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Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): Discussions about Government spending priorities are usually, rightly, rich in ideology. Resource allocations have to be properly matched to intended outcomes, and determining what those outcomes should be is the stuff of politics. However, I approached the subject of the cost to schools of advertising job vacancies not through the prism of ideology or party politics but from the perspective of good old-fashioned cost-effectiveness. Schools pay many times more than is necessary in order to advertise the jobs that they have available. I am convinced that the adoption of a number of simple measures, none of which would require legislation, would enable schools to save millions of pounds every yeartens of thousands of pounds each. My aim today is to show that savings could be made and services to schools improved by greater use of the internet.
A few months ago, I attended the New Statesman new media awards. The debate was full of exciting, young and some not so young internet entrepreneurs who had found truly creative ways of delivering servicessome traditional, some newthrough the new media. It was a great event to attend, because the excitement generated by finding new solutions to old problems was palpable. The event was a real credit to the New Statesman. One of the main prizes was won not by the private sector but by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and that was marvellous.
As I watched the prizes being presented, I was reminded of an Adjournment debate that I had secured in Westminster Hall four years ago, not long after arriving in the House. Then, I could not understand why The Times Educational Supplement managed to continue to base its price to schools on a newspaper format when it was clear that there was ample scope for the job advertisements that sustained it to move to a cheaper and much more versatile internet platform. Then I was told by the Minister that the Government would be reluctant to interfere unnecessarily in the market but that perhaps in due coursethis is a quick summarythe market would come to a better solution in its own way. I wonder whether that is still the Government's position. I am not sure, but in due course I shall find out. Things are changing so fast, both on the internet and in the market in general, that what was not practicable four years ago may well be feasible now. So I decided to have a second run at the subject.
The commercial viability of newspapers across the UK is based on advertising and sometimes, in particular, the "jobs vacant" column. Many of the jobs on offer are funded by the public purse, in central or local government or some agency or other. It follows that it is public money that keeps the wolf from the door of many excellent publishing ventures. There is nothing wrong with that in principle, as hiring decisions are among the most important that any manager will take, whether he is in the public, voluntary or private sector.
In recent years there has nevertheless been a steady move away from conventional job advertisements in newspapers, as managers and budget holders take advantage of new websites that cater for their needs and that are much cheaper than their newsprint alternative.
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That is not a reflection of the quality of the newspapers and journals that are losing out, and it is certainly true that there is still value in advertising in newspapers in particular situations. For example, those who are likely to take up lower-end jobs in a local authority may be less mobile and more local, and perhaps less likely to do their administration on the internet. In such circumstances, it remains prudent to advertise in a local newspaper. However, as a generality, the more internet-literate the population become, the more people shop and buy cinema tickets on the internet and the more jobs can be advertised effectively too. The winners from the trend are the advertisers and the jobseekers; the losers are the newspapers and journals.
Even as I wrote this speech, I and other Members received an e-mail from Thomson directories about e-marketing, which seemed relevant. The growth of job advertisements on the internet is reflected in the advertising that we now see on television for recruiters such as monster.co.uk, and there are rumours that some of the larger corporations, such as Microsoft or Yahoo, might develop software that searches the internet for job vacancies advertised on specific sites. Those things may well be in the pipeline, but for the moment the question for any job advertiser is whether the internet options on offer are fit for his purposes. For example, regardless of the technological offers on parade, if the target population do not on the whole use the internet, managers will be wasting their time and money. To some extent, therefore, although developing technologies will drive change, as ever, human behaviour will still play the most fundamental part in their design and their constraint.
Some public sector organisations are further down the internet road than others. The NHS has set up its own website, www.jobsnhs.co.uk, aimed at saving NHS employers the cost of advertising in local and national press. The website does not seem as effective or successful as it might be, as it advertises relatively few jobs. Interestingly, other websites have rather more. However, some websites, including www.nhsjobs.co.ukI suspect that it got the name before the NHS official website did, and that is why the latter uses the reverseare quite successful; that one has a thousand or so jobs on it.
