Reviewing Ofsted

The National Audit Office Report issued today about the work of Ofsted seems to have received coverage that is slightly unfair to Ofsted. But, as an inspection body, it is an organisation it is easy to regard with distaste or even hate. https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Ofsteds-inspection-of-schools.pdf

Interestingly, in January this year I asked a question at Oxfordshire Cabinet about schools not inspected since 2010.

Could the Cabinet Member please identify those primary schools that have not had an Ofsted inspection since 2010 with the year they were last inspected and whether they are maintained schools or academies – if an academy, which MAT they currently are associated with of if they are a standalone academy.”

Most not inspected were outstanding schools, but two schools had only been rated ‘good’ in their last inspection report. There was confusion among officers when complying the reply to my question, because Ofsted lists on their web site the letter that goes to schools on conversion to an academy and, in some circumstances, this might look as if Ofsted had inspected the school when in practice it hadn’t.

I think the NAO’s overall judgement of Ofsted is fair.

24 Ofsted provides valuable independent assurance about schools’ effectiveness and as such is a vital part of the school system. It has faced significant challenges in recent years, as its budget has reduced and it has struggled to retain staff and deploy enough contracted inspectors…..

25 The Department plays an important part in whether the inspection of schools is value for money. The Department affects Ofsted’s funding, how it uses its resources and what it can inspect. The current inspection model, with some schools exempt from re-inspection, others subject to light-touch inspection and the average time between inspections rising, raises questions about whether there is enough independent assurance about schools’ effectiveness to meet the needs of parents, taxpayers and the Department itself. Although government has protected the overall schools budget, it has reduced Ofsted’s budget every year for over a decade while asking it to do more.

NAO Report, May 2018 page 11

As the DfE now realises, and the NAO acknowledges, the complex governance nature of the education system in England does not effectively work in favour of helping school improvement. The removal of funding for local authority inspection and advisory services across much of the country, in the lemming like desire to push all funds to schools, didn’t help with intelligence gathering and the lack of action at regional school commissioner level also hasn’t helped.

How do you improve an academy declared inadequate by Ofsted and with the worst attendance record of all secondary schools in the county for the autumn term after it declared inadequate if the regional school commissioner won’t take action and the diocese responsible for the MAT of which the school is part has failed to improve the school? Would a former municipal Education Committee have allowed this state of affairs to linger on without resolution?

What can Ofsted do, other than continue to report while children’s education suffers? This is surely a much more important question than why 0.2% of the target for inspections was missed over a five year period.

The most important conclusion of the NAO Report is ‘that Ofsted does not know whether its school inspections are having the intended impact: to raise the standards of education and improve the quality of children’s and young people’s lives.’ (Paragraph 20 of the summary). The government must make clear how that gap can be closed, and provide the funds to ensure that improvement is supported effectively progress monitored and any failure to improve has consequences. Such a system should include a key role for democratically elected local authorities.

 

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Why is the DfE spending millions inventing a teacher vacancy service?

The DfE is asking for your views about its idea for a new on-line vacancy service for teachers. You can read about it in the DfE’s digital blog – is there any other type of bog? – and the link is https://dfedigital.blog.gov.uk/2017/11/15/how-were-creating-a-national-teacher-vacancy-service/ The blog post was written by Fiona Murray way back in November and could do with a refresh, especially now the Public Accounts Committee has effectively sanctioned the DfE spending the money to develop the service beyond the idea of just a concept to test. The suggestion was in the Tory Manifesto for the general election last year.

As regular readers know, I have a personal and professional interest in the labour market for teachers. Personal, as the unpaid chair of TeachVac, and professional as someone that has studied aspects of the labour market for teachers for nearly 30 years.

If you are a user of TeachVac, the free to schools and teachers vacancy service covering the whole of England that has been operating for the past four years, you might want to use the comment section of the DfE blog to explain your experiences with TeachVac. If you aren’t a user of TeachVac, then register for free on TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk and then read the DfE’s blog and see whether what they are suggesting is worthwhile compared with what already exists.

