All or nothing

According to the press this morning David Cameron is set to announce the creation of a squad of high-quality teachers, to be employed centrally that will be sent out to assist poorly performing schools. The National Teaching Service (NTS) will be made up of up to 1,500 ‘super teachers funded by central government, and will be deployed to so-called failing schools.

If true, this development poses a number of issues for trainee teachers, schools, and indeed parents. Historically, apart for the ill-fated and short-lived Fast Track Scheme introduced by Labour over a decade ago to recruit and place the best new teachers, recruitment has been a discussion between an individual teacher and a school or in a few cases a group of schools. Even in the latter case, except in the primary sector, posts advertised have usually been associated with working in a particular school. In the primary sector, pooling arrangements for the first stage of recruitment were popular when local authorities managed schools even though they sometimes might have discriminated against ‘returners’ in favour of newly qualified teachers.

Any announcement of an NTS has implications for current trainees if it is to start in 2015. More likely it will not commence before September 2016. However, savvy trainees on PGCE or School Direct courses, especially in shortage subjects, may decide to avoid working in schools likely to be targeted by NTS flying squads on the basis that they might need to be replaced by the in-coming teachers. Teachers already working in these schools now have an extra incentive to find another job just in case the alternative is redundancy or dismissal on other grounds when the NTS arrive.

Announcing the NTS in October is probably the most stupid move in the teacher labour market made by a government since the 1996 announcement of changes to the pension scheme drove an unprecedented number of head teachers to quit by the following summer. Even though 1,500 NTS staff, and it is not clear whether they will encompass all grades of teacher or just say, middle leaders, need to be recruited it is not clear how many schools will be targetted. That issue alone will be interesting as presumably there will need to be incentives to secure the NTS staff away from their present posts.

Now, as someone who working for seven years in a school likely these days to be a top target for an NTS squad to replace existing staff, I fully accept that there are under-performing schools. I also accept that some staff drafted in may make a difference. The famous arrival of Mike Tomlinson at The Ridings School in Yorkshire in the late 1990s had an immediate impact but longer-term change proved more elusive.

At the heart of this announcement is the issue raised before in this blog of whether schooling has now been nationalised in England. The very term NTS suggests the answer, but in a typically British manner it may be being handled in a cack-handed manner. However, it probably explains Labour’s announcement of the idea of a teacher’s oath yesterday. As usual, I am left wondering what is the position of my own Party, the Lib Dems on the idea of who is responsible for teachers and their employment


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