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.

 

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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.