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A 10-year career teacher recruitment and retention plan misses the point

Stephen Lane, Head of Year, Lichfield Cathedral School, writes…

In an attempt to address the perceived crisis in teacher retention, the National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, has proposed putting new teachers on a “10-year career plan which could see them become senior leaders by the age of 30”.

While I welcome any attempts to tackle the problem of teacher retention, and support any moves that might help to raise the professional profile of teachers, I’m afraid that this proposal falls short of its ambition and, more fundamentally, misses the point. The proposal suggests that a career route to leadership will address the retention crisis, but this is making two mistakes.

Firstly, it assumes that teachers will want to get into leadership. This assumption reflects a broader problem with the professional field of teaching, and professions beyond – why is leadership held in such high esteem? Why not promote classroom teaching as being the fantastic job that it can be?

This nonsensical push for everyone to aim to be leaders was behind the Teach First programme. I do not necessarily have any issues with that programme or the individual teachers that it produced, but I do have an issue with the idea that classroom teaching should be seen as a stepping-stone towards other, higher, things. This demeans and denigrates the role of teaching when that role should itself be held in high esteem. So, the first issue I have with the proposal is an ideological one.

The idea that classroom teaching should be seen as a stepping-stone demeans and denigrates the role of teaching when that role should itself be held in high esteem.

The second problem with the proposal is practical. Teachers do not leave the profession because of lack of leadership opportunities. Rather, as a NUT/YouGov survey in 2015 found: “The top two reasons given for thinking of leaving the profession were ’Volume of workload’ (61%) and ’Seeking better work/life balance’ (57%).”

Indeed, even the government acknowledged the issues around workload, launching its workload survey and publishing the results. This resulted in a policy document aimed at tackling the issues identified by teachers as contributing to their workloads. These were marking, planning, and data management. Ofsted has moved to try and curb some of these pressures in its Mythbusting document, which clearly states: “Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback”.

However, I suspect that for most teachers in most schools the issues remain the same: over-burdensome marking policies, and unrealistic expectations of planning. The problem is that Ofsted has given itself a get-out clause: “these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy”. This means that, in practice, school leaders have the freedom to burden their staff with nonsensical marking practices, ridiculous planning requirements, and punitive observation policies – and some still do. I hope that this is changing, and the conversations I see on Twitter certainly suggest that it is, with many school leaders abandoning some long-held shibboleths of practice, including graded lesson observations and intensive marking.

Overall, as well-intentioned this proposal may be, it doesn’t address the root causes of the teacher retention crisis.

What are your thoughts on Sir David’s plan? Let us know in the comments below.

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One thought on “A 10-year career teacher recruitment and retention plan misses the point

  1. There should be more than one career route for teachers one of which should certainly be about continuing in the classroom. However we also need routes into school leadership and definitely need future leaders to be our most effective teachers who can create the conditions in which less experienced colleagues can develop their skills and expertise. I therefore agree with David about having a route. Where I have a concern is about the speed with which this might happen. School leadership is complex. I believe that the best preparation for this is to have had a range of responsibilities before progressing to headship. In some cases people who have been promoted too quickly have made big and sometime career ending mistakes because they were not properly prepared. In order to have credibility they must have been in the classroom long enough to take groups through to examination level.
    To summarise therefore, the last thing we should be doing is to demean teaching but I would hope that some of our best teachers would want to progress to lead departments and whole schools in order to share their expertise and skills and make a difference to the lives of greater numbers of young people.

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