Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Review of Teacher Education

26 November 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Paul Butler
Mr Alex Easton
Mr David Hilditch
Mr William Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:
Dr Robson Davison ) Department of Education
Mrs Helen McClure )
Mrs Rose Morrow )
Mr Sean Ward )

The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey):

I welcome officials from the Department of Education to the meeting. We appreciate their attendance today. Their evidence will inform the Committee’s review of teacher education. There are several issues that we need to discuss. The Department has tabled a paper which, I am sure, members will want to discuss during the latter part of the meeting. We have started the meeting late so that members had a chance to read the paper. I invite you to introduce yourselves. The floor will then be opened for questions and answers. Thank you very much.

Dr Robson Davison (Department of Education):

Thank you very much, Chairperson. I am a grade 3 civil servant in the Department of Education. Teacher education falls into my area of responsibility. I am accompanied by Sean Ward, who is on secondment from the Education and Training Inspectorate. He has an overview of teacher education and the raising standards agenda. Also present is Rose Morrow, who is head of the teacher education branch. Finally, we have Helen McClure, who works in the statistics and research branch. With your approval, Chairperson, I will make a few opening comments and will then pass over to Helen, who will give you an understanding of the workings of the teacher-demand model.

As you are aware, responsibility for initial-teacher education is shared. The Department of Education has responsibilities in that area, as has the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL). That is a result of arrangements that were agreed in 1999 for devolution. The Department of Education’s responsibility is in two areas: one is the determination of intakes to teacher education, and the other is to ensure that the quality of initial-teacher education and its associated curriculum accords with policy. Those are, therefore, our specific roles in the world of initial teacher education.

I want to focus on intakes to initial-teacher education, which, I understand, is the core of today’s meeting. By way of introduction, we will unfold a rather complex process. The system is not centralised. Therefore, the Department of Education does not determine the number of teachers that there are in any given school. That is a result of the local management of schools (LMS) approach, which means that schools, their governing bodies and principals determine staffing using the resources that they are given. Obviously, because that system is not centralised and has been devolved to schools, the picture is quite fluid and changes throughout the year. The end of the school year is the period when the picture becomes a bit clearer.

During the past several years, a background factor in all of that has been the significant decline in the number of schoolchildren; ergo, there has been a considerable decline in the number of teachers. That has had a backwash effect into initial-teacher education intakes.

The teacher-demand model is a significant part of the determination of intakes, but not the only part. Once the teacher-demand model has given us an initial view of numbers, we look at other data and other policy-based considerations which we have to take into account, including the one that I mentioned — the whole demographic picture. We then arrive at the intakes which we discuss with our colleagues in DEL, who have responsibility for funding initial-teacher education. We reviewed the model through the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) in 2004, and we are in the process of a further review of the model.

It is a complex process in the devolved context. Helen will explain the teacher-demand model.

Mrs Helen McClure (Department of Education):

I will try my best to make this easy to understand, but it is a complicated process, as Robson said.

The teacher-demand model is spreadsheet based and runs on Microsoft Excel. It is updated annually by the Department’s statisticians, and the outputs are passed to our colleagues in the teacher-education branch who use it to inform their decision about the number of initial-teacher education places.

The model has been used annually by the Department since 1985. It has remained more or less the same throughout, but a number of refinements and revisions have been made to improve its predictive accuracy.

There are three stages in the modelling process, which are aimed at producing the following three outputs: first, a projection of the number of vacancies that are likely to arise in Northern Ireland grant-aided schools in future years; secondly, a projection of the number of those vacancies that are likely to require filling by new intakes to teacher training; and thirdly, an indication of how many intakes are required to each of the courses — the one-year post graduate certificate in education (PGCE) course and the four-year Bachelor of Education (BEd) course — in order to deliver the number of trained teachers to fill the vacancies.

Primary and post-primary levels are modelled separately, but the same process is used for each. Historically, the model has been based only on the number of full-time teachers; however, as a growing number of teachers work part-time, that basis is likely to change as a result of the review to the number of full-time equivalent teachers.