I don’t know whether or not the DfE will include independent schools in their service as TeachVac does. According to the DfE blog one school leader told the DfE:

 “If I’m being honest, I’d be quite happy with a basic website, that’s as basic as the most basic website I could remember, that was free, where all of the vacancies were. And that’s not very ambitious, but believe me, school leaders will think that’s a miracle.”

Clearly, that person hadn’t seen the TeachVac site. So, if you are like them, do pay TeachVac a visit and don’t forget to tell others. Then head over the DfE blog and leave them a comment as requested.

What will the other providers of platforms used to advertise vacancies think of the government’s move into a new attempt at a vacancy service? Clearly, those that charge for recruitment stand to be affected in a different manner to TeachVac that is a free service.

What will be interesting to discover will be the attitude of groups such as the teacher associations; NASBM; governors; BESA and bodies such as REC that represents many recruiters? There might also be implications for local authorities that operate an extensive system of job boards across the country and play and important part in the recruitment landscape for the primary school sector. All these groups should really evaluate the DfE’s offerings against the present marketplace and identify the solution that offers the best value for money for schools. After all, a Conservative government surely cannot be opposed to the free market offering the best solution.

There is also a risk that the DfE’s latest attempt to enter the vacancy market for teachers ends up as the School Recruitment Service, their previous foray into the market, did nearly a decade ago. What the DfE must not do is unintentionally destabilise the market and then withdraw. Such an outcome would be disastrous for schools and teachers.

 

 

 

 

Nationalise teacher recruitment?

Does the Prime Minister’s speech to the CBI Conference this morning leave us any the wiser about the future for a DfE managed teacher vacancy service? Since there were several mentions of education and in particular T Levels and higher education in the speech, I assume the DfE, and The Secretary of State’s Private Office in particular, will have seen a copy of the speech or even watched the recording on YouTube, assuming that they weren’t following it live as it was delivered.

The Prime Minster was, as you might have expected, looking to the future while at the same time reminding her audience of past successes, including the first industrial revolution and the number of Nobel Prize winners Britain has produced. Here are some of the phrases she used during her speech; ‘back innovation’; ‘support business people’; Invest in key public services’ and ‘deploy infrastructure for the long-term’.

She also said that there were choices to be made and government must learn from past failures. I am sure after the failure of both the Fast Track Scheme and the School Recruitment Service the DfE has been learning from the past. Dumping the scheme to provide middle leaders for challenging schools a year ago also showed a willingness not to take on schemes that won’t work. Indeed, as Yorkshire was one of the regions that scheme was aimed at, it is interesting to read the account in the Yorkshire Post of the success of the teacher recruitment programme run in Bradford over the past three years, although it does seem to have been a tad expensive.

So, should the DfE set up in competition with the free market? The TES, eteach, The Guardian and indeed TeachVac have been doing a good job matching schools offering jobs with teachers seeking vacancies. The TES embraced new technology and the internet almost two decades ago and eteach has always been an on-line platform.

TeachVac created new technology to develop into what is now the largest free site for teaching vacancies in England.

So, is there a place for government in this market place? You might argue that government can operate for the long run. But, the TES has been serving the market for more than 100 years and the others are not fly by night organisations. You might argue that a DfE led service would provide the government with better data about the labour market for teachers than they have had in the past and that’s difficult to deny, but they could obtain that for other providers at less cost.

You might also argue that the DfE can offer the service cheaper than the private sector, but with TeachVac already offering a free service to schools that is a difficult argument to sustain.

The Prime minster talked about government working in partnership with the private sector, even so it is difficult to understand why the DfE has chosen a company with little knowledge of the intricacies of the teacher labour market to undertake their initial work on the vacancy project. No doubt this is something the Public Accounts Committee can explore when they question the DfE on recruitment and retention.

TeachVac has demonstrated that the use of new and innovative technology can drive down the price of teacher recruitment: should the government of the private sector take the rewards?

