The demise of Forum as a journal read by those in education came as a complete surprise to many. However, that is often the way in business. If you admit to failing then you just go under even faster, with no hope of survival. I am sad to hear of those that have lost money. As the largest shareholder in TeachVac, I know how precarious being in business can be. TeachVac has now launched its new website www.teachvac.co.uk with a special offer for schools.
However, this post is to offer a chance for John Viner, an Education Consultant and ITT professional, to air his views on teacher education in two pieces he had written for Forum, but that will never appear in that journal. As published by me in my blog, these articles that follow come with the usual caveats that they are John Viner’s work not mine, and I don’t endorse the views just by publishing them.
Smoke and Mirrors by John Viner
There is a bombshell of a crisis that is about to burst in our schools and across our education system. From the recent government White Paper, Whitehall clearly thinks either that it’s been fixed, or that, if they blow enough smoke at it, the reality will be hidden. The problem is that we have been here before. Many times.
Any guesses about the focus of this bombshell? Yes, it’s the pending crisis in school leadership and right behind it are the twin horsemen of teacher recruitment and retention. This is the first of two articles in which we will consider the nature of the pending problem, how we might, at least, minimise it and how we can possibly prepare for the longer term.
Hands up if you remember the “Troops to Teachers” initiative. Based on a US model, this was an initiative launched in 2012 with the aim – as the name suggests – of recruiting ex-servicemen and women into the classroom. David Laws, then education minister, said that “pupils would benefit from the experience, background and skills that ex-military personnel had gained in our inspiring armed forces”. Despite the offer of a two-year employment-based degree and a funded PGCE for graduates, the scheme attracted just 363 trainees up to 2018, with a quarter walking away without qualifying.
Jump then to 2018 when Ed Sec Damien Hinds relaunched the scheme with the lure of a £40,000 bursary. The following year, Hinds’ incoming replacement, Gavin Williamson promised the scheme would “motivate and inspire a generation of children in classrooms across the country”. It attracted just 22 trainees that year. Amazingly, the scheme is still running. To be fair, it is just one of a number of pipelines that the government hope will top up a diminishing pool. More successful initiatives such as Teach First, Now Teach, School Direct and the very successful Teacher Apprenticeship programme are maintaining a steady(ish) supply of trainees.
One of the most reliable sources of information about teacher supply is the annual Commons Briefing Paper. The most recent version notes:
Since 2011 the overall number of teachers has in general not kept pace with increasing pupil numbers. This means the ratio of qualified teachers to pupils has increased from 17.8 in 2011 to 18.5 in 2020. In addition, the number of teacher vacancies have risen over this period. (Commons Library Research Briefing, 24 November 2021)
The heart of the problem, however, is not so much teacher supply as teacher retention. The incoming pipeline is no match for the size of the drain. In 2018, the DfE published a detailed research report on why teachers left the profession. It recommended: improving in-school support for teachers, increasing progression opportunities, reducing workload, and flexible working. Pay was not a significant driver, although regarded as lower than comparable professionals. By the end of 2019 the Conservative manifesto made a commitment to raise teachers’ pay while the DfE was running an early-career bursary for teachers of shortage subjects. Conveniently, the workload issue was sidelined. Then came the Pandemic, lockdown, schools as hotbeds of Covid-19 and everything changed.
One of the most interesting outcomes of the pandemic, for all its in-school stress and changes to working practices, was a surge in ITT applications, particularly for employment-based routes. Suddenly schools which had struggled to put teachers in classrooms found themselves hosting enthusiastic trainees. It was a pity that a few saw the Teacher Apprenticeship Programme as a cheap staffing solution but failed to support their trainees adequately, especially in respect of the 20% off-the-job release time to which they were entitled. These trainees quickly came to understand the great under-addressed problem of overwhelming teacher workload. However overall, it was a bonus year for applicants.
Meanwhile, the pointy heads looking at improving retention, still missing the point about workload and working conditions, came up with the two-year induction framework for Early Career Teachers. It came with all sorts of funded release time and so could have gone some way to making up for the workload during the training year. Meanwhile Nadhim Zahawi has announced pay rises for all teachers, including 8.9% for new joiners. While welcome of course, why was nobody reading the 2018 report on why teachers left the profession? At the other career end, let’s review why this is crisis waiting to happen.
Nobody minded those Ofsted visits about how schools were doing in the pandemic but, as I have noted before, whatever Ofsted might claim, a full return to a robust inspection regime is simply adding to the anxiety of senior leaders. The NEU conference in Bournemouth heard that over two-thirds believed inspections undermine school leaders’ ability to focus on pupil outcomes while a staggering 86% claimed they added to both stress and workload.
Similarly, we all want the best for our new teachers, but it is the impact on mentors that is increasing their workload. Teach First has optimistically reported that less than 20% of ECTs are unhappy with their experience but also that ‘Mentor capacity and workload is the biggest concern raised right across the sector in relation to ECF changes.’ (Faye Craster April 2022). This has the potential to impact on ECT appointments, with Schools Week (22 April) reporting that “more than one-third of school leaders now say they may take in fewer early career teachers in the future, which rises to 46 per cent among primary heads”.
With the world energy crisis driving up costs, we may well see this also limit new staff appointments, though quite how much is not yet clear.
Add to this what is being called, ‘the great resignation’ as headteachers, crushed by the workload and the accountability are lining up at the exit. Against this background, the White Paper’s promise of ‘strong schools with great teachers for your child’ rings pretty hollow. Indeed, many of its proposed strategies to find these ‘great teachers’ are as solid as a smoke ring.