I will describe the three stages in a little more detail to give members an insight into how the model works. The first stage projects the vacancies that are likely to arise in schools in the coming years. The model first tries to establish the level of demand for teachers, and that is demography-led. It applies a pupil-teacher ratio to projections of pupil numbers. The pupil-projections are produced annually by the Department and are guided by the population-projections made by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. The pupil-teacher ratio is based on the latest available data and it is the number of pupils divided by the number of teachers working in schools. That calculation is carried out for primary and for post primary separately, and the appropriate ratio is then applied to the projections to identify the level of demand for teachers. The pupil-teacher ratio that is calculated is applied to each year of the projection period. That tells us how many teachers we need for the expected number of pupils.

The next stage of the model is to work out how many teachers will remain after wastage is taken into account. By “wastage”, I mean teachers leaving for various reasons: resignation, retirement, redundancy and teachers leaving education rather than moving from one school to another. Once we have an estimate of the number of teachers who will leave, it is set against the number of teachers employed in schools, so that we can calculate a rate of wastage. A wastage rate is calculated separately for each year of age: the rate of wastage for teachers aged 30 will differ from that for those aged 31. Those rates of wastage are then applied to the numbers of teachers in the stock at the appropriate age. From an expected stock of teachers, we can then project the expected wastage some years into the future. When wastage is taken account of, we are left with the number of teachers that we expect to remain in teaching. That is deducted from the number of teachers that we need, and so we are left with the number of teaching vacancies that are likely to arise in the future. That completes the first stage.

In the second stage of the model, we calculate how many of the vacancies likely to arise should be filled by admitting students to teacher training in the present year. Not all the vacancies will require an intake to teacher training; some will be filled by teachers who are already in training, or those already trained. The model attempts to make some assumptions at this stage about how posts are likely to be filled in the future before arriving at the actual number of adjusted vacancies that need to be filled by new intakes.

The model takes into account three adjustments at this stage. The first adjustment concerns the number of people who are already in teacher training and who are expected to graduate from Northern Ireland colleges and seek teaching employment in Northern Ireland. The second adjustment concerns an estimate of the number of people who are likely to return to teaching in Northern Ireland after a break — we call those people re-entrants. The third adjustment concerns an estimate of the number of people who are likely to have qualified in Great Britain and take up a teaching post here.

I will give the Committee a little more information on those three adjustments. As I said, the first adjustment concerns the number of people who are already in training in Northern Ireland —that will be the number of expected graduates. That figure will take account of wastage as a result of people dropping out of their course or people completing the course but not taking up a vacancy in a school.

The second adjustment concerns the estimate of the number of people who are likely to return to teaching in Northern Ireland after a break — essentially, people who return after a career break. We are able to identify entrants to teaching from year to year. By looking at teacher reference numbers, we can identify teachers whose reference numbers are quite old — five years or older. An assumption is made that those people are likely to be re-entrants rather than new teachers. From those figures, we are able to establish a rate for re-entrants, calculate figures and subtract them from the number of vacancies.

The third adjustment concerns the number of people who are likely to have qualified in Great Britain and take up a teaching post here. We can retrieve data from the teachers’ payroll system to establish where teachers obtained their qualification. We extract data on recent entrants to Northern Ireland teaching posts who qualified in Great Britain. We assume that that trend will continue in the future.

We have taken account of those three adjustments and removed the associated figures from the vacancies figure at which we first arrived. We now have a figure that we simply call adjusted vacancies. It is that figure that we take forward to the third stage to calculate how many new trainee teachers are needed to fill those adjusted vacancies in the coming years. At that point, the model assumes that the remainder of those vacancies will have to be filled by new intakes.

I now move to the final stage. We now would have a figure for adjusted vacancies for each of the coming years. The only way that we can meet the projected vacancies for the first three years is by taking in students to the one-year PGCE course — the four-year course would obviously mean that there would be a delay of four years before students could graduate, and that would not be appropriate. The projected vacancies in the first three years are met purely from the intake to the PGCE course. It is not just a case of intake equals vacancies, because we must uprate the intakes to allow for what we call compensating wastage.