 

 

 

Another small brick in the wall

The National Audit Office published a report today on Retaining and developing the teaching workforce. https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Retaining-and-developing-the-teaching-workforce.pdf Of especial interest to me is the section on the government’s knowledge of the deployment of the teaching workforce and what they are doing to improve matters after the failure of the National Teaching Service pilot last year.

Looking at the list of those the NAO talked to, there was seemingly a complete lack of engagement with the private sector over any of the issues discussed in the report. In the field of most interest to me, the understanding of the labour market for teachers in real-time, something TeachVac,  the free national vacancy service has pioneered, the report comments in para 2.28 that the DfE is developing approaches to improve understanding of local teacher supply, but these are at an early stage.

Well, TeachVac’s are far more advanced than that already and it was disappointing that the NAO didn’t approach us to discuss what can be achieved, especially as we had helped with discussions on their earlier report about teacher preparation. If the NAO had reviewed the evidence to the Select Committee discussions on teacher supply they would have found evidence of Teachvac’s approach and how it helps take the knowledge base forward.

In terms of the first two bullet points in paragraph 2.28, of the NAO Report TeachVac already has the software for the first, covering both academies and other maintained schools as well as a good portion of the independent sector. As an indicative matrix we have used the percentage of ITT trainees matched against jobs advertised in real time. Matched against regional ITT numbers this can provide data at quite local levels to match the growth in school centred teacher preparation courses over the past few years. Despite showing for three years an oversupply of physical education teachers, the DfE has continued to allocate more training places than needed while not training enough in some other non-EBacc subjects.

The section of the NAO Report on deployment is especially weak, as it does not get to grips with the essential question of whether the free market in teaching vacancies should remain. Limited deployment, as the Fast Track Scheme demonstrated a decade ago doesn’t work. What does is deployment into training, as with Teach First, something seemingly ignored in the report. There is also more room to discuss whether MATs with redeployment policies have had any success in moving teachers and leaders where they are most needed?

The NAO carefully downplay pay as a reasons for difficulties in retaining teachers and seemingly make no mention of geographical issues in this respect and whether the outer Home Counties in particular are suffering from a cliff face effect when faced with higher London salaries relatively close by. Workload and school reputation are undoubtedly important, but the NAO didn’t reflect on whether pay is an issue in not recruiting enough trainees over recent years and whether the chaotic mix of incentives on offer can be unhelpful.

The Survey provided some interesting outcomes, but overall there is not a lot new in this report. The Public Accounts Committee should invite those that understand the labour market to comment at their session as well as the DfE when they discuss this report.

 

Job Done Mrs May

We will create a single jobs portal, like NHS Jobs, for schools to advertise vacancies in order to reduce costs and help them find the best teachers.                                                         Conservative Party Manifesto page 51

Good news for the Conservatives: this already exists and is free – TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk is now the largest teacher job site in England and is free to all users; schools to place vacancies and teachers and returners to locate jobs that meet their needs.

So, Mrs May, pick up the phone and call the team in Newport Isle of Wight and we will happily show you how the service operates. We are already saving schools millions of pounds in recruitment advertising and with government support, such as is envisaged for the supply sector, we can channel probably another £50 million into teaching and learning while providing accurate and up to the minute management information for civil servants and ministers.

This is one area where you can say, job done, even before the election.

Teacher Training: Value for Money?

Tomorrow the National Audit Office (NAO) publishes a report into the training of new teachers. We know this because, yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster (PAC) that receives NAO Reports decided to hold an evidence session on the subject on the 7th March. Presumably, the Chair of the PAC had seen a draft of the Report and merited it of sufficient worth to hold an inquiry. As yet, we don’t know who will be called to give evidence, but we can assume the DfE will be there. Hopefully, by then, they will have a new Permanent Secretary.

We can also assume that value for money will feature largely in the NAO Report. I hope that the NAO Report looks at the centralised admissions process for postgraduate courses. This has many advantages, but as currently organised has costs, to UCAS, to course providers and to applicants that are higher than in the previous system.  UCAS can recover any additional costs, so the change from a consecutive to a concurrent system should have been cost neutral to their bottom line.

