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Finding, and keeping, good teachers

Teachers make the biggest difference to students’ learning; and for students from disadvantaged home backgrounds this is even more the case. This makes the recent news that the DFE is cancelling the National Teaching Servicealarming. The pilot had secured only 24 teachers against a target of 100, despite an extension to the timetable.

We should certainly acknowledge the 24 who stepped forwards. And also, that at least by using a pilot DFE avoided a much bigger and more costly mistake. But we should expect that some lessons to be learned. Research provided by the Education Development Trust called ‘Redistributing excellence: using teachers’ views to inform workforce planning for a more equitable education system’ (supported by PwC while I was the education lead there) made it clear that three aspects of design would be vital:

  • Identifying the additional ‘moral purpose’ that a teacher might achieve by making a difference in areas that needed to find more teachers.

  • Proper financial recognition for the role — pay was found to be a more important factor to attract a relocation than for a new local job

  • The opportunity to enhance career opportunities, especially at the mid stage of a teacher’s career.

These findings were certainly available to DFE, and I am confident that the unions and others made similar points. It seems the advice fell on deaf ears — the financial package appeared to be limited to just paying for relocation costs.

So, what is needed for the future? First, we need a sustainable solution to teacher supply. The current market approach to teacher supply and recruitment is failing us and costing money. There is insufficient planning, funding and stability to our initial teaching training, meaning widespread shortages, alongside even more severe regional and subject issues. Government must provide a proper supply/ demand model, and fund it adequately.

Secondly, we must address a growing crisis in morale and retention. Teacher status is in my view an important factor. A study found that in the UK, teaching was perceived by the public to be on a par with social work. In China — uniquely amongst the 21 countries included — teachers were regarded on a par with doctors. Alongside making sure pay keeps pace with inflation and other comparable professions — which it has not, in recent years — the biggest way to boost status and morale is for teachers to feel in control of their professional work, so that their time is spent on the things they know make the biggest difference to their students. This means teachers must be at the centre of setting direction for the profession, and in return the government needs to make room for this by avoiding micro- management of what to teach and how.

Meanwhile, it is certainly necessary to help those schools in areas where there are immediate teacher and subject shortages. The government’s recently announced ‘Opportunity areas’ could provide a focus for this, and it’s essential they are designed and delivered in the right way. In my view this would include:

  • A strong emphasis on moral purpose must be backed up by proper pay an professional advancement opportunities — this needs to be done in a way that is fair to teachers already living and working in Opportunity Areas as well as new recruits

  • Opportunity Areas need to be fully owned and managed by the schools and their local partners — this can’t be driven from the top down

  • DFE will need to provide consistent support through funding and through listening to and responding to barriers as they are discovered

  • There needs to be less talk of failure in these areas, and more focus on hope and support

  • They should be regarded not as a quick fix, but rather a sustainable change in which new capacity is created. This could mean a bigger role for local Multi-Academy Trusts, local authorities, or local school federations, as schools will always be better in strong partnerships than in isolation.

  •  There needs to be a strong focus on teaching and learning

  • There should be clear links from Early Years through Primary and Secondary education and into Colleges, Universities, training and employment

  • This is not just a job for schools, but for all local partners including businesses, charities and Local Enterprise Councils.

To misquote Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, ‘to fail with one initiative may be regarded as misfortune; to fail with two will look like carelessness.’ And this issue is far too important for any carelessness.

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