Nurses in particular and those in other specialisms are moving away from conventional publications such as Nursing Times and across to the internet. They are confident that the jobs that they are looking for will be advertised there, so the advertiser has confidence that the readers will be there, too.
The websites have led to a significant reduction in the advertising income for traditional sources. Recently, for example, the owners of Nursing Times, Emap, announced that it anticipated a 40 per cent. reduction in advertising income for that one publication alone. It is a relatively small part of the Emap empire, but, as I understand it, it is a very high-margin publication. Nurses are computer-literate and need a quick and easy means of looking and applying for jobs. NHS employers have confidence that advertisements will be read by the target population. These jobs have migrated in the true sense, meaning that no cost is being expended elsewhere in another newspaper publication. That is a crucial detail that I will come back to.
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The NHS is, of course, the largest employer in the world, and because it is so diverse, there are specialisms. Specialisms can migrate bit by bit in bite-sized chunks or packets, as it were. That makes migration to the internet rather easier in that field than in education, which is my primary concern. Education is much more homogenous, so packetingchunks moving across to the internet bit by bitwill not really work. The nation's teachers want to use the same source, and so do the nation's schools and local authorities. That makes migrating those adverts to the internet very challenging, because it would have to be done in very short order. We would need to move everyone across; it would be like switching the side of the road that one drives on, or going over to broadband.
I should like to describe how schools recruit, and in particular mention the role of The Times Educational Supplement. Most or all of us here will know this, but I want to put it on record in Hansard: for more than half a century the TES has dominated the market in advertising teaching vacancies. It has done that by taking advantage of being part of The Times empire, and by having access to the whole distribution network. Historically, it was the only paper to advertise to teachers nationally, once teachers travelled more outside their local area. It was the place to look for jobs nationally. Increasingly, people looked away from local papers and to the national TES for jobs, as they were prepared to move anywhere in the country for a promotion or a different type of job.
Today, pretty much all teachers looking for a job look in the TES, and all schools and local authorities looking to fill jobs advertise there. Staffrooms subscribe to a special dog-eared version, which is passed around as a kind of recreational activity. The journalism in it is perfectly fine; indeed, it can be extremely good. However, a teacher in a staffroom looking at the TESI do not think that I am being cynicalis more likely to be looking at the job vacancies, and fantasising about what might be, than reading through the learned pieces written by journalists. That is my instinct, and my claim is probably provable through empirical observation, but I could be getting out of line.
The market has proved virtually impossible to penetrate. The Guardian education supplement has tried raids on the higher education segment, which the sister paper of the TES, The Times Higher Educational Supplement, covers, but essentially if someone is looking for a job or looking to advertise one they still have to pay the TES. Of course, there are many niche recruiting websites, such as eteach.com and Teachers Plus to name but two, but their primary function is dealing with supply teachers, although they would rather do a lot more. The full-time vacancies on those websites tend to be advertised also in the TES, so those jobs cannot truly be said to have migrated, because there is still a cost being paid to the TES.
There are almost 30,000 schools in the UK, and well over 20,000 of those are in England. To make a stab at a typical example of the advertising cost per school, during 2004 a large secondary school of which I am aware filled 18 vacancies through the TES at a combined cost of £30,000. The cost for primary schools is rather less. Inner-city schools and those with diverse populationsthose with more issues, shall we saywill often be more expensive, because they have a higher staff
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turnover. In addition, the advertising cost does not simply last for one week. Schools generally advertise for two weeks and often have to re-advertise. Advertising for promoted positions costs more, and so forth.
