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Searching for £75 million

The Telegraph has reported the DfE’s free service to promote vacancies as a threat to the business model of organisations like TES, which has existed since 1910. The DfE’s service aims to save schools £75 million each year. I’m sceptical that schools spend so much money, so I decided to see if I could find it.

Today, TES is a web of companies ultimately owned by the US-based Providence Equity Partners. TES reported a turnover of just under £100 million last year. If all their income came from subscribers like me who pay £54 a year, they would have 1.9 million subscribers. This is equivalent to every teacher in England having four subscriptions!

To understand an organisation’s priorities, it is helpful to look at the staff they employ. TES are not really in the business of publishing a magazine, as the table below shows. Just one in ten of their team are editorial – most work in sales and marketing.

Group2020 headcount2019 headcount
Editorial6952
Sales and marketing438268
Technology13191
Operations90104
Administration9098
Total818613
Source: TES accounts

Clearly, TES are not making their money from magazines.1 Helpfully, they break down their income into four services they provide to schools. One number stands out: £58 million.2

ActivityYear ended 31 August 2020 £Year ended 31 August 2019 £
Attract58,185,00060,765,000
Train14,057,0009,563,000
Empower15,194,00011,344,000
Supply12,028,00016,578,000
Total99,464,00098,250
Source: TES accounts

£58 million. That was the income from advertising vacancies last year. Most of this, £42 million, came from a subscription model where schools pay for unlimited advertising. TES has successfully transitioned more and more schools away from one-off adverts towards this model over the past few years.

TES has a smart business model. The ‘attract’ part is generating the cash to fund the strategic acquisition of other digital services like Educare, which it acquired in 2019 for £12 million. TES aims to expand these new businesses to their existing customer networks.

School leaders will ultimately decide if they want to pay TES and other recruiters so much when there’s a good free option from the DfE. I’ve previously described how I think trusts should lead the way in transitioning towards the DfE’s Teaching Vacancies site.

If trust leaders need another incentive, they might like to know that the highest-paid director at TES received average emoluments of £450k in each of the past five years (£728, £236, £485, £310, £494k).

Elsewhere, TES has routinely highlighted excessive executive pay…

Footnotes

1. TES reports that they have 15,000 subscribers, but note that multiple readers use each subscription, suggesting that some are institutional subscribers who pay more. If they all paid £54 a year like me, TES would generate almost £800,000 income through this approach, which should mean a magazine is still viable.

2. Not all of the £58 million comes from schools in England. The accounts do not breakdown by country, but reports from previous years indicate that England remains their most important market, followed by Australia.

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A single central record of vacancies

My attention was recently drawn to the DfE’s vacancies website by Stuart Locke who was outraged by the cost of advertising vacancies. The DfE website was created with the goal of saving schools money and making it easier for jobseekers to find roles in schools.

What is the purpose of the site?

DfE analysis estimated that the education system spends around £75 million each year advertising vacancies. There’s no link to the original research, which makes me sceptical, but this works out at about £3,000 per school every year which seems plausible.

The second aim is to improve the experience for job seekers by creating a single central record. Such systems exist in other sectors, including the NHS. This would save teachers time and lead to a healthier labour market.

A bonus of creating a single central record is that it would open some useful, low-cost research opportunities to better understand the education labour market.

How is it being used?

The data on the portal is not available to download, but it is possible to scrape it, which I did using rvest. This works well for most of the data, but it is not always possible to match the data with other records, but this only happened in about five percent of cases. This mainly happens when a role is advertised at the trust, rather than school level.

There are around 1,600 roles currently advertised on the site. Note that this includes teaching and non-teaching roles in schools.

I looked at the 25 largest trusts to see how the number of adverts on the DfE’s website compares to the number advertised on each trust’s own site, which I examined manually. I have three takeaways from the graph below.

  1. There are lots of adverts missing from the DfE’s single central record.
  2. There is a lot of variation between trusts – well done to Leigh Academies Trust.
  3. Adding these missing roles would nearly double the DfE’s single central record.

Trusts should lead the way

The largest trusts are major employers, which is why I think they should lead the way in creating a single central record of vacancies. Given the number of vacancies that large trusts advertise, they can help to rapidly expand the DfE site so that it becomes the go to place for employers and employees alike.

A single central record of vacancies won’t fix everything, but it is a practical, easy step to create a better education system.