The first in a series of three articles presenting highlights from one of the discussions and debates that SSAT have hosted over the past three years, relating to educational reform and policy-making. This dinner in November 2015 was attended by 22 leading headteachers, politicians, policymakers, thinkers and academics.
The meeting agreed there is broad consensus that any route into the teaching profession requires a strong link between the trainee and schools. However, many feel that trainees should be able to train in a real-school setting, a school in which they do not necessarily secure their first post as a qualified teacher. This is important, not least to avoid the risk of natural errors made by trainee teachers in their early days in the job unfairly harming their relationships with the students and colleagues in their NQT year and beyond.
At the SSAT discussion dinner, there was universal support for abolishing PGCE fees. If teaching is to compete with other graduate professions, we have to offer on-the-job salaries from the start of training, rather than the start of employment. The table was confident that this would save the government in the long term, by attracting graduates who would stay in the profession.
There is a real concern about the cost of promoting ITT to graduates. A PR company recently won a contract to recruit teachers – and spent over £300,000 just on preparing for the bid. For individual schools, such sums are unthinkable, so more needs to be done regionally and nationally to support schools in recruitment.
A possible solution, first suggested by Matthew Hood, director of 21 Trust, was the possibility of teaching internships, with a similar status to financial, law and consultancy internships. Hood commented that he currently accepts university undergraduates as volunteers. It would be only a small step to move from this to a system where undergraduates would be proud of a teaching internship, and in which schools could vet and then invest in promising candidates.
This raised a further issue, on the age of recruitment. Other professions tend to recruit undergraduates in their first year of study, whereas traditionally PGCE providers have left it later. If we are serious about attracting the best graduates to the profession, the recruitment drive must start far earlier.
Several of those who contributed to the discussion, including some who were former teachers who had left the profession in the early stages of their career, argued that we need to think of ITT as more than a nine-month or even one- or two-year course. Instead it should be recognised as a training period of up to five years. The work of Dylan Wiliam, among others, suggests that teachers continue to improve from their training for up to seven years. Furthermore, professor Samantha Twiselton of Sheffield Hallam University suggested that you can’t cover all the necessary content in nine months.
What support does the system as a whole offer to teachers between the first and fifth year of study to enable such development?
We also know that there is a chronic shortage of specialist teachers, felt particularly acutely in some hard-to-reach communities and schools. Children are often being taught by non-specialist teachers: around one in five maths lessons taught in secondary schools is taught by a non-specialist. Over a five-year period this can have a significant detrimental effect on a young person’s performance and attainment. Teachers do not inform parents that their children are being taught by non-specialists. If parents knew about this, there might be more pressure to improve the supply pipeline.
An overwhelming feeling from the headteachers present was that it is unrealistic to expect school leaders to take the lead for the needed system overview of this. With current accountability pressures, schools are (rightly) preoccupied with their own recruitment. System-wide change will need to be directed centrally, or at least regionally.
Support and value
Above all, there was consensus that the profession must be better at marketing and promoting itself. It needs more passionate advocates. The best ambassadors are those from the profession. We need to support and value teachers more, and the best teachers must do more to sell their profession. Some interesting pilot programmes have involved 10-12 teaching schools actively recruiting sixth formers into the profession and supporting them through their teaching training and preparation. Headteacher and chair of the independent expert group into teacher training, Stephen Munday, advocated this approach.
School leaders and teachers need to show how much they value the work done by others. Positive messages and affirmation are important ways of ensuring that the profession feels good about itself. Those outside teaching will hold teachers in greater esteem when the messages from those in it are upbeat and celebratory. It is a wonderful job and teachers and school leaders are doing it extraordinarily well, was the message from Neil Carmichael, then chair of the education select committee, who hoped that the committee would examine teacher recruitment and retention in the next parliament.
Recommendations for future policy
- Scrap PGCE fees, ensuring that all graduate routes into the profession are fully funded and salaried.
- Agree a curriculum for ITT that is national, but open to local personalisation and interpretation.
- Publicly fund earlier, and more nuanced, recruitment of undergraduates.
Recommendations for future practice
- Offer local career and leadership progression pathways to attract a more diverse workforce.
- Offer paid internships for current undergraduates.
- Ensure closer links between the best university provision and the best schools-based provision.
- Develop frameworks that support teacher training over a period of at least five years.
Recommendations for further research
- Why are undergraduates attracted to teaching in the first place?
- How do teachers choose their routes into the profession?
- Why do young teachers leave the profession?
- What incentives are required to retain teachers in the profession?
- We need to abolish fees for all PGCE courses.
- Teaching as a career choice for graduates hit a 15-year low in 2015.
- Subject knowledge is less important than having a passion for teaching.
- There is a need for NQTs to use the support of experienced staff more systematically.
- We should explore whether coming to the profession later in people’s careers helps retention.
- We need to think of ITT as more than a one-year course.
- We need to build pathways of progression based on support, and focused on personal growth.
- More needs to be done to recruit teachers to isolated, coastal and rural schools.
- Schools need to build capacity for learning.
- The teaching profession too often sells itself short.
- NQTs can take on a school and revolutionise it.
- We should use teachers to recruit teachers.
- The government shouldn’t control supply. We need flexibility of pay and conditions.
- We need to know what makes for good teacher retention.
- Is it headteachers, rather than the DfE, that create workload issues? We need a system overview, not individual schools working on their own.
- In the past we’ve only had quality control (top down) rather than quality assurance (bottom up) when it comes to ITT provision.
Schools at the Heart of Educational Reform: an exploration of policy and its link to practice, a new publication covering all of the ideas and outcomes from recent SSAT discussions and debates, will be published at the end of summer term 2017. The full publication will be available to SSAT members on the Exchange, and a hard copy will be sent to all secondary member schools.