer.

We can but hope that it is not the quality end of the applicant spectrum that is disappearing from the applicant pool. So far, placed and applicants holding offers, account for the same percentage of applicants at around 58%. Where accepting more than one in two applicants would be acceptable to most Human Resource departments is a matter for conjecture, but it seems a high percentage.

Perhaps early applicants are those that know they want to teach and are some of the best quality applicants, thus justifying an offer to application ratio this high.

Applications are down across England, with those living in London applying down from 2,570 in December 2016 to 1,640 in December 2017.

As it is early in the cycle, data for individual secondary subjects reveals little, but the decline does seem to be across most subjects.

It won’t be until the February data is published in early March that it will be really possible to predict the outcome of this recruitment round for ITT postgraduate courses. However, unless there is an upturn, the labour market for September 2019 is going very challenging indeed. Government officials will be watching their daily and weekly data for signs of improvement. Without an upturn, there really will be a crisis in teacher supply, unless, of course, there is a downturn in the economy and a late flood of applicants.