Education matters

Last evening saw the termly meeting of the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on the Teaching Profession at Westminster. Chris Waterman has continued to do sterling work with this Group that morphed out of a previous ad hoc gathering, primarily established to discuss issues surrounding the teacher labour market as the country moved from surplus to shortage. No doubt those that attended had to ensure they dodged the TV cameras as they made their way through Central Lobby to the committee room for the meeting.

As I had other duties in Oxford, I was unable to attend last evening’s meeting, but did provide Chris will some extracts from recent relevant posts on this blog to distribute to those that were able to attend.

For those with even longer memories that stretch back beyond the creation of SATTAG by Chris and myself, they will recall that this blog started soon after I stopped writing a weekly column for the then TES, now branded as tes. After more than a decade of writing for that paper, I was suffering withdrawal symptoms, and a blog seem a good way to relieve them in a manner that didn’t take up much time.

Of course, the big concern at this present time must be about where the candidates for leadership of the Conservative Party stand on Education? For selection at eleven; complete academisation; more pay for teachers; cash for Children’s Centres? We all have a list of what we would want to ask our next Prime Minister, but are only likely to be able to do so through the professional associations taking a lead and quizzing the eventual finalist on behalf of the profession.

From the candidates’ point of view, they might want to reflect that being too radical can affect what will happen in the real world. Make teaching look too unattractive, and the present teacher supply problem could become even worse, especially if the exodus from the profession were to accelerate. With insufficient numbers entering the profession, losing those already in service at an even greater rate than at present wouldn’t just be unfortunate, but could be disastrous for both our society and the future of the economy.

Teaching is now a global activity and teachers trained in England are able to secure posts in many other countries in the ever-growing private school market of ‘international’ schools, increasingly run by those with the bottom line in mind. With UK higher education an attractive draw for many overseas students and their parents, being taught by teachers that understand the system here can be a help when it is time to apply to university.

So, my key question for Tory Candidates’ is, what support will you provide for your Secretary of State for Education and what will be the key priorities you will ask that person to address? If they don’t mention all of Further Education; funding levels and staffing then education will clearly not be a significant priority for them in the word post October 31st.

 

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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.

 

Happy Texans?

So the TES now has new owners. Once again they are an American Group. The new owners are Providence Equity Partners. https://www.tes.com/tesglobal/articles/tes-announces-new-owners

At least, being headquartered on the East Coast of the USA, they are nearer the TES HQ than the former owners in Texas. Providence as a Group also invest in Autotrader that made a successful transition from print to on-line advertising and Burning Glass, a company that provided data for the Home Office’s Migration Advisory Committee study into teaching and subjects that should be eligible for Tier 2 visas in January 2017. Both may be able to provide helpful advice and expertise to the TES brand under Providence’s guidance.

Hopefully, Providence did more due diligence on the teacher recruitment market in England than just to rely upon the data Burning Glass, presented to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) that then appeared as Figure 4.4 of the MAC Report in January 2017. The manner in which Burning Glass counted job postings was very inclusive and over-estimated actual demand for teachers. You only have to look at the data for August in Figure 4.4 to recognise the difference between postings and vacancies.

The question for Providence that will have undoubtedly considered before they made their offer is, can the recruitment side of the TES be made profitable, in the face of the DfE’s new free job site and the development of the TeachVac brand (where I am chair of the Board), with the help it can receive from other Providence investments?  In addition, can the resources side of the TES business be made more profitable as part of a larger global enterprise? It might also be worth adding, can the education journalism side be developed into a global platform providing information and news to other Providence media investments?

What will happen to the TES team? Will Lord Jim Knight become chairman or even President of the company? Alternatively, has Providence already lined up a new team to take over the helm from the existing management team, as is sometimes the case when a company changes owners after a sale?

In the past, the recruitment income has been a key source of revenue for the TES, especially once reader subscription income started to disappear, as print was replaced by the move on-line. However, the TES is now a significant provider of initial teacher training. Will the new owners see this either as a distraction or alternatively as a possible avenue on which to develop a significant CPD business with a global reach? It goes without saying that the recruitment business will be developed into one with a significant presence in the global market for teachers. This is, after all a large and growing market.

As a former employee of the Times Supplements, after they bought my company just as the recession hit world stock markets, I am interested in seeing how the new owners will develop the title. As a competitor in the recruitment market though TeachVac, I am interested to see how quickly the new owners will move and whether there will be developments in time for the 2019 recruitment round that will peak in the spring. But, maybe Providence’s pockets are deep enough to not worry about 2019 and they will start to focus on 2020 and beyond.

An accident of birth

There is an interesting parliamentary procedure called a ‘Ten Minute Rule Bill’ that allows MPs to raise subjects they deem to be important, but that are not currently part of the legislative process. In some ways it is like a junior version of a Private Members’ Bill, but with even less chance of success.