An easy way to measure the success of the TES is to pick it up at the end of a period when teachers are getting close to the contractual cut-off point and see the thousands of jobs that are advertised. Although I cannot give the particular month, I vividly recall a banner headline in the TES saying that there were 9,000 jobs advertised in that publication. Each page is worth around £5,000 in advertising income and there are hundreds of pages on such a day, which means that there is in excess of £1 million-worth of advertisingpossibly getting towards £2 millionin a single publication. Of course, we are talking about the huge, thick issues and it is not like that all year round. I understand that the income from schools could be above £50 million, but I should be happy to hear the actual figure from the TES.
The expense for schools is considerable, but manageable, and historically it has been a necessity. However, there is now a workable alternative to the status quo. The historical fit-for-purpose reputation of the TES has made its position pretty bomb proof, largely because of the homogenous nature of the teaching profession. It is not sustainable for schools to advertise anywhere else, which means that if a migration to another publication or format were to happen, it would have to happen in very short order so that the same synthesis of the needs of advertiser and jobseeker would continue. No other publication can enter this ground at the moment, because the TES is universally trusted as the place where jobs will be advertised. That is true; it is a fact. It is open to question how any other newspaper-based publication could improve on that, because the cost would have to be about the same. It is more troubling, however, that whereas other sectors are migrating to the internet to make huge savings and provide a better service, there is a logjam in educationfor the same reason: any switch to one of a number of excellent internet providers would have to take place in very short order. The problem of a big, homogenous profession persists, and it is fundamental.
Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware of work by several councils and local education authorities, such as Wakefield council, which has an overview and scrutiny committee that is considering how the LEA can support schools procurement? Does he agree that LEAs have a role, and that as well as the big bang theory that he is advocatinga single switchoveruseful work could be done by local education authorities or regional procurement consortiums to start moving the process forward? We need to travel in both directions if we are to achieve the goal that he is suggesting.
Mr. Joyce : That is a useful point. It sounds like Wakefield council has got its act together. I am a big fan of the big bang, but there will probably be another solution in due course, with a combination of different initiatives.
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There is one piece of evidence of the fact that teachers would rather use the internet than a big, thick newspaper: most of them go to the TES website. However, the trouble is that although they use that site, the schools still have to pay the price for advertising in the newspaper, so there is no saving.
The TES may argue that it is a high-quality newspaper that happens to do advertising. That is fine if people are paying £1.30 for it, but the extension of that argument is to see the £20,000 or £30,000 spent by schools as a kind of subscription, which I guess most heads would rather not payso that argument does not stand up. I accept that with the demise of the TES we would lose a valued publication for teachers, but the market would fill that gap with another publication on the internet, or The Guardian or The Times would expand their education coverage.
I believe that we can clear the logjam, and I shall briefly explain how I think we can do it. The first step is to acknowledge that an internet-only solution would save tens of millions of pounds and provide a higher quality service. I have not heard any colleagues in this place dissenting from that.
The second step is to agree that that solution is possible. I suggest that the evidence is clear. The overwhelming majority of people accessing eteach.com and tes.co.uk are looking for jobs. The eteach website allows everything to be completed online, but the TES website does not. The TES website merely pastes advertisements on the internet for people to read and print out, but the eteach website has gone several steps further and allows everything to be done online. Applicants can save money on postage and some people estimate that schools could save £5 million on postage if everyone applied online through sites such as eteach.
The TES has been slow to adapt because it has not had to. Money has been pouring in and it has been a bit lazy. News International recently sold the TESits first divestment in the UKand there is a sniff of a change in the way in which the markets are working. It was sold for £230 million, which is a little less than some people expected, to Exponent, which is funded by venture capital. I wish it well, but at the moment the fundamental position seems to be that the money that the TES generates for TSL Education's new parent company comes from a market dysfunction. No one else can break in because we cannot move all schools across at the same time. There are only two solutions: a harder solution and a softer one.
The harder solution would be for the Government to top-slice a certain amount of money from the schools budget, create a website and give more back to schools by way of savings. That would be difficult to sustain in terms of taking powers back from schools. My instinctmy political antennae are outis that that would not be feasible.
