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Why the DfE are right to place early teacher training and workload at the heart of their new strategy

Why the DfE are right to place early teacher training and workload at the heart of their new strategy


Reading time: 5 minutes.


Tom Middlehurst, head of policy and public affairs, SSAT writes…

This week, the Department for Education launched its new recruitment and retention strategy, which has been one of Damian Hinds’ ‘tier one’ policies since he started the role just over a year ago.

The strategy sees the launch of several new, and important, policies. Unfortunately, with Brexit f***ery taking up much of Whitehall’s time and media attention, these policies have perhaps not had the recognition they deserve.

The facets of the strategy include:

  1. Reducing workload – working with the new Ofsted framework, and simplifying the accountability system including removing the floor standard and coasting definitions.
  2. New Early Career Framework including a universal entitlement to a funded two-year training package for new teachers, a dedicated mentor and a reduced timetable. The framework is a curriculum, rather than assessment (assessment remains the Teachers Standards).
  3. A new job-share service, with a timetabling tool to help schools manage flexible/part-time working arrangements.
  4. New qualifications for teachers who want to progress, without going down traditional leadership routes.
  5. A one-stop shop for all ITT routes, making it simpler to apply to become a teacher.

At the heart of these policies is a continued effort to tackle teacher workload, including reviewing the government’s role, and a focus on retaining new teachers through early career development. Among others, Leora Cruddas, chief executive of CST, has described the strategy as the most important educational policy since 2010’s The importance of teaching white paper, which led to the overhaul of national curriculum and assessment arrangements. In SSAT’s view, at a time when it can feel that the Treasury are not taking heads’ financial concerns seriously, it is welcome to see renewed and practical policy solutions to an area we know members are concerned about.

Workload and retention

New evidence from the NFER published last term shows that teachers, on average, work 50 hours a week and are unhappy with the amount of leisure time they are able to enjoy. Lack of job satisfaction is one of the key reasons for leaving the profession. In fact, the salary of career-leavers in their subsequent jobs is on average 10% less than when they were teaching, perhaps suggesting that it’s the job, not the pay, that really matters.

So where does workload come from, and how will this week’s announcement help?

During the Schools Week panel discussion at the SSAT National Conference in December last year, delegates were asked before and after the debate where the major blame for unnecessary workload should lie. Interestingly, with a perception that Ofsted was largely to blame at the start of the discussion, the percentages changed from 35% to 6%, with Ofsted director Luke Tryl successfully explaining their new approach to workload. Instead, the DfE and school leadership teams came out as the biggest producers of workload by the end. So will this new strategy help?

The argument has sometimes been that school leaders have to pass workload onto middle leaders and teachers due to the excessive demands of the accountability system. In the new Ofsted framework, this is addressed in a number of ways, including explicit reference to workload in the final judgement, and a focus on the quality of education, rather than outcomes; as well as cross-reference to advice that schools should only do two or three data captures a year.

However, delegates at the SSAT conference highlighted a dichotomy between Ofsted’s new approach and the data produced by the DfE.

It was already announced that from this September, both the floor standard and coasting definition (and minimum expected progress for KS5) will be formally dropped. Support and intervention will be done on a case-by-case basis, taking into account a range of contextual factors. Ofsted have already stopped reporting whether a school has met the floor or not.

But this new strategy goes even further, with Ofsted being the sole trigger for intervention (such as academisation or rebrokering). If implemented properly, this could be a game changer. It means that schools are no longer subject to two masters; confusion over the roles of Ofsted and RSCs are resolved; and schools need only focus on the quality of the education they provide.

If this new strategy is implemented properly, it will mean that schools are no longer subject to two masters; confusion over the roles of Ofsted and RSCs are resolved; and schools need only focus on the quality of the education they provide

Of course, data and outcomes will rightly still form part of judgement, and remain important. But the cliff-edge approach to one year’s dip in results that many schools currently feel could be removed, and encourage schools to focus their work and effort on what matters.

Early Career Framework

The whole strategy from the DfE has shifted from recruitment to retention. This is entirely right. Few people could argue that it’s not sensible to focus on early career development, and so we’re really pleased to see new investment in new teachers.

Teachers in their first two years will have an entitlement to high-quality training, as well as reduced timetables. The DfE have secured £130m to roll this out. The investment will provide:

  • 5% off-timetable time for RQTs in the second year of teaching
  • high quality curricula and training materials
  • fully-funded mentor training.

The strategy also suggests new qualification routes will be provided, for teachers who want to progress but don’t want the normal leadership roles. The first of these will be a teacher-developer qualification for teacher-trainers to roll out the new framework. This is likely to be through the school-led system of MATs and teaching schools.

This approach may not sound particularly new to some people. At SSAT we have always supported training routes and pay policies that allow outstanding classroom teachers to stay in the classroom, but support others’ classroom teaching. This is exemplified by our longstanding Lead Practitioner Accreditation, which has an emphasis on sharing action research on how to improve learning.

The early career framework, along with the other policies announced, could make all the difference to the retention crisis. While we don’t always agree with the DfE (!), this is a series of policies that we could all get behind. And, if we do, it could become a really positive reality.


SSAT members can watch the discussion mentioned in this article: Panel discussion: Reducing teacher workload


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One thought on “Why the DfE are right to place early teacher training and workload at the heart of their new strategy

  1. John on said:

    What sort of idiot feels the need to use gross swear words in an article like this, when the word ‘nonsense’ would be quite sufficient?

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