Yesterday, a Bill was presented in the House of Commons with support from all three of the main political parties in England. This was the Criminal Records (Childhood Offences) Bill, presented by its sponsor, the Conservative MP, Theresa Villiers.

In her speech about the aims of the Bill, Teresa Villiers said,

‘A key problem is that we have no distinct criminal records system for children. Apart from some limited differences providing for slightly shorter rehabilitation periods and other timeframes, children are subject to the full rigours of the disclosure system that I have outlined. Records relating to under-18 offences are retained for life. I believe that the childhood criminal records system in England and Wales is anchoring children to their past and preventing them from moving on from their mistakes. It is acting as a barrier to employment, education and housing. It is therefore working against rehabilitation, undermining a core purpose of the youth justice system. The current rules also perpetuate inequality. The Government’s race disparity audit concluded that ​children from a black and minority ethnic background are sadly more likely to end up with a criminal record. A system that is unduly penal in its treatment of such records has a harder and more disproportionate effect on BME communities. Similar points can be made about children who have spent time in care.’ https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-10-10/debates/1205F56C-ECAF-4272-81F7-BA1E629CA816/CriminalRecords(ChildhoodOffences)

I entirely agree. In September 2009, almost a decade ago, I wrote a piece for the TES in my regular column at that time. It was headed 93,601 – the number of 10-17 year olds gaining their first criminal record. https://www.tes.com/news/93601-number-10-17-year-olds-gaining-first-criminal-record

In that TES piece, I pointed out that some 700,000 young people gained a criminal record between 2000 and early 2008; not including those handed a caution or other out of court disposal. Fortunately, attitudes to dealing with petty offending have moved on from the days of Labour’s target culture and in 2016-17 there were just 49,000 proceedings against young people either in a court or by way of cautions for an admitted offence. This is still way too high, but half the level of a decade ago. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/676072/youth_justice_statistics_2016-17.pdf

Those children from a decade ago are now adults, but as I said in 2009, and Theresa Villier’s Bill sought to highlight, they carry the stigma of being an offender with them into their adult life. Not only must they declare it on an enhanced disclosure for a job as say, a teacher, but it can also affect their ability to travel to some countries that require visas, such as the United States.

My solution was that any summary offence, and most either way offences, including theft, should be removed from the record after a period of say five years free of offending.

I hope that the government will find time to either insert a clause in an appropriate piece of legislation or take up this Ten Minute Rule Bill and provide parliamentary time for it to proceed. Carrying a criminal record for the rest of your life should not be a matter of when you were born, but of the severity of your criminal behaviour.

750 not out

After celebrating its 5th birthday in January this year, this blog has now reached another landmark: the 750th post. The administrators tell me that means somewhere close to 450,000 words have appeared so far, with a word count averaging somewhere between 550-600 words per post: slightly shorter in recent years than in 2013 and 214.

Key themes in recent times have included, the place of local democracy in the school system and the recruitment scene for teachers, whether into teacher training or for the labour market for teachers and school leaders. This blog has published an analysis of the monthly figures from UCAS for applicants and applications to teacher preparation courses for graduates almost since the day it started. Those post followed on from a monthly review I wrote during the first decade of the century. It that case, circulation was only to a band of paid subscribers.

My involvement with TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk and its global affiliate www.teachvacglobal.com has allowed me to make comments on the state of the labour market for teachers and school leaders in England. However, since much of the data TeachVac holds is unique to the company and TeachVac is a free to use recruitment site for both schools and teachers it isn’t a good idea to give away everything for free, so the data has been used sparingly on the blog.

How did this blog come about? Between 1998 and 2011 I wrote a series of columns for the Times Education Supplement, the venerable and much respected publication for the teachers and their schools. When I retired from their service, I wrote for Education Journal for a year or so, but was never really satisfied by being tied down again to a publication schedule: hence, eventually in 2013, the blog.

The nature of blogging provides freedom to the creator of the pieces to say what they want when they want. Originally, it was a blog about the numbers in education. To some extent it still is, but it has widened its approach, especially after I became a Liberal Democrat County Councillor in Oxfordshire in May 2013. My experiences with schools in Oxfordshire has resulted in a number of interesting posts since then, some of which have subsequently appeared in print in the Oxford Mail.

Where next for the blog? I suppose the next goal must be to reach 1,000 posts, probably by sometime in 2020. There is certainly enough to write about.

I would like to thank the many people that have added comments to the various posts over the years. There are some regular commentators, such as Janet Downs, and there are those that have just posted a comment about one specific post. Then there are the many people that have liked various posts. Thank you for your votes of support and appreciation.

The blog is mainly read by United Kingdom readers, although recently there have been more readers from the USA than in the early days and there has always been a small number of visitors from locations in different countries around the world.

If you have read this far, thank you for letting me indulge myself and I hope to keep you entertained, informed and possibly sometimes even educated.