Some people will drop out of a course, while others will not take up their posts; therefore, we must uprate the figure to allow for those dropouts. Vacant posts in four years’ time will be filled by intakes from the PGCE and BEd courses. Places are allocated using, what is called, an intake ratio, which divides the intakes between the two courses. We also apply compensating wastage rates to those intake figures.

Having done all that, the model outputs the breakdown of intakes for initial-teacher education at primary and secondary level and the PGCE and BEd courses. Those numbers will then be passed to our colleagues in the teacher-education branch to help inform their decisions about what the numbers ought to be.

Dr Davison:

The model is a complex one, as you can understand from the description. After it is applied, the policy branch must apply to the intake figures other data, which we can access, and take account of other policy considerations. After that, the intake figures for the institutions are then sent for ministerial agreement.

The Chairperson:

The Committee has been interested in the issue of teacher training for many months. The teacher-demand model and all the other obstacles, about which Helen spoke in her presentation, seem like a waste of time. My instinct is that the figures that are produced by the teacher-demand model will have to go through a number of other hoops to become the figures that the Department wants. I am being quite cynical about the information that I have in front of me.

From examining the teacher-training review in a focused way, the Committee has noticed that the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education have not adopted a holistic approach to the issue. Given that we have been waiting a number of years for the outcome of the teacher-training review, can you tell us when that will be finalised? You said that the teacher-demand model has been operation since 1985 and that it was reviewed in 2004. When did the Department decide to review that?

Robson, you said that the review had started, but when will it finish? It is important to know when that finishes. What will happen next year if the review has not been completed? We will be in the same position. What pupil-teacher ratio do you use? The Committee hopes to sign off on its report in the next number of weeks, so it needs all that information. I have further questions to ask, but I will return to those once other members have asked theirs.

Dr Davison:

The gestation of the teacher-education review has taken a long time. We have got to the final steps; the final draft of the document is being completed, so it is almost ready to send to the Minister for Employment and Learning and the Minister of Education.

Mrs Rose Morrow (Department of Education):

It has already been sent to the two Ministers.

Dr Davison:

I do not know how long it will be with the Ministers; they will probably want to discuss it. The teacher-demand model was reviewed in 2004. It got a clean bill of health then. For us, one issue is the relationship between the teacher-demand model output and the other information that we receive, which is a combination of actual data and anecdotal information gathered from the system. That information shows that the decline in the number of schoolchildren is having a significant impact on the number of teachers needed.

The figures show that, although the teacher-demand model suggests a certain figure, the actual intakes between 2004-05 and 2008-09 have been lower than the figures suggested by the model.

The Chairperson:

You said that the system received a clean bill of health in 2004. However, the paper shows that the figure suggested by the teacher-demand model in that year was 926, whereas the overall approved figure was 880. Helen said that other issues come into play, but it strikes me that they come into play only to achieve the figure that officials want. How can you say that it received a clean bill of health if the approved figures are lower than the suggested figures?

Dr Davison:

Helen said that we have to make assumptions with the model. As I said at the start of the meeting, we do not use a centralised system, and, therefore, 1,250 individual schools make decisions on how many teachers are required in each school. Furthermore, they decide on the nature of teachers’ employment, because some teachers work full-time, some work part-time, some are required to cover maternity leave, and so on. Therefore, the model has to make assumptions.

I mentioned a clean bill of health because NISRA, the Government’s statistics agency, examined the model in 2004 and concluded that the Department included the appropriate assumptions regarding their relevance to the intakes issue. Although the figures are different, we do not suddenly decide on a figure regardless of the model’s recommendation; the model provides a starting point for us to consider future intakes. That starting point is based on the outcomes from those assumptions — the figures for which may be correct or incorrect — because not all the data is available in a perfect form.

