Sunday, 23 November 2008

More school stats to ponder

1735099 popped by after my last post and left a useful, if slightly narky, comment about.... well, all sorts of things. It's worth reading what he had to say.

Here are some more stats for you from the world of education in NSW.

This graph shows the number of kids in the NSW state school system over the last 40 years. Numbers peaked in 1978 at 811,000, and have slowly dropped since then to a bit under 740,000 today.

In 1984, the department started keeping separate stats for SSP, or "specific purpose" schools. As of 2003, there were 3,938 disabled kids in them.

  • Mild intellectual disability - 2418
  • Physical disability - 117
  • Emotional disturbance - 202
  • Moderate intellectual disability - 1706
  • Hearing disability - 198
  • Behaviour disorder - 54
  • Severe intellectual disability - 233
  • Visual disability - 0
  • Language disorder - 298
There were another 6,958 disabled kids in "support" classes in ordinary high schools, and then another 5,226 in ordinary junior schools. The total number of kids with some form of disability was a bit over 16,000 in 2003.

It's interesting to note that, buried in one table, was that 245 are in juvenile justice schools.

The reason I went looking for these statistics is because of this item from 173's comment:

Much of the "fat" that BOAB insists has developed around educational institutions is taken up by personnel and programmes designed to help these children achieve independence, which saves the community millions in the lifetime of one individual.

I am quite willing to accept that this is true. However, if it is, then it means that parents (and voters and taxpayers) like myself have been decieved by the education industry for the last 20 years on the topic of average class sizes.

Look at this next graph. Student numbers have been falling, whilst teacher numbers have been increasing, so you would expect that class sizes would be diminishing (and maybe they are).

But these numbers are taken at the aggregate. I have always assumed that if the number of teachers has increased, then they must have been spread evenly across the entire school system, so that all schools and students would supposedly benefit from the greater number of talking heads. If you look at the entire system, and calculate the ratio of students per teacher, you get this list of figures:

  • 2000 - 12.4
  • 2001 - 12.2
  • 2002 - 12.1
  • 2003 - 10.7
  • 2004 - 10.7
  • 2005 - 10.4
  • 2006 - 9.9
  • 2007 - 9.7
If the ratio is declining, then you'd expect class sizes to be declining as well.

However, consider what 173 said - most of the teachers have been funneled into one area, the teaching of the disabled. The number of teachers and support staff jumped from 61,500 in 2000 to 75,800 in 2007 - an increase of over 14,000 people. What if 173 is right, and say 10,000 of these ended up teaching 16,000 disabled kids, leaving only 4,000 to be thrown at the other 722,000 kids in the system? Would that make a significant difference to the class sizes of the 722,000?

I think not.

It makes me wonder whether we have been sold a pup.

I highly recommend that you look at this graph for a few minutes (from Burning our Money). It's a wonderful breakdown of where government money goes in the UK - I wish we had similar things here.

I have stolen this snippet from it:

Look at the numbers. The education department gets 60.9 billion pounds.

Of that, 41.2 billion goes to schools. 10.7 billion pounds go on teacher pensions. Only 31.7 billion of the original 60.9 billion ends up going into "general school spending".

31.7 divided by 60.9 equals 52%. General school spending gets 52% of the education budget. The other 48% is gobbled up by all sorts of things.

Now, think about how you can spin these numbers. Let's assume there are 10 million school kids in the UK. If I was in government, I would be saying that we were spending 6,000 pounds per child per year on their education - that's the headline 60 billion figure, divided by 10 million kids.

But I just told you that only 31.7 billion pounds actually make it down to the school level. The rest is siphoned off elsewhere. If I was generous, I might allow that 41.2 billion was spent on schools, or about 4,000 pounds per head - but that is a huge difference to a "spun" figure of 6,000 pounds per head.

Note that10.7 billion is spent each year on pensions.

Now let's imagine that in 2006, the department did not have to allocate money to pensions (because of an arcane government accounting rule), meaning that their budget was 50.2 billion. A politician might boast that spending per head was 5,000 pounds.

Then the government decides that the department must fund its own pensions, so it adds 10.7 billion to the 2007 budget to pay for pensions. Not a penny of that will be spent on teaching, but the headline budget is now 60.9 billion. If I was a spin doctor, I'd be saying that I just increased spending per child by 20% from 5,000 pounds per annum to 6,000 pounds. Aren't I wonderful?

This type of crap gets pulled all the time, which is why I am wary as hell of all numbers published by the government.

Consider this snippet which was buried in 6 point font under a table on page 152 of this report:
Note: The Department of Education and Training has changed its
method of reporting its staff FTE in the Annual Report to reflect the
NSW Public Sector Workforce Profile data. This means that all casual
and temporary employees are now reported, including those replacing
employees on paid leave. The data reflect staff FTE at the last pay period
in June 2003.
In 2002, the department counted 62,513 teachers and support staff. Thanks to this rule change, in 2003, they counted 70,144 - a massive jump of 7,631. I doubt the numbers of teachers grew much at all - they just started counting people that they had not previously counted. But how do you think that was spun? As a massive jump in teacher numbers. Only the sharp-eyed would have noticed this in 6 point font on page 152 of a supplementary report that no one apart from me has bothered to read since 2003.