 

 

Interesting news

So the THE is to be sold off from the TSL Group. https://news.sky.com/story/tpg-plots-break-up-and-sale-as-teachers-bible-hits-end-of-term-11411284 Where does this leave the TES and the education community it has served for more than 100 years? The new story says that:

The remainder of TES Global’s ‎business, which includes the magazine previously called The Times Education Supplement, is expected to be sold separately in the coming months.

As reported earlier on this blog, TPG acquired the TSL Group in July 2013. The accounts of TSL Group or last year, ending in August 2017 didn’t make pretty reading and I wonder whether predications for the outcome in 2018 could possibly be at the back of this move to split up the TSL Group, starting with the seemingly most saleable part of the business?

TPG has not made a total success of its venture from the Lone Star State into UK markets: think Poundworld and Prezza restaurants and the TSL Group makes the third less than financially satisfactory outcome. Still, TPG are large enough to take the hit and make use of any tax losses that might come with it.

There is still a great business to be had working with UK teachers and their schools as TeachVac has shown on the recruitment side and SchoolsWeek on the news side. However, the entry of the DfE into the recruitment market probably won’t make it easy to attract buyers for the TES part of the group unless they can see a clear strategy to create an integrated education news and information platform serving the whole education community including teachers, parents, administrators and the general public in a low cost environment that is entirely a digital presence.

As a former employee of the TSL Group, they bought my business in 2008 when the government was establishing the School Recruitment Service: a recruitment site that the TES no doubt helped reach a swift demise. I worked for TSL from 2008 until 2011 and then retired. The world has moved on since 2011 and the digital environment is much more organised than it was then as TeachVac has demonstrated in the recruitment field www.teachvac.co.uk in just four years from a standing start.

Protecting the teacher vacancy market must be a major concern for all interested in ensuring that schools can recruit and retain teachers and other staff in an orderly manner. Everyone needs to be thinking about the 2019 recruitment round to ensure that there will be a secure operational market place for vacancies for the whole of that round. What must not happen is a disorderly market that leaves schools and teacher struggling to know where to place and find vacancies. As Chair of TeachVac, I am not a disinterested party in this debate. At this stage it is merely a matter for concern. It must not become a real issue.

 

Vacancy war breaks out

The DfE’s rather muddled announcement earlier today of a service to clampdown on agencies charging schools “excessive” fees to recruit staff and advertise vacancies https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-free-website-for-schools-to-advertise-vacancies was clearly written by a press officer that didn’t understand what was being said. Either that or the government is in more of a mess than I thought. Muddled up in the announcement posted on the DfE’s web page today are two separate and different services.

In one, the DfE announced that:

Mr Hinds will launch a new nationwide deal for headteachers from September 2018 – developed with Crown Commercial Service – providing them with a list of supply agencies that do not charge fees when making supply staff permanent after 12 weeks.

The preferred suppliers on the list will also be required to clearly set out how much they are charging on top of the wages for staff. This will make it easier for schools to avoid being charged excessive fees and reduce the cost burden on schools of recruiting supply teachers through agencies.

Such a service might backfire if it drove some agencies out of business and then allowed the remainder to actually increase their prices to schools.

However, it is the other service, starting now for a limited trial just after the end of the main recruitment round for September vacancies that is of more interest, as it directly competes with TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the free national service for vacancies that has been running successfully for the past four years. TeachVac was set up to do exactly what the DfE say they are now trying to do:

 To help combat these costs, the Secretary of State has announced a free website has been launched to advertise vacancies, which currently costs schools up to £75 million a year. This website will include part-time roles and job shares.

Well, TeachVac does all of that. Regular readers will know that I am chair of the company that owns and operate TeachVac and its international site Teachval Global. Why should the government want to destroy an already successful free service? Perhaps the teacher associations can tell me what see that will be better in the DfE’s offering? Certainly, the DfE won’t have access to the same level of real time job data as TeachVac that has already allowed us to comment on the problems facing schools in London and the Home Counties that have been trying to recruit teachers for September.

TeachVac will continue, as it is backed by its successful TeachVac Global arm that provides a similar paid service for international schools around the globe. http://www.teachvacglobal.com as well as its extensive data and associated businesses.

In the meantime, paid for vacancy services, such as the TES – also a player in the supply agency marketplace- eteach, SchoolsWeek and The Guardian must explain to their investors how they will combat another free service displaying teaching vacancies. Local authorities, don’t have investors to explain to, but could see their job boards affected by the DfE move, especially for posts in primary schools where they are often a key player in the local market.

But, for everyone the key question is, after two failures in this field, will the DfE be successful this time around? Judging by the quality of the announcement, there must be a measure of doubt, especially at the costs involved. Let me know what you think. Is this a service the DfE should provide and do you think that they can for a credible cost?