Trainees needed, even in the North East

Yesterday The Guardian carried an article about the impending teacher shortage that was kind enough to quote some figures from the research I have undertaken. You can read the full article at http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jun/30/teacher-shortage-in-2020s  Various BBC local radio stations have picked up on the story, and I am once again being asked to do interviews down the phone. In preparing for the one on Radio Tess tomorrow morning I thought I would check the position in the North East regarding the number of teacher preparation courses still with vacancies as of today by looking at the UCAS web site. It is irritating that whereas the DfE site last year showed the number of places, and the number still available, UCAS this year only shows whether the provider has a vacancy at present or not.

Anyway, the depressing news for a region that usually has no problem filling its ITT places is that apart from in History, PE, and some modern foreign languages, there are still a considerable number of providers with at least one vacancy in many other subjects. For instance 16/17 providers of places in geography have at least one vacancy: only Newcastle University has the course full sign up in this subject. That’s actually down from both universities offering places in geography that were full last time I looked a couple of weeks ago. In Mathematics, 30 out of the 38 providers still have places, and in Physics it is 23 out of 24! Even in primary, where I would have expected in most years all places to have been long filled, and there to be unofficial waiting lists, this year, 46 of the 95 providers offering graduate training courses for intending primary teachers are still showing vacancies. Of course, that might only be 46 vacancies out of several hundred places, but surely there shouldn’t be any vacancies nine weeks before the courses actually start.

No doubt the review by Sir Peter Carter that is currently under way will take cognisance of this type of data, and want to report on what is hampering recruitment this year, for we really cannot experience another year likes this next year.

Sadly, it is probably too late to do anything about most unfilled places this year as schools approach the start of the long summer break.  Nevertheless, Ministers will have to answer some challenging questions come the autumn if the current figures turn out to be the reality of the recruitment round.

In the past, the DfE has tended to treat a year once over as a disappointment, but no more, if places are not filled. I doubt that commentators will be as forgiving of any shortfall against training numbers this year as we have so many extra pupils to find teachers for during the coming decade, as the Guardian article made clear.

It is too soon to decide whether one type of programme has fared worse than another, but there may well be a debate about this once the final figures are known in the autumn.

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Work smarter not harder

A big thank you to the Guardian.com that featured my blog post on episode two of the series about Teach First currently being shown on the BBC: It brought in around 1,000 extra views of this blog over four days, and make the target of 10,000 by the end of January into a feasible proposition.

Episode three of the series was aired last Thursday, and I caught up with it on the BBC i-player yesterday. The underlying themes of the episode seem to be the continuing discipline issues encountered by one of the trainees, and the interaction between teachers and pupils as they learnt about both motivation and setting boundaries. In doing so they also learnt about themselves. What was missing, I felt was any analysis of feedback to trainees making satisfactory or better progress. On the other hand, the one teacher causing concern said at one point she as being observed in half her lessons. How any preparation programme can afford such a high level of observation is a matter of no little wonder to me. What we didn’t see was the way the feedback from these observations was translated into action by both the school and the teacher. There was an interesting juxtaposition of one trainee teacher making a class enter the science lab several times because they didn’t do it to her satisfaction the first time and the trainee judged to have problems were there was no sense of what strategy she was using to gain control of the class.

As I expected, Caleb, and his opinions, featured in the episode along with the views of several other pupils, particularly about examinations. Perhaps too much time was spent on the slaughtering of the birds as a bonding exercise, and we didn’t really hear what the teacher though the outcome of that exercise had been after teaching the pupil again for several lessons. Also, did the RE teacher set to find an Arab looking Joseph (non-speaking) by his head of department really call another teacher Sir when he entered his tutor group to speak to a pupil? I will need to go back and re-check.

The new teachers spoke frankly to camera about their experiences, and the first year trainees were compared to a second year Teach First participant that the school wanted to keep even thought she expressed concern that the results for her Year 11 group would show a dip over the previous year: time will tell. One teacher that featured in episode two didn’t seem to appear this time, but there was no explanation as to why he didn’t feature.

The next episode will take the teachers into their second term when my advice to them would have been, work smarter not just harder. It assessment and preparation are taking over your life, look at how you can restore some normality, because it you aren’t teaching a full timetable think what it will be like when you are. So far, apart from assessed lessons, we have seen few interactions between the Teach First teachers and the bulk of the staff at the schools. Do they ever take part in department meetings or socialise outside of their group?

As a series about human interaction, and the feelings of young people, it makes interesting television, but whether I am not sure about what I have learnt about the Teach First method of preparing teaching that is different to other methods once they are in the classroom except that after a whole term of teaching the team are still being supportive of the teacher facing the most challenge. In this episode she received a warning about her progress from a University tutor. Next time, will she sink or swim in the new term?

More from the land of the White Rabbit

Yesterday The Guardian newspaper published some figures about recruitment to teacher training for this September. I am not sure whether this was based upon a leak or data provided by the DfE BUT given solely to The Guardian newspaper as I have not been able to locate the figures anywhere on the DfE web site. Either way the numbers, as they appeared in the newspaper, are a challenge to interpret.

Take the total shown as accepted for Physics, the subject of a recent post on this blog. According to The Guardian some 560 people have been accepted to study as Physics teachers. This it is claimed fills 57% of the target of 990 places. Eagle eyed readers will already be wondering about the use of the term target as the DfE has recently been using the alternative word ‘allocation’ to account for the number of training places available. Anyway, leaving that matter aside, according to the Statistical Bulletin published by the DfE on the 13th August, there were 1,143 Physics places issued to providers. That’s 153 more than the number quoted in The Guardian. So is the real number 560 of 1,143? This would be 49% filled, not 57% as quoted in the paper. Either way it is a big fall from the 925 Physics and Physics with Mathematics entrants recorded in the ITT census last November.

There are similar issues with the numbers quoted in other subjects. Mathematics is cited as having 1,910 accepted candidates for 2,460 places when the DfE Statistical Bulletin showed 3,054 places or 2,929 if undergraduate numbers are excluded. Last November, 2,635 trainees were recruited, so we have apparently lost 700 possible Mathematics teachers in one year; that’s about one for every five schools.

The claim that 90% of secondary places have been filled is dubious in the extreme. I am very curious that Chemistry apparently has a bumper crop of applicants as that is not what I am hearing. Even in primary, where there should be no issue in filling places, word is reaching me of anxiety in some quarters about the outcome of the pre-entry tests. It is to be hoped that the Select Committee will be able to sort the numbers issue out on Wednesday when they quiz the Minister. But, the definitive point of reference will be the ITT Census in November. By then we will also know how enthusiastic schools are about taking up all the places in School Direct for 2014.