Your Future: Their Future – an assessment

Is it worth advertising on TV to recruit people into teaching as a career? The DfE clearly wanted to know the answer to this question and commissioned some research to look at their marketing campaign over a number of years. The result has been published at

I wonder about the approach used, as it is a very econometric based approach and I have questions about such an approach. I also have concerns about the lack of knowledge on the part of the authors about the history of teacher recruitment. There is no evidence in the bibliography provided that they have read, ‘Teacher workforce planning: the interplay of market forces and government polices during a period of economic uncertainty’ that I co-authored with Olwen McNamara in 2012 and that appeared in Volume 54 of Education Research. This article would have provided some historical context to the issue of recruitment into training. Had they also contacted me, I could probably have filled in the gaps in their datasets as they related to applications and acceptance into training. They might also have looked at my 2008 publication for the think tank Policy Exchange, about trends in teacher supply.

There are also some questionable statements in the report. Perhaps the most obvious of these is on page 27 of the report, where it comments about the UCAS application process that:

As might be expected, applications are high as soon as the applications process opens, after which there is an on-going decay until the applications process closes. This pattern repeats every year. The data series is currently too short (two and a half years of data) to calculate seasonal indices. Historic data on UCAS applications over a longer span of time would lead to better models of UCAS applications and calculating seasonal indices could be attempted in the future when additional comparable data is available.

The first statement is only party true. It holds true for applications for primary, PE and history courses, not least because places in these subjects are filled quickly and are finite in number – see numerous posts on this blog about the application cycle over the past five years. However, that pattern is not true for many other secondary subjects,

In reality there are three parts to a typical application cycle: initial interest; a mid-cycle dominated by career changers and end cycle phase, where new graduates form an important part of the applicant numbers. This is obvious from the data I hold covering the past 20 years.

To my mind there is no doubt that marketing does draw attention to teaching as a career and the National Audit Office (NAO) might want to compare the DfE spend with that of the Ministry of Defence, where recruitment targets are a fraction of those for teaching, but TV advertising is a key part of the budget.

This report doesn’t really look into how well designed the campaigns were, and uses an approach that can ignore the various design element. Is the catch phrase ‘Your Future: Their Future’ any more memorable than ‘Nobody forgets a Good Teacher’? To me it is less memorable than ‘I was born in Carlisle, but the Navy made me a man’. How important is the cumulative effect of a campaign as opposed to its individual elements is also worth discussing?

This was an initial report, perhaps the NAO should now take the research on to answer the question about the value for money the DfE has obtained through its marketing campaigns for teaching as a career.

Was the best campaign ever that based around the poster ‘The dog ate my homework?’






Leaving the arts behind is a risk

My apologies to regular readers for the absence of any posts over the past few days, but I was at the Lib Dem Conference in Bournemouth over the weekend and have been catching up on local matters since returning.

Earlier this week EPI, The Education Policy Institute, published an interesting report into ‘Entries in Arts Subjects at Key Stage 4’. Authored by their researcher, Rebecca Jones it paints a depressing picture of falling numbers of entries, even after allowing for the recent decline in the secondary school population. In 2016 there were the lowest number of entries in a decade.  Provisional data relating to 2017 exam entries indicate that the decline observed in the most recent years is continuing

The fall came after a period of increasing entries up to 2013. How far the government’s determination to push the EBacc has caused the fall is a matter for discussion, but the idea of concentrating on a wider measure, such as Progress8 or Attainment8 could well offer a possible way forward to halt the decline.

According to the EPI report, there is a clear and consistent North-South divide in entries to arts subjects, with Southern regions showing higher entry rates than Northern regions. In 2016, the North East experienced a particularly sharp drop in arts entries. The proportion of pupils entering at least one arts subject now ranges from 57.3 per cent in the South West region to 47.8 per cent in the North East, a gap of 9.5 percentage points.

An interesting finding by the EPI team was that before 2013, pupils with high prior attainment were more likely than those with medium or low prior attainment to enter at least one arts subject. This pattern has since been reversed, and those with medium or low prior attainment are now more likely to have at least one arts entry. In 2016, the gap was 3.5 percentage points (54.4 per cent for pupils with medium and low prior attainment, compared with 50.9 per cent for those with high prior attainment).

EPI also found that there is a very large gender gap in entries to arts subjects. In 2016, 64.7 per cent of girls took at least one arts subject, compared with 42.5 per cent of boys, a gap of 22.3 percentage points.

There are substantial gaps in arts entries between pupils from different ethnic backgrounds. Black Caribbean pupils have particularly high entry rates, whilst pupils from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds are much less likely to have at least one arts entry than those from other ethnic groups. I wonder whether the examination boards need to look at syllabuses to see whether they are attractive to those from a wide range of cultures.

For the purposes of the EPI report, arts qualifications were defined as those relating to the following subject areas: art and design; drama and theatre; media, film, and TV studies; music; dance; and performing arts. The EPI analysis does not classify design and technology as an arts subject. Design and technology was excluded from the category of arts qualifications in the EPI report because it includes subjects which have very little overlap with the arts, such as systems and control, and electronic products. It is also categorised separately from art and design in official publications by the Department for Education, including the national curriculum and statistical releases. However, it seems likely that design and technology may have suffered in the same manner as arts subjects since Ebacc was introduced. The government certainly does not seem to fully appreciate its importance in the school curriculum.

The details of the EPI report are of interest to those with concerns about the details. However, the headline finding should concern everyone interested in the role of education in helping to create a civilized society.