It is not an easily administered central model in which one can input data at the start and receive a single answer at the end. In reality, although the inputted assumptions produce a number, the evidence outside of that system suggests that there is an oversupply problem. The model numbers have not indicated the full extent of that problem.

The Chairperson:

When will the review of the model be completed?

Dr Davison:

The review should be completed by February 2009, in time for consideration of the 2009-10 figures.

Mrs R Morrow:

Yes, that is correct. When determining the 2009-10 figures, we hope to consider some of the changes suggested by the review. You asked when the Department initiated the review of the teacher-demand model; I asked statistics branch to begin that review in February 2008 because of changing patterns in full-time and part-time employment. We wanted to determine whether we needed to amend the model to take account of full-time equivalents as opposed to full-time numbers.

Dr Davison:

The third area is the pupil-teacher ratios. We feed the last annual pupil-teacher ratios into the model. Although they can change, they do not change dramatically from year to year.

The Chairperson:

I will return to some of those issues later.

Mr Newton:

I thank the delegation for attending. This is a serious matter that is extremely important to the future of the Department of Education and to the Committee’s work. When did you receive an invitation to attend the Committee?

Dr Davison:

I do not have the letter.

Mrs R Morrow:

The Chairperson’s letter was dated 2 October 2008. I do not know when it arrived in the Department.

The Chairperson:

It actually went to the Committee for Education and had to be processed.

Mr Newton:

As has been admitted, the information is complex. Although the information was sent about three weeks ago, at 2.10 pm yesterday, the Committee Clerk received that complex documentation for the Committee’s consideration.

Dr Davison:

I can only apologise for the late arrival of that information. As I said, it is complex territory. We were combining views from different Departments — and drawing them together was a complex process in itself — before seeking ministerial approval to submit the paper. Should the Committee — after it has had time to consider the issue further — wish us to come back to discuss the matter, we will do so.

Mr Newton:

This is a very serious matter. The paper was tabled today because it was not possible for members to have it sooner. The Committee meeting was delayed for 15 minutes in order to give members an opportunity to read about a matter that you have described, several times, as complex. It does not seem as though the Committee and the matter have been treated with the respect that they deserve.

Dr Davison:

I apologise, if that is the Committee’s feeling, Mr Newton. Now that the Committee has the paper, we can discuss it this morning, but, if the Committee wishes to discus it further, we are willing to return. We share your view that it is a serious issue; all aspects of teacher education are serious issues. The fact that we have submitted the teacher-education review to our Minister, shows how seriously we view the issue.

Mr Newton:

Based on what you have said this morning, I cannot say that I have got my head around the whole issue. I want to ask about the assessment of the effectiveness of the model. The last paragraph on the last page of the document says:

“The previous HRCS review compared the Department’s model (deterministic method) with a model using an alternative mathematical approach (stochastic simulation techniques), and found consistency in the model outputs. The review will mainly examine the complexity of the model and the relationships between the variables used within the model.”

What does that mean?

Dr Davison:

Helen took the Committee through the sheer number of variations that are part and parcel of the model. We wish to examine it and ask whether it is too complex or whether we are missing something. As you look at the numbers, you will see that, for several years, there has been a significant gap between the outputs from the teacher-demand model and the final student intake. In fact, last year, the figures reversed. In 2004, NISRA told us that the assumptions that we make are right, but there is something counter-intuitive in the fact that other data shows a clear oversupply problem. Ergo, it is very important that we look again at the information to see whether something has been missed, or whether the assumptions have been wrongly weighted or pieced together. Perhaps Helen can give us more information from a statistical perspective.

Mrs McClure:

What Robson has said is exactly right. The previous review basically confirmed that the modelling process was robust and consistent. Statisticians ran the data through an alternative modelling method and got similar results. We need to examine the model to see whether there is too much information in it and whether data are counteracting each other. We do not think that that is the case, but we want to assess the model to be sure of that.

