Teacher recruitment and retention in the headlines again

Yesterday, the adjournment debate in the House of Commons, proposed by Louise Haigh the Labour member for Sheffield Heeley, was on the issue of the recruitment and retention of teachers. Ms Haigh is already showing an interest in this important area for schools and has asked a number of PQs on the topic as well as initiating this debate. Today the Sutton Trust has published a research report called ‘Teaching by Degrees’ that seeks to consider the university backgrounds of state and independent school teachers.

I am grateful for a mention by Ms Haigh in the debate, as well as a mention of TeachVac by another Labour member who had attended the recent SATTAG seminar I spoke at in Portcullis House. The unusually large number of interventions during the adjournment debate last night – this is how other MPS show their strength of feeling on the issue – there were interventions 16 during the half hour debate at the end of business on a Thursday, including from MPs from the north of England that might normally already have been on their way back to their constituencies by then. Such a large number of interventions must have alerted the Minister, Mr Gibb, to the seriousness of the issue. Indeed, one wonders when it will feature as one of the opposition day debates. An earlier post on this blog recalls that last autumn a debate on teaching say the first appearance on the Order Paper of a difference in policy between the Lib Dems and the Tories over teacher qualifications.

In that respect, it is interesting to read the Sutton Trust research report that suggests more Oxbridge graduates are now teaching in state schools. Given the period covered by the research included the recession that probably isn’t a terribly surprising observation. Of more concern is the methodology used in reaching such a view. The main vehicle used was to collect data for the state funded sector was the NfER Voice Survey. Now, this is a survey stratified by types of school and various other variables such as grade of respondent, but I cannot see anything in either the Sutton Trust to NfER explanations of the methodology to suggest it is also stratified by the age of the teacher and their length of service in the profession. Without that data it is unclear to me whether the classroom teachers are a spread of recent entrants and those with longer service or some other distribution across the profession.

My view is that to detect changes in entrants to teaching it would have been better to have used the UCAS/GTTR records of applicants to teaching. This could have identified the degree awarding body of entrants and any changes over time could easily have been identified. The key question is surely, not what has changed over the past decade but what was the impact of the recession and is any impact now fading in terms of the source of new entrants to the profession. It is important to know, for instance, whether the decline in the past two years in applicants to become maths and Physics teachers reflects any change in the degree patterns away from Oxbridge graduates. Otherwise, the Sutton Trust research doesn’t help policy makers grappling with the issues raised in the adjournment debate yesterday.

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