For applicants in popular subjects applying at the start of the process, they may need to attend three interviews with no guarantee of a place at any of them, but that was the situation under the previous system. For applicants in less popular subjects, unless they know that fact, they may make three applications when only one would be necessary to secure a place; but they have had more choice.

For providers, they no longer know whether applicants have their course as their first preference or even their highest remaining priority. This means potentially interviewing applicants that might turn down a place if offered one somewhere else. UCAS should be able to quantify how often this has happened to providers so an average cost could be determined.

Elsewhere in the Report, I assume the NAO will look into the value for money of the different routes into teaching. I assume that they will assess the relative spends on marketing and admissions and on course delivery. It will be interesting to see if the NAO has delved into how much universities charge as central overheads. This was an issue first raised in the early 1990s when the Teacher Training Agency was created, but providers were often left to battle it out at an institutional level with recharges of deficits by central administrations when they over-charged. The increase to £9,000 fees temporarily put the debate on the back burner. But, I suspect it is still a live issue.

Do larger provider make better use of public money or are small school-based courses nimbler and more efficient in their use of funds? Does the present system ensure a coherent supply of teachers each year of the right quality in the right place and with the right mix of expertise? And does the government know what happens to the new teacher after the State has funded their training up front?

After all, as I have pointed out before, we train more teachers each year than the total personnel in the Royal Navy, so this is not some hole in the corner business, but a large-scale organisation. We will wait for tomorrow to see what the NAO has to say for itself. Since I had a conversation with the officer responsible, I am especially interested in this Report.

 

 

 

Funding per pupil, spending by schools: does it give value for money

Many of the important operational financial decisions of schools are largely idiosyncratic.’ This was the finding of a DfE sponsored research project that reported in 2012. Earlier today David Laws as Minister of State issued a written ministerial statement on future funding for schools in 2014-15. In the end, whatever decisions are made about how to fund schools, the spending decisions are now taken at the school level. How idiosyncratic schools’ individual decisions are can be determined, at least in historical terms, by an analysis of the raw data the DfE now publishes on its web site

Recent data for academies allows comparisons between such schools expenditure patterns. The latest data is for the school-year 2010-11 since it seemingly takes longer for the private sector to produce accounts than for state owned schools, where data up to March 2012 has been in the public domain for some time now. It would be invidious to look at academies starting in 2010, since they would not have a full complement of pupils, and there are always extra start-up costs. However, taking four academies outside London with starting dates between 2003 and 2008 provides an interesting picture of expenditure over four different categories.

Teaching

All academies with Key Stage 4: National median expenditure £3,544

The 4 academies  £2,047  £3,512  £3,700  £4594

Cleaning

All academies with Key Stage 4: National median expenditure £29

The 4 academies  £65  £72  £99  £123

Staff Development

All academies with Key Stage 4: National median expenditure £71

The 4 academies  £24  £53  £81  £92

Educational Supplies

All academies with Key Stage 4: National median expenditure £603

The 4 academies £602  £779  £880  £885

On every element there is a wide range of expenditure between the four academies. It is important that boards of directors of academies do these sorts of comparisons just as much as governing bodies of community schools so that they can justify the use of what is still in the final analysis public money.

The new funding arrangements for 2014-15 may be the last before a major reform that will grapple with the vexed question of regional funding levels, as well as those at the individual school level. The greater flexibility for the funding of small schools in rural areas highlighted in the ministerial statement will no doubt be welcomed by many in the shire counties and unitary authorities in rural areas, but the approach could mean the end of some small urban primary schools unless they have relatively low overheads and staffing costs towards the lower end of the range. There won’t be many TLRs in those schools, and the new pay arrangements might mean these were the first schools to face the staff with the choice of an increment or the closure of the school.

School funding arrangements will never please everyone, but it is clear that value for money benchmarks that governors and directors of schools can benchmark their own schools against might be a useful aid to constructing budgets and helping ministers decide the funding mechanisms for the future.