The model contains a lot of estimates and assumptions, and reviewing it provides an opportunity to examine each of those and ensure that they are as accurate as possible. It is good practice to conduct that review periodically and to take any new data into account, because some of the assumptions have been in the model for a long time.

Mr Newton:

Helen, as the statistician who assesses the complex mathematical configurations with the stochastic simulation techniques, you might just be proving that the deterministic model is correct.

Mrs McClure:

The deterministic model may be correct. The most recent review did not suggest that a different method should be used. An alternative method was used merely to ascertain whether different results would be produced. However, the alternative method produced basically the same results as the deterministic model.

Mr Easton:

I am relatively new to the Committee, so I am on a steep learning curve. My niece trained to be a teacher, but she cannot get a job. The problem is that too many people are being trained as teachers. Can you provide a breakdown of the extent of that oversupply over recent years?

My niece has found that teachers who have taken early retirement are returning as substitute teachers. Newly-qualified teachers do not seem to be getting a fair crack of the whip, because experienced retired teachers are taking up places. Does that skew the figures? Should we not consider introducing a system in which retired teachers must remain retired?

Dr Davison:

It is difficult to get a precise picture of the extent of the oversupply of people training as teachers. However, the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland (GTCNI) data — which is one of the markers that we use — shows that only 27% of the people who graduated as teachers in 2007 are in permanent or near-permanent employment. That provides a significant indication, but getting an exact picture of the extent of the oversupply is not easy.

We are instinctively aware — even without the relevant data — as the numbers in schools have decreased in recent years, the number of teachers is also going to decline. The figures entered at the front end of the system must decline, and that policy call has reduced the numbers in recent years. We have tried to respond to the oversupply, while ensuring that the system in operation remains viable.

Teachers who have taken early retirement — either through efficient discharge or redundancy — often return as substitute teachers. We have examined that matter several times, but, legally, we cannot take action against it because that would be a constraint on a person’s right to take up employment.

Mr Attwood:

Thank you for attending the meeting. I echo the points that were made by the Deputy Chairperson. We were told 26 days ago that you received ministerial approval to appear before the Committee, and yet, you submitted a paper less than 24 hours before the meeting. You are the specialists in this matter; you are the people who work through the teacher-demand model every year, and, since February of this year, a review has been being conducted. Is it the best that you can do to submit a paper three hours before the close of business on the day before this Committee meeting? I do not want to hear anymore apologies. I want to hear an explanation as to why that happened.

Dr Davison:

The explanation lies in the complexity of the issues, which we tried to unpick and present to you in a way that provides an opportunity for discussion. I know that you do not want to hear apologies, but I apologise again. If it is required, we will certainly come back and discuss this when the Committee has had more time to consider the issue.

Mr Attwood:

From my point of view, it is simply not credible that the people who spend every day working through this cannot get a complex paper to the Committee at least a couple of days before it is due to meet. Why did that paper not reach us until two or three hours before the close of business on the day before?

Dr Davison:

I do not want to endlessly repeat myself, but, in our world, the paper went through several emanations until we reached a paper that we felt was right. I understand what you are saying, and I apologise for it; we will certainly discuss this with you on another occasion.

Mr Attwood:

I do not hear any credible explanation.

The paper that was tabled this morning outlines the approved intakes across the period 2004-05 to 2008-09. The stakeholder review arises from questions about the merger of Stranmillis and Queen’s. There are also questions about the viability of Stranmillis and Queen’s further to the February 2008 decisions in respect of student numbers and funding. Is there not a breakdown of figures for each of the teacher training colleges over the past four years?

Dr Davison:

We can give you that.

Mr Attwood:

Do you not think that rather than giving us a global figure, it would have been useful to include that breakdown in your submission, so that we could ascertain what has been happening in each of the colleges over the past four years?

Dr Davison:

That was part of the internal discussion that we had in order to produce the paper. Rather than lengthening it with a lot of other information, we thought that the focus of the paper should be on the outworking of the model and the relationship between that and the setting of intakes.