So, what to do now? At the very least, you could be analysing your school’s situation to work out how vulnerable you might be to the bombshell’s fallout. That’s the focus of the toolkit with this article. In Part 2 we will explore Zahawi’s bold claims to work out whether they are more than smoke and mirrors.
Things fall apart (W B Yeats) by John Viner
In the last article we looked at the very strange circumstances in which teacher recruitment and retention finds itself. Whatever new initiatives arrive, the fact remains that drain is bigger than the inlet. The plan was to review the problems through the lens of the long-awaited White Paper. That was before the Conservative Party went into freefall and we now have little clarity on what the future will actually hold. At the time of writing, the selection of Liz Truss as Prime Minister throws everything in the air. Some may remember Truss as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Childcare and Education during Michael Gove’s tenure as Secretary of State. We have yet to see what her government means for education.
Perhaps the simplest way to review all this is to assume that some version of the White Paper will be implemented and to think about any messages we are hearing from Ofsted.
What is certain, in the world of Teacher Training, is that Ofsted have ITT providers under close scrutiny and that is likely to have an impact on recruitment and retention.
White papers are not legislation. They are Government policy documents setting out their proposals for future legislation. They are sometimes published as Command Papers and may include a draft version of a Bill that is being planned.
The Education White Paper has four key themes. It promises that, by 2030:
- every child will be taught by an excellent teacher trained in the best-evidenced approaches.
- every child will be taught a broad and ambitious curriculum in a school with high expectations and strong standards of behaviour.
- every child who falls behind in English or maths will get the right support to get back on track.
- all children will benefit from being taught in a family of schools, with their school in a strong multi academy trust or with plans to join or form one.
There are some old friends reappearing here and, if you have been in the profession for a few years, you will recognise that we may have been here before. Several times. It would take a deeper exploration of these four key areas to identify the pluses and minuses but, for the purpose of this article, we will focus only on the promise of an excellent teacher for every child. The DfE promises it will deliver half-a-million new professional development opportunities for teachers in training, early in their career, or through new National Professional Qualifications. Note that, despite what seems an eye-catching headline, it’s 500,000 opportunities, not 500,000 teachers.
So, where will these excellent teachers come from? Last November’s school workforce survey reported that almost an eighth of teachers left the profession last year with, for the first time, greater attrition rates for primary than secondary. Just under 90% of these were early departures, not retirements. This was a jump of 12.4% on 2020-21. Around the same proportion of newly qualified teachers left the profession within a year. Classroom teacher vacancies are at their highest level since records began. The plan to attract former teachers back to the classroom post-covid saw ministers boast that over 500 former teachers had been recruited but the reality was that only around 20% eventually returned to the classroom. Also, it is worth noting that around 8% of teachers are currently deserting the state sector for independent schools.
Prior to her election by the Conservative Party, Liz Truss echoed the White Paper commitment to strengthen and widen Trusts, with an apparent recommitment to Grammar Schools. The promise to provide catch-up support is an old chestnut and usually comes with a pledge to crack down on behaviour, as it does here. Pause to reflect on the Chief Inspector’s 2022 Education Festival speech, where she noted,
And the glue holding school structures and routines together are rules and discipline. The word ‘discipline’ – like exams for some – comes with connotations. For some, it conjures images of over-strict headteachers, punishments and coercion. But for me discipline is rooted in respect. Respect for the school, for staff, for fellow pupils and for learning itself. It’s the discipline of being on time, of treating people well and of making an effort. In successful schools, these things are taught and reinforced, humanely and effectively. Discipline is not a dirty word.
In the background lies the promise to ensure that tuition contracts go only to approved contractors (but schools remain free to employ individual tutors). However, all the signs were that the DfE, would continue to scapegoat headteachers for the poor take-up of the National Tuition Programme. And that brings us to the looming crisis in school leadership, with the NAHT warning that ‘high-stakes accountability, crushing workload, long hours and inadequate funding’ was driving an accelerating exit rate of headteachers. And we have not yet been able to consider energy costs. New Ed Sec Kit Malthouse – unsurprisingly a product of the independent sector – has had little to do with education so we wait and see how it falls out.
So, is this a perfect storm brewing, or will the DfE be able to resolve teacher supply? Let us see what Ofsted may be suggesting. There have been some minor changes to the school’s inspection handbook. The DfE have clarified that
Section 5 inspections now referred to as ‘graded inspections’ and Section 8 inspections of good and outstanding schools called ‘ungraded inspections’. The purpose of each inspection type and how they are carried out remains unchanged. l
For new teachers, the Early Careers Framework continues to increase workload and stress, despite its opposite claims. We continue to wait for the research that evaluates the impact of the two-year induction period and how far it addresses the issues of retention. Meanwhile, for those in training, there remain several routes: School Direct, Teacher Apprentices, Teach First and Now Teach, to name a few. However, it is evident from recent Ofsted inspections of ITT providers that there is a separate agenda running and many hitherto successful providers find themselves downgraded.
There seems to be a determination to reduce the number of ITT providers. How this sits with recruiting excellent teachers remains to be seen. A very few select bodies have been handed £75,000 contracts to “support the anticipated closure” of initial teacher training providers. How this improves recruitment and retention is unclear.
The important challenge for all school leaders is to try to stay ahead of the game. At the moment it is hard to work out what the game is.
NB the interesting Vulnerability Calculator and recruitment planner are not included in this blog due to the nature of the format.
John Viner may be contacted via LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org
As regular reads of this blog will know, I believe that the downturn in pupil numbers will necessitate some realignment of ITT places, but I subscribe to the need to keep higher education at the centre of the preparation and development of our teaching profession. John Howson