Consider this table again - the ratio of students to teachers:

  • 2000 - 12.4
  • 2001 - 12.2
  • 2002 - 12.1
  • 2003 - 10.7
  • 2004 - 10.7
  • 2005 - 10.4
  • 2006 - 9.9
  • 2007 - 9.7
I then got these numbers from the 2007 report:

Class sizes have been reduced below the statewide average targets set for 2007. These were:

* 20 for Kindergarten students;
* 22 for Year 1 students; and
* 24 for Year 2 students.
Let's think about this for a minute. We know that across the board, there are 9.7 teachers for every student. Let's also assume that we have average class sizes of 22.


At the payroll level, we have 9.7 pupils per teacher, but in the classroom, it is 22 pupils per teacher.

Why the disparity?

If we lived in a perfectly efficient system, these two ratios would be much closer together (although teaching professionals may have all manner of reasons for why they should be different).

For instance, if the school day consists of 5 hours of teaching broken into 6 x 50 minute periods, one might expect that many teachers would spend the majority of those periods teaching. ie, if there are 6 teaching slots per day, you teach for 6 slots.

I am sure I will be howled down at this point, because teachers use free periods for marking work, doing lesson plans and the like. Fair enough. But how many free periods per day or per week do they need to do this? Out of 30 periods per week, would 3 be sufficient for this sort of thing, allowing a "wastage" rate of 10%?

Then we have annual leave and so on. In all my years at school, I only remember 2 or 3 instances of a teacher taking leaving during term. One was when our Reverend went to the middle east for a few months - that really sticks in my mind. Apart from his long absence, I don't remember any taking time off when school was in. That's what school holidays were for - for teachers and students alike. Are we in a situation today where teachers are taking large amounts of leave outside the holiday periods? If so, why?

Then we have things like training and personal development. Given the long periods when schools are out, I don't think it is too much to ask that teachers undertake training over those periods, rather than during term. But maybe that is not the case anymore.

Anyway, how can we have such a large discrepency between the number of teaching hours available (the ratio of 9.7) vs the number of hours actually taught (class size of 22 or so)? Are teachers really spending over 50% of their time doing non-teaching activities? Is there another way to explain where all that time (and money) is going?

I know that 173 thinks that I have it in for teachers, and he's right - I have it in for some of the modern lot. Not all of them. I certainly have it in for the Department - but that is another story for another time.

Consider Junior's Maths teacher.

His teacher is barely out of Uni. Class control is non-existant. Homework is set, but it is only half of what is recommended - Junior is sent home being told to do all the even numbered questions in his book, when clearly he needs to be doing all of the questions in order to gain proficiency in each set. I have to make up additional questions for him to do after his homework so that he gets sufficient repetition for things to sink in. It worked for me, and it's working for him.

No work is taken out of the class for marking - the kids swap homework when they get to class and mark each others. At 3.01pm, this teacher has left the school grounds. They are unobtainable during school hours, and unobtainable afterwards. They did not show for a social parent-teacher get together. At a formal parent-teacher night, they were so disorganised and went so over time, J was unable to see them. A time was supposed to have been organised for a catch up at a later date, but that's never happened.

In short, we are dealing with an educational black hole. I did get some feedback on two occasions - I was rung at work to be told that Junior was doing badly. This was halfway through the year, when he managed to get 12% (yes, 12%) on a maths test. I think the only reason the teacher bothered to tell us about this disaster was because they had been ordered to make contact with the parents of those disasters.

I asked that they make time for us to come and have a chat face to face. Permission denied.

I asked for material to be emailed to my home email account so that we could see where Junior was failing. Nothing came of that.

When Junior was sick, I rang his course advisor and asked for the same. They said they'd discuss it with his teacher. Nothing came of that.

I asked for their mobile number so that we could chat further if there was no progress. Permission denied.

I asked for their work email address so that we could do the same. Permission denied.

I asked her for a landline number at the school where I could reach them. Permission denied.

I asked that they call me again if his behavioural problems in class continued. No further response.

Not all the teachers at this school are like this. Some are quite good, but they are all let down by drones like I have just descibed. I would prefer that Junior had a really good teacher who could control and teach a class of 30, rather than an also-ran that can't control and teach a class of 20. Greater teacher numbers are not the answer as far as I am concerned.


Margo's Maid said...

I think the disparity between increasing numbers of teachers and lack of diminishing class sizes may have something to do with more types of leave for teachers.

You are definitely onto something there BOAB - and it's probably something the education unions preferred we didn't know about. ie more money going into teacher's paypackets, for fewer benefits when it comes to class sizes.

This is why we have blogs - you'll never read this stuff in the paper.