Mr Attwood:

You —

Dr Davison:

That was thought to be preferable to referring to specific institutions.

Mr Attwood:

I do not —

The Chairperson:

We need to let the officials answer. However, on that point, it might be useful if we could have that breakdown.

Dr Davison:

We will supply that.

Mr Attwood:

Given that we are dealing with what is happening to colleges and with questions about viability, that information should have been provided.

The teacher-demand outlines intake requirements between 2004 and 2007 for the primary BEd courses at Stranmillis and St Mary’s. It also outlines the requirement during those four years for the primary PGCE at the University of Ulster. There is a pattern in those figures. Although the teacher-demand model outlines figures for the primary BEd in each of the four years, over three of those years the figures are in decline. The teacher-demand model projects an increase in the number of students going to Stranmillis and St Mary’s over three years; however, you came up with a proposal to reduce those numbers by 23 in 2005, by 79 in 2006, by 92 in 2007, and by 107 in 2008. Yet, over the same period, when it comes to the University of Ulster, where the teacher-demand model makes proposals about what the intake should be, you increase the numbers by 29, 23 and 34. Furthermore, and astoundingly, when it is proposed that there should be an increased student intake of 6 in 2008, the number was increased by 62.

Given that the teacher-demand model outlines figures for Stranmillis and St Mary’s, and outlines figures for the University of Ulster, why were Stranmillis and St Mary’s so severely penalised in each of those three or four years? Why was the University of Ulster so advantaged over the same period? Why did you choose to ignore the teacher-demand model and penalise the teacher-training colleges of south and west Belfast, and benefit the University of Ulster?

Dr Davison:

I do not accept the notion that we are penalising Stranmillis and St Mary’s. We are trying — as best as we can in our situation — to reflect what we see as the picture in front of us. That picture is partly influenced by the teacher-demand model, and partly influenced by other factors.

Mr Attwood:

Why were the figures that were given to the University of Ulster increased beyond the teacher-demand model? Why did it get such an uplift?

The Chairperson:

Before we go any further, questions should come through the Chair, and officials should be afforded the opportunity to answer the questions. If we need to stay here longer, we will.

Dr Davison:

You highlighted the figure of 62 because the teacher-demand model recommended six and primary PGCE course places at the University of Ulster increased to 68. I am working from the proposed numbers that you have given me for 2008. One of the issues is that six students are not going to provide enough people for the course at the University of Ulster to be sustained. That is why the figure was increased. I do not have a specific answer as to why it increases from six to 68.

Mrs R Morrow:

For clarification, the primary PGCE figures — and I apologise to the Committee that you do not have these figures in front of you; I will make sure that you get them — does not just cover the University of Ulster. There is early-years PGCE provision at Stranmillis and there is PGCE in Irish-medium education at St Mary’s. Between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the University of Ulster’s primary PGCE intakes reduced from 70 to 40. At Stranmillis, the PGCE element reduced from 20 to 15. The PGCE Irish-medium education at St Mary’s increased from 20 to 22 during that period. In looking at the overall figures, it is not a straightforward picture.

When taking the decisions across that period, we took into account the information that we had about young newly-qualified teachers who are unemployed. We also considered demographics, and the impact over the past x number of years has been to decrease a large number in the primary sector rather than in the post-primary sector. We also consider the determination of routes for young people to go into primary and post-primary education. The PGCE route at the University of Ulster is one way for young people who take their degree first, and then determine that they want to get into primary-school teaching. That is also a route for people who determine later in life that they want to take a degree in primary education. Lots of considerations are taken into account.

Dr Davison:

It is important to put on record that we do not penalise institutions: that is not the nature of the exercise in which we are engaged. In initial-teacher education, we try to work closely with all the institutions, and to have a degree of fairness in how we treat each of them. The notion of us penalising an institution is not a fair description of what we are trying to do.

Mr Attwood:

Let us revisit some of those points. Dr Davison said that one of the reasons that the University of Ulster got the increase in 2008 was because the course would otherwise not have been sustainable.

