Experience matters

Experienced teachers are more effective than those who are in the first few years of their careers and teachers in the most advantaged fifth of schools have an average of nearly one and a half years more experience than those in the least advantaged, according to initial findings from a research project by the University of Cambridge, presented to a Sutton Trust conference in London recently. http://www.suttontrust.com/newsarchive/best-in-class-summit/

Now, there’s a surprise: experience matters as much in teaching as in any other walk of life. Actually, it is good to have this fact confirmed from time to time. What matters with this research is if inexperienced teachers end up in more challenging schools as a result of market forces. Such an outcome leaves a Conservative government with a dilemma. If they really want to improve outcomes for pupils in challenging schools they need to address the percentage of inexperienced teachers in such schools. I saw this first hand in the 1970s in Tottenham where the most challenging schools had high staff turnover and large numbers of inexperienced new entrants that included myself among them.  In the Highgate end of the borough this was far less of an issue.

The research highlighted a the start of this post pinpoints the differences in behaviour between challenging schools and those less difficult to teach in as a factor in and this may well be why so many new entrants to the classroom cite behaviour managements as their greatest challenge. Any teacher preparation course must cover a wide range of topics and probably would find it a real challenge to impart the skills necessary to teach in the most challenging schools. However, once teachers have found a teaching post in such a school the extra support ought to be channelled in their direction, as I suspect tis the case in the best of the Academy Trusts, but is not yet the norm.

For a government wedded to the market, it is the market that will need to solve the problem. This usually means money, as supply and demand are governed by price. The alternative is to use a Corbynite Labour solution and direct teachers where they need to work.

The research mentioned above highlighted that teachers recognise success in a school isn’t an individual effort, but a collective response. As a result, team bonuses were favoured by those asked over individual payments. However, this still leaves the issue that if payment only comes after results how do you incentivise the teachers to work in challenging schools in the first place? In the 1970s it was through the Schools of Exceptional Difficulty payments that were added to basic salary for working in schools identified as challenging.

Of course, you could take another tack and try and hide the issue by creating a fuss about something else, such as the role of teacher associations, as the Education lead at one of the conservative think tanks has done ahead of the teacher conferences this Easter. It might keep the right-wing Tory press happy, but my guess is most other members of the 4th estate will still be focussing on issues such as teacher supply that are likely to be to the fore during the conference season.


5 thoughts on “Experience matters

  1. Some of us who worked in Schools of Exceptional difficulty, often called the additional remuneration “danger money”. At that time what we inexperienced teacher needed was support, guidance and links to successful teachers working in a similar environment. Not a few pounds and left to get on with it.

    In my case the support etc. was achieved through the efforts of the “Local HMI” and her colleagues, who made links, ran conferences, and courses to benefit teachers and more importantly the pupils. Unfortunately this kind of HMI support no longer exists!

    • Frank,

      Good to hear from you. The demise of CPD is a real issue whether run by HMI, teachers’ centres -where I worked in Haringey for two years; local authorities or nowadays MATs. without out it teachers cannot be helped to progress; they don’t come fully formed.


  2. Another way to ignore the problem is to say, as this Government does, is that there are no excuses for ‘underperformance’. Gove said any child could succeed given a good teacher. But that’s only true up to a point. A good teacher may still fail to raise results in certain difficult circumstances. But if s/he were to say the pupils were challenging, or had poor attendance or unsupportive parents, s/he would be accused of making ‘excuses’.

    This attitude can only deter teachers willing and able to work in challenging schools or in areas like Knowsley which is always getting a kicking for its low results. Yet areas like Knowsley need the best and most-experienced teachers.

    • Janet,

      So do we do away with the market and direct teachers to work in Knowsley? These children do need experienced teachers: how we get them there is a real issue and has always been so. Indeed, it is not just a UK issue.


  3. This is why Teach First with its summer school training approach and short-term commitment is so inappropriate. These temporary recruits shouldn’t be placed in the most disadvantaged schools. Such schools need the most experienced staff, and staff who’ll be sticking around as a matter of course.

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