The softer solution, which my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) suggested, is for the Government to help to facilitate a number of mechanisms to put us in a position where we can switch people over through good practice in councils, getting head teachers prepared, as we are preparing people for broadband, and, as eteach has done, encouraging the Secondary Heads Association to do the same in respect of head teachers. Over a period of perhaps a year or two
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we could prepare for a big bang when everyone could be moved across at the same time. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Maria Eagle) : What a pleasure it is to be here, albeit slightly late with the next debate straining to get in. It is good to be here in front of you, Mrs. Dean, for the first time and I am sure that you will keep us in good order, not that my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) has to be kept in order. His enthusiasm for the subject was clear from the way in which he set out his full and detailed knowledge of it. I congratulate him on that.
My hon. Friend has identified an important area in which he has seen great potential savings for schools, but which it might be difficult for individual schools to deal with. He raised the matter, as one might expect, positively and demonstrated extensive knowledge of the subject. He had a similar debate four years ago and, with great persistence, has come back to see what progress has been made. I did not have the advantage of hearing his exposition first time around, but I have been able to read in Hansard what was said. I hope that, in the time that I have to reply to the debate, I shall be able to reassure him about some matters, although I am sure that he will leave feeling a little impatient about progress.
It is important to remember why there is still a lot of spend on teacher vacancies and why schools must use a substantial portion of their budgets to advertise. Obviously, there is still churn in the profession. There are no longer extensive teacher shortages because there are almost 35,000 more teachers in England since 1997 and the vacancy rate is lower. However, in any profession of 432,000 peoplethat is the number of teachers in Englandthere is bound to be a great deal of movement and churn. For that reason, advertising vacancies will always be with us and my hon. Friend is right to try to find a way in which that could provide better value for money.
Every year, there is an influx of newly qualified teachers seeking their first jobs, and employers advertising vacated posts to attract them into schools. The latest figures suggest that 18 per cent. of teaching posts change hands every yearabout 70,000 postswhich means that a substantial chunk of information spreading needs to be done as efficiently as possible.
My hon. Friend is right to say that switching the entire advertising effort from using the printed word, which is the old-fashioned way, to the internet is the way of the future. He also said that that should, perhaps, be done in a big bang or all in one go, and compared it to switching the side of the road on which we drive. That is an interesting analogy because we have often contemplated doing that, but have never done so. One barrier to making the kind of effort that he urges is that big bangs can have unforeseen downsides.
I shall tell my hon. Friend a little about what has been going on in the four years since he last raised the subject. The key is to change teachers' attitudes about where they should look for job vacancies and employers' attitudes about where they should place advertisements to get the best possible response and good candidates
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into posts. My hon. Friend fully explained the tradition surrounding the TES. I do not think that there is a staff room in the country in which one will not find a dog-eared copy that is fairly up to date, but well thumbed. That illustrates his point about the profession being wedded to the TES as the way in which to find and fill vacancies.
Some 70 per cent. of teachers access the internet at least weekly, so there is not a total barrier to using new technology. We need to persuade more teachers to associate the internet with browsing for jobs. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that my Department has made a start since the last debate. Last December, we added a new online recruitment portal to our popular TeacherNet website to encourage more jobseekers and recruiters to use the internet for recruitment. TeacherNet receives almost 3 million hits a month and is widely used by teachers and employers, so it is a good window in which to advertise and encourage cultural change, which is, I suppose, what we are talking about.
The portal does not currently hold vacancies independent of other websites, but has links to many online recruitment sites that offer that service. As it is on TeacherNet and the links are all in one place, it is, in a sense, a place to which people can go to find other online places where vacancies in the profession can be seen and accessed. It brings things together for the first time in one place to which teachers often go. That is valuable.