Dr Davison:

That is if six was indeed the figure that the teacher-demand model produced.

Mr Attwood:

I appreciate that. Why, then, did you propose figures for St Mary’s and Stranmillis that — in their view — did not make them sustainable or viable?

Dr Davison:

As you are aware, we are discussing that issue with the institutions all the time. We are interested in viability, because we want a flow of high-quality young teachers to come into the system. In that sense, DEL is responsible for structures and viability in the higher-education sector, not the Department of Education.

Mr Attwood:

I appreciate that, but you introduced the issue of sustainability. When we received evidence from St Mary’s and Stranmillis, one of the key issues that they raised — and one of the key standards for the merger between Queen’s and Stranmillis — was their future viability, based upon their intake.

If you are prepared to admit that sustainability was an issue for the University of Ulster, do you not accept that, based upon the figures that you produced, there is an issue about the viability and sustainability of Stranmillis and St Mary’s?

Dr Davison:

You are making a leap. I said that the figure of six would not be sustainable for a primary PGCE course. It is a bit of a leap to compare the sustainability of one course with the viability of an entire institution.

The argument about the viability of an institution is a much broader one than the argument about the figure of six for a single course in the University of Ulster. In structural terms, that is an issue for this Committee and for the Department for Employment and Learning. In the system that we use, we are interested in viability from the perspective of sustaining throughput into the teacher force of good-quality graduates.

Mr Attwood:

I understand what you are saying. However, if you are prepared to introduce the issue of sustainability about one course at a very large university, it follows automatically — if not more compellingly — that you should be concerned about the issue of sustainability and viability of teacher-training colleges such as Stranmillis and St Mary’s.

Dr Davison:

Of course, in answer to an earlier question, I said that we are not in the business of penalising any institution; we are in the business of trying to treat institutions fairly. The issue that you raised about the viability or sustainability of an institution is clearly a matter of importance to us in respect of sustaining the throughput of teachers. However, it is not an issue for us in structural terms. I am trying to differentiate between our particular responsibilities and those of DEL.

The Chairperson:

I will allow Alex to ask one more question. If he asks two questions, that is his problem. We will come back to this issue, because I will take up your offer of more information.

Mr Attwood:

Indeed, because I am yet to be convinced. The PGCE numbers have increased over the past four or five years — an increase of 142 over the teacher-demand model. Over the same period, based on the teacher-demand model, the number of BEd students has decreased by 191. When we receive the breakdown of the PGCE numbers, I will be curious to find out what numbers are going to the University of Ulster and the numbers that will go to the other colleges.

For other factors you rely heavily upon the register, because the statisticians use the teacher-demand model — the model that you define as “robust”. Other features and factors then begin to crowd in and re-engineer the teacher-demand model to a different outcome. One of those factors is the number of graduates who are on the register for teacher-training places. I am curious about that register, because if you now say that it is such a major feature in making decisions about the overall number of students who go into teacher training, it seems that you should have been making some rigorous assessments about what that register actually means.

Can people go on to the register and later come off it?

Dr Davison:

There is an assumption in what you said that I find odd — that is that somehow the Department re-engineers the teacher-demand model to a different outcome. That would imply a degree of determinism in the first instance.

The Department is trying to attain a realistic picture of intakes against what is a very fluid situation in the movement of teachers in and out of the profession. That must be set against a background of demographic decline, fairness to all the players in the system and an understanding of the fact that the data is telling us — we are also being informed anecdotally — that there is a significant oversupply of teachers. Therefore, it is untrue that the Department is taking the teacher-demand model and deliberately engineering a separate outcome. The Department arrives at an outcome through consideration of the model against the other factors that we have discussed.

Mr Attwood:

When people go on to the register, how do they come off it?

