More or less

A longer version of this blog post appeared first in the September/October edition of ‘Leader’, the ASCL magazine for school leaders.

Deciding how many new teachers to train each year is a tough job. Train too many and the Treasury wants to know why public money has been wasted; train too few and some schools won’t be able to recruit all the staff that they need. Officials also have to undertake the task several years ahead of time.

This summer, the government has been assessing how many teachers to train in the academic year 2017-18. These trainees will mostly enter the labour market in September 2018 with a small number needed for January 2019 vacancies.

Civil servants started this year’s exercise knowing that the school population was on the increase. They also knew more teachers were leaving the profession in recent years as the wider economy recovered from recession and also that public sector pay remained heavily regulated, especially with regard to annual increases.

Referendum effect

What they didn’t know was the outcome of the referendum on Europe and its possible consequences for the economy and on population movement, both inward and outward. As a result, even if the places allocated by the government are fully taken up by prospective trainees when trainee recruitment opens later in the autumn, the numbers may well still be wrong. Such is, too often, the fate of planners.

Because the teacher supply model essentially uses data that can be up to several years old, its outcomes ought to be subject to review by a group of knowledgeable individuals, including people from ASCL, who can question any obvious anomalies arising from the planning process. For the past two recruitment rounds, based on evidence collected through TeachVac, our free-to-schools vacancy matching service, we have queried the shortage of business studies places for trainees as well as the over-supply of training places for teachers of physical education trainees compared with recorded demand from schools across the country.

In both cases, the modelling process is correct, uses authentic and reliable data, but produces the wrong answer. Of course, you can still have the right answer, as in physics and design and technology, but not recruit enough trainees. That isn’t the fault of the planners, but of another group of civil servants.

While planners might not have been able to foresee the result of the referendum, they can model the effects of the introduction of any national funding formula on the demand for teachers. However, to do so might indicate, ahead of any consultation, the thinking of government. This relationship between policy change and future consequences on the ground goes a long way to explain why, for so many years, the teacher supply model wasn’t shared with anyone outside of government.

Unexpected vacancies?

Putting aside all of this background, schools and head teachers really want to know where they are if faced with unexpected vacancies for January 2017. After all, there are no more trainees entering the labour market until next summer and the recent School Teachers’ Review Body report identified new entrants as taking 55% of main scale vacancies, up from 50% a few years ago.

At TeachVac, we track the number of trainees, as recorded by the government’s annual ITT census against recorded vacancies. We discount those trainees on Teach First, now included in the census, and those on the School Direct salaried route as these two groups are likely to be employed either in the school where they train or another local school if they prove to be suitable entrants into the profession. We also take off a percentage for those unlikely to complete their teacher preparation programme, for whatever reason. Schools that use TeachVac to register vacancies receive an update on the current position in the subject where they have a vacancy when they post that job on TeachVac.

The original article then discusses the position in the summer of 2016 as reported using TeachVac data- That section of the article has been omitted here as it is now out of date.

The picture for 2017

Finally, a brief first look at the recruitment situation for 2017. At the time of writing, recruitment to courses is still in progress. However, based on past experiences, we believe that there will be insufficient trainees in subjects such as physics, design and technology, maths, business studies and IT entering training, unless there is a last minute rush.

A survey of School Direct salaried courses shown as having vacancies on the UCAS web site at the end of July revealed more than 600 listed vacancies, although some may have been duplicates advertised under more than one heading. Nevertheless, there were only two vacancies in the North East, compared with more than 100 in London schools. This reinforces concerns for the labour market in London.

Although schools may have found the 2016 recruitment round easier in some aspects than the 2015 recruitment round turned out to be, the staffing challenge facing schools is not yet over and much uncertainty surrounds the 2017 recruitment round that starts in January.

TeachVac will continue to monitor the situation and offer schools a free platform to place vacancies at no cost to themselves, teachers or trainees.

Note: now offers a service to schools facing an ofsted inspection and offers a tailored report on the local job market for secondary schools