1735099 said...

"most of the teachers have been funnelled into one area, the teaching of the disabled"

It's much more complicated than that.

Consider other areas where teachers aren't necessarily in classrooms in front of students day by day -

Teachers at Environmental Ed Centres (Heaps of these in Queensland)

Itinerant teachers (LOTE, Physed, Music etc - in Queensland, many of these travel hundreds of kilometres weekly. Again, there are thousands of these in Queensland because of the tyranny of time and distance).

Teachers in Schools of Distance Education (In Queensland, there are seven of these - Brisbane, Cairns,
Emerald, Charleville, Charters Towers, Longreach & Mount Isa. All are big schools and there would be hundreds of teachers involved).

Show schools (Schools which follow the show circuit providing programmes to the showies kids)

At any given time, numerous teachers are seconded for a range of curriculum development tasks. I worked for a short time in Ed Queensland's Human Resources division. The situation is so complex, that if you asked exactly how many teachers were employed at any given time, the computerised HR management system could not be programmed to provide a 100% accurate answer. In addition, all teachers in administrative positions (Principals, Deputy Principals, HODs, HOSES, etc) are counted in the statistics as "teachers".

All this proves is that the science of educational measurement is poorly understood, especially by the media. Generally bloggers make a better job of it than opinion writers (of the ilk of Bolt), but they rarely add light to the argument.

IMHO, the greatest challenge facing what commentators refer to an improvement in "standards" is structural. Our state agencies have been taken over by corporate manageralists. Their mantra is efficiency based on economic rationalist theory, together with an misapplication of the theory of contestability. This makes a great deal of sense when you're manufacturing refrigerators, but is less useful when you're on about learning and teaching.

The decision-making power (especially the financial power) in the state educational agencies needs to be taken away from the centre and moved out towards the edges of the agencies. It needs to be shared by district managers (who tend to be educators rather than accountants and managers) and school principals. Most importantly, this power should include the capacity to hire and fire, as the most influential factor in developing excellence is the quality of teachers. The problem for a government agency is that somehow standards to the backblocks need to be at the same level as in the cities. In Queensland this is a massive challenge. How do you convince excellent teachers to move to less favoured areas to ensure high standards across the state? It was my job to staff special education services in North Western Queensland for four years in the mid nineties. This was a very frustrating activity.

1735099 said...

I feel a lot of sympathy with you around this – particularly given your son's future is on the line. You obviously are going out of your way to support him, and you shouldn't be encountering "Black Holes". Here are some (hopefully helpful) suggestions –

"In short, we are dealing with an educational black hole……I asked that they make time for us to come and have a chat face to face. Permission denied."

Who denied permission? If you can't get any satisfaction from the admin people, ask for an appointment with the Principal. If you are denied that, make an official complaint with the local regional or district office, and ask them to tell you what they are doing about your complaint. (This should be a last resort).

"I asked for material to be emailed to my home email account so that we could see where Junior was failing. Nothing came of that."

Again, whom did you ask? Try to find out the reporting relationships at the school. Some of the material may not be in digital form – but if there are work samples available, you have a right to see them.

"When Junior was sick, I rang his course advisor and asked for the same. They said they'd discuss it with his teacher. Nothing came of that."

Again, is this course advisor a HOD (Head of Department)? If so, there is a reporting relationship there.

"I asked for their mobile number so that we could chat further if there was no progress. Permission denied."

You won't get a mobile number unless it's a work mobile. If they gave you a private number they'd be committing a breach of privacy.

"I asked for their work email address so that we could do the same. Permission denied."

Same-same, but the school should have a "contact-us" email you could use, which should see your enquiry forwarded to the teacher.

"I asked her for a landline number at the school where I could reach them. Permission denied."

Is "them" the teacher? Generally teachers have rostered off-class time. Try to find out when this is, and phone at that time.

"I asked that they call me again if his behavioural problems in class continued. No further response."

Is there a Guidance Officer or School Counsellor employed at the school? These people generally can act as facilitators, and are skilled in problem-solving. If your son is misbehaving, you need to get to the bottom of the origin of this behaviour quick smart. Best option (if you can get it organised, is to get you, your son, his teacher and the Principal or delegate in the same place at the same time, and ask them to sort it out – with care and patience). It's that important. You need to be a help, rather than a hindrance in this process.

Some general advice – If possible, you really need to sit down with this teacher and try to work out what's going on. It sounds as if both your son and his teacher need help. As an ex-principal I believe that the principal at your school has a critical responsibility to support his teachers, not in the sense of taking their side against stroppy parents, but by ensuring that any teacher in trouble is identified, and given the practical support to make him/her effective as soon as possible.

You're more likely to get a better result for your son if you become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. This may seem a big ask, but if you believe this teacher is failing, you need to let the Principal know. In the end, if he/she is in trouble, it involves many more people than you and your son, and it needs to be sorted ASAP. Try to be calm and rational. At this time of the year, schools are under a great deal of deadline pressure.