Mrs R Morrow:

The register is largely maintained by the teachers themselves. However, data-cleansing exercises are undertaken throughout the year. For example, teachers employed in grant-aided schools in Northern Ireland must be registered with the GTCNI. On an annual basis, that council provides the Northern Ireland Substitute Teacher Register (NISTR) with a list of teachers who are no longer registered, and a process is then undertaken to confirm with those teachers why they have not registered. Those teachers may have forgotten to pay their GTCNI registration fees or may have taken the decision to remove themselves from the GTCNI register. Furthermore, the Department examines the information provided from the teachers’ payroll system to ascertain which individuals have moved to full-time employment. That information is passed to NISTR and it, again through a process of —

Mr Attwood:

Is there a percentage of teachers —

The Chairperson:

Alex, make this your final question.

Mr Attwood:

Could there be a percentage of teachers on the register who were in teaching or who no longer want to be in teaching, but who still remain on the register?

Mrs R Morrow:

There could be. I —

Mr Attwood:

Similarly, are there teachers on the register who could be registered a number of times, because they have registered for various teaching opportunities?

Mrs R Morrow:

It is my understanding that if a teacher is on NISTR, they are registered only once. Teachers may make themselves available to teach in the primary or the post-primary sector or — through a single entry in the system — make themselves available to teach mathematics or science, for example.

Mr Attwood:

Yes, but could there be a potential of double, or even triple, registration?

Mrs R Morrow:

I do not believe that to be the case. However, I can come back to you to confirm that.

The teacher reference numbers are entered in the system. Teachers must be registered with the GTCNI, and to be on the register, they must have come through the vetting process. It is my understanding that there can be only a single entry for a single teacher with a single teacher reference number. Indeed, that is borne out by the fact that the Department has now introduced arrangements whereby if teachers on the NISTR list are booked by a school, the payment will be automatically processed through a mandating process in the teachers’ payroll system. For example, in November, I believe that 83% of days booked through NISTR were paid for through the payroll link with the NISTR system.

Dr Davison:

The NISTR data is only one of the sources that the Department uses subsequent to the running of the model. The reason that we use those data sources is because they shed light, in different ways, on the whole picture of teacher supply.

I hope that the implication is not that we should not use that data. It is available, and we need to use it to try to get a fair outcome for the institutions. We do not want to feed the system with students in large numbers who, when they emerge, have no real prospect of employment. That is a significant issue.

The Chairperson:

I have more questions on your presentation, and we will come back to this issue when more information is provided, which will enable us to get down to the nitty-gritty.

Dr Davison:

I have no difficulty with that.

Ms Lo:

I thank the witnesses for attending. It is disappointing, if not surprising, that the 2004 review did not identify the problems with the teacher-demand model that have exacerbated the oversupply situation over the past few years. Is that not correct?

Dr Davison:

As an administrative civil servant, I am in the hands of my professional colleagues. The review was conducted by NISRA, and I have to act on its information. NISRA statisticians are the professionals in this process; I am not. However, we are reviewing the situation again because — and this is the significant factor — the school population has continued to decline and the impact on that on the number of teachers has been such that we need reconsider the issue to ascertain whether something has been missed or whether there is something wrong with our assumptions. We knew, instinctively, that a review was necessary.

Ms Lo:

That review must be rigorous, so that the mistakes that were made in 2004 are not repeated.

Dr Davison:

As I said, given that it is a statistical model, I am in the hands of professional statisticians. However, the model is the starting point of a process by which we apply other information and feed other policy concerns into the debate. When we next appear before the Committee, we will try to eliminate the Committee’s concerns. This is an incredibly complex picture. Building a model as a starting point is an important part of the process, but it is not the entire process.

The Chairperson:

Thank you for your presentation. We want to sign off on our own review and publish recommendations before the Christmas recess. We will work with you to schedule another meeting, but I would appreciate it if you could give us all the information that we have asked for.

Dr Davison:

It is boring and repetitive, but I apologise again. We will certainly endeavour to ensure that if information is required, we will supply it.

The Chairperson:

It creates a difficulty for us when we receive a paper on the morning of our meeting.

Dr Davison:

I understand that.

The Chairperson:

Thank you.

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