As well as linking information and websites, the portal adds value and introduces teachers, particularly those who have not tried it before, to the convenience of online job searching by offering advice on researching jobs on the internet. People may have used the internet but not for researching jobs, and therefore may not have seen what extra it can bring when compared with thumbing through an old copy of the TES. It also has a standardised CV and application form, which we are encouraging schools to accept in place of their individual forms, which will, to the extent that it is done, make it easier to apply for different jobs. There is also a career development section for teachers, which includes the online CV, which can help them to work out what they are looking for in their next job and get their thoughts together.
Those measures are helping to win teachers, particularly younger, newly qualified and web-aware teachers, over to job searching on the internet. They will be able to experience the advantages of sites that offer other relevant information at the click of a mouse, such as the Ofsted report on the school that they are considering, a prospectus, or information about where the school is in the performance tables, as well as simply advertising vacant posts in their areas of search. That brings a lot of information together in much less time than one could ever obtain using print-based mechanisms. All those things are available at the click of a mouse on TeacherNet to get teachers used to the idea of job searching online. It is also important that employers increasingly realise the advantages of internet advertising, whether they be Scottish local authorities or, as is more often in England, schools themselves.
The portal offers employers tips to get the most from their advertising. As my hon. Friend made clear, employers spend a great deal of money on advertising. The portal also offers information on advertisers that publish their vacancies online; case studies of head
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teachers who have already recruited successfully on the internet that cite the advantages of internet recruitment; and general advice on recruitment and retention of teaching staff.
The new recruitment portal is being usedit had 51,000 hits last month. That is not many in the context of 3 million hits on TeacherNet, but it is a useful start. The portal has been operating for a comparatively short time, but one can already see a discernible change in awareness of online recruitment. My hon. Friend will probably say, "Not before time," given the speed with which other professions have embraced online recruitment.
My hon. Friend mentioned other parts of the public sector, particularly the national health service. He did half my job by pointing out some differences between health service and schools recruitment. I am grateful to him for that. He is right to say that there is not a central, dominant long-standing player such as the TES for vacancies in the health service. There are, however, sectorally based print publications, which he also mentioned. Far less disaggregation of different employers perhaps makes it easier to introduce centrally orchestrated change in the health service than in the teaching profession.
My hon. Friend made several suggestions, which I want to deal with briefly before we hand the Chamber over to a debate on Oxfordshire. He said that one way in which we could promote faster change would be to top-slice schools' budgets. It is always tempting to do that, and the Department for Education and Skills has been doing so for years. We are trying, however, to be more consistent by stopping ourselves top-slicing schools' budgets. We wish to ensure that our new funding arrangements provide clear three-year budgets for local schools and far greater autonomy for schools to spend their money.Crude top-slicing can cut across
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that trend, but, unfairly, it also creates winners and losers. For example, schools with rapid staff turnovers would gain at the expense of those with greater staff stability. Some schools would argue that that would be unfair.
Mary Creagh : I wanted to know whether a statutory framework is in place for local education authorities to provide procurement support to schools. The Minister has concentrated on what the Department is doing. Are LEAs given any advice?
Maria Eagle : There are reams of advice given to local authorities and schools. I am sure that a framework is in placeI would be surprised were there notbut I shall have to write to my hon. Friend with the precise answer. I do not wish to mislead her.
The portal has been running for almost a year. We shall review its benefits soon and think about what more the Department can do to speed up the changeover to online recruitment. The debate introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk is therefore timely. Having read his article, which the Fabian Society is soon to publish, and having heard what he has said today, I am more than happy to ensure that the points that he has raised, many of which are extremely persuasive, are thrown into the mix when we look at what more can be done.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on making such constructive and persuasive suggestions. The speed of Government decision making does not yet match that of the fastest broadband connections, so I cannot give him an answer one way or the other yet. I agree, however, that the savings that schools could make in respect of the current high cost of advertising vacancies are worth another close look.I shall ensure that officials in my Department and my ministerial colleagues who are primarily responsible for this area of schools policy hear what he has to say.
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