How efficient are our schools?

Now I always enjoy reading DfE documents that tell schools how to do things, and their recently published Review of efficiency in the schools system has some delightful gems within it. My favour is the quote taken from a 2009 McKinsey report that said ‘Second only to the quality of teaching is school leadership. Replacing an ‘average’ principal with an ‘outstanding’ principal in an ‘average’ school could increase student achievement by over 20 percentile points’. I am sure that this shouldn’t be used solely as a reason for governing bodies of all schools not regarded as above average this week by a passing Ofsted team to give their head notice at the end of term celebrations. But it does raise the issue of how we can improve school leadership now that an increasing number of schools don’t have local managers with senior education experience they can easily contact to discuss problems.

There is a lot about staffing and the effectiveness of spending on teachers over support staff in the DfE’s report. For instance, in the high spending school category, school in the top 20% spend 58% of their budgets on staffing whereas schools in the bottom 20% of attainment among the high spenders only spend 51% of their budgets on staffing. I guess the latter may have more NQTs and a high staff turnover. It would also be interesting to see how Teach First fits into this scenario as it is a relatively low spending programme for staffing even though it is an expensive way to train some types of teachers.

On Saturday I talked to an NUT conference for supply teachers, many of whom are a very under-valued and underpaid resource. The DfE report did note that those schools that employed their own supply staff (presumably mostly large secondary schools) saved money, although the debate about the need for subject expertise can also be an important factor. However, schools do need to recognise that the cheapest option isn’t always the best solution to improving standards, and you may well get what you pay for. The best supply teachers do the job because they want that type of life whereas others do it because it is the only work that they can get in teaching. There is room for the professional associations to take more interest in the fate of this group of workers, especially as the government is seemingly trying to de-professionalise teaching as a career. Implicit in the DfE report is the view that ‘cover supervisors’ and ‘teaching assistants’ aren’t the same as teachers and, despite the rhetoric from Ministers, teachers who are qualified do make a difference.

The challenge for the next decade may well be how to entice the most able at teaching to enter the profession when the wider economy is once again offering a range of job opportunities. Ensuring those that do enter teaching are fairly distributed between schools will also be a challenge that